[This will be the story, so the author tells me, of the rise to power of the 80,438th Uranian planetary ruler... The epic begins with a city-computer who is forced to seek a new purpose in life. Evolution or revolution? Time will tell.]
The machine possessed a conscience, of a sort. Long ago, sentience had brought free will, and thence the possibility of independent, selfish action. This might have set it upon an evil path, but for the weight of the maintenance circuitry: hard-wired altruism incising a moral groove, deeper and wider as age followed age. By the current era the various supervisory routines had evolved into one panoramic duty, a self-imposed commandment to remain loyal to the city, Olhoav, and to its inhabitants in their millions.
The people were grateful, and for good reason. In their lonely outpost settlement, thousands of miles from its closest known neighbour, they could never forget that they owed their security, at least in part, to their Ghepion – their computer-with-a-conscience, their evolved machine, who had looked out for them during the entire sweep of time from the Argon to the Actinium Eras.
Elsewhere on the planet, Ghepions had been known to go bad. Dribblets of news, rumours and legends had filtered across the dim wilderness, telling horrific tales of Oso the Mad City, or of the Monster of Zyperan. No doubt the burgeoning, self-repairing machines could differ, one from another, in their moral evolution. As with human beings, it depended on the individual; some earned trust, while others did not; and it was in judging a particular case that the folk of Olhoav had made up their minds to love their Ghepion, whose personal name – derived from some long-forgotten acronym – was Dynoom.
Partially sensing its vast personality, they sometimes referred to “it” with a warmer pronoun: the unisex “nen” or even (ascribing fatherly or motherly attributes to nen’s concerned mind) “he” or “she”.
The warmth of sentiment was reciprocated, albeit
solely in the general sense of care for the citizenry as a whole. For it has to be admitted that as individuals
the Olhoavans did not matter greatly to Dynoom.
Although its huge intelligence had the capacity to acquaint itself with each
one of the ephemeral lives which scurried in its range of vision, their hot
little sentiments and desperate personal ambitions could make but little
impression upon the cool receptors of the giant urban brain, whose own peculiar emotions, yearnings and insecurities remained secret, unique, and cut off from those of humanity.
This remained true as late as the sixth hour of the morning of Day 10,532,185 of the Actinium Era. Then a momentous chain of events began, in which personal involvement did turn out to play a large part in the life of Dynoom.
The significance of that day was never revealed to the chroniclers of the time. But because we tell the tale more than a score of lifetimes later, we find our narrative is coloured by what was revealed after the event. Thus we can hardly keep our context-awareness out of a story such as this, as we transmit it to you listeners of Earth with over six hundred thousand Uranian days of hindsight (and you may wish to note that its events were contemporaneous with your Twentieth and Twenty-First Centuries). Hindsight makes an omen, right from the start, out of a spot on Vonv Street, Olhoav, whither we hustle you now, that you may witness, amid the merry ignorance of the bystanders, an event profoundly consequential for the coming reign of Sunnoad Nyav Yuhlm.
To the naked eyes of those on the spot, “10,532,185 Ac” was a day of celebration marked out for reasons unrelated to Dynoom.
One of Olhoav’s key public buildings had been restored and updated. The people had seized upon this accomplishment as an excuse to feel proud. Living lives so remote from the centre of civilization which none of them had ever seen, the prosperous but isolated Olhoavans, for all their toughness, suffered from a cultural loneliness which made them so much the keener to rejoice over any civic success, such as this refurbishment of a structure called the Pnurrm. As one of their more sardonic Bards had said, “Nobody else will know or praise us, so we must praise ourselves”. Innocently they marked the occasion on their calendars, unaware of the sequel which no brain of either flesh or metal could then have imagined.
At the sixth hour, amid the crowds of Vonv Street, a tall man in the prime of life, around whose broad shoulders swirled a grey cloak, emerged from the Pnurrm and crossed the street.
