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CHAPTER 20

CHAPTER 20

In a right-handed person, the so-called rational function operates mainly from the left hemisphere of the cerebral cortex. The 'intuitive' operation, however, lives mainly in the right hemisphere. There is strong evidence for positive feedback between the two hemispheres operating along the corpus callosum. The substance of this interchange remains largely a mystery, but there can be no doubt that it serves an important function in consciousness.

-Morgan Hempstead, Lectures at Moonbase

TIMBERLAKE HAD launched himself down the communications tube with desperate haste, knowing he had to move swiftly or become stalled in terror.

At the tube-distribution lock, he sealed the hatch behind him, snatched a robox-monkey from its rack, tuned the sensors to the track imprinted in the tube wall, slammed its wheels onto the guide marks, and grabbed the handhold controls. Again he encountered that terrifying reluctance to move, and stared up the tube, studying the long, infinity curve of it visible through the transparent safety locks.

I can't go back, he thought.

With a sudden wrench, he twisted the little robox tow unit's drive to full on, let it jerk him ahead along that curving track.

The wind of his passage was a dim hiss. He was like a loose piston driving down that tube. Locks opened automatically to the robox signal, closed behind him. He slowed for the protective jog through the shielding layer, twisted around through the branching outside the hyb tanks, dove back down along the flat angle that returned through the watershield, and stopped in the lock chamber to the tanks.

He racked the robox, stared at the hatch. It was a big yellow oval, its seal warning in heavy blue letters: "THIS HATCH MUST BE CLOSED AND DOGGED. BEFORE INNER HATCH WILL OPEN!"

Now that he was faced with it, Timberlake felt a calm submission to fate. He gripped the hatch dogs, broke the seal, seeing the line of frost inside as the hatch swung open. His suit generators hummed upscale, compensating for the drop in temperature as chill air spilled out of the lock.

Timberlake slipped into the lock, closed and sealed the outer hatch, turned around. A rack of heavy-duty generators hung over the inner hatch with a big warning sign above them: "EXTREME DANGER! DEEP SPACE OR L-T SUIT REQUIRED BEFORE ENTERING THE NEXT LOCK. BE SURE YOU HAVE SPARE GENERATOR IN WORKING CONDITION BEFORE OPENING THIS HATCH."

Timberlake looped the straps of a spare generator over his shoulder, gave the thing's turbine drive a short burst to check it. The generator hummed briefly. He swung the rack of them aside, broke open the next hatch, slipped through and dogged it behind him.

Now, a smaller hatch greeted him, and lettered on its face: "ADMISSION ONLY TO LIFE-SYSTEMS ENGINEERS OR MEDICAL PERSONNEL. SUIT SECURITY MUST BE MAINTAINED AT ALL TIMES BEYOND THIS POINT. DO NOT OPEN THIS HATCH UNTIL YOU HAVE ADJUSTED YOUR SUIT FOR THE EXTREME LOW OF HYBERNATION TEMPERATURES."

Timberlake coupled the auxiliary generator to his suit, checked both generators, adjusted them for temperature-security override. The remembered routine occupied his awareness, keeping his mind off the space beyond that hatch. Suit seals slithered under his gloved fingers as he secured them. He dropped the anti-fog viewplate over his faceplate, ran a check tape along the seals.

The moment of final decision had come.

Timberlake forced himself to act slowly and calmly. More than his own life depended on what he did now, he told himself. Stray heat inside there could play havoc with helpless lives. He passed his suit's baffles in front of a heat sensor, studied the gauge.

Zero.

His gloved hands went to the dogs of the inner hatch, broke the seal. The hatch popped slightly, indicating a small difference in pressure -- nothing abnormal. He stepped through into the glittering dry chill of the first bank of hyb tanks. This was where Prudence had been. He saw her empty tank on his left, its leads dangling, the cushioned carrier still open inside.

Everything around him was revealed in harsh blue light. He studied the chamber.

