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"Deep in interstellar hyperspace, in full headlong flight,
we warp the aether's metric and feign flying faster than light.
Drive pods shimmer, twisting space, warping out of true
the aetherial fabric whose quick rebound glimmers Cherenkov blue."
-- Aetherlogue --
Klee Pavlo Jetwright's hyperdrive ached. He tried to ignore it. He was more concerned with healing the thruster that he had sprained when he hit the shoal. He would have to attend to the minor discomforts later, one of those discomforts being the irritating knowledge that he was so far off course that if he didn't correct his aim he would miss his target by nearly a full lightmonth. The shoal had altered the aetherial currents and had thus deformed the hyperspatial propagation of Klee's Schrödinger waves. Klee thanked the spirits of hyperspace that it had been a shoal and not a Lorelei that he had encountered. The ghost-wave that carried Klee's properties had eigenvaluated Klee into normal space about two lightyears from his goal with a forty-two thousandths of a radian deflection in his velocity vector, but it was considerably better than irrupting into normal space as a debris field. He would have to guesstimate the correction to the Ephemeris to recalculate his propagation pattern before he made his next dive into hyperspace and hope that the altered currents had not affected the relationship between hyperspace and normal space this far from the new shoal. But first he had to send a slug of nanobotic toolmass slithering through his outer hull to heal the sprained thruster.
Klee himself (more properly, the part of Klee that his Earthbound ancestors would have regarded as himself) lay embedded in a translucent cocoon of toolmass in what would be regarded as the bridge of his outer body, the small starship that he flew around the Considerium. Fully integrated with the ship, he had been singing"Ma Vlast" with full orchestration, using the music to modulate his hydar, when he had hit the uncharted shoal. He had been sending "Vltava" out on the hyperwaves and had just begun singing the River Moldau into the surging turmoil of Saint John's Rapids, concentrating on his voicing of the tympani rolls, when he struck the deformity in the hyperspatial index of refraction. How appropriate, he had thought as he had been jolted through all six degrees of freedom by the turbulence of the interaction between the shoal's bra and his ket. His hyperdrive had strained to prevent his being eigenvaluated into a dispersed state and he had kicked with his thrusters, hard enough to sprain one, to maintain his coherence.
So he spent a week floating in the cold and the dark while he healed his injuries. At the beginning of that week he actually contemplated having his primary consciousness put to sleep for the duration. The battle to maintain mental integrity against the dispersive effects of gazing into the All-Encompassing Abyss went all too often down the road to psychosis he had heard. He had sufficient reason to believe that little piece of folk wisdom. Nonetheless, he chose to stay conscious and spent his time talking to Database and designing an estate that would sprawl across over two hundred square kilometers of Yavunah, a Mars-like world revolving about Taj elBar. It would never be built, of course; he would have to trade his ship for the land rights. But the design process gave him some interesting problems to solve and he could always load it into a Virtuality and experience it at a level of detail almost indistinguishable from Reality. He was almost sorry to put the code into memory when the ship told him that it was warpworthy again.
He had known that he had another reason for not sleeping through the week and the one time that he had allowed himself the luxury of slumber he had been reminded of that reason. Now I would think, he had reasoned once, that my own subconscious mind would not be inclined to give me unpleasant feelings, so mine must be malfunctioning. The cause of that reasoning had come back to haunt him while his ship repaired itself in the vast emptiness between the stars. In the nightmare he was stranded in deep space, unable to repair himself, unable to communicate. He saw in the distance a warm, light-filled planet and heard faintly the transmissions of its people. He was dying, slowly and painlessly, but dying nonetheless. And the little life-filled world drifted ever farther away from him, leaving him to face death alone, totally, outerly alone. That's when the toolmass, recognizing the signs, had brought him swiftly back to full consciousness.
When he emerged into normal space near Lisan edDufdah he noticed that he had developed double vision in the x-ray part of the spectrum. He hadn't noticed the problem when he was laid up for other repairs, but, then, he hadn't been looking around at x-ray sources. As he accelerated toward the system's Well he focused full-spectrum on Lisan edDufdah itself in order to correct it. He watched starspots, great hydromagnetic hurricanes whose self-generated magnetic fields fractionated the plasma into 'cold, dark' gas and super-hot x-radiant clouds that rose above the dark spot in the star's photosphere. Focusing on the fine features in the penumbra of one spot, he adjusted his x-ray detectors until the images overlapped perfectly in his charge-coupled visual cortex. Chagrined, he gave himself a thorough physical examination, reminding himself that, like high blood pressure, it didn't have to hurt to be wrong. He was even more chagrined by what he discovered.
