Authors: Marc Stiegler
A team of superior U.S. hackers seeks to develop computer-controlled smart weapons for use against a hostile power, but the team members find they need a greater understanding of the problem itself as they search for a way to end a war between two superpowers without destroying the planet itself.
This is a work of fiction. All the characters and events portrayed in this book are fictional, and any resemblance to real people or incidents is purely coincidental.
Copyright © 1988 by Marc Stiegler
All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce this book or portions thereof in any form. .
A Baen Books Original
Baen Publishing Enterprises
260 Fifth Avenue
New York, NY. 10001
First Baen printing, January 1988
Cover art by David Mattingly
Printed in the United States of America
SIMON & SCHUSTER
1230 Avenue of the Americas
New York, NY. 10020
Electronic Version by Baen Books
To those who never stopseeking the third alternatives.
All side effects are effects.
We can never do merely one thing.
—First Law Of Ecology
Glare. Howling wind. A rope sliding upward in the snow. Sharp-cut steps in the mountainside. His leg straining to take that next step. Hilan Forstil knew nothing beyond that next step. He balanced on the dull edge of unconsciousness, yet he took that next step. And the next.
He remembered this feeling from long ago. The feeling was one of exhaustion—an exhaustion so deep that even the thought of death did not bother him. The memory came from a time over two decades in his past—from his time in Nigeria, working among starving children.
Such exhaustion made one sloppy, he knew. And such sloppiness was dangerous in struggles like this. The danger to himself didn't bother him—after all, he didn't care if he died—but it disturbed him that an error here could kill his rope partner.
On the other hand, it was her fault that they were here at all. An image flashed in his mind of Jan's face at their last rest stop. The flush of her cheeks, the brillJant of her blue eyes . . . her energy seemed too intense to be healthy. Dimly, he remembered having had such energy himself, standing at the base of the mountain. But the mountain and its vertical miles of glacial white had consumed him. It had not consumed her.
He wanted to curse her.
And he wanted to thank her. With every step he completed, he touched an inner power he had forgotten. He had worked so hard the last two decades to forge the tools of external power; such tools seemed fragile now.
The rope slackened. Hilan breathed a sigh of relief and slowed to match the speed of the rope.Keep the rope just barely dragging the ground between us, Jan had explained the day before,except during a—the rope yanked taut, causing Hilan to stumble—switchback!
He peered up. Sure enough, the chiseled footprints went on to his left for a short time, then veered back sharply to the right. Jan was directly above, climbing to the right with a cougar's enthusiasm. He couldn't go all the way around the switchback even if he had the energy: but if he continued to the left, the taut rope would drag Jan back as well. He took one more pressure-breath and shakily climbed straight up the mountain, shortcutting through e switc .
Noticing the jerking motions of the rope, Jan stopped to look back. Her mouth dropped open. "Hilan," she called loudly, "you can't—"
Hilan looked up at her, just as the snow yielded beneath his foot. He plunged through the snow bridge into the crevasse beneath.
The rope snapped taut, bouncing him wildly on the end. The plunge halted only a moment before he plummeted again and the rope slid farther ever the edge. He looked down into the shadowy cavern below, interested but not afraid. The all-crushing fatigue numbed his mind; he just didn't care. He contemplated his own emptiness, knowing that his lack of fear should be the greatest cause for fear.
His descent slowed, then stopped. He swung lazily in the endless, rocky fracture, listening to the sudden quiet. A wheezing cough echoed down from above. Hilan pictured Jan on the edge of the precipice, leaning into her ice axe with all her-strength to stop the fall. Both their lives depended on her endgranqe.
The realization of her danger finally impelled him to action. Miraculously, his ice axe yet dangled from his right wrist. He pressed his lips together for an explosive series of breaths—the whistling sound seemed almost natural now—and wriggled his ice axe into his backpack straps. He grasped the rope. The fatigue yielded to a last buildup of adrenalin.
He climbed over halfway up the rope before the adrenalin failed.
He clung to the rope, thinking about the danger to Jan. If he could not complete this climb, he had to save her. He still had his knife. He could cut the rope, freeing her from his own fate. He would save enough strength to complete that last act, if necessary. But he was not that lost yet, not quite yet.
Shadows. Deadly quiet. A rope anchored in the snow. His left arm stretching to grasp the next handheld. He balanced on the dull edge of unconsciousness, yet he took that next handheld. And the next.
The rope ended. Hilan reached over the lip of ice, heaving himself out of the crevasse into the glare and the howling wind.
The two-man celebration began with champagne. "A toast to the Soviet Union!" Jim Mayfield exclaimed, raising his glass.
Earl Semmens raised his as well; the glasses tinkled in midair. "A toast to peace," be offered.
"And above all, a least to tomorrow's Gallup poll results." Mayfield sipped the champagne. His eyes slid across the floor, lingering on the emblem woven with rich blues and golds into the carpet. It was his, at least for now. The emblem was the ofiicial seal of the President of the United States. He sat back down; the Secretary of State followed his lead.
Earl sat on the edge of his chair, staring out the window. He spoke in rehearsal of his planned statement to the press. "Yes, this treaty is another potent lever against the arms race. Now that we've curtailed the space-based Ballistic Missile Defense work, all incentives for building new missiles will disappear." He turned back to Mayfield, and for a moment his pudgy features held lines of worry. He tapped a nervous finger on the president's desk. "I wish they hadn't instigated that . . . little incident in Honduras just before the signing. God, they know how to goad us!" He shivered, then resumed his nervous tapping. "Well, we couldn't have done anything about that anyway, regardless of treaties. And the treaty's more impartant." He nodded his head, and his voice again sounded press-ready. "Yes, the whole world can sleep more securely now that the arms race in space has stopped."
Sometimes the elegant power of the Oval Office gave Jim a sense of grandeur. Seated behind a desk of massive proportions, a desk to dwarf even giants, he felt the ramifications of his decisions pulsing through the world. "Not quite everybody will sleep more securely, Earl. Those goddam contractors working on space weapons will have to find an honest way to make a living." He rubbed his hands. "We may balance the budget yet, Earl." He breathed a sigh of exultation. "Wouldn'tthatmake a hit on the polls."
The door from the Rose Garden swept open with smooth, decisive authority. Even without looking, Mayfield knew who it had to be—though he could not prevent himself from shooting a frown toward the door.
Only one person other than himself entered this room as if she owned it: Mayfield's Vice President, Nell Carson. Mayfield smiled blandly, confident that his irritation remained hidden. Watching her look back at him, Jim saw that Nell had no intention of concealing her irritation. It poisoned the joy of his celebration.
Sometimes the elegant power of the Oval Office gave Jim a sense of claustrophobic choking. As Nell looked at him, he felt a brief desire to plead that it wasn't his fault, whatever had happened. His eyes returned involuntarily to the emblem in the carpet; it reassured him.
Nell stepped to the center of the room to address both men. She spoke with tight control that did not reveal her gentle South Carolina accent. "Congratulations, Jim. You have the record for the most treaties with the Soviet Union in the history of American presidents. I have one question."
Jim looked up into her face, searching for the Nell he had known during the campaign—the Nell with the patient smile who had charmed the crowds with her enthusiasm and warmth. She had been a terrific asset during the cmnpaign. When she spoke, the voters believed.
Unfortunately, the charming Nell had faded under the weight of office. Now he could only see the Nell who had devastated opponents with her incisive criticisms. Jim's throat felt dry as he filled the silence. "Yes? What one question do you have?"
"Now that you have set the presidential record, I was wondering: Can you stop now?"
Mayfield's smile turned gray, and his heart missed a beat—something it did more often now than before, something he should check . . . He excised the thought from his mind, removing it with surgical perfection, and reluctantly met her gaze, contemplating her question, looking beyond it to her problem.
Nell Carson was the problem, he decided. She never took a moment to look at the bright side. Perhaps that explained the drawn lines in her face. During the campaign, the only objection the media had raised about Nell was that she was too young. She hadlookedtoo young. No one said that any longer. Mayfield sighed. "Why do you always complain about our successes? You know we needed that treaty. We had to get that treaty. Our position with the public was slipping." He shrugged. "We have to depend on treaties, not weapons, if we're going to have a chance of dealing with our domestic problems."
Nell looked into his eyes. It seemed Jim could hear his words echoing back to him, amplified and clarified by Nell's implicit interpretation. She asked, "Who are you trying to convince?"
Mayfield stared at her in amazement. "I'm convincing the public, of course." Her hawkish glare made him shiver. "If I didn't know better, I'd swear you were a Republican!"
A tight smile crossed her face. "Perhaps I should be." She leaned over Jim's desk. "Don't you see the problem with what you've done? Six months ago, you made the agreement on Global Consequences of Nuclear War. There you agreed that, above a certain level of nuclear war, the radiation and climate of a war would destroy the attacker, even if the defender didn't shoot back. Now you put a limit on Ballistic Missile Defense. Either one of these treaties, all by itself, is okay. But when combined, they form a terrible danger. Don't you see how these separate agreements interact?"
She paused in her speech. A stiff creak announced Earl's attempt to shift his chair away from her.
She did not relent. "Winning an all out war now sounds believable. Without any missile defenses, but with an agreed threshold for nuclear suicide, the first side to launch its missiles is protected from retaliation—because the first strike will deliver as many megatons of destruction as the Earth can absorb. If the victim shoots back, he's destroying whatever survivors remainin his own country."
Mayfield waved the objection aside. "Don't be boring; we've discussed this a million times. The Russians don't think that way. That would be the attitude of a madman!"
"That would be the attitude of a terrorist," came Nell's curt reply. "With strategies based on terror, only terrorists have a chance of winning." Her eyes swept over both men. Jim shivered.
Neil's mouth softened into a sad smile. "And I don't see a single terrorist in this room. I don't even see anyone willing to speak out about clear violations of national boundaries—like the fiasco outside Yuscaran."
Jim looked speechlessly at Earl. He felt like cement cracking under the weight of a speeding truck. "How did you find out about that?"
Nell laughed joylessly. "You sent me to Texas to give Kurt McKenna his medal, remember? I have the clearances, Jim, and under the circumstances, I had suflicient need to know." She lifted her briefcase and thumped it against the polished mahogany surface, making Jim wince. With forceful snaps, she released the latches and removed a television with a tiny video player. "I think you should see this for yourself, Jim."
He had no time to object before the tape rolled into action.
They were traveiing down a twisting trail, cloaked in juggle growth. It looked like a sticky, humid day, which made Mayfield appreciate the cool comfort of the Oval Office. He could hear tracks clanking in the background, though the sound was muted. Ahead of them on the trail was an armored vehicle. Mayfield wasn't sure, but he thought it was probably a Bradley armored personnel carrier. He vaguely remembered authorizing a few for the Hondurans.
Nell acted as commentator. "We're watching through the gun cameras of a personnel carrier," she explaiped.
A dull explosion sounded, and the screen washed out in a searing white flame. A scream came from very close by. With a chill, Mayfield realized that there had been people inside the machine now turning into an inferno.
Nell spoke with dry, scientific precision. "They hit the Bradley with a shaped charge. The penetrating explosion hit the ammunition magazine. The brightness of the explosion severely damaged our gun camera; the rest of this tape has been computer enhanced."
The whiteout of the screen faded; a ghostly soft image replaced it. Men scurried into the jungle as the second Bradley disgorged its troops. The computer enhancement kept the soldiers visible to Mayfield's untrained eye, though he suspected that without the computer's intervention, they would have disappeared in the heavy foliage. They all looked like Honduran troops.
One Caucasian stood out by virtue of his uniform and his pale blue eyes. He took off with astonishing speed, loping over the fallen trees, hurrying away from the others. The camera lurched as another explosion sounded, muted, but somehow closer. A sound he had not noticed before stopped—the sound of an engine thrumming. He could not see it, but Mayfield realized that the Bradley from which they watched the scene had been hit, though the camera continued to roll.
The focus shifted to another ragged cluster of men with machine guns, beyond the burning Bradiey. Their seemingly random pattern proved quite methodical. They engaged the scattered Honduran troops one handful at a time, overwhelming them piecemeal.
Something seemed wrong with this battle. Mayfield asked, "Where's our air cover?"
"Our helicopters are old and tired, Jim. They're too dangerous to use in battle."
"What about artillery support?"
"We were using our newest radios for communication. They're very delicate, it turns out—oh, the boxes are mil-spec and indestructible, but their frequencies wobble and they get out of tune all the time. So nobody heard about the ambush until it was over." She paused, then ended. "I asked Kurt about it at the reception. He didn't exactly answer me; I suspect he couldn't say what he wanted to in civilized company. Instead he very politely told me that he was getting out of the army—that he intended to get as far away from it as he could go."
Only a couple of Honduran troops remained, hunched in silent fear behind trees and rocks. Suddenly another explosion sounded and half the enemy force fell to the ground. The other half dived for cover. They started shooting in several different directions, though no targets were visible. The gunfire achieved a syncopated rhythm, and continued for a time. One by one, however, the enemy troops twitched as if kicked, then stopped firing.
When just a few enemy troops remained, a long, camouflaged blur leaped out of the brush. "Kurt McKenna?" Mayfield asked. Nell just nodded.
A scuffle followed, then shooting, and Kurt spun down, struck. One of the two surviving opponents lifted his pistol, but McKenna rolled again, and the enemy with the gun went down.
The computer enhancement zoomed in on this struggle between the last two men—the one with the pale blue eyes and the other with . . . the other one also had pale blue eyesl
"Who is that?" demanded.
"That's the Russian who organized this little party. Didn't you know? You authorized classifying this skirmish, so that no one would find out about the Russian involvement."
"Oh my God." Mayfield had classified it because it was too embarrassing, not because of any Russian involvement. Perhaps he should have read the report after all.
"To my knowledge, this is the first time Americans and Soviets have met in combat in this decade."
It wasn't a fair fight—Kurt had lost the use of one arm when he was shot earlier. Yet a few seconds later, he was the only one left standing.
Nell shut off the tape. Her voice changed from analytical to commanding. "Jim, we can't sign any more treaties like this last one."
Mayfield shuddered. But he couldn't let Nell Carson, or even some incident in Central America, interfere with the main task. The next election was only a year and a half away. He leaned back in his chair. "Don't worry, Nell. Everything's under control."
For just a moment, Nell's shoulders sagged. Then she straightened and headed for the door. "I'm counting on it," she said, leaving as abruptly as she had arrived.
After a long moment, President Mayfield turned back to the Secretary and spoke quietly. Each relaxed into a smile. Earl popped another mint in his mouth, and Mayfield accepted one as well. The celebration continued.
They reached the glory of the mountain's peak. Hilan reveled in the view; his joy seemed too great for a single person—it bordered on reverence.
Below, sunlight chased itself up glacier-white slopes. The streaks of brilliance followed his own path, up from the clouds that clung low to the mountain's side. Above, a single white wisp of cloud traced across deep blue skies. The blue had a sharpness that comes of air too thin to fill a man's lungs.
Earth lay across the horizon, beyond a pillowecl carpet of clouds. Only the grandest features revealed themselves at this distance. The planet did not seem small, yet it seemed conquerable, as this mountain had been. Hilan realized with hope that indeed mankind had penetrated the most dangemus places the planet offered. Yet he despaired, remembering that now the descendants of those explorers were themselves the greatest remaining threat.
Hilan had changed in the years since his service in Nigeria. He had changed most during a trip there several years later. Starvation no longer occurred frequently enough to cause a global reaction, but it continued; malnutrition hid in every shadow. The population had grown. Hilan realized that for every ten children he had saved, eleven would now die. Yes, Hilan and the others had held famine at bay for a moment. But they had not changed the culture that made famine possible. In some final analysis, his had ended in failure.
His friends had rejected his analysis. He had tried to reject it as well, but he could not.
He had entered politics, believing that better solutions to the problems of mankind would require the accurate application of power. He did not yet know how to apply that power. Probably no one did. But for the moment, he would work to consolidate the power, in preparation for the day when he, or someone, learned how to use it.
Jan led him down the slopes to a shallow depression. Short ridges ringed it on three sides, protecting them from a bitter wind as they made camp. She borrowed his swiss army knife to slice open their freeze-dried food pouches, then started pacing between the packs and the stove to prepare dinner. Her cheeks glowed with an energy that struck Hilan again as somehow too fierce, too burning for a healthy woman. "Believe me, it's much easier going down," she promised him. "If this hadn't been such a great campsite, we could have gone all the way down the mountain today with no problem."
Hilan groaned softly and lay on his sleeping bag. Only his eyes moved, watching Jan pace.
"So, are you happy you came along? I am." Jan turned away in a fit of coughing. When she turned back, the flush of her cheeks had faded. She handed him back his knife.
Holding it, Hilan remembered his earlier desperate thoughts to save Jan if he could not make it. "When I stepped into that crevasse, I almost killed you. I wonder whether it makes sense to rope people together—whether it wouldn't be smarter to sacrifice the one who falls to guarantee thatsomeonesurvives."
"Nonsense. Falls like that remind us why we wear ropes and why we make everyone on the climbing team interdependent in the first place. I'm just glad we responded effectively to the crisis."
"Did we?" Hilan stared at the rips in his gloves, cut during his climb up the rope. "You know, I was so tired before we even reached that crevasse that I hardly noticed the fall." Thinking about it, he was there again. "It was really strange, just staring down at the rocks that would kill me." His eyes unfocused. "I didn't react correctly at all."
Jan laughed. "Hilan, you had theperfectreaction—no reaction at all. I wouldn't worry about it."
Hilan grunted. "You're probably right. I'll miss the switchback over and over, each time reinforcing the lesson that I learned. In fact, I'll learn the lesson far better than if I'd simply gotten scared when I fell. It'll make a great reinforced revelation. Sounds like a good example for you to teach at your beloved Institute."
"Yes," Jan said softly, "an excellent example."
Hilan exhaled. The air rushed from his lungs with the easy freedom that reminded him how high up they were. He had never thought of breathing as an effort, or of the friction of the air upon his throat; now, in their absence, he knew them.
"Jan." His muscles still hung in limp exhaustion, but his thoughts raced. "Thank you for bringing me here. In my role at home, I've welded myself so deeply to my senatorial image that sometimes I wonder whether I'm still here, or whether I'm only an image. New I know."
"I thought you'd like my mountain." She coughed. Hilan studied her for a moment. Her flush from the climb had faded. Now she seemed pale—as much too pale as she had earlier seemed too flush. "I have a favor to ask of you."
He sighed. "You know how to exploit even a moment's weakness. What do you want me to do—help you save the world?"
Jan gave him an expression of surprised pleasure that would have fit well on an American in the Orient who rounded a corner and ran headlong into an old high school chum.
That reaction pleased Hilan immensely. Jan did not understand him as well as he understood her.
Even among his old friends, Hilan had been surprised by how rare and how out of place the people who personally sought ways to save the world were. Even Hilan's wife did not understand this fixation of his on the problems of huge scale—questions of famine, of economic collapse, of nuclear war. Jan, like himself, was one of those very few who thought in such terms on a daily basis.
But Jan was an even rarer breed of human being than those who sought answers to the big questions—she had found some answers.
She had not yet solved any of thebigproblems, but she had begun to heal at least one medium-size one—she had synthesized a therapy that could usually cure the most common American addiction: cigarette smoking.
Jan continued. "I don't know whether the favor I'm asking you will help save the world or not. Perhaps it will. I wish I knew." Another cough punctuated the sentence. "What I want you to do is talk with Nathan about the Sling."
"Yes. It's E military research projeqt."
Despite the exhaustion, and the stitfness of his skin from cold and exposure, Hilan managed to grimace. "God, I hate the military." Again, the air left his lungs too fast. "I wish we didn't need it."
Jan smothered a laugh. "Our mammoth military-industrial complex isn't very American, is it? You know, the first act of the American government after the Revolutionary War was to disband its standing army. They sold the navy's ships. America's forces were reduced to 80 men, none above the rank of captain."
She stretched out on the sleeping bag beside him. "Even today you can see the strength of the anti-military roots of our country. How else could America engage in fierce public debates over permission for advisers to carry sidearms? Even at the heights of our military adventurism, an astute observer can see that it's unnatural for us: we do it so badly. We make better businessmen than soldiers."
Hilan had never thought of it in quite this light before. "Yet America wound up as the principal adversary of the most powerful military force in human history." He thought about the absurdity of the situation. "How did we get ourselves into this position?" He shook his head. "Even more important, how have we managed to pull it off for such along time?"
"For decades, we succeeded as a superpower by holding the ultimate club. We succeeded because we had more, and better, nuclear weapons." She shook her head. "But that doesn't work anymore. How could we convince a cold-eyed political pragmatist like Sipyagin that America would use nuclear arms, knowing that the Soviets would destroy us in turn? The nuclear threat served us well for a long time, but its time has come to an end. No one believes we can use it anymore."
Hilan on his bag, trying to burrow into it. The chilled air made the goose down warmth precious. "It's impossible for anyone to believe that we'd use nukes as long as Mayfield is the decision maker. Some people have trouble believing he can use a letter opener, much less a nuke." Hilan tried to say it without passion. President Mayfield was a member of his own party, after all.
Jan nodded. "You know, both the Soviets and the Americans go through cycles of confrontational behavior. You might think the greatest danger looms whon both countries reach the peak of their aggression cycles at the same time. But that's not true. The greatest danger occurs when the cycles go out of phase—when the United States reaches one of its lowest lows and the Soviet Union reaches one of its highest highs."
The cold of the glacial air reached Hilan's heart. "And we've come to that moment in the cycle."
Jan didn't answer.
"So what's the Sling Project?
Jan laughed at the compound of despair and hope in his voice. "We make better businessmen than soldiers. We must fight, then, as businessmen."
Hilan tried to snort, but it took too much "A division of businessmen wouldn't last very long against a division of soldiers."
"No, of course not. We'd still need soldiers. But we can do with a lot fewer soldiers than some countries because we have another strength: we have crossed the threshold one form of society to another. Our oppouents live in the Industrial Age. We stand on the brink of the Information Age. We must build an Information Age system to defend ourselves."
"And just how do we that?"
Jan smiled at his limp form. "You look so exhausted—and so curious at the same time. I think I'll leave you in this state and let Nathan tell you the rest of the stoyy."
Hilan groaned. "Very well. When would you like to introduce us?"
Jan closed her eyes. "That may not work," she said. She coughed again, and this time it racked her whole body. Blood spattered the soft snow, a dark obscenity in the evening sunlight. "Dammit," she muttered, "I better at least get off the mountain."
Hilan rose unsteadily to his knees. "What's wrong? What's happening?"
"I'm really sorry, Hilan. The climb down may be harder than I'd hoped.
Jan rose to her feet and put her hands on his shoulders. "Hilan, you're a born crusader. In some ways you remind me of Nathan." She looked away for a moment. "But I haven't always marched to a crusader's rhythm. I was quite content as a chain-smoking psychotherapist, until three years ago. Then I hadmyreinforced revelation." She coughed again. "I found out I had lung cancer."
Hilan had met Jan just a year ago, through another of his rare crusader friends, who had just discovered the Institute. He'd wondered briefly about her past, about why she molded the Institute into a national resource that did all the things it was famous for—from seminars on mass media, to job matching, to weapon systems development—but he hadn't thought about it enough. Now it was obvious.
"The chemotherapy they have these days is quite terrific. They can keep you alive and active, even while the cancer is eating you up inside. Then the end comes quite suddenly." She closed her eyes. "Leslie and Nathan both insisted I shouldn't challenge the mountain this last time. I guess they were right."
Hilan stared with helpless horror.
"We'll find a hospital in the morning. Better get some sleep—we'll start early."
The ache deep within his bones allowed him no other response. He slept, but his sleep roiled with odd images: images of Soviets, and cigarettes, and nuclear missiles. Woven through them all were images of a man, dangling in a crevasse, with only the strength of the rope and the taut determination of his partner's straining muscles to save him.
SNAP. In games of ball and racket, such as tennis, the racket must cease to be a separate external object. It must become one with the player—an extension of his arm. The arm and the eye must also meld through the mediation of the mind. And though the mind controls this connection, it too must submerge its separateness, its awareness of self, into the union. Only the racket connected directly to the eye plays outstanding tennis.
CLICK. With the acquisition of the flatcam video recorder, the news reporter develops a similar relationship with his camera. With the tape riding quietly on his hip, and the flat camera lens pinned on his lapel, individual virtuosos can repiace the old-style news teams. The camera is almost invisible; the reporter is quite inconspicuous. As he becomes less conspicuous, he becomes less inhibiting to the people who are his targets. The reporter's eye and the reporter's camera become a single device with which to capture the images he will later clean and craft in the lab. The lab supplies the magic. It is a place where background noise and foreground lighting can be toned to highlight the message, all by using powerful techniques of Information Age filtering.
WHIR. Bill Hardie knows that he has been born in the right moment of history—the beginning of the era flatcam journalism. He can see from the camera lens in his lapel—not merely the lighting and the people, but the action, the emotions, the sensations. He can zero in on those elements with the skill of an astronomer picking out galaxies on the edge of the universe. Sometimes he can sense the critical moment, allowing him to shift his attentionbeforethe event, to capture its very beginnings, rather than its concluding passage.
JUMP. The only flaw in Bill's coverage is an occasional jerkiness to the image, a reflection of a certain anxious impatience with real life. His analysis is too important to wait on the sluggish motions of other men. Fortunately, the jitter of his camera, like the noise of murmured voices in the background, can be removed in the laboratory.
FOCUS. Bill recognizes the heavy burden his talent places on him. He understands his mission in life. He must broadcast truth in a pure form to all people. Just as his computer filters the background noise that blurs the coversation, he must filter out the foreground noise that blurs the fundamental reality.
BREAK. Bill frowns at the young geological engineer from the Zetetic Institute up on the stage. The engineer poses a serious problem for Bill. This engineer introduces blaring noise into the foreground, drowning out the truth. The truth is: The people of the State of Washington must not let the United States dump its radioactive wastes there. Nuclear power plants and radioactive wastes are bad; this is the truth. Bill focuses his attention on the nuances of the situation, to wring victory from every tiny image as it happens.
SHADE. Three men sit spotlighted on the stage facing a dimly lit auditorium. Cigarette smoke forms miniature weather inversions here and there in the audience. A puff of acrid blue haze blows across Bill's face; he shifts locations.
FOCUS. The spotlights create the mood of an interrogation, with unseen prosecutors and accusers contemplating the three men nearly blinded by the light. The Zetetic engineer sits in the middle of the three, flanked by two older men—directors from the Power Commission. These directors are the ones who had hired the Zetetic Institute to act as an impartial consultant, to assess the safety of a radioactive waste storage facility near Hanford, Washington.
Why had they hired the Institute? They had known that the Institute had a reputation for doing good engineering. Equally important, the Institute had a reputation for presenting that engineering smoothly in public.
Indeed, the opening of the discussion is dry and crisp, almost too civilized; the Zetetic engineer simply presents facts about the geological properties of the proposed waste site. With careful clarity, he shows why it is a safe place to put radioactives. Bill realizes the Power Commission has taken a risk in hiring the Institute: Zetetics search diligently facts, and facts could go against the Power Commission as easily as they could go in its favor.
The men of the Power Cemmission, in their dark blue suits, with their tight, closed faces, mirror the audience's hostility. They perform as perfect Establishment objects of disdain. Had the engineer sat to the side rather than in the middle of the trio, Bill would zoom on them and construct a crisp image of Good versus Evil—the audience versus the Power Commission.
But the engineer sits in the middle, looking gentle, even friendly, in his light blue suit and solid red tie. He maintains an open smile and equally open eyes, apparently oblivious to the emotional tension that stews amidst the combatants. Only the careful precision of his words hints that his understanding of the situation goes deep. Bill will have to perform magic with the lighting and the shading of the stage to make him look sinister. Even then, Bill's success will be incomplete.
PAN. Ovals of pale white float in the darkness of the auditorium: the faces of the concerned citizens who live near Hanford. From here the questions spring, randomly, in sharp tones of frustration and anger. One oval bobs twice, then rises. It is a young woman with spiked hair and mottled jeans. She asks, "How can we make them shut those plants down if we let them dump their waste products on our land?"
When the engineer responds to the woman's question, his voice warms the room with its honesty. "The best way to eliminate nuclear power is, of course, to find a better form of power, such as fusion or solar power satellites. Remember, if you just tell the Power Commission that they can't build nuclear power plants, without telling them what would be better, they'll probably build a coal-burning plant. Is that really better?" The engineer shrugs. "That's a separate study, of course."
ZOOM. For just a moment, the young man frowns. Bill mtches that expression, savoring it, knowing it will be useful. "This is the safest place we can find to put the wastes that already exist. In other words, if we put them someplace else, it's more dangerous. Many of you are concerned about how dangerous nuclear reactors are. Don't you see that if you won't let the power companies use the safest methods they can find, then you are creating a self-fulfilling prophecy? Do you believe that you should sabotage the reactors to show how dangerous they are? That is exactly what a person does when he prevents others using safety precautions."
WHIR, WHIR, WHIR. This is beautiful! Bill can use that bit about sabotage: it will make the engineer sound hostile, despite the suit cheer of his voice.
PAN. A middle-aged man with a beard and a faded flannel shirt speaks, arms crossed, from a slouched position in his seat. "We have the right to decide what to put outside our town."
SLIDE. The engineer nods. "That's true." His smile freezes in position as he looks into the speaker's eyes. "You; have the right to decide. But living in a democracy is not just a matter of rights and freedoms; it is also a matter of responsibilities and duties. You have the right to shout 'Fire!' in a crowded theater. You have a duty to not exercise that freedom.
"Similarly, here you have the right to decide. But you have a duty to make that decision based on the most caueful, rational analysis of the facts that you can. You have a duty not to decide based on a general hatred for the Power Commission, as some people might. And you have a duty not to decide on the basis of a love of high technology, as other people might."
CLIP. A voice from the darkness shouts, "It's not fair that it all goes in our backyards."
ROLL. The engineer sighs. "Our society carries with it a number of undesirable features. The only fairness we can approach is to spread the unfairness as fairly as we can. Let them put the radioactives here; it's the best place. But make them put the missile silos and the strip mines elsewhere. If someone figures out another arrangement that's as safe as putting the radioactives here, but that's more fair, and that doesn't have anyothereven more serious consequences, let's do that instead."
ZOOM. Another middle-aged man stands. This one wears a suit that might have done justice to a member of the Power Commission. "What about our property values? When they put that radioactive dump in our backyards, we'll-be destroyed."
SLIDE. Another nod comes from the engineer. "Of course, if the Power Commission handles the waste properly, the property values should not be affected. So to encourage them, we recommend that the Commission be required to pay the owner of a property the diiference between the value of the land considering the presence of the site, and the value of the land if the site weren't here, when he sells. We've subcontracted with a real estate assessor to establish a set of baseline values." He glanced sideways at the Commission men with a hint of amusement. "This was not the recommendation that the Commission liked most."
PAN. An elderly lady rasps from the front, "What if they don't handle the wastes properly? What if they make a mistake?"
ZOOM. Sorrow masks the Zetetic's face for a moment. "That's what we must prevent. As I've shown, there are a wide veriety of mistakes that the system can tolerate because the base rock of the area is fundamentally safe. And the shipping containers are also safe from a wide variety of human errors and natural calamities. But ultimately, even this system must rely human beings to not invent new kinds of errors. So we asked ourselves the following question: What mechanism could we use to inspire the operators of the site to seek out and correct unforeseen probllems before they become critical?"
The young man smiles as he contemplates the probing analysis he has done on this problem. "Do you know how the Romans guaranteed the quality of their bridges? In the opening ceremony, the men designed the bridge floated on a underneath while the first carts passed over. If the bridge collapsed, the builder of the bridge went with it. This ritual guaranteed the construction of many good bridges."
CUT. This story gets a short, murmured chuckle from the audience, as if against their own will, they appreciate the justice of the system.
SLIDE. The Zetetic engineer waves an open hand. "We have a similar plan here, involving both a carrot and a stick. For the stick, we recommend that the chief operating engineer and the plant manager for the waste site be required to live within twenty miles of the site during their tenure.
"We also recommend protection for engineer. If he finds grave hazards with the plant that he cannot fix because of expense or politics, then he can blow the whistle with security: The Power Commission will be required to pay him five years' salary. Thus, the man in the best position to know about new dangers has a 'parachute' to protect him from the people who have the most to lose in fixing the problem."
PAUSE. The audience seems struck by this approach to guaranteeing safety. They don't know if it will work or not, but at it is at least different; Even Bill feels a stab of surprise. He clenches his teeth with resolve, remembering that even this novel idea does not change the basic truth.
FLASH. A woman in the back, with two children squirming beside her, speaks. "Are you telling us that the danger from these radioactive wastes is zero?"
PAN. "Of course not," the engineer replies, leaving Bill with a wave of relief. He can certainly usethatreply for some mileage. "What I'm tellin you is that the danger from the radioactive dump is less than the danger of driving your car home tonight."
CUT. The discussion goes on, but to no purpose in Bill's value system. Most of the people leave with the same opinions they held upon arrival. But Bill knows that the engineer, with his facts, has swayed some of those people away from the truth. Herein Bill sees the significance of his own life: He must bring those people back to the fold, and convert others—enough others to defeat the damned Zetetic Institute.
