BATS IN THE BELFRY, BY DESIGN

 

   COPYRIGHT, 1995, by Dude “RocketSlinger” B. Bad

 


Copyright 1995, ISBN 0-9644835-0-5

 by Dude “RocketSlinger” B. Bad

(Above is the ISBN of the original hardcopy edition; this soft copy has no ISBN)

Cover design by Ken Michaelsen, McCloud, CA., 96057

 

 

     Dedicated to my wife, Mary, and our son, Byron, and to the hope that Byron’s world will be a sane one.

 

 

 

     Acknowledgments: To all those who have offered their criticisms,proofreadings, thoughts, etc.  Specifically, I would like to credit my parents, who gave me a solid upbringing and moral foundation, even though I may have done a bit smorgasbording there.  Also, the following people have contributed, and/or significantly influenced my thoughts, in no particular order: Mary (Somebody Very Special, AKA Pongie Pomp), Brian Roach, Jim LeSage, Don Henderson, Byron Mohney, Chuck Terra, Roger Castro, William Brown, John Fremont, Marla Greenway, Tom Newman, Alan Dove, Lee Crum, Brian Nickels, Charles Trumbly, Mary Dove, and Beth Allwein.

 


CHAPTER 1

 

     The President paced around the oval office, debating and thinking. OK, so, they’re gonna dump on me.  Sure, I’m the President, but, big deal.  They’ll act all pseudo-respectful-like, but they plan to dump on me just the same.  They hinted pretty strongly that they’d not be too happy about it if I had a flunky or two here to back me up.  “Strictly confidential,” they’d said.  Translation: no stacking the deck to reinforce yourself.  They planned to confront her, and wouldn’t take kindly to the idea that she’d support herself with yes-persons.  To top it all off, they’d even hinted that they’d resign and raise a ruckus if she didn’t pay some serious attention to them.

     Sometimes it seemed to President Anne Jacobs that she was nothing but a glorified scapegoat.  The economy goes to shit, and it’s all the President’s fault, as if she could run around and do everyone’s job for them, turning out billions in goods and services.  Foreign affairs, the environment, crime, overpopulation, you name it—she was apparently expected to soothe every hot-headed dictator, clean up every oil spill, patrol every street, and put condoms on the pricks of a few billion He-Men.  That, or, even harder still, make them keep ‘em in their pants.  What a job!

     Well, if she couldn’t populate the oval office with yes-persons, for fear of certain people getting pissed and squawking to the media, at least she could make them wait a few minutes.  She paced and thought some more, then settled down behind her desk.  She punched the button on the intercom, and told her secretary to let them in.

     The three of them filed into the room as if they were taking part in some solemn, ancient ritual.  Paul Emmerich, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Vince Marlin of the NSA (National Security Agency), and Solomon Bachmeyer of the CIA, all dutifully took the seats she offered them.  After the bare minimum of pleasantries, they got right down to business.

     “Ma’am, with all due respect,” the Chairman started in, “We’re very, very concerned about the state of American defenses these days. You know we can barely afford to sign up any half-competent servicepersons these days, what with the dismal state of education and the high demand for the few skilled workers that we do have, in the civilian sector.  That, and just the plain, stark fact that the welfare state makes it almost as profitable to not work, as it is to work in some hot, crowded tank or ship, and...”

     “Yes, I know that, General.  We’ve been over this before. The deficit is about to eat us for lunch, though.  We can’t spend any more, for service pay or for anything else.  Yes, yes, we should stop spending so much on the welfare state.  I’m trying.  But, we can’t just suddenly stop.  Too much economic dislocation.  Some of these people not only don’t know how to work; their ancestors didn’t and don’t know how to work, back four and five generations.  We can’t take these people and just put ‘em in business suits, and expect them to earn a living.  Nor can we throw ‘em on the streets.  Too much suffering.” And too many lost votes, she added to herself.  Wouldn’t want the Democrats to accuse us of not being “compassionate”.

     They just sat there for a few seconds, seemingly to gather the courage to confront her.  So, what particular flavor of miracle do these guys want from me, anyway?, she wondered.  And, can I appease them with a token billion or two, for some favorite project of theirs?  If that’s what they’re after, how do I squeeze yet more money that we don’t have, out of Congress?  Or, are they just like so many other yahoos I have to put up with every day, just wanting to harangue me with their political opinions?  Don’t they know I have enough politics to worry about, without them adding yet more?  Maybe I should just be honest with them.  “Look, like I said, I’m trying.  But, the stark truth of the matter is, if I cut into the welfare state too deeply, I’ll be out, there’ll be a Democrat sitting here, and the problems you’re bitching about will be that much worse.  I’ve heard what you’re saying, I agree with you, but there’s just so much I can do.  Now, why don’t you guys go worry about the national defense and security, and I’ll take care of politics.”

     “That’s exactly the problem we’re having with your administration,” General Emmerich boldly asserted.  “You try to divorce interrelated issues.  You try to fix one thing, and break another.  We can’t fix the nation’s defenses, without fixing the politics.”

     She must have looked offended, because the General hurried on to smooth her ruffled feathers at least a little.  “Not that this is a new problem.  For decades now, we’ve tried to fix poverty by throwing money at poor people, and we’ve just ended up amassing a huge deficit and subsidizing illegitimacy, which in turn leads to crime and economic deterioration.  We fend off the Soviets in the cold war, and we trash the environment in so doing.  We try to fix the environment, and we end up taking away people’s property rights, and making environmental lawyers very rich, and companies very poor, in so doing.  We don’t want another ‘solution’ here that makes the problem, or some other problem, worse.  The nation’s security depends on a lot other than just soldiers and weapons.  We want a real fix, not just some band-aids.”

     The President just leaned back in her chair, saying, “Granted.  I still don’t see a way that I can undo a half-century or more of welfarism, just ‘cause there’s not enough grunts to man all the tanks.  We’re not even at war.  The voters won’t put up with it.  A few starving babies, a little bit of media coverage, and loud moans from the Democrats, stoking up the resentments between the few rich and the many poor voters, and we’ll be back where we started.  Do you really, honestly see any other choices?”

     The General came back with, “There are some other countries out there, though, who’d love nothing more than to push us over, what with our underfunded, understaffed military.  In a heartbeat.  I don’t think I’m being melodramatic.  Our borders are less and less secure against a tide of third-worlders every day.  Where’d our welfare recipients be then?  Them, and all the rest of us?

     “I don’t think that’s totally out of the question.  We, here in the industrialized world, where each set of parents has only two kids or so, aren’t willing to see our very limited progeny become cannon fodder.  Or, at least, those of us who raise kids fit to contribute much of value to the military.  We raise a huge stink at the prospect of losing a few hundred, let alone thousands, of American soldiers.

     “Other nations are starting to catch on to that.  Other nations, where babies are more plentiful, and life is cheaper.  And countries like China, where they’re actually controlling population growth, but all the protests of all the citizens mean nothing against an iron-fisted dictator.  These countries are all starving for space and resources.  The Germans called it ‘Lebensraum’, way back when, in World War II, when they tried to reach for their day in the sun.  Third world countries wouldn’t mind a bit, if they could steal a slice of goodies from us.  Resentments among these peoples are rising.  Can’t say that I blame them.  Millions of them would love to come here and work their fingers to the bone, for a fraction of what our welfare recipients get for sitting on their duffs.  But, no, they deserve nothing while we deserve everything, ‘cause they weren’t born in the right place.

     “Half of our troops, it seems, are tied up most of the time playing global social-welfare agency for the UN, or patrolling public housing in our inner cities.  It’s not a job many young people are attracted to any more.  I just don’t see how democracy and a strong defense can survive for much longer under these conditions.  A democratic and free system works only for a disciplined, responsible, educated population.

     “What I’m saying is, we’re facing real dangers, and we should take them seriously.  Nor can our former lead in technology be of much assistance.  I’ve already mentioned the sad state of affairs, as far as education and skill levels go.  Solomon can fill you in on some other troublesome developments.”

     Solomon got into the act with, “We’ve spent a lot of time, money, and brainpower trying to divine the future.  It doesn’t look good.  Our old lead in defense technology is slipping away rapidly.  Nukes, and even conventional airpower, will become largely obsolete, as radars, computers, and lasers become more and more capable of working together and shooting down just about anything.  Our intelligence indicates that many countries, even large third-world countries with millions of starving people, are still finding enough money and sleazy arms-dealing nations and corporations to stay right up with us, technology-wise.

     “That, and, in general, tensions are rising, world-wide.  Where we were so optimistic in the early nineties—the cold war was over, democracy and capitalism were on the march–tribalism, Islamic extremism, and squabbling over scarce resources are now the order of the day.  Starvation and disease, as you know, runs rampant.  Soil, range lands, fish stocks, and forests continue to vanish.  Over-populated nations fall into anarchy as their peoples fight over what little there is to go around.  Even China, which did get a grip on its population growth at the expense of human rights, is back-sliding and cracking down big-time, as all the peasants protest having been left out of the recent Chinese economic boom.”

     “So, what do you suggest that I do about it, beyond trying to divert funds from human needs and services, to war-making?,” Anne wanted to know.  “And how do I justify it to the American people?”

     General Emmerich leaned over just a bit, and lowered his voice. “Maybe we don’t need to justify it to the American people.  Maybe not even to Congress.  Black bucks, you know.  Covert funds.”

     “What exactly is it that you want funded?,” the President inquired, glancing at each of them in turn.

     General Emmerich slumped back a bit.  “Well, we can’t say, exactly. We just need research funds, so that we can at least start to get a handle on the possibilities.”

     Vince Marlin finally joined the fray.  “Ideally, what we’d want would be some almost supernatural method or entity that would float around and gather data, undetected.  Then, after gathering intelligence on who’s got the methods and motivations to screw things up, we’d just... punch their tickets, so to speak.  Again, undetected, remotely, with no risk to American troops.  The better our intelligence, the fewer tickets we’d have to punch.  In a pinch, though, it would be nice to punch tickets by the hundreds of thousands, or millions, even, such as in the case of fanatical hordes of Islamic third-worlders bent on terrorism or over-running us for ‘Lebensraum’, as the General would put it.”

     Anne looked a bit shocked.  “You’re talking genocide, it seems to me.”

     “When it’s them or us, I vote us,” Vince replied.  “Look at the long-term future of the human race.  Hordes of protein-starved fanatical third-worlders¾you know how protein deprivation stunts brain development¾are far less likely to be able to sustain and develop the technology to preserve the human race and take us to new planets, even¾than we are, any day.  We’ve got to protect and preserve what we’ve got, and give progress a chance.  If we just stay on this planet, and back-slide, like so many other countries, we’ll never make it.  For that matter, if technological civilization breaks down, as it would without a robust industrialized ‘first world’ if you will, then billions of people will starve.  If technology slips back to the sixteenth century or so, we’ll see starvation to eclipse even what we’re seeing today, by far.

     “The bottom line is this: we’ve got to be able to strike back, and with more than resolutions at the UN.  We need to work on some new technology or technologies, to give us some ‘bang for the buck’ again.  A secret ace in the hole, as insurance against hungry hordes over-running our borders.”

     Anne and the three men went round and round some more, but in the end she agreed that they’d have to cough up the scarce bucks to begin some research.  Just exactly what, wasn’t clear yet, but they’d find something.  The long-term future of the human race¾nothing less¾was at stake.

 


 

 

CHAPTER 2

 

     The idea first occurred to Phil Schrock one ordinary domestic Saturday as he and his live-in girlfriend, Gloria Harris, were getting things done around their house in Atlanta.  Theirs was a very committed relationship, or at least, very committed by modern American standards, as such things go.  But, seeing as how they were both filthy rich in the eyes of the taxman (he was a bio-engineering research scientist and she a heart surgeon), and their tax “marriage penalty” would have been thousands of dollars, they had made the practical decision not to get married, at least until such time as they might want to have kids.

     Despite the government’s lip service to “family values,” working couples were still punished for getting married.  Phil and Gloria even kept two separate mailboxes for their suburban house, maintaining a fiction of “apartment A” and “apartment B,” to help prevent them from being busted for being married under common law, and not paying the marriage penalty.  Phil sometimes suggested that one of them should get a sex-change operation; if they were gay, they’d be forbidden from paying the marriage penalty!

     Phil was dragging in all the loot that they’d accumulated during the day’s shopping, and Gloria was putting away the perishables.  Phil hoisted the last and heaviest items, cat food and litter bags, onto his shoulders, grunted, and waddled through the house to the laundry room, where they kept their pet food and litter box . He didn’t look comfortable; the hot Georgia summer sun had exacted a toll on him in the short stretch between the van’s air conditioning and that of the house. But, there was more to his discomfort: right after hastily dumping off the bags, he waddled off to the bathroom, and shortly thereafter was making sighs of relief.

     “Hey, Ummel, come in here and spank this thing!” He called her this, one of his favorite sweet-talk names, mostly because she thought it was funny, but also sometimes to irritate her.  Phil was the kind of person who loved to razz others, but usually knew the limits.

     “Spank it?”

     “Yeah!”

     “Spank what?”

     “This ten-pound turd I’m giving birth to!”

     “You’re disgusting!”

     “But, snoogle-bunch!  Don’t you realize, this is a much more important matter to us men than you women¾it stimulates our prostate gland, which is a pleasure you know nothing of.”

     “Right.  In compensation, we have the pleasure of giving birth. And I don’t mean, to anything as puny as what you just birthed.”

     “Puny! Hurt my manly self-image, would you!”

     She just gave him one of those looks. He ignored her, and went on. “Ah-ha!  Trivia time!  I have for you, pootie woogie, yet another piece of trivia from my vast storehouse of useless information, that I’ll bet I never told you.  Do you know anything about Eskimo diets before the White man came to the Far North?”

     “No, not really¾why do I get the uneasy feeling I’m about to be educated?”

     “Well, you accused me of being disgusting, and I hate to be falsely accused without the benefits of being guilty, so here goes.

     “Imagine going through an entire winter in the arctic, with no plant fiber in your diet at all, eating only meat and blubber.  Now imagine getting your first fiber from meager plant life in the spring. Those poor sons of bitches often split their ass cheeks in the spring, with four-inch wide hardened turds that had accumulated all winter!”

     “Yuck!  Are you pulling my leg?”

     “Not at all.  Europeans finally ended this by bringing them fibrous foods.  That, and, of course, sugar, rotten teeth, liquor, and diseases.”

     Gloria occasionally liked to turn tables on Phil.  “Did I ever tell you about a very rare disease I learned about in med school, called hyperfecalemia?”

     “Can’t say I’ve ever heard of it.”

     “Well, very rarely, there’s a disorder where small, hardened pellets of digestive matter in the large intestine, essentially feces at this point, are passed directly into the bloodstream.”

     “Jeez-um!  To quote you, yuck indeed!”

     “Wait, it gets worse.  It seems that once in the bloodstream, these pellets damage some delicate tissues here and there.  The biggest problem occurs in the retina.  Once they lodge there, you can’t see for shit!”

     “Hey!  Don’t you go cutting into my turf!  I’m the wild card in this couple!”

     “A little doctor-type humor to brighten your day.  I’ve got one more.  When we were in med school, we had this class on medical terms, and we were supposed to invent some medical terms composed mostly of Greek and Latin roots.  One wise-ass invented ‘Vaginopseudodentectomy’.”

     “So?  What the hell’s that supposed to mean?”

     “What, a scientifigeek like you can’t figure it out?  That is, surgical removal of false teeth from a vagina, performed on women whose partners wear dentures!”

     Gloria got back to the business at hand.  “So, what’s the scoop with this boric acid powder we just bought?  I see here on the label that it’s intended to be dissolved and applied to the skin to fight yeast infections, and it’s specifically NOT recommended to be used as a dusting agent.” Phil was wanting to save them some money.  A year ago, some professional pest-control types had dusted their house to keep down their two cats’ fleas.  Fleas were a big problem here in the South, where frost couldn’t be relied on to kill all the fleas outside every winter.

     So, sprinkling boric acid powder into the carpets, where fleas liked to hang out, was a method of keeping them down.  When Phil had asked about it last year, he’d been told it was harmless to animals and humans, but would slowly kill off the fleas and other insects, by preventing them from being able to hold water, and that a treatment would last a year.  The cats were getting flea-bitten again, and Phil thought that thirsting to death was an entirely fitting end to such nuisances.  But, he sure didn’t feel like paying $400 or so to the professionals, when he could buy lots of boric acid powder for $30.

     “Oh, come on, snoogle-bunch!  How harmful could something be that is meant to be applied to human skin?  Plus, it’s the exact same active ingredients that we were so firmly assured was safe last year.  These jerks are just trying to fight off the lawsuit lottery by telling us not to use it in any manner even vaguely likely to be harmful.  If some dumbshit sees it recommended as a dusting agent, he’ll dust, and get a bunch all over his pizza, then eat it and get sick, sue, win a million dollars, and we all pay.  So, to prevent all this, they forbid a perfectly legitimate use.”

     “Oh, yeah?  I suppose you’d also ignore the warning signs at work that tell me not to open up some of our machines ‘cause of radioactivity.”

     “No way!  This is different!  If you live your life by all the silly rules, you’d be living under the bridge.  Go look at a box of cotton swabs: everyone knows that they’re for cleaning out your ear canal, but the warning on the box tells you not to stick it in there, lest someone win the lawsuit lottery.  Do you pay any attention to that?”

     “Well, why don’t they all just put warnings on all products explaining that they’re not for any kind of use other than looking at, and we could all pay less by eliminating the lawsuit lottery?  Those warnings are there because there IS some kind of danger!”

     “So you don’t want me to save three hundred and seventy bucks with an hour of my work?  And get those bums to get everything all dusty again?” The professionals had used mechanically powered beaters to beat the powder into the carpets, and although Phil and Gloria were not one of those couples that were so “nasty-nice” that not a molecule of dust was to be tolerated, they hadn’t liked the all-pervasive dust that coated much of the house.  Phil planned to brush it in by hand, getting much less dust in the air.

     Phil wasn’t going to give up easily.  “Playing it by every rule ever written is for chumps.  No risk, no gain.  Do you want to start paying social security, unemployment comp, workmen’s comp, health care insurance, self esteem insurance, and every other God-forsaken form of government-mandated socialist crap, and fill out three zillion forms, on our maid and yard boy?”

     “No, thanks, I’m not running for office.  But one gets you a fine, or, at the very worst, a jail term, while the other might get us killed.”

     “Killed?!  By something approved for putting on your skin, in a lawsuit-happy society?  Yes, we could pay the professionals to do exactly what I want to do myself, but 80% of what we’d pay would be for their taxes and insurance against the lawsuit lottery.”

     “OK, OK, have your way!  You’re always right!  At least, promise me you’ll wear a mask and be real careful to keep it away from food and utensils.” Gloria was a saintly type who didn’t really get too upset about such matters, but she liked to keep Phil on his toes and make him think he owed her something for getting his way.

     Phil, feeling only the tiniest bit guilty for having his way, but proud of his wit in his tirade against timidity, government, lawyers, and silly rules, slipped off into the garage.  Shortly, he returned, with a scrub brush, a ski mask, and surgical mouth masks.  “Hey, Ummel, didn’t you liberate these masks from work?  That’s not playing by the rules!” He rarely got tired of good-natured sparring.  Gloria had picked up some masks for the occasional tasks around the house that involved dust, like Phil’s dabbling in woodwork, for example.

     “Yes, I did.  I was in the operating room one day, walked by a box of masks, and they spoke to me, saying, ‘Set us free!  Our masters are assholes; set us free!’ So I liberated them from that evil capitalist ogre, the hospital.  It was a good deed, and one that I am proud of.”

     Phil donned his mask and applied himself pushing around the furniture and sprinkling the lumpy powder all over the carpet, and brushing it in.  Finding that the bristles were coming out of the brush at a rate almost matching the rate at which the powder went into the carpets, he soon dispensed with the brush, and broke up the powder lumps and forced it into the carpets with his bare hands.  It wasn’t long till the ski mask came off, because there really wasn’t any airborne powder to deal with.  The mouth mask lasted all the way till Phil was done with the ground floor, which was also when Gloria left for some more shopping.

     By that time, Phil had worked up quite a sweat, so when he did the upstairs, he did them entirely in the nude.  This is pretty silly, he thought; I start wearing all sorts of protective clothes, and by the time I’m finishing up, I’m naked.  I wonder if I’m meeting all the relevant safety regulations for this kind of work?  What the hell; I’ll be sure to get a good shower afterwards.

     As Phil had expected, no one except for the fleas ever suffered any adverse reactions.  The real significance of all this domestic activity was not that some fleas in suburban Atlanta met an early demise; it’s what thoughts were triggered in Phil’s head as he went to all this trouble to eliminate a few grams at most of troublesome pests.

     Phil’s job was to bio-engineer bacteria for cleaning up contaminants.  Bacteria have been in the business of cleaning up various chemicals in the environment for literally billions of years; there was nothing new here.  Humans had also already for decades been in the business of selecting certain types of bacteria from polluted areas here and there, where they had already been naturally selected, and feeding them the additional nutrients that they needed to thrive, and transplanting them to other polluted areas to munch on contaminants. What was new was that Phil and a handful of others were now seriously into genetically engineering microbes for this purpose.  What they came up with sometimes had little resemblance to any previously existing natural species, but they did of course rely heavily on nature to provide genes from various sources.

     So, why am I going to all this trouble to eliminate these “contaminants” in my house, Phil wondered.  Yes, we can eliminate them with potentially dangerous chemicals, just as we could eliminate underground oil spills with powerful detergents.  The detergents would most often be more harmful than the oil they would break up.  Just as we use more finesse with such contaminants, by using bacteria that don’t harm the environment, couldn’t we also do the same with insect pests? What is the proper analogy here?  Designing pathogens (disease germs) to attack specific species of insects?  How would we ever get that by the regulators and environmentalists?  The environmentalists bother us enough already about potentially dangerous unanticipated side affects of our engineered microbes, even though we are helping clean up the environment.

     Yes, there was indeed the danger of artificial bacteria squeezing into a niche they weren’t intended for.  The bacteria in that oil spill might indeed hop into your gas tank and eat all your gas.  This was ridiculous, of course; they depended on other nutrients as well; these were deliberately provided by humans.  Bacteria were, for example, sometimes injected into old oil wells, where remaining oil was too “thick” or non-volatile to bring easily to the surface, and low-grade molasses was also injected as a nutrient for the bacteria.  Here, the bacteria would break down the complex hydrocarbons into more simple, more fluid ones easily brought to the surface, reviving old wells.

     But, if the possibility of oil-eating microbes hopping into your gas tank and eating all your gas was laughable, the possibility of engineered pathogens migrating to a new victim was eminently not funny at all.  So you’ve got a micro-bug that picks on fleas; next thing you know, it has decimated the monarch butterfly population, or worse, of course, the human population.  No, Phil thought, nobody will ever buy into this idea, even if we make the pathogens dependent on special human-supplied nutrients.  There would just be too great a possibility of them mutating.  Besides, pathogens are only effective above a certain population density of the victim species; if the victim population gets too low, the pathogen no longer spreads.  So, you’ve still got your perpetual low-level infestation of pests, and you’d always be needing to re-introduce the pathogen.

     Phil thought he’d reached a dead end, but had some nagging doubt lurking somewhere in some nook or cranny of his brain, at the verge of consciousness.  His ego sent out probing think-beams to various parts of the brain, in a little mental game.  “All right!  Frontal lobes, report in!  Are you harboring the hidden thoughts?!”

     “No sir!” Came back the meek little voice.

     “Cerebrum?”

     “Bug off!”

     “Cerebellum?”

     “I’m not talking to you¾I’m still pissed at you for what you did to me on your last drinking binge.”

     “Medusa oblongata?” Wait a minute, maybe that’s supposed to be medulla oblongata¾Phil wasn’t up on his vertebrate brains.  Phil gave it up and relegated the matter to his background processing system.

     That evening, Phil and Gloria got into a little impromptu socializing with their new neighbors, who had moved in a month or so ago.  Pat and Tammy Glick had invited them over for a few drinks on the patio in their back yard, now that the hot summer sun had retreated. The Glicks’ three-year-old ankle-biter, Ricky, was running loose underfoot.

     Phil watched as Pat gathered up some beef jerky he’d been drying in the sun all day.  Here.  Be brave.  Try some.” Phil gnawed on a small piece, and immediately decided he liked it.

     “So how do you make this stuff?”

     “Oh, just get the grocery to slice you some beef round, then marinade it overnight in the ‘fridge in soy sauce and whatever spices you like, and then dry it in the sun.  After it’s dried a bit, paint it with a mixture of soy paste or barbecue sauce and syrup or honey. Sprinkle a little spice on it.  Lemon pepper is good.  Paint the other side after the first side’s paint has dried.”

     “No cooking?  Raw?  Is that safe?”

     “Yes, I asked my doctor about it.  No sweat.  Disease boogers can’t live in it with all the salt from the soy sauce, what with having very little water left.  And, the sun does sort of cook it, even if it never reaches really high temperatures.”

     Phil helped Pat pick up the jerky and put it in plastic bags. “Hey, mind if I get Gloria to try this stuff?”

     “Be my guest.  My wife is too tame to try it.” Phil took a piece over to Gloria, who was playing with Ricky, much to Tammy’s amusement. Adults without children seemed to have so much more energy to spare for them, Tammy commented.

     Ummel!  Check this stuff out!  This is the best desiccated dead cow I’ve ever had!” “Ummel” did indeed check it out; her palate was at least a little on the adventurous side.

     Ummel?,” Tammy questioned, probing Phil with a look, “Where’d she get a name like that?” This was one of Phil’s favorite questions, and a chance to show off.

     “That’s U.M.L., for Unfermented Mead Lagomorph.”

     “Huh?”

     “Well, mead is honey wine, and a lagomorph is a rabbit or a hare, so an unfermented mead lagomorph is a honey bunny!”

     The four of them sat around and drank their drinks, keeping an eye on the antics of little Ricky.  Phil was thinking about the term lagomorph, and how he’d been required to get his taxonomy of the entire animal kingdom down pat in school, even though he was specializing in bacteria, when inspiration hit him.  On that problem of how to control insects without the use of chemicals¾why not genetically engineer insectivorous insects?  If one could engineer brand new species of bacteria, then why not also more complex, multi-celled critters like insects?  The rest of the hour or so he and Gloria spent at the neighbors’ house, he was somewhat distracted with his thoughts.

     Genetically engineering multicellular critters would be orders of magnitude harder than bacteria, he realized.  Sure, we’ve moved a lot of genes from one species to another, he thought, but no one has ever built one from the ground up, the way we do with bacteria.  Only now were some researchers starting to design “eukaryotes,” or single-celled critters like amoebas, from the bottom up.  Eukaryotes were considerably more complex than the bacteria or “prokaryotes”.  When one moves from a single cell to a multicellular critter, yet another layer of complexity is thrown in.  One has to worry about how one gets the genes for the liver to only express themselves in the liver cells, etc.  Sure, genetic engineers had messed with a few genes at a time that were known to build specific proteins, but no one had yet been ambitious enough to really “design” a many-celled organism.  How possible would it be to take an existing carnivorous insect, like a praying mantis, and turbo-charge it to clean up every pest in one’s house, he wondered.  Or, would one really have to build from scratch?

     He remembered just some few years ago, in the early nineties, he had read about a few researchers who had literally stumbled across a gene in mice that, for the first time that he knew of, dealt with a higher level of organization of the organs as opposed to specific proteins.  Serendipity had indeed struck these researchers; while looking for something totally unrelated, they had discovered a gene that caused the mice to be “mirrored” in their organ placement; that is, the heart would be on the right and the liver would be on the left, etc. The researchers had estimated that the probability of them randomly stumbling into this gene was one in 100,000!  He remembered thinking, now, maybe this piece of good luck will finally allow us to get a hook on higher organization, but he’d not bothered to keep up with the literature.  He’d just read this in a science-for-the-layman type magazine.  He promised himself he’d catch up on the literature when he got back to work on Monday.

     Phil and Gloria didn’t do much of anything remarkable on Sunday; they just lounged around, read, and went to the pool for a swim.  Phil did do a bit of thinking.  He’d been out of school for five years since he’d gotten his Ph.D., and had sworn off being too ambitious.  Umpteen years of school had taken some of the drive out of him, and he resolved to relax a bit and to not work too hard.

     He was, though, definitely a talented bacteria designer.  He was intimately familiar with the behavior of every amino acid and other organic base found in living things, and had the ability to visualize himself inside a molecule, seeing how things hooked together.  He got to thinking, maybe it’s time to get more ambitious again.  Non-chemical methods of insect control could help the environment¾more food could be grown on less land, with fewer chemicals.  And, of course, there were the matters of money and fame.  Maybe not fame; maybe more so just a sense of accomplishment.  Real money I could handle, though, he thought.

     He didn’t mention any of his pipe dreams to Gloria.  Better to research things a bit before spewing forth far-fetched ideas, even to his girlfriend.  So, how do we fend off the environmentalists on this one, he wondered?  Well, we could of course design them to be dependent on artificial chemicals that people would have to supply to them, so they couldn’t wander off of the home or farm into what was left of the wilderness to ruin the balance of nature.  And, to prevent them from evolving into unintended forms (and niches), we could design them so that they couldn’t reproduce by themselves.

     They could only be cloned in a sterile laboratory environment, under tightly controlled environmental conditions, and again in the presence of man-made bio-chemicals.  Juvenile insects would be shipped to home-owners and farmers in large numbers, just as lady bugs or bees were today, but the adults would lack reproductive organs of any sort. There were plenty of artificial organic compounds that Phil knew of that were harmless to the environment, so selecting a few to make into “leashes” for his hypothetical little monsters should be no problem, he thought.

     OK, so we’ve got artificial compounds as leashes, and no reproduction outside of the lab: that should keep the tree-huggers happy, he thought.  The second gives us an additional benefit: strict control of the market!  As long as we keep secret the special circumstances for reproduction, there’ll be no copyright infringement! Even if someone figured out how to do it, it would hopefully be so complicated that no one could pull it off in a basement-lab type scheme easy to hide from the law.  As soon as I stew on this a bit, and do a bit of research, I’ll talk to the boss.  Phil knew better than to think that he could tackle such an ambitious project on his own.

     On Monday, Phil promptly busied himself researching recent progress in the field of the genetics of the higher organization of multicellular creatures.  Researching recent papers was so mush easier in these days of computer networks!  The mouse discovery had indeed provided a handle to start with, and amazing strides had been made in recent years.  He downloaded the relevant papers and did nothing much that week other than study them, and play with some biochemical models on his computer, all week.  Since he was a self-starting, motivated professional, his boss didn’t bother to keep close tabs on him at all.

     Phil learned all about protein sheaths enveloping DNA strands, and how these, interacting with instructions contained in the DNA itself, allowed, say, lung genes to express themselves in lung tissues, but suppressed lung genes in kidney tissues, and vice versa.  He also learned about the slow differentiation of tissues in embryos.  Recent discoveries seemed to indicate that this differentiation was controlled by biochemical “sensors” that measured the mass of the developing embryo, mostly by detecting levels of nutrients and accumulated metabolic wastes.

     The cube-square law dictates that as an object gets larger, the ratio of its surface area (which allows exchange of nutrients and waste products) to its volume gets smaller, and allows wastes to accumulate more.  Waste levels are highest furthest from the surface, allowing cells inside the embryo to detect their distance from the surface.  The first stages of differentiation were into surface, middle, and inner layers (ecto, meso, and endoderm).

     Yet higher mass (and waste levels) produced development of the circulatory system, which in turn got rid of those wastes and set up a new dynamic of gradients of wastes and nutrients.  Cells now detected their proximity to the nearest bloodstream, and to other cell types, by detecting the concentrations of wastes as well as other chemicals.  So, the entire body would organize itself around the circulatory system. There were also hints that cells kept some sort of “cycle counter” that tracked roughly how many times cells had replicated since fertilization, yielding yet more information on what the stage of differentiation should be.

     In all of his research, Phil never saw any hint of anyone trying to actually design from the bottom up, new types of multicellular creatures.  He saw no reasons why it would be impossible to do so, but maybe that was just because he was somewhat of an outsider looking in. Maybe the experts, knowing what they did, were too aware of the difficulties, and not enough aware of the possibilities.

     By the next weekend, he was confident enough to start bouncing his ideas off of Gloria, and she was supportive.  Even though some of what he said didn’t make a whole bunch of sense to her, a lot of it did, and she was able to give him a few details about tissue organization that cleared up some of his questions.  Mostly, though, it helped him to organize his thoughts by explaining them to someone.  By Monday, he was ready to snare the boss and twist his ear.

     Hector Ramirez, Phil’s supervisor at Advanced Biotechnology Corporation (ABC), was one of the rare corporate bigshots who was totally approachable, plainspoken, and down to Earth¾definitely not a stuffed shirt.  Despite being in charge of more than a dozen Ph.D.s, Hector didn’t dress for success, get his secretary to answer his phone even when he was in to impress callers, or have his sense of humor surgically removed, or do any of those other things that corporate clones do to succeed by putting style over substance.  So, Phil just barged into his office first thing that Monday morning¾Hector could be relied upon to chase him away if the time wasn’t good.

     “Phil!  Long time no see!  What’s new and exciting?!” Phil told him what was new and exciting.  Hector listened attentively, and commented, “Yeah.  I’d bet there would be many billions of dollars of lost crops we could save in the U.S. alone every year.  Or, put it another way, a lot of profits we could snatch away from the chemical companies.  If we can outspend their lobbyists, and convince the regulators to let us get away with this.  Wait!  My wife is a big-time home gardener, and she doesn’t like pesticides.  So, she slaves away in her garden all summer, and even drafts me at times, and all we get is a snippet or two of something edible, and lots of bug droppings.  If we could get her and her friends on Congressmen’s asses.....”

     “Hector, you’re being repetitively redundant, with those last two words of yours.  But yes, indeed, if we can put this in the public’s eyes, and aggressively let them know what’s in it for them, we should be able to sell it.  Even the environmentalists, with the exception of a few biotechnophobes, should be convinced that we’d help the environment by eliminating pesticides and cutting down on farm size.”

     “No doubt this is a good idea.  The next question is, how possible is it, or how cheaply and how fast can we do such a thing?”

     “I’d sure like to spend the next month or two getting some approximate answers to that question.  For starters, I’d like to do a bit of traveling, to talk with some researchers here and there.” Communications in the computer era still couldn’t beat being there, to really gather information and exchange ideas.

     “OK.  Go for it.  We’ll want non-disclosure agreements from the people you talk to, of course.  Keep this under your hat, here, for now¾just you and me.  And, I’d better mention it to my boss; give him as much chance to get warmed up to this idea as possible, ‘cause if this pans out, we’ll soon have to ask for the big bucks to develop it.”

     “Great!  Thanks!  How ‘bout I hand over my bacteria duties for now to Oscar?  I’m not in the middle of anything terribly tough.”

     “Sounds good.  I’ll give him a call and tell him you’re tied up on some hush-hush stuff.”

     “Good deals.  One last thing¾if we decide to gear up to do this, we’ll need more people.  Mind if I drop a few hints that we’d at least appreciate a few resumes to look at here?”

     “Fine.  Leave it at that, though.  The go-ahead for gearing up for this will have to come from pretty high up.  I’d think you’d agree with me that this will be no small undertaking, wouldn’t you?”

     “Yea, verily.”

     Phil was on his way out the door, when Hector stopped him.  “One more thing.  For once, I’ll need to stay on top of what you’re up to. Write me a pretty report, and make me some neat charts and graphs.  I’ve got to occasionally play the role of important executive, and executives have to have charts and graphs.  Seriously, if this looks reasonably possible, we’re going to have to ask for the truly big bucks.  To get the truly big bucks for a big project, we’ll have to play The Game.  Or Games.  Come up with some questions about how this development effort would fit into the system here, so I can go to my bosses and ask them Important Questions.  Then they can feel Important by coming up with some more policy statements, procedures, and forms to fill out.”

     Phil chuckled a bit, but heard what Hector was saying.  Hector knew the score and wasn’t afraid to be honest with his troops¾or, at least, his troops that he trusted.  Yes, he thought, I’ll fill Hector’s needs so that Hector can fill his bosses’ needs, but most especially, so that Hector can keep his bosses out of my way.  This was, after all, corporate America.  Phil had gotten the OK on pursuing the project, which was all he had wanted at this point.  This was a big project, with lots of potential to learn new things and be creative.  Phil walked away feeling more enthusiasm about his work than he had felt in several years.


 

 

CHAPTER 3

 

     General Frank Leech, the Air Force’s head of Project Epsilon, sat at the conference table with drooping eyelids, his chin cupped in his hand and his elbow on the table.  Goddamn pre-meeting meetings, he thought as he barely listened to his aide, Captain William Dupuy, and his chief civilian scientist, Dr. Stanley Eisner, and Stanley’s top gopher, Harold Stokes, go on and on about the Big Meeting that Frank and Stanley had been invited to.  Tomorrow was going to be a Big Day: the National Security Strategy Committee was going to meet again, and billions of dollars of “black budget” money that was exempt from Congressional oversight was at stake.

     In his more cynical moments, Frank had some downright dissident thoughts about worthless meetings and meeting-goers.  Sometimes he wondered if it was all an unspoken conspiracy.  “Look.  If you don’t tell anyone that my meetings and memos are all a bunch of worthless fluff, I won’t tell anyone that your meetings and memos are all a  bunch of worthless fluff.  We’ll all write memos and go to important meetings together, and we’ll all be important.  Together.  Very cozy-like.”

     Despite all his pessimism, Frank believed in what he was doing. The country and its freedoms had to be protected, and he couldn’t risk abandoning his duties to a bunch of yahoos who’d screw it up without his leadership.  Besides that, good benefits and sheer inertia kept him going.  Still, at times it was a struggle to subordinate frank honesty to idealism and professionalism.

     So here is Captain Dupuy going on and on about who will be at the meeting and which axes each member had to grind, and here is Dr. Eisner going on and on about the probabilities of this that and the other, and good old Harold is talking about what charts and graphs and which words should be used to make the best impression, and I have to pretend to be Very Interested, thought Frank.

     “Snap out of it!” Frank commanded himself.  This isn’t professional at all, looking like I might drift off to sleep at any moment.  These people doubtlessly had had many pre-pre-meeting-meetings to prepare for this pre-meeting meeting, and I can’t let them think I don’t care.  It’s just that I wish I had time for things other than meetings, and I wish the Big Bosses would stop worrying about the intolerable trauma of witnessing some give and take among their subordinates, who might (God forbid!) have to get a few facts straight while in a meeting with the Big Bosses, instead of having everything neatly pre-packaged in rows and columns and charts and graphs before the meeting.

     Not that Frank minded rows and columns; he was, after all, a military man, and a graduate of the U.S.  Air Force Academy at that.  It was just that he’d been around long enough to realize that apparently well-organized rows and columns of figures, be they numerical or human, often masked underlying chaos.  Why couldn’t the Big Bosses acknowledge that this chaos could never be completely controlled, and let just a wee bit of it work for them at meetings, instead of insisting on having endless pre-meeting meetings to ensure that the meetings themselves went smoothly?  What was most important?  Sustaining the illusion of control? Conducting smooth meetings?  Or national security?

     “All right.” Frank had had about enough of listening to the three of them, and hopefully by now they had had enough of jabbering.  “So we’ve had our review and update of the project so far from you two...” Frank pointed to Stanley and Harold and their thick stack of transparencies, “...and we’ve had our review of who all will be there.” He looked at his aide.  “I’d like for you two to take your charts and graphs...” and blow weasel boogers on them, he thought, “...and distill them down to three pages.  Stanley, you’re invited to bring along your whole original stack of informative and well-prepared information...” and the Encyclopedia of Kitchen Sink Benthic Nematodes, too, if you wish, “...but I doubt that anyone will ask for anything down to that level of detail.  Captain, can you spare me a copy of the dossiers?”

