began in issue 122.
Chapters 2 and 3 appear
in issue 123.
Chapter 4: Briefing Sphere
Are you feeling your way a little better now, Toni?
‘I think so, Quo ...’
Then may I continue?
‘Well, I’m not sure: I know there are many other things I really should be doing ...’
They can wait, Toni. They can wait ...How do you do
would you like
to be friends?
As you know, your Columbus made his voyages to the New World in flotillas of various shapes and sizes.
We, on the other hand, have come to your shores from our own world (let us call it “Dome” — that should help you) in one very large craft. I have just been searching your languages again for an appropriate name for our temporary home. “The Mater” seems to suit its several roles.
‘Well, I can see the obvious meanings ...’ said Toni, cautiously. His Latin and English were sound; however, he was already a little concerned at the less desirable allusions for a Spanish speaker. But he said no more, preferring to retain the new and attractive images of himself and Carla which had just arisen in his mind’s eye.
Ah, Toni, that’s better — I see you really are entering into the spirit of things now!
The Mater arrived in the vicinity of your Earth quite recently. The method and length of our voyage should not concern you; from what we have observed to date, even your finest scientists would not comprehend it. Natives and explorers again — which I hope will not offend you.
If you will accept that our whole crew greatly looks forward to being back at Dome, you will perhaps believe that we can indeed travel very long distances well within our own lifespans ...
‘I don’t understand it, Quo. But I suppose I must accept it.’
Excellent, Toni.Light a light, light a light for me ...
From a long way off, we were easily able to measure the dimensions of your Earth and the characteristics of its atmosphere. It is a core aim of our mission to conduct such geographical observation and fact-finding.
But you will appreciate, Toni, that this has to be a largely one-way observation. We can now see much evidence of the Earth’s own technological eyes and ears and defence mechanisms. Naturally, we do not wish to alert those systems any more than is absolutely necessary. So we have arrived in a cloak that prevents them from detecting the Mater in any way; just as your armed forces, we now recognise, have similar but more basic techniques for rendering their own aircraft apparently invisible.
However, we need to come much closer still, both to achieve the accuracy we require in our physical data collection, and then to move on to our next great aim: to understand the ways in which your peoples live and think and act in this world.Lover, am I coming home again ...You are following me, aren’t you, Toni?
‘Oh, yes. It’s all quite clear, I think. I’m just trying to juggle all the other questions that keep coming into my mind ...’
They will all be answered.
‘I hope so, Quo ...’
So, Toni, we have entered an orbit around your Earth, above the Equator. We are slightly farther away than the many small satellites you have placed in that special circle round your planet, which allows each of them to fall towards you forever, yet always be the same distance from you, and always above a particular point.
And although we are a little beyond them — it is very crowded in that ring of gleaming metal, and we are a large craft compared with those fragile birds — we too can maintain such a permanent position, by making continuous minor adjustments to our velocity.
So now we hover over your Africa, and we see all of your Europe spread out before us (it is good to know their names at last, and to use them with you, Toni) ... and we can see in close-up and high-resolution, when we choose to.
But it is a bird’s-eye view only ... which has many weaknesses. Columbus could only make very limited observations from the safe vantage point of his ship. A very two-dimensional view. We must have the surface view; we must come among you.
So this is Carla’s role, Toni.
Carla, on the Mater, is the Handler. And Carla, down there among you, is the Finder.
‘I’m trying hard here, Quo. But you must explain this more clearly, to help me.’
Of course I will, Toni ...
Carla the Finder is a radimote.
We create her using many technologies, including some which we see you have already learned to exploit in very basic ways on Earth: laser beams for the powerful focusing of uniform light, radio waves for vision and sound, radar for detection and measuring distances, capacitors for storing energy, and much, much more.
But simply and essentially ... the Carla you have met and embraced in spirit, Toni, is a many-dimensioned, opaque, mobile hologram.... for my true love is gone.
‘But that means ...’
Allow me to finish, Toni.
To produce her, we need to generate a laser beam of immense power. This is one reason why our craft is so large. That beam then has to be split in two, and each of those beams must be passed through many different systems here on the Mater, and then sent to its own transceiver; there is one of these sited at each extreme of our craft. That is a separation of many kilometres in your terms!
Each beam will need to travel the long distance to your Earth, and each must remain very tightly constrained throughout its transmission. The two beams are programmed to come together again at a very particular point, as I shall later explain.It’s a long, long time ‘til morning
plays wasted on the dawn ...
Before we can begin this process, Carla the Handler must be comfortably installed in her special studio on the Mater ... she has a very demanding task ahead of her, for which she has rehearsed long and hard.
