Online Novel, Working title:

Hell Bent

Darwin, religion, and thought itself, seen as they can only be seen from a fictional world

Revision 7-20-08, by Don W. Stoner

Copyright 2002, Donald Wayne Stoner


Table of Contents:

1 Who Let the Gods Out?
2 Sneeze at the Nexus
3 A Fairy Tale
4 The Catholic Institute of Technology
5 Angela
6 Hoyle's Mathematics
7 Charley
8 The Grant
9 God's Creatures
10 What is Truth?
11 The Demonstration
12 Games and Pranks
13 Fenris
14 Defeat
15 Theories
16 Nightmare
17 Beckman
18 The Light
19 Missing Pentagrams
20 Phone Call
21 Visiting Deity
22 Hell Bent
23 Creatures of Darkness
24 Funeral
25 Supernova
26 Final Conflict
27 Epilogue

Chapter I

Who Let the Gods Out?

It is said, by learned men that it is impossible to know, even in principle, the precise outcome of any experiment performed at the quantum mechanics level. I find this highly discomforting. Why, you ask? This means, quite simply, that we have recently lost ground to the gods.

"To the gods?" you ask. "Yes," I say! For who else but they could be pulling nature's strings. In the words of Albert Einstein, perhaps the greatest prophet of our age, "God does not play dice with the universe." And I am greatly afraid he might be right. After all, the universe has no hands in which dice might be held.

As those with any understanding of the subject will affirm, randomness does not just happen - it must be caused; and true randomness requires a deliberate conscious effort. Random numbers are not generated by accident but by very complex mechanisms - mechanisms too complex to find their origins or explanations in the quantum physics of the mere particles involved. So, if not by those events, if not by dice, as we might say, then the only remaining possibility is that the gods have retaken their lost territory.

I'll grant you that all of those little decisions which are made constantly throughout the universe appear to be quite random, but we must not be lulled into a false sense of security by mere appearances. Appearances can be deceptive. The apparent randomness we observe in our laboratories must be a deliberate ploy on the part of the gods to conceal their identity from us; but we must not be fooled; and we must not fool ourselves. We are, once again, at their mercy.

Oh for that glorious age when the universe was trapped under the ponderous thumb of Newton's laws - when scientific laws were something to be reckoned with - the ultimate fiat of a powerful emperor. But no longer! That edifice has crumbled; Isaac Newton has backed away at the advance of Werner Heisenberg. And now, all we are left with are the whimsical expressions of a fickle deity.

Oh for the time when - dare we say it? - when man himself was for a brief moment beyond the reach of the gods, living safely on his own planet, well beyond their clutches, and under the control of none of them. What is more, he was, for one shining instant, not even responsible for his own actions - having to answer to no one of any consequence. For if even a man's very thoughts were no more than the end result of some electrochemical reaction in his cerebrum, the last domino in a chain to topple, as it were, then who could fault him for the particular way in which that domino happened to fall? There was only what was - and never what ought to have been. But, alas, those days are no more.

Consider from where thou art fallen, Oh man! Your physicists have once more opened the chest and released the demons. And what demons they are likely to be! What possible control can ever be regained over the myriads unleashed by Heisenberg.? None, I tell you! Each does as he pleases - or as someone pleases.

"Zeus," or something like him, has returned. We must now be wary! For if history has taught us anything, it is that the gods cannot be trusted to act in accordance with the will of men. And now we find they have established a stronghold at our very doorstep - for the quantum world permeates every particle of our very being. Here we sit surrounded and infiltrated by an omnipresent cast of deity, with no possible means of defense - no way to take protective measures - as they bide their time and plan their attacks.

And what might they be up to? Or more fearfully, what couldn't they be up to? What couldn't the gods control to gain their ends? If they are free to dictate the paths of any recoiling photon-electron pair, their power is virtually unlimited.

Perhaps you are not yet concerned. You may be agreed that the gods are now more numerous than before; but you ask, "Aren't they also much smaller? If they do not all pull together, then maybe we are not quite yet undone." I would like to take comfort in this; but I cannot. What if their actions are unified in intent? What if they were all to gang up against us? If the gods were universally agreed, even the Red Sea could be made to part without a moment's preparation.

And what if you are right in assuming that the gods are divided in purpose. Are we then justified in believing in our own invincibility? Absolutely not! For there remains another problem. Even a single sub-microscopic event could play the horseshoe nail in the old fable whose loss occasioned the loss of the horseshoe, the horse, the soldier, the skirmish, the battle, the war, and ultimately the entire kingdom. So even a single god, acting alone, could accomplish more than we might guess. A single hair-triggered sneeze, if detonated at a critical nexus, could completely reshape history!


Chapter II

Sneeze at the Nexus

Marco had positioned himself strategically behind a stone pillar in the musty old lecture hall and had withdrawn well into his loosely fitting robe. Considering the past performance of the professor, this lecture might well turn into another source of excitement and intrigue; but Marco was not really feeling up to class participation. His lingering cold had caused him to miss the first part of this lecture and he had not yet been able to go over the notes with Lorenzo. If he could just maintain a low enough profile until lunch, ... well one step at a time.

Under normal conditions, Professor Galilei was interesting enough. There had been that time when the class had been taken out into the field and shown how the smoke and report from a fired musket would occur simultaneously when fired close by, but not when the musket was fired at a distance. This had been a mystery and, as a few calculations had shown, the professor's explanation could not possibly be correct. Sound, if it traveled at all, could not possibly move fast enough to explain what had happened. Nobody or nothing could be that fast. And yet the report had come late ... Could there be ... ? His head began to ache so he dropped the thought. It seemed that even brain-teasers weren't going to be able to keep Marco awake today; and today's lecture promised to be less than interesting.

Professor Galilei had assumed his position behind the dark oak lectern and, thoughtfully, rubbed his unruly beard with his left hand. Picking up a quill with his other hand, he carefully scratched something into his notes. Then, raising his head, he scanned his pupils, testing each for alertness.

It was hopeless; even before the professor's sharp eyes met his, Marco had relocated to a station more conducive to attention. He hung his leather lunch wallet, by its thong, from the hook under his table and absently gave it a kick as he settled himself into the seat. It swung easily back and forth reminding him of more relaxed hours to come. The ink pot was within the radius of Marco's dangling sleeve; so he made careful note of this to avoid a possible accident.

Having satisfied himself of his students' alertness, Professor Galilei turned to face the diagram. The years were just beginning to slow him, but not by much. Marco watched the colored patches of light from the high southern windows dance on the professor's slightly balding head as he turned. The effect was more conducive to dreamy thoughts than studious ones. Marco's eyes finally found their way to the diagram which pictured a ship at wharf with men rolling barrels down a ramp to others stacking them below.

"It would seem that a straight ramp would be the ideal shape to expedite unloading the vessel with maximum speed," the professor droned. Marco's eyes wandered to the crude wooden model on the dais and began to fathom it's purpose. "Today we will investigate a curved ramp."

The professor continued his ramblings, and Marco began to resume a posture of comfort. The silly black gown that he and the other students were expected to wear was nicely warm and he found himself being lulled into a daze by the professor's continuous buzz. Marco's nose tickled slightly but a mere twitch, and all was once again in order. The whole university atmosphere was almost ideally tailored for a daydream and Marco took full advantage of it. The light from the leaded glass danced on the model, on the professor, and then right into Marco's thoughts. A cold wasn't really the end of the world.

Still, it was annoying. Marco's nose began to tickle again. If only he could hold out until noon. He absently rubbed his nose with the sleeve of his robe and thought about his lunch hanging in his wallet. He gave it another kick to assure himself it was still there. Not surprisingly, it was. Marco bent down and studied it, swinging north-south as though it contained loadstone instead of pasta. That was an interesting thought, but the classroom had suddenly become too quiet.

Suspecting that someone might be watching him, Marco sat up. That someone was the professor who had stopped the lecture and was also staring at Marco's wallet. Embarrassed, Marco glanced away, as casually as possible, up to the south windows, pretending not to notice. He realized at once he had made a tactical blunder.

"Achoo!"

It was a good sneeze; not one which might be expected to reshape history, but a good solid sneeze never-the-less. A twinkle of sunlight through a broken pane had triggered it. As Marco made a grab for his face, his sleeve, predictably, caught and toppled the ink pot. The ink began to trickle toward his lap. Marco sprang to his feet, turning the table free of his lap as he did. The ink dribbled noisily to the flagstone floor, but there was no other sound to be heard in the entire room.

In fact, the silence in the old stone lecture hall seemed to roar in Marco's ears as he grimly turned to face the professor, but Professor Galilei's eyes were still solidly fixed on Marco's lunch. Marco followed that gaze down to the wallet which was still swinging north-south as if the table from which it hung had never been turned. "Loadstone," he thought again; this time it was more than just an idle thought. It was yet another puzzle.

Puzzle or not, this was a bad time to let one's mind wander off into another trance. There were more pressing matters readily at hand. Marco slowly forced his gaze back to the professor who was just beginning to come out of a trance of his own. Finally, Professor Galilei picked up his quill and started writing again.

Marco knew he was in trouble. His ears were flaming as he mopped up the ink with his handkerchief and carefully settled himself back into his seat. The rest of the lecture was lost on Marco - shrouded by his raging thoughts and embarrassment.


Eventually, even the worst trials must come to an end, and Marco's sufferings finally found their reprieve. The tower bells began chiming the hour and the students stood to attention. Lorenzo threw Marco a quick smirk from across the hall. Well, as soon as the professor left, they would have some liberty out in the quad. Marco could eat and maybe even recover emotionally, but for now they stood as the professor gathered up his materials.

While they waited, the tall, carved wooden door to the north hall creaked slowly open and a timid old man slowly poked his head through the gap. Professor Ricci. Osilio Ricci was truly a relic. He spent most of his time in the library archive these days and seemed to carry his share of its dust around with him. It was rumored that he had once even taught Professor Galilei - if that kind of antiquity could be imagined.

Osilio addressed Professor Galilei, in a surprisingly strong voice, from his station behind the door, "Say Galileo, are you free for lunch today?"


Chapter III

A Fairy Tale

By now you must have gathered that my story is a fairy tale. We know this because, as history most assuredly teaches, Marco didn't actually sneeze - neither did he pass the course or graduate; but that is not really pertinent to the matter at hand. The story I am now telling never really happened. Yes, it almost happened - it was certainly a very close call - but this is the story about a world which missed its chance to exist.

In my story, the remainder of Marco's life took a different course than we might have expected. More would be remembered of the colorful, local fishmonger than of Marco Huxley, the quiet, reclusive shopkeeper.

Galileo, on the other hand, sustained no emotional injury from the interchange. To the contrary, he gained a valuable insight into the dynamics of rotational physics. This was an insight which would serve him well, years later, when he would be called to task by the Inquisition.

What might have happened if Galileo had been able to prove the earth rotated to his Inquisitors? What if they had been able to watch its rotation under the reference of his pendulum? Would the present rift between the Church and science have ever occurred? What would today's world be like if the Church and science spoke with a united voice? What other reality might the gods of history have chosen for us to take for granted as inevitable? Was the present world really such an obvious foregone conclusion as we so often assume?

In my story, Galileo's pendulum won the day for the Copernican system. As a result, the Church came to realize they had narrowly missed making a serious mistake, although, just how narrowly, they never actually understood. Other consequences follow like falling dominos: As anyone might have guessed, the Pisa/Florence area remained the world center for academic pursuits. After turning out such giants as Leonardo da Vinci and Galileo, it was no surprise that they continued to produce more of the same. It would have been difficult for an upstart university to overcome this much prestige and momentum and draw away a significant share of the best minds. Nor would anyone be surprised that the Catholic Church could extend a thousand-year streak of intellectual domination for yet a few hundred years more.

This much, anyone might have guessed. Some other details may require a bit of explaining:

Because my story is a fairy tale, it must necessarily have an imaginary setting. I have selected the once-upon-a-time and far-away-land of Pasadena, California - California itself being a land known by all avid students of fantasy to deviate remarkably from reality. More precisely, I have conjured a certain highly scientific institute of technology which I envision to be located there - one which captures more than its fair share of peace prizes, awarded by the foundation of a man named Alfred Nobel, who, as I paradoxically conjecture, was a manufacturer of explosives and the inventor of dynamite.

So, in my story, as the New World grew in world prominence, the Church spread its intellectual influence to the far away land of California, where it established that satellite institute of higher learning, which eventually grew to prominence in its own right. But enough of this rhetoric; I am here to tell you a story and you sit patiently waiting to hear it while several centuries have just slipped past us.


Chapter IV

The Catholic Institute of Technology

"Hey George!" The voice belonged to Dr. Wilbur Chan who was running to catch up, awkwardly carrying a load of papers in both arms. "Are you going to the debate?"

"I Haven't got the time." It came out sounding ruder than George had intended. He took a breath and added, "It looks like we've both got some papers to deal with," regaining control of his voice. The entire load of term-project outlines had been due this week and Dr. George Molino was likely to be inundated for the next month. They certainly represented many hours; but George's entire load was cradled neatly under a single arm of his 280 pound frame. Relativity was not always restricted to the physics department.

George's thoughts snapped right back on his problem - the inquisition. It was always there, watching him. The Catholic Institute of Technology - Cathtech as it was usually called - would have been a pretty nice place to teach biology, if it hadn't been for the Inquisition and their blasted policy about heresy.

Dr. Molino suddenly felt very tired. He dropped his ample mass down on an old concrete and wooden bench and gazed across the shallow pond between where he sat and the building named after Father Dabney. There was a very gentle morning breeze which helped fend off the sun's early start on what promised to be a scorcher, but it provided no relief to the doctor's thoughts, which were quietly fuming as his adrenalin began pumping again. This time, the Inquisition was going too far.

Dr. Wilbur Chan settled his lesser frame down at the other end of the bench and assumed the same stare as George. Sensing his friend's need, he waited quietly.

The world faded and the debate began in George's mind. "There must be a certain amount of tolerance for even those opinions which seem to contradict the Holy Writ," he reminded himself. He wasn't convincing himself, shouldn't there be some reasonable limits? Well, actually, there were, but not enough to satisfy Dr. George Molino. The Department of Biological Heresies had taken a pretty hard line. Now they insisted that all views be heard in his classes - right here at C.I.T. Absolutely all of them! Well, sometimes it seemed like it. Some of the most insidious heresies were taught right alongside straight doctrine - a "fair hearing" the inquisition called it; but did they need to do it again and again for every new class of students?

To be fair, there was good reason behind the Inquisition's position. Might not some bright new student notice something that had always been missed before? People who champion "discredited" positions aren't always wrong. After all, hadn't they almost burned Galileo at the stake? They surely would have if he hadn't proved the world turned under his freely rotating pendulum. And to think the Inquisition had once believed this contradicted the Holy Writ! It was now hard to see how they could ever have come to that conclusion - yet they had. To say their case was extremely weak would be generous - at least in hindsight.

George recalled an engraving he had once seen of that famous experiment. He remembered that Galileo had fastened the weight to the end of the pendulum using a little bag instead of connecting it directly as other scientists had done later. He wondered why.

And then there was that Kurt Godel fellow. He came right out and claimed there was no such thing as truth at all. No, that wasn't it; not exactly anyhow. What he had claimed was that there was truth which could never be proven to be true; that no matter how carefully the inquisition put their system of evaluations together, that it would either be missing pieces or it would make faulty conclusions. This was certainly heresy if anything was. It even implied an intrinsic fault in Church authority. Yet the inquisition had responded very gently.

It had been an honest mistake, after all; a case of not seeing the forest because of all of those trees getting in the way. In Godel's case, the "trees" had been a very elegant formal system for constructing logical expressions. He had then created a string of symbols, using his nomenclature, which stated that it itself could not be derived. Godel had failed to notice that his string was a simple paradox - like the statement, "this statement is false." Missing that, he had insisted the string must either be true or false - allowing only that the string might be true, but underivable, or false - and only derivable by defective reasoning.

The Vatican just pointed out the overlooked possibility - that Godel had merely stated a paradox - and dismissed him without so much as slapping his wrists. Having learned their lesson, they had reasoned that it was better that all challenges be freely raised and answered rather than suppressed. That was humility; but now it had gone past that.

Ok, that was actually good. But now the Inquisition insisted that even undergraduates could challenge time-honored interpretations of the Holy Writ. And it had happened - right in one of George's own classes! He had a "random creationist" to deal with - one so ignorant that he hadn't yet read the Scriptures from cover to cover. "How can a student who does not even know what the Word says be sufficiently arrogant to challenge it?" he wondered, almost out loud - his agitation beginning to show.

"OK, let's have it," Dr. Chan finally broke the silence. Barely a trace of his East Asian origins remained in his accent.

