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Mission to Minerva
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If Porthik Eesyan had been of an inclination to place bets, he would just have lost out spectacularly. Betting on outcomes of events was not a habit among Thuriens, and they had nothing comparable to organized gambling on sports; but it was catching on as part of the general Terran influence. Although he had wished his scientists well, his personal belief had been that it was too early yet to expect coherent communications with another part of the Multiverse. They had barely finished the tests after installing the bubble generator at MP2, and that was little more than the original lab prototype, patched and modified as experience was gained and then hastily rushed out as soon as the first consistent results were confirmed. But the instrumentation people, inspired by the glimpses they had caught of probes actually arriving from other realities, had already been pressing ahead with designs of sensor packages and communications relays of their own. When the bubble turned out to be the answer to convergence, there had been no restraining them. It wasn't like the old days of orderly, planned and controlled progress at all. Eesyan put it down to another example of Terran influence making itself felt--this time inside his own department!

Terrans!

Like most Thuriens, he still hadn't arrived at a final analysis concerning this race of emotional, opinionated, aggressive and squabblesome, pink-to-black dwarves. The aspect of them that troubled Frenua Showm was their violence--appalling enough, to be sure; and how it could be elevated to being admired as a virtue, with honors bestowed for proficiency in commanding it and whole industries devoted to optimizing its results, was a question that was surely the proper province only of psychiatrists. But Showm was a sociologist of exo-cultures and a political historian, and factors like that were central to her work. That side of Terran nature rarely affected Eesyan directly. The side of them that was more apparent from the standpoint of scientific advisor and research director, especially with regard to the conduct of this joint project he was now committed to, was their impulsiveness.

The traditional Thurien ways might seem slow and cautious by comparison, but they were solid and reliable. In the Great Age of expansion, when Minerva had been left to the Lunarians, who subsequently destroyed it, earlier generations of Thuriens had built the cores of the huge cities, created the foundations of the network that grew into VISAR, and engineered an energy conversions and distribution system that connected far-flung star systems. All of these creations did what they were designed to do, and they didn't fail. No Thurien engineer could have conceived how things could be otherwise. Would a chef be acceptable who only poisoned the odd guest or two occasionally? Eesyan had heard stories from Earth of equipment being installed with known flaws, vehicles going out of control, structures falling down--usually through over-zealous pursuit of their upside-down value system that rewarded ownership of wealth more than the creation of it--but what went on there was their business.

When it started impacting programs that he was responsible for, however, it was another matter. To have come from the first successful experiments at Quelsang to launching a functioning communications probe from MP2 in six months was, to Eesyan's mind, unpardonably reckless. The greatest factor contributing to the success had been pure luck, and looking back, it had been thanks to nothing more that no irremediable consequence of convergence had been experienced at Quelsang before they realized what was happening--such as being stuck with a duplicate of somebody marooned from another universe. And even then, he had been so touched himself by the rush of enthusiasm that he had let himself be persuaded to order just that the power be reduced, when the correct thing would have been to shut everything down until they had some idea of what they were doing. He attributed it to the Terrans. They could exhibit failings and live with consequences that would condemn a Thurien to a lifetime of dejection and remorse. Most Thuriens deplored it, although some saw it as a strength that it would serve them to have more of themselves at times--for instance, over the ongoing hangups about some of the actions of their distant ancestors. Eesyan had no firm opinion either way. What he did know just at this point, however, was that he wasn't sure how to deal with it.

He was on his way to see Calazar, at Calazar's request, and was fairly certain it was in connection with Showm. He had followed Hunt's dialogue with the probe while in a g-line conveying him through Thurios to the Government Center. That the meeting with Calazar was to be face-to-face rather than conducted virtually meant it was more than just casual or routine business. More than likely, Eesyan suspected, it had something to do with the semi-annual convening of the Grand Assembly, a formal affair involving delegates not only from the Provinces of Thurien but the various dependency worlds and major off-planet habitat groupings as well, due to commence in two days time. Having known Calazar for as long as he had, Eesyan had been forming the impression for some time that he had been saving something important that he intended to announce at the occasion.