     Capt.  Dupuy dutifully handed Frank the dossiers, including photos, of the various meeting-goers.  I’ve got to not just recognize but also understand these people as best I can, thought Frank.  “Now maybe we should ask ourselves, what questions will they ask us that we’ll have the most trouble answering convincingly?  Granted that we have a good command of the known facts and even of the probabilities of things we don’t know, we still need to worry about broader questions.  Why should a huge chunk of ‘black budget’ funds go to us and not to some other worthy cause?  Somebody play devil’s advocate here.” Yeah, damn straight, anyone who argues my department doesn’t deserve the most money has got to be the Devil himself, Frank thought in a rare moment of cynicism about his own motives.

     None of the three cared to play devil’s advocate against their boss, till, after a brief but awkward pause, Howard spoke up.  “Well, maybe we could look at it in terms of, what are the other choices?  Are there any other projects that deserve covert funds more than we do? What other technologies are there that show promise for the national defense, that need to be developed in the strictest secrecy?”

     “Good point.  I’ll be sure to be thinking about that.” Frank commented.  He sure wasn’t going to be discussing these matters in front of the rest of them, though.  They didn’t have the “need to know,” after all.

     “We’ve already discussed the major objections or questions about safety and treaties.  Unless anyone has anything else to go over, then I’d say let’s get back to work.” Looking around, Frank saw no other issues raised.  “Thanks.  See ya.”

     Frank retired to his office to go over dossiers, and to think.  OK, so let’s go over all these folks again, he thought.  Who are they, and what do I know about them.  So there’s of course the President, Anne Jacobs, the Republican halfway through her first and doubtlessly only term; she’d pissed off too many of the millions of “people’s porkers” among the voters.  She’d been forced into a financial corner, where social security, welfare, unemployment compensation, HUD, food stamps, government medical spending, and similar programs had to be radically cut.  Why, she’d even had the audacity to cut the pensions of retired government employees, including veterans!

     Besides that, Frank thought, she’s just a lousy leader.  Too wimpy. Methinks, politics and women, like war itself, are necessary evils, but why compound the two evils by combining them, if one doesn’t have to? And to think, she’s my Commander in Chief!  I’ll recognize her as being my equal, as soon as she shows that she can write her name in the snow as well as I can¾with nothing but what God gave us.

     He thought back to his Academy days as a member of the class of ‘79, the last class of all men.  They had tried to have their class motto be LCWB, which supposedly stood for Loyalty, Courage, Wisdom, and Bravery, but which in reality stood for Last Class With Balls.  Now those were the days when men were men and sheep were afraid, he thought! It was funny to look back on these days¾the Commandant of Cadets and every other big shot in sight had practically excised those letters from the English language when they found out what they stood for.  Cadets were busted for having the acronym written on the insides of their class rings.  But, the cadets had the last laugh: their parents, who were mostly civilians and therefore not bound to obey the censors, unfurled LCWB banners all over the stadium at graduation!

     OK, so back to the present and my needing to go and fight with all these geeks for some measly billions of dollars, Frank thought.  So then there’s the chiefs of staff.  There’s Paul Emmerich, army grunt and current Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Keith Polo, also a grunt, and Kathryn Sechler of the squid persuasion.  Then there’s Ken Healy of the US Jarheads, who Captain Bill’s scribbled-in notes indicate won’t be there tomorrow.  And, of course, there’s my good Air Force buddy and wing nut extraordinaire, Robert Flack.  Why can’t we all just go out and have a good old-fashioned armed-services type drinking binge instead of sitting around and talking about billions of dollars, Frank mentally asked the pictures on his files.

     And then there’s Solomon Bachmeyer of the CIA, and Martin Cavender from Sandia National Labs, and Byron Washington from JPL to represent NASA, Frank continued.  And Vince Marlin of the NSA, Alice Pilkinton of the Department of Energy, and Alan Riggs of the DIA (Defense Intelligence Agency).  And for tomorrow, of course, there’ll be myself and Stanley.

     Frank held his own one-person pre-meeting meeting in his mind. Some things he just knew from general knowledge of the times and of human nature; others he’d specifically been clued in on on the sly by his wing-nut buddy on the JCS. First thing is, they’ll tell us what they think that the modern battle field is evolving into, and what the next war or wars might be like.  Then they’ll swear us once more to cross-your-heart & hope-to-die double-dog-dare ultra-giga-secret decoder-ring secrecy, and speculate on new technologies for the battlefield, with comments on which technologies might and which technologies might not be suitable for secret development, and why.

     They’ll tell us we’re in a tight-budget era, and despite our most fervent, devoted attempts to do so, we couldn’t possibly pursue all promising avenues at the same time, cheaply.  So, only one major new war-toys development effort will be covertly funded.  After operating budgets of the CIA, DIA, NSA, etc., are subtracted from what we realistically think we can squeeze from the taxpayers and the deficit in terms of black bucks, we’ve got maybe a mere ten billion a year at most for the next few years.  We can’t afford to spend it on a hundred projects, each of which will pay off in a hundred years or more, for lack of sufficient funds.  Then, they’ll let me do my spiel.

     I’ll do my spiel.  They’ll ask me about treaties we’ve signed to not develop biological weapons.  I’ll remind them that despite treaties we’ve signed covering gas, we quibble and say that binary gasses, which aren’t lethal till they mix, aren’t really poisonous at all.  Besides, other countries have gas, and some of them don’t even bother with the extra safety provided by a binary system.  Similarly, we can just develop computer simulations of biological weapons, and if we never assemble any, even if we prove to ourselves that we are just hours away from being able to do so at any time, we still won’t be violating the treaties.  Sort of like the “liberal interpretation” of arms agreements argued for during the “Star Wars” efforts of the cold war.  And of course, if we were allowed to assemble some sub-systems of our biological weapons models, just for verification you understand, and we’d never actually complete the assembly.....

     They’ll hem and haw and say that they’ll consider the merits of what we’ve proposed, and then, they’ll think of some straight-laced cover reasons for why the government should get into the business of researching computer simulations of engineered life, just in case word should leak.  Finally, they’ll ask Stanley for another set of assurances how this technology, if ever implemented, would be oh-so-many digits to the minus power of probability of ever malfunctioning, and they’ll quiz me again on estimates of costs and development time.  Then they’ll say that if and when they ever choose to fund us, they’ll maybe think about letting us go from computer simulations to assembling and verifying subsystems someday.  Then they’ll go off and debate it, and we’ll have our way.  This will simply be because no other truly worthwhile major development effort falls into the black budget category.

     That is, unless the politics of turf-fighting prevails, Frank mused.  Ever since the Hatch act had been gutted, there had been a tendency for the budgetary favors to go to those agencies of the federal government whose employees were most active in politics on behalf of the party currently in power.  Sure, there were laws that still said that one couldn’t work for political causes during office hours, and that one couldn’t use one’s public office for political purposes, but who was enforcing this?  It’s so easy for the boss to mention to the workers when they’re having drinks after work, that the boss is going down to the party office later in his spare time to stuff envelopes or donate or “ghost-write” speeches or whatever, Frank thought.

     Then, it’s also easy for the workers to “volunteer” to help, and it’s so easy for the boss to think of reasons why employees get raises or don’t get raises, other than that they did or didn’t help the political party of the boss’s choice.  Any sensible and honest person would admit that bosses are largely free to evaluate subordinates for reasons entirely different from what is written in the reviews, Frank thought.  I’ve done it myself.  So no neat-sounding clauses in the “revised” (gutted) Hatch act could really prevent politicizing the bureaucrats, whose ultimate bosses were, after all, political appointees.

     And, of course, the thing that a bureaucrat would politically support the most would be a bigger slice of pork for whichever agency that particular bureaucrat worked for.  Well, thought Frank, I sure hope that this politicization hasn’t gotten to the point where they’ll deny my project the billions it needs, just ‘cause I didn’t vote for that old bag, let alone getting my troops out to stump for her.  Maybe it would be wise, though, to emphasize how the majority of the bucks for the project would go for Comp Optic computer hardware.  The President, her buddies, and appointees were mostly from the New York area, and Comp Optic was located there.

     Nine o’clock that next day zipped around awfully fast.  Frank and Stanley showed up five minutes early in their finest duds.  For Frank of course this didn’t involve much decision-making; he just made sure his insignia were polished and his shoes were shined.  Stanley dressed in his best imitation of corporate clone regalia, but still looked like an ivory tower type dude.

     Frank hadn’t guessed wrong hardly at all.  The meeting went according to the unwritten script he had previewed in his mental pre-meeting meeting.  Vince Marlin of the NSA chaired the meeting, but the President of course wielded the most real authority.  First, introductions.  Then, Vince was quite wordy and went on at length about budgets, battlefields, technology, the strict need for secrecy, etc. Frank listened with about a quarter of his processing power, with another half devoted to thinking about his own spiel, and another quarter devoted to various spurious thoughts completely unrelated to the national defense, such as, “I’ll bet that Alice used to be quite a lay about twenty years ago,” and, “Wonder what Annie baby Jacobs would say if I asked her to get me a cup of coffee?”

     Distilled to its essence, what Vince had to say was that the modern battlefield was starting to change very rapidly.  He reviewed the technologies that had very recently changed, and the ones that showed the most promise of changing soon.  As he did so, he would nod to whichever bureaucrat belonged to the agency that claimed whichever war technology that was being discussed, saying, “...And we’ve heard from Blah Blah about the progress being made in blah blah, ...,” often mentioning that for this that or the other reason, this particular technology might not really be the best choice for covert funding.

     None of it was new to Frank.  Yes, he thought, I know that radar is getting so advanced that we can hardly hide a snippet of metal in the sky, and yes, I know that controlled fusion power is just about ready to go gangbusters.  There’s no real need to hide the facts about our research into either radar or fusion.  As far as uncontrolled fusion reactions, or H-bombs, are concerned, everyone already knows that laser triggers have already made them much smaller and cheaper, and blurred the distinction between nuclear and conventional wars.  The progress towards cheap space travel wasn’t news to Frank either.

     Poison gas technology had stagnated at the binary gas system.  And yes, physicists and engineers say that once perfected, the system of containing fusion reactions with strong electrical and magnetic fields should be able to be manipulated in such a manner as to pinch off lobes of hellishly hot plasma, squeezing loose a blast of quasi-laser energy. All of these technologies could be assumed to be at the beck and call of any major adversary, most likely China, or, to a much smaller level of probability, Russia.  Smaller nations could be expected to have enough of an arsenal of some of these new weapons to definitely not be push-overs.

     Frank noticed that the President hardly ever watched Vince, and instead mostly studied her notes.  Wish I could do that, Frank thought. But, as a guest to these meetings, I can’t be honest and tell Vince that I already know all these things.  Wish I had the balls to just summarize it all up for Vince, like, “OK, Vince, so after decades of the only significant progress on the battlefield being that which has been introduced by computers, namely ‘smart’ and ‘brilliant’ weapons, we’re finally busting on through.  The future belongs to the defense.  No missile, no bomb, no aircraft, no scrap of metal in the air or in space will be safe from the wrath of humongous multi-zillion dollar fusion quasi-laser stations barely able to fit on the largest of ships.  With the possible exception of massive bombardments of laser fusion artillery to saturate the defense, the decades to follow will favor the defense. So what else is new?  Can I talk about our biological toys now?”

     But of course Frank was enough of a politician to feign intense interest in what Vince had to say.  Finally, Frank heard those sweet, magical words, “So, today we have with us as our special guests, General Frank Leech of the Air Force’s Project Epsilon, and his chief scientist, Dr. Stanley Eisner.  They will describe to us, a technology most promising and eminently well suited for covert funding.  Please welcome General Frank Leech.”

     Frank launched into his oration, showing only a few transparencies, including a “talking bullets” list he’d put together at the last minute. He told them how biological weapons could be developed via computer simulations, using Comp Optics hardware and software that was still being developed, without violating treaties.  Preparations could be made such that the computer simulations could become reality in a matter of hours, if any adversary ever started to use biological weapons, or if the U.S. ever got its back up against the wall for any other reason.

     Biological weapons could gain victory without destroying the enemy’s physical infrastructure or environment, while saving the lives of American soldiers.  Strict safety could be insured by having the biological agents be dependent on artificial trace nutrients supplied only to enemy territory by the American military.  These nutrients could be snuck into enemy territory, despite advanced radar and quasi-laser weapons, by very lightweight miniature aircraft containing no metal. Maybe these aircraft would actually be, or contain, artificial life.

     Frank went on about budgets and schedules, computers, programs and programmers, laboratories, and staffs.  Finally, he mentioned feasibility and civilian industry.  The way he put it was, “We have strong evidence that the schemes we’re thinking about are not only possible, but also probable and practical enough such that a fairly large bioengineering firm has begun to invest very substantial funds into similar schemes.  If they can control insect and plant pests safely with synthetic organisms, we can do the same with a human enemy.  Our knowledge of these civilian efforts are, of course, of the utmost secrecy.  Some of our knowledge of these matters has been obtained through the company’s contacts with government regulatory agencies like the NIH and the EPA, after the company had the government sign non-disclosure agreements.  Other knowledge is even more sensitive.”

     Only Frank, in his whole organization, was supposed to know about the source the government had employed inside ABC.  He had very quietly let Stanley, Harold, and Captain Bill know the scoop.  He wondered how many others at the meeting covertly knew this covert information.  Only Alan Riggs of the DIA and the President were supposed to know, but Frank felt quite sure that there were more who knew.

     Frank opened it up for questions.  He fielded some, and Stanley fielded some; those being the technical questions.  As Frank had thought, there was the inevitable haggling over treaties and their interpretations, and over safety issues.  There were questions about budgets and schedules.  Stanley told them that from his knowledge of the civilian operation, he’d estimate that it would take them at least another six years, probably ten, in addition to the year and a half they’d already spent, to get something to market.  With the government’s higher level of funding, Project Epsilon, on the other hand, could bear fruit within three years.

     Only a few features of the meeting surprised Frank.  One was how adamantly the President insisted that the project never go even slightly beyond computer simulations without her express approval.  She also stated, “If you do get these funds, and we ever decide to let you build subsystems for test, I don’t want these ‘subsystems’ that stop short of final assemblies to be ‘subsystems’ in the same sense that American car manufacturers might want to put together as a final assembly step, the foreign-made car subsystem and a ‘Made in America’ label subsystem.  In other words, no cosmetics, and no game-playing.  The risks are too large.  I don’t want you to even think about subsystems for test, unless these subsystems are on the order of about one fifteenth of the organism or smaller.” Frank took it as a good sign that she was already talking about such details¾this meant they’d most likely get their funds!

     Stanley protested the President’s assertion that the risks were too large, repeating his estimates that the probabilities of the scheme going awry could be held to infinitesimal levels.  Anne clarified her stance.  “Maybe it would be more clear to say that even though the probabilities may be low, the stakes, or the potential losses, would be enormous.  We’re talking about the possibility of human extinction.  But yes, I understand that such a thing is practically impossible.  There is, though, another set of probabilities to be addressed here: What is the probability that our secrets will eventually, probably sooner rather than later, be spilled to the media?  Damage control will be much easier if we’re talking about ‘mere’ computer simulations, versus building synthetic killer organisms in the lab.”

     That lead to a discussion of cover reasons for the government’s involvement in computer simulations of synthetic life.  The spook types, from the CIA and DIA, tried to convince Anne that there was no real danger of a leak, and hence no real need for cover stories.  Anne was a sufficiently experienced politician to know better.  Frank was hardly at all surprised at what they came up with; he was even deft enough to hint around semi-subtly, so that Anne thought that the best idea was somewhat her own.  After they’d batted around the idea of trying to portray such research as defensive, where it was obviously offensive, Frank said, “Wait!  After all, the U.S. government has an obvious interest in preventing our purely peaceful civilian technology from being diverted for nefarious purposes by other nations.  How are we going to be able to assess the war-making potential of this technology without doing some simulations?”

     Anne stepped in with the comment, “And of course, we had to keep it secret, so as to make sure that our simulations didn’t give some other countries some bad ideas.  If we ever have a leak, well, then, we were also looking for ways to develop this technology so that it would be entirely impossible to adapt for military purposes, so that we could share it with our businesses, but we just didn’t get very far.  But if any of our conversation ever leaks, I’ll personally kick some butt.” She glared around the room.

     Great! thought Frank; now the old biddy will think the idea is at least a little bit hers, and so, will stand up for it.  What an astute mo-fo I am, he thought as he mentally patted himself on the back.

     The next turn of events, also in the category of covering ass, took Frank by surprise.  Anne was really into CYA¾Frank had noticed her ass was a little big, but he really didn’t think it merited this much covering!  She noted that “Nothing beats ‘the other guys are doing it, too,’ as a reason why a new weapon has to be developed,” and that this was what would be needed if there was a very serious leak.

     Then, she went on to say that IF the decision was made to fully fund the program (what a joke, Frank thought; this is already signed, sealed, and delivered), then Stanley should see to it that some tantalizing but skewed (but not too skewed) information should be dropped off to the Chinese, so as to encourage them to dabble in some development efforts of their own.  The CIA would be enlisted in the effort to make sure that the Chinese would have little reason to think the information was somewhat bogus.  The Chinese, rather than the Russians, were the logical choice for “most credible bogeyman” (bogeyperson?) to scare the public with, since they were, after all, far more the maverick on the international scene these days.

     Frank had some serious doubts about the idea, but wasn’t willing to voice them at the cost of jeopardizing his funds.  Hey, what the Dragon Lady wants, she gets, he thought, as long as I get my bucks!

     Frank and his troops were notified that they’d get their bucks, all of two weeks later.

 


 

CHAPTER 4

 

     Phil Schrock’s brain was feeling a little strained from the morning’s intense design activities.  Working with ABC’s consultant on hard-coded neural wiring or “instincts,” and then translating this wiring into genetic code, with computer assistance, was no cakewalk, especially considering that Phil had to work closely with computer and neurology experts who were trying to get him to understand concepts outside of his normal areas of expertise.

     Phil decided that his noggin might benefit from a short break, so he took a walk down to the computer lab, where his top technician was entering some data.  A little simple physical activity, like walking, was often just barely enough distraction, while still allowing Phil’s abstract thoughts to process in the background mode, to allow Phil to come back to his problems with fresh ideas.  Besides, he should at least occasionally check on his direct reports, now that his duties included some management.

     Don McCulley was entering data into the computer while located right next to it, because this was no simple pecking at the keyboard. The complex paths between Don and BioSage III (BS, or Bull, as the hardware/software beast was known to its masters) passed way too much data way too fast for any other arrangement to be economical.  What Don was doing was slowly but surely “teaching” the machine how nature builds living molecules, at the same time as using it to figure out the 3-dimensional structure of natural compounds.

     The machine would be given a slew of chemical formulas, and from its coded rules concerning the behavior of atoms and molecules of biological “building blocks” such as nucleotides and amino acids, it would deduce the most likely 3-dimensional composition of the compound. Then, the computer’s “theoretical” computation would be compared to reality, which was easy when the actual 3-dimensional structure was known from experimentation.  Thus, the computer would learn from its mistakes, and improve its ability to “theorize” accurately the composition of a molecule, given only limited information about what subunits it contained, and its chemical behavior.

     What was more difficult, and thus, required far more human interaction, was figuring out the 3-dimensional composition of compounds where there was little experimental knowledge.  This, of course, was Bull’s real purpose.  Having a computer duplicate known data would have been nothing more than a neat trick.  Bull would calculate a “best guess,” and then the guess would be tested against two criteria, those being 1) How hard was the molecule to build?  Even nature’s best enzymes couldn’t build things which adamantly didn’t want to go together, and 2) How stable was the molecule?  Nature hardly ever used highly unstable or metastable molecules, which would “break” at the slightest provocation. Hard-to-make and/or unstable molecules probably represented mistakes by the computer, when nature’s molecules were being examined.  Bull would then retry a limited number of times, and if no suitable models were found, human intervention was required.

     Bull alone was smart enough to figure out about half of his targets, with another quarter susceptible to a joint human/Bull attack. This left only a quarter of compounds to be dissected with the old, experimental methods.  Don was engaged in a joint session; Bull’s other tasks, which didn’t require humans who required sleep, were run at night.  The human brain was still superior in enough respects to these computers that the symbiosis between the two was, indeed, a case of two heads being far better than one, especially when the computer’s peripherals where deliberately designed to partake in a delicate data-intensive dance with humans.

     Don sat suspended in an elaborate 3-piece “saddle” customized to his own particular body, that encircled and padded his crotch and thighs.  Each of the three saddle parts was independently connected to a robot arm, so that Bull could move Don around not only in three dimensions, but also in terms of Don’s orientation.  Each saddle part could also be vibrated at a frequency and amplitude independent from the other parts.  Each of these parameters, in certain modes of operation of the Don/Bull symbiosis, were assigned particular meanings when Bull wanted to send Don information about various subtle measures of molecular characteristics.  These paths were in addition to the more obvious auditory and visual paths, which included synthesized speech, large monitors covering the walls, and holograms of 3-dimensional molecules that Bull would project into the air in front of Don, complete with arrows and other markings to indicate strengths of valence bonds, alternate positions of atoms under thermal excitement, etc.

     Other fancy tools included the ones that communicated both ways, and ones that were purely for Don to send information to Bull.  Don wore data gloves on both hands, and data boots on his feet as well.  These each contained hundreds of tiny sensors¾pressure sensors and the fiberoptic equivalent of gyroscopes, primarily.  This system fed billions of bits of information from Don’s brain to Bull via Don’s nerves, muscles, and skeleton, and Bull’s fiberoptic cables.

     In front of Don, suspended close to the ceiling, was an array of 3-dimensional solid representations of atoms and building-block molecules.  Another of Bull’s robotic arms had the task of fetching whichever toy was needed at the time, and positioning it in front of Don, so that Don and Bull could wrestle with it while communicating to each other various concepts about a given molecule.  When the toy vibrated this fast it meant this degree of energy in its outer electron shell, and when it pressed this hard this way that’s what degree of valence it had to this neighbor, etc., in the Bull to Don path.  Such and such a set of pressures and orientations in Don’s data gloves and boots meant, I really want the molecular subunit located over here and in this orientation, in the Don to Bull path.

     Then of course, there was Don talking to Bull.  Bull’s listening abilities were limited, since this wasn’t Bull’s real purpose.  Other computers that were specialists in such matters could convincingly imitate human beings not only in written communications, but also in listening and speaking, these days.  Phil didn’t pay much attention to philosophical questions about whether computers were truly “thinking” or “conscious”; he felt that there were no magic thresholds in computer intelligence, any more than in the progression from slime mold to jellyfish to crab to fish to monkey to man.  They were both just matters of degree.

     Anyway, Bull was a speaker and listener of limited capabilities. Don would press his right foot down whenever he had a specific command for Bull, and he would speak very clearly at that point, saying, for example, “Fetch whiskey five,” in phonetic alphanumerics, for Bull to fetch a specific modeling “toy”.  Other than that, Don was encouraged to talk freely about what he was doing.  Bull would listen in on sounds that were not specific commands, in the hopes that Bull’s listening skills would slowly improve.  Phil doubted that this had much chance of happening, since Don was pretty much a far-out and irreverent random word generator.  “If Bull ever starts to talk like you, we’ll have to erase his memory and start over!” Phil had once said to Don.

     Don was a salty old dog who had been acquiring his extremely specialized skills for years.  More educated scientist types like Phil didn’t have Don’s highly honed abilities to “talk” with Bull, but they did have their own special insights and abilities to bring to the Don/Bull team.  Phil and other designers would sometimes visit, to interact with the Don/Bull team efforts.  A prime reason for the use of newer, more expensive holograms instead of the older, cheaper, and more cumbersome “virtual reality” goggles was that all humans present at any given time were free to watch each other’s faces, as well as the holograms.  The area right behind Don had a half dozen chairs for guests to watch and advise Don and Bull as they wrestled with imaginary and toy molecules.  Phil slipped into one of these chairs unnoticed.

     Don was pushing a pointer this way and that way through the hologram with his data gloves, periodically leaving the pointer on a particular subunit, then wrestling with its “toy” representation in front of him, getting the “feel” of the molecule.  He didn’t bother getting new toys for each subunit; that was for more detailed work¾a simple sphere would do in all cases at this stage.  So, since there was no need to send vocal commands to Bull, and since the task apparently required only a fraction of Don’s mental efforts, Don was singing, and rather lustily at that.

     “There was....  GUANO IN THE AIR and....  SMEGMA IN HER HAIR... at the SUCK MY.... suck my ba-NA-na,” Don intoned.  Great, thought Phil, this will teach Bull SO much in terms of listening skills!  He considered asking Don what he’d done with the money his mother had given him for singing lessons, but thought better of it.  Better to enjoy being the proverbial fly on the wall for a few more minutes.

     Don finished his cursory examination of the molecule, paused, and prepared to start rearranging it.  Phil glanced at the numbers on the monitors and noted that the molecular model was highly improbable; it was obvious that Bull had floundered here and needed Don’s help.  Don said to Bull, “All right, Bull, goddamn it, this is a bunch of....  BULL SHIT!” Phil noticed Don’s right foot go down on the last two words, indicating a command to Bull.  Then, Phil heard a dispassionate, synthesized voice come back with an inappropriately meek, “Fuck You”. Don’s foot went down again, and Don demanded, “Fuck WHO?!” and once again, the synthesized voice came back with, “Fuck You SIR!!!”.

     Phil had seen enough.  He was no prude by any means, but ABC had to keep up a certain level of appearances.  He debated how to twist Don’s ears gently but firmly.  He decided that it was best to just wade on in; any canned speech about “professionalism” was going to say to Don, “I am a GEEK”.  Phil would get much more respect from Don if he dealt with Don in Don’s medium of exchange, which was ribald, or at least irreverent, wit.

     “I see you’ve finally succeeded in teaching Bull some useful conversational abilities.  I do wish, though, that you could teach him, what shall we say.... abilities more useful to ABC and the GNP, to God and country.” Don twisted his hands and feet, causing Bull to rotate him so as to see Phil, and lowering him to allow half of his weight down to rest on the floor.  If Don was embarrassed, then it was only minutely perceptible by even relatively astute students of Don-isms like Phil.

     “Well, what I am doing for the GNP is that I’m trying to stimulate it, by making you bums buy a good side-kick for Bull here; one that has really good conversational and image-recognition skills, so that Bull and his buddy could solve both your problems and mine.  What a deal! See, when any prude or boss sneaks in behind me, Bull and his buddy could recognize her, him, or it, and deliver an alert, ‘Phil alert! Phil alert!  Hector alert!  Hector alert!’, or whatever.  That would save ABC from having its professional image ruined by slobs like me, and save me from getting ragged on, without my having to obstruct my vision with a rear-view mirror.”

     “As far as God and country go,” Don went on, “I’d like to take advantage of my rights not to incriminate myself, and plead, neither guilty nor innocent, but as the Cossack invaders of Alaska did.”

     OK, I’ll bite.  Phil always enjoyed sparring with Don.  “OK, Oh Great and Cultured Master of History, educate me about the Cossacks in Alaska.”

     “I’d sure hate to give you any ammo to use against me.  5th amendment and all, you know.  I haven’t had my Miranda rights read to me.  Besides, I didn’t do it.  Bull saw me not do it.  I’ll even get him to tell you he saw me not do it.” Don beckoned to Bull, who thrust out appendages to relieve him of his loose-fitting data gloves and boots. Don made the final motions to hang them up.  He stayed in his saddle, though; getting in and out of it was a minor ordeal, and Don only did this five or six times a day, for lunch and breaks.

     Meanwhile, Phil assured him that his testimony wouldn’t be used against him.  “Scout’s honor,” Phil promised.  “What, pray tell, did you do in your former life as a Cossack invader of Alaska?”

     “It isn’t what they or I did or didn’t allegedly not do, its the way they pleaded when accused, which is how I am pleading.  When asked why they behaved so abominably, getting drunk, raiding the villages of the natives, and raping the young Wild Things, they would reply, ‘The Czar is far away and God is far above.’“

     “Yes, but, you see, Hector and I are neither far away nor far above.  We can sneak down here and reprogram Bull to give you a bullride.  Shake some sense, maybe even some dignity, into you.”

     “So when do I get Bull a buddy to warn me of invading prudes?,” Don asked.

     “Soon as you pony up the bucks.  For one part in one nonillion as much, we can have everyone wear bar codes, that Bull can scan as anyone enters the room, to deliver the ‘prude alert.’“

     Now they were talking Don’s kind of ideas.  Don chimed in with, “Great!  We could have detailed classifications, and specific warnings! ‘This area is now a shit joke free zone.  Fecaphobe approaches’, or, ‘This area is now a Religious Zone.  Fun will cease till further notice’, or, ‘Suit alert!  Suit alert!  Everybody be serious!’ But what I want to know is, why am I, as a minority, so grievously discriminated against?”

     “You aren’t a minority, and so you can’t possibly be a victim of discrimination.  You’re just a regular Gringo Honky Paleface Roundeye Goyim.  You can’t kid me!”

     “I am so!  I am a member of a minority group known as debauched old men!  How come I can’t cuss and swear and carry on, or hang pictures of naked women, just ‘cause some prudes are offended?  How come I can’t get anywhere with the fact that I’m offended with the CEO’s obscene bonuses, or that there isn’t enough fuckincussin’ and swearin’ and good smut around this place?”

     “‘Cause God’s on our side.  You better watch it, ‘cause we prudes are His Little Helpers.  You’re up against some stiff competition. Don’t pick a fight with the side that God is on, and we all know that the omnipresent God hates to look at pictures of naked women.”

     “Well, ‘scuse me, but I’ve got my freedom of religion.  I believe in God, but I don’t believe in His Little Helpers.  And my God likes pictures of naked women.  Loves ‘em, as a matter of fact.”

     “Maybe we could have a big, violent battle over who’s side God is really on.  Especially, whose side is the loving and peaceful God on. This loving and peaceful God requires me to smash the snot out of anyone who disagrees with me.”

     Jeesum!  What a great and original idea!  How’d you ever think of that?!”

     Phil explained, “Well, these insights just come to one, when one becomes a corporate ogre and an autocratic executive like me.”

     “Well, don’t let it go to your head, but I actually almost sometimes get a glimmer of freedom to be me, here on this job.  When I was a wee, young whooper-schnooper like yourself, I was once a product engineer in a computer factory.  This was after the trilobites but before lizards, back in the days before smart-alecky computers would wise off to their betters.  I was in charge of making sure we were getting good hard drives into the factory, and my buddy was in charge  of floppy disks.  You know, track the data, nag the vendors, be a mother hen, make sure the gorillas on the factory floor didn’t throw them around too hard.”

     “My floppy-drive buddy put up a sign with a picture of a computer and the words ‘Real Men don’t have Floppy Disks’.  So, I had a sign made up with a computer and ‘Real Men have Hard Drives’.  Would you believe, here comes our boss, telling us some nameless, spineless butthole who wouldn’t climb out of the slimy underside of a rock where he/she/it doubtlessly lived to ID themselves, had told our boss he/she/it was offended, and, would we please take down our signs!  I mean, pictures of computers to put it all in a clean context, and everything!  And the prudes carried the day!”

     Phil knew all too well the type of person Don was talking about. He dredged his mind for a similar experience.  He’d never really been deemed to be rude, crude, and socially unacceptable, or in need of being censored.  All he could come up with was a case where he’d been in on a harmless practical joke, and a sober “suit” character hadn’t appreciated it.  “When I worked a summer job once, I worked for a boss who thought he had a sense of humor, but obviously didn’t.  We didn’t get busted or censored or anything, but we were truly wicked!  He never cleaned his coffee cup, so we borrowed it once, and carved a tiny toilet seat and lid out of Styrofoam packing plates, complete with a paper clip for a hinge.  We then put this on his coffee cup.  My contribution was a few raisins out of my stash of ‘gorp’ or trail mix that I kept handy for munchies.  These were dropped into the cup, in an artistic arrangement, to represent tiny turds.

     “The boss never mentioned it to anyone, but he did clean his cup. I suppose if he’d been of a higher class of nerds, he’d have seen to it that the Big Boss would have published a memo about being respectable, delectable, intellectual, etc., and refraining from crude and vulgar behavior, so he must have been at least slightly semi-cool.  Or maybe too embarrassed to ‘fess up that he was guilty of gross negligence in the coffee cup hygiene department.”

     Don had to have the last word.  “I once worked at a hard drive manufacturer, where we had to work in clean rooms, and they’d make us wear these nylon ‘bunny suits’ to keep our skin and hair from shedding off little bits and flakes, contaminating the air with particles.  We used to wonder whether we could be fired for farting in the clean room, for putting too many particles in the air.  Anyway, we had all these heavy sheets of clear plastic hanging here and there, to restrict the air flow and hopefully give particles something to cling to instead of polluting the air.  A person whose identity remains a state secret, once used some of this heavy clear plastic material for a nefarious purpose. We had this bizarre black test operator whose chair’s underside was discovered to be coated with boogers.  So, a certain devious individual covered the bottom of this chair with tape and pieces of plastic sheeting, which was labeled with a magic marker as being a ‘booger guard’.

     “Our good buddy, unlike your former boss, made no attempt to take it in stride.  He decided this was a matter of racial discrimination, which couldn’t possibly have been true, since a booger is a booger is a booger.  The plastic was equally impervious to boogers of all races, creeds, colors, sexes, and persuasions.  Yet, this incident was the kind of thing that provided the company equal opportunity lady with her bread and butter.  She conducted several mass and individual interrogations of the workers, like we were school children, scolding us and offering threats and bribes to weasel us into ratting on the perpetrator of the ‘booger guard’ atrocity.

     “No one ever ratted.  The black guy took such great offense at the whole thing, that his psyche and his self-esteem and little baby feelings and such were all crushed, that he couldn’t work any more.  So, he apparently retired on disability or workmen’s comp or some such thing.  The perpetrator remains at large.  Scary thought, huh?”

     “A gruesome thought indeed.  Just to think, that person could be right here right now.  You’d never know who he is or when he might strike again!  But as long as such a person would make sure that they wouldn’t, say, have ABC’s computers trained to assist him in his debauchery, then, I guess I wouldn’t want to risk tangling with such a vicious beast.”

     “Yes SIR!  Jawohl, mein Herr!” Don clicked his heels together and rendered a Nazi salute.

     “To quote a mutual acquaintance of ours...  ‘Fuck you, SIR’!” Phil replied.  “I think I’ll wander off and dream of some more ways to censor your free expression of your true self.  I don’t know how much more of your true self we could stand around here.”

     Phil strolled on back to his office.  On the way, his beeper went off.  It was Hector, so Phil changed course and set sail for Hector’s office.

     Gary Peck, Doug Meyer, and Pam Jones, as well as Hector of course, were there.  When Phil arrived, they shut the door.  Gary was site manager, Doug was the manager over all the software types, and Pam was in charge of computer security.  All four were wearing their most sober faces.  Phil sat down.  He’d already guessed what the topic would be, since Pam was there.  Phil wasn’t at all the type of fellow to whom cloak-and-dagger stuff came naturally, but he was starting to realize that there would be a lot of people who’d be real interested in what they were working on.  Secrecy could hide a lot of sins, he realized, but it could also protect one’s investments and creative efforts.

     Phil’s thoughts raced. OhmiGod, all my hard work’s been compromised!  All those late hours, all that creativity, and now some thief at some other company is going to get the credit for what I’ve done!  He glared at Pam, but she evaded his stare.

     “Bad news for you,” Hector informed him, “Pam discovered that in the middle of the night last night, someone set up a bogus user ID, account, password, and all the other trappings that Pam could fill you in on, if your understanding of such matters would make it worthwhile. They then did God knows what, and erased all records of what they’d done.  Or at least, so they almost definitely thought.  Probably unbeknownst to them, we have a gizzmachie or some such that records certain transactions.  Pam, could you fill us all in again?”

     Phil just about boiled over and lashed out.  You damned, stupid, incompetent wench!” he thought to himself, trying to translate to something he could say, and at least sound semi-respectable.  At the last second, he restrained himself, thinking, who knows what opportunities I’ll blow if I show myself to be too much of a hothead?

     Pam stared quizzically at Doug.  Doug nodded, and mumbled, “Yes, all of it.”

     Pam explained.  “We have various servers here as I’m sure you know. Some are hooked to bigger and more specialized machines, like Bull for example.  Almost every computer here, though, is in some form or another hooked to our ‘server server’ if you will, and that hub is the only link from any computer here to the outside.  In other words, it has the only FOS.” Yeah, but the FOS has got a lot of foes, including me, Phil thought, especially when the damn thing is bogged down and I can’t get my job done.  But now didn’t seem to be the time for wisecracks.  What she meant was that there was only one Fiber Optic Utility Link, or FOUL, online to the ONLINE, or Optical National Link, InterNationally Extended.  FOUL online to the ONLINE was a mouthful, and so was Foul Online Squared, so the latter got acronymified in turn into FOS.

     “And as you all know, Uncle Sam in his infinite wisdom requires us to install his snoop port.  Then he also monopolizes on the most powerful aspects of snoop ports.  What only about three or four people knew before today, though, is that we’ve got some... what shall we say.... methods here of cutting into Uncle Sam’s supposedly exclusive domain.  What with the environmentally sensitive issues we deal with here, we’ve never had the balls to do what some companies do, which is to encrypt with our own standards before we use the official encryption. But we’ve been fortunate enough to be able to take advantage of an option very few people have ever heard about.”

     Phil watched as Pam paused nervously and swallowed several times. She must be having a hard time, probably doubling in a single day the number of people who knew this deepest of secrets, that she had doubtlessly jealously guarded for years.  Phil used Pam’s momentary pause to review the facts, which he’d kept up with with only limited interest.  After all, he was not a pedophile or some such, so he wasn’t afraid of getting busted for sending kiddy porn across ONLINE.  And Gloria didn’t let him be a pothead anymore, like in the days before they got serious.  So, even though he regarded the government as a bunch of heavy-handed busybodies in this regard, it wasn’t a concern to him personally anymore.

     Phil knew that the government reserved the right, with a court order, to snoop on communications.  He grudgingly granted that the government, in the public interests of preventing terrorism, fraud, pollution, rape-murder-mayhem etc., should have the right to snoop.  If he thought about it, and he was in an accommodating mood, he’d even agree that there was no other choice in the modern era than to provide snoop capabilities at the consumer and taxpayer’s expense.

     But, along with many in corporate America, he worried about the government reserving a “key” to all encrypted communications.  What if another corporation or another nation got hold of the government’s keys? And he wasn’t too fond of his tax dollars being spent, and his privacy being invaded, for one of the government’s primary excuses for snooping. That was, to keep the potheads in jail while the murderers ran free.  He just wished that the evils of government, including snooping, would be reserved to fight real evils, instead of substances not approved by Big Busybody.

     Technology permitted companies to encode their data so as to be totally secure for all practical purposes, but here was Big Brother requiring the ability to snoop.  Some companies, who felt that their risk of getting a court-ordered wire tap against them was less than their risk of being spied on by competitors, took the risk of encrypting data with their own standards, above and beyond the government approved standard.  These companies took the risk of getting busted for illegal encryption if the government ever got a court-ordered wiretap on them. But, what the hey, if one can be totally and completely secure from being snooped on by one’s competitors for many years before being busted in an unlikely wiretap, then why not?

