With the Conservative government embroiled in another scandal caused by its own incompetence while the looming Brexit disaster grows on the horizon, I have been wondering why our politicians appear so useless, and that goes for the opposition too. I don’t believe all politicians are “in it for themselves”, though some are; some really do think they can improve things, however misguided their thinking may be. The problem is the type of person attracted to politics. You have to be single-minded. Politics is a long hard slog. Unfortunately I think it is the long, hard slog to get elected that politicians enjoy more than anything, it’s what gets their endorphins going.
I have had a couple of brief periods involved with politics. Most recently I got elected to our town council and was a councillor for three years. It was an awful experience. It could have been a full-time job except it was unpaid. I became disillusioned by trying to reach a consensus with other councillors whose only aim seemed to be to keep themselves in public view and dealing with uncaring elected and unelected officials in the county council. I was relieved to stand down. However, I observed that my political colleagues only really became lively when elections were on. It was that simple competition to get people’s votes that excited them. So many MPs are career politicians (okay, many of the Conservative MPs may have little sidelines like running off-shore accounts) that it is only fighting elections that they know how to do. The people with experience, skills and ideas that may actually do the country some good are not turned on in the same way. So, in local and national government we get the egoists, the megalomaniacs, and the deluded.
Jasmine is still taking a rest although of course the three novels, Painted Ladies, Bodies By Design and The Brides’ Club Murder are still available on Kindle and as paperbacks from firstname.lastname@example.org. Also available on Kindle are the novellas/collections Discovering Jasmine, Murder In Doubt, and Trained By Murder.
Here however is the third episode of my SF long short story or novel fragment, depending how you look at it, Benefactors.
Benefactors: Part 3
‘Yes. One of the permutations of the bases produced what I can only describe as a non-random sequence.’
‘Oh? What do you mean?’
‘Well, your string of base letters translates into a series of numbers which in decimal start out as 1, 2, 3, 4, up to sixty-four. Then it goes into prime numbers 1, 2, 3, 5, 7, 11, 13 and so on. Then it gives some other figures. . .’
‘Universal constants, pi to a dozen places, e, G. Where does this come from Helen?’
‘I’ll come and see you,’ Helen pressed “end”. Now she felt the same excitement as Jock Fraser and realised why he had felt it necessary to visit her. It wasn’t something that she felt she could talk about over the public netlink. Who knew who might be interested in her research.
So rarely did she actually meet her colleagues in person, Helen had forgotten how extensive the campus was. It was a good ten-minute walk to the IT building. When she opened the door to his office she saw Darmaan standing in the middle of the room staring at a semi-circular holographic screen hovering in the air a couple of feet from his face. When his eyes focussed on her the screen dissolved.
‘Ah, Helen. Where did you get this DNA code? Or is it something you’ve put together to fool me? It’s not April 1st is it?’
Helen grinned, ‘No, it’s real, at least I think it is. It depends what you find in the rest of it.’
‘It’s on here.’ Helen handed over Jock’s memory store.
Darmaan examined it. ‘You don’t see many of these. Who doesn’t exchange data over the net?’
‘Perhaps old people like me who don’t fully trust the net or perhaps people who spend their time out of reach of it.’
Darmaan still looked mystified. ‘Where do they go then? Jupiter?’ He squeezed the button between his fingers and his screen re-appeared with the start of the DNA sequence. Darmaan waved his hands, scrolling through line after line and page after page of letters.
‘Hey, there’s a huge amount here. What is it?’
Helen shrugged. ‘I don’t know. As I understand it some people have suggested using DNA as a way of storing libraries of information for posterity.’
‘What’s the point?’ Darmaan said, still staring at the pages flashing by.’
Helen took a breath. ‘They build the artificial sequence of DNA and then insert it into the nuclei of plant cells. Then they culture the plants and harvest the seeds. When they have checked the genome, the sequence was embedded in it.’
Darmaan nodded grudgingly, ‘I can see it being a possibility for long term storage but surely even with your latest sequencers it would be too slow for practical use.’
‘Yes. That’s why it hasn’t really been developed commercially, but it’s incredibly compact with each bit of information held by a single group of atoms, and not requiring anything special for preservation other than a cool, dry environment.’
‘So this is from these experimental seeds is it?’ Darmaan seemed disappointed.
‘Um, no. The experimental plants don’t even hold a short story let alone a whole library.’
Darmaan glanced at the still scrolling screen. ‘But this is vast. Where does it come from?’
Helen described Jock Fraser’s visit to her office.
‘A thousand-year-old tree? That’s a joke, surely. Do you believe him?’ Darmaan stopped the readout and dismissed the screen.
‘Why should he be telling me tales? I’d never met him before.’ Helen wondered whether Jock was indeed part of some conspiracy to set her up but that seemed even more ridiculous. ‘Look can you decode some more of it and see what’s there?’
Darmaan shrugged, ‘Yes, now I’ve got the key and set up the algorithm for finding familiar data it’s just a question of time.’ He called up the screen, wiggled his fingers and then held out the pebble to her. ‘You can have this back. I’ve copied it onto my net storage.’
Helen felt that she should give a warning. ‘Don’t tell anyone else what you are doing, just in case it is a fraud. I don’t want to be associated with any whacky science.’
Darmaan grinned, ‘Ever the cautious one, aren’t you, Professor? On this occasion I think you’re probably being wise.’
Helen managed to do a whole day’s normal work including meetings with students and colleagues without constantly checking to see if Darmaan had sent her a message. Nevertheless, when she finally had a bit of time to herself in her office it was as much as she could do to check her other messages. Why was this crazy puzzle exciting her so much? Surely it was a hoax.