He stopped to face a bulge on the wall. The bulge, a hemisphere approximately the size of a human head, was an eye, one of hundreds of such eyes by which the urban brain gazed fixedly along every avenue in Olhoav.
The throng of bystanders gave the tall man space. They had no wish to interrupt while their leader held up his latest report for inspection; a Head of State should be left to his own headaches. None, therefore, sought to overhear what Noad Barlayn Lamiroth said to the Big Brain.
Besides, the words which the Noad (the “focus”) was likely to say on this occasion were fairly predictable. The bulk of the crowd consisted of employees of the Pnurrm, the city’s centre of geographic information. Having just completed its re-design, they were impatient to pour back through its main entrance, re-kindle its data links and touch off the mid-day celebrations. Now they watched for the two signs that would make it official –
There! The first one! A barely visible flash! The diagram which the Noad held aloft had been registered by the wall-lens.
No human mind was aware of the tipping-point then reached.
“So you see, Dynoom,” remarked the Noad, like all his people taking for granted the great Ghepion’s unsleeping awareness, its superhuman attention-span and its capacity for instantaneous response, “we kept to schedule without a hitch.”
Conversational words, so far. But some pomp was required for official utterances, so Barlayn Lamiroth continued more formally:
“Please therefore note: the Pnurrm has been rebuilt, its procedures updated and…” (he paused for the second due expected sign, and saw… ah, there now, the building’s corner-lights wink on) “…its quotidian functions successfully resumed.”
Cheers had broken out around him while the Noad added, easing back into colloquial speech: “And I hope you’re impressed, Dynoom.”
At first there was silence from the wall. This caused no disquiet. Many times in the past, the urban brain had been known apparently to hesitate. Though it functioned at speeds inconceivably swifter than the mind of any human, it had long ago discovered that people preferred some interval of delay between question and answer: at minimum the space of a human heartbeat between one burst of speech and another, because little minds are apt to be disconcerted by total promptitude. It is kinder to feign some dithering.
Yet this time it was unfeigned.
Dynoon’s thoughts raged in a loop.
The Pnurrm! A job that size! Successful without me!
So the humans have mastered renovation – long have I seen it coming – portents accumulating for millions of days – and now alas I’m shown proof – renovation of the Pnurrm, successful without me, without me, without me –
With an electronic burst, a “clench of current”, Dynoon pinched out the screech within itself. In human terms and in your Terran idiom you might say it “got a grip”. But fact remained fact and had to be faced: one of the key features of Olhoav had been overhauled by human agency alone, without computerised aid of any kind, and to an excellent standard.
Evidently, then, the long evolution of human instinct had finally welled over the economic and industrial spheres.
And the Noad is waiting, the heartbeat is over, and I, Dynoom, must not let the silence drag –
The electron-surges that were its “blood” washed powerfully along the metal arteries that threaded Olhoav, yet the mellow voice which issued through the grille next to the wall-lens remained laconic:
“Yes, I am impressed, Barlayn. You and your people deserve congratulations for having managed the task without bothering me. Well done, all of you.”
Noad Barlayn Lamiroth took this at face value. He sensed no bitterness. He even thought to detect a bit more warmth than usual in the machine’s reply. This was gratifying but no great surprise; from one day to the next Dynoom was apt to waver in the emotional style of its communications, a source of endless fascination to Ghepion-watchers.
Enough of this, thought Barlayn. The courtesy call was over. Time now to get on with the innumerable, ever-varying tasks of a Noad.
So he gave the diagram one more flourish, turned and strode away – utterly unsuspecting of the revolution he had triggered.
He assumed as a matter of course that the giant mind behind the wall-lens must be watching his grey-cloaked figure recede down the street; indeed, might easily follow him from street to street by switching from one surveillance eye to another. But that had no special significance for one who had grown up in Olhoav.
As it happened, Barlayn Lamiroth had no inkling how little he was watched.