Indeed, the Institute, and its emphasis on facts represent a grave danger to more issues other than the Hanford waste storage debate. Bill sees a task of greater scope facing him. Perhaps part of his purpose is to destroy the purveyors of such facts, facts that by denying truth become a travesty of truth.
CUT. CUT. CUT. CUT. The size of the editing job he faces with this video shakes him; the Zetetie engineer has been smooth indeed. The engineer qualifies as a politician, despite his early recitations on ground waiter, earthquakes; and mining costs. However, that smoothness does not worry Bill unduly: after all, whoever gets the last word wins the argument. And in news reporting, the editing reporteralwaysgets the last word.
Yuri Klimov decided that it was the ivory figurines that lent the cold formality to the room. The shiny figurines glared at him from their perches in the shiny black bookcases. Despite their carefully kept luster, however, they were old. Age had worn them to soft curves in a thousand little places meant for sharply carved angles. Age had worn them as age had worn the General Secretary himself, seated across the mahogany table from Yurii.
General Secretary Sipyagin closed his eyes. Yurii feared he might have dozed off, but his eyes opened again, in a slow, blinking motion. His pallid skin folded into a smile. "Delightful, Yurii. I am pleased you have found the Americans easy to deal with."
Yurii shrugged. "Mayfield has little choice but to yield. His people practically advertise their need for paper assurances. All we need do is squeeze," he closed his fist ever so gently, "and concessions flow forth." He smiled. "Mayfield got into office by promising to relax worldwide tensions. He must sign, and sign, and sign again to maintain his position."
"Nevertheless, you handle him like a master. Now, a few years ago when we tried negotiating with Keefer andhishenchmen things were very different.
"The secret is to be able to think as the Americans think—without losing our Soviet pragmatism." He shook his head, and spoke with just a hint of puzzlement. "They do not think like us, you know.
Sipyagin coughed in a sound of disgust. "Yes. They think like weak children."
Yurii opened his mouth to object, then closed it. "Yes, often like children."
"We'll start a new missile program immediately. When those crazy Americans were toying with space defenses it was a bad investment to build missiles—who knew what kind of countermeasures we might have to retrofit? At last, we've been relieved of this burden of uncertainty."
Yurii smiled. "Yes, now we can sharpen our strategic edge."
Sipyagin gurgled with laughter. "As if we needed to sharpen it any more."
Yurii joined the laughter. It was wonderful, sharing a joke with the General Secretary, despite his infirmities. Or perhaps because of them. "With this treaty, it will be easy to maintain our strategic advantage. It might make more sense at this point to start undermining their tactical forces. I'll see what my men can do in the next round of discussions."
Sipyagin nodded. "A marvelous idea." He turned away to look at a stack of wrinkled papers by his side
Clearly the General Secretargr had dismissed him, but Yurii had one more request. "Sir, there is one last thing I would like to investigate in the strategic realm."
"I question this whole cencept of global consequences for a nuclear war. I know that our modellers agree with their modellers: you can set off just so many megatons before the radiation releases and the climate are so massive that they span the planet, no matter where they get set off. But many of those modellers are soft civilians, who want us to avoid nuclear warfare for their own reasons. I can't help wondering if the threshold might be higher than these people think. Simulation is a soft science, as I'm sure you know. Its results should not be left in the hands of biased civilians. If we knew that the threshold were higher, we would have an enormous edge over the Americans; we could continue barraging them with nuclear weapons even after they had ceased fire. Living in their fantasy world of nuclear danger, they would fear killing their own surviyors:
The General Secretary chuckled. "Control of a nuclear war would belong completely to us then, wouldn't it? Very well." He waved his hand—was it shaking?—toward the door. Yurii felt Sipyagin's weary eyes follow him as be swept through it.
Yutii breathed deeply. The air in the hall was stale, but he felt refreshed nonetheless. Interviews with the General Secretary always reminded him how wonderful it was to be young and healthy.
In the Information Age, the first step to sanity is FILTERING. Filter the information; extract the knowledge.
—Zetetic Commentaries, Kira Evans
They held an early ceremony—early enough to discourage people from coming, early enough to complete quickly, early enough to catch the morning dew before it evaporated. Dampness still shimmered on the rocks and markers that dotted the cemetery.
"I am the resurrection and the life, saieth the Lord; he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live . . ."the minister's voice droned on.
Leslie felt disconnected from the service, as though watching through a telescope the odd behavior of an alien culture. It left him calm—perhaps too calm. He had lost too many people to be overwhelmed by the loss of one more. He would not be overwhelmed this time, though this time he had lost the most wonderful woman he had ever known: his wife, Jan Evans.
His mind skipped briefly across the toll death had taken around him during the years. Leslie Evans had flown as an Air Force fighter pilot. Even in peacetime, one fourth of all fighter pilots never reached retirement age. How odd for him to be attending Jan's funeral, rather than the other way around. There had certainly been moments during the last agonizing days of her life that he wished he could have reversed their positions, if only to give her a few hours without pain.
Perhaps the crowning irony was that her impending death had caused her to save his life. He too had been a cigarette smoker, until Jan contracted lung cancer. Jan had used him as her first guinea pig in her efforts to develop better cures for smoking. His fingers twitched at the thought of the cigarettes he had not touched for two years.
". . . and whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die . . ."
He could not have thanked her or loved her enough, had she lived a thousand years.
He heard a sniffle to his right. From the corner of his eye he watched his daughter, Kira, as she stared off to the horizon. Despite her sniffle, she seemed more angry than sad. Leslie knew the focus of her anger. He had watched her carefully during these last few days. Her attitudes reminded him of Jan in her youth. Kira had graduated from Virginia Tech just in time to witness the last throes of Jan's battle; now her graduation ceremony would seem stale and pointless. Leslie reached out and took her hand in his. She did not look at him, but her grip held surprising strength. Her nails dug into his hand. The pain seemed more real, more in tune with the grief battering his mind, than the words of the minister.
". . . Death will be swallowed up in victory . . ."
He saw Kira's face tighten with renewed anger. She was not a person to sit on her emotions without acting; Leslie worried about what she might do. She had engaged in long sessions with the Zetetic computers since coming home, searching for something. She had not tried to alter any of the data bases, but two days ago, she had mentioned that she had accepted a job with a small advertising firm. When Leslie did his own data base search, he found that this particular firm had just won a big contract with the largest tobacco company in the country. Leslie felt tired every time he thought about what that might mean. And of course, it wouldn't do him any good to confront her about it.
". . . When I consider thy Heaven, the work of thy fingers, the moon and the stars, which thou hast ordained . . ."
Nathan might be able to talk to her about it. Kira and her uncle had always had a special understanding. Leslie shifted his head to look at Nathan Pilstrom.
Nathan gazed at the preacher with calm, clear eyes. Nathan had not seen so many deaths as Leslie; he did not share Leslie's numbness to human mortality. But Nathan had his own sort of protection, a way of accepting the immediate reality as the starting point for his thoughts. He never dwelled on might-have-beens.
Nathan himself seemed surprised at times by his own stolid acceptance of events gone by. Even more surprising, his acceptance did not dull his enthusiasm for changing things as they might be tomorrow—things over which he could still exercise control. He had a pragmatic, Zetetic way of thinking. Nathan himself attributed his perspective to Jan's influence, but Leslie knew that the seeds had always been there. It seemed natural for Nathan to devise new ways of viewing the world.
But it didn't seem quite as natural for him to run a world-famous Institute. Jan had thrust him into that position, her last and greatest effort. Leslie wondered if Nathan might not harbor a mild irritation with Jan for sticking him with that responsibility. Because of Jan, he now had to deal with politics, and with politicians.
". . . Almighty God, our Heavenly Father, in whose hands are the living and the dead: we give these thanks for all Thy servants who have laid down their lives in the service of our country . . ."
Leslie looked far to his right to see Senator Hilan Forstil. Forstil was the only politician he had met whom he hadn't disliked on sight. He didn't understand his own lack of hostility; Forstil seemed as phony as any of them. Jan had assured him that Forstil was a straight shooter. Leslie took her word for it as long as he didn't have to bet money.
In this moment, however, Leslie thought he saw what Jan had meant. Of all the people at this funeral, Forstil seemed most grief-stricken. He stood apart from the others, speaking to no one, grappling with some deep personal loss.
And another person he didn't know—a young, serious, dean-shaven man—also stood separate from the others. Leslie was pretty sure he was Kurt McKenna, a kid just out of Special Forces, recruited for the Institute by Jan. He wondered how the gung-ho attitude of a ranger would mesh with Zetetic philosophy; the Institute fought fanaticism with a zeal that itself bordered on the fanatical. Kurt would no doubt set off new kinds of fireworks within the ZI realm; Leslie hoped they would be healthy.
". . . grant to them Thy mercy, and the light of Thy presence; and give us such a lively sense of Thy righteous will, that the work which Thou hast begun in them may be perfected . . ."
The ceremony ended. Leslie hugged his daughter tightly. Nathan came up beside them, and Leslie and Kira opened their arms to him as well. For a while the three of them stood huddled by the grave. After an immeasurable time they separated, reluctantly, like the fibers of a rope being parted.
Until now, Leslie had kept his thoughts away from Jan with scrupulous success. But images of her, accumulated for almost twenty-five years, welled up in his mind. Amd despite all the funerals of friends and pilots he had attended, despite the calloused surface of his mind that should have been inured to the tragic losses, he turned away from everyone and slipped into the cemetery's groves to walk alone with his grief.
ROLL. He dashes past the Institute with a flurry of pleasure, confident in his strength. Bill is a runner, a marathoner. He understands the pain that accompanies an effort too great—a pain almost as great as the pleasure of making that effort. For now, there is only pleasure.
The air melts as he passes, carrying away his perspiration. A wind gusts against him, full in the face, twisting through the curls of his hair. He presses against it, exultant with the knowledge that the gust cannot obstruct his passage. He continues, several laps across the entrance to the Institute.
Thirty-five minutes. Five miles. A year before, he had made similar runs in 32 minutes. A year before that, he had made them in 30 minutes. The difference, he concludes, is statistically insignificant. He feels as strong as he has ever been. That is the truth, not to be confused with the fact.
Bill showers and dresses. Invigorated, he returns to the Institute.
The Institute building shares no architectural theme with the other structures in this industrial park. In the late morning light the building glows a soft salmon color, its gentle contours reaching out warmly to those who pass by. The soft-gray windows contrast with the glaring mirrored portals of other nearby buildings, suggesting that quality can nonetheless be quiet. This building seems somehow friendlier than the others. Bill shakes his head and remembers that this building houses his target.
To the left of the driveway stands a small bronze sign with a curious emblem. An arrow points up at a 45 degree angle, soaring over a pair of embellished steps. After a moment of squinting in the brightness, Bill realizes the two steps form the letters "ZI" in a script almost completely lost in the design.
A shadow falls across him. He is not yet psyched up for confrontation; he steps to the side and looks at the man who stopped next to him.
The man smiles and points at the sign. "The Zetetic Institute invites you to take the next step."
Bill stares, his mouth suddenly dry. The man seems familiar. He is tall, though not so tall as Bill. A relaxed alertness sets the lines of his body, similar to the lines of the building itself. The man's smile is sincere; his gray eyes probe the wide-eyed awareness in Bill's own eyes. The honesty in those eyes strikes a chord of guilt in Bill's mind.
The man raises an eyebrow. "Sorry if I surprised you. It's just that you looked so unhappy, staring at our sign."
The man puts out his hand. "I'm Nathan Pilstrom,"
Nathan Pilstrom—Bill knows the name. He knows he will remember why in a moment. Nathan Pilstrom grips his hand firmly. The man seems disgustinglynatural, the caricature that gives the termnicea bad reputation. Bill has never encountered a better facade.
Nathan leads him down through the courtyard, where a pair of earth-colored toy robots hum to and fro. They seem silly, hovering among the well-trimmed trees and shrubs. Then he realizes that the robots are doing the trimming.
"So what's your interest in the Institute?"
Bill snaps back to awareness of the man beside him. His throat still feels parched. His cover story resembles his news stories: at its heart lies a vague form of the facts, richly articulated, with statements that are not false. "I saw one of your Zetetic engineers at a meeting near Hanford recently. He really carved the audience to shreds, and so I figured I should come and see if I can learn how he did it."
Nathan stops; Bill turns to him. Nathan speaks with distress, "You say he carved up the audience? Who was it—do you remember?"
Bill stares, then shakes his head. A gust of wind.sweeps the street, throwing grit in Bill's eyes. He squints. "No, I don't remember his name. But he sure won the argument."
"I'll have to find out who it was," Nathan mutters. "Believe me, carving people up and winning arguments is not what Zeteticism is all about. Zeteticism has more in common with the martial arts—the true master avoids confrontation; he does not seek it out."
Bill shrugs. "Well, the ZI guy seemed like a winner, anyway." He grins, adding, "And the way your cult is growing, I figure I'm better off on the inside than on the outside."
"Our cult, hm? You've gotten too much of your information from the television news people."
Bill's breathing halts—the bastard dares to defame Bill's own profession! It takes a moment to find words that are polite. He shakes his head. "Well, 'cult' might be the wrong term. But youarethe people who run the no-smoking courses, right? And you're the ones who talk about how the cosmetic industry makes people think they need more specialized products just so they can sell more junk. Right?
Nathan winces. "The press has a breathtaking capacity for oversimplifying. You know that, right? Everyone knows that. Then why does everyone forget it every time the press says something?" Nathan's voice suggests frustration. Yet his tone remains lighthearted. He accepts this oddity of human behavior without cynicism or anger. "In answer, wedorun clinics on advertising and media manipulation, and wedodiscuss the cosmetics industry. As for the question of human wants and desires, we might ask a question like this: Do people want more cosmetics, which persuades the companies to invent more of them? Or do the companies invent more of them, and persuade the people they want more? Anyone who thinks the persuasions flow strictly one way or the other is not fully connected to reality. There's a feedback loop here, almost as delicately balanced as a regional ecology." His arms sweep as he declares, "We teach people to deal with the best approximations of reality they can construct—and reality is always far more complicated than the press coverage suggests."
Watching that theatrical sweep of the arms, Bill remembers why he knows the name Nathan Pilstrom. He stares for a moment at the man smiling at him: Nathan Pilstrom is the founder of the Zetetic Institute. Bill almost stumbles as they step across the threshold into the Institute.
Meeting the founder so unexpectedly leaves him surprised, yet the surprise drowns in the shock of his view in this entranceway. His thoughts of Nathan swirl away, swept aside as the walls now surrounding him imprint themselves upon him. Bill gasps.
He has seen pictures of the Jewel Hall, but no picture can capture it. Clusters of the world's finest gems blaze across the walls, forming starry galaxies beyond price. Bill's mouth hangs wide as he traces a series of emerald droplets across the arching ceiling.
Nathan leads him to a central section of the wall. "Take one," he offers.
Nathan rubs his hand across the wall. "Take one."
Bill reaches for a black opal: could it be the Flame Queen? His fingers close around it. He clutches it tight—and his fingers closethroughthe lustrous stone until they touch. A feint sensation of electricity tingles through his hand.
Nathan chuckles. "As you apparently know, the Zetetic Institute gives seminars and training on a wide variety of topics. What you haven't seen yet is the connecting theme behind all those topics." Nathan leads him forward again, toward a far door. "The Zetetic theme is that in the Information Age, correct information is the key resource. Men must act in harmony with the best information they have. We strive to develop ever better methods for coping with the vast quantities of information that inundate us every day." He spreads his arms to encompass the room. "The Jewel Hall is encrusted not with jewels, but with holograms. The holograms embody all the visual information, all the beauty, of the jewels they pretend to be. " He laughed the deep, pleasant laugh of a grandfather who has just passed a secret down two generations. "And the information that describes those jewels is all that's really important about them, isn't it? Would this display be any more spectacular if the jewels contained minerals as well as information?''
Bill shakes his head. "I guess not. It's incredible." A thrill runs through his mind. This Zetetic comparison of truth and materials makes the deepest sense to him—the truth, as Bill creates it for his audiences, is more valuable than any possible jewel.
"Congratulations on passing your first Zetetic test. Many people feel tricked when we acquaint them with this room. Actually, we offer just the opposite of a trick. We offer a lesson—a lesson that does not hurt, that is valuable, and that is not too expensive."
"I guess so." Bill still feels on the defensive. Yet he begins to feel the thrill of the hunt as well. Nathan Pilstrom makes a challenging target for his next report.
But Nathan steps through another door. Bill follows, tense and excited. What lesson lies in the room beyond the Jewel Hall?
He breathes a sigh of relief. A comfortingly normal room greets him. Its shape suggests the gentle contours of the overall building. A receptionist looks up at them.
Nathan taps a terminal on the side. "Take a look through our catalog of offerings. I think you'll be surprised at the number of ways that discriminating information can alter your life. Do you smoke?"
Bill shakes his head.
"Perhaps you would be interested in . . . no, probably not. How about a seminar on separating fact from fluff in newscasting?"
Damn this man! Bill frowns. "I don't think I need it."
Nathan stops. "My apologies. I don't mean to be pushy." He shrugs. "Sometimes I'm as bad as the car salesman we use as an example."
The receptionist, fielding a buzz from the intercom, interrupts. "Nathan, Senator Forstil has arrived."
He smiles at her warmly. "Thanks." He turns back to Bill with a final comment. "If you don't have specific needs for Zetetic methods, you should take the Sampler.
It'll give you some idea of how we apply surprising ideas to everyday problems."
"That sounds great." Yes, this is what Bill needs. Only with a broad view of the Institute can he find the most striking defects of the organization. The Sampler will be perfect.
Bill watches Nathan depart with cruel amusement. So Senator Forstil is involved with the Institute! He'll get some mileage out of that.
Only an expert could have discerned the quiet struggle in the soft-lit office. Nathan leaned against the edge of his desk, his arms folded. His head drooped, as if he might nod off at any moment. He seemed so casual, so cool.
But the expert would have spotted his twitch every time a stray sound rattled down the hall. The expert would have seen Nathan's lips draw to a short smile following each twitch. It was a smile of forgiving laughter—Nathan laughed at himself. He was very, very nervous about this meeting with Senator Forstil.
How annoying Nathan found it, to be the founder and president of an Institute dedicated to helping people overome unsanity, andstillbe subject himself to such irrational anxiety!
Still, denial of that anxiety would mark an even lower level of sanity. Nathan smiled at the anxiety and jumped at every sound.
He let his eyes roam across the walls of his office. People who associated him with the Information Age often felt surprise at his choice of decorations. A number of mementos seemed appropriate: a flow chart hung in one corner, describing the first PEP program developed by the Zetetic Corporation. The signatures of the PEP development team members filled one corner of the chart. A long, narrow, Escher print snaked across the wall behind his desk.
But the works that dominated the room were the maps. Age had broken off their edges, had yellowed the paper and cracked the ink, but they were still readable.
Worse than the mars of aging were the defects in their basic structure. All the maps had serious flaws; not one of them accurately represented the terrain it tried to depict. The maps always reminded Nathan to remain hopeful for, flawed as the maps were, men had achieved numerous victories using them. Those who used maps wisely always remembered the differences between the maps and their terrains.
The old maps held no more flaws than the internal maps modem men used to navigate through life—maps of inferred deductions about other people's motives and plans. The differences between those internal maps and external realities contained lethal potentialities; yet wisdom could prevail now as in the past.
Nathan jerked at a new sound. A light tread paused briefly just outside his office. Nathan shifted forward as the senator entered the room, and stared for a moment in surprise. The senator had been one of the silent mourners at Jan's funeral that morning, but the grief and mourning had peeled away, like a molted skin. His expression now belonged to a completely different person.
First analysis: short but snappy. His silvery gray hair was swept back in precise curves. His mustache was neatly trimmed, and his mouth gave no hint of pleasure or pain. His expressionless gray suit fit him with the precision of custom tailoring. A sharp streak of yellow crossed the face of an otherwise somber silk tie, and a tiny gold pin with a single diamond chip glinted on his lapel.
He gazed calmly at Nathan, as he analyzed Nathan in turn.
First synthesis: Forstil projected an image of controlled power—a power channeled to sharply defined purposes. The illusion carried through to each detail of his appearance with a perfection too great to be unintended—so great it could partly fulfill its own prophecy.
The senator's meticulous illusion frustrated Nathan's need for insight. What motivated this man? What were his ethics? Would Nathan have to manipulate him, or would education be enough? In this first meeting, Nathan didn't have a choice: his own ethics demanded crisp honesty, unless the senator himself revealed manipulative behavior. Nathan had to try education.
Meanwhile, Nathan was sure the senator's calm blue eyes had seen more of him than he had seen of the senator. Hilan had seen that Nathan was a soft touch for truth. He knew Nathan preferred simple, open dealings. Nathan smiled, and though the smile felt foolish, he continued. "Senator," he greeted the projection of power with an outstretched hand, "what do you think of the Institute?"
They shook hands: again, nothing revealed. Senator Forstil's face broke into a half-smile. "The Zetetic Institute," he rolled the words off his tongue, toying with the sounds. "Ive seen your building. Jan and I have discussed some parts of Zetetic philosophy. But I know nothing about your organization. What is a Zetetic Institute?"
Was there sarcasm there? Forstil gave no hint. "A good question," Nathan replied, "but it has a difficult answer." He pointed to the low table across from his desk. "Chair?"
Four chairs encircled the smoke-gray glass table. Two of the chairs slunk low into the carpet; the other two displayed more austere lines, encouraging one to lean forward into the conversation. The senator took one of these.
Nathan had at times taken a low seat when faced with dangerous people, to give them a false sense of security. He sighed, thinking about the number of times he had had to use manipulative techniques, just to avoid being harmed by other people's manipulations. He took the high seat opposite the senator. Nathan suspected the senator was not easily manipulated.
The senator's probable immunity was more surprising than most people realized. The typical manipulator succeeds because he believes his own propaganda, and thus becomes vulnerable to the propaganda of others. Jan's analysis said this man doubted his own illusions.
Forstil watched him patiently. Nathan returned to the senator's question: what is a Zetetic Institute? Jan had surely described the Institute for him before, so this question undoubtedly had qualities of a test, as well as a request for information. His only possible response was indirect—as unsatisfying as the description Jan herself had surely given. "Let me describe the Institute in terms of what it isnot," Nathan began. "First, it is not a building, or a collection of buildings. Most of the people who work with the Institute work at home, wherever home may be—from a condo around the corner in the Hunter Woods complex in Reston, Virginia, to an earth shelter outside Bozeman, Montana.
"The Institute should not be viewed as a corporation, though legally it is incorporated in the state of Virginia. Only a handful of people work for the Institute full-time. The others come and go, depending on particular contracts and projects that interest them.
"The Institute is not a cult—" Nathan felt some deja vu, having discussed this with the tall, angry man on the way in "—though the people of the Institute share many attitudes, behaviors, and slang expressions. It would be more accurate to say we share a common meta-philosophy—a philosophy about building your own philosophies. We are eclectics, taking the best or most useful ideas we find, wherever we find them, and weaving them into cloths of many colors."
"Sounds like a quick way to mental breakdown," Forstil observed. "Grabbing bits and pieces of ideas and lifestyles without a consistent framework."
"Only if it becomes an obsession," Nathan replied easily. "Only if you grab bits and pieces indiscriminately. The term 'zetetic' comes from the Greek word for 'skeptic.' A healthy dose of skepticism is the first thing we teach people who come here." Nathan frowned. He had not yet communicated the ethos of the Institute. But what more could he say? The Zetetic Institute could not be described using Industrial Age terminology, any more than quantum mechanics could be described with Aristotle's concepts of waves and particles, or any more than the Tao could be defined in terms of Western civilization.
But he had to answer, quickly and succinctly, for this man. "If I were to be so foolish as to sum up what the Institute is, rather than what it is not, I would say it is an Information Age resource pool for solving Industrial Age problems. Once the country makes the transition to a full-fledged Information Age society, the Institute will hopefully become a place to solve Information Age problems. For the moment, however, the Industrial Age and its institutions represent the important dangers to human progress."
Forstil gave him a barely perceptible nod." And Industrial Age problems include everything from cigarette smoke to nuclear weapons."
Nathan relaxed. "Exactly."
"Very well." Hilan seemed to accept the basic idea of the Zetetic Institute, despite the ambiguities. "Now, what is a Sling?"
Nathan smiled; Forstil had moved to the central topic with bracing efficiency. "The Sling is an Information Age weapon for defeating Industrial Age armies. It may be the only chance free societies have in a world where they must compete with leaders of subjugated societies—leaders who can be far more ruthless because they aren't shackled by fickle popular opinion."
"That's fine rhetoric, Mr. Pilstrom. But what does it mean?"
"Let me demonstrate." Nathan whirled out of his chair and retrieved a keyboard from his desk. A color display in the wall next to Hilan glowed with a three-dimensional, skeletal, layout of an airplane. Forstil squinted at it. "Is it a glider?"
"Almost." As Nathan spoke, a set of arrows highlighted critical features. "The overall design comes from glider technology, most distinctively in the wing shape. The frame is built with high-strength composite fibers.
"That's where the resemblance to gliders ends, however. The tops of the wings are covered with amorphous semiconductor solar cells for power, which drive the tail prop as well as the on-board electronics. By optimal use of wind currents and solar power, the SkyHunter can stay airborne for months—until it wears out, in fact." Nathan smiled, concentrating on his keyboard. The skeletal aircraft grew skin; the background clarified into a mountain-lined horizon; and the craft lifted into the air, until it disappeared. "The SkyHunter contains no metal, so it is radar-invisible. It has no engine flare, so it is infrared-invisible. Paint it sky blue and cruise it at 30,000 feet, and it is lightwave-invisible—a completely undetectable platform."
The senator's voice sounded strained. "Is this room a secure facility?"
Nathan looked baffled for a moment, then laughed. "None of this is classified, senator. This is a picture of the WeatherWatch recon plane. It was designed by Lightcraft Corporation and manufactured by Lockheed for meteorologists. They collect high-altitude weather data in the Arctic for forecasting climate."
"You mean they built a stealth patrol planeby accident?"
"Yes," Nathan chuckled. "More or less. We have made some substitutions to heighten the effect, such as the materials for the solar arrays. The important mods, however, are down here." The view changed again, to the underbelly, which sprouted clumps of thin fibers. "We replaced the normal weather sensors with down-looking optical and infrared detectors. And there is an anchor point for bombs."
"How many bombs can a glider carry—two or three? Hardly the killing power of a battleship." The senator turned away from the screen to critique Nathan. "I'd overlooked that problem. You'd need thousands of these to stop an armored division."
Nathan shook his head. "Actually, we think it'd take three or four SkyHunters to stop a division." As Forstil objected, Nathan held up his hand to interrupt. "Remember, this isan Information Ageweapon. The most critical part of the weapon cannot be seen in any picture. The critical part is theinformation processing, theintelligence."
The wall display changed again—to an aerial scene of forests, threaded by a delicate web of narrow roads. The picture changed hue. The forest became a ghostly orange, and bright dots of blue now stood out as they lumbered along the gray streaks of road. 'This is an infrared image," Nathan explained. "The blue dots are tanks. " The view zoomed in on a patch of green. Forms with the outlines of human beings hustled, or paused, or lay on the ground. "The division command post," Nathan explained. The view zoomed one more time, on a particular figure. He was surrounded by other figures that came, listened for a time, then hurried away again. The scene brought to mind a queen bee groomed by her court of drones. "The commanding general."
The brilliant oranges and yellows of an explosion obliterated the scene, making the senator jump back in his seat.
Nathan spoke quietly, confidently. "The SkyHunter will not drop its pitiful load of bombs on just anything, senator. It will cruise patiently in the sky, hunting only the choicest prey. It does not hunt for the frail creatures of blood and bone sent by the enemy to die in battle. It hunts for the minds that command them. Senator, what does a division do when it loses its commander?"
Hilan thought for a moment. "The soldiers continue on to meet their current objectives."
The senator pursed his lips grudgingly. "They stop. They wait for further instructions." He shook his head. "But eventually, someone will get them organized again."
"By which time other SkyHunters will have destroyed the regimental command posts that would receive the orders, and the army headquarters that sent orders to the division." Nathan leaned forward. "But you're right. One SkyHunter cannotdestroya division, but it can stop one. It can transform that division from a brutally effective offensive machine into a frightened clutch of defenders, who would be easy pickings for a conventional brigade one fourth their size." Nathan could see the recognition in Hilan's eyes. Hilan's own subcommittee had recently estimated the Russian advantage along the German border to be four to one.
After a long pause, Nathan continued. "We also have two other Hunter platforms—one a ground-effect vehicle, the other an orbital munitions dispenser. I can show you those as well."
The senator shook his head. "Another time perhaps." He frowned. "More important, I need to know whyyouhave to be the developers. Why not use the normal military acquisition system?"
"Because the normal military acquisition systemwouldn'tjust acquire one—they'dbuildone, from scratch. They'd use military contractors to build a customized system that might be twice as good, but which would take ten times as long to develop and cost ten times as much to produce. It would be so good that by the time they could field it, it would be obsolete. They wouldnotuse commercially available systems, like the WeatherWatch airplane."
As Nathan spoke, he grew more forcefal. No matter how often he addressed this topic, he could never approach it with complete Zetetic composure. "Do you know the story of the TACFIRE computer? It was designed to control artillery barrages. Unfortunately, it took 25 years to build. When they finally deployed it in the late 70s and early '80s, TACFIRE computers cost six million dollars apiece. During those 25 years, the technology changed to the point where TACFIRE could hardly be called a computer: it had the processing power of a six hundred dollar Apple II computer. And TACFIRE could not even operate with some of the artillery systems that had evolved during its 25-year development period." Nathan felt his voice rising, took a deep breath for control. "Senator, the state of the world scares me. The United States is in the throes of confronting the end of the Industrial Age culture it created. Meanwhile, the Russians grow more aggressive. Senator, I don't think we canwaittwenty years for the American military to catch up with the civilian revolution in technology. We need to be able to protect ourselves betterthis year." Nathan stopped speaking, filled with sodden futility. After all, Senator Forstil belonged to the same party as President Mayfield.
But a shadow of tense worry broke through the senator s projected image. "You're right," he replied quietly. A long pause ensued; Nathan wondered if he should speak.
At last, Forstil continued. "I think I know why you wanted to talk with me, why Jan wanted me to talk with you. You've heard that various powerful people in the military want this project taken away from the Defense Nuclear Agency because they've given you a free hand. They want the Sling put under FIREFORS, where it can be controlled more effectively."
"I'll give it serious consideration. For the moment my subcommittee will recommend against a transition to FIREFORS control. But if the army decides to enforce such a move itself, I cannot stop them. However," he smiled, and for another moment his image of controlled power relaxed, this time because his shark's smile seemed uncontrolled, "if the army decides to move on its own, I shall counsel them."
Nathan chuckled. "Thank you." They stood up, shook hands, and Forstil turned to depart. As he reached the door, he turned, puzzled. "One last thing."
"Why do you call it the Sling?"
"Because David of Israel was the forerunner of the Information Age warrior." Nathan leaned back against his desk, returning to the position from which he had started this encounter. "Senator, when David stood against the Philistines, he faced the most heavily armed and armored enemy of his day. David himself was unarmored, and virtually unarmed. Yet, by the application of just a tiny amount of force, precisely applied, he defeated Goliath."
"Defeated him with nothing but his sling," the senator finished the analogy. "Moreover, he defeated the enemy by striking athiscommand center." He touched his forehead, as if he could feel the blow of a slingshot stone against his temple. "May our Sling work as well," was Hilan's parting prayer.
"May we never need to test it," was Nathan's.
Far beneath Daniel Wilcox's office, the cherry blossoms along the George Washington Parkway fluttered in a frenzy of color. From here, high in the Wilcox-Morris Building that dominated Rosslyn, the view took panoramic proportions—two sheer walls of glass, floor to ceiling, enclosed half the office. The sweeping view overcame the sense of enclosure with the sense of open sky. Daniel's eyes crinkled with amusement as he watched the new advertising executive, Kira Evans. She tried to shift her chair to look across that panorama. Her efforts amused him because the room had been designed so thathehad the pleasure of that view from his desk. Kira could turn her back on the view, or she could turn her back on him; she could not face both at the same time.
He considered shifting to the conference table to accommodate her, but it was more fun to watch her cope with the problem. Besides, she had not earned such a view yet. If she wanted the use of an office such as this, she would have to take command of a corporate empire, as he had done.
Even as he watched, Kira resolved the dilemma, leaning forward, focusing her whole concentration on the job at hand. Daniel returned his attention to the layouts she had brought him, shuffling through to his favorite advertisement. This one ad suggested that Kira might indeed get an office of her own with panoramic windows. The ad was a beautifully crafted full-page paste-up, carefully explaining why the tobacco industry wasn't at fault for the rising incidence of smoking among children. He took a drag off his cigarette, and blew the smoke into the faint blue haze that swirled around him on its way to the air conditioning vent. "This is great stuff," he congratulated her. "An excellent utilization of our reborn plain-talk advertising strategy at work." He smiled. "I particularly like your point about advertisements saying that cigarettes are strictly for grown-ups, not for kids."