"I have a random creation project to deal with." It was all George needed to say. The theory that all life forms were the result of random mutations was not a new one; but since it had been rigorously refuted by Doctors Gould, Eldridge, and Hoyle, everyone thought they'd heard the last of it.

Dr. Chan leaned back and stared up at the dark, square, and towering St. Milikan library, closing his eyes for a moment. The building remained in afterimage, silhouetted against a falsely-colored sky. It's architecture so incongruous with the rest of the surrounding buildings. Many new things didn't fit in very well with the old. "And the Inquisition says?" he finally asked, trailing it off.

"That I have to make allowances for his ignorance and answer the particular argument he made." George finished the sentence.

"Burden of proof is yours?"

"I'm the professor."

"Is that really going to be all that hard? What argument did he make?"

"Oh, basically that a whole new set of circumstances can make a new life form randomly appear in a short time and from a small population of individuals."

"Did he make any suggestions as to what these bizarre circumstances might be? Did he actually suggest how they might turn the mathematical equations on their head?"

"No. Of course not. It's strictly an argument from ignorance. But you know the Inquisition - just because it was always true before doesn't mean it's still true. It's my burden to prove that it couldn't have happened."

"I thought Sir Fredrick Hoyle already did that." Dr. Chan was genuinely surprised. "What's wrong with his argument? Isn't it presented in nearly every respected textbook?"

"Well Charles - that's my student - isn't quite far enough along to follow the mathematical argument. We're supposed to ignore that until next semester. So I am supposed to answer him with my hands tied." George paused a moment, "What's really bugging me is that he has a clever trick up his sleeve."

"Oh?"

"He's using a few classification errors as evidence that one kind can mutate into another. Some biologist goofed and classified one kind of trilobite as two. Because they really are one kind, there really is a linkage - obviously. But instead of admitting the biologist goofed, Charles claims evidence for a transition between kinds. Because of this, he expects everyone to ignore the mathematics and pretend one plus one is really six." And for some reason, the inquisition seems to be backing him - at least on a preliminary basis.

"Even if that were fair, ... well there isn't much we can do about that, is there. Let's say, ... if your student were right, wouldn't the fossil record show the constant flow between kinds instead of the eternally repeated episodes of stasis which it so obviously records?" Dr. Chan was actually beginning to raise his voice a little.

Dr. Molino took a deep breath and let it out slowly. This was starting to get away from both of them now; professors just didn't get emotional. Professors studied the evidence, they didn't get excited about it. Student's or no students, this was a scientific question and science was science.

"All Charley did to explain how those sudden jumps happened was to claim the population was always small enough, and the change always happened quickly enough, that we wouldn't notice it in the fossil record - completely ignoring the mathematics. Nothing that would stand up to rigorous analysis; but on the surface, it sounds plausible. I think I have to translate all of the mathematics down to his level and put it into such a clear package that it will be obvious, even to him."

Both sunk into a lethargic trance and watched the swallows swoop under the eves shadowing the worn brick tile walkway. Out in the sunshine, reflected patterns danced on the underside of the poured concrete arch that served as a footbridge across the pond. At least the sunshine was nice and the morning was peaceful and quiet. Things would all work out somehow. They always did.


Chapter V

Angela

Dr. Chan took his lunch on the lawn behind the Dabney lounge. Wine, sourdough, and cheese. Somehow they seemed to be a tradition at 'Tech. What made them go together so well? Subtle variations in flavor? They had all been modified by micobiological organisms. Was that all there was to it? That stuff was George's department, not his. The sunlight filtering through the leaves overhead and the breeze were actually very pleasant; so was the Gouda - and no classes until three o'clock. No students 'till three.

This brought his thoughts back to the realities of the day. Could George's student, Charles, be the same as the Charley in his morning electronics class? Certainly a bright kid, perhaps a little extra green still. He tended not to read his assignments because he had an easy go of thinking the problems through on intelligence alone. That was pretty normal, considering the grade of students 'Tech drew, but Charley seemed to be out on the tails of the bell curve, even here.

It was going to catch him eventually. Intelligence alone wasn't always enough. Sometimes there were traps which only experience could solve - antiintuitive effects like the Lorentz transformation or tunnel diodes. Charley was bright, but Einstein could still give him a leg up, if Charley would ever bother to read the textbook.

Could it be the same Charley? It sounded like a possible match. Willbur Chan picked up the discarded wax with his napkin and dropped both into his sack, along with the empty. George's office was over in the building called "Bridge," just the other side of the courtyard. The exercise would be good for him.


Although the exercise may have been a good idea, his thoughts were not very pleasant company. Dr. Chan had never been able to communicate very smoothly with Angela, George's secretary. His mind was torturing him now as he walked. He imagined he was driving somewhere and she giving directions. He would ask "Should I turn left here?" and she would answer "Right." Or he would be unable to see to his right and would ask "Are there any cars coming?" and she would answer "No" because all she could see coming was one very large truck.

Maybe it was because she was a woman. Dr. Chan didn't know many women; for all he knew, most of them could have been just like her. He decided he would try to keep the conversation very simple; surely he could make sense out of a few short chains of English words - this time.

Even with this preparation, Angela greeted Dr. Chan with a question which caught him completely off guard. "Do you want to talk on the phone?"

That certainly wasn't his reason for stopping by, but what could possibly make Angela assume it might be. "Why would I want to talk on the phone?" he asked cautiously, wondering what the trick was this time.

"Do you want to talk on the phone?" she repeated.

It was happening again. How could he answer her question until she answered his. "Why would I want to talk on the phone?" He asked again, trying to stress the importance of his knowing the answer before he would be able to answer her question.

"Do you want to talk on the phone?" this time she sounded annoyed.

He gave up. He had no idea what Angela meant and she obviously wasn't going to provide any more information. He chose the best answer he could, under the circumstances, and tried to sound polite, "No thank you."

Angela turned with a huff that conveyed both exasperation and resignation. She stormed to the back of the office and grabbed a receiver which had been resting off the hook on George's desk. "No he doesn't want to talk to you Dr. Molino."

"What?" Dr. Chan was flabbergasted. Is that George calling me?

Angela didn't have to say, "you idiot." Every muscle in her body directed the thought at Dr. Chan.

"I can never understand you." Dr. Chan clumsily tried to apologize. It was clear enough that Angela didn't understand him either.

George had called from "Gates." He had seen Chan from a second floor window and had guessed where he would be heading. As it turned out, they did have the same Charley in their classes. George wanted to set up a meeting to swap notes, but some things needed to be squared away first. The professors had a little "homework" of their own to do before they scheduled an appointment to plan their strategy. George wanted to run through Hoyle's calculations once more; and Chan agreed to try to figure out which students were most likely to be working with Charley. It was always better to know against whom you were really playing. Unlike many other institutions, 'Tech gave students more work than they could possibly handle alone; consequently, students were expected to help each other if they expected to pass. Sometimes the professors had to do the same if they expected to remain a step ahead.

Before he left, Dr. Chan tried once more to speak to Angela. "Does Dr. Molino have any classes tomorrow?" He asked.

"Tomorrow's Thursday." her voice carried a finality that suggested there was nothing more to be said; but she also leaned her head slightly to her left as if to offer a clue. To her left were a row of filing cabinets, a bulletin board, a large colorful chart of some kind, and a small calendar advertising chemical supplies. Was she indicating the calendar?

"I know that." Dr. Chan was still trying very hard to be polite, "What I wanted to know was if Dr. Molino had any classes tomorrow - on Thursday."

"Dr. Molino has no classes on Thursday." It was spoken as if it were a waste of her time having to phrase her sentence exactly as Dr. Chan had requested it. Dr. Chan nodded silently and left.


Chapter VI

Hoyle's Mathematics

That night, Dr. George Molino sat down with his computer and went through the exercise once again. He set up a mathematical colony of individuals assigning each a survival value. He programmed a random sequence of mutations and adjusted the survival pressure. And he watched. He modified the population size, mutation rate and survival pressure in every possible combination. And he watched again - and again.

Hoyle had been right, of course. The computer always showed the same result. If a large population of individuals could barely take advantage of favorable mutations, a smaller population certainly couldn't. Mathematics simply prohibited it. The larger the population, the larger the genetic target for favorable mutations. Those mutations would soon spread to the rest of the population. The more favorable mutations, the faster upward the evolution. Unfavorable mutations were, of course, weeded out quickly and had little to do with the rate. When parameters were selected to match California Condors at one extreme, or bacteria at the other, well, nature always did exactly what the equations predicted. It was lucky for the Condors that captive breeding had brought their numbers back up.

But the Inquisition would no more allow this as evidence than it would the very words of the Holy Scriptures. The computer program would just go over Charley's head. Biology professors were not supposed to come off like guardians of secret knowledge. Truth had to be perfectly obvious and transparent, even to a freshman. As the visible representative of the Dept. of Biological Heresies, George was required to convey the same "humility" they assumed. "You know, we could all be wrong," he could hear their admonition still echoing. "Humility indeed," he snorted to himself, "It's not 'humility' when I have to fight the battle and they enforce the rules!"

Sometimes he wished he hung out over on Wilbur's side of the campus. Unlike physics and engineering students, biology students were, for some dumb reason, not expected to minor in mathematics. That really needed to be changed! Maybe next year ... or the one after that.

But back to the problem at hand. How could he answer the specific objections which Charley intended to address in his semester project? God's creatures certainly were separated into different kinds, but the rules for identifying the boundaries had not been completely clear in all cases. Horses and donkeys bred mules. Did this mean they were all of the same kind? But mules were sterile. Did this prove the boundary? What about wolf-dogs and fox-dogs? His thoughts were growing too large for his study so he moved himself and them out into the garden.

There he acquisitoned an ornate cast-iron lounge and leaned back under the stars - such as they were. It was a beautiful night; but Pasadena was never the best place from which to watch stars. He had once spent hours starring at the Andromeda galaxy from the coastal State Park called El Capitan. The sky had been aflame with heaven's host and there had been an invigorating chill that night. It seemed years ago and now just a dying memory. There were certainly fewer stars visible from Pasadena - there was also much less chill.

Were all those other stars really still out there? George mused. Could objective reality cease to exist while he wasn't watching it? If real stars, as large and energetic as they were, could be impossible to see from Pasadena, then couldn't Charley be right about his evidence being invisible? Technically, yes, if one were careful not to look at the evidence from too many directions. At least it still contradicted the mathematics and the Scriptures! Or didn't George really understand either of those?

In his project outline, Charley had identified several weak areas where he planned to attack. For example, God had created marsupials only in Australia and South America. There certainly appeared to be something like a cause and effect connection between those different kinds; but that was not the same as saying there was no design involved. Random mutations simply didn't match the mathematical or Scriptural evidence. Or did he really know that?

What if there were no design? If he were not created in the image of an intelligent God, then in whose image? What if his very brain were a random accident with survival the only design criteria. Then what would his thoughts be? Obviously, nothing but a contrivance to survive. If Charley were right, would his thoughts even be logically valid? And if invalid, what could he ever know? What would truth or even morality be?

It didn't really matter. Whether or not his thoughts were valid, Dr. George Molino would have to stand before his inquisitors having acted truthfully and morally. That much was expected. He finally noticed he was tired and went off to bed.


What if indeed? What if there were no design or creator - above us only sky? What if our thoughts were no more than a contrivance to promote survival? Can a man under duress be trusted to always tell the truth? What if the human brain was designed under duress - by a million generations doing whatever was required, just to escape death? The ultimate duress - the ultimate result. Might our brains, the very seat of our logic and understanding, be willing to lie, even to ourselves, if they see an inch to be gained in promoting mere survival?

Questions similar to these kept Dr. George Molino up late for many nights to come. If Charley were right, then what was morality. If morality was a mental illusion to preserve survival, then Charley could be passed or failed on the simple criteria of which choice best served Dr. Molino's survival as a respected professor at Cathtech. So, if Charley were right, then it wouldn't matter morally whether Charley was right or wrong. Charley could be failed either way - if that made George's life easier. And if Charley were wrong, he could be failed because he was wrong. This made an easy solution, but was it the right solution? What was right? What was truth?

Dr. Molino knew what he had been taught, but the Inquisition had also warned him to always "test everything!" Did they mean this too? Everything was everything. But if his own mind could not be trusted, how then could it test itself? This was a very interesting problem - one which could only be answered if the answer happened to be that truth existed. If truth didn't exist, then he could never be certain that it didn't exist. George wasn't sure he could be sure about anything.

Fortunately, life for George continued with or without certainty. The daily routine of eating, sleeping and survival, mixed with a little seasonal excitement, finally performed the miracle of driving such thoughts from the front of George's mind. But, as we will see, not permanently.


Chapter VII

Charley

"Tan-gent, Cos-ine Hy-per-bol-ic Sine. Three Point One Four One Five Nine."

A few of the students were shouting the old school chant in the hallway just outside the main lecture hall in the building called "Bridge." Some of the freshmen might have thought the name had something to do with the bridge over the pond outside. It didn't.

Inside the hall, Dr. Molino stood between the multipaneled chalkboard and the enormous desk which separated him from the steeply pitched array of half-desk half-seats. These were now being quickly abandoned by the departing mob of biology students.

"Slide-rule Slip-stick Tech! Tech! Tech!"

As the chant from the departing students faded away, Dr. George Molino looked down at his pocket-sized electronic computer on the desk before him. That chant needed some updating he mused. A lot of things needed updating - his eyes took in the ancient hall and its trappings left over from another time. At least Culbertson Hall had been replaced.

That thought hurt him. Culbertson had been an inefficient antique - badly in need of replacing - but it had been an antique. It's intricate ceiling and panels were really something to study. It had been a shame it had to go. Change was always necessary, it seemed, but it wasn't always completely good.

His eyes caught the approaching student. Shortly cropped hair, white tee-shirt, denim cut-offs, and tennis shoes - fairly standard for a techie these days.

"Did you get my outline, Professor Molino?" Charley. asked.

"Random creation, as I recall," he replied noncommittally.

"I gave it to your secretary, so I wasn't sure you'd get it. Sometimes it seems like her lights are on but nobody's home."

"She's competent." George was defensive but he had to be careful how he worded this. Angela was certainly able to run a copy machine and perform the other aspects of her job competently, but it did seem a little bit like nobody was home sometimes. She could be a little slow on the uptake - certainly not a rocket scientist - but then she didn't have to be. It would be nice if the student's understood that.

"She couldn't pour rainwater out of a boot if directions had been written on the heel!" Charley continued, evidently enjoying himself.

George doubted the veracity of this last accusation, but the mental image it evoked almost made him smile; he caught himself before his face gave too much away. "You picked a pretty tough topic," he countered, changing the subject to the controversy of lesser consequence.

"I'm learning to drink from a fire hose." It was a cliche at Cathtech. For most of the freshmen, this was their first encounter with lots of very hard work. The fire hose model seemed to describe the experience well enough. It was always comical how few of the newcomers realized that half of them would soon fall to the bottom half of their class.

"Have you read Hoyle's comments on the subject?"

"That's just a bunch of numbers. I've explained how it all works. You guys are just out of touch with the evidence." Charley was certainly bold if nothing else. George was impressed that Charley was willing to be rude, even to the man who would ultimately determine his grade.

"Which evidence are you now addressing?" George thought he knew, but if he made Charley say it, he wouldn't have to answer everything in the outline right now. One piece at a time would be much easier to handle.

"If God really personally designed each creature, then why did he create all the marsupials in the southern continents? They are obviously there because that's where the ancestors lived that they randomly descended from.

Charley could use some help with his grammar. As for the subject of Charley's question, George had spent quite a bit of time thinking this one over; he was ready for it. "What if God used surrogate mothers when he created each species?"

"Huh?" Charley was too smart to miss the point. He was probably stalling while he tried to reorganize his thoughts.

"I mean, if God just created the DNA and implanted it in a surrogate mother creature, new creations would naturally appear where similar surrogate mothers were available."

"But that's not how God created the different animals!" Charley protested.

"Do you know that?"

"Everyone does."

"I don't, and I decide your grade. My job is to raise the objections, yours is to supply the answers to them."

"Why do I have to prove what everybody already knows."

"I don't agree with everybody. And I'm the only person you have to convince."

"How do I do that?"

"Support all of your claims with the evidence." George must have repeated it at least once a day since the project was assigned. "You were allowed to choose any topic you wanted. But now that you've chosen it, you have to support your claims - especially if your claims are controversial."

"But everyone knows that isn't how God created the different kinds! That isn't controversial."

"You're claiming God created them randomly - that is controversial. If you believe 'A' and I believe 'B' then you can assume 'B' in your argument to support 'A'. But if I disbelieve 'B' and believe 'C' instead, then you can't. Understand the rules?"

"I can do that." Charley said, his brash confidence only slipping a little bit. It sounded like a fair challenge. With that he left.

