security detachment found James unconscious in The Fishbowl, his assailants splayed out dead. Arriving soon after, the first investigative contingent suspected three shooting victims. None of the security guards on the scene knew what to make of it; there was no simple plausible explanation for how the brains of two people holding guns could be Jackson Pollock’ed over the walls. Dead people seem to have somehow shot each other and suspicion initially fell upon James.
The General was issued with a verbal report while still in transit. He expressed his incredulity over James being implicated to avoid erroneous lines of investigation. He then created a mental map of the situation and issued his commands: more reinforcements were called for; ambulances and the USACIDC arrrived; the area was cordoned off; all of the research team were placed into lockdown; dogs scoured the area for hints of further trouble; and the entire installation was etched from the sky with infrared cameras in helicopters beating the air overhead.
Once James recovered consciousness he was able to relate the story. It soon became apparent that he never fully grasped the danger he was in. When describing the assailants he did so with a detachment that again raised suspicions. As a result he was being questioned over his role in allowing the two to access the area. When Dr Jan Shelley arrived her credentials were sufficient for James to be released into her care.
Kitz arrived before the General. He busied himself coordinating the activities and muttering to himself for having allowed such a major security breach on his watch. He barked orders down his mobile phone as he marched between The Fishbowl and the interim operations centre in the lunchroom.
The research team had been taken to an ad-hoc secured room in the main building. Despite warnings Willie observed the activities from a window overlooking the area. Suddenly he saw Kitz emerge triumphantly from his car. This was where he had taken the transcript of James’ interview for analysis. He returned to the group and conducted several brief interviews asking if anyone had made the acquaintance of Evgeny Illarion AKA Dr Peter Ellery. Satisfied, he left the campus to fast track an investigation of Evgeny’s corporate connections and any association with investigations long past into Hadden Industries.
In time repairs were made and work began afresh. Ellie performed two more immersions into The Fishbowl for minor clarifications and tests. She was reluctant to allow anybody access until she had closed the gaps in the field containment. She then concluded her research paper. Her primary thesis: “The Immersion of Consciousness in a Quantum Containment Field,” was passed on to Willie and James for final edits. Willie had also taken over as James’ research supervisor. His PhD research on “Solutions of BQP Problems in the Application of Artificial Intelligence” was going to be compulsory reading, following the release of Ellie’s research. Both would be in the next edition of the Journal of Science Nature.
Palmer had also finished his book “Finding Faith; The Search for Inspiration in the Age of Enlightenment”. The proceeds were to be placed in trust, for the assistance of faithful across the world seeking pilgrimage to The Fishbowl. The PR team had also been re-engaged to make a media splash over all outlets and interests. The symbol that Frank, Palmer and Ellie had chosen for their foundation was a silhouetted skein of birds. The charter was composed to make it clear that while some had been fortunate to have flown at the head of the ‘V’, others could now lead the formation of the ‘Shared Echelon Foundation’.
Ellie and Palmer elected to make some brief shared appearances to launch the results, and the new organisation. They also agreed a-priori to reinforce the notion that others would have their own important voices to contribute thereafter.
‘4front’ were given their scoop. A special edition was printed with an extensive biography of Frank Valetti and carefully chosen excerpts of previous editions to support their speculation. Ellie and Palmer took the front page with their skein icon.
With The Fishbowl mechanics now in the public domain and rendered safe for others, there were many clergy and scientists keen to commune with Frank. The media were skeptical, the political suspicious, the high ranking jealous, and the wealthy manipulating. A lottery was proposed for the less privileged to attempt some degree of equity. The jostling for access had begun.
It was soon discovered that The Fishbowl was able to interact with several people simultaneously. The resultant shared memory dispelled any theories of self delusion, and allowed for the establishment of an advisory council.
The council membership was determined through representation. A seed group of Academic, Political, National, Religious and Corporate interests was created. The group was kept in balance by Frank under advice by his core acolytes, and a growing group of prominent specialists whose attendance was sporadic. Palmer was kept busy and became Frank’s Personal Assistant, Press Secretary, Spokesperson and Human Resources manager.
