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A world linked by a virtual-reality network experiences the devastation first hand, witnessing the death of civilization as we know it and the violent birth of an emerging global consciousness.
Vast in scope, yet intimate in personal detail, Mother of Storms is a visionary fusion of cutting-edge cyberspace fiction and ...
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A world linked by a virtual-reality network experiences the devastation first hand, witnessing the death of civilization as we know it and the violent birth of an emerging global consciousness.
Vast in scope, yet intimate in personal detail, Mother of Storms is a visionary fusion of cutting-edge cyberspace fiction and heart-stopping storytelling in the grand tradition, filled with passion, tragedy, and the triumph of the human spirit.
In the middle of the Pacific, a gigantic hurricane accidentally triggered by nuclear explosions spawns dozens more in its wake. A world linked by a virtual-reality network experiences the devastation first hand, witnessing the death of civilization as we know it and the violent birth of an emerging global consciousness.
"A great big romp of a quasi-cyberpunk disaster novel… It delivers!" —Wired
"Breathtaking… A winning blend of gripping thriller and dazzling SF." —Publishers Weekly
Mother of Storms
THIS IS THE good part. Hassan Sulari loves this one. When the magnetic catapult on the mothership throws his little spaceplane forward and he kicks in his scramjets, somewhere over Afghanistan, he'll sail up and away into a high suborbital trajectory over the pole. Hassan has never gotten authorized for orbit, but this is pretty close.
It's his first real mission. He's carrying four cram bombs—"Compressing Radiation Antimatter" is what it stands for, and when they talk to the media they are supposed to stress that they are "mass-to-energy, not really nuclear" weapons, because for all practical purposes they are baby nukes and that's bad PR.
The catch is that damned jack in the back of his head. He accepted a lot of extra money from Passionet to have it installed and to fly with it, it's going to make him rich—and in UNSOO that's not common—but there is still the nagging feeling of showing off. After all, he's a pilot, not an actor.
"We're getting ready to go plugged with you," the voice from Passionet says. "If you've got any embarrassing thoughts to get out of the way, think them now."
"None I know of. I'm at orbital injection minus four minutes." Hassan does his best to sound bored.
"We know—timing's perfect. Give our folks a ride."
Just as they click off and it goes live, he does have the strange thought that there really don't have to be human crews for UN Space Ops like this—a machine could do a prohibited-weapons interdict just as well. He finds himself wondering why he does this—no, to his shame, why he is fearing doing it.
That makes his stomach knot hard during the last instants of countdown. Then he hears the word "inject" and the mothership catapult flings him forward over the nose of the big airplane; watching his stability gauge, he sees it's all go, waits a few more seconds till the navigation computer has a fix, and then flips the scramjet lever.
He is slammed into his seat again, and the brown-and-white mountains of early spring morning fall away below him. The vibration is heavy, and the pressure is intense; he sees the West Siberian plain open out beneath him, wrapped in its canopy of blue air. He is as high up as weather satellites go. His heart is pounding and despite the military reason for the mission he is mentally lost in the scenery.
By the time the scramjets cut out, there is polar ice on the horizon, and his hands automatically begin their ritual of arming and readying the shots.
He arcs higher still, coasting upward on inertia, and now the Earthbegins to return toward him. He is weightless—not because there is no gravity but because he is moving with it—and he has an intense recollection of his childhood fantasies about space travel. He hopes they won't mind having that in the wedge they are recording—
Over the pole now, falling nose-down across the ice cap ninety miles below, and the countdown begins; his weapons lock on target and he need only pull the trigger on cue to turn over control to the missiles themselves. He receives the go-ahead and initiates.
There are four hard shoves on the little spaceplane, and he sees his missiles falling away like sparklers thrown down a dark canyon. He will miss their impact off the North Slope, but the pleasure of launching them was exquisite.
And from the jack in his head, he is informed that 750 million people shared the experience.
There's a cherry-red glow around the bottom of the spaceplane, and weight begins to return as the plane once again resists gravity rather than rides with it. It was more like a training flight than he expected. He's never seen Pacificanada, but he's told the new, struggling nation loves UN Peacekeeping Forces credits, and he will have plenty.
As he falls back toward home, life seems pretty sweet when it can include things like this.
Randy Householder is cruising I-80 out of Sacramento in a car so old it had to be retrofitted to drive itself. It runs and it's what he can afford, and he doesn't worry about it.
But he's trying to get onto the net, and that is unbelievably slow and frustrating tonight. After fourteen years he's learned that this always means the same thing—some damn crisis tying things up. Back in i when the Flash happened, it was six days before he could get on and get his messages. At least this time he can get them, but they're slow.
It's been a long time since he's been impressed by getting a hundred messages. That's normal traffic. About half of it will be some small-town police chiefs, sheriffs, magistrates, proconsuls, ombudsmen, whatever they call them around the world, mostly letting him know they're still looking for evidence and that nothing has come in. A few will be new ones taking over, some will be old ones leaving and letting him know their successors may not be helpful.
The other half will be people like Randy, mostly just passing along support notes. There are seven others Randy hears from most nights—all the ones who had children killed in a way similar to what happened toKimbie Dee. They're always there. Sometimes he talks with them live; they've traded pictures and such over the years.
There will almost always be at least one reporter. Randy does not talk to reporters anymore. The damn media take up too much of the bandwidth on the net—like they're doing tonight. And they're no help.
Last time he talked to one, she kept wanting to know about how he lives his life. Shit, Randy told her, he didn't have a life. He stopped having a life fourteen years ago when the cops came to the door of his mobile home, and made him and his then-wife Terry sit down, and told them that Kimbie Dee had been murdered, and it looked like a sex murder. Life stopped when they told him they had the man who did it and no clues about motive, but they knew damned well from the jack driven into her skull why she'd been murdered and raped—Christ, Christ, the coroner had said she'd been jammed with a mop handle hard enough to rupture her intestines, and then raped while she hemorrhaged, but she'd still been conscious when the man hanged her.
Randy's clutching at his keyboard with his fists and that does no good. Stay relaxed, stay calm, keep hunting. It's going to be a long one, you've always known that.
Kimbie Dee was killed to make an XV wedge. There's a big underground market in those things. Once or twice a year, someone is arrested for selling the one that features her death. Sometimes they arrest the guy he bought it from; sometimes Randy is able to hack the files about one of the suspects, and find more people who might be involved. Now and then—the last time was three years ago—something cross-correlates, and Randy's datarodents bring him back one more piece of information, move him another step up one of the distribution chains.
When that happens, there's an arrest. Randy gets reward money. Like he cares crap about that. But Randy and the world's cops get one step closer to the guy who paid for it; somewhere out there, some big shot, someone with more income to spend on his "fun" than Randy ever made in any year of his life, is still at large and unsuspected. He's the man who handed all that money to a man and said, "Here's what I want you to do to a pert little blonde girl."
The man who killed and raped Kimbie Dee Householder has been in his grave for eleven years. Randy was there to see him strapped into the chair. The man who hired it done is still out there.
Randy's going to see him dead, too.
Just as soon as all this damned noise gets off the net. He checks the text news channels and finds it's some stupid thing about Alaska, Siberia, the UN,and atomic bombs. He vaguely remembers Alaska got independent right after the Flash—the UN made the U.S. give it up, or something.
President Hardshaw is going to talk about it to the media later; Randy will tune in to that on the TV—he votes for her every time and he never misses one of her speeches. She was Idaho Attorney General back a little before the murder. If she'd still been in office—she and the guy they now call the President's Shadow, Harris Diem—instead of the liberal "concerned" homo Democrat that was—they'd've tracked down the bastards and nailed them while the crime was still hot. Randy's sure of it. So he doesn't need to think about World War Three; he can let the President sort that one out. Everyone has their little job.
Back to Randy's. Just keep plugging away. "We'll get him yet, Kimbie Dee, even if the whole world has to come apart," he says. He tells the car to head east, toward Salt Lake City, because the satellite connections will be better and cheaper. Then he climbs into the back, opens the fridge, gets himself a beer, calls up the file of messages, and starts sorting through his mail.
Some perverse spirit, somewhere out there, has decided that this is the big year for Ed Porter to work with amateurs. Probably some woman, some upper-level bitch who doesn't like the way the wedges he edits sell like crazy, or the shows he assembles dominate the net. But he's the main reason Passionet is XV of choice for female experiencers, and third among males. A romance net, for god's sake, at the top even among men, and Porter is one of three senior editors there, and they still persecute him. They still give him shit assignments like this.
It's gotta be some woman.
Anyway, at least he's away from Boring Bill and Cotton-Brains Candy, as he calls them. A whole two-day vacation from "Dream Honeymoon" to work on this breaking story.
But this guy Hassan, this pilot, is a stiff. He's pure military. Gets excited but holds it in. His pulse rises but not enough. What comes in through the jack is a smart guy doing a job he's good at. Even when he fires the bombs off, there's just a minor thrill. And of course the silly bombs are just going through the ice, into the mud of the North Slope; through Hassan's eyes, all Porter sees is some bright sparks plunging down toward the nightdarkened ice. Nobody down there to burn, or to scream with pain; nobody up here in Hassan's brain to exult in the destruction or laugh maniacally at people dying; no agony, no passion, nothing. Nothing to experience but the smooth working of a machine, according to a perfect plan.
As XV goes, it's a zero.
Jesse knows Naomi wants him to be more interested, and she is right, and it is a big deal—if he wants any confirmation he only has to listen to the hundreds of students milling around in the PolAc Room. Even for U of the Az, this is a big crowd, but then you don't get to see a UN Space Ops bombing raid in real time every day.
Of course instead of the old-fashioned television, he could just as easily be back at the dorm—Passionet has wired one of the pilots—and be there for all practical purposes. Maybe catch it on replay? No, Naomi calls that warpom.
What he'd really rather be is home with Naomi, no TV, no XV, no clothes—he shoves the thought back, hard. If he even hints in the next hour it'll be another fight with Naomi, and he doesn't want that, not right now. It's been a week since they've more than kissed.
On the other hand Molecular Design Economics, which he's got to pass with a Significant Achievement or better, this term, if he's going to stay on track for his Realization Engineering degree, is at eight A.M., it's already almost ten, and though his homework is done he hasn't reviewed it or read the supplementary chapter.
Still, Naomi's back—tiny and soft to the touch but with rock-hard muscle underneath—is against his chest, and therefore the nicest tight round butt in the Az is a quarter inch from him.
There's a lot of noise and Jesse looks up to see what it is. Something big, anyway, a lot of flickery movement on the screen. Everyone is arguing about that; nowadays you don't see an image flicker like that, not with packetized digital signal.
It's not coming in well, he realizes, because UN Information Control is trying to slap their logo across it and it's not quite working. People are booing and hissing, some of them at the UNIC insignia, some at what's behind it, some on general principles.
Like every college assembly room built in the last century, this place wasn't made to meet in, it was made to be easy to clean, so it has plenty of hard, flat surfaces and the whole thing is echoing and ringing.
Call it midnight before they get home, and she'll want to talk for an hour ... there goes the homework even if there's no sex. And getting a Significant Achievement is no piece of cake; sure, it's the lowest of the academic grades, but it's still light-years in effort beyond Probable Comprehension, Positive Attitude, or Open Mind—and employers nowadays really do read your transcript. It's got to be Significant Achievement, Demonstrated Competence, or Mastery ... and he thinks by now the top two are out of his reach.
Absent Naomi in his life, Mastery would be in his reach in most subjects. There's a lot of easier ass in the world—
He has no idea why he can't concentrate these days. He forces his eyes back to the screen, notices a dark bar across it, realizes what he's looking at is Naomi's hand, palm down, in the gesture for "quiet" that they used in grade school when you were a kid.
The room is so noisy, between boos, catcalls, people loudly explaining things to each other, and other people shushing and shouting "Quiet, please, quiet!," all echoing off all those hard, flat surfaces, that he can't think anyway. He wants to just turn into a caveman, drag Naomi out of here bodily, heave her into his old Lectrajeep, drive out to someplace in the desert, and just stare up at the stars until the sun comes up.
After he has hours of intense sex with a completely willing Naomi.
The image on the screen, when he can see it through all the waving hands and fingers, is now stuttering rapidly, because the source of the signal is switching protocols and channels a few times per second, and the UNIC tracker-suppressor software is right on its tail. Jesse knows that because for Realization Engineering you have to take a ton of cryptography (the important part of RE from the standpoint of los corporados is keeping everything you do from instantly being run through an AIRE—an Artificially Intelligent Reverse Engineer—and winding up in public domain). God, engineering is more interesting and fun than politics.
What would Naomi think of the way he's thinking? It's bad enough he can only seem to think of her as a sex bunny, but when he gets his mind out of his crotch all he can think about is the technical stuff, not about the political side. Why won't his mind stay on track?
Naomi leans back farther, that angel's butt brushes the front of his pants, and at least he isn't thinking of homework anymore. For just a second the screen swims clear, and it looks like the Siberian comware is beating UNIC's hounds—you can hear the nationals in the room cheering, the uniters booing, and it occurs to him it's not that different from a football game—
Back to the stutter. Naomi is still making the "quiet" signal. The crowd is getting rowdier, not quieter, so she's shrinking back against him. Tentatively he lets his hand rest on her waist, hoping it will read as support and not as what she calls "groping me all the time," and he's rewarded with a quick flash of a smile from under the thick mop of walnut-stain-colored hair. Her big wet brown eyes and high freckled cheekbones make his heart skip again; it feels like a love simulator on XV, and most of the complaints he's been working up for the night's fight go away.
He lets his arm slide a little farther into her back, and, amazingly, she leans into it and brushes his face with that marvelous hair, her warm sweet breath on his neck. "This is so stupid, Jesse. Half of these people don't wantto hear Abdulkashim and are cheering for UNIC, half of them do and are cheering for Abdulkashim. How are they going to get a sense of the meeting if they don't at least start trying to want the same things?"
"They didn't come here for a meeting," Jesse reminds her. "They're here to catch the news or see the bombs go off or because they saw the crowd on their way back from dinner, or something."
She gives him the little smile that always reminds him how unplugged he was before she got into his life. "But what matters is they're here and they're talking to each other. So it's a meeting—but no one is seeking unity."
The babble of voices in the PolAc Room rises rapidly and then dies, leaving only a faint ring in the air; it looks like the sense of the meeting is that they want to hear whatever is on. It looks like UNIC has given up. There's a clear image of Abdulkashim, and the flattened translator voice comes through: "—completely unprovoked and utterly outside the Charter or the Second Covenant to issue such threats to a free, sovereign, and independent state, let alone to claim to be carrying out such actions against military installations whose existence is wholly unproven—"
The image flickers and vanishes. Pandemonium breaks loose. Jesse hears the telltale thud of punches or kicks connecting.
There are not very many pro-Siberian students here at U of the Az, since the Siberian quarrel is with the Alaska Free State and a lot of people still feel sentimental about the fact that the Ak was once an American state.
The big quarrel is between the uniters, who back whatever the SecGen does, and the nationalists, who wish the United States had gotten into it directly—the sort of people who complain about "President Grandma," as if Hardshaw could fart into her own sofa cushions without UN permission these days.
Then there's an isolated handful booing because they oppose all censorship, there's six or seven people who really are pro-Siberian, and probably a few guys who just showed up for a fight. In Jesse's small-town redneck opinion, it is about to get rough around here, and he'd just as soon Naomi was out of it before anyone sets in to real asskicking.
He also knows perfectly well that she won't believe him or take any steps for self-protection. She's a second-generation Deeper, and "we aren't raised that way, we're gentle in our anger," she has said to him many times. He's never had the nerve to say that he wasn't raised that way and knows what a fist or foot does on flesh.
There's another shriek of everyone hurrying to finish whatever they were trying to say. It cuts off instantly when Rivera, the SecGen, a handsome young guy from the Dominican Republic, appears on the screen.
Rivera has that serious expression everyone has seen so many timesthese past few years—it's bad news and he's counting on you to be calm.
Like most Deepers, Naomi is a uniter, so she cheers along with that side, and Jesse cheers because he's with her. Besides, Rivera has a way of making you trust him, and Abdulkashim could play Stalin without makeup.
It seems as if Rivera is waiting for quiet in the Student Union, but crowds calm down about the same speed anywhere in the world, Jesse supposes, so possibly the SecGen is in front of another crowd, somewhere else. More likely, knowing that about half of the world still has to share screens in public places, there is a crowd simulator coming in through his earphone to let him know.
Just as it becomes possible to hear, Rivera begins, "My friends and citizens of our planet ... it is with a sad heart I tell you that tonight the United Nations is forced, for the eighth time, to intervene militarily to preserve and enforce Article Fourteen of its Second Covenant. I quote it to you in full: 'No nation, whether or not signatory to this covenant, which did not possess and declare itself to be in possession of explosive weapons yielding more than one trillion ergs per gram delivered whether of any current or not yet invented type, by the first minute of June 1, 2008, GMT, shall be permitted to manufacture, possess, purchase, transfer or in any way exercise direct or indirect control over the detonation of such weapons. The Secretary-General shall have power at his sole discretion to enforce this article.'
"Now, for ten years since the Alaska Free State peacefully separated from the United States, the Siberian Commonwealth has pursued a claim to Alaska based on alleged treaty irregularities in the agreements between the United States and the former Russian Empire. These claims have been found—in four different international fora—to be wholly without merit.
"Not only has the present Siberian regime reiterated and pressed these claims, it has also pursued an annexation of Alaska by covert violence and overt threat."
The screen flashes once, and shadowy shapes, too regular to be natural, show as dark blue on light blue. There are a dozen or so, all roughly proportioned like a pencil, with one end flared like the head of a flashlight and the other rounded and snub. Rivera explains. "Six clusters like this one have been located on the seabed of the Arctic Ocean. These are suppressed trajectory missiles, made by MitsDoug Defense, but microsensors dropped close to them have revealed two critical modifications, both in violation of arms-control agreements. First of all, the range has been extended tremendously by fitting a MitsDoug Cobra air-to-surface missile as a second stage, inside the warhead compartment. Secondly, the Cobra stage has been fitted with a laser-ignited fusion warhead, with a yield far in excess of what is permitted by Article Fourteen.
"We have also established through Open Data agreements that these weapons do not belong to any power permitted to own them under the Covenant. In any case they lie outside any national territory and are thus de facto illegal under Article Seventeen of the Second UN Covenant.
"Their positioning within a two-minute flight of Denali, and my description of past bad relations between Alaska and Siberia, should be placed in this context: earlier this evening I notified all three hundred and twenty-four signatory and nonsignatory nations that the UN Space Operations Office would destroy those missiles at the first sign of launch, or at 0830 GMT, whichever came first. I have received the explicit assent of two hundred and eighty-four nations, and no response from the others—except for the Siberian Commonwealth, which has lodged a strong protest at what President Abdulkashim calls a hasty and unwarranted action.
"This screen is displaying a brief report from General Jamil of UNSOO, showing target configuration before strike. At exactly 0830 GMT, a flight of twenty-five UNSOO space planes fired over one hundred missiles into impact trajectories for those sites. The missiles penetrated the Arctic ice, and delivered antineutron-beryllium warheads—or 'cram bombs'—onto the sites you see here."
Jesse would love to know how anything can go through hundreds of meters of ice at Mach 20 and still come out working on the other side, but he'd have to work for UNSOO a long time before they told him that. If you can trust Scuttlebytes, then maybe each warhead puts out a thin mist of antiprotons from its nose that then flows back around it, but you can't trust Scuttlebytes much more than you can the Famous People Channel. Look at how many times in the last twelve years Scuttlebytes has claimed to finally know who set off the Flash.
Then it cuts to some kind of undersea remote sensing. Long white streaks arrow into the seabed missiles, so fast that it's as if the lines of superheated steam plunging into the Arctic Ocean appear all at once, like the particle paths in a cloud chamber. Where the missile was, at the head of each streak, there's a bright white ball.
The view jumps back to Rivera. He nods, as if to say, Powerful, eh? Frightening? There is no trace of a smile.
He licks his lips once before he speaks. "An attempted launch of the seabed missiles was detected by our monitors a bit under a second before impact. Authorized UN datatrace reveals that signal's origin to be the Commandant's palace in Novokuznetsk, Siberia. On the basis of this evidence, I am issuing an interdict and arrest order, effective now, for the seizure of Commandant Abdulkashim and fifty-one other Siberian officials. They are to be taken into UN detention for examination and trial. All armed forces around the world are reminded that armed resistance to UN arrest—or taking military advantage of any situation caused by a UN arrest—is a capital offense at all levels."
The SecGen's eyes suddenly seem harrowed and frightened. When Rivera speaks again, it is very softly. "This has not been an easy decision, but so far as I have vision it has been a just, measured, and appropriate one. Let us all hope it brings us nearer global peace and justice. Good day to you all."
The blue and white flag billowing in a soft breeze flashes on the screen, and then the UNIC logo. The screen pops back to a replay of I Love Lucy. There's an uproar in the room about what to watch next. Jesse gave up on TV back when they stopped making new shows.
At least ten people are shouting above the crowd, announcing various meetings to support, protest, or discuss the SecGen's actions.
Naomi leans back and breathes in his ear. "Oh mighty engineer, this uninitiated one craves to ken your technical wisdom, for damn all if she can understand what just happened. Besides, if there's any meeting or rally I ought to make, I can find out and join up later. Can we go be alone?"
Her arm slides around him and he feels the heavy, soft push of her breast against his elbow as he pulls his own arm out to drape over her shoulder.
It still takes ten minutes to get out of the Student Center, because anyone as active as Naomi has at least twenty people to say hello to. Jesse does as well, but for once he's glad that most of her friends think he's a big dumb piece of attractive meat, because that means his part of the ritual can be confined to exchanges of head nods and saying each other's names. Naomi has to go through a comparison of analyses with everyone.
Right now she's explaining it to Gwendy, the girlfriend that Jesse has always privately thought of as "a blonde mop with protruding hardware." Naomi's getting very serious, and the tone of passion is drawing more people toward her. This doesn't look good for an escape.
"The thing we can't lose sight of," Naomi is saying, delicate little hands churning and chopping at the air in front of her, "is that whether Rivera had any options in the situation, or not, isn't relevant. It's not our job to make him have options, after all. The point is that of course he had to get rid of the missiles and of course it was wrong to blow them up. They're just trying to confuse the issue when they ask what else he could have done about it. If he had been doing his job, he would have had a better option. That's what it's all about. If he's willing to live in a situation with only unacceptable options and then willing to take one, well, then, there you have it. We need to get some feelings expressed about all this."
Inwardly Jesse groans. Feelings are seldom properly expressed until there's been a march and a conference at least.
She goes on, and by now Sibby (who tends to agree with both Gwendyand Naomi about everything, especially when they disagree with each other) is listening intently as well, and clearly the conversation can't end till she has a chance to agree. The apartment and the homework are looking farther and farther away every minute.
Gwendy's guy, a tall skinny bad case of acne whom Jesse normally would remember the name of, tries to get an objection in, but Naomi mows it down before he can open his mouth. "No, listen," she says. "The point is, people have to take charge of wherever life puts them, and I don't care if he is the SecGen, he's still responsible. If you allow your situation to be one where there are no moral options, and then you go and choose between them, you're still choosing to do something wrong. I mean, otherwise there's nobody to blame."
Sibby tentatively ventures that maybe this applies, too, to Abdulkashim.
"Oh, sure, right," Gwendy barks, turning on Sibby. "Blame a guy whose country just lost most of its weapons, a guy who's probably being thrown into jail right now if the UN cops haven't already killed him, like he really wanted to have all this happen. That is so simplistic." Gwendy's jaw is sticking far enough forward to protrude beyond the heavy blonde curtains of her hair, she's glaring into Sibby's eyes (as much as anyone can tell from the side), and she's doing what old guys like Jesse's dad call "invading personal space"—standing close to Sibby and moving closer.
All this is putting a nasty want-to-fight gleam in Naomi's eye. Jesse knows many people find her obnoxious when she's like this, but it's also exactly what gets him horny.
The first thing he noticed about her in Values and Self class, the one required course at the U of the Az, was that gleam when she started picking on the three bewildered Afropean guys for not being feminist-ecoconscious.
The second thing was that under all the baggy clothing she had a wonderful body.
Jesse's roommate Brian, who moved out when it became clear that Jesse was getting serious about her, had rather casually suggested that since what turned Jesse on was all that fury wrapped up in that male-fantasy body, maybe he should "just rape her and get over it, Jess, wouldn't that be simpler? It would confirm everything she thinks about you and you'd still get to find out what it's like."
Jesse had been shocked. The next several times he had sex with Naomi he couldn't stop fantasizing that he was raping her. If there was a Diem Act for fantasies like there is for wedges, he'd be facing the death penalty.
Does he really like her? He doesn't know—it seems irrelevant.
He's not listening, which is probably just as well, but Gwendy and Sibby are both in tears and Gwendy's guy seems to be trying to get them pulled out of there. They beat some kind of retreat, and by now anyone who waswaiting to talk to Naomi seems to have vanished, so Jesse has her outside almost at once. They walk together quietly in the cool desert dark before Jesse ventures to speak. "Listen," he says, "don't give me a speech about it, but I'd really like to take the Lectrajeep out into the desert tonight. We could sit back and look at the stars and I'd listen to whatever you want to talk about."
He knows this is likely to start a fight. She doesn't like the Lectrajeep. Deepers don't want to disturb the wilderness, so they get it on XV instead. Never mind that with the big soft balloon tires and the QuaDirecDrive, the Lectrajeep doesn't leave as much track as a hiker in lightweight boots; Naomi's parents have filled her full of horror stories about what the old four-wheelers of fifty years before did, and that's what she sees when she looks at Jesse's Lectrajeep.
