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Grand Central Arena: Chapter Six

       Last updated: Sunday, November 15, 2009 15:05 EST



    As usual, DuQuesne noticed, Simon lingered a bit longer than everyone else; generally he seemed to be giving people a chance to meet with him privately in case they had questions or concerns they didn't want to talk about in the general meeting. Since he didn't have any additional points to hash out with Simon, DuQuesne continued out.

    But after he'd only gone a couple of corridors down, he slowed. There'd been something on the scientist's face, a shift in expression, that bothered him. DuQuesne shrugged and returned to the conference room.

    Simon Sandrisson was still there, eyes closed but not resting; his face, now that DuQuesne was looking for it, seemed definitely troubled. "You okay, Simon?"

    The green eyes snapped open in startlement. "Marc? I thought everyone had left."

    "I had. Came back, though, because I thought you looked like something was eating at you. From what I saw when I came in, I was right. Want to talk about it?"

    Sandrisson sat up, one hand reflexively smoothing his hair back so it framed rather than fell across his face. "Is it really that obvious?"

    "No," DuQuesne answered, giving the scientist a very small smile, "I doubt anyone else would have noticed anything at all. But your question tells me you do have a problem, so spit it out."

    "I suppose I should. Marc, is it really worth endangering all of you just to prove my own point? Am I conducting an experiment that I shouldn't?"

    "Didn't you already have this discussion with Saul Maginot and me? The Schilling potential of this jaunt seems minimal." DuQuesne used the usual shorthand to refer to the risk of true lethal disaster, derived from the runaway nanotech or "gray goo" incident that had consumed the laboratory and persons of Dr. Michael Schilling, the unrelated Dr. John Schilling, and their 40 associates in Lunar Lab 2 – necessitating a thermonuclear strike to eliminate the danger. "And there's some good reason to go forward with this. You convinced Saul, obviously."

    The scientist sighed, then took off the ornamental glasses and rubbed his eyes. "I played to his general concerns, partly because Mio was able to glean his hot-button topics from his public speeches and interviews. But privacy, self-determination, all these things are virtually at an all-time high. I'm afraid I may have convinced him, but not myself. What is the danger and urgency here that justifies risking people?"

    DuQuesne gave a derisive snort. "Sandrisson, let me tell you something. I've known Commander Maginot for… well, a damn long time, and if all you did was try to play up to his fears, he'd have laughed you out of the conference room and denied you this chance, right off the bat." He shook his head. "Look, Simon, it's hard to see all the parts of this picture. Some of it goes all the way back to Harriman Delosius and the Anonymity War, which damn near wrecked civilization but ended up giving us what we've got now – a society that's bloody close to the ideal of everyone able to do whatever they want, whenever they want, as long as they don't hurt anyone else, and without anyone starving, freezing, or otherwise suffering because they can't even get the basic necessities of life. We still have different countries, but compared to what they used to be, they're practically volunteer clubs.

    "But you know there's always that nagging set of voices out there worried that someone is doing something bad with that freedom – and of course the problem is, sometimes they're right."

    Simon nodded. "Hyperion."

    DuQuesne grimaced. "Yeah. Hyperion. That mess forced Saul to create the Combined Space Forces and the Space Security Countil all at once. There are some things too monstrous to allow, even in the name of freedom. The problem is that it's easy to let that kind of change accumulate. People don't mind poking into other people's business… they just don't want other people poking into theirs. Governments exist to run society… and they do that best by having more and more information and control. Sure, the governments we have now don't have much of that at all any more – when AIWish nanoreplicators can give everyone pretty much anything, there's just not all that much left to do.

    "Yes, yes." Simon said tiredly, "I know that part of the argument, I made it to the Commander. Do you really think there's a clear and present danger of this society turning into one that's really so much more controlled?"

    "Oh, yes indeedy." DuQuesne gave his most unsettling grin. "There've been bills debated already on the floor of the SSC which would introduce requirements to insert override codes – only for use in the most extreme circumstances, of course – allowing the SSC or its active arm, the CSF, to directly interrogate your personal net, including your AISage, without consent. They've been defeated so far, but the problem is that we've come way too far with our technology; if such a thing were ever enacted, it would be a very, very, very short step from that to universal monitoring and control. And that is ignoring the joker in the pack of the AISages – imagine your favorite friend and confidant being secretly programmed to monitor you. It wouldn't be hard to manage."

    Simon shuddered. "Mio says you have a horrible imagination and she's going to have nightmares about that."

    "Sorry." DuQuesne said sincerely. He opened up his link so he could see the little Oriental avatar glaring at him. "Really, I am sorry. That wasn't meant to imply anything about you."

    She narrowed her eyes. "I certainly hope not."

    "So, Marc," Simon said, "Do you really see FTL as helping this situation?"

    "Indirectly, yes. Oh, it's not really going to be a solution for the Solar System itself if someone manages to trigger a totalitarian revolution, but what it would do is make it possible for there to be places NOT controlled by such a regime. The Solar System's got fifty-five billion people in it now, and it's actually starting to get a little difficult to find some area to set up shop that you're NOT going to be a little close to someone else. For, of course, varying values of 'a little close'. And if you do set up shop far enough away that other people aren't sure what you're up to, it's already true that they start nosing around to make sure that you aren't the next Hyperion Station."

    "You may be right," Simon said reluctantly. "Mio just showed me a projection of your little horror scenario and I admit, it's terrifying. Less than one year from the time of authorization to potential near-total control?"

    DuQuesne nodded slowly. "That's the drawback to near-universal nanotech, controllable AI assistance, and so on. If it turns on you – or someone turns it against you – you've got almost no defense."

    "What about you, DuQuesne?" Mio said suddenly. "I hope I am not offending you, but when we first met, Simon asked me to profile you along with the Commander… and I was not able to gather much of anything at all. You are a terribly private man. Is it just this issue that makes you interested in this project?"

    DuQuesne chuckled. Private indeed. "Actually, I have plenty of reasons of my own. One is just simple curiosity. I want to know what's out there, and even with longevity treatments I may never know if we can't get your little gadget working."

    "But currently we have every reason to expect centuries – if not longer – of life. Unmanned probes –"

    "—haven't answered the questions yet, actually," he said with a sardonic grin. "Here's a little tidbit of info that I've gathered over the past few decades, but it's not generally known, though undoubtedly thousands or millions know parts of it.

    "In the past 40 years, no less than twelve interstellar probes were launched, using whatever was top-of-the-line in automation and nanodesign at the time. A couple of these were basically backyard fan projects, but most of them got quite a bit of interest and energy backing at their time. By now, more than half of them should have arrived at their destinations and started survey and possibly even nanoconstruction work.

    "Not a single one of them has been heard from."

    There was silence for a moment as Simon and Mio contemplated that fact – and how very unlikely it was for so many advanced probe systems to fail utterly. Then DuQuesne stood. "Anyway, you feel any better?"

    Simon looked at him wryly. "I am not entirely sure that 'better' is the proper term, Marc. However, I will say that I do feel less like a mad scientist risking others for the sake of his own vindication. Thank you."

    "Anytime." He walked out, feeling reasonably satisfied. Throwing an AISage like Mio off track took considerable effort and timing; you had to read the personality just like any other person's, and take into account their own focus. She might – probably would – later on come to the tentative conclusion that he'd evaded discussing other reasons he was interested in the project.

    But not until it was too late for that to make a difference.

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