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A nervous, edgy feeling took up residence in Major Delphina Hutchings' stomach. She shifted uncomfortably in her seat, her supervisor's arrival in the teleconference node imminent. She was still feeling that odd collision of weariness and exhilaration a hard, well-fought morning Muay Thai workout brought.
Slices of light from the cold East-Coast morning streamed through the blinds, thick, wet snow building on the windowsill, caking on tree branches. The quiet hum of a static generator - a countermeasure to laser eavesdropping devices - played its shifting stream of white noise across the glass.
She saw some new such countermeasure with each visit to Defense Intelligence Operations.
Why did they recall me? she wondered. She missed Jordan already.
She was working to tease out at least some benefit from the bitter vending-machine coffee she'd bought, trying with quick, airy sips to drink it without actually tasting it in the hope that it might sharpen her wits a bit. She felt jet-lagged, and really wasn't a morning person to begin with.
Sitting before an array of cameras didn't make her any more comfortable. Five small screens sat on the desk, a tiny camera mounted atop each one, all pointed toward her. The little red lights indicating the cameras' activation weren't lit, but in the intelligence business, she didn't doubt that she was being watched anyway.
After a quarter of an hour's wait, the middle of the five monitors flickered to life, a momentary flare of white noise matching the snow on the screen.
A little too tightly trained on his face, intentionally dark andunfocused, the screen left Hutchings with the sense of speaking to a disembodied head in a cube.
It was Sapphire. She knew his disguised voice and face, knew that he was a black male and that he was her supervisor, but had little other information about the man. She knew from close listening that the effects array disguising his voice employed:
a pitch bender;
some sort of overdrive/distortion effect;
and flanging, among other tricks usually reserved for guitars owned by bad-home-perm rock-n-roll wannabes.
All of which left him with an alien voice with preposterously deepened bass.
Vader! she always secretly thought, careful not to let a smile cross her face. She had risen quickly in the ranks of the intelligence community and didn't want to take any chances that a superior officer might find her lacking in maturity.
"Good morning, Agent Dalia," came the calm, soothing, bass-boosted male voice via the monitor's speakers. He was sticking to formalities, addressing her by operative name; he wasn't the only person listening. "I trust your travels brought you no undo difficulties."
"With all due respect, sir, I'd like to know why I was removed from field operations."
"Major, your services as a sender are no longer required on-site."
No longer required? she thought. Were they abandoning surveillance?
She had been stationed at the Soviet - make that former Soviet, now Russian - embassy, channeling out everything she observed.
"Sir," she protested, "it takes months to get an RV sender-receiver pair ready for the field!"
"Major, this is not to say that we don't need a sender on-site - we'll arrange for a replacement. And we know of your work and your reputation: You're a skilled, accomplished officer and agent. But we have another, more pressing assignment for you."
Never any answers with these people, she thought. Never any concern for the feelings and situations and relationships an operative may have. It's always a linguistic dance around the facts. Always some kind of circumlocution. Always the bare minimum of information needed to address the task at hand.
She was deeply afraid that they would move her out of contact with Jordan, her receiver partner. She was the sender, and had established a very intimate relationship with her receiver, an operative who used the codename Kodiak.
She fought down her anxiety; she was an officer and an operative first.
She nodded brusquely and waited for him to fill in whichever blanks he chose.
"The nature of Project Long View has changed while you were in the field, Major. While you were away, Project Long View was re-branded Project Oversight. In its place, a new Project Long View will take up residence to keep the current project's cover. Long View will continue to pursue small-scale goals and intelligence gathering, but will never progress beyond those operations.
"Dalia, you have been reassigned to Oversight. You'll remain with D.I.Ops, but in a much larger, much more important project: Remote Viewing on a vast, sweeping scale. This is a matter of the utmost importance."
"How sweeping?" she asked. "What scale are we discussing here - whole government institutes? Whole complexes?"
"Think bigger. Larger scale," said Sapphire. "We're aiming a bit higher, Major. This project is designed to begin with global observation and expand."
For a moment her military training, her years of discipline, fell by the wayside and her mouth simply fell open in disbelief.
"Begin" with global observation?! she thought.
What kind of program would Project Oversight be? Some sort of Big Brother initiative to keep an eye on everyone, everywhere?
"Pardon me, sir?!" she demanded. "Global observation?"
"I know you heard me correctly Major," he said, his tone stern, but still annoyingly smooth. "We simply haven't got time for indecision here. Something very, very big has happened, and we're reassigning you to help with gathering and training our new group of RVs. Now."
