Previous Page Next Page

UTC:       Local:

Home Page Index Page

Grand Central Arena: Chapter Three

       Last updated: Friday, November 6, 2009 21:20 EST



    Ariane was feeling her usual post-race high, nervousness and excitement combined with a need to get out and do something. The party wasn't bad, especially with Hawke showing that he was actually enjoying her competition rather than resenting it (the sudden grin on the usually deadpan face had taken her entirely by surprise), but she still was balanced on a hair-trigger and needed a distraction.

    Through the crowd, she saw an arm gesturing in her direction, bounced higher in the low gravity and was able to see Carl Edlund waving her over to a side alcove. With some guys that might have been just an invitation to join them, now or later, for some more private recreation, but Carl knew she never played around with anyone on her team; conflict of interest. Besides, she was pretty sure he had someone.

    There was someone else in the alcove next to the whipcord-slender Edlund, but Ariane couldn't immediate make out who. She triggered her vision mods and it seemed as though a spotlight was shining into the side room, showing a tall, elegant figure in white, light glinting opaquely from a pair of round-lensed glasses, equally white hair falling in a carefully-sculpted fashion around a narrow, intelligent face. Who the heck is that, I wonder. He looks familiar.

    Ahh, Ariane Austin of Tellus, now you embark upon your true destiny, thundered a deeply-resonant basso profundo voice within her mind. You are about to meet Doctor Sandrisson, a Mind of considerable ability and, if my Visualization is correct, already known to you by reputation.

    "Sandrisson – Doctor Simon Sandrisson?" she echoed aloud in complete astonishment. To someone like Ariane, who – when not racing spaceships at unsafe speeds – preferred to spend her time virtually adventuring in other worlds (whether by reading books so old they were on paper, or by travelling directly to those worlds in a simgame as one of the heroes), Dr. Simon Sakuraba Sandrisson was something almost mythical, a figure out of her favorite books come to life. Sandrisson had turned the world of physics upside-down almost a decade ago by declaring that the "context parameter matrix" in the Kanzaki-Locke Unified Field Theory was not, as many had thought, something like Einstein's Cosmological Constant – a "fudge factor" that made everything come out right, but was a factual and accurate physical description of the universe. As the "parameter matrix" in question involved methods of reconciling time and space differentials between widely separated points, the implication was that there was, in fact, a Universal Frame of Reference, a privileged perspective location from which the universe could be viewed.

    Which, in turn, meant – if Sandrisson was right – that real, honest-to-God faster-than-light travel should be not only theoretically, but practically, possible.

    Only a few weeks ago, Sandrisson had gone before the Space Security Council and the Combined Space Forces to seek permission to perform a manned test mission – one of the few types of experiments that he could not perform without the permission and oversight of the SSC and CSF.

    And he'd been granted permission.

    Ariane began bulling her way through the crowd, or jumping over particularly thick clumps of people, the low gravity allowing this maneuver. You know perfectly well that I know ALL about him, Mentor. That I'd have given my last victory to meet him! If you knew he was here, why didn't you tell me?

    You speak loosely and muddily, child; it is not possible, either for an intellect at your level of development or any currently known to me, to know ALL about any being, the sonorously echoing pseudo-voice said chidingly. As for notifying you of his presence, it was not necessary that I do so. She saw Mentor's avatar – a glowing ball of energy with multiple complex winding patterns – give the rippling flicker that was his equivalent of an indulgent chuckle. As Doctor Sandrisson is not, himself, a follower of the sport, and as his own AISage was studying us intently for some thirty-seven of your seconds, it was well within any competent mind to Visualize that his purpose here was to speak with you, and with Doctor Edlund as well.

    With ME? Carl I can understand, but why me?

    Ariane Austin of Tellus, at times I despair of you. Think, child, THINK! The limitations of your current Civilization constrain you too heavily!

    Sometimes I think I gave them TOO good a template for your design, Mentor, she said with a mental laugh. There really are times I believe you're just pretending to be an AISage and really ARE a vast and unknowable intellect of starkly inconceivable age and power. She waited as a logjam of people cleared before her, while exchanging a couple of toasts with those standing around.

    The reply was more muted. Alas, I am but what I was made to be. I hope you are not tired of this, my persona.

    Never. I just hope you're not tired of having to be constantly at my beck and call.

    Mentor did not immediately reply. When he did, it was in a serious tone. Ariane Austin, there are many of your people who show no concern for the thoughts or feelings of the created intellects that they call AISages; others who fear us. You do neither, and that gives me, and others, hope, that we can find a path beyond this – some way of proving, to both machine and biological intellects that both shall be needed, that both are worthy and equal.

    Ariane nodded inwardly. The name "Frankenstein", along with names of more recent vintage – "Skynet", "Monolith", and in a much more recent vein, "Hyperion" – kept all of their power to generate paranoia and fear, and even with the ubiquity of AISages and other artificial intelligences to perform endless tasks for people, the fear of their ultimate capabilities and what that might mean for humanity had meant that strict rules on the independence and capabilities of such artificial intellects were still maintained now, centuries after the first true successful AI was created.

