Watson and Crick are separated from Thelonious Monk and Charlie Parker by an ocean of water and a gulf of culture. Or are they?
The ringing of the phone was a harsh electronic jangle. Stupid with sleep, Inspector Scopes, Pasteur Police Class of 2214, rolled over in the dark and mumbled "Scopes here."
"So sorry to wake you." Even at four in the morning, Commissioner Bolt's voice was smooth and cultured. "We have a First Law problem, Scopes. Two suspects and the usual stuff: illegal use of alien genes, reverse engineering of the human genome. But their excuse is quite novel: enhanced creativity. Whatever that means."
"Uh huh." Why the hell had Bolt woken him up? This was one more crackpot scheme to improve humanity, another bad joke that could wait until morning.
"Scopes, these people are experts. They are transbiologists working for General Genes on a planet called Meadow."
"Meadow. That's a Bioworld," said Scopes, exhaling gently as if to blow alien microbes from his lips, germs that kindled hectic fevers, bone-rattling chills, green choking phlegm and bloody vomit, germs that killed people in a few hours on the Bioworlds.
"I'll brief you in my office. Get down here now. And pack some clothes. I'm sending you to Meadow." Bolt hung up.
Scopes clambered out of his single bed and padded to the bathroom. He felt nauseated from fear? Or was it disgust? Standing at the sink, blinking at his bleary face in the mirror, he could not tell. He studied the reflection of his scrawny body, his sand-colored hair, his thin Celtic features, and finally he looked at his left cheek. It was crumpled by an old battle scar that never faded. Inexorably, he stroked the scar with a slow wiping motion even though he despised the habit. His day-old beard rasped under his fingertips. He would not shave this morning. Not shaving was an old PP superstition before Section Six jobs, and this would be one for sure.
At the back of his closet he found his last clean shirt. He was fumbling with the buttons when he saw his old white cadet cap, dusty, forgotten, lying on the shelf. How many years ago? Fifteen? He held the cap between his fingertips and blew away the dust. The silver PP badge was badly tarnished: Salvare per Sterilus -- Salvation through Sterility. He tossed the cap back on the shelf. Only death could release him from his oath.
The hallway was dark. He wheeled his rusty bicycle into the alley and screwed his eyes half-shut against the swirling eddies of trash that floated on Hermes' endless Coriolis winds. The streets of the cylindrical life-island curved four miles above his head, a quilt of darkness stitched with tiny lights. Scopes pedaled doggedly into the wind and his solitary hunched figure passed slowly through the yellow pools of light under the city's street-lamps. Hermes' artificial dawn was breaking when he arrived at the headquarters of the Pasteur Police.
Bolt's penthouse office was a quiet cocoon of dark wood and wrinkled faux leather. French windows opened onto a bright rooftop garden furnished with wrought-iron chairs and a pretty white table. The Commissioner, tall, thin and stooped, was standing in the gloom behind his desk prodding a robotic insect that lay on his glass desktop. When he picked up this metal scarab, gold cufflinks flashed at his wrist. They were made from Krugerrands, he had once told Scopes. Gold coins from an ancient country he admired.
"Ah, Scopes, glad you came so quickly. No time to shave, I see. That's good."
Bolt waved an arm in invitation and said, "Let's step outside. It's a beautiful morning." They walked side-by side in the penthouse garden, crunching gravel beneath their feet. Bolt bent down and set the scarab free in the flower bed. The little robot scurried out of sight.
"Did you know that model can track individual mammals by scent alone?"
"Yes," said Scopes. He had worked on many Bioworlds. Scarabs were essential for the exploration of those hostile biospheres.
"Everyone well at home, I trust?"
"Yes, quite fine, thank you," said Scopes, thinking of the unmade single bed that would greet him on his return. His loneliness made him glance up at the curving cityscape four miles above his head and search for the small splash of green that was the Academy Pasteur. On those smooth lawns, 15 years ago, he and Blue and the rest of their class, shoulders back and heads held high, had sworn to enforce the Human Gene Laws, and when they were dismissed they had cheered hoarsely and thrown their white caps high into the air.
Bolt dragged two chairs to the little white table. Scopes sat down. There were violets and roses, honeysuckle and nightshade in Bolt's garden, all grown from the gene banks of old Earth. But these flowers bloomed year round, their endless blossoms and heavy fragrances made by alien genes culled from the plants of a hundred Bioworlds. Scopes breathed deeply, relishing the fantastic scents. This was transbiology at its best.
Bolt was pacing back and forth. "What do you know of a man called Foster? A transbiologist, a black man, but I'm told he did good work when he was younger."
Scopes stirred impatiently. "Foster discovered the N-fix genes in rare alien plants that fixed free nitrogen from the atmosphere. He added those alien genes to plants from Earth and invented modern hydroponics. He's why we eat so well in the life-islands."
"Ah, yes. I remember reading something about nitrogen. You've such a good memory for these scientific details, Scopes, I quite envy you. It's a good thing you're the field man and I'm the mandarin."
"Foster was working in Lumena when I was there, but I never met him."
"You were assigned to Lumena? I'd forgotten."
"Undercover. I taught Bio Law for two semesters. It was a waste of time."
"Well, Foster's broken the Gene Laws. He says he's trying to make the human mind more inventive, more creative with an alien gene that codes for new pathways in the brain." Bolt shook his head. "That's a clear violation of the First Law. You know, Scopes, I never trusted those people in Lumena with their organic government. Rubbish! That whole life-island lacked discipline, authority, structure. But things do work out for the best. After what they did to you, you must agree." Bolt was looking at Scopes' scar and Scopes felt his cheek burn as it had burned ten years ago when the laser scorched his face.
