White mars by Brian W. Aldiss & Roger Penrose. Chapter 17, 18

White mars. Chapter 17, 18


The Birth Room

Despite recurring dizzy spells – and advice from Cang Hai and Guenz and others to consult a doctor – I continued to work steadily with the team to finalise our Utopian plans. Guenz protested that it was useless work if Olympus could rouse up and destroy our little settlement at any time. Mary Fangold replied that it was not reasonable to sit about waiting for a disaster that might never happen. She used a phrase we had heard several times before -almost the motto of the Mars colony – ‘You gotta keep on keeping on’.

Dreiser Hawkwood and Charles Bondi set up a secure Ambient group with Kathi Skadmorr, Youssef Choihosla and me. We discussed, at Dreiser’s direction, the question of whether Earth should be informed of Olympus’s movements.

We studied the latest comsat photographs. ‘As you can see,’ Dreiser said, ‘its rate of progress is increasing, even though it is crossing rough territory.’

‘It has withdrawn its exteroceptors from around this unit,’ Kathi remarked. ‘One deduction is that it requires them elsewhere to act as under-regolith paddles. Hence the abrupt acceleration.’

Bondi was busy measuring. ‘Using the churned regolith as the base line, Chimborazo has covered ninety-five or ninety-six metres in the last Earth year. This is an extraordinary rate of acceleration. If it could maintain this acceleration rate – pretty ridiculous, in my opinion – its prow would strike the unit – let’s see, well, hmm, it still has nearly three hundred kilometres to go, so … well, we would have plenty of time – four years at the very least, even on that reckoning.’

‘Four years!’ I echoed.

Interrupting, Choihosla asked if Chimborazo left excreta behind on its trail.

‘Don’t be silly,’ Kathi exclaimed. ‘It is a self-contained unit, can’t waste anything. It’ll have excreta-eaters in under that shell.’

‘The point of my question is – do we inform Downstairs or not? I’d like your answer, Tom,’ said Dreiser. ‘This doesn’t have to go to Adminex. We five must say yea or nay.’

‘They probably have the Darwin fixed on Mars,’ I said. ‘So they’ll see this thing’s hoof marks.’

‘Maybe they have not maintained their telescope since the breakdown,’ Dreiser said. ‘Or, if they have, they may not be too quick to evaluate the implications of the tumbled regolith. What I mean to say is, they may just reckon we triggered a landslide of some magnitude.’

‘We should inform Downstairs that “the volcano” has shifted,’ said Kathi. ‘No other comment. We certainly don’t inform them that we think Chimborazo has life, never mind intelligence. Otherwise they’d probably nuke the place -xenophobia being what it is.’

So that was agreed on, after more discussion.

Bondi said, wryly, ‘You can’t predict what they’ll do down there. They may simply conclude we’ve gone mad.’

‘They probably think that already,’ I said.

A thousand questions poured through my mind that night, sometimes merging with phantasmagoric strands of dream. My mind was like a rat in a maze, being both rat and maze.

At the ‘X’ hour of night, I climbed from my bed and walked about the limited confines of my room. The question arose in my consciousness: Why was it that, in all the infinitude of matrix, mankind built itself these tiny hutches in which to exist?

I longed to talk with someone. I longed to have Antonia again by my side, to enjoy her company and her counsel. As tears began to roll down my cheeks – I could not check them, though she had been gone now for three years – my Ambient sounded its soft horn.

The face of Kathi Skadmorr floated in the globe.

‘I knew you were awake, Tom. I had to speak to you. The universe is cold tonight.’

‘One can be lonely, locked in a crowd.’ It was as if we exchanged passwords.

‘However we may aspire to loneliness, we can’t be as lonely as … you know, that pet of ours out there. Its very being preys on my mind. It’s a case for weeping.’

Guiltily, I wiped away my tears. ‘Kathi, it’s an immense vegetable thing. Despite its CPS, we don’t know that it has anything paralleling our form of intelligence. How do we know it didn’t grow silently in vegetable state – a sort of fungus, well nigh immune to external influence.’

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