Tales of Three Worlds

Fragment Eight: Searching

 

Do you really think he did it?”

Ernst-Karl’s face twisted into a scowl as he pondered the video they’d just watched.  Nobody knew Hartmann like he had back then, and he knew his late brother’s drive and determination would almost guarantee he’d take on any goal he sought—and succeed.  He was methodical in his research and preparations like any great scientist, but his leaps of intuition often set the objective for those efforts.  From what they’d just seen in the vid-file, this was another of those leaps that went beyond normal inspiration.

The human desire to reproduce for the future was not going to be denied a determined man whose essence had been rendered corrupt by long-term radiation exposure.  Yes, he’d stored his seed before any of that had occurred—but Hartmann’s plan involved more than simply mating a sperm and ovum…much more.  Was it any wonder that the Genetic Authority had denied his request for children?  Not only denied, but forbad it outright as he’d proposed it.  Being who he was as a scion of the Hallbach branch of the Hallbach-Sommers Combine, a little thing like a GA ban wasn’t going to stop him.

There were other places than Earth where he could accomplish his quest for fatherhood…it would just take a little longer.  Mars’ settlements of Pavonis Deep and Riverview were possibilities, and it helped that his brother-in-law Jakob Sommers had become the Planetary Engineer for the terraforming project.  Another, perhaps better one was the ‘thal’s enclave of Tycho Deep on Luna; that one had the advantage of more advanced scientific centers and easier access to any needed resources from Earth.  The lunar bases had not yet been closed to Earth emigration, but the Neanderthal governing tribunal was becoming far more selective in who they allowed citizenship.  In another century at most, many predicted the trickle of human settlers would be halted altogether save for notable exceptions.

All these thoughts passed through Ernst-Karl’s head as he sat next to Jakob at the comm console in their apartment.  They’d seen the outline of Hartmann’s plan in his video, complete with supporting images and documents…but how much of it had been carried out, and more important still—how had it been done?  Had the original plan been strictly adhered to, or had there been modifications once it began?  The very last scene that seemed to show a newborn Harman Halveg left those speculations unresolved.

Only a genetic analysis could give them any answers, and Two Sapphire had reported significant problems in achieving that goal. The file they’d just seen gave no explanation for the difficulty in reading Harman’s genome or even how it could affect any computers trying to do so.  Ernst-Karl had some skill with computers, as did Jakob, but Hartmann had been the real genius in that area…and a superficial examination indicated that the file they’d received was indeed only a partial one.  They could give their ‘thal son no help with his decipherment problems as things now stood, but neither man was the sort to give up on a challenge.

If there was more information available—and Ernst was sure there was—then where had Hartmann Hallbach hidden it?

Ernst thought back to the time just after his brother’s death when his laboratories on Ceres in the Asteroid Belt had been methodically searched for clues to the explosion of the Star-Seeker; no leads had been found in all the research files or his effects…so those few personal items had all been shipped to Riverview for Ernst to have as mementos of his brother’s life.  There had been nothing remarkable in those things unless you shared his fascination with early technology, so he’d added them to the things he already had from Hartmann’s pre-Space years.  Just more bits of antique computer hardware to go with the things he’d tinkered with all his life….

“You said something about this file…what was it?”  Jakob looked puzzled, not immediately able to sort this question from those just raised by seeing Hartmann’s video plan for becoming a father.  He ran a hand through his long black hair and shrugged his shoulders.

“Um…it’s unusual…” Ernst shook his head.  “…I hadn’t seen a file like it for more than a century….”  He was startled when his red-haired husband jumped up and smacked himself on the head.

“I’m an idiot!”  He paced the floor for a few seconds, then turned to pull Jakob up and into his arms for an energetic bear-hug.  “Where would you hide something so it won’t be obvious to any searchers?”  When he got no answer, he shook his head sadly.  “Jakob, Jakob…think—you hide it in plain sight.”

“I don’t follow…everybody keeps their files on computers, and all Hartmann’s were thoroughly searched…nothing but notes on the star-ship and the proposed Drive….”     

