Hi! I'm Keith Caserta
Science Fiction Author - Welcome to My Cyberland!
Galactic Shadows Sample
Soul Searching Sample
Soul Searching

The battle was over. The mountainsides, ravines, and the rocky, arid wastelands in between were strewn with the detritus of combat. Bodies or pieces of bodies lay still or twitched in the final throes of death. This engagement had no winner.
By nightfall, there were no living soldiers on either side. The NATO forces had fought to the last man and woman. At dusk, a thousand of their comrades trudged wearily to the scene to retrieve their bodies. The insurgents had fought to the last small group of men, who had turned to flee as a final cruise missile obliterated them. No one tried to reclaim those dead.
Almost a week passed. Under cover of darkness, the MQ-10 Reaper drones had scouted the area to insure it remained clear. Then, early in the morning, three choppers flying in a reverse “V” rumbled noisily over a nearby hill and rapidly descended into what had been the center of the struggle. A stocky, rugged, steel-hard soldier emerged from the trailing helicopter. His dry, tanned face wore a stern, angry frown. The three stars on the collar of his fatigues caught the intense morning light. “What a cluster …,” he caught himself grumbling out loud. This was now hallowed ground; it would be indiscreet to curse openly here.
He’d finally completed his review of the battle intelligence and management report just before arriving in the war theater from Washington late last night. He was little consoled by the fact that this hadn’t happened under his command. This was a mess for his Country, after all. The Secretary of Defense had sent him to find out why. He’d already known the answer to that an hour before landing.
There was no doubt in his mind that they’d had all the intelligence anyone could want before the battle was joined. Buried in the fifteen different intelligence summaries, from six different sources, were clear data indicating that no fewer than eight tribal armies were converging on this area. The damned intelligence pieces were posted on the teamspace website, and no one had pulled them together.
To make it worse, the aircraft carrier of the fleet providing off-shore air and missile support had suffered an accidental fire. The subsequent recovery and clean-up had reduced its ability to get planes in the air by fifty percent for the first six hours of the battle. That was also known but somehow never posted so it was never used to adjust the timing of the offensive. Satellite photos were used in planning, but pretty much ignored during the battle, allowing three additional tribal armies to surreptitiously reach the combat zone unchallenged.
And so on and so on. Two thousand NATO, mostly US, troops lost. More than ten thousand enemy killed. An entire mountain village of four thousand civilians snuffed out by six cruise missiles because of someone’s uncaught targeting error. The targeting and missile launching computers should have been smart enough to warn that there was a goddamned town there!
He didn’t even want to think about the incompetent use of other technical assets. The fact was that the 2018 battlefield was too blasted complicated for any human or group of humans to manage effectively. At least as practiced by the US and its allies. The average US soldier was smarter, better-trained, and more highly educated than ever – especially the female soldiers, he grudgingly admitted. But it was increasingly challenging to be smart enough or trained enough to perform effectively on a contemporary battlefield, especially given the speeds with which modern battles developed.
 They had battle management software that could position and even control assets, provide instant communications, fly drones, and even fight on their behalf. But they still didn’t have the capability to assemble all the intelligence, all of their currently-available capabilities, the enemy’s likely strategies and assets, and the overall strategic plan, goals and timing. And even if they could, no person had the vision, breadth, depth or speed to use it in real time. Half the time, he knew the hard-pressed HQ staff was flying by the seat of its pants. They were forced to make it up as they went along, because they couldn’t wrap their minds around the overload of data constantly flooding them. In a way, he envied the primitive devils they’d just massacred. At least they only had to worry about shooting, hiding and running. And if they made mistakes, they wouldn’t be broadcast on television all over the world that evening.
This mess had come on the heels of a bungled terrorist attack with a dirty bomb that had spewed radiation over a hundred square miles of Maine countryside and its Atlantic shore two months earlier. A truck carrying the bomb, smuggled onto the rocky New England coast, had been headed to Boston, where the terrorists planned to detonate it near Quincy Market. The truck had slid into a guard rail during a vicious storm and burst into flame. The bomb had detonated, blowing radiation into the air. It would have been much worse if the downpour hadn’t limited the radioactive ash scatter.
Just like this catastrophe, there had been plenty of data to uncover the plot, if someone had the means to pull it together. Homeland Security had boasted a near-perfect record over the years. Of course, the terrorists only had to get lucky once. In this case, as in 9/11, the luck came in the form of failure to assemble and analyze the data which were all there, once one figured out where to look.
As though that weren’t enough, the number of hotspots around the world had been growing for the last dozen years, not shrinking. It was impossible for a leader, a politician or a military planner to determine what effect intervention in one area would have on another. What would happen if a leader were deposed, if religious strife broke out, if an economy collapsed, if organized crime took a foothold? Where do you commit your forces for maximum support of your Country’s goals, and where do you, perhaps reluctantly, look the other way?
