Barghest III – Chapter 3

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Descendent Contrivance

Year 2128. Day 358. Hour 1400.

Eugenics. Noun. A social philosophy and the actions to carry it out which aim to design the human race through selective breeding which had a resurgence of popularity in the United States and United Kingdom in the early 20th century and was later a key component of Nazi regime policies. Beginning in the 1980s, assisted reproductive technology revived concerns regarding the impetus for and use of eugenics. Such policies have been criticized for subjective selection criteria, reinforcement of socio-economic divides, and for the potential to violate human rights. Most detractors were silenced in 2047 with the approval of a select list of medical and minor aesthetic changes covered by insurance.

Soledad Venegas sipped his tea and waited patiently for Helen to get to the point. From long experience he was aware that there was nothing he could do to speed up the process. He also knew, after having navigated the tangled social structure of Sol Congress for decades, that it pleased her when he did not simply ask why he had been summoned. A holographic display of a compound molecule was suspended over her desk, gently turning and displaying a series of written notes in a language he couldn’t read. It wasn’t English Standard or Spanish. Definitely not Mandarin.

“I’m so sorry to keep you waiting, Sole,” she said. Her voice actually sounded regretful. “I just need to finish signing off on these reports and then I am all yours.”

Venegas glanced around the office of the Prime Minister while he waited. A plaque by the door noted that it was one of a suite of rooms originally included in the King’s private apartment. The parquet floor was intact, and the marble fireplace had been restored. Tall multi-paned glass windows overlooked an interior courtyard. Heavy brocade velvet drapes were pulled aside to let in the afternoon light. In contrast to the 17th and 18th century architecture and painted murals, Helen’s very modern desk was made of opaque glass. It was thick, clouded, and an obvious display of the recycled ‘working’ art that graced many rich corporate offices. She kept the surface clean, only a wide visual display, her tablet, an ornate tea set, and a simply made wooden pen display with an antique fountain pen for signing important documents lay out.  It was an office that spoke of power, taste, and efficiency. It did not speak of ruthless ambition or judicious consequences, but that was understood by anyone personally acquainted with the Prime Minister.

“Done,” Helen stated with finality. She waved off her display, and pushed her tablet to the side, allowing the projection to continue playing. “Thank you so much for coming in today. I am sure you are eager to be home for the session break.”

“I am always eager to be home, Helen. My wife would love for you to visit as well. Bring Greg; she misses that boy – and his cooking. Since he finished his agriculture degree we have barely spoken with him.”

“I’ll let Greg know, but he just received word this morning that he was awarded a grant for a new research project aboard a Coalition ship. Hopefully he will make some friends, I understand his ship is mostly new recruits.  And I would love to, thank you Sole, but I have a few things that have to be buttoned up first. Avani Sudarshan has decided to run for a Senate seat, and the committee reshuffling is a nightmare.”

“No.” Venegas didn’t say it with any malice, but he was quite serious. There were few things about politics that he found enjoyable, and the Oversight Committee was not one of them. Helen had promised that he would be able to step down during the next committee reappointment opportunity. He knew her well enough to know she was going to renege, had known it from the beginning, and that there was nothing he could do about it.

Helen became serious, her usual pleasant smile dropping. “I would not ask it of you if it wasn’t the last option.”

“Hellhound is done. Project Jagd is progressing on schedule and is so black book I can barely find it. The next Committee Chair won’t even think to look for it. It doesn’t exist. There will never be a better time to-”

“This isn’t about soldiers,” Helen interrupted. “This is more important. I’d give up Jagd and Hellhound both – to the press or death – if it would ensure success with this.”

Venegas sat back in his chair, shocked and not bothering to conceal it. Hellhound, and its successor Jagd, were Helen’s most prized accomplishments. She had always asserted that such innovations and risks were necessary for survival. For victory. Despite himself, he was curious. He knew the moment Helen realized it, considered it, and seized his weakness.

She poured herself a cup of tea. “What is the rate of success with the latest James upgrade?”

