Sunday, 10 August 2014

Eden Paradox Characters #3: Pierre

When I was at school, at ten years old I won a prize. Okay, I was a bit of a swot. Anyway, I won a series of books to read. One was about famous scientists. Up until then, I'd been focused on Tarzan, Scott of the Antarctic, etc. Now, for the first time, I was enthralled by scientists from Archimedes to Pasteur to Curie. I wanted to become one. I kind of still do...

No surprise then that one of the main characters in the Eden Paradox series, Pierre, is a scientist. He had little choice, as both his parents were scientists, and his father ran genetic experiments on him to enhance his own intelligence. They worked, but at the cost of social skills, and so he grew up lonely, finding solace in his astrophysics equations.

A fellow writer who has read all three books and is reading the final, fourth volume, Eden's Endgame,  relates most to Pierre. I expect quite a few male readers do. In some senses he's a geek, but not to look at. He's more of a hunk than the guys in Big Bang Theory, for example (sorry dudes), and so in the books Pierre does get to have a love interest.

But Pierre is also the only one who often can grasp the larger picture of what is happening in the galaxy. If higher beings deign to talk to a human, as in for example Eden's Trial and Eden's Revenge, it'll likely be Pierre. And sometimes he sees the flaw in their strategy, and though he's too shy a guy to say it outright to aliens, he reflects on it, and so the reader can see his perspective and share  his insights on the larger picture.

But there's a bigger question that runs through all four books of the series: if we could enhance our intelligence, would we, and would it be a good idea? This question was touched on in my favorite of the four later Star Trek series, Deep Space Nine, via the character of Doctor julian Bashir, who we find out quite late on in the series has been genetically altered to make him smarter - a crime in those (future) times.

For Pierre, this is not a general question as it was in Star Trek (especially the Wrath of Khan and its recent remake, Into Darkness), but a personal one. And inside him, he has nannites that can make the changes he wants, so in many ways he continues the experiments his father started, even though they to an extent ruined his life. In the final book, he is faced with the choice of whether or not to go the whole way... Well, more of that another day, I'm not going to give too much away.

One final point about Pierre: he doesn't like to kill. He's a pacifist, because his quest is to understand - he can always empathize with the enemy, even if he knows it's not always a good idea in practice. This is brought to the fore in the final installment, Eden's Endgame, due out before Xmas. In this scene, he and Jen are aboard an advanced alien ship about to do battle, possibly about to die...

Pierre had never killed anyone. That hadn’t been easy, having endured the Third World War on Earth, the fighting against the Q’Roth on Eden and Earth a decade later, and the past eighteen years gallivanting around a war-torn galaxy with Ukrull. The Ranger, being telepathic, knew Pierre’s value structure, and had done the necessary whenever they’d been in a tight spot. But Pierre had kept it a secret from his human colleagues. Until now. Jen was fuming.
            “What do you mean you won’t take Tactical?”
She got out of her immerser chair where she’d been controlling Nav, and walked right up to his face, then shoved him backwards, so that he fell into the seat controlling weapons. Jen was smaller than he was, but right now he’d prefer a Q’Roth warrior in front of him.
“It’s… against my morals, Jen. I’ve never in my life –” 
“Look out the window and tell me what you see.” She pushed his chin so he faced the screen at the end of the compact cockpit set in the front of the Duality, the ship Kalaran had ‘borrowed’ from the Kalarash being known as Darkur.
Pierre stared at the screen, and felt the blood drain from his face. Three hundreds Nchkani warships, black and white ovoids with feather-like blades brimming with weapons. They were circling the supernova concealing the Tla Beth homeworld, in opposing directions, as in old-style cartoons depicting electrons circling an atomic nucleus. Beyond this inner ring of hostiles, were more random swarms of the immense dark worms, their pattern more erratic, reminding him of how a school of hammerhead sharks swam around prey, the very randomness more menacing, offering no way out. 
“I see our doom, Jen.”
“All the more reason to fight!”
“Jen, I’m sorry, I can’t do it.” He levered himself out of the chair and tried to push past her.
Jen slapped him hard across the face, the shock of it more than its force making him sit back in the chair. Red-faced, her lips quivering, she pinned him to the chair with a firm hand on his chest.
Her voice quavered. “You –” She closed her eyes a moment, sucked in a deep breath. “Listen to me, Pierre. Dimitri is gone, Kalaran, too. They died to save us. They didn’t die so we could lie down and offer our throats to the wolves. You can’t operate Nav. You’re more intelligent than me, but you have no experience flying one of these.”
He studied the interface in front of him, its array of symbols and displays. A touch here, there, and lives would be snuffed out. Why was his life more important than theirs? He had no right…
“You still have a daughter. Petra is on Esperia. They’ll go there next.” Jen pushed off from his chest, and turned away from him, fingers grabbing and tugging at her hair. It reminded him…
Pierre’s mind switched back nearly forty years, to when he’d been bullied at school, punched in the face during a lunch break, knocked to the ground. A small group of kids had gathered around. He’d stood up, and been downed again. It repeated four times until the bully announced to the crowd that Pierre was too weird to waste his knuckle skin on.
His parents heard about the incident from the Principal, and then saw Pierre’s swollen, bruised face when they came to collect him. His mother had grabbed her hair just as Jen did now. Her face had been a picture of horror until she’d clasped him to her breast to comfort him. While they drove home, his father told him he’d done the right thing. But his mother, later that night, had a screaming match with Pierre’s father in the kitchen, calling him a coward, urging him to be a man and confront the bully’s father, a known thug. Pierre, still sore from the beating, had gotten out of bed and crept to the top of the stairs to hear his father’s response.
“It won’t help. He’ll start a fight, and like my son, I won’t fight back.” His father spoke quietly, but his mother shouted.
“Why ever not?”
Pierre held his breath, straining to catch the words.
“Violence is born of ignorance, pain, and the need or lust for power. If I fight back, all I do is reinforce those traits.”
 “And if someone tried to kill your son, and you had a gun in your hand, and could fire it? Would you?” His mother’s voice sounded exasperated, and Pierre imagined her shaking her head, incredulous.
But at that exact second, Pierre had leaned forward, causing the stair to creak. Pierre’s father had walked out of the kitchen to the bottom of the stairs, and seen Pierre.
“Go back to bed, son.”
He’d said it with such tenderness, which Pierre was not at all used to from his father, that Pierre obeyed and went straight back to bed, forgetting about the pain. It had only been later that Pierre realised he’d never known his father’s answer to his mother’s question. As he grew up, he decided his father would not have fired the gun. After all, when an assassin had murdered his father at a conference while he stood on the podium, his father had not tried to run into the crowd, instead making sure nobody was behind him, in case the assassin missed. None of the media had reported that.       
He studied Jen, whose back was towards him. Her body had stilled. Perhaps she was seething, perhaps crying; he didn’t know. He thought of Petra, but he barely knew his own daughter. While on the mission to Eden, Zack had once said that the whole purpose of life is not to repeat your parents’ mistakes. Right now, he imagined Dimitri, Kalaran and Petra, and his mother and father, sitting at the top of the stairs, listening intently, with him and Jen arguing in the kitchen. Pierre touched his face where the bully’s punch had knocked him down four times. The emotional scar had healed decades ago. Or had it?
He took a deep breath, and placed a finger on the interface in front of him, making it come to life.

“Take your station, Jen. I’ll do what I can.”

The Eden Paradox Series
Eden's Endgame - late 2014

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