     Phil also knew that the government prohibited employers from snooping on their employees without a court order.  Only the destinations and lengths of employee transactions, and not the contents, of employee transactions could be recorded.  These could be recorded in the employer’s interests, since the employer, after all, paid the ONLINE utility bills.  The rule that the employer got to record destinations and lengths of calls had exceptions, though: “whistleblower” calls concerning violations of the environment, equal opportunity, safety, or other crimes, as well as calls by government employees, could be placed at any time over any FOUL without the FOUL’s owner being able to record anything about the calls.  At least the government paid for the bills for these calls.  The government kept somewhat of a lid on the “boy who cried wolf” syndrome by fining people who were found to be bogging down the government’s ONLINE accounts with too many false claims.

     Pam finally steeled herself to carry on.  “Understand now that our little ace in the hole isn’t capable of spying on employees.  I’ve taken great pains to document that this has always been true, so that if we ever get caught, we can show that we were at least obeying the spirit of the law.  What we’ve got is a souped-up version of a FOUL Intelligent Remote Monitor/Manager, or FIRMM.

     “FIRMMs are fairly common.  A FIRMM is a local intelligent busmaster board, meaning a board with its own computer independent of the host that it resides in, that is specifically designed to monitor and manage a FOUL.  In other words, it watches and records transactions, ‘remembering’ in nonvolatile memory what, for example, were the last instructions executed before a crash, for use by the system manager in preventing future crashes.

     “If it observes an ONLINE fault, or even a host crash, it’ll call the system manager up out of his or her sound sleep, via beeper or telephone, for those who still have those ancient old telephones instead of an ONLINE phone.  Actually, telephones are still a really good idea for systems managers with FIRMMs, ‘cause a telephone and a modem are an alternate way of talking to the FIRMM if ONLINE is down.  So, without going in to work, you call up on that old dinosaur, the modem, and fix the problem over the phone.  ‘Cause remember, it’s a busmaster board: it can be the boss, manipulate its host, even do a reboot.

     “Normally, a FIRMM specializes in the tasks I’ve just mentioned, and wouldn’t make a good tool for spying on employee communications. Even our souped-up version doesn’t; it still doesn’t have enough memory. But we do have a souped-up version that is illegal.  It records ALL transactions, including those on Uncle Sam’s accounts¾whistleblower calls and such.  Now, before you run off to tell the papers about big, bad ABC running around tromping on people’s rights, let me tell you this:,” she was looking at Phil; the others had probably already heard this.

     “I have it set up so that the person’s ID on an Uncle Sam call is recorded only if it exceeds ten gigabytes.  In fact, only calls this large or larger are logged, in the case of Uncle Sam calls.  Not the contents, obviously, just destinations, times, dates, and lengths of transactions.  I think you’d agree with me that no legitimate whistle-blower would need to push that volume of data around just to be heard.  Ten gigabytes of what might be corporate secrets deserves a court order before we let it go.

     “But, even though we at ABC are pure as the driven snow, we live in a world where hackers run amok and software can easily be changed and hidden.  A souped-up FIRMM might provide too much temptation to snoop on employees.  So, when the government caught wind of a small-time operation that was souping up FIRMMs, it shut them down pronto and hunted down what contraband it could.  It even made the existence of these things a state secret.  Media, being dependent on the government’s monopoly on ONLINE, hasn’t challenged this secrecy.  But, meantime, twenty or fifty or who knows how many of these things have made it onto the black market.  Almost definitely there are no more than fifty.

     “ABC has made a lot of investments in gaining loads of quite precious data, as you might know better than I.  Way back when, we worried about someone using Uncle Sam’s accounts to spy on us and ship out vast quantities of our data without us knowing about it.  So, we took advantage of a fortunate opportunity to acquire a souped-up FIRMM.”

     I’ll bet I won’t hear the details about that purchase, Phil thought.  He’d actually heard rumors of such things, but had always discounted them.  Was there someone at ABC with connections to the mob?

     “So, we installed our ‘funny FIRMM’, making sure it was completely invisible to any hacker hacking around where they don’t belong, and set it up to let me know about suspiciously gigantic transfers on the Uncle Sam accounts.  We’ve got a regular FIRMM as well, ‘cause the souped-up version had some of the original functions gutted out.  Last night I got paged by our funny FIRMM, for the first time in the five years it has been installed.

     “I’m still kicking myself in the butt for being such a sound sleeper, but, even though the log indicates that all the funny business started happening about two in the morning, the beeper didn’t wake me till about three, and by the time I got my groggy self to the modem and finally checked the number on the beeper thoroughly, and realized it was the funny FIRMM, it was even later.  So, I called Doug, and by the time we’d discussed it¾I’d never actually stopped to consider what if the thing goes off¾Doug and I decided that it was too sensitive a matter to just call security.  I mean, with a thing like this, for all we know, it could be someone in cahoots with security.  So, by the time Doug and I got here at five, the deed had been done.

     “So what all did they get ahold of?” Phil asked, “We don’t keep anything that terribly sensitive anywhere where anyone can just dump it out onto the FOS, anyway, right?”

     “Well, that’s the way its supposed to work.  Supposedly, our most sensitive data structures are all set up so that access is very tightly controlled, and no part of them is supposed to be able to get to FOUL’s host, let alone across the FOS without my specific authorization.  I’ve got a magnetic ID disk surgically implanted in my body, and only I am allowed to change security levels on these files.  All the experts told us this was totally secure; the only way anyone could bypass this was supposed to be by kidnapping or killing me to get my ID disk.  But, FIRMM tells us that the sizes of the files sent out match the sizes of our most sensitive files, that supposedly were impossible to send out.

     “Last night, someone accomplished a lot of impossible things.  They created a highly privileged account, used it, and erased entries in transaction logs that aren’t supposed to be able to be erased.  Let me skip the details, and just say that whoever it was, must’ve had information that our suppliers of computer hardware and software don’t give willingly to anyone.  I’m tempted to think that FIRMM is fibbing to us, but that would be ridiculous.  We are very lucky to have FIRMM’s detailed records, including all transactions to FOUL’s host, and all transactions of ten gigabytes or larger, that went out across FOS, on Uncle Sam’s accounts.  So far, it looks like we’ve been cleaned out, lock, stock, and barrel.  Everything they could get their mitts on. About sixty terabytes got copied and sent out last night.

     “The only good news that we have, is that our biggest simulator was running an utterly monstrous simulation last night.  One that...”

     Phil interrupted, “Great!  Yes, I stepped on some toes last night at about eight, and shoved everyone off the schedules, so that I could run that thing.  I bumped a whole bunch of small stuff.  If anyone was planning a raid, and had access to the schedule, it would’ve looked real good, till I got greedy.  Then, the main simulator tied up our most sensitive files, the ones on immune systems and brains, and wouldn’t have let anyone get at them during the simulation.  We’re damn lucky I got greedy last night.”

     Gary looked at Pam, and asked, “Anything else you’d like to add?”

     “Well, just one thing.  For all the sophistication this mysterious hacker supposedly would’ve had to have, he or she was awfully slow. As if they were working off of a written instruction list or some such, and weren’t really themselves that talented.  If this had been myself last night, I’d have done in a half an hour, what took them two hours.”

     “OK.  I’ve got a few questions,” Gary said in a take-charge manner. “First, don’t we have a log of who enters and leaves the building in the wee hours and weekends?  Who was here?”

     “No one but security, that we know of.  But, someone could have stayed here all night, and we’d not know about it, since we don’t track people during the day.”

     “Can’t we track destinations of transactions across the FOS? Where’d this stuff go?”

     “To an account every bit as bogus as the hacker’s ID.  The account doesn’t exist.  Somehow, the hacker set up an account that falls into the Uncle Sam group of accounts, but isn’t listed.  Doug experimented a wee bit, without risking too seriously the possibility of letting on that someone here knows about the security breach.  He called a little-known buddy of his, and had him play proxy, if you will. That is, he had him call a ‘wrong number’ that by total accident is this mystery account.  Doug even made his call from a public pay phone, in case this place is bugged nine ways to Sunday.  As of this morning, the account didn’t even exist, so it must’ve been open just for this transaction.  In other words, it wasn’t just an unlisted number used by government spooks or some such.” Doug nodded agreement.

     “Any hints at all as to who the thief was?  Any hunches?  A competing firm?  A foreign country?  The feds, even?”

     “I’d think we could rule out the feds.  They could get a court order to tap us through the snoop port any time they want to, and we’ve been completely above board, even far more than we really have to, with the regulatory folks.  The NIH and the EPA, you know.  I suppose that someone working for the feds might be in on this, though, without the knowledge of the feds.”

     “Well, I’ve really got to hand it to y’all.  You’re not only hackers from Hell, you’re also some smoothly operating cloak and dagger types.  I’ve got a few ideas that I’ve got to ask you about, to see if you can achieve some more hacking wonders.  Could you, by any chance, set it up so that your dingafunger doesn’t merely deliver an alert in case of a breach, but also shuts down the FOS, in such a manner that it would appear to be a random failure?”

     Pam and Doug batted a bunch of buzzwords back and forth, and finally concluded that such a thing was, indeed, possible.  Gary went on to say, “Do it.  If a breach happens again, we’ll have to turn it off, though, if we want to keep our ace in the hole a secret.  They are not gonna believe that the FOS just randomly happens to go down every time they try to rip us off.  So, we’ll need another plan for the longer term.  Phil, could you take those most critical files that we were so lucky with, and warp them in some plausible manner?  I mean, take your most central, creative secret discoveries, and butcher them, so that they wouldn’t work, but in such a manner that it’s not obvious.  Then, if they get ahold of these files, they’ll have a can of worms.”

     Phil thought about it.  “Yes, it could be done.  We’d have to go through tons of data, and twist bits and pieces of it in a lot of places, in order to stay consistent.  But then, we’d have to undo all this work, every time we want to use the data.  If we write some program to translate back and forth, it will be available on the computers, and so there goes the secret.  Probably not practical.”

     “Wait!” Doug chimed in, “We can put a HIRMM in every host.  These can twist the data without being accessible, and they’d be in the path to every simulator, so that the simulators and other hosts here would have the real McCoy that they need, while everyone else would get shit.” He noticed puzzled looks from all but Pam.  “A HIRMM is like a more general FIRMM, but it’s a Host Intelligent Remote Monitor/Manager instead of specializing in FOULs.  A data-warping and un-warping program would reside on the HIRMMs.  I think I might be able to break up the task of writing a data-warper, and have most of my troops think that it is something else, as long as Phil doesn’t make the algorithm too complex, and Pam does the final integration.”

     Doug, Pam, and Phil launched into a brainstorming session.  Hector started working on his computer on other things, and Gary left, saying he’d be back in 10 or 15 minutes.  The three worked out the general outlines of a data warping HIRMM program, so that any computer on the network without a HIRMM and special program, would get subtly warped data.  They also thought of deliberately bollixing the whole network internal to the ABC site, so that they could have a plausible excuse for needing to “fix” things by installing HIRMMs.

     Gary was back soon enough.  They explained their scheme to him. His reaction was, “Well, it sounds like a lot of money and time we could spend on developing our product.  But, we’ve got to protect our secrets. Above and beyond even these measures, eventually we’re gonna have to really crack down.  We can’t take a whole bunch of measures to increase security right now, without showing our ace in the hole.  But, if in a few weeks someone was to spill some juicy gossip to the media anonymously¾someone like Phil, for example¾we could get some good press without leaking anything too valuable¾then, we could be just totally outraged, and crack down.  I know a lot of people will hate this, but we’ll have to totally sever a lot of our machines from the network.”

     Phil stifled a groan.  Yuck!  Having to transfer gobs of data by hand-carrying storage devices would really slow things down.  Oh, well!

     “But,” Gary went on to say, “Whatever computers we can reserve for working only with non-sensitive information, we’ll still allow on the network.  You’ll need to invent some hopefully not too lame excuse about why we can’t afford to treat the gimped-up files as sensitive, also.  Whatever else you can dream of, that we need to add during the crack-down, in the way of enabling us to catch our spy, or preventing the dirty deeds, I’ll want to hear about.”

     Phil thought over the whole scheme, and noted how Gary had steered the thinking.  Hot Damn!  That’s not too shabby!  So this is why they pay Gary the big bucks!

     That, and, sheepishly, he thought briefly about how he’d been just about ready to dump on Pam.  She’d done an excellent job, and he’d almost shown himself to be incapable of being professional, of keeping his opinion to himself.  He’d narrowly averted a ding or two to his professional image.

 


 

CHAPTER 5

 

     “Hi.  I’m Hector Ramirez, project manager for Advanced Biotechnology Corporation’s project ‘Model T’.  Actually, during the four years we’ve had this project in development, we’ve changed project names quite a few times, just in case any spies (excuse me, ‘unauthorized personnel’) got ahold of any of our documentation.  ‘Model T’ is only our most recent project name, but probably the most fitting. What we’re about to unveil today will be the first practical commercial application of multicellular biosynthetic organisms ever.  It presages many more advanced products to come, just as the first practical automobiles did so many years ago.

     “I realize there have been many rumors about today’s press conference and what we’re about to announce.  Despite our best efforts at secrecy, there have been inevitable leaks.  Today we’ll quell all the wild gossip and let the truth, with all its promises, be known.  I believe that when you know the full truth, most of you, and for that matter, most of all the peoples of the world, will agree with me that what we’re about to introduce is not trivial.  While not as immediately, obviously Earth-shaking as the recent breakthroughs in controlled thermonuclear fusion, in the long run, I believe the technologies being pioneered here will provide just as many benefits to humanity, if not more.

     “Before I steal any of his thunder, I must get to my real purpose today, which is to introduce the man who originally came up with the ideas whose fruits you’ll be introduced to today.  He will fill you in on all the details, or at least, all of those that are no longer proprietary.  He’ll do a better job of this than anyone else is capable of.  First, though, let me make it very clear that there are many other brilliant, hardworking individuals who contributed a lot of long hours and creativity to this project.  In the front two rows we have about thirty of our top scientists and engineers, who we’ll introduce to you as the needs may arise.  Without these individuals, we’d have never accomplished the feats we’re announcing today.  Special mention should be made of our programmers, who took computers to biochemically simulated virtual realities where no computer had dared to simulate before.”

     Hector didn’t mention it, but behind the troops, in the third row, were the corporate bigwigs, all the way up to and including the president.  They were trying to look inconspicuous.  With a fairly great amount of willpower, they had managed to swallow their egos, and let a few of the front-line troops have the day’s limelight.

     “So, ladies and gentlemen, without further ado, here he is, not only a great biochemical engineer, but also a good friend, Dr. Phillip Schrock.”

     Grinning with a modest amount of embarrassment, Phil got up from the front row in the hotel auditorium, and strolled to the stage.  He was dressed casually, in accordance with his substance-over-style principles, as were most of his co-workers.  Only Hector and a very few others had even bothered to wear a tie.  Hector’s bosses had done a great deal of worrying about this press conference, and had wanted a “professional” presentation in the sense of having some gray-faced corporate automatons present prepared statements and charts and slides, but Hector had badgered them into having a “professional” presentation in another sense: the professional whose job it had been to make the project work would address the press and other members of the public.

     Essentially, the way Hector had accomplished this was to say, “Now, look: You may regard Phil as a loose cannon with no sense of diplomacy, and you may want some bland presentation so as to not offend anyone. I’ll tell you, though, what with fanatical anti-biotechnology ‘defenders of the environment’ out there to whom logic is a foreign language, no presentation is going to appease them.  Our best bet is to put someone on the stage who won’t mince words or pussy-foot around.  We need someone who’ll stick it to them, but in a responsible and informed manner.  That person is Phil.  He doesn’t have it in him to try to compromise with people who are wrong.  Besides, he’ll get us lots of press.  Controversy sells.” Hector hooted and hollered till he had his way.

     Phil, as usual, knew the score and wasn’t about to let anyone down. His grin subsided as he trotted up the stairs.  He did his best subtly self-important swagger to the podium.  Solemnly, he adjusted an imaginary tie and announced that, “It has always been my policy to eschew extraneous excursions into obfuscation engendered by pedantic utilization of superfluous, sesquipedalian articulations.” He paused briefly.

     “That means, don’t confuse people by using too many big words.” He smiled at the few guffaws that brought.  “So, I’m trying to avoid any buzzwords or technical terms today.  What technical terms are not avoidable, I’ll be sure to define.  There’ll be a question and answer session afterwards, and I’d encourage you to save your questions till then.” Phil was quite relaxed, and didn’t seem to be planning to refer to his notes, even though he was carrying some.

     “OK.  Let’s get to it.  We’re announcing two products today.  Both are designed to eliminate small pests, primarily insects, but also spiders, worms, etc.  Unlike previous genetic engineering products, we didn’t just swap a few genes here and there.  We considered modifying insectivorous insects, such as lady bugs, or praying mantises, or such, but ended up designing basically from scratch, like we’ve been doing with bacteria for a few years now.  Yes, of course, just like bacteria, we borrow existing genes and overall schemes from nature.  But, just like ‘designed’ bacteria, we built from the bottom up; we didn’t just sneak a few genes into an existing critter.

     “The critters we designed do not fit into any group of natural organisms.  They aren’t insects, worms, spiders, vertebrates, or mollusks.  They form an entirely new class; call it synthetic life or whatever.  For simplicity, we could call them ‘insects’, even though they are entirely different in many respects.  Their behavior and forms resemble insects more than any other group.

     “They come in two types: one for indoors, and one for outdoors. The indoors version is indiscriminate but delicate.  It can survive only at room temperature, but can eat any small living things.  It was deliberately designed this way.  An indoor anti-bug critter needn’t worry about upsetting an ecosphere, so it can just eat every small living critter it finds.  It will even help you clean up by eating crumbs of spilled foods¾only crumbs, though; large items it will leave alone.  On the other hand, you don’t want it escaping to the outdoors, and wiping out a species or two.  So, we put in the limitation that it can survive only at room temperatures, along with other limiting factors that we’ll discuss in a little while.

     “The outdoor version can live in a variety of environments, at a variety of temperatures.  Just like the pests that it lives on, though, it’s active only in warmer weather; That is, it is cold-blooded. Unlike the indoor version, it can eat only specific species.  It recognizes its victims by smell, and is ‘programmed’ if you will, to eat only certain species.  We listed the top 153 species of agricultural pests, including various aphids, cut-worms, weevils, mites, flies, etc. We even included species that bother livestock and humans that work in the fields.  A full listing is contained in a prepared press release. Text file versions of this, along with summaries of what I am presenting, are now being released directly to the media on computer networks, but meanwhile we have hardcopies.” Phil beckoned to aides, who started to pass stacks of paper to the audience.

     “Please note that your press releases contain short biographies of all our major contributors, most of who are here today.  All of them are available to you for interviews.  We here at ABC don’t believe, as some companies do, in muzzling employees and limiting press contact to spokespersons.  We have nothing to hide; excepting some trade secrets, we’re all free to talk, now that we’ve announced the product.  We have taken exceptional pains to create an atmosphere where any potential whistle-blowers, any persons having doubts about the propriety, safety, or environmental impacts of any of our actions, are free to bring up their concerns without having to fear for their jobs.  In the interests of demonstrating this to be true, and in the interests of a well-documented history, we encourage the press to make full use of all of us.” And, of course, in the interests of ABC getting some free publicity, but we won’t mention the obvious, thought Phil.

     “This new method of pest control is far better for the environment than chemical pesticides, and cheaper as well.  A house can be treated twice a year for about $60, and farms and ranches can be treated twice a year for about $10 per acre, on the average, depending on specifics.

     “We’ve got trademark names for our products that even you media types should be able to remember.  The indoor critters are called ‘Bug-Buggers’ and the outdoor versions are called ‘Pest Pesters’. Unlike other big companies, we here at Advanced Biotechnology Corporation don’t believe in paying the big bucks to outside consultants or public-relations companies to come up with brand names for us.  We had a competition where employees submitted various ideas, and we chose the best ones.  The employee with the winning idea wins a bonus.  This helps morale at the same time as it saves us money.  The brand names ‘Bug-Buggers’ and ‘Pest-Pesters’ were submitted by Heidi Henderson. Thanks, Heidi.”

     Heidi, a young, perky data-entry lady, rose from the second row of seats to be recognized.  Not all the employees in the project had come to the press conference; mostly only the top-ranking scientists and engineers, and Heidi, specifically for having thought of the brand names.  She’s pretty cute, Phil thought.  But not as cute as Gloria.  He caught Gloria a few rows back with a smile; she was here to support him, despite her busy career as a surgeon.

     Phil thought momentarily about the brand names.  Amazingly enough, marketing had even bothered to consult with him and other scientists and engineers on what these names should be.  Phil had suggested that they go with very simple, basic names that would call attention away from the potentially scary technological nature of the beasts.  Who would think of “Bug-Buggers” as the sophisticated synthetic little monsters that they were?  Along the same line, they had selected a term and slogan to apply to both varieties of the little beasts.

     “We also selected a name that applies to both of our products, and that is simply ‘Anti-Bug Critters’.  You see, eliminating bugs is as easy as A-B-C; buy ABCs from ABC!” Everyone will hear that slogan in the next few months, Phil thought.  “Our thanks for this name and phrase to Aaron Lee.” Aaron, a computer hardware technician, stood up briefly in the second row to be recognized.

     “Now for some of the details.  As you might imagine, and as you might have already been made aware of through some speculation prior to today’s announcement, there is, and will be, quite a bit of concern about alterations to the ecosphere due to these new, synthetic creatures being used.  Also, ...” Phil was drowned out by a man in the rear of the auditorium with a bullhorn he’d managed to sneak in.  Press cards weren’t too hard to fake.  TV cameras swiveled to get a look at the commotion.

     “WOE TO STUPID SINNERS WHO REBEL AGAINST GOD’S PLANS!” The disrupter thundered.  Two accomplices unfurled a banner proclaiming “THE MEEK, NOT THE SYNTHETIC, WILL INHERIT THE EARTH.” Mr. Bullhorn went on to shout that, “HUMANS ARE NOT GODS, AND WILL PAY THE PRICE FOR TRYING TO PLAY GOD.” The rest of what he had to say soon turned incoherent, as security hustled the news impostors out.

     “Actually, I agree with Mr. Bullhorn.” Phil announced to a perplexed audience.  “We mess with an ecosphere every time we brush our teeth.  We wreak mass havoc and destruction on the millions of innocent bacteria who make their homes in our mouths.  To mess with God’s plans for tooth decay and halitosis, we must pay the price for a toothbrush and tooth paste.

     “As I was saying before being so rudely interrupted, we’ve taken great pains to ensure that we know our ABCs; that they’ll do their thing where we want them to, and won’t stray into what’s left of the wilderness, where they could wipe out butterflies along with fleas and flies.  For that matter, they won’t even harm the fleas and flies in the wilds, where they are, after all, part of the natural scheme of things.

     “We are trying to protect the environment by safely eliminating the need for dangerous chemical pesticides, and also by reducing the total amount of farmlands needed to sustain human life.  By eliminating crops lost to insects, we can return some lands to the wilderness.  I’d say, the 50% or so of land surface whose output we steal for human purposes, including farms, ranches, and timberlands, is too excessive.  We need to return some lands to the other millions of species we share this globe with, and reducing waste by eliminating losses to insects is one way we can help to do this.

     “How we accomplish restraining our little critters is an integral part of how we designed them.  Bear with me as we go over the background to today’s announcement, and hopefully we’ll answer many of your questions before you even need to ask them.

     “I’d say at least 80% of our development effort was done by computer simulation.  We model the behavior of amino acids and other organic building blocks to the best of our ability, down to the tiniest of factors.  We build neural nets to emulate the brains of insects and other small creatures, and figure out how the behavior of these organisms is ‘programmed’ by their genes.  After all, insects don’t intelligently reason out how they behave; they follow their instincts. We had to figure out how, among other things, we’d get our ‘Pest-Pesters’ to only pick on the species who smell like the species we want them to kill.

     “Neural nets emulating the brains of even the tiniest of insects are not trivial.  They amount to hundreds of thousands of neurons, or nerve cells, and millions of interconnections.  Other computer technologies we dealt with include ‘knowledge bases’, where we attempt to codify the human experts’ knowledge and intuition on matters of biochemistry, and virtual reality, where we biochemists can actually get inside the molecules and shuffle building blocks around.  That applies both to what we build and to what chemical tools we use to build with. Many thanks to Doug Meyer and his team of hard-working hackers from Hell!” Doug Meyer stood up, and beckoned to his top troops, and all 20 or so of them also stood briefly.

     Phil could very faintly hear some ruckus from outside the hotel, where some large protests were doubtlessly taking place.  Phil wondered who’d get the most press: the press conference, or the protests.  I’d better make this good, he thought: I’ve got to feed the press some good stuff.  But I’d better do my best not to be too obvious, and to be, or at least appear to be, entirely rational.

     “After extensive computer simulations, we built and checked out our creations in the lab.  Not just any old lab, I might add.  The lab we worked in is secure against all but a direct nuclear hit, and nothing, I repeat nothing, escapes from it.  This, despite the fact that our creations are safe, according to every impartial expert that we’ve sworn to secrecy and brought in from outside the project to inspect what we are doing.  Our papers, and theirs, are also being released today.”

     “We have secured patents on our work.  The same National Institutes of Health that approved our facilities, along with the EPA, are now in the process of approving our creations for sale and release; we expect no trouble.  These products should be available in two to three months, assuming that the pesticides lobby doesn’t have too many politicians in their pockets.

     “OK, let’s get down to brass tacks.  The ways in which we keep these critters in check are many.  It is triply or quadruply impossible for them to reproduce without human assistance.  They have no sex organs, and must be cloned in extremely tightly controlled circumstances in the lab, in vats of precisely controlled chemicals.  The temperature, mix, and bacteria-free states of these vats require conditions unknown in nature.  In addition, certain synthetic organic chemicals are also required.  These chemicals include amino acids not found in nature, both in terms of actual molecular compositions, and in some cases, in terms of them being 3-dimensionally ‘mirrored’ from natural chemicals.  Not to worry; these chemicals are readily broken down by bacteria, if they should escape into the environment.

     “The cloning must actually be done in three separate parts.  This increases the odds against reproduction in nature, and simplifies matters for us.  Each of three parts of the organisms requires different conditions for cloning, and the cube-square law works in our favor when we clone in 3 parts.  This law dictates that nutrient and waste exchange is more rapid through surfaces of smaller pieces, allowing us to grow our critters faster.  When the three sub-sections are ready, they mate together to create the final assembly, which integrate with each other and grow in the lab for just a few days before they’re ready to leave the protective environment of the vats, and be shipped to the customer.

     “Three-part cloning also reduces the amount of genetic material required.  Multicellular critters of the natural kind, like you and I, carry a lot of excess baggage, in that all of our cells, with the exception of red blood cells, carry all of the genes required to make any cell in the body, most of which it doesn’t need.  That, and we’ve eliminated a lot of ‘junk’ genes that serve no real purpose, other than to ‘glue’ together the genes that do matter.  These are very artificial critters.  Some of their parts are actually bacteria, far simpler than the cells that you and I are made of.  Sure, you and I also carry bacteria essential to our survival, in our guts, but these critters actually use bacteria as some of their parts.  All of these little tricks end up allowing us to clone these critters far faster than natural organisms grow, cutting our costs and making the whole scheme economically feasible.

     “At the risk of boring you, let me add that we’ve cut one other corner, compared to natural organisms, that allows us to grow ‘em faster at the same time as improving safety.  Maybe I can ensure that you won’t be bored by mentioning that it involves SEX!” Actually, lack of it, Phil thought, but I’ll not state it that way.

     “Most multicellular critters carry two sets of genes that are exchanged sexually, to provide the species with variability so that it can evolve to survive in changing environments.  In other words, they carry twice as many genes as they actually express; the ‘spares’ are carried in the gene pool as a reserve in case the environment changes. Natural multicellular critters spend a great deal of time and effort on sex; they must get some benefit from it.

     “Adaptability to changing environments is that benefit.  Remember that on your next Saturday night date!  You may not think of sex as a huge waste of time, but to these artificial critters, it would be.  So, we didn’t give them the burden of extra genes.  In the totally improbable event that they should learn to reproduce in the wild, the lack of adaptability imposed by lack of sexual reproduction would also insure against them evolving into something harder to control than what they are now.

     “Artificial nutrients are the primary method by which we control their distribution.  But, more on that in a moment.  First, let’s take a quick look at them.” The lights were dimmed and a huge screen was turned on.  A six-legged, four-winged insect-like critter, colored bright orange with black stripes, was shown.  It had no divisions into head, thorax, and abdomen, like a real insect, though.

     “This is a ‘Bug-Bugger’.  It is the size of a house fly, and the only differences between it and a....,” Phil paused for the screen to change, “‘Pest-Pester’ is size, temperature tolerance, and menu.  The ‘Pest-Pester’ is a bit larger.  Both are cloned in 3 sections, those being 1) digestive system, 2) circulatory, immune, and nervous systems, and 3) skin, skeletal, and muscular systems.  The skin, skeletal, and muscular systems subsection envelopes the other two subsections in the final stage, and then they integrate.

     “Both forms are dependent on artificial organic compounds of the same sort that are present in the vats.  Despite being non-toxic in the environment at large, these chemicals would be harmful if you ate them. So, for the indoors version, we put the nutrients inside several layers of protective, perforated plastic boxes.” Phil held up a plastic box.

     “These nutrients are temperature-sensitive, to prevent users from abusing the omnivorous Bug-Buggers.  The chemicals only remain intact at room temperatures.  Designing delicateness into these nutrients comes at a price; their shelf life is only half of a year.  The Bug-Buggers themselves also can only survive at room temperatures.  We wouldn’t want anyone to be able to cheat on us, and use the indoors version outdoors, and have them eat butterflies and bees and such.

     “Users who want to protect granaries and other non-temperature-controlled indoors environments will have to use the outdoors version for now.  I might add that the indoors versions also can’t handle the ultraviolet light present in sunshine, and that we’ll be sure to tell users of the indoors version not to leave the nutrient boxes where toddlers could cut ‘em open and eat the contents.  One has to insure against stupid people winning the lawsuit lottery, you know.

     “Note of course the basic facts that this ‘leash’, this dependence on these artificial biochemicals, is analogous to vitamins and trace minerals, in that they are very low-volume dietary requirements that are vitally essential.  They are not food.  Food is their prey, and also scraps below a size limit that might crudely be called a crumb, routinely in the indoors version and only in a time of lack of living prey for the outdoors version.  After one day of activity without their ‘leash’ compounds, these creatures will start to die, and after three days of activity, they’ll all be dead, so they can’t stray too far from the presence of ‘leash’ compounds.

     “Note that I say a day of activity, because when a ‘Pest-Pester’ is cold and inactive, they burn very little of their nutrients, and so the clock doesn’t run.  Note also the other small details that the toxicity of these trace compounds is so low that only if one ate quite a bit of these deliberately hideous-tasting concoctions would one have trouble. If released into the environment, soil bacteria degrade them quite readily.  Note also that the indoors version has a built-in instinct to deposit its droppings into a chamber adjacent to its trace nutrients supply.”

     Phil displayed the box once more and pulled out a perforated drawer.  “Here you environmentally conscious gardener-type dudes and dudettes can nab yourselves some organic fertilizers for your flower pots or gardens, at the same time as you keep your houses guano-free.” Phil’s mild attempt at humor fell on deaf ears.

     “The outdoors version depends on a different mix of chemicals, and these are to be hung from trees, put on top of stakes pounded into the ground every few hundred yards, or in warehouses, or whatever.” Phil held up another, larger perforated plastic box with a small roof. “These nutrients, along with the Pest-Pesters, can withstand a wider range of temperatures.  The additional limiting factor in the case of the Pest-Pesters is that their behavior is programmed such that they will only kill and eat species on their ‘hit list’ of the top 153 most troublesome pests.  They won’t bother bees, butterflies, insectivorous insects, earthworms, or other desirable creatures.  They recognize legitimate victims by smell.

     “Let me also mention a few other small matters.  These critters are programmed to behave quite unnaturally in certain respects.  They never fight or squabble amongst themselves, and are also programmed to bring food to sick or wounded members of their own species while they heal. This makes them more effective or long-lasting, and hence, cheaper. That is, one needn’t buy fresh stock so often.  ABC does not believe in planned obsolescence.” Except to the extent that we didn’t allow these critters to reproduce, Phil thought, but we’ve got good excuses for that.

     “Finally, let me mention that the prepared press releases we’re sending out on the networks, hardcopies of which we’ve passed out, contain summaries of information we’ve gathered concerning what the chemical companies spend lobbying government officials, and through them, influencing regulatory agencies.  Some years ago, some legislators proposed spending a few hundred thousand dollars to study how farmers could make do with smaller quantities of pesticides.  This money would’ve been peanuts compared to the overall agricultural budget.  This proposal was shot down, and I don’t think I need to tell you why.

     “We’re depending on you, the media, to get the word to the citizens, that we now have a safer method of really reducing pesticide use, and that there are some powerful vested interests who will oppose us.  We don’t plan on making large political contributions in order to get the government to act in the best interests of citizens and the environment.  We’re depending on the media and the voters to help us see to it that the right actions are taken here.

     “That’s all I’ve got.  Questions?” Aides circulated in the audience, carrying portable microphones.

     Dozens of hands went up, and a chorus of chaotic squabbling broke out.  This was a den of media wolves salivating for some scraps of scoop.  “Hold it!  We’ll be here as long as it takes to answer all your questions!  Or at least, I’ll be here till I fall over for lack of sleep, if that’s what it takes.  Let’s be civilized, now.  You in the green dress.” Phil pointed to an apparently randomly selected news hound.

     “Yes.  I’d like to ask you if you’ve considered the impact to birds and animals that depend on eating the pests you’re about to decimate. Much wildlife depends on our agricultural lands.”

     “Yes, we have.  Before I address this concern, let me point out to the audience that Ms. Cunningham’s impartiality might be questioned due to the fact that her husband is a lobbyist for the chemical pesticide companies.  Let me also point out that chemically poisoned pests in the current pest-control scheme are often eaten by the birds and animals she professes to be so greatly concerned about.  But, her concern is a legitimate one.” Phil waited for the hubbub to subside.  ABC’s detectives had worked overtime to ferret out this and other information. Phil was serving notice, right off the bat, that Advanced Biotechnology was no bunch of chumps, and wasn’t going to take any guff.

     “There is not a whole bunch we can do about this problem.  Let me point out, though, that many of the most troublesome pests have no effective natural predators, or we wouldn’t have needed to come up with our scheme in the first place.  What I forgot to mention earlier, though, is this: To compensate for this and any other small adverse affects we might have on the environment, ABC is donating 15% of profits from these products to conservation and research into new products to serve specific conservation needs.

     “New plants, restrained from running rampant in the environment in a manner similar to what we’ve just discussed, for example, could be designed to provide food and shelter to endangered bird species in select locations.  Small plots of engineered crops and insects could be grown specifically to support endangered species.  Foreign ‘trash’ species like starlings could be held in check, allowing native, endangered species like songbirds to recuperate.”

     Phil hadn’t really forgotten to mention this, he had held it in reserve for this kind of troublesome question.  Ms. Cunningham had only momentarily been disconcerted by the mention of her lobbyist husband and was now wanting to get in a follow-up question.  Phil took it.

     “It seems to me that what we’re talking about, then, is a human-managed ecosphere, or a world-wide zoo.  How ‘natural’ is this scheme?”

     “We don’t have a whole bunch of easy solutions left.  Ever since we humans first evolved, we’ve been messing with the environment.  We’ve even figured out that when the Europeans first arrived here in the supposedly ‘virgin’ wilds of America, the natives were actually managing the lands with controlled fires.  Land left entirely to itself is substantially different, and I might add, less biologically diverse, than the land that the Native Americans managed.  Now, we have done great deals of damage to the Earth worldwide through over-grazing, deforestation, urbanization, pollution, etc.  Short of reducing our population, we have no real choice other than to manage what wilds we have left.  Biological, as opposed to chemical, pest control will add greatly to our tools.

     “If you’re really concerned about human impact on the globe, I’d suggest you write your representatives, and ask them to implement the policies you feel are most desirable.  Among those policies, I’d include the idea of letting the free market come up with better and cheaper methods of pest controls, like what we’re doing.  And, I think you and your husband should donate some of those big bucks he earns lobbying for chemical pesticide companies, to some of the hundreds of millions of third world women who want affordable, safe birth control, but have none.”

     That should shut her up, Phil thought!  And, he thought to himself, you might take pains to let that arrogant butt-hole of an Earth-raping Pope motherfucker know what you think of his going to third-world nations with excesses of starving babies, and offering his solutions of outlawing birth control and abortions!  These thoughts he obviously kept to himself.  “Next question.”

     “You, or rather Mr. Ramirez, mentioned that this is the ‘Model T’, and that more and better of the same are to come.  Other than the nature-management tools that you just mentioned, which we seem to understand you’ll research on the public’s behalf, what new projects will you undertake for profit?”

     “First, we’ll fill a few niche markets that our marketing people have already identified.  For example, neither of our two current offerings do an optimal job of covering certain uses defined as ‘outdoors’ by our criteria, even if they aren’t really outdoors. Examples are warehouses that are not temperature-controlled.  Other examples are non-agricultural outdoors environments such as picnic grounds.  In other words, the current ‘pest-pesters’ don’t zero in on the common house fly, most ants, roaches, or other pests that are troublesome in some places but not in agriculture.

     “We deliberately limited the ‘pest-pesters’ to only the bare minimum number of prey species that are most troublesome to agriculture, to minimize impact to the environment.  We plan a ‘Pest-Pester II’ to cover warehouses, picnic grounds, and other miscellaneous environments. The list of target species will differ; that’s about all.

     “Our biggest near-term new market, though, will be in the field of controlling weeds and foreign plants.  We briefly considered having the ‘Pest-Pester’ double up as a biological herbicide, but decided that in the interests of specialization and protecting the environment, that it would be better to create many different types of plant-eating critters. Unlike our relative ‘one size fits all’ approach on insect pest control, we’ll specialize a great deal on plant-eating critters.  There will be critters specializing in rooting out specific species of plants that are alien to a given environment.

     “Thus, we can undo what damage we’ve done to some environments by introducing alien species.  Other critters will specialize in eliminating all plants except a given species in a limited area where monoculture agriculture is practiced.  To do this safely, we need to work on a wide variety of artificial nutrients so that we can individually control each synthetic ‘species’.  That is, we wouldn’t want the corn monoculture herbicidal critter to cross over to the wheat field, or vice versa.

     “There are a few potential markets in manufacturing, especially the manufacture of very small objects, which we might be able to help in also.  These I am not free to discuss at this time.

     “Once we have wide public acceptance of our products, and a better body of knowledge of control techniques, we may want to let our pest-control critters reproduce in the field, to make them even cheaper and more accessible, especially in third-world countries and remote areas.  Specifically, what we’re thinking of, is moving the control factor further down the food chain.  We’d have trees that are only capable of reproducing in the lab, and they would provide the special nutrients that the pest controlling critters would need.  This way, you’d plant trees every few decades, instead of having to replenish ‘Pest-Pester’ stocks and special nutrient supplies twice a year.

     “On farmlands that we’d want to return to the wilds, all we’d have to do would be to cut down the trees, to ensure that the pest population returns to a natural condition.  We would have to come up with a fail-safe method of preventing the ‘Pest-Pesters’ from evolving to a state where they no longer need the special nutrients.  These are the only major ideas that we’re now working on, that we’re free to talk about at present.  Next question.”

     A scrappy TV news personality got the floor microphone next to take Phil to task.  “So, if I heard you right just now, as soon as the public accepts your present scheme, you’ll let your little monsters start reproducing in the field.  What’s next?  Must this show then go on till we have some ecological catastrophe, or till some whacked-out crazy dictator hires some scientific gene-slingers for hire to wipe out a specific ethnic group?  Or gays, for instance?  Seems to me we have a classic slippery slope situation here.”