The antimaterial lining of his fuel tank had been jarred out of full alignment in an elongated patch of about one square centimeter. Carefully he focused all of his attention on the nanobots that were pulling the antimaterial polymer strands back into correct isometric balance against their neighboring material polymer strands. Ensuring that his attention did not wander, his paraconscience showed him, as in a lucid dream, the experiments that had been conducted with antimatter containment and the depressingly spectacular failures that inevitably accompanied those experiments. He certainly wanted to get the patch repaired before he imbibed any major quantity of liquid anti-helium from the system's Well.
A mere twenty million kilometers from Lisan edDufdah, a K-class main sequence dwarf, he came to the Well. From fifty thousand kilometers, where he was obliged to park, all he could see with unaided vision was a fractal array of solar collectors sprawling over millions of square kilometers, all right angles and half right angles. He transmitted his identification code and heard both the Well's acknowledgment and the sound of a familiar voice singing Beethoven's Ninth Symphony, fourth movement, in all its bombastic glory.
"Dieter!" he called. "Wie geht's?"
"It goes very well with me, Klee," Dieter Pfäserschmidt said. "Certainly better than it goes with you, I suspect."
"Suspicion confirmed!" Klee said with emphasis. "I hit a shoal about two lightyears out. It laid me up for a week."
"It was bad?" Dieter asked. "Or did you hit it wrong?"
"A little of both," Klee said. He saw a flock of tugbots approaching his position. "I know that the direct route from 'A'sa edDabbur is not all that popular," he complained, "but I would have thought that someone would have spotted it before."
"You do know why they call it the Hyperspace Ephemeris, don't you?" Dieter said.
"Cripes, Dieter! It was huge!" He watched the tugbots surround him, gently grip his hull, and accelerate him toward the Well, delta-veeing him by a sedate ten kilometers per second. "Look at the Ephemeris. There was no hint of it six months ago when Nasa Porsjasdottir went through there."
"Yes, it is a surprise, certainly," Dieter agreed. "But, then, that route skirts the limit of the Considerium. Your shoal likely came from outside. If it had delayed its entry a few more years, the Survey would have charted it. At least you did not encounter the Lorelei."
"I'll use those thoughts to keep myself warm while I'm surveying the damned thing," Klee said sourly. On a lower channel he told the tugbots that he would be needing a set of survey probes.
"Ach, mein goot froind cheering up ist geneeding," Dieter proclaimed in a cartoonishly exaggerated German accent. "Ja, ja, I am knowing vot to do."
Klee was already smiling when he heard one of the most beautiful sounds ever to bless Humanity, one of the leading voices of the Grand Chorus that reacted to the ugliness of the Twentieth Century by creating the Twenty-First Century's Pleinnaissance, which shaped a fully united Humanity into a tight creative bud that blossomed out into the galaxy.
Jeg kjenner ingen grenser. Jeg frykter ikke mer," she sang as Klee's supercortex translated the Norwegian into Mechanese [I know no boundaries. I fear no more.] on the paraconscious track. Starting low, Sissel Kyrkjebø lifted her voice onto a soaring trajectory of fancy, as though flying over fjell and fjord, lifting Klee's morale with it.
"Grenseløs," Klee said reverently. He felt the toolmass ripple as it helped the hairs on his neck stand up.
"Ja, Die Chirchebö ist wunderbar," Dieter agreed. "How few have matched her ability to sing the sacred-profane duality! How few have mastered the Schrödinger Equation of the soul!"
"Transcendent or passionate?" Klee asked.
"This time?" Dieter mused. "Passionate, I think." He paused a heartbeat (had his heart actually been beating at the time). "Yes, passionate."
"Really?" Klee said. "You usually hear this as a prayer for transcendence."
"Yes, I do," Dieter said, "but today I am in low orbit about Honninghjem. Perhaps you can delay your refueling. Offload what you have and join me. We shall pick a dream-casting to visit. Surely you can take a week or two. Your shoal will wait."
"Indeed, it will," Klee said.
Honninghjem was an Earth-like planet whose native life had never progressed beyond the unicellular stage. That life now occupied only a few small niches scattered around the planet, most of them at undersea hydrothermal vents. Terran life had taken over. Grasslands, scrublands, and forests now covered wide swaths of the formerly barren globe. All immature, of course. Even the soil was still a work in progress. It would be some centuries hence before the mahoganies, the oaks, and the redwoods towered over a well-aged landscape.
Nonetheless, the artists had come. Here they realized the Arcado-Utopian dreams of the ancient Futurists, employing robotic labor to shape the land and to build the polides designed in accordance with the old dreams of an ideal world. Done well, the dream-casts manifested the Arcadian-Utopian duality that allowed people to inhabit alternate eigenstates of social existence. Here residents and visitors alike could allow their social states to evolve undefined until some encounter realized one or another of the available eigenstates. Here starfarers like Klee and Dieter were welcomed as perturbations that would prevent the society from evolving into a degenerate state. Hither starfarers like Klee and Dieter came to be perturbed, lest their own states evolve rapidly into degeneracy.
