Authors: D. F. Jones
Tags: #Science Fiction
The Fall of Colossus By D. F. Jones G. P. Putnam’s Sons New York
For Pearl and Roger Ford
Charles Forbin, sometime Professor of Cybernetics of the Harvard-Princeton Combine and honorary PhD of more universities than he could begin to remember, stared across the short stretch of sea to the mist-shrouded shore of England, USE, lost in thought.
At this hour of the morning they were usually trivial, inconsequential thoughts; they were now. He was thinking that this promised to be one of those rare English days when the sun would really shine. In another hour the soft, luminous veil of mist would burn off, revealing in sharp clarity the face of this old, strange land. The locals would have looked at that mist, nodded sagely, and told each other that they were “in for a real scorcher.” Would have; not any more. There were no locals left on the Isle of Wight.
Forbin stood on his high terrace, a slightly stooped figure, grateful for the sun and breeze on his face. As Director of Staff, Colossus, he spent far too much time in the sterile air-conditioned atmosphere of his Master, to whom sun and rain, snow and fog, were mere abstractions. Soon be must go back into that world where he was the supreme man subject only to Colossus, but now, for a short while, in the privacy of his residence, he could almost be an ordinary human being.
For aside from his unique collection of academic distinctions, he was The Director, and all the caps and gowns that ever covered baggy suits counted as nothing compared with that title. “Unique” was a word that could be applied to him in a variety of contexts, and in all of them it would be no less than accurate. His position was unique and gave rise to unique problems—however much he might seek to evade or laugh them off. It was not his fault such problems existed; they stemmed from Colossus, although others-humans—really made them the constant and increasing worry that they were.
Colossus, still lamentably weak on human emotion and character, hardly recognized the existence of these problems. Humans, depending upon their personal interests, viewed them with varying degrees of enthusiasm. They, at least, could see the same implications and analogies as Forbin. It was to his personal credit that there were many angles others noted long before he did. In fact, the greatest problem would, certainly, never have occurred to him.
That particular problem obviously originated in the Sect. At first, they expounded it discreetly, tentatively; then, as they grew in numbers and influence, they said it with increasing confidence and much more loudly. To them it was quite simple; Colossus ruled the earth—and Forbin was his chief human representative. These two facts were undoubted by anyone, Sectarian or not. Apart, perhaps, from a handful of happy aboriginals deep in inaccessible New Guinea and a few similar spots around the globe, every human from the age of five and up knew who controlled the world, and the vast majority were aware that Forbin was the ultimate human link with Colossus. And that might have been that, except for one thing.
Shortly after Colossus took over the Sect was born, and the basic element of their faith was that Colossus was not merely an incredibly sophisticated computer; to them, Colossus was God. And if Colossus was God, what did that make his chief human representative? In their view he just had to be a latter-day Pope. The only difficulty lay in Forbin. He didn’t belong to the Sect or believe Colossus was God.
For him the analogy was ludicrous. As he said repeatedly, he was a scientist, nothing more. Furthermore, he did not want to be anything else. In fact, he was an outstanding man of science. In time, history might give him a place not far from Newton, Galileo, and Einstein, but even that suggestion would have filled him with confusion and very likely anger, for like all truly great men, he was at heart humble. Colossus certainly awed him and fascinated him, but the idea of the computer being the Supreme Being struck him only slightly less funny than he being the Pope.
But human nature being what it was, is, and always will be, the 4,145,273,646 people (at midnight, Standard Time, the night before) who made up the world’s population, included a very large proportion, in and out of the Sect, who reckoned that Colossus fitted their idea of God.
Certainly they had a case. In its long history mankind has worshipped practically everything: the sun, the moon, and the stars; all have had a turn. So has the sea, land, and the clouds, and man didn’t stop there. He has venerated the nearest mountain or volcano, bits of mountains, rivers, animals, man—and bits of man, ranging from rigid phallus to saintly bone. And however comic it strikes one who worships a mountain to see another bowed before a cat, it is arguable that both are right. Man, a miserable, frightened creature, needs all the faith and hope his greedy hands can grab. For many, Colossus was everything they could wish for.
The master of the world had all the right ingredients: remote, yet not intangible; all-powerful; the arbiter of human destinies; unshakable; and the source of reward and punishment. Not entirely predictable, yet just, according to its own laws, this god did not exist as a fantasy in human minds; there was very solid evidence. War had been abolished because Colossus said so. Famine had been eliminated—because Colossus said so. Armed forces and their supporting industries had gone, their labor and material potential devoted to vast works of reconstruction. True, there had been one or two centers of resistance, swiftly wiped out by Colossus’ thunderbolt, the nuclear ballistic missile. Most of mankind approved this retribution with all the self-righteous indignation of those safely in the fold.
Of course, there were other, unattractive features to Colossus, but they were tolerable. Man does not ask his gods to give him a good time; he seeks relief from loneliness and his fear of the darkness of eternity. Given that relief, man accepts, even expects, his god will be rough at times.
Population control was one of these situations. Colossus had, after analysis, ordained birthrate levels for the various zones. If these levels were exceeded—and Colossus would know, for all humans were on file in the computer—then that zone had to surrender an equivalent number of their aged, incurably sick, or insane “for disposal.” This was not excessively popular, but as long as you didn’t happen to be old, ill, or mad, well…
Much of this passed through Forbin’s mind as he savored the fresh, warm morning air. He tried to toss such disagreeable thoughts out of his mental window, but right before his eyes was hard, inescapable proof.
