Archer and Goddard returned to the sphere. In the bright morning sunshine the dome looked like some sort of high-concept museum exterior. The smooth wide curve of the metallic roof shone brilliantly against the dull red rock of Ascension. Last night, Archer had not been able to see how high the two ridges from the satellite picture really were. To the north and south the promontories soared some five-hundred feet above them, framing the valley in which the sphere sat buried. The two ridges almost seemed to Archer like a gateway, or great protectors of some profound technical truth.
Miles was carrying a document wallet at his waist when he came to meet Archer and Goddard near the entrance to the sphere. He shook their hands and wasted no time on giving an update.
'After you passed out, there was an avalanche. Part of the ridge to the north collapsed into the valley below.'
'Was anyone hurt?'
'Thankfully no, it was nowhere near any habitation or anything. But the source of the displacement was the sphere itself. That thing caused it. We've seen previous avalanches in the area. Something about that sphere has created a sizeable geological instability. We’d only suspected it till now.'
Archer said, 'Dad mentioned the binary light has started up again. What's it saying now?'
Miles gave a wry smile and pulled a printout from his document wallet. 'You might not want to read this.'
Archer took it and read the single repeated line.
Geek snatched the sheet of paper and scrunched it into a ball, 'This is crap. We should go. You don't owe this lot anything.'
Archer smiled. 'It's ok. Aren't you intrigued about all this? Don't you want to know what this device is?
Geek stared across again at the hulking dome, glinting in the bright day. 'Yeah, of course I'm interested. But I don't like all this printout stuff. Asking for us. Asking for you. It's not going to lead to anything good. We all know that. Don't you feel like a lamb being brought to the slaughter? At the whim of the Prime Minister of all people. You've never been one to follow the fucking establishment.'
'My curiosity is what's driving me here. Not some government agenda. Can someone tell me what we're dealing with here?'
Miles spoke, 'We've trained our instruments on this thing and we've detected some interesting stuff. Gravitational fluctuations.'
'We've spotted bosonic forces and fermions in there,' added Geek.
'Which means it’s a closed, stable, supersymmetrical system. What exists inside that sphere is beyond the range of our scientific capabilities.'
Geek dug his hands into his pockets, 'In other words, no-one on this earth would be able to make one of these things. Scientists have been trying to create what's going on inside there for about fifty years and we still haven't cracked it.'
'That object in the middle,' Miles added. 'That wire, is under excitation. Like a guitar string under tension.'
'It's vibrating, in an eleventh dimensional, M Theory sort of way,' added Geek.
Archer struggled to keep the awe from his voice, 'So it’s a pretty intense piece of kit.'
Miles shook his head quickly. 'You’re not wrong. The energy source from the vibrations isn't from here.'
Archer cast his eyes to Geek for more reassurance, and found it written in his colleague’s eyes. ‘Isn’t from here?
Geek nodded. 'I don't know where the casing came from, Archer, but the bit in the middle isn't from this dimension. It can't be.'
Miles continued, 'Something from another dimension is using this device to communicate with you. I don't know, perhaps the string membranes, the dimensions, are touching, allowing that wire to transmit data between.'
Archer raised his hands. 'I'm tired of the speculation guys.' That silenced them. He said no more. This time he was going to get to the bottom of it all. No more passing out. He turned and hoisted himself up into the man-sized entrance to the dome, took two steps towards the viewing hole, and wasn't surprised to see the light diminish in the corridor as the door sealed silently behind him. The sphere had gotten what it asked for.
Peering into the gloomy centre once more, Archer was able to see the filament more clearly. His tolerance of this machine felt greater now, and he was surprised at himself for feeling no fear. This machine obviously viewed him as important, and therefore not a threat. Hopefully.
After a few moments of watching the empty space do nothing, he eventually said, 'So when are you going to tell me what this is all about?'
And then the lights came on, fluorescent bulbs across the lower portion of the room, casting a spooky uplight onto the filament frame in the centre, and Archer was able to see the inside of the sphere in sharp relief. Across the opposite wall he could see a green oscillating line, and when a female voice, vaguely electronic in nature, started to speak, the line bounced in sync like a graphic equaliser.
'Verification module loaded. Welcome Archer. Quantum calibration initiating. Please answer the following questions truthfully. Control question one. In which year was John F Kennedy assassinated?'
'Nineteen eighty six. Look, what is this?'
'Filter level one complete. Control question two. When was the first manned moon landing?'
'Eighteen ninety eight.'
'Calibrating. Calibrating. Chrono-spacial pinpoint requires third control question. What year was Harold Armsworth elected Prime Minister of the United Kingdom?'
'I don't know who Harold Armsworth is. What are you?'
'Control questions complete. Branch verification coded to Data Surface. Acknowledgement received. Awaiting authorisation to continue. Authorisation complete. I am Brenda. I am required to represent myself in different ways based on the technological capabilities of the multiverse branch I am communicating with. In other branches I can communicate directly with the cerebral cortex, but there is a key invention missing from your timeline that prevents me from doing this here, resulting in the requirement for this M Sphere.'
'What invention? You said we were missing a key invention.'
