Destination: Void: Prequel to the Pandora Sequence (6 page)

BOOK: Destination: Void: Prequel to the Pandora Sequence
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They thought of frustration as a threshold, a factor to heighten awareness.

It made a weird kind of sense.

Thus, there were crew members like Flattery … and Prudence Lon Weygand, and machinery that broke down, robox repair units that had to have a human monitor every second—and programmed emergencies to complicate real emergencies.

Chapter 9

The universe is derived from an ultimate principle of spiritual consciousness, the one and only existent from eternity. Accepting this, you become an affirmer of The Void, which is to be understood as the Primordial Nothingness: that is, the raw stuff out of which all is created as well as the background against which every creation can be discerned.


The Education of a Chaplain/Psychiatrist
(Moonbase Documents)

It had been a tiring watch and Flattery longed to return to his quarters. He wanted to bathe himself in the field generator there, to examine the mood
of the computer complex. That was one of his prime duties: to be certain that the computer had settled back into pure mechanism after being deprived of its last Organic Mental Core. There was always the off chance that one of these attempts might achieve success by accident.

But there was no way he could leave early without arousing the wrong kinds of suspicions. Well, there was another duty for the psychiatrist-chaplain to perform. He looked at Bickel.

“You can’t monitor every nuance of your machine’s behavior,” Flattery said. “You can’t be certain of every way its circuits may interact.”

“Yeah,” Bickel said. “Adding all the parts doesn’t give you the sum you want—or need. So why wouldn’t those numbskulls at UMB build their circuits around Eng multipliers? Answer me that.”

Timberlake glanced at Flattery, thought:
Go ahead! Get Bickel started on
that
subject. He’s Johnny One-Note on that one!

“There was some mention back at UMB,” Flattery said, “that you were trying to get them to use—”

“Trying?” Bickel snarled. “I practically got down on my knees and begged. They acted like I was a moron, kept saying computers only add—even when they’re multiplying it’s only series addition. They kept this up until I—”

“You offered no logical circuit changes,” Flattery said. “That’s the way I heard it.”

“Because I didn’t get the chance,” Bickel said. “Look! The Eng multiplier is solid-state and small enough to fit into any of our miniaturization requirements. It works something like a cathode follower, so the circuit requirements aren’t too weird for us to follow. It’s essentially a multiplier. Depending on the circuitry, it’ll take several potentials of linear, semilinear or even nonlinear circuits and it’ll yield a potential which is the product of the inputs. It multiplies them. But what’s more important, when you reverse the circuitry, you get a device that taps a circuits—divides it, mind you—at a point which varies with the load. It works like a nerve cell!”

“The UMB team must’ve had good reason not to take you up on this,” Prudence said. “If they—”

“They said I hadn’t proved this was an analogue of organic function,” Bickel sneered. “Hadn’t proved it! Keerist! They wouldn’t even spare me computer time to work out test circuitry. Everything was tied up trying to define consciousness.”

“You buy their definition, don’t you?” Flattery asked.

“If I did, I wouldn’t’ve asked them to define it again,” Bickel snorted. “I’ve had about all the label juggling I can stomach. Consciousness is
pure awareness,
they said. Then what about the objects of consciousness? I ask. Disregard them, they say. It’s pure awareness. What’s awareness without an object to focus on? I ask. Not important, they say. It’s
pure awareness.
Then they turn right around and say this pure awareness is a pattern of three primary forces. What are these three primary forces? An ‘I’ entity plus the organism of this entity plus everything external which could act as a stimulus. Plus objects! But that’s not it, they say. This merely means pure awareness juggles three factors and it’s a senseless complication to try to multiply them two and two when you could add them and follow the circuits in a much more direct fashion.”

“You’re oversimplifying the argument,” Prudence said.

“All right, I’m oversimplifying! But those are the essentials.”

“And you had a ready answer, of course,” she said.

“I’ve already told you I couldn’t beg, borrow, or steal any computer time.”

“But you insist you can prove your—”

“Look,” Bickel said, “they told me I couldn’t prove an organic analogue. But I know I can.”

“You just
know
it,” she said. “You can’t find words to quite—”

“When you’ve worked with as many thoughtput instrumentation and computer designs as I have,” he said, “you get a feeling for function. There are times when you can just look at the design of a circuit and you know immediately how it’s supposed to function. You don’t need the manufacturer’s specifications.”

“Do I understand you correctly?” Flattery asked. “You’re referring to God as a manufacturer? If that’s—”

“Go ahead!” Bickel snapped. “Look at the design of the human cerebellum. Don’t try to pick a fight with me over who designed it. Just look at it. You’re a doctor. What’s it suggest to you?”

