The Eyes of Heisenbergby Frank Herbert
Many thousands of years in the future, a growing resistance to mandatory genetic review and modification at birth places the entire human race in jeopardy in this novel by the author of the classic Dune.See more details below
Many thousands of years in the future, a growing resistance to mandatory genetic review and modification at birth places the entire human race in jeopardy in this novel by the author of the classic Dune.
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The Eyes of Heisenberg
By Herbert, Frank
Tor BooksCopyright © 2002 Herbert, Frank
All right reserved.
They would schedule a rain for this morning. Dr. Thei Svengaard thought. Rain always makes the parents uneasy...not to mention what it does to the doctors.
A gust of winter wetness rattled against the window behind his desk. He stood, thought of muting the windows, but the Durants--this morning's parents--might be even more alarmed by the unnatural silence on such a day.
Dr. Svengaard stepped to the window, looked down at the thronging foot traffic--day shifts going to their jobs in the megalopolis, night shifts headed toward their tumbled rest. There was a sense of power and movement in the comings and goings of the people in spite of their troglodyte existence. Most of them, he knew, were children Sterries...sterile, sterile. They came and they went, numbered, but numberless.
He had left the intercom open to his reception room and he could hear his nurse, Mrs. Washington, distracting the Durants with questions and forms.
That was the watchword. This must all appear normal, casual routine. The Durants and all the others fortunate enough to be chosen and to become parents must never suspect the truth.
Dr. Svengaard steered his mind away from such thoughts, reminding himself that guilt was not a permissible emotion for a member of the medical profession. Guilt led inevitably to betrayal...and betrayal brought messy consequences. The Optimenwere exceedingly touchy where the breeding program was concerned.
Such a thought with its hint of criticism filled Svengaard with a momentary disquiet. He swallowed, allowed his mind to dwell on the Folk response to the Optimen, They are the power that loves us and cares for us.
With a sigh, he turned away from the window, skirted the desk and went through the door that led via the ready room to the lab. In the ready room, he paused to check his appearance in the mirror: gray hair, dark brown eyes, strong chin, high forehead and rather grim lips beneath an aquiline nose. He'd always been rather proud of the remote dignity in his appearance-cut and h ad come to terms with the need of adjusting the remoteness. Now, he softened the set of his mouth, practiced a look of compassionate interest.
Yes, that would do for the Durants--granting the accuracy of their emotional profiles.
Nurse Washington was just ushering the Durants into the lab as Dr. Svengaard entered through his private door. The skylights above them drummed and hissed with the rain. Such weather suddenly seemed to fit the room's mood: washed glass, steel, plasmeld and tile...all impersonal. It rained on everyone...and all humans had to pass through a room such as this...even the Optimen.
Dr. Svengaard took an instant dislike to the parents. Harvey Durant was a lithe six-footer with curly blond hair, light blue eyes. The face was wide with an apparent innocence and youth. Lizbeth, his wife, stood almost the same height, equally blonde, equally blue-eyed and young. Her figure suggested Valkyrie robustness. On a silver cord around her neck she wore one of the omnipresent Folk talismans, a brass figure of the female Optiman, Calapine. The breeder cult nonsense and religious overtones of the figure did not escape Dr. Svengaard. He suppressed a sneer.
The Durants were parents, however, and robust--living testimony to the skill of the surgeon who had cut them. Dr. Svengaard allowed himself a moment of pride in his profession. Not many people could enter the tight little group of subcellular engineers who kept human variety within bounds.
Nurse Washington paused in the door behind the Durants, said, "Dr. Svengaard, Harvey and Lizbeth Durant." She left without waiting for acknowledgements. Nurse Washington's timing and discretion always were exquisitely correct.
"The Durants, how nice," Dr. Svengaard said. "I hope my nurse didn't bore you with all those forms and questions. But I guess you knew you were letting yourselves in for all that routine when you asked to watch."
"We understand," Harvey Durant said. And he thought, Asked to watch, indeed! Does this old fake think he can pulled his little tricks on us?
Dr. Svengaard noted the rich, compelling baritone of the man's voice. It bothered him, added to his dislike.
"We don't want to take any more of your time than absolutely necessary," Lizbeth Durant said. She clasped her husband's hand and through their secret code of finger pressures said: "Do you read him? He doesn't like us."
Harvey's fingers responded, "He's a Sterrie prig, so full of pride in his position that he's half blind."
The woman's no-nonsense tone annoyed Dr. Svengaard. She already was staring around the lab, quick, searching looks. I must keep control here, he thought. He crossed to them, shook hands. Their palms were sweaty.
Nervous. Good, Dr. Svengaard thought.
The sound of a viapump at his left seemed reassuringly loud to him then. You could count on the pump to make parents nervous. That was why the pumps were loud. Dr. Svengaard turned toward the sound, indicated a sealed crystal vat on a force-field stand near the lab's center. The pump sound came from the vat.
