Friday, September 09, 2016

"The Case of Reverse Engineering" Part 3: Finale

This is the final installment of my original story, "The Case of Reverse Engineering."

For the previous parts go to PART 1 and PART 2

"The Case of Reverse Engineering" 

"Of course you could see from the photographs that there was something of a misunderstanding between our party and our visitor that led to hard feelings and some careless use of flammables.  It is unfortunately how the traveler eventually succumbed."

"How long was the visitor with you?"

"Motile?  About a week.  Some of the team were upset when it became clear that the visitor was not a lifeless carcass.  I suppose it went against some firmly held beliefs.  They couldn't reconcile the facts and their beliefs.  It was quite unpleasant.  But you asked how we survived the series of disasters that befell our camp afterwards and I can sum it up by saying that we kept our heads and maintained a low profile."

I could believe this guy could keep a low profile.

"How was it you ended up with the technology?"

"We were the only physicists left.  Of the six we had a meteorologist, a biologist, a pilot and a geologist besides ourselves.  It only seemed logical that we take it.  We were the most qualified of the scientist who actually saw it while it was working."

"Professor Melitene said it was found.  The visitor didn't work with you on it?"

"Did he say it was found?  That's odd.  Some of us worked with the visitor on the technology, although it was so far beyond our understanding we weren't much more than errand boys fetching things and holding lights and such."

"Did Doctor Blair work on it?"

"Certainly; he was indispensable, God rest his soul."  He looked at us carefully.  It was such a deep look that it stopped all questioning until he started it again.  "You do know he was a pathologist, not an engineer or physicist.  He was very keen on the visitor and kept very good notes though.  You worked on those notes didn't you, Doctor Gottschalk?"

"Yes.  How exactly did you communicate with the alien?"
Allouez smiled more broadly than ever, "You know, you three are quite impressive.  No one else in the room, or indeed in the whole time of this experience, has raised the questions you have.  Your curiosity is almost overwhelming.  I think I'm going to have to share something with you, but first I need to confer with my colleague.  Would you please excuse me?"

He didn't give us a chance to accept or refuse.  He slipped away and grabbed Melitene by the elbow.  They huddled for a few minutes.

"I know it sounds crazy," Gottschalk whispered, "but I just have to tell you two.  I think the only way Blair could possibly have written that diary is if he had been possessed.  I know that makes no sense at all and possession is impossible-"

"Doyle said, 'first you must eliminate the impossible and whatever you have left, however improbable is the truth.'"

"Regardless.  I can't think of any other way to explain it.  Almost anything Allouez comes back with will have to be more believable."

He and Melitene ended their conference with cautious smiles and thoughtful nods.  Melitene returned to his throng of well-wishers and Allouez returned to us.

"We've come to an agreement.  As long as you three commit to absolute secrecy I can tell you exactly how our visitor survived and how we communicated.  They are one in the same explanation."

We agreed.

"You have heard of Watson and Crick's description of the DNA molecule?"

We had all read the articles of the recent discovery

"All life on earth is based on reproducible molecules in the nucleus of cells that contains the necessary information for the creation and maintenance of all the cells in the life form.  This is universal and the most basic part of life on earth.  The alien has a completely different system.

"The alien's cells are completely malleable and subject to control of their shape and properties even after their formation, unlike earth life where the cells are created with a specific purpose and characteristics; and maintain those during their entire life.

"Because the alien can consciously control each and every cell at all times it is able to assume any shape, any characteristic as a whole entity."

"How does it control each cell consciously?"

"Every cell is an individual representative of the whole.  Every cell carries a little bit of consciousness."

"Every cell can think?"

"No, but every cell is part of the thinking process.  Because any cell can perform any function there are no dedicated nerve cells, no centralized nervous system.  The whole body is the nervous system.  The whole biomass works in the thinking process.  It's a network, like the neural network in your brain, except more extensive, more permeating, more holistic."

He was beginning to lose us.

"It's entirely more flexible.  It can adapt as an individual to any situation, given enough time and enough information."

"Evolution on an individual basis?"  Gottschalk suggested.

