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2206 : Window Onto A New World Book I in The Threshold

Chapter VII – Giants Under The Sun

By

Christopher Stewart ★ Bookcast Edition – April 2012


Copyright © 2012 by Christopher Stewart

★ All rights reserved. This book or any portion thereof may not be reproduced or used in any manner whatsoever without the express written permission of the author except for the use of brief quotations in a book review.

★ Bookcast Edition - April 2012

★ This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events and incidents are either the products of the author's imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.


Chapter VII

Giants Under The Sun « Evans has shown tremendous potential in the tests. His solutions were not only effective, they were original, and that's what I most like about his work. This guy doesn't follow recipes, and that's extremely inspiring. I just hope he's not some kind of diva who nobody will want to work with. I wouldn't be surprised if he were though. Anyhow, with his participation, I'm confident we will successfully complete SAVIA. But when I look that far ahead, it brings worries of its own. The Federation will obviously want to implement her on its space stations as soon as possible, and what a waste of her powers that will be. Akin to spending years to find out who on Ovel has the highest IQ, and then hiring them to mow the lawn... We have decided to leave now. The flight will be longer, but I'll have more leeway on Ovel, and I can work on the shuttle anyhow. I'll make it in time for the weekend, so I'll see the gang. Perhaps I can ask Evans to reschedule, that should make things less stressful. Hey, catering to the demands of the Administration actually works for me for once ! » – Excerpted from Bernard Sturn's diary entry for 47.4.2206


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VII. Giants Under The Sun

C

elia Parker had always believed she had known distressing times over the course of her

relatively short life. But in retrospect, all that had been nothing compared to what she had faced during the past year. Reflecting lightheartedly on the trying events, she was musing that the recent turmoils had relegated the prior nerve-racking experiences to mere walks in the park, although the metaphorical promenades had been nowhere nearly as pleasant as the one she was actually enjoying with her daughter Christina. Finally, the woman on the verge of her thirtieth birthday had begun her long-delayed doctoral thesis on the effects of detention conditions on the rehabilitation process of inmates, which she had decided to put off in order to raise her only child, a little over seven years earlier. While resuming her studies had mostly satisfied her, it had meant having to manage a busier schedule, and often missing the company of her small family. Things could have been better, but they were generally okay. And then, her husband Frank had been discharged when the software startup he had been sweating blood for had unexpectedly declared bankruptcy following the disastrous launch of its would-be flagship application. The couple had thus lost their only income, just a few weeks after acquiring their first house. Thankfully, a teaching position had providentially been opened when a former classmate from the Sociology Department, a good friend of hers, had gone on an extended maternity leave. Luckily enough, she had been offered to replace her. The young mother recalled how even this hadn't been that bad, that is, until her dear spouse had stumbled upon this heavens forsaken once in a lifetime chance to assist the illustrious professor, Bernard Sturn. The renowned researcher had been looking for an engineer to help him conceive an artificial intelligence, and ever since finding out about the opportunity, Frank hadn't been the same. In fact, he had behaved like an out of control version of the passionate geek she had known and loved when they had originally met at Parnassus University. Becoming literally obsessed with the subject, he had learned anything and everything he could regarding cognition, neural networks, cyborgs, and robots. And when not reading or developing prototypes and who knew what else on their server, he had been getting back into shape to fulfil the criteria of the RDA. If at first it had relieved her to see him in such an enthusiastic mindset after the period of doubts and moodiness that his unanticipated unemployment had ushered in, in the long run it had grown increasingly unnerving to her. She had come to resent having to take care of her partner, their daughter, and their home, virtually by herself, while he acted like some kind of aspiring astronaut. The sociologist recollected the selection process as it had followed its course, and her husband always ending up in the group of candidates who survived the battery of technological challenges, intellectual tests, physical training camps, and checkups. She couldn't forget the moment when it had The Threshold

