"Now look, Kelby, this is ridiculous," Jarvis said as patiently as possible into the radiophone. "I'm supposed to be on vacation out here, remember? Or is one week your idea of a long time away from the lab? I don't want to hear about your troubles."
"Now, now, Matt; let's not overdo the hyperbole, eh?" Even Jarvis's less-than-magnificent equipment couldn't filter out the bluff good humor that was a permanent feature of Kelby Somerset's voice. "In the first place, this is not going to become a regular event; and in the second place I doubt very much you're really forgetting about work out there. I'll lay you very heavy odds you've got yourself a cozy little lab in this allegedly rustic cabin of yours. You're probably working your tail off, making twice your usual progress now that you don't have to worry about trivia like staff meetings and faculty lunches—not to mention simple food and sleep—"
"All right, all right," Jarvis interrupted with a sigh. "I give up. Ask your question and let me get back to my book, okay."
"Right. It's about the results of that test you and Cam ran last month—the induced-hibernation one. We've been running through the data and are getting a strange sort of anomaly between the eight- and ten-milligram dosages. The rate of decrease of heartbeat, respiration, and brain electrical activity goes way down all of a sudden. As you increase the dosage the decreases plot out smoothly, but that discontinuity's driving everybody crazy. We've looked at the obvious possibilities and they all washed out. I thought you might have a brilliant suggestion or two on something new to try."
Jarvis sighed. "Disturbing my privacy isn't enough—now you want long-distance prophesy, too?"
"Not necessarily. If you want to sneak back to the lab for a day, I promise I won't tell anyone."
"Thanks a lot," Jarvis growled. "All right; read me some relevant numbers, will you?"
"Sure. Here are the blood insulin levels for the eight-milligram subjects...."
Listening with half his attention, Jarvis stretched his neck to peer out the window. Colin was still in sight, playing at the foot of the big conetree next to the grassy path that served as driveway. As he watched, two large seed pods shot past the boy's head; Colin was apparently still playing dogfight. He was good at it, too, for someone his age. Jarvis made a mental note to take a dexterity/control measurement soon.
Somerset finished his recitation, and an expectant silence took its place. With some effort, Jarvis forced his mind back to the topic at hand. "Okay. First off, check to make sure the thyroid isn't suddenly boosting thyroxin production to compensate."
"We've already looked for that—"
"And check carefully, because what the extra thyroxin may be doing is chemically linking to our gamma component, which would not only take both molecules out of play but also keep you from detecting the hormone increase."
There was a brief silence. "I didn't know the two hormones could react together."
"They haven't in lab tests, but if you look closely at the gamma molecule's sulfhydryl end, you'll see there's no particular reason why the reaction can't go. Check for likely-looking enzymes in the neighborhood of the thyroid, and while you're at it check back a step and see if the pituitary increased its own thyrotropin output."
"Already tried that," Somerset said with the distracted air of someone trying to talk while scribbling notes. "Negative result."
"Okay, concentrate on the thyroid region, then." Jarvis considered. "One other thing: try doing a careful study of prostaglandin levels. Our alpha molecule's largely a prostaglandin analogue, and the body mechanisms that degrade those hormones may be attacking it. If so, we'll need to isolate which one the culprit is and put something else in the mixture to suppress it. You think that'll keep you busy for a while?"
"Quite a good while, I think," Somerset said. "Thanks a lot, Matt—appreciate it muchly."
"Glad to help. You find anything interesting, let me know—by writing it up and putting it on my desk."
"Hint received and understood. Talk to you later."
"Much later. Good-bye."
Hanging up, Jarvis glanced out the window once more to make sure Colin was still in sight before heading outside. Walking around the corner of the cabin, he managed to duck as a seed pod came sailing through the air. It rounded the edge and he heard it drop to the ground.
"I can't make it go round the house," Colin complained as Jarvis came up.
"Well, that's because you can't see it after it goes around the corner," Jarvis told him, sitting down beside the boy. "In order to teek something you have to be able to either see it or touch it."
"Well..." It was a good question, actually, one nobody had ever figured out a satisfactory answer to. "It's just the way things are, I guess."
"I don't know. Tell you what—why don't we see if you can figure out a way to do it." He glanced around. "Would you teek a seed pod over here, please?"
"Okay." From above them came the snich of a green stem being broken, and Jarvis looked up as a pod drifted down. "Why do the branches go around?" Colin asked.
