“Problem, Ma’am?”

“Herlander Simões,” she said, and he grimaced. She saw his expression and nodded.

“I know he’s been under a lot of strain, Ma’am,” he began, “but, so far, he’s been holding up his end of his project, and –”

“Jack, I’m not criticizing his performance so far. And I’m certainly not criticizing the way you’ve handled him so far, either. But he’s deeply involved in the entire streak drive improvement program, and that’s one of our critical research areas. For that matter, he’s got peripheral involvement in at least two other projects. I think, under the circumstances, it’s probably appropriate for us to show a little additional concern in his case.”

McBryde nodded.

“Tell me more about how you think this is affecting him,” she invited, tipping back in her chair. “I’ve already read half a dozen psych analyses on him, and I’ve discussed his reactions — and his attitude — with Dr. Fabre. The people writing those analyses aren’t in charge of directly supervising his performance, though. I know you’re not either — not in the sense of being his direct superior — but I want your evaluation from a pragmatic viewpoint.”

“Yes, Ma’am.”

McBryde inhaled deeply and took a few moments to organize his thoughts. Bardasano’s penchant for demanding operational evaluations on the fly was well known. She’d always believed that what she liked to call “snap quizzes” were the best way to get at what someone really thought, but she also believed in giving her unfortunate minions time to think before they started spewing less than completely considered responses.

“To begin with,” he said finally, “I have to admit I never really knew Simões — either Simões — in any sort of social sense before all of this came up. For that matter, I still don’t. My impression, though, is that the LRPB’s decision to cull the girl really ripped him up inside.”

My, he thought. Isn’t that a bloodless way to describe what that man has been going through? And isn’t it just like those bastards over at the LRPB to have failed to consider all the unfortunate little social consequences of their decisions?

Bardasano nodded, although her own expression didn’t even flicker. Of course, she represented one of Long-Range Planning’s in vitro lines, McBryde reminded himself, and one which had been culled more than once, itself. For that matter, at least one of her own immediate clones had been culled, and not until late adolescence, at that, if he remembered correctly. Still, while the culled Bardasano had been the next best thing to a genetic duplicate to Isabel (not quite; there’d been a few experimental differences, of course), it had scarcely been what the word “brother” or “sister” would have implied to a man like Jack McBryde. Like a lot — even the majority — of LRPB’s in vitro children, she’d been tube-birthed and crèche-raised, not placed in a regular family environment or encouraged to form sibling bonds with her fellow clones. No one had ever officially told McBryde anything of the sort, but he strongly suspected that lack of encouragement represented a deliberate policy on the Board’s part — a way to avoid the creation of potentially conflicting loyalties. So maybe this was simply too far outside her own experience for her to have more than a purely intellectual appreciation for Herlander Simões’ anguish.

“I understand he tried to fight the decision,” she said.

“Yes, Ma’am,” McBryde confirmed, although “fight the decision” was a pitifully pale description of Simões’ frantic resistance.

“There was never much chance he was going to get a reversal, though,” he continued. “According to my information, the LRPB directors considered it a slam dunk, given the quality of life issues that reinforced the utilitarian ones.”

Bardasano nodded again. Despite the qualifier on his own familiarity with the case, McBryde knew quite a lot about it. He knew Herlander Simões — and his wife, apparently — had lowered their emotional defenses when Francesca made it through the anticipated danger zone with flying colors. Which had only made the agony infinitely worse when the first symptoms appeared two years late.

Having them turn up on the very day of her birthday must have been like an extra kick in the heart, and as if that hadn’t been enough, her condition had degenerated with astounding speed. On her birthday, there’d been no outward visible sign at all; within six T-months, the bright, lively child McBryde had seen in the Simões’ security file imagery had disappeared. Within ten T-months, she’d completely withdrawn from the world about her. She’d been totally nonresponsive. She’d simply sat there, not even chewing food if someone put it into her mouth.

“I’ve read the reports on the girl’s condition,” Bardasano said dispassionately. “Frankly, I can’t say the Board’s decision surprises me.”

“As I say, I don’t think there was ever much chance of a reversal, either,” McBryde agreed. “He didn’t want to hear that, though. He kept pointing at the activity showing on the electroencephalograms, and he was absolutely convinced they proved that, as he put it,’ she was still in there somewhere.’ He simply refused to admit her condition was unrecoverable. He was certain that if the medical staff just kept trying long enough, they’d be able to get through to her, reverse her condition.”

“After all the effort they’d already put into solving the same problem in previous cases?” Bardasano grimaced.

“I didn’t say he was being logical about it,” McBryde pointed out. “Although he did make the point that because this child had made it further than any of the others had, she represented the best opportunity the Board would ever have — or had ever had so far, at any rate — to achieve an actual breakthrough.”

