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Alice Kimbrell pushed back from the screen angrily.
"Ridiculous!" she snapped, to no one.
It was a word she would repeat, often. A word that would haunt her when the killing began.
She went to the kitchen to make coffee, which she always needed midafternoon. She stopped, reaching for a cup. There sat Albert's old mug,
asking to be filled.
Ridiculous. She should throw it away.
The coffee steaming, she stepped out to her balcony and tried to take a moment to contemplate the sea. But the paper's title glowed in her mind,
and all the coffee did was brighten the glare.
Investigations into Biochemical Sensory Transmission by Duffy and
Philen, June 2115.
She stared hard at the lavender sea, as if concentrating could make her appreciate it. "I love this view. It reminds me of Denmark," Albert had once remarked. It had seemed a soulful thing to say at the time. As if
Albert had more than the parody of a soul.
She wished she had an office. People who had offices could escape their homes.
She stalked back to her workstation and looked at the abstract again. It hadn't changed.
A sample population of 1,000 volunteers was screened for metasensory abilities using standard set Zener cards, Black Box Randomizer, and blind curtain tests. Two individuals demonstrated consistently accurate results for each test, and ten demonstrated statistically improbable accuracy. HCI
and Dao imaging demonstrated collateral brain cortex activity between senders and receivers in accurate tests. The sample population was increased to 5,000 individuals. Two members of the larger sample conclusively demonstrated metasensory abilities, with thirteen sets of statistically improbable results. Cortex imaging was consistent with the findings of the preliminary study.
Okay, she thought. Prove it to me.
Unfortunately, they did. She read it again, summoning even more skepticism.
Of course, data could be faked, but as per usual, they had included a complete data set with verifying codes. Most damning of all, there was the cover letter signed by Drs. Jacqueline Wilson and John Yazhi. The authors might be graduate students, but two of the most prestigious neuropsychologists at the Harvard School of Medicine backed them up. That was probably what got the paper past her screeners to start with.
Worse and worse. As editor of the New England Journal of
Medicine, she could think of no good reason not to publish. Which was a shame, because then her career would join her personal life on the slag heap.
She reached for the phone. By God, she would find a reason not to publish it.
"It's not a joke," Dr. Yazhi said, swaying his long physique up from behind his desk to shake her hand.
"Dr. Yazhi, you must understand"
"Look, it started out that way. Ms. Duffy and Mr. Philen were writing a paper for the New Drinkland Journal of Medicine. You know it? It's a sort of hazing ritual. The first year students are required to write at least two hundred pages of garbage on some nontopic, but they have to research it, give it all the good form of a journal article. It's a student competition to see who can treat the most absurd subject in the most clinical fashion, using the most jargon and academic doublespeak.
It's a bonus if they can make it recognizably similar to something that has actually been published.
"Philen and Duffy chose to research telepathy. They set up a study andand, well, they began to get results. When they were sure they brought it to me, and I came on board as their adviser."
"Yes, but Zener card readings"
"Can be faked, yes. But we went on from there. In the endyou read the paper, I assume? In the end we did simultaneous pattern scans on the brains of the subjects, first with an HCI and then a Dao imager. The results were what you saw in your data sets. Spontaneousand I might add,
impossiblecortex pattern similarities at the moment of 'transmission.'"
He paused, stroking his lean, dark face. "I've read your work, Dr.
Kimbrell, and I think you've been a credit to the journal since you began editing it. I understand your reluctance, but I think the data behind this paper is quite solid. I'm certainly willing to say so."
"It's just that" She paused, marshaling arguments. "All through the twentieth century they did these same tests, and nothing. Why?"
He shrugged. "Maybe when they got results they didn't like, they ignored themthat was pretty common in the nineteens. They didn't have HCIs then,
just EEGs and the like, nothing that could holistically image microneural activity. That's what convinced us, of course." He pursed his lips. "Just ask yourselfif this paper were on any accepted subject, or even a marginal one, would you publish it? Is it well written? Is it evidenced?
Is the data set verifiable? Are the experiments replicable?"
She met his eyes, wanting to challenge him further, finding she could not.
She sighed. "Thank you, Doctor."