     Just the type of question Phil had been waiting for.  He smelled blood, and intended to come out with guns blazing.  “First of all, we follow all established precautionary laws and procedures.  We submit ourselves to examination by any biochemically competent party willing to sign a non-disclosure form.

     “Secondly, and most importantly, the slippery slope is for intellectual weenies.  Each of us makes judgments every day that deal with the slippery slope.  I could argue against anything using the slippery slope theory.  We can’t let the cops put murderers in jail ‘cause next thing you know, we’ll be in the slammer for spitting on the sidewalk.  We shouldn’t let people brush their teeth, murdering millions of innocent bacteria, because people will think they’re at liberty to torture little puppy-dogs with lit cigarettes.

     “Take your concerns about this slippery slope to the voting booth, and to your conscience, like you do your concerns about any other slippery slope.  Whether you vote for the politicians in the pockets of the chemical companies, or the politicians who are concerned for the public welfare, and whether or not you purchase ABC’s products, is a matter between you and your God, gods, or conscience.  Next question.”

     “What, really, do you say to all the people who say you’re playing God?”

     “We’ve played God by selectively breeding plants and animals for thousands of years.  We’re just doing it more efficiently now.  I could claim that you’re playing God whenever you do anything with your body that isn’t ‘natural’, from heart bypass surgery to shaving.  Beyond that, I don’t have much to say to them; most of these people seem to have a direct line to God himself, or are his appointed spokespersons, and these people can’t be reasoned with.  Next question.”

     Questions were coming in and being handled at a lightning pace now.

     “Is there going to be a serious problem with birds eating your ‘Pest-Pesters?’“

     “We doubt it.  Like many natural insects, Pest-Pesters contain some very nasty tasting chemicals.  They will not kill birds that eat ‘em, but the birds won’t eat one more than once.  That is why the Pest-Pesters are colored bright orange with black stripes.  This is a natural coloring scheme saying, ‘Don’t eat me, or you’ll regret it’.  It also helps make them very visible to humans, who will want to know where they are to avoid harming them, and will want to count stock.  Next question, please.”

     “First of all, Dr. Schrock, let me assure you that we in the media are not all hostile to you.  Speaking as an environmentally conscious person, let me also assure you that many of us friends of the environment also realize what great things you and your co-workers at ABC are doing for the globe.  You must all have worked many long, hard hours...”

     Phil cut to the chase.  He didn’t like to listen to “questions” of questioners who liked to hear themselves talk, or who acted like sycophants.  “What’s your question?”

     “Well actually, I have two questions.  One is, how did this idea originally occur to you, and two is, what do you plan to do to celebrate your accomplishments, and what do you plan to do with the rest of your life?”

     “I think that’s three questions if I counted right.  The idea occurred to me as I sweated in suburban Atlanta, spreading poisons through my house to protect my precious puddy-tats from fleas.  What I plan to do to celebrate, is to work harder and faster till our ideas are actually on the market.  Primarily, this means making myself available to all you media folks, Congress, regulatory agencies, etc.  After that, I am taking a month’s vacation with my beloved to go hiking in some national parks, to enjoy some of the wilds that we have left; wilds that we at ABC are doing our best to help protect.  As far as the rest of my life is concerned, I’ll be back to working harder and faster again, like the rest of all of us wage slaves.”

     “What if the regulatory agencies turn you down?”

     “First, let me point out that we have all along been keeping government scientists from the NIH and EPA abreast of what we’re doing, after getting them to sign appropriate non-disclosure forms.  We have done this, and are seeking their final approval, despite the fact that we’re not required by law to do so.  Laws can change at any time, of course, so we’re just being prudent.  Tomorrow our plans could all be outlawed.”

     Phil chuckled to himself a bit, remembering how ABC’s lawyers had actually been able to pull one over on the feds, by using the Department of Agriculture’s narrowly written guidelines to argue that their new creations didn’t fall into the category of agricultural biotechnology. Their biotech regulatory division was fended off by saying, essentially, “See here, look at all these regs; we don’t fall under them for this and that hair-splitting reasons.  And you’d better not run off to Congress and get them to pass more laws to cover our specifics, ‘cause you’ve signed non-disclosure forms.” Lawyers are only slime-suckers when they’re on the wrong side, Phil reflected.

     “What we’ll do then, is cross that bridge when we get to it.  We may decide to move the operation to nations that have the good sense to approve these techniques.  Nations that, I might add, have less parasitic lawyers to bleed productive manufacturers dry with endless lawsuits.  Before you hoot and holler about us moving risky operations to third-world countries, let me tell you a few things: Pesticide companies are dumping risky chemicals to third-world farmers as we speak, and we often buy the contaminated products.  Why don’t you media types dig into what all pesticides we eat on imported products?  Our techniques won’t do anything of that sort.

     “Let me tell you another thing.  Concern for the environment, and most especially, ill-informed, overly cautious concern for the environment, is a luxury for rich people who don’t worry about where their next meal comes from.  The only ways we’ll get third-world nations to stop overpopulating and destroying their environments are to raise their standards of living, and to trade freely with them.  We’ll not help them by forbidding the export of technology to them, and we’ll not help them with the attitudes of ‘only Americans deserve jobs’.  This is no less fundamentally greedy than ‘only Georgia residents deserve jobs’ or ‘only Phil Schrock deserves a job.’

     “Finally, let me say that if the American voters, or the American politicians, which after all aren’t the same, decide to switch places with the third-world countries by continuing to use dangerous pesticides while the rest of the world moves to better and cheaper methods, then we’ll be disappointed.  But, I, and ABC, will most likely survive. Question?”

     “Dr. Schrock, what about the effects on the genes of wild animals on the fringes of farms and ranches, and on timber farms for that matter, that will contact these synthetic organisms?  It seems to me that the presence of a large numbers of such critters will affect the gene pools of wild animals.  What happens when animals or insects on the farms and ranches, or close to farms and ranches, adapt new characteristics in reaction to the present of ‘Pest Pesters’, and then interbreed with their cousins deep in the true wilderness?  Just because the ‘Pest-Pesters’ aren’t present in the true wilds, does not mean that their effects won’t be felt there.”

     “That question reflects a fair amount of insight and intelligence. It is probably our most serious concern.  However, just like our concerns about the food sources we’re taking away from wild creatures that populate fields and ranches, we’re hoping we can overcome the negatives of our actions with our positives, which I’ve already mentioned.  In addition, I might mention that the same is true of domestic animals that interbreed with wild creatures.  Artificial selection selects for traits different than traits selected for in the wilds.  A poodle may be able to breed with a wolf, but the poodle genes won’t last long in the wilds.  Similarly, we believe that traits evolved in reaction to ‘Pest-Pesters’ won’t interfere with the natural scheme of things.

     “I don’t believe in justifying one’s questionable actions by comparing oneself to those who are worse.  Nevertheless, I can’t resist using my soapbox to plug a few viewpoints.  Your concern about modifying the genes of wild animals is well founded.  Genetic engineering is not our only worry.  We should also worry about ‘wildlife farms’, for instance, bear and elk farms, where wild animals are semi-domesticated while being raised to cater to the superstitions of Orientals who like to eat antlers, gall bladders, and bear paws.  These artificially bred animals often intermingle with truly wild animals, messing with the gene pools.

     “Maybe we bio-engineers will someday create a domestic horse or cow with elk antlers, a bear gall bladder, a rhino horn, and bear paws, to humor those ill-informed consumers in certain nations.  This is only partially a joke.  I wish we’d just sell them some sawdust, and tell ‘em it’s whatever they want it to be.  It would be so much easier.  I wonder if they’d accept bio-engineered products as the real thing.

     “More fundamentally, again, the only way we’ll really reduce our impact on the environment is to keep human populations to a reasonable level.  Send your excess money to women in the third world who want birth control.  Write your representatives and tell him that’s where our foreign aid money should go.  Overpopulation causes wars and pollution, and these things do not respect international boundaries.” Phil was hot, and he wasn’t going to stop here, this time.  “Tell the Pope to think with his conscience and not with his little book of inflexible rules. Tell him to stop going to third world countries and telling ‘em to make more babies.  But don’t stand in the way of new technologies which, while not perfectly harmless, will reduce our impact on the environment.”

     The crowd rumbled and grumbled.  Hector shot Phil a warning glance. Phil knew Hector agreed with him, but there was only so far that one could go in getting some press coverage before one crossed the line to offending too many people.  Phil had probably already crossed that line. He deliberately didn’t look in the direction of the corporate big shots in the third row, and directed his gaze further back to Gloria instead. She was grinning ear to ear.  He could just about hear her thinking, “Way to not be a conformist geek and suit!  Tell ‘em like it is!!!”

     Phil was tempted to go on to say that one of the best uses that genetic engineering could ever be put to, would be to devise a new and improved Pope¾one with both a conscience and a brain.  Instead, he sent a subtle acknowledging nod in Hector’s direction and continued. He pointed to a reporter who had been waving his arms on and off for quite some time.  “Next question, please.”

     “I was wondering if you’d care to comment on the possibilities of growing new food crops, with plants and animals designed from the bottom up.”

     “We do not think there is a big market for this.  Consumers are too finicky about what they eat.  Insects are an entirely good source of proteins, for example, but most Western people won’t eat them.  Rabbits are a good way to raise meat, but most people won’t eat them because they’re ‘too cute.’ Ditto the Western mind blocks on horsemeat, cats, and dogs.  These mind blocks stand in the way of marketing ‘unnatural’ food stuffs.  Witness the totally irrational resistance to irradiated foods, and slightly genetically altered foods like rot-resistant tomatoes and freeze-resistant strawberries.  Many people will eat these things, but might balk at, say, lobster tails grown on trees.  Not to mention the troubles raised by religious food preferences¾can a cow with a pig gene be considered kosher?  Can a vegetarian eat fruits that have a fish gene or two snuck in?” Phil stopped this time, and didn’t venture any further into the forbidden territory of pointing out how stupid and irrational some rigid modes of thinking were.

     “We believe that there are consumers who will eat synthetic foods, and those who won’t.  We will go after the market for that first group of consumers the same way that some of our competitors are going¾by growing food in vats of strictly controlled genes and amino acids.  All we do is provide raw material, energy, an environment, and a food ‘design’ if you will, as encoded in DNA.  This is not yet economically competitive with natural foods, but some day it will be.  We think this will eventually be a better way to go than growing synthetic organisms, since both cases run against the prejudices of finicky consumers, and the vats require no farmland.  Next question, please.”

     “Is there any significance to the particular number of Pest-Pester victim species, 153, that you came up with?”

     “Sort of.  First, please understand that the lines between species are somewhat arbitrary.  Some experts might say we’re covering more than 153 species, while others would say less.  But, we actually came out close to 150 species when we tallied up the most troublesome species, and then we added just a few more to humor a math freak in our department.  At the risk of boring you, 153 is a special number: it’s the sum of the numbers 1 plus 2 plus 3 plus 4 and so on plus 15 plus 16 plus 17, and also is the sum of the factorials of the numbers one through five.  A four factorial for example is 1 times 2 times 3 times 4.

     “Finally, if you take any integer that is divisible by 3, and take the constituent digits, cube them all, and sum the results, then repeat the process over and over again, you’ll get to 153, then stay there. That is, take 351 for example: cube the 3, the 5, and the 1, and add ‘em together.  This will get you to 153, which is where you stay. Other divisible-by-3 numbers will take more iterations to get there but they’ll all get there.  Just a neat little number for math freaks.” Phil didn’t risk boring the audience with the additional details that playing with “neat” numbers (such as “friendly” numbers) dated back to the Bible, and that Jesus caught 153 fish at Lake Tiberias, while the “neat” properties of 153 weren’t discovered by modern man until the 1960s.  “Tall guy.  Question?”

     Yessir.  I was wondering, doesn’t the chaos theory predict that something will go wrong with your neat little scheme?  Haven’t there been many ‘fail-proof’ schemes that have failed?”

     Phil was disgusted with the ignorant question, but wisely decided to give a reasonably respectful answer.  “There isn’t really any ‘chaos theory’; ‘chaos’ is more so a field of mathematics where mathematicians look into APPARENTLY chaotic systems and actually find that the systems are behaving in manners that conform to very complicated equations.  If you’re looking for a word from science that describes a general tendency for things to go to wrong, for orderly things to break down and decay, then the word you’re looking for is ENTROPY.

     “As far as entropy goes here with the Anti-Bug Critters, entropy is on our side.  Just as in natural mutations, or for that matter in human-caused chemical or radiation-induced mutations in natural livings things, the vast majority of mutations or entropy-induced changes are going to be detrimental to the organism.  That is, the vast majority of unexpected changes will cause the organism to die.

     “So, if Pest-Pesters decide to munch on Monarch butterflies to enlarge their niches a bit, unlike what their original genes called out for in their menu, then most likely other associated genes or characteristics will cause them to die.  In our case, even that one-in-a-million beneficial change will not be allowed to reproduce, since ABCs are sterile.  Not to belabor the point, but our design is also far less flexible than nature’s designs.  That is, we designed to specific, relatively rigid goals, unlike nature, which evolves, and therefore also evolves more generalist schemes that are adaptable to changing niches and changing environments.  We carry very little in the way of ‘junk genes’ which can sometimes acquire new purposes where there was none before, nor do we carry much in the way of extra neurons.  So, almost any small change is apt to really mess us up, unlike natural critters.

     “We can’t truly be called ‘fail-proof’ in the purest sense; we can only deal in probabilities.  What kind of probabilities do we want to worry about?  It is theoretically possible for all the hot air molecules and all the cold air molecules in this room to instantaneously segregate themselves, so that half us should freeze to death and half of us should burn to death, right now.  The possibility of ABCs starting to reproduce and evolve in the open environment is on the same sort of order of magnitude of probability as this temperature segregation.  We stop evolution in its tracks, then chain it.  Next question.”

     “What do you think of the possibility that some rogue operations will use your products to help grow illicit drugs?  Or design new drug crops, or cross different plants to have, for example, corn plants produce cocaine?”

     “Great.  Party on, dudes.  More power to them.  I’d love to see them make a fast-growing tree that oozes finger hash instead of sap,” Phil fantasized about saying, as he remembered some of the good ol’ days when he’d helped a friend of his run a greenhouse.  They’d pruned the plants by hand, and had carved some thick, tarry black goop off of their fingers afterwards.  They had mixed it with a bit of easier-burning leaves, and it had been without question the best stuff that Phil had ever smoked.  But Phil lived in the real world, and so his reply was quite different.

     “Well, most drug crops don’t need much protection from insects. The purpose that they evolved their toxins for in the first place, is defense against insects.  It is one of those ironic facts in life, that the reasons we humans like some plants so much, and have made them reproductively successful beyond their wildest dreams, as plant dreams go, is that they’re toxic.  I guess you could say the same of spicy and strong-tasting plants.  As far as ‘designed drug plants’ go, I’d say, don’t underestimate the costs of such development efforts.  These are not basement-lab operations.

     “We already have the benefits of many prescription drugs being produced by genetically altered plants and animals, more cheaply than by chemical synthesis, but still, as you know, there is a lot of money sunk into developing these strains.  If such products are ever devised to give us more bad habits, I’d say, well, this technology, like any other, can be used for good or bad.”

     Phil took the next question, which, following his “good or bad” quote, was, almost predictably, “What are the potentials for the use of these new biotechnologies in warfare?”

     “I don’t know.  Haven’t given the matter much thought.  Don’t know if I care to.  Next question.”

     “What is the probability that rogue genetic engineering operations will some day set loose a catastrophe?  How available is this technology to people who shouldn’t be playing with it?”

     “Not very.  The skills, knowledge, equipment, and supplies, and most especially, computers, are prohibitive.  Just ask our bean counters about it some time.  Next question, please.”

     “What gave ABC such a huge jump on its competitors that you’re coming out with multicellular products while your competitors have just barely begun to introduce single-celled eukaryotes?,” was the question from some science magazine’s correspondent.

     “Yes, indeed, we have a substantial lead¾what you’re referring to is that we’ve gone directly from designing bacteria to designing multicellular critters without having dabbled with intermediate levels of complexity, those being single-celled animals like amebas or paramecium.  Some details behind our successes I am not free to explain to you, but I will be telling you no secrets when I mention some things that are obvious after any expert looks into these matters.  I guess I’d boil down the essential creative breakthroughs to about four things. We’ve already mentioned the crucial importance of computers and programs to the project, but that is more so development technique than it is essential ingredients in the technology itself.

     “The essential ingredients, I’d say, in no particular order, were: 1) Very close symbiotic relationships with synthetic bacteria that actually form parts of the critters.  This is analogous to the way mitochondria are an integral part of each of our cells, but they carry their own genes.  Our bacteria include hemoglobin carriers, digestive elements, and immune system ‘enforcers’.  By using bacteria with their own genetic material, we decrease the amount of genes that need to be carried by the organism.  Thus, the organism can grow faster.  And no, it’s hardly likely that these bacteria would ever evolve to live independently.

     “Number 2 would be the immune system.  A designed system is actually quite simpler than, but more efficient than, a natural system. Immune systems are essential for multicellular critters; they are just too much good munching for many small pathogens and decay bacteria. ABCs have large cells roaming the bloodstream; these are in the business of examining any free-floating molecules larger than a small virus, and cells that form parts of the organism.  These large cells recognize key proteins in the various legitimate parts of the organism. Any molecule or cell not recognized as legitimate is ‘tagged’ with small, sticky molecules.  Enforcers are our ‘bouncers’ who give the bum’s rush to the invaders or to mutated body cells not carrying keys. We like to call the enforcers ‘alipuscles’, because they’re like corpuscles, but unlike natural immune systems, they carry their victims off to the organism’s alimentary canal to be digested.  If any cooties dare to invade ABCs, the ABCs figure they might as well get some use out of them, so they digest them.

     “Number 3 is simply having figured out some more of the details of how Momma Nature encodes liver genes to express themselves in livers but not in muscles, and vice versa.  We had to do the same thing, and did it in manners very similar to nature’s methods.

     “Finally, number 4, which we really can’t claim much credit for, is the brains of the organism.” Phil had been intimately involved in the first three items.  He wasn’t bragging about that, except in the roundabout manner of mentioning the one main item that he wasn’t much involved in.

     “We had a brilliant academic scholar who prefers to remain anonymous, as a consultant.  This person contributed most major elements of the brain’s design.  This includes how we genetically encode what the critter’s instincts are, or what it will and what it won’t eat.” Phil couldn’t understand why Dr. Glen Thomas wanted anonymity.  Maybe I’ll understand after protesters make a hell out of my life, Phil thought.

     “On the other hand, this person’s basic design ideas were fleshed out and given substance by ABC’s computer power and programmers. Special mention of our neural nets programmers, especially John Fletcher and Maria Ross, is appropriate here.  Next question?”

     “Won’t you have trouble eventually with disease organisms evolving the specific keys your immune system uses, to slip by your defenses?”

     “Yes, this is certainly a real possibility.  The beauty of our scheme, though, is that if and when this happens, we merely make our keys longer or change them.  Then, disease organisms that would pick on ABCs will have to start all over again.  Evolution is a slow and clumsy thing, even in rapidly reproducing pathogens, and so we should easily be able to change keys faster than evolution would ever be able to adapt. You in the yellow tie.”

     “What about genetically engineered human beings?  What are the implications of your work to human genetic engineering, and what are your opinions on where we’re going and where we should be going, in this field?”

     “I am no expert here at all, but I guess that hasn’t stopped me from commenting on some other matters, either.” He got a few chuckles. “I suppose it takes no expert, though, to see that what we’ve done so far to remedy illnesses is good.  In these cases, though, so far we’ve only remedied people’s body cells, and haven’t actually gone in to mess with their sex cells, or reproductive cells, or gametes, as you might call them.  This is no trivial matter, and we’re still many years away from doing so, just as we’re still many years away from actually designing from the bottom up, anything remotely near as complex as a human being.  Pseudo-insects are far removed from humans.

     “Generally, though, I’d say, let’s forge full steam ahead, with plenty of informed public involvement in the decision-making.  Some day, designed humans will arrive.  And why not improve on nature?  We carry some traits from our recent upright stature that could bear to be straightened out, like bad backs, fallen arches in our feet, and sinuses that drain poorly.  Other evolutionary artifacts that could stand to be straightened out include our wishes to eat too many sweets and fats, which date back to scarce-food caveman days when we had to glom on to as much fattening stuff as we could get, to put on some blubber for the lean days.  Either we could change our food preferences, or our digestive systems and/or other systems, so that we could be like bears, and eat as many fats as we felt like, and not suffer from it.

     “Other behavioral tendencies we’ve inherited from caveman days include our tendencies to fight too much.  Distrusting the stranger, and protecting your land and source of food from neighboring tribes made sense in the hundreds of thousands of years during which we evolved, but makes less sense in the days of weapons of mass destruction.”

     And, Phil thought to himself, maybe we could straighten out human mating behavior, where men think they’ve gotta knock up every babe in sight, and women think what they’ve got to provide is oh so much more valuable than what men have.  But this he kept to himself.  “Maybe we could finally straighten out our defective human nature.  But what happens when we’re all saints and the mutant comes along to take advantage of us?  This all gets into nature v/s nurture, free will, and all sorts of philosophical stuff that I don’t want to get into.

     “Let me leave it at this: someday we’ll be able to mess with the definition of a human being, and we’ll have to be ready when that day comes.  Yes, we can worry about everyone wanting the same ‘perfect’ babies, and everyone being totally, boringly the same, and about us losing the variability and gene pool that makes us adaptable to our changing environment, but let me express some last few thoughts: Some diseases, like sickle-cell anemia, evolved to give resistance to other, parasite-induced diseases like malaria, which we’ve now by and large conquered.

     “So, indeed, some ‘defective’ genes evolved for good reason.  In many cases, those reasons are now gone.  But I never could think of any advantages to many other diseases, or lameness, blindness, deafness, or stupidity.  If we can takes strides to reduce these, then why not?  Why not reserve the finite number of slots for human beings on this Earth for those who can enjoy life to its fullest, and contribute the most to society?”

     A reporter stood up and hollered, “BECAUSE THE REJECTS YOU WOULD DISCARD PERFORM A VALUABLE SERVICE: THEY REMIND US THAT THERE ARE ALL SORTS OF DIFFERENT KINDS OF HUMAN BEINGS AND THAT THEY ARE ALL WORTHY AND DESERVE OUR LOVE.  BECAUSE WE HAVEN’T THE IMPARTIAL JUDGMENT TO CHOOSE WHAT IS BEST.”

     A thought went through Phil’s mind that he’d had before.  It was that some people who objected to improving the human race, for all sorts of high-flown reasons, were really actually afraid that there would be no more “inferiors” for them to look down on.  It must indeed be scary, to think that one could be the last ugly, stupid, sickly and slow human, while everyone else ran all sorts of circles around oneself.  These insecure people would get off on knowing that they were sharper than the retards, at least, and couldn’t conceive of genetically improved people who would actually treasure the genetically un-improved, like themselves, as valuable human beings, because they themselves couldn’t regard the retards that way.  But this thought was one that was quite obviously not suitable for expressing at the moment.

     “OK, I asked a rhetorical question, and got some answers.  Fair enough.  Let me ask a few more rhetorical questions.  Do you or do you not choose to try to remain smart, to retain your hearing, to retain your sight and health?  This is judgmental on your part, but I wish all human beings would be in the position to be judgmental in the same manner.  Some of us haven’t the choice to try to retain these things. Some because of accidents, and some because of genes.  One is preventable now, and we do our best to prevent them; the other is becoming more and more preventable, and should also be prevented as best we can.

     “I surely don’t have enough knowledge or love to make choices for parents, saying, no, you may not have access to this or that technology to give you the healthiest children you can have.  If you want to make these or other decisions for parents, you’d better have an almost infinite amount of knowledge of and love for them, because otherwise, you’ll not make good decisions, and should let them make their own decisions.  Others know their circumstances and abilities far better than you do.  Put it another way: if being ‘defective’ is such a noble service to society, do you volunteer to lose your hearing or eyesight? Or, to gain a few hundred pounds?  If you won’t volunteer, you should want others to have the same choice to decline performing this involuntary ‘service’ as you have.

     “Finally, let’s not kid ourselves: natural selection no longer works on us very strongly.  Our medical technologies are wonderful, but they’re allowing us to reproduce even when we have genes that would kill us in the wilds.  This is all well and good in human and humane terms, but eventually we’ll have to deal with what’s happening to our genetic ‘load’ of bad genes.  No, am not being judgmental: tell me what is good about Tay-Sachs disease.

     “I’d like to see the day come when we can just go in and selectively fix a few genes in a gamete or zygote.  I’d like to be able to improve humans without breeding ourselves like animals.  It would be great to eliminate the clearly bad genes without messing with the system where each parent gets to contribute genes to their kids.  This would keep our genetic variability, while also still satisfying our deep-seated desires to have children that are biologically our own.

     “Certainly this would be far better than facing the choices of either watching the human gene pool deteriorate, going back to brutish natural selection, or having the government tell you to have someone else’s kid in some human breeding scheme.  Yes, we could go a few more thousand years the way we’re going, but eventually, we’ll have to think about it.  I hope we humans are around long enough in a civilized state that we’ll have to face these questions.  Enough of this speculation.”

     Phil had the good sense not to mention his other thoughts.  They concerned the implications to the gene pool of measly tax breaks for taxpayers who raise more probable future tax payers, versus the large benefits, especially considered as percentage of “base pay,” accruing to welfare recipients who raise more probable future welfare recipients, at public expense.  I don’t want to be crucified, he thought.  “Next question, please.”

     “What about the condemnation and scorn that will be heaped on the ‘defectives’ among us, whose parents choose not to participate in this brave new world, when it arrives?”

     “What of the millions of abused children among us today?  I don’t see what you’re implying.  If you’re implying that we can prevent human suffering by outlawing human genetic engineering, I think you’re fooling yourself.  Humans have always been cruel and thoughtless.  No simple laws will change that.  If we could legislate human morality, all we’d need would be one law: Everyone is required to love everyone else. Presto, no more greed, war, violence of any sort, or hunger.  Or overpopulation, I might add.  People who love don’t want overpopulated humans to starve, to fight wars over too few resources and too many people, or to cause the biosphere we call ‘Earth’ to collapse, with millions of species dead, due to too many humans.

     “If we’re going to outlaw human genetic engineering because of scorn heaped on the ‘defectives’ who elect to forego it, then why don’t we do the same with plastic surgery?  Or shall we just outlaw insensitivity?  Or¾and, I know this is totally radical, now¾maybe we could just reserve legal sanctions for those who cause harm to others, through malicious violence.  Maybe, in other words, we could legalize freedom, and let people make their own choices.  You in the brown suit?”

     Mr. brown suit commented, “You tell us you want public involvement in the decision-making but you say we shouldn’t outlaw human genetic engineering.  What, then, are we the mere public allowed to decide?”

     “It is of course my personal opinion, not the opinion of ABC or any group of genetic engineers or scientists, but I think it’s fairly clear that a deliberate attempt to outlaw human genetic engineering would put an end to many helpful medical procedures, and the promises of even more.  Any person wanting to stand between doctors and the patients whose suffering they’re trying to lessen, should be ashamed of themselves.  Short of whether human genetic engineering should be legal or not, though, there are many important questions we humans will eventually have to decide.  The media and the public have every right, even a duty, to be involved in these decisions.

     “You could decide whether or not we should allow ourselves to split into different ‘breeds’: football-playing breeds, chess-playing breeds, show breeds, warrior breeds.  Or whether we should be allowed to use any genes not occurring in nature in our own species, and if so, which ones. What percentage of a baby’s genes can be changed from what the parents have, before the parents start to feel, or can legally claim that, the child isn’t biologically ‘theirs’?  These decisions and questions all belong to the future.

     “And yes, as a part of a ‘democracy’, you have the ‘right’ to be a part of a dictatorial majority like the founding fathers warned us about.  As 51% of the voters, you can dictate that the other 49% should not be allowed to have genetic engineers go in and ensure that their children are free of horrible genetic defects.  You, the dictatorial majority, could also decide that the minority of people who might want to do any harmless trivial thing, like wearing blue ribbons in their hair, should all be put to death.  I would urge you to learn to practice tolerance.”

     Including tolerance of people who get a buzz off of substances different from the substances that you like to abuse, you bunch of zero-tolerance bastards, he added to himself.  Who were the damned douchebags who ever decreed that intolerance was such a fucking virtue, anyway?

     “For now, we need to decide who should be allowed to have genetic information on individuals: governments?  Doctors?  Insurance companies? Lovers?  But as far as actually engineering changes in human beings goes, this is all very speculative and distant, and not related to ABC’s releases today.  Next question.”

     Mr. Brown suit hollered, “HOLD IT!  I’m not done.  You were just telling us we should practice tolerance, yet a while back you were being very intolerant of the Pope’s right to speak out against birth control. How do you reconcile your statements?”

     “Well, we need to be tolerant of my right to speak out against the Pope’s stance.  My personal credo here is that I tolerate all but intolerance.  The Pope can speak out against birth control and abortion as moral choices all he wants; it’s just that when he and his ilk start talking about punishing people who disagree with them, by kicking them out of the church or sticking them in jail, that I object.  This creed I speak of, of tolerating all but intolerance, is paradoxical, as are many viable philosophies.  Common sense is required to flesh out the details.

     “Unfortunately, this common sense is often lacking.  Some years ago, people who are intolerant of gays were arguing that allowing gays in the military would be intolerant of heterosexual soldiers’ rights not to be offended by the presence of these subhumans, the same as bigots argued even more years ago that it would be intolerant of white peoples’ rights to not serve along with black subhumans in the military.  By these arguments I could say that you must be tolerant of my rights not to be offended by having to look at the blue ribbons in your hair.  We can be intolerant while preaching tolerance.

     “So, if the Pope wants to not have an abortion, or if he wants to not practice birth control, that is fine by me.  But when he or anyone else wants to impose their morals on me, I object.  Suppose I concluded that unfertilized egg cells have souls; would I then be allowed to require all women to have as many of their eggs fertilized and brought to term, as possible?” Preferably by me, when the women are good-looking, Phil added to himself. He made sure not to cast his eyes towards ABC’s suits a few rows back, thinking, hot damn, am I on my soapbox now, or what?  How’d I get here?  When do the suits beckon for the fuzz to come up here and haul me away?  When do I get my pink slip? Ha!  Let’s see those geeks try and fire my ass, and do without me! Fuck ‘em!

     “Or, if we’re going to say that a full complement of genes are needed in a human cell for it to have a soul, then keep in mind that soon we’ll be able to clone a human being from the living cells that you scrape off of the lining of your mouth, and kill, every time you brush your teeth.  We will then each be guilty of mass murder every time we brush our teeth.  Moral thinking must keep pace with technology.  And with our population density, I might add.  However, I’ve had enough of speculation over matters not closely related to ABC’s releases today. Next question, please.”

     “I heard you mention cloning humans.  How soon will we be cloning human beings, or parts thereof, as a source of ‘spare parts’ for transplants?”

     Read the news, you bum, Phil thought.  Keep up to date.  “Probably never.  We’ve already got the design for a pig that will grow organs with human proteins DAP and MCP which help to prevent human immune systems from rejecting the foreign tissues.  We’ve also substituted other proteins in the pigs’ tissues to further reduce rejection.  We’ve had it for a few years, and we know it works.  When I say ‘we’, I mean not only ABC, but other companies also.  Now, as soon as the regulatory agencies study it for another decade or two, and the animal rights activists stop destroying all the research labs, we’ll be sure enough that two in a million transplant recipients won’t have some slight problems and therefore win hundreds of millions in the lawsuit lottery, mostly for their lawyers.  Then, finally, maybe the public will be able to benefit from reliable interspecies organ transplants.  Next question?”

     Some windbag reporter got up and asked a rambling, multifaceted question about aborting fetuses with “gay genes,” or aborting fetuses without gay genes, or selectively adopting only children with this, that, or the other types of genes.  He seemed to alternate viewpoints, in the ways the questions were asked, and he also sometimes tried to look objective by using fancy, clinical-sounding terms.  Disgusted, and feeling like he was an intended pawn in manipulative word traps, Phil decided to have some fun, and try his hand at being a comedian.  When the long wind had finally run its course, Phil did a little dance behind the podium.

     “What he said,” he said, pointing to the reporter.  Then, he stepped to the side, pointing to where he’d just been, and changing his voice.  “Yeah.  I’m with him!” Cha-cha once more, change voices again. “Damned straight!” Step forward, yank of the thumb rearwards.  “The dude’s like, rad.  Right on.” Pause.  “We all agree with everything you said.” The crowd half-rumbled and half-laughed, nervously.  Nervously, as in, will I or my next question be the next victim?  Phil felt like maybe he’d been too hard on the jerk, but decided he’d really been asking for it, with a question like that.  He decided to give the old sliver another twist.  “And it’s a damned good thing that we agree with you, ‘cause I think there’s more of us than there are of you.”

     The questions went on and on, for another ten of fifteen minutes, but all the good ones had already been asked.  Phil refused to answer at any substantial length, any more speculative questions.  Liberals and conservatives alike tried to bait him, tried to get him to say something even more totally outrageous than what he’d already said, tried to put words in his mouth, and tried to ask him various versions of the “have you stopped beating your wife” question.  Phil deflected them all, politely but firmly.

     People started to get bored and leave.  Others milled around and talked to each other.  For about ten minutes, various reporters clustered around different groups of ABC employees.  Phil’s group was one of the largest.  Finally, Phil bowed out, and went over to Gloria and gave her a big hug and smooch.  They snuck out the back door to avoid the protesters outside.  Sympathetic members of the media actually helped them pull this off, some by staging a distraction, and others by lending them some cameras and microphones and escorting them to their car, so that they’d look like media types.  The security types seemed very relieved not to have confrontations on their hands.

     Phil and Gloria had a beer or four and a margarita or two that evening to celebrate and relax.  The day had been tough, and it was a huge relief now that it was over.

     They had another celebration approximately two months later when the ABC products were finally approved and started shipping to customers.  They were glad they lived in a high-security, walled neighborhood, where only residents and guests were welcome, because there was much hullabaloo from protesters.  Phil had to deal with it every day at work, but there was plenty of security there also, and the protesters were running out of steam.  The project was a success at last!


 

 

CHAPTER 6

 

     Damn your weaseling ass; why don’t you ‘fess up to your goofs and promise to do better, and deliver us something that works for once, General Frank Leech thought as he sat behind his imposing desk and glared at Stanley Eisner.  Frank remembered his days as a basic cadet at the USAF Academy, when the only acceptable answer to any “why” question had been, “No excuse, Sir!” If only Stanley had had such good training!

     “Why are you such a whiskey delta?,” he imagined himself asking.  A properly disciplined Stanley would have to reply, “No excuse, Sir!” But, Stanley, not having the benefits of such training, wouldn’t even know that “whiskey delta” was military phonetic for “weak dick”.  Frank wished he wouldn’t have to deal with whiskey delta civilians.  They caused too many SNAFUs (Situation Normal, All Fucked Up).

     “OK, Doctor, let’s go over the basic and indisputable facts: three years ago, you told us we’d see some results from our program in three years.  We have yet to demonstrate that we can even engineer a controlled bioweapon that can pick its nose, or even fight off common disease and decay organisms.” Frank referred to a trial build of their design, that the new, Democratic administration of Richard Kite had permitted, under the strictest of isolation of course.  The trial had been a total flop; the insect-like poisonous critters had such poor brains that they’d barely been able to walk, and their immune systems hadn’t been able to fend off opportunistic infections.

     “Three years ago, you told us that it’d take ABC another six to ten years to get their product to market.  A half a year ago, which is less than half of your most optimistic guess, they did it.  They’ve spent about three billion, while we’ve spent thirty billion.  They have a product; we have excuses.  To top it off, all this is in spite of the fact that we’ve handed you on a silver platter, practically all their data.” Frank watched as Stanley got flustered and red, and struggled to contain himself.

     “Now I’m having a very hard time convincing anyone that we should be given any more money.  What am I going to say to them?  How much more money are we going to spend?  When are we gonna see any results that amount to diddly squat?  Can we at least show any tangible, real gains so far?  I want the straight scoop, not a bunch of wildly optimistic crap.  Level with me.  What has been going wrong so far, and how do we fix it?” And you better not weasel any more, you over-educated piece of slime, Frank added to himself.

     “Well, first of all our detractors are going to have to realize that our danger levels and precautionary measures are several orders of magnitude greater than theirs.  This slows us down considerably.  Also, our product must be robust enough to withstand the rigors of the modern battlefield.  Military specifications are hard enough to meet, and all the paperwork, procedures, regulations, secrecy, inspections, and union rules don’t help us perform speedily either.  For these reasons, and a few more, comparing us to ABC is unfair.  We’re tackling much more difficult problems.  Plus, to an extent that we can’t really measure terribly well, ABC is just plain lucky.  We know, though, that they used somewhat of a ‘trial and error’ approach of many, many iterations before they were able to genetically engineer a viable brain that not only contained the instincts that they wanted to program, but also functions reasonably robustly.

     “This business of them not being able to ship them in crowded conditions is what gives them away more than anything.  If they really had everything under strict control, they wouldn’t be shipping what they’re shipping, the way they’re shipping it.  You know, the ‘Bug-Buggers’ can’t be packed very densely at all, or they’ll revert to cannibalism.  Similarly, the ‘Pest-Pesters’, despite the fact that you can pack ‘em more densely by chilling them, will go bonkers and eat each other after warming up if they’ve been kept too crowded too long while being shipped chilled.

     “This makes no sense at all, to design a product with these kinds of shipping limitations, unless they had to rescramble their brain simulations a few thousand times until they just barely got lucky enough to have something semi-acceptable.  Their story of this aversion to crowding being a ‘feature’ to help prevent damage to the environment from excessive concentrations of ‘Anti Bug Critters’ is just so much crap.  It reminds me of software writers who discover less-than-desirable aspects of their software, and then take these ‘bugs’ and promote ‘em to ‘features’!

     “Claiming we’ve been handed everything on a silver platter isn’t fair either; we haven’t gotten good, complete information from them ever since they beefed up their security a year and a half ago, and I for one frankly suspect some of the data I’ve seen is somehow, somewhere, somewhat flawed.  I don’t know who has messed with it, or what’s missing, but something smells fishy.”

     Stanley paused, noticed that Frank’s face was still pickled in a sour scowl, and hastened to fill the silence with his chatter.  “OK, so you want to know how much more time and money we’ll have to spend, when we’ll see results, and what results we can show so far.  We’re working on it.  We scientists have no crystal balls.  Anything is possible; we obviously can’t say for sure when we’ll be done, or how much money it will cost.  One cannot schedule creativity; I can’t say, oh, yes, the solution to this problem will come to me at 3:47 on the 15th.  I can say that a reasonable estimate, using our present models of our development effort, is that there is an 80% chance we’ll have something that we could use on the battlefield, safely, in another two years.

     “What have we got to show so far?  Well, we may not have functional bioweapons, but we’ve sure got lots of simulations to show the proper operation of various subsystems that we’ve developed.  Plus, we now finally have the tools with which to do the job!  Safe isolation laboratories, stocked with all the latest biochemical technology! Competent staffs!  Lots of computers!  Lots of software!” Yeah, software that we’ve stolen (oops, I mean, liberated) for you, thought Frank.

