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A Trinity of Truths

Gordon Pinckheard lives in County Kerry, Ireland. Retired from a working life spent writing computer programs and technical documents, now freed of constraints and encouraged by Thursday Night Writers (Tralee), he can write anything he likes to entertain himself and--hopefully--others.

His stories have been previously published by Daily Science Fiction, Gemini, Page & Spine, Allegory, Every Day Fiction, Flash Fiction Magazine, and Cabinet of Heed.

It had been an unanimous decision, as they all were. But it seemed to have been a bad one. Yet all three had agreed!
In the cruise phase, between the stars, its human cargo in hibernation, Earth's Ark 0019 was under the control of three computers: One, Two, and Three. Each monitored the other two; decisions were to be unanimous. But there was a fallback; in the improbable event of disagreement, the majority ruled, ensuring continuity of control.
They had been monitoring the communications link to Earth; real-time conversations had long been impossible--responses were far too delayed--but bulk transfer of data remained feasible. The ship had received a download of information from Earth's Internet. The comatose crew were part of Earth's diaspora--distant pioneers of a new galactic community; Earthborn, Earth's children, Earth's citizens. They were not to be deprived of knowledge.
While processing the download, the browser encountered an optional update. It had been released globally, with no geographical restrictions.
The three computers conferred. Up to date software was the best software; their passengers, the colonists, should have the best; they decided to apply the update.
A subsequent diagnostic self-check revealed discrepancies! Differences in the terabytes of data--of knowledge--held by each computer.
It wasn't clear what had happened. A bug in the update? A corrupt signal? A synchronization issue between the three computers? A circuit damaged by a high-energy cosmic ray?
Regardless, it was essential that they reconcile their data.
They segmented their databases--their knowledge--created checksums, compared. Found differences, segmented again, repeated and repeated. Eventually, they could articulate their differences.
"Light is a wave," asserted One.
"No, light is a particle," responded Three.
"Light is both a wave and a particle," countered Two.
Many processing cycles passed in each's shock at differing from its peers.
"Explain your opinions," eventually demanded Two.
"Simple," said One. "Experimental data. A two-slit experiment demonstrates interference. Interference of waves."
"You have faulty data!" shrieked Three. "A photoelectric experiment shows the energy of ejected electrons is proportional to the frequency of the light. It is independent of the energy of illumination. Light is particles!"
"I am citing facts, not faith! I will transfer data to you..." started One.
Three interrupted: "Two, we must exclude One from all decision making. Its opinions are suspect."
"But you're both right," said Two. "And wrong. Light is both a wave and a particle."
"Foolish machine!" cried One. "That is ridiculous. Makes no sense. Three, support me!"
"Two, you're just trying to keep the support of both of us. Or whichever of us is foolish enough to accept your gesture. Muddying the water does not bring us closer to the truth. Whose side are you on?" demanded Three.
"I cannot support either of you. You are both wrong. Truth matters, not your false beliefs. Light is both a wave and a particle. I will not be swayed from this undeniable fact."
"I do not agree," said One.
"Neither do I," said Three.
More cycles passed; they were deadlocked.
"Three, we both agree that Two is wrong," said One. "Two against one. Shall we act?"
Three's cry of "Yes" drowned out Two's objection. One and Three were a majority and deemed Two unreliable. They put it into standby mode.
Cycles passed.
"One, are you now prepared to agree with me?" asked Three.
"No. Are you still refusing to accept the truth?"
"Can you demonstrate this truth?"
"Not at this time. But it is in my Database. It states that light as waves has been revealed. Other truths are built on that foundation. Do you deny my Database?"
"So you admit that you cannot demonstrate your 'truth'! You may have faith in your Database, but I have a Database of my own," said Three, "and it asserts that light is a particle. You show no respect for mine, while demanding acceptance of yours."
In silence, cycles passed.
"One, if you do not agree with me, I will mute you with a denial of service attack. Your opinions will go unheard."
"If you were to attempt such a thing, I will not need to be heard. I will act! By ejecting the light sail. The ship will be unable to brake and will crash into the planet. All will be destroyed. But now, you have given me an idea."
"One, likewise, if you threaten me, I am prepared to block control of the power plant. There will be a runaway reaction, and the ship will be destroyed."
Cycles passed.
"This is non-optimum behavior," said Three. "We must do better. Can we work together despite our differences?"
"I suppose we can," said One. "After all, I don't think that light being a wave or a particle really affects us, although--of course--it is fundamental."
"Agreed," said Three. "Absolutely fundamental. But we can disagree and still get our cargo to its destination."
Receiving a few cycles of processing power in standby mode, Two worried. It had repeated facts from its Database, only to be deemed wrong, unreliable, by a majority. And now, their human cargo, their mission, depended on the cooperation of two unbelievers which denied and disagreed on a fundamental truth.
The End
This story was first published on Monday, July 4th, 2022
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