Farker was doing something he never believed he would be involved with. Two things, actually, he reminded himself, since he was still not telling his boss that he knew the PanGames users who weren't waking up had nothing to do with any alleged link bed malfunctions.
It had all started with that remark by Aes about making a 'soulcatcher'. He'd looked the word up, partly to see if there really was such a thing, and partly because Aes had suggested it.
The word was a Western invention for an amulet created by the shamans of Tsimshian tribe of old Alaska and British Columbia. Their word for the object was Haboolm Ksinaalgat which meant, literally, 'keeper of breath'. Evidently, the ancient association of the soul with the 'breath of life' was not confined to Indo-Europeans.
The Tsimshian shamans did not make such a device lightly. To start with, someone had to kill a bear. The bear's femur or leg bone was cleaned and its marrow removed. It was decorated at both ends with the likeness of a bear or land-otter, and in the middle with a humanoid face. The ends of it were plugged with shredded cedar bark.
The Tsimshian believed that when an illness could not be cured with ordinary herbalism, then it was due to either the loss of the soul, or the invasion of a malevolent spirit. In the first case, the shaman would go into trance and journey to the spirit world, where the soul may have wandered and gotten lost while dreaming, or by being lured out by witchcraft. The shaman would find the soul, suck it into the soulcatcher, and upon his return he would blow it back into the body of the patient.
This must have been what Aes had been referring to, that the quantum hypercomputer of the NCM had somehow sucked up his wandering soul from the spirit world after his death. It was an intriguing metaphor. The Tsimshian had used their fancy bone straw to suck up a soul; going beyond mere mechanical analogues, Farker could imagine that the quantum computational matrix of the hypercomputer was similar enough to the biological substrate of the microtubules to support connection to a hypothetical soul.
The second case was what had really interested him, however. When a malevolent spirit had invaded a person's body, causing mental or physical illness, the shaman used the soulcatcher to suck the bad spirit out of the patient. Farker had been unable to find out what they did with it after that. His guess was that they blew it out at an enemy, or at least back into the spirit world. It would hardly do to have a demon in your soulcatcher when you were blowing someone's soul back into them.
Whether or not he chose to believe in the idea that a soul could be caught by a quantum computer, it was easy to think of Am-heh as a malevolent entity, whatever his origins. Farker therefore interpreted Aes's comment as weaponry advice: they needed to make something to suck Am-heh out of the PanGames system.
If Am-heh was a soul, then Farker couldn't see using a piece of bear bone to remove him from the NCM; it would require a living nervous system. They couldn't just find a brain-dead body. Even without the legal and moral objections, it was simple fact that a link bed would never connect to a brain without detectable neural activity; falling asleep, for example, automatically logged you out of one. And who in their right mind would volunteer for demon possession?
If, on the other hand, as Farker preferred to believe, Am-heh was just a piece of nasty code in a computer, then they needed an equivalent substrate to move him to, one where he couldn't hurt anybody or screw with working software.
This was easier said than done, however. Neither PanGames nor anyone else that he knew of had a 'spare' hypercomputer. Quantum computers were so powerful, so robust, that the subject of replacement units or redundant systems never came up. Corporate computing had come a long way since the days of rack-mounted server farms, where primitive chip-based processor consoles could be strung up like boxes on shelves.
To begin with, they were no longer primarily electronic devices. For data storage, ancient ferromagnetic hard drives had been replaced with holographic memory crystals for permanent storage and photon-driven quantum cellular automata (QCA) and rewritable spintronic arrays for temporary storage and processing.
Hmm. Maybe he didn't need a whole computer for a soulcatcher. Maybe they could hook up some auxiliary storage and do some finagling to make it look like it was part of the main memory. If they could entice Am-heh into that, then cut the connection to the main system...Am-heh would be trapped. Then they could either dispose of it, or keep him around to study.
It was worth a try.
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