The Collected Stories of Vernor Vingeby Vernor Vinge
Since his first published story, "Apartness," appeared in 1965, Vernor Vinge has forged a unique and awe-inspiring career in science fiction as his work has grown and matured. He is now one of the most celebrated science fiction writers in the field, having won the field's top award, the Hugo, for each of his last two novels. Now, for the first time, this illustrious… See more details below
Since his first published story, "Apartness," appeared in 1965, Vernor Vinge has forged a unique and awe-inspiring career in science fiction as his work has grown and matured. He is now one of the most celebrated science fiction writers in the field, having won the field's top award, the Hugo, for each of his last two novels. Now, for the first time, this illustrious author gathers all his short fiction into a single volume. This collection is truly the definitive Vinge, capturing his visionary ideas at their very best. It also contains a never-before-published novella, Fast Times at Fairmont High, which represents precisely what this collection encapsulates -- bold, unique, challenging science fictional ideas brought to vivid life with compelling storytelling. Including such major pieces as "The Ungoverned" and "The Blabber," this sumptuous volume will satisfy any reader who loves the sense of wonder and the excitement of great SF.
“A masterful novel, complex in style and plot, heavy with science and social speculation . . . . Vinge is truly an original writer.” NOVA Express on A Deepness in the Sky
“Thoughtful space opera at its best, this book delivers everything it promises in terms of galactic scope, audacious concepts, and believable characters both human and nonhuman.” The New York Times Book Review on Fire Upon the Deep
“True science fiction and a delight.” Publishers Weekly on True Names
“No summary can do justice to the depth and conviction of Vinge's ideas.” Kirkus Reviews (starred review) on A Fire Upon the Deep
- Doherty, Tom Associates, LLC
- Publication date:
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- First Edition
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Read an Excerpt
I was a child in the 1950s, a little boy who could talk and write better than he could think, but who had a good imagination, and read everything he could by people much smarter than he. I wanted to know the future of science, to participate in revolutions to come.
Science fiction seemed a window on all this. I wanted interstellar empires (interplanetary ones at the least). I wanted supercomputers and artificial intelligence and effective immortality. All seemed possible. In fact, our technological success is ultimately based on intelligence. If we could use technology to increase (or create) intelligence …
The first story I ever wrote (that sold) was a look at this idea. Instead of Artificial Intelligence (Al), I used Intelligence Amplification (IA). The means seemed at hand: After all (I thought) what is memory but retrieval of information? Why couldn’t human reason be augmented by hardware? (Perhaps it’s fortunate that at the time I had no technical knowledge of computers. I might have become discouraged, ended up writing really hardcore science-fiction … about punch cards and batch processing.)
It was 1962. I was a senior in high school, and I wanted to write about the first man to have a direct mind-to-computer link. I even thought I might be the first person ever to write of such a thing. (In that, of course, I was wrong—but the theme was rare compared to nowadays.) I worked very hard on the story, applying everything I knew about SF writing. I put together a social background that I thought would make things interesting even where the story sagged: cheap fusion/electricity converters had been invented (that worked at room-temperature!), trashing the big power utilities and causing a short-term depression. (In a sense, this was a sequel to Randall Garrett’s story, “Damned If You Don’t.” I admired that story very much; economic depressions were faraway, alien beasts to me.) And of course, there would be experiments with chimpanzees before the IQ amplifier was tried on my human hero.
Having thought things out, I described the plot to my little sister (a tenth-grader). She suffered through my endless recounting, then remarked, “Except for the part about the chimpanzee, it sounds pretty dull.” What a comedown. Still … she had a point. The chimpanzee story had an obvious ending. After it made me famous, I could write the important story, the one with a human hero.
John W. Campbell liked the chimpanzee part, too. (And unlike my sister, he got a kick out of the Randall Garrett references.) Eventually, he bought the story for Analog.
So. It’s 1984 (as seen by a teenager from the early 1960s), and we have a hero with a very serious problem:
They knew what he’d done.
Norman Simmons cringed, his calloused black fingers grasped Tarzan of the Apes so tightly that several pages ripped. Seeing what he had done, Norman shut the book and placed it gently on his desk. Then, almost shaking with fear, he tried to roll himself into a ball small enough to escape detection. Gradually he relaxed, panting; Kimball Kinnison would never refuse to face danger. There must be a way out. He knew several routes to the surface. If no one saw him …
They’d be hunting for him; and when they caught him, he would die.
He was suddenly anxious to leave the prefab green aluminum walls of his room and school—but what should he take? He pulled the sheet off his bed and spread it on the floor. Norman laid five or six of his favorite books on the sheet, scuttled across the room to his closet, pulled out an extra pair of red and orange Bermuda shorts, and tossed them on top of the books. He paused, then added a blanket, his portable typewriter, his notebook, and a pencil. Now he was equipped for any contingency.
Norman wrapped the sheet tightly about his belongings and dragged the makeshift sack to the door. He opened the door a crack, and peeked out. The passageway was empty. He cautiously opened the door wide and stepped down onto the bedrock floor of the tunnel. Then he dragged the sheet and its contents over the doorsill. The bag dropped the ten inches which separated the aluminum floor of his room from the tunnel. The typewriter landed with a muffled clank. Norman glanced anxiously around the corner of the room, up the tunnel. The lights were off in the Little School. It was Saturday and his teachers’ day off. The Lab was closed, too, which was unforeseen good luck, since the aloof Dr. Dunbar was usually there at this time.
He warily circled about a nearby transport vehicle. Model D-49 Ford Cargo Carrier, Army Transport Mark XIXe. Development Contract D-49f1086-1979. First deliveries, January, 1982 … RESTRICTED Unauthorized use of RESTRICTED materials is punishable by up to 10 years imprisonment, $10,000 fine, or both: Maintenance Manual: Chapter 1, Description … The Mark XIXe is a medium speed transport designed to carry loads of less than fifteen tons through constricted areas, such as mine tunnels or storage depots. The “e” modification of the Mark XIX indicates the substitution of a 500-hp Bender fusion power source for the Wankel engine originally intended for use with the XIX. As the Bender pack needs only the natural water vapor in the air for fuel, it is an immense improvement over any other power source. This economy combined with the tape programmed auto-pilot, make the XIXe one of … Norman shook his head, trying to cut off the endless flow of irrelevant information that came to mind. With practice, he was sure that he would eventually be able to pick out just the data he needed to solve problems, but in the meantime the situation was often very confusing.
The passage he was looking for was between the 345th and 346th fluorescent tube—counting from his room; it was on the left side of the tunnel. Norman began running, at the same time pulling the sack behind him. This was an awkward position for him and he was soon forced to a walk. He concentrated on counting the lighting tubes that were hung from the roof of the tunnel. Each fluorescent cast harsh white light upon the walls of the tunnel, but between the tubes slight shadows lingered. The walls of the passage were streaky with whorls almost like wood or marble, but much darker and grayish-green. As he walked a slight draft of fresh air from faraway air regenerators ruffled the hair on his back.
NORMAN FINALLY TURNED TO FACE THE LEFT WALL OF THE PASSAGE AND stopped—343-344-345. The liquid streaks of pyrobole and feldspar appeared the same here as in any other section of the tunnel. Taking another step, Norman stood at the darkest point between the two lights. He carefully counted five hand-widths from the point where the wall blended into the floor. At this spot he cupped his hands and shouted into the wall: “Why does the goodwife like Dutch Elm disease for tea?”
The wall replied: “I don’t know. I just work here.”
Norman searched his memory, looking for one piece of information among the billions. “Well, find out before her husband does.”
There was no reply. Instead, a massive section of bedrock swung noiselessly out of the wall, revealing another tunnel at right-angles to Norman’s.
He hurried into it, then paused and glanced back. The huge door had already shut. As he continued up the new tunnel, Norman was careful to count the lights. When he came to number forty-eight, he again selected a place on the wall and shouted some opening commands. The new tunnel was slanted steeply upward as were the next three passages which Norman switched to. At last he reached the spot in the sixth tunnel which contained the opening to the surface. He paused, feeling both relief and fear: Relief because there weren’t any secret codes and distances to remember after this; fear because he didn’t know what or who might be waiting for him on the other side of this last door. What if they were just hiding there to shoot him?
Norman took a deep breath and shouted: “There are only 3,456,628 more shopping days till Christmas.”
“So?” came the muffled reply.