She put it off. Albert called and she hung up on him. Her father called,
and she pretended not to be home. Her stockbroker called, wanting to buy a thousand shares of something-or-other and she told him to buy Antarctica if he wanted, but to leave her alone.
She went to a salon, had her hair cut into a short, blond bob. She picked away at her own research, wrote letters to some colleagues, went running and swimming, lost three pounds. In the end she returned, saw the submissions piling up, and sighed.
She remembered how proud she had beenthe youngest editor in chief of the oldest continuously published medical journal in history. Quite the coup.
As she sat down at her workstation, she wondered if she would be able to get a teaching position somewhere, perhaps at a community college. In the
Yukon maybe. At least it would be easier to dodge Albert there.
Senator Lee Crawford sighed as he strode into the sunlight and saw the reporter. Was that all he rated these days, a single reporter from a minor newspaper? It seemed so.
He put on his most genial smile.
"Senator Crawford," the young woman beganin a rush, as if she feared he might brush past her"I'm with the Union Discoverer"
He shoved his hands into his pockets and cocked his head slightly.
"Couldn't find anyone more important to talk to, Ms. Hoijer?" He said it without accusationjust a gentle self-deprecation. He let a little drawl through. They liked that.
It got her. The Discoverer was far from the most prestigious reporting syndicate around, and she must have had her own share of snubs. And he had remembered her name from, what, three months ago. Her eyes softened a bit.
She was a pretty thing, dark skin, green eyes, slim, perhaps thirty.
"I ..." She paused and cleared her throat, and he revised her age downward to twenty-five. "Would you care to comment on the defeat of your latest bill?"
"Only that it's a shame, a shortsighted shame," he said, without heat. "In time, people'll come to see that." He relaxed his shoulders. "Tell me,
what do you think?"
"You asked what I think. What do you think?"
"Senator, that's my job, asking you what you think."
He shrugged. "And what's mine? I represent people, Ms. Hoijer. Aren't you a person?"
"But I am not American, SenatorI don't vote for you."
"Details. C'mon, what do you think? Phrase it as a question, if you must,
but tell me."
If you insist," she said, "I have to say I agree with your opponents. Our taxes have funded the DeepProbe project for twenty years, with no results.
I don't see why we should fund yet anotherand more expensivesearch for extraterrestrial life."
"Intelligence," he corrected gently. "Life we have found, and yet at one point it was far from clear that we would. And you answer your own question. The DeepProbe project uses technology twenty years out of date.
It's time to upgrade."
"But why? The search for extraterrestrial intelligence began more than a hundred years ago. Don't you think that if there were anything to find, we would have found it by now?"
He chuckled his patented chuckle and nodded as if in agreement. "Do you know why the people at home voted for me? Do you know why I ran?"
"You ran on a Globalist platform. And you were the hero of Grissom colony"
"There's thatthat's how I got on the ticket, not why I ran, not why people voted for me. For almost two hundred years, change in science and technology has been the most important fact of life on this planet, and for two hundred years politicians have lagged so far behind the leading edgewell, it would be funny if it were a joke. People who don't understand the first law of motion make decisions regardin' the funding and disposition of space platforms. Doesn't that strike you as even faintly ridiculous? I ran because I think at least one politician should have some conception of more than how to schmooze.
"And to answer your question directly, no. With the technology available in the last hundred years, we couldn't even find one of our own space probes without knowing exactly where it is, much less intelligent life among a trillion trillion worlds."
"Be that as it may, Senator, the polls would seem to indicate an erosion of your popular support. How do you respond to that?"
He shrugged. "My opponents are very good at politicsI've never denied that. But politicsas you must know, being a reporteris a world unto itself, and unfortunately has little to do with the world we live on. It's too bad my opponents are more concerned with that than the welfare of our race. I trust the voters, Ms. Hoijer. They have common sense. Never tell me what the polls say."
"You accuse your opponents of playing politics, and yet there are some who charge that your entire posture on extraterrestrial intelligence was a calculated response to the panic of '10. That you latched onto a popular sentiment, which has now begun to flag."
He chuckled again. "Well, I can hardly blame you for saying thatafter all, who can trust a politician to be sincere about anything? But the people who voted for me know better. I'm dead serious. Look at history.