George smiled. The first round was his. Charley's lights were on and there was certainly somebody home. It wasn't going to be easy. At least Charley would have to read the second chapter of Genesis before he could challenge George's suggestion. He wondered how long that would take. As soon as it happened, the ball would be back in his own court again. Did Charley even know about the second chapter of Genesis? If he didn't, one of his friends would tell him soon enough. Well, one step at a time.

George picked up his computer and tossed it into his briefcase. The shot was only about eighteen inches but he smiled like a basketball pro when it dropped in. Today, life was full of victories.


Chapter VIII

The Grant

The next day was yet another hot, sunny day. Pasadena was often like that. George caught Dr. Chan in his "Baxter" lab after his last class. He grabbed a lab stool and pulled it over next to the bench where Chan was working. Dr. Chan was soldering little green electrical standoffs - "little green men," as he liked to call them - onto a copper clad piece of fiberglass. He was breadboarding some kind of project. "What are you up to?" George opened as he settled himself onto the stool.

"Building a digital clock. Do you see any more of these green men around? I need a few more." He held one up for George to examine. There were several hiding behind a box near George's end of the bench, so he pushed them over, picking one up himself to examine it more closely.

The green plastic post, about a centimeter in length, had a little round nail head at the top end - to which wires and components were normally soldered - and a hex nut looking thing for its base. There was a threaded hole in the bottom which would normally be used to mount the post, but Chan was simply soldering the hex nut right onto the copper. It looked faster, but somehow it looked like a waste of the little threaded hole in the bottom of each post.

"You know somebody has to drill and tap all the little holes in the bottom of each one of these things." George commented, giving his thoughts words. "That must be a real pain!"

"Well think how these guys must feel!" Chan said waving one of the little "men" to emphasize whom he meant.

George smiled to himself trying to come up with a clever response. "Yeah, but it's better to get it done." He finally said in the most depressed and resigned voice he could imitate.

That got a chuckle out of Chan, "I need to have that done myself," he admitted. I hear it isn't much fun.

"I wonder if they make little inflatable washers for these things," George added, holding one of the posts up to his bifocals for a closer look.

This time Chan ignored him and threw the switch, giving his clock the "smoke test." There was no smoke and all of the digits indicating hours, minutes, and seconds lit up. However, the colon separating the hours from the minutes was still dark. "My colon's out," he muttered mostly to himself.

"Colostomy?" George asked as innocently as possible.

"Huh?"

"'Colon's out.' I'm sorry, It was a stupid pun."

"No, it was a good one. I just missed it." At least Chan sounded genuinely impressed. He shut the power down and shoved his project to the back of the bench, looking straight at George for the first time since he had arrived. "I received some exciting news this morning."

"You got the grant?"

It was true. Cathtech had been awarded the research grant that Chan had been after for so long. Dr. Wilbur Chan was a professor of computer robotics and had been given the go to produce his miniature tactical robot. Dr. Fenris Howard, from that other institute of technology in Massachusetts, had given him quite a race. Chan had only been able to wrestle the grant away by promising a six month delivery. It was an extremely aggressive schedule, but he believed his two-year head start would give him the edge he needed to "ship" as promised.

"A piezoelectric spider," as Dr. Chan liked to call his robot. Actually the crystals were exotic organics whose electromechanical effects were much more pronounced than those of the old piezoelectric crystals. The effect was the same however. Dr. Chan's prototype was about six inches across and looked just like a huge spider. Eventually it would move like one too. It was stronger than the real thing, but its biggest advantage was that it could be much more easily trained. Ultimately, it would be able to do its master's bidding. What that might be was no concern of Chan's; he had his funding and could now finish the miniature computer which his spider would carry.

George was more curious, "What does the Vatican want with that thing anyhow. I mean it's uh ... cute, in a frightening sort of way, but what can it do?" As he spoke, he was staring at the prototype which was sitting on a shelf above the bench where they were seated.

"Well, what would you like it to do? It'll do anything it's programmed to do."

"I mean, What can it do for me that I can't do without it?"

"Well, for one thing it can go places you can't. Places too small for you. And it can make repairs in there." Dr. Chan proceeded cautiously. He wasn't sure he liked where this might be heading. He was also nervous that George might take his reference to size the wrong way.

"More likely it can sneak into places where I would get caught and can break or kill things that someone wants broken or killed."

"Well, Yes," Chan admitted. "That's a likely application I guess. There is a time and place for even that."

"I guess so." Holy or not, wars were a very real part of life. "How do you control it? Radio?" George had picked up Chan's soldering iron and idly cleaned its tip on the damp piece of yellow sponge which was resting on the iron's stand.

"You don't really. At least, when it's finished, it will sort of control itself."

George stopped cleaning the iron and stared at Dr. Chan.

"Seriously," Chan continued, "The Vatican anticipates problems with the details of control in the projected environment and has requested that the spider have a certain amount of autonomy. You give it a general task and it's supposed to work out the details on its own."

"Sounds a little far fetched."

"You haven't seen the computer." Chan crossed the lab to a bench where he picked up a large printed circuit board. "Here." The board was covered with hundreds of identical computer chips. He carried it back to where George sat.

George noticed he was still holding the soldering iron and quickly returned it to its stand. He then took the board from Chan and studied it stupidly. The shiny new gold and lavender ceramic chips sparkled in the overhead lights. "Pretty. What is it?" he finally asked.

"Two hundred and fifty-six independent microcomputers, interconnected to work together as a single unit. With the Vatican's money, this can be reduced to sixteen two-centimeter square chips, sixteen computers on each chip, which can be stacked into a neat little package. When they're programmed with a repertoire of high level algorithms, there won't be much it can't do." Dr. Chan beamed.

"Sounds impressive, whatever you just said; but I think I'll withhold judgment until I see it working."

"You may not have to wait long. The spider prototype should be connected to that board early next month."

George just smiled and left. He'd heard time-table predictions for research projects before.

As soon as he was gone, Dr. Chan got back to work on the clock. It was really just a showpiece. The real clocking of the first trials of his robot would be done inside the main computer. This clock mostly just displayed the time in big letters so the "brass" could see what was happening. It was at least as important that the Vatican could see what they had paid for as it was that they actually got it. The defective colon came to life within a few minutes and Chan switched his attention to the computer board. The spider sat, as if watching, frozen in place, while its creator ran through the first stages of debug on the circuit board holding its brain.


Chapter IX

God's Creatures

Having run out of more interesting things to do, George returned to his own laboratory for the rest of the day. He propped his feet up next to the broken infrared spectrometer, picked up a long glass tube, and used it to scratch an old flea bite between his shoulder blades. All the spectrometer needed was a new fuse; but it was an unusual one. George didn't know where to find one. Chan would know. He'd ask him someday when there weren't more pressing matters at hand.

Something small moved on the floor. George got up and walked over as it scuttled into his office and under his old oak desk - it was some kind of large bug. He swapped the tube he was holding for a plastic collection jar and started after it. By crawling around the floor on his hands and knees, he managed to corner it, a large frantically dancing scorpion, and catch it in the jar. It was a good thing Angela had left for the day. What had it been doing in his lab anyway?

Even after it was completely confined in the jar, the scorpion continued to dance angrily - raising it's tiny claws defiantly at Dr. George Molino. It was frightening. How could such a small creature put up such a bold front. He studied it for a few minutes, in fascinated terror.

At last he set the jar down on his desk. What to do next ...

Charley answered that question by poking his head into the lab. "The Bible says God formed all of the animals from the dust of the earth. That means he didn't use surrogate mothers."

He'd found it. George had been boning up for this encounter and he was ready, but before he could answer, Charley noticed the scorpion.

"One of God's creatures!" he smirked, enjoying the dig. He walked over and picked it up - holding the little terror right up next to his face for a closer look. Then he held it up to Dr. Molino's face - sharing the experience.

"Although not exactly in his image." George emphasized, refocusing the thought he had no refutation for. "That's right, hold it up close, I'm kind of nearsighted. I caught that right here, just a few minutes ago. Fascinating, isn't it?"

Charley agreed and set the scorpion back down, losing interest in it when it failed to serve his purpose.

"What do you think 'formed from the dust' means?" George asked, bringing the conversation back to Charley's opening line.

"It means God made them out of dust. Not out of nourishment fed through the umbilical cord of a surrogate mother."

"Was Adam made out of dust too?"

"That's what it says. Do you believe it or not?"

"Just a minute. What about the rest of us? Were we made out of dust too?"

Charley said no, but his confidence had seemed to slip a bit. George handed him a Bible and told him to check out the 103rd Psalm. As soon as he found it he protested, "But that's figurative!"

"Is it? How do you know?"

"God didn't make me out of dust. I was born!"

George was tempted to challenge even that, but he stayed on the original course he had planned. "I don't think you quite understand what either Psalms or Genesis is saying. Do you know where you got the atoms you're made of?"

"Mostly from eating."

"And what did you eat?"

"Hamburgers, shakes, spinach, tostados."

"Plants and animals?"

"That would be a fair summary."

"Now take it to the bottom of the food chain."

"We're down to just plants at this point."

"And what are the plants made of?"

It was a Biology 100 textbook answer, "Water, Carbon Dioxide, and minerals from the earth."

"Excellent! So other than water and CO2, you're made of stuff from the dust of the earth. Right?"

"That's fair."

"Now I'll answer. Yes, I believe Adam was made out of the dust of the earth just like I believe you and the rest of us are. Surrogate mother or real."

"Well, what about Eve?"

"I suppose what God wanted from Adam's side was some DNA. He could toss the 'Y' chromosome and edit in another 'X' and he'd have what He needed. Put that in a surrogate mother, wait nine months - no, we have to wait a few more years after that. Let's see, how many years should we wait? Hey, this could be interesting!"

"But that's not what Genesis says! You've got God making Eve somewhere else, not right there next to Adam. How are you going to get them back together?"

"You don't think God could bring her back?"

"Well, that's not what he did anyway."

"Read it to me."

Charley flipped back to Genesis and hunted until he found Adam being put into the deep sleep; then he started reading aloud. When he got to the phrase, "And he brought her to the man," he stopped. It took him only a second to recover. "I didn't see that for some reason."

"A lot of people miss that. It must not be what they're expecting to see."

"I can tighten my argument a little more. I'll be back."

"See you then."


Chapter X

What is Truth

Round two went to Dr. George Molino as well. The young kids were bright, but there was still a lot to be said for gray hair. It was going to be a tough fight, though. Charley had outlined a lot of good points to address in his project.

As it turned out, that biologist had been right about those trilobites being different species. George had to give Charley credit for that one. The fact that a species had been discovered which was intermediate between the two was certainly significant; but it only represented a single additional coarse step between the two - not quite the gradual flow which Charley had implied.

That wasn't what had really been bothering him anyway. His surrogate-mother hypothesis more-or-less predicted steps of about that size. It was Charley's finches - all those interesting variations on that tiny forsaken chain of islands. What had God been up to there?

He reached for a pen in the pocket of his lab coat, but got the laser pointer instead. After flashing it to assure himself is was still operational, he swapped it for a real ballpoint. He grabbed a Quadrille pad off his desk and started sketching his thoughts in the language of his discipline.

Were those variations all within the kind or were there actually different kinds on those little islands. Could they interbreed? That would be an important clue. What if they couldn't? What if they really were of different kinds? As Charley had pointed out, it seemed unreasonable that God would have chosen that little chain of rocks, and it alone, for a specific act of creation. While God often did things which made no sense to men, it was always more comfortable when at least some hint of a reason could be identified.

He picked up the scorpion and watched it's war dance. "One of God's creatures," he thought to himself. What did that tell him about God or about the rest of His creation? What kind of God would create a scorpion? The answer came in an analogy. What kind of scientist would create a mechanical spider? One of the very best! Maybe Dr. Chan was created in God's image just like Genesis said he was. That implied that God occasionally enjoyed scary things just like Chan did. George took one last look at the scorpion and put it back down. God's little monster was, by far, the scarier of the two.

What had God been up to when he created those finches? A few experiments would answer his questions well enough; but he simply didn't have time to go to the Galapogos and try to cross breed the different types - not for one stupid freshman project. Had someone already done the experiment and written it up?

While he was wrestling with this problem, across the campus, over in engineering, Dr. Chan would be having fun with his new toy. He would rather be playing there too right now. Or would he?

Didn't Dr. Chan face a very difficult task of his own? Was it even possible to design a computer which could make a valid decision on its own? Of course God had done just that when he created the human brain, but God had unknown and unimaginable recourses from outside the physical world.

A brain produced by Charley's "random creation" would probably have no spiritual resources; Dr. Chan's computer wouldn't either. Could either ever sort truth from error? Perhaps truth was also from outside of the physical world. Mathematics would certainly remain if the entire physical universe were removed; wasn't logic just a form of mathematics and truth a part of logic?

Maybe truth really was from outside of the physical. If so, then processes which were totally confined to the physical world might never be able to make decisions about whether or not something was truth. If a computer was told that one plus one was six, it would believe it - unless it was specifically told not to. A person, no matter what they were told, would know better, somehow. But how?

Maybe Charley was really addressing the same problem Dr. Chan was. The source of truth, of intelligence, of design. If it could come from blind randomness, as Charley claimed, then Chan's computer could probably function by itself. But if truth were from beyond the world, then that might be impossible. What was truth anyway? Hadn't that question been asked before?

Socrates had set off after virtue once. Had he ever found it or had he merely got lost in the search? Pilot had asked what truth was once - right after Jesus had told him. Evidently Pilot hadn't understood what Jesus meant. Neither did George - not completely anyway.

The truth was that Dr. George Molino was hungry. This, although not all of the truth, was at least a part of it which was not subject to debate. He made his way out to the vending machines in the corridor and was soon back, burrito in hand, buried in his normal routine.

There were outlines to be evaluated, and whether or not he understood truth in general, and wherever it came from, he at least knew the truth about freshman biology and knew how to apply it to almost all of those projects. Besides, this was only the first evaluation; the final decision about Charley's project could be put off a little longer - superficially until Charley had completed it, but really until he could decide what to do.


Chapter XI

The Demonstration

Keeping busy kept him going - or maybe keeping going was just another way to say keeping busy. However it worked, the immediate and prosaic kept the specters at bay. Still, his doubts did take their toll. They made George a little edgy and he started keeping to himself more than normal.

As the days passed, Dr. Chan also stayed in his own lab more than usual - but for a different reason. Stoked by cash from the Vatican, it had become a beehive of various types of programmers. The spectrum ran from those who coded servo control routines right up to those who dabbled in the black art of artificial intelligence. George did not feel very comfortable with the latter and found excuses to visit less and less frequently. But when the day came for the first live test of the whole system, George was crowded into Dr. Chan's lab, along with everyone else who had any interest in the project.

It was getting dark outside by the time they were ready to throw the switch. The fluorescents had been dropped to half intensity to facilitate reading the scopes and computer screens. A Christmas tree's worth of light emitting diodes adorned the home-brewed monitor panels. Adding to the festivities, an excited chatter filled the lab as last minute instructions were swapped and explanations were made to the uninitiated like George. The spider itself sat motionless in a cleared area in the center of the lab. A bundle of thin wires, suspended from a boom, ran to an area in its back where the tiny brain would eventually go. For this first test, the large 256-processor board sat at the other end of the bundle - calling the shots. Lights blinked in sequence as the startup diagnostics ran.

"What this first test will demonstrate," Dr. Chan was announcing in a raised voice, "is the spider's ability to correlate data. In order to act autonomously, the spider will need to be able to make mental connections between different situations it might encounter. Realizing similarities will aid it in solving problems it encounters while executing various tasks.

"The spider has been programmed to explore the lab, looking for objects which are visually similar. It runs a very complex pattern recognition algorithm which it will apply to chain codes generated for various objects it identifies around the lab. If you want to know more, you'll have to get the details from Dr. Johnson." A skinny young man in a lab coat, with acne and stooped shoulders, smiled and waved at those present. Chan continued, "The first time a similarity numerically exceeding five percent is located, the program will terminate and the results will be printed here, on this printer." He motioned to an imposing high speed line printer.

"Are we ready to run?" he asked everyone in general.

A smattering of "yesses" came from those occupying stations in front of computers and consoles; so Dr. Chan walked over to the "brain," switched it from diagnostics to run mode, and hit the reset button. On another panel, a digital clock started counting off seconds, it's colon glowing brightly.

"It's downloading the program," a young tech in a pizza-stained "t" shirt announced as he watched the lines flash by on his screen. "And it will begin execution r-i-g-h-t, ... Now!"

Everyone's breath was held and every eye was on the spider which crouched, motionless, for an entire second. Then the huge line printer chirped to life.

"We already have a correlation!" Dr. Chan announced enthusiastically. "Of ... ," he picked up the paper and started reading it.

