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

Chapter XI – The Preacher The Teacher

By

Christopher Stewart ★ Bookcast Edition – May 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 - May 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 XI

The Preacher The Teacher « The situation has grown so extreme these last few years, it's silly. Keskus is one of the last remaining communist states, or at least the Communist Party is in power, but it's obviously the most capitalist of all Ovelian nations, and in fact, if it weren't for them, capitalism would collapse lamentably. They've become notorious for exploiting their people, profiting from warfare, and invading their neighbours, like Kõrgus for instance. And of [ sic] you can ignore the elephant in the room, then yes, capitalism seems to work very well over there. All in all however, it's as if the global economic balance hangs on how Keskus exploits its own people. If that's the cost of capitalism, I don't want to have anything to do with it. No matter how indebted other nations are to them, from the moment Keskusians revolt and break free from the rule of the Communist Party, chances are the whole capitalist illusion will fall to pieces... There should be an international treaty allowing countries to defer payments to creditors for as long as they don't respect the Declaration of Fundamental Rights. What's more responsible ? Balancing books, or making sure people are well taken care of ? That would make our priorities very clear. » – Excerpted from Bernard Sturn's diary entry for 12.1.2206


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XI. The Preacher The Teacher

B

ernard Sturn had been nagged all day long by recurring doubts about Frank Evans. He

had tried to ignore the issue and push it back to a far corner of his mind, but still, regardless of how intent they had been, his efforts had only been momentarily rewarded. In the all relative comfort of his office, enjoying the soothing warmth of a cup of green tea as he waited for the young coder to join him for an informal evening meeting, he mulled over the recent developments. At the beginning of the morning, Daniel Milton had sent him a long video mail which had revived the possibility that his new colleague could in fact be an industrial spy who had successfully infiltrated his team, in all likelihood in the pay of one of the independent nations. Obviously, the mere presence of a potential intruder in the Veshtari scientific facility constituted a threat that the security expert had to address, or at least report to the RDA. The space engineer had immediately recorded a brief response, arguing that he could probably clarify the matter on his own, and thus save everyone much time and energy. And at worst, should that request be denied, it yet afforded him the delay he needed to determine the safest way to proceed, and hopefully avoid a full-fledged investigation. Or at any rate, that had been the plan. The quadragenarian had been reviewing parts of the clip over and over since then. Knowing that the distance between them precluded live communications, his hefty chauffeur had composed a thorough message, not only expressing his misgivings, but also providing justifications for them. The surprising points he had stressed had demanded rigorous deliberation, and the doctor of physics had been forced to admit their relevancy. The former educator recollected his last encounter with the giant, that night at the spaceport just prior to leaving Ovel, when the driver had returned from picking up the techie at his hotel. He had noticed that the athlete had been looking at him with concern, and while he had felt something was wrong, nothing had been said. So he had eventually forgotten about it, assuming the bodyguard had been preoccupied with some sort of personal problem. Thus he had departed the homeland under the impression that the Civil Servant Syndicate was behind the spying attempt. The compelling revelations shared by the big bald helper had forced the pundit to reconsider his opinion. Despite having both motive and opportunity, the dark grey suited bureaucrats weren't the ones who had bugged him after all, or so it seemed. The imposing enforcer had guessed correctly when they had found the microphone. The lab had confirmed that the miniature snoop was indeed obsolete technology. More significantly, the examination had demonstrated that the tiny babbler had been manufactured in Fidelistan. It was evidently too soon for the republic to join the ASN, yet it was on the verge of secession, and everybody knew that the Alliance was supporting the movement. The discovery had corroborated the intriguing theory that the sovereignists could have orchestrated the The Threshold

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devious operation, as the organization also had sufficiently strong reasons to go ahead with such an undertaking. Even more interesting to the scholar however had been the segment wherein Milton disclosed what he had learned while conducting the programmer to the intermodal station from which the two researchers had flown to the third planet. That was the excerpt he had watched most often, the one in which the bearded attendant recounted how he had unearthed Evans' background, over the course of one of the enthusiastic and humorous conversations the mountain of muscles was notorious for holding. Merely by acting in his habitual friendly manner towards his passenger, the chauffeur had gathered some odd facts about his past. In themselves they weren't that singular, but in the context, when put together, they painted up a most peculiar portrait of the assistant. The software specialist had actually worked as a clerk for an electronics supply store to pay for college. As a teenager, and until his early twenties, he had been involved in political groups that militated against the Federation, although he had assured the security agent that this particular water was well under the bridge. But what had finally triggered the suspicion of the oversized gastronome had been the declaration that he had Fidelistani ancestry on his mother's side. The bald giant had been tempted to warn Sturn right away at the terminal. Still, his hunch that the spying device was of that very same origin had not yet been substantiated by a proper analysis at the lab, and so he had kept silent. And as if there hadn't already been enough information to raise a doubt or two in the mind of the space engineer, the driver had further developed the line of thought. On one hand, the potential intruder had definitely chosen one of the hardest possible ways to infiltrate the team. Unless he had been relying on accomplices, to survive the exacting elimination process and emerge as the selected candidate was far from the simplest plan. However, the conspicuousness of the manoeuvre provided him with an almost perfectly indubitable cover. To the project director, it didn't make much sense that the young coder would take the chance to jeopardize his entire mission so close from his objective by planting a bug on his future boss just as he was about to be officially given the job, just a few days prior to their departure. The bodyguard had clearly pondered the question too, as he had submitted that this could have been a precautionary measure in the eventuality that the renowned quadragenarian had changed his decision at the last moment. Should he have ultimately been denied the coveted position on Veshtar, the techie would have at least profited from this unique occasion of meeting the physicist in person to get something out of the whole venture, which would have been pretty much fruitless otherwise. Still, as convincing as the hypothesis sounded, it implied one collaborator, living or machine, to receive the signal on the radioactive orb and relay it to Ovel. At best, the minuscule microphone could barely emit beyond the boundaries of a large city, and so broadcasting across interplanetary distances was manifestly utterly unlikely. Reflecting over the ramifications, trying to figure out the modus operandi of the intruders, the former educator had been lost in his ruminations for a while when his handheld notified him of an The Threshold

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incoming message. It was Milton, who hopefully was responding positively to his request, and would announce he could wait before going ahead with the report. –

« Hello professor Sturn ! » began the video mail, « thanks for your quick reply ! » the bald giant offered, already pausing as if to organize his ideas, « okay, first, I have absolutely no problems with giving you a few more days to handle this yourself » he agreed, evidently satisfied, « that kind of investigation takes forever and if you could clear up the matter on your own you would surely save us loads of precious time » he happily explained, « not to mention the paperwork you would spare me » the athlete remarked with a chuckle, « that being said, I've mulled the theories over » he went on, enumerating the alternatives aloud, « Briskin's, your morning conference, and your walk in the park with Evans... and I don't see who else would want to spy on you » he observed confusedly, apparently not in the slightest concerned that the famous scholar might have hidden another option from him, « I mean, granted, almost everybody down here would like to know what you're up to up there in your lab » the hefty chauffeur laughed, « but, seriously, I don't see why your good friends would bug you » he immediately argued, « and the people at your meeting... your politician friends ? » he recollected as he made an incredulous face and nodded negatively, « I don't think politicians would risk doing such a thing themselves » the security enforcer suggested confidently, « and they wouldn't use such a crappy gizmo, unless they happen to be secessionists ? » he queried jokingly, obviously not deeming the proposition worthy of consideration, « federal agencies don't use them anymore... there's far better stuff out there nowadays » he finally noted. { That rules out the bureaucrats } the pundit mused as the clip played on. « No » resumed the driver, « the more I think about it and the more I think this is simply what it looks like » he calmly commented, « another one of those misguided militants led by their political convictions » he imagined, scornful, « I shouldn't blame them really, they just fight for what they believe is right... I guess I would do the same » at once stated the oversized attendant, « but if it's not him, the coincidence would be astonishing, don't you think ? » he then questioned, « I mean, if Evans hasn't planted that mic, what are the odds of finding it just after meeting him ! » he reasoned, doubtful. { Especially given the way we've found out about it } recalled the public speaker, incited to concur, taking the last sip out of his cup. « Okay » the bodyguard carried on, « I really have to go now, so... again, I just wanted to confirm that I'm giving you a few days to sort it out » he reiterated lightheartedly, « but unless you come up with something convincing, I'll have to file a report of the finding to the Administration » he warned in a graver voice, frowning, « I'm sure you know better