Clamped into entry wings provided by the Port Authority, Klee and Dieter's ships entered Honninghjem's atmosphere the old-fashioned way --in a blaze of glory. No pre-deceleration here. No gentle subsonic descent to the planet's surface. No, Klee watched in awe and not a little anxiety as incandescent air blasted around the edges of the wings like the exhaust plume of a rocket. But the best was yet to come. Once they achieved subsonic speed, the wings stuck pairs of turbojet engines out of their undersides and began burning honest-to-God hydrocarbon fuel to generate thrust. Lazily the wings rolled over and, with air brakes extended, dropped Klee five kilometers through a descending Immelmann turn to line him up on an approach to his destination. One hundred kilometers from touchdown the wings let down sets of wheels and the whole structure shuddered.
"Ha, look at me," Dieter called out. "I am Lufthansa." He was gliding twenty kilometers to Klee's right, heading for the same destination.
"I guess that would make me," Klee said, pausing to query Database, "um, PanAmerican."
"This is magnificent," Dieter said. "We may have our hyperdrives and our antimatter rockets, but those old-timers knew how to fly."
"It is an amazing experience," Klee agreed. He looked down at the brown mountains seeming to rise only slightly above the tan, wadi-marked desert gliding by six kilometers below him and tried to imagine being the pilot of a Twentieth-Century jetliner.
All too soon the wings approached a pair of three-kilometer, dazzling-white, concrete runways. They flew at the standard one hundred meters per second and came to ground with a thump on Runway Forty-Three Left. The wings shuddered as the wheels spun up and the whine of the turbojets, their thrust reversers engaged, ascended to a roar. Klee gained the distinct impression that he could feel the wings straining against their forward momentum, as if he were integrated with the wings themselves instead of his ship. The shuddering stopped and the wings rolled smoothly; the engines reduced their thrust to idle and disengaged the thrust reversers; and the brakes in the wheels removed the last of the wings' motion. Finally, using little bursts of power from its engines, the simple-minded robot rolled itself off the runway and took Klee's ship to a terminal, where a traveling crane gently lifted the ship into a cradle once the wings were disconnected.
Klee's toolmass disintegrated itself from him on his command. As it withdrew from his body it restarted the organs whose functions it had usurped. Klee felt his heart beating again, took a slow, deep breath, and then let reflex take over. The last of the toolmass oozed through the ports in the wainscoting of the small cabin and Klee sat up and lifted his legs over the side of his acceleration couch. The hatch partly behind the couch on its right dropped open, its floor plates sliding into position as steps, and Klee descended into the cradle and thence into the terminal to meet Dieter.
"I had the weirdest sensation," Klee said to Dieter as they walked through the terminal to the maglev station, "and I am almost ashamed to admit it. You know, I almost resented your calling me out there."
"Don't apologize," Dieter said. "I know the feeling. When I saw you on radar I was ready to call out, 'Get out of my sky!' Why? Why did I want to be alone while flying through a planetary atmosphere?"
"I don't know," Klee said. "But now I definitely want to be with you to talk about it."
"And I feel the same," Dieter said. "Perhaps it's the novelty of the experience that makes us want to be alone with it?"
"Or the sheer beauty of it," Klee said.
When they reached the station they found that they would have one of the hundred-meter-long glasstic annelid vehicles to themselves. They sat in the forward compartment, the better to watch the track and the scenery through which they were about to pass. Gliding a handsbreadth above its track, the maglev slithered out of the station and across the desert surrounding the airport, toward a range of low mountains twenty kilometers distant, on its way to the polis of Hyggeby. Distance and the mountains were intended to provide protection from any antimatter "incidents" at the airport. The bleak landscape also served to whet visitors' aesthetic appetites for the artfully contrived vista that would greet their eyes on the opposite side of the mountains.
"I know it's late in the day," Klee said as he stared out the window at the desert scenery speeding by, "but I do wonder whether there isn't some way to turn the Survey over to the robots."
"You mean as in 'fully sentient robots in command of starships'," Dieter commented drily.
"No," Klee said. "I mean something legal."
"Do you know which T-frames you spanned when you hit your shoal?" Dieter asked.
"No," Klee replied a little petulantly. "That's one of the things I'm going to have to go find out."
"And you are going to apply your very human pattern recognition capabilities in that effort," Dieter said. "And even then your exploration of the transinertial hyperframes will be long and difficult. Digital processing, however sophisticated, won't do that job. No, a robot would need human-equal pattern recognition capability or better. And, as if that's not illegal enough, you want also to send the robots out there unsupervised. There's no other way."
"Yeah, yeah" Klee said. "God, Dieter, why does progress have to be retarded by morons?"