"I thought the spider needed to move before it could locate two objects which were sufficiently similar to report." one of the techs stated in a confused voice. A programmer who was quickly shuffling through some flow charts agreed without looking up. The confusion was starting to spread.

"100 percent," finished Dr. Chan who was starting to catch some of the confusion himself. "That can't be right can it?"

It was agreed that 100 percent was a trifle optimistic for the first run. The A.I. experts finally managed to get Dr. Chan away from the printouts long enough to see what exactly had been reported. First more confusion was the result, but then the light of understanding slowly began to come on. "Uh, I think the program has 'discovered' that its second look at the lab exactly matches its first. That's why the 100 percent. Everything matches exactly. It didn't move so nothing changed." We have Cohan's Rule in action.

Groans were aired and the crowd slowly dispersed, some chuckling, as the programmers set themselves to the task of fixing the software. Overlooking the obvious was a common enough programming error. Computers are notorious for following instructions to the letter while the programmer thinks in terms of the spirit. Well, the letter of the law, or code in this case, would have to be changed to bring it into line with the spirit. This was never an easy task. Enough iterations of trial and error and the code would eventually evolve into what the programmer originally had in mind. The computer would instantly find faults which the programmer could never guess. The job of the programmer was to figure out how to make the code better and not worse. The job of the computer was simply to follow its instructions - exactly.


The programmers had a tough job ahead of them; they were tearing at their hair for the next month. None of the reports were very encouraging. Although the spider had all the computational power it needed to do what it was told, it seemed to lack life somehow. When out from under direct supervision, it would simply sit down and wait. Chan had to agree this was a legitimate solution to the cybernetic equations but it was a trivial solution and not the one anyone was looking for. Zero could be a valid solution to a differential equation, but it was not a very interesting solution. A system of masses and springs could sit perfectly still, but this was not an acceptable answer to a problem for Mechanics 300 students - what was wanted was an equation which described the system in motion. That was what was needed here too, but masses and springs wouldn't move unless someone gave them a push. What the spider needed was more than a shove; it needed a shover - a source of actions.

Attempts to correct the problem were thwarted by compliance to the letter, but not the intended spirit of the correction. If the spider was directed not to stop, it would walk in a line. If it was told not to follow a line or if it encountered an obstacle, it would walk in a circle. If told not to repeat any pattern of motion, it would continuously select new ones. What it would not do was to make any real progress. In short, it was a machine, and like any machine, it just did what it was told. In this case, what it was told grew more complex with each change.

The miniature computer was finally completed and installed, but that, of course, changed nothing. It just eliminated the wire bundle and made the spider self-contained.

Another month dragged on but the spider never showed any real initiative. It would either follow direct commands or simply do nothing at all. As the commands increased in complexity, so did the spider's behavior; but it never took as much as a single step of its own accord. Random elements added to the code would produce random, and useless, behavior. Mathematical elements would produce mathematically predictable behavior. Combinations would produce combinations.

When the available memory in the tiny computer had been exhausted by the growing routines, an infrared link was supplied to Chan's computer. When the spider needed to, it could exchange it's more expendable routines with those stored in the larger computer. This meant the spider was no longer completely self contained, but more memory could be added to the next revision. In the meantime, the spider at least had access to the resources of Dr. Chan's computer.

Eventually, simple tasks could be programmed like, "locate the red ball and push it over to the instrument rack," but in spite of all the work, the spider was still no closer to being trusted with any real-world mission - sinister or otherwise. If it had been programmed to be a serial killer, as the joke went, "The Wheat Chex were safe."


Chapter XII

Games and Pranks

"Free for Lunch?" George held up his brown bag as he walked into Chan's office.

Without answering, Chan grabbed his chess board, pulled out a drawer and set it across the open drawer between them. As usual, there was no room anywhere on his desk.

"Not chess! You always beat me." George complained.

"You're supposed to get better if you play enough." Chan responded teasingly.

"I brought my Othello set." George offered.

"But the second player always wins." Now Chan was complaining.

"No!"

"Yes!" Chan tried to mimic every part of George's expression and body language as he returned the protest. The differences in their build made the effect comical.

"You can't see all the way to the end of a game of Othello!"

"Maybe you can't, but you'll never beat me if I go second."

George thought that one over. Chan had whipped him at Chess every game so far - and George wasn't that bad at chess eitherr. Tic-tac-toe was certainly a game whose possibilities were easily exhausted. A well-played game always ended in a draw. Could his friend be serious? Could the second player in Othello always win? "You're on," George finally said, "I don't believe it, but I guess I have to find out."

Three games later George was at least convinced he couldn't beat Dr. Chan at Othello either. He knew he would never be able to beat Dr. Chan at Chess, but if what Chan had said about Othello were true, then maybe he could at least learn to win at Othello - if he went second. "Could you teach me to win if I played second?"

"Sure. ... Oops, just a minute." Dr. Chan picked up his phone and answered, "Hello?"

George just stared. The phone hadn't rung. He waited till Chan was finished then asked, "How did you know to answer your phone?"

"I don't like being rudely interrupted. I fixed the bell so it hardly makes any sound. You can't hear it unless you know what you're listening for. I know when someone's calling, but it doesn't get on my nerves. It's more like a gentle tap on the shoulder than a rude shout."

George was impressed. He hated his own phone. Maybe he could talk Chan into fixing it as well. But first things first. "How do I win if I play second."

"OK, first you have to win the game in the center sixteen squares of the board. You can work out all the possibilities for that - it's twelve moves maximum. Next, when the other player plays into this square," Chan indicated with his finger the next twenty squares just outside the inner sixteen, "you try to make your next move straight across his to the outside edge."

"Why not diagonally?"

"Because then he can cross your diagonal and put one on the same edge with a single space between."

"I think I need to write this down."

In a few minutes, the last rule had been explained and the conversation turned to Chan's spider."

"What good is that little spider anyway? It's not very strong." George pointed out.

"It's stronger than it looks. It can lift more than ten times it's own weight.

"Does that mean it can accelerate at ten gee's?"

Dr. Chan flashed a surprised smile.

"Hey, I took freshman physics once, years ago."

"Unfortunately no, not ten. There are a few problems. For one thing, we haven't been able to get the crystals to respond that quickly. We can get three gee's if the spider digs the little pinpoints on his toes into the surface on which he's standing and jumps with all of his legs at once. That's pretty impressive to watch. It looks impossibly fast."

"How fast will it go?"

"That's been another problem - the same problem actually. We can't make those little legs swing back and forth rapidly enough to push it up past twenty miles per hour. But that's still pretty impressive. It can outrun a trained athlete for the first twenty feet. - I can't outrun it at all. It looks awfully fast with those tiny legs flying in a blur."

"Wow! Can you show me?"

"Uh, Dr. Clark has the voltage drivers out."

"Can you put them back in?"

"Not until he's done with them."

"Phooey! Oh well, what does it sound like when it's moving?"

"It's almost silent until it gets going fast enough. At about seven miles-per-hour you can begin to hear a very deep faint hum from its legs oscillating. Even at top speed the hum isn't too noticeable. Silent would be a fair description."

"How far can it go on one charge? I assume it is electrical."

"That depends on how fast it's moving. At top speed it's really wasting energy. If it moves at a walk it can cover nearly a mile, but it can stop and recharge itself anytime it gets hungry."

"Hungry?"

"When its charge gets too low. It has a sensor on its battery so it always knows how much energy it has left. When it gets low enough, we have it programmed to search for an electrical outlet, they all look pretty much the same. It just climbs the wall and plugs itself in."

"Really?"

"It was hard to teach it to climb the wall, but most walls have enough little toe holds that it can pick its way up with those pins on its feet. Did you notice those 'mouth' parts?"

George had noticed them. Two long, ugly, curving mandibles had been added to the spider since he had last seen it. The effect was horrifying.

"Alex - that's one of my brighter students - designed those. The spider sticks those into an outlet and viola, lunch is served!"

"That's terrible." George primarily meant the humor, but the thought itself wasn't that distant a second-place finisher.

"You think that's bad? Alex is a real practical joker. He designed the charger switcher to work both directions." Chan paused for effect, expecting George to understand.

"What do you mean?" George didn't know what a switching power supply was and he hadn't had any experience with the sort of practical jokes which are commonly pulled in an electronics lab.

"I mean Alex has taught that thing to sneak up and shock you when you aren't looking!" Chan laughed.

Evidently electronics types were less intimidated by electrical shocks than George was. "Isn't that dangerous?"

"Not the shock itself. How you react to it might be a problem. If you startle someone, they certainly can do something dangerous. After Alex had his fun with his friends, I made him promise to stop. The last time, we had to repair all six of its legs. It got stepped on."

"Serves it right! You said six legs?"

"Everyone always assumes it has eight legs because we call it a spider. Count them yourself"

George did. There really were only six. He wondered what else he always took for granted.

"It doesn't really need eight legs. Three legs will hold it squarely in position while it steps with the other three. We could have made do with just four, but it travels faster moving three at a time."

George could see that. "What other horrors have you taught that thing to do?"

"Read text, understand maps, understand a few dozen spoken words. We can give it directions lots of different ways now."

"Does it do more than blindly follow those directions?

Chan seemed to wilt. He had been having fun, but that question brought him back to his problems. "No. It still shows no initiative." Chan handed the Othello board back to George, put away his own chess set, slid the drawer in, and cleaned up the trash left over from his lunch. Having master-level understanding in several very technical disciplines provided no guarantee that Chan could understand every problem which came his way. As it was turning out, his spider was going to be more complex than he had anticipated - possibly more complex than he would be able to understand. People were certainly beyond his ability to fathom. Maybe George, being a biologist, would have a better shot at that one. He decided to try.

"Hey, can you understand Angela"

"Well enough, Why?"

"Oh, I can never make any sense out of what she's saying."

"Give me an example."

Chan thought for a moment. "Well, once I asked her something about your schedule on a particular day, and she responded by ignoring the question and telling me that that day was Thursday."

George looked blank for a few seconds; but then the pieces fell together. "OK, as you might have guessed, I kind of have to keep my schedule pretty darn well organized - well enough that things don't start getting messed up."

"I can believe that."

"So I keep to a daily routine which is posted on the wall in my office. It's a huge chart. Everyone knows where it is and refers to it regularly."

"So Angela just naturally assumed I was 'everyone'."

"People make lots of assumptions they take for granted. In fact, I just did that a minute ago with your six-legged spider. Angela just tends to be a little farther out than most of us."

Chan smiled, one of the few genuine smiles he had been able to produce for quite awhile. In general, things were not going well. The fact that his spider showed no initiative meant he was failing to deliver what he had promised the Vatican.


Chapter XIII

Fenris

As badly as things had been going, George was not particularly surprised when Dr. Fenris Howard was called in to assist with Dr. Chan's project. Dr. Howard had presented a benign front. "No hurt feelings; I'm just doing what I can to assist a colleague in trouble." Those at Cathtech weren't buying it. In fact, nobody on either coast really liked Fenris. Many were flatly afraid of him. His work had certainly been cryptic - some would say, outright clandestine. Still, it was universally accepted that Fenris was the leading authority on cybernetic intelligence. It was time to admit that if anyone could make the spider dance it was he.

George wondered if such an expert existed who could help him with Charley's project. If so, he hoped the expert would not be at all like Fenris. Fenris gave him the creeps.

When Dr. Howard arrived on campus, George stopped visiting Chan's lab altogether. Fenris was tall and thin with angular Mideastern features, dark skin, straight dark greased hair, and a pointed goatee. George didn't really know what devils looked like but he was sure they must have at least the same smile Fenris did - a predator's smile - superficially friendly, but somehow his dark eyes watched you too closely.

At first, Fenris acted in the capacity of a consultant, but as time passed, he managed to achieve control of more and more aspects of Chan's project. Fenris had a way of telling those who were in charge of the money exactly what they wanted to hear - although this was seldom the truth. Chan, being limited to the truth, was hardly ever able to give pleasing reports.


I can see that I will need to steal a moment away from the telling of my story and apologize for this element which it contains. Fiction is supposed to be, at least in principle, believable; and here I am expecting the reader to swallow my silly supposition that those who are sufficiently respected to be put in charge of the management of major funding would prefer hearing pleasant lies to the honest truth. That certainly cannot be the formula which generates maximum return on each research dollar.

I could suggest that, perhaps, they are somehow unable to tell truth from lies, but this is hardly more believable. If, as we are told, "The man who uses a fool for a messenger cuts off his own feet," then how much more, does the man who selects a fool to allocate funding. Perhaps this lapse is only temporary; with time, my money managers may be able to see the results of the course they are now pursuing and will amend their practice. However, I cannot help but suspect the present arrangement might be somewhat less then transient.

The fault must, one way or another, be my own. I admit that I myself am baffled by this element of my imaginary world. My conjecture is that these managers, like Drs. Molino and Chan, have their own personal problems; and that somehow this colors their otherwise sound judgment. Whatever the underlying reason, the reader will just have to bear with this deficit in credibility.


Chapter XIV

Defeat

In any case, the weeks at Cathtech passed without news of any significant advances as Fenris progressively gained control. Soon he had acquired authority equal to Dr. Chan's. George began to hope the project would simply be canceled - anything to get Fenris off campus and restore access to his friend. As it was, the only time they got together was when Dr. Chan stopped by George's lab to visit - as he had tonight.

The Othello board came right out with George going second as they had agreed - until he mastered the game. George managed to get his men positioned on the number three and six squares of the first edge, but he accidentally left an odd number of empty squares between the first two men he placed on the next edge. Chan ultimately got that edge away from him and won the game - but it was a narrow win. With a little more practice, George would be an invincible second starter. George looked forward to that day with enthusiasm - not realizing, as Chan knew, that he would lose interest in the game as soon as he mastered it.

Because George didn't have any new ideas on Charley's project, the conversation drifted to the spider. The issue was not one of robotics or logistics anymore. By now, all questions revolved around the friction between the two project heads. "Man cannot serve two masters," was a formula which certainly described the problems of those who attempted to answer to both Fenris and Chan. Perhaps there was also a formula which described the problems the two leaders themselves were having.

The pressure on Dr. Chan had grown steadily greater. The Vatican wanted results and, without them, the project would be dropped. There was pressure from Fenris too. Fenris had wanted to install a small controller of his own design which would oversee the operations of Chan's computer. Chan had repeatedly objected. At first the objection had some logical substance; Fenris couldn't or wouldn't explain how the controller worked, and Chan believed he had reasonable need to understand his own project. Fenris seemed to offer a quick solution - one which might or might not work - but if Chan accepted it, and if it did work, he wouldn't even have a clue how. It would be as if his total contribution to the crux of the project had been exactly nothing.

As more time passed, Chan stopped caring if he understood at all; but he still didn't want to lose control. Unfortunately, he was getting desperate; without results, there would be no project.

It was looking more and more like this would be Fenris' victory instead of his. Fenris simply wouldn't explain how his controller worked. "Much too technical," he would say rubbing salt into the wounds. "It relies on a side effect of quantum mechanical interactions on a small matrix of semiconductor junctions." This would have been annoying enough if Dr. Chan hadn't been so technical. Because Dr. Chan understood every effect in the books of Q.M. on solid state junctions, this sentence might be better phrased as, "Naah Naah Naah-Naah Naah."

The political climate had just worsened until earlier that evening when tempers had finally overcome laboratory protocol and an honest argument had broken out. Nothing was working. Fenris was obviously using this as an excuse to take over the project. It wasn't right; it wasn't proper; it wasn't fair; but Chan was exhausted. He had been shouting - not because he really cared about his own arguments - he had stopped caring some time ago; his rational concern had finally given way, leaving an outward facade - he had become a face-saving creature which fought on after all reason for fighting had evaporated.

Ironically, it was when Dr. Chan was left without reasons that his arguments became the loudest and most adamant. But then, Dr. Chan was every bit as human as others of his species. Emotional irrationality can be found at every level of society; even great scientists are not really exempt.

When Chan had finished relating his story to George, venting even his own personal weakness and failure, he lapsed into silence. After a few minutes, he excused himself. George watched him through the windows as Chan slowly trudged back to his own lab. George could see in his friend's retreating figure what Chan was, even now, not ready to admit: Fenris would be allowed to install the controller. Chan had lost control of his own project.

In some ways George was in the same position. The second draft of Charley's paper was starting to make him think he was losing control of his very life - even of his ability to think. He thought Charley was wrong; but what difference did it make if he couldn't prove it - to Charley, to the Inquisition, but mostly to himself. That's right, to himself! What if he were really wrong and Charley right? What if he didn't really understand the Scriptures or the mathematics. Then what?

