In the Country of the Blindby Michael Flynn
In the nineteenth century, a small group of American idealists managed to actually build Charles Babbage's Analytical Engine and use it to develop Cliology, mathematical models that could chart the likely course of the future. Soon they were working to alter history's course as they thought best. By our own time, the Society has become the secret master of the
In the nineteenth century, a small group of American idealists managed to actually build Charles Babbage's Analytical Engine and use it to develop Cliology, mathematical models that could chart the likely course of the future. Soon they were working to alter history's course as they thought best. By our own time, the Society has become the secret master of the world. But no secret can be kept forever, at least not without drastic measures. When her plans for some historic real estate lead developer and ex-reporter Sarah Beaumont to stumble across the Society's existence, it's just the first step into a baffling and deadly maze of conspiracies.
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In the Country of the Blind
By Michael Flynn, David G. Hartwell
Tom Doherty AssociatesCopyright © 2001 Michael Flynn
All rights reserved.
The rain fell in torrents, beating a staccato rhythm on the cobblestoned street. It created rivers and oceans on the paving and formed a curtain beyond which only vague shapes could be seen. The man waited beneath the hissing gas lamp in the middle of the block. The water ran off his broad-brimmed hat and down the back of his neck. It was a hot, sticky rain, not a bit of coolness in it. He hitched the waterproof leather briefcase under his arm, changing his grip for the hundredth time. Far off to the south he heard booming; but whether of guns or of thunder, he didn't know.
A drumming of hooves from G Street. The man turned expectantly, but it was only a troop of cavalry that turned the corner: Horses stepping high struck sparks off the paving with their hooves. Leather straps and belts gleamed in the dusk and the metal of sabers and spurs and bits jangled like an Arab belly dancer.
He read their cap badges as they rode by: Third Pennsylvania. He raised his arm and huzzahed and their captain saluted him smartly with his quirt.
He watched them out of sight as they vanished once more behind the curtain of rain, headed for the Potomac bridges and who knew what fate? When he turned his attention back to the street, the landau was there in front of him. The nigh horse, no more than three feet away, blew his breath out and rolled his eyes at him. Startled, the man took a step backward into a puddle, while the driver, a shapeless lump on the lazyboard, pulled on his reins to calm the beast.
The door opened and Isaac poked his head out, smiling sourly. "Well, Brady," he asked in his broad New England accent, "will you climb in, or do you like the rain so much?"
Brady didn't bother to answer. He stepped into the cab and sat beside the older man. The upholstery inside the landau smelled dank and musty, the hint of mold in every breath. Everything in Washington smelled that way. It was an awful town. "All the charm of a Northern city, and all the efficiency of a Southron one." Brady shook the rain off his hat and wiped his face with his neckerchief. The carriage started with a jerk.
He saw Isaac glance covertly at the briefcase. "Impatient, Isaac?" he asked. His Indiana voice twanged like a jaw harp. "My train arrived two hours ago. You could have met me then, at the station."
"Ayuh," Isaac agreed readily. "Could have. Didn't."
Brady grunted and looked out at the passing houses, colorless and gray in the pouring rain. They were headed toward Georgetown. Abruptly the bouncing and rattling gave way to a sticky, sucking sound. The horses' hooves slapped the muddy road. "I see they still haven't finished paving the streets yet."
"Ayuh. Nor finished the Capitol dome, neither." Isaac looked at him, then looked away. "Great many things still unfinished."
Brady let that lie and they rode awhile in silence.
"Town's danged spy-crazy," said Isaac after a while. "Too many comin's and goin's. Draws attention. I was followed last week, I think. Naught to do with the Society, but the Council thought'twere best we not meet at the station."
Brady looked at him. That was as close to an apology as he was ever going to get from the New Englander. He sighed. "'Tain't important."
Isaac leaned over and tapped the briefcase with his index finger. "But this is," he said. "This is. Tell me square, Brady, and on the level. Is it what we expected?"
Brady didn't answer him directly. He stroked the leather with his palm. The metal clasps were cold to his touch. "Three weeks of calculations," he said. "Three weeks, even with Babbage engines, and six of us, working in two teams around-the-clock. We used numerical integration and some of that new theory that's come from Galois' papers. When we were done, we switched over and checked the other team's work." He shook his head. "There's no mistake."
"Then he must die."
Brady jerked his head around and looked at Isaac. The New Englander was drawn and pale; age spots were dark against his parchmentlike skin. Brady nodded once, and Isaac shut his eyes.