Robert Goddard invented the liquid-fueled rocket in North America, and yet there was no funding for rocket research there until after Nazi V1s and
V2s had shown their usefulness by blowin' things up. Underfunding the near-Earth asteroid search nearly got us all dinosaured in 2011it was a miracle that got us through that, pure and simple. The political machine registers nothin' till it's already too late.
"I'm still determined to change that, uphill battle though it may be. And,
frankly, I hope to do it before it is too late. There's more than enough hints that there's somebody out there. They might be angels; they might be devils. Frankly, I think they'll be most dangerous if they're just folks like us. But this I knowwe'll be a lot better off all around if we notice them before they notice us."
"Then you will continue to bring your bill before the Senate?"
"Damn right. And you can quote me on that."
"Even without the support of your party?"
"Ms. Hoijer, I'm only doing what I promised. That might be a shock to my colleaguesit might even be a shock to my partybut it's no shock to the voters. You'll see that come the election. Now it's been a real pleasure,
and I thank you for your time, but I have an engagement across town."
He found Tom Nguyen waiting for him in his office.
"The party has withdrawn their support," Tom said, youthful face twitching with agitation.
Reaching for the bottle of oude jenever, Lee froze momentarily. Then he finished his motion. "Why, thanks, Tom, I'm doin' fine. Nice day to you,
too. How about a drink?"
"No, no, Lord, that would kill my stomach right now."
"You have t' build up an immunity," Lee said, pouring the shot and resting a bit of the potent stuff on his tongue. "They really did it, huh?"
"Lee, you had to know it was coming. That bill was dead when you wrote it.
Face it. The science thing got you elected, but people have forgotten it now. In their eyes, Senator Tokash made you look foolish. U.S. voters don't like the U.S. to look foolish, and the party doesn't like its golden boy to look foolish."
"Pinheads. People are such idiots."
"That may well be, but they pay your salary. Lee, this is serious."
"No shit." He downed the shot. "Anything else?"
"I think we should discuss strategy. You were offered the chair of the
Committee on Technology and Privacy"
"It's just a bone they're throwin' me, Tom. A tired old bone. Pity won't get me any votes. I can just see Hirosho's campaign ads now. Me, on the do-nothing committee, with my head down and great big Zs comin' up. What happened? Last year we were on top of the world!"
"Well, that was last year. Forty is too young to be living in the past,
"Thirty-nine, damn your eyes." He leaned back in his chair and blew out,
found a grin. "Just hang in there, Tom, and let me know if you have any ideas. We aren't licked yet. Now, go on, I want to look at my news."
"Ignoring it won't make it go away."
"I'm not ignoring it. Take the day off. Go see your kids."
Tom hesitated. "You're okay?" he asked.
"Watch it, Tom, you're lettin' that all-business face slip off again. You might learn something from me yet, and that'd be a shame. Sure you won't have that drink?"
Tom managed a little smile. "Maybe just one," he said.
He talked Tom into two, before it was over, and told a few jokes that even got him to laugh.
When the door was closed, he went to the window and looked out at the city of Geneva. The smile fell away, and he felt that old familiar hole opening under his feet. "You've bitten off more than you can chew, this time,
haven't you, Lee?" He grunted. He could see his reflection against the glass. Close-cropped brown hair, fast going grey, the angular face that had been likened variously to Andrew Jackson, David Bowie, and Luis
Espinosa. "Enough," he said, this time to the universe at large. "I'll beat you, you bastard."
He went to his desk, sat down, and tapped his terminal on.
"Index," he said. "Journal abstracts."
He began a slow scroll though the lists his computer had assembled. Four new planets that might be Earth-like, some interesting speculations about the self-replicating goo beneath Europa's icy crust, a better fusion reactor, a new theory of language origins. All interesting, but useless.
But then, toward the end, he came to the New England Journal of Medicine.
A headline caught his eye, so he scanned the story. He stopped, read it again. And again. He printed the whole article and read that, too.
"Nguyen, Tom," he said, keying the phone link on the terminal.
After a pause, the screen flickered and his aide appeared, leaning into his car. Behind him, the snowcapped Alps were etched against a very blue sky.
