Paths to Otherwhere
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      Allegedly the two visitors were scientists, not bureaucrats-although Jantowitz maintained that once Government got into science it made little difference. Stan Strahan, the head of Biophysics, brought them down to the lab after lunching with the faculty dean. He didn't say where they were from or what the reason was for their interest in the work at Berkeley.
      The first, Strahan introduced as Dr. Kintner. He was a biggish man in his mid-to-late fifties. Although his belt had probably inched out a notch or two in the last fifteen years, he was trim enough for his age and still hefty around the shoulders. He had a smooth, expressive face with a high forehead accentuated by receding hair, and wore gold-framed bifocals, a charcoal-stripe suit, and subdued maroon necktie. Hugh thought he smiled too much, with a geniality that became condescending. He distrusted smiling people from the government. There was always the possibility that they might be here to help him.
      Kintner's companion's name was Ducaine, again a doctor. He was in his mid thirties, with a heavy, rounded jaw, protruding eyes that stared intently, and a florid complexion, which with a halo of crinkly, overgrown, yellow hair, gave him a wild look. He was wearing a tweed jacket with knitted tie. From the moment that Strahan showed them into the lab, Ducaine's gaze darted ceaselessly this way and that over the equipment. Hugh was unable to tell whether it signified complete cluelessness or an expert's sure and silent assessment.
      Strahan pointed out the component parts of the QUIC, which they had evidently talked about over lunch. Ducaine stooped to peer at the antenna-boxes in the top frame of the main cabinet, then transferred his attention to an uncased module that Strahan offered as a sample. "What discrimination method do you use on the coupling from the antenna chips?" Ducaine inquired. Strahan nodded at Hugh to take it.
      "You mean for directionality resolution?" Hugh said.
      Ducaine's yellow halo bobbed vigorously. "Yes. Multiphase arrays? Masked sequential? Group extraction filtering?"
      "Multiple phased arrays," Hugh said.
      "Your own design?"
      "Mainly-although the basic idea was published a few years ago. We added a filter stage that performs partial extractions as a second stage."
      "Snell's Algorithm?"
      "A variation of it, yes."
      "Hm. Interesting." Ducaine turned the assembly over to inspect the other side. Definitely not bureaucrats, Hugh told himself-and not amateurs when it came to the science, either.
      "And yet the project originated from work concerning evolution," Kintner said, directing himself at Jantowitz to bring the professor more into the conversation. "It must have taken a remarkable insight to connect Multiverse cross-communication with evolutionary dynamics. What prompted it?"
      Strahan had explained over lunch that it had been generally conceded for some time that the theory was in trouble. While few seriously doubted that evolution happened, it had become increasingly clear that the mechanism traditionally upheld as the driving force-natural selection, or the progressive accumulation of random mutations-did not possess the innovative power to explain what was observed.
      Jantowitz had developed a hypothesis that the geometric configuration of DNA could cause it to function as an antenna. He was a theoretician. Circuits and chips were not his line, which was why he had teamed up with somebody like Hugh. Hugh's thesis had been to test the idea by attempting to build an artificial device to do the same thing.
      Jantowitz regarded the visitors balefully through heavy, horn-rimmed glasses. He never allowed himself to be enticed into returning smiles. "The evidence that Darwin predicted would be everywhere found for the gradual changes that he proposed-found, it has not been. The intermediate forms do not exist." He didn't like officialdom in any form. But he evaded rather than confronted. His way of putting off people who irritated him was to provide answers that had no connection with the questions asked.
      Jantowitz was in his early sixties, getting somewhat corpulent now, with a snub nose and thick lips that thrust forward to give him an appearance of gazing disapprovingly on everything that he scrutinized-which was often the case. He had a head of white but full, wavy hair, and a matching droopy mustache. But for his clothes, he might have looked quite distinguished. They gave the impression of having been thrown at him and somehow stuck, rather than put on, and clashed colors and styles with a determined consistency that Hugh thought was surely genetic in origin. Today he was wearing a tan lab coat unbuttoned to reveal a red-and-blue check hunting shirt and the collar of a hand-knitted gray cardigan that he had owned for as long as Hugh had worked with him, and which Hugh sometimes suspected he'd been born in.
      Ducaine tried to pick up the gist of what Jantowitz was saying. "You couldn't have bursts of rapid evolutionary change instead, separated by long periods of stability? Wouldn't that explain the absence of intermediate forms?"
      "Waves and weather, the superficial aspects of geography, they might shape," Jantowitz said. "But to build mountains and move continents, you must have deeper forces." The visitors looked at Strahan for enlightenment.
      "Explanations along those lines were tried, but they didn't really work," he said. "Every cell is a miniature factory containing millions of specialized parts, all interdependent. On every level up to a complete organism, too many unlikely changes would have to take place at the same time to transform one viable form into another. It would be like mixing parts from an auto engine and a washing machine. The in-between forms wouldn't be functional."
      "It sounds as if you're saying that evolution can't happen at all," Kintner remarked.
      "Not in the time that the evidence points to," Strahan agreed. "Even with the most generous allowances that you can plausibly make, all the calculations said that what had happened couldn't have."
      "So how are we here?"
      "If the Earth were a few million times older, then, maybe, something like the orthodox mechanism might have been adequate," Strahan said. He waved a hand. "But not as things are. Something more had to be going on."
      "And your suggestion was quantum-level communication arising from the DNA structure tuning to leakage frequencies," Ducaine said, looking at Jantowitz.