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dawned on her that relocating to the scientific facilities on Veshtar was no more a simple possibility, but that it had turned into an issue to be addressed. Yet, she had not voiced her concerns. Before she could summon the courage to object, Christina and her had passed the screenings and the medicals, and obviously their participation had certified their willingness to go ahead with the adventure. From that point on, she had supposed that it had been too late to back out. Although she had contemplated the situation at length, examined it from all imaginable angles, and thoroughly weighed the pros and the cons, she still hadn't accustomed herself to the notion that her spouse would leave the homeland with the notable pundit, on their way to the third planet. Even more foreign to her was the thought that, once the hot season and the school term would officially be over, and all the outstanding affairs entailed by their move would be settled, her child and her would join them. Given the stress and anxiety that had been her lot all year long, Celia was enjoying every step of the family outing in Pefki Park, in the outskirts of Triton Aeolus. Occasions to escape had sorely lacked, and thus the surprise trip was most welcome. Prayers were not part of her culture, yet unless some kind of celestial intervention were to occur, it would probably be their last excursion together in a while. Frank was once again engaged in job-related matters, talking in person with the man who would likely be his future director, for one ultimate interview prior to their imminent departure. But she didn't let it bother her. Strolling beside her daughter, well behind the two men, appreciating the sights and the rare sunny weather in silence, she was hoping for a miracle. She was grateful that the schedule had been rearranged. The famous public speaker had been forced to rush his flight to Ovel in order to give a presentation to governmental advisers. That afforded him a few more days in the capital, and so he had proposed to his potential new hire to advance their face to face conversation. The Parker-Evanses had jumped on the unexpected chance to get out of Neo Delphi for the weekend. Perhaps she was on a streak, and her good luck had only just started ? – –

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« Will we have walks in the park on Veshtar, mommy ? » Christina asked out of the blue. « No dear » softly replied the young mother, « don't you remember what I've showed you on Netpedia ? » she patiently queried, « the atmosphere is toxic » she pointed out more insistently, « the only lifeforms that can remain outdoors unaffected are – » « The ugly trees » cynically completed the green eyed girl. « They are not trees, dear » corrected the grey eyed woman, « they are – » « I know... » interrupted the long brown haired preadolescent, « pte... ro... di... phytae » she uttered tentatively, struggling with the word. « Pteridophytae » calmly rectified the long brown haired vicenarian. « Pte-ri-do-phytae » slowly repeated the child, in a jerky fashion, visibly proud of herself. « That's it ! » Celia approved, smiling at her daughter and resuming her explanation, « the only lifeforms that are unaffected by the Veshtari atmosphere are bacteria, fungi, and a few varieties of plants » she mentioned in a warm voice, « the giant ferns we've seen on the net are only the most famous » she remarked, concluding her brief lesson. « I remember » responded the kid, manifestly dissatisfied.

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« But we'll take walks in virtual outdoors dear » the sociologist continued, « they're just like the simulations we have here » she assured without much enthusiasm, « we used to visit the states at the University Library when you were younger, and you liked that very much » she recounted, trying to cheer up the girl. « Yes mommy, I remember » Christina confirmed in a disappointed tone, « but it's not the same » she immediately rejected. « I know dear » at once sympathized the attentive mother, « but it's better than nothing » she suggested, as if attempting to convince herself at the same time, not letting on that she didn't much anticipated the prospect either. « I know » agreed the preadolescent, « it's just that... » she began, sighing, not finishing the thought. « It's just that what ? » promptly investigated the vicenarian, « we've discussed this before Christina » she went on more authoritatively, « life on Veshtar will be just like life here on Ovel » she promised pensively, « you'll have school while daddy and I are at work, and you'll be able to contact your friends via the network » she confidently ensured. « But we won't be able to chat » whined the child. « No, that's true » admitted the woman, « it's too far for real-time communications » she noted with a touch of resignation, « but you'll still be able to vid your friends, and you'll make new friends » she optimistically submitted, « many families on Veshtar have kids now » she lastly commented. « I know, mom » curtly retorted the daughter, obviously annoyed. « Christina » the sociologist compassionately carried on, « it's not as if we're going to stay over there forever » she asserted, concealing her own doubts, « daddy must first undergo a trial period, and then, if his bosses are really happy with him, maybe they'll offer him a contractual position » she declared, well knowing the chances of her husband missing the mark were slim, « and then we'll decide if we stay or not » she wishfully proposed. « What's a contractual position ? » the girl inquired right away. « It means that daddy will have the job for a one-year contract » Celia answered with a grin, « and every year the contract will have to be renewed » she added swiftly. « And every year we'll decide if we stay or not ? » wondered the preadolescent, her green eyes lighting up. « Yes ! » emphatically concurred the woman, hoping that her child would find comfort from the notion, as she did herself, « if we don't like it anymore, we come back here » she stated in an encouraging manner. « Okay ! » simply acknowledged the kid in a more upbeat voice, somewhat relieving her mother, although their talk had awakened her own uncertainties about the whole idea of moving to the neighbouring planet.