     Frank still scowled at Stanley as Stanley finally ran out of things to say.  He watched him squirm, and decided he rather enjoyed the spectacle of Stanley trying to cover his usually somewhat pompous ass. But this isn’t about amusing me, it’s about the taxpayers getting their money’s worth, he thought, as he prepared to skewer Stanley some more. Of course, there’s nothing to feel guilty about, if I get a bit of gratification from exercising responsibly the power that is my due, after having served my country for so long, he added to himself.  The well-deserved pleasure of giving Stanley his due was totally compatible with getting the most for the taxpayers’ money, after all.

     “Thank you, Herr Docktor.  However, you’ve conveniently ignored my last and most pressing question...  ‘what has been going wrong, and how do we fix it?’...  that’s the question I’m still grappling with.” Frank paused, as if to give Stanley one last chance to answer this one last question, but it was fairly clear that for Stanley to offer an answer, would have been like trying to smother the sun with deuterium.  Stanley was smart enough to recognize a fusion fire when he saw one, and he knew what they used for fuel.  He also recognized the nature of questions where any reply acknowledged the questioner’s premises... the classic example being, “Have you stopped beating your wife yet?” So, he offered no reply.

     “Well, Doctor, I’m afraid I’m down to just a few choices.  I need results.  I need them soon.  Not maybe, not someday, not probably.  Not to an 80% probability.  Not to a 90% probability.  We don’t pay you with probability paychecks.  I’m going to need to either replace you, or contract with ABC.  They, unlike you, actually seem to be able to produce something that’s worth a damn.  Which will it be?  I can’t see any other viable choices for getting us some good results soon, can you? Which choice do you recommend?”

     Stanley turned white instead of red this time.  He appeared shocked, incredulous, flabbergasted.  “What?  Those bunch of cowboys? Those loose cannons!?  They aren’t professionals at all!  Just look at that circus of a press conference they had!  You know they don’t know what they’re doing!  They’re hit and miss, trial and error!  Not scientists at all!  They...”

     “Yes, they’re hit and miss, but they hit, didn’t they?  Even if it was pure blind chance, a one in a gazillion, a random blessing from Lady Luck herself, then can’t we learn from what they’ve stumbled on through no virtue of their own?”

     Stanley objected, “But their lack of security is appalling!  And if we have to inform all of these... people who have no experience, and perhaps no qualifications, for working on a top-secret classified project, then we’ll be risking a lot!  Why doesn’t the government declare right of eminent domain, and muscle on in, and use for the good of all, what these oafs have just stumbled on?”

     “Oh, because of silly little things like laws and the constitution and such.  Besides, if we swiped their stuff outright, we’d piss ‘em off, and they might not play nice with us and share their toys with us. After all, this business appears to be as much an art as a science, and if we didn’t have their willing cooperation, then we’d lose out on all the zillions of bits of data that exist, undocumented, in all their heads.”

     “As far as secrecy goes,” Frank continued, “these guys have learned fast, and no other part of the industry has been able to get their scoop; even we haven’t gotten much of anything out of them lately.  It seems to me we gave the Chinese almost everything we had, right before the change in administrations flip-flopped half of our policies, anyway, and they haven’t shown any interest in it.” Frank was, quite frankly, glad of both of the major changes in policy, one being that hush-hush experiments, above and beyond simulations, would be allowed, and the other being that no more data was to be slipped to the Chinese.

     “So who cares if the Chinese get hold of some data, if they’re not interested anyway?  It would be next to impossible that all the data would get passed to the Chinese, what with ABC’s current protective measures, which could be beefed up by federal expertise anyway.  At most, the Chinese would get small pieces.  So, I for one am not too worried about secrecy.  Can you find any other potential problems with contracting with ABC?” Besides the fact that they aren’t a part of your empire, Frank added to himself.

     “They’re just plain too slipshod.  They don’t practice science, they practice alchemy and witchcraft.  I mean, they don’t really know what they’re doing.  They don’t analyze and thoroughly understand anything, they just go off and try things and see if they work or not. Trial and error.  We just can’t risk doing things the way they do them. If they make a mistake, they might trash the environment a little here and there, until they’d be stopped, and they’d have to go back to the drawing board.

     “I mean, there’s no real danger of their little beasties learning to reproduce on their own, so as to permanently trash the environment, let alone running loose and killing people, after all.  But since we’re in the business of making things that are designed to do precisely that, then we just have to be orders of magnitude more careful to make sure that everything stays under strict control.  They’re talking about messing up small sections of the environment temporarily if they goof up; we’re talking about the loss of millions of innocent lives.  We can’t afford to have ABC play bull in the china shop, here.”

     Frank had heard most of all this before.  Some of it he bought, and some of it he didn’t.  “I’ve heard this crap about them not being real scientists before.  Lots of academic people take aim at ABC with the gunsights on their noses.  Or at least, they used to, partly out of envy at being left out of ABC’s secrets, I suspect.  Now, it seems to me that academia is coming around, and paying more attention to ABC, now that it is obvious that ABC has a big success, and now that ABC is also trying to cooperate with efforts to use biotechnology in cleaning up alien and ‘trash’ species, in trying to restore environments to their original conditions.  Of course, they’re still guarding their most precious secrets.

     “But this business of pooh-pahhing their accomplishments because they were just mucking around instead of practicing real science is what gets me most of all.  Would you ignore someone who stumbled on anti-gravity technology just ‘cause they didn’t know how it worked? Come on now!  As far as trial and error goes, so what?  The vast majority of the trials and errors are in computer simulations, and so who cares?  That’s what computers are for!

     “OK, so you’re going to tell me, ‘but the time has to come when we stop simulating, and build the real thing to test it in real life, and woe to the human race when these cowboys start doing that with bioweapons.  The monsters will break through their twelve levels of isolation in the lab, and come and eat us all.’ Well, I’ve got some good news for you in these matters, to what extent this really causes justified fears.  Now that we’ve bought all the labs, computers, and equipment we might reasonably need, and now that space travel is becoming much more economical, we’ll be able to spend a part of our budget to do our trial runs in orbit.

     “If things go totally haywire, the entire facility can be boosted to a higher, almost totally stable orbit, where our isolation will be almost perfect.  For that matter, we could blast the thing into the sun, to be incinerated.  My bosses tell me we’ll be allowed to do this, IF we can justify our existence, and persuade them to fund us some more.  So, letting the ‘cowboys’ at ABC have some real-life trial runs at bioweapons wouldn’t be so prohibitively dangerous as you might think.

     “So what if ABC doesn’t sit around analyzing things all day? Sometimes we just have to go with what works.  And they’ve got something that works, and we don’t.  Which brings us back to us needing to do something to show some results.  I mentioned that I’m looking at the only two decent choices that I see, and that they are, contracting with ABC, and replacing you.  I see you haven’t addressed one of these options.  What do you think?  Do you see any other options?” Like, read between the lines, dude, you’d better accept us contracting with ABC, or your ass is out the door, Frank added to himself.

     Stanley, having heard this twice now, reacted more calmly.  “Well, if you’re in a big hurry, and taking risks with a dangerous project like this is acceptable to you, then by all means, let’s contract with ABC. But I’m hearing something more here, something about me having been part of the perceived problems so far, something about... what shall we say? Management shortcomings on my part.  Can we get a little more specific here?  What is it that I have or haven’t done that I shouldn’t or should have done?”

     Damn sharp on your part to perceive that I am not happy with your services at the moment, Frank thought.  “I believe in the chain of command.  I don’t want to encourage people who report to you, to bypass you and deal too much with me.  I don’t want to do your job.  But, in circumstances like this, where things aren’t going quite the way we’d like ‘em to, we’ll have to make some exceptions.  In other words, I suspect that there are plenty of good ideas generated among all your talented researchers, but you may be blocking some of them.  I am going to interview most, maybe all, of your senior researchers, to see what ideas we have out there that might work, that you’ve squelched.” And you’d better not yelp about that, either, you bum; read between the lines some more, Frank thought.

     “Before I do this, I want to hear from you: what ideas do some of your researchers have, that they’re enthused about?  Which of these ideas that we haven’t pursued much, might be likely to work?  I’ll want to hear it from the troops, later, without you filtering it, but first, let’s hear it from you.”

     Stanley paused.  He finally volunteered, “I can’t honestly think of any such ideas, with one possible exception.  That is, Melvin Sykowsky and a few of his buddies are all sold on the idea of incorporating non-living subsystems.  We’ve only funded them for simulations and theoretical studies, and I guess you could say they’re chomping at the bit a little, wanting to build some things.  But I’ve always thought that the advantages of truly living things, like nature builds, have always been clear.  Living things built mostly from watery compounds of carbon, oxygen, hydrogen, and nitrogen, unlike contraptions of plastic, steel, silicon, and ceramics, can reproduce and heal their wounds.  We can’t be out there constantly fixing busted parts, or installing the latest program upgrade.  Not to mention the cost differential between systems that we have to manufacture, and systems that manufacture themselves out of the flesh of their prey.”

     Frank remarked to himself that perhaps Stanley was biased because of his own background being in biochemistry, as opposed to a science or engineering field based more on inanimate matter.  “But don’t you see that there are so many things that machines can do much better than living things?  Traveling fast and carrying heavy loads, withstanding extreme environments, performing massive computations, and communicating over long distances come to mind.”

     “So?  We’ve already got these things now, I thought we were supposed to be developing something new,” was Stanley’s reply.

     “What about things that combine the two?  Wouldn’t it be nice to build a tiny radio receiver that can be powered from nutrients in the blood, and envelope it in bioengineered flesh that is not rejected by a living host, and have it interface with the host’s nervous system?  We could embed such things into bioweapons for strict control.  Or, maybe someday we could even put such things into human volunteers, so that we could constantly and reliably keep in touch with our pilots and soldiers.”

     “Yes,” Stanley ‘fessed up, “Melvin and a few others talk of, and study, such things.  Just having some vitally essential subsystem of a bioweapon be manufactured would in itself help to assure that the bioweapon would never run loose totally uncontrolled.  As long as you could be sure that your bioweapon could only get its manufactured subsystem from you, and not, for example, from the enemy who you’re using it against, then you can hold the leash.  But, now you’ve got to deliver these manufactured subsystems to the battlefield, for the bioweapons to incorporate them into themselves as they reproduce or grow.  Effective bioweapons would presumably be numerous and small, so we’re talking about a huge logistics effort to get these subsystems delivered to where they’re needed.  Delivering traces of artificial biological compounds, as ABC does, is much easier.  And before you start worrying about...”

     “Yes, I know,” Frank interrupted, “You’re working on it.” He referred to the dilemma of, “So how does one make absolutely sure that the enemy can’t do a detailed analysis of one’s ‘leash’ compounds, duplicate them, and turn the bioweapons back on their deployers?” Frank and Stanley had discussed the various possibilities again and again, without a really suitable option being found, and Frank didn’t want to go over this all over again.  “Well, you’d better work harder and faster on this, and many other matters.”

     “Meanwhile, I’ll be getting the ball rolling in the direction of contracting with ABC, and interviewing quite a few dozen of your top researchers.  I think I might be encouraging them to plug non-living subsystems into their creative efforts while I’m at it.” And you’d better like it, too, Frank added to himself.  He could just envision the wheels in Stanley’s head, grinding on this latest grist for the mill. Contracting with ABC?  Frank privately interviewing, without Stanley, all of Stanley’s top troops?  Where would Stanley fit, in this grave new world?

 


 

CHAPTER 7

 

     Phil and Hector sat next to each other in the largest of ABC’s Atlanta site conference rooms.  They had been called there by the site manager, Gary Peck.  Everybody who was anybody at this site¾all management involved in design, research, and development, in other words¾was there.  Financial, legal, and other miscellaneous management was represented also.  The conference room was really more of a small auditorium, with an only slightly raised stage and podium up front. Gary Peck, a few ABC Vice Presidents, and Bradley Collins, ABC’s CEO, all sat up on the stage, with two seats left empty.  Rumor had it  that this meeting was going to concern a large contract for ABC.

     Bradley got up, went to the podium, paused for some quiet, and announced, “All right, ladies and gentlemen, let’s get the show on the road.  We’re here to hear a presentation on a major contract for ABC. After the presentation, we’ll have a question and answer session. After that, or intermingled with the question and answer session, we’ll have to start working towards making a decision on whether or not we will accept this contract.  Note that these will only be preliminary discussions; we’ll have to take our time in building a consensus on this important matter.  This decision will really represent, to a large extent, a crossroads for ABC, and so we’ll want to make the decision wisely.

     “We need not worry about discussing in front of the gentlemen that I am about to introduce to you today, any of our innermost company secrets.  They have both signed non-disclosure agreements.  Yes, we all know and recognize that non-disclosure agreements are no guarantee of anything.  But, when you meet these two gentlemen and hear what they have to say, you will perhaps understand why we chose to trust them. They wield the guarantee of a very large and well-established institution.

     “Ladies and gentlemen, let me present to you, General Frank Leech and Doctor Stanley Eisner.  Both of them work for a government project whose name I can’t divulge to any of you today.  Please welcome General Leech and Doctor Eisner.” Two figures approached from backstage.

     Roraborawrumble, the small crowd muttered, over a smattering of polite welcoming applause.  Frank, resplendent as a quetzal in his bemedalled uniform, took the podium.  “OK, folks, before any of you make a mad dash for one of the doors to go and alert the media that your federal government is spending the taxpayer’s money to set Frankenstienian monsters loose to prey on human beings, let me set your fears at ease.  Our interests are purely defensive.  As I’m sure you’re aware, there is a huge global market out there for your products.  As you also know, we, the federal government, are responsible for making sure that Americans don’t export technology with military applications to nations that might make use of them against us.

     “Those of us who work for the federal government are Americans just like you, and we know how important it is for America to be competitive economically.  We don’t want to hamstring your exports; on the other hand, we don’t want someone to go and modify technology for the control of insect pests, and make it into a tool for the control of human pests. I’m thinking most especially of protecting pesky Americans who insist that all nations should endeavor to get along with their neighbors and to comply with minimum standards set by the U.N.”

     Phil knew that Frank was referring to China, which was the only power of any significance these days that was seriously bucking U.N. conventions such as minimum standards for human rights, and the payment of small royalties to the U.N. for the use of resources from environments belonging to no particular nation, such as the deep seas and space.

     “If we, the federal government, are going to have a good understanding of which biotechnologies are, and which are not, adaptable to military use, then we’re going to need to have a very firm grasp of the technologies themselves.  That, ladies and gentlemen, is where you could be of great assistance to the American people.  We want you to assist us in studying such matters, so that you, as the foremost representatives of your industry, and we, the government of the American peoples’ choice, can work together in devising ways whereby we can both protect ourselves from those who would use our technology against us, and also maximize our export potential.

     “In passing, I would like to mention that we will accept bids from other companies, as the law requires us to.  I do not think that it would be unjustifiably prejudiced for me to say that I seriously doubt that anyone besides ABC could meet our requirements, though.

     “We have actually been researching what military uses there might be for biotechnology for some time now.  This research has been purely from a defensive perspective, and has been done secretly, so as not to give other nations any ideas.  Today, the project’s existence will no longer be secret.  In about three hours, the President will make an announcement about our project at a press conference.  I’d strongly encourage you not to sneak out and leak this, just in the interests of most everyone getting the news on an equal basis.  Yes, I know you haven’t signed any agreements about keeping anything confidential from anyone.  But please be considerate, and don’t betray the trust that we are putting in you.

     “Anyway, the American government must know about biotechnology in order to wisely regulate it and its’ exportation.  Not only that, but we also have many uses for biotechnology that are peaceful, including military uses, such as cleaning up pollution on old military bases that date to way back when.  ‘Military’, you see, can often equate ‘peaceful’.  Other peaceful military uses might include, for example, biotechnology used in medicine that specializes in combat wounds.  What with all the importance of biotechnology to the military, most especially our interests in seeing that militarily useful biotechnology is not exported to unfriendly states, we can easily justify having the military study such matters.

     “But, though they may be peaceful and defensive in nature, some of our research is, and must remain, secret.  We don’t want an enemy to use our findings about what bad things they might be able to do, to go and do them.  And frankly, if an enemy does go off and use bioweapons, we’ll want to know everything we can, in order to take defensive measures. None of this is the kind of stuff that one can deal with openly, without secrecy.  Therefore, we can’t divulge any more details of what we plan to do, unless everyone we inform, has signed an agreement with the government, and has undergone a background check.  I’m not telling you that we don’t trust you, its just that I’m sorry, but I can’t give you any more details on what actual work we want performed.  We can talk about how many people and resources we might expect to need, how long it might take, and what we’d be willing to pay.

     “I’m truly sorry that I can’t share any more details with you. But, we feel we’ve gone far enough as it is, divulging even the existence of this project.  We had to do this in order to inform you that there are these opportunities available to you.  That is, we really don’t think we could keep a contract with you totally secret.  If we tried, and word leaked out, people would assume the worst.

     “So, we’ll publish the basic outlines, but not details.  We’ll discuss schedules, resources, and payments, but no more details about the work.  If ABC decides to pursue this, then those people who volunteer to work on this project, and receive security clearances, will have access to more details.  For now, let’s talk about some other details, like resources, schedules, and payments.  Dr. Eisner will address these matters.”

     Stanley got up, and the meeting got even more boring.  Phil sat there and thought various thoughts about his design activities at work and his life at home with Gloria.  The fifth or so of his brain power that he devoted to sorting the interesting things out of all of Stanley’s words, charts, and graphs, was quite sufficient.  Or at least, sufficient for sorting out all the things that Phil found interesting. The bean counters and legal eagles might find more here to get excited about, Phil reflected.

     Speaking of bean counters, there she is!  It’s that luscious babe from finance, Phil salivated.  He found Debra Kenner to be an immensely tempting distraction to stare at, just a few yards away, facing slightly towards him in the auditorium with the curving rows of seats.  Nothing like a buxom blonde to fantasize about during a dull presentation. Down, boy!  You’re a married man, or sort of.

     Stanley played the role of the organizational automation as unoriginally as anyone before him ever had.  He showed numerous charts and graphs, including “Gant Charts” of schedules.  Many headings were blacked out; specific project names and descriptions were not needed to convey an overall sense of the complexity, duration, and cost of the entire enterprise.  What little of Stanley’s dog and pony show that Phil found interesting included that the “Gant Charts” were entirely realistic in terms of timeframes.  The overall objective was to be achieved in anything from one to three years.  Phil thought this to be unusually flexible for federal bureaucrats.

     Also quite interesting was how similar the stages of simulations were.  Had the feds come up with practically identical simulation software, independent of ABC?  Or had the top ABC executives already coached Stanley on how ABC did such things?  Somehow, Phil thought it would be less than politically astute to ask.  Phil also noted that the feds wanted access to every last smidgen of ABC’s data and programs. At least the feds said that they’d pay separately for any of these data and programs that they used outside of the scope of the contract.

     Stanley finally finished, and Gary Peck got up.  He indicated that there would be a short question and answer session, after which everyone was to go home and think matters over before discussions at ABC would begin in earnest.  There would be no real need to keep all this secret from rank and file employees; on the other hand, there was no real need to involve everyone and their mother in the decision.  What degree of input the rank and file would make to the decision was up to individual managers, Gary pointed out, then sat down.  Q and A time was next.

     The legal eagles and the bean counters asked more than their fair share of hairsplitting questions.  Phil didn’t find any of this particularly enlightening.  He’d already heard the only legal and financial details he needed, which was that the feds wanted the right to use ABC’s software, and that they were proposing payments totaling about three billion for the whole contract.

     One of the few questions he found interesting was asked by Hector. “General, Doctor, could either of you talk some more about export licenses for ABC, and what interaction, if any, there might be between ABC’s decision to accept or decline your contract, and whether and how fast we might get our export licenses?” It seemed to Phil that Hector was trying to ask, in a polite way, whether export licenses, or lack of licenses, were to be used as carrot and stick in getting ABC to do the government’s bidding.

     The General’s reply was, “ABC is entirely free to accept or decline the contract, without fear of the government’s actions towards ABC being influenced by this decision.  Or at least, the government won’t deliberately undertake punitive measures.  However, if we don’t thoroughly understand the nature of your technology, then we’ll be less able to evaluate its potential military uses, and so we might be more likely to be conservative in allowing you to export it to potentially unfriendly or unstable nations.”

     Typical have-it-both-ways politician-type answer, Phil thought. Phil knew about ABC’s applications to set up factories in Scotland, Russia, Japan, Israel, China, India, Singapore, Australia, Cameroon, and Brazil.  He offered the next question.  “I understand that the military has a large input into decisions on export licenses.  Could you comment on what inputs the military has made on ABC’s applications for export licenses?”

     Frank replied, “Our input has been that we should approve all your requests with the exceptions of China, and pretty much the entire continent of Africa.  Africa we consider just too unstable.  Who knows, one day you have an iron-clad agreement with the current government, that your factory will be respected, and the next, Islamic radicals or some such have taken over, and they’ll steal your technology.  China? Well, I needn’t remind you that they remain the only non-democratic superpower unfriendly to the West.”

     Phil wasn’t done.  “What do you think would be the government’s stand on the idea of ABC setting up factory ships in international waters off the coasts of places where we can sell product, but aren’t allowed to set up factories?” This idea had been kicked around at ABC.

     “Yes,” Frank replied.  Phil thought he saw the hint of a smirk on the General’s face, and was quite sure he saw one on Stanley’s face. “We know about your shipping limitations.  You’ll have to have widely

     distributed factories, so that relatively short flights can deliver your product to holding and distributing areas, where they can be kept under less crowded conditions.  The idea you suggest is certainly a viable approach.  However, we might be concerned that other nations might be tempted to seize such ships, and so we might insist on guarding them with naval escorts.

     “In these days of tight budgets, the government may not be as generous in spending tens of billions in military expenditures to protect American business interests, as we did so very recently in protecting American oil imports, before the advent of cheap fusion power.  In other words, we may need to have ABC pay part of the costs of the naval escorts, above and beyond the taxes that you already pay.

     “If, on the other hand, you were to contract with the government, why, then, together, we could cooperatively find other, better solutions.  We might be able to set up factories that could at a moment’s notice destroy all data and technology that could be stolen in a revolution or other political instability.  Thus, we could have the advantages of land-based factories, without incurring security risks.”

     Ha!  We’re talking some not-so-subtle arm-twisting here, Phil thought.  For three nanoseconds of hilarious fantasy, Phil considered the idea of asking what would happen if ABC accepted the contract, and the feds subsequently found out about ABC breaking the law and secretly installing souped-up FIRMMs to snoop on the government’s snoop ports on ABC’s FOS.  Phil made a mental note to later bring up the fact that ABC’s transgressions might be likely to be discovered by the feds, if ABC accepted the contract, and the feds started inspecting the security of ABC’s computers.  Despite the CEO’s admonition to feel free to discuss all in front of these two feds, Phil knew that this was one subject that was out of bounds!  It would have to be discussed by only a handful of ABC’s top management later.

     The only other discussions that Phil found interesting had to do with government expectations in terms of procedures and forms, rules and regulations, and bureaucracy of all sorts.  It sounded quite depressing.  For starters, government computer security requirements seemed paranoid in the extreme!  No computer with any government data would be allowed to connect to any kind of network, or to any of ABC’s computers used for other projects.  This requirement alone would require hundreds of millions of dollars to be spent for more computers, and make work quite tedious at times.  How ABC would make much of a profit was a puzzle to Phil.

     The meeting concluded with Frank saying that ABC should feel free to call him at any time with any additional questions that might arise, and with Gary saying that all the ABC management should plan to meet again after the weekend, on Tuesday afternoon, to discuss the contract again.  He asked various people to prepare analyses of certain legal, financial, technical, etc., issues.

     Phil and Hector yakked a bit after the meeting, but they saved the really juicy stuff for Hector’s office.  Behind closed doors, Phil mentioned the dilemma of ABC’s snooping on the snoop port.  Hector’s opinion was that the “funny FIRMM” should simply be stashed away and all records of it destroyed, but they agreed that they should meet Monday morning with the only others who knew about ABC’s transgressions to discuss it.  They sent out a quick electronic memo to Gary Peck, Doug Meyer, and Pam Jones.

     Ambitious thoughts had already begun to race through Phil’s mind. If ABC accepted the contract, it would almost certainly mean that a new, separate, independent business unit would be set up.  Phil had already done the lion’s share of the really fun, creative work on the next generation of ABC’s products.  This government contract, despite the obvious drawbacks of bureaucracy, could provide new challenges to keep the beasts of boredom at bay.  Not only that, it could boost his career. Maybe he could head up the project!  Especially if Hector wasn’t interested.

     “So, what do you think, Hector?  If we accept the contract, is this a line of work you’d be interested in?”

     Hector didn’t pause long to reply, “No, I don’t think so.  I’ve talked to enough people who have worked for the government, and found it immensely frustrating.  The totally rigid and silly rules are so wasteful of energy and talent, it makes normal people, who want to feel that they’re actually contributing something of real value, feel like... well, like they might just as well take a bunch of rocks and move ‘em from one pile to the other and back all day.  Some people can take it; what the hell, they say, one has got to make a living one way or the other.

     “But, I guess if I’m honest, there are actually more fundamental reasons why I wouldn’t work for such a project.  Maybe I’m some kind of utopian bleeding heart, maybe there is a real need for all this.  I can’t deny that there are evil people in this world, and that they from time to time occupy positions of too much power in too many governments. Or would-be governments.  Nor can I deny that from time to time, force is needed to keep these... human hemorrhoids from becoming a fatal pain in the ass to too many victims.  And there is probably some legitimacy in the stance that the feds need to understand this technology in order to make prudent decisions on where we can export it to.

     “What I am not convinced of is the purity of our own noble nation. My country, right or wrong, doesn’t cut it with me.  It seems to me that we have to base our decisions on something more fundamental and universal than that, that we’re just another nation looking out for its own selfish national interests.  The general says we want to research these matters from a purely defensive perspective, but the lines between offense and defense are awfully hazy.  The best defense is a good offense, and all that.

     “What I see happening, all too clearly, is this: ‘Oh, we’re just running some simulations to see what might be done with such things, if the technology should fall into the wrong hands’, becomes, ‘Well, after all, since we’re doing all this with the details all totally secret and all, and who would deny that one has to keep such matters secret, then why don’t we just go ahead and verify that our simulations are correct.’ Next you know, the technology gets from here to there by God knows what means, someone is in the middle of a desperate war, where nothing but political survival, honor, power, prestige, or who knows what ideology, is of the utmost importance, and caution and prudence be damned.  All the safeguards fall to the side, in the desperation of the moment. Mistakes in the heat of battle, in the heat of the moment, result in some awful demon set loose in the name of national defense.  Something to make the older specter, nuclear war, seem mercifully swift and direct.

     “OK, I heard you at the press conference saying that the slippery slope is for intellectual weenies, and I agree.  We hang out halfway down the slippery slope, suspended by common sensical judgment and our needs of the day, and jerked around by the whims of passion, on a million and one issues every day.  Yet I think we’ve got to exercise our strongest restraint when it comes to certain steps up or down the slippery slope.  I couldn’t agree more with what ABC has done so far, in terms of using biotechnology to lessen the human impact on the environment.  But when we start to peer into the Pandora’s box of bioweapons, even for ‘purely defensive purposes’, we’re playing mind games with ourselves.  Kind of like the mind games we played with ourselves when we were back in college.

     “You know, you’d say to yourself, ‘Well, I really must study this weekend, but I’d also like to...’, whatever it was, go skiing, see your girlfriend, go to the beach, whatever.  So, you’d tell yourself you’d do both, you’d take that trip, but take your books with you.  So, you’d take your books with you, knowing damn well you’d never look at ‘em, just to make yourself feel better about taking the weekend to goof off.

     “So this ‘purely defensive purposes’ crap is in the same league of mind games; the feds know what they’re really after, and that’s offensive technology.  But we can get 95% of the way there, thanks to computer simulations, while still keeping up the pretense that it’s all totally from a ‘defensive perspective’.  The last few steps are just that: a few steps.  If I was totally convinced of the purity of our own government, I wouldn’t have a problem with that.  I guess I’m just not that much in synch with the government that I want to serve it any more than I have to.  Their methods, maybe even their objectives, differ too much from mine.”

     Phil just sat and listened.  He respected Hector, not just as his boss, but as his friend, and as a person who was not merely intelligent, but who actually also used his intelligence to think with.  Phil’s continued and expectant silence prodded Hector into continuing.

     “I agree that we can’t use the slippery slope theory to prohibit uses for biotechnology that are clearly not only profitable, but also beneficial to the environment, like what we’ve been messing with so far. We’ve just got to watch just how far we go down this slippery slope, just like any other.  Bioweapons research of any kind has the strong potential to become the La Brea Tar Pits at the bottom of the slippery slope.  Like the mob, once you’re in it, you can’t get out.  ‘Oh, but you signed these papers, you’re in it with us now, and we’ll bust you if you don’t go along with us now’, is what they’ll say to you after you find yourself going further than you’d thought you’d committed yourself to going.  ‘Whose side are you on, anyway?’, is what they’ll also say to you.

     “Even if I was thoroughly convinced of the benevolence and wisdom of the U.S.  government, I’d still have a problem with all this.  We estimate the probabilities of things going wrong, while assuming in our literal or figurative equations for estimating these probabilities, that all the humans involved are more or less rational creatures.  In reality, though, many of us have bats in the belfry.  Let me give you an example from the very recent past, before effective treatments for AIDS were discovered.

     “All the know-it-all, impartial, clinical, well-informed scientists and doctor-type individuals were running around telling the rest of us that we were biased, ignorant sons of bitches for not wanting to go to a dentist who has AIDS, and that dentists were ignorant sons of bitches for not wanting to treat patients with AIDS.  So, AIDS patients were suing dentists for not treating them, and all sorts of fun was had by all, especially the lawyers.  The oh-so-smart and oh-so-unbiased scientists were pronouncing how utterly infinitesimal the chances were of AIDS being passed in the dentist’s office.  Meanwhile, the utterly improbable, AIDS being passed in the dentist’s office, was happening.

     “The scientists were right, in that IF everyone behaved, and wore their gloves and sterilized their instruments, then the chances of passing AIDS were practically non-existent.  What they didn’t figure for was that some people do malicious things for no good reason at all. Some dentists deliberately passed AIDS along, apparently.  And, no matter how many layers of gloves a dentist would wear, a patient could always go bonkers and bite the dentist’s fingers.  Would you, as a dentist, have wanted to be required to treat a murder convict with AIDS, under fear of being sued for discrimination, knowing that there was no cure?  The scientists who loudly proclaimed the ignorance of those who feared AIDS transmission probably never had to stick their fingers in the mouths of people whose mental states were unknown to them.

     “Anyway, don’t bet on your technological innovations always being used by rational people.  We’re talking about war technology, after all, and war has never been known to be a terribly rational thing.”

     Phil still said nothing.  Hector had had his say, though, and wasn’t going to go on and on, endlessly.  “So how about you?  Do you think you’d be inclined to work on this project?”

     Phil reflected for a moment.  He knew that Hector wouldn’t be in the slightest bit judgmental about Phil’s views or choices in the matter.  Phil indeed did find Hector to be a little bit of a bleeding heart when they’d have their occasional political discussions.  But, they never let their differences get in the way of their friendship. Phil didn’t even feel like he was really expected to make much of an answer; Hector was just making conversation, and had gotten tired of expounding on his own views.  Still, Phil thought that it was important that Hector should understand and respect his views, to the extent that he had formed any on the matter yet.

     “I really suspect you’re right, about the mind games.  It just isn’t realistic to spend billions of dollars on simulations, and totally swear off ever doing anything beyond simulations.  I remember the General making some statement about our needing to know about bioweapons for ‘defensive purposes’ in case an enemy should ever use them first.  I suspect that his definition of ‘defensive’ is, indeed, quite broad.

     “Somehow I just don’t see any huge problems with such a stance. I’ve read my history, and know how easily many totalitarian, violent buttholes can stomp all over millions of people, and feel no remorse.  The only thing these people can understand is violence.  I would be most happy to deal in kind with the likes of Nero, Hitler, Stalin, Idi Amine, and Saddam Hussein.  I appreciate it when others protect me from such beasts, and I wouldn’t want to ask anyone to do for me what I am not at least in principle willing to do for them.  So I’ll be happy to support our troops with whatever it takes to keep the beasts at bay.  I just regret that we haven’t yet found a way to eliminate the buttholes without taking the innocent people with them.

     “It is indeed a sensible stance to not want to partake in violence, out of concern for the innocent.  I would question, though, just how many of the people subject to the rule of an asshole are truly innocent. If nothing else, they’re guilty of not grabbing the nearest piece of broken glass, and ramming it through the nearest asshole that they can find.  So what if one gets killed?  At least one is no longer a slave, and there is one less slave to prop up the parasitical shitheads.

     “In other words, a hundred people, even a hundred people with the only guns, do not rule a million people without some sort of consent from the oppressed.  The oppressed are guilty of valuing their lives more than their dignity.  Not the most heinous crime by any means, but a crime nevertheless.  And this crime is compounded when one allows the fucking buttholes to not only oppress oneself, but others, including others in other nations.  Stomp the guts out of the buttholes, and save your tears for more worthy causes, is what I’d say.

     “As far as realizing that the feds aren’t as pure as the driven snow, I’m with you.  I guess I could be too willing to choose a lesser evil over a greater evil.  But, our Western and democratic traditions just have too much going for them, compared to totalitarianism, that I’m willing to run the risk.  Despite my occasionally wishing to take a grenade launcher and go blow the pigs away, for minding everyone’s business on the behalf of Big Brother Uncle Sam, I am enough of a realist to realize that the oppressors who oppress us are practically angelic compared to some of the slime molds governing other countries.

     “Goddamn!  I must sound like a Nazi!  I want to go blow the buttholes away right now!  I’d better go home and drink some beer by the idiot box and chill out!”

     Or, far better, go home and toke up some good grass.  It would be far more likely to mellow me out than booze, he thought, but I’m not about to say that to Hector.  Who knows, he might want to come and join the party, if Gloria would let me commit such heinous crimes!  Wonder if he’d Bogart the joint?  Speaking of Gloria, wonder what she’ll think of ABC’s latest adventures, he wondered.  A semi-vague sense of dread ran through him.

     “No, you don’t sound like a Nazi to me.” Hector seemed to speak with a certain weariness, as if debating saying some more, but declining.  “But yes, I think we should go home and drink beer and mellow out by the idiot box.  My kid is home from college, and I’d better rush home so I can see him long enough for him to ask for my car keys.  Damned ungrateful brats.  You should have a few.  They’re such a sure-fire cure for tranquillity.”

     Phil chuckled and headed to his office to shut down his computer for the weekend.  Party time is here, he thought.  Time to blow off some steam.

     Phil zipped on home right at quitting time that Friday, and sat down to enjoy catching up on the news on his idiot box.  Gloria wouldn’t be home till seven, he recalled.  It wasn’t really much of an idiot box for Phil; he used his home FOS to scan text and photos from the news services, instead of watching vapid, meaningless, staged sex and violence.  The sex and violence in the news was just so much more... enlightening as to the human condition, Phil thought.  It gives me a more reality-based hard-on.  Maybe I should get off on watching some real-life cop shows; I could get off on imagining I’m one of the pigs who make the little kids scream as they drag Mom and Dad away for smoking a joint.  Nah, those are staged, too.  Maybe we’re all just actors and actresses for perverts like me who read and watch the news.

     He sipped some beer and scanned the day’s general news and commentary.  It was the same old litany of gangs and guns, Hollywood vixens, senseless violence of both domestic and international flavors, and natural and man-made disasters.  And, of course, editorials proposing to fix the world with more government, less government, more capitalism, more socialism, more cops, more jails, more rights for criminals, more guilt, less sex, or what have you.  OK, thought Phil, that’s all just great.  It’s just that I could have done without the picture accompanying the story about the guy they found in remote Utah, who got busted for necrophilia.  Who knows, next thing we’ll know, the NAMCLA (North American Man-Cadaver Love Association) will be proclaiming that they’re the last mercilessly persecuted minority, he thought.

     Then he read about the latest machinations at the United Nations. The member nations were feverishly trying to hammer out ways to gain more collective security by giving more power to the UN, without giving up too much sovereignty, and with each member also trying to get as much power as possible, in the UN pecking order.  In recent years, Germany and Japan had been added to the permanent security council members.

     Taiwan still had no membership.  Mainland China was the UN’s only serious “problem child” these days.  China was the only power of any significance, and certainly the only permanent security council member, which refused to pay small royalties on the use of non-national territory (space and the deep seas) into the UN budget.  That, human rights violations, uncontrolled arms exportation, and frequent vetoes of attempted security council actions had the other members scrambling to find new ways to organize the U.N. power structure so as to circumvent China’s power.

     Various methods for organizing the UN were being discussed.  China proposed that votes be weighed by the population of each nation, since its population was approaching two billion.  Hardly any other member stood by their proposal.  A cheeky young diplomat from Britain proposed that nations’ votes be weighed by the number of decision-makers in the member nation.  A true democracy would get votes equal to the number of its voters, while an oligarchy like China would get ten or fifteen votes, to reflect that only a few voices, such as those of the Central Committee, were being heard.

     More and more, though, security arrangements outside the UN, such as NATO, which now included parts of the former Soviet Union such as Russia, were becoming more powerful.  Members of such organizations worried about becoming entangled in conflicts with limited resources at their disposal.  But the U.N. could have greater resources to draw on than NATO, for example.  Nations that were not members of strong alliances were envious of those that were.  And the UN politicians themselves were also envious of the powers of regional alliances.  Many nations worried about World War III breaking out, due to two alliances getting into a scrap.  So, from many quarters, there was pressure to make the UN more powerful.  But no nation wished to yield substantial sovereignty or resources to the UN without a proportional voice in UN decisions.

     The proposal being given the most serious consideration for power-sharing was the idea of weighing each nation’s vote by the amount of resources committed to the UN, minus benefits obtained.  A floor would be imposed, so that each nation would have a minimal vote, to encourage participation, even if that particular nation’s account was in the red.  Soldiers committed to UN actions would be measured by their wages; high-wage industrialized nations’ soldiers were usually more effective than those of low-wage nations.  A floor on the value of soldiers would be imposed also.  Of course, there was lots of bickering over the fine points of accounting; the devil was in the details, as usual.  But the proposal was looking more and more feasible.

     Hot damn! thought Phil.  I hope it flies!  Not only would we have better collective security, but we’d also set a precedent hard to ignore domestically.  Maybe the US could follow the UN’s example, and weigh each voter’s vote according to the taxes they paid minus the benefits they got.  Weigh each Congressman’s vote according to their pork barrel account also.  Massive, cheap computer power and networking should make such a thing possible, he thought, despite the volumes of data needed to accomplish this weighing.

     Hell, we could put a real quick end to people’s pork of all sorts! We could prove wrong those doomsayers, who say that a democracy can only last so long as its voters don’t realize that they can vote themselves a bigger slice of the public till.  What a relief it would be, not to have politicians appealing to voters by telling them that they would tax the voter’s neighbors and give them the benefits.  Maybe we could actually move charitable functions back to the private domain, where private givers might be more able than a centralized bureaucracy to distinguish between the deserving and the undeserving poor.  Maybe we could have less welfare money going to powder people’s noses.

     After all, corporations were known to behave in a fiscally responsible manner, because stockholders got to vote according to how much money they put into the pot.  Maybe Uncle Sam, with the assistance of computers, could balance his budget using a similar setup.  Dream on, he thought.  There’s just too many parasites with their fingers in the rice bowl for us to pull that off.

     He did a search on biotechnology topics to see how the media was presenting Uncle Sam’s announcement and contract-fishing expedition to ABC.  Holy Shit, this had been a heady day¾he had gotten up that morning, knowing nothing other than that there might be a big contract in the offing for ABC, and now he was reading about it in the news! But, so far there were only brief, factual summaries, and the editorialists hadn’t yet gotten around to raving about this latest “slippery slope”.

