a tale in weekly parts
Bernice Reed, a thirty-something African-American woman from Arizona, appeared in the street of a small Canadian town some two hundred years in her future in the body of a white male. Now known as Bernie, he settled into a high-tech life. But it didn't end there! Not by any means. Any change to the 'past' after her/his translation would (and did) rewrite the future - his present.
And then it became more complicated…
Bernie looked around himself. Julian was nowhere to be seen, but Bernie was aware of his presence. He had no way of knowing how he knew that his mentor was with him and couldn’t even say whether Julian was internal or external to himself. All he knew was that his friend hadn’t deserted him. He heard? Felt? Sensed? Anyway, his friend’s words somehow invaded his consciousness.
“What do you see?” Julian asked.
“Nothing,” Bernie replied.
Bernie looked around some more. “Well, not exactly nothing. Nothing implies a vacuum devoid of light, and it’s not quite that.”
“Try to describe what you see. Make reference to things you have seen or experienced in your past.”
“Take your pick. Just try to visualise and verbalise what’s in your field of vision in terms of something you’ve already seen or experienced.”
“Okay. If there were lines criss-crossing the floor, walls and ceiling, I could believe I’m inside the holodeck of a starship when no programme’s running.”
“Because, my friend, that’s pretty much where you are. Not on a starship, but a bare holodeck is a reasonable analogy”
“What’s the point of this?”
“The point is simple. You are the holodeck engine. You create the scenario and give it life. You are the artist charged with painting the scene.”
“Are you suggesting that I fill the scene with my—”
“With your imagination, yes.”
“To what end?”
“Twofold. Firstly, it is an exercise in realising and exercising the creative capabilities you have in this place. You will learn to devise and give effect to an entire complex mini-world of your own.”
“And the other?”
“The second is the why of the first.”
“Don’t get it.”
“When you have become proficient enough to create, populate and run a small worldlet—”
“Like a screenwriter and videographer, perhaps?”
“You could look at it that way, although it goes a lot deeper than that. When an author or playwright creates a world, it is populated by actors, actors who learn and repeat lines, actors who follow written instructions and who know that they are pretending. Your worldlets will be populated by people and creatures from your imagination but they will be, to themselves at least, real. They won’t be following lines that you or anyone else wrote, they won’t behave according to directions.”
“But they’ll still behave according to their programming, surely?”
“That’ll be for you to decide.”
“How on Earth do I do that?”
“Practice, dear boy, practice.”
“Okay, I can relate to that. But what is this, really? Some kind of parlour game?”
“Oh, Bernie. Sometimes you can be so… obtuse. How do you think I’ve known what to do in the many situations where I’ve had to intervene to save things? As I did on numerous occasions after your first transition into Stimbler’s body.”
“You’re good at it? You’re machine intelligence? You’re—”
“It’s not about what I am, Bernie, it’s about what I do. I learn as much as I can about all the main players in the situation I’m charged with helping. I then create a model of the situation and the players in it, and run the model through enough scenarios to decide which gives the outcome I need.”
“How long does that all take?”
“Weren’t you listening to what I said earlier? Time is an allusion. It exists only when we measure it. Beyond that, it’s only potential, not actual.”
“I still don’t get the difference between allusion and illusion.”
“Okay, let me try to explain it differently. You are familiar with the concept of an optical illusion, yah?”
“Of course. Something is made to look as though it’s something it isn’t.”
“That’s close enough. Have you heard about an optical allusion?”
“It’s a device that science fiction writers have grabbed hold of and made their own. A classic example is what Douglas Adams called the SEP field. The theory is that if you believe something to be somebody else’s problem – SEP – and not your own, you simply don’t see it. So Adams imagined projecting a feeling that whatever is in front of you isn’t your problem, hence you ignore it. Another example is when you don’t see something that’s right in front of you, but you can catch a glimpse of it in your peripheral vision.”
“That sounds like macular degeneration to me, Julian,” Bernie said with a dismissive sneer.
“You’re closer than you think,” Julian replied, “in fact, this is how it works. Whatever you choose to hide, you cause to reflect light with a polarisation exactly opposite to that which the fovea expect. It thus becomes invisible, but only when you look straight at it. You can see it peripherally, but as soon as you turn your eyes towards it, it effectively disappears. That, my friend, is an optical allusion. Incidentally, it’s also the basis on which so-called cloaking devices are built.”
“Okay, so a bit like the falling tree conundrum.”
“Not at all. The old question of whether a tree that falls in the forest makes a noise, if no-one is there to hear it, is both disingenuous and overly human-centric. The latter because there are many creatures in the forest, most have excellent hearing and would detect the noise, others would be aware of the vibrations; the former because the perceived sound is no more or less than the brain’s reaction to changes in air pressure at the eardrum. The changes of pressure will still occur, even if there is no creature able to discern them.”
“So the sound, in that case, would be only potential, not actual?”
“But those are exactly the words you used to describe time as an allusion. If it isn’t measured, it’s only potential.”
“Smart-ass! Anyway, exercise one: model a situation from your childhood. Call me when you’ve built and populated your creation, and we’ll talk about running a few scenarios.”
Bernie suddenly became aware of Julian’s absence.