She calmed herself, fixing her best disciplinarian's pokerface, as she had so many times before.
What were they up to? Why begin an operation of such massive scope and ambition so quickly? Whose notice were they trying to avoid?
Or whose government's notice?
"I doubt that it can be done, sir," she said evenly. "To the best of my knowledge, we've deployed sender-receiver pairs successfully in the field, but not always with the hoped-for results. The program has never employed more than a dozen full-time RVs at any one time."
"And Long View will continue to operate in exactly that fashion. But Oversight's direction is to differ radically. Our goal in Oversight is not to simply select a target to view for a few moments, but to use our RVs, some old and many new operatives, to view everything."
She did not believe that it either could or should be done.
"Sir, why monitor everyone? If word of the project were ever to get out, the Constitutional arguments alone could put the intelligence community under enough scrutiny to paralyze our efforts. It would certainly bring unwanted attention to us."
"Not everyone, Major; I said 'everything.' This is no longer merely an American matter. From this point on, our conversation is no longer Level Four," he said, citing her security clearance; someone else would be joining the conference. "Observe International Security Protocols and keep specifics of sensitive U.S. materials off the table. Understood?"
She nodded. "Yes sir," she said. Again, she thought painfully of Jordan.
The looming face turned, her supervisor's voice muffled behind the coarse, dry ruffling of a hand closing over the microphone on his end.
A moment later, as he turned to face his camera again, the other monitors flickered to life, each with a shadowed, blurred, too-tightly-zoomed face.
"Gentlemen, I'll need you to give a high overview of the project to Agent Dalia."
"How high of an overview?" asked a male voice, a thick German accent her only clue as to who was addressing her.
"Give her a summary. We can brief her as she settles in," replied Sapphire.
"I see," said the German-sounding man, his voice betraying discomfort. "Well. A high-level summary might go something like this, Agent Dalia: We believe that God may be dead."
"Pardon me, sir?!" she said, the second time she'd taken an under-disciplined tone of demand and disbelief today. But she was angered by her separation from her receiver partner and lover. "'God may be dead'?" Was the German paraphrasing Nietzsche?
"We have suspected as much for quite some time, Agent Dalia," said the German-sounding man. Other disconnected heads in the surrounding monitors nodded with solemn silence. "We have observed phenomena that we can only explain with this theory of God's death."
"Whose 'god,' sir? Allah? Christian Old Testament? Christian New Testament? YHWH?" she asked, incredulous. "How about Brahma? Or are we talking more of a dead-David-Koresh-as-Christ? What the hell are you talking about here?"
"Dalia," said her supervisor, annoyingly cool-voiced, "we aren't claiming to be able to address that question. We have observed certain phenomena and we have speculated upon what they mean."
"Agent, this is Wachhund," said the German. "Project Oversight was begun in April, not long after the U.S. space agency, NASA, launched Hubble, the first deep-space telescope. The telescope's earliest tests involved peering out toward the stars, looking for a star that had long since been identified from the ground. One designated Andromeda RA 2h12m OS D47\\a186;10'.
"Imagine the surprise of NASA ground observers when they were greeted not with brilliant images of Andromeda RA 2h12m OS D47\\a186;10', but with only the black emptiness of space. Re-targeting Hubble showed NASA scientists that other stars, other heavenly bodies they wished to view were where they should be, but not the one they sought. When they checked their initial settings again, their target star - and, presumably, any associated planets - were still nowhere to be found."
A look of doubt crossed Agent Dalia's face.
"Hubble was unable to focus properly," she said. "Its mirrors wouldn't allow it to focus on its targets. Everyone knows that - it was a huge international embarrassment for NASA."
"No, Agent," said Sapphire. "Hubble functioned perfectly. It was the universe that wasn't behaving properly."
"And the warped mirrors I've been reading about?"
"A cover story, Agent Dalia," said Wachhund. "You did not truly believe that a credible scientific agency would produce a telescope hobbled by an inability to focus, and then launch it into space anyway, did you? Let alone one with ... " he paused, flipping a sheet of paper, "multiple gyroscope failures, power-supply problems, a crumpled solar panel, etc., etc.?" He allowed himself a quick, dismissive laugh.
"But why?" she asked.
"Because the truth was much, much more frightening," said the German, Wachhund. "An entire star system simply winking out of existence? Simply ceasing to be? What consequences could this have for us, for our little planet? Or for our star? Our sun?"
