The Plato Complex - A Guided Tour 1
11-12 July 1987
In the many years since the last published report of my communications and meeting with the people of the United Worlds Alliance and the planet Korendor, vast changes have come about in our world and in their work amongst us.
Although their interests still center on bringing to our little world a just and lasting peace, with the ultimate goal of enlisting us into the Alliance, much has occured that has severely set back what in those early years seemed to be a simple, straightforward elevation of our social and economic conditions. These two decades have been a learning experience for them, a time of profound and disturbing change.
Gone is the Alliance's cheerful, rosy assessment of Earth's situation. In its place, they've adopted what can only be called a military posture, brought about not by our own actions, but rather by outside forces on a scale beyond our limited comprehension.
To simplify it perhaps too much, our seemingly unimportant planet is a focal point of an ongoing struggle for interstellar power that could quite literally determine the governorship of this galaxy for millenia to come. The Omegans, known from my early contacts, are the "dark force" operating on Earth, but behind them is a vast organization, with what we might very well call criminal inclinations.
The Alliance, the Confederation and a number of other "forces of light" have of necessity more than affinity banded together to combat this extraordinarily dangerous threat to galactic peace and security. Of them, only the Alliance is actively involved in the struggle on Earth, simply because they, of all the groups, have summarily abandoned the non-interference directives that have inhibited the actions of the Confederation et al.
As well, only the Alliance has a well-developed military capacity and a sophisticated intelligence, infiltration and espionage network. The Confederation and others are providing economic and personnel support in those areas not directly involving Earth, but here the Alliance is on its own.
More than this, I'm not at liberty to reveal publicly, although detailed information is in the possession of trusted others deeply involved in the movement. The information given above is mentioned at all only inasmuch as it influences what is to follow.
In the waning days of February of 1978, in a conference room in the Massachusetts Complex deep beneath the hills of my home state, I was privileged to sit in the awesome presence of six Masters and three Elder Masters for seven illuminating and educational hours. At the close of that fateful meeting, there was unrestrained joy amongst all in attendance.
The reason for the elation was what at the time was presumed to be the final defeat of the Omegans following the takeover of their home world of Kaldan. Yet, in my mind, it was a bittersweet joy, happiness edged with sadness. Most of my friends from beyond the stars had gone home.
Little was left of their magnificent organization here and on our moon. Nearly all of their wondrous bases had been decommissioned and dismantled. In the few facilities that were still open, only skeleton staffs remained for the vastly scaled down Project Terra sequel known as Terrawatch. Most of those familiar faces had disappeared, reassigned elsewhere throughout the Alliance. Only the "old timers" stayed behind to serve the new project functions.
In the several years that followed, much of my communication with them was confined to radio, with infrequent visits to the Massachusetts and Plato bases, and trips of a personal nature to the beautiful world of Korendor to visit my ladylove from beyond the sky, Astra-Lari. And then, as we say so colorfully (albeit somewhat sanitized for this occasion), the stuff hit the fan.
At that point the personal visits became even less frequent, and those conferences requiring my "presence" were accomplished by transfer of my mind into a duplicate "me" at their end, for the duration of the meeting. So also were my trips to Korendor curtailed, as time passed and the gravity of the situation became more evident.
In essence, although I have "met" with our Korendian friends even to the present day, it has been by psychic transfer into the duplicate and only for as long as was required to complete our business. Little did I know how things had changed in my absence, although a series of meetings in January of 1986 afforded me a tantalizing glimpse of their new facilities.
On July 10, 1987, at 3:00 AM, I received an invitation that had not been made for far too long. The sweet voice of Lin-Erri interrupted my dreams via the scanner radio that runs all night at my bedside. She informed me that I was to be at Darrin-Sen's nearby home at 11 PM the following evening. No further explanation was given, but when an offer like that is made, I don't ask for any. At 10:55 the next night, I stepped out into the warm, humid night air and met my replacement standing outside the door. He went in, and I climbed into the Chevy minivan idling at curbside. I drove to Darrin's house, and as I went in my watch beeped the appointed hour.
"Punctual as usual, Robert," Darrin said from the next room.
A young woman signalled to me to come over to her desk. She requested my ID card and inserted it into a reader on her terminal. It registered the information, and she transferred the card to a slot in the desk, where it disintegrated with a hiss. "You won't need it from now on," she said cryptically. Seconds later, a holographically-imprinted ID badge dropped into a glass receptacle under the terminal. She reached out and pressed it over my left shirt pocket, where it stuck firmly although the back seemed smooth.
"Molecular adhesion," she said matter-of-factly and went back to her work. I pulled the badge off to study it, and was replacing it, my face wearing a puzzled expression, when Orii-Val entered from a door in the far side of the room. He noted my confusion.