Kira fumbled with her cigarette, showing the same skill a thirteen-year-old girl might show in handling a snake, but she continued gamely. Clearly, she had gotten the word: if you worked with the Wilcox-Morris Tobacco Company, you had to smoke with them as well. That policy was strictly, strictly unofficial, of course. It would have been technically legal to hire, fire, and promote on the basis of smoking habits, but Daniel knew the consequences if he started such a policy: the news media would flay him alive, and legislation would follow. It was better to leave it unstated. Kira was a good example of how effective such unstated policies could be. She would get used to the cigarette between her lips; she would get hooked on the rush; she would become a good member of the team.
But not yet. His compliment on her advertisement had not pleased her; she seemed disturbed with the explanation that cigarette advertisements were strictly for adults. "Thank you for the compliment," she said, with a sincere smile that turned quickly to a frown. "But I'm afraid this ad may not work the way we intended. Our adults-only advertising may be the most effective kind of children's advertising possible. After all, what could possibly be a better way to get children started than telling them it's for grown-ups?"
Daniel waved the objection aside. "Nonsense. We're just being up-front and honest. Nobody can get angry at us for that." From time to time, similar thoughts disturbed Daniel himself. He would have to help Kira overcome the sense of guilt, as he had himself. He would have to help her look beyond the intellectual questions if she were to mold herself into a useful tool.
Kira leaned forward in her chair as if to refresh the argument, thought better of it, then sank glumly back. "I suppose you're right."
"Of course I'm right." Daniel sought for something to distract her from further contemplation of her guilt.
Kira had great talent, and, God knew, the tobacco companies needed to cultivate every ounce of talent they could find these days. The enemies were so numerous, the fields of opportunities from which they needed to clear opponents were so vast, he needed to find a way to get Kira involved as rapidly as possible. A little bit of quiet conspiracy might be just the ticket. People loved to work together in conspiracies, to strike against great enemies, and Daniel had need for a new conspiracy. "Do you fully understand why we've recruited your agency?"
As Kira gave him a blank stare, Daniel came around his desk to take a chair close to her. He sat inside the range of the air conditioner; dry, cool air swished against his face.
"We recruited you because we have such a continuing problem with the media. They're constantly accusing us of brainwashing people. We're looking to you, with your young organization, for new ideas to combat this. The media is very effective at brainwashing people into thinking that we are the ones who do the brainwashing." He shook his head. "How can we make people realize that the media is more dangerous than the tobacco industry could ever be?" He leaned closer. "The news media is a continuing problem, but we've been dealing with them successfully for decades. However, a new problem's come up, and this one could really destroy us."
He paused to let the tension build. Her eyes narrowed. Finally she responded, in a whisper that matched his own. "What?"
"The Zetetic Institute."
A dozen little shifts showed her surprise. His hand pressed against the tabletop, her breathing paused. "What?" she asked for explanation in a low voice that pitched up in a final question mark.
"The Zetetic Institute is our new problem." He waved at a report sitting on his desk. "It's a network of project group organizers and information salesmen. They're more a cult than a corporation, but they've got their fingers in just about every pie in America. And two years ago they put their fingers intoourpie."
Kira nodded. "I've heard of them. But I can't believe they're dangerous to the Wilcox-Morris Corporation."
"So you've heard of them. Excellent." Her reaction to the mention of the Institute didn't match up with just a passing familiarity. She must have friends there. That could be useful. "Do you know about the Zetetic anti-smoking clinics? Those information salesmen have collected all the anti-smoking techniques ever devised into a single, consistent framework. Individually, those techniques are all pretty ineffective. But the Institute developed a method for matching techniques with individual strengths and weaknesses. After the Institute gets done tailoring a set for a particular person . . ."
Kira had recovered her composure. She now seemed eager, though puzzled. "But the Institute is a tiny organization! How can they threaten Wilcox-Morris?"
"They can threaten us with their growth rate." Daniel turned to his computer work station, tapped rapidly across the keys, and spun the display so Kira could see it. "They've shown exponential growth in the number of smoking clinics they've run for the last two years. If we wait until they're big enough to be a noticeable force, they'll be within one year of destroying our cigarette sales in the United States."
"What makes you think their growth curve won t flatten out?"
Daniel took a last heady drag off his menthol, ground out the stub, and fit a new one. He rose and started pacing across the room. "Eventually it will. But we need to flatten out their growth curvenow, while they're still just a wiggle in the market research. If we wait, they'll surely cut into our bottom line." He turned at the end of the room to come back. The glowing tip of his second smoke left a contrail that defined his previous path.
Kira pursed her lips. ''Do you want to run an advertising campaign against them? I can't believe it would be effective. That would be like the Hershey Company running advertisements against dietitians who tell overweight people to give up chocolate."
''Exactly. We can't use straightforward advertising. A frontal confrontation is inappropriate in this situation. It's similar to our problem with beating referenda. We should probably build an organization like the Citizens For Freedom—we used them to beat down legislation on no smoking in public buildings. We need somebody who seems unbiased—somebody who can complain about those ZI kooks messing with the minds of our children."
Daniel saw from the look in Kira's eyes that he had been too blunt in his analysis. He was not surprised when she responded badly. "The Zetetics are a bit cultish, but they aren't exactly kooks."
He backed off. We might not need to go all the way to building an organization to counter them. First, we should try to exploit the media; after all, that's cheaper, and it's at least as effective when it works."
Kira nodded. "Yes, that seems like a sensible approach. " Daniel could see that she still held distaste for the idea of fighting the Zetetic Institute, but he could also see that she was challenged by the problems of manipulating the media. "First, we need to find sharp newsmen who already distrust the Institute. That shouldn't be a problem; there are newsmen who distrust everything. Then we need to cultivate them and make sure they're successful, without letting them know they're being helped."
Daniel gave her a satisfied clap of his hands. "Yes! And we have some great ways of helping them. We have inside information on just about every dark corner of society—politicians, in particular. Our selected reporters wifi receive leaks to help them build their careers. And, of course, the magazines and cable channels that depend on Wilcox-Morris for advertising support will be particularly eager to ran their pieces."
These thoughts were obviously new to Kira; her eyes looked beyond him at the broad ramifications. She had an open look, her face filled with an emotion he dimly recalled from his childhood. It was the emotion that came with a sense of wonder. "Of course. You have leverage all over the country." Her wonder turned into a moment's revelation, as she realized how much easier her job would be, working with the tobacco industry.
Daniel shrugged. "Well, for what it's worth, we have all the power that money can buy. There are limitations, of course, on the power that money can buy, but there aren't many things that can buy more power than money."
"So, would you like a list of candidate reporters?" Excitement filled her voice. She clearly relished the idea of using the media as much as Daniel did himself.
"Excellent." He stood up, concluding the meeting. "I think we can do lots of business together."
Kira also stood up. "I agree. I'm quite confident that both of our companies will profit from this link-up. " She paused at the door, and turned to him. "I still can't believe you think the Zetetic Institute is worthbotheringwith."
Daniel's voice grew stem. "I've made my career out of seeing where trouble will appear before anyone else could see it. There're other sources of trouble for our business, too—plenty of them. But this is one we have to nip in the bud. Believe me." He watched her depart, then snuffed out the remains of his second cigarette with methodical care. The ventilation sucked away the odor of tobacco with equally methodical efficiency—at least, it sucked away enough of the odor so that a smoker could no longer detect its presence.
Daniel stepped up to the great wall of glass, to look outside and luxuriate in the gentle springtime. For a moment, his mind flashed over the years of his life—from his childhood on a tiny farm, to his first deals in the commodities market, to his successes in stocks, and finally, his takeover of one of the biggest companies in the world. At each step, he had been involved with the tobacco industry— first, because he had been bom there; then, because tobacco was such a volatile commodity; and finally, because the companies that controlled the world s cigarette industry were such cash cows.
At each step he had lived the harrowing life of a man whose survival depends on his interpretation of tiny indicators of the future. He had lived that life brilliantly. Consequently, it did not surprise him that Kira failed to see inevitable dangers. Not even the corporate directors of the huge conglomerates had seen thee future as clearly as he. Had they been able to, they would have prevented his conquest of their companies.
And now his alarms pounded with every new bit of information he received on the Zetetic Institute. Politicians, he could control. Crowds of voters, he could manipulate. News media, he could redirect. But an organization dedicated to enhancing human rationality might be beyond his influence.
He was playing with lightning here in other ways as well. Kira might hold divided loyalties if she had friends in the Institute. Even more frightening was the danger that his attack on the Institute could backfire. The Zetetic Institute was, as Kira had noted, a tiny thing today. By bringing media attention to bear on it, he could be fueling its growth, even if all the attention were directed at its oddities. A certain percentage of the people who enjoyed going against the conventional wisdom would seek the Institute out because of such notoriety. He frowned, wondering about Kira's failure to comment on this danger.
But he knew that inaction led down a short path to disaster. And whatever the truth or falsehood behind the allegations that cigarettes killed, Daniel knew a more important truth.
He remembered his mother, on her broken-down farm in West Virginia, discing the soil with her broken-down tractor. That tractor had already taken two of her fingers in payment during half-successful attempts at repair. He remembered the hardness of living poor. He remembered how old she had looked at the age of 35—older than Kira Evans would look when she was 50.
Cigarettes were a minor part of the dangers of life. Poverty was the real horror. Poverty killed. Looking down upon the world from his steel-and-glass fortress, Daniel swore that never again would one he loved suffer from that land of poverty.
The Zetetic Institute would fall before him, as the others had fallen in the past. As for the uncertainties of Kira, he felt little concern. He had already set in motion some of the types of plans they had discussed. His reporters were already on the job.
As he watched, the snarl of traffic on the parkway broke free, and started to flow as easily as the gentle Potomac River that paralleled its course. The bright wall of cherry blossoms was all that divided the flow of belching metal from the flow of quiet water.
Major Vorontsov. The title sounded good when it preceded his name. It was quite a victory.Major Ivan Vorontsov.
Ivan wondered why his victory tasted like the bitter steel of a Kalashnikov; why his mood matched the gunmetal gray of the weather outside his window, rather than the bright sunshine that the weather bureau—hisweather bureau—had predicted for this day a week ago.
He had just received the promotion to major, making him one of the youngest majors in the army. He had also received an assignment—one that might well end his career.
They had ordered him to re-evaluate the predictions of global consequences of a nuclear war. The purpose of the re-evaluation was to ''perform an analysis that allows the Soviet Union to maintain an advantage in confrontations with the United States."
Ivan was a good Russian. He was also pure Russian, born in Kursk as the only child of wholly Russian parents. As often happened with single children, he had learned early how to talk with adults, though he had never quite learned how to play with other children his own age. Also like many single children, he believed his parents' beliefs even more fiercely than his parents did. He loved his homeland. He disliked Americans. And he hated Germans.
So when his time had come to serve in the army, to protect the children of Russia and of the whole Soviet Union from her enemies, he had accepted the duty proudly.
He stepped out of his office, quickly marched down the hallway of the Military Meteorology building, and pushed through the massive door into the streets of Novosibirsk. Bitter wind swept around him. He clenched his teeth against the cold and headed for the officers' quarters.
The gunmetal sky showed no hint of sun. Would the climatic effects of a nuclear war even be noticed here? He could imagine that the sunbathers along the Black Sea would be most affected, though he knew better.
Certainly, radioactive fallout from a war would affect all the people he cared about. That included his childhood friend Anna, and her three children, living so close to the strategic targets in Sevastopol.
He remembered the day his parents had brought Anna to stay. Her mother, Ivan knew, was always drunk, and her father was . . . different. He remembered how helpless Anna had been, yet how hopeful, despite her helplessness. Ivan's parents loved her as they loved all children—almost as much as they loved Ivan himself. And though Ivan never did learn how to be friends with his peers, he had learned from his parents the love of children.
How wasted their efforts would prove if Ivan let some damn fool—either American or Russian—initiate a nuclear exchange. Though Ivan loved his country's children, he worried that Russia's leaders might not share that feeling.
He thought again of the sunny skies predicted for today. How could men be so foolish as to think they could know the impact of a nuclear war on the fragile atmosphere! The work of climatology contained too much magic and too little science for categorical assertions.
Within that guaranteed uncertainty lurked the great danger. Ivan knew he couldmakethe outcome of his re-analysis match any result they wanted him to report.
With too-crisp clarity, he saw why they had chosen him for this job. He was bright, ambitious, patriotic, and impressionable. And he had a knack for technology—a knack that compensated for his loner's attitude. He had the credentials, and presumably, the malleability to give them what they wanted.
He felt like a scientist in the days before the telescope, instructed by the Church to prove that the Sun circled the Earth. The truth could not be changed. But without instruments, truth could be distorted whenever convenient for the leaders—or when necessary for the followers.
Still, none of these games of distortion could change the truth. And in the nuclear age, distorting the truth about nuclear war endangered all the children, including the adult children playing the game.
Ivan squeezed his eyes closed. Another gust of wind slapped his face. His nostrils flared as he inhaled; the deep breath of sharp, chilled air helped him make his decision.
He would gather the best scientists he could find. They would study the consequences of nuclear war again. If the earlier analysis had beenprovablyhysterical, wonderful. But the new Major Vorontsov would introduce no bias to force the decision.
Ivan tramped onward against the last gusts of Siberian winter, unswerving in his purpose.
Kira stepped from the elevator into the antiseptic beauty of the Oeschlager Art Museum. She forced herself to slow down as her high heels clicked across the slippery marble floor. She turned, to step into the quiet elegance of the displays. Soon she was surrounded by works that cost thousands of hours of loving labor to construct. She needed these moments, in this museum, to remember why she had come to Wilcox-Morris. She needed these moments to fuel her anger.
Her whole body itched from the taint of the Wilcox-Morris Corporation. She wanted to run home to the shower, to cleanse herself of it; yet she knew that that would not help. Only her anger enabled her to continue.
The Oeschlager Museum sprawled over the first two floors of the Wilcox Building. All costs of maintaining it, and for collecting new works, came out of the advertising budget of Wilcox-Morris. Thousands of people had died of lung cancer, emphysema, and heart disease to support this museum.
Kira stopped before a sculpture in silver and gold. In the curves of the reflection she saw her mother's face—her own face. Older people sometimes called her by her mother's name, so strong was the resemblance. And despite her fierce defense of herself as a separate person, Kira could not deny the similarity. They shared the same cheekbones when seen in profile, the same pout when angry, the same quick smile that puzzled people who missed the subtler points of human comedy.
They had not shared the dark anger seething behind Kira's eyes as she watched her reflection snake across the surface of the silvery sculpture. Perhaps that was a difference in age more than anything else. Her mother had not blamed the tobacco companies for her own death. In keeping with her other views of human responsibility, Jan had blamed herself for taking chances that might lead to suicide. Kira had a different point of view.
Uncle Nathan had the most complex view of blame, though in some sense, it was also the simplest. Blame, Uncle Nathan contended, was a concept without value in either Industrial Age or Information Age societies. The key question was not whom to blame, but rather, whose behavior to modify so that the problem did not arise again.
All that analysis had led him to Jan's answer to smoking, however; they agreed that the best solution lay in educating people to the danger and in teaching them how to quit. Uncle Nathan further contended that this was theonlysolution a free society could tolerate. Kira still felt uncertain about whether he was right. Certainly, it would not hurt to investigate other possibilities.Know your enemy; he probably does not know himself, the Zetetic commentary went. People did not usually pursue evil purposes with thoughtful intent, though they might pursue evil purposes while fiercely avoiding thoughts about intentions. The key lay in cultural engineering. Non-Zetetic cultures were always designed to give men rationalizations for not thinking about the inconsistencies of that culture. Given the right cultural environment, you could shape the adaptable human being to profoundly unsane purposes.
Like other creators of evil, Daniel Wilcox was not an evil man. The tobacco culture had engineered him; now, he was himself the chief engineer for the tobacco culture. Still, he was not evil, though he was undoubtedly quite ruthless. He was not evil, though his hands were covered with blood.
Kira looked about the room at the works of inspired genius, at the painfully detailed craftsmanship, that were also now covered with blood.
And she looked back at her own reflection. She too was now covered with blood. She had used her own mind in the creation of advertising that would attract children to their deaths. She had done it in order to get close to the source of power that drove the tobacco companies, so that she might find some way of destroying them. She had done it for a good cause.
And she could rationalize that, had she not created those ads, someone else would have, and they probably would have done just as good a job. But rationalization was not her purpose. She accepted her share of responsibility for the deaths that might result from her action, as surely as she accepted responsibility for the lives that might be saved, if she found a way to destroy the cigarette empire. That was her purpose in coming to Wileox-Morris—to find some weakness, or set of weaknesses, with which she could destroy the industry.
Based on her first meeting with Daniel Wilcox, she questioned her ability to destroy him. He was too insightful; surely he recognized her revulsion at cigarette smoking, and her shock at the idea of attacking the Institute. She had recovered fairly well at the end. She could even get excited about using the news media, after having watched them take periodic shots at her mother and her uncle for years. She would certainly have no trouble composing a list of potentially useful reporters—she could get them from the Institute data base. She allowed herself a small smile, thinking about how easily she could mold them with the subtle power Wilcox afforded her.
Better yet, she realized that Wilcox's attack could be turned to the Institute's benefit. Wilcox could give Uncle Nathan a level of notoriety that poor Uncle Nathan would never bring upon himself. Perhaps this was the key to Wilcox's downfall.
And perhaps it was the key to her own downfall. Should she have highlighted this possible backfire with Wilcox? On impulse, she had concealed the thought from him, for fear that he would then discard the whole plan. Now she wasn't sure that had been wise. Surely he would think of that on his own, and he would expect her to think of it as well. She would have to be careful the next time she saw him.
She stepped carefully across museum floors toward the exit; her feet hurt in her new shoes. Two kinds of people went by. Dawdlers drifted here, either for the art or for the excuse it offered for not getting back to work. And urgent men in business suits rushed by, heading for the upper floors of the skyscraper.
The similarities between the Wilcox Building here in Rosslyn and the ZI headquarters in Reston fascinated and repelled her. Both structures projected images carefully designed for public consumption—images of elegant respectability, trustworthiness. The only real difference was the ultimate purpose: the tobacco companies projected trustworthiness so that they could betray the believers. The Institute projected trustworthiness so that they could teach the more malleable people how to be less malleable, how to separate that image from the substance. One of the most gratifying revelations in a Zetetic education was the moment when you looked at the Institute itself and, clear-eyed and laughing, separated the Institute's internal facts from its projected fantasies. To achieve that moment of revelation, Uncle Nathan said, the end justified the means.
Did the end justify the means? Kira didn't know. Uncle Nathan had a pat answer to that, too, of course: the end justifies the means as long as the end is moral, and as long as you account for all the side effects as parts of that end. Somehow, the side effects in her efforts to penetrate the Wilcox-Morris Corporation seemed too complicated to calculate.
This was why she lingered in the museum. She could not tell if her purpose here was moral or not. Until she figured it out, her anger was all that could sustain her as she plunged her hands into her work, defending the salesmen of death.
History is a race between education and catastrophe.
PAN. Bill Hardie enters a room of soft contours and padded chairs. He glides to the corner, where he commands a view of both participants and podium. He turns, and the flatcam on his lapel sweeps the room.
ZOOM. A group of people emerge through the doorway. The sizes and shapes vary, but all look like residents of Fairfax County. They come to the headquarters of the Zetetic Institute not because it is the headquarters, but because it is handy. It wouldn't make sense for people to come from great distances just for the Sampler. The curious investigator could find many places throughout the country offering this seminar. The skeptical investigator could obtain a condensed version of the Sampler on videotape for the cost of postage and handling.
FOCUS. A man of medium height in a medium blue suit separates himself from the ragged line of people and walks to the front of the room with a light step—confident yet quiet. He sits on the edge of the desk, relaxed, projecting that relaxation to his audience. Even Bill feels at ease.
CUT. Everyone is seated now except Bill himself. Noting a number of eyes upon him, including the lecturer's, Bill slides into a chair.
The lecturer stands and introduces himself. "Good evening, everyone. I am Dr. Hammond, and this is a quick introduction to the Zetetic educational system."
Dr. Hammond shifts toward the audience as he warms up. "The Zetetic educational system arose to fill a gap in American society. The public schools teach our children oceans of facts and ideas. The colleges bend more toward teaching the theories that lie behind the uncovering of those facts. Meanwhile, vocational schools teach how to create products of various flavors.
But what do you do with all those facts? Worse, what do you do with all those theories? How do they apply to the everyday occurrences of life?"
Hammond's eyes harden; his voice booms. "How do you extract the truth from a used car salesman? How do you spot a lawyer whose interest is his own welfare, not yours?" He steps forward. "Those are communication skills that aren't well taught. Another class of skills that is left out of most people's eduction is real business skills. America is supposed to run on a free-enterprise system. But how many people know how to operate in a free-enterprise system? To start your own business, how do you identify a market, make a business plan, acquire capital, design an advertising campaign, write a contract? Does it really make sense to leave the answers to these questions—the heart of the American economic process—to students working on MBAs? If it does, then we don't have a system of free enterprise—we have a system of elite enterprise, because only a handful of people understand what's required. " He smiles. "And there are other analytic skills that we see in action, but that people rarely learn how to apply. For example, there's a vast difference between accuracy and precision. How many people here know the difference?"
BACK OFF. Bill frowns. A difference betweenaccuracyandprecision? What difference could there be? Only a few people raise their hands to suggest that they know.
Hammond looks around, unsurprised by the apparent ignorance of the majority. "Usually only physicists pay attention to the difference. But the difference is important in everything from household budgets to airplane repairs. Human beings have wasted vast quantities of effort through the centuries, trying to increase their precision beyond the level of their accuracy."
Hammond takes a deep breath. "You can find numerous texts on subliminal cuing and impulse motivation—but very little on how this information is used against you in advertising. And no educational institution will tell you that it's important for you to know.
And everyone learns statistics—but how many people can tell the difference between newspaper articles that use statistics to illuminate the truth, and articles that use them to conceal it?"
CUT. Bill bristles with hostility. Bill finds it particularly unnerving because, as Hammond makes his last statement, he looks toward Bill himself with a slowly rising eyebrow.
Hammond continues. "Nathan Pilstrom founded the Institute over a decade ago. He started with the limited idea of developing software that could teach some fundamentals of Information Age problem-solving. The individual software modules were called PEPs, or Personal Enhancement Programs."
PAUSE. Bill shakes his head in surprise. He didn't know the Zetetic Institute had created the PEPs. He'd used a couple himself.
"Of course, the Zetetic movement didn't become widely known until Nathan's sister, Jan Evans, synthesized anti-smoking techniques from all over the world into a comprehensive package. That package could be adapted with a high degree of success to each individual's therapy needs. And that is perhaps the unique feature of Zeteticism: it focuses on the methods used forcustomizing methodsfor each individual set of needs and values. Zeteticism explores methods of method-selection."
PAN. Methods of method-selection indeed! Bill recognizes the sound of hokum.
"So tonight we have a sampler for you—short discussions of a number of aspects of life upon which Zetetic ideas offer different perspectives. We'll lead off with a little experiment—something that you can all participate in. We shall explore the meaning of rational thought, irrational thought, and superrational thought: we shall play the game of the Prisoner's Dilemma."
PAN. Men enter, wearing badges with the insignia of the Institute, and escort groups of people away from the lecture hall. Dr. Hammond walks over to Bill. "Let me show you the way," he offers. His eyes follow Bill's face like a biologist who has just spotted a delightfully rare but degusting insect. "That's a beautiful button on your collar there. I've never seen one quite like it."
He knows about the flatcam!
"When the games are over, would you be interested in a copy of our videotape? It would probably be easier to edit."
CUT. Bill opens his mouth, then closes it. He shrugs. "I'll roll my own if you don't mind."
Hammond tilts his head. "Suit yourself."
He escorts Bill to a small, antiseptic cubicle, chatting constantly, probing occasionally into Bills viewpoint. The cubicle contains a beige computer terminal, a chair, nothing else. Bill stops at the doorway. There is something odd here—he inhales sharply.
Is there a scent of pine trees here, ever so subtle? He looks hard at Hammond. "Is my reaction to this room a part of the test?" he asks.
Hammond chuckles. "No. Mr. Hardie, this isn't a test. We aren't interested in your reactions in any direct way. Our purpose here is to give you an experience, so you can see how theories apply to action, and so you can see firsthand the importance of superrational thinking. We think it's particularly important to introduce superrational thinking to people such as yourself."
FOCUS. Bill does not ask what Hammond means when he speaks of people "such as himself."
Hammond waves Bill into the single chair next to the terminal. He explains the rules. "Here's the situation. Every person from the class is sitting in a cubicle like this one. Now, we're going to pair you up with one of these people, and together you are going to be the Prisoners."
"Are you going to lock me in?"
Hammond shakes his head. "Of course not. But you are on your honor not to enter another person's room. Not that it matters; you won't have time to hunt for them all over the Institute anyway."
"I see." Bill feels too warm, though the room is comfortable.
"As prisoners, the two of you have been put in separate rooms for interrogation. You have two choices: you can confess to the crime, or you can deny involvement."
"Why would I want to confess?"
Because when you confess, you turn state's evidence against the other guy. It's a betrayal as well as a confession. Then you get off with a quick parole, and the other guy goes up the river.
"Of course, the other guy might decide to betray you as well. Indeed, theworstthing that can happen to you is that your partner confesses—betraying you—while you sit here denying involvement."
"Then why should I ever do anything but betray the other guy?"
"Because the only way either of you can get out scot free is if you both deny involvement. Denying involvement is a collaboration—a conspiracy as well as a denial. So your best outcome is if you both conspire—but your worst outcome is if you conspire while the other guy betrays."
"So you're stuck with trusting this guy in another room whom you can't trust."
"Yes, it's quite a dilemma, isn't it?"
Bill glares. "Why is this game part of the Sampler?"
Hammond shrugs. "The results of the Prisoner's Dilemma apply to many real-life situations. We ll discuss some of the applications after we've analyzed the results of the game. The game might seem silly now, but remember that even obvious ideas need to be exercised before you can truly own them. You can't get more out of this seminar than you're willing to put in."
"But I can get a lot less than I put in."
"True enough. Life is generally like that—you must put something in to get something out."
Bill growls, "Okay."
"Good. You'll play this game with ten randomly selected people from the class. Then you'll play with them all again. We'll play ten rounds with each player and then discuss the results. For every game, all you have to do is punch either the Conspire button or the Betray button." Hammond shoots him a quizzical look. "So how are you going to play?"
Bill thinks about it for a long moment. "The only rational thing to do is to betray the other guy," he states with confidence. "You just can't take a chance on some random human being."
"I see your point." Hammond's smile again makes him feel like a bug under a microscope. "We'll keep score by adding up the years in jail you accumulate. Good luck. The door swished softly behind him.
Bill looks at the terminal, annoyed by this pointless game that dooms all the players to lose. Surely, everyone here is as rational as he is; if so, there will be an endless series of betrayals.
The terminal comes to life, telling him he is matched with partner number one, and that they have never played together before. Bill stabs the Betray button.
In less than a minute Bill realizes that not everyone is rational. Several people offer to Conspire in that first round, and they take terrible punishments as Bill betrays them. Bill himself gets off lightly. In the second round, he finds that the terminal gives him a description of his history with his opponent. He stabs the Betray button with a moment's regret—and realizes that when he thinks of the other player as anopponent, he is creating a fundamental statement about his relationship.
Seeing himself paired with a player who had given him a valuable Conspiracy the last time, Bill generously offers a Conspiracy in return—but the bastard Betrays, leaving Bill holding the bag. After a few more plays, Bill realizes that these people don't trust him worth a damn. He admits—with considerable reluctance—that he has given them cause for suspicion. In self-defense, he reverts to a constant stream of Betrayals.
On the third round, the handful of people to whom he has offered Conspiracies in the second round come back with Conspiracies for him. Of course, he has given up any acts of mercy, zapping all players with Betrayals.
Meanwhile, two of the players have doggedly continued to give him Conspiracies. It matters not that he Betrays them again and again. On the fourth round he reciprocates, and they remain as solid partners till the last round of the game. He gives up on the ones with whom he seesaws back and forth from Betrayals to Conspiracies, and switches to permanent Betrayals. They do the same.
At the end of ten rounds, he has accumulated over a century in jail.
Hammond pokes his head in. "How'd you do?" he asks.
FOCUS. Bill shrugs. "As well as anybody, I guess."
Back in the discussion room, Hammond disproves that assessment. Several people do substantially better than Bill. Hammond points out key features of the "winners."
The winners had three distinctive characteristics: They wereoptimistic, offering to Conspire with untested partners. They were just, never letting a Betrayal go without response. And they werepredictable in their responses, so their partners knew what they would do at all times. With sudden insight, Bill realizes that these people were the ones with whom he had seesawed early in the game; his stubborn Betrayals constituted a major part of their losses. Of course he had shared their losses, since they soon responded with Betrayals of their own.
"All in all, we have a very rational group here," Hammond says with airy cheer. "Fortunately, I think we can improve on that."
He continues. "I always feel sorry for people encountering the Prisoners Dilemma for the first time. The Prisoner's Dilemma hurts because there is no formula for success. Intuitively, we suspect that the right answer is to Conspire, thus working together with the other prisoner for mutual gain. And if we could talk with the other prisoner, if we could communicate, we could make a good arrangement. But looking at the situation without that ability to communicate, we conclude that we must protect ourselves. The merely rational mind inevitably derives a losing formula."
Hammond leans forward and whispers, as if conspiring with the members of the class in a secret fight with a vicious universe. "But if you can step beyond rationality to superrationality, then youcanderive a winning formula. The formula only works if your partners are superrationai, too—but at least it's a winning formula sometimes. It's better than what happened to all of you in the Dilemma you just faced. " Hammond points at Bill. "What's the sum of four plus three?"
SNAP. Bill looks up, startled. "Seven," he answers without hesitation.
"If another person in a different room were asked the same question, would he give the same answer?"
Bill mutters. "Of course."
"So the two of you would be able to make that agreement without communicating?"
"Sure," Bill snaps. "There's a formula for calculating the right answer."
"And everybody knows the formula." Hammond looks around the class. Some look puzzled; others look expectant.
Hammond continues. "Suppose some of the people didn't know the formula. Then you couldn't guarantee that you and the other person would get the same answer, could you?" A shiver seems to sweep the room as many people shake their heads.
"Okay, now suppose there were a formula for deciding what to do in the Prisoner's Dilemma. No matter who you were, if you applied the formula, you would get the right answer, right? And if you knew that your partner knew the formula, you wouldn't have to worry about the outcome: you could both crank the formula and come out with the right answer."
Hammond raises his arm and points to every person in the class. "So the very assumption that there is a formula tells us what the formula must be, does it not? If there is a formula, the formula says to Conspire, to cooperate with the other prisoner." His arm descends in a human exclamation mark. "But the formula only works ifyouknow the formula,andif you know that yourpartnerknows the formula,andif your partner knows thatyouknow the formula."
About a fourth of the faces in the class brighten immediately with understanding; others brighten more slowly as they grasp the concept. Hammond drawls, "So you and your partner must in some sense be superrational to succeed, for you must be not only rational enough to select rationally among your individual choices, you must also be rational enough to understand the meaning of rationality for the group."
Hammond's eyes shine with pleasure in revealing the key to the game. "So the big question is, how do you find out if the other guy is as superrational as you are? In the Prisoner's Dilemma, there is one way to find out." He spreads his arms in a gesture of martyrdom. "Assume your partner knows the formula in the first round: Give him a Conspiracy. If he knows the formula, he will also give you a Conspiracy in that first round, and you will have found each other.
"But if he doesn't give you a Conspiracy in that first round, you know that he doesn't know the formula. He may be rational as an individual, but he hasn't succeeded in looking outside his own viewpoint—he hasn't achieved superrationality, so you have to treat him accordingly. In games where your partner is only rational, or worse yet, irrational, you must betray him, for he will betray you."
Bill slides backward in his chair, amazed at the short yet devious flow of this logic.
"Consequently, the only way to make games like the Prisoner's Dilemma safe is to educate all the people who might become your partners, so they can be as superrational as you are. Only superrational people working together can win the Prisoner s Dilemma." Hammond stands triumphant before his newly baptized members of the superrational. At least some of them are superrational, anyway; Bill sees doubt on many laces. From those expressions, he knows which ones he would prefer to have as partners.
Bill cheers for victorious superrational mind. He senses the same desire in other people around the room, but the thoughts are too deep to accept just yet. He, and the others, must chew on the idea of superrationality.
Hammond realizes this. "And with that, we'll take a break. Think about situations in which this kind of thinking might affectyourlife. We'll talk about applications in a few minutes—applications in areas as diverse as office politics and child-rearing." He paused. "Andthen, we'll show everyone how to engage in a decision duel."
Jet lag gave Nathan a tremendous business advantage when he flew west. He noted this with little pleasure, sitting outside the Pelmour complex waiting for MDS Software Associates to open its doors. Here in Mountain View, California, it was not quite 8 a.m. His internal body clocks, still set on D.C. time, told him it was closer to 11 A.M. Everyone on this coast was still coping with morning, injecting fresh caffeine into their bloodstreams. Nathan, however, was almost ready for lunch.