“Do you think he really believed that? Or was it just an effort to come up with an argument which wouldn’t be dismissed out of hand?”

“I think it was a bit of both, actually. He was desperate enough to come up with any argument he could possibly find, but it’s my personal opinion that he was even angrier because he genuinely believed the Board was turning its back on a possibility.”

And, McBryde added silently, because those brain scans were still showing activity. That’s why he kept insisting she was really still there, even if none of it was making it to the surface. And he also knew how little of the Board’s resources would actually be tied up in the effort to get her back for him. He figured the return to the Alignment in general if they succeeded would hugely exceed the cost . . . and that the investment would keep his daughter alive. Maybe even return her to him one day.

“At any rate,” he went on aloud, “the Board didn’t agree with his assessment. Their official decision was that there was no reasonable prospect of reversing her condition. That it would have been an ultimately futile diversion of resources. And as for the apparent EEG activity, that only made the situation even worse from the quality-of-life perspective. They decided that condemning her to a complete inability to interact with the world around her — assuming she was even still aware there was a world around her — would be needlessly cruel.”

Which sounded so compassionate of them, he thought. It may even have been that way, for some of them, at least.

“So they went ahead and terminated her,” Bardasano finished.

“Yes, Ma’am.” McBryde allowed his nostrils to flare. “And, while I understand the basis for their decision, from the perspective of Simões’ effectiveness, I have to say that the fact that they terminated her just one day short of her birthday was . . . unfortunate.”

Bardasano grimaced — this time in obvious understanding and agreement.

“The LRPB goes to great lengths to keep its decision-making process as institutionalized and impersonal as possible as the best way of preventing favoritism and special-case pleading,” she said. “That means it’s all pretty much . . . automated, especially after the decision’s been made. But I imagine you’re right. In a case like this, showing a little more sensitivity might not have been out of order.”

“In light of the effect on him, you’re absolutely right,” McBryde said. “It hammered his wife, too, of course, but I think it hit him even harder. Or, at least, I think it’s had more serious consequences in terms of his effectiveness.”

“She left him?” Bardasano’s tone made it clear the question was actually a statement, and McBryde nodded.

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17 Responses to TORCH OF FREEDOM — Snippet 44

  1. efg567 says:

    Herlander Simoes sounds like either a dead man or a cliff hanger waiting to happen.

  2. chuck S says:

    Now Cachelot and Zilwiki have a potential defector who can spill a big chunk of the bean pot – if they can find him. Imagine the potential if some bananna brain decides it would better motivate Simões if he understood the true importance of his work!


  3. JN says:

    Where is a treecat when you need one? He has a clear cut reason to seek out the enemy.


  4. John Roth says:

    This sure looks like a thread that’s just waiting to connect up with Cachet and Zilwiki. They still aren’t in motion, though.

    Creche raised, eh? As a way of avoiding creating conflicting loyalties it seems to be a very good way of turning out psychopaths.

  5. Mousekt says:

    Psychopaths make great operatives, if unbalanced human beings.

  6. John T Mainer says:

    Instrumental in the streak drive, what a refugee. Come to Torch, Haven, or Manticore, (even Beowulf) with a child fleeing “Culling” and Mesan Alignments drive secrets. Beats flying a Mig 21 from Cuba.

  7. robert says:

    @6 The child has, apparently, been “terminated” by now. So if anyone is coming to Torch, it would be Herlander, all by himself and devastated. Or has he already come to Torch? Who was it that so interested the Torch security team at the refugee intake terminal? Has Herlander “landed” (sorry about that).

  8. robert says:

    @4 Psychopaths and sociopaths—like Bardasano.

  9. John Roth says:

    @6, @7.

    Yes, the child has been killed. No, Herlander has not left Mesa – he’s still working on the advanced Streak Drive project. That’s what Bardisano wants Jack to look into.

  10. whiddon says:

    We like this side of the curtain and have little need for the Great Oz to reveal all.@9

  11. John Roth says:

    @9. whiddon

    Everthing I said is in the snippet above. Read it before being snarky, please.

  12. Lethargo says:

    Sounds to me like Bardasano’s found some natural bait for Cachat and Zilwiki.

    As for the girl, I suppose it’s too much to hope for that she’s actually just frozen (for autopsy or genetic material) and could be stolen and revived by her father. Nuts, it’s sad in the story and I was looking forward to meeting her. (Besides, like a commenter on a previous snippet noted, reaching the girl would have been such a great job for a treecat.)

