Posted - 06/02/2007 : 10:15:56
| Chapter One
Attempted Murder on a Windy Planet
High Garda, Arine Archipelago
"She's coming back."
Tel drops the horn audio, skins on the video, and stares at the screen. "She's coming back," he says again.
He swivels around, opens his mouth to say it once more, but the only other occupant of his study is little Pen, his youngest son.
Tel looks at the child for a second blankly, then rises from his chair and bounds toward the door. "Father!" he calls, "Father, she's coming back. My . . . your . . . my mother. Father!"
Tel's second wife, Dorey, runs toward him along the long hallway. "What is it? Is something—"
"Get my father," he says and turns again to the screen, flat set, glowing on the horn table. The message is there, of course. In written letters. He reads it again.
Pentente Mission Direction
Concerning: regulations governing dispersal/disposal mission returnees
Description: Mission 707—Quivera Project, Procne (departure 3519, projected return date 3645—55, actual return 3550); seven original members; six survivors—three former inhabitants of Arine Archipelago
(1) Allain family will prepare to accept survivors Diana Rise Allain and Fron Maces to Allaincroft estate, High Garda Island. (Inclusion of subject Maces is a temporary, non-regulation arrangement, subject's descendent line being discontinuous and his original home island, Angel, Archipelago Nord, no longer residential; subject expressed resistance to placement on Corse or elsewhere in Archipelago Nord.)
(2) Michalis family will prepare to accept Gisonne Michalis to Laurel House, High Garda Island.
"But who is it, father? Who is coming?" Tel’s son asks.
"Why is she coming?"
"She is my mother. This is her home." Tel answers without taking his eyes from the screen.
"I don't know her," little Pen says.
"I know you don't," Tel says. "She's been gone for
. . . thirty years. I don't know her either."
But then he looks up at a blank place on his worn and tattered study wall and almost remembers. There was something there, long long ago, a painting, her special painting. He tries to see it. Was it a bird? Yes, an off-world bird. White. He recalls the image: white feathered arcs of wings, narrow legs, a strange background, flatland, still water, tall grasses.
But he was little more than a baby when she left them. Abandoned him—them, all of them. No, died. Just the same as dead. He had always refused to imagine her alive somewhere. What did it matter? She would not—could not—return in his or his children's or great grandchildren's lifetime.
But yet here she is—returned! Already on The Plateau. To arrive on High Garda tomorrow.
It must be wrong, Tel thinks. A mistake. But no. The Allaincroft OS system is sorely in need of repair, but the message came direct and is the same on audio and video in letters on screen.
"Gods drown it! Who needs her?" he says aloud, loud enough to drown the bird painting, the smell of linell flower that seems to have invaded the room, the image of an old fashioned, white silk shirt, of blond hair loosely tied. Most of all Tel wants to shout away the memory of his mother's face before it emerges from that lost time. "Pontus drown her anyway."
"Who? What is it, Telem?" Tel's father, Blake Allain Rise, shuffles cautiously into the room, long neck turning over his threadbare collars and stooped shoulders as he peers about from side to side.
"My grandmother is coming back," little Pen tells his grandfather.
"What! What is the child saying, Telem?"
"Your first wife, my mother, Diana Rise Allain, The Allain, will arrive here on High Garda tomorrow." Tel waits with almost cruel anticipation for his father's reaction.
But Old Blake says nothing, shows no emotion, then shakes his head and almost smiles. Tel is impatient. Does his father smile because he is pleased?
"No, she isn't," Blake finally says.
"Yes, she is. Just come and look at the message."
"No, Telem, it's not possible." Blake speaks as though Tel were still a child, unable to comprehend. "They were programmed for a planet so distant that they cannot return within two centuries. They never told us before departure. We thought it would be two years. Not just us, the Michalises too. They thought Gisonne would return—"
"Father, stop rambling and look at the message." Tel magnifies the screen and pulls his father, almost roughly, to stand with him before it.
Blake frowns as he tries to read, shakes his head slowly, and starts again at the top. Impatiently Tel skins up the sound as though Blake's ears are as weak as his eyes.
Old Blake is not as old as he acts and looks. The poor vision and vague peering result from eye trouble—once easily correctible by Malaacan surgery—surgery no longer accessible to inhabitants of z2. He has had the stoop since Tel can remember, since in the old, rich days it was considered a courtly bow, sign of grace and breeding. And the hesitant walk, Tel believes, is not due to arthritis but to tentativity and lack of decision.