The reflective vicenarian still felt at odds with herself, as she had felt ever since she had first The Threshold

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urged Frank to persevere, at the start of the elimination process. She had believed, and correctly so, that it would be good for him to pursue the opportunity. However, never did it cross her mind that he would make the group of finalists, and even less that he would be chosen for the much coveted employment. If her spouse had been nothing short of ecstatic about the news, part of her had been upset at his selection. From that fateful moment on, she had been torn between her attachment to the values her traditional education had imparted to her, and her own dreams of a career as a specialist in inmate rehabilitation. Indeed, if not for their daughter, she would not have followed her man on such a disturbing adventure. But she wanted Christina to have the best possible upbringing, and that required keeping the family unit intact, even at the cost of adjusting her own plans once again. { « You can finish your thesis over there, the mining colonies use prisoners » } Celia could recall her beloved geek joyfully announcing, unaware that she knew only too well how some convicts were sentenced to extract the precious radioactive matter which abounded in the Veshtari ground. He had even checked with the RDA to ensure she would be invited to participate to the ongoing researches in her field of expertise once her doctoral paper had been properly deposited. She could imagine how the priceless proximity of the detention facilities would allow her to gather unique observations that would definitely benefit her study. Nevertheless, despite the undeniable enthusiasm of her partner, the unexpected openings, and the non-negligible monetary incentives that accompanied them, fact remained that this was not the future she had envisioned. She had always pictured herself on Ovel, at Parnassus University. The thought of merely spending time on a remote world, not to mention her entire active life, far from relatives and friends, was utterly foreign to the heart of the young mother. It was even more alien to her sensibilities when it involved a location as unwelcoming as the radioactive planet, as the almost barren Veshtar was aptly nicknamed. Thus, she secretly fancied either that Frank would truly dislike the experience, or that his directors would be dissatisfied with him at the end of the trial, or even better, that something would go awry prior to the great departure, perhaps during this ultimate interview, and throw the whole thing off. Still, inasmuch as she could tell by the way in which the meeting had seemingly gone up to that point, her undisclosed desires were not about to be fulfilled. Carefully watching the professor and his potential assistant in the distance in front of her child and her, she was forced to concede that they were apparently getting along quite well.

– – –

« Are they done talking, mommy ? » Christina wondered, seeing that the two men had stopped walking. « No, dear, I don't think so » the woman tentatively replied, « I think daddy just needs to tie his shoelace » she remarked, staring ahead. « Why can't we walk with him ? » the preadolescent asked. « Because Mister Sturn and him have serious matters to discuss » the sociologist insisted, « you wouldn't like it anyhow, dear » she immediately pointed out, « be patient, it'll be over soon » she submitted in a softer voice, halting and holding the girl near her so they

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wouldn't catch up with the other duo, preferring to ignore the specifics of whatever they were talking about, while her hope lingered.

★ As he listened to the physicist passionately introduce the project which had become so dear to the two of them, Frank Evans could scarcely have been any happier. His aspiration was coming true. Just this one last formality and he would receive the confirmation he so eagerly anticipated. He could hardly believe how perfectly it was all turning out after the dreadful beginning to the year, fraught with tribulations entailed by the demise of the company he had invested so much of himself into. The idea that lucky stars, guardian angels, or omniscient benevolent beings could be overseeing his life generally left him incredulous, but he had come to consider the peculiar chain reaction that had led to this dramatic moment as an extraordinary sequence of providential blessings, albeit in disguise. Or else, could he have been that lucky ? Lucky, he first mused, because he didn't have to live with the backlash set off by the debacle of the startup which had so abruptly terminated his employment. Arguably, the favourable state of affairs was a result of him faultlessly discharging his responsibilities in the making of the application that had been so badly rejected by the market. He had actually been commended for his work on the backend. The team that had developed the much maligned user interface hadn't been that fortunate. Their so-called groundbreaking innovations had been widely regarded as the primary cause of the commercial failure of the software, the fiasco that had precipitated the bankruptcy of the whole firm. Most of them were still carrying the dead weight of their much critiqued creation, abiding the wave of sorry consequences the ill-fated launch had summoned. Lucky also, and he knew it, because his wife had been there to love and support him during the discouraging period that had followed his dismissal from the collapsing enterprise. He loved her with all his heart, although he wasn't very good at telling her all that she represented to him, but he figured that, somehow, she already knew. And how so very grateful he was for her presence, that too he couldn't find a way to properly translate into words. Lucky above all, he finally reflected, because he had learned of the opportunity to collaborate with Bernard Sturn just in time to apply. That would always remain the luckiest break of his entire life, or so he had been thinking ever since. –

« But enough about SAVIA » proposed the scientist as he concluded his explanation, « so, you were telling me you've been unemployed for some while » he proceeded after a short silence, « how did you find out about the job ? » he wondered in a friendly voice. « You wouldn't believe it ! » replied the coder, slightly puzzled by the inquiry given how

