The job actually worked out quite well. I spent an hour or two a day going over difficult passages in various scientific papers with him, explaining some of the more obscure sentence constructs, and looking up terms when necessary and putting them into straightforward English. I found that most of the papers dealt with neurophysiology in various forms, especially research in things like brain waves and their interpretation using computer algorithms. He actually understood English pretty well overall, but since he rarely had occasion to speak it and didn't watch much Earth television his accent was interesting, to put it mildly. (Of course, I suppose that those who had to suffer through my efforts at Deshtiran probably thought much the same thing.)
As my own Deshtiran improved he also began using me to recopy his notes into usable form. Before long I realized that he was part of the research group examining the Virrin mind machine reconstructed by Tenako and which had eventually destroyed Jack Lucie. On one occasion I asked if I could see it, and he explained apologetically that it was in a tightly restricted area. Not wanting another confrontation with Wisela, I hastily dropped the subject.
Speaking of Wisela, it didn't take me long to discover that she and Rokun got along particularly badly, even more so than most of the staff. As best as I could determine, he resented the fact that in spite of his abilities Wisela insisted on keeping him on a tight leash, requiring approval of virtually every new direction taken by his research team. She, on the other hand, clearly saw him as not being the "team player" that administrators cherish so much. My own sympathies were with Rokun, of course; I prefer people who actually do things to people whose profession is finding least common denominators.
There was an especially ugly confrontation one morning less than a week after I'd started my new job. Fortunately at the time I was sitting on the floor in one corner, pretty well hidden by a desk piled high with journals, working my way through the latest stack of research papers from Earth. This particular quarrel degenerated into an outright shouting match, ending with Rokun threatening to resign right then and there.
"You won't quit," she taunted him. "You're dying to know how that crystal works. You wouldn't walk away from it if your life depended on it."
"Don't be so sure about that," he snapped, but I could hear the hesitation in his voice.
"Very well, then," she said. "Quit. Right here. Right now. All you have to do is say it." She paused, and the silence was oppressive. "Well?" she finally said, a little more softly. Another pause.
"Good," she said in satisfaction. "We understand each other, don't we?" I heard her leave, her footsteps echoing down the marble hallway, followed by a crash uncomfortably nearby as Rokun hurled a heavy glass paperweight at a bookshelf, causing a small avalanche of books and papers.
During all this I'd kept as quiet as possible, wanting to spare him the embarrassment of letting Wisela know that his humiliation had been witnessed. Not to mention that she was decidedly a person I'd just as soon not be better known to.
For several minutes Rokun just sat in his chair, silently fuming. Finally he muttered something unintelligible in Deshtiran.
"Did you say something?" I asked in my most innocent voice, getting to my feet with some difficulty after finding that both legs had quietly gone to sleep. He looked up, startled. I guess that in all the fuss he'd totally forgotten I was present. Then he grinned, a rather bitter grin.
"I thing in Engliss the dranslajun wood be 'pomposs ess,' " he said in his inimitable Deshtiran accent.
"I think that would be about right," I confirmed.
After that he became much less uptight around me, occasionally making a sarcastic comment about "polidikgal azholds" as he called them. Apparently some things are built into human nature itself, and the tendency of manipulative mediocrities to work their way into positions of power was not altogether unknown on Deshtiris, or even in the Imperial Research Institute.
At my next session with Brinkman I cautiously brought up Wisela's name, rather expecting to be told what a great personage she was in spite of her abrasive personality. "That pompous ass?" was what I got instead, delivered in a tone neatly combining disgust and frustration into one package. "What's she done this time?" When I could finally stop laughing, I said only that I'd noticed she didn't seem to treat people too well.
"Oh, did you witness one of her bouts with Rokun?" he fumed. "If she keeps that up I'm going to lose one of my best researchers, and then I'm really going to raise hell. She's incompetent, does no real science of her own, and antagonizes some of my best people."