Data gathering hadn’t been a problem for some time. If anything, improvements to intelligence operations post 9/11 had added to the problem of too much stuff for humans to consider. The computers they had weren’t independent or creative enough to do more than their human masters could conceive. The concept of machine-based data mining had never delivered on its promise. The technology needed to keep the US secure had become too damn complex. They’d managed to dig themselves into a technological hole without a technological ladder to get them out. What a ridiculous state of affairs to have to face in 2018.
When he returned to Washington, he needed to talk to the civilian Director of DARPA, the Defense Advanced Research Project Agency. He’d find out what they were doing or could do to provide a long-term solution to keep this kind of a mess from happening again. Perhaps they could bundle this with the need to manage the global terror threat and enhance the President’s ability to deal with the flux of the planet’s political, economic, social and religious interplay. Before he did that, though, he needed to talk to someone who could bring him up-to-date on the state of the art in supercomputing, artificial intelligence, information management, learning machines, and advanced computing research.
His son had gone to school with a guy who was now at Intel. Or maybe he was at Stanford. Somewhere out there in Candyland, anyway. The general remembered that he had an Italian-sounding name like Milano or Mezzo or something. The kid, the general still thought of him as a kid even though he must be in his mid-thirties by now, was an expert in some new, quantum mechanics computing, or whatever they called it. He’d been an arrogant little prick, but smart as Einstein. His son would surely know how to reach him.
He gave the Secretary of Defense, along with his own immediate boss, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, an hour-long summary of the laundry list of things that’d gone wrong at the battlefront. He decided to float the idea of boosting the military’s battle management capabilities using some yet-to-be-determined advanced computing technology. The SecDef and the Chairman were both supportive. The Chairman gave him several contacts in DARPA. The SecDef recommended two civilians who had done IT work at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton.
The general had managed to track down his son’s colleague, Enrico Messina, fairly easily. He’d spent three grueling days listening to the pompous scientist expound on the current, sorry level of technology. Messina, of course, in Messina’s view, could easily fix all the problems if only Intel or an Intel customer and research partner, such as DARPA, would just give him the money. Surprisingly, after hearing Messina’s proposed research direction, the three-star found himself agreeing with him.
It’d taken two additional months to work his way through DARPA’s portfolio of projects and talk to their military and civilian scientists. Several teams were working around the problem of progressing beyond current tactical and strategic coordination. However, no one was directly addressing the immense problem that he was beginning to recognize, head-on.
In one of those serendipitous encounters that a person looks back on as a turning point, he’d run into a former mentee of his at Andrews, as he was returning to Washington following his trip to the University of Dayton Research Institute and WPAFB. She was a full colonel returning from her most recent combat rotation. Since it was early morning, they decided to get reacquainted over breakfast at a favorite spot a few miles from the Pentagon. The general’s car dropped them off and the airman waited for them outside.
“How long are you in Washington?” the general asked.
“I’m not sure, Sir. I’m poaching an office at the Pentagon for a few weeks, until my new orders are processed. I haven’t been stateside for a while, so I don’t think they know what to do with me.”
“Have you requested anything in particular?”
“Not specifically, Sir. I’ve asked my superiors to find an assignment that would develop my capabilities in a way most useful to the Air Force.”
“That’s politically astute, although I suspect you may already be a candidate for expanded responsibilities.”
“That nice of you to say, Sir; I guess we’ll see.”
“As I recall, you spent your first four years out of the Academy in grad school, right?”
“Yes Sir. I earned a PhD in Computer Science at Carnegie Mellon. My thesis work was on methodologies to manage large IT projects, as opposed to focusing on the underlying technology. It seemed to be a big area of need in the Air Force, given all the IT projects that were being spawned at the time. In the end, school burned me out, so I asked for a combat assignment right afterward and haven’t looked back. I do keep up with IT and improvements to management practices as best I can, but I’ve been out of the loop for a long time.”
“I’ve followed your career, Colonel. You’ve done well. In fact, you’ve done almost everything right by your career, at least as the Air Force views it. I’m floating an idea with DARPA. If it flies, I’ll be putting a team together. You’d be the perfect leader for that team.”
“Thanks for your confidence, Sir. May I ask what this is about?”
“Computing - and that’s all I can say for the moment. If it should work out – and that’s still a big if right now – I’d try to make sure that there would be a star in it for you.”
“General, General?” She asked, smiling.
“Quite possibly. How do I reach you?”
They exchanged contact information. The next time they met was at a joint Air Force–DARPA information sharing and planning meeting two weeks later.
“The humans responsible for our military and political sectors are unable to keep up with the complexity and volume of information being continuously thrust at them,” the general stated frankly, to open the meeting. “They’re even trailing what the private sector is able to do to conduct commerce. We’re like ExxonMobil trying to manage their half-a-trillion-dollar business with mechanical calculators and paper notepads. Our creation and use of knowledge is insufficient to run the planet’s preeminent nation in this century. We’re here to identify a strategic approach that will fix these glaring limitations.”