" 'Chance favors the prepared mind', my boy," Dieter said. "Louis Pasteur made that observation as far back as the Nineteenth Century."
The maglev swept into a pass in the low mountains north of the spaceport. Some of the yuccas among the chaparral were displaying their white flowers. In some areas butterscotch-yellow vines draped in intricate and delicate networks over the brush. Idly Klee watched widely spaced clumps of meter-high fountain grass glide by.
"If one has a mind to be prepared," Klee noted sourly.
"You misunderstand," Dieter said. "A society that tells itself too many golem stories is ill-prepared to make the best use of robots. Our ancestors conditioned themselves, prepared their minds, to fear fully intelligent machines, assuming automatically that such machines would be inherently hostile to human interests."
"You mean to tell me," Klee said, "that the Robotic Exclusions Act came from a bunch of nervous Nellies who read too many stories about berserk robots?"
"Not so simplistically," Dieter said. "Consider an example from my own homeland's history. In the middle of the Twentieth Century Germany fought a great war against Britain and its allies. German victory in that war depended upon a crude encoding device called Enigma. It was a simple device, but given the technology and mathematical sophistication of the time my ancestors were justified in assuming that its codes were unbreakable. Unfortunately, the British did, in fact, break the codes, largely through the efforts of one Alan Turing. The German security services should have suspected such a thing when they became aware of an excess of British successes over the expectation value. They should have suspected, but they didn't and Germany lost the war as a consequence. Do you know why they did not suspect?"
"No, history is not one of my strong subjects," Klee said.
"After the war was over an American intelligence officer filed a rather strange report," Dieter said. "He had noticed that the personnel of the German security services seemed to be inordinately fond of loading their bookshelves with trashy spy novels whose villains were diabolically clever British agents. Do you see in your imagination what happened? In the laboratories of their subconscious minds the German security people had enshrined the hypothesis of the unbreakable Enigma as an inviolable theory, so when evidence suggested that the British were obtaining German secrets they had ready at hand a second hypothesis, one supported by contrived data. In their choice of reading material the German security people conditioned themselves to fail to see the truth."
"So all we have to do," Klee said, "is to go back in time, kill a few writers, and then come back to find robots surveying that damned shoal? Dieter, that's ridiculous."
The maglev swooped out of the mountains and glided through a broad parkland. The pass opened out and Klee and Dieter could see Hyggeby spread out before them some three hundred meters below. The maglev curved gracefully to the right along the east side of the pass. Parkway sheep scampered off the right of way as the maglev approached, waiting patiently by the side of the track for the train to pass before resuming their cropping of the grass growing between and alongside the rails.
"Yes, but not quite in the way that you mean," Dieter said. "When you acquire an opportunity perhaps you will query Database and remember to look up the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis. I believe that you will find it interesting. My only regret is that Whorf did not describe the incident that led him to formulate his famous analysis of the unconscious meanings of empty gasoline drums. I suspect that it was spectacular."
"Empty gasoline drums?" Klee said quizzically. "Is that some kind of industrial-age archetype?"
"No," Dieter said. "You're confusing Whorf with Jung. Benjamin Lee Whorf was a safety inspector for the Hartford Fire Insurance Company in New England in the 1930's. He took his degree in industrial chemistry, but developed a strong avocational interest in linguistics. That interest interacted strongly with his profession and produced the theory of linguistic relativity. The classical example is that provided by a company that apparently used liquid gasoline delivered in fifty-five-gallon steel drums in its manufacturing processes."
"Gasoline being...?" Klee prompted.
"A hydrocarbon fuel," Dieter explained. "An extremely volatile liquid. The Twentieth Century ran on the stuff. In Whorf's example the word 'empty', due to its connotations, implied that it was safe for the company's employees to smoke cigarettes near those drums. In fact it was quite dangerous because the drums still contained gasoline vapor, which is explosive."
"So," Klee said, "people would build fires near these drums in order to cook their cigarettes for lunch and they thought it was safe simply because of the word 'empty' attached to the name of the drums."
"Well," Dieter said, "that's not quite what they did with cigarettes, but you have the right idea. They were creating open flames near a potential explosion hazard. They had been conditioned to conceive gasoline as a hazard, certainly. But then they had also been subtly conditioned to conceive the word 'empty' as a negation in slightly too broad a way."
"So I am still going to have to go back in time and kill a bunch of writers," Klee said morosely. "And time travel being impossible to top it off."
Dieter sighed. "You are going to allow that shoal to deform your ghost-wave even here," he said.
Klee let out a self-deprecating little laugh. "No, I'm not going to let it do that. I'll have plenty of time later to feel sorry for myself."
"Ah, that's the spirit I like to see," Dieter said. "So, what shall it be, then? Arcadian or Utopian?"
Klee thought for a short moment. "I'm not in any particular mood right now. Perhaps we should wander our mixed state around until some random interaction sets our eigenvalues?"
