The midsummer sun was still high enough above the horizon to cast a golden glow over the gathering crowds on the riverwalk an hour later. Eli let himself be carried along in the flow of people heading towards the park, until he could step aside into a little nook where two ancient chestnut trees sheltered an empty bench. He sank down onto it and tried to think.
Zavcka had wrapped her speech up quickly. The grandee who had introduced her bounced back onstage, grinning widely, and invited questions. Eli wondered if Aryel would stay and challenge or slip away as unobtrusively as she had arrived, but she did neither. Instead she had waited until the lights came up, waited until they touched the wall where she stood and Zavcka Klist’s eyes had focused on her and widened, before she sidestepped quickly to the door and out. By then people were on their feet all over the room and salvos were being fired at the stage.
They ranged predictably from anxious enquiries about safety, to what sorts of products she thought might emerge, to quantifying the economic impact. She had gone straight to Mikal’s raised hand, though, despite knowing that he must be about to ask her to explain precisely what she meant by integrating human gemtech.
Work had already begun, she said, in the pre-Syndrome era, on direct interfaces. But they did not understand enough then about how the brain was structured and how it worked; progress was slow, patchy, and ultimately abandoned.
‘We have the answers to those questions now,’ she said. ‘And while we can regret the manner in which much of that knowledge was gained, I don’t think it honours anybody to simply not use it. On the contrary, it seems to me that we have an obligation to turn it into something worthwhile. Much of the original research focused on disability, for example, and working in difficult environments like space. Or underwater. If we can use what we already know to link this,’ she pointed to her own head, ‘directly to this,’ and she took a tablet out of the Festival director’s hand and held it up with the same restrained theatricality, ‘then there are so many problems we can solve.’
She handed the tablet back, her attention still on Mikal. ‘We’re not talking about new gemtech. But I understand the concerns behind your question, Councillor, and I respect them. It’s a question that should be asked.’
A few seconds of silence then, the audience bemusedly contemplating the unexpected courtesy she was showing to Mikal. Eli could imagine the split-lidded blink with which he filled it, something he thought his friend sometimes did on purpose when he wished to be disconcerting.
‘There are many questions that should be asked,’ Mikal had replied evenly. ‘And answered. I look forward to it.’
Eli knew her well enough to recognise the flash of anger in Zavcka Klist’s eyes as she registered the rebuke. A few people seemed to realise that they had missed something, but it sailed too far over the heads of most. Mikal sat back, giving up the floor and watching her weather the torrent.
Now Eli kept an eye on the passing crowd until the giant loomed into view. He raised a hand. Mikal waved back and changed course, navigating to the edge of the flow of people so that Eli could fall into step beside him.
‘Well,’ he said, channelling well-worn irony, ‘that was interesting.’
Mikal laughed, a gusty tone with an edge of bitterness to it. ‘Which part? The rebirth of infotech, the recycling of gemtech, or Zavcka Klist being my new best mate?’
‘That last one is the killer. Did she speak to you again? I slipped out when it looked like there was going to be mingling. No love lost between us, as you know.’
‘I think she would have been nice even to you. She came straight up to me, handshake, congratulations, the whole thing. Said she didn’t think it would have been helpful to get into a technical discussion about neurochemistry from the stage but she didn’t want me to think she was being evasive, they intend to be completely open, blah blah blah.’
‘Subject to commercial constraints, of course.’
‘Of course. Though she did make a point of saying they want to set up a protocol with the regulators to ensure that the protection of intellectual property doesn’t undermine transparency. Quite how you manage that I don’t know, but she’d be very happy for me to help work it out.’
‘Blimey. Do you believe her?’
‘Do I believe that she wants me on her private stream, or popping by the office? That she mortifies herself nightly over what Bel’Natur did? Over what she allowed to happen to Gabriel, and Callan, and goodness knows how many others? No, no and no. She doesn’t look nearly shredded enough.’
The big man sighed and ran a hand through his hair. It was medium length and a nondescript lightish brown. The modifications he bore were more than sufficient gemsign; his designers had correctly judged that topping them off with a jewel-coloured, phosphorescent mane would have been redundant. His double thumbs left twin furrows on either side of his head.
‘But is she now genuinely trying to chart a new course? She might be, Eli. She knows they can’t go back to the old days. Innovate or die, as they used to say at Recombin. Infotech has been stagnant for a long time. We are all Syndrome-safe now, gems and norms, even the Remnants. Bel’Natur might be up to exactly what she says they’re up to.’
‘You sound like a politician, Mik.’
‘Go wash your mouth out. With soap.’
Binary (UK trade paperback), ch3, pp31-34
I thought I’d put up an extract today that sort-of follows on from yesterday’s. I quite like this as a kind of contra-Bechdel: two men talking at length about a woman for whom they have a great deal of respect, if absolutely no affection.
This extract business is interesting. I’m discovering what a challenge it is to find passages that hint at what else is to come in Binary, and what’s already transpired in Gemsigns, while not spoilering either! Tomorrow I may put up one of the flashback scenes …
New review! While I was writing this, an email came in with an advance look at the review that’s going to appear in the Birmingham SF Group’s newsletter. It’s by Carol Goodwin and it’s brilliant. I’ll post a link to the newsletter as soon as it’s available.