Wednesday, 1st October 2130, 8am GMT

"We need a state-of-the-art brain-tracking lab," said Slavica firmly, "and I guess that means the institute has to be in fizz. Because the e-clones end just below the thalamus, and the original research more or less died away once they'd decided what to put into ersatz input, there's a lot we don't know. I can't imagine where we're going to find the staff, it may be quite difficult. Then, we need some gurus, you know, Californian mind-body types. That should be easier - that culture has been bubbling away all the time, there are lots of institutes, temples and what have you, but they don't find it easy to raise money because they've become unfashionable. So we could set up a meditation centre alongside the tracking lab. Then, what I'm not so sure about, we won't have a student body, at least not at first, and we need to be able to do peer-reviewed studies if we're going to be credible, so we'll have to work with departments in other institutes, universities and so on. It shouldn't be too difficult to find them: again, it's not a fashionable area, so the people that do work in it should be keen enough to get the money.

She paused, to sense Michael's reaction. He had come to breakfast. It's our headquarters, she explained when he called. He seemed to be feeling OK, so she persisted.

"Another reason to have it in fizz is that we can be on the visitor circuit and get extra kudos that way," she went on. "And the students like to be able to mix business with pleasure."

"Students?" asked Michael, raising a virtual eyebrow.

"Students. We can't be a serious academic force without a faculty and students," she insisted. "We won't get published, we won't get cast-time. It doesn't have to be anything vast, just a couple of hundred post-grads and half a dozen or so professors. And that at least can be all-RCC."

"She's right," lobbed in Ferdinand. "We've got to start building up a solid, academic basis for it. You don't know what they're like, the academics, and if they don't take us seriously then it will all just run into the sands eventually. I'll try to make sure that there's a new brain sciences study group for it next year. The Education Committee will have to agree to a new course, it's a fact, but these things are done more easily early on in a mandate."

"OK," said Michael. "I'm sure the trustees will understand!" He looked at Slavica, so tall, confident, capable, brimming with energy and confidence. Not misplaced, he thought.

"Would you like to be Director of the Institute?"

"Oh . . . . Oh . . . ." it was as if she genuinely hadn't thought of it. "No, how could I do that? I would have to look after all those ghastly scientists, wash between their toes and stuff. Ugh."

"No you wouldn't," reassured Michael. "You'd have an Operational Chief Executive to do all that, another woman if you prefer."

"It's OK," said Slavica in her best pompous manner. "I'm not sexist. Most women are just as useless as most men! Present company excepted, naturally."

"Well, that's settled, then," said Michael. "You'll hear from my people later in the week. I'll get the trustees to announce it all tomorrow. Meanwhile, the more you can do to amplify the research program, the better. I have to get back to fizz. You coming with me, Ferdinand? I expect you've got work to do in New York."

"Work," emoted Ferdinand, sadly. "Waste of bloody time, more likely. Sitting round with politicians trying to decide which word out of ten I can believe."

"Well, it's your world now, so you'll just have to get used to it, and practise lying in front of the mirror before you go to bed at nights."

"Just before I go," said Ferdinand, " can I ask what happened with the telepathy trial yesterday?"

Slavica and Jocelyn questioned each other.

"We're not sure," said Jocelyn finally. "Well, we are sure that something happened, and so are the boys, but just what, we don't have the tools to express it. How can I put it? There was an opening, into a space, and the space became more extensive, well, infinite, and then it was a problem to find another being in the space, like arriving in Manhattan to meet someone and you don't know their address. We became fraught, and the space went away, we calmed down and just tried to imagine the boys' 'aura', what else can I call it, and there was luminosity, spectral luminosity which condensed and we seemed to contact it. But I can't say that any messages got sent! The boys reported the same thing, more or less."

"It's going to be a matter of practice," said Slavica. "I can't engineer this, I don't know any of the rules of the 'space'. It'll be trial and error. I just wish I'd had a brain trace on the session, to know where it was happening."

"Soon enough you will," said Michael.

"It's some sort of dream," said Jocelyn when they had gone.

"Nightmare, more likely," said Slavica. "Until two weeks ago, I could spend all my time thinking, planning, analyzing, working stuff out. Real stuff. Brain stuff. Now half the time I'm in meetings, organizing, washing between peoples' toes indeed. Do I really want it?"

"It's called growing up," said Aloysia, "if that doesn't sound too patronising. And it's your choice; you just made it, and you didn't seem too sorry. You could have chosen to be like me. I have a sort of academic career, but I wear it very lightly. I wanted to get married, have children, shop, and lunch. So I'm happy, I've got what I wanted. You're driven, though. How did that happen?"

"It was in the family, I guess. My Mum was the same, Dad as well. From as early as I can remember, they had enormous agendas, and the moment one item was crossed off, there were another two, like a hydra. Specially I remember my Mum's 'to do lists'. She never needed more than three hours' sleep a night, so she'd be up at two o'clock in the morning writing lists for everyone under her spell. And that was a lot of people, we were all very involved in CloneCo and the Foundation - that was why I went into IT, probably. The lists were something else, multi-layered, multi-coloured; and she didn't just write them, she would hold a series of RCC meetings through the day to follow up on the lists. Implacable. Dad was more tolerant, laughed at her. He had taught her 'to-do-lists' in the first place, but his were just one page, and not necessarily new every day, even.

"Why do you speak about them in the past tense, Slavica?"

"Oh, nothing wrong, they're still alive. Very much so. But we sold out of the firm five years ago when IBM took it over. Dad's writing novels, quite successfully, and Mum has reinvented herself as a virtual interior designer. She had art college training originally. You know the disco we go to? That's her design."

"Wow!" exclaimed Jocelyn. "That's something. I love that place, it's so vibrant. The way the whole environment changes with the music, it just always seems so right. Every detail is covered, as well. Now I understand why!"

"We'd better get on to class, Jos. Last day of term! What do you think you'll get?"

Some things don't change, and rating 18-year-olds when they leave secondary education is one of them. Of course, it's done robotically nowadays. Upsetting teacher can't hurt you any more. But the ratings are vital to your future. They are complex things in themselves, it's not just a question of a 1 or a 2, an A or a B. But they absolutely determine which stream you go into for 19-25, and your choices are limited within that stream to the subjects in which you have shone. The pressure to specialize is so great that one-time 'fun' degrees like media studies are no longer offered; unless of course you have been studying the media for the last four years. It's all optional, in theory; if you want to bunk out, you can, but you are taking such a risk with the rest of your professional life that there is enormous psychological pressure not to do it. And the group RCC tutorial system is very helpful in making sure that peer pressure is at a maximum - the group is performing as much as the individuals, and a member who makes it clear that they want to go and breed rabbits in New Zealand will get short shrift from their fellows.

No such problems with BSG430. Selected as high-achievers at age 12, and promoted even further at 15 when 430 was formed, they are at the pinnacle of the most prestigious branch of study in the entire system, and have not put a foot wrong except for their pecadilloes with the cloned RCC, which isn't something the robotic assessors will take into account. If they were to be attacked for that, it would have to be through the disciplinary system, subject to tribunal review, and that hasn't happened. So they are confident!

"We can't be worse than AAA-, can we?" ventured Jocelyn. Above that there is only AAA+, which is awarded to just one student in 10m, annually. Fifty - out of 200 million - get AAA-, and will open every academic door there is for 19-25.

"Can't see how!" agreed Slavica. "Anyway, let's go and find out!"



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