The Pelmour complex was one of the dozens of office clusters designed for the unique requirements of upstart startup companies here in the heart of Silicon Valley. The Silicon Valley entrepreneur could not begin life with merely a great idea, a reasonable product, a decent business plan, and a tight chunk of venture capital. The Silicon Valley entrepreneur had to initiate his future corporate empire with the rightstyle.
Much of that style was embodied in the building where the entrepreneur began his life. He could not tool up in an old warehouse, tainted by vanished crates of fruit once plucked from orchard groves that blossomed in the days before silicon. No one would believe he could succeed from such a decrepit location; certainly, his business plan was inadequate in scope.
Nor could he start life in an opulent penthouse office overlooking the ocean. Such ostentation was allowed only to those who had succeeded. Anyone who started in this manner was just a pretender; his great new idea could only be vaporware.
The proper entrepreneur instinctively understood that proper businesses started in two-story buildings: Shipments came and went through the loading dock in back, on the bottom floor. Customers came and went through the door in front, on the top floor. Back in the '90s, construction crews had built miles of ridges here in Mountain View, to create enough cliff edges in which to embed such proper two-story buildings.
The Pelmour complex was a long chain of these startup company buildings, the entrepreneurial equivalent of a tenement row. Nathan couldn't help chuckling as he squinted down the stretch of bland sandstone building fronts. Though he had started the Zetetic Corporation outside Seattle, not San Francisco, he too had worked out of one of these tenements for a time. Indeed, for Nathan, the move to a Seattle tenement had been a step up; he had written the first Personal Enhancement Program—the Advertising Immunity PEP—in the spare bedroom of a friend in San Antonio. No real entrepreneur would have considered working under such conditions. Only his friends in San Antonio, and his sister Jan, had supported his efforts at the time. Jan had always believed in him.
The doors of MDS Software Associates opened. Delilah Lottspeich, the woman he had come to see, had a subcontract with MDS Software. He walked along the curved sidewalk to the front door. Few employees or subcontractors had arrived during the minutes before 8 o'clock; either they arrived enthusiastically early, or they started randomly late.
When he entered, he found people hurrying along behind the receptionist; evidently, enthusiasm was the driver here. Nathan held a brief negotiation with the receptionist before he persuaded one of the passing young men to escort him back to Delilah's office.
Security was not as strict here as it usually was in fledgling companies: the man waved at Delilah's office, then disappeared behind a labyrinth of room dividers. The whole office had the unnatural quiet that follows after the discussions have worn down, when everyone can strive toward well-understood goals. Only the soft click of keys, and the softer sound of mouse buttons, broke the stillness. A weak aroma of coffee came from the brewing station in the corner.
Nathan stepped across the threshold of Delilah's office. He did not announce himself. The mental gymnastics of a programmer are too delicate to disturb lightly; he would wait for the right moment.
She sat facing away from the door, unmoving, absorbed in the computer display. Her hair spilled across her pale shoulders, then cascaded down her back in a golden wave—a frozen wave, like a waterfall turned to ice in mid-flight. Touch it, and it might break.
The golden wave shimmered. Delilah twisted in her seat, and Nathan knocked on the door. She swiveled to face him.
Nathan's sense of watching a frozen waterfall did not diminish. Her arms and neck were long and thin and delicate. Her face held a cold, closed expression—the expression of someone who expects to be struck at any moment.
Nathan gave her his warmest smile. "Delilah Lottspeich? I m Nathan Pilstrom. I called yesterday about a project we need you on."
"I remember," she snapped, her voice sharp with tension. "You wouldn't tell me what it was over the phone." She smiled, moderating her tone. "But I bet it's something interesting. I've taken about half the Zetetic series on liars."
"Oh, no!" Nathan exclaimed, slapping his forehead with mock dismay. "Then I don't stand a chance of manipulating you—unless you missed the course on Lying at a Job Interview."
She didn't respond to the joke.
The Liars series included Lying with Statistics, a study of economists; Lying with Facts, a study of news reporters; Lying with Implications, covering advertising strategies; and Lying with Words, on the fine art of politics. She offered him the chair next to her work station. "Call me Lila." As he sat down, she asked, "What's the Institute working on?"
Nathan leaned forward on the edge of the seat. "Have you ever heard of the Sling project?"
"I don't think so."
Were developing a way to limit the death and destruction caused by war."
"Really." For a moment she lit up with excitement. "What have you developed? A new method for negotiating treaties?" Suspicion closed around her once more. "Wait a minute. Why do you want a digital sensor specialist for something like this—to verify compliance or something? You don't need me for that."
"No, we don't need you for that." Nathan took a deep breath. Just listening to her combination of hope and suspicion, he could predict her reaction to the real project— she would be horrified. "The Sling is a defensive system. By using Information Age techniques, we can pick out key elements in an enemy attack. By destroying those key elements, we can stop the attack with a minimal cost of life."
Her strident voice took on a pleading tone, hoping he would yet allow her to disbelieve what she had just heard. "Are you telling me that the Zetetic Institute now developsweapons?"
Nathan felt like he had been slapped. He sat very straight, very open, as if offering the other cheek for yet another blow. "Yes. We also develop weapons, Lila. If we have to fight a war, it is terribly important that we fight it the best way we know how, to end it quickly."
"You build machines to kill people? I can't believe it!" But the vehemence in her voice suggested that shedidbelieve it. And she hated it.
"We build machines that kill people, yes." Nathan continued to speak as if to a rational person, though he doubted that his mental map of rationality matched the terrain he now faced. He had entered the room as one of her heroes; he would leave as one of her enemies. "But that's not the whole story. Just as we must accept some of the responsibility for the men who die because of the machines we build, so must we accept responsibility for the men who donot die, whowould have diedhad we not built those machines."
She wheeled away from him. He had run out of time for rational discussion.
He had one more avenue of approach available: he could try manipulation. "Lila! You're a smart and sane person. You don't make decisions because of slogans and peer group prejudices—you make decisions because they are right decisions, after fully examining the facts." He had started his speech rapidly, with her name, to get her attention. As he proceeded he slowed down, to let the words set up a cognitive dissonance in her mind.
She now had two views of herself warring within her. One view said that she must not listen, because she hated war regardless of arguments. The other view said that she must listen, because she believed in making right decisions after hearing all the arguments. This conflict, this cognitive dissonance, had to be resolved. If Nathan could enhance her view of herself as a thinking person, she would resolve the dissonance by listening to him objectively. She wouldbecome, for a short time, the smart and sane person Nathan had told her she was.
This tactic assumed her emotional reactions clouded her views. If reflexive emotions held her, then Nathan's new words would appeal to her emotional belief in rational self. Thus Nathan could manipulate her.
But if she were fully rational, the words he had just offered would have no effect. She would weigh his words about the Sling independently from his words about her as a person. And that, too, would be wonderful; his purpose was to get her to give him a fair hearing. Thus, his best hope for success was that she was immune to his manipulation.
Nathan's use of cognitive dissonance here presented the only ethical use of manipulation that Nathan knew— manipulation geared to making a person less easily manipulated.
Small twitches of doubt broke the brittle lines of her face; the cognitive dissonance held her in thrall, unresolved.
Nathan continued, "I'm glad you see as clearly as I do the importance of careful thought. The lives of thousands of people rest with your analysis of what I have to say. " He watched her face carefully, but could not tell if he was winning. "The key to ending a war and saving lives is to prevent people from ever going onto a battlefield. To prevent that, we want to confuse the commanders who order men into battle, to remove them from the picture. Doesn't that make sense?"
The intensity of her response had surprised her, Nathan could see. Of course, her exclamation had not been an answer to Nathan's question. It had been her answer to herself. She had resolved the dissonance. Nathan had failed.
Nathan watched her turn back to her work station, bringing up a page of test graphics. Having denied his thoughts and facts, she now denied his existence.
Nathan did not know which parts of the Zetetic series on liars Lila had taken, but he knew one part she had missed—Lying with Your Own Preconceptions. The toughest part of the series, it dealt with the lies people told to themselves.
PAN. They step into another room. The room has the contours of a small auditorium, though only the first two tiers support ordered rows of seats. At the focal point of the room, Bill confronts the largest computer display he has ever seen—larger than the one in Houston for controlling spacecraft launches.
Hammond speaks. "This is the main screen upon which the Institute carries out its largest and most important decision duels. Its not used too often for that purpose. What we re looking at now is one of our demonstration duels—a duel held over a decade ago to determine the merits of strategic defense."
PAN. Bill looks back at the display in fascination. The colorfiil splashes that streak through the wall resolve, as he approaches, into lines of text. With a few exceptions, the entire screen holds only words, arrows, and rectangles. The rectangles enclose and divide the text displays.
They stop at a console perched high above the audience: clearly it is the display master controller. Hammond continues. "As you can see, the overall dueling area is divided into three sections." He taps a track ball on the console, and a pointing arrow zips across the screen. It circles the left half of the screen, then the right, and finally runs up and down the center band of gray. "Each duel pits a pair of alternatives against one another. Often, the alternatives are negations—one position in favor of some action, and one position against that action. The left part of the screen belongs to the proponent for the action, and the right half belongs to the opponent. These two people are known as theslant moderators. They have slanted viewpoints, of course, and they actually act as moderators—anyone can suggest ideas to them for presentation. Of course, no one calls them slant moderators. The nickname for slant moderator isdecision duelist."
The pointer continues to roam across the center band. "The center is the 'third alternatives' area, where ideas outside of for-or-against may be presented by either of the duelists, or by anyone in the audience. In the duel we have here, the third alternatives section remained closed—no one came up with any striking ways to finesse the question."
The arrow shifts upward. Above the colored swirl of text boxes stands a single line of text, a single phrase. It dominates the screen, with thick letters black as asphalt. The lettering seems so solid Bill wonders whether it is part of the display, or whether it has been etched into the surface in bas relief.
This one phrase running across the top overlaps all three sections of the screen. Bill presumes that top line describes the theme of the duel, the title of the topic under discussion. Reading it now, he sees it does not. Instead, this dark, ominous line—so striking and hypnotic, as if sucking the light from the air—reads:
LET ACCURACY TRIUMPH OVER VICTORY
Despite the hypnotic pull, Bill tears his eyes away from the words. They disturb him.
Hammond speaks. "It's easy to get wrapped up in one's own point of view on a topic. After much study of the matter, we've concluded that you can't overemphasize the need for objective search forrightness, as opposed tovictory." He smiles. "As it happens, we keep records on the duels written by certified slant moderators. We donotkeep our records based on who wins the duel. We keep them based on whether the decision that comes out of the duel iscorrect. Thus, a duelist can have a perfect record even if he 'loses' every time he moderates."
A dark-haired woman wearing a smart business suit asks, "How do you know who's right? Sometimes it takes years to find out, and sometimes you can never find out. ''
Hammond concurs. "You're quite right. We can't trace the correctness of all the duels, so not every duel yields a record. However, we don't lose things just because it takes a long time to determine the outcome. The memories of the Zetetic data bases are very long indeed. In fact, the Zetetic data bases have started to free those of us who work here from our own short-term concerns. Even if we forget events and decisions as quickly as the news media forget, the knowledge remains available for recall with only a slight effort. We have automated the tracking of all the predictions of duelists, stock-brokers, crystal ball readers, and economists. A couple of years of lucky hits do not impress us." He snorts. "We also keep records of the promises made by politicians. I'm sure no one would be surprised by the results of that comparison."
Hammond leads them halfway down to the audience area, where a pair of work stations sit in friendly proximity. The left work station display shows a section of the left half of the main display—the proponents half. Some early duelist has scratched PRO into the edge of the desk top. The right station shows a part of the right half of the display—the opponent's half; another duelist long ago labeled it CON. Bill runs his finger over the rough cuts in the desk top, amazed by the presence of such graffiti.
The cloth-covered arms of the work station chairs show frays and dark stains. Bill wonders how many hundreds of anxious decision duelists have sat in these chairs, rubbing nervous hands over those arms.
"We also keep score on the development of third alternatives that are better than either of the listed alternatives. In general, duels that settle on third alternatives find the best answers of all."
The lecturer drones on, but his voice blends into the scene as Bill watches the cursor on the main display flicker from point to point.
Beneath the blinking warning are the titles: YES, A USEFUL STRATEGIC DEFENSE CAN BE BUILT. And NO, A USEFUL STRATEGIC DEFENSE CANNOT BE BUILT. Beneath the titles are the assumptions, written in cautionary amber. About a dozen assumptions show for the PRO side, and another dozen on the CON side. On the PRO side is the comment, "We assume we are discussing alternatives for getting high rates of kill against ICBMs. We are not discussing engineering absurdities such as 'perfect' defenses."
Next to this assumption lies a picture of a button. When the arrow touches the button, a further discussion of this assumption—why it is necessary—expands into view.
On the CON side, one three-part assumption stands out. "A strategic defense system must pass three feasibility tests: It must be technically feasible. It must be economically feasible. It must be politically feasible."
Beneath the yellow assumption boxes are the opening arguments. The first of these are the cute slogans with much cleverness but little content, much favored by the media. The duelists put them up even if they disagree with them, just to get them out of the way. Appropriately, here the coloration of the text seems playful--purples and oranges and reds splashing about as though written with a child's crayons.
A purple background marks off a quote on the PRO side:
BUILD WEAPONS THAT KILL WEAPONS, NOT WEAPONS THAT KILL PEOPLE.
The CON duelist colored it purple because the statement has no meaningful content, only emotional appeal: whether a weapon kills people directly or not is irrelevant; what matters is whether the weapon increases or decreases the odds that more or fewer people will die.
On the CON side, the PRO duelist had marked a statement in red: PREVENT THE MILITARIZATION OF SPACE. When Hammond's arrow touches this field, an explanation window blossoms to explain the fetal flaw in this reasoning. Space was already militarized: if a war started, 10,000 nuclear warheads could fall through space in the first half hour. Moreover, as with the purple comment on the pro side, the important issue was not whether a weapon was space-based—the question was its effect on human life. The PRO duelist had placed another purple, satirical statement on level with the PREVENT MILITARIZATION slogan, connecting them with a thin line indicating they were two different ways of saying the same thing. The satirical alternative to PREVENT THE MILITARIZATON OF SPACE was MAKE THE WORLD SAFE FOR NUCLEAR WARHEADS.
Beneath the opening comments the words shrank in size, becoming more densely packed as the two sides parried back and forth with increasing verbosity. Both sides agreed to the format described in the CON assumptions: first came discussion of technical feasibility, then economic, then political.
The technical feasibility debate ran to great lengths. PRO constructed alternative after alternative, only to see each one knocked down by CON. But PRO responded to the CON objections, refining the alternatives to overcome the objections one by one. Bill realizes that he sees the evolution of a high-level design for strategic defense outlined before him.
Two-thirds of the way down the screen, the discussion ends, the PRO side triumphant. They have constructed over a hundred different approaches. CON has marked up all but two with bright red fetal flaws, but those two approaches seem capable of defense against words, and maybe also missiles.
Then the debate on the economics begins. This is a short discussion, surprisingly. Both sides agree upon a single criterion for economic viability: Can the system knock a missile down for less money than it costs to put a missile up? If you can shoot them down for more than they cost, then the defense is cheap; if you cannot, then the whole thing is easily defeated by building more missiles. A small amber button glows next to this agreement, which expands to explain the underlying assumption that the defender is not so much wealthier than the attacker that he can afford an extravagant imbalance. A millionaire can spend thousands of dollars protecting himself from a ten-dollar pistol, for example, and easily afford it.
Here both sides invoke large windows filled with spreadsheet calculations. Again, the PRO side shows one possible way of keeping the costs within the economic limit, while CON shows the other approach would fail. Both sides note the inaccuracies in these forecasts, and the size of the ranges. But only one successful approach is needed. The strategic defense system has passed the economic test.
Hammond explains that the political feasibility test is where the CON duelist had focused his attention all along. It is here that the brilliant thrust took place, the insight that makes this a classic in decision dueling. For though there are several approaches that are technically feasible, and one of those is indeed economically feasible, there are thousands of approaches that would fail. With brutal clarity the CON duelist demonstrates, with one military program after another, that the American military development system cannot select a solution that is better than mediocre. With the wings of the C-5, with the computers of TACFIRE, with the armor of the Bradley, the CON duelist demonstrates mediocre solutions that cost factors of two and three times as much as good solutions should.
The PRO duelist concedes: given the American system of military research and development, strategic defense is a hopeless proposition.
"And as everyone here knows, this early decision duel predicted the future quite accurately." Hammond sighs. "This also demonstrates another fundamental consideration of the decision duel—one that engineers all too often forget: the critical importance of finding an approach that can succeed, not only technically and economically, but also politically. This engineering blind spot mirrors the politician's tendency to forget technical viability. Politicians live in a universe where reality seems to be controlled by the perceptions of other politicians. In the heat of finding an approach that he can get other politicians to agree to, he forgets that there are laws he has no control over."
They walk from the room. The warning in asphalt-black from the top of the dueling display continues to etch itself in Bill Hardie's mind.
CUT. After several more demonstrations of Zetetic networks and techniques, he shuts off his flatcam. There is nothing in the Sampler to help him humiliate the Zetetic Institute.
A man could easily starve, wandering the halls of the Pentagon in search of an exit. The faceless, endless corridors contain few distinguishing landmarks for the novice explorer. And the corridors are truly endless—once aligned on a ring, a person could veer gently at each pentagon-corner and return eventually to the place whence he had started. Of course, whether he recognized his starting point or not was another matter.
Sitting at his mahogany desk in the heart of the great building, Charles Somerset reflected on a story he had once heard about wild turkeys. A wild turkey, when confronted with a fence, would simply spread its wings and leap the fence. But when confronted with a thick tree trunk lying on its side, the turkey would run around the log, that being an easier scheme. So the clever farmer strung a low wire, the height of a tree trunk, in a large circle. Instead of leaping, the turkey would run around the edge of the wire to find its end. By the time it returned to its starting place, the turkey had quite forgotten it had been there before. It would run, around and around, till it collapsed in exhaustion.
Charles didn't know whether the system worked with turkeys, but it certainly did with people in the Pentagon. Dazed, dizzy, and defeated by the corridors, exhausted Pentagon commanders could easily have their wings clipped by the smart operator. For some projects, the clipping took a lot of time and gentle nudging, but it yielded results in the end.
For these reasons, Charles loved the Pentagon. The dingy corridors did not dismay him. The hollow echo of air conditioning, the sometimes painful squeal of old battered chairs, the pounding rhythm of remodeling never quite completed, the echoes of conversations that seemed to linger in the hallways long after the speakers had departed: all contributed to the sensation of fighting under hostile conditions. Such conditions made victories over the maze of circles that much sweeter. Charles seldom noticed that the endless circles had trapped even him. Only on days like today did he feel encircled himself.
Today, he felt like a wagon train struggling against a circle of Indian warriors. He had assembled a fine flock of generals, colonels, and majors for the FIREFORS projects, not to mention the gaggles of civil servants and defense contractors. But they had left a few stray turkeys beyond the fence. Strays did not present an abnormality, but when they started acting like an Indian war party, he had to do something about it. Billions of dollars in FIREFORS projects could be canceled if people started concluding that the Sling Project, with a few paltry millions of dollars, could provide more capabilities at ludicrously less cost. Rumors had started already; an intense new school of treaty-loving budget-butchers waited for an opening to storm the FIREFORS train. It was exhausting to think about.
His glasses had slid down his nose during the morning's toil. He pushed them back into place with a sigh.
Charles and his projects had met threats like the Sling before. For over two decades, he had maintained a string of perfect scores in political combat. No one had ever canceled one of his projects.Why not? his opponents often asked. For one thing, the projects were too important, he explained. For another, the Defense Department already had too much money invested in them to just throw them away. This case was no different: hundreds of important people had staked their reputations on FIREFORS by putting money into it; no one wanted a handful of Zetetic fanatics, funded with peanuts, to beat them.
Fortunately, enemies like the Sling Project had many vulnerabilities. Charles had merely to pick one and apply the right formula. The Sling's dependence on commerical hardware and software was such a vulnerability. Commercial stuff might be cheaper, but it did not match the military requirement. It could not be rugged enough, for example. It could not survive an EMP blast, or a salt fog. And cheaply built hodgepodges of commercial stuff were not systems: they did not consider the logistics, the training, or the maintenance that a full-scale development project had to consider.
All these other considerations made military equipment cost tens and hundreds of times as much as commercial equipment. Ruggedization, logistics, training—these problems were responsible for the one little mar in the FIREFORS record: in two decades of effort, not one FIREFORS project had been completed. And of course none had been canceled. So all continued on course to their ever-more-distant deliveries, a fleet of juggernauts on an endless but important voyage.
His desk remained neat throughout the voyage. A single folder of papers to one side suggested to visitors that Charles had concentrated all his efforts on a single important task, excommunicating all else to his filing cabinets, and to his conference table.
Charles did not keep the conference table nearly so clean. Too often, unfriendly visitors came with the intention of spreading their accusatory documents across its surface. So Charles kept a carefully disarrayed assortment of materials there, organized to seem important, slightly skewed to suggest that a disturbance would damage the arrangement. Charles had plenty of space on his desk for displays, if the displays showed favorable results.
A single sheet of paper now rested on the single folder on his desk. It was the draft of a backchannel message from General Curtis to General Hicks, explaining why the Sling Project represented a dangerous duplication of effort. It suggested that control of the Sling Project should move to the FIREFORS program office, where FIREFORS could manage it more effectively.
The backchannel suggested funneling the Sling Project money into the common pool of FIREFORS funds. Then FIREFORS could build a system that included all the good features of both the Sling and the FIREFORS systems—though frankly, General Curtis felt confident that FIREFORS projects already incorporated all the key features of the Sling system. After all, FIREFORS had been working on these problems for twenty years; they had experience. General Curtis recommended to General Hicks that he look at the latest revision of the requirements document describing the FIREFORS products—Version 14.7. Thus General Hicks could see for himself that FIREFORS had indeed covered all critical Sling elements.
Charles smiled, reading about Version 14.7. It had just come off the presses that morning, thicker than Version 14.6 because of a new chapter describing additional variants of FIREFORS systems. The variants looked astonishingly like the Sling Hunters. The only parts of the Sling specifications omitted from the FIREFORS plan were the parts on low cost and quick delivery.
Though the backchannel was from General Curtis, Curtis had not written it; indeed, he had not yet seen it. But Charles had spent the whole week warming him up to the idea of such a message. The general would sign with only a glance at the wording.
With a small hum of pleasure, Charles edited a few fine points in the message. His sharpened pencil stabbed against the paper, slashing streaks of red across the words. It seemed like a modern form of voodoo, wherein the slashes could appear upon the spirits of the men working on the Sling.
Charles hummed more loudly as he considered the devastating potency of this form of black magic.
President Mayfield looked at his watch with eager anticipation. The next step along the path to the next election had been sealed. His heart skipped once in a while, but only when he watched Nell Carson s puzzled expression for too long.
She strode across the room, from the conference table to the bookcase. Her eyes wandered aimlessly across the rows of volumes. It seemed as though she believed the answers to all her questions could be found here, but for some reason she could not read.
Disdainful, Mayfield glanced at the books himself. First he saw only a few books. With a mental step back, he saw more: he saw all the shelves filled with books. Then he remembered that this tiny collection represented a window into the main room of the Library of Congress; he saw walls filled with shelves.
In a moment of grander vision, he saw the rooms filled with walls of shelves, beyond the main room in the Library of Congress. Then he saw the buildings filled with rooms of shelves of books, beyond the main building. And he saw how tiny a single human mind seemed, compared to this enormous swirl of knowledge.
He lurched mentally to a horrible realization. In some desperately important sense, both he and Nell wereilliterate. The answers to their questions might well lie within the behemoth of human experience. Yet those answers might as well not exist. For though both he and Nell could read, they could not read fast enough.
They couldn't read fast enoughl His heart skipped a beat. He needed to look away and think of something else, but Nell's expression held him. He felt sure that Nell had seen the rooms of walls of shelves as clearly as he had, yet the vision did not frighten her. Only sorrow, and longing, and puzzlement touched her expression as her reaching fingers touched the books at random. The gesture seemed so hopeless, yet the mind behind the gesture seemed so hopeful.
She paced back to the table, her dress swishing gracefully as she moved. She paused at the table, reluctant to sit. Yet she had no other purpose in this room; she returned to her chair.
Elated, Mayfield saw that Nell Carson, the woman of neverending surety, was uncertain about their new treaty. Mayfield shifted his gaze to Secretary of State Earl Semmens, seated across the table from Nell. Earl's posture suggested that he expected Nell to strike him physically; he evidently did not recognize Nell's uncertainty.
Unable to resist this opportunity to gloat, Mayfield prodded his vice president. "So, Ms. Carson, what do you think of our new agreement?"
Hard nails clicked against smooth table top. She looked up abruptly, straight into Mayfield's eyes. "I don't know." Even now, though she was filled with doubts, she was annoyingly certain of her uncertainty. "Normally, when the Soviets sign a treaty, we already have indications of their next plans. Of course, we always refuse to understand those indications, but they're there nonetheless." She paused. "This time, I can't see any indications."
"I can see that you can't see." Mayfield's ironic tone showed his enjoyment of this moment. "It couldn't be that we've finally penetrated that impenetrable Soviet suspicion, could it? It couldn't be that they've learned that treaties are better than wars, could it?"
Nell sat frozen, unable to accept this view, yet unable to refute it. Finally, she confessed, "It's possible, Jim. I can't prove you're wrong, though I can show that it's highly unlikely. They may have learned that treaties are better than wars, but that is not the lesson we've been teaching. We've been teaching them that having treaties and having wars, when convenient, is the best of both worlds." Her head tilted, as if listening for a clue. "My best guess is that they have some ulterior motive for withdrawing troops from Eastern Europe, though I have no idea what it might be."
Mayfield glanced back at his watch again; it was almost time.
Earl swiveled out of his defensive posture to confront Nell for the first time. ''Ulterior motive? I'll give you an ulterior motive. The Soviet economy is creaking like an old maid's vertebrae! They desperately need to put those men back to work in the factories and the fields. They have to become more productive—that's their motive! This arms race is hurting them even more than it's hurting us, and it'skillingus! What more motive do you need?"
Nell looked ready to respond, but Mayfield interrupted hurriedly. "Let's see what the rest of the country has to say about my—our—new treaty." His finger stabbed the squishy plastic button on his remote. The dull glow of a television lit up amidst the bookshelves.
For a moment Mayfield thought he had turned on an old movie—one about the gods of ancient Greece. The man who smiled out at them from the TV screen could easily pass as Apollo.
Nell whistled. "Whew! Who is that guy?"
Mayfield shrugged. "He's a new reporter for ABN. Some of my constituents tell me he'll be the newscasting star of the decade. They asked me to watch his spots. They say he knows the nation's pulse better than anybody." Actually, Mayfield himself knew the nation's pulse best. That had been proven repeatedly. Jim had an uncanny knack for positioning himself within the public spotlight.
Nell asked, "What's this guy's name?"
"Uh, Bill Hardin, or something like that. He looks like Apollo, doesn't he?"
"I've never seen a more perfect Neanderthal animal in my life."
ZOOM. The Neanderthal Apollo wears a suit and tie and speaks with the bland accent of the Midwest. "Tonight's top story, of course, is President Mayfield's latest treaty with the Soviet Union. The new treaty, a remarkable American coup at the negotiation table, is known as the Mutual Force Reduction Agreement. It leads immediately to the withdrawal of several divisions of troops, both American and Soviet, from the European theater. This will mean an immediate relaxation of tensions, and may lead to even more impressive longterm troop withdrawals."
Nell commented drily, "At least no one can accuse him of pessimism."
"Shush, " Mayfield chided.
FOCUS. "America may be witnessing the most significant transition in world history: the transition from a world of tense, sometimes violent conflict, to a world of peace. President Mayfield has singlehandedly propelled this transition with his clockworklike invention of new ways to lower tensions, while maintaining the security of both the United States and the Soviet Union. Indeed, rumors have started circulating that President Mayfield could become the next Nobel Peace Prize winner."
What an incredible idea! The Nobel Peace Prize! Again he looked over at Nell, who stared fixedly at the screen. He felt a certain compassion for her, thinking how difficult it must be for her to acknowledge the rightness of his long, determined drive to peace. He felt flush with warm belief in himself.
CUT. The scene shifts to a picture of angry civilians and equally angry police, facing each other on a wide swath of concrete. "What incredible methods of persuasion did the president use to make the Soviets agree to the Mutual Force Reduction Agreement? He was able to arrange this withdrawal of troops despite the ongoing unrest in East Germany." Huddled groups of East Germans suddenly break into motion. A few bricks fly, then the sound of machine guns fills the air. The viewer can almost smell the gunpowder. "The only place in the world today where the Soviets face worse trouble than here in East Germany is in the city of Ashkhabad, near the Iranian border. Here militant Muslim extremists press for religious and other freedoms. The violence grows as Iranian smugglers continue supplying guns and training to militant protesters."
CUT. A diplomatic delegation comes into view. "Even this conflict seems on the verge of resolution, however. After years of reticence, the Iranian government has agreed to work out a plan with the Soviet Union for controlling these smugglers. We have reason to believe this negotiation may have been arranged by President Mayfield as well. We believe he used his influence with Saudi Arabia, which persuaded the King of Jordan to press the Ayatollah of Iran for resolution of the issue."
Mayfield started to shake his head in denial of this last twist in Hardie's analysis, then stopped. The rumor wasn't true, of course; he had had no involvement with the SovietIran talks whatsoever. And though he would never suggest that hehadhad something to do with it, such rumors could thrust him even closer to the Peace Prize. For now, it seemed silly to deny them.
He saw Nell contemplating him with her toowide, solemn blue eyes. Something about her demanded a reaction. He thrust his chin forward, proud of the events he had initiated. He wondered why she made him feel so uncomfortable, why she made his heart speed up like a rabbits.
Nell rose to leave, having heard as much president-worship as she could stand. "Congratulations," she offered with apparent sincerity. She nodded at the news reporter on the screen, then at Mayfield. "I hope you're both right. I hope we don't regret this a month from now."
"Don't worry," Mayfield said as she left the White House library room. "Next month we'll do something even better."
Filter first for substance. Filter second for significance.
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A long corridor connected the receptionist hub of the Institute's main building to Leslie Evans's office. Nathan walked that corridor often, but he never walked it without a moment's pause near the beginning of the hall. Nathan paused there now. He stood in the heart of the Sling Project.
A tapestry of colorful lines and boxes filled the walls of the corridor. For a child's eye the pattern would hold little beauty, and less meaning. But to an engineer, this corridorfilling PERT chart held as much truth as a man could bear in a single encounter. And for an engineer, truth always appeared intricately meshed with beauty. In some engineering sense, the chart was beautiful.
Every task in the Sling Project had a box on the wall. Lines of interdependency jagged across the spaces between the boxes—from boxes that could be completed early, to boxes that could not be started until those early boxes yielded completed products. For example, they had to design the prototype SkyHunter before they could build it. They had to build it before they could test it.
No single human mind could understand all the complexities of all the components of the Sling Project. But in this hall a person could at least grasp the outline of the system as he walked from the accomplished past into the dreamedof future. The colors of the chart which described the relation between accomplishment and dream, rippled in an elastic dance with the passage of time.
Greenmarked tasks were already completed. Nathan had entered the hall from the past, from the beginning of the project. He walked through a forest of greens for a long time, and his confidence grew. The Sling team had already accomplished so much. He reached out and touched a green box at random: SELECT BASE VEHICLE FOR THE HOPPERHUNTER. There had been three alternatives for the hopper—a commercial hovercraft and two experimental walking platforms. The hovercraft had won out in the selection because of its speed, despite its inferior stability.
Pink marked the tasks now falling behind schedule. A pink box was not necessarily a catastrophe. Pink tasks still had slack time before they were needed for the next step in the dance of interdependencies, but they were warnings of potential trouble.
Nathan proceeded down the hall. Soon a light scattering of pink mingled with the green. As Nathan walked closer to the present, the pinks clustered more thickly, but they did not yet dominate any part of the wall.
Simple black marked the tasks not yet started, not yet needed. These tasks were the future—challenging, but nevertheless achievable. Nathan stopped where the black boxes collided with the pinks and greens. He stood in the present. Reaching forward, he touched a tiny part of the near future, when they would complete the design for the Crowbar control surfaces. The Crowbar was the projectile dispensed from the HighHunter, a deceptively simple metal bar that would simply fall to Earth from orbit and hit the ground—or an enemy tank—with all the speed and energy it gained in its meteoric flight. Black boxes such as this one covered the rest of the corridor.
Red marked the results of a pink box that had festered too long. Red marked disaster: a task that should already have been completed—one that had to be completedimmediately. Every day the red box remained red, every day its schedule slipped, the schedule for the whole wall of tasks slipped. A single red box would ultimately distort the whole wall—all the way out to the box for the completion date, itself so far down the hall it disappeared from Nathan's sight. Red boxes represented the blood and sweat of engineers who would work 24 hours a day to repair the damage. Red boxes marked open wounds on the body of the project.
A single red box glared under Nathan's appraising gaze. This box had triggered his meeting today with Leslie. He touched it. The words inside described his own personal failure. COMPLETE STAFFING OF THE SOFTWARE DEVELOPMENT TEAM, the box reminded him. With an abrupt turn, he hurried through the black future of the Sling to Leslie's office.
