The Cloud, Monday, 3rd September 2131, 8am GMT

Breakfast at the Webers had become an institution by now, and regular guests would have complained if the menu varied from crispy rolls, bacon and coffee. But of course it never did.

The original BSG430 and BSG301 teams seldom met as a group any more, since they had moved on into new study groups in the 19-25 student cohort, but many of them had stayed in touch, partly through Sven and the 'alignments' process, but mostly just because of their shared, dramatic history together. So there was a big team this morning: Michael and Sven of course, Ferdinand and Aloysia, Slavica, Jocelyn and James, Maria, John, Dorothea and Lucy.

Slavica was reaching the end of a kind of retrospective of the Institute's work, and the immediate prospects. "So this semester we're expecting to produce a detailed comparison of the telepathy mechanisms in the brain, the e-clone and the RCC, the pathways that get used, the points at which there are quantum effects and/or non-locality events. We're expecting to learn from that how to put together a psi-enabled RCC on a standardized basis, which could then be commercialized; and we'll patent it, of course, so we can start to pay back Michael."

She glanced at Michael, who was impassive.

"The reason we asked you to come here today is that I am in real doubt, and I think Michael is, too, as to what we are doing this for. Even, perhaps, whether it's proper for us to reverse engineer the collective unconscious to such an extent. Even the existing RCC shell which I put up a year ago is illegitimate; the standard RCC was approved by the legislature, but no-one in authority has ever given their blessing to my new version; it sort of slipped through the cracks during the interregnum.

"But before we throw open the floor, could I ask Sven and the 'alignments' team to tell us how that process is going? I see the stats, of course, and the management reports, and they're really impressive; but what would be very helpful is to know from the inside what direction the groups are taking. How much they're using the new pathways; whether there's much apparent psi. And so on.

"I'll mostly defer to Maria on that," said Sven. "In terms of the input, she's the one who has the best overview. I can just say that about the audience, there is a startling degree of interest in the reach of the 'alignments' into the group unconscious. The deeper they go, the more feedback we get. Of course, it's the cyber-babes we're hearing from. There are plenty of subscribers from the older cohorts, but they don't say anything much. One could be worried about that! Maria?"

"Oh," said Maria, in what for her was a very hesitant mode, "What are you asking me! I just try to judge the internal quality of the submissions, and teach other people to do the same thing. It's such an enveloping process, interesting, but all-consuming, that there's hardly a moment to stand back and think. And then I have to go off to study."

"And buy shoes," she added defiantly.

They all waited.

"Still, I suppose I've got to try to make some judgments for you."

Another long pause.

"The first thing is that the groups are very much communal. We might have worried, I did anyway, that individuals would disrupt the process. There is some of that, and anyway most of it would get weeded out long before Jocelyn, John or I would see anything. But it just hasn't been a problem. The second thing is that the groups are quite obviously reaching out beyond their own circles to take in external input. Naturally we don't have any idea about the neural pathways that a group may have travelled before producing an alignment, so we are at one remove from the actual cognitive process; but it's clear to me, and I think the others agree, that they are not normally using material imported through existing sensory channels. That would be difficult anyway, on a group basis, since there's no attempt in an RCC to produce a coherent synthesis of sensory input. So they are more probably using group channels to an external field, whether you call it the collective unconscious, or whatever. This is very unscientific, I know, but that's the position we're in. As a researcher, I would like to carry out a controlled trial, to resolve it; but of course we can't do that. Slavica can do it."

No-one said anything, so after a while Maria continued.

"The third thing is vaguer; but we have a definite impression that the groups are mostly being, how can I put it, socially constructive. It's not a question of format, or subject, or style; it's somehow a question of attitude. It's as if, when a number of people are addressing an issue, or an art-form, the collective wisdom of the group over-rules any attempt at individualism and reaches a more adult result. It's not to say that individuals are necessarily excluded. Quite often, some members of a group make their own individual contributions, but it is usually in a collaborative way, and in the end they subject themselves to the will of the group. And that's the most remarkable thing, to me, that the group always has its own will, independently of individual attitudes, which can even be opposed to the collective.