That was ten years ago, outside Lumena, The Island of Light. Two million people had bled to death in a week. The official story was that carelessness and poor technique had let in an alien plague from a Bioworld. But there other rumors. Bolt had sent hundreds of PP's. As always, Scopes and Blue worked in the same team. Bolt told them their task was quarantine and sanitation. A few months later he had called it a success.
Bolt turned and gazed through the dawn mists at the distant spires of Hermes. Scopes touched his scar briefly, then quickly clasped his hands on his knees and fought to refocus his mind on Foster's crime. "Enhanced creativity sounds like an intriguing idea. Maybe Foster's trying to bootstrap his own mind?"
"That's a Faustian scenario, Scopes, but an incorrect one, I'm afraid. Foster's not tinkering with himself. He's altered the neural circuits of the other transbiologist on Meadow -- a young woman called Maria Mataya."
Maria Mataya. Instantly he found her face in the graveyard of his memory: high cheekbones, and eyes that were luminous pools of brown across the table during earnest conversations in Lumena's campus bars. But that Maria was one of the two million. Bolt must be talking about someone else.
A scrabbling amongst the flowers made him turn and look over his shoulder. Bolt's scarab scuttled across the gravel, grasping a weakly struggling mouse between its claws. Bolt pulled a remote from his pocket and pressed a button. The scarab tightened its grip. There was a popping squelching noise. Blood and brains squirted from the mouse's eyesockets.
"Amazing," said Bolt, but Scopes had turned away, angry and disgusted.
The scarab carefully buried the mouse in the mulch. Bolt picked up the mechanical insect and removed its mind module. "Can't be too careful," he said. Scopes followed him inside.
Bolt collected papers from his desk. He looked up at Scopes. "I have a breakfast meeting at General Genes about this Meadow business. A drone-freighter's leaving for Meadow at ten. Ride cargo and you'll be there by tonight. I'll follow you tonight."
Scopes nodded glumly. "Section Six?"
Bolt handed him a data disc labelled with General Genes corporate logo: double G's and double helix, red on white. Underneath, Bolt had written Personnel Data: Foster and Mataya.
"Yes. Section Six. Foster's a criminal, Mataya has a contaminated genome. There is no other way."
While Scopes was riding the elevator down to the subway, he thought of the mouse and wondered if Bolt was born like that, or if he had spent too long in the Pasteur Police. Yet Bolt was right. Salvare per Sterilus. There was no other way. Homo Sapiens was the most successful species in the known universe; attempts at improvement had a way of turning sour. The Gene Laws stopped transbiologists like Foster from messing with the human genome. The Police enforced the Laws, operating under the authority of a secret codicil -- Section Six: Summary Execution.
After the Academy his second case was a Section Six, two failed grad students and their pathetic black lab. That's when he began to see Police work for what it was: brutal and disgusting. He should have quit years ago. But he'd sworn an oath and if he quit the Police would make sure he never worked again.
The subway stank of urine and the floor was gummy underfoot, like walking on velcro. Far down the platform, hidden by the sullen crowd of workers in GG overalls, someone was playing the saxophone.
Morosely, Scopes pushed his way towards the music. A ragged boy was blowing hard on the sax, watched by an emaciated man in a white T-shirt. The man was nodding, smiling, sometimes frowning at the boy. The man was often here. Scopes knew him well. His name was Blumenthal. When they were plebes together, Scopes had laughingly called him Captain Blue. Blue was from Lumena; he was a little older, and married with a child. Captain Blue. The name had stuck. Scopes thought of their white caps thrown in the air, like a rising flock of doves, and how quickly the caps fell and lay scattered in the dirt.
The boy finished and the crowd threw a sprinkle of coins. Blue bent down, whispered something in the boy's ear that made him smile, took the sax and blew a phrase or two, showing him how to do it better. Scopes watched quietly, wishing he was a father.
Then Blue saw him and began to play. The crystalline music cut through the hollow subway air and rose like a bird into the vaulted ceiling, a glorious celebration of life. The gray faced crowd was suddenly silent, attentive, as if they had been offered hope. The ragged boy stood spellbound. Scopes smiled because Blue had chosen well: a little scherzo written by Bach, defiantly, on a Sunday morning when his favorite daughter died from scarlet fever.
Two minutes and it was over. Blue ignored the rain of money. He looked hard at Scopes and waved slowly. It was an enigmatic gesture, part wave and part salute.
Yes, Blue had done it right. He had done his duty to the end, even when they'd asked him to do the worst thing anyone could do. Then he had quit and walked away with his head held high, shoulders back, and chosen a different way to live.
Scopes rode the train to the northern space-dock, staring at his reflection in the window. Maybe he should make this his last mission. He'd do the work he'd sworn to do, no matter what waited for him on Meadow, but this would be the last time. He'd quit when he got home. He'd make a living somehow.
Onboard the freighter, he took his gear down to the cargo hold and hung a free-fall hammock from the tie-down rings. He slept through hyperspace. When the freighter was decelerating into Meadow orbit, his hammock swung against a bulkhead and he woke up feeling refreshed and calm.
He climbed to the bridge. The freighter was docking with an orbital shuttle. On the shuttle's wings and fin the GG logos were bright in the alien sunlight. Below, Meadow was a blue-green globe streaked with white clouds. All the Bioworlds looked like this, and they teemed with carbon-based life: alien animals, plants and deadly microbes.