It was like a giant barrel -- an open space in the center surrounded by the smaller barrels that were the individual hybernation tanks. A grid-floored catwalk led down the open center, with short ladders and handholds branching up to the separate tanks.

Timberlake kicked off down the length of the tank in three low-grav jumps, caught a handhold beside the breaker lock that separated this section from the next one.

He looked back. No . . . they weren't little barrels, he thought. The individual tanks stretched away from him -- all around -- like so many sections of gray culvert pipe waiting to be assembled into something useful . . . like a drain.

There was no point examining the tanks in here, he knew. This was the No. 1 section: high-priority crew replacements. If there was deception, it'd be farther along the line -- in one of the deeper sections.

Timberlake opened the safety valve at the breaker lock, swung open the hatch, let himself through, reset the mechanism to isolate the section in the event of partial damage.

He looked around the new section. It was the twin of the other except for the absence of a raided tank.

Timberlake swallowed. His cheeks felt damp and cold. A place between his shoulder blades itched.

Quite abruptly, he found himself remembering Professor Aldiss Warren, the lecturer in biophysics back at UMB. He was a goat-bearded old man with a senile-sounding voice and a mind like a scimitar.

Why do I think of old Warren -- now? Timberlake wondered.

As though the question released a hidden awareness, he recalled the old man diverging from a seminar discussion to talk about moral strength.

"You wish to test moral strength?" he'd asked. "Simple. Construct a med-computer with a public callbox attachment. Set it so that anyone submitting to the computer's probes can find out to within a day or so when he'll die . . . of natural causes, of course. If you wish to call old age natural. Then you step back and see who uses the thing."

Someone -- a female student, had asked, "Wouldn't it take a kind of courage not to use this computer?"

Pah!" old Warren had exploded.

Another student had said, "Hypothetical questions like this always bore the hell out of me."

"Sure," old Warren had answered. "You young toughs haven't faced the fact we could build such a med-computer -- right now, today. We've had the ability to build it for more than thirty years. It wouldn't even be very costly -- as such things go. But we don't build it. Because very few people -- even among those who could build it -- have the moral strength to use it."

Timberlake held himself still and silent in the hyb tank, realizing why he had remembered that incident. Coming into this cold-lighted tank was like using old Warren's hypothetical death predictor.

Bickel infected me with the certainty that this ship is not what it seems to be, Timberlake thought. He took over command, pushed me aside. The only reason for being that was left me -- He looked up and around the tank -- was in here. If this is taken from me, then I'm truly useless . . . except as a kind of computer-shop flunky for

Bickel.

Yes, Bickel. Right away, Bickel. Is there anything else, Bickel?

With a sense of astonishment at how he had unconsciously dramatized the change of relationships within the crew, Timberlake rolled this realization over and over in his mind. There was a kind of pride in the awareness of his inner workings, the quirks his mind possessed, and an understanding that this stemmed in part from his conditioning.

Presently, he launched himself up to an individual tank hanging low on the left center. The tank was like all the others racked in curving rows around it. He activated the inner cold light, caught a handhold, and bent close to the tank's inspection port.

The light flickered, glowed. It illuminated the metered master tubes dropping from the tank's other side, a color-coded sheaf of spaghetti that trailed down left and right to the figure under the light.

A man's craggy profile lay there, waxy skin and faint black beard. He was like a mannequin figure -- and Timberlake thought immediately of elaborate human-size dolls racked here to maintain the pretense.

The man's name was there on the tank's identification plate immediately below the place where the spaghetti of life-support connections entered.

"Martin Rhoades." And the code number which identified the specialties conditioned into him. He was an organizer, an executive . . . and another medical person.

If that were a real person.

Timberlake found his thoughts flitting from concept to concept. Person. Persona. Does a Persona provide a Raison d'etre? That meant "a reason to be."

What's my reason for being?

Timberlake studied the life-systems telltales above the spaghetti sheaf. They registered a faint flame of life within the tank. Timberlake made a tiny adjustment in the oxygen meter, caught the immediate feedback surge on the tank's electroencephalographic coupling.

