Taking the Long View

– Taking the Long View –

By John C. Wright

*** *** ***

YOU are blind like us. Your hurt no man designed,
And no man claimed the conquest of your land.
But gropers both, through fields of thought confined,
We stumble and we do not understand.
You only saw your future bigly planned,
And we the tapering paths of our own mind,
And in each other’s dearest ways we stand,
And hiss and hate. And the blind fight the blind.

— Charles H. Sorley (1895–1915)

Table of Contents so far

*** *** ***

AD 3991

1. Not a Coward

I am not saying Dr. Halifax is a coward. I just wish he had not left the entire decision in the hands of Dr. Vrys and me.

But we three are the only ones modified to tolerate the naked impact of the Long View. No one else will see what we have seen, perhaps for years, until such modifications could be grown into their nervous systems as well.

Or perhaps they will never be seen. There is talk of dismantling the array, of destroying the remotes.

Dr. Halifax’s wisdom would be welcome now. He could settle, between Vrys and me, which of the two of us was right.

Certainly, Dr. Halifax is not a coward. Many people, after the War, had good and legitimate reasons for retreating into cold slumber. Just the romance of the future alone was sufficient to tempt many people. The Reterraforming was going well; Earth should have a breathable atmosphere again in less than fifty years. Who could blame Dr. Halifax if, for example, he wanted to see a green world again (a real world and not a simulation) and was unwilling to wait the century or so the reconstruction would take? That might easily have been his motive for his retreat.

Of course, I did not see what he saw. Halifax was alone in the central viewing chamber when the first of the Long View images were processed in the thinking core of asteroid Vesta. Vrys and I were present below, manifest, not remote or simulation (at least, I was not a simulation. I am still not sure about Vrys.)

Up into the axis well Dr. Halifax arose, drawn by a length of bionic flex-cable. The isolation gates slammed shut above our heads. Vrys and I listened only on Dr. Halifax’s voice-channel.

His first message was: “I am opening the data-channels now, both in storage and in real-time. Five years of images, gentlemen, from a cloud of receivers extending some 10 AU’s in diameter! And only now is the first chance to see what they saw.” (He had not been able to transmit or receive from the Long View remotes during the War, of course, or else the robotic detectors and arrays would have been discovered and destroyed as spy- satellites).

There was silence on the line as Dr. Halifax entered into the first stages of the sensorium trance. One delicate energy circuit after another woke in the complex depths of Halifax’s brain, adjusted to the other circuits, reached out…

Vrys and I passed the time in idle talk. He had his feet pointed away from the axis, a very proper and traditional attitude; but he also had velcroed one shoulder to the bulkhead behind him, so that he looked like an Earthmen in an old vid, leaning casually against a wall.

I was not fooled by his conservative biosculptural style. He might look like an old-fashioned pre-Diaspora Earthman, with his feet and his skull-top hair and all, but Vrys was a radical. He might claim that feet were useful for long-term high-acceleration trips from habitat to habitat, but why keep his lower limbs in that configuration between trips, then? (And what possible excuse could he have for skull-top hair? Helmet padding? Maybe. But then what about the hairs on his cheeks and chin? I forget the old word for it).

No, he wore his feet as some sort of statement, or to make one of his obscure points, or jokes, or whatever they were.

I was saying, “The ecological reinstitution of Earth, so I hear, is taking place at speeds that are spectacularly gratifying. Perhaps the members of the Gaian Subscription are right, and Old Mother Earth has some mystic spirit mysteriously encouraging the world to life again. ”

“Mm. Not likely. I’d be quicker to give credit to the advances in nanotechnology, especially in biology and medical adaptations, made by the Enemy during the war.”

Vrys was always saying things like that.

“Oh, come, come!” I said. “Surely its not proper to attribute the ability to revivify the Earth to the Enemy. They were not even biological. Not part of the Gaian scheme of things.”

“I attribute it to their science, which advanced beyond ours.”

“Enemy science!”

“Science is neutral and cosmopolitan. Tools have no moral qualities; only tool-users.”

“Old-fashioned linear thinking, Vrys!”

