I stood in the doorway for some time, studying them. After so many years I had little games that I played when a new batch arrived. This was one of the more informative: the ones with adequate observation skills invariably noticed me. I could have saved the Institute considerable credit by putting those who failed my little test back on the shuttle. I swiftly evaluated the strategy and rejected it; I would have missed one student of quality thirteen years before. I turned my attention back to the students. Now for my next game, trying to pick out the star of the batch. This time it was no challenge, the intensity in the eyes gave it away. It was a tall female with long, brown hair and a slight stoop. I walked briskly over to them and stood expectantly. All but two of them were alert enough to notice the movement in their peripheral field of vision and aware enough to interpret my body language correctly. I memorised the faces of the two who had failed, resolving to place a red mark in their files when I returned to my office. Five red marks ensured an early trip on the shuttle: three meant that a student would not be offered a place at the Institute.
I delivered the standard speech of welcome. After twenty-eight years I could do so without sparing a thought to words, inflection, tone or body language. I had more important issues to think on. One of the young men had an over-developed sex drive: even at a time like this, when any intelligent person would realise that they were being assessed, he could not direct his full attention. I considered marking his file but delayed the decision: the young woman next to him had unusually large breasts. I studied the other males in her vicinity and had to stop my body stiffening with disapproval. She had a high level of natural pheromones or, more likely, she was wearing a pheromone-laced scent. Either way, her file would be marked.
I finished, gesturing towards the senior students who would conduct the newcomers to their quarters. I watched them leave, detecting four red-mark offences, and then walked back to my office. On the way I paused to obtain a potassium-rich food bar from one of the dispensers only to find it inoperable. I reported the malfunction, then recited a mantra to disperse my annoyance. I could not risk anything that might impede my judgement.
I walked the extra fifty metres to the next dispenser, consumed two food bars, imbibed a quarter-litre of water and, finally, arrived at my office. I settled into my chair and indulged myself by anticipating my most enjoyable hours of each year; my initial perusal of the new students’ files.
I always delayed this until I had seen them so that my instinctive judgements were not muddled by knowledge. Long practice informed me that it was best to start with those who had interested me, otherwise impatience affected my logic. I set the computer to flick through holograms of their heads and shoulders at a rate of one per five seconds. I had no problems identifying the girl with the stoop.
Merely glancing though her file told me that I would be incapable of studying any others that evening. I called up my personal organiser. My next contact with the new students was at 16.00, over twenty hours away. I allocated three hours to find out all I could about Leanetta Lavouir and programmed the drug dispenser to prepare me a patch that would ensure sleep at the end of that interval. After eight hours’ sleep I should have recovered enough to review the other files and nine hours was long enough to finish the task before meeting the students.
Despite my twenty-eight years’ experience I had never seen a student with so much potential. I chose not to control my reaction, allowing the adrenaline to fuel my frenetic search through and beyond her file. By the end of two hours I had every piece of information that had ever been recorded about Leanetta Lavouir. I initiated the analysis programmes and waited, my throat tight with tension, for the first results to appear on the screen. When running such a thorough analysis there was a high probability of turning up red-mark offences. As she was student of remarkable quality I might be able to appeal against five marks, to get the limit extended to six, but no further. I watched the far, lower right corner of my viewing volume. That was where the red marks would appear.
I soon forgot the tally of red marks, I was too engrossed in her history, in the documentation of the gradual but inexorable emergence of a genius. It was only when my concentration was broken by a yawn that I thought to glance into the corner. The analysis was over and there was only one, lone, mark. Such an exceptional student merited a case conference. I instructed my personal organiser to consult with all relevant others and retired to bed.
Next morning I woke, showered, ate and consulted my personal organiser before settling down to study the students’ files. A few were of interest. The initial, top-stratum analysis allocated twenty red marks among the eleven students, an unexpectedly high number. A swift review revealed part of the problem; Pricilla Fatten, the girl with the pheromones, had picked up another four marks. I dispatched the standard set of messages, she would be on the noon shuttle. Counting the six I had allocated the evening before, that still left twenty-two marks spread over ten students. This time I could be philosophical about it: Leanetta Lavouir would make up for any number of failures.
I was please with the change in the students’ attitude when i saw them at 16.00. Pricilla Fatten’s early departure had alerted the other; to the reality of the situation. I explained the red- mark system and informed them that there was a report of each student’s progress which was updated every hour. By the end of the fifteen minute orientation session most of them were showing the expected levels of stress.
The case conference on Leanetta Lavouir had been fixed for 17.30. I slid into my usual chair at the table and assessed the body language of those already present. I was glad that the fad for conferring via computer had died away; people do not react properly when they are using only their eyes and ears.
