Thursday, April 24, 2014

Koreshi Chronicles - Chapter VII: Eureka

Todd read the encrypted message from Dawn and hoped desperately that it hadn`t been intercepted by HIRA, or anyone else for that matter. People smarter than him said it wouldn`t. 

 Gabriel had given Todd the firewall architecture for the HA, individual encryptions and code breaking would change, but the underlying structure provided Oscar and Mads with a macro view of the system which had allowed them to tunnel right through it with their programming.

Intercepted or not, Dawn’s information corroborated Damosa’s wariness about Dr. Heatherton. His Helix+ research meant he was being watched by the NGIS. She hadn't gone into specifics of course, but she told him not to trust Heatherton and Todd trusted her.

Armed with critical but highly edited information about the Borodin package, the so-called Quicksilver, recovered by Doc Chambers and the copy Damosa had obtained from Major Bakov, it was time to take an even greater risk.

His purple co-conspirator was waiting for him in the dark recesses of an arched hallway in the OAoS. She was allowed there because of her status as an invited guest of the symposium, Todd on the other hand had had to infiltrate and circumvent the Institute`s security.

She greeted him with a nod from under her cloak and then made their way in silence, or nearly.

“Um, can I ask you a question?” Todd whispered tentatively, afraid that the mere formulation of the question would dispel the luck he had so far enjoyed like the ill-fated heroine of the Gwendolyn Advent trilogy. Damosa arched an inquisitive eyebrow and Todd interpreted that as a “maybe?”

“Say, why are you helping me?” he tried asking conversationally and failing.

“I’m not, Todd, I'm helping myself. We are both looking for some of the same answers.”

‘Oh’ Todd thought. “Oh” was all he could think to say too and then they were there.

A faint light came from under the thick wood door in the otherwise dark hallway. Todd pulled a freakishly long knife from its sheath. A sane human would have been terrified, Damosa looked confused so he put it away sheepishly before she knocked. An older man with great thick eyebrows answered the office door.

“Dr. Nessen, I apologize for the late hour, but I have someone I'd like you to meet,” the Isabella said, presenting Brumhilda to the organiser of the OAoS Symposium on genetics.

He shook Todd’s hand distractedly and welcomed them both in with a furtive look back into the hall before closing the door. Todd pulled out a white noise generator he had taken from the equipment trunk and deployed his computer. He called up the Borodin information and turned it to face Dr. Nessen.

Isabella Damosa started explaining her and Doc Chamber's findings on the sample and the link to the Sand Riders. She then pointed to his research on Helix+, which at first the professor feigned ignorance of but stopped dissembling when Todd pulled up the transcript from the final meeting from WestCorp.

“All the people on that recording are dead. What work did you do for them?” Todd asked directly, pleased with how menacing that sounded. The problem with not being a good liar was sometimes it was hard to threaten people.

Dr. Nessen leaned back and closed his eyes in thought. “I don`t recall that company in particular, to my knowledge I've never had anything to do with them directly but there are a number of corporate sponsors gathered under the umbrella of Helix+.”

“What is it?” Todd had to ask. After digging for over 2 cycles, information on Helix+ had remained elusive.

“Well, for starters, it should be noted that this is Dr. Heatherton's project. I and a few others have only been assisting. If that fact were to come out both his life and mine would be forfeit.”

Todd nodded ominously because that's what spies did when people said stuff like that.

“It’s genetic cataloging. Dr. Heatherton is convinced that there are significant applications for what he has found to be particularities in the Terra Novan genetic script. Damosa and I are hoping we can use that research to solve the GREL problem.”

“What GREL problem?” Todd asked, for a moment he flashed to something Lyta would say and then figured that wasn't what this man working with a GREL and this woman, a GREL herself, were talking about.

“We are a people without a future.” Damosa started. “We cannot procreate and we are dying off. GRELS aren't designed to have a very long lifespan, 20 years at most, less than 30 cycles. Dr. Nessen and I hope that the genetic information from the Helix+ program will allow us to reprogram our cellular decay and extend our lifespans to a near human level as well as removing the inhibitors which render us infertile.”