     Phil downloaded the good stuff from the FOS, and saved it to temporary files that he arranged according to whether or not he thought Gloria might be interested.  To the middle, he put the few articles about Uncle Sam’s latest revelations about his research efforts, and his attempts to court ABC.  We’ll just subtly kind of bury this in here, and see how she reacts, he thought.  Then, he caught a brief nap, waiting for Gloria.

     Gloria was home soon enough.  She looked beat.  Phil gave her a big smooch, and offered to take her out to eat, mostly just as a polite gesture.  He figured she’d decline, and she did.  They sat down for drinks and sandwiches.

     “So how was your day?  How’ve you been since I last enjoyed your company, snoogle-woogle poogle-woogle boogle-woogle?,” Phil inquired.

     Gloria winked at Phil, and made a half-hearted attempt to wiggle her butt a bit.  “Hey, you strong and handsome big fella sweet-talking hunk you.  I sliced and diced like usual today.  I also saw the cutest baby.  We might want to get married and make us one, one of these years, you know.  Get some of my eggs out of the freezer and have my test tube get together with your test tube, before my incubator’s warranty runs out.” Gloria referred to eggs she’d set aside, when she was younger and their quality had been better.  The incubator she was talking about, though, was her body¾even biowhizzes like Phil hadn’t tackled replacing nature’s incubators yet.

     Oh no, thought Phil, not this again.  Better humor her a bit; she’ll be pissed enough when I tell her about ABC considering a contract with the Big Bad Warmongers.  They’d briefly discussed such matters in passing, hypothetically, and she’d made it clear that she didn’t want Phil to touch it with a remote telepresence manipulator guaniferator, or anything else.

     Phil momentarily pondered his position on his microslice of the planet-wide man-woman love-lust-power battlefields.  Let’s see, marriage isn’t a big deal to either of us, it’s just a formality and a piece of paper, so I don’t have any trouble with that, except Uncle Sam with all his family values would punish us for it.  So that’s not what she so subtly nags me about.  She wants to give up her job some day to take care of little ones, but she also insists that we use the latest and most expensive technology to insure to the very best of our ability that the kids have all the best chances at all the best of everything.  And she won’t cut any corners in how we get there.

     She won’t use amniocentesis and abortion to discard less-than-optimal embryos, because of some crazy illogical superstitious woman thing about not wanting to abort anything that she has grown attached to inside herself.  Or maybe she’s just scared of having someone stick a BAN (Big-Assed Needle) in her tummy, but is afraid to admit it.  But for some reason, she regards amniocentesis and abortion as totally different than discarding blastomeres after cherry-picking in a BABI (Blastomere Analysis Before Implantation) procedure.

     But since we have no family history of any genetic defects that are on the government-approved list of defects that government or insurance will pay for preventing, we have to shell out the big bucks if we want the procedure.  Thorough genetic analysis, including all known important and well-understood genetic traits, is expensive, especially when the lawsuit lottery costs are added.  And her fastidious sense of honesty stands in my way, when l broach the subject of going off and pulling some strings or having one of my buddies do it on the sly for us.

     So no amnio and no cheating...  Phil was tempted to point out that they could have their cake and eat it too.  She could quit work and become a mommy now, without having to worry about saving up gobs of money, after being raped by the taxman, to pay for BABI procedures, and without having to worry about having a defective baby, if only she would consent to being a little more flexible.  But they’d been down that road before, and now was not a time to piss her off.  What to say?

     “Hang in there, snugglebunny.  In just another two or three years, we’ll have enough money saved up, so that we’ll be able to enjoy more or less our present standard of living, with just me working.  And, we’ll be able to afford a BABI or two and a baby or two.” You would-be Oxytocin Queen, you, Phil added to himself.  “Then, we’ll be able to bitch about them, like Hector did to me today.  He said something like, they’re sure-fire cures for serenity, or some such.”

     He took a bite, masticated thoughtfully, and propelled a smooch in her general direction across his onion, cheese, horseradish, and braunschweiger sandwich.  She pouted pensively, and made puppy whimpering noises.  He wasn’t sure whether it was because she was offended at the idea of him giving her a grossschloppigischlichbraunschweigerschmoooch , or because he’d passed on Hector’s comment.  Hector’s comment could certainly be construed to be parentally incorrect, and prejudicial against rug rats, ankle biters, and house apes.  Oops!  I mean, chronological maturity impaired individuals, Phil added to himself.

     He suspected that the pout and whimper most likely referred to children rather than braunschweiger, so he hastened to amend, “Oh, Hector’s just jacking around.  At least, he’s never offered any of his kids up for adoption, that I know of.  Certainly not to me.  Even if he was serious, then you’ve got to realize, any kids that we’ll have, will be positively angelic.  Unlike his.  No one will ever be justifiably angry with any of them.”

     Gloria grinned.  “They’ll be naughty just like you, Big Boy.  Why don’t you come on over from apartment A to apartment B, and... see me sometime.  You star boarder you.” Wink, wink.

     “I’ll schedule your 45 seconds for eleven o’clock.  In the meantime, I did my usual predigesting of the news for you.  You’ve got to catch up, so we can make meaningful conversation.  In a few years, all we’ll say is goo goo, gah gah, poo poo, pee pee, bah bah, and bye bye.  So we’d better take advantage of opportunities for adult discourse, as well as intercourse, while we still have the stage to ourselves.  Pootie Pie.”

     Their bantering continued throughout their munchies feast.  Gloria opined that maybe they should lower their expectations as far as high living standards were concerned, so that she could quit and have BABIs and babies now.  He said that that would mean they’d have to leave the security of their walled-off, guarded suburban community, and that they would then have to live in a cheaper place where less security would mean they’d be robbed blind.  She said that maybe if they’d be less materialistic, no one would want to rob them in the first place.  He said they’d be mugged for their last can of who hash, and that the solution to the security dilemma was to be found in the other direction, which was to buy more security with more money.

     “Speaking of security for the rich and high and mighty, Ummel, you’ve got to see the news clippings I put together for you,” Phil commented as they put their yummy chow back into the ‘fridge.  “Looks like they’re making serious progress towards a ‘virtual cop’ system.  I mean, one that they’re confident enough of, to give it autonomy.  So, in a few years, we’ll be able to collect a few tens of millions of dollars of our spare change, and go and buy us our own personal robocop.  Let’s go lounge in bed and study up, before we’re left behind, and everyone thinks we’re a couple of trilobites.”

     They headed to bed at nine, to be totally decadent slugs and lay in bed and read the news.  They quite literally studied up, in that a thin-film computer screen covered half of their ceiling, right over the water bed.  Phil brought his disk from the FOS downstairs and slipped it into the bedside unit.  He grabbed the two pointers and passed one to Gloria.  They snuggled under the covers and split the screen, one half for Gloria to read the news, and one half for Phil to do some mostly recreational reading on sociobiology.

     Phil pointed out the ‘virtual cop’ article to Gloria, and she read about how the whole thing had started with intelligent systems helping humans monitor the images from remote security cameras.  These systems had the electronic smarts to recognize suspicious or hostile actions, and would automatically display to their human owners, the most worrisome five or ten images from fifty or a hundred cameras strung out through, say, a mall or other complex of public buildings.  It had been a short step from there to add telepresence-operated robotic gun emplacements.  Now, instead of needing to have humans licensed to use force to operate the robotic gun emplacements remotely, computer security experts were saying that they had hardware and software that was reliable enough to run the whole show.  Needless to say, it wasn’t cheap.

     “Oh, great,” was Gloria’s comment.  “Now in another twenty years, we’ll all be walking around with a backpack full of circuits and ammunition, and robotic camera and gun arms poking out of our backs and sides and above our heads.  One person goes bonkers, and every robopig in sight will start shooting.  Then, all of these robopigs’ neighbors will blast away.  Kind of like an electronic Wild West hybridized with a positive-feedback, runaway-process chain-reaction-type thing.  Like filling a whole room full of loaded mouse traps, each with a ping pong ball delicately balanced on it, and then throwing a single ball in there.  Ever see the video somebody made of that?  In about three seconds, every mouse trap had been triggered.”

     “Yeah, I saw that with you a few years back.  But it won’t be like that; only the rich will be able to afford such things.  So the poor people who can’t afford such things will be the moderators.  In your chain-reaction analogy, they’ll be the graphite rods in the old-style fission reactor, sucking up those extra neutrons.  Except the neutrons are bullets,” Phil said as he parked his cursor at the section he had been at before she had interrupted his reading.

     “So let’s outlaw both guns and computers, and no one will ever be able to do this.  Push back the technological tide,” Gloria proposed.

     “Heresy!  We have to do it because we can.  And because technology is God,” he replied.  “Besides, as soon as we teach computers to be not only shrinks, mathematicians, scientists, and cops, but also nurse maids, baby sitters, and house cleaners, we’ll all finally be able to sit in the park and drink beer all day.”

     They both got back to their reading.  Phil wondered how long it would be till she’d get to Uncle Sam’s bioweapons research, and how she’d react.  She read an article about how new controlled fusion power technology was being used in many countries to power new beam weapons for defense against aircraft and missiles, and commented about how it would be really nice if just for once, a new technology could be developed for peaceful purposes, without it being turned into a weapon. Oh-oh, thought Phil, she’s just getting warmed up for my big story of the day, which I’ve so sneakily been keeping from her so far.  He chuckled inwardly, looking forward to seeing her reaction, and maybe razzing her a bit.  Only a wee bit, though; she gets hot on these matters.

     He got back to his reading, just barely long enough to get interested in it again, when he heard Gloria catching her breath.  He glanced over and saw that she’d finally gotten to the stuff about the feds, ABC, and bioweapons.  Her jaw dropped.  She turned to Phil, noticing that he was watching her with a devious grin.  “Those scumbuckets came by ABC today, sniffing around for some help with their dirty work, and you didn’t tell me?”

     “I wanted to surprise you.  I wanted for you to hear it from the unbiased news media first.  Read on.”

     Gloria did just that.  What she had to say was, “I can’t believe that they really think they can hoodwink the majority of Americans.  Let me get this straight.  They’re going to conduct computer simulations of bioweapons, purely for defensive purposes.  They’ll never build any bioweapons; they’ll just simulate them, to see what could be done, so that we’ll know which technologies we can export and which technologies we can’t export.  And, of course, so that we’d know what to do if an enemy ever used such weapons.  But, of course we have to conduct all this research secretly.  So we’re gonna expect that we can have the boys sitting there with their toys, in secret, without them playing with ‘em.  And they’re coming to try and pervert my favorite, innocent little biowizard.” She peered at Phil intently, as if a sufficiently intense gaze would strip away all his secrets.  “Of course, my innocent snugglebunny is going to go and tell ‘em to get an honest job.  Right?”

     Phil sensed the danger, but couldn’t resist having just a wee smidgen of fun.  He kept his face and tone as neutral as he could. “Oh, come on now, snuggle humpschen, their hearts are in the right place.  They just want to be prepared to undo the Pope’s evil work.  Be ready to relieve Mamma Earth of a few excess billion humans.”

     She flared and glared.  “Listen.  Tell those ABC buddies of yours that they might as well sell their souls to the Devil.  You guys have plenty of stuff you can do, without getting down in the mud with the feds and their state-sponsored terrorism.  Oh, wait, I forgot; the enemy is into terrorism, and we’re into ‘defense’.  Haven’t we learned a damned thing from history?  From the spread of nuclear weapons, and the poisoning of the environment brought on by manufacturing nukes?  You, though, being spiritually advanced, are going to argue for sanity at ABC, aren’t you?  My big strong handsome guy is also a sensitive and caring guy who doesn’t want biosynthetic bogeyorganisms running amok, eating all the innocent little children, right?”

     Phil had had his fun.  He’d seen yet once more how much of a spirited woman he had here, how cute she looked when she got her dander up.  Now, he needed to calm her back down.  He didn’t agree with her, any more than he agreed with Hector.  But, why bother to fight this battle now?  There was a very good chance that ABC would turn the feds down, and so, there was no reason to piss Gloria off now.  He stroked her arm, repressed his urges to rant and rave, and assured her that, “Sure, snugglebunny.  I’ll put my two cents in that we should stick to peaceful work.” Like, peaceful in the sense that we’ll preserve peace through putting into the enemy’s head, the knowledge that we’ll stomp shit out of ‘em if they don’t behave, Phil added to himself.

     “So what do you think are the chances that ABC will get involved in this?,” Gloria wanted to know.

     “Oh, its hard to say.  This was a bolt out of the blue, you know. Making a semi-wild guess, though, just from having talked to some people, I’d say chances are good we’ll turn ‘em down.  Government contracts are just too much of a pain in the ass, you know.”

     Phil snuggled with Gloria while they read some more, then they both slept off the week’s excitement.  Their weekend was uneventful in a very relaxing way, and Monday swung around all too soon.

     Phil found himself sitting in Hector’s office again, just like Friday afternoon.  It was as if the weekend had never existed.  One of these days, I’m going into the woods in Montana and study my navel, Phil told himself.  This rat race has got to end.  But first, I’ve got to make my million.  Or at least, get my name in the history books.  And more than just a footnote.

     Gary, Doug, and Pam, as well as Phil and Hector, were there.  The bigger big wigs weren’t there, but Gary indicated he’d played golf and chatted with them a bit over the weekend.  Gary was free to use his good judgment.  Neither Phil nor Hector played golf, and Phil would have been irritated over the old-boy chumminess of this business of playing golf as a method of decision-making, if it wasn’t for the fact that he had a lot of respect for Gary.  Also, Phil was in somewhat of a quiet and introspective mood.  He’d told Gloria he’d try to convince ABC to turn down the contract, but he was quite ambivalent about it.  So, for the most part, he intended just to sit back and watch.  Besides, unlike some of the others, he’d never worked for the government, so he really didn’t have many inputs to make.

     The morning’s topic, though, was restricted to ABC’s snooping crimes; the bigger picture was reserved for a bigger meeting in the afternoon.  Gary was running the show, like usual.  “So we’ve got a dilemma.  If we accept the contract, they want access to all of our data.  We could remove our FIRMM, and try to destroy all traces of it. If we did that, we might miss something and still get busted.  I understand they’ll almost definitely want to go over everything with a fine-toothed comb.  At the very least, we haven’t a chance of completely hiding the data-warping scheme, and even though it isn’t illegal, we’d have a hard time explaining why we got so spooked as to go to all that trouble, without telling them what got us spooked.

     “I may have come up with a possible solution, as I was thinking about it this weekend.  It may sound a bit juvenile, but hey, we’re talking about the government here.

     “What I propose is that we essentially say to the feds, ‘Hey, look. You say you want all of our data.  Well, just maybe we might have something that might incriminate us just a wee tad.  If you won’t offer us immunity, we’ll have to destroy some data, and we know you want maximum insight into what all has happened here, what we’ve done, how we’ve done it, and why we’ve done it.  In order for us to accept this contract, we’ll either have to have immunity, or we’ll destroy data. Which will it be?’ I don’t think that what we’ve done is such a heinous crime, especially since we’ve documented, and can demonstrate, that at least we’ve stayed within the spirit of the law.  Nevertheless, the G-men won’t feel like giving us a clean slate on just any crime we’ve committed; they wouldn’t, for example, want to get embarrassed if the public later found out that we had, say, released thousands of tons of highly toxic but slow-acting trash that would come to light later.

     “So, what we’ll do is give ‘em a list of things that we might have done, and ask them which ones they’d be willing to give us immunity on, if we accepted the contract.  Then of course, if we don’t accept the contract, they’ll regard us as a suspicious bunch, and maybe investigate us for the crimes we’ll list.  If we make the list long enough, though, we won’t really give ‘em much of a clue.

     “Come on, give me a hand.  Here, I’ll start.  Maybe we’ve accidentally caused a species of bacteria to go extinct.  Or maybe we’ve cravenly, deliberately done the same, just to make a few extra bucks. Or, ditto those two cases on the extinction of a worm.  Or, ditto on a species of lizard.  Then, minor and major pollution, or dumping, crimes. List a bunch of ‘em.  Get the idea?  We’ll do the same for, say, worker safety crimes, discrimination, murder, espionage, illegal campaign contributions, patent violations, and (ahem) violations of employee privacy.  Hell, what with us having so many laws on the books that we’ve got to hire lawyers just to make sure we’re OK, we should have no trouble listing a shitload of hypothetical crimes.  Let’s do it to it.”

     Doug, being the most proficient at a keyboard, volunteered to type up the ideas as they were generated.  A lot of people even these days preferred to type, as opposed to dictating to machines, mostly because voice recognition systems were still slightly expensive and awkward, but also because such machines had to be trained each time they heard a new voice.  For collecting dictation from a room full of people, a human set of ears and brains still ran circles around any bucket of bolts and integrated circuits.  Doug’s labors appeared on a large wall screen for all to critique.

     In no time at all, they had listed about 60 crimes.  They included the ridiculous, as well as the plausible.  Gary had merely chuckled when Pam and Hector had cut up a bit, suggesting that it could maybe have been that ABC was responsible for sunspots, dandruff, halitosis, and whale lice.  These were included in the list to be sent to the feds. Phil wondered how Gary could fly so blatantly in the face of “professionalism”.  What a bunch of mavericks he had the fortune to be working for!  It had been remarkable enough that Phil had ever gotten to speak his mind at the announcement press conference.  Then he stopped to wonder if maybe Gary was actually trying to send the feds a message. Something like, “Look, you bunch of stuffed shirts, we at ABC won’t be forced into your mold.  We’ll do things our way.”

     In approximately another 3.51 units of no time at all, their room full of five people was on the FOS, transmitting and receiving voice and images to and from General Leech.  Gary introduced everyone in the room and explained their dilemma, and also explained that ABC was having a meeting Tuesday afternoon, and it would sure be nice to have this matter squared away when all this was being discussed.  ABC’s modus operandi was to make decisions and move on, Gary pointed out.  Phil, once more, had to admire Gary’s get-it-done approach.

     General Leech’s somber visage stared solemnly at them from the wall display.  He cleared his throat, and pronounced that, “Well, I guess we could see if we can accommodate y’all.  Why don’t you go ahead and send me your list.  You realize, of course, that you’ll have to fill out our Standard Form BR-549-XTRQZY, Application for Forgiveness of Hypothetical and Not-So-Hypothetical Crimes.” Frank kept his face so straight that only Hector let out a guffaw, and a delayed one at that.

     The General went on to say, “Come on, lighten up.  We’re in this together.  Or at least, I’d sure like to be.  I’m on your side.  All the forms and such, we’ll help to try and keep off of your backs.  As far as what we’re talking about here, I obviously don’t have that kind of authority to grant you those kinds of things.  But, I want you to know that President Kite personally takes very seriously this business of getting Uncle Sam caught up in the biotech field.  I will contact him with your list, and I’ll have an answer for you shortly.  By, say, ten tomorrow.  And I appreciate y’all contacting me with this matter, rather than just destroying your data, because we are indeed interested in everything that you have.”

     Gary spoke up.  “OK, so, shall we call you at ten tomorrow, then?”

     Frank replied, “No, I’ll call you.  Here at this same number?”

     “Please.  Thanks!  Oh, and please don’t discuss any of this with anyone other than those of us in this room.  We’ll talk to you tomorrow, then.”

     Doug broke the link.  Phil spoke up for the first time, to try his hand at this cloak-and-dagger stuff.  “Excuse my paranoia, but, just maybe we should play it safe when they send us our list tomorrow.  Let’s not dump it to the big screen, just in case they can record our eye movement closely enough to figure out which section we look at the moment it’s shown.  We all know what we’ll look at first, or longest, even if we try not to.” Phil didn’t suggest that they shut down their visual transmissions, because this was considered to be bad form, except at home in the odd hours.

     “Couldn’t hurt.  Let’s remember to dump it to printer, then,” was Gary’s comment.

     Phil got back to his usual business of running simulations, and tweaking this and that, on ABC’s next generation of products.  Ten on Tuesday rolled around right on schedule, and the gang was assembled in Hector’s office once more.  Phil wasn’t sure why Gary was so willing to meet in Hector’s office so often.  If Gary was a real, self-respecting bigwig, you’d think he’d want the meetings in his own, larger office. Who knows, maybe he just enjoys watching Hector’s tropical fish swimming around.  Phil had to admit, it was a very nice aquarium.

     The General was on screen shortly, and six pages dropped out of the printer.  Doug snatched them away before Hector could get at them, saying, “Stop!  You heathen!  I’ll duplicate these, and we’ll perform a proper, egalitarian, simultaneous ceremony of The Reading of The List.  Back!” Without examining them, Doug dropped them in the copier, which promptly spat out four more copies.  Doug passed them around face down, like a dealer at the high-stakes table, implying with exaggerated body language that anyone turning up their pages first was a cheat. Gary looked at him with a mixture of amusement and admonishment.  Gary refused to play the game; he turned his over as soon as he got it.  Doug was no dummy, though; he had deliberately started with Pam and Phil, knowing they were unlikely to spoil the ceremony.  So, Hector and Doug himself were the only ones to get a late start at the races.

     Phil looked the list over.  Some were marked “Yes,” some were marked “No,” and just a very few were marked “maybe”.  The sunspots, dandruff, halitosis, and whale lice had been marked with asterisks, whose explanation at the end of the last page was, “Unknown at this time.  We are forming a committee to study this matter, and will attend to these issues with all due haste.” The mild case of spying on employees, such as what ABC was guilty of, was marked “Yes,” as expected.  In fact, so was the moderate case of such spying.  Phil was surprised to see just how many “Yes” marks there were.  The feds must want this deal fairly strongly, he mused.

     “So does this put your fears at ease?,” Frank wanted to know.

     Yessir, it does,” was Gary’s reply.  “Thank you.”

     “Glad to be of help.  Please be aware that this is not permission to continue your wayward ways, if they’re still going on.  Even the President doesn’t have the authority to set up different laws for different people.  We’re only offering immunity for past crimes, if you accept the contract.  The activity or activities wouldn’t be allowed to continue.” Unless the government does it for us, Phil thought.  Frank continued, “Also, I don’t imagine I really have to mention this, but please keep this all under your hat.  I imagine, and hope, that this would be as embarrassing to you as it would be to us, if it ever got out.  We may have had our fun with this, but this is serious stuff.”

     “Roger that,” was Gary’s reply.  They said their good-byes and hung up.

     That afternoon, ABC had the big meeting to discuss the contract. The various legal, financial, and technical dog and pony shows were presented.  None of it looked too terribly favorable for accepting the contract.  Then, the meeting became a free-for-all.  Various people got up and said that they had first or second-hand experience in working for the government, and that such work was, to a large extent, a crock of expletive deleted.

     Various other objections were raised, such as public relations.  In the last few days, there had been much editorializing, sermonizing, and demonstrating against such research, with a smaller segment of public opinion in favor.  Some meeting-goers worried about having to grow ABC in order to take the contract, since ABC was busy enough already.  What would this do to the informal, relaxed company culture?  And what about artificial divisions between the segments of ABC?  Would ideas and cooperation still flow freely within ABC, or would “us versus them” set in?  Would the government claim all of ABC’s inventions if defense-contract workers occasionally helped with other projects?  Would cross-fertilization cease, due to such fears?

     It didn’t take long for a consensus to evolve, and the decision was to not pursue the contract.  However, it didn’t seem prudent to just tell Uncle Sam to deposit the contract in a solar-photon-free zone. After all, they all knew who regulated export licenses.  So, they decided to make a counter-proposal, which would be heavily stacked in favor of ABC, and ABC’s ways of doing things.  The goal was to make a reasonably serious counter-proposal, so that the feds wouldn’t be too miffed, as would be the case if the proposal was a total joke.  Still, the proposal was to be so favorable to ABC as to be unlikely to be accepted.  ABC would make it clear that this was a final offer.

     For more than an hour, they all sat there and contributed to a list of contract conditions.  Either more money or less computer security restrictions.  Less red tape.  Carte blanche for contract workers to work on other projects without hassles.  Exemption from rigid government rules on unions, wages, security clearances, cost accounting, documentation, and contract administration.  Only broad goals from the feds; no micro-managing allowed.  Etc., etc., etc.  The legal eagles were tasked with trying to put it all into legalese.

     Phil’s only input was that he didn’t like Stanley, and that he’d like for Stanley’s duties not to include riding herd on ABC, as proposed by the feds.  This was deemed too personal, but the legal types promised to see if they couldn’t just write the counter-offer so as to make government oversight of ABC fairly innocuous.  Only on accepting the final products would the feds be allowed to be persnickety.  Gary asked that the contract explicitly state that ABC was merely treating Uncle Sam like any other customer: ABC didn’t want to be all tied up by the contractor, on how ABC got the job done.  On the other hand, when it came to results or customer satisfaction, the customer, as with the customer of any reputable business, was the boss.

     ABC’s lawyers promised to get it all written up, to be submitted for final approval by top management before being sent to the feds. Phil wondered whether or not this would be the last he’d hear of all this.  It would have been such a career opportunity, he thought.  Oh, well.  Back to the salt mines.  At least he hadn’t pissed off Gloria over nothing.

 


 

CHAPTER 8

 

     Stanley sat at yet another pre-meeting meeting preceding yet another meeting of the National Security Strategy Committee, the same as he had more than once before.  Frank seemed to be his usual surly self.  He was saying, “OK, so ABC made a counter-proposal that is totally outlandish in terms of the usual government contract.  President Kite won’t buy off on using some muscle tactics.  We’d better just lick a little boot and knuckle under to them, if we want to get the job done. Besides, don’t quote me, but there’s actually some potential for us to get a lot of good things out of ABC’s bullheadedness.  We can bypass a lot of Mickey mouse bullshit, if we can get the committee to buy off on accepting ABC’s proposal.”

     Shit! thought Stanley.  He didn’t consider the highest standards in safety, security, ethical treatment of workers, and well-documented honesty to be “Mickey mouse bullshit,” but he wasn’t about to say that to his boss.

     Frank went on to say, “Sure, we’d like to bug the President to see if we can’t, like, declare eminent domain, or bust ‘em up for being a monopoly, but he’s already let us know that he won’t consider risking ‘killing the goose that lays the golden eggs’.  Besides, he’s right: pissing them off does us no good.  And busting up a group of research workers that’s as small as ABC’s research group, with maybe only 50 top-notch brains, wouldn’t do any good either.  So I don’t want to hear any bellyaching along these lines tomorrow.”

     Frank was looking at Stanley as he was making this comment, since Stanley, as usual, would be the only one besides Frank at the pre-meeting meeting who would go to the Big Meeting.  Stanley did his best not to appear indignant, which he was.  Frank often subtly, and sometimes not so subtly, ragged on Stanley in front of others.  Frank reminded Stanley of his bosses at his post office job that he’d had so long ago, when he’d worked to save money to pay for his studies. Authoritarian postal bosses, despite being hardly any more educated or qualified than their workers, had treated Stanley and other workers shoddily.  And they wondered why postal workers periodically went bonkers, Stanley reflected.

     “I have some news from the DIA that, well, I don’t know how to put this.” Frank paused, as if debating just how much to say, and as if he was tasting a bit of crow at the thought of saying much of anything. “It’s good news and it’s bad news.  But the really good news is that we can use it.  President Kite is a lot more open about these things than our last president was.” Frank seemed to look a little ill as he talked about the last president.  “So, not only do we all know about these things, we all know that we all know and are allowed to know.  So, we can discuss it, not only here, but at the meeting.”

     So get on with it, you political airbag! thought Stanley.  Spit it out!

     “I mean, we’ve already been suffering the ill effects of the bad news all along, and so the good news is that now we finally know about the bad news, and we can use all this to say, here, see, this is why we haven’t been able to achieve as much as ABC has been able to do.” Stanley’s ears pricked up.  Here comes the good stuff at last, he thought.

     “It seems we’ve been getting less than the real McCoy all along, on data from ABC.  The agent at ABC managed to not only record what all was said at their big meeting, where they made the decision to make a stiff counter-offer¾and I might add, they made it stiff with the intention of having us turn them down, but they didn’t want to make it so stiff as to have us get POed at them, out of fear of export restrictions.  I don’t know why they think we’re such well-connected ogres.

     “Anyway, the agent also managed to stick a bug in a manager’s office, where some things got discussed that weren’t discussed at the big meeting.  It seems that ABC has been cheating.  They snooped on the snoop port, and apparently caught on when our agent dumped all the available data across the FOS on the federal accounts.  That was way back when, when we first got started doing this.  They got spooked, and apparently decided to start altering some critical data with some special gizmos, so that the data would be garbled to any outside user, and get ungarbled only when one of their machines was using it internal to itself.  So, we’ve been getting trash.  Subtle trash, but trash.”

     Frank paused and looked at Stanley, giving Stanley the chance to say “I told you so”.  But Stanley knew that this would count against him, so he swallowed the impulse to do so.  After a few seconds, Frank seemed to mellow out a bit, silently approving of Stanley’s self-restraint.  “I think I recall you actually saying once or twice that you suspected something was fishy.  Well, you were right.  I just wish we’d have had the smarts to figure this out more thoroughly a while ago, instead of letting these guys lead us on a wild goose chase.”

     Well, shit! thought Stanley.  Pat me on the back, then back up and boot me in the behind.  Admit I was right, and then imply that I wasn’t as right as I should have been.  He considered pointing out to the General that this was a prime example of garbage in, garbage out, and that designing the genes behind brains and immune systems was more of an example of black magic and luck than it was an example of a rigorous science like math or physics, where you were either right or wrong. There really wasn’t any realistic way that Stanley or his troops should have been able to figure this all out, he thought, but he also thought that it probably wasn’t a good idea to rile Frank over it.

     Stanley finally put his two cents in.  “So why can’t we bust  em for snooping on the snoop ports?  We’ve already offered them the carrot, and they seem to want fifty sugar-coated carrots instead, so why don’t we try the stick?”

     “Because we’d almost definitely give away our ace in the hole if we did.  They’d realize that we have an agent among them.  So far, they probably don’t really actually suspect that their spy is acting on our behalf, despite the fact that the federal accounts were used in the first raid.  Really sharp hackers could have pulled that off, without the government being involved.

     “So we took their warped data, and warped it some more, before passing it on to the Chinese, under the old administration.  No wonder we couldn’t tempt the Chinese into starting their own biowar research, based on this.  This stuff we gave ‘em had been pissed on, not once, but twice, and they’re apparently sharp enough to know it.”

     Stanley nervously rubbed his sapphire ring.  His blood pressure, heartbeat, and sweat output stepped up a notch or two at the mention of this topic.  Fortunately for Stanley’s short-term political survival, he wasn’t hooked up to a polygraph, and Frank had no reason to suspect anything was wrong.

     Frank went on.  “But now that we’ve already suffered the ill effects of this bad news, we can squeeze some good out of it.  We can argue that this is why we’ve been shown up by ABC, and that since they’ve obviously shown themselves to be more on top of things than we are, even to the point of outsmarting us and all of our fancy computer security knowledge, then we need to humbly sit at their feet and take lessons.  I mean, look at this!  Their computer security is atrocious by our formal standards, and they hoodwinked us!  We’ve got an agent there, and only now have we figured it out!  I just hope the committee will buy into the argument that this means that we should do things their way, and accept their terms for the most part, instead of concluding that we’re just a bunch of chumps, and that we should drop the whole project.”

     Stanley had finally heard enough.  It had been all that he could do, to keep from interrupting Frank.  Stanley’s pride had been tromped on too much.  He didn’t pay much attention to Frank saying “we” fucked up; he heard, “Stanley and his charges” fucked up.  So he waded on in and objected, “Come on now!  Here these people are violating the law, playing fast and loose, and wanting to play even faster and looser, with a government military contract at that.  And we want to make heroes out of them?  Let ‘em bumble around with dangerous weapons technology? ‘Humbly sit at their feet’?  I think it might be more appropriate to put shackles on their feet.”

     Frank’s face went mostly blank, with a hint of the “this is going to hurt me more than it’s going to hurt you” look that parents have before they spank the kid who’s been told again and again not to get into the cookie jar.  Stanley knew he’d played his cards wrong, but hey, one’s dignity is sometimes more important than staying on the boss’s good side.

     “Goddammit, Stanley, can’t you get it through your thick head that this is not about who is smarter, us or ABC?  They are Americans, and we are Americans.  We are all in need of defense against insatiably power-hungry bungholes who don’t give a hoot about anything or anyone except their own selfish selves.  We Americans, be we Army, Navy, Air Force, civilian government, or civilian civilian, need to be less selfish than the selfish scum who are our enemies or potential enemies. Or at least, if we must be selfish, let’s be collectively selfish, instead of individually selfish, so that we can present a united front against the real enemy.  Your enemy isn’t ABC, or Phil Schrock, or Frank Leech for that matter, it’s the enemies of a just, worldwide peace.”

     Stanley felt like grabbing a chair and sitting it in front of this windbag, and patting it as if to indicate, “Here is your soapbox”. Captain Dupuy and Harold Stokes, who had been silent all this time, still said nothing, but they both seemed to be somewhat embarrassed to be present while Stanley was getting his butt chewed.  Harold seemed quite embarrassed, while Bill seemed only slightly discomfited.  Stanley suspected that this was because Bill saw his boss do this kind of thing a lot, while Harold, who reported to Stanley, wasn’t exposed to it as much.

     Frank wasn’t done.  “The goal is to develop technology to save the lives of American soldiers, while still defeating the enemy, either by the use or by the threat of the use of safe, superior technology.  Safe for us, that is, obviously.  Whatever it takes for us to get there, we should do.  What it takes is that we’re going to have to co-operate with ABC, not be fighting them tooth and nail all the time.  Here is a prime directive: DON’T PISS THEM OFF without valid reasons.  I, or my bosses, will decide what are valid reasons.

     “I might add that, despite your only having been there once, you already seem to have done exactly that¾pissed off ABC.  Our source tells us that Doctor Schrock wanted them to put into the contract that you wouldn’t be allowed to ‘ride herd on’ ABC.  OK, so maybe you haven’t done anything concrete and specific to get on their bad side, but we need to watch our attitudes.  We want to work together with these guys. They, like most people, can sense a hostile attitude, and react to it.”

     Oh, great! thought Stanley.  Not only does he threaten to fire me¾Me!  A highly educated scientist who has forgotten more than he’ll ever learn¾he also rags on me in front of other people, and now he blames me for sending off bad vibes and hurting the sensitive baby feelings of this young snot cowboy-scientist Schrock.  I sure hope Frank stops riding my ass. If he doesn’t... well, I might have to rely on my special powers.

     At least for a moment, it seemed as if Frank was going to do exactly that.  “Anyway, let’s get back to the purpose of this meeting, which is to get our ducks lined up for tomorrow’s meeting.  We need to persuade the committee that we need to meet most, if not all, of ABC’s demands.  We can’t push them too far, or we have no contract.  Without the contract, we’re behind by years.  The DIA tells me we haven’t much hope of getting the ‘real McCoy’ from ABC, short of a contract or muscle tactics, and from what we understand about the hit and miss nature of brain-gene design, even the ‘real McCoy’ wouldn’t help us much, since we have to design brains with totally different hard-wired instincts.  We need their expertise, shared willingly, and nothing short of that is going to get us to where we want to go, in a reasonable timeframe.”

     After having momentarily stopped picking on Stanley, Frank returned to make yet another stab.  Or, at least, so it seemed to Stanley, who didn’t really consider the possibility that Frank was just trying to do his job.  “So, what are we going to say if or when the committee asks us, just why is it that ABC was able to not only achieve so much more than we’ve been able to do, but also to hoodwink us in so doing?”

     At least Stanley was being asked to state his case.  He asserted that this bioengineering business was more art than science, that a lot of random chance was involved, and that there weren’t clear-cut, discrete points on which one was either right or wrong, as in a mathematical proof.  He went on to add that the government’s computer, security, and spy types, most specifically those in the DIA, were the real bumble-heads here for having steered Project Epsilon wrong as to the integrity of the data.

     Frank nodded in acknowledgment, but added that he, rather than Stanley, should handle stating their case, since Alan Riggs of the DIA was going to be there, and the matter was a delicate organizational political-type thing.  Stanley thought, yes, Frank, you’re so much more diplomatic in passing the blame than I am.  They discussed and worried about some other things, and then concluded that they were prepared for the Big Meeting.

     At the actual meeting of the National Security Strategy Committee, Stanley remarked on how more than half of the attendees were different than the ones that had attended the first such meeting he’d been to. The change in administration had sure upset the continuity of things, but what’s so unusual about all the top jobs being based on politics instead of qualifications, he wondered.  The meeting itself was somewhat anticlimactic, after all of Frank and Stanley’s worrying.  President Kite seemed to be in an easy-going mood, and there were no accusations or episodes of slime-slinging.

     About the only time there was any sort of confrontation at all was when Admiral Sechler complained a bit about the idea of ABC being allowed to set a bad precedent, in bypassing all sorts of safeguards and procedures normally imposed on defense contractors.

     President Kite moved decisively to squelch her objections.  “We’ve got to keep the ultimate goals in mind, and not get too bogged down in the fine, legalistic details of how we get there.  If one obsesses too much about the letter of the law, one loses sight of the spirit of the law, the goals, and pleasing the customer.  Our customers are the peaceful, law-abiding citizens of the US and other nations who need protection.  And, I might add, the soldiers who are charged with providing this protection, whose lives we wish to protect by equipping them with the best technology.

     “Let me provide an everyday example that most of us would recognize as being ridiculously legalistic, and getting in the way of pleasing the customer.  A few years ago¾OK, maybe more than a few years ago, maybe a decade or two ago, before I was encumbered with all the security types standing between me and the regular civilian types. I was at the airport and witnessed a silly drama.  My wife and I had just picked up a friend, and we had just left the secure area, when she saw a lady behind her.

     “This lady wanted a luggage cart that was just barely outside of the secure area.  When she asked the guard if she could leave the secure area by a yard or two, just to fetch the luggage cart, without having to go back through the long lines for the metal detectors leading to the secure area again, the guard said no, the rules are the rules.  And no, he couldn’t step over there to get the cart for her, because to do so would be deserting his post.  So, my wife just backed up a bit, and pushed the cart back across this all-important, magical line.  I guess I should’ve been surprised that they didn’t arrest her on the spot for terrorism, seeing as the cart might have been made of metal-painted plastic explosives or some such.

     “I imagine that if I’d been that lady, I’d have been thinking, ‘I sure wish there was another airport I could use, that would be more concerned with serving my needs than this one is.’ Just because the people of a city have few choices of airports, and citizens have little real choice of which bureaucrats should tell them what to do, does not mean that such workers should be allowed to disregard the customer.  So let’s focus on pleasing the customers.”

     The thought occurred to Stanley that the customers wouldn’t be too pleased if the cowboys at ABC ended up shooting all the good guys in cowtown, due to them not being kept under proper control, but he obviously wasn’t going to say anything of that sort.

     At least Frank and Stanley didn’t get ragged on.  Most of their pre-meeting meeting worries had been for naught.  President Kite seemed to place high priority on Project Epsilon, and so he wasn’t going to let other agencies or projects shortchange them, out of jealousy or anything else.  Project Epsilon would get what it needed, and this included bending and even breaking a lot of rules, maybe even laws.  But, hey, these were black bucks they were playing with, and even if they’d made public announcements about their activities, they really didn’t have to account to Congress.  After all, they had a job to get done.

     So it was clear from early in the meeting that ABC’s demands would be met, for the most part.  Frank and Stanley and their troops were directed to see if they could at least nibble around the edges of ABC’s supposedly iron-clad demands, without scaring them off.  Mostly, this nibbling around the edges was intended to make sure that ABC didn’t take any security risks that were just too huge, in terms of ABC’s workers possibly being spies, or susceptible to threats from spies.  Or, that is, the wrong spies.