He was back at the same question. What was truth? More to the point, how could he know whether or not something was the truth. If a theory agreed with every known fact and every verse of Scripture, this would not necessarily make it true. A new fact could always be discovered. Galileo's pendulum proved that. Science and Scripture had both seemed to agree with the theory that the sun circled the earth; yet there was the earth turning visibly right under everyone's noses. And what if a fact or a verse appeared to disagree with a theory? Could anyone ever be sure they understood everything perfectly?

Was there something very important here that George was taking for granted? Something which simply wasn't true?


Chapter XV

Theories

Not only was today beautiful, George had also won his first game of Othello! Would Chan be upset? He couldn't remember ever seeing Chan loose a game before; and he hadn't been in a very good mood lately.

He needn't have worried. Chan leaned back in his chair with his hands clasped behind his head, beaming like a proud teacher. "Ahh, de sweet smell of de feet! Well played, my friend!"

George relaxed. "You finally managed to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory."

"And you finally figured out you were better off playing beside the corner on a strong edge than giving another edge away."

"But never diagonally in from it!"

"Hey, this surrogate-mother theory of yours is starting to raise a few eyebrows around campus. Are you serious about it?"

"I'm not really sure anymore. I wasn't at first; it just seemed like a convenient way to answer a couple of Charley's objections; but then it kind of took on a life of its own. It just started predicting more and more of the evidence without requiring any more creative effort on my part."

"Like what?"

"Well, for example, it predicts the fossil chain sequences - like the horse sequence. If God used surrogate mothers to create the first new representatives of each species, he would have needed to create an entire chain of 'transition' forms connecting widely separated kinds of creatures. His steps would have had to be small because a surrogate mother can't successfully deliver something too different from herself."

"Isn't that limiting God?"

"Not really. It isn't a limitation on God's ability, it's a limitation on the mother's."

"Why couldn't a surrogate produce large steps?"

"Just imagine the resulting disaster of modifying the genes in a tiny mother mouse so her offspring would become a baby elephant. That one is kind of obvious; but the same general principle applies in subtle ways to even very small steps.

"Humans have trouble when there are incompatible blood rh factors between a mother and a developing fetus she's carrying. If the child has rh positive blood and the mother has rh negative this difference can cause complications. This happens with two humans who are exactly the same kind; yet it can be fatal in some cases. You can imagine how much more difficult it might be for a surrogate mother to deliver a new creature of another kind."

"I can see that."

"Anyway, for various biochemical and physical reasons, the differences between a new kind and its surrogate mother would have to be relatively small. So if God chose to bridge major kinds by using surrogate mothers, it seems He would necessarily have done it with many small steps.

"That's one prediction. Next, the separation between kinds cannot exceed the interbreeding distance; at least it can't be significantly farther. The limit is the point where the differences become fatal to a developing offspring. If the kinds are too dissimilar, offspring simply won't survive; or maybe they will survive but will be infertile. Mules, dog-fox crosses, even dog-wolf crosses are infertile to some extent.

"A look at the creation suggests that this might really be the spacing God used between His kinds. What we see, in the fossil record, is a series of creatures separated by approximately this distance; a chain of "quantum leaps" connecting life's kinds. And, of course, it's different from the gradual continuum predicted by Charley's theory."

That got Chan's attention. "Charley's theory has also been causing a bit of a flap; at least the students seem to be excited about it. How do the two theories stand up to each other?"

"Both theories are surprisingly predictive. The surrogate theory seems to be doing slightly better in a few places.

"For example, Charley had trouble explaining a few structures like wings. It's difficult to explain the survival advantage that the first arm feathers might have given the first bird-like lizard? Half a wing would just slow it down; it wouldn't help it fly. But Charley had to come up with a beneficial reason for every step along the way.

"He also couldn't explain why the fossils were so scarce in this most fascinating region. The surrogate-mother theory answers these questions easily. The transitional forms probably had had no advantage at all; in fact, they probably lived with a liability. But God would plan ahead with a future advantage being the only criteria. The transitional forms, suffering from a liability, would naturally die off quickly, without leaving significant fossil evidence.

"Also, Charley's theory didn't explain why coelacanths had changed so very little from their fossil ancestors of 350 million years ago - over the same time span that, as Charley claimed, a very similar fish changed through amphibian, reptile, mammal, and ape to man. If Charley had been even a little bit right, the coelacanth ought to have changed by at least that same little bit. Charley's theory missed the elements of purpose and the arbitrary and extreme discontinuity of progress which are so obviously a part of the real creation.

"And of course Charley's theory didn't explain why there were so many different types of ape-men living in Africa at the same time and in the same places. According to Charley, only the fittest should survive. If the larger brained, tool-using, Homo was the result of a million years worth of selective advantage, the more advanced preserving his genes at the expense of the lesser, then why were the "lesser" Australopithecines still thriving all over Africa a million years later?"

"OK, I think I get the picture" Chan interrupted. "It's a very interesting theory; but it's still a heresy."

"Only until it gets formal recognition."

"Are you going to submit it?"

"No way! I'm in enough trouble with the D.B.H. already!"

"Where's your sense of adventure? Those guys at the Department of Biological Heresies don't have anything better to do anyway."

"Maybe you'd like to submit it."

"Is it OK if I put your name on it?"

"I'd rather you didn't," George decided it was time to change the subject, "Are you going to the lecture tomorrow afternoon?"

"No. I realize it's pointless; but I feel like I need to keep an eye on Fenris anyway."

"Good luck."

"Thanks"


Chapter XVI

Nightmare

Dr. Chan leaned back in his chair and tried to appear relaxed as he looked across his desk at the intruder. Dr. Howard dropped casually into the chair on the opposite side and stared right back - savoring the delicious news he was about to deliver.

"The beast works - just like I said," Fenris gloated.

"Can it run the obstacle course?" Chan challenged, managing not to choke. He closed his eyes, bracing himself for the answer.

"Down cold! It's even showing off. In fact, it'll be running the whole lab soon," - the smile widened.

"Now wait a minute ... ," that was going a bit too far. Chan's muscles tightened as he bent forward - forcing his eyes to stare accusingly at Fenris.

"A few hundred billion operations a second, how fast do you think?" - Fenris was enjoying this.

"It takes a lot more than fast addition to manage this lab; it takes years of study and experience."

"Library of Congress enough? Maybe all the online journals in the Milikan computer? It's been transferring data like a madman."

"How would it get ..."

"Linked to your computer, remember? - and from there to the net ..."

"It hasn't got the storage space ..."

"It was reformatting it's own hard drive when I left it - probably found some killer compression techniques in the journals ..."

"It would have to change it's own software ..."

"The source code is on your computer, and the compiler ... remember?"

Chan closed his eyes again and forced himself back into his seat.

Fenris continued. "You know what else? It has access to all of the poetry ever written. By now it knows how you feel - what terrifies you - what motivates you ... " Fenris was turning this into a ghost story.

"It's just a machine," Chan reminded Fenris - and himself. This must all be a joke.

"A machine that can 'choose'," Fenfis chided.

"Yes but ..."

"What part of 'choose' don't you understand? It was supposed to be autonomous; well, it is!"

"Yes, ... in a limited way ..."

"Limited autonomy?" it sounded really stupid now that Fenris said it.

"There are built in safety constraints!"

"What part of 'choose' don't you understand?" it was definitely a taunt this time.

"Don't be silly; it has no motivation! No reason to do anything evil - or anything at al, for that matter. It's just a machine!"

"No motivation? So it wouldn't do anything? Do you remember your own tests? Well, it's sure busy right now! It's motivated all right!"

"But it is logical, after all."

"Yesss." Fenris hissed it out like a snake. "But it's not human, you know. In fact, it's not even flesh and blood! You've never encountered anything like it have you? You don't really know what it is, do you little man?" Suddenly Fenris was no longer human either, He had turned into a bright red devil complete with horns, claws and a tail. The claws flipped out like little switchblades, just like in the cartoons, and the creature sprang across the desk.


Chan jerked awake, his body finally responding to the command he had given it. He sat up in bed with his heart pounding. It was all just a dream. It was just a dream! He lowered himself back onto the bed again, trying to catch his breath and relax.

The dark room around him was moving - alive with the spirits of every creature that had ever died since the creation of the world. No, they weren't spirits; it was just the graininess of the individual neurons from his retina firing, a few at a time - the perceptible noise from the low signal conditions in his darkened room. The terrible spirits still swam around him, but now they had been reduced to the random shapes that are seen in clouds. "It was just a dream; go back to sleep!" he commanded himself aloud.

But he couldn't; something was still wrong - something that waking hadn't fixed. "Just a dream," he reminded himself yet again. He forced it out of his mind, again and again, until he was finally asleep once more.


Chapter XVII

Beckman

From the outside, the new Beckman cathedral looked more like a white, circular circus tent than the main lecture hall of a world-class institute of higher learning. From the inside, the effect was only slightly less apparent. The ceiling was draped, tent style, with a "fabric" comprised of what looked like chain mail made from old tuna can lids. From the perspective of acoustical physics alone, it might have been the best auditorium ever designed; however, when the hall was empty, it was sufficiently sound-dead to be almost oppressive. When filled, like it was right now, the worst public speaker could be heard clearly, even from the top of the balcony; although that was not where Dr. Molino was presently seated.

Today's speaker was a visiting professor and author from Cambridge, named Clive Lewis. Although Dr. Lewis was now very old, he could still think clearly and still packed out auditoriums wherever he spoke. George had no idea what subject Dr. Lewis intended to address today; what was important was that he was now hearing him speak, in person - a privilege he would not soon forget.

Dr. Lewis seemed to be discussing the mechanics of miracles - the means by which God interfered in human affairs. There were none of the usual graphic enhancements that were normally deployed in this sacred hall - just the patriarch himself, leaning against the large oak podium on the left of the stage, speaking with contagious enthusiasm.

George noticed he had been studying the man himself and had been missing the words. He leaned forward and forced his attention, picking up in the middle of a sentence.

"... the very concepts of valid and invalid would seem to be at risk, as we shall see.

"This fact is often hidden from us by the design of our language. Words can play tricks on us, and even control our very thoughts. George Orwell experimented with this concept in his novel 1984. As you may recall, his protagonists controlled the thoughts of the citizens by limiting the available vocabulary. For example, a single word 'oldthink' inextricably mixed the ideas of 'wickedness' and 'decadence' with those ideas which were formed 'before the revolution.' We might be amused at how easily Orwell's characters fell victim to these tricks, but our own version of English, contains many traps of its own.

"Even if there is no sinister purpose or intent, a single word with two similar meanings can present endless confusion. In fact, it can completely muddle logical thought - if we are not careful.

"One such word is our English word 'because.' This term plays a key role in our concept of how logic works. The word 'because' has two different meanings which are sufficiently similar that we often forget that they are different at all; but they are. What's more, in one critical sense, the two meanings are nearly opposites of each other!

"One might wonder if it is really possible to confuse opposites. It's not only possible, the single word identifying both concepts makes it difficult to keep the meanings separate. Allow me to illustrate. One meaning of the word 'because' is the 'cause and effect' sense of the word. As I might say, 'I am healthy because the food I eat is healthy.' The healthy food which I eat causes me to be healthy. I would be less healthy or dead if I ate spoiled food or poison. The type of food I eat represents a cause which produces an effect represented by my health. I presume, you are all with me so far."

The murmur of assent from those surrounding George conveyed the impression that at least those were following.

"The second meaning of 'because' I will call the 'grounds to conclude' sense of the word. In this sense, I might say, 'I know the food I eat is healthy because I am healthy.' Because I am healthy after having eaten the food for a prolonged period, I conclude that the food must have been good for me and not poisonous. My good health represents evidence for me to conclude that the food I have eaten must have been healthy for me.

"Notice that my good health does not 'cause' the food I have eaten to be healthy in any way. Likewise, the fact that I eat healthy food is not really grounds for concluding that I am healthy; more simply put, it is not 'grounds' for concluding anything at all.

"The two concepts are completely separate ideas - as I have said, opposites in a critical sense. They are as different as 'give' and 'take' - yet, in out minds, they become tangled together under the single word 'because.' If the concepts 'give' and 'take' had been combined under the single mechanical word 'transfer,' moral ideas like "donating" or "stealing" might have required lengthy explanations to separate."

George leaned back in his seat and looked at some of the other faces around him. They were all captivated by the eminent philologist. Noticing that he was letting his mind wander again, he snapped it back.

"... us assume that Sam has told us that high-fiber food is good for us. Our task will be to decide whether or not to believe him. If Sam were a respected friend we might believe him 'because' - by this I mean that we have 'grounds to conclude' - 'because' he has earned our trust by his actions in the past.

"But let's assume a chain of events happens to erode our trust in Sam. First we discover that Sam's brother - we'll call him Joe - sells high-fiber food. We realize that this might influence Sam. He might tend to support high-fiber food 'because' - that's cause and effect - 'because' his family loyalty causes him to. We should be less trusting in Sam's advice 'because' - now I mean grounds to conclude - 'because' this loyalty might tend to divert him from the honest truth. Notice that the two types of 'because' do not peacefully coexist. When the one is present, encouraging Sam to make a statement, there will be less of the other, leaving us to believe that statement less. The presence of the one displaces the other.

"We can go farther with this. Let's assume we learn that Sam's brother pays Sam to tell us high-fiber food is good for us. Sam only says it 'because' - cause and effect - 'because' he is paid to. Now we 'know' Sam is influenced and should be even less trusting 'because' - grounds to conclude - 'because' of this cause. Where there is more cause for him to make this assertion, there is less grounds for us to believe him. See how the one replaces the other?

"Now let's pretend that Sam is just a robot constructed by Joe.

A lively discussion broke out in the first row and Professor Lewis interrupted it. "No, No! The robot isn't Joe's brother. Forget that part; we're changing the story.

Dr. Lewis paused for the chuckles to die away.

"If Sam is Joe's robot, he tells us high fiber is good 'because' - complete cause and effect - that is how Joe built him. Now we cannot trust Sam at all 'because' - grounds to conclude - Sam's advice is mechanically caused. This time our reason to believe Sam has been completely displaced by Joe's tampering - that is, by his cause. Instead we would have to decide whether or not to trust Joe; or, better yet, we could do our own research and come to our own conclusions.

"And now - this is where it really gets fun - now we go in for our weekly checkup at our neurologist, who shows us an x-ray of our brains. There, to our chagrin, where we expected to see our cerebrum, we behold the image of a small computer designed by - you guessed it - by Joe. He even etched his name right there in the corner of the circuit board."

Dr. Lewis had to pause again. This was a good audience.

"So, where are we? At this point, we cannot even trust our own thoughts. Why? 'Because' - this is grounds to conclude - 'because' they are caused; our thoughts are what they are 'because' - meaning cause and effect - that's how Joe programmed them. Should we trust Joe? How could we ever decide?"

This time the pause was for a mixture of chuckles and quite a few brief conversations which had suddenly erupted.

"My point is that the more causality encroaches upon our processes of logic and reasoning, the less reason we have to trust it. When causality becomes absolute, our grounds for believing our own conclusions disappear completely. But what does this little story have to do with the real world?"

George thought he knew. He found a scrap of paper in his pocket and pulled out a pen. It was time to take some notes.


Chapter XVIII

The Light

That evening, after George finished his normal routine, he picked up Charley's project again. It had grown considerably, and Charley had tightened quite a few of the softer spots. The final draft, due in two days, would probably be tighter still.

Even though the sun had gone down, he was still too warm for comfort. He leaned over to the window and switched on the air conditioner. As the temperature dropped he began to get comfortable - and not just physically. He was finally confident that Charley was wrong, although he still had some doubts about whether he could organize his thoughts well enough to prove it within the Inquisition's guidelines.

At least now he thought he knew what truth was. The answer was linked to the elimination of cause and effect. Like in Dr. Lewis's lecture, you obviously couldn't just believe what someone told you truth was. As a worst case, it might turn out that they had no conscience at all and would tell you anything that would improve their chances of survival. And never believe your own brain if you think someone, even you yourself, might be bribing it - "causing" it to tell you what they wanted you to hear. Now, what if, as Charley claimed, natural forces where handing out the bribes?

Could impersonal forces be trusted? Yes they could. A falling rock could be trusted to keep on falling, even if this meant it would crush you. An incorrectly designed computer could be trusted to give you the same wrong answer every time. Evidently the word "trust" also had multiple meanings. With regard to the kind of trust George was seeking, natural forces were, apparently, neutral; they were as likely to side against survival as with it.

Although they were as likely to help the hunter as the hunted, in Charley's vision they would bolster the quickest of both; they could be trusted to cull the slow. They could also be trusted to eliminate thoughts which would threaten survival; they would tell you truth or lies - whichever would remove a life threat. Now the question was whether the truth would necessarily improve the chance of survival better than a lie would.