Norman thought: NSA (National Security Agency) cryptographic (code) analysis organization. Report Number 36390.201. MOST SECRET. (Unauthorized use of MOST SECRET materials is punishable by death.): “Mathematical Analysis of Voice and Electronic Pass Codes,” by Melvin M. Rosseter, RAND contract 748970-1975. Paragraph 1: Consider L, an m by n matrix (rectangular array—arrangement) of (n times m) elements (items) formed by the Vrevik product … Norman screamed shrilly. In his haste, he had accepted the wrong memories. The torrent of information, cross-references, and explanatory notes, was almost as overwhelming as his experience the time he foolishly decided to learn all about plasma physics.
With an effort he choked off the memories. But now he was getting desperate. He had to come up with the pass code, and fast.
Finally, “So avoid the mash. Shop December 263.”
A LARGE SECTION OF THE CEILING SWUNG DOWN INTO THE TUNNEL. THROUGH the opening, Norman could see the sky. But it was gray, not blue like the other time! Norman had not realized that a cloudy day could be so dreary. A cold, humid mist oozed into the tunnel from the opening. He shuddered, but scrambled up the inclined plane which the lowered ceiling section formed. The massive trapdoor shut behind him.
The air seemed still, but so cold and wet. Norman looked around. He was standing atop a large stony bluff. Scrub trees and scraggly brush covered most of the ground, but here and there large sections of greenish, glacier-scoured bedrock were visible. Every surface glistened with a thin layer of water. Norman sneezed. It had been so nice and warm the last time. He peered out over the lower land and saw fog. It was just like the description in the “Adventures of the Two and the Three.” The fog hung in the lower land like some tenuous sea, filling rocky fjords in the bluff. Trees and bushes and boulders seemed to lurk mysteriously within it.
This mysterious quality of the landscape gave Norman new spirit. He was a bold adventurer setting out to discover new lands.
He was also a hunted animal.
Norman found the small footpath he remembered, and set off across the bluff. The wet grass tickled his feet and his hair was already dripping. His books and typewriter were getting an awful beating as he dragged them over the rough ground.
He came to the edge of the bluff. The grass gave way to a bedrock shelf overlooking a drop of some fifty feet. Over the years, winter ice had done its work. Sections of the face of the cliff had broken off. Now the rubble reached halfway up the cliff, almost like a carelessly strewn avalanche of pebbles except that each rock weighed many tons. The fog worked in and out among the boulders and seemed to foam up the side of the cliff.
Norman crept to the edge of the cliff and peered over. Five feet below was a ledge about ten inches wide. The ledge slanted down. At its lower end it was only seven feet above the rocks. He went over, clinging to the cliff with one hand, and grasping the sack, which lay on the ground above him, with the other. Norman had not realized how slimy the rocks had become in the wet air. His hand slipped and he fell to the ledge below. The sack was jerked over the edge, but he kept his hold on it. The typewriter in the sack hit the side of the cliff with a loud clang.
He collected his wits and crawled to the lower part of the ledge. Here he again went over, but was very careful to keep a firm grip. He let go and landed feet first on a huge boulder directly below. The sack crashed down an instant later. Norman clambered over the rocks and soon had descended to level ground.
Nearby objects were obscured by the fog. It was even colder and damper than above. The fog seemed to enter his mouth and nose and draw away his warmth. He paused, then started in the direction that he remembered seeing the airplane hangar last time. Soon he was ankle deep in wet grass.
After about one hundred yards, Norman noticed a darkness to his left. He turned and approached it. Gradually the form of a light plane was defined. Soon he could clearly see the Piper Cub. Four place, single-jet aircraft; maximum cargo weight, 1200 pounds; minimum runway for takeoff with full load, 90 yards; maximum speed, 250 miles per hour. Its wings and fuselage shone dully in the weak light. Norman ran up to the Cub, clambered over the struts, and pulled himself into the cabin. He settled his sack in the copilot’s seat and slammed the door. The key had been left in the ignition: Someone had been extremely careless.
Norman inspected the controls of the little aircraft. Somehow his fear had departed, and specific facts now came easily to mind. He saw that there was an autopilot on the right-hand dash, but it was of a simpleminded variety and could handle only cruising flight.
He reached down and felt the rudder pedals with his feet. By bracing his back against the seat he could touch the pedals and at the same time hold the steering wheel. Of course, he would not be able to see out very easily, but there really wasn’t very much to see.
He had to get across the border fast and this airplane was probably the only way.
He turned the starter and heard the fuel pumps and turbines begin rotating. Norman looked at the dash. What was he supposed to do next? He pushed the button marked FLASH and was rewarded with a loud ffumpf as the jet engine above the wing ignited. He twisted the throttle. The Cub crawled across the field, picking up speed. It bounced and jolted over the turf.
… Throttle to full, keeping stick forward … until you are well over stall speed (35 miles per hour for a 1980 Cub) … pull back gently on the stick, being careful to remain over … (35 miles per hour) …
He craned his neck, trying to get a view ahead. The ride was becoming smooth. The Cub was airborne! Still nothing but fog ahead. For an instant the mist parted, revealing a thirty-foot Security fence barely fifty yards away. He had to have altitude!
… Under no circumstances should high angle-of-attack (climb) maneuvers be attempted without sufficient air speed …
Instructions are rarely the equal of actual experience, and now Norman was going to learn the hard way. He pushed at the throttle and pulled back hard on the stick. The little aircraft nosed sharply upward, its small jet engine screaming. The air speed fell and with it the lifting power of the wings. The Cub seemed to pause for an instant suspended in the air, then fell back. Jet still whining, the nose came down and the plane plunged earthwards.
IMAGINE A PLATE OF SPAGHETTI—NO SAUCE OR MEATBALLS. O.K., NOW PICTURE an entire room filled with such food. This wormy nightmare gives you some idea of the complexity of the First Security District, otherwise known as the Labyrinth. By analogy each strand of spaghetti is a tunnel segment carved through bedrock. The Labyrinth occupied four cubic miles under the cities of Ishpeming and Negaunee in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. Without the power of controlled nuclear fusion such a maze could never have been made. Each tunnel was connected to several others by a random system of secret hatches, controlled by voice and electronic codes. Truly the First Security District was the most spyproof volume in the solar system. The Savannah plant, the CIA, Soviet IKB, and the entire system of GM factories could have co-existed in it without knowledge of one another. As a matter of fact, thirty-one different Security projects, laboratories, and military bases existed in the Labyrinth with their co-ordinates listed in a single filing computer—and there’s the rub …
“Because he’s been getting straight A’s,” Dr. William Dunbar finished.
Lieutenant General Alvin Pederson, Commander of the First Security District, looked up from the computer console with a harried expression on his face. The two men were alone in the chamber containing the memory bank of United States Government Files Central, usually referred to as Files Central or simply Files. Behind the console were racks of fiberglass, whose orderly columns and rows filled most of the room. At the base of each rack, small lasers emitted modulated and coherent light; as the light passed through the fibers, it was altered and channeled by subtle impurities in the glass. Volume for volume, the computer was ten thousand times better than the best cryogenic models. Files Central contained all the information, secret and otherwise, possessed by the U.S.—including the contents of the Library of Congress, which managed to fill barely ten percent of Files’ capacity. The fact that Pederson kept his office here rather than at Continental Air Defense Headquarters, which occupied another part of the Labyrinth, indicated just how important the functions of Files were.
Pederson frowned. He had better things to do than listen to every overwrought genius that wanted to talk to him, though Dunbar usually spoke out only when he had something important to say. “You’d better start at the beginning, Doctor.”
The mathematician began nervously. “Look. Norman has never had any great interest in his schoolwork. We may have given the chimp high intelligence with this brain-computer combination, but he has the emotional maturity of a nine-year-old human. Norman is bright, curious—and lazy; he would rather read science fiction than study history. His schoolwork has always been poorly and incompletely done—until six weeks ago. Since then he has spent virtually no time on real studying. At the same time he has shown a complete mastery of the factual information in his courses. It’s almost as if he had an eidetic memory of facts that were never presented to him. As if …”
Dunbar started on a different tack. “General, you know how much trouble we had co-ordinating the chimp’s brain with his computer in the first place. On the one hand you have an African chimpanzee, and on the other an advanced optical computer which theoretically is superior even to Files here. We wanted the chimp’s brain to co-operate with the computer as closely as the different parts of a human brain work together. This meant that the computer had to be programmed to operate the way the chimp’s mind did. We also had to make time-lapse corrections, because the chimp and the computer are not physically together. All in all, it was a terrifically complicated job. It makes the Economic Planning Programs look like setting up Fox and Geese on a kid’s Brain Truster kit.” Seeing the other’s look of impatience, Dunbar hurried on. “Anyway, you remember that we needed to use the Files computer, just to program our computer. And the two machines had to be electronically connected.”
The scientist came abruptly to the point. “If by some accident or mechanical failure, the link between Files and Norman were never cut, then … then the chimp would have complete access to U.S. Files.”