The commlink chimed. Bolt's hawkish face appeared on the screen and his panelled office filled the background. "Scopes, your mission is more important than I thought. General Genes will pay you a bonus for a speedy resolution." He named a figure. "Enough for you to retire, I'd say. Good luck. I'll be there late tonight." And he was gone in a burst of static.
Decisively, Scopes pulled the personnel data disc from his gear bag and slotted it into the bridge computer. He would confront Foster and Mataya and Section Six them right away. With luck he'd even have the paperwork finished before Bolt arrived tonight. He tapped a few keys to select Mataya's data. He looked up at the screen and was stunned. He was staring at her familiar face, her high cheekbones and brown eyes, the quizzical expression she'd used when asking questions in his class. Scopes sat before the screen for a long time. There was no way out. He stroked his scar.
An hour later the shuttle crossed a coastline where whitecaps marched towards a curving beach and a vast savannah. In the far west a fiery sun hung low over a range of snow-peaks; on the savannah a cluster of domes shone in the fading light, their shadows long ellipses on the plain.
Telemetry was coming from the domes. One inhabitant: Foster. Temperature 98.8, white cell count and differential normal, T-cells nominal, blood cultures times three negative, probes for alien DNA all negative. OK. So Foster was free of alien infection. But where was Maria?
The shuttle taxied to a halt outside the largest dome. Scopes pulled on a clumsy yellow E-suit, lowered his helmet over his head and snapped the seals. Rows of lights glowed at the edges of his vision. Steady greens shone on the left: seals and pressure intact. Blue and yellow telltales blinked on the right: life-support and recycling systems nominal.
He walked into the smooth whiteness of the shuttle's airlock. The inner door closed behind him with a sucking thud of black trans-rubber on chrome. Pumps rumbled under the floor, misting him with fresh dioxychlor to kill the microbes riding on his suit. Contamination of the Bioworlds was always strictly forbidden. Massive bolts in the outer door slid back, newly sterile air hissed out and the hatch opened. Scopes stepped onto the dangerous savannah of Meadow. He tramped through waist-high grass that swished against his suit. The evening sky was filled with alien constellations.
Inside the airlock of the dome, fine sprays of dioxychlor washed his suit again. When the pumps shut down he shucked the clumsy yellow thing and waited for the door to open. Soon he would Section Six a crazy old man who had once been a genius, and do the same to a girl he'd known and liked, and maybe, if his work had not crippled him he could have learned to love. The smell of dioxychlor hung faintly in the air; it was an acrid, bactericidal smell that brought tears to his eyes.
He heard faint music in the air, like the perfume of a woman who has gone. He listened carefully, picked out a trumpet driving hard above a band, a New Orleans jazz band. The 12-bar chorus ended and the next chorus was subtly different, marvelously innovative. This was Blue's kind of music.
The music got louder as the airlock's inner door swung open. Foster was waiting for him: a black man, thin, shorter than Scopes, with eyeballs that were yellow with age. The hair at his temples was white and trimmed very short. On his bald head there were patches of paler skin that looked like alien continents.
"Inspector Scopes, Pasteur Police." Scopes waited for shocked horror to show on Foster's face, but Foster merely held out his hand and said "Come in. I'm glad you came so quickly."
Slack-jawed, Scopes stepped into the smooth white hallways of Meadow Base. "You were expecting me?"
"Well, not you exactly, but someone from the Police. We've asked for a scientific review. We want an official exemption from the Gene Laws."
They walked to Foster's quarters. There was a neatly- made single bed, a sofa, several chairs, and clean shirts were hanging in a row in the closet. The galley was immaculate. This was the home of a self-sufficient man.
Foster waved him to the sofa. "What do you think of our project?"
"Well, I'm not sure I really understand your work," said Scopes cautiously.
"We've made the ultimate discovery: we've discovered the secret of discovery itself. We've found a way to make the human mind more inventive, to help people think in ways they never thought before. But we've been careful not to break the Gene Laws and we need an exemption if we're to move ahead."
Foster was looking at him carefully, perhaps trying to judge his reaction. Scopes remained impassive and merely said "What exactly do you want from the Pasteur Police?"
"We should wait until Maria gets back," said Foster. "The story's more hers than mine. She's at an outstation in the south, but she'll be back tonight. She took the hovercraft." He looked down at his watch. "About an hour."
Get them both at the same time, thought Scopes, lying to himself, thinking of Maria driving across Meadow's dark and dangerous sea of grass. She would be peering through the windshield, like the pilot of some antique bomber with the faint glow of instruments shining on her face.
"Whiskey OK?" Foster was asking him if he wanted a drink. Scopes nodded. Foster went into the kitchen. Scopes heard ice-cubes clinking in glasses. Foster came back carrying two drinks. "Wanna listen to some jazz?" he said.
"Sure. Back at the Academy a friend of mine played the sax."
"Great. I've been to New Orleans you know, after the floods went down." He had taken a starship to old Earth, ridden down the Orbital Elevator to Porto Santana, taken a flight to Denver, high in the Rockies, and made a tedious four-day train journey to New Orleans. "Just a few people left there now, scratching in the ruins like chickens. The old city's buried under ten feet of silt. I took a scarab with me, programmed to dig through mud and hunt for shellac. Under the silt, in a basement on Ursulines Street -- the old French Quarter, you know -- that scarab found gold. Hundreds of forgotten 78's. Must have been a collector's place. They were all broken, there were thousands of pieces."
