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the eylau sequence.war

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 assistant’s field samples had again pulled in something new.

“Look at this doctor,” requested Yee. “I haven’t seen this before.”

“Let’s 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 isn’t it?”

“Yes, but what is it?” asked Keng’s assistant.

“I’m not sure, but Osler is certainly curious, or at least he’s taking his time.”

As they watched, their Osler Sequence assistant showed strangely slow progress on what was supposed to be a routine sequencing task.

“What do you think Yee?” Keng asked, while Osler hesitated.

“I don’t know… possibly it’s a viroid or satellite, but….”

  “It may be a mistake; you say this came from the river?”


“How far upstream?”

“About 80 kilometers.”

They were interrupted by their Osler assistant, it pinged them both simultaneously and they gasped. Hanging in the air in front of them was Osler’s findings, or in this case its theory.

“This can’t be.” blurted out Keng; “Look at the host range, look at the RNA results... this is impossible!”

They both 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; “We’re going back Yee, we need to collect more samples – either this is the strangest thing we have ever seen, or it’s a contaminated sample. My opinion is contamination.”

She paused and thought for a moment; “Well, we were going to the research center anyway, and it would nice to look at things that don’t need magnification for a while. Let’s double check our hardware though. I would hate to waste any more sampling probes than necessary.”


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Late the 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 center’s underground research core.

The weather 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 entire facility.

Waiting for them was Alin Chuang, the research center’s 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 Keng’s common first name, their families had long connections.

“Judging from your work logs I’m 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 you’ll figure it out. Are you guys hungry?” he asked, always capable of more conversation.

“Yes actually, anything special?” replied Zeng.

“Ahhh, 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 halls.

The center 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.

They sat 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 plate.

Alin replied earnestly, “Oh yes, it’s 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 their surroundings.

After a 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, it’s 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, it’s quite exciting.”

“I’m 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.”

“As good as done.” replied Alin, waving a millet filled hand in Yee Lee’s direction. It was traditional in these parts to eat with one’s hands.

“And 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, that’s the only thing around here that could do such a thing.”

“Oh 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 don’t gather often, and they don’t 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 don’t 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 primates.”

Alin paused 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.

“You 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 behavior.”

“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 weapons.”

With that 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 I’ll let you know.”

“By the 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. I’m 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 I’m sure we will be fine.”

“I have every confidence.” said Alin.


Next: 18 - California Contacts

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