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Authors: Timothy Zahn

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BOOK: Coming of Age
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Somerset finished his recitation, and an expectant silence took its place. With some effort, Jarvis forced his mind back to the topic at hand. “Okay. First off, check to make sure the thyroid isn't suddenly boosting thyroxin production to compensate.”

“We've already looked for that—”

“And check carefully, because what the extra thyroxin may be doing is chemically linking to our gamma component, which would not only take both molecules out of play but also keep you from detecting the hormone increase.”

There was a brief silence. “I didn't know the two hormones could react together.”

“They haven't in lab tests, but if you look closely at the gamma molecule's sulfhydryl end, you'll see there's no particular reason why the reaction can't go. Check for likely-looking enzymes in the neighborhood of the thyroid, and while you're at it check back a step and see if the pituitary increased its own thyrotropin output.”

“Already tried that,” Somerset said with the distracted air of someone trying to talk while scribbling notes. “Negative result.”

“Okay, concentrate on the thyroid region, then.” Jarvis considered. “One other thing: try doing a careful study of prostaglandin levels. Our alpha molecule's largely a prostaglandin analogue, and the body mechanisms that degrade those hormones may be attacking it. If so, we'll need to isolate which one the culprit is and put something else in the mixture to suppress it. You think that'll keep you busy for a while?”

“Quite a good while, I think,” Somerset said. “Thanks a lot, Matt—appreciate it muchly.”

“Glad to help. You find anything interesting, let me know—by writing it up and putting it on my desk.”

“Hint received and understood. Talk to you later.”

“Much later. Good-bye.”

Hanging up, Jarvis glanced out the window once more to make sure Colin was still in sight before heading outside. Walking around the corner of the cabin, he managed to duck as a seed pod came sailing through the air. It rounded the edge and he heard it drop to the ground.

“I can't make it go round the house,” Colin complained as Jarvis came up.

“Well, that's because you can't see it after it goes around the corner,” Jarvis told him, sitting down beside the boy. “In order to teek something you have to be able to either see it or touch it.”

“Why?”

“Well …” It was a good question, actually, one nobody had ever figured out a satisfactory answer to. “It's just the way things are, I guess.”

“Why?”

“I don't know. Tell you what—why don't we see if you can figure out a way to do it.” He glanced around. “Would you teek a seed pod over here, please?”

“Okay.” From above them came the
snich
of a green stem being broken, and Jarvis looked up as a pod drifted down. “Why do the branches go around?” Colin asked.

Jarvis reached out to catch the pod as Colin, shifting his attention to the spiral limb arrangement of the conetree, lost control of it. “A lot of plants have leaves that spiral up a stem like that,” he explained. “The conetree just takes the process a bit farther and does it with branches, too.”

“Why?”

“Probably to let all the leaves get as much sunlight as possible. You see—on that conetree, over there—see how the branches get shorter as you go up? That keeps the upper branches from shading the lower ones and lets all the leaves get sunlight.'

“Why do they need sunlight?”

“It's one of the things they eat,” Jarvis said briefly. He'd fallen into this trap with Colin already twice in the past two days. The boy wasn't interested in answers nearly as much as he was in keeping the string of questions going as long as possible. “Here, let's do an experiment, okay?” he suggested, holding up the pod.

“What's a 'speriment?”

“A way to keep little boys quiet,” Jarvis said, tapping him lightly on the nose with the pod.

Colin giggled and Jarvis moved the pod thirty centimeters away, holding it horizontally by one end at the level of the boy's eyes. “Wiggle the pod a little, would you? Just a
little
,” he added hastily as the pod nearly spun out of his hand.

The amplitude decreased until it was a barely detectable quiver. Colin was being a little silly, Jarvis knew, but he could live with that. “All right. Now I want you to look at the pod very carefully so that you know exactly where it is,” he instructed the boy. “Then close your eyes and try to teek it without looking. Okay? Okay, close your eyes.”