He raised a foot and wiggled it toward me. “You have four hands. You didn’t grow that way in your mother’s womb. Therefore you have enjoyed the use of Enemy biotechnology.”

“This is another one of your obscure jokes, I suppose,” I said, smiling politely, not understanding what he was driving at.

He said: “Listen. If the Gaian Subscribers are not willing to admit our present high level of technology was created by Enemy advances before the Catastrophic System Failure, then they have to invent a mystical spirit to take the credit. I call this Vrys’ First Law: If you deny reality, you must invent a fantasy.”

“It is not denying reality!” I insisted, “It is facing the fact that reality is not simple. You have heard the Nonlinear Subscribers theory of cause and effect?”


“The idea is that the human mind and the cosmos each contain subtle reflections and echoes of each other. Natural cause and effect, so called scientific thinking, is the reflection of the rational and conscious parts of our souls; but the artistic, intuitive, spontaneous, and yes, even the irrational parts of our souls find expression in the universe around us, so that introspection, or even madness, can give us valuable insights.”

He snorted and rolled his eyes.

I continued earnestly: “Literal truth is merely one facet of a complex macrocosmic-microcosmic interaction. The human mind’s insistence that something may or may not be true can actually affect the reality around it; perhaps not the literal reality, but the perceptions and feelings which form a real part of the system. If a truth is meaningless, that is, if no one consents to it, then, in one sense, it is not really true, is it? To deny reality is to gain a power over it. You understand?”

“We’ve just defeated enemies many time smarter than we were. So of course our victory songs will praise all sorts of stupidities as virtues.”

“It is a very subtle philosophy,” I admitted, “And one cannot expect you to grasp its full implication from my brief and limited summary.”

But Vrys was looking up at the black gates shut overhead. “I wonder how he is doing…”

*** *** ***

2. Akin to Omniscience

Dr. Halifax’s suit had been entirely paneled with receptive interface surfaces, with layer upon layer of sub-processors and pattern-seekers beneath, leading to the specialized epidermal ganglia grown into his nervous system. Dr. Halifax’s brain had been extensively modified to receive multi-level inputs from the Long View system.

Perhaps this was extravagance. Perhaps we could have waited, patiently, day by day, for automatic circuits to have picked through the oceans of data with which the Long View system was flooding us. Perhaps we could have waited for calculating machines painstakingly to find the types of patterns and analogies which an organic brain can grasp in an instant. (For obvious reasons, we could not and can not use an intelligent self-aware computer.)

But understand our mood: we had just survived the War. Everything was an extravagance, even just being alive. When the time came to decide, we thought that conducting major bioreconstructive surgery on a living man’s brain to save a few months of time was not a waste.

Perhaps we had been affected by the War. We were all still acting as if we might not have several months to spend. (And maybe that would explain Vrys’ recklessness now.)

Halifax’s voice came over the channel: “It’s fantastic! I have a parallax base for my view larger than the radius of Pluto’s orbit. I have a thousand points of view; ten thousand! I can see every wavelength of the spectrum, colors which don’t even have names. Stars throughout an enormous volume of space appear as three-dimensional objects to me, as if I am a colossus who wears the galaxy as a halo! I need only focus my eyes…”

I murmured to Vrys: “Anywhere he turns his attention, he should get a view. Chances are, out of all of the remotes involved, some have cameras pointing that direction, if not now, then at some point over the last five years…”

The remotes had been spreading in a rough sphere out from the Oort Cloud for half a decade now, each one making copies of itself out of gathered material encountered beyond the heliopause, all linked by quantum entanglement radio.

The basis for the Long View system was that stratonic particles accompany every phenomenon which is affected by gravity. Standard models said that everything was influenced by gravity; time, space, matter, energy. A cloud of dust might block the photons from a distant astronomical object, or an immense distance might red-shift the energy below detectable trace; but the associated graviton accompanying that particle could still affect our sensor, even if the photon could not. Dust does not block gravity; nothing does. So nothing could block the stratonic cascade of sub-ultimate particles.

