The Golden Age Ep. 04: To Halt the Wheel of History

Excerpts from THE GOLDEN AGE, my debut novel from 2001. Arkhaven Comics is reprinting the excerpts mirrored here, from time to time.

Volume I: The Golden Age
Chapter 01: The Old Man
Episode 04: To Halt the Wheel of History

Elsewhere, Helion was also discontented.

In Aurelian mansion, seven entities of very different schools, life-principles, neuroforms, and appearance were meeting privately.  They had three things in common: wealth, age, and ambition.

The Seven Peers were actually sitting in a tall, many-windowed library, with thought-icons on the oak-paneled walls.  Each Peer saw the chamber differently.

The most recently admitted Peer was named Helion Relic (undetermined) Rhadamanth Humodified (augment, with multiple synnoetic sensory channels) Self-composed, Radial Hierarchic Multi-partial (multiple parallel and partial, with subroutines) , Base Neuroformed,  Silver-Grey Manorial School, Era 50 (‘The Time of the Second Immortality’.)

He was the only manor-born present, and was more than a little pleased that his School, the Silver-Grey, was singled out from among the other schools of the manorials for this dignity.

Helion’s self-image wore the costume of a Byzantine Imperator from the time of the Second Mental Structure, with a many-rayed diadem of pearly white, and robe of Tyrian purple.

“My Peers, it is with great pride and honor I take my place among you.  I trust that the legal issues surrounding the question of my continuity of identity are acceptable to everyone here?”

There was a signal of concurrence from the Peers, which Helion’s sensorium interpreted as nods and murmurs of assent.

“Gentlemen, we are the Peers and Paramounts of this civilization.  The Golden Oecumene has given us every benefit she can give.  Now we must protect her.  We must make certain that the events that so recently shook our society to her roots—events that only we Seven now recall—never reoccur.

“We Seven represent the wealthiest non-machine fortunes ever to exist in time or space. If we do not act—then who?

“I submit that we have reached a golden age, a time of perfection and utopia: to maintain it, to sustain it, no further changes can be allowed.  Adventures, risks, rashness, must receive no further applause from any voice in our Oecumene. Only then will we all be able to keep our wayward sons at home, safe from harm.

“At your leisure, you may examine my detailed findings; how many people we can influence, what the possible results are of various forms of art and persuasion we can bring forth during the celebration. I draw your attention, for example, to the eco-performance at Destiny Lake, formulated by the sister-mates of our Peer, Wheel of Life. Even those who do not apprehend the direct analogy involved there, will be subliminally made uneasy by the type of erratic and selfish heroism which that work of art condemns.

“This is merely one example of thousands. The computer time available to my Manor house can generate specific anticipations running to many orders of magnitude. Merely human minds will not be able to out-wit the kind of persuasive campaign I envision. If enough people are persuaded to the truth of a proposition before the Transcendence, surely that will be remembered during the Transfiguration, surely that will shape the outcome after.

“The Age of Tranquility, dreamed of for so many aeons of so much turmoil and pain, has come! My Peers, history must be called to an end!

“Examine my proposal, my Peers. Look at the future I have drafted. It is one where the College of Hortators is backed by the full power of the Seven Peers.”

***   ***   ***

Phaethon addressed the giant being: “Pardon me, sir, if I am intruding, but could you tell me, please, if you saw a man come by here just now?  He looked like this…” and he opened up Channel 100, the common-use channel, and downloaded a few hundred frames of images and sensorumedia from his recent memory into a public temporary file.  He had an artistic sub-routine add background music, narrative comments, and some dramatic editing for theme and unity, and then he transmitted the images.

Phaethon felt the tingle of his nape-hairs as his name was read  (he still had not put his mask back on), and then a signal came in on a high-compression channel, saying: “This is the translator. My client is attempting to convey a complex of memory-files and associational paths which you either do not have the ability to receive or which I do not have authority to transmit.  The amount of information involved may be more than one brain can apprehend.  Do you have stored noumenal personalities, back-ups, or augments?”