Colin did so, and the pod's vibration abruptly ceased. “Keep trying,” he said soothingly as Colin's features twisted up with concentration. Someday, Jarvis told himself, he would get around to studying exactly why direct visual, tactile, or kinesthetic feedback was required for teekay to function.
Someday when Ramsden runs out of projects for me to do,
he thought sardonically.

Thoughts of Ramsden and the university made him frown. Somerset, for all his perpetual cheerfulness, really wasn't as insensitive to others as he often appeared. If he'd felt it necessary to break into Jarvis's officially ordered vacation, it was either because the hibernation experiment was sinking itself into a hole deep enough to strike magma or else because he was getting pressure from either Ramsden or someone higher up. Either way they could very easily be asking him to come back in for a few days long before his vacation was over.

What would he say if that happened? He couldn't very well take Colin back with him; chances were the Ridge Harbor police had papered every police station on the continent with the boy's picture by now. But neither could he leave the child alone in the cabin. He was too young to handle things like meals for himself, and there was always the possibility that he would hurt himself, perhaps badly. The posthypnotic sleep code word was there, of course, but Jarvis knew hypnotic commands tended to break down when the subject got hungry or thirsty. He still had a supply of the sleep drug he'd used in the kidnapping, but Colin had already had two doses of the experimental drug and Jarvis had no intention of mixing chemicals like that. Aside from clouding test results, it could be downright dangerous.

The pod twitched, and Jarvis's adrenal flow jumped with it. Jerking his attention back to Colin's face, he was just in time to see the slitted eyelids snap closed. “I saw that,” he said sternly, letting his sudden thrill of excitement drain away. “Try it again, and this time don't cheat.”

“Do I have to?” the boy asked plaintively, looking up at Jarvis and shifting restlessly on the grass.

“Yes—but only once more,” Jarvis told him. “Then you can go play again.”

Colin sighed theatrically, “Okay,” he said and closed his eyes again.

It was a good thing the Brimmers had instilled such a healthy measure of obedience in the boy, Jarvis reflected as Colin again frowned blindly in the direction of the pod. The boy's teekay strength would be growing rapidly over the next few weeks, which would correspondingly decrease Jarvis's power to physically enforce commands. He could only hope that the boy didn't realize that before he could be returned to civilization. For the first time in his life, Jarvis began to truly understand how the parents of the Lost Generation must have felt.

“I can't do it,” Colin said at last, sounding frustrated.

“That's okay,” Jarvis told him. “Don't worry about it. Here—why don't you see if you can teek the pod all the way over the chimney, okay? Then you can play for a couple of hours before it'll be time for dinner.”

“Okay.” Obviously relieved to be back on familiar ground, Colin teeked the pod from Jarvis's hand and sent it skittering between the conetree's lower branches. Craning his neck as he stood up, Jarvis saw the pod sail high over the cabin.

Smiling, he headed back toward the cabin door. Dinner would be trehhost pasta—one of Colin's favorite dishes, he knew from his Vaduz Park conversations. He'd better get started on it; the slow-cooking a trehhost required would take a while.

And later that evening there would be games, conversation, and some unobtrusive testing … and, perhaps, another shot.

Chapter 7

I
T HAD BEGUN TO
cloud up while Lisa was eating dinner, and as she flew over Barona's lengthening shadows, she decided it would probably start raining by morning. That could be a new headache for the foreman at her construction site; after losing the use of Lisa's group last Friday, he wouldn't be happy if a heavy rain deprived him of their services tomorrow as well. But rain in the eyes could cause kids to lose their grip at crucial times, and no builder was foolish enough to risk that. Gavra wouldn't permit it, anyway.

The Lee Introductory School was in a section of Barona Lisa had only visited once or twice before, and it took some hunting before she finally located the squat three-story building. After the tall, majestic towers of the hive, Lee Intro seemed almost self-consciously earthbound, and it made her feel a little creepy as she landed by its front door.
I'll be just as earthbound soon,
she thought. Steeling herself, she walked inside.

The door opened into a spacious lounge about half-full of teens, many of them frowning intently into colorful books. The room itself was much friendlier and less intimidating than the reading area at the library had been, but still Lisa hesitated at the threshold. Maybe she should just go home and forget all of this—

“May I help you?” a courteous voice came from her right.