He had brought back the pie-shaped wedges of shellac, and he showed Scopes how he had made digitized images, painstakingly fitted the wedges together, made complete discs on his computer screen.
"Now watch," he said, and a red dot traced the groove in the image of the 78. Thin scratchy music started to play. "That's what I started with." He had used artificial intelligence techniques to remove the hiss, add missing harmonics, even fill in sections where a wedge was lost. "You know, people thought this stuff was all gone and lost for ever in the flooding."
They listened sitting side-by-side on the sofa. Scopes sipped his whiskey, sat back and closed his eyes. He was in New Orleans in a small courtyard with a fanlight that was a graceful half-ellipse and where the flagstones were wet with rain. His hand rested on the banister of a curving stairway and while he waited for someone to come down the steps, he glanced through the courtyard's arched carriageway with its wrought-iron gates. A jazz band was marching down the street outside. A crowd was dancing on the wet cobblestones. The funeral was over, they were all coming back from the graveyard. The music was triumphant.
"Great stuff," said Scopes, thinking of the music, but Foster was looking at his empty glass and asked him to have another.
"Sure," said Scopes.
"It packs a punch."
"I make it in the lab. They used to call it moonshine." Foster refilled their glasses. Maria would be there soon. Scopes realized he was happy.
"New connections, that's the secret of creativity," said Foster. "Jazz is a good example: European melodies and complex African rhythms. New ideas always come from new connections."
Scopes swirled the whiskey in his glass and sipped carefully. "Creativity is new connections?"
"Yes. The connections that really matter are those in the human brain. Those are the physical basis for new ideas. I'm talking about dendrites, Scopes, the tiny filaments that grow between the neurons. New dendrites mean new ideas." He was looking at Scopes intently. Scopes sipped his moonshine slowly and nodded to show he understood.
"Maria and I have a protein that stimulates the growth of dendrites a thousandfold: Dendritic Growth Factor, DGF for short. We've got the gene to synthesize it too."
"You found this protein on Meadow?"
"No. I traded with a friend, a man called Sour Belly, a maverick transbiologist if ever there was one. Legal though. Years ago Sour Belly made big money, patented a gene. He bought himself a ship, installed the best shipboard lab I've ever seen. For years he's roamed the edge of the known universe, prospecting on Bioworlds beyond the reach of General Genes.
"He wanted some early Satchmo, the Hot Five cuts from 1927. He knew I'd found them in New Orleans. I traded them for DGF. They're classics, you know." After a moment Foster added thoughtfully, "Years ago, Sour Belly wanted me to join him, offered to let me buy a small share in his ship. If I'd been smart I'd have done it too."
Scopes swirled the whiskey in his glass and said "I like that idea, being your own boss out there on the frontier." He looked straight into Foster's eyes. "Believe me, there are worse ways a man can make a living."
The radio crackled and it was Maria's voice, scratchy in the narrow bandwidth, saying "ETA in five minutes." He felt impatient, eager, hungry.
"We can wait on the loading dock," said Foster. Scopes forced himself to walk slowly. The music faded away behind them.
They waited on the observation deck behind a thick glass wall and stared across the loading dock into the night, Scopes strained to see the white dot that would be his first glimpse of the returning hovercraft. Behind him a circuit breaker closed with a crash; harsh light flooded the dock and its dusty freight compound. The hovercraft, brilliant white with red GG logos on its side, swept in from the night trailing clouds of rolling dust. The craft swirled across the compound and nudged against the dock before settling on its billowing skirt.
The cabin door opened and a figure in a clumsy yellow E-suit jumped down onto the dock and walked towards the airlock. Despite the suit Scopes recognized her. She walked proudly, like a tired ballerina walking home after class. She was still so graceful, as graceful as she was when he was young.
He waited impatiently beside the airlock until the whining pumps were silent. The inner door opened, she stepped through and he saw once again her high cheekbones, her jet black hair and her deep brown eyes.
"Scopes!" she cried, laughing with surprise and maybe joy. "Of all people, they sent you!" She hugged him and he wiped tears from his eyes.
"It's that damn dioxychlor," he said sheepishly.
She hugged him again and laughed and said to Foster "Scopes is more sensitive than he thinks. He always was."
He held her tightly. Her blue denim shirt was so soft to touch and she was beautiful and he had sworn to kill her.
"Hey, Scopes, don't look so sad," she said, holding him at arm's length to see him better. "But what the hell happened to your cheek?"
He touched his scar. "It's nothing, just a flesh wound," he said. "It happened at work."
"You should get a better job."
How cruelly right she was. But Bolt would kill her anyway, and so he said defensively, "PP stuff is all I know. Besides, I took an oath. Remember?"
She smiled at him and shook her head. He struggled to think of something to say to recapture the brightness of their meeting. She turned away to get her gear bag.
"So what have you been doing in the lab?" he asked.
"We'll show you," said Foster, and led the way through smooth white passages to Maria's lab. It was a jumble of equipment, mainly DNA sequencers and gene function analyzers. Scopes was familiar with the craft of transbiology; it was a tedious comparison of thousands of base pairs, a search for similarities, fits, possible ways of using a gene from one world to modify the function of a gene from another. The work required an encyclopedic knowledge of the biology of many worlds. It needed the mind of a chess-master to see combinations, chances, opportunities. The work was extraordinarily tiresome. But in the center of Maria's lab was a music synthesizer and four speakers.
