The giant island of Kalimantan is one of those places that
both antagonists would love to grab, if only they had the strength to do it.
But it is just too much unproductive real estate to hold down. The Selangor and
Australians had both learned the hard way that mechanized armies are no
panacea; machine fabrication consumes resources, once in use they need
maintenance and maintenance costs money. Even the tiny MGV formations
that attack each other by the millions, they all add up to a substantial mass
in tactical quantities. So you do not just throw them in any old place. It all
comes back to the same rules of warfare that have existed since the Stone Age:
conservation of resources, concentration of effort. As a result, over a
half-million square kilometers of open savannah and relatively temperate
mountain ranges are a mostly uninhabited land on a cool and storm swept planet.
That is what
brought botanist Aleksandra Keng there. The hope that hundreds of years of
unimpeded natural selection in some empty place might have produced something
interesting. So far several new plant species had been discovered as well as
the usual expansion of the virus catalogs. As she hovered around her assistant
Yee Lee, Aleksandra watched the results of the latest tests, they appeared
good. By the looks of it, her assistants field samples had again pulled
in something new.
at this doctor, requested Yee. I havent seen this
Lets see. replied Keng as she pulled the data thread over.
Punching through several sets, she finally spoke aloud. Hmmm, this is
certainly an odd one isnt it?
but what is it? asked Kengs assistant.
Im not sure, but Osler is certainly curious, or at least hes
taking his time.
watched, their Osler Sequence assistant showed strangely slow progress on what
was supposed to be a routine sequencing task.
do you think Yee? Keng asked, while Osler hesitated.
possibly its a viroid or satellite,
It may be a mistake; you say this came from the river?
interrupted by their Osler assistant, it pinged them both simultaneously and
they gasped. Hanging in the air in front of them was Oslers findings, or
in this case its theory.
cant be. blurted out Keng; Look at the host range, look at
the RNA results... this is impossible!
stood in confused silence. Keng acted first; punching through another series of
threads she queried Osler on a range of details from data integrity to
contamination. Only more uncertainty resulted. She looked over at Yee;
Were going back Yee, we need to collect more samples either
this is the strangest thing we have ever seen, or its a contaminated
sample. My opinion is contamination.
and thought for a moment; Well, we were going to the research center
anyway, and it would nice to look at things that dont need magnification
for a while. Lets double check our hardware though. I would hate to waste
any more sampling probes than necessary.
next day they were travelling low over the open highlands west of the
mountains. Spotted here and there in the many canyons and ravines were remnants
of the once great forests that dominated the region. Now reduced to islands,
their remote locations helped to preserve the once burgeoning wildlife.
Aleksandra and Yee were flying to the Sen Li Research Center, which was still
run by the university so far at least. Even during wartime it was mostly
unguarded. Black marketers never got this far west and the entire island was an
unofficial demilitarized zone. Unofficial, Alexandra reminded
herself as she recalled the heavily reinforced construction of the
centers underground research core.
was good, but they headed for the main arrival hangar anyway. Coming in low
over the nearby ridge, they hovered briefly over giant trees towering above the
ravine floor. The dense forest came right up to the edge of the buildings and
they could see birds flitting from treetop to treetop. The storm doors on the
hangar opened and within a few minutes they were standing on the wide floor,
beams of sunlight streamed in through the open doors and skylights. It was a
huge hangar, entirely out of proportion to the expectations of the university.
Alexandra was again reminded that the government had contingency plans for the
them was Alin Chuang, the research centers supervisor. He was a jovial
and busy minded man, with an outgoing manner and a keen wit. He greeted his
guests enthusiastically. Zandi and Yee, you have not been here in months,
welcome back and please come in. He used Doctor Kengs common first
name, their families had long connections.
Judging from your work logs Im guessing you are headed out to
collect more samples. Strange results on that last one, but such things are
mostly over my head. I trust youll figure it out. Are you guys
hungry? he asked, always capable of more conversation.
actually, anything special? replied Zeng.
how about some grilled satay and eggplant with double-steamed millet, very
fresh and ready to eat, none of that horrible white rice that everybody makes.
