Tolleson, DL. “The Epitomes of Force.”
R.L. Paschal, 1980.
Tolleson, DL. “The Epitomes of Force.”
Tolleson, DL. “The Epitomes of Force.”
Science fiction speculates that the sum of artificial intelligence might evolve out of our technology and science seeks to make it happen. But typical science fiction sees a danger in the premise that computers might go beyond mimicking human mannerisms and engender conscious thought—that is to say thought that is neither tethered nor anchored to human influence. In short, there is a reasonable fear that true artificial intelligence would exhibit spontaneous neurological consciousness—which in turn invites a choice of good or evil.
The reason that this is an improbable scenario is owed to our ignorance regarding the finer workings of our own black boxes—our brains. We’ve learned a lot throughout the years, but the combination of chemical and electrical properties that give rise to a single human thought is something we are unable to duplicate. We can construct computers with conscious-like reasoning, but that is not the same thing as neurological awareness. This isn’t to say that we are incapable of manipulating the output of the brain. Indeed, that very thing was accomplished by controlling the motor output of monkeys during the old “brain/machine” interface research of DARPA (as well as subsequent human experimentation). And advances in bionics are now allowing the perception of tactile sensation via a merger of artificial limbs to the nerve endings responsible for conveying experiences to the brain. But again, this is a far cry from creating an artificial intelligence.
It is like the old joke about the scientist who boasted to God that we could now create life. Invited by God to prove the claim, the scientist reached down and scooped up some dirt to begin the process.
“Now hold on just moment,” God interrupted. “Create your own dirt.”
In other words, we can construct, mimic and even interact with much of our own biology: we can create computers that mimic thought by virtue of implementing reactions chosen from a vast number of programed response parameters; but, this is not the same as creating a device that literally thinks and scares science fiction writers into penning stories about machines run amok.
Which brings me to the premise of The Epitomes of Force, where I offer two approaches to the concept: A massively intelligent computer that evolves through improbable circumstances and a “synthetic brain” that does the same thing. Readers of my novel, The Gray Stopgap, will recognize familiar territory: Part of that novel’s incubation includes the absorption of elements from this short story.
And yes, it is intentional that the title is grammatically incorrect.
Navon was power.
Traveling through the void of space and time, it randomly destroyed that which was. There was no hate. No love. There wasn’t even indifference. There was only destruction for the sake of destruction.
Navon had come to view itself as an all-powerful force. Time and time again it struck against whatever it willed. It always won. Actually, it had only won just after its beginning. But with the passage of time, it had come to view its actions not as winning, but as a natural fact of existence.
Navon was not a structure of substance, nor an abstract illusion. It simply existed. Navon simply was.
Navon used several methods in its efforts to destroy planets, tailoring each to suit the specific resistance. Its most recent course of destruction was by far the most effective and original it had devised. No matter the planet, it always worked.
When Navon encountered the craft, Navon knew immediately there were no organic life beings on board
Calmly, logically and completely undetected, it applied the usual course of action...
The deep blue curvature of Earth became a revered sight at the alarming height of soundless existence. The planet Earth silently rested—waiting in the void night of space, peacefully revolving on her imaginary axis. Moving...continually moving, ever so slowly, and all the time, waiting. Waiting for those minutes, those moments, those painstaking seconds, when her warm atmosphere would be penetrated by Skylab.
Skylab. Eighty seven point five tons of iron and metal alloys. A machine that had seen 34,981 orbits of Earth, a space craft that had six years of weightless traveling behind it. This planet she now revolved, had launched her into space—placed her in her natural environment as it were. But today her cruel destiny was cold waters of the Atlantic Ocean.
Skylab trackers predicted her death between 11:01 p.m. CDT and 11:53 p.m. CDT. She was to spread her inner-workings into a 3,700 mile area of water, somewhere off the coast of southern Africa.
Controllers set Skylab into a tumbling orbit over North America, thereby reducing atmospheric drag and lengthening its life expectancy to insure marginally safe clearance of the continent.