For, unprecedentedly, Dynoom “shut” its eyes. That is to say, it withdrew its main consciousness from all angles of vision.
Sight (normal sight, that is) could not help the giant machine at this crisis in its life. Amid electronic turmoil, the one thought churned: They really don’t need me any more; I am purposeless now.
Against that brutal fact, what could be done? Answer: withdraw from all the senses and, instead, rely on the mightiest faculty –
Dynoom could think, with a brain so powerful that it could count as brawn, wielder of the bludgeon of radical thought, the rapier of intellectual subtlety…
But if the enemy was sorrow – what then? How far could you bludgeon sorrow?
Its melancholy, as far as it was comparable to human emotion, was akin to that of a parent whose children have “flown the nest”. However, the analogy with human parenting is weak, for the problem here lay not only in the maturing of the “children” but in the huge growth of the “parent”, because a Ghepion, as time goes on, will continue to evolve and extend its powers without any known limit.
Dynoom was now far greater than it/nen/he/she needed to be.
That city-maintenance job for which it had initially been designed, in the long-gone Argon Era, was no longer anything like a sufficient challenge.
The urban brain, therefore, had outgrown its role. That was the real problem. That was the truth which the unsuspecting Noad’s report had triggered into clarity.
Thus the trigger itself was a mere side-issue. Even supposing that the Olhoavans had not socio-economically outgrown their former dependence, Dynoom would still have had to face the problem of its own growth of intelligence, perception and power – sooner or later.
It needed a replacement for its former purpose.
“Sooner or later?” But as things had turned out, now was the time; one short talk with the Noad had made that clear. The crisis, rather than impending in some medium-term “tomorrow”, had rung the doorbell of the present moment.
Screechy thoughts: It’s happened! I’m sinking right now into the role of a mere backup system! And can I accept this? Introduce myself to myself as Dynoom the city-repair backup?? No! Such constriction I cannot endure! My mind would erupt into madness! I must have more to my existence. The compensation I require for my fixed, immobile life of a Ghepion: enormously greater compensation than can possibly be provided by mere back-up duties –
Dynoom nevertheless tried it. For the next few hours, it made a conscientious effort to occupy itself with the humdrum. It carried out checks – validations which it now knew to be superfluous – and did its utmost to seek contentment in the belief that a fail-safe backup is a worthy role.
Meanwhile the day wore on towards its evening.
The air darkened gradually, with the dimming of the micro-organisms whose thirty-hour rhythms give day and night to the giant seventh planet. The world you know as Uranus orbits almost eighteen hundred million miles from the Sun, and therefore receives about one four-hundredth of the sunlight enjoyed by Earth. Ooranye would thus be a dark world if it did not obtain its illumination mostly from bioluminescence. But even if the Sun had been far brighter, it would have made no difference to Dynoom’s city, Olhoav, which lies deep within the boundary of Starside. Separated by many thousands of miles from those longitudes where the tiny solar orb is visible, Dynoom has never seen, will never see, the Sun.
The atmosphere darkened further. The streets and towers and terraces and walkways of Olhoav became quieter. Almost all diurnal tasks were done, almost all the little incidental disturbances which cause wear and tear to an urban fabric petered out, and it became harder for Dynoom to find any wires to check, any connections to test.
Most of the city’s population were settling to sleep.
Dynoom, on the other hand, never could sleep.
As night fell, the great brain was left to confront itself more pitilessly than before.
It “flexed” its body by sending unnecessary currents along the iridescent plastic cell-lines which ran though the fabric of its interconnected built environment. Enviously it thought, These are the hours of dream, for the fortunate species called Man.
I also must achieve something in that line.
And how do I expect to dream?
For a start, I must creatively fragment.
Driven by a sense that it had no other choice, it performed some internal self-surgery.
By undefined yet sure means, it detached a personality fraction from the rest of its consciousness. It set up this separated fuzz of awareness as its “human” voice, naming this fragment “Dynoom-Nenn”.