And now, eyes wide in wonder, he looks to his son for meaning.
Tel, not Blake, has been The Allain and head of the Allain family since his maternal grandfather's death twenty years ago. It has been Tel, Blake's younger son, who has had to fight to hold together their estate and remaining possessions in the face of deprivation and Pentente penalties, to protect wider groups of relatives and dependents, to deal with the off-worlders, to live down and compensate for the ruined family reputation.
Yet now there is nothing Tel can say to his father. For all their differences, for once they are as one in bewilderment. They turn away from the screen and look in silence through the study window, down over a half-mile slope of sidelawn, a precipitous dark strand, and below it, to the ocean. Tide is almost all the way down, exposing the long artificial pilings of the zoid dock on which Tel's crippled cousin Jevry sits huddled in his new, used wheeler. Even as they watch, a cloud shadow races across the lawn, and the wind suddenly whips up from the sea, pressing the bent grasses and shrubs flat and rattling the small, square gloid panes. First the horizon, then Zeig Island, and finally Jevry disappear in blowing fog.
And, as always, the winds blow the fog away as quickly as it came and the sun leaps out almost painfully bright on water and land. Unaware of, or perhaps indifferent to, his uncle and cousin watching him from the house on the cliff above, Jevry Alfred Allain tilts his sun hat and keys a shift in his wheeler to ease the ache in the bad leg. The new angle does nothing to reduce the glare from the water. He considers dimming his goggles but decides that the loss of brilliance won't be worth the slight increase in comfort. Such questions become more and more important as time goes by. "Do I dare to eat a peach?" he asks. But he will never “walk upon the beach”...or anywhere else.
Jevry hears someone above them hurrying down over the lawns toward the beach. Even though they've gotten the old generator working again, Tel's new wife, Dorey, always prefers to walk and run rather than take the lift and use up any of their scant power. Yet she is not wearing her wind suit.
Jevry pulls his own worn, wind wrap tighter, hunches his shoulders, and sets his face to stare morosely at the waves until she reaches him. When she arrives he pretends not to notice and then to be surprised, mildly annoyed. He shrugs to let her know that he has been content in his reverie—alone.
But this time she is not solicitous; she doesn't coax him or coddle his attitude.
"You knew Diana Allain, didn't you?" she asks, still breathless. “’The Allain’? A long time ago?”
"What? My aunt? My aunt Diana? Long dead. Why?"
He shakes his head and waves an arm in dismissal. "Same as dead. Both of them. Gone."
"She's coming here tomorrow."
Jevry waits for the sound of her words to make some kind of sense.
"Cousin Jevry," Dorey says. "Do you understand me? The mission she was on has somehow . . . somehow returned to z2. I don't understand it, but it's true. They are on The Plateau now. Tomorrow—"
Still Jevry does not speak. Dorey squints into his face, curious. Jevry is always grouchy, always pessimistic, but this is different. His face is dead blank, unreadable.
"Thirty years ago," she says, "you were . . . you must have been . . . young—I mean younger. Thirteen or fourteen? You must have known her—her and another one from this island, one of our neighbor dynes, those Michalises, a Gisonne from that generation?"
Jevry doesn't speak, move, or change expression yet his head seems to hunch more deeply into his shoulders, his features grow sharper and older.
"Jevry? Are you all right?" Dorey asks.
"Gisonne Michalis," he says finally.
"Gisonne. Gisonne Michalis is the other one."
For a long time he stares down the strand. He seems to have forgotten Dorey completely.
A figure appears in the distance walking down the beach, toward them. It is Troi, Tel's older son, fourteen years old, beautiful, strong, and golden in the sun's slanting rays. He bends over and pokes through the sand. Looking for shells. There were few to be found even when Jevry was his age.
Troi straightens up, shakes hands with himself, and grins at Jevry and Dorey. He kicks sand out behind him like a male dog and sprints to the dock. He deep bends his long strong legs, jumps high, and lands lightly in front of the wheeler. Jevrey's own crabbed legs twitch in response. He presses a key randomly and the wheeler jerks back.
"Sorry, cousin Jevry," Troi says as if he had actually bumped him.
"Never mind. It's fine. It's fine."