“What does it suggest to
you?”
Flattery countered.

“That some potential effect is mediated there,” Bickel said. “This is a balancing system … very like the vestibular reflex that keeps us from falling on our asses when we walk.”

“But the cerebellum also is a terminus,” Prudence said.

“Cerebral output to the cerebellum doesn’t even stop when you’re asleep,” Flattery said. “How can you—”

“So the cerebellum soaks up energy like an infinite sponge,” Bickel said. “Energy is always pouring into it—emotional, sensory, motor, and mental energy. Why do we blandly assume the cerebellum engages in no activity? You can’t find that anywhere else in nature or in devices made by man—where a system as complicated as this just sits there and does nothing.”

“You’re arguing that the cerebellum is the seat of consciousness?” Flattery asked.

“And you haven’t defined consciousness,” Prudence said. She kept her attention fixed on Bickel, hiding her excitement. His argument wasn’t new, but she sensed he had a clearer understanding of where he was going with it than ever before.

“Seat of consciousness? No! I’m arguing that the cerebellum could mediate consciousness, integrate it, balance it … and that consciousness is a field phenomenon growing out of three or more lines of energy. We are more than our ideas.”

“Prue’s right,” Flattery said. “You’re not defining it.” He glanced at Prudence, aware of her excitement and resenting it. Knowing the source of his resentment gave little solace.

“But I can come at it through the back door,” Bickel said.

“What it’s
not?”
Prudence said.

“Right!” Bickel said. “It’s not introspection, not sensing, feeling, or thinking. These are all physiological functions. Machines can do all these things and still not be conscious. What we’re hunting is a third-order phenomenon—a relationship, not a thing. It’s not synonymous with awareness. It’s neither subjective nor objective. It’s a relationship.”

“We’re more than our ideas,” Prudence said.

“There’s the answer to the UMB’s glorified adding machines,” Bickel said. “It’s what I kept telling them … about this undefined human consciousness. When you add the inputs as a series in time you don’t always get an answer corresponding to the outputs. And since it isn’t addition, it has to be a more sophisticated mathematical problem.”

Timberlake, listening to Bickel, could feel the fitness intuitively. Bickel was going in the right direction, even though the landscape
around them was fuzzy.
We’re more than our ideas.

Prudence leaned back, weighing Bickel’s words. He had to be given free rein, that was the directive. But he also had to feel he was being obstructed. Sensing that she had let herself get too close to the problem, she forced anger into her voice: “Damn it to hell, you still haven’t defined it!”

“We may never define it,” Bickel said. “But that doesn’t mean we can’t reproduce it.”

“You want to start mocking up a prototype to test your theories?” Flattery asked.

“Using our communications AAT system as a basis,” Bickel said.

“The AAT is linked directly to the computer core,” Flattery said. “It’s part of the translation master program. If you make a mistake, you destroy the heart of the computer. I’m not sure we should—”

“It’ll be securely fused,” Bickel said. “No chance of a backlash getting through to—”

“Without the computer, our automatics cease functioning,” Timberlake said. “Maybe we’d better reconsider. If—”

“Come off of that, Tim!” Bickel protested. “You could set up this safety system as well as I could. There’s not a chance of anything getting through to the—”

“I keep thinking of the UMB’s so-called thinking machines,” Timberlake said. “We can’t see all their behavior
.
If we miss one linkage we could upset a vital master program.”

“We’re just not going to miss any linkages. The schematics are all available. This isn’t flying blind. The AAT is the only thing we could really foul up, and at this distance from Moonbase it’s of dubious value.”

Does he want to cut us off from the UMB?
Flattery wondered.
They suggested he might try it. We can’t let him do that.

“If you demolished the AAT system,” Flattery said, “how long would it take to restore communications?”

“Fifteen to twenty hours,” Bickel said. “We could have a jury rig doing the job by then.”

Flattery looked questioningly at Timberlake.

“That’s about right,” Timberlake agreed.

“We use the AAT as a basis for our simulator,” Bickel said. “We’ll raid colony stores for reels of neuron fiber, Eng multipliers, and the other basic components. What we have to get is a system that simulates human nerve-net function.”

“But will it be conscious?” Flattery asked.

“All we can do is cut and try,” Bickel said. “Our computer and even the AAT work on analogue additive principles. We’re going to build a system that’s strictly infinite multiplying. Our system will produce message units that are products of many multipliers.”