"Well, that should please some on the Council," he said, gazing on some inner landscape. "Davis and Meechum. Phineas, too. His mill's are idled, with no cotton coming north."
Brady frowned. "Are they allowing their personal interests to ..."
"No, no. They are guided by the equations, just as we. Slavery had to go. We all agreed, even our Southron members. The equations showed what would come to pass if it didn't." Isaac shivered, remembering. "That was why we ... took measures." The old man's face closed up tighter. "They will see the need for this action, as well." He opened his eyes and fixed Brady with a stare. "And if they bow to necessity with smiles and we with sorrow, why, what difference?"
"Damnation, Isaac. It should never have come to this!" Brady slapped the briefcase, a sharp sound that made Isaac blink.
"Don't want his blood on your hands? Well, theah's blood enough already. This war — "
"Was an accident! A miscalculation! Douglas should have won. He knew how to make deals. He could have ended slavery and made the South love him for it. Popular sovereignty and the Homestead Act. That would have done for it."
"Maybe," Isaac allowed. "But Buchanan vetoed the Homestead Act out of personal spite for Douglas. The equations are silent when we deal with individuals. After that fiasco at the Charleston convention, the election was thrown wide open; and the Republicans — "
"And that backwoods buffoon!" said Brady angrily. "His victory changed everything! Panicked the South into secession. But how could we have calculated it? The man failed at everything he ever attempted. He failed twice in business; had a nervous breakdown; was defeated for House Speaker, then for re-election; was defeated for land-officer, of all things. He ran for the Senate twice and the Vice Presidency once and lost the nomination all three times. Hell's bells, Isaac! He even lost the presidential election!"
"Not in the electoral college," Isaac pointed out. "And he did have a plurality."
"The man is a statistical anomaly!"
Isaac chuckled. "That's what really bothers you, isn't it?"
Brady framed a tart reply, then thought better of it. He slouched in his seat. "Be that as it may be. The war was an accident; this is different!" He slapped the briefcase again. "A calculated act, not a calculated risk."
Isaac nodded slowly. "I doubt a corpse cares whether'twas done in by accident or design. Still, we lift no finger ourselves. A word heah. A word theah. Washington's always been Confederate in her heart. Someone will act."
"Aye. But we will bear the guilt."
"Why, so we will! Was there ever any doubt? Did you doubt it when you took the Oath?"
Brady looked away, out the window. "No."
They were silent again, listening to the carriage wheels rolling through the mud. The rain drummed the roof of the landau.
"And what if he does not die?"
Isaac just wouldn't let it be. Brady scowled at him.
"And what if he does not die?" Isaac persisted.
Brady sighed. He hefted his briefcase, then dropped it into Isaac's lap. "Read it yourself. It's all there. The secondary path from the fifteenth yoke. We have clandestine medical reports on him and his whole family. And on Ann Rutledge, as well. His old law partner, Billy Herndon, has been dropping sly hints to whomever will listen. His wife is certifiably insane, save no one has the guts to say so aloud. It's congenital in at least two of his sons. Damn!" He closed his eyes tight. His hands clenched into fists. "I have never liked any task less than the reading of those reports." He relaxed slowly and looked at Isaac. "There's no mistake. He will go mad before his new term expires. Already he has ... bizarre dreams."
"And his madness, and its disease, will discredit his platform of reconciliation."
"Aye. Leading to victory for the Radicals and his probable impeachment. There will be permanent military occupation of the South, stifling of technological progress there, growing resentment among the whites, sporadic rioting, and racial pogroms, followed by repression and a new Rebellion in 1905 that will be overtly supported by at least two European Powers. That, too, is in the calculations."
Isaac smiled without humor. "Then,'tain't so much a matter of blood on our hands, but how much, and whose."
Brady chewed on his knuckle. The skin there was frayed, almost raw. Isaac watched him thoughtfully for a moment, then turned his attention to the window. The silence between them lengthened.
"Gloomy night," said Isaac finally, still gazing at the dark outside the landau.
"We haven't built Utopia, have we, Isaac?"