Pederson’s preoccupation with other matters disappeared. “If that’s so, we’ve got one hell of a problem. And it would explain a lot of other things. Look.” He shoved a sheet of paper at Dunbar. “As a matter of routine, Files announces how much information it has supplied to queries during every twenty-four-hour period. Actually it’s sort of a slick gimmick to impress visitors with how efficient and useful Files is, supplying information to twenty or thirty different agencies at once. Up until six weeks ago the daily reading hung around ten to the tenth bits per day. During the next ten days it climbed to over ten to the twelfth—then to ten to the fourteenth. We couldn’t hunt down the source of the queries and most of the techs thought the high readings were due to mechanical error.
“Altogether, Files has supplied almost ten to the fifteenth bits to—someone. And that, Doctor, is equal to the total amount of information contained in Files. It looks as if your monkey has programmed himself with all the information the U.S. possesses.”
PEDERSON TURNED TO THE QUERY PANEL, TYPED TWO QUESTIONS. A TAPE REEL by the desk spun briefly, stopped. Pederson pointed to it. “Those are the co-ordinates of your lab. I’m sending a couple men down to pick up your simian friend. Then I’m sending some more men to wherever his computer is.”
Pederson looked at the tape reel expectantly, then noticed the words gleaming on a readout screen above the console:
The co-ordinates you request are not On File.
Pederson lunged forward and typed the question again, carefully. The message on the screen didn’t even flicker:
The co-ordinates you request are not On File.
Dunbar leaned over the panel. “It’s true, then,” he said hoarsely, for the first time believing his fears. “Probably Norman thought we would punish him if we found out he was using Files.”
“We would,” Pederson interrupted harshly.
“And since Norman could use information On File, he could also erase information there. We hardly ever visit the tunnel where his computer was built, so we haven’t noticed until now that he had erased its coordinates.”
Now that he knew an emergency really existed, Dunbar seemed calm. He continued inexorably, “And if Norman was this fearful of discovery, then he probably had Files advise him when you tried to find the location of his computer. My lab is only a couple hundred feet below the surface—and he surely knows how to get out.”
The general nodded grimly. “This chimp seems to be one step ahead of us all the way.” He switched on a comm, and spoke into it. “Smith, send a couple men over to Dunbar’s lab … . Yeah, I’ve got the coordinates right here.” He pressed another switch and the reel of tape spun, transmitting its magnetic impressions to a similar reel at the other end of the hookup. “Have them grab the experimental chimp and bring him down here to Files Central. Don’t hurt him, but be careful—you know how bright he is.” He cut the circuit and turned back to Dunbar.
“If he’s still there, we’ll get him; but if he’s already made a break for the surface, there’s no way we can stop him now. This place is just too decentralized.” He thought for a second, then turned back to the comm and gave more instructions to his aide.
“I’ve put in a call to Sawyer AFB to send some airborne infantry over here. Other than that, we can only watch.”
A TV panel brightened, revealing a view from one of the hidden surface cameras. The scene was misty, and silent except for an occasional dripping sound.
Several minutes passed; then a superbly camouflaged and counterbalanced piece of bedrock in the center of their view swung down, and a black form in orange Bermuda shorts struggled out of the ground, dragging a large white sack. The chimp shivered, then moved off, disappearing over the crest of the bluff.
Pederson’s hands were pale white, clenched in frustration about the arms of his chair. Although the First Security District was built under Ishpeming, its main entrances were fifteen miles away at Sawyer Armed Forces Base. There were only three small and barely accessible entrances in the area where Norman had escaped. Fortunately for the chimpanzee, his quarters had been located near one of them. The area which contained these entrances belonged to the Ore REclamation Service, a government agency charged with finding more efficient methods of low-grade ore refining. (With the present economic situation, it was a rather superfluous job since the current problem was to get rid of the ore on hand rather than increase production.) All this indirection was designed to hide the location of the First Security District from the enemy. But at the same time it made direct control of the surface difficult.
A shrill sound came from the speaker by the TV panel. Dunbar puzzled, “Sounds almost like a light jet.”
Pederson replied, “It probably is. The ORES people maintain a small office up there for appearances’ sake, and they have a Piper Cub … Could that chimp fly one?”
“I doubt it, but I suppose if he were desperate enough he would try anything.”
Smith’s voice interrupted them, “General, our local infiltration radar has picked up an aircraft at an altitude of fifteen feet. Its present course will take it into the Security fence.” The buzzing became louder. “The pilot is going to stall it out! It’s in a steep climb … eighty feet, one hundred. It’s stalled!”
The buzzing whine continued for a second and then abruptly ceased.
THE TYPEWRITER DEPARTED THROUGH THE FRONT WINDSHIELD AT GREAT speed. Norman Simmons came to in time to see his dog-eared copy of Galactic Patrol disappear into the murky water below. He made a wild grab for the book, missed it, and received a painful scratch from shards of broken windshield. All that remained of his belongings was the second volume of the Foundation series and the blanket, which somehow had been draped half in and half out of the shattered window. The bottom edge of the blanket swung gently back and forth just a couple of inches above the water. The books he could do without; they really had only sentimental value. Since he had learned the Trick, there was no need to physically possess any books. But in the cold weather he was sure to need the blanket; he carefully retrieved it.
Norman pushed open a door, and climbed onto the struts of the Cub for a look around. The plane had crashed nose first into a shallow pond. The jet had been silenced in the impact, and the loudest sound to be heard now was his own breathing. Norman peered into the fog. How far was he from “dry” land? A few yards away he could see swamp vegetation above the still surface of the water; beyond that, nothing but mist. A slight air current eased the gloom. There! For an instant he glimpsed dark trees and brush about thirty yards away.
Thirty yards, through cold and slimy water. Norman’s lips curled back in revulsion as he stared at the oily liquid. Maybe there was an aerial route, like Tarzan used. He glanced anxiously up, looking for some overhanging tree branch or vine. No luck. He would have to go through the water. Norman almost cried in despair at the thought. Suffocating visions of death by drowning came to mind. He imagined all the creatures with pointy teeth and ferocious appetites that might be lurking in the seemingly placid water: piranhas to strip his bones and—no, they were tropical fish, but something equally deadly. If he could only pretend that it were clear, ankle-deep water.
Dal swam silently toward the moonlit palms and palely gleaming sands just five hundred yards away. Five hundred yards, he thought exultantly, to freedom, to his own kind. The enemy could never penetrate the atoll’s camouflage … . He didn’t notice a slight turbulence, the swift emergence of a leathery tentacle from the water. But he fought desperately as he felt it tighten about his leg. Dal’s screams were bubbly gurglings inaudible above the faint drone of the surf, as he was hauled effortlessly into the depths and sharp, unseen teeth … .
For a second his control lapsed, and the fictional incident slipped in. In the comfort of his room, the death of Dal had been no more than the pleasantly chilling end of a villain; here it was almost unbearable. Norman extended one foot gingerly into the water, and quickly drew it back. He tried again, this time with both feet. Nothing bit him and he cautiously lowered himself into the clammy water. The swamp weeds brushed gently against his legs. Soon he was holding the strut with one hand and was neck deep in water. The mass of weeds had slowly been compressed as he descended and now just barely supported his weight, even though he had not touched bottom. He released his grip on the strut and began moving toward shore. With one hand he attempted to keep his blanket out of the water while with the other he paddled. Norman glanced about for signs of some hideous tentacle or fin, saw nothing but weeds.
He could see the trees on the shore quite clearly now, and the weeds at his feet seemed backed by solid ground. Just a few more yards—Norman gasped with relief as he struggled out of the water. He noticed an itching on his legs and arms. There had been blood-drinkers in the water after all, but fortunately small ones. He paused to remove the slugs from his body.
Norman sneezed violently and inspected his blanket. Although the mists had made it quite damp, he wrapped it around himself. Only after he was more or less settled did he notice the intermittent thrumming sound coming through the trees on his left. It sounded like the transport vehicles back in the tunnels, or like the automobiles that he had heard and seen on film.
Norman scrambled through the underbrush in the direction of the noises. Soon he came to a dilapidated four-lane asphalt highway. Every minute or so, a car would appear out of the mist, travel through his narrow range of vision, and disappear into the mist again.
MOST SECRET (Unauthorized use of MOST SECRET materials is punishable by death.) He had to get to Canada or they would kill him for sure. He knew millions, billions of things labeled MOST SECRET. Nearly all were unintelligible. The rest were usually boring. A very small percentage were interesting, like something out of an adventure story. And some were horrifying bits of nightmare couched in cold, matter-of-fact words. But all were labeled MOST SECRET, and his access to them was certainly unauthorized. If only he had known beforehand the consequences of Memorizing It All. It had been so easy to do, and so useful, but it was also a deadly, clinging gift.
