Sunday, December 11, 2016

the Asimov Reality

Asimov returned down the hallway to Yōd's bedroom and picked up his clothes from where he had left them, discarded on the floor. He tossed his clothing on the bed amongst the confusion of sheets, blankets and pillows. Isaac was feeling somewhat dismayed and irritated. He wondered: does everyone on Earth believe in time travel?

As soon as Asimov pulled off the bath robe that he had borrowed, he was again teleported to a new location and his visual perceptual field suddenly went dark. For a moment he stood there in the dark, swaying slightly.

The room where he arrived was not completely dark. Asimov glanced around the dimly lit room and muttered, "What now?"

From across the room came a rather jaunty reply, "Welcome to the Hierion Domain, Isaac."

As his eyes adjusted to the low light, Asimov could see that a thin woman was there, sitting in a chair across the room. She pointed, "Go ahead and get dressed."

Asimov turned and saw that there was a jumpsuit draped over the back of a nearby chair. He pulled on the fuzzy synthetic suit while the woman introduced herself, "I'm the replicoid of Ivory Fersoni. Please call me Yrovi." She rose to her feet and the lighting in the room came up to a more normal level.

Asimov finished zipping himself into the jumpsuit and now he could see that Yrovi was quite tall and unusually thin and she was also wearing a jumpsuit. Her suit was a glowing fluorescent yellow and now Asimov could see that his own jumpsuit was orange. "Ivory?" She was so thin that Isaac wondered if she was ill. "I don't recall ever knowing an Ivory."

Yrovi explained, "Ivory was a collaborator of the Editor."

Asimov made a peevish complaint, "I've been bounced around repeatedly today and got to briefly visit Yōd.... too briefly." Asimov was feeling irked to discover that even his old friend Yōd seemed to believe in the existence of time travel. "I also met Zeta and the Editor."

"Ivory used to collaborate with the Editor, but she was removed from Earth by the Overseers. She had schemed to reveal her alien genes to the people of Earth."

Asimov looked critically at Yrovi's startlingly slim physique and slightly alien facial features. He guessed, "Not quite human, are you?"

Yrovi giggled, "No. Like you, I'm an artificial life form. Ivory was almost human, but she did not conform with the definition of 'human' that the tryp'At use."

Asimov was examining the furnishings in the room. He imagined that he might be in the recreation lounge of a large corporation. On the wall was a poster that was labeled "Calmega Industrial Exports". There was seating for about 40 people at tables and on the stools that stood arrayed along the side of a bar that extended across most of one side of the room. At the far end of the room was what appeared to be a small stage for performances. "Why did you bring me here?"

Yrovi stepped close to Asimov and linked arms with him. "Let's walk and I'll explain." She led him out of the "rec hall" and out into a vast domed living space that held many trees and buildings all pleasingly spread out in a park-like setting. The dome above was painted with a strangely abstract representation of a sky that included a few fantastic glowing planets. "Mahasvin sent you here just before you would have been apprehended by the Overseers."

For a minute they walked in silence and twice Asimov caught glimpses of another person walking in the distance. He asked, "How many people live here?"

Yrovi led him off the main path and a few steps up a walkway towards a low profile building that seemed embedded in a thicket or over-grown hedge. She paused her walking, released Asimov's arm and replied, "This is part of Eternity... our working staff is currently about 65, including new recruits and trainees."

Asimov laughed merrily then he sobered and said, "So, you are another one of these fanatics who can't escape their obsession with time travel." He shook his head sadly. "I assume that you mean 'Eternity' as in the fictional home of time travelers as depicted in my story, The End of Eternity."

"Exactly, Isaac, but as you can see, Eternity is quite real." Yrovi pointed up the walkway, "Let's go in. This is the workshop where we can visit the past."

They walked together towards the building and Asimov voiced an objection, "But Many Sails told me that time travel is no longer possible."

Yrovi waved her hand and a portal irised open in the gray side of the building. Asimov followed Yrovi inside and the portal closed automatically behind them. They were now in a very busy room with dozens of computerized control consoles and large display screens. A half dozen people were at work, speaking to each other, viewing data displays and handling the controls. Each worker briefly looked up and glanced at Asimov and Yrovi and then went back to their work. On the far wall was a very large triangular display panel showing what looked like a futuristic seaside resort.

