The Oasis restaurant turned out to be pleasantly relaxing, with niches opening off a central area and imaginative use of floral partitions among the tables providing a secluded atmosphere conducive to talk. Kieran and June both settled for the seafood buffet-an odd-sounding offering to be encountered on Mars, which was actually fresh, not frozen imported. "Fish-farm-food buffet would be terminologically more exact," Kieran remarked as they collected their plates and sampled the offerings.
June had long, midnight-black hair that fell in a sweep to her shoulders, where it broke in an upturned wave, and a finely formed, angular face with a straight nose and full mouth which in its natural state hovered just short of an impish pout. Her dark, alive eyes had always given Kieran the feeling that anything short of outright candor with her would be pointless, since they could read his thoughts as they formed in his mind. At the same time, whatever went on in her own remained impenetrable unless she chose otherwise. The dark blue, sleeveless dress she was wearing, along with her black hair, accentuated the paler hue of her face and arms in the subdued lighting above the booth they had found.
She and Kieran were kindred free spirits thriving in the environment of diversity and opportunity being created in the expansion outward from Earth, following orbits that recrossed periodically like those of other errant and adventurous bodies inhabiting the Solar System. June worked for herself as scientific news explorer and information broker, which she sometimes combined with special commissions as a publicist.
After they had devoted aperitifs and the appetizer course to the required preliminaries of updating each other on old friends and reliving choice snippets of past adventures, Kieran finally came around to the point. "So everything went okay yesterday at Quantonix?" June had said as much over the phone earlier, but it broached the subject.
"Perfectly," she replied.
Kieran looked at her expectantly, but she tantalized him by taking more from her plate and glancing at him challengingly every few seconds while she carried on chewing. "Is it what I think it is?" Kieran asked finally.
June stopped playing with him and nodded. "They did it with a human: Sarda himself-from a lab in the basement to another upstairs. It was practically his technology. He wouldn't let the first subject be anyone else."
"And everything went okay? He's walking around and talking normally? Knows everything that the original did?"
"Absolutely, so far," June said. "And if there were anything amiss, I think it would have shown by now. They've been running him through every kind of test imaginable all day. He registers the same scores on everything: physical, mental, motor; language, numeric, spatial; long-term memory, short-term memory. . . ." She shook her head. "It was astounding. I had trouble believing what I was seeing."
"So how does he feel about it? Did you get a chance to talk to him?"
June nodded. "Pretty ecstatic. 'Relief,' I guess, would be the main impression that came through. But that's hardly surprising. How would you feel?"
Kieran nodded. "Pretty relieved, I'd say," he agreed.
Earth's scientific establishment had largely rigidified into associations of priesthoods preserving their dead religions. Most original thinking and innovation these days happened in environments like Mars, the Belt habitations, and various surface and orbiting constructions on and around the moons of the gas giants, as well as other places in between. Among the various forms of entrepreneurial venture to turn new knowledge into wealth that had come into existence beyond Earth's effective regulatory reach, Quantonix was of the kind known as "sunsiders"-an allusion to the limited time available to get anything useful done on the daylight hemispheres of rotating bodies. Essentially, sunsiders were small, high-pressure research organizations delving into fringe areas of science that had been laughed off or were deemed to be of no practicable value by institutionalized academia-which meant little chance of finding support from conservative Terran investors. Funding therefore came mainly from more nervy, higher-risk, higher-gain sources found in niches through the off-Earth economy, and the hope was to make some significant breakthrough that could be sold to one of the major interplanetary commercial concerns before it ran out. The failure rate of sunsider companies was appalling, but the return for those who succeeded could be fabulous. Life in them was invariably frantic, often acrimonious, but never dull.
With humanity's numbers climbing rapidly through the high tens of billions and its radius of activity reaching to the outer planets, transporting them and their property around was among the fastest growing and most remunerative industries. But immense though the demand and the future potential were, the means for accomplishing it still took the form of people in cans of some kind being fired off to destinations by engines producing thrust of some kind. Even though the engines might use nuclear fission or fusion, accelerated ions, or in some research that was going on, experimental antimatter, the technologies were all variants on a theme that in essence hadn't changed for centuries. The time was surely ripe for a breakthrough into something totally different.