"Sorry, Tom, I know I gave you the day off, but I need you on something right away. I've highlighted a journal article for you. I want to know who else in the Senate has read it, and I want to know who has it selected to read. Their aides, too."
"Lee, I'm not sure if the disclosure rule covers"
"Then be discreet. But find out. I want to know in an hour. Just do it there and drop it back here. And TomI want on the Technology and Privacy
Committee after all. Posthaste."
He returned to his terminal, looking for other things, smiling grimly as they accumulated. Forty-five minutes later, the transfax beeped for his attention, and he stopped to watch a list of names appear. There were only five, and it took just an instant to choose.
Lee found Senator Ledepa Koya standing outside of the Senate chamber,
conferring with a handful of aides in rapid-fire Indonesian. When he noticed Lee, he waved them off and approached.
"Senator Crawford," Koya said.
"Ledepa. How are you today?"
"Very well, thanks. I'd like to congratulate you."
"On the failure of my bill?"
"No, no. And I really hope you understand my position in that matter. I,
personally, think you are right, but what am I to do?"
"It's the name of the game, Ledepa. We all have to respond to our constituency. Now what can I do for you?"
"I understand you've just been appointed head of the Committee on
Technology and Privacy."
"News travels fast."
"I have a particular interest in that committee. I would like to be on it."
"It's goin' to be a yawner, Ledepa. I can't think of any issue that hasn't been addressed to death. It's just nit-picking now."
"What do you mean?"
Koya lowered his voice. "Have you seen the New England Journal of
"As a matter of fact, I have. Some mumbo jumbo about telepathy."
"I don't think it's mumbo jumbo. Some in my government have had suspicions about this for years. And the study looks very solid to those whose opinions I trust."
"I'd like to see it replicated," Lee replied, allowing curiosity to creep into his voice. "But I'm starting to see your interest in this. You think this will be a privacy and technology issue?"
"Yes, of course. Haven't you gotten any letters?"
"Since yesterday? I haven't had time to check."
"I have received many. The news of this is already spreading."
"Really? Surprising. A journal article." But inwardly he smiled. He had spent all night anonymously bringing the article to the attention of various Indonesians. Companies with much to hide. Reactionary but popular religious leaders. Anyone from whom he thought he could elicit a panicked response.
He pretended to consider. "Okay, Ledepa, you're on the committee. I need some opposition members anyway, and it seems like we're of a mind about thiseven if I'm a little slow on the uptake, today. The first order of business is to get copies"
His pocket tel-phone burred. "Wups. If you'll excuse me, Ledepa?"
He pulled the featherlight tel-phone from his jacket and thumbed the channel open, then said, "Lee Crawford here."
He listened for a moment, nodded. "That sounds great. We'll see you there." He closed the link and turned to Koya. "Well, I'm a popular man today," he said. "That was Ramira Alejandro's assistant. She wants me and someone from my committee to come on her show to discuss the telepath article." He shook his head. "Let's you and I meet for lunch, see if we can come to some agreement about what we'll say."
Koya nodded enthusiastically.
"It's nonsense," Crispin Dover said, "pure and simple. I find it unbelievable that Ms. Kimbrell published this tripe." Dover looked, Lee thought, like a bulldog, but somehow his clipped, educated British enunciation worked against that to lend him a sort of credibility.
"And yet, our oldest legends speak of these powers," commented Ramira
Alejandro, a striking woman in late middle age, with classical Brahman features and a streak of pure silver through her otherwise midnight hair.
She radiated a quiet smugness born of knowing she had a guaranteed audience of upward of two billion people.
"Yes, well, our oldest legends also speak of magical beanstalks, talking bears, and the birth of various gods from the armpits of other gods, and I
quite agree, it's among such peers that these so-called extrasensory powers belong. In the past two centuries, the scientific method has been repeatedly brought to bear on the myth of telepathyand shown it to be just that. A myth. I don't think I go too far in suggesting that Ms.
Kimbrell should consider editing another journal altogether."
Kimbrell, a professional-looking woman with closely cropped blond hair,
pursed her lips angrily.
"What about it, Dr. Ortiz?" Ramira asked. "We've heard what a neurochemist has to say about it, but what does psychology have to offer as an opinion on this matter?"
