Read A Paradigm of Earth Online

Authors: Candas Jane Dorsey

Tags: #Science Fiction

A Paradigm of Earth (7 page)

A tendril of reality split the grey fog and she thought dimly,
I wonder if I’m ill. I should see a doctor
. She managed to hold that thought long enough to write herself a note at home, but she didn’t actually make a call. She didn’t know any trustworthy doctors in this town. She would have to ask around, and that seemed an almost overwhelming task.
She would get to it.
 
An old-fashioned policeman
 
He was inherently a fair and a just man, though occasionally he trapped himself into taking a stance he didn’t believe. But he had known this about himself for a long time and therefore he was careful not to corner himself in dealing with the alien.
Or the people hired to take care of the alien.
He stood in the darkened observation booth watching the lesson take place. Beside him slouched the new technician hired to record it all. The technician muttered a little to himself, but that didn’t matter, the alien knew perfectly well someone was behind the wall, turned occasionally and looked with dark eyes that were mountain tarns of blank indigo beauty. The teacher answered its questions honestly, and the grey man heard the technician swear and the others in the observation room with him murmur their anger. The grey man imagined the mirror had vanished, felt a moment of vertigo, shook his head and looked away. The technician watching him spoke.
“Hey, you related to Hester McKenzie?”
Mr. Grey nodded.
“I know her work. Dynamite!”
He in his turn looked silently.
The technician looked back to the viewfinder. “Great work. Her best was
Amnesty.”
“That was a commission. She thought it was too cold.”
“Cold! No way. Precise, intense, righteous. Moral.”
Mr. Grey was obscurely angry to hear his daughter’s work encapsulated like that, remembering her irritation with the people she had worked with on the vid event they called
Amnesty
and she called “torture pornography.” “You wouldn’t believe the letters I get,” she said. “People are sick. They want to see death on film.” As her father he remembered the film as frightening and grim. As a policeman he recognized the mood. As more than either role, he simply wanted to stop talking about it with this youngster barely old enough to know violence existed, and insensate in the face of alien wonder. He turned and walked out of the room.
The technician watched the alien through the viewfinder, watched the interaction between Blue and the young man hired to teach the ET to play chess and Go. The video recorder kept rolling as he fixed the focus of the camera and walked out of the observation cell.
The death of the chessmaster was entirely unexpected, and the camera was rolling when it happened. The new technician had been out of the room, taking a leak he said, and the surveillance in the lavatory confirmed that at the same time the recordings showed a sudden burst of interference, the technician had been otherwise occupied. Our Mr. Grey had only been gone a few moments. The important part of the action had taken place just outside the frame of the fixed camera.
The alien, as far as could be ascertained from a rather confused statement, had also left the room. Something had happened, Blue said.
The death would have been taken for natural except for the inconclusiveness of the fixed-perspective recording, which caused a certain stubbornness on the part of the medical examiner’s investigator and hence the Medical Examiner herself. The investigation was discreet—and ultimately inconclusive. The death certificate would read, “Heart failure.” No evidence pointed to Blue’s involvement, but neither did evidence say the event had sidestepped the alien. The first other being shown on the recording, after the dying struggles of the chess teacher were half-visible, was the alien, a look of confusion and perhaps misunderstanding on the face. After kneeling to look at the body, Blue had looked up at the camera.
“Come fast here,” the alien had said, “something is wrong with this one. All chess has ceased. Perhaps death?”
And so the grey man’s simple job became complex, and, unknown to him, the escape began.
“The damned being has been hunched over the computer for the last two days, wild-eyed and compulsive, reading up on death and medical research,” said Rahim. “Looks to me like it has a problem.”
“Blue knows nothing about death,” said Morgan stubbornly. “Of course there will be study. Of course there will be trauma. A child of that age meets the idea of death for the first time—someone the child knows dies, and they find the body—this will always require some work afterward. Blue’s language skills are far in advance of Blue’s emotional maturity, so Blue finds comfort and insight in information acquisition. Especially since the report tells me no-one has really had a heart-to-heart about the event with Blue yet.”
“But what if the alien
did
something,” persisted Rahim.
The man in the blue suit nodded. “We have to question it.”
“Absolutely not. I know what you mean by
question,
and it’s not good for a child. Can you imagine how traumatic that would be for a kid? About seven or eight, I’d say, this week, and all of a sudden angry adults are looming over it and insisting it tell them something it doesn’t even know how to talk about? Remember, this accelerated development process is dangerous and fragile. It doesn’t give the same results as regular childhood. It’s like raising a clone. To some degree, we’re implanting a memory structure here. You can’t put too much of a strain on it until the framework is finished and Blue starts filling it in with experience.”
“He wants to ‘fix’ the chessmaster, it’s obvious,” Blue Suit insisted, resisting the grey man’s squelching glare, “which to my mind means he broke him in the first place.”
“Oh, for goodness’ sake, that’s so
paranoid
…”
“Perhaps a compromise … ,” the grey man began.
“Absolutely not. Unless you are ready to accept the responsibility if something goes wrong and we create a huge trauma. Blue has to be helped to understand death is a part of life—and the sooner the better. You haven’t been dealing with that while I’ve been off duty, and the trauma is already manifesting.”
“Perhaps if I talked to Blue first …”
“Perhaps if you just left it alone …”
“Perhaps if you get Little Miss Social Worker here to back off …”
“Perhaps if you just let me do my job …”
Back in his office after the optimistically named
strategy session