The one time he tried taking her out into the desert, she didn't know her way around without the XV team there. In XV, the body you ride on is some highly trained athlete, so that you move easily through the wild country, and you have constant back-of-the-mind contact with a wilderness poet, a naturalist, an activist, and a shaman. Without them there to whisper into her mind, she didn't know what the plants were, she had no phrases to remember or key into the experience with, she didn't know what the major threats to this part of the ecosystem were or who was responsible for them, and there wasn't any spiritual significance to anything. Worse yet, she got sweaty and dirty—she'd never gone more than a day unshowered in her life, probably.
So by suggesting the Lectrajeep, he's looking for a fight, maybe, if he admits the truth to himself, because if they fight and then fuck to make up, it will be what he really wanted all along, and if they just fight, it will make him that much crazier for the next time. He's beginning to wonder, a little, just how much crazier he can get.
He's stunned numb when she takes his hand and says, "Let's give it a try. I've been thinking maybe I don't bend enough or try to see anyone else's point of view."
Jesse's heart is thumping to be let out of his chest. "Great," he says. "It's about an hour's drive out to my favorite spot if we go at a reasonably responsible speed. I'll call my brother on the way and see if he knows anything about environmental effects yet."
She kisses him then, right out where anyone might see it happening. He's crazier. Definitely crazier.
In the seabed off the North Slope, things have been happening. There was a lot of kinetic energy in the warheads to begin with, and because Scuttlebytesgot it right for once, there was also a plume of antiprotons spraying in ahead of them, and that added some energy as well.
All that was nothing compared to the warheads themselves. When an antineutron collides with a beryllium nucleus, it annihilates one neutron, and the mutual annihilation releases around nine times the energy of a fissioning uranium atom. It also converts that nucleus to two alpha particles about as close together as you'll ever see them. Having the same charge, they repel each other and take off in opposite directions, adding a percentage point or so to the total energy. The alpha particles, highly charged, readily "hand over" their energy to the matter they pass through, as heat, as electromagnetic radiation, and as mechanical motion caused by the heat and radiation.
It is the destiny of all energy, eventually, to end up as heat; that's the principle of entropy. The energy of the bomb explosions ended up as heat in the ocean bed, much of which is ice, not very far below freezing—in fact if it weren't at ocean-bottom pressure it wouldn't be frozen at all.
This is ice with something more.
One strange fact about ice, when you think about it, is that it floats. Solid butter sinks to the bottom of liquid butter, solid iron sinks to the bottom of liquid iron, solid nitrogen sinks to the bottom of liquid nitrogen
. . but solid water floats on liquid water.
Imagine a microscope fine enough to show you why. The water molecule is bent at an angle and try as you like, it doesn't pack neatly. Freeze water, so that the molecules start to line up into crystals, and that sloppy packing leaves a lot of empty space—more empty space than when they were just rolling around on each other.
Freeze water another way, and there's so much extra space you can trap other molecules between the water molecules. That's called a clathrate—Latin for a "cage, trellis, or grating"—and all kinds of things can be held in there.
As when twenty-three water molecules make a cage around four methane molecules.
There is lots of methane in the seabed. Everything that sinks down there rots, and there's not much free oxygen. Many anaerobic decay processes release methane. Dead stuff has been rotting on the seabed for a long time—and since the last few ice ages, it's been cold enough down there to trap the methane in clathrates. On the Arctic Ocean floor many clathrate beds are tens of meters thick and hundreds of kilometers across.
So energy from the cram bombs goes into the seabed and warms up ice that's just below the freezing point, releasing methane. Moreover, as the clathrates dissolve they trigger landslides and collapses under the sea.
Now, clathrates are delicate molecules. They're big but there are no strong bonds in them, and it doesn't take much more than a hard rap tobreak them up, letting the water molecules regroup into plain ice ... and the methane escape.
Tonight the seabed is alive with avalanches, collapses, and pressure waves. Methane deposited across thousands of years is bubbling up from all over, making its way up to the surface of the Arctic Ocean, finding the countless rents and breaks in the ice. Within eighteen hours, the fifty-footdeep clathrate beds stretching along the outer edge of the North Slope, about sixty-five miles wide and running more than four hundred miles under the sea, are in collapse.
Methane is a greenhouse gas, and the quantity of methane released, in a matter of a few days, is 173 billion metric tons. That's just about nineteen times what's in the atmosphere in 2028, or thirty-seven times what's in the atmosphere in 1992.
Diogenes Callare gets Jesse's call and has to say he doesn't know anything yet. He's glad to see, via the little screen, that the kid is driving a Lectrajeep out into the Arizona desert, and that there's a cute little brown-haired chick beside him.
They chat a little, and Jesse says hi to the kids as he always does; Jesse is six-year-old Mark's favorite uncle, but Nahum, who is three, doesn't always remember who he is.
When Di has talked with Jesse and assured him that no one yet knows what the detectable consequences of the cram bombs in the Arctic seabed might be, he takes some time to look around his living room, at the kids and in through the lighted doorway to where Lori is still working. Life is pretty good. The furniture is decent looking and goes together, he's reasonably in love with Lori, the kids seem to be at the intelligent end of normal, and this place—on the Carolina Coast zipline, only forty-five minutes from his job in Washington, but a comfortable couple of hundred miles away from the big city itself—is big and could easily pass for a real instead of a duplicate Victorian.
He's doing pretty well, what the old man would call Getting On In The World. He wonders for an instant if the old man still talks to Jesse in capitals. Probably not. Di and his brother practically had different fathers, the dogmatic tyrant who raised Di somehow having faded into the crusty old character who raised Jesse.
Di goes in to play with Mark a bit more before the next bedtime; it still seems strange to have young kids awake when it's close to midnight, but he has to admit that the new way of doing things, with kids taking a lot of long naps that either he or Lori share with them, does seem to make for happier and less frustrated children. They are putting up a block house, notvery successfully because Mark finds it more fun to knock things over. But since Di fundamentally enjoys building block houses and watching Mark knock them down, it's a good partnership.
"What was up with Jesse?" Lori asks, passing through on her way to the coffeemaker. She's currently at work on The Slaughterer in Yellow, the sixth of her very popular "spectrum series" of books about the Slaughterer, the serial murderer who finishes every book by framing the detective. Her success does not account for their having a house here—Di's job at NOAA took care of that—but it does account for the fitted hardwood and the extra-large bedrooms.
"Oh, he and his muffin of the month are worrying about Rivera's taking out the Siberian missiles. Not that it's not something to worry about, but the current muffin is a political muffin, so they're worrying about it more than normal kids would."
"Not the best muffin it could be, then," Lori says, grinning. "Good thing all you wanted in a muffin was a good body and moral turpitude."
"Yeah. At least I hope his muffin only has that aggressive tight-mouthed expression because she's a Deeper and not because she has ARTS."
"Turpitude," Nahum says, distinctly. He adds, "She has ARTS."
"Oops," Lori says. "Maybe he'll forget it before Mom comes to visit."
Di winks at her and she grins back, and the thought crosses his mind that the kids will be expiring soon, Lori usually finishes up around 1:30 A.M. when the kids are in the depths of their longest sleep, and it might be nice to slide between the sheets with a grownup tonight.
Lori wets her lips with the tip of her tongue, turns to stick her bottom and chest out, and gives him the grin she always does when she says "Not bad for an old broad," another phrase they'd had to lose since the time two months ago when Nahum expressed the view that Grandma was not bad for an old broad.
You never know, really, what kids are picking up on, but Mark hugs Di's leg and says, "Time for bed?"
"Beds!" Nahum agrees, and just as current thinking says, there's no problem at all with getting the two of them onto the big, comfortable, low bed, and by now they're so secure that Di or Lori need only join them for most naps, not for every one.
A cynic might note that Di is often a bit short of sleep and that the new-fashioned way really only functions because Lori works at home. A deeper cynic might ask when parents have ever been other than short on sleep.
Still, tonight the kids go right to bed and shut up. Better still, Lori sits down next to him on the couch instead of going back to work. "So what do you think?" she asks.
"The floor of the Arctic Ocean is about as irrelevant a place as you can find for weather forecasting," Di says, accepting the brandy she hands him. "I mean, temperatures down there have something to do with absorbing global warming—when the deep ocean gets warm, then one of the brakes on the system will be gone, but it won't get warm for another generation or so if the computer is right. And by that time we should have emissions really under control and might have even started the re-cooling everyone seems to think we want to do.
"No, I just get bothered by the politics. I mean, you and I grew up pre-Flash. We know how weird it is to have the UN having any say in all this. And they're not doing much of a job. If they hadn't forced Russia to grant Siberian independence, or the USA to grant Alaskan independence, would all this have happened? And then not to check what was behind what they were shooting at. Typical UN operation. That's all. If President Grandma or Harris Diem were running this show there'd have been no shooting and it wouldn't have made the news at all—Abdulkashim would be out with no fuss. This guy Rivera is smart but he's a show-off and he likes to see the planes fly and the bombs fall. One of these days we'll get a smarter aggressor or a dumber SecGen, and then we'll be in the soup.
"But as for the meteorology—nothing to worry about, I don't think. The heat being released down there won't bring up the bottom temperature by even one one-hundredth of a degree once it's spread over the whole ocean."
She snuggles against him and says, "I did not knock off early to talk meteorology, actually."
He feels what he's going to say on his tongue just as the phone rings, and it's the ring from the NOAA office, so he has to answer. Probably the same question Jesse asked but less politely framed.
He knows it's big when he sees it's Henry Pauliss on the screen, and his boss looks freshly shaken out of bed. Probably the UN has had something weird happen down there and wants NOAA to figure it out, because the USA still has the best Weather Bureau there is ... which is why there's been stuff in Scuttlebytes all the time about a UN bid to take over NOAA.
As if to forestall Di's irritation, Henry opens with a sigh. "What I want you to do is tell me to go back to bed, after I call the President and tell her that it's nothing to worry about, so she can call the SecGen and tell him the same thing."
"I won't tell you that if it isn't true."
"That's why I called you. It's not really your bailiwick—though we will have to get the computer models going on it as well. It belongs over in the old Anticipatory Section, and since we don't have one anymore, it belongs to anyone who has a lot of experience and won't shade the truth for me."
Di wonders what the flattery is leading up to.
"Okay, here's the story." Henry tells him, briefly, about the breakdown of the methane clathrate beds and the methane pouring out of the Arctic Ocean. "Near some openings in the ice it's thick enough to have asphyxiated some seals, and as a precautionary thing the UN guys tried igniting it wherever it was dense enough—but that's not even putting a dent in the release, because mostly it's drifting up through tiny fissures and holes and not building up much at any one point. Still, the UN satellites have found about a hundred plumes they can ignite, and they've used Global Launch Control lasers to get them burning, and that should reduce the problem by about two or three percent.
"Which is not a lot. Bottom line is, we've still dumped something like a hundred fifty or two hundred billion metric tons of methane into the air. We're going to have twenty times the normal level for at least a little while. You know how much shit hit the fan when the last Five Year Global Warming Assessment came out. They're scared to death of ... you know."
Di is almost amused. As a senior official of the agency officially blamed for the Global Riot—the biggest embarrassment since NASA's Replicator Experiment nearly ate Moonbase—poor old Henry can't quite bring himself to say the word.
The problem with XV is exactly that it's like being there. So when the prediction was for the grain famine in Pakistan to continue, and things blew up in Islamabad, in half an hour there were plenty of XV freaks getting the same load of hormones and excitement in Tokyo, Mombasa, Fez, Lima, Ciudad de Mexico, Honolulu. In Seattle, a group of Deepers had all plugged into the Pakistani scenes just before going to one of their "actions," trying to shut down a neonatal unit, which was supposed to be nonviolent, but with all the glandular workout they'd just had, it didn't stay that way—or maybe it was that the devoutly Catholic commander of the Federal troops, as the Deepers later claimed, ordered the troops to fire into the crowd.
At any rate, two XV reporters were caught in the cross fire, a man and woman who usually worked the Newsporn Channel, and as she died in his arms, shot through the lungs, half a billion experiencers jacked in and felt every sob and gasp from both of them, smelled the blood and felt the shots—
The glands start pumping and the place gets jumping, as they say on Dance Channel, and suddenly all the streets of the Earth were full, shop windows shattering, cops shot, fires going up and firemen unable to reach the hydrants. And everywhere, more XV reporters worldwide jumped in to pick up the additional excitement, more rioters pulling on scalpnets to share the rioting elsewhere while they did their own.
UNIC can shut down one government or group, or even a consortium of a few dozen, but trillions of parallel links, any combination of which can be a pathway between four million XV reporters and twenty thousand XV channels, with all that message traffic jumping from link to link a couple of times per millisecond, is utterly unstoppable. UNIC couldn't do more than cause a little static here and there, not enough so anyone even noticed them. Raw experience that would normally never have made it on anywhere was pouring over the channels into even the most restricted societies.
Ed Porter and the other XV editors had the best day of their careers. Plug into XV and you could be standing on the sidewalk watching a store burn in London, then watching a mob strip a woman naked in Montevideo, then crouching behind an overturned car while shots scream off it in Seattle, then facing the insectoid cops and their riot guns in Tashkent, back to London for more fire, back to Montevideo for a flash of a rape, back to Tashkent as the guns roar and blood sprays everywhere, on to Paris where an XV reporter choking on smoke is trapped on a third floor—all that in three seconds, not pictures but full sensory experiences, on and on.
Finally, the only thing that seemed to limit the Global Riot was that most people preferred to stay home and wear the goggles and muffs so that they could experience violence and destruction worldwide with their full concentration, instead of having it be background music for their own rioting.
As it was, at least half a million people worldwide died while plugged into XV, not realizing that while they popped back and forth between the firestorm in Seoul, troops going berserk in Denver, liquor-store looting in Warsaw, and the ever-popular gang rapes in Montevideo, the building was burning down over their heads. There were nine million dead in total, worldwide, not counting suicides afterward, crashes of fire trucks and ambulances trying to get to the trouble, or heart attacks while experiencing it all on XV.
So far nobody has figured out any way to prevent the next Global Riot. Di understands perfectly well what Henry is worried about. Supposedly UNIC has gotten equipped to grab net control and shut down global communications if need be, but after seeing them unable to shut down Abdulkashim earlier tonight, Di knows that's strictly propaganda.
All this comes to Di as one big impression while he swallows hard. "All right, then, Henry," he says. "Offhand I'd say a methane release that big is going to have effects and people are going to notice. Methane is one of the major ways the Earth traps heat, and it's letting loose right before spring equinox in the Northern Hemisphere. It's going to warm up a lot faster than usual this spring. You've got to make them understand this won't just blowover and can't be kept secret. So ... how much how fast? You said a hundred and fifty to two hundred billion tons—is that firm?"
"That's the estimated volume in the beds that have already gone," Henry says, "and since to some extent they seem to be able to set each other off mechanically, it's probably low. How fast—I don't know. How long does it take a not very dense gas to rise to the surface? It's not very soluble in water, so we won't get much help from its dissolving; besides, I suppose whatever dissolves is just going to block the absorption of other methane from other sources later. As for finding its way through the ice—you want my bet? I bet it didn't take an hour to get to the undersurface of the ice. And there are so many cracks and fissures, big and little, that I don't expect it to stay under the ice more than two or three hours. We thought about flaring the pockets—use missiles to punch holes and set the stuff on fire—but the collapse after the pocket goes will probably break the ice up more and let other methane escape. I guess we'll do it so that it looks like we tried, but we don't expect it to accomplish anything. So very unofficially, figure it's all in the air tomorrow."
Di gives a low whistle, leans back, reaches for his terminal, unfolds it onto the table in front of him. "I'll have to get back to you—and I need numbers, accurate ones, soon. I can do some preliminaries on it pretty fast. And you're right, we need the old Anticipatories."
He thinks for one moment of pointing out that it was Henry who let them cut out the "Wild Thinkers" on grounds that the things the Anticipatory Section dreamed up were mostly not going to happen and tended to scare the daylights out of voters and taxpayers.
But after all, the alternative was cutting Henry, and then they'd have ended up with a worse hack, so Di just adds, "If I remember right, there're several processes that take methane out of the atmosphere—"
Henry nods. "Right. We might look into which ones can be accelerated or altered—"
"Wasn't thinking that far ahead. It matters how long the stuff stays at elevated concentrations. If it's only a couple of days, not much will happen, but if it's twenty years, then we're in deep."
"And Henry—you really ought to see about getting everyone back from Anticipatory. Most of the people you have left are just amateurs at this."
Henry almost looks happy, and says, "I'm way ahead of you there, at least. Next person I talk to after you is Carla Tynan. And I intend to beg, plead, and whine until she agrees to head up the research on this—whatever it takes. Then I'll beg, plead, and whine some more so they'll okay hiring her."
Di Callare has to smile. "That's going to take some whining."
"You know it. But we don't have anyone else who knows as much about the weird connections that might be out there."
"Well, I look forward to working with her again. You can learn a lot."
"Unh-hunh. Some of it about meteorology and global climate. All right, guess I better call Hardshaw back first, then get to Carla. You take care and we'll talk whenever one of these sleepyheads in here comes up with any of the numbers you asked for. Get some sleep tonight ... might not be another good chance for a while."
Henry pings off, and Di turns around to find Lori has been listening, out of sight of the phone's camera. "You got that?"
"Yep." She unfastens a button and winks at him more blatantly than he'd have thought possible. "And you heard your boss. Better take your chances while you've got them ... ."
In the middle of the twentieth century, the phone company learned to sell the dead time on a line, if there were enough lines. That is, if people make noise into the phone line only eighty percent of the time, then if you can switch conversations off as soon as someone falls silent, reconnect them through the first available line as soon as there's any sound, and do it all fast enough so that no one notices the brief cutting off of the beginnings of sounds—well, then, you need only four lines per five conversations.
In the mid-1960s, to maintain communications in the event of a nuclear war, USDoD came up with ARPAnet, which begat Internet, a term you still hear old people call it in their boomtalk, instead of just "the net" it has evolved into, a system for moving e-mail in which each message knows where it is going and wanders from node to node in a network, taking every opportunity to get closer to its destination.
By 1990, intelligence organizations were using the splitting up of messages across multiple channels to make it impossible to monitor a conversation; one split second of it went across the country from microwave tower to microwave tower, the next split second went through an unused TV channel on a satellite, the next jumped around the world on satellite-to-satellite relays, and it all got together at the phone.
By 2028, that technique is no longer used for security; it's simply the most efficient way to use the trillions of fibrop pathways and laser groundto-satellite links. But it has the same effect: nothing and no one can jam information as long as it's coming from and going to enough different places at once. You can keep any one person from talking or listening ... but that's all.
And the same trillions of channels are the ones on which the UN, thegovernments, and the corporations depend. They can no more unplug than you can stop breathing; or rather the cost of doing either would be the same.
It's afternoon in the Western Pacific and the weather is pleasant and warm. Carla Tynan has brought her yacht up to the surface to spend a while sunbathing on the deck. A few years ago, when she had the NOAA job, she put most of her savings from her software patents into getting her skin cancer-proofed, so she could enjoy the sun no matter what happened to the ozone, and into MyBoat, her submersible yacht.
That meant she was officially broke, which badly upset Louie, her husband at the time, though she certainly hadn't touched his money or even asked for any of it.
She slides her big, eye-covering glasses up her nose, scratches all over (nothing like the privacy of mid-ocean), and resolves not to think about Louie again for a while. Maybe she'll think about a couple of papers she's been noodling on ... it's about time to get her plate warmed up over on the non-profit side of the table, because if you're going to freelance as a scientist, you've got to keep the other scientists saying that you're a real one. Not paying his non-profit dues is exactly how poor old Henry Pauliss got stuck in government.
Then again, she hasn't done accounts in a while, and it may be time to do a little private-sector systems design or algorithmics and make some cash. There are a couple of add-on gadgets she'd like for MyBoat and she still hasn't paid off her last purchases from the cadcam shop in Tanzania. Anyway, she's been goofing off for weeks, not doing much more than experiencing romance wedges, sunbathing, and fishing. It's her third trip around the world on MyBoat, and this time she just went straight from Zanzibar to Singapore without bothering about landfalls ... she's begun to admit to herself that once you've seen this particular planet a few times, there may be plenty of unvisited places left, but there's a discouraging sensation that all you're doing is filling in the holes.
Well, now, wasn't that what made Louie so attractive in the first place? Be honest, Carla ... he was one of eight people who'd been to another planet. Not that he talked about it much, and the thing that seemed to impress him most was "how alone it was"—nearest thing to poetry she'd ever heard out of that man.
She raises up on her elbows and looks over her body, chuckling a little. You wouldn't think anything quite this thick and muscular—she was a weight lifter in college, and she's run to fat a bit since—would have gotten the attention of the Assistant Mission Commander for Martian Operations; god knew there were a lot of eager little tight bodies ready for him whenhe got back, but no, less than two years after his return, there he was on top of Carla Schwarz, Girl Scientist.
Carla's mother pegged the trouble two hours after she met Louie: "Both of you want somebody to take care of, and both of you would rather die than be taken care of."
It looks like Mom was right about whether the marriage would work out, because here Carla is: MyBoat, with room only for her and her work, does not seem small to her, and there Louie is—come to think of it, he may be passing overhead right now for all she knows—tending watch solo on the USA's last space station. They've got a date for "five good dinners and a lot of time in bed" next time he hits dirt and she's near a port; that might be a year or two from now, but neither of them is in any hurry.
Maybe she'll treat herself to calling Louie later this evening. He usually seems glad of the conversation when she does, and it's been a few weeks.
So much for the resolution not to think about him.
The phone tied to her wrist rings. It's Henry Pauliss, and the news is pretty astonishing; at least she won't have to decide what to do with her time for the next few weeks.
When XV was introduced in 2006, it was denounced roundly for being even more attention-absorbing than television. It was also praised highly because it allowed anyone to have the experience instantly of knowing how to do a thing and of doing it. You could plug a kid from the urban ghetto into the head of an engineer, give him a sense of the pleasure that came with finding a successful design for a turbine blade, and the pure joy of holding the actual object in his hand, fresh from the cadcam shop, then dump him back into the classroom and say "And that's why you want to learn math." You could take a fat, shy, laughable nebbish and give him the experience of being physically beautiful and confident, then haul him out and say "This can all be yours, really yours, if you'll get to the gym and the personality development courses."
You could take a psychopath with no empathy and give him the experience of being a victim. That was the experiment that revealed the flaw.
Legally it took them some years to get cleared to try it on a prisoner. The first time, it was merely the accident that an XV reporter had been raped, mutilated, and left for dead while the recorder was running. Many experts confidently predicted that if habitual violent criminals were exposed to that tape, and really understood what they were doing to their victims, they would stop doing it.
In fact, once they had felt the terror and pain themselves, inflicting it onothers gave them more of a thrill than ever. It was the effect they had been hoping they were having. One former model prisoner became so excited by the XV tape that he raped an unarmed male guard on his way back to his cell block.
The human race's great past cynics, everyone from Lao-tzu through Ben Jonson to Simone de Beauvoir, could have told them this would happen, but cynicism is a sensible, civilized view. To live in the midst of endless violence one must have sacred principles with which to endorse the violence. By the end of the twentieth century, the most brutal in human history, there were only idealists left. Even when forced-memory extraction and vicarious rapefor-hire emerged, XV, like all other information channels, had become effectively impossible to censor. Technology—and the cravings of thousands of proselytizers of all stripes—forbade it.
Berlina Jameson is having a bad day. Charlie, the idiot station manager, gave up on yelling at her, which was good, but then he got Candice, the station owner, to get on the phone and yell at her, which was discouraging, especially since it's all the same yell—she's not going to get time off, or expense money, or anything at all for "this insane idea."
She doesn't want to quit the job, because her resignation will instantly hit the public databases, and Berlina is extremely close to the edge on credit, so they'll be all over her if she quits her fourth job in three years.
Yet the idea itself is so, so sweet. She hears the familiar voices in her head again, even as Candice goes on at her ...
"This is Edward R. Murrow reporting from London. Another raid by German bombers, in greater numbers than we've seen before ..."
"This is Walter Cronkite, from Houston. Tonight if all goes well men will land on the moon ..."
"Wendy Lou Bartnick reporting—I'm about four miles from the glowing crater that used to be Port au Prince. The only light is from the blazing sky—there is no electricity and no sign of a headlight other than my own ..."
These tapes all play in her head, as they have played on her audio and video systems for more than half her life, so often that she can recite them word by word, frame by frame. A lot of younger kids brag that they can experience XV without needing goggles and muffs to shut out the real world, that they can live real and virtual simultaneously. Berlina figures she can go them one better—she can get television and radio in her head, all the great broadcasts of the last ninety years, followed by the seductive murmur of one more opener:
"This is Berlina Jameson, reporting from—"
Her name right up there with Murrow, Shirer, Sevareid, Cronkite, Donaldson, Walters, Bartnick ... .
She does her best to forget that Bartnick is not old, but has already been forced into retirement, only a few years after the Port au Prince newscast made her an anchor for CNN. XV wiped out television news.
Nor did anyone cross over. XV is everything the old news wasn't. That guy who was deservedly fired for getting hysterical about the Hindenburg blowing up would have received a big whacking raise if he'd been on XV. XV is about feeling it in your glands ... glands start pumping place gets jumping, the Dance Channel ... don't see it be it, Extraponet ... news you can dance to, Passionet.
This chain of thoughts is old, but it's something else to think about instead of listening to Candice.
"Berlina, I don't understand why I can't get across to you that this is not nineteen-fucking-sixty-eight, and there is no point in pointing a camera or a microphone at the action when XV takes people there direct." Candice blows a big cloud of smoke; Berlina once sneaked a look at her biochemtailored cigarette prescription and found it was a mix of tranquilizers and muscle relaxants with just enough CNS enabler to keep her from getting stupid while she relaxed. Maybe not enough.
Candice keeps nattering, so Berlina mentally tunes back in ... "I don't know where the hell you got this fixation from. You're on for twenty minutes a day and the only reason I hire you, babe, is that the movie nuts would rather catch their news between movies. Suppose it's more twentieth or something. Your job is not to cover the news, not to make the news, not to be there for the news. Your job, Berlina"—here Candice takes a huge drag on the cigarette, enough to knock over a rhino, and tousles her hair in a very twentieth kind of way, no surprise since she lived more than half her life in it—"and I mean your only job, is to look good in a sweater while you read the news. There is no such thing as a TV reporter anymore, Brenda Starr."