     “So, we really must get them to conform to most of our important requirements as far as this all goes.  Background checks, piss tests, that kind of thing,” the President concluded.

     This really sounded strange to Stanley.  But then, cloak and dagger stuff was totally strange in the first place, and so the President’s statements really had no need to be consistent with what Stanley had been hearing from the CIA.

     While President Kite was emphasizing how important it was to not have foreign spies working on the project at ABC, Stanley, in co-operation with the CIA, had been releasing slightly altered data to the Chinese.  This data included practically everything on the federal project, excluding the fact that a real-life trial run had been conducted.  Stanley had been told that the President knew about it continuing even into his own administration, even though he directed all his staff, including Frank, that it was to stop.

     The CIA agent, Andrew Henderson, which probably wasn’t his real name anyway, had explained all this to Stanley as follows: “The President feels that the more people who know about this, the worse are the chances of it backfiring on us.  Instead of getting the Chinese to dabble in this stuff, too, so that we can point to them as a method of keeping public opinion here tamed down, the public will hear about our scheme, and we’ll end up really embarrassed.  So, even Frank doesn’t have to know.  Besides, if and when the Chinese ever take the bait, Frank will be so much more genuinely and convincingly indignant, when he talks to the FOS cameras about how the Chinese are messing around with biowarfare.”

     Stanley interpreted this to mean that Kite was looking for “plausible deniability,” so that if busted, he could say, “Oh, that was the Republicans; I put a stop to that when I took office.  And if someone in my administration kept it up, unbeknownst to me, then, hey, I’m sorry I wasn’t more on top of things, but I can’t watch every federal employee all day.” And Stanley would be left to twist in the breeze.  He’d said as much to Andrew.

     Andrew had assured him, “No, No!  Kite wouldn’t do that!  We’d put you in the federal witness protection program or something, if we had to.” Stanley must have looked aghast at the prospect of being any kind of fugitive, even a government-aided fugitive, because Andrew had hurried on to say, “Oh, don’t worry about it.  We’ll take care of you. Trust me.  The President knows, and he’ll stand by you, too.  But don’t go approaching him about this, ‘cause you never know who is listening, and he might have to deny it.”

     Sure, Stanley had thought.  As if I’m ever going to see the President, alone, anyway.  He still didn’t know whether to believe Andrew or not.  Did the President know?  Was he just pretending to be worried about security at ABC, while data was being given to the Chinese?  Well, really, come to think of it, there wasn’t such a contradiction after all.  Some things were to be given to the Chinese, and some, such as knowledge of trial runs, were not.  Who knows, maybe the Chinese found out about that anyway, and now they’ll be sure to know that all we’re giving them really is totally worthless, seeing as how much of a flop the trial run had been!

     Stanley was sitting there, wondering whether the Chinese would ever get off their duffs and start researching, when conversation veered in that general direction.  He wrenched himself back to the present point of the space-time continuum.

     The conversation had just concerned how the public was reacting negatively to American biowar research, even if it was to be purely defensive, and only computer simulations, as far as actual weapons were concerned.  Polls still looked unfavorable.

     But, Daniel Shute of the CIA had some good news.  He pointed out that, “Our most recent intelligence, hot off the press, indicates quite clearly that the Chinese are planning to commit big-time to biowar research in a few weeks.  At that point, we’ll be able to very specifically point to where they’re doing it, and they won’t be able to plausibly deny it, by, for example, allowing the UN to inspect.  Public opinion should swing around, here.  We’ll now show that we were right to start studying this, out of fear of military applications.”

     A few people at the meeting seemed startled at this revelation, and the least of them was neither Stanley nor Frank.

     President Kite spoke up.  “Hold it.  I’ve got to play devil’s advocate here.  The peace freaks will say, ‘Well, the US started it. Our military is researching it, and so are they.  And we did it first. So have the UN inspect here, as well as in China.  What’s so different about what we’re doing, as opposed to what they’re doing?’ What are we going to say?”

     Frank chimed in.  “Well, first of all we’re a member in excellent standing with the UN, unlike China.  And we’ve got an established bioengineering industry devoted to peaceful purposes, whose technology must be protected and reserved for peaceful purposes, again unlike China.  And if the UN wants to inspect us, more power to them.  They’ll not find a scrap of evidence here to indicate that our intentions are anything other than peaceful and defensive.”

     The meeting went on.  They decided that the project should be neither stingy nor inflexible.  Mostly under the President’s pressures, they agreed that ABC’s demand of “less computer security restrictions, or more money,” should be satisfied on both accounts.  ABC would be paid more, and they would be allowed to pick and choose from the government’s computer security techniques as they please.  Richard Kite said that he took pride in accommodating those he perceived to be on his side, and competent.  He argued that ABC had earned the right to be treated with respect; after all, they sure had managed to bamboozle the feds.  They briefly discussed the doohickeys that ABC had employed to snoop on the snoop ports, and to warp data.  Stanley was amazed about how openly all this was discussed.  And Doctor Phil Schrock was such a “phenomenally brilliant scientist”.  The last comment irked Stanley.  When was the last time they’d noted how brilliant he was?

     There were apparently limits to Kite’s freewheeling openness.  He thanked the committee members, and suggested that since the major decisions had already been made, all but the CIA, DIA, and Epsilon members might want to be back to their other business.  The rest of the meeting would be boring operational details.  This was a semi-polite way of getting rid of all but those who had a need to know.  All but Stanley, Frank, Alan, Daniel, and Richard himself left.

     Then, some sensitive topics were discussed.  Richard apologetically announced, “Y’all know I take pride in trusting my people.  You know I trust everyone on the committee with the information that we have an agent at ABC, which is more than we can say about my predecessor. However, there are just limits to how useful certain information is to certain people, and why take a chance when one doesn’t have to?

     “Now, if one thinks about it the wrong way, one might find distasteful, what I’m going to propose.  One could interpret it as a ‘dirty trick’ against ABC, but it really isn’t unethical, because we aren’t hurting them, and it furthers our own quite legitimate interests. We MUST preserve the innermost secrets of this project, both at Epsilon and at ABC.  Remember, if any of this ever leaves a bad taste in your mouth, that we’re doing all this for the preservation of American lives, American soldiers, and even the Western and democratic values and traditions.  These aren’t small things that we’re defending.

     “We’ve got a problem.  ABC wants to slash and burn at our usual security requirements, and they say their offer isn’t negotiable.  We want to nibble around the edges of their terms, without getting the door slammed in our faces.  Hardly anyone in their whole industry knows what a government contract is, so they sure aren’t used to our security requirements.  And ABC’s a bunch of mavericks and dissidents, even for a high-tech industry, from what I’ve heard.

     “Well, I’ve got a solution, I think.  If they’re halfway co-operative at all, that is.  What we do is, we approach them and tell them, in the next few days, that really soon, in the next few weeks, there’ll be an announcement that will sway public opinion, and make it a lot easier for them to accept the contract.  We won’t tell ‘em what the announcement is about, though¾that’s just too risky.  But we’ll tell ‘em that we’re so serious about meeting their terms, that we’ll grant them the immunity that they’re looking for, even before they accept the contract.  You know, their little cat and mouse game on all their ‘hypothetical’ crimes.

     “Then we lean on them to let us investigate their computer security.  Make them all sorts of offers.  If they don’t want the contract, or aren’t sure yet, make all sorts of incremental offers. So much for so much of their software or data.  Offer to lend some federal expertise to their computer security efforts.  By hook or by crook, we get ‘em to ‘fess up to us about the fact that they know they have a spy amongst themselves.  Maybe we even hint that we really must investigate their computer security as a condition to granting export licenses.

     “Anyway, once they admit to us that they have, or at least had, a hacker-spy, then we’ll pounce on that to make them accept a lot of our security requirements.  At least, most of our security requirements on personnel.  We know that they’re sharp on computer security, but they don’t know that we know.  So we’ll be real generous, and let them slide a little on that.  But we’ve really got to reign in the free spirits, and make sure all their personnel are reliable.  Any time their workers give us a hard time on our security requirements, we can always nag them about their hacker-spy.  This means that knowledge of their spy, which they’ve limited to just a very few people, will become company wide, after we get involved.  We’ll use this to justify more secrecy, and secrecy will help us hide our real goals from wimpy bleeding hearts who might back out on us if they knew too much.

     “Hopefully, we can get them to ‘fess up to us about their spy, before we make the announcement about the Chinese having started their research efforts.  Then, we can get this show on the road pronto.” The President sure seemed to place some urgency on this project.

     “Sort of clever, I’d say, to use our agent there to bug them about their lax security.” Richard Kite chuckled with self-satisfaction. “But, it will increase the pressure on agent X. Alan, see to it that our agent gets a nice, big raise.”

     Frank and Stanley weren’t trusted with agent X’s name.  They had no need to know, though.

     Daniel presented what the CIA knew about China’s biowar capabilities.  He mentioned that China’s top biochemist and geneticist, Tao Chi, was “quite a talented individual”.  Frank interjected with an assertion that Phil Schrock could run circles around this Chinese character, which got Stanley’s bowels in an uproar.  Stanley was just about to protest how ABC was able to do so much better than the Chinese merely because they had far better computers, but Daniel beat him to the punch on this particular set of facts.  So Stanley just sat there and stewed in his resentment of this Phil Schrock smart-aleck, who Frank was so enamored of.

     Then a number of questions were reviewed.  One was, how would the work be divided between ABC and the federal employees of Project Epsilon itself?  Another was, if such things came to pass, how could there be much interaction between the rank and file at ABC, and those at Epsilon itself, without too many people realizing that the feds had been pirating ABC’s software for quite some time now?  So far, most of the federal workers thought the software came from a mysterious but legitimate source; few knew that it was stolen from ABC.

     Yet another question was, how could they move rapidly towards their goal of a system that could build weapons in a matter of days or hours, yet never cross the barrier from simulations to real-life trials, at least in the minds of the public?  In other words, how could one get hundreds of people to strive for this goal of bioweapons, yet hide till needed for use, the weapons themselves, or the ability to build them on a moment’s notice?  Secrecy was at its best when even the participants themselves were at least partially deceived.  The hundreds of workers at both ABC and Epsilon should be led to believe that the ultimate goal was simulations, and no more.  The US merely wants to know about all this for defensive purposes, after all.

     The final major question discussed was the most technical.  It was, how could “leash” nutrients be delivered to enemy territory, without the enemy being able to analyze and duplicate the “leash” compounds, thus gaining the ability to sic the weapons back against their makers.

     These questions were all spelled out primarily by the President, as he quizzed Frank.  Stanley really had to admire Kite; he seemed to have a knack of getting to the heart of matters.  Then, there was some unrehearsed hashing out of potential answers.

     It didn’t take long for the first three questions to be addressed by a broad scheme.  ABC would design bioweapons, and Epsilon would design counter-weapons.  Simulations from the two teams would fight it out in simulated battles fought in a simulated world, on the government’s computers.  This scenario allowed for only a handful of people being allowed to directly interact between the two groups, for a plausible reason other than keeping Epsilon workers from realizing that they’d been working with software pirated from ABC.  Ideas could still be exchanged, but only through official channels at the top.  In a few years, software shared by ABC and Epsilon would evolve.  No one would wonder anymore why the government’s software was so similar to ABC’s, and the issue would soon fade away.

     Having the two teams play opposing sides in simulations solved some other problems as well.  It made it easier to break the tasks down into smaller chunks, to hide from most workers, exactly what all was being accomplished.  And the simulations could easily be painted as the be-all and end-all, the alpha and the omega, that by which all things were judged.  It would be easier to forget that there were just a few small steps from simulation to reality.  Finally, opposing simulations would accomplish their actual, stated purposes of showing which techniques were more viable than others, and what counter-measures might be developed against various forms of bioweapons.  Epsilon would concentrate on an area where it had the most expertise, which was non-living subsystems, while ABC would pursue other things.

     So, now that realistic solutions to the first three questions had been proposed, they returned to the fourth, thorniest problem: how to safely deliver the “leash” compounds.  Stanley ‘fessed up that they’d given the matter quite a bit of thought by now, and still didn’t have a good solution.  Richard said he really didn’t feel too good about actually awarding the contract to ABC, or even, spending much more money on the project within Epsilon, without a good answer to this problem. The President went on to say that they should strain their brains, and see if they couldn’t come up with a good solution, right there on the spot.

     The way Richard put it was, “Now, don’t take this the wrong way. I’m not threatening to yank your funds away from you, after we pretty much agreed to going ahead and doing this, earlier today, when the full committee was here.  I just don’t think we should make the final commitment of all these funds, without an acceptable solution to this critically important dilemma.  But, I have every confidence in y’all. Certainly within a few weeks, hopefully in time for our announcement that the Chinese have started research, and maybe even in just a few minutes here, I’ll bet you could come up with a decent solution, if you put your minds to it.”  He excused himself momentarily to step out for a cup of coffee.

     Stanley thought, this is ridiculous!  This impatient idiot wants us to figure out in a minute or two, that which we’ve already thought about for more than a few months.  We want to spend billions of dollars to research this, but he wants the answers before we spend the money.  Is this putting the cart before the horse, or what?

     However, Frank appeared to do just that.  He seemed to just light up all of a sudden in the middle of the President’s coffee excursion, and mumbled a little, excitedly.  Maybe the scheme of the opposing simulations and the division of labors provided the spark in his brain. Or maybe, Stanley speculated later, Frank, or even maybe both Frank AND the President, had concocted this “spontaneous” idea ahead of time, so that Stanley should see how brilliant his boss was, and how, therefore, Stanley should knuckle under more willingly.

     Anyway, the idea that Frank came up with seemed quite feasible, and relatively simple.  As soon as Richard returned, Frank launched his spiel.  “Stanley and I’ve talked about how non-living systems and subsystems can do certain tasks better than living flesh.  These include making large numerical calculations, and carrying large loads, be they loads of information or material, fast and far.  We’ve also talked, here just now, about how we want to divide labors.  Yes, I agree that we should have opposing simulations, and that we should focus our workers on those.

     “But we should make some of those many tasks, which very few people know what they’re really for, mesh together from the ABC side and from the Epsilon side, to solve our ‘leash’ problem.  ABC designs the bioweapons, and Epsilon delivers the ‘leash’ compounds.  Hear me out.

     “What I envision is this: Epsilon develops a living/non-living hybrid miniature aircraft, containing almost no metal at all, so that even advanced radar can’t easily spot it.  Its brain is mostly organic, living flesh.  These brains generate aircraft control signals.  Some of the ‘brains’, and the ‘nervous system’, or control and sensor signals, are diamond and silicon-based manufactured circuits.  These circuits could give us some features not easily available from organic ‘wetware’, such as navigation, radio reception, and carrying the aircraft’s control signals.  The wings are made of lightweight but strong aerogells.  The engines are made of ceramics.  These small planes would be kept cheap, so as to be able to be mass produced.  They would deliver the ‘leash’ compounds.

     “The leash compounds would be delicate, and easily destroyed.  The aircraft would be programmed to destroy them, to prevent their capture, in the event of the plane’s untimely demise.  The aircraft would also be programmed to release them unharmed to the bioweapons who need them in order to live and/or reproduce, if and only if the bioweapons ‘mate’ with the aircraft, and exchange the right sequence of signals, be they chemicals or nerve impulses or whatever.  And the bioweapons themselves are also programmed to destroy the leash compounds, and the ‘key’ for getting the leash compounds, in the event of their capture or untimely demise.

     “Just as we get benefits from non-living parts that ‘wetware’ can’t deliver, such as being able to deliver the load accurately, rapidly, and over long distances, we also get benefits from the living parts, that non-living parts couldn’t do anywhere near as well or cheaply.  Wetware provides the highest brain functions and control of the payload, which includes the ‘key’ and payload destruction mechanisms.

     “Upon reaching the battlefield, the hybrid would either land, to deliver its payload to land-based bioweapons, or it would mate in mid-air with airborne bioweapons.  Or maybe we could even equip it with subsystems that are entirely organic, that detach themselves for terminal payload distribution.  Sort of like the old multiple warhead systems.

     “A fairly airtight scenario, I’d say,” Frank said, apparently quite satisfied with his inspiration and eloquence.  “Only we would know what the compounds were, and the enemy couldn’t steal that information, short of getting it directly from the designers.  Unscrambling the genes of the bioweapons themselves, to understand what leash compounds were needed, would take too long, especially under wartime conditions, and especially if we can find some way to also make these genes self-destruct if the bioweapon dies or is distressed or captured.”

     President Kite nodded approving assent, and the meeting was over. All that remained was to implement the plan.

     Stanley slunk off, thinking bummed-out thoughts about how his career might not prosper if Epsilon’s real focus would be heavily skewed towards non-living subsystems.  His specialty was definitely wetware.

     The first things he did when he got home to his condo, where he lived alone, was to smoke a few cigarettes to calm his nerves.  All the busybodies at work kept him and his nicotine separated for too long. Then he got into some nondescript, comfortable clothes.  He beeped Andrew, his good buddy at the CIA.  It wasn’t long till Stanley’s FOS-phone rang.

     Stanley picked it up.  “Hi.  Doctor Eisner here.”

     “Hey.  This is Andrew.  What’s up, Doc?,” was the reply.  Stanley punched some buttons, to send images as well as voice to Andrew, who didn’t respond in kind.  All right, be a snoot, Stanley thought.  I suppose spooks needn’t bother with any semblance of courtesy, like us ordinary folks.

     “I heard some stuff today, that I suppose might change our situation a bit.  Some stuff, I might add, that I maybe should have heard about earlier.  I want to talk to you about it.  Real soon.  Like, tonight.”

     “Sorry, old chap.  Got pressing engagements tonight.  No can do. In a few days, maybe...”

     Stanley cut him short.  “OK.  Not tonight, then.  Tomorrow morning. Get your chubby duff out of bed early, like a civilized person.  Meet me in the park.  Get us some fresh air.  Develops character, you know.”

     “You’re too much of a character already.  But, OK, if you insist. Place where we agreed last time, at nine in the morning.  That’s as early as I get.  You bring the doughnuts.  Can’t let this thing get too healthy, you know.  Fat pills are just the thing to ward off too much fresh air.” As if there was any fresh air in Washington anyway, Stanley thought.  “That OK by you, old man?,” Andrew wanted to know.

     “Yeah.  You’re on.  Nine tomorrow.  See ya.  Bye.”

     “Bye”.  Stanley hung up, actually more than a bit relieved that Andrew didn’t want to make it any earlier.  He smoked and drank and thought and worried, then showered, and finally popped a sleeping pill and went to bed.

     The next day he woke before dawn.  He put his boots on.  They made him feel like a gnarly Marlburro Man.  He brushed his teeth, and dunked his head into the tub, where he ran water to wash his face and sparse hair with, without actually taking a shower.  He dressed comfortably, and soon felt ready to face the day.

     He called in sick, and prepared for his meeting in the park.  He put in his pants pocket, an audio recorder.  His coat also contained one, but it was smaller, and hidden deep inside.  It was masked off by stiff padding, and accessible only through a small zipper in an awkward place inside a pocket.  He checked batteries and turned both on.  He packed a small pistol, not so much for spy games, as for simple protection from the hoodlums.  After all, he thought, DC’s got America’s highest murder rate, despite¾or because?¾it’s got the most government, and the most gun laws.

     He secured the condo, and walked on down the hall, to the elevators and to his car.  He felt like maybe he was in the movies or something, leading an exciting, high-stakes, even glamorous life.  He remembered Frank once getting drunk and singing some silly song about how he wanted to be an Airborne Ranger, so that he could live a life of sex and danger.  Well, Stanley was half the way there.  Maybe the sex would come along later.

     He headed off to a news stand to browse for just a few minutes. Even in the days when everyone who was somebody had a home FOS, hardcopies were still in style.  He killed some time, and made sure he wasn’t being followed.  Then, he meandered to a doughnut shop, and bought some.  He knew Andrew was mostly just kidding around, but buttering him up a bit would never hurt.  Always be kind to your neighborhood spook.  He then walked to the park, keeping a sharp eye out for spooks and hoodlums, and thinking.

     He’d wanted to make sure that if he was going to twist in the breeze, others would twist with him.  After the change in administrations, when Kite had put and end to officially sanctioned data-dumping, Andrew became his new contact at the CIA.  Andrew just called him at home one night, and stopped by. He’d made Andrew call him from CIA headquarters, and recorded the call, including its electronic signature verifying the source.  Andrew had agreed with Stanley that Stanley was simply being prudent, in insisting that Andrew show that he really was with the CIA.  However, Andrew wouldn’t let him come and visit at the CIA.  Someone might see Stanley, and there’d be too much talk.

     He’d also previously taped his private conversations with Andrew, and had even gotten some video footage with a hidden camera.  All his goodies were bought at private stores that specialized in such toys for aspiring amateur spooks.  His tapes he duplicated a few times, and kept copies in safe places.  Stanley thought he was some hot shit, sneaking this over his spook buddy, but he really felt that it was wise to make provisions to show who sponsored him, in case he ever got into trouble.

     Dealing with the Chinese agents was actually far less interesting than dealing with the CIA.  Stanley had no idea how the CIA had arranged his first meeting; he had just been told to meet so-and-so in such-and-such a place, tell them some other so-and-so had referred him, and that he had some data to sell.  Free sample first.  If you like, I bring more later.  Then, it had become a routine.  Periodically, Stanley would get a call.  Go to this-and-such pay phone, hang out.  Take a call which would tell him where to go, fairly close to the pay phone, and drop off the material in a specified spot.  Thus, the Chinese controlled where the deal was done, with minimal notice of where and when to Stanley, in case Stanley was trying to help the CIA bust Chinese spies.

     The CIA never tried to tail Stanley, or have him carry a bug, or do anything else during these operations.  They didn’t want to spook the Chinese spooks; the objective was to get the data to them, not scare them away.  Since the CIA didn’t keep close tabs on Stanley, he felt free to short-change them a bit.  He knew it was risky, but he liked money.  The Chinese paid cash, after delivery of each chunk of data, by leaving it at the drop zone on the next transaction.  More or better data got more money; the payment was highly variable.  How would the CIA ever know he was turning over to them, usually only about 60 or 70 percent of the money?  Stanley hoped the CIA’s links with the Chinese didn’t extend too far.  So far, he hadn’t been busted; he just hoped his luck would last.

     He strolled into the park, and sat down at the appointed bench.  He opened his box of doughnuts and munched on one.  He wished he’d brought something to drink.  It wasn’t long till Andrew showed up, and they both sat there eating and making small talk.

     Andrew looked around cautiously, then got to business.  “OK.  So I guess you heard that the Chinese are now definitely planning to start bioweapons research.  In a big enough manner that they can’t deny it, that is.  And you’re wondering, what happens to our little endeavor, now that our objective has been accomplished.  Well, you’re quite right to be wondering.  We’re done.  Kaput.  Finished.  Over and out.”

     “So what do I do the next time they call me?  Won’t they be suspicious, if I stop exactly at the same time as we announce their research efforts?  Should we maybe make one more drop?” Stanley had been afraid of this.  This would be the end of the excitement in his life, as well as the end of his tax-free income.  He wouldn’t even have the opportunity anymore to prop up the Chinese.  Tao Chi was one of the few individuals who might be able to show that this Phil Schrock punk wasn’t really such hot shit, especially if Tao got a bit of help to make up for the Chinese lack of computer muscle.

     “Suspicious of what?,” Andrew wanted to know.  “Of us having been giving them garbled data, deliberately?  So who gives a shit!?  We’ve got what we wanted; who cares what they think about us and our data?”

     “Well, if we can lead ‘em astray, they waste resources they might otherwise spend more effectively.”

     “Leading them seriously astray would probably take a lot more effort than it’s worth.  Our efforts are more wisely spent on our own development, than on trying to devise thoroughly plausible but badly skewed data.  That’s what I’m told, at least.  But I’m not here to debate policy with you.  I’m here to tell you the party’s over.”

     “OK.  So what do I tell them when they call me again?  I’ve got to tell ‘em something!” Stanley objected.

     “You’re a spy. You figure it out.  Tell ‘em anything you want. Tell them not tonight, you’ve got to wash your hair.  You’ve got a headache.  Or, the heat’s on, your boss is suspicious, and you’ve had enough.  And you’ve got as much money as you really need, by now.” Stanley took a good look at Andrew as he mentioned this last point, debating whether or not Andrew was giving him a funny look.  He decided Andrew was just yakking it up.

     “Well, it’s been a pleasure working with you, then.” Stanley stuck out his hand, and Andrew gave it a quick pump.  Stanley got up, and threw the empty doughnut box in a nearby trash bin.  He was fairly sure that he saw Andrew fumbling with something inside his coat, out of the corner of his eye, as he turned back to Andrew.  Andrew acted as if nothing had happened.

     “Come here.  Sit back down for a second or two.” Andrew beckoned to Stanley.  Stanley saw a man approaching from the distance, but he sat back down.  He fidgeted uneasily.  Andrew told him, “Oh, go ahead and have a cigarette.  Calm your nerves.” Stanley did just that.

     The approaching man seemed to be a healthy specimen, and was too well-dressed to be a hoodlum of the common variety.  He was carrying a briefcase, and from the way Andrew watched him as he made a direct approach, it soon became apparent that he was some kind of buddy of Andrew’s.  Stanley looked at Andrew with fear in his eyes.  Andrew tried to calm him down.  “Quit worrying.  This is the real world, not some silly spy novel.  No funny business.  We just want to talk to you.”

     The man finally arrived, and Andrew introduced him.  “Stanley, meet Bruno.  Bruno, meet Stanley.”

     “Hi, Stanley.” Stanley silently submitted his hand to be squeezed in Bruno’s vise grip.  Bruno, my ass!  If that’s his real name, I’ll eat this park bench, Stanley thought.

     Bruno sat down by Stanley’s side, opposite Andrew.  “OK, old man, what all are you carrying?,” Andrew wanted to know.  “And don’t worry about it.  We’re not the cops.  You can carry whatever you want, we just don’t want you to record any of what is said next.  ‘Fess up.  What’cha got?  Keep in mind that Bruno here has a scanner in his briefcase. We’ll want to inspect everything you’re carrying.  You can keep them all, we just want a look-see.  Hand ‘em over.”

     One by one, Stanley handed over his cigarettes, his portable phone, his key chain, pocket knife, and pistol.  Andrew inspected them all, and put them all in a pile on the ground.  Bruno stood to block the view while Stanley carefully pulled out the pistol for inspection.  This item, unlike the others, went into Andrew’s pocket.  “We’ll give it right back.  Don’t want the cops to stop by and see that on the ground. Can’t say I blame you, for carrying that thing around.  I’d get a bigger one, though, if I were you.  Now, where’s the rest?”

     Reluctantly, Stanley pulled the recorder out of his pants pocket. Andrew opened it, removed the cassette, and put the recorder on the pile.  The cassette went into his pocket.  “That one we keep.  You can turn in a petty cash claim form for the ten bucks if you’d like.  Might as well cover all the other tapes that we’ve stolen from you in the last few days, while you’re at it.  Could add up to a few bucks.” Stanley caught his breath.  Andrew chuckled.  “Yes, we knew about all three of your stashes.  Actually, we just bulk erased ‘em, so you can’t even claim reimbursement on the rest.  But, we’re wiping out almost all records of our operation, especially records from during the current administration.  Including your records.”

     On thinking it over, Stanley didn’t find it impossible to believe that the CIA could’ve snuck into his condo, found and erased his stash there, and done the same at the safety-deposit at the bank.  The most incredible idea, though, was that the CIA had managed to track him when he went into some remote woods in Virginia to bury some tapes there.  He resolved to check all the tapes, just to be sure, later.

     “My grandmother used to tell me something I’d say is relevant here,” Andrew reflected, “She’d say, don’t teach your granny how to suck eggs.  So, don’t try to spook the spooks.  What else have you got? We’ll smash anything we find with the scanner.  Maybe your fingers, too.” Andrew chortled deviously, and Bruno joined in.  Stanley didn’t see the humor, though.  He took off his coat and fished out the deeply hidden recorder.  This, too, was relieved of its cassette, and dumped on the pile.

     “What else ya got, old man?,” Andrew wanted to know.  Stanley shook his head.  Bruno got out his scanner, and fiddled with it.  He gave Stanley and his coat a quick inspection and approval.  Stanley put his coat back on and scooped up his loot.  Andrew returned his pistol. Andrew nodded to Bruno, who wandered off a considerable distance along the trail, where he stopped, barely in view.  He seemed to be keeping a watch, both on Andrew and Stanley, as well as for approaching traffic.

     “OK, old man.  Now we can talk.  I’ll make this short.  There are factions at the CIA and other parts of the government that would like to see our efforts continue.  The thinking is, a well-armed China can serve to keep the Russians running scared, so that they’ll tow the line at the UN and NATO a bit better.  There’s nothing like a powerful common enemy to keep alliances together.  These factions include my own noble self, and others at the CIA who were charged with supervising your activities. We are now also charged with terminating your activities.

     “We have just done so.  Officially, that is.  But, we might turn a blind eye to your continued activities.  If you think you were risking ‘twisting in the breeze’, as you say, earlier, then you haven’t seen anything yet.  This time, we’re washing our hands completely.  Dipping them in industrial-strength solvent, if you will.  I doubt that I’d do it, if I was in your shoes.  But, you get to keep all the money from here on in, if you’re a brave soul.  And earn the gratitude of myself and a few others, who regard an independent-minded Russia as a bigger threat than a technological laggard like China.  Not that my gratitude is of much value.  You won’t get any kind of support from anyone. You’re on your own, now.”

     Stanley finally “got it”.  Andrew had recorded their earlier conversation, terminating the operation, just in case Stanley could still somehow show that he’d had CIA sponsorship, even under the Kite administration.  But, when he’d fumbled around with his coat, while Stanley supposedly wasn’t watching, he’d turned off his recorder, so that this little addendum to the conversation wouldn’t be recorded.

     Stanley sat there for just a second or two, cogitating.  Andrew interrupted his thoughts.  “One last thing.  You’d better use some good judgment on just what kind of information you release.  Follow the existing guidelines.  Technical information, yes.  Stuff potentially embarrassing to the US, such as information about actual test runs, are completely off limits.  We’ll have your ass for lunch if you go too far. So what do you think?  Are you going to be a lion or a pussy shit?”

     “What kind of fool do you think I am?,” Stanley said as he took his leave.  “Why ask rhetorical questions?,” was Andrew’s reply, as Stanley marched off.  Stanley saw Andrew and Bruno get together, as he walked back towards his car so far away.  He wondered if the two of them were placing bets on whether or not he’d meet Andrew’s challenge.


 

 

CHAPTER 9

 

     Gloria pulled her van into the driveway after a hard day’s work at the hospital.  She noticed that Phil’s car was missing.  She thought she was bad enough for being a workaholic; Phil was even worse, these days. Come to think of it, Phil had seemed sort of distant and quiet lately. She wondered what he wasn’t telling her.

     She walked into the house.  It was clean, which wasn’t the usual state of affairs.  The maid had been there that day.  She went straight upstairs, stretched out on the bed, caught a short nap, and started reading the news on the ceiling screen.  She soon got bored, and called Phil at his office.  No reply.  So, she beeped him.  It wasn’t two minutes later before he called.

     “Hi, snugglebunny!  We’ve had a big day at work, here.  I’ll be heading home in half an hour.  I’ve got lots of exciting news for you when I get there,” was what Phil had to say.

     “OK.  See you in a bit.  Love you!  Bye.,” Gloria replied.  She went to cook some spaghetti for the two of them.

     Phil soon joined her.  He gave her a big smooch, and poured them each a glass of burgundy.  They sat down to eat.  “So what’s this exciting news you were telling me about?,” Gloria inquired.

     “Ha!  You remember how we pretty much kissed off the feds, and told them we didn’t want their contract, unless they would meet a whole bunch of our terms?  Well, guess what?  They’re meeting almost all of ‘em! ABC is accepting a contract, now that the feds are backpedaling on most of their requirements.”

     “What?!” Gloria dropped her implements of spaghetti destruction and stared at Phil wide-eyed.  “So this is a done deal?  ABC is really doing this?” So this is what he’s been hiding here lately, she concluded.

     “Yup.  We’re announcing it tomorrow.  Only a few of us have been told that top management is now thoroughly convinced that we should do it, and that the official announcement is tomorrow.  So keep it under your hat, don’t let the cat out of the bag, all that good stuff.  You are the proud owner of a BIG secret.”

     “Same deal as before?  ABC gives the feds license to look over everything ABC has done, and ABC does computer simulations of biowars? And you’re really gonna tell me this is all a big surprise to you?  Did you tell them that it all stinks to high Heaven, and that you’re not going to have anything to do with it, like you said you would?” Gloria’s eyes locked onto Phil’s, like guilt-seeking radar, homing in to pounce on any evasiveness or equivocation.

     “Yes, same deal as before.  No, it isn’t a total surprise to me. They’ve been hovering around and pestering us with this and that, proposing this, that, and the other deals, even giving us immunity for our sins.  Without us even having taken a deal.  You remember, that deal about our spy, and snooping on the snoop port, that ABC would have my ass for if they knew I ever talked about it with you.  The feds have just generally been making it fairly obvious that they’re really keen on this deal.  So, yes, I knew this was coming, most likely.  But, I’m being bad enough already, letting you in on secrets, without going and speculating to you.”

     She still stared at him, unblinkingly, saying nothing.  So he went on.  “Not that I don’t trust you to keep quiet.  It’s just that I want to be able to answer them with a straight face when, or if, they ever ask me if I’ve kept my yap shut.”

     “Oh, sure.  Always just like you to be so concerned about honesty. You couldn’t possibly face them with a straight face, and tell them you don’t talk about things with me.  So tell me about you telling them where to shove this particular undertaking.”

     “Quit it!  I never said I’d tell them that it stinks, that they should insert it in their collective anal orifice, or anything else of the sort.  I said that I’d put my two cents in that we should stick to peaceful work.  I’ve done that.  There is no work more likely to bring us a lasting peace¾an imperfect peace to be sure, but at least a better peace than we have now¾than work that defends the US, the UN, and advanced, Western ideas about democracy and human rights.”

     “So you fibbed to me about how you’ve felt about this thing all along!  You implied that you were going to speak out against taking the contract, and you’ve done the exact opposite!  And now you’re probably thinking about how you could maybe mealymouth your way out of it by saying, well, we never really did define peaceful.  And you think peace is about intimidating, beating, or killing your opponents, to the point that there’s no overt opposition to your own oh-so-noble government. Am I right, or am I right?” Gloria felt like she knew all of Phil’s thoughts by now, and sometimes she didn’t like what she saw.  Like now, for example.

     Phil replied, “Well, I’ve got to admit that a benevolent world government sounds awfully tempting to me.  I mean, a world government that has some teeth.  One that could give all nations a decent level of security from war, so that we could all cut our military budgets to the bone, and free up a lot of resources for better uses.  One like what we’re moving towards, except China would be on board.  Speaking of China: did you see what’s in the news, just as of today?  About China getting into bioweapons research?”

     “No, I didn’t.  What are they up to?  Do they dare to do the same thing that we so recently announced that we’re doing?  How could they!? Or are they just being more honest than we are, and actually admitting that they plan to go beyond mere computer simulations?  And how are you proposing to help China ‘get on board’ at the UN, by researching methods of genocide?”

     “Oh, come on now, snugglebunny!  Read up on the details, and then jump my shit!  The Chinese have no advanced commercial biotechnology at all.  Certainly no technology anyone would care to pilfer.  None.  Zero. Zilch.  They have no valid concerns, like we have, about controlling their biotech exports.  And they’re not admitting anything.  But the US plans to challenge the Chinese at the UN.  If China will let the UN inspect their research facilities, then the US will do the same.  This was announced at the same time as the CIA announced their findings on Chinese efforts.”

     “I don’t need to read up about it,” Gloria replied.  “All I know, and all that I need to know, is that it’s a short step or two to go from simulations to reality, and my dearest, sweetest, kindest snugglebunny is working for a company that’s going to design terror weapons for a government that knows no limits.  And lied to me about it, too.  So, I’m not too happy.  So, just how are we going to get the Chinese on board? Wipe out in excess of a billion people, and then colonize their land with peoples more compliant with UN demands?  And, most of all, what is my innocent, peace-loving snugglebunny going to do while ABC perverts the latest technology to serve the Grim Reaper?”

     “Goddammit!  We’re just researching some stuff, to cover our own butts!  What’s wrong with wanting to know what nasty things somebody could do with our own technology, if we should export it to the wrong place?  And just what your innocent, peace-loving snugglebunny is going to do, is that he’s going to consider all the various parameters of this complicated situation, and commit to doing the best he can do, as his knowledge and conscience dictate.  And ask the love of his life to please refrain from exerting an undue influence, or laying on a guilt trip.” He looked at Gloria beseechingly, but she showed no signs of being cheered up.

     Pootie Pie, really and truly I’m sorry I misled you earlier about what my stand on this at ABC would be.  It’s just that we argue enough about theoretical bullshit that doesn’t really make any difference in our daily lives, seeing as how we’re just two of umpteen hundred million voters.  And cancel each other’s votes, as often as not, at that.  Until now, this has been just another one of those silly issues.  Why should I get you all riled up, if ABC wasn’t going to mess with this, anyway?”

     “Because you care enough to discuss with those who care about you, those decisions you’re involved in.  Instead of just dropping discussion of the topic, until it’s a done deal.  What’s not a done deal, though, or at least, I hope and pray that it’s not a done deal, although one never knows around here, is that you’ve already prostituted yourself or your services to these... unholy servants of state-sponsored violence.  We can still prevent that.  Which brings us back to an important question: what is it that the snugglebunny’s ‘knowledge and conscience’ is most likely to dictate to him?”

     Neither Phil nor Gloria had eaten a bite, since this little exchange had begun.  Phil sighed, paused, and ate a few bites, thoughtfully.  “Let’s just finish eating, clean up, and retire and relax a bit, and we’ll talk about it some more.  I’ve had a hard day, and I’ll bet you have, too.  I don’t try to manage your career, or try to make the decisions you make at your job, but discussing things objectively should never hurt.  So, let’s talk about it.  But not just right now. Honey baby sweetheart darling, light of my life.  OK?”

     “OK,” she replied glumly.  She returned to eating her spaghetti and sipping her wine, even though she really didn’t have much of an appetite anymore, now that she realized the likely seriousness of his intentions to facilitate monstrosity.  But, she figured she’d laid on enough indignity already; attempting to sway Phil by appearing too pensive might backfire by making Phil think she was just being entirely irrational and manipulative.  So, she fueled her body, silently, sadly, thoughtfully.

     She reviewed her knowledge of Philisms, and the various aspects of the behavior of a Phil, in his natural habitat.  She rehearsed the various intellectual stimuli that might be brought to bear to influence the behavior of a Phil.  This Phil organism, being anywhere near half as dedicated to rationality as he claimed to be, could surely be swayed to see the mortal dangers of bioweapons research.  Any kind of bioweapons research, no matter how innocently packaged.

     OK, she thought.  I’ve got to take the other, more sensible things he’s said and done, and maybe even some of his less than totally savory, commendable, altruistic opinions, and show how inconsistent they are with his stance here.  Phil hates big government and socialism, she reflected.  They’d had many the go-’round on that topic.  He’d said, on more than one, or even fifty, occasions, how he hated a system that rewards sloth, fatherlessness, and irresponsibility, while punishing work and marriage.  She agreed with him, but wouldn’t go quite so far in condemning all forms and degrees of socialism.  She was fond of pointing out to him that, “When someone has all the wealth, in a monopoly game or in real life, the game is over”.

