David Louis Edelman
'MultiReal' trade paperback cover

Excerpt: Lessons Learned

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Chapter 1

Len Borda was dying.

Or so Marcus Surina told his twelve-year-old daughter Margaret one blustery winter morning, the two of them striding through the hoverbird docks, wind at full bore, the sun a frail pink thing cowering behind the clouds.

He won’t die today, of course, said Marcus. His voice barely registered above the clanging of the cargo loaders and the yelling of the dockworkers. Not this week or even this month. But the worries hang from the high executive’s neck like lusterless pearls, Margaret. They weigh him down and break his will. I can see it.

Margaret smiled uncomfortably but said nothing.

If the city of Andra Pradesh had a resident expert on untimely death, it was her father. Before he had accepted the Surina family mantle and assumed his birthright as head of the world’s most prominent scientific dynasty, Marcus had wandered far and wide. He had teased the boundaries of human space, flirted with dangerous organizations in the orbital colonies. Death was a constant presence out there.

And yet, High Executive Borda seemed an unlikely candidate for the Null Current. He had been a hale and headstrong man upon his inauguration just weeks after Margaret was born. A NEW EXECUTIVE FOR A NEW CENTURY, the headlines had proclaimed. Some predicted that the troubles of the office would prove too daunting for the young high executive. They murmured that Borda had never been tested by hardship, that he had come of age in a time of plenty and had inherited the job uncontested. But his stature had only grown in the intervening decade. Try as she might, Margaret could find no lingering gaps on Borda’s calendar, no telltale signs of weakness or indecision. As far as she was concerned, the high executive was on his way to becoming a fundament of the world, an eternal force like rock or gravity or time itself.

But Marcus Surina remained firm. You develop a sixth sense out on the frontiers, he said, examining the hoverbird manifest for the third time. You begin to see things outside the visible spectrum of light. Patterns of human behavior, focal points of happenstance. Travel the orbital colonies long enough, and you learn to recognize the omens.

Margaret stirred. Omens? A strange word coming from the lips of her father, the quintessential man of science.

The omens of death, continued Marcus. Plans that wander from their steady paths. Appetites that suddenly grow cold. Thoughts that lose their ballast in midsentence and drift off to places unknown. Her father stopped suddenly and turned his hyper-focus on a dented segment of the hoverbird wing no bigger than a finger. Three aides-de-camp hovered a meter away, anticipating a word of command or dismissal. Some people, you can look in their eyes and see that the Null Current is about to pull them under, Margaret. You can see the inevitability. Just like you can see the stalk of wheat as the thresher approaches, and know that the time’s come for a newer, stronger crop to bask in the sun. Marcus made a gesture, and the aides scattered like duckpins.

Then he was striding off again, and it was all Margaret could do to keep up with him. She shivered as she ran, whether from the cold of encroaching winter or from the strangeness of the man before her she could not tell. Lusterless pearls? Wheat and threshers? His clattering metaphors made her teeth ache.

The girl resolved to be patient. In less than twelve hours, her father would be gone, off to the distant colony of Furtoid with the rest of the TeleCo board, and routine would slink out from the alcove where it had been hiding these past few days like a bruised animal.

She called him Father, but it was mostly an honorary title. Marcus had spent four years of the last twelve on the road, and here at Andra Pradesh he was constantly fenced in a protective thicket of apprentices, scientists, business associates, capitalmen, government officials, drudges, bankers, lawyers, and freethinkers that even a daughter could not penetrate. He would stop by her quarters unannounced, cloaked by the night, and quiz her on schoolwork like a proctor checking up on a promising student. Sometimes he would speechify as if Margaret were the warm-up audience for one of his scientific presentations. Other times he would assign her outlandish tasks and then vanish to some colloquium on Allowell or some board meeting in Cape Town.

Prove Prengal’s universal law of physics for me, he told her once. It took Margaret three months, but she did.

Margaret had no doubt that she did not have a normal upbringing. But how far off-kilter things were she had no way of judging. The Surina compound was a cloistered and lonely place, despite the crowds. Her mother was dead, and she had no siblings. Instead she had distant cousins innumerable, and a team of handlers whose job it was to confine her life in a box and then call that order.