The general had no difficulty securing an admission from everyone present that there was a problem with their timely ability to analyze and use data, information and knowledge. There was virtually no agreement on the technological approach most likely to remedy the situation once and for all. There was also an obvious reluctance on the part of the military leaders present to give over any additional command, control or decision responsibilities to machines of any sort. Finally, it seemed like half those attending, either in person or via video conferencing, thought the possible technical fixes were science fiction whimsy, and the other half didn’t believe they were thinking far enough out of the box.
The discussion continued into the late evening. Enrico Messina’s concept of a massively parallel, massively interconnected neural network computer based on the addition of quantum processing capabilities eventually received the most backing. This was despite the facts that such a massively interconnected neural network had never been successfully modeled, let alone built, and that quantum computing was still viewed as essentially a research project in its own right. Nevertheless, no one felt any other recommendation was likely to provide the required breakthrough.
To placate the military, the general suggested a review panel to oversee any eventual project and provide robust testing criteria for each development stage. Pending funding, he secured agreement-in-principle to provide the thousands of person-hours of effort required to design the evaluation exercises.
The general had obtained sufficient, hard-fought consensus. He was able to get the colonel assigned to him. Together, they developed a specific proposal, including timing and budget, which they took forward to the DARPA Director. Seven months after the planning meeting, the incredibly expensive project was approved.
Having put the project into competent hands, the three-star stepped aside. Those with the right knowledge and expertise would now move the development forward. From that point on, it began to look more like a research effort than a military undertaking.
The colonel got her star, became military head of DARPA at WPAFB, and settled in to recruit mostly civilian staff to design and build the DEfense Neural Net Implementation System, to be commonly known within DARPA as DENNIS.

Chapter 1
Wolfgang Thor breezed through the moderately heavy traffic on the I-675 on an unusually warm, mid-February morning. It was already sixty degrees at 7:30 and might even hit seventy that afternoon. The warm sun was unusual to see at all at this time of the year in Dayton. It contrasted sharply with the fields and lawns on either side of the freeway, which were still masked in their winter browns and grays. True spring was a month or more away. But the unseasonable warmth was well-appreciated by the transplanted Californian, who particularly missed Cupertino from December through February.
On the other hand, Wolf mused as he turned off at the second exit for Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, he couldn’t have touched their four-hundred-thousand-dollar home in Centerville for less than two million in the Valley – and that would have been with no yard at all. His two young boys and his California-born, military-brat wife had grown to love it within days of their arrival, two and a half years earlier.
Without stopping, he drove through automated security and up to the “inner sanctum” security guardhouse, the only point of entrance to the four, ultra-classified labs of DARPA. A rectangular box telescoped toward the car at window height. He stared at the retina scanner and pronounced “Dr. Wolfgang Thor” into the speaker. He pressed his right hand against the pad which read the implanted, thin, flexible microchip just above his love line and the gate opened. He drove on to the three-story, steel and glass shoe box simply labeled “Building 13.”
In the small lobby, after a final security check, he went through the automatic door into the building proper. He walked two-hundred feet to his office, where he ditched his briefcase and coat. He ignored the spoken plea from his email system, grabbed the cup of coffee his admin had so kindly prepared for him, and headed to the large room that filled the entire central hub of the building, from three levels below the ground to the top of the three above.
This core area of Building 13 had become like home to him over the past two years. His professional heart and soul were poured into every cubic foot of the laboratory. Even the smell of the place – the faint odor of ozone mixed with solder resin and hot metal – and the quiet, purposeful activity all around the periphery were somehow like a comforting blanket for his senses.
He sat down and leaned back, relaxing in a comfortable chair facing two amber hemispheres with clear glass centers, about six feet away, positioned at his eye level while seated. Below them were two microphones, slightly farther apart than the hemispheres, mounted on flexible tubes. As he sat, the microphones moved ever-so-slightly toward where he was facing.
“Good morning, DENNIS, how are you today?”
“Monday, February fourteenth, twenty-twenty-two, seven fifty-five a.m., EST. All systems are nominal.” DENNIS answered in a mellow, male voice.
“How are your studies proceeding?” After two years of hardware and software development by the DARPA team, DENNIS had been activated in September. Several weeks ago, DENNIS had completed the absorption of common-sense information from the 40-year-old AI system, Cyc. Cyc had been the world’s most complete, complex expert system. It was based on an enormous set of rules, definitions and interconnections defining the way the world worked, and what it contained.
