"I suppose you're going to gloat now," Martel said, a sardonic smile tightening the corners of his mouth. Leaning back in his chair, he idly scanned the books on the shelf beside him, pulling one out for closer examination.
On the opposite side of the desk, Tirrell took a deep breath, refusing to acknowledge Martel's obvious attempts to irritate him. He would have given practically anything to put this talk off until morning, when he would at least have been able to snatch a few hours' sleep; or, failing that, to have used one of the Plat City Police Department's interrogation rooms instead of Detective Kesner's office. But by morning there would be no chance at all of stuffing the genie back into its bottle... and interrogation rooms were always rigged with hidden recording and observation equipment. "Gloating is the last thing on my mind," he told the other. "As a matter of fact, I brought you here to offer you a deal."
Martel turned back to face him, an eyebrow cocked. "Oh, really? I'd never have guessed. Let me see—can I assume my part of it will be to keep quiet about Jarvis's experiment?"
Tirrell grimaced, but he knew he should have expected this. Martel was far too smart to have missed the significance of the detective's choice of meeting room, and he'd obviously put considerable thought into the implications of Jarvis's work. "You're very perceptive," he told the other. "That's precisely what I want you to do."
"It would cause a great deal of chaos, wouldn't it?" Martel mused, as if Tirrell hadn't spoken. "Everyone worried about the changes that might or might not hit the society, wondering whether this was going to start a new Lost Generation type of period—and of course the whole population would be dithering over it for ten years before anyone even knew how successful the project had been. A whole society jumping at its own shadow for a solid decade—that would be something to see, wouldn't it?"
Tirrell waited until he was finished. "To see, perhaps, but not to live in. Now—"
"Ah, but I wouldn't really be living in it, would I?" Martel interrupted him. "I'm an outcast, remember?—a criminal who's going to be spending the next several years in confinement and supervised service programs. Why should I care what happens to Tigrin society?"
"That's a stupid question, but since you're only asking it to try and raise the value of your silence, I'll ignore it," Tirrell said tartly. "Consider your point made, all right?"
Martel smiled briefly. "All right. So what are you offering in exchange?"
Tirrell took a deep breath. "In exchange for your absolute silence regarding everything you know of Jarvis's work, the attempted murder charges against myself, Tonio, Lisa, and Colin will be set aside. In addition, fagin charges stemming from your free gold mine work will be dropped completely, as will various infractions concerning the whole refining and distribution process, though we'll probably hit your confederates with those whenever we catch up with them."
"Interesting," Martel murmured. "What exactly is this 'set aside' business?"
"It means that those charges will still be on the record but that you won't be tried on them."
"That sounds distinctly dangerous. I want them dropped outright instead."
Tirrell shook his head. "No. I need to have something that'll insure your half of the bargain is kept. As long as those charges are merely set aside, I can instigate trial proceedings at any time within the next twelve years. Dropped charges are gone forever."
Martel toyed with the book he still held. "What makes you think you can keep that sort of bargain?" he asked at last. "You don't handle the prosecution directly."
"No... but I believe I can control the willingness of the involved parties to testify. That brings up one other matter; you'll also have to accept the blame for Colin Brimmer's kidnapping. We can work out some story about you having left him with one of your accomplices out in the woods and Jarvis accidentally finding him, which is how Jarvis wound up in your hands. That charge will also be set aside, needless to say."
Martel smiled thinly. "In order to whitewash Jarvis?"
"And in exchange for his cooperation in setting aside the attempted murder charges," Tirrell shrugged. "Do we have a deal?"
The other hesitated. "Some of my kids know I didn't take Colin."
"As long as the fagin charges are dropped, they won't be called on to testify. Besides, most of them never had any real proof other than your own statement, and we all know what a good liar you are. As to the others—well, I can take statements from them and alter them if necessary, but I gather Axel really didn't tell them all that much. He probably would have made you a fitting successor if he'd lived."
A strange sort of shadow crossed Martel's face. "Perhaps, he said. For a moment he hesitated, lips pressed tightly together, and then carefully returned the book to its place on the shelf. "Very well, Detective, I accept—on the condition that you tell me what exactly it is that Dr. Jarvis has discovered."
"Possibly a method to allow kids to keep teekay after puberty," Tirrell said. There was little to be gained by refusing the request; Martel had probably already guessed, anyway. "We won't know, of course, until Colin grows up. Possibly not even then." Standing up, he stepped to the office door and opened it. "Tonio?"
"Escort Martel back to his cell, if you would, and then see if Dr. Jarvis can come up here for a few minutes."
Martel stood up. "Good-bye, Detective. I'll see you in court."