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his own ruminations had led him to the very same memory, while technology had been the main theme of the conversation up that point, « I'm not sure I do myself ! » he went on in a more upbeat manner, pausing for a second before recounting the anecdote, « I had been called to the unemployment office because there was apparently something wrong with my file, some details were missing » he first recalled, « in fact, now that I think of it, they never really cleared up that part » the programmer observed, displaying a perplexed expression, glancing at the older man and promptly resuming, « I had tried to solve the issue over the net, but my account had become unavailable for some reason » he justified pensively, « and to be completely honest, every chance to get out of the house was very welcome back then » he confided with a grin. « I can imagine » chuckled the former educator, nodding at his tall, thin interlocutor. « So, I went over there » Evans quickly continued, « and I met an officer who asked me a whole lot of questions about... a whole lot of stuff ! » he remembered with humour, « how my job search was going, prior work experiences, even my job as a sales clerk... hmm... school, my health, my background, my family... I have foreign ancestry... and even current affairs » he enumerated, finishing with a chortle, « a lot of stuff ! » the green eyed, short reddish blond haired developer repeated for effect, « and then, from out of nowhere, as she was typing away at her computer, she told me everything had been sorted out » he recollected, again gazing quizzically at the professor to signify he wasn't quite sure what the problem and its solution had been, « the mix-up was resolved, and my account was once more available via the network ! » he announced, stupefied. « Perhaps they had you confused with some other Frank Herbert Evans » hazarded the project director. « That's what Celia said ! » declared the software engineer, amused, « but I never had the chance to know for sure » he immediately emphasized, « just as I wanted to ask the lady what had happened, she told me that the system had only been offering me a subset of all the jobs suitable for me » he carried on more solemnly, « and with the mix-up corrected, there were a few more openings – » « Among which was the opening on my team » guessed the attentive scholar. « Yup ! » concurred the vicenarian, « the officer told me that one of them was expiring at the end of the afternoon – there was only a few minutes left ! » he stressed, narrating the event in an engaging fashion, « she asked me if I wanted to apply, and I asked her about the job » he mentioned, the renowned Veshtari listening expectantly, « and when she said it was to work for the RDA, on artificial intelligence, I just couldn't believe it ! » the techie joyfully commented, mimicking the face of incredulity he had made at that time, « then she noted that it was to work on the team of... well, your team » he laughed as he looked at Sturn, « and it was simply too good to be true ! » he stated, still excited at the idea, « I mean, that's the kind of job we used to dream of as kids » enthusiastically remarked the coder, « and so I said yes, of course ! » he raved on cheerfully, « and right there and then she sent my file, and, well, here I am ! » he concluded, chuckling once again.

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« That's a great story Frank » calmly asserted the science adviser following a moment of silence, { this is definitely our guy ! } he reflected, amazed, « such serendipities are always hard to believe when they first occur » he submitted with a knowing smile, prompting an inquisitive stare on the part of his would-be helper, « I'm really glad you told me this, it's truly interesting, and it works in your favour » the space engineer assured, to the delight of Evans who grinned back in response, « apparently, our challenges weren't that difficult for you ? » the bespectacled man suggested after another break, « some of your scores are impressive ! » he finally pointed out with esteem. « Thanks, sir ! » acknowledged the gratified programmer, « I'm surprised at how well we all did on the physical front » he admitted, recalling the results of Celia, Christina, and his own, « I was out of shape when the elimination process began » he readily confided. « Well, luckily for you, we weren't hoping for top-notch athletes » the researcher revealed half-jokingly, « the individuals we select must have what it takes to function within the limitations of a remote, artificially recreated environment, and our training camps have been designed with those particular conditions in mind, knowing the determination and persistence this requires » he explained in a more serious tone, « I'm not in such a great shape myself » he conceded unabashedly, « but I've adapted to the life in our facilities on Veshtar, to a certain extent at least » the pundit observed pensively, « not everyone does, but we've learned how to filter out most of those who can't » he maintained, the young software expert nodding in understanding, « and so, we trust you can... your family and yourself have what it takes, and you should all do brilliantly during the transition period » the physicist ensured. « Thanks, sir ! That's also what I think » respectfully affirmed the junior developer. « That's good to know » approved the former teacher, « but in fact, I meant your scores in the intellectual challenges » he quickly clarified, « you consistently made the top three » he declared, once again manifestly admirative, « no one else even came close to that » he divulged to the evident satisfaction of his interlocutor. « I didn't know that » replied the techie, smiling widely, « they only told me my scores, not my rankings » he immediately justified. « I see » the illustrious quadragenarian went on, « tell me Frank, why am I hiring you ? » he queried after a short while. « Hmm... because you need an assistant, sir ? » tentatively answered the astonished coder, not quite sure whether the question was also the confirmation he had been anticipating. « No » swiftly reacted the amused scholar, « I mean, why am I hiring, you ? » he repeated, emphasizing the objective pronoun. « Oh ! » Evans exclaimed, slightly embarrassed, « hmm... because I'm the best ? » he again ventured, this time in a playful manner. « Precisely ! » unexpectedly retorted the public speaker, « and please keep that in mind » he stressed in an authoritative voice.