Phaethon signaled for identity, but the Neptunian was masked. “You have me at a disadvantage, sir.  I am not accustomed to revealing the locations of my mind-space to strangers, and certainly not my resurrection copies.” Phaethon wanted an answer to his question, and would have preferred to remain polite, but the request that he open his private thoughts was extraordinary, almost absurd. Not to mention that the Neptunian reputation for eccentric pranks was too well known.

“Very well.  I will attempt to convey my client’s communication in a linear format, by means of words, but only on the understanding that much substantial content, and all secondary meanings, nuances, and connotations will be lost.”

“I will be tolerant. Proceed.”

“My initial data-burst consists of 400 entries, including multidimensional image-arrays, memory respondents and co-relations, poetry, and instructions on nerve-alterations for creating novel emotional receiving structures in your brain.  These structures may be of use later for appreciating the emotions (which have no names as yet in your language) which other parts of the communication will then attempt to arouse. The initial burst contains other preliminary minutia.

“Then follows a contextual-batch of six thousand entries, including volumes of art and experience, memories and reconstructed memories, real and fictional, intended to give you and he a common background of experience, a context in which certain allusions and specifics will be best understood.  Other greetings and salutations follow.

“The first entry of the core message contains rote formalities of time-sense and identity continuity, establishing that you are, in fact, the same Phaethon of my client’s acquaintance, or, in case you are a copy, re-construction, or simulation, to ascertain the relative degree of emotional and mental correspondence with which my client must regard you.  The core message itself…”

“Pardon me,” said Phaethon. “Did I know your client before he joined your Composition?”  He amplified his vision (opening additional wavelengths) to look curiously at the several brains and brain-groups floating in the icy substance.

“The Neptunian legate produces an emotion-statement of three orders of complexity, with associated memory-trees to show correspondence, but otherwise does not respond to your question, which he regards as fantastic, disorienting, and not at all funny. Pause: Should I explain further about the emotional-reaction, or shall I continue with the central message of the first data-group? The process could be considerably sped if you will impart your command-codes and locks to give me direct access to your neurological and mnemonic systems; this will enable me to add files directly into your mind, and alter your temperament, outlook, and philosophy to understand my client in the way he himself would like to be understood.”

“Certainly not!”

“I was required to ask.”

“Can you make your summary more brief?  The man I’m asking about is someone who  — well, perhaps he offended me, or — this man said some confusing things, and he — well, I’m trying to find him.” Phaethon finished lamely.

“Very well. My client says: I (he forewords, as an appendix, a treatise on the meaning of the word, ‘I’, the concept of selfhood, and a bibliographical compendium of his life-experiences and changes in his self-notions in order to define this term to you) greet (he also has side-comments on the history and nature of greetings, the implications in this context of what is meant, including the legal implications of violating the ban placed on his initiating any contact with you.)  you (and he postulates a subjunctive inquiry that, should you not be the individual  that he deems you to be, that all this be placed in a secondary memory-chain, and regarded as a less-than-real operation, similar to a pseudomnemia.) (He also requests sealed and notarized confirmation on his recorded memorandum documenting that you initiated the contact without his prompting.) ”

“Stop!  You are only three words into the first message, and already everything is obscure.  What prohibition has been placed on him?  By whom?  The human race is finally mature, wise enough to reject coercion as a means to deal with each other. Where is there any institution, any curia, that is not voluntary, not based on subscription? Our militia was supported by donations from historical trusts. Who has any right to prevent your client from speaking with me?  Who is your client?  Tell him to remove his mask.”

“My client responds with an emotion-action statement of four orders of complexity, all in the hypothetical-subjunctive mode, which states, in brief, that were he forbidden to speak with you, there may be (granting for the sake of argument) monitors or directives eavesdropping, which, were there such a thing, would not interfere as long as this discourse is kept within the general boundaries of polite and innocuous discourse.  Of the seventy-four thousand million possible outcomes of this conversation which my client has examined in predictive scenarios, over fourteen of them conclude by some sort of interruption or reaction from the Aurelian Sophotech.  Would you care to examine the full text of my client’s reply, examine the extrapolation scenarios which he has calculated, or should I continue with my disquisition of the core message?”