“You make it sound so simple,” Prudence said. “Connect net A to net B at points D and D prime and you get the Consciousness Factor—CF for short.”

Bickel’s lips thinned. “You have a better plan?”

Did I push too hard?
she wondered. And she spoke quickly, “Oh, I’m with you, Bickel. You obviously know all the answers.”

“I
don’t
know all the answers,” Bickel growled, “but I’m not going to sit out here moaning about fate … and I’m not turning back.”

What if we have to turn back?
Flattery wondered.
What do we do about Bickel’s inhibition then?

“Are you going to wait for Moonbase to answer?” Flattery asked.

Bickel glanced at Prudence. “I’d prefer starting at once, but that means I’d miss my shift on the board … and since I’ll need Tim—”

“We can handle it,” Flattery said. “Everything seems to be running smoothly.”

Prudence looked up at the big board and the inactive repeaters over her couch, wondering at her sudden feeling of chill.
I’m afraid to take that board,
she thought.

Those thousands of lives down in the hyb tanks … all depending on right-the-first-time reactions.
Did the UMB big-domes really know what they were doing when they sent us out here? Was this the only way? Should we dehyb more people to help us? But that would overload several systems

including the Bickel system.

Chapter 10

The Chase has fascinated humankind from the beginning, and with good reason. What many failed to understand, however, was that there could be the excitement of the chase even where the only thing you were chasing was an idea, a concept, a theory. As awareness developed, it became apparent that this was the most important chase of all, the one upon whose outcome all of humankind survives or fails.

—Raja Lon Flattery,
The Book of Ship

The creaking of their action couches, the click-click of relays—all of the subtle and familiar sounds of Com-central worried at the edges of Prudence’s awareness.

For the past half-hour, Bickel had been fussing through the schematics, plotting his way into the computer, sharing parts of his plan with the others. She had come to dislike the sound of the schematics being shuffled.

There were tensions here that she did not fully understand, but her own role remained clear—mediate and goad … mediate and goad.

The common stench of Com-central carried an acridity which she identified as fear.

We have a chance at glory,
she told herself.
Very few people ever have that opportunity.

It was an empty pep talk, forever confronted by that inescapable fact:

I
am not people.

For the first time since coming out of the hyb tank, she felt the old familiar pain-of-wonder, asking herself what it might have been like to have been born into a normal family in the normal way, to have grown up in the noisy, intimate
belonging
of the unchosen.

“You are the cream, the select few,”
Morgan Hempstead and his cohorts had kept reminding them. But they all knew where the cream had originated. Normal biopsy tissue from a living human volunteer had been suspended in an axolotl tank, the genetic imprint triggered and the flesh allowed to grow. It produced an identical twin—an expendable twin.

Select few!
she thought.
Something precious was taken from us and the compensations were inadequate.

She tuned the small screen at the corner of her board to one of the tail eyes, looked back toward the center of the solar system, toward the planet that had spawned them.

A stabbing pang of homesickness tightened her breast, made breathing difficult for a moment.

They had been molded and motivated, twisted, trained and inhibited—wound up like mechanical toys and sent scooting off into the darkness with their laser “whistle” tooting to let UMB know where they were.

And where are we?
she asked herself as she blanked the screen.

“Prue, you’d better take the big board,” Flattery said. “You’d normally follow John.”

Sight of the big board’s dials and gauges filled her with an abrupt anger and fear. She felt the immediacy of the emotions in a dry throat, heat in her cheeks.

“I … haven’t had enough time off the boards, to recuperate,” Flattery said, speaking hesitantly. “Or I’d—”

“It’s all right,” she said. “I’ll take it.”

She took a deep breath, leaned back, signed to Timberlake to begin the count.

The appeal to her nursing instinct did it,
Flattery thought.
She was ready to funk out. She had to take the board now or she might never be able to face it.

Flattery glanced at Timberlake, saw the relief so apparent on the man’s face as he switched the green arrow to Prudence.

Timberlake, dominated by intuition, was terrified by the responsibility of Com-central. Prudence, deep in sensation, shared that fear.

And I
,
because I feel their fear, overcome my own repugnance,
Flattery thought.

Only Bickel, logical and with penetrating intelligence, seemed immune to these pressures. It was a flaw in Bickel’s character, Flattery thought, but he knew their lives could depend on that flaw.

“Get the manifest and ship-loading plans, Tim,” Bickel said. “I’ll give you a list of what we need from colony stores. We can set up in the computer maintenance shop next door for easy—”

“Don’t stay outside the shield area too long,” Prudence said. “You’d better key your dosimeters to repeaters in here; we’ll keep an eye on you that way.”