Any reference to Palmer as Frank’s Apostle was deliberately and immediately suppressed. Eventually Palmer had to bring all his training, charisma and influence to bear upon the problem of religious association, and he began the creation of an assembly. Knowing that the perception of a threat to the well established doctrines was very real, he consulted with Frank. They took on an inclusive engagement with the major faiths, and Ellie did not see much of him. But it was the splinter groups of the institutionalised faithful that quickly rallied behind Shared Echelon. Having been marginalised they found a sympathetic ear. A critical mass gathered momentum, in vehement disagreement with a vocal opposition that refused to be ‘brainwashed’. Their aspersions assaulted a growing number of believers that defended the contradiction of their shifting foundations. Palmer spent significant effort slowing the pace of change.
The experiences of those that made the pilgrimage to the phenomenon were generally life changing; many of the wealthy turned to philanthropic avenues shortly afterwards; Politicians became less plutocratic and more altruistic. Some provisions were made to provide access for those of lesser socioeconomic strata, or requiring health or social welfare. These participants showed some minor improvement in their outlook which encouraged further research to see if prolonged access created significant benefit.
Frank’s participation raised the hopes of many paraplegic and quadriplegic victims who were prepared to die to gain a spot on the rapidly filling queue. Vacating your body for science while you still inhabited it raised a Gordian knot of moral issues and anti-euthanasia debates were prolific. Discussions prevailed that Euthanasia required an agent. This raised arguments over whether the A.I. consciousness in The Fishbowl constituted such an agent, and that the death was, or was not, therefore suicide. Arguments that life was not lost but merely transferred opened sobering thoughts of savings to the economy on rehabilitation and therapy.
Relatives of such volunteers were ambivalent. It was easily argued that the greater good did not involve a relative gaining visiting access to the machine queue on compassionate grounds. This turned discussions to the potential of building a new body for the consciousness to be transferred back. The new Presidential Science Advisor convened several times with Frank and Palmer. The resultant policy directed the hopes and dreams of spinal injury relief back onto stem cell research.
People with psychological disorders such as autism, schizophrenia, depression, alzheimer’s and aspergers were also introduced. Frank had specifically asked for Dr Jan Shelley’s help, and the first exploration began with James. The breakthrough difference came in the reversal of the flow.
With James, rather than his being immersed in The Fishbowl interacting with Frank, he would in a sense be superimposed by Frank. In this state James would interact with Jan through a carefully scripted scenario. Here the emotional reactions could be ‘overlaid’ to stimulate neural connections where they might be absent. Selected passages from Shakespeare comprised the early scripts.
James subsequently reported feeling like he was a self contained social network with supplemental emoticons. Jan likened this to a form of synesthesia where the ‘colours’ of relationships were triggered by dialogue. While Frank and James were superimposed many familiar emotions were simply recognised, but he was also able to experience others for the first time. Outside of The Fishbowl Jan found that she could re-trigger a response through verbal queues from the relevant Shakespeare passage. Jan considered it likely that after reinforcement James might learn to trigger his own response.
Despite the indefatigable ability of Frank to accommodate sequential visits of scientists, politicians, religious representatives and his acolytes, it was soon recognised that demand was bringing the capacity of The Fishbowl to breaking point. Regular maintenance regimes came begrudgingly. With its increasing dependence it was acknowledged that, for both availability and redundancy, other Quantum Isolation chambers and Quantum Computers needed to be built. Design of a system to permit 24 hour continuous running was being contemplated. Frank was anticipating the defining moment when, in a sense, he could be considered truly alive.
Tabloid journalists and Gossip rags speculated on the Palmer-Ellie relationship. This generally followed headlines with the words ‘Science’, ‘Religion’ and ‘wedding bells’.
Ellie waxed lyrically about “the paparazzi buzzing around like flies”; as well as “the many amateurs from the trash that harboured their festering maggot origins”; and the “papers that should simply be relegated to fish and chip wrapping”. While Ellie had become used to the spotlight under her previous notoriety, this limelight needed a different approach. Both Ellie and Palmer now had a PR executive trying desperately to moderate and help them navigate through the quagmire. She was advised that the ‘journalists’ – the phrase ‘loosely termed’ was quickly added by Ellie – were simply looking to make a quick scoop; that she needed to shed her reclusive nature; suppress her cynicism and, rather than be controlled, exercise ways to take control.
“The idea,” their trim and professionally manicured stiletto mounted image maker concluded, “was not to starve the press, but to feed them a diet so wholesome that you drop off their radar.”