      They went on to talk in a little more detail about the origins of the QUIC. The basic idea had been that the same interference that made particles appear to interact with themselves, and which had linked the machines being operated by the juxtaposition of Alices, also enabled certain biological molecules in different universes-specifically, the nucleic acids and their evolutionary predecessors-to communicate naturally. The information accumulated in the genomes of the species making up the Earth's biosphere was not a product of the evolution taking place on just one Earth, but from a huge ensemble of Earths exchanging results. Hence, there was no need for the computer to have been running for millions of times longer to have produced the super-computation that had resulted. It consisted of countless "regular" computers cooperating in parallel.
      Whether or not the model was correct had never been established. The work had been completely sidetracked into developing the hardware, and the QUIC was the outcome of it.
      When the talk reached this point, it became clear that it was not curiosity about evolution that had brought Kintner and Ducaine to Berkeley. Their questions had been for form's sake. What they really wanted to hear about was the QUIC hardware and its underlying multiple-universe physics. It turned out that they were fully conversant with Hugh and Jantowitz's published papers. They showed great interest in the theoretical basics that Hugh had employed in his designs and asked for copies of his calculations and schematics. And then they departed, still without giving any hint of where they had come from or why, leaving the campus after a final session alone with Strahan in his office upstairs.
      "Okay, Stan, would you mind telling us what all that was about?" Hugh invited when he and Jantowitz made their way up to Strahan's office a quarter of an hour after Kintner and Ducaine had gone. "Those two were not dummies from some PR office putting together a career guide for the schools. They're right out on the edge of this business. What does the government want with QUIC?"
      Strahan had been expecting it and had prepared a line to stall things until he heard definite word from the Board. But after putting up with two hours of what had amounted to cross-examination, Hugh was in no mood for stalling. Beside him, Jantowitz simply stood with his lower lip thrust out in a way that dared Strahan to try it. Strahan capitulated with a sigh. He sank back in his chair and showed his palms in a conciliatory gesture.
      "Okay, I'll be straight. It isn't the QUIC per se that they're worried about. It's the whole field of MV physics. Apparently it has defense implications. The federal government have got their own thing going, and they want to classify all allied work."
      "Classify it?" Hugh exploded. "Evolution? What the hell kind of defense implication is there in that?"
      "Oh, come on, Hugh," Strahan said tiredly. "You know it isn't that. It's the physics. They're concerned with how the QUIC works. And in any case, don't try that one on me. You know as well as I do that the QUIC hasn't had much to do with evolution for a long time now."
      "Why do they want to put it under wraps? What kind of work are they doing?"
      "I really didn't ask."
      Jantowitz brought them both back from a line that was leading nowhere. "What is it, then, you are telling us?" he said. "Are they wishing to take control over our project, these governments peoples?"
      Strahan massaged his temples for a moment, then looked up. "Oh hell, I really didn't want this to be so soon. . . . It's worse than that. They're closing it down."
      Hugh stared disbelievingly. "You're not serious."
      "I wish I weren't. They're serious all right."
      "But . . . it's ours! We created it. It's opening up a whole new world. . . ."
      "I think that may be the problem," Strahan said. "It's opening up more of a new world than you think."
      "What are you talking about?"
      "Let's just say I get the feeling that they're a bit farther ahead than they're letting on. This work leads into areas that they don't want everybody in the world picking up on."
      "Like what?"
      "Would you believe they didn't tell me?"
      Hugh shook his head protestingly. He didn't expect answers, but now it was he who needed to stall while he pulled his thoughts back together. "You can't let them," was all he could muster finally.
      "Hugh, it's out of our hands."
      Hugh's color deepened, and his breathing became short. Jantowitz knew that for most of the time he tended to be fairly easygoing. His ability to escape totally into his work kept him detached from the worst of life's stresses and tribulations. But on the occasions when he did lose his cool, it could be spectacular. Now everything that he had worked for in years was about to be snatched away, and Jantowitz saw one of those occasions about to happen. He caught Hugh's sleeve and tugged lightly.
      "Come, Hugh," he urged. "Time it is now for us to get some coffee, I think. Cooler heads make the better sense, yes? Maybe we come back tomorrow and talk with Stan some more, when we have together our questions thought out."
      Hugh drew back, exhaling a long breath. He nodded. "I guess you're right."
      "I'm really sorry about it, guys. Believe me," Strahan said.
      They left the building and went to the snack restaurant situated oncampus. By the time they sat down, Hugh had lapsed into brooding restlessness. Jantowitz did little to lift him out of it.
      "The protesting will do you no good. It just makes ulcers faster," he said. "These situations, I have seen before. Everybody fights for the same moneys from the government's pig-trough. And on top of this, you have all the administrators and faculty heads who think they make good politicians, caring more about being somebody at Washington cocktail parties more than they care about science. No one will be on your side."
      "What are you saying, then?" Hugh asked him. "We just let them wrap it up and walk away, without even trying to fight them?"
      "I'm simply saying that perhaps the time has come to be a little philosophical. We have nothing to fight them with," Jantowitz replied.
      But then events took an unforeseen turn. People from an undisclosed department in Washington appeared at Berkeley a week later and quizzed Hugh and Jantowitz separately on their backgrounds and experience. Soon after that, Kintner came to California again with another colleague, called Mulgrave, to talk to them some more, this time in the federal offices across the Bay in downtown San Francisco. It turned out that Hugh and Jantowitz's work didn't have to be wasted after all. All work on the new physics, they were told, was being concentrated under government direction. Subject to satisfactory background checks for the necessary security clearances, they were offered positions on the official program.
      All they knew about it at that stage was that it was run by the Defense Research Administration and would involve moving from California. But really, there was little choice. As Jantowitz had prophesied, no serious internal opposition materialized to terminating the Berkeley project. Hugh's work was his passion, while Jantowitz, at his age, had no other future.
      The offers were subsequently confirmed.
      And accepted.
Content © The Estate of James P. Hogan, 1998-2014. All rights reserved.

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