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Valkyrie protocol final version snippet 2

David's and Jacob Holo's newest alternate, cross history novel.
Valkyrie protocol final version snippet 2
Post by runsforcelery   » Fri Jul 31, 2020 4:18 pm

runsforcelery
First Space Lord

Posts: 2425
Joined: Sun Aug 09, 2009 10:39 am
Location: South Carolina

Chapter Two
Antiquities Rescue Trust,
SysGov, 2980 CE


Doctor Teodorà Beckett put on her bravest face as she stepped out of her office in the Ministry of Education. It didn't feel all that convincing to her, but she affixed a practiced smile and strode down the corridor toward the executive level's main counter-grav tube. Colleagues nodded as she passed, or exchanged brief, banal pleasantries while hiding their true feelings behind the same emotional masks she herself wore.

And why wouldn't they?

All of them worked for ART — the Antiquities Rescue Trust — and all of them had labored long and hard to climb to the pinnacle of their organization. They'd put in the hours, struggled through the research, performed the tedious and often dangerous fieldwork, led Preservation expeditions into the past, and most importantly, succeeded time and again.

They'd recovered wonders and priceless cultural treasures thought lost forever in the sands of time, interviewed great leaders and monstrous villains, brought clarity to the unknown, and furthered humanity's understanding of itself by peering long and hard at where it had come from.

They'd done so much good.

But the price . . . .

Teodorà selected her destination from the menu hovering in her virtual vision, then stepped into the open tube. Gravity took gentle hold of her, cushioning her descent through the Ministry of Education tower, and she sighed with unrestrained relief now that no one could see her. She also lowered her head, eyes burning with unshed tears as her mind once again wandered back to what she'd done.

Yes, they'd achieved so much. But the evil they'd wrought — wrought in the blind arrogance of their own ignorance . . . .

Teodorà hugged her shoulders as a cold, damnably familiar emptiness filled her chest.

"I didn't know," she whispered. "How could I have?"

A shiver ran down her spine, and she shuddered. She bit her lip and wondered — not for the first time — if she should edit the parameters of her synthoid body. Sometimes its autonomous responses were a little too lifelike, but she'd always shied away from making large-scale changes, fearful, perhaps, of giving up too much of her original humanity. She'd only transitioned to the durable synthetic body because of work. That, and because she had never again wanted to experience the feel of a Persian sword through her gut.

In an odd way, thinking about her transition from organic to synthetic helped clear her mind, and her face was once again a picture of professional composure when she reached Guest Retention. Her feet touched the floor, and she smiled at the receptionist, who sat with his own feet propped up on his desk and an old 2D movie playing in his shared virtual periphery.

"Doctor Beckett," he greeted her without rising.

"Doctor Kohlman."

She offered him a curt nod, and he paused the movie with an absent wave.

"Here to clear Pepys for transfer to the Retirement Home?"

"Yes, that's right."

"Okay then." Kohlman took his boots off the desk and sat up. Additional screens appeared around him. "Looks like he's enjoying his morning beer. Kind of funny, if you ask me. I always assumed he'd be a tea-drinker. You know, being British and all."

"He was born about a century too early for that. Tea was still an expensive novelty during his time. The 'China drink,' I believe he called it."

"Well, whatever makes him happy."

"Any topic restrictions I should be aware of?"

"None." Kohlman transferred the case file to her. "He knows where he is. In fact, he's one of the few who's always known where he is. Curious as hell, too. Been here, what?" He consulted the file he'd just sent her. "Damn near four months, and he asks a lot of questions. Been studying Modern English, too, even though we've given him access to the translation earbuds. Says he doesn't like sticking them in his ears, so he doesn't use them much."

Kohlman shrugged and she nodded.

"And how stable is he?"

"Very. To be honest, he's been one of our best guests, and like I say, he knows exactly when he is. Risk to you is nonexistent. And even if he did attack you —" Kohlman shrugged again "— what's a fifty-seven-year-old indigene from the seventeenth century going to do against a synthoid?"

