Saturday, February 11, 2006

13. Prisoners

"So they got you too, did they?" said Kuel Denrun to Golan Trevize.

"They got me too," Trevize confirmed. He had just been "escorted" by two soldiers from First Minister Erkar's office to this room deep within the bowels of the Ministry of Defense. It was the sort of bureaucratic turf war that Trevize had heard was all too common on Comporellon these days: Goron Bek, the Minister of Defense, had just stolen the Gravitics Project from Transportation Minister Mitza Lizalor.

Besides Trevize and Denrun, the room held half a dozen other members of the Gravitics team. "How many of the others do they have?" Trevize inquired.

"The lot," said Denrun. "You were the last."

Trevize sighed and sat at the table beside Denrun. "How long have you been here?"

"About an hour," said Denrun. "Right after you two left for the meeting with Erkar, a bunch of soldier boys came tramping down to the Project area, all kitted out with body armor and blaster rifles. They said go, and you don't argue with soldier boys, so we went. They brought us here." He indicated the room they were in. "Got a whole complex laid out. We were still sorting ourselves out when they came back with all the files and simulations from the Project. So far as I've been able to tell, they got everything. And now, they've got every one."

"It sounds to me," said Trevize, "like they've been planning this for some time. At least a couple of weeks, maybe since I came back to Comporellon."

"Could be," Denrun agreed. "Very methodical man, Goron Bek. He'd have made a wonderful General, if he'd ever been in a war."

"He may get his chance yet," said Trevize, without knowing quite what he meant. It was his intuition dropping another hint of what the future held. To forestall any questions from Denrun, he asked, "What do you think of Minister Lizalor's chances of getting us back?"

"If it was anyone else," said Denrun, "I'd say none. What Bek gets, Bek keeps. But you never know with Lizalor. Everyone said she was daft to let you leave, the first time you came here. But she just said, 'He'll be back.' And two months later, back you came, renounced your Foundation citizenship, and handed us Gravitics on a plate." He shook his head. "Blessed if I know how she does it, but she does. If anyone on Comporellon can get us out of here, she can.

"In the meantime," Denrun added, "we've still got a job to do. And Bek is even less tolerant of failure than Lizalor, if you can imagine such a thing."

"All right," said Trevize. "In that case, you'd better show me around, and we'll see about getting the Project back up and running."

Denrun nodded his approval, saying, "That's the spirit, never say die." The two men rose from the table, and Denrun led Trevize back into the Gravitics Project's new abode.

Goron Bek had indeed been methodical. The Gravitics complex here in the Defense Ministry seemed to be an exact duplicate of the one in the Transportation Ministry, down to every last memo board and chair. All they had to do was transfer the files and simulations into the new computers, and carry on with the work. The only difference Trevize noticed was that the locks on the doors were all on the outside. Nobody was leaving unless somebody on the outside wanted them to leave.

For most of the members of the Gravitics team, the fascination of the work soon drowned out any worries they might have had about their change of circumstances. Every member of the Gravitics team knew that he was working on the most important project on Comporellon, and it created a kind of ongoing exuberance that Trevize remembered well from his days at the Darell Shipyards. In fact, Trevize considered it one of his chief duties as Director of the Gravitics Project to keep the members of his team from skipping meals and rest periods. No doubt it had inspired some of the in-group humor, and provided him with a nickname among the members of the team. Back at Darell, his nickname had been "Nanny", and Trevize had to admit its accuracy. People engaged in a cutting-edge research project seemed to be incapable of taking care of themselves, so they needed someone else to do it for them. Here on Comporellon, that someone was he.

His other chief duty was protecting the Gravitics Project from Goron Bek. Just as he had at the Ministry of Transportation, here at Defense Trevize reported directly to the head of the Ministry. Trevize found his relationship with Bek to be just about as different from his relationship with Mitza Lizalor as it could possibly be. As Denrun had once observed, "Lizalor believes in using the carrot and the stick. Bek believes in using the stick and the bigger stick."

Every morning, Trevize was let out of the research complex/prison compound and escorted to Bek's office. There, he would brief Bek on the progress made by the Gravitics Project since the previous morning. Every few days, Bek would suggest to Trevize that the best way to inspire greater effort from the Gravitics team would be to single out one of the members and accuse him of trying to deliberately sabotage the project, then have him executed.

So far, Trevize had been able to hold off on Bek's suggestion by pointing out, truthfully, that all the members of the Gravitics team were performing vital work, and that removing one would actually slow the pace of progress.

"Isn't there anyone there whose work is less vital than the others?" Bek would want to know.

Trevize had found that the best way to forestall the Minister was to start going into technical detail on the work each man was doing. Bek would then wave him to silence and say, "Never mind."

A new wrinkle appeared one morning when, after Trevize pointed out that all the members of the team were performing vital work, Bek responded by saying, "Well, it doesn't really matter whether the man we choose is actually doing poor work. In fact, it will actually increase the effect on the others if they aren't quite sure why we chose the one we did. They'll all be inspired to work harder."

"But not hard enough to make up for the man's loss."

Once again, Bek had a new response. "It will be your job to make sure they do work hard enough to make up for the man's loss. After all, if they find the loss of one of their own inspiring, imagine how much they'd be motivated if they learned of your loss."

1 comment:

wolterstorff said...

"... that someone was him."