Now that the airplane had crashed, he had to find some other way to get to Canada. Maybe one of these cars could take him some place where he would have better luck in his attempt. For some reason, the idea didn’t trigger warning memories. Blissfully unaware that a talking chimpanzee is not a common sight in the United States, Norman started down the embankment to the shoulder of the highway, and in the immortal tradition of the hitchhiker in Two for the Road, stuck out his thumb.
THREE MINUTES PASSED; HE CLUTCHED THE BLANKET MORE TIGHTLY TO HIMSELF as his teeth began to chatter. In the distance he heard the thrum of an approaching vehicle. He stared eagerly in the direction of the sound. Within fifteen seconds, a sixty-ton ore carrier emerged from the fog and lumbered toward him. Norman jumped up and down in a frenzy, waving and shouting. The blanket gave him the appearance of a little Amerind doing a particularly violent rain dance. The huge truck rolled by him at about thirty-five miles per hour. Then when it was some forty yards away, the driver slammed on the brakes and the doughy rollagon tires bit into asphalt.
Norman ran joyfully toward the cab, not noticing the uncared-for condition of the starboard ore cranes, the unpainted and dented appearance of the cab, or the wheezy putputting of the Wankel rotary engine—all signs of dilapidation which would have been unthinkable four years before.
He stopped in front of the cab door and was confronted by a pair of cynical, bloodshot eyes peering at him over a three-day growth of beard. “Who … Whash are you?” (The condition of the driver would have been unthinkable four years ago, too.)
“My name’s Norman—Jones.” Norman slyly selected an alias. He resolved to act dull, too, for he knew that most chimps were somewhat stupid, and couldn’t speak clearly without the special operations he had had. (In spite of his memory and intelligence, Norman had an artificial block against ever completely realizing his uniqueness.) “I want to go to”—he searched his memory—“Marquette.”
The driver squinted and moved his head from side to side as if to get a better view of Norman. “Say, you’re a monkey.”
“No,” Norman stated proudly, forgetting his resolution, “I’m a chimpanzee.”
“A talkin’ monkey,” the driver said almost to himself. “You could be worth plen … wherezhu say you wanna go … Marquette? Sure, hop in. That’s where I’m takin’ this ore.”
Norman clambered up the entrance ladder into the warm cab. “Oh, thanks a lot.”
The ore carrier began to pick up speed. The highway had been blasted through greenish bedrock, but it still made turns and had to climb over steep hills.
The driver was expansive, “Can’t wait to finish this trip. This here is my las’ run, ya know. No more drivin’ ore fer the government an’ its ‘Public Works Projects.’ I know where to get a couple black market fusion packs, see? Start my own trucking line. No one’ll ever guess where I get my power.” He swerved to avoid a natural abutment of greenish rock that appeared out of the mist, and decided that it was time to turn on his fog lights. His mind wandered back to prospects of future success, but along a different line. “Say, you like to talk, Monkey? You could make me a lot of money, ya know: ‘Jim Traly an’ His Talkin’ Monkey.’ Sounds good, eh?”
With a start, Norman realized that he was listening to a drunk. The driver’s entire demeanor was almost identical to that of the fiend’s henchman in “The Mores of the Morgue.” Norman had no desire to be a “talkin’ monkey” for the likes of Traly, whose picture he now remembered in Social Security Records. The man was listed as an unstable, low competence type who might become violent if frustrated.
As the ore carrier slowed for a particularly sharp turn, Norman decided that he could endure the cold of the outside for a few more minutes. He edged to the door and began to pull at its handle. “I think I better get off now, Mr. Traly.”
The ore carrier slowed still more as the driver lunged across the seat and grabbed Norman by one of the purple suspenders that kept his orange Bermuda shorts up. A full grown chimpanzee is a match for most men, but the driver weighed nearly three hundred pounds and Norman was scared stiff. “You’re staying right here, see?” Traly shouted into Norman’s face, almost suffocating the chimpanzee in alcohol vapor. The driver transferred his grip to the scruff of Norman’s neck as he accelerated the carrier back to cruising speed.
“CRASHED IN A SHALLOW SWAMP JUST BEYOND THE SECURITY FENCE, SIR.” The young Army captain held a book up to the viewer. “This copy of Asimov was all that was left in the cabin, but we dredged up some other books and a typewriter from the water. It’s only about five feet deep there.”
“But where did the chim … the pilot go?” Pederson asked.
“The pilot, sir?” The captain knew what the quarry was but was following the general’s line. “We have a man here from Special Forces who’s a tracker, sir. He says that the pilot left the Cub and waded ashore. From there, he tracked him through the brush to the old Ishpeming-Marquette road. He’s pretty sure that the … um … pilot hitched a ride in the direction of Marquette.” The captain did not mention how surprised the lieutenant from Special Forces had been by the pilot’s tracks. “He probably left the area about half an hour ago, sir.”
“Very well, Captain. Set up a guard around the plane; if anyone gets nosy, tell them that ORES has asked you to salvage their crashed Cub. Fly everything you found in the cabin and swamp back to Sawyer and have it sent down here to Files Central.”
Pederson cut the connection and began issuing detailed instructions to his chief aide over another circuit. Finally he turned back to Dunbar. “That chimp is not going to remain one step ahead of us for very much longer. I’ve alerted all the armed forces in the Upper Peninsula to start a search, with special concentration on Marquette. It’s lucky that we have permission to conduct limited maneuvers there or I might have an awful time just getting permission to station airbornes over the city.
“And now we can take a little time to consider ways of catching this Norman Simmons, rather than responding spastically to his initiative.”
Dunbar said quickly, “In the first place, you can cut whatever connection there is between Files and Norman’s computer.”
Pederson grinned. “Good enough. That was mixed in with the rest of the instructions I’ve given Smith. If I remember right, the two computers were connected by a simple copper cable, part of the general cable net that was installed interweaving with the tunnel system. It should be a simple matter to cut the circuit where the cable enters the Files room.”
The general thought for a moment. “The object now is to catch the chimp, discover the location of the chimp’s computer, or both. Down here we can’t do anything directly about the chimp. But the computer has to be in contact with Norman Simmons. Could we trace these emanations?”
Dunbar blinked. “You know that better than I, General. The Signal Corps used our experiment to try a quote entirely new concept in communications unquote. They supplied all the comm equipment, even the surgical imbeds for Norman. And they are playing it pretty cozy with the technique. Whatever it is, it goes through almost anything, does not travel faster than light, and can handle several billion bits per second. It might even be ESP, if what I’ve read about telepathy is true.”
Pederson looked sheepish. “I do recognize the ‘new concept’ you mention. I just never connected the neutri … this technique with your project. But I should have known; we have only one way to broadcast through solid rock as if it were vacuum. Unfortunately, with the devices we have now, there’s no way of getting a directional bearing on such transmissions. With enough time and as a last resort we might be able to jam them, though.”
Now it was Dunbar’s turn to make a foolish suggestion. “Maybe if a thorough search of the tunnels were made, we could find the—”
Pederson grimaced. “Bill, you’ve been here almost three years. Haven’t you realized how complicated the Labyrinth is? The maze is composed of thousands of tunnel segments spread through several cubic miles of bedrock. It’s simply too complex for a blind search—and there’s only one set of blueprints,” he jerked a thumb at the racks of fiberglass. “Even for routine trips, we have to make out tapes to plug into the transport cars down there. If we hadn’t put his quarters close to ground level, so you could take him for walks on the surface, Norman would still be wandering around the Labyrinth, even though he knows what passages to take.
“About twice a day I ride over to Continental Air Defense Headquarters. It takes about half an hour and the trip is more tortuous then a swoopride at a carnival. CAD HQ could be just a hundred yards from where we’re sitting, or it could be two miles—in any direction. For that matter, I don’t really know where we are right now. But then,” he added with a sly smile, “neither do the Russki or Han missilemen. I’m sorry, Doctor, but it would take years of random searching to find the computer.”
And Dunbar realized that he was right. It was general policy in the First Security District to disperse experiments and other installations as far as possible through the tunnel maze. So it had been with Norman’s computer. With its own power source the computer needed no outside assistance to function.
The scientist remembered its strange appearance, resting like a huge jewel in a vacant tunnel—where? It was a far different sight from the appearance of Files. Norman’s computer had the facets of a cut gem, although this had been a functional rather than an aesthetic necessity. Dunbar remembered the multi-color glows that appeared near its surface ; further in, the infinite reflections and subtle refractions of microcomponent flaws in the glass blended into a mysterious flickering, hinting at the cheerful though immature intelligence that was Norman Simmons. This was the object which had to be found.