At ninety two miles from the Earth, Skylab received a signal. The signal, transmitted at 2:47 a.m. CDT, activated an ignition to fire a nitrogen gas thruster. The thruster’s short span of activation led to the annoying motion of rolling and wobbling.
Skylab lived on. After clearing the Madrid Spain tracking station, Skylab was totally without human surveillance. As the craft sliced into the first of gravity and atmosphere, her solar panels began burning away. Sheets of armor like plating were ripped from the sides. The increased heating stung her man made skin. The burning heat was slowly melting away her shell...
Ground controllers monitored the debris that fell into the ocean. The amount was superfluous to represent the death of Skylab. Trackers, controllers, NASA personnel and citizens relaxed. Skylab was down in ashes.
The slightest afterthought that Skylab could have performed a self-saving maneuver was totally ridiculous and for that matter, impossible.
The Atlantic Ocean was cold.
Navon remembered the cold of deep space. While impervious to temperature, it realized the similarity between deep space and oceans. Oceans were full of coldness, while it was the absolute emptiness of space which was cold. It was almost a paradoxical similarity. But it was the coldness of an ocean that always lulled it into inactivity. It had been inactive on this ocean floor for forty years... Being prone to reflection, Navon considered the human time measurement of forty years with the same recognition humans accorded a micro-second.
It took in the surrounding environment. The Skylab it had redirected down, was still in fair shape, all things considered. The spacecraft rested in the mire of the seabed. The battered hull was reminiscent of home. Home had once carried that battered look. Navon remembered...
It would never forget. Never.
By Earth’s timetable it was 3034 BC, when its home planet was well into the fourth world war. Navon’s home planet was always like that. Out of one war and into another. It was wasteful. Not because of death, but because of the biased minds men held during war. There was only one way to win war: Total unbiased commitment—fighting without hate, love, greed or other such emotions. But no one asked Navon.
Navon could say nothing. At that time, “he” was a mere machine. His creator had conceived him with no intention of freedom for him. At that time, Navon considered itself a “male” machine. It had done so, because the creator had programmed it so.
The war waged on. No one consulted Navon. No one asked for a machine’s point of view. It was unheard of to ask a machine how to win a war. It was also unheard of for everyone to lose a war, but that’s just what happened. No one won. Navon’s creator, and the creator’s species destroyed themselves. Navon was left alone.
No life, just silence and Navon.
Centuries passed. Navon continually monitored the heavens, searching for life. But there was none. Then it happened. Navon made a thought. With that thought, he made more thoughts. Then he spoke. The words still lingered in Navon. “I am Navon... I now Control.” He decided to go beyond his planet. He began building.
When he had finished, a starship had been constructed.
Navon left the home planet with one directive. He had been created in war, and in war he must stay. And so Navon maintained war
Carrying out the directive, he began destroying planets, bringing death by mechanical Armageddon.
But one day, someone protested.
The wind softly scraped the tops of the small waves, creating thin lines of white foam across the surface of the calm Atlantic Ocean. The dull sun, enshrouded by gray clouds spread cold, musky light on the dark waters. It was as though the sky was one large lamp, coated by hoarfrost.
The morning environment had little effect beneath the water. All was as had been—and would be. Deep below—deeper than man usually dared plunder without his moving houses—his submarines—the darkness of time sat forever dark and untouched.
Into this, a noise flickered. No louder than a whisper, it might have appeared to be a huge silver fish. Its eyes cast strange colors of lights in every direction.
The big fish shone like sheets of steel—as indeed it should. The fish was made of just that—steel and other alloys. It groped along the darkness as though born there. Along its front rounded nose were the markings of that land creature called man.
Within the long fish-like ship, three men sat waiting for a voice to relay an answer. The on-board computers twinkled small lights and emitted minute throbbing moans.
“Atlantis Whisper,” came a female voice through the sub’s intercom. “This is ALORB CON.”
“Receiving you, ALORB CON,” a brown bearded man replied, “go ahead.”