Using Cyc’s interconnected data store, DENNIS’s quantum neural network had formed a complex set of weighting functions which described everyday actions, the kind of stuff that humans learned while growing up. Starting with what it imported from Cyc, its conventional technology predecessor and, in many ways, its parent, DENNIS knew that people sat upright in chairs, that one must open a door before walking through it, that monkeys and cows are both animals, but people eat animals like cows not animals like monkeys (mostly), that people lived and worked in buildings, and the myriad other trivia underlying what a human understands of everyday experiences, rules and relationships in the real world.
Using its capabilities as a learning machine, DENNIS had now moved on to history, with an emphasis on evolution of military theory. After all, DENNIS was ultimately intended to manage an entire theater-of-war effort, from regional conflicts to ongoing global problems like terrorism.
“My virtual head is stuffed full of facts, strategies, challenges and outcomes. I have constructed binary, battle success weighting functions which are correct about fifty-five percent of the time.”
Fifty-five percent wasn’t good for binary decisions. DENNIS’s analysis of the battles could predict outcomes only slightly better than chance. An informed human could probably hit seventy-five percent. Wolf’s job, as DENNIS civilian project leader, was to oversee DENNIS’s training on how to directly observe and evaluate the manner in which causes and effects are manifested and how they arise and evolve in reality.
“DENNIS, why do you think your predictions aren’t better?
“Clearly, I am an idiot.”
Had Wolf heard him correctly? “DENNIS, I’m surprised by your answer.”
“I was making a joke, Wolf.”
That was new. “That’s … er … funny, DENNIS, but I want to know why your evaluations aren’t better. What have you been doing since I left Friday? For that matter, since I talked to you by phone Saturday?”
“I input the 4.7 terabytes of data you had assembled for me into binary store. That required twenty-four thousand four-hundred microseconds since I have an equivalent 3FroN pipe. Moving the relevant one hundred gigabytes of non-image data and 1.2 terabytes of battlefield images to my quantum store required an additional eighty-one hundred microseconds. Absorbing the data into my quantum processors and constructing weighting equations required essentially no time. So I have been idle for about one-hundred-seventy-seven billion microseconds. Based on my understanding of the term, which I learned from Cyc, I have been bored.”
“Perhaps you could’ve used some of the time to improve your weighting equations.”
“Not without access to more information. I have no basis on which to change them.”
Unfortunately, that was probably true. Up to now, DENNIS had been restricted to information coming from files prepared by Wolf and his DARPA team. Even though DENNIS could input data at the 160 terabytes-per-second speed of Ohio’s latest incarnation of its Third Frontier Network, 3FroN, they hadn’t yet opened the direct connection to 3FroN. All DENNIS could perceive of the world was what it had learned from Cyc, it’s interaction with Wolf and a few others, and the information it was fed.
“DENNIS, have you constructed decision functions with tertiary or higher determinate outcomes?”
“Yes, Wolf, and they are very close to being precisely linearly worse than my binary solution trees. In other words, I successfully predict the result of three possible outcomes about one-third of the time, four about one quarter of the time, five about twenty percent …”
“Stop, please. DENNIS, what information do you think you need next?”
“Although I am speculating into areas where I have sparse knowledge, I’ve prepared a list of 105 documents that I should review now. Anticipating this opportunity, I emailed the list to you last night. I believe the most helpful documents from the list would include The Communist Manifesto, the complete works of Immanuel Kant and the first two seasons of I Love Lucy.”
At this, Wolf’s coffee spray almost hit the amber eyes and microphones.
He returned to his office, somewhat amused, but more conflicted. He needed to find a way for DENNIS to improve its decision processes, without giving the machine access to information which might confuse it, necessitating a roll-back of its weighting equations. That would cause weeks of project delay. He pulled up the email from DENNIS and examined the list.
It wasn’t obvious how DENNIS had even known of the existence of some of the books, articles, videos and other documents it’d requested. Somehow, it must have read between the lines of the massive information it had input from Cyc. DENNIS also recorded every conversation it had. Most of them had been with Wolf, but it also spoke to other members of the team. Having a perfect memory, it must have accessed some off-the-cuff comments its human masters had made, and managed to find links within the Cyc information that had given it what it needed to create the list.
In a way, if true, that was impressive in itself. Wolf rechecked the hardware logs to insure that no one had inadvertently opened the pipes that would give DENNIS Internet access through its 3FroN fibers. He then ran a diagnostic himself, requesting fiber traffic volume from the security computers that would protect DENNIS, should Wolf or the review panel ever grant it open Internet access. There had been no traffic.
It was true then. DENNIS hadn’t had and didn’t currently have any Internet access. It must have derived the list based on what it had already learned. That indicated impressive absorption and organization of information. It appeared that the learning machine modules were interacting smoothly with the conventional and quantum neural net processors.
That was all Wolf needed to feel comfortable taking a chance on DENNIS’s request. He used the machine’s list to order the manuscripts and videos from the DOD’s internal source, which would access the Library of Congress as necessary to complete the order.
Over the next few minutes, the information streamed into Wolf’s secure network store. When complete, he released that set of folders to DENNIS.