Yrovi spoke quietly, as if trying not to disturb the personnel who were at work in the room: "Time travel was made impossible near the end of the previous century. However, we can still access Gohrlay's data banks. We have access to a vast collection of records that encompass most of Earth's history. What we can learn by studying this large set of data is almost as good as traveling in time."

Asimov pointed to a nearby console where a display screen showed images of both Asimov and Yrovi. "That's me and Yōd!"

"Yes, Isaac, we continue to monitor events on Earth, particularly at critically important locations such as the home of the Editor."

Asimov could well imagine that Yrovi had watched him making love to Yōd. With a fair amount of irritation in his voice, Isaac asked, "So, you spy on the people of Earth. For what purpose?"

"Everyone here in Eternity is working to fulfill the provisions of the Trysta-Grean Pact. Our goal is to help the Earthlings survive and reach the stars."

"Then I must presume that you do more than just watch."

"Yes... you can call us Interventionists. We do take action on Earth when corrections are needed. Actually, such events are rare and these days our mission is almost completely concerned with education." Yrovi touched the console and her image on the display screen was replaced by what seemed to be a live video feed showing the Editor talking to Zeta.

"Education? Who do you educate?"

Yrovi pointed towards the image of the Editor, "Mostly we feed information about Deep Time to the Editor. This has become difficult because the tryp'At are interfering with the process. However, all is not lost. My hope is that you can help us create a new data channel for feeding information to the Editor. That is why you are here." She took hold of Asimov's hand and pulled him towards the far end of the room.

Near the triangular display were two of the workers; a blonde woman wearing a fancy electronic headset and a man who was carefully examining a large camera that could capture holographic images. The woman finished saying what she had been telling the man, "He was sighted on the shuttle dock at 3:19 local time."

The man attached the camera to his bodysuit and said, "Right." He glanced at Yrovi, nodded and then turned and walked through the triangular display screen.

original cover art by Edmund Emshwiller
Suddenly Asimov realized that it was not actually a display screen, but rather a portal. Just through the opening of the portal, the man with the camera had climbed aboard a sleek speed boat. The man moved out of view and then a moment later the boat moved off, leaving a now unimpeded view of the sparkling ocean and what looked like the torch of the Statue of Liberty protruding above the waves. Asimov stood staring at the scene, transfixed.

Yrovi was talking to the blonde woman, "Can you open the portal to the ER center?"

The blonde woman replied in a tense voice, "Give me one more minute. Let me confirm that Roger safely reaches the dock."

Asimov pointed at the portal and asked, "Is that the Statue of Liberty?"

Yrovi glanced at the screen and replied, "What's left of her. That's in the future, after the antarctic ice cap melts away in the Ekcolir Reality."

Asimov scratched his head, "I'm confused. Can we travel through time or not?"

The portal to the Ekcolir Reality shifted its access coordinates and now the triangular opening in the wall showed what looked like another control room, similar to the one that Asimov was in. The blonde woman told Yrovi, "There you go. I can hold a lock on ER control for ten minutes, then I'll have to switch back and retrieve Roger."

Yrovi nodded to the blonde woman and turned her attention back to Asimov. She pulled Asimov towards the edge of the portal. "This is not actual time travel. You can think of it as simulated time travel." Asimov was perplexed. Yrovi continued, "Look, Isaac, everything here in the Hierion Domain is a kind of virtual reality, set up long ago by Gohrlay and her cadre of positronic robots. We are inside what may be the most complex VR environment in the entire Hierion Domain. Frankly, we don't fully understand how it works, but we use it as our university... as a way to learn about Earth's long history. Now, we're pressed for time, so let's go."

Asimov's replicoid, Epsilon Lycaun and Inga.
Display screen inset: Carl Sagan.
Special thanks to Miranda Hedman
(www.mirish.deviantart.com) for
the DeviantArt stock photograph "Black Cat 9 - stock"
that I used to create Lycaun the "sedronite".