"Not much, I suppose."

"You know, I've been meaning to ask you. Is your synthoid police-grade?"

"No, but I do have a few enhancements. It seemed prudent after the Thermopylae mission went south and . . . you know." She rested her hand on her stomach.

"Yeah, I do." His eyes flickered to her abdomen for a moment, and he gave her a sympathetic smile. "Well, he's all yours." He pointed a thumb down the hall. "Just let me know when we can cart him off."

"Certainly, Doctor."

Kohlman gave her a quick wave, then planted his feet back on his desk and un-paused his movie. One of the characters shouted obscenities, and explosions rippled across the screen.

Teodorà opened the case file and followed the virtual arrows down the hall. She waited until she was well out of sight before shaking her head.

Doctor Jebediah Kohlman, she thought. How did you go from leading ART Preservation missions and headlining major exhibits to being a desk jockey? She smiled without humor. Probably for the same reasons I'm doing a goddammed exit interview.

"Let's just get this over with," she muttered as she stepped up to the correct door.

She looked through it — a camera on the other side created an illusion of transparency as it fed imagery to her virtual vision — into Interview Chamber 62. The chamber had been prepared as a quaint seventeenth-century English cottage set in a grassy field with a few trees breaking up the otherwise flat landscape. A high brick wall marked both the edges of the field and the chamber's outer walls, and a visual simulation of a bright, cloudless day stretched out beyond that.

The subject sat in one of two chairs at an anachronistic white metal table beneath the broad, shady boughs of one of those trees. A beech, she thought. He took a slow sip from his tankard, then set it back down next to a plate of salted pork and cheese slices and leaned back in obvious content, knitting his fingers over the bulge of his stomach.

Samuel Pepys — Chief Secretary to the Admiralty under both King Charles II and King James II — possessed a round face framed by a dark, curling wig that descended past the shoulders of his long brown coat. He smoothed the white lace of the cravat puffing out below his neck, then reached for his mug once more.

Teodorà knocked.

"Mister Pepys, may I come in?" she asked in the seventeenth-century variant of Old English.

SysGov's scholars lumped together any version of English that predated its merger with Old Chinese as "Old English," but that covered a vast array of dialects, most of them so different from one another as to be effectively different languages entirely. Her synthoid's onboard software allowed her to understand and speak any of them perfectly, however, and the facility's computers would do the same for Pepys' translating earbuds, if that was needed.

And if he had them in his ears, of course, she thought, remembering Kohlman's comment.

"Ah, another visitor!" Pepys set down the mug and rose, turning to face his side of the closed door. "Please enter."

"Thank you."

She sent the door her authorization code, stepped through, and let it lock once more behind her. His eyes brightened as he caught sight of her. Her synthoid matched her original body in every external detail, from her tall, slender build to her olive skin and cascade of long, dark hair. Today she wore a white suit with a scarf that displayed a shifting pattern of glistening ice.

" Zhu hao yun," he said, enunciating each syllable with care, as he extended one leg, leaned forward, and bowed deeply. 'Making a leg,' they used to call that, Teodorà thought, as she responded with a slight bow of her own. Seventeenth-century Great Britain wasn't her period — she'd specialized in the ancient Mediterranean — but she'd done her homework and recognized the practiced grace with which he performed the greeting. No doubt he would have flourished his hat, if he'd had one. Since he didn't, he settled for placing one hand on his chest as he bent his head.

Yet what impressed Teodorà wasn't the courtesy — she'd more than half expected that from a man of his time and position — but rather that the Modern English words had passed through her audio filters without translation.

Kohlman wasn't kidding when he said Pepys has been studying our language, she thought. That wasn't too bad, even though he picked a tricky phrase to use without tonal subtext.

