Radiance: A Novel

E-book edition of the 2002 Carter Scholz novel of post-Cold War science/technology, extensively annotated with references and related texts.
fiction, sociology, politics, transhumanism, history, SF
2013-07-062019-08-17 finished certainty: log importance: 8


Radi­ance: A Novel is SF author sec­ond lit­er­ary nov­el. It is a roman à clef of the 1990s set at the , cen­ter­ing on two nuclear physi­cists entan­gled in cor­rup­tion, mid-life crises, insti­tu­tional incen­tives, tech­no­log­i­cal inevitabil­i­ty, the end of the Cold War & start of the Dot­com Bub­ble, nuclear bombs & mis­sile defense pro­gram, , accel­er­a­tionism, and the great sci­en­tific project of mankind. (For rel­e­vant his­tor­i­cal back­ground, see the excerpts in the appen­dices.)

I pro­vide a HTML tran­script pre­pared from the nov­el, with exten­sive anno­ta­tions of all ref­er­ences and allu­sions, along with extracts from related works, and a com­par­i­son with the novella ver­sion.

About Radiance

Discussion/reviews (excerpts in an appen­dix):

Com­mer­cial sites:

Sim­i­lar works:

Editor’s preface

This HTML e-book has been pre­pared from a scanned copy (22M) of the first Pic­a­dor Feb­ru­ary 2002 hard­cov­er, ISBN 0-312-26893-9. (The novel is out of print and unavail­able as an e-book.) All foot­notes, hyper­links, and other anno­ta­tions are my own work.

Radiance

by Carter Scholz

Cover

Front & back cover of first Pic­a­dor hard­cover edi­tion of Radi­ance: A Novel, Scholz 2002

Jacket copy

Some­where in Cal­i­for­nia, in the 1990s, a nuclear weapons lab devel­ops advanced tech­nolo­gies for its post-­Cold War mis­sion. Advanced as in not work­ing yet. Mis­sion as in con­tin­ued fund­ing. A scan­dal-­plagued mis­sile defense pro­gram presses for­ward, drag­ging physi­cist Philip deep into the machi­na­tions of those who would use the lab for their own gain.

The Soviet Union has col­lapsed. But new ene­mies are sought, and new rea­sons found to con­tinue the work that has legit­imized the power of the Lab, its man­agers, and the politi­cians who fund them. Quine is thrust into the cen­ter of pro­grams born at the inter­sec­tion of para­noia, greed, and ambi­tion, and torn by incom­men­su­rable demands. Dead­lines slip and cost over­runs mount. He is drawn into a mael­strom of pol­icy meet­ings, clas­si­fied doc­u­ments, petty betray­als, inter­rupted con­ver­sa­tions, missed mean­ings, unan­swered voice­mail, stolen data, and porno­graphic files. Amid all the noise and sta­tic of the late twen­ti­eth cen­tury made man­i­fest in weapons and anti-weapons, human beings have set in motion a malign and inhu­man real­i­ty, which now is beyond their con­trol.

More than a cri­tique of cor­rupt sci­ence and a per­ma­nent wartime econ­o­my, Radi­ance is a novel of lost ide­als, bro­ken aspi­ra­tions, and human costs. In this vivid satire, rela­tion­ships are just a ques­tion of who’s using whom. Fail­ure is just another word for oppor­tu­ni­ty. “Spin” is a prop­erty not of atomic par­ti­cles but of the news cycle. Nature is a blur beyond the wind­shield, where lives are spent on the road, on the phone, on the make, in fierce com­pe­ti­tion for finan­cial, polit­i­cal, and intel­lec­tual resources. It is a world which lan­guage is used to evade, manip­u­late, and expe­dite. It is a world where every­one’s story is always open to revi­sion and lan­guage is used for jus­ti­fy­ing every­thing from defense pro­grams to divorce.

Blurbs

“A tour de force of obses­sive, micro­scopic real­ism and a vibrantly satir­i­cal phan­tas­mago­ria at once. It gives a ter­ri­fy­ing glimpse of a war at the junc­ture of sci­ence and pol­i­tics, one never fully fought or aban­doned, only cov­ered in denial and fatigue. It reads like a declas­si­fied doc­u­ment of the human soul.”

, author of Moth­er­less Brook­lyn

“Carter Scholz’s laser-beam prose is com­bustible upon con­tact, so stim­u­lat­ing that—as you take it in—you can actu­ally feel your synapses over­load­ing with halo­gen-­clear bril­liance. Radi­ance is provoca­tive, riv­et­ing, fun­ny, but above all else, it is star­tlingly unique.”

David Grand, author of The Dis­ap­pear­ing Body

“I doubt there’s another writer in the coun­try who can match Scholz as a styl­ist. Radi­ance is a splen­did evo­ca­tion of time and place. Beau­ti­ful, fun­ny, and scary, too, it’s every bit as bril­liant as the name implies.”

, author of Sis­ter Noon

“This beau­ti­ful and dis­turb­ing novel is a superb ren­der­ing of our strate­gic defense weapons pro­grams and of the Amer­ica that sup­ports them. It’s fic­tion about sci­ence in ser­vice to fic­tions, a coher­ent beam that illu­mi­nates our world in a new way. Scholz’s ear for Amer­i­can speech, and the pre­ci­sion of his lan­guage, remind me of , , or Pyn­chon, but here the high mod­ernist bril­liance is put to urgent polit­i­cal use.”

, author of Antarc­tica

Acknowledgments

Grate­ful acknowl­edg­ment is made to André Gspon­er, Diane Wolk­stein and Car­ole Gal­lagher for per­mis­sion to quote from their work. Other quoted mate­r­ial is taken ver­ba­tim from pub­lic doc­u­ments issued by the U.S. Depart­ment of Defense, the U.S. Depart­ment of Ener­gy, and its national lab­o­ra­to­ries. For addi­tional tech­ni­cal infor­ma­tion I am indebted to Andrew Lichter­man and Daniel Mar­cus. Most of all I am grate­ful to my edi­tor, Bryan Cholfin, for patiently nur­tur­ing this book through its long ges­ta­tion.

I. Radiance

[pg1]

“I call upon the sci­en­tific com­mu­nity in our coun­try, those who gave us nuclear weapons, to turn their great tal­ents now to the cause of mankind and world peace, to give us the means of ren­der­ing those nuclear weapons impo­tent and obso­lete.”

Pres­i­dent , 19833

“Out of the crooked tim­ber of human­ity no straight thing was ever made.”

4

[pg3] Quine approached the on a road that led nowhere else. The morn­ing light was thick, almost a sub­stance. Past the razor­wire of the perime­ter fence, cranes and water tow­ers and incin­er­a­tor stacks rose above the fortress city’s sprawl of build­ings. Con­struc­tion vehi­cles moved on its roads. Beyond, grass­land stretched to hill­sides sal­low from drought and spot­ted with dark stands of live oak.

Soon he saw the pro­test­ers block­ing the gate. Cars in both lanes had stopped. The blue lights and red lights of patrol cars flick­ered on the road’s shoul­ders. Black­clad police formed a line between the pro­test­ers and the gate. Over chant­i­ng, rhyth­mic but unin­tel­li­gi­ble, rang a bull­horn’s clipped com­mands, and the pro­test­ers moved off the road­way, the rhythm of their chant stum­bling. A few remained kneel­ing in the road before the gate. Three police hol­stered their batons and moved respect­fully among the kneel­ing pro­test­ers, like acolytes among devouts, help­ing them one by one to their feet and lead­ing them within the gates to a wait­ing bus. The sequence of block­ade, arrest, and release was by now rit­u­al. The arrested chat­ted with their cap­tors.

As the cars edged for­ward, Quine saw once again the dark­haired young woman in the crowd and once again felt the hol­low­ing of his heart. Her resem­blance to Kate, any reminder of Kate, still lanced him.

Two cars ahead, Leo High­et’s5 red con­vert­ible sounded its horn as Highet leaned out to heck­le, –Get a life! The woman flinched and Quine’s eyes locked on High­et’s head, the bald spot, the wedge of fea­tures [pg4] vis­i­ble in the rearview mir­ror, the broad nose and dark glass­es. Once through the gate High­et’s car sped into a right turn to the admin­is­tra­tion build­ing while Quine drove on to the sec­ond check­point, then through a desert of bro­ken rock, buried mines, and motion sen­sors erect on metal stalks like unliv­ing plants. Past this dry moat he stopped at a third check­point, then parked in the shade of a con­crete build­ing with blank walls and win­dows, and ner­vously thumbed the car radio, –affic and weather togeth, while he watched two younger sci­en­tists cross the lot and enter the build­ing. Then he stilled the car and went in.

In his office, one hor­i­zon­tal win­dow too high to reach framed an oblong of sky. On the walls, aban­doned by the prior occu­pant and by Quine untouched, hung graphs and pic­tures, seis­mo­graphs of bomb tests, the branched coils of par­ti­cle decay, a geo­log­i­cal map, of mol­e­c­u­lar etch­ings, a moun­tain­scape, all over­laid by mem­os, monthly con­struc­tion maps, field test sched­ules, Every­one Needs To Know About Clas­si­fi­ca­tion, car­toons, Curios­ity Is Not A , white­board thick with equa­tions in four col­ors so long unwiped that Quine’s one pass with a wet rag had left the sym­bols down one edge ghosted but not erased, and a sec­ond desk, loose papers cas­caded across its sur­face, the com­puter mon­i­tor topped by a seam­split card­board car­ton GREY and but­tressed by books man­u­als fold­ers xeroxes , and , 6, Numer­i­cal Solu­tion of , Sell­ing Your­self and Your Ideas! and under the desk banker’s boxes DESTROY AFTER, and D NULL in black mark­er. 7, the prior occu­pant, was “on indef­i­nite leave”. But when Quine had moved in, Highet had insisted that he leave Nul­l’s half of the office untouched, either against Nul­l’s return or, as Quine was com­ing to believe, as a mon­u­ment to dis­ap­pear­ance.

Quine checked his com­puter mail. Most of the mes­sages were notices, chaffing, power plays, triv­ia.

A memo­r­ial ser­vice will be held Nov. 1 for Al Hazen who died Oct. 27 fol­low­ing a lengthy ill­ness. He was 51. Hazen worked with the Weapons Test Group at Aguas Secas. Dona­tions in his mem­ory may be made to the [pg5] Amer­i­can Can­cer Soci­ety.

One mes­sage could not be ignored:

From: Leo Highet
Date: Thu, 31 Oct 1991 17:58:36 (-0800)
To: Philip Quine <quine@.ban­l.­gov>
Subject: Radi­ance
Cc: diet­z@styx.ban­l.­gov, szabo@styx.ban­l.­gov, kihara@.ban­l.­gov, huy­gens@aries.ban­l.­gov, lb@­dioce8.ban­l.­gov

Gen­tle­men:

As you know, the Belt­way boys are com­ing and it is CRUCIAL that they go home awed. I want con­fi­dence, energy and style. There are unan­swered ques­tions and we will take hits on those. Meet­ing at noon today to brain­storm our approach, bldg 101, rm E-501.

Highet

—“To apply and direct this vast new poten­tial of destruc­tive energy excited the inven­tive genius of as had few other enter­pris­es.”—

More galling than the mes­sage was High­et’s new com­puter login sforza and his sig­na­ture quote. The inspi­ra­tional con­ceit, that they were all Renais­sance maestri under the gen­tle patron­age of Prince Leo the High, had come iron­i­cally from Quine, who was read­ing about da Vin­ci’s eigh­teen years as under , . Leonardo had writ­ten, “I hate war, as all ratio­nal men hate it, but there seems no escape from its bes­tial mad­ness.” Not while men of genius bend their tal­ents to it, Quine had added. Here was High­et’s come­back.

High­et. What a piece of work. Builder and destroyer of his own leg­end. A fecund the­o­rist but a dis­tracted exper­i­menter, an indif­fer­ent admin­is­tra­tor but a cham­pion politi­cian. From the start of his career he had trav­eled to the cap­i­tal, made him­self known to con­gress­men and their staffs. In reward for such atten­tions he was at a young age appointed tech­ni­cal rep­re­sen­ta­tive to a dis­ar­ma­ment con­fer­ence. His con­duct was impec­ca­ble until one after­noon, goaded by the other side’s men­da­cious pre­sen­ta­tion and by his own ungovern­able need to com­mand the cen­ter of every sit­u­a­tion, he let slip clas­si­fied data9.

Highet made allies sooner than friends, and ene­mies sooner than either. After this gaffe his allies were silent while his ene­mies pounced. [pg6] But Highet made the first of the hairs­breadth escapes on which his leg­end was built. A paper pub­lished a year before, cosigned by the Pres­i­den­t’s sci­ence advi­sor, had exposed the same secret. The hear­ings were dropped and Highet was exiled to an under­funded oubli­ette of the Lab housed in tem­po­rary trail­ers: J Sec­tion.

Any­one else would have lan­guished there. But Highet built by inches a power base, using his charisma to attract the bright­est, most dri­ven grad­u­ate stu­dents he could find, form­ing in the mean­time new polit­i­cal alliances. When Con­gress at last funded Radi­ance, all the nec­es­sary tal­ent was in J Sec­tion, and fiercely loyal to High­et. Soon he was asso­ciate direc­tor. Two years lat­er, the direc­tor retired and Highet filled his place.

J Sec­tion. Research And Devel­op­ment In Advanced Nuclear Con­cepts. Con­cepts as in weapons. Advanced as in not work­ing yet. Radi­ance’s char­ter was to develop energy weapons of all types, but High­et’s hope and pet was the : an orbit­ing bat­tle sta­tion of . The bom­b’s igni­tion would charge the rods with ener­gy, focused into beams that would flash out to strike down enemy mis­siles, all in the microsec­ond before the sta­tion con­sumed itself in nuclear fire.

So far the beams flashed out only in the­o­ry. The the­o­ry, orig­i­nated by Null, seemed to Quine sound, but the more he stud­ied his com­puter mod­el, the less he under­stood why any of Nul­l’s tests had ever pro­duced the ghost of a beam. Yet the far­ther tests fell behind expec­ta­tions, the more stri­dent became High­et’s pub­lic claims. War­ren Slater10, in charge of test­ing, had resigned in protest. His let­ter of res­ig­na­tion was clas­si­fied and squelched. Bernd Dietz was given interim charge of test­ing, and to Quine fell the task of find­ing in dis­ap­point­ing test data any opti­mism about the promised results.

Mean­while Highet had grown ever more reck­less. He began show­ing up at high pro­file con­fer­ences and sem­i­nars in sub­jects out­side his field: on , , , , , 11, mak­ing no dis­crim­i­na­tions between the cut­ting edge, the spec­u­la­tive, and the snake oil, as if the force of his char­ac­ter could remake phys­i­cal law, or at least the local ver­sion of it. He spoke in ban­quet halls at Red Lion Inns, he passed out abstracts, [pg7] off­prints, video­tapes, he painted futures brighter and more def­i­nite than the pre­sent, with him­self and his visions at the cen­ter of them, invit­ing the wise and the bold to sit with him in the pros­per­ity and rec­ti­tude of that inner cir­cle, out­side which was dark­ness, bar­barism, and chaos.

And have made a trade of delu­sions and false mir­a­cles, deceiv­ing the stu­pid mul­ti­tude12. Again the voice. In the mind’s shad­ows were count­less voic­es, dead, liv­ing, unborn, lost. Since work­ing on Radi­ance Quine had dreamed them. Now they came into his wak­ing life. This voice he rec­og­nized from Leonar­do’s note­books.

On his sec­ond com­put­er, secure in steel shield­ing, waited Quine’s sim­u­la­tion of the rods. This frail super­struc­ture of hope was raised on a sprawl­ing foun­da­tion of faith. Hun­dreds of man-years of Lab effort and inge­nu­ity had gone into the under­ly­ing physics codes [pro­gram­s]. Even so, it was not pos­si­ble that they could describe the full com­plex­ity of a nuclear blast. Sim­pli­fi­ca­tions and esti­mates entered in, accept­able only because their results matched exper­i­men­tal data to some more or less arbi­trary tol­er­ance. , mag­netic fields, burn prod­ucts, pho­ton scat­ter­ing, ther­mal con­duc­tion, ion vis­cos­i­ty, , all these impon­der­ables had to be cal­cu­lated and updat­ed, inter­act­ing in every ker­nel of space, at every nanosec­ond. If Quine had once puz­zled for years over the para­dox of a sin­gle pho­ton, the com­plex­i­ties here were lit­er­ally unthink­able. The reward of deep under­stand­ing was not part of the pack­age.

None of this caul­dron of approx­i­ma­tion, this vast ratio­nal­iza­tion, this ingen­u­ous mim­ic­k­ry, was Quine’s respon­si­bil­i­ty. To him it was a . His laser sim­u­la­tion ran on top of it all, pass­ing it data, receiv­ing its judg­ments. Again he ignited his bomb and waited for the nuclear pin­ball of par­ti­cles and ener­gies to reach his rods. Color bars and line graphs crept across the screen, the vis­i­ble sat­is­fac­tions of pro­gram­ming. The solip­sis­tic machine worlds. It was near to pornog­ra­phy, with­out nuance. Any half­bright notion could be sim­u­lat­ed, the sim­u­la­tion tweaked to an approx­i­ma­tion of suc­cess, and the suc­cess con­jured as proof for more fund­ing. Tweak and squeak, as Highet put it. Real­iza­tion was a “mate­ri­als” prob­lem. Bend your backs, men, to prove this golden turd of an idea. [pg8]

The dis­play glitched and broke into the . Lines of filled the screen, void qelem, , atof(nptr). He ceased to see words or even let­ters, his eyes grasp­ing instead at the pix­els, the shards of light within the char­ac­ters. That radi­ance within the mean­est mote of being.

What is light? Sur­faces boil with quan­tum fire. How comes this dumb swarm­ing to write beau­ty, alarm, or des­o­la­tion upon the soul? Eyes are the quest­ing front of the brain, the chan­nel to the heart. The eye may not, as thought, emit illu­mi­nat­ing rays, but our knowl­edge of its work­ing is no surer than his.

Mind’s eye and heart’s chan­nel pre­sented him now Kate’s rus­set hair, her full mouth and cheeks, her dim­pled chin, her dark eyes framed by wire glass­es. Like a key those fea­tures fit his heart. They appeared before him like a truth of nature. Mostly he lived in the mun­dane, scarcely not­ing what or whom he passed, but at rare moments the world came for­ward in all its vivid­ness, stun­ning his heart. Every time he saw Kate, there was that shock of pres­ence.

She was 23, he 37. They’d met in a yoga class. He had­n’t pur­sued at first. He was cou­pled with Nan, a quiet woman his own age who worked at the Lab. They lived apart but spent half their spare time togeth­er. He was con­tent and not con­tent with what they had. But he and Kate talked, and they went out a few times. She seemed inter­ested in him. Her eyes met some­thing in his. Some hope had stirred in him, some need for joy so long put by he’d ceased to miss it. Thus fed his need grew, covert but unchecked. The years sep­a­rat­ing him from Kate, years he’d squan­dered in ever more eso­teric projects at the Lab, seemed his to reclaim at will. Kate’s atten­tion fed in him some myth of start­ing over. He grew testy with Nan and impa­tient with him­self, seek­ing not a break between them but between them­selves and what he now acutely felt them becom­ing, bur­dens and reproofs to each oth­er. Nan waited him out. Her deep­en­ing dis­ap­point in him was unspo­ken but heavy. His des­per­a­tion grew until he could con­tain it no longer and he lay it before Kate, blurted it out, a bit­ter plea. Save me. Who would­n’t flee from that? She regarded him kind­ly. Oh Philip, the momen­t’s passed. It just did­n’t hap­pen for us. There’s some­one else. That the moment could pass. That he had let it. Had not seen it pass­ing. [pg9] Such a small thing, that atten­tion, that renewed hope, briefly given and with­drawn, gone now.

The morn­ing too was gone to no end. Every fail­ure now he referred back to that moment, and he saw in his life only pat­terns of fail­ure and empti­ness.


Quine avoided that part of the build­ing where High­et’s young the­o­rists worked, X Sec­tion, or, as the older men called it, the Playpen. But today his cus­tom­ary exit was blocked by a tour group of weary adults and bored chil­dren in face­paint, their guide say­ing, – that actu­ally repair human cells, as he swerved past a sign WARNING TOUR IN PROGRESS NON-CLASSIFIED CONVERSATION ONLY to the swell of the in full clash with The and a rapid din of sim­u­lated com­bat fol­lowed by the admir­ing excla­ma­tion, –Studly! Big win! and laugh­ter fad­ing as he passed an open room in which three refrig­er­a­tors stood flanked floor to ceil­ing by case upon case of soda, and veered into a stair­well clat­ter­ing down metal steps to a metal door held open by a waste­bas­ket and silent despite EMERGENCY EXIT ALARM WILL SOUND and emerged onto a load­ing dock between brown dump­sters NOT FOR DISPOSAL OF HAZARDOUS WASTE step­ping down onto a paved path then jump­ing back to dodge a white elec­tric cart DAIHATSU jounc­ing onto a debris of torn asphalt and tread­marked dirt past chain­link CREDNE CONSTRUCTION and three blue PORT-O-LET stalls to van­ish behind three glossy cylin­dri­cal tanks COMPOSIT PLASTEEL CONTAINMENT DO NOT INSTALL WITHOUT READING PLASTEEL KIT B INSTRUCTIONS, on past tem­po­rary trail­ers hold­ing his mouth and nose against the metal­lic stench of bright green flux ooz­ing from an open pipe into gray earth, until he regained the main road and passed the check­point, show­ing his badge, to enter Build­ing 101, pass­ing through the lobby where vis­i­tors and employ­ees were edi­fied by mod­els of bombs, lasers, satel­lites, , and pho­tos of the cel­e­brated Nobelists who’d devised them, and on to the con­fer­ence room where all but Highet had already arrived.

–He was one of the­se, shall I say, Marx­ist rad­i­cal types. His mother cut him out of the fam­ily mon­ey. Hel­lo, Philip. We’re wait­ing for Leo [pg10] as usu­al. So he’s in Prague now sell­ing lap­tops to the Czechs. Ah, the man him­self.

–Who’s this you’re talk­ing about, sounds like he’s fig­ured out that free mar­kets are diplo­macy by other means. Every­one, this is Jef Thor­pe, post­doc from the Uni­ver­sity of Utah, he’s here to look us over. Jef worked with , and I just want to say don’t believe the con­ven­tional wis­dom, some­thing is hap­pen­ing there13. Jef, this is Den­nis Kihara, our new press offi­cer, he takes the heat for my excess­es. Bernd Dietz, mate­ri­als and research. Frank Szabo, sys­tems inte­gra­tion. Phil Quine, our x-ray focus­ing guru, Philip, Jef’s done inter­est­ing work in your area, you should sit down with him. Okay, all pre­sent? Let’s do it.

Highet seated the young man oppo­site Quine. Jeans, jacket over t-shirt, short black hair, high col­or, a small gold stud through his left nos­tril, his pres­ence a breach of pro­to­col and prob­a­bly secu­ri­ty, though the oth­ers knew bet­ter than to say so.

–You all see the news last night? About the protest? The good news is we won. First they showed the pro­test­ers, out on the street, wind noise, bad light­ing, and then our rebut­tal from our respectable office. We won because we got to go last, and they put us last because we pro­vided clo­sure. That’s the model for our pre­sen­ta­tion: begin­ning, mid­dle, end. We’ll begin by show­ing footage of suc­cess­ful tests. The mid­dle will be video sim­u­la­tions of the sys­tem, where we’ll high­light poten­tial prob­lems. By defin­ing the prob­lems we con­trol the ques­tions. And we’ll end by address­ing the prob­lems and intro­duc­ing entirely new approaches and spin-off pro­grams. Den­nis is run­ning things, but I may break in at any point.

–Leo, can we skip the last part, the sci­ence fic­tion?

–No, Bernd. Past, pre­sent, future. Clo­sure. With­out this you leave peo­ple ready to ask ques­tions.

–We’re avoid­ing ques­tions?

–Not if they’re intel­li­gent and informed but we have a few crit­ics and wise guys on this panel and I’d like to keep it sim­ple.

–Leo, I have more respect than you for the intel­li­gence of sen­a­tors. Con­gress­men are not always so bright but

–Bernd, it’s sim­ple cour­tesy. We inform them at a level that’s nei­ther [pg11] con­de­scend­ing nor tech­ni­cal, we tell them their money is being well spent, show them how, say thanks so much.

–Sales­man­ship.

–Grow up, Bernd, a cou­ple times a year I ask you to do this. Is the money well spent? Yes or no.

–Yes, yes.

–I’d ah, feel bet­ter if we could dis­cuss the mid­dle part in ah detail, there are just some ques­tions that I’m not com­fort­able to address with­out ah, just a lit­tle more input. For exam­ple the focus­ing data…

–Den­nis, only Slater has ques­tioned that data, and he’s gone. Dis­cred­it­ed. Focus is now Philip’s baby.

–So, ah, focus is our main prob­lem?

–Yes, it’s one, said Quine. –Fo­cus, bright­ness…

–But we’re within an order of mag­ni­tude?

–I don’t see any quan­ti­ta­tive agree­ment with the­o­ry, said Quine. –The tests have shown a few bright spots. That’s all I’m will­ing to com­mit to.

–That’s all you’ve com­mit­ted to for what is it ten months now Philip?

–I don’t see any fun­da­men­tals. I’m begin­ning to won­der.

–Are you pulling a Slater on me, Philip? Because I want to tell you some­thing, all of you. Some peo­ple in the lower ech­e­lons are mak­ing Slater out to be some kind of hero. To m this man was a men­ace to every one of us because he did­n’t care about win­ning. He did­n’t know what he wanted out of life and would­n’t have been able to get it if he had known. I have no respect for par­a­sites like that.

–Leo, Null had a bril­liant notion and we should pur­sue it, but that’s all it is so far, a notion. We

–No one’s ques­tioned Nul­l’s the­o­ry, no one, not even crit­ics.

–Sure but it’s a long way from there to even a pro­to­type

–We have sup­port­ing test data

–which may or may not mean qual­i­ta­tive agree­ment may or may not, but never quan­ti­ta­tive, we have no under­stan

–well you’re the one with the mod­els Philip lo these many

–and you’re the one who said this was a long term pro­ject, your words, long term, and now sud­denly [pg12]

–oh sure, and if we all had seven lives

–now that there’s a lit­tle pres­sure it’s

–what I’m hear­ing

–it’s sud­denly urgent

–what I’m hear­ing from you Philip is that we need more shots. Con­vey that neces­sity to our guests when they’re here, think you can do that? And put a lit­tle urgency into it?

–I won’t pre­tend we have focus when

–You’re not going to give me an inch are you?

–Not on the basis of spotty data I can’t inter­pret.

–I tell you what. There’s an eighty kilo­ton shot [bomb test] com­ing up next Sat­ur­day, right, Bernd? Pig­gy­back it, Philip. Get your­self some bet­ter data.

–In what, a week? Design and fab­ri­cate appa­ra­tus in a week?

–Nine days. Jef can help you if he sticks around.

–Now hold on…

–Get off the pot. Let’s move to Frank’s con­tri­bu­tion. You’ve all read it?

–Leo…

–We’re mov­ing on.

There was a brief silence in which papers rus­tled.

–Noth­ing new here, said Dietz.

–That’s its strength. We’ve taken heat on pre­pro­duc­tion tech­nolo­gies. This is a sim­ple, viable off-the-shelf option. It’s an easy sell. Con­trac­tors are lin­ing up.

–It’s good show-and-tell, said Szabo. –We can point to a card cage, this is the guid­ance sys­tem a year ago, then hold up a wafer, here it is today. Tan­gi­ble progress.

Dietz con­tin­ued to study the paper. –These are 14 in a smaller pack­age.

–That’s right.

–These were shelved over ten years ago as an vio­la­tion.

–That toi­let paper? Let that worry us we might as well give up.

–These are not by any stretch of the imag­i­na­tion directed energy weapons. You want to put, what does it say, five thou­sand of these in orbit… [pg13]

–We’re pur­su­ing many options, Bernd. These would be one layer of a shield. Look, it’s a long way to deploy­ment. Oh and we get some­thing else totally for free with Frank’s idea. Always think . Put a war­head on these guys they’re , aim them down­ward get a thou­sand g impact, three k p s ter­mi­nal veloc­i­ty, earth­-­cou­pled shock waves to destroy hard­ened shel­ters. We have a friend in the Pen­ta­gon who’s hard for that and the Belt­way boys know it.

–Wait just wait you mean, this, these ah inter­cep­tors are for the pre­sen­ta­tion? But it’s, we need to address the exist­ing prob­lems, that’s what they’re com­ing for, we can’t feed them some­thing totally new! And with this Slater thing

–Den­nis, trust me, it’s the best pos­si­ble thing to do. As far as Slater goes, he’s his­to­ry, a blip, not even an inci­dent. This visit was sched­uled long before his snit. Sure we’ll get closer scrutiny than we would in the aver­age dog-and-pony but it’s an oppor­tu­ni­ty. Remem­ber NORAD’s famous ? They got a bil­lion-­dol­lar facelift out of those inci­dents. You up to speed now?

–Well yes, I mean no, not on the inter­cep­tors but…

–Put Frank’s paper in the kit, I’ll step in dur­ing the pre­sen­ta­tion. Oh, and make sure every­one gets a sou­venir.

–A, I’m sor­ry?

–A sou­venir. What are you giv­ing the kids for fam­ily day today?

–Ah, some laser-etched alu­minum disks…

–Good. Run off half a dozen make it a dozen more etched with the Radi­ance logo, can you do that? And glossies of the new artist’s ren­der­ings.

Highet was out the door before any­one else had left their seat. Thor­pe, aban­doned, stood but did not move quickly enough to fol­low the older man out. As the seated men stud­ied him incu­ri­ously he blushed and exit­ed.

The oth­ers then rose. Szabo went out singing under his breath, –It’s a long way, to deploy­ment, it’s a long way, I know. In the mean­time, we have employ­ment, it’s the stick that makes us go…15

At the door­way Dietz said to Quine, –It is out­ra­geous that he should bring a boy into that meet­ing and crit­i­cize you this way. Easy for him to make promis­es, but when the promises are not so easy to [pg14] deliver we suf­fer for them.

–I don’t think the boy knew what he was get­ting into.

–Tell me what you want added to this test as soon as pos­si­ble. He has put our asses on the line, both of us.

–I’ll send you e-mail.

–Sou­venirs! He gives sen­a­tors sou­venirs.


Quine had come to the Lab at ’s invi­ta­tion, Réti the leg­end, inti­mate of Ein­stein, Heisen­berg, Schrödinger, founder of the Lab. Impos­si­ble to refuse. Réti had for one semes­ter graced Quine’s uni­ver­sity with his pres­ence, where he’d sat on Quine’s doc­toral com­mit­tee. Quine must have made an impres­sion, for two years later Réti called him. I hear you are work­ing hard on some good ideas. How would you like unlim­ited resources for this work?16 Come for the sum­mer, work on what you will.

Quine and Sorokin, a fel­low post­doc, had iso­lated the emis­sion of a sin­gle pho­ton from a cal­cium source in order to deter­mine whether a lone quan­tum dis­played . For two long years they had refined their approach, par­ing it to essen­tials, design­ing an exper­i­ment they might hope to real­ize with the school’s mea­ger resources. Ele­gance born of need. A slow and painful progress. At the Lab, in one month Quine was able to design and build a detec­tor acute enough, and the exper­i­ment came off on the first try. Both and anti­co­in­ci­dence were evi­dent. They had touched the cen­tral mys­tery. Even a sin­gle pho­ton is both par­ti­cle and wave.

Quine stayed. After that it was never a ques­tion. Not till much later did he guess that he’d been played. That Réti had his rea­son for wait­ing two years before approach­ing him. That by then his work was ripe for pluck­ing, and the Lab’s resources had lit­tle to do with its fruition apart from giv­ing them the juice of it.

At the Lab his paper brought him a celebrity near to grace. Unlim­ited time to think. No assigned duties. And the mys­ter­ies ceased to open to him. Idle, he took up one of High­et’s end­less sug­ges­tions, the optics of x-ray mir­rors. He wel­comed the work, as though it paid some tithe of the mind to the prac­ti­cal. And it was a chal­lenge, but finally it was, as the pio­neers had with exact irony called their first bomb, a [pg15] “”. Any solu­tion, even if it laid bare prin­ci­ples, was beside the point if it could­n’t kill mis­siles. So his mir­rors never passed a design review. He wrote some com­puter codes for mod­el­ing the mir­rors, and those turned out to have some periph­eral appli­ca­tion in . The weapons work which he knew to be cen­tral to the Lab still seemed dis­tant from him. Then Radi­ance geared up, and his mod­el­ing soft­ware proved flex­i­ble enough to accom­mo­date the next idea: the bombpumped Super­bright. Oppor­tunis­tic as a virus, the Lab took it up. Now he was pres­sured. Now he was in a com­pet­i­tive atmos­phere where the pos­si­bil­ity of fail­ure, of weak­ness, of doubt, could not be voiced even to one­self lest it under­mine the resolve needed to get through each day. All the projects here were dif­fi­cult, at the edge of the pos­si­ble, and all the sci­en­tists worked at their lim­its and at the lim­its of their sci­ence. You could work on a prob­lem for months only to have your work demol­ished in min­utes in a review by your peers, your com­peti­tors, your col­leagues. That was what reviews were for: to show up fatal flaws before they became expen­sively entrenched in a design. So ideas were ham­mered with­out mer­cy. It was and it was­n’t per­son­al. If the idea was good, it was yours but some­how beyond you, and if it was bad the attack was on it, not on you. Quine saw men in tears even as they went on argu­ing and, after it was over, thank their assailants17.

Through­out this he kept silent faith with the mys­ter­ies. He would return to them when the pres­sures of the moment were past. Pro­gram­ming took only the sur­face of his mind; its essence he held in reserve, or so he thought. Quine came at last to under­stand that he did well at his assigned tasks pre­cisely because he brought them his all. Noth­ing was left over.


When he left the build­ing the sun was low. The air was thick with heat, and as he started the car the radio blurted –record temp, before he silenced it.

Through the gate traf­fic slowed. Demon­stra­tors in cos­tume paraded in the road. Quine edged for­ward through skele­tons and spooks with signs and props, TECHNOLOGIES OF DEATH, a lon­grobed man­tisheaded fig­ure tow­er­ing on stilts above the crowd, tam­bourines jan­gling, EL DÍA DE LOS MUERTOS, and lab secu­rity herd­ing the [pg16] crowd off the road. As he cleared the crowd a klaxon blared. The man­tis swayed, tug­ging at robes snagged on the perime­ter razor­wire as the entrance gates slid shut, alarm lights strob­ing. On the inner perime­ter road secu­rity vehi­cles appeared, rac­ing toward the entry kiosk. Then he saw stand­ing by his pas­sen­ger win­dow the woman who resem­bled Kate. She wore black span­dex bicy­cle pants and a blue shirt. She was star­ing at the gate. Quine hes­i­tat­ed, then rolled down the win­dow.

–You want a ride out of here? They’re going to start arrest­ing peo­ple.

She looked at him, then back at the gate. On the main road Quine saw a flurry of approach­ing lights. City police.

–I can’t wait.

Whoops blasts squeals cut the crowd noise. She saw the vehi­cles approach­ing and with some­thing like annoy­ance got into Quine’s car. Quine sped away shut­ting his win­dow against the shriek of the pass­ing vehi­cles.

–I’m Philip Quine.

–Lynn Ham­lin. Did you see what hap­pened?

When he looked at her all resem­blance fell away. Same body type, same round fea­tures, but hair almost black with a rus­set tinge, cropped close to the neck. No glass­es. Dark pen­e­trat­ing eyes. Tanned calves faintly downed, lithe as a huntress’s. No key turned in his heart, just an echo of loss.

–The one on stilts, his cos­tume caught on the fence. It must have set off the alarm.

–Were you there for the demo?

–No. I work there.

His ID was still clipped to his jack­et. She’d been look­ing at it, and now she smiled, as if to con­fide her lit­tle sub­terfuge.

–What do you work on?

He turned onto a road par­al­lel to the free­way, where earth­movers were parked in torn up lots behind empo­ria of sport­ing goods, fast food, auto parts, video­tapes, com­put­ers, dis­count car­pets. Sun flashed through the struts of a half fin­ished retain­ing wall.

–De­fense weapons. [pg17]

–You mean Radi­ance. Do you believe in it?

And those in the ante­rooms of Hell demur, say­ing, I do not approve what goes on inside.

–It’s what I do.

–Do you know what Ein­stein said? That you can’t simul­ta­ne­ously pre­pare for war and pre­vent it?

–Where can I drop you?

–Corner of Mari­posa.

As they passed over the free­way, the sun struck their shadow out toward the golden east­ern hills. He sensed her still look­ing at him, then she faced ahead.

–I like this time of day, she said. –The light.

–I don’t, said Quine. –It makes me think of end­ings.

She said noth­ing to that. As the car descended into the shadow of the over­pass Quine said, –We did­n’t hear about the protest. The orga­niz­ers usu­ally let us know.

–Maybe they’re tired of play­ing your game.

–It’s not my game. A green sign with white let­ters Mari­posa hung over the inter­sec­tion. Quine pulled to the curb by a bus stop bench plac­arded FAST DIVORCE BANKRUPTCY. She turned to him with sud­den vehe­mence.

–These demon­stra­tions won’t stop, you know. You don’t know how angry peo­ple are… Her voice held some doubt, whether for the anger or his belief in it, he could­n’t tell.

–Then I’ll prob­a­bly see you again out there, he said.

–Tell me, what’s the point, I mean, isn’t it obvi­ously a waste now that the cold war

–Look, and hear­ing the annoy­ance in his voice he stanched it, –I don’t make pol­i­cy…

–Well, that’s part of the prob­lem, isn’t it. Peo­ple not tak­ing respon­si­bil­ity for what they do.

Pricked, he turned to her just as a bus pulled to the curb, the squeal of its brakes pre­empt­ing what­ever he might have meant to say. Some hurt might have remained in his eyes. She seemed abashed and held his gaze for a moment longer before reach­ing to unbuckle her seat­belt.

–Lis­ten… would you have lunch with me some­time? [pg18]

She looked at him in sur­prise. –Lunch? Why?

–I’d just like to talk more.

–Do we have any­thing to say to each oth­er?

–We could find out. His pulse thick­ened in his throat.

–But you’re the ene­my, she said.

–Me…? He caught, under her seri­ous dark brow, a glimpse of mis­chief, though she did­n’t smile.

–Thanks for the ride.

She was out the door before he felt the protest of his heart. So even now he had not relin­quished hope.


When he got home Nan’s car was in his park­ing space. Most Tues­day nights she spent with Quine. He went to her place Fri­day nights and some week­ends. But he’d worked late Tues­day, so they’d shifted it to tonight. He’d for­got­ten.

–Lo, she called, –In the kitchen. I picked up some tortellini at Il For­naio and a sal­ad, is that okay?

–Fine. As he entered she turned with a wary smile. The sight of her brought him a roil of gid­di­ness, of mem­o­ry, of guilt, of sad­ness. Her fea­tures were sharp and fine, her skin pale, her straight auburn hair just start­ing to show gray, her slight body always dressed with a style that in its impec­ca­bil­ity read as a brave front.

–Bread’s in the oven, can you get that?

He looked for an oven mitt while she talked about her day, some senior­ity con­flict in the per­son­nel depart­ment. Quine’s patience wore. When, set­ting the plates down, she bent to kiss his neck, he flinched.

–What’s wrong?

–Noth­ing. It’s just High­et’s going mad again. A Con­gres­sional vis­it’s com­ing up, it should be rou­tine, but he acts like the whole pro­gram’s at stake.

–Is it?

–First he drops Nul­l’s work in my lap, then today he starts pimp­ing some lunatic idea of Szabo’s, and he assigns me a post­doc like, like a chap­er­one… and the pro­test­ers.

–What about them?

–They’re get­ting on my nerves. [pg19]

They ate in silence for a few min­utes. At last he said, –What would you think if I quit?

–Quit? Your job?

–Yes.

–But Philip, what would you do?

–Well, I don’t know. I could take some time off to think about it.

–Time off? I thought that we were try­ing to save mon­ey…

–Save…?

–Philip, I’m not try­ing to pres­sure you, but I thought we agreed that it makes sense to look for a place togeth­er…

–I told you, Nan, I can’t think about that while this project is on, I can’t make big plans like that until this whole thing is, is set­tled.

–Well, could­n’t we start look­ing just to see what’s avail­able, just go to a few open hous­es…?

–If you want. But I don’t see the point if we can’t afford it yet.

–The point is to plan for a future, Philip. Haven’t you made any pro­gress?

–Pro­gress, I feel like I’m chas­ing my tail, there’s no progress to be made!

–Please don’t snap at me.

–I, I can’t even dis­cuss it with you, you don’t have the clear­ance.

She stood and car­ried dishes into the kitchen. He got up to fol­low.

–Nan… He came up behind her and embraced her. Her hands rested on his fore­arms.

–What about Sun­day?

–Sun­day?

–We’re see­ing Ginny and Bill, remem­ber? If you came early we could

–Sun­day. Look, I have a dead­line. I can’t. I’m sorry but I just can’t.

–You’re work­ing? But if you’re not get­ting any­where…

–Well but that’s the whole prob­lem isn’t it! Mean­time there are still short­-term goals and meet­ings.

She sighed and left the kitchen. In the liv­ing room the tele­vi­sion came on. When after a moment he entered the room he heard her in the bed­room speak­ing on the tele­phone. Remote con­trol in hand he viewed a cool panop­tic tum­ble of war famine cat­a­stro­phe enor­mity [pg20] larded with a fan­tas­tic plenty of goods caressed by smil­ing tanned mod­els, to pause on the logo­type of Mar­tin Mari­et­ta, –a proud sup­porter for twen­ty-­five years of sci­ence pro­gram­ming on pub­lic tele­vi­sion, his impulse to switch again frozen by the worn, impos­ing face of Aron Réti, say­ing thick­ly, –In sci­ence there is a cult of the beau­ti­ful the­o­ry. But how beau­ti­ful is real­i­ty? These beau­ti­ful the­o­ries, these ele­gant math­e­mat­ics are not ver­i­fied by exper­i­ment. Exper­i­ment shows us a mess of a uni­verse with over a hun­dred basic par­ti­cles and three irrec­on­cil­able forces. We would like to unify them all, just as we would like to smooth over all the polit­i­cal dif­fer­ences in the world. But expe­ri­ence shows, in physics and in pol­i­tics, that this is not always pos­si­ble.

Abruptly the screen glared with the invo­lute radi­ance of the bomb. Sun’s heart. Cos­mic ground. and cou­pling. A thin roar issued from the set and the thick voice rode over it, –The duty of sci­ence is to pur­sue knowl­edge even if it leads to the unbeau­ti­ful. Or to evil. How else learn about evil?

Nan returned to sit beside him. –Is­n’t that Réti?

The cam­era returned to the physi­cist. Emer­i­tus direc­tor, Réti was rarely at the Lab; the office he kept there served him solely as a clu­b­room or a back­drop. Six months ago a film crew had come to the Lab. Quine had heard Réti shout­ing at them behind the closed door.

–Watch, this is what Highet calls the lib­eral bias of the media, said Quine as the cam­era went to the inter­view­er.

–After the war, many of your col­leagues turned away from weapons. Some of them have won Nobel Prizes. Do you feel that your work with weapons has cost you ? Has it com­pro­mised you as a sci­en­tist?

–Nev­er. In fact it has chal­lenged and improved me as a sci­en­tist.

–You’re closely con­nected to Radi­ance. What about recent charges that test results have been faked?

–This is a lie! First, I am not closely con­nect­ed…

–But you’ve lob­bied exten­sively for Radi­ance in Wash

–I am no lob­by­ist! I am a pri­vate cit­i­zen with some sci­en­tific exper­tise, and when I am asked to tes­tify about tech­ni­cal mat­ters I do so… [pg21]

–But for over forty years you’ve been an advo­cate of nuclear weapons. Your author­ity and influ­ence are well known.

–Now you lis­ten to me. It is an imper­fect world, a dan­ger­ous world. There is evil in the world. How do you meet it? All ends, even the best, are reached by impure means. Rea­son is sup­posed to be the hall­mark of sci­ence, but I tell you that no one is swayed by rea­son. A the­o­ry, an idea, does not make its own way. It was Ein­stein who said merit alone is very lit­tle good; it must be backed by tact and knowl­edge of the world. I know of many cases where maybe the data does not quite agree with your the­o­ry, no, you think, the carpers will ques­tion, your case is far clearer if you dis­card this set of data, if you report only these results. And who are these frauds? Ptolemy18. Galileo19. New­ton20. . . .21 What mat­ters in the long run is not some wish­ful dream of scru­ples, but whether you have dri­ven your knowl­edge home!

Behind the fury in Réti’s eyes Quine saw a bright and open wound: more illus­tri­ous for his influ­ence than his work, he had failed at every­thing but suc­cess. And Quine’s own life, he sud­denly saw, was bent around Réti’s influ­ence. A man has no wealth nor power but his knowl­edge, Réti had once said to Quine. But now he said that if power did not lead, knowl­edge could not fol­low. Quine stood, ignor­ing –Philip? what is it? and went to the bath­room. He held the sides of the sink, heart rac­ing. In the cab­i­net he found the pill bot­tle.

The spirit is radi­ant, yet there are two prin­ci­ples of radi­ance: that of light, and that of fire. Fire comes to the use of those who go not the way of light. And the dif­fer­ence is, that fire must con­sume its object.22

Quine returned to Réti’s angry voice, –So I have no Nobel Prize, that acco­lade of the pure. But would under­stand me well. And his­tory will be my judge, not you.

–What is it, Philip? What’s the mat­ter?

Quine turned to Nan, her face in the phos­phor light bleak as a rock out­crop. He reached to touch her neck. Unsmil­ing she leaned her head against his hand. His fin­gers cupped her nape and he drew her mouth to his.

In the bed­room they undressed on oppo­site sides of the bed. The tele­vi­sion droned on. Between her legs he felt the string of a tam­pon, [pg22] and as he touched it she bent dou­ble and enclosed him in her mouth. Above the activ­ity of their bod­ies his spirit hov­ered sadly regard­ing the ter­rain of his life. Lightly his hands cra­dled her head. He began to pump semen. Deep inside him a talon drove home and brought forth, impaled, his soul, writhing. A minute later he was awash in sleep. Wait­ing at a counter to pick up xerox­es. Quick tap at his shoul­der. Kate. She smiled, her eyes upon him, and he knew it was a dream, and he was hap­py, and he slept. [pg23]

Two

The morn­ing sky, pal­lid with haze, con­veyed yet enough sun to cast through the high embra­sure of his office win­dow a faint rhom­bus which crept toward the door­way relent­less as a horo­logue. From his desk Quine gazed at it half hear­ing the radio, –ild­fires in three coun­ties, when his phone rang.

–Quine.

–Is this Philip?

–Yes, who’s this.

–Lynn. From the demo yes­ter­day?

–Oh. Oh yes. How did you… He stood and paced with the phone. –How did you get my num­ber?

–I called the switch­board. I want to apol­o­gize. I behaved bad­ly. Are you free for cof­fee?

–Well I… not this morn­ing.

–Later this after­noon?

–Well I…

–Don’t let me pres­sure you.

–No I, I want to. It’s just a sur­prise.

–I get off work at four. Do you know the Café Desa­pare­ci­dos [the miss­ing]? In the cen­tral mall. I work near there.

–Sure I, okay, I’ll see you there about four.

As he hung up Jef Thorpe knocked on his open door. Black jack­et, blue shirt, jeans. A faint pock where yes­ter­day the nose stud had been.

–Come in. [pg24]

–I guess we’ll be work­ing togeth­er.

–Oh, you’re stay­ing.

–If you’ll have me. Lis­ten, that meet­ing yes­ter­day, I did­n’t belong there, I’m sorry if…

–Not your fault. Doc­tor Highet has his way of doing things.

–Yeah, I see that. Lis­ten, before we started I want to tell you, the sin­gle-pho­ton exper­i­ment you did with Sorokin was really ele­gant. I was, you know, sort of sur­prised to find you here, I thought you’d be some­where more the­o­ret­i­cal.

–I thought every­one had for­got­ten that exper­i­ment by now.

–Oh no. It was very sweet work.

–The detec­tor was crit­i­cal. We worked on it for two years. We got it only after I came here.

–You did­n’t fol­low it up.

–Sorokin thought I was wrong to come here. He said it would be a black hole. He may have been right. Of course things look dif­fer­ent from inside.

–Black hole, yeah, I’ve thought of that. But you know where I come from. That lim­its my options in the straight aca­d­e­mic world.

–You don’t have qualms about defense work?

–It’s not what I’m here for.

–It’s just, you might want to con­sider your posi­tion. I came in neu­tral about defense work, but before long I was in the thick of it. It’s easy to slip into.

–I’m sort of apo­lit­i­cal.

–Well, if that’s what you want, turn­ing to the com­puter which glowed with:

Date: Fri 1 Nov 09:05
From: Leo Highet
To: Philip Quine
Subject: Upcom­ing J Sec­tion Tests

11/4 23:00 PDT, Build­ing 328, Code­name “Ste­larc”, ground-based , R. Gros­seteste23, sup.