The oxygen meter reset itself.

This, then, was a hybernating man. That feedback reaction, with its elaborate encephalographic play, could not be programmed for the unexpected. The oxygen shift at this moment in time obviously could not have been anticipated. A human homeostat had detected it, though, and reacted correctly.

Timberlake dropped down to the gridded catwalk, checked a tank opposite, and another farther down the line.

He went through them at random, pausing only to check that each held a living human.

Names leaped out at him from the I.D. tags:

"Tossa Lon Nikki."

"Artemus Lon St. John."

"Peter Lon Vardack."

"Legata Lon Hamill."

One of them he recognized -- black hair, olive skin with its waxy undertone, chiseled features -- Frank Lipera, a fellow student in human engineering.

Presently, Timberlake went on to the next section . . . and the next. He found he recognized many of the occupants. This filled him with a feeling of loneliness. He felt that he might be the keeper of a museum, guarding old relics for a brief human life span, sequestering beneath these blue cold lights a share of man's culture and knowledge.

He came at last to a corner of section seven, another recognizable face from his UMB past -- blond and Germanic, pale wax skin. Timberlake read the name etched above the inspection port: "PEABODY, Alan -- K7a."

Yes, it was Al Peabody, Timberlake agreed. Yet, in a way it wasn't Al. . . . It was as though the companion of Timberlake's gym classes, his opponent in handball and moon tennis, had gone away somewhere to wait.

But Peabody, Alan -- K-7a proved to be a viable human with individual homeostatic reactions. He could be awakened to speak and act and think. He could be awakened to consciousness.

And consciousness is a thing beyond speaking and acting and thinking, Timberlake thought.

He loosed the handhold, dropped lightly back to the catwalk, feeling no particular need to check further. He knew with an inner certainty that all the tanks held hybernating humans. Bickel might be correct about the Tin Egg being an elaborate simulation, but in here the simulation went too far to be anything other than what it seemed. The hyb tanks had not been larded with obvious deception.

I was supposed to come through here, surprise Bickel and stop him, Timberlake thought. Stop him from what?

Some tiny, unregistered perception worked on the edge of Timberlake's awareness, assuring him that whatever Bickel was doing right now in the shop held no immediate danger to these helpless sleepers.

Whatever Bickel's doing, he must be doing it right now, Timberlake thought. I've been gone . . . almost an hour.

He looked up at the rows of tanks.

Yet, every tank I checked was functioning at peak efficiency, as though the entire system were tuned to a critical optimum.

Timberlake nodded to himself. You might almost think a mental core still rode monitor on the ship's vital parts. He felt that he could almost hear the tremendously slowed oscillations of life around him.

The spot between his shoulder blades had ceased to itch, but he felt painfully tired now, slightly dizzy, his body dragging at his muscles.

It occurred to Timberlake then that they could be going at the problem of reproducing consciousness too literally. Will we have to install mechanisms that permit the Ox to grow tired? he wondered. We're too literal . . . like peasants asking the genie for three wishes. Maybe we won't like our wishes if we get them.

God, I'm tired.

Something moved near the far bulkhead -- a spacesuited figure. For one instant of unreality, Timberlake thought that one of his hybernating charges had revived itself. Then, the moving figure came full into the glare of the cold light and Timberlake recognized Flattery's features behind the anti-fog plate of the helmet bubble.

"Tim!" Flattery called.

His voice boomed from the suit amplifiers, echoed with a metallic ringing through the cold air of the tank.

Something wrong with your suit receiver?" Flattery asked, stopping in front of Timberlake.

Timberlake looked down at the command set near his chin, saw that its circuit-indicator light was dark.

I left it off, Timberlake thought. Never even thought of turning it on. Why'd I do that?

Flattery studied Timberlake carefully. The man's motions when first seen across the tank had indicated nothing seriously wrong. He moved. He seemed aware of his surroundings.

