seawasp (seawasp) wrote,

GRAND CENTRAL ARENA: Removed Chapter 1

During the process of making almost any book, some pieces get taken out, or modified so much that the original form is gone. Sometimes -- perhaps most times -- this is a good thing overall for the book. In my case, I think any significant changes I've made -- either on my own, or because my editors suggested them -- have very much improved the book.

But sometimes you still regret losing those pieces, and sometimes your readers might appreciate seeing them.

This is one of two chapters which were once the beginning of Grand Central Arena. As you will see, they start earlier than the current version, and give different perspective and information that was not given directly in GCA as published.


Chapter 1.


DuQuesne looked around the huge auditorium, an artistic capturing of the essence of "meeting space" in ivory and steel, and wondered idly how many of the people he saw filing in and taking their seats were really present. He could, of course, find out, either by going around and poking at each one with his virtual sense inputs off to see how solid they were, or by querying the local network, but it wasn't a critical point for him.


More important for our speaker, actually, he thought, since personal presence at a remote location shows a lot more interest than doing a telpres to attend. Especially since probably half of the telpres types are AISage avatars; no point in tuning in yourself if you're so far across the system that by the time you react, the meeting's over.


DuQuesne surveyed the crowd with an eye to who he could identify, or at least figure out their affiliation; whatever Dr. Simon Sandrisson was going to be discussing, it was clearly something that he needed support on, and the number and type of people expressing interest was the measure of the support he could expect. With nanotechnological manufacturing, in the form of AIWish units of varying size and capability, in the hands of essentially everyone, ordinary standards of value had disappeared; the only real commodities remaining were IEE: information, energy, and entertainment (some preferred IEI, replacing "entertainment" with "interest", and sometimes "information" with "invention"). Even energy was a limitation only in immediate circumstances or for large, concentrated projects.


Energy production could be tracked reasonably well, and and interest could be measured by attention. Thus Energy Dollars as the last remaining true limited resource (matter was theoretically limited, but even at current rates it would be quite a while before they had to start disassembling planets, or even the larger moons, for the resources), and Interest as the method of tracking the need to allocate any resources needed and not met by local capabilities.


Such allocation being overseen and moderated always, of course, by the Combined Space Forces and the oversight of the System Security Council, commonly referred to as the CSF and SSC, respectively.


People (or their virtusensic imitations) were settling into the seats; DuQuesne noted that there were very few empty, aside – as usual – from the ones near him. Then someone did sit next to him, and he glanced over in mild surprise.


The heavily lined brown face, with salt-and-pepper graying black hair, looked up slightly and smiled. "Hello, Marc."


"Saul Maginot? Thought you were retired." Looks like he damn well ought to be; it's only been ten years since I saw him last, and he's already got more lines… worry lines, too. Either he's not taking rejuvenation treatment, or he's still driving himself the same way he has since I met him.


The head of the CSF shrugged. "Retirement doesn't suit me," he answered in a gravelly tenor that sounded eternally tired. "Looks like working suits you well enough."


"I like keeping busy, yeah."


"There's been no change with Wu," Maginot said quietly. "I stopped by last month. You still visiting him?"


It's always like this. We tapdance through the same greetings every time. "Two days every second month, like always."


Saul shook his head. "And you still won't let me help."


Been a while since he asked that. "No. It's not about you, it's about whoever comes after you. Wu and the others are my problem."


The dark face gave a slight smile, accompanied by a shrug."Heard from K lately?"


And the next step in the dance, right on cue. "Another cryptic note. Not one I'm sharing. She's okay, I guess." And next we'll get to number three, and I'm not talking about her at all, so let's cut to something else. "What the hell brings you here? Didn't know you were into the R&D on this end."


He could see Saul knew what he was avoiding, and was weighing whether he had to pursue it.


Apparently not now. "Research by itself, no. But if what Dr. Sandrisson has is real, if it can be made to work, it's something of tremendous interest to the Combined Space Forces and the System Security Council."


"You supporting his work, then?"


"Undecided," Saul answered after a moment. "That's partly why I'm here, after all. I would love to support it if it works, but the sociopolitical dynamics of the SSC-CSF directly involving itself might prove troublesome. I would much prefer it if it remains a more private, general support project, especially if no individual planet, colony, or habitation has a dominant interest."