DUNBAR BROKE OUT OF HIS REVERIE. HE STARTED ON A DIFFERENT TACK. “Really, General, I don’t quite see how this situation can be quite as desperate as you say. Norman isn’t going to sell secrets to the Reds; he’s as loyal as a human child could be—which is a good deal more than most adults, because he can’t rationalize disloyalty so easily. Besides, you know that we were eventually going to provide him with large masses of data, anyway. The goal of this whole project is to test the possibility of giving humans an encyclopedic mental grasp. He just saw how much the information could help him, and how much easier it could be obtained than by study, and he pushed the experiment into its next phase. He shouldn’t be punished or hurt because of that. This situation is really no one’s fault.”
Pederson snapped back, “Of course, it’s no one’s fault; that’s just the hell of it. When no one is to blame for something, it means that the situation is fundamentally beyond human control. To me, your whole project is taking control away from people and giving it to others. Here an experimental animal, a chimpanzee, has taken the initiative away from the U.S. Government—don’t laugh, or so help me—” The general made a warning gesture. “Your chimp is more than a co-ordinator of information; he’s also smarter than he was before. What’re the humans we try this on going to be like?”
Pederson calmed himself with a deliberate effort. “Never mind that now. The important thing is to find Simmons, since he appears to be the only one who,” Pederson groaned, “knows where his brains are. So let’s get practical. Just what can we expect from him? How easy is it for him to correlate information in his memory?”
Dunbar considered. “I guess the closest analogy between his mind and a normal one is to say that he has an eidetic memory—and a very large one. I imagine that when he first began using the information he was just swamped with data. Everything he saw stimulated a deluge of related memories. As his subconscious became practiced, he probably remembered only information that was pertinent to a problem. Say that he saw a car, and wondered what year and make it was. His subconscious would hunt through his copy of Files—at very high speed—and within a tenth of a second Norman would ‘remember’ the information he had just wondered about.
“However, if for some reason he suddenly wondered what differential equations were, it would be a different matter, because he couldn’t understand the information presented, and so would have to wade through the same preliminary material that every child must in order to arrive at high-school math. But he could do it very much faster, because of the ease with which he could pick different explanations from different texts. I imagine he could get well into calculus from where he is now in algebra with a couple hours of study.”
“In other words, the longer he has this information, the more dangerous he’ll be.”
“Uh, yes. However, there are a couple things on our side. First, it’s mighty cold and damp on the surface, for Norman at least. He is likely to be very sick in a few hours. Second, if he travels far enough away from the First Security District, he will become mentally disoriented. Although Norman doesn’t know it—unless he has specifically considered the question—he could never get much farther than fifteen miles away and remain sane. Norman’s mind is a very delicate balance between his organic brain and the hidden computer. The coordination is just as subtle as that of different nerve paths in the human brain. The information link between the two has to transmit more than a billion bits of information per second. If Norman gets beyond a certain point, the time lapse involved in transmission between him and the computer will upset the coordination. It’s something like talking by radio with a spacecraft; beyond a certain distance it is difficult or impossible to maintain a meaningful conversation. When Norman goes beyond a certain point it will be impossible for him to think coherently.”
Dunbar was struck by an unrelated idea. He added, “Say, I can see one reason why this could get sticky. What if Norman got picked up by foreign agents? That would be the biggest espionage coup in the history of man.”
Pederson smiled briefly. “Ah, the light dawns. Yes, some of the information this Simmons has could mean the death of almost everyone on Earth, if it were known to the wrong people. Other secrets would merely destroy the United States.
“Fortunately, we’re fairly sure that the Reds’ domestic collapse has reduced their overseas enterprises to about nil. As I remember it, there are only one or two agents in all of Michigan. Thank God for small favors.”
BORIS KUCHENKO SCRATCHED AND WAS MISERABLE. A FEW MINUTES BEFORE, he had been happily looking forward to receiving his weekly unemployment check and then spending the afternoon clipping articles out of the NATO Armed Forces Digest for transmission back to Moscow. And now this old coot with his imperious manner was trying to upset everything. Kuchenko turned to his antagonist and tried to put on a brave front. “I am sorry, Comrade, but I have my orders. As the ranking Soviet agent in the Upper Peninsu—”
The other snapped back, “Ranking agent, nothing! You were never supposed to know this, Kuchenko, but you are a cipher, a stupid dummy used to convince U.S. Intelligence that the USSR has given up massive espionage. If only I had some decent agents here in Marquette, I wouldn’t have to use idiots like you.”
Ivan Sliv was an honest-to-God, effective Russian spy. Behind his inconspicuous middle-aged face, lurked a subtle mind. Sliv spoke five languages and had an excellent grasp of engineering, mathematics, geography, and history—real history, not State-sponsored fairy tales. He could make brilliantly persuasive conversation at a cocktail party or commit a political murder with equal facility. Sliv was the one really in charge of espionage in the militarily sensitive U.P. area. He and other equally talented agents concentrated on collecting information from Sawyer AFB and from the elusive First Security District.
The introduction of Bender’s fusion pack had produced world-wide depression, and the bureaucracies of Russia had responded to this challenge with all the resiliency of a waterlogged pretzel. The Soviet economic collapse had been worse than that of any other major country. While the U.S. was virtually recovered from the economic depression caused by the availability of unlimited power, counter-revolutionary armies were approaching Moscow from the West and the East. Only five or ten ICBM bases remained in Party hands. But the Comrades had been smart in one respect. If you can’t win by brute force, it is better to be subtle. Thus the planetary spy operations were stepped up, as was a very secret project housed in a system of caves under the Urals. Sliv’s mind shied away from that project—he was one of the few to know of it, and that knowledge must never be hinted at.
Sliv glared at Kuchenko. “Listen, you fat slob: I’m going to explain things once more, if possible in words of one syllable. I just got news from Sawyer that some Amie superproject has backfired. An experimental animal has escaped from their tunnel network and half the soldiers in the U.P. are searching for it. They think it’s here in Marquette.”
Kuchenko paled, “A war virus test? Comrade, this could be—” the fat Soviet agent boggled at the possibilities.
Sliv swore. “No, no, no! The Army’s orders are to capture, not destroy the thing. We are the only agents that are in Marquette now, or have a chance to get in past the cordon that’s sure to be dropped around the city. We’ll split up and—” He stopped and took conscious notice of the buzzing sound that had been building up over the last several minutes. He walked quickly across the small room and pushed open a badly cracked window. Cold air seemed to ooze into the room. Below, the lake waters splashed against the pilings of the huge automated pier which incidentally contained this apartment. Sliv pointed into the sky and snapped at the bedraggled Kuchenko. “See? The Amie airbornes have been over the city for the last five minutes, at least. We’ve got to get going, man!”
But Boris Kuchenko was a man who liked his security. He miserably inspected his dirty fingernails, and began, “I really don’t know if this is the right thing, Comrade. We—”
THE FOG HAD DISAPPEARED, ONLY TO BE REPLACED BY A COLD DRIZZLE. JIM Traly guided the ore carrier through Marquette to the waterfront. Even though drunk, he maintained a firm grip on Norman’s neck. The carrier turned onto another street, and Norman got his first look at Lake Superior. It was so gray and cold; beyond the breakwater the lake seemed to blend with the sullen hue of the sky. The carrier turned again. They were now moving parallel to the water along a row of loading piers. In spite of the rollagons, the carrier dipped and sagged as they drove over large potholes in the substandard paving material. The rain had collected in these depressions and splashed as they drove along. Traly apparently recognized his destination. He slowed the carrier and moved it to the side of the street.
Traly opened his door and stepped down, dragging Norman behind him. With difficulty the chimpanzee kept his balance and did not land on his head. The drunk driver was muttering to himself, “Las’ time I drive this trash. They can pick up the inventories themselves. Good riddance.” He kicked a rollagon. “Just wait till I get some Bender fusion packs. I’ll show ‘em. C’mon, you.” He gave Norman a jerk, and began walking across the street.
The waterfront was almost deserted. Traly was heading for what appeared to be the only operating establishment in the area: a tavern. The bar had a rundown appearance. The “aluminum” trim around the door had long since begun to rust, and the memory cell for the bar’s sky sign suffered from amnesia, so that it now projected into the air:
The D-unk PuT pavern
Traly entered the bar, pulling Norman in close behind. Once the fluorescents had probably lighted the place well, but now only two or three in a far corner were operating.
He pulled Norman around in front of him and seemed eager to announce his discovery of the “talkin’ monkey.” Then he noticed that the bar was almost empty. No one was sitting at any of the tables, although there were half empty glasses of beer left on a few of them. Four or five men and the barkeeper were engaged in an intense discussion at the far end of the room. “Where is everybody?” Traly was astonished.
