Battle for the Known Unknown Ch. 06bybradley_stoke©
"How many incidents have there been now?" Paul was asked.
"A few," he answered.
"Six, in fact," said the dark hued security officer who'd flown in from the Interplanetary Union's administrative offices near Pluto. "Three reported at the university. Two between here and your home. And one that destroyed your home; or at least most of it. Three explosions and three attempted assassinations. And you really have no idea who it could be?"
"None," admitted Paul. "I didn't know I had any enemies. And I didn't know that my research would ever upset anyone."
"These incidents are almost certainly associated with the publication of your research," remarked the officer. "Did anyone ever suggest to you that it might excite unwelcome attention?"
"Not at all," said Paul. "No one's been interested in my research before."
"Understandably," admitted the officer, as he studied his notes. "Blogging and Personal Websites in the Twentieth to Twenty-third Centuries. Twenty-first Century Pornography. The Pattern of Movie Downloading Habits in the Twenty-second Century. These are truly academic pursuits. What attracted you to analyse ancient military and government records regarding the Anomaly?"
"I just came across a reference to it in a printed file when I was researching conspiracy theories and was fascinated by it."
"And did anyone inform you that the Anomaly has reappeared in the last century?"
"No. Has it?" asked Paul for whom this was genuinely unsuspected news.
"Yes," said the officer. "And in exactly the same location in the very same unpromising corner of space."
"Yes. And do you have any idea from your research what this Anomaly might be?"
"Well, only what the records say. And none of them are very forthcoming. It's a kind of a presence of absence, as far as I can tell. It's a kind of black nothingness that exerts no electromagnetic or gravitational force. It simply blocks out the starlight from behind. Some records speculate that it might be dark energy or dark matter or something like that."
"Well, we know enough these days about the physical components of the universe to be certain that it isn't either of those things," said the officer, "although 'dark' it most certainly is. Were there any records that you read, and perhaps not thought worth including in your reports, that associated the Anomaly with other incidents in the Solar System?"
"Like what?" Paul wondered.
"Well, like, for instance, alien space ships or alien encounters of any kind?"
"There's a lot of documentation on things like that," Paul admitted, "but no positive correlation. You must remember, though, that in the early part of the third millennium there was a great deal of speculation about aliens and most of it was total rubbish."
"Only most of it?"
"I guess so," said Paul. "Possibly all of it. I don't know. Perhaps if there'd been more truth to these speculations in the last thousand years or so, something more would have been made of them."
"You have heard of the peculiar apparitions reported across the Solar System, haven't you?" remarked the officer. "The things that appear for a short period of time and then vanish. Like, for instance, the knight in armour that appeared briefly near Neptune? Or the floating telephone box in the Kuiper Belt? Or the swarm of pterodactyls over the Moon?"
"I assumed they were just nonsense dreamt up by the news media," said Paul. "Odd, but not at all proven."
"Were there any such events recorded in the twenty-first and twenty-second centuries?"
"Well, lots," admitted Paul. "But none independently verified."
"And no connection was made between them and the Anomaly?"
"Not that I know of. Nothing that was preserved in the records."
"I see," said the officer thoughtfully. He gazed at his notes, which even Paul could see was determining the nature of his questions. It was unusual for a representative from the Interplanetary Union, especially an intelligence officer, to travel such a very long way to a remote space colony like Godwin. And even more so with the express purpose of interrogating someone like Paul whose activities wouldn't normally attract any but the most cursory attention from beyond the University.
Then again, he was at least as worried and upset as anyone else by the peculiar incidents that had been following him around. There were two occasions when he'd nearly been killed. The first by a burst of laser fire he'd only avoided because he'd bent down to straighten a shoe that he'd put on rather carelessly. The second by a knife attack that was intercepted by the security officer that had been assigned to him after the explosion in the laboratory. And the replacement to the laboratory hadn't lasted long until it was gutted by an unexplained fire. The worst, of course, was the malfunction in Paul's domestic systems where the nanobots went utterly out of control and instead of cleaning the carpets and removing dust started dismantling the entire house so that it was now totally uninhabitable. If he'd been in bed rather than immersed in Nudeworld, he might have been smothered by over-zealous nanobots and reduced to the same small specks of dust that was all that was remaining of most of his home.