Ernst grabbed him again and danced them around the room in a quick circle, easier to do than on Earth, with Martian gravity being just under half that of the home world, but harder than it would have been in Luna’s one-sixth gee.  “Where did we put all those old computers he collected?  Did we ever check them out?

“You said it yourself—nobody’s used that type of file in more than a century—but my brother lived for that sort of thing, giving him a challenge to keep those machines working.  He once told me some of them go back into the Twenty-First Century.  Of course nobody uses those dinosaurs now—our comm-links have more power than they had at their best.  People see one of those things and they just automatically assume it’s long dead and just a decorative curiosity…but not Hartmann.”

Jakob began to be excited at the prospect of uncovering a mystery, but had to point out one major complication: “E, even if those comps have any data on them, it hasn’t been accessed since your brother died—so far as we know the only current file is the one Two-Sapphire sent us with the clip showing Harman’s parents….”

Ernst had to stop for a moment to think that one over, then he went on toward the storage areas at the rear of their apartment.  Riverview had no shortage of living space, being laid out along natural tunnels that ran at mostly right-angles from this section of the Valles Marineris canyon.  Residential and commercial areas were carved out of the walls of these tunnels leaving a lot of room for expansion between them should it ever be needed, so nearly all businesses and apartments had a sealed but unmodified section that could be divided as necessary for growing families or other uses.  Nearly all off-Earth settlements followed this scheme, though those on Luna often had craters as their central hub like at Tycho Deep. 

As they passed one particular door, Ernst let his fingers trail along it with sad familiarity.  Hartmann’s Room.  It was where he always stayed when visiting them on breaks from his researchHe hadn’t been inside except on rare occasions, so it was just as it had been when Hartmann left that last time, right down to the clothes strewn on chairs and hanging from drawers.  Air filtration kept the room dust-free and the air slowly circulating, but nothing else had been disturbed in all those ensuing decades.  From the few times he’d been in there to grieve he knew there was nothing that would help them in their current quest…Hartmann might have been untidy in his personal effects, but his technology went with him in an almost obsessive fashion.

“That file was just an overview of the plan, which means that the data must be somewhere else…” he paused a moment before going on.  “You heard him say he stored his genetic material on Luna and Mars—so why not his data as well?”

“You may be right, but still…it won’t be current.  Even your brother can’t update his files from where he is now.”  Jakob threw an arm around me when he said that—he too still felt the absence of a dear friend after all these years.  That brought me some comfort, but I held on to one last ray of hope.

“That file was amended to show Harman’s birth…so somebody had to have access to it, and maybe the others as well.  Jake, my brother knew more about computers than nearly anyone else, and I bet he could find a way for his plan to continue even if something happened to him.”  I paused outside the storage room where I thought we’d put all his effects from Ceres.  “We won’t know until we try—that’s all I’m asking, love.”

The rear wall of the room was sealed red rock, but the other walls were smoothly-molded plaskrete that used crushed native rock with binders that made it sound- and leak-proof should an atmospheric breach occur anywhere in the town.  In Riverview it was a pale pink in hue depending on the rock type, while on Luna it was mostly grayish white.  It could be painted of course, but a lot of people found it easier to just hang things on it if it got to them after a while.  It was even possible to have an adjustable nano-skin applied that could display any type of scene the owner wished, but that could interfere with the brain’s vision centers if it was indulged in too often.  We were content to hang artwork or screens displaying the future landscapes our home would have once terraforming was completed.

“Where do we start,” Jakob asked, eying the neatly stacked boxes along the wall to our right.  Each was labelled with a coding system my brother designed years ago for easier access to what he searched for: different colors marked the century of a machine, a two-letter combination gave the decade in that century, and the last mark was a symbol for the type of things Hartmann used it for.  Many of the latter were green triangles noting research with a single letter inside denoting type…again most were ‘S’ for ‘Science’.  Would what we sought be under that?  If so, our search was going to be harder than I thought.

From what I could remember Hartmann had about fifteen completely functional machines, and another twenty that were in parts that had been waiting to be assembled, or scavenged to restore other machines.  I was tempted to reject the earliest which were in use around the year 2000 as having insufficient storage, so that made me think to begin with the most recent one that was only three centuries old.  Of course, it was a ‘Science’ box with a CH designation.  According to the plan I retrieved through my implant, that should mean Computer History…not what we sought at all.  Should we try the machine out to be certain?  It was half a century old when my brother died, so was that likely to have been searched after his death?