Piers Kerwin arrived last but on time, as befitted the Institute Director. I quashed my irrational surge of pride: Piers Kerwin had been one of my earliest and most successful selections. He spoke a standard greeting and sat down, then signalled that I should start.
‘You have all read the file of Leanetta Lavouir,” I started with no preamble. “This is an usually talented student. We me here to discuss how to proceed.” I noted those who exhibited slight signs of stress, indicating that they had not read the file. They were only two out of seven, so I did not bother to summarise the file’s contents.
Angarad Furness lifted a finger, indicating that she would like to speak. The Director nodded his assent. “Personnel Manager Gentian, what are the chances of Leanetta Lavouir failing the selection procedure?” she asked me.
“Less than 0.5%,” I informed them. “A twenty strata analysis only turned up one red mark.”
There was an awed silence, that the Director chose to break. “Then I do not see the need to discuss Leanetta Lavouir the candidate. Instead we will discuss Teaneaa Lavouir the junior research student. Who, other than I, wishes to bid for this student for their team?”
There was little doubt as to the outcome, even though the others debated the point. At the end of the selection procedure Leanetta Lavouir would join the Director’s team. The meeting began to dissipate and I, pleased with the outcome, carelessly allowed my emotions show on my face. Senior Material Scientist Logan Pannatta seized the opportunity.
“Well, Monica, another little prodigy for your collection.”
Convention allowed him to use the familiar form of my name. Forty years ago we had been fellow students and briefly, to my lasting regret, lovers. I refused to answer him. I had learnt to do that long ago, if one ignored his insults and jibes they became less frequent.
“All the best students end up on that damned mycoid project,” he complained.
It was a familiar complaint, but one with which I had some sympathy. The Director’s worst flaw was that he saw the Institute as an extension of his research team, with all other projects as peripheral irritations that soaked up credit that he could have used more productively.
“Tenner Kiopanski has potential,” I told Logan in a low voice. “His education is limited because he’s from the Frontier, but in a couple of years he could be first grade. Logan grinned and for a fleeting moment I was a junior researcher. “Thanks, Monica,” he said and walked away. He had known that I would give him a name to make up for the disappointment of missing out on Jeanetta Lavouir. I did not mind, I had chosen to allow him his little manipulation. The Materials Science project was important, far more important than Piers KeMlin would allow.
Jeanetta followed the Director around the laboratories, listening intently to his every word. She had always known that she was good, perhaps one of the best, but only in rare dreams had her aspirations included joining the most prominent research team in the most prestigious research institute in the Federation. She had difficulty believing that she was been shown around by the famous
Piers Kenuin, the scientist who had invented mycoid engineering. She recalled reading about mycoids for the first time, in a newspaper article that a teacher had told her class to review. The article had been about advances in recycling and how useful the new mycoids had been because they could infest an alloy, converting one metal in the mixture to a compound while leaving another. The other students had bleated about the environmental implications while Jeanetta had concentrated on the mycoids and the wide range of their potential applications. She had tried to find out more, but had always found the relevant papers, reviews and books lacking in detail.
A half-year later, Leanetta leaned back in her chair and thudded her boot-heels onto the edge of the desk. Her first assignment finished, or nearly so, all she was missing was the final set of results. Once that was done she could fill the gap in her report and take it to Piers.
Piers behaved oddly when she handed him the memory cube. Instead of the spontaneous delight she had expected, his face was blank for a few moments before breaking into a forced smile.
“What, finished already? Or is this an interim report?”
Teanetta felt vaguely insulted. “No, it’s finished. I got the last results last night.”
Piers paused for a few moments. “So you have managed to extend the survival of the mycoid?”
Leanetta almost frowned, she had done exactly what he had asked her to do..You said that you wanted a molecular clock built into the endovirus that could be set for different delay times.
There was another short silence. “To what delay times can the clock be set?”
Jeanetta wondered why he did not read the report before questioning her. “Between the parameters you required, between a few hours and fifty days.”
“Could you have designed it to last longer?” Piers asked.
Jeanetta was annoyed. “Of course I could. You asked for a few hours to fifty days.
“So you could design a mycoid that lasted forever?” Piers asked cautiously.
Leanetta forgot, for a moment, the respect in which she held the great scientist. “A moron could, you just leave out the endovirus and correct the dependency in the mycoid’s genome. Of course, only a moron would, because then you wouldn’t be able to control the mycoid’s penetration. You’d have to use the antidote.”
Piers was sweating slightly. “You can eliminate the mycoid’s dependency on the endovirus?”