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« I will, sir ! » at once promised the programmer, « you won't be disappointed, professor Sturn ! » he added insistently, hesitating for an instant before resuming, « if there's one thing I'm one hundred percent confident about, it's my ability as a software engineer ! » he judiciously stated with a conviction that left the other doubtless. « Excellent ! » uttered the renowned scientist, visibly contented with the positive attitude of the developer, « I'm glad you mention this, because we feel you're that one-of-a-kind talent we've been looking for » he announced, staring at the appreciative vicenarian for a moment, « this last interview is just a mere formality to make sure we're still on the same wavelength, and to give you one last chance to change your mind, so... » he said, pausing for suspense as he stopped to turn to the eager candidate, readying himself to officialize their partnership, « unless you're about to tell me that you're not interested anymore, I'd like to welcome on my team » he proposed, extending his right hand towards the techie. « Great ! » responded the delighted coder, « I mean, sure, with great pleasure ! Thank you professor Sturn ! » he gratefully continued as they shook hands. « Excellent ! » the relieved physicist carried on, « so, that's it I guess... we leave as planned in four days » he noted, suddenly more frenetic, « Daniel will pick you up and drive you to the spaceport » he instructed, indicating the chauffeur patiently waiting in the distance, standing alongside the two-seater in the nearby parking lot, « I'll make sure you receive a welcome kit by the end of the weekend » the Veshtari assured his new colleague, « you'll have all the details of the travelling arrangements, and information about your temporary living quarters » he finally pointed out. « Perfect ! » Evans tersely acknowledged. « Oh, sorry to insist, but please make sure everyone signs the non-disclosure agreement » the project director required. « Of course, we will » the young man asserted with a grin. « I assume it'll be your first time aboard an actual shuttle ? » inquired the space engineer. « Yes, sir ! » cheerfully corroborated the programmer, nodding enthusiastically. « Don't worry, Frank » the famous pundit offered right away, « we've made technological quantum leaps in the recent years, the real shuttles are a lot more comfortable than the simulators we use to test our prospects » he ensured with a knowing glance, « the trips are smoother than airline flights ! » he remarked, chuckling. « I sure hope so ! » happily commented the developer, recalling some of his early training sessions. « Okay... before I go » declared the former educator, « do you have questions ? » he asked as he saw Celia and Christina approaching. « Hmm... no... I'm actually too excited to think » the vicenarian nervously answered with a chortle, « I wouldn't mind having access to the project's documentation while we're on our way to Veshtar » he then requested. « Of course ! » agreed the researcher, « I'll make sure you receive your access credentials

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by the time we leave » he guaranteed, grabbing his handheld out of his pants pocket to schedule the task. « Great ! Thanks professor ! » politely replied the techie. « By the way, Frank, please call me Bernard » the scholar enjoined his new collaborator. « Okay... Bernard » tentatively accepted the coder as his dear daughter arrived running and hugged him, her mother completing the quartet soon after. « Your father is a brilliant young man » the renowned public speaker told the schoolgirl who turned to her dad, not quite knowing what to say. « And we're proud of him » Celia observed solemnly as she leaned against her husband, her tone hinting at the disappointment she was trying to conceal. « And rightly so ! » approved the physicist, smiling at the sociologist, « we're delighted to have found him » he maintained, pausing briefly to look at the programmer, « we hope you'll enjoy your new life on Veshtar » he went on, addressing the woman, noticing the subtle changes in her expression, which reminded him of his own spouse. « I'm sure we will » confidently confirmed the junior developer, manifestly still under the thrill of having been hired.

{ He doesn't know } reflected the perceptive quadragenarian, struck by how the software expert remained untroubled about moving to the third planet, in stark contrast to his wife, { I hadn't noticed either } he recollected with regret. –

« As I was saying, Frank » continued the scientist following an awkward silence, « I really must be going » he announced pensively, « it's been a real pleasure meeting you all » he bade the small family, slightly bowing his head, « and I'll be seeing you at the spaceport in four days » he reiterated to his protégé, nodding one more time at him before leaving the gathering. « Perfect ! See you there ! » the techie responded in a lighthearted voice, « thanks again for everything, Bernard ! » he concluded respectfully, waving to the experienced man.

The Parker-Evanses stood there for a moment, quietly watching the famous space engineer as he walked towards the other end of the parking lot, where Daniel Milton was apparently consuming some sort of quick meal with great appetite and surveilling his conveyance.