Tirrell nodded silently and waited until they had left. Then, sinking back into his chair, he propped his elbows up on the desk and rubbed his eyes vigorously. It wouldn't be nearly as easy as he'd made it sound, of course—he would have to talk fast and loud to convince the various court officials that setting aside one set of charges in exchange for a flat-out guilty plea on the other set was a fair compromise for all concerned. But he should be able to pull it off. The crucial question now was how Jarvis would react to the deal he was trying to work out. Tirrell had been battling Martel's kind long enough to know how they thought, but the scientist was still in many ways an enigma to him. Too late, now, he wished he'd gone to get Jarvis personally instead of sending Tonio; tired though he was, the exercise might have awakened his brain a bit.
The office door swung open, and he looked up as Jarvis stepped into the room. "You wanted to see me?"
"Yes." Tirrell waved him to the chair Martel had just vacated. "Tonio, I want you to hear this, too," he added as the preteen started to leave. Without comment Tonio moved into the room and closed the door behind him, hovering with his back to it.
"First of all, Doctor," Tirrell began, "I'd like to know exactly what you've told the other police."
Jarvis eyed him for a moment before answering. "I've just said that Omega—or Martel, I guess his real name is—suddenly burst into my cabin, took me prisoner, and blew the place up. I've agreed to give more details when I've pulled myself together."
"In other words, you've been stalling. Good. Did you mention Colin to them at all? Or the fact that Lisa, Tonio, and I were there when Martel grabbed you?"
Jarvis shook his head. "No to both questions. I assumed you would want to talk with me before my story got set in concrete, so I tried to be as vague as possible."
"I see." Tirrell leaned back slightly in his chair. "All right. Let's start by finishing the conversation we were having at your cabin when Martel arrived. As I recall, you were about to try and convince me that Tigrin society needed your discovery to become stable."
Jarvis glanced up at Tonio. "I doubt if I have to spell out the more obvious potential problems to you, Detective. Depriving kids of literacy and book knowledge would hamper any attempted power grab they might try, but the physical strength is certainly on their side. They would succeed... at least temporarily."
"Only if everyone went along," Tonio said, a bit hotly. "A lot of us wouldn't, you know."
"That's one reason a revolt would ultimately fail," Jarvis acknowledged. "But the threat will always be there, sitting in the backs of people's minds, and the response will always be to keep as tight a rein as possible on the kids. That sort of permanent strain isn't good for anyone."
Tirrell thought of the official overreaction to Lisa's attempts to learn how to read. "Possibly," he said. "But that's not sufficient reason to risk another Lost Generation's worth of chaos."
"Isn't it?" Jarvis shrugged. "Then maybe you'd like to consider the trauma of taking five-year-olds from their parents and sticking them in hives among strangers. Or the way the emotional shock of Transition combines with the physical aspects of puberty itself to make teen suicide rates the highest on the planet. Or maybe—" his face seemed to harden—"you don't mind the way those triple-damned fagins siphon some of the brightest kids away from hives and twist their minds to hell and gone. Every one of those problems would disappear if adults as well as kids had teekay."
Tirrell felt his stomach muscles tighten as, knowingly or otherwise, Jarvis hit the detective's own deepest sore spot. "You don't like fagins, I gather?"
For a moment Jarvis stared at him, his eyes curiously flat. "No, I don't. I take it you don't know why exactly Colin was abandoned in Ridge Harbor in the first place."
Tirrell shook his head. "Why don't you tell us?"
"It was because a fagin in your town got the bright idea of starting with brand-new babies instead of snatching kids from homes or hives," the scientist said bitterly. "Miribel was supposed to deliver Colin to him when she left the hospital."
At Tirrell's right, Tonio growled something. "Just like that?" the detective asked. "Just walk out the front door and hand the baby over?"
"Why not?" Jarvis's eyes were blazing, but Tirrell could tell the anger wasn't directed at him. "No one in Barona knew she was even pregnant. The birth would be recorded in Ridge Harbor, and in thirty-two days it would go into the sealed records and no one would ever find out what happened. The fagin would have someone raise the baby, and when his teekay appeared he'd have a working kid who wouldn't be missed by anyone and wouldn't have any records he could be traced by."
"Why didn't you tell the police?" Tonio burst out.
Jarvis looked at the preteen, shook his head. "It would have gotten Miribel in trouble, too. Even if she'd been using me from the start—and I don't believe she was—I still cared a great deal for her. I couldn't turn her in to face criminal charges."
"So what went wrong?" Tirrell asked, though he now thought he knew.
"I did the next best thing: I phoned in an anonymous tip about the fagin," Jarvis said. "The police caught him redhanded, with two of his kids right there with him."
"Nash Gorman," Tirrell nodded. "I've always wondered who phoned us that tip. So when you told Miribel her prospective market had vanished, she just took off and left Colin to fend for himself?"
"It wasn't quite that heartless," Jarvis sighed. "She was afraid for her own safety, too. Gorman had blackmailed her into doing this for him; the details aren't important. I've often wondered what happened to her after she left the hospital. I hope she's still alive... but I don't really think she is."