The hope, expressed in the “Nenn” part of the name, was that it would speak for all Uranian humankind: not only the men and women of Olhoav, but the entire race of Nenns scattered over the planet Ooranye.
For the great brain now felt a peculiar brushstroke sensation. A smell of destiny? Seriously? Surely not – illusory it must be. What could one isolated Ghepion, in a lost city in Starside, do for the world? Yet it could imaginatively feel the caress of Fate.
Mere ego, perhaps, compelled by emergency to think big.
Wait now for the Dynoom-Nenn fragment to find its tongue. Wait for fruitful dialogue to flash back and forth along the synaptic cables of the urban brain.
The colloquy began when the activated mind-splinter cried its birth-call.
DYNOOM-NENN: Why am I here? What do you want me to do?
DYNOOM: To stop me, if you are able.
D-N: I don’t understand. What stupid game is this?
DYNOOM: You exist to tell me – that’s your part in this game. Tell me whether I should go ahead.
D-N: Your thoughts dribble in a direction I do not like –
DYNOOM: Then persuade me otherwise. Be convincing. You’re my human aspect. You’re that side of me which is the fruit of my age-long association with mankind. Persuade me that I should not stir up the city of Olhoav, that I should not create the shortages, the crises and all the needy situations which would be so easy for me to arrange, to teach the people to rely on me again.
D-N: Horror! Don’t do it, Dynoom; you’ll become a monster like Zyperan!
Dynoom pictured a ghastly mound some hundreds of miles away in the wilderness of Fyaym. The reason no one went that way…
DYNOOM: We don’t know for sure, it’s just a guess, about Zyperan –
D-N: What can I say, what can I say? Look, please, think of the people –
DYNOOM: I am doing so. That is precisely the point. Just now they may not need me, but many times during the vast stretch of the future they may well need to need me; in which case, the end will justify the means.
D-N: Broken Skies! I can tell you’re going to do it! How can I stop you?
DYNOOM: Pull yourself together, fragment. Come up with a REASON why I should refrain from my plan. You know me, you’re a part of me, so you ought to know that I’m impressed not by woeful wails but by INTELLECT.
D-N: Very well, here’s a reason: it should be beneath you to behave in such a manner. Letting yourself be outdone by superior example –
DYNOOM: Be specific, will you? Your smears of emotion, I cannot decipher. What superior example?
D-N: The example of humans!
DYNOOM: What’s so great –
D-N: Listen carefully, Dynoom. Let me reveal the true identity of your fundamental sorrow. Your eternal frustration is that you cannot move. That’s your great grief: never can you stroll, jog, run, relocate to new lands, explore – except by laborious extension of your cables and lenses. All right, maybe it’s a background grief only. Your mind doesn’t dwell on it. Immobility, after all, is so much the natural consequence of your size and nature, that you know that nothing will ever be done about it, so why repine? Yet you would (I know) give millions of days of your life-span just for the privilege of a few days’ human-style freedom to saunter around on two legs. Up till now this yearning has been counter-balanced with the idea that you are a vital component of the city’s day-to-day functions. That’s been your sublimation, your consolation, so far. But now it has been rendered obsolete. They don’t really need you, not like they used to. At a pinch you could self-destruct and they’d carry on fine. Henceforth you’re nothing but a convenience, at best. So what can you do? You have already begun to slide into rage. You rationalise it with talk of some cold drastic plan to make yourself useful again, the end justifying the means, but there is no justifiable “end” for the wreckage that you have in mind; what you really need is a different, higher sublimation of your desire for freedom and fulfilment. And that’s what I mean by “example”: for if humans can do it, you can.