"Well, the fact that there you've now provided conclusive evidence that the Anomaly isn't just a recent phenomenon has attracted considerable attention," elaborated Special Officer Fitzwilliam as he held a holoscreen up toward his eyes. "It has eliminated some theories of what the Anomaly might be, as well as stimulating rather a few new ones. It has upset some people while providing welcome evidence for others. What it's most definitely done is absolve responsibility from any currently existing human agency unless you either postulate the possibility of time travel or a more advanced technology in the twenty-first century than anyone's ever imagined. You saw no speculation about time travel in your research, did you? That, rather than being contemporaneous, the Anomaly might be an incursion from a later epoch?"
"No," said Paul. "Even in the twenty-first century it was believed that time travel was a strictly one-way affair. And like notions of travelling faster than light or creating real rather than artificial gravity, that seems even less likely nowadays than it might have done then."
"That doesn't stop science-fiction authors from incorporating such concepts into their fiction though, does it?"
"I don't see that that's relevant. I've studied the maths. Time travel is about as possible as reincarnation and fairies."
"But people believe in those as well, don't they?" remarked the special officer. "However, I'm not here to indulge in idle speculation. I shall spell out the facts to you as we see them. You've been doing independent research into the Anomaly which has come up with the surprising and totally unexpected result that this phenomenon was positively identified over a thousand years ago. You and your research have attracted the unwelcome attention of some as yet not positively identified individuals and organisations. And your life is in danger. Whether you like it or not: so too is the life of many people at the University and on the colony of Godwin. It's not at all inconceivable that after having failed to eliminate you or the fruits of your research by conventional methods, these unknown individuals or organisations might decide that the easiest and most conclusive way might be to destroy the entire colony. It doesn't take more than one particularly crazed individual with access to an antimatter device to reduce Godwin to nothing more than a cloud of fundamental particles. Even this far out in the Solar System, that would have an impact on colonies many light minutes away. A stream of naked quarks or leptons could seriously aggravate systems even as far away as Pluto."
"It doesn't sound good," admitted Paul.
"It doesn't, does it?" agreed Special Officer Fitzwilliam. "It is your misfortune, in a sense, to live in what must be the most insecure and easily infiltrated colony in the whole Solar System. Indeed, it has been extremely exasperating simply to identify someone who possesses what might resemble a position of authority in your colony. It seems that apparent seniority and responsibility carry very little actual executive power in Godwin. Even your ambassadors and consuls in the Interplanetary Union are unable to identify an individual in your colony whose decision-making capacity is beyond that required to perform their job. If there was ever a war involving your colony, I doubt that Godwin could make even the most basic strategic or tactical military decision."
"Anarchists have no conception of war," said Paul in defence of the guiding principles of his home colony.
"Nor any likelihood of surviving one," remarked the special officer grimly. "However, the Interplanetary Union has responsibilities for all its member states, even one whose representatives are as unpredictable and eccentric as yours are. There is no discernible pattern to the policies your representatives support. Those who represent you appear to have been elected on the basis of their desire to serve rather than because anyone especially wanted to be represented by them. Your representatives more often vote against each other rather than act as a common block. Nevertheless, we are duty-bound to protect your colony and the individuals within it. Including, it has to be said, you, Paul."
"And if I didn't want your protection?" wondered Paul more in the spirit of intellectual curiosity than disagreement.
"That's your choice, but the Interplanetary Union might very well exercise its right, which none of your citizens can exercise, of protecting the whole of the colony against the wishes of individuals within it."
"I see," said Paul, who had only the vaguest notion of what might be the common good but was sure that there might be some strong arguments in its favour.