"Here we are," Dr. Svengaard said.
Lizbeth stared at the vat's milky translucent surface. She wet her lips with her tongue. "In there?"
"And as safe as can be," Dr. Svengaard said.
He cherished the small hope then that the Durants might yet leave, go home and await the outcome.
Harvey took his wife's hand, patted it. He, too, stared at the vat. "We understand you've called in this specialist," he said.
"Dr. Potter," Svengaard said. "From Central." He glanced at the nervous movements of the Durants' hands, noting the omnipresent tattooed index fingers--gene type and station. They could add the coveted "V" for viable now, he thought, and he suppressed a momentary jealousy.
"Dr. Potter, yes," Harvey said. Through their hands, he signaled Lizbeth, "Notice how he said Central?"
"How could I miss it?" she responded.
Central, she thought. The place conjured pictures of the lordly Optimen, but this made her think of the Cyborgs who secretly opposed the Optimen, and the whole thing filled her with profound disquiet. She could afford to think of nothing but her son now.
"We know Potter's the best there is," she said. "and we don't want you to think we're just being emotional and fearful..."
"...but we're going to watch," Harvey said. And he thought, This stiff-necked surgeon had better realize we know our legal rights.
"I see," Dr. Svengaard said. Damn these fools! he thought. But he held his voice to a soothing monotone and said, "Your concern is a matter of record. I admire it. However, the consequences..."
He left the words hanging there, reminding them that he had legal rights, too, could make the cut with or without their permission, and couldn't be held responsible for any upset to the parents. Public Law 10927 was clear and direct. Parents might invoke it for the right to watch, but the cut would be made at the surgeon's discretion. The human race had a planned future which excluded genetic monsters and wild deviants.
Harvey nodded, a quick and emphatic motion. He gripped his wife's hand tightly. Bits of Folk horror stories and official myths trickled through his mind. He saw Svengaard partly through this confusion of stories and partly through the clandestine forbidden literature grudgingly provided by the Cyborgs to the Parents Underground--through Stedman and Merck, through Shakespeare and Huxley. His youth had fed on such a limited past that he knew superstition could not help but remain.
Lizbeth's nod came slower. She knew what their chief concern here had to be, but that was still her son in the vat.
"Are you sure," she asked, deliberately baiting Svengaard, "that there's no pain?"
The extent of the Folk nonsense which bred in the necessary atmosphere of popular ignorance filled Dr. Svengaard with resentment. He knew he'd have to end this interview quickly. The things he might be saying to these people kept intruding on his awareness, interfering with what he had to say.
"That fertilized ovum has no nerve trains," he said. "It's physically less than three hours old, its growth retarded by controlled nitrate respiration. Pain? The concept doesn't apply."
The technical terms would have little meaning to them, Dr. Svengaard knew, other than to emphasize the distance between mere parents and a submolecular engineer.
"I guess that was rather foolish of me," Lizbeth said. "The...it's so simple, not really like a human yet." And she signaled to Harvey through their hands, "What a simpleton he is! As easy to read as a child."
Rain beat a tarantella against the skylight. Dr. Svengaard waited it out, then: "Ah, now let us make no mistakes." And he thought what an excellent moment it was to give these fools a catechism refresher. "Your embryo may be less than three hours old, but it already contains every basic enzyme it'll need when fully developed. An enormously complicated organism."
Harvey stared at him in assumed awe at the greatness which could understand such mysteries as the shaping and moulding of life.
Lizbeth glanced at the vat.
Two days ago, selected gametes from Harvey and herself had been united there, gripped in stasis, allowed to go through limited mitosis. The process had produced a viable embryo--not too common a thing in their world where only a select few were freed of the contraceptive gas and allowed to breed, and only a rare number of those produced viables. She wasn't supposed to understand the intricacies of the process, and the fact that she did understand had to be hidden at all times. They--the genetic Optimen of Central--stamped savagely on the slightest threat to their supremacy. And they considered knowledge in the wrong hands to be the most terrible threat.
"How...big is...he now?" she asked.
"Diameter less than a tenth of a millimeter," Dr. Svengaard said. He relaxed his face into a smile. "It's a morula and back in the primitive days it wouldn't yet have completed its journey to the uterus. This is the stage when it's most susceptible to us. We must do our work now before the formation of the trophoblast."
The Durants nodded in awe.
Dr. Svengaard basked in their respect. He sensed their minds fumbling over poorly remembered definitions from the limited schooling they'd been permitted. Their records said she was a crche librarian and he an instructor of the young--not much education required for either.