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than anyone else that top secret information is at risk here » the muscular helper hinted with amusement, before staying silent for a second, « so... looks like I'm done now ! » he then announced, « have a nice day... or night... or... whatever time it is where you are ! » he joyfully hazarded, chortling once more, « talk to you later professor ! » he concluded the call. The postponement had somewhat relieved the smiling physicist, even if the pressure was now on him. He reflected that, though Milton had mostly speculated, he had brought up some interesting points. Still, one unavoidable fact had been established with certitude. Sturn had to unearth the truth regarding his new assistant, and he had to start digging as soon as possible. If he could prove that the techie was indeed the spy, the ordeal would quickly become old news, to be remembered as one of those strokes of bad luck that necessarily had to occur once in a while. The investigators would not need to know of his whereabouts during his sojourn on Ovel, they would only require the details of the events in Pefki Park. Manifestly, he would have to hire a replacement software engineer, but he could interview the candidates who had made it to the ultimate stage of the elimination process. On the other hand, if he could figure out a way to clear the coder of any suspicion, the troubling matter would be far less urgent as there would be no direct threat to the privacy of his project anymore. The security enforcer would fill the paperwork, and yet, given that the attempt had been foiled, probably no official inquiry would ensue, or if one were to be launched it would potentially end up lost in the mazes of a bureaucracy that was already overburdened by more important issues. One way or the other, the scientific adviser couldn't wait. Obviously, the chauffeur had made up his mind. As the hours would pass, it would get increasingly difficult to change his opinion, and his hypothesis, however unfounded, would slowly become his reality. Worse, the longer the scholar would delay, and the longer SAVIA would be exposed to the risk of being compromised, and he just couldn't let that happen. He had to be at peace with the whole affair, and the earlier, the better. While the situation was anything but straightforward, he could rely on the secret weapon he had cultivated in his many years of practice in the occult arts the disciples of the Community protected so fiercely. He had learned how, after quieting his psyche, he could discern when he was being lied to, and he intended to – – – – –

« Hello Bernard ! » cheerfully greeted Frank Evans as he appeared at the open door of the spacious room, interrupting his supervisor's train of thought. « Hello Frank » the quadragenarian reacted tardily to the unannounced yet anticipated arrival, evidently concerned. « You wanted to see me ? » immediately replied the grinning young man. « Yes » the pundit responded following one more pensive lapse, his expression going from preoccupation to warmth, « I'd like to talk to – hmm... sorry... please come in » he uttered confusedly, motioning to invite his coworker inside, « do you have a moment ? » he asked politely.

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« Of course » confirmed the junior developer, « I mean... yeah, sure » he continued more quizzically as he walked towards the desk at the opposite end of the area. « Close the door, please » the renowned researcher requested. « Hmm... okay » obeyed the programmer, retracing his steps to do as instructed, « is there something wrong ? » he wondered, noticeably worried as he turned back to his boss. « No » stated the former professor in the most reassuring manner he could muster, « no, I just wanted to – » he began, suddenly stopping in mid-sentence, « here... let me show you something » he suggested after a short pause, standing up from his armchair.

The new assistant hesitantly headed to an empty seat as the doctor of physics approached a large black panel on the only unobstructed wall.

– –

« No » disapproved the consultant, « lights off » he commanded his uDev, « don't sit » he carried on in an authoritative voice as the fluorescents gradually faded, « come here with me » Sturn enjoined, gesturing again in the near obscurity, « unopacify the side pane » he once more ordered his handheld. « You have a window ! » promptly exclaimed the software expert, « wow ! » he added in amazement as he discovered the extraordinary panorama of the Veshtari city at night, « I can't believe how brilliant Savia is ! » he commented, unfamiliar with the sight of natural satellites, just as most Ovelians were, and astonished at the spectacular full moon. « Quite a picture isn't it ? » remarked the famous engineer, smiling widely. « Breathtaking ! » the techie agreed, spellbound by the yellowish orb, « we need one of these on Ovel » he jested after a few seconds, the quipster and his interlocutor breaking into laughter at the silly proposition.

As he kept staring in silence at the incomparable landscape, the coder observed that, except for the spaceport, there were surprisingly very few lights coming from the sole urban agglomeration on the otherwise practically desert planet. The moonlit sky allowed him to distinguish the various facilities, and even faintly illuminated the inside of the office. From the storey they were on, he could also recognize some of the rare islands of vegetation that sprouted here and there in the distance, in the vast ocean of dry land surrounding the only permanently inhabited region of the whole globe.

– – –

« This would be the residential area, right ? » Evans eventually submitted, pointing in the direction of the small district. « Hmm... one of them, yes » the scholar answered, « and the main scientific sector is over there » he mentioned, indicating the general location of the buildings. « Is this where they develop the new power cells ? » inquired the vicenarian. « Yes » replied the pundit, « the software projects are done here » he noted, referring to the edifice they were presently in, « the hardware stuff is done over there » he clarified at once, « the structure on the far right with the big dome is where they work on molecular

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assembly » he then explained. « Oh, yes, I've heard about it » the newly hired specialist reacted, « mind-blowing stuff ! » he stressed enthusiastically. « You bet ! » concurred the respected researcher, « and I hope they succeed » he declared, appearing slightly worried, { he already knows about this ? He's been exploring for sure } he thought as he glanced at his guest, « given the reserves of energy and raw materials we have here, this could mean exponential progress » he hinted optimistically. « Do you know how it works ? » immediately queried the young man, eager to learn more about the emerging technology. « Hmm... not in full » the former teacher admitted following a short deliberation, looking even more concerned as he turned again towards his collaborator, « I can tell you that it's essentially high speed compounding of complex molecules into... » he began, hesitating briefly, « well, into pretty much anything you can imagine ! » he finally suggested. « The applications would be endless ! » the programmer supposed, visibly astounded. « Well... yes and no » objected the consultant, « I hear it's a very costly process in terms of energy » he first emphasized, « so I'm guessing it would only be advantageous in very specific situations, or in contexts where conventional techniques are not practicable » he hazarded pensively. « I see » said the software engineer as he further considered the idea, « so, probably not the most efficient way to make soy burgers » he joked, the duo once more bursting into laughter at the humorous words. « That would be a sight though ! » the famous public speaker chuckled as he envisioned the unlikely production line, « they estimate it'll probably prove too expensive to make consumer goods » he remarked in a calmer manner, « however, for large structures such as spaceships and stations, the procedure should turn out to be more economical and a lot faster than our current assembly methods » he proposed confidently. « Makes sense » the techie agreed as he resumed peering at the urban centre, « and over there, way behind the dome, that would be a power cell plant ? » he ventured, abruptly changing the topic as he designated a factory in the distance. « That's right » the physicist confirmed, { what's so fascinating about the cells, Frank ? } he mused, increasingly apprehensive about the curiosity of his new employee, « the plants are isolated because they're also detention colonies » he offered in justification. « Is it true they've built the city here because that's where the richest deposits are ? » the assistant wondered. « Well... they're near here, yes... or at least that's what the original probings had shown » the scientist responded, « but richer fields have been discovered since then » he pointed out right away, « you seem to have a particular interest in nuclear energy » he observed, suspicious of his interlocutor. « Huh ? » the junior developer replied at the unexpected comment, « no, not really » he

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denied, chortling, « I just can't wait to know my way around here » he promptly added, his perplexed expression telling of his difficulties in becoming familiar with the peculiar location, « photos and maps are useful, but they're nothing like seeing the real thing... my apartment has no windows » he explained, reassuring his preoccupied supervisor. « They're a privilege » noted the project director who nodded in understanding, « but you know why that is » he submitted in a inquisitive fashion. « Because of the duration of the light-dark cycle, circadian rhythms, and all that » vaguely answered the coder, more or less aware of the facts. « And all that, yes » the renowned researcher reacted with amusement, « when they built the first Veshtari base, they quickly found out that most people had a hard time adapting to the environment – » « Because of the lighting » the new hire interrupted. « Yes, well, that's what they discovered eventually » the tall scholar recounted, « but at first they didn't know » he stressed at once, « Veshtar spins around its axis in roughly one hundred and thirty-two Ovelian days » he informed the younger man, « at the time, until the first plant was in operation, they primarily relied on solar energy... they only worked during the light cycles » he asserted, admirative of the pioneers who had established the original settlements.

