TORCH OF FREEDOM — Snippet 12:

Chapter 6

Herlander Simões landed on the air car platform outside his comfortable townhouse apartment. One of the perks of his position as a Gamma Center project leader was a really nice place to live barely ten kilometers from the Center itself. Green Pines was a much sought-after address here on Mesa, and the town house didn’t come cheap. Which undoubtedly explained why most of Green Pines’ inhabitants were upper mid-level and higher executives in one or another of Mesa’s many business entities. A lot of the others were fairly important bureaucrats attached to the General Board which officially governed the Mesa System, despite the fact that Green Pines was a lengthy commute, even for a counter-gravity civilization, from the system capital of Mendel. Of course, Simões had realized long ago that having the long commute’s inconvenience to bitch about to one’s fellow government drones actually only made the address even more prestigious.

Simões had very little in common with people like that. In fact, he often felt a bit awkward if he found himself forced to make small talk with any of his neighbors, since he certainly couldn’t tell them anything about what he did for a living. Still, the presence of all of those business executives and bureaucrats was useful when it came to explaining Green Pines’ security arrangements. And the fact that those security arrangements were in place was very reassuring to people like Simões’ superiors. They could hide the really important citizens of Green Pines in the underbrush of all those drones and still be confident they were protected.

Of course, he reflected as he climbed out of the air car and triggered the remote command for it to take itself off to the communal parking garage, their real protection was no one knew who they were.

He chuckled at the thought, then gave himself a shake and opened his briefcase. He extracted the gaily wrapped package, closed the briefcase again, tucked the package under his left arm, and headed for the lift bank.

* * * * * * * * * *

“I’m home!” Simões called out five minutes later as he stepped into the apartment’s foyer.

There was no answer, and Simões frowned. Today was Francesca’s birthday, and they were supposed to be taking her out to one of her favorite restaurants. It was Tuesday, which meant it had been her mother’s turn to pick her up from school, and he knew Francesca had been eagerly anticipating the evening. Which, given his daughter’s personality, meant she should have been waiting right inside the door with all the patience of an Old Earth shark who’d just scented blood. True, he’d gotten home a good hour earlier than expected, but still . . . .

“Harriet! Frankie!

Still no answer, and his frown deepened.

He set the package carefully on an end table in the foyer and moved deeper into the spacious, two hundred fifty-square meter apartment, heading for the kitchen. Herlander was a mathematician and theoretical astrophysicist, and his wife Harriet — their friends often referred to them as H&H — was also a mathematician, although she was assigned to weapons research. Despite that, or perhaps because of it, Harriet had a habit of leaving written notes stuck to the refrigerator rather than using her personal minicomp to mail them to him. It was one of what he considered her charming foibles, and he supposed he couldn’t really blame her. Given how much time she spent with electronically formatted data, there was something appealing about relying on old-fashioned handwriting and paper.

But there was no note on the refrigerator this evening, and he felt a prickle of something that hadn’t yet quite had time to turn into worry. It was headed that way, though, and he slid onto one of the tall chairs at the kitchen dining bar while he looked around at the emptiness.

If anything had happened, she would’ve let you know, idiot, he told himself firmly. It’s not like she didn’t know exactly where you were!

He drew a deep breath, made himself sit back in the chair, and admitted to himself what was really worrying him.

Like a great many — indeed, the vast majority — of the alpha line pairings the Long-Range Planning Board arranged, Herlander and Harriet had been steered together because of the way their genomes complemented one another. Despite that, they’d had no children of their own yet. At fifty-seven, Herlander was still a very young man for a third-generation prolong recipient—especially one whose carefully improved body would probably have been good for at least a couple of centuries even without the artificial therapies. Harriet was a few T-years older than he was, but not enough to matter, and the two of them had been far too deeply buried in their careers to comfortably free up the amount of time required to properly rear children. They’d planned on having several biologicals of their own — all star line couples were encouraged to do that, in addition to the cloned pairings the Board produced — but they’d also planned on waiting several more years, at a minimum.

Although the LRPB obviously expected good things out of their children, no one had pushed them to accelerate their schedule. Valuable as their offspring would probably prove, especially with the LRBP’s inevitable subtle improvements, it had been made pretty clear to them that the work both of them were engaged upon was of greater immediate value.

Which was why they’d been quite surprised when they were called in by Martina Fabre, one of the Board’s senior members. Neither one of them had ever even met Fabre, and there’d been no explanation for the summons, so they’d felt more than a little trepidation when they reported for the appointment.

But Fabre had quickly made it clear they weren’t in any sort of trouble. In fact, the silver-haired geneticist (who had to be at least a hundred and ten, standard, Simões had realized) had seemed gently but genuinely amused by their apparent apprehension.

“No, no!” she’d said with a chuckle. “I didn’t call you in to ask where your first child is. Obviously, we do expect the two of you to procreate — that is why we paired you up, after all! But there’s still time for you to make your contribution to the genome.”

Simões had felt himself relaxing, but she’d shaken her head and wagged an index finger at him.

“Don’t get too comfortable, Herlander,” she’d warned him. “We may not be expecting you to procreate just yet, but that doesn’t mean we don’t have a little something we do want out of you.”

“Yes, Ma’am,” he’d replied, much more meekly than he usually spoke to people. Somehow, Fabre had made him feel like he was back in kindergarten.

“Actually,” she’d let her chair come upright and leaned forward, folding her arms on her desk, her manner suddenly rather more serious, “we really do have a problem we think you two can help us with.”

“A . . . problem, Doctor?” Harriet had asked when Fabre paused for a handful of seconds. She hadn’t quite been able to keep a trace of lingering apprehension out of her voices, and Fabre had obviously noticed it.

“Yes.” The geneticist had grimaced, then sighed. “As I say, neither of you were even remotely involved in creating it, but I’m hoping you may be able to help us out with solving it.”

Harriet’s expression had been puzzled, and Fabre had waved one hand in a reassuring gesture.

“I’m sure both of you are aware that the Board pursues a multi-pronged strategy. In addition to the standard pairings such as we arranged in your case, we also work with more . . . tightly directed lines, shall we say. In cases such as your own, we encourage variation, explore the possibilities for enhancement of randomly occurring traits and developments which might not occur to us when we model potential outcomes. In other cases, we know precisely what it is we’re trying to accomplish, and we tend to do more in vitro fertilization and cloning on those lines.”

She’d paused until both Simões had nodded in understanding. What Herlander had realized, although he wasn’t certain Harriet had, was that quite a bit of that “directed” development had been carried out under cover of Manpower, Incorporated’s slave breeding programs, which made the perfect cover for almost anything the LRPB might have been interested in exploring.

“For the past few decades, we seem to have been hitting a wall in one of our in vitro alpha lines,” Fabre had continued. “We’ve identified the potential for what amounts to an intuitive mathematical genius, and we’ve been attempting to bring that potential into full realization. I realize both of you are extraordinarily gifted mathematicians in your own rights. For that matter, both of you test well up into the genius range in that area. The reason I mention this is that we believe the potential for this particular genome represents an intuitive mathematical ability which would be at least an order of magnitude greater than your own. Obviously, that kind of capability would be of enormous advantage to us if only because of its consequences for the sort of work I know you two are already engaged upon. Long-term, of course, the ability to inject it into the genetic pool as a reliably replicatable trait would be of even greater value to the maturation of the species as a whole.”