in the boardroom, Grey was almost shaking with rage. Kowalski wouldn’t shut up, the Boy Wonder—he liked Morgan’s name for him, which had slipped out at that first session—played macho dominance games and lost to the grey man’s implacable authority—but so did Morgan, who had had to accept that Mr. Grey at least would interview Blue. That had made Morgan furious, of course, and the meeting had gone on far too long, with her pigheadedness, and her threats of using her influence over the alien to keep it silent even if it was interviewed, meaning that in the end nothing much had been accomplished.
But he had to admire her spirit. Slightly.
If he was honest, which he wished sometimes didn’t come so easy.
If he were to be really honest, he had to sit down and admit that it wasn’t the stubborn, now-absent Morgan who had enraged him. It was the stubborn, very present Kowalski, now following him into his inner office, still insisting on some wild alien-conspiracy plot when he should have been concentrating on the well-being of this alien child. Dull bigoted Kowalski, with his lumpy blue suit and his lumpy body making a suitable home for his
lumpenproletarian
mind.
If that wasn’t insulting the proletariat.
Luckily, he outranked Kowalski. Grey decided to prove it. He waved Kowalski to a seat in the office.
He felt suddenly surprised he had never noticed that Kowalski had the thick mouth and sagging cheeks of the type that directors pull from central casting to play movie alcoholics or child molesters—then heard with grim humor his own judgmental thought. Clearly, the irritation he had felt for years had finally boiled over into something that would be perilously close to hatred unless Grey took the situation in hand now.
He made Kowalski a cup of coffee before he said anything. Ko seemed at ease, but there was sweat on his forehead and his hand left a print on the cracked brown handle of Grey’s coffeepot.
“You were out of line in the meeting, Ko,” the grey man said mildly, beginning at last.
“I don’t know how you can say that, Rog,” Ko said. Mr. Grey hated that nickname, wasn’t too fond of his first name at all, preferred Kowalski to address him by his last name, knew Ko knew that, and was enough further irritated to abandon his simulacrum of Zen calm.
“I think you know, Ko, and I won’t have it. I may make your coffee instead of the other way around, but I rank you, and I don’t want your big mouth between me and the rest of those people at a meeting. I have enough trouble keeping the Boy Wonder from going off half-cocked.”
“Hey,
Inspector
, what’s biting you?
Rahim
was doing his
job.
A queer and a bunch of other social workers have their hands all over the biggest asset we’ve got. You think that’s not a problem?”
“Kowalski, get this straight. Your kind of thinking is on the way out in my department, and if you don’t muffle up, you might be riding the same rail.”
“You’re one of the old guard, Rog. That community policing stuff you cut your rookie teeth on is old hat now.”
“Equality of policing will never be old hat while I’m in charge, Staff Sergeant. And more to the point, I don’t like having you undercut my moves. If you want to keep your rank, I don’t want to hear another word out of you in any meeting where you shadow me, unless I know you are going to say it in support—or you clear it in advance. Do you understand?”
“Rog, where’s this coming from? I thought we had a good working relationship here, man.”
“As long as you follow my orders, Ko, we have a good working relationship. If you start screwing up on me like you did today, we have no relationship at all, and too many more stunts like that and you’ll be busted back to detachment chief in Back-of-Beyond, Newfoundland.
Claro?”
“Yeah, I got it.”
“Okay, now that’s out of the way. Now that you know what you’re not gonna be doing anymore, I’m going to tell you what you are doing.” By the time Kowalski left the office, Grey had the man assigned to more admin duties and thinking it was a step up. That was easy. Kowalski was a stupid man, and simple carrots worked to move him. The stick part, Grey hated, but he had to admit, he felt good afterward. All those toxins one can get rid of by crying—could you get rid of them as easily playing departmental politics? Worked for him.
Today, anyway.
The alien sat in the darkened room, light the color of molten data streaming from the flickering screen. Morgan had become used to the
Star Trek
cliché of the screens paging past faster than she could read, and she simply put her hand on the tense, hunched shoulder. Blue, startled, made a sound like a spooked cat and turned staring eyes on Morgan as if she too were strobing with floods of data.
“Anything interesting tonight?” she asked gently, just to say something.
“My eyes feel very full. How do people see so much and not burst?”
She was about to smile when she saw the desperation.
“Are you scared?” She dropped to her knees and took the trembling hands in hers, surprised and shocked at the strength of the fibrillation, as fast as the screen’s had been, which transmitted to her at the contact. She found herself whispering, “Shhh,” as one does when rocking a baby with night terrors.
“What’s wrong?” she said.
“My thoughts are zooming like the data tracks, but they won’t sort out. They won’t lie down. All night they are spinning, every day and night they spin more. How do people make the data fit in their minds?”
How do people do that?
Morgan thought, and, keeping Blue anchored with one hand, reached out the other to turn off the display. It was frozen at the moment Blue’s gaze had moved from the screen, and absently she read, “‘
Hypolipidaemic and Anti-atherosclerotic Effects in
Kingiber officinale
in Cholesterol Red
Rabbits
, Sharma, I., et al … .’”
“How long have you been on line?”
“You were away for two days.”
“Two days? Non-stop? When did you rest?”
“I don’t sleep, you know that.”
“I don’t mean sleep. I mean rest. To let the facts settle.”
“Do I have to rest?”
Standing up without letting go of the alien’s hands, Morgan led the docile, exhausted, quivering Blue into the other room, where the bed was. The hands she held were cool, something which, if she had time to process it, Morgan realized would frighten her in a creature so measurably hot-blooded as this one.
She urged the alien to lie down and, trusting though puzzled, Blue did so. It was true, Blue never used the bed, even for a moment’s quiet. Never stopped doing something. How
did
humans make space for new data?
“We sleep,” said Morgan, “and part of our brain that is subconscious sorts information and stores it.”
“This is not scientific,” said Blue, using the annoying catchphrase with which for the last few days, Morgan had just read in the reports, the alien had been bedeviling the staff. Now she saw its origin in the abstracts Blue had been swotting.

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