« Daddy is flying off to Veshtar ! » the coder suddenly exclaimed, seizing Christina by the waist and lifting her as high as he could, hardly able to contain his excitement anymore, and then starting to spin her around him, much to the amusement of the child, while the young mother, seemingly more upset than pleased, stepped back to monitor the spectacle, « who's up for some Vega's ? » Evans suggested. « Me, me ! » the giggling preadolescent insisted.

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« Twin soy trios are on me ! » the programmer cheerfully offered. « I'll have two ! » declared the giddy kid, « and mommy too ! » she added at once, « we're hungry ! » she shouted, merrily sustaining the last syllable as the developer kept spinning her around him, the three of them breaking into laughter at her funny remark. « We better go fast then ! » the man playfully replied, bringing the girl back to the ground and swiftly hurrying to their vehicle. « Wait for me ! » Christina reacted as she ran, closely followed by the sociologist who was slowly finding some enthusiasm for the proposition.

★ At the opposite end of the parking area, Bernard Sturn was reaching the bodyguard. Milton was very busy finishing a sandwich and checking his handheld which began to emit a low-pitched noise as his passenger approached. Promptly swallowing the remains of his collation and wiping the crumbs off his hand against the side of his pants, the bearded driver removed his shades and gazed more intently at the tiny screen. – – –

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« We may have a problem, sir ! » gravely submitted the muscular man. « A problem ? » the former teacher asked nonchalantly. « Have you left your hotel room today ? » queried the concerned chauffeur, resting the communication device on the roof of his ride while he hastily put his sunglasses back in their case, which he stored inside his jacket. « Hmm... » hesitated the scientist, { I can't tell him about the conference with the Coalition leaders, he'll have to tell the Administration } he first reasoned, acting as if he had difficulty remembering, « I slept most of the day » he finally stated, not exactly lying, yet nor truly answering the question, « desynchronosis » the project director hinted after a brief pause, « spacelag » he reiterated, seeing the quizzical expression of his hefty helper. « Ah ! » responded the athlete, nodding and rising his eyebrows in understanding. « Why ? » immediately inquired the researcher, « what problem ? » he went on, seeking to divert attention from his calendar. « You have a bug » the giant simply noted. « What ? » exclaimed the physicist, manifestly shocked, { a bug ? Frank ? Could Frank be spying on me ? } he wondered right away. « You've been bugged » affirmed the security expert as he used his uDev to scan his client from head to toe, « you have a remote microphone on you » he clarified as he discovered that the signal came from one of the shoes of the pundit, « there it is, on the side of your sole » he pointed out as he unstuck the miniature gadget off the footwear, « don't worry, you can keep talking, the scanner is scrambling the signal » he ultimately explained.

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« Okay... » mechanically acknowledged the famous public speaker, { he can figure out I left the room if he checks the log of the hotel door } he suddenly realized, { better let him know now } he then mused, « oh ! I went out this morning » the scholar mentioned, appearing confused, « to meet with friends of a friend... politicians... unofficial matters » he revealed cautiously, « it was within walking distance of the hotel, so I didn't bother you, you know how I like to walk » he stressed after a while with a contrived smile, but Milton seemingly didn't notice the masquerade, nor did he react to the new information, absorbed as he was examining the little babbler, employing his handheld to magnify the minuscule device that otherwise looked like a tiny strip of common black adhesive tape. « Old technology, and I'm guessing it's foreign too » commented the bodyguard, handing his uDev to the science popularizer, « who would want to use one of those these days ? » he calmly observed, carefully placing the microphone in his shades case in the hopes of preserving it, « either they don't have a clue what they're doing » he continued following the short break, « or they want you to think they're beginners » he speculated pensively. « When did you last check ? » asked the former educator. « What ? » the bald driver uttered, interrupted in his reflections by the query. « When did you last scan me ? » Sturn reformulated, returning the communicator to its owner. « Hmm... let me think » replied the muscular helper, slightly embarrassed, « the thing is, I don't do this systematically » he declared, fearing the situation would be perceived as the consequence of his negligence, « we generally check locations, not people » he remarked apologetically, « it's much easier to bug locations » the chauffeur insisted following some consideration, « bugging a person directly is unusual, unless that person happens to work for us » he carried on at once, « people change clothes too often » he finally hinted with humour. « I can imagine » accepted the dark haired quadragenarian, grinning sympathetically. « Which is another reason why I think this might be the job of an amateur » suggested the athletic attendant.

{ Frank ? But why would he spy on me ? } again wondered the space engineer.