11/9 18:00 PDT, Site 600, Code­name “”, 80 kilo­ton, B. Dietz & P. Quine, sup.

“Mechan­ics are the Par­adise of math­e­mat­i­cal sci­ence, because here we [pg25] come to the fruits of math­e­mat­ics.” LdV24

–Looks like we’re real, said Thor­pe.

–You’re lucky. It was years before I was asso­ci­ated with a shot.

–Is that luck?

–It’s a bit of a pres­tige. A merit badge25.

Quine cleared the screen and brought up the Super­bright test data.

–You see. Intense bright­ness here, and here. Very erratic pat­tern.

–This data is picked up how?

–When the bomb ignites, radi­a­tion from the rods bounces off some reflec­tors to

–X-ray mir­rors?

–Yes, some­thing like that. They’re . The data agrees with the­ory to a point, but when we increase pow­er, we don’t get an increase in beam, in fact we get less. We’ve talked about try­ing dif­fer­ent met­als in the rods, we’ve used gold till now, but mer­cury…

–Yeah, ele­ments sev­en­ty-two through nine­ty-­five would be good to try but with the, you know, time con­straints, I checked and Fab­ri­ca­tion has gold rods ready to go, so maybe those are a good choice and you can, or I mean we can sort of con­cen­trate on sen­sor con­fig­u­ra­tion…

–Sounds rea­son­able.

Thorpe con­tin­ued to stare at the screen. –Could this be an ? This pat­tern I mean, could those reflec­tors be pick­ing up a sort of imper­fect focus, you know, the edge of a ring? If we move them in…

–I’ve tried, no luck.

–Can I look at your focus­ing code?

–Yes, sure, all the files are in this direc­to­ry.

–That’s great. Mind if I work here? point­ing to Nul­l’s desk.

–Ah, sure. Sure, go ahead. I’m going for lunch and maybe a swim.26 I’ll see you lat­er.

We read of the beaver that when it is pur­sued, know­ing that it is for the med­i­c­i­nal virtue of its tes­ti­cles and not being able to escape, it stops; and it bites off its tes­ti­cles with its sharp teeth and leaves them to its ene­mies.27


Gaunt, sat­urnine, Bran Nolan in a cor­ner of the cafe­te­ria looked up unsmil­ing from scat­tered papers to raise a hand in greet­ing. [pg26]

–How’s our new boyo Kihara?

–Weren’t you in line for that posi­tion?

–It’s my Touret­te’s syn­drome. Ter­ri­ble lia­bil­ity in a press offi­cer, never know what he might blurt out in pub­lic.

–You should have been asked.

–Do you know, I’m hap­pier, if that’s the word I want, where I am. Kihara is a lit­tle lamb. The last man, Ves­sell, did­n’t out­last Slater. And we’re not done with all that, no indeed.

–Get­ting some work done? Quine indi­cated the papers.

–“The Lab has a long­stand­ing com­mit­ment to devel­op­ing new meth­ods and tech­nolo­gies to pro­tect the envi­ron­ment”, the most effec­tive of which to date has been the press release. Do you know we have a tox­ics mit­i­ga­tion pro­gram now? Seems there’s a toxic plume seep­ing into the ground­wa­ter under a vine­yard off the north bound­ary. Vines died, soil went gray, the whole field stinks like sep­sis. I’m writ­ing an upbeat report about it. And your­self? How’s the death ray com­ing?

–We can maim small insects at a meter. The new con­cept is inter­cep­tors. Small fly­ing rocks.

–Do you know, da Vinci invented 28. He’d have been right at home here with all these advanced minds.

–Yes, that’s High­et’s con­ceit.

–Throw­ing rocks at things. We should be proud, think­ing about these old impulses in such an advanced way.

A plump fig­ure came for­ward shak­ing a sheaf of papers, from which Nolan recoiled. –Bran, Bran, Bran. What must I do to get you to use a font other than ?

–Hello Bob, how’s the gout? I don’t like this busi­ness of tart­ing up man­u­scripts. You get enchanted by the beauty of it all. You start to think you’re writ­ing the .

–A few attrac­tive fonts, taste­fully applied, can spice up a pre­sen­ta­tion. A lit­tle , you know. Why else, Bran, did we get you that pow­er­ful and costly ?

–I don’t know, Bob, why did you? I was still fig­ur­ing out the .

The sheaf of papers fell fan­ning from their clip onto the table. [pg27]

Shak­ing his head and chuck­ling grim­ly, Bob passed on to another table.

–Hu­man­i­tas, yes, that’s what we need here, isn’t it, Highet with his Renais­sance, and there, need a few more par­ti­cle men who’ve read the 29, cou­ple more man­agers who’ve stud­ied , lend these binary views a lit­tle tone, dress up the win­ners and losers, the Elect and the Preterite30, the screw­ers and the screwed. Each man in his sta­tion, and keep your dis­tance from the low life, can’t have just any­one win­ning, because if you ever let the rab­ble ahead, if they can rise, you can surely fall.

Nolan folded back pages, –lis­ten to this bit, “the sup­port of this tight-knit com­mu­nity”, sup­port is it now? I’d have said the goad­ing, the ambi­tion, the Schaden­freude, that’s what gets the work done. The wife walked out six months ago with the kid, you’re eat­ing Camp­bel­l’s soup cold out of the can, you haven’t got a clean shirt, but after a few months of eigh­teen hour days you’ve got data that every­one wants to see. You win big.

–Bran, you work here, too.

–What should I do then, write nov­els? Or maybe jour­nal­ism, that’s it, inves­tiga­tive jour­nal­ism. Have you met the jour­nal­ist from Cam­bridge? Right over there with his tape recorder, name’s . He’s research­ing the belief sys­tems of those who work on weapons of mass destruc­tion31, I think that was his phrase. Quite the charmer. He’s pub­lished one book on sci­en­tific fraud, and a paper highly crit­i­cal of what he calls the defense estab­lish­ment. You prob­a­bly don’t watch TV but there was a pro­gram on PBS last night, Stera­dian was in it abus­ing Réti.

–Does Highet know he’s here?

–Highet invited him.32

Quine headed for the door, pass­ing as he did Armand Stera­di­an, who held a small micro­phone before a J Sec­tion tech­ni­cian, –you’re so goldang busy every day you just put off think­ing about it, though in Quine’s view pres­sure was a tool well used to put off think­ing.


Black cot­ton­woods around the pool throve despite the drought. Their catkins lit­tered the water. A jet moved on the sky, stitch­ing a con­trail [pg28] across a lace of cloud where a white sun strug­gled. Quine sat on a towel on the grassy verge and watched a portly swim­suited man enter through the gate, bar­rel chest glossed with hair, and behind him a woman in a white hal­ter top and shorts, the heads of three men turn­ing to fol­low. The pool was crowded this Fri­day after­noon; it was warm, it was the end of the work­week, it was fam­ily day; unlike Quine, most worked a five day week, most would depart hence into a for­get­ful­ness. In the shal­lows of the pool two young girls splashed. One opened her mouth to show her com­pan­ion a bright penny on her out­stretched tongue. A young mother in a black mail­lot gripped a lad­der to raise her­self half from the pool and wave at her infant in a nearby stroller, glis­ten and shadow in the cords of her back, and Quine suf­fered a pang for a life now beyond his know­ing: to be wed, with child, so young. On ther­mals a black and white winged vul­ture, , rocked and banked. From the jet thun­der fell like muf­fled blows. The warmth and the sound of water churned by swim­mers and the spray tossed up by their pass­ing lulled Quine into a lethargy from which he woke with a start to con­sult his watch. On the pool’s floor danced cusps of light.


The café’s walls rose past exposed beams and ducts to the nacre of frosted sky­lights. Lynn sat in a wire­backed chair at a glass table, face down­cast at papers before her. In the moment before she looked up, Kate’s face glowed before him. What do you do, Philip?

–Hoy es el , Lynn said in greet­ing, ban­ish­ing Kate’s image. Angu­lar­i­ties all her own moved in her flesh; a small gap showed between her teeth as she smiled.

Quine seated him­self and said grave­ly, –I should tell you I’m involved with some­one.

–Gee, I said I wanted to apol­o­gize, not start an affair.

–I, sorry I…

–And maybe pick your brain about Radi­ance.

–I’m sor­ry, I, what did you say before? El día…

–To­day is the Day of the Dead. All Sain­t’s Day. All of Cal­i­for­nia used to be Mex­i­co, you know, they called it . Once my group shuts the Lab down, we’re going to reclaim Azt­lan for the native peo­ples [pg29]. Oh, don’t look that way, I’m jok­ing, that’s the kind of thing the far right says about us.

–Your group?

–Ci­t­i­zens Against Nuclear Tech­nol­ogy33. I’m a para­le­gal with them.

–What’s that you’re read­ing?

–Your press releas­es. She held a sheaf set in unadorned Courier font. –You peo­ple have fin­gers in a lot of pies. When I started my con­cern was the bombs, but that’s just the tip of the ice­berg, isn’t it. There’s also the super­com­put­ers, the lasers, the genet­ics, the chem­i­cals…

–You prob­a­bly know more about it than I do.

–Your cover sto­ries are so cre­ative. Every one of. Oh, go ahead, order, she’s wait­ing.

–Cap­puc­ci­no. What do you mean, cover sto­ries?

–Quisiera un espresso por favor. Every one of these quote benign tech­nolo­gies has a pretty easy to imag­ine mil­i­tary use. Laser for etch­ing microchips, uh huh, right, and here’s one about kinder gen­tler W, “less vir­u­lent” tear gas for “crowd con­trol”, heav­ier for con­trolled deliv­ery, if this is the stuff you’re pub­lic about I can only imag­ine the rest.

–You’re wrong, there’s a gen­uine effort to con­vert to peacef

–Dual use, I know. Gen­uine effort to blur the line is what it is, and it goes far beyond the Lab, peo­ple in physics and comp sci depart­ments across the coun­try are lin­ing up at the same trough, the grants are there and if they don’t take the money some­one else will. That’s the rea­son­ing. What a waste of tal­ent and resources.

–It’s more com­pli­cated than that. The peo­ple I work with, they’re not cyn­i­cal.

–Yes, I know how peo­ple get caught up in their work. I have a friend there, not in Radi­ance, in another sec­tion. He’s a Quak­er, he calls it “being in the world”. At least he’s thought about it. How did you get into it?

–Me? I’m, well, a lapsed the­o­rist. But I’m not typ­i­cal… Was he not? Réti, High­et, Dietz, Thor­pe, all had failed in some sub­tle way that in such a place could be denied. But where was there not fail­ure and denial?

–Do your peo­ple pay any atten­tion at all to our demon­stra­tions? [pg30]

–In J Sec­tion? Not much.

–We seem to bug your boss, at least.

–High­et?

–In his lit­tle red sports car. What about you? What did you think about the big one yes­ter­day?

–It seemed, I don’t know, fes­tive, almost a cos­tume par­ty, I did­n’t real­ize at first it was Hal­loween…

–But no, that was­n’t it. It was a cer­e­mo­ny. An exor­cism.

–Oh come on, what, you mean we’re pos­sessed…

–By arro­gance, if noth­ing else.

–That’s absurd, you can’t con­vince any­one with some absurd rit­u­al…

–It’s no dif­fer­ent from your rit­u­als, your bomb tests, just as absurd, but really dan­ger­ous!

–They’re not my tests… and he remem­bered B. Dietz & P. Quine, sup. –I’m sor­ry. I’m no good at talk­ing about this.

The set of her fea­tures, so poised and eager, soft­ened then and her voice low­ered. –I don’t mean to attack you. I’m sure you think about it.

–Yes but, but I’m not sure! What to do, I mean. What if it is a waste, what if, if all the money and the decades, all the lives and tal­ent… then it’s more than just me, it’s not just my mis­take, but some­thing wrong at the root of it, and what, what can I do about that?

–If it is a mis­take, you can face it. You could stop.

–But that would­n’t stop any­thing. It’s almost as if these things we work on… they use us to get born. Could use any­one.

–It must be very hard for you. Their eyes met, and the trou­bled sym­pa­thy in hers wrung him. Her face was so con­cerned for him that he almost cried out with self­pi­ty.

–It’s not your fault. I, I need to get back now.

–I really am sor­ry, can we… can we for­get about all this and just start over?

–Start over…?

Abruptly he rose and walked away stolid with loathing of his own erratic heart, and of her for stir­ring it.


[pg31] In the night he woke sweat­ing with a pulse of nine­ty, reached for the pill­bot­tle next to the small box Unlock Your Inner Poten­tial and its plas­tic head­set. The pills opened a plain of time­less­ness in which it seemed a lost part of him­self dwelled. as he lay in their haze, his flu­ency returned. Won­der­ful prob­lems enticed and yielded to his insight, wis­dom depended from the sky like fruit. He kept a note­book in case any insight sur­vived his wak­ing. None did.

He attached the head­set like a blind­fold. At the onset of dream­ing a strobe would flicker there and rouse him enough to . He set­tled and con­jured an image: the bat­tle sta­tion shin­ing in the void of space. Slen­der arms and rods piv­ot­ing. The mis­sile rise in swarms, bright points on the black hol­low of a cres­cent Earth. They blur in a sil­ver mist of chaff. Above the cres­cent dis­tant bat­tle sta­tions ignite in globes of light, their beams lance out, but swarm fol­lows swarm up from the Earth, far too many to destroy. He pulled off the head­set.

The world has changed, the old enemy has col­lapsed into ruined republics. Yet despite this con­sum­ma­tion of all the Lab has strived for, the work goes on, the mood is spir­it­less, the shots in the desert con­tinue like some rit­ual of penance, some black and end­less pro­pi­ti­a­tion of forces that in los­ing their fixed abode have grown closer and more men­ac­ing.

Still­ness. Faint whis­tle of tin­ni­tus, first sounds of bird­call. Wan dawn light. The enemy is gone. But the work goes on and on.34

Three

[pg32] For a while Lynn was not among the pro­test­ers. Their num­bers had dimin­ished to a small con­tin­gent by the main gate, hold­ing a droop­ing sheet painted DIABOLIS EX MACHINA. Quine slowed through the gate and stopped, valves in the engine tick­ing, for a back­hoe lurch­ing across the main road, and closed his win­dow against the dust bil­low­ing toward him as he went on past an air ham­mer break­ing a side­walk to rub­ble, over­tones of its chat­ter fol­low­ing him across the rock moat and into the build­ing where, too late to retreat, he saw Thorpe seated at Nul­l’s com­puter tap­ping with­out letup at Quine’s entrance.

–Morn­ing, said Quine.

–Is it? I’ve been here all night. Some­thing there for you to read.

On top of Quine’s stack of jour­nals, a year’s unread accu­mu­la­tion, col­ored slips in their pages flag­ging arti­cles that at an ear­lier time would not have waited a day, was a xerox topped with a yel­low sticker SEEN THIS? 1954. A dig at his age?

–I know it’s old, said Thor­pe. –But I think it applies. See, I started with an EE from a hick school, taught myself quan­tum mechan­ics by read­ing Dirac, so my per­spec­tive is sort of, things don’t change that much. Lots of good ideas have been left hang­ing. That’s how I found your paper… I mean… stum­bling at hav­ing touched as he thought Quine’s sen­si­tive point, –not to say, it’s just, you know, if you’re a stu­dent like me, not well con­nect­ed, not see­ing all the lat­est preprints and hear­ing all the gos­sip, you need another way up. So this is my way, sort of look­ing for old for­got­ten stuff to build on. [pg3]

–So tell me about this.

–I came across it work­ing for Fish and Him­mel­hoch, look­ing for a sort of nuclear model to explain the cold fusion reac­tion? Okay I know, the cur­rent wis­dom is, there’s no reac­tion, it’s bogus, or if any­thing is hap­pen­ing it’s elec­tro­chem­i­cal, okay, fine. But you know, if you model the process in a nuclear way, it looks like a phe­nom­e­non called . The equa­tions are sim­i­lar. Highet saw the con­nec­tion.

–To this? Highet told you about Super­bright?

–Very sharp guy.

–That’s quite a breach of clas­si­fi­ca­tion.

–He sort of hinted around it, cit­ing the open lit­er­a­ture. Any­way it’s moot, I’m cleared now. What do you think?

–I’ll read it when I get a chance, drop­ping it back on to the stack of jour­nals.

–But, I mean, we don’t have much time. Should I pur­sue it?

–What have you been doing?

–Well, here, let me show you, I started sort of mod­i­fy­ing your code but I had a cou­ple of quest

–You changed my files?

–No no I made copies, changes only on my copies and I

–Okay, but look, just be sure you log all your changes into the , okay? You know how that works?

–Yes, sure but I won­dered about a few things like where you’ve got this of here, what’s that?

–That’s the rod array, angles lengths diam­e­ters den­si­ties

–Okay I thought so, because see I was think­ing if you make that some­thing like ten to the minus ten here

–That’s the thick­ness, we can’t make rods that thin it’s imposs

–But what if we play what-if with these num­bers…

–Wait what are you do

–then the beam, oops that’s a lit­tle extreme but you see what I

–But there’s no, I mean sure, you can make the model do any­thing, but it has to cor­re­spond to real­i­ty!

–Sure, I’m just get­ting, you know, the feel of the sys­tem. But, oh here I wanted to know what this func­tion does, this hyper­bol

–Yes that’s the response curve of the reflec, look, can this wait? [pg34] and with­out paus­ing Quine was out of the office as from speak­ers over­head a pleas­ant female voice advised, –At­ten­tion all per­son­nel. Start­ing at mid­night will con­duct exer­cises in this area using blank ammu­ni­tion… and he turned into the restroom where at the end, past a row of sinks and uri­nals oppo­site metal stalls, a gym bag hung on a hook and steam bil­lowed as Quine, elbows braced on a bas­in, looked up from the lav­ing of his hands at a bass voice echo­ing around the hard tile, –bist du ein Tor und rein, to see in the mir­ror not his own eter­nally sur­prised fea­tures but fogged void, and turned from the hiss of his faucet to glimpse through the mist a hard white nude male body emerg­ing to towel itself, still singing, –welch Wis­sen dir auch mag beschieden sein35.


In the cav­ernous build­ing where Dietz super­vised, Quine watched long metal tubes welded one by one to the great mon­strance in which the bomb would rest a quar­ter mile under­ground. From instru­ments at the ends of each tube hun­dreds of cables would run to the sur­face. Dietz dis­played a blue­print of the cylin­der.

–We are already weld­ing. I can­not wait to know.

–Can you hold off a day or two? If I had any idea where to put the damn things I’d tell you if I had any idea even how to find what I’m look­ing for…

–We can go ahead with other things for just a lit­tle while. For a day. Now the rod con­fig­u­ra­tion…

–Un­changed. I’m not touch­ing that.

–Make sure, please, that Highet knows all this. Some­times he wan­ders through here and if things are not what he expects he is most unpleas­ant.

Out­side High­et’s office Quine, arm raised to knock, from within heard High­et’s insis­tent rasp, –like , you know, it’s not who makes the mis­take it’s who takes the blame, and at Thor­pe’s voice barely audi­ble, –sorry for the poor son of a bitch stuck in his posi­tion at his age, barely shows his face, and High­et, –never passed a design review, Quine’s ears flared with heat, the door before him turn­ing flat and insub­stan­tial as he low­ered his hand and pro­ceeded down the hall unsee­ing, guided by a famil­iar­ity more the pris­on­er’s than the adep­t’s [pg35] around a cor­ner to a water foun­tain, stopped before a bul­letin board and its over­lap­ping notices O Sec­tion, pro­gram­mer needed to model under­ground plumes K Sec­tion, LASS expert needed Z Sec­tion, mul­ti­me­dia guru sought B Sec­tion, mate­ri­als engi­neer, while two young men passed, one say­ing, –I have no spe­cial loy­alty to , and on to a fur­ther junc­tion where a con­vex mir­ror above him pre­sented an anamor­phic view around the cor­ner. There Nan emerged from a cross cor­ri­dor with a wiry man, white teeth in a tanned face, black­haired fore­arms fold­ed. The two spoke briefly. The man put a hand on Nan’s neck and bent for­ward to kiss her mouth. Quine turned back the way he had come, slow­ing only when he found he had nearly cir­cled the build­ing. He back­tracked to High­et’s door and entered with­out knock­ing.

–Get Thorpe out of my office.

Highet looked up in sur­prise. –What did he do to you, Philip? You look ready to spit.

–If he’s so impor­tant give him his own space, I don’t want him hang­ing around me.

–Thought you’d appre­ci­ate the com­pa­ny, thought he might be use­ful to you.

–What’s that sup­posed to mean?

–Thorpe han­dles him­self well, you could learn from him. Show some team spir­it. Poor boy’s feel­ing aban­doned by you.

–I’ll work with him, but I don’t have to like him or share office space with him. It’s bad enough Nul­l’s stuff is still there.

–Thorpe has his own space. You want him out, you can tell him so. By the way, Réti’s here for a vis­it, you might want to pay your respects. Instead of run­ning around down in Fab­ri­ca­tion with Dietz.

–Some­one has to tend to those details.

–Let me tell you some­thing, Philip, I’m a smart guy but to be bru­tally hon­est I’m a sec­ond rate physi­cist. I have the ideas but not the per­sis­tence, I’ve known that about myself for twenty years. But I’ve learned to posi­tion myself and to use other peo­ple to get what I want. Win win, you know, we help each other look good. You take my point?

Voices approach in the cor­ri­dor as Highet went on in a lower tone, –One path in the world is up. There’s also a path down. What there isn’t is stand­ing still.36 Now you, friend, have been stand­ing still [pg36] for quite a lit­tle while. I’d say you need to make some career deci­sions soon, before they’re made for you.

Flanked by two Lab fac­to­tums, Aron Réti came slow­ly, stamp­ing his cane, into High­et’s office. His eyes, azure behind thick lens­es, peered with­out recog­ni­tion as Quine greeted him. –Ah, my young friend, how are you?

–You remem­ber Philip Quine, Aron. That beau­ti­fully sweet pho­ton detec­tor he built for us.

–Of course, of course.

–So here we are, three gen­er­a­tions of first rate physics tal­ent.

–Yes yes, the torch is passed.

–I really must be

–No, stay. Aron, Philip’s going to get us the data we need to silence the crit­ics.

–The crit­ics, there is no need to mind them.

–From your emi­nence per­haps not, but I have to deal with these fools and dupes almost dai­ly. Do you know what a sen­a­tor, a United States sen­a­tor, said to me the other day? He called this place a sci­en­tific broth­el.

–I know the man you mean. Broth­els I am sure he knows well, but of sci­ence he is igno­rant.

–Well unfor­tu­nately this igno­ra­mus chairs a com­mit­tee that over­sees our fund­ing, so I have to deal with him.

–Speak­ing of influ­ence, this left wing jour­nal­ist, I see him here again, why do you let him in? Six months ago he abused my trust with gut­ter tac­tics of the worst sort.

–You mean Stera­di­an? He’s a . He’s so cock­sure I let him hear things I want to see in print, look here… Highet lifted from the desk­top a folded news­pa­per, –“Radi­ance Research Forges Ahead”, see, this is solid gold. He’s so excited when he hears some­thing that may be clas­si­fied, his crit­i­cal sense shuts off. You can see him quiver like a puppy dog.

–Keep him away from me, I want noth­ing to do with him. What is our test­ing sta­tus?

–We need more. As always. Clas­si­fy­ing them has helped deflect crit­i­cism but we’re still being nickel and dimed. [pg37]

–What do you need?

–An addi­tional three hun­dred mil­lion over the next year.

–I will talk to the pres­i­dent. This is for Super­bright?

–Yes. We can def­i­nitely show quan­ti­ta­tive agree­ment with the­o­ry. It’s only a mat­ter of time and mon­ey. Philip will tell you how close we are. He and his new assis­tant have made tremen­dous head­way, just tremen­dous.

–So? Tell me about this, my young friend.

–Well, I think it’s pre­ma­ture to say so. There’s a shot next Sat­ur­day. We’ll know bet­ter than.

–Philip’s too mod­est, that’s always been his prob­lem.

–No I just think we need a lot more

–More fund­ing. Basi­cally it’s a mat­ter of fund­ing. In the long run we see coher­ent beams strik­ing out a thou­sand miles and diverg­ing no more than a meter. We see a sin­gle bat­tle sta­tion down­ing every mis­sile any enemy can launch. And Aron, we’re also going ahead with your inter­cep­tors. As part of the over­all sys­tem.

–Bal­dur?

–Small­er, faster, smarter, cheap­er. Less than thirty bil­lion to deploy.

–Even twenty years ago I thought that this idea only needed the tech­nol­ogy to catch up. It is good we have a his­to­ry, a tra­di­tion, a cul­ture here.

–Like Ulysses, we’re never at a loss.

–Re­al­ly? Never at a

–Philip…

–Un­less we’re try­ing to pro­duce a thou­sand mile beam where no test has ever shown

–Philip!

–Well how long do you think we can keep it up! this this

–As long as it takes.

–and you, Doc­tor Réti?

–My young friend, I am an opti­mist.

–Philip I want a word with you. Excuse us Aron. One arm clutched Quine in tight embrace and steered them into the hall­way, Highet say­ing in low con­trolled tones, –One day soon, very soon, I’ll stop [pg38] giv­ing you sec­ond chances. Come up empty this time and you’re through. Clear?

–Mean­ing what? You’ll what?

–I don’t know. I don’t know but it will be ter­ri­ble and final and I promise you’ll never for­get it. Highet raised his voice to hearty ami­a­bil­i­ty, –Good man! You let me know, and went back into his office.


As night came on the life of the build­ing went to X Sec­tion, the Playpen, where the younger men worked on schemes even more spec­u­la­tive than Super­bright, and Quine returned for the thou­sandth time to his sim­u­la­tion with the sink­ing heart of a man return­ing to a love­less home. Entrap­ment. As if fine wire had threaded his drugged veins, and now, as feel­ing returned, any move­ment might tear him open. He fid­geted the radio on to, –fades to a red­dish color as it enters Earth’s shad, and off as he saw again the tilt of Nan’s head, the fine whorls of her ear, the man’s dark hand cup­ping her neck. The ridge of her col­lar­bone, the warm pulse of the vein across it.

On Nul­l’s white­board deltas sig­mas omegas inte­grals infini­ties in var­ie­gated ink still wove like fun­da­men­tal forces their ele­gant pat­tern around a void. From the clut­ter on the desk he lifted CENTURY 21 LAB QUARTERLY. Chang­ing world beto­kens larger role for sci­ence. Accept­able lev­els of social risk. Pub­lic does not fully under­stand. World free of threats too much to ask. Rev­o­lu­tion­ary new tech­nique. Major improve­ment. Impor­tant to a vari­ety of national goals. Unique mul­ti­-dis­ci­pli­nary exper­tise. Two young men, one poised to hurl a bal­loon, car­omed past his door­way. He shut the door on guf­faws and –teach you some hydro­dy­nam­ics!

He picked up Black 1954. He looked at the cita­tions, then read from the start. He stopped often to reread, with a dogged­ness that made shift for his halt sense, once so fine, of the rhythms of sci­en­tific thought, the probe and test and parry and clinch that now required his slow and reme­dial atten­tion to be grasped. As he read, his respect for Thorpe grew even as an empti­ness opened with him. When he was fin­ished he started into space before reach­ing across the desk to snap off the lights.

The phone chat­tered. On the sec­ond ring he lifted it, hold­ing [pg39] silence to ear for a moment before speak­ing. In the dark­ness the com­puter screen, phos­phors charged by the room’s van­ished light, was a dim fad­ing square.

–Quine.

–Hi, it’s Lynn, I’m glad I caught you. I’m hik­ing up Mount Ohlone with some friends tonight, you want to come?

–Well…

–I know it’s short notice.

–I should be work­ing.

–Good heav­ens, all night? We’re not start­ing till nine.

–No but… He scru­ti­nized the white­board as if this quandary might be expressed there in dou­ble inte­grals. –I mean… sure, why not.

–Good! Meet us at the park gate. It’s ten miles north on Crow Canyon Road.

In the hall­way a length of sur­gi­cal tub­ing, knot­ted at both ends, lay rup­tured and limp in a film of water. As he left the build­ing sprin­klers came on in a sil­ver mist and rain­bows shim­mered in the flood­lit air. He drove out past parked vehi­cles and armed men in fatigues.

He arrived ear­ly. The sky was star­ry, the moon full. Some planet was set­ting in the west, prob­a­bly Sat­urn by its col­or. The V of Tau­rus pointed back the way he’d come. A car approached, lights snag­ging in the trees, then came around the last bend light­less and rolled to a stop.

–Mark, Julie, this is Philip.

–Why’re we whis­per­ing?

–Park’s closed. Not sup­posed to be here.

They went around the closed gate and past a build­ing set back among trees. In a sec­ond story win­dow a dim line flick­ered, a flu­o­res­cent tube not on nor off, stut­ter­ing between states. Fifty yards fur­ther they left the road for a broad path that rose wind­ing under black oak, then bay. An owl called, leav­ing the har­bor of a euca­lyp­tus.

Quine and Lynn walked in silence. Ahead Julie laughed and touched Mark’s arm, not a lover’s touch, but a ges­ture of inti­macy with the world, the same hand caress­ing air and under­brush. They talked about peo­ple they knew, hes and shes dart­ing in and out of audi­bil­ity like moths in the dark. Soon they entered a dark­ness of [pg40] trees where noth­ing was vis­i­ble but shards of the moon fallen like leaves around them. He went more slowly and stum­bled. Lynn paused and he heard a rustling. Leaves popped free of a branch and came crushed under Quine’s nose, car­ry­ing to him a strong waft of mint and resin.

–Sweet bay, she said, –is sacred to Apol­lo, but this is not , Lau­rens, it’s Cal­i­for­nia bay, . Her tongue lin­gered on the liq­uids.

They kept climb­ing until they broke from the woods into an open slope. Moon­light rinsed palely the open range land below them.

, Lynn said, inhal­ing as she broke from a sage­brush a twig of gray leaves.

It was pun­gent in her cupped palm. The warmth of her came with it.

–Named for the god­dess Artemis. Who loves it. And this is wil­low. Salix. Los alamos. Which is the mean­ing of Orpheus’s name. Who opened doors he could­n’t reen­ter.

–How do you know all this?

–This is where I grew up. This is the smell of my home. This is how I know I belong.

They came up to Mark and Julie at the edge of the grove. The moon hung above them, swol­len, no god­dess remon­tant but an air­less world already mapped, trod­den, and pro­jected for divi­sion into satrapies of min­ing, man­u­fac­tur­ing, and defense, occu­pancy deferred only until these sce­nar­ios could enrich their plan­ners at a mar­gin of return greater and more reli­able than what cur­rent tech­nol­ogy assured.

–Let’s sit here.

Julie passed around bread, cheese, fruit, a plas­tic bot­tle of water. On the grass they sat eat­ing. Some­where crick­ets chirred on and off, their pres­ence like a field of energy shift­ing.

–It’s so warm tonight. Almost like sum­mer.

–You from around here, Philip?

–I went to school in the East. I’ve been work­ing around here for eight years.

–Prac­ti­cally a native. What do you do?

–I write soft­ware. [pg41]

–Friend of mine works for CodeWin, maybe you know him.

–It’s a big indus­try.

–Big­ger by the day, said Lynn dry­ly.

–Where’s the Big Dip­per? I can’t see it, said Julie, stand­ing.

–It’s too low to see, said Quine. –That’s the han­dle above the ridge­line. There in the west, that’s Vega set­ting. A sum­mer star. Win­ter com­ing in over there… point­ing to that swarm of fire­flies tan­gled in a sil­ver braid, –The Pleiades. Also called the Seven Sis­ters. You can count more than seven on a clear night. But not with the moon out. And right behind them Ori­on, you can see him just com­ing over the hori­zon, those three stars in a line. Chas­ing them. Kind of a bad luck bunch, the Sis­ters. They were all seduced by one god or anoth­er, except for Merope, who mar­ried Sisy­phus.

–Look! Is that a plan­et?

Find­ing the pale green disk where Julie point­ed, a hands­breath from the Sis­ters, Quine knew it was the beam of a laser ten miles south stab­bing to the edge of space where sodium atoms glowed in its heat.

–No, not a plan­et… Sud­denly Lyn­n’s hand was in his. She squeezed it once, and before he could respond released it to run down­hill toward a dark grove. He stood for a moment and then he ran too. He ran for no rea­son he could name, wind in his ears, an excite­ment ris­ing almost to fear in his heart, hack­les alive. Some pres­ence almost, chas­ing him. Then the dark­ness of the trees was around him and he tripped and went sprawl­ing. The pres­ence was still there. He feared it though he knew it was benign. It was not death, but it would change his life if he let it.

–Philip? Are you all right?

She stood over him, at the edge of the grove as Mark and Julie approached. He lay there in anx­i­ety, anger almost at how she’d stirred him, at the beauty of her move­ment, at the way her fea­tures held the moon­light.

–Philip…?

–I’m fine. He brushed leaf dirt from his sleeves. The pres­ence was gone. They walked in silence until emerg­ing from the grove and head­ing downs­lope. Over­head the green star had van­ished.

–So what are you work­ing on now, Philip? [pg42]

–Oh… things in the sky, Quine said. –An aero­space part­ner wants us to pro­gram low orbit bal­loons a cou­ple of miles across, the appar­ent size of the moon, sun­l­it, car­ry­ing mes­sages, logos, adver­tis­ing…

–But that’s so, Julie began and Mark cut in, –Seems I read about this. The Sierra Club’s bring­ing suit, aren’t they?

–I don’t know about that, we’re just the con­trac­tors, I just do my job… and Julie glanc­ing at Lynn claimed Mark’s arm to move them away and resume in a low voice their con­ver­sa­tion of hes and shes while Lynn walked apart, oblig­ing Quine to fol­low, leav­ing behind –she sees him as a recla­ma­tion pro­ject… to over­take her on a knoll. She waited with crossed arms. Behind her, the val­ley was filled with glit­ter­ing points. At its far verge was the flood­lit ter­rain of the Lab.

–Philip, what are you doing?

–You don’t like me as a soft­ware mogul?

–Is that your, your cover sto­ry? Her face remained still and fixed on him, moon­shadow in her eyes’ hol­lows.

–That bal­loon thing really is a Lab pro­ject, they started a small group on it…

–You don’t want to tell them what you really do.

–No, I…

–You think Mark isn’t smart enough to see through you? He is. You take his good faith for fool­ish­ness.

–Look I, I just did­n’t know what you told them. I did­n’t want you to be embar­rassed by me. His face heated as he said it.

–Well, that would be my prob­lem, would­n’t it. Now I have a dif­fer­ent prob­lem. Because it hap­pens I did tell them. She waited for some­thing he was­n’t able to give her, then went on. –When you were talk­ing about the Pleiades you were so, I don’t know, at ease. What hap­pened?

–Look, I’m sor­ry, I just… Another breath of warm breeze and he real­ized he was sweat­ing.

–What hap­pened?

–That green star we saw. It was­n’t a star, it was some­thing from the Lab. A laser test.

–A Radi­ance laser? [pg43]

–No… some­thing else. Unclas­si­fied. A guide star for .37

She was lis­ten­ing with her arms still crossed. –Why did that change your mood?

–It’s just, I’d almost for­got­ten, about every­thing except, except for being here. That thing in the sky reminded me. Then Mark asked what I did…

–They really have their hooks in you, don’t they.

–I know that.

Face still hol­lowed in moon­shadow she stepped toward him. His need to be touched and take com­fort welled up, but some struc­ture unknown yet dread­ful held him still. After a momen­t’s wait she turned to face the val­ley lights. –I’m sur­prised you haven’t quit.

–And do what! Turn from the one place where my, my tal­ents have some use?

–What do you want, Philip?

–Want? I don’t know. I can’t get it. I want eight years back. Before this I was a sci­en­tist.

–They haven’t robbed you of that.

–Yes, that’s so, I gave myself over, and now I’m on the line for some­thing I don’t care about. That’s the way, yes, you’re going to get screwed regard­less, so you should make sure it’s for some­thing that mat­ters to you…

–What would that be?

–I don’t know.

Julie and Mark were call­ing. They went down the slope and rejoined them. She was still talk­ing to Mark, –so I’m, wait, stop, this is it, these are the bound­aries and he’s like, what did I do? She turned to Lynn with the pack, –take this? and embraced Mark from behind, arms around his chest, straps of her short­legged over­alls a dark X on her back, bare calves duck­walk­ing the pair down the slope.

In the lot Lynn said to Julie, –Get a ride with you guys?

Quine called out, –Mark, just jok­ing about the bal­loon.

Mark looked up, fum­bling with his keys, smil­ing. –Oh yeah?

–Thanks, thanks for, for invit­ing me. He got in the car, opened the glove­box, found a tablet, brushed lint from it, swal­lowed it dry. [pg44]


In his apart­ment was a smell like stale smoke and old sweat and rot­ting food, edged with some­thing fouler, like the metal­lic stench of the flux from the open pipe. At first he thought it came from out­side, where ear­lier they’d been roof­ing. But on the deck the air was fresh. He knelt to the car­pet and smelled noth­ing. In the kitchen he bent to the drain and smelled noth­ing. From a bot­tle he squeezed a pearl of soap onto a sponge, ran hot water in the sink, scrubbed and rinsed it. He scrubbed the stove top. The ceil­ing fan was silted over by grease and spi­der­web. He fetched a chair and reached to touch it. A black gob­bet fell from it to the stove top. He fetched pli­ers and freed the nuts hold­ing the shield, bang­ing with the han­dle to break the dried paint around the rim. In both hands he bore the shield like a chal­ice to the sink.

In its con­cav­i­ties had pooled a glossy tar. He scrubbed it for min­utes, smutch wash­ing into the sink. Then he spooled off yards of paper tow­el­ing, wet and soaped it, and climbed the chair to wash over and again the sleeve of the fan, the blades, the hub. A vis­cous brown residue clung to the tow­els and his fin­gers. Fur­ther into the recess, beyond his reach, was more tar.

Sweat soaked him. He went onto the deck. The moon was dim and red­dish, as if the sky held smoke. He stared in won­der and fear until the knowl­edge that it was an eclipse broke upon him ban­ish­ing fear and won­der alike.

When he went back in the smell was wait­ing. He under­stood that from now on every­thing would smell like this. For a while he sat at the table with his eyes shut, then opened the news­pa­per for the mem­ory of CARPETS CLEANED but it parted to 24 HRS OUTCALL DAWNA and LOVE TALK $2/MIN and he stared bleakly at the sullen pout, cir­cleted fore­head, hair as wild as if fresh risen from the sea, linen garb pleated in most sub­tle fash­ion. His hand found the tele­phone, and after a dis­tant chirrup a small insin­u­at­ing voice flicked like a tongue in his ear, and he stepped back from the uncra­dled receiver, switched off the lights, leav­ing the voice breath­ing unheeded into the dark­ness and the moon­light pooled on the floor.

He show­ered. In the stream lust swelled in him like nau­sea. Hot [pg45] spray lashed him. Inco­her­ent images flashed upon him. Run­nels nudged moon­white globs toward the drain. Depleted he tow­eled. On the sink were Nan’s tooth­paste, hair­brush, lip­stick, mas­cara. On the toi­let tank an unzipped travel kit of quilted cot­ton gaped to show diaphragm, jel­ly, tam­pons, vit­a­mins, ibupro­fen, hair­pins, bar­ret­te, lens wet­ter, a glass jar of face cream. A tow­e­lend snagged in the zip­per as Quine scrubbed dry his hair, drag­ging the kit. Items hailed on the tile floor. He dropped the tow­el, then swept his hand across the sink top. He grabbed the kit and hurled it. The jar flew out and smashed against the wall. [pg46]

Four

Dry sycamore leaves scraped over pave­ment in a hot wind drawn out from dis­tant desert by a stalled off­shore low. Over the ridge east of town dust and the smell of manure from the farm­lands and a haze of smoke blew fit­fully into the val­ley. as the sun rose through lay­ers of haze Quine, dri­ving to the back gate of the Lab so as to avoid the pro­test­ers, passed the dead vine­yard by the north bound­ary. He pulled over, still­ing the engine and the radio’s –ty thou­sand acres ablaze.

The gate was closed but unlocked. A bright new sign bore the bio-­haz­ard tre­foil and DANGER TOXICS MITIGATION PILOT SITE ALPHA KEEP OUT. The drone of flies rose and fell like a tur­bine. Stunted vines clung to irri­ga­tion uprights. Bark from one sloughed like ash on his fin­gers. From deep in the vine­yard a warm moist fla­tus per­fused the air. A stink like the of a dying beast. He ran back to the car chok­ing and drool­ing. At an irri­ga­tion faucet he rinsed his mouth, his face, his hair, his hands, yet the foul­ness, as of cor­roded met­al, lin­gered. What god loves this?

At Nul­l’s desk Thorpe worked.

–Bernd Dietz called. He has to know where to put the reflec­tors.

–I’m tempted to leave them where they were in the last shot.

–We can’t do that, Highet would

–That’s why I’m tempt­ed.

–Yeah he’s, he can be a real prick can’t he.

–Not if you play by his rules. He always has a car­rot handy.

–Well I have quite a few ideas but you need to look them over, sort [pg47] of tell me where they’re out of line, you know we’re really down to the wire here and

–Okay, let’s assume Black’s right…

–Oh then you’ve read

–As­sume we’re look­ing at quanta as local­ized par­ti­cles guided by a phys­i­cally real field…

–High­et, you know he really grilled me on this stuff when he came out to Utah, put me through the wringer, made me prove every assump­tion, but after an hour I had him con­vinced, and I thought he really respect­ed…

–Typ­i­cal Highet slap and stroke.

–Now sup­pose we…

–You’re good at this. And very fast.

–Com­mer­cial soft­ware you know, those eigh­teen hour days tone you right up.

–No don’t touch that, we can’t change the rod array, I’ve already told Dietz.

–Can we reori­ent it?

–Maybe. I’ll check.

Under Thor­pe’s shap­ing the model grad­u­ally began to show cor­re­la­tion. After sev­eral hours one run pro­duced an annu­lus. Then noth­ing for hours more. Again the annu­lus. He rotated the mod­el’s rods again and again and at one angle power jumped and the annu­lus closed to a point. They stared at the screen. Thorpe bit his thumb. –What do you think?

–It looks all right.

–It looks fan­tas­tic. It’s a hun­dred times brighter than the last shot. But the mod­el’s tweaked to hell and gone.

–I don’t see any­thing wrong.

–No, nei­ther do I. So now if we put the reflec­tors here… see, this is how I work. I’m not a the­o­rist, I don’t have your back­ground, I need to, you know, immerse myself in the code, feel the sys­tem…

–Well, it’s a remark­able job. I could­n’t have done this. I’ve tried for months.

–Well, I could­n’t have done it if your code was­n’t so com­pre­hen­sive [pg48]. You really worked at this. But it’s, you know, at some level it’s all just sort of push­ing num­bers around. I don’t know if it’s say­ing any­thing real.

–We’ll know soon enough.

–Do you think some­thing’s wrong?

Quine shrugged. –Noth­ing I can see.

–You’re not con­vinced.

–I don’t have to be. It’s what Highet wants, isn’t it?

–Yeah but, that’s not what you think I’m doing, is it?

–No…

–Be­cause I would never do that.

–I’m sure you

–Since the Fish and Him­mel­hoch thing I have to be very care­ful. They were cru­ci­fied, just cru­ci­fied, they’re pari­ahs, their careers are fin­ished. Any­thing remotely to do with cold fusion is taint­ed, you may as well say you’re work­ing on per­pet­ual motion. And I was on that team, I was in that lab. So I have to be very care­ful.

–Per­pet­ual motion, you could prob­a­bly sell that to High­et. At least as a talk­ing point.

–It’s not funny to me. I had noth­ing to do with that deba­cle, just so we’re clear on that.

–Sure. I under­stand.

–Sorry I’m touchy. Just, you know, tired. You’ve been gen­er­ous, let­ting me work with your code and all, I really thought you’d stick me with the scut work but you’ve done it haven’t you, all the test details, and let me do the inter­est­ing part. This could take me a long way and I’m grate­ful.

–Why don’t you go home, get some sleep?

–Yeah, okay, I’m whipped.

–Take tomor­row off. I’ll tell High­et.

–No no, I’ll be in. We have to write up a work order.

–I’ll do it, don’t worry about it.

–Are you stay­ing?

–God no, what is it, mid­night?

–It’s, oh Jesus, it’s two a m.

–No, I’m leav­ing in five min­utes. I’ll write the work order tomor­row. [pg49]

–Oh I meant to, here’s some­thing else for you to read… and, hes­i­tat­ing a moment, Thorpe placed a sta­pled xerox on Quine’s stack, held his gaze for a moment, and depart­ed.

It was a new paper by Sorokin. At now. Quine skimmed it as if read­ing news from a dis­tant galaxy or a remote epoch. It solid­i­fied and extended the work they’d done togeth­er, the exper­i­ment that had sep­a­rated them. It was clear that it was a field now, and that Sorokin owned it. He stanched an upwelling of envy and self­pi­ty.

But instead of going home Quine broke apart Thor­pe’s code and stud­ied the changes. He gave the model a new set of energies: points clus­tered around the focus. Again, with dif­fer­ent energies, the same focus emerged. Some­thing was wrong, he could smell it; his instinct was not yet dead.

Near dawn he found it. Along with the sen­sor posi­tions, Thorpe had tweaked the sen­sor response func­tion. Play­ing the sys­tem, as he said, to get results. But now the func­tion empha­sized cer­tain wave­lengths. As might the sen­sors them­selves when struck by the bom­b’s radi­a­tion. The bright­ness from the ear­lier tests might be noth­ing but reflec­tion, instru­ment error. When you put that error into the focus­ing code, the code nat­u­rally con­firmed the data. Glue in a house of cards. And down in a cor­ner of Nul­l’s white­board, half erased, was it? yes, the same func­tion, the same tweak. There in the cor­ner of his eye for months. Wasted months. Wrong from the start. Error or fraud? No way to know. Maybe started as one, became the oth­er. But wait now. If you removed the tweak, if you stopped try­ing for a beam, chaff fell from the prob­lem and the expres­sions said some­thing else entire­ly.

A pres­ence entered the room. Air gravid and light adance. There appeared to his mind’s eye the bat­tle sta­tion lost and insignif­i­cant in a tide of radi­ance, all the uni­verse’s light at wave­lengths and col­ors beyond mere vision, stream­ing in intri­cate bro­cade, weav­ing and medi­at­ing between mat­ter and ener­gy, wave and par­ti­cle, the phe­nom­e­nal and the . Here was the mys­tery, at last, open for his know­ing as he hov­ered between fatigue and ecsta­sy, and he knew he was unready to pass through the gate of rev­e­la­tion into this realm of light. He drew back. And the pres­ence like a roe­buck in for­est star­tled [pg50] and was gone. The tide of light reced­ed. He was left with only the par­tic­u­lars of rods and reflec­tors. But he had found their flaw. Mys­tery might elude, but the infor­ma­tion was sure. Thus angels must feel, radi­ant with the cer­tainty that flows from their sin­gle devo­tion to right.


–Bernd, I need some reflec­tors.

–For Tal­iesin.

–Yes.

–I know, I have a work order already, this morn­ing, from Thor­pe.

–No, I need more.

–We do not have time to add

–I have to have reflec­tors made of some­thing other than beryl­li­um.

Dietz was silent. He began leaf­ing through a log­book. –Do you know, try as we might we can­not keep traces of oxy­gen out of the beryl­li­um. I have told Highet this. Long ago.

–Re­al­ly.

–I have pro­posed hydro­gen in the past.

–Why haven’t we tried it?

–“Don’t mess with suc­cess.”

–I see. I’d like to try it.

–Does Highet approve?

–I’ll take respon­si­bil­i­ty.

–With­out his approval I can do noth­ing.

–Bernd. This is what Slater thought, isn’t it. That the beryl­lium reflec­tors were giv­ing false bright­ness. And Null knew it too, did­n’t he.

–I did not see Slater’s report. Dietz did not look up from the book.

–Make some hydro­gen reflec­tors for me. Cable them sep­a­rately from the beryl­li­um.

Dietz shut the book. –Send me a work order. I will have to send a copy to High­et.

Kihara came through the doors with a fol­low­ing of suited men.

–Won’t be a minute gen­tle­men, don’t let us dis­turb you, you can see here the pre­ci­sion engi­neer­ing we’re capa­ble of, bang-up job of inven­tive­ness, max­i­mum return on invest­ment, the answer to revers­ing the bal­ance of trade deficit, inno­v­a­tive fed­er­ally gen­er­ated to indus­try, improves the nation’s eco­nomic com­pet­i­tive­ness [pg51] as we work delib­er­ately and con­sciously to build part­ner­ships, a new class of infor­ma­tion with com­mer­cial val­ue, very cre­ative coop­er­a­tive efforts, free­dom to nego­ti­ate intel­lec­tual prop­erty rights, fees and roy­alties, cover the tech­no­log­i­cal water­front, take for instance these fine-­grained steels, not to men­tion … and Quine returned to his office rum­mag­ing through CENTURY 21, Rings Fields and Groups, Com­puter Addict Whole­sale Micro­cen­ter, Tech­ni­cal Ref­er­ence, to come upon WORK ORDER Form 4439A Autho­rized Use Only, and sat for a minute hold­ing a pen above it sud­denly frozen at the sound of Thor­pe’s approach­ing voice, –you have to invoke the world con­trol option from the , relax­ing as the voice reced­ed, pen mov­ing to spell SECONDARY SENSOR ARRAY.