“It’s hovering at seventy-two percent. Of course, it could be lower. We don’t have many translators that are more fluent and able to test it against actual speech. Even then, it isn’t fast enough, we’re too slow in reacting to their communication.”

“That is because you aren’t hearing all of it. We went through several subjects to confirm, years of research, but there is an underlying component to the Culler language that the James is incapable of receiving.” Helen left Venegas waiting. He rapidly considered several banal options: body language, facial expressions, chronological or locational vocabulary changes. “They produce a measurable electronic field during speech and thought which adds meaning.” She paused, waiting for his eyes to focus on hers, “It can traverse subspace.”

Carefully, so as not to spill or crush the delicate china, Venegas set down his cup. His stomach fluttered, rippling a bit with an uncomfortable mixture of excitement and dread. “Are you suggesting…some sort of…extra sensory means?”

“I would never suggest, Sole.” Helen leaned forward, pressing one palm flat against the smooth glass of her desk. “My people have proven it. Cullers uses audible and electromagnetic means of communicating with each other that combine to create a psionic language.” There was a gleam in her blue eyes that was unsettling.

Venegas considered it. The Culler communications had always been difficult to crack. It was nearly forty years into the war before the first break in understanding came. Decades later and spying was still practically useless to the Coalition, as translation software was nowhere close to infallible and human translators were so scarce as to be non-existent. The enemy fleets seemed capable of sending warnings, directions, and valuable intel across vast distances without pinging the standard sensor arrays. Soldiers reported an uncanny ability for two or more of the aliens to synchronize their movements; although one might die fighting humans in a closed room, the next attacker would be prepared for the Coalition’s exact numbers and weaponry.

“So you want the Oversight Committee to move funding to SAR to update the arrays?” He knew it wasn’t the right conclusion, but Venegas still felt like he was playing catch-up. Whatever end game Helen had in mind, she was a dozen moves ahead and not slowing down.

She waved a hand dismissively. “Already done. Privately funded and far more discreet than the amount of money and maintenance that would have been necessary if it went through government channels. A rather old corporate family – I am visiting their vineyard next week to confirm the details. Your committee and SAR have a task far better suited to the Confederation.” She pulled her tablet between them, gesturing at the slowly rotating figure. “This is a polynucleotide, only isolated it a few years ago. This is what allows the reception, and – presumably, transmission of electromagnetic wavelengths.” She pointed to a section that was labeled with red and zoomed in. Two additional molecules hung off of the edge of the structure, creating a loop. “This contains an entirely new kind of nucleobase, not ever documented in life on Earth. It isn’t known to our alien allies either.”

“What do you plan on doing with it?” Venegas immediately wished he could pull the question back into his mouth and swallow it. He knew he did not want that knowledge.

“Recreating it, of course.”

“You’re going to engineer that into humans? You’ll be breaking the law, Helen. A law you helped to pass. Hellhound was one thing, and while I understood it, you were walking into a very grey area. But this is going too far. No human, no matter how desperate, would willingly agree to Culler genetic insertion! You can’t honestly be considering this?”

“Of course not.” Helen smiled, and the flop in Venegas’ stomach grew wilder. “It is already there.” She pinched her fingers together over the image, then flicked them apart. The hologram zoomed out, displaying a long section of a twisted double helix. The red nucleobase glowed like a beacon, small and almost unnoticeable.

“This,” Venegas swallowed and tried to compose himself. There were many things that Helen was, things he did not approve of, but she was not playing God. It was cold comfort. “This is human DNA?”

“Yes, very rare. I have the specifics here, but believe me when I say that not only is it present in a tiny portion of the population, it is getting smaller. It most often associates with some undesirable traits, and is being cut out as junk DNA by most reproductive geneticists. They don’t know what they are getting rid of.”  She pushed her tablet to the side, and Venegas had to wrench his eyes away to focus on her. “It is still theory – but highly sound theory – that anyone with this marker could be trained to reproduce not just the spoken language, but the psionic component as well.”

“You’ll need test subjects,” Venegas stated, his mind already working on the logistics while his morals were still wrestling over what could have been – where Helen might have taken such knowledge. An unthinkable conclusion.