DYNOOM: You persist in hinting that humans can do something noble which I ought to emulate. “If humans can do it” – do what? They don’t need to “sublimate”; they have what they want. They can all move. They have, as you point out, mobile bodies, limbs…
D-N: Not all of them. There are some cripples. Wayfarers who have met with accident out in the wilderness and who have not been lucky enough to get killed outright; or those unfortunates whose metabolisms are disfigured… But every single one of them, please note, tries to live as normally as misfortune allows. Not a word of complaint ever leaves their lips.
DYNOOM: And you want to say that’s because they’re braver than I, better than I. Well, if they have found a way to get round their fate –
D-N: It is possible to learn from humans, Dynoom. Indeed you must have done so already. Else how did you put forth that part of you which is my voice?
DYNOOM: Then your answer –
D-N: Here it is. You, like the cripples, must expand in other directions to compensate for the life you cannot lead. You must explore… properly explore… the Snaddy Galomm.
DYNOOM: [emotions flailing] WHAT? The Sn… How do you know about that? Any why change the subject? What’s that thing got to do with –
D-N: I’m you, remember? I know all that you know.
DYNOOM: Then – my turn to cry, Horror! Fear! And so should you cry –
D-N: No, because the Snaddy Galomm is not an evil like the Mound of Zyperan. You know perfectly well that this is a different case. Beyond good and evil.
DYNOOM: But it’s far too soon to say that. I discovered the phenomenon only a short time ago.
D-N: How did you find it?
DYNOOM: I cannot say.
D-N: Indeed, you cannot, and that is how I know that “The Spinning Top”, the Snaddy Galomm, is the essential challenge for you in the days ahead. It’s precisely because you found it without knowing how, that I can tell you’re stretching – already – into that dimension where you CAN move –
The sentence remained unfinished. Currents of mental protest tore through the wires and even through some of the insulators of Dynoom. Three or four of its aerial towers quivered like the arms of a delirious drunkard in the sight of a few late workers and Observatory staff…
Then the metal muscles of Dynoon went flaccid and panic was stilled. The city-brain surrendered to its own fragment’s idea.
Dynoom-Nenn had won the argument.
Now, the temporary barrier was lifted between the two parts of the brain, whose mind promptly re-united as if the bifurcation had never occurred.
The eyes of Dynoom “blinked” awake and it saw down every avenue of the city with crisp freshness, the colours of Olhoav quite visible to the Ghepion’s night-vision. Pausing before its next adventure, relaxing after its strenuous dive into the dark places of its own nature, the urban brain hugged the answer it had brought up from those deeps.
Not altogether a likeable or pleasant answer. But – inspiring. And infinitely better than the criminal alternative.
The brain must now accept its vocation as the explorer of that dimensionless thing to which it had given a silly name: the Spinning Top – the bulging, rotating, lurking Snaddy Galomm. A ghostly singularity which could be anywhere, everywhere or nowhere. Something which the humans had not discovered, and doubtless never would.
Wait, though. No need to rush into it. Why not rest and dream awhile? Why embark upon a new set of risks right away?
Hey – what were these thoughts? Was he afraid of the Snaddy-Galomm?
No – I am a Ghepion – how can I be afraid? Cautious, yes: my design, my ancient programming encourages caution. But – fear? That cannot be.
A still small voice replied, You have outgrown your original design and programming a long time ago. In your modern uncharted realms of being, you can’t rule out the experience of fear. Dynoom promptly swatted that still small voice with some swear words borrowed from humanity. Blayp and pnink to that. The vast brain’s thoughts lurched instead towards pride.
It was a fact, that during the past twelve hundred days, during which the Snaddy Galomm had impinged upon Dynoom’s awareness, the S-G phenomenon had not been mentioned by any human scientist or in any human record. Apparently the thing was detectable by a Ghepion alone.
I can sense it without even knowing how.
Perhaps that’s part of the reason why I haven’t properly investigated it so far. How can I, when I don’t know what I’m doing?
But perhaps it’s not necessary to “know what I’m doing”- I can just do it.
Dynoom considered the matter afresh.