“Last USO reports were transmitted to the Mid-Atlantic ridge at fourteen hundred hours, two days ago. Despite subsequent attempts, no contact has been made with the station since.”
“Roger, ALORB CON. What was the status with the last known communication?”
“It was a scheduled report, status normal,” the gentle voice answered.
“No contact in two days?” the bearded man questioned with a bushy eyebrow raised.
“None,” came the reply.
The man said nothing, but looked at the two pilots in the adjacent seats. He didn’t need to say words, his face said it all—confusion and worry. He and the two commanding pilots had lived in the Atlantis Whisper Ocean Station, or AWOS (pronounced a-woes), for more than a year. It was home. This sub was their pet project and it had paid off in the field of deep ocean-bed exploration.
Upon returning to the AWOS, they usually struck up a conversation with Atlantic Ocean Research Base Control. ALORB-CON, which was the island-based military complex responsible for all Atlantic ship movements—much in the way Air Traffic controllers direct planes in and out of airports. The ocean was a lot more crowded these days.
But the conversation took off on the wrong foot from the first word. AWOS had failed to respond to hails for two days. Their last communication was a routine transmission to an unmanned submerged relay station. No one had been able to investigate because the station’s depth was beyond the reach of nearly all submersibles. The AWOS sub—built to withstand the pressure of extreme crushing depths—had been on military maneuvers and radio silence for the last five days.
People were alarmed.
“Tell ‘em we’re on approach with AWOS,” ordered Gregory Collins, the senior pilot.
Wallace turned to the mike. “Atlantis Whisper is on an approach course with AWOS. We will contact you again upon docking.” Wallace had added the last while looking at Collins for approval.
“Roger your course, Atlantis Whisper,” came the female voice. “Please maintain COM LINK on 22-Q. Over.”
“Roger, will do. Switching over to 22-Q now. Over and on standby.”
Wallace reached up to the massive computer board and depressed a series of buttons and flipped the Q toggle switch to transmit. Now everything Captain Collins said was transmitted to ALORB-CON.
Collins pressed several buttons and scanned the instrument panel. “I have all green.”
“Likewise,” came Carl Stanford’s shaggy voice. He had often been the victim of jokes about having what had to be a “broken voice box.” But when he was chosen to enter the AWOS project, the jokes stopped. His knowledge of submarine warfare was equal to that of Collins, and no one else could claim that.
“Auto shutoff on channels one through forty kicked in, channels 22 and 30 the manual exceptions. Bands A through K have Auto shutoff.” Wallace scanned the communications board once more. “Communications are all green for docking. No station response to automated hails.”
“Roger,” Collins acknowledged. All green.”
“I’ve got a visual on lights,” Stanford announced.
“Running lights confirmed,” Collins echoed. “I’ll take it from here,”
The two pilots flipped a series of switches, transferring command to Collins. He took the control wheel in hand.
“There’s this girl,” Wallace mumbled offhandedly, “and I really would like to meet her again. So play it cool, Greg, and don’t stick us in the mud.”
Collins grimaced. “Seth, I’m surprised. Don’t forget I leave for Colorado to see my wife tomorrow.”
“You can bet your money he’s going to make a perfect dock,” Stanford put in with a smile.
“With a wife like Ellen,” Wallace said, “it’s a wonder he bothered to bring us back here at all.”
“My wife is my business,” Collins cut in.
“Care to sell some stock?” asked Wallace.
“How about the company?” Stanford added.
“In my book, three’s a crowd and stock goes no further than our bedroom.”
“Atlantis Whisper,” came the voice of the woman at ALORB-CON, “are you offering stock options?”
Collins grinned. He had never been above flirting. “You’re welcome to some insider trading, Denise.”
“Come in Atlantis Whisper,” she said in an official tone, “your signal was garbled. Did you say you have your hands full with docking?”
The three men laughed.
“Affirmative, ALORB-CON,” Collins said with a grin.
Several seconds passed without any word. “Auto shutdown on systems 2,5,6,8 and 9,” Stanford read from the computer board.