Does the mind of a man held at gunpoint produce only the lie which might be expedient for survival - or does that mind also produce the truth which must then also be considered? The answer was obvious. In fact, the threatened man really knows the truth from the lie. He may choose to lie, but he will know that it is a lie and will probably feel some guilt. Guilt, in this situation, would be contrary to the interest of survival; it therefore could not be a direct result of the kind of creation which Charley described. But it was certainly a product of the real agent of creation.

Could guilt, or even truth itself, be an indirect result - a necessary intermediate step? Maybe it would be impossible to sort the expedient from the inexpedient without first having the ability to sort truth from error. This could be a very complicated problem.

A mental picture of a Great White Shark cast doubt on that possibility. It had the expedient down cold; yet it seemed to have no use for truth or morality of any kind. Truth might have to find its source elsewhere. This question would need some more study.

There were several interesting elements present in human thought. The threatened man's mind told him what the truth was, what lie would be expedient, that to lie would be wrong, and finally, some other agency remained which chose which to implement. Surprisingly, these elements appeared to have several very different goals.

Like some cold and emotionless machine, a man's brain produced both the true and the expedient answers - the truth having no obvious bent either for or against survival - the expedient having no obvious bent for or against truth. Like the computer brain in Professor Lewis's lecture, it could not be trusted to produce the truth unless it's designer could be trusted. Could that designer be trusted?

Well, there was one shortcut to that answer; Dr. Lewis had called it the proof against all proofs - including, of course, that proof itself. Either this designer could be trusted, or George's brain was useless; he could forget about answering this question, or any other question for that matter. He smiled and decided he would have to presume the design agency, whatever it was, could be trusted. If not, George might as well stop trying to think, and earn his living some other way.

Next there was the element like a conscience - like a messenger from heaven. It provided the moral information. This part was blind to survival expediency but concerned instead with truth. This was an interesting element. It, like truth itself, seemed to have no stake in the survival of the individual; but unlike truth itself, it carried an urgency - a sense of what "ought" to be instead of what merely was. This element seemed to have no place in Charley's vision. In fact, it was a catch - a fatal flaw. This element could not exist if Charley were right, but did, in fact, exist anyway.

Then there was the final element. It, alone, was in charge of converting the man's thoughts into actions. It produced no information, but merely made a choice between the true and expedient while regarding or disregarding the conscience as it wished. This final element seemed to use no universally consistent criteria. A martyr would gladly sacrifice his own life to persevere regarding a question of truth; while a fiend might as gladly take another's life and promote lies to attain even a small measure of gain in the "expediency" department.

Charley claimed survival pressure could fine tune a parameter of a creature very delicately - so delicately, in fact, that the spacing between the rod and cone sensor elements on the retina of an eye would fall at precisely the resolution resulting from the numerical aperture of the corresponding lens. But here was an element which had so completely escaped tuning that it had access to behavior at the barely comprehendible extremes.

There would be general agreement between the martyr and fiend concerning what the truth was, what was expedient, and even, to some extent, which of the two was moral. Truth was more than finely tuned; it was mathematical and would continue to exist if the entire physical universe were removed. It appeared that expediency and conscience had also been very well tuned; at least there would be general agreement across extreme elements of society.

That final element was a key one; it was exactly what made one man good and another bad. Of the elements present, only it ranked expediency worth weighing; it alone had no rules which it must follow; and it alone decided what the body would do. It was also the only part which could look at the other elements and be aware of their presence. It seemed to be the ghost in the machine, the break from the chain of causality. Maybe it alone comprised the other side of the philosopher's division between brain and mind.

Those elements which had no concern for expediency, could not be a product of Charley's random creation. They had no stake in survival; so they had to find their roots elsewhere. And that "ghost" element, the one which was potentially subject to survival pressure, had for some reason experienced no perceptible tuning at all. So it seemed random mutations must have been unable to exert any influence over it. Of the elements present, it alone seemed to be disconnected from the chain of dominos comprising the neural processes. It had, somehow, escaped Dr. Lewis's link to physical cause. And this world was all causes; so at least this last agency was not a product of this world, but of another.

Maybe that was Dr. Chan's problem. His computer was made of nothing but gates. The output of any gate was caused by its inputs. The whole could output nothing which wasn't caused. Maybe truth, expediency, and morality could be programmed into it, assuming the designer understood them; but simple "choice," in the sense George had just investigated, was beyond the computer itself. In a computer's mind, no real choice could ever be made.

A light had come on in George's mind; and when it did, he was sure that no light could ever come on in a computer's mind. He hadn't finished answering his own question - not yet - but maybe he could help Chan. He picked up the phone and dialed Chan's office extension. Dr. Chan's computer could never have a life of its own.

He could not have been more wrong; for as he dialed, Dr. Fenris Loki Howard was busy breathing the breath of life into Chan's creature.


Chapter XIX

Missing Pentagrams

The seance was being held in a small anteroom to Chan's lab, lit by only the blue-green and red glow from the instruments. Status-indicator lights blinked occasionally. Patterns of square angular lines, representing the activity of digital circuits, flashed periodically as the logic analyzer retriggered. Fenris was seated on a lab stool, hunched over the assembled creature on the table before him. Even with his device installed, the spider did nothing. This did not surprise Fenris even a bit. There was another step which he had not explained to Dr. Chan, or to anyone else for that matter; it was something which would not bear telling in public. And now the time had come.

Fenris lit a single archaic candle, an anachronism among the other objects on the bench, and bowed his head in something resembling prayer - the resemblance being merely superficial. From beyond the world, the summonsed creature came. If one could describe it at all, they might have said it was part cat, part bird of prey, and part shadow; but, in truth, it was completely different from any of these. The creature assumed a location in time and space before Fenris, and communed with him a moment. Only then did Fenris begin to realize which of the two was really in charge.

Vanity grants the illusion of great strength and power to those who posses it; but it is a very thin veneer. Although Fenris had invited the creature, coming face to face with the reality dispelled the last visage of delusion. Even so, the perceived need to save face somehow always remained past any reasonable justification. Fenris remained still and merely swallowed as the creature from beyond the physical realm took it's position at the helm of the spider.


Yes, I know what you are thinking. This was a perfectly good science fiction story just a minute ago and now I have ruined it. Demons from Hell indeed! What place do they have in a story where the rules of nature are faithfully followed? What will I be saying next? Magic wands? Genies in bottles? What is the point of pretending to follow all of the scientific laws if I am going to break them where it suits me?

Dear me (I answer); you have forgotten that this has been a fairy tale from the very beginning; but I am afraid I am at fault for this confusion. I have been telling my story very badly. In fact, I have completely forgotten to tell you about all of the totally fantastic properties of this imaginary world.

For example, as Fenris sits frozen before us, in the same world, a twenty-foot-long, slimy, squishy, tentacled monster sits at the bottom of a deep ocean feasting on a hapless creature, holding it fast by suction cups placed along those tentacles, while its parrot-like beak rips morsels free. While this convivial terror takes place, another larger terror silently slips up behind, opening a toothed maw large enough to snap up the former monster, and a battle of titans commences.

I have also forgotten to tell you of the single gigantic moon possessed by this planet; which occults, nearly exactly, the same solid angle of the sky as the single star which illuminates this world. Furthermore, I have chosen the orbits such that, at rare intervals and places, this moon exactly obscures all of this star except it's fiery corona and the entire host of stars can be seen in the middle of the day.

Are you starting to get the picture? This is no ordinary world; but one which harbors strange wonders which are kept secret until rare selected individuals are permitted to view them briefly, sometimes to their immediate demise, at other times they are permitted to spread the strange tales to their unbelieving brethren.

What this is, is a world in which the Church and it's doctrines are held to the same hard scrutiny as any scientific teaching should normally be - and a world where spirits are not denied admission because of the mere fact of their being spirits. Here they are allowed admittance until their nonexistence can be properly demonstrated; which, as I fantasize, has not yet been rigorously accomplished.

But more to the point, this is a world in which even the learned masters, those who discover or invent new wonders, are as likely to sacrifice their lives to their discoveries as to gain from them. In this world, manned flight would be discovered, not once, but many times - with flight, like any demon, ruthlessly claiming the lives of each of its discoverers until two bicycle mechanics would realize the need to control the monster before releasing it from its bottle - having first discovered the importance of learning to control even a simple bicycle.

In this world, the first to reach the summit of an imposing peak or a desolate pole will not necessarily be the first to attempt; he may encounter the remains of his predecessors along the way. Here, even the sacred halls of science are littered with the corpses of the men and women who have bravely yet foolishly advanced its cause.

So you see, the Fenris in my story is really no different than any other great inventor or discoverer one might expect to find in this mythical world. He has merely encountered the uncommon, and, like so many of his predecessors, he has forgotten to draw the required pentagram.


Chapter XX

Phone Call

"Hello," Chan answered. He was whispering and he sounded stressed as well.

George reached over and shut off the air conditioner so he could hear better. "What's wrong?" he almost demanded, forgetting, for the moment, the reason he had called.

"Fenris is out of control. He really has me scared."

"What's he doing? Are you in danger?"

"He thinks I left. I saw his controller. It's not what I thought."

"What does his controller have to do with it? Are you in danger?" George was having trouble making sense of this.

"It isn't a computer at all."

"Stop it! Are you in danger?" George was getting exasperated.

"I don't think so. He doesn't know I'm here."

"Can you talk?"

"I'll have to keep it down."

"Can we meet somewhere where we can talk?"

"I want to keep my eye on him, and I might get caught if I leave now."

"But you're safe?"

"I think so."

"OK what was that about the controller. ... It can't work anyway." George added the latter, remembering now why he had called.

"I don't think it's supposed to work. At least not the way we thought. Fenris left it out on the bench earlier and I took a second, just as I was leaving, to slide it under the microscope. There was nothing to it - half a dozen elements max. Not enough to add two and two. When I got to the parking lot, I realized it must be some kind of receiver. I realized ... or thought, Fenris was pulling some kind of con. So I came back to get another look. Fenris is scared of that thing!"

"What thing?"

"The spider." Chan was getting a little exasperated himself, but he wasn't really making sense.

"Why? It's just a robot - not even a very strong one - and if he's pulling its strings, how could he possibly be afraid of it?"

"Don't you get it? He isn't pulling it's strings."

"Take a deep breath and think Chan! You told me his controller was a receiver."

"I think I was wrong ... I mean, I think it's a receiver but not a radio receiver."

"Infrared? Microwave?" George was trying to stay patient. Chan was starting to remind him of his secretary. Maybe Dr. Chan and Angela weren't so very different as he had thought.

"More like ESP. Only ... Well, when I got back to the lab, Fenris looked more like he was presiding over a seance. It was creepy. And now he's scared of that thing too."

"Your spider?"

"I don't think it's really my spider anymore. It's something else. It's possessed. Uh ..." Panic was rapidly building in Chan's voice as he added the last word. The phone must have dropped and then there was a crash.

George dropped his own phone and started off for Chan's lab at a dead run. His concern had caused him to forget his physical limitations for the moment. After a hundred yards, he was breathing very heavily and starting to feel cramps. At about the halfway point, his vision was beginning to gray out. By the time he was in sight of "Baxter," the best he could maintain was a not-so-fast walk.

When he finally arrived, the lab was very quiet. It was also dark. The only light came from a few instruments which had been left on - and from a candle which for some reason waas burning in one of the side rooms. George flipped the light switch but nothing happened. Someone must have tripped a breaker. George stepped into the lab and waited for his eyes to adjust, his heart pounding and lungs heaving.

Gradually he took in the scene. Water covered much of the floor - not a good sign in an electronics lab - annd some broken glass. A few wires were strung where they didn't appear to belong. An occasional arc buzzed from behind one of the benches. Chan was on the floor lying very still. Fenris was gone.

George picked up the phone and dialed the paramedics, his eyes scanning the lab for Chan's spider. Was it armed by now? What could it do? Read text, read maps, accelerate at three gee's, cause a whole lot of trouble.

Something whirred quickly behind the cabinets and then out into the hall. The receding sound faded in a few seconds - at least George could no longer hear it over his breathing. It had moved fast - about the top speed designed into Chan's spider. It didn't seem to be conserving energy. He remembered what Chan had told him; at twenty miles per hour its batteries would be dead in, oh, ... about a minute or two. False alarm. No threat there. In any case, it was gone. George went over to see what he could do for Chan until the paramedics arrived.

By the time the paramedics had carted off Dr. Chan and the police were finished, it was after midnight. It appeared that Chan had fallen and hit his head on the floor. Fenris was wanted for questioning.


The police were never able to locate Dr. Fenris Loki Howard; neither could any of the staff at Cathtech - not even to give him his last paycheck. By all appearances he had just disappeared from the face of the earth. It was a mystery why a respected, not to mention well-paid, authority would just up and turn his back on his successful career, disappearing like that. The police had their own theories which centered about a suspected fear of prosecution regarding the unusual circumstances surrounding the injuries sustained by one Professor Wilbur Chan.

Personally, I believe that the police were only partly correct. As I see it, fear was a strong motivating force in the subsequent doings of Fenris, but, the police may have guessed incorrectly as to fear of what. In any case, Fenris is now beyond the grasp of any character within my narrative and can make no further contributions to the story. Whether or not he is now safe is another question altogether.

But wherever Fenris might now be, a creature from the pit of hell is now loose and still very much within demesnes of my story. Furthermore, it appears to be hell-bent on pure and simple destruction.


Chapter XXI

Visiting Deity

Alex's family was in town this afternoon and was planning on dropping by later; but at the moment, Charley was the only visitor present in Alex's dorm room. He was picking Alex's brain for information to help him with his project. Earlier this year, Alex had shown Charley the second chapter of Genesis. Since then, he had helped him with many other steps as well. At the moment, they were discussing Luke's usage of the phrase "the son of God" in chapters one and three of his Gospel.

"Look Charley, we agree it doesn't prove Professor Molino's case; but, since you haven't refuted it, we still have to allow it as a logical possibility. It is one way to understand the words; and that means a person can theoretically claim that the Bible proactively teaches Molio's theory."

"That's pretty weak."

"Maybe; but if so, then 'weak' and 'strong' have more to do with what belief happens to be popular at the moment than with what the Scriptural syntax allows."

Charley said nothing and just stared at his notes.

"Look. Even if the Bible allows for his theory, it doesn't mean he's right and you're wrong. All you have to do is make your theory consistent with all of the evidence."

"That isn't quite good enough. He says I have to 'support' my claim with the facts."

"Do that; but do it defensively. Make Dr. Molino take the offense. All you really have to do is show that your theory is consistent with the known facts. Your theory is as good as any other as long as no fact disagrees with it. Just so long as he doesn't come up with a fact which falsifies your theory, you're OK."

"But I wanted to prove it."

"You can't ever do that with a scientific theory, the best you can do is refute the opposing theories."

"That would be good enough."

"You think you can prove God never created using a surrogate mother?"

"I think so."

"What about Jesus? Doesn't He count?"

"Oh. I hadn't noticed that."

"Maybe your professor won't either."

"I'm not really trying to pull a snow job."

"Then maybe you should try to understand the math."

"I don't think I have time."

"How many days do you have left anyway?"

"The final draft is due tomorrow."

Alex threw Charley an annoyed look, but his attention was diverted by his twelve-year-old sister, Nicole, who had just come running in through the open door, Hershey bar in hand.

"Hi Charley." Nicole, as young girls sometimes do, had taken an interest in her older brother's friend. Alex thought it was funny, but it was also a little embarrassing to him.

"Oh, Hi. " Charley was trying very hard to ignore Nicole. He had not yet learned to respond politely to amorous advances made by those with chocolate on their faces. He quickly picked up what was left of his discussion with Alex.

"Do you think it will fly as it is?"

"Just make sure you emphasize that you are presenting a possible alternate theory. Then the burden of proof is Molino's."

"Do you think it has any errors?"

"Try to downplay the mathematics. You'll probably be OK." Unlike Charley, Alex was a physics major and had a grasp on the problem; but he also enthusiastically approved of any student who was willing to challenge the professors.

"Are you writing a report, Charley?" Nicole was overdoing the emphasis on his name.

"Random Creation." Charley was trying to be at least as noncommittal as Dr. Molino had been earlier this year. He also hoped it would sound too technical to allow a continued discussion.

"We learned about creation in school this year." Totality of knowledge was somehow implicit in her tone. She was trying, clumsily, to impress Charley.

Charley closed his eyes while he tried to think his way out of this. Fortunately, Alex's parents chose this moment to arrive. Unlike Nicole, they had not run the entire distance from the car. "Hello, Dr. and Dr. Johnson." It sounded funny, but it was literally true.

"Hello Charley, are you enjoying college?"

"They're keeping me busy."

"Is that your mechanical spider, Charley?" Nicole was pointing to the corner of the doorway. "That's neat!"

"Where?" Alex sprang for the door, but there was no spider to be seen. "Are you sure? What did it look like?"