Startled, Lisa turned and saw for the first time the alcove just inside the outer door. A young adult sat behind a desk there, a telephone and long sheet of paper in front of him.

“I'm looking for Daryl Kellerman,” she said, stepping over to him. “He used to be at the Dayspring Hive.”

The man ran a finger down his paper, stopped midway and slid it sideways. “Kellerman … well, he hasn't checked out and he's not listed on special duty, so he's probably up in his room. You want me to call up there?”

“Yes, please,” Lisa said quickly, before she could lose her nerve.

“Who shall I tell him is here?”

“Lisa Duncan.”

The man picked up the phone, consulted the paper again, and punched numbers. “There's a Lisa Duncan here to see Kellerman,” he said a moment later. “…All right. He'll be right down,” the man told Lisa, hanging up the instrument.

Lisa nodded and drifted away from the desk, wondering which direction Daryl would come from. Her heart was pounding and she could feel her courage draining away with the moisture in her mouth.
What am I going to
say
to him?
she thought frantically. She hadn't yet come up with a good answer to that when a door on the left side of the lounge opened and Daryl was there. He spotted Lisa and came toward her.

He'd changed a lot in less than a year, she thought as she put on her best smile and walked forward to meet him halfway. His face was longer and thinner and showed the black nubs of a struggling beard on his chin. He was taller, too, and seemed somehow terribly awkward in his movements.
Part of growing up?
she wondered, suppressing a shudder.

They stopped simultaneously, about a meter apart. “Hi,” Daryl said, his voice sounding as tense and awkward as the rest of him looked.

“Hi,” Lisa said. “I wasn't sure you'd remember me.”

He smiled and some of his tension seemed to disappear. “Not likely. You were either the best worker or worst pest I ever had in a work crew, sometimes both at the same time. Uh … you come by just to see me?”

Lisa hesitated—and was suddenly aware of a new silence in the lounge. Conversations had ceased, and she could feel eyes on her from the other teens in the room. Waiting to hear her answer to Daryl's question? A taste of panic splashed her throat.
New rules, new relationships
—
and I don't know any of them. What do I say?

“Could we go for a walk?” she suggested, choosing the easiest way out. “It's pretty stuffy in here.”

“Sure,” Daryl said, a mixture of relief and disappointment in his voice. He looked past her to the man at the desk. “I'll be going outside for a while,” he said, sounding very grown-up.

“Be in by eight-thirty,” the other shrugged.

As they left, Lisa thought she heard a faint snicker from the teens in the lounge.

“So … how is life treating you?” Daryl asked as the door closed behind them.

“Oh, pretty good,” she said. “How about you?”

He shrugged. “Fine,” he said, his tone not very enthusiastic.

“School kind of rough?”

“A little.” He pointed to the left. “Let's go this way; there's that little park a couple of blocks down.”

Lisa nodded her agreement, and for a moment they walked along the sidewalk in silence. The neighborhood had a different feeling than the one near the hive, Lisa decided as she looked around. Lee Intro was closer to shops and Barona's busier streets than any of the city's hives were. Because the teens were less mobile than preteens and kids, she wondered?

“How're
you
doing in school?” Daryl asked suddenly.

“I'm still at the hive,” Lisa told him.

He stopped. “What?”

She stopped too. “I'm still at the hive,” she repeated, frowning at the look on his face. “I haven't reached Transition yet.”

“Oh. I thought …” Abruptly, he started walking again, and she had to hurry to catch up.

“Hey, what's the matter?” she asked, trying to get a clear look at his face through the bounce of their steps. “Did I say something wrong?”

“I just sort of figured you'd come over from Paris Intro down the street,” he mumbled, nodding back over his shoulder.

“Well … you don't have to tell your friends I didn't,” she said, taking a stab at the reason for his reaction. Preteens, too, were sometimes kidded for friendships with much younger kids.

BOOK: Coming of Age
7.01Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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