To the left of the doorway, an alcove contained fifteen red-and-yellow four-seater electric carts. We boarded the nearest one and drove off down the corridor. As we travelled, I noticed few of the paintings and photographs that had decorated the walls the last time I was there.
In fact, the aura of the place was one of "business first" if not military conservatism. That last thought was abruptly enhanced when a pedestrian in a side hallway snapped a brisk, Roman-like salute to Orii, who returned it with equal crispness. He said nothing, but I sensed that a lot of the frivolity and creature comforts were not to be found this time around.
We stopped at the far end of the corridor, parked the cart in another alcove, and went through a metal-and-glass door into a spacious lounge. It was well-appointed, very similar to those I had been in so often in the past. Yet even here, despite the thick, forest-green carpeting, the cream-colored walls adorned with colorful artwork, and the pleasant indirect lighting, the impression was not so much of luxury as of formality.
Waiting for us were two others, the Master Kalen-Li RETAN and the ever-beautiful Lin-Erri Elani. Astra-Lari was nowhere to be seen, and to my unasked question, Lin-Erri said, "She's at home on Korendor. She'll be coming here sometime early next year, probably in mid-March, but as yet her work in Vrell City isn't complete." I felt a twinge of disappointment, but decided that her arrival would be the harbinger of an especially wonderful springtime.
I exchanged the traditional handclasp with the Master, and noted without spoken comment the salutes that the others swapped with him. Kalen said, "Military procedure has precedence these days, brother. We've been, shall we say, drafted for the duration. We have no formal military rank, but are equivalent to Third Tier officers, approximating your colonels and generals."
He pointed to a gold-colored insignia on his left lapel. "This affords us the stature of an actual military officer without the bother of going up through the ranks. It's similar to the way your military acquired doctors during wartime. We need volunteers, you, you and you." He smiled at us, then brushed a smudge off the pin with his sleeve.
As we drove off down the corridor once more, I paused for a moment of contemplation. Even in these immensely troubled times, when the business of undeclared warfare on an interstellar scale occupied their every waking moment, and perhaps haunted them in their dreams, these wonderful people still found time for spirit-lifting play and simple fun.
I decided then that our embattled little world is in very good hands, indeed.
About halfway down the corridor, we turned right into a short connecting hallway (about 300 feet long, which is short as Korendian base corridors go) that ended in a considerably larger passage, 50 to 60 feet wide and about fifteen feet high, curving off in a slow arc in both directions. Traffic was moving in a steady flow in both directions.
"This is the main perimeter passageway for this level," Orii explained as we entered the flow. "It's 4.9 miles long, and is typical of those in most of the four levels above us and the twenty below. It's not precisely circular, because it conforms to the outlines of the various rooms within its confines."
Twenty-five levels! I whistled a low, appreciative "Whewww", and was about to ask just how deep this base actually went, when Lin-Erri answered, "Level Twenty-Five is about two miles down. It's one of the three that service our four craft hangars. We'll visit one later. Right now, we're at our first stop for the day." Our cart whirred to a halt at a corridor labelled "Central Computer Complex" in several languages. A short trip down the aisle brought us to a parking alcove, where we deboarded and walked the remaining fifty feet to the main entrance.
On a previous occasion, during a transfer visit, I made a brief stop at the MassCom computer center. That was impressive. This was mind-boggling, and the MassCom system paled in comparison. For those so inclined, a somewhat technical description follows. For the rest, please bear with me or skip to Chapter 3.
The room was entirely functional in appearance, with light blue walls, dark blue trim, and a slate-grey floor that looked like tile but was pleasantly resilient underfoot. The ceiling was off-white, with luminescent panels for general lighting and task lights over the desks and consoles. None created glare or shadows.
Artwork beautified the walls and potted plants were scattered about, no doubt as an amenity for the largely civilian workforce in the area. Background music filled the room at a low, unobtrusive level. It was playing a familiar Mozart piano concerto.
As we walked through the room (which despite being at least three hundred feet square had no supporting columns), I stopped several times to look about, remembering the enormous machines that once filled this base's computer section. Those were incredibly impressive and powerful-looking, with their myriad lights and switches. I asked Orii what happened to them.
"They went the way of all non-flesh. Obsolescence. The story behind them is an interesting tale in itself. When we first built our bases here and on Earth, their purpose was to acquaint our operatives with, among many other things, Terran technology. In order to do that to the fullest extent, and to simplify finding replacement components, we opted to contruct our computers from equipment and materials purchased on your planet.
"Because you hadn't yet reached any significant level of integration of your circuitry, and because our machines had to be powerful enough to handle any tasks we demanded of them, we were forced to construct the hulking brutes you saw so often.