He found Leslie glaring at a paper on his desk, listening to his telephone in annoyed silence. When he spoke he sounded like a miserly grouch. "And I'm telling you that you've billed us twice and delivered the fracture analysis zero times. Send us a copy of the originals and we'll talk again." He listened a few more moments. "Right. Goodbye." He mashed the telephone into its receiver. With an abrupt change of tone to that of a comic straight man, he asked Nathan, "Okay, guru, where's our software development team?"
Nathan shook his head. "I'm sorry, Les. I hate giving excuses—and I'm not giving you one now. But I think you'll find the problem I've run into interesting, even though it sounds like I'm making excuses."
Leslie chuckled. "That's the best leadin for an excuse I've ever heard. Did they teach you that here at the ZI?"
Nathan made a face. "I've found that the software engineers in the United States today fall into three broad categories." He started ticking them off on his fingers. "First, there are brilliant engineers who refuse to work on military projects. Second, there are brilliant engineers who can and will work on military projects. Unfortunately, as nearly as I can figure from the Jobnet data bases, all of them already are working on military projects. The country has sucked an awful lot of people into this kind of work." He waved his hand in a frustrated wipe at an imaginary slate.
"Third there are engineers who are not brilliant. I've got tabs on several solid pluggers who could do some of our work, but no one who can make the Sling fly on schedule."
Les brought his hand to his lips. Several years ago, the motion would have ended with a puff from a thin cigarillo. The cigarillo was gone—Jan had made him well—but his hand remembered. "I know the problem. I've fought it for years." He sighed. "Joel Barton, the first man I worked for after getting out of the Air Force, told me the real reason why the Soviet Union would beat us. 'Les,' he said, 'they have three times as many airplanes, four times as many tanks, and five times as many men. But that isn't the real problem. The real problem is that they haveeighttimes as manysmart minds—physicists and engineers and such— working on their military problems.' He clapped me on the shoulder. 'Les, for us to keep up with them, you and I and every other engineer in the United States who does defense work will have to be eight times as productive as one of theirs." He cleared his throat.
Nathan shook his head in mild disappointment. "For shame, Les, do you want me to get up on one of my soapboxes?" he asked. "There's another alternative. We don't have to work eight times as hard, if we can harness the strength of the commercial equipment that our nonmilitary engineers build." He smiled. "That way, we'll only need to work twice as hard as their engineers." The smile dropped. "But even working only twice as hard, I fear we need starquality people to complete the Sling."
"Unquestionably," Les agreed. "Well need stars. The schedule is tight, and the software will be the most difficult part to develop and test—it's the only part that we need to develop from scratch. To make schedule we'll have to keep the software team small and fast. If the team's too big, we'll run out of fuel at test time, when we find out how many ways the team members misunderstood each other when they were building their individual pieces."
Nathan had arrived tense; now the tension subsided as he listened to Leslie's summation. Les understood the problem as well as he did. "We'll do it with no more than four people," Les continued. "We need one sensor expert—a person whose specialty is transforming raw signals into clean images. He shouldn't just know how to handle visual images, either. This person will need to know the whole electromagnetic spectrum. And he'll have some hellish signals to process—the Crowbars will need to identify and lock on targets within seconds of hitting terminal velocity, just after coming out from their own little clouds of superheated plasma."
Nathan plunked into the chair next to Leslie's desk. "Right. Next, well need an expert systems specialist—someone who can analyze those images to decide what the Hunter should do. For example, the SkyHunter needs to look at a random collection of radar sites, communication sites, and images of tents and vehicles. From that, it'll have to figure out where the headquarters is. That's where we need to make the machine think like a human military expert."
"Our military expert is Kurt, right?" Leslie asked. When Nathan nodded, Leslie continued with a frown. "Jan is still doing a better job of running this project than we are."
"Yes." The conversation paused. For the first time since Jan's death, Nathan took a close look around Leslie's office.
The little things had changed—the picture frames on his desk contained only images of Kira. The clutter had shifted, too. Antiquated microcomputers that Leslie had collected in the corners of the room had gone away, opening sections of wall that had not seen sunlight for years. Nathan's nose itched as he thought of the spumes of dust that must have risen from that machine graveyard.
Though the piles of computers had disappeared, the stacks of books had grown, filling a third large bookcase. The pictures on the walls remained the same—pictures of jet fighters, transports, and surveillance aircraft that Leslie had flown and developed before the Air Force had decided to make him a general. The promotion had taken him by surprise; he had not wanted it. He had rushed to get out before they made him a totally political beast, spending his life crafting ways to defeat the internal system rather than ways to meet the external threats.
Nathan continued the count of people they needed. "Third, we need a person who blends robotics and comm expertise—someone who can take the decisions made by the expert and put them into action, moving the vehicle, firing the gun, and so on."
"Sounds like a complete trio to me," Les replied. "Of course, it might be nice if they all had compatible personalities while we re hiring stars. It would certainly make life easier, anyway. But I still only count three. Who's the fourth person?"
Nathan laughed. "The fourth person is the vicious one, the one whose purpose is to ruin your group dynamics. He's the tester—by virtue of his creation of the simulations. We can't smash up 10,000 hovercraft and airplanes trying to test the software. Long before we ever put any of this stuff in a real Hunter, we ll have to work out the bugs by plugging into simulations. The sims will look, feel, and taste like real Hunters, as far as the software is concerned."
Leslie wrinkled his nose. "Of course." He looked Nathan in the eye. "So we need four people. How many of them do we have now? Besides Kurt, that is."
Nathan sighed. "None of them. Though I do have a couple of leads."
"So you found some candidates on the Jobnet after all."
"Not in the usual way." Nathan laughed. "I looked through listings of people whousedto be looking for jobs. Out of those people, I looked for people who had found shortterm jobs. Hence, instead of a list of available people, I have a list of people who will be available soon. I doubt that anyone else has searched Jobnet looking for people this way."
Les snorted. He looked stern, and Nathan knew the Air Force had taken a grievous loss when this man had refused his promotion to general. "No one searches Jobnet with the techniques you use, except the ones who take your own classes on data manipulation and information filtering. You, my friend, are creating a huge collection of competitors for yourself. The Zetetic Institute is bound and determined to destroy its own advantage."
Nathan chuckled. "I wish that were the biggest problem we faced."
"If you already have a list of prospects lined up, why'd you come here to bother me?" Leslie asked.
Nathan leaned across Leslie's desk. "I'm bothering you because one of my prospects is an old friend of yours. Currently, he has a job that's barely more than a hobby. He's networking the cash registers for a group of knitting and stitchery shops. He's our comm and robotics man, if you can win him over."
"If I can win him over, huh? Who is this guy?"
Nathan removed a microfloppy from his inner suit pocket and handed it to Leslie. "Amos Leung."
Leslie blinked. "Amos? Jesus, I haven't seen Amos in over a decade. How did you know he worked for me?"
Nathan clapped his hands. "I didn't, actually. But I suspected. He worked on the Version G modifications to the E3 comm system while you were program manager. I just guessed you might know him."
"Hmph. Well, Nathan, if you wanted a star, you'll get one in Amos."
"If we can get him."
"Yeah." Leslie pursed his lips. "He's a great software developer. But Jesus, he'll be a hard sell."
Nathan patted him on the shoulder. "I have great faith in your powers of persuasion."
"Is there anything else we should discuss before I go in search of my next crisis?" Nathan asked.
"No—though you should know about FIREFORS's latest attempt on our lives."
The grim humor of Leslie's voice told Nathan they'd had a close call. "What was it?"
Leslie told him about the backchannel message that General Curtis had intended to send to General Hicks. Fortunately, Curtis had mentioned the message to an old friend of Leslie's, who had tipped Leslie off. Leslie had discreetly arranged for other old friends to dissuade Curtis from sending the message.
"Was that really all that dangerous—just a message from one general to another?" Nathan asked in puzzlement.
"Well, it would have been a whole lot harder for us to stop if it had been sent, that's for sure. Nathan, we're gonna have to watch those guys like hawks. And we'd better keep our noses clean. If FIREFORS gets a whiff that something's going wrong, they'll be on us in a minute."
"Like a bad cost overrun or something?"
"Yeah. That, or a bad schedule delay." He pulled a miniature copy of the corridor PERT chart from deep inside the paper clutter of his desk, and stabbed the small dot of red amongst the greens and pinks. Nathan felt another shiver up his spine as he considered the possible consequences.
Ivan leaned forward in his seat—the unpadded wooden back hurt his spine—then realized how nervous he must look in that pose. He sank back in the chair, only to lean forward again.
As he fidgeted, he occasionally looked out the window to watch children playing in the warmth of the summer sun. Once in a while he yielded to the need to look back at his commander, who now had to double as his executioner.
He could no longer hope that Colonel Savchenko, the man who had given him the promotion and the project on the consequences of nuclear war, had come here for any other purpose.
He chided himself for ever hoping for anything else. He remembered the gunmetal gray of the weather the day this project had started, the unremitting clarity with which he had known that his plans would lead to disaster. Yet over the months, as the grays of Siberia yielded to white-specked blues, Ivan too had yielded to brighter visions. He had come to believe that his superiors would believe him; he had deceived himself with hope that they would be happy to have him disrupt their dangerous selfdeceptions. His hope had peaked as he had framed the summation of the report.
It was the summation that Colonel Savchenko now reread with weary gray eyes. Ivan could almost read it more easily in his own mind than the colonel could read it in wide bold type:
Thus we see that, despite the uncertainties, the best available analyses of the effects of nuclear war all drive to the same conclusion. Five gigatons of explosions would cause a global disaster that would challenge the lives of even the luckiest war survivors. Avoidance of such a nuclear exchange must be a primary goal of the Soviet Union, even if it means concessions to foreign powers. Only if our country faced certain extinction could we justify a strategic battle that pressed the limits of global catastrophe.
Ivan stared at the colonel. A sunbeam of light through the window threw his trenchantly wrinkled features into sharp relief. He gave Ivan a millimeter shake of his head. "The wording in this summation is too strong. Indeed, you overstep the bounds of analysis when you presume to discuss global politics. Neither you nor I is in a position to declare what the State must and must not do."
"Unfortunately, sir, the facts drive one to these conclusions. Only a madman could decide that it's in the Stated best interest to destroy the entire human race. No matter where you were, a major nuclear assault would be a disaster of unprecedented proportions."
The colonel sighed. "This entire report is a disaster of unprecedented proportions."
Ivan's fidgeting stopped. He sat very straight, very still. "There is not a single false word in this report, sir. Every page, every sentence, every word, contains as much truth as science can currently produce."
"Yes, yes, I'm sure. It's a disaster nonetheless."
"I deeply regret that the truth contradicts the preconceived notions some people may have had."
Savchenko looked up swiftly from the paper, to puzzle over Ivan s expressionless face. "Doyou regret it?" His voice acquired the hard evenness of glare ice. "It makes no difference. We have neither the time nor the money to redo this effort from scratch without explaining what happened. And I'm sure you're right about the rigor of the research. We would find it impossible to explain away this verification of the current forecasts.
"However, the summation is neither factual nor even logical. It must be rewritten. In fact, this whole document needs to be interpreted carefully, as regards its impact on global strategy. Your brief summation will be replaced by an entire additional chapter." Ivan opened his mouth to speak, but the colonel raised his hand for silence. "But you will not write this last chapter, major. The final chapter needs a more senior hand—someone with not only a keen eye for the facts of the physical world, but with a sensitivity for the intangibles of international relations as well."
Ivan's mouth drew in a thin line.
"You, major, have a new assignment. An assignment in Czechoslovakia. " The colonel rolled his lips; his brow darkened in a moment of melancholy. "We have a cell of tactical nuclear weapons effects analysts in the city of Plzen. You will take charge of them. Your first task is to develop a plan for the nuclear decapitation of the American VII Corps in the event of a drive to Stuttgart from Cheb."
"Yes, sir." What a delicately molded axe they used on him! Many officers would have fought for the chance to serve in a foreign country. But those officers fought for the prestigious command of combat troops. For an officer whose greatest contributions lay in research, reassignment to the borderlands spelled intellectual death. Ivan faced the horror of his own mortality—he could not live long enough to erase this blackness from his record. He was young, yet his career was already quite doomed.
The last moments of the meeting blurred in irrelevance. He found himself outside, walking alone in the sunny warmth. He walked slowly, keeping careful control over the mix of emotions jangling in his mind.
The emotions separated out as he walked. Some floated to the top; others sank away, perhaps to return later, but gone for now. The emotion that rose to domination was a feeling of deep happiness.
Happiness! His career had been destroyed. Still he felt light—the lightness that comes with feeling your own power when you know you areright. Had he protected his career by producing something politically astute, but scientifically wrong, he would have regretted it forever. Instead, he had done what was right. He had done his best. He refused to apologize for it.
A second emotion floated there and increased the sensation of lightness. This was a feeling of relief—relief in knowing he would not have to fight another political battle. They would never try to use him this way again. And they would never again make him walk this treacherous tightrope, trying to squeeze halftruths from the system. He walked a broad avenue where honesty counted more.
As the last glimmers of horror dissolved in the warmth of his happiness, Ivan realized how lucky he was. Most men go through their whole lives uncertain of their own strength, never knowing whether they are cowards or heroes. Ivan knew.
Two children sailed past on bright red bicycles, laughing into the wind. Ivan laughed too, a curiously mixed laughter, both triumphant and defiant. The triumph was internal—his personal victory in choosing to give his best. The defiance was external, directed at those who disdained his best, claiming it was not sufficient. His defiance was anchored firmly in his unfounded belief that, ultimately, the people who gave their best would prevail.
He suddenly saw how his superiors had made their mistake in choosing him. Bright, ambitious Ivan seemed like the perfect tool for twisting the truth. How could they have known that cool, aloof Ivan, the loner with no family and few friends, cared so much about children? In his mind, he watched Anna and her three girls running.
There was a great irony in the freedom he gained from his lack of family. Had he had children of his own, he would have had to worry about preserving his career so that he could give them a good home.
Instead, he had been the worst choice they could have made for their purposes. He laughed again, this time with pure defiance. The laughter, and the lightness of his own power, sustained him all the way home.
Kurt straightened from his console. This desk work challenged evenhispowers of discipline. He ran a hand through his thick blond hair and realized it needed cutting.
Meanwhile, outside the window of his office in the Institute, a gentle summer day confronted him. The bright, dry terrain reminded him that he should not be inside this building. He should be outside, fighting the enemy in the open. Dammit, this was no way to conduct a war.
He shook his head. No one else around here even conceded that it was a war. Jan had never acknowledged it, though she had come close; Leslie might think it now and again, but never out loud; and Nathan . . . Kurt shook his head thinking about Nathan. He was so philosophical, how could he ever get anything done?
So far, Nathan's help had been zip. Kurt worked in isolation from the world, almost isolated from the problem Jan had given him to solve—the problem of building expert software to make decisions for the Hunters. The necessary decisions covered a wide range of difficulties from decisions as basic as,Where do l go?, to decisions as complex as,How do I kill them before they kill me?
Kurt knew a great deal about how to kill them before they killed him. The survival instincts needed by the Hunters bore a striking resemblance to the survival skills needed by a lone Ranger behind enemy lines.
But the details differed in important ways. Kurt needed more information to complete his mission. He, like the combat expert system he was supposed to build, needed to know what kinds of data he would get from the sensors to make decisions. He also needed to know what kinds of orders he could give to the Hunter's controls to carry them out. At the moment, Kurt and his software were commanders without either recon patrols or assault teams.
Nathan had agreed that Kurt had problems he couldn't solve alone. Nathan was running as fast as he could, so he said, to gather the rest of the men for the development team. In the meantime, Nathan suggested that Kurt start with the simplest of the three combat expert systems.
Of the HopperHunter, the SkyHunter, and the HighHunter, by far the simplest decisionmaking problem rested with the HighHunter. The HighHunter consisted of two parts—the container and the Crowbar. The container was a tin can mounted on rockets, which carried the Hunter into space, where it orbited until someone on the ground needed close fire support. Then the tin can popped open.
Within the tin can, dozens of Crowbars lay packed together. The Crowbars were the weapons of the HighHunter. Each Crowbar had a sensor tab near the tip, four stubbed fins at the tail, and a tiny computer in the middle, all built into a long shaft of solid steel. When the Hunter canister popped open, the Crowbars fell. They fell twenty miles, with violent velocity, torturing the air as they screamed by.
As they fell, the sensor tab watched for targets—typically, enemy tanks. The computer selected one. The fins touched the air, twisting the Crowbar, guiding it to a final contact with the target.
The Crowbar contained no explosives—it didn't need them. After falling twenty miles, the steel shaft could crush any tank armor ever devised.
Kurt loved the concept of the Crowbar. It was simple— simple enough to be brutally rugged—yet it was effective.
So Kurt had started with the Crowbar s decisionmaking problem. At first it seemed so simple as to be unworthy of solving: pick a tank at random and head for it. But that was not quite so straightforward. It would be better to pick the lead tank, to block the passage of the others. What if he saw both tanks and personnel carriers—which should he select? Should he just take one at random? Random selection had several advantages besides simplicity. And Lordy, it was tricky figuring out how to fall at terminal velocity to assure the Crowbar would slam into the vehicle you had picked out.
Kurt understood why they needed him to carry out this mission. They needed someone who could identify and prioritize highvalue targets. They also needed someone who could identify and translate highspeed images.
They needed someone with a background like his, with four years in Army Special Forces. And they needed someone with a background like his, with degrees in software engineering and artificial intelligence.
He also understood why it might be difficult to enlist the other people needed for the Sling Project. The Sling required unusual combinations of talents.
A polite knock on his open door made Kurt whirl to his feet. "Yes, sir, what can I do for you, sir?" he asked of Nathan.
Nathan moved from the backlighting of the corridor to the frontlighting of the window. He looked uncomfortable. Kurt suspected he didn't like being called "sir," though Kurt didn't understand why. It was just a form of respect.
Nathan asked, "How would you like to join a discussion about sensors? I have a sales team down the hall trying to convince me thattheirnear-infrared sensing fibers are the best invention since the eyeball."
"I'd be happy to join your meeting if you think I'd be useful."
Nathan shrugged. "It'll impact your life more directly than it'll impact mine," he said. "I can't help thinking you'd have an interest in the outcome."
Kurt followed him down the corridor, keeping his eyes straight ahead. The ceiling in this place still made him uncomfortable: it curved smoothly, seamlessly, to become the corridor walls—an absence of sharp edges that disturbed him. He'd never worked in a building that seemed so soft.
As they entered the room, three men rose to greet them. Two of them could have been twins, in their crisp white shirts and maroon ties; the third wore a powderblue shirt and sat away from the others. "Jack Arbor," "Gary Celenza," the twins offered. "Howdy, I'm Gene Pickford, and I'm glad you gave us this opportunity to talk with you," the third burst out.
A shiver rippled down Kurt's spine as he formally introduced himself. He could almost smell them, they were so clearly marked as contractor marketeers. The marketeers from federal contractors represented one of the lowest forms of life he had met while in the Army. The contractors with their magic potions, and the officers whobelievedin the potions—these people endangered the field soldier as much as any enemy.
Only one kind of man endangered the field soldier more: the officer who demanded magic potions from the contractors. Such officers rejected ideas based on what was possible. They showed interest only in ideas based on what was improbable. In their blind desire for something better, they twisted the occasional honest contractor into a marketeer. Anyone foolish enough to offer simple facts found himself cast aside. And though those officers were a minority, somehow they dominated the others: their tales of hopedfor magic enthralled otherwise levelheaded men.
Yet none of these kinds of men had first inspired Kurt to start thinking about leaving the Army. Another group— another derivative of this selfdestroying game—made life so unbearable that the insane battle by Yuscaran could break him.
This group that had most upset him contained the men who had seen too many magic potions evaporate. They were the jaded cynics who no longer believed in any magic. The cynics stolidly performed their jobs today the way they had performed them yesterday; they could not be turned from their deadend path by any force smaller than a kilo of detonating cyclonite. Kurt had finally left the Army to find a place where men judged new ideas on the merits of the ideas themselves—a place where men could be skeptical without being cynical.
After a lot of talk with no purpose, the loud man in powder blue shoved his hand deep in his pocket and tossed a shiny button on the table, where it skipped across the surface like a flat stone on a still pool of water. As it skittered toward the edge, Kurt clamped it to the table top.
A thread trailed from the button. Kurt recognized the connector through which the sensor transmitted its raw readings. On close examination, the head of the button resolved into thousands of circles, the tips of optical fibers. The loud man spoke. "That's it. A whole infrared sensor the size of a postage stamp."
Kurt saw Nathan raise an eyebrow. "Is the image processing done right there in the sensor bundle?"
"A significant amount of the processing is done right there."
Nathan's eyes moved from one marketeer to the next. "What about the rest of the processing?"
One of the twins placed a gray box the size of a cigarette pack on the table. "The rest is done here."
"Ah, that's more like it," Nathan said in soothing tones.
With adroit conversational fencing, Nathan coaxed from them the sensor's specification. Kurt admired Nathan's skill with the detached disinterest that an aerospace engineer might have for the improvisations of a jazz musician. These verbal fencing games were another part of the contracting world Kurt didn't like and didn't understand. He had always given other people straight answers; he expected them to reciprocate.
Nathan asked in the smooth tones of a potion seller, "What kinds of enhancements are you planning in the future?"
The powder blue shirt answered, "We re looking into adding some extra synch bits on the transmitter to increase reliability. So far, that's the only enhancement we've heard more than one of our customers ask for. Of course, we do custom work, too. Frankly, we make almost nothing on the basic sensor; most of our profits come from the customizations that our customers need. For a project like yours, where you're planning to buy lots of basic units off the shelf, that would work to your advantage.'' He tapped the table next to the button. "And for the new Version D, we have a special introductory price that undercuts even our normal prices. '' For the first time in the conversation, he turned from Nathan to look at Kurt. "What do you think of our package here, Kurt?"
Kurt looked him in the eye. "If it meets its own spec, it sounds like it might be a good choice for the SkyHunter. Could we borrow one for testing?"
The man's smile turned to sorrow. "I'm afraid we're having awful trouble just keeping that one to show around. We're shipping as fast as they come off the line. But I'll see what I can do."
Nathan thanked them, rising to show them to the door. The marketeers took the hint, scooping up their samples and departing with much fanfare. Nathan turned back to Kurt. "So what did you think of their psychology?" he asked.
Walking back to his chair, Kurt looked at Nathan with puzzlement. He almost stumbled as he realized that he had just seen, in real life, one of the maneuvers he had just learned about here at the Institute. The man in powder blue had intentionally set up psychological distance between himself and the others. His job was to create ideas and alternatives for customers such as Nathan and Kurt to consider. If the customers rejected an idea out of hand, the other two marketeers would also reject it. If Nathan or Kurt seemed interested, however, the twins in crisp white would take it over as their own, adding their weight of authority and numbers.
Kurt cradled his arm as if to protect it from another bullet. "That psychological maneuvering is silly," he snorted in disgust. "That kind of stuff never persuades people to buy things."
Nathan looked at him with pleasure. ''It certainly never makes you buy things. But the technique does help them push other people over the threshold/'
Kurt made a faint motion of acceptance of his boss's words, though he didn't believe it for a moment. "Yes, sir."
"I understand why you're skeptical, but I think I can prove it to you. And you know what I like about that? Kurt, if I prove it to you, you'll believe me."
"Have you ever noticed how many people aren't convinced by proof?" Nathan switched back to talking about the meeting. "Did anything else about those guys and their sensor strike you?"
Kurt shrugged. "It seemed like a reasonable box to me."
"Yes, especially if they fix the comm problem."
"The comm problem?" Kurt shook his head. Had he fallen asleep in the meeting?
"Yes, the comm problem that they're planning to fix with their enhancement to the synch bits." His voice fell off, as if talking to himself. "And we'll wait a bit for the price to fall."
"What about the introductory offer?"
"Oh," Nathan waved his hand as if warding off a mosquito. "They always have introductory offers when they're afraid the first production run won't sell out at the initial high price." He laughed. "Of course, we'll have to figure out what options we need to build in. I'm sure that, if they make their money on the customizations, there's something fundamental missing from the basic box that needs to be added! But we'll see."
Kurt shook his head again. "I didn't sleep through that meeting, but I get the feeling I didn't hear the same words you did."
Nathan nodded. "Though the guys with the suits didn't fool you, Kurt, you are not immune to all forms of marketing."
Kurt pulled away in disbelief. Nathan chuckled. "You don't believe me. I'm not sure I want you to believe me, actually. But ask yourself the following question, sometime when you have an idle hour or two. Kurt, how did Jan persuade you to come to work on the Sling Project? What compelling reason did she give to make you accept a position where you'd once again have to deal with all the things in the Army that you quit to escape from? How'd she do it?"
Kurt left, but Nathan's questions went with him. Like droplets leaking from a pipe that no one can fix, the questions struck him gently, again and again, all afternoon.
Again the blue haze swirled about Daniel, clinging to him in short strands before it disappeared. Physicists often visualized the electron as an incompressible point, surrounded by a cloud of probabilities. At moments like this, Daniel thought of himself as the incarnation of that vision. His cloud of probabilities was the set of paths to success, combined with the set of paths to failure. His incompressible point was his purpose. His purpose at the moment was to destroy the Zetetic Institute.
He spoke to Kira, setting the contrails of smoke to spinning. "Hey, you've done a great job. I appreciate your efforts. But it's clear that we missed a key point somewhere. Despite all your great efforts, the bottom line on our campaign is a big null. It just isn't working."
Daniel watched Kira with admiration. She had not taken the failure too personally. Her expression suggested a more scientific astonishment—the puzzlement that comes when an experiment invalidates previous research.
The failure had not been her fault. She had collected an outstanding stable of usable newsmen. One had already been lifted to national prominence in his crusade against Zetetic quackery robbing people who want to give up smoking, who are instead sold a barrel of worn and petty philosophy. It was particularly nice since that reporter had earlier spent his days defiling the tobacco industry. Sweet.
But all the work had been in vain. Despite Kira's best efforts, despite his own best efforts, the Zetetic Institute continued growing unreasonably. "We need a new approach. Or at least we need to figure out why our standard approach isn't working. Frankly, I can't understand it."
Kira smiled in consolation, though she was as baffled as he was. I don t understand it either. You can't pick up a paper without seeing an article about some bizarre Zetetic ritual. Market research shows that half the people who have heard of them think they're born-again witches; the other half think they're meditating pacifists." She shook her head. When she spoke again, the lines of surprise around her mouth had softened to a look of awe. "How can the Institute get so much bad press and still thrive?"
Daniel inhaled through his mouth, tasting the hot cigarette smoke as it rushed into his lungs. He offered his most recent thoughts. "Could our attack have enhanced their fame? Could such fame have counterbalanced the success of our attack?"
Daniel watched her for a reaction of guilt. But she was all business, from the concentration of her eyes to the glowing tip of her cigarette. With some amusement, Daniel noted that she had developed some skill in holding her cigarette, though she had not yet developed grace. She nodded. "I thought about the dangers of making them femous, of course. We tried to place our attacks in strategic media centers. Our criticism appeared in places where favorable things were already being said, so we could cut off positive impressions near the root. So our campaign shouldn't have increased the Institute's visibility much at all." Kira looked out the window, across the landscape, where thick green leaves shrouded the trees hugging the Potomac. "Of course, we made the ZIs alittlemore famous. We can only point the journalists in a direction; we can't quite control them, so they always try to get wider coverage for their stories than we need." She nodded to the terminal on his desk. "If you're interested, we can download a complete description of our actions and results."
Daniel retrieved a cordless terminal from his desk and placed it on the conference table. "By all means, show me the facts. Though maybe we should concentrate on the background material, if you've got that: somewhere, there must be a clue to what has gone wrong."
"Easier done than said."
Together, they studied the fect bases on the Zetetic Institute. There were about 2,000 core Zetetics scattered across the globe, and another 15,000 who were frequently connected with Zetetic projects. About 200,000 people had had some significant contact with them, through educational seminars or therapy sessions such as the antismoking clinics. "They're really a tiny organization," Kira commented.
"True," Daniel replied, "but look at all the things they do." The Zetetic projects showed incomprehensible diversity of purpose. They had commercial software programs, educational seminars, consulting, and engineering and government contracting. The one thing all the projects had in common was a kind of information-intensiveness—projects for which the most important commodity was expertise.
Daniel shook his head. "I must confess that I can't see anything about their diversity that could protect them from a media attack. One of the few things they don't get into is the media business."
"That's right," Kira said, almost with pride. "Even though they're hipdeep in communication, they don't operate any of the classical commercial broadcasting systems." She paused. "My research suggests that they reject the philosophy behindbroadcastsystems. Broadcasting treats its viewers like empty cups; the broadcast sets out to fill the empty cup. There's no give and take, no way of involving the intellect, or the rationality, of the watcher. " She chuckled. "From what I know of the Institute, that would never do. The Institute's whole view of life is dynamic; they're as interactively energetic as the conferencing networks they operate."
Daniel stared at her with wide, delighted eyes. "I think you've hit it!" He exhaled a puff of smoke, savoring the tobacco aroma. "Theirconferencing networksare the problem!" With the satisfaction of a physicist who has just solved a particularly difficult equation, he brought up statistics on the Institute's communication networks. The number of people who used these products far exceeded the number who had had face-to-face contact with the Institute and its philosophies. "Don't you see? The Zetetics operate some of the largest commnets in the world—Jobnet, among others." Jobnet was universally used for finding people who could quickly plug into difficult or unusual jobs. "Anybody who contacted the Institute through something as practical and mundane as Jobnet would surely discount media blasts as sensationalism. In a sense, the Zetetic Institute uses word of mouth for all its important contacts—but the word of mouth is multiplied a thousandfold by automation. Jesus!"
Kiras bright eyes acknowledged the accuracy of this analysis. I'm sure you re right." Again she disturbed him; she didn't seem quite as pleased as she should have been. "Though I'm not entirely sure what to do with the idea."
Daniel paused for a moment, to give Kira's creativity a chance to flourish.
She sighed. "I suppose we could flood the networks with the same kind of criticisms that we're flooding the broadcasts with."
Kira shrugged. "I'm not sure that it's excellent. We could have a lot of trouble keeping an effective level of pressure in the system, particularly if they find out that there is pressure. Are you familiar with the Zetetic specialty known as conference pruning?"
"No." Daniel sidled closer to Kira; she shifted her chair slightly away. "Tell me about it."
"A conference pruner is a professional editor of network bulletin boards and conferences. The Institute runs a certification system for pruners. A certified pruner sweeps the texts on the net and categorizes all the statements into three categories: opinion, fact, and falsehood. They label the opinions with their implicit assumptions, circumscribe the globality of the facts, and purge the falsehoods."
Sounds like the kind of subjective decision-making that we should be able to manipulate."
Kira sighed again. "I don't know. They take their certification pretty seriously."
"I see. Perhaps a bit of outright bribery will do the trick."
The idea of bribery shocked her, but only for a moment. The shock faded into a look similar to the look of awe she had had earlier, pondering the Institute's immunity to media attack. "Of course. Surely some of them can be bought." She looked at Daniel with bemusement. "I have trouble remembering the sizes and kinds of resources available to the Wilcox-Morris Corporation."
Kiras attitude toward unethical maneuvers matched his own quite nicely. Interesting. "I understand your problem. Wilcox-Morris has so many resources that even I lose track at times. But you'd better get comfortable with all of them, Kira. Were in a fight for our lives with the people who hate us, and we need to fight with every resource available."
He started to rise, to terminate the meeting, but Kira held up her hand. "What should we do with the media blitz? Cancel it?"
"Not at all. It can't hurt, after all, as long as we're discreet." He rubbed his hands together. "I almost wish I could face off against Nathan Pilstrom myself, in public. It would be great to pit my world view against his in a showdown. I've read some of his writings; there are a lot of inconsistencies in his philosophy. I just know I could take him apart if I had the chance."
"Really?" Kira studied his face cautiously. "Are you sure?"
His heart leaped into his throat for just a moment before answering, "Quite sure."
"I might be able to arrange it."
"Excellent!" he cried. "We wouldn't want to try this undertaking just yet, of course; that wouldcertainlyincrease his national visibility, as well as mine, and that's dangerous to us from both directions." A good tobacco baron needed to keep himself invisible if at all possible; he wanted his opposition to stay the same way. "But if the Institute keeps on growing, despite our sabotaging the net, it may be an appropriate risk."
"I'll start laying the groundwork," Kira promised. With that she left.
Daniel crushed out his cigarette as he looked across the landscape. A jet wobbled down its landing path toward National Airport. This airplane, like so many others that had traveled the same path, seemed to scrape its belly against the pointed tip of the Washington Monument. Of course, this was just an illusion of the angle and the distance; in reality, the plane never came near the monument.
The Institute's dependency on networking raised several inspirational opportunities. Jobnet was the lynchpin. As the controller of Jobnet, the Institute was eminently qualified for quickly assembling teams of people with diverse specialties. Those specialists could be scattered all over the country, or they could all live in the same condo complex. It didn't make any difference; they couldtelecommute, in any case.
With succulent joy, Daniel realized that the entire Zetetic organization was built around telecommuting. This information gave him the power to totally destroy the Institute.