"Sounds good to me," Dieter said as the maglev glided out onto a high viaduct that led to a cluster of towering buildings that rose like an island above the surrounding parkland.
Klee was standing in the dark on a lonely street across the river from a long cluster of skyscrapers. New York City in the early Twentieth Century might have looked very similar as seen from Brooklyn. The street sloped gently down to the river and was lined with blank-faced buildings that might have been warehouses in a previous century. Widely spaced street lamps created little pools of light on the sidewalk and Klee strolled from one pool to another, walking slowly down the street toward the river. He heard faintly the tread of a robot off in the distance, making its rounds in this industrial quarter.
Contemplative silence, the quiet state in which words come soundlessly to mind, is an Arcadian experience, he had long been told. But Klee had somehow come to find it in Utopian settings. In the post-industrial age, when machines had become quiet and unobtrusive and when all labor was carried out by robots, those areas of human cities where mechanifacturing was done were as quiet and as lonely as any desert, as any deep forest, as any remote mountain valley. It was in such places that humans had long confronted the indifferent emptiness of the world and sought to transcend themselves. It was in such silence that Klee could let his mind's state evolve to encompass a wide range of potential eigenstates free of the little bumps and knocks that would realize one or another of those states prematurely: decoherence would come only when Klee chose to call it.
He gazed across the river, gazed with barely seeing eyes at the lights. In his imagination he saw the streets and the well-lit sidewalks of the city. He imaged the people moving on those sidewalks and the activities to which they were attending. He seemed to hear, faintly in the distance, the sounds of people challenging the night. He felt a sweet loneliness, the yearning to join that collective human defiance of the cold dark. He saw in the distant, warm, light-filled city the means to collapse the indeterminate state of his mind; in that particular arrangement of matter and energy he would discover what it was to be Klee Jetwright. Life, he understood, was simply the drawn out process of dying, of pruning the ever branching tree of possibility, of defining himself ever more finely. His ghost-wave expanded and collapsed like an aetherial heartbeat, driving him ever onward toward his ultimate self.
He came to the promenade along the river and dialed up a pod to take him into the city.
Klee returned to space in much the same way he had come planetside--locked into a set of wings. Again the hydrocarbon-burning engines roared and shoved him along the runway and into the air. Westward he flew in a shallow climb. Two hundred kilometers out the wings shut down their engines and retracted them. Klee lit off his own engines, pushed himself through an ascending half loop, and strove for orbit.
Once he reached the Port Authority's fliederstadt and returned the wings to their dock, he set out for the system's Well to reload his tanks with liquid anti-helium and to pick up the probes that he had requested.
"Beware the Lorelei," Dieter said as Klee moved away from the Well and initiated his hyperdrive. "They like to lurk around shoals, you know."
"Yeah," Klee said with a half chuckle. "You don't have to tell me twice."
"Indeed so?" Dieter said. "And you have, perhaps, some special means to keep your guts quivering with a proper fear of the beast?"
"Oh, yeah!" Klee said. "Yeah, I once met a man who survived a Lorelei encounter. Planetbound he was. Wouldn't even dare venture into vacuum, much less hyperspace."
Dieter grunted."There are worse fates."
Klee grinned a death's head rictus. "The planet to which he was bound? It's Elpitaphagos."
"Gott in Himmel!" Dieter said.
"Yeah," Klee continued. "It was the planet closest to his encounter point and once his feet touched dirt, they couldn't get him into a ship to save his life. So, you see, I do indeed have a proper fear of the Lorelei. I only wish someone would invent an effective Lorelei repellant."
"As do I," Dieter said. "Damn it, Klee! If I didn't have to meet Martienne Tillipovian at Gidr elWardeh to pass off Database, I would come with you."
"I appreciate the thought, Dieter," Klee said, smiling in spite of himself. "But I will be safe enough by myself. I will only miss your company, not your protection."
"Then I feel confident in saying Auf Wiedersehen," Dieter said.
"Yeah, I'll see you later, Dieter," Klee said. "Thanks for the morale boost." He began to calculate his hyperspatial configuration then and asked Database to play Grenseløs again.
"Ut over alle grenser for å nå inn til deg...," she sang in her pure, clear tones. Klee's supercortex translated the Norwegian into Mechanese [Beyond all limits in order to reach into you...] on the paraconscious track
"I wonder where she is now," he muttered idly, subconsciously specifying the fifth formal connotation of "where".
"As of Anno Domini 2137 Apr 03, Scandinavian neo-classical," came the reply from Database. "Currently recording Freydis Markussen's oratorio, 'Hymn of the Fjords'."
Klee realized that he had simply assumed that she was still alive. Well, she wouldn't be over a hundred and seventy, of that he was sure. And hers was the first generation of humans to face the prospect of living two centuries or more. And she was, after all, an officially designated cultural treasure.