So the old bastard can still surprise me. I think I know what his interest is, which means he's one step ahead of just about everyone else… again. "So you think—"


But at that moment the lights dimmed in the auditorium, and brightened on the stage. For a moment the light gleamed warmly from the golden polished natural wood, not replicated but imported directly from Earth (currently about three hundred million kilometers away) during construction.


A measured click-clack preceded the entrance of the speaker, the sound of traditional hard-polished dress shoes on hardwood echoing through the auditorium. Dr. Simon Sakuraba Sandrission appeared in the light, long white hair cascading in a perfect part around his narrow face; he seemed to shed light rather than merely reflect it, an effect caused by both his pure-white hair and the long white suit-coat which was (deliberately, DuQuesne was sure) styled to look very reminiscent of an old-fashioned laboratory coat or smock.


DuQuesne concentrated and his headware took the image feeds from around the auditorium and zoomed in. Sandrisson's brilliant green eyes, showing a slight trace of his Japanese ancestry in their shape, and framed by clearly ornamental round-lensed spectacles, seemed to look into DuQuesne's for a moment as the scientist scanned the crowd. He reached the podium and paused, waiting just that short moment for the crowd to settle. He's not just a genius… he's got some stage presence too. Not bad. He'll need it if he's about to start asking people for support.


"Thank you all for coming." The voice was slightly tenor, clearly British in accent, precise and educated and just a bit wry. "Even those of you who aren't here."


It was an old, old speaker's joke, probably used at the first teleconferences ever, three hundred years before, but Dr. Sandrisson's delivery was good and a small chuckle rippled around the room. "I will not waste your time rehashing too much of what has gone before. As most of you know, some years ago I – with the help of many others – formulated a small extension of the Kanzaki-Locke model which indicated that the so-called 'context parameter matrix' might have some actual physical applications rather than be merely a mathematical abstraction for reconciling various branches of cosmological physics."


Either modest, or playing it that way, DuQuesne thought as Sandrission continued his abbreviated introduction. Judging by his facial expression and delivery, I think he actually is modest. Unusual. Sandrisson's "small extension" of Kanzaki and Locke's work to create a Grand Unified Theory had amounted to a completely earthshaking assertion that the one apparent potential flaw in the Kanzaki-Locke hypothesis – the context parameter matrix, which many compared to Einstein's cosmological constant, a sort of "fudge factor" that allowed everything to come out right – was instead a simple, factual description of the actual nature of the universe.


As the parameter matrix in question involved methods of reconciling time and space differentials between widely separated points, the implication was that there was, in fact, a Universal Frame of Reference, a privileged perspective location from which the universe could be viewed. This further implied, according to relationships between Einstein's relativity and revised quantum theory established by Kanzaki-Locke, that a transition to this privileged location might be physically possible in such a manner as to permit effective faster-than-light travel.


It was a damned brilliant piece of work, and all accounts showed that it was Sandrisson who did most of it. Even his AISages just helped, apparently. Artificial intelligences can do a lot of things, but we still don't know how to make true genius to order. He ignored the little dissenting voice of his past inside him. Sandrission was getting to the point.


"I am here today to present the results of the actual tests, and to request permission from the SSC to take the next steps."


That got DuQuesne's attention. Permission from the SSC? What the hell kind of results has he got that he needs their permission to solicit some refine-and-prototype R&D? Of course, that was the reason for attending this meeting; Sandrission and his people had been conducting their tests on their own, and marked the results private – which meant that even the CSF didn't know what was going on, and couldn't monitor the tests directly. The Anonymity War had seen to that about two hundred years back.


But there were very few circumstances under which anyone needed to ask permission of the SSC or CSF to do anything, and those few… DuQuesne found himself sitting somewhat forward on his seat, feeling anticipation of a sort he thought had become impossible for him more than fifty years ago.


"A total of two hundred test vehicles equipped with the test device, appropriately configured for each vehicle, have been deployed. All were launched from the same rough location with respect to this station, Kanzaki-Three, ten thousand kilometers above the central axis of rotation."