The phrase came from the Old Chinese "zhù hǎo yùn," meaning "good luck." It could still be used in that sense, but it's Modern English uses were exceptionally varied, ranging across phrases like "hello," "goodbye," "excuse me," various forms of well wishing, and even sayings that had no direct translation into either Old English or Old Chinese. In some ways, its versatility reminded her of the German word "bitte" and how it could mean "please," "you're welcome," "sorry," or a few other phrases, depending on context.

Because of zhu hao yun's myriad uses, the vowel tones became far more important than for most of Modern English, but Pepys had delivered his greeting without any tonal shifts, lending the phrase a dead, flat feeling to her ear.

"Zhù hao yùn," she said in reply, adding tones to emphasize her polite intentions. She wondered how far the man's language studies had taken him as she continued in her native tongue.

"Good morning, Mister Pepys. My name is Doctor Teodorà Beckett. I'm here for your exit interview. Is now a good time?"

"Oh, of course, my dear lady!" Pepys waved expansively at one of table's chairs. "I would be most deeply pleased to have the company. Would you deign to join me for some refreshment?"

He'd spoken in his own language this time, she noticed, but it was obvious he'd understood her perfectly. It was equally obvious that he also understood that the building's software would translate for her just as it translated for him. That was interesting. And it showed an impressive grasp of Modern English, at least in terms of comprehension, for someone who lacked both the software and the neural implants to be quickly educated in a new language.

"I would love to," she said, switching back to his version of Old English. "Thank you."

He stepped around the table to pull out the chair for her. She sat with a faint smile for the archaic courtesy and let him slide her into place.

"Doctor Beckett, you said, I believe?"

"Yes, I did."

"Excellent! And would the Doctor like something to drink?"

"Well . . . I know it's a bit early for your personal timeline, but I'm actually in the mood for a good cup of British tea."

"The machine inside can manage that, I believe. I shall discover the truth of that. Your pardon, Madame."

He bowed again, then stepped into the cottage. He returned a minute later with a teapot and an empty cup, which he set down in front of her.

"That marvelous device asked me how I would prefer my tea," he said as he poured. "That confused me, as I was unaware of the wide variety of selections which appear to have become available since my own day. So I told it to select something popular. I trust it will please you."

"Thank you, Mister Pepys. I'm sure it'll be fine."

"My pleasure."

She raised the cup and breathed in the robust aroma as he seated himself in the other chair. Then she sipped. The tea's warmth filled her, and she set the cup back down with a smile.

"Mmm."

"Ah! So it was to your liking, then?"

"Very much so."

"Excellent!" He beamed at her. "I fear the wonders of your time are so great that a man of my own is hard put to grasp them, yet the joy of offering hospitality — even when it comes from the purse of another, since I have neither coin nor means to procure it — seems part and parcel of all times. And it is equally true, I find, that food and drink always taste better in company. And that is doubly true in the presence of a young and beautiful woman."

He lifted his beer tankard in a salute, and Teodorà chuckled. She'd never considered herself beautiful, not by modern standards, anyway. But she could understand how the medical science of the thirtieth century — or an eternally youthful synthoid — could make a person look positively angelic to someone from an earlier time.

"Looks can be deceptive," she told him. "I'm actually older than you are."

"What amazing . . . technology." Pepys used the Modern English word, pronouncing it with an edge of caution, and not the Old English. The noun "technology" had possessed quite a different meaning during his own lifetime. "I should no longer be astonished by all that you can accomplish," he continued. "Your chirurgeons have provided ample proof of that in my own humble case, when all's said." He shook his head in mild bemusement. "I have lived most of my life in constant pain, and yet behold me!" He spread his arms. "Freed from agony at last!"

"Your bladder stones, I assume?" Teodorà glanced to the side and performed a quick search through his case file. "Ah. I see the original interviewer had you treated."

"Read that in one of your invisible documents, Doctor?" he asked, dark eyes dancing with alert amusement.

"I suppose you could call them that." She took another sip of tea. "But I'm sure you understand that curing you was trivial for us."