“Right,” Bickel said.

He slipped off his couch, looked back at Prudence, studying her profile, the intent way she watched the big board. He shifted his attention to Flattery, who lay back with eyes closed, resting for his shift at the controls; then to Timberlake, who was taking copies of the ship-loading plans from the computer memory-bank printers.

None of them has really focused on what has to be done here,
Bickel thought.
They haven’t faced the fact that the simulator eventually has to be tied directly to the computer. We’ll just be building a set of frontal lobes

if we’re successful. And our “Ox” can have but one source of experience upon which to come alive and conscious

the computer and its memory banks.

When they did face this fact, Bickel saw, he was going to have a fight on his hands. Too much of the ship was almost totally dependent on the master programs. Juggling those programs involved a kind of all-or-nothing danger. It was a flaw in the Tin Egg’s design, Bickel felt. He could see no logical reason for it. Why should everything on the ship depend on conscious control or intervention—even down to the robox repair units?

Prudence sensed Bickel’s attention on her, saw his face reflected in a gauge’s plastic cover. His questionings, doubts, and determination were all there for her to read just as surely as she read the dial beneath the plastic reflector. She had set him up—she had done that part of her job as well as could be expected, she thought. She focused now on the total console,
feeling
the sensory pulses of the ship reaching outward to the hull skin and beyond.

Job routine was beginning to smooth off the harsh edges of her fear. She took a deep breath, keyed a forward exterior sensor to the overhead screen, studied the star-spangled view of what lay ahead of the Tin Egg.

That’s our prize,
she thought, looking at the stars.
First, we clean out the Augean stables

then we get to be first … out there. The candy and the stick. That’s the candy, a virgin world of our own (and we have our tanks full of colonists to prove Earth’s good faith) and I … I am the stick.

The screenview appeared suddenly repulsive to her, and she blanked it, returned her attention to the big board and its pressures.

It’s the uncertainty that gets to us,
she thought.
There’s too much unknown out here

something has to go wrong. But we don’t know what it’ll be … or when it’ll hit. We only know the blow when it falls can be totally destructive, leaving not a trace. It has been before

six times.

She heard Bickel and Timberlake leave, the hiss of the hatch expanders sealing behind them; she turned and looked at Flattery. He had a small blue smudge-stain on his cheek just below his left eye. The stain appeared suddenly as an enormous flaw in an otherwise perfect creature. It terrified her, and she turned back to the big board to hide her emotion.

“Why … why did the other six fail?” she asked.

“You must have faith,” Flattery said. “One ship will make it … one day. Perhaps it’ll be our ship.”

“It seems such a … wasteful way,” she murmured.

“Very little’s wasted. Solar energy’s cheap at Moonbase. Raw materials are plentiful.”

“But we’re … alive!” she protested.

“There are plenty more where we came from. They’ll be almost precisely like us … and all of them God’s children. His eye is ever on us. We should—”

“Oh, stop that! I know why we have a chaplain—to feed us that pap when we need it. I don’t need it and I never will.”

“How proud we are,” Flattery said.

“You know what you can do with your metaphysical crap. There is no God, only—”

“Shut up!” he barked. “I speak as your chaplain. I’m surprised at your stupidity, the temerity that permits you to utter such blasphemy
out here.”

“Oh, yes,” she sneered. “I forgot. You’re also our wily Indian scout sniffing the unknown terrain in front of us. You’re the hedge on our bets, the ‘what-if’ factor, the—”

“You have no idea how much unknown we face,” he said.

“Right out of
Hamlet,
she mocked him, and allowed her voice to go heavy with portentousness: “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.’”

He felt an abrupt pang of fear for her. “I’ll pray for you, Prudence.” And he cursed inwardly at the sound of his own voice. He had come through as a fatuous ass.
But I will pray for her,
he thought.

Prudence turned back to the big board, reminding herself:
A stick is to beat people with … to goad them beyond themselves. Raj can’t just be a chaplain; he has to be a super-chaplain.

Flattery took a deep, quavering breath. Her blasphemy had touched his most profound doubts. And he thought how little anyone suspected what lay beneath their veneer of science, deep in that Pandora’s box where
anything
was possible.

Anything?
he asked himself.

That was the bind, of course. They were penetrating the frontiers of
Anything …
and
Anything
had always before been the prerogative of God.

BOOK: Destination: Void: Prequel to the Pandora Sequence
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