From High­et’s open door he heard, –You want less pres­sure, try the 38, it’s a fuck­ing retire­ment vil­lage for the real­i­ty-im­paired! and a lower voice unin­tel­li­gi­ble in respon­se, then –I don’t care, I want results! the lower voice grow­ing sharper, –is cheap. My peo­ple have to make it hap­pen, as the door opened and Dietz, pale and shak­ing, came out past Quine glanc­ing at him with­out a word and stormed down the hall, Highet fol­low­ing to the door, call­ing out, –A beard with­out a mus­tache, does that make you an hon­est man? and to Quine, –You. I don’t want to talk to you now. Send me e-mail.

–I think you’ll want to hear this. We can show quan­ti­ta­tive agree­ment.

Highet looked at him with loathing. –You want to change the reflec­tors. The day before the shot.

–I want to try hydro­gen.

–That’s an incred­i­bly bad idea, that’s totally brain­dead39, to intro­duce a new mea­sure­ment tech­nique at this stage. You have to cal­i­brate, you have to

–If Slater’s right, if the beryl­lium shows false bright­ness, it’s only a mat­ter of time until we know it. It might as well be now. Or do you want to spend another fifty mil­lion on another shot?

–I’d love to. Who told you Slater said that?

–It’s com­mon knowl­edge. We’ll have to address the issue even­tu­al­ly. [pg52]

–Com­mon knowl­edge my ass.

–Then it might be wise to pre­empt ques­tions about it. The shot’s so close to the pre­sen­ta­tion, we can’t be expected to have data that quick­ly. But we could say we’re inves­ti­gat­ing. If we have to.

–You’re sure about the quan­ti­ta­tive agree­ment?

–The sim­u­la­tion’s excel­lent. I won’t take credit for it. Jef Thorpe did the work.

–Did he now. Well, we’re a team. Good results show good man­age­ment.

–I’d like Jef to give the pre­sen­ta­tion.

High­et’s eyes fixed in cal­cu­la­tion on Quine as the phone rang and Quine waited for the dis­mis­sive wave with which Highet ended audi­ences, but instead he spoke a moment, then cov­ered the mouth­piece and said, –Want to make some money Philip, Devon Nul­l’s tak­ing on investors, and uncov­er­ing the mouth­piece, –Yes, appli­ca­tion’s out­side the enve­lope no prob­lem there, keep me briefed, and in another moment hung up, lean­ing back and clasp­ing his hands over his thin­ning crown, gaz­ing at the ceil­ing.

–Well that’s fine, that’s very fine. Won­der if we could work up a lit­tle some­thing. I could invite some key peo­ple to the ranch for the shot, some unnamed sources, goose the process a lit­tle, can we get Thorpe in on this?

–He’s prob­a­bly in my office.

–You may work out yet Philip, Highet grudged as one thick fin­ger stabbed the phone. –Jef? Leo. Get over here, ris­ing to pace past framed and signed pho­tos of three Pres­i­dents, another of Réti and him­self with the cur­rent Pres­i­dent, artist’s ren­der­ing of the Super­bright and of a fusion dri­ven space­ship, car­toon of a mush­room cloud WHEN YOU CARE ENOUGH TO SEND THE VERY BEST, cer­tifi­cates from pro­fes­sional soci­eties, a length of cable, a cir­cuit board. He stopped at the win­dow, gaze caught by some­thing, and parted the ver­ti­cal slats of the blind with his fin­gers, speak­ing soft­ly, almost to him­self.

–Do you know the dark­ness that’s out there? Do you real­ize how ten­u­ous this all is? Twenty thou­sand years of civ­i­liza­tion, and only in the last few hun­dred has ratio­nal­ity begun to dis­place super­sti­tion. I tell you I would sup with the dev­il, I would risk armaged­don, not to [pg53] lose that. When I think of those fuck­ing tree hug­gers out there… and turn­ing back to Quine, voice low and insis­tent, –Think the ills are in a sys­tem, think it’s that sim­ple, Réti and his anti­com­mu­nism, your new girl­friend and her peacenik bud­dies, won­der why’s she drawn to you?

–Now wait just a

–Dark­ness and mal­ady is in the human heart, Philip, don’t you know that? The enemy is the heart. You can’t hide from that dark­ness… as Thorpe entered in black linen jack­et, red t-shirt, nose stud, eyes eager, and High­et’s demeanor switched to the cheer­ful, –Jef, my man. I want to wow the rubes when we go to the desert. We have a ranch out there with data lines from the test site. What can you do that’s portable and fan­tas­tic? I want flash that makes you reach for your check­book.

–I’ve got an inter­face toolkit from my CodeWin days, I can throw some­thing togeth­er. Just tell me what kind of data I have to work with.

–I’ll email you the details. Shot’s tomor­row evening, not too much for you, is it?

–Demo or die, I know the drill, said Thor­pe, grin­ning.


The evening wind whipped dust across the high­way, vibrat­ing the cars stopped in three lanes behind flash­ing lights at Codor­nic s EXIT NLY as Quine punched –il­lion in prop­erty loss, over to –non­in­jury acci­dent being cleared at the Codor­nices Road exit not block­ing lanes for you, drowned in a siren blar­ing up the shoul­der OHLONE VALLEY RESCUE ƎƆИA⅃UᙠMA as Quine edged against horns and unheard curses into the exit lane and cut back onto a com­mer­cial strip behind the cen­tral mall, the reverse of which colon­naded and ped­i­mented facade, its raw con­crete stained by rains, caught with a sort of wounded dig­nity the sun’s last rays as they like­wise gilded Estancia Estates An Adult Com­mu­nity where Quine parked and for a moment held in his gaze a prospect of iden­ti­cal bun­ga­lows arrayed on lawns bil­liard-­green out to the sur­veyed bound­aries of chain­link and dry pas­ture beyond.

–Oh! Philip. Come in. I was­n’t expect­ing you, your dead­line…

–Well it’s Fri­day night, I thought

–I’m glad you, but, if you’d called I would have made din­ner… [pg54]

–I was­n’t sure I was com­ing.

–Your work is done?

–There’s a test. I fly out tomor­row after­noon. And there’s a pre­sen­ta­tion Mon­day.

–Can you stay tonight? We can go out for… is some­thing wrong?

–I need to ask you some­thing.

–Yes? What is it?

–Who’s the guy with the curly black hair and the good tan?

–The, what?

–I hap­pened to see you the other day. In a hall­way. He was act­ing kind of pro­pri­etary.

–Pro­prie, her face flushed and she turned to look across the room, one hand rest­ing on a table. Quine wait­ed.

–How long has this been going on?

–His name’s Ben and he’s a good friend, and it’s been, we’ve been friends for years. Since before I knew you.

–You still see him?

The flush dark­ened, and as she turned back to him her mild fea­tures con­torted into a stiff anger he’d never seen in her. –Do you mean, do I sleep with him? Yes. I have. Once or twice since you and I have been togeth­er.

–Once or twice. You’ve lost count.

–Oh, Philip! Why are you, this is hate­ful!

–It hurts me, Nan.

Her face was a mask of plain mis­ery. –We never

–Never what, laid down rules? I did­n’t think we had to, I thought some things went with­out say­ing.

–With­out say­ing what! That I’m yours alone when you don’t give me any­thing, for God’s sake Philip I did­n’t turn to Ben for sex, just for, for kind­ness, for friend­ship, just to feel that I mat­tered! To some­one! Five years of my life Philip, I’m no longer a young wom­an, do you want to know when it was I saw Ben, when I went to him after you and I were togeth­er?

The cold­ness, the absolute cold­ness of the moment.

–You don’t, you don’t even care do you. It hurts you, but I can see in your eyes, you won’t lis­ten to me. How can I pos­si­bly explain when [pg55] you won’t even give me credit for, for lov­ing you, Philip? When you and I met, at that pic­nic, and I was so charmed by you, by your intel­li­gence, your mod­esty, your reserve. Do you remem­ber, the thun­der­storm? I had­n’t seen one since mov­ing West. And after­wards you took me home, we were drenched, and I loaned you clothes. Oh Philip, it was long over between Ben and me, he was like a broth­er, I just wanted to say good­bye, to tell some­one close to me how happy I was. How happy I thought I’d be.

–And the sec­ond time?

–Yes, that’s all you want to hear. Two years lat­er, when you did­n’t come to din­ner, did­n’t call, and I waited and wait­ed, so it was only an anniver­sary just a date on the cal­en­dar that’s all, but I called Ben and he came over to be with me, and he did­n’t, did­n’t even want… cut off by her sobs.

–But I, you know I was work­ing, you could have

–When you come here and, and sulk for hours, barely acknowl­edge my exis­tence, don’t call for days on end, then expect, how do you think that makes me feel… I would have told you about Ben if you’d asked if you’d ever shown any inter­est at all. If you even know who I am!

Within him a stone fell and fell, sound­lessly turn­ing.

–Philip, talk to me! Don’t turn away like this!

–I have noth­ing to say, and he was out the door, where street­lights had come on, know­ing that his leav­ing now was worse than any­thing gone before, a with­drawal he could never make right. Don’t tell me, don’t tell me we don’t feed the empti­ness in each oth­er. [pg56]

Five

In the of Nevada thou­sands of acres of waste and infe­cund desert had been reclaimed for sci­ence as the Aguas Secas Weapons Test Site40, and one hun­dred miles fur­ther west was the Advanced Research Insti­tute of the East­ern Sier­ra, a ranch at the edge of the , a black facil­ity whose fund­ing appeared in no bud­get. Leased to the gov­ern­ment by a con­ser­v­a­tive busi­ness­man, it served as a lay­over site for Lab per­son­nel on their way to the desert. It nes­tled in the broad base of a canyon near a creek’s loud runoff through lat­eral . To the west the ground rose in the space of a few miles from six thou­sand feet to a twelve thou­sand foot crest of gran­ite crags. Below, a few miles to the east, the north-­south high­way lay like a dropped rib­bon across the wrin­kled val­ley floor, and a hun­dred miles fur­ther across desert dot­ted with sage under a flotilla of thun­der­heads was the chalk white sink of Aguas Secas.

Even before join­ing the Lab Quine had seen ARIES. On his first trip west, while switch­ing planes at Phoenix, he’d been paged and diverted to a sin­gle engine craft bound for a Kern County airstrip, where a sher­if­f’s four by four awaited him. The first Radi­ance shot had just gone off and at the ranch they were cel­e­brat­ing. Quine met Highet there. Highet was beat­ing a twelve year old at chess, telling the boy, I’ll trade a bishop for a knight any­time, I love knights, they leap bar­ri­ers, they face eight ways at once.

A month later Quine was at Aguas. Rank smell of sage hov­ered in the predawn cool, immen­si­ties of desert air quiv­ered to the hori­zon. [pg57] They drove with the sun ris­ing behind them, the young ini­ti­ates jok­ing, group lead­ers and guards and observers in hard­hats silent and grim. Road­ways of cables led from instru­ment trail­ers over desert pocked with the col­lapse craters of pre­vi­ous tests to the dis­tant bore­hole. Above it a red crane pointed straight up. The count reached zero. And the earth rip­pled. A wave rushed toward them and the ground shook as if a train were pass­ing and pass­ing and pass­ing. When it stopped the air was a clear plasma of exal­ta­tion. To know that the bind­ing forces of mat­ter were yours to break, the wealth of nations yours to squan­der in such sub­lime force, this was a deep and secret sweet­ness known only to the few.

At the ranch now Thorpe was jok­ing with some grad stu­dents from X Sec­tion. Oth­ers were there from J Sec­tion, and some stern faces he did­n’t know, mil­i­tary or intel­li­gence, and Stera­dian alert as a cor­rupt deputy. Highet arrived in blue jeans and tooled leather boots, car­ry­ing cases of soda, chant­ing in a false twang, –Twaace the sug­ar, twaace the caf­feine… fol­lowed by a West­ern sen­a­tor cadav­er­ous and grin­ning in white Stet­son, and his young aide plump and groomed to a sheen, with the zeal­ous black eyes of a pul­let.

–Look at em, young, bril­liant, con­fi­dent, said the sen­a­tor. –That’s how I felt at their age. They own the world.

–The world? retorted High­et. –They own their gen­i­tals. The rest of them’s mine, rais­ing his voice to intro­duce, –Gentle­men, the right hon­or­able Howard Bangerter of Utah…

The aide asked if physics had yet suc­ceeded in find­ing in the traces of Cre­ation the fin­ger­prints of God, and Highet nod­ded, a slow smile spread­ing and his tonguetip dart­ing as his hands rose to con­jure, –Not God exact­ly… as Quine walked onto the deck where three bar­be­cue grills siz­zled, and a keg of COORS LITE sat amid greasy paper plates bear­ing the ruins of meals, and the sun had long since chased the wan­der­ing moon, itself pur­su­ing Venus, behind the moun­tain wall. Although the sky retained day’s blue a chill came down from the remote and snow­less peaks.

–This young man, High­et’s voice car­ried out from with­in, won last year’s , a pres­ti­gious award I hap­pen to admin­is­ter… and Quine stepped down from the deck, cross­ing [pg58] dry grass to the creek’s rock­strewn wil­lowed bank where it trick­led through small pools and clumps of rot­ting leaves. Quine fol­lowed it upward, breath labor­ing. He stopped at a large boul­der long ago tum­bled from a higher place, and sat. Lit­tle residue of the day’s warmth remained in the shad­owed stone. The west­ern ridge above him was a great dark wave. In the east a glam­our of rosetint clouds swept up from the hori­zon. The ranch was small below him. A cold wind came down the great wall of rock. Into this wilder­ness he might ascend and be lost.

But he returned. Thor­pe’s voice came up as he slid open the glass doors, –back­ground, you know, trucks on the high­way, that sort of thing. Other side of the spool you can see some small trem­blors we had this after­noon. When the shot goes off we’ll see more than a wig­gle. But the real action’s on this screen here. At the site they’re record­ing every­thing for later analy­sis but data’s also piped to this work­sta­tion where this auto­cor­re­la­tion soft­ware gives us an imme­di­ate win­dow on what’s hap­pen­ing. Red is intense ener­gy, blue is, you know, less intense. We’re look­ing for sort of a red ring­like struc­ture.

Quine watched the sty­lus quiver as about him oth­ers con­versed. With­out warn­ing the sty­lus jerked. The screen of the work­sta­tion came to life, num­bers flow­ing down its right edge. Col­ors coa­lesced on screen. The sen­a­tor and his aide leaned in enrapt. A minute passed. Blue and green sur­rounded a corona of yel­low and a jagged red core flecked with white.

–We have bright­ness, Thorpe said. –A hun­dred times the last test. More. Could be a thou­sand times.

–Three orders of mag­ni­tude improve­ment, declared High­et. –At this rate we’ll have every enemy mis­sile on Earth neu­tral­ized in a few years, and rais­ing his tone with his glass, –To Team Super­bright! Leonar­dos of the age. You peo­ple are the best in the world.

Grunts and howls of tri­umph went off like rock­ets. The sen­a­tor’s aide leaned smil­ing to whis­per in the sen­a­tor’s ear.

A sec­ond wave of guests arrived, a dozen men in suits adorned with MAMMOTH CONVENTION CENTER NAME COMPANY and a few women pack­aged as brightly as new soft­ware, and Quine moved off through the manic younger men hopped up by caf­feine and sugar and the shot. [pg59]

–Need now’s another lit­tle war where we can demo this stuff. Feed some some anti­quated mis­siles and pro­voke him to use them.

down­stairs run­ning

–thought Mal­ibu was bad but Aca­pul­co’s about three inch waves

–guy at the Cloudrise Sem­i­nar, he blasts wheat into stub­ble in a shock tube at mach ten, calls that sci­ence, eighty k a year.

–maybe the moon’s changed its orbit or

–thou shalt not piss on a col­league’s fund­ing

–trans­late the project into terms attrac­tive to

–well then or

–corn smut

–know bet­ter than to say that in pub­lic with troops on the bor­der

–shell game

–call it Vir­tual Wilder­ness

–I hear Sara squeezed it out

–boy or girl?

–peo­ple make money on it they’re more likely to go along

–girl I think that’s what Moe said

–why leave home to get away

–he did­n’t go deep enough

–photo and topo data­base with frac­tal inter­po­la­tion soft­ware to smooth the ani­ma­tion

–a quag­mire like Viet

–sub­stan­tive work­ing rela­tion­ship with at least six major US com­pa­nies

–get or

–hell why not go world­wide

–trans­late the project into terms attrac­tive to DOE

–not this time, this is South­west Asia

–get on your put on the gog­gles you’re up in the

–and some­body from the insur­ance com­pa­ny’s sell­ing records of who owns what where to thieves [pg60]

–take out the infra­struc­ture of the whole frig­ging coun­try if we have to

–get up close to extinct ani­mals

–ev­ery­body makes out, home­own­er’s paid off, insur­ance com­pany raises rates, thieves fence the stuff, fence makes a profit

–ought to get the memo­r­ial award

–as defined in para­graph R41 of sec­tion 11 of the of nine­teen fifty four

–in Cara­cas this guy went by on a bicy­cle sliced the damn fin­ger right off for the wed­ding ring

–know­ingly and with intent

–liv­ing things prob­a­bly get in a pretty thor­ough fash­ion every few mil­lion years

–bet­ter than real

–so cool cause like the pro­gram’s work­ing but you don’t know what it’s doing so there’s these emer­gent prop­er­ties

–so­phis­ti­cated encryp­tion algo­rithms deserv­ing of patent pro­tec­tion

–con­trol the flow of infor­ma­tion, do it by clas­si­fi­ca­tion do it by mis­di­rec­tion prin­ci­ple’s the same

–in­cor­po­rat­ing cer­tain aspects of prior art such as mul­ti­pli­ca­tion

–trans­late the project into terms attrac­tive to Dis­ney

–get this straight, if I say nine times six is sev­enty two I’m infring­ing?

–yes but when your story comes back it has your fin­ger­prints on it then you know where it’s been

have no spe­cial loy­alty to DNA42

–must have mis­judged my audi­ence

–but if you cod­ify your knowl­edge that nine times six is sev, ah, fifty-­four in

–some­times the enve­lope pushes back

–women at that high energy con­fer­ence in

–held research posi­tions at four uni­ver­si­ties pub­lished thirty papers before any­body real­ized43

–won’t impact the users of the algo­rithm, or affect the mul­ti­pli­ca­tion [pg61] mar­ket, only the ven­dors of such algo­rithms

–kin­bakubi kenkyu kai?

–lin­eal descen­dent of that being the first pub­li­ca­tion

–no PhD not even a BA all his papers copied from obscure jour­nals

–se­me-e?

–Go for it, Bruno, do the meat thing.

Quine edged into a hall­way and down a nar­row flight of stairs as behind him music began pound­ing, catch­ing as he turned a last glimpse of Thor­pe, cheeks flushed, smil­ing at a cir­cle of admir­ers the impar­tial smile of tri­umph.

Nature is more ready in her cre­at­ing than Time in his destroy­ing, and so she has ordained that many ani­mals shall be food for each oth­er.44

He con­tin­ued down­stairs toward a light. In the cel­lar seven or eight young men from X Sec­tion were gath­ered around an old rack­mounted mini­com­puter and a pooltable.

–so he goes, learn to has­sle peo­ple and lie with a straight face.

–Ex­cuse me, I need to get back. Does any­one know the arrange­ments?

–Ex­cel­lent advice, dude.

–Ex­cuse

One glanced up. –There’s pool cars out­side some­where.

Full dark. A dozen cars. E108637. DEPARTMENT OF ENERGY OFFICIAL USE ONLY. Key in the col­umn. The seat har­ness slid up and drew in over his chest and waist as a chime sounded and dash lights blinked red then glowed teal. The car swayed and bounced for a mile down the dirt road. There the high­way stretched north and south into void, under stars like chips of ice. He could go any­where. But time was a field that moved with him, inescapable, close as the blue light in the cab­in. He drove for hours with­out stop­ping, radio for com­pa­ny, wash of noise, hol­low­ness in his being. Moun­tains that a cen­tury ago killed emi­grants with their rig­ors fell to his vehi­cle. Descend­ing to the flats he saw brush­fires crawl­ing on far ridges like lumi­nous cells writ­ing some mes­sage across the land, and the farm cities on the ancient seabed added their sul­furous light at the meet­ings of cap­il­lary high­ways glow­ing with the heat of a sum­mer long past its term, [pg62] and boom­ing through the car’s win­dows when he opened them was the smell of dust, manure, smoke, exhaust, chem­i­cals, and he crossed the last ridge into his val­ley of a mil­lion souls, of all the places he might go, for all the free­dom he had, here again.

In the dark apart­ment he stripped, drop­ping rank clothes behind him on the way to the bath­room. The mir­ror’s sud­den light showed, before self­hood inter­posed its pro­tec­tive assur­ance, the face of a stranger, aging and vul­ner­a­ble. Low­er­ing his eyes from the bright­ness he stood void­ing for long sec­onds. A rib­bon of urine twisted along the axis of its arc as it splashed into the bowl. Stand­ing thus he blinked, fad­ed, woke. The gates of sleep stood open and he was through them, uncleansed, as soon as he lay down. [pg63]

Six

Gath­ered before dawn the crowd set out for the main gate, to be met by police as later arrivals swelled it fur­ther, until Lab work­ers began to show up in their vehi­cles and county and city police were called to divert traf­fic to the north gate against the columns of peo­ple still com­ing, and the south road was closed to vehi­cles and state police sum­moned, and still the spec­ta­cle slowed to walk­ing speed, so that Quine was late to High­et’s office. Highet stared out his win­dow at the south road.

–Those peo­ple out there will never under­stand. It could be so much worse. On the other side, , entire regions have no civil­ian indus­try at all, it’s all mil­i­tary. Here we cut our deals as needed but we still do real sci­ence. We bring in peo­ple like you. We roll back the dark­ness.

–There’s a prob­lem.

Highet turned. –What.

–The beryl­lium and hydro­gen reflec­tors were cabled sep­a­rate­ly. Thor­pe’s analy­sis at the ranch used only the beryl­li­um. I looked at the hydro­gen data yes­ter­day. Noth­ing. No bright­ness. No beam.

Highet turned again to the win­dow. –I see. The hydro­gen reflec­tors which I asked you not to use. You know, I almost stopped that work order, came that close. But I wanted to see what you had in mind.

–As super­vi­sor it was my deci­sion.

–Yes it was. So where’s your quan­ti­ta­tive agree­ment now?

–You saw at the ranch. The beryl­lium shows it. Spec­trum peaks here, as pre­dict­ed. But that’s not an x-ray, that’s oxy­gen in the beryl­lium [pg64] glow­ing at just the right wave­length. It looks exactly like the new mod­el’s pre­dic­tions for focus.

–And where did this new model come from?

–Thorpe has been mod­i­fy­ing my code. I found a rou­tine of his where just this set of fre­quen­cies is ampli­fied.

Highet came from the win­dow, pac­ing past the pho­tos of Pres­i­dents and artists’ ren­der­ings, touch­ing the length of cable.

–So it’s all Thor­pe’s fault! That’s your sto­ry?

–The CASE sys­tem shows all his mod­i­fi­ca­tions.

–I see. Well, it’s bad for him, then. Espe­cially after Fish and Him­mel­hoch. He has a his­to­ry.

–I would­n’t call it inten­tion­al. The ideas he brought were good. I worked with him, I did­n’t see this, it could have hap­pened to any­one.

–It does­n’t mat­ter. He has a his­to­ry, voice sharp­en­ing, –quack­ery or care­less­ness, you think it mat­ters? You think you can ever walk away from your his­to­ry?

Quine said noth­ing.

–Now those hydro­gen reflec­tors, let’s talk about the­se, you pig­gy­backed your own lit­tle test onto the pig­gy­back, that was very cute. Did Thorpe know about that?

–You saw the work orders.

–He knew he was get­ting feed from the beryl­lium only?

–It was his demo.

–Yes, you saw to that. All right. We’ll keep him on for a while. Then you’ll write him a let­ter of rec­om­men­da­tion. Down the road we’ll issue a report on the false bright­ness. You’ll be group leader on that.

–You want me to…

High­et’s voice was tight with con­trolled fury. –I want you to take some respon­si­bil­i­ty. Show you’re seri­ous about this. It’s about time you moved up or got out.

–Okay.

–You begin to inter­est me, Philip. I thought I knew what to expect from you.

–At least we caught this now.

–Okay. I lis­tened to your sto­ry. Now you lis­ten to me. We haven’t caught a thing yet. What we need now is another test. [pg65]

–I don’t want to sound naive, but you’re not going to men­tion this at the pre­sen­ta­tion?

–To­day? I think not. I think I will not at this moment give the ene­mies of rea­son grounds suf­fi­cient to bury our pro­ject, our knowl­edge, our aspi­ra­tions. Highet lifted from his desk a small device etched with a craft undreamed of even a decade before, rais­ing it before him like a tal­is­man, weigh­ing it in his hand. –I believe not.

Nolan came through the door bear­ing a red fold­er, acknowl­edged Quine with a minute change of expres­sion, as the phone rang and Highet lifted it, –No I can’t see any­one right now.

–Very clean data from your shot, Philip, Nolan said.

–no damn it I can’t Chase is com­ing in an hour

–Oh, you’ve seen it?

–what, what do you mean he’s here now

–We pre­pared the over­heads. A match with the­ory unpar­al­leled since Mendel’s peas.45 Kid’s a barn burner is he?

–well damn it keep him down there

–He’d like to be.

–fuck­ing hero of the peo­ple can just wait

–You’re tak­ing him under your wing.

–don’t care! Do what­ever it takes! Have to do every­one’s job, what’s this Bran?

–Over­heads of the Tal­iesin data.

–Fine, leave them. Bernd there you are find the rest of the team will you get them up where we have a lit­tle prob­lem god damn sen­a­tor arrived just a lit­tle ahead of sched­ule he’s down­sta, Den­nis where the hell have you b… Nolan–!

–Oh! I just, sor­ry, did­n’t see your foot

–Sorry Den­nis let me help you up…

–Nolan will you get the hell

–my slides! here don’t step on

–Nolan!

–just put these back in order, with the ah inte­grated ani­ma­tions and music in stan­dard files

–Den­nis

–lit­tle prob­lem with the syn­the­sizer all the instru­ments stuck on [pg66] the patch so when we played the Apoc­a­lypse Now music, I mean the Wag­ner Valk, rather intrigu­ing actu­ally but hardly

–Den­nis will you

–then our machine could­n’t read the TGIFs so we had to con­vert them to Video but some­how they came out black and white one inch square so

–Den­nis will you please

–go low tech instead, keep it sim­ple, four syn­chro­nized over­heads

–Den­nis, get up! Leave the, will you leave the slides on the floor. Go to the lob­by. Keep Sen­a­tor Chase busy down there.

–But I

–Go! and pac­ing to the win­dow, part­ing the blind, –Fuck’s this going to play like, must be hun­dreds of them in the road.

–The news said a thou­sand, said Dietz.

–Bull­shit. Sup­posed to keep these ass­holes away from the main gate put them up in the north cor­ner, I want to know how word of this got out! glar­ing at Quine, –I want to know who’s been talk­ing to these peo­ple, who let them know Chase was com­ing today. Who do we have out there? Fed­eral pro­tec­tive, local police, I want county I want the , bring out the god­damn tran­sit cops if we have to!

–Leo, it’s sym­bol­ic. Today’s , you know?

–Shit on that, it’s to embar­rass us. All for Chase. Man keeps call­ing me up about twenty kilos of plu­to­nium gone miss­ing46, I keep telling him we don’t stock­pile plu­to­nium here.

–But we do, Leo.

–Well, Bernd, Chase does­n’t have the clear­ance to know that, and pick­ing up the phone midring, –Yes? Damn it Den­nis just, look, take him to the down­stairs con­fer­ence room think you can do that? …no will you for­get the fuck­ing slides, thumb­ing the phone’s but­ton, –Where’s Szabo? You all go down, I’m right behind you.

–Se­n­a­tor, glad you could make it. This all? Expected to see more of your col­leagues…

–Doc­tor High­et. These two gen­tle­men are from the . You’ll be see­ing more of them. [pg67]

–Why don’t you all take a seat and we’ll begin.

–I have just one ques­tion, Doc­tor High­et. Is the Super­bright going to work?

–I believe our pre­sen­ta­tion will address any

–I don’t want a pre­sen­ta­tion, I want a yes or no. At the present moment, judg­ing from every­thing you have to date, is it a viable sys­tem, within the bud­get and time­frame we have?

–Be­yond ques­tion. In fact we have new results that show

–A new Super­bright test? When?

–I can’t dis­cuss that in open ses­sion.

–Then maybe you can dis­cuss claims of exag­ger­a­tion and fraud from War­ren Slater.

–Those are lies. Slater sab­o­taged my teams repeat­ed­ly. He had rea­sons of his own to derail this pro­gram.

–Such as?

–I can’t dis­cuss that in open ses­sion.

–Slater’s not the only crit­ic. Some of your own peo­ple

–Those are not my peo­ple. Those are peo­ple who’ve made up their minds that cer­tain tech­ni­cal prob­lems are too hard to solve. They’re wrong. They could be mak­ing a con­tri­bu­tion, but instead they find fault.

–So why are you behind sched­ule?

–We’re not.

–Ac­cord­ing to your own timetable

–Se­n­a­tor, we have bril­liant, cre­ative peo­ple together here doing impor­tant work. Leave them alone and they accom­plish mir­a­cles. But if you put lim­its on them…

–You’re not answer­ing me. I did­n’t ask about mir­a­cles.

–I am answer­ing you if you’ll let me. You can­not nickel and dime a pro­gram like this in the research phase, not if you exp

–Re­search? I thought you were engi­neer­ing phase.

–Very near­ly.

–You sent the pres­i­dent a let­ter claim­ing engi­neer­ing phase.

–I do not acknowl­edge that. If such a let­ter were to exist it would be top secret, and you lack the clear­ance to see it or the com­pe­tence to eval­u­ate it. [pg68]

–Doc­tor Highet I’m tired of this, you have put in motion a pro­gram that all told has squan­dered thirty bil­lio

–Se­n­a­tor

–you have stonewalled, you have defied

–Se­n­a­tor

–gress, you have hid­den behind clas­si­fica

–Se­n­a­tor, you’re an ass­hole. You might even be a trai­tor.

–I will not take that from you, sir!

–You don’t have a clue what’s at stake here, one look at those hip­pies out front you’re ready to cave, sell out this nation’s secu­rity its tech­no­log­i­cal edge its, break­ing off for the fig­ure in the door­way who bowed his head in apol­o­gy.

–Gentle­men, we have a bomb threat. We need to clear the build­ing.

–Good God.

–Your peacenik con­stituents, Chase. Good work.

–I’m not through with you, High­et.

–Fine, I’m will­ing to sit right here play Russ­ian roulette.

–Gentle­men please, secu­rity is com­ing through, you’ll have to move to Build­ing 101.

Clipped sta­tic blurted in the hall­way. Gal­lop of many feet approached.

–Clear this area!

Out­side in the sun­light a secu­rity squad came run­ning in a wedge, hel­meted and visored, black gloves hold­ing batons at port arms. Leather creak­ing, heels clat­ter­ing, radios jab­ber­ing, they broke through the exit­ing crowd and Quine was swept the wrong way, out past an unmanned check­point before he cleared the surge of peo­ple onto a lawn where men in jump­suits trailed strips of CAUTION tape on two then three sides of him and he dashed through the open space as behind him shouts were raised. Between win­dow­less walls he took a stair­way down to where two work­men round­ing a cor­ner dealt him a blow with the plank they car­ried, –Je­sus watch it! hurl­ing him to his knees against a chain­link fence trem­bling at the lip of a great pit. In this exca­va­tion five, sev­en, ten vehi­cles labored grind­ing and roar­ing in des­per­ate inten­si­ty, beep­ing hol­lowly as they reversed or clank­ing furi­ously for­ward over a ter­rain of pale mud. Vast as the pit was it would not bury a mil­lionth of the dead the bombs could kill. Quine
[pg69]

pulled free of the fence with a tear­ing of fab­ric and went over a walk­way of ply­wood sheets, paus­ing before a trailer CREDNE CONSTRUCTION in which door­way two t-shirted men eat­ing lunch regarded him with dis­pas­sion as with a hand­ker­chief he rubbed dirt and blood from his palms and the knee vis­i­ble through ripped pants, then went down another stair of raw wood stained with mud, glanc­ing back at con­cen­tric ter­races gouged from the hill­side. The city is built on two lev­els, lords and palaces above, com­mon work­ers below.47 He rounded a cor­ner to where a stream of peo­ple hur­ried past guards at a check­point.

–Look I need to

–Move on, there’s been a bomb threat.

–Yes but I’m in an impor­tant meet­ing I need to get back to

–You can’t come this way, this is a secure area.

–I’m cleared dammit! clap­ping his breast where no photo ID, but a torn flap of pocket depend­ed, –oh Christ, look my name’s Philip Quine can’t you call

–Move away! The guard shoved him back into a stream of peo­ple advanc­ing slowly toward the main gate. He made his way through and broke into a job on a path that led to the perime­ter road, where he dou­bled back to the entry kiosk from its far side pass­ing and pass­ing close on his left the unend­ing mass of pro­test­ers just beyond the fence. He stopped short of the entrance gate where cars were blocked by the lead­ing edge of the crowd cours­ing out and around them like a stream around rocks, while bull­horns blared –per­son­nel, do not exit by this gate repeat do not, and out­side the gate pro­test­ers swirled in place like debris at a con­flu­ence of cataracts, held back by a skir­mish line of county police vainly try­ing to keep them sep­a­rate from Lab per­son­nel. Quine stood sweat­ing and pant­ing until four cars slewed to a stop on the perime­ter road and dis­charged Lab secu­ri­ty, one of whom lev­eled his club at Quine, not clearly part of either crowd, and cried, –You!

Quine ran for the kiosk. More Lab police had arrived there, form­ing a wedge to divert Lab per­son­nel from the gate. Quine was sud­denly before two of them who linked arms to bar his pas­sage. Their visors, opaque and bronze, mir­rored twin Quines, elon­gated and dis­mayed. He pointed past them. [pg70]

–I belong inside.

Then he was seized and pushed through the gate into the street. A heli­copter swept over­head. He crouched under its roar, hands against his ears.

Let us now speak the truth as we know it. Say that the sun is round, and bright, and hot. Say that it fires its acolytes, dark­ens their skins, ele­vates their worm­rid­den souls. It rises in our birth and it sets in our death. Its prints upon our flesh the spots that adorn its face. It is in us whether we labor under it, or hide away from it. It strikes through our souls, it ignites the light of our being, it limns the shadow of our denial.48

In the crowd he saw Lynn, her dark head appear­ing and van­ish­ing among oth­ers, nape and shoul­ders bare and tanned below the cropped marge of hair, sun blaz­ing on the straps and back of a white top.

Light is a wave and we are car­ried upon it. Light is a par­ti­cle to pierce us with rev­e­la­tion. Light is the sun or the moon, a heat that tem­pers or a gen­tle­ness that sil­vers with love.

He pushed toward her. At the end of its cir­cuit the heli­copter turned and came again.

Say what you know, that love is lost. That light is extin­guished. But see, love­less our souls still blaze. Our sun has not gone out, for fire comes to those who go not the way of light. See, we blaze and are not con­sumed.

He called her name and the call was lost in noise. The crowd shoved them together and she turned to him, eyes sur­prised. It was not Lynn. Pressed by the crowd they unwill­ingly embraced. He clung to her until another surge felled him. The cut on his knees opened and he bent to stanch it. When he rose he was among fig­ures wear­ing skulls of papier-mâché and skele­tons painted on black tights. Tam­bourines jan­gled, clat­tered. Around him peo­ple tied ker­chiefs over their faces. The heli­copter roared. Its belly glis­tened like a spi­der’s, then it rocked and moved off leav­ing a sil­ver mist that fell gen­tly onto the crowd like a spring rain. Tears leapt to Quine’s face and he dropped to his knees gasp­ing and blind­ed, cling­ing to the near­est fig­ure, say­ing over and over, –I belong inside. [pg71]

II. Dual Use

[pg73] Past the toll plaza the bridge stretched into morn­ing fog and low clouds that obscured bay and sky alike until the cen­ter span climbed out of this gray limbo into a bril­liant haze through which sun smote the dri­ver’s win­dow and cur­dled the hori­zons to brown smutch, while a jet poised like a rap­tor over­head and thun­dered in falling as Highet pressed A/C MAX and turned up the radio to, –first day of spring in the record highs expect, punch­ing over to the oro­tund tones of, –, your host ladies and gen­tle­men, the con­ser­v­a­tive voice of truth, pros­per­i­ty, and fun, back in a moment, and hur­tled down the span’s far side through Red­wood City where the only trees to be seen were blue gum euca­lyp­tus and sycamore, past Your Com­pany Name Here 415-282-0110 and SINATRA 4th Show Added Mar 31, tap­ping the brake as tail­lights red­dened in all lanes ahead, swerv­ing from behind SQUANDR to thread between and , punch­ing the radio to – low­est prices guar­an­teed at Com­puter Addict Sun­ny­vale, down­shift­ing to third then sec­ond as Ver­sant, , Hex­cel, Informix, and Fail­ure Analy­sis Asso­ciates went by, cut­ting in front of to brake sharply under a small black bill­board in white italic SAVE US FROM WHAT WE WANT as the radio con­tin­ued, – on the scene 101 south­bound at Mof­fett three lanes closed, and stab­bing the selec­tor again, as if a more con­ge­nial real­ity awaited on another chan­nel, –my friends, I am expound­ing and com­ment­ing on a cul­tural decay hap­pen­ing in this [pg74] cul­ture, his hand trav­el­ing on to pick up the cel­lu­lar phone, –Dan Root49, please, this is Leo High­et, as traf­fic locked to a dead stop.

–Dan, it’s Leo. I’m stuck in traf­fic, 101’s a park­ing lot. I’ll meet you at the restau­rant soon as I can, pulling as he hung up onto the shoul­der, accel­er­at­ing past the stopped cars, punch­ing brakes and horn together and slid­ing his win­dow down to shout –Ass­hole! at another dri­ver also edg­ing onto the shoul­der, and to swerve up the offramp where again he jammed brakes to join two lanes merg­ing under a stand of bloom­ing aca­ci­as, as the radio warned, –Friends it’s alarm­ing but peo­ple do judge you by the words you use. Seman­tech Dynamic Lan­guage Cas­settes give you the essen­tial power words you need to dom­i­nate any, itch ris­ing in his gorge to trig­ger a vio­lent sneeze con­tort­ing his face and leav­ing it a mask of sus­pi­cion until he spied the high cas­cades of yel­low blooms tossed in the caress of a warm breeze, –ah shit! and jammed the win­dow but­ton to slide the glass unhur­riedly shut, other hand reach­ing for the glove box, eyes stream­ing as he reached for his inhaler and again punched A/C MAX, remov­ing sun­glasses to dab at his tear­ing left eye, glimps­ing in the mir­ror angry red skin under a pale brow as horns blared behind him and the radio asked, –Have you ever won­dered if are for you? and eased the clutch to inch for­ward from the offramp onto a six lane divided thor­ough­fare where he chose his oppor­tu­ni­ties to advance through gaps and open­ings among cars stream­ing in a sem­blance of pur­pose com­plex to the past two miles of low fea­ture­less office parks and con­do­mini­ums shrouded by olive and euca­lyp­tus until SOON YET loomed and, cut­ting across two lanes, he glimpsed his left eye swol­len, his nose red­dened and enlarged. –Great, just great.

Near the restau­rant door DISABLED PARKING ONLY. Highet parked, the car alarm yelp­ing as he pressed key­chain to arm it, and paused in the foyer to ask of an impas­sive Chi­ne­se, –Dan Root? and fol­lowed the point­ing hand to a bel­low of laugh­ter ris­ing over the clat­ter and din of plates flat­ware talk and the plume of smoke curled there above the mas­sive fig­ure in white Stet­son and black shit with red and white embroi­dery across the yoke, and he edged down a nar­row cor­ri­dor past a pot­ted ficus and a woman laugh­ing into a pay phone and entered the men’s room where a mir­ror set upon mauve and avo­cado [pg75] tile showed him a face divid­ed, right half nor­mal, left half angry with welts and dis­tended into a despair­ing expres­sion of for­saken­ness and mis­ery, the eye a furtive and evil bead in swollen flesh, the lip lifted to expose teeth, as though pre­sent­ing a threat while the rest of his face apol­o­gized for it. He cranked a chrome lever to reel yards of paper tow­el­ing into a basin under a faucet that every few sec­onds pinched off its flow like a pro­sta­titic ure­thra until he banged the springloaded tap to restart it. The last of the tow­el­ing tailed into the sink and he lifted the soaked paper to his face and held it there cov­er­ing the welts, regard­ing stolidly the unaf­flicted yet still unlovely right side until he recoiled –Damn! from mois­ture seep­ing at his shoul­der, col­lar, and hair, and flung the tow­el­ing onto the floor, turn­ing in vain for another towel dis­penser, shak­ing his wet hands in the air in a des­per­ate of fury, run­ning them through his thin­ning and awry black hair before reen­ter­ing the din­ing room where the mas­sive fig­ure at table six craned his broad neck around and exhaled smoke in greet­ing.

–Why, you look like sumpin the cat’s all done with.

–And a good morn­ing to you too, Dan. You’re in form.

–Oh, I am. , a dou­ble , and tech­nol­ogy trans­fer. It’s all a man really needs to be hap­py. Leo, you know Orrin Gate. Orr’s chair­man of Gate Cel­lu­lar. He was out to the ranch after your last shot. I think you met there.

–Yes, good to, par­don my, no tow­els in the men’s, cut off by an obstreper­ous fit of cough­ing at the table behind him, –en­joy­ing the cell phone you sent, very clear sig­nal, never a prob­lem even in the car.

–I’m glad. We are very good at what we do.

–Pull up a pew, boy, here on my right, said Root, hand­ing him as he sat a nap­kin to dry his face.

–These aller­gies will kill me yet.

–He’ll have two of these and two of those, Root said, tak­ing from a pass­ing cart four small plates.

–What’s this?

, and these are jel­lied.

–Ex­cuse me, came a sharp voice, as Highet turned his bad eye winc­ing into Root’s exha­la­tion of cigar smoke, –This is the non-smok­ing sec­tion. [pg76]

Root shifted his bulk and thrust his shoul­ders back in thun­der­struck dis­be­lief. –What did you say, son­ny?

–Your smoke is ruin­ing other peo­ple’s enjoy­ment of their meals.

Root’s pale blue eyes nar­rowed in the fat ruddy face framed by lank gray hair and beard. The tooled ivory clasp on his red string tie rose gen­tly and gen­tly fell on the placket of his black shirt, and a slight smile widened his mouth.

–I’m Dan Root. And you are? extend­ing a hand which the other man took reflex­ive­ly.

–It does­n’t mat, annoy­ance turn­ing to con­cern as he flinched in Root’s grip.

–Ru­in, is it. I guess you don’t know what ruina­tion is.

Root touched the coal of his cigar against the base of the thumb gripped in his hand.

–Je­sus…! as for a frac­tion of a sec­ond the hand writhed in Root’s grip beneath the coal, then was snatched back and cra­dled like a wounded pet.

–You best put some ice on that.

–You’re crazy! The man backed to his table star­ing at Root, face lit as with the fire of rev­e­la­tion. Root turned back to the table and set the cigar in an ash­tray.

–I sheerly love to take the right­eous down a peg. It’s almost worth a spoiled ash.

–Some­day one of your vic­tims will call a cop, Highet said.

–That man won’t call a cop. Why, until now, he thought he was .

At his table the man upended a water glass and wrapped ice in a nap­kin. His com­pan­ions bent for­ward in earnest dis­cus­sion while the man stub­bornly shook his head.

–Try the parch­ment wrapped chick­en, Orr. No no, unwrap it first. Now, Leo, what’s all this crap I’m hear­ing about Super­bright prob­lems?

Highet looked dis­taste­fully from Root to Gate and back. –Dan, I know what an omni­scient view you have from your ranch in the moun­tains, but some of us down in the trenches

–I just want to know if we get trou­ble. [pg77]

–This is a clas­si­fied pro­gram, Dan, I’m not going to start talk­ing tech­ni­cal details to the unsanc­ti­fied.

–Un­sanc­ti­fied? asked Gate.

–Se­cu­ri­ty, Orr, he’s wor­ried about secu­ri­ty.

–That’s right, Dan. We’re not all free­lancers like you.

–Sim­mer down son.

Gate cleared his throat. –Per­haps I can start. I’ll express our inter­est in gen­eral terms, so that any inad­ver­tent clas­si­fi­ca­tions breaches won’t jeop­ar­dize you gen­tle­men. As I under­stand it, the Super­bright com­po­nent of the Radi­ance project is not com­ing online as quickly as antic­i­pat­ed. Con­se­quent­ly, a sec­ond­line com­po­nent of Radi­ance may be front­burnered. This sec­ond pro­gram has aspects of inter­est to us out­side its pur­po­sive antimis­sile enve­lope. Fair enough?

–Go on.

–Gate Cel­lu­lar is eager to enter the grow­ing dig­i­tal infor­ma­tion mar­ket50. To play in this mar­ket requires vast amounts of cable. That or satel­lites. The larger play­ers have a for­mi­da­ble lead in the cable mar­ket, but there are parts of the globe where, for polit­i­cal or geo­graphic rea­sons, cable can’t be laid. Some com­pa­nies pro­pose to serve these areas with a small num­ber of geo­syn­chro­nous satel­lites in high orbit. We think there’s a bet­ter way: a few hun­dred small, cheap, mov­able satel­lites in low orbit. Research and devel­op­ment costs are high, so we’re look­ing for strate­gic part­ners.

Root pulled from a shirt pocket some papers and unfolded them. –Long as we’re bein so cir­cum­spect… This is from . “The Sling­shot orbit­ing inter­cep­tors kill incom­ing enemy mis­siles by impact. Sim­ple and small enough to be deployed by the thou­sands, they are lit­tle more than a , a guid­ance com­put­er, and thrusters.” Put a high speed switch­ing net­work onboard, what’ve you got.

–Sling­shot? asked Gate.

–That’s what we’re call­ing them now, said High­et. –A David and Goliath thing. Lit­tle peb­ble of a mis­sile knock­ing out an ICBM by kinetic force.

–Or any other tar­get, said Root.

–Dan…, Highet warned. [pg78]

–As I under­stand it, Doc­tor High­et, the Lab wishes to move into more com­mer­cial appli­ca­tions.

–Wish has noth­ing to do with it, it’s a Depart­ment of Energy man­date.

–In any case, they’re encour­ag­ing with indus­try, cor­rect?

–Yes, said High­et. –But Sling­shot isn’t a can­di­date for a CRADA. It has clas­si­fied com­po­nents.

–Or­r’s appli­ca­tion is out­side the defense envelope, said Root, fold­ing the papers. –I say it’s dual use.

–Looked at the right way almost any­thing’s dual use. But DOE won’t open a CRADA on this, I guar­an­tee you.

CRADA, who wants a CRADA, I’d sooner have can­cer. You’re get­ting prissy in your old age, Leo. You did­n’t talk this way back in the days of Trans­fi­nite Poly­go­nics.

–Did­n’t have a sen­a­tor on Appro­pri­a­tions out to hang me then.

–Shit, Leo, you remem­ber when you and Réti and me came up with these orbiters, called em Bal­durs then.

–Dan…

–Re­mem­ber? That week­end at the ranch? Hell, I got patents that over­lap all this stuff. You say­ing I don’t have a right?

–Look, last thing we need right now’s even the appear­ance of improp

–What’s your damn trou­ble, Leo? Those Super­bright tests?

–Dan, will you shut up before you

–Gentle­men, per­mit me. The press has sug­gest­ed, with what­ever truth, that delays with Super­bright may jeop­ar­dize the entire Radi­ance pro­ject, includ­ing the Sling­shot inter­cep­tors. Now it seems to me, if the defense value of Sling­shot is seri­ously ques­tioned, a par­al­lel com­mer­cial mis­sion could save it. It would seem wise to have that com­mer­cial mis­sion in place before such ques­tions arise.

–Lis­ten to Orr, Leo. He knows his stuff. Orr went to school with Under­sec­re­tary Rip Whip­ple51.

Highet dipped a cor­ner of his nap­kin into his water glass and held it to his swollen face. –Can we get some more tea?

–Doc­tor High­et, the men’s room is, where? Past that ficus? Thank you. Par­don me. [pg79]

Root watched Gate’s depar­ture, then turned on High­et. –What the hel­l’s wrong with you? Why the hissy fit?

–Whip­ple’s about to resign, Dan.

–What? How come?

–His Radi­ance Liai­son Office at the Pen­ta­gon handed out half a bil­lion in con­tracts last year, all approved and over­seen by the same four peo­ple. Turned out all four used to work for him.