The displayed statistics, visually displayed as a cloud of points and lines around Kanzaki-Three and with accompanying data feeds, showed the launch times and locations versus re-emergence times and locations. DuQuesne touched the streamlined ornamental-looking oblong case at his hip, and the avatar of his AISage shimmered into virtual view, seeming to be looking at him from behind an old-fashioned typewriter. "You're interrupting my writing again, DuQuesne," the bespectacled graying man with bushy sideburns said, with a long-suffering look.


"And exactly when aren't you writing, Ike? Look,give me the dope on those results, would you? It's not like I demand you hang around me all the time, like most people."


Ike rolled his eyes, but nodded. "All right, all right." He hammered away at the typewriter keys for a moment and the analysis streamed into DuQuesne's brain.


Faster than light. My god, it's true.


That was the first thing that leaped out at him. Most of the probes had indeed gone from point A to point B in times that made light look sluggish. But there were a number of oddities. A few had not re-emerged at all, and one or two had gone quickly but not any faster than ordinary physics would allow. DuQuesne frowned. There's hardly any other data here, though.


"You will note that there is a minimal additional amount of data," Sandrisson said, almost as though hearing DuQuesne's thoughts. "This brings us to my current interesting predicament." The tall, slender scientist grinned. "Aside from the three lost probes, none of the probes were destroyed or damaged in any detectable way. However, even the ones which remained in, well, wherever they went, for a significant length of time (a few seconds) returned no additional data. As you can see from the specifications, all of the probes were well-supplied with multiple sensing modalities and controlled by AIs rated from 0.1 to 0.5 Taylers."


DuQuesne nodded with most of the audience. 0.1 Taylers was normal "smart sensor" automation – could do a lot of the same sensing and perception and relationship evaluations of humans, but couldn't THINK about it much. Anything over 0.5 Taylers was closing in on human capabilities – and was never allowed to operate completely independently. The Tayler scale was, in DuQuesne's view, a simplistic one with a ton of weaknesses, like the old IQ tests, but it was useful enough and the tests for such things were well-established.


"Despite this, not a single byte of data was recorded from any sensors following transition."


"Doctor Sandrisson," a woman in the front row said, "Isn't it possible that from the point of view of the probe, there is no actual time elapsed? That is, that the transition from one point to another is accomplished instantaneously?"


"This was, in fact, my first working hypothesis once the pattern became obvious," Sandrisson said, with a shrug. "However, several tests showed that this simply was not the case. Battery draw indicated that some period of time had elapsed during the transition; mechanical timers placed on board continued to run and showed the equivalance of the apparent lapse of time."


"Have you tried using direct recording methods?" By this, DuQuesne knew, the speaker meant electromechanical or very simple electronic analog means without significant computational components involved.


The white-haired head dipped in assent. "Certainly. But unfortunately such methods are little used today, and while they have so far shown that they do record during the transition, none of the sensors we've used so far have shown anything outside the probe. It may be a completely featureless void, but it puzzles me as to why the main systems seem to notice nothing unusual at all." He gestured, and several of the transition tracks were emphasized. "On the most recent series of runs, we have tested probes carrying live test subjects, such as guinea pigs and rats. Biologically they appear, as near as we can tell, to continue functioning throughout the transition, and have suffered no detectable ill effects. The longest transition experiments have allowed me to test, using very simple automation, whether they can react during transition, and they do."


And now I see your problem and your intended solution. And why Saul thought he had to be here. DuQuesne grinned suddenly. I'm even more glad I came.


"We have, in my opinion, come as far as we can using these small probes, and the questions they have raised cannot be answered by doing more of the same," Sandrission continued. "Biological systems appear to function, and most likely so would advanced nanotechnological AIs of Tayler ratings over 1.0. The latter, of course, cannot be placed on independent probes; and, given the lack of data – and the loss of three of the two hundred probes – there is clearly a certain element of undeniable risk. Therefore I am here to request the permission of the SSC and CSF to permit a full manned experimental mission." The narrow face flashed a brilliant smile. "And following that, to invite those of you with the skills I will need to join me as the crew for the first faster-than-light vessel ever constructed!"

You'll note that several pieces of the information in these sections were, in fact, put into the later ones, as the info was critical. However, there's a fair amount of character interaction, most importantly with Saul, which never made it in. I do regret not having that; I would have liked to have Saul Maginot at least momentarily present.

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