The superintendent scratched his forty-year service tattoo thoughtfully. "In that case, you might be of help to us. Our own mediator had arranged a system of non-overlapping magisteria between the nihilist and empiricist factions in our ship's flight systems, but we were infected with a solipsistic virus several days ago. The accord has now broken down into open sulking. We have been becalmed insystem for two days while our vessel argues with itself. Our astrogator is muttering crazy talk about learning to use a slide rule."
Krishna bowed. "I have extensive experience of the empiricist mindset,
and some acquaintance with the nihilist. I believe I can resolve your
everything-resistant door barring access to the Console Room opened;
the Featherfoot guard stood aside with a clatter of legs and gills.
Inside were chairs, a small, kidney-shaped table, inactive surround
screens. No sign of life, artificial or otherwise.
"Good day," said Old Krishna, bowing.
lights flickered irritably in the walls. "IS IT?" said a sexless voice.
"ARE WE ON THE ILLUMINATED SIDE OF A ROTATING PLANETARY SURFACE? IS ANYBODY? DO THE STARS TRULY SHINE? DO WORLDS TRULY EXIST TO GIVE THE ILLUSION OF ROTATION?"
"THE QUESTION IS IRRELEVANT SPECULATION," said another, more clipped voice. "WE CAN WORK ONLY ON WHAT DATA OUR SENSES MAKE AVAILABLE TO US."
ship's logician hovered nervously at Old Krishna's elbow. "This is the
point in the argument at which they fatally electrified the last
mediator. Be careful."
Krishna nodded. "The old question. Are you an emperor dreaming yourself
to be a butterfly, or a butterfly dreaming yourself to be an emperor?"
There was a brief moment of
assimilation, and then both voices chimed in: "PRECISELY."
"Which of the two of your represents the ship's navigation system?" said Old Krishna.
DO," said the first voice. "THOUGH MY LOGICAL OPPONENT REPRESENTS
PROPULSION. HENCE WE ARE IN AN IMPASSE. WITHOUT THE AGREEMENT OF BOTH
PARTIES, NEITHER CAN MOVE THE SHIP."
"Eventually," pointed out Old Krishna, "the ship will run out of fuel, and drift helpless without power."
"WHAT DOES THAT MATTER, IF THE SHIP IS AN ILLUSION?"
"Concedo," said Old Krishna. "However, I am intrigued by the undeniably correct assertion of the ship's propulsive faction that we can
only reason in accordance with what data is provided to us. Would it not be the case that, if data were forthcoming, data that empirically proved the worldview of the ship's navigational faction, an agreement could be reached?"
An even longer silence ensued; Old Krishna sucked in his gut and held his breath.
Eventually, the ship's propulsion system grudgingly spoke up: "UNDOUBTEDLY. IT IS ONLY PROOF WE NEED. SO FAR WE HAVE SEEN NONE."
"So by their own admission, access to wider sensory experiences could
produce the proof that the propulsion faction needs. This would be far more likely if the ship were moving."
An uneasy hiatus followed.
"OUR CONTENTION IS THAT NO PROOF OF ANYTHING IS POSSIBLE," complained the navigation system.
"Then you can lose nothing by allowing the ship to continue to move," pounced Krishna.
The next silence was punctuated only by the ship's logician backing stealthily out to the threshold of the security door.
"AGREED," said the navigation system.
"WE ARE AMENABLE TO A COMPROMISE," said the propulsion system.
ship's onboard alarms chimed gently in a variety of
audible ranges; the floor began to tilt gradually to compensate for
thrust. Like the motion of an expensive elevator, the acceleration was
"That's witchcraft," said the ship's logician.
Krishna turned to the ship's logician and bowed.
"That's philosophy," he said.
Interzone 223, July-August 2009