Paradigms Lost — Chapter 44

Chapter 44: Paternity and Possibility

“Senator MacLain?”

The voice on the other end was as distinctive over the phone as it was in public address or on television: precise, educated, a pleasant yet cool voice that carried both authority and intelligence — it reminded me somehow of Katharine Hepburn. “This is Paula MacLain. Mr. Jason Wood?”

“Yes, ma’am. I don’t know if you know who I am — ”

“Young man, if I didn’t, I wouldn’t be speaking to you.” There was a tinge of humor that took any sting out of the words. “In any case, a senator for New York who wasn’t aware of everything having to do with Morgantown, in these days, would be a sad example of a legislator, don’t you agree?”

“I certainly do, Senator. And I certainly didn’t mean to imply — ”

“Don’t concern yourself with my feelings, Mr. Wood. I know when offense is meant and when it isn’t. Now that you and I have finally managed to connect, let’s waste no more time. What can I do for you? You were intriguingly uninformative to my staff.”

I took a deep breath. I’d decided to go for the most honest route I could, while trying to tap dance around the more dangerous areas. “Senator, a few weeks ago, a man walked into my office, asking me for help in locating his family. To make a long story short, he originally comes from Vietnam. And the descriptions of his two children, and pictures made from those descriptions, match those of your adopted children in every particular.”

There was a long silence on the other end; I’d expected as much, given her history. Finally, “That… is quite remarkable, Mr. Wood. Am I to presume that you would like to find a way to confirm that they are, or are not, your client’s children? And that he would subsequently want to obtain custody of them, if they are indeed his children?” Her voice was carefully controlled, but not perfectly so; she wasn’t taking this as calmly as she’d like me to think.

“Basically correct, Senator. But we also don’t wish to distress the children overly much, either by giving them false hopes or by forcing them to leave a stable home. What I was hoping was that we could permit someone you trusted to take a sample for genetic comparison and do a paternity test on them.”

Senator MacLain was known for her quick decisions. “That much I will certainly do. But I must warn you and your client, Mr. Wood: I will never relinquish custody of my children unless I am absolutely certain that they will be happy and well cared for, regardless of who is the blood parent. I love them both very much.”

I nodded, though she couldn’t see it. “Senator… Ms. MacLain… we expected no less, and to be honest if you felt any differently you wouldn’t be a fit mother for them. It’s not going to be easy either way, but I assure you, I feel the same way. I’ll make that clear to my client.”

“I appreciate that, Mr. Wood. And I appreciate, now, the trouble you went to keep this all confidential. Let me see …” I heard the sounds of tapping on a computer keyboard, “Ah. If you would be so kind as to have the sample sent to Dr. Julian Gray, 101 Main, Carmel, New York, he will see to the comparisons. I have no trouble with your obtaining the samples for him; falsifying genetic evidence would seem a bit beyond anyone’s capacities at the present time.”

“Indeed. Thank you very much for your time, Senator. Good-bye.”

Maybe not beyond anyone’s capacities, I thought as I hung up the phone, but certainly beyond mine.

The invoice for the State Police job finished printing, and I tore it off and stuffed it into the package along with all the originals and enhanced versions. Sealing it up, I affixed the prewritten label and dumped it into my outbox.

So much for the simple part of my current life.

It had taken a couple of days to install my newest machine, a Lumiere Industries’ TERA-5. Without Verne’s money, I’d still be looking at the catalog entries and drooling and thinking “maybe next decade.” Now that it was up and running, I’d given it the biggest assignment I had: sorting through all the recent satellite data that I’d been able to find, beg, borrow, or… acquire, and look for various indications of hidden installations. So far it had given me at least twenty positives, none of which turned out to look at all promising. I was starting to wonder if there was a bug in some section of the program; some of the positives it was giving me were pretty far outside of the parameters of the installation as described by Kafan. There was one that might be a hidden POW camp — I’d forwarded that to one of the MIA-POW groups I knew about. Never thought those things really existed any more, but maybe there was more than hearsay behind all the rumors.

The TERA-5 was still chugging away at the job, meter by detailed meter on the map, but this was going to take a while even for the fastest commercially available general-purpose machine ever made. A specifically designed machine for map-comparison searching would be far faster, but not only would it be lots more expensive, but it’d be next to useless for anything else; there’s always a catch somewhere. I preferred to wait a little longer and have a use for the machine later on as well. My only consolation was that I could bet that only an intelligence agency had better equipment and programs for the job.

Of course, with the situation with Verne, I didn’t know what good this was going to do. Without Verne, we’d be pretty much stuck even if I did know where the installation was. I looked sadly down at the thick document lying on my desk. Verne’s will. Morgan as executor, Kafan and his family as major heirs, and, maybe not so surprisingly, me and Sylvie figuring prominently in it as well. This aside from numerous bequests to his efficient and often nearly invisible staff. The sight of it told me more than I needed to know. Verne knew his time was up.

My friend was dying. It hit me harder than anything all of a sudden. I collapsed into my chair, angry and sad and frustrated all at once. He’d been the gateway through which a whole world of wonder opened up for me, and he’d said I’d helped him regain his faith. It wasn’t fair that it end like this, him wasting away to nothing for no reason.

And there was nothing I could do. Yesterday night he’d shown us all the secrets of his house… “just in case,” he said… but we knew there was no doubt in his mind. The place he called the Heart, built out of habit and tradition, only recently having been used by him for the purposes that it had existed… once more to become an unused cave when he died. All his papers and books and even tablets, here and elsewhere.

He’d found his lost son, I’d found his son’s children, and for what? He wouldn’t live long enough to see them reunited, he’d barely lived long enough to be sure it was his son. Dammit! I slapped at the wall switch, killing the lights as I turned to leave.

Then I froze.

I remembered what I’d said to Verne months ago, when Virigar first showed: “I don’t like coincidences. I don’t believe in them.”

What if my idea was still basically true?

There was just one possibility. I switched on the lights again, spun the chair back around and switched the terminal back on. It was a crazy idea… but no crazier than anything else! Just a few things to check, and I’d know.

It took several hours — the data was hard to find — but then my screen lit up with a few critical pieces of information. I grabbed my gun, spare magazines, a small toolbox, and a large flashlight and sprinted out the door.