The unions had been lobbying for years to ban telecommuting; it made it damn difficult to unionize workers. Until now, the tobacco companies had fought in favor of telecommuting, more because the unions opposed it than for any other reason. If it weakened the unions, it was fine with Wilcox-Morris.
Daniel returned to his desk and ran his hand across the smooth teak finish of the plaque hanging there. "I came, I saw, I conquered," the plaque played back his motto. Daniel had swallowed whole corporations that held to this same belief. Could the Zetetic philosophy stop him?
Ah, how surprised the unions would be when the entire tobacco industry tossed its support behind the ban on telecommuting. Many organizations would fight them, of course, not just the Institute. Other people telecommuted as well. But the telecommuters had not formed the kind of potent power blocks that the unions and tobacco industry History would repeat. The unions had succeeded in outlawing the sale of homemade clothing decades earlier, when the invention of the personal sewing machine threatened the textile factories. Now, with Daniel's help, the unions should be able to crush personal computer owners the way they had crushed personal sewing machine owners in that earlier era. Daniel could not imagine the unions and the tobacco corporations failing in a joint political enterprise.
How stunned the Institute would be when drawn and quartered by the collaboration! How sweet.
President Mayfield could not focus his attention on any one part of the nightmare. He winced every time his heart started racing too hard. Sometimes the thumping ended in a twisting spasm that made him want to clutch his chest. He looked down at the Presidential Seal woven into the carpet, but even that inspirational sight did not help calm him. They faced the greatest crisis of public confidence in his career.
His eyes shifted to Nell Carson, sitting in her usual position in the far corner, wearing her usual look of distant concern. She seemed relieved, almost happy, now that she knew what form the Soviet deception would take. He'd desperately wanted to exclude her from this meeting, this moment of terrible embarrassment, but he couldn't. Not only would she not let herself be excluded, but in some sense, her rigid strength of character gave him a secure feeling. She always disagreed with him, but she never stabbed him in the back.
His eyes flickered to the television. He'd never before let televisions into the Oval Office, but now he couldn't bear to see the news without the reassurance this room gave him. On the television his nightmare became vividly real, yet manageable and bearable, because the terror remained confined to the tiny screen. He thought about the millions of other viewers watching this broadcast and shuddered at the opinions they were certainly forming.
CUT. The scene shifts to a lone town on a wide, rolling plain. Wheat grows in fields tended by men and women wearing oddly assorted garments. The clothing is typical of the styles of Iranian farmers.
Mayfield looked back at Nell, who continued to watch the screen impassively. Desperate to see an expression he understood, he turned next to Earl Semmens, seated near the window with the pinched look of a poker player whose bluff has been called. At least Earl showed the proper level of shock and dismay. At least Earl shared the president's outrage and indignation.
ZOOM. The camera soars over the fields to view gray metal boxes against the horizon. Zooming still closer, the gray boxes resolve into battle tanks: Russian T70s. In their wake, mashed pulp that was once wheat twists through the tortured soil. Bill Hardie's voice speaks with studied anger. "This is the most blatant use of brute force ever made in our time. Despite all his long speeches about peace, Soviet leader Sipyagin has once again shown us his lust for war."
Nell looked over at Mayfield for the first time. The corners of her mouth curled in a sad smile. "Now we know what they planned to gain from mutual force reduction."
CUT. FOCUS. Hardie's eyes seem to leap from the camera, to look directly at Mayfield." But not all the fault for this new aggression should be placed at the doorstep of Sipyagin. It was our leadership that made it easy for the Soviet army to amass sufficient forces for this attack." He paused for effect, and his anger grew more apparent. "Our sources tell us that this invasion is being carried out with the divisions released from Europe by the recent Mutual Force Reduction Agreement. If we had not rushed so foolishly into that agreement, this invasion could never have taken place."
Mayfield clenched his teeth to keep from crying out at the distant announcer. Still, he could not help trying to defend himself. "Liar," he growled, "it's not true. I amnotresponsible for that invasion." He turned to look at the other people in the room. "How can he say that? A month ago he thought the agreement was the best treaty we'd ever made." Another image came to Mayfield: the image of the Nobel Peace Prize that should have been his. The image evaporated as he clung to it wistfully.
SOFTEN. The camera remains in the news room, fixed on Bill Hardies sober expression. "The Russian justification for the attack is Irans support for terrorists and rebels in the southwestern provinces of the Soviet Union. The Soviet invasion at dawn today started with the destruction of rebel bases within Iran. A Soviet spokesman has assured the president officially that this is just a minor police action, and the advance will terminate as soon as Iran has been purged of militant anti-Soviet groups. Since making the announcement, the fighting has spread rapidly." Hardie purses his lips. It would seem that the longer the Soviets fight, the more anti-Soviet groups they encounter."
Nell spoke softly, almost gently, as if she were on Mayfield's side. He looked at her with startled eyes. "I'm sorry I didn't see it coming. I should have. You know, we could have learned this from history. This is exactly how they prepared for their Afghanistan invasion decades ago. They made a big fanfare about pulling their troops out of Europe—just to move them into position for an invasion." The president shook his head helplessly. "What can we say to the people?"
Nell sat very still for a moment, then nodded her head as she said, "I don't know what to say, but I know what to do. We should stop."
"Stop making dangerous treaties."
Mayfield's voice rose defensively. "That wasn't a dangerous treaty. We needed to reduce the number of soldiers pointing guns at each other in Europe. It was a good idea. It still is!" He leaned forward with a shrewd look. "And besides, they didn't violate the treaty, did they? The treaty worked. People should keep that in mind."
With an exhausted sigh, Nell agreed. "Yes, your treaty worked. Frankly, I imagine they would have invaded Iran even without the treaty. But, Jim, even though your treaty worked,it didn't work the way you wanted it to. It didn't make the world any safer. Did it?" Her mouth twisted in distaste. "More to the point, it didn't make us any more popular, either."
Mayfield shook his head. "I don't get it. I know you don't care about the next election. I don't understand that, but I know it's true. All you care about is whether we set them up to attack Iran. Yet, if you think they would have attacked Iran anyway, why complain about our treaty?"
Nell blinked. "I'm not complaining aboutthattreaty, Jim. I'm worried about the next one."
The president's heart skipped again. He saw Earl looking at Nell with the same shock he felt. "What do you know about the next treaty?"
Nell laughed. "Only that you're working on one, Jim. You're an addict." Her frustration came to the fore, spotlighted. "But don't you see that we have to be careful about what we sign?"
"Of course we have to be careful. But we don't have to be paranoid!"
Nell slumped back in her chair. Only the motion of her foot swaying rhythmically suggested the energy still waiting inside for a chance to act. "No, Jim, we don't dare be paranoid either. That would be as bad as being naive."
"What do you want me to do?" Mayfield almost screamed.
Her foot stopped moving. "I d like you to let Senator Hilan Forstil review your next treaty before you sign it."
"What? That man's a warmonger!"
Nell leaned forward, speaking with carefully controlled anger. "No, Jim. Hilan is not a warmonger. He's a hawk."
"What's the difference?"
"A warmonger is someone who wants to start wars. A hawk is someone who hates war, who will avoid war with fierce energy—but if forced into a war despite his best efforts, knows that he has to win."
Mayfield felt his stomach tighten with revulsion. "That's just what we don't need working our negotiations—someone who has a vested interest in wrecking the treaty process. Forstil would give the media the biggest leaks since Arken published the radar signatures for Stealth bombers." He rolled his eyes. "One little leak, and he turned billions of dollars of airplanes into museum pieces. That was an important factor in our getting into office in the first glace. We can't let our treaty process be handled that way."
Nell stared at him in disbelief. "Jim, Hilan is on your side. Believe me."
He couldn't believe her. Forstil made him feel as uncomfortable as Nell Carson did. He had no intention of letting them gang up on him. "Let me think about it," he said to put her off. He shifted in his leather chair, unsticking himself. He'd been sweating, despite the cool air that bathed him from the air ducts behind his desk.
"I thought you might say that." Nell rose from her chair. For a moment her shoulders drooped, but with another effort, she stood straight, a radiant wee president. "Think about Hilan, Jim. He can help you." She departed.
Mayfield buried his face in his hands. Why couldn't he have been president during a simpler time? He had completed a longstanding presidential task during his second year of office, yet no one had noticed: he had the collection of portraits of president's wives. This task had been underway since the days of Kennedy. That could have been his crowning achievement, if he'd lived in a reasonable world.
Well, just as he'd gotten the news media to love him yesterday, he'd get them to love him again tomorrow. A few more treaties, and he'd see that Peace Prize once more on the horizon.
A sonic boom and a crashing explosion made him open his eyes; it was just the sound from the television.
The muggy July heat faded slowly in the twilight as Kira bicycled down South Lakes Drive toward home. Only the heat faded, however; the muggy humidity remained. It did not help her think, and she had some thinking to do. Uncle Nathan was coming to dinner. They would surely play the game of wonders, andthistime Kira intended to win. It was about time she won: today was her twenty-second birthday.
She shook her head to throw the stinging perspiration away from her eyes, regretting her choice of the bicycle for the day's commute to the Institute. At last she turned left on Cabot and plunged downhill.
This section of the ride did not last long, but it was the exhilarating part. Kira dropped low in the saddle, building up speed. The cool wind whipped across her face.
She veered right onto the uphill road spur that led to her townhouse. She continued to coast, though her speed dropped alarmingly. It was a matter of honor, to get all the way home from here without any more pedaling.
The bicycle bumped into the driveway, and Kira dismounted just before it started to wobble. The humidity closed in around her, displacing the cool wind. In that moment, as the tropical heat returned, Kira had a small revelation—she knew a winning strategy for Uncle Nathan's game.
She hurried to the bathroom and took a quick, cool shower, humming all the while at the thought of her upcoming victory. As she returned to the living room, however, her father interrupted her thoughts by thrusting a shiny, gift-wrapped package in her arms. "Happy birthday," he bellowed, hugging her.
Another package plopped on top of the first one. "Happy birthday," Uncle Nathan echoed with a softer smile.
Wonderful aromas circulated from the kitchen. Even as her nostrils flared, however, a pot lid clattered against a muffled explosion of air. Her father's face took on the expression of a chemist who has just heard his carefully prepared solution pop from its test tube and spatter against the ceiling. He ran for the kitchen. "Hurry!" her uncle called to him. Then, with a wink at Kira, he walked in the same direction.
Putting her presents down, Kira went to watch the hysteria. The kitchen looked like a child's playroom. Pots and pans teetered precariously on every inch of table space, and a fine film of flour coated the vertical surfaces. Her father muttered curses as he twisted dials and punched buttons. Uncle Nathan offered soothing sounds and gently stirred the biggest pot—the one full of chili. Kira could see, amidst the carnage, the makings of a gigantic chili-cheese pizza, a beautiful work of careful engineering.
Her father and uncle always cooked together for special occasions, and they always left a mess best cleaned up with a fire hose. Kira could remember her mother leaning against the door at the edge of the inferno, shaking her head, just as Kira leaned against the door now. At the memory, Kira jerked away from the kitchen and went to set the table. That, too, her mother had always done.
The game of wonders started without warning, as usual. While her father sliced the pizza, her uncle held up his fork for examination. Too casually, he turned it in the air and said, "You know, this fork is made of stainless steel. Do you realize how amazing it is for us to use stainless steel for dinner this evening?"
Kira smiled as her father asked, "Why is it amazing?"
"You need chromium to make stainless steel. But chromium is a rare metal. One of the few places left on Earth where there's an abundance of chromium is on the ocean floor, locked inside metallic nodules coughed up from cracks deep inside the earth. So we send down special robot submarines to scoop up the nodules, to extract the chromium, to make the stainless steel, so that we can use these forks to eat tonight."
Her father had finished serving; he held his pizza in the air and tapped the crust. "Thats pretty amazing all right. There's another amazing thing here, too. Did you know that there was almost a terrible blight on the wheat fields this year? If the blight had taken hold, we might not have had the flour to make this pizza." He pointed at his glass of water. "And we needed water to solve the problem."
Kira frowned. Her father had never really liked the game, it seemed to her; his efforts always seemed halfhearted. But this wonder seemed unusually weak, even for him. So by watering the fields, the plants stayed healthy enough to fight the disease, right?" she asked.
Her father reluctantly nodded. "That, too, but that wasn't what I had in mind." He smiled. "We first spotted the blight through satellite photos. Because the photos showed the problem before it spread, we were able to protect most of the fields. Well, the satellite got into position to take those pictures by firing its rockets. And the rockets used hydrogen for fuel. And of course we got the hydrogen for the fuel from water. And that's how we needed the water to make it possible to have pizza tonight."
Kira laughed. "That's pretty amazing," she conceded. "But there's another wonder here tonight as well. It's amazing that we're living here at all. You know, Washington D.C. was built on a swamp. They had terrible trouble with mosquitoes and yellow fever when they first put the Capitol here. It's unfit for human habitation."
Uncle Nathan wet his finger and held it in the air. "Doesn't feel too uncomfortable to me."
Kira smirked. "Of course not, silly. Our house is air conditioned. If air conditioning hadn't been invented, we wouldn't be here."
Nathan raised an eyebrow. "We'd certainly be less comfy, anyway."
"No, we wouldn't be here by D.C. at all. Do you think you could get so many bureaucrats to live in a swamp without air conditioning? Certainly not. And if you couldn't get that many bureaucrats together, the government couldn't have grown into the big, powerful monstrosity it now is. And if the government hadn't become an oversized dinosaur, we wouldn't have had to move the Institute's headquarters here. We'd live close to a center of business, like Los Angeles or Houston, instead of living close to the center of politics. Right?"
Her father whooped with laughter. Uncle Nathan shook his head. "I think you've hit on the answer to the nation's problems, Kira. If we ban the use of air conditioning in America's capital, we can substantially reduce the burden of government. I like it. And you're right: that's truly amazing. Without air conditioning, we wouldn't be here."
Kira flushed with the glow of victory. For as long as she could remember, she had been trying to come up with a more amazing wonder than her uncle. Yet the glow faded, and Kira felt oddly disappointed. It took her a minute's introspection to realize what was missing. Uncle Nathan hadn't acknowledged that she had beaten him.
The glow returned as her understanding reached an even deeper level. She hadn't really beaten her uncle. He had never really beaten her.
The game of wonders was a cooperative one. It wasn't a zero-sum game like baseball or football, wherein for every winner there had to be a loser. Nobody had to lose in the game of wonders. Everybody who felt the amazement, who ceased to take the little things for granted, was a winner. As Nathan had said before, "It's not how you play the game, but whether everybody wins or everybody loses." Cooperative games made human beings more human; often, zero-sum games made them brutes.
The spicy flavor of the chili pizza filled her mouth; she started listening to the ongoing conversation.
Nathan was speaking. "So our reputation seems to be growing even faster than our seminars."
"What happened?" Kira asked.
Nathan turned to her. "I've been invited to the reception announcing a new book,Statesmanship and Politics. It was written by Senator Larry Obata, a friend of Hilan Forstil's. The announcement takes place at the Capitol, on September 30."
"That's neat," Kira said. "Can I come, too?"
"I'll get you an invitation," Nathan promised. He sipped at his orange juice, then continued, "So now you all know my plans for the next couple of months. What'reyouup to, Kira?" His tone was even more casual than when he had begun the game earlier.
Kira swallowed hard; her stomach turned into a cold lump. I'm doing some public relations work," she explained. "After all, that's what I got my degree in."
"Yes, I remember. You were going to develop advanced Information Age advertising concepts—ads that could compete with Madison Avenue without being misleading."
"Yeah. Well, I have some things to take care of first."
Kira flushed, but she looked back at her uncle angrily. "I have to protect you from the cigarette industry, for one thing. And while I'm at it, I have to avenge my mother's murder."
"I see." He watched her with the cautious disapproval that was his strongest rebuke.
The sarcastic anger of her father's voice was a stronger rebuke. "So you think you can waltz in as an advertising agent and destroy one of the biggest, most powerful organizations on Earth?"
Kira shrugged. "I don't know. But I do know that they might destroy you if I don't. " She told them about Wilcox's plans to flood the network conferences with anti-Zetetic propaganda.
"Very clever," Nathan said. "What a brilliant ally Daniel Wilcox would make if we could coax him into the Institute."
She shook her head. "Not very likely. Believe me, he's ruthless."
"That doesn't necessarily make him bad. But you're right." He sighed. "We must think of him in many ways as an enemy."
"And he's talking about having a debate with you, Uncle Nathan. He thinks he can take you apart."
"Really?" Nathan's eyes lit up.
Kira held up a cautionary finger. "He might not beat you in the debate itself, but he might win in the news coverage that followed." She told them about the way Wilcox was pulling the strings of the media. As she spoke, she remembered her suspicions that Wilcox had other anti-Zetetic plans that she didn't know about. She had been building relationships with some of the programmers at Wilcox-Morris, trying to get access to more of the proprietary data bases, but she hadn't yet succeeded. As she thought about it, her anxiety increased; she had to work more quickly on those computers, and yet, she didn't dare.
Summing up Wilcox's plans, she added a final desperate warning to her uncle while her father was out of the room. "So you've got to be careful of what you say in public, because you never know how he'll twist it."
Nathan shook his head. "You're right, of course. Anything I say can be used against me. But you're wrong, too. I can't stop speaking. I can't stop trying to get people to think about their worlds in different ways. You see that, don't you?''
"I guess so." Kira slumped in her chair. "Well, be careful, anyway."
Suddenly the lights went down, and her father came in with a huge cake. Kira could tell they weren't too angry about her work with Wilcox-Morris; they obeyed her when she begged them to spare her their terrible, offkey rendition of "Happy Birthday. "
"Your twocolor morality is pathetic," sneered the Sophisticate. 'The world isn't black and white. Ho one does pure good or pure bad. It's all gray. Therefore, no one is better than anyone else."
"I'm glad you see the flaws in twocolor morality," replied the Zetet "But knowing only gray, you conclude that all grays are the same shade. You mock the simplicity of the two color view, yet you replace it with a onecolor view. Can we not find a third, better alternative?"
A gentle voice full of wistful humor sang to Leslie as he stopped at the door to Amos Leung's house. "Good day," the disembodied voice of Amos Leung said. "What is the purpose of your visit?"
Leslie looked around the delicately articulated door frame in search of the speaker. No electronics of any kind presented themselves. He saw fine lines that might have been random scratches above the doorway arch. A casual observer would have seen nothing else, but Leslie knew Amos and his wife Florence well enough to know that random scratchings would not have been permitted here. He studied the lines, and they came together in patterns, in tracings of birds and flowers. The subtle crafting could only be Flo's handiwork.
"I came to see an old friend," Leslie said to the empty air, wondering whether the voice was really Amos's, or a very good imitation rigged in the house computer circuits.
"An old friend," the voice repeated. "What is your name, old friend?"
The r's were too harsh, Leslie realized, for it to be Amos's voice. Amos spoke with no trace of an accent, though he softly rounded off all his consonants. The voice belonged to the house, not the man. "'Tell Amos that Leslie Evans is looking for him."
When Nathan had recommended Amos for the Sling Project, Leslie had been quite astonished. He had never met anyone quite like Amos, before or since. He remembered a conversation they had held while flying together to McChord Airfield, perhaps fifteen years ago.
The plane had been dark; they had turned down the lights for the movie watchers. "What do you do when you're not building comm systems, Amos?" Leslie had asked of this new fellow on the E3 team, taking a short puff on his cigarillo.
Amos was sitting quite still and erect in his chair; he had made Leslie feel tall and awkward. Amos's Oriental features remained impassive no matter what Leslie said, and Leslie felt a periodic urge to grab him and shake him. He knew that somewhere underneath Amos's masklike expression a laughing observer looked back.
A tiny crack appeared in the mask, and the beginnings of a smile played at the corners of Amos's mouth. "Oh, when I'm not building comm systems, I guess mostly I build comm systems." He turned to Leslie and looked up into his eyes. "You know the echoes people used to get on MCI long-distance circuits? I became tired of these echoes, so I called the company and told them how to fix them."
"Really." Leslie smiled, too, unsure of whether Amos was pulling his leg.
"Yes." He held up his hand with the thumb and forefinger spread apart. "All it takes is a component about this size. It costs 75 cents in quantity."
"If it's so cheap to fix, why didn't MCI fix it without your help? How could they not have known about it?"
"Because they thought they needed the same kind of equipment Bell Telephone used." He spread his arms. "Bell used huge devices to solve the same problem. They cost thousands of dollars."
Leslie feared that Amos wasn't joking. "Did they use your recommendation?"
The tiniest lift of an eyebrow suggested a mental shrug. "Perhaps. At least, I no longer hear the echoes."
Leslie sat for a long time thinking about that. He reached the end of his cigarillo and crushed it in the ashtray.
Amos spoke again—the first time he had initiated a step in their conversation. "They called me several months later to offer me a job, with a sizable increase in salary. " He paused, then added with peculiar emphasis, "Sizable."
"Why didn't you take it?"
"My job at present is satisfactory. I would not take another position unless it took me nearer to my ideal."
"I should like to teach, and do research, and create products, all at the same time. Perhaps a part-time job as a professor, and a parttime job as a consultant would work well."
"I see. Well, good luck in finding your ideal." And that had been the end of the matter as far as Amos was concerned.
As the door to Amos's house opened, Leslie found himself hoping that Amos had not yet found his ideal.
Amos stood before him, barechested, breathing slighty harder than normal. No doubt he had been working his way through his exercises. "Hello," his soft voice sang between breaths.
Again Leslie felt like a clumsy giant, just as he had felt in the old days. He smiled at his old friend.
Was Amos an old friend? Leslie had always thought of Amos as a friend, but he had never been quite sure how Amos felt in return. Leslie held out his hand, with a warm, "Howdy, Amos. You've got a beautiful house here."
Amos did not take his hand, so Leslie pointed up at the tracings. "I particularly appreciate the artwork."
A shadow smile played at Amos's lips. "Come in. Let me assure you the interior of our house is more beautiful than the exterior."
"Thanks." He followed Amos to the living room; the door closed automatically.
This room was all sloping contours, accented with patches of fine golden tapestry on cushions and drapes. The room relaxed him; it reminded him in some ways of the furnishings at the Institute. But the absence of chairs reminded him of the differences. "How are the girls in yourkung fuclasses, Amos?" Years ago, Amos had taught self-defense for young women; he refused to work with boys. Leslie remembered Amos's comment on the boys. "In America, they all feel a need to be macho. They become dangerous if taught advanced techniques."
"Quite well. I have a class of seven students now; three are excellent beginners. They may become good one day, if they have the interest."
A tiny woman appeared at the partition separating this room from what looked like a breakfast nook. "Colonel Evans!" she exclaimed. "How nice to see you."
Leslie turned to her with his broadest smile. "Flo." He half-bowed. "It is truly wonderful to see you." If Amos made Leslie feel like a giant, Flo made him feel like a mountain. She came up to his waist and stopped there, with a puckish smile and wide, happy eyes. But whereas Amos made him feel like an obtuse goat that might chew on the velvet coverings at any moment, Flo made him feel graceful. At least if he chewed on the covers, he would do so with dignity.
"Would you like Shanghai tea, colonel?" she asked.
"Wonderful, Flo. Thanks." She slipped softly out of view.
He turned to Amos, who pointed at a cushion. "Please sit down, old friend," he offered, coiling onto a cushion himself. Leslie could not tell if Amos mocked him with the phrase 'old friend' or not. "I presume you came on business."
Leslie collapsed into a sitting position. "Quite right. You've always known me too well, Amos. I need your help."
Amos watched him impassively.
"Have you heard of the Sling Project?"
"Um. Well, let me tell you about it." Leslie launched into an enthusiastic rendition about the Sling. He told of the seed of Information Age understanding that Nathan had begun with, and the gleam in the eye of a colonel in the Defense Nuclear Agency who had no charter to develop such a nonnuclear system. He described how the colonel had stretched the rules, then stretched them again and again, until he could fund the development of Nathan's idea. He told of his own involvement as the system's integrator, and his desperate search for the people who could make the software come together. He described his need for an additional, special person, a person who could ". . . make the heart and the mind of the system come together. That's you, Amos, if it's anyone in the world."
"Only if I accept the position."
"Well, yeah. " The scent of warm tea reached him; Leslie turned his head to see Flo kneeling next to him, a cup held out. He accepted with a jerky motion, feeling like the clumsy giant despite Flo's gentle presence. "Amos, this is important stuff we're working on. Don't you see that?"
"Yes, I suppose it is."
Leslie felt again the desire to shake Amos, to make him come alive in the way of life that Leslie understood. For Leslie, if something was important, then it wasof coursea good thing to do. He had known that Amos didn't share his values, but he didn't know what values Amos had instead. "Listen, I don't know to what extent you achieved your lifestyle and job goals. I remember you wanted an arrangement that would let you spend one third of your time teaching, one third doing research, and one third creating products. Well, I can sort of offer you two of the three. You'll be creating a product, but the product needs you to incorporate a lot more current research ideas than you'd usually see in a military development effort. And you'll be working with other good people. You'll have to meet Nathan; I think you'll like him."
"Yes, I believe he might be an interesting person." Amos splayed his fingers in a gesture Leslie remembered from years ago: a gesture that forewarned the listener of an upcoming disappointment. "But I have already achieved my goal. I am living it now."
Leslie clenched his teeth. How could he impose his will on this man who epitomized the idea of an immovable object? He certainly couldn't do it through force. "How have you achieved your goal? I know about your consulting, but where do you do research? And who do you teach, besides the girls and boys in your kung fu class?"
"I do my research here at home. I have a reasonably sophisticated assemblage of equipment—better than many universities." Remembering the equipment that Amos used to have, Leslie could well believe it. "As for my teaching, I have acquired a most apt pupil." He smiled sideways at Flo with a surprising look of mischief. "Florence is fascinated by computers, we have discovered. I believe she is becoming a hacker."
Florence made a sound like a kitten laughing.
Leslie spread his arms to encompass both of them. "That's terrific! Well hire both of you! You can work as a team right here at home. We'll run the whole show through the Zetetic Institute's DevelopNet—you've telecommuted on team projects before, right?—and you'll have all three parts of your life in place."
Amos shook his head. "I have the parts of my life in place already. All you have offered me is an opportunity to introduce chaos. You want to bring all the chaos of development panic, integration hysteria, and debugging terror into my life. What can you offer me so valuable that I should break my tranquility?"
Now it was Leslie's turn to sit impassively for a moment. "Do you have grandchildren, Amos?"
Do you keep up with world events at all? You know, one of the main reasons I had to come back to you is that so many people in our country now refuse to have anything to do with the ever-so-unpopular military-industrial complex. How long do you think we can live our tranquil lives in a place where the people consider the job of defending themselves to be dirty?"
"I don't know."
"If our project succeeds, we may make it. " He held up his thumb and forefinger close together, the way Amos had once held them to describe a 75-cent circuit. "We're that close to entering the Information Age, and to developing a whole different concept of what it means to be a society, and what it means to defend yourself. That close—but not close enough, not yet." He clenched his fist. "I think it's important for your grandchildren to make it all the way into the Information Age, don't you?"
Amos sighed. "I suppose so."
Silence closed around them; Leslie was out of words.
Flo spoke. "Excuse me, Colonel Evans. Did you say earlier that you were using the WeatherWatcher airplane?"
Leslie felt his neck muscles relax as he looked into Flo's eyes. Her calming effect on him made him think of Jan . . . no, this was Flo, a person whose beauty was profoundly different from Jan's. "Yes, we're using the Weather Watcher as the underlying platform for the SkyHunter. We modify it, of course."
"I see.' She turned to Amos, and they exploded into rapid conversation in Mandarin, which Leslie could not follow.
Amos frowned. The mischievous look returned to his face, then a look bordering on anger came and went. "Yes, I suppose so." He turned to Leslie. "We will handle it strictly with telecommuting? Flo and I can work here all the time?"
Leslie straightened up on his cushion. He had thought he was beaten, but apparently he had been wrong. "Yeah, certainly. We'll work through telecommuting." He frowned. "Well, almost certainly. I hate being so honest, but I'll want to pull the team together into one location for testing."
"Time compression," Amos said. "I understand. Well, we shall deal with that problem when the time comes." He uncoiled from the cushion and slid out of the room.
Leslie sat dazed. Flo giggled, and he smiled at her. "How did you manage that, Flo?"
"I told him it might help him talk to our daughter if he accepted your job. He almost never gets to speak with her; they have grown apart."
"What? How will working on the Sling help him with his daughter?"
"Theresa is vice president of LightCraft Corporation. She is responsible for the development of the Weather Watcher airplane."
Leslie laughed, then stopped abruptly, for it sounded loud in the quiet of the house.
The doorbell rang promptly at ten o'clock; the guy with the satellite photos had arrived. Lila stuffed her feet into a pair of old sandals and plodded to the door. She steeled herself for this contact, wishing he would leave the passwords to the data bases at the door and just leave her alone. But the guy had insisted on seeing her. He had been almost as mysterious as Nathan Pilstrom had been a month ago.
Nathan Pilstrom. She shuddered at the memory. Nathan had tainted her view of the Zetetic Institute. She had thought of Nathan Pilstrom and the Zetetic Institute as visionaries, leading to a better world, not as reactionary warmongers.
She peered through the peephole at the visitor. The visitor was a man, as she expected. The messages on Jobnet had been signed with the name Kurt, though with electronic mail, that didn't always guarantee the gender. Her hand hesitated on the doorknob. She hated to deal with men. Somehow, she always seemed to disappoint them; certainly, they always disappointed her.
She jerked on the doorknob and faced Kurt McKenna.
Her face flushed with a first small shock of dislike. He displayed all the features she found most unattractive in men. He had a sternly chiseled face, with the beauty of a sculpture. He held himself with a military straightness that bespoke an inbred arrogance. His eyes were direct and abrupt—eyes that wrote people off easily, never giving them a second chance. Her dislike grew rapidly.
Her skin prickled as she felt her dislike reflected by him; her vision wavered with the intensity of their resonating emotion. She was sure she would soon hate him.
She didn't want to hate him. She hated hate. How had this man done this to her? Why didn't he go away?
He stepped forward; she held her ground. "Ms. Lott speich. I have a job for you."
The words seemed normal, except for the forced precision of his speech. She considered closing the door on him, but that would not be civilized. Unwilling to turn her back on him, she stepped back and pointed to the chairs in the corner of the living room that served as her office. "Sit down."
He did not share her fear of turning away; he swept across the room and sat in her chair. Lila pursed her lips, then realized he had not done it intentionally: he had no way of telling from the careless way she had left the chairs, which was which. Normally she made the choice clear for people by escorting them.
The other chair had no arms. She twisted it around so its back was to McKenna and sat down facing him, her arms draped across the top of it. In this position she had the solid mass of the chair between her and McKenna, which made her feel better.
"Here." He dropped a packet on the table. "These are pictures of northern Iran."
"Iran!" She tore the packet open and riffled the photos with a practiced eye. They were fresh shots from the new full-spectrum, high-resolution French Spot IV satellite. She smiled at the crisp detail, both optical and infrared. She didn't get to handle good stuff like this too often, though she was one of the best image analysts in the world. Her genius paid off most effectively when reconstructing the damaged pictures.
"Great photos, aren't they?"
The certainty in his voice made her recoil from his arrogance, but he was right. Lila remained silent.
"Ten years ago those photos would have been so classified that the name of the classification would have been classified. Today any schmuck can pick them up for the price of a post card. '
"A post card?" She cast him a look of disgust. Hyperbole didn't impress her.
"Well, the price of a book of post cards. Anyway, photos like these sometimes mess things up for the men who defend our country."
She looked back at the pictures with a deeper appreciation. She smiled at the thought of the hawks in the military industrial complex bubbling with impotent anger. "What do you want me to do with them?"
"We have indications that the Soviet army invading Iran is destroying the wheat fields, as well as most of the other crops. We need to know how extensive the damage is, and how fast the damage is spreading."
"You have several series of these photos, taken on different days?"
She pursed her lips at his quick dismissal of her question, but he continued.
"We also need to knowwhatthe Soviets are doing that's making such a mess, so that when we send relief, we can send something to straighten it out. Otherwise, people will starve." Kurt paused. "That'swhy we came to you. It'll be tough figuring out the cause of the problem, even with these photos. I understand you're the best."
Ordinarily Lila would have demurred, but this McKenna provoked her. "Yes, I guess I am," she said with a too-casual wave of the hand. She carefully replaced the photos in their envelope. "I presume you have these stored digitally somewhere that I can get at them, right? Certainly you didn't overlook such a critical yet tiny detail."
"I didn't." He reached into his pocket, pulling out a credit card. "Use this. We'll pay for the time directly, and all the photos are there. You can find their sort order in the main directory." He rose to leave; she rose, too. She didn't want to let him look down at her.
"We haven't discussed the fee yet," she said.
He stopped. "I know how expensive you are. I'll give you a ten percent bonus, for having to work with me."
She opened her mouth, closed it in stunned silence. He felt the jarring hostility as strongly as she did.
She considered throwing the photos at him. Why had she let him into her apartment? Why hadn't she refused his job? Knowing that people might starve if she failed, she couldn't just throw him out. As much as she hated this man, those people were more important. She vowed to rise above him in this moral sense.