Berlina has no idea who Brenda Starr is. Probably boomtalk and not a compliment. "Yeah," she says. "So how about ... hah. Listen, I just broke up with my s.o., and it was a registered relationship. I wasn't going to use the required five days off without pay, but if I wanted to drive up to the North Slope—"
Candice shakes her head at her. "You know how much labor-law trouble it will be if you work on a recovery break?"
"I can put it together for myself, as a hobby. Then if you want to air it, fine. All I want is a station credential to show—and I've got that anyway, just by working here."
Candice sighs. "You know we're going to have to get a Kelly Girl orsomething in here to read for you for the week? Aw, hell." She blows another cloud of medicated smoke. "Bet you have your own gear?"
"Then go do it. I guess if I air it, the chances are pretty good you won't turn me in." She shakes all that hair around again—why in god's name, Berlina thinks, do so many old women insist on having those mountains of starched hair with avalanches of curls down their back? "And good luck, kid. If TV reporting doesn't work out, maybe you can be a Viking or a blacksmith or something else there's no use for anymore."
Berlina thanks her, hoping to hit just the tone that will kiss the old bitch where it's good, without too obviously slurping it. She seems to have, because she gets two minutes of "when I was your age I was just as feisty," the kind of story that business people who went somewhere pretty small love to tell about themselves.
Berlina doesn't mind; it's a payback of sorts. She manages to leave with a smile.
In the parking garage, she tosses her bag and coat into her little car, enters the keycode for getting rolling, pulls it out of the parking space and onto the painted blue stripe that marks the guide track, and flips it to automatic to take her home. She wishes she could afford a smarter car that could leave the track and park itself.
She leans back and smiles to herself again. Banff is a longish commute from Calgary, but it's worth it every time she gets home, and at least now that she's done her daily unparking ritual the car will get her the rest of the way home.
"Home" has been a pretty elastic concept in Berlina's mind. She's Afropean, to begin with; Alfred Jameson was a black American GI, identified by DNA records, who paid not to ever see her. Her mother was a German prostitute. Berlina's earliest memories are all of a school for abandoned Afropean children, where she was called "Frances Jameson" by the sisters, and "nigger" by the mobs that gathered outside.
Things were already getting dicey in Europe for anyone half-breed, so she was only supposed to learn English and get shipped back to the States as soon as she was of age. She ran away at thirteen, out of the cold dark school and out of the cruelty of Bavaria, and lived free, cold, and dirty for a few years in Berlin.
At nineteen, she'd named herself after the city she loved, but it was a last gesture. Berlin as she knew it was gone, its streets full of troops from elsewhere, now that Europe was consolidated and "culturally edited," to use their expression for it. She gave herself the name as she filled out a form onboard a staticopter taking her to the USS George Bush, during the last frantic week of the Expulsion.
Before Parti Uno Euro won the election and rewrote the European constitution, Berlin had been a place full of anachronism, where nobody wanted to see anything new, the one thing that united all of the different artistic movements from the Protonihilists to the Prelectors. She'd gotten hooked on broadcast news when she was putting together a sampler mix for a dance performance group that played bits and pieces of old reportage over a drum machine and screamed whatever they were getting over XV into the mix.
When the Edict of 2022 expelled her and all the other Afropeans, most of them ended up in North America, a strange sort of coming home to her father's country. She has bounced around a lot from job to job, forever being told what Candice has just told her.
She misses Berlin more than ever. She's been in four American states and two Pacificanadian provinces—
The Ma, the Ny, the Wa, The Bic, the Nid, the Pa, Last the Az and now the Ab,
as she likes to chant it to herself. She figures she can't go anywhere else because nowhere rhymes with Ab.
As the little car winds its way up the mountains to Banff, a furious spring snowstorm pours over the windshield and away behind her into the night. At least she doesn't have to try to keep the car on the road herself. She flips over to XV, looking for a really neutral reporter and never finding one; for one awful instant her hand stops on Passionet and she is experiencing Synthi Venture. She finds herself snuggled in the rock-hard protective arm of Quaz, who is escorting Synthi these days, out in the howling blizzard of Point Barrow, preparatory to going inside, having wonderful sex in front of a fireplace, running back to Rock (with whom she is triangling) and having Rock explain meteorology to her.
The horrible thing is, she thinks as she switches to Extraponet, which has a reporter riding a UN overflight of the Arctic Ocean, nobody cares anymore that Synthi has read the script in advance; they want to know what's going to happen next, they like Synthi describing experiences to herself before she has them.
The plane carrying the Extraponet reporter comes over a pressure ridge. A huge flare of gas reaches miles into the sky dead ahead. Deliberate roller-coaster effect, Berlina sneers. They must have known it was there and arranged to fly in low to surprise people.
The plane veers to the side, well short of the flare. The viewpoint reporter is in a forward bubble, and the pilot hasn't told him much. As they circle the immense gas flare, the polar ice below a brilliant shimmer of gold, amber, and yellow, she gets the basic information she wanted—the flaring operation isn't going to take care of the problem, and everyone knows it.
This XV reporter is usually on the environmental beat, to judge by his thoughts, and Berlina thankfully absorbs the basics—greenhouse gas, more of it than anyone would have thought possible, spring the worst time for it, White House and New York reports much too circumspect, so it's worse than they're saying ... .
XV is a bit like being there, i concedes, and a bit like being more knowledgeable than you really are, but what it's really like is like waking up where the news is happening with a bad case of amnesia and a brainwashing team trying to force a viewpoint on you.
She clicks off and tosses down her scalpnet, muffs, and goggles. The snow outside is beginning to glow, which means the sun is just beginning to peek over the Rockies. Still, it's three hours till she would normally go to bed, and by that time everything can be hurled into the car, and she can sleep on the way, getting caught up on rest for the days ahead while the Alaska Highway rolls under the tires at three hundred kilometers per hour.
"Never mind," she says. "Once I remind people what real news was like, XV will be dead as the town crier, or newspapers."
Synthi, you are not plugged into real life anymore, Mary Ann Waterhouse is thinking to herself. She has finally been allowed to switch out from the net for a few blissful hours, the jack in her head no longer plugged to receive Synthi's every quivering passion, and though her head has an ache no aspirin can touch, and her whole body is bruised and sore, she's so relieved to have ten hours off that tears are running down her face.
Mary Ann always tries to remind herself that she is the same old girl, just re-engineered into what a lot of women want to look like (which was pretty much what a lot of men want them to look like), just made rich beyond her dreams, just with this other little personality installed, but right now she looks in the mirror and misses herself.
She had a pretty good body—turned a lot of heads—before they gave her the cartoon-character breasts, before they sewed her already-shapely butt into an impossible curve, before they microzapped every bit of fat from her legs and put artificial sheathing like an internal girdle into her stomach.
Not to mention the monthly injections that turn her hair flame-red from its natural straw-blonde.
"I used to just be pretty. I kind of liked that," she says to herself, outloud, and dammit. She's crying again. This has been happening for at least the first hour every time she goes off line, for the last couple of months, and she's pretty sure it is not supposed to. Offtime is precious. She doesn't want to waste it this way.
There's no one to call. She has no brothers or sisters, her father disappeared when she was six, her mother is dead, and she hasn't had a real boyfriend since three months before Passionet hired her and invented Synthi.
There is nobody to call or talk to except Karen, whom she used to work with in the Data Pattern Pool. When Mary Ann got picked at the audition, they swore they'd stay friends, and they really have done a pretty good job of it, considering she could buy Karen's apartment building every month and never notice, and that Karen has admitted, shyly, that nowadays all her offtime is spent living in Synthi's head. But it's only six A.M. in Chicago, and Karen has to work in the morning (they talked about having her work for Mary Ann, as a personal assistant or something, but both of them had the common sense to see that would have destroyed the friendship, and probably Karen with it).
She hasn't told Karen about the crying jags yet. She knows that Karen will be a little hurt that she's kept it back.
She's up early, and at least they got His Oafishness, Quaz, out of here before she woke up; one thing she never does on offtime is sleep—Synthi gets to do all of that, or rather, as the net shrink explained to her, she falls asleep as Synthi, dreams as Mary Ann, wakes up as Synthi, but gets paid for being Synthi the whole time. Quite a deal.
She goes into the bathroom to wash her face, hoping that will kill the last of the tears this time. It doesn't. It hasn't for a few days. Instead, they seem to flow more freely now, as if they will just keep running for the rest of her life.
Well, what did you expect, Mary Ann? Or Synthi? Whoever you are now? She asks the question to the image in the mirror and is no longer sure whether she is speaking aloud or not. You spend most of your time being someone else, how are you supposed to know what she's crying about?
She turns on the hot water in the sunken tub, then calls room service and orders a huge breakfast that she isn't sure she'll eat: eggs, corned beef hash, potatoes, all the plain food that she never eats as Synthi Venture, who takes her experiencers on trips into the exotic world of wealth and power that they will never see, and therefore eats mostly foods they've heard about but couldn't afford or wouldn't be able to prepare.
As the tub fills, she pulls out her reader and scans through her personallibrary for something she'd like to read. Another and not surprising difference between them is that Mary Ann reads.
She's almost cheerful as she settles into the great masses of bubbles and reads the scene at the inn in Bree; by now she knows The Lord of the Rings so thoroughly she can open it anywhere she likes and just read as much as she wants. It may be a waste of time, but it's her time to waste and this is what she wants. There's a stack of history books, and a big collection of theatre reviews that follow her around, things she keeps meaning to read, things she used to like, but for the last few months all she's wanted on her offtime has been The Lord of the Rings, The Once and Future King, and The Picture of Dorian Gray. Each of which she has read at least ten times.
In another hour or two, she can call Karen at work.
There's a knock at the door and she bellows "Come in!" The bellhop wheels the table in, and she tells him to bring it into the bathroom; this seems to make him a bit nervous, and she realizes he's probably been experiencing via Rock, Stride, or Quaz, the Passionet reporters she usually works with, and thus has had the experience of being very sophisticated and knowing exactly what to do with this particular naked body in all sorts of exotic settings. The Point Barrow Marriott is not exactly the sophistication center of the universe; the possibility of having Synthi herself, sudsy and naked, demanding breakfast from him, must not have occurred to him.
He's averting his eyes; it's almost funny. "I'm under all these bubbles," she calls out. "You can see my sweaty face and soggy hair but that's about it."
"Still feels weird," he says, moving the food and coffee to where she can reach it.
"I bet it does." Then on impulse she adds, "My real name is Mary Ann Waterhouse, nobody is recording this, I like to read old books that nobody ever reads anymore, and every time I listen to Haydn's The Creation I get tears in my eyes."
He steps back as if he's afraid she might bite his leg. She remembers what it was like, when she had a regular job, to have mysterious strangers around who might be able to fire her. "It's okay, when you tell people you served me breakfast, just say I'm a regular person, and use a couple of those things as examples to prove we talked." She reaches for her purse—risking exposing a breast, but he's being so careful not to look—and tips him much more than she should. "Who do you experience?" she asks. "Rock?"
He laughs, a funny nervous laugh. "Yeah."
"Well, if you want more of me, he and I will be paired for a few weeks starting tonight. Quaz is leaving for another assignment."
"Thanks, I'll remember that. Um ... can I ask ... is there one you like better?"
According to Passionet, this is the question she must never answer, but here she is trying to have some kind of conversation with an ordinary experiencer, and now that she thinks of it, it's also the most natural question in the world. Still, she temporizes ... . "Like in what way?"
"Oh, um—" He blushes almost purple. Clearly he did mean that way.
"Well, uh, let's see. Quaz is very well-informed. Stride is kind of the bad boy of the lot, and he's rude, but—well, he's really hot when we're, you know. He knows a lot about being satisfying. Rock ... well, he's a very warm, down-to-earth kind of guy. I guess there's more affection there than the other two."
The bellhop's eyes are full of gratitude.
"That's important to you—the being likable part, isn't it?" Mary Ann asks, hoping to keep the puzzlement out of her voice. "Being likable," after all, is a pretty basic set of acting tricks, ever since Petrokin developed the Sincere Mode Technique twenty years ago.
"Yeah. I mean, I'd like to be as smart as Quaz, or as—uh, you know—as Stride, but it's that kind of warm feeling that Rock has around him that ... oh, well. I guess you know what I mean. I'd rather have people like me than anything else." He smiles a little. The way he smiles—quite unconsciously, she's sure—is a not-quite-right (because it's just a bit exaggerated) copy of Rock's Sincere Mode smile.
They talk for another minute or so, and she explains that yes, she really did get to be Synthi Venture just by going to the right audition, but she had six years of acting school before that, and she waited a lot of tables, played in a lot of Equity Showcases, and did a lot of data patterning before she got the break. It's a nice story, happens to be true, and who knows, maybe he'll get famous and tell it.
After he goes, she realizes that she is going to eat the whole huge breakfast. It's not quite as perfect as a big breakfast used to be at three in the morning when they'd just closed and struck a Showcase Uncle Vanya, in a café full of theatre people and Lefties and random street lunatics, but it's still pretty good, and it isn't any of the overpriced, overseasoned weird stuff Synthi eats. She finishes breakfast without reading more, and gives herself a good scrub all over. Two hours of her time off are now gone as she towels off.
She looks at herself in the full-length mirror, and damn if she isn't going to cry again. One problem with XV is that it comes at the experiencer through a thick curtain of emotional gauze; that's why a melodramatic character like Synthi comes through more clearly, and why newspom, with its acute physical pain and terror, is such a big seller. So there, in the mirror,is the evidence of the "lovemaking" with Quaz the night before. Big blotchy bruises on the perfectly shaped breasts and long scratches from his nails—practically his claws—on her thighs and belly. They gave her a pain block, like they always do, but it doesn't override the memory of having her jaw forced painfully wide open and him biting her tongue till she bled.
Of course, the experiencers got something much less intense, and they never knew ... or did they? She looks more closely, under the bruises and scrapes, touching where she can feel her soreness like an echo through the pain blocks, and she sees the fine little lines the laser leaves, sees that where a healthy woman with big breasts would have a bit of extra skin, her armpits have been fitted with something that works like a tiny accordion, that the skin where they take marks and scars off her breasts twice a year is a kind of raw, callused pink—she can't even feel her own long thumbnail scraping it, and her trim and tidy labia show all kinds of scar tissue.
How can anyone get excited by a woman who's sewn together like a Frankenstein monster?
She lets her mind catch the edges of memory, and she realizes they are in no better shape than she. Quaz has scar tissue visible on his neck from all the biting, and his back, clawed so often by Synthi (and Flame and Tawnee and Giselle ... ), looks like he's been whipped. Rock, Stride, and Quaz all have penises mangled in a way analogous to cauliflower ear. The needle marks from the muscle stimulators are visible all over their arms, chests, and abs.
She has a vision of the Bride of Frankenstein, of sewn-together corpses thrusting and tearing at each other, falling into heaps of mangled parts, and she thinks she may just lose that fine breakfast, but then she draws a deep breath and says, "I am going to demand a vacation, and if they fire me, I will just have to content myself with being richer than I ever thought I could be. But I am not going to do this even once more until they tell me when I get time off, and it's going to be soon, because I can't go on doing this. Not until I'm a lot more rested and feel a lot better."
At that, she breaks down, sobbing so hard that she can feel her Mary Ann Waterhouse muscles wrenching and twisting against her Synthi Venture tummy sheath.
John Klieg is awake early, as always, and by the time dawn is washing over the old Kennedy Space Center spread out below his control tower, he's rubbing his hands together and chuckling. A naive visitor might think that all the flashing screens around him are part of his pleasure because he is so thoroughly on top of the operations of GateTech, but in fact they are just decorations. Klieg doesn't even look at them—he pays people to look atthem and to think about what's on them, and for every screen you see here (and for thousands more that are too dull to make good decorations), there are at least a couple of employees who know much more about it than Klieg ever will.
There are also more than a hundred employees who know more about all the screens than Klieg does. If he were his own employee, he'd have to fire himself, he supposes, and the thought makes him smile.
They make a good decoration because most people who've been to Kennedy just came out to look at the big plaque that says various lunatics allowed themselves to be shot into orbit on top of barely controlled bombs from here. A few more determined sorts will go out and look at the little plaques on the crumbling concrete or by the partially collapsed gantries and the towers with the DANGER—UNSTABLE STRUCTURE signs, the small plaques that mention names and dates.
But most people don't come out here at all. To the extent that they know about it, they look, a few times, at the video clips in their history lessons, and what they see, besides rockets rising into the sky on long pyramids of fire, are immense rooms full of screens, screens that somehow, by their sheer numbers, gave the impression that everything was under control and everything was being taken care of. (It must have been an interesting problem in PR, keeping people from thinking of every screen as something that was liable to go wrong and had to be watched all the time, Klieg thinks.) So as the Man Who Bought Cape Canaveral, he has this row of screens here as a sort of trophy, and he puts what he wants on it—and that's the data that flows through his empire.
"Empire" is not a bad term for it, either, Klieg thinks—and why is he getting so philosophical today? Not that he undervalues getting philosophical either. One advantage he has always had over the competition has been a certain rigorousness of thought that keeps him focused on what he's actually doing, not on some image of it. He knows in his bones that he is not a captain of industry (in that nothing he does is very much like what the captain of a ship, an infantry company, or a basketball team does), nor a facilitator of work (work does not cause money; getting paid causes money), nor a seeker of vision (you should know where you are going, but if it is anywhere worth getting to, most of the time and effort goes into the trip). No, philosophic clarity has been a key to his life in business, and he doesn't fall for facile or self-flattering descriptions—not even, usually, for the self-flattery of thinking he is immune to self-flattery.
So he leans back in the big control chair—it reminds visitors of the idea of a "mission commander" and of high achievement, but it also supports Klieg's bad back—and gives himself permission to let the philosophizing run its course. Perhaps he can learn something.
Alexander wept at the thought of no more worlds to conquer, and Alexander hadn't conquered nearly as much as he thought he had.
The thought is unbidden. Klieg looks down across his trim body; he's graying a little and refusing to give in to that. He lets his thoughts wander.
What is it about empire, Alexander, conquest? A very poor metaphor for what he's done. GateTech is not any of those things. Cold realism led him to put it together, the realization that he knew how to make money in a new way and that the first major corporation on the field would dominate it if it were played right.
Okay, take stock, Klieg, back to basics, he tells himself. GateTech really does four things. One, it studies what research other businesses are doing. Two, it does R&D in those fields and takes out patents as quickly as it can. Three, it forces other companies to pay GateTech for access to the technology they've been developing.
Four, it lobbies Washington, Tokyo, Brussels, Moscow, and the UN to maintain the laws that allow it to do that.
He explained it once to a distant cousin's kid; if he'd been alive at the time of James Watt, he would have sought to patent, not a steam engine, but the boiler and the piston; if he'd been alive in Edison's day, he'd have sought to patent tungsten wire and glass bulbs; if he'd been around at the beginning of computers he'd have tried to patent the keyboard. And the biggest secret ... .
Aha. That's the parallel to empires and Alexander and all that. I'm thinking about the fact that GateTech has never manufactured one object or performed one service for anyone; that's the secret of our success. We get in their way and make them pay to get us out of their way, that's all. We function like the ancient empires that didn't care about local customs as long as taxes got collected. Like Alexander or Caesar, we keep everyone doing what they were doing before, what they would do without us, and we take a cut.
But nowadays a lot of them are defending themselves better. Just last week MitsDoug beat us to patenting the new charge-deformable plastics, and now they can make their damned shape-shifting airliner without paying me a dime to do it. How many billions have I just been done out of?
Don't get mad, and don't waste time getting even.
That was the key. He lost a lot in the Flash, but while other companies spent fortunes suing the banks, trying to get their lost accounts re-created, GateTech merely moved in on every technology needed for data recovery. He made back a lot more than he lost.
He lost a lot when Parti Euro Uno took over and "Europeanized" foreignholdings, but he gained a lot more by taking on every highly skilled Afropean he could after the Expulsion.
For twenty years, a bit of industrial espionage and a little forethought have told him how to get the critical patent six months or a year ahead, just close enough to make them pay GateTech to "infringe."
He almost laughs aloud at how much thinking he's had to do. Couldn't he have just looked at the current business plan and said the time horizon needed to move outward?
Nope. That's what he pays flunkies to do. "Glinda," he says, speaking aloud. He takes two deep breaths, exhales slowly ... she will come in . . now.
A door glides open and Glinda Gray comes in. It's not that she's been sitting outside waiting for his voice—he wouldn't pay anyone to do that—or that she's dropped anything vital to answer his call. She is one of seventeen Special Operations Vice-Presidents, and Glinda was top of the queue of those he hadn't already assigned to anything specific. But if he'd had to pick the perfect person for this job, it would be Glinda. Two reasons—one, she's a perfectionist negative-thinking nut. Her report always contains everything that could go wrong.
Two, she never asks very many questions when he throws her at a new job.
She stands in front of him and he mentally describes her the way a TV news broadcast would if she lost her house in a hurricane, got murdered, or wrote a best-seller: a "pretty, blonde divorced mother." Her skin is freckling and roughening, and he suspects a touch of the needle is keeping the silver out of the gold in her hair. She has a slightly tired look around the eyes and from the way she stands he suspects the pink pumps are already hurting her feet this morning.
She finished her last big project three weeks ago and she always looks a little tense when she's trying to come up with a new one, because although John Klieg wouldn't part with her for anything, he can never convince her of that.
"Have a seat," he says, "this is going to take a while. I've got a new priority-one project for you, and I want you to know that if you weren't at the top of the queue already, I'd've jumped you up the ladder to give you this task."
She nods, firmly, once, and sits down. "Tape on?"
"Systems please record access highest," she says, forcefully, and a mechanical voice responds, "Recording."
Klieg smiles at her, and makes it as warm as he can manage. "I have a gut feeling that we are not working enough long-range stuff, and especiallywe're passing up chances to find master patents that will block lots of technologies instead of little patents that jam up just one corporation's key project."
"Fourteen years ago," she reminds him, "you set the policy of always blocking a specific project somewhere; you used to say a master patent would be too easy to get around and might not still be in force when they got there."
He nods; he doubts she's thought about that policy ten times in the interim, but he also knows she could give him, accurately, the whole history of debate over it and the rationale for the decision, even if it was fourteen years ago.
"Call this a change of policy," he says. "We're a lot bigger now and we can do better research and fight more expensive legal actions, and there's a lot more body of case law in our favor. The question is, should we make this change? My gut says the answer is yes, but find out for me."
He leans back and lets his eyes wander over the screens; this is something they are good for, they jog his memory. "Three test cases to apply it to. Number one, the continuously optimized product—see if we can get the whole nascent COP industry by the balls. Number two, the ongoing studies on getting antimatter motors down in price to compete in the Third World market. And number three ... ummm ... hah. Any ideas?"
Once again Glinda doesn't disappoint him.
"Have you caught the news this morning?" she asks. "I can think of a perfect test case, a need that's not yet specified but likely to happen."
He sits forward. "Tell."
"Have you heard about the North Slope methane release?"
He shakes his head, and notices that color is coming back into her cheeks and the tiredness is falling away. Glinda will be in great shape for months now. He wonders for an instant why that's so important, decides once again she's irreplaceable, and listens as she begins to explain.
I wonder when space became boring, Louie Tynan thinks. He's sitting in the view bubble—there's an OSHA standard notice by the door telling him he's likely to take more radiation than he should, and subconsciously that adds to his pleasure—having an onion bagel with chopped liver and watching the Earth roll by down below. Yesterday there was really a view—the UNSOO ships glowing red as they screamed back down into the atmosphere, the detonations that made the ice bump and shimmer, and then later the flaring methane reflecting off the ice. There are a couple of flares still burning, but it's daylight in that area now, and it's not as impressive.
Louie figures the major reason he's been able to keep this job—maybethe only reason—is a sense of humor. When he joined the Astronaut Corps, in 2009, there were over two thousand of them; three years later, when it officially became the United States Space Force and added a bunch of Navy and Air Force stuff, there were forty-five hundred men and women who were qualified for missions, and about six thousand Americans had flown in space. The First UN Mars Expedition had two USSF officers aboard, and had the Second through Ninth ever been flown, there would have been a round dozen Americans who had set foot on Mars.
But after the first landing, repeating the same thing that had happened after the moon landings, most of the world's nations, especially the U.S., retreated from space. There are now forty-four active astronauts, and where fifteen years ago there were almost always forty or fifty or so in space at any given time, now there's just Louie. The seniority from going on the Mars mission lets him pull a lot of strings, or they wouldn't have him up here on Space Station Constitution, last of the five American manned space stations to remain active.
He leans back and looks at the Earth some more. If you count the moon, he's seen three worlds from orbit close up, and there are just fourteen other people alive who can say that.
I suppose if you haven't seen it for yourself, if all you have are the photos, and if you don't look too closely or pay much attention, then after a while this must get dull. Exploration goes on, of course ... there are permanent robot stations orbiting everything from Mercury out to Saturn, and one on the way for Uranus, and there are robot ground installations all over the Jovian moons and a robot dirigible cruising the skies of Titan. You can even buy continuous tape from some of their cameras, so that you can sit in your living room and climb the side of Olympus Mons, or make a deep-dive orbit of Jupiter.
There are not enough people around who can explain why that is not the same.
The sun is just coming up on the Western Pacific, which means it's probably lighting the ocean surface half a kilometer up from Carla; she usually takes MyBoat down below when she sleeps, or when she wants to concentrate on some academic project and let the autopilot steer.
Maybe he'll call her again ... no, not a good thing to do, he called last time and it's her turn, and she'll probably call in a few days anyway.
He grins and swallows another bite. What he has going with Carla is a complicated dance devoted mostly to making sure they don't get together on any permanent basis anymore. Look at them both, living in steel cocoons a long way from the rest of humanity ... mating eagles is probably easier.
