Wednesday, February 16, 2011

* * *


Good morning to you, too. Coffee?”

Y’ra lifesivr.”

You’re certainly looking chipper this morning, James,” I greeted him, pitching my voice to twist the knife a little. “Enjoy yourself?”

James managed a roguish grin. “I h’d a dec’nt n’t.” His face, which until now had been barely managing to look human, suddenly took a turn for the Martian.

Behind the couch.”

James made a dive, and the sound of thick, chunky liquid spraying into a bucket rose from across the breakfast bar.

Feeling better?” I put a cup of coffee on the bench in front of James, followed by a large glass of water and a roll of paper towels. James sipped at his coffee warily, the half-full bucket sitting in lunging distance, and watched as I laid out four plates for pancakes.


Well, I know you brought someone home. The American girl?”

Yeah, but...” James’ prefrontal lobe finally discovered the subroutines for elementary mathematics. “Did you bring someone home?”

Well, Hannah lives way out on Thompson Road, so I let her crash in my bed.”

You... wait... ha! You finally got laid!”

No, I slept on the couch. I’m not about to take advantage of a drunk girl.”

You... oh man. You amaze me, Will, you really do. She’s single, on the rebound, in drastic need of serious comfort, and I happen to know she thinks you’re kind of hot... and you slept on the couch. Only you, Will.”

Only Will what?” The newcomer – I vaguely remembered her name might be Mary – was standing in the doorway with the kind of casual pose you have to really work at, breasts filling out a borrowed bathrobe. She had other features, but neither of us noticed them for a good three or four seconds.

Oh, uh, only Will could be up this early making pancakes,” James managed, memories of the night before finally floating up through the haze. I was worried about other things.

James, do you want your pancakes fried extra crispy?” He stared at me like I’d gone mad, my hastily improvised code language blowing through the gaps between his alcohol-riddled synapses.

Friday, February 11, 2011

I’ve been ready since your last visit, and you know it. My recent work has mostly been involved in fine-tuning things, making sure the transference is truly perfect. The body, as you know has been perfect for some time, and now the mind will be also.”

You know the Stanford team has produced a Machiavelli already. State department’s been crawling all over it, feeding it the facts of every global situation, trying to glean some new insight.”

A thirty per cent transference is not by any means a success. The poor thing must be half mad.”

It is true that it tends to speak in... riddles.”

Nonsense, more like. Most of what your people are getting out of it is an infallible oracle which they may then interpret as they will. Useful, still, I’ve no doubt your lower-ranking analysts are using the unfortunate soul as a megaphone for their own views.”

Probably. My employers expect something more... complete.”

I can get you an absolute transfer with very little difficulty. It’s become almost routine. However, I should like to make the first complete human test with someone harmless.”

How do you mean?”

I mean someone with no particular desire or capacity to cause any great trouble on the world stage. It is always possible that the strain might be too great, and what would we do if an insane Napoleon or Alexander were, through some oversight of ours, allowed to run free on the world stage?”

I presume this test case of yours will be watched?”

I have some young men who I can trust, who will be honoured to be able to help in such an endeavour, and who will be here in any case for their first year of university; they can watch and guide him.”

I think we’ll have someone sent too. Our army, as you probably know, offers an education to its soldiers. I’m sure we can find someone suitably loyal and in the right age bracket. Do you have a candidate in mind for the process?”

The professor – for the owner of the office was indeed a professor – reached out to the shelf which held the books he loved, rather than the books he needed, though the volume he took was both. He gazed at it a moment before he spoke.

It occurs to me that it is not only emperors and generals who can shake the world to its foundations; but in this case, I think, we can rest easy.”

He handed the book to his colleague, who read the long title and the short author’s name, and then handed it back.

Did you choose him for any particular reason?”

Well, you must know that for anyone in my profession he is something of a hero... and I think, of all the people I have read about from history, he is the only one who is both harmless enough to risk bringing back on the first trial, and interesting enough to be worth the effort. So many of our great men and women were stark raving megalomaniacs.”

The visitor considered this, but obviously could find no objection. He gave his assent and made his farewells, walking out through the warren of corridors to a completely unremarkable car parked behind the building.

He left his briefcase behind.

Friday, February 4, 2011

* * *

The sun sets early in winter in Wellington, and though the day classes at the university had just ended, the view below the office window was lit only with the multi-coloured pinpoints of a city in darkness. The possessor of the office was looking out, soothed by the sight of the city he loved retiring for the night. The office and the man were a good match; the Cotton building was one of those constructed with a view to practicality, rather than the ostentation of its brother the Hunter building at the other end of the campus, and the walls were plasterboard, yet the furnishings spoke of a man of wide interests and great erudition; the desk was deep, rich mahogany, obviously old and, though knocked-about, much loved, and it was covered in books dealing in everything from bioethics to cookery, via quantum mechanics, history, poetry (represented by a complete collection of the works of William Shakespeare and a slim volume of the work of Ogden Nash), and a colour collection of the Far Side comics. In one corner was a pile of papers to grade, and in another an antique inkpot and a quill. On the shelves were more books; one shelf dealt in the same eclectic tastes as those on the desk, and by the gaps in the collection had largely contributed to the clutter; the other held a more narrow, but far more comprehensive, collection on the workings of the cell, proteomics, developmental biology, evolution, methods of introducing foreign genes into organisms – in short, a summary of humanity’s knowledge of its basic construction. A third shelf, at eye level for a student entering the room, held a variety of gruesome specimens, most prominent of which was a deer foetus at around half-way to term.

The man himself was equally dishevelled and distinguished; he wore a shirt which looked to have been ironed with a washboard and a tie thirty years out of date, and what hair was left grew as it would. Yet his face held indications of the handsomeness of his youth, and his eyes were still piercing and bright with a hidden laughter. His was a face that neither commanded nor demanded respect, and got it nevertheless.

You are prepared for the demonstration?” The speaker struck a marked contrast; he was tall, straight-backed, and his government-issue grey suit might have been ironed ten minutes before. There was a bulge in his suit on the left side, about half-way up his torso, but it was barely noticeable unless one knew to look for it. His face was handsome, but coldly so, with dark hair, blue eyes, and enough wrinkles to set his age at perhaps fifty. None of them were laughter lines.