Isaac shook his head. "Give it time, boy. Give it time. Rome weren't built in one day, neither. The Society's too small yet to move the world by much; but it will grow, if we persevere." He turned and faced Brady, his eyes sharp and piercing. "Famines, Brady. Worldwide wars. Weapons deadlier nor any Gatling gun and ironclad. It's all theah on the chahts. You've seen 'em. In less than a century there will be explosive shells more powerful than twenty thousand tons of guncotton, or of this new stuff, dynamite. God's wounds! The Petersburg mine held only eight thousand pounds of black powder! Imagine five thousand such mines exploded at once!" He shook his head. "I faired those curves m'self, Brady. They're exponential. If we've any hope of tempering them in time, we must act, and act now!"
For Isaac, that was quite a speech. Brady stared at the older man and, with a sudden rush of compassion, laid his hand upon his arm and squeezed. Isaac looked at the hand, then at Brady. Then the driver called to his horses and the landau pulled up before a modest Georgetown brick house. After a moment, Brady released Isaac's arm and opened the door. He made to step out, but Isaac restrained him.
"Theah's something else, isn't theah, Brady Quinn?"
The wind blew the rain into the cab. Brady would not look at Isaac. "Don't make me tell you, Isaac."
Isaac backed away from him. "What is it?" There was uncertainty in his voice, and the beginnings of fear.
"Isaac, you've been like a father to me for twenty years. Please, don't ask me."
Isaac squared his shoulders. "No. My life is in this work. I built the Society, Brady. Phineas and I and old Jed Craw-ford. We read between the lines of Babbage's book. Saw what could be done. Saw what must be done. We laid out the first ten yokes. If you have found something that —" He shook his head suddenly, violently. "I must know!"
Brady sighed and looked away from him. He had known that this moment would come, had dreaded it. He had known that he would tell Isaac everything. But that did not make it any the less unpleasant. "Young Carson has developed a new algorithm," he said. "Based on a children's game, of all things. It ... Well, it changes everything after the twenty-ninth yoke."
Isaac scowled, not understanding. "The twenty-ninth ...? I don't know what you mean. If everything after the — No! Explain yourself, Brady!"
Brady told him and the old man stared, open-mouthed. Brady closed his eyes briefly; then he left the landau and walked to the front door of the town house. He looked back once, through the rain, and saw the old man weeping.CHAPTER 2
The window was too damned dirty to look through. Sarah Beaumont glanced around the empty room and saw a rag in a corner. It was probably just as filthy as everything else in the old house. There were mouse droppings scattered about, cobwebs, fragments of plaster. In places, the ribs of the walls showed through the broken plaster. With a sigh of disgust, she walked over and picked up the rag and shook it. A spider crawled out, and she watched it go its way.
"How long has this house been vacant?" she asked.
"Five, six years." That was Dennis French, her architect. He was rapping on the walls, looking for the supporting beams. He paused and studied the door frame; ran his fingers over the miter joints and nodded in approval. "Good, solid work, though. They sure knew how to build back then."
"The good old days," said Sarah absently. "When women knew their place." Dennis looked at her. "They still do," he said. "Just more places, is all."
She laughed. Returning to the window, she ran the rag over it. The grime was stubborn. It had had years in which to settle in. She managed to clear a circle in the middle of the pane and peered out at Emerson Street. "Can we refurbish the place? Bring it up to Code and all. That's what I need to know. This neighborhood's going to be the next to boom, and I want to be here first." She had been late getting in on Larimer and Auraria. She was going to be first here, by God. Let the other developers follow her for a change.
She could look straight across the street at the second-floor windows there. Those houses had been built on the same basic plan as this one. Onetime mansions turned rental apartments. A man stood in one of the windows, stripped to the waist, drinking something out of a can. He saw her looking and waved an invitation.
She ignored him and craned her neck to the left, pressing her cheek against the glass. She could just make out the dome of the state capitol, gleaming gold in the afternoon sun. The downtown skyscrapers, though, blocked her view of the mountains. She watched the traffic at the corner, counting cars-per-minute.
When she stood away from the window and clapped the dust from her hands, Dennis had already left the room. She could hear him tapping away down the hall.
"How does it look?" she called. She found her clipboard and jotted a few notes.
"Utilities look good," she heard him answer. "No computer ports, naturally; but we can put those in when we upgrade the rest of the wiring. Sixty-four-kilobyte ISDN channels."
She followed his voice down the hall and found him in one of the other bedrooms. He was poking at a hole in the wall. "There's still piping in the walls for the old gas mantles." He looked at her and shook his head. "This must have been a swank place a hundred years ago, before they messed it up. There's a servants' stairwell down the end of the hall." He pointed vaguely.
"I've got a list of previous owners at home," she told him. "One of the old-time silver barons built the place, but the Panic came along a few years later and he had to sell out."