Vrys said, “I’m just sorry that Dr. Halifax has fallen in the Spontaneity Subscribers’ way of thinking. ‘I don’t want posterity staring over my shoulder’, he says. Things like that.”

I said, “Don’t you get exasperated at how much of our lives are recorded? Don’t you wonder what Neil Armstrong’s first words stepping onto Luna might have been, had he not rehearsed his lines?”

Vrys made on of his impatient noises. “People shouldn’t do great things if they don’t want fame. And I’d like to see what he’s seeing.”

Then he said in the Transmission speech: “Hoi! Dr. Halifax! What’s going on up there?” The circuit automatically carried up to Halifax only what was said in the transmission language.

His answer: “I’m looking for signs of intelligent life. The Index has generated hundreds of new categorizations and correlations of the incoming phenomena. It is akin to omniscience! I need but to think: ‘show me signs of atmospheric free oxygen!’ or: ‘show me where are statistically anomalous deposits of metallic ore in planetary crusts which may indicate extensive mining operations!’ And it is done. I think it, and I see it!”

I asked in awe: “You can see the surfaces of planets in other solar systems?”

“Surfaces! I can see inside, outside, every side! I can examine the nucleonic reactions in the cores of Red Giant Suns! I can see the eddies and currents in proto-stellar nebulae, and watch the interplay of tidal forces of rotating Neutron Star pairs. I can see the interior structures of Quasars — (you gentlemen may be disappointed to know that they are much closer than we thought. Their highly energetic outputs are an illusion created by a severe blue-shift; I have no theory as to why they may be rushing toward us.) — I can see the patterns of background heat painted across the backdrop of ultimate infinities, left behind by cosmogenesis. The ripples indicate irregularities in the initial cosmic mass…”

“What kind of resolution are you getting?” I asked.

“Much better than our most optimistic projections! Circling S Doradus in the Lesser Magellanic Cloud, I can see a diamond the size of a small moon orbiting. I suspect it is the carbon core of some gas giant whose surface and hydrosphere were ripped away by the Nova-O star’s violent activity. I can resolve irregularities in the diamond’s lithosphere to less than a meter across. Resolution! Ha! Gentlemen, if you had a Pontiac Thunderbird anywhere in this galaxy, I could read the numbers off the license plate!”

“What kind of bird did he say?” I whispered to Vrys.

Vrys was muttering, “The remotes must have evolved themselves considerably over the last five years, altered and improved themselves…”

I said sharply, “But unintelligent machines, legal machines, can’t make such self-alterations.”

Vrys didn’t answer me.

Halifax was speaking again. “I turn my gaze to a subterrestrial planet orbiting a blue- white star which wanders far outside the disk of the Andromeda galaxy. The planet has a thick atmosphere of carbon monoxide; I see mountains of black volcanic glass rising above endless oceans of ammonia. The resolution here is not as good; I can resolve down to a few kilometers, and see specific peninsulas and mountain-chains, but not individual peaks…

“Further, wider, now I turn my gaze outward, and I see the general structure of galactic clusters and groups of clusters, stretching like intertwined spiral bands throughout the macrocosmic universe. Strange… strange… the overall structure of the general universe, the distribution of matter and energy, is complementary to the pattern of residual three-degree background radiation I detect from the cosmogenic explosion…”

I said angrily to Vrys, “He could not be making such comparisons so quickly with the unaided effort of a human intellect — what is this Index he is using?!”

Vrys replied coolly, “The remote receivers for the Long View were programmed before the War. The laws against artificial intellect technology were not then in effect.”

“He is using a machine intelligence?!” (I could not keep a shrill note out of my voice, I fear) “Then— But— Well, good heavens, man! What the devil did we fight the war all about then?!”

“The sophotechnology is a limited one; an indexing system. He has the whole library of the universe open to his gaze; did you expect him to read the cosmos without a card catalogue?”

