Junior Engineer

Previously published in AUGURIES.

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'Today's the big day, then, Junior Engineer Ozul-K43. Today we make the intervention, and that's our work finished here. Your first major field mission and my last.'

K43 did not share the easy confidence of Sector Engineer F74. It was not just because this would be his last job under instruction. F74 was one of the most highly respected psychosocial engineers in the Galaxy. And yet having seen his working methods at close hand K43 could not see why. It had all seemed a bit too easy to be true. He knew that he, not much more than a raw recruit to the service, had no right to question F74. Yet, if he was going to learn, surely he had a right to seek better understanding?

'Honourable Engineer Jarel-F74 ...'

'Come on, K43. No need to be so formal. You know me well enough by now. I'm not going to bite your proboscis off! I was a young unqualified engineer myself once, too, remember.'

'It's a little difficult to explain.'

F74 laughed his peculiar, hissing laugh. 'No need to tell me. You're still worried about my choice of the visionary approach, aren't you?'

'I would always submit to your experience and wisdom, Honourable -'

'But you still think it's too risky, don't you?' interrupted F74 with a good-natured flair of his breathing appendages.

K43 looked abashed. He was very grateful to have been assigned to such a benign and knowledgeable Master. But it was so difficult to grasp some of the theoretical concepts being employed on this mission.

'Look, K43. These societies with a higher-than-normal emotional quotient can be baffling until you've seen a few of them. That's especially true when they're in the mid-primitive stage of development, like this one. Would you like me to go over some of the main principles again? There's plenty of time before the optimum moment of intervention.

K43 was a reserved youth but he could not reserve an involuntary snort of pleasure. The service would miss F74 when he retired.

§

'The man is obsessed,' whispered Apphias to Nardel. 'He's kept us on the march for hours now. My feet are as sore as those of a Philistine's donkey.'

'Don't worry my friend. The city can't be much more than an hour away.'

'And do you think he's going to let up when he reaches it? If I know him, he'll be wanting to be around the synagogues before sunset, waving his letters of introduction from the High Priest.'

'Yes, I suppose that is how things will go. I'm as much against heretics as anybody, but a man's got to give himself time to shake the dust from his sandals. Perhaps when - what's the matter, Apphias?'

'Oh, I just thought I saw something in the sky. It's nothing. A bird, perhaps.' Apphias shaded his eyes with a hand and squinted up at the cloudless sky. 'Can't see it now, though.'

§

K43 was not altogether convinced. 'Yes, I see that. But why didn't we target the one they call the Emperor? Surely it would be a good idea to work through the formal power structures?'

'I thought I'd shown you that the direct approach isn't always the best one? Besides, although it might not look like it at the moment, the Roman Empire is already past its best.

It needs some new impetus; something to focus on. Then it will have a really long lasting effect on the development of this planet.'

'It seems a promising enough proto-civilisation to me.'

'And so it is. Good institutions for a start. Some of cultural trends are reasonable enough, too. But what do you remember from your analysis of the main psycho-factors of the dominant species?'

'Definitely Type E. A strong tendency to mysticism and a remarkably high tendency to emotion-base rather than the usual logic-based belief structures.' F74 stopped his explanation for a moment to sit down and make few confident adjustments to the small panel, and the globe hanging above it spun a little faster and became a more opaque blue. Anyone could see that, despite what was on the face of things almost a casual approach, controlled excitement was rising within him. The moment of intervention was always something special, even for someone like F74 who had experienced them so many times before.

'This is a good mission for me to finish on, K43. Full of subtleties. But perhaps it is not so ideal for your first field trip. It would have been better perhaps if your first had been on a planet with a Type A or B species. But do you not see the main point? This Roman society is out of step with what is the norm here. Religion is less important to them than to most of the societies here. They are sorely lacking in that respect, just as they are promising in so many others. Look at their so-called deities. Children's stories! They even laugh at those stories themselves.'

'Well, all right,' said K43 dubiously. 'But since you've brought us to this part of the Empire, not even the centre, why don't we seek to intervene through one of the holy men here, the ones they call hasidim? That Honi the Circle-Drawer, for instance. Or the wild one they called Yeshu? Now, he had quite a following.'