–Shit­fire. What’s he gone do?

–Back to pri­vate indus­try where he can make five times what he made at Defense.

–And they won­der why they can’t keep good men. But so what, that’s not your prob­lem. What is?

–Got all those patents, Dan, you don’t need me.

–We need , that’s Orr, and we need the Belt­way, that’s you.

–I’m not exactly Belt­way Bob these days.

–Did those test results get leaked? That shot with the sen­sor prob­lems?

–Je­sus Dan let’s, a lit­tle loud­er, let’s call CNN why don’t we. You haven’t seen it in the papers, have you?

–That’s it, isn’t it, that’s why you’re sweat­ing.

–Those results are clas­si­fied.

–Is there a trail back to Null? You have to tell me that.

–There’s no trail. We’re writ­ing a report to make our own trail.

–Who’s doing the report?

–Quine.

–Who?

–He wrote the x-ray focus­ing code. And he super­vised the shot, along with Dietz. That kid we fired, Thor­pe, the scape­goat, he was work­ing under Quine.

–What’s Quine like?

–He’s a fuck­up.

–So why are you let­ting him write this report?

–He and Dietz super­vised the test. You know Dietz. So I tapped Quine. I bumped him up to deputy asso­ciate direc­tor.

–You crazy? Deputy asso­ciate of what? [pg80]

–Of enough rope.

–Slater’s old post.

–I think peo­ple will get the mes­sage.

–I don’t trust Szabo, he’d use this to get a leg up on me.

–Thought you had that degree thing on him.52

–Why waste it? Any­way Quine pulled a fast one on that test, he set up that kid, Thor­pe. Very down and dirty. I want to see how he writes it up. His head may yet end up on a stick.

–Bet­ter his than mine or yours.

–What do you want with Sling­shot, Dan? You know how to do comm sats.

–We want those thrusters of yours, boy. Mine could­n’t keep a bird in low orbit for a year53. You’re claim­ing ten years? Is that for real? With those dinky lit­tle fuel tanks?

–Clas­si­fied.

–Fuck you too. What’s our lead time?

–First tests in August. Next round of CRADAs in Novem­ber.

–These birds really gonna work?

–Je­sus Chr, you sound like Sen­a­tor Samuel Fitz­fuck Chase, are they going to work, they’re tests, Dan, that’s why we do them, because we don’t fuck­ing know. If we knew it’d save us all a lot of time would­n’t it now.

–Boy, you’re on edge. You need a vaca­tion. Whyn’t you come up the ranch? Take us a cou­ple horses up to Steel­head Lake, catch some trout. Not much snow this year, gonna be an early sum­mer. What do you say?

–Com­ing up Sun­day for those Hertz recruits, aren’t I.

–I mean a real vaca­tion.

–I’m fine.

–Why’s Chase wor­ryin you? Our bud Howie Bangerter chairs that com­mit­tee.

–Howie and his Mor­mon butt boys.

–Don’t say that to Orr, he’s LDS.

–You’re kid­ding.

–I mean it. He’s a or some­thing. [pg81]

Highet turned to see the black­suited fig­ure return­ing past the ficus in the hall.

–Gate know what he’s doing?

–Five years from now he should own this mar­ket. We’re talkin bil­lions, boy.

–If the crick don’t rise.

–There you go. That’s my Leo. Don’t you worry now.

–Gentle­men.

–You know, you’re not the only inter­ested par­ty, Dan. I heard from Stone last week…

–Stone! You’re not seri­ous. Any man who’ll play for nick­els can’t be trust­ed.

–Mis­ter Gate, ques­tion for you, why do you want a low Earth orbit for comm sats?

–Please, call me Orr. A big rea­son to go LEO is sig­nal delay. Geo-­syn­chro­nous sats have a peri­gree of twenty thou­sand miles. By the time you’ve bounced your sig­nal off them there’s a per­cep­ti­ble delay. That’s not accept­able for time crit­i­cal uses.

–Is­n’t on this turf?

–Yes, they are. But they plan to orbit fewer satel­lites quite a bit high­er.

–This seems, I’m just free­wheel­ing here, a sys­tem this size seems like a risky com­mit­ment for an unproved mar­ket and a small com­pa­ny.

–That’s why we’re look­ing for allies. But the mar­ket’s there. If not for cel­lu­lar, for some­thing else. As I was say­ing to the , and Root shot Highet a glance while Highet looked bored, –we think of the satel­lites as deliv­ery sys­tems. We’re still look­ing for con­tent providers.

–There’s a ques­tion in my mind what we get out of this.

–We bring to the table high speed high capac­ity packet switch­ing and rout­ing tech­nolo­gies. Link­ing the Sling­shots in a net­worked sys­tem could make them viable for a wide range of appli­ca­tions. Weather mon­i­tor­ing, pol­lu­tion track­ing, global posi­tion­ing…

–Okay, I think I can pack­age that.

–Now let me ask you this. I under­stand that a Coop­er­a­tive Research And Devel­op­ment Agree­ment grants an exemp­tion from [pg82] the .

–Our work­ing model gives a five year FOIA exemp­tion.

–Good.

–But get­ting DOE to sign off won’t be easy. Sling­shot is a defense pro­gram, they’re sticky about that.

–Shit, Leo…

–Sure­ly, par­don me Dan, surely the Depart­ment of Energy can be made to see the ben­e­fit. Their CRADA pro­gram is, from what I hear, unsuc­cess­ful so far. This ven­ture could be a show­piece for them, would­n’t you say? And I under­stand that Sling­shot itself has a shall we say clouded future.

–Can’t speak for DOE, they have trou­ble see­ing the sun on a clear day, but I’ll do what I can. We’ll draft a let­ter of agree­ment, see where we go from there.

–Ex­cel­lent. I’ll fax you our lat­est .

Root raised his hand in a scrib­bling ges­ture and across the room the man­ager left the man clutch­ing his wrapped hand and darted over to slide the check under Root’s hand free­ing from a gold clip three hun­dred-­dol­lar bills. Root winked at the man­ag­er. –Some­thin for the help.

The three men rose and walked leisurely to the door. Gate said to Root, –I’m sorry could­n’t make it.

–Mis­ter Kim? said High­et.

–Oh, another poten­tial investor, said Root. –He’s kind of a recluse.

–Mis­ter Kim. That Sand Hill Road, Dan? Or Seoul?

–Py­ongyang. He he, see his face, Orr? See it. Had him going.

In the vestibule they threaded through a crowd com­ing and going, past the phone booth where a wrapped hand rose ges­tic­u­lat­ing above the par­ti­tion and snatches of talk emerged from the back­ground din like com­plex­i­ties at the sur­face of chaotic sys­tems, –got to get back I’m about to slit a cat stem to ster­num, and –soon’s I quit I get two offers not even look­ing, and –Christ it’s hot for March, and two small boys dart­ing either side of them, one shout­ing, –I win! I’m king of the world! as the three men emerged into sun­light and Root pushed up the brim of his Stet­son and dropped the stub of his cigar to the [pg83] pave­ment where he ground it to smol­der­ing pulp beneath his boot­sole.

–Got you a love note there, Leo.

Highet fol­lowed Root’s delib­er­a­tive gaze from the curve of a horse­tail cloud slip­ping across sky’s pale dome between a stately pair of euca­lyp­tus, leaves shim­mer­ing like unheeded sem­a­phores, flank­ing a squat white sav­ings and loan 11:30 82F 28C and finally down to SFORZA and the black vinyl bib stretched across the snout of the red hood into which was tucked a park­ing tick­et.

–Well gents, as the great said, Go you for­ward and faith will come to you.54

–Thank you for your time, Doc­tor High­et.

–Mis­ter Gate, we’ll be in touch. Dan, always a plea­sure.

The car yelped as Highet dis­armed it, Gate flinch­ing from the sound as Root cast an arm around him, say­ing, –Leo’ll eat any­thing that don’t eat him.

On the bridge, hurtling down the far span, the ticket flut­tered like a trapped bird till it tore free as the car boomed past named for whose tale of Lit­tle Brother, so sim­i­lar to that of and , did not pun­ish but rewarded its hero with wis­dom and respect for his snar­ing of the sun, and raced mere feet above the bay, accel­er­at­ing past NO TOLL THIS DIRECTION and the leach­ing pools and the indus­trial parks, one hand scan­ning past –it’s your con­sti­tu­tional right! to an oro­tund voice that had –noth­ing to be ashamed for! as the free­way broad­ened to eight lanes sprawled like a flat­tened snake up green hill­sides turn­ing gold so early in the year after –sev­enth year of drought for Cali, while else­where, –flood waters so sev­ere, seemed to demon­strate the chaotic extrema of a global cli­mate under assault by the efflu­via of –traf­fic and weather togeth, until, sat­is­fied for the moment that no news, of him­self at least, was good news, Highet silenced the radio and slipped a sil­ver disk into the slot of the CD player to let the doomed gui­tar of carry him back to Codor­nic s EXIT NLY and past the city’s cen­tral mall, cut­ting across a cho­rus of horns and around Estancia Estates, where CREDNE CONSTRUCTION earth­movers pushed back still fur­ther the behind the open frames of iden­ti­cal [pg84] unfin­ished hous­es, and ban­ners flapped in the hot wind STARTING AT $150,000.

Com­ing then to the main gate of the Lab, fortress city of ten thou­sand souls behind razor­wire, slow­ing past the demon­stra­tors in their , with their hand­made signs FRAUD DECEPTION STOP NOW, the dark­haired woman absent today, the woman he’d first sin­gled out for heck­ling because of her beau­ty, Highet swerved to flat­ten a rolling paper cup under his wheel, stop­ping at the kiosk to show ID, –Morn­ing, Jake, and con­tin­u­ing through the dou­bly fenced desert of bro­ken rock and motion sen­sors, into Build­ing 101’s park­ing lot, RESERVED DIRECTOR, not­ing with dis­taste Philip Quine’s bat­tered white Sub­aru parked at the far end near a yel­low back­hoe <<ULTRA-DIG>> beyond which rose the ter­raced adum­bra­tion of a build­ing, its south­ern facade cloaked in mauve and avo­cado tile while the north­ern half, an unfin­ished cliff of raw con­crete spat­tered with pale mud, fell away to a ter­rain of rut­ted earth and pools of bright green flux, all enclosed by chain­link and ply­wood sheets sten­ciled ADOBE LUMBER and CREDNE, the half­made bul­wark oddly deserted by its builders although the work­day was at its height.

–Morn­ing, Dolores, as he entered the outer office, frown­ing at the radio declaim­ing in care­fully mod­u­lated out­rage, –typ­i­cal libur­rul modis operendy. He calls my logic cheap and my facts hazy and my rea­son­ing fel­la­tious, until Dolores reached the knob to silence it, and Highet plucked the Ohlone Val­ley Her­ald55 from a box of mail in which a smaller car­ton held two and a half dough­nuts, –Think we can keep the jelly off the cor­re­spon­dence? round­ing the desk to come –Ow! hard against heavy boxes sealed with a gray cover sheet Final Envi­ron­men­tal Impact State­ments and Report For Con­tin­ued Oper­a­tion of Lab­o­ra­to­ries.

–Geez, you look just awful. Take a dough­nut if you want.

–Thanks so much Dolores. Might as well, there’s most of one on the news­pa­per already. What’s all this junk?

–That’s the EIS back from the print­ers, you wanted three copies.

–Three? Looks like a flat of phone books, prod­ding one box with a foot.

–It’s seven vol­umes, six thou­sand pages. You have calls

–How many of these things did we print? [pg85]

–Two thou­sand sets. You have

–I love it, we’re clearcut­ting the Pacific North­west to print envi­ron­men­tal impact state­ments. Is Conor here?

–He was. Your new com­puter arrived. You have

–At least some­thing went right while I was gone.

–You have calls from EPA, DOE, DoD, the office, Philip Quine, Bernd Dietz, Doc­tor Réti, Sen­a­tor Chase, the vice pres­i­dent

–Of what?

–Of the United States.

–God, I love to hear those words. You put all this on the mojo?

–No the net­work is down, that’s why I’m telling you. Also William Ven­ham, your sis­ter Thea, and Cedars-Sin

–Why’s the net­work down? Conor! Get him in here.

–and you have a one o’clock

–Don’t remind me, as he pushed open the inner office door and the voice rose up again behind him, –my friends, it’s demon­stra­tive that, and the door swing­ing wide banged a tower of car­tons, –Fuck! top­pling them in a spill of bub­blewrap, sty­ro­foam, spi­ral­bound man­u­als, war­ranty cards, and cables bagged in plas­tic across the floor to where a black box 56 with match­ing mon­i­tor, key­board, and printer sat on his desk. Highet put down the news­pa­per and the dough­nut and his blunt fin­gers touched its matte sur­face, which took briefly their sweaty imprint then swal­lowed it like mist57, as Conor entered yawn­ing, slim to frailty in a black t-shirt C10H12N2O, fine black hair in a pony­tail, trim mus­tache and beard, a reli­ably com­plaisant wit­ness to High­et’s plea­sure or dis­plea­sure.

–Sorry about the mess, boss, I’ll clean it up. I did­n’t know if you wanted to keep the box­es. What’s wrong with your face?

–My face? Not a thing. Feel good about your­self, Conor, the world will love you. Is this thing sexy or what?

–It rocks. Conor stooped to gather cables, deftly mat­ing socket to plug, snug­ging key­board and mouse. The machine gave out a suave chord and the screen lit with chis­eled icons bright along its bor­der.

–The oper­at­ing sys­tem was writ­ten for aXon by grad stu­dents at . They got chump change, and the aXon execs are all dri­ving [pg86] Fer­raris. What is it about you stu­dents, you’re sup­posed to be so smart.

–We are Zen mind.

–Is that why you took the net­work down so I have to col­lect my mes­sages by ?

, o mas­ter. We had a lit­tle inci­dent. Some­body put some porno­graphic files up on an open serv­er. We had to take it offline. Unfor­tu­nately it was also a mail serv­er.

Highet gri­maced. –Christ, don’t peo­ple have any­thing bet­ter to do with them­selves? How long were the files there?

–The cre­ation dates vary. Days, months, don’t know.

–This was on an open server? Save the files, I want to know what’s going on there. Now what about my mail?

–Be­hold the lit­tle mail­box. Every time you boot, he knows to check for spooled mail on the server, and there, lean­ing in to smartly tap the black teardrop mouse, –you are.

–Are those my mes­sages from Dolores? Okay, you can keep your job. But get rid of these empty box­es.

–Do you want to store them?

–You kid­ding? Shit­can them.

–And the man­u­als?

–We don’t need no stinkin man­u­als, piv­ot­ing with one hand to type in his pass­word - - - - - - and burst open the iconic mail­box as Conor hov­ered nosi­ly.

–Chaos on the edge of com­plex­i­ty?

–Just the usual noise. Now clear out of here and let me start tak­ing out the trash. Come by at four and we’ll talk about your pro­ject.

–Cool.

As the door closed Highet slumped back in his chair. His breath came harshly and with sus­pen­sions. In his bow­els dim sum moved rest­less­ly. Open­ing his eyes he stared blankly at a slick card aXon War­ranty Tell Us About Your­self, picked it up, and flipped it spin­ning to ric­o­chet from the lip of the trash can to the car­pet.

He took the Ohlone Val­ley Her­ald and cel­lu­lar phone into his pri­vate bath­room, rest­ing the news­pa­per on the sink­top while he unfolded [pg87] the phone, loos­ened his belt, low­ered his pants, set­tled sigh­ing onto the seat, and then punched SEND. –Do­lores? Get me an hour in the gym at four. Yes I know, don’t remind me, punch­ing END, rais­ing the news­pa­per to , Estancia Expan­sion Given Green Light, turn­ing to the edi­to­r­ial page where, –Son of a! welts on his face red­dened as he took the phone, selected a num­ber from its dis­play, punched SEND and wait­ed. –Doc­tor Réti please. It’s Leo High­et, and scanned the text, post-­Cold War era, need­less expense, envi­ron­men­tal haz­ards, . –Aron, have you seen today’s Her­ald? What? Oh, that went fine, I think Gate’s on board. But the Her­ald, lis­ten to this, lead edi­to­ri­al, Stop Nuclear Test­ing Now. What is this crap? We employ ten thou­sand peo­ple, we made this fuck­ing cow town, where does he get off? No, don’t pla­cate me! I don’t care about the edi­to­ri­al, paper’s a joke and every­body but Greer knows it, I just want to know why he’s get­ting feisty. And it’s not just him, I’ve got calls in from Chase, DoD, DOE, the vice pres­i­dent I mean what’s going on? Who’s talk­ing to who? Yes I’ll be here the rest of, wait, got a meet­ing at one but I’ll have Dolores put you through. Find out what you can, press­ing END, and the phone instantly trilled in his hand and he shifted his nates, sigh­ing. –High­et. What is it, Dolores. Tell her, no, never mind, I’ll take it. Hello Thea, how’s moth­er. Uh huh. Yes I did. Well, they’ve done what they can. If it’s chron­ic, there’s noth­ing… no, I, look, Thea, she’s sev­en­ty-eight years old, she’s had a full life. No. No I can’t poss. Well, you do what you like but I. Thea, are you lis­ten­ing? I just said I can’t. I run a bil­lion dol­lar lab­o­ra­tory here, I can’t just take a week off and come to Lan­cast­er, it’s out of the. Look, don’t start. Call Mark and has­sle him why don’t you. Uh huh. Thea, lis, Thea, lis­ten to me. I’m hang­ing up. I don’t have time for this. I’ll call you when you’ve got mother home. Good­bye, Thea, press­ing END, –Je­sus suf­fer­ing Christ, and dial­ing again to wait through, –Thank you for call­ing the Ohlone Val­ley Her­ald, if you know the exten­sion of, and punched 4 3 1, refold­ing the news­pa­per and spool­ing off a length of toi­let paper while wait­ing through –J Frank Greer is not in his office right now. If you would like to leave a mes­sage, please wait for the tone.

–J Frank, it’s Leo High­et. You know, out at the lab, where your [pg88] son works, I’m in a small room with funny fur­ni­ture. Your edi­to­r­ial is in front of me. Highet rus­tled toi­let paper at the mouth­piece. –Now it’s behind me. He snapped shut the phone.

He rose then, wiped and flushed, gaz­ing like a at the spi­ral arms of the swirl as the auguries were swept away. Red pep­per, sausage, pas­ta. Frag­ments rose in the ebb unflushed and he flushed again. In the miasma was a faint scent of aspara­gus. he washed his hands. At the door­way, hitch­ing his belt, he thumbed on a fan and shut the door behind him as both desk phone and cel­lu­lar phone trilled togeth­er.

–Al­ready? Thank you Dolores. He glanced at his watch, and took a folder from the desk draw­er, open­ing it to con­firm its con­tents and stepped over the thresh­old where the toe of his loafer came down on aXon War­ranty Tell Us skid­ding him past Dolores star­tled from YOUR IMAGE YOUR SUCCESS How To Pol­ish Your Man­age­ment Style to turn down –friends, I am the epit­ome of, as he caught his bal­ance to stride out and down the hall, paus­ing out­side the con­fer­ence room just long enough to hear, –ther­fucker can’t imag­ine any­one doing any­thing for decent rea­sons, he thinks every­body has an agend, silenced by his entrance into air sti­fling as a bunker under high sealed win­dows like embra­sures.

–Morn­ing Leo.

Dietz, Szabo, Karp, Quine, sit­ting there, swel­ter­ing, jack­ets over their chairs, shirts spot­ted with sweat. Look­ing at his swollen face. No one say­ing what they thought. Highet laid down his papers, put on half­glass­es, and remained stand­ing.

–Like an inferno in here, what’s the prob­lem?

–I called phys­i­cal plant. They say the air con­di­tion­er’s screwed up.

–That’s really great, we need phys­i­cal plant to tell us that?

–They say they’re work­ing on it.

–What about the other con­fer­ence room?

–They’re paint­ing it.

–I thought we painted it last year. Oh, I remem­ber, one of those idi­otic use it or lose it bud­get items. Speak­ing of which, where’s Kihara? I asked him to be here.

–He, ah, said he had a brush fire to put out. [pg89]

–He say what it was?

–Some­thing about an EIS.

–Frank, did you take that meet­ing with Jeremy this morn­ing?

–Yes, sir. Him and two other fed­er­al-look­ing gen­tle­men from the Gen­eral Account­ing Office.

–And?

–They’ll be back.

–Okay, let’s start with­out Kihara. Yes, what is it, Bernd?

Dietz rose and held out a white envelope, its end trem­bling. –I must tell you. I can­not con­tinue here. For a long time I have known this. I hear rum­blings, it is like a great build­ing with a bad foun­da­tion, a few cracks appear, the col­lapse begins, no, I can­not stay on, this is my res­ig­na­tion.

–Bernd, sit down…

–Last night some­one from CNN calls my home, to ask about charges of fraud.

–Did this some­one iden­tify him­self?

–Ar­mand Stera­di­an.

–Was­n’t he that PBS guy used to hang around here, Leo?

–Ex-PBS. After that back­stab­bing spe­cial of his I made some calls. He’ll never work for them again. What did you tell him, Bernd?

–Noth­ing! But I can read the writ­ing.

–Bernd, you’re over­re­act­ing. This is noth­ing more than our friend Chase leak­ing rumors. If he had any­thing real, he would­n’t be phon­ing in anony­mous tips to Chicken Noo­dle News. Show some nerve. He’s just wait­ing for some­one to bolt.

–But I tell you I can­not

–Bernd. Do me a favor. Put that enve­lope back in your pock­et. Keep it there over the week­end. If you still feel this way on Mon­day, we’ll talk.

Highet looked around at the rest of them. Not say­ing what they thought. Sweat ran down his ribs.

–I’m glad Bernd brought this up. It’s stress­ful but it’s noth­ing new. The Radi­ance pro­gram has some unre­solved issues, we know this. We also know that we can resolve them. But in the mean­time our [pg90] crit­ics are get­ting vocal. Is there any­one here who can’t take the heat?

Dietz glanced at Quine. The oth­ers held their poker faces.

–Okay. Let’s move on to busi­ness. You all know how DOE is talk­ing up dual use tech­nolo­gies. We hear this so often, the old plow­share pol­ka.

–Dual use tech­nolo­gies, said Szabo. –I’ve got one of those in my pants.

–Thanks Frank, I’m sure we all

–Looked so nice out this morn­ing I’d thought I’d

–ap­pre­ci­ate your wit. Here’s my point. This is an oppor­tu­ni­ty. We can start mov­ing Radi­ance tech­nolo­gies under the dual use enve­lope.

–What about the GAO inves­ti­ga­tion? asked Karp.

–I’m not wor­ried. The report isn’t due for a few months. You’ve all given your inter­views, right?

Quine was ready­ing to speak. That habit­ual wounded look. Always about to flinch. As Quine’s mouth opened, Highet spoke.

–Philip, you were review­ing the recent Super­bright tests. Where are you on that?

–I’m fin­ished, pulling sev­eral spi­ral­bound xeroxes from a black nylon car­ryall.

Highet stared in dis­be­lief. –I thought your time­frame was longer.

–I’m done.

–Well, hold those. It’s not appro­pri­ate to dis­cuss them now. Not till we’ve all seen them.

The wounded reproach in Quine’s eyes did not flinch but hard­ened. –I thought I’d dis­trib­ute them now.

–I said hold them.

Some­thing like rage there now. But no fol­lowup. Highet held his gaze for a sec­ond longer as Quine fin­gered the bind­ings.

–So, future direc­tions. We’ve got CRADAs in x-ray lith­o­g­ra­phy. Fusion research can cover a lot of pro­grams. Frank, talk with P Sec­tion and see what all we can get under their umbrel­la. We’re look­ing at reduced under­ground test­ing, very pos­si­bly a full ban. Bit­ter as that is, it’s an oppor­tu­nity for com­puter sci­ence, sim­u­la­tion codes, and for hydro­dy­namic and hydronu­clear test­ing. What else, peo­ple? What else can we pack­age?
[pg91]

–There’s the tool­mak­ing code we gave GM a few years back.

–A lot of astron­omy stuff could fall out of our adap­tive optics work.

–As­tro­physics is always good cov­er.

–We have fab­ri­ca­tion tech­niques that could prove adapt­able to com­mer­cial man­u­fac­tur­ing.

–Very good, thank you, Bernd.

–All this is more like a garage sale than tech­nol­ogy trans­fer, said Szabo. –What about the Sling­shot orbiters? Plenty of poten­tial there.

Highet looked thought­ful as sweat slicked his inner thighs. –Re­al­ly. What kind of poten­tial?

–Well, lots of things. They’re just orbital plat­forms. Off the top of my head, astron­o­my, weather mon­i­tor­ing, comm sats…

–What about the clas­si­fied ele­ments?

–Most of the Sling­shot tech is off-the-shelf. It’s a mat­ter of what you put on them. Dif­fer­ent hard­ware, dif­fer­ent soft­ware, that’s all.

–Can you write a white paper on this, Frank? Iden­ti­fy­ing areas out­side the secu­rity envelope?

–Kind of busy right now. But yeah, I could.

–Do it. The rest of you, I want some­thing in writ­ing about pro­grams in your areas.

–Ah, before we, can I just bridge in here? What’s our advan­tage going after this stuff? Karp leaned crossly for­ward, bare fore­arms rest­ing on the con­fer­ence table’s oak veneer.

–Why, Hen­ry, said High­et, –we get the sat­is­fac­tion of enhanc­ing Amer­i­ca’s global com­pet­i­tive­ness.

–So we go from national secu­rity to appli­ances? I’m not very excited about that. I remem­ber the last time we did this crap, design­ing wind tur­bines in the sev­en­ties. About as sexy as bell bot­toms.

–I was there, Hen­ry. Labels change, the work goes on. You all know I’ve got the entire Lab to con­sid­er, but you also know this is where my heart and his­tory is. Nuclear design, , mis­sile defense, this is our work, the work of the age. I won’t let any­one cut the heart out of our mis­sion.

–I hate this shuf­fle, com­plained Karp. –We’ll have crack­pot real­ists com­ing down off the wood­work to get on the gravy train. [pg92]

–If we don’t get it the pick­pock­ets will.

–That’s right, Frank, said High­et. –I know it’s a pain in the neck. It’s mean­ing­less and it dis­tracts. But rise to the chal­lenge, peo­ple. Think of it as diver­si­fy­ing our port­fo­lio. Any­thing else? Then let’s get out of this fuck­ing sauna. Philip, in my office.

And like Vir­gil quit­ting the under­world, damp thighs chaf­ing, he led Quine to his office paus­ing to hold the inner door for the younger man to pass in first, then fol­low­ing him in with a slam. Quine flinched.

–Don’t you ever try that again. Make an end run around me.

–End run? You assigned me this report, you

–Don’t tell me what I did!

Quine dropped the bound xeroxes on High­et’s desk, An Analy­sis of False Bright­ness Read­ings in “Tal­iesin” Test of Radi­ance “Super­bright” X-Ray Laser Com­po­nent.

–This is my draft report, sub­mit­ted for com­ments exactly accord­ing to pro­to­col, exac

–Pro­to­col! Don’t give me pro­toc, break­ing off to grab from the desk an inhaler, glar­ing over its bar­rel as he pumped it, then, after inhal­ing nois­i­ly, –Where, just where do you get off, return­ing this favor I did you, the great favor of let­ting you head this group, of pro­mot­ing you to direc­tor lev­el, you repay me with this bull­shit? I’m speech­less. It is under­stood that you run this kind of report by me pri­vate­ly, first as a cour­tesy and just inci­den­tally so you don’t make an ass of your­self.

–I’ll risk that.

–No you won’t, you’ll sit down this minute and we’ll go over it line by line. Dolores will clear your after­noon, reach­ing for the phone which trilled stop­ping his hand momen­tar­ily before he lifted it. –High­et. Yes, Aron, what have you got? EIS? What’s that got to do with. No, it’s just back from the print­ers I haven’t even opened, it’s six enor­mous vol. Oh Christ, not those jerks again. All right, don’t wor­ry, I’ll. Yes I’ll deal with them. Don’t excite your­self. Never mind the EIS, I need, never mind it, I need to know about the Tal­iesin test. The last Super­bright shot. Whether those results were leaked. You haven’t said any­thing to any­one? Okay, I think some­one here is sell­ing us out, glar­ing at Quine. –No one’s called you? Okay. Well, you say no com­ment, [pg93] of course. Call me if you hear any­thing at all.

–I’m not going to do this, said Quine.

–Ex­cuse me?

–I’m not going over this doc­u­ment with you. I’ll put it through chan­nels.

–What do you think you’re play­ing at, Philip?

–You, you think this is some kind of game, win­ners and losers, the screw­ers and the screwed, think you can change real­ity by, by wish­ing, by lying by

–Peo­ple like you, Philip, you suf­fer real­i­ty. I make it hap­pen. That’s not game. It’s seri­ous because you win or you lose. It’s you fuck­ing ama­teurs who screw things up.

The phone trilled again. –Do­lores, hold my calls. What? Tell him, no, send him in.

Den­nis Kihara entered bear­ing six hefty gray vol­umes cra­dled in his arms then skid­ded –Look out! across the car­pet, stum­bling to a stop at High­et’s desk where he deposited his bur­den and bent to pick up, –What’s this, Tell Us About Your­self, looks like a war­ranty c

–I’ll take it, what’s your prob­lem Den­nis?

–The EIS, have you seen? well of course you have, here, page IV-C-238 let me, oh sorr

–Den­nis, just

–be­cause we wait, let me, Map of Planned Con­struc­tion, see, right next to Build­ing 101

–Yes, that’s us right where we’ve always been.

–Well it’s, gosh, I reviewed this map myself, and I don’t know how it hap­pened but we have to issue an erraticum.

–What’s the prob­lem?

–Well look!

–It’s a map, it

–No, there, out the win­dow! fol­low­ing the point of Kihara’s trem­bling fin­ger past the slat­ted blinds to a bleached sky half obscured by a mauve and avo­cado facade.

–Don’t like that tile, looks like a men’s room, but what are you

–It’s not there!

–Den­nis what are you [pg94]

–The build­ing, the new build­ing’s not on the map!

–That’s ridic, scan­ning the fold­out graphic and the text across from it dot­ted with gray over­print­ing des­ig­nat­ing changes from the Draft doc­u­ment, –well that’s unfor­tu­nate but hardly a major, we’ll just issue an errat­ic, I mean an erra­tum.

–We need to send it asap, I have a list, I tried to e-mail you but the net­work is down.

–List of what.

–Of peo­ple and places I con­tact­ed.

–You what?

–I just, I, I called some places to advise them that there were prob­lems with the EIS, did­n’t go into detai

–Called what places.

–Well I started with our FedEx list. Con­gres­sional offices and cit­i­zens’ groups most­ly.

–Re­al­ly. Ink’s not dry and you’re on the horn telling CANT and Sen­a­tor Chase that we have some real­ity prob­lems, that’s just great, just incred­i­bly effi­cient Den­nis.

–Well thanks I just, you know, it’s my job

–Take the rest of the day off, let me han­dle this.

–Oh no, I could­n’t, it’s my mis­take.

–Yes it is, but you’ve done so much already.

Kihara glanced from Highet to Quine uneasi­ly. –Well, I

–I’ll come back lat­er, said Quine.

–No you won’t. You stay right there, trans­fix­ing Quine with all the fury he kept from Kihara. –Den­nis, what I need from you right now is a list of every­one you called, push­ing a blank sheet of paper across the desk.

–Okay, I can email you

–I said now.

–Well, I think I can remem­ber most of… Fum­bling, he unclipped from his shirt pocket a black­bar­reled pen, nest­ing bar­rel in cap as [pg95] Highet calmly waited and watched Quine.

–You know, Den­nis, nobody notices an over­sight like this in a doc­u­ment this size unless you point it out to them. What you do is you wait a few months, and then you file an appen­dix buried in a bunch of other doc­u­ments. Like a cat you hide your shit in the sand, you fol­low me?

–Um, yes, okay, I’ll, yes I think so. The pen hes­i­tated and con­tin­ued.

–But you don’t ever, ever tell the peo­ple who want to shut us down that we fucked up. These peo­ple are the ene­my.

–Sor­ry, I, here… push­ing the sheet to Highet with one hand as the other returned pen to pock­et, clip­ping it in place.

–Don’t apol­o­gize, it makes you look weak. Just never do it again. If there’s ever a ques­tion in your mind, ask me. You’re sure that’s every­one?

–I, yes I think

–What about CalPIRG?

–Oh yes that’s right

–Never mind, I’ll add it. You get any call­backs?

–Yes, Lynn Ham­lin, and Highet saw Quine tense, so he did know her, –from Cit­i­zens Against Nuclear Tech­nol­o­gy, she wants me to speak at a meet­ing tonight.

–No chance. For­get it. What time is this meet­ing?

–Six p m at the, ah, First Uni­tar­ian Church of Kent­wood, open forum on, let me see, the role of the Lab in a post Cold War

–Yes, well, they can open it with­out you.

–They’ve invited a speak­er, Tony Luz.

–Luz? That prick. We went to togeth­er. Makes him think he knows sci­ence.

–Well, he’s fairly well known, I thought another point of view

–Ad­man turned envi­ro. Don’t loan him cred­i­bil­i­ty. Got a lit­tle prob­lem there, Den­nis.

A round black stain had spread across Kihara’s shirt pocket where the pen was clipped.

–I, what?

–Your pen is leak­ing. [pg96]

–Oh? look­ing down in con­fu­sion to pluck it out with a snap, star­ing in cha­grin at the sil­ver clip on the cap top­ping the black bar­rel nar­row­ing to an exposed gold point. He dropped it –Damn! on the desk, touch­ing the stain futilely with fin­ger­tips that came away dark­ened, as Highet pulled two tis­sues from a box. –Damn, damn… hold­ing the tis­sues as he gath­ered the vol­umes to his chest. Highet fol­lowed to push the door shut almost on his heels.

Highet capped the pen and clipped it in his own pock­et. He looked at Quine in silence for a moment. –I’m too good natured. I like to give peo­ple a chance. Guide them along. Like you, Philip. I pro­moted you, I gave you this oppor­tu­ni­ty, hand­picked you to man­age this report, told every­one to coop­er­ate with you. You let months go by, you don’t talk to me, and now you drop this, this sack of shit on me.

–The, the whole point of an inde­pen­dent

–In­de­pen­dent? The hell you think you’re doing! You want to go it alone? Like Slater? You want to see first­hand what hap­pened to him?

–Slater, yes, and Dietz

–Di­etz, defect­ing in the mid­dle of the fuck­ing meet­ing, did you put him up to that?

–He’s been try­ing to see you all week, you don’t even answer his e-mail, and, and Slater, they knew, did­n’t they, that the com­puter model was rigged from the start, all the way back to Null.

–Now it’s Nul­l’s fault? Thought you were blam­ing young Thor­pe. Keep your scape­goats straight. The fact is it’s your mod­el, Philip, your com­puter code, and if any­one goes down for this

–but you put me on it, did­n’t you, gave me Nul­l’s code and the bad data from ear­lier tests, let me waste over a year on some­thing you knew could­n’t work until Thorpe tweaked it to give those bogus results

–be­hind Thor­pe’s back, that stunt you pulled with the backup reflec­tors, I should never have let you

–be­cause oth­er­wise no one would have known, that was the heart of it, was­n’t it, those beryl­lium reflec­tors, they glowed exactly as the model pre­dict­ed, but they weren’t mea­sur­ing any­thing but their own radi­ance, the backup reflec­tors showed just a spike in the back­ground noi

–Lis­ten to your­self, you’re say­ing that even your back­ups showed [pg97] bright­ness

–six orders of mag­ni­tude below what you claimed, six orders! a mil­lion times less! and twelve orders from what you promised, you over­stated the power by a bil­lion times! and you knew it all along, how did you think you could get away with, fake some­thing like that at the heart of this pro­gram?

–Watch what you say about what I did and did­n’t know, and be very care­ful about using that f-word, because it’s your prob­lem, you’re the one who could­n’t do your job! So don’t tell me what I know, I know it can be made to work, but you could­n’t do it!

–You think you can do sci­ence by PR, by

–Do you think this, pac­ing to the wall and tap­ping the framed fac­sim­ile of an ancient let­ter in a small pre­cise hand, –was­n’t PR? “Item, I have a model of very strong but light bridges, Item, I also have mod­els of mor­tars, Item, in case of need I will make large , , and firethrow­ing engines of beau­ti­ful and prac­ti­cal design, in short, what­ever the sit­u­a­tion, I can invent an infi­nite vari­ety of machines for both attack and defense”, sure, think this was­n’t blow­ing smoke, think Leonardo had ever built any of the­se, think he had off the shelf hard­ware ready to go, no, but he got the job and he did it all, gave [Lu­dovi­co] Il Moro sat­is­fac­tion for nine­teen years did­n’t he

–bring up Leonardo you might talk about the string of projects he left unfin­ished

–and Slater, don’t give me Slater, a fuckup and a sub­stance abuser, lit­tle les­son for you there

–and just who is this Devon Null? Nobody in J Sec­tion has ever seen him, one day I’m shar­ing his office space, the next all his books papers fold­ers xeroxes are gone, cleared out, per­son­nel won’t even give me his employee records

–Ask your girl­friend. I mean the one in per­son­nel, not the one in the anti­nuke group. Although with the infor­ma­tion sieve around here the other one might have them too.

–What busi­ness of yours

–My busi­ness is to keep this place going, you want to walk around here on mak­ing wild accu­sa­tions remem­ber that.

–Now wait just a [pg98]

–You con­sider this report fin­ished, is that right?

–Yes.

–Fine. I’m accept­ing it. You’re done. Your group’s dis­solved. You’re on leave. Now get out.

–Now wait a

–Did you hear me? Out, now!

For a moment Quine stood, then zipped shut his empty car­ryall and went out past a slen­der young man car­ry­ing a calf­skin case who looked up from Dolores and in at High­et.

–Oh, Doc­tor High­et, I just dropped by to set up a meet­ing.

–Why don’t you come in for a min­ute, Jere­my, hold­ing the door as his eyes fol­lowed Quine into the cor­ri­dor.

–I don’t want to barge in…

–No, I’m glad to see you. Just one min­ute, as he went around the desk to lift the phone with one hand and with the other casu­ally pulled open a drawer and swept An Analy­sis of False Bright­ness into it. –Do­lores? I want drug tests imme­di­ately for all employ­ees in J Sec­tion. Yes, I mean this after­noon.

–I’m glad that’s not my inves­ti­ga­tion, the young man said, smil­ing.

–So, Jere­my. How was the meet­ing this morn­ing? I’m sorry I missed it, you know how it is, com­plex­ity on the edge of chaos. Frank Szabo take care of you?

–It went well. There are one or two points I think we’ll take up in a future meet­ing.

–What points?

–Writ­ten state­ments from Doc­tor Réti to the pres­i­dent and the sec­re­tary of defense. They seem to over­state the Super­bright’s power by a sub­stan­tial amount.

–Doc­tor Réti is emer­i­tus here. He’s not involved in daily oper­a­tions, so he may not be com­pletely up to speed on Super­bright details. But he can still express his opin­ions as a pri­vate cit­i­zen.

–Well, yes, but on Lab let­ter­head?

–He keeps an office here, it’s nat­ural he’d use the sta­tionery. I would­n’t make too much of it.

–Don’t you, ah, review his offi­cial let­ters? [pg99]

–No. Why should I?

–Well, you are the direc­tor.

–Je­re­my, put your­self in my place. Réti’s the founder. He’s a liv­ing leg­end. I can’t vet his cor­re­spon­dence.

–Yes, but, even com­pared to your own test results, his esti­mates of the beam’s power are high by a fac­tor of um, a bil­lion? He says that the last test, Tal­iesin was it called? indi­cates a major break­through?

–We saw sub­stan­tially increased bright­ness. A bil­lion times? No rea­son the beam could­n’t be made that bright.

–Doc­tor Réti used the words “engi­neer­ing phase”.

–Our bot­tle­neck isn’t the sci­ence, it’s the fund­ing.

–Well, con­cerns have been raised, you don’t mean the GAO’s inves­ti­ga­tion hinges on a cou­ple of let­ters, do you?

–Well, but even your own num­bers from pre­vi­ous tests have been ques­tioned by some of your own peo­ple

–Not Slater again, is it, totally unre­li­able

–Sz­abo said this last test, Tal­iesin, is under inter­nal review by uh, who is it, Philip Quine?

–That’s purely a tech­ni­cal review. We tried out a new detec­tor arrange­ment. But the old detec­tors worked fine, they gave us all the data we need­ed. Actu­al­ly, Quine’s been drag­ging his feet on that report. I’ll have him fin­ish it and get a copy to you, but frankly any prob­lems there are tech­ni­cal and not sub­stan­tive.

–One last thing. What do you know about uh, Trans­fi­nite Poly­go­nics?

–That some kind of non-­Euclid­ean geom­e­try? Nuclear chem­istry’s my field.

–It’s a hold­ing com­pa­ny, or pos­si­bly a con­sult­ing firm. Doc­tor Réti seems to own quite a lot of their stock.

–And?

–Cer­tain tech­nolo­gies licensed through Trans­fi­nite orig­i­nated in the Lab. There might be a con­flict of inter­est.

–We often waive com­mer­cial rights.

–Well, if he’s advis­ing the gov­ern­ment on mat­ters in which he has a finan­cial stake [pg100]

–Oh look, Réti’s no sharp­shoot­er. Some of our peo­ple go into pri­vate indus­try, it was prob­a­bly some for­mer stu­dent he wanted to help out, I’ll bet he’s for­got­ten all about this stock. Is there any­thing else?

–No, that cov­ers it. But the issue of the tests and the alleged over­selling. I would­n’t take those too light­ly.

–Thanks for com­ing by, Jere­my.

Highet flipped open his phone, arrowed down until its dis­play showed ROOT DAN, and pressed SEND to hear, –The Gate Cel­lu­lar cus­tomer you have called is unavail­able or has trav­eled out­side the cov­er­age area. Please try your call again lat­er.

The gray face of his watch blinked 3:55. From under the desk he took a black gym bag bla­zoned aXon, unzip­ping it for the hand that opened the drawer to trans­fer An Analy­sis of False Bright­ness, as the desk phone trilled and, –High­et. Yes, Bernd. No, that’s all right… fin­gers drum­ming, he checked his watch for 3:56, and tapped the phone’s cradle, –Hold on, Bernd, that’s my other line, at once hang­ing up and pass­ing into the outer office –I’m gone, Dolores, wav­ing off her –But the Vice Pres, as round­ing a cor­ner behind him a black t-shirt SEROTONIN stopped to watch his back van­ish into the warmth of the after­noon sun and pass briskly into the shadow of the unfin­ished facade, still oddly desert­ed, past ply­wood and chain­link where yel­low CAUTION CUIDADO tape now stretched taut between stakes around a ter­rain of ruts and pools of bright green flux.

On a machine of matte black steel and padded vinyl, Highet pumped and ped­aled, pale pudgy thighs kiss­ing and releas­ing the damp seat, and inhaled the stink of his wet cling­ing shirt. All around him, the creak, clank, huff of exer­tion, the small of work, the tithe that flesh exacts from mind. Three times a week, since a spell of had scared him to an emer­gency room, he forced him­self through this hour of pain, seething at every pump of calk, every stab of out­raged quad. At thirty min­utes he quit and went through the lock room, paus­ing at a foun­tain to gulp from the weak qua­ver­ing arc of water brought forth by his thumb on its chrome but­ton, then peeled off sod­den t-shirt and shorts for swim briefs, and headed past PLEASE SHOWER BEFORE ENTERING POOL into air cool on his moist flesh and sun­light glint­ing on black cot­ton­woods bur­nish­ing a golden [pg101] haunch clad in bright span­dex, tin­gling with rus­set black hair that van­ished into a white cap. He freed from his gym bag dropped on a red­wood bench a pair of smoked plas­tic gog­gles, and sat at pooledge, legs immersed, and rinsed spit from the gog­gles before fix­ing them in his orbits, wait­ing for the white cap to at the wall by his feet before plung­ing to breast­stroke a few lengths behind the scis­sor of golden legs, the wink of bright span­dex.

After ten laps he pushed up out of the water, tow­eled, brushed fallen cot­ton­wood catkins from the bench, and sat. Nearby a pair of gar­den­ers glanced at him then returned their atten­tion to the trees. –¿Porqué los álamos no sueltan semi­l­las? –Hace dos años reba­jamos las hem­bras. El jefe tiene las alé­gias. –¡Ay! Entonces los hom­bres álamos ya no difru­tan mas58. He opened An Analy­sis Of to beryl­lium excited by the trig­ger glowed at pre­cisely the wave­length of the pre­dicted laser light, blink­ing away from the bright page for his sun­glass­es, see­ing across the pool a thin pale man in blue trunks, suede hat, and hik­ing boots watch a trim woman pass­ing, his eyes slid­ing in a lean humor­less face. The woman entered the pool and a moment later the thin man removed his boots and hat and low­ered into the same lane to swim breast­stroke a few lengths behind the woman. Highet called to the life­guard.

–Why don’t you tell him to move to a slower lane?

–Who?

–The blue suit. He’s in the way.

–Looks fine to me.

–Don’t tell me! I’ve been sit­ting here watch­ing him for ten min­utes, you haven’t even been look­ing.

After a hes­i­ta­tion the guard went to pooledge and thrust a blue kick­board in front of the man as he came to his turn. Highet flipped pages to defec­tive reflec­tors dupli­cated and there­fore con­firmed the bright­ness pre­dicted by the com­puter model. Like a child prob­ing a scab he skimmed to throw­ing all pre­vi­ous test results into ques­tion, whis­per­ing –Fuck­er, and plung­ing a hand into the gym bag feel­ing for the spi­ral edges, did I get all his copies? Of course not, he’ll have a back­up, glanc­ing up to see Quine’s girl, the one in per­son­nel, talk­ing warmly with a wiry man darkly tanned. What was her name, he’d looked it up just last week. Should have seen this a few hours ago, [pg102] before deal­ing with Quine. Drive the knife deep­er. A white cap appeared at pooledge and golden arms straight­ened and a golden leg came up to vault glis­ten­ing span­dex from the lane and rus­set hair tum­bled free from the white cap, cool blue eyes meet­ing High­et’s shielded gaze as he shook free of revery, zipped his gym bag and strode back into the dim­ness of the locker room, sun­glasses fog­ging as he passed the steam­ing show­ers, detour­ing to a row of uri­nals where he dropped the bag and sprad­dled tug­ging aside the crotch of his briefs, star­ing ahead at tile, as on his cool­ing back damp­ness dried and his stream rang in the bowl, mist­ing faintly the hand hold­ing his stub of flesh. On the porce­lain shelf was a small uncapped vial. While right thumb and index shook and tucked his flesh into his briefs, he turned the empty vial between index and left thumb, –Son of a, to dis­play URINE LUCK59 - Ter­so­lene - Direc­tions: Add con­tents of the vial to eight ounces (8 oz.) of urine. Mix slight­ly.

Near chain­link now wrapped with CAUTION CUIDADO, in the shadow of the facade, Bran Nolan, sat­ur­nine and gaunt, stood wear­ing the look of , upon his return from the magic year of sojourn that spanned mun­dane cen­turies, to learn that the shore of home had become fatal to him.

–Evening, Bran.

–I hear Kihara screwed up the EIS.

–That’s the truth.

–Do you know what’s going on here? Nobody’s work­ing.

–It’s five-thir­ty, Bran.

–No­body’s been here all after­noon. The cau­tion tape, who put that up?

–I don’t know. Bran, have a min­ute? Step inside, would you?

Highet led inside and down the hall, through the empty outer office, kick­ing aside in pass­ing aXon Tell Us About, ges­tur­ing Nolan to a chair near the black matte com­put­er.

–You put your guests in the death seat, I see.

–What?

–The back end of your mon­i­tor’s pointed at me. That’s where the emis­sions are high­est.

ELF, elf is right, that crap’s about as real as lep­rechauns. While [pg103] you’re here, your draft response to this GAO thing, I have a lan­guage ques­tion, skim­ming through pages to where a yel­low high­light stopped him.

–Which GAO thing? We’ve got five pend­ing.

–The prop­erty man­age­ment one. You say here, “sig­nals an account­ing dis­crep­ancy”. Isn’t that a bit strong?

Nolan put on glasses and stud­ied the page, lips pursed. –Our Decem­ber state­ment said, “excel­lent secu­rity man­age­ment of sen­si­tive mate­ri­als.” The same month an inter­nal audit reported ten kilo­grams of plu­to­nium miss­ing. That sig­nals, you might even say high­lights, a dis­crep­an­cy.

–Sug­gests.

–What?

–Sug­gests a dis­crep­an­cy.

–Oh no, not at all. An off-record com­ment in the cafe­te­ria sug­gests. A heav­ily edited and reviewed doc­u­ment sig­nals. Or denotes. Or even high­lights.

–Some­thing soft­er.

–This is soft.

–Soft­er.

Nolan crooked a fin­ger. –Indi­cates. It indi­cates a dis­crep­an­cy.

–That’s accept­able. Highet moved a pen­cil across the page. –Thank you. What’s the story on the build­ing.

–I heard that Kihara tripped some alarms. I thought I’d see if they unearthed any bod­ies out there.