As if inspired to match her soaring voice, he pushed hard with his main engines and plunged deep into hyperspace.
ef"Across the endless vacuum, lightyears wide, we've ranged,
listening for quiet whispers of that from which we're estranged.
And in that awful Silence we feel a deep forlorn,
the sense of something we should have gained but lost when we were born."
-- Aetherlogue --
He came to the approximate location of the shoal he had struck over a month earlier. As he had been doing then he sang, with full orchestration,"Vltava" and listened for the echoes that would indicate obstacles in his path. It was not that he expected to detect anything so far from the nearest star, but he was equipped with hydar for a reason and he used it. Now he was glad he did: he picked up an echo and a damned strange one at that. The echo came back doubled and the second part didn't quite match the first. It was as if the object from which the echo had been reflected was copying the signal and re-transmitting it.
He increased the resolution on the hydar and tried to discern the shape of the object, but the return signal made no sense. He let out a low whistle."Woe, that drive is way the Hell out of tune," he muttered. A wave of pity washed through him: he had been drivesick himself once before and that due to a minor maltuning of his hyperdrive. He hailed the object. The return signal made no sense. A shudder slithered up his spine. "Lorelei," he whispered.
He altered his course slightly to intercept the object and hailed it again."Answer me," he called. "I can free you from the Lorelei. We can match phase and I can pull you into normal space." No response. "I can't imagine what you're enduring," he said, "but once I tow you out of hyperspace you can shut down your drive and the pain will end." That got a response but it was all wrong. The range of frequencies was far out of the normal and what he heard, on the assumption that it was an audio signal, was a series of clicks, scrapings, thumps, and what sounded like a hailstorm in a drum factory followed by several bars of Vltava. "If you can hear me and understand what I'm saying," he said, "listen carefully. I'm going to overhaul you and wage the phase dance myself. Just stay passive and we'll be fine." He moved in on the object and it leaped away from him.
If he had been on a planetary surface and had not been encased in toolmass, his jaw would have dropped."Oh, that has got to hurt!" he said as he tracked the object on hydar. The trajectory that he plotted astonished him further. The object was not heading toward Lisan edDufdah or 'A'sa edDabbur. It was actually heading out of Considerium space, flying toward an unnamed M-class dwarf some ten lightyears away, an implied journey of nearly three months. He had never heard of drivesickness making anyone psychotic, but there's a first time for everything. Someone who had endured the sensory distortions and the pain, the knowledge of being caught by a Lorelei, long enough might indeed go mad despite the ministrations of their toolmass. If that were the case, it would be merely a matter of time, and not much of that, before that tormented soul attempted the trickiest kind of eigenvaluation and gave him a debris field to scan for clues to the craft and its rider's identity.
A suspicion dawned in his mind."Database," he called, "assume that the object I am tracking is a ship and calculate its drive configuration. Is it possible for a ship to fly normally in hyperspace with such a configuration?"
"I don't know," Database replied. "I cannot verify the information you have obtained as representing a true hyperdrive configuration. I can only assume that the configuration represents a ship caught in the pattern of a Lorelei. If it does represent a properly functioning drive, then the ship is of a design radically different from yours."
"A new design?" Klee said. "Perhaps faster? But why the coyness in communicating? If I wanted to show off a new ship,...."
"Perhaps an analysis of the object's motions will offer a clue?" Database suggested. "Those motions seem inconsistent with the known behavior of the Lorelei."
Klee looked at the data and saw that the other ship had slowed from its initial leap, leaped again, slowed again, and repeated that pattern of movement several more times. He sighed."Yeah, right," he muttered. "Take it whither no one has gone before." If he followed, he would be gone for over half a year, possibly longer, and he had no guarantee that he would meet his taunter. "What was that about ships passing in the night?" he whispered. Absent-mindedly he activated his music library and called up the "Ut Mot Melkeveien" suite to listen again to Grenseløs as he watched the other ship slip beyond hydar range.
"Som en symfoni," she sang, her voice soaring over a high ghostly fjell and then stooping to dive into and glide along an aetherial fjord, "når den løfter meg ut på hvite vinger og tar meg...." [Like a symphony, when it lifts me up on white wings and takes me....]
He forgot momentarily what followed it until he heard her sing:
"The cold lightyears I wander throughout interstellar space,
yet my heart's ever dreaming of one very special place.
Whatever wonders beckon, despite all that I should see,
the green hills of Earth will ever be home to me."
He paused in indecision in the timeless state of being suspended in the song until he heard her voice soaring above the music,
"Beyond Mother Earth, we float in the Void and plunge into contemplation.
From a distance we gain, in the right context, a deeper appreciation
of the strange and sacred blessing that the Old One unasked gave
unto our young, untried race,
through cold aetherial grace,
a small world for a cradle and a galaxy for a grave."