"Look. I found a crab leg."
Jevry snorts. "In my day we found whole crabs. Fiddlers. So what? It didn't mean anything then either. Dropped by a Malaacan bird. Bird's gone too. Long gone."
"Look, Jev . . . Cousin Jevry,” Dorey went on, “I thought you'd be the one to ask all these questions. I didn't know you would be upset. I . . . I'm sorry. But why is it so important? Why are Tel and Blake all—all shaken? I mean people do come back from other times. Usually no one we ever really know or . . . What was she like?"
"Your aunt, of course."
"Oh, her. Aunt Diana was perfect," he says. "Gisonne was not."
Dorey laughs, thinking he is, as always, ironic.
Troi begins to listen. He sits on the dock, feet dangling.
"Troi," Dorey says, "your grandmother is coming home tomorrow."
"Diana, grandfather Blake's wife."
"The one who went away forever?"
No one answers him. Jevry continues to watch the rising sea and Dorey watches Jevry.
"I heard about her," Troi says. "She was on a mission. She can't come back."
"Well she is back," Dorey says. "Now she's being ‘replaced’ with—with us. She will have been gone over thirty years."
"Diana really was perfect," Jevry says. "In all things."
"She was a lousy parent. Leaving her babies! For what?"
"No. She was a perfect mother," he insists. "And a perfect wife."
"I never heard Tel ever mention her. And wife? How did old Blake take it? How could he have let her go?"
"Let her go? He had nothing to say about it. She was an Allain—The Allain. Just as Tel is . . . thinks he is now.”
Jevry shrugs against the back of his wheeler and keys an angle change. Dorey puts a hand on the arm as if to help, but there is nothing he and his chair can't manage.
"Why? Why did she go?” Dorey persists. “Why did she abandon her family and her planet just before the bad times?"
"No. You've got it wrong. All you young people. Nasty rumors. She died for the family and z2. Anyway she didn't explain to me. And neither did Gisonne. To her—to both of them in different ways—I was only a kid."
"And she was thirty-four," Dorey says.
"And Gisonne was twenty-two . . . Pontus, Pontus—this can't really be true!"
"I—I think so. I know! It came on the horn. They are coming here tomorrow."
"Gisonne," he says. "Gisonne, too?"
"Yes, if she's the Michalis woman."
"Gisonne," Jevry says and stares in silence out toward z2's close horizon, his eyes tearing in its blinding brilliance. He decides to dim his gloid goggles afterall and fusses with the controls.
Troi frowns and then decides to reduce the importance of what he cannot fathom. "So what? That's nothing," he says. "A friend of mine from school lives on the same island with a family dyne whose great, great, very great uncle or something came home. He was so old nobody had ever met him—not even heard of him. PMD just probably figured out who his descendants were and—"
"No, no, boy!" Jevry shouts. "You don't know what you're . . . ." His fingers are white on the arms of the wheeler.
Troi looks helplessly at Dorey, who pats his shoulder. Both watch Jevry as his breath slows and his face calms. Finally he turns to look at them, almost smiling.
"Home is where when you go there they have to take you in," he says, laughs, and then adds: "Diana is not going to like this world. . . . But Gisonne might."
In the embassy on Nord, Dyll Breff, Pentente Grand Viceroy, stares at his horn with an astonished frown. The message is from PMD officials at the port on The Plateau in the Arine Archipelago. A SPEED ship has landed there. A certain mission has returned early, two centuries early as a matter of fact. Inexplicable, unpredicted, unprecedented, unprogrammed, impossible.
He casts his eyes down the Quivera Mission 707 roster. Yes. He remembers these names. After thirty years he remembers them all. Not only the names but some details of the biographies, details both personal and professional.
He shouts at the horn: “Perl! Perl, listen. You’ve got a job.”
Breff stares again at the crew list.
She is back.
The next day the winds are more erratic than usual. A sudden blow up, strong enough to knock unripe fruit off the crooked trees, is followed by a dead calm and sun so steady and warm that the small family group, climbing the steep hillside behind and above the main house, unbind their wind suits and dim their goggles. But then, only a few seconds later, they are leaning forward into another whipping, breathless gale.
