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FINAL EXAM by Eliot Flack

        Date: 10/28/94
        From: ELIOT FLACK; TMS SYSTEMS                     EFLACK   - BROC
          To:                                              INTERNET - IBMMAIL
     Subject: 'Final Exam' - by Eliot Flack.
Whaddya think ? Comments & Criticisms (constructive, of course !) gratefully
                       FINAL EXAM
                       Eliot Flack
                   (C) Copyright 1994
      Annalie studied the history-projector for many hours, watching the
magnificent avians performing intricate and beautiful mating rituals, swooping
and diving into their sumptuous nests. The brilliant purple and green flash of
their plumage as their wings flared for a precarious landing in the very tips
of the tallest trees in their habitat was a breathtaking sight that she could
see again and again. She checked the clock, and reluctantly turned the machine
off. After all, she had a job to do.
   She sat thinking in front of her terminal for a few minutes. The problem
was clear to her - she wasn't the best student in her class for nothing. The
birds could only live in a certain type of tree, the very tallest on the
planet. All the others were occupied by the apes, and they would steal the eggs
and destroy the nests if any of the beautiful birds were foolish enough to try
and nest in them. Over the generations, this became a symbiotic relationship;
the trees relied on their birds to eat their fruit and distribute the seeds to
perpetuate the forests. But this delicate balance became unstable when, after
thousands of years, the birds discovered a tastier, more nutritious fruit that
was in abundant supply on a different shrub. Gradually the forests dwindled,
and with it, the avian population fell, until the dazzling graceful birds were
threatened with extinction.
   A lesser student would have ended the analysis there, and removed the
fruit that was competing with the trees. But Annalie was renowned for her care
and thoroughness, and she knew that a rash change could have disastrous
consequences hundreds of generations down the line. Especially as this was an
examination question, the chances of such a pitfall were huge. So she analysed
the composition of the new fruit, modified it ever so slightly so that it
contained just a tiny amount of a chemical that was poisonous to the weaker
infants of the bird species. After making a few microscopic adjustments, she
was happy with her answer, and fed it into the future projector, and watched.
   The projector was slow, as it extrapolated changes, identified all the
alterations and anticipated results. Millions of calculations were required
to determine the best guess at what effect the change would have. At first,
there was no effect. The birds continued to eat the new fruit, with only a
few still eating off the fruit of their home trees. As the generations passed
through the projector, the infant death rate rose rapidly. The birds came
close to extinction, but there were always a few, a tiny minority in each
generation, that preferred the old fruit. The trees became emptier and
emptier as the toxins decimated each generation, but with each new group,
more and more of the survivors were reverting back to the fruit of their own
tree. Gradually, slowly, the population expanded again, the trees became more
numerous, and normality was restored. After seven hundred iterations, the
computer predicted, the population would be back to safe levels.
Annalie turned off the terminal, pleased with her efforts.She was certain
that the tiny change to the composition of the rival fruit would have no long
term effects. She knew she had passed.
                         o  o  o  o
Annalie was reading in her quarters when the knock at the door came. She smiled
to herself happily. She had been waiting for him to come. She activated the
door and her Mentor entered.
   "Congratulations, Annalie. Top marks again. You'll be pleased to hear that
our top analysts agreed with your solution, and it is going to be implemented.
You will be the first student whose exam answers are going to be used as a real
   Annalie was stunned.
   "You...you mean that was REAL ? Not a hypothetical case ? But...that's
wonderful" Her mind raced furiously.
   "So those birds really exist ? What are they called ? Where do..." Her
mentor raised a hand to stop the flood of questions, a smile on his face.
   "All the questions in your final exams are real, Annalie. It has to be so.
For you to truly understand what Primitive Culture Nurturing means, what we DO,
you HAVE to be exposed to practical examples. All the races we look after and
help are REAL. It is an awesome responsibility, yet a beautiful one."
   Annalie nodded. She had assumed that the questions were artificial because
the answers, when found,were aesthetically beautiful. They just looked RIGHT.
She understood that this was the beauty of nature at work. Artificial solutions
to artificial problems could never be so beautiful.
   At this moment, more than any in her past, she realised how lucky she was
to be doing what she did. How glad that she was not just an ordinary zoologist
performing mundane tasks, keeping a single animal alive. Hers was the greatest
calling, her task the most profound, her rewards almost godlike.