He paused long enough to launch the probes that would chart the shoal. They would accumulate data that he could pick up on his return. He could then refine the mapping as needed and it would likely need a lot of refining.
A wave of dizziness swept over him and he seemed to feel the ship fishtailing as he annihilated his propagators in a pseudo-random sequence and created a new set of nearly orthogonal propagators, executing a nearly right angle turn. He refined his trajectory. Then with his hyperdrive he annihilated a select set of depropagators and leapt forward, outward, into the unknown.
ef"An inexpressible yearning, much more felt than heard,
is a quiet voice that speaks to us, though it utters not a word.
The voiceless echo of the Other resounds deep within my soul
and I know that if I were to touch it, the touching would make me whole."
The Other went all the way to the red dwarf before eigenvaluating itself into normal space, doing so as an integrated body and not as a spreading debris field. The dispersing ghost-wave from its hyperdrive struck Klee, the slight variations in its spatial distribution imposing the sensations of pitch and yaw on Klee, making him feel as though he were riding a boat on a slightly choppy sea.
Klee emerged from hyperspace one standard A.U. from the red dwarf. Scanning the system, he found only one indication of artifice and it was very much where he would expect the first artificial structure in a newly opened system to be. As he approached it he saw that it was more of a Seep than a Well and he wondered who had been out here. Who would be crazy enough to go so far into unSurveyed space and build a structure that no one needed? He had no sooner formulated the question than he thought of Nebuline Prokyonian. But she would have to have been out here over ten years ago to plant the seeds. Database confirmed that Nebbie hadn't been in this part of the Considerium before four years ago. But the new ship had come straight here. Now he was thoroughly bewildered. The new ship certainly was not Nebbie's and it seemed to him that he would have heard of any new design over ten years old.
A new thought came to him then. Had he encountered a galactic Johnny Appleseed? Had he been pursuing someone who had designed a new ship and then abandoned the Considerium to prepare neighboring stars for eventual immigration? Whoever it was, they had put their ship onto a trajectory away from the Seep and toward a G-class dwarf a little over seven lightyears further from the Considerium.
As he approached the Seep he saw the fractal pattern of solar collectors and noticed that the angles were multiples of a third of a right angle, that the symmetry was hexagonal rather than the usual octagonal. Artistic license, he thought. He felt strangely cold nonetheless.
He parked the standard fifty thousand kilometers from the Seep and waited. Nothing happened. No tugbots came to greet him, no signal hailed him, he wasn't even being scanned on radar. He moved closer to the Seep, drifting at a sedate ten kilometers per second. That, at least, got a radar response, but he had to approach to within twelve thousand kilometers of the Seep before his radar showed a flotilla of tugbots coming toward him. There were too many of them; three times as many as normally greeted him at a Well. Surely they had identified him and knew how many would actually be needed to nudge him to the Seep. The cold feeling became a chill that shuddered his spine.
He remembered Whorf's empty gasoline drums. In slightly more than a century Humanity had woven a tenuous web of interstellar routes reaching nearly one hundred and twenty lightyears in all directions from Sol. Not what one would call an empire, the Considerium comprised the set of human occupied worlds and various cosmogradi, fliederstadten, astropolides, and uptownships, most of them revolving about G-class and K-class dwarfs. The vast majority of the Considerium's stars had never been visited, much less explored in detail, though a sampling of the M-class dwarfs implied strongly that their planets bore no life at all. What life had been found on the worlds that had been explored was always of the most primitive kind, usually unicellular. He began to understand the effect that those discoveries (or, more properly, nondiscoveries) had imposed upon his culture. It wasn't only mad robots that his ancestors had conceived to condition their expectations; the literature of the Twentieth and early Twenty-First Centuries had cast its readers' gaze outward into a galaxy teeming with intelligent life. The full disappointment of that expectation had so discredited the idea of intelligent aliens that no one seriously considered the possibility of meeting such creatures. So now Klee faced just that possibility...or an elaborate hoax of supernova brilliance. He needed only one observation to collapse that particular mixed state into its proper eigenvalue.
The tugbots had surrounded him now, but did not approach him. He examined them and saw that they were not passing strange. Well, the fundamentals of engineering are the same throughout the galaxy. And the differences that he could see between these tugbots and the ones he was accustomed to seeing could as easily be attributed to artistic license as to alien aesthetics: again his observations had put his knowledge of this place into a mixed state. Slowly he extended all of his docking bumpguards. The tugbots seemed bewildered at first, but then they pushed gently upon his hull, as if to measure its mass and its inertia tensor. They paused for a moment and he detected a flurry of radio transmissions, then very gingerly they pushed him to the Seep.