"There is a mission to intercept the Anomaly which has been set up with the highest authority and, although this appears to have no meaning on Godwin, the utmost secrecy. We would hope, but cannot, of course, enforce that you would respect this secrecy and tell no one. And I mean absolutely no one. Whether or not it's a decision I agree with—and I am in no position to voice an opinion—it has been decided that you should participate on this mission."
"Of what possible use would I be?" wondered Paul. "I'm a researcher. All my research material comes from within the Solar System. I'd be less use in deep space than I would be here."
"You may ask," smiled the special officer in apparent sympathy. "I can't see you doing much useful research when you're travelling several light weeks, if not months, from the ecliptic plane. But the decision has been made and if you decline, which you have every right of doing, the significance of the mission might well override your normal rights. It is a mission of the highest importance and any excuse for not participating might not be viewed with the usual indulgence."
"And what is this mission intended to achieve?"
"Well now, you're asking me a question for which my security clearance isn't nearly high enough for me to answer," admitted Special Officer Fitzwilliam. "However, I am authorised to use my discretion to ensure that you participate whether or not I agree with the decision that you should. I simply hope that you'll agree to embark on the Space Ship Byzantium which has been diverted from its standard course for the express purpose of picking you up."
"I see," said Paul who was slowly getting accustomed to the notion of a future that was at odds with anything he might have planned for himself.
"You mustn't tell anyone why you'll be leaving the colony on the cruiser," said the special officer, "nor, if possible, that you'll be leaving at all. If asked, you should say that you're attending a conference on twenty-seventh century quantum computing at Sucette in the Uranus orbit. This convention is dull enough that your attendance there would be wholly plausible. However, judging from our records, you have so few friends and an even smaller family that it should be fairly easy for you to avoid the need to divulge even this much information."
"I suppose you're right," said Paul, a little sadly.
Nevertheless, ever since his home had been reduced to dust there was little on Godwin to persuade Paul to remain. He was now living in another house equally as well appointed but also a long and tedious shuttle bus ride from the University. It was at the furthest end of the colony, not far from the huge wall that marked its abrupt perimeter. He had all the home comforts he'd always known, but his every step was now being observed and monitored by a coterie of Godwin's voluntary corps of security officers and the rather more officious ones from the Interplanetary Union that had accompanied Special Officer Fitzwilliam to the colony. Paul wasn't comfortable at having his every step monitored nor by the ever-present sight of the sheer wall that separated the colony's furthest end from the emptiness of space beyond.
It was no doubt with the intention of lessening the impact of seeing the internal space so abruptly truncated that Godwin's designers had decided that the inside wall should be a huge mirror that gave the impression of a colony that stretched onwards forever in both directions, but Paul felt distinctly uneasy when he left his home to see his reflection and the reflection of his home only a few hundred metres away. And the constant presence of security officers around his home and in many of the rooms meant that he'd lost all sense of privacy.
It wasn't long until he was actively looking forward to his journey towards the heart of the Solar System; or at least as far as Earth.
Paul still had the opportunity to retreat to Nudeworld and he was comforted by the fact that such virtual worlds crossed the boundaries of time and space and was as equally accessible on Pluto and Earth as it was in Godwin or elsewhere in the Kuiper Belt.
It was sex rather than conversation that was uppermost on Paul's mind the evening after his interview with Special Officer Fitzwilliam. And sex, of course, was readily available when he met Blanche in the living room of his virtual home in Nudeworld. It took as little as no persuasion at all to get his virtual partner to lie on the luxurious carpet while Paul hammered away at her. And despite having set the sex settings for long and leisurely, he released his semen on her face and magnificent bosom well within half an hour. His penis was aching and his body bathed in perspiration, but somehow Paul was still not satisfied.
"Let's go to a night club," he suggested knowing that whatever he wanted to do Blanche would be equally as enthusiastic. Even if he'd suggested some truly perverse sexual activity, Blanche would obey his every whim.
"Which one?" was all she asked.