Major innovations seldom come as a total surprise, confined to one place. When the state of knowledge is such that the right time is approaching, specialists talk among themselves, journals and news media pick up the topic, and public anticipation is usually solidly established before anything actually happens. The general familiarity in concept of aircraft, space travel, and nuclear energy long before they became realities were cases in point. Advances in quantum physics and high-power computation had led much popular debate and speculation that a longstanding, but hitherto seldom seriously entertained, favorite of fiction might soon become fact: teleportation-the dematerialization of an object from one place, and its reappearance, after transmitting the information to reconstitute it, somewhere else.
The bonanza payoff waiting to be made was by the trans-Solar-System communications-carrier giants, who already had most of the essential equipment in place and stood to put the regular space lines virtually out of business. Hence, with the kind of financial resources and influence that they commanded, it was not really a coincidence that for a long time the ground for general public acceptance had been prepared by spectacles of teleporting heroes becoming virtually a standard prop in futuristic movies, regular coverage in books and documentaries, and a procession of generously rewarded experts giving readers and audiences scientific reasons why the information pattern defined a personality, and reassuring them that its transference from one host configuration of matter to another would pose no break in identity.
A lot of sunsiders were in the race to come up with the first demonstration technology, which would immediately be worth billions. The snag they were consistently running into, however, was the gigantic amount of computation involved in scanning an object at anywhere near the resolution necessary to be believably capable of reconstructing the original-encoding a human to the atomic level, for instance, was estimated as requiring somewhere in the order of ten to the thirty-second power bits, which would take millions of centuries to transmit. Various short-cuts were being investigated, which attempted to exploit the Uncertainty Principle and other effects which implied that averaging procedures could be use which make the precise derivation of quantum detail unnecessary, but the short answer was that the problem remained mind-boggling.
Quantonix Researchers Reg., however, were following an approach that was different, and as far as Kieran knew, unique. Using a package of results purchased from an earlier outfit that gone defunct, their process took advantage of the information implicit in an organism's DNA as a shortcut to directing most of its structural assembly. Hence, in a way that seemed paradoxical to some, they could reconstitute a biological object, but because there were no convenient instruction sets that implicitly defined how it should go together, they couldn't apply the process (yet?) to an inanimate one. Over the preceding months, Quantonix had announced successful trials with a progression of unicells, mosses, plant parts, invertebrates, insects, duplicated rats that could still run mazes that the originals had learned, and a chimp that retained its repertoire of acquired skills. The obvious next step was to do it with a human, and the buzz going around the circles of those who kept close to the subject was not about "if" but "when" t would happen. From what June was saying the experiment had been conducted successfully using Dr. Leo Sarda, whom Kieran knew to be the principal scientist on the TX Project and effectively the developer of the technology.
As was often the case with sunsiders, Quantonix hadn't attempted to keep its work a close secret. The idea, after all, was to attract potential buyers who possessed the resources to develop a marketable product, and having a number of competing prospects in the know as to what was going on both shortened the timescale and raised the likely price of an eventual deal. At the same time, the object was not to become a feature of the general mass-media circus, which reveled in sensationalizing the wild and preposterous and usually represented a fast way to getting far-out but genuine claim discounted by association. The usual course, therefore, was to spread the word quietly through channels known to be reliable to specialized interest markets, selected influential individuals, and relevant departments of the serious scientific journals.
That was where people like June came in. A huge amount of space existed out there-the torroidal volume of the Belt alone was a trillion times that of the sphere bounded by the Moon's orbit around Earth, with ten billion asteroids over a hundred miles in diameter-and nobody could keep abreast of everything that was going on. But she had particular areas that she followed and a healthy list of clients who benefitted from the leads, referrals, and inside information that she was able to provide. As is so true with many facets of life, buying knowledge was a lot cheaper than paying-one way or another-for ignorance.
Seeing that Kieran was still absorbing the news, June commented, "He'd been working along similar lines on Earth, but it was all too tied up by restrictions and regulations. You know what it's like there: Everyone meddling and lobbying to prevent just about anyone else from doing anything."
"Hm. I take it that when this gets out, our friend Leo can expect to be a wealthy man," Kieran said finally. "Instant celebrity, in addition to whatever's in it for him from his deal with Quantonix." He sipped his wine. "I assume they've already got a principal lined up?" He meant a potential buyer who had been waiting for a conclusive demonstration.
