11 am EST, Thursday, April 2nd, 2131, New York
The Institute For Human Collective Research, Lake Success, Long Island, New York
"What's with the gatehouse, Slavica?" asked Michael as he slid his frame into one of the chairs around the gleaming table in the Institute's premier meeting room. "Are we going to be attacked?"
"I don't like it any more than you do," said Slavica. "Ferdinand says yes, we are, so would we mind taking a few precautions."
"Those pansies won't stop anyone," grumbled Michael. "If you're serious, better get yourself a couple of multiple rocket launchers. Anyway, what've you got for me?"
This was a monthly meeting, and Slavica had been quite surprised by the diligence with which Michael attended, and his grasp of the detail she presented. Quite unlike comparable 'board' meetings with the Foundation's trustees; they seemed far more interested in the management accounts.
"Quite a lot, actually," said Slavica. "I told you last time that quite a few of our work threads were going to mature about now, and that's just how it is."
The wall facing them sprang to life.
"There are four key themes here: tracking inter-group esp phenomena in the brain; understanding meditation; exploring beneath the thalamus; and building an RCC structure that allows easier collective communication with the unexplored parts of the brain."
As she spoke, the wall showed matching diagrams and images, just long enough to convey a message, then moving on quickly to a subsequent message.
"Let's start with the esp tracking; that's probably the most exciting." The wall created a three-dimensional image of the brain, which as Slavica spoke, wheeled around them to show off the illuminated brain paths that had been recorded during the experiments.
"This is actual telepathic transmission of emotional statements on a one-to-one basis; we have timed recordings of the statements of the participants to match to the recordings, obviously; see how the amygdala is working through the thalamus with the brain-stem, and almost everything else is dark. Now, here are comparable traces when it's groups communicating rather than individuals: there's much less activity in the brain-stem, on the other hand the pineal gland is shining out really brightly, the basal ganglia are involved, but there's still nothing to speak of in the forebrain. That's still working just with emotional states.
"The next set of traces has exactly the same structure, going from individual to group, but the difference is that they're communicating semantic statements. It did take a long time for the first groups to learn to do this; but once one of them had grasped it, the others followed on almost instantly. Look how important the frontal areas of the cortex have have become, and most remarkable of all, there are quite definite pathways into Broca's and Wernicke's areas in the group traces which aren't there in the individual ones. This is all strictly non-verbal, of course. We concentrated on classification, because that's surely the bedrock of semantic communication.
"Now if we look at a comparable set of traces for the transmission of images, you'll see how the hippocampus is taking the lead. It seems that telepathy is a property or an ability shared by various different parts of the brain depending on the type of content that is being transmitted.
"So what do we make of this? Well, we think that telepathy, as a sensory mode, originated way back in association with the hedonic emotions and marched along with the brain as it developed, and was then put to use by the group to communicate classification information. It was only when verbal language came along that it fell out of regular use. Very, very recently indeed, just a few thousand years. The whole magnificent telepathic apparatus is still in there, virtually unharmed, and of course almost completely unused.
"These are highly repeatable experiements, by the way, and what is really amazing is that the more they have group origins rather than individual ones, the more repeatable they get. You can see on the traces how they firm up and have better shape when it's groups. Lower down, when it's just one individual transmitting something vague like fear, you can see how the traces are smudgy."
It was more than an hour before she had finished, and Michael sat as still as a rock throughout.
"I'm totally shocked," he said. "You can't see all this and then say that groups are some kind of outmoded social construction that's not relevant to our modern-day existence. I'm still not sure where that takes us, but ignoring it won't be possible. You're doing wonderfully well."
"I'm glad you think that, Michael, because I've got a confession to make. Ferdinand says that if you're angry, it's all his fault, and he knows you're going to understand why it had to be done this way. But we haven't been completely up front with you. Would you mind coming with me? I don't like stuff lying around here where anyone might be able to look at it."
Slavica led the way through several empty lecture theatres and laboratories until they reached an elevator which lifted them up to a glass-paneled observatory on the second floor with no other ingress or egress.
"There's a ladder in the toilet," she said, seeing Michael's eyebrows go up.