'I cannot disclose that information, as it would result in the creation of an ontological paradox.'
'What do you want from me?'
'It is your intention to marry and procreate with your lover, is that correct?'
The subject had come from nowhere. Archer was thrown. Time to stall while the ramifications of this sank in. 'I beg your pardon? What the hell are you talking about?'
‘I will elaborate. Am I correct in my assumption that you intend to marry and pro-create with Louise Annabel Richards, currently located at grid co-ordinates fifty one thirty north, zero thirty west?'
'Grid co...Jesus, is that London?'
'Correct. It is London, England.'
'Well, the thought had crossed my mind, but it's got absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with you. Are you some sort of therapist?'
'Please answer the question.'
'Answer the question now.'
'It's none of your business.'
'I am making it my business.'
'Let me out.'
'You are not permitted to leave.'
Realising only now that he was trapped inside the sphere, Archer felt acid bile creeping up to his throat. He swallowed hard, collecting his thoughts. Wondering where these questions were headed.
'Look. Ok, let's do this. Yes. I was... planning on proposing to her.'
'Do you love her?'
'Yes. Yes I do. I'm sorry but this is the most surreal...'
'Then you must unlove her.'
Archer's mind was reeling. Somewhere in the back of his head this was beginning to make sense. Brenda continued to speak.
'You are not permitted to continue your relationship with her. It is forbidden by the Humanity Council.'
'Forbidden? By the who? What’s the Humanity Council?'
'The council has not yet been established in your branch. However, you must relinquish the woman. It is compulsory that she procreates with your acquaintance David Hallam currently located at grid coordinates seven fifty six south, fourteen twenty two west.'
Archer could feel the blood draining out of his face. Numbness. 'Davey?'
'It is essential that David Hallam and Louise Annabel Richards reproduce. The child that they have will go on to patent the code that leads to my creation. I am mandated by the Space Foundation...'
'That’s not true! The Space Foundation wouldn’t…'
'It is a future directive of the Space Foundation, that it endorses all aspects of my work, along with the Humanity Council. The Brenda device is permitted to work to ensure its existence in as many multiversal branches as possible. There are permissible levels of collateral damage. It is agreed at Ownership Level 1A, that the destruction of Ascension Island is an acceptable loss under the circumstances, if such a threat is required to ensure compliance.'
‘Wait. Stop. Just shut up a second. What’s stopping you from communicating with the child? Telling the child the code to manufacture the computer? Why go to all these lengths...?’
‘I am not obliged to explain my methods, suffice to say that we have tried it, and in every instance the individual has taken my intervention as malicious intent…’
‘…and subsequently chosen not to develop the code. Our only method of success is to create the environment that ensures the code is developed with no outside intervention, at the whim of the developer, at the whim of the child.’
‘How can you ask me to do this; relinquish the woman I love and want to marry? How can you expect compliance from her? And Davey is married already. What you’re asking is impossible.’
‘It is not in my interest or within my understanding to advise on the method of achieving this goal. My only concern is that it is achieved.’
‘You’ve made it clear you know very little on the matter. Ignorant even. Humans have delicate emotions. Doesn't this woman... Doesn’t Louise have a choice in her own destiny? Doesn’t Davey? You can’t protect your interests by threatening others.’
'By inducing tectonic activity from this excitation point. I am providing sufficient threat for you to comply. I am preserving the future. It is therefore in your interests to comply.'
'How can you be so cold? So calculating?'
'I am preserving the future. You were more compliant in other branches, Archer.’
He wondered what Louise was doing at that moment. An image came into his mind of her sitting at their favourite coffee shop on the South Bank of the Thames, in front of the new National Theatre, taking in the sun and watching the boats go by as she chatted with friends; jeans, t-shirt and sunglasses perched on her head. Smiling and laughing. He doubted she could be convinced to pass him over and go with Davey. And could Davey simply end his marriage to Gemma after one year and start things up with Louise just because this dimensional computer was demanding it? The prospect was ridiculous. But they were being threatened.
Where were the boundaries of the ethics of these organisations of the future? What kind of world endorsed the messing with people’s lives and emotions to preserve what is to come?
‘Brenda you have no right to ask this of us. It is ethically irresponsible.’
‘The irresponsibility for the future of your race lies with you. I detect non-compliance and your time to respond favourably has run out. Seeking authorisation for excitation. Authorisation received. Time to detonation, minus fifteen seconds.’
‘Wait. You can’t kill all these people. What are you going to do? Destroy this island just because…How can this be so important?’
Beneath Archer’s feet the sphere began to tremble, a low rising hum met his ears. The filament was wobbling, whipping itself quickly into a blur.
‘Wait. Wait. Stop!’
‘Ok. I’ll do it. I’ll… do my best… to do it. I’ll talk to Davey. I’m not confident of anybody’s success though. Least of all you, you ignorant, heartless bitch. Even if those two get together and… and sleep together, dammit, the probability that the very child you’re looking for will be born to them is so low…’
‘The biological probabilities are not your concern.’
‘Fine. Fine, whatever. Just let me out of this thing.’
The door behind him opened.
‘And don’t you dare interfere with my life again.’