Eesyan's guess was that it had to do with the proposal Showm had put to Calazar a while ago now, and brought up again at intervals since, to send a series of sophisticated reconnaissance probes back to Minerva as it existed before the Lunarian schism that led to the final, fatal war. She wanted to find out if the usual depiction of the Lunarians as a cooperative and progressive race up until that time was accurate, or just a popular myth. Supposedly, it would answer the question of whether Terran paranoia and violence were inherent parts of their nature or aberrations caused by their experiences, and therefore, conceivably, redressable. If the latter, then the Thurien policy, she argued, should be one of total commitment to compassion and working positively toward establishing Earth as a member of the galactic community, with no room for talk of shutting them off from it. 'Total' commitment meant dismantling the containment option. The first time he heard this, Eesyan had been astonished. Frenua had always been one of the staunchest hard-liners.

The stream of Thurien figures that Eesyan was flowing with entered a labyrinth of ports, tunnels, and multifarious interconnecting spaces extending in all directions in the lower levels of the Center. Local gravity at any place came with the architecture, and individuals detached and merged and sped away above, below, and all around. Terrans were invariably lost in seconds. Eesyan diverted toward a shaft leading up into the main body of the building.

He was against the idea. For one thing, she and the advocated she had rallied were underestimating the technical problems wildly--although this might be a difficult point to convince them of in view of the successes that had recently been achieved. Sending simple instrument packages obviously wouldn't tell them the kinds of things that Showm wanted to know. It would require accessing libraries and archives in the way VISAR had just demonstrated, and that in turn presupposed connecting into the communications system. But achieving that with a closely related version of Earth that was only six months old--and Eesyan was surprised that even that had worked--was a very different matter from doing something comparable with a Minerva of fifty thousand years ago. At least the style of technology, codes, access procedures and a whole host of other factors relating to Earth were familiar, even if some of the details differed--and resolving even those had been far from a trivial matter, even for VISAR. What they would be up against in the case of Minerva, they had absolutely no idea. Nothing about the Lunarian practices or conventions at that time was known. Thuriens were reluctant to use the word "impossible"--they had managed quite a few things in the end, in their own plodding way, that left Terrans speechless--but in this instance, Eesyan thought it came close.

But more than that, this was still basic research science into a whole new realm of physics. The focus for now should be on that. Treating it as a tool to acquire historical background information for formulating a political policy would be altogether premature in the present circumstances--and open to a lot of questioning on principle at the best of times. Even if Showm's sudden change of heart should be proved to be solidly based, and the early Lunarians were ascertained to have been peaceable, it didn't follow that the humans existing today were necessarily redeemable. Eesyan didn't think Calazar would be right to abolish the insurance that the containment option provided, and he wouldn't want to play a part in inducing him to do so. Some thought that the question as to how much was inherent in human nature has already been answered by the record of the Jevlenese--but their situation was complicated by the invasion of the Ents, and so in Eesyan's estimation it didn't count one way or the other.

And finally, as was the habit most Thuriens learned from an early age, he had tried to examine his own motives without prejudice. A large part of his attitude, he had to concede, sprang from the desire to keep Thurien science pure, the way he had been trained to, which meant exercising control. He didn't want to let it become a part of the carnival of sensationalism and celebrity that he had seen passed off as science on Earth. There were exceptions, to be sure--Hunt and his group were a notable example; were it not so, they wouldn't be here--but the extent that Eesyan had seen, both in current practice and the historical record, of evidence being blatantly manipulated to support preconceptions, or argument from theory determining what was permissible as fact, appalled him. How scientists could rationalize the defense of ideas that were demonstrably wrong in pursuit of personal gain and undue credit was beyond him. To Thuriens, science brought its own reward by adding to the understanding of reality. Publicity, fame, and accolades could only make a scientific theory popular. They couldn't make it true.

The shaft deposited him in an atrium area built around a tree growing up from the levels below, with crystal-walled galleries and corridors leading away to various halls and administrative offices. Calazar had arranged for them to meet in the chambers of the staff preparing for the Assembly, where he would be today, checking on the arrangements. An aide greeted Eesyan in the ante-room, exchanged pleasantries, and offered him refreshments, which was the customary courtesy. Eesyan declined, and the aide conducted him through to a small meeting room at the rear. As Eesyan had anticipated, Frenua Showm was there too.