It was a large room, but without furniture apart from a couple of quite basic chairs, which they sat on, and the usual display wall.
"I come here to concentrate and work," said Slavica. "It's quiet and they can't disturb me!"
The wall suddenly said: 'Judicial Investigative Robotic System', and a set of interlocking modules appeared in three dimensions with a spider's web of appallingly complex multi-coloured feedback loops. Slavica had a very self-satisfied look on her face.
"Do you know what that is?" she asked.
"Sure," said Michael, "it's the robotic version of the prosecutor's department. Once upon a time we would have called it the DA's office. That's what's being voted on today; then they're going to build it, if the administration lets them, that is, and in two years' time they'll get rid of the spooks and put that in instead."
"See, you're paranoid too." Slavica taunted him.
"What have you done, Slavica?"
"I told you, it's not my fault, it was Ferdinand. Six months ago, after the election, I told him I wanted something else to do. This research stuff is OK, but all I have to do is to give orders. It takes ten minutes a day. So he asked if I could help with JIRS. He knew they would all play for time, right from the beginning."
She paused for effect. "I finished it last week. It's ready to roll."
"Don't expect me to be surprised, Slavica. I do know you, by now. But how do you know it will work - I mean," he hastily added when she looked at him, "how will you prove it to the members? It'll have to be validated, somehow."
"We ran it on Frans's second file over the weekend, you know, the one where he's analyzed the financial dealings of the bureaucrats' advisers and hangers-on, and it put up more than a thousand cases to the tribunal. I've got a version of the tribunal down here, there's nothing secret about it. And we got 97% success in referrals, then with the Courts we got 95% convictions. This is all documented in 387 sets of submissions for the members."
"Excuse me just one second."
Slavica walked to the elevator and sent it downstairs. A minute later Ferdinand emerged from the opening doors.
"Sorry to be so melodramatic, Michael," he said. "We have to do it this way, pretend there's lots of time when there actually isn't."
"What are you planning, Ferdy," said Michael, beginning to sound worried. "I'm not sure if I like this. Have you turned into a dictator?"
"There are only about seven hundred senior people in the investigative divisions," said Ferdinand, 'five hundred here in New York, give or take, and the rest dotted around the world. Most of them are desk-bound, so we are not very forceful, and frankly, I wonder how many of them may be on the other side. But now we've got three thousand bang up-to-date enforcement robots in our New Model Army, there's nothing secret about that. Once the Assembly has passed the plan for JIRS this afternoon, we're going to take Frans's top 1,000 out tonight at midnight from their homes, and search them. Those guys have some interesting bank accounts, I can tell you. We're going to the tribunal this evening to get the arrest and search warrants. Slavica already ran the list against her tame tribunal, so we know the answer: we'll get the warrants."
Michael had gone silent.
"Then Slavica is going to instal JIRS overnight alongside the tribunal and the police. Tomorrow morning it'll be working."
"Tomorrow is Day Two of the Plenary at the Assembly. All 384 members will have their dossiers overnight, and at 9 am I will make a speech. I will begin by offering my resignation, and that of my team, then I will spell out step by step the situation that has forced us to behave in this way. Everything documented, of course, including the files on the three thousand members of the administration for whom we have prima facie evidence of wrongdoing. We won't try to arrest them; we can't, and we shouldn't, but we can give the files to the tribunal. The outcome is obvious in my opinion. In terms of realpolitik, once we've zapped their action men, there's nothing they can do as individuals except sit and wait.
"Then I'll sit down. And the members can decide. I will be happy either way."
"And what do you want of me?" asked Michael, beginning to look a little bit less like a startled hare.
"Only what you want to give," said Ferdinand. "First of all, I owed it to you to tell you about it in time for you to stop me, if you want to, after everything you have done for us. Then of course, if you were inclined to help us again, you might appreciate the warning so that you can get your journalistic ducks in a row. Really, that's it."
"You're brave," said Michael, "if nothing else. I suppose I can see the logic. I can't say I'm comfortable with it all. But then I remember the St Regis." He paused and thought for a while.
"OK, you're on. How can I say no? You clever man."
"You know what they say," said Ferdinand, looking at Slavica. "If you want something done well, ask a busy woman."
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