« But, to answer your question » the security expert went on, « the last place I've checked is your hotel room last night » he told the scientist, « good thing I was updating the app when you came back here or we would never have detected the sucker » he stated after a brief pause, « it starts to scan automatically when it's finished downloading the signature database, I thought they had fixed that bug » he noted, staring at the universal device with a puzzled expression. « Interesting... » the researcher opined after a while, also visibly perplexed, { then it might be someone from the Coalition, but why ? } he mused, trying to figure out who could have tricked him, and when.

The Threshold

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Christopher Stewart


2206 : Window Onto A New World

– –

VII. Giants Under The Sun

« Whoever is listening might also be watching us » Milton suddenly warned, « we better leave right now » he immediately advised, « do you want to confront your assistant while he's around ? » he submitted as he headed towards the driver door of the small transport. « I don't see why he would do such a thing » shared the physicist, peering reflexively at the surroundings with an air of concern, « I wouldn't want to bother him for nothing and run the risk of jeopardizing our relationship this soon » he added, waiting for his door to open so he could enter the vehicle, « we don't know enough at this point » he argued in a commanding tone, « let's investigate first » he ultimately instructed. « Okay, sir » approved the hefty bodyguard as he sat, « I'll drive around for a while to see if we're being followed » he promptly announced. « Okay » tersely agreed the pundit as he stepped inside the conveyance, « what kind of range do these gizmos have ? » he inquired, manifestly preoccupied with the unfolding circumstances. « Hard to say » the chauffeur reacted pensively as he started the engine, « it depends on the model, and they all look the same » he pointed out right away, chuckling, « the best models can easily be picked up over large urban areas... the wider Triton Aeolus area for instance » he asserted after a few seconds, « I'll drop it at the lab tomorrow, maybe they'll find something about its owner » he proposed without much conviction. « Good » absentmindedly responded the scholar, overwhelmed by out-of-sequence images of recent encounters.

Sturn couldn't pinpoint the moment when the microphone had been planted. There had been too many occasions. It could have happened at the meeting with the Coalition leaders, but he couldn't find a reason why any of them would spy on him. After all, he was readily collaborating with them. Unless one of them was working undercover for the Conservatives ? { That doesn't make any sense } he quickly rejected. Why bug him when his mere participation at the conference provided sufficient evidence to incriminate him ? While it could have occurred at Briskin's too, the Veshtari by adoption couldn't imagine one of his longtime friends doing such a thing. However, it could have been one of the customers as he had bumped into a few of them as he had left the diminutive diner. { It could have been Frank } he then reflected, and the eventuality worried him. In his enthusiasm, he had hinted at things he should have kept for himself. { He hasn't even signed the NDA yet ! } he recollected guiltily. He had been careless. He didn't really know his new assistant. He couldn't even begin to fathom what could motivate such sneaky behaviour. Still, he couldn't deny there had been opportunities for the techie to install the miniature device.

« Would I have felt it ? » the project director wondered, « I mean, when who knows who put it on me ? » he clarified at once. « Hmm... again, that's hard to say » replied the security specialist, « most likely, you've felt it but you didn't suspect anything » he tentatively observed, his eyes fixed on the road as he drove away.

The Threshold

76

Christopher Stewart


2206 : Window Onto A New World

VII. Giants Under The Sun

« Yes, obviously » acknowledged the quadragenarian, nodding slowly, « how could I have suspected anything of this sort ? » he remarked, staring blankly in front of him, { why is this happening ? } he mused, trying to figure out if he had somehow slipped and incurred the misfortune, but he couldn't recall having strayed from his discipline, « so, it could be anyone I've met since you dropped me off at Briskin's yesterday evening ? » he queried after a short silence. « Anyone you've met since I left your hotel room... the first time » the athlete corrected in a nonchalant manner, glancing at his passenger and appearing far less concerned by the situation than him, « I scanned the room when we checked it » he emphasized, seeing the quizzical expression of the physicist, « can you think of any unusual contact ? Like a total stranger running into you ? Maybe on the sidewalk or something ? » he hazarded, hoping the suggestions would trigger a memory.

The researcher couldn't talk, so he just gazed at Milton and remained quiet. The rectification was reminding him of another possibility. { The CSS ! } he realized, remembering the brief visit of the two harassing bureaucrats, { and they have very good reasons to spy on me } he surmised. However, the less his bodyguard knew about the Syndicate and its peculiar interest in him, and the better he felt. Indeed, the less the world knew about his involvement with the Community, and the better his chances were of staying on the third planet and duly completing his mission. By the same token, he couldn't let his oversized chauffeur discover about his affiliation with the Progressives Parties. Like many departments, the RDA was notoriously under the control of the Conservatives, and they didn't much appreciate when the staff helped the opposition, especially during an electoral campaign. He had heard numerous accounts of some of his colleagues being transferred for lesser transgressions. His supervisors were in town to attend the advisory meeting where he would give a lecture on the discontinuity to counsellors of the Chancellor. If they were to learn of his presentation to the heads of the Coalition, it could be catastrophic for his career. His plans for the development of SAVIA could collapse in a matter of a few days. Perhaps he wouldn't even be allowed to set foot on Veshtar again. Nevertheless, if Evans ended up becoming the prime target of an eventual investigation prior to their departure, there could be delays, and delays were a luxury he couldn't afford. –