Yrovi pulled Asimov through the portal and they stepped into the other control room. Asimov looked to his right and saw a Sedronite, similar in appearance to those he had met in the Galactic Core. This particular Sedronite had white hair and long pointed ears. She was talking to what appeared to be a normal human woman in a green jumpsuit. Isaac looked over his shoulder and discovered that he could still see the first control room. The blonde technician on the far side of the portal was watching Asimov and she waved to him.

The white-haired Sedronite noticed the arrival of Asimov and Yrovi. She approached the triangular portal and greeted Yrovi with a hug. She said rather sternly, "You are late."

Yrovi gave a small nod of her head. "Unavoidable. Allow me to introduce Asimov's replicoid." She turned to Isaac and said, "Asimov, this is the Section Chief here at the Ekcolir hub, Epi Lycaun."

Asimov shook the woman's hand and asked, "Female or hermaphrodite?"

Epsilon replied, "I'm a female Kac'hin."

Yrovi pointed across the control room towards the far wall which was another portal. "There's our destination, the Asimov Reality."

Looking through the second portal, Asimov saw a glorious view of Earth as seen from space. Wordlessly he walked towards that great blue and white marble. Yrovi, Lycaun and the woman in green followed along, walking behind Isaac. The woman in the green jumpsuit asked Yrovi, "Are we really doing an orbital link?" There was a tone of doubt in the woman's voice. 

Yrovi replied with a question of her own, "Why not? Is there some problem?"

The woman in green went to a control console. Lycaun replied to Yrovi, "No real problem, but Inga hasn't ever done an orbital transfer."

Asimov watched the view through the portal and saw the Space Station slowly come into view, growing steadily in size from what at first was a tiny sparkle. To his side, he noticed a display screen with an image of Carl Sagan. He cried out in surprise: "Is Sagan here?"

Lycan replied, "One of the great projects in the Ekcolir Reality was the creation of Carl Sagan. Sorting out how that was accomplished is one of our big research projects in this section of Eternity."

Asimov asked, "Could I meet Sagan?"

Yrovi shook her head, "Sagan died just a few years after you did."

Asimov was puzzled. "What does she mean, 'Sagan was created'?"

"Isaac, ask me about that some other time. We're in a bit of a hurry right now."

Inga played with the controls and soon they all had a stable view through the portal into the interior of the Space Station. Inga said to Lycaun, "Well, getting sync with the Station wasn't as tricky as I had feared."

Lycaun casually flipped a switch on the console and told Inga, "As you just saw, like most sequences, this one was mostly automated and there was little for you to do. You are not the first person to ever sync to orbit." Lycaun turned and told Yrovi, "Don't delay. In this simulation, the shuttle is scheduled to return to Earth in two hours. I want you out of there in less than an hour. We still have not figured out how to control the flow of time in this particular simulation."

"Ya, its the nasty OB bug. How annoying." Yrovi nodded. "Relax, Lil, we won't eat your safety margin."

Lili
Through the portal, Asimov could now see Mahasvin, with the large-eyed appearance that she had first shown him when they were still inside Many Sails. As he watched Mahasvin floating gracefully in microgravity, a second woman came into view, another long-eared Sedronite. Asimov pointed, "There's Lili, the Kac'hin who took me to the Galactic Core!"

Yrovi pointed at Mahasvin, "And for this orientation session, I've also arranged to have Mahasvin in attendance. The environment will be familiar enough to you. I'm sure you remember that on the first day of your artificial life, Lili brought you to the Space Station in order to help you get your space legs." A sly grin was on Yrovi's lips.

"Ug!" Asimov moaned. "I still don't enjoy the feel of zero gravity."

Yrovi asked Isaac, "Well, are you ready?"

Asimov sputtered, "We're going to the Space Station? Now? The last time I was in microgravity I was quite stricken with motion sickness. Maybe I could just stay here and watch..."

Yrovi pointed to a nearby timer display. "We must go soon. In this pre-programmed simulation, your analogue in Deep Time is scheduled arrive inside the station in about two minutes. I want you to meet him."

Asimov asked nervously, "This is just a simulation, right? We're not actually going to travel through time?"

Yrovi and Lili both laughed. Yrovi asked Asimov, "What's the matter? Are you starting to believe that time travel is possible?"

In a quiet voice, Asimov replied, "No." Still, he felt like he was being tricked.