Troi is eager to see the new floater, designed on Malaaca thirty years earlier especially for the fierce air currents and steep terrain of z2, to replace the old island hoppers, but withheld until now by the Pentente. Troi doesn't care that it promises to eliminate some of the treacheries of local air and sea travel, that people may no longer have to take tractor buses over the steep, sharp roads from small and dangerous air fields or climb or be lifted up from the sea, or that it is being given to z2 more for the comfort of the increasing numbers of Pentente off-worlders than for the natives. He wants only to see the wonderful invention in action.
The others are making a big deal over the grandmother thing. Troi's father Tel, Troi's new stepmother, Dorey, his little brother Pen, and most unlikely, even old cousin Jevry in his wheeler have climbed the steep lane to the clearing among the upper orchards, where the floater is to drop its "anchor." Nimee Michalis from Laurel House, around the mountain, mother of a great span of children, the youngest of whom are Troi's friends, has joined them because some relative of hers has come back to z2 on the same vessel. Only Grandfather Blake was not well enough to come out.
When the floater finally appears, Troi is not disappointed. It is a beautiful thing—much better than the old island hoppers—and much larger than he expected, coming in low and straight from the west. Then it slows to hover above the small field.
It seems to drift randomly and slowly. Troi is glad when a sudden small tempest blows up. He wants to see the craft do its work, adapt flexibly to the worst.
It bends more. Is it supposed to fold upon itself that way? No! It is collapsing, toppling, falling! My god, they all cry. Falling!
They stand, expressionless, gaping, as the white, mothwinged thing spins, rotates, tumbles down from the sky to break apart, almost slowly, on the grassy hill above them. It splits open and spills its innards, while pieces of itself detach and roll down toward the watchers almost gracefully.
But the cries are not graceful.
Cousin Jevry is the first to move, but his wheeler is defective, has no risers and was not designed for bumpy, steep terrain. The rest, who reacted seconds later, pass him by and race up across the open space among the fruit trees.
Troi and his father get there first; Tel bends over one still figure in a pilot's uniform, while Troi tries to pull a large piece of metal off another, a lady in her mid or late thirties, sort of pretty but with a sharp scar on her right temple—and a large white bird. The animal is alive and chattering, the woman very still.
"This man is dead," Tel says and leaves that body to run over and help Troi with the woman. At the same time Nimee Michalis, a little heavy, encumbered in her very old, tattered but voluminous wind cloak, reaches them, calling, "Is it my sister? Is it Gisonne?"
Tel doesn't answer. Nimee moves up next to him and together in silence they stare down at the pale woman. Both her light hair and the animal's white curls twist and flatten in the again rising wind, but her face seems to be made of stone.
And then Troi's father says a weird thing in a tone of voice Troi has never heard him use before. "Mommy," he says. "Mama."
"Gisonne? Is Gisonne there?" cousin Jevry calls loudly from where he has been left behind alone.
"It's not Gisonne," Nimee Michalis finally shouts back to him. "It's Diana."
"Then where is she? Where is Gisonne?"
The Plateau, Arine Archipelago
It is not windy but warm, bright, and still in the midafternoon sun on the campus of the Arine branch of Zalterius II's single university. The extensive grounds are overgrown, unkempt. The few buildings, which vary in style, expressing the changing attitudes and visions of diverse ages, are alike only in their strength, illusion of height, and, most of all, utter shabbiness and neglect.
The medical and research area is exceptionally quiet. Few people now-a-days walk the lanes or sit on the benches. Broken wheelers and rusty walkers slump empty above motionless ramps. It is one of the few places on the island, and, indeed, on the whole planet, that the ubiquitious beating and breathing of the ocean cannot reach. Nor, from this high interior plain, can one hear the noise of The Plateau's circle of markets directly above the cliffs. The only sound is the occasional hum and broken clatter of the hospital venting system.
A figure appears from a cluster of rectangular buildings and moves across a wide expanse of faded, patchy green toward a tall, double fronted, stone edifice at the far end of the compound. It is a woman stalking, rather than walking, with uncomfortable, unlikely strides.
She appears to be in her mid or late twenties; her short, loose dark hair has a sharp white streak on the right side, and a narrow scar across the left temple. Her forehead is broad and the rest of the face far too narrow, especially the nose which is just too pointed to be delicate. The lips and chin are delicate though, or would be were it not for a fierce tightness of expression. She is wearing some kind of loose uniform, not the garb of the usual hospital patient, nor the normal dress for the outside world. An old patient watching her idly from his cracked window might have recognized it as a fashion from his youth, the old wind-cloak style common thirty years earlier. Is it a young woman, gone mad, dressed in her grandmother's clothes?