He stopped at the door. He seemed more relaxed, now that he was leaving. "I take off tomorrow for D.C. The card contains my phone number. If you have any questions today, I'm at Rickey's Hyatt."
"When do you need my results?"
"Yesterday," he responded as he left.
She turned to her work station, to unlock the digitized versions of McKenna's photos. A brief, suspicious bafflement crossed her mind. Why did this man care about wheat fields in Iran? He belonged to the military-industrial complex; she could smell it. He might care about the Soviet tanks, finding ways to destroy them, but she was sure he didn't care about those people. She should have asked him while he was there, but she had been so eager to get him out of her apartment she hadn't asked all her questions. What did he really want from her? She would ask him when she had to speak to him again.
With a shrug she opened the main directory McKenna had given her on the new account.
Nathan stood outside Bair Drug and Hardware, watching the occasional car cruise down the main street of Steilacoom. Here in the state of Washington, God had ordained five months of deep blue skies to be shrouded by seven months of slate gray clouds. The gray clouds kept out the tourists who did not understand. The gray clouds made the blue skies special for those who did understand: Steilacoom was a bright jewel placed in a dull metal setting. No one took the blue skies for granted in Steilacoom. This month was a blue sky month.
Nathan walked down Lafayette Street to its intersection with Wilkes. To his left he could see the haunted restaurant E.R. Rogers, facing away toward the water. A soft breeze, made damp by the Sound, carried a message of tranquility. Every corner of Steilacoom held this peaceful tranquility, a tranquility that was hard to find in the frenetic Zetetic headquarters just outside the nation's capital. Fortunately, Nathan carried his own tranquility within him. He had held that inner tranquility ever since Jan first taught him to feel relaxation, to always remember what it feels like to be calm.
But an earlier Nathan Pilstrom had not found tranquility so easily. In past decades, that earlier Nathan had sought out the Steilacooms of the world, desperately trying to internalize their calming influence. That Steilacoom serenity always seemed so beautiful, like the still waters of Puget Sound he could see now below the edge of the road.
Sometimes that earlier Nathan had succeeded in grasping tranquility for a time, but always he had lost it again. Finally, Jan and the Institute and he himself had developed new ways to train the mind to make those images more permanent.
Remembering those earlier, anxiety-ridden days, he realized how much he had in common with Juan Dante Cortez. Nathan leaned against Bair's clean siding and waited.
A battered blue Chevy swung by him into a parking slot. The car door creaked open. A man Nathan barely recognized stood up.
Nathan had met Juan once, a decade ago in the software exhibition hall in Austin. Those had been heady times, when the computer software industry exploded across the world with the same flare that microcomputers had carried just a few years earlier. Nathan had been on the crest of that wave with the first educational software from the Zetetic Corporation. Juan had been there, too, a kid fresh out of college with a copter flight simulation that left experts gasping, wondering how he had cranked so much detail out of such a small machine. Juan had never even flown in a helicopter.
In those bygone days Juan had burned with the fever of the industry. But his fever had burned deep inside, almost invisible. He released that energy upon the world only through the rapid, continuous movement of his eyes and his hands. The rest of his body had seemed to be an insulator, a soft fleshy covering to protect everything he touched from the flamehot temperatures inside himself.
Looking at Juan as he stepped from the old car, Nathan could see that the fever had burned through. It had cooked through his whole body, stripping the insulation, leaving a lean, leathery remnant. His eyes watched Nathan calmly, even carefully; his hands no longer swept in an unceasing dance, but moved with care to close the door and sweep back his thinning hair. Nathan wondered if he himself looked so dramatically changed when Juan looked back at him.
Slouched, Juan hardly seemed taller than Nathan himself. He maneuvered around the parked cars with long strides. "Nathan," he said, with a shallow smile, "it's been a long time."
Nathan nodded his head. "Too long." He crooked his head. "Hungry?"
"Of course." Juan straightened up. "Bair's Drugstore is a pretty strange place for a business meeting. It's perfect."
"I figured that most of your prospective employers might not think of taking you to Bair's for lunch. That just shows what fools they are—as you and I know, the best way to soften up a programmer is to fill him with chocolate-chocolate malted sodas before you lay on the Big Nasty." He pushed on the oldfashioned drugstore door handle, jiggling it in the middle of the motion to catch the jam properly, and opened the door. Nathan and Juan may have changed with time, but Bair's Drugstore had not. This permanence was key to Steilacoom's tranquility.
"I hope you don't tell anybody else the secret of the chocolate-chocolate malted soda," Juan replied with more pep. "You could get me into a lot of trouble." After they both chuckled, Juan continued, "And I hope you don't have a Big Nasty for me with dessert."
"I don't know, Juan. You must tell me if it's nasty." They sat at the round table across from the soda fountain, next to the Franklin stove, and ordered turkey sandwiches and chili. Apple pie would follow for dessert. And of course they ordered chocolate-chocolate malted sodas.
The conversation drifted across the missing years. They talked about the slump in the software market that had followed the boom, the growth of the Zetetic Institute, and the growth of Juan's company—Inferno, Inc. They talked about the breakup of Inferno, and about Jan's death and Juan's divorce. They did not talk about what either of them had done personally in the past year. They finished the apple pie.
"How did you find your way to Steilacoom?" Nathan asked as a first serious probe.
Juan answered by turning away, to squint into the sunshine pouring through Bair's front window. "I came here to find my soul again."
Yes, Juan had a great deal in common with that earlier Nathan Pilstrom. "Have you found it?"
Juan continued to stare into the sunshine with an expression of yearning, as if he clung to the sunshine, but it pushed him remorselessly away. "I don't know."
"Are you happy here?"
The leathery face relaxed into a wry smile. "I am content. Is that happiness?"
"If you ask the question, you know the answer. There's more to happiness than being content. You have to have a purpose, too—a worthwhile purpose."
A spasm rocked Juan's whole body. He turned back to Nathan, and for the first time his eyes held some of their old volcanic fire. "Do you know why I came to Steilacoom, Nathan?"
Nathan knew, but he didn't dare explain how he knew. "Tell me."
"It broke me, Nathan. Computer programming broke me. You see, I'm a Method programmer."
"You're a what?"
"I'm a Method programmer." He paused. "You know what a Method actor is, don't you? A Method actor lives the part he plays—hebecomesthe person he is portraying." A mellow note entered his discussion. "A Method programmer lives the program he writes—hebecomesthe program he is creating." He shrugged. "One day I was debugging ParaPower, a tool for running parallel simulations of world economics. We could have used it for comparing alternative agricultural policies, and banking policies, and military policies. It was going to revolutionize the job of politics and statesmanship. It was . . ." His eyes drifted; another spasm shook him, until he focused again on the sunshine. "I was tracing a fatal error through the simulation's concurrencies." Again he looked hard at Nathan. "The next thing I remember was a pillow on a hospital bed. Six weeks had passed." He shrugged. "The medical community finds me quite fascinating. They studied me at great length. I seem to have a unique form of epilepsy, triggered by the kind of creative, meticulous thinking I do when I'm programming. It's different from any other kind of thinking I've experienced. Do you know what I mean?"
Nathan nodded. "And yet, you're programming now. And my friends at 9ID tell me you're doing a super job with their budgeting system."
Juan snorted. "Yeah. It's so boring I can hardly keep my eyes open when I think about it. " He closed his eyes as if to prove the point. "You might think of me as an alcoholic who, after going through a long period as a teetotaler, now makes his living as a wine taster." He opened his eyes again. "But you have to be careful not to like the wine too much."
"I see." Nathan clenched his teeth. How important was the Sling Project? He thought about the Information Age that might yet be stillborn if the governments of the world played their cards badly enough; he thought about the vast destructiveness of Industrial Age weapons and about the people who would die for no rational reason if another war began. "Juan, I've come here to offer you a very fine wine. But it has a purpose. Maybe the most important purpose we've ever encountered."
Juan nodded. "Yeah."
"You can stay here in Steilacoom, in communion with your soul, if you prefer. We'll run the project through telecomm, of course."
"Of course we'll run telecomm—until the crunch at the end, of course."
"Probably. The timelines are nasty, but we'll more than likely stretch them." Nathan smiled innocently. "Who knows? We might even make schedule."
"Nathan, only project managers believe those kinds of fantasies." Juan sighed. "I suppose contentment would kill me eventually, too. Just how much purpose have you got this time?"
Nathan told him the purpose, and the method, of the Sling.
Too often in the past months, Nathan had felt foolish describing the plan, explaining why this could be the most important project in the world, even though it was so tiny. He knew he sounded like a crusader when he spoke of it: he was a crusader. The sense of foolishness came whenever he talked to people who didn't care. It didn't upset Nathan too much that they didn't care about the Sling; it upset him that they didn't care aboutanythingthe way Nathan cared about the Sling.
Despite all the mechanisms the Zetetic Institute had developed to help people cope with the Information Age world—mechanisms to reduce stress, to adapt to contexts, to reduce egoinvolvement—the Institute had never found a way to help people tocare. Life without caring was a shadow; the great moments of exhilaration came amidst the battles that only a crusader could know. Yet so few people accepted the risks, and those who did not care came closest to caring only when telling the rare crusaders that they were fools.
But Juan shared his crusader blood, fearful though he must be of this particular mission. So Nathan shared his vision freely, and found answers in Juan's sunken eyes.
He finished speaking, drained but excited, and waited for Juan's response.
At last Juan answered. "So you want me to build the simulations for the three Hunters. Every time someone gets a module written and ready to test, I'll already have the simulation tools online, ready to help them debug. Every time I fail, they'll miss their deadlines."
Nathan started to agree, but Juan continued.
"And we can't miss the deadlines becausetheywill be the critical path. Somehow, that makes me the supercritical path, if there is such a thing." He bared his teeth as he stared into the nowfading sunshine. His face held a defiant look. It was not the expression of an animal that has been cornered, but of a man who understands the choices, knows the risks, and still accepts his purpose. "That's a real screamer, Nathan." His eyes glistened for a moment, looking at something only he could see. He blinked. When he looked back at Nathan his eyes had the steady, smoldering look of a controlled fire. "I guess you know that I'll do it."
"I guess I do. You know, the Institute has done a lot of work to help people deal more effectively with reality. We might have something that can help you travel from Steilacoom without leaving your soul here. I'll send you some info."
"Better do that, Nathan. Even if I never leave my house, I'll still be traveling for you—inside the Sling, inside every Hunter in the sky. Find a way for me to land without crashing."
A cloud crossed the sun, casting a brooding shadow across the town of Steilacoom.
Daniel sat at his desk and watched the widepanel television display. He hummed a human purr.
FOCUS. "In addition to the con game the Zetetic Institute plays with people who need help fighting their tobacco habits, the Institute has become a major force in the military-industrial complex." Bill Hardie's eyes cloud with anger. "They've initiated the 'Sling Project,' a project to sell cheap trinkets to the Army, pretending that these trinkets have value for defending the nation. How useful are the Institute's machines?"
CUT. A gaunt hovercraft appears on the screen; something about the light makes it glitter like a fragile Christmas tree ornament. "This is the so-called 'HopperHunter,' designed to kill tanks. You can imagine how long it would survive on a battlefield where the tanks were allowed to shoot back."
Daniel nodded his head in tribute to the newscaster. How did he get that video footage? It was terrific. It delighted him that Bill Hardie was one of his own creations, one of the delicately ripened fruits that now burst with sweetness. If Bill ever found out that Wilcox-Morris arranged the flurries of intense coverage whenever he reported on the Zetetic Institute, it would make him hysterical.
Daniel had certainly expended a lot of tender care to ripen this fruit, particularly after Hardie s first visits to the ZI headquarters. The damned Institute had poisoned all of Daniel's nurturance, manipulating the reporter as skillfully as Daniel himself. Wilcox-Morris had suddenly had to prune Hardie's popularity back. His syndications had dwindled dramatically, almost fatally. Daniel himself had arranged new opportunities for Hardie in remote places, just to get him out of the Institute before the Zetetic rot penetrated to his core.
If Bill found out how hard Wilcox-Morris had worked to get him back on track, that, too, would make him hysterical. But Hardie didn't know. That, too, was sweet.
ZOOM. The television whines with the sound of turbine engines. The HopperHunter rises, wobbles, then crumples on its side. "You can see how long it survives when it just has to fight gravity."
CUT. Bill comes back into focus. "The greatest absurdity of this is that the Army already has similar systems— better systems—in development, under the auspices of the FIREFORS agency. The Zetetic Institute has inspired the Defense Department to another crude, inefficient duplication of effort."
Whew! Daniel loved this guy's fire; even he half-believed the golden boy on the screen. Maybe he was doing the whole world a service in destroying the Institute.
CUT. "In other news, the Senate finally passed a new law banning many major forms of telecommuting. The nation's unions have been fighting for this protection for their workers for decades. They finally put together a coalition of forces capable of pushing the ban through against loud opposition."
Daniel chuckled. Did Hardie really believe that the unions had put together that coalition? Daniel had had a devil of a time persuading them to accept his support! They didn't trust the Wilcox-Morris Corporation any more than Daniel trusted the news media.
FOCUS. "Union leaders, and some corporate leaders as well, have hailed this as a return to sanity for the economy. By forcing employers to offer a workplace, employees will now be able to get government inspections that assure fair and safe treatment. Thus, these workers will at last receive the same protection that textile workers have received since home manufacture of clothing for sale was banned half a century ago."
Daniel added to the message a second part: the workers will also be protected by the quick destruction of the Zetetic Institute.
CUT. "This historic telecommuting ban starts on October 2."
Daniel heard a knock at the door. He flicked off the television and said loudly, "Come on in, Kira."
Kira opened the door and strode quickly to her usual place at the conference table. The weekly meetings had become a tradition; Daniel looked forward to them more than he cared to admit. Bright minds were a rare and precious commodity. For the most part, the tobacco industry needed obedience, not creativity, from its employees.
Daniel started the conversation. "Judging from the figures, our campaign to smear the Institute through their own networks isn't working any better than our media campaign."
"Yes." Kira lowered her eyes briefly in acknowledgement of her failure. "We set up a series of 'artificial people'—software agents—to log on to the Zetetic nets and enter comments directed against the Institute. They dropped quite a bit of stuff on the system in the first two weeks of operation." She hesitated.
She frowned. "And then the Institute must have realized that something odd was happening. The pruning rate has gone up dramatically. And as nearly as we can tell, the pruning is directed at our comments. I suspect the Institute has come up with a set of software agents whose purpose is to recognize and box off anything written by our software agents."
"I see." What a clever game this had become—the battle between Wilcox-Morris and the Zetetic Institute for control of the nets, for control of the soul of the country. Point met counterpoint. "What if we release more agents—just drown the Institute in our cash flow?"
"I can't believe that will work. Remember, the Institute owns those conferencing nets. Every time we log on, they make money. We can try it, but it's more likely to increase their profits than anything else." She held up her hands helplessly. "What surprises me a little bit is how fast they caught on. I've ordered a quiet investigation downstairs with our computer people. A frightening number of software engineers and computer architects have close ties with the Institute. Someone might have leaked the word. " She shrugged. "Or maybe not. The Zetetics are known for a lot of things, but not for their stupidity in information processing."
"Don't sweat it. We'll find another way." Daniel reached inside his coat for a cigarette, then stopped. He had stopped smoking during these meetings.
Kira had followed his lead. He regretted the loss of amusement watching Kira handle tobacco, but he did not regret the loss of the opportunity to smoke.
Daniel smoked whenever he appeared in public, except when he had to deal persuasively with anti-smoking fanatics. Sometimes he smoked then, too, if he could afford the pleasure of aggravating his enemies. But he never smoked in private. Ironically, he had stopped smoking in private shortly after buying up his first tobacco company for the Wilcox empire. When he had acquired the company, he had also acquired their private research documents on the health hazards of smoking.
Tobacco companies had spent millions of dollars trying to find favorable scientific ways to describe tobacco's effects. They had given up only after being struck in the face, again and again, with proof that went far beyond simple statistical correlations. The proof was still statistical, —but the statistics were of the caliber of the physicist's wave equations. They were statistics that allowed the researcher to predict, for any given population, how many people would die of cancer in a given year. All the researcher needed was a base rate of death, and a description of how many people had been smoking for how long. Cigarette smoking so strongly outweighed other variances that additional factors merely put wiggles in the line. If you knew how many people smoked, you knew how many people died.
So Daniel no longer smoked in private. And with Kira, he felt a bond. He counted his time with her as private time. He enjoyed her company.
They talked at length about many other aspects of the business, but Daniel's mind drifted. The Zetetic Institute seemed determined not to go away; more drastic measures were in order. The telecommuting ban should provide the focal point.
As they finished, he said, "Do you remember saying you could arrange a meeting for me with Nathan Pilstrom, the president of the Institute?"
Kira froze in the act of packing her briefcase. "I said I might be able to arrange it. Why?"
"I think the time has come. Any idea where he'll be during the last week of September—someplace where I could talk with him?"
Kira nodded very cautiously. "I might be able to get you his schedule for the week. If I remember correctly, he's supposed to attend a reception at the Capitol that week. You could get invited as well. Or are you thinking of arranging a broadcast debate? That'll be harder."
"No," he replied, perhaps more sharply than he should have. Kira perked up at the intensity of his response. "I just want to meet the fellow. Maybe we can cut a deal."
Kira's head bounced with a light laugh. "Optimist."
"Yes. Cockeyed, incurable, and romantic," Daniel agreed gravely as he watched her leave.
Lila drove through the night, blind to the falling rain and the danger of her reckless speed. She had uncovered the lies in McKenna's words; she had uncovered them faster than he could have anticipated. He was still within striking distance.
Despite his arrogant attitude, or because of it, she had buried herself in his satellite photos moments after he left. What was happening in northeastern Iran? At first McKenna's claims seemed overblown. Some of the fields were decaying, true enough. Some had been destroyed. But considering the normal horror of war it was not unusual; in some macabre sense, it was even mild.
When she had turned to rates of destruction, she had found that the decay was spreading faster than the destruction. These fields didn't suffer from artillery bombardments or the crushing brutality of armored vehicles; rather, they suffered from lack of attention. The decay struck, oddly enough, around the small villages nestled in the Elburz Mountains and diminished near the major cities like Meshed. Near Meshed, the outright destruction of fields dominated.
Why were the fields unattended? This was the question she and her computer had sought through image processing. She had stretched the image contrasts. She had run series upon series of density slices across the multiple images. She had wrung hints of knowledge from each operation, but no understanding. She felt as though she were trying to reconstruct a jigsaw puzzle while viewing the pieces through a microscope; her perspective had been wrong.
The understanding came as a flash of Zetetic revelation—a flash that had little to do with the images she was processing. She had stopped, sick at the conclusion she had drawn.
She could be wrong—she had prayed she was wrong—but she had had few doubts. Why had the fields decayed? Because no one was tending them. Why was no one tending them? Because all the people had been killed. All of them.
It had taken her a long time to build up the fortitude to investigate why, and how, they had been murdered. She would have preferred not to know. She had considered logging off and forgetting everything. At the last, she had been driven forward by the taunting image of McKenna's sneer. With a cold, violent concentration, she had analyzed the photos with a whole different set of tools.
The satellite images did not just show Lila the colors of the rainbow; they showed the whole spectrum from low HF radio to high UV. She could not run full spectroscopic analyses—the atmosphere blocked too much energy for that—but she could run approximations. First she identified fluorine in the atmosphere—fluorine bundled in compounds with carbon. With oxygen. With hydrogen. With growing horror, she matched the spectrum against known molecules until, late at night, she hit the tag.
The match had not been perfect, but it had been too close for coincidence. The villages had been sprayed with some derivative of Soman, a persistent nerve gas.
Why hadn't anybody reported this in the newspapers? With more cold analysis, she understood that silence, too. The murderers had been thorough in destroying those isolated villages where rebels might breed, far from the brutal controls imposed on the cities. The Soviets had carefully left no witnesses.
And Kurt McKenna had thrust this atrocity into her face. Hating even the touch of the photos, she had scooped them back into the envelope. And now she drove with them to the Hyatt, to throw them back in his face as he had thrown them at her.
Standing outside his hotel room, she realized she had never felt true anger before. Nothing compared with this feeling of anger, the surge of fury's power as she pounded on his door. Her arm seemed a mere tool of force, to be used to break anything that blocked her way.
The door opened slowly. She pushed on it with the seemingly irresistible force of her anger, but the slow motion of the door seemed barely perturbed. A balancing force controlled its motion, mocking her: Kurt McKenna.
She stepped across the threshold, invading his private space, closing on him so she could feel his breath as she screamed, "You bastard! You don't care about those people! You knew what I'd find!"
A slight motion of his jawline suggested the control he exercised over his own feelings. "Three points, only one correct. Yes, I am a bastard. But I do care about those people—perhaps more than you do. And no, I didn't know with certainty what you'd find. But you've told me, just by being here. You found something even more terrible and evil than me."
She stood with her fists clenched, not quite able to pound on him as she had pounded on the door.
He glanced down, saw her stance, and smiled viciously. "Violence? You wouldn't want to reduce yourself to my level, would you? Or are you afraid that I would hit back? You'd be right. I use violence against anyone who uses it against me. Wouldn't you?"
"You bastard! You're as bad as they are!"
Now, in a flickering movement of his eyes, she saw an anger even greater than hers, though not so hot: a cold, killing anger. His anger consumed hers, sucking the fury from her arms, turning it back with the slow pressure of his breath on her face. Involuntarily, she stepped back.
His mouth worked a moment before he spoke, but his voice remained steady. "You know better. I don't kill civilians. I kill people who kill civilians." He paused, a pause that shouted with anger. "You are the one who's as bad as the people you hate. You don't really hate them. You don't even hate what they do. What you hate, Ms. Lottspeich, is knowing about what they do. If they would just leave you out of it, so you didn't have to know, you wouldn't hate anyone or anything."
She held her breath. That was ridiculous. And yet—she felt her hands clenching and unclenching—was it true?
"And most of the people like you in America can get away with it. After all, those soldiers can only touch youover my dead body, and the dead bodies of all the other fools like me who volunteer for the job. But you won't lift a finger to help us. You're too good for us, aren't you?" She wondered what he was referring to, in his peculiar accusation. Then she realized: "Did Nathan Pilstrom send you?"
McKenna snorted. "Not on your life. Nathan never forces people to listen him, the way I forced you to listen to me. He has a vision that he offers to everybody, but you have to choose it of your own free will." His voice softened for a moment. "Perhaps he's right. Perhaps you shouldn't force ideas down other people's throats." Then the anger returned. "Or perhaps I'm right, instead."
"Why didn't you take this thing—what was it, the Sling Project—to one of your normal military contractors?"
Again Lila saw his jaws tighten. "They aren't my contractors.
"My father told me stories about Vietnam. The way the guns we were using—the M16s—would jam in the middle of a fight and leave our troops unarmed. Do you know why the M16s jammed in Vietnam? Do you know why people like me died because they couldn't shoot back? The original, commercial gun they modified into the M16 didn't jam. But the Army's ordnance bureaucracy wouldn't allow a simple gun developed by someone else to become the standard. Oh, no. They had to improve it. They improved it enough so that it didn't work anymore." His nostrils flared. "To prove the goodness of their goddam bureaucracy, they crippled the men who had to fight—the men who had enough people trying to kill them.
"Those people in that bureaucracy had forgotten as thoroughly as you have. For too many of them, their contracts are more important than any results they might produce." He stopped speaking.
After a silence, Lila asked, "Why did you do this to me?"
"Because you're the best. And right now, right here on the Sling Project, we need the best." He pointed to the packet of photos, the packet filled with atrocities. "We need you, we need the best, because as ruthless as I am, I am not as ruthless as they are."
She shuddered, threw the packet aside. And as it thudded against the carpet, she saw how right he was. She feared the knowledge of evil, not the evil itself.
A fear of knowledge did not mesh with her self-image. Reluctantly, she reclaimed the packet from the floor.
Kurt continued. "Without your help, I'll have to kill civilians, too. Maybe I won't kill civilians as efficiently as they do, but I'll still kill them. When I shoot at soldiers like the ones in Iran, I'll have to use such massive weapons that the innocent bystanders won't have a chance."
"You said you don't kill civilians," she jeered.
"I lied," he said. "But you can change me into a person who's telling the truth."
They stood in rigid intensity, staring at one another, as McKenna explained how to stop wholesale murder—not by committing wholesale murder in return, but by committing selective murder of the men who gave the orders to commit wholesale murder. It was still murder, of course. But did it not count for something, that the number of casualties might decrease a hundredfold?
As McKenna spoke, Lila felt her anger shift, ever so slightly. Her anger no longer vented against McKenna's harsh personality. Somehow, in his own distorted way, he cared about people. Her anger now focused beyond him, at those even worse than McKenna. Her anger struck at the faceless creatures, certainly not men, who called down the rain of death upon the helpless villagers in the photos.
"Will you help me?" McKenna asked at last.
Her focus returned to McKenna, her immediate enemy. "Certainly not," she spat. With that she left. She ran through the rain to her car, realizing as she struggled with her keys that she still had McKenna's packet. With a grunt, she flung it into the car.
She drove almost blindly, trapped between the pitch-black night and her own black thoughts. The road vanished, except within the narrow, gleaming spots of her own headlights. Only occasionally could she glimpse the white road markers that inscribed a safe path.
She would not, could not help McKenna. He stood for everything she hated. No, not quite, she remembered. There was something even more hateful beyond him.
She remembered Nathan sitting next to her a month ago. He had been so open, his intentions naked to her, as he tried to explain his purpose. She had cut him off too abruptly. She had known that she was being unfair even at the time; now she thought she understood why. She had been afraid to listen, for fear that she might agree. She had slapped him verbally and conceptually, but unlike McKenna, he had not struck back. Yet she felt sure that his conviction ran as deep as McKenna's.
She would not, could not help McKenna. But she could certainly help Nathan.
She arrived home shaking from the fatigue of the stressful drive and from the anger that still had no physical outlet. She glanced at her watch; it was almost midnight. She felt feverishly awake.
She dialed the phone. A voice gasped blearily, "Pilstrom speaking," which reminded her that in D.C. it was close to 3 a m. She felt a perverse pleasure in waking him.
"Nathan, this is Lila Lottspeich. Do you still need an image analyst on the Sling Project? Well, the next time you're awake, mail me a contract." She heard him muttering from the other end of the continent. She said loudly, "What? Yeah, I'm on the team. Goodnight." She smiled as she hung up, though she now regretted zapping Nathan in the middle of the night.
She smiled, thinking of the power she had to strike back against the creatures who killed indiscriminately.Revenge. The feeling repelled her even as she reveled in it. Was she now as bad as they were? Her friends would certainly think so. They hated the military as much as she did.
Were those creatures as bad as she now thought? Doubt flickered in her mind, but it could not stand against her new conviction. She had uncovered their cruelty with her own mind; she saw the blood staining their hands.
Another new sensation scared her even more deeply. In all her years of passive objection to the military and all its works, she had never felt so thrust into the center of a conflict, so able to make a difference, so isolated in her strength, yet so willing to fight with all that strength. She had never felt so valiant.
As Lila lay down, to sleep with the secure joy of that valor, she wondered how long the feeling would last. She knew that if it wore off, this would be her last peaceful sleep for a long time.
Filter third for reliability. This filter protects against politicians.
Nathan stewed quietly in the waiting room outside Charles Somerset's office. The clatter of obsolete typewriters echoed down the cold, plastercast hallways of the Pentagon. Nathan wondered how people could work here, and how they could think clearly in such a hostile environment. One answer chilled him: perhaps theycouldn'tthink clearly here. Perhaps they couldn't think here at all.
He closed his eyes, washing out the sounds and the distractions, trying to wash the irritation from his mind as well. He knew he would need his greatest powers of perception for this meeting. Each of his few other attempts to talk with FIREFORS people had met with either curt civility or expansive emptiness, both well-designed to prevent outsiders like Nathan from acquiring useful information. Yet now the program manager of FIREFORS had asked to see him. That could only mean an ambush. What was the PM of FIREFORS planning?
He heard a door squeak on its hinges and opened his eyes.
At first Nathan thought he was looking at a successful, cultured street beggar. Charles wore a brown suit that might have been slept in; clearly, it had been cut to hang limply on its owner. His striped red tie sagged in a sloppy knot near the collar. His eyeglasses had slid far down his nose, and his hairline had receded far up his forehead.
Charles continued to open the door. His lethargic care with the task kept pace with the slow slide of his eyeglasses; his smile of greeting brightened in harmonic time with both.
His every movement seemed soggy except that of his eyes. Beneath heavy lids, they darted across Nathan's face and posture. "Welcome," Charles said with a voice of dispassionate amusement. With a moment's energetic effort, he raised his eyebrows. "Welcome to the team."
"Welcome to what team?" Nathan asked as he followed the program manager through the door.
"Why, the FIREFORS team, of course."
Nathan studied the schizophrenic arrangement of books and papers in the office while Charles's words sank in. "What do you mean by that?"
"You're a member of the team now.Myteam." After showing Nathan a chair next to the conference table, Charles retrieved a single sheet of paper from his desk. "This is a letter from General Hicks to General Curtis, authorizing transfer of Sling Project oversight to FIREFORS. It was mailed yesterday."
Charles Somerset had gained the power to destroy the Sling. Nathan sensed Charles's condescending gaze upon him. He realized that in some drab yet hideous fashion, this moment qualified as a great victory for Charles.
"Of course, the letter probably won't penetrate the bureaucracy to your contracting officer until tomorrow. But I thought you should know about it as soon as possible. We need to get a jump on the changes we'll have to make in the Sling. We need to get it into line with the rest of our projects."
Nathan looked up at him for a painful moment, then accepted a copy of the letter—both to read it and to take a moment to collect his thoughts.
There has been too much national coverage—the words jumped at Nathan from a middle paragraph—of supposed FIREFORS competition with the Sling Project. I agree with you: it makes no difference whether the competition is real or not. We must consolidate.
Nathan stared at the letter for a long time, to recover for continuing the psychological game now underway. He knew who he needed here: he needed Leslie. Leslie, with his years of maneuvering through military politics, would have known how to respond. But he would be out of town all week.
It probably didn't make any difference. The letter, the change in organization, each was now afait accompli. Had it been possible for the Institute to do anything about it, Somerset surely would not have offered the information.
What Nathan really wanted to do was cut and run—just leave the room and the Pentagon and Charles's smiling face behind. But Charles was now in some sense both his boss and his customer; however dangerous that might be, he would only aggravate the danger by being nasty.
Charles scraped a chair across the floor to join him. "You all right?" he asked with too much pleasure and too little concern.
"Of course," Nathan said, straightening to look Charles in the eye. "You realize that just because this letter has been mailed, this isn't official yet. Since I share your concerns about following proper procedures, I can't make any commitments without authorization from my contracting officer."
Charles seemed taken aback by the astuteness of this response, but he recovered quickly. "No problem, it will be official soon enough. I was just planning to give you some general guidance now, anyway. We'll have a more detailed discussion of the new directions after you talk with DNA. And we'll get really explicit, down to the nitty gritty, after a complete project review." Charles looked wistful for a moment. "If we had our way, we would put a stop work on the project temporarily, until our re-evaluation is complete." He paused, a look of distaste crossing his face. "But we haven't been authorized to do that."
Nathan suppressed a smile; Charles's victory had not been unconditional, anyway.
Charles waited for Nathan to respond. When no words came forth, he continued on his own, more than willing to handle the discussion solo. "As for our new general guidance, I'd like to start with a little thing. We've read the reports on the Sling. It looks like a fine piece of work, although a little primitive, compared to what we've been doing. One of the things we haven't seen anywhere is a discussion of how the warheads in the HighHunter—you call them Crowbars, I think—pick their targets."
Nathan frowned. "We're still working on the algorithm for selecting important objects, such as commanders' tanks. Is that what you mean?"
Charles mumbled something. From the uncertain sound in his voice, Nathan suspected that Charles might not know what he meant himself. "What I'm driving at is, do your Crowbars talk to each other, so they can guarantee that they fell on different tanks? How do they know they won't all hit the same one?"
"Ah, I see." Nathan nodded; Kurt had worried at that question for a long time. "We thought about it, but we decided we couldn't do that. There's not enough space in the Crowbar for the comm and not enough time to figure it out anyway. Each Crowbar will have a slightly different set of parameters, so they are likely to pick different targets.'
Charles shook his head, a slow pendulum with a catch in it. "That isn't acceptable. The warheads must communicate and guarantee that they don't conflict."
Nathan just stared for a moment. "But that would be silly." He explained with a tone that softened the bluntness of the words, "It's not only expensive, it's unnecessary as well. The idea is to put a lot of Crowbars up there, and have a pile of them come down together, like hailstones. If we get ten percent of them hitting the same thing, all we have to do is launch ten percent more to start with."
The pendulum swung again. A grave look touched Somerset's darting eyes. "Listen. I know you're new to this contracting business, but there're some serious things you need to learn. First of all, we've got to deal with the Bill Hardies of the world. Think what it would sound like ifhereported on this: The Army is building a weapon that hits itself almost as often as it hits the enemy.' " Charles looked concerned, like a teacher speaking privately to a slow student. "We aren't talking here about technical necessity, or economic sanity—we're talking about political survival in case the news media get excited about us. Do you understand?"