The barkeeper looked up. “Jimmy! Right at lunch President Langley came on TV an’ said that the government was going to let us buy as many Bender fusion boxes as we want. You could go out an’ buy one right now for twenty-five bucks. When everybody heard that, why they just asked themselves what they were doin’ sittin’ around in a bar when they could have a job an’ even be in business for themselves. Not much profit for me this afternoon, but I don’t care. I know where I can get some junk copters. Fit ’em out with Bender packs and start a tourist service. You know: See the U.P. with Don Zalevsky.” The bartender winked.
Traly’s jaw dropped. He forgot Norman. “You really mean that there’s no more black market where we can get fusion boxes?”
One of the customers, a short man with a protuberant beak and a bald pate, turned to Traly. “What do you need a black market for when you can go out an’ buy a Pack for twenty-five dollars? Well, will you look at that: Traly’s disappointed. Now you can do whatcher always bragging about, go out and dig up some fusion boxes and go into business.” He turned back to the others.
“And we owe it all to President Langley’s fizical and economic policies. Bender’s Pack coulda destroyed our nation. Instead we only had a little depression, an’ look at us now. Three years after the invention, the economy’s on an even keel enough to let us buy as many power packs as we want.”
Someone interrupted. “You got rocks in your head, buddy. The government closed down most of the mines so the oil corporations would have a market to make plastics for; we get to produce just enough ore up here so no one starves. Those ‘economic measures’ have kept us all hungry. If the government had only let us buy as many Packs as we wanted and not interfered with free competition, there wouldna been no depression or nothing.”
From the derisive remarks of the other customers, this appeared to be a minority opinion. The Beak slammed his glass of beer down and turned to his opponent. “You know what woulda happened if there wasn’t no ‘interference’?” He didn’t wait for an answer. “Everybody woulda gone out an bought Packs. All the businesses in the U.S. woulda gone bankrupt, ’cause anyone with a Bender and some electric motors would hardly need to buy any regular goods, except food. It wouldn’t have been a depression, it woulda been just like a jungle. As it is, we only had a short period of adjustment,” he almost seemed to be quoting, “an’ now we’re back on our feet. We got power to burn; those ore buckets out in the bay can fly through the air and space, and we can take the salt out of the water and—”
“Aw, you’re jus’ repeating what Langley said in his speech.”
“Sure I am, but it’s true.” Another thought occurred to him. “And now we don’t even need Public Works Projects.”
“Yeah, no more Public Works Projects,” Traly put in, disappointed.
“There wouldn’t have been no need for PWP if it wasn’t for Langley and his loony ideas. My old man said the same thing about Roosevelt.” The dissenter was outnumbered but voluble.
NORMAN HAD BECOME ENGROSSED IN THE ARGUMENT. IN FACT HE WAS SO interested that he had forgotten his danger. Back in the District he had been made to learn some economics as part of his regular course of study—and, of course, he could remember considerably more about the subject. Now he decided to make his contribution. Traly had loosened his grip; the chimpanzee easily broke the hold and jumped to the top of the counter. “This man,” he pointed to the Beak, “is right, you know. The Administration’s automatic stabilizers and discretionary measures prevented total catastro—”
“What is this, Jimmy?” The bartender broke the amazed silence that greeted Norman’s sudden action.
“That’s what I’ve been trying to tell you guys. I picked up this monkey back in Ishpeming. He’s like a parrot, only better. Jus’ listen to him. I figure he could be worth a lot of money.”
“Thought you were going into the trucking business, Jimmy.”
Traly shrugged. “This could be a lot greener.”
“That’s no parrot-talk,” the Beak opined. “The monkey’s really talking. He’s smart like you and me.”
Norman decided that he had to trust someone. “Yes I am, yes I am! And I need to get into Canada. Otherwise—”
The door to the Drunk Pup Tavern squeaked as a young man in brown working clothes pushed it halfway open. “Hey, Ed, all of you guys. There’s a bunch of big Army copters circling the bay, and GI’s all over. It doesn’t look like any practice maneuver.” The man was panting as if he had run several blocks.
“Say, let’s see that,” moved the Beak. He was informally seconded. Even the bartender seemed ready to leave. Norman started. They were still after him, and they were close. He leaped off the counter and ran through the half-open door, right by the knees of the young man who had made the announcement. The man stared at the chimpanzee and made a reflex grab for him. Norman evaded the snatch and scuttled down the street. Behind him, he heard Traly arguing with the man about, “Letting my talking monkey escape.”
He had dropped his blanket when he jumped onto the counter. Now the chill drizzle made him regret the loss. Soon he was damp to the skin again, and the water splashed his forearms and legs as he ran through spots where water had collected in the tilted and cracked sections of sidewalk. All the shops and dives along the street were closed and boarded up. Some owners had left in such disgust and discouragement that they had not bothered even to pull in their awnings. He stopped under one such to catch his breath and get out of the rain.
Norman glanced about for some sign of airborne infantrymen, but as far as he could see, the sky was empty of men and aircraft. He examined the awning above him. For several years the once green plastic fabric had been subjected alternately to baking sun and rotting rain. It was cheap plastic and now it hung limp, the gray sky visible through the large holes in the material. Norman looked up, got an idea. He backed away from the awning and then ran toward it. He leaped and caught its rusting metal frame. The shade sagged even more, but held. He eased himself over the frame and rested for an instant on the top; then pulled himself onto the windowsill of a second-story apartment.
Norman looked in, saw nothing but an old bed and a closet with one lonely hanger. He caught the casing above the window and swung up. It was almost like being Tarzan. (Usually, Norman tended to identify himself with Tarzan rather than with the Lord-of-the-Jungle’s chimpanzee flunkies.) He caught the casing with his toes, pushed himself upwards until he could grasp the edge of the flat roof. One last heave and he was lying on that tar-and-gravel roofing material. In places where the tar had been worn away, someone had sprayed plastite, but more time had passed and that “miracle construction material” had deteriorated, too.
The roofs provided scant cover from observation. Fifty feet away; Norman saw the spidery black framework of a radio tower mounted on the roof of another building. It was in good repair; probably it was a government navigation beacon. Norman sneezed several times, violently. He crawled warily across the roof toward the tower. The buildings were separated by a two-foot alley which Norman easily swung across.
He arrived at the base of the tower. Its black plastic members gleamed waxily in the dull light. As with many structures built after 1980, Hydrocarbon Products Administration regulations dictated that it be constructed with materials deriving from the crippled petroleum and coal industries, Norman remembered. In any case, the intricate framework provided good camouflage. Norman settled himself among the girders and peered out across Marquette.
THERE WERE HUNDREDS OF THEM! IN THE DISTANCE, TINY FIGURES IN Allservice green were walking through the streets, inspecting each building. Troop carriers and airtanks hung above them. Other airtanks patrolled some arbitrary perimeter about the city and bay. Norman recognized the setup as one of the standard formations for encirclement and detection of hostile forces. With confident foreknowledge he looked up and examined the sky above him. Every few seconds a buckrogers fell out of the apparently empty grayness. After a free fall of five thousand feet, the airborne infantrymen hit their jets just two or three hundred feet above the city. Already, more than twenty of them were posted over the various intersections.
The chimpanzee squinted, trying to get a clearer view of the nearest buckrogers. Images seen through the air behind and below the soldier seemed to waver. This and a faint screaming sound was the only indication of the superheated air shot from the Bender powered thermal element in the soldier’s backpack. The infantryman’s shoulders seemed lopsided. On more careful inspection Norman recognized that this was due to a GE fifty-thousand line reconnaissance camera strapped to the soldier’s upper arm and shoulder. The camera’s eight-inch lens gaped blackly as the soldier turned (rotated?) in the chimp’s direction.
Norman froze. He knew that every hyper-resolution picture was being transmitted back to Sawyer AFB where computers and photo-interp teams analyzed them. Under certain conditions just a clear footprint or the beady glint of Norman’s eyes within the maze of girders would be enough to bring a most decisive—though somewhat delayed—reaction.
As the buckrogers turned away, Norman sighed with relief. But he knew that he wouldn’t remain safe for long. Sooner or later—most likely sooner—they would be able to trace him. And then … With horror he remembered once again some of the terrible bits of information that hid in the vast pile he knew, remembered the punishments for unauthorized knowledge. He had to escape them! Norman considered the means, both fictional and otherwise, that had been used in the past to elude pursuers. In the first place, he recognized that some outside help was needed, or he could never escape from the country. Erik Satanssen, he remembered, always played the double agent, gaining advantages from both sides right up to the denouement. Or take Slippery Jim DiGriz … the point was there are always some loopholes even in the most mechanized of traps. What organization would have a secret means of getting across Lake Superior into Canada? The Reds, of course!