June nodded. "They had technical and financial people all over the place yesterday. That's why it was so hectic."
"Who is it?" Kieran asked curiously.
"Three Cs. They should have the deal tied up in the next day or two." It was one of the names that Kieran had expected. Three Cs was the popular term for Consolidated Communications Corporation, one of the major trans-system carriers. It wasn't something that June would have disclosed to anyone, but she and Kieran had known each other too long for melodramatics.
"Well, I suppose they'd want to be sure of all those test results before they sign any big checks." Kieran drank and thought some more. His face creased into a parody of a smile as a macabre thought struck him. "It would be a bit unfortunate if Leo gurgled an fell over now, though, wouldn't it? So what happens when they've got their people-transmitters up and running, do you think? Will they want payment strictly in advance, just in case?"
"I don't think there'd be much risk once it's offered commercially-no more than you accept with the spacelines, anyway. And since this is the first experiment of its kind ever, they're taking insurance," June said. "The original is being kept in a state they call stasis suspension in a vault in the basement until the tests are complete. I gather he could still be resuscitated if the copy failed to work."
Kieran stopped, his fork poised in mid air, just as he had been about to bite into a piece of flounder. "What? . . . Wait a minute. Run that by me again," he invited.
"They're keeping the original in a suspended state until everyone's satisfied that the experiment has succeeded."
Kieran's brow creased. "But that isn't the way it's supposed to work. In everything you see everywhere, the original dematerializes as fast as the sent version is being assembled. There isn't any original left to have any choice about. Its gone-poof!-from here to there."
"Yes, and that's how it'll be once it's proved and working. But right now, with this being the first time ever-"
"Whoa, whoa! Slow down, a minute." Kieran shook his head. "But what you've just told me makes a big difference. Never mind how it's usually depicted to the world. What you're saying is that dematerializing the original isn't necessary-it's not an inherent part of the process. Speeding things up with some sleight of hand doesn't change it. It means there's an overlap, when both of them coexist."
"That's not the way they see it," June replied. "According to the official description, the other one isn't a functioning person any longer. All the processes that define a person have been extracted and reside in the re-creation. It has become Sarda."
"But you just told me it can be resuscitated," Kieran pointed out. "If that's so, then nothing was extracted. It was duplicated. You've got two of them. What do they do with the other one?"
"Well . . . I suppose that once they're satisfied they have a fully functioning copy, indistinguishable in any way . . ."
"There. You just said it," Kieran threw in. "Copy."
June looked mildly perplexed, ". . . they just don't reactivate it."
"You mean they pull the plug?" Kieran looked at her in a way that invited her to think it through again. "I picked the wrong Sarda when I asked how he felt, earlier," he commented. "I should have asked what the other one thinks about it-the one in the basement."
"I guess the whole point is that he won't be thinking anything anymore," June said. Kieran's face remained skeptical. "Anyway, Sarda accepts it totally. If it's good enough for him . . ."
"Yes, the one you're talking to now," Kieran reminded her dryly. "But he's come through it okay."
"All the same, he must have know before he went in."
"It's his baby. A true believer can buy anything once he gets a bug in his head-look at those crazies who used to jump off things like the Eiffel Tower, flapping feathers and thought they'd fly." Kieran toyed with his glass while he eyed June across the table. "Is he crazy, do you think?"
"That's not for me to say. But he can be pretty intense when it comes to his work, sure." June waved a hand to lay the subject to rest, just for the moment. "Sarda could probably explain it all better," she said. "Why don't we let him do that himself tomorrow?"
"Yes. A little surprise for you, Kieran. I knew that with your curiosity about everything, you'd have liked to be there yesterday-but I don't think Herbert and Max would have been keen on having an outsider present then, even if Triplanetary's schedule had been different. So I did the next best thing and arranged for you to come there tomorrow-I told them I had this very special friend visiting, that I'd worked with for years. They agreed it would be okay. So you can see the TX Project, meet Sarda, and ask him all your awkward questions yourself. And that's all I'm going to allow said about it for the rest of the evening, Kieran. I'd hoped that our first dinner together for a long time would at least have a chance of getting romantic."
"You're right," Kieran said, leaning forward to refill her glass. "Not another word, so. . . ."