Nathan considered that the last news campaign had resulted in the letter he had just read, and he felt a surge of understanding for Somerset's game. "Yes, I see your point," he conceded. "You want to create a more workable political design. But I still disagree with your conclusion— because your political design is completely unworkable as an engineering design. The problem you're addressing is not a valid one upon which to make a political decision, because as engineers, we know a right answer."
Charles grunted. "Maybe so, but I want to keep the FIREFORS team funded." Getting no answer again, he pointed out the corollary. "I want to keep you funded."
Nathan sighed. "What is your next point of general guidance?"
"Since you're going to need a comm processor for the new Crowbar-to-Crowbar communication, I'd like to recommend—and frankly, we'll probably demand when the time comes—that you use the AN/UYK 93 computer for the job."
Nathan looked at him with puzzlement. "Isn't that computer still under development?"
Charles smiled. "I'm glad you've heard of it. We've been trying to get word around about it for some time. This is my first indication that we've succeeded. Yes, it's almost ready."
Disbelieving horror dried Nathan's throat. "How can you expect us to use something that doesn't exist yet?"
Charles waved a hand, dismissing Nathan's concern. "The spec's available."
"What if it doesn't meet our needs?"
The hand waved again. "No problem. We'll just change the spec."
Nathan could think of no retorts that were sufficiently irrational.
"And I hope that, for all your communication systems in all these different Hunter platforms, you're using our JANEP protocol family."
Nathan shook his head violently. "That would be crazy. No one uses those protocols anymore. They're obsolete."
A stern expression molded Somerset's pliant features. Nathan would not have guessed it would look so natural there. "We use those protocols in all our products. You must use them to stay compatible."
A stillness settled across the room—the stillness of a battlefield after the carnage. "How can you expect to succeed when half your system is 15 years obsolete, and the other half is five years short of being born?" With a stab of insight—the stab of a nail—Nathan remembered Leslie's story of the Maneuver Control System.
MCS, as it was known to friends and enemies, was a computer system built for the Army back in the '70s and '80s. The contractor had been required to use a computer that was over ten years old, and a software toolkit that was still under development—and wouldn't be ready for years. The contract had been a great success: millions of dollars had been spent on old hardware and futuristic software. Only the less important third priority—the job of building a Maneuver Control System—had failed, slipping its schedule year after year.
Somehow, the Defense Department always had deep passions for the technologies of yesterday and the technologies of tomorrow. But they never tolerated the technologies oftoday. And tragically, the technologies of today were the only technologies worth using—the only ones a sane person would use to protect his society.
Charles removed his glasses. While he wiped them, he delivered the final guideline. "One last thing. This business of using commercial equipment has got to stop. Military equipment has to be survivable. So every component of the Sling Hunters has to be militarized."
Only the slightest move forward betrayed Nathan's desire to leap across the conference table and strangle the murderer of his child. "We can't do that! We haven't anywhere near the resources for that kind of undertaking, even if it made sense. The whole idea of the Sling is to build a family of disposable systems, like Dixie cups or TOW missiles."
Charles nodded. "I think I see your confusion. Of course you've never been able to think of militarizing your Hunters, because you didn't have the resources. That's where FIREFORS can help you, even as you are helping us. If the Sling Project is sufficiently important, we can get you the money."
"But the Project would be doomed from the start! It would be far too expensive to build in large quantities."
"That's for someone else to decide. We're only responsible for designing products to meet the military requirement. The financial problems with deployment are handled elsewhere. Mr. Pilstrom, even if wewantedto worry about the production cost,we arent allowed to."
Nathan heard a hint of exhaustion in Somerset's voice—the exhaustion of a man who had once in his life worried about problems beyond his current battle. He saw in Charles the end product of bureaucracy: a basically good man with one terrible fault. He had learned how to succeed in the distorted reality that bureaucracies create.
Charles continued, again willing to carry the conversation alone. "There's a second alternative. We do have permission to use commercial components for subsystems that aren't mission-critical."
Nathan listened with suspicion. "What does that mean, not mission-critical?"
"A subsystem is mission-critical if the troops would be unable to continue fighting without that subsystem. If the subsystem is that critical, it must meet mil spec. Doesn't that make sense? Something that critical must work correctly."
Something didn't seem to fit quite right in that analysis, but Nathan couldn't see the flaw at the moment. "I guess it makes sense."
"But if the troops can continue to fight effectively without it, then it's not mission-critical. Then you can make it less rugged. You still have to make it more rugged than average commercial stuff, of course, but you can bend the spec." Charles looked eager—almost too eager—to help solve this problem. "We could just declare the entire Sling Project to be non-mission-critical, thus allowing us to make it commercial. Considering your hostility to militarizing the Hunters, that's probably our best bet."
How sincere Charles sounded when he used the term "we"! Did Charles actually believe his statements about "our" team? He might. Nathan shrugged. "That sounds like an interesting alternative. But as I said earlier, I won't make any commitments until this transfer of control is official."
"Of course." Charles sighed, not angry, but perhaps saddened by the vision of a lengthy educational process. "No commitments," he agreed.
Kira's knuckles whitened on the steering wheel of her car as she cursed the traffic jammed up before her. To her left, through the blazing colors of the autumn leaves, she could see the Potomac: a muddy soup with puddles of rock jutting randomly into the gray air. To her right, above the line of the trees, she could see a skyscraper jutting into the equally gray skies. Even in the dull shadow of this autumn twilight, the Wilcox-Morris Building had not lost its silvery sheen. She could see Daniel's office perched like an aerie at the pinnacle. She remembered looking down from that office onto the Parkway, and feeling a mixed sense of sympathy and superiority toward the men and women trapped there.
Trapped! She was trapped by the Parkway, just as Daniel would soon have the Zetetic Institute trapped. She had finally penetrated the murky complexity of the Wilcox Morris data bases, and she knew why Daniel wanted to meet Uncle Nathan. She knew who else would be there when Daniel met him, and she knew the inevitable consequences of that meeting.
She had to warn Uncle Nathan before he got to the Capitol for Senator Obata's book announcement. If she didn't—
Her leg drove against the clutch pedal as if that forward pressure could somehow be translated into motion. But neither her fury nor her determination could budge the megatons of steel blocking her way.
Charles slid his glasses along his nose as he leaned back in his judges chair, stretching his legs beneath his desk. He contemplated the amusing possibilities for his future relationships with the Zetetic Institute.
He saw three potential futures. One, the most absurd, was that the Institute would simply come back and tell him that the Sling Project could not be run the way Charles demanded. In that case, he could simply cancel the project for cause and move the funding associated with it to one of his other projects. Of course, the sums of money he had picked up with the Sling Project were mere niblets compared with the fortunes already invested in FIREFORS, but every little bit helped.
The second possible future was that Nathan would agree to militarize the Sling's Hunters. That might generate some very interesting results. The Sling was popular in some circles, and Charles might well be able to soak up considerable quantities of next year's Federal budget working on such a modified project. And though he had enjoyed defeating the Institute in this small campaign, he held no grudges against them. If they played along with his goals as program manager of FIREFORS, he would be delighted to hand them a few contracts.
Frankly, he didn't understand Nathan's hostility to building a bigger, more expensive system. How could you grow a reputation in defense except by working on big projects? And big projects, by definition, spent big sums of money. Charles was not merely protecting and enriching his own empire by changing the course of the Sling Project: he was helping the Zetetic Institute as well! Certainly this second possibility was most profitable to both the Institute and to the FIREFORS office.
The third possible future was that Nathan would opt for the commercial approach by declaring the Sling systems non-mission-critical. This third possibility was most dangerous. The Sling Hunters fulfilled many of the same functions as other FIREFORS products, yet they would cost less than a tenth as much. The budget-watchers could conclude that the fully militarized systems weren't necessary, and then the FIREFORS budget would be slashed to the bone.
Fortunately, Charles had a solution to that problem, made possible by the very nature of the rules governing non-mission-critical development. Since the commercial version of the Sling would be non-mission-critical, that meant it was less important than mission-critical projects. So the next time Congress came sniffing around for budget cuts, Charles would naturally supply the non-mission-critical project—namely, the Sling—for the axe. By sacrificing this tiny project to the blood suckers, he would be able to protect his larger projects from the knife and could maintain his spending rates unimpaired.
So though the second possible future was most profitable, the third was most ironic: the Sling Project would destroy itself to protect his comprehensive FIREFORS projects—the very projects that the Sling had been designed to destroy.
He almost hoped the third future would prevail.
PAN. His eyes and his camera capture the overblown beauty of the men and women arriving in the Mansfield room of the Capitol. The sweep of the high, ornately carved walls enters his flatcam with sharp clarity; the room's narrow width and length are lost in the growing density of the crowd. Bill understands the purpose of this room, so well suited to optical illusion: with just a handful of people, Senator Obata's press men create the atmosphere of a vast, tightly packed throng.
CUT. Bill catches a short glimpse of himself in a gold- framed mirror above a brass serving table. He blends in perfectly with the crowd. He watches his own smirk as it reflects back from the mirror. No one could guess his intentions. His flatcam, decorated in a simple gold design that neatly camouflages its intricacy, nestles against a small carnation in his lapel.
ZOOM. Senator Hilan Forstil arrives: at last, someone of interest. With casual grace Bill follows as Forstil weaves through the crowd. He stops to talk. Bill recognizes Forstil's companion and smiles seeing his prey: Nathan Pilstrom.
FOCUS. Forstil says, "Nathan Pilstrom. I'm glad to see you. How is the Sling Project?"
CLOSE AND HOLD. Pilstrom grimaces. "Things were fine until early this afternoon. We finally solved all our staffing problems a few weeks ago, and we'd started to catch up our schedule.
"But an hour ago I met Charles Somerset, the program manager of FIREFORS, for the first time." He describes the takeover of the Sling by FIREFORS with fatigued anger. "We'll probably declare the project non-mission-critical, so we can continue with our current design."
Forstil nods. "You know, the FIREFORS position sounds reasonable, as far as militarizing mission-critical items. The essential systems need to be survivable."
"It sounded reasonable to me, too, until I discussed it with Leslie Evans, who's in charge of the systems integration. He pointed out the flaw quite clearly." Pilstrom settles himself into a professor's posture. "Suppose a function is mission-critical. But now suppose that the mil-spec box for this function is so expensive that we can't build enough of them. Then, by definition, the more critical the function is, the less likely we are to get it." Nathan rolls his eyes. "The Sling, in its unmilitarized form, can eliminate the need for tactical nuclear weapons. Isn't that somehow mission-critical?"
SLIDE. A short man standing nearby perks up. He turns to Pilstrom. "Eliminate nuclear weapons? How?"
ROLL. Pilstrom assesses the man as he would assess a delicate goblet, deciding how much information he may pour into this container before it overflows. "There's a long answer and a short answer. The short answer—an answer so short that it's misleading—is that, if we want to eliminate nuclear weapons, all we have to do is build a better weapon."
FOCUS. The man's face falls.
ROLL. Pilstrom continues. "But that's not as horrible as it sounds. Something few people understand is that nuclear bombs make lousy weapons."
The man's expression turns to curiosity, matching Senator Forstil's.
"Remember, the purpose of a weapon is not to obliterate the countryside. The purpose is to stop the enemy. But that's exactly the opposite of the effect of a nuclear blast. Nukes are great for killing farmers for miles around. But do you have any idea how difficult it is to kill a guy driving a tank?"
The short man sputters. "But surely if you drop nukes on a bunch of soldiers you kill a lot of them."
Pilstrom nods. "But fewer than you might think. A nuke is better than ordinary bombs. But if you plant ordinary bombs very carefully—if you increase the informational content of those bombs, and nothing else—only a handful of those ordinary bombs would make a better weapon than a nuclear bomb."
CUT. The gathering crowd around Pilstrom forces Bill to shift position. The room is crammed with people, yet somehow, the densest crowd rings around a small breathing space occupied by Senator Forstil and Nathan Pilstrom.
Forstil speaks. "I grant all that. But I still don't see why we couldn't make the Sling systems mil-spec."
"We shouldn't make the Sling systems mil-spec primarily because that's not the right path to survivability for this system. There are at least two paths to making a system survivable. One is to make it very tough: make it mil-spec. The other alternative is to make it very cheap, so you can make lots of copies. Though every case is different, American history suggests that the second alternative is as viable as the first; indeed, the triumph of America has often rested on the second alternative. Look at our tanks in World War II. The Germans had better tanks, but the American commercial economy had developed mass production methods so powerful that we could pour tanks into the field until we overwhelmed them. Similarly, the German submarines sank four hundred ships in the last year of the war—but Americabuiltseven hundred! Weburiedthem in our productivity."
BACK OFF. Nathan's voice breaks across the room with a forceful confidence that damps out other voices. An eerie silence hushes even the tinkling of the champagne glasses. Bill feels suddenly conspicuous. He accepts a small hors d'oeuvre sprinkled with caviar from the passing waiter. He is not hungry, but he chews it drily and swallows. The caviar leaves a salty aftertaste in his mouth.
ZOOM. "This power of the economy to work for America's defense is the unique strength that made us inconquerable. It's the power that we've lost sight of. It is the power that the Zetetic Institute is trying to restore with the Sling Project—the vitality, the creativity, the effectiveness of the best of our industry." His voice falls to the level of a personal vow. "Societies built around the principles of war have great difficulty learning to turn their swords into plowshares. America, a society built around peace, must always remember how to turn its plowshares into swords."
Another man in the crowd shifts forward just an inch—the distance of a thrust jaw. "If you're so much in love with our free enterprise system, why are you trying to destroy it?"
Pilstrom turns in astonishment. "What do you mean?"
"The Zetetic Institute's the bunch of weirdos who're trying to destroy advertising, isn't it?"
TURN. Bill suppresses a laugh. The man is repeating words from one of his newscasts.
ZOOM. Pilstrom gives a gentle rebuttal that twists Bill's internal laughter to dismay. He replies, "You've heard too many newscasters distorting the truth. We don't want to destroy advertising. We want to destroymanipulativeadvertising. We want to eliminate the kind of advertising that persuades the listener to buyin spiteof the best information, rather than because of it. We want people to filter the informational content from commercial advertising—and all too often, when an advertisement is run through an informational filter, nothing is left.
"But there are many useful forms of advertising. Come to the Institute, and we'll show you some examples. Good advertising doesn't get enough good advertising these days."
PAUSE. The conversation stops. The crowd seems suspended—not quite ready to abandon the play of strong convictions, but not willing to wait for the conversation to pick up again.
PAN. A tall, immaculately dressed man steps out of the crowd, quickly, gracefully—a silent, defiant presence.
Bill studies the man. His camera captures the charm, but his mind does not quite grasp its source. The man stands with a relaxed straightness, as though looking down from a great height. He is not as handsome as Bill himself; the face is too narrow, the eyes too calculating for that. But only the senator comes close to projecting so muchpresence, and even for the senator, the projection is not effortless. For this man it is inevitable, as natural as breathing.
The intruder speaks. "What you're doing to advertisers isn't half as bad as what you're doing to our civil liberties."
ZOOM. Nathan looks completely baffled. "What do you think we've done to your civil liberties?"
"For one thing, you're attacking our right to smoke."
Nathan laughs, though a nervous catch suggests he wonders if both the criticism and the response are too obvious. "That would be an amazingly inaccurate analysis. Our relationship to liberty is quite the opposite: we'rerestoringpeople's rights. Two-thirds of the people who smoke don't want to. We help them regain their right to choose. Everyone who comes to our clinics volunteers."
The tall man's eyes hold steady, filled with accusation. "I'm speaking of the tens of thousands of men and women who depend upon the tobacco industry for their livelihoods. You're depriving them of their freedom to earn a living doing what they do best."
"People do their best when creating better ways to live, and better ways to earn livings. Creating something better takes some ingenuity, and a lot of hard work. But the search for better ways to live has been a part of our society since the beginning of the Industrial Age. We don't deprive anyone of their ability to create something better; we enhance it"
"But you can't deny that the end of the tobacco industry would devastate the economy of North Carolina."
"Yes, it would devastate North Carolina—but only if every smoker quit smoking at the same time. No matter what the Zetetic Institute does, that's an unlikely outcome. We couldn't destroy North Carolina even if we wanted to, which we don't."
"I know exactly how you'd do it. You'd destroy us exactly the way youaredestroying us. You would encourage other anti-smoking groups to attack us more violently, with laws that restrict our freedom."
PAN. Something about the stranger has seemed wrong to Bill since the beginning of the conversation. The stranger speaks of the people who smoke as his own people, yet Bill cannot imagine this graceful, commanding man with a cigarette in his hand. The collision of his mind's image and the camera's image gives Bill a moment of internal discord.
"Only people who don't hear the whole Zetetic message react in that manner."
"But some of them do. Your lectures often fail—and that's your fault as much as the listener's. So the viciousness of the attacks on smokers rises every time your Institute speaks. Or do you deny your responsibility for inciting those attacks?"
ZOOM. Bill realizes that the stranger has made a brilliant jab. Zetetics have a complex concept of responsibility—so complex that it plays out as confusion in short newscasts.
Nathan lowers his head. "No. We know that we can never do just one thing. We accept partial responsibility for creating the tension that promotes those attacks—just as we accept partial responsibility for the extra years of life people earn when they stop smoking."
SPLAT. A bright pink liquid smacks against Bill's face, blinding him. Gasping, he inhales the fragrance and tastes the sweetness of the champagne punch.
WHUFF. Another rainburst of champagne plasters his chest. It strikes his camera, drenching it with a short- circuiting, rose-colored tint. Bill is crippled—rendered as helpless as a quarterback struck in the gut by a hurtling lineman. He can no longer pan or zoom or focus.
THUNK. A woman's head and shoulders press against him. He blinks his eyes, clearing them so that he can see the tackler. She leans against him, her face and hair buried against his chest. Her perfume has a subtle scent, yet it reaches Bill despite the overpowering effervescence of the champagne.
She lurches against him again, then straightens and looks up at his astonished face. He sees blue eyes, too beautiful to ignore; they remind Bill of the quiet blue of the deep waters of Puget Sound. She steps back unsteadily. Her hand rises to cover her mouth in embarrassment; her other hand holds an empty glass. "I'm so sorry," the tipsy beauty apologizes. "Let me clean you off." She closes on him again and commences to suck the champagne from his shirt.
He grabs her by the shoulders to thrust her away, but she buries her nose deeper in his chest, close to his throat; he weakens under the caress. Under the force of her forward motion, Bill steps backward, clinging to her awkwardly.
The confrontation continues between Nathan Pilstrom and the tall stranger. But it is beyond Bill's reach, now that this woman has ruined his flatcam. He looks around; a new crowd grows around him, deciding that the Zetetic Institute is not as interesting as a drunken woman and a champagne-spattered man. With a sweeping glare he strengthens his grip on the girl, turns, and half-carries her from the room. Without his camera, there is no point in staying anyway.
As they cross the entranceway, she utters a wicked laugh. Her hands run around his waist, burrow deep in his back pockets. "Did I get your attention?" she asks.
Bill flushes; the air in the hall cools his forehead, but he bums with heat from the woman's hands, from her mouth upon his throat. He mutters incoherently. She replies with a murmur that tingles against the delicate skin beneath his ear lobe.
Who the hell is this person, anyway? Many women have thrown themselves at him before, with his handsome face and famous name; many more women would beg a night with him in the future.
Some have been even more beautiful than this one, though she is quite striking. He pushes her away; she caresses his hands, running her fingertips lightly up his forearm, bringing his fingers in contact with her neck, her cheeks.
He shakes himself, determined to master the situation. Though other lovers have been more beautiful, this one is . . .special.Her wide green eyes beckon to him from beneath lightly colored eyelids, a touch of makeup that is perfect, as though this woman has studied him, has analyzed his desires, has created psychometric charts of his behavior and now has come to lure him—but lure him where? Away from the confrontation brewing inside? It's too late to prevent the destruction of the Zetetic Institute—he has all the footage he needs. Besides, the woman has already succeeded if that is her purpose—he remembers with a small wrenching feeling the destruction of his flatcam.
Does she just want to lure him back to his apartment? He asks her; she answers yes.
He takes her, with her maddening eyes and teasing hands, back to his home. In the living room, her attack upon his shirt renews; he is half-unbuttoned before he can disengage to retreat to his bedroom and remove his flatcam. He slips the tape into his video system, a vast complex of the best equipment in the world.
He returns to her. Again the wrestling begins—but this time the girl struggles with an opponent who is free to respond to her every movement.
Now she weakens in turn. She escapes his arms and hurries to the bedroom, promising a quick return. He waits; the door opens; she strides out with a new and sober awareness. Her dress covers her again with full propriety; her eyes hold a cold glare. She utters a single furious epithet, swings the front door of the apartment wide, and leaves in a shattering slam of wooden door against metal frame.
Bill lies still a moment, then, leaping to his feet, howls in hopeless, helpless, furious frustration.
He calms himself. His life, his soul are not enmeshed with the intricate peculiarities of the female mind. His heart is in his flatcam. He returns to his bedroom to see the material he has collected, with which to destroy the Zetetic Institute.
The tape begins. Nothing. Nothing. Nothing. He howls again and wrenches the tape from its drive. Yes, it is the original.
With disbelief he replaces the tape and skips, faster and faster, across its surface. It is blank. She has destroyed it. She has cut out his heart.
His backup! Always upon returning home with fresh video, he starts the backup recorder to cut a dupe. He reaches for it now. With trembling fingers, he jabs the buttons to begin its replay.
Words and images flow to him: the Mansfield room and the debates of Nathan Pilstrom.
The woman destroyed his tape, but she did not destroy his newscast. He turns from the video player; the tape's contents bum brightly in his brain without amplification. Playing it in its entirety, the Zetetic Institute sounds heroic. But there are moments of value.
"To eliminate nuclear weapons, all we have to do is build better weapons"—the words of a world-destroyer.
"Turn plowshares into swords"—the words of a warmonger.
"Yes, it would devastate North Carolina—the words of an unfeeling theorizer.
"We accept partial responsibility for the attacks on smokers"—the words of a fanatic.
Bill clenches his fist. He feels the harsh strength of the crushing motion and smiles in satisfaction.
How emotionally entangled are you with your point of view? Test yourself— defend an opposing view, believing your life depends upon it
Leslie paused at the beginning of the corridor. Nathan, he knew, never walked this hall without taking a moment to gaze at the PERT chart. The Sling Project's PERT chart dominated the walls, burying the oak veneer beneath thousands of modern hieroglyphics. Often Leslie passed it by without a glance; but then, Leslie traveled the hall far more often than Nathan.
When Leslie did pause amid the colorful lines and boxes, he did so to study the individual branches, to prune and tend and nurture them; the PERT chart was the incarnation of his part of the project. He gave the chart the same intense concentration that programmers gave to their software. In such a manner, he concentrated upon the branches this morning.
The green forest had grown with stately decorum, overrunning many of the boxes that had once glared pink or even red with danger. The pink had settled into a thin band creeping up one wall and down the other, separating the green past from the uncolored, black-lined boxes of future. The whole project raced against that pink band, trying to turn it to green before it could reach farther into the black. A program manager considered his forest's growth acceptable as long as the band of pink did not thicken, as long as it did not grow faster than the trailing green, and as long as it did not turn red. For a moment, he postponed his considerations of the meaning of the red.
The black future had become clearer: the first order of business for the software team had been to break up the major software tasks into exhaustive lists of carefully circumscribed, well-defined subtasks.To define is to limit. Leslie could hear Jan telling him the Zetetic comment, a phrase stolen from Oscar Wilde. In the initial steps of a project, when flights of creative fancy supplied the ideas critical to success, you needed to be careful not to define the problem too well, lest it limit the creative process. But once those initial concepts had sparked together, fusing at last into a clear vision, it became equally critical to define, to limit, with ruthless vigor. You did not want to be surprised halfway through the engineering that transformed ideas into products.
Amos, Juan, Kurt, and Lila had done an excellent job in defining the Sling Project's transformation path. They had completed the details for the PERT chart. Sadly, this brought to bear another Zetetic commentary on the lightning-speed Information Age:If it is complete, it must be obsolete. Obsolescence occurred when the PERT chart's unbendingly factual description of the present offered no hope of reaching the planned future. On the Sling, a handful of urgent tasks already burned with the heat of a forest fire, threatening to consume that future.
The red boxes told this story. The single red box that had driven him and Nathan so hard to find Amos and Juan and Lila now lay in tranquil green, but before its transmutation, it had ignited speckles of new, bright fires.
Since Amos had started, he had put out many fires, healing a number of the newer red boxes to forest green. Other green boxes, representing the work of so many people, might grow toward the pink in an impersonal race, but the reds and pinks that dominated the software team's future represented personal battles. Those battles would take everything they had to give. They didn't have time to fight the absurd political battles that FIREFORS now demanded of them. They didn't have time to play absurd games because of a ban on telecommuting.
Leslie couldn't believe that the politicians had really pulled such a stupid stunt. Nathan had pointed out the analogy to the home-based sewing industry and its destruction by the textile mills, but Leslie didn't buy it at first. There were surely more telecommuters to fight this ban today than there had been clothing makers to fight that earlier law. On the other hand, the telecommuters were not organized as a political force. Sanity had no effect on politicians unless it was concentrated in a power bloc. The organized power blocs belonged to the older, Industrial Age institutions, such as the tobacco companies.
Kira had uncovered the tobacco industry's sudden support for the ban only days before the congressional voting. Hilan Forstil had called to alert them to the same problem on the same day, furious and apologetic that he had been kept in the dark so effectively by other members of Congress up on the Hill. Leslie found it unbelievable that the tobacco companies could wield so much power, but Kira had described lists of senators, representatives, regulators, newsmen, and others of influence whom the tobacco industry could in turn influence.
Of course, the tobacco industry had not implemented this attack alone. The Institute had stepped on a surprising number of toes, considering its tiny size. Nathan saw a deeper meaning in the new attack: the Zetetic Institute was the first power structure of the Information Age. It had grown just large enough to attract the notice of the Industrial Age power structures. The corporate oligarchies, the unions, the news media, the government bureaucracies—all the old institutions that held power—could see the dark glimmers of their fading importance in a new society. Their survival depended on the destruction of the Institute. Only extraordinary forces could deflect their opposition to the Information Age.
Too late, the Institute itself had become the rallying point for the telecommuters. Kira had started organizing opposition, with Hilan's help. A quick analysis had shown that they could not prevent the ban from going into effect: they could only hope to revoke the law before it dismembered the telecommuting work force. With a chill, Leslie understood why the laws against selling homemade clothing had never been reversed: when the unions broke the home manufacturers in the first battle, they left no one able to fight. Struggling to make a new livelihood, the losers had no strength left over with which to fight the politicians.
Now the Institute had to battle with the union/tobacco coalition, the FIREFORS bureaucracy, and the sheer technical difficulty of making the Sling work, all at the same time. These simultaneous campaigns demanded more than the Institute had to give.
In turn, Leslie and the Institute were demanding more of Amos than he would agree to give. Amos had been testy when Leslie had explained to him that he couldn't telecommute on this first day of the ban. He had dismissed Leslie's careful explanations of how important it was for Amos to drive to the Institute. He had complained that the primitive nature of the Institute's equipment would hideously impair his productivity, compared with what he could achieve at home.
Finally, Amos had surrendered under the unrelenting stream of Leslie's combination of apologies and pointed reminders. The harshest point was that, if Amos did not come in for work, there would soon be no Institute to work for.
The Institute was the most closely scrutinized corporation in the country: over a dozen government regulators would roam the halls to ensure that all the Zetetic workers in the city were working on-site. Authorities throughout the nation supervised Institute projects, ready to make arrests and pass incredible fines for the least infraction of the new laws. If they carried out the maximum legal penalties, they could destroy the Institute in a few days. Apparently, as the Institute grew stronger as the rallying point for the telecommuters, it also grew more important as a target for the opposition. Nathan's analysis seemed correct: the Institute now lay at the heart of the maelstrom.
As Leslie walked past the last of the red boxes on the PERT chart, he thought again about Amos.
Amos had been as close to anger as Leslie had ever seen him. The idea of driving through rush-hour traffic did not suit him. "Amos, stay cool," Leslie had said. "In a couple of weeks, this whole thing will calm down. When that happens, you can call in sick every damn day of the week, and work on 'hobbies' all the time. Then, when you complete a program module, you come in for one day, and we pay you a huge amount of money for that day's work. Your 'hobbies' will coincidentally look a great deal like stuff we need, but so what? Well fight it in court." Amos offered to be sick immediately, but Leslie answered, "I'm sorry, Amos, we can't do it yet. Just hang in there for a couple of weeks. Or rather, hang out here for a couple of weeks."
Leslie hurried to his office to watch for Amos's arrival. When he reached his window, the view filled him with horror.
Many people had spoken of the increase in traffic that the ban on telecommuting would create. The intersection at Sunrise Valley and South Lakes Drive had been a nightmare for years, even in light traffic. In heavy traffic, with ex-telecommuters who hadn't driven in rush hour for years, the intersection filled with a swirling mob of crazies.
But this was not the ugliness on the scene that most terrified Leslie. A mob of protesters packed the sidewalk in front of the Institute's driveway. Had Leslie not come in at an ungodly early hour of the morning, he would have had to confront this mob himself. Reading the signs they carried, he saw that they had come as a result of Bill Hardie's news broadcast the night before. Hardie had used clips from Senator Obata's reception—a series of Nathan's statements ripped from context, like obscene entrails ripped from the guts of a beautiful animal. Leslie had seen only part of it; he could not stand to see facts twisted with such expert malevolence.
Staring out the window, he felt overwhelmed by the effect of that broadcast. What a tragic coincidence, that the mob should block the entrance to the Institute on the very day that the government inspectors started demanding their presence! He called the police even though he realized how futile it was: how could even the police penetrate the tortured jam of steaming automobiles?
One of the cars ensnared in the traffic—a bright yellow Toyota—dodged around the barriers and broke through the throng, turned down the quiet lane toward the Institute, then slowed as it approached the Institute's driveway, as if planning to enter. But the mob apparently dissuaded the driver; he accelerated past the crowd as several fists shook after him.
By the time he disappeared around the corner, he had accelerated to an insane speed. Whoever he was, he had superb reflexes, unbounded confidence, and a total disregard for other drivers and legal restraints. Nuts like that fellow made the road dangerous for everybody. It took Leslie a moment to realize that the nut behind the wheel was Amos Leung.
Leslie watched the crest of the hill over which the Toyota had gone with odd confidence. Amos would surely return.
A few moments later his solitary figure, small and dark, eased over the hill with a fluid swiftness that blended with the windblown movement of the bushes. His direction shifted off to the right. Leslie realized that Amos was heading for the rear doors of the Institute, away from the mob. He almost made it, before someone in the mob spotted him.
Part of the mob hurried to block his path. The speed and efficiency of this small group surprised Leslie; then he noticed that the hurrying men seemed different from the main body of protesters. They were huskier, and they moved more purposefully.
The combination of the ban and the mob didn't seem like a coincidence anymore. Someone had planted thugs here to ensure that the Institute couldn't meet the requirements of the law.
What could he do? The building was mostly empty; he could not assemble his own mob to counter the one outside.
But Kurt was here. He might qualify as a mob all by himself. Leslie ran through the building yelling for him.
It took only a few gasping words to propel McKenna into action. Leslie trailed after him and considered the possible foolishness of this rescue effort. Of all the people he knew, Amos was the one most capable of taking care of himself.
Amos had grown up the son of a quiet, retired Chinese master of arms. His training had started when he had learned to stand. He had practiced every day with the diligence and discipline of a Soviet gymnast—with shuriken, with swords, with his bare hands. Leslie remembered a story Amos had once told of a confrontation in a New York subway. Three teenagers had encircled him. With his back to the wall, he had offered them his wallet, but they were not interested. They drew knives.
Amos had considered disarming them, but their combination of numbers and weapons introduced a small risk to himself. He had therefore decided to disable them. Several minutes later, he had called the ambulance for them.
But outside the Institute he faced more than three assailants. As Leslie burst out of the door, he saw that Amos stood backed against a tree. He seemed impassive and quiet; only the odd way he held himself suggested danger to the knowing watcher. Someone reached for him.
Amos seemed to disappear. An invisibly fast force leaped from where he had stood, a force that touched one thug after another. You could see the progression of the force by the roll of violent jerking across the crowd. The thugs dropped in stunning succession. Leslie heard the soft, soggy sound of human bodies falling.
The violent force paused for a moment; Amos appeared where it had left off, reorienting himself. The remaining thugs held their ground, but seemed dazed by the attack. Amos disappeared again.
A gunshot barked. Amos reappeared, sliding across the green grass. When the sliding stopped, Amos lay unmoving, his face filled with the impassive calm Leslie had known so often. Now, however, his calmness seemed unnatural.
Leslie returned to the building and called the police again. A helicopter came to the rescue, filled with paramedics. They arrived too late.
Kira stood before the flat dullness of the apartment door and stared into the peephole. Of course, from her side of the door, she could see nothing. But she had come for a confrontation; let it start even now, before the door opened. With an angry swing of her wrist, she raised the knocker and struck home once, twice, three times.
She waited. Dull thudding suggested the motion of a large man. When the sound stopped, she knew he had come to the peephole, and that his confusion mounted with every passing moment. She smiled disarmingly, and wondered whether the smile confused him even more.