7 am GMT, Monday 22nd September, 2130

Monday morning at the Webers. Breakfast, but an hour earlier than usual, and a crowd of guests: John, Sven, Nestoras, Maria. The bacon never runs out in cyber-space.

"You know, Jocelyn," said Sven, "I'm amazed at how much progress 430 has made this last week. I didn't know you were going to do another piece every day. I was on the tutorial yesterday and I lived through all five of them. It's a whole story, so angrily placid at the beginning, so achieving at the end."

"Well, that's how we feel," said Jocelyn. "And we're getting more confident at expressing it, aren't we? The amazing thing to me is how I am part of what we produce, yet it's not me. You can't separate the people out. I really believe in it by now. By the way, what are we going to call them, as a genre? We can't go on calling them pieces, or spaces, or experiences. I know that they name themselves in the RCC; the problem is that we've got to tell outsiders about it, in fizz for instance. They have to have a name."

"I've been thinking about it," said Sven. "There are hundreds of names for pieces of music, writings, paintings, I've been trawling over and over them, but they won't do. And whatever it's to be, it has to be now. We're in rehearsal in 90 minutes' time."

"It should be groupish, please," offered Maria, somehow already the High Priestess of the genre.

"What's the plural of haiku?" asked Ferdinand, impishly.

"Alignments?" offered Aloysia. There was silence.

"Not perfect," said Maria eventually, "but the best yet. Sven?"

"Only 70%. Too placid. But we can run with it. If anyone has a better idea by midday, give me a call!"

"When's your meeting, Ferdinand?" asked Nestoras. "Can I be a fly on the wall?"

"You can be more than a fly on the wall, you can be an 'expert witness', sitting with me in the Plenary in case anyone has any questions. You'll even get paid!"

"What have you told them?", asked Nestoras.

"We cheated a bit," said Ferdinand. "Usually the secretariat would have had the briefings out on Friday, so the members have the weekend to chew them over, but I had them in yesterday, lots of moaning there was, and the briefings were available from midnight. Assembly members automatically get a copy, so we can expect fireworks later on. The Plenary is at eleven in Brussels, Sven is publishing at twelve in London, and the Assembly works on EST, so by the time they wake up it will be a done deal."

"But Leonardo will know," pointed out Nestoras. "He's Chairman of the EAC, after all. He's already in New York, but he'll be at the Plenary as an RCR, even if it is 3 o'clock in the morning. And if he chooses he can be at the Management Group pre-meeting." The local management group in Brussels deals mainly with internal staff issues, and the organization of the Committee's sessions.

"He doesn't usually bother when he's in New York," said Ferdinand. "He's old, you know, and he doesn't do well when he goes without sleep. He relies on seeing the minutes before the Plenary."

"The Educational Plenary is RCR, right?" asked Nestoras. "So all they'll have is the media pack, so to speak."

"It's not a media pack," groaned Maria; "it's a serious attempt to describe an important new medium of human expression."

"You haven't seen it since Sven got at it," said Ferdinand, putting down his coffee cup with finality. "It's time we all got going."

You could simply arrive at the doors of the Plenary chamber if you didn't want to run the gauntlet of other members, but if you had politicking to do, it was best to start on the street and work your way up the building past the receptionists, the secretariat, the management floor and the members' lounges. And as with the disco, money had been spent on the Committee's cyber-space headquarters, as one of the top four bodies in the hierarchy. No detail was missing, from the freshly-cut, sweet-smelling roses on the receptionists' desk to the rows of unwatched news terminals in the lounges.

Ferdinand allowed an hour for this gradual progress, and he needed every minute of it, explaining and persuading, as he met more and more members who had had a mere hour to absorb and probably misunderstand the stunning announcements in the briefing.

His position in the EAC Advisory Committee was senior enough: as Chairman of one of the key Panels he was ex officio on the Executive Management Group, seated on the dais with the five other Executive Group members and the two top Advisory Committee bureaucrats. Plus Hamish's equivalent, the Assembly's permanent bloodhound on the Educational Committee. Robert Pearse even looked like one of Cromwell's Commissioners, and never so much as this morning, thought Ferdinand when he bumped into him in the cafeteria. Robert looked at him as he had a lot to say, but managed only a strangled, Good Morning, before they moved apart. Had he already talked to New York, wondered Ferdinand. But it was only 2 am. God Bless the Atlantic.