Listening to the quadragenarian relate the trailblazing heroics, Evans imagined how life on the third planet could have been back then, wondering how the builders had managed to initiate the whole enterprise. Certainly, they hadn't just landed on the uninhabited orb and started from scratch !

– – – – – –

« To make a long story short » the space engineer went on, « after much experimentation it became obvious that what worked best was to simulate the Ovelian cycle » he summed up, not wanting to dwell on the subject, « and so there was little choice but to resort to artificial lighting to achieve the effect » he ultimately emphasized. « So they gave us no way to cheat ! » complained the programmer half-jokingly, « it's like living underground all the time » he remarked, more seriously. « Yes » admitted the former professor, « but there are... workarounds » he suggested with a chuckle, « the virtual outdoors – » « Simulations are a far cry from the real thing » rejected the techie, unconvinced. « There's the observatory » Sturn immediately continued, « two sky bridges, and – » « Where ? » exclaimed the software specialist, visibly curious. « Between the housing towers, on the west side » the longtime Veshtari stated, indicating the wall opposite the window, « I don't think we can see them from inside this building » he promptly clarified, « and you can also arrange to take walks outside if you'd like » he resumed, grinning knowingly. « Yeah » uttered the assistant, clearly repulsed by the idea, « maybe later » he mentioned,

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evidently not too excited about the adventure. « No, it's quite fun » the doctor of physics chortled, « you really have to see the sky from out there during a dark cycle, when the moon is out of view ! » he urged enthusiastically, « at least once » he added, noticing his interlocutor still appeared reluctant. « Hmm... I'll see » responded the junior developer as he gazed at the celestial scene, « the view is already stunning from in here » he commented, genuinely impressed, « that must be Ananke's Belt ? » he tentatively submitted, pointing at the bright overarching band of stars. « The deity of necessity and inevitability » reflexively confirmed the scientist, reminded by his own words that, sooner or later, he would have to confront his guest, « that's the Atropos Arm » he declared following the bothersome recollection, identifying one of the three spiral branches of the galaxy in which the solar system was located. « Can we see Ovel ? » asked the coder after scanning the heavens in vain for a while. « No, it's too late » answered the researcher, nodding in the negative, « we won't see her again until we go all around the sun and meet her on the other side » he explained with an air of regret, « unless you want to take a long walk eastward ? » he proposed in jest, smiling widely. « No... thank you... I'll wait » Evans declined, again acting as if the possibility of donning a space suit and wandering otherwise unprotected from the toxic atmosphere did not much appeal to him, but this time playfully exaggerating his attitude.

As the funny young man offered his comical reply, a vessel left the spaceport in the distance and slowly ascended in the firmament. –

– – – –

– –

« Automated cargo ship » described the quadragenarian as the vehicle rose ever higher, seemingly heading towards the natural satellite, « they bring supplies to the outposts at regular intervals » he carried on after a brief silence, « this one is going to the moon » he then announced. « There's a base on Savia ? » reacted the new hire, looking at his supervisor in surprise. « More like an observation post » the pundit corrected, « apparently it's so old nobody on Ovel remembers it's there ! » he remarked half-jokingly. « What's it for ? » wondered the programmer. « Observation » simply said the scholar, trying to keep a straight face, and provoking a burst of laughter from his visitor, « astronomical, biological, geological... meteorological » the former teacher enumerated hesitatingly, « Savia is basically a twin of Veshtar, smaller, of course, but very similar in many points » he continued more confidently, « there are plans to exploit it too, eventually » he finally revealed. « When they're done here ? » the techie hazarded in an inquisitive tone. « I suppose so » the senior engineer shrugged after an instant, having manifestly no clue

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of the exact schedule, ÂŤ Dinatar is even richer, so they might go over there first, although it should prove much more difficult to harvest... but don't expect any of this to happen in the near future Âť he noted pensively. Gazing quietly at the striking starscape, Sturn could still discern the big spacecraft, far away, a mere shiny dot in the blackness. During the drawn-out night cycles distinctive of the almost desert planet, the sky provided a genuinely exceptional spectacle, constellated with countless lights, a very welcome contrast to the boringly familiar yellowish brown sandy scenes of the daylight. Sincerely appreciating the conversation and the opportunity to get to know his assistant a little better, he was nevertheless too well aware he would have to address the touchy topic before too long. Glancing at the software specialist, he reflected that he might not only have enrolled an invaluable collaborator, but that perhaps life was also bringing him the good friend he had never really met ever since he had accepted to move to the radioactive orb. Thus far, the communication between them had been open, enjoyable, and most of the time even entertaining. Considering their respective backgrounds, they obviously shared many common interests. However, their budding relationship had never known a single source of stress, and so he was concerned that the unavoidable interrogation, coming at that early and sensitive phase of their partnership, could have a deciding impact on the evolution of the otherwise promising connection. Even finding a way to approach the question was already proving problematic. While he wasn't much preoccupied about the cordiality of his exchanges with his new boss, the coder had worries of his own. His recent period of unemployment had made clear that sometimes the future wasn't in a hurry to show up. Nonetheless, he was now remembering that at other times it was evidently very keen to turn lives upside down. He was of course grateful for his position in one of the top research and development teams in the world. And who wouldn't ? It was nothing short of a childhood dream come true. Still, in the dream, there had been no homeland to depart, no relatives to leave behind, no friends to bid adieu to, no security rules to abide by, no new lifestyle to adopt, no routines to break, no monstrous amounts of technical knowledge to decipher, no strange colleagues to become acquainted with, and no inhospitable environment to adapt to. In the dream, there hadn't been this impression of being transplanted into somebody else's life. Apparently, dreamt dreams had a magical quality to them that live dreams had not. The vicenarian mused that the learning curve he was confronted to was much steeper than all the others he had known. He eagerly anticipated the relief that would come when Christina and Celia would join him, in only a few more weeks. Soon enough, their mostly pleasant and peaceful existence would resume, albeit in totally different settings. Video mailing, despite all of its convenience, plainly didn't appease the unignorable and increasingly pressing needs that the presence of his two loving and supportive beauties would allay. Or so he trusted. Looking forward to this hopefully not too distant time when he would have settled in his new circumstances, and would at last be free to delight in them, comfortably, instead of suffering them, The Threshold