Only when she is fully ready will she give the command. Then the laser fires ... and the radimote is born, in its little image sphere.
But it does not present any visible image at that point. And it will never reflect Carla’s own image; it will instead present whatever image she chooses for it.
When the radimote is initially positioned, we have no proper images to use. But we do not need to have one at this time. We do not wish the people of Earth to believe they are seeing the first ever flying human, as it glides to land before their very eyes!
‘You have a good sense of humour, Quo.’
I have learned it from you, Toni.
So Carla’s first job as Handler is to locate a suitable initial image for Carla the Finder to adopt. Once this is done, and fully remembered, the radimote is ready at last to become visible — to be “made” — whenever the Handler wishes.
When several images have been learned, the one presented by the radimote can be changed by the Handler at any time — and elements of each one can be combined. Whenever necessary, of course, there can be no visible image at all; the one currently presented can be instantly “un-made” at the Handler’s will. As you have discovered, Toni, your Carla can disappear.And now I lay me down to sleep
forever by your side.
Now, positioning the radimote for the first time requires a major release of energy from the Mater. This is impossible to disguise, and it must be highly noticeable from Earth. This is one of those few risks we are forced to take.
Many great minds must now be puzzling over the cause of those recently observed bursts, from two close but invisible sources — as well as the very different burst produced on the surface earlier today, with those rather unexpected side-effects ...
Are you still with me, Toni? I know these descriptions must be a little dry for an artist like you. But you are keen to understand, are you not?
Toni? I asked if you were still with us. You seem a little drowsy ...
‘Quo ... I think Carla is the White Rabbit.’
I beg your pardon?
‘I think I must be dreaming. I sit in the sun, I drink a glass of beer, then along comes Carla. She makes a bit of a show, I follow her, and then she disappears down a rabbit-hole. I have all those problems with the police, then Carla pops up again, and now here I am in a wonderland of Cheshire cats and disembodied voices. It’s obvious. I’m Alice, I’m asleep, and I’m dreaming her story.’
Toni, I am sorry; I was slow to register the connection you had already made with a story you have recently re-read. I see now the logic in all you have said. You really have a finely suggestible mind! Carla is very lucky to have found you.
But I can assure you that you are not dreaming. And since you have nothing to lose by continuing to learn, shall we proceed?
‘Yes, of course; this is all fascinating for me too. But I’m definitely going to be late for Paula. She’ll be so annoyed ...’
This is a lover’s lullabye ...
Well, Toni, that first positioning action locates the radimote well above the surface of the Earth (or whatever world we are exploring). It is very important to avoid the beams hitting the ground on the initial firing — all those different types of reflection would cause many unwanted effects, believe me!
But the radimote must also be positioned within a quite limited range, to avoid excessive work for the Handler in the final positioning phase: the descent to land.
So, the two beams come together at a carefully planned level. In the case of your Earth, this is somewhere between a kilometre and a mile above the surface.
Our equipment works at an error tolerance of no worse than 1 in 100,000. This gives us a good safety margin, since our orbit is only 36,000 kilometres above the Earth’s surface. With good luck we can position the radimote within a hundred metres of the planned level. And the low altitude of about 4000 feet allows the Handler to conduct a rapid and well-informed final descent.
‘All these numbers are a bit too much for me, Quo!’
I am sorry, Toni. You said you were no scientist. It is rather hard to get the balance right on one’s first real engagement, you know. No more numbers — I promise you!
Now, after the initial positioning, and the procedure of “gliding to land” (Carla will tell you later of her own glide to Earth; she is very proud of that story ... things did not go precisely to plan: your weather turns out to be very unpredictable), the energy level required to sustain the radimote, and to move it around in its new world, is extremely low. Indeed, you would call it merely “noise level”, and it is not readily detectable on Earth.
So all the subsequent movements of the Finder are done in complete radio stealth.Softly now — close your eyes
Lightly will you fade ...
From the moment the radimote is born, Toni, it is under the Handler’s full control. The beams transmit exactly what the Handler continuously thinks about doing next. She has no need to physically move around in her studio.
Whenever the radimote is actually presenting an image, its physical posture and movements and locomotion will actively follow the Handler’s exact train of thought. And its body language will reflect the Handler’s emotions.
So the radimote becomes the vehicle for the Handler to travel freely and participate in the world under survey. And “freely” means exactly that ... the radimote is not constrained to moving at the speed of unassisted humans. Its image sphere can move as fast as the Handler chooses. It can follow fire engines, Toni ... or even trains and aeroplanes.
