John C. Wright (johncwright) wrote,
John C. Wright
johncwright

Free Fiction from NULL A CONTINUUM

Here is Chapter Four of Null-A Continuum.

Chapter One is here; Two is here; Three is here.


======================================================

Analyzing  the universe into simple binary opposites, while necessary, has limited value.

FOUR

Gosseyn watched from a balcony as Mahren, dressed in Gosseyn’s clothing and wearing a convincing flesh-mask, departed the police station. Gosseyn, dressed in Nireni fashion, departed a few minutes later, going the other direction.

The papers he had been given by Commissar Veeds included a badge: with this he was able to hire a robotic cab.

A half an hour ride found him two hundred miles south of the city, in a metropolis that, on a smaller would, would have been a major city, but, here, was merely a suburb. The lawns and campuses of the Semantics Institute shined with the blue vegetation typical of Nirene, but in certain flowerpots were the roses and lilies of Earth. The architecture was airy and light, all soaring arches and weightlessly high roofs, in sharp contrast to the heavy and blocky Nireni buildings.

One building made of blue-gray metal, in a dell surrounded by trees and flowering bushes, was the medical center. He showed his pass to the clerk at the wicket.

The clerk was a Venusian Null-A. The rapid glance at Gosseyn’s face, the suppressed smile, the small nod, told him his disguise had been penetrated.  

The clerk said, “You cannot travel the grounds without an escort, who, in this case, is me. Now I have one errand to run first, to check the power switches in the dynamo room, so you’ll have to come with me while I do that, and then we can see the patient you requested.”

The dynamo room had one wall filled with power sockets of the atomic type, as well as step-down converters for changing the energy to electromagnetic, nucleonic, or gravitic of various types and wavelengths. During the clerk’s system check, energies of various types pulsed through the rooms, and Gosseyn memorized dozens of sockets of various voltages and roentgens.

Gosseyn was impressed. The Clerk, whose name was Daley, had recognized not merely that the imposter was a Null-A Venusian, but which one he was, and what needed to be done to provide him with a well-stocked armory.   

Gosseyn said, "As a security precaution, I assume you have all visitors pass a lie-detector test?"

Daley shot him a quizzical look, but, for the benefit of any unseen eyes watching them, he said, "Of course."

They stepped into one of the unoccupied rooms. The medical appliances were, for the most part, hidden: a complex structure of electron tubes and neural psychology machines were built into the bed and walls. Otherwise, it looked like a well-appointed hotel room. A broad window (and this was an Earth window, made of glass) showed the lawns and grounds outside.

Gosseyn merely put his hand on the pillow. His extra brain sensed the electron flows from the lie detector were hidden under that spot. “Analyze the insanity afflicting me.”

The lie detector spoke: “It is a possessive jealous obsession, combined with incest-guilt, of the typical Violent Man syndrome. The false image of the object of your romantic obsession has been mutated by repeated subconscious neurotic redactions of your memory: it is tied to deep impulses of you most fundamental identity-concepts: a leader of men, a defender of the One True Faith.”

Gosseyn said, “But—I have no such concepts.”

“The concepts did not arise in your mind. Your mind merely interpreted them according to its own structure.”

“How is that possible?”

“The question is beyond the capacity of this unit to answer.”

Daley said, “I can answer. Lie on the bed; I will take an energy-photograph of your brain.”

Gosseyn lay. Daley asked him to induce a semi-hypnotic state. Gosseyn did not need relaxing drugs to accomplish this, merely a silent effort of will sufficed. A special camera arrangement lowered itself from the ceiling on a telescoping arm.

A moment later, Daley pulled a treated sheet from the equipment in the ceiling, put it under a reader, and studied it.

Gosseyn felt a moment of grim satisfaction when Daley confirmed his suspicions. Gosseyn was not insane. Daley said, “The memory records in your brain are a sympathetic resonance phenomenon. The record in your mind was created in another mind. Imagine a brain in a completely in a passive state, so that another brain of the exact same electro-molecular composition could transmit thoughts to you below the level of your conscious awareness.”

Daley did not need to say it, for they both knew Gosseyn’s secondary brain was kept in an artificially passive state, for just the purpose of picking up energy signals from the surrounding universe.

Daley said cautiously: “ I see that you enjoy an exceptional level of Null-A training.”