This was the most fantastic yet.  Phaethon put his mask back on, which acted a signal to restore a zone of privacy around him, even hiding such information as was normally public, such as his name and appearance.

“Surely no one would be so rude as to intrude on our private conversation, not without some good reason!”

“My client wishes to download a philosophical question-and-debate routine to attempt to convince you that, even in the most enlightened and civilized of societies, reasonable men can differ as to what constitutes the good.  For example (and here he once again indicates that he speaks only hypothetically) those who place a higher value on freedom than on the alleged security and meaningfulness which adherence to tradition provides, might be willing to tolerate, or even encourage, a certain small amount of crime and riot, danger and uncertainty.”

Phaethon knew Greek and Latin, English and French, and half-a-dozen other dead languages, and so he knew the word ‘crime’ meant; but he had never heard it used except as a metaphor for unacceptable rudeness, or for poorly executed works of art.  A paleolinguistic routine from the Rhadamanthus Mansion-mind had confirmed the original meaning of the word and had inserted it into Phaethon’s short-term memory.

He had his memory replay the last message over more than once to reassure himself that there had been no error.  Was this creature actually advocating that the use of violence or fraud against innocent beings was, in some measure, justified?

The translator persisted: “Will you open, at least, a holding space where he can put some of the conversation-trees he has constructed on this topic for you?”

“Sir; for give me if I seem abrupt.  But my main question, about the man who accosted me, lingers unanswered.  Could you return to your core message, and, if you please, summarize the summary?”

“Here is a severely reduced summation of the core message:

“Phaethon, I greet you once again, though you have passed into the shadow of our enemy, have been wounded in your soul and mind, and have forgotten me.  One day, I pray, we shall be whole again. Crippled now in your mind, you have perhaps no strength to sustain the belief in that great dream which once shook the worlds and empires of the Golden Oecumene to its rotten base; nor would you believe in what high esteem I and my comrades still hold you, despite your treasonous weakness of will.  But believe this: You are trapped in a labyrinth of illusion; and yet the scruples, or the folly, of our foes allows you one hope of escape, one weak chink, a loophole, in an otherwise all-embracing prison-wall.

“You must come with me now to the outer world, to cold and distant Neptune, in the dark, where the power of the Sunlight, and of the Golden Oecumene’s machines, fall short.  After long struggles and contests of will, we have forced Golden Oecumene law to grants to the distant exiles there a measure of mental privacy and freedom undreamed here; our thoughts are not monitored by the benevolent tyranny of machines.  Once there, you can become one of us.  Your soul and memory can be cured of their great wound.  Your body will be changed, and become like unto ours, and your mind will be embraced into our all-encompassing communion.

“But you must come at once, with no delay.  Leave your wife, your life, your dreams of wealth, your mansion-home.  Leave all.  Say farewell to warmth and sun, but come!’ ”

Phaethon’s mind was blank.  It was all too bizarre.  He knew the word ‘enemy’ was; the term referred to something like a competitor, but a vicious and uncivil one.  The idea that the Golden Oecumene structure, however, could be such a thing was patently absurd; like thinking the sky was made of iron.  Phaethon knew what insanity was, from his historical simulations, the same way he knew what a flint hand-ax or a disease was;  he was able to understand the idea that the Neptunian might be insane.  He just was not able, not really, to believe it.

In his mental blankness, all he could think to say was: “If I wake my real body, to travel outside the range of the Noumenal Mentality, my brain-information could not, in the case of a physical accident, be recorded and stored. Important segments of my life experience might be lost; I could even loose continuity and die the true and final death.”

“But I tell you that you shall not die, but shall mingle with the Tritonic Composition and achieve a finer and higher life!”