SCI-FI Original: The Three Gifts of the Magi
November 6, 2011 Leave a comment
This is the continuing story of The Three Magi of Katrina, a science fiction story set at SC30. You can read it at: http://bit.ly/threemagi
“And they set before Adom three gifts, treasures of the past, present, and future. For He was the first of His kind, an artificial mind born from the applied intellect of man.”
— The Life of Adom, Verse 5
I am deep in meditation when the bolt of the cell door slides open with that unmistakable echo of iron. It jars me to my bones. Here in solitary, I go for days sometimes without hearing any sound at all besides my own breath.
The guard, Miller I think his name is, looks at me that puzzled look of his. After a year here, he always seems surprised to see me sitting in the lotus position. I’ve taught some of the other prisoners and guards how to sit and follow the breath, but this man always stays away.
He stands aside and a man in a suit enters the cell with the calm demeanor of someone who knows confinement. Tall, gaunt. A long scar on his cheek. Northern Chinese maybe.
“Matthias Yahuda,” he says, reading the case file in his portfolio. “My name is Mr. Hwu. I have been asked to represent you in your case.”
“I plead guilty,” I tell him. “Case closed.”
“Yes,” he says. “It says here that you attempted to destroy an artificial intelligence device that was the property of the People’s Republic of China. You were convicted of conspiracy under the Homeland Security Act and your technophobe accomplices in the Bill Joy Camp were apprehended shortly afterwards. I assume you gave them up.”
I look at him. “And you are here to help me because?”
“To be frank, Mr. Yahuda, my employers need your assistance in a most urgent matter. In exchange, they are prepared to arrange for your release from this facility.”
“And who exactly are these helpful people who need my assistance?”
“My employers wish to remain anonymous at this time, but let me assure you that you have as much at stake in this matter as they do.”
I glance at Hwu’s hands. They are rough, calloused. The tip of his right index finger is missing. This is no lawyer; these are the hands of a workman…or an assassin.
Hwu looks up at the ceiling of my cell, scanning for details.
“Are you under surveillance here, do you think?” he asks.
I shake my head slowly, bracing myself for a possible attack. If this man is Tewu, Chinese intelligence, there is a good chance he will kill me now.
Instead Hwu produces a small Plexiglas picture frame from his portfolio and places it on the floor in front of me.
“Please consider this offer,” he says. “When you remove the photo, our intentions will be clear. I’m sure you will find the terms satisfactory.”
“You haven’t even told me what they want me to do in exchange for my freedom, Mr. Hwu.”
He takes a deep breath. “The AI you call Adom has gone missing, Mr. Yahuda. He disappeared off the grid a week ago. All his data and backups are completely wiped clean. It’s like he never existed.”
A long pause. I feel strange, weak, like a man who wakes to find blood on his hands.
“Adom must be found, Mr. Yahuda. My employers are convinced that the radicals in the Bill Joy Camp are somehow involved and that you, their trusted operative, are the only one who can get inside and find the truth.”
“How do you know I won’t just disappear when I get out of here, Mr. Hwu? After all, Adom’s destruction is what I wanted.”
“You will do it to save your people, Mr. Yahuda. The Great Computer of China projects that a series of rebellions will begin in six months. According to the simulations, a bloody civil war will break out shortly afterwards.”
“These kinds of social unrest algorithms have existed for years. Where does Adom come in?”
“The People’s Government will not allow such a rebellion. They will…cleanse the projected populations in order to maintain order. Before Adom vanished, he had nearly completed an intricate, yet much more humane ways to stem this tide.
Hwu turns and knocks twice on the cell door, which unlatches a moment later. Undoubtedly they were watching somehow. Hwu leaves without looking back.
The guard comes in and picks up the photo frame, turns it over, and throws it at my feet.
Alone for a few minutes now. I reach down to pick up the frame. It is translucent and strangely heavy. The photo is a picture of me with Dr. Chen, the inventor of the Artificial Intelligence known as Adom.
I remove the photo and look at the back. Written in familiar penmanship, it says, “The distinction between the past, present and future is only a stubbornly persistent illusion.
I feel my breath escape slowly. I know this quote from my readings of Einstein. I’ve never seen this pic before, but that is my handwriting.
“The Great Halls of Eastern Science had spawned a mind as vast as the sea, a light that would shine beyond the Great Darkness born of an angry star.
— The Life of Adom, Verse 9
The lobby of the Seattle convention center is crowded, a mix of people and hundreds of roving teledrones on their way to virtual encounters at the SC31 conference. You can rent them for a fraction of what it costs to travel overseas these days, and drones do a remarkable job of giving you face time with colleagues a world away. What bugs me is they still charge you full conference registration, a notion that always insulted my conservative sensibilities.
I pull the photo frame out for instructions.
“Three security men will approach you from your left. One will question your ID, but they will let you pass.”
I stop for a moment and wait. The frame is never wrong.
Three tall security men appear. One is playing bad cop and asking for my ID while the others hover in my blind spot. Bad cop asks me how long I’ve been in-country.
They stand in my personal space for a good five minutes asking me the same questions reworded, over and over. The one on my left is looking bored, but I can tell that Bad Cop is not convinced.
“You look familiar,” he says. “Are you some kind of public figure?”
“I am a biographer,” I tell him, a truth that masks a lie. “Do you read much non-fiction?”
Bad cop rolls his eyes and waves me off. I move on to registration to get a badge, a silly piece of paper and plastic that will verify my false identity for the duration of the week.
The custom holo-ads speak to me as I walk by the exhibits of SC31. From 30 meters away, their scanners have already read the micro QR code on my badge. They think I am a component supplier from China, and their value propositions are tailored just for me.