"You feel all right, Tim?" Flattery asked.

"Sure. Sure . . . I feel all right."

Like three wishes, Timberlake thought. Like the three S's of our school joke: Security, Sleep, and Sex.

Something touched his shoulder, and he realized he had heard the inner bulkhead open. He looked around to see Bickel standing there.

"You feel up to some work, Tim?" Bickel asked. "I need your help."

Some carrier inflection of Bickel's voice, a subtly shaded overtone, told Timberlake that Bickel had been worried about him.

But he must know I was sent through here . . . to try to stop him.

In that instant, Timberlake realized they were very close, the three of them standing here. And the closeness went beyond physical proximity.

"Whatever you're doing, Bick," Timberlake said, "it's having no adverse effect on the hyb tanks. Every sleeper I checked was humming along nicely."

"Every . . ." Bickel nodded. "You found . . . ahh . . ."

"Look for yourself," Timberlake said, realizing Bickel had not dared test his own suspicion that the hyb tanks were a sham. "They're all occupied."

"Excuse me." The politeness sounded odd coming out of Bickel's suit speaker. He jumped to an overhead handhold, swung to a ladder and, oddly, picked the tank of Peabody, Alan -- K-7a.

Presently, he worked his way along the K-line of tanks, pausing only to peer into the inspection ports. He dropped back down to the catwalk near its center, returned to them.

"All of them?" he asked, nodding back toward the other sections.

"The only empty tank's the one that held Prue," Timberlake said.

"Prue!" Flattery said. "She's all alone in Com-central." He thumbed the outside switch of his transceiver, changing circuits. They saw his lips move, but his voice was only a faint chatter.

Bickel looked down, saw that he had ignored his command set. He flicked the switch, caught Prudence saying: ". . . so far. But I don't like the idea of being all alone in here in case there's a real emergency."

Bickel, too, preferred silence, Timberlake thought. He wanted a moment alone.

Flattery returned his suit circuits to voice amplifier, looked questioningly at Bickel. "Had we better be getting back?"

Raj seems more relieved than Tim that these tanks are what they seem, Bickel thought. Why? "You don't want to check the tanks for yourself?

"I, can take your word for it," Flattery said.

"Can you?"

What's he doing? Flattery wondered. Is he trying to goad me?

Timberlake heard the derision in Bickel's voice, felt their moment of closeness shatter. Without moving their bodies, they had pulled apart. But Timberlake realized with an odd feeling of elation that he had aligned himself with Bickel.

"This isn't illusion," Flattery said. He waved at the tanks around them.

"And you are conscious," Bickel said.

Flattery suppressed a feeling of rage, but felt a sour taste in his mouth. I will not let myself be goaded, he thought. "Of course I'm conscious."

"Never apply 'of course' to consciousness," Bickel chided. "Consciousness can project illusions -- insubstantial stimulus objects -- onto the screen of your awareness." He motioned to the tanks above them. "Go ahead, check. We'll wait."

Flattery felt stubborn now. "I will not." He started to push past Bickel.

"Where're you going?" Bickel asked, catching the arm of Flattery's suit in one gloved hand.

"The shortest way back -- through the shop," Flattery said. "If you don't mind!" He shook his arm free.

"Be my guest," Bickel said, and stepped aside.

Timberlake stared at Flattery as the psychiatrist-chaplain wrenched the hatch dogs, opened the hatch and slipped through to the next chamber.

Flattery's fear was something other than worry about me, Timberlake realized. He's still afraid!

Bickel took Timberlake's arm, helped him through, followed, and dogged the hatch. Flattery already was at the next hatch, had it open.

Damn poor procedure, Timberlake thought, but he let it go.

Presently, they came to the inner locks and the back passage beneath the primary computer installation and up into the shop. They slipped through, sealed the hatch.

Bickel threw back his helmet. Flattery and Timberlake did the same. Bickel already was loosening his glove seals.