His heart's beat rate would have increased if his heart had actually been beating at the time. The tugbots sidled him up to the pump. He focused his attention on the scanners surrounding his coupling, but delayed opening the outer seals. The Seep reached out its crane arms and gripped him by his bumpguards to steady him as it pulled him to the proboscis. He confirmed the existence of a thin anti-helium vapor around the proboscis and then that it was, indeed, helium-3. Then he saw what he needed to know: the Seep's couplings didn't match his, not even closely.
The mixed state in his knowledge collapsed and for the first time he looked outward with full vision, active as well as passive. The stars were no longer mere skymarks for his astrogation. In his imagination he saw a vague concept of the myriads of planets that revolved around them and, even more vaguely, an image that seemed to beg to be filled in with real data, the civilizations that must sprawl over and among those planets. For the first time he felt true loneliness, the yearning to contact the determinedly Other. He saw in the distance warm, light-filled planets and heard faintly the transmissions of their people. He was dying, slowly and painlessly, but dying nonetheless. It would take nearly two centuries for that process to run its course and in that time there was much he could do.
Gently he pulled away from the Seep. He had enough antimatter for fifty lightyears of travel, enough to pursue his quarry to the next star and beyond if need be. He might be gone from the Considerium for several years if his pursuit bore fruit. What might he miss out on in that time? What might he bring back with him?
He listened again to Grenseløs, trembling as its melody blew through him like a ghost wind."Jeg har fulgt min stjerne," she sang, "ut til det fjerne Landet hvor lyset er." [I have followed my star out to that distant land where the light is.] Definitely transcendent this time, he thought. He heard her last "Jeg kommer" vanish into a cloud of music and then re-emerge on broad-spread wings to glide smoothly to its home note.
"Yes," he whispered in agreement, "I'm coming." And he dove into hyperspace.
ef"And so we trek among the stars in hyperdriven flight.
Seeking the touch of the untouchable, we wander the eternal night.
Past vast luminous nebulae, the Galaxy we roam,
pursuing the unknown Other'til Death comes to take us home."
-- Aetherlogue --
Klee Pavlo Jetwright, fully integrated into a small starship and on his way to another star system, has struck an uncharted shoal in hyperspace and been slightly injured in the collision. By the laws of the Considerium, a human-occupied region 25 lightyears around Sol, he must return to the shoal and map it for inclusion into the Hyperspace Ephemeris. While he is there he hears someone echoing his singing and sets out to follow the echo to its source. When the source moves away from him he pursues it. The pursuit leads him to an unexplored solar system, in which he finds a small antimatter factory of alien design.
One of the dangers of hyperflight, in addition to uncharted shoals, one much more dangerous, is that of the Lorelei. The Lorelei interferes with a ship's hyperdrive, creating and annihilating propagators at random. It drives those who encounter it utterly mad. Klee must face the possibility that his shoal hides a Lorelei.
The theme of the story plays on the metaphor of the wave-particle duality of the quantum theory. The theme is manifested in the description of flight through hyperspace, in the Arcadian-Utopian duality of human society on newly settled planets, in the sacred-profane duality of a song, and in the duality in each of us between Nietzsche's Ultimate Man and Übermensch, between complacency and the urge to explore and seek innovation.
The original title of this story was Merchant of Light, referring to characters in Francis Bacon's novel "The New Atlantis". Bacon's Merchants of Light were explorers who went out into the world to gather knowledge and then brought their discoveries back to Bensalem's House of Solomon for further study. In this case it refers to someone who gains new knowledge as a perturbation that prevents society from evolving into a degenerate state.
The new title, Entanglement, refers to a phenomenon of the quantum theory. The word itself denotes the phenomenon in which two quantum systems that have touched each other possess a common state function as they move apart until a measurement performed on one or the other system collapses the state function and simultaneously sets the values of both systems' contingent properties, thereby freeing the systems to evolve independently. I can't say for sure why I chose this new title, but subconsciously it seems right.
The solitude of self is another thread in the story. We are all, each of us, in ourselves totally alone. That is the fundamental fact of our existence. No other person can get inside our minds and experience the world exactly as we do; ultimately, we each face Reality entirely alone. We strive against that solitude, of course; as social creatures, we yearn for others to heal that ache. And while others may distract us from that fundamental sense of loneliness, they cannot remove it from us. Klee begins in denying his existential loneliness and ends in acknowledging it and embracing it.
Name Notes: Based on the fact that the planets of other stars all have different constellations in their skies and that those constellations and the stars that comprise them will need names, I have devised the following names using the standard Arabic along with Norwegian and Greek;
Taj elBar = Crown of the Hawk,
Lisan edDufdah = Tongue of the Frog,
'A'sa edDabbur = Sting of the Wasp,
Honninghjem = Honey Home,
Elpitaphagos = Hope Eater,
Gidr elWardeh = Root of the Rose.
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