   Her mentor grew serious.
   "There is but one more question you have to face, Annalie, and I warn you
now, it is by far the most difficult. Up until today you have only theoretical
experience of third stage cultures. Now you must deal with advanced, thinking
species, whose problems are far more complex."
   Annalie nodded gravely. Third stage species were indeed complicated. They
were characterised by the fact that they would be aware of external influence
if it was not of the most subtle and insidious type, and also by the fact that
their greatest enemy was invariably themselves. Being a master of the subtle
approach, it was this second characteristic that worried Annalie.
   "Remember, in this last exercise, do not allow yourself to become
emotionally involved. Although third stage cultures are sentient, they are
extremely primitive, and driven by primal urges of the most basic type. Do not
make the mistake of considering their welfare as individuals - it is the
survival of the species that is paramount. No matter how ugly and cruel they
may seem at this level of development, remember that they are on the verge of
flowering into a society of real intelligence, capable of contributing to the
Galactic Whole."
                         o  o  o  o
   Annalie was nervous as she turned on her terminal for the final exam. She
quickly scanned the planetary history through the projector, and found her
heart beating faster and faster with each new datum she found. Her chest began
to tighten until it ached, and she realised that she was forgotting to breathe.
She stopped and went through a standard relaxation technique, her mind whirling
with what she had found in the first few minutes.
   This species had quickly come to dominate its habitat, and was its own
worst enemy, as most third level cultures were. Except here it was extremely
unstable. Two tribes had formed, each led by a proud and stubborn King. The
tribes had learned to hate and fear each other, and threaten with primitive
tools. The history projector showed they had past the point of reconciliation
in this generation. The future projector showed that they would fight each
other within a generation. The survivors would be maimed and disfigured, and
would have no will to survive. Within three generations they would be gone.
   Annalie worked her analyser at breathtaking speed, hunting, searching for a
solution, finding only dead ends. It was too late. They were too close to
destruction. It would take a massive shock to avoid it, and as sentient beings
they would know that they had been influenced. That was inadmissible. She
became convinced there was no solution. Eventually, with a sob, she ran out of
the room, unable to finish.
   Her mentor was waiting for her outside. She shouted at him furiously.
   "What sort of question is that ? There is no solution. The species is dead,
killed by its own hand. You should have interfered three generations ago to
get the correct solution. It's too damn late, there's nothing anyone can do
for them, nothing" she wailed.
   She was hoping he'd reassure her. Tell her she was right, they had
intervened generations ago, this was an extrapolation of what might have been.
Anything. But she knew he wasn't going to.
   When he spoke, his voice was as soft as a breeze.
   "You already know the solution, Annalie. You haven't admitted finding it
to yourself yet, but you know it. Go back inside and find it, and tomorrow you
will be a graduated Nurturer.
   Annalie looked up at the kindly eyes through her tear-stained ones, and the
expression on her face was one of bitterness and despair. Without a word, she
turned and went back into the exam room. Now she knew what nurturing was all
   Her face was expressionless as she looked through the detailed files of the
'Now', the time when the change had to be made. She knew what she had to do.
One of the Kings had to die, and it had to appear as if he was killed by his
own tribe. That tribe would stop looking for the enemy in the opposing tribe,
and see it in theirs instead. The psychological scars and paranoia would remain
for generations, but the fear and anger they felt would be redirected inwards
and the war between tribes would be averted.
   She blanked all emotion from her mind as she programmed the changes, trying
not to think about killing a harmless innocent creature. She knew then that she
couldn't carry on. This - murder - would be her last act as a nurturer. All her
life she had been taught that the Nurturers were the preservers and protectors
of life, that life was a sacred gift of beauty. Now she was being taught to
kill. It was the ultimate betrayal. She finished entering the details of the
change. She retained her customary subtlety so the death would have just the
right impact, the timing and details of the assassination intricately meshed
with the mindset of the primitive tribe to maximize the effect for generations,
then she logged off.
   Annalie left the building without looking back, and never returned. The
next day she enrolled as a zoologist, and worked with animation and zeal for
the rest of her life. But she would always remember wistfully her first
calling, what she had hoped to do with her life, and that fateful day when
she assassinated President Kennedy.
                             T H E   E N D

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