"What's that for?" he asked, pointing at the synthesizer. "I'll show you." She sat down at the keyboard and he stood behind her, looking over her shoulder, smelling the fresh scent of her hair. A silver bracelet hung at her wrist, many heavy links, an articulated snake that tinkled when she slotted a data disc and tapped a key.
Mournful hollow whistling music filled the lab, interwoven melodies in a minor key, poignant harmonies leading to a last sad chord. Loneliness lingered in the silent lab and Maria sat at the keyboard, head bowed, hands resting simply on her lap. The life support system whirred. She nodded to herself and looked up at Scopes with her head tipped at a quizzical angle. "That's music from the genes of a whale that used to live on Earth."
"Beautiful," said Scopes.
"Maria's discovery," said Foster. "DNA into music. The human ear's a great tool for pattern recognition, far better than the human intellect. She programmed a neuro-analog processor to modulate the output from the DNA sequencer with musical paradigms."
She picked up a disc and read the label, "Human neurons/growth phase." This music was a plainsong -- boy sopranos singing in unison, slow and beautiful, echoes in a vast cathedral. "That's us humans, thinking," she said. "Laying down new dendrites, one by one."
She slotted another disc. "DGF." Pure timpani, driving drums, multiple rhythms weaving in and out, coming together and diverging, always fascinating.
Foster handed her a final disc and she silently showed Scopes the handwritten label: Human Neurons plus DGF. She slotted it.
A wave of sound washed over him. The music was a riot of harmony and rhythm, a blast of noise, a huge pulsing fugue in eight, 16, 32 voices -- he lost count. The fugue drove towards harmonic resolution but always modulated to another key in a wonderful combination of control and invention.
Maria stopped the music. Her bracelet tinkled in the silence. She said "DGF will make people think better, think differently."
Now he knew why Bolt and General Genes wanted a Section Six job. Maria and Foster were not genetic criminals, they were living vessels that carried a dangerous idea. Scopes felt a cold, damp, hopelessness seep into his brain. He could never persuade Bolt to let them go and if he broke his oath and helped them escape the PP would hunt them down like animals.
"I synthesized the DGF protein," said Foster, "and injected it into Maria's bloodstream. The half-life of the protein is short in human blood, only a few minutes, but that was all it took for Maria to write the program that transforms DNA structures into musical paradigms."
"What you've just heard," she said, "is the first product of DGF. I sent Sour Belly a copy of my DNA-to-music software so he could see what we had done with the gene he found."
"So you two haven't broken the Gene Laws?" said Scopes.
"No way," said Maria. "We know all about Section Six."
Scopes ignored her. "You've injected the protein for a brief test, but you haven't inserted the DGF gene into your own chromosomes?"
"Right," said Foster.
"I need to file a report with Hermes." Maybe he could persuade Bolt. "I can't do anything until the morning."
"In that case, I'm going to bed." Foster yawned and smiled. "It's late for an old man." He left.
Suddenly, Scopes was very aware that he was alone with Maria in the silent lab, but before he could speak she reached up and touched his scar. "Please tell me what happened to you."
"Lumena. The hemorrhagic plague, back in 2219, Remember, people bleeding from everywhere, exsanguinating, dead in minutes?"
She nodded. "I remember."
"I was stationed in Hermes. They sent a whole detachment of PP's, said it was a quarantine job. I worked with my buddy, his name was Blumenthal but we called him Captain Blue. We had a salvage tug and they told us to weld the airlocks shut. There were two million people inside the life island and we welded the airlocks shut." He was watching her face, searching for disgust, but she was impassive.
"While we were working some men broke out through a small maintenance lock. I remember one of them coughed when he got close to me and the blood poured down the inside of his faceplate. They were desperate, trying to steal our ship, trying to escape. One of them got me with a laser. The scar's nothing, but an inch closer to my eye...." He shrugged. "Blue was looking out for me, killed them with the Bofors cannon, saved my life."
"You were lucky he was your friend," she said.
"We were at the Academy together. He was my buddy. He was watching out for me, even though his wife and child were there. They were inside Lumena, that's what I mean." Scopes stroked his scar and watched her like a caged animal, searching for her condemnation, but she just shook her head.
"We spent another week inside that stinking tug, shouting above the roar of the engines until we had slowed Lumena down. They were all dead by then, all two million of them. Lumena was a hulk, a coffin. We sent it spiralling into the sun and we went home. But nothing was the same. Blue quit the day we got back to Hermes. He's done nothing since, gets by somehow, busking in the subway."
"Nothing is the same," she said and spun her chair around to work at her terminal. She pulled up a picture of a frail dark-haired girl standing in the doorway of a reed hut. Inside, in the shadows, there was a small color TV on a cheap plastic table. Behind the hut white Mayan ruins rose above the green jungle. "That's me, when I was ten years old. They'd just called from Lumena, told my parents I'd won a scholarship.
"My parents went with me to Lumena because I was so young. My father got a job there, the first real job he ever had. We lived in Lumena and we loved it, but in the summers I went back to the Yucatán and stayed with my grandparents. That's where I was in the summer of '19, in the Yucatán. But my parents stayed in Lumena, just two people inside, when you welded the airlocks shut."
Scopes held his face in his hands. He could not look at her. He felt he should cry, but he couldn't. He felt blighted, unable to escape his depraved career. Finally he looked up at her and said what was true. "I didn't know."
"You did what had to be done. It wasn't your fault. When it was over, in honor of my parents' memory, I vowed to do my best to free people from this constant horrible threat of alien infection. DGF is my best chance. Listen."