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Evans could muster sufficient motivation to plough ahead enthusiastically. The overwhelming fast acclimation process would eventually be a mere memory, and probably a dear one at that. And then, the only significant remaining strains would come from the work on SAVIA. If creation was often a nerve-racking activity, he knew that was only the growing pains of innovation, the beckonings of a wider, fuller world, as the former teacher poetically described the fazing thoughts and feelings which frequently accompanied the groundbreaking endeavours. In prior projects, they had rarely been so acute, but he was confident of his capacity to handle them. The programmer reckoned he had the short-term future pretty much figured out. However, the doubt to certainty ratio was virtually inverted in the case of his long-term plans. He could readily bear the idea of assisting Sturn for a few years, until the completion of the artificial intelligence. But carrying on beyond that span was definitely a disturbing notion, and even more inconceivable was the prospect of spending all his career on the almost desert planet. Ovel was far from a paradise, yet it had its undeniable charms, and like it or not, it was home. The radioactive globe, on the other hand, all its technological amenities notwithstanding, was basically a remote colony, similar in this respect to the space stations orbiting its closest neighbour. If he could envisage adjusting to it, to some extent at least, he couldn't imagine how the odd, foreign land could ever inspire him fondness. As the junior engineer pondered the question, gazing silently at the dark infinity, he realized what those who had migrated to the spatial megapolises must had undergone as they had established their new residences. Indeed, very possibly, many of them were still trying to cultivate some kind of affection for the unnatural locations, searching for the crucial ingredient that was missing from their universe. He could recall how in the past he had argued that living in outer space couldn't be that big of a deal, but he had to admit that the actuality of it was not as simple as the deduction. And what then of those who would depart to pioneer the other side of the discontinuity ? The Harmonias, all things considered, were only a quick spaceflight away from the motherland. Should homesickness become intolerable, moving back from them to Ovel was not that complicated an undertaking. Or at any rate, it was feasible, and on relatively short notice. Dwelling in another spacetime continuum had to be something else entirely, and nobody knew what returning from it, estranged by time dilation and all, would entail. –

ÂŤ Do you think the plan of the Coalition can work out ? Âť the techie asked out of the blue.

The physicist stayed speechless for a moment he wished would stop dragging on. Startled out of his own reveries by the unexpected inquiry, all he could do was wonder how the young man could have learned of his association with the political formation. Perhaps had he unwittingly referred to his participation to the outlining of the program of the Progressives during a previous encounter ? No, that was absurd ! He could never have slipped that badly. Nor could his guest have caught him preparing the documents. He stared at his teammate, who was staring back, both of them quiet and visibly worried, although for totally different reasons. The Threshold

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« What ? » the perplexed pundit finally uttered, as if in shock. « I mean... » responded the software expert, « do you think people will actually be willing to settle over there ? Beyond the anomaly ? » he clarified his interrogation. « Oh... that plan ! » exclaimed the relieved scholar, grinning as he recollected his thoughts and recognized that the coder didn't know about his affiliation with the opposition parties after all, but had merely watched their recent broadcast, « sorry, I was... daydreaming » he apologized a few seconds later, laughing softly as he observed that his ongoing concern with the potential security breach had rendered him overly suspicious, slightly paranoid even, « of course I do » he eventually answered, « as a matter of fact, I believe they stand a very good chance of achieving their objective » the famous quadragenarian maintained convincingly, « and they could actually solve a bunch of the problems we now face at the same time » he promptly added, acknowledging as he did that allowing his allegiances to show through, however indirectly, might have been a mistake. « You really think people will be able to let go of everything ? » Evans insisted following a brief hesitation, surprised by the affirmation of his interlocutor but choosing not to stress the issue. « Of course » the consultant carried on, wanting to remain discreet yet feeling the urge to support his views, « just look at the latest numbers... obviously, polls are only polls, but apparently voters are getting increasingly behind the Coalition, even now that they have announced their settlement plans » he declared emphatically, « it's important to realize that in the present circumstances, a significant proportion of Ovelians don't have much to hope for, nor do they have much to lose » he stated gravely, « and for many of them, this truly represents a once in a lifetime chance to begin anew » the senior engineer asserted confidently, « in fact, this could be a once in a lifetime chance to begin anew for all of us, on a global scale, don't you think ? » he submitted, almost proselytizing. « Hmm... well » reacted the puzzled programmer, « I'm clearly not as interested in politics as you are » he first chuckled, « and I have to say I didn't expect you to be that passionate about it » he mentioned right away, genuinely annoyed by the optimism of his supervisor, « I guess I had supposed that employees of the Administration were generally favourable to the Federal Government » he commented after a short pause.

The researcher mused that, if the Conservatives controlled the department, not all the staff were approving of them. Indeed, he was under the impression that many of his collaborators were simply not overtly critical of them. And if Ramsay were to be defeated this time around, perhaps they would all see who was favourable to whom. « But to answer your question » the visitor proceeded, « while I see the undeniable appeal from a technological perspective, and understand the value of the finding from a scientific standpoint » he explained pensively, « I just can't ignore the potential risks » the new hire The Threshold

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noted, « we don't know much about it » he indicated tentatively, « and... we're speaking of people actually leaving their whole lives behind and all » he reiterated, skeptical, « what will they do when they feel homesick ? » he ultimately inquired, manifestly doubtful. « You get used to homesickness after a while » the physicist proposed, « you'll see » he hinted, smiling knowingly, « I understand your objections » he continued after a moment, nodding as he dismissed the reservations, « but the Agency says there's nothing to worry about » Sturn ensured, noticing that although his guest was shocked by his progressive positions, he seemed neither strongly against them nor offended by them, « have you ever considered that perhaps the problems of the Federation were very pressing and needed to be addressed very soon » he asked, pursuing his argument, « that colonization plan is a sensible way of addressing many of them relatively rapidly » he defended the project that was partly his own as he promoted his opinions. « Clearly, I don't follow current affairs half as closely as you do » the software developer conceded, « but I think the Global Government is already addressing these problems » he immediately observed, « I mean, after all, isn't that its purpose ? » he naively suggested, indignant at the idea that matters could be otherwise, « think about overpopulation for example... don't we have space stations now ? » the techie pointed out, stopping for effect, « I'm sure they'll find solutions to both the environmental crisis and the financial crisis » he added casually, convinced that the situations weren't that threatening. « Assuming it serves their aims » the scholar calmly insinuated. « Why do you say that ? » the assistant replied at once, « their aims is to handle global issues and serve the Federation » he insisted, unsettled by the thought that things could be different from how he perceived them. « Many people seem to think that the Conservatives are corrupted » bluntly responded the pundit, reflecting that his colleague was surprisingly disconnected from the political reality for a former militant secessionist, and wondering whether Milton had somehow been wrong about his past, or if the coder was actually particularly good at covering up as a conformist. « Rumours ! » Evans countered in a derogatory tone, visibly piqued by the remark, « mere allegations » he carried on with passion, « where's the evidence ? » he stated, increasingly suspicious of his supervisor, and musing that maybe the man was testing his loyalty.

It suddenly occurred to the senior engineer that perhaps he was facing one of those so-called brainwashed partisans, faithful to a fault to Richard Ramsay and his henchmen, and while he wanted to incriminate the Chancellor and his organization, probably it would be wiser to avoid pushing his luck too far. Yet, he felt compelled to persist. –

« Pardon me the cynical comment » the bespectacled adviser mentioned following a brief pause, « but what I was hinting at is that some representatives might find themselves in the paradox of the pharmaceuticals » he enigmatically offered, « in the business of healing

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people, diseases mean big profit » he clarified with a grin, seeing the puzzled expression of his interlocutor. « I'm afraid I'm not following you » eventually reacted the programmer, not quite certain he was making sense of the explanation. « Listen, I'm just saying it's very possible that some elected officials and their entourage actually benefit from the ongoing crises » the respected researcher proposed, choosing to remain vague so as to not further exacerbate the tension. « These are grave insinuations » simply declared the employee. « These are grave times » keenly retorted the physicist.

He was tempted to rejoin, but the new hire couldn't deny that the argument had its merits. He reasoned that if the conversation was some kind of disguised trial, he had unequivocally testified as to his allegiance already. Moreover, he wasn't fond of heated exchanges anymore, unlike he had been only a few years earlier, so he figured it was one of those occasions when the best course of action turned out to be inaction.

