"...a satisfyingly meaty merchant-ship based universe and a heroine you can root for make this a compelling read for space opera addicts." -- The BookLife Prize in Fiction
Saturday, June 11, 2016
Her heels clicked on the inlaid marble as Marge and Eduard Tsoget hurried up the stairs leading from the White Zone arboretum. At the top, guards with bronze headbands and ankle length robes verified their biotags with scanners in their spears, and then opened the golden gates of King Xerxes Palace, the new system-wide convention center on Etna station. Inside the entrance a concubine draped in silks led the Tsogets through a double column of catalpa trees and into a central courtyard where a massive plane tree sheltered a circle of tables and a dais. From there rose music from pan flutes and tablas played by three women in white linen sitting cross legged on cushions.
Marge stopped and took her husband’s arm. “Wait, dear. Let me check your tie."
Eduard stopped to let his wife fuss with his tuxedo, the first he had warn since their wedding a decade ago. He took the handkerchief from his breast pocket and wiped his forehead.
She took the handkerchief, folded it, and returned it to his breast pocket. “Don’t worry, dear. They want to reward you for you scholarship.”
“No one else has.”
“You know your research is too controversial. The ArchTrope is very influential on Calliope. But here they are free and respect your scientific rigor. Did they tell you of the projects they have assigned to you?”
Eduard frowned. “Not yet. The Chairman said we would review it before the party.”
“The stipend and salary are phenomenal.”
“It’s for both of us, Marge. Now we’ll be able to send the boys back to university on Sirius if they qualify. Even Earth.”
A beautiful woman dressed in a floor length powder blue evening gown split up the leg to the hip walked up to them on the arm of a man wearing an impeccable dinner jacket. “Ah, there you are Mr. and Mrs. Tsoget,” she said. “Let me introduce you to Chairman Julian Yutousov.”
The Chairman extended his hand. “Jules, please. No need for formality among friends. I hope your reception is to your liking?”
Eduard shook his hand. “Of course. I’ve reviewed articles written by your guests tonight, all distinguished in their fields.”
“As are you, Eduard. May I call you Eduard?” he asked but continued without waiting for a reply.
“And they speak very highly of you. Do you have time for a private word before dinner?”
“Of course, Jules. Please give me a moment to check on our children first.”
“Certainly. Miss Blanchette will guide you. If you will excuse me until then.” He bowed and left.
While Miss Blanchette waited, Eduard and Marge found an alcove behind a catalpa tree and called their hotel.
“Timogen, come to the phone, please,” she said. “Is everything OK?”
A hologram of her older son displayed from the communications link on her bracelet. “Ulie is being a butt and Sansin won’t stop crying.”
Eduard rolled his eyes. “Are they safe?”
“Sure, pop. Say when are we gonna get—”
“Just checking in, dear,” Marge said. “We need to run now.”
“See you after the party.” She turned to Eduard with a smile. “Now for that offer. Miss Blanchette.
We’re ready now.”
The assistant led them into an office beyond the plane tree.
“Is this about the stipend?” Marge asked.
Miss Blanchette said with a stunning smile. “In a way, Mrs. Tsoget. Mr. Yutousov, the Tsogets are here.”
The Chairman rose from behind a clear desk that held only a small lamp. “Excellent.” Putting a hand on Eduard’s shoulder, he waved his hands towards two chairs. “Sit, please. Can I offer you wine? It is exquisite. No? Water perhaps?” They nodded. “Yes, excellent. Miss Blanchette if you please.”
His assistant left, returned quickly with two glasses of water, and closed the door behind her.
Yutousov sat and waved a few fingers at a wall and technical diagrams and graphs appeared. “Now a bit more on your research.”
“Well, I’m sure you read my paper,” Eduard said.
“It is quite dense, Eduard. Summarize for me.”
Eduard leaned forward in the chair and smiled. “Well, it started as an academic question into how much could be deduced from mitochondrial DNA signatures in a population. For a hundred years we’ve used the standard Tokana method, but the chromosome lines became too complex. It was simply an experiment to establish baselines and topology thresholds for bloodlines within…”
Yutousov flipped a finger and a footnote appeared. “What is this incidental comment about the ArchTrope?”
