Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Fractal, Part VII

This is the final part of a short story draft. Part I. Part II. Part III. Part IV. Part V. Part VI.

The last stages of Becky's illness dragged on, like an endless nightmare. David and I were at the hospital as much as we were at work or home, and in David's case certainly more. Becky tried to forbid it. She wanted us working on the project. But David could not stay away, and when I tried to do so, I constantly found myself thinking of them at the hospital. As the illness wore down Becky, it wore us down, too, just more slowly. What I remember most about the time was the helplessness of it, going in to see her and finding her even worse than she had seemed last time, still as much Becky as ever, but slowly and inexorably vanishing away.

It was very near the end, when she insisted on speaking to us each alone. I went first.

She looked very gaunt and tired. "You'll have to look after David, Charli," she said.

"Of course," I said, trying to manage a smile. "It is what I do."

"He doesn't like the project, and doesn't think he can do it," she said, ignoring me. "But he can, I'm sure of it, and you have to make sure he finishes it. And you need to finish it, too."

"I will," I said. "But I am not sure how long Stimson will keep the funding up--." The sentence cut off abruptly; I had not realized where it was going when it began.

Becky looked at vase of irises by the window. "Morgan will keep it up, as long as you and David get new results. And you will." She looked back at me. Somehow the gauntness in her face made her eyes darker and brighter. "You two can't help yourselves. You could stumble on a rock and make a scientific discovery. You have no idea how much it drives the rest of us crazy." She smiled briefly and then became serious again.

"If there's any problem from Morgan's end, it's that David makes him uncomfortable. I'll need you to do what you've always done: make it very clear to him that David is essential to it all. Nobody else can be trusted to do it right."

"I will."

"Make sure David uses the 24-0623 template, if he can; I still think it's the best one we did. He'll have to do some filling in from the 36 series, but make sure it's not the foundation. And if Zimmer lets you down on the frame, call in Liz Brown; she should have the background to fix anything that goes wrong."

I did not want to sit there and talk about the project, but I nodded, and she went on like this for some time. Then she closed her eyes and was quiet long enough that I had almost thought she had gone asleep when she opened them again. She shook her finger at me.

"Don't just keep David in line, Charli," she said. "Listen to him, too. He has more heart than you or I do. If he weren't so often lost in his own world...." But she did not finish the sentence, instead closing her mouth to a thin, straight line.

"Listen to him," she said finally. She closed her eyes again. "Now send David in."

What she said to David, I do not know. But she died in her sleep that night, and David started devoting himself with dogged determination to the project.


The end of the story you no doubt already know, since it was in the news for days on end. Beyond what depends directly on the background, I know no more about it than you do, although knowing David I can guess. He got into Trisagion. In terms of what I know for sure, I cannot even say he got Rebecca out safely, but I am certain he did, both because of the vague, if not exactly accurate, rumors connecting the event with terrorist group movements, and because he certainly left before going back a second time.

Getting Rebecca to safety was his highest priority, but for David it would not be enough. There was enough at Trisagion labs to make a whole series of Rebeccas, and given what he had said to me in our last conversation, he would not simply leave it there. He went back, erased, I think, some of the main records, then set the building on fire. Due to an explosion he did not escape himself.

It was a few hours later that the police arrived. David had erased any record of my key card at the labs themselves, but for security reasons the security logs are copied every once in a while to a remote location. It is remarkable that neither David nor I had remembered that, although we both certainly knew of it. I suppose neither of us were exactly thinking clearly.

The story ended up in the news, but it was more story than fact: brilliant but unstable scientist, highly respected in his field, becoming disgruntled at being removed from his own project; in retaliation he tries to steal important research and destroy the traces, but dies in the attempt. That was the story Trisagion never stopped telling. They always left vague what the research was. I imagine that they were worried about possible backlash if people learned that the research stolen could interact with you or me just like anyone else; or perhaps they were paranoid, as always, about their competitors using the occasion to get ahead of them. David deserved better. But the thing about David is that he would not have cared.

As for me, I just try to get by. All my adult life has been Becky, David, and my research. Now all three are gone, one loss leading to another, and somehow all one big loss. The biggest difficulty in these places is boredom, I think, moving from cell to cafeteria to yard in an almost mechanical motion. I spend a lot of time trying not to remember, but remembering anyway. A lot of times I remember three crazily ambitious young kids, out to do the impossible, wondering how it went wrong. Sometimes I think of the sadder, later times after Becky's death.

I often think of the research. I cannot prevent myself from having new ideas about it, and have no means to do anything about them. That is maddening. I often am certain that David's last plan was not worth it. But often I think of her, imagining her in some quiet shop or on the beach, leaving lonely footprints in the sand. And then I almost think it was.


  1. MrsDarwin8:30 AM

    Fascinating. Charli is an interesting narrator because she's so reserved. I feel like the facts I'm getting from her are accurate, but that she's only capable of telling part of the story because she misses a lot of the nuances around her. She's almost more of an automaton than Rebecca is, and it's a curious turn that she should be developing templates for making an integrated artificial intelligence when she seems oblivious to so much of the world around her.

  2. branemrys12:48 AM

    That was what I was going for. I see Charli as an innocent, but in an amoral rather than a moral sense: her world is Becky, David, and her work, and she's detached from almost everything else. She's not a monster, but she's also incapable of fully grasping ethical issues except by that threefold standard: Becky, David, research. Of course, nobody in the story actually knows anybody else in the story as well as they think they do, and while Charli recognizes the problem in theory, she's not really any better off in practice: living in a world too narrow to have room for insecurities, she doesn't really understand them even in the people she spends practically her whole life with.

    One of the weird things about writing this is that it was originally supposed to be about David, and about how there is always more to people than we understand, but it became much more about Charli. It weakens the story, I think, but David's story couldn't be fully told from Charli's point of view, just as Becky's couldn't.

  3. MrsDarwin7:27 AM

    Oddly enough, I thought the most complete character in the story was Rebecca, maybe because there was so much mystery to her. She was unpredictable -- which is strange, because she was created by characters in the story and based on one of them, but what came out were facets of other people's characters that Charli had been oblivious to, and so her surprise was the reader's.

    I still have a soft spot for Morgan Stimson, partly because Charli dislikes him, and partly because he seems far more practical than everyone else.

    Stories and characters can be frustrating when they take on a life of their own (like robots, I suppose). I've had to scrap entire scenes and conversations that refused to go where I wanted them to, or discard good lines that simply will lead to the wrong places. That was back when I was writing, you understand. :) But I'm thinking of signing up for the August NaNo just to finish my damn draft, though I don't think there are 50,000 words left in it.

    Here's something that depressed me yesterday -- my tattered dust jacket tells me that The Name of the Rose was Eco's first novel. His first! I sat in the writer's corner of despair all day yesterday over that.

  4. branemrys7:49 AM

    In fairness, what went into Eco's book was something like twenty-four years of research and two years of writing, and he had already been famous in Italy for writing satirical essays for at least two decades. So it's not quite Athena-from-the-head-of-Zeus.

  5. Itinérante10:10 AM

    I loved David a lot! I was so sad he died...
    The story was such in a peaceful tone that it made it even more fascinating!
    I have this happy sad feeling now: happy I spent my morning reading something so engaging and sad it's over and all.. I was a bit sad for Charli too. I hope she will start to talk to more people and get to know Life...


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