Battle for the Known Unknown Ch. 04


"Was it Chinese? German? I just don't know," asked Paul when he at last got to meet the Chief Security Advisor in the Dean's office.

"It was Arabic," said the Chief Security Advisor. "You're clearly not a linguist, are you?"

"So, what did she say?"

"Allah u Akhbar!" said the Advisor, consulting his holographic notes. "It means 'God is great'. It's some kind of incantation used by the Muslim religion."

"I didn't know that Muslims were in the habit of killing themselves," said Paul. "Isn't it meant to be a fairly peaceful religion?"

"It is," said the Dean who was sitting cross-legged on his desk. "Though there have been periods in its history when its adherents practised a kind of suicide terrorism. Most significantly in the 21st century. But even in those distant days, it wasn't widely practised."

"But why blow up my laboratory?" wondered Paul.

"We rather hoped you might explain that to us," said the Dean.

Paul wasn't really able to help either the Dean or anyone else in the long series of interrogations he underwent for the rest of the day and, as it happened, sporadically for many days and even weeks afterwards. He was as ignorant as anyone as to why his laboratory should be targeted. He didn't experiment on live animals. His work was in no way disparaging of any religion, culture or ideology. He didn't belong to a clandestine organisation and, as far as he knew, he had no quarrels with anyone.

"We believe you," said a representative from the Special Operations division. His syndicate managed all external threats and these usually only extended to rogue meteorites and accidentally introduced microbes. "But it does seem strange. Your work appears to have excited a lot of interest from outside the colony. It is mostly theoretical research, isn't it?"

"Well, nothing I've done has ever excited anyone's interest before," admitted Paul. "I'd always considered my research was of more historical relevance than being especially pertinent for the 38th Century."

"Well, you've done precious little research on any period after the 26th century, that's for sure," agreed the Special Operations Officer. "You're sure you don't recognise the poor misguided woman who killed herself?"

"I'm not aware of ever having met her."

"Not in your extracurricular activity? No online interaction? No virtual dating? Nothing that might explain a grudge she might have against you or your research?"

"Nothing at all."

"Fatima O'Leary she was called. Does the name mean anything to you?"

Paul shook his head. "I'm sure I'd remember a name like that."

"She wasn't christened Fatima. She was originally known as Esmeralda. She converted to Islam a couple of decades ago. The evidence we've gained is that she had a crisis of faith and has been in frequent communication with Islamic cells from other colonies. The one she had most contact with is the Muslim Sisterhood of New Mecca. That's a colony in the Asteroid belt which despite its name is actually rather secular and where only a minority are accounted to have a religious faith of any kind. Of course, when it was founded fifteen hundred years ago that was a different matter, but Islam, like all religions, has become increasingly inconsequential over the centuries. You've never shown any interest in religion, have you? Not that there's anything wrong with that, if you have."

"Religion. Politics. Nothing like that has ever interested me at all."

"That's what we thought," admitted the officer. "But I had to ask."

"So, do you have any idea why Fatima killed herself?"

"I'm afraid we don't have any concrete theories at all," said the officer. "The most likely is that she, or rather her contacts in New Mecca, took exception to some aspect of your research. Naturally, the strict rules in Godwin on privacy and personal freedom means that we don't have any real evidence of what that might be, but the rather less fastidious intelligence agencies on New Mecca will no doubt uncover rather more than we can. What we do know is that her communications with the colony involved the use of massively secure encryption protocols that consumed a disproportionate amount of computing power."

"It does sound very mysterious."

"Well, I must express some sympathy to you and for your research. It must be totally lost now. Everything in your laboratory was incinerated."

"Not at all," said Paul, holding up a data crystal. "I kept a copy of all the data."

"You can't have all of it in just one data crystal," said the officer. "Those things barely hold even an exabyte of data."

"There wasn't that much data around in the early years of the Solar System. In fact all the data that existed on the internet, as it was called in the 21st century, was rather less than what's required to render a single moment in virtual space. I have other copies of the data stored in off-colony repositories throughout the solar system."

"Not very secure, is it?" remarked the officer. "Anyone could get hold of it."

"But that's the idea of my kind of research," said Paul. "It's not meant to be secret. It's publicly available and accessible to anyone who's got an interest in it."

"Hmm!" said the officer with a frown. "I'm afraid that while our investigations continue that is one state of affairs that won't be allowed to continue."

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