It was Tirrell who broke the long silence that followed. "So what more would you have to do with Colin?" he asked.
Jarvis frowned. "You mean to complete my experiment? Not much. An injection every two months, dropping off to twice a year when he reaches seven. Keeping records of his B and M profile would be useful, too, though only for future reference. As a matter of fact, I would have returned him to Ridge Harbor within a week or so if all of this hadn't happened."
Tirrell was conscious of Tonio's astonished gaze on him. "All right," he told the scientist. "He's going back to Ridge Harbor a little ahead of schedule, but if you can continue the work without getting caught, you can do so. That's completely unofficial, of course."
"What?" Tonio was incredulous.
"There are a few conditions," the detective continued as if the boy hadn't spoken. "First, I'll tell you right now that if any harm comes to Colin because of your drugs, I'll have you arrested and prosecuted, so you'd better make damn sure you know what you're doing at all times. Second, you'll need to coordinate your story with Martel's so that Colin doesn't show up in your cabin at all. Martel's going to take the blame for Colin's kidnapping, though we're not going to try him on that charge."
"Awfully charitable of him," Jarvis commented. "What did you have to promise him in exchange?"
"We're setting aside all attempted murder and illegal gold operation charges. In return he's also promised to keep his mouth shut about you and your work."
Jarvis made a sound that was half laugh, half snort. "You don't seriously believe that, do you?"
"Oh, he will. Not for altruistic reasons, of course, but because he's still hoping to steal your process and it's in his own best interest to keep anyone else from knowing about it."
"How's he going to steal anything from a prison-work program?" Tonio scoffed.
"He can't; but even if he's convicted for both Dr. Jarvis's kidnapping and on the faginism charges still outstanding in Ridge Harbor, he can probably work off all the service points in seven years or so. Colin would only be twelve, with at least a couple of years to go before the method was proved one way or the other; plenty of time to try and grab the formula before its existence became public knowledge."
"So I've got just about seven years to live?" Jarvis suggested, not entirely humorously.
"Possibly," Tirrell nodded. "You'll be in danger; but the option is to announce your discovery now."
"Thanks. I'll take my chances with Martel. I'm sure I'll be able to take some precautions against him."
"True—and one of those precautions is to make sure he can't corner the information market with one blow." Tirrell leaned forward. "Specifically, Doctor, you're going to tell Tonio and me—right now—exactly what it is you've stumbled on. That's the condition for my silence on all of this. If something should happen to you I want to at least be able to point researchers in the right direction."
Jarvis's eyes flicked back and forth between the two of them. Finally, he nodded. "I suppose you're right. Well, in a nutshell, I believe that Transition is the result of an interaction between the slowdown in brain growth and the spurt-and-decrease in the amount of lymphoid tissue, both of which occur approximately at puberty. What I'm trying to do is extend Colin's general growth time—which will change his brain growth-rate curve—while leaving the lymphoid tissue curve untouched."
"What'll that do to Colin?" Tirrell asked.
"The extra growth time will increase his adult height a few percent, but since he's small to begin with that shouldn't be a problem. As far as any other problems are concerned, I've successfully decoupled the two curves in earthstock lab animals without any harm that I can detect. Is that sufficient?"
Tirrell thought for a moment, then nodded. "I think so. Anything else you could say would probably be too technical for us to understand, and I don't want any details lying around in writing." The detective stood up. "Thank you, Doctor. I suggest you continue to decline making any public statement until you've had a good night's rest. In the morning I'll help you coordinate your story with Martel, but I'm just too tired now."
"Understandable." Jarvis frowned and paused halfway to the door. "What about the kids that attacked my cabin? They saw Colin there."
"They've already been sent back to their hives for disciplinary action," Tirrell assured him. "They won't be called on to answer any questions as long as Martel pleads guilty to your kidnapping, and they aren't likely to find out about any discrepancies in the official record. As to the Barona police, I'll just have to be a good sport about suspecting you when you really weren't involved at all with the kidnapping. If you can come up with an explanation of what your 'secret project' was that'll satisfy Ms. Mbar and Dr. Somerset, I think we'll have everyone covered pretty well."
"I suppose that'll work," Jarvis said, sounding a bit doubtful.
"If you've got a better idea I'll be happy to hear it... in about nine hours."
The scientist smiled. "Good night, Detective."
Tirrell waited a few seconds after they were gone and then followed, his legs feeling like lead as he clumped down the hall toward the sleeping room Kesner had had set up for them. Only one loose end remained to be tied up, and fortunately that could wait a few days. Tonio would be back up in a couple of minutes, as soon as he'd escorted Jarvis back to the policemen downstairs, and he could perhaps discuss it with the righthand for a few minutes....
When Tonio arrived he found the detective facedown on one of the room's two cots, snoring gently.