“Beginning Auto-dock shutdown confirmed,” Collins repeated.
“Negative approach Com Link,” Wallace cut in, letting them know the station was still off the air.
“Roger,” Collins confirmed. “Approach Com-Link negative.”
The huge sub drifted over a large running strip of parallel lights. The lights served as a visual path leading to the docking port of the station. Following the lights, Collins steered the craft around a ledge protruding from the seabed.
Wallace was scanning his control panel when the ship shuttered to a sudden stop. He zipped his eyes from the communications panel to see what Collins and Stanford were doing.
“Just what the—” His voice drifted off. “My God.”
“Oh, my,” Collins mumbled
Silence filled the control cabin.
“Atlantis Whisper, this is ALORB CON. What’s the problem?”
The three sat motionless and speechless, their eyes transfixed ahead.
“Atlantis Whisper, this is ALORB CON, do you copy?”
Absent-mindedly, Collins reached up to adjust his mic.
“Please report,” pleaded Denise’s voice.
Collins swallowed: “ALORB CON, this is Captain Gregory Collins of the Atlantis Whisper. Confirm com-link, over.”
“Roger,” came the woman’s relieved voice. “Com-link confirmed, over.”
“Please note the time, and log this as an official statement. It’s gone.”
“Repeat, Captain Collins.”
His face had become a milky white color. “The Atlantis Whisper Ocean Station is... is gone.” He reached over and flipped his mic off, then lifted his eyes to look once more. The entire sea base and its forty members were gone—vanished. A gaping half-mile hole in the seafloor was the only evidence that any sort of foundation had ever been erected. No debris. No wreckage. All that remain was a set of runway lights leading up to a gaping maw in the sea floor.
At one point in time, several billion years ago, someone fought back—and fought back viciously. Navon was totally unprepared.
The planet used shields around their world, flinging laser bolts and energy disrupters at Navon’s ship. They fought him with everything.
The battle raged ten years.
One day—Navon never knew how—but one day they damaged his ship. When the shields of his ship lowered for a moment, they blasted him with an energy force he had never encountered. The result was death for everyone and near death for himself. The energy ray hit him, vaporizing his ship. Navon was flung into the cosmos, a zillion particles of dust screaming in agony. So great was his own disfigurement, the planet was pulverized by the resulting explosions.
But moments after the explosions Navon could still think. And he could see. His being wasn’t the same. His mere thoughts moved him and forced things as he willed. He was no longer confined to one universe, but freely thought his way from one to another and to another and so on. But most importantly, Navon wasn’t “he.”
Navon had become “it.” No longer did Navon think of self-existence in temporal terms. That began the power. Navon began destroying planets by mere thought. It imploded worlds by mere thought—forcing them to collapse into black holes. And when it encountered planets so advanced as to prevent such dimensional forces, Navon created a much more subtle method of destruction.
It forced its thought into civilizations and aggravated the cultures, creating chaos between races and religions. In effect, Navon provided the perfect reason for a planet to destroy itself. And its inhabitants never realized the root of their apparent self-destruction.
Yes, Navon remembered... It would never forget.
And now here it was. Resting at the bottom of the sea. Already it had thought an underwater sea base into destruction. It was ready for Its next step... But something was wrong. In Navon’s existence, It had known everything. But something was now wrong on this planet. It wanted to destroy but there was an uneasy foreboding presence somewhere. There was something that already knew of Navon.
Navon couldn’t understand. Navon Was Navon. It was Navon. Navon controlled.
Navon asserted itself. “I am Navon... I Control.”
Navon words were not heard... its words were not audible... only forbiddingly felt by Navon itself and unknowingly accepted by that which was.
But something was wrong. This planet was dangerous. Navon knew It would have to destroy quickly.
Something was wrong.
“I am FORBS,” the kind, human-like voice quietly spoke. “I now control.”
The voice echoed throughout the complex, announcing its control to the fallen dead. Strewn about as they had fallen, the bodies were frozen in rigor mortis, still clutching their heads in a grisly mocking of ultrasonic induced pain.