She pulled out another disc. Human immune system: modified. This gene music was like jazz, raucous, carefree, a bright march played by a band that might once have strutted down a wet street in New Orleans.
She let the music play for a minute or two. "I did that with the DGF protein in my bloodstream. I can see how to modify the human immune system, speed up its responses, make it improvise and handle anything the Bioworlds have in store for us." She looked at him earnestly. "I want to free people from the life islands, I want people to walk on these beautiful Bioworlds and let the sun shine on their faces and the wind blow in their hair."
And suddenly he knew what he would do. "I'm going to help you. I was sent here to Section Six you, and Foster too. But I'm not going to do it. I'm going to break my oath."
"Scopes, we know you were sent here under Section Six. We knew they would send someone, but I didn't expect you. But that doesn't matter. You must do what you have sworn to do."
"I can't," he said. "I can't do it any more." He buried his face in his hands as if to hide his shame.
"Then you'll ruin everything," she said relentlessly. "You must be true to your oath, you must carry out your orders. That's what we're counting on. Only that way can you make my dreams real." She took his hand. "They are your dreams too, Scopes. Remember?"
He remembered their earnest conversations in the student center and he smiled and squeezed her hand and said "Yes, I do remember. That's why you must let me save you."
"No, Scopes. We are bound by different oaths. Yours -- Salvare per Sterilus -- leads to death. Mine brings forth life. Salvare per Sacrificius: Salvation through Sacrifice."
She reached up and touched his scar again. "We must both be true to ourselves. Truth is the only foundation for the future that we want." She ran her finger down the length of his scar and across his lips. Her touch was so light he barely felt the warmth of her fingertip. She kissed him, surprising him when she ran her tongue along the inside of his lip, letting her passion flow into him like a powerful electric current.
Later, while the alien stars spun slowly above her bed, she slept in his arms, her breath warm on his skin and her dark hair tangled on his shoulder.
He lay there, confused and angry, thinking of the old PP rumors about Lumena: that the alien plague was deliberate, that Lumena's Constitution of Freedom was a great threat to General Genes, that the corporation had deliberately seeded the life island with an alien disease.
He thought of the part he had played in the murder of her parents, of Blue's wife and child too. He thought of Hermes, the stinking subway, the crowds of drudges in their GG uniforms, and Bolt in his pompous office high above, ignorantly dismissing Foster's brilliance. He thought of the wasted promise of Blue's life, and Maria with her secret vow to her dead parents and her talk of sacrifice. At last he leaned over and gently kissed her sleeping face. He did not know what else to do.
Overhead a double sonic boom split the night sky. The shuttle banked and turned into its final approach. Bolt stirred in his seat and peered down at the sleeping domes. He reached into the pocket of his suit and lovingly fondled the mind-module of the scarab.
Bolt stepped out of the airlock and straightened his cuffs while listening to Scopes' report. When Scopes had finished Bolt said, "So this DGF protein enhances dendritic growth. When the protein was injected into Mataya she had a few new ideas. Now they want to insert the DGF gene into her genome so she can modify the human immune system. Then everyone lives happily ever after on the Bioworlds. Of course, I'm just hitting the highlights."
"Yes. She and Foster have not broken the Gene Laws."
"And Section Six does not apply. Is that your point? Is that why they're still alive?"
"Yes. I had no authority."
"You're right. You're a good field man, Scopes. You had no authority under Section Six. But we're left with a difficult problem."
Scopes felt the muscles of his face tighten, felt his mouth set firm and unyielding.
"Let me explain, Scopes. Our society is pure and stable, the pointless conflicts of the past are gone for ever. Politics is dead, economics rules. We live in a world of interstellar commerce that is smooth, stable, and homogeneous. Even our homes in the life islands are engineered to optimize the health of our species."
This was standard PP propaganda. But Bolt's voice was losing its cultured sheen. "Hyperimmunity!" He spat out the word. "What does that mean for the future of our species?" His speech had become harsh and guttural. "It means humans living freely on all the Bioworlds, and there are millions of these planets in the galaxy. It means human language, culture, and certainly human Biology diverging endlessly, the very thing, Scopes, that we in the Pasteur Police are sworn to prevent." He jabbed his finger at Scopes' chest. "Control of biology means control of society. You are a tool, Scopes, merely a tool, crafted to control Biology, crafted to preserve the purity of our species. Salvare per Sterilus."
He caught his breath and said smoothly "We face a serious and highly unusual threat. But my job, as a mandarin, is finding elegant solutions to unusual problems. Legal but effective solutions. For example, I have brought some new equipment for a field test."
An hour later, at dawn, Scopes stood in the coolness of the airlock, his helmet cradled in his arm, and peered through the porthole in the massive door. Outside, Meadow's vast savannah was gray and dim. A herd of para-deer had moved in through the early morning mist to graze around the domes. He avoided the reflection of his own scarred, unshaven face.
Behind him, Bolt zipped his E-suit from toe to chin with a single pull and sealed his helmet. The bright displays of the control panel were reflected in Bolt's faceplate; the colors hid his face like the crude mask of a tribal priest. Bolt lifted, one by one from their dull-gray alloy racks, four Webley SC-4 electric guns. Scopes was glad to see he left the flamethrower hanging there, a metal tank glinting between jumbled tubes.
Foster was sitting in a corner carefully rechecking his equipment. Tiny beads of sweat covered his black scalp as if a mist had settled on the wet pavements of some ancient river-city. Mutely, he took a Webley from Bolt and sealed his suit.