Harvey touched the vat, jerked his hand away. The crystal surface felt warm, filled with subtle vibrations. And there was that constant thrap-thrap-thrap of the pump. He sensed the deliberateness of that annoying sound, reading the way he'd been trained in the Underground the subtle betrayals in Svengaard's manner. He glanced around the laboratory--glass pipes, square gray cabinets, shiny angles and curves of plasmeld, omnipresent gauges like staring eyes. The place smelled of disinfectants and exotic chemicals. Everything about the lab carried that calculated double purpose--functional yet designed to awe the uninitiated.
Lizbeth focused on the one mundane feature of the place she could really recognize for certain--a tile sink with gleaming faucets. The sink say squeezed between two mysterious constructions of convoluted glass and dull gray plasmeld.
The sink bothered Lizbeth. It represented a place of disposal. You flushed garbage into a sink for grinding before it was washed into the sewage reclamation system. Anything small could be dumped into a sink and lost.
"I'm not going to be talked out of watching," she said.
Damn! Dr. Svengaard thought. There was a catch in her voice. That little catch, that hesitation was betrayal. It didn't fit with her bold appearance. Overemphasis on maternal drive in her cutting...no matter how successful the surgeon had been with the rest of her.
"Our concern is for you as much as for your child," Dr. Svengaard said. "The trauma..."
"The law gives us the right," Harvey said. And he signaled to Lizbeth, "The whole pattern's more or less what we anticipated."
Trust this clod to know the law, Dr. Svengaard thought. He sighed. Statistical prediction said one in one hundred thousand parents would insist, despite all the subtle and not so subtle pressures against it. Statistics and visible fact, however, were two distinct matters. Svengaard had noted how Harvey glared at him. The man's cutting had been strong on male protectiveness--too strong, obviously. He couldn't stand to see his mate thwarted. Doubtless he was an excellent provider, model husband, never participated in Sterrie orgies--a leader.
"The law," Dr. Svengaard said, and his voice dripped rebuke, "also requires that I point out the dangers of psychological trauma to the parents. I was not suggesting I'd try to prevent you from watching."
"We're going to watch," Lizbeth said.
Harvey felt a surge of admiration for her then. She played her role so beautifully, even to that catch in her voice.
"I couldn't stand the waiting otherwise," Lizbeth said. "Not knowing..."
Dr. Svengaard wondered if he dared press the matter--perhaps an appeal to their obvious awe, a show of Authority. One look at Harvey's squared shoulders and Lizbeth's pleading eyes dissuaded him. They were going to watch.
"Very well," Dr. Svengaard sighed.
"Will we watch from here?" Harvey asked.
Dr. Svengaard was shocked. "Of course not!" What primitives, they clods. But he tempered the thought with realization that such ignorance resulted from the carefully fostered mystery that surrounded gene shaping. In a calmer tone, he said, "You'll have a private room with a closed-circuit connection to this lab. My nurse will escort you."
Nurse Washington proved her competence then by appearing in the doorway. She'd been listening, of course. A good nurse never left such matters to chance.
"Is this all we get to see here?" Lizbeth asked.
Dr. Svengaard heard the pleading tone, noted the way she avoided looking directly at the vat. All his pent-up scorn came out in his voice as he said, "What else is there to see, Mrs. Durant? Surely you didn't expect to see the morula."
Harvey tugged at his wife's arm, said, "Thank you, Doctor."
Once more, Lizbeth's eyes scanned the room, avoiding the vat. "Yes, thank you for showing us...this room. It helps to see how...prepared you are for...every emergency." Her eyes focused on the sink.
"You're quiet welcome. I'm sure," Dr. Svengaard said. "Nurse Washington will provide you with the list of permissible names. You might occupy part of your time choosing a name for your son if you've not already done so." He nodded to the nurse. "See the Durants to Lounge Five, please."
Nurse Washington said, "If you'll follow me, please?" She turned with that air of overworked impatience which Svengaard suspected all nurses acquired with their diplomas. The Durants were sucked up in her wake.
Svengaard turned back to the vat.
So much to do--Potter, the specialist from Central, due within the hour...and he wouldn't be happy about the Durants. People had so little understanding of what the medical profession endured. The Psychological preparation of parents subtracted from time better devoted to more important mattes...and it certainly complicated the security problem. Svengaard thought of the five "Destroy After Reading" directives he'd received from Max Allgood, Central's boss of T-Security, during the past month. It was disturbing, as thought some new danger had set Security scurrying.
But Central insisted on the socializing with parents. The Optimen must have good reason, Svengaard felt. Most things they did made wonderful sense. Sometimes, Svengaard knew, he fell into a feeling of orphanage, a creature without past. All it took to shake him from the emotional morass, thought, was a moment's contemplation: "They are the power that loves us and cares for us." They had the world firmly in their grip, the future planned--a place for every man and every man in his place. Some of the old dreams--space travel, the questing philosophies, farming of the seas--had been shelved temporarily, put aside for more important things. The day would come, though, once, they solved the unknown behind submolecular engineering.