– –

« Conservatives aside » the project director went on, « what if I suggested that it is the very system which is flawed, and not the individuals who try to live by it ? » he inquired obliquely. « And by system you mean... ? » the vicenarian answered, « capitalism ? » he supposed hesitatingly. « Precisely » Sturn confirmed in a serious voice, « many analysts and observers believe that it cannot really work » he first revealed, « or, maybe I should say, it can only work through the exploitation of part of the population » he quickly rephrased the claim.

The idea was new to the assistant. He had never even pondered the topic, and was somewhat taken aback by the unanticipated statement. However, the true shock was not that he was having the discussion. It was who he was having it with. If meetings with the pundit were becoming more and more common, entertaining thoughts of this nature with a scientist of his caliber was nothing short of surreal.

« Until we had the means of seeing the circumstances our world is actually in, we couldn't figure out how flawed the system is » the public speaker carried on, « perhaps the most important function of the net is to enable us to see the effects – the global effects – of our choices and actions » he emphasized solemnly. « It seems to work very well as far as I can tell » finally objected the developer, « for one, just consider the fact that we are talking about it, standing here, on Veshtar » he noted, stressing the location, « we work on artificial intelligence, we have space stations, and... and technological comforts too many to list » he remarked, obviously unconvinced by the novel perspective, « I mean, when I look around I see many people who seem to be glad of

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everything it brings them » he concluded, growingly skeptical. « Of course, but actually, it kind of proves my point » the former educator replied with a grave expression, inferring that he was proceeding too rapidly as he recognized that his colleague hadn't quite received all that had been intimated, « perhaps the people you refer to don't yet see the consequences of their actions » he hinted, smiling wryly, « nor do you it seems, Frank... you conveniently forget to take the other side of the coin into account » he mentioned following a brief pause.

The words of his supervisor had once more silenced Evans who reflected that he should have been more attentive. He had disregarded an essential part of the unheard-of proposition. Capitalism worked only because of exploitation. Still, that wasn't what mainly preoccupied him. He couldn't help but wonder who the man standing next to him was. He had expected him to match his conception of the archetypal man of science. He had envisioned him loyal to the government that employed him, dedicated to the advancement of knowledge, maybe more passionate than most, and possibly even eccentric, yet, it had never crossed his mind that he could be subversive.

« What do you make of the poorer countries ? » the doctor of physics continued, « what about the increasing proportion of poor people, even in the so-called richest nations, and the mass of frustrated people who can only survive but can't thrive, and those who live in dictatorships ? » he enumerated in a lecturing fashion, « what about the growing number of fat kids... and the addicts, the purposeless, or the mentally ill ? » indignantly added the scholar, « what about the rise of materialism and individualism ? » he ranted on fervently, « do you consider them as part of the joys of wealth creation too ? » he asked, manifestly struggling to keep his composure. « Of course not ! » firmly denied the software engineer, « mostly because I don't attribute all these problems to wealth creation or capitalism » he confidently maintained, « there are factors you don't seem to be taking into account too » he countered insistently, « what about diseases, laziness... and freewill ? » argued the techie, « people make poor choices sometimes » he stated, stopping for effect, « and what's so wrong with materialism ? » he lastly inquired. « Materialism can't set people free » asserted the experienced researcher, « it entails its share of limitations and burdens, and ultimately, it brings more questions than answers » he calmly observed, « material comfort doesn't bring psychological comfort, and that's the fundamental problem with the so-called wealth creation mentality » he resolutely went on, « it doesn't bring answers » the notable specialist reiterated, « and without answers, people end up living uncomfortably in the comfort they strive to maintain... doesn't that defeat the whole point ? » he submitted with conviction, « and as far as capitalism goes, apparently, it is more apt at creating the means of acquiring value, and supporting those who create the means of acquiring value, than it is apt at creating value in the first place » he suggested, before breathing for a moment as he readied himself for a final declaration,

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« the next revolution will stem from the recognition that capitalism isn't the best answer » he then boldly predicted. Seeing that his assistant stayed quiet, obviously reevaluating his position, the pundit supposed that his discourse had once again hit the mark. Paradoxically, while he had been worried of giving the wrong impression should he bring up the security issue in a clumsy, too directly incriminating manner, in his attempt to approach the subject in a roundabout way they had unfortunately stumbled upon another equally delicate topic. Nevertheless, he had felt compelled to let the repressed opinions come out. He had long awaited an opportunity to vent some of the sentiments he simply couldn't risk voicing publicly, or even in the company of his closest colleagues. And as he hadn't squarely accused the Conservative regime, he reckoned his new hire wouldn't be offended or think of reporting him. Though the junior developer was shaken by the views of his supervisor, what unsettled him mostly was the discovery of this totally unanticipated side of his personality. The idea of having to collaborate with such a character had suddenly lost some of its magic. He who had been entertaining second thoughts about the duration of his residence on the radioactive planet was now reconsidering the whole adventure. Yet, at the same time, it seemed something just didn't add up. The picture was so odd. There had to be a different reality hidden behind the charade. And he surmised that the only means to find out was to pursue the conversation. – –

« Flawed system or not » the programmer responded after a while, « people have to earn a living » he reminded his interlocutor. « Do they ? » unexpectedly retorted the consultant, grinning knowingly, « many believe that living is not earned » he pointed out, emphasizing the participle, « some say there are forces at work which... provide for our needs » he hinted in a kind tone.

Evans was stumped once more. Could a successful and renowned man of science, as acclaimed as the one standing beside him, in fact be some kind of closet religious zealot ? Wasn't he an Allenist, like everyone else ? How could he have remained unsuspected ? The eventuality appeared impossibly remote. Things were getting weirder by the minute.

– –

« When I was about your age » the physicist continued, « I used to believe in the virtues of materialism too » he confided pensively, « but in time I discovered other belief systems were available to me, and that some of them were more beneficial » he remarked with an air of contentment. « Belief systems ? » tersely reacted the techie. « Life stances, religions, world views, philosophies, ideologies » immediately enumerated the researcher, « to a certain degree, we don't choose our belief system » he proposed as he noticed his guest was nodding in understanding, « or, perhaps I should say, if we do, we must first see through the belief system which has been imparted to us » he clarified,

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before taking a longer than usual pause, « as we grow up and meet the world » carried on the quadragenarian, « we are incited to shed some of our inner references in favour of... outer conventions » he calmly suggested, « we are taught to fit in, and we fear if we don't we'll end up one of the lonely misfits » he observed with more indignation than he had intended to convey, « we are insidiously encouraged to disconnect from our feelings, our likes, our intuitions, and even our dreams » Sturn commented, unmistakably disgusted, stopping again briefly, « but eventually, after many years of living with dissatisfaction as an omnipresent friend, we look back and realize this is precisely what went wrong in the first place » he stressed as serenity returned to his expression, « we realize that fitting in just isn't worth the while » he declared, somewhat regretful, « because ultimately, being true to our inner selves is how we find the things that have real value to us » the space engineer maintained in a blend of appreciation and resignation, « then we have to turn around, and retrace our steps back to where we have started, back to the precious inner references we have left behind, and we have to get reacquainted with them as best as we can » he offered, smiling. The assistant listened attentively, charmed by the magnetic fervour the pundit was exuding as he presented his thoughts. « This is the passage from conforming to external boundaries, despite internal boundaries, to being heedful of internal boundaries, despite external boundaries » reformulated the former professor, « it seems many end up more or less lost somewhere between the two extremes » he philosophized after some deliberation, « because of the retroaction between the two realities that these contrary ways of functioning entail, many end up leashed to some kind of uncomfortable convergence point... somewhere between the untenable past and the tantalizingly possible future » he cryptically submitted. While he didn't totally grasp what his boss was saying, the developer could somehow discern the words could only come from a learned, considerate man. « Materialism, for instance, is essentially outer conventions » the project director resumed after a moment, « my inner references insist it's part of the untenable past » he concluded, visibly amused, once more remaining silent to let the idea sink in, « we'll have little choice but to discuss it, along with other belief systems, as we build SAVIA » he then informed his visitor, « in fact, if we're to be successful, you'll have to master the subject » he lastly emphasized. All of a sudden, Evans could make sense of the whole conversation. The clever scholar had not merely been proselytizing after all. Maybe, in opposing him, the techie imagined, the researcher had wanted to illustrate the importance of beliefs in the processes of intelligence, and manifestly, this would prove to be of crucial relevancy to their common endeavour. Maybe that was why he hadn't The Threshold

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gone straight to the point at the start of their chat. While the interpretation didn't completely match everything he had experienced during the exchange, it was progressively winning him over. –

« Okay, I get the point » claimed the programmer, grinning as he slowly nodded upwards, « this is what you wanted to talk about all along » he confidently supposed, « that's why you were being so confrontational... you had me going ! » he chuckled in relief.