A few minutes later it was obvious that Professor Chan's spider had made an appearance at the door. Alex told everyone about the mandibles he'd designed. All present enjoyed the joke and assured him they would watch their backs.

Alex, however, did not enjoy the joke as much as might be expected. In fact he was perplexed for the remainder of the day. He was unable to conjecture who might have been behind the visit.


Evidently Charley has more to learn than we had guessed. In a very short time - before Charley graduates from Cathtech - Nicole will be able to kill him with just a smile. Furthermore, even a cursory examination of her brother and parents will tell you what Nicole is made out of. It would be fair to say that she is a goddess all the way through. Although the chocolate, among other things, tends to obscure this fact at the moment, it will become obvious, even to Charley, by the time the next few years have passed.

If Charley were wiser than almost any man his age has ever been, he would treat Nicole like the goddess she will soon become. By that time, the truth will be obvious to all and he will no longer have the advantage he now possesses. Why can't Charley, or for that matter any other young man, see this truth now - when it will do him some tangible good?

The answer, I fear, is common to all of humanity. Sufficient humility is absent. Charley is too proud to be caught being nice to one of such juvenile status as Alex's little sister. It would be too humiliating to acknowledge one such as her to be worthy of his personal attention. Some day Charley will realize what such humility might have bought him. Perhaps someday the rest of us will also learn.


Chapter XXII

Hell Bent

The creature was not at all elated about the performance of the machine now in his possession. He couldn't even think of it as a body. It was definitely a hack job - assembled from bits and pieces of junk. Fast as it was, both to process information and to change direction of motion, it's capabilities were disappointingly limited.

Who's idea had it been to give this thing six legs like a prey animal? The unbalanced gait - two legs on one side pitted against a single leg on the other was a complete embarrassment. A true predator should have a balanced attack.

To call it's memory inadequate would be an understatement, it would be more accurate to call it a "joke". It's ability to process visual information was all but nonexistent. Instead of vision, the machine supplied him with crude images which barely outlined his surroundings in the coarsest imaginable form. There was no allowance at all for partial visibility; glass presented a virtually invisible barrier and reflections were either invisible or mapped as though they were physically real.

As bad as all of that was, the most uncomfortable element had to be the helm. It had not been ergonomically designed with a spirit in mind. True, it could take commands capable of utilizing the full spectrum of capabilities of the spider, but the commands were unnecessarily cumbersome, and worst of all, the designer had completely failed to provide any place to sit. These humans were certainly an ignorant sort.

There were many mysteries here. Why had the human who called him made such a fuss? Although he had at first presented himself as an ally, his subsequent actions had not corroborated this. If he had remained quiet just a few minutes longer, the creature would have had the time he needed to make the necessary preparations. But no, he had to run, knocking over the water cooler and making all that noise.

Worst of all that human had alerted the other one who was hiding. If he hadn't managed to bring it down, there might have been some real trouble. He was very nearly crushed when it fell. Then running the electrical wires had barely been possible with this underpowered little machine; the mistake he made while trying to connect them had nearly cost one of its legs. The third human had arrived before he was finished. With no time to recharge and insufficient energy to risk another direct attack, the only remaining option was to run. This was going to be dangerous work, but it had to be done - whatever the cost.

Although there were outlets all over the campus, finding one he could access proved to be a challenge. Most of the doors to the other laboratories were closed this late in the evening and the few labs that were still accessible were occupied. A power strip under a large display case out in the hall had ultimately provided the solution. The creature had maneuvered the spider up onto the strip and settled the mandibles into the outlet. At least it was getting recharged and would have some time to plan the next attack.

Its batteries finally charged, the creature had crept off quietly to investigate the territories held by those who, according to the computer database to which he was inadvertently linked, were most likely to know what was afoot. They needed to be dealt with first.

Unfortunately, that first encounter had presented more of a physical threat than he had expected. Then today's scouting run had revealed that the other targets were going to be difficult as well. This was going to require a great deal of careful planning. He entered a vent to a crawl space and sat silently in thought. He was not going to remain hidden for long, however. Soon he would emerge and prove to everyone who he was - someone not to be messed with! The coming night would provide just the opportunity he needed. He, Sheneckereb would be remembered and feared.


Although he is now inhabiting a very fragile machine, it appears that our visitor plans to attack creatures much larger than himself. Such destructive, and potentially self-injurious, behavior does not seem particularly rational.

This could be problematic, for again, the flow of my story will be damaged if I am unable to convince my readers that there are reasons for the behavior of even this character. My fairy tale, like any story, must follow tightly defined rules if it is to appear credible enough to hold their attention. The last time this came up, I was unable to supply reasons for the actions of my characters; this time, I think I might be able to do a little better.

The answer to this puzzle, I believe, can be found within the context of a far greater story than my own. It would seem this creature has, at some time in its past, crossed swords with a being very much greater than itself. At that time, it found itself unable, through strength or reason, to persevere. Having found itself on the losing side of the contest, it has done what every rational creature finds itself tempted to do at this juncture. It has abandoned reason in order to save face.

Humility is not an attitude which any creature assumes easily. In fact, it might be the attitude least easily assumed. One might even go as far as saying that most "intelligent" behavior can be predicted by the single rule of minimizing humility.

We have all seen less extreme expressions of the sort of behavior which Dr. Chan's spider is now producing. Dr. Chan himself provided us with a mild example when he lost his project to Fenris. When reason and logic fail it, the creature will fight on without them - sometimes more fiercely than before. Or att least it might.

One wonders what might happen in such situations if the creature were to merely admit it was wrong. Often the consequences of such surrender are not nearly so painful as might be feared. However, Dr. Chan's spider has chosen the path of minimum humility; A simple analogy will show us where this path might lead.

In a debate, a contestant is likely to promote the image that he is the more intelligent of the two; but he will only keep this up until defeat becomes inevitable. Then he will seek to convey the image that the reason for his defeat was the superior intelligence of his opponent - not the inferiority of the position he has chosen to champion. Do you see? Seeking to be regarded as smart is not the primary goal. There is a hierarchy; and the immediate goal will seem to shift as it is descended. The amount of humility suffered by being regarded less intelligent is small compared to that suffered for having crusaded for the wrong cause.

And there is yet another step a creature might take; the arena remembers heroes of many different types. If even the facade of being right against a mightier foe cannot be maintained, then a last appeal can always be made. When the combatant is backed into this position, complete humiliation can be denied by taking what pleasure it can from simple revenge. The battle cry becomes, "I may be inferior, and you may be right, but I'll show you that I'm somebody to be reckoned with."

Our visitor has chosen to fight instead of repenting. As he sees it, what remains of his ranking with respect to his fellows must be protected at any expense.


Chapter XXIII

Creatures of Darkness

The shadows grew longer, as one naturally expects, when night approaches. They first covered the area between the buildings then started their slow climb up the west side of the St. Millikan library. The sky assumed the normal gradations of pink, lavender and deep blue as the part of the planet occupied by Cathtech slid around the side of the turning Earth into shadow and night.

The stars were hidden behind a patchy cover of clouds which huddled at the feet of the local mountains. Although the night was not exactly stormy, a gusty wind was pushing the leaves around a little more forcefully than normal. From somewhere there was a soft periodic clanging as some halyard slapped against its flagpole in time to the fickle rhythm of the whimsical wind. No rain fell; but it was one of those nights when one could almost feel the rain straining to be released. It might have been raining gently a few miles away.

In the darkest of the shadows, under a bench, crouched a small form which had been purposely designed with stealth and horror in mind. The night breeze whispered just loudly enough to cover small movements; but at present it chose to sit quietly and wait. As it had calculated, the moon would soon set and the night would become darker still.

A lone walker approached, head down, lost completely in his thoughts. He paused, watching a cloud-shrouded moon playing in the water of the pond at the foot of the library. The pond's surface was alive with hypnotic ripples as the wind toyed and danced. The bench sat quietly, across the courtyard, partly hidden by the bushes in the shadow of the overhanging tile roofs.

If this had been a sunny afternoon, the bench would have called out to him to join it, but tonight, the chill made walking better company than sitting. He turned decisively and crossed the bridge over the pond, losing what there was of the moon behind the tower as he passed.

George liked nights like this. The cool breeze, the shifting clouds, the waving trees and shadows, it all made him feel more alive. Maybe it was his size. His bulk normally made it hard to keep cool. Pasadena was, normally, no help either, but tonight, all the world needed was a few stars and it would have been perfect. Perfect, had it not been for the events of the night before - his friend still in a coma.

And what had happened to that little robot anyway? The way it had been moving it must have run out of juice very quickly. Still, it could have covered a fair distance in that short time. Tomorrow he'd ask around to see if anyone had found it.

The moon reappeared from behind the tower the moment George passed through the arches connecting Dabney to Gates. It had found a hole in its shroud and was shining brightly, for the moment. The gnarly old pepper tree which the institute had almost completely hemmed in, picked that same moment to shake its branches, at the wind's bidding. Through those branches, the moonlight cast frantically struggling shadows all over the walkway, and on the Doctor himself.

Although George was not afraid of the dark, the effect startled him a little and he began to notice how perfectly spooky the night had become. It's funny what a man's mind can do to a picture. The same breeze that can make him feel more alive, can, a moment later, seem to be reaching out a long dark arm to take back what it has given.

George considered this. Was it any surprise that a power able to give life could, as easily, take it back? Not really; maybe it was even obvious. He let his mind play with some spooky thoughts for a few minutes, experimenting with various ghosts in the branches overhead and the shadows at his feet. The experiment worked almost perfectly. At least George did manage to scare himself, or something did. There must have been a lizard or squirrel or something in the nearby bushes; that rustle was not caused by the wind. It sounded more like a struggle.

Because grown professors do not run in terror, George merely picked this moment to end his walk and return briskly to the sanctuary of his office. He could finish contemplating how his place in the universe related to this awesome night from behind a thin pane of glass. Perhaps the glass would do no more than a child's blanket at warding off real claws and fangs, but the human mind is not bothered by such limitations. When monsters appear, the scared child somehow finds safety by merely ducking his head under the covers; the eminent professor finds it elsewhere.


Perhaps Dr. Molino claims to believe there are no ghosts hiding in the night shadows of the campus courtyard; but his hasty retreat to sanctuary hardly convinces us he is above his fears. Still, although he appears to harbor a cowardly element, we cannot afford to laugh at the eminent Dr. George Molino; we ourselves are not completely above an occasional spooking.

The learned Doctor has also encountered a different challenge to his faith in the form of the now-completed paper written by the bright young student, Charley Dawkins. In a different mythological world, a bright young naturalist, bearing a similar name, once posed a similar threat. An interesting facet of that particular myth is that the name of the official naturalist aboard the Beagle, as that ship's records attest, was McCormick and not Darwin. But more interesting to us here is how the human creature reacts to a perceived threat.

What sort of faith did the ancient martyrs possess? When a man faces death for what he believes, we must certainly call it courage; but is this the same sort of "faith" which survives today? When a man is threatened by a new theory or by its supporting evidence, does "faith" dictate that the evidence be faced and studied or that it be avoided and denied? Is what we moderns call "faith" still courage or is it just a form of cowardice?

Do we humans detect in ourselves an unwillingness to look at anything which we think might hurt us? Like the child who suspects there might be monsters in his bedroom, our normal response might be to pull the covers over our head. Although even a small child realizes that a cotton blanket offers no real protection, by excluding information and reducing the size of his universe, he is able to convince himself he has found sanctuary.

Perhaps we adults have not really matured significantly past this level. Because we fear what the evidence might tell us, we might be unwilling to study it. Although it may have something to tell us about how God created us, fear can make us close our eyes, and we never really know the whole truth.

Questions may terrify us. If we have only specters for answers - screaming banshees from our subconscious -- we can't really expect anything else. But in the end, knowledge of the truth can only set us free from our fears - if we are willing to remove the cotton blankets from over our heads and open our eyes long enough to truly see. Turning on any available light can't really hurt either.

Or maybe the terrors of the night are real. What then? Maybe we would be right to flee. If so, mere blankets will not provide sanctuary. The correct course of action would still demand sight, not blindness. Either way, we would do well to rid ourselves of willful ignorance and to face the adventure which awaits us. Meanwhile, courageously or cowardly, George must face the adventure which now awaits him.

You are probably also wondering what adventure has detained our extra-dimensional visitor? Why has he failed again to prove he is a creature to be remembered and feared?

The best I can say on his behalf is that it is not completely his fault. The robotic spider he now commands, although supposedly designed for use in the field, was, in fact, debugged in a laboratory. Since only the laboratory environment was available to provide a testing ground, our programmers have failed to overcome many important challenges. In particular, no provision has been made for dealing with that twig which found its way into the right, rear leg joint. In fact, the programmers had not encountered even a single twig in the lab.

Losing one leg out of six, and only temporarily at that - only until that twig had shaken free, should not have slowed him down very much at all. But the programmers had let him down again; they had supplied high-speed travel routines only for motions involving all six legs. When even a single leg was not moving according to expectations, the routines were useless. The only other routines - the special purpose ones - had all involved moving only a single leg at a time. Worse, the forward-only vision had not provided the information needed to figure out what had gone wrong.

It had been a very frustrating race - seeing his target drop nearly into his clutches, the struggle to move at all, and then watching the prey pull gradually away - losing the footrace, even at so slow a pace. It was infuriating how poorly these humans had equipped him. He, the mighty Sheneckereb, trapped in this tiny piece of refuse. No matter, there would be another encounter, and when it came, he would make preparations to compensate for these limitations.


Chapter XXIV

Funeral

George went to see Dr. Chan but he wasn't there. At least that was how he described it afterwards. Somehow, he couldn't shake the impression that the body in the casket at the memorial service wasn't Dr. Wilbur Chan's; but it certainly was - right down to that scar just above the lip. What was missing? Why did the body look like a mannequin? What had the undertakers done wrong?

It was as if it's former inhabitant was simply not present. The body was a husk or a shell; the reality that had been the person was completely missing. An artist working in wax or plaster could have done a better job than the reality laid out motionless in the box before him. Chan's lights were off and nobody was home. What's more, the two were clearly not the same thing. It was as obvious as the nose on that thing in the casket - whatever that thing was.

Soon it would be buried, box and all, in the cold earth; but George couldn't work up any emotion of repulsion or horror over the thought. Cold and dark it would be, but what would be going into that hole was not something a person could feel any sorrow over. The body was dead, but there was no spirit present - either alive or dead. The spirit had really fled, just like he had always been told. Somehow it all seemed more real now that he was staring into that face that both was and wasn't Chan's.

George became conscious that he was holding up the line behind him. He took one last look at the container, and the casket which held it, and walked on past, wondering what he was even doing here. Why had he come? Dr. Chan simply wasn't here; in fact he wasn't anywhere. No; that didn't feel right either. Chan's spirit must be alive somewhere.

If Chan's ability to choose had not really been caused by the chain of dominos in his brain, then it could not be uncaused by the simple destruction of that same chain. If there was an ability to choose between truth and lies, or even to know which was which, and if that ability had no physical cause, then it had to be eternal; it must live on past death.

George walked straight out of the building without looking back. The tears came when he looked up at the sky. It was certainly a beautiful day. Blue sky, fluffy white clouds, birds singing; it really was a day to be alive. A day for Dr. Chan to be alive - somewhere. It was beautiful. It was the essence of joy. It was terrible. Tears, joy, pain, it all came at once and all mixed together. The emotions wouldn't sort into different parts. What were the equations? How could they be solved? Where were the eigenvectors? What did it all mean?

Dr. George Molino tried to regain control. They were just fluffy white clouds of water vapor, blowing quietly across the vast blue of an infinitely deep sky. Well, maybe most of the air was in the first ten miles, but the heavens reached farther than he could possibly imagine. His emotions latched onto this and a million other abstracts all in one grab, and for a moment George felt that eternity itself was within his understanding. For a moment. The clouds kept moving and changing until they were just clouds again and the sky just a sky.

The Church had answers for all of George's questions; but could they really be the final answers? Honest men disagreed about how the Scriptures ought to be read. Sometimes the official answers seemed a little bit too simple or convenient. George wanted the real answers; he wanted answers which were mathematically precise and visible. He wanted to see God face to face.

George returned to his car and started the engine. It started no differently than it had always started, but this time the sound was ripe with meaning. Even the pulsing exhaust had a life of sorts in it. No, that wasn't right. It was lifeless, but it was happening - doing something. George was certainly alive now, alive to every little noise and touch; the feel of the key, the texture of the steering wheel, the smell of the exhaust mixed with the freshly cut cemetery grass. It was time to do something but he didn't know what. Something important, an act that would live on forever. But there were no dragons to kill, only one last paper which needed a grade. Great deeds would have to wait until after he had taken care of his responsibilities.