She considered this for a moment. They had thought this important enough to concoct an internationally embarrassing space agency fumble? Surely this could all be explained away scientifically. Perhaps something had simply interfered with the light from the target galaxy, prevented it from reaching Hubble's lenses.
"But why is the telescope in operation today, if there's such a problem?" she asked.
"You must understand, Dalia, scientists who wish to have access to Hubble must first have their projects approved by NASA. And in national security concerns, D.I.Ops outranks NASA. Any astronomy project that has a chance of looking toward the Andromeda galaxy above a certain degree of magnification will disappear into a whirlwind of red tape," said Sapphire.
"What about other ways of spotting Andromeda RA 2 ... uh ... the star in question?" she asked.
"All of them have been circumvented, save our own," replied Sapphire's disembodied voice.
"This leads you to believe that 'God' is dead? Doesn't that seem like a bit of a leap?" She asked.
"I'm afraid not," said Wachhund. "We began fielding reports from all over the globe from those in the quantum physics community."
"I'm afraid you're likely to lose me here," confessed Dalia. "My physics training was a bit sketchy."
"No matter," said Wachhund dismissively. "There are methods of verifying certain properties by observation. In attempting to verify a well-known paradox light - that it exists as both a wave and as a particle - a few experiments have begun proving unable to find both qualities. So in what was a routine sort of quantum physics experiment, the routine is no longer being encountered; something has changed, or is in the process of changing.
"It is a serious problem, you see? If light and matter begin to misbehave, if stars and their planets are disappearing, the universe may be fading out, may be dying - its rules, the rules that hold it together, may be coming undone. Something about the universe has fundamentally changed."
"Or is in the process of changing fundamentally," Sapphire interjected.
"Correct," said Wachhund. "Of course."
"What does this have to do with a global-surveillance operation? How does a change in the nature of the universe call for Big Brother measures?" she asked.
Sapphire chuckled mildly. "Always with a literary reference, Agent Dalia," came the irritating dismissal.
Wachhund spoke again: "It would take much explaining, Agent Dalia, but let me put it to you this way: We believe that without a God to observe our little planet and every single thing on it, our world may cease to exist, as did our missing star in the Andromeda galaxy when no one was looking. We must construct a massive surveillance mission to observe it all, every gnat, every mountain, every home and its contents, every single thing on the planet. It may be our only chance at surviving the death of a deity.
"We have a list of candidates for your new Remote Viewing team. I am afraid it is quite extensive; you will need many, many sharp, gifted minds at your disposal for Project Oversight to succeed," said Wachhund. "I shall meet with you personally to discuss the details."
Personally? she thought. They're serious enough to breach protocol?
"Under whose auspices is this project being conducted?"
"The project has the cooperation of the world's leading economic powers, albeit on a clandestine level. Your involvement, of course, is sponsored by Defense Intelligence Operations. The other cooperating countries are similarly represented by off-the-books intelligence divisions.
"And Agent Dalia? Under no circumstances is the true motivation for this project to be spoken of - not to our RV candidates, not to those we may have intimate relationships with, not to anyone. Understood?"
"Yes, sir," she replied. Her heart sank.
She understood, all right: She was being ordered not to send - not to even make mental contact - with Jordan.
A strobe of incandescent overhead lights reflected in the lenses of her spectacles as Major Delphina Hutchings' driver piloted a go-cart-like transport along the cool, dusty cement tunnelway far beneath Washington D.C. A breeze rushed past, full of the stale scents of earth and of recycled air.
"Paranormal abilities have been employed by various governments and government agencies since at least 1961, with the formation of Project ULTRA - a series of CIA mind and behavior control experiments also referred to as MKULTRA," droned the monotonous narrator from Dalia's BopBoxä; audio player.
"Here, then, is a brief timeline of the U.S. intelligence community's forays into so-called psychic spying: Psychic spying by the U.S. began as a collaboration between the American Society for the Psychical and SRI International's Radio Physics Laboratory in Menlo Park, California. It was here that the term 'Remote Viewing' was first coined. When a simple set of Remote Viewing experiments evolved into successful and more complicated experiments, this collaboration caught the attention of the CIA. The CIA was at the time heavily invested in the Cold War, and had gained information suggesting that the Soviets were investing heavily in psychic spying. If this were the case, the CIA recognized the possibility of a significant threat to the U.S. in terms of intelligence gathering and national security.