Startled at first by the unexpected reaction of his guest, the dark haired expert recognized an unhoped-for opportunity. He had a pretext to justify his earlier revelations, that he was more or less content of having made. Responding with a quiet expression of approval, he realized he had also been given an invaluable glimpse into the state of mind of his interlocutor. The recent frictions could work in his favour. Raising the sensitive security topic would still provoke tension, however, it wouldn't be unprecedented. Thus, it would make it easier for his new hire to put the situation in perspective. He didn't seem that much put off by their talk after all. { Better to go ahead while it seems the proper time } the scientific adviser mused in resignation. He had to address the question anyhow. –

« We should have ample occasions to further explore the subject » vaguely confirmed the quadragenarian, « but there's still one matter I would like to clear up » he gravely told the coder who was evidently awaiting an explanation, and not an additional surprise, « you're probably going to find this strange » hazarded the pundit, « and I apologize in advance if I offend or insult you » he respectfully mentioned, « but... we have reasons to believe that you might be spying on us » he candidly announced, « and I'd like to hear what you have to say about it » he inquired, taking his assistant off guard.

It had already been a demanding evening for the junior engineer. If the prior argumentation had taken him aback more often than he had cared for, the accusation had utterly winded him. The physicist reflected that if the junior developer was trying to deceive him, their engaging dialogue had possibly been too heated to allow him to notice. Perhaps he had been too caught up in his own thoughts, but he couldn't remember one single sign that he was being lied to, nor could he recall doubting the sincerity of his colleague for even one ever-so-fleeting second. Furthermore, he didn't feel even remotely threatened by his presence. He was under the impression that, despite all that Milton had unearthed, Evans was just being honest. And if not, Sturn would have no difficulty admitting he had been tricked by one exceptionally gifted actor. Anyways, he would soon be at peace with the issue as he could trust the interrogation would afford him the calm and clarity he needed to observe the techie, if he could just stop ruminating and instead focus on the voice of the young man. –

« Hmm... I... I don't know what to say » the programmer nervously replied after a while, obviously shaken, « I... I don't know where to begin » he declared, unable to come up with a denial or a defence, « I really have no idea why you think I could be a spy » he protested

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following another pause. « My bodyguard has found a bug on my shoe » the researcher answered, undaunted, « a miniature microphone... right after we met at Pefki Park » he asserted in a severe manner. « And you think I put it there ? » queried the visitor, incredulous. « We know you had the occasion » the project director pointed out, imperturbable. « When ? » wondered the new hire. « When you tied your shoelaces, for instance » remarked the famous public speaker. « I see » first conceded the coder, nodding as he recollected the event, « and why would I do that ? » he asked in exasperation. « I'm sure you can imagine plenty of reasons to infiltrate us » merely stated the scholar. « And why do you tell me this now ? » the assistant countered after more deliberation, « I mean, shouldn't you have stopped me before we even left Ovel ? » he supposed, looking very much puzzled. « We decided to wait for what the lab would say » responded the consultant following a short silence, unwilling to reveal his true motivations, « and... » he hesitated briefly, « and personally, I didn't believe it could be you » he maintained in a friendlier tone, the face of the software expert temporarily brightening with relief, before his dismayed expression returned as fast as it had vanished.

The developer was encouraged by the confidence of his boss, yet he couldn't prevent concerns from once more flooding his mind. How could they imagine that he, of all people, could be a snoop ? He had gone through the screening process ! He had nothing but admiration for the quadragenarian and his team ! What proof could he produce to convince his supervisor of his innocence ? He couldn't think of anything. The idea appalled him, and rendered him powerless. The frustration that had risen in him menaced to bloom into despair. { Calm down Frank... breathe... breathe... wait for the solution to come of itself } he intended. Could it be another masquerade ? Could the space engineer be attempting to make him become aware of something, just as he had done with the notion of world views ? And why was he questioning him so openly ? Why confront him one-on-one without taking precautions ? A spy could react violently, and not simply confess and surrender. Maybe they were being watched ? No, more likely, the former teacher didn't believe he could be a threat. After all, he had told him he wasn't the one who suspected him. The memory comforted him. { Hold on to that thought, Frank } he mused. The anger and the fear were gradually subsiding. Most probably, the chauffeur was behind all this. That made plenty of sense, and it also explained the curiosity the big guy had shown for his past as he had driven him to the spaceport, on the night they had departed the motherland. And then the incoherence of the accusation occurred to him. He had an argument. – –

« Wait, that doesn't make sense » Evans finally objected, « why would I bug you if I were about to leave for Veshtar with you ? » he noted, self-assured and smiling proudly. « I still hadn't confirmed you had the job » replied the grinning physicist, « perhaps that

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was your plan B in case you didn't get selected » he suggested right away, « perhaps you planted the bug for someone else to listen to » he observed after a few seconds. The programmer quietly concurred and didn't retort immediately. Anyhow, he couldn't find any grounds on which to substantiate a rebuttal. If he had done the deed, providing evidence would certainly have been easy, but he hadn't even known about that mic in the first place, how could there be evidence for that ? And why would he have used a microphone when far more efficient methods were available ? –

– –

« Whoever put that thing on your shoe » the techie calmly began following the reflection, « there are much better ways to do this nowadays » he resolutely asserted, « for instance, I could have installed a trojan on your uDev » he submitted at once. « Good point ! » granted the senior project director, raising his eyebrows and tilting his head sideways, visibly surprised by the proposition, « but wouldn't you have needed to access my handheld ? Physically, I mean » he remarked after some consideration. « Hmm... not necessarily » the coder commented with a somewhat mischievous air, « and it would have enabled me to monitor much more than your calls » he added knowingly. « Obviously » agreed the pundit, shocked by the implications, « and given your talent in the domain, you would probably have preferred this way » he stressed pensively, « but while it makes sense, you have to admit it doesn't do much to reassure me » he chuckled, not really apprehensive. « Listen » the assistant responded impatiently, « I don't know what to say » he declared with insistence, « I'm not the one who has put that bug on you » he firmly denied, « I'm not a spy, I'm here to work, not to infiltrate the team » he stated in a slightly emotional manner.

The notable scholar remained silent at the emphatic display of his collaborator, looking as if he was carefully weighing the plea, although he had already made up his mind about the innocence of the new hire.

« And why do you even ask me directly ? » the developer questioned, apparently puzzled by the straightforwardness of his interrogator, « it's not as if the spy would acknowledge to be spying on you, is it ? » he sarcastically pointed out. « I have learned to trust my inner references » the scientist eventually hinted following more perplexing speechless deliberation, « don't worry, I believe you » he announced in a friendly voice, « I just had to make sure » he concluded, justifying his course of action.