Norman stopped fiddling with his soaked suspenders, and looked up. That was the pat answer, in some stories: Pretend to side up with the baddies just long enough to get out of danger and expose them at the same time. Turning around, he gazed at the massive automated pier jutting out into the bay. At its root were several fourth-class apartments—and in one of them was the only Soviet agent in the Upper Peninsula! Norman remembered more about Boris Kuchenko. What sort of government would employ a slob like that as a spy? He racked his memory but could find no other evidence of espionage in the U.P. area.
Many tiny details seemed to crystallize into an idea. It was just like in some stories where the hero appears to pull his hunches out of the thin air. Norman knew without any specific reason, that the Soviets were not as incapacitated as they seemed. Stark, Borovsky, Ivanov were smart boys, much smarter than the so-called Bumpkinov incompetents they had replaced. If Stark had been in power in the first place, the Soviet Union might have survived Bender’s invention without losing more than a few outlying SSR’s. As it was the Party bosses controlled only the area immediately around Moscow and some “hardened” bases in the Urals. Somehow Norman felt that, if all the mental and physical resources of the rulers had been used against the counterrevolutionaries, the Reds’ position would have to be better. Borovsky and Ivanov especially, were noted for devious, backdoor victories. Something smelled about this spy business.
If Kuchenko was more than he seemed, there might be a way out even yet. If he could trick the Reds into thinking he was a stupe or a traitor, they might take him to some hideout in Canada. He knew they would be interested in him and his knowledge; that was his passport and his peril. They must never know the things he knew. And then later, in Canada, maybe he could expose the Russian spies and gain forgiveness.
THE NEAREST BUCKROGERS WAS NOW FACING DIRECTLY AWAY FROM NORMAN’S tower. The chimpanzee moved away from the tower, hurried to the edge of the roof, and swung himself over. Now he was out of the line of sight of the infantryman. He reached the ground and scampered across the empty street. Soon he was padding along the base of the huge auto pier. Finally he reached the point where the street was swallowed by the enclosed portion of the pier. Norman ran into the dimness, at least he was out of the rain now. Along the side of the inner wall was a metal grid stairway. The chimp clambered up the stairs, found himself in the narrow corridor serving the cheap apartments which occupied what otherwise would have been dead space in the warehouse pier. He paused before turning the doorknob.
“ … . Move fast!” The knob was snatched from his fingers, as someone on the other side pulled the door open. Norman all but fell into the room. “What the hell!” The speaker slammed the door shut behind the chimpanzee. Norman glanced about the room, saw Boris Kuchenko frozen in the act of wringing his hands. The other man spun Norman around, and the chimpanzee recognized him as one Ian Sloane, civilian employee No. 36902u at Sawyer AFB; so the hunch had been right! The Reds were operating on a larger scale than the government suspected.
Norman assumed his best conspiratorial air. “Good morning, gentlemen … or should I say Comrades?”
The older man, Sloane, kept a tight grip on his arm. A look of surprise and triumph and oddly—fear, was on his face. Norman decided to go all the way with the double-agent line. “I’m here to offer my services, uh, Comrades. Perhaps you don’t know quite what and who I am …” He looked around expectantly for some sign of curiosity. Sloane—that was the only name Norman could remember, but it couldn’t be his real one—gazed at him attentively, but kept a tight grip on his arm. Seeing that he was going to get no response, Norman continued less confidently. “I … I know who you are. Get me out of the country and you’ll never regret it. You must have some way of escaping—at the very least some hiding place.” He noticed Boris Kuchenko glance involuntarily at a spot in the ceiling near one of the walls. There was an ill-concealed trap hacked raggedly out of the ceiling. It hardly seemed the work of a master spy.
At last Sloane spoke. “I think we can arrange your escape. And I am sure that we will not regret it.”
His tone made Norman realize how naive his plan had been. These agents would get the information and secrets from him or they would destroy him, and there was no real possibility that he would have any opportunity to create a third, more acceptable alternative. The fire was much hotter than the frying pan, and fiction was vaporized by reality. He was in trouble.
The tiny sound came simultaneously with a pinprick in his leg. The curtains drawn before the window jerked slightly. A faint greenish haze seemed to hang in the air for an instant, then disappeared. He scratched his leg with his free hand and dislodged a black pellet. Then he knew that the photo-interpretation group at Sawyer had finally found his trail. They knew exactly where he was, and now they were acting. They had just fired at least two PAX cartridges into the room, one of which had failed to go off. The little black object was a cartridge of that famous nerve gas.
During the Pittsburgh Bread Riots back in ‘81, screaming mobs, the type that dismember riot police, had been transformed into the most docile groups by a few spoken commands and a couple of grams of PAX diffused over the riot area. The stuff wasn’t perfect, of course; in about half a percent of the population there were undesirable side effects such as pseudo-epilepsy and permanent nerve damage; another half percent weren’t affected by normal dosages at all. But the great majority of people immediately lost all power to resist outside suggestion. He felt Sloane’s grip loosening.
Norman pulled away and spoke to both men. “Give me a boost through that trapdoor.”
“Yes, sir.” The two men agreeably formed a stirrup and raised the chimpanzee toward the ceiling. As they did, Norman suddenly wondered why the gas had not affected him. Because I’m not all here! He answered himself with an almost hysterical chuckle. The gas could only affect the part of him that was physically present. And, though that was a very important part, he still retained some of his own initiative.
As Norman pushed open the trap, there was a splintering crash from the window as a buckrogers in full battle gear came hurtling feet first into the room. With a spastic heave, the chimp drew himself into the darkness above. From below he heard an almost plaintive, “Halt!” then Sloane’s formerly menacing voice; “We’ll go quietly, Officer.”
NORMAN PICKED HIMSELF UP AND BEGAN RUNNING. THE WAY WAS DIMLY LIT from windows mounted far above. Now that his eyes were adjusted, he could see bulky crates around him and above him. He looked down, and gasped, for he could see crates below him, too. He seemed suspended. Then Norman remembered. In the dim light it wasn’t too evident, but the floor and ceiling of this level were composed of heavy wire mesh. From a control board somewhere in the depths of the building, roller segments in the mesh could be turned on, and the bulkiest crates could be shuttled about the auto pier like toys. When in operation the pier could handle one million tons of merchandise a day; receiving products from trucks, storing them for a short time, and then sliding them into the holds of superfreighters. This single pier had been expected to bring the steel industry to Marquette, thus telescoping the mining and manufacturing complexes into one. Perhaps after the Recovery it would fulfill its promise, but at the moment it was dead and dark.
Norman zigzagged around several crates, scampered up an incline. Behind him he could hear the infantrymen, shed of their flying gear, scrambling through the trap door.
They would never believe his honesty now that he had been seen consorting with the communists. Things did indeed look dark—he complimented himself on this pun delivered in the midst of danger—but he still had some slim chance of escaping capture and the terrible punishment that would be sure to follow. He had one undetonated PAX cartridge. Apparently its relatively gentle impact with his flesh had kept it from popping. Perhaps not all the soldiers were wearing the antiPAX nose filters—in which case he might be able to commandeer a helicopter. It was a wild idea, but the time for cautious plans was past.
The pier seemed to extend forever. Norman kept moving. He had to get away; and he was beginning to feel very sick. Maybe it was some effect of the gas. He ran faster, but even so he felt a growing terror. His mind seemed to be dissolving, disintegrating. Could this be the effect of PAX? He groped mentally for some explanation, but somehow he was having trouble remembering the most obvious things, while at the same time extraneous memories were swamping him more completely than they had for weeks. He should know what the source of the danger was, but somehow … I’m not all here! That was the answer! But he couldn’t understand what its significance was anymore. He no longer could form rational plans. Only one goal remained—to get away from the things that were stalking him. The dim gray glow far ahead now seemed to offer some kind of safety. If he could only reach it. Intelligence was deserting him, and chaos was creeping in.