« Probably at Briskin's » the expert finally answered, worried that his lengthy deliberation could arouse suspicion, « you know how small the place is... it was crowded » he asserted as confidently as he could, « why don't we wait for the lab results ? » he proposed after a while, « speculation will confuse us more than anything » he accurately pointed out. « Makes sense to me ! » cheerfully accepted the driver, reflecting on the wise statement as he kept on steering the vehicle.

The Threshold

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Christopher Stewart


About the Series

A

t the turn of the century, Ovel must face the consequences of its accelerated growth. One

hundred and twenty seven federated countries and eleven sovereign nations, spread across the homeland and in colonies settled onboard orbiting stations and on a nearby planet. Fourteen billion inhabitants struggling to thrive under the rule of a corrupted Global Government, in power for over forty years. Fuelled by a recent scientific finding, the once in a lifetime discovery of a discontinuity in the cosmic fabric of the neighbouring space, a coalition of politicians is willing to stand up for the people and radically change things. Now relegated to the ranks of an obscure sect, the once dominant Community and its disciples must effectively handle the requirements of the Celestials to ensure that the most favourable of all possible destinies comes to pass. Meanwhile, halfway across the world, a young monk must learn to collaborate with the Enlightened Ones in order to successfully discharge the essential task he has accepted to fulfil in behalf of his monastery. Will the crucial 2206 electoral campaign climax on the emergence of a charismatic Progressive leader, or will the decried Chancellor prevail despite the many forces scheming for his downfall ? On a background of environmental and financial crises, and religious influences intertwining with political manoeuvres to determine the fate of the overpopulated orb, The Threshold chronicles the evolution of the Ovelian civilization as it heads towards unprecedented upheaval.

★ Contact Facebook Profile : https://www.facebook.com/the.threshold.2206 Google Plus Profile : https://plus.google.com/u/0/104660427672333556879

★ The Complete Edition of The Threshold - 2206 : Window Onto A New World is available in the following locations Kindle Format on Amazon ePub Format on Lulu


About the Author

C

hristopher Stewart loves to try his hand at various artistic endeavours, but if there's one discipline he's perfecting, it must be the art of blooming late.

He has studied for a long time, played football even longer, spent a significant part of his adult life developing software on a full-time basis and invested what remained in the pursuit of his ideal of creating meaningful music in the context of a rock ensemble. He has founded the prolific yet still album-less Quebec-based progressive rock outfit Poligraf in 1998 and has never been quite the same since. He has been practising Buddhism dead-seriously since the mid 90s, until he finally awakened to the fact that it teaches living happiness. His interests range from psychology, physics, and philosophy, to mysticism, divination, the arts and the creative process, and, obviously, multitasking and clichés. Pick any task, tag it with the word « impossible, » assign it to him, and he’ll be hard at work for years before the first suspicion finally pops in his mind.

★ Contact Email : christopher.stewart@gmail.com Facebook Profile : https://www.facebook.com/christopher.andrew.stewart Google Plus Profile : https://plus.google.com/114005406455037130049 Twitter Profile : https://twitter.com/poligraf

★ Also Available as eBooks On the Meaning of Sin


Credits Chapter Titles The titles are meant as a tribute to the musicians. Special thanks to the members of Yes for their musical genius, and to Jon Anderson in particular for sharing his vision with the world. Fonts Linux Libertine : http://www.linuxlibertine.org/ Vollkorn : http://friedrichalthausen.de/ Philosopher : http://jovanny.ru/ BorisBlackBoxx : http://manfred-klein.ina-mar.com/ Quirkus : http://www.peter-wiegel.de/ Ubuntu : http://font.ubuntu.com/ Liberation : from the Fedora Linux Distribution : http://fedoraproject.org/ Images Yarl : Forest in Czołpino Software Open Office : http://www.openoffice.org/ FreeMind : http://freemind.sourceforge.net/ The Timeline Project : http://thetimelineproj.sourceforge.net/ Gimp : http://www.gimp.org/ Blender : http://www.blender.org/ References Most of my book design questions have found an answer on Joel Friedlander's The Book Designer : http://www.thebookdesigner.com/

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The Threshold Bookcast : Chapter 7 – Giants Under The Sun