“I could, but you didn’t want that. You wanted it dependent on the endovirus and the endovirus activated by an internal molecular clock. Is there anything wrong, Piers?”
The Director pulled himself together. He frowned slightly. “We are working, Junior Geneticist Lavouir.
Jeanetta flushed. “I apologise, Director.
Piers forced a smile, indicating that the slip was forgiven..Now, did you do what I said?
Was the report prepared on an isolated system? Are all your results recorded on this cube?”
“Good. I want you to wipe all other copies of everything to do with this small mini-project of yours from your system. A standard precaution, in case of industrial espionage.”
Leanetta was not the suspicious type, but it seemed a little too coincidental that a freak magnetic surge had wiped the memory from both her computer system and its back up. She began the frustrating task of reinstating her most useful programmes while fingering the memory cube in her pocket. Piers had only mentioned her computer system so she had decided to keep the second copy that she had made. If he had not behaved so oddly she would have asked him about it, but he had been behaving strangely and that strange behaviour had extended into their leisure time together.
She had been working on her next assignment for twenty days before Piers mentioned the report. He called her into his office. She sat down in one of the chairs, which immediately moulded to her contours. Such luxury made her uncomfortable, the office was almost as bad as Piers’ private quarters.
“Is it about my report?” she asked.
Piers smiled benevolently. “Yes indeed, your report. An excellent first attempt, very commendable.
Leanetta’s stomach sank. She had thought it near-perfect, given the limitations under which she had been working.
Piers was continuing. “I think that it was a very promising initial study. of course it needed extending, and there are a great number of other experiments that need to be done. You go back to what you are working on now and let the more experienced scientists take over.
Leanetta left, trying to control her dejection. She should be pleased that Piers Kerwin thought so well of her work, not disappointed that it was not a great advance in mycoid engineering, as she had believed.
Rage, rather than disappointment, dominated her emotions when she read the paper published a half-year later. The work was hers, every iota of it. True, every word of it had been chosen by Piers Kerwin, every experiment had been performed in his laboratory, but every idea, every experimental plan, was taken from the report she had given him. She slammed shut the lid of her system and stalked out of her tiny office, intent on finding her former lover.
Loitering in a corridor is not really my style but I could not see an alternative, not if I was to intercept Jeanetta Lavouir before she reached Piers Kenuin. That had been the one red mark from the twenty strata analysis, a tendency to be impetuous when angry. I heard her before I saw her, the stomp of her heavy boots on the hollow floor. I stepped out.
“If I could have a word, Junior Geneticist Lavouir,” I said firmly.
For a moment I thought that she would push me from her path but once she had focused on me she responded with the reflex respect common to all my former charges.
“I am rather busy, Personnel Manager Gentian,” she objected. “This will not wait, junior Geneticist Lavouir.”
I shepherded her into my office, gestured towards a chair and activated all levels of my security system. She sat down cautiously, then relaxed slightly. I suppressed a smile, she obviously hated auto-contouring chairs as much as I did.
“Congratulations on your first research paper,” I told her, knowing that I was activating a detonator.
She was remarkably controlled. “I am sixteenth author,” she hissed.
I feigned innocence. “You are very young. With your talent, well, within five years you will be up to third or fourth author. Within ten you will be second. Who knows, perhaps, if you step the right pattern, you will be able to take over the group when the Director finally retires. Then you will be first author.
It was fascinating to see her anger dissipate as she appreciated the meaning of my words.
“You mean that it is always like this?” she asked bluntly.
“Like what?” I asked, still pretending ignorance.
She was not fooled. “Does Piers Kerwin always plagiarize his students’ work?”
I frowned. “That is a very serious charge, junior Geneticist Lavouir,” I said sternly.
Her expression hardened. “I can prove it. I have a copy of the original paper that I gave him, a dated copy. That will prove that all the work was done before he even initiated his own project.”
I was impressed. I wondered if I should play out the standard interaction, doubting that she had it, conning her into giving it to me, destroying it. I decided against it. I needed her to trust me and she was far too intelligent not to have made other copies. I allowed the outer layer of artifice to fall away.
“Be real, girl. He is too powerful for you to destroy. Cause trouble and you will be out of here in less time than a candidate with five red marks and he will make sure that you never research in the Federation again. Accept the status quo and in twenty years you will have your own group. If you have any sense you will leave the copy here and go to your quarters until you have calmed down.”
There was a moment when I thought that she would fight. Then she stood up, took out a memory cube and placed it on my desk.
“Thank you for your advice, Personnel Manager Gentian,” she said, her voice shaky as with defeat.