3,456,628 more shopping days until Christmas … Latitude 40.9234°N, Longitude 121.3018°W: Semi-hardened Isis missile warehouse; 102 megatons total … Latitude 59.00160°N, Longitude 87.4763°W: Cluster of three Vega class Submarine Launched Ballistic Missiles; 35 megatons total … depth 105.4 fathoms … All-serv IFF codes as follows: I. 398547 … 436344 … 51 … “Hey, let me out!” … Master of jungle poised, knife ready as … the nature of this rock formation was not realized until the plutonist theory of Bender’s … New Zealand Harbor Defense of Wellington follows: Three antisubmarine detection rings at 10.98 miles from … REO factory depot Boise, Idaho contains 242,925 million-hp consumer fusion packs; inventory follows. Cold gray light shining in the eyes. And I must escape or … “die with a stake driven through his heart,” the professor laughed. STOP or you’ll fall; MOVE or you’ll die; escape escape escape seascape orescape 3scape5scape2pecape4ea 1a00p30 6891 350101121310100010101100001010101000011111010101—
The chimpanzee crouched frozen and glared madly at the soft gray light coming through the window.
THE TINY BLACK FACE LOOKED UP FROM THE STARCHED WHITE OF THE PILLOW and stared dazedly at the ceiling. Around the bed hung the glittering instruments of the SOmatic Support unit. Short of brain tissue damage, the SOS could sustain life in the most terribly mangled bodies. At the moment it was fighting pneumonia, TB, and polio in the patient on the bed.
Dunbar sniffed. The medical ward of the Labyrinth used all the latest procedures—gone was the antiseptic stink of earlier years. The germicidals used were a very subtle sort—and only a shade different from antipersonnel gases developed in the ‘60’s and ‘70’s. William Dunbar turned to Pederson, the only other human in the room. “According to the doctors, he’ll make it.” Dunbar gestured to the unconscious chimp. “And his reactions to those questions you asked him under truth drug indicate that no great damage has been done to his ‘amplified personality.’”
“Yeah,” Pederson replied, “but we won’t know whether he responded truthfully until I have these coordinates for his computer checked out.” He tapped the sheet of paper on which he had scrawled the numbers Norman had called off. “For all we know, he may be immune to truth drug in the same way he is to PAX.”
“No, I think he probably told the truth, General. He is, after all, in a very confused state.
“Now that we know the location of his computer, it should be an easy matter to remove the critical information from it. When we try the invention on a man we can be much more careful with the information initially presented.”
Pederson stared at him for a long moment. “I suppose you know that I’ve always opposed your project.”
“Uh, yes,” said Dunbar, startled, “though I can’t understand why you do.”
Pederson continued, apparently without noticing the other’s answer, “I’ve never quite been able to convince my superiors of the dangers inherent in the things you want to do. I think I can convince them now and I intend to do everything in my power to see that your techniques are never tried on a human, or for that matter, on any creature.”
Dunbar’s jaw dropped. “But why? We need this invention! Nowadays there is so much knowledge in so many different areas that it is impossible for a man to become skilled in more than two or three of them. If we don’t use this invention, most of that knowledge will sit in electronic warehouses waiting for insights and correlations that will never occur. The human-computer symbiosis can give man the jump on evolution and nature. Man’s intellect can be ex—”
Pederson swore. “You and Bender make a pair, Dunbar; both of you see the effects of your inventions with narrow utopian blinders. But yours is by far the more dangerous of the two. Look what this one chimpanzee has done in under six hours—escaped from the most secure post in America, eluded a large armed force, and deduced the existence of an espionage net that we had completely overlooked. Catching him was more an accident than anything else. If he had had time to think about it, he probably would have deduced that distance limit and found some way to escape us that really would have worked. And this is what happens with an experimental animal! His intelligence has increased steadily as he developed a firmer command of his information banks. We captured him more or less by chance, and unless we act fast while he’s drugged, we won’t be able to hold him.
“And you want to try this thing on a man!
“Tell me, Doctor, who are you going to give godhood to first, hm-m-m? If your choice is wrong, the product will be more satanic than divine. It will be a devil that we cannot possibly beat except with the aid of some fortuitous accident, for we can’t outthink that which, by definition, is smarter than we. The slightest instability on the part of the person you choose would mean the death or domestication of the entire human race.”
Pederson relaxed, his voice becoming calmer. “There’s an old saw, Doctor, that the only truly dangerous weapon is a man. By that standard, you have made the only advance in weaponry in the last one hundred thousand years!” He smiled tightly. “It may seem strange to you, but I oppose arms races and I intend to see that you don’t start one.”
William Dunbar stared, pale-faced, entertaining a dream and a nightmare at the same time. Pederson noted the scientist’s expression with some satisfaction.
This tableau was interrupted by the buzzing of the comm. Pederson accepted the call. “Yes,” he said, recognizing Smith’s features on the screen.
“Sir, we just finished with those two fellows we picked up on the auto pier,” the aide spoke somewhat nervously. “One is Boris Kuchenko, the yuk we’ve had spotted all along. The other is Ivan Sliv, who’s been working for the last nine months as a code man at Sawyer under the name of Ian Sloane. We didn’t suspect him at all before. Anyway, we gave both of them a deep-probe treatment, and then erased their memories of what’s happened today, so we could release them and use them as tracers.”
“Fine,” replied Pederson.
“They’ve been doing the darndest things, those spies.” Smith swallowed. “But that isn’t what this call is about.”
“Can I talk? Are you alone?”
“Spit it out, Smith.”
“Sir, this Sliv is really a top man. Some of his memories are under blocks that I’m sure the Russkies’ never thought we could break. Sir—he knows of a project the Sovs are running in an artificial cave system under the Urals. They’ve taken a dog and wired it—wired it into a computer. Sliv has heard the dog talk, just like Dunbar’s chimp. Apparently this is the big project they’re pouring their resources into to the exclusion of all others. In fact, one of Sliv’s main duties was to detect and obstruct any similar project here. When all the bugs have been worked out, Stark, or one of the other Red chiefs is going to use it on himself and—”
Pederson turned away from the screen, stopped listening. He half noticed Dunbar’s face, even paler than before. He felt the same sinking, empty sensation he had four years before when he had heard of Bender’s fusion pack. Always it was the same pattern. The invention, the analysis of the dangers, the attempt at suppression, and then the crushing knowledge that no invention can really be suppressed and that the present case is no exception. Invention came after invention, each with greater changes. Bender’s pack would ultimately mean the dissolution of central collections of power, of cities—but Dunbar’s invention meant an increased capability for invention.
Somewhere under the Urals slept a very smart son of a bitch indeed …
And so he must choose between the certain disaster of having a Russian dictator with superhuman intelligence, and the probable disaster involved in beating the enemy to the punch.
He knew what the decision must be; as a practical man he must adapt to changes beyond his control, must plan for the safest possible handling of the unavoidable.
… For better or worse, the world would soon be unimaginably different.
Of course, I never wrote the “important” story, the sequel about the first amplified human. Once I tried something similar. John Campbell’s letter of rejection began: “Sorry—you can’t write this story. Neither can anyone else.” The moral: Keep your supermen offstage, or deal with them when they are children (Wilmar Shiras’s Children of the Atom), or when they are in disguise (Campbell’s own story “The Idealists”). (There is another possibility, one that John never mentioned to me: You can deal with the superman when s/he’s senile. This option was used to very amusing effect in one episode of the Quark television series.)
“Bookworm, Run!” and its lesson were important to me. Here I had tried a straightforward extrapolation of technology, and found myself precipitated over an abyss. It’s a problem writers face every time we consider the creation of intelligences greater than our own. When this happens, human history will have reached a kind of singularity—a place where extrapolation breaks down and new models must be applied—and the world will pass beyond our understanding. In one form or another, this Technological Singularity haunts many science-fiction writers: A bright fellow like Mark Twain could predict television, but such extrapolation is forever beyond, say, a dog. The best we writers can do is creep up on the Singularity, and hang ten at its edge.
(My extended song-and-dance about this idea is at http://www.rohan.sdsu.edu/faculty/vinge/misc/singularity.html. In that 1993 essay, I try to track the history of this idea in the twentieth century. Since then I have come to realize even more how my 1960s orientation was simply a product of ideas that others—such as Licklider, Ashby, and Good—had put into the air.)
Copyright © 2001 by Vernor Vinge
Meet the Author
Vernor Vinge has won five Hugo Awards, including one for each of his last three novels, A Fire Upon the Deep (1992), A Deepness in the Sky (1999), and Rainbow's End (2006). Known for his rigorous hard-science approach to his science fiction, he became an iconic figure among cybernetic scientists with the publication in 1981 of his novella "True Names," which is considered a seminal, visionary work of Internet fiction. His many books also include Marooned in Realtime and The Peace War.
Born in Waukesha, Wisconsin and raised in Central Michigan, Vinge is the son of geographers. Fascinated by science and particularly computers from an early age, he has a Ph.D. in computer science, and taught mathematics and computer science at San Diego State University for thirty years. He has gained a great deal of attention both here and abroad for his theory of the coming machine intelligence Singularity. Sought widely as a speaker to both business and scientific groups, he lives in San Diego, California.
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