"Anxious to avoid being caught off guard, the CIA began looking for ways to check on the success and usefulness of such pursuits. To that end, when word of the Menlo Park experiments made its way to the CIA, the agency decided to investigate, testing the Remote Viewing team at Menlo Park with intelligence-gathering missions involving a number of pre-selected targets. The small team achieved spectacular results, and this in turn led to further investigation into psychic spying, as well as the formation of MKULTRA.
"The political climate of the time convinced the CIA to halt pursuits of any projects that might be deemed controversial, or a waste of taxpayer monies. At this point, the Defense Intelligence Agency took over the Remote Viewing program, giving it the code name 'Grill Flame.' Grill Flame became the division under which the Menlo Park effort was organized, as were a handful of smaller psychic spying projects. By 1978, Grill Flame included psychic spying efforts from various military programs, as well.
"After successful Remote Viewing missions meant to asses U.S. vulnerability to psychic spying, the Dept. of Defense moved from U.S. vulnerability assessment to using RV to gather intelligence on Cold War opponents. But the political climate imperiled controversial military and intelligence spending; reports of $6,000 toilets and $450 wrenches in military budget listings sparked budget outrage among voters and politicians. By 1980, most military psychic spy programs had been shut down or scaled back to the point of rendering them useless.
"In 1983, rancorous debates over the funding of U.S. Government-funded forays into psychic ability drove the remaining Grill Flame paranormal research and reconnaissance projects into secrecy, and oversight of the project was again transferred in an effort to remove mention of Grill Flame from the DIA's budget. At this point, seeing the potential value of Remote Viewing, the Army's Intelligence and Security Command, or INSCOM, gained direct control over the effort, re-branding it the 'INSCOM Center Lane Program.' In military terms, this removal from budgetary entries took the Center Lane Program 'out-of-hide,' or away from direct mention in the budget.
"Under INSCOM, the Center Lane Project evolved a new technique for Remote Viewing: Coordinate Remote Viewing. Coordinate Remote Viewing entailed giving a Remote Viewing operative a set of latitude and longitude coordinates of the target as the main information the operative would get about his or her target. Remarkably, given only map coordinates, RV operative still achieved remarkable levels of detail in their surveillance efforts.
"But the endeavor was not to stop there; in 1986, INSCOM returned control of Center Lane to the DIA. During its brief tenure at the DIA, Center Lane was re-branded 'Sun Streak,' before being transferred yet again, amid fears that Sun Streak would surface during an impending budget audit.
"This time, the project was moved to Defense Intelligence Operations, an agency whose below-radar, 'out-of-hide' existence removed them safely from the scrutiny of elected officials, who were then left to simply approve budget entries for entire departments, rather than for specific projects. As anyone with clearance to hear this recording is aware, the autonomous agency Defense Intelligence Operations was created and funded during the 1970s under the auspices of funding for the CIA departmental budget entry 'misc. covert operations.'"
Great, she thought. Ancient history on RV. I thought I was being briefed. She thumbed the fast-forward icon.
The narrator picked up again: "In an effort to head off any further legislative pursuit of intelligence community projects working on the potential of paranormal spying techniques, a disinformation dossier and false history were provided to D.I.Ops Remote Viewing Project Director McMillan Trull, who was from that point forward purported to be head of a fictitious CIA foray into Remote Viewing. In the dossier, Trull outlined his frustration with supposed ongoing troubles getting his superiors to take the project seriously and to keep it funded. The fictitious Trull dossier closes with complaints that the Remote Viewing effort could never succeed in circumstances in which it operated: ULTRA, he said, had compiled tantalizing, but incomplete and inconclusive data. This led, he felt, to no definitive determination as to whether RV actually worked because of what he called 'derisive attitudes, fear of scorn, and the budget environment of the day' at the CIA. Hence, the dossier stated, ULTRA was shut down and the U.S. intelligence community's exploration of so-called psychic spying came to an end.
"What he did not include in the dossier, as it was intended for public and journalistic consumption, were the numerous successes, particularly in the Cold War era remote examination of Soviet URDFs, or Unidentified Research and Development Facilities; the locations of Soviet submarines under the world's oceans; the location of several clandestine training compounds for guerrilla fighters in the Libyan desert; and the Carter administration's successful use of the unit in locating a downed U.S. spy plane behind the Iron Curtain.