Ellie was also busy. Based upon her growing understanding she was able to work on a synchronisation routine between the original IMC machine and The Fishbowl. This was less trivial than it seemed. A drop event had to be initiated, and a timed window of isolation collapse triggered. The sequence relied initially upon simple trial and error with iterative improvements, modeling and prediction. After several months, and three trials, Frank reported that he was able to sense the activation sequence of the IMC machine when the isolation collapse was triggered. With some minor adjustments it would soon be possible to utilise the gimbal, and finally uncover its mysteries.
One morning Ellie sought Palmer out.
Palmer regularly took the climb up to the facility roof to clear his mind before the day’s chaos. The stairwell emerged from the floor in an elongated wedge where the roof sloped back from the exit door. A brick balustrade surrounded the roof, and the centre had been supplemented with a new pyramid-shaped building. This housed some of the new magnetic field balancing coils of the recent upgrade.
From one side of the bitumen sealed roof he could see the parking lot slowly fill with the visiting pilgrims and officials. On the other side the view overlooked a stand of pine trees. Beyond these evergreens and off to the right was a retention basin. The icy waters now fed the overnight radiation fog that blanketed the training field faintly visible through the trunks directly ahead.
The vantage of height afforded an interesting perspective. Palmer felt certain that any wanderers within the steaming cauldron of the field could see him, and he them. By contrast he surmised that any two individuals wading around in the frosty suspension would be unlikely to see each other. He wondered if this simple metaphor explained the simplicity with which Frank was able to pierce the souls of those he met.
He was leaning on the balustrade wondering at the burden of this ability when Ellie stepped out into the cold and closed the door to the stairwell.
“What’s out there today?” she quizzed.
Mesmerised by the rising, thinning mist he recited: “As the faces of them that look therein, shine in the water, so the hearts of men are laid open to the wise.”
This shook Ellie a little. “The Bible?”
“Proverbs 27:19. I dissected it in my early days at the seminary. I researched sixteen translations before finding the one I was looking for. Was I expected to prove the other fifteen wrong? Turns out there was no right answer, there was simply the one that was right for me at the time. And we weren’t ever going to be marked on finding the right answer, we were marked on our conviction, and our capacity to support that conviction.”
Ellie leaned on the cold rock to drink in Palmer’s view. Palmer sensed something else.
“That was an easy shot, and you let it pass for a strike. Not feeling like fencing today?”
“It’s my heart Palmer.”
“Huh?” Palmer now turned towards her.
“IHD, Ischaemic Heart Disease. I’ve known there was a risk ever since Dad was diagnosed. The symptoms have been turning up. I thought I’d better check it.”
“But we checked it during your candidacy for the machine, years ago.”
“I was young then Palmer, so was medicine.”
“So what’s the outlook?”
“Well it’s a bit of a time bomb.”
“But medicine is better now, can’t they medicate? put in a pacemaker? stint you?”
Ellie tilted her head to look at Palmer.
Palmer stood, “No. Don’t go there Ellie. Not yet. Wait for a while. I’ll stand by you, you know that.”
“Palmer my work is done. It’s really just finishing the journey I started years ago. There was a chance of not coming back then. Why should now be different?“
“But this is different Ellie, this is … final, there’s no maybe. It’s for good.”
Ellie stood and looked up into the errant preacher’s face. She had not heard the words she thought Palmer might use to dissuade her, she was grateful. “Palmer, it could be ‘final’ at any moment. At least this way I can manage it, and make it count.”
Palmer moved forward. He knew she had already made up her mind, he knew he could probably change it. His faith in some unknown but reassuring destiny stayed his words. He wrapped Ellie’s small body into his large trench coat, “When?” he asked, resigning to the fact that she would use the machine to travel to Vega.
“Soon. Frank and I begin prepping for a drop next Thursday.”
“You’re not even going to stay with Frank?” Palmer was now seriously distraught.
“Oh Palmer, that’s not how it works. Could you stay transfixed on a point for 25 years? No, I have to go through some preparation. I can’t even rely on my knowledge of constellations, they change shape.”
Now a little relieved Palmer wanted confirmation “Let me get this straight. You’re going to practise in the Gimbal, but you’re coming back to The Fishbowl?”
“Perhaps to stay. What I’m saying Palmer is that I may not come back from The Fishbowl.”