"Easy come, easy go."
"You're right about the workmanship. If I could find the sonofabitch who painted over the parquet flooring on the main staircase ..." She loved good workmanship, and that staircase had been the handiwork of a master joiner.
Dennis nodded. "I know what you mean. When they made this place into a boardinghouse and subdivided the rooms, they paneled right over the original walls. Can you imagine that? You should see the wainscoting! Here."
He pulled on a section of drywall and it came away. Bits of plaster and gypsum fell to the floor, along with some nails and loose scraps of paper. The original wall behind it was in bad shape. The wainscoting was partially destroyed and there were holes in the plaster, but Sarah could imagine what it must have looked like when it had been new.
The papers on the floor caught her eye. A yellowed newspaper clipping. She picked it up and found a torn sheet of foolscap held to it by a rusty staple.
"What are those?" asked Dennis, brushing his hands and standing up.
"A list of dates. Looks like someone's crib notes for a history test and ..." She read the headline on the clipping. "An 1892 story from the old Denver Express." She handed the foolscap to Dennis and read through the rest of the news story. "A gunfight," she told him. "Two cowboys on Larimer Street. Neither one was scratched, but a bystander was killed. An old man named Brady Quinn."
She frowned. Quinn? She had seen that name recently. But where? It nibbled at the edge of her memory. Well, never mind. It would come back to her eventually.
"Odd sort of crib notes."
"Hmm?" She glanced at Dennis, who was scowling over the foolscap. "What do you mean?"
"Well, the entries here are in two different handwritings, for one thing. The earlier items are in the old Spencerian style."
"Someone started the list," said Sarah. "Then someone else continued it."
"And this, up at the top. What does it say? Biological? Diological?"
She glanced where he pointed. "Cliological. Cliological something. It's smudged. I can't make it out."
"That's a big help. What's 'cliological'?"
She shrugged. "Beats me. I never heard the word before."
"And the mixture of entries is odd, too. Famous events and obscure events all jumbled together. How does the nomination of Franklin Pierce, or the election of Rutherford Hayes, or Winfield Scott's military appointments belong on the same list as the election of Abraham Lincoln or his assassination, or the sinking of the Lusitania? Or ... Hello!"
"What?" She moved behind him and read over his shoulder. He pointed. "'Brady Quinn murdered,'" she read.
Excerpted from In the Country of the Blind by Michael Flynn, David G. Hartwell. Copyright © 2001 Michael Flynn. Excerpted by permission of Tom Doherty Associates.
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Meet the Author
Michael Flynn is an Analog magazine alumnus whose fiction now appears regularly in all the major SF magazines. His major work of the 1990s was the Firestar series of novels.
Michael Flynn lives in Easton, Pennsylvania. He is the winner of the Robert A. Heinlein award, and a Hugo Nominee for Eifelheim. He is the author of the Firestar series of novels, and is an Analog magazine alumnus whose fiction now appears regularly in all the major SF magazines.
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The book is based on a great concept,but the writing, plotting, and overall development are amateurish at best. Cardboard characters, painfully obvious plot twists, and cliche after cliche make this one to miss.
In Denver realtor Sarah Beaumont and her architect explore the possibilities of the old vacant house. They quickly find a reference to a late nineteenth century gunfight in which an innocent bystander, Brady Quinn, a former owner of this house, was the only victim. They also find a list of other seemingly unrelated events from the second half of the nineteenth and throughout the twentieth century. Finally, there is the word clilology, but neither knows what it means. Unable to resist, Sarah begins to investigate the death of Brady. That leads her to Babbage¿s analytical machines, 1880s computers. Soon her methodical research brings her to the attention of the Babbage Society, who control the world, but are split over how far to use their powers and what to do with Sarah. This is a reprint of a late 1980s science fiction tale with a revised afterward, providing stronger insight and support to cliology so that those readers wanting more science and math will have that too. This reviewer, who never heard of cliology before, remains uncertain whether the afterward is satire like that of Professor Putts¿ R&D articles from the 1970s or the real thing. The story line is intriguing and well written as the Babbage Society forecasts the future and uses any means including assassination to alter the dynamics of their prediction and change what will happen. With the exception of Sarah, the characters represent plot devices to enhance Mr. Flynn¿s theories yet they are cleverly interwoven into the tale. Fans of classic style science fiction will want to read IN THE COUNTRY OF THE BLIND. Harriet Klausner