Ortiz clasped his seamed fingers together. At eighty, his skin rather resembled leather. Lee found himself a bit impressed, despite himself.
Ortiz had been a prominent vid commentator since before he was born, a real celebrity.
"Well, Ms. Alejandro, I have read the paper, which I can't tell for certain that our friend Dr. Dover has"
Dover sputtered, "I read the abstract. That was quite enough. I"
Ramira silenced him with a small, cool smile. "You'll have another say,
"Nevertheless," Ortiz went on, "I must to some extent agree with him. The methodology looks fine, and the results seem conclusive. And yet, how do we explain the lack of similar results in every prior studysome of which, I might add, used the same methodology? And so I must doubt these conclusions as some kind of statistical fluke, until we see them replicated."
"What do you think, Mr. Philen? Will they be replicated?"
Philen, a pale, nervous fellow who couldn't be more than twenty-four,
raised his hands defensively. "Look, we didn't expect these results. It started out as a lark, a joke really"
"And yet you published it."
"Wellyes, because the hypothesis was supported. Look, I was there, I saw it. It was uncanny. I have the greatest respect for Dr. Ortiz, of course.
Who wouldn't? But this was no statistical fluke. There were people in our test groups who were telepaths. No doubt about that at all."
There certainly wasn't any doubt in his young, earnest, and distinctly untrained voice. In contrast, Dover suddenly sounded like what he wasa pompous ass. "Well, then, you would seem to have been duped by a stage magician. Why not have one of these subjects come on this show, under controlled conditions, so that we can see this ability demonstrated?"
"Iof course I can't disclose their names," Philen said.
"Of course," Dover replied sarcastically.
Ramira turned her attention to the editor. "Ms. Kimbrell, you've borne the brunt of much criticism for publishing this article."
Kimbrell frowned thoughtfully. "It's right to be skeptical. It should be hard to prove something newit should require rigor. I checked the facts and sources very carefully before publishing. Dr. Ortiz may be rightthis may represent some impossible statistical fluke. But the research is not fraudulent, and it is not sloppy, as Dr. Dover implies. I am perfectly aware that I have staked my reputation on this, and I feel secure doing so."
Funny, Lee thought. You don't look secure.
"Well," Ramira continued, turning toward the camera, "we also have with us
Senator Lee B. Crawford of the United States, and Senator Ledepa Koya of the Indonesian Consortium. Senator Crawford is well known as the hero of
Grissom, and as an advocate for good science in governmentthat was your campaign slogan, I believe?"
"I'm guilty of that one," Lee drawled. "My campaign manager wanted 'no new taxes,' but I overrode him."
Ramira smiled. "Senator Crawford also comes to us with a degree in astrophysics. Senator Koya has a master's degree in sociosemiotics. Both of these gentleman serve on the Committee on Technology and Privacy. Tell me, gentlemen. Let us assume for a moment that this report is truethat there are among us those who can 'read minds.' What are the socialand politicalimplications of this? Senator Crawford?"
"I'm still digesting this a bit, Ramira. And although I'm now the head of the committee, Dr. Koya has seniority in the Senate. My daddy always told me to let my elders speak first anyhow." He sent Koya a conspiratorial wink.
Ramira turned toward Koya. "Senator?"
Koya cleared his throat. "Well, obviously, if this study is valid, it reveals a serious situation. Our daily lives, our respective cultures, our political systems, our legal systemsall are intrinsically dependent on privacy to ensure their very existence. The Earth Alliance mandates rights of privacy at the level of the nation-state, and at the individual level.
This has been worked out in great detail, over the years, particularly as technology has made intrusions into privacy potentially deeper and easier.
"I'm afraid if there are, in fact, telepaths, that we're right back to square one. What technology can protect us against them? How can we detect them? How can we stop them? For that matter, how long have they been around? Imagine, each of you, the damage to your private lives if someone were to read your every thought, wish, notion. Now imagine governments and corporations hiring telepaths as spies. Or criminals who can easily stay one step ahead of the authorities. It could undermine the entire fabric of our global society. Yes, I think the Senate has many important questions to ask, if these findings are true."
"Senator Crawford? Comment? Or are you still digesting?"
