Chapter 21

Not a ghost of a chance

“Wacha readin'?”
Rority looked up from his nobotic book at Gumal. “I'm studying programming,” he said.
Gumal snorted. “Why? Everybody knows how to program a nobot.”
“Wrong,” Rority said. “Everybody knows how to program robots and large numbers of nobots, but not individual nobots. It's low level programming I'm studying.”
To us protohumans, Rority's learning to program the individual microscopically small machines would be like a protohuman SQL database programmer learning assembly, or even hand assembled machine language, and perhaps even CPU design.
“Why?” Gumal asked.
“Why? Why does Rula want to learn how to dance like a protohuman? In this case, though, I had an idea somebody must have thought of before because it seems trivial to do, but it involves nobot-level programming.”
It was Rority's turn to snicker. “Jeez, you sound like a protohuman” he said.
Gumal laughed, and replied “fuck you!”
“Now you really sound like a protohuman!” They were both in stitches now. I wish I could understand their humor, because they were hilarious – to each other. Me, I just don't get it any more than my cat understands why I'm laughing when she's chasing a laser pointer.
“Well?” Gumal said, still snickering. “What's this big idea of yours?”
“You know how you hate having the nobots do the genetic manipulation that makes you look and kind of think and really feel like a protohuman? I figured out a way for us to look like them without the manipulations.”
“Really? How would you go about doing that?”
“It's just a step past an invisibility cloak. Rather than each nobot transmitting its input radiation to its opposite's output radiation, the output nobot would vary this, projecting the image of something, but something different than what's behind the cloak; in this case, the protohuman you're falsifying.”
“Sounds to me like the math would be a little hard. Have you talked to the number boys and low-level programmers? That kind of thing is fun for them. Me, I hate it.”
“Yeah,” Rority replied, “I did, and they made a prototype for me. It would fool the average human, but there was something about it that was inprotohuman that I or a real protohuman would have no trouble seeing as fake. So I'm studying programming.” He dropped the book, which instantly disintegrated into nobotic dust and disappeared.
“Want a beer?” He asked.
“Yeah, and another toke off your stratodoober,” Gumal said. “Look, I have a friend who's a low-level programmer, I'll call her while you get the beer.” He held his hand out, and what appeared to be a transparent sheet of thin cardboard appeared in it.
“Ragwel? You there?” He said to the transparent cardboard.
Of course, Rority didn't actually have to go anywhere for the beer; the nobots brought it out.
“Hey Ragwel,” Gumal said, “we've been invited to something that's supposed to be really cool. We're going to kidnap a couple of protohumans, then we're partying on Zeta Reticuli. Want in?”
“Well, I don't know,” she said. “How many others are going?”
“Half a dozen so far and there are more folks I need to ask. But hey, Ragwel, that's not what I called you about. My buddy Rority has a programming problem.”
“Here,” he said, handing the “phone” that was as much like a protohuman's phone as a book was to a protohuman's book to Rority. The phone had a holographic simulation of a person's head appearing to be situated just behind the transparent cardboard – or what looked like transparent cardboard. Rority explained the situation to the hologram.
“So,” the hologram said, “how, exactly, do the sheaths skew the image? I've been working on the exact same thing you're talking about and it looks to me more of a biological problem than a programming problem.”
“Well, it's hard to explain,” Rority said. “The colors are a bit off when I've had the genetic manipulations, but they look close enough when I'm myself.”
The phone disappeared and a full sized replica of the low level nobot programmer, as well as another simulation appeared.
The simulation of Ragwel said “Meet Kandar, he programs the nobots that reprogram the DNA. He's a molecular cellular biochemistry programmer who studies protohuman biology.”
“Hi, er, Rority, is it? Um, you probably didn't notice that colors look different when you're in protohuman form?”
“Uh, no, I didn't. Just that the cloak looked wrong.”