Ferdinand's name on the briefing was enough to ensure attention, if the subject matter hadn't already been such dynamite. Broadly, the reaction he was getting was very positive, but concerned. 'What will they do?' was on everyone's lips. The Assembly, of course. This was the first direct challenge to their power in forty years. And a surprising number of people said things like: "My kids have been talking about this for years; I don't know why it didn't happen a long time ago."

On the floor below the debating chamber Ferdinand passed through the locked doors into the Committee's private executive offices.

"Ah, there you are," smiled Frans Komhoff, Chief Executive of the management team which actually ran the Brussels offices, and, like Ferdinand, a member of the EAC Executive Management Group. An urbane Belgian aristocrat whose family had dominated local Walloon politics for 500 years, neither he nor anyone else could understand why he had been passed over for Assembly nomination in favour of a nonentity from Rotterdam, but he had accepted his fate gracefully and did a competent job at the Committee in the intervals of breeding tulips in fizz. "Are you trying to get us all killed?"

"I'm trapped," said Ferdinand. "It's the children."

"Couldn't you have told me?" asked Frans. They had been friends and colleagues for nigh on fifty years. "Oh well, perhaps not," he admitted. "This way I don't have to answer any awkward questions. And I don't have any children. It'll get through, of course. Do you have time for lunch afterwards? I'd actually like to hear more about it all from someone I can trust. Really I just wish I could have been part of it myself. How did we waste all this time? But it's too late for me now." He gave Ferdinand such a big warm smile that it almost brought tears to his eyes.

"Lunch will be good," said Ferdinand. "And I'm sorry I didn't tell you."

The Disciplinary Panel opinion wasn't on the agenda for the management team pre-meeting, a hurried affair in the 30 minutes before the Plenary, and at the Plenary itself Ferdinand's friends in the secretariat had made sure that the Opinion came some way down the agenda. It passed nem. con., with hardly any debate, so by one o'clock Ferdinand and Frans were sitting, by tradition, over mussels and chips in a small eatery near the Committee's building.

"It's on Fox News right now," said Ferdinand.

"You've organized it well," Frans told him. "It'll be fine, you'll see."

"I thought that Leonardo looked pretty sick about it," said Ferdinand, "although I couldn't really see him clearly since I was sitting next to him. Are you going to the Executive Management Group Meeting in New York later on? I think I'll skip it - give them enough rope to hang themselves, you know?"

"I agree with you," said Frans. "I'll skip it. Do you want me to have it recorded, though?"

"Can you really do that?" asked Ferdinand, surprised. "I thought those meetings were strictly private."

"One of my Walloon mates works there in the IT department," said Frans. "He's done it for me before when I wasn't there. I've never trusted Leonardo to do honest minutes. And it's bound to be an RCR meeting. You know how much he hates RCC."

"Well, that's brilliant. What a good idea."

"I'll fix it then," said Frans. He reflected for a moment. "I am in favour, you know, it's inevitable. And I don't really worry about the gap between us and them. I mean the old ones and the young ones. There will be problems, but they're not unsolvable. The Assembly will have to be changed; it can't stay as it is. It'll all be very messy. No, what worries me, no, it doesn't worry me, it just intrigues me, is how they will manage themselves as individuals, these ubermensch, the groups, they're so above individuals in every way. But they still are individuals."

"Perhaps they don't have to stay individuals," offered Ferdinand. "That's something evolution chose for us; it was the way to survive and succeed, 400 million years ago. Now, why? If we get rid of all those rotting bodies in fizz why shouldn't we evolve onwards into something different? Keeping them is just a gesture towards the past. A group of super-bright 15-year-olds is a very superior product of evolution. It's just a mental leap to understand the collective as a viable form in its own right. And then what? Why have individual groups? Perhaps there should just be one group? Imagine its intelligence, its power. That would be the best defence against an enemy, wouldn't it, if there is one. Probably there isn't."

"What are we for, then?"

"There is no purpose in evolution, just mechanism. The blind watchmaker."

"You get past me, eventually. Actually I can't imagine it. One great big all-pervasive intelligence."

"I'm not saying it will be like that. Just that it could be. My vote would always be to keep individuals, rotting bodies and all, along side everything else that's possible. What's wrong with being masters of the universe at tea-time and rather indifferent tennis-players at six o'clock?"

They lifted their glasses and drank. Sancerre 2084 never tasted as good.

On the screen that occupied the wall behind the bar an actress imitating Jocelyn was talking animatedly about group alignments.

They grinned at each other.

"But now we are for the dark," said Ferdinand, unexpectedly.


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