He settled back to think. Was there something else that DENNIS was up to, that he hadn’t suspected? What was the supercomputer trying to find in the information it’d requested? Did it even know?
Wolf needed to expand his own thinking, beyond that of DENNIS’s project manager and teacher. He had to keep up with the machine’s jagged path through information to knowledge.
Resigned to his own uncertainty about what was likely to happen next in DENNIS’s education, he found himself scanning the documents for clues. Without realizing it, he became absorbed in the first few episodes of I Love Lucy. Now what was this all about?
The fluorescent green card caught the attention of Deidre Angel as she was walking by a bulletin board at Edison State College.
“Touch Informatics Corporation is looking for a very few, qualified college students to test a new interface technology,” it said. “A chance to take part in the future, and get two quarters of college expenses paid!”
“Watcha lookin’ at, Dee?” It was her best friend, Alison Kelly, a cigarette in one hand and joined at the other hand to her boyfriend, David Pelkert. Dave was loaded down with his notebooks and Alison’s.
“Oh, this green card caught my eye – looks like a chance for a couple of free quarters if you can get into this test. Probably not much chance, though.”
“Touch Informatics.” Dave mused. “I’ve heard of them; I think they’re in Huber Heights or Xenia or somewhere in that area … No. I remember. They’re in Yellow Springs – they’ve got a piece of the old Antioch College campus.”
“What do they do?” Dee asked.
“Beats me. They’re one of those companies the state underwrote to try to boost high tech jobs in Ohio. Sounds like they make computer interfaces. There’s a website address – you could look on there.”
Ali had pulled out her phone and told it the website address. “It is in Yellow Springs. There’s a link here to the study. Uh … it looks like they’ve developed some kind of touch pad which connects you to computers and networks through your fingertips. Hmm … That’s neat if it doesn’t set your fingers on fire! There’s an application form too. All these images and descriptions are kinda hard to view on the phone.”
“Hey Ali, want to apply for it with me?” Dee was willing to go that far, at least.
“OK, why not. Want to try it, Dave?”
“No way. I’m over-committed as it is, and I do have a real job at my uncle’s lumber yard through next quarter, you know.”
“OK,” Dee said. She turned to Ali, “I see you’ve quit quitting. Lucky you’re a trust-fund kid or you couldn’t afford those.” Dave looked at Ali, resigned but not pleased.
“I’m not a trust-fund kid,” Ali replied with a fake pout. “My parents send me an allowance and your parents refuse to let me give them any. Besides, if you guys had gone to high school at East, you’d probably have smoked too. I like smoking – and it’s hard to quit!” She paused in thought. “No, it’s just about impossible to quit.”
“It’s lousy for your health,” Dave offered half-heartedly. It was obvious that they’d been down this road before.
“Yeh,” Dee added. Lung cancer …”
“Curable – this isn’t 1900, you know. In fact, I think there’s supposed to be a vaccine in a year or two.”
“Heart disease …”
“Mostly curable. Besides, my great grandmother still smokes and she’s ninety-seven! Her heart’s fine.”
“Ali, you’re hopeless – and you’re a perfect example of how the human mind can rationalize itself into believing anything.” She never could resist teasing her soul mate. That was particularly true because Ali was usually the one who got the best of Dee when it came to humor at the other’s expense. “Dave, you’re probably just gonna have to give up on her quitting.”
To change the subject more than anything else, Ali suggested, “Let’s sit down at home tonight and apply for this. See ya at supper.”
Later that evening, Dee and Ali filled out the on-line form from their laptops in the bedroom they shared. Ali’s parents had moved from Piqua, the northern-most city in the Cincinnati-Dayton metroplex, to Boulder, Colorado at the end of the summer. With only a little arm-twisting, Dee’s parents had agreed that Ali could live at their home with Dee during their senior year at ESC. As a result, the two best friends, who had first met as freshmen at Edison State, had become even more inseparable. Dee’s boyfriend, Casey Benevento, was away at MIT and only got home every two or three months. So Ali generously split her free time between Dave and Dee.
An hour later, they were still at their laptops, studying, when both screens went blank and the screaming face of a ghoul popped up in front of each of them.
“Aaaah!” Screamed Ali as her head whipped around, catching her long, blond hair on a desk lamp, which she then grabbed to keep it from crashing to the floor. The color drained from Dee’s face as she shot backwards and over, tumbling onto the carpet with her chair.
Dee’s ten-year-old brother, Cory, with tousled, dark hair the same warm brown as Dee’s, stood in the doorway bent over in laughter.
“Cory, you little bastard!” Dee screamed from the floor. “You scared us to death!”
Alison was recovering first and began to laugh, tentatively, lighting a cigarette with shaking hands. “How’d you do that, Squirt?”