Jarvis reached out to catch the pod as Colin, shifting his attention to the spiral limb arrangement of the conetree, lost control of it. "A lot of plants have leaves that spiral up a stem like that," he explained. "The conetree just takes the process a bit farther and does it with branches, too."
"Probably to let all the leaves get as much sunlight as possible. You see—on that conetree, over there—see how the branches get shorter as you go up? That keeps the upper branches from shading the lower ones and lets all the leaves get sunlight."
"Why do they need sunlight?"
"It's one of the things they eat," Jarvis said briefly. He'd fallen into this trap with Colin already twice in the past two days. The boy wasn't interested in answers nearly as much as he was in keeping the string of questions going as long as possible. "Here, let's do an experiment, okay?" he suggested, holding up the pod.
"What's a 'speriment?"
"A way to keep little boys quiet," Jarvis said, tapping him lightly on the nose with the pod.
Colin giggled and Jarvis moved the pod thirty centimeters away, holding it horizontally by one end at the level of the boy's eyes. "Wiggle the pod a little, would you? Just a little," he added hastily as the pod nearly spun out of his hand.
The amplitude decreased until it was a barely detectable quiver. Colin was being a little silly, Jarvis knew, but he could live with that. "All right. Now I want you to look at the pod very carefully so that you know exactly where it is," he instructed the boy. "Then close your eyes and try to teek it without looking. Okay? Okay, close your eyes."
Colin did so, and the pod's vibration abruptly ceased. "Keep trying," he said soothingly as Colin's features twisted up with concentration. Someday, Jarvis told himself, he would get around to studying exactly why direct visual, tactile, or kinesthetic feedback was required for teekay to function. Someday when Ramsden runs out of projects for me to do, he thought sardonically.
Thoughts of Ramsden and the university made him frown. Somerset, for all his perpetual cheerfulness, really wasn't as insensitive to others as he often appeared. If he'd felt it necessary to break into Jarvis's officially ordered vacation, it was either because the hibernation experiment was sinking itself into a hole deep enough to strike magma or else because he was getting pressure from either Ramsden or someone higher up. Either way they could very easily be asking him to come back in for a few days long before his vacation was over.
What would he say if that happened? He couldn't very well take Colin back with him; chances were the Ridge Harbor police had papered every police station on the continent with the boy's picture by now, But neither could he leave the child alone in the cabin. He was too young to handle things like meals for himself, and there was always the possibility that he would hurt himself, perhaps badly. The post-hypnotic sleep code word was there, of course, but Jarvis knew hypnotic commands tended to break down when the subject got hungry or thirsty. He still had a supply of the sleep drug he'd used in the kidnapping, but Colin had already had two doses of the experimental drug and Jarvis had no intention of mixing chemicals like that. Aside from clouding test results, it could be downright dangerous.
The pod twitched, and Jarvis's adrenal flow jumped with it. Jerking his attention back to Colin's face, he was just in time to see the slitted eyelids snap closed. "I saw that," he said sternly, letting his sudden thrill of excitement drain away. "Try it again, and this time don't cheat."
"Do I have to?" the boy asked plaintively, looking up at Jarvis and shifting restlessly on the grass.
"Yes—but only once more," Jarvis told him. "Then you can go play again."
Colin sighed theatrically, "Okay," he said and closed his eyes again.
It was a good thing the Brimmers had instilled such a healthy measure of obedience in the boy, Jarvis reflected as Colin again frowned blindly in the direction of the pod. The boy's teekay strength would be growing rapidly over the next few weeks, which would correspondingly decrease Jarvis's power to physically enforce commands. He could only hope that the boy didn't realize that before he could be returned to civilization. For the first time in his life, Jarvis began to truly understand how the parents of the Lost Generation must have felt.
"I can't do it," Colin said at last, sounding frustrated.
"That's okay," Jarvis told him. "Don't worry about it. Here—why don't you see if you can teek the pod all the way over the chimney, okay? Then you can play for a couple of hours before it'll be time for dinner."
"Okay." Obviously relieved to be back on familiar ground, Colin teeked the pod from Jarvis's hand and sent it skittering between the conetree's lower branches. Craning his neck as he stood up, Jarvis saw the pod sail high over the cabin.
Smiling, he headed back toward the cabin door. Dinner would be trehhost pasta—one of Colin's favorite dishes, he knew from his Vaduz Park conversations. He'd better get started on it; the slow-cooking a trehhost required would take a while.
And later that evening there would be games, conversation, and some unobtrusive testing... and, perhaps, another shot.