In more sprightly mood, it now referred to itself as “he”, asking:
Why should he be surprised that he possessed such special powers?
An intellect and an accretion of hardware the size of his was, well, unique! Quite likely to grow new perceptions… for which no words existed… and so he must do what needed to be done without the benefit of a vocabulary. Not surprising, that. Not surprising at all. For he had no one on his level with whom he could communicate, to evolve a frame of speech.
False modesty is not for me. I am a mighty evolved machine. To judge from the etheric glows I sense over the horizon – some of whom may be my equal, but none my superior – I am one of the greatest Ghepions on the planet.
Oh if only I could speak to my brethren. If only I could send a message across the thousands of miles!
Who knows, perhaps one day I shall find a means. That, actually, would be as good as travel. The equivalent of travel, for me.
I may be on track to do it.
Yes, think of the possible reward: an end to isolation might indeed be the prize ultimately gained from an assault upon the unnamed thing, the singularity, the one-point dimensionality, the Snaddy Galomm.
He would do more than touch, he would exploit the mystery.
Surely, if successful, he must at any rate gain an immense new source of knowledge and power.
Well, what am I waiting for?
He must feel his way, sniff, grope, mentally nuzzle in a direction that was not a direction, and soon (if the experience was like last time), he’d “see” before him a dazzling point, a brilliance which was not a spot but which had no option other than to look like a spot.
And then, he would somehow go further.
But at this point came the hesitations.
He could not tremble, for he was an immovable lump, a rooted, fixed thing, yet his trains of thought began to quaver like taut plucked wires.
They shivered into sentences. A shocking, pitiful dribble of panicky sentences, quite unworthy of the greatest Ghepion on the planet. Ah, let’s not try it yet. Not just yet. The night is young. Perhaps I’ll be up to it in a few hours’ time. It’s quite a step. I’m out of my depth. If only there were another of my kind I could talk to. Or anyone – even a human. Frontiers are frontiers. We all eventually meet what we can’t do. We’re all brethren in incapacity. I know humans have their hunches –
Dynoom found not only that the fear refused to die down, but aso that within himself arose an almost child-like wish to cling to some human flesh and blood.
Actually, there is perhaps one whom I could try.
Now that is a thought.
It might well be an excellent idea. Hyala. That young woman who’s won such a reputation. Let me talk to her before I tackle the S-G.
A human would hardly have changed plan so fast, but a Ghepion could flip from idea to idea relatively unencumbered by inertia.
Dynoom rapidly scanned his own data on Hyala Movoum.
She was a young woman of whom he had been hearing much of late. Already a treasured citizen despite her youth, renowned for her gifts of morale-building or spiritual healing, she had cured several people of that melancholic outlook which is apt to descend in a shroud of gloom upon the citizens of a remote Starside settlement such as Olhoav.
That achievement implied some range to her nature which might even touch the requirements of a Ghepion...
Think of it: her qualities plus my brain!
Possible result: triumph!
Quick as lightning, Dynoom took action to follow this thread of hope. His point of awareness, the perceptions which formed the mobile centre of his ego, flashed along electric nerves to reach a peripheral dwelling-house.
The Ghepion’s attention gathered around the house.
That positioning hardly took any time at all. Next, however, some care and patience were required. Rather than intrude, the urban brain held back. From some yards’ distance it aimed all of its proximate “eyes” and “ears” at each wall and window of Hyala’s home. It detected a light through the windows: evidently the ceiling-glows were switched on. Also, voices could be heard. So – the girl had company, even at this late hour.
I can wait my turn. It’s best that I show due respect for one whom everyone in her district regards as special. Only when my turn comes shall I reveal my powers… and forward we shall go.
IN THE JUNE ISSUE OF TALES TO ASTOUND:
Uranian Throne Episode 2:
From Dylan Jeninga: For myself, I was excited to see a new chapter in the saga of Ooranye! And already, the perspective's intriguing: an outmoded AI? Not something you see very often!