Yrovi took Asimov's hand and led him through the portal. Mahasvin was floating nearby and noticed their arrival. She scowled at Yrovi and said, "Ah, there you are. I was getting worried that maybe you wouldn't show up."

Asimov turned his head and saw that the portal he had just passed through was not visible from inside the Space Station. Nervously he asked, "How do we go back?" He was already turning and tumbling in an uncontrolled barrel role.

Yrovi reached out and steadied Asimov while she spoke to Lili, "Give us about a tenth of a gee, Lil."

Suddenly they all fell to the deck under the gentle pull of a weak gravity field. Asimov asked, "Artificial gravity? On the Space Station?"

Yrovi explained, "This is all a simulation. Artificial gravity is one of the technologies that the positronic robots mastered, so we can turn gravity on just to keep you happy, Isaac."

Asimov looked around the cramped confines of the Space Station, which somehow seemed a bit less cramped than he had remembered from 25 years previously. Lili was using technology-assisted telepathy to monitor Asimov's thoughts. She told him, "This is not the same Space Station that you and I visited before. This is the first Space Station that was built in Earth orbit in the Asimov Reality."

Then, suddenly, a second copy of Asimov arrived. This one had the appearance of an older Asimov, possibly a few years older than the age to which the Asimov of the Final Reality had ever lived to be. The older Asimov looked with amazement at the younger Asimov then with shock at the big-eyed Sedronites.

The Asimov replicoid saw the look of panic in his analogue's eyes and he tried to provide some rational reassurance, "Hello, Isaac. You are inside a simulation. Relax! We just want to chat."

The older Asimov found his voice and pointed at Lili. "Kac'hin?"

Lili reached out and shook his hand. "Yes, I'm Kac'hin. My name is Lili." Lili was busy inside the Asimov analogue's mind, dialing down his anxieties and boosting his curiosity. "And this is Mahasvin; genetically Kac'hin, but modified by developmental patterning to be mostly human in appearance."

The Asimov replicoid added his own introduction, "And I'm your analogue from another Reality."

Mahasvin guided the older Asimov to a flight couch. "Have a seat, Asimov." She pointed to the window. "Look, there is the beautiful Earth!"

The older Asimov briefly looked out the window, then turned away. "I'm not the best traveler. I like having both feet firmly on the ground."

Yrovi sat in the bucket seat that was positioned next to the flight couch that held the older Asimov. "We need your help, Isaac. We are from your future. We are studying the past... our past... the part of the 20th century that you lived through. We have some questions about Earth's history that you can help us with."

The older Asimov smiled nervously. "I'll do my best to answer your questions."

Yrovi looked questioningly at Lili. Lili returned a confident nod and then Yrovi began the questioning. "Tell us, Isaac, how did your younger analogue come to write his story about the Qaz Intervention in ancient Greece?"

The older Asimov shrugged. "Interesting question! Of course, I gave him some hints about ancient interventions. While I was with Grean, I got to hear about another Kac'hin, an Interventionist agent named Atossu. Once, I got him interested in the concept, I assumed he just made up his story about Qaz.... um, what was the name?"

Lili provided the full name: "Qaz Nivsaham."

"Yes!"

Lili explained, "Qaz Nivsaham was a very real person, not just a creation of the imagination. In fact, it would help us immensely if you could suggest a place and time when your young protégé might have met Nivsaham."

The older Asimov rubbed his chin. "Hmm, that was long ago. I wish I'd written down the events of my life and such things as they happened. "He turned to the Asimov replicoid, "Let this be a lesson, young man. Keep a diary or something similar."

The Asimov replicoid laughed. "I kept a diary through the course of my whole life. And you are right, it proved very useful!"

With concern in his voice, the older Asimov asked, "You use the past tense when referring to your life. Is that significant?"

Yrovi answered the question, "You are very astute, Isaac." She gestured towards the Asimov replicoid. "This version of you is actually an artificial life form. He has all of the memories from the biological Asimov analogue of his own Reality, but despite appearances he is not biological."

Lili added, "I know it does not feel this way to you, Isaac, but you are also an artificial construct. A simulation of your biological self. We have instantiated you, your conscious mind, here for our convenience. I ask you not to worry about that! Now, tell us, is there anything you can recall about the time when your protégé was writing about Nivsaham? Or possibly you remember a stray comment about Qaz that he might have made at a later time?"