Gosseyn understood. Daley meant that his well-trained primary brain was able to cleanse itself of the external impulses at a preverbal level, automatically. Gosseyn’s second cortex, which was not used for abstract thought, not a seat of awareness, could have no such training, no immunity.

Gosseyn spoke without rising from the bed. “Is it possible to suffer pain without damage?”

“If the pain signals were false, originating in another nervous system, and transmitted to yours.”

Gosseyn had come to the same conclusion. His system of immortality depended on the law of nature that created a subatomic confusion, an uncertainty of location, between two identical brains. But—how could the signal reach from the Shadow Galaxy to this one? Had Gosseyn Three returned in secret? And when did Gosseyn Three go insane? To the best of his knowledge, there were no other cellular-duplicates of the Gosseyn/Lavoisseur body line still alive, anywhere.

Awake bodies, that is. Was it possible that the accident which woke his “twin” Gosseyn Three prematurely had been repeated? The body would be young: the growth tanks had not had time to mature any clones beyond the biological equivalent of seventeen. Normally Gosseyn and his twin Gosseyn Three would have been immediately aware of the thoughts of another duplicate: unless the thought-signals were particularly weak.

Gosseyn had to make his primary brain aware of the subconscious whisper his super-sensitive secondary brain was picking up. There was a chance that it would drive him insane. Gosseyn smiled, though. Here he was in one of the most advanced psychiatric facilities outside Venus; where better for a man to go mad?

Relaxation was the key.  His primary brain had to be put into a passive mode.

Gosseyn said, “I’ve read that, in the old days, on Earth, there were sensory depravation tanks that cut off all sensation from the outside world.”

Daley said, “We can accomplish that merely by interrupting the neural flow along your sensory nerves. It is painless. A lie detector can continue to monitor your brain for disturbances, in case the lack of sensation begins to damage you.”

“Please make periodic energy photographs of my brain structure while I do this: I am interesting to see what forces interact with my nervous system during this condition. Perhaps five minutes at first, then a longer period if the first test produces no result?”

Daley set the controls.

He was floating in a silent darkness. Immediately came a sense of burning pain. His flesh was being scalded, his nerves burnt inch by inch.

Gosseyn blinked. He was upright, on his feet, standing in the bright sunlight. He caught the railing he found underneath his fingers. There were planters to his left and right, and blue metal wall behind, some chairs and tables, but no people. Underfoot was a dizzying drop to the street, half a mile below.

By his previously-established reflex, the moment pain touched his nerves, he had automatically shifted himself across the city and found himself on the balcony of the building across from Crang’s apartment.

His limbs were shaking. Rage. There was rage inside his body. Not his own. Some other man’s rage was making Gosseyn’s face red with wrath, eyes narrow and teeth clenched so hard that they chattered. The untrained, raw impulses of another man were making his skin crawl with hate, making his trembling fists curl into fists, eager for bones to break beneath them.

He sank into one of the chairs. Clutching his head.

What had that been?

There was something distinctly… corrosive…about the sensation. Like finding another man has been wearing your clothes, leaving his things in your pockets, his smell on your shirt.  

He paused to clear his mind. Then Gosseyn used his double brain to “memorize” his own body, and take a crude mental picture of it. He could feel the energy imbalance in his nervous system, connecting him to distant locations in time-space. He could sense which neural paths led to the trigger-concepts in his brain associated with each location. The most recent ones were here, this balcony; Veeds’ pistol; the dynamo room at the Nirene General Semantics Institute. His modest brownstone in the City of the Machine back on Earth, his tree apartment on Venus, tens of thousands of light-years away, existed as trace patterns in his brain, but were too far away, without use of another special technique, to reach.

There was nothing else.

Nothing else he could detect. Equipment at the Nirene Institute would be able to do more delicate analysis than any he could perform on himself.

He similarized himself back into the dynamo room. It took him a moment, at a run, to cross the lawn to the main building. Daley was in the room where he'd been standing a moment before.

At Daley's feet was a blackened corpse, naked.

"Mr. Gosseyn," said Daley in surprise. The young man closed his eyes and drew a slow breath. The cortical-thalamic pause. He opened them again. His voice was calm: "You are dead.”

From the throbbing sensations passing through him, Gosseyn did not have to kneel and turn the body over to confirm the identity. He could feel the partial attunement still active, though fading, from a life-rhythm perfectly matched with his own.

He turned the body over nonetheless. This murder had been committed in a more professional fashion, a wound through the chest, not the slow torture of Crang's death. The face was intact.

His face.


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