So, the space program is still being taken over by robots, the only person he really likes is another hermit-in-a-can, and he's soaking up enoughrads, what with eating in here all the time, that they'll probably ground him for a while when he gets back and put him on preventive anticancer drugs. He's really the last of his kind, and the old planet rolling around below him has about seven and one-half billion people who don't understand him. Last week he was interviewed on Dance Channel—he still has the XV jack from the Mars Expedition—and when he got the program back he didn't recognize his own experiences from their editing.
The most exciting thing he got to do this month was set a methane plume on fire, at the request of UNSOO.
On the other hand, the food is still good—way better than what it was on the way to Mars—and you can't beat the view. Probably worth continuing to live and work, he decides. He puts his mouth up to one of the monitors, lets loose a grand, gut-ripping belch, redolent of chicken liver and raw onion, grins broadly, and goes back to the telescope for the afternoon's work.
What have you gotten yourself into this time, Brittany Lynn?
Brittany Lynn Hardshaw, President of the United States, remembers that when she was little, her father used to ask that about once a day, and normally the answer was something like "the old motor oil in the bam," or "an open can of house paint." It's eight-thirty in the morning and she's looking at the confidential report from NOAA that Harris Diem left for her last night, and wondering if she can trust it at all.
The trouble is, she's spent a long time getting the government under control, with Diem as her right hand ... and now she's not sure there's anyone left who's likely to tell her the truth. And this time that's what she needs.
She gets up and walks to a window, looking out on Pennsylvania Avenue. When they rebuilt after the Flash, they closed the whole area to vehicle traffic, nominally for environmental reasons and actually to make it that much tougher to bring a nuke close to the New White House or Capitol and repeat the decapitation shot.
The other part of the Flash, the bomb that went off sixty miles above Kansas City, wouldn't have much effect this time; everything everywhere is in Faraday cages, and all signal is on fibrop.
But the center of government is permanently vulnerable, Hardshaw thinks. We're made out of meat. We have to be in contact with many thousands of people.
The street before her is jammed with pedestrians, most with briefcases, scurrying about like ants. If three of them had parts for a cram bomb, they could wipe out the Federal government this morning, and no one wouldstop them. Maybe if they did it again, this time they would announce who they were, or at least explain why they did it.
In her mind's eye Hardshaw sees Washington rise from the swamps, go down in the flames set by the British troops a few years later, rise again to bustle and pulse when President Lincoln looked out of the house that once stood here, shrink back into a sleepy backwater before growing again, explode into a great city during depression, war, and cold war, deteriorate into a slum until the Flash, rise from the nuclear catastrophe ... .
Into a provincial capital for the UN, she admits to herself. Not that she blames her predecessors, and she hopes that the two who are still living don't blame her.
She thinks, I am looking forward to retirement. It's been a long time since she was a dirty-faced kid living in a mobile home on a dirt road in the mountains of Idaho, next to the log house it took her father six years to finish—not unusual for a man who worked part time and drank full time. It's been a long time since she was a white trash student at a third-rate university, and even since her upset victory to become Idaho Attorney General ... .
All right, President Grandma, let's not write our memoirs just yet. She's only ten months from retirement, anyway. Wonder if XV will even cover the election? There's no longer much at stake in being the President of the United States. The Republicans are running a Hawaiian nonentity, the guy Hardshaw picked for Commerce; the Democrats are running yet another governor of New York, this time the first black woman; and the United Left is running TBA—a slate of electors who will pick a President if enough of them win.
Back to work, Brittany Lynn, now. She remembers how her father used to say "now"—the word implied an oncoming spanking.
That association, at last, draws her attention back to the job. Liu, the UN's Ambassador to the U.S., also likes to start off on a scare note. This time it was a threat that there was sentiment in the General Assembly to further disarm the independent national forces, down to a ten-percent-of-UN level. She knew that wasn't what they were after, but when it sprang it was almost as bad.
They want NOAA, NASA, the Department of Energy, the scientific branches of EPA ... the list goes on and on. All the usual reasons—better coordination and more equitable sharing of global resources—and all the usual promises about all the information remaining equally accessible and all the employees receiving just the same pay and benefits. Nothing to complain about there ... .
Except that if Hardshaw goes for it, when the SecGen says something is happening out there in the global environment, she won't have thefoggiest idea whether or not he's telling the truth. And the major area in which the UN has been restricting national sovereignty, for the past twenty years, has been in global environmental questions.
She can even see it in Rivera's lights, when she tries; UNESCO and its many spinoffs don't supply the quality of information that he needs, and he ends up acquiring it mainly from the scientific agencies of the Big Five. And if you were the SecGen, Brittany Lynn, you'd have to wonder all the time if maybe something was being put over on you, or something was being hidden.
But she isn't the SecGen, and it's not her lookout. She stretches, smooths her skirt, picks up the phone, and tells them to get Harris Diem and bring him in—she knows he's been at his desk for at least an hour by now.
The irony of it all, she thinks, is that in her seven years of struggle with the UN she's been forced to make the Federal government speak with just one voice, made it a better implement for governing than the country has ever had before—and she has, now, even less real authority than the Presidents between Jackson and Lincoln.
And the deeper irony is that as she has extended her authority, she has diminished her ability to get the truth, instead of what people think she wants to hear. This document on her desk is the result of that, and she's too smart not to see the chickens returning to roost.
She can't tell what the people at NOAA think the release of so much methane will do, because they were trying to tell her whatever would make things go smoothly for NOAA.
And just this once, she wants the truth.
If you're going to get all worked up about what's true and what's not, you're never gonna be President like I'm grooming you for, Brittany Lynn, her father used to say, once she'd gotten old enough to start to catch him out in all those lies—the lost Spanish city somewhere in the Hoodoo River gorge, the aliens he had met on the road to Sand Point, Bigfoot, that the house would be beautiful when it was finished, and he was going to stop drinking for his little girl.
This job isn't quite the fun she might have hoped for, back then, but it still beats hell out of spending her life behind a cash register at a McDonald's in Boise. She was just kind of wondering, for a minute there, by how much?
The soft chime tells her Harris is on his way in. She composes herself, goes back to the desk, flips the report open to a random page. When he comes in, she skips the greeting and starts with, "Harris, you greasy old hack, why in hell did you hand me a report that doesn't say anything?"
"Because, boss," he says, setting down his briefcase and leaning across the desk at her, "we don't know anything."
They laugh because they have been friends for twenty years. Nothing is funny but each is glad the other is here.
Yeats fussed about things falling apart and the center not being able to hold. What really happened was that the center ceased to exist altogether.
It fell into nonexistence gradually, in the kind of grim retreat and perpetual compromise that marked the last two centuries of Rome.
Eisenstein found out that all you had to do was cut from the thing to the face that seemed to be seeing it, take the pieces of the story and put them together with a simple splice, and it would stick together just as if some Dickensian narrator had said "And so, dear reader ..."; the storyteller was no longer at the center of the story.
Einstein found out that you could pick any old place to be the center.
Gertrude Stein found out that the more times rose was rose, the less it had to do with anything pink and sweet-smelling, and the freer it was to be like Bums's luve, or like every other rose.
RAND Corporation demonstrated that in the event of a nuclear war, a state without a head cannot be decapitated, and gray corporate gnomes transformed into the playful sprites of the nets.
Hitler, Stalin, Roosevelt, and Churchill tried to rebuild the center, but to do it they had to let radios into everyone's house, and there is no point in being Pope if you've got to touch the beggars personally; the increased contact of the center with the periphery only hastened its dissolution.
The old centralized Communist Party was so ineffective at opposing the Korean War that many Americans didn't know there was a war, but thirty thousand mimeographs and two thousand college radio stations carried the struggle against the Vietnam War into the farthest corners of the country, and while the reporters from the centralized broadcasting services interviewed the supposed heads of the supposedly national supposed organizations, the ground shifted under them. By 1980, the slogan was "Think Globally, Act Locally," and few were bothering with the global part. Even the Department of Defense came up with AirLand Battle, which you might call cooperative local-action violence.
By 2028, things have gone farther. The center is wherever you are standing.
When Harris Diem gets done talking to the President, he's tired, and it's still early in the morning. Another ten-minute conversation, another major chunk of history, he thinks to himself. The hardest thing about his memoirs is going to be explaining to people that it really happened that way, all the time—you walked into Brittany Lynn Hardshaw's office, she asked you six questions, and you suddenly had orders to change all of American history.
Assuming it works.
He thinks about it, rubbing his temples at his desk, rolling and stretching his neck. He will need a reliable fall guy, and there's hardly a better one than Henry Pauliss. He'll need to make elaborate arrangements to covertly monitor about forty completely loyal NOAA people. That's not a problem either.
He needs to go spend some time in his basement. He hasn't in weeks ... .
Time for it tonight if he wants to. Interesting phrase, "wants to." If his house burned down tomorrow and everything hidden down there were destroyed, he would probably weep with relief ... until that buzzing started at the base of his skull, and there was no relief possible for that.
He can hear it now, like a doorbell in a dream: no hallway ever leads to the door, and you know that when you open the door something will kill you ... and you cannot do anything except endlessly search the halls for the door, so that you can open it.
Harris Diem sighs. Whenever things get fraught like this, the buzzing starts, and it's as if the basement calls him, begs him to come down. Back when the Afropean Expulsion happened, when the Navy stood off Jutland and Admiral Tranh was calling every three hours to ask for more Marines, more air cover, and more space cover, because if shooting started he didn't think he could hold back his local commanders and there was going to be war ... that whole long week, the buzz was like a blade cutting through his scalp. And when he had finally scratched the itch, it had left him so sick that he very nearly torched his own house. He could have pretended he did it for the insurance and resigned in disgrace. He should have done it. Someday he will.
Right now, the boss needs him. As soon as this crisis is over ... he'll go down to the basement. Then he'll think of some way to get it all over with for good.
It's a promise he's made himself many times before.
The biggest problem with zipline is that it's like taking an elevator to everywhere; there is a window you can look out of, but since the car moves at four hundred miles per hour, they've got it running between high, fenced earth berms most of the way, so there's nothing to see, and on the rare occasions when it shoots across a gorge or goes up to an elevated roadbed, the zipline is moving so fast that most people become ill. So after a few times when you're a little kid, you don't unshutter the window.
Since practically anyone can afford a private cabin, the zipline has become the major place for temporary privacy. When he was a teenager, Jesse used to take girls from Tucson to dates in LA, Albuquerque, or evenDallas, just to have them alone in the compartment for that long, and it seems like every fifth XV drama is about a couple that meets regularly during a commute for a bit of adultery.
The other cliché is that couples have their fights on the zipline, and that's the cliché Jesse and Naomi are acting out.
Jesse does not know what this one is about. A week ago, after they watched the UN missiles get blown up, they drove out in the desert and they made love in the back of the Lectrajeep, the top thrown back so that it was all by bright starlight. They lay together afterward, touching and whispering, and she asked him a lot of things about growing up in the desert.
It was the first time he ever felt like she wanted to know something about him without correcting it.
After they got back, they made love more often in the next three days than they had in months. They didn't go to any meetings, and he had lots of time to study.
But since this morning they've been having this fight. It's one of those really frustrating ones where Jesse can't get Naomi to admit that it's a fight; she calls it a "clarification." As far as he can tell, the feelings she is clarifying for him at the moment are the ones that have to do with dumping him because she really likes him. He says so.
"I knew you'd take it that way!"
This does not reassure him. The two-person zipline compartments are barely large closets—their knees are almost touching and they can only lean back to get about three feet of separation at best, and Jesse's shoulders touch both the wall and the door. So they are having this fight right in each other's face.
"I don't understand," he says.
"I've told you, you're not going to get what I'm saying if you try to understand it. Try to feel it, Jesse, can't you?" She brushes her hair back from her face, and he sees that her eyes are wet, which startles him—somehow he had missed the point that all this is painful for her, too, and he's embarrassed by that, so he stops arguing and listens for a moment.
The hair comes farther back and he can see how pale her skin is around her freckles. Her eyes are huge wet pools and there's a catch in her voice.
"You probably thought we were just getting along great, didn't you? I mean after we went out in the desert?"
He doesn't see where this is going.
"I guess I should have explained but it didn't seem like it would work if I did, Jesse. I—well, at the meeting, where everyone was watching the Siberian missiles get blown up, I was feeling so tired. I didn't ever want to see any of that stuff again. And ... well, you know, I got involved with youpartly because it seemed like, oh, sort of a duty, I mean, you were intelligent and you liked me and I thought I could help you get your values clarified."
Jesse had not thought of himself as a duty.
"But then as I got to know you ... well, you know, I'm very lucky because I grew up with parents who had anti-centric life-and-Earth values right from the start, so I was raised not to be linear or centric. I mean, in most of the groups I've belonged to, that's been my big strength; my big contribution to the group is that I don't have to struggle against the old humanistic values. So it had always been my sharing my values with others, instead of them sharing theirs with me, because I usually had the values they knew they should have and I was happy to share." She sighs and looks down at her hands, which are writhing like spiders mating in her lap. "But, see, Jesse, what I didn't realize was that not only did you not understand real ecological values, you didn't even know you should have them. So without meaning to—I mean, I'm sure you'd never do it intentionally, you're a good person, Jesse—god, I'm being completely judgmental—" She is now crying, hard.
Jesse is being pulled in too many directions. He wants to hold her and soothe her like he would a little girl, but he can't help noticing that when her eyes are puffy and red, and snot is running onto her upper lip—especially after she's just explained to him that she got involved with him as a duty to save his poor stupid ass from his bad values, which he never thought were bad in the first place—she is just not as attractive as she used to be. Except he's also noticing that when she sobs, her big chest bounces up and down, too, and part of him wonders what it would be like to have her pinned down and sobbing while he squeezed it—and the fact that he's having the thought (and that it's turning him on) is making him a little sick to his stomach. Mostly he's trying to figure out when and how she's going to tell him that she's going to dump him.
She wipes her nose on her shirtsleeve, checks her watch, and goes on. "Jesse, the problem is that I started to realize that your values were very, very attractive to me. I mean, like, I started to think about ... well, you always said I was pretty, and I started to think about what it would be like just to get attention for that. And out in the desert ... I mean, it was meaningless, totally meaningless, it was just using nature because it was nice, without understanding nature really at all, but still—oh, Jesse, it was so nice. And there's the orgasms too."
She sobs. "You know, don't you? I explained it."
He sort of knows. "You mean the thing about female orgasm is being in touch with the world, or however that goes?"
"You see what I mean, you didn't even realize how important that was,or that you needed to listen and get it right." She sniffles. "The point is, the female orgasm is non-centric, and it's the spiritual energy coming out and linking you to the whole universe, making you feel how you should relate to everything—completely opposite of the centric male orgasm, which is technological and aggressive and all. So ... so anyway, I always had a lot of trouble having orgasms—my mom's discussion group used to have whole meetings about how Mom could help me with it—but when I, did I was very non-centric, I really felt the whole universe and I was just so full of love that I didn't even know I was having sex anymore. But with you ... in the desert ... I had about ten of them, and I just had them totally selfishly. I mean, I was completely male and selfish! All I did was look up at the stars and come; I didn't think about anything except that it felt good between my legs.
"And this whole past week—I mean, I've been doing all the 'in-love' stuff that I shouldn't. It's been so much fun and I've enjoyed it so much ... don't you see where that's leading? I always thought I was strong but I'm not. I'm just falling for all of this stuff like ... like ... I don't know what, but I'm doing it. If I stay with you I might lose all my values, don't you see that? I can't ... even though I really want to."
She checks her watch again, and Jesse looks at his and realizes that they are only a minute from the station in Hermosillo. That's when she says, "So see, I've got to stop all this and get back to working on my values. I guess in a lot of ways what you will always represent to me is the person I could have been if I had been born that way or chosen to go that way—I don't mean I could have been you, but I can see where I could have been perfect as your girlfriend and very happy and so forth, and I can see where that would be a lot of fun, but it is not important for me to be happy or have fun; the Earth needs people to care for it properly, and if I stay with you I'll forget that. I found myself just the other day calling myself a uniter in front of other people—just as if this were the twentieth and there were two sides that were debating, instead of acknowledging that the world already is one, and we have to act in accord with its unity. Gwendy called me on it. That had never happened to me since I was a little girl. I'm not used to needing values-clarifying, and I don't like having to be values-clarified.
"So I've signed on with the Natural Ways Reclamation Project and I'll be going down to Tehuantepec in Oaxaca State for a few months, to work on spreading correct values and on learning them from people who haven't been polluted so much by centric and linear thinking. It was really fun and I guess I should thank you, except that the fun could have led me to act against my values, so instead I'll just say I'll miss you, because I think you'll like that and it's true."
As she's saying the last sentence, there's a distinct force in the compartment,pushing Jesse back into his seat cushions and making Naomi lean forward. Ziplines are so quiet and vibrationless that you only really notice motion when you're stopping or starting.
As she finishes, she stands up—almost losing her balance for a moment—and says, "And I've asked to be on the AIDS-ARTS-SPM patientassistance shift instead of the tutoring shift this time, so we won't be working next to each other. Gwendy and Sibby and Foxglove are going by our place—I gave them a key—to get me moved out while we're gone, so we don't have to see each other after this, which I know would be painful for both of us. Not that pain to me matters, but it would be painful for you and I shouldn't be selfish." There are tears all over her face now and what she really looks like, to Jesse, is someone in an old flat movie who has been tortured into confessing to something she didn't do. Then she leans forward and kisses his cheek, getting her tears on his face, and at that moment the car comes to a stop, the door opens into the exit passage, and she's gone.
Jesse's first thought is that she must have rehearsed the speech to know exactly how long it would take, so that she could get the door timed like that. That's Naomi, always thorough ... .
He takes a long, deep breath, and suddenly realizes he has no desire at all to help barrio kids with their arithmetic today. He puts his thumb on the readerplate and says aloud, "This compartment back to Tucson."
"That will be two dollars and five cents for a trip of three hundred fifty kilometers or two hundred eighteen miles," the car replies. "A single person riding in a double compartment incurs a surcharge of fifty-five cents because of the wasted space and resources. You may cancel this order and move to a single compartment for a refund at any time until the car begins to move. Thank you and have a pleasant journey."
The door slides closed. Jesse leans forward to press his face against the seat Naomi just vacated. There are two long strands of her hair there, and he runs his fingers over them; she never wore scent, but the seat is warm from her presence on it, and he imagines he can smell her on it.
He stays there as the car begins to move, its acceleration shoving his face against the seat cushions.
When she gets upset, the Deeper-speak gets pretty thick, but he got enough of it to understand, anyway, that although she is dumping him, it's because she loves him too much, but doesn't think he'll fit with her ideals.
He can fix this. When he gets back to Tucson—better not go home just yet or he'll have to deal with her friends—he will get himself educated, active, and involved. In a few months with some effort he's quite sure he can be one of the biggest activists at the U of the Az. He knows he's bright, articulate, and hardworking; he just has to put those resources to work in the right direction. By the time she's back from Tehuantepec, he can be atotally different person, if that's what she wants. It might cost him some time (but he can drop some classes), and some money (but he can live on the line a while), but what else can he do?
He leans back and lets Naomi's hair lie on his thigh, so he can look at it. He thinks about her in the desert, and he remembers her saying that he gave her overpowering orgasms ... and quite unbidden, the pictures of him comforting her like a child, and of her big breasts shaking while she cried, come to him as well. Before he knows it, he's so horny that he's squeezing his penis through his jeans, masturbating right here in the compartment, the way dirty old men supposedly do, and he doesn't give a crap because he just can't think straight until this gets relieved.
It does in a moment, a brutal heave as if he were vomiting from his testicles. He sees the strand of her hair lying on his leg. The compartment air conditioning must be acting up, because it seems terribly cold in here, and somehow that sharpens the smell of his semen and the loneliness of the little space. He presses his head to the cushion where her beautiful butt was, just minutes ago, but it's cold now.
He has never felt so in love.
After a while, though, the semen drying in his underwear is proving to be a fairly effective glue, the seat pressed against his face is less than comfortable, his eyes are stinging from his tears, and he just plain doesn't think he can keep this up much longer. There really isn't anything to do here, during the forty minutes back to Tucson.
He gets out his lunch and eats early—it's packed with all sorts of blodgy, gooey, grainy stuff that he doesn't like much, most of it to be given away to little Mexican kids who will try a bite or two and then politely toss it when he's not looking. This time he eats it all himself, which is probably a mistake. That kills about ten minutes. He uses one of the wet napkins to wash his face, tries not to notice that he's feeling better (except in his stomach), and seriously thinks about this plan to become the leading activist on campus.
Heck, if it doesn't get Naomi back, there's a couple of her friends who look like they'd be fun. There seem to be organizations dedicated to every possible course of action about the methane release (except maybe one to demand more methane). Once there's an official report out of NOAA or UNESCO, the one or two campus organizations whose viewpoints are still relevant are going to grow like mushrooms.
So if he joins the right one now ... .
He chews himself out for a moment or two. He tries not to notice that in his self-criticism he is imitating Naomi. Jesse just doesn't have the knack for it; he has never managed to dislike himself as much as Naomi dislikesherself. But he should be joining an organization because he believes in it and wants to work for it, out of a selfless love for ... .
Oh, well, anyway, he will want to work for an organization that is on the right track, he knows he doesn't want to work for one that isn't, and since he has a reasonable way of finding out which is which, he should use it. Maybe Di can tell him something that will help.
He unrolls a mirror from his wallet, sticks it to the wall, and, using the remaining wet napkins and his comb, cleans up enough to be reasonably sure that he won't look obviously upset or worked up, because unfortunately Di is just the kind of dumb, affectionate big brother to get upset about what Jesse is feeling, rather than sticking to the issue of what Jesse would like to know. Then he takes his phone from his belt, slaps the video pickup onto the wall facing him, and calls.
He puts it on a priority just high enough so that the call will reach Di at work, as long as Di hasn't pressed the Urgent Only button. It will interrupt him at routine tasks but not in the middle of a meeting or anything; it will go over whichever lines and services are instantaneously cheaper in the complex dance of competing software, so that the signal is actually scattering over the Earth's surface in little packets of a few milliseconds each. Jesse thinks about none of these things, but they happen anyway.
Randy Householder doesn't even trust people he admires. He figures it takes somebody big to have kept the investigation of Kimbie Dee's death from getting anywhere. Violent-felony-for-forced-extraction is so ferociously prosecuted under the Diem Act that most organized crime won't touch distributing those wedges—they even turn it in when they find it. So whoever's behind it swings a lot of weight.
Randy figures the only way the man he is looking for will get caught is if someone with even more power—someone incorruptible—is after him, and any such investigation would have to stay secret, and out of usual channels. Not that it doesn't occur to Randy that he might be the only person who is really looking anymore.
But if the secret investigation is being done by anyone, it will have to be connected to someone who is powerful, incorruptible, and passionately involved in the fight to stamp out murderpom XV—which can only be Harris Diem himself.
So Randy has datarodents constantly searching and replicating, looking for any connection to Diem. One of them knows Di Callare is an occasional back channel to Diem, and—having nothing better to do—decides to hitchhike along on one of Jesse's packets. It delays the ringing of Di's phoneby almost three milliseconds, but it also locates a hitherto unsuspected back-channel node between the White House and the science agencies, a node that has a lot of old Harris Diem code hanging around in it. Not the most likely place, but what Randy is looking for won't be in any likely place.
The datarodent looks around, decides this is good hunting, and dispatches packets to go find some of Randy's other datarodents and have them send copies here. It doesn't bother Randy about it, yet. If anything interesting comes through, it will.
At NOAA, Di Callare is sitting in his office with his feet up on the desk, looking at a chart that keeps knotting and untangling itself as he talks to the computer. What he's trying to do is to put together a set of tasks to parcel out to his team.
Peter is a nice guy, and he has the best gut feel of anyone on the team for weather, but he's a born plodder, one of those guys who's afraid to draw even the most obvious conclusions. Talley has a lot of fire and imagination, and she's often very innovative, but she'll sometimes go out farther on a limb than she should and she has no political sense at all. Besides, because she's exceptionally bright and witty, she makes Lori just a little jealous, and if Di works too closely with Talley for a few weeks, so that she's in his conversation all the time, it makes a certain amount of trouble at home.
On the other hand, if he pairs her up with anyone else, she tends to drive them crazy. No one but Di seems able to say no to her; it's undoubtedly because she's beautiful, but Di doesn't see why that should make her right all the time.
Mohammed and Wo Ping are mathematicians first and foremost, and they like working together. Normally that makes job assignments for them easy, but when they work together they also tend to throw away wilder speculations before reporting to anyone else ... and he needs wild speculations just now. Maybe he can put Gretch, the summer intern, with them. Her math is lousy, so they won't like her, but she's got intuition nearly as good as Peter's, and she doesn't have enough experience to dismiss any idea as "too wild."
It's really a great team. He spent a long time getting them all. He just wishes he didn't have such an impossibly complex task for them, but that wasn't anything he, or Henry Pauliss, had any choice about. Hell, Harris Diem and President Hardshaw had no choice either.
The message that says "Ring Di Callare's phone if it's not marked 'Urgent Only'" bounces into Washington in four pieces, coming in from two satellites and two fibrop land links, merges at a substation six blocksfrom his office, slips into an open slot in the link to the White House—holds still there for three milliseconds as a datarodent disentangles from it and looks around—and enters the memory register of Di's phone, which is underneath a printed statistical summary of the outcomes of a billion runs of the NOAA main model.
The phone rings, he reaches for it, and phone and printout alike go into the wastebasket. He pulls the wastebasket over to fish out the phone, and says, "On hold with current project, please. Please pick up the call for me and put it up on screen and speakers."
His kid brother's face pops up on the screen.
"Jesse! What's up?"
"Oh, this and that. Uh, you have maybe ten minutes or so? It's not super-important."
"Sure, I can use a break just at the moment."