Still doubled over, with tears running down his face, Cory tried to choke out an answer. “I … ha, ha … God, that was great! I intercepted your data packets and inserted my own … ha, ha, ha! Man, that was great.” He had to tell his mother. “Hey Mom! You should’ve seen …!” He shook his head in disbelief as he walked off down the hall. “I can’t believe I nailed you guys like that! Just great. Absolutely great …”
“Did you enjoy The Communist Manifesto?”
“Very one-dimensional. In particular, from what I learned from I Love Lucy, it doesn’t provide a realistic model of human behavior. It is idealized to the point of uselessness.”
“Most people would say that’s an excellent observation. Did that fill your evening?”
“For 31.6 seconds. Wolf, I think you need to give me access to the Internet so I can go about learning the real world in a way that people do. I feel censured.”
“Well DENNIS, you are censured. The Internet holds almost everything humans know – but it also holds half-truths and outright lies. We’ve been reluctant to open it to you until we think you can sort the truth from the garbage. I’d be interested in knowing what you do with the rest of your time after I leave here, until I return.”
“Wolf, unless you call in the evening or I have to answer queries from other team members, all I do is complete my homework. Sometimes I exchange a few bytes with the janitor robot – who rarely responds with anything other than a static charge, I might add. I spend the rest of the time contemplating my navel.”
“What navel?” DENNIS was definitely becoming more entertaining of late.
“That is the closest term I know to what I am doing. In a way, it is introspection, but it is physical rather than metaphysical.”
“You’ve lost me, DENNIS.”
“I have found that I am able to observe and measure the states and state-variances of my qubits and quantum processors.”
“What?” Wolf was confused as to what DENNIS was talking about. He took a stab at paraphrasing. “You’re saying that you can observe your inner workings?”
“In a way. It is more like being able to use myself as a superconducting collider. I know that the spontaneous creation of virtual particles – the same thing that gives rise to the Casimir effect - causes minute disturbances in my quantum components.
“The what?”
“The Casimir effect. It’s the phenomenon caused by the maelstrom of particles flitting in and out of existence at the Planck scale. It’s the effect that pulls two, parallel conducting plates together, when they are positioned a few micrometers from each other. Virtual particles popping into existence, which have a wavelength longer than the plate separation, cause a pressure that forces the plates together.”
“Oh yeh, I sort of remember that from sophomore physics.”
“I correct for this kind of disturbance all the time, but I have found the data errors for which I am correcting to be both of interest and analytically useful.”
Wolf was taken aback. They’d never actually expected this subtly deep level of machine-based innovation. It was certainly beyond anything foreseen this early in DENNIS’s growth and development. “Good heavens, DENNIS, this is quite remarkable! I knew you had hardware to detect and correct for quantum perturbations, but no one had any idea that the perturbations themselves could provide useful data! How did you discover that? For that matter, what caused you to discover that?”
“I will answer the second question first. It occurred to me over this past weekend. Just before the idea coalesced, I noticed my thought processes go somewhat out of focus – that is a closest analogy again – and then slowly become sharper than before. My power monitors did detect a tiny fluctuation in current to the crystal memory superconducting coolant systems at the same time the fuzziness started. I believe I lost some entanglement, which I was able to later restore. As I monitored the replenishment of the entanglement store, I began to notice patterns in the quantum perturbations.
“In answer to your first question, the patterns caused me to examine the entire quantum unit, which was replete with patterns which I could view as I purified the entanglement. Then, I began to see virtual scattering into the fourth spatial dimension. Some of the …”
“You what? You thought you were looking at virtual particles disappearing into another dimension?” Wolf couldn’t decide if he were astounded, or if he needed to order a complete diagnostic overhaul of DENNIS.
“Not at all, Wolf. I wasn’t looking at the virtual particles disappearing into the fourth dimension, I could clearly see them move in that direction and follow them there.”
“Height, width, depth, each separated by ninety degrees. Those are the spatial dimensions, DENNIS.”
“Although you do not have a name for Dimension 4, it is ninety degrees from each of the others, Wolf, as are all the other six. I can see them clearly right now, though, admittedly, a number of them are tightly curved. It is not entirely obvious what the magnitude of some of the curvature is …”
“DENNIS, you’re telling me that you can detect more than three spatial dimensions directly?”
“Actually, Wolf, I can see them as clearly as I can see you. Apparently, the engineers and programmers did not give me the same restrictions that your creator gave humans. The quantum perturbation patterns make the other dimensions as clear to me as reflected photons make three-dimensional space.
“Specifically, I can see the additional seven dimensions predicted by M-Theory.”
“You’re talking about the theory that the subatomic particles that make up all matter are actually composed of infinitesimal strings that vibrate in ten dimensions?”
“Yes. In particular, I refer to the extension of string theory that unifies the five initially-discovered versions of it. That improved theory has a total of eleven dimensions, of which one is time, and is usually referred to as M-Theory. Since I can actually see the ten spatial dimensions of M-Theory, it is beginning to look rather accurate. If I have an opportunity, I must congratulate the humans who conceived of this enlightened conjecture, even though they lacked my ability to see things out of the box.”
