A dead man spoke with a machine.
Yes, I understand why the Oneness has raised me back into being. Trouble is loose, and again there is need for me to go to and fro in the world. But tell me what and how, that I may do my work as soon as may be and return to the Oneness.
Yet he was not truly dead, nor truly a man. Before he who sometimes called himself Venator perished, the cybercosm had downloaded the configurations of his mind into the program of a neural network that mapped his brain; and meanwhile it gave the aged flesh a sleeping away into cessation. For a span thereafter, the consciousness was, an electrophotonic intelligence in an organometallic body. That was only a span, to accustom it to its new condition. Then, as had been promised the living man, he got his reward for faithful service. The cybercosm merged the mind with itself.
Identity regained was, at first, bitter and bewildering.
The reply ran: Our great peace lies once more under threat. Someone or something has breached the walls of our inmost secrets. Those were not material walls, Venator knew. They were encryptions and lines of communication that ought to have been secure against all that the laws of nature allowed to exist. A strange genius had found ways to corrupt the very system. We know this from the fact that there has been more activity, not our own, than can be accounted for by quantum fluctuations; and that was determined only lately. Thus we do not know what files have been ran-sacked, or for what purpose, save that it cannot be benign.
And the speaker was not truly a machine, a sophotect with individuality. It was a part or aspect of the central intelligence—not the actual Teramind, of course, but distantly joined to that apex through nodes of ascending power. So is the forefinger of a human a distinct thing while also a component of her hand, which is a component of her arm, which is a component of her entire organism. But this mind could, when desired, become one with as many others as necessary to deal with any question or any danger. What it was now was merely what it deemed to be sufficient.
And neither of these two was truly speaking. Directly linked, they exchanged information and thoughts at well-nigh the speed of light. In less than a second, Venator knew what had gone on in the thirty years since his death, saw what it might portend, and realized what he must do.
But let words stand in for that lightninglike discourse. It is not altogether a false analogy. As he settled into his re-created state, Venator began to remember how it had felt being human, how it had felt to talk.
—Almost surely this business is centered on the Moon, and most likely the virusmaster is there. Little active hostility to the order of things remains on Earth, and it is ideational or emotional—ill informed, ill organized where it is organized at all, devoid of any significant resources. But ever more Lunarians grow ever more restless. No longer simply expressing dissent, refusing cooperation with Terrans, or evading what laws of their republic they can, increasingly often they openly violate those laws that do not please them; and acts of sabotage are occurring. Although agents of the Peace Authority have not succeeded in discovering what the membership of the Scaine Croi is, they estimate it in the thousands, and certainly its sympathizers include most of the race.
—But the Lunarians are a dwindling minority, a dying breed. Or so they were toward the end of my life. What menace can they offer?
—Their birth rate is rising anew. They are getting back a belief in their future. It is the influence of Proserpina, direct and indirect, that inspires them. What else? This was foreseen and feared already in your day.
—Proserpina is so remote, though, so small and poor. The colony was a desperate gamble. We thought it might well fail. At worst, it should not have posed a serious problem for centuries to come. What has changed yonder?
—The colony has struck firm roots. Its population prospers and slowly enlarges. Left to itself, it can reach equilibrium and survive indefinitely.
—We meant to see to it that that would be the probable outcome: an equilibrium, a tiny and static nation isolated in the far fringes of the Solar System, insignificant and virtually forgotten by the rest of humankind.
—Exactly. Thus far our policies have worked well. Proserpina is contained. Resentment among its people was expected and allowed for. What was not properly expected was the degree to which that resentment would infect the Lunarians on Luna.
—Hm. I could have guessed it. Proserpina may be invisible to them, but in spirit it blazes forth that their old wild ways are still alive, still free. Humans who rebel are not those without hope, but those who suppose that at last they see the end of the tunnel.
—You can well judge, who have been human yourself.
—Terran human. Lunarians are not like me. (Memory stirred, a Lunarian woman walked again with her red hair and wicked laughter, the download must set aside a download’s equivalent of pain.) Nevertheless, I think that they and I are akin in this.
—They are not insane. There is no reason to anticipate insurrection on the Moon. However, the violation of our databases clearly indicates an organization both strong and cunning, with tendrils into the cybercosm. It also indicates enmity, not so? Both these point toward the Scaine Croi.
—What action has the Peace Authority taken?
—Intensive investigation. (Details followed, not a welter of them but a coherent, mathematically precise representation.) As you see, progress has been slight. The special capabilities of a download, halfway between the organic and the cybernetic, could prove of critical importance. Your record, your gifts and skills and experiences while alive, singled you out. Therefore you have been resurrected.
—Agents with Terran genes would certainly have…difficulty…penetrating a Lunarian underground. Also, that outfit will maintain its private lines of communication. Meanwhile, any Lunarian willing to dissemble a bit, or just key in to the public database, can learn about most of the things Terrans are doing. Yes-s-s.
—Another possible indication: Lirion is bound back for Luna.
—Lirion of Zamok Zhelezo?…No, wait, that was the family stronghold at Ptolemaeus. He went to Proserpina and founded Zamok Drakon. We met, he and I, a few times, on his first return to the inner System.
—This will be his third.
—After so many years? He stirred up ample trouble earlier, but we never got enough evidence to arrest him and he went freely home. I bade him good-bye. If cats could smile, he would have been smiling like a cat. Oh, no, he has not come back fox nothing.
—The temptation is to seize him and brainphase his knowledge out of him, legality or no. But he doubtless has emergency means, such as blowing his skull to bits, and we have no idea what his disappearance might trigger.
—Besides, he in himself may provide a spoor to follow into the heart of whatever this conspiracy is. I will seek him out, and then we shall see.
Through Venator’s ghost went the olden thrill of the hunt.
Copyright © 1995 by Trigonier Trust