Friday, October 6, 2017

Friday Fiction for October 6, 2017

Welcome to the restart of Friday Fiction. I have the privilege of hosting this week, so be sure to enter the link to your story in the Linkytool below, and visit the other stories posted for this week. Please feel free to comment as well. We love feedback!

This week’s submission is the first part of a short story I’ve been working on lately, and my plan is to post subsequent parts in the coming weeks. This is a concept I’ve been thinking about for a while, and finally decided on how I wanted to approach it. I hope you enjoy it.

The Historian Project

By Rick Higginson

            Professor Kallas watched the students file from the lecture hall. Not bad for the first session of the new term. Only three of the fifty students failed to show. He powered down the computer and large display screen behind the lectern, and then placed his tablet in his briefcase.

            One man remained seated at the back of the hall. Kallas regarded him for a moment. One of my missing students? “Do you have a question for me, Mr. ah?”

            The man stood. “Actually it’s Doctor Manziel.”

            “Ah, yes. The new President of this fine institution. To what do I owe the pleasure of this visit, Dr. Manziel?”

            Dr. Manziel stepped into the aisle and strode down the stairs. “I don’t know that pleasure is quite the word I’d use for this visit. I’ve been reviewing the records on your history department, and it seems your program here has, by far, the largest dropout rate of any program at this university.”

            He chuckled. “I am well aware of the attrition rate in my department, Dr. Manziel. Believe it or not, this is, by a wide margin, the most difficult program in this, or any other, university.”

            Manziel scowled. “It’s history, for pity’s sake. We teach medicine here. We teach quantum physics here. We teach law here. You cannot tell me that history is more academically challenging than those curricula.”

            Kallas leaned against the lectern. “I did not say this program is the most academically challenging. I said it was the most difficult. There are many other factors of difficulty than just academics.” He gestured with one hand to indicate the hall. “You saw the forty-seven first-year students that were just here. This was the first session of Histwit 101, and before the start of their second year here, half of them will have changed their major, if not changed schools entirely. I expect this. It’s part of the program. Half of those remaining will not return for the third year, and by the end of the fourth year, of the original fifty signed up, I may have five left.”

            “It’s part of your program to lose half your students in your first year? Professor Kallas, that is simply unacceptable. I don’t know how you’ve managed to avoid scrutiny through the term of my  predecessor, but I take my responsibilities to the Board of Regents quite seriously. Any program where only ten percent of the starting class completes the standard four year program either needs to be completely overhauled, or scrapped from the catalog. How that hasn’t already happened to your history program is beyond my comprehension.”

            “I assume, then, you have not reviewed the financial records yet. One of the biggest reasons my program is still active, is my work brings in better than eighty percent of the donations to this university.”

            “That’s ridiculous. How would a history program motivate that level of donation income?”

            Kallas laughed, bending over and placing his hands on his knees.”Dr. Manziel, really! You have not done your homework at all, have you? It is not the Historian Program that generates income for this university. It is the Historian Project that is this institution’s goose that lays the golden eggs, and it is also the very reason the program has such a high withdrawal rate.”

            “I don’t understand on either count.”

            “How early in this class session did you arrive?”

            “Towards the end.”

            “Ah, then you missed the important points. Candidates for the Historian Program are carefully selected, but even then, few people are actually suited for the program. The reason I am able to run both the program and the project is that I suffered a head injury when I was fourteen years old. The lasting effect of this injury was a nearly complete loss of empathy in my mind. I am incapable of feeling any sort of sympathetic pain for other living creatures, human or otherwise. Because the injury occurred in my teens, I had already developed sufficient morality that I did not turn into a criminal sociopath. I can recognize an act of violence as wrong, but I cannot feel the same discomfort that a normal person feels.”

            “So you don’t feel any regrets over the students that do not make it in your program, either?”

            “I consider them fortunate, because they are still capable of being moved by their empathy. History, Dr. Manziel, has traditionally been written by the winners, as the saying goes. What we have learned through most of human civilization has been a sanitized, biased view of events. The defeated enemy was evil and had to be subdued, and the methods used were those necessary and reasonable. The reality, however, is that history is brutal, and when we see events as they actually happened, history is revealed as often horrific. If a student cannot handle that, they are better off seeking a different program more suitable to their temperament.”

            “It’s still just history. It’s over and done.”

            “That’s the problem. You see, students studying medicine, for example, do so with the hope that what they learn can be used to help the patients they will eventually treat. The same is true with law. An attorney works to see that their clients’ rights are not violated, and that they are afforded every protection of the law, rather than being oppressed by the system. The historian cannot help their subjects. What has happened is already done, and cannot be undone. The suffering is real, and those who cannot put their empathy aside will be overwhelmed by it.”

            “So you study ancient texts or archaeological sites. I can’t believe that many people are that sensitive as to be overwhelmed by such things.”

            “I think, perhaps, it is time I introduced you to the Historian Project. If you will follow me, Dr. Manziel.”

            Manziel huffed. “Is this going to take much time? You do know that my schedule is very demanding.”

            “You question my program; you need to know the answers, because, I promise you, if you go to the Board of Regents and try to cut this department, they will either override your decision or replace you.” He did not wait for any reply before heading to a door at the back of the hall. He scanned his ID, typed in a number, and then pressed his left ring finger against a pad.

            “That’s an odd finger to use for a print check.” Manziel stepped through the door as Kallas held it open.

            “It’s randomized. The system may request any of the ten fingers, or it may request a retinal scan, or a combination of both. It’s designed to make it more difficult to defeat the security system.”

            “Geez, are you going to tell me that you work for the CIA?”

            “We have, on occasion, done work for different intelligence agencies. Information is the most valuable commodity in the world, and information is what the Historian Project collects. You want to know where someone hid a valuable artifact? We can find out. Need to find where a ship sank? We can tell you. If something has happened in history, whether it is recent or ancient, we can find out exactly what happened. We can solve a murder that happened a thousand years ago.” He performed the security steps on another door and opened it. The lights came on to reveal a large console with six recliners arrayed on one side. Kallas went to one recliner and gestured. “Have a seat, Dr. Manziel, and I will get you hooked up.”

            Manziel gave the recliner the once-over, but did not sit down. “Hooked up?”

            “The Historian System utilizes a neural interface for its users. It’s completely safe, I assure you.”

            He settled into the chair. “Neural interface? Like some kind of virtual reality?”

            “Sort of. The interface technology is based on that developed for the virtual reality market.”

            Kallas slipped a soft hood over Manziels head, covering his eyes and ears. “It will first calibrate to your particular neural signature, and once it has, you will see me in the system in the control center.” He took a seat in his own chair and donned his hood.

            For Kallas, the effect was immediate. He stood in a bare room, illuminated with pale blue light. I’m usually waiting for five people to arrive, not just one. A minute later, Manziel appeared. “Welcome to the Historian Project, Dr. Manziel.”

…to be continued.


Catrina Bradley said...

Intriguing!!! I can almost guess what's going to happen, but I can't wait to see what you come up with.

Unknown said...

Ohhh, that's good! I like it. What a neat start. I love the calm way the Professor is handling Dr. M. Also very curious to see how it turns out--I sure have missed your stories. Great job!