Lee scratched his chin. "Tryin' to avoid heartburn. I think my colleague is being a bit alarmist. Ledepa, it almost sounds like you're suggestin'
witch-hunts." From the corner of his eye, he caught the flash of betrayal on Koya's face.
"First of all," he continued, "their special abilities aside, telepaths are just going to be people. Your schoolteacher, your boss, your mother"he smiled"maybe even your senator. Just people like you and me.
Not monsters. And they have the same rights and freedoms as everybody else. That said, they don't have special rights eitherlike the right to poke around in our heads. Still, let's all just take a deep breath. I
intend to start hearings on this as early as next week, beginning with a select panel of scientists whom we will recruit to see if these results can be replicated. I would be honored if Dr. Dover and Dr. Ortiz would agree to be a part of that panel, and to act as advisers to this committee, along with Mr. Philen and his research associate, Ms. Duffy,
who could not be with us today."
Lee loosened his collar and sprawled his lanky frame on the couch. Tom
Nguyen took a seat, and they both watched the vidscreen as it ran through channels, following the search menu.
"How did you know he would fall that way? Koya?" Tom asked.
"Simple. We all know Indonesia has a lot to hide after the transcom affair. Some don't think they should be allowed membership in the
Alliance, and it wouldn't take much to get them out. So as a nation, they can't like the idea of telepaths who might ferret out where the bodies are buried. But it's more basic than thatI checked Koya out. He's a believer."
"Yup. Ever read much anthropology? As late as the twenty-first century,
people were still massacred over witchcraft scares. At one time or the other, belief in malicious sorcery existed among every people on Earth.
There've been lots of studies of itanthropological, psychologicalbut in the end, it all boils down to one thing. People don't like to think bad things happen to them for no reason. Somebody has to be responsible. God.
The devil. A witch. Hell, in my home state, Mississippi, there was still talk about juju and such in some places.
"I checked out Ledepa's hometownonly ten years ago, somebody was arrested for beatin' up a man he thought had hexed him. So I figured the belief is still hangin' around there, and that Ledepa might have grown up with it. It's hard for the intellect to entirely reject something it learned when it was young." He poured a tumbler of scotch. "That, and I
played him. Made it seem I felt the same way, and would back him up all the way."
He lifted his drink as the screen settled on a scene.
"It's startin'," Lee said. He turned up the sound.
" ... shot in Jakarta today. The suspect claimed that the victim was a telepath who had cheated him at poker. Several unsubstantiated reports of similar attacks have surfaced in the last hour."
The view switched. He recognized a street in Paris.
" ... only hours after a vidcast on the new report in the New England
Journal of Medicine. He claimed his lover was a telepath who drove him insane ..."
And from a town in Mexico:
" ... apparently in response to the alarmist reaction of Senator Ledepa
Koya to a recent journal article alleging proof of extrasensory perception. No deaths are reported, though one man was critically wounded
The screen began splitting, then recording what it couldn't show. The reports increased, ten, thirtyin less than an hour it was over a hundred.
"Oh, my God," Tom whispered.
"Yep. Now people have a whole new thing to blame their problems on,
something real, something tangible."
"Me? Listen to the 'casts. It's Koya that's gettin' the credit for this.
This is going to get worse, and he's gonna be the guy who started it.
Couldn't have happened to a nicer guy, the little two-faced sumovabitch.
One of Tokash's toadies." He smiled. "So Koya gets credit for starting the killings, and the worse stuff that'll come later. Mepeople will remember
I was cautious, tried to talk sense. They'll see me as the one to pick up the pieces, and the guy who'll protect them from the big bad telepaths,
all at the same time."
"But Lee, those people are dying."
"Tom, this was going to break, and they were going to die. That's life.
Hell, this is nothin'. These are the lunatics, the ones who were already closest to the edge. Most of these murders and what have you would have happened anyway, but under a variety of justifications. The real mess is coming if the results are replicated and even the skeptics give the whole thing the nod. When the sane people believe it, the implications will really sink in. It's our job to handle the damage, and we've got a jump on it. We can make it better. Now, are you gonna mope, or are we gonna get to work?"
Tom nodded, though his face was still troubled. "Work," he said.