“Where did all of that come from?”
Ernst-Karl stared into the holo-cylinder of the Mini Colossus after the screen cleared once more. Where there had been maybe six folders in the current directory before the update, there were now nearly twenty. Each bore initials indicating they were more collections of image files like those previously displayed, but neither Ernst nor Jakob recognized who they might belong to. A cursory inspection of a few confirmed they were indeed pictures, and in some cases video files…though many seemed rather larger than necessary for their listed file types.
“I thought we’d get data files, but it’s just more images,” Ernst said with some disappointment in his voice. A quick glance through several folders showed him most were ones he had in his own record files, but some from his parents’ early years were new to him. It would take hours to watch all the vidfiles and still images, and he didn’t have time for that when he was on a far more serious quest for information regarding the mystery of Harman’s missing genome.
Jakob had been staring at the medium blue screen with its silvery spheres denoting each file along with its associated size and type. He’d heard his husband’s comment but remained silent, which was unusual in their relationship. Both men were by nature detail-oriented in their fields, and as both planetary engineering and genetic technology depended on exactness, any anomalous deviations would call for immediate attention. Something was definitely trying to make itself known deep in his brain, but it was being annoyingly elusive.
After another ten minutes, Ernst-Karl threw up his hands. “I need a break.”
Jakob browsed through more of the vidfiles, savoring glimpses into his husband’s early years along with sad reminders of Hartmann in the years before they’d met at university in Neu Bonn. Although obsessively precise in his attention to his studies, the young man had also known how to relax to maintain optimum performance…thus their many nights of viewing ancient movies and speculating on a future that had never come about. No needle-nosed ships plying the space-ways for distant outposts beyond the Asteroid Belt…no adventures in dinosaur-ridden Venusian jungles…no dying Martians in crumbling cities to greet Earth settlers.
In some ways things had turned out better; Luna had thriving cities, as did Mars—but they were a mix of ‘thal and human explorers rather than the surplus bodies of Terra’s billions. Indeed, Earth had rejected the partnership of a Neanderthal-shared future, opting for stagnation amid environmental chaos. Clandestine efforts were underway to save the Earth-born from themselves, but it was an as yet unknown gamble to see how much would remain to salvage.
Terraforming on Mars was slowly increasing the atmospheric pressure, which in turn would raise temperatures enough to free up frozen water resources, and that in turn would improve the rate at which a carbon-dioxide air could transform into one with free oxygen. In time the surface would be suitable for dwelling without pressure suits or even supplemental breathers…but not yet. A mix of bio- and nano-engineering was working miracles every day by earlier standards, but centuries would pass before humans could walk freely on Martian lawns under a canopy of trees—for now that luxury existed only in the parklands of the underground settlements established some four hundred years earlier.
Ernst was sitting in their living room reading when Jakob found him, carrying a cup of tea from the kitchen. He settled down next to the red-headed man and let out a contented sigh. This was one of their favorite pastimes, and he was only surprised to see what his husband was skimming: an actual printed book rather than a vidreader connected to their implants’ stored entertainment files. “A Princess of Mars? How many times have you read that, E…a dozen?”
That got me a mock glare. “Double that and you might be closer, at least with the book form. And don’t tell me you wouldn’t want your own eight-legged thoat to ride across the Barsoomian desert.” Okay, he had me there. As the leader of the Mars Terraforming Combine, I’d long been a devotee of all the old novels set on a living Red Planet, and seen nearly all of the movies too.
“Maybe when we get around to introducing animals, somebody will figure out the genetic coding for one…” I teased him right back. There had been primordial life on early Mars, mainly in the oceans, but some also along the shores of rivers and lakes, though none of it had progressed much beyond the most basic plant forms and microscopic multi-celled lifeforms. Despite early photos and conspiracy theories galore, the ‘Face’ in Cydonia had been nothing more than weathered rock, and the nearby ‘pyramids’ geologic curiosities.
If we wanted crumbling cities overlooking oceans, we’d have to build them ourselves….I’d add that to my project list as a surprise for my husband. I had a few centuries yet to find a suitable name, though I had a tentative location in mind already. With the terrain thoroughly mapped, and an estimate of free water that we could expect, the location of shorelines was fairly certain. Maybe I’d save one hill nearby for a retirement retreat for us so we could see ‘our’ city at sunset.
“Maybe…that tea smells good—do I get any?” I headed off to the kitchen to refill my cup and bring Ernst his own, along with a few snacks. He turned a page or two looking for the place he’d left off, then sat the book down to take his drink. He gave me a strange look when I didn’t sit down immediately. “What’s wrong, Jake?”
I held up a hand to forestall him, and he stopped mid-query. I stared at his book, now lying face-down on the table next to the sofa. My tingle was back, and my subconscious was burrowing and ferreting at it more directly now that it had something to focus on. Something about books—pages? No, not pages…something else…sheets…reams…damn, I was close! What did you do with pages? Turn them, flip them…skim…leaf through—shit, that was it! Some ancient technique to hide data from a casual observer…mostly done with images…inter-leafing?
Now I had it, and I sat my cup down very carefully so I didn’t drop or spill the hot liquid inside. “I think I’ve got it, E…where your brother hid his data.” I was up and heading to the store-room with a confused but excited partner hurrying behind. “You said it yourself, those files looked larger than they needed to be, and that’s where the missing data is—between the images themselves.”
As I hit the key again to activate the Colossus, I explained a bit more. “If I’m right, the idea was called ‘interlacing’, used to place pages of stored data between other non-related ones and they’d be overlooked in casual viewing. A larger file size could indicate the presence of such things, or just indicate a higher resolution and detail for the image files.” I selected one of the abnormally large vidfiles and began tinkering with the settings.