I had the cook start on it when we knew you were on the way. With that
last comment he gave a clever wink and waved them forward toward the mess
was currently hosting only a few research teams and a couple of dozen students,
so the halls were not crowded. Like most Earth-based architecture, much of the
center was underground and a reasonable altitude above sea level. Here however,
there was more in the way of direct natural lighting and some actual atriums
huge atriums that appeared as if sections of the research center had
wrapped themselves around the nearby forest. Along with the indoor waterfalls
and vaulted stone walls, the effect was spectacular; a clean, modern research
facility with all the appearance of being part of an ancient forest.
down near one of the clear walls looking directly into the woods. Almost
immediately their food was brought out to them as described. The grilled
chicken satay was perfectly cooked with slices of onion and herbs tucked in
between the skewered morsels of tender marinated chicken. Far better than the
rather bland white rice Alexandra and Yee ate as a staple, the steamed millet
had a lovely flavor and felt better to eat. I should eat this
at home. commented the doctor as she scooped a generous helping onto her
earnestly, Oh yes, its no more expensive and tastes better. Purely
my opinion of course. he added as he attacked a skewer of the grilled
chicken. I think our culture will always find it hard getting rid of this
ancient obsession with white rice. But really, brown rice or millet is much
better. Well, it does leave more for me to eat! he added with a laugh. A
few minutes of silence followed while the hungry travellers relaxed and enjoyed
while, Alexandra spoke up again; So Alin, she said. How are
the other research projects going out this way? I hear you have a couple of
well-known behaviorists visiting.
Yes. replied Alin. Our ant specialist from Sumatra is working
on the decision making processes of the leaf cutter ant
Atta Cephalotes, its a fabulous
project using the latest technology to directly assess decision making the ants
conduct when calculating that their Lepiotaceae fungus farms are
contaminated with Escovopsis. As you
well know, there has been quite a lot of work done on ants, but this is an
important decision making process that has received very little coverage,
its quite exciting.
Im familiar with his research, commented Yee Lee, He
has done amazing work on intelligence in the Formicidae. I would like to see the report on that one.
good as done. replied Alin, waving a millet filled hand in Yee Lees
direction. It was traditional in these parts to eat with ones hands.
for you good doctor. said Alin back to Alexandra, You would have
liked the other work being done; it involved an assessment of personality
changes in orangutans brought on by influenza. Unfortunately our early work was
brought to a sudden halt as nearly all of the study subjects were killed when
they were caught on the ground near a group of fruit trees. Probably a leopard
or more than one, thats the only thing around here that could do
such a thing.
my! exclaimed Keng and Yee Lee.
Yes, replied Alin, It was a spectacular case of bad timing.
As you know orangutans are rather solitary and dont gather often, and
they dont spend a great deal of time on the ground. So the fact that they
were caught like this was rather unfortunate. The damndest thing was that the
group included several large and powerful males, and leopards dont hunt
in packs. The one data stream we have of the event shows it happened in a
matter of minutes. This has us stumped to a certain degree. We are trying to
decide whether it was one smart group of leopards or one stupid band of
and looked at Aleksandra, but just as she was about to speak, he interrupted.
One more thing, we had full tracking on the orangutans, they were killed
in sequence. he added as he waved a mostly empty satay skewer in the air,
he had a tendency to talk while he was still chewing.
mean several were not being attacked at the same time? inquired Yee Lee.
Correct, they were attacked one at a time, and yet they were all
involved. I actually misspoke before; none of us believe this was done by a
pack of leopards. The problem is that a single leopard would have a really
difficult time doing this and such concentrated assaults are not their normal
Poachers? inquired Yee Lee again.
No. replied Alin. The bodies were left, nothing was taken;
the babies were killed along with the adults, complete butchery. Plus, injuries
and tissue damage were that of an apex predator of some sort, not modern
thought in mind, quiet fell on the table. Alexandra finally broke the silence.
Well Alin, we will keep your mystery in mind whilst rummaging around
further up river. If I see anything that looks like a really smart leopard
Ill let you know.
way you do have heavy weapon loadouts, right? asked Alin. I
mean, whatever did this to the orangutans is less than 100 kilometers from this
center, and you are flying 80 kilometers up river. Im sure you take my
point. For the first time in their discussion, he was no longer smiling.
Yes. replied Alexandra. I do take your point, the forests are
full of dangerous animals, but Im sure we will be fine.
every confidence. said Alin.
Next: 18 - California Contacts