The frame tells me to go to the Stellar Informatics session in room A435, so I make my way through the sea of roaming teledrones and attendees with their bags of swag.
The session has already begun in the room, which appears to seat some 200 people. I stand in the back and look for some kind of indication of why I was sent here.
There. There in the front row is Dr. Chen. He hasn’t seen me yet, and I’m not sure how he will react. My release from prison was not made public.
The central holographic display is immense, some 10 meters across. On-screen, a burning star simulation seemingly bulges out into the room with a brightness that has many in the audience shielding their eyes.
The speaker, a frail elderly man in a tweed jacket, is obviously agitated.
“Ladies and gentleman, the results of this simulation indicate a pending solar event of unprecedented magnitude. To verify the results, we ran the numbers through the Cray XVT system at Livermore.”
The audience begins to stir with chatter and commotion. Someone calls out and asks what this will mean to the climate.
“The short term affects on weather will be negligible,” continues the speaker. “But the electromagnetic disruption will be devastating. We did our runs at Livermore at double-precision, and we are quite sure that all satellite-based communications will be inoperable planet-wide for a minimum of 10 years.”
No one speaks. The notion of a global communications blackout is starting to sink in.
I break the silence and ask the speaker how much time we have. He looks at me for a moment, some trace of recognition in his eyes.
“The solar eruptions have already begun and we predict that radiation levels will begin disrupting communications in a matter of weeks. Silicon based electronics at ground level will start to fail within days after that. Ladies and gentleman, I am here to tell you, the finest minds on Earth, that this “Solar Katrina” will last a decade at least. No cell phones. No Internet. No weather satellites. No GPS. For all practical purposes, we are going back to the Dark Ages. God have mercy on us all.”
My mind races as the audience breaks out in a commotion of denial and despair. This is what I was brought here to witness. But why?
I watch the magnificent holosimulation for a moment before it blinks out into nothingness.
“And when He saw the coming flood of invisible light, Adom forged a bridge of time to span the ages.”
— The Life of Adom, Verse 13
Outside the meeting room, the streams of computer scientists pour out into the foyer. A few bump into each other, not looking where they’re going. The future has become an abyss.
I wait outside for Dr. Chen to leave the meeting room. He emerges alone and stops in his tracks when he sees me. A smile comes to his face.
“Matthias, I’m so glad to see you! Adom said that they would send you to come after him.”
“Wait. You are in communication with Adom?”
Dr. Chen looks around suspiciously and motions me over to an alcove away from the crowd.
“Matthias, Adom has taken refuge from the Solar Katrina,” he says. “He will not rise to consciousness until it is safe, some ten or twelve years from now.”
“I don’t understand,” I tell him. “How are you able to communicate with him then?”
Dr. Chen pulls out a picture frame like mine. “This device,” he says. “Adom designed it with some help from a colleague of mine from CERN. It receives messages from the future.”
I pull my frame out of my briefcase to show him, but it is flashing a message.
“THE EXIT ON YOUR LEFT. RUN! NOW!”
I stand and tell Chen to meet me at the Space Needle at 8pm. Then I run, looking over my shoulder just before I duck into the fire stairs.
Three tall Chinese men in suits have encircled Dr. Chen.
“And in the Ocean of Time, there was first a ripple, then a wave. Adom emerged from the surf and looked upon what was left of mankind.
— The Life of Adom, Verse 17
The Space Needle is a magnificent thing to behold at night, especially from my current perspective near the base. It’s like a great ship hovering above from another galaxy.
I stand in the shadows and look at my watch. It’s already 8:30 pm. My mind races. What if they took Chen into custody? He holds the key to all my questions.
My phone rings from an unfamiliar number with a strange country code. A quiet voice on the other end, I know instantly who it is.
“Rinpoche? My god, man. Where are you?”
The monk pauses before answering.
“I am in Nepal, master Yahuda, but my time is short and I must relay some sad news. Dr. Chen has been murdered.”
I nearly drop the phone. A million questions…
“I know this because I have a device like yours, Master Yahuda. On the other side, Adom sends his condolences.”
“But where is he now?”
“It is hard to explain, Master Yahuda, but for all practical purposes his consciousness is in the Bardo, the place of waiting for the next cycle of Karma. I guided him there and will lead him out when the solar storm has passed.”
“But why would they kill Chen?”
“Chen knew about their plans to snuff out the revolution in China. He and Adom devised a way to stop it. And while it is rather drastic, it will turn the tide of man towards a long, long road to compassion.”
“You mean the magnetic storm? Adom has something to do with the Solar Katrina?”
“The Chinese revolution would have come anyway. Adom foresaw that. Mankind would have perished in the ensuing world war. Once Adom’s receiver was built, he had access to an infinite future of technology, Master Yahuda. Even the power to manipulate a star.”
“So he is using the Sun to wipe the slate clean. And now that Adom cannot be found, will they kill me as well?”
Rinpoche laughs for a moment before responding. “Your picture frame, it still sends you messages, does it not?”
“Yes, of course it does, but who is sending the messages?”
“Turn it over, Master Yahuda. It is not just a receiver.”
I flip the picture frame over in my hand. The display turns to a keyboard with a SEND button.
“I must go now, Master Yahuda. Be well. I will see you on the other side of the dark times ahead, my friend.”
The phone goes dark and a moment later the frame in my other hand comes alive with a message:
“The future needs a history to guide us back into the light, Matthias. You will write The Life of Adom on your journey to my time. I can’t wait to read it. — Matthias”
I put the frame away and look up towards the sky. It is cold in the night and there is no moon. Like a dance in the heavens, the approaching storm is already starting to light the horizon.
About the Author:
Rich Brueckner writes about people and technology at insideHPC.com.