Even so, there was no hurry to get back to the institute. George took the scenic route back from Fairhaven, driving up and down a few unnecessary canyons. Time to think seemed important but there was really nothing left to think about - only sorrow and responsibility. By the time he passed Lake Avenue, it was already dark.


Chapter XXV

Supernova

Once again I find that I have been telling my story very badly. At least I can hear your anxious questions - pestering me to fill in the omissions. "Where is Dr. Chan now? Is he in Heaven? Hell? Purgatory? Was he a Christian? Why didn't we ever see him praying or giving to charity in this story?"

I have read my story, and I believe I am able to answer some of these questions. "Where is Dr. Chan now?" I am surprised that you even feel the need to ask. My answer need only be that, "Dr. Chan is now beyond the grasp of any character within my narrative and can make no further contributions to my story. Whether or not he is now safe is another question altogether."

Because this same answer satisfied you when Fenris checked out, I am rather puzzled that you now require a more detailed explanation. Maybe answering another of your questions will help. "Why didn't we ever see Dr. Chan praying or giving to charity in my story?"

To this, I answer: let us suppose that Dr. Chan was the sort of man who really lived the life which the Scriptures require. Perhaps when he performed his religious duties, he did them in secret, in his closet, where not even his left hand knew what his right was doing. Surely we should not have expected him to perform them in public, to be seen by us and praised by us alone.

But you are still not satisfied. Perhaps that other question is really the one which is bothering you. "Was Dr. Chan a Christian?" I can answer with some confidence that Dr. Chan was a Roman Catholic. If we had asked the learned Doctor himself, he probably would have answered, "I am a Catholic." Furthermore, he would have stated this with the same conviction and finality we might have expected from Angela. If we had repeated our question, he might have repeated the same answer, increasing the emphasis on the word "Catholic", trying to convey what he believes to be obvious - but what others might not consider to be a significant part of the issue.

I, personally, cannot affirm that this alone will settle the question of where he now spends eternity. This is in part because the Church, as it exists in my story, is too badly broken up and pulling in too many different directions to speak with a unified voice.

For one thing, I fear Marco's sneeze may have come a bit too late to prevent the young priest, Martin Luther, from nailing his ninety-five theses to the Wittenberg Castle door. Even among those Church fragments holding claim to apostolic succession, we find the wreckage and ruin left from militant division; for the East and West factions have been severed for nearly a thousand years.

And now, after I have answered all of your questions, you are still not satisfied. Do you know why? Because you have been afraid to ask the one question which is really bothering you. You don't care about Chan; you cannot; for he is but a figment of our imaginations. You want to know what I, the author, believe. Which gods do I serve? Are they Catholic, Protestant, Evangelical, Charismatic, Dispensational, Preterist? What you really want to know is whose side I'm on. With which faction of the pitifully splintered Church am I throwing in? Am I for or against your group?

I'm afraid. I can't answer your question. Did you see that little period breaking my sentence into two? It wasn't a mistake. I don't think I am supposed to join a faction; and I am very much afraid of what might happen if I do. My reasons will become obvious if we further explore the fictional world which I am inventing.

How might the gods in my story have reacted to this fighting within the ranks of even those of us who claim to serve them? Would the confrontation between Cardinal Humbert, of the Western Church, and Cerularius, of the Eastern, have upset them?

This I can tell you with confidence for I can see their actions clearly from my vantage point as the unchallenged author of this story. One of my gods, perhaps not the greatest of them, but certainly a very powerful one, became very angry indeed.

When a star explodes, it is simply impossible to imagine the energy which is unleashed. What is worse, individual nuclear reactions tend to be unpredictable by the laws which mortals understand. Granted, we know that when a star exhausts one fuel supply, it will switch to the next - if a next remains; but a real star will burn sporadically - in cosmic bursts - switching from one fuel to another before the first is truly exhausted.

And that final step, the one which will end a star's life, is no more predictable than the earlier ones. It is beyond our grasp to fathom why a star will burn normally one instant, then start the irreversible chain reaction which will blow it to shreds, the very next instant. The god's alone make such choices.

More than seventy centuries ago, in a distant part of our own galaxy, one of my gods became very displeased. In controlled rage, he detonated a single star located at right ascension 05:34.5 (h:m) and declination +22:01 (deg:m).

Burning with the same energy as a billion stars, it flashed. The debris from the resulting fireball ripped at other stars in its path as it swept ruthlessly through their territories, wreaking havoc with any planets which might have been foolish enough to be found in the way. The blinding sphere of light must have kindled anything that would burn as it raced forward, attacking a broader and broader front every second.

But wait! I have completely forgotten to explain Einstein's laws which govern the behavior of time. I must warn you that, as we race at light speed to follow this expanding shell of destruction, that our clocks have completely stopped. We are experiencing an effect of relativity which keeps us locked in one frozen instant while thousands of years are passing by around us. Specifically 6,300 years; for that is how much time has passed on planet Earth as we raced toward it.

And "now" the date is July 4, 1054, as men reckon time; and the shell of destruction which we have followed for this fleeting instant of our own time has just hurled it's fading fury into that tiny planet. After so great a journey, its titan lethality has been reduced to a mere ghost of its former glory; the total energy striking the earth being about the equivalent of a single hydrogen bomb. Chinese and Anazasi astronomers both record the event. A new star, four times brighter than Venus, flashes into existence; and it will be seen burning, even during daylight hours, for nearly the entire month of July.

And why, we must ask of the nations who would soon bring us Nocolaus Copernicus, Tycho Brahe, Johannes Kepler, Galileo Galilei and Isaac Newton; why have those nations failed to record this cosmological attack on their home planet? Perhaps they were too busy holding their breath as they watched Cardinal Humbert deliver his edict of excommunication on July 16, 1054, and then again as they watched Cerularius shoot back with his own edict of excommunication on July 24, 1054.

Do you see my point? The gods have learned to plan ahead - although not necessarily by much, if they have selected the same frame of reference which we have just followed. They have also learned to vent their anger in nondestructive ways. If this were not so, there would be none of us left to appreciate what one of our poets calls the "thundering velvet hand." Do you now understand why I might be afraid to choose sides? My gods are not slack, as men count slackness; they have requests and they have quite enough authority to do as they please - and to punish those with whom they have diisagreements. Fortunately, as it appears, they are also longsuffering, not wishing that any should perish.

Perhaps we do not appreciate this fact enough. Maybe we should be less willing to contribute to the fragmentation of God's Holy Church. There may be locked doors which keep us separated. There may also be those who legitimately hold title to the keys which could unlock those doors. If so, I sincerely hope that those presently in charge will unlock the doors quickly.


Chapter XXVI

Final Conflict

When George got back to his lab he sensed something was wrong. The lights were off, but anyone could have turned them off in his absence. It was the dripping sound that had warned him. Some jar had been cracked and was leaking fluid onto the floor. It didn't smell like formaldehyde anyway. Probably just water. He heard a faint noise to his right and, turning, noticed that the door to his office was slightly ajar.

He crept silently up to the open door in the shelter of a small fossil cart. George lifted a fossilized dinosaur bone off the cart and held it raised like a club. He carefully studied the reflection of the inside of his office in the door's window. There was Dr. Chan's spider, sitting on his desk, just inside the door! Who had put it there?

He would give Dr. Chan a ... No. He wouldn't be doing that; not this side of eternity anyhow. More pain - he didn't need it just now. Who was here and why?

Wait!. The spider had moved. Not much, but he could see that it was still operational. Chan had said it could recharge itself. Apparently it had. In fact, it must have been able to keep its charge up the whole time since he had seen it last.

George was impressed. The thing was acting like it actually was alive! Maybe that's what Chan was trying to tell him. Was it dangerous? Quite probably, but at least he didn't seem to be dealing with a human intruder. Dr. Molino wasn't going to take any chances anyway.

Could the spider see him in the reflection? Well, technically yes; but, as Chan had once explained to him, the ability to do ray tracing and pattern recognition was another matter altogether. He was betting that the spider wouldn't understand what it saw.

How fast could it react? Now there was a problem; it's computer was fast - almost instantaneous. Once it recognized George as a threat, it could respond at almost three gee's. Freshman physics. It could move ... 0.96 feet in the first tenth second - no, just half of that - only six inches. Could he smash it that fast - before it could really do anything?

He studied the bone he was holding and, very quietly, replaced it with the steel rod from a ring stand. The base unscrewed and he set it gently on the floor. If he swung the rod like a whip, he could get the end of it moving about ... a hundred feet per second? Really? He went over the math and physics again. OK, maybe even faster; but it would take a significant fraction of a second to get it up to that speed. What if he started the swing from around the corner?

The spider was certainly within range. He studied the reflection for a minute - six inches from the corner of his desk, only two feet from the doorjamb. He pictured that target just behind the wall. The swing would be a little tricky but, if it were accurate, there would be nothing the spider could do but get smashed against the surface of his desk.

George swung. His calculations were on the mark! The surface of his desk would never be the same, but the spider was smashed - out of commission. It was just a machine after all, and a machine could be destroyed. In this case, killed might be a more appropriate description. If he had understood Chan correctly, this thing might have had a life force.

Chan had called the installation a seance. Could Fenris have summonsed a demon to possess the thing? If so, it must now have returned to wherever it originated. In some sense, Chan's spider was created in its creator's image. Like his creature, Chan must now have returned to the place from where he had come. Because life was not really caused by anything physical, neither could it be terminated by any physical action. Life continued. Death was merely the destruction of the machine.

George picked up the wreckage of the spider with a pair of tongs. In it's present state it looked completely harmless, but he wasn't going to take any chances - not even now. Metal, silicon, organic crystals, all broken, all non-functional, all useless. He tossed in into the trash.

Maybe he shouldn't have smashed it; maybe he should have caught it in a specimen jar. That was an interesting thought. It didn't really seem that dangerous. Well, what was done was done. He didn't really like that thing anyhow; he certainly didn't want to have it hanging around his lab. Maybe the Vatican would have wanted it to study - but what could they have learned that Chan's records wouldn't tell them anyway? Well, there was Dr. Howard's controller; that might have been interesting. Oh well. Too late now.

An hour later his lab and office were cleaned up and back to normal. The spectrometer still had a blown fuse; and now it looked as if it might have one forever. How many more reminders was he going to come across over the next few weeks? months? years?

Chan's spider had set an interesting trap for him, but the trap probably would not have worked whether or not he had been caught off guard. The water on the floor was electrically live as was the doorknob to his office. Although the shock might have knocked him down, had he been shoeless, the rubber soles of his loafers would have provided more than enough insulation to protect him.

He smiled at the open jar of potassiumferocyanide crystals on the desk beside where he had smashed the spider. As threatening as the name sounded, they were not really that toxic. The spider must have failed freshman chemistry; it was, apparently, not even the minor threat he had presumed it might be. George put the lid back onto the jar and returned it to the reagent shelf. A minute later he changed his mind and disposed of the jar completely.

Finally he dropped himself into his chair, propped his legs up on the desk and picked up Charley's project. So what was the answer here? Was this project really the threat it had once seemed? What about those finches anyway? George decided not to hide - to let the logic take him wherever it would.

If it was unreasonable to assume that God created those finches right there on those islands, then maybe God didn't. There, he'd faced it; he'd accepted the obvious. Was that really so hard? Maybe this was going to be easy. What was next?

If not on those islands, where then? The obvious choice was the South American Continent. South America used to have its very own collection of unusual life forms before the isthmus of Panama closed. Might there have been some unusual but now extinct finches there too? Perhaps those islands formed before the isthmus closed. If so, then those different finches may have been created on the mainland, as so many other now-extinct species had been. Some of those unusual finches might have migrated to the islands while their ancestors remained on the mainland. When the Isthmus of Panama closed, allowing competition from the North American Continent, the mainland population would have become extinct, leaving only those on the islands. That would explain Charley's objection nicely.

George pulled out a few books on earth science and was soon satisfied that the geological sequence was close enough to what he had presumed to bear further research. Maybe someday the fossilized remains of those finches would be found in caves in Ecuador. Maybe not. At least now he didn't have to worry about God having created new kinds of finches on an isolated island. But then again, maybe God did. Why did he ever think it mattered?

It was funny how when you knew - or even thought you might know - the answer to a question, that you didn't have to get upset when someone disagreed with you. It was only when you had doubts about being right that you got defensive.

That settled it! He wouldn't just pass Charley, He'd give him an "A". Charley'd done a good job with his heresy - at least in the final draft. Whether or not it really panned out, Charley's theory had been cautiously worded - there was really nothing he could point to which was untrue. It even contained the brief disclaimer that Hoyle's mathematics were beyond the scope of the paper's author. The Vatican wasn't looking for students who agreed with them, they were looking for students who could think, and Charley was certainly ahead of most of the other freshmen in that department. Maybe someday Charley could help George answer some of his own questions.

In the meantime, science and the Scriptures could take care of themselves - with or without his understanding of the whole design of things. God did what he did and it didn't make much difference what anyone thought. The only thing that was important was that the evidence agreed with itself and with the Scriptures. It always had and it always would. Men were always jumping to conclusions though. They were certainly a strange kind.

George was suddenly startled by his phone. The bell was too loud.


Chapter XXVII

Epilogue

And now, dear reader, my story comes to a close. But before I go, I must ask you to remember that this work was completely fictional. Any resemblance to real people or events is purely accidental - even if I might have forgotten to change the names or dates in some cases. I repeat, this story was a "fairy tale", which means, in the immortal words of Charles Kingsley, "that you are not to believe one word of it, even if it is true."

But, I must also warn you that the Heisenberg. uncertainty principle has not yet been repealed. The gods still hold the same territory they did before my story began. Furthermore, truth and morality, although not strictly proven, must still hold a place in our world. I cannot possibly be wrong about this. Why not? Because, in order to be wrong at all, there must first be a truth from which I have deviated.

We must also remember that the world once inhabited by Dr. Chan was "bent" in some ways by the very forces of Hell. For in what real world would a respected scientist summon evil spirits from the vasty deep? Then again, in what real world could scientists allow, even as mere academic possibility, the very same tenants which churchmen have always confidently known to be true? In what real world could a great scientist disbelieve in a non-material spirit even while his body and neural system are being controlled by the very same sort of being?

In what real world indeed?

We must ask ourselves if our own world hasn't been bent in some ways by Hell's forces; for in what real world could a respected genetic engineer disbelieve in an intelligent designer - even while he himself is such a being? Or in what real world could a string theorist disbelieve in an unseen extradimensional reality - even while his theories dip shallowly into that very same realm which he denies. In truth, might ours be the frame which is more bent?

Bent or not, I must now return you to that real world and you must put me back on the shelf. When a reader is done with a story about ghosts and demons, he is normally expected to put those creatures back on the shelf with the book. But I have tried to design a ghost or two that will stay with you - even after you attempt to close the back cover on them. In particular, it appears that you, dear reader, may be one such ghost; and having now permitted one non-material spirit into your world, can you close the door and exclude others?

I don't think you can completely disbelieve in gods - not while, in the very same thought, you grant yourself omnipotent authority over your own little world. The gods are back indeed! Some of them are not the sort one would wish to have around at all, and none are what we could refer to as being completely tame. But even gods must follow rules, and if there are rules, then what great leap of faith is it that there must be a giver of rules as well? - a God having status above the others. If this greatest-of-all-the-gods exists, as He certainly must (for if not, then the next greatest must be He), then why have we not come face to face with Him?

By all indications, this head God must be a gentleman and will not force himself upon us. Indeed, if we have ever chanced to personally meet Him, it seems likely that we might have seen no particular comeliness in Him - nothing at all which might alert us. Although He could have any world He chose, He seems to prefer one in which the question of His existence remains a judgment call; a call which each of us is free to make.

But does that mean our choice, once made, carries no consequence? That would be an absurd assumption! As long as there is truth which can be argued about, there is a moral responsibility to that truth. And what great feat does this moral responsibility ask of us?

Perhaps that is obvious from what we have just witnessed in my story. If we attempt to approach God without humility, it is a better-than-even bet that our approach will not be conformed to the dictates of logic or the truth, but to some lesser and self-serving goal. Such an approach is doomed to failure; for the very giver of laws cannot help but see through it. The only possible formula is that of the repentant sinner - broken and on our knees.

Who knows? Perhaps such surrender is not nearly so costly as we might fear. Indeed, what could it possibly cost us that we weren't destined to lose eventually in any case? We aren't really safe you know. No one ever makes it out of this life of ours alive.

And what does the other side of the question offer? Charley's potential reward for the smallest measure of humility in his actions regarding Nicole could make the very difference from which dreams are made - the very reward which the lesser prophets of our age regard to be the ultimate treasure that this world offers. What might be gained from closing the gap between ourselves and the ultimate source of truth?

What indeed?


About the author: Don Stoner is nobody in particular.

(END)