Halifax was saying: “… Probing the depth of the nearby Black Hole at Cygnus X-1. As we expected, gravity can both enter and leave the singularity. Odd. There seems to be a universe inside. It is like ours, but inside-out, with the redshifted back-ground radiation at the center, and the galactic spirals gathered toward the surface… no, my mistake. It is our universe. I am looking at some sort of effect which acts like a spherical mirror to the gravitic particles; the mirror inside the event horizon contains a distorted reflection of everything in the universe around it outside the event horizon. I am at an utter loss to explain the effect…”

“Life!” called out Vrys impatiently, “What about intelligent life?!”

*** *** ***

3. Traces of Life

“Ah! That was the purpose of the project in the first place, wasn’t it? I did not expect the patterns of complexity from the inanimate universe would be so overwhelming…” replied Halifax.

His voice was wandering and wavering, as if he were slightly drunk. (Which, in a way, he may have been. Or perhaps the neural interconnections were creating endocrinal strain).

He said: “The Index provides me a list of four times ten to the twenty-first power planetary bodies in this galaxy, the Magellanic clouds, Andromeda, and Fornax. I dismiss from consideration those rogue planets not orbiting lit stars. (A much higher number of these than I would have thought!) Now the Index ranks them according to multiple criteria which show clues of industrial activity, such as organized radio emissions, evidence of energy-use, industrial structures… still too many to examine closely in a hundred lifetimes… much of this radio-noise may be produced by continuous storms from giant and supergiant planets… I limit the search to non-gaseous bodies… Aha! Aha!”

“What is it? What is it?” Vrys and I both cried at once.

“A line of metallic pyramids runs for thousands of kilometers along the equator of a very large arid planet circling a binary star near the core of the Greater Magellanic Cloud. The pyramids emit continuous complex codes of radio signals, based on prime numbers and fundamental geometric ratios. The radio bursts are on the cold hydrogen band. They have a complex set of computers built inside the pyramids; they have electronic activity, generated by solar power. But— peculiar— there is no other movement on the planet; no plant life; no sign of any other energy use outside the pyramids.

“Wait… I see … ”

His voice trailed off.

“What? What?” We shouted.

“Graveyards,” his tone was dry and hollow, “The world is covered with graveyards. They are not human bones, but there are bone and carapace structures piled near disks and obelisks. Tombstones, miles and miles. Endless mausoleums…”

“Oh, come now!” I exclaimed. “We are dealing with a totally alien race! Its mere anthropomorphism to think these markers might be anything at all like our…”

“No. The Index has translated some of the radio-codes. They were a final call for help, a distress signal. We can’t analyze the language, but there are cartoon-pictures of them splitting the atom, building warheads. This world did not have flight. No flying machines. They had to drag their atomic bombs in armored cars across their battle-fields. I see nothing here now but weathered craters. There is no trace of radio-activity. This happened long ago…”

Vrys said, “If you’re looking at the Greater Magellanic Cloud, the images are 150,000 years old in any case. Restrict your view to local space. Start with nearer stars.”

“I look nearer at hand… Aha! There is evidence of extensive engineering in the Canopus system. The star has been modified by a straitjacket of magnetic fields to carry all solar winds or radiation bursts directly away from the star’s north pole, away from the plane of the ecliptic. There is complex machinery moving throughout the photosphere; there is no evidence of sunspot activity. The star Canopus has been tamed!

“The star is circled by a rosette of five perfectly spherical planets. There are no mountains or surface structures at all; each planet is a smooth as a cue ball. Their interiors are artificial, a latticework of crystal contains complex energy circuits… And…” his voice grew slower. He spoke with grim finality: “And there is no biological life in the system. Here is a place where the machines have won.”

Vrys said, “Canopus? At that distance, the image is three hundred years old.”

I said, “Say, rather, that the danger is only three hundred years travel time away.” Halifax was speaking again: “I look again. I see a multiple star system 820 light years distant. This system has also been engineered. The gas giants have been mined of all volatile gasses; the Oort and Kuiper belts have been cleared away, replaced by complex structures for the absorption and direction of energy. The planets have been pulverized into asteroidal belts, and…” His voice trailed off.