–I don’t know if you remem­ber, but in the plan­ning stage we had two con­sult­ing firms pre­pare envi­ron­men­tal reports on that site for us. Chi­vian-Har­ris found soil tox­i­c­ity well above EPA action level

–I remem­ber.

–which they blamed on leaky reten­tion tanks and a faulty sewage sys­tem. So we call in a sec­ond firm, Boole & Clay

–Er­ic’s com­pany

–cor­rect, who sug­gested cleanup pro­ce­dures and gave us a more for­giv­ing report on the tanks. So we cited Boole in the EIS. Their find­ings sug­gested that the soil could be treated as low-level waste. Then [pg104] the report­ed.

–Soil engi­neer?

–Be­fore the con­trac­tor can pour con­crete the engi­neer has to cer­tify that the soil is dense enough to hold a foun­da­tion. They use a , it’s a small radioac­tive source and a coun­ter, like a smoke detec­tor. The design orig­i­nated here in the Lab. You put soil in the tester and it blocks radi­a­tion from the source, and from the absorp­tion you can infer the soil den­si­ty. Well, the tester went off the scale. Cred­ne, the con­trac­tor, came down on the engi­neer, said his machine was out of align­ment, they got him to give a visual approval. Then Credne trucked the soil away, and Chi­vian tested again and this time we came up clean. So we cited the clean report in the EIS.

–So what’s the prob­lem?

–Why do you think the tester went off the scale? The soil was­n’t absorbing, it was emit­ting radi­a­tion.

–How hot was it?

–Not low lev­el.

–Where did that soil go?

–We don’t know.

–We don’t know?

–Prob­a­bly to another Credne site. They have some com­pli­cated scheme with a truck­ing sub­sidiary. Their records aren’t so good.

–That’s Cred­ne’s respon­si­bil­i­ty, isn’t it?

–I’m not a lawyer, I can’t answer that. Point is, both Boole and Chi­vian are cited in the EIS. The two reports are on file, any­one can look them up, and if they do, they’ll see the soil engi­neer’s read­ings.

–How likely is that?

–Some group like CANT might won­der why Kihara’s so fran­tic about his mis­take with the map. They might get curi­ous about the paper­work.

–What’s the worst case sce­nar­io?

–Well, this isn’t Site Alpha. We can’t just fence it off and call it a tox­ics mit­i­ga­tion pro­gram. It’s in the mid­dle of our plant. Oh, and about Site Alpha. The wine­mak­er’s been talk­ing to CANT. He’s suing.

–Christ, we bought his land, what more does he want? [pg105]

–Dam­ages. Loss of liveli­hood.

–Shit, thought that was all wrapped up.

–Funny thing about PR, it bumps into real­ity once in a while.

–Keep telling you, real­i­ty’s what you can get away with. Write him a check, see how fast his real­ity changes.

–Where does the money come from?

–We have a spe­cial access fund, use it.

–You know… the plume keeps spread­ing.

–What does that mean?

–The toxic plume. Under Site Alpha. It’s not con­tained. We can’t keep buy­ing up land around it.

For a moment the plume was appar­ent to High­et, clear as a com­puter sim­u­la­tion, a sub­ter­ranean cloud of false col­ors, arms extend­ed, breach­ing the bound­aries of the Lab, which expanded to fol­low and enclose it.

–You say CANT is behind this suit?

–That’s what I hear.

–I never cease to be amazed, Bran, at how much you hear.

–It’s my job.

–You go above and beyond it some­times. You know, Bran, I tried to get the search com­mit­tee to pro­mote you instead of that young idiot Kihara.

–Thanks for look­ing out for me. But I’m sure you’re bet­ter served by Kihara. Jour­nal­ists can’t be trust­ed, every­one knows that.

Highet looked at him. –You’re a real hard case, Bran. You won’t give me an inch.

–Is there any­thing else?

–Take down that cau­tion tape out there.

Out­side as the light slanted toward dusk he slowed near the hand­ful of demon­stra­tors just beyond the gate, alert to a cam­era crew inter­view­ing a wom­an, her full face radi­ant in sun, intense black eyes beneath black hair tinged with rus­set, her beauty a thorn in his heart, lift­ing his sun­glasses as he passed to blink twice at her daz­zling flesh, as if to cap­ture not an image but an essence through which desire might be grat­i­fied, inti­macy pos­sessed, and redemp­tion grasped. As her eyes tracked his pas­sage the head of the reporter turned, and [pg106] Highet accel­er­ated away onto the main road see­ing in the hol­low after­im­age of his blink not an essence but its neg­a­tive. Traf­fic thick­ened into town, and under a white on green sign Mari­posa he turned too sharply into the wake of a bus pulling away from the curb to trap him behind its tailpipe and rear plac­ard admon­ish­ing Police Rec­om­mended Don’t Park Your Car With­out as the traf­fic above him changed and oncom­ing vehi­cles edged honk­ing around his rear until he gunned around the bus before cut­ting back in and slam­ming brakes shorts of a truck back­ing slowly into his path, beep­ing in dis­con­certed with High­et’s horn as he jammed the gearshift to R only to see the bus’s head­light fill his rearview mir­ror as the truck’s step How Am I Dri­ving? 1-800-328-7448 scraped loudly across the red hood.

–Stop! You son of a bitch stop! It lurched a yard short of his wind­shield as a head leaned down from the dri­ver’s cab.

–Where’d you come from?

–Just, just, move it, you imbe­cile! Pull it for­ward!

In a blast of smoke it pulled away, as he reversed the car, arrested by a blare of bus horn where its glassy eye loomed in his rear win­dow. Shift­ing to 1, Highet went in a squeal of tires around the truck, left arm held high out the win­dow in pro­fane salute, wind boom­ing through the open win­dow street after street until at last he slowed at First Uni­tar­ian Church of Kent­wood turn­ing into a park­ing lot half full, not­ing with less sur­prise than dis­dain the bat­tered white Sub­aru with Lab sticker on its rear bumper.

Paper signs taped to walls CANT MEETING → led to a side room FELLOWSHIP HALL depress­ing as all child­hood mem­o­ries of church, where the after-ser­vice klatches in the base­ment, fold­ing tables laden with cakes and pas­tries too cloy­ing, smell of burned cof­fee in chrome urns, fad­ing sun aslant through blink­ered win­dows to fall in exhausted lines on a scuffed linoleum floor, the empty chat­ter, the waste of time, had never failed to fill him with a meta­phys­i­cal nau­sea. Fifty or more peo­ple sat now in fold­ing chairs, lis­ten­ing to –the easy avail­abil­ity of dual-use tech­nolo­gies makes it almost impos­si­ble to con­strain nuclear pro­grams in other coun­tries and raises seri­ous ques­tions, as just inside the door, Quine started back from High­et’s, –You. [pg107] What are you doing here?

–I have a right

–If I find out you’ve been deal­ing with these peo­ple

–What will you do, put me on leave?

Highet stared at him for a moment, then went on around the edge of the room, where, near the plat­form, a rus­set tone in night­black hair snared his eye and sped his heart. The ser­pent of inven­tion entered him and he stepped up next to her, as if bet­ter to hear the speak­er, –Next ques­tion, yes, and turned to gaze at her strong pro­file, see­ing her aware­ness of his gaze in the faint throb in her neck. He mur­mured , –Are you afraid of me? Is it fear makes your heart beat? Or excite­ment? while beyond her stony pro­file Quine glared with con­cern or was it panic as Highet went on in a mild under­tone, –Are you afraid of get­ting what you want? I’ve seen you out by the gate, hat­ing us. Her eyes nar­rowed but remained locked ahead while Luz said, –other coun­tries with or near nuclear capa­bil­i­ties look skep­ti­cally at our own com­mit­ment to non­pro­lif­er­a­tion, and across the room Quine paced and glared, his dis­tress a goad to High­et’s inven­tion. He leaned still closer to her, say­ing, –It’s not fear you feel. It’s wild­ness. The wild­ness of want­i­ng. What is it you want? When you know, tak­ing it is easy.

–Is it, she said, fierce black eyes lock­ing on him.

–Yes. Yes it is.

–I want to talk to you some­time.

Now his heart was wild. –Name the time.

–Now? Arms folded under her breasts.

–Right now?

–If you’re seri­ous. There’s a café in the cen­tral mall, Café Desa­pare­ci­dos. I can meet you there when I’m done here. Sev­en-thir­ty?

–That’s a deal.

Scat­tered applause died and peo­ple milled around. Tony Luz came for­ward. –Well, the Prince of Dark­ness him­self. Last place I expected to see you, Leo. What’s wrong with your face?

–Nice line of talk, Tony. Won any late­ly?

–Same old Leo. Smil­ing, Luz raised a fist and lightly pressed it to High­et’s shoul­der. –Peo­ple, this is Leo High­et, direc­tor of the Lab. I [pg108] feel like I owe him . How about a lit­tle infor­mal Q and A, Leo?

–Mat­ter of fact I’ve got a plane to catch.

–Five min­utes. Five min­utes, Leo? You don’t want to run from us, do you?

–Yeah, I do. Most point­less thing in world, argu­ing with you guys.

–Five min­utes.

Her hard black eyes stud­ied him. He raised his wrist­watch and touched but­tons. –Five min­utes.

–Why do you clas­sify haz­ardous waste by the build­ing it’s stored in? Why not by the pro­gram that gen­er­ates it?

Slo­gan t-shirt buz­z­cut three day beard. Cheap shill pumped full of cit­i­zen­group data. Answer in kind. –Ac­count­ing for mate­ri­als and wastes is done by build­ing to pro­vide infor­ma­tion for emer­gency response ser­vices and to assure that the build­ings meet safety require­ments.

–Does­n’t that just make it eas­ier to hide the fact that the weapons pro­grams gen­er­ate most of the haz­ardous waste?

Cocky ama­teur. Give him what he thinks he wants. –Good point. Maybe we should track that infor­ma­tion, but we can’t. Our pro­ce­dures are dic­tated by fed­eral reg­u­la­tions. Talk to the feds about it.

He stopped pay­ing atten­tion, these were just the old nev­er­land argu­ments he could han­dle on autopi­lot, the unin­hab­it­able utopias of good will to brought about by some wish­ful con­ver­gence of nice­ness, the very word nice, ne sci­ent, not know­ing, igno­rant, he stressed it like a secret insult. –Yes, I agree, it would be nice, very nice, if the world could be saved by recy­cling, and so on, she was at the door now, talk­ing to Quine while Luz asked another ques­tion, and Highet par­ried it with his own, –Tony, why are you so down on dual use? Isn’t that what you want, get us out of weapons?

Luz shifted his weight slightly back, dis­en­gag­ing, as Highet watched Quine and Lynn go out the door togeth­er. –Don’t see that hap­pen­ing, Leo. Dual use poli­cies have weak­ened export con­trols on rocket tech­nol­o­gy, we’re sell­ing mis­siles over­seas, last year the US accounted for fifty-­seven per­cent of world weapon sales. Some of these sys­tems are being turned back on us. [pg109]

–Good thing we know their vul­ner­a­bil­i­ties.

–Leo, as long as we keep design­ing and sell­ing these weapons

–You’ve got that , you’ve got twenty thou­sand war­heads float­ing loose in the so-­called republics, you think how’s the time to cut antimis­sile pro­grams?

–It’s wel­fare for the defense indus­try.

–free mar­ket, what have you got against cap­i­tal­ism, Tony, cap­i­tal­is­m’s been good to you. Drum­ming the fin­gers of one hand against the back of the oth­er, trapped by his ego, cen­ter of the sit­u­a­tion while she moved off with­out him. He tapped a but­ton on his watch. The watch beeped and he held it high for all to see, touch­ing it to silence, –That’s five min­utes. Now I have a ques­tion for you. Any­one here read H G Wells? The Time Machine? No? You’re Eloi60. Look it up.

In the lot, Quine’s white Sub­aru was gone. he passed SFIST as accel­er­a­tion spilled warn evening air through the car, cut­ting back across two lanes to Codor­nic s EXIT NLY, turn­ing smoothly with­out slow­ing past STOP onto a com­mer­cial strip that looped behind the cen­tral mall, where stains of rain and rust on a colon­naded and ped­i­mented facade stood stark as under sodium light. He parked under the red and white glare of SMART & FINAL, and his car alarm yelped as he strode under a por­tico through smoked glass doors into the oasis of an atrium ringed with Clothes­time , fix­ing on Café, where, vis­i­ble through the broad entrance, black hair with rus­set tones was bent for­ward over some papers, the skin of her neck taut against ver­te­brae, and pale where it touched the fringe of her hair.

Highet sat down, say­ing, –Thought you might have stood me up, leav­ing that way. With him.

–He offered me a ride. She swept up the papers and tucked them away.

–What does that mean, indi­cat­ing the sign, –de­sa­pare­ci­dos? The café of des­per­a­tion? Aban­don all hope?

. Those taken by .

–Oh, of course. In El Sal­vador. Or is it Guatemala? Part of the prof­its from every lat­té. Have you eat­en? Thai place around the cor­ner makes great . [pg110]

–I ate before the meet­ing.

–I haven’t eaten since this morn­ing, I’m starved.

–She’s wait­ing.

–What? Oh, give me a mint tea. And a, what have you got, a blue­berry muffin?

–Quisiera un espresso por favor.

–Saw a woman out­side the gate this evening, looked like you, talk­ing to CNN.

–That was me. I saw you drive by.

He played to her amused tone, exam­ined her crit­i­cal­ly. –That was you? Did you cut your hair? How’d you beat me to the church?

–I got a ride. I saw you turn right at Mari­posa. That’s the long way around. You’ve been watch­ing me?

–Know your ene­mies. Legal observer at CANT demon­stra­tions, Stan­ford grad, good grades, nice fam­i­ly. You want to close down my Lab. That’s what I know about you. What do you know about me?

–I know that you sold the pres­i­dent an unwork­able and ruinously expen­sive antimis­sile pro­gram.

–But, he raised, ruinously expen­sive for whom?

–Do you know that the Cold War has cost five tril­lion dol

–You know what? The Rus­sians wish they had our deficit. They wish they could run up a debt. You fol­low me?

–Is that what you’re, gra­ci­as, what you’re telling the GAO?

–The GAO, right? Talk about your waste of mon­ey, as he leaned for­ward to bite into the muf­fin.

–But, is that really your line? That you knew all along it would­n’t work, but you made the Sovi­ets think it would?

–That would be a pol­icy deci­sion. DOE sets pol­i­cy. I’m a sim­ple sci­en­tist. Not even that, real­ly. I admin­is­trate. The sci­ence is done by peo­ple like your friend Philip. Where do you meet him?

–He gave me a ride once.

–You don’t own a car. For eco­log­i­cal rea­sons.

–The more you drive the less intel­li­gent you are.

61. I love that movie.

–I would­n’t call Philip a friend.

–You like him. [pg111]

–I don’t dis­like him.

–He tell you he’s a bomb geek?

–A what?

–That’s what they call us, the, how should I say, pure sci­en­tists who work at the Lab and take our money but want to show that they, you know, dis­ap­prove of bombs. They call us bomb geeks. Did Quine tell you he’s one or did he pre­tend to be pure?

–He told me that he works on weapons. He’s torn about it.

–Torn. That’s good. It’s good to have scru­ples. With­out them we’re no bet­ter than the beasts.

–His work is all he has, and he said to me, you don’t know what’s hap­pen­ing there, what I’m up against right now…

–Did he. That’s very inter­est­ing. He go into details? Sit­ting back and smil­ing, eyes on hers, Highet unzipped his case to take from an upper pocket a sheaf of pages, slyly tip­ping the pages toward her to reveal in unadorned Courier font “TALIESINRESULTS PRELIMINARY SECRET. –Give you this, may­be? Or this? and like a con­juror fanned to An Analy­sis of False Bright­ness, as her full cheeks red­dened and a pulse twitched where vein crossed col­lar­bone under down­cast eyes, thick lash­es, and the fine black hair of her brows.

–No.

–No. But you have seen them before, he said in a tone almost caress­ing.

–What if I have? Dark eyes locked on his.

–Oh, well, break­ing the gaze, sit­ting back, still smil­ing, replac­ing the sheaf in his case. –It’s noth­ing to me. Old news. Your peo­ple talk to Sen­a­tor Chase’s office.

–Of course we do.

–Ever con­vey doc­u­ments?

–What does that mean?

–You know Bran Nolan. One of our press offi­cers. He’s dealt with your group before.

–I know the name.

–He passed these to you. No? Then who? Philip him­self?

–You’ve got some imag­i­na­tion. Dry voice, but a tremor in it.

Lean­ing for­ward, hands clasped around his teacup, sin­cere gaze. –All [pg112] I want to know is, how long you’ve had it. And if Chase has it too.

–I don’t know any­thing about that.

Hard­ness bit­ing through her tremor. Stand­ing up to him. His heart sped. –You know, it’s not as though your side does­n’t have enough argu­ments with­out resort­ing to this. It does­n’t serve your pur­pose. You should­n’t antag­o­nize us, because no wait, now lis­ten to me, because we’re on the same side, yes we are, and I’ll tell you why. You want the bomb work to stop, and I don’t agree, but you know what? I can live with that, really I can, so long as we stay cut­ting edge on other fronts.

–It’s weapons work that gives you your lock on fed­eral mon­ey.

–That’s chang­ing. We’re mov­ing away from that.

–Oh, that’s right. Dual use will change every­thing.

–Is­n’t that what you want?

–You’re good at this, I’m almost believ­ing you.

–Have some muf­fin.

–No thanks.

–I can be per­sua­sive. If you let me. Why don’t you come around? Let me give you a tour.

She low­ered her eyes to sip her espres­so. –Where do you know Tony from?

–Luz? We were class­mates at Cal­tech.

–I did­n’t know he went to Cal­tech.

–Lousy sci­en­tist, but he always could work a crowd. You know he was in adver­tis­ing?

–You’re still friends?

–Sure, why not. We’re use­ful to each oth­er.

–But, is that what you call friend­ship? Use?

–Friend­ship. Is that when we all sit around, like, hold­ing hands? I’d rather have allies. Friends, you know, sym­pa­tha­size with you. Allies help you get things done. I’d like to be your ally.

–That sounds too lonely for me.

–Oh, I could be friend­lier. But let me ask. Quine, your Philip, you think he has­n’t used you? To get things done? Think he has­n’t maneu­vered as much as any­one? I could tell you about that shifty lit­tle shit. Luz and I, you may won­der at that, but we know what the other is. Quine, though, you never know what he’s doing. [pg113]

She stud­ied him for a moment. –In some ways you’re very like him.

–Like who?

–Philip.

Which warmed him until he saw the pointed cold­ness of her eyes. He laughed. –I don’t think so.

In the atri­um, a metal gate thun­dered down beneath Clothes­time. Highet regarded her. –You’d be quite attrac­tive if you’d use a lit­tle make­up, fix your hair, shave your legs.

She looked away, across the café, smil­ing and shak­ing her head. –What you’re doing now, it’s so…62

–I know, he said, get­ting to his feet. –You’ve got me all fig­ured out and it does­n’t help a bit.

She rose, face dark­en­ing. –I do day care. I see this in chil­dren, they want to own every sit­u­a­tion. I don’t need this in my adult life.

His heart seethed. –Adult life? You’re so young. Those kids at your protests, that rebel­lion does­n’t age well. You’ll see.

–Some of those pro­test­ers are your age. Or old­er. There’s a sev­enty year old Epis­co­palian bish­op. There’s a sin­gle mother with three chil­dren who works forty hours a week then another twenty doing this. They’re the finest peo­ple I know. She opened her purse.

He dropped a bill on the table. –This is my treat. I insist. Call me if you want that tour.

And went with bal­loon­ing heart into the lot, free as the paper bag KFC skip­ping across asphalt in the warm night wind flat­tened by his front wheel as the vacant moon­less sky trem­bled unseen past the glare of light poles, a glare that bright­ened and dimmed, dimmed and bright­ened as he drove, arous­ing a frus­tra­tion that would not be calmed, an urge that could not be chan­neled, a lust to abase him­self before her and thus abase her, until, cued by the car’s approach, lights snapped on over the garage and the door rolled open. He stilled, shut, and locked the car, red light blink­ing on the dash under teal 8:45, garage door rum­bling shut as he entered through the kitchen silenc­ing the alar­m’s squeal with as the light went from red ARMED to green SAFE, pass­ing and ignor­ing the blink­ing MESSAGES on his answer­ing machine, as kitchen lights came on for him [pg114] to lean against the open refrig­er­a­tor door, drum­ming fin­gers, stoop­ing to come up with a greasy box PapaGeno Piz­za, punch­ing the microwave START and pluck­ing from between Fines Herbes and Ital­ian Sea­son­ing a small bot­tle Lac­tAid, shak­ing out two pills and swal­low­ing them with Peach Iced Tea from a cold and glis­ten­ing can while thumb­ing the small tele­vi­sion where CNN drew a bale­ful glare for –on­go­ing probe of Radi­ance mis­sile defense pro­gram, and the oven chimed and the phone trilled. He turned off the phone and zeroed the answer­ing machine’s vol­ume, touch­ing the CD player for –got a kind­hearted woman do any­thing in the world for me63, and crossed back for his piz­za, steam­ing and suc­cu­lent, paus­ing to jab his thumb against ant after ant stream­ing across the counter in braided lines, then car­ried plate to table and as he ate skimmed the news­pa­per, , , State Bud­get Short­fall, Why Gate Cel­lu­lar Is Forg­ing Alliances, Shine In Train­ing, the edges of the newsprint soak­ing up a smear of grease from his fin­gers as the pizza dimin­ished, his eyes at last drift­ing to 24 HRS OUTCALL above a sullen pout and fore­head cir­cleted with dark hair wild as if fresh risen from the sea, and he unfolded the phone, clear­ing his throat, for –Lom­bard Escorts, while Robert John­son sang on for­lorn in the empty liv­ing room against the rush of a show­er, inter­rupted by the chime and the quick stride of mus­cled calves beneath a belted robe open­ing to, –Hi, I’m Daw­na, run­ning a hand through hair not dark or wild but bright as a car­rot under the porch light, beyond which a sky as empty of stars as of fol­ly, error, sin, and avarice turned through empty hours car­ry­ing a sliver of wan­ing moon, thin as a nail par­ing, in pur­suit of Venus through a bright­en­ing sky in flight from the sun ris­ing to flood the bed­room deck with morn­ing light on slim white legs stretched from red satin briefs barely cov­ered by the fall of a translu­cent shift.

–Do you mind? Highet called out. –I have neigh­bors.

–Don’t we all, hon­ey, as she came in slid­ing the door shut behind her, tak­ing from between his out­stretched fin­gers three tightly folded bills. She sat on the bed and pulled on hose. He stepped into the bath­room to dress. When he emerged she was pick­ing hairs from her brush and drop­ping them into a waste can. The brush went into her bag with [pg115] a snap and she smiled brightly at Highet as she turned and went out.

As he shut the front door behind her, he saw the light on the answer­ing machine. He pressed PLAY for, –Leo, it’s Dan, some son of a bitch hacked my cell phone, and walked to the sink where he jammed the lever to blast hot water across a tide of ants twined from the pizza crust lodged in the sink drain across counter and linoleum to a garbage pail, return­ing to, –ran up eight thou in calls to Bogotá, new num­ber’s 326-7668, give me a, paus­ing the machine to punch the seven dig­its.

–Dan, it’s me. Yeah, does­n’t say much for Gate’s secu­ri­ty, does it. What? Chase? That son of a bitch, what’s he try­ing to. My per­for­mance review com­mit­tee? as steam bil­lowed from the sink. –Okay, give me the run­down. Dullard Quack and Log­jam, they’re on our side… what? Well that’s Quick’s own fault, if he had­n’t been a year late and ten mil­lion over with the last main­frame we ordered he’d still have the con­tract, now what’s Logue’s prob­lem? Well again, that’s his, if he had­n’t talked to the press, I told him you can­not win play­ing with the press, you’re always going to lose. Okay. Okay, Dan, cut to the, what do you mean prob­a­bly? You mean Dil­lard’s our only sure vote? How can that be? What, tomor­row? They’re meet­ing on a Sun­day? Christ, as if I did­n’t have enough… Why. Why should I. No I don’t see what being there in the flesh does for me. It’s only a rec­om­men­da­tion, what do the regents care, the uni­ver­sity gets their money no mat­ter who’s direc­tor. What do you mean cuts both, of course it does, but we have enough friends on the regents to over­ride, don’t we? A new regent, what do you mean, who? A non­ame, oh that’s great, lit­tle bit of Monte Carlo in the mix. What else, Dan? shut­ting off the hot water and walk­ing to the win­dow.

–Christ Dan that was years ago, I was still out in the trail­ers. And if you want to know whose bright idea it was to , ask War­ren Slater, that prick. Any­way, you know what? The only test of four that worked was the one they did­n’t rig.

Out­side a city truck moved slowly past as two men in its bed deposited TOW-AWAY NO PARKING plac­ards at the curb.

–What else. Who… oh come on, Stera­dian could­n’t find his dick [pg116] if you held it for him. Yes he called me, he called Dietz too, for­get it, he’s fish­ing.

He flipped yel­low pages for Exter­mi­na­tors stop­ping at a dis­play ad, Nekrotek 24 Hour Pest Con­trol.

–Dan, Bill Ven­ham64 is a troglodyte. Yes I know, rich and pow­er­ful, so’s the vice pres­i­dent, I don’t return his calls either. What? Oh he calls because went into some tele­com ven­ture after that , maybe he’s try­ing to weasel in on our Gate deal. But Ven­ham, there’s no way I’m going to his fuck­ing fundrais­er. I know Réti’s going, ask me it’s pathetic how he hangs around these rightwing creeps. Oh yeah, you know how long I’ve been just show­ing up at these things. Uh huh. Uh huh. All right, Dan. I said all right, I’ll do it! That, and the review com­mit­tee on Sun­day, quite the itin­er­ary you’ve got lined up for me. What about the Hertz kids, does that have to be Sun­day night? Oh, the shot, of course, I for­got. Yes I’ll make it. One of the few things I still enjoy. I’ll be exhausted but I’ll be there.

Read­ing and punch­ing dig­its for, –Nekrotek, he gave his name and address, jab­bing his thumb against ant after ant braid­ing onward across the coun­ter, –Ants, yes. Well look, I’m leav­ing town can you fax me the paper­work? I’ll sign it and leave it with a key in the mail­box, okay? Yes you’ll take a credit card…? and hung up, turn­ing to the answer­ing machine MESSAGES and touch­ing >> for a beep and –tor High­et, this is Armand Stera­dian of CNN. I’d like to talk to you as soon as pos­si­ble. I’m fin­ish­ing a story on alle­ga­tions of rigged tests in the Radi­ance pro­gram, my num­ber is –Fuck you, and touch­ing >> for the beep and –Frank Greer return­ing your, –can’t believe this twerp calls me at home, and touch­ing >> for the beep and –York Times, if you’d care to com­ment, then lean­ing in to read the dis­play, –fif­teen mes­sages! punch­ing >> for –al­leged vio­la­tions, and >>, –ques­tions about your envi­ron­men­tal impact statem, and >> –call at your ear­li­est, and finally STOP for a peremp­tory knock at the door sound­ing with the chime. For a moment he stood frozen, then walked lightly to the bed­room. From its win­dow he saw in the street a van bear­ing a dish anten­na. The bell and knock sounded again. After a third try, two men, one shoul­der­ing a video cam­era, returned to the van. [pg117]

From the closet he took a gar­ment bag and checked its con­tents: his impres­sion-­man­age­ment suit, a tie, two clean shirts, socks, a pair of , a per­sonal kit. Again he lifted the phone. His left eye­lid began to twitch. Phon in hand he pressed a fin­ger against it. With the other hand he punched 276-7384. Behind him his fax machine purred.

–Aron, it’s Leo. I need your help. Please call me. It’s urgent. I hope to see you tonight in Bur­bank at the Ven­ham din­ner. I’ll be on the road till then, you can reach me by cell phone at 544-4438.

Out­side, the van had gone. Pages had fallen on the floor behind him. He picked them up and scrib­bled his sig­na­ture. He zipped his lap­top com­puter into its nylon car­ry. From the dresser he took a spare house key and five hun­dred dol­lar bills. At the front door he checked the fish­eye lens for an empty street before swing­ing it wide and drop­ping the spare key and the faxes into the mail­box. On the way back through the kitchen to the garage he unplugged the answer­ing machine and again picked up the phone.

–Thea, it’s me, looks like I can shake some time loose after all. When is mother get­ting home? Uh huh. No, if I leave right away I can be there in. No, not a prob­lem. I can take care of some other busi­ness at the same. I’ll be glad to see her too. Okay, look, don’t go to any trou­ble. See you about three.

The gar­ment bag fell on the pas­sen­ger seat as the garage door rum­bled open, and he was on his way.

The dead seabed, the broad val­ley, sun­dered the state top to bot­tom. Speed Enforced By Air­craft. Power lines fell and rose in to cross the road’s dead places as a crescendo buzz rose to bury –would­n’t stand a prayer, and fell away behind, –here we are in the quick of it, as the radio scanned to –an­other anointed mes­sage from the Reveal Christ To The World Min­istries65, to –with sig­nif­i­cant tax defer­ral ben­e­fits, to –this, also from the Wash­ing­ton Times, to –In­land Empire checks in acci­dent free, to –Je­sus was never impressed with size, the size of your organ, as the sun reached zenith and declined glint­ing on the lake at Elev 4819 where he turned off the free­way to descend into ten­der green hills and an orange dust of pop­pies bloom­ing, and sil­ver vio­let sage trem­bling palely in the relent­less wind, lead­ing the eye out over an immen­sity to dis­tant moun­tains naked and wrin­kled as ancient [pg118] skin. From above fell a hol­low roar. Two banked against blue empti­ness.

Tum­bling from the edge of his vision some­thing dim and gray crossed the road and splin­ter­ing tin­der sheared from the wind­shield as the tail of the car shim­mied and sta­bi­lized with one branch of the tum­ble­weed lodged in the hood trem­bling in the slip­stream. His heart slowed and his atten­tion came back to the road where the works of man now came more thick­ly, Joshua Estates bla­zoned over a brick drive flanked by ban­ners snap­ping and New Town­houses From $59,999 We’re Leas­ing Come See Why, Spa­cious Skies Senior Liv­ing Small Pets OK, then City Limit Elev 2376 and a grid of vacant dirt roads, W 280 ave W 270 Ave W 260 Ave, then mini malls and LANCASTER FACTORY STORES, iden­ti­cal red tile roofs and beige walls and empty park­ing lots reprov­ing the immen­sity in which they lay.

The house, once at desert’s edge, was now deep in a tract of oth­ers like it. Locust trees shaded the street, their roots heav­ing the side­walk. Forty years ago the saplings were slen­der and staked, no taller than him­self. His eyes and mind, inapt ten­ants of time, still expected to find them thus, con­tin­ued to seek in a place, a face, what first they had found there.

Sun glared on the con­crete walk. He was sweat­ing before he reached the house. No answer to the bell. Neigh­bor­hood Watch Armed Response. Key under the rock as it had been for years. The unlocked door stuck until he thrust his weight against it.

Stale air of home. Anx­i­ety of pass­ing time. This place he had always wanted to escape. On the bare din­ing room table lay a note. He read it, then lifted the phone and dialed. Through the hand­set came unan­swered chirrs. As he counted them, Thea’s car pulled into the dri­ve­way. Her key turned in the lock. The door stuck, then flew wide.

–Oh, you’re here.

In one hand Highet held out the chirring hand­set, in the other her note. –Your answer­ing machine’s turned off. I don’t believe this Thea, you could­n’t have called me? When did you find out?

–They want to do just one more series of tests before they release her.

–Great. Just great. I’m going home. [pg119]

–Oh, Leo… that’s absurd.

–I’m not wait­ing around in this house.

–Why don’t you go into town for a while? You know, your high school reunion’s tonight.

–My what? Is this one of your air­ball agen­das, Thea? If I need that level of excite­ment I’ll sit in a Motel Six and watch the Weather Chan­nel.

–Fine, do what you want, you always do.

–You’ve got that right.

–I have to be sure every­thing’s ready. I still need an IV stand, to hang a drip from. I’m sure we can rig some­thing up, it just has to be tall.

–Rig some­thing. Sure, I know, let’s use the coat rack. Dress it up with some Christ­mas lights, a lit­tle tin­sel, there you are.

–Leo, don’t be sar­cas­tic.

–I’ll buy the damn thing, okay? Where’s the store, give me some­thing to do.

–The hos­pi­tal gave me some address­es. There’s one in Pasade­na.

–Per­fect, I’ll stop in at Cal­tech on my way to the high school, make a clean sweep.

–Oh, is there a Cal­tech reunion?

–Jok­ing, Thea, just a lit­tle joke, check­ing his watch, –How late is this place open?

–Leo, it’s all the way in Pasade­na!

–I’ll leave now. Make sure the hos­pi­tal gets their kick­back from the refer­ral. Got to go down that way any­way for

–You’ve just dri­ven seven hours. You

–Five hours.

–must be exhaust­ed, Mark and I will stop on the way back from the hos­pi­tal with Moth­er.

–Stop on the, yeah good, let Mother sit in the back seat star­ing at the crutches and bed­pans in the win­dow while you shop around. Come on Thea, there’s got to be some­place near­by, where’s the phone book.

–Leo, will you just, just stop it!

–Thea, you’re the one wants every­thing ready, only you want to do it on the cheap at the last min­ute, like always, you’ve had, what, six [pg120] weeks to get this stuff, you knew you’d need it

–Do you think you can come down here for a few days while I’ve been deal­ing with this for months, and you think

–Who said any­thing about a few days.

–What?

–I never said a few days.

–How long are you going to stay?

–Told you, expected Mother to be here already, thought I’d stay overnight, hit the road in the morn­ing.

–Oh, I see. I get it. You want to buy your way out of spend­ing any time with her.

–Buy my way, Jesus, Thea, who’s pay­ing the hos­pi­tal bills? –Moth­er’s Med­ica

–I mean the rest of it, after the deductibles and every­thing Doc­tor Said won’t accept assign­ment for, you know how much that comes to? Buy my way, Christ that’s good, not with a lousy IV stand, if she had to rely on you for mon­ey, she’d be dead already.

–Oh that’s rot­ten Leo, I don’t care about the mon­ey, she needs to see you, did you think of her feel­ings, it may be the last time, did you think of that!

–Well you’re the expert on feel­ings, I can’t com­pete there.

She looked at him dul­ly, then rum­maged in a gray woven car­ryall bla­zoned with a cross-stitched man­dala. –I don’t know why I thought this time would be any dif­fer­ent.

He looked away, around the room. –How’s busi­ness? Sell any houses recent­ly?

She stared into space for some sec­onds before reach­ing, as it seemed, less an accep­tance of his ques­tion than a res­ig­na­tion to it. –The mar­ket’s flat. I got into it at the wrong time, at the end of the last boom­let.

–Uphold­ing the Highet real estate tra­di­tion. Ever sell that land of Dad’s?

–No.

–What’s the house worth now?

She looked around, apprais­ing it. –I could ask one fifty, I might get one thir­ty.

–You going to sell? [pg121]

–You mean after Moth­er? I sup­pose so. I haven’t really thought about it. Oh, I wanted to ask you. The mar­ket’s bet­ter in your area. How would you feel about me mov­ing up there?

–Up to you. Where are you look­ing?

–Ohlone Val­ley. There’s a devel­op­ment called Estancia Estates, units start­ing at one fifty…

–Es­tanci­a…? I would­n’t live there.

–Why not?

–You can do bet­ter.

–For two hun­dred I could, but I don’t have it.

–Any time you want a loan, Thea.

–It would be a busi­ness move for me. I have no rea­son to stay here once Moth­er’s gone. With­out Bob. Mark has his fam­i­ly, I don’t see much of him. Leo, what­ever hap­pened to that girl you were see­ing last year, Jan? I liked her, I thought she was good for you.

–That’s over.

–Are you see­ing any­one now?

–Yes, as a mat­ter of fact.

–Well, what’s her name?

–Dawn. Her name’s Dawn.

She looked at him skep­ti­cal­ly. –Are you think­ing of set­tling down?

–Mar­ried to my job, you know that. How’s Mark?

–You’ll see him tonight. I thought we’d all have din­ner at my place.

–Lit­tle prob­lem there, I’ve got some­thing this evening.

She stopped in her rum­mag­ing, looked at him bit­ter­ly. –Can’t you, can’t you ever

–Look, I’d rather not go to this thing, it’s

–ever just

–one of those things

–do any­thing for some­one else

–It’s to honor Réti, told you I’m oblig­ated

–Leo, this is your moth­er!

–I’m here, all right? When I said I’d be! Don’t lay this on me Thea, it’s not my fault you got your sig­nals crossed.

Abruptly she rose. –All right. I don’t want to dis­cuss it. Here’s the key. [pg122]

–When are you leav­ing for the hos­pi­tal?

–Now. We should be back by eight.

–Christ, how did she end up at a hos­pi­tal two hours down below?

–Leo, you know how she trusts Doc­tor Said. He rec­om­mended a man at Cedars.

–Don’t want to be, you know, unfeel­ing here, but it’s ter­mi­nal isn’t it, how good does he have to be.

–Leo, I’m going. There are tow­els in the guest room.

–I’ll be back tonight. Will Mother be here?

–I expect so. I’ll see you in the morn­ing.

The front door shut, grunt­ing. He flipped through the phone book. Ante­lope Val­ley Med­ical Sup­ply. Medi-­Mart. Mid-­Val­ley Sur­gi­cal. Free deliv­ery. Typ­i­cal Thea, did­n’t even look. He picked one, wan­der­ing into the kitchen as he talked, –Ex­pires six ninety three. Can you hold deliv­ery till nine p m?

The clock on the stove was bro­ken, hands frozen at 2:10, though a stub of a sec­ond hand ground and scraped on. Out­side the kitchen win­dow the old fig tree nod­ded in the wind. On the table was a news­pa­per. He unfolded it to AF Base Has Clouds With Its Sil­ver Lin­ing and its side­bar Cold War Relics, then put it aside. From the liv­ing room he car­ried gar­ment bag and lap­top to the guest room, past the sam­pler hang­ing in the hall, Bless This House O Lord We Pray, pulling back the drapes to see the long view of his child­hood, the dis­tant ancient moun­tains, now enchased by hedges, fences, light poles, power lines, return­ing to the liv­ing room where he snapped on the tele­vi­sion in pass­ing to his moth­er’s room. A new chrome walker stood by the bed. Back in the liv­ing room he punched chan­nels to –Head­line News, and stood watch­ing, the fin­gers of one hand drum­ming against a thigh, one foot tap­ping. After sev­eral min­utes he switched it off.

At the end of the hall he went down six steps to the base­ment study, where a dispir­it­ing smell of mildew hung. He sat at the small desk with its brass lamp and blot­ter, the framed pho­tos of his mother and father, Thea, Mark, him­self, Dad in uni­form, Dad between two high school play­ers in his sweat­shirt LANCASTER COACH BOMBERS. Shelves of teak veneer sag­ging on metal wall brack­ets held what [p123] passed for a library with ten years’ worth of National Geo­graphic propped against Patent It Your­self, Ency­clo­pe­dia of Estate Plan­ning, The Book of Busi­ness Knowl­edge, Secrets of Super Sell­ing, Every­day Health Tips 2000 Prac­ti­cal Tips, and How To Avoid Pro­bate! abut­ting the fif­teen brown vol­umes of , their gilt bands touch­ing and and slanted against and the sober dun book­cloth of and Lan­caster High School 1960 1961 1962, the sequence end­ing as abruptly as Ger­ald Hunter High­et’s career there. He took down 1962, blow­ing soot from its top edge. A strip of paper marked a page. On the trip, his moth­er’s loop­ing hand: some­times I won­der why I spend the lonely night.

Tenor voice on the phono­graph. Mom and Dad danc­ing. Leo dar­ling, your father and I have been mar­ried ten years. Dad smil­ing. Not a smil­ing man, but a col­lec­tor of jokes. Son, you know what a ball bear­ing mouse­trap is? Leo tried to pic­ture the mech­a­nism. It’s a cat, son. The lined face, gray­ing crew­cut, bleak eyes, tight mouth, jowls under the square jaw. Jerry to some friends, Hunt to oth­ers, Cap­tain (ret.) to the rest, depend­ing on how they’d met. Petty hus­tlers, most of them, from his Army days, his years at Lock­heed, his boot­less dab­bling in real estate. Then the high school for three years, chem­istry and coach­ing. Until the scan­dal. Noth­ing proved. What do you think I am? I never touched a one of them. It’s polit­i­cal, the super­in­ten­dent has it in for me. Left under a shad­ow, as they said. Then fail­ure after fail­ure. The real estate. The orchards. The tele­mar­ket­ing. His run for drew a visit from the local Repub­li­can offi­cials: best for all con­cerned that you with­draw. But you would­n’t. Leo had been proud then of his father’s stub­born­ness. Later he saw it was des­per­a­tion. A deba­cle: thirty votes out of three thou­sand cast. Then the can­cer.

From the marked page Leo’s photo at age six­teen looked war­ily out over Math Club, Sci­ence Club, Chess Club, Honor Soci­ety. Young gawky prig thinks he’s on his way to a Nobel Prize.

On the oppo­site page was Chazz Hol­lis, his best friend. Curly blond hair, open smile. Orches­tra, Band, Swim Team, Track, Lan­guage Club[pg124], . Sum­mer days in Chaz­z’s cool base­ment. Leo used his father’s keys to swipe chem­i­cals from the high school lab. . Out­side the sun bleached, the hot wind scoured the world. They bicy­cled to the edge of town to set off bombs, out where tank tracks remained from Pat­ton’s army train­ing to fight Rom­mel. Or they drove out to Edwards to watch pilots rack up flight time with touch-and-go land­ings. Once in a while some­thing secret would be test­ed. If some­body’s father was involved in the pro­ject, you might hear about it. One night he and Chazz drove on dirt roads to the eroded hills behind the rocket lab. They lay on their bel­lies over­look­ing tar­mac where a rocket engine on its side thun­dered and spewed flame, a hard white foun­tain that filled the night with noise, light, pow­er.

Spring hike through Death Val­ley with a dozen other boys. His father’s idea. Toughen you up. Chazz is going, you like Chazz. Unspo­ken was the expense, noth­ing to Chaz­z’s fam­i­ly, to theirs a sac­ri­fice. So he went. Hat­ing every minute and hid­ing it. Bone tired every night, always the last one into camp. Weak boy, can’t hike, can’t climb. Nights dark as the void, desert sky lus­trous with stars, mete­ors, and the occa­sional wan­der­er, Sput­nik could it be? Even Chazz mocked him, best friend Chazz, golden Chazz, whose father was a state sen­a­tor, Chazz who never worked for any­thing, who always had a new bike, new micro­scope, new drum set, new radio, new girl­friend. That day on the cliff, twelve of them shout­ing and climb­ing, Leo last, fifty feet from the ground, ten feet from the top, sud­denly empty and weak, rock bit­ing his palms. Chazz lean­ing over the edge, tongue out, drib­bling spit on him. Being beat­en, being sec­ond, being mocked. Never again. He clapped shut the book and reshelved it.

In the shower he prod­ded with blunt fin­gers the roll of fat at his hips. Soap­ing under his arms he probed lymph glands. Wip­ing mist from the mir­ror he leaned to exam­ine his broad nose, the creases around his eyes, the stub­ble sprout­ing more white than black, the nascent , the thin­ning hair. His swollen cheek had sub­sid­ed, leav­ing only a slight puffi­ness. He shaved. In the guest room he unzipped the gar­ment bag, think­ing ahead to his dri­ve, the 14 to the 5, low sun in his eyes, an hour if traf­fic did­n’t thicken through the val­ley. Waste [pg125] of time, this whole week­end. Never mind. Just show up. In the hall mir­ror, behind sun­glass­es, was no trace of the young gawky prig but a sober har­ried face in late mid­dle age, its sour­ness fixed by habits of mis­trust and anger and just show­ing up.

The sun was set­ting. A/C MIN, he low­ered win­dows for the spill of cool air as the car crested the pass above the lights of San Fer­nan­do, a splen­dor as intri­cate and baf­fling as the brain’s net of cells, as brighter stars rose to break free of the net and bank in the air above HOLLYWOOD-BURBANK AIRPORT where he turned at Con­ven­tion Cen­ter into a knot of cars wait­ing for Valet Park­ing behind a famil­iar white Mer­cedes NKB3 just pulling away as under the awning an elderly fig­ure, limp­ing, was escorted inside where High­et, a few min­utes lat­er, fol­lowed, past MULTIMEDIA EXPO to a smaller ball­room ARETE FOUNDATION66 Tonight Guest Speak­ers Tuck Eubanks Dr Aron Réti and a con­cen­trated dis­play of wealth sapi­ent of lit­tle but itself, object of its own desire and scion of its own beget­ting, demurely await­ing some intel­li­gence to pos­sess and shape it, to cher­ish and obey it, and find­ing no lack of sup­pli­cants: media con­sul­tants between jobs, econ post­docs, free­lance his­to­ri­ans, soci­ol­o­gists, engi­neers, futur­ists, grant writ­ers, lob­by­ists, intel­lec­tual prop­erty lawyers, wiz­ards, men, Ponzi schemers, and free mar­ket ide­o­logues who, like the pious of an ear­lier age, would have been hor­ri­fied equally at hav­ing their faith doubted or at see­ing it prac­ticed, pro­duc­ers and providers and pan­ders of one con­tent or anoth­er, aspi­rants to this bridal altar, charged with an excite­ment sex­ual but not car­nal in the face of such dumb boun­ty, eager to court and preen and fawn and pos­sess and find them­selves, in turn, pos­sessed until in this happy con­sum­ma­tion it could not be told who was using whom or even that use could be sep­a­rate from being.

In tai­lored pin­stripe, at the cen­ter of a cap­ti­vated group, an obese and blus­ter­ing fig­ure held forth in oro­tund tones with an ani­ma­tion that danced between bel­liger­ence and def­er­ence, choler and comi­ty, feint­ing aggres­sively then falling back in sub­mis­sive atten­tion to the flat­tered fig­ures of the vice pres­i­dent, eyes dull as his lus­ter­less blue suit, William Ven­ham in black mohair, and, a lit­tle apart from them, Aron Réti, wiz­ened and rum­pled as exiled aris­toc­ra­cy, wear­ing on his [pg126] rav­aged fea­tures a thin for­bear­ing smile that might have masked a dis­plea­sure not with hier­ar­chy itself but with its cur­rent occu­pants.

–My friends, I under­stand the Pres­i­dent, I truly do. I had an encounter with him that was really pro­found on me. He’s a good guy but he just does­n’t get it about taxes that it’s your money

With his ear for pub­lic affect, Highet judged Eubank’s voice so near to excel­lent that its laps­es, at least those that were not cal­cu­lat­ed, offend­ed. Vul­gar­ity and lazi­ness mixed in its upper reach­es, where an ugly hard resent­ment was slurred with venal­ity and easy con­tempt. Groomed fer­ret on a leash. Suck­ing up to the vice pres­i­dent.

–What we truly need in this com­ing elec­tion is a truly con­ser­v­a­tive can­di­date, a man like your­self, sir…

Highet approached Réti, only to be caught by an arm in black mohair. –We-hell! The man him­self!

–Lis­ten Bill, give me a minute with Aron would you, I need t

–Bad time, Leo, our guest of hon­or’s pretty busy.

–This is impor­tant.

–Man’s plead­ing your case to the vice pres­i­dent and the assem­bled mass­es, what could be more impor­tant?

–My, plead­ing my what? turn­ing quickly as from behind him came Réti’s voice, rum­bling and delib­er­ate. Off bal­ance, he bumped the man behind him, who put hands out to steady him. It was Orrin Gate. Gate’s mild face showed only mild con­cern, unless that faint smile hid more than recog­ni­tion. But Gate had come from a blind spot off his radar. Here in the very lap of power and influ­ence, where he needed to be alive to every cur­rent, he was miss­ing cues. He glared malev­o­lently at Eubanks, still at the cen­ter of the group but silent at last, small eyes glit­ter­ing in the pig­gish face, while Réti in his orac­u­lar mode stood lean­ing on his cane. The vice pres­i­dent lis­tened, mouth slightly agape.

–So I ask you. We deploy to defend Tel Aviv. Should we not so pro­tect our own bor­ders?

–Well, I can’t, ah, speak for the pres­i­dent, but I would think, that we, that is, it does look like some­thing, ah, we would want to look at…

–I am cer­tain that the pres­i­dent under­stands the impor­tance of mis­sile defense. But he must express that sup­port! With con­vic­tion! [pg127]

While, frus­trated at the atten­tion with­drawn from him, the obese fig­ure again struck its oro­tund tones, so famil­iar to so many whose pur­suit of truth stopped at the near­est radio. –He’s right! Folks, the rea­son con­ser­v­a­tives are win­ning is that mod­er­ates don’t have con­vic­tion. If you ask peo­ple what’s wrong with the pres­i­dent they’ll say he isn’t con­vict­ed!

Highet turned to Ven­ham, who was, he saw now, observ­ing him.

–Your case, is it? Ven­ham’s eyes glit­tered.