“Yes, SAR will need funding. And access to the standardized placement tests. I have a team working on it already, and they are confident we can identify the best candidates for training through genetic analysis and primary school psychological exams.”

Venegas left an hour later, both frightened and excited by the prospect. A new kind of soldier, one who could bring them closer to understanding their enemy and its motivations. Instead of training to shoot or fly, these children would be trained to speak – with their minds. The entire project would be classified Eyes Only or above, and he knew that nothing more than the results would ever make it to his desk. But he trusted Helen to do the right thing, to help the next generation of humans to reach their full potential and bring them all a step closer to ending the war. She was driven, ambitious, callous sometimes, but Helen had a moral code that was unbreakable. He had always believed that about her.

The door closed behind Representative Venegas, and Dr. Patay waited a few moments in the reception area before he knocked lightly.

“Enter.”

He spoke as soon as the room was secure. “Are we cleared to begin, Prime Minister?”

“Yes. But please keep this out of the records until you receive your official notice from the Minister of SAR. It wouldn’t do to have you preempt your own boss.”

He smiled, “My boss, of course.” He tapped at his tablet. “Those are the updated figures. Phases One and Two are fairly innocuous, but once we move on to Three the incidence of irreversible injury is anticipated to increase.”

“And Four?”

“Lethal. Computer modeling shows thirty-eight percent of subjects dying during training, and another fifty-one within the first year of field testing.”

“Not ideal, but acceptable. We’ll need more candidates.”

“Of course. I took the liberty of directing a team to assess the potential for genetic insertion. We are probably a decade out, but isolation was the first step. Given a few discreet reproductive geneticists and some carefully worded legislation, we could be targeting up to ten percent of the population in a quarter century.”

“Let’s keep that in our arsenal, but as a tertiary tactic. We need to assess what other side effects this gene may have, as well as its performance in the real world.”

“Yes, ma’am.”

Her assistant held the door as he left. “Ma’am, I have your son on the line, I believe he has received his departure date. And I put in a word to have his physical scheduled with the medic you prefer.”

“Thank you, Miguel.”

*          *          *

 

Year 2152, Day 328, Hour 0930

“You have had this information for almost twenty-five years.” Yardley had to force his jaw to unclench. In the highest office of the Ministry of Science and Research he sat in a comfortable blue chair and did his best to breathe evenly.

“Confirmed for that long, although SAR was working on the theory while I was still employed there. Of course, it took them a bit longer after they began identifying candidates to begin through testing.”

“And you did not feel that was information that the families of those children should be made aware of?”

“No children were hurt, Captain Yardley. I am not some sort of monster. We have only used passive testing on subjects that have not reached their legal majority.”

“And after?”

“Well,” she took a sip of tea and raised an eyebrow, “they are the property of the Coalition for a minimum of two years. Anything that happens during that time, as long as it is approved as part of the defense efforts, is not optional for them. But do not assume that I do not take their wellbeing into consideration.”

Yardley lost the battle with his anger. His back teeth came together hard enough that he could hear them grind. “Minister, I am not certain you wouldn’t lobotomize your own child if you thought it would give you the upper hand.”

She smiled. An honest, sincere smile. “We are fighting for more than just survival, of which you have intimate knowledge. When the future of an entire species is at stake, no price is too high. Although, I would note that my son is perfectly healthy. I take full responsibility for my actions, but I will not admit guilt for a harm that was never done.”

He struggled. Struggled with the desire to summon his guard and have the woman removed from office. Struggled with the itch in his hand to reach across the desk and slap her self-assured, egotistical face. Helen Maker was proud of what she had done, what she had hidden. Worse, Yardley was certain he had only heard the best of it. He swallowed. “And that was the extent of it? You manipulated SAR into testing for this genetic marker in the hopes that future soldiers could be trained – you’ve been training communications officers to use this…psionic language?”

“Yes, exactly,” she said without hesitation. She began pulling up a new file, ready to brief him on another black project. Regardless of how sincere she was, Yardley knew she was lying.

To Be Continued