Philip José Farmer’s Riverworld books use a fun plot device: a technological wonder called a “wathan” that allows for resurrections of people. As an alternative to some magical wathan “energy field”, we can imagine an alternative plot device: an advanced technology of nanoscopic devices that can exist within a person’s brain as a kind of symbiotic artificial life form. When such a “nanite-infected” cellular body dies, the “nanite symbiont” can move to another body…possibly not even a human body. In Episode 4 of the Contact television series, the “nanite symbiont” that had previously resided in Hadden’s brain is shown taking up residence in Kate Robinson’s brain.
In Episode 6 of the Contact television series, viewers learn the fate of Carl Sagan: he is alive and well and now a “host” for his own “nanite symbiont”. Sagan becomes a tool of the Overseers and his experiences as an apprentice Observer will provide viewers of the Contact television series with their first glimpse into the workings of Genesaunt culture. There will be several episodes about Sagan that form a second, parallel story line, offset in time from the main story arc. Eventually the two story lines will merge and Sagan will play a ambassador-like role for “first contact” between Earthlings and Genesaunts.
There is a core of ten main characters for the series, half humans and half Genesaunts…..
“Genesaunt” is the term used within the intergalactic civilization of the Huaoshy to refer to any life form that has left the planet on which it (or its biological ancestors) originated and evolved. How does Carl Sagan become a Genesaunt?
In 1993 Carl Sagan was contacted by Hadden and asked to speak to President Clinton an behalf of Ellie and the proposed SETI project at the VLA. With Hadden’s funding, Sagan’s lobbying help and over Drumlin’s objections, Ellie’s SETI project is given access to the VLA.
At this time, Dr. Wye works at Area 51 and is aware of an automated U.S. Air Force “early warning” system that would detect the “alien” signal that Hadden is planning to send to Earth.
Sagan is asked to warn President Clinton about the danger of misinterpreting an alien “first contact” radio signal if secret military systems (Russian, Chinese or U.S.) detect a message from aliens. These military satellite systems are part of “early warning” systems that can trigger a nuclear counter-attack. Sagan calls Al Gore and gives the warning. Gore tries to assure Carl that responsible control of “early warning” systems is already well in hand, but Gore tells Carl that he will discuss it with the President.
Clinton asks: “I wonder…why did Sagan bring this issue before us now?”
Gore: “Carl seemed very insistent. I got the feeling that there might be….well, that maybe a signal from aliens has already been detected.”
Clinton: “Really? I’ve never really taken seriously…Al, do me a favor. Put together a brief statement. Just a few words for me to use in the event that…you know…”
Gore: “Little green men walk into the White House?”
Clinton, “Even if there are only rumors of aliens, some actual evidence for life…out there. I want something calming to say…I’d hate to be caught flat-footed and end up saying something on the spur of the moment that only adds to confusion and uncertainty.”
By this time, Clinton has already explored ways to build longer missile launch delays into the command and control systems of nuclear forces. The U.S. military along with the Russians and the Chinese have all tried to make sure that the the big nuclear powers will not over-react in response to unexpected radio signals of extraterrestrial origin. However, Clinton decides to call for am immediate review of the nuclear command and control structure. He orders all military members and civilian involved with the U.S. nuclear deterrent to immediately report any knowledge of how a nuclear strike might mistakenly be initiated. Several potential flaws in automated nuclear command and control systems are reported and Clinton orders that immediate corrections be made.
When the “message from Vega” arrives a month later, the Overseers suspect that Sagan had been acting upon advanced knowledge of the message and is probably the tool of Interventionists. Dr. Zelter sends nanite probes into Sagan and the probes find some evidence that Interventionist nanites have been in Sagan’s brain, apparently altering his memories. Outraged by the “message from Vega”, the Overseers are in no mood to sit on their hands. Zelter arranges for Sagan to die and offers him a deal: Sagan is recruited to become an Observer. Sagan is tempted by the chance to go into space, but he is also told that due to his health problems he will not live much longer. Zetler tells Sagan that he can be easily cured by the application of Genesaunt medical technology and that if he gives up his life on Earth then he can lead a long and interesting existence in outer space.
Sagan accepts the “deal” and he is taken to the Moon. His body is duplicated using Huaoshy sedron technology (this “duplication technology” is only available to the Huaoshy) and the duplication is carried out by the Huaoshy character (o’Seriat) who will later become the tenth core cast member for the Contact television series). The “copy of Sagan” is taken back to Earth and given a lethal dose of a hierion poison that is not detectable by Earthly medical science. Within a month, the Sagan on Earth is dead. The original Sagan is “infected” by nanites and he becomes an Observer. The “copy of Sagan” dies on Earth in 1996, but the “real” (original) Carl Sagan lives out his life in Space as a member of Genesaunt civilization.
Dr. Zelter shows Sagan Genesaunt records of the self-inflicted destruction of other civilizations on other planets in the galaxy, confirming his own fears about the potential fate of technologically advanced cultures.
In 1996 the Observer Base on the Moon is being phased out. Soon after Sagan’s arrival on the Moon, Dr. Zeltan explains the function of Observer Base to Sagan:
“For millions of years we’ve been watching Earth. Things are interesting now that Earthlings have the power to do so much harm….”
Sagan (skeptical): “Just watching?”
Zelter: “As you know, sometimes we collect biological samples from Earth.”
Sagan (amused): “Like butterfly collecting?”
Zelter: “Yes, and you are a very pretty specimen.”
Sagan: “What do you do now, put me in a display case?”
Zelter: “Your fate is in your own hands, but I could use your help.”
Sagan: “How can I be of use to you?”