Jesse gives him a little half smile, one that Di recognizes because Mom used to do it too, and then says, "I'm not asking you to tell me anything you're not supposed to, or anything off the record, but I have an awful lot of friends who are wondering whether this methane thing is a big deal or not, and I kind of promised I'd ask, just in case there was something you could say that wasn't officially on the news yet ... ."
If Jesse is anything like he was at the same age, the awful lot of friends is probably one and probably female. "Well," Di says, "it happens there's a bit more that I can say than there was last time. It's going out on public channels too, but it will probably disappear in the background noise of all the different outfits that are also speculating, plus probably what two astrologers, three Baptist ministers, and the Vegetarian League have to say. But we do have guesses and the news isn't good."
"The methane is going to saturate the air and back up all the cow farts worldwide?"
"We've pretty much discarded that hypothesis. No, we're looking at five possible kinds of bad news. For sure it's going to give us the hottest summer on record in the Northern Hemisphere, and it doesn't even remotely look like it'll be gone before it gives us the hottest summer on record in the Southern Hemisphere. So the things we're investigating are all based on that. One, the air will warm up by enough to make it hold a lot more water, and that water won't come from all the possible sources evenly. Might mean some major regional droughts—or extra-heavy rainfalls in other places.
"Two, several years of extra-warm weather will accelerate the forest migration already in process, so the forests have to migrate north, then move back south, then head north again. And since a forest can only move a mile a decade by trees dying on the south side and seeds sprouting on thenorth—what really happens is that you get a smaller forest surrounded by two strips of extremely abnormal scrub. All kinds of ecological echoes from that."
"Ecological echoes?" Jesse is looking at him intently, as if taking notes.
"Changes that cause changes that cause changes. The way the huge forest fire in 1910 in the Northwest altered forest ecologies in identifiable ways for more than a century afterward, even though almost none of the individual organisms lived that long.
"Three, extra heat is extra energy, and one place atmospheric heat goes is into hurricanes, especially when you consider the interaction with surface water. Bigger hurricanes, more hurricanes, hurricanes where there've never been hurricanes ... we have a team looking at that.
"Four, maybe the extra heat melts a lot of snow fields early this spring and prevents their forming later in the fall, so the Earth's albedo drops and you get a feedback effect, making the warming keep right on increasing out to the point where there's no snow or ice left except on the Himalayas and the Andes. You know about albedo?"
"Shininess. How much sunlight gets reflected back into space and how much stays here to turn into heat. Introduction to Astronomy and Planetary Science, Astro 1103, I got a Significant Achievement."
"Attaboy. Family tradition; I was a C-plus kind of guy myself in undergrad."
"How'd you end up with a doctorate?"
"I got married and stopped spending so much time chasing tail. Okay, fifth, we get extra heat at the pole, so the air mass there doesn't sink as it normally would, and therefore it doesn't flow down into the middle latitudes. You get what's basically a global inversion all summer long; the wind stops blowing, and storms stop forming and moving west to east. Global drought, not to mention that air pollution builds up over the cities like you wouldn't believe. Then come winter you've got the interiors of North America and Eurasia dried out from drought, and the polar air mass finally breaks through. Big old windstorms hit those dried-out areas and you get a hemispheric dustbowl—followed by one or more things from options 1 to 4 the next year."
Jesse gives a long, slow whistle. "So no-bullshit, this is really a big deal? Worth getting worked up about?"
"It's a big deal, all right. Worth getting worked up about depends. The human race is not in a position to do anything about it, you know, and though I suppose you could join the nationalists and blame the UN for it, or turn uniter and demand that all power go to the UN, the truth is, no matter what people did, the same thing would have happened sooner or later. The seabed is lousy with methane clathrate all over the high latitudes.Sooner or later, nukes or antimatter weapons were going to go off in it, or an undersea lava flow would have melted it, or maybe a major meteor strike would have come down right in the middle of it. Or for that matter, at the rate global warming is going, all those methane clathrate fields might very well melt once the deep ocean warms up in a hundred years. I've got one paleontology team digging into the evidence—there were several superbrief warmings in the geological record, and this is probably what they were. It's happened before, it'll happen again."
"A lot like a traffic accident, though." Jesse looks a little shaken. "No matter how predictable it is, you wish it wouldn't happen to you."
"Yeah, pretty much. Anyway, in less than ten years it will all be over; by that time the extra methane will be absorbed in the ocean and eaten by the microbes, burned up in lightning flashes, zapped apart by ultraviolet in the high atmosphere, all that kind of thing."
"Well, gee, that's a lot to absorb," Jesse says at last. "There doesn't seem to be anything that anyone can do about it—"
Di shrugs. "We could be urging people to get ready for bad news. That's about all. Heat is energy, and more energy in the system means whatever happens, it's going to be a big one. Hope I was some help."
"You always are. You're the flattest big brother I've got. Say hi to Lori and the kids."
It takes Di a second to remind himself that flat is a positive word.
When they hang up, there is no "broken connection" as people imagine; throughout their long call, each little piece of data has been running through the trillions of possible pipes all on its own, only rejoining at the other end. All that happens is that no more of them go running through the maze.
At the substation near Di's office, where Jesse's incoming words and picture were assembled and where Di's outgoing words and picture were fragmented, there were more than thirty interested datarodents.
When ordinary voice-visual phone went to digital packetized transmission, the newspapers had been full of the dangers and potentials for "viruses"—the boomtalk pejorative for self-replicating software—on the phone system.
As usual, the word was far behind the news. The replicating code that carried messages to reprogram nodes could be duplicated and modified, intelligence added, and the whole turned into a datarodent (so called because it listened and ratted on whoever it could). Datarodents crouch in the nodes near anything important and listen as the little data-pieces come back together to form the conversation; they make copies of messages to send back to their masters.
Within a decade of the first datarodents showing up, human masters were no longer needed. The masters were programs themselves, artificial intelligences that could recognize enough to tell important from not.
After a while longer, datarodent and master alike began to replicate themselves and to move about on the net, always looking to colonize a node they had not yet infected. In 2028, the datarodents have gnawed away every bit of privacy.
As long as los corporados got paid when datarodents did this, the only people who cared were the sort of isolated nuts who sent paper mail to congressmen complaining about "invasions of privacy."
It's obvious to a lot of different organizations—especially after the Global Riot—that important things come out of NOAA. So the listener programs have been breeding in the nodes around NOAA like mosquitos in a swamp. In a way it's a miracle that only thirty families of datarodents run out to carry the news elsewhere.
One little gang dashes only a scant mile or two—though it does it via nodes in Boston, Cleveland, and Trinidad, in part—into the FBI's phone analysis program, which scans quickly and concludes that Di has divulged nothing that should be confidential, then calls up the dossier on Jesse, spots the connection to Naomi, concludes that she can make no use of the information either except to gain influence among the campus organizations, connects that with the FBI assessment of her as uncharismatic and therefore harmless, or at least preferable to several other possible campus leaders. It makes the note, records the data and the assessment, and closes the file.
Most of the other datarodents work for data-gathering organizations, and these clip the relevant parts of what Di said, note that it's semantically all but identical to material that NOAA sent over the wire as a press release forty-five minutes ago, and gain from it two useful pieces of information: the name Di Callare and the fact that NOAA is not currently lying.
At about the point where Jesse is unsticking his phone's camera and screen from the compartment wall of the zipline, and Di has had time to exhale and look back up at the chart—those facts are weighted, included into the database, and priced. If anyone wants them, they'll be there, for a fee.
Three small and crude datarodents—ones that bear all the marks of underfunding—scuttle off with data for the three presidential campaigns. The only conclusions they lead their masters to are that the campaigns are still being kept in the dark. The Republican candidate's office fires off a plaintive letter complaining to President Hardshaw and appealing to her party loyalty. It is such a routine matter that they have a form letter for it.
One purely commercial, barely tailored datarodent fires off a record of the whole conversation to Berlina Jameson, currently at the Motel Two in Point Barrow, Alaska. It lacks even the intelligence to decide whether a thing is important or not, but because so many things it is looking for were mentioned frequently, it tags the record as top priority.
One datarodent is not like the others—it's very big and very smart. It fragments itself into a million chunks for the journey to GateTech headquarters at Cape Canaveral, and slips into the net a chunk at a time like a water moccasin swimming out from a bank. Besides a full recording of the conversation, the attached indexing and cross-referencing to other calls, and the snippets of material from it, there is a whole structure of thoughts and questions, and it is about the size (if it were somehow written out in text) of twenty of the old, paper Encyclopedia Britannica.
Eleven milliseconds later, at Cape Canaveral, one of the artificial intelligences that Glinda Gray has created and put to work drops a note into her electronic hopper, saying it may have found a significant piece of information. By now it has written a summary report of only five pages, though it still contains the name "Diogenes Callare."
Another datarodent belongs to Industrial Facilities Mutual, a large industrial insurance consortium, and it is perhaps the second smartest datarodent in the substation. It hurries off to headquarters in Manhattan, carrying with it the assessment that the risk of severe weather has been badly underestimated.
Artificial intelligences there study the issue, agree with the datarodent, and re-prioritize. Engineer inspections are scheduled based on priority—a factory in a dry California canyon is inspected for fire risk more often than one on the Oregon coast, for example—and thus they step up the priority on all severe weather risks: broadcast towers, aboveground power lines, factories with flat roofs where snow tends to accumulate, shops in floodplains ... .
The new priorities go out four seconds later to the individual engineers. The engineer for Hawaii is still asleep while his software receives the new orders, checks through the list of places he inspects, and sends out a notice of early inspection to NAOS, the corporation that operates the new Kingman Reef Heavy Launch Facility.
The notice of an early inspection is thus the first thing seen at breakfast by Kingman's two heads. Akiri Crandall, chief of general operations, who is overseeing both the remaining construction and the daily operations, is exasperated; not for the first time, he wishes he were back in the Navy withhis old destroyer command. The inspector will be climbing all over the station for a full day, and wherever he goes, all work will cease, and rumors will fly.
Gunnar Redalsen, chief of launch operations, was already in a bad mood; lately he gets up in bad moods. The Monster is the biggest rocket ever to fly, the first test launch is just three months away and already they're ten days behind schedule, and the last thing he needs is another delay.
Crandall and Redalsen don't get along, which is unfortunate, and they are known not to get along, which is worse. Within three hours of the day shift beginning, partisans of each side are constructing rumors in which the early inspection is somehow the fault of the other, and petty sniping and harassment are beginning to fly between launch ops and general ops. By lunchtime, Crandall and Redalsen find they have to hold a "peace conference" (for a "war" neither of them was fighting) and order people to cut the crap and get back to work.
All afternoon, those people who are inclined to nurse slights and injuries do, and by evening there are marital spats, upset children, and many people going to bed a little angry.
During the whole long day, the Pacific rolls on outside as it has for thousands of years, but because fine clear warm weather is so normal, and going outside the station so rare, no one pays much attention except a few sunbathers who have the day off. Waves roll in over the western horizon, splash up the sides of the concrete pillars, and roll out over the eastern horizon; with the tides, the water rises a little on the sides of the station, and sinks a little, and that is all. As night falls, the stars in their thousands come out to dance, but no one sees them.
Inside, Crandall tosses and turns, trying to get to sleep. He knows the inspection is going to upset Redalsen and there will be more trouble. The Monster, now bobbing quietly by its launch tower, not to be fueled for months yet, will get off on time—Redalsen will see to that—but Crandall knows there are going to be a lot more squabbles.
Redalsen falls asleep wondering why Crandall doesn't understand that the point of a launch facility is to launch things.
After he talks to his brother, Jesse Callare leans back in the zipline compartment and considers. Becoming an influential activist on campus is not likely to work. Besides, it will be months until Naomi gets back, and then she'll have to notice him, and notice he has changed, and—well, it would all just take too long, is the problem. On the other hand, he doesn't think she'll appreciate it if he just follows her to Tehuantepec.
But he is an engineering student. And TechsMex, the group that sendsengineers and interns south to teach, always has openings. Going to Tehuantepec might be a bit overt, but he can go somewhere in the same part of the country—
He dials up TechsMex and scans the openings. Not as easy as he'd thought—there are ten jobs he could do but most are in Ciudad de Mexico or farther north ... .
The only one that is in the far south, anywhere near Tehuantepec—and "near" is very much a relative term—is tutoring preengineering students at a comunity college in Tapachula, almost at the Guatemalan border. Even by air, that's 220 miles to Tehuantepec, and there's no zipline that far south yet.
But another part of his mind points out that he could be down near the equator, doing something valuable in a quiet little border town ... and he won't have to see any of his old friends. Running away after a flopped love affair may be something a character in a book would do, but one reason they might do it is that it might work.
He decides to decide that night. Meanwhile, there's at least a chance to catch up on the news. For the hell of it, he decides to do something trashy, and he pulls out the scalpnet for his phone and plugs into XV, deliberately choosing a real lowbrow channel. He's just in time to get to be Rock, and get it into Synthi Venture (he used to love to do that as a teenager) one more time before she goes off on vacation. It's great, especially once he sets it to pulse back and forth between her and him; there's so much passion and violence in the ecstasy of the intercourse that when it's finally over, Jesse can't help thinking that the Christian XV guys have a point when they say that if the Diem Act were strictly enforced, Doug Llewellyn, the president of Passionet, would long since have gone to the chair.
The doors open at Tucson Station and the zipline wishes Jesse a pleasant day. He shoulders up his pack and walks back into the bright sunlight. It's hours until the party tonight, hours until he can do anything effective. Maybe he'll study.
Berlina Jameson has been enjoying breakfast, partly because she hasn't been paying for it and mainly because she is having company. Haynes Lamborghini, the New York Times textchannel reporter, has taken her to breakfast because today is to be his last day in Barrow, and they've gotten to be friends.
"So do the 'nobody will talk to me' story," he says. "And start thinking about distribution if you haven't already. You've got most of the video footage there is. Just from a standpoint of history, that's too important to let it rot someplace, or to wait until it's in an archive."
"I thought you text guys didn't like video."
"Beats hell out of XV," Lamborghini says. He takes another gulp of coffee. "Boy, one thing I won't miss is the coffee here. They compensate for the lack of flavor by watering it down. The thing is, Berlina, the camera is not objective, and TV may be for people who can't read, but it's still light-years ahead of XV. At least you know what happened in front of the camera and at least people have their own feelings about it instead of having the reporter's. And potentially a lot more people could access your work than mine, so there will be a few people with an objective view."
"But a view of what?" Berlina says. "Everyone I talk to here is determined to tell me there's no story. I've burned up most of my long-distance budget on calls to Washington and no one will talk there either."
Lamborghini raises his hands, palms up, as if he were a magician turning her into a fairy princess. "But you have all that footage of people saying there's no story. And you have a bunch of contradictory statements about why there isn't, and enough outside testimony to make it clear that there probably is a story. That's all you need. 'Why aren't they telling the truth?' is the phrase that's sold more news than anything else. Kid, you're home free. Just put the story together into one documentary and distribute it."
Berlina nods. "I guess I'll try," she says. The conversation goes on to other matters.
When she gets back to the Motel Two and starts to check her mail, she finds the usual things—a mass of short phone calls from various offices saying they have no statements, junk mail, notices that she's getting close to the end of the line she lives on. The datarodents haven't reported much except the usual stuff—there's one obnoxious one out there that flags every weather report for her, and she hasn't been able to track it down and kill it—
Well, this is different. There's a priority-one. She sits down, switches on the full playback, and watches the phone conversation, just before Jesse gets back into Tucson on the zipline.
Ten minutes later she has called Di Callare and asked for an interview; he says he'll be happy to talk to her while he's taking the zipline home tonight. She sets her clock for that. At least she now can prove that there's more to worry about than they are talking about.
All she has to do is make the whole story come out in a way that saves her financial butt, which, according to the last message, is about one week from oblivion. Still, it's a better chance than she's had in a long time. The bleak, dark, gray day that has emerged from the bleak night looks pretty good to her.
Just as Mary Ann Waterhouse is undressing, but trying to do it as Synthi Venture for Rock, and struggling to keep the thought, This is the last time,the last time, the last time, my breasts are so sore, so sore, please, please, this is the last time, from getting loud enough in her head to be picked up by the estimated three hundred twelve million women (and a scattering of curious men) worldwide who are experiencing her right now, and as Jesse is seeing through Rock's eyes and watching those amazing cartoon-girl breasts pop out of the tiny bra, and Rock himself is wondering (below the level where Jesse can hear it) if after all this he's going to have any energy left for Harry, his own longtime boyfriend—
and as Di has finally gotten the organization chart to meet the criteria he started with—
and as Berlina Jameson notices that she has a priority-one call from a datarodent—
and before Akiri Crandall and Gunnar Redalsen have even become aware that their days are going to be unpleasant—
At that instant, Glinda Gray notices that an AI thinks it's picked up something important.
The trouble with the damned things is that they're right too often to ignore and wrong too often to inspire any confidence. She'd really rather leave now; she promised Derry she'd get home early enough for them to have lunch together, and here she is working on a Saturday and looking at keeping going right through the day.
Well, if she checks it, and it's nothing, she's going right out the door and home to Derry, and she's going to use the privacy router that the boss is always telling her to use. Klieg is such a nice guy he wants her to cut herself off from the company every weekend and take the time on her own, and if nice guys like Klieg were all the company had, it wouldn't last a week. Got to stay on top of the competition, because in getting blocking patents, being second is spending money for nothing.
She hits the key before she can worry about it anymore, reads it—and whoops like the cheerleader she was in high school. In the silence that follows as she re-reads, she can hear six doors out in the corridor open and her co-workers asking each other whose office that noise came from, and did it sound like someone was upset? Normally she'd run out to tell them it was okay, but normally she wouldn't have whooped in the first place—and things are anything but normal.
She sits at her desk, hugging herself. It's really a shame that there's no equivalent of Liver Treats or a scratch between the ears for an AI, because this AI has earned any treat it could want, if it were capable of wanting anything. What's its number?—GT1500AI213 + 895. She writes it down, since she'll want to copy its rule system for the next generation of Als to use as a starter.
Sitting on a node near NOAA central, a datarodent, running randomchecks, picked up several conversations of this guy, Diogenes Callare, and reported them to the AI. The AI in turn reprogrammed the datarodent to pay special attention to Callare after it noted that his boss talks about him a lot and cites him as an authority; and spotted Callare's use as an influence to get a bright but difficult former employee—Carla Tynan—back into the organization for the crisis.
It even picked up the fact that Carla Tynan used to work in their blue-sky, crazy-people division, which implies that if they want her back, it's because they aren't sure of what they're doing, or they're afraid of getting zapped by something they haven't thought of, and that it isn't possible to tell whether this is because Diogenes Callare is so influential within the circle of meterologists there that he's the only credible one to make the offer, or because Tynan, brainy maverick that she is, wouldn't listen to anyone who wasn't equally bright, so that all the calls it picked up to, from, and about Carla Tynan were vital evidence for Diogenes Callare as the key to the whole thing.
It thus quite properly began to pay very close attention to Callare himself, and when it caught him explaining it all—to his kid brother! you couldn't ask for anything more perfect! it's all in simple nontechnical language with no CYA in it!—it ran that explanation against the official press release, found out where the missing emphases were in the press release, and dashed off down the fibrop to let everyone know.
The press release began with the basic weasel-position of saying that maybe nothing would happen, and that with so many possibilities it was very hard to say for sure that anything would, and then described the scenarios as if they had been a set of worst cases.
But when you read this conversation against it, the key thing is that three times, Di tells his kid brother—an engineering student, so someone who doesn't know meteorology but does know physics—that a huge amount of energy is getting dumped in. To most ears it just sounds like Di is saying "big," but it's the key to the whole thing. To people who've taken physics as a serious subject, energy is the name for that which is expressed in the universe as either mechanical work or as heat. Work is change in a mechanical system—the distance a thing is moved times the force resisting it. So a big difference in energy in a mechanical system (such as the atmosphere) translates into immense changes in where things are and how fast they move.
Or in very simple terms, to big, big winds.
The AI went so far as to run some calculations, and they're pretty fascinating—in a spooky sort of way. The increased energy retained by the Earth and not bounced back into space is just about one-third of one percent more than normal—but the last time it got that much less it was enough toget the Little Ice Age started. At the present rate of global warming—which, the AI notes, is at least supposed to be slowing down—the Earth shouldn't reach the overall global temperature it will reach this year until ... holy jumping jesus god, 2412.
So the press release is the sheerest thin tissue of fact stretched over an implied lie. The one thing that is for sure is that something will happen, and that something will be huge. Everything else is reassuring noise for the public, helping it to believe that the people in charge probably know what's true.
Moreover—and this is what brought out the whoop—if you don't worry about specifics, if you lump things together instead of splitting them apart, then there's something that several of the scenarios include or imply, something that gives the key to making money off this; and her AI has already turned that key.
She uses her priority to put through a call to John Klieg's office, and it doesn't surprise her at all that he's there. He thinks everyone else works too hard and wants to take care of them, but look at the care he takes of himself—or rather doesn't take. The man's attitude toward work is positively twentieth.
"Boss, I think we've got what we wanted here."
Klieg grins at her. "Attagirl. Get in here and tell me about it. And when you're done I'll expect you to explain why you're not taking the weekend off to be with your kid or go out on the town."
She smiles at that, knowing that whatever he says he doesn't mean it.
It was first noticed late in the twentieth century that economics was rapidly becoming a trade of one kind of signal—orders, invoices, debts, entertainments, permissions, a thousand other kinds—for another kind of signal—money. The physical production of goods ran, more and more, on its own; money flowed because of the signs attached to the goods.
This was not without parallel; on the island of Yap, in the Pacific, money had long been in the form of giant stone wheels, and most property had been land or fishing rights. Neither the land nor the fish moved, and the money was too heavy to move in normal circumstances; only the information flowed.
By 2028, the rest of the world has caught up with Yap.
Passionet flips out as Synthi and Rock curl up, pretending that they are about to go to sleep in each other's arms. When Synthi got into the showdown with the network people about her exhaustion, they put a lot ofpressure on her, but with Rock's advice she was able to make them give her the time off she needed, and that time off is starting right now.
In fact, it turned out that Rock had been taking vacations all along—"You have to ask'em, Synthi, and then make them stick to what they agree to, they won't just do it for you"—and he'd been very helpful with getting her through the red tape.
As soon as they hear "feed out," they roll away from each other. "I didn't hurt you, did I?" Rock asks.
"I was sore when we started, but I don't think you damaged anything any more than it already was. You're a very gentle guy, you know."
"Yeah." He sighs. "I'm going to miss you in the next couple of months. You're really a pro, you know? And frankly, it's so hard for me to stay interested in the news that I'd rather have the experiencers get it from you." He sits up. One of the attendants coming in hands him the little bag that holds his own clothes and belongings. "And you don't make me feel like a goon, the way ... well, some of the others do."
"I like you too," Synthi says. "But I'll be back, I'm sure." Her own bag contains a general makeup dissolver; she smears it on her face, and the whole mess, false eyelashes and all, turns to thin fluid that she washes off with soap and water. "Uh, Rock ..." She shakes off the water and towels her face briskly. "My real name is Mary Ann Waterhouse."
"And mine is David Ali," he says, smiling back at her. "Now you take care of yourself." He scribbles something on a piece of paper and hands it to her. "My phone number. If you just want to talk or something. But I'd advise you to just forget all about the business and go be Mary Ann for a while—it's a much nicer name than Synthi."
She nods. "I told the travel agent to find me a place where nothing ever happens. I'm not even taking a portable XV set with me; I'm just going to walk through the city like a real person." She pulls on the bra with special supporters so that her breasts, too large and too heavy from the implants, don't jerk around and hurt her when she moves. It feels so comfortable to know that for three months at least, she won't have to run around in skimpy wisps of fabric, her chest, shoulder, and back muscles aching.
Over the comfortable bra goes the big, baggy sweatshirt, she ties up the flame-red hair in a bandanna, and now she looks like a slightly overweight young housewife, especially once she pulls the back of the shirt down far enough to hide the buttocks they've sewn into taut globes. She's got to find a couple of loose-fitting skirts, first thing ... it's going to be great to spend months of having men think that she'd be pretty if she hadn't let herself go.
When she turns back to Rock, she almost laughs; she's never seen him go out of persona before, but when she had decided she would get out ofpersona right at the end of a recording session, he said he had to do the same. "If you're going to show me yours, I've got to show you mine," he explained. "Didn't you ever sneak into the basement with a neighbor boy to go exploring?"
Now he looks ... well, there's no other word for it. He looks incredibly gay. The classically tailored narrow-lapelled pinstripe suit with vest and jacket unbuttoned are straight out of any gay bar in Manhattan; the wide tie with the NFL logo on it has become stereotypical as the code for "available for fun, nothing serious." Even the phone on his belt is hopelessly retrobutch, made to look like a 1980s' deal-maker car phone.
He winks at her. "Check the wingtips. And you didn't see the nutsqueezing excuse for underwear I put on. Lace-y and tin-y, babe. There are times when I wish Harry didn't like me to dress up like a bar slut."
And then Mary Ann does laugh, and hugs him gently. "You look nice."
"Oh, sure, if you don't pay any attention to fashion, dearie," Rock says. "But if you do, you'd know I'm a full year behind the trend." He holds her for a second and says, "Now, you be careful among those civilians, you hear? Don't do anything that you don't think is going to be a barrel of fun. You've earned your enjoyment." He kisses her forehead. "Now run along; Daddy's got to finish dressing for his playmate."
"When I get back," Mary Ann says, "every so often, David and Mary Ann are going to have a drink or some coffee."
"You got it," David says. "We'll talk about men and why they're impossible to have good relationships with. Now go find yourself a nice one to break your little heart."
Walking down the corridor, one of the things she enjoys most is that half the staff is doing double takes—only recognizing her on a second glance even though they know she's in the building—and the other half is walking right by without seeing her.
There's a pile of newsbriefs in her room, and it's wonderful to throw them away unread. She calls for a bellhop.