"In addition, we were initially constrained by a limited budget due to the preliminary nature of our work here, so in many instances we used pre-made circuit boards from your electronics manufacturers, as a cost-saving measure. This made the computers larger still. They did all we wanted, but we paid the price in size and power consumption.
"That raises a point," I said to him. "Since you've rebuilt this base after an extended absence, won't the returning agents need new training on our equipment? What's here is sure as hell beyond anything we have."
We continued our tour of the room, each operator acknowledging our presence with a nod or a brief conversation. I noticed that although keyboards were present at every station, most operators were using headsets that apparently linked them directly with their terminals.
Orii confirmed that, saying, "Each person has a cerebral implant that permits them to communicate with the computer via the sensor bands on their heads. Most prefer this direct input, although there are a few die-hards and romantics who still like the keyboards." We stopped at one of the processor banks, similar to the one at MassCom but somewhat larger. Orii offered some technical facts on it.
"The MassCom CCC is composed of 1500 separate computers. These ten mainframes each contain 150 of them. Each of the 150 computers is in turn a network of 768 256-bit microprocessors running in what we call Triple Modular Redundancy mode, with three banks of 256 CPU's each (note: CPU stands for Central Processing Unit), configured for parallel processing. Am I losing you?"
"True. Well, stay with me. It doesn't get too much stickier. Ordinarily, although the sub-computers are arranged for TMR, they can be used separately for normal computing tasks, allowing the 768 CPU's to be applied for parallel service. TMR is primarily for critical work, where the three banks run a job simultaneously, and the results are compared. If a discrepancy exists, the job is transferred to another computer, and the errant unit is taken off-line and flagged for repair.
"The clock rate for these machines is equivalent to about 7500 megahertz in your terminology. It's that fast because of Photonic Gate Logic in the computational circuitry, which uses light rather than electrons, at a level so low that a few hundred photons are sufficient to carry a bit of information."
"All ten of these mainframes can be tied together, creating a single super-computer of over a million CPU's dedicated to one task. So far, we've been unable to conceive of a problem in our work here that would require even a tenth of that computational power, but the Alliance offered it and we weren't about to refuse it. Actually, we have yet to fully occupy even one of these mainframes, although all ten are always busy at various tasks."
"If this one seems impressive, the new Hyper-System at the Cybernetics Institute in Vrell City makes this seem like a video game in comparison. That single machine is greater in power than every other computer in the Alliance combined. Astra's working with the programming team on the initial checkout and debugging. To be frank, it's probably as close as man will ever come to creating a god of his own." His voice was tinged with awe as he spoke. I'd have given the extremity of their choice to see it just once.
Suddenly, a long-buried memory flashed on my mental screen. "Speaking of the Cybernetics Institute, I just remembered a day back in 1964 at the California base when we had a rather amazing tÍte-a-tÍte with with a computer. Whatever became of that? Did anyone ever find out who or what was behind it?"
Lin-Erri responded to the question. "Ah, yes, the infamous sarcastic analog machine. It had us going for almost a week, and we were about an hour from calling in CI, but we finally traced it to a very creative computer physicist at the other end of the room who had linked his terminal to our machine. When you asked it to add two and two, he cut in and slaved our terminal to his. He, not the computer, was giving us lip."
We joined him, and he greeted us warmly, asking, "What brings this august group down here to the dungeons?"
"I almost had them beaten, and then a bright-eyed lad in the CompTech group decided to compare the log-on timer in your terminal to the I/O monitor timer in the computer, and they didn't match, ergo another terminal was on-line. I forgot about that one. I cussed myself for days about it, because I personally put it in there as part of the security system. It was supposed to be a deep, dark secret buried in the interface control software, but it seems I taught my students too well. A shame, really. I'd have relished giving those lads at CI a few sleepless nights."
"So, do you really miss old Mark I," I asked.
"Mind you, I want to balance that opinion," he continued. "I have nothing but praise for the astonishing advances your people have made in computer science in two decades. It's far beyond our wildest expectations at the time, primarily because of your spectacular adeptness with microcircuitry.
"Your world is experiencing an explosive growth in computers and information processing, and it's safe to conjecture that by your year 2000, your society will be forever changed by it. You're quite right in calling it your next industrial revolution.
"Let me say that we welcome this, because this integration of computers into your society gives us a potent weapon in our program against the Omegans." He then expounded at length on their plans to use our increasing reliance on computers and information science to combat the Omegan influence. I'm not going to reveal any of this, for obvious reasons, but suffice it to say that every point is well-thought-out and eminently practical. As Mr. Spock would say, "Quite logical."
When we left this mighty intellect to his task, I felt even more secure in the conclusion that our planet has the best possible help. Truly they are our friends.
© 2008 Robert P. Renaud -- all rights reserved