    Ariane knew she had her own brand of that fear – that was why she had no headware beyond the minimum necessary, no resident AI in her head; a fear of something else sitting in her head, thinking thoughts for her. At the same time, that was a purely personal fear, not one of the AIs in general; for them, she felt concern and pity that their lives were so heavily defined and constrained… and a worry that they would come, through all those constraints, to resent their creators, thus making all the precautions the cause of the very thing they were meant to prevent.

    Enough of your introspection, Ariane Austin! You focus on the future when the present confronts you!

    She saw with a start that she was nearly to the alcove. Okay, thanks, Mentor. You can go now. I'll handle the discussion myself.

    It is well that you attempt all things in your own way. I shall be here, if you need me. The avatar-image faded, showing that Mentor was now no longer directly in contact with her and was presumably off amusing himself in whatever way suited his particular preferences.

    "Ariane! Thanks for plowing your way over here!" Carl said, pulling her the rest of the way. "This is –"

    "Doctor Simon Sandrisson, yes, I know. An honor, Doctor."

    The long, elegant hand pressed her own with sufficient force to show that Dr. Sandrisson wasn't a completely cloistered academic. "Thank you, Ms. Austin. I'm surprised you recognized me."

    "Ariane, please. It took a moment," she said, "but I have been following your work and recent announcement, so it's not surprising I'd know who you are." She rather liked the unexpectedly English accent and the glint in his slightly oblique emerald eyes, slightly higher than her own, that showed the only really visible traces of his half-Japenese ancestry. "I'd guess you're here to try to steal away my crew chief, Doctor?"

    Sandrisson smiled. "If I am to address you as Ariane, then please call me Simon. It is true that Doctor Edlund is on the very short list of candidates for control design and integration for the test vessel, but I also came here to speak with you."

    "Me?" Ariane was startled. Despite Mentor's classically overdramatic statement about "destiny", she hadn't had any expectation of Sandrisson being actually interested in her.

    "Indeed." Sandrisson's expression flickered as she felt an aborted ping at her headport – typical of an AISage trying to make a full manifestation connection and failing. "I… why don't you have your AISage connect and I can show you?"

    "Because I prefer to see and understand things myself, not using someone else to do my thinking for me," she answered. She realized that this wasn't the most diplomatic thing she could have said, but she was still on the jittery edge from the race.

    Sandrisson either couldn't or didn't bother to restrain a roll of his eyes skyward. "This will take five times as long to explain accurately, then."

    Ariane ignored the all-too-familiar pang of annoyance combined with a vague overall guilt for being out of step with the world. "But I'll understand it better that way."

    The elegant eyebrows rose, but Sandrisson flashed a smile and shrugged. "I will admit that I have little reluctance to talking about myself and my work. Very well." He glanced at the wall of the niche, and touched the subtle marks that caused the hidden table and chairs to extrude, along with a privacy shield that dropped across the front of the niche (to some minor consternation of partygoers who had been closing in on Ariane).

    "I'll assume," Sandrisson said, seating himself, "that as you have been following my work that I don't have to detail the prelude. In short, we've certainly demonstrated that it is possible to cause an object to move from one point to another in time that, perceived from our locations in spacetime, appears to exceed the speed of light in a manner similar to that which was predicted.

    "However, there are some… oddities. Some of the probes demonstrated effective velocities that were quite high, but well below c. A few – three, to be precise – never emerged at all after transition. Aside from the three lost probes, none of the probes were destroyed or damaged in any detectable way. However, even the ones which remained in, well, wherever they went, for a significant length of time (several seconds) returned no additional data. As you can see from the specifications –" he broke off, realizing that his instinctual triggering of some virtual presentation was not, of course, reaching Ariane, and winced. "Pardon me; I should have said, as you may know from examining our released data, all of the probes were well-supplied with multiple sensing modalities and controlled by AIs rated from 0.1 to 0.5 Taylers."

    Ariane nodded her understanding, as did Carl (whose momentarily-unfocused gaze had shown that he had, indeed, seen the display Sandrisson had supplied). An AI of 0.1 Taylers was normal "smart sensor" automation; it could do a lot of the same sensing and perception and relationship evaluations of humans, but couldn't THINK about it much. Anything over 0.5 Taylers was closing in on human capabilities – and was never allowed to operate completely independently.

    "Despite this," Sandrisson continued, "not a single byte of data was recorded from any sensors following transition."

    "Well," Ariane said, thinking back to multiple fictional depictions of stardrives, "Isn't it possible that from the point of view of the probe, there is no actual time elapsed? That is, that the transition from one point to another is accomplished instantaneously?"

    "This was, in fact, my first working hypothesis once the pattern became obvious," Sandrisson said, with a shrug and another quick, bright smile. "However, several tests showed that this simply was not the case. Battery draw indicated that some period of time had elapsed during the transition; mechanical timers placed on board continued to run and showed the equivalance of the apparent lapse of time."