The radimote can be driven not just in open spaces, but also inside buildings ... because the beams, and all the radio waves they carry, pass harmlessly through most solid materials, such as those used for normal roofs or walls. Of course, we had to hope this would apply to the building materials used on Earth; fortunately, that has proved to be the case, so far ...
But the power of the beams can be degraded if the material is too dense, or if there are too many layers. We tested the procedures for recovering from this as fully as time allowed, back at Dome. We do not want to lose our radimote! That would mean starting all over again, with another big radio disturbance ...
I have nearly finished, Toni. Is this still all quite clear to you?
‘Yes, I think so, Quo. You are a good teacher. I had been amusing myself by thinking about the risks of your radimote bumping into an aeroplane as they both come in to land!’
Your sense of humour will serve you well, Toni! Do not worry: there is a lot of sky around your aeroplanes and the radimote; and anyway, if there were a “collision”, the pilot would know nothing of it — and the Handler would merely observe the aeroplane’s passage. The radimote has no substance ... it is purely waves of energy.
‘Yes, of course it is! But that means that Carla ...’
Toni, you and Carla will share much in the days to come. Be calm, and I shall paint the final part of this picture for you ...
‘No, hold on, Quo! How can the radimote see those things all around it? You said the bird’s-eye view was no good for that. How can it hear me talking? And how can it speak to me? In Spanish, for God’s sake ...’
Ah, you are running ahead of me once more. So many questions!
As you clearly appreciate ... after it has glided to land, the radimote naturally needs to become familiar with some key elements of its new environment.
Of course, Toni, although I am talking of the radimote as a free being, you must remember that it is only a projection of the mind of the Handler. It is, in reality, the Handler we are discussing.
The familiarisation process must include visually observing local native behaviour, and listening in to their conversations to establish a basic vocabulary, primarily of nouns and verbs — the sophistications of grammar are, at least at this early stage, something of a luxury for the radimote! And it also needs to be able to communicate actively, as soon as it can.Any one can learn the words
and the melody’s so plain ...
So those intensive beams from the Mater, which are focused in the radimote, support many other important functions, including those of “sight, hearing and speech” which you are so keen to understand.
‘Yes, I am!’
But Carla and I would like to leave the full explanation of this until a little later. We need to move ahead now ...
‘All right, Quo ... if you really insist ...’
Toni, we have heard this song before, have we not?
‘Oh, yes. The system is set on continuous repeat. You are very attentive, Quo.’
Ah ... music is part of our life-blood ...
There is one more important thing to tell you right now, Toni.
The radimote’s appearance and movements can be so accurate, and can seem perfectly natural for the world in which it is operating (for example, subject to your normal gravity), because the Handler sees very well, and learns rapidly, and has the ability to copy what she sees with great precision.
This copying includes not only the physical appearance of any selected persona, but also all its clothing and accessories. Those can be moved around at will by the radimote. They can even be positioned physically separated from it by a small distance, within the image sphere generated by the focused beams (a space about the size of a small room on Earth). And they can subsequently be retrieved.
But when the radimote moves on, it is the image sphere that is moving, and any accessories that are “left behind” just fade from view, for ever.
And, naturally, the radimote cannot in any way exert a physical force on an object that is not part of its own transmitted image.
So, as you observed, Carla the Finder could remove a jacket and a camera from a bag she had been carrying, and place them on a chair, and later retrieve them and put them back in the bag. But she could not pick up a real glass of water that had been placed on the table by an occupant of the Earth possessing muscles made for lifting and pushing and pulling. And you spotted that the banknote had vanished, didn’t you? A radimote’s act is not an easy one, Toni ... and it needs a very good supporting actor, as you will be.We sound so good together
and so poorly sung alone ...
So there we have it. The radimote looks like a human. It can move around just like a human. As Carla has demonstrated, it can see, it can hear, and it can speak — and we shall later explain exactly how, as I have promised. It can learn very fast. But it has no senses of taste or smell, nor does it stimulate with a scent of its own ... and of course, it does not eat or drink.
Being out and about with Carla will pose some challenges for both of you, Toni! She has spent much time learning that she must not apparently bump into people, or walk through solid walls or panes of glass within the public gaze. The image would come to no harm ... but the illusion would be compromised.
And finally ... Carla cannot touch things. She cannot touch you. And you must not try to touch her. It would destroy so much. I hope that is clear to you.
Toni, are you listening carefully?
‘Yes, Quo, it is clear, though it saddens me to hear it. But I really think I need to be leaving now ...’
Ah, Toni, I see that you are tired. Now is the time to sleep a little. Sleep, sitting just where you are; and when you are refreshed, I shall tell you of the very special role that you are to play with Carla, in the days to come ...