–You said that, Bill, not me.

–I meant that Aron’s argu­ing the Lab’s case.

–be­cause I think the pres­i­dent dis­cred­ited him­self when

–Bill, I need to talk to you about this regents’ meet­ing com­ing up.

–Not now, Leo, too much hap­pen­ing.

–Hel­lo, it’s Doc­tor Hite, isn’t it?

–Leo, you know Stan Flack? Stan, Leo High­et.

–Sure, we’ve met, hello Doct

Ven­ham leaned in, low­er­ing his voice to con­fide, –You wor­ried about regents, Leo, Stan’s the man to talk to.

–Oh? But, you must be the new reg, turn­ing, off bal­ance again, to take the extended hand, which vig­or­ously pumped his, –sor­ry, missed your name

–Aron! let’s

–Flack, Stan Flack. Won’t you join me at my table, Doc­tor Hite?

–Yes, sure, just let me, free­ing my hand, –Aron! as the elder sci­en­tist’s ice blue eyes fixed on him briefly then returned to Eubanks.

–Catch us later Leo, said Ven­ham as the vice pres­i­dent and Réti joined in Eubanks’s pro­fes­sional laugh­ter. –Got to get things rolling here.

A snub? He’d nev­er. Like a son to him. Get a few min­utes with him lat­er. Mean­while the regent went for­ward through a press of peo­ple, Highet a few steps behind, dodg­ing past, –de­stroy Amer­ica with­out fir­ing a shot, and –no injus­tice, their exter­nal cir­cum­stances fit their level of devel­op­ment, and –sell them all to pri­vate oper­a­tors, while a nasal voice cut through, –steal a man’s style, about the low­est, and Highet turned to [pg128] faced the back of a scuffed brown leather jacket lined with a red silk scarf nes­tled under curly blond hair past which a stun­ning woman in a white silk blouse said, –Chazz, I think he con­sid­ers it homage, –Homage? Maybe he’d like to come rob my house, call that homage too, the nasal voice lost under, –just love Tuck’s show, all his, his down home spun­nisms, and –Here we are Doc­tor Hite, won’t you sit here? ush­ered by the eager voice to a table at the far edge of things where a queru­lous old man in a wheel­chair was soothed and set­tled at table by an atten­dant to the glares of a chubby young man whose lapels bore one a gold cross and the other an enamel pin of Old Glo­ry, as does –dees n jel­men, burst from a podium hung with a ban­ner azure par­ti­tioned by the chevron of moun­tain peak over the leg­end ἀρετε encir­cled by the motto SCIENCE LIBERTY COMMERCE. A klaxon of feed­back swelled and war­bled before it damped back to, –ten­tion please.

–so glad I ran into you Doc­tor Hite, we need to talk

–Yes we do, about this upcom­ing regents’ meet­ing

–be­cause my peo­ple are ready to move on this mul­ti­pli­ca­tion thing

–pleased to have with us tonight

–…mul­ti­pli­ca­tion…?

–one of those black intel­lec­tual con­ser­v­a­tives when there weren’t too many and now more have come out of the wood­pile

–fol­low up on our dis­cus­sion out at

–Wait a minute. Aren’t you the new UC regent?

–No no, we met

–You’re not a regent?

–out at Bil­l’s ranch a while back, drowned by applause ris­ing to meet the obese fig­ure ascend­ing to the podi­um, as Highet mut­tered, –That lying sack of

–Thank yew! You know my friends, this is a thrill for me, because my whole life I’ve always tried to meet peo­ple who are the best at what they do

–may remem­ber, Doc­tor Hite, that we had estab­lished a pri­or­ity claim for the oper­a­tion of mul­ti­pli­ca­tion

–ah, you’re the, yes, I remem­ber you now

–peo­ple whose energy and entre­pre­neurism and inspi­ra­tion define [pg129] Amer­i­ca, with the ideas that are inspi­ra­tional on Amer­i­can life

–know this guy, came the queru­lous voice, used to insult peo­ple on the radio in Sacra­mento

–in­spir­ing peo­ple to be more than they can be

–hey do you mind, I’m try­ing to lis­ten to Tuck

–in the free mar­ket­place of ideas, my friends, where the truth always wills out

–hard to believe a mind that small has a mouth that big

–ideas like fam­i­ly, excel­lence, com­pe­ti­tion, and self­-re­liance

–if you don’t like it go party with and her elite

–peo­ple we need in this bat­tle for ideas, peo­ple with a lot of pas­sion for their ideas, because by gosh pas­sion is key

–Span­ish Inqui­si­tion had a lot of pas­sion too, did­n’t it

–will you, just

–ck­ing mod­er­ate

–way things ought to be, because peo­ple are at their best when they look out for them­selves

–bring you up to speed on our patent appli­ca­tion

–look

–folks, I was just talk­ing with our bril­liant guest of honor Doc­tor Réti, the father of the

–prior art con­sist­ing of al-Qarizmi’s book

–but this is sim­ple, you don’t need to be a genius. Let’s put the dots togeth­er. Mis­sile defense is not rocket sci­en­tol­ogy

–where’s the food

–it’s not E M C equals, it’s not time travel

–ex­press­ing the mul­ti­pli­ca­tion oper­a­tion as

–look what­ever your name is there’s been a mis­un­der­stand­ing, I really don’t

–hos­tile world, and just because the Soviet Union’s gone dunt mean we’re home scot free

–ask a man to din­ner, feed him mala­propisms

–just good sense that we need to be com­pet­i­tive in this arena

A young wait­er, goa­teed and smug, came round High­et’s right hold­ing a tray. –Do you want the chicken 67 or the ? [pg130]

–I’ll have the chick­en.

–Good, we’re out of the salmon.

–soul of brevity my friends and as Shake­speare said, brevity is the soul of wit. That means, the least amount of words you take to say some­thing, equals the more power that it will have. So with­out fur­ther

–don’t know what’s hap­pen­ing to the Grand Old Par­ty, these rude young upstarts, reli­gious fanat­ics

–and finally thank you for incit­ing I mean invit­ing me to host a pogrom with so many pres­tidi­gious names. Our first speaker

–so now we’re prepar­ing a sum­mary of every exist­ing com­puter algo­rithm for mul­ti­pli­ca­tion so we know who to go after infringem

–a man the elite lib­eral media love to hate

–man who can’t spell his own name

–the most unique indi­vid­ual I have ever met

–say young fel­low, how much salt is in this chick­en?

–Vice Pres­i­dent of the Yewnited

–nk you tuc, and the micro­phone cut out as the deer eyes flick­ered between podium and audi­ence, –k you all. Like you, I am here tonight to founder, er, honor the foun­da­tion of the Arete, ah, all right, Foun­da­tion, named after, uh, the Lat­in, ah Greek word for ah virtue. Coined by that great Greek, uh, soph, sophis­ti­cate Pro, Pro­to, goras who said, ah, Man is the mea­sur­er, and I think that is clear, and clearly the les­son of that is, uh, that man is the one who mea­sures, just as we, ah, as men, or women of course, owe it to our fel­low man to make sure that he, or she, ah, mea­sures up, as I am sure all the mem­bers in this room would like to be mea­sured…

–Dear God, some­one put him out of his

–so what we need from you Doc­tor Hite is a list of com­puter mul­ti­pli­ca­tion algo­rithms that might be infring­ing on our

–What I need is a chance to eat my chicken pec­ca­ta, you mind?

–honor for me to intro­duce a man we all ah, hon­or, I mean, a man to whom this great and beau­ti­ful count, the micro­phone again skip­ping, –deep debt of ah, skip­ping again, –Réti, applause ris­ing as the old man limped to the podi­um, scan­ning the audi­ence with ice blue eyes as he pushed the micro­phone back an inch. [pg131]

–To­day the Arete Foun­da­tion, indeed the nation, has a spe­cial chal­lenge before it. For we stand on the thresh­old of a new era, a turn­ing point in his­to­ry. Today, nuclear weapons are obso­lete.

–not try­ing to claim exclu­sive rights, just a mod­est licens­ing fee

–If I promise to look at it, will you leave me alone?

–thank my young col­leagues at the Lab, for devel­op­ing the Super­bright laser, cor­ner­stone of the Radi­ance antimis­sile defense. For secu­rity rea­sons we can­not reveal the actual inten­si­ties we have achieved with this remark­able device. But I assure you that the skep­tics will be con­found­ed.

–just a small frac­tion of a cent per oper­a­tion68

–yes fine here, here’s my card, call me, just

–But our work does not stop here. Tonight I will tell you of a remark­able new devel­op­ment. A sys­tem of fast, small inter­cep­tors that hurl them­selves like stones against mis­siles. Thou­sands of these devices in low orbit will con­stantly mon­i­tor the globe for threats. If a mis­sile is launched, an inter­cep­tor will spot it and knock it down. Today, thanks to star­tling advances in minia­tur­iza­tion, this sys­tem is prac­ti­cal and even cheap.

A sud­den crash of dish­ware from the back of the hall brought the ice blue eyes up and glar­ing.

–Crit­ics now ask, who is our ene­my? The Sovi­ets are gone, should we not divert this money to peace­ful uses? I will not answer this dan­ger­ously naive crit­i­cism. Except to say that the prospect of bal­lis­tic mis­siles, in the hands of twenty dif­fer­ent gov­ern­ments, makes an effec­tive defense manda­tory.

Réti’s voice, slow and heavy with a accent unre­lin­quished after sixty years in Amer­i­ca, was the aris­to­crat to Eubanks’s plebe. A sales talk all the same, and so what? From Plato to Planck, sci­ence was per­sua­sion. of Sim­p­li­cio, Sagre­do, and Salviati was writ­ten to per­suade, not to prove.

–But this is not all. The Sling­shot orbiters per­fectly fit the new man­date for dual use. In addi­tion to defend­ing against man­made threats, they can pro­tect us from nat­ural calami­ties.

–not just a

–will you shut [pg132]

–ex­tinc­tion of the dinosaurs caused by an enor­mous meteor impact. Such an impact, if it occurred today, would cost busi­ness over eight quadrillion dol­lars. And these impacts do occur, about once every hun­dred thou­sand years. Thus, sim­ple divi­sion shows that cost us eighty bil­lion per year, against which our pro­posed research bud­get of two bil­lion per year is if any­thing too mod­est.69

–never thought of it that way, amor­tize the apoc­a­lypse

–Arete’s par­ent orga­ni­za­tion, the respected think tank NOUS, the Nexus for Opti­mal Use of Sci­ence70, has endorsed Sling­shot. They have pro­vided Con­gress and the pres­i­dent with the sci­en­tific analy­sis they need to make informed pol­icy deci­sions. But sci­ence, though nec­es­sary, is not suf­fi­cient. The Arete Foun­da­tion will pro­vide the polit­i­cal will to make the cor­rect choic­es. For as Ein­stein once said to me, “All the wis­dom on this earth remains with­out suc­cess if force does not enter into its ser­vice.”71 May that be the watch­word of the Arete Foun­da­tion as well.

–Cof­fee?

–No, push­ing away from the table as applause rose to bury –Wait, Doc­tor Hite…!, as Réti limped from the podium and was lost from sight. Highet skirted tables as peo­ple stood, block­ing his way, com­ing against –Did him­self in with that read my lips, wait and see, and edg­ing past –bil­lion acres of so-­called wilder­ness ought to be in pri­vate hands, as chairs were backed into his path, past –im­pos­si­ble to get reli­able help, as the crowd thick­ened and he pressed through –what with the deficit, we can’t afford not to sell off some assets, sight­ing Ven­ham near an exit with the vice pres­i­dent and Eubanks and Réti smil­ing and shak­ing hands with a burly man in blue serge, as the nasal voice nearby again nagged, –drive six hun­dred miles a week, get home I have a right to some peace, while Réti turned laugh­ing to Ven­ham, and black mohair fell across the stooped shoul­ders, –want to build in the mid­dle of Alaska, one point seven gigawatts beamed straight into the , where he lost sight of them, –told Vicente to pull out the olive trees, the fruit was stain­ing the pave­ment, replace them with , as black mohair hove briefly into sight again under EXIT, –turns out the pro­posal came from an sci­en­tist, they just hap­pen to have thirty tril­lion cubic feet of Alaskan nat­ural gas they’d like to [pg133] sell on site instead of hav­ing to pipe it, break­ing through to reach­ing the exit just as two Secret Ser­vice agents pulled the door shut and moved to block him.

–Sor­ry, sir, no exit here.

In fury he turned and was blocked again by the back of a curly blond head, red scarf, scuffed leather jack­et, the nasal voice nag­ging, –go­ing all week long, but when I get back Fri­day at six there he is with uprooted stumps and dirt all over the dri­ve, it looked like a clearcut, with his Sal­vado­ran friends back­ing a pickup through my rhodo­den­drons, as Highet was jos­tled and the blond curls turned to face him, annoy­ance on the snub fea­tures turn­ing to sur­prise and sly plea­sure.

–Leo High­et! Is it you? My God, what are you doing here?

–Chazz? Chazz Hol­lis?

–Bar­bara, this is my best friend from high school.

–Hel­lo. Her warm hand in his. Beau­ti­ful smile. Sheer silk sheath. Her eyes quickly shift­ing from his. –Chazz, I’m going to talk to Rena­ta.

–All right. We’ll leave soon.

–Last place I expected to see you, Chazz.

–I’m so embar­rassed. I had no idea this would be so polit­i­cal. Do you know Bill Ven­ham? He invited me. He’s been a real friend to the Phil­har­mon­ic.

–We’ve met. A lit­tle con­ser­vatism won’t hurt you, Chazz.

–What did you think of Eubanks?

–Not much.

–His radio show is enor­mously pop­u­lar.

–Is it real­ly.

–Some peo­ple say he could run for pres­i­dent.

–Any idiot can run for pres­i­dent.

–How long has it been, Leo? Twen­ti­eth Lan­caster High reunion, was­n’t it?

Ten years ago. Out in the trail­ers lick­ing my wounds. Mer­cedes lib­eral look­ing down his nose at me. Still build­ing bombs? he’d said.

–That’s right. You’d just put out a new age album under the name Pro­teus.

–Oh my gosh, that’s right. You know, I did that as a lark, but they [pg134] turned out to be my cash cow, those Pro­teus albums.72 You’re where now?

–I’m direc­tor of the Lab now.

–So you’ve done pretty well for your­self there.

–And you?

–Oh, I’m jug­gling about four careers. There’s a new com­puter music research cen­ter at the uni­ver­si­ty, they’ve cre­ated a chair for me, endowed by a recently deceased film com­pos­er. Quite a good com­poser real­ly. All his life in addi­tion to his film work he wrote sym­phonies, cham­ber works, an amaz­ing out­put, but they were never per­formed. I’m con­duct­ing an evening of his quote seri­ous music at the Hol­ly­wood Bowl this sum­mer.

–Did­n’t know you con­duct­ed, Chazz.

–Oh, yes. Another cash cow. And I have a Pro­teus album due out in Novem­ber, though I’m mov­ing away from that. Oh, and Leo, you’ll be inter­ested in this. At the research cen­ter we’re design­ing some AI soft­ware.

–All that and AI soft­ware, too, you’re a ver­sa­tile guy, Chazz. How’d you get to be so smart?

–Oh, my assis­tant, he’s here some­where, he’s quite bril­liant, he works at the . It’s ironic to be adapt­ing his work to music, but I think it makes a state­ment, con­vert­ing mil­i­tary tech­nolo­gies to cul­tural uses. Of course, I use a Mac­in­tosh for my own com­pos­ing, but the research at the Cen­ter is much more advanced. We’re work­ing on a pro­gram that can be trained to write in any musi­cal style. It’s a chal­lenge. One knows very well how Mozart dif­fers from Haydn, but to get from that rather intu­itive knowl­edge to a work­ing pro­gram is quite dif­fi­cult. The uni­ver­sity has an intel­lec­tual prop­erty inter­est in it. They want to patent algo­rithms that embody com­po­si­tional styles. They’ve trade­marked a dozen major names, Mozart, Bach, Beeth

–Trade­marked?

–For mar­ket­ing new works in the style. Of course we have no idea if this will pan out, but it does­n’t hurt to stake a claim.

–Speak­ing of tech­nol­ogy trans­fer, we might be able to help you. We’ve done a lot of AI research in house. The algo­rithm works how, [pg135] exact­ly?

–Oh, I can’t tell you exact­ly, some sort of chaos the­o­ry, chaos on the edge of com­plex­i­ty, you should talk to, there he is, Jef! Jef Thor­pe, this is Leo Hi

–You.

–Oh you, you know each…?

–Jef used to work for us at the Lab.

–Oh is that where…? What a coin­ci­dence.

–Small world.

–Ah, you two, ah, must have some catch­ing up to do, I’ll, head swivel­ing as it tracked the crowd past High­et, dis­pens­ing a smile here, a nod there, hand grop­ing in an inner pocket for –my card, Leo, the home phone’s chang­ing next week, I’m mov­ing to Palos Verde, actu­ally that’s why I’m, ah ha, I see my real­tor over there, glad I ran into you, Leo, we’ll talk again. Jef, see you Mon­day…

–Thor­pe, black­jack­eted arms crossed over red t-shirt, said, –Some­one told me, the fish rots from the head.

–Let me explain some­thing to you, Jef…

–No need, I under­stand.

–Do you real­ly? Do you under­stand how Quine screwed you? With those sec­ondary reflec­tors?

–Yeah. I also know the pri­maries were giv­ing bad data all along. That’s what got me jig­ging the code in the first place. Because I trusted the data and I saw how to make the sim­u­la­tion cor­re­spond.

–You think I wanted to blame you? Quine was group lead­er, you were his assis­tant. Your fin­ger­prints were on the code. And you had a his­to­ry.

–What does that mean, a hist

–Fish and Him­mel­hoch.

–That’s totally unfair! I had noth­ing to do with

–What’s fair got to do with it? Quine was my man, I pro­tected him. Even though I despise him. He’s gone now, if it makes you feel bet­ter.

–Well, so am I, gone.

–Learn from this, Jef. Pro­tect your­self. Be ruth­less.

–Man… shak­ing his head, –I’m not sorry I’m gone. [pg136]

–En­joy your hon­ey­moon at Com­plex­i­ty. But stay in touch. That Richt­my­er-Meshkov work you were doing is hot, we can use that.

–This, what, this is unbe­liev­able. Why should I share any­thing with you?

–Be­cause in the long run we’re on the same side. I won’t for­get that and I’m bet­ting you won’t.

–Man, there it is. The Highet Effect. That real­ity dis­tor­tion field. It’s amaz­ing. You’ll say any­thing, won’t you.

–You heard Réti’s speech. Knowl­edge and force.

–I heard it. Ein­stein my ass.

And turned from Thor­pe, going into the cor­ri­dor towards MEN, where a hotel employee blocked him with a mop held like a quar­ter­staff, –Closed, there’s another down the hall, and on past Space Real­ity Space Fan­tasy Art Expo where orbiters and bat­tle sta­tions and shut­tles and star­ships were clus­tered in promis­cu­ous con­gress against air­bushed starscapes no tele­scopes had ever viewed, past a booth where a woman in hot pink jog­ging bra and satin shorts, wool socks, heavy boots, and back­pack walked a tread­mill, face hid­den in a hel­met sten­ciled VIRTUAL WILDERNESS above a smile fixed in Cheshire Cat detach­ment at the moun­tain land­scape pro­jected on screens for the spec­ta­tors’ ben­e­fit behind her pump­ing legs, and went on past CodeWin, where the pres­sure of his blad­der led him into a dim alcove lit by a screen with the image of hair not dark or wild but bright as a car­rot, lips pout­ing and slim, white legs raised for –! as a cacoph­ony burst from another booth where one boy urged another fac­ing a bar­rage of incom­ing graphs, –Fire! Fire! Fire! and on past AMNESTY INTERACTIVE where high res­o­lu­tion graph­ics and dig­i­tal audio lent the prison cell and repet­i­tive screams a gritty chic, finally attain­ing the rel­a­tive peace of MEN where two fig­ures at uri­nals, one in black mohair, one in black mohair, one in blue serge, backs stiff and legs sprad­dled to pro­duce in porce­lain tones an inter­mit­tent tenor aria and a pro­founder chim­ing , over which serge was say­ing –agen­tur­naya razvedka, infor­ma­tion com­ing through net­work of under­cover case offi­cers. Code­name Star wished that his infor­ma­tion may not be trace­able to any­one on Man­hat­tan Project staff73, and Bill Ven­ham turn­ing slightly saw High­et, the tenor flow stut­ter­ing and ceas­ing, –Leo! [pg1367] Pull up a pew. Say hi to my new friend Vas­sili.

–Can’t get away from you, can I, Bill. Thanks for set­ting me up with old Stan there.

–Stan?

–Stan, Stan Flack, remem­ber? Of course, not being a regent, he did­n’t know a hell of a lot about my sit­u­a­tion.

–Oh hell, that’s all over, Leo, you should be look­ing for new pos­si­bil­i­ties, that’s why I hooked you up with Stan there.

–What do you mean, that’s all over?

Ven­ham shook, tucked, and came to the sink, while serge con­tin­ued his relent­less basso under the soprano and alto of two faucets.

–Re­gents, DOE, that’s the old order, Leo. Give us a cou­ple years and we’ll close down DOE74, move it all into the pri­vate sec­tor. We’ve got a posi­tion paper on this, I’ll send you a copy.

The chim­ing in the Rus­sian’s bowl tapered off, then began again.

–Who’s he?

–Vas­sil­i’s in from Moscow. With some very hot info about a cer­tain Man­hat­tan Project sci­en­tist who passed atomic secrets to the dur­ing the war.

–Not Aron, I hope.

–Ha ha! Oh, Vas­sil­i’s a gold mine of infor­ma­tion on the Stalin era, I’m offer­ing him a posi­tion at NOUS. Say, that reminds me, did you get my let­ter?

–Been a lit­tle busy, I’ll ask my girl.

–We’re keep­ing a pew warm. There’s a place for you any­time you want it.

The basso con­tinuo at last dimin­ished, retard­ed, and ceased with a heart­felt sigh. –Bozhe moi. [My god.]

–Got to be going, Bill, stopped by a hand pluck­ing his lapel, tuck­ing a light green vel­lum enve­lope into his inner jacket pock­et, then smooth­ing the fab­ric.

–Give it some thought, Leo.

–Where can I find Aron?

–Aron? He’s long gone. Lis­ten Leo, about this cold fusion thing… but Highet like­wise was gone, out past MULTIMEDIA and the air-brushed infini­ties, past aban­doned mop and bucket by Out Of Order, [pg138] paus­ing only in the lobby for MEN and the relief he had not ear­lier tak­en.

Did­n’t even get to talk to him. Call him tomor­row. Might be too late. Dri­ving up from the bow­els of the garage, sur­fac­ing to wait for the flash and shriek of ƎƆИA⅃UᙠMA pass­ing and in its wake traf­fic stream­ing then thin­ning as the city fell away behind him. Stars above thin cloud. In the val­ley a misty rain began and his wipers switched them­selves on. The syn­co­pated rhythm lulled him over the pass. Wasted trip. Down to a bright grid flat against void, and off at J Street.

Thea looked up from read­ing as the door stuck then flew open to strike the IV stand that fell clat­ter­ing.

–How was your din­ner?

–Did­n’t expect to find you still here.

–I was­n’t sure you were com­ing back. I did­n’t want to leave Mother alone.

–I see the stand arrived. Place right here in town Thea, they even deliv­er, if you’d look in the yel­low pages.

–Well now we have two.

–Oh for Christ’s sake.

–Well, you did­n’t tell me you were going to buy one.

–Okay, so return it. How is she?

–She went to bed a lit­tle while ago. She was wait­ing up for you, but she tires eas­i­ly. Her light’s still on. You might say good night.

–Lis­ten, about din­ner. I told you I had things to do while I was here.

–I know, Leo. I know nobody’s going to change. Mark is com­ing tomor­row morn­ing for break­fast. Is that all right? Do you have some­thing else? Just so I know.

–I need to be in West­wood by noon. Break­fast is fine.

–I’ll be here about eight. Will you say good night to Moth­er?

–Of course. See you tomor­row.

Light under the closed door. He stood by it for a moment, then went in.

–Leo, dear. It’s so good to see you.

–Hello Moth­er. He stood by the IV, not look­ing at her. Hang­ing plas­tic sack, D5 Half-Nor­mal Saline Dex­trose 55 1000 mL OSMOLARITY [pg139] 273 mOsmol/L (CALC) STERILE NONPYROGENIC SINGLE DOSE CONTAINER. Blue plas­tic gauze pads on the bed­side table. Brown plas­tic pill bot­tles. . Small milky plas­tic cup hold­ing a table­spoon of clear liq­uid. Spot of dried blood on the pil­low­case.

–Leo, I’m so glad you came. Her thin gray hand reach­ing for him.

–How are you?

–Oh, Leo. I’m so tired.

–Moth­er, can I ask you some­thing about Dad?

She looked away, then turned back bright­ly. –Do you remem­ber, when your father taught you to shoot? You’d go after jackrab­bits, you two, and come home hun­gry as hunters, and I’d have din­ner wait­ing and I’d say, Home are the hunters. Do you remem­ber, Leo? Oh, you loved that. Because it was your mid­dle name, Hunter, yours and your father’s. After your grand­pa. But you would­n’t eat the rab­bits.

–Yes, I remem­ber. Moth­er, lis­ten, when Dad lost the elec­tion

Her eyes plead­ing. –Leo. All I ever wanted from your father was a body to hug and a soul to cher­ish. He was such a dis­tant man.

He pat­ted the thin gray hand.

–I need to take my med­i­cine. Hand me that lit­tle cup, dear.

–Here. What is it?

–Mor­phine. She swal­lowed. –And then he put him­self beyond me for­ev­er.

–I’ll be down the hall if you need any­thing.

In the hall ghost voices chat­tered and nagged. Her radio, con­stant irri­tant of his child­hood, her dis­trac­tion and defense, all day and all night, one in every room. To drown that mem­ory now he shut his door and switched on the radio on the night table, whence sprung a voice rich with the false res­o­nance of dig­i­tal sig­nal pro­cess­ing, –space music, reflect­ing the nat­ural cycle, of birth, life, and death. For the next hour, space trav­el­ers, Earth Jour­ney… the voice fad­ing to a mix of bells, flute, rat­tles, , bass gui­tar, and the nasal whine of syn­the­siz­er. He unpacked lap­top and cell phone and plugged them into their charg­ers. Grop­ing behind the night table for the out­let he saw a cor­ner of faded blue in the dust and cob­webs. A small cot­ton sack filled with cat­nip. Lancelot. Orange and white tom butting his head against your leg, loud growl­ing purr. Thir­ty, forty years ago. Toy can’t have [pg140] been back there that long. No, of course, Mother had that skinny Siamese died last year. Pel­let of paper back there in the dust. Smooth­ing it open to her loop­ing hand: you are not my keeper.

–Je­sus, he mut­tered, kick­ing off his shoes. Nobody’s going to change. He turned off the light and reclined on the cov­er­let star­ing at the ceil­ing, hold­ing the cat toy. Lancelot would climb onto his chest to sleep. Purring hum at his breast. He missed it now.

–space music, cel­e­brat­ing the, nat­ural cycle, by the, Los Ange­les based com­poser, Pro­teus. For a playlist, ask for pro­gram, three thirty nine, Earth Journ, and snapped it off.

The nat­ural cycle: homage to cru­elty and waste. What use heaven makes of its beings. Sets them to strive and build under incom­mutable sen­tence of death. If he were younger he might pit all his force and resolve against this ene­my, this face­less min­ion of haven, if not to beat death at least to put it off. Why should­n’t peo­ple live for cen­turies? What could they not accom­plish?

All I really wanted was to do physics. The struc­ture of the uni­verse. The nature of mat­ter. Mem­bers of the Acad­e­my, ladies and gen­tle­men. And what have I accom­plished? Chemist of peo­ple, cat­a­lyst, hold­ing the place together so oth­ers can do the real work. Like young Quine, that paper he coau­thored with Sorokin years ago, that was the real thing. Still know it when I see it. Well, he’ll never get back to it now. Bit­ter sat­is­fac­tion there. Reduced to liv­ing on oth­ers’ fail­ures.

It’s com­ing apart. Diet­z’s build­ing, falling. Hang­ing on to the cliff, look­ing for the next hand­hold. Rock bit­ing his palms. No one tells you what you need to live.

Leo had to pee. In the hall he saw light under the base­ment door. Leo opened the door and went down the stairs hold­ing the rail tight. Come here boy. Light glowed amber in the shot­glass. Papers and maps over­flowed the desk. These are streets, see. Pla­cen­tia, Palm, Pio­neer. We live here. The new streets will be here. Vacant parcels in A-17. Land’s cheap now, but it’ll be valu­able. The sharp smell as Dad sipped from the shot­glass.

Dad yelling at mother because Gramp would­n’t loan him the money to buy prop­er­ty. Worth­less patch of desert. Short­sighted old fool, it’ll dou­ble in three years! Finally he forged the old fool’s name on a check. [pg141] What a stink over that.

Vast echo­ing dim­ness. End­less rows of lock­ers and bench­es. Blurred voic­es, the smell of sweat and mildew. Leo comes to an arena of light and steam. All the show­ers are run­ning. There his father stands naked with a sullen young man. Father pulls at the play­er’s swelling penis and looks up unsmil­ing at Leo.

Abruptly awake. A sigh almost a moan escaped him. Best for all con­cerned that you.

Fuck them. Fuck them all. Let them try it. They can’t do this to me, they don’t have the votes. He rose and crossed the hall. He stood void­ing. The flood­light out­side dimly lit the bowl. In its light noise­less rain drifted down a fath­om­less sky. On the dis­tant high­way, trucks whined, wheels hissed on wet road. As he returned to his room and lay down, he felt a wave of weak­ness, almost the body’s dis­gust with itself. I have noth­ing left for this fight.

Leo at the back door snapped on the flood­light. In its glare, half hid­den by a cre­osote bush, stood a long slim canine with the slink­ing frame of a scav­enger and a bushy tail upright. Its eyes were golden coals and in its nar­row jaws it held the neck of an orange and white cat with head and paws dan­gling, tail curled under. Lancelot turned his head into the light and his pink mouth opened in a silent mewl. The coy­ote bolted into dark­ness with the cat.

Get up. Get dressed. Are you angry with that coy­ote? We’ll get him. In the dawn halflight his father stood. Dumb with sor­row and sleep Leo dressed. He took the rifle his father thrust at him. The sky gew light and they hiked into the sandy hills behind the house. Noth­ing moved for miles in that pale ungiv­ing light. Leo wanted to ask if Lancelot might have got­ten away, if they might still find him, but the ques­tion died in his throat.

Eyes wide, he lis­tened to the hol­low cease­less hiss of the uni­verse. He reached for the inhaler, cylin­der cold in his hand’s warmth, an exal­ta­tion like freefall as the spray struck his sinus­es.

Dad. Tell me what I need to live. Read to me like you did.

Once there was a man, a rocket man, in his coal­black uni­form coated with star­dust, a man alone in the night of space. A proud man, and brave. On his shoul­ders lay the fate of the world. His rocket ship left [pg142] the Earth on a pil­lar of fire. It climbed up and out of the grav­ity well. Spew­ing a hard white foun­tain of flame. Behind it the Earth dwin­dled, and all he had ever known dwin­dled with it: his fam­i­ly, his friends, his past. The Earth dwin­dled to the size of a bas­ket­ball, a grape­fruit, a blood orange, a lemon. A ball bear­ing. Lancelot…! And deep in the void waited a sick­ness and a dis­ease, and it came upon the man, and it was called the Lone­li­ness75. Deep, lus­trous desert sky, still as death, and in its dark­ness waits the hid­den ene­my, Sput­nik could it be? A strong man took the lead­er­ship in war, one who had once blinked at the sun and dreamt that per­haps he might snare it, and was roused to con­vey to his broth­ers that indeed he had done so76, and had thus led them out of the caves and finally into space itself. There! And there! Points of flight. The ene­my. Deep in space, cru­ci­form in a ship no larger than a body­suit he fin­gered con­trols in his gloves, he darted and fired at his oppo­nents. Fire. Fire. Fire.

And the sky gath­ered color as a sun still unrisen scat­tered rays across a serene pale­ness cut by a blunt black tri­an­gle out­rac­ing its own hol­low roar, as though to assert that the day alone did not suf­fice, its beauty a goad and a chal­lenge to the dis­con­tent spir­it. A key scratched in the front door which gave its grunt of resis­tance and paper bags rus­tled to the kitchen and water ran in the mas­ter bath­room through pipes singing beneath the house, the dirges of child­hood, as he stared at the same ceil­ing he had forty years ago. Highet thrust him­self out of bed.

At the din­ing room table sat Thea, read­ing a news­pa­per. –Good morn­ing.

–Thea, what are the­se? fetch­ing from a pocket and flat­ten­ing some­times I won­der why I spend the lonely night, and you are not my keeper.

She sighed. –Oh, the for­tune cook­ies.

–For­tune cook­ies?

–It’s what Mark and I call them. She’s been leav­ing them around the house for years. I find them under sofa cush­ions.

–These were down­stairs and in the guest room.

–We think they’re her way of deal­ing with Father’s death.

–That’s twen­ty-­five years ago, Thea.

–Well, she has­n’t ever wanted to admit… you know. [pg143]

–Twen­ty-­five years and she still thinks he just dozed off with the motor run­ning in the gar

–Leo, hush. Please. I hear her com­ing. The pipes stopped singing. Then, ris­ing, her voice brisk, –I’ll start break­fast. Mark will be here soon. You see if Mother needs help.

–Not the kind I can give her, sweep­ing the paper strips into his pock­et. –You’re up on this pop psych stuff, you know the word denial? Dad with the booze, Mark with the sports, Mom with the radio, you

–You with the sci­ence, Leo. Would you please

–Fine, all right. Moth­er! Do you need help?

She was in a house­coat and slip­pers lean­ing against the chrome walker at the bed­side.

–Do you need help with that, Moth­er?

–I hate this hor­rid thing. If I could lean on you, dar­ling.

–Here. He extended a crooked elbow.

–I’m sorry to be a both­er, dear.

–It’s no both­er.

–You look so hand­some in your suit. Like your father when he ran for office.

–Hope I do a lit­tle bet­ter here than he did.

–He would have won, dear, but the local machine was against him. A lit­tle slow­er, dar­ling. her fin­gers dug into his fore­arm.

–You’re a tough old bird, Moth­er, you’ll out­live us all.

–Sit there, Moth­er, I’ll bring you some juice. Mark will be here soon.

–Thank you, Thea. Leo, dar­ling, would you turn on the radio?

–Oh Christ.

–Tuck Eubanks is on.

–How can you lis­ten to that crap?

–Now, I don’t agree with every­thing he says, but he makes some very good points.

–Leo? Can I see you in the kitchen?

He turned from the skull so vis­i­ble under the thin white hair, as the oro­tund voice sprung from the radio, –this attempt to tug peo­ple’s heart­strings has wrung dry, and strode into the kitchen where his sis­ter wait­ed, arms fold­ed. [pg144]

–What, Thea. You mean I should just shut up and let her lis­ten to that poi­so­nous buf­foon?

In a tense whis­per, –Yes, that’s exactly what I mean. And keep your voice down. You’re act­ing like a spoiled child.

His voice fell like­wise. –She does that to me, she always has, you know that. This is a mis­take, me being here.

–You’re mak­ing it one. You’re mak­ing it one so that you can avoid deal­ing with it, as usu­al. You are so ungiv­ing.

–Right, got about fifty urgent things need doing, went out of my way to clear some time drove three hun­dred miles but that’s not enough, you know what it is Thea, noth­ing’s enough, you turn every­thing into some kind of drama and if peo­ple don’t play their part they’re ungiv­ing. If you want to know, that’s why Bob finally left you, your con­stant dra­ma­tiz­ing, and he tried to go along with it all, play­ing a dozen dif­fer­ent parts, kept giv­ing till there was noth­ing left to give.

–Leave Bob out of this.

–There you go, Bob’s not in your script any more, so leave him out.

–You’re the last one to talk about rela­tion­ships.

–Oh, no doubt, but I’m talk­ing about you, Thea, how you’ve got zero tol­er­ance for any­thing not in your movie.

–You always have to win, Leo. I know that so well, but it always sur­prises me. Every­thing’s a con­flict to you. No won­der you’re good at your job.

–Just look around some­time Thea if you don’t think every­thing’s a con­flict, just look around you for one god­damn min

–Thea, dear? I think Mark is here.

–Thank you, Moth­er. All right, Leo, could we have peace for, for just one hour? Just through break­fast?

He went out the kitchen door into the back yard. The fig tree, bar­ren of bloom, bur­dened with the weight of its own branch­es, swayed stiffly in a warm and steady wind. A heavy dry scent from some unseen flower itched his nose, heavy with mucus, and he blew to clear it. The door­bell turned him back inside.

–You’re look­ing more and more like Dad, Mark. [pg145]

–New car, Leo? Very sporty. Pity about the scratch on the hood.

–How’s life in the trades?

–Lo­cal­ly, it sucks. But we’ve got enough work out Newhall way.

–How are Mary and the chil­dren, dear?

–Good good, they’re good, Mom. Gary just started Lit­tle League, he’s real excited about that. How’s with you, Leo?

–Com­plex­ity on the edge of chaos. Had to run off last night to a din­ner.

–I heard.

–How do you all want your eggs? Moth­er, I know you want poached. Leo? Mark?

–Scram­bled, Thea, thanks.

–Just cof­fee.

–You don’t want any­thing, Leo?

–No, got some­thing else at noon down below.

–Sit, sit down, all of you.

–Say, Mark, got a con­struc­tion ques­tion for you. When you truck fill away from a site

–Away? Usu­ally you truck it in.

–Well say you’ve got too much of it. What would you do with it?

–Well, if it’s good fill, non­ex­pan­sive, you’d take it to another site that needs it.

–One of your own sites?

–If you’ve got one that needs it.

–You ever hear of Credne Con­struc­tion?

–The statewide low bid kings. They’ve cost me work. Why?

–Just curi­ous. They’re doing some work at the Lab. I pass their trucks every day.

–They do indus­trial work and tract homes. Those new devel­op­ments about by Ade­lan­to? That kind of thing. I don’t know about their indus­tri­al, but their tract work­ers get paid by the piece, not hourly. That’s incen­tive to cut cor­ners.

–Thea, you hear this? Cred­ne’s the con­trac­tor out at Estancia. Tell her she does­n’t want to live there, Mark.

–What the hell do you care where she lives, Leo?

–Just want to keep her out of my neigh­bor­hood. [pg146]

–Well, don’t ask my help.

–I’m POed, Thea. He’s been doing this since I came in, how’s life in the trades, I look like Dad… I don’t need this from a guy we see once every five years.

–Okay, don’t let it get to you, Mark, I’m leav­ing.

–Oh Leo. Mark why did you have to

–Me? He’s blow­ing us off, and it’s my fault?

–No­body’s fault, sit down Thea, just got to run, some things I have to

–Leo, please sit down. Fin­ish your cof­fee…

–Thea, I don’t need this any more than he does.

–Please, dear…

–He’s great at this, always has been. Toss a stink bomb, get every­one fight­ing, and he’s out the door.

–Please, let’s not fight.

–Mark. Moth­er’s right.

Mark looked at Thea, then at Moth­er. His nos­trils flared, his mouth tight. Like their father. Then it passed. Mark rose and held out his hand. –Sor­ry, Leo. If you have to go, you have to go. Stay in touch, will you?

–It was good of you to come, dear. We are all so proud of you. Thin arms reach­ing for him. Smell of med­i­cine. He accepted her hug.

–Take care of your­self, moth­er. I’ll call.

Thea came to hug hum. –Good­bye. I’ll call you about Estancia.

–Yes, all right I, hes­i­tat­ing at the front door as it stick, –seems, …seems like I’m for­get­ting some­thing. Turn­ing back to the three pairs of eyes fixed on him as he raised sun­glasses in a half­hearted token of farewell, don­ning them against the glare that broke in shards on the con­crete walk and asphalt and again on the dis­tant glit­ter of tall build­ings and again on the peb­bled glass under his parked wheels by the yel­low tape CAUTION CUIDADO knot­ted like some of dis­tress and dis­rup­tion through the world, reach­ing it seemed from the Lab to West­wood, as he fol­lowed the shards past boarded win­dows as two rollerblades zipped by in t-shirts NO FEAR trail­ing a sound newly in the world, a sly hiss from their wheels, another spin­off [pg147] of a Lab project in com­pos­ite mate­ri­als, its inge­nu­ity knot­ted through­out the world, his mark, putting res­o­lu­tion into his step as he went under a gran­ite archi­trave FIAT LUX and down an echo­ing hall to pause at an oak door, hand stilled on knob by the patri­cian voice from with­in, –strate­gic decep­tion, that’s what Whip­ple called it. He claimed that the entire point of the [SDI] pro­gram was to force the Sovi­ets to spend77

Cool light through slat­ted shades, dark con­fer­ence lus­trous as old coin. He rec­og­nized some of the faces.

–Sir, this meet­ing is closed… Doc­tor High­et?

–I believe you’re dis­cussing my con­tract.

–This, this is, your pres­ence here is most inap­pro­pri­ate.

–Inap­pro­pri­ate? And him? point­ing to the fig­ure who upon his entrance had gone silent as a pall­bear­er, –He’s just giv­ing a lit­tle impar­tial advice?

–Se­n­a­tor Chase is here at our invi­ta­tion.

–The sen­a­tor wants my head. I know this. You know this. I’d like to defend myself.

–Doc­tor High­et, you know how per­for­mance reviews work. When we’ve gath­ered enough data

–Enough rope, you mean.

–We really can­not have

–This is just the sort of antic he’s

–Hell, Charles, let the man sit in, what harm can it do? Sen­a­tor?

–Fine with me.

–Well it’s irreg­u­lar and I want it noted that I don’t approve.

–So not­ed.

He seated him­self at the far end of the table, fac­ing Chase, two chairs away from any regent.

–Doc­tor High­et, one of our con­cerns is your evi­dent lack of sup­port for the post-­Cold War mis­sion DOE has defined for the Lab, specif­i­cally tech­nol­ogy trans­fer. The per­cep­tion is that you are heav­ily invested in the Radi­ance antimis­sile pro­gram.

–I’ve long been an advo­cate of tech­nol­ogy trans­fer. I’ve spear­headed many col­lab­o­ra­tions with indus­try. We’ve just made an agree­ment with Gate Cel­lu­lar that will dou­ble the net worth of our dual use tech­nolo­gies. [pg148]

–Some eval­u­a­tions of your per­for­mance… well, here, under­es­ti­mates dif­fi­cul­ties and time frames, more con­cerned with pub­lic per­cep­tions than real­i­ties, com­bat­ive style, pro­fane and tact­less, abra­sive some­times abu­sive, seri­ous prob­lems accept­ing crit­i­cism, ten bad ideas for every good one…

–Who wrote that?

–and recent arti­cles in the press about Radi­ance tend to sup­port a view of, well, here, numer­ous inac­cu­ra­cies, mis­lead­ing state­ments, unre­solved issues, out of con­trol, emerg­ing pic­ture of mis­man­age­ment and impro­pri­ety, does the com­pe­tent and hon­est sci­en­tists at the Lab a dis­ser­vice…

–I should get the name of your . Don’t tell me you take that seri­ous­ly?

–The uni­ver­sity takes these accu­sa­tions very seri­ous­ly. They reflect on our over­sight.

–Press gets hold of a few rumors, plays right into the pop­u­lar mis­trust of sci­ence and gov­ern­ment, pretty soon you’ve got a feed­ing fren­zy.

–Well, you’ve got five ongo­ing GAO inves­ti­ga­tions, two DOE, six con­gres­sional

–Well Doc­tor Beck­man half of those aren’t us, they’re you, it’s the uni­ver­si­ty’s over­sight being ques­tioned.

–with­out lay­ing blame, Doc­tor High­et, it does seem that the Radi­ance pro­gram and all its ah unre­solved issues are asso­ci­ated rightly or wrongly with your per­son­al­i­ty.

–Maybe you don’t want a sci­en­tist at the helm. Maybe you want a sales­man.

–It seems to me we have that already, said Chase. –Thirty bil­lion dol­lars wasted on a fraud, a decep­tion

–Se­n­a­tor, you got your mon­ey’s worth. Radi­ance spent the Soviet Union into obliv­ion. Noth­ing fraud­u­lent about that.

–Do you deny that you deceived, mis­led

–War is decep­tion.78

–Do you hear that? That’s exactly what Whip­ple said to me. Are you admit­ting that this pro­gram is a decep­tion?

–Not at all.

–Please, Doc­tor High­et, Sen­a­tor Chase, we’re not going to resolve [pg149] the larger issues, I really think

–Yes, let’s cut the, to the, bot­tom line, what hap­pens to me? Got that fig­ured out yet?

–I don’t think it’s approp

–Com on, I’m here, let’s have it.

Hum of over­head lights. Sun slant­ing through dust. Jet scrap­ing past far over­head.

–We think it best for all con­cerned that you resign.

–My con­tract has over a year to run.

–Ab­sent a res­ig­na­tion, we will rec­om­mend that the regents ter­mi­nate your con­tract.

–Res­ig­na­tion to be effec­tive when.

–In one month.

–Then you have a replace­ment in mind.

–For the short term you will appoint an interim direc­tor.

–It’s, you know, appro­pri­ate to con­sult with an out­go­ing direc­tor about his suc­ces­sor.

–It’s pre­ma­ture at this time.

–Come on, who’s on your short list, Ware? Szabo? Karp?

Glances exchanged. Chase sat back, his face blank, until after a pause Beck­man spoke up, –We’re impressed by Doc­tor Philip Quine.

–Quine!

–Doc­tor Quine addressed the prob­lems of the Radi­ance pro­gram with can­dor and resolve.

–Quine!

–Doc­tor High­et, we

–You know that he’s been put on leave?

–Yes, for writ­ing a report crit­i­cal of Super­bright, I gath­er, said Chase.

–If you’d read that report, you’d learn that he had a major role in what you’re call­ing this decep­tion.

–That’s what I mean by can­dor, said Chase.

–The can­dor was mine. I ordered that report.

–I ah, for one, I think that is wholly to Doc­tor High­et’s cred­it.

–Ordered it and then sup­pressed it, said Chase.

–You can’t jump a man from deputy asso­ciate to direc­tor. [pg150]

–Can’t, Doc­tor High­et?

–There are ten asso­ciate direc­tors with more senior­i­ty, there are scores of group lead­ers with twenty and thirty years expe­ri­ence, you can’t just pass them over, espe­cially for

–Doc­tor High­et, I can’t say I appre­ci­ate you telling us what we can or can’t do.

–Lis­ten to me. Philip Quine is the clas­sic bad hire. For eight years he did noth­ing. I finally found some­thing I thought he could han­dle and he screwed it up and tried to assign blame.

Pages turned. –You hired him, did­n’t you? Kept him on? Pro­moted him?

–Yes I did. That was poor judg­ment on my part.

Highet caught Chase’s faint smile at that. –I’m warn­ing you not to make the same mis­take. Quine has no expe­ri­ence, no stature, no lead­er­ship. He’s inca­pable of mak­ing pub­lic state­ments.

–That’s a plus, said Chase, still with his calm tor­toise smile.

–He’s erratic and unre­li­able, and he has a drug prob­lem.

That inter­ested Logue. –Re­al­ly? We have no evi­dence of

At last Chase was annoyed. –Oh come on, he’s doing it again, don’t get drawn into

–Know some­thing Sen­a­tor? You’re gone. Next elec­tion. Wait and see.

–Why, are your rightwing friends going to tar­get me?

–Please, Sen­a­tor, Doct

–Think you can use this nation’s secu­rity as a polit­i­cal foot­ball you’ll find oth­er­wise pretty damn quic

–Se­cu­rity is exactly what wor­ried me, High­et. I want you and your mouth gone before the entire Lab is tainted by your com­mit­ment to this dis­as­trous pro­gram.

–And if I won’t resign?

–Do I have to spell it out? Lying to Con­gress, mis­ap­pro­pri­ate of funds, con­flict of inter­est…

–Con­flic

–If you think I don’t know what you’ve been up to with your shell com­pa­nies and your job shops, sell­ing knowl­edge and tech­nolo­gies
[pg151]

devel­oped with pub­lic funds

–Come off it, there’s noth­ing ille­gal about spin­offs, and besides

–Do you want to go through a hear­ing? I think you remem­ber what that’s like.

He had a pic­ture of him­self then. Twenty years ago in Gene­va. The Soviet del­e­gate look­ing at him in dis­be­lief as he said what every­one there knew: that the being offered as a bar­gain­ing chip was made worth­less by the new Amer­i­can . And then the awful silence in which he knew that he had ruined him­self. In that silence he had learned how dis­liked he was. No one stood up for him, no one attempted to cover for him. That silence fol­lowed him as he walked after­ward by the lake, with the swans glid­ing by, fol­lowed him through his years of penance and obscu­rity in the Lab’s tem­po­rary trail­ers as he slowly recon­structed his career, work­ing on dead­wood projects no one want­ed, through years of swal­lowed pride and cagey maneu­ver­ing, the silence that could be cov­ered only by doing and more doing, and it was here now, as they all looked at him, say­ing noth­ing. He was as alone and unpro­tected as he had ever been, like his father when the ham­mer had fallen on him. And in that silence he heard that temp­ta­tion of a still­ness in which doing might cease.