Zelter: “Humans who are newly extracted from Earth are very valuable. You understand Earthly culture in a way that even the best Moon-born Observers never can.”
Sagan (chuckles): “Ug. I hope you don’t expect me to train your Observers….give them seminars on modern Western civilization.”
Zelter: “No, that would not be my first choice.
Sagan: “Then what do you propose?”
Zelter: “I’ll make my proposal, but let me answer by first asking you a question. How is it that just before Dr. Arroway received her “message from Vega”, you warned the President to be prepared for such a message?”
Sagan (uneasy): “Coincidence?”
Zelter: “You don’t remember why you felt compelled to warn the President?”
Sagan (experiences strange flashback of Dr. Wye and Hadden): “Hadden?”
Sagan: “I don’t know why your question made me…Hadden is a wealthy industrialist. He funded the SETI project at VLA.”
Zelter (in communication with the nanites in Sagan’s brain): “Have you ever met Hadden?”
Sagan (struggling to remember): “Uh, yes. Of course…several years ago he asked me to be a reference for Dr. Arroway.”
Zelter (accessing Observer records): “So, that is why you contacted Gore in 1993. I’d missed that.”
Zelter explains to Sagan that he has been used as a tool of Interventionists. Zelter emphasizes the danger of too quickly providing technological advances to the people of Earth.
How nice of you to call.
Zelter: “It is my job to prevent interventionists like Hadden from doing harm to human civilization on Earth.”
Sagan: “Hadden is an alien?”
Zelter: “Most Interventionists who visit Earth are of human origin, but it is complex…..as you might expect, we Genesaunts have advanced technologies that often seem magical to the people of Earth.”
Sagan: “Marvelous. I’d like someone to explain the spaceship technology that brought me to the Moon.”
Zelter: “You are doomed to suffer some disappointments, Dr. Sagan. Observer Base is not the home of scientists and technologists. Observers use tools like spaceships, but there is not a single Observer who knows how a spaceship works.”
Sagan: “What about you. You call yourself an Overseer. Do you know the details of Genesaunt technology?”
Zelter: “I know some details, but I’m little more than the local sheriff….I have no scientific training.”
After much discussion and with the helpful influence of Overseer nanites in Sagan’s brain, Sagan agrees to help Zelter try to figure out how Hadden provided Ellie with the “message from Vega”.
Near the end of Episode 6, Sagan goes to Earth and meets with Hadden. This is when the Machine in Florida is first being tested. Hadden has been living without his nanite implants since the “message from Vega” was first detected. At this time, Hadden is very ill. Sagan’s study of Earth observations has failed to provide the Overseers with any insight into who provided Hadden with advanced technological assistance that was needed to send the “message from Vega”. Sagan renews a previously-made Overseer offer to take Hadden to the Moon and save his life with the medical technology available at Observer Base. Hadden accuses Sagan of being a dupe for the Overseers and refuses. Sagan asks Hadden about the danger of providing Machine technology to humans.
Hadden: “The Overseers were nearly ready to make first contact themselves. I’ve only slightly accelerated the timetable.”
Sagan asks: “If you only slightly altered the course of events, then what did you hope to gain?”
Hadden: “I’d rather not tell you since you are a puppet for the Overseers. In time they will know the full scope of my scheme, but for now I’d prefer that they remain ignorant and unable to disrupt my plans.”
Sagan: “You know, they could take you apart cell by cell and find out everything you know,
Hadden: “No, that would be against their precious “Rules of Observation”. I am surprised that they have not erased my memories.”
Sagan: “They hope you will change your mind. It is not too late.”
Hadden: “It is quite late, but I’m happy. You’ll feel the same way after 25 centuries, Carl.”
Sagan: “One last thing….what can you tell me about Briana Endler?”
Hadden grins: “Not much. I don’t want to tell you anything at all.”
Hadden goes into space and lives on Mir until he dies. Sagan and Zelter are still frustrated: they know that someone with access to advanced technology has been helping Hadden, but they do not know who or how. Sagan has spent years searching through the records of recent Earth history that are available at Observer Base.
Sagan can’t resist looking into the origins of the human species. He learns that there has been a long process of “human domestication”. For millions of years apes have been taken into space and genetically adapted to a synthetic environment with selection of phenotypic traits that were increasingly similar to the original biological form of the Huaoshy, as well as compatability with nanites. There was a long “diversification” phase during which multiple humanoid species existed on Earth and there was a significant amount of competition for resources between those species. When modern humans were that last remaining human species on Earth, some humans on Earth were “infected” by Interventionist nanites in an effort to stimulate the development of a technological civilization on Earth.
In his search of the recent Observer Base data, Sagan identified a Hadden Industries employee (Briana Endler), now retired, who has a mysterious history and seems to have been in a very close working relationship with Hadden. Sagan and Zetler visit Briana, but she can tell them nothing of interest. After they leave Briana and head back to the Moon, Zetler says:
“Briana is now just a shell. I could detect alterations in her brain caused by long symbiosis with nanites.”
Sagan: “But you detected no nanites?”
Sagan: “Where are those nanites now?”
Zetler: “I doubt if even Hadden knows, but I’m sure that they are still on Earth. This is the main task for Observers, watching for humans who are the puppets of Interventionists. If you were Hadden and wanted to accelerate the pace of technological advances, where would you position your assets?
Sagan: “Some place close to the Machine construction project.”
Zetler: “There are now about 5,000,000 scientists and engineers working on the Machine project. Find me those nanites, Sagan.”
At this point, Sagan begins to wonder if there are nanites in his own brain….if that is what Hadden meant when he called Sagan a puppet of the Overseers.