"That which was trivial for you is no less a marvel beyond price for me," he pointed out, holding up a finger. "Master Hollister's surgery relieved me of the stones, yet it remained for your physicians to relieve me of the surgery's pain. Believe me, dear lady, when I say that is one boon I shall not soon forget."

"I'm glad you feel that way. So you feel you've been treated well?"

"Well, dear lady? That is far too pale a word. ART's hospitality has been all and more than the most exacting soul might demand. Although, if pressed, I should be forced to acknowledge that the constant inquiries about my diary do grow tiresome, in time."

"Well," she observed with a smile, "we are historians. I have it on authority that we're a nosy breed."

"As if I should ever be so crass as to describe so lovely a lady in such terms!" Pepys replied with a smile of his own. "And, if I be fully truthful, the ability to speak with so many of you, and the graciousness with which you have answered so many of my own questions, has been a delight. Especially so for your invisible companions! I find them fascinating, as if Puck and Oberon had come to call and brought their familiar spirits with them."

"We call them 'integrated companions,'" Teodorà corrected.

"I see. And did yours come from a machine, Doctor? Or was it once a real person?"

"I . . . ." She grimaced. "I'm between companions, at the moment."

"I trust I have not stumbled upon a painful topic," Pepys said, clearly reacting to her expression and tone. "I have no desire to pry, Doctor Beckett. Pray accept my apologies if I have intruded."

"No, that's all right." She sighed. "Fran and I . . . we had a bit of a falling out. That's all."

In truth, her last conversation with Fran still burned in her mind. They'd fought over ART, of course. The final skirmish in a months-long war. The Gordian Protocol hadn't destroyed ART, but its restrictions had gutted ART's mission so severely that it bled a constant stream of talent. The "Gordian Knot" hadn't revealed just another scandal that could be swept under the rug, like Lucius's idiotic adventures. No, it had been proof of the minor, inconvenient fact that ART had committed atrocities on an enormous scale in the name of science, and who wanted to bear a stigma like that?

ART was a shambling, rotting corpse that still shuffled forward because it didn't know any better. The organization they'd worked for was already dead, whether they liked it or not, and Fran had refused to stick around for the bitter end. She'd asked Teodorà to leave, then pled with her to abandon ART —

— and finally threatened her.

"It's me or ART," she'd said.

And Teodorà had chosen ART.

Even now, she wasn't sure why.

I can't walk away from all this, she thought. Even in the state it's in, I know there's something worth saving amidst the wreckage of all our careers. I still believe in this place.

Even if no one else does.


Pepys refreshed her tea.

"Would you care to speak of it?" he asked gently. "Ofttimes, I have found, sharing pain may be the first step towards healing it."

"You know that technically I'm the one who's supposed to be interviewing you, Mister Pepys," she pointed out with a slight chuckle, but she felt her own eyes warm and he smiled back at her.

"Alas, yes." It was his turn to sigh — rather theatrically in his case. "I fear that I am all too aware that naught but dreary business could bring so lovely a visitor to call upon me! Yet, having acknowledged as much, should that prevent me from engaging her in pleasant converse? And," he cocked his head, those bright eyes compassionate, "if you would forgive the liberty, I judge that you have much upon your mind, Doctor Beckett."

"Is it that obvious?" Teodorà tilted her own head to one side.

"Dear lady, I have spent my life reading men's thoughts through the windows of their eyes. It requires neither priest nor savant to see the shadows behind your own. You conceal those shadows with greater skill than many, but not so well that I cannot see them."


"Oh, bother!" said Pooh, as Piglet came back from the dead.
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Re: Valkyrie protocol final version snippet 2
Post by isaac_newton   » Fri Aug 07, 2020 4:47 am

isaac_newton
Rear Admiral

Posts: 1029
Joined: Fri Oct 18, 2013 5:37 am
Location: Brighton, UK

thank you RFC - much appreciated.

I do hope that you are feeling well!!

purely by coincidence I was reading part of a book about Pepys in my lunch break yesterday :-)
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