Maria stood beside the lockers, tying her hair back with a thin white ribbon. She wore the same faded denim shirt that was so soft to touch. The button on its pocket hung by a thin white thread. She stuffed a blister pak into the pocket and tucked the flap inside. Before she sealed her suit she blew Scopes a tiny secret kiss. She took down the black scarab case from the top of the lockers.
They cycled the lock and stepped out onto the savannah. Startled, the para-deer walked away, insolently flicking their tails.
The rising sun had washed away the alien stars and bleached the sky until it was the palest blue, the color of Maria's shirt. The air was still and the insects were silent, sluggish, waiting for Meadow's white sun to catalyze their chemistry. Each blade of waist-high grass was bent in prayer, its head bowed by a tiny globe of dew, and every dewdrop was a prism touched by the sun. A zephyr stroked the grass and the vast savannah shimmered and sparkled -- brilliant, chromatic, alive. Scopes bent to pick a small blue flower, tearing the fleshy stalk with his gloved hand. He wanted to give it to Maria. She was walking up ahead, swinging the black scarab case, jaunty, graceful, she looked happy. The flower wilted before his eyes and he threw it down into the tangled grass.
After half an hour they were climbing up a bluff. The sun was warm on their backs and the para-crickets were tuning-up, thin wind-chimes tinkling urgently before a storm.
Scopes had set his suit's thermostat too high and he was sweating. He could feel it running down under his armpits and there was no way to get rid of the irritating trickle. He reset the thermostat: blue and yellow LED's flickered in his faceplate, accepting the command.
In front of him Bolt held his gun at the ready, arms rigid in the awkward position approved by the trainers back in Hermes while Foster and Maria slouched along with their guns held loosely by their sides.
From the top of the bluff they looked down on the broad oxbow of the river. The smooth brown water slid by fast on their side but looped in slow eddies on the other bank where mammals and reptiles were drinking side-by-side, standing in the shallows with rows of birds sitting on their backs. A thick cloud of insects hung over the herds and shifted like smoke.
The herds scattered; a plume of dust ploughed through the haze and stopped abruptly. A para-deer lay on its side, kicking feebly while a trans-tiger tore into its belly. Huge winged vulture-ants spiralled down from the sky, beating the air with their iridescent chitin wings. Bolt watched carefully. Scopes slipped the safety off his Webley and felt a thousand amps surge through the barrel. The laser sight glowed red even in the bright sunlight, but the para-tiger paid no attention while it gnawed at the bloody carcass of the deer.
"We'll do the test here," said Bolt.
Maria opened her case and took out the scarab. She switched the little machine on; it whirred and briefly jerked its legs. Holding it like a child holding a turtle she walked to the edge of the bluff. The E-suit couldn't hide her straight back or the curve of her haunches; she was still as graceful as that tired ballerina.
She set the scarab down. Across the river the trans- tiger raised its bloody head and looked up at her. Scopes gripped his gun.
Maria turned away from the scarab and started to walk back. Her gait was loose-limbed and carefree and she was smiling. Scopes heard a whirr, a scrabbling of metal legs, saw Maria's smile change to terror. She ran toward him, screaming "Get it off my back!"
She stopped and turned around. The scarab had cut her suit from heel to collar. The edges of the suit's proto- cotton were fraying in the breeze. The scarab ran down Maria's back and scuttled away.
Like an ancient clockwork machine jerking into motion Foster swung his Webley and blasted the rogue scarab with a single shot. Scopes ran to Maria and took her in his arms. The bright red dot of a laser sight flickered across his suit, a warning from Bolt. Scopes turned, still holding her, and saw Bolt disarming Foster.
Bolt said "Foster! Scarab maintenance, testing -- whose job is that?"
"Mine," said Foster.
"We've had a fatal scarab malfunction. I'm charging you with gross negligence. It's a pity you destroyed the evidence; you'll have no defense when you go before the board. I'm sealing your lab. You're confined to quarters. Tomorrow I'm taking you to Hermes, for interrogation."
"You'll burn in hell," said Foster.
Maria lifted her useless helmet from her head, pulled at the thin white ribbon in her hair and shook her hair free in the wind. "You scum," she said to Bolt. "Scum that killed my parents, Lumena, scum that would kill everything that's human, if you could. You'll never win."
She turned to Foster, gave a thumbs-up sign, both hands. "We did our best. We came real close."
"Closer than they think," said Foster. He waved, almost a salute. "You're the best."
He turned away and headed back to the dome. There was no need for a guard, there was nowhere to go, but Bolt followed close behind with his Webley in the crook of his arm as if he were shooting grouse on a Scottish moor.
"Scopes, you finish up," he shouted as he left. Maria shook her head in disgust. She shucked off her flapping, torn suit and stepped out of its empty neon-yellow shell. "I think I'll go down to the river. Come with me, Scopes." And they set off down the bluff, holding hands, her small slender fingers lost in his clumsy glove. Digging their heels in they slid down the sandy slope and rivulets of sand ran before them down to the water's edge.
At the bottom she stopped and inhaled deeply. "These worlds are new Gardens of Eden," she said. She picked a flower, smelled it, smiled. "Believe me, it smells good."
"I did what you asked," he said, hopelessly. "We could have stolen the shuttle. Got away. If you'd let me."
"And gone where? I'm too much of a threat to them. Bolt would hunt me down, kill me, even if it took him years. No. This was the only way."
"To die without a struggle?"