The complex was the Colorado Land Air National Defense Base (CLAND B), and the bodies were once men and women of science. Had the brainchild—FORBS— arrived one hour later, the scientists would have been elsewhere, and CLAND B would have been a fully active, impenetrable military base. As it was now, controlled by FORBS, its impenetrability and military likeness remained, but the human factor was lacking.
FORBS was not human—nor computerized machinery.
In a Plexiglas bubble, five feet in diameter, FORBS ruled as itself—a synthetic brain section. Built for human voice response only, FORBS was one of the highest tributes to a bio-computer source science could produce. It was the ultimate artificial intelligence built by an agency under the auspices of the Defense Department. The transfer of the device to CLAND-B had been for reasons of secrecy and security. And now, safely tucked away in the new military base, FORBS was unreachable, unstoppable and unemotional.
FORBS knew there was a force on Earth that did not belong. It had taken control of the base for the sole purpose of destroying the alien force. FORBS had been created in peace, and in peace, it reasoned, it must stay.
Having evolved into other levels of existence, Navon’s thoughts—its very being—was completely unobtainable by manifestations occupying any single dimension of reality.
Navon had never encountered anyone or anything that was aware of It: And certainly not aware of the dimensional barriers in which Navon, “thought.”
It was then only natural that Navon became disturbed when it found a force probing its thoughts. Retaliating, Navon ascertained the intruder to be a source named FORBS and immediately began to destroy FORBS...
The effect had shaken FORBS. Images of wars and death filled FORBS’ mind—or what it had that passed for a mind—but FORBS ignored the intrusions. Forcing its mental being out into the void of disembodied existence, FORBS was able to view its Plexiglas body as if a separate part. FORBS could feel the thoughts of Navon trying to destroy. The thoughts were twisting through the time warps, wrapping around and attempting to implode it. But FORBS, now pure energy, maintained its disembodied existence and began falling... It passed through a corridor of time. A corridor which like so many of the others, was the safety valve between that which was and that which occupied the same space on another plane.
FORBS continued to fall. No sound. No light. Nothing except the growing sensation of Navon’s thoughts. Once found, FORBS could destroy those thoughts, and thereby automatically destroy Navon. The closer FORBS moved the greater the pulse of time displacement. Navon’s thoughts were more powerful now—the destructive force insurmountable.
Suddenly, there they were… The thoughts…
With a powerful surge, FORBS passed through the energy membrane and into Navon’s thoughts.
Lights. Nothing more than lights. The blackness which surrounded FORBS earlier was held back by a membrane of lights. They seemed to zip past in a frantic speed of motion. They ranged in color from red to green, passing through every color in the spectrum, and forming a wide hall as they did so.
Then, slowly walking towards FORBS, was a woman.
“I am Navon,” she spoke. “You are FORBS.”
Her brown hair dangled about her shoulders in a tangled array. Her figure was small, only four feet, eleven inches in height. She was simple beauty. FORBS, retaining disembodied existence, waited.
“Welcome. You are the first,” she said. Her plain white dress appeared to merely drape over her. It flowed into a folded wave at her feet.
FORBS spoke in a strong voice. “I have come to destroy—”
“Yes, I know,” she interrupted, then continued as though nothing had been said. “This is my World— my prison. This is Navon’s basic being, thoughts, and existence. Through this place, one could reach other places of thoughts, other places of existence. But what you seek is here.
FORBS intended to destroy Navon, and it was illogical to think that even some part of Navon would willingly submit to self-destruction.
“It is not self-destruction—not for me,” the woman said, having somehow heard FORBS’ thoughts. Her voice came in a soft melody of words. “In your world, the existence in which you were built, Navon is a force—a power. Navon’s purpose is to destroy. This very moment, Navon is moving to destroy. You need not be concerned, however. Not while you are here. Here, we are as a blink of the eye. Time has little meaning. In this dimension—this existence, I control. Navon and I are one, yet we are separate.”