“Currently, we are having some success with the X chromosome,” Dr. Nessen added.

“So you`re trying to use human DNA to fix GREL DNA so you can live longer and have kids” Todd summarised. That sounded like a surprisingly domestic research goal for a secret program but living long and having children were two things he had never really given any thought to.

“Yes,” Dr. Nessen answered.

“And what happens when the reverse is done?” Todd asked.

“I don’t follow” Dr. Nessen responded, confusion apparent on his face.

This was a reaction Todd was accustomed to when he spoke, though he thought his question was pretty straightforward. Still,  he typed some instruction into his computer and pulled up a copy of the DNA sequencing Chambers had given him in KAD. Dr. Neesen looked over the data and his expression went from interest to confusion and finally settled on shock.

“I've never seen anything like this before. This subject, Virgil Stills, has GREL DNA markers. Who did this?”

“An NEC scientist named Bearden,” Damosa answered.

“Look here, the segments are broken.  These nucleotides, it’s the same coded error.” Neesen and Damosa both craned to review the information together.

“What? What does that mean?” Todd asked. Why hadn't the Koreshi who trained him in desert survival and drevis combat taught him any genetics?

Damosa shook her head in understand. “It means that your Virgil Stills would have died within a few cycles anyway, the DNA used carried the same expiration date as GRELs.”

“What a waste,” Dr. Nessen lamented, “You say the subject is dead? What about this Bearden fellow?”

“Also dead” Damosa offered and, with no proof to the contrary, Todd didn’t correct her.

“So he figured out the missing link before we did, the Prime Knight RNA bridging?” Dr. Nessen  asked Damosa, completely ignoring Todd as he helped himself to the computer and pulled up the first slides of the Borodin package again. He poured over the sample, his eyes darting back and forth. “Fascinating” he muttered under his breath.

“What is he talking about now, what`s this about Prime Knights?” Todd asked. He had read more than a few romanticised novels revolving around the legendary super-soldiers from Earth’s past but how did that tie into the Borodin package?

“Certain isolated genetic markers on Terra Nova appear to contain mutations which some researchers, Dr. Heatherton chief among them, believe come from a lost band of Prime Knights. The source of the mutation, naturally occurring or engineered centuries ago, is irrelevant, it appears to make transcoding human healthy DNA into GRELs via a viral RNA load possible.”

“So Virgil was designed by Dr. Bearden during the war as a new kind of Prime Knight, a super soldier with GREL-like abilities by a similar process to the one you and Dr. Nessen are using to try and help GRELS?” Todd asked Damosa, trying to put the pieces together.

“Yes” she said.

“No” Nessen said almost simultaneously.

“Well, perhaps broadly speaking, but the Virgil Still patient was an unstable experiment. Firstly it didn’t address the accelerated decrepitude inherent in GRELS, secondly, whereas we are trying to use DNA to fix programmed errors in GRELS, this Bearden fellow used tainted GREL DNA to break perfectly functional human DNA. The result would be strong and agile, sure, but humans would be incapable of truly benefiting the foreign DNA.” Dr. Neeson looked up and found Damosa looking perplexed and Todd completely lost.

Dr. Nessen took in a breath and let it out slowly as he steepled his fingers.

“My friend and colleague Damosa is an exceptionally bright GREL. Isabellas are designed to understand GREL physiology in order to repair themselves. She has surpassed her programing and understands GRELS even better, I would wager, than some of the genetic designers who made her race. But with all due respect, she doesn't understand human physiology all that well. Unfortunately, this is a design requirement. GRELs are made to excel in specific fields at the cost of  general knowledge. These engineered limitations were seen as a requirement to control them. If they didn't have any limitations on intellect or physicality, the earther's slaves would soon become the masters as happened with the Prime Knights, and the NEC took measures against that.