But there were some things the Surina family handlers could not shield her from. Lately Marcus’ face had grown sterner, the lines on his forehead coagulating into a permanent state of anger and anxiety. Margaret suspected there were new developments in her father’s battle with the Defense andWellness Council. Len Borda wanted TeleCo. He wanted her father’s teleportation technology either banned outright, or conscripted for military purposes; nobody was sure which. And now, this past week, tensions seemed to be coming to a head.

Margaret couldn’t quite comprehend what the fuss was about. She had watched a dozen trials of the teleportation process from unobtrusive corners, and it wasn’t anything like the teleportation she had read about in stories. You couldn’t zap someone instantaneously from one place to another. The procedure required two people of similar biochemical composition to be strapped into a metal container for hours on end while particle deconstructors transposed one body to the other, molecule by agonizing molecule. Margaret wondered why High Executive Borda found the whole idea so threatening. But whenever she asked one of the TeleCo researchers about it, they would simply smile and tell her not to make premature judgments. Marcus had big plans up his sleeve. Give the technology a chance to mature, they said — and generate much-needed revenue for the TeleCo coffers — and she would one day see wonders beyond her imagining. The world would change. Reality itself would buckle.

She took the TeleCo scientists at their word.

That look of inevitability, said Marcus, wrenching Margaret back to the present. They were taking the long, silent lift to the top of the Revelation Spire, where her father had his office. That look of death. I’ve seen it, Margaret. I’ve seen it on Len Borda’s face. The high executive knows that the thresher is coming for him.

Margaret shook her head. But he’s not that old, is he? You’re older than he is and —

Age has nothing to do with it.

The girl wasn’t quite sure what to do with that statement. How to make her father understand? How to pierce that veil of myopia and arrogance that kept Marcus Surina from the truth? But — but — I was talking to Jayze, and Jayze said that you’ve got it all wrong. She said that the Council’s coming for you. The high executive’s going to bust down the gates to the compound any day now and take TeleCo away—

Marcus Surina laughed, and the worry lines on his face broke like barricades of sand washing away with the tide. At that moment, they reached their destination, and the elevator doors opened. Marcus put one brawny arm around his daughter and led her to the window.

You see that? he said.

Margaret wasn’t entirely sure what she was supposed to see. They stood on top of the world in a very visceral and literal sense. The Revelation Spire was the tallest building in human space, and built on a mountaintop, no less. Far below, she could see the Surina compound and a blue-green blob that could only be the Surina security forces conducting martial exercises. Sprawled in every direction outside the walls was the unfenceable polyglot mass of Andra Pradesh, city of the Surinas, now getting its first taste of the seasonal snow. Margaret could think of no safer place in the entire universe.

You see that? Marcus repeated. It’s winter. Everything is shrouded in snow, and the world seems bleak and hopeless, doesn’t it?

The girl nodded tentatively.

The gloom doesn’t last, Margaret. It never lasts. Remember that.

But —

He gripped her shoulder firmly, turned her around to face him. Marcus Surina’s eyes shone brilliant blue as sapphires, and she could smell the cinnamon of morning chai on his breath. Listen, he said quietly. Don’t breathe a word of this to anyone, especially your cousin Jayze. Len Borda’s lost. Our sources in the Council say he’s spent too much time and money coming after teleportation, and he’s ready to move on. That’s why the board’s going to Furtoid. To negotiate a settlement. By this time next week, it’ll all be over. Do you understand? We’ve won.

The girl blinked. If the victory bells were ringing, she could not hear them.

Always remember this, Margaret. No matter how bad the winter, spring is always right around the corner.

The girl nodded, smiled, let Marcus Surina fold her in his arms for a last embrace. Better to leave him with this memory of hope at the top of the world than to shower him with cold truths. Spring might always be right around the corner, she thought. But there’s always another winter behind it.


Excerpted from “MultiReal” by David Louis Edelman. Copyright © 2008 by David Louis Edelman. Reprinted by permission of Pyr, an imprint of Prometheus Books. Excerpt licensed under a Creative Commons License.

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