Ferdinand put himself forward in the silent space that followed.

"I think I can reassure you, Slavica, at least as regards the RCC shell. It was done with my knowledge, and I can give it a kind of retrospective approval; and I would think that as an executive act of mine it was included in the package that I presented to the Assembly a month ago. That was a kind of vote of confidence, after all. Anyway, I can't see anyone attacking it or you. Let them try!"

"Speaking of being attacked," mused Slavica, "are we in any danger from the . . . mafia . . . for want of a better word? I mean, I know that we more or less destroyed their administrative octopus, but they will grow it again, won't they, or another version of it? They're not just going to fold their tents and steal away, so to speak, after all these years, and with so much money hanging on it."

Ferdinand replied. "They will have another bite of the cherry, of course. And we didn't manage to track back to all of the real bosses. We've done some of that, using the material we gathered during the raids, and Frans is continuing to dig. Every day just about we're able to do another bust. But we won't get at all the roots, I know that. You're not at immediate risk, though. First of all, they wouldn't have an agenda as regards RCC research; it's the cyberspace contracts they want, mostly. You did write JIRS, it's true, but they probably don't even know that; very few people do, and they're mostly at this table. I can't see that they would worry about the Institute unless you start doing something which could harm them."

"I'll try not to!" said Slavica. "Sorry guys, I interrupted, really. Shall we get back to the main question?"

Dorothea was the first to fill the void that then ensued. "You know that I haven't taken part in Sven's operation, and I don't even meet Slavica very often, so I may not be the best-informed person on this subject. But then perhaps I'm less likely to be biassed! I was always strongly in favour of this research. And it's not as if we are inventing something new and possibly dangerous, at least not at this stage. What we're doing is trying to remedy the deliberate exclusion of half of the human mind from the clones; that was wrong, in my view. Also, isn't it possible that psi in and between groups and RCCs is no different from the equivalent physical brain activity? It's all been so little studied. At the minimum we ought to continue, Slava ought to continue, that is, until we can say for sure what is going on in physical brain-to-brain communication at the level of the unconscious, and the collective unconscious, assuming that such a thing exists. We all believe it does, I suppose! And then be able to compare the physical phenomena with the equivalent in the cloud. That would be the stage at which we ought to present a new RCC model for approval, given that it's going to be used by the whole of humanity - our group is too small to have that responsibility. And it may be that the new model RCC will turn out to be able to do more than the old one, which is a further issue needing public discussion."

"Am I allowed to join in?" asked Michael, but waited only a microsecond before continuing. "I think I could fairly have been described as an agnostic when this all started. I didn't have a view on psi; I had no theory about the uses of RCCs, probably I didn't even know their history. Thanks to you guys, that has been fundamentally changed. I'm a convert to psi, and it seems completely crazy that as a race we don't make use of it, if there's a way of doing so that is reliable and safe. And I have come to realize that RCCs, or some future development of them, are the way forward for us as a society, a community. To reach a higher level of combined intelligence and understanding. The alignments show what amazing joint achievements are possible in literature, poetry, music, philosophy. All that in just over a year! I think that Dorothea summed the position up very well: it's an easy call, that we should continue, at least to the point at which we can describe what is possible, based on bullet-proof research."

There was a general feeling of approval, and no-one felt it was necessary to contribute further.

"But," said Slavica, in her inimitably methodical, demanding way, "do you have any idea of the scale of the work that's needed here? We're not talking about one or two years. We've got to catch up with hundreds of years of lost time, to put the study of psi and the human unconscious on level terms with the other sciences."

"The problem is, Slavica," said Ferdinand half humorously, "that we know you too well to believe that."

"Perhaps I'm tired," said Slavica. "Perhaps I've run out of steam. Perhaps I've shot my bolt. I won't promise anything."

Nobody said a word. Slavica was Slavica, and if anybody could do it, she could.



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