“The idea went back to a time even before computers and was used in advertising—a way to implant a suggestion with a quick bit of text subliminally while a regular advertisement played….” After some more virtual keystrokes, I began to doubt my assumption…nothing was showing up even at drastically reduced speed, or even frame-by-frame scanning.
Why wasn’t this working? I checked several more files on the off-chance of not having the right one, but came up equally stymied. Everything indicated I was on the right track, but nothing was showing up. “E, what sort of memory does this machine use?” This was my last option, and I hoped I was right.
“Some sort of synthetic crystal, in a lattice formation, according to the spec sheet…does that matter?”
I did a few more operations, different from the ones before, and…”Eureka!” The display altered to show more tiny spheres, each indicating a new sheet of data…all previously hidden until you realized that crystal-lattice was three dimensional storage, but also phased—rotate the scan source to the proper setting, and you got a wealth of new data normally undetectable to novice operators. Hartmann Hallbach had been no amateur…and I knew just enough to ferret out his method, if nothing else.
“Scheisse,” I heard Ernst breathe softly. “This will take too long to go through manually…” Randomly pulling up a page, we saw notations on aspects of gene-splicing and encoding, with some speculation on how this might be used in creating something new…I’d seen this before, and so had Ernst as his startled exclamation showed. “That’s from one of my research papers at the Polytechnik!”
Ernst began doing his own virtual stroking, and patterns began to form in the mass of new information before us. He was filtering out quotations from his own work, leaving conjectural uses and then their practical application in the real world. Nearly half of the documents vanished, and a few moments more had what was left sorted chronologically. One of the first items was an index…just what we needed to make faster use of what we now had.
This would still take hours to get to our desired goal—Harman’s genome, or lack thereof. “Do a reverse search beginning with any references to Harman,” I suggested. It took a surprisingly long time for this sorting to be done---two minutes of real time, which was a virtual eternity in the realm of computational physics.
I think I was more surprised than Ernst by what we saw: not a family tree going back to Hartmann, but a series of individuals linked directly back to Hartmann himself…and Pavel Svoboda. In each case, there was no corresponding female name, though we’d seen vids of Harman’s parents…or had we? The woman had shown no signs of having given birth, but the ‘thal in the background had. It seemed clear she had been a surrogate rather than a genetic donor, but why no data on the woman holding Harman in her lap?
“Ernst…” I began, but he held up a gloved hand, preparing to key in more virtual commands. There didn’t seem to be a link to the man either, and he shared a lot of similarities to the older boy we had seen on Luna. What turns had Ernst’s brother’s research taken once it began to be implemented? It was almost as if he had been one of the parents in each subsequent generation….
I watched a new file appear, and saw it held the data on Harman from his school days at the Academy near Denver in the NorAm Bloc. Ernst extracted the genome from it, and began some more typing, bringing up similar files from the computer he was now manipulating like an expert. I could tell he was into the newly-revealed data, and it took only a few moments for me to recognize the genetic profiles for the entire Hallbach family, beginning with Ernst and Hartmann’s parents and down to Harman Halveg himself. I could see fairly quickly all the Hallbach Line, then another for that of Pavel Svoboda and his family.
“What does this get us, E? We don’t have a maternal line without the genome of Harman, and Two says we won’t have that for a while—perhaps never if he can’t figure out the problems he’s having analyzing it.”
The red-head sat contemplating the holo-display for a minute or two, then I watched as he keyed in the only female name we had seen associated with Harman’s files other than that of his ‘birth mother’. Nine Onno Fortuinleiven…no matches at all to the data we now had. And yet, the file Two-Sapphire had sent us stated it as one of the headers….”Hang on, E—I’ll search the records for any traces of her…”
I could do this through my implant, but didn’t know how long it would take since the files might have to be acquired from Earth itself…so I took a chair next to my husband and rubbed the back of his neck in an effort to reduce his obvious tension. Not all records on the Three Worlds were identical, as the partial file we’d received from Tycho Deep had shown. With the ease of implant technology used on Mars and Luna, we could gain full information when the need arose, but what would happen if the links between the Worlds were interrupted? Could that even happen?
—No results found in Statistics or Population Control—
I was surprised, but not as much as I’d have been before we began this hunt, so I sob-vocalized ‘Broaden search areas’ as I relayed the result to Ernst. If such a person didn’t exist, as seemed to be the case, then I didn’t know what my new parameters might turn up…but it would be interesting to see if anything did.
—Suggested results: Linguistic Databases-Early Modern Dutch-Eurobloc, approx... Twentieth Century— That was followed by a list of possibilities from best to least likely, and I relayed them to Ernst’s own comm-link. He began typing,
I wasn’t expecting much since this was just an alpha-numerical sequence, but then, genetics wasn’t my specialty unless it applied to the terraforming process. The genetics to flora and fauna bore only superficial similarities to that of any higher species, at least at the levels I’d be using to get Mars on the path to full habitability.
So, I was surprised to see several files show up on the bluish display, and more so by my husband’s reaction. “Fuck—Hartmann…what did you get up to?”
After more than an hour, Ernst was leaning back in his chair, and he looked both stunned and intrigued at what his late brother had accomplished. This was pure conjecture without Harman’s genome as proof, but what he was thinking seemed possible: Harman’s genetic profile hadn’t been the result of random chance mixing of material from sperm and ovum, but the deliberate manipulation of them at the very least, and that didn’t account for that number sequence that had a similarity to those used in Ernst’s own researches that gave them the ‘thals.
Harman Halveg had been designed…or so it appeared at the moment.