"Porthik!" Calazar extended both hands--his usual ebullient self; even more so. Eesyan was at once on guard. "I trust the day finds you well."

"As much so as I find in the day. And yourself, Bryom?"

"Never better." Calazar paused while Eesyan bowed toward Showm.

"Too rare a pleasure."

"A shared one, I assure you."

"We saw the news from Quelsang," Calazar said. "Congratulations indeed, Porthik! A splendid success. And entertaining! If only more of science could be that way. Do you think we could arrange for me to talk to a different version of myself in another universe too . . . in some future test like that?"

"Well . . . I don't see why not."

"I'd just like to see the look on his face. Vic was obviously enjoying himself. Yet I'm told that you didn't think it would work. Is that right?"

This wasn't going the way Eesyan had expected. The atmosphere was too convivial, too light--not right for the heavy clash of opinions that he had been bracing for. But Calazar's question gave him as good an opening for the kind of line he had prepared, he supposed. "The truth is, we were extremely lucky," replied. "Far luckier than we had any right to hope for. The convergence suppressor at MP2 is the experimental prototype, barely tested. It shouldn't have been rushed out there in such haste, and a staff installed. We're violating all the principles. I accept that it's my responsibility, and I have no excuse to offer. Managing a mixed Thurien-Terran team seems to bring complications that I don't pretend to understand yet."

"Grave words," Calazar commented. Eesyan had the feeling that it hadn't come as a great surprise.

"It's a serious business. I can only state the situation as I see it."

"What would you recommend?"

"A thorough reappraisal of the physics, commencing with a recapitulation of the low-power phase at Quelsang. A moratorium on all further experiments at MP2 until we have consolidated our thoughts and plans. Replacement of the suppressor by a properly engineered and tested device when results from Quelsang permit." Eesyan drew a breath. What was to have been his whole argument had compressed itself into a few words. Might as well see it through, he decided. "It's more than a recommendation, Calazar. If I am to retain the capacity of director of this project, must insist. Otherwise, I would have no choice but to step down from taking further responsibility."

Calazar and Showm glanced at each other. Well, that had put things clearly enough, they seemed to say. Eesyan waited for the querying and cajoling to begin. "It does seem that we got a bit carried away, doesn't it?" Calazar replied. "I mean everybody--myself included. "I think you're right. Absolutely right. The house needs to be put in order from the ground up. We must never stray from our standards of excellence and professionalism."

"Don't take it as a personal lapse, Porthik," Showm said. "I've hear from the other scientists that It's been affecting all of them. A firm lead is exactly what they want."

Showm wasn't coming across as somebody in the process of consigning a pet project to oblivion. Her manner was detached and casual, as if it had never been more than a passing curiosity. Eesyan was off balance. He sensed that something more was afoot. "It goes without saying, of course, that this will put all thought of sending reconnaissance probes to Minerva on indefinite hold," he pointed out, more to test their reaction than to tell them anything they wouldn't already know.

"Which should please you," Showm said. "You were never keen on it anyway."

Eesyan looked perplexedly from her to Calazar. Calazar waved a hand dismissively. "Ah. . . . And what could it have achieved, really? You told us yourself how improbable it would be for us to learn anything meaningful about Minerva that way. Creeping about, spying and eavesdropping from the sky. . . . Didn't we have enough of that with the Jevlenese? And then what, even if we did? Suppose we should find answers to our questions there--Minerva before its downfall, hopeful and unsuspecting, yet with the whole ghastly story of war, destruction, catastrophe, and the aftermath all lying ahead of it. What do we do after we've collected, sorted, categorized, and catalogued our data in tidy charts and reference bases? Just pull out the probes and leave them to it like laboratory animals that have served their purpose--billions of unborn to the story of anguish, pain, torment, and slaughter that will unfold . . . for millennium after murderous millennium?"

Calazar looked expectantly toward the door. It opened to admit a house platter, which glided in to deliver a serving of ule with a selection of confectionaries. Timed exactly to allow him time to absorb the message, Eesyan noted.