I watched her leave before curling my fingers about the cube. Her giving it to me had saved me the tedious task of excavating it from the secret copies automatically taken from all systems, isolated or not, throughout the Institute each day. Her show of defeat had not convinced me; I knew that her eyes had been kept on the floor to hide her defiance.
Her report was good, better than even I had anticipated, much better than the final paper which had been filtered through Piers Kerwin’s inferior brain. There was no decision to make, the next step was inevitable. I activated the procedure and a message began weaving its tortuous path to INRA.
Gresham arrived nineteen days later in the standard disguise, that of a visiting psychologist. I introduced him to a reasonable number of my colleagues, enough to allay any suspicions, before we ensconced ourselves in my office. I tossed him the memory cube without comment.
An hour later he leaned back and deactivated the viewing volume.
‘How much damage has been done?” I asked.
He pursed his lips. “Not much. The molecular clock is a useful development and I doubt that anyone other than Lavouir could modify it successfully, especially with only Kerwin’s paper to work from.” He paused, then glanced over to where I was sitting. “Her understanding is phenomenal,” he admitted.
“Better than yours?” I asked.
He winced.’Maybe, perhaps not, but I’ve been studying mycoids for forty years and she’s only been at it for a year.”
I fought against the inevitable. “Couldn’t we move her to another project? I could work on Kerwin’s jealousy.”
He shook his head. “We knew the risk we were taking when we told you to feed the mycoid data to Kerwin. We wanted a balance, the Imperial Researchers were dangerously far ahead. If the Federation produces a genetic engineer who can close the gap…” Gresham allowed sentence to trail away into silence and I shuddered at the implications. I looked him directly in the eyes.
“She’s probably as good as Hewuttson,” I stated. “We can’t leave anyone that talented on the loose.”
Leanetta Lavouir’s youth caused me problems; she was too junior to afford vacations off- planet. INRA go to considerable lengths to ensure that the recorded accidental death rate is high enough to hide a few extras but that only holds for travelling, accidental death within the Institute was a rarity and would inevitably lead to a thorough investigation. I reviewed the alternatives. None of them would be easy.
I had to choose suicide. It made me uneasy because there was so much detail involved; it would be so easy to miss one little fact. I had to alter her file, planting a suicidal tendency that was low enough not to have raised any flags yet high enough for it not to arouse suspicion in retrospect. Once I had decided what alterations to make I had to send a request to INRA. They would design a computer virus that could worm its way through the Federation records, making the necessary modifications.
The next step was to modify her behaviour. Again, I had to ask INRA for help, even though it meant yet another exchange of coded messages, increasing the probability that some unusually alert member of Federal Military Intelligence would become suspicious. Once I had the necessary instructions I had to impregnate the arm-rests of her chair myself, there was no other way.
In all my years as an INRA agent I had never had to take such a large personal risk; I had no plausible reason for being in her office at that or at any other time.
The results were very pleasing. Her pheromone production rate increased, making her suddenly the focus of much male attention. That, linked with the increase in her libido, ensured the necessary aberrant behaviour. I carefully reported this development in my regular report on the Institute personnel and flagged Jeanetta Lavouir for thorough analysis during the next cycle.
Of course, by the next cycle it was all over. A torrid sexual relationship in which her jealousy rose to intolerable levels, the inevitable rejection, a short period of depression and then the end. There were two poignant little messages, one to her parents and one for Piers Kerwin. I made sure that my final report identified her sexual involvement with the Director as the initial stimulus. That, along with the message, ensured that Piers Kerwin wanted the investigation closed as quickly as possible.
He had the gall to shed tears at the memorial ceremony, doubtless crying for his lost research papers. Before it was over he was talking to me about moving Tenner Kiopanski from Material Science to Genetics. I distracted him by talking about the best of the students in the new intake.
I found it difficult to slide back into my role as Personnel Manager. I had never been so personally involved in a removal, the standard procedure was to dispatch a certain code and then wait for them to take a vacation or to go to a conference off-planet. To be honest, it had been exciting and it had reminded me that life had not always been so boring and that Monica Gentian had not always been such a stiff-backed, tight-arsed harridan. I only realised how badly I had let myself slip when Logan made a pass at me; I had to go on a meditation retreat before I managed to regain my self-control.
I only lasted another three years. They tried to persuade me to stay but thirty-two years is too long to stay in any job. Anyway, I was sixty-three years old. It was time they allowed me to go home.
We decided on death by decompression, caused by an airlock failure on the pleasure station when I took my annual vacation. Apparently they shipped my body back to the Institute and had the memorial ceremony there. I imagined them all: the only one who would feel a tinge of true regret would be Logan.
I did not waste much time thinking about it. It was much more enjoyable to anticipate life at the INRA Institute with all those whom I had sent before.