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interlocutors. And as he pondered the matter, his interpretation of the conversation changed. There had to be more to the enigmatic character than he had supposed. Obviously, behind his public image, the man was hiding a complex personality, that few people were allowed to see. He was everything but the archetypal researcher. Given all the respected expert had suggested regarding philosophies, politics, capitalism, and now this, Evans couldn't help to be wary of him. The way he had handled the spying allegations suddenly took a whole different meaning. Maybe Sturn wasn't only preoccupied by the safety of his top secret work after all. Possibly, he was protecting some other aspect of his life. Indeed, the theory made plenty of sense, and it explained a lot of the oddness. And out of the blue, from the doubts and the misgivings, curiosity emerged. A compelling desire to know more about the quadragenarian welled up in him. Although he would have to stay on his guard, he would definitely attempt to elucidate some of the mysteries. The physicist still hadn't detected any signs that would have betrayed his colleague should he have been trying to conceal something. He wasn't alarmed, and in fact he was at peace with the issue again. Yet, he decided not to relinquish too soon the hypothesis that his visitor could be exceptionally good at pretending to be a simple and loyal employee.

– – ��� –

« Hmm... are you okay ? » resumed the pundit, « you seem a little – » « Oh... no » reflexively interrupted the coder, startled out of his reflections, « I mean, yes... I'm okay » he corrected as considered the inquiry, « I understand you had to make sure » he continued tentatively, forcing a smile, « I... I just didn't expect that kind of a meeting » he ultimately chuckled. « I can imagine » the consultant replied, having noticed that the techie was covering up something, « sorry about that, but I had little choice » he promptly remarked, « matters of security... I'm sure you understand » he submitted vaguely. « Of course, of course » concurred the assistant, still grinning nervously. « I hope none of this will affect our future relations » the scholar asked in a warm tone. « No, not at all » disingenuously stated the programmer, not wanting to hurt the former teacher, « don't worry, I understand » he immediately reiterated. « Okay then ! » the project director responded, satisfied yet aware that his guest wasn't totally honest, and that some damage had been incurred, « I have some work to finish » he noted as he glanced towards his desk, « but before I dive in I really need to go grab a bite » he declared, motioning to indicate he was assailed by hunger, « would you like to join me ? » he kindly offered. « Hmm... it's very tempting, but no thanks » the junior developer declined following some deliberation, « I grabbed something on my way here » he justified, looking embarrassed as the other appeared slightly disappointed, « I better go back to my apartment, I really need to rest, I must be up real early tomorrow, Commander Sokolov is taking some of us on an aerial visit of the city » he finally announced. « Oh, right » recalled the space engineer, « have a safe trip » he bade sedately, « I'm sure

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you'll enjoy the view ! » he stressed enthusiastically. « So am I » Evans agreed, quickly bowing his head in respect, « thanks Bernard... bye ! » he said as he walked to the exit. « Bye ! » Sturn echoed as cheerfully as he could, while his visitor left the room and closed the door behind him.

As the perplexed researcher gazed one last time at the moonlit Veshtari scenery, he thought that, overall, the meeting had gone rather well. Indeed, it could have turned out a lot worse. Yet, he couldn't deny that some aspects of the exchange were still bothering him. He had defended his views with too much insistence. He had exceeded the unwritten limits. There had been moments when he had definitely felt some leeway, but was the opportunity to release some pent-up frustrations worth exposing his loyalties ? After all, he didn't really know his new assistant. Given the anxious attitude of the coder at the end of the conversation, there was no doubt in the mind of the physicist that the budding collaboration had suffered from the events. Then again, it didn't mean their friendship had become altogether impossible, or that the techie would suspect him. Furthermore, if Harvey and the Progressives were to win the election, the less attractive of these apprehensions would be irrelevant. His career wouldn't be under threat. The tall quadragenarian reflected that he should quit worrying about any of this, and about anything else for that matter. Praying for undesirable outcomes wasn't the wisest activity in which to engage his faculties. Inasmuch as his young colleague was concerned, he had addressed the pressing security issue. Perhaps he hadn't discovered anything substantial enough to convince Milton, but he had gathered sufficient assurance during the interrogation to support a heartfelt plea in favour of the sincerity of the programmer. « Opacify the side pane... lights on » the pundit instructed his handheld, pleased to see, as he reflexively stared at the small device, that Aaren Mayr had sent him a video message. Despite being decidedly hungry, the scholar figured dinner could wait a little longer. He could hear the Milagenian first, especially considering how infrequently the two of them communicated electronically. And so he sat down at his desk and watched the clip. –

« Hey Bernard ! » the economist began in an upbeat manner, « it's been some while since I last vidded you ! » he commented at once, seeming unsettled for an instant as he readied himself, « listen, I don't have much time, so I'll go straight to the point » he mentioned, his expression suddenly becoming graver, « there are a few things I have to inform you of » the high ranking official of the ASN declared, « and believe me, as much as I would prefer to discuss them with you face to face, some things just can't be allowed to drag on » he asserted, pausing briefly, « I can't visit you on Veshtar, for obvious reasons, and neither can I wait for your next trip to Ovel, there just isn't enough time » he emphasized, looking

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away from his uDev for a second as he breathed, weighing which of the upcoming parts of his delivery would follow, « I think I should start with the most pressing point... and... it's also the most delicate » the Treasurer of the union of independent nations carried on, « I have to warn you that you probably won't like what I have to say » he announced after another short silence, visibly preoccupied, « we need your cooperation, the Alliance needs your cooperation » he promptly clarified, « and... the thing is... » Mayr hesitated, again withdrawing his gaze from the camera and temporarily interrupting his speech, « listen Bernard, we know you've been working with the Coalition on their colonization plan » he revealed, sighing and staying quiet for a while, « evidently, you've discovered that you've been bugged... well... I put that microphone on you » he stated, manifestly ashamed, « I'm sorry, I know I shouldn't – » Sturn halted the playback he wasn't paying attention to anymore anyway. The shock could hardly have come any less anticipated. At the disclosure, a shiver of fright had raced down his spine. At the confession, a whole section of his inner garden had withered and died in a heartbeat. He stood up and started pacing frantically around the room, infuriated, incredulous, too frustrated to remain in place, yet cautious not to let wrath get the better of him. { Aaren is the spy ! That can't be ! We've been friends for such a long time ! He's a disciple ! Aren't some loyalties off-limits ? } he ruminated, steaming in powerlessness and disappointment. Some of the pills life had forced him to swallow in the past had been bitter, but this one was exceptionally difficult to digest. His faith in a benevolent universe had already been tested and tried more often than he cared to recall. That was one challenge too many for him. It was undeserved, unjustified, unacceptable. Walking back and forth, the senior project director wondered why hadn't Mayr just asked him about his involvement with the Coalition ? But the question answered itself has he pondered it. He had not inquired, plain and simply because he had known nothing of it. He couldn't have learned of the clandestine collaboration via the Community. He had still not gained admission into the select circle of those who were granted the privilege of knowing such things. And most likely, nobody in his parish even knew of it. The former educator himself was merely an underling in that particular operation. If the economic analyst had guessed that an association was possible, that meant he had also supposed that the researcher had been concealing his political allegiances. That seemed rather doubtful. No, there was no need to elaborate hypotheses. The military-looking man hadn't suspected anything of the sort. That's not what he had been after. He had sought something else altogether. As to the impetus for planting the electronic snoop, the illustrious scientist could imagine a few scenarios. Certainly, the Treasurer of the Alliance could not have joined the spiritual order with ulterior motives. The Cerberus of his Church would have intuited the hypocrisy during the initiation. This was not about the Community. Of course, the sovereign countries were notoriously curious of the top secret activities of the RDA, but not to the point of having an elected official run the risk of installing the device himself. There were too many other avenues towards that aim. More probably, they had found out the reasons why the consultant had visited the homeland that weekend. Knowing The Threshold