"I didn't mention this at the time, because I wanted to reflect and be sure," Calazar said, rising to set out the dishes from the tray, as befitted the host. "Some time ago, I had a visit from Gregg Caldwell."

Now it was all taking another unexpected turn. "Vic Hunt's superior," Eesyan said, more to give himself a moment to adjust again.

"Yes. The man who was one of the driving forces that turned Terrans' energies away from violence and destructiveness, and instead hurled them out across the Solar System; who directed the investigations that led to their rediscovery of their past and the rescue of the Shapieron, and kept his head after they eventually made contact with ourselves, when many others on both sides were yielding to fears and suspicions that would have led us to a very different situation today." Showm flinched slightly, but Eesyan didn't think Calazar had intended it personally. Calazar handed Eesyan a goblet mixed in the way he knew from experience was to Eesyan's taste. "The kessaya are very good." He gestured toward the tray.

"Maybe in a moment. . . . Thank you."

Calazar went on, "A person not only of rare vision, but also with the even rarer gift of being able to turn visions into reality. Who dares to dream, and can make dreams come true. Well, Caldwell came to me with a dream. . . . Are you sure you won't try the kessaya?"

Eesyan had a fleeting urge to throw them at him. He shook his head.

"Terrans like him epitomize all that's positive about their race: the dynamism; the restless energy; the refusal to give in even when the cause is hopeless, and yet win. Look at what can happen in just a few decades when they turn their aggressiveness upon constructive ends."

Such thoughts weren't exactly new to Eesyan. He had discussed them on many occasions, with Showm among others. "Truly extraordinary," he agreed. They had come across nothing else like it in all the worlds they had reached.

"And we Ganymeans embody another set of qualities that are every bit as laudable," Calazar said. "You put them succinctly yourself just a few minutes ago: caution and thoroughness; commitment to excellence in all things; dignifying of the moral over the material. We've seen what each of these combinations has achieved on its own. But can you imagine, Porthik, what they might be capable of together?"

Eesyan looked at Showm, who was watching him intently. She seemed to be brimming with things to say of her own, but just at this instant not wanting to interrupt Calazar's stride. Eesyan wondered if he was missing a point somewhere. "Yes, I hear what you're saying," he said, turning back to Calazar. "But isn't that what we have? The Jevlenese menace has been uncovered and neutralized. Earth is showing signs that it might have mended its ways finally. They seem to be absorbing our science and adapting to our technology. . . ."

Calazar waved a hand and shook his head rapidly. "That isn't what I meant. What we have is Earth with all its scars and bruises and blemishes, and us on the other side of a divide that began opening tens of thousand of years ago, struggling to get to know each other again like adult siblings that were separated in childhood. I'm talking about the potential that existed with the human race as it existed then, before they were forced back to animal survivalism, and then had their recovery sabotaged; when no gulf existed. Where might Thuriens and a race like that be today, do you think? Still striving to trace the origins of the codes that direct life, to discover what agency devised them and for what purpose? Or would we long ago have become fully alive and conscious beings, knowing ourselves and our role in the multiplicity of realities that we are even now just beginning to glimpse?"

Eesyan had a sudden, jolting premonition of where this might be going. He licked his lips and glanced at Showm again. She nodded as if reading his thoughts. "And it was the lead we got from Terrans that put us on the right track, even now," she reminded him.

Calazar became expansive. "I'm not talking about sending probes and prying eyes, and sitting back here like gawkers at some awful Terran movie, passively watching the Lunarians marching toward their fate. I'm talking about going there, to the time before the war ever happened, and doing something to change it!"

Eesyan reached for one of the kessaya and unwrapped it shakily. Just for the moment, his mental faculties seemed to have seized up.

"Think of it, Porthik!" Showm urged. "The full, true potential of humans and Thuriens in combination, that should have been realized--just as the potential for Minerva should have been realized. A whole new reality that was meant to exist. It still can. We can create it!"

