The Waking Edge - 1989
Betrayal of Trust - Simon Bradshaw
(page 7/10)


Betrayal of Trust

Simon Bradshaw


The knock on the door jolted me sharply back into reality. I'd been in the comms centre when the coded message had arrived; of course I'd been unable to read it, but Alex's name and the originating address had told me all I needed to know. For the last hour I had waited in what passed for my office endlessly rehearsing the inevitable interview.

Alex closed the door and dropped onto the vacant chair. When I first met him, half a decade and nearly half a million kilometres ago, his enthusiasm, not so much infectious as contagious, had shone almost visibly from those bright blue eyes. Now, those eyes seemed grey and dead, grey as his hair and his face and dead as his growing despair, so that the man in front of me seemed but a washed-out echo of that brilliant original back in Moscow.

For a moment I thought that I would have to start, hut he looked up from his hands and to my surprise forced a thin, ironic smile.

"I'm sorry Mick, but....well, I never really believed it would happen, but it has."

"You've been recalled then."

Alex nodded. "Myself, and my team, for what it's worth. Losing all four of us won't really dent the base much though. I know that you've got a replacement lined up."

"We've got specialists in your field, but that doesn't mean we're pleased to replace your group with ours." I shook my head. "Did they give a reason of any sort?"

Another halt smile. "Better than that. I've actually been charged. A pretext to get me home really, but they'll claim that being on the base was a contributory factor."

I could hardly credit what Alex was saying. In the current situation I had expected abuse, condemnation, even threats, but branding him a criminal?

"Anti-state propaganda, would you believe? Apparently my last paper in Nature contains material in contravention of official policy on genetics."

"That's bloody ridiculous, even for your government. I thought state policy on biological fact went out with Lysenko. Anyway, Nature is banned in your country, isn't it?"

"Admirable efficiency really, punishing me for writing what isn't legally available for reading. Corrupting our youth, you know. So much for all that indoctrination at school about the privilege of being educated in the world's most rational and advanced society. How superior we were to those corrupt enemies of world peace - "

"Like me." I immediately regretted my interruption, but Alex seemed not to notice. He carried on, talking to himself as much as me. "Then it all seemed to change. Superpower treaties, glasnost, the chance to meet your side's scientists for the first time - it was still 'your side' and 'our side' then, but we seemed to be getting away from that."

"We were, otherwise how could this place have been built?" I gestured around at my miniscule office. Through my privileged 30cm window I could see the monthly shuttle transport being refuelled, gleaming like some exotic toy in the stark sunlight across a kilometre of dusty plain. "Perhaps we could have done this on our own, but it would have taken us far longer. Our technology was good, but still overrated, and your help was invaluable."

satellite

"But my government wants to forget all that. Even when it's not condemning the moonbase as an extravagant waste of resources, it claims we could have built it just as well on our own, without having to 'demean our national pride'. I'm sorry, but on our side at least, US-Soviet co-operation is no longer a safe political idea."

I took a deep breath - and found myself unable to reply, consumed with intense anger and frustration at how the stupidity of so few could have such far reaching consequences. I rose and stared numbly out of my window, not seeing the featureless hills or velvet sky. Instead I tried to face the fears of my youth, now reasserting themselves long after I had thought that the seemingly growing sanity of man had buried them forever. In my student years I, along with countless others, had watched as almost day by day peace and agreement had seemed to grow between Alex's country and mine; with the new openness of the Soviet Union and the more optimistic outlook of the United States I had really believed that we could explore space together. With the foundation of the lunar base I had become convinced, as I had seen the Stars and Stripes join with the Hammer and Sickle to carve out an outpost on this desolate world.

I should have known that political moods are as fickle as the weather; yet somehow the feeling that our new understanding was so obviously better than fear and distrust clouded my perception of underlying changes. Too many people could not adjust their thinking, and their undying deep hatred of a by now traditional enemy was a ready source of power for nationalistic politicians. Thinking more clearly about Earth politics than I had done in years the signs were easy to see. A change in leadership, more reactionary elements replacing the new ideas of the late eighties, the creeping return of controls and paranoia thought long extinct; it was all there to see when the veneer of false optimism was stripped away.

"Until today I thought that the secret police were retiring to spy stories." I turned sharply to Alex, realising that he must be thinking along the same lines. "But they just came back under a new name. Public Ethics Monitoring Committee, my arse. I really thought people were more intelligent than that."

"You think that they'll press the charge?"

"Probably - the new regime likes scapegoats, enemies of the public good, and especially collaborators with the evil minions of the Other Side." I could hear the capitals.

"I thought your constitution guaranteed freedom of expression."

Alex shook his head. "There have been enough cases of that being overruled on grounds of 'public interest'. Just enshrining freedom in the constitution doesn't mean that the government has to believe in it."

Something else crossed my mind. "Do they say anything about this place?"

"Quite definitely. That message included the press release about my indictment. All official press agency stuff, so it must be true. Apparently you preside over a hotbed of corrupt thinking and perverse research contrary to the common good. Our common good, that is. They haven't actually accused me of treason yet, but the implication is pretty clear. I'm to be recalled to face justice before I defect to the masters of this immoral waste of our country's resources."

"Would you?"

"Defect?" Alex's face sank. "Perhaps I would, if it weren't for my family. As it stands, my brother will probably lose his job - guilt by association is nicely back in fashion. I don't want him to lose anything else. In any case, they would just put my assistants on trial in my place. They may do anyway, show trials are good public entertainment. I wouldn't be at all surprised if that's the fate of a lot of people who've worked with you, and not just on the moonbase. You'll probably find any remaining support for the joint Mars mission going out the window."

I could only sigh. "We'll go with the Europeans; they've been pushing for a bigger share and they don't really care whether they go with both superpowers or just one."

To my surprise, Alex laughed. "It's not all fun dealing with the Europeans. The French think that the whole project is for their national glory, the Germans always have their own ideas on how to do everything, while the British are just the same except they expect everyone else to pay. Seriously though, they won't be at all happy. If the superpowers are going their separate ways they won't want to be seen siding with one or another. It's not the 1950's anymore; Europe is strong enough to stand on its own now; and they will, rather than be drawn into a new superpower struggle."

I couldn't think of anything else to say in my inexpressible frustration at a dream betrayed. Alex seemed to understand my silence, and dropped a paper on my desk.

"The last formalities. They may publicly call you enemies of world peace, but for now at least you're still my boss and formalities have to be observed. This is to confirm that you understand the reasons for my recall."

I shook my head as I scanned the document. "I understand the charge, I just don't comprehend it."

Alex managed another near-smile as he left. "Different systems."

Yes, I thought, different systems, but surely the same people underneath. Not that it was easy to credit as I reread the charge. Nonetheless, under the circumstances, I had little choice but to co-operate with the inevitable. I tuned over the sheet and signed to the effect that I, Dr Mikhail Petrovich Sevastynov, director of biological research at Copernicus Base, understood that Dr Alexander Jackson of Princeton University was being charged by authority of the Reverend President Daniel Smith with promulgating the heresy of Evolution in contravention of the 2005 amended constitution of the United States of America.