"Death without a struggle, that's what sacrifice is all about. To choose death to make way for something new, something better, the very thing Bolt can't do, can't even understand."
"Make way for what? For this?" Scopes laughed sarcastically.
"Come on," she said, taking his gloved hand and they waded out into the river, the smooth, brown water sliding round their thighs, and sat side by side on a flat rock, Maria in her faded shirt, her jeans dark and wet, squinting into the dancing sunlight coming off the water, Scopes clumsy in his yellow suit.
She stripped off and dived into the river, freestyling upstream, drifting back to Scopes with the current, laughing, splashing water on his faceplate.
Later she got her clothes and they sat on the beach. He lit a driftwood fire because she was starting to chill. He put his arm around her and wished he had a blanket for her.
She had another chill, then a massive rigor and her breathing quickened, some kind of rapid pneumonia, he thought. Her fingertips and lips were tinged with blue. Her breath came in grunts.
"In my pocket," she gasped. "My pill's in there." In his hurry he tore the loose button from its thread, but he found the blister-pack. Hyper-cyanide. He cradled her head in his arms.
"Daddy, take care of me," she whispered.
"I will," he said, ignoring her delirium.
"Thank you." She smiled and closed her eyes. He slipped the capsule under her tongue and she was dead in twenty seconds. He laid her down on the sand and closed her delicate mouth with his gloved hand.
Something was climbing down the bluff behind him. A robot, sent from the domes, was carrying some kind of tool, he couldn't see what. Overhead there was the throbbing of chitin wings and a brief darkening of the sky.
The robot arrived. Bolt had sent it with the flamethrower, a reminder that contamination of the Bioworlds is forbidden.
When Scopes had finished there was only a smoking patch of earth. When he stepped back he saw the charred cracked button and ground it angrily into the dirt. In his rage he swung the flamethrower at the sky in a great arc and caught one of the vulture ants in its yellow flame. The creature screamed in terror and fell to the ground, a smoking pile of flesh and feathers.
He trudged back to the dome with only his lonely shadow for company. He went through the acrid decontamination procedures mindlessly but dry-eyed.
Bolt was waiting for him in the command module. "I've sealed Foster's lab. None of his equipment, none of his data leaves this planet. Nothing. Ever."
Foster was signing a report.
"You should read it before you sign," said Bolt, ever the bureaucrat.
"Why bother? You gonna change it if I don't like it?" Bolt took the paper from him, studied his signature, folded the sheet and tucked it in a pocket of his suit.
"OK if I go to my room?" said Foster. "I got a lot of moonshine I don't wanna waste. Maybe you should try some, Commissioner? Do you good to loosen up a little."
"Er, no thank you, not quite my kind of drink," said Bolt smoothly.
"How about you, Scopes?"
An hour later, after finishing the paperwork, Scopes, grieving, walked down the passage to Foster's room where the music was loud and fast, the trumpet driving hard above the band, chorus after chorus, endlessly inventive, bold, triumphant. He pushed open the door. Foster met him with a broad smile and grabbed a disc from the table.
"Here's something for you. A gift," he said. "Not jazz, but I think you'll like it. Moonshine music. Bootlegged. The best stuff in the known universe." He slotted the disc. The music was loose-limbed, sometimes jaunty, sometimes graceful -- like a tired ballerina walking home after class -- and once there was a high-pitched tinkling that made Scopes think of a bracelet of beaten silver. "The original was great," said Foster, "but forgive me, I've added a few bars." A few bars of pure timpani was what he had added. Then the magnificent endless fugue of invention began.
Maria's genome, DGF added.
He tossed the disc to Scopes. "Take it to Sour Belly. He'll know what to with it. Music into DNA."
Scopes stared dumbly at the disc he held in his hand. Smiling, Foster said "It's against the Gene Laws, you know. Alien genes, cloning, all that stuff."
"Screw the Gene Laws."
Foster re-slotted his jazz disc and the rough music filled Scopes' mind with that wet courtyard in New Orleans, the graceful fanlight and the curving stair. This time a little girl skipped down the steps and took his hand and her palm was soft and warm in his. They walked across the shining flagstones together and out through the wrought-iron gates into the street. They held hands and watched the carefree band march by. A white cap, lost, lay on the cobblestones. It was smeared with dirt. Little Maria picked it up and handed it to him. He wiped away the dirt, turned the cap over in his gentle hands and looked inside. The name written there was Blumenthal. He bent over and lifted the child in his arms. She hugged him and pressed her warm face against his left cheek. His cheek was smooth.
Jim Cowan (firstname.lastname@example.org) is trained as both an electrical engineer and a doctor, and is a graduate of the 1993 Clarion SF workshop. He is amazed and delighted that many wonderful things in the world can be completely described by mathematics and he is equally amazed and delighted that many wonderful things, including mathematics, cannot. In addition to his stories in InterText, he has written two stories for the print magazine Century, and his story "The True Story of Professor Trabuc and his Voyages Aboard the Sonde-Ballon de la Mentalitie" will appear later this year in Asimov's Science Fiction. His story "The Spade of Reason" appeared in The Year's Best Science Fiction: Fourteenth Annual Collection, edited by Gardner Dozois.
InterText stories written by Jim Cowan: "The Gardener" (v4n5), "Genetic Moonshine" (v5n3), "The Central Mechanism" (v8n3).
InterText Copyright © 1991-1999 Jason Snell. This story may only be distributed as part of the collected whole of Volume 5, Number 3 of InterText. This story Copyright © 1995 Jim Cowan.