“Even with their built-in limitations, GRELS have to be hypno-programed, not just for their skills, but to control them. This is only possible because of the finite cognitive functions of the frontal lobe of the GREL. Now humans are susceptible to hypno-programing, but not to the same degree. Here in the HA we do it better than anywhere else on Terra Nova and I assure you we still couldn't fully control a bright human.”

“What about a not too bright one?” Todd offered.

“Well, yes, it would be more effective, like webbled animals. But why have a strong human with inferior insight? A GREL would be better, more capable in combat and quicker to train. The only advantage to a super-soldier in a human would be to utilise our increased intellect to make a better soldier. Ironically, that very intelligence makes us terrible candidates for superpowers. There was a southern dissident who did interesting work on the neuro-psychology of that very paradox, unfortunately Professor Vovelle died a cycle or two ago.”

The professor had finished his lecture and now returned to reviewing the data Todd had provided him. Todd was reminded of that point in a story when all those little bits of information the author has been sprinkling around the novel come together to give a clear image of what the protagonist is facing and the eureka moment which leads to the resolution.

The difference was he didn't have a moment of clarity. He still didn’t know what was going on. In Lukas’ eyes that would mean Todd had given away too much information for too little in return, he would return to Lukas like Jack without the cow.

Todd receded deep into thought, looking for a way to piece it all together but he came back to Jack and there was only one thing to do with magical beans, throw them away.

“Dr. Nessen, what would happen if you webbled one of these human-GREL-hybrid-prime-knights wannabees?

There was a beat as he considered the question. “Firstly that`s illegal.” The Humanist Scientist felt a need to say as a caveat before continuing, “Secondly, it wouldn`t be worth it. Any gain to recall and interfacing with electronics would be counterbalanced with the cognitive depreciation resulting from neural insertion. I`m not an expert, we could ask Dr. Lighter, but ultimately the loss of human intellect would be greater than the commensurate gain brought by the webbling.”

Todd leaned over and opened the autopsy report Dr. Chambers had given him. Damosa recognised the additional information she had just brought back from Chambers the day before. Nessen looked over the information and genuinely looked aghast at the conclusions. “Impossible, monstrous…” he mumbled under his breath but he couldn't stop reading and then finally, “brilliant” he whispered in terrified awe.

“What?” Todd and Damosa asked simultaneously.

“He used the webble devise to lobotomise the part of the brain that would limit hypno-programing, circumventing the super-soldier paradox, while mitigating any cognitive devaluation with a webbled learning neural net. Sheer genius.”

‘Eureka?’ Todd wondered, he wasn't quite there yet, but he thought he was getting close.

“So by using a webble to make them dumb, you can use a smart human to make a GREL hybrid that is better than a GREL and then use the Webble to make them smart again. Presto, super-soldier.” Todd proposed, attempting to summarize.

“Yes, a super soldier that costs 1000 times more than an GREL, requires far more intensive hypno-programing and that will burn out in about 10-15 cycles, but yes.” Countered Dr. Nessen skeptically.

“Except you guys think you've fixed that expiry date problem.” Todd countered.

“Maybe” Dr. Nessen said. “But GRELs are genetically engineered and therefore designed to be upgraded. This hybrid wouldn`t be.” Damosa added.

“Which means Virgil Stills will remain a scientific anomaly, an aberration never to be repeated or perfected because the only man who knew how to do it, this Dr. Bearden, is dead.” Dr. Nessen concluded.

Isabella Damosa nodded, Todd nodded, then added “Now, if I ask you not to share any of this with, anyone you won't, right? Because you were super useful and helped me out, and if you keep my secret I may have more stuff for you in the future and I won't have to kill you.”

“I beg your pardon?” Dr. Nessen said, shaking his head as if he had misheard.

“I said thanks for your help, I`d like to stay friend and not kill you so shhh.” Todd concluded with his 30cm blade drawn and pressed to his lips as he collected his computer and white noise generator and backed out of the room.

‘He`s so not dead’ Todd said to himself thinking about Bearden. ‘And he’s going to make more super soldiers. Eu-fuckin’-reka!’

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