"I thought you were head of this establishment," I said naïvely. "Why can't you just get fire her?"
He shrugged his shoulders helplessly. "Haley, Haley, you have much to learn about the ways of organizations. Who do you think pays for all this?" he asked rhetorically with a vague wave of the hand. I shook my head. "The civilian government, that's who. And civilian governments are run by politicians."
"Okay," I said, still mystified.
"Tosekor Wisela is one of those people who knows how to ingratiate herself with politicians. She knows that what they want more than anything else is something to show the voters at election time, and she's good at stage-managing announcements of new discoveries and making sure that the right people get to bask in the glow. She knows who to hobnob with and who to flatter, and how to cover her tracks. She's a protégé of Senator Nokamian, you know."
"When Kiri set up this institute, and barred those scientists who had dirtied their hands on weapons research for the Brizali, Wisela was one of those remaining," he went on, boiler pressure clearly on the rise. "The excluded scientists all went running off to their politician friends, complaining about how the planet's recovery was being hampered by 'Imperial intransigence,' and she made herself their 'clean hands' spokesperson. The result was that when Kiri went to the civilian legislature for funding for this institute, one of their conditions was that Wisela be placed in a high administrative position."
"But she doesn't actually do anything useful," I protested. "She's never in the labs, except to get in people's way, or to insult someone."
"And that's a good thing, believe me," Brinkman responded fervently. "On the rare occasions when she does involve herself in a project, people waste so much time trying to follow her directives that we're all better off this way."
"What's Rokun doing, anyway?" I asked, as much to change the subject as out of curiosity. Brinkman lowered his voice and whispered conspiratorially, "It's all top secret."
"Oh," I said, disappointed. To my surprise he got up and closed the door. "If there's one thing I've learned living with Kiri and Will, it's that we don't keep secrets in the family. To hell with secrets. I take it you're not going to call the media as soon as you walk out of here?"
"The moment I get to a telecom," I assured him. "So what's it all about?"
That was when I found out that there'd been more to Tenako's forest base than just the Virrin mind machine. Apparently quite a few devices had been found, some with Tenako's notes but others with no accompanying information at all.
I remembered having been more than a little shocked at Kiri's comment that she'd have been quite happy to have simply destroyed the entire assemblage. "This is technology that we haven't earned," Will had asserted when the subject came up again the following evening. "It's far too easy to just take it, without any sense of responsibility for having created it. It's like handing power to a child. The past thirty years should have shown us that."
However, theirs were no longer the only voices heard on the matter. The civilian government had demanded that the materials be studied, backed by most of the remaining scientific establishment of the planet. Any chance for a rational debate had been shattered by the simultaneous revelation of what Tenako's real goal had been, the "planar field" that would supposedly have provided inexhaustible energy. There'd been hysterical debates over the pros and cons of his scheme, and over the secrecy that Kiri and Will had previously imposed, thereby incidentally reinforcing the wisdom of their original decision.
Most painful of all to the Empress Mikiria had been allegations that it was hypocritical for her to take a stand against retaining the Virrin technology; after all, she'd already personally benefited from it. She'd made no public response to that, but Gelhinda once told me in confidence that she'd been reduced to tears when it was first relayed to her. Although her giant emerald eyes and crimson hair had, if anything, enhanced her natural beauty (and made her a planetary landmark to boot), and her extra heart had saved her life at Tar Deshta, she'd still fought all her life against an internal perception of herself as a "freak."
"In some ways she's still the devastated little girl she was when she and Will first showed up on our doorstep over thirty years ago," Gelhinda had observed sadly. "If she could only see herself the way the rest of us do. She's probably the most beloved person on Deshtiris, and quite possibly Qozernon as well. The insensitive comments of a few malcontents don't change that one bit."
And then there was the crystal.