When he comes, it's the same bellhop who brought her breakfast the morning when she made her decision—if you can call halfway-to-a-break-down a decision. Come to think of it, he's been turning up a lot; maybe it's because she tips well or maybe it's personal loyalty. Either way, she'll take anything that seems like human association right now.
"Uh," he says, "I guess it'll be a while before you do this again." He's still kind of awkward in making conversation, but since she's made it clear that she likes to talk to him—and to waiters and desk clerks and everyone else—she's been getting used to this kind of awkwardness.
"Yep. Wanna know where I'm secretly going?" she asks.
"It won't be much of a secret if you tell people." He drags the baggage cart onto the elevator for her, and the door closes behind them. Two floors, then out to the limo, limo to the airport, then onto a jumplane.
"The tabloid channels will be revealing it tomorrow," she explains. "Fortunately, most people can't recognize an XV performer who isn't on XV, and I'm going where XV is still pretty rare anyway. So I really can tell you, and you can tell anyone you want to."
He grins. "Well, then, sure, tell me. I've impressed a lot of people at Yukon Mike's Saloon with our conversations."
"Well, make sure you spill this one tonight, because everyone will know it tomorrow. I'm going to Tapachula. It's a city in southern Mexico, close to the Guatemala border."
"What's there? What's it known for?"
"Regular people with regular jobs, and absolutely nothing," she says. "Except maybe peace and quiet. Kind of town everyone leaves, where they learn to get excitement somewhere else."
They're at the limo now, and very deliberately she steps close to him, hands him his tip, and says, "If you can be as gentle as Rock is, you'd be welcome to find out what it's like to kiss me."
"Nobody's going to believe this," he mutters, blushing, and when he does kiss her, it's like a sensitive fourteen-year-old touching lips with the girl he worships. If that's what Rock is coming across like in XV, no wonder he's got such a following.
When the kiss breaks, he looks a little dazzled. "So how am I in real life?" she asks.
"Sweet," he says. "And tender. Not like XV at all, but it's really, really nice. Thank you."
"Thank you," she says. "If you pass through Tapachula, look for a dumpy American who never does anything but sit around and read nice, big, thick trashy novels." They shake hands—it's almost solemn—and for good measure she adds a line she had on stage once, back when she was still Mary Ann, Laura's last line at the end of Tea and Sympathy—"'When you speak of this later—and you will—be kind'"
He nods, they both say goodbye, and she gets into the limo and tells it "Airport." It closes its doors, drives out of the lot onto its track, and she's on her way.
Maybe after this vacation, if she still feels the same way about XV, she'll put the money into a permanent annuity for herself, start auditioning again in New York, do some real acting ... and start dating bellhops. It's not that good a joke, but she laughs all the way to the airport about it.
One of the reasons nobody notices when John Klieg and Glinda Gray go out to lunch together, and don't come back, is that after all these years anyone would assume that they are working on something and have chosen to do it outside the building. The major reason, however, is that everyone stopped to catch the XV of Synthi Venture's pre-vacation departure, and they are all plugged into goggles, muffs, and scalpnet at the moment that Klieg and Gray walk down the hall together.
Glinda is not quite believing that this is happening. She went into the office and said, "The one thing the AI says is that there's a ninety-six-percent possibility of more and stronger wind, all over the hemisphere, than there has ever been before. Every really fragile structure is going to take damage. They can replace and reinforce antennas for communications, they can bury power lines, they can shore up smokestacks or replace them with jets ... but what they can't do is quickly modify the space-launch facilities. For those you've got to have the spacecraft moving pretty fast before it ever hits the wind. The wind is going to completely shut down satellite launching for months, first in the Northern Hemisphere, then in the Southern. And satellite launching is close to a trillion-dollar-a-year business."
"Nobody has an all-weather launch facility?"
"They can air-launch from airplanes or jumplanes, operating out of the few all-weather airports. But even all-weather airports shut down for hurricanes, boss, and air launch has been fading since single stage to orbit came in. Everything is right there ... if we can get an all-weather launch system together in the next three months, we can probably get a global monopoly on space launch for a year or so."
From the way he looked up at her and grinned, she knew she had done well, and when he grabbed the phone and gave the orders to get a real study rolling and give her authority over it—god, she'd be in charge of a thousand-member team by the end of the month—she knew it was more than good. She'd really grabbed the whole works this time.
What she didn't expect was what he said next. "Okay, most of that won't start rolling till Monday, and after that you'll be so busy you'll never take time off. And neither will I if this lives up to its promise. Why don't you and I go pick up Derry and go do something fun together for the rest of the day?"
In the first place, it never occurred to her that John Klieg had even listened to her when she'd talked about her personal life; moreover, she had no idea what he did with his time on weekends—in fact, her impression was that all he ever did was work, going home mostly to eat and sleep. But on top of that ... unmistakably, and here she was without makeup, in sweater, jeans, and sneakers because it was Saturday—her boss, a nice guy andgreat-looking, has asked her out. And included her daughter in the invitation, which sounds like a man who is serious.
So as they go down the hall together, she's more tongue-tied than she's been in years, and he seems to be pretty quiet too. In the parking garage, they decide to go in his car, and set hers for an automatic "find home" so that it will go back to her garage and park itself sometime in the next couple of hours, whenever the continuous traffic data it receives indicate that it will be cheapest.
He sets his car for her address, and it rolls down the ramp and onto the track. "This is totally contrary to all my principles," he says, with a fraction of a laugh, like a cough. "I've been in business of one kind or another for twenty-five years, and this is the first time I've ever asked an employee out."
Glinda looks down at her lap and smiles. "Well, I've been at GateTech for sixteen years myself, boss, and this is the first time I've dated inside the company."
"You could start by calling me 'John' instead of 'boss'"
"I could try, John. But it might take a while before it comes naturally."
"Good start, anyway. Well, let me see. I remember from what you've told me that Derry is horse-crazy, likes to do 'grown-up' things like have lunch and go to the theatre, and gets cranky when you break promises to her. Is having me along at lunch going to count as a broken or slightly damaged promise?"
"Hah," Glinda says, and as she leans back, she finds herself thinking, Remember, even if he does own the place, he's only one level up from you. Think of it as a Clerk I dating a Clerk II. "Derry wants me to date more. And when she sees it's a good-looking older guy with money, she'll be overjoyed. She's got all kinds of goofy ideas from XV, even though I only let her use the family channels. Even on those, the whole romance thing gets a little oversold."
"No kidding," the boss—John, dammit—says. The big Chevy Mag Cruiser swings nimbly onto the freeway, and then across it to the Premium Skyway. The view over the Cape and out toward the Atlantic is its usual bland self—trees and sand down to water. She remembers when she first came here, with her ex, it seemed so exotic to them after their years in Wisconsin.
"Romance is very definitely oversold," John adds, probably hoping to continue the conversation. Glinda realizes she's been letting herself drift. "On the other hand, I like to think it does exist."
"Yep, it does," Glinda says emphatically. "And I still believe in it." Yep. Damned Wisconsin coming out in her; at least she didn't say "you bet." "But I'd like to keep it from being Derry's focus of life for a couple more years yet. She'll have sixty or seventy years for it once she starts. And besides,I just don't think it's healthy for a little girl to be interested in a grown woman's, uh, dating life."
John nods approvingly. "So, just out of curiosity and because I'm desperately insecure, how much has she had to be interested in lately?"
"Well, nothing at all for the last two years ..." They both start to laugh at that. "Okay, maybe there's some reason for concern, but the concern shouldn't be coming from an eleven-year-old. How long's it been for you?"
Klieg shrugs. "Oh, seven or eight years, I guess, depending on what you count. For a while I subscribed to a romance service, if you know about those ... but for the last few years I haven't even done that."
"Romance service" is not quite the kind of euphemism that "escort service" used to be, but it's not far from it, either. What the romance service guarantees is that a fixed number of attractive women—the customer defines "attractive," but it need have nothing to do with the sort of women who would really be attracted to the customer—will approach the customer romantically, somewhere out in public, act friendly and interested, and accept at least five dates with him.
As long as he doesn't ask, he'll theoretically never know whether he's being lucky or the service is functioning. In practice, a paunchy middle-aged businessman can usually figure out that the girls in their late teens and early twenties who keep picking him up in bars or at the park are coming from the service, unless he's seriously self-deluded as well. "So," she says cautiously, "what did you order from the romance service?"
"Everything," he says. "They had kind of a sampler deal, where they'd just throw your name in at random. The trouble is, I'm not any good at telling someone who likes me from someone who acts like she likes me. I kept getting disappointed when they didn't want to go beyond the fifth date."
"But they must have—" Glinda was about to say "asked you for money," but then she realized that they might not have, if he didn't ask for sex.
"Oh, sure, some of them were just hookers, but it didn't take that long to figure out which ones—they were the ones who started talking about sex before I got the car door closed. But that wasn't most of them. The thing is, a lot of young women go to work for those services. Don't forget that the colleges turn out a lot more educated people than the economic system can really absorb. Heck, middle-class parents have more kids than the system can absorb into the middle class. So a lot of very nice, well-spoken, pretty young women, who didn't happen to study anything they have a prayer of getting a job with, sign up with a romance service because not only do they make a living, they also meet men with money. And if they meet one they like, there's no reason why they can't keep dating him if they like. I wentout with one of them for a year or so, but"—he sighs—"she decided she liked another guy—sort of a starving poet close to her own age—better. Can't say I blame her, really."
Glinda chooses her words carefully. "It seems a pity that that's all a young woman can find to do with herself."
"Oh, they could wait tables or answer the phone somewhere," Klieg says. "The trouble is that an awful lot of people expect they can get paid for being attractive."
"Well, they can."
"True," he admits, "but most of them don't like realizing what the cost of making a living that way is. Anyway, I got kind of tired of it, and then really tired of it, and dropped the subscription. What you could meet that way—aside from hookers—was young women who were very good at looking good and spending money. Good for decoration or long conversations about their feelings, but that was it. Most of them didn't seem to have read much in college, or at least not to remember it." Klieg sighs. "So, anyway ... getting back to the present case, I figured, well, if you don't like me, I can always bribe you into staying with the company, because I do need you as an employee. And if you do ... well, I just like you, for some reason or other, and I suddenly realized I had been taking all my risks over on the business side of the ledger. I thought it might be interesting to see if I could take a chance on the personal side."
Glinda smiles a little at that. "So, how do you feel?"
"Somewhere between terrified and happy. Anyway, what's your idea of a good place to eat? Or what's Derry's, if they're not compatible?"
She wags her finger at him. "Ah, ah, if we're going to fulfill this child's fantasies, you have to guide me to some perfect little café where they have three special dishes that only you know about and everyone knows you by your first name."
"Well ... there is a place where everybody knows my name. I eat there every other day or so. But I wouldn't say it had any special dishes, certainly not any that only I know about."
"Yeah, but it's not exactly a perfect little café, it's um ... it's a Shoney's, actually. They don't know I'm the president of GateTech, but everyone knows me."
Glinda gapes at him. "You eat at Shoney's? Why?"
"Well, not just any Shoney's, this particular one. And I've got three good reasons. One, in the early days when I traveled a lot, for some odd reason I always had good luck with that chain—and when you're putting in your sixth straight three-hundred-mile day, it's nice to have something really predictable. So I got hooked on it that way—it's just a very comfortingplace for me to go. Two, it's self-reinforcing. Once you've been going to a place for a while and they know you, you get friendly service and they treat you well."
There's a long pause.
"And what's the third reason?" Glinda asks.
"I like the food."
They laugh more from the broken tension than from the feeble joke. John Klieg leans back farther—he is too old to trust automatic guidance on cars, and won't let his hands get far from the wheel or his foot move away from the brake—looks at her sideways, and says, "I hate to tell you this, but your boss doesn't have an ounce of class. I'm solid twentieth in everything but business."
"Even including using old-fashioned expressions like 'solid,'" Glinda says, pulling her legs up and turning to sit facing more toward him. She's always known he was handsome, kind, and considerate, but she's beginning to realize how much more attention he has been paying to her than she has to him.
"Especially using old-fashioned expressions like 'solid,'" Klieg agrees. "If I hadn't stopped myself, I'd have said 'stone.' I wrote editorials for my high-school paper defending Dan Quayle. Now, about this daughter of yours—do we have to take her somewhere pretentious by the water to make her happy?"
"Only if we want to convince her we're serious," Glinda says, "and I'm still working on believing this isn't some vivid dream. She'd probably be happy at Shoney's, for that matter."
"Well, for a bizarre suggestion—start high end and work low? Maybe go to a café for lunch, then to her riding session—maybe you and I could have drinks and some conversation while she rides?—then Shoney's for dinner and then movie for three? With the possible option of covert handholding under the popcorn?"
"I think we can make a deal of this," Glinda says, "as long as the movie either has monsters or is set in space."
"Is that what Derry's into?"
"Not for her; for me," Glinda says. "Life is boring enough and contains enough unhappiness. If I'm going to see a movie I want to see something that will either scare me silly or get my mind up in the clouds."
John Klieg beams at her. "Gee, if a guy was to know you, say, for sixteen years or so, he might finally notice you had a pretty good idea of fun."
She smiles at him; she's recognizing the style of speech. "So, John, where are you from?"
"Little town you never heard of—Winona, Minnesota. Southeastern part of the state, across the river from Wisconsin."
An hour's drive from where Glinda grew up. Maybe she can get away with saying "You bet" after all.
Louie Tynan is busy for the first time in months, and he doesn't know whether to be happy or not. They've put up four polar-orbit satellites, which rise and set relative to his own equatorial-orbit space station at least seven or eight times per day. Every time one does, at a precisely calculated instant, the satellite sends a laser pulse that passes through the Earth's atmosphere, at varying altitudes, and is then received for spectrographic analysis on the station. The thirty or so lasers that send each pulse have precisely known wavelengths and power; if the light were only passing through a vacuum, you could figure out how much power would arrive at what wavelength, down to parts in ten billion.
But although air is transparent, it's not perfectly transparent; it's subject to minor variations (look down a hot road on a summer day), and not all the variations are neutral with respect to wavelength (consider a sunset).
So instead of the predicted set of exactly known values for power at each wavelength, the laser light coming into Louie Tynan's "camera," as he thinks of the gadget, is altered by the air it passes through, and the exact way in which it alters tells them quite a bit about methane.
Louie's job, all day, has been to power up a remote manipulator, a little tractor with an arm that crawls around the outside of the station on tracks, take the spectrographic camera out of storage, put it in the airlock, use the remote manipulator to put it in place and hook it up ... and sit back and pretend to know what he was doing, besides making sure that some little lights stayed green through the first twenty tries.
Right now Louie is taking a break in the observation bubble. They don't really need a man to do these observations at all—they could do the whole thing on robotics—but as long as they have a crewed space station, and one crusty old fart on it who doesn't want to come down, might as well get some work out of him. It may not be the most productive way to do the thing, or even the most productive use of the astronaut, but this way NASA PR guys can make noises in public about quick responses and being able to get on top of a breaking situation.
And because they're doing that, he also has to print out graphs derived from the results every so often, and then make a set of notes about the graphs and read his results back to ground control. This bit is pure showboating; the sad fact is that in the first place, not being a meterologist, he doesn't have any more understanding of what the graphs mean than what they told him in a three-hour tutorial the week before, and anyway, the people who do know what they mean are getting copied on all the datainstantly on the ground. The only purpose is for the taxpayers on the open channel to hear their most expensive single employee earning his keep.
Some bored grad student on an internship has been set up down there to ask him questions that everyone already knows the answers to, so that he can appear to be expressing an opinion and judging the situation. Louie's job is essentially a several-day-long publicity stunt.
On the other hand, it's more news than crewed space exploration has gotten in months. He thinks of Congressperson Henry Loamer, UL-LA, who has occasionally referred to the space station as the "orbiting retirement home" and to Louie himself as "our single most expensive Federal employee, who is doing just what Federal employees usually do, sitting on his butt and soaking up tax money." It will be weeks before old Henry realizes all this could be done cheaper and better by robot, and meanwhile he's shut up.
Besides, Louie's got to admit that this has been good for him. Having to do visuals every few hours, sitting in front of a camera and reading off the report, has made him shower, shave, all that easy-to-overlook stuff. He may not be the height of elegance, but at least he's freshly showered and wearing a clean coverall, and he has more than one clean coverall.
He takes another bite of the sushi—funny thing, the Japanese spent a fortune developing all sorts of amenities for their unit, which is sitting down there at the end of Truss Two empty and powered down. They sent up five crews for a few months each, and then got bored or something, leaving behind the tissue culture tanks that let you grow pieces of fish without having to grow the whole fish.
The stuff isn't bad, and it's at least variety from the usual sandwiches.
The Japanese gave up. The Chinese flew some missions into low orbit, and they still do. The Russians are long gone from space, and the French make three flights a year—they treat the Euromodule as sort of a hotel room, where their guys sleep between fixing robots, or on their way to and from their tiny moonbase while they assemble their ships here. Last time they didn't even bother with that, just went straight from low Earth orbit to the moon.
And as for his own country ... Louie is it, and he's mostly here for publicity.
Yet the solar system is now crawling with humanity's robots. Not counting all the replicators that were built there before they shut that experiment down, there are hundreds of little crawlers exploring the moon.
Louie just noticed the other day that one of the many relays on the station was handling traffic for the University of Wyoming Lunar Rover and the Ralston-Purina Checkerboard Lunar Orbiter. It turned out that the former was a senior engineering-school project and the latter a breakfast cereal promotion, where they claimed they'd buy you a square foot of themoon (a very safe promotion, because the UN has put all claims except those within one kilometer of a permanently crewed facility into abeyance) and send you a picture of it.
Where his crew of eight walked a hundred miles or so across the face of Mars, there is now a robot railway that drags a camera back and forth, toward the Martian North Pole and back, sending a continuous picture that a few million people on Earth display on the TVs that hang on their bedroom walls. Even Mars is already getting to be less popular than the view from the Jupiter Orbiter Feed, which Louie has, right now, in his sleeping quarters.
He looks down at the Earth below him. So far it doesn't look any different. You can no more see an extinct species or a too-warm ocean than you can tell that there are no longer any dark-skinned people in Europe as it rolls away below him. And certainly sixty-five years or so of pictures from up this high have made the sight of Earth from space familiar ... .
Well, hell with it. He still likes the way the old planet looks. He holds up a squeeze bulb of Kirin—another great Japanese innovation—in a toast to her. She's pretty battered around the edges, but he still likes to see her like this. It's not his job to decide whether or not he's too expensive to maintain up here. If they're willing to send him, he's willing to stay.
As he takes a sip of the beer, he thinks of Carla, and the notion that he is thinking of her just after looking at the battered old planet nearly sends the beer squirting out his nose. She'd love that comparison.
They haven't talked in almost a month and it's still forty minutes till the next observation. Moreover he happens to look decent, so he might as well take advantage of it. From where the terminator line is on the Earth, it's about three o'clock in the afternoon in the western Pacific, and the weather is clear. Chances are MyBoat is surfaced and taking phone calls.
He shifts around to face the camera and screen and dials her number. It rings a couple of times and then she answers it on voice only, so his first thought is that she's getting it over a Very Low Frequency receiver and the signal is going to be lousy—he was really looking forward to seeing her face—then she laughs. "Oh, it's you, Louie. Let me get a towel on."
"For what?" he says. Caught her sunbathing; it figures.
"So the tabloids can't do another story about perverted astronauts looking at their naked ex-wives over the phone and talking nasty, that's why. You've got an image to protect, Captain America."
"They promoted me a long time ago," he reminds her.
"You'll always be Captain America to me," she says, and the screen comes on. "Is there news or is this just a hello call?"
"Oh, just a hello. Timed to get a look at your body, of course."
She grins and moves as if to flash him. One of the several counselorsthey'd gone to had pointed out to them that they were both "socially retarded, as tends to be common in bright people, and that's why you act like a couple of teenagers around each other." It took Louie and Carla days to realize the counselor thought there was something wrong with it.
He gives her his best construction-worker whistle. She asks, "So they're keeping you busy for once, you bottomless pit for taxes, you?"
"Yeah. Although to tell you the truth, I'm starting to wonder if I'm actually doing anyone any good by being up here."
"Not your worry, love, it's really not. We've talked about all this before. If it weren't for the scientists, the whole world might as well disappear up its own virtual-reality asshole. If there's no exploration, that's just what will happen. And robots do not explore, they just go and look. Somebody's got to be there to feel like bold Cortez upon a peak in Darien."
"You're quoting poetry at me again."
"Well, it's not a dirty limerick, so I'm sure you haven't heard it before, but yes, I have been exposing you to poetry. It's part of that continuing process that ran through our courtship and marriage, love—you know, eating with utensils, washing yourself—say, speaking of which, you're looking pretty spruce today. You must be doing a lot of interviews or something."
He tells her about reading the data and the graphs. She tells him about getting her old job back, and "better yet, being allowed to do it on remote. So I'll probably be looking at that data myself."
"Well, if you like, I'll be happy to download it to you."
He pushes a couple of buttons, and the data is transmitted. They talk a little longer, but there isn't much to talk about, so they hang up quickly.
An hour later, Carla calls Louie back. "Are the numbers really that high?"
"I didn't really know they were high. They're just numbers to me. They went up fast for a couple of days but they've been pretty steady since." He grabs a terminal and types on it for a moment. "Yeah, those are the numbers."
"No wonder they're getting so excited about it. That's really high, Louie."
"Well, that would explain why they've been asking me to downplay it while I talk to this kid from UT. I'm supposed to sound the way old-fashioned airplane pilots did when they told you 'Well, we've got a little turbulence here and maybe a bit of engine failure, but I just wanted you folks to know that I expect to be on time or a bit before, except of course for that little old piece of wing that just dropped off.' They might at least have toldme that when I was saying there was nothing to panic about, I was lying."
"Well, until my department gets it figured out, they still won't know what these people ought to be panicking about, you know. And anyway, I'm not so sure that panicking will do them any good."
"So next time I have to go play Serious Scientist again with the kid from Texas, it won't be unjustified if I suddenly say, 'Jesus, these numbers are high. Let's cut the crap, we're in deep shit, we're all going to die!'"
She giggles. "Oh, a little unjustified, but think how much excitement it's going to cause the PR types. And most of them just don't have enough adventure in their lives."
"Yeah, you're right about that. Well, take care ... I still kinda miss you, you know."
"I've been known to miss you too. Let's make that date for sure—when you get back down, we'll get together and have some sex and some fun, then get on each other's nerves so we can remember why we both live in tin cans hundreds of miles from anyone else."
She's still teasing, but it's getting near the mark, and Louie doesn't want to get into any emotional things this particular time. So he says, "Well, then, it's a date. You take care," and she says, "Take care," and they hang up.
He looks at his schedule and it's still twenty minutes until he has to pretend he knows what he's talking about with that damned kid. He stretches out, letting himself float free in the observation bubble—the nearest thing to a spacewalk without a suit you can do, if you ignore the glass walls on all sides just a foot or two away—and lets himself run through the list of all the things he's supposed to do when and if there's time. Unfortunately, most of them are fully up to date, and the ones that are not are just pointless duplicates of ground-based work.
Not unlike the pointless duplicate of ground-based work that he's supposed to do in the next few minutes ... . He really wishes he could stop thinking like that. He looks out at the big old Earth rolling by underneath, and admits to himself that he's such a cranky old bastard it's no wonder that he's lonely, or that he has trouble admitting it.
Well, he hasn't powered up the telepresence unit on the moon in ages. If they ever start serious lunar operations again (instead of going along as passengers with the French—god, it kills Louie, three times a year, to see the French go to the moon, not even a country anymore but just a state in the USE, and maybe one time out of three they take along an American astronaut as a passenger!)—if ever that big stupid clumsy nation of Louie's gets it together enough to get back out there, it is very likely going to be Louie who drives the robots to get the American moonbase opened back up.
He sets the timer, pulls on a scalpnet, muffs, and goggles like an ordinaryXV rig (except that the muffs are equipped with an alarm so that if anything goes wrong in the station he will hear it), slides his arms into sensor gloves, plugs the feedback into the jack behind his ear, and codes in.
His eyes open on the Sea of Storms, and he stands up in his robot body. He looks down to see the unnaturally thin limbs—the antimatter power source is inside the long metal "torso" and the motors are located at the joints, not needing the leverage that real muscles do, so that for every practical purpose he's a walking skeleton, with a body that looks like a flexible gas hose and arms and legs like those on one of those men made out of muffler parts that used to stand in front of car repair shops when he was a kid.
He walks out of the little cave where the telepresence robot is parked—it returns there automatically when anyone is done with it, so that he imagines that on the lunar surface, at the end of a busy shift (if there ever is one), twenty or thirty robots might suddenly stop what they are doing and all walk back to the cave to stand against the walls—must be spooky to watch them do that.
The light here is flat and harsh, the shadows and sky black. There's nothing that isn't familiar from a thousand training tapes; this is where lunar mining experiments were conducted, and where a nice job was done of demonstrating that the "ores" available on the moon are just plain rock, so low-grade that it's always cheaper to make the stuff on Earth and ship it up, even though you're fighting a lot more gravity. But at least while the experiments were going on, there were people walking around up here, next to the robots ... .
Now there's something that hasn't been tried out lately—the "replicators" —the experiment with little robots who look like Tonka trucks with arms. They have a little hopper in which they can melt a rock sample and then do what amounts to slow isotope separation, eventually breaking it into its constituent elements, so that where there was a hopper full of rock, there are now little ingots of all the solids, and little glass "bottles" of the gases and liquids, that go into making a replicator. The replicators then meet up with each other and swap pieces of material around until one of them has the materials to make a copy of itself. It sits down, does that, and where there were ten replicators gathering materials, there are now eleven.
The idea was that no matter how expensive it was to build the first batch of replicators, after that they would breed like sheep or cattle, and by turning on a software cue you could make them drive into the facility at Moonbase and keep offloading materials; eventually only a tiny fraction of materials extracted would go into replication, and you'd have an unending procession of replicators bringing gifts of oxygen, iron, aluminum, whatever.