–Please, gen­tle­men, no one wants… this.

–Think you’re God’s gift to the repub­lic, don’t you Chase, scourge of the mil­i­tary indus­trial com­plex

–That’s not what this is about.

–What, then? Why do you have it in for me, Chase?

Chase squared his papers in an oblong of sun. He took off his glass­es. –Last autumn, when I vis­ited the Lab, you called me a trai­tor79. I don’t take that from any­one.

–You hear? said Highet hoarse­ly. –It’s per­son­al. He has it in for me.

–Your judg­ment is the issue, said Chase. –That showed extremely poor judge­ment.

Dil­lard cleared his throat. –Do you have any­thing more to say, Doc­tor High­et?

–No. But this is not over.

And went out under FIAT LUX into sun hazed by high cloud ridged [pg152] and swirled, light con­gealed there in strange and lovely tumult, as if some angel of chaos had passed through the air. Not until he was on the free­way did he open his phone and arrow to Réti’s num­ber. Six times it trilled in his ear. When the answer­ing machine picked up, Highet held for a moment, then pressed END. He must suc­cor him­self. Set­tling sun­glasses he was soon through the sub­urbs and out of the val­ley, climb­ing past FAR-GO Mini Mart and IN-N-OUT BURGER, and on past Ele­va­tion 2000 Ft to Agua Dulce Air­port, then descend­ing past the sand­stone-red rooftops of new devel­op­ments, Wil­low Creek Vil­lage from 459,900 to Ante­lope Val­ley Urgent Care, Best Buy, Tar­get, K Mart, Grace Chris­t­ian Super­store, on past Assem­bly of God, NO MAN COME IN THE FATHER BUT BY ME NOT BY MIGHT NOT BY POWER BUT BY MY SPIRIT, while he thumbed the radio for –the Lord com­mended the unjust stew­ard, for the chil­dren of this world are wiser than the chil­dren of light80,and silenced it at a flash­ing in the hills out beyond Mojave, syn­chro­nized points of light, hid­den as the road wound up among slabs ribbed ver­ti­cally by ero­sion, tilted lay­ers and stony hum­mocks of sien­na, brick, and chalk­green, and on this sandy pale­ness dark clumps of sage, juniper, joshua, ris­ing to a plateau stitched by power lines, where colonies of wind­mills flashed in the dull sun­light on both sides of the road.

At the crest he stopped. He stilled the engine and stepped out. Wind whipped at his hair and clothes, and he felt a strange peace. He watched the wind­mills flash, the two and three vaned pro­pellers, the egg­beat­ers. After Geneva, in the tem­po­rary trail­ers, he had worked on all these designs81. Though dis­graced, he real­ized, he had been happy then82. He had noth­ing to do but rise.

He pulled on a cot­ton jacket and began walk­ing. A dirt road led up the near­est hill. Cloud moved in the wind and its mot­tled shadow hur­ried across the val­ley below. Even in the lee of the hill the wind was strong. Above him blades flashed and sang. He hiked fol­low­ing a chain­link fence, his soles slip­ping on the long dry grass, until the fence gave way to barbed wire, where, hand on a weath­ered post for bal­ance, wire shak­ing under his shoe, he vaulted over.

He stopped near a twovaned rotor. The Lab had waived com­mer­cial rights. His first Devon Null spin­off. On a twenty meter pole sat a [pg153] white nacelle, sur­face mot­tled with rust, blades blurred in the wind. Up there a hawk beat against a cross­wind, stalled in a cloud­break of sun bla­zon­ing its broad tail. Its shrill whis­tle fell, and a gust hur­ried it on toward the tow­er, wings taut and swerv­ing, but the , and their songs trem­bled as the hawk struck and trav­eled on, ris­ing and falling away in a long arc like a tossed stone.

He found it fallen in some sage. Big dun body striped with black bands. Head lolling from the bro­ken neck’s ruff, eye half open, a drop of blood at the beak. Strong horny claws grasp­ing noth­ing. Already an ant moved across the feath­ers. Bit­ter smell of bro­ken sage. In the sun rotors flashed like piti­less clock­work. Against the wind he walked back to the car.

They’ll do it. They’ll take Quine because he’s a good gray drone, never done any­thing worth doing, but he looks clean to them. They’ll give him a year or so, let the place run on autopi­lot till the sink of scan­dal clears, and there’s a new sec­re­tary of ener­gy, and he’ll be out. But I’ll be long gone.

Under a sky gone flat gray the car shud­dered in a gust past 83 and IS A han­dlet­tered and flanked by two crudely painted Amer­i­can flags, and the mourn­ful voice of Robert John­son –stones in my pass­way and my road seems dark at n, n, n84, the disk skip­ping with a cold dig­i­tal chat­ter, a sound newly in the world, –ne­mies have betrayed me, have over­taken poor Bob at last, and with a fin­ger he stilled the player which extruded its disk like a sil­ver tongue, as a small town passed in a blur of FRYING RABBITS & BABY BUNNIES, Very LA Cel­lu­lar & Pager, PICK & PULL SELF SERVE AUTO PARTS above two fenced lots beneath high ten­sion lines stretch­ing on past sage­brush and joshua trees, Fed­eral Prison Camp, Liv­ing Ghost Town, Lit­ter Removed Next 2 Miles , fea­ture­less acres of Mit­subishi Cement rolling by while the cate­nar­ies of power lines rose and fell between tow­ers, rhyth­mic as the hand that absently began to press the firm­ness in his lap ris­ing less from desire than from bore­dom, from the body’s inscrutable tyran­nies, even as the on the dash chirped and flashed the pres­ence of radar bring­ing both hands back to the wheel and the speedome­ter nee­dle drop­ping below 80, 70, to hover at 65 for the [pg154] oncom­ing black and white cruis­er’s U turn across the divider to fol­low at a dis­tance, as his eyes trav­eled from mir­ror to road to dash­board to mir­ror until the cruis­er’s abrupt turn back across the divider to recede, lights, flash­ing, in pur­suit of a less atten­tive speeder head­ing south, and the nee­dle rose again past 70, 80, 90, wheels con­sum­ing the stripe of road that led north to a hori­zon jagged as some graph, while to the west the nearer peaks van­ished into a tur­bu­lent mist, and wind whipped across a dry lake bed to lift alkali in twist­ing columns white as chalk in sud­den sun­light mov­ing like smoke across the dap­pled plain toward the arid east­ern range wrin­kled and dark under dense flow­ing from the west­ern crest across the val­ley and trail­ing dark stream­ers.

The high­way climbed into that dark­ness, past Elev 6000, until he reached his turnoff and snow flurred into the bit­ter evening halflight. Flakes had begun to col­lect in the ruts of the dirt road PRIVATE Posted No Tres­pass­ing at the end of which was parked a van Depart­ment of Energy Offi­cial Use Only with three inches of snow on its roof. Lights shone in the win­dows of the ranch.

In the entrance­way, duf­fels car­ryalls and lap­tops were piled. Highet removed his coat, and from a wallpeg lifted and jaun­tily donned a billed cap , hang­ing his cot­ton jacket on the freed peg. Within sat Dan Root on the large sofa with five young men on has­socks and chairs, reach­ing to the low cir­cu­lar table for bowls of chips, sal­sa, pop­corn, sodas, beers. They wore jeans and t-shirts , , , Highet knew them only by their tran­scripts and their e-mail names: , n8, , thomx­en, .

–Gentle­men, wel­come to the advanced Research Insti­tute of the Easter Sier­ra.

–Leo, you made it! Pull up a pew. We just microwaved some tamales.

He sat glow­ing and glo­ri­fied in the light of his admir­ers, young knight­s-er­rant hun­gry for the award mon­ey, for an intern­ship, for a career, for a world they could­n’t yet imag­ine.

–Give me some of that healthy hacker food. I haven’t eaten since the rub­ber chicken last night.

–Leo was out hob­nob­bin with the vice pres­i­dent.

–I saw him almost com­plete a sen­tence. It was scary. Looks like [pg155] you hit some snow, Dan.

–Had to put the chains on. The boys did, I mean. I just sat inside keepin warm. You get any comin north?

–The last few miles.

–Doc­tor High­et…

–Leo. Call me Leo, and he’s Dan. We’re all col­leagues here.

–What is this place? D, Dan would­n’t say. He called it the cas­tle of, what was it?

–Don’t know your ? Mon­sal­vat, that’s the Grail cas­tle. Can’t tell you what it really is, y’all don’t have your clear­ances yet.85

–That’s right, you should have blind­folded them.

–It’s a cool place. I’ve gone rock climb­ing near here.

–Tom, you want to toss another long on the…

–We bring you guys out here so you don’t think it’s all work and no play. You’ll work hard. but trust me, you’re going to love it. The resources are incred­i­ble. so I want you to think big. If you could work on any­thing, any­thing at all, what would it be? Let’s hear your wildest dreams.

Sit­ting back on the sofa, arms crossed, eyes nar­rowed and shaded under the cap brim, the rhythm of travel still in his body was dis­tract­ing him. He lis­tened not for what they said but their say­ing of it. The dreams them­selves were always puerile vari­a­tions on the same themes: escape, pow­er, revenge for injus­tice. He lis­tened for how their voices han­dled, and how their minds har­nessed these raw ener­gies.

–I want to build a star­ship. Get off the planet before we destroy it.

–Bar­ry?

–I guess I’m with Mike about the plan­et. But get­ting off it seems like, well, like it’s okay to use up this planet because we’ll just get anoth­er.

–Use it up how?

–Over­pop­u­la­tion, pol­lu­tion, resource deple­tion…

–But Bar­ry, . When you increase the pop­u­la­tion you get more sci­en­tists, hence more solu­tions.

–Yeah Bar­ry, going into space is all about envi­ron­ments, life sup­port, . I mean, it’s going to hap­pen, so let’s get good at it.86

–any­way the of the planet [pg156]

–Plan­et’s here to be used, isn’t it?

–any­way we won’t be able to get every­one off the plan­et, we can’t afford it. So who decides

–Most peo­ple are just excess bag­gage, that’s what Hume thought.

–any­way why do we have to trans­port bod­ies? The impor­tant thing about humans is their intel­li­gence, not their meat pack­ages. You can move that soft­ware to a more durable chas­sis. See that’s what I want, back­ups, copies of myself, lots of instan­ti­a­tions, dozens of lit­tle Nate- surf­ing the Net and doing sci­ence.

–Hey, if my instan­ti­a­tion can’t go climb­ing I don’t want it.

–Yeah but see your dae­mon could be doing physics while you’re climb­ing, and if you had an acci­dent it could keep on doing physics

–Hey Barry could be the first posthu­mous Nobel Prize win­ner. Or hey Bar­ry, net­work your dae­mon to one of those Vir­tual Wilder­ness sys­tems, let it solo the while you’re

–don’t want to knock human beings too much, but should we restrict our­selves to human intel­li­gence? I have no spe­cial loy­alty to DNA.

–If a per­son is , you can record and store that pat­tern. You could raise the dead. Res­ur­rect New­ton from the thoughts recorded in his works.

–A com­poser friend of mine is doing exactly that. Cre­at­ing new works by dead Euro­pean white males. Beethoven’s Tenth and so forth.

–Wow, I’d like to talk to him.

–I can make that hap­pen.

–But who decides who’s to be res­ur­rect­ed? You think we have an over­pop­u­la­tion prob­lem now

–Big­ger hard disks!

–Well, the ones who haven’t con­tribut­ed, who’ve left no trace, there’s noth­ing to res­ur­rect…

Logs burned to embers, con­firm­ing even as Tom was say­ing, –Time machines are easy, you just

–no but the mat­ter you spin has to be infi­nitely long

–any­way once you have a work­ing time machine you could

–Leo, it’s get­tin time. [pg157]

–Okay, Dan, I’ll wrap it up. Why did I want to hear this stuff? I wanted to hear it because we deal in futures. If we’re smart enough and our ideas are good enough and we con­vince enough peo­ple to invest their time, their mon­ey, their tal­ents, above all their belief, we can bring some of these futures into being. Noth­ing we’ve said is really impos­si­ble, just dif­fi­cult and expen­sive. I look at things from the point of view of some infi­nitely advanced civ­i­liza­tion lim­ited only by the laws of physics, not by lack of time or tal­ent or fund­ing. Only if you think that way do you have a chance of hav­ing the ideas that can truly advance civ­i­liza­tion. Give you just one instance, Mike, you can use this for your star­ship. We’re close, very close, to breakeven from . We need more fund­ing, bet­ter facil­i­ties, but it’s going to hap­pen. And then there are no lim­its. Then mankind has all the cheap clean power it wants. And then we go to the stars, Mike.

A lozenge of light flashed across the ceil­ing, as Root’s thick fin­gers dropped a sil­ver disk in a player for ele­giac vio­lins sus­pended over the hushed growl of cel­los and an oboe melody. –Lit­tle sound­track. Could be the last time we get to see that nee­dle jump.

–Last time…?

–A hun­dred miles east of here in the desert we some­times engage in highly clas­si­fied events that can­not be dis­cussed with the unsanc­ti­fied. But whether or not those events are or aren’t hap­pen­ing, you can watch the seis­mo­graph, where you might see some effects, which are unclas­si­fied.

Grin­ning, Barry said, –But can we trust the effects? is indis­tin­guish­able from a rigged demo.

Highet gave him a sharp look. –Bar­ry, we don’t even joke about that.

The nee­dle traced a trem­bling path of ink on the turn­ing drum. A bari­tone voice leapt and feinted to stretch the syl­la­bles of –Kar… frei… tags… zaub… er87. Then the nee­dle leapt.

Yes. Spirit is loosed from rock, freed of mat­ter’s tyran­ny. We open a crack through which light blazes, wak­ing the life in every mote. Once more , the wise Lord, defeats . A world with­out this radi­ance at the heart of things would be nul­li­parous88, with­out man [pg158] or mind. Yet no life awakes save through human mind and will. In the wak­ened world, agents of will move and col­lide, coop­er­ate or bat­tle. The great work of con­scious­ness is to form and direct alliances among the agents in one­self and in oth­ers, and so to per­fect the world. To pro­tect and nur­ture this spark in the sea of night.

–This is what it’s about, gen­tle­men. Bring­ing light into the world. Sign­ing your name on a tongue of fire.

–Man, that’s…

–What is it, Bar­ry?

–It’s maybe this is a bad time but I feel weird about this. I have kind of a prob­lem with weapons work.

–Oh man…

–Come on Bar­ry, give the man a break.

–No, it’s okay. Bar­ry, nobody’s going to make you work on weapons.

–But to be in a place where

–Lis­ten, for nine­teen years Leonardo worked for the Duke of Milan. He was hired to design arma­ments. He also painted and sculpt­ed. You think he fret­ted over that? Think the soul can split itself? Think you can have the Last Sup­per with­out the ?89 The human spirit is fire. No light with­out heat.

Highet paced to the fire­place and drew back the steel cur­tain.

–What if you wish away ura­ni­um. Set the ini­tial con­di­tions of the big bang so the par­ti­cle soup’s less dense, you don’t get fast neu­tron cap­ture, noth­ing heav­ier than bis­muth forms. Noth­ing fis­sion­able. Do you get ? Do you get intel­li­gence? I don’t think so. I think you get cold rocks spin­ning in a waste.90

He picked up a log from the bin and tossed it on the low blaze.

–Rea­son has to be built, fought for, spread. You think knowl­edge always advances? For every Leonardo there’s a . For every Mendel a . Dark­ness fol­lows our every step.

The log caught flame as air pulled past it and up the flue. He drew shut the cur­tain. –You have to under­stand that it’s win or die out there. And if your ideas are good, you have a respon­si­bil­ity to put them into the world.

–Bar­ry, said Mike. –I don’t like the weapons stuff either. But I want to get to the stars. I don’t care whose back I do it on. They can [pg159] have their bombs if I get a fusion drive out of it.

What he owed these kids. To grind them in the mor­tar of neces­sity so that their tal­ent, in the grind­ing, could emit its radi­ance.

–Lis­ten to me. We’re just ves­sels. Sci­ence is a godly force that works through us. Honor the god wher­ever it appears, in your­selves, in oth­ers. Make friends and be loyal to them. Always stand up and speak your mind. Take up space, because timid­ity gets no respect, the meek inherit noth­ing. Make ene­mies by choice, not by acci­dent. That’s my advice to you.

A bit­ter exal­ta­tion entered him, near enough to love for their bright faces admir­ing not him but what was in him, his joy embit­tered by the knowl­edge that he would not be there to see them through. Yet they would come to him, some of them, regard­less.

–Y’all scat now. Leo and I got to talk. Down­stairs there’s a game room, a bil­liard table, some work­sta­tions, and the ARIES col­lec­tion of old tech. If you ever wanted to play Space­war on a now’s your chance.

–Cool! as Root went with them to the stair­way. The music had changed to a moody essay in winds and strings. Highet switched it off. When Root returned he car­ried a green bot­tle and two glass­es. –Bit over the top, weren’t you? That honor the god stuff.

–Don’t believe in God, Dan?

–You want to be care­ful feed­ing that hunger.

–You don’t say.

–You’re so con­cerned about ratio­nal­i­ty. About the light. Upset by Howie Bangerter and his know noth­ing cre­ation­ists. But you know how many of your heroes were washed in the blood of the lamb? The great wrote com­men­tary on Rev­e­la­tions. was a fun­da­men­tal­ist. wrote out daily prayers.

–You left out and . Dif­fer­ent times, Dan. Pro­tec­tive col­or­ing.

–Thing about God is, he ain’t around much, and it’s got to be some­one look­ing out for the chick­ens.

–Don’t pour me any of that.

Root poured a glass for him­self. –Coy­ote bap­tizes the chick­ens, you know that sto­ry? [pg160]

–Wish you’d lay off the, the down home spun­nisms.

–Seems one day went call­ing on a hen. He says to her, these chicks of yours, they’re fine chicks, but why don’t you bap­tize them? Bap­tize, she says, what’s that? Says Coy­ote, Bap­tiz­ing makes them big and strong, you leave it to me, and he takes one chick away. Next day he’s back, says, your chick’s doing real well, but he’s lone­ly. So Coy­ote takes another chick and

–eats them all, so what’s your point.

Root grinned. –You do lead em on.

–With­out a lit­tle reli­gion they’ll end up jar­wipes in D Sec­tion. That ?

–It surely is. You want one?

–God no. Just won­dered if you’re still sup­port­ing the cor­rupt regime.

–Long as they keep rollin these on the thighs of vir­gins.

–You’re a piece of work.

–And . Root turned the cigar slowly in the flame of a match, watch­ing Highet as smoke rose. –How’d it go in LA? How’s your moth­er?

–Dy­ing.

–I’m sorry to hear that.

–What’s that sup­posed to mean?

–Christ, Leo, bite my head off why don’t you. Just tryin to be a decent human being.

–Don’t strain your­self.

Root stud­ied him. –What hap­pened?

–I’m out, Dan. Out on my ass.

–What?

–If I don’t resign, Chase says he’ll pros­e­cute.

–Pros­e­cute!

–He won’t do it. But they let him say it. They let him say it.

–Who they gone replace you with?

–Quine.

–Quine! The deputy asso­ci­ate. I warned you, Leo.

–They’ll regret it. He’s a pure fool.91

–God looks out for them, I hear.

–I’m glad God’s got work.

–Well, what the fuck, they can’t do that. They can’t raise him up like that. There’s a peck­ing order.

–I gave him the Tal­iesin report to write, so he’s whistle­blower of the hour. Every other can­di­date has deep roots in weapons, in Radi­ance. Quine looks clean to them, but not too clean since he’s been muck­ing in J Sec­tion. Maybe they think he knows where the bod­ies are buried. From their point of view it’s an easy sell, the new broom.

–Chase must have some regents by the balls. Well shit, the gov­er­nor has to approve it, he’s still a Repub­li­can. You can fight this, Leo. It ain’t right.

–You’re the one who said the regents are desert­ing us, Dan, think the gov­er­nor’s going to sec­ond guess them on this?

–Some­thin stinks here.

–Chase is putting pres­sure, I don’t know how.

–What about that GAO report? Isn’t that audi­tor fel­low Rec­tor a friend? That could change some minds.

–Months, that’s months away.

–You can hang tough that long. Did you talk to Bill Ven­ham?

–I asked Ven­ham for help with the regents and he seated me with some schmuck who wants to patent mul­ti­pli­ca­tion.

Root smiled. –Stan Flack. What’s Bill got to do with him?

–Oh, Bil­l’s got lots of inter­est­ing friends. Last I saw he was hold­ing some Rus­sian’s dick for him. Some ex- try­ing to sell the line that Uncle Julius was a Sov spy.

–Op­pen­heimer? He was, he was. Who was this Rus­sian?

–Vas­sili some­thing. So, what, they suck up to some KGB thug just for a pay­back? Christ Dan, they reminded me of Stalin and Lysenko.

–Ly­senko was­n’t so dumb. Got him­self a sinecure.

Highet held out a folded page of light green vel­lum water­marked Cranes Crest Old Mon­ey, with νουσ debossed over small wide­spaced type Nexus for Opti­mal Use of Sci­ence.

–There’s your sinecure.

Root took the let­ter and read it. –That’s a nice offer. You gone take it?

–Sit with a bunch of burnouts writ­ing white papers? How does [pg162] Réti stand them, those god damned con­sul­tants with their valet think­ing?

NOUS is respectable.

–Used to be, before Ven­ham stocked it with his used sci­en­tists his dis­tressed intel­lec­tu­als his right-­think­ing gigo­los. Man has more money than God, but that’s not enough, is it, has to buy a think tank buy a broad­caster that stalk­ing­horse Eubanks on the radio, you ever lis­ten to him? Rat­fucker ought to be sell­ing used cars or sling­ing insult com­edy in a Tahoe lounge, but there he is chat­ting with good old Bill and the vice pres­i­dent.

–Cut it out, Leo, we owe Bill. Where’d this ranch come from? Think we’d have sold Radi­ance to the pres­i­dent with­out him?

–You remem­ber when Ven­ham wanted me to start a sec­tion at the Lab for ?

Root chuck­led. –You coulda spun it to DOE as alter­nate par­a­digm research.

High­et’s mouth twist­ed. –Christ, you’re shame­less. You’ll say any­thing.

–Think your man Leonardo did­n’t have to hold his gorge every day?

–We’re not talk­ing Sforza here. Half these nonecks think the dinosaurs died in the Flood because they could­n’t fit on the Ark92.

–These are our allies, boy.

–They’re thugs, Dan. They’re ene­mies of rea­son.

–Com­mon cause, Leo. You don’t have to share a pew with them.

–Com­mon cause? What cause?

–Pow­er, mon­ey, influ­ence. Com­mon­est causes there are. Who gives a shit what they believe?

–You remem­ber when won his Nobel? A year later he was .

–What are you get­tin at, Leo?

–Just because you’re smart don’t think you can’t be stu­pid. Give them an inch and see what they take. Ven­ham and his buds want to shut down DOE now.

–He’s just makin a point.

–A point? What point, he and his cronies aren’t happy with [pg163] the deals they get now?

–The entire DOE bud­get’s what, seven bil­lion? Chump change. Why suck a dry tit? Move the weapons to DoD where they belong, hand over the rest to the pri­vate sec­tor. That’s their thinkin.

–And you think DoD is that stu­pid? Don’t you remem­ber that the wanted no part of Radi­ance? Said it would never work, rec­om­mended against it?

–But they took the money now did­n’t they?

–The whole defense indus­try’s ready to implode Dan, you know that.

–So­viet Union implod­ed. Nice oppor­tu­nity for some busi­ness­men.

–You talk­ing about Vas­sili? What is he real­ly, KGB or some goon?

–I don’t ask less I need to know.

–You know, you can keep your busi­ness oppor­tu­ni­ties, Dan, because if all the nuclear pro­grams go to DoD that’s the end of the Lab.

–Come on, Leo. The play­ers change, the game goes on. Any­way, since when you got any use for DOE? As I recall they put you into wind­mill design.

–They did. And I learned how to play them. Learned how to get my peo­ple what they need. I’m not going to stand by while these thugs steal that.

–See, this is why we set up Trans­fi­nite and Null­point, boy. Get our­selves paid even if the feds give it away.

–I owe some­thing to those kids down­stairs.

Root snort­ed, then stood look­ing into the fire. The hand hold­ing his cigar rested on the man­tel­piece. –You want my advice, Leo, you take Réti’s cue. Nothin wrong with con­sult­ing.

–Think I want to end up like Réti?

–One of the most pow­er­ful sci­en­tists in the world? I think you do.

–If it’s about sci­ence, Dan, Réti has­n’t done any since the War.

–Well, it has­n’t been about sci­ence since the War, now has it.

–Then what is it about? What do you get out of it, Dan?

–Me? A good time. Son, there’s peo­ple out there write fat checks just to scratch an itch. Way you or me want a beer, they want a sum­mer [pg164] house, a yacht, a non­profit foun­da­tion. A fel­low can live pretty good off the fall­out. I don’t need to own a ranch myself when I got the run of this place.

–Some peo­ple call that leech­ing.

–“Make to your­selves friends of the mam­mon of unright­eous­ness; that, when ye fail, they may receive you into ever­last­ing habi­ta­tions.”93 If it’s good enough for Our Lord…

–Turn­ing devout, Dan?

–Dammit Leo, it’s our moral duty to skin these pig­gies. Cap­i­tal’s like blood, it’s gotta flow. Like Leonar­do, we can divert rivers, rivers of gold… You remem­ber that in ? The launch site on the ? Did­n’t you visit there when you were a post­doc? let us push out ten thou­sand Bush­men. Up on that plateau, I felt like another . I might still be there if that con­sor­tium had­n’t gone broke. Still, we put a few items into orbit, yes we did.

–That’s it, then? Smoke a good cig­ar, put a few items into orbit…

–You think any of us gone win a Nobel Prize? Got some­thing bet­ter, we do. Those thugs of yours, to them we’re wiz­ards. Nuclear weapons, mis­sile defense, cold fusion… just say the magic words, and the vaults open. Oh, the world’s a wicked place, Leo, and free­dom ain’t free. If you want free­dom, some­body’s got to fuck a rat. So let the thugs do it. While we run free.

–And sci­ence? Knowl­edge?

–You think peo­ple want knowl­edge? Last thing they want. They don’t want to know. They want to be saved. And the only sal­va­tion… is to for­get. With­out for­get­ting, there’s noth­ing but loss and regret.

A log fell and fire leapt in the grate. Ash swirled in the updraft. Root gazed as at the appari­tion of a thing long past hope, then shrugged and drew on his cig­ar.

–Any­way, what else you gone do? Tech physics at South Bung­hole State?

–Maybe I’ll dis­ap­pear. Like the reclu­sive Devon Null. [pg165]

Root looked sharply up. –I don’t want to hear that. Some­body has to take the heat. That’s why you’re direc­tor, so there’s a scape­goat.

A gust swept moan­ing down the flue, and the fire­place spat sparks against the hang­ing metal cur­tain.

–I was bring­ing in a bil­lion dol­lars a year, Dan. I though I was invul­ner­a­ble. I let my guard down.

–Crap, Leo, you’re the most guarded man I know.

–What else could I have done? I went as far as I could with­out killing Radi­ance out­right. Call it dual use, coun­ter­pro­lif­er­a­tion, , just get it off the weapons menu. I’m tired of this shell game.

–Come on, son. Radi­ance isn’t dead. This stuff never dies, cause good sol­diers like you and me keep the faith alive dur­ing these long win­ters. Don’t give up now. The play­ers change, but the work goes on.

–Does it? I mean shit Dan, what’s next, pri­va­tized mis­sile defense…?

In the dying fire­light Root’s face was stone. Woe, like wind in the flue, the mer­est tongue of a gale, stirred in High­et.

–What does Gate want with those orbiters, Dan?

–Like the man said, he’s still lookin for a con­tent provider.

–Shit, that’s it, isn’t it? Gate does­n’t want comm sats. Why, you son of a bitch. Seoul or Pyongyang, which is it?

Root stud­ied his cig­ar. –Afraid you’re out of the loop on that.

–The play­ers change.

–Yes, they do.

–Saw this com­ing, did you Dan? Made to your­self some friends?

–Take that job at NOUS. We’ll do busi­ness again.

–But for now you’ll work with Quine.

–If he becomes direc­tor I got to, don’t I.

–I warn you, Dan. Don’t do it.

Root looked up from his cig­ar, incredulity on his fea­tures. –You warn me?

A pale face appeared in the stair­way. –Doc­tor High­et? Doc­tor Root? There’s some­thing on CNN you should see.

Down­stairs the other stu­dents watched a mis­sile chased to destruc­tion while the nag­ging voice of Armand Stera­dian rode over, –test man­agers installed a hom­ing bea­con on the tar­get to guide the inter­cep­tor [pg166] Under­sec­re­tary Whip­ple defended the rigged tests on grounds that the decep­tion was part of a so-­called spe­cial access pro­gram devoted to dis­in­for­ma­tion.

Whip­ple’s hag­gard face appeared. –At that time there was no oblig­a­tion to inform Con­gress. Of course Con­gress is now being informed of all spe­cial access progr

Film of the mis­sile looped again. Into the room’s stricken silence Highet said, –An­cient his­to­ry. DoD ran those tests years ago94. He’s try­ing to make this sound like it’s our doing.

–series of scan­dals. The pro­gram’s cen­ter­piece, the Super­bright laser, is under crit­i­cism from with­out and with­in. An inter­nal review is said to dis­pute the extrav­a­gant claims made by direc­tor Leo Hi

–That prick! I should never have talked to him.

–Mean­while, Lab­o­ra­tory founder and antimis­sile pro­po­nent Aron Réti is in sta­ble con­di­tion fol­low­ing a stroke.

–Oh my god. Dan–!

–It’s news to me.

–per­haps the most con­tro­ver­sial physi­cist of the twen­ti­eth

–Come on, dim­bulb, tell us the hos­pi­tal.

–Likely Stan­ford. Root unfolded a phone.

–fi­nan­cial inter­est in Trans­fi­nite Poly­go­nics, a firm that has prof­ited from tech­nolo­gies devel­oped at the Lab, accord­ing to the Gen­eral Account­ing Off

–Did Aron know about that GAO probe, Leo?

–He knew all right, knew it was with­out mer­it, but this pub­lic­ity would have been a blow.

–for CNN this is Armand Stera­dian

–Fuck­ing vul­ture, I’ll tear his heart out. Changed the chan­nel, who else has it, skip­ping past, –Rot­tweil­ers ter­ror­ize church­go­ers at eleven, to a man hold­ing a micro­phone before a gate where mot­ley fig­ures waved signs FRAUD WASTE STOP NOW as a red sports car SFORZA sped out of frame, –au­dit found wide­spread evi­dence of finan­cial malfea­sance and gross incom­pe­tence and con­cluded that the lab­o­ra­tory can no longer be trusted to police itself, cut­ting to a full face radi­ant in sun, dark eyes intense beneath black hair tinged with rus­set, –Our con­cern is [pg167]

–Turn it off. Did you get the hos­pi­tal?

Root closed his phone. –He’s there. Sta­ble. No calls. Vis­i­tors two to six tomor­row.

–I’ll go see him then.

Root’s heavy steps fol­lowed Highet upstairs.

–Well, it don’t rain but it shit­storms.

–It was bound to break. Almost a relief it has.

–What’s this about an inter­nal review?

–Told you, Quine’s report. Chase was wav­ing a copy around this morn­ing.

–Where’d he get it? From Quine?

–Quine has­n’t got the balls to leak

–Had the balls to write it, did­n’t he?

The plume still spread­ing, like the bit­ter miasma of Root’s breath now close on him, the glit­ter of his eyes.

–You said Quine was under con­trol.

–Who am I, Dan, Rasputin?

–What’s wrong with you, boy? Ain’t you learned yet? Root’s hand squeezed his shoul­ders. Highet shook them off.

–What, Dan? Learned what? How to stay ahead of every last ass­hole who wants a piece of me and sell out the ones who don’t?

–How to man­age your peo­ple!

–Who the fuck are my peo­ple, Dan? Quine? Dietz? Szabo? Ven­ham and Eubanks? Mis­ter Kim? You? I’d really like to know who the fuck my peo­ple are!

–Take it easy.

–Screw you. I’m going.

–What? Where?

–Tra­cy.

–What, you mean Trans­finite? You crazy? Six hour drive in the snow, you got chains?

–I’ll man­age.

Root stood. His body moved between Highet and the door, the stub of his cigar held aloft. –What are you up to, Leo?

–Afraid you’re out of the loop on that Dan, turn­ing for his jacket draped on the wallpeg. [pg168]

–Hold on, now hold on here.

–Got to get my resumé togeth­er, don’t I? Chase gets his way Radi­ance is dead, Gate and Ven­ham get their way every­thing’s for sale to the first bid­der, Luz and that woman get their way we’re all out on the street with clap­pers and bells. So I’d bet­ter make to myself some friends. Bet­ter become a, what did Gate say, a con­tent provider.

–I got pri­vate papers there in Tra­cy.

Highet pulled his jacket on, adjusted the brim of e=hf. –I mean, fuck a rat, Dan, I need some­thing to sell like every­body else, need to come out of this with a lit­tle con­tent. Don’t want to end up host­ing mul­ti­me­dia con­ven­tions or infomer­cials, don’t want to be left behind on Mike’s dying plan­et, do I.

Root’s big hands came up. Highet flinched from them, then held his ground. They closed around his head, the thick fin­gers cra­dled his skull, thumbs pressed painfully on the hinges of his jaw. Between two fin­gers the cigar stub smol­dered. Smoke and heat brought tears to High­et’s eyes.

–Don’t trust me Dan?

–Don’t you sell me out.

–Is that even pos­si­ble?

Root’s grip tight­ened. He crooned, –Don’t you know that I love you like a son? Like you love those kids?

–Let go of me, Dan. You’re an ass­hole.

Slowly Root smiled. His breath stank. His teeth were yel­lowed and stained with tobac­co. His gums were white and puffy. In the depths of his mouth gold gleamed. –That’s right. I’m the ass­hole that shits on the world. Do you see the god in me? Do you honor it?

–I see it.

–What? What do you see?

–What’s in you… is in me.

The grip relaxed. Highet stepped back. Root whis­pered, –Go you for­ward.

Past Car­son City and CHAINS REQUIRED he climbed into cloud, as a voice bat­tle drifts of sta­t­ic, –Lord I knew that thou art a hard man95, and flakes fell faster and thicker in the cones of light the car pro­jected as it gained Elev 7120, where the voice returned, –and cast ye [pg169] the unprof­itable ser­vant into outer dark, the road now white in his head­lights as he down­shifted and skid­ded side­ways, sta­tic on the radio like a held breath as he straight­ened and snow clumped to be swept away by groan­ing wipers down past Elev 6000 at last to be plowed and glis­ten­ing black streets reflect­ing the neon glare of casi­nos and motels, the voice ris­ing urgently out of sta­t­ic, –in mankind’s dark­est days my friends? God’s Word tells us that one gen­er­a­tion of believ­ers will never know death, but they will be lifted from the earth in a rap­ture before the great tribu­la­tion, before the end time, before that ghastly epoch of pesti­lence and famine and the fire and the blood. When the fire falls, where will you be my friends? Will you be lifted from the Earth to meet your Lord and Mas­ter Jesus Christ in eter­nal life, or will you drown in the blood and burn in the flood of the nucu­lar fire and starve with the sin­ners and the unbe­liev­ers in the great tribul, and he punched to a famil­iar nasal voice –well Ter­ry, I think it makes a state­ment, con­vert­ing mil­i­tary tech­nolo­gies for cul­tural uses. In my Con­certo for Horn and Elec­tri­fied Con­duc­tor the arti­fi­cial intel­li­gence actu­ally com­poses an accom­pa­ni­ment as the con­duc­tor beats off, silenc­ing it as the road dropped into chap­ar­ral, an fur­ther down the slope cities on the ancient seabed sent their light up to a heaven stained with thin­ning cloud no longer damp­en­ing the high­way or the pot­holed access road to DA-NITE SELF-STOR 24 HRS, behind razor­wire and lights stark as low suns on some lunar hori­zon. He rolled to a stop at a stan­chion and punched the key­pad 3 1 4 1 6 # for the gate rolling open on an alley between cor­ru­gated tin walls dull in the lunar light, until, still­ing the car near a scuffed door, he stepped out into the humid stench of chem­i­cals from a nearby slough and the free­way’s whine just over a con­crete , above which the sky was a dark void where an unseen jet passed scream­ing between land­falls.

Upstairs was a war­ren of cor­ri­dors. At each turn was a black plas­tic wedge POISON on the floor, gray pel­lets in its recess­es. At 211 he hefted the pad­lock in its hasp and inserted a cylin­dri­cal key. He threw a switch and a bare bulb in a wire cage came on over­head to light a nar­row walk­space between car­tons stacked to the ceil­ing, AR-KIV, STOR-ALL, DESTROY AFTER, BERING GREY RIESLING, and hasty scrib­bles in black mark­er, ~Trans­fi­nite~ Null­point, ~Bal­dur~ Sling­shot, LHH Per­son­al, LHH Papers, DR, HR, boxes seam­split and over­flow­ing with xerox­es, print­outs, books and man­u­als stuffed into the gaps between them, Rings Fields and Groups, Numer­i­cal Meth­ods in Rat­for, How To Sell Your Ideas, Note­books of Leonardo96, on across the floor to a spill of pro­cure­ment doc­u­ments, patent appli­ca­tions, source code print­outs, spools of data tape, boxes of floppy disks, note­books, con­fer­ence pro­ceed­ings, advi­sory reports, expired radi­a­tion badges, cas­settes of Réti’s speech­es, fundraiser menus (veal marsala, purée of win­ter roots, braised Bel­gian endi­ve, 1975 Robert Mon­davi Caber­net Sauvi­gnon), min­utes of meet­ings, draw­ings of space sta­tions and , a plan for using sub­ways as civil defense shel­ters, a plan for using nuclear bombs to dig canals and har­bors, a plan for space­ships pro­pelled by fusion bombs, for (with and with­out sex organ­s), for machines that travel faster than light and machines that travel through time, for psy­choki­ne­sis and com­mu­ni­ca­tion with the dead, plans for the end­less mort­gag­ing of an unten­able present to finance an impos­si­ble future, all to answer the night’s secret hope, untem­pered by expe­ri­ence, that morn­ing will bring renewal, though morn­ing has never renewed any­thing but yes­ter­day’s con­flict and chaos where it left off.

Light glinted in a recess from the green of Laphroaig, which he grasped, brush­ing off cob­webs to unscrew the cap, tip­ping it to his mouth, then rest­ing it among the detri­tus on the floor as he pulled down boxes one after another to look for a sal­va­tion not in for­get­ting the painful con­vic­tion of what one might have been or had meant to be, but in the hard coin of what one has become.

LHH Per­son­al. Record of every accom­plish­ment and deba­cle. Here was the tran­script of the hear­ing after Gene­va. Here was the offi­cial rep­ri­mand and reas­sign­ment, and the let­ter from Réti that had saved him from dis­missal. Here were dossiers on each of his Hertz recruits, and doc­u­ments from J Sec­tion as it grew. Stubs of pay­checks at each new salary lev­el. Clip­pings announc­ing his direc­tor­ship. The Pres­i­den­t’s speech of com­mit­ment to Radi­ance. and here, out of order, was the dossier he’d assem­bled on Quine for the Hertz board dur­ing the first days of J Sec­tion. Here was the paper that first brought Quine to [pg171] his atten­tion. A wave/particle exper­i­ment with orig­i­nal insights and metic­u­lous design. What Réti had said: –This is first rate. This shows real imag­i­na­tion.

–Oh, you can pick them all right, Highet mut­tered, push­ing aside the opened box to make room for ~Trans­fi­nite~ Null­point. Sal­vage part of it at least. Throw a bone to the GAO and get Chase off the trail. That hint about shell com­pa­nies. How much does he know? Come out of it with a clean bill for Trans­fi­nite and Null­point. All the rest, all the Lab busi­ness, the EIS, Cred­ne, the plume, the inves­ti­ga­tions, can go hang. Leave some sur­prises for Quine. See how he likes it.

He sat on the floor among the box­es. He found a clean folder and pluck­ing a pen from his pocket wrote on its tongue Trans­fi­nite Sys­tems: Tech­nol­ogy Trans­fers. He began to sort pages, the dam­ag­ing from the damn­ing. Root and his schemes. Sup­posed to make us all rich. Help our employ­ees. Doing well by doing good. Never should have lis­tened to him. Into the folder went a waiver of com­mer­cial rights to a wind tur­bine design. Never saw a dime from it, the wind power mar­ket just died. Back into the chaos of unsorted papers went a trans­fer of laser tech­nol­ogy to a retir­ing employee rep­re­sented by Trans­fi­nite. That blue-­green laser the Navy want­ed, we moved it out­side the Lab into a spin­off and all we got out of it was an inves­ti­ga­tion97. Réti bought their stock, the Times got wind of it, he did­n’t speak to me for months. Into the folder went 3D mod­el­ing soft­ware given to a motor com­pa­ny. Back into outer dark went a com­puter archi­tec­ture, devel­oped at the Lab and released to Trans­finite, that had made a Hertz kid rich when it was sold back to the Lab by Quick Data Sys­tems, the kid’s new employ­er.98 No good deed. So it went until the folder was a sheaf, and the level of Laphroaig had dropped by half, and he replaced the pen in his shirt pock­et.

First rate. Shows real imag­i­na­tion. Who’d ever said the same of him? He pulled down LHH Papers, the record of his own life in sci­ence, the in which all base­ness was to be redeemed, all impu­rity to drop out like pre­cip­i­tate, leav­ing knowl­edge pure. Yet it seemed now, as he turned those pages, tip­ping Laphroaig to his mouth, hemmed in by AR-KIV STOR-ALL DESTROY BY, that these papers, [pg172] whether they pro­posed weapons or defens­es, fan­tasies or fix­es, no mat­ter how tech­ni­cally sweet their argu­ments, were all made for trade rather than for truth, were made for the trade in truth.

The ris­ing bile of pity and loathing for the life and work so baldly laid out there before him was arrested by Laser Com­pres­sion Of Mat­ter For Ther­monu­clear Fusion. 1974. Réti, High­et, Szabo, 99. When he was the Lab’s newest wun­derkind. The old man would drop an idea, a hint, and he’d work all night on it. The whole thing took months. Here it was, boiled down to three pages in Phys­i­cal Review Let­ters. He read it through. A cer­tain amount of hand­wav­ing, of course. The full paper was twenty pages, but it could­n’t be pub­lished, too much of the mate­r­ial was clas­si­fied. What was here was a fan dance for a pre­sumed audi­ence of non­clas­si­fied fusion sci­en­tists, Sovi­ets, and US fund­ing sources. The full paper was more exi­gent, and at this remove he could barely fol­low the rea­son­ing through its pages, but he turned to the crux it had taken him a month to work out. Yes. Light pres­sure and momen­tum flux got you just so far. Much higher pres­sures could be gen­er­ated by shaped laser puls­es, by implod­ing the fuel sphere and ablat­ing the outer lay­ers like rocket exhaust. Szabo and he had writ­ten com­puter codes to sim­u­late the process. Those cranky old main­frames. The all-night runs of data. The short­cuts and hacks. Tweak and squeak. But they got there. They showed you could start a breakeven ther­monu­clear burn with only a thou­sand joules of ener­gy. In the­o­ry. It was bril­liant. Bet­ter than Quine. Not just the sci­ence, but the impli­ca­tions. Fusion pow­er. Pure fusion weapons with­out fis­sion trig­gers. Best of all, they could build it. The vaults would open to them.

They did. They built . But the fusion exper­i­ment failed. They rewrote the sim­u­la­tion codes, , got more fund­ing. The laser pro­gram took on its own life, as more and more pow­er­ful and expen­sive machines passed in suc­ces­sion, but by then Highet had moved on, become a group lead­er, a sec­tion chief, was more and more abstracted from the work that had started it all for him.

–Still, some damn clever stuff here, pag­ing faster through the rest of the box, –yes, we put a few items into orbit, ris­ing unsteadily [pg173] to deal a vicious kick to the low­est box in a stack –fuck! that crum­pled it, –a! and brought down the boxes above it, –rat! burst­ing like a leaf­s­torm across the floor, and knocked him to one bruised knee scoop­ing papers wildly with both arms. –But isn’t this what they want? Isn’t it? Bridges very strong but light, mor­tars and bom­bards and firethrow­ing engi­nes, cheap light­ing, unlim­ited ener­gy, cure us of cer­tain dis­agree­able things, of can­cer, con­sump­tion, and death, but don’t inflict vision upon us, give us sal­va­tion but not knowl­edge, magic but not imag­i­na­tion, papers fly­ing around him now like a vor­tex of bad ideas, of wish­ful think­ing, of and , of per­pet­ual motion and phlo­gis­ton, of , , and , wishes that would not die but returned again and again like Neme­sis, reclothed in the style and rhetoric of the day, those palaces of time, space, and power bedi­zened by , , , , , , , or , as for instance , , A Approach to Phys­i­cal Law, How To Pre­vent , : A Novel Approach To Data Hid­ing, and fallen across them a dozen musty paper­backs unopened since high school, brit­tle tea-­col­ored pages bro­ken from their bind­ings like spilled cards, lurid cov­ers flak­ing at their edges, , From the Earth to the Moon, The Shape of Things To Come, he bent to read “hith­erto Power had come to men by chance, but now were those Seek­ers, seek­ing, seek­ing among rare and curi­ous and per­plex­ing objects, some­times find­ing some odd uti­liz­able thing, some­times deceiv­ing them­selves with fan­cied dis­cov­ery, some­times pre­tend­ing to find”100, and again, vio­lent­ly, he scooped through more papers, seek­ing as if for a last change to turn back his­tory and take another track, , phys­i­cal law is , no idea how this will pan out, but it does­n’t hurt to stake a claim does it, as an itch rose in his throat and nose, –Ah ah ah, and a vio­lent sneeze spat­tered mucus across the cover of Arti­fi­cial Life101, –Shit! fum­bling for the inhaler as his eyes filled and streamed, chest heav­ing with coughs, grad­u­ally sub­si­diz­ing until he tipped Laphroaig for the last drops of its aqua­vi­tae, its promise of timestop and for­get­ting, then lurched to vomit the reflux [pg174] over and Per­pet­ual Motion of the , and As Pro­jec­tile Weapon.

He dabbed at the mois­ture at his chest. On his shirt­front –Damn! a black stain had spread, and he plucked out the pen, flipped it away, its gold point glint­ing as it spun upwards end over end toward the globe of the light102, the tip slip­ping through the wire cage to pen­e­trate the bulb which with a last flash went dark. He sub­sided then onto the papers, curl­ing up where enough light yet sifted through a mesh tran­som to guide his hand to but­tons on his watch, sifted and fell across the progress of dig­its and the beep on his wrist chas­ing off dream images of the beep from defen­sive con­soles track­ing the beep of ene­mies approach­ing the beep silenced by his fin­ger on watch, show­ing 7:00 in seg­ments swal­lowed inex­orably by 7:01 as he sat up cough­ing in the miasma of dust and ammo­nia.

–Pull your­self togeth­er, he told him­self. Mucus and vomit had dried on his swollen face. He wiped at the crust. He set empty Laphroaig into a recess and crum­pled to a wad Inflat­able, Per­pet­u­al, Dark. He opened the neat folder Trans­fi­nite and in the cubi­cle’s halflight dou­blechecked its pages, find­ing much that tan­ta­lized but noth­ing that damned. At last he closed it and went limp­ing into the gath­er­ing predawn, under harsh lights rak­ing a truck where two men rolled a cart loaded with can­is­ters CFC-12 and looked up in furtive alarm103 at the yelp from the red sports car SFORZA soon join­ing the dawn traf­fic already thick­en­ing past sumps and leach­ing pools and indus­trial waste ponds, one car among thou­sands stream­ing in lines twined like the invo­lute treach­ery of the heart across flat empty land as infe­cund as it was inter­minable, this pro­ces­sion climb­ing more slowly to where wind whipped past tur­bines and tore apart the morn­ing fog at Anabase Pass Elev 1835, and far off in the val­ley below, at the edge of town, dimin­ished by dis­tance, the fortress city of the Lab stood as ever, adum­brat­ing some new fron­tier.

Descend­ing toward it, Highet opened his phone and arrowed to RECTOR J. –Je­re­my? Leo High­et. Hope I’m not call­ing too ear­ly. I have some papers to help you clear up this Trans­fi­nite Poly­go­nics busi­ness. You free for brunch? Good. Dim sum place in Moun­tain [pg175] View, I’ll give you the address.

Sun warm on his face, he lifted sun­glasses from the dash, put them on, punched another num­ber, wait­ed, and said, –I’d like to speak to Mis­ter Ven­ham. This is Leo High­et. Yes, he has my num­ber. Yes, he’ll know what it’s regard­ing.

