Sunday, October 29, 2006

New Jerusalem (3rd part)

Part of the story which has been originally published in “1999” under the title “Novi Jerusalem”, Ljubljana, Zagreb; pp. 61-63 © Borislav Pekic; English translation © Bernard Johnson.

for 4th part HERE

All of nature, while it had still existed, had been like that. Both the ugliest, as was the better part of it, and that which, adapted to man’s imagination, could be looked at differently, without arousing disgust, possessed that insolent, arrogant self-confidence of the self-created.

Everything that was right, good, artificial, depended on something outside itself, could be classified according to external criteria which always defined the value of the thing created in relation to something else of the same species, or according to its purpose, if no model for it existed and could in every respect be subjected to comparison.

A stream could not be compared with a hill or a waterfall with a forest thicket. From the analogy between sea and lake nothing could be derived apart from the conclusion that both were full of lifeless hydrogen and oxygen in the proportion of two to one.

There was no point in saying which of two stones was better, even if that were possible. The grass was absolutely, almost insanely useless in every of its shape, and the primeval forest useless in a completely different way from each individual tree.

The stars turned senselessly, empty spheres, indifferent to the Earth, which, for its part, knew nothing of them until wise robots discovered their sense for the creation of that Earth, the metal womb of its Species. Nature depended only on itself; its products had no standards, patterns nor rules which guaranteed artificial creations their purposefulness, harmony and beauty.

Nature was ruled by Father Cronus (Chance) and Mother Gaea (Chaos), the cause and result of despair in the human world, and the basis in it of the merciless indifference of events.

But what could the New Jerusalem’s proto-man have found in that indifference, what had bound him to nature, joined him to it enough to erase all the differences between men and rats – according to his hypothesis, the basis of human history – so that he, Arno, should have extracted the skeletons of that history out of the hollow of a carbonized tree, from underground areas, which, when they had been functioning, must have been submerged in water at least up to knee height, this was the sole remaining enigma in the otherwise logically irrefutable interpretation of New Jerusalem, which he had recently also solved.

A little later, he was standing on the top of a bare hillock from which the worn stone crumbling away a mark of some fossil, probably of an ancient horse.

Shading his eyes with his hand from the reflection of the setting sun on the metal shoulder of the robot sent out to reconnoiter. The time until its return – he was hoping for news that the other man had bee found – he intended to spend with the meadow.

He expected the unpleasantness of escort by the machines, programmed with enmity towards nature as a hostile principle of creation, from which man was excepted because he was no longer born but modeled in placenta simulators with the hope that, in the distant future, he would be free of the last spark of repulsive mortal life and take on the immortal perfection and sterile purity of a cybernet.

He had long ago got used to their quiet resistance, the resistance of the obedient. It had been going on for almost two hundred and fifty years, if the criss-cross pattern of his primitive calendar were to be believed, in which it was, on the only place on the planet, where time had been re-established.

The fact that he alone of all the mutants worked, even bothered to occupy himself with something - although with the robots at his side nobody really needed him - was quite enough to arouse suspicions. The fact that his work was to do with archaeology, a proto-science inseparably linked with the phenomenon of time, made things even worse.

Given the current knowledge of the past of the Species - without the revolutionary correction to be found in his discovery - and the awareness that that past must have been what it had been, (although in fact it was not known what it had been), that it must have ended in cataclysm, for otherwise it would not have been what it had been, (if it in fact had been),

to take an interest in it in any of its aspects, particularly in the archaeological one, where it must have been at its most disastrous, causal, primordial, creative, could in that history-less time only mean a serious processing confusion in the mutation of the genetic material from which he, Arno, had been produced.

And if there had still been a government, authorities, law, or any kind of compulsion, even only surviving customs, if each man had not by now been entirely independent, his own mankind, hermetically isolated from every other individual-mankind, this out-of-the-ordinariness would have meant serious personal repercussions for him.

At the very least, an operation to remove the error from his brain. But to arrive at that monstrous conclusion regarding the imperfection, and even the failure of the mutant way of life from that unnatural work, and deduce the superiority of that of the proto-people, if one looked at it though the undoubtedly highest model, New Jerusalem frozen into northern ice, was quite beyond the computation power of his robots.

The desire for this monstrous error to be revealed as the truth - as the need unfelt for thousands of years to actually communicate something, even though it itself was monstrous - went well beyond the measure of built-in tolerance of even the most primitive machines in his service, those pitiful screws whose intelligence knew only of the routes of their own corresponding printed circuits.

But they could do nothing about it. They were prevented by the three-part law A.S.I.M.O.V., built-in to every cybernetic creation as an everlasting principle as far back as the dawn of the Simulation Era:

in all circumstances even as far as self-destruction, the robots had to obey him and defend him, except in the case of him raising his head against another man, (and since it was not known where other men were, this was hardly likely), or, against himself; if he had demanded that they help him to commit suicide, or not to hinder him from doing so.

He sensed that in these exceptional circumstances too the robots might find a possibility of opposing his eccentricities.

If they were to interpret an attack on the mutant idea of solitude, incorporated into the central nucleus of the mutant way of survival as “raising his hand against himself”, if the attempt to do away with the present civilization through the discovery of its senselessness could be seen as suicide – for by doing away with it he would also be doing away with himself, then they could justify their action on two counts:

the prevention of murder and the prevention of suicide, and arrive at the annulment of the A.S.I.M.O.V. prohibition and do something about it. In either case, his iron mentors would have cause for reflection.

But the case was without precedent. To arrive at such ideas would require them to put into operation lengthy and complicated reflective combinations. He hoped that his proclamation of the truth would precede their conclusion that they were allowed to prevent him by force.

for 4th part HERE

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