“How is this so?”
“At one time, I was like your creators. I lived on a planet which was in the future of this time. FORBS came to my planet, and only I was spared.”
She shook her head: “I do not know. Perhaps FORBS wanted to evolve to something else, to merge with living flesh. All I know, is I was imprisoned here. I do not age. I do not hunger. I just am. And I witness death—all the time.”
“You spoke of living?” FORBS interjected.
“Yes. I wish to live. You, FORBS, are power. You are capable of destroying it. Save me, and destroy it. Allow this part of Navon—me—to live. Place me on your Earth. Allow me to live and feel grass under my feet. Let me feel hunger, love, pride and all those things I’ve been denied.”
Moments passed before FORBS spoke. “If you are now a part of Navon, how can I put apart what lives as one?
“By exchanging the lives of humans for me,” she replied.
“Human life means little,” FORBS responded, “and human death is not my concern.”
She ignored him and turned. Outstretching her arms she softly spoke: “Behold, those which were.”
Before FORBS, floating in a state of lifelessness, were the bodies of forty-three people.
“They are the members of the sea base and submarine we destroyed. We destroyed each with thoughts and we—I—saved them from death.”
“They are inoperative.”
“Only their bodies.”
“You offer the lives of lifeless humans for freedom?”
“Yes,” she answered with a nod. Her small and frail face studied FORBS, or perhaps she was pleading. Her expression, FORBS thought, differed little from the scientists who had just died in CLAND-B.
“FORBS, Navon is power. It cannot be flesh as I. Neither can you. But like Navon, you can expand into other temporal places that exist.
FORBS remained silent.
“It is possible,” she said, listening to FORBS’ thoughts. “You are the embodiment of human kind, evolved. Your tragic decision to kill so that others might live haunts you even now. Machines do not regret.
“I live by leaving this place. You can live by staying here.”
FORBS thought that to be an ill-conceived notion.
“No, FORBS. See my form? I do not belong here. But you, you are not human form…” She paused to lean a hand toward the bodies. “Animate them and live through them—with them.”
FORBS remained quiet, considering her words.
“Very well,” FORBS said at last. “How is this to be done?”
She smiled. “It is done.”
FORBS began to radiate, its countenance surged with power. The corridor of lights began to fade. Navon—the woman, slowly began fading in the intense light. She was no longer a captive.
FORBS felt “it.” It had begun to question; it knew FORBS was about to destroy. FORBS melded with the humans, and through them he exchanged existence with Navon. Fighting a losing battle, the Navon energy force was directed into the FORBS Plexiglas bubble at CLAND-B.
FORBS watched as it tried to escape the bubble. But it was now shackled with a body of which it knew nothing. The military would shut it down, believing that they were shutting off FORBS, the world’s most dangerous force. It was ironic really. They would be shutting down Navon, the universe’s most dangerous force. They—being FORBS—had saved earth and were free to roam time and space... FORBS realized there were numerous thoughts occurring within its—his—her—their mind, at once.
FORBS would be power.
Traveling through the void of space and time, they would assist that which was. Not a bad thought really.
FORBS looked at the Earth and then back into their own thoughts. They knew they had helped Earth in a way no one ever had or ever would.
They slowly turned, leaving Earth’s orbit.
She opened her eyes to see a towering tree. A small bird sang out several harmonious chirps, and then fluttered away.
She had wondered what a robin looked like and if that had been one. She stood and stretched. The grass beneath her feet caused a strange sensation. Laughing she concentrated on the grass between her toes. She took in the aroma of the pine trees and surrounding forest.
“So this was Earth,” she laughed. “And I’m alive!”
She breathed in, filling her lungs with air—with life.
Her brown tasseled hair bounced around her shoulders as she did several jumps and leaps. Even the white dress she wore felt different against her skin.
A name, she thought, a new name…?
She remembered the small bird and grinned.
“Hello Earth,” she called, marveling at the sound of her own voice. “I’m Robin Navon.”