For a brief moment the sweet, smooth taste of the candy distracted Eesyan from the turmoil of his thoughts. Minutes ago, Calazar and Showm had agreed that the current program had gone beyond the bounds set by prudence and needed tighter control. Yet what they were proposing instead exceeded it in boldness and audacity on a scale that took his breath away. Objections poured into his mind reflexively.

They wouldn't be "creating" anything; the physics of quantum reality said that everything that could possibly exist did exist. . . . But no. He checked himself. That was according to the old way of assuming things, arrived at from a literal interpretation of the mathematical formalism. Danchekker had produced some good reasons for supposing that the intervention of consciousness was able to change that, making some futures by no means automatic. Rebellious Terran thinking again. It had started a furious debate among the Thurien philosophers. Perhaps it was possible to bring about whole new futures through an effort of volition, that otherwise wouldn't have existed. At their present stage of knowledge, there were no grounds to exclude it.

"It's . . . it's . . ." Eesyan gestured weakly and looked from one to another. "Do you realize the immensity of what you're saying? . . . We've just agreed that even the present project is in drastic need of complete overhaul. What we're talking about here is on a totally different scale of--"

"We've agreed that we need to stop what we're doing and get back to a program of sound, professionally managed research and solid engineering," Calazar cut in. "Perfect. That means we can begin from the basics, observing all the right principles."

Eesyan extended his hands pleadingly. "It's not just a question of technicalities. You're talking about sending people . . . Thuriens, Terrans, both; I don't know . . . not just robots. The whole underlying philosophy changes. They'd need autonomy to be able to adapt to whatever local conditions they encounter--to provide for their own safety, or even survival. So they'd have to go in some kind of ship. But they wouldn't even be able to move around. Ships draw on the h-grid for power. There was no h-grid at Minerva fifty thousand years ago."

Showm seemed to have been expecting it. "You're forgetting one ship that doesn't need the h-grid," she said. Eesyan looked at her blankly, his mind in too much of a whirl to make the connection. "The Shapieron. Right now, at Jevlen. An old Ganymean starship with independent on-board drives, everything self-contained."

"But even if we did what you say . . . the totality of the Multiverse is so vast. They would be so few. Could it make any difference that matters?"

"What are you saying, Eesyan?" Showm chided. "That sounds like some kind of petty profit-and-loss accounting that you would expect from Earth. Do you not feed a hungry child because you cannot feed all of them? Do you let a sick person die because there are other sick people in the world that you can't help? Our very concept of civilization lies the principle of caring, compassion, and love being extended outward from the primitive family to embrace a progressively wider community : town and village, then nation, planet, until today we feel kinship across many worlds. Isn't this the next step that whatever power brought all this into being is calling us to? Imagine, a community of universes that were isolated, just as the stars were once isolated. Where it will lead, or what will one day come out of it, nobody can say. We will be true pioneers and discoverers again. That is why we have no choice."

Objections started welling up inside Eesyan again, but then he met Frenua's eyes. They were bright, inspired, shining with a light that he hadn't seen anywhere for a long time. He could sense the same intensity of feeling radiating from Calazar. Something inside Eesyan the scientist was responding to it. And as it grew and swelled deep down inside his being, the negative fixations that had gripped him seemed to shrink to dimensions fitting to the business of a jobbing-shop clerk.

Visions were stirring in his own mind now, of the Ganymeans long ago who had cast out from the havens of their warm, familiar-sun systems into the daunting voids between, who had dared to dream of constructions the size of moons and taming the power of exploding stars. Were the unknowns and the challenges that they had faced any less than of the prospect that was beckoning now? Could the things they stood to gain and to learn have been any greater?

"Yes! . . ." he heard himself whisper. It was involuntary--not he speaking, but the spirit that was motivating him inside; yet even as he the word, he knew that it was right. Calazar turned away, fidgeting with his hands, seemingly having difficulty keeping his feelings under control. Showm was on her feet, looking as if she were fighting back an impulse to throw her arms around Eesyan and hug him. "Yes!" Eesyan said again, louder this time. "We will do it! Our race has lived in security and complacency for long enough. It is time for us to rekindle the flame and know again the adventure of true discovery. You are right, Fenua. Minerva will live again, and become what it should have been--maybe even in a new reality that we will create! This was surely meant to be."

 
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