a tale in weekly parts
Xander looked about at the city centre in which the four found themselves. All around were high-rise buildings that were taller and more modern than anything he had seen in his own time-line. Vast structures that were fashioned to resemble natural features spread out in all directions. Directly ahead of them was a building whose visible walls were a good imitation of chalk cliffs, slightly cantilevered and with what looked like grass on the top – the parts of the top that could be seen through the clouds, at least. In height, it would dwarf London’s highest landmark building. No windows were apparent, the only break in the cliff-face that reminded Xander of the famous white cliffs of Dover was a massive pair of solid-looking wooden doors atop a long flight of steps. Across the top of the doors, ornate lettering announced that it was the Bank of West-Inevitabilia.
He noticed that Jarvis had transformed his appearance to that of a horse-drawn wagon of the type used by early European settlers in North America.
“Colour me confused,” he said to Albert, “but shouldn’t Jarvis be a little more… modern in his appearance.”
“Look around you lad,” Albert replied, “and let me know what you see.”
Xander looked further down the streets, between huge buildings that variously looked like tors, termite mounds, volcanoes and mountains, and saw the traffic on the main street. The roadway was dualled, three lanes in each direction, and was rather busy. Driving on it were buggies, wagons and carriages from the same period as that emulated by Jarvis. They ranged in size from two-seater buggies to goods-carrying wagons the size of a railway carriage. What struck Xander most was that they seemed to have no method of propulsion.
“I don’t see any horses, Albert,” he said, “Are these developments on the original horseless carriage?”
“Yes and no,” Albert replied, “This particular time-line has fused with an earlier one. The technologies are as you would expect for this period—”
“What period is that?” Kr’veth’neq’is asked.
“Analogous to late 24th century Earth in your dimension. But the designs, the form of the vehicles is, in your terms, mid-19th.”
“So how do they move?” Xander asked.
“What, pray, is MGD?”
“MGD, dear boy, stands for Micro Gravity Displacement. The vehicle imagines that there is a body in front of it, to which it is attracted… don’t giggle, please. It is attracted gravimetrically, not romantically, and certainly not sexually. Anyway. It is attracted to the bod— the thing, if you prefer, in front of it, and that produces movement. By changing the size of the imagined body and the distant between it and the vehicle, speed is varied.”
“Imagined? How on Earth can a vehicle imagine something in front of it?”
“On Earth, it can’t. Not yet, anyway. But do you suppose that Artificial Intelligence reached its zenith with the ability to play a board game better than a human?”
“Well, no. But imagine?”
“Xander. How do you, as a human, imagine things. What gives you that ability and denies it to a machine?”
“That’s obvious. It’s consciousness, it’s biology.”
“And if machines were given consciousness?”
“Can you do that without adding a biological component?” Kr’veth’neq’is asked.
“No,” Albert replied. “Consciousness needs life, and life needs a biological component, at the very least a quasi-synthetic one.”
“Synthetic life?” Xander asked, “Are you serious?”
“Quasi-synthetic, lad. Stem cells are grown, under laboratory conditions, into circuitry, which is incorporated in the computers that control all aspects of life here.”
“Are you describing bitek?”
“An early form of it, yes.”
“Is bitek using stem cells ethical?” Xander asked.
“Ethical or not, it’s necessary. Take these vehicles. Zero emissions, near-zero costs and a 100% safety record. And it can work the other way around, too.”
“How do you mean?”
“You should know, lad. The enhancements we made to your abilities involved growing your own stem calls into micro-circuitry and implanting the result in your brain. We did the same to your dogs and to your father.”
“So could you do it to anyone?”
“Only if a basic ability is there, Xander.”
Kr’veth’neq’is was fidgeting on her feet, and looking around herself, her hands thrust into her pockets. “I’m bored,” she complained. “Are we just going to stand here jawing, or can we go and… I don’t know… live a little?”
“I have to move off anyway,” Jarvis said, “I can see a Traffic Warbot approaching, and I don’t fancy being vaporised. All aboard, I have a plan.”
Albert, Kr’veth’neq’is and Xander boarded Jarvis, who phased them out just as the Traffic Warbot charged his vaporising gun.
While on their way to their next stop, Xander asked, “Albert; have you ever taken advanced technology from one civilisation and offered it to a less sophisticated one; to help them with their development?”
“Not allowed, lad. Prime Directive.”
“I thought that was a rule invented by Star Trek writers.”
“Where do you think they got the idea? Petra Thoroughgood, a… ahem friend… of one of the original Star Trek writers, is one of ours.”
“I know Petra,” Kr’veth’neq’is exclaimed excitedly. “Had a great time with her, surfing solar flares a few years ago.”
“Isn’t that dangerous?” Xander asked.
“Not if you keep your thumbs out of the way,” was Kr’veth’neq’is enigmatic reply.