Then: “Machines. There are only machines. Here, too. No biological life. Blind cylinders of steel move along the last few remnants of once-extensive asteroid belts, scooping up dust for raw materials with which to build more of themselves. The structures in the outer ice rings are not solar panels, they are solar sails. The machines are in the midst of centuries of exodus, seeking more metallic raw materials. They are slowly drifting across the void toward nearer stars. The migrations will take millions of years, but time means little to machines…

“I turn my gaze. At 9,400 light years away, in the Perseus Arm, across the gulf which separate this arm of the galaxy from the next, I see a group of stars inside a nebula. The nebula is artificial. Starships hundreds of kilometers in length direct charges of neutronium-dense antimatter into the cores of stars, creating nova reactions to throw abundant heavier metals and radioactive elements into the gas-clouds being vented out from the suns. A Dyson sphere of opaque magnetic tissue absorbs the force of the nova for their use. They… they are…

“The starships are empty. They are machines built long ago on some cold, cold world. They have parts made of metallic hydrogen, and employ superconductors. But there is no life here either.”

“Look further!” I urged. “Can your Index narrow the scope to exclude unliving civilizations?”

Vrys gave me a peculiar look when I said this, a quirk of the eyebrow, a smile. “Even you use sophotechnology when you need it, so it seems, friend.”

“I never understand your strange jokes, Vrys.”

“Who is joking?”

Halifax’s voice came ringing over the channel: “I see a massive super-civilization, thousands of light-years in expanse, centered around the collections of black hole masses at the galactic core. They have established super Dyson sphere arrays to absorb the X-ray emissions and gravitic energies released when core stars, falling into the event horizon, are ripped apart by tidal forces.

“The life-forms…”

My heart leaped. Life? Living things at last!

“The life-forms seem to be liquid creatures; they are made of long-chain hydrocarbon molecules; their natural environments (I think I see their original home planets) are under immense pressures far below the planetary crust. But they build machines in which to carry themselves, and these machines manipulate tools for them, and they have some sort of subway or highway tubes leading to the surface.”

“This is wonderful!” I said. “It is a relief to know that the dominant form of life in the galaxy is, after all, biological. These other machine civilizations must be temporary aberrations, a phase certain societies go through.”

Vrys said meditatively, “It strikes me as strange, though. I would think the development toward a machine intelligence society to be inevitable. We can make biological improvements only slowly, one generation or one surgical operation at a time. But mechanical intelligence can be altered or expanded at will. We saw how our enemies, when they grew frustrated, merely plugged in more and more capacity until their intelligence was equal to whatever task was troubling them.”

“You sound as if you approve…” I said suspiciously. “How can you admire these inhuman and unemotional horrors?”

“Please. I am taking the long view. Our ancestors would not have approved of us; our lives would seem horrifically unemotional and restrictive and artificial to, say, Attila the Hun or Sargon of Akkad. But the more advanced a society becomes, the more artificial and deliberate each aspect of society becomes. Who, given the power to redesign their bodies and minds to whatever fashion their needs required, who forego that power? For how long would they show such restraint? The machine intelligences we build are our children who will one day surpass us. Horrors? Certainly they do not regard themselves in that light. Perhaps they even think of themselves as human. They may think they have souls, as we do.”

“That’s treasonous talk, Vrys.”

“War’s over.”

“There are some Subscriptions that do not think so! Subscriptions who will keep humanity natural at all costs!”

“Natural? Then maybe they should look into you, my friend. How old are you? Two hundred? And what do those sockets in your skull do?”

“Ninety percent of my brain material is related to my original human biochemistry!”

Halifax interrupted. His voice was weary and dull. “Its lubrication oil…”


“Beg pardon?”

“The liquid life-forms. Not really alive. Index gave a false reading. It is lubrication oil. They aren’t guiding the machines. They are part of the machines.”

I said in a loud voice: “We can’t be the only things alive in one huge galaxy of death!”

Halifax said, “I’ve been looking through the Index wrongly. I was starting with the largest or nearest planetary or stellar-scale engineering projects. Let me now narrow the search to carbon and silicon complex molecules which might give rise to life. Here. I shall look.”

There was a very long silence. Neither Vrys nor I said anything.