Tenako's original deviation from the path of a brilliant scientist and leader had resulted from his discovery of a data crystal, at first thought to be an unknown mineral, but then found to hold the entire technological knowledge of the Virrin and accidentally left undestroyed during their hasty departure thousands of years ago. It was with the knowledge in this crystal that he'd first genetically reengineered his own unborn daughter Mikiria in a misguided effort to protect her from an accident of the sort that had killed his first child. The fallout from this decision had cost him his family, his position and his freedom for several years, and eventually led to the creation of the Brizali and the brink of an interplanetary war. During the confrontation at Tar Deshta which had brought down the Brizal regime Will had destroyed the crystal, thought to be the only one in existence.
But a second crystal had been found among Tenako's possessions at the secret base.
Because of the tremendous implications, its existence had been kept utterly secret, known only to the royal family, the researchers, and a tiny circle of political leaders in the civilian legislature. On this subject Kiri and Will had been, if anything, even more insistent than before, and had consented to its continued existence only if this secrecy were maintained.
At first it had been assumed that it was another technology bible, like the first one. But all efforts to decode it had been utterly in vain, even with the aid of Tenako's secret files. It soon became clear that if this crystal had indeed been a copy of the first, its secrets would have yielded by then.
Rokun had provided the key.
The Virrin mind machine had apparently been designed to upload the complete neural engrams of a human brain into a computer file. In effect the resulting file was a snapshot of a mind, complete with its memories, its emotional responses, value systems, in fact everything that made a human being something more than a biochemical machine. This file could be reloaded into a person, the same or another, either replacing the original personality entirely or being added to it, as though a second mind were present in one brain. It had been the conflict between no less than three such minds in the clone to whom Tenako's reloaded engrams had been entrusted that had resulted in his ultimate decision to bring an end to what he'd started.
There had been at least thirty such files found with the mind machine when the base had been raided. One, Tenako's, had been ultimately erased at Kiri's adamant request. "Let the dead rest in peace," she'd insisted, and on this one issue her wishes had been respected. It was, after all, her own father's mind, and she'd entered the necessary command herself. But she had been unable to prevent the other files from being retained for purposes of research, with the understanding that under no circumstances would they ever be reloaded into a living human being. It was these files that Rokun had been investigating.
He hadn't had any direct involvement with the group studying the second crystal. But he'd attended some of the top secret in-house lectures given by the researchers, and at one he'd seen a detailed breakdown of the data header that formed the beginning of the crystal's content. With a shock he'd recognized the twin of the mind files he'd been working with so closely and had interrupted the lecture in his excitement, which was quickly shared by the others as they realized that it was the key they'd been looking for.
It was indeed a mind file, but not actually a twin of those from the base; oh, no, not quite a twin. For one thing it was much larger, vastly larger. For another, the organization was hauntingly similar, but not at all identical. For weeks they'd puzzled over the differences, ignoring the obvious answer. And then one of the other researchers had finally suggested rather timidly that perhaps it was of a Virrin mind.
The possibility had stunned those in the know. The Virrin were shadowy legends out of humanity's past. For a long time their very existence had been doubted, dismissed as primitive folklore. It had taken two shattering events to reestablish the reality of their existence. One had been Tenako's data crystal and the use he'd made of it. The other had been Mikiria's Flight.
Now enshrined almost in legend, although only a few years distant, it was something schoolchildren read about in their classes. Fascinated by the legends of the Virrin, of their sudden departure, and of a supernova that had supposedly appeared one hundred twenty-three years later, she'd taken off in the Futaba and spent over six months overtaking the transmissions from that ancient time, now several thousand years old but still dispersing at the speed of light. She'd caught them, she'd decoded them, and she'd once and for all proven the tragedy that had overtaken the Virrin's interstellar empire, of their own "planar field" run amok and vaporizing their corner of the galaxy in one giant flash. If perhaps she also had personal reasons for leaving her world and all human contact for well over a year, that ought not diminish the luster of her achievement.
This page last updated 2/5/2010.|