Coy­ote, First Angry, enemy of all law, wan­der­er, desert mind, out­law, spoil­er, loser, clown, glut­ton, lecher, thief, cheat, prag­ma­tist, sur­vivor, , sil­ver-­tongued , lat­ter­day Leonar­do, usurper Sforza, adul­terer , tell, wily one, by any means, of the man with two hearts, of knowl­edge and desire safely hid­den from each oth­er. Did not Paracel­sus com­mand us to fal­sify and dis­sim­u­late so that igno­rant men might not look upon our mys­ter­ies104? Did not the noble da Vinci hide the mean­ing of his thought by the man­ner of ? What man has not two mas­ters, two minds, two hearts? Tell of the man so wounded in him­self that he tore his sec­ond heart from him and cast it out, nam­ing it the world, and swore to wound it as it had wounded him.

In the val­ley he turned at Codor­nic s EXIT NLY, the stale smell of his sweat heavy in the car despite A/C MAX, a chaf­ing under his arms and at his groin, socks stiff on his feet, as he turned past TOW-AWAY NO PARKING to an abrupt stop at ROAD CLOSED UNEVEN ROAD SURFACE where the roadbed dropped six inches to dirt and bro­ken asphalt as fur­ther down the road an chat­tered in the shadow of an immense shroud NEKROTEK secured by thick ropes around his house, and fum­bling for the phone, unfold­ing it, –Hel­lo! You peo­ple were sup­posed to come and kill some ants for me on Sat­ur­day, here it’s Mon­day and my house is tent­ed, what? High­et, H I G, no I can’t hold! hel­lo? as the airham­mer renewed its assault at a more pen­e­trat­ing pitch and then fell silent, –Yes I’m here, what’s. No, not Hite, it’s H I G, G as in George… no! that’s not my first name, it’s… what? No! It’s ants, not ter­mites! What do you mean tox… A week? I’ve got to get into my house right now! hel­lo? hel, as work­ers gath­ered around the silenced airham­mer remov­ing hard­hats to peer into the dam­aged earth, –I’ll give you envi­ron­men­tal impact you f, the phone splin­ter­ing in two against the radio which leapt to stri­dent life with, –throw them off the bridge and let them sink or [pg176] swim! How far longer is this sub­hu­man unciv­i­lized con­duct to be tol­er­at­ed? this cacoph­ony of, slam­ming the gearshift into R, then 1, 2, 3, weav­ing onto the free­way, 4, 5, –re­lent­less pur­suit of the truth which always wills out, stab­bing again and again in search of a more con­ge­nial real­i­ty, which the radio, now locked by its trauma onto one sta­tion, declined to provide, as the cen­ter span car­ried him high above the bay and the oro­tund voice ripened, –Folks, I ha a great time. I met the vice pres­i­dent, and on past Data Gen­er­al, Ver­sant, Fail­ure Analy­sis Asso­ci­ates, tap­ping brakes at a small black bill­board in white Futura italic DISTRACT US FROM WHAT WE KNOW as the voice rolled on, –heh, not run­ning or Pres­i­dent, you peo­ple can just for­get about that, although you know, if I did run, I would win, Highet mut­ter­ing, –don’t agree with every­thing he says but he makes some god damned good points, swerv­ing up the offramp where he jammed brakes to join two lanes merg­ing beneath a stand of aca­ci­as, rolling the win­dow shut despite his own stink against the yel­low blooms tossed in a warm and fra­grant breeze, again punch­ing A/C MAX, as the radio informed him, –Some­thing excit­ing is going on in Amer­i­ca’s bath­rooms, and he unzipped the gar­ment bag with one hand for the elec­tric razor hum­ming against his jaws as he joined the six lane thor­ough­fare and cut across two lanes of com­plex­ity to SOON YET where a black Infiniti pulled past him into the last free park­ing space, DISABLED PARKING ONLY, its dri­ving set­ting a blue and white plaque on the dash­board before slam­ming the door and walk­ing smartly away.

He found an unmarked space near the garbage dump­sters, checked his watch against the sav­ings and loan 10:32 84F 29C, and walked in the rich­ness of his own stink to Open Visa Mas­ter­card Push, paus­ing in the crowded foyer to flag down an impas­sive Chi­nese and press into his hand a folded bill, –Table for two in about ten min­utes, going on down a nar­row hall past a pot­ted ficus into the men’s room where a mir­ror set upon mauve and avo­cado tile showed him a face stunned and swollen. Push­ing open a stall he low­ered the toi­let lid and placed his folder and clean shirt on it, removed his jacket and slung it over the open door, not­ing a deep black stain on the lin­ing, and, turn­ing back to the mir­ror, see­ing its dupli­cate on his shirt pock­et. He stripped off the [pg177] shirt and the t-shirt with its own copy of the stain, the reek of his unwashed flesh ris­ing, and stuffed both shirts into the trash bin below the empty paper towel dis­penser, grab­bing from the stall a roll of thin gray toi­let paper, bang­ing the tap to release a flow of water that every few sec­onds pinched off until he banged again, wet­ting gray wads of paper in the spo­radic flow to scrub futilely at the stained flesh over his heart as he pumped the spigot of the soap dis­penser yield­ing noth­ing, then rubbed his wet hands over its scummed chrome sur­face as if peti­tion­ing a mir­a­cle, and with the thin lather thus coaxed laved his face, chest, under­arms, hold­ing the tap with one elbow while rins­ing with both hands. Toi­let paper pilled in his body hair as he scrubbed and pat­ted dry his arms, sides, and tor­so, its shreds float­ing in a basin of cloudy gray water. He shook open the folded shirt and pulled it on. The jacket smelled not too bad. He straight­ened its lapels and ran a wet hand through his thin­ning and awry hair, turn­ing away from the pools of water on the floor, the wads clog­ging the bas­in, the scraps on the mir­ror, to reen­ter the din­ing room where a young man in blue pin­stripe stood, scan­ning the room.

–Je­re­my! There you are, offer­ing a wet hand, –Par­don my, some slob messed up the men’s room, no tow­els left. Here’s our table, fol­low­ing the impas­sive Chi­nese to a cor­ner where at once a cart rolled up.

–Pull up a pew, Jere­my. He’ll have two of these and two of these.

–Ah, what’s

–These are duck’s feet, and this is parch­ment wrapped chick­en.

–Uh…

–You’ll love them. Now, I brought all the doc­u­ments I could find relat­ing to Trans­fi­nite Poly­go­nics. You’re right that Réti holds an inter­est, but it does­n’t amount to much, a few patents about to expire, noth­ing that ever came to mar­ket. Com­pa­ny’s been inac­tive for many years.

–Ah, may I? reach­ing for the fold­er. High­et’s hand remained on it.

–You know that Doc­tor Réti’s in the hos­pi­tal?

–I heard some­thing about it.

–I’m on my way to see him. Jere­my, I’m con­vinced that the pub­lic­ity of this thing brought on his stroke. He’s a gen­tle­man of the old school, he can’t stand pub­lic­i­ty. Any­thing you can do to keep this out [pg178] of the press…

–I assure you that I don’t talk to reporters, Rec­tor said cool­ly.

–I’m sure you don’t. Ever have duck’s feet?

–No, I… and while Rec­tor’s atten­tion was on the plates, Highet slid the folder across and removed his hand.

–You’ll see a cou­ple items in here that might be poor judge­ment, but noth­ing ille­gal, I think. It’s an inter­est­ing field, intel­lec­tual prop­er­ty. Did you know that in ’34 Szi­lard tried to 105?

–I’ll look at this lat­er, tuck­ing it under the Ohlone Val­ley Her­ald open on the table, where Highet read as Rec­tor watched him read, Lab Con­sul­tants Charged With Fraud, Audit Reveals Con­tract Abus­es, –You do have your share of trou­bles. I saw on the news last night

–You know, there’s lies, damn lies, and CNN. With these witch hunts going on, I can barely do my job. I’m think­ing of resign­ing. Réti’s stroke made me real­ize, life is too short. We never know. At any moment, and Highet snapped his fin­gers.

–Yes, well, I under­stand. Of course these new charges don’t bear on my inves­ti­ga­tion.

–I’m impressed by your thor­ough­ness, Jere­my. By the time this busi­ness is over you’ll know more about the Lab than I know myself. Have you ever thought about leav­ing civil ser­vice?

–Well, you know, the ben­e­fits, the secu­ri­ty…

–May I ask how much you make?

–Well…

–You should look at our job descrip­tions for man­age­ment ana­lysts. Salary starts at fifty k. Maybe more for some­body with your expe­ri­ence. We’re always look­ing. We could expe­dite it, get it done within the month.

–Re­al­ly? Of course the tim­ing, the appear­ance of improp

A momen­tary hish fell on the room, and then a short sharp shock rat­tled crock­ery, rip­pled water in glass­es, and set over­head lights sway­ing. In its wake was a sec­ond of silence, and then, out­side, car alarms ignited in peri­odic blasts of horn, sirens ramp­ing up and sweep­ing down, a buzzing and war­bling com­plex­ity on the edge of chaos, as con­ver­sa­tion ten­ta­tively resumed and phones were unfolded and some [pg179] patrons rose and went out into the lot as Jeremy Rec­tor closely exam­ined a duck’s foot, say­ing, –I’ll give your offer some thought.

–Try the parch­ment wrapped chick­en, no, unwrap it first…

The work goes on. The great work goes on.

III. Stewardship

One

[pg183]

Beneath the jet, as it dropped like a rap­tor in a thun­der of falling glis­sandi through low clouds, the line of the bridge divided bay­wa­ter scuffed by chop and the wakes of sail­boats near the far shore, where salt leach­ing ponds fit one into the next like puz­zle pieces of green­stone and jade and cinnabar slip­ping from sight as the jet closed on white­caps spray­ing a verge of crushed rock. Then the sud­den blur of run­way. The jet touched, bounced set­tled, reversed engines with a roar. Quine reached under the seat for his case. When he came up the win­dow framed a view of iden­ti­cal houses on the flanks of brown hills, dis­solv­ing the charm of dis­tance into the rude imme­di­acy of the mun­dane. The jet halt­ed. Eyes shut, Quine waited for the aisle to clear, then stood and reached his suit­case from the over­head. Stale air dis­persed as Cal­i­for­nia win­ter, only slightly cooler an mixed with exhaust, made its ten­ta­tive way in past and Sim­ply Books and News­Port into the open cav­ern of a men’s room, where Quine sur­prised in the mir­ror a pale and dis­tress­ful face hard to call his own yet unde­ni­ably famil­iar from some other place and time. He set both cases between his feet, held his hands under a tap, splashed his face, turned to an empty towel dis­penser.

–Pag­ing Amer­i­can pas­sen­ger? J? Pow­ers? Please report to the infor­ma­tion desk, where a slid­ing con­veyor dou­bled his walk­ing speed to Ground Trans­porta­tion → and through slid­ing glass doors to the round­about where Bay­Porter was cut­ting off Avis Shut­tle before ram­ming the back of Mount Extreme Vaca­tion Bible School. A white [pg184] sedan E108637 came for­ward with Conor lean­ing across the pas­sen­ger seat to open the door DEPARTMENT OF ENERGY OFFICIAL USE ONLY.

–Per­fect tim­ing, said Conor.

–Sorry to spoil your morn­ing. Quine handed in his larger case and Conor wres­tled it over the seat into the back as Quine sat and fum­bled for the belt.

–No prob­le­mo, jefe. I exist to serve.

A white­gloved police­man waved them around Bay­Porter and Mount Extreme where a short dark man in a tur­ban and beard ges­tured and argued with a stolid white man in a black suit and tie.

–You look tired.

–Got up at four to catch the flight.

–Sleep on the plane?

–Not real­ly.

–So how’d it go? Are we still open?

–For a while. ’s set­ting up a task force.

–What do you think that means?

–I really can’t say.

Conor’s hand moved to the radio for –when there is a clamor across the land, who turns a tin ear? My friends, lib­beruls may ask for equal time, but I, Tuck Eubanks, am equal time

–Conor, do we have to lis­ten to this, this idiot?

–Sor­ry, jefe. Just try­ing to get the traf­fic.

Quine half closed his eyes. Leav­ing the air­port they drove through a maze of con­struc­tion. Ramps ended in air. Cranes and gantries sur­rounded con­crete pylons crowed with rebar. Through his drowsi­ness the world came and went harm­less­ly. Fail­ure Analy­sis Asso­ci­ates, Informix, Hex­cel, Data Gen­er­al, Ver­sant. RAGS2AU. They sped up the approach to , named after that gospeller who recounted the para­ble of the tal­ents. A faint smell of burn­ing, remote and dry, as if some­thing beneath the sur­face of the world smol­dered.

Iner­tia woke him as the car turned. Past Codor­nic s EXIT NLY, the hills were green at last with the first win­ter rains, fresh growth vivid almost to ten­der­ness over the black­ened mem­ory of last sum­mer’s burns, cut by a sud­den lat­tice of steel beams and open floors, the shell [pg185] of an office build­ing gone up since last he’d looked, extend­ing the hege­mony of the for­mer out­liers AmeriSuites Effi­ciency Stu­dios Open­ing Soon and R G L C N M S M X. Then the Lab lay ahead of them like a city on the plain, some new Atlantis fenced by TRESPASSING LOITERING For­bid­den By Law Cal­i­for­nia Penal Code 602. They drove more slowly past the half mile of chain­link and razor­wire to the west gate. Conor slowed for the secu­rity check, slowed again for the inner check­point, and parked at Build­ing 101, dull under sun­light now hazed by high cloud and a wind out of nowhere that cut through Quine’s jacket as he opened the car door.

–By the way, your car’s in your space.

–Oh, you picked it up, thank you. Did they fix the CD play­er?

–No, they said you’d have to take it to the installer.

–But the last own­er… oh, never mind. Thanks for the ride. Lis­ten, can you… and a muf­fled boom from some­where beyond a chain­link fence CREDNE CONSTRUCTION jolted him, –can you stop by later and take a look at my com­put­er? It’s crash­ing a lot.

–Sure thing, jefe. Around six?

–I’m going to try to leave ear­ly. Call me around three.

As he went through the door he caught a glimpse of a fig­ure mov­ing deep in glass, car­ry­ing a case, his stride fast yet unbal­anced, as if he might at any moment veer in a new direc­tion. Not a calm cell in that body. That baf­fled fury in his stride. He went through the entrance­way in exag­ger­ated haste and pre­oc­cu­pa­tion, past a cou­ple of faces he knew and sev­eral he did­n’t. A poor photo of him appeared each month over the Direc­tor’s News col­umn in Cen­tury 21, but few of the Lab’s employ­ees, he hoped, paid enough atten­tion to spot him in the hall­ways. Still his guard was up until he reached the fifth floor and entered the outer office where an oro­tund voice declaimed, –these peo­ple are noth­ing but a bunch of pebiscites! and was cut off a moment ahead of his –Do­lores would you pl

–Calls from Paul Zal­man of aXon Com­put­er, Sen­a­tor Chase’s office, Lynn Ham­lin of CANT, and Frank Szabo. Orrin Gate will be a half hour later for his two o’clock. Jeremy Rec­tor wants an appoint­ment. Armand Stera­dian from PBS wants you to call him. And Doc­tor Réti wants to see you in his office. [pg186]

–What, is he here today? I thought he was in, in

–He’s back ear­ly.

–Well, I don’t have time today, Dolores. Tell him, is he here tomor­row?

–No, tomor­row and the next day he’s at NOUS. Then next week he’s in Wash­ing­ton.

–It’ll have to be after that. I’ll see Szabo at the meet­ing. Chase, that was his office?

–That’s right.

–Okay thanks, and get me Rec­tor’s per­son­nel file, will you? I’ll… leav­ing unspo­ken just what he intended as he passed to the inner office, drop­ping his suit­case on a bare expanse of car­pet between bare walls keep­ing their dis­tance from a nearly bare desk where he paused to open his case and draw from it a sheaf of papers and a yel­low legal pad, pages turned back. The suave startup chord of the com­puter ush­ered him into the bath­room where he stood for sev­eral sec­onds with eyes shut, hands on sink, breath­ing deeply. He turned a tap and let it run, rais­ing his eyes to a face not wholly unfa­mil­iar, but still sus­pi­cious and fear­ful of what it might fin there. Open­ing the mir­ror, he reached for Extract, shook out two cap­sules, filled a cup, swal­lowed, did the same with , then shut off the tap. Water stood in the basin inches deep and the drain gur­gled once.

At his desk he tapped a com­puter key, then opened his case, frown­ing at the papers there. From out­side came a din of con­struc­tion, a tat­too of warn­ing beeps, a wail like lamen­ta­tion. Quine turned to stare through polar­ized glass down on earth­movers, any one of which deployed the power of a pharaoh and all his slaves, roar­ing and lurch­ing with a pur­pose hard to dis­cern over pale rut­ted ter­rain, in the mid­dle of which the cab of a crane piv­oted slow­ly, its der­rick level with him, a chain reach­ing from its apex almost to the ground where a thick metal plate swung and rotated as the chain wailed. Work­ers waved the plate over an exca­va­tion in which lay cylin­dri­cal tanks sten­ciled COMPOSIT PLASTEEL CONTAINMENT DO NOT. One side of the plate came to rest against the ground and the wail­ing ceased. The work­ers stepped back and the plate dropped to earth with a boom Quine felt in his feet. He yanked a cord and blinds fell rat­tling, cut­ting [pg187] off his view of the pit, the crane, and the mauve and avo­cado facade of the new build­ing oppo­site, com­pleted but not yet occu­pied.

He lifted the phone, punched 0 0 0 1 #, then 1 2 3 4 #, for –You have, twelve, new mes­sages. He lis­tened through them with­out expres­sion, occa­sion­ally mak­ing a note on his pad, until reach­ing the cool of –Philip. It’s me. Wel­come back. Will I see you tonight? Call me.

Turn­ing to the com­puter he scanned his e-mail, the trace of a smile on his face giv­ing ground to trep­i­da­tion at

Date: Wed, 6 Jan 1994 14:51 -0800
To: quine@lu­cin­da.ban­l.­gov
From: sforza­@­nous.­com
Subject: Orrin Gate’s CRADA

Delay Gate’s CRADA. Orbiters pur­posed for some­thing other than tele­com. For­eign part­ners. Export con­trol vio­la­tion.

Highet

Still stand­ing, he paged through his address book, slow­ing rais­ing the hand­set to his ear only to hear voice already in con­verse, –so he says, trust but ver­i­fy, –oh, his wife’s hav­ing an affair, tap­ping the hook for another line and –llo? Who’s, tap­ping once more for –Do­lores? Are we hav­ing phone prob­lems again? Can you get me an out­side line?

–not sure of him­self

–won’t last long you can be sure

Slam­ming down the phone, face red­dened by some­thing he could barely name, he drew from his case another sheaf of papers, looked at them briefly, pushed them aside and lifted the phone again. He dialed and waited through two rings for –Nexus for Opti­mal Use of Sci­ence. How may I direct your call?

–Leo Highet please.

–May I say who’s call­ing?

–Philip Quine.

–One moment.

He looked at his watch. The wall clock. The papers before him. Staff meet­ing at noon. Make sure you know every­one’s name.

–Doc­tor Highet is not in his office. Would you like his voice­mail?

–No, and he tapped the hook for a new dial tone and touched [pg188] MEM 1, turn­ing to face the win­dow, his expres­sion grad­u­ally soft­en­ing as he waited through four rings.

–This is Lynn Ham­lin. I’m not at home right now, but if you’ll

He tapped MEM 2 and wait­ed. –You’ve reached the offices of Cit­i­zens Against Nuclear Tech­nol­o­gy. If you know your par­ty’s, punch­ing 303 for –Lynn Ham­lin. Is not in her office. Please

He replaced the hand­set and sat down, scan­ning the pages before him. Core com­pe­ten­cies of the Lab­o­ra­to­ry. Our mis­sion in a post-­Cold War. Exe­cute in accor­dance with best busi­ness prac­tices. . Suc­cess­ful inte­gra­tion of spir­it, mar­ket­place, and pol­i­tics. He paused now and then to mark some­thing with a high­lighter, star­ing past the inscrutable words, as if mean­ing resided lit­er­ally between the lines. He glanced at the com­put­er, and reached to swing the mouse, caus­ing the speaker to chime as the sail­ing cur­sor froze despite his jig­gling hand.

–Oh for, lift­ing the phone and press­ing 2666 for

–lo?

–Conor? Is that you? This is Philip from my office. Can you hear me?

–Conor I can’t hear you, there’s some­thing wrong

–’re ving a ltt roubl ith th pho

–Can you come up here?

–ca

–Conor? Can you

He dropped the phone into its cradle, glanced at his watch, an swept papers into his case, rush­ing out past –some­thing called cap­i­tal­ism which has as its divine right some­thing called sup­ply and demand, his stride down the hall fast yet unbal­anced, slow­ing at a cor­ri­dor to veer in a new direc­tion up to E-501 WET PAINT where the door was shut and the knob with all the equa­nim­ity of the inan­i­mate frus­trated all his tri­als, until he saw taped to the wall Staff Meet­ing In E-533 and went more quickly down the hall glanc­ing at his watch, turn­ing left at E-525 full tilt to a cor­ner where he slowed in con­fu­sion at a sil­ver sign E-530 → which he fol­lowed to another turn­ing, slowed [pg189] at E-550, turned again, and burst finally into E0533 where a waspish voice, –thought I’d leave it out, fell abruptly silent.

Ten of them at the long table. Deputy and asso­ciate direc­tors, group lead­ers, every one with more senior­ity than he had. Tak­ing it for granted that he would last a year at most. As he sat he gripped the table. On the under­side wood veneer gave way to some rough com­pos­ite of saw­dust and plas­tic. Frank Szabo sat beside him with a yel­low legal pad and a sty­ro­foam box.

–Sorry I’m, did­n’t know the other room was. How’s every­one?

–Morn­ing Phil, came Szabo’s waspish voice. –Good flight?

–Frank, would you mind very much call­ing me Philip… what’s that?

–This? Szechuan egg­plant. Want some?

–No, I just, yes ah David?

–It’s awfully cold in here. Is there some rea­son the air con­di­tion­ing’s on in the mid­dle of win­ter?

–Frank? Any idea?

Szabo shrugged. –I could call phys­i­cal plant.

–Would you please?

Again Szabo shrugged, took out a phone and unfolded it.

–Okay. I know you’re all curi­ous so I’ll get right to it. I met with the sec­re­tary. I met with unders and deputies and assis­tants. You remem­ber Reese , he was here through nine­ty-one, he’s now under for DP, defense pro­grams, so we have an advo­cate there. We talked about our mis­sion in a post cold wa

–Plant says they’re hav­ing a lit­tle trou­ble.

–Did they say whe

–No ETA.

–Thank you Frank. So I pre­sented all your con­cerns. I think I put across our ah core com­pe­ten­cies. I acknowl­edged that in light of some ah past prob­lems we need a bet­ter man­age­ment mod­el. I said we’re com­mit­ted to, to exe­cut­ing in accor­dance with best busi­ness prac­tices to serve DOE’s cus­tomers who are of course the Pres­i­dent and the Depart­ment of Defense.

–A cor­po­rate man­age­ment mod­el? You really think that works for us? [pg190]

–Arn, the sec­re­tary is set­ting up a com­mis­sion. They have a year to write a report on the future of all the gov­ern­ment labs. There are cor­po­rate peo­ple on the com­mis­sion. The sec­re­tary comes from that world. We have to act as if we’re lis­ten­ing.

–Are we?

–Yes we are, Bill. Because the alter­na­tive could be dis­as­trous. So our imme­di­ate mis­sion is, let me just… shift­ing papers on the table before him and try­ing to focus not on the words or their evaded impli­ca­tions but on the yel­low high­lighter marks, –“to assure the safety and reli­a­bil­ity of the nuclear weapons stock­pile in the absence of under­ground test­ing”.

–Ab­sence of test­ing?

–The upcom­ing series of fif­teen tests is can­celed.

–Canceled? And you went along with this, Phil?

–It was­n’t up for dis­cus­sion, Frank.

–But Phil, you’re sup­posed to look out for our inter­ests. You’re sup­posed to make it a dis­cus­sion.

–She’d already talked to the joint chiefs. They agreed the series was unnec­es­sary. The admin­is­tra­tion wants a . Talks start in Geneva this mon­th, and test­ing would jeop­ar­dize that.

–We employ three thou­sand peo­ple out at Aguas Secas.

–No­body wants to close the site. Sub­crit­i­cal tests are still on the menu, pend­ing the treaty.

–Give up test­ing, I do not believe this.

–Frank, we’re already not test­ing.

–When Leo was here

–Leo’s not here.

–No, he sure isn’t.

–You don’t under­stand the sit­u­a­tion. You should see the bills being intro­duced in Con­gress. Cut our work­force by one third. Close us down entire­ly. Elim­i­nate the Depart­ment of Ener­gy.

–All of that is such par­don me Phil bull­shit. Do the rest of you remem­ber the video DOE sent when was appoint­ed? What she said? “The most impor­tant chal­lenge fac­ing the Lab in the com­ing decade is diver­si­ty.” Ten thou­sand nukes loose in the for­mer Soviet [pg191] Union, pro­lif­er­a­tion in rogue states around the globe, decay­ing war­heads in our stock­pile, but first things first: hire more His­pan­ics.

–Well what do you expect she used to be a util­ity exec

–Okay, now look

–take any­thing she says seriou

–ever get a real sci­en­tist in that office

–canceled that test series just before Leo left, you know her rea­sons then? “I can’t explain this to my grand­moth­er.”

–Okay, look every­one, can we get back on tra

–guess now we’re in the elder care busi­ness

–All right! Let’s cut the, cut to the, I mean we’ve got a lot to do here.

–My point, Phil, is that our des­tiny is in our own hands, and these pro­pos­als from these out of touch jerkoffs don’t mean squat.

–I’m telling you what we have to work with. They under­stand the dif­fi­culty of doing this with­out test­ing.

–Do they under­stand the dif­fi­culty of cer­ti­fy­ing new designs with­out test­ing?

–There are to be no new designs.

–Well, blow me.

–That’s the offi­cial ah posi­tion, no new designs unless, let me see, supreme

–Oh, okay, you had me wor­ried for a minute.

–What do you mean?

–Supreme national inter­est means this state­ment is oper­a­tive until it’s not.106

–So frank, you’re say­ing that DOE is hold­ing open an option to design new weapons, and any asser­tion to the con­trary is just pub­lic infor­ma­tion.

–I thought you talked to Reese.

–He told me no new weapons.

–Not the same thing as no new designs. Okay, so we can’t test. What can we do?

–Any­thing sort of a chain reac­tion. Sub­crit­i­cal burns. Hydronu­clear tests. Hen­ry?

–There’s some debate whether those will be allowed under the [pg192] pro­posed treaty. Some coun­tries are insist­ing on a zero-yield def­i­n­i­tion. They say any­thing using nuclear mate­ri­als is a nuclear test.

–Well, that’s just fool­ish. No way we’re giv­ing up hydronu­clear.

–Frank, please… I think that’s a mat­ter for the treaty nego­tia­tors.

–The hell it is.

–Just what does that mean, “safety and reli­a­bil­ity”?

again his eyes sought high­lighter marks as he paged for­ward to, –“assur­ance that the pri­mary will achieve ninety per­cent of its design yield, and ah pre­dict with high cer­tainty the behav­ior of full weapons sys­tems in com­plex acci­dent sce­nar­ios.”

–And how are we sup­posed to assure and pre­dict if we can’t blow things up?

–That’s our job, Arn. Find a way. What’s on the table is some­thing called sci­ence-based stock­pile stew­ard­ship.

–As opposed to what, the­ol­o­gy-based stew­ard­ship?

–Frank…

–Phil, do these morons even know what the fuck they’re talk­ing about? When Leo was here

–All right, Frank, that’s really enough, we can do with­out the, the Leonid meteor show­er.

–Just try­ing to help us out here, Phil. Some­body should.

–The other approach as you all prob­a­bly know is engi­neer­ing base. Mean­ing, turned by a loud squeak from the sty­ro­foam box as Szabo sawed at its con­tents with a white plas­tic fork and knife.

–Low blood sug­ar. Go on, lis­ten­ing.

–I wish you’d

–Do you have to file an envi­ron­men­tal impact state­ment to eat lunch?

–Just do it qui­et­ly. Mean­ing we just reman­u­fac­ture decay­ing war­heads. So that’s an option. Dave?

–Well, we already do that. But we can’t keep doing it indef­i­nite­ly. Too much of this stuff is only in peo­ple’s heads. What we’ve got now is highly skilled physi­cists work­ing as librar­i­ans, just doc­u­ment­ing what they did years ago.

–This was­n’t doc­u­mented at the time? Bombs were built with­out plans? [pg193]

–No no, of course there are plans, but, but, you never worked directly in weapons, did you, Doc­tor Quine?

–J Sec­tion.

–Yes well, let me ah try to explain. You can dis­man­tle two devices of the exact same mark and rev but with dif­fer­ent ser­ial num­bers, and the insides dif­fer. I don’t mean the physics pack­age, although some­times you have dif­fer­ences there too, but just, you know, the glue, the hard­ware, there are thou­sands of parts and when a part becomes unavail­able you sub­sti­tute, so even if we had com­plete plans, some sub­con­trac­tors are gone, some parts or processes are unavail­able. The only way to do it, real­ly, is to have peo­ple around who know how to do it, not just tech­ni­cians who can fol­low plans.107 I mean, par­don me Bernd, I have the great­est respect for tech­ni­cians, but the design and con­struc­tion of these things is really very intri­cate indeed. And we do peri­od­i­cally upgrade a design, make a new rev, and that requires a good deal more than, than reman­u­fac­tur­ing skills.

–And any­thing, as Dave says, we do that already, reman­u­fac­tur­ing gets us noth­ing new.

–Yes okay so to main­tain core com­pe­ten­cies…

–Well, we have to keep peo­ple inter­est­ed. Attract new peo­ple. In other words, base it in sci­ence, not engi­neer­ing.

–Hen­ry?

–I agree, but our first pri­or­ity should be archiv­ing and knowl­edge cap­ture activ­i­ties.

–You mean talk to the old guys.

–Well yes Frank, exact­ly, our knowl­edge base is aging, we have to archive and cap­ture before all our design­ers retire.

–Talk about your elder care…

–But for the long term, on an ongo­ing basis, we need to attract a new gen­er­a­tion of ah stew­ards if we’re to ah main­tain core com­pe­ten­cy.

–Dave, in your opin­ion does “core com­pe­tency” include the abil­ity to design new weapons?

–Well, of course if you’ve truly got the abil­ity to at stew­ard in the full sense that would include that abil­i­ty, yes.

–How does that square with the depart­men­t’s pub­lic infor­ma­tion?

–Well, hav­ing the abil­ity does­n’t nec­es­sar­ily mean using it. I per­son­ally [pg194] sep­a­rate the act of design­ing a new weapon from phys­i­cally build­ing it. I advo­cate main­tain­ing the capa­bil­ity to design by exer­cis­ing it, not by cut­ting new met­al.

–Yes Frank?

–How the hell do we attract good peo­ple if all we have is main­te­nance and cleanup? Want­ed, nuclear jan­i­tors, I don’t think so.

–Well, that’s where comes in, said Ware, spread­ing his hands.

–Avalon will attract new tal­ent?

–The most pow­er­ful laser in the world? Oh, I think so. That’s a draw.

Szabo’s plas­tic knife squeaked against the sty­ro­foam. Held aloft on his fork was a limp spear of egg­plant. –So this is the deal? We give up test­ing and we get Aval­on?

–Not in so many words, but that seems to be what’s on the table, said Quine.

–But they’re com­mit­ted to Avalon any­way, aren’t they?I mean key deci­sion zero went through…

Quine looked again for high­light­ing. –“Approval of Mis­sion Need”, yes, but key deci­sion one is the impor­tant step. That approves the base­line bud­get and the site.

–You know, this thing is going to get built one way or anoth­er. Since the SSC was can­celed, DOE needs a long term big ticket project to keep their bud­get up and we deserve to have it.

–The SS, I’m sor­ry, Bill, I’m not up on

–The ? The sci­en­tists thought they could find the , the man­agers thought they could write off Texas style par­ties. They got defunded after dig­ging a two bil­lion dol­lar ditch out­side Austin.

–Doc­tor Quine, I agree with Bill. You may not real­ize it, but we’ve pushed for Avalon for years now. The par­tic­i­pat­ing ICF labs signed on last year.

ICF, that’s iner­tial con­fine­ment fusion, Phil.

–Thanks very much, Frank, I know what it is.

–Bill, you laser guys have wanted Avalon for years, but why should I care? What does the weapons side get out of this? [pg185]

–You get to go on liv­ing, Frank.

–Oh, that’s cold, Bill.

–Come on Frank, remem­ber what Leo used to say, always think dual use. You get high energy den­si­ties, radi­a­tion flow, hydro­dy­nam­ics, equa­tion of state, opac­i­ty, and even some­thing that should inter­est you Doc­tor Quine, x-ray las

–Lis­ten you know, I’d like to stop using that phrase, dual use. How about ben­e­fit? Can we start say­ing dual ben­e­fit?

–Je­sus, Phil, if it’s such a prob­lem for you, we can call it duel­ing ban­jos.

–Any­way my point is, Frank, this machine is great for weapons sci­ence.

–Ex­cept that if we sign on, test­ing’s gone for good.

–Frank, have you been lis­ten­ing? Test­ing’s gone any­way.

–It’s a huge mis­take to accept that. We can out­last this admin­is­tra­tion. We should hold our ground.

–We heard you Frank, said Quine.

Szabo turned his atten­tion to Szechuan egg­plant, white plas­tic knife squeak­ing.

–All right then. The sec­re­tary wants a full con­cep­tual design report. If you’ll look at these sheets, as the room’s sta­sis was bro­ken by the creak of chairs, rus­tle of papers being passed, of bod­ies lean­ing for­ward.

–Je­sus.

–All this by May?

–That’s the time frame. Let’s look at, at what else do we need for this pro­gram. Mar­shall?

–Com­puter sim­u­la­tions. A sort of numer­i­cal test site.

–Sim­u­la­tions never cap­ture all the details you need. This is how we got into so much trou­ble with Super­bright, if you’ll recall.

–Not the same thing, you were try­ing to model some­thing that did­n’t exist yet, but we’ve got data from actual shots to test our mod­els against. Over a thou­sand tests, going back forty years. If we can’t shoot off new stuff we can look at the old tests again. Archive and rein­ter­pret.

–Are we call­ing this sci­ence? Sift­ing through our archives? [pg196]

–Frank…

–Also faster com­put­ers. I mean much faster. I meant . If not petaflops. The great dome of Mar­shall ’s inclined to a pad. –We’re talk­ing at least a three times ten to the sev­enth prob­lem with some por­tions run­ning for more than ten to the fifth cycles. Even with opti­miza­tion, sim­u­la­tions will require say hun­dred ter­aflop com­put­ing speeds and tens of ter­abytes of mem­o­ry. We’re look­ing at arbi­trary Lagrangian-Eu­ler­ian and . We’re look­ing at end-­to-end first-prin­ci­ples sim­u­la­tion capa­bil­i­ties based on high res­o­lu­tion adap­tive numer­i­cal meth­ods. We’re look­ing at mas­sively par­al­lel archi­tec­tures. Ful­l-sys­tem ful­l-­physics 3-D sim­u­la­tions val­i­dated using AGEX [above-­ground-­ex­per­i­men­ta­tion] facil­i­ties and past under­ground test data. We’re talk­ing scal­a­bil­i­ty. Fig­ure we’ll need to increase every­thing by a fac­tor of ten by the time we’re done. The bald head came up and the gleam in Mos­fet’s eye seemed to fol­low ter­aflops and petaflops up into some cyber­netic empyre­an. –We’ve been talk­ing to aXon about pro­to­typ­ing. They already sup­ply work­sta­tions to the physics groups.

–Still with us, Phil?

–Sure I, just a lit­tle jet lagged. So is this all pos­si­ble.

–Just give us the fund­ing… the fund­ing which, as the politi­cian once remarked about a few bil­lion here and a few bil­lion there, started to look, with the addi­tion of each new ball­park fig­ure on the white­board, like real mon­ey, a real­ity it gen­er­ously extended on credit to the stil­l-prospec­tive pro­gram names along­side the fig­ures: Avalon Laser Facil­ity $1.1B, DARHT $120M, ADAPT Advanced Pro­duc­tion and Design Tech­nol­ogy Pro­gram, ASCI $122M, APPF Atlas Pulsed Power Facil­ity $43M, AHF Advanced Hydrotest Facil­ity $422M, MESA Microsys­tems Engi­neer­ing and Sci­ences Appli­ca­tion $400M, HEAF High­-­Ex­plo­sives Appli­ca­tions Facil­ity $45M, FXR Flash X-Ray lin­ear induc­tion accel­er­a­tor $85M, CFF Con­tained Fir­ing Facil­ity $48M, ARS Advanced Radi­a­tion Source $240M, ECF Explo­sive Com­po­nents Facil­ity $28M, BEEF Big Explo­sives Exper­i­men­tal Facil­ity, all with –goals and mile­stones, start draw­ing them up, sti­fling a yawn. –Okay? Any­thing else? Are we done? Yes Arn? [pg197]

–We’re rush­ing to get the sen­sors ready for the Perse­phone shot.

–Shot? There are no tests…

–Moon shot, Phil. A joint NASA-DoD pro­ject. We’re sup­ply­ing the instru­men­ta­tion and guid­ance.108

–Oh, that. I just had­n’t heard the, the name.

–It’s on the cover of this mon­th’s Cen­tury 21, Phil. Some­body wrote a Direc­tor’s News col­umn about it under your name.

–Yes all right, I know the pro­ject, I just don’t have time to, to keep up with all the cute names.

–Your ah col­umn has it enter­ing lunar orbit in early Feb­ru­ary. It’ll actu­ally be March.

–Four weeks from launch to lunar orbit? Why so long?

–It’ll be in earth orbit for a while.

–Do­ing what?

–I ah, I don’t think every­one here needs to know that. Also, there’s an added leg after the moon, a ren­dezvous with a near-earth aster­oid…

–And?

–Just want you to be clear on the entire mis­sion.

–Okay, now are we…? when a sud­den damp­ness on his thigh drew his eyes down to a dark stain spread­ing from a drip off the edge of the table where black tamari [soy sauce] had pooled under Szabo’s sty­ro­foam.

–Frank…

Szabo fol­lowed Quine’s gaze, and the prac­ticed annoy­ance on his fea­tures flick­ered into gen­uine cha­grin for a moment before he pushed the box aside and stabbed at the pool with a nap­kin. –God, I’m sorry Philip. I must have cut through the, I’m ter­ri­bly sor­ry, I’ll pay for the clean­ing…

–It’s okay, Frank. Look, why don’t we call it a, yes Glenn?

–We do have one lit­tle prob­lem I’d like to bring up. This ah crack­pot group, CANT, they’re suing us. They claim we did­n’t list new con­struc­tion on an EIS and that we’re hid­ing waste dis­posal infor­ma­tion related to the site.

Quine looked guard­edly around the room, where only blank masks looked back.

–Yes Glenn, I think I know what that’s about. Coun­sel’s already on it. Bring what you have to my office. Oh, ah, while I’ve got you all, [pg198] is any­one else hav­ing trou­ble with their phones?

–Phone fax eth­er­net you name it, they’re pulling new cable, sup­posed to give us T3 lines in every office but mean­while it’s a mess, I’m get­ting other peo­ple’s voice­mail and I don’t know what.

–Frank?

Szabo looked up from fold­ing the soiled nap­kin to say, –Afraid there’s no help­ing it, we’re upgrad­ing all the lines because of the net­work inte­gra­tion, secure wide band­width fiber optics, bound to be some grow­ing pains.

–Okay, are we, are we done? See you all la… while at the back of the room behind the ris­ing fig­ures a door opened as Quine glanced up to see –Den­nis, is that you? I thought you were on leave.

–En­tre­pre­neur­ial leave of absence, yes, but see I’m work­ing on some­thing, and I wanted to show y

–Den­nis, this meet­ing is for sec­tion heads onl

–I know, that’s why I thought you should all have a look at this, see I was vis­it­ing CERN in Geneva where this guy came up with some really neat stu

–Look Den­nis, we’re fin

–sort of plus pic­tures, call it the

–Aren’t they doing this at SLAC? Con­vert­ing their high­-en­ergy physics data­base. Wee­nies.

–Well see I thought we might want to get involved at some lev­el, I brought my lap­top so I could show any­one who

–I’ll have a look, Den­nis, said Szabo. –Let these other mach­ers get on with their day, as some drifted out into the hall, mut­ter­ing, –go­ing to get crit­i­cism that Avalon has weapons appli­ca­tions, –well of course it has weapons appli­ca­tions, who are we, ? –good thing it’s a con­struc­tion pro­ject, always good for the local econ­o­my, prob­a­bly get the sup­port of the Her­ald, –geez, we always get the Her­ald, edi­tor’s son works here for Chr, –ex­cept when he’s been talk­ing to that CANT group and he for­gets which side his

–Is that a 109?

–Okay you all, I’m

–Just so we don’t waste a lot of time here, Den­nis, believe it or not we’ve heard of the World Wide Web. [pg199]

–Oh, good, so you see the com­mer­cial poten­tial.

–Com­mer­cial…?

–This is called a brows

–That’s .

–Oh you know about it.

.

–Right, National Cen­ter for Super­com­put­ing, this guy there showed it to me, see you can, as FILE NOT FOUND appeared, –oops, let me just, as the screen filled very slow­ly, top to bot­tom, one line at a time, with a pro­file of car­rot red hair, a young wom­an’s arched brow and sul­try eye.

–See they’re let­ting Andreessen take the code and turn it into a com­mer­cial pro­duct, he’s look­ing for investo

–How many megs RAM you got?

–Why the hell would any­body want to sit around wait­ing for pic­tures over some crappy twen­ty-­four hun­dred

–De­pends on the pic­ture does­n’t it, as the young wom­an’s snub nose fell fetch­ingly to a sug­ges­tion of rosy pursed lips just begin­ning to appear.

–Nine­ty-six hun­dred is here, four­teen four is just around the cor­ner and even­tu­ally

–even­tu­ally we’ll all

–com­mer­cial? I don’t think

–But see if you could browse a cat­a­log and just click on items you want to buy

–And this would be for who, peo­ple who find too chal­leng­ing?

–What’s she suck­ing on?

–Ah, these are some graph­ics files from a Lab machine, the sparta node

–Je­sus Christ, that’s gotta be nine inches long.

Kihara’s face flushed as he stabbed at ESC, –Um, let me just, sys­tem’s a lit­tle slow respond­ing, let’s go to another

–thought we purged those files months ago

–Got to hand it to you Den­nis, you give good demo.

–Okay, every­one, I’m go [pg200]

–What’s this now?

–Wow, right between the

–This one from our dig­i­tal mam­mog­ra­phy pro­gram?

–Sorry sor­ry, I don’t know where these came from but any­way you get the ide

–Hey Den­nis can I try? In a moment the screen blanked to col­lec­tive groans while below the win­dow­bar ANDREW’S OFFICE110 a vacant room slowly accret­ed, flu­o­res­cent lights, file cab­i­net, wall posters, com­put­er, chair. –This is live from my friend’s office at CERN, he’s got a hooked up to his com­put­er, updates the image every two min­utes. Is this cool or what?

–Okay every

–Wait, slows­can… Kihara poked at with a sty­lus the size of golf pen­cil. –What’s his URL?

–ev­ery­one, I’m going. See you… as no head turned to fol­low Quine out the door and into the hall­way where the mach­ers had dis­persed leav­ing the way to his office clear except for –Bran! Have you got a min­ute? Walk with me, and Nolan, hag­gard, fell in step. Past the open door­ways where count­less man­agers sat bemused by their com­put­ers111 and past a con­fer­ence room where a point made too emphat­i­cally sent a dry marker skat­ing out across the hall­way.

–Philip. Check your e-mail today? Our sis­ter lab in New Mex­ico [Los Alamos National Lab (LANL)] is offer­ing five hun­dred dol­lars each for the inter­nal organs of work­ers like our­selves. After one’s demise, of course. The tis­sue analy­sis group stud­ies them for radi­a­tion effects. They have quite a col­lec­tion. Some of bones, relics wor­thy of pil­grim­age. No pre­mium for man­age­ment organs, I’m afraid. Have you heard the one about the dean’s brain?

–Bran, is it com­mon knowl­edge that you’re ghost­ing the Direc­tor’s News col­umn for me?

–If any­one thinks about it at all I think it’s nat­u­rally assumed that you have more impor­tant things to do.

–Sz­abo nee­dled me about it.

–Sz­abo nee­dles every­one. How was the meet­ing?

–Well, apart from Szabo inter­rup

–No, I mean Wash­ing­ton. [pg201]

–Wash­ing­ton? Oh. We met in the SCIF, you know what that is?

, we’ve got one. Base­ment room with no win­dows, EM shield­ing in the walls. And what did you come up with down in the bunker? If I may ask?

–Science-based stock­pile stew­ard­ship.

–Dif­fi­cile est non satirum scribere.112

–What…?

–Who came up with that lovely word stew­ard­ship?

–The sec­re­tary. I think she got it from some man­age­ment con­sul­tant.

–What hap­pened to your pants leg?

–What? Oh, it’s just a, a spill, I should… but his intent went unstated as they came into range of an oro­tund voice raised in rap­tur­ous self­-ap­praisals, –Pres­i­dent Eubanks, it just has a nice allit­er­a­tion to it does­n’t it? and –Do­lores? Please… as the voice faded com­pletely behind the clos­ing door.

–Guy’s run­ning for Con­gress, did you know that?

–What guy?

–On the radio.

–Quine came out of the bath­room dab­bing at his pants with a hand towel dis­col­ored by tamari. –Glenn Boni­face brought up some­thing we need to look at, law­suit from CANT, some­thing about an EIS?

–How much do you know about that?

–Noth­ing, real­ly. We should go over it but I don’t have time now. Tomor­row?

–I’ll check with Dolores.

–Thanks Bran, as the phone rang, –Yes? Already? Okay, just a min, cov­er­ing the mouth­piece, –See you tomor­row, to Nolan’s nod and exit, passed on his way out by a clean­cut younger man on his way in, suit coiffed and to a stan­dard some­what higher than the lab mean as Quine came around the desk towel still in his hand.

–Or­rin Gate.

–Right, pleased to, excuse me, my hand’s wet, let me

–I’m very glad to meet you, Doc­tor Quine.

–just get some things togeth­er, open­ing then shut­ting his case, open­ing then shut­ting one drawer and anoth­er, –here, sorry about [pg202] this, just back from Wash­ing­ton, a lit­tle dis­or­ga­nized…

–Take your time. Did you get the phone I sent? The account is acti­vat­ed, just go ahead and use it.

–Yes well, it’s not some­thing I really need.

–You’ll come to rely on it. I promise you, five years from now every­one will have one. Moms, dads, kids, one in every car.

–You’re inter­ested in our orbiters, said Quine.

–Our satel­lites need a low earth orbit for min­i­mum latency time. We’re think­ing of a con­stel­la­tion of a few hun­dred, though that may change.

–The prob­lem here is that this CRADA basi­cally asks for access to sub­sys­tems of our Sling­shot antimis­sile inter­cep­tors, which is a clas­si­fied pro­ject.

–Doc­tor Highet assured me that it fell under dual use. You can put in place any fire­walls you need to.

–We’re call­ing it dual ben­e­fit now. The Sling­shot thrusters, why are those of inter­est?

–Low earth orbits tend to decay quick­ly. My under­stand­ing is that these thrusters per­mit sta­ble orbits for a longer time frame.

–Can I ask what this means, in ah Appen­dix A, the State­ment of Work, “to estab­lish the opti­mal topolo­gies of a recon­fig­urable con­stel­la­tion of low earth orbit satel­lites under a vari­ety of con­di­tions”

–Be­cause of latency and band­width issues we may need to fine tune the con­stel­la­tion once it’s in place. You see

–You want to put satel­lites in orbit and then move them around? I’ve never heard of that.

–It gives us flex­i­bil­ity our com­peti­tors lack.

–And these are civil­ian comm sats.

–Civil­ian, mil­i­tary, pos­si­bly both.

–You don’t know?

–At this point in time, we’re not sure what our con­tent will look like. A con­stel­la­tion of satel­lites might have to be recon­fig­ured quickly to take advan­tage of rapidly chang­ing mar­kets. We need to main­tain flu­ence and mod­u­lar­i­ty. We need to han­dle mul­ti­ple chan­nel rates, pro­to­cols, and ser­vice pri­or­i­ties and to sup­port a wide range of appli­ca­tions includ­ing the Inter­net, intranets, mul­ti­me­dia com­mu­ni­ca­tion, [pg203] LAN inter­con­nect, colo­ca­tion, wire­less back­haul, et cetera. Many of the appli­ca­tions and pro­to­cols we’ll serve in the future haven’t been con­ceived yet.

–Well in that case how can you, I mean, that’s not the busi­ness plan I read.

–Well, no, what you have must be half a year old. And I must say, this slow­ness is dis­cour­ag­ing and cost­ly.

–Yes well, I have to run this by the book.

–At other labs, I under­stand, NASA labs for instance, direc­tors can approve CRADAs direct­ly.

–Yes, that’s true of the GOGO113 labs but we’re a GO