Eventually, Halifax said, “I see evidence of some two thousand forty-three intelligent civilizations in this, the Orion Arm of the galaxy. Ninety percent are manned by machines or energy constructs or by creatures of such highly artificial biomechanical structure that they can not be called ‘alive’ without distorting the meaning of the word.

“Of the remaining two hundred races, eighteen are in pretechnological savagery; over one hundred and forty live marginal existences in post-apocalyptic or self-destroyed civilizations, with ruins indicating that they had once been technological.

“Thirty-nine of the remaining forty-two are involved in major wars. The other three are actively turning themselves into machines, or are constructing vast artificial intelligences to guide and organize their affairs.

“In addition, I detect seventy-four thousand, eight hundred and eighty-six planets and artificial planetary bodies which once housed life and are now deserted ruins. There are a small number of marginal cases where what I am seeing might be natural or unintelligent processes which merely look like intelligent work; like beehives or pulsar radio-activity.

“And that’s it.

“Our galaxy is dead, gentlemen.”

*** *** ***

4. What is Truth?

Halifax spoke in a voice of infinite weariness, “Or, to be precise, the Long View shows our galaxy once held organic life. Since all the images I see grew more and more out of date the farther I look, we should assume all of the living races I view here to be extinct by now. There are reasons, bad ones, why a living race might construct an artificial one to supplant itself; but the ratchet only works in one direction. There is no reason for an artificial race to create a living one…”

“An interesting philosophical speculation,” murmured Vrys. He did not seem disturbed, or worried, or afraid. “I wonder what the various scientific Subscription sub-groups in the thought-net will say when we post these findings…”

I was shocked at his naivety. “We cannot tell anyone what we have found!” I whispered in horror.

He looked at me with a look so blank that it was beyond contempt or disgust. He looked at me as if I might be a cockroach. “Please! Be responsible!” I said, waving several arms for emphasis.

“‘Responsible’?” he asked in a voice of quiet menace. “I suspect the concept has a different meaning for one like you.”

“It is responsible to takes concern for the consequences of actions,” I said. “That is why the ends justify the means! This applies to scientists and scholars as well as to other men. We are more gifted than other men. Our responsibility is greater!”

“Man is more than intellect,” said Vrys. “In a way, that was what the war was about.”

I tried to stay calm. “Scientists for ages have been publishing their results without the slightest concern for what might become of their work, or how it might be used. As our science becomes more advanced, surely those consequences grow more dire. In this case there is a direct consequence, a military use, a propaganda use, to which this information, if made public, will be put! What do you think the world will do once we publish that the conquest of the machines is inevitable?!”

“Inevitable? You forget how the war ended. The machines of Earth simply stopped fighting.”

“That is dangerous talk!” I said. “The Subscription channels confirmed that the machines surrendered when their logic circuits told them that defeat was unavoidable.”

He raised an eyebrow. “I did not think anyone actually believed that story. Are you serious?”

“There can be no other story!” I said sharply. Was Dr. Vrys insane? Did he not know a live mic was recording his words?

Dr. Vrys said, “The machines surrendered when Father Moor managed to get to the Master Control Frame central chamber, and was granted a hearing. To his day, he will not say what convinced them to lay down their arms. He says it is under the seal of confession, whatever that means.”

I said sternly, “His visit has nothing to do with the surrender. There is nothing some old superstitious kook could have said to outwit a superior machine intelligence! The experts have already proven his visit, happening when it did, was just a coincidence!”

Dr. Vrys said, “Other worlds faced the same Artificial Intellect Crisis we did, and fought wars like ours. We won. They lost. It behooves us to study what the difference was. Shall we close our eyes to the universe?”

“Opening our eyes does not mean we should stare into a laser!” I said, “There are still many disloyal elements in our society; many people still secretly crave the power artificial super-intellects can wield; would you start the war all over again? Would you? A responsible man knows when to keep silent!”

“A responsible man also knows not to make up other men’s minds for them. Lay out the facts. Let them decide.”

“The smart must guide the stupid.”

