David Louis Edelman
MultiReal
'MultiReal' trade paperback cover

Draft 31: October 28, 2006

Everything comes around full circle, doesn’t it? I finally figured out a way to get back to the “Len Borda was dying” beginning I had loved so much, and even managed to salvage most of the language from those early drafts. Once I decided to focus the first chapter on Marcus Surina, everything just fell into place. The reader draws parallels between Surina and Natch, two powerful and successful men who both take on Len Borda — and who both underestimate him. According to the meta properties for the file, this draft was begun on October 28, 2006 and completed on February 4, 2007.

*

Len Borda was dying.

He would not die today, of course; not this month or maybe even this year. No, despite the string of worries hanging from his neck like lusterless pearls, the high executive would not relinquish his grip on the Defense and Wellness Council any time soon. Indeed, the pundits could find no lingering gaps on Borda’s calendar, no telltale signs of weakness or indecision. As far as the people were concerned, their new high executive was a fundament of the world, an eternal force like rock or gravity or time itself. [1]

But Marcus Surina knew better.

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. So close you could feel its fingertips on your arm, he told his twelve-year-old daughter Margaret.

Margaret Surina smiled uncomfortably but said nothing. His purpose in telling her all this, like his purpose for anthropomorphizing death, remained elusive. Anyway, it was difficult to concentrate with the clanging of the cargo loaders and yelling of the servants reverberating in her ears. She 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.

You have to know how to defend yourself on the frontiers, said Marcus as he examined the hoverbird manifest for the third time. Sometimes that means knowing how to fire a dartgun. Sometimes that means knowing when to run and when to hide. Sometimes it just means learning 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. Words that lose their ballast in mid-sentence and drift off to places unknown. Her father stopped suddenly, his mind snagged on some reminiscence from those youthful adventures. Three aides-de-camp hovered a meter away, anticipating a word of command or dismissal. There’s a look people get when the Null Current is about to pull them under, Margaret. A look of inevitability. It’s the look of the stalk of wheat, watching the thrasher approach and knowing that the time’s come for a newer, stronger crop to bask in the sun. [2] Marcus made a gesture, and the aides scattered like duckpins.

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

She called him Father, but it was mostly an honorary title. Marcus had spent a good four years of the last twelve on the road, and here at Andra Pradesh he was constantly fenced in a protective thicket of apprentices, business associates, capitalmen, government officials, scientists, drudges, bankers, lawyers, and freethinkers that even a daughter could not climb. [3] He would stop by her quarters unannounced 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 or insurmountable tasks and then vanish to some colloquium on Allowell or board meeting in Cape Town.

Prove Fermat’s last theorem for me, he told her once. It took Margaret three months, but she did. [4]

The Surina family handlers tried to shield her from the tumult of current events, but some things they could not hide. Lately Marcus’ face had grown sterner, the lines coagulating into a permanent state of anger and anxiety. She suspected new developments in her father’s battle with the Defense and Wellness 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 several dozen trials of the teleportation process from unobtrusive corners, and it wasn’t anything like the teleportation she 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. [5] 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 that this was only “phase one” of the project. Give the technology a chance to mature, they said — and generate revenue for the TeleCo coffers — and she would indeed one day see wonders beyond her imagining.

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, to her father’s office. The look of death. I’ve seen it, Margaret. I’ve seen it on Len Borda’s face. The high executive knows that the thrasher 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? But — but — I was talking to Jayze, and Jayze said that the Council’s coming for you. She said that the high executive’s going to bust down the gates to the compound 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, 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, 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. The city of the Surinas. Margaret could think of no safer place to be in the entire universe.

You see that? Marcus repeated. It’s winter. The trees are dead, the snow covers everything. The earth retreats from the sun. It all seems hopeless, doesn’t it?

The girl nodded tentatively.

Springtime, Margaret. Springtime is always around the corner. Remember that.

But —

He gripped her shoulder firmly, turned her around to face him. Marcus Surina’s eyes shone brilliant blue as sapphires. Listen to me, he said quietly. Don’t breathe a word of this to anyone, especially your cousin Jayze. Len Borda’s lost. He’s spent too much time and money on this fight, and he’s ready to move on. That’s why we’re 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 is, spring is always right around the corner.

The girl nodded, smiled, let her father fold her in his arms for a last embrace before sending her on her way. Spring might always be right around the corner, she thought. But so is winter.

Notes

  1. One of the last remaining things that needed to be done with this passage was to push it away from the authorial voice and into Marcus and Margaret Surina’s mouths. I needed to be very careful describing Borda, so readers could make up their own minds about his motives and his sanity. [Back]
  2. I had a long and amusing IM discussion with my copy editor, Deanna Hoak, about this passage. You can read the whole thing in my blog post, An Inside Look at the Copy Editing Process. Basically the question came down to whether having Marcus Surina anthropomorphize a stalk of wheat was a little too oddball, even for him. [Back]
  3. Exhibit A for why you need first readers; sometimes silly mistakes just slip through, no matter how many times you go over a particular passage. You generally don’t “climb” thickets. In the final draft, this changed to “penetrate.” [Back]
  4. Another point of discussion I had with one of my first readers. Most people have heard of Fermat’s last theorem, but very few have any idea what it is. (Including me.) I talked to a friend of mine who knows exactly what it is, and he told me that this was a poor fit; no matter how clever the girl, she’s not likely to come up with the solution on her own. I ended up changing this to “Prengal’s universal law of physics,” which is a nice opportunity to remind the reader about a bit of the back story. [Back]
  5. I came up with a theory for how teleportation in my world is supposed to work, and talked it over with physics wiz John Ashmead after a panel we were on together at PhilCon. His conclusion was that my theory did indeed seem scientifically plausible — or at least as scientifically plausible as any theory of teleportation is likely to be in this day and age. Hopefully I can squeeze more detail about it into Geosynchron. [Back]