“Well, we took one base samples from Genghis Khan. That produced an anomalous result that there is less of the Khan’s DNA in the ArchTrope than in the background of the population. It is so absent that he might have been from Sirius, rather than Earth.”
“Where did the DNA profile come from?”
“Birth records for his mother. She was sainted and her life is very well documented.”
“Then the sample could miss his father’s genome.”
“No, it’s from the footprint on the birth record,” Eduard said.
“So, in essence, your analysis implies that spiritual leader for hundreds of millions of followers is not descended from Genghis Kahn as he claims.”
Eduard squirmed in his chair. “Ah, well, that’s an unfortunate inference, but it’s just an academic study. As I said it was an outlier, the exception that identified the three-sigma limit to the method.”
“So it was done as an exercise, without controls?”
“Oh, no, sir. The strictest protocols—”
Yutousov nodded but waved his hand. “I’m sure, Ed, but we will need you to disavow your research, before we can proceed with your appointment. Your work is a bit too contentious, even for us here at the institute.”
“It’s a technique, not a—”
“Someone might repeat it.”
Eduard’s brow furrowed. “Well... yes. The methodology is valid.”
“I’m sorry, Ed, but I think you missed the point. Surely you did not think that the ArchTrope would let this go. Decendence from all the great prophets and warlords is a pillar of his legitimacy.”
Eduard’s mood cratered. This was the familiar conversation he heard ever since publication of his research paper. He had to publish: if he didn’t he would forfeit a grant he had already spent and his family would end up on a labor asteroid. No one questioned the protocols but rather congratulated him on his work and complimented him on his brilliant insights. However, every interview ended with the same concern: the ArchTrope’s pedigree. What was only intended to be an example implementation became instead the focus of all the peer reviews.
“But…wait. This is simply an academic issue. I was assured that—”
“You only need to repudiate the efficacy of your methodology.”
“Scientific integrity demands that I defend…” Eduard began but his voice trailed off when a video projected from Yutousov’s desk displayed their three children with strange men in black uniforms behind them.
“My request is straight-forward and—”
“You can’t,” Marge said.
“Of course we can. And if you comply, your stipend and salary will be put in escrow. It is guaranteed. The both of you.”
The Tsogets looked at each other. Marge nodded.
Yutousov glanced at his link. “We have only a minute for your decision. I assure you that you will see your children tonight.”
Eduard sighed and with a tissue sample from his thumb, officially lied: he authenticated the document that appeared on the desk; a form which stipulated that the DNA profile from the ArchTrope was taken from a lab technician and not the birth records. That approval also covered legal consents and powers of attorney that Eduard and Marge did not see.
“Ah, very good,” Yutousov said. “This is all for the best. Now Miss Blanchette will escort you to your reception and I hope that you have a wonderful evening.”
His assistant entered the room and before the Tsogets could rise, she touched them both in the neck with her finger. Eduard struggled to get up but cringed and slumped back into the chair.
The Chairman leaned with his elbows on the desk. “Marge, Ed, please don’t struggle. It’s a catatonic and only uncomfortable if you resist. I’m sorry I mislead you, but you must stay with us for a short while. The addiction is quite rapid and withdrawal extremely painful. You understand, this is just business.”
Eduard stared at the display where his kids were being hustled out of the room. He grimaced but could not scream.
“Don’t fret, Ed. They will live. The ArchTrope needs brilliant young men as I am sure your sons will grow to be.” Yutousov Chairman turned to the display. “Now, now, boys your parents will be home soon. Go with these men and be patient a while longer, please.” He swapped the image to another with charts and manifests, and looked between them. “Normally I don’t get involved in this end of the business anymore, but, ah well.” He turned to Miss Blanchette. “I don’t think we will be able to wait on this. Calliope is short kidneys and pituitaries with her tissue match.”
Unable to turn her head, Marge Tsoget’s brow furrowed and eyes darted to her husband and Yutousov as the technicians carried her to a cart and took her to the organ donation clinic on Etna Station. It would be only a few more months in the drug dens before Eduard’s organs followed her.