“That's because the brain corrects the information it receives, whether a human brain or protohuman brain. Colors are all orangier at sunrise and sunset, but you don't notice it unless you know it's there and notice it deliberately. Your brain changes it; the brain is what actually does the seeing. You don't notice the difference between incandescent lighting and fluorescent lighting unless you turn one off and the other one on; you'll probably notice it then.”
“What are those?” Ragwel asked.
“Ancient forms of lighting. One simply heated a tungsten filament until it glowed, the other used an electrically generated plasma.”
“Clear as mud,” the programmer said.
“Well, look,” Kandar said to Rority, “the one thing you're doing wrong is using your eyes. Measure the exact wavelengths being reflected from the protohumans' skin.”
“I did, but the color wasn't right.”
“Not right to you. It would look right to a protohuman. Like I was trying to tell you, the cones in their retinas weren't exactly the same sizes as ours are, so colors wouldn't be exactly the same.”
“OK” said the programmer, doing something on a sheet of nobots. “Try this out.”
Gumal said, “You're studying protohuman biology? You'll want to come on that trip we have scheduled.”
“Yes, of course I'm going. Well, we'll be seeing you guys.”
Rority looked doubtful about the plans Ragwel had given them. “Come on,” he said, “lets get Rula and go dancing with the protohumans.”
“What if it doesn't work right?”
“Then we'll disappear. Come on.”
On their way to our present, their more than ancient past, Gumal said “Do you really think this will work?”
“I don't know,” said Rority. “I'm kind of doubtful. What Kandar said made sense logically, but something tells me it won't work. I can't put my finger on whatever it is, but I'm doubtful. I don't think the color's right.”
“Well, we're here,” he said after hey had traveled to our time. “We'll go in invisible; they have this thing called a ‘cover charge’ and I didn't counterfeit any money. When we're inside we'll change the nobots' outputs when nobody's looking. Come on!”
Candice was coming out of the restroom when she saw the three of them and dropped her purse; these were some startlingly weird looking people that had seemed to come out of nowhere. Their features looked markedly African, almost caricatures of African features, but their skin was whiter than a Caucasian who had spent ten years in a Norwegian prison. She screamed when they disappeared before her eyes, then she fainted.
A few minutes later firemen showed up with electronic noises blaring loudly from their bright red vehicle, even though there was no fire. Rority, watching invisibly, wondered if he would ever learn enough about these creatures to really understand them. He had a pretty good handle on the ones before zero BB, but the ones in the wired centuries puzzled him. They were a real challenge, and a big part of what he loved about his job.
Gumal and Rula just wondered how they could actually survive like that.
The firemen had crude protohuman medical tools and took measurements of the bodily functions of the woman who had fainted and who was still unconscious.
More protohumans noisily showed up with electronic sounds screaming at high decibels from their vehicle, just as the firetruck had.
Rority still couldn't figure out why they'd sent a firetruck. He knew what an ambulance was, and what a firetruck was, but it was weird that the medical personnel would be firemen and not the ambulance guys.
These were some strange animals. He loved studying them. Perhaps he could establish a new field of study? Or even more than one!
The ambulance drivers (why were there two?) and the firemen put her on a wheeled cot and took her to the ambulance, which promptly left with her in it, its electronics screaming as noisily as when it had arrived.
The firetruck left as well, having not fought a single fire.
“Fascinating,” Rority thought.
Rula was dancing with the protohumans, none of whom could see her because of the nobotic cloak. She was enjoying herself immensely, strenuous as it was.
Gumal sat by himself, bored stiff.
Candice came to in a hospital bed.
“There were three ghosts!” she exclaimed to her friend Willard. “They startled me. It was almost like they just appeared instead of me just not paying attention, then they all three just disappeared in a kind of a shimmer right before my eyes!”
“Nonsense,” said Willard. “There ain't no such things as ghosts. I'm getting you a psychiatrist – you must have been hallucinating. Are you on drugs or something?”
”You know better than that. Maybe Halloween got me worked up. I thought they were just in weird costumes and makeup before they disappeared.
“But, well, I guess a shrink wouldn't hurt, that really shook me up!”



Chapter 20
Chapter 22