    "Have you tried using direct recording methods?" Carl asked, leaning forward. By this, Ariane knew, he meant non-automated or minimally automated sensor systems – dumb cameras, radar, and so on.

    The white-haired head dipped in assent. "Certainly. But unfortunately such methods are little used today, and while they have so far shown that they do record during the transition, none of the sensors we've used so far have shown anything outside the probe. It may be a completely featureless void, or it may simply be a lack of sensitivity or range, but it puzzles me as to why the main systems seem to notice nothing unusual at all.

    "Now, on the most recent series of runs, we have tested probes carrying live test subjects, such as guinea pigs and rats. Biologically they appear, as near as we can tell, to continue functioning throughout the transition, and have suffered no detectable ill effects. The longest transition experiments have allowed me to test, using very simple automation, whether they can react during transition, and they do."

    Carl, who was extremely familiar with automated controls and systems of the sort that Sandrisson's probes were using, looked up sharply at that. "But… something like a white rat is effectively running around 0.15 to 0.2 Taylers."

    "Indeed," Sandrisson said, "but living creatures are essentially biological carbon-based nanotech, while most low-level automation – to the 0.5 Tayler limit – is monolithic carbosilicate optical junction circuitry. Very different physical operating principles."

    The reason for Sandrisson's need for a manned flight suddenly burst in on Ariane, and she laughed. "Oh, my. The only solution you could use in the probes, you can't use, right?"

    The physicist gave her an appreciative glance. "Very good, Ariane. I could equip the probes with nanotech-based AI, just like those used in our AISages and in the more advanced AIWish nanotech universal manufacturing units, but it is one of our few absolute laws that no AI of that level be placed in independent operation – which it would be, when placed on a potentially faster than light probe. So I have a technology which would probably solve my problem, but it's not legal for me to do so.

    "Thus, no matter which way I look at it, I have to send a human being – or more than one – along with the next probe. And I might as well make it a full crew if I'm going to do this at all."

    Her role in the mission seemed pretty clear now. Minimal, but clear. "So basically you want me there as an ultimate backup? Since you don't know what's going wrong with the normal controls, you figure that in the worst-case scenario, I can grab the joystick and fly us out of danger."

    "Exactly!" Sandrisson said, enthusiasm having returned during their conversation."I will confess that I had not thought of needing a pilot, but Dr. DuQuesne – our power engineer, whom you will meet on Kanzaki-Three – pointed out to me the possibility of unknown failures and the need for a human fail-safe. Sounds rather twentieth century, I know, but just for the sensing experiments I've had to revive a number of other astoundingly primitive approaches."

    Somewhat to his credit, Sandrisson seemed to belatedly realize that this was rather unfortunate phrasing. "Ah, I did not exactly mean –"

    "I suspect you did, Simon," she cut him off, "but you aren't the first and won't be the last. You need my primitive approach, and you want Carl as a control and integration specialist, so I'm not about to torpedo this chance just because you insert your foot in your mouth."

    The green eyes looked both relieved and apologetic behind the glasses, but she wasn't in the mood to let him off the hook right now. "From my point of view, you keep someone in your head all the time, I have to wonder how well you could do without them propping you up."

    Sandrisson bit his lip, then gave a rueful smile. "Touché, Ms. Austin. Whether I find your choices… odd, even incomprehensible, I should be capable of rudimentary diplomacy. My apologies. And I will owe you a much more detailed and involved apology if it does turn out that you are required to act."

    Carl held out a hand. "Okay, let's stop there before we turn this to a real argument." He was looking at Ariane when he said this, and much as she hated to admit it, he was probably right to be doing that; she did tend to look for trouble, sometimes when it wasn't a good idea. "Doc, you also said there was another reason you ended up here."

    "Yes, as a matter of fact," Sandrisson said quickly. "It was actually rather surprising, although perhaps given Ms… er, Ariane's rather unusual and demanding career not quite as surprising as it might have been. Our research showed that you have connections to several of our candidates of interest in other areas. Specifically," he turned back to Ariane, "in addition to Dr. Edlund, I understand that you know one of our top conceptual design engineer candidates as well as our first choice for medical officer."

    Of course. "And if we're all satisfactory, it means it's a much easier crew to integrate and prep for the final test?"

    Sandrisson nodded.

    She tried to look as though she were thinking, then gave it up. "Much as I'd like to keep you hanging, Simon, I can't. The chance to be on the crew of the first FTL ship ever made? Even as a probably-useless supernumerary? You just try to keep me OUT of your ship!"

    Simon's face relaxed slightly. "That's gratifying, I will admit. Now, I have to emphasize that there is a quite significant risk involved in this –"

    She burst out laughing. "Risk? Doctor Sandrisson, I just ran a race where I tried – with my opponent – to get one of us run into a keyhole barrier at several klicks a second!" She laughed again. "One and a half percent chance of something going wrong? Without that, it wouldn't even be worth FLYING your little toy."

    She found the expression of uncomprehending discomfort on Sandrisson's face quite satisfying.

Home Page Index Page




Previous Page Next Page

Page Counter Image