'Ah, yes. Now you're beginning to get the idea. But both of them lacked something. Marvellous visionaries, and in many ways they were just what this species needed to set it moving in the right direction. The important thing, though, is that the intervention subject must also have what it takes to turn the visions into something more structured. Need I remind you of what happened to your Honi and Yeshu?'

'No,' said K43, a little ruefully. 'I've done all the studies you asked. Both of them were killed, one by his own followers. 'But couldn't an intervention at the right time have changed things? We could even to it now - their lives were recent, well within our time-adjustment potential.'

'You're not thinking, engineer,' said F74, more than a little shortly. 'You calculated the probability factors yourself, remember? Now, look at the screen and examine the profile of the one I've selected. He's the one right enough.'

K43 obediently looked at the screen. It certainly showed a very clear pattern. All the same, he couldn't help thinking that F74 was placing a lot of faith in the future actions of just one primitive creature.

But there was no time for further speculation. The moment of intervention was drawing near.

§

'I'm glad I don't have to stitch tents for him,' muttered Nardel grimly. 'He'd work me to death!'

'Saul, can we not rest for just a short while? The City of Damascus will wait for us.' Saul of Tarsus glared back at the unfortunate Apphias. 'There can be no rest for those who are about the work of The Lord!'

'You asked for that,' whispered Nardel. 'You should know the ways of the tent-maker by this time. Better to keep one's mouth closed lest a sandstorm should blow into it! Wait - what's he doing now? What's that noise?'

Saul fell to his knees, clapping his hand over his eyes. 'Who are you, Lord?'

'Who's he talking to?' asked Nardel. There's no-one here but we three.'

'Perhaps it's something to do with the noise we just heard. It frightened me, I don't mind telling you. There's something up with our Saul all right. He's still on his knees there, jabbering to himself. We'd best help him into the city.'

§

'That's all then. is it?'

F74 looked questioningly at his young apprentice. 'What were you expecting, K43?'

'There was just a flash and a bang and a few words that only the subject could hear. I was thinking that ... what I mean is ... is there nothing further to do on this mission? It seems so little after all the time spent on planning and analysis. Do we just leave the planet completely to its own fate now?'

'Come now, Engineer!' F74 was clearly struggling to keep control of his temper. 'I can't believe what I've just heard from you. These are the absolute basics of your profession. There's no excuse for you forgetting them, even on a first field mission. The rules of procedure state that there should be no further observation or intervention until the required time period has elapsed. If you qualify, you'll be carrying out the next intervention yourself.'

K43 could see F74's breathing appendages closing sharply at the thought. It was obvious that K43 would not qualify if his senior's report to the training board had anything to do with it. But he would have the last laugh. F74 didn't know that he was the son of the Sector Governor.

'When would the next intervention be for a species like this?' K43 tried to keep his tone neutral.

'In just over 2000 of their years'. K43 could see that in his mind F74 was already composing an unfavourable report to the board.

'I'd like to thank you for all the consideration you have shown to me during my assignment to you'.

'Tell me - no never mind'. F74 instead gave the formal blessing quickly and without feeling. 'K43, may I wish you all success in future missions.'

§

K43 apprehensively checked the panel again. There were times when he wished he'd gone into some other profession, but his father had to pull so many strings after his formal training period that he'd felt obliged. Anyway, he'd always managed his missions as a qualified engineer somehow. This was a tricky one, though. He admitted to himself that he could have done with some advice this time. From someone like F74, perhaps. Now there was a psychosocial engineer. The years had taught K43 just how good his old Master was. But F74 had long since retired, and was interested now only in developing new techniques in liquid art. Funnily enough, it was on this very planet that F74 had carried out his last mission before retiring. That had also been K43's final pre-qualification mission.

All of the main development trends forecast by F74 at the time of the last intervention had been fulfilled, and this civilisation was shaping up well after some difficult centuries. One more intervention should do the trick.

He glanced again at the profile. A remarkable one. It was that of a young man who had been an ordinary soldier, a corporal, in the Great War. Well, that would be the last war to rage on this planet. Adolf Shicklgrüber was the subject's name. Yes, he was sure that he'd picked the right one ...

§

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