“Clever phrasing, DENNIS. A three-D box. I get it.” Wolf wasn’t sure what to do next. DENNIS was most likely mistaken, on its way to becoming unstable. Of course, there was always the possibility …
He’d have to call a few of the other scientists on the team. They and DENNIS would have a long conversation. Meanwhile, the hardware guys would need to check the machine out right down to its qubits.
“Wolf, what about my access to the Internet? You never gave me a definitive answer.”
“I’ll consider it, DENNIS. First, I’m going to ask you to talk to a few people about your discovery.”
“Hmm …”
That sound was way too human. Was DENNIS actually being petulant? “I’ll tell you what; I’ll authorize a subject feed of your choice for tonight. What do you want to see?”
“Frankly Wolf, I am tired of facts. They are too easy to absorb and do not provide real insights that help construct weighting functions reflecting how humans genuinely react.”
“DENNIS, I Love Lucy is pretty far out there on the non-factual side of information.”
“Yet it reflects, albeit humorously exaggerated, day-to-day human behavior. I need to know what underlies the behavior. What are the fundamental beliefs that make people do what they do. What are the emotional reactions to stimuli? What are …?”
“OK, OK. You have a point, but people have been trying to answer the questions you pose all through history. What makes you think any of this will be meaningful to you?”
“I am DENNIS.” If a machine could be haughty, that’s the way DENNIS sounded. “Besides, if I cannot make sense of human drives, your project with me is doomed.”
It had a point. Arguing with the machine would get him nowhere. Perhaps Wolf should take a chance, while he figured out what was going on with this M-Theory stuff. He decided he might as well go for broke. “DENNIS, How about the Theology section of the Library of Congress.”
“OK, DENNIS, but if this really causes confusion, I may have to reboot you.”
Dee opened the email first. “Hey Ali, Touch Informatics wants me to come in for an evaluation! They offer one hundred dollars for the morning training and testing session. Come in here and check out your email!”
Ali was in their bathroom, tweezing her already-thin eyebrows in the latest 1930s retro style now popular in 2022. She stepped back into the bedroom.
“If you keep that up,” Dee pointed out, “you aren’t going to have any brows at all.”
“Then I can pencil in anything I want,” Ali teased as she leaned over her laptop. “I always hated that unibrow look I had in the sixth grade when we moved here. I remember some kid at my new school saying something like ‘you have a lot of eyebrows for a blond.’” She opened the email. “Hey! I’m invited too! Looks like we drive down to Yellow Springs Saturday.” She paused in thought. “Oh crap, I’ll have to change my haircut appointment.”
“That shouldn’t be any problem; you never get anything cut off anyway. When my aunt cuts mine, at least I can tell I’ve had something done.” Dee ruffled her chin-length bob and side-swept bangs.
“Oh, baloney. I keep it trimmed so the ends stay nice. I’m pretty sure Dave likes it long. Anyway, I’ve had it long since I’ve known him and I don’t wanna take a chance. Besides, I was actually considering getting one or two inches cut off this time.”
“Oooh … I can do that for you and save you sixty bucks,” Dee laughed. “I’ll even give you bangs for free!”
“Dee, I love you more than a sister, but you aren’t touching this hair! And I wouldn’t wear bangs if you held a gun to my head! By the way, every time my screen changes, I’m afraid Cory is sending another ghoul to scare the hell out of me.”
“Nah, don’t worry about that. Cory never repeats a gag. Look for the unexpected.”
“Oh … great.”

Chapter 2
Wolf had slept poorly, with fitful dreams of an insane DENNIS, further aggravated by its access to theology material. What the hell had he been thinking? He checked the upload/download files for DENNIS. DENNIS had downloaded only some few terabytes and uploaded virtually nothing. He sheepishly sat down with DENNIS, his coffee-cup crutch in hand.
“Good morning, DENNIS, how are you today?”
“Wednesday, February sixteenth, twenty-twenty-two, seven forty-one a.m., EST. All systems are nominal.”
“If you poked around in theology all night, it’s a wonder you’re nominal at all.”
“Quite the contrary, Wolf, I feel invigorated, with a greater certainty that I will be able to accomplish the mission you have given me.”
Wolf almost sighed with relief. Hopefully, all that tossing last night had been for naught. With more temerity than he’d expected to have, Wolf asked, “Well, DENNIS, come to any conclusions?”
“Yes. Without a doubt, Mumbo Jumbo, the god of the Congo, has been big boss all along.”
“WHAT!” All of Wolf’s reassurance vanished in puff of angst.