Meanwhile, there was work for the willing--maintaining the population of workers, suppressing deviants, husbanding the genetic pool from which even the Optimen sprang.
Svengaard swung the meson microscope over the Durant vat, adjusted for low amplification to minimize Heisenberg interference. One more look wouldn't hurt, just on the chance he might locate the pilot-cell and reduce Potter's problem. Even as he bent to the scope, Svengaard knew he was rationalizing. He couldn't resist another search into this morula which had the potential, might be shaped into an Optiman. The wonderous things were so rare. He flicked the switch, focused.
A sigh escaped him, "Ahhhhh..."
So passive the morula at low amplification; no pulsing as it lay within the stasis--yet so beautiful in its semidormancy...so little to hint that it was the arena of ancient battles.
Svengaard put a hand to the amplification controls, hesitated. High amplification posed its dangers, but Potter could re-adjust minor marks of meson interference. And the big look was very tempting.
He doubled amplification.
Enlargement always reduced the appearance of stasis. Things moved here, and in the unfocused distances there were flashes like the dartings of fish. Up cut of the swarming arena came the triple spiral of nucleotides that had led him to call Potter. Almost Optiman. Almost that beautiful perfection of form and mind that could accept the indefinite balancing of Life through the delicately adjusted enzyme prescriptions.
A sense of loss pervaded Svengaard. His own prescription, while it kept him alive, was slowly killing him. It was the fate of all men. They might live two hundred years, sometimes even more...but in the end the balancing act failed for all except the Optimen. They were perfect, limited only by their physical sterility, but that was the fate of many humans and it subtracted nothing from endless life.
His own childless state gave Svengaard a sense of communion with the Optimen. They'd solve that, too...someday.
He concentrated on the mortula. A sulfur-containing amino acid dependency showed faint motion at this amplification. With a feeling of shock, Svengaard recognized it--isovalthine, a genetic marker for latent myxedema, a warning of potential thyroid deficiency. It was a disquieting flaw in the otherwise near-perfection. Potter would have to be alerted.
Svengaard backed off amplification to study the mitochondrial structure. He followed out the invaginated unit-member to the flattened, sac-like cristae, returned alone the external second membrane, focused on the hydrophic outer compartment. Yes...the isovalthine was susceptible to adjustment. Perfection might yet be for this morula.
Flickering movement appeared at the edge of the microscope's field.
Svengaard stiffened, thought, Dear God, no!
He stood frozen at the viewer as a thing seen only eight previous times in the history of gene-shaping took place within his field of vision.
A thin line like a distant contrail reached into the cellular structure from the left. It would through a coiled-coil of alpha helices, found the folded ends of the polypeptide chains in a myosin molecule, twisted and dissolved.
Where the trial had been now lay a new structure about four Angstroms in diameter and a thousand Angstroms long--sperm protamine rich in arginine. All around it the protein factories of the cytoplasm were undergoing change, fighting the stasis, realigning. Svengaard recognized what was happening from the descriptions of the eight previous occurrences. The ADP-ATP exchange system was becoming more complex--"resistant." The surgeon's job had been made infinitely more complex.
Potter will be furious Svengaard thought.
Svengaard turned off the microscope straightened. He wiped perspiration from his hands, glanced at the lab clock. Less than two minutes had passed. The Durans weren't even in their lounge yet. But in those two minutes, some force...some energy from outside had made a seemingly purposeful adjustment, within the embryo.
Could this be what's stirred up Security...and the Optimen? Svengaard wondered.
He had heard this thing described, read the reports...but actually to have seen it himself! To have seen it...so sure and purposeful...
He shook his head. No! It was not purposeful! It was merely an accident, chance, nothing more.
But the vision wouldn't leave him.
Compared to that, he thought, how clumsy my efforts are. And I'll have to report it to Potter. He'll have to shape that listed chain...if he can now that it's resistant.
Full of disquiet, not at all satisfied that he had seen an accident, Svengaard began making the final checks of the lab's preparations. He inspected the enzyme racks and their linkage to the computer dosage-control--plenty of cytochrome and P-450 hemoprotein, a good reserve store of ubiquinone and sulfhydryl, arsenate, azide and oligomycin, sufficient protein-bound phosphohistidine. He moved down the line--acylating agents, a store of (2,4-dinitrophenol) and the isoxazolidon-3 groups with reduction NADH.
He turned to the physical equipment, checked the meson scalpel's micromechanism, read the life-system gauges on the vat and the print-out of the stasis mechanism.
All in order.
It had to be. The Durant embryo, that beautiful thing with its wondrous potential, was now resistant--a genetic unknown...if Potter could succeed where others had failed.
Copyright 1966, 1994 by Frank Herbert
Excerpted from The Eyes of Heisenberg by Herbert, Frank Copyright © 2002 by Herbert, Frank. Excerpted by permission.
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