"The Nightcrawler," suggested Paul. It was one where he had the most opportunity to find potential sexual partners other than Blanche, but jealousy wasn't an attribute Blanche possessed (unless Paul had specified her to be that way).
Paul would never have gone to a night club on Godwin. He wasn't particularly keen on dance music or, indeed, music of any kind. Those few times he'd been to a real life night club he'd felt very much out of place while his companions danced with frenetic disregard to the ferociously loud music. In Nudeworld, however, night clubs were places where Paul could indulge his voyeuristic inclinations and where, should he feel inclined, there was no resistance to any suggestion he made to a dancing partner; unless, of course, he accidentally chose the avatar of a real person who was unlikely to be impressed by Paul's clumsy banter.
It was a woman with incredibly long silky black legs who attracted Paul's attention and while Blanche sat patiently at a table with a glass of fruit juice he was soon stretched out on the dance floor and fucking this woman with even more fervour than he had with Blanche. This woman, whose name Paul never learnt, was a lean and lubricious fuck, who relished pumping her head back and forth on Paul's erect penis. She invited him to spray his semen over her eyes and hair and hardly cared at all for the mess it made of her make-up. While the couple sprawled out on the velvety soft dance floor, the other dancers assiduously avoided trampling on them which was also unlikely to actually happen in real life.
"What was she like, darling?" asked Blanche when Paul eventually returned. "Was she as good a fuck as me?"
Paul was gentleman enough, even though it scarcely mattered to a virtual entity, to suggest that Blanche was by far the better lover. And with no hint of jealousy, she rewarded his gallantry with a kiss and a leisurely handjob.
Paul eventually tired of the flashing nights and throbbing music. He wasn't even sure whether he was listening to the same piece of music now as that he'd heard when the couple arrived, although he knew that with well over fifteen hundred years of electronic dance music at its disposal the likelihood of the same tune being repeated was virtually zero.
Part of the programming that was essential in Nudeworld, as it was in all virtual universes, was that the biological needs of the real person behind the avatar should be addressed. There had been unfortunate incidents in the early days of virtual universes, even before they'd become especially realistic, when people had died from forgetting to eat and, most of all, to relieve themselves.
Paul made his way to the night club's toilets where he was welcomed by a very attentive female attendant and where his normal bodily functions, relieved at exactly the same time in real space, functioned with astonishingly real effect and satisfaction.
When Paul emerged from the toilet he was confronted by rather more doors than he remembered there being on his way in. Slightly tipsy from the wine, whose affect was wholly virtual and would have no echo in the real world, he pushed at a door which he wasn't certain was quite the right one. It led out into a grassy open space, much like a park in Godwin on a gloriously well-lit day. This puzzled Paul because it was the middle of the night. On the other hand, virtual worlds weren't bound by the same laws of physics as the real world so he didn't worry about it as much as he would if the same thing had happened during Godwin's diurnal cycle.
Paul always enjoyed sitting in parks. His most productive thinking had been done in the extensive parkland around the University where a herd of fallow deer wandered about amongst grazing kangaroos and the occasional reanimated diprotodon. The animals grazing in Nudeworld were peculiarly mundane given the designers' opportunity to populate it with anything they liked. Sheep and llama were all the distraction there was for Paul as he sat down on a wooden park bench, not at all conscious of his nudity or the drips of pale liquid from his penis onto the lush lawn.
"How are you, Paul?" asked a kindly voice which Paul identified as belonging to Virgil whom he'd met several times now on the occasion he'd chosen to visit Nudeworld.
Paul was by now totally unsurprised by such encounters, although in real time he sometimes wondered at its oddity. Not only was the gentleman, by being fully clothed, completely out of place in the aptly named Nudeworld, it was peculiar that someone like him should become a regular part of what was essentially Paul's fantasy world. Perhaps the gentleman was the avatar of a real person. If so, then judging by the lack of time dilation, it must be someone who lived very close to Godwin, if not on the colony itself.