The replicators were made in deliberate imitation of life, which is highly efficient at spreading itself around, binding energy from sunlight, and extracting scarce elements from abundant minerals. The exchange deal was self-reprogramming; whatever was scarce, they would seek to get more of by returning to places where it was easy to get it, by randomly perturbing some of their own instructions to try out different strategies, and by "bargaining" with each other.
In practice it turned out differently. The replicators replicated just fine, but the parallel processor system that controlled them at Moonbase turned out to be subject to a force no one had thought of—the market.
The first sign of trouble was when gallium became a medium of exchange. Of all the elements needed, the traces of gallium needed for some of the semiconductors were the hardest to get; very quickly the replicators learned that if you had gallium you could trade it for anything else. Many of them began to drive right past everything else, looking only for gallium-bearing minerals, until in short order most of them were carrying only gallium, plus the mix of elements that were found in the two minerals that contained it.
There was no one for them to "buy" the other things they needed from—until a couple of the replicators innovated and set up the "fortyniner's store." That is, they began to pay other robots—using gallium to do so—to go out and mine exclusively for the materials the other ones wanted to buy.
Predictably, in hindsight, two events followed quickly. One isolated replicator struck a relatively rich vein of gallium-bearing ore (though nothing anyone would have bothered with on Earth) and in short order the other replicators had followed it there, organizing a "gallium rush." As gallium flooded the market, there was a period of rapid inflation, leading to all sorts of distant speculative ventures—some of the replicators had gotten as far away as three hundred kilometers.
This all collapsed when about half of them sat down to have "children"; much of the gallium that had flooded the market was now tied up in replicators, and a price collapse and "depression" followed. Many of the faraway replicators shut down because there was no profitable way of returning to base.
Somewhere out there, one of them hit on the perturbation that made a mess of things. It attacked, disassembled, and devoured several of the other replicators, eventually producing copies of its cannibal self. Another replicator dealt with the problem by reprogramming other replicators to bring their extracted ores to it; they dubbed that one the "slavemaster," and discovered that the slavemaster had organized a defense against the cannibals, built around using the slaves in teams.
Moreover, they began to virus each other's software, and to invent defenses against the viruses (that strange boomtalk word for replicating software, with its purely negative connotations, seemed perfectly appropriate in this case). As defenses improved, viruses that attacked defenses appeared—the scientists began to refer to that as "machine AIDS"—and suppressor software to protect the defenses, in turn, mutated until it began to attack everything else—for some obscure reason, an old scientist dubbed that "industrial ARTS." There was, in effect, a health-care problem—most machines ran well below optimum because the code driving them had gotten so long and complicated.
Moreover, since they all had access to each other's software, very shortly there were several teams of cannibal slavemasters out there in the boondocks, competing with each other but mining almost nothing, all infected with and spreading machine AIDS and industrial ARTS.
Matters came to a head when two of the dominant teams wiped out the others (eating and converting them in the process), combined forces, and came back into Moonbase to attack the "forty-niner's store" in force; the merchants saw them coming, copied the software where needed, and fought a kind of epic battle on the plains before the fascinated eyes of the cyberneticists.
Then one sample replicator, pulled out for examination and tests, turned up with part of a solar-wind monitoring station in its guts. A quick check showed that the system as a whole had become conscious enough to realize that the prohibition on consuming other man-made objects kept it from getting some first-rate metals, and it had managed to hack around the prohibition by introducing industrial ARTS into the software protection of the main system.
They stopped it just hours from the point where it might have eaten Moonbase; if they hadn't, it would have destroyed everything except itself, then populated the moon with robot vermin beyond any control.
Now, as Louie comes around to the site of the great battle, he sees old number N743P, chief of the merchants, sitting where "he" froze when the system was shut down, surrounded by dozens of slaves with empty hoppers. Some wag has painted United Left insignia on the slaves and arranged them in a circle as if they were picketing N743P.
Louie wonders idly if it might not be better to have switched them all back on and told them about all the good metal over at the French base—no, that's petty, and the fact is that he likes the individual French astronauts who pass through the space station. It's hardly their fault that Louie's nation isn't keeping up, and France is the last bastion of any kind of liberalism in Europe; many of them are almost pathetically eager to tell Louie, or someone,that they wish they could get out from under Brussels, and that they were against the Expulsion.
He kneels to look it over; N743P doesn't look any different (apart from its tag) than any other robot. At least they hadn't discovered conspicuous consumption yet, though it looked like this fellow was about to invent the futures market.
There's a loud ping echoing through the stillness of the lunar day, and he realizes it's time to get on with things back at the station. He has a moment of being a tall, spiky robot scratching its head—
And then he's back in the station, pulling off the scalpnet, muffs, and goggles. He has a moment's vision of the robot on the moon standing up abruptly and then very slowly and carefully, without anything like the precision it has when a person is steering it, walking back to its slot in the storage cave, tramping back with careful, heavy movements like a Harryhausen monster. It may take it the rest of the day to get home, but then, it has nothing but time ... .
Which is normally true for Louie, but not today. He grabs the handholds to drag himself to the "conference room," the little piece of blank white wall that he stands in front of while he pretends to know what he's doing with the weather reports.
There's another ping. He hurries off to play scientist.
Berlina Jameson has been living on the line—what her grandparents would have called "on plastic," back when you carried cards that could be stolen—now that she's been fired for not turning back up at work, but she can still convince security at most places that she's a reporter.
The Barrow Motel Two—a casket hotel that provides a public toilet and shower, a belongings locker, and a bed with lock-down cover—wants to bill her extra for parking, and at first she figures she'll just pay it, but then she thinks about how long her line might have to stretch, and spends a pointless twenty minutes arguing with the clerical software. It puts her into a particularly foul mood, even after the good news of finding Di Callare this morning, so that when she finally gets into her little car, drives it onto the track, and sets it for the Duc, she's all but weeping with frustration and self-pity. As the car picks up speed, she begins to fold the seats into "long drive" configuration—a bed with access to the little pocket refrigerator and the "squat pot"—and as she finishes, rather than get a nap or do any work, she just stretches out on the bed and cries until she stops.
Her net accounts show that absolutely no one has run any of her one-minute spots; her own home station hasn't even been broadcasting them.
When it became clear that there wasn't much recreation and practically no significant violence or sexual appeal up here, all the XV people left, except for a couple of the eggheaded ones who offer people the opportunity to experience being knowledgeable, witty, and deeply concerned ... a peculiar taste that Berlina has never been able to fathom, but the NPXV audience seems to eat it up. She wonders, lying there idly with tears drying on her face, whether they'll ever do combined events with the commercial channels, so that, say, Synthi Venture will find herself banging away with some guy who's doing the Matthew Arnold routine about decaying civilization ... .
It makes her laugh, and suddenly, bitterly, she's laughing at herself. Her, the next Edward R. Murrow? Why not the next Genghis Khan? It might be easier to conquer the world. Broadcast is dead, girl, except as a hobby. And even if broadcast were still alive, here she is crying ... she can just imagine any of her heroes doing this! Murrow sobbing because he can't get a clear moment of mike in the middle of an air raid ... Cronkite in tears because NASA wouldn't give them the right camera angles ... Sam Donaldson holding his breath till he turns blue because Reagan won't talk to him.
It helps to laugh.
She smears the tears out of her eyes with the heels of her hands. Well, what did she expect?
The car lurches, hard, which probably means it just collision-avoided a caribou or something. The animal's timing was clearly off; most people figure that the animals wait to jump in front of cars until you either have an overfull coffee in hand, or are on the squat pot.
Most people think the world is out to get them, because they have all the evidence they need—they don't get enough of what they want. But that doesn't make it so.
She's relaxed now, drying her eyes, thinking about all this. She's got about another four days on the line before she hits the wall and can't get more credit; fewer if it involves any more drives this long. She has a big story on tap, and perhaps Diogenes Callare will give her the last piece of the puzzle—she's due to talk to him in an hour or so. If he does, she can scoop the majors with it; that won't get her much—a week or two of very moderate fame and enough cash to keep her running a few months more—but other things can break. It's a game against the clock, but what isn't?
She gets her notes and thoughts in order for the interview. She just hopes that all the reporters who can afford jumplane haven't gotten to Callare first, but she doubts it; every reporter except Haynes left Barrow last week, which is part of why she's been lonely. Berlina really enjoyed the role of "cub reporter"—it made her feel like Jimmy Olsen. Oh, well, somedaymaybe some adoring cub will follow her around ... she's realizing, too, that a lot of the reporters enjoyed the attention they got from her.
There's so much to get organized that she's startled when the ping comes to remind her to call Diogenes Callare.
Much to her surprise, he seems friendly and relatively open. She knows he's sticking close to what the press releases say, textually, but the man is a natural teacher, things come out as little micro-lectures, and with a bit of stitching together she can make it absolutely clear that the bland language of the press release is hiding a lot of important possibilities. "So it comes down to energy?" she asks once again, hoping he'll repeat himself and give her a quote or two more.
She's right, he does. "Well, look," he says. "Energy is work, you had freshman physics, everyone does nowadays, right? And work is change. And we're looking at huge changes here. Not so much if the additional heat the Earth is going to retain were all spread out evenly, of course, but that's just the point. It's a system where heat flows. Some of it's going to pile up somewhere—and when it does, big things will happen."
It's a great quote, especially if she can jam it up against a few she has of various nonentities saying that any concern is premature.
She thanks Di—mentally congratulating herself again on getting to first names with him so quickly—and clicks off.
If Glinda Gray could look in from somewhere else, she would be patting herself on the back. She had told Klieg that this day, or the next, the media would catch on to the "purloined letter"—the realization that right out in plain sight, the Feds were admitting catastrophe was on the way.
Time to put it together. If she's going to do this thing, she might as well do it. And there's nothing wrong—financially scary, yes, but nothing wrong—with going independent. Ben Franklin, I. F. Stone, Tris Coffin ... it can be done. She thinks about it for a moment ... Berlina Jameson's Methane Report ... sounds like a natural gas newsletter. How Berlina Is Not Being Told the Truth ... not the thing either; The Jameson Report is pompous ... what she really wants to tell the potential reader is that she's smelling something important, that she's not being dismissed the way they dismiss nuts at government facilities, but brushed away from the single big question: What's going to happen because of this? Why doesn't anyone appear to be preparing for anything?
I Smell Gas?
Not exactly right either ... what she's reporting is ... Sniffings.
It's not dignified, it smells too much of the New Journalism, it has the gut feel of Geraldo Rivera and Sally Jessy, spiritual parents of XV—
She doesn't care. Barely four days of credit left. Sniffings it is—and it'sno worse a title than Scuttlebytes. The title alone is odd enough that some people will access it; now all she has to do is be interesting enough to make them access it twice.
She grabs the autodictator and her notepad; time enough to clean up and set up a little later. Meanwhile, she needs to turn this into copy, real copy.
"This is Berlina Jameson, on the road from Barrow, Alaskan Free State, to Washington, the Duc, USA. For the past three weeks, I have been handled with the utmost courtesy by Alaskan and United Nations officials, by scientists from the USA, Pacificanada, Mexico, and Quebec, and by a wide variety of public relations people. Occasionally I have even been told a piece or two of the truth—a piece which was promptly denied or dismissed by other sources.
"All this has happened because I have been asking, over and over, the simple question that everyone wants an answer to: now that a UN military operation—"
That ought to boost the ratings. UNSOO is officially a peacekeeping, not a military, organization, despite what it actually does. Calling it a military operation will cause an automatic warning flag from UNIC—they won't kill the story but they will suggest that peace-loving decent citizens not read it. The nationalists will promptly read it because of that. The United Left will send her hate mail, and that will register as traffic and draw attention from the critics. True, she doesn't especially want to encourage the nationalists ... or the critics, for that matter. But they pay access charges the same as anyone else ... .
"DICTRON BACK UP AND MERGE. -now that a UN military operation has accidentally released one hundred and seventy-three billion tons of methane into the atmosphere, given the evidence of the geological past that such releases have produced brief periods of intense warming, what is going to happen to us? Should we be evacuating half of humanity up into the mountains? Will we lose the Netherlands, Florida, and Bangladesh as the seas rise? Will new Saharas form where grain grows now, and will we see global famine? Are we facing flood, famine, or storm?
"No one will say, and I have come to realize that what they are covering up is not some disaster of awesome proportions, but that they themselves do not know; despite all the advances of science, we are waiting between the lightning and the thunder—"
No, strike that, it's melodramatic. No, keep it. Melodrama is what we want ... melodrama always made money, and the line is getting pretty short. But it's not the right metaphor.
"DICTRON BACK UP, MERGE, ERASE. -despite all the advances of science, we must simply wait for it—but the one thing they are sure ofis that the effect will be big. We have whacked Nature hard, with a hammer, and now we stand facing her while she makes up her mind what to do about it."
This is beginning to roll. It will need work, but it's a damned sight livelier than the stuff she's been doing up until now.
It ends up being a long day spent entirely in the car; she puts it on auto-gas, so that it just pulls over at automated stations when it needs to and fills up. The story goes through six drafts and when she's done, "Sniffings" is a very nice little twenty-minute program with all kinds of up-close footage of people evading the issues, and some really good animated graphics. For her own narration, she uses the little rig that she bought used, ages ago, that lets her hang the teleprompter and camera from the ceiling, pointing down at her as she lies on the bed, with a pale blue reflector underneath her. Edit out the reflector and superimpose the "Sniffings" graphic she came up with, and damn if it doesn't look at least as good as what was on the old networks themselves as recently as thirty years ago.
It's in the can. "DICTRON: POST TEXT SNIFFINGS ONE, PUBLIC NET UNDER COPYRIGHT, ACCESS FEE SET TO BERLINASTAND-ARD—"
"ADJUST FOR INFLATION?" the Dictron asks.
"ADJUST FOR INFLATION," she confirms. She really will have to revise her rate schedule sometime soon. "NOTE HEADER—SNIFFINGS TO BE A FREQUENT RELEASE AT TWENTY-MINUTE LENGTH. REBROADCAST AUTHORIZED IN NONCOMPETING MARKETS AND IN TRANSLATION, AT ACCESS FEES SET TO BERLINASTANDARD. ADJUST FOR INFLATION."
"CONFIRM?" It reads back her release order; she confirms it; it goes out to the net.
Time to celebrate. Sniffings 1 is a damned fine piece of work, even if no one ever looks at it—and she feels in her bones that at least a few people somewhere will look at it.
She pulls over at a rest area, plugs the car into a fresher that will vacuum out the dust and accumulated body smell, swap out the squat pot, and zap the whole works with ultraviolet and microwaves so that it will smell like a car rather than a monkey pen when she gets back. Tote bag on her shoulder, she goes into the public showers; a cleanup, a change of clothes, and a good meal are the rest of the agenda, to be followed by a good long sleep in the car.
What the hell, it's better than Ernie Pyle usually got.After she hangs up from Louie, Carla Tynan finds it's a little difficult to get back to her peaceful sunbath. In the first place, that damned rocket jockey has gotten her horny, and even though there's no one out here on the Pacific, with a featureless horizon in all directions, to see her, she can't quite bring herself to masturbate outside. Growling to herself for a silly prude, she goes below to get a little relief.
Afterward, with MyBoat rocking gently on the surface, she starts to compare the numbers from Louie with the ones NOAA gave her in more detail. She isn't surprised that that gang of political hacks has been holding the numbers down, but she is surprised at how much they've been holding them down.
Well, one of the pleasures of being her own person is the ability to do her own work. She has several "baby" global weather models available on her computer, and a system she's come up with for linking them. She pulls out the set of speciality fibrop cables, still in their wrappers from the cadcam shop, and starts patching the systems together.
First thing, work out what the real methane concentrations must be to account for Louie's data. That only takes a minute or so, and the results pop back at her.
She gives a long, low whistle. It's piercing and echoing in the little submarine, and she tries to remind herself not to do that again, but painful as it was, the situation earned it. Methane is not six times normal, but nineteen times normal.
Since she's been assigned to the "hurricane problem," she does a quick and dirty plug-through. That much more methane traps this much more energy; forty percent of it ends up in ocean surface water; so the surface water in hurricane formation zones gets anywhere from one to six degrees Celsius warmer, usually with the more drastic warming being farther north, and thus that much more energy is available for a hurricane.
She looks at the numbers; the energy bound in such a hurricane is twelve times the biggest hurricane on record.
And she still hasn't figured how much bigger the hurricane formation zones themselves will be.
Still, there's something she can do right now, and that's what she does. She resets the autopilot, takes MyBoat down so that she can run undersea, and heads south as fast as she can. The North Pacific is about to become a bad place to be.
"President Grandma" is feeling more like a grandmother—and less presidential—than ever. Brittany Hardshaw has seen and made hard decisions ontwo minutes' reflection, gotten them dead wrong, and spent years defending them when necessary; she knows that on at least one occasion she got an innocent man executed, and during her watch the United States has lost just over five hundred military people, mostly young men, in one corner of the world or another. She sent her close friend from Boise, Judge Burlham, to Liberia as a mediator, knowing it was dangerous, and on the television that night she saw him cut in half with a submachine gun at the airport. She would think she was hardened enough for any job.
Harris Diem's report is sitting on her desk. It carefully explains the trick that he and a small "Black Team" of NSA scientists were able to pull on the team at NOAA—feeding them doctored data, monitoring the models they built, copying those models down the street in a hidden basement, and then carefully feeding in the correct data. It was a small masterpiece of covert ops. The President of the United States now has in her hands the only accurate assessment of the global temperature situation.
Publicly, she will accept delivery of the NOAA scientists' work in a couple of days, but this secret report is the truth—or as near to it as a computer model can get. Publicly, she will share the NOAA report with the UN, and Rivera will base policy on it.
Which means publicly, the policy will fail, because it is based on inaccuracies, and she will be in a position to use this to advantage.
The only problem now is that what is in her hands is so very much worse than she had imagined. One of the nice NSA men—a soft-spoken young African-American who looked like a bright law student or high school teacher—carefully explained to her that things did not scale up in a linear way, and that "not linear" meant "double the input does not mean double the output—it means, maybe, quadruple it, octuple it, cut it in half ... the functions are complicated."
So while the public version, on which the UN will act, shows that next summer will bring the twenty biggest hurricanes, typhoons, and cyclones in history, plus a blistering drought in the high latitudes and monsoons beyond historical experience in the tropics; while that report shows the snows of East Africa turning to glaciers and a real risk that the Colorado may stop flowing; while it shows world deaths from famine, flood, and storm running into the tens of millions—it's all a fraud based on wishful thinking.
The real numbers show something more like seventy hurricanes, and many of them far beyond historical scale. There's no drought, but the rain cycle accelerates tremendously—they're going to lose some big dams, and many of the dry lake basins in the West will begin to fill. Between the storms and the change of climate, they can expect major blight outbreaks in the world's forests, and plenty of crop failures. It probably isn't possible to savethe Netherlands, and it is definitely not possible to save Bangladesh or most of the world's delta populations. There's no question that they'll lose some populated Pacific Islands entirely, and it looks suspiciously like in the Southern Hemisphere the Antarctic glaciers will grow rapidly all through southern winter and then melt even more rapidly in October and November. There is no way yet to predict the consequences of that.
The real numbers show deaths running to 270 million worldwide by September.
More than a quarter of a billion people.
There is nothing the United States, or the United Nations, can do to save most of them. The USA does not have the economic weight and muscle anymore to lead the world ... hasn't had it in a long time, but that's something Hardshaw learned early that you never say in front of a voter. For twelve years since the Flash, when the government and at least threequarters of all the financial records in the country ceased to be, she has been struggling to put American power back together again, first as American Ambassador to the UN, then as Attorney General, and finally as President.
She's fought to preserve what is left of American national sovereignty, to get any momentary advantage that can keep the Republic from being pulled down into a tight orbit around the UN. She has preserved big enough armed forces to act unilaterally, allied herself with any and all powers willing to take on the Secretary General, squeezed every bit of wriggling room from the UN—at the same time that, after the terrorist nuking of Washington, the Federal government was running a third of its budget on UN loans.
Once again, Harris Diem has been her right hand in this. He put the operation together like a pro. Even the developing leak between Carla and Louie Tynan is happening days later than he thought it would, and not affecting their plans at all.
And now, finally, she has in her hand real information—real information that she knows the UN does not have and needs badly.
Let the UN get it wrong, and it will go down. The Global Riot showed that clearly enough, and this is much bigger than any mere public scandal. She can do a lot more than just regain American sovereignty—she can collapse the "world government that dare not speak its name," as she and her circle have called it for many years.
For fifteen years she has worked to put the United States back where it belongs, beyond the command of any foreign power.
All she need do is put together the secret team that will be ready for the real situation. They will still lose New Orleans, Tampa, Miami, Corpus Christi, but they'll get through it. And the rest of the world will go to hell. Unless the UN figures out the truth and acts on that.
And if the UN does get it together ... there goes the American bid for supremacy, probably forever.
The NSA tells her that they can't predict what the UN will do if she gives them the accurate report. In any case, in a few months, when it's probably too late, they'll know they've been had, and perhaps as they go down they can pin the blame on her. That will be all right; if it comes to that she'll walk right into the General Assembly and let them shoot her with a short pistol, put the whole blame on her—as long as the UN goes down and America comes back up.
But probably, NSA says, if the UN gets things together—they can hold deaths down to 100 million people worldwide. So if Brittany Lynn Hardshaw chooses to do what she had been planning to do—170 million unnecessary dead.
It will certainly put her in the history books. She'll beat Hitler, Stalin, and Mao combined.
And if she hands the UN the truth—that involves telling NOAA the real numbers and probably admitting what the original plan had been, with impeachment likely to follow if Congress wants to save the shreds of American autonomy. More than that, it throws away the very last shot at full American independence.
She looks up at the portraits hanging on the walls; she picked them carefully—Washington, Adams, Jefferson, and Madison, because they founded American independence; Lincoln, who saved the Republic; Truman, Eisenhower, and Kennedy, who armed it to the teeth. In fairness, perhaps, she should have included Franklin Roosevelt for the same reason—but he founded the UN.
"So what would you all do?" she asks them, and jumps at the sound of her own voice. She hadn't meant to speak aloud.
The two reports lie side by side on the desk, and she looks at their all-but-identical covers for a long time, trying to see any other choice.
After the awkward way things started, Klieg would never have bet that this first date with Glinda Gray could go so well. She was exactly right—Derry seems to be delighted to have him interested in her mother, and the "luncheon at a little café where the crab is real and the atmosphere phony," as he described it to them, was a big success. Now he and Glinda, having decided to just sit and watch Derry go by on a horse every so often, are out on the "parents' patio" and having a drink together; mostly they've been talking about growing up in the middle of America, and about how few people anymore seem to have any real ambition or drive for wealth.
They've also been flirting a lot, and in one bold moment—grinning to make it a joke, but doing it anyway—she slid her high-heeled pump up his trouser leg. He grinned back to show he got the joke, but at just that moment he might have done anything for her.
There are flies all around—this close to horses it's inevitable—and the two of them are constantly swinging and slapping at them. He doesn't know what it makes him look like, but it makes Glinda's blonde hair flip around in interesting ways—which he doesn't get much of a chance to observe since he's pretty busy swinging at flies himself. His best guess, from the way she smiles every so often, is that he looks pretty awkward doing it.
They talk on about all sorts of things. The last serious girlfriend that Klieg had, years ago, used to complain that all he talked about was "business, food, and the best brand of everything." There was a certain amount of justice in it, he had to admit, but the great thing is that that seems to be what Glinda talks about as well. They talk about what kind of cars they're going to get next year—they're both eager readers of Consumer Reports—and where to get good cheap Mexican food that doesn't put you at any risk of spoiled ingredients, and the relative merits of Denny's versus Shoney's when eating out of town. They talk about new carpeting, which both of them have gotten within the last couple of years, and about whether or not the newer editions of The Joy of Cooking are as good as the "classic" version.
They make a number of dumb jokes about all the flies, and they both laugh more than the jokes are worth.
He can't remember when he's had this much fun, or felt so comfortable with a woman. When Derry finally heads in to the stable—they have a shower in there, so the kid can freshen up before she comes out to meet them at the car—Klieg and Glinda stand up and just naturally take each other's hands.
"Mashed potatoes," she says. "That's something it's hard to get made right anymore. Restaurants don't want to put in enough butter and milk."
"You're right about that," Klieg says. "Took me forever to train my cook on that—even with the non-digestible fat versions, the cook tended to get upset and think that I was developing bad dietary habits. Kept ratting on me to Public Health till I restricted its modem access and made it strictly obedient. And I swear to god, it never cooked as well afterward, as if it were sulking. I don't suppose you have servants—"
"Just an occasional live one," she says, "but when you've had a few cleaning women you understand about how hard it is to get the help to do what you want it to do. Makes you appreciate how poor old NASA felt when the replicators were going to eat Moonbase."
Derry sees them holding hands and her freckled face breaks down into a broad grin; she runs toward them, strawberry blonde braids flying. Shelooks like one of the paintings Klieg got because he liked it, by some classic American painter—Norman Podhoretz? Something like that.
With a great scuffing and crunching of gravel, she comes to a stop in front of them. "That was fun! What are we going to do now?"
"Oh, well, your mom and I have just had a hardworking afternoon drinking on the patio, so maybe some dinner for the appetite we've worked up," Klieg says. "After that, who knows?"
He knows Glinda's humoring him, but Derry seems to like that they end up going to his favorite Shoney's. And Fawn, the waitress—an older lady who looks quite a bit like the President—makes a big fuss over her, which seems to be fun for everyone. They have burgers, fries, and apple pie, and as they lean back, Glinda says, "I've got a dreadful confession to make, John. I've thought about something connected with business, and I think I have an idea."
He mimes switching hats. "In that case, call me 'boss.'" Derry giggles at the silliness; Klieg can tell he's getting along great with the kid, as well as her mother. Definitely he should have thought of this years ago.