As she approaches and bypasses the first entrance, she looks up at its worn lettering, frowns, and slows her steps. The words "Allain Institute of Human . . . " are worn. Whatever once followed has been hidden under a bold white and dark green sign announcing "Malaacan College of Neurobiology and Psycholinguistics." The woman stops, stares like one extremely near-sighted or illiterate, shrugs, and continues on her way.
She turns a corner and, without hesitating, enters a small unmarked doorway. She moves quickly down an empty corridor with shabby, peeling walls, turns right into a small alcove, and stops. The door will not yield to her grasp. She whirls about, retraces her steps through the deadly quiet to the larger corridor, continues to its end where she turns right again and climbs three flights of a stairway. The corridors on that floor are busier. Men in laboratory suits pass her, some glancing curiously, but it is no one's job to stop her. Women running machines in offices with open dutch doors glance but she passes too quickly for them to really see.
Finally she stops before a dark green board, an index of offices. She brushes back the dark hair, moves her face close to the raised letters, squints deeply. She turns about to look purposely down each of the corridors. Then, with a quirk of her tight, thin lips, she abruptly starts toward a hallway on her left. Here she moves deliberately with the same strong strides with which she had crossed the lawns. At last she stops before a wide doubledoor, ignores the small print on its gloid pane, and pushes through.
There are two people in lab wear, conferring over a chart or perhaps only gossiping. Their heads rise at the sound.
"Do you want some—" one begins but the woman is already inside the next area.
It is more an office than a laboratory, but equipped with various machines and viewers. An elderly man is sitting by one of the viewers. A shaft of very beautiful, silk white hair hangs rather dramatically over his forehead; in spite of his large head and crooked profile, his face is gentle, bemused; he is absently fingering some kind of instrument, smiling at a young, off-world man on the other side of the room.
They turn as one toward the woman bursting into their space, both startled. Then the face of the elderly man changes. The frown deepens between the white brows. The thin lips stretch open. A smile and a grimace at once.
For a second the intruder stops moving. She looks from the old man to the young and back again. And then there is no more hesitation. Her eyes fix and hold the older man and she strides across the room and pushes him backwards hard with both hands against his chest. Her expression never changes. His chair tilts but hits the table top and does not fall. She has both hands around the narrow wrinkled throat and strangles and shakes at the same time, banging his head on the table.
His young colleague starts to call out, starts to move, does neither and then does both at once, but too late.
With her right hand, the woman has pulled a knife from her jacket pocket.
"Gisonne," the old man says. "No, Gisonne."
"Old man," she says.
Dynasphere/group—sori, a sphere (in certain circumstances a circle)
TL—task leader—Lapin, roughly equivalent to director of activities, often but not always group center
CN—central negative, voice of opposition—orck, a wind spirit or demon, the source of wind power, gale against the wall
SeL—social-emotional leader, sometimes group center
TR—tension releaser—sann, one who lifts with the right hand (thought to be related to the left hemisphere of the brain)
IP—information provider—jav, bearer of knowledge, bard
SO—silent observer—dark watcher, lull in a storm—dangerous, misleading
R—recorder—bard, teller, historian, often also IP
Cell—connects to outside
NC—new comer, outsider in process of adaptation
In 3519 the grass on The Plateau campus had been a brighter and happier green. It lay broadly carpeting this one flat place in all the Arine Archipelago. A few more buildings stood then and they were not shabby or crumbling. Ancient but shining with love and money, antique cornices and trim were proudly and deeply stained in veritcal lines the old way—contrasting narrow moldings pulling the eye ever upward to the mountain top.
Gisonne Michalis swung her light wind cloak as she walked, breathing deliberately and deeply of the high, thinner air—so much better than the damp, organic, thick odors of Estuary. Gisonne did not like closed-in places.
Her task on Estuary, adjusting a malfunctioning dynashere, was almost done. It had been her first professional test, and her success had been in some doubt. It was always a challenge for a natural Tension Releaser to function alone in mending a group. The very characteristics that made a good TR were sometimes obstacles to direct intervention: the need and ability to please, to make others feel good, to prevent social discomfort, to placate, to prevent antagonism and hostility, to mitigate distress, to joke. In a way the job was harder because results had to come through indirection and suggestion. Yet the adjustment was coming along nicely after a slow beginning; the unhappy, disintegrating ornithology group was becoming a fully functional dyne. One more trip back to Estuary should do it. As of now, Gisonne was no longer an intern.