A glance in Jakob’s direction and a raised eyebrow got an answer.  “Keep going.”

There wasn’t any particular order to the boxes when we stored them, and that would have driven my late brother crazy, so the next box I checked was from the 2250s, a century before the Star-Seeker was lost out toward Neptune.  Theory suggested that the best place to activate the Drive would be in relatively empty space, and that meant the construction yard in the Asteroid Belt wasn’t suitable.  A test of the new engine had proved successful there, so it was reasoned the final run for the ship itself would go off without a hitch too.  Theories can be wrong…but no debris had ever been found to evaluate what went wrong…all we had was the telemetry.  And about forty boxes of ancient computer hardware.

The box’s label marked it as ‘Entertainment’, so I was about ready to pass on to the next when the name of the computer inside made me pause:  Mini-Colossus, manufactured by Big Brother Systems.  I’d never heard of them, but since the earliest days, computer and software companies had come and gone with almost yearly frequency.  Checking the data my implant pulled up, the company had designed replicas of computers popularized in the twentieth and Twenty-First Centuries, from Charles Babbage’s Difference Engine through the HAL-9000 from the pre-holo classic 2001: A Space Odyssey and the Krell Mind Enhancer from Forbidden Planet.  I was informed that this model came from a 1960s movie called Colossus: The Forbin Project where a super-computer took over the world after exceeding its programming to defend against foreign attack by nuclear missiles.

Hartmann had loved the movie, and had talked me into watching it and some of the others when we were in graduate school together as a good laugh to relieve our stress over exams.  Seeing the image of the spherical device on the box brought back the memory of the film and Colossus’ synthesized voice.  Happier times when the future spread before us untainted by the Genetic Authority or worries about family….

Could a hiding place be more innocuous?  “I think I found it,” I whispered.

Jakob helped me carry the box over to a workbench and took a seat next to me as I pulled the device from its packaging.  It was an exact replica of the silvery globe speaker I remembered from the film, though the small stand for it had then-current jacks for memory and other I/O additions.  A big feature of this model was the use of virtual holographic displays that meant it required no monitor or keyboard for an interface.  Inside the box were two pairs of ‘gloves’ that could interact with the holo keyboard as needed.  The ‘monitor’ would be a cylindrical field that surrounded the machine itself.  Since the bench had an inset power-strip, all I had to do was touch the ‘Activate’ key on the base for the computer to boot.

…This is the Voice of World Control…  I got chills from the fictional computer’s words, just as I had when I first saw the film.  Some things would remain classic despite the passage of time.  In the ‘screen’ floated a black triangle with a white ‘C’ emblazoned across it, and ‘COLOSSUS’ below.  Little spheres floated with various labels: Movies, Plays, Music, Images…nothing obviously stood out as a hiding place for genetic data, but I thought of that as a good thing. 

Each category had what you might expect for a techie like Hartmann—science-fiction films going back to the very first from 1903 about a trip to the Moon based on a Jules Verne story, through countless ‘B-movies’ like Earth vs. The Flying Saucers and Day The Earth Stood Still.  Of course 2001 and 2010 were there, but also obscure entries with environmental and social disasters like those featured in Soylent Green, Virus and ZPG.  I was about to move on to another category when I spotted ‘Mixed Media’.

That one held some large files indeed, and many appeared to be amateur movies taken from events in our lives from childhood on.  Video technology made such recordings both easier and more detailed, while maintaining a reasonable size, but some of these appeared to be in older, more space-hungry formats.  Many were identified by the names of those filmed, with others by dates.  The sub-sections for Hartmann and Pavel were larger than the others combined, but that made sense as the two had been a couple off and on for over a century before getting married.  On a whim, I clicked on a folder labelled ‘HP’ that I assumed had recordings of both men, and the holo display froze.  I felt more than heard a little buzz from my comm implant, then the holo display turned a medium blue.

…UPDATING—PLEASE WAIT...