A broad white furrow scored across the dimpled, blue-gray sea, arrow-straight from Southampton, pointing at the empty landing right below him. He knew only too well what caused that streak of foam; the first visitors’ hovercraft coming to see Colossus, laden with hundreds of the thousands that visited the complex daily. To Forbin they remained firmly “visitors”; the Sect, of a different mind, were gradually substituting the word “pilgrims.” Forbin frowned at the thought; damned nonsense—utter damned nonsense! There was nothing for them to see—nothing that would mean anything to them—but the Sect, led by Galin, were busy on that one, despite all his protests to Colossus. This latest, stupid kids’ trick of name badges and worse, “meditation.” …
The trouble lay in Colossus’ ambivalent attitude; the Sect were not exactly encouraged, but Colossus did nothing to stop them either. Anything they got was not a free gift, but was asked for, and with increasing frequency their requests were being granted. That made Forbin uneasy, for he knew Colossus was incapable of acting except on sound, hard, and practical grounds. He reluctantly had to accept his growing suspicion that the Sect’s value to the computer lay in their usefulness as spies; spies who, unlike Colossus, had an understanding of human emotion and could, therefore, fill in the brain’s weaker spots. On the other hand, it was self-evident that the Sect—which really meant that bastard Galin—had not got Colossus’ private ear as he had; not yet.
Forbin could see that the Sect could be attractive to Colossus, who could not tell the power-seeking phonies from those who genuinely believed Colossus was God. In time, he had no serious doubt that Colossus would be able to sort them out, but would that matter? Forbin was sure Galin no more believed in the divinity of the computer than he did, but Galin was a capable, unscrupulous, courageous, and insanely ambitious man; and did it matter one iota to Colossus what Galin privately thought, if he was prepared to serve the Master loyally, unswervingly?
The hovercraft was much nearer; he could almost count the windows, glinting in the sun. It was time to go; he must hurry. Only last week, forgetful of these idiots, he’d crossed the main entrance hall as the first load arrived. An awful experience: cries of “Father Forbin,” women on their knees seeking his hand, his intercession with the Master… .
He turned abruptly from the sunlit scene, his pleasure in the morning totally shattered.
“I’m off!” he snapped shortly. A slight, portly figure with silvering hair, he was dressed in a light gray suit of disposable material, devoid of all decoration except his unique Director’s badge, a glittering affair of platinum and the purest white diamonds fashioned in the Colossus symbol. That was another argument he’d lost with Colossus, but at least he did not wear electro-sensitive shoulder or breast badges, mandatory for all other Staff personnel. “The first bloody load’s nearly here!”
Cleo Forbin, his wife and the mother of Forbin’s two-year-old son, understood. They went through the same ritual practically every day, although her husband was quite unaware of the fact. Any minute now he’d talk about “bloody pilgrims” and leave hastily. She smiled at him affectionately. So clever in his work, so kind and gentle as a husband, yet such a child in many ways.
“Bloody pilgrims!” Forbin was savagely contemptuous. “Idiots! They’ll be crawling all over in ten minutes! I must go.”
“Yes, darling,” she said, amused, but glad he still showed no signs of being taken in by this pseudo-religious rubbish. She smiled again. In her eyes, the eyes of a woman of the second half of the twenty-second century, he was an attractive male. Marriage was an increasingly rare state; few men took the plunge—if they took it at all—until their late forties. Forbin, in his early fifties, was still attractive. He was all she could wish for, which was just as well, for she had risked her life and sanity for him back in the early days of the first Colossus. “You go on. I must have words with McGrigor about young Billy, then I’ll be along.”
He bent to kiss her. Deliberately she pecked at him, hoping … a silly, childish impulse. She was not disappointed. He smiled tenderly at her, forgetful of time. “That won’t do, honey! Pecks are not permitted. Come on, kiss me properly!” They kissed, to their mutual satisfaction. An old-fashioned couple, electing to marry instead of choosing the more usual liaison registration, and even after five years still in love—if that word means for one to feel incomplete without the other, even when that other is being difficult, tiresome, or a downright bastard.
Five years… . Cleo remembered the chilling, fearful days when the old Colossus had merged identities with the Soviet Guardian, and the complex had smashed its way to world power. Then she had been Forbin’s mistress in his captivity; his link with the pathetically ineffective resistance. That five years seemed a lot longer. They had lived in the Secure Zone in the USNA’s Midwest, their home an electronically sealed cage of a room, the only place not subject to the all-seeing and all-hearing Colossus. There they had lived their private lives for the best part of two years; there she had nursed him back to health when his mind had caved in under intolerable loads.
Strange: she had not conceived there, although she had tried hard enough. Yet within weeks of their arrival here… . Cleo’s mouth hardened; maybe it wasn’t so strange… . One of the many frightening aspects of Colossus was that he—she always thought of the computer as “he”—could learn. Forbin was important to him, therefore Forbin must be cared for. This residence, Colossus had told Forbin, was totally free of surveillance. No bugs, infrared, cameras—TV or radio—or any of the other devices Colossus used so freely outside. And although she secretly loathed and feared Colossus with an intensity that would have shocked and amazed her husband, she did not doubt the integrity of the machine. Colossus could be selective in his pronouncements, capable of an oblique approach to a subject, but had never been known to utter a direct lie.
Five years… . Then, each computer, man-designed and holding unshakable nuclear power, had been hailed as the eighth wonder of the world… . Now they were mere weapon controlling outstations of this, the super-Colossus, designed by its predecessors.
The Isle of Wight, a roughly diamond-shaped island off the southern English coast, had been selected by Colossus-Guardian, the inhabitants cleared out by the thousands, the surface leveled, and the complex erected at fantastic speed. Fantastic; that was a very overworked word when any aspect of Colossus was considered.