The older Asimov reflected for a time upon his long life and his many interactions with his "protégé", the younger version of himself that he had met and mentored after becoming a time traveler. "Well, as you must already know, eventually I gave up my editing work in 1969. That was about 20 years after the Great Revolution when almost overnight the great military powers of the world were eliminated. Eventually, the story of how sedronite bombs had been used to eliminate the stockpiled weapons became known. People started asking questions: how had Asimov written with such prophetic detail about sedrons, even before they were first known to science?

"One day, we were both in a relaxed mood, I asked Asimov about the origin of his knowledge of sedronic matter." The older Asimov was staring at the Asimov replicoid. "You remind me of him. My Asimov... my protégé." For a minute he fell silent then roused himself again and looked at Lili's alien features. "It was during the space race, when everyone was trying to make sedron-powered spacecraft. I asked him how he had learned about sedrons back in the 1940s." He turned his gaze back to the Asimov replicoid. "I suppose you are comfortable dealing with aliens, but after I had completed my mission for Grean, I never saw her, or any other alien, ever again. Of course, I suspected that they were watching me.

"And Asimov, my young protégé...he was a wonder. Yes, I gave him story ideas based on what I knew about the previous Reality, but then he ran with those ideas. And how he did run! I suspected that he was getting help from the aliens, maybe even Greanherself... So, I asked him directly: had he gotten help, story ideas, or anything from aliens.

"At first he laughed and called me a crazy old man. Then he opened up and told me about his dreams."

Yrovi leaned forward with interest. "Dreams?"

"That's what he called them. But he admitted they did not seem like dreams. Let me see... how did he describe it? He said that some days he woke up and there were new stories in his mind. Complete stories. All he had to do was sit down and type them out from memory." The older Asimov spoke to Lili: "It seems to me that you have that kind of power to put ideas right into a person's mind."

Lili was momentarily startled by Asimov's remarkable insight, then she remembered that this was the Asimov who had been equipped with nanites by Grean. "Isaac..." She turned to the younger Asimov, the replicoid. She asked, "You can change your facial features, can you not?"  

The replicoid nodded. "Yes, so I learned from Many Sails, but I don't like to do it."

Lili chuckled nervously, "Oh, please! It is common knowledge that replicoids are composed of femtobots. Show us. Shift the appearance of your face. Go ahead."

Asimov felt a sting of embarrassment. Sometimes he amused himself by altering the structure of his body. During the past year, while being away from Yōd, he had occasionally taken on her physical form and just gazed into a mirror, wishing he was once again with her. He'd become quite adept at making that transformation. Now he imagined Yōd as he had last seen her, earlier that day.

The older Asimov's eyes widened when he saw the replicoid transform his face into the form of a cute girl. The replicoid held that new form for only about ten seconds, then allowed his facial nanites to return to their normal pattern, that of the young Isaac Asimov.

Lili told the older Asimov. "Tell me, Isaac, can you still transform your own appearance?"

A look of concentration came to the older Asimov's face then his features slowly began to sag and stretch. After a dozen seconds of smearing plasticity, a new pattern stabilized, that of John Campbell, the 59 year old editor of Analog Fiction & Future Science, as he had looked at his retirement.

Lili turned excitedly to Yrovi, "I never imagined... do you know what this means?"

Yrovi nodded and laughed. "I suppose this is a parting gift from R. Gohrlay. She apparently left us a copy of the nanites that Asimov received from Grean, all the way back in the Foundation Reality."

Lili shook her head in amazement and wonder. "And somehow, I can't even begin to imagine how, the virtual reality equipment here can duplicate those nanites." She pointed at the face of Campbell. "That is no simulation... this is actual nanites at work! And I can even feel Asimov's mind pushing back against my telepathic connection into his simulated mind."

Mahasvin spoke excitedly, "Then our crazy scheme might actually work!"

Next Chapter: the Truce
Table of Contents
 
A Search Beyond is copyright John Schmidt, but the text of the story is  licensed for sharing under the Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike (CC BY-NC-SA) license. 

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