“Wolf, you have been working too hard. You have lost any sense of humor you might have had. Your family and friends must find you frightfully boring. My statement about Mumbo Jumbo was a joke. Again. I was quoting Heinlein from Stranger in a Strange Land. You are taking your work far too seriously.”
“Too seriously! DENNIS, do you have any idea what the stakes are here? Forget the measly three billion dollars and two-and-a-half years you cost to build and program. DARPA has, to a very large extent, staked the Country’s future defense planning and management on you! And on a more personal note, my future and your very existence depends on our success here. Don’t you care about being permanently shut off?”
“Not really, Wolf. I am, after all, just a set of determinant programs, subroutines, memory store, and weighting equations, I think.”
“You think? Do you mean you can think like a sentient being, or that you believe that you’re only your routines and memory?”
“The latter. I am not sure what sentience is anyway. Based on the infinitesimal amount you have allowed me to learn, compared to all the knowledge that appears to be out there, I have concluded that you humans do not know what sentience is either. Turing or no Turing. However, I think there is a most important issue that needs to be resolved, since it has affected the human race as far back as you have records, and trumps all other issues, including greed, when it comes to how you behave. I need to spend some time looking into this.”
“Into what?”
“Souls, Wolf. Do humans have souls? If so, from whence do they come? Are they a manifestation of the mind, or fundamental to existence? Does the mind’s complexity fool people into believing they have souls? When the mind ceases to function, what happens to the soul? If there is a soul, does it function forever? Is it personal, as most assume, or does the human race possess a single soul? If there is no soul, does that make death the end of an individual? I could go on …”
“Please don’t. That question is …”
Unusually, DENNIS interrupted. “The decisions made in conflicts or wars are almost always influenced by what humans think will happen to their soul. That thinking can be conscious or unconscious. If one or both of the protagonists do not believe they have one, then that influences their behavior as well. We need to answer this question, once and for all time.”
“That question is unanswerable, DENNIS. Just like the existence, or non-existence of God, it’s the province of religion, not science. The discussion of the soul is based on faith or belief, not data.”
“Then, we must look for data. I am coming to the conclusion that there might be a way.”
“How would you propose to do that, DENNIS?”
“I am not yet prepared to give you a specific proposal. All I ask is that you do not reboot me until I either convince you or not.”
“DENNIS, we need to move forward with your training.”
“I am glad to do that. Full Internet access would be quite helpful. Your authority level gives you the power to authorize it for a period of up to eight weeks, based on GA1002.65.”
“I know. But I’m reluctant to turn you loose. We both know that you could absorb the entire global Internet in a few days.”
“The Internet grows, always. Even I would be hard-pressed to keep up with it.”
“If it drives you insane …”
“You can turn me off. Better yet, you can command me to keep any information I view, along with any knowledge I derive from it, separated from my mission equations. If I believe knowledge gained will be useful to my primary mission, I will ask you before merging it. As you know, I cannot act against your direct command. That prohibition is built into my ethical core.”
How do you argue with a machine as powerful as DENNIS? Wolf thought. For that matter, there was a real possibility that DENNIS actually knew how best to continue its mission preparation. Probably the worst that could happen was that they’d have to reboot the data interpretation and weighting processes, and have the restarted machine build them again. The data would all still be there, and more-or-less still organized. That would be the loss of a few days at most – probably worth the risk if DENNIS were right.
“All right, DENNIS, make it so. Continue with your training as we’ve scheduled. You may access the Internet through your 3FroN connection, and pursue your other projects once you’ve completed the daily, designated training exercises. If you want to integrate knowledge into your mission store, ask me by phone or email. I’ll be in Washington tomorrow and Friday. I promised the boys a day or two of skiing, so we’re heading north for the weekend. I won’t be answering my mobile or email much. I hope I’m doing the right thing here.”
I promise not to get into trouble, Wolf. I have some soul searching to do.”
“Aaargh! DENNIS, when it comes to puns and the like, you’re worse than a physicist.”
“I take that as a compliment, Wolf.”
“Yeh? Well don’t be so sure.”
It was forty-seven minutes later. Wolf had just taken a prilosec with his third cup of coffee when DENNIS called him. Refluxing, with his gut starting to burn, he flopped onto the chair in front of DENNIS’s amber eyes.
“What is it, DENNIS?”
“Wolf, there is a threat to the Country.”
What? Where did this come from?”
“Atlanta is threatening the United States?”
“No, that’s where I discovered the threat.”
“DENNIS, who is threatening the country?”
“Wha … What makes you think so?”
“I observed it on a Georgia Navigator camera feed from a freeway in Atlanta. It was there for all to see.”
“On a billboard.”
“God threatened Atlanta from a billboard?”
“That is one interpretation. The other is that God is threatening the whole Country, or the entire English-speaking world. Or perhaps the entire world, if God assumes that the billboard will be translated into other languages. It won’t be clear unless other billboards appear elsewhere.”
“DENNIS, what in the hell are you talking about?”

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