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he had a meeting with the Conservative advisers, the secessionists had attempted to take advantage of the occasion to unearth the plans of the federalists. And thus, clearly, the Milagenian had proved to be the perfect candidate for implementing the strategy. The more the physicist reflected on the matter, the more he reckoned he was overreacting. If he had established the identity of the culprit through his own investigation, he could have mistrusted his intentions. However, the perpetrator was contacting him to acknowledge the crime. Moreover, considering his relationship to the spy, the engineer figured that the revelation of his affiliation to the Progressives Parties posed less of a threat to his career than he had first feared. As his negativity subsided, he slowly returned to his armchair and sat down once again. Grabbing his handheld from the desktop, he backed the clip up and resumed watching. « ... rnard, we know you've been working with the Coalition on their colonization plan... evidently, you've discovered that you've been bugged... well... I put that microphone on you... I'm sorry, I know I shouldn't have done it » declared the buzz-cut haired man, « it wasn't very wise of me to betray your confidence » he conceded, obviously ashamed of himself, « I sincerely apologize, my friend » he offered in a manner that the scholar had no difficulty believing, « it was just a long shot » the economist went on after exhaling loudly, « I had hoped to maybe record your meeting with the Chief Scientific Adviser and discover the intentions of the Conservatives regarding the discontinuity » he confirmed the deduction of the pundit, « I'm taking somewhat of a leap of faith here » he carried on after deliberating briefly, « but I know what you stand for, and evidently you're not too crazy about Ramsay and the Conservatives these days » Mayr chuckled as he recovered his cheerfulness, « so hopefully, you'll see how we can all benefit from working together » he stressed, setting up his argumentation, « we also know Mistress Aeira and you seem to be... involved in ongoing efforts to put Harvey into the Chancellery » he then announced, « the Alliance can help you achieve your – » Sturn paused the message again. It wasn't disappointment but realization that had prompted his decision this time around. He recalled that Aaren could only have planted the miniature babbler while they had been dining and talking at Briskin's. That meant his friend had witnessed more than his presentation to the leaders of the opposition parties. He had also overheard what the prophetess and him had discussed during their stroll following the meal that same evening. He had learned the two of them were pulling strings in pursuit of a political agenda. That was unfortunate, and the issue would have to be addressed. What else was he aware of ? The Treasurer of the ASN had most likely monitored the walk in Pefki Park with Frank Evans too. Thankfully, the researcher hadn't disclosed any major technological breakthroughs that day. However, he had mentioned details of the artificial intelligence. In the heat of the moment, he had referred to parts of its architecture, and to concepts he should have kept private. Had he said enough to inspire his competitors of the sovereign nations ? He would have to clarify that with the Milagenian.

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Stepping back from analyzing the implications, the scientist remembered the beginning of the confession. The economist was attempting to negotiate some form of cooperation, rather than trying to take advantage of the situation via reprehensible methods. Indeed, he had stated that the Alliance needed his collaboration. But what could be the underlying objectives of the organization ? Could a decrease in the hegemony of the corrupted Federation also profit them ? It seemed as if the reverse were truer. Very much willing to listen to the proposal and find a way to work with the secessionists in order to drive Ramsay and his cohorts out of power, he once again moved the slider of the video player a notch back and thumbed the play button. « ... Chancellery... the Alliance can help you achieve your aim » ensured the functionary, stopping to let the thought sink in, « we have strong independentist movements all over the globe » he first asserted, « we support them as best as we can, and they gladly return the favour » he suggested with a grin, « the electoral race could hardly be any closer » the buzz-cut haired man observed, « our militants can make the difference between victory and defeat » he maintained confidently, « all we ask in return is a little collaboration on your part » he hinted, before staying quiet again for a while, « please tell Mistress Aeira too » the Treasurer of the ASN eventually requested, « you're closer to her than I am » he immediately justified, « and all of us will benefit from this » he reiterated with conviction, « oh, and by the way, this is the second matter I wanted to tell you about » the economic adviser continued, showing a more serene expression, « she's officially the new Popess of the Community » he happily reported, « she has been anointed just a few minutes ago » he remarked, smiling as he recollected the ceremony, « she has successfully completed the last requirement » the disciple confirmed, « everybody is delighted here » he commented, hesitating as he wondered if there was something else to add, « Olivia can relax now, at least a little, the interim is over at last » he chuckled lightheartedly, « okay, I really must go now » Mayr then unexpectedly declared, as if suddenly in a hurry, « please respond as soon as possible » he entreated the scholar, « we really need to discuss this, Bernard » he insisted in an atypically serious voice, « I know I'm repeating myself, but we have a lot to gain if we work together » the Milagenian once more emphatically pleaded, « okay, now I'm done » he announced in a humorous manner, « thank you for watching this far » he chanced following one last silence, « I hope this message finds you well my friend ! » he ultimately bade, quickly putting an end to the communication. The Veshtari by adoption was definitely tempted by the unhoped-for opportunity. This could do it. This could be sufficient to get rid of Ramsay and his Conservatives, and tip the scales in favour of people whose aims were undoubtedly in better alignment with his values. Evidently, the prospect was attractive, yet one obvious question remained. What would Aaren demand in return ? What did a little collaboration really mean ? What could he want that the physicist and the soothsayer could provide, and that no one else on Ovel could match ? Could he have learned of the occult skills they had developed through their esoteric practices ? It seemed rather improbable. The prescience of Aeira was well-known, but few knew the extent of the faculties she had nurtured over the years. And while The Threshold

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some could have inferred that Sturn owed his success as a researcher to uncommon intuitive abilities, who could guess that he had also cultivated quite a capacity for manifestation ? More likely, Mayr had heard they acted respectively as spiritual and scientific counsellors to the popular representative. He had correctly supposed they were in position to exert influence over the charismatic leader who could very well become the next Chancellor. Less obvious to the space engineer were the motives of the sovereignists. How would the ASN profit from this ? After all, even though the beautiful elder and him were not themselves federalists, the members of the Coalition certainly were proud proponents of the Global Government. Naturally, he was willing and able to keep the secessionists up to date about the program of the Progressives. And he could similarly monitor the plans of the Conservatives, at least for as long as they retained power. However, he couldn't guarantee that the prophetess and him could effectively sway Harvey's opinions to the point of actually serving the cause of the Alliance. The bargain appeared somewhat lopsided. Whereas having Ramsay at the head of the Federation benefited the independentists, they could help elect the Neolit, and possibly get nothing much in exchange. Part of the picture decidedly escaped him. The former teacher reflected that, all things considered, there was no pressing reason for him to load his mind with such concerns. If the economist wished for his cooperation, he would have to offer a satisfying justification. For the time being, the issue needed not trouble the project director. But as it faded out, a more irritating matter resurfaced. Now that he had established the identity of the spy, he could stop suspecting the techie once and for all, and that would inevitably contribute to improve their damaged relationship. However, if he had obtained the convincing proof that Milton was seeking, he couldn't use it to exonerate Evans. He couldn't disclose that the Milagenian had done the deed without piquing the curiosity of the bodyguard, and he preferred to avoid having to face the ensuing interrogations, not to mention triggering a diplomatic incident altogether. It was unsettling to think that the best available strategy was to vouch for the coder, and trust that the investigation of the Administration would magically come to an inconclusive halt as it would falter its way in the too heavy bureaucracy. However, was there an alternative ? In any other circumstances, the pundit would have replied on the spot to the earnest request of his friend. But despite the sincere efforts of his dutiful self, his stomach had taken control of the situation, and was requiring immediate gratification. Thus, the tall quadragenarian wisely complied and left his office, hastening to the nearest cafeteria.

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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 ESO : ESO-Ring-shaped-Nebula-phot-34a-04 NASA : Io's Pele Hemisphere After Pillan Changes Daniel Mayer (mav) : Death Valley - Mesquite Flat Dunes – wideshot Teipangshan102 : HK TST iSquare Mall Interior 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 11 – The Preacher The Teacher