The beep announcing a call had hardly reverberated before Helen answered. Darmaan’s face appeared.
‘Hi, Darmaan. You look tired. Have you been watching your screen all day?’ she said. The young man’s eyelids looked heavy and his dark skin had lost its usual lustre
‘Yes. I haven’t been able to take myself away from it. This is incredible. I mean it. It can’t have come out of the cells of an old tree.’
‘What have you found?’
Darmaan sighed, ‘It gets complicated. After the initial simple stuff, it goes into sets of coordinates.’
‘You mean positions of things?’
‘What sort of things?’
‘Stars. I put them through the online astronomical atlas. It came up with some of the brightest stars in our sky: Sirius, Betelgeuse, Rigel and so on.’
‘Some others you can’t see with just your eyes, but they’re in the catalogue. They’re stars similar to the Sun but quite a distance away so they’re pretty faint.’
‘The nearest is over three-thousand light years from here.’
Helen was confused. What did it mean? ‘Is that it?’ she asked.
Darmaan laughed. ‘That’s just the start. It goes into mathematical and physical equations next. Simple stuff like Pythagoras, Newton and Einstein, but quickly works up to stuff which is beyond me.’
‘Is it correct?’ Helen said, still not understanding what Darmaan was implying.
‘Well, the simple stuff is. I can’t tell about the rest. It’ll need a team of top theoretical physicists to decide what it means. But that‘s just for starters. There’s a section on chemistry, too.’
‘Yeah. It starts with a comparison of the masses of atoms of elements in the periodic table which provided a key for the elements. My pattern recognition software then picked out a modelling programme. It gave me a molecule of hydrogen, then water and ammonia, ethanol. Soon it was into sugars and proteins and stuff I have no idea about.’
‘So the sequence is a kind of catalogue of science.’ Helen said.
‘Or a guide, but there are other stretches which look like an actual DNA sequence except they don’t match any of the stuff your genome analysis recognises.’
‘Have you finished?
Darmaan laughed again. ‘No way. My program is still trundling through it.’
‘I don’t get it, Darmaan,’ Helen said, shaking her head.
The door to her office opened, held by Sarah. ‘I’m sorry, Professor, these people . . .’
Two men pushed passed her, one short and plump and the other tall and slim.
Helen waved her screen off, cutting the call to Darmaan. ‘What do you . . .’
The short man interrupted her, ‘Professor Patel. My clients have instructed me to recover property illegally given to you by one of their employees.’
Helen stood up, leaned on her desk, glaring at her uninvited guests. ‘Clients? Employee? What do you mean?’
‘Please calm down Professor. I cannot name my clients but the employee was a Doctor Johann Fraser.’
‘That is the name he goes by. He gave you something, a memory storage device.’
‘He did give me a button. He said it was his.’ Helen held it in her hand.
‘The device may be his but the data on it belongs to my clients. Dr Fraser broke his contract by divulging the information. You must return it to me.’
‘How do I know that you are who you say you are?’
‘My identification and the injunction is on your personal netlink now.’
Helen summoned her screen and the face of the small man appeared with the phrase “Identity Recognised” alongside it. Beneath was a legal document. She scanned it and saw that it went on for page after page of lawyers jargon but she got the gist; it authorised the recovery of data belonging to “the company”.
‘It doesn’t give your name or the name of your clients,’ Helen said still suspicious.
‘You don’t need those. The Net recognises my authority. Please hand over the memory store.’
Helen reached out and dropped the button into the little man’s waiting hand.
The tall man spoke up, ‘The data has also been removed from your cloud account and that of your associate, Dr. Darmaan Shamarke.’
Helen felt her cheeks burn, ‘You’ve hacked my netlink.’
‘Yes, Professor,’ the tall man said, ‘In accordance with His Majesty’s Government’s Anti-terrorism Network Surveillance Act of 2024.’
‘Anti-terrorism? What do you mean. It was scientific data.’
‘It was given to you by someone with links to people associated with a terrorist organisation.’
Helen gasped, ‘Jock Fraser! What’s he got to do with a terrorist group. He said he was a botanist.’
The tall man drew himself up to his full height. ‘I am not at liberty to reveal the identity of his associates but I assure you that the deletions have been made in accordance with the laws governing His Majesty’s Government Anti-Terrorism Authority.’
Realisation came to Helen. ‘The company and the government have done a deal haven’t they. They realise that there’s something in the DNA of that tree which is of vital importance. It’s data that should be available to all scientists for humanity’s sake.’
The tall man’s face was impassive, ‘I should warn you Professor that if you divulge what you know of this information that Dr Fraser stole from his employers you will be arrested and will undergo a neurological adjustment by deep brain stimulation.’
Helen shivered. She could see that the threat was real. She let her shoulders sag.
‘Thank you, Professor,’ the little lawyer said cheerfully, ‘We’ll leave you now. Thank you for your compliance.’
The two men left her office. Helen stared out of the window, thinking. A few minutes later she saw a two-person quadcopter rising from the patch of grass outside her faculty building. A moment later, Darmaan burst into her room.
‘We’ve been hacked,’ he said.
‘I know,’ Helen said, ‘I’ve just had a visit from two men. I had to give Jock’s button to them and they said they’ve wiped all the data from the Net.’
‘But why?’ Darmaan held up his hands in exasperation.
‘The government and the company, Jock’s employers, know that the tree is remarkable.’
‘But it’s thousands of years old; older if the tree Jock took the DNA from is descended from trees with the same genome.’
‘Don’t say anything more Darmaan. We’re probably being watched. Let’s take a walk, but keep your voice down.’
…………………..to be continued