"D.I.Ops directors did not allow Trull to make a public appearance on release of the report, as by this time, Professor Trull, apart from becoming the foremost authority on RV and so-called psychic spying, had also become quite eccentric. It would not do, they reasoned, to add fuel to speculation of any ongoing RV or paranormal spying efforts within the U.S. Government by having an unusual public statement by an intelligence community specialist not merely known as eccentric, but whose exploits were also followed avidly by the listeners of late night conspiracy theorist and coast-to-coast radio talk-show host Art Bell.
"The dossier was instead quietly published in the journal Studies in Intelligence, the CIA's journal on the spy trade. Ostensibly an internal periodical, Studies in Intelligence is nonetheless included in the National Archives in University Park, Maryland. There, the dossier was eventually uncovered by journalists, as planned. End section one. Commentary by Professor Trull follows."
Hutchings' briefing was mandatory. She sipped from her now-cold, still-bitter vending-machine coffee.
"The nature of the phenomena I am about to discuss with you is, o' course, classified. Since you already work here, you already know what that means," said the voice, presumably, of Professor Trull.
He cleared his throat.
"Now we got that outta the way, I'm afraid I haveta ask ya for a little suspension of yer disbelief, here. Whoever you are, this briefing is supposed to be multi-purpose for D.I.Ops types, and God only knows what you have and haven't been told inside this place and out. So hang on. For summa ya, this is gonna seem a little theoretical. Little pedantic, maybe. Some others might just think the old doctor's a little touched in the head."
Copyright © 2004 by Jonathan Lyons
Posted February 4, 2010
There were some interesting ideas in this story. Overall, however, I never felt drawn in. The characters aren't flushed out, and the prose is succinct at its best. Maybe worth 2 bucks, but certainly not 5.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted April 2, 2005
Machina is Jonathan Lyons' second novel. It deals with the fundamental question of 'What happens when God dies?' Bringing together Eastern philosophy, quantum theory and Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle, Lyons puts reality itself through the proverbial wringer.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted February 17, 2005
Overall, Machina is an excellent piece of speculative fiction. Despite the little things I found distracting, the ideas are incredibly well thought out and thought provoking. The way Jonathan Lyons was able to reconcile both physical and paranormal phenomenon with the Great Ocean of Thought and a universal awareness is enthralling. Without giving away too much, I was also amused by the state of the universe at the end of the Machina. This novel is definitely worth a look.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted January 28, 2005
Machina is a great book! Jonathan Lyons has done it again! What a headtrip/psychelicized/ mindfrick/Gordian knot of Moebius-strip like beauty! Out-burns 'Burn'! Anyway, really enjoyed it and wanted to let everyone know. Officially approved by Texas Space Rock Legends (tm) ST 37.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted October 28, 2004
'Compelling, challenging, and satisfying... I couldn't put it down. Possibly the best book that I've read all year. Jonathan Lyons has written a truly excellent novel. Machina is even better than Burn, and Burn was great.'Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted October 28, 2004
Machina is an excellent piece of speculative fiction that rises far above the average sci-fi novel!! From the author of Burn, one of my favorite sci-fi books, this novel raises exciting metaphysical, philosophical, and paranormal questions that kept me enthralled throughout this fast-paced read. If we take Nietzsche¿s words that ¿God is dead¿ literally, then what does that mean for life as we know it? Who would notice? What would change in our daily lives? And what would the government do about it? These are the ambitious questions with which Lyons constructs his novel. From the very beginning, when Sinclair struggles with the voice inside his head and we wonder if our college-dropout protagonist is crazy, to the late-night metaphysical discussions between Sinclair and his lover, Deuce, about the nature of reality, to the dark inner workings of the government¿s top secret Project Oversight, this story kept me completely engrossed! I also enjoyed Lyons¿ well-rounded, real-world cast of characters, his frank discussions of sexuality, and the overall emphasis on ethics. It¿s my favorite book of the year!!Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted October 28, 2004
Jonathan Lyons has learned a lot worth knowing from the cyberpunks, but he has also learned things that ... the cyberpunks never learned. He knows science fiction and takes it seriously, and he has a savvy-user's feel for tech. He draws surely from the best traditions of page-turners in any genre, and gives us reasons to turn those pages, insisting that techno-narratives and tech-noir should reflect on the nature of our humanity just as surely as it should reflect on the nature of our gizmos.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted October 28, 2004
As he proved in his first novel BURN, Jonathan Lyons is masterful at high tech pulp fiction -- its atmosphere palpable, its plotting intricate, his writing sparking like downed power lines. He deftly runs the slicing blade edge of taut and gritty SF.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted December 24, 2009
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Posted September 2, 2010
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