  13. John T Mainer says:

    History may be driven by forces born from economics, ideology, and power politics, but it frequently turns on relatively obscure men and women who suddenly found themselves driven to throw their will against the course of the whole world, rather than let one more wrong pass unchallenged.

    From Xenaphon’s Anabassis, a corporal named Napoleon determining to bring order, to a black woman refusing to go to the back of the bus; one angry person can change the course of empires.

  14. John Roth says:

    @12 John T. Mainer

    Yep. One thing that it’s hard to keep in mind though is that we see the path that history took; we don’t see all the other people in that time and place who could have been the first bubble as the pot begins to boil. We fixate on the people because that’s part of who we are: people are a lot more real than impersonal social forces, especially since those “impersonal social forces” may just be the figment of some scholar’s imagination.

    That’s not what irks me about this particular plot thread. Given the situation, killing the kid is logical — she’s in what we would call a ‘persistent vegetative state’ today, and the informed medical opinion is that there’s nothing that could be done short of a real miracle. The moral implications of that policy are being discussed, sometimes in very ideologically strident terms, today.

    That Herlander goes around the bend because of the situation is also possible–people do that every day as well.

    What irks me is that the story assumes that there has been no progress whatever in 2000 years in understanding how the brain functions and the genetic underpinnings of that functioning. And that this lack of progress occurs in a culture that is devoted to improving the species.

    I can understand the first time it happened. Try something new, there’s always the possibility that something will go wrong. You go oops and learn from it.

    What I can’t understand is how they could possibly have not figured out what went wrong and taken precautions. You’ve got this neat assassin tech that presumes that they’ve got really, really detailed knowledge of how the brain functions, and then you’ve got the people who are in charge of improving the species acting as if they haven’t learned anything about their job since 1950? Please.

  15. robert says:

    @12 John, right. It is hard to keep up with the biosciences today in a cursory way. But any author needs to be able to research the material that is at the heart of the book being written or planned. The needs of the plot overriding what society and science and the individual really are, or should be, or will likely be like can make a reader throw a book across a room. Which is one reason I never buy the ebook of a novel (Grantville Gazettes don’t count, but even they are getting exasperating). Monitors are getting cheaper, true, but they are also much lighter, and that is really bad for the potential for broken glass and stuff.

  16. John Roth says:

    @15 robert

    Yeah, it’s definitely difficult keeping up. Genetics, language and how the brain functions are things I’ve tried to keep up on (at least somewhat) ever since high school in the late 50s. Things have changed radically in that period.

    When I started, nobody had any idea about the genetic underpinnings of the vertebrate body plan. Today the overall architecture, down to the specific genes and regulators, is well known. Heck, if Manpower had wanted to mark its genetic slaves as sub-human, it could have just given them tails! Almost all of the genetics for tails is still there in the human genome. Not only is it there, but it’s actually expressed in the early fetus.

    We know a lot less about how the brain is assembled, but bits and pieces are beginning to come into view. In another decade or so I suspect we’ll have the overall architecture nailed down to the point where we’ll actually be able to make some rational, evidence-based statements about brain defects, personality and so on, without all the ideologically-informed arm waving that’s going on today. (Unfortunately, that won’t stop a lot of the ideologs. Sigh.)

    One thing I’d suggest that an aspiring writer do is take a good look at the difference in brain scan technologies. fMRI (functional MRI), classical EEG, modern EEG, PET, MEG (magneto-encaphelogram) and tensor-diffusion fMRI are all different, and each has its strengths and weaknesses. Saying that the EEG shows “she’s still there” gives the impression that whoever said it hasn’t done his homework. It’s verbiage I’d expect to hear in a current discussion about whether to pull the plug on life support. And that is, interestingly, exactly where it shows up in the story.

    Fast forward a hundred years or so and I’d assume that there’s a technology that has the best of all of them: millimeter spacial resolution, millisecond time resolution, relatively cheap, real-time display and analysis. So if I was writing a story set in an advanced culture, I’d fuzz it and say “brain scan,” and assume that whatever the technology was, it gave a very detailed analysis of how the brain was functioning against reference stimuli, and compared it with both “normal” functioning and a library of known problems.

  17. robert says:

    The changes in imaging technology are about the most obvious advance in medical technology (and, unfortunately, one of the main factors driving medical costs up). But even at that, I think if you asked most folks working in the field, they would say that the technology still has a long way to go. Today, when an MRI is done, all kinds of things can show up in the way of what the doctors call “non-specific” findings. Those require follow-up and if the doctors get sloppy with their protocols, the patient can end up with some really bad radiation induced illness. And there are some crannies in the body that still can’t be imaged very well, if at all. The one word you hear from medical researchers all the time is “someday.”

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