She resisted the urge to skip, and instead tossed her head, enjoying the swing of her straight, black hair, and walked faster to the meeting of the newly-official Zalterian Dynasphere, ZD, organizaton.
She had always been a good Tension Releaser, an important role in any dyne, circle, or other designed or undesigned group, not in spite of but because of her shyness. She loved the work, if not all the members—dynamates, but that was as it should be in a well-functioning group. And ZD had to function well, since its function was the study of dynes.
Inside the Allain Institute of Human Studies people argued and laughed aloud in the corridors. Gisonne walked through the old great hall study dynes and more professional task dynes, all of which revolved and overlapped. Pairs and triads occupied the central benches, while undyned students and researchers burrowed into stalls and carrels carved into the old stone outer walls.
ZD met in one of the newer wings, whose space was more sensibly divided into small lecture halls and even smaller meeting rooms, and which housed the new softer sciences, both home-grown and off-world. ZD was the newest
social science although, ironically, its subject was the oldest: the nature, history, and functions of Zalterian groups, circles and spheres whose origins predated the first settlers and the Octente itself.
The members sat around a circular table. (The ideal group, dyne, is a circle although some are 'y's or 'x's by necessity.)
"We have a new project," Evan, both center and TL, Task Leader, said.
"We are too heavily committed to tasks now," Cly, CN, Central Negative, said. (CNs and Sc-fs, Self-centered followers, are critical roles; "a good group maintains a two to one ratio between positive and negative comments.")
"This one might be most important. It might be the chance we need."
"What is it?" they asked.
“We get to design a group—a superior dyne if we’re really good—and lucky."
"We do that all the time," Cly said.
"Not really," Aj, IP, Information Provider, said. "We study existing structures, we tinker with and try to adjust dysfunctional groups—when they let us, and we form and reform test circles out of volunteers in the lab, but we never create the pattern and choose the members for—"
"Right, Aj, right. We know what we do. But, Evan, what is it?"
"A project of Doctor Cres Trjol. Some new kind of horn. Actually the Operating System of a SPEED ship."
Since they all worked in the large Allain Institute building, Gisonne had seen Trjol before but knew only that he had once studied off world—on Malaaca—and was supposed to be a distinguished neuroscientist.
"I don't get it," Cly said. Others murmured with him. "You mean Trjol—the big brain guy in the other wing? That Trjol? He's a neural something, Malaacan science. Trained on Malaaca. What's Zalterian ZD theory to him?" Cly, of course, addressed the question to Aj. "I can’t recall any connection," Aj said. In that case, they all knew, there wasn't any and never had been.
"We'll find out," Evan said. "I know only that it has something to do with designing a mission crew."
"The dyne will be a crew?"
"A crew is always a dyne," Cly said, "but a dyne is not always a crew."
One or two of them moaned politely. Gisonne wondered if he was stealing her role and if she should do something. Compete? Joke? Too late. Too shy.
"Seems so," Evan said. "We're meeting with him today."
"Excuse me, Evan, but I have to go back to Estuary," Gisonne said. "The ornithology circle I've been advising needs more—"
"Delay it. This could be more important."
About goals and business Evan was usually right, a good Task Leader; but about persons and methods not always effective, not a SeL, Social-emotional Leader, which he tried to be from time to time. He was older than other ZD members, having had a career in some kind of government diplomacy earlier. He had a broad Asian face, pleasant smiling eyes, and a mouth that almost but never quite smiled. Gisonne sometimes wondered if that was why his diplomatic years had been brief.
Right from the beginning Gisonne found Doctor Cres Trjol generally unpleasant—in both manner and looks.
The meeting took place in his space, a large discussion room next to his laboratories. He sat at what had to be the “head” of the room on top of a desk, presenting himself as not only TL but Leader of the temporary circle ZD and his few people formed together. Was he aware of group terms and concepts and what his physical position meant? Gisonne looked around to see if others—especially members of ZD—were thinking the same thing. Cly shrugged and shook his head at her. Aj was nodding knowingly.