Timberlake stared at Flattery, watching the way the man studied the jutting boxes and angles, the interwoven leads of the Ox.

"Infinite counting net?" Flattery asked.

"Why not?" Bickel asked. "You have it. You can count beyond the number of your own total nerve supply. The Ox has to do the same."

"You know the danger," Flattery said.

"Some of the danger," Bickel admitted.

"This ship could be one gigantic sensory surface. Its receptors could achieve combinations unknown to us, could contact energy sources unknown to us."

"Is that one of the theories?"

Flattery took a step closer to the Ox.

"Before you do anything destructive," Bickel said, and he nodded toward the patterned confusion clinging to the computer wall with its wire tentacles, "you'd better know I'm already getting conscious-type reactions on a low scale -- the system itself activating various sensors. It's like an animal blinking its eyes -- a heat sensor here, audio there . . ."

"That could be a random dislodge pattern due to the shot-effect bursts," Flattery said.

"Not when nerve-net activity accompanies each reaction."

Flattery digested this, feeling his conditioned fear-alertness -- the reaction for which he was but a trigger -- come to full amplitude. His memory focused on the two red keys and the self-destruction program they would ignite through the computer links of the ship.

"Tim, how tired are you?" Bickel asked.

Timberlake looked at Bickel. How tired am I? Minutes ago, he had been shot through with fatigue. Now . . . something had keyed him up, filled him with elation.

Conscious-type reactions!

"I'm ready for another full shift."

"This thing's too simple yet to even approach full consciousness," Bickel said. "Most of the ship's sensors bypass the Ox circuits. Robox controls aren't connected and it has no --"

"Just a minute!" Flattery snapped.

They turned, caught by the anger in Flattery's voice.

"You admit this goal-seeking mechanism may operate entirely outside your control," Flattery said, "and you're still willing to give it eyes -- and muscles?"

"Raj, before we're finished, this thing has to have complete control of the ship."

"To get us across the Big Empty and safely to Tau Ceti," Flattery said. "You're assuming that's the ship-computer's basic program?"

"I assume nothing. I checked. That's the basic program."

To Tau Ceti! Flattery thought. He felt like both laughing and crying. He didn't know whether to tell them the truth -- the fools! But . . . no, that would render them less efficient. Best to play the charade out to its silly conclusion!

He took a deep breath to get himself under control. "Okay, John, but you can't anticipate every goal of your . . . Ox."

"Unless we design all its goals into it," Timberlake answered.

Flattery waved Timberlake to silence. "That defeats your purpose."

"We'd have to foresee every possible danger," Bickel agreed. "And it's precisely because we can't foresee every possible danger that we need this conscious awareness guiding the ship, its . . . hands on every control."

Flattery reviewed the argument, trying to find a chink in Bickel's logic. The words merely echoed many of the UMB briefings to which Flattery had been subjected: "You'll be required to find a survival technique in a profoundly changed environment. Remember, you can't foresee every new danger."

"Fail-safes won't work, of course," Flattery said.

"Same argument," Bickel said. "Fail-safes work only when your dangers are known and anticipated."

"Can you prevent damage to the computer core?"

"It'll be buffered forty ways from Sunday. I've already started the buffering."

"The ship had an overriding supervisory program," Flattery said, "a command to get us safely to Tau Ceti -- you're sure of that?"

"The command's there. They didn't fake it."

"What if it develops that it's fatal to go to Tau Ceti?"

Why is he quibbling? Bickel wondered. Surely, he knows the answer to that. "A simple binary decision solves that. We give it a turn-back alternative."

"Ahhhhh," Flattery said. "The best of all possible moves, eh? But we're in the Queen's croquet game. You said it yourself. What if the Queen of Hearts changes the rules? We've no Alice in this wonderland to haul us back to reality."

A deliberately poor move somewhere along the line changing the theoretical structure of the game, Bickel thought. That's an indicated possibility.

He shrugged: "Then we get sent to the headsman."



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