"More than that; because it can adapt over and over again, assuming any characteristics it needs."

"Looking like whatever it wants," Winkle said.


"Like a person?"


"Like you?"

"It could make itself into a copy of me, certainly."

"And it eats to gain mass as well as for energy, right?"

"Yes, very good point.  The alien can assume any shape as long as it has enough biomass to assume that shape.  It couldn't shape itself into a whale for instance if it is only man-sized to begin with."

"But everything it eats can be converted into these all-purpose cells, right?  So conceivably it could eat a whole whale as long as it converts the cells into its own kind of universal erector-set cells as it goes."

"It could."

"Every part of the creature is a whole unto itself and the creature is a network of cells that all communicate, right?  I'm not a scientist, but I do like to read a lot.  I thought the cells in our brain communicate through electrical impulses and chemical receptors.  How do the cells in these creatures communicate?  Telepathy?"

Allouez laughed quietly, "Exactly right; you are very astute Miss Kostka, by telepathy."

"Telepathy within an individual creature?"

"Within individuals and between them; all the aliens are networks within themselves and between every other of their kind."

"What about our kind?"  Gottschalk asked.

Allouez paused and then answered cautiously, "Yes, on some basic, limited levels."

"An alien could eat another creature and as it's eating convert the food creature directly into something like itself, then it could communicate to the new creature what it was thinking.  Wouldn't it be an exact copy of itself then?"


"Or it could make itself into a duplicate of the thing it just ate.  For instance, if I were an alien I could eat Doctor Gottschalk, and convert her cells all into alien cells, but when that was done we could communicate telepathically, like we had one brain and decide that her body would continue to look like Doctor Gottschalk and I would continue to look like me, but she wouldn't be Doctor Gottschalk anymore."

"Is that what happened?"  Gottschalk took up the questions, "Did the alien convert Blair into one of its own kind?"

Allouez smiled, "That is what we understand happened.  It was more than that though, don't you see?  The creature doesn't eat the way you are thinking, and it doesn't lose what was Blair to begin with.  It takes it up.  Blair became so much more than just Blair, but the new Blair was still Blair in some ways."

"The Ship of Theseus paradox?"

"Yes!  In the end you have two ships."

"And then two more," I said, "Until there's nothing but ships."

"No, no.  It's not like that.  The creature wasn't trying to replace the world's population, they thought it was, but that was an assumption Blair made.  They thought the creature wanted to replace them all."

"So you killed the thing."

"Not me, but yes.  It was paranoia, fear of the unknown."

"Fear of loss of individuality."

"Look, when you eat a cow the cow dies, but when the creature consumes another in this way the other doesn't really die.  Don't you think you would appreciate the cow more if you could learn what its life is like and it wouldn't die but join you as a thinking being?"

"But you killed it, the Blair thing and the others as well."

Allouez was quiet.

"You killed every telepathic cell of it; every cell that was a whole unto itself is gone now?"

He said nothing.

"Why was it building that backpack?  It wasn't sharing any technology, was it?  Why do you want to rebuild it?"

"We don't."

"They want to rebuild the starship," Winkle said.  Shit she was right.  The backpack was just a small version of what the starship ran on.  "You need the financial backing and the minds of the university to rebuild the starship."

"But if the alien isn't all dead why can't it build the ship?"  I asked.

"There wasn't enough left, was there?"

"Of course," Gottschalk said, "there were only scattered cells left, not enough to make anything like a sizable brain.  Even if every cell can be a brain cell, you need enough of them to really think."

"You would.  When we've built the ship the stars will be available to us all."

"We?  There is still an alien thing alive, isn't there?"

Allouez smiled again, "'That is not dead than can eternal lie.'  You don't need to become one with the visitor, but wouldn't you like to see the stars?  If still here wouldn't you want the visitor to be able to return home?"

"How would we know we're not being telepathically manipulated?"

"How can we be sure you don't want to replace everybody?"

"One or both of you is the alien thing, aren't you?"  Winkle asked the ultimate question.

"What if all six of us are; what would you do?"  He asked, and smiled.

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