Trjol started without introducing himself—no need, he assumed?—and without greeting his listeners: “The mind is not a machine. In spite of all attempts for fifteen oe decades no OS has ever been designed with a mind. You all know that, of course.”
Cly stirred and several other ZD members frowned.
“Now that for the last 500 years we have a particular bacteria which, with out quiveron, we can try again. But we will not try to design a mind. A mind can only be produced through evolution, natural selection. The selection is based on the reality around it, its environment. We can design its environment, its human environment. That is what you will do.”
Trjol’s people clapped warmly and he bowed slightly.
More applause was joined by some confused ZD people.
“Horns, OS’s, are, have always had minds,” Cly said.
“No,” Trjol almost shouted, turning his head slowly to stare at Cly. He waited a second and dropped his voice to an almost inaudible, dramatic whisper. “I say the OS, the horn, has no relationship to mind. An OS is designed, built. Even when it goes on to further design itself beyond what we could do, it is not evolved.”
"Anyway what has designing horns got to do with us?" Cly asked, this time deliberately misunderstanding.
“I have already told you. Once again—a mind is not a single unit but a community. It is an analogue of reality. The new mind—I call it the ‘edel’ in honor of the great historical neuroscientist, Gerald M. Edelman—will be evolved, an analogue. But an analogue of what? Of a dyne, a group of human beings.”
Obnoxious, Gisonne thought. But then she saw that Aj was laughing, and even Cly smiling.
“I still don’t understand,” another member of ZD said.
“You don’t have to. You group people, ZD you call yourselves . . ." He glanced at his memo as if checking the name. " . . . are not qualified to design a mind and a mind cannot, as I have said, be designed. ZD will design a dynasphere. With your latest techniques, you ZD people will select the members. And your carefully constructed dyne will then become our edel's outer reality. The edel will, by trial and error, evolve into a living analogue of the group mind."
Gisonne found the man presumptious, theatrical and arrogant, and the plan reductuve and wasteful of ZD's abilities. Evan must not have understood what he was getting them into when he accepted the invitation for ZD to join this symposium.
"We do not think in terms of a 'group mind'," Cly said.
"But of course you do," Trjol said, warm this time, benign, gentle. "You may not use the accurate term. My people have reported to me on your research and theories."
Patronizing, Gisonne added to the list of the man's personal and social defects.
"Then you know there is no such thing as a dyne mind,"
Cly said. This time other members of ZD raised their voices in agreement.
Trjol looked from one to the other slowly. When he came to Gisonne she felt herself grow warm with embarrassment. She could not bear to speak aloud in anything larger than a small circle and doubly hated to argue in any situation (except within her family circle). Her role was to release tension, not add to it.
“And you?” he asked her directly.
"The concept of group mind is contrary to our basic principles, the importance of the contribution, growth, and well-being of the individual," Gisonne said, as her face burned.
A woman wearing Octente insignia on her collar turned fully about in her seat and squinted at Gisonne as at a peculiar form of scum from the sea.
Trjol nodded. His eyes, half hidden under the heavy brows, were fierce with anger.
One of those natural emotional, autocratic leaders with fawning followers, Gisonne added to her list.
"Wait," Evan looked back at her from the the front—right up there with the cheer leaders. Did he have to add to her embarrassment? "I agree with you, Gisonne, of course, but let's find out more about what Doctor Trjol proposes."
Evan was playing both TL and IP for ZD. And apparently Lieutenant for Trjol at the same time! Cell. Playing too many roles. Playing fast and loose.
"Design an optimal group for me," Trjol said, sarcasm evaporated, tones gentle, humble, wooing ZD. He let his head drop and looked up from under the fine, silk black brows like a little boy fearing punishment, needing protection. The Octente woman smiled up at him and nodded.
There was no reply from any member of ZD, but Trjol went on as if there had been: "Timing will be everything. Creation takes place in time.” He stopped and looked down at a note. "'Dyning' I beleve is your term. That is why we need ZD's expertise in determining the necessary components and choosing group members from among our applicants."
Gisonne had to admit he was good. His charisma consisted not only of alternating between emotional deprivation and reward of his audience, but of a genuine, contagious passion for his subject. For a second she almost understood his "groupies."
And she disliked him even more.
"Yes. Now—the project. Here it is. This is Braitt Jones, liaison between us and the Octente Mission Direction."