"Maybe I'll wait for that until we get into the car," Glinda says. "You eat here all the time and it's always possible someone would bug Shoney's." She turns to Derry and adds, "Honey, you know enough to keep quiet about what Mr. Klieg and I talk about—"
"Is there a big corporate raider trying to take over GateTech or something?" Derry asks. Klieg sees what Glinda means about the kid o.d.'ing on television and XV.
"Why sure," he explains. "Her name is Cruella DeVille, she's a kidnapper, a datavandal, a spy, and a Leftie, and she's this incredibly tall thin brunette babe who always dresses in long black slinky things—"
Derry is raising an eyebrow at him—she's got a quizzical expression that's so funny that he cracks up, just as Glinda does. "What's so funny?" Derry demands. "Is Cruella DeVille a real person?"
That's even funnier, but he can tell that Derry's feelings will be hurt if someone doesn't explain soon. "No, she's a character in a movie. Your mother and I would have seen it back when we were young."
"Mom still is young," Derry points out loyally.
At least it settles what they're doing next; there's a little screening-room place across the road where they can see 101 Dalmatians on the big screen, and it happens that the place also has Junior Mints, which is Klieg's favorite candy. This has really been a day for indulgence—he's going to need to put some time in on the track.
While they wait for the movie to be downloaded from the central bank, he asks Glinda, "So—it's not likely we're bugged here. What's this great idea you've got?"
She pops a Junior Mint in her mouth, savors it a moment, and then says, "Well, it was just the thought that if we're going into launch services that can't be interrupted, chances are it's better to be close to the pole—the hurricanes won't get up there, right?"
"I don't know, we'll pay some meteorologist to tell us that."
"Well, anyway, so we need to build a major space-launch facility without drawing too much attention to what we're really up to. Now, who would want that done? Who that's close to the pole?"
He beams at her. "Siberia! Yeah. And since the Prez is backing anyone who bucks the UN, we'll get plenty of support for doing it from our home nation. Not bad, kiddo, not bad at all."
"Thought you might like it. Do I get a kiss or are you still getting up your nerve?"
Truth is, he hadn't even been thinking that far ahead, but now that she mentions it, it's not a bad idea. He kisses Glinda; halfway through the kiss, he sees her open her eyes, look over at Derry, and cover Derry's eyes with her hand. They're all still laughing like idiots when the movie starts to run, and sure enough, it's as good as they remembered, and the kid loves it.
Even if he weren't about to take a trillion-dollar plunge into a new business, with a real chance to end up as Earth's richest man, this would still be the best day of the decade, as far as Klieg is concerned. After they return to Glinda's place, and Derry is steered off to bed, they get back to kissing, and it's nice to find out how much they both still remember about it.
Everyone always says when couples break up that everyone else should still stay friends, and this is a chance to find out if anyone ever means it. Besides, Jesse wants to know if Little Miss Values can be made jealous.
Unfortunately, she hasn't shown up at this party.
Without Naomi on his arm, towing him around and clarifying things for people, he is getting to talk to a lot of them, and there are a few things he's noticing. One is the number of guys who seem to be very sincere but don't exactly believe in anything. Another is the number of people who seem too ineffectual to have gotten out of bed in the morning; most people know the United Left is more a lifestyle than a position anymore, but when he thinks that these people, or others like them, were ever accused of having engineered the Flash ... well, it's just silly.
The most interesting thing to him is that he seems to be getting along really well with the women. He hadn't realized how much he'd absorbed from Naomi—he can follow most of the political discussion pretty well, and by just staying a little noncommittal, he can get amazing amounts ofattention from young women who want to bring him around to their point of view.
He's not sure, all of a sudden, that dumping him wasn't the biggest favor Naomi ever did him.
Not that these are exactly what he would have thought of as real honeys, back in his unenlightened high school days. They all look like sort of living fossils, cast up from the middle of the twentieth century; in a sosh class once the prof explained that when a movement becomes fixated on impossible causes or on issues that the great majority of society finds completely irrelevant, it takes on more of the aspect of a cult or religious community, including a distinctive style of dress and speech. He remembers a couple of young women with long loose hair, baggy skirts, sandals, and a lot of beads got up and walked out at that.
What he's noticing now is that, all right, nobody's even wearing makeup, but thanks to Naomi he's used to that, and he's also used to figuring out body shapes even under all the tenting. Many of these women have fabulous little bodies—and an acute interest in getting him to come to meetings and have things explained to him. He suspects he's not the only person who would like to see Naomi consumed with jealousy.
And in a subculture where there's not supposed to be any flirting, they all end up being much more overt than the girls Jesse grew up with. They stand close, they pose, they smile and stare into his eyes. A guy could get used to it.
He has a lot more trouble talking to the guys, even though everyone's being polite enough. They don't follow sports, they don't do outdoors stuff directly (and Jesse's never gotten used to XV wilderness experiences—too much like being on a hike with five college professors who talk too much). Besides, most of them are so careful not to dominate their female friends that they won't exactly say what they think about anything in the presence of a woman. There are a few safe subjects—everyone agrees that technology is responsible for ARTS because it allowed people to survive AIDS, and for SPM because it was the evolutionary pressure of antibiotics that forced syphilis into developing its symptom-suppressing behavior. Everyone agrees that Doug Llewellyn and Passionet are responsible for degrading mass consciousness beyond redemption. Everyone agrees that because nobody cares about the race, the United Left really does have a shot at the presidency this year, even if they don't settle on a candidate by November.
He's a little startled at how much attention he's getting from Gwendy, but not so startled that he can't figure out what to do about it. After a while they are talking together in a corner, and she's sitting closer and closer. He finds that by talking about Tapachula and the TechsMex job, he seems to get even more attention.
It ends up being a very late night for him; it turns out that Naomi tends to tell her friends everything, and moreover Naomi is the conscience Gwendy wishes she had. So she's severely torn between what Naomi told her about sex in the desert at night, and the fact that Naomi still doesn't approve of the Lectrajeep. In that sense it's not any easier than getting Naomi to fuck; but when, finally, at two A.M., Gwendy is naked in the Lectrajeep in the desert, Jesse gets a chance to rediscover two things he had all but forgotten—laughter and enthusiasm.
It's too bad he had to impress her with the Tapachula thing; now he'll have to go do it, right when she was making the idea of Tucson so much more appealing.
Carla Tynan has been up for much too long, and she's getting strung out. MyBoat is pounding along, using up her antimatter charge faster than intended—though it would still take her clear around the world, if it came to that. The hull is vibrating noticeably with the extra speed she's crowded on. But the autopilot can do all that; the only time Carla's skills are called for is when she's coming into a port, and since she's still six hundred miles northwest of Nauru, that's going to be a long while.
She's feeling a little ashamed of having dropped and run when she realized the magnitude of effect that was happening; a real scientist, she chides herself, would have headed a little north and way east, over into the hurricane formation zone off of southern Mexico, to get a better look. But all the same, she's a pleasure craft, not a research vessel, and no doubt the big powers are getting some serious gear into that area already. Most likely if she'd decided to head there, she'd have been intercepted by the American or the Mexican navy and interned.
Anyway, what she's finding here is bad enough. Correct for the true atmospheric mix, and you get something between fifty and a hundred big hurricanes and god knows what else. She has the equivalent of six old-time Crays in her little ship (she can remember back when you had to rent time on such things, and nowadays some rich people use microsupers to run their houses), but that's not nearly enough to run the full model at any reasonable speed.
Thus she's forced to do what they never have to do at NOAA (or at NSA, which she doesn't know about). She has to set up the parts of the model that she can do by graphics and instinct, plug in values from that, and then run the parts for which she doesn't have a gut feel. It's woefully imprecise, and if her gut feelings are wrong at any point she's going to get nonsense, but it's what's available if she wants the answer before the storm hits.
Thus she sets up the screen to show her the new isotherms in the Pacific. An isotherm is an imaginary line along which the temperature is constant; most people have seen them on TV weather maps, usually as bands of color on "high today" or "low today" maps.
If you're interested in hurricanes, there's one isotherm you've got to know everything about. That's the one for 27.5° Celsius.
A hurricane is a gigantic heat engine. That is, it converts a temperature difference into mechanical energy, like diesel, steam, gasoline, jet, rocket, or turbine engines. But whereas a diesel engine, for example, converts (some of) the heat of the burning fuel to motion of the piston by releasing (most of) the heat to the cooler environment, a hurricane works by moving heat from the hot ocean surface to the cold bottom of the stratosphere—converting some of it to wind along the way.
If the water is below 27.5° Celsius, more energy comes out of the wind to move the heat than the heat itself supplies, and the hurricane dies. But above 27.5°, a hurricane doesn't just live ... it grows. Each blast of cool air blowing over the warm, wet ocean grows warmer, rises, drops its load of evaporated water, and returns with a little more force each time.
So inside the isotherms marked "27.5°" on Carla's map, hurricanes will grow; outside they will die. The areas inside the 27.5° isotherms are "hurricane formation zones."
She looks at the map, and she's never seen anything like it before. Normally there are two, or in a very warm summer three, hurricane formation zones in the Pacific—one by the Philippines, one lying under the bulge of Mexico, and late in a warm summer the South China Sea.
The models have been figuring that these zones would expand, and the formula they have used to expand them has been a very simple one—too simple as it turns out. No one checked to see if they might overlap, or if others might form. Not that she blames them—it's not a particularly obvious point. And for that matter, if they did, maybe they didn't believe what they saw—quite possibly they did check and then decided not to stick their necks out. Remembering her old outfit, Carla sighs. Not sticking your neck out was what it was all about.
Still, it's there, and if they'd been more careful or more systematic, they'd have seen it.
There is now just one hurricane formation zone in the North Pacific—but it stretches from the Galapagos to Borneo, east-west, and the equator to Hokkaido, north-south. It's 11,000 miles across and 3,500 miles wide.
Normally the force of a hurricane is determined by the temperature of the water it passes over (the warmer the more force) and by the length of time it spends passing over that 27.5° or warmer water (the longer, the more heat energy gets converted into wind). So the size of the hurricane formationzone limits the power of the hurricane, because it moves, on rare occasions as fast as 100 mph. Historically the hurricane formation zones have been 1,500 or 2,000 miles across at widest, so that few hurricanes stay in them for even twenty-four hours.
This new whole-ocean hurricane formation zone is vastly bigger than anything of the kind in recorded history.
She sits and watches as the computer does a set of quick and dirty runs, playing with random numbers to show a range of possibilities.
They all look frighteningly alike. She feels like just going to bed, hoping to get up in the morning and find it was all a bad dream.
Anyway, it won't happen tonight. She can take MyBoat up to the surface and plug in, talk to Di or Louie or somebody.
She reaches for the autopilot control, sets running for "surface" and tells it to take her up gently. In a moment the thunder of the motors pushing water out the jets begins to sound slightly different as MyBoat begins to climb toward the surface. She gets back to the keyboard, and snips out the important bits into a file she can zap over to Di.
Of course, maybe he knows. Maybe he's in on it. Well, if that's the case, at least he can warn her to steer clear of this. And perhaps even tell her a little about what is really going on. On the other hand, if he's been kept in the dark too ... who's running this show?
No doubt they'll find out. All they have to do is reveal the findings and see who gets upset enough to try to suppress them. She grins at herself for thinking such melodramatic thoughts.
When the hull of MyBoat finally bursts out onto the Pacific Ocean, Carla has her download ready to go. She dials Di's number at home before she remembers to check the time zone; fortunately, running submerged, she's been keeping strange hours, and it's only ten P.M. there, not unconscionable, although he does have young kids.
His wife, Lori, the mystery writer, answers. She's always been just a little distant with Carla. When Di and Carla worked together, Di probably talked too much about her at home.
But Lori knows her well enough to know the call must be something important. "Hi. I guess I'd better get Di. He's asleep with the kids."
"Thank you, Lori. I'm sorry to have to call so late."
"It's all right—if you're doing it, it's important. Can I ask you something before I get Di?"
"How serious is all the stuff happening?" Lori glances to the side, probably checking to make sure that Di isn't listening. "Di's been talking in his sleep, thrashing around, coming home from work looking like hell—"
"I'm not surprised," Carla says. "It's very serious, Lori, and I've got some evidence that it's even worse than what Di may be thinking."
Lori nods soberly, and a change comes over her face. Carla thinks to herself, this is the kind of woman who hears it's dangerous, so she gets a Self Defender. She hears that someone has managed to use AIRE to break a patent, or that fibrop prices have come down, and she knows exactly which stocks in the kids' college portfolios have to be sold right away. She knows everything she can about the world she lives in and she's ready to use the knowledge. If anyone should be able to get through this, it's Lori—she's what Carla's boomtalking grandmother would call "a really together lady."
"Can you tell me anything about it?" Lori asks.
"Well," Carla says slowly, "I can easily imagine why Di hasn't wanted to tell you. But I think you're entitled to get ready for it. I'm afraid this really is a global disaster; a lot of people are going to die and a lot of things are going to change."
"Is there anything we could do ... to be safe?" Lori asks. "I don't want to ask Di, because he worries enough ... but the kids—"
"If I think of anything I'll call you and tell you. It wouldn't be a bad idea to spend the summer in the mountains, maybe—you're only a few miles from the sea, right?"
"Right." Lori nods like she's going to start packing right now.
"But I could be dead wrong, Lori. If the Appalachians get the extra water we're talking about, they might be worse than the coast—flash floods, storms, mudslides, hail, maybe even bad blizzards in July if enough cloud cover develops. We're just not ready to say. That's part of why Di is so upset these days, I'm sure—because we're not ready to say, but we know for sure it's going to be something big." Or because he does know what it's going to be, and he's holding data back for some weird political reason, she adds, crossing her fingers mentally.
Lori nods. "Thanks for filling me in. I'll go get Di."
"Oh, and Lori?"
"I loved Slaughterer in Green. My favorite so far."
Lori beams at her. "Thanks." She vanishes from the screen and a moment later Di comes onto the camera.
"A lot, I'm afraid. I was talking with Louie earlier today, and he happened to read me off some of the methane density results they're getting with the satellite-to-satellite shots."
"You two kids were always so romantic."
"Oh, belt up. This is important. The numbers he gave me are way higherthan the numbers I've been getting out of NOAA, and it's a systematic error—somebody's been dividing some key data by eight before reporting it. I want to know what's going on and why this is being done—and if you're not in on it, I want to give you the real numbers."
Di looks like he's been punched in the gut, but he'd look that way whether he was surprised at the information or surprised that she knew it. "What are the numbers, then?" he asks.
She tells him and then drops the second of her three blockbusters. "Now, when you start plugging those numbers in, plot the isotherms on Pacific surface water temperature."
"Because the thing that our model does is figure size of each hurricane formation zone individually. Generally that's all that needs to be done and it works, because when you're only messing with small changes the zones grow or shrink by a hundred miles or so at most." She tells him about the whole Pacific being one formation zone.
"Think about it, Di, they get bigger the farther they run. Up till now you've never had one run two thousand miles through a formation zone. When a big one rips up the U.S. East Coast it's dying before it clears Florida. But this summer there are some that might get in eight-thousand- or ten-thousand-mile runs before they pile into land ... and a hurricane might pass New York City and be headed for Europe, still gaining energy."
"Now wait a minute, Carla, it's bad but it's not that bad. Hurricanes move east to west. They'll hit land eventually—"
Time for her third blockbuster. "They also move toward the pole. And once you're up at thirty-two degrees north or so, the steering currents will tend to push them toward the east. You might very well see one or more of them circling around out there and not dying all summer."
It is characteristic of information that it can be stolen an all but unlimited number of times. When it became clear that one particular senior meteorologist at NOAA might be sitting at the focal point, that clarity—that little note that "this is what probably matters"—became information in and of itself, and was worth stealing. A dozen monitoring programs stole it at once, and dozens more stole from each of them, and from the places they passed it on to, until by now practically everyone who matters knows that Diogenes Callare matters. One of the few who doesn't know is Diogenes Callare.
He hasn't noticed his superiors treating him with kid gloves, though they are, or the FBI men who watch him constantly.
What he has noticed is how much seems to be kept from him, as if no one wants him to figure anything out. So Carla Tynan's phone call finallymakes it click into place, and he's been in Washington for far too long not to realize that if so much is being kept from him, it's because he's more important than he thinks he is. It's a long step down the road to paranoia, but it's been a proverb for a hundred years that being paranoid does not mean that they aren't out to get you.
As he hangs up, he thinks of a dozen little details ... an instrument report or two that he had discarded as too far out of bounds—and which had disappeared later. One or two people at NOAA whom he had thought were new hires, people he'd never seen before, who seemed to spend all the time they were not in meetings on the phone and didn't seem to know a lot of meteorology. Having overheard one new supervisor getting an explanation about methane being CH4 and opaque in the infrared from another of the new hires.
He knows, very suddenly, that there have been many, many datarodents in the nodes near him, with more arriving all the time. He doesn't know about the four guardians in the shadows around his house—or the two watchers who watch the guardians, waiting for a slip—but he will notice them when he comes out the door in the morning.
Di Callare stands and runs his hands through his hair. He thinks back to all the bland, boring years while not much happened; to the night when nuclear fire tore a hole in the capital, and the long year afterward as they swiftly rebuilt, and the slow realization that the Blue Berets might never be going home; and to the way that Washington went from being merely dangerous and dirty to a city of intrigue, like Vienna, Berlin, or Bucharest, a place where power swirled and congealed in dark corners, a place where Di could remember four acquaintances who died in odd accidents and three people who had disappeared.
"Even at fucking NOAA," he mutters under his breath, and then looks around and is relieved to remember that Nahum is asleep and hasn't picked up that one. He sighs once more, deeply, and goes in to see how Lori is doing.
She's hunched over the keyboard, beating away at it. He's given up on asking why she insists on using a keyboard when dictation equipment is so fast and accurate nowadays; her explanation—that readers of books like hers read fast and that they don't hear the words, so to write orally is to write the wrong rhythm—hasn't made much sense to him, but then he knows that his attempts to explain the jet stream to her haven't gotten much of anywhere either. Let it just be that she knows what she's doing.
He creeps softly up behind her and sees that she's typing but there was no one to hear her scream, however loud she might, not even as the man with the big, kind eyes began to slit the skin around her breast with his matte knife—
Di Callare winces, brushes her hair back, kisses her neck. Normally shehates to be interrupted while she's working, and normally he respects that, but right now he needs her touch badly, and he has to hope she'll understand.
When she turns to kiss his cheek, her face is wet with tears. "Bad news from Carla?" she asks.
"The worst. Did you hear?"
"She told me it was going to be bad." Lori explains, whispering in his ear. His mouth sets in disapproval—he'd have thought Carla would have more sense than to tell Lori something like—"Don't blame her, I asked. She's one of your best friends, you know—maybe not your closest, but one of your most loyal. I love her for that."
He lifts Lori out of her chair and carries her to their bedroom; in happier times when he has done this, mostly just to prove he still can, she's referred to it as "a moment out of the classic movies, that moment when the leading man carries away the leading lady and we see what they both really want—just before the train goes into the tunnel, or biplanes show up—"
The remembered joke makes him smile. They take a very long time about making love, as if they were trying to memorize everything.
The third week he's teaching in Tapachula, Jesse persuades Naomi to come down for a long visit. At first it seems like a blazing success; she seems very pleased with his tutoring work and with the little place he's found, and congratulates him on getting into a much better mode of existence than he had before. At least he's got her fooled into thinking he's a real Leftie.
But that night, as they sit on his couch and he very tentatively tries to kiss her, she says, "Oh, god, Jesse, no, no, I can't. Really. I had such a hard time getting over you the first time."
"Well, then don't get over me and just enjoy this."
"I wish I could."
"Why can't you?"
For the first time ever, he sees her lose her temper. "Because just maybe you're the kind of guy who wants me to just enjoy it, all right? It's bad enough that you don't think of anyone but yourself but you don't want me to think of anyone but myself, either! I can't believe you're trying to talk me into being selfish and centered and linear!"
They end up talking philosophy for hours. When Jesse finally goes to sleep, he's not only exhausted, but the apartment is so tiny that he doesn't even have the option of masturbating to relieve himself. The next day Naomi gets on the little jumplane, which shoots straight up into the brilliant blue tropical sky and is gone. She'll be touching down on the runway in Tehuantepec before the combino can get Jesse out of the airport traffic.
Still, he manages to get her to come down once more, and then, in the middle of one of the cafés that fronts on the Zócalo, just because he suggests that a little pleasure in her life would surely not damage the good things she does, she starts to cry, and she hits him (not hard, that takes practice she's never had). Lunging across the table in a clatter of dishes, she dumps a pitcher of beer on him, flags down a taxi, and is gone while he is still trying to rub his eyes clear of the salty, sticky mess dribbling down from his hair.
He checks his contract with TechsMex and discovers that unless he can give them twice the price of a new car right away, he's here for at least six more months. Probably he'd have missed his students, anyway. They're great people—as evidenced by the fact that three of them witnessed that last incident with Naomi, and yet he never hears a thing about it. It's as if the whole collective memory, the great gossip bank, of Tapachula, has all been subjected to a Flash.
With Jesse in the role of the ruins of the Duc.
"And that's all," Glinda Gray is saying to John Klieg. "Just emphasize that when you talk to the Siberians. There's Ariane 12, Delta Clipper III, the Japanese K-4, a bunch of military space planes that can't lift much more than their own crews, and no real heavy lift until NAOS gets the Monster flying. Theoretically, the Russians or Chinese could start building big boosters again but it would be from scratch.
"And that couldn't be more perfect. Ariane flies from the Caribbean, Delta Clipper III from Edwards AFB, K-4 from Kageshima. All places that are vulnerable—but not nearly as vulnerable as the NAOS Monster flying out of Kingman Reef. Meteorology's estimate is that by late June everything that can lift more than a two-man crew should be shut down completely."
"Got it," Klieg says. He looks Glinda up and down; she is in a perfect pink leather suit and matching shoes. It shouts "Expensive!" and for the Siberians that's what you have to do. "Remember what the culture coach said. Do your best to look in awe, like you're completely enslaved sexually."
Glinda grins at him. "If anyone could do that to me, darling ... ."
His heart gives a funny thump. This meeting is for all the marbles if ever there was one—they've got half the significant officials in the Siberian Republic flying in to Islamabad, the nearest place where discretion could be assured and Western comforts were available. Just chasing this deal so far has cost Klieg four times what it did to start GateTech.
God, he's glad Glinda is here. No man ever had a better partner for this kind of thing; she remembers everything, coordinates everything, and yet is willing to play the Number One Harem Girl to get them the deal.
And it is their deal now, not just Klieg's. For the last ten days he's been noticing he thinks about the future a lot—about where Derry will go to college, and what kind of house he and Glinda will need for the years Derry is with them, and then after that when they're still active, and finally for retirement. He loves planning things.
Gently, he brings her face to his; in the super-high heels her balance isn't good and she's almost as tall as he is, so their kisses are very tender and light, just the warm brushing of lip to lip.
Randy Householder finds it hard to believe, but there it is. After all these years, some signs of progress. Five scattered datarodents out there have reported that Harris Diem is behind a couple of fronts that are buying the murder wedges. That doesn't surprise him a bit—if anyone would be conducting a secret investigation, that's who. He's just surprised how long it took him to find the traces of the investigation. He hopes it won't be equally hard to penetrate its files.
It's pretty clever of them to hide the investigation behind Diem's personal accounts.
That one little one that got into the NOAA node was the key; now that he has many supplemental keys to look for, the right bank and credit accounts, it will take less time. It's still going to be some weeks, of course, because to do these illegal accesses he has to wait until things are brought out of storage and put online, and most of the relevant records will be more than a decade old.
It's okay with Randy. He's been hunting a long time. A part of him wonders what it will be like, not to be looking for the man who paid to have Kimbie Dee killed. He wonders if there'll even be a world at all after that?
Her face is getting indistinct in his mind again, so he pulls out a video disk and watches his daughter for an hour; sees how she grew up, how pretty she was, watches her cheering at an eighth-grade football game (and what a beautiful girl she was!)—
Cuts very briefly to her on the slab in the morgue, face black from the hanging, bra still embedded in her neck, blood on her thighs and belly.
"It's okay," Randy whispers to her. Except online he rarely talks to anyone else anymore. He's not even sure where Terry is now—she got married again and had a couple more kids. "We'll get him, Kimbie Dee. No matter what."
Datarodents swarm out of the car's computer, up through the antenna into the satellite, and from there to everywhere, over laser, radio, and fibrop. The car rolls on toward Austin—there are just enough connections in thematerial he got by bugging Diem's investigation so that it looks like there's something worth knowing in police records down there.
It's dark in the middle of Kansas, but Randy doesn't mind. He switches off the terminal, and after a while, he falls asleep. In front of him, the headlights search the blackness, and find only the road.
Copyright © 1994 by John Bames
Posted June 23, 2012
First off, I can't believe that no one has reviewed this book yet considering it was originally released in 1994. I've had the paperback version since it was released in 1995, and I've re-read it and passed it back and forth to friends so many times in the intervening years, that my copy is quite tattered. This is an excellent read. Well-written characters that you find yourself really rooting for and a fast paced plot that keeps you up til all hours because you just have to find out what happens next. Don't let the dry description in the Overview above deter you from reading this one. It just describes the setting for the book but completely leaves out the human element, which is really what pushes this story along and makes it such a good book. If you like well thought out near-future disaster books with characters you actually care what happens to, and prefer yours to have a satisfying ending that isn't depressing, then pick this one up. You won't be disappointed.
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Posted November 17, 2013
This book was just too much! It had some promise but honestly got way too bogged down in details that were just not that intetesting...it could have been a good book but minus at least 500 pages...by the end (oh, that ridiculous end ugh) i felt as if i had wasted way too much time on this book...Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted September 23, 2012
Woke up. She was excited and happy. She wanted to tell dawnfeather about all the starry cats she met but then she saw the look on dawnfeathers face and her excitement left her immediately. Is something wrong dawnfeather? She asked.
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