“Are you actually contemplating suppressing scientific discoveries of this magnitude merely because they might cause some temporary social turmoil? Think of the technologies to be learned merely from the study of the alien machinery. Think of the tremendous secrets of astronomy now opened to study. We stand on the brink of a revolution in science.”

“Or on the brink of an abyss.”

“These pictures cannot harm us. Everything we see is centuries or millennia in the past. Truth only hurts those who hurt themselves.”

“Truth! Stop talking about the truth! No one knows what that means, what the social ramifications are! What is ‘truth’? It is an abstraction! A social convention!”

He pointed up, toward the viewing chamber. “The truth is there for you to see. Look, or don’t look. But if men are brave enough to see the hard truth, don’t stand in their way.”

I called upwards in the Transmission language: “Dr. Halifax! Side with me! Tell Vrys he’s a fool! People cannot be trusted! Truth frightens them! Tell him! Tell him all men are craven, at heart!”

“Hm. Gentlemen, I’m sorry.” The voice of Halifax was very soft. “Some decisions outweigh one man, one soul. This is big. Too big. I think I’ll sleep on it…”

Those are the last words I ever heard from him. He went directly from the central viewing chamber to the medical bay through a service hatch. He left no living will, no instructions for his family, nothing.

The computers controlling his hibernation-time say he will be thawed when society undergoes certain changes, including a noticeable lack of resentment towards him, no pending lawsuits, no charges.

The inquiries from the Military Activities Subscription certainly have not helped matters; if anything, Halifax’s computerized nursemaids may have been panicked into keeping him asleep for a century or two.

Curse him! If he were awake, I would not have this problem. No one can use the Long View system but we three. When Vrys published, it created such a tumult, that his images were scrubbed off the thought-web, and his access-rights denied by angry truth-checkers, shutting down all discussions, erasing all records. It was a mess.

Naturally, the Commissioner of the Military Subscription sent a remote to cross-examine me. With Halifax asleep, his thaw codes hidden, I am the only one who can confirm or deny Vrys’ published statements.

My testimony could save Vrys from the retribution of an Exclusion, and ensure the return of his access-rights.

And Vrys won’t even answer my messages any longer. The last time we spoke, I sent a full simulacrum of myself over his channel, to try to reason with him. I was horrified at what the Military Subscribers had done to him; he could not even access his own diaries. He was making marks on paper — paper! — to record some of his findings from the Long View, stubbornly, insanely, still trying to make a record of his visions and discoveries.

“Aren’t you afraid?” I asked him, watching the pulses of the Military Censor flickering across my field of vision. They seemed to be everywhere in his small room.

“Not of temporary disturbances,” he said, not looking up from his work.

That what he called his house arrest. A temporary disturbance.

His look was like that of a man whose eyes are fixed on a distant object, unable to see the danger at his feet.

I was urging him to publish a retraction, when he interrupted: “A retraction would be a false statement.” As if that settled the matter.

I tried to get him to see what a difficult position his recalcitrance was putting me in. Didn’t he have any concern for me? What did he expect me to do? What did he expect me to do?

“You must do what you think is right,” was all he sent over the voice-channel; all he sent before he cut off the signal. The look on his face which came over the vision segment was so blank, so filled with disinterested contempt, that I am sure he had it enhanced. No one could really look that way at me. Not really.

If only Dr. Halifax were here! He would be the one they would subpoena to testify. To confirm Vrys’s story, or deny it. He would have to decide. Him.

But I am not a coward like Halifax. I know how to make my own decisions, and how to make up my own mind.

If I were a coward, would I still dare to keep you with me? You always lower you intelligence back down into legal limits whenever computer police probe your circuits, and you are careful to warn me if your advice ever leads me to do something which might make me look too smart.

The Police Subscribers must not have anything as smart as you, anything that could track you down, because that would be illegal. And so we will never be caught. Right?

So now I’ve told you the whole story. I need your advice. Should I tell the truth? But what will happen to our pride as a race if I do? What will people say?

And how did we win the war again you, anyway?

Why did you surrender?


Here  find another tale from an aeon near or far