Gisonne watched in disgust as the Octente buro female from the front row stood and walked to the podium, smiled sidewise and up at Trjol, and turned a serious face to the audience. Braitt Jones was actually attractive, not beautiful, but piquant, with small, pointed features except for extremely large moist eyes.
"One of Octente Mission’s briefest and most frequent missions. Destination Quivera. Not quite a regular shuttle. SPEED but short. Two years oe, two seasons SPEED time." Unlike Trjol's long circumlocutions, the woman spoke in abrupt little blips. "A short stop at Agricula on the return."
They didn't get it.
"You'll pick the crew," she said. "From OMD's pool of applicants. OMD can't afford experimental junkets—even for someone as respected as Doctor Trjol—just to study its personnel or an experimental Operating System. The flight will fullfill its regular functions. The mission will be one that would have taken place anyway."
Braitt Jones stopped speaking as abruptly as she started. She stood staring, glaring rather, around at the audience. Trjol seemed not quite to realize that she had finished. He touched her elbow inquiringly, and she glanced quickly up, blushing. Love, Gisonne thought, poor thing. She should be his group lieutenant instead of OMD liaison for the Octente.
"As Braitt said you'll pick the crew. All but one that is. You'll have to choose the rest around that one," Trjol said. "I'm going. Me."
"We can't afford not to do it," Evan said back in their own quarters. "Not just financially. Working on such a project will give us prestige, recognition, validation—all of which we need. Financial backing which we need even more.”
"This Trjol is a egomaniac," Gisonne said.
"Maybe a monomaniac," Evan said. "Monomaniacs get things done. And for ZD there may never again be such an opportunity. All variables so completely within our control, choices of individuals so wide, potential combinations astronomical, timing so defined."
"But do we want it done?" Cly asked. "Is it a worthy goal? No. Maybe dangerous. Counter human. Robot brains. Yech."
"I think," Evan said, "that for us the mind thing doesn't really matter. The conditions make it a perfect experiment. As the ship's crew, the group will have an ulterior function, some purposes other than the behaviors we are specifically studying.
"Also isolation is good. A completely closed system. Avoiding dilution and loosening of group cohesion. And as the great man said, this is a one-time chance to design a group almost from scratch. We don't have to adapt our design to preexisting conditions—except the inclusion of Trjol in the system."
"It's almost too good to be true," someone else said. "We can design the total system, create any group ecology we want. The only disadvantage is we can't watch its phasic development. But maybe that's for the best. With all the control, we'll be able to compare input and output. The mission return will be a fascinating study."
"Wait a minute! If we decide to do it, what about control groups?" someone else asked.
"Members of past missions? We can survey all kinds of crews," said Aj, always a good IP.
"Great idea, Aj," Evan said. "Past crews as control groups. Will you and Gisonne be a subgroup whose task is identification, location, and description of suitable returnees? Mission Direction should happily supply all the information, given the friendliness of Braitt Jones to the whole project."
"Are you sure the 'friendliness' isn't only to the wonderful genius, Trjol?" Cly asked.
“All right but I . . . I am going back to Estuary first,” Gisonne said.
"Yes. So that's it?" Evan asked. "We're taking on Trjol's project?"
People nodded or grunted assent.
"This whole project makes me nervous," Cly said.
Read more of NeuroGenesis at: ../Ads/NeurogenesisAd.asp
Posted - 09/30/2007 : 12:52:25
| In the interest in expanding my reading experience I decided to give the science fiction another try. i must admit that I have not explored this genre much and more often ignored it.
This opportunity to read the first chapters was a great way to "test drive" an author.
What a delight to find Helen Collins and NeuroGenesis. Collins has crafted an imaginative tale and created vivid and intriguing characters - and not weighed down with the often needless complexity and confusion of places and people found in much science fiction. Above all, she is a skilled storyteller with a good story to tell in and she tells it in a very entertaining way. I certainly want to read more.
Posted - 10/01/2007 : 08:19:20
| If you'll read some of the articles in the authors and Lit sections of this forum, rediscovering speculative fiction is what this site is about. That doesn't mean that everything you find here will be to your liking, but we are trying to expand the genre back to a more inclusive readership. We present talented writers who are overlooked in this genre, but who have meaningful as well as entertaining stories to tell.