     So, she’d argue, maybe a limited amount of wealth redistribution was actually good for the economy, and for everyone.  As a physician, she could surely testify that at least a limited amount of paternalistic, socialistic medicine was quite advantageous.  Even in a society that totally swore off all kinds of socialism, even the rich would eventually pay the prices for rampant TB, social diseases, and poor child and prenatal care.  But, how could all this be related to government bioweapons research, she wondered, other than in a general sense?

     Maybe just, well, see how the government fucks up everything it touches?  The bleeding hearts say, oh, look at the pitiful poor; we can’t let ‘em live like pigs.  So, we pass all sorts of laws, imposing minimum standards on what they can earn, IF they choose to work, and where they can live, and what foods they can eat.  Next thing you know, businesses don’t find it profitable to employ them, charitable agencies and individuals can’t donate food and housing that doesn’t meet the highest standards, and welfare mommas are making more babies to collect bigger welfare checks.  And lots of people eat out of dumpsters and sleep on steam grates, ‘cause the bleeding hearts are offended by the idea that anyone would choose to live in substandard housing, or eat substandard food.

     “So, Phil, you see how the government achieves the exact opposite of its stated aims?,” she imagined herself arguing to Phil.  She could certainly argue quite plausibly that the government could end up starting a war instead of preventing one, with this kind of research. Who knows, she thought.  We’ll just have to see, on this set of arguments.  Surely there must be better ones!

     Well, there are other matters where he hates all-intrusive government, she reflected.  Really and truly, it’s hypocritical on his part to bitch all day about a busy-body, heavy-handed government, and then sprint so spryly to get on this bioweapons bandwagon, to provide Big Brother with yet another Big Stick.  Carp about a government that fills its jails with people who smoke a joint, who buy such dangerous, subversive things as vitamins on the black market, or who dare to try to avoid paying three-quarters of what they earn, to the feds, who know oh-so-much better how to spend the money ‘fairly’ than those who earn it, and then turn around and serve this freedom-fearing ogre with yet more tools of his trade!  She got hot, just thinking about it, and it was all she could do to refrain from violating Phil’s dinnertime truce.

     She thought some more about various avenues of intellectual assault.  Neither she nor Phil said a word.  She figured he was stockpiling his ammo, also.  Dinner was finally done.  Phil thanked her for the delicious yummies, and they both cleaned up.  Phil suggested that they retire to bed, where they could both check out the news, so that she’d at least know what some of the facts were.  She reiterated that she knew quite enough already, thank you, and that the arena should be the living room.  She was afraid of his most persuasive techniques, which were stroking, snuggling, and caressing her in just the right ways, while mumbling sweet nothings.  This was far too important an issue for her to be swayed by such arguments.  She’d be able to fend them off in the living room far more effectively than in the bedroom.

     Phil offered her another glass of burgundy, which she declined.  He poured himself another one, and they retired to the living room.  Gloria claimed the armchair, with its defenses against roving snugglebunny appendages, so Phil was stuck with sitting on the sofa across from her. She waded right in, and clipped his chin with a roundhouse.

     “I assume, from the fact that you’ve evaded my question, that you’re planning on prostituting yourself to the purveyors of political power through semi-sanitized mass murder.  To the same people who polluted our planet with plutonium and our minds with the acceptance of the constant threat of annihilation, of species suicide.  I want you to understand completely and thoroughly that we’re talking about things that are a bit more important than your career, or chances for you to tinker with neat toys.  I’m not trying to ‘manage your career’, I’m trying to get you to think clearly and rationally, to see what a huge mistake it would be, to set loose deliberately designed death-dealing demons.

     “You’re not a teenager sneaking a drink anymore, where the worst you could do might be to kill a few brain cells.  You’re a very talented and therefore very powerful adult.  With that awesome power goes awesome responsibility.  You can say, no, I choose not to participate in this monstrosity; I’ll reserve my talents for helping people do constructive things, such as preserving the environment.  Your career will do quite fine, I’m sure, without you having to provide the oppressors with more tools of their trade.  I’d be happy to accept less dollars for a cleaner conscience, if that’s what we need to do.  God knows we have enough Ronco radish reamers around here already anyway.  Or, you can get into bed with the sleazy warmongers.  Which will it be?”

     Phil squirmed a tiny bit, then launched his counter-attack.  “I sure can’t understand how it is that we’re talking about some computer simulations one minute, and all of a sudden we’re talking mass murder. The two aren’t...”

     Gloria wouldn’t let him finish; she had to jump on this idea right away.  “That’s exactly what you, and a few billion other people, or at least, those that might be left¾might be saying a few years on down the road¾‘One minute we were talking about playing with some cute, innocent little computer simulations, and the next, we’re talking mass murder. How did this thing sneak up on us?’ Don’t play these stupid mind games with me, the public, or yourself.  Anyone with half a brain can see where computer simulations lead to.  We point at the Chinese, they point at us, and we both start building unspeakable weapons.

     “And you, the same sweet, gentle, kind person who pets and frets over our little puddy-tats, and cleans their ears with cotton swabs¾you are going to be party to mass murder.  Genocide.  After you’ve done so much for the environment, you’re going to go and pervert your talents to set loose on the Earth, monsters to spread death and destruction.  Why is it that you’ve decided that destruction is so much better than construction or preservation?”

     “What?  My chance to get a word in edgewise?,” Phil piped up. Gloria resolved not to interrupt him again, to let him have his say. We’ve got to stay semi-civilized, she thought.  I can’t go behaving like Phil seems to be planning to do, in getting down onto the opposition’s level.  One has to behave better than the opposition, in order to have the moral high ground.  That’s what this whole thing is about.  Maybe I’d better back off on some of the excessively emotional terms, too, she thought.

     Phil continued.  “Destruction and construction are both relative terms.  It depends on whose perspective one takes.  ABC’s efforts so far, which most people¾excluding anti-biotech fanatics¾would call constructive, in that they help the environment, are not very constructive from the perspective of a cotton boll weevil, or a Mediterranean fruit fly. Similarly, hundreds of millions of people would have regarded it as being a very constructive act, to put some bullets through the brains of Adolf and his henchmen, during World War II. Hitler and his chief fuck-heads in charge would have begged to differ. Must we become slaves to every would-be slave-master, for fear of being destructive of their destructiveness?”

     “OK, OK¾I understand your point,” she replied, trying to control her rage, to debate rationally.  “I may be an idealist, but I do try to live in the real world.  Before you bring up your favorite anti-pacifist analogy, yes, if I was on a balcony across the street from a madman who was shooting wildly into the crowd below, and I had a gun, but no other means to stop the madness, then yes, I would shoot the source of the problem.  BUT, I wouldn’t let loose biosynthetic bogeymonsters to kill everyone in sight.  One does not cut butter with a chain saw.”

     “But one does cut trees with chain saws,” was his reply.  “When the source of the problem is a nation, rather than an individual, then more than a rifle is called for.  China is the last roadblock, preventing the UN from establishing a system to prevent any really large wars.  And now, China is researching bioweapons.  I feel that I’d be doing the right thing, to help defend the US and the UN from China.”

     Gloria, frustrated with results so far, decided to change tracks. “Do you really, really think you can trust a hamfisted, hypocritical government like ours with this kind of technology?  A government whose citizens spend the big bucks, buying cocaine from impoverished Latin American farmers, and who then sends goons to shoot ‘em up for growing drugs, at the same time as telling them, ‘You people should grow legal crops’?  This, while we put up barriers against the legal crops they do grow, and provide subsidies to our farmers to trash the Florida Everglades with fertilizer, growing sugar in a place it makes no sense to grow sugar?

     “Are you prepared for Uncle Sanctimonious to take these tools that you would provide to him for the purposes of keeping the enemies of democracy at bay, and have him use it, instead, against those who merely sell to people that which they want to buy?  Are you ready to commit genocide against the peoples of Peru, because some of them dare to grow crops that make five times as much money to feed their kids with, than legal crops do?  Haven’t we fought enough ‘just say no’ wars in Panama, Haiti, and Columbia to keep you happy?”

     “Oh, come on now, Pootie Pie, I do trust Uncle Sam, despite his stupidity, to not commit genocide over these kinds of issues.  After all, we never used nukes in those wars, although we could have,” Phil replied.

     “But, nevertheless, there were American soldiers shooting up innocent civilians in these wars.  More than just a few, I might add, who thought to themselves, ‘Now, what the hell am I doing, shooting up innocent peasants, fighting wars to prevent people from freely buying and selling things, when I signed up to defend freedom and democracy?’ You say you trust Uncle Sam.  Genocide is something the Nazis did, but the US flag looks so nice and clean, with its pretty white stripes. Once one puts on the uniform of the American fighting man, one is somehow transformed to something so clean, that one barely needs to piss and shit anymore.

     “Well, I’ve got some news for you.  Read your history.  See what we did to the American Indians, the Japanese-Americans, and to the peoples of a village called My Lai, in Vietnam.  See what we did in the early years of the cold war, injecting Americans with plutonium without their permission or knowledge.  Getting native Americans to expose themselves to radiation, working in uranium mines, without telling them what we knew about what they were doing, or giving them protective gear.  See how we studied venereal disease among American black males in the early seventies, without treating them, which we knew damn well how to do. Study it well.”

     “Yes, sweetheart, I know about those things.  I also know that hundreds upon hundreds of thousands of Americans have died, trying to prevent atrocities far worse, or far more widespread, than those that we’ve committed.  You study your history, too.  Study, and think.  Till you really can understand what it’s like, to live under the Nazis, Stalin, Idi Amin, Saddam Hussein, the Red Guard, Papa Doc Duvalier, Kim Il Sung, or any of thousands of other brutal abominations who would’ve been happy to sacrifice another million people’s lives for another tiny token of power and prestige.  Study till you puke.  Then, think about the choices people had under these regimes.  They could forget about any semblance of dignity or self-respect, and kiss the butts of the butt-holes, or they could sacrifice their lives trying to take out the nearest jerk.  I would choose the latter.

     “But what I really want you to think about, is the fact that such evil monsters, whose thirst for more power can never be quenched, are never satisfied with butt-fucking everyone in sight in their own country.  They have to have more.  At that point, they become more than just a living national horror show, they go international.  Their problems become our problems.  Their whole country becomes our problem. We can either sacrifice hundreds of thousands, maybe even millions, of American lives, as well as their lives, or we can use a bit of high-tech sorcery and limit it to just their lives.  Some general once said it best; it’s not about giving your life for your country, it’s about taking theirs.”

     “OK.  Much as I shudder to hear myself say so, despite my pacifist inclinations, I’m still with you,” she confessed.  “All except the very last.  I mean, about the high-tech.  Yes, sometimes we have to fight. And obviously, it’s only justified from one side¾two sides can’t both be shooting at each other and both be right.  So sometimes, one side is right.  Far less often, though, than we think.  Far more often, both sides are wrong.

     “But, we’ve got to, we just MUST, get beyond our wild techno-apeman phase.  Someday, we have to learn to trust each other, restrain ourselves and each other, and not build the newest weapons that technology can provide.  Do you really, really think that we can survive for very long at all, speaking in terms of any stability over hundreds of thousands, or millions, of years, when we’re constantly fighting, pissing away resources and trashing the environment, and devising the worst possible ways to wipe each other out?  Wouldn’t it be nice to try to leave a better, more stable world to our children, so that they might have a chance for themselves to decide to give their children, and so on, a livable and friendly planet for a long time to come?”

     “Yes, I do.  I think, though, that more technology rather than less will solve our problems.  You’ve already seen all that ABC has done along these lines, first with synthetic bacteria, and now with multicelled synthetic life.  We’ve cleaned up a lot of our messes, and are reducing our impact on the environment.  Even when ABC got started, new technologies had already reduced pollution very significantly, compared to earlier times.

     “Technology helps reduce the impact of war as well.  Not just in protecting or restoring the environment, either.  Think about it.  Even in ancient days, they were trashing the environment so as to fight wars. Cutting down entire forests to build warships, and to replace torched cities.  OK, so technology actually made worse, the impact of war, and preparation for war, for a while.  We were at the height of trashing the environment, or threatening to, at the beginning and middle of the cold war.  Pollution, including radioactivity, and the threat of a nuclear winter, and all that.  Billions spent on weapons, on resources consumed by fighting and on getting ready to fight instead of on preserving the environment, or exploring space or improving health or sanitation, or any of many other, better causes.

     “But, we’ve finally, and clearly, turned the corner.  Technology is making things better, not just for our standards of living, but also for the environment.  And giving us, yes I agree, yuck, ugh, puke, gag and all that, but let’s say it anyway¾better ways to kill each other without trashing the environment.  First, we learned how to make neutron bombs.  Let’s face it, given a choice between destroying a city and all of its inhabitants, and destroying all the inhabitants and only a block or two, the N-bomb was a smart way to go.  And, we learned how to handle fissionable materials and make reactors and bombs without so much of an impact on the environment as earlier.  Now, due to controlled thermonuclear fusion, quasi-lasers, and advanced radar, we’re making nukes, offensive aircraft, and missiles largely obsolete.  So, most plutonium and enriched uranium is being burned in safe, civilian energy reactors, or is under UN control.  ‘Nuclear winter’ has thawed.

     “Bioweapons just represent another step along the road to war, if not without pain, than at least a little less painful.  We’ll stick to simulations, so long as the Chinese do the same.  But, if they don’t, then at least we’ll have some knowledge of such matters to assist in our defense.  And, yes, don’t quote me, and if you do, I’ll deny it, but, we’ll also be prepared to respond in kind if we so choose.  And I do, believe it or not, despite all my rantings and ravings against the stupidity of our government, trust them to make that kind of decision. After all, we never used nukes, other than at the end of World War II, in all the years that this terror weapon menaced the globe.

     “Bioweapons could be designed to be quick and merciful, and to have a minimal effect on the environment, excluding human life.  It’s as gruesome as the calculus on the N-bomb, but, once again, an improvement. This time, we save the buildings and infrastructure of the whole city, including those last few blocks that the N-bomb took out, and we neither poison the environment, nor cause people to suffer for more than a few seconds.  The N-bomb, you know, would have caused a lot of people to linger in agony.”

     Gloria remained granite-faced throughout all this, including the last, even though she felt like screaming at him, “Don’t you see how much of a monster you are”.  She also stifled her urges to yell about how the cat was out of the bag, how he’d finally revealed himself to be an advocate of genocide, how this pretense about sticking to computer simulations was just a big farce.  Her restraint was rewarded by some further ramblings by Phil.

     “Of course, ideally we’d design our bioweapons to zero in on individuals whose co-efficient of shitheadedness, defined as their bungholishness multiplied by the square of their actual political power, as measured by the level of their dominance hormones, so that we could just take out that small percentage of the population that is really causing all the trouble.  But, seeing as how we can’t dream up any ways of getting anywhere close to that kind of thing right now, we have to settle for just wiping out all local human life, including the innocents.  But, it’s better than wiping out all the human life, plus the environment and infrastructure.  It does still leave us with still better goals to shoot for.”

     “Yes, such as the goal of living in a real, genuine peace, defined as more than the absence of speeding bullets in one’s own, immediate vicinity,” Gloria put in.  “Have you ever considered the possibility that by making war too painless, we are depriving ourselves of the healing pain would bring us?  That by making war too easy to choose, we not only choose too much of it, we also fail to learn from our suffering from it?”

     Phil looked at her with that look he reserved for when he thought she was waxing too philosophical.  “So you think I’m being too touchie-feelie with this thing about the healing brought by suffering, and you want to know, healing of what?  How ‘bout, healing of our powerful urges to mind other people’s business, to protect them from what we think are their mistakes?  To be sure, sometimes we have semi-decent motives, but what we really end up doing is trying to protect them from the lessons that they’d learn from their mistakes, through their self-chosen suffering, and killing them to save them.  We need healing of our tendency to not do what’s right, which is to reserve physical force for those very few occasions in which we really have no other ethical choice.  That is, genuine self-defense, or defense of others.  Not defense of nifty slogans, either.  I just pray that we needn’t suffer too greatly in order for us to learn this lesson, that we must reserve violence for the most extreme emergencies.

     “Maybe, if we really have to fight, we should have the self-discipline to forgo the easy methods, and deliberately choose conventional war, where admittedly, more of our troops die.  But, we can exercise more control, be less indiscriminate, kill fewer innocents. Run less risk of paying a big price for technological mistakes.  We’re just too tempted by the quick fix.

     “But I guess that would all fit in with the rah, rah, reeh, kick-em-in-the-knee, all-American sport image of war.  Make it all look so neat, so antiseptic, so painless.  Reminds me of how, during the old Persian Gulf war, the feds controlled the media, and forbade the taking of pictures of coffins coming back, off of the airplanes.  We wouldn’t want to be reminded of the facts, that people suffer and die in war, now, would we?  Might undermine support for war on the home front. Might make people think.  Can’t have that.

     “You mark my words, biowizard-boy, if you slap me in the face, by disregarding my clearest warnings, here, you’ll find yourself, on down the road, designing into your pretty little bioweapons, features to turn the post-holocaust battlefield into a state fair of streamers, balloons and banners.  They’ll ask you to design into them, the strong urge to incinerate all the remains that they don’t eat, to plant flowers, and to make nice, big pretty ribbons and bows and signs that say, ‘War?  What war?  Everybody is Liberated and Happy here’.  But death is death, and never fooled anyone.  We only fool ourselves.”

     Gloria paused, and sighed sadly.  Phil didn’t fill in the silence.  She went on to ask, “So, are you really actually going to do this? Ignore your most favorite pootie pie, and make bogey monsters?”

     Phil gave her a long, slow, serious look, and nodded his head.  She at least appreciated that he didn’t quibble, saying that they were computer simulations of bioweapons, not bogey monsters.  But she sure didn’t appreciate the sense of his answer, or which way he nodded his head.

     “So tell me something, Phil.  Tell me why it is that you have so often told me how you admire me for being kind and sensitive, so saintly, so spiritually advanced, and then you turn around and ignore what I say.  Don’t you know that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery?  Couldn’t you try to imitate me and my relative pacifism, if you admire me so much?  Or is this just something you say, to butter me up, so that I’ll keep hopping into your sack?  Just a way for you to get some poon tang, as you men would say?

     “Remember how you said I was so deep and philosophical, and absolutely right, when I said that it doesn’t really matter at all, whether or not there is a God? How, regardless of His existence or non-existence, if we all pray sincerely for peace, then there will be peace?  How no one can sincerely pray for peace one minute, and stab their neighbor in the back the next?  Well, I damn sure don’t think you’re praying for peace very sincerely at all, right now!  And I do think there is a God, and he’s pretty damn heartbroken over dumbshits who won’t learn from all of humanity’s suffering.”

     Phil was finally roused from his quiet state of listening to Gloria getting on his case.  Pootie Pie, I really and truly do admire your good nature.  I envy it, too.  It’s just that sometimes, different views are also needed.  Sometimes one needs to turn the other cheek, indeed.  But sometimes one has to defend oneself and one’s family and friends, one’s country.  Sometimes, pacifism gets oneself enslaved, tortured, and killed.  Sometimes pacifism is not practical.  I have tried to learn from humanity’s suffering, and what I’ve learned, is that the sources of our suffering must be put out of our collective misery, and their own misery.  Like one eliminates fleas, or disease organisms.”

     “So, if the Chinese get too big for their britches, and become too much of a threat to us, you’ll want to have your toys set loose on them? Wipe ‘em all out, like so many bugs and pests, innocents and all, for the crimes of their leaders?”

     “Well, we could limit these weapons, like most any other, to hit only certain areas.  We wouldn’t have to wipe out the whole country.  But yes, innocents would be killed, like in any other war.  But I’d argue that there aren’t as many true innocents as you would think.  If nothing else, the majority of the citizens of such a nation are guilty of allowing themselves to be enslaved, of treasuring their lives over their dignity.  It sure isn’t a position that I envy, but if I were in their situation, I’d think the ethical thing to do would be to try and take out the oppressors.  Even if it meant sure death, it would beat being a slave.  And then, the oppressors have one less slave.  Like I told Hector, a hundred people with guns do not rule the million people without guns, without some sort of consent by the oppressed.”

     Gloria was tired of this whole exchange, especially since it sure didn’t seem to be getting anywhere close to changing Phil’s mind.  But, she had to go on, to try every argument she could think of.  All avenues had to be explored, no matter how slim the chances of pay-off were. “You talk as if the only nations that ever commit aggression are repressive dictatorships.  Don’t you realize that there have been wars between democracies?  And don’t you realize that these technologies, once you’ve helped invent them, will spread across the globe?  Sooner or later, probably sooner, we’ll see the bio-bogey monsters being used in wars where no side has any remotely justifiable reasons to fight.  And some of these countries won’t be too terribly careful in just how they use them.  Next thing we know, all of human life, maybe all large animals, will be endangered.

     “And you can’t justify behaving like a beast, just ‘cause ‘it’s a jungle out there’.  Just ‘cause the other guy might be doing it, is no excuse to do it oneself.  One can’t make it more of a jungle out there, and justify oneself with the fact that it’s a jungle out there. Sometimes one has to behave better than the opponent, in order to have the moral high ground.  We just can’t continue to build every new war toy that technology can bring us, and expect to survive for long.

     “Now, if the Chinese already had bioweapons, and you were just devising countermeasures, I’d feel differently about it.  But it sure seems obvious to me that designing computer simulations of offensive weapons, before anyone else has them, is just too much.  And I don’t care how many military and political fat cats assure us how many times, that we’re just doing simulations.  We both know what the real goals are.”

     Gloria felt drained, in ways not related to her hard day at work. OK, she thought, we’ve got to make one last push, before I resort to means I don’t even want to think about just yet.  “So you are so enamored of the idea of a benevolent world government, that you’re willing to provide the tools to commit genocide.  Yet, you’ve seen how national governments, like ours, just tend to grow and grow and grow. How they take over everyone’s personal responsibilities.  You hate socialism, you bitch about how no one ever learned a damn thing by watching the old communist regimes collapse, you bitch about how arrogant Americans are.  ‘Oh, those people who tried socialism and failed, they weren’t Americans.  They were mere Vietnamese, Cubans, Europeans, Russians, Chinese.  We Americans can surely succeed, where all others have failed, ‘cause we’re so smart, and our human nature is so much better.’ Then, you bitch about how the main item on the agenda of any government is to take more powers to itself.

     “And now, you want to help in birthing a worldwide version of our busybody, bossy, all-encompassing, oh-so-compassionate government?  Are you prepared for a global inner city, where children are rewarded for having children, and a father who hangs out to take care of his kids is a fool?  Are you prepared for Globo-nanny to tell us what we can eat, smoke, and drink, what we can say and write, what we can buy and sell? Do you really think such a monster can refrain from buying votes, by bribing stupid voters who think that they can reap the benefits of their neighbor’s taxes?  You worry about democracies not being able to outlive voters figuring out that they can vote themselves a bigger slice of the pie.  Why is your world government any different?”

     Phil waited long enough to make sure Gloria was finished. “Actually, I do believe that a world government will be different.  It will be kept quite busy enough, just keeping a lid on various wars and threats of wars, that it won’t have time or energy left to play Globo-nanny in the socialist sense.  Besides, we’re moving towards votes proportional to resources committed to various projects.  You know, divide the UN budget into disaster assistance, peace-keeping, feeding the poor, health, etc.  And each government gets votes proportional in each category to how much resources they put in, minus what they take out.  It’s too bad we don’t do the same thing on a national scale.  Put a screeching halt to parasitism.”

     “Yes, Phil, you’ve told me often enough about your idea of weighing votes according to how much taxes one pays, minus benefits taken.  I think that would just reward the greedy fat cats even more than they’re rewarding themselves already.  Now, they’d be able to skew things for themselves even more, and get laws passed to give them all sorts of loopholes,” she objected.

     “So when they get loopholes and pay less taxes, they get less votes.  Whoever they shift the taxes onto, now gets to call the shots. It’s a self-regulating system.  End of problem.  It’s only fair that those that contribute the most, should have the most say.  How would you feel if you contributed half of the money to a company, owned half of the shares, and you got the same vote as some jerk with one share?  And the jerk votes himself a big slice of the company’s money?  And then, you’d have to bribe the board of directors with large campaign contributions, above and beyond the money you had to shell out for your shares, just to get your voice heard?  That’s what kind of farce we’ve got with the government right now.  Maybe our government needs to learn from capitalism, and from what the UN is starting to do.”

     Frustrated with the detour in conversation, she decided to try once more to relate the subject to his favorite nemesis, socialism, this time in a different way.  “But don’t you see that it’s one thing to protest against socialism, to object to having the fruits of one’s labor forcibly transferred to lazy or incompetent people, under threat of being jailed, on the one hand, and a completely different thing, on the other, to go and wipe out the people who aren’t up to your standards? In the first case, one may be justified, because maybe Globo-nanny or Uncle Socialism doesn’t realize that it’s not always wise to protect people from their own decisions.  Maybe suffering has a legitimate purpose, in that it teaches people to avoid the behavior that brought on the suffering.  But it’s one thing to refuse to protect people from the suffering that they’ve brought on themselves, and another, to bring suffering on them.

     “I was so proud of you when you talked at the press conference about tolerating all but intolerance.  Don’t you see that it’s the height of intolerance to commit genocide?  Or to provide the tools for doing so?”

     Pootie Pie, I respect your opinion.  It’s time for us to just agree to disagree.  I think that providing a deterrent to keep our enemies or potential enemies from walking all over us, falls into the category of not tolerating intolerance.  And I do trust the US and the UN to reserve the most powerful weapons for self defense, for stopping or preventing wars, and not to use them against people who merely ‘aren’t up to our standards’.  Or, to practice proportionate response, just like nations did with nukes, so that only failure to meet the standards of not beating up on your neighbors, would be met with this kind of response.  I haven’t heard you proposing any alternate ways of defending ourselves.”

     Gloria just about exploded. “Defense, bullshit!  You know we’re talking about developing computer simulations of offensive weapons!  And that it’s just a hop, skip, and a jump to building what you’ve simulated!  I propose that we defend ourselves by eliminating the hate, the fear, and the weapons, which are the real enemies.  And we can’t just agree to disagree on this one.  We’re not talking about another case where your and my votes are like farting in the hurricane, we’re talking about you playing a huge role in bringing synthetic bogey monsters to life.  Don’t underestimate the extent of my opposition here.”

     Gloria felt weariness, defeat and futility crushing her respect and love for Phil.  Couldn’t he understand the gravity of what he was getting involved in?  OK, she thought, one last try, and then I’ve got to tell him just how opposed I am to him doing this.  Her hopes were running dry, and she dreaded what she might have to say next.

     “Phil, think about it.  You’re not a teenager, shooting Galactic Zorgons at the video arcade anymore.  You don’t get to just put another quarter in if you fuck up.  We’re talking about the biggest stakes I can think of, which is the survival of the human race.  Remember that documentary that we watched, celebrating the demise of the threat of a global nuclear war?  They ran various footages of film and video and what not, about the history of nukes?  They ran a snippet of a documentary from the middle of the eighties.

     “In the middle of a highly secular time, when the ACLU would have a cow, if anyone even mentioned God in the public schools, this documentary, shown on the public airwaves, talked about a nuclear holocaust, and it called such a thing by its only appropriate name: It called it a ‘deep, dark sin’.  That’s what you’re about to partake in. That’s what I am begging you not to besmirch yourself with.”

     Pootie Pie, you confuse me sometimes.  You tell me you’re sick of people who think that God is a Baptist, a Hindu, a Mormon, or a Catholic, and you tell me about how you’re so tickled with what Paul Dirac said¾‘There is no God, and I am his prophet’.  How you despise bigots who hate in the name of God.  And then you turn around and talk to me about what God thinks.”

     Gloria didn’t have much trouble with that one.  “It’s simple. Don’t throw the baby out with the bath water.  Lots of people use religion for ill ends, like any other tool.  Like bioengineering, it can be used for good or bad.  But I’d argue that survival of the fittest applies not only to living things, but also to cultures and religions. Religions that teach no respect for life, die.  Like Jimmy Jones in Guyana.  Religions that teach followers to value each other and themselves, survive.  So, we might actually, occasionally learn some good things from religion.  Like how to live in peace.”

     “I agree with you wholeheartedly,” Phil objected, “No one can deny we’d all be better off if everyone disarmed.  Less resources pissed away, and we’d all sleep better at night.  But how do we get there from here?  Do you really want to risk playing the good guy, and disarming while the other side arms to the teeth, and get our guts stomped out? The ‘good guy’ becomes the chump, the patsy.  Yet, yes, you’re right, both sides would be better off if they could only both agree to trust each other, simultaneously, and stop arming.  But how do we stop?  One certainly can’t stop the progress of knowledge, either, even if such a thing was desirable.”

     “The only way to stop that I know of is just to stop,” was her reply.  “Not building the latest in offensive technology would certainly be a method of applying the brakes a bit, to get closer to actually stopping, though.  For example, at the heighth of the cold war, we swore up and down that we’d never launch an all-out surprise attack on the Soviet Union.  Yet we built first-strike weapons, fast, accurate ICBMs capable of wiping out hardened targets, even though we had the option of building only what would have been obviously second-strike weapons, such as slower, less accurate cruise missiles and bombers.  We chose the most confrontation that we could.  Massive retaliation, capable of surely wiping out their whole society, even if delayed by a few hours, wasn’t enough¾we had to hang the knife of a surprise attack over their heads.

     “But I’m not going to let you sidetrack me, and make me think that we’re just flapping our lips about some philosophical crap that we happen to think differently about, and that it really doesn’t make much of a difference what we think.  What you think about synthetic genocide organisms could make all the difference in the world.  Do you really think that one last genocidal war is going to bring a real peace?  Don’t you know that that’s the way we’ve been thinking ever since we walked on two legs?  That we’ve fought several thousand wars to end all wars? Isn’t it about time to try something different, before our toys destroy us all?  Isn’t it time that we at least stepped on the brakes a bit, instead of stomping on the accelerator, so that someday we might actually be able to stop?  Have I made any dent in your armor?  Are you going to reconsider designing yet another generation of killing machines?”

     Phil swigged the last of his burgundy, and paused for a motionless moment, regarding Gloria solemnly.  “No, sweetheart, this is my decision, and I’ll make it.  After due consideration of your opinion, to be sure.  But I won’t be swayed by... by pie-in-the-sky, by-and-by, thoughts of what could be.  Not that I don’t sincerely admire your kindness, your purity, your best of motives.  It’s just that I live in the real world as I see it, and that world contains assholes who understand no language other than violence.  And I intend not to stand by, helplessly, and watch our troops go and fight to defend us, without trying to give them as much help as I can.”

     Gloria struggled to keep back the tears, with almost, but not quite, total success.  “Phil, I love you,” she choked out.  “But this is a part of you that I haven’t seen before, and that I can’t love.  I... I can’t...” She couldn’t bring herself to finish.  Phil got up, and moved to comfort her.  Her body bristled like a pissed-off porcupine, warning him off in no uncertain terms.  He took her hand anyway.  She yanked it back.

     “Come on, Pootie Pie.  Darling of my dreams.  Let’s go get some sleep.  Look at this with clearer, rested brains, in the morning. Please, Pootie Pie,” he beckoned.

     She was about sick of his entreaties and endearments.  His babblings had given her a moment to regroup.  “I don’t sleep with whores,” she declared.  “Especially not whores for the State.  Why don’t you serve the State with your conscience, instead of with your sleazy violence.”

     Phil looked like he’d been slapped.  Gloria let him have it some more.  “I think I’ll sleep in the guest bedroom tonight.  Then, I’m going to take a week off, and go visit Mom and old friends in San Francisco.  Someday, I thought she might live with us.  Maybe not. Maybe I’ll have to move out there.  Maybe you’ll change your mind, while I’m gone.  But I can’t live with a monstrous monster-maker.  I really thought you were sweet.  I can’t tell you how disappointed I am.”

     Phil whitened by a shade or two.  Gloria started to head towards the stairs.  Phil stopped her with a light touch.  She fought off the urge to recoil in horror.  Pootie Pie, please sit back down for a second or two, and let me talk to you some more.” She sat down on the stairs, making sure to sit in the middle, and taking up a lot of room with her arms, to defend against marauding monster appendages.  Phil took the hint and remained standing at the bottom of the stairs.

     “I can’t believe you’d throw away our love over a silly little intellectual disagreement.”

     “I can’t believe you’d throw away the love of God, and me, and the rest of human life, including your precious hide, for the lack of any sense, decency, morals, or conscience.  You hooker for genocidal militarists.”

     “Shit, Pootie Pie.  I love you.  But I don’t know why I’m continuing to try to talk to you.  I hope we can talk again, but better, in the morning.  More friendly-like.  More civilized.” He blew her a kiss.  She just stared at him.  “But I mean, really.  I could understand it if it was because I chased some wench, or ‘cause I spent all our money gambling, or if I was beating you or snorting up a storm of coke. But to threaten to leave me over what I want to do at work, when what I want to do is perfectly legal, and something that a lot of people will appreciate?  Something that doesn’t affect our cozy little home?”

     She replied, “All right, you with the precious hide, if the immediate here and now is all that matters to you, then think about this: maybe I don’t like the idea that somebody else, somewhere else, maybe thousands of miles away, someone as scared of bogey monsters as I am, might want to come prowling around here to shoot your precious ass. I might not appreciate being in the way.”

     He objected, “So anytime somebody objects to what you’re doing, and threatens you, you back off?  I can’t smoke pot ‘cause you’re afraid the pig state will come and take everything away from us, even though the risk to any cautious, sensible person is practically zilch.  I can’t even buy us black market, illegal dangerous substances like megadoses of vitamins, even though they’d help us live longer, ‘cause we might get busted.  Now, I can’t even do something legal, to help reduce the risks to our troops, for fear I might piss somebody off.  How long till we’re sending our money to the FOS-TV preachers ‘cause they threaten to tell God that we’ve been bad?  How ‘bout deciding whether or not to do something on its own merits, instead of being an easily intimidated sheep?”

     “Oh, bullshit.  Like there’s really any merit to genocide.  I just got done telling you why you shouldn’t do it, on its own merits.  You made me relate it to how it would affect our ‘cozy little home’ in the immediate here and now.  You’re trying to have it both ways.  And I don’t want to live in a cozy little home that is built on technobarbarism.  I don’t want to be like the wives of Nazi prison guards, who tortured, murdered, and maimed during working hours, and then came home to pet their dogs, kiss their wives, and play with the kids after work and on holidays.”

     Phil couldn’t let it rest.  “Don’t hold your breath, Pootie Pie, on me changing my mind.  I’ve got to draw a line, somewhere, on being manipulated.  ‘Give up pot or I won’t move in with you.  Do what I say at work, or I’m moving out.  Never go to the bar with the guys, or give me a divorce.  Give me a backrub, or give me death.’ Where does it all end?  I value my dignity, you know.”

     “Fuck you, your pot, your work, your bar-hopping, your backrub services, your dignity, and the horse y’all rode in on.  I’m not perpetually manipulative and you know it.  It’s just on minor matters like human extinction that I get this way.” She thought, lightning fast, before he picks at my inconsistencies here¾But think about it, now¾Ah, what the hell, what is really important, here, anyway?  Do it.

     “As a matter of fact, here’s a deal for you: I’ll show you I’m not a pushy bitch on little stuff.  You can behave like a college kid and be a weed fiend if you want, and I’ll not nag you too much, so long as you don’t throw pot parties, or sell or grow the stuff.  Wouldn’t want the DEA to confiscate Georgia, you know.  So I’ve whittled my nag list down to one: No Bogey Monsters Allowed.  None.  How’s that grab you?”

     Phil gazed at Gloria; she actually thought there for a second that he might be considering the deal.  “No, Gloria.  My moral, ethical, professional choices are my own, and not for sale at any price. Certainly, I wouldn’t trade trivial things like whether or not I get stoned, for... for making my own choices in matters of my work, for being able to save the lives of our soldiers, our defenders.  No deal.”

     You self-righteous hypocrite, you, she thought.  “You’re willing to trade humanity for your extra thirty pieces of silver every week, fame, a bit of career advancement, and some thrill of creativity, but you don’t trade trivial things for the important things.  No Sir.  Not you. Asshole!  Mass murderer!  I’m going to bed!  Without you!”

     With that, she tromped off to the guest bedroom, whose door she slammed and locked.  Phil at least was an apt enough pupil in the study of the behavior of a Gloria, in her natural habitat, that he didn’t test or knock on her door, or try to talk to her some more, at least not that night.  He went to bed, and she wept very quietly.  Couldn’t let him think she was a weak, hysterical woman, in need of being comforted by his monster-making arms.

     The next morning, a Thursday, Gloria slipped off to work especially early, to avoid Phil.  He just barely got to say good morning to her before she stalked out the door.  That day, she yanked a lot of schedules around, but, by hook or by crook, freed up her next week.  She made hasty arrangements to fly to California for a week.

     Phil and Gloria talked briefly and civilly that evening, just enough to agree to be sensible, and have Phil deliver Gloria to the airport Friday evening, and pick her up a week and a weekend later.  No sense in pissing away money on airport parking for a week, they decided, just to avoid each other, out of snappishness.  They were both level-headed adults, after all.

     A week in California didn’t weaken Gloria’s resolve one bit.  If anything, it helped solidify her position, and made her remember that there was more to life than Phil, Atlanta, and her current job.  Phil’s resolve didn’t soften either, and it wasn’t more than a month from her return from San Francisco, that she accepted a job there.

     Gloria had never felt so alienated, so alone, so estranged in her entire life, as during those few long weeks of living with a lover turned roommate.  She longed so much to throw her arms around him and tell him she still loved him! But this was too important for her to bend in any way.  She knew that Phil could be incredibly stubborn, that this was one of those things, and that twisting his ears any more was futile.  But, she wouldn’t be caught being any less stubborn than he was, in this case.

     During all this time, they treated each other civilly, if distantly.  Towards the end, they both broke down to confess to each other just how hurt they were.  Phil helped her pack for the movers, and even offered to help her drive her van to California.  This, despite his busy workload as the head of ABC’s newest division.  She declined; she didn’t want to drag all this out, and have to look at who she thought she knew, and what might have been, all the way to California.

     They both swore to each other, that they’d stay in touch, till death would part them.  Gloria had once looked forward to a different kind of vow, she reflected sadly.


 

 

CHAPTER 10

 

     Phil sat at his computer at work, looking over the basic outline of the simulation that ABC was charged with developing.  He felt mildly irritated that he’d spent the last two months looking at the big picture, instead of actually doing design work.  The current outline was the cumulative effort of brainstorming by both ABC and the government employees at project Epsilon.

     Frank and Stanley, though, had been the sole channel through which ideas had gone back and forth between the two groups.  Frank had explained that fairly rigid separation between the two groups was necessary, so that they could play opposing sides in computer simulations of weapons and countermeasures, without cheating by knowing too much about what the opposing side was doing.  The simulations had to be honest and realistic, after all.

     Phil wasn’t too terribly irritated about brainstorming instead of designing, though, because brainstorming was fun, too, even if it wasn’t quite as fun as designing.  Designing would come real soon, now, he thought, as soon as we hash over this outline a little more, and prioritize and strategize about just how we’ll do some of these things. So he sat there and thought and doodled on his computer, reviewing the basics of the bioweapon simulation that ABC would pit against Epsilon’s countermeasures.

     OK, he thought, so we’re talking about BELFRYBATs (Bio-Engineered Life Form, Really Yucky, Bat-like Assault Tools).  The powers that be had allowed them to use a silly acronym, seeing as how hardly anyone was supposed to know about it, anyway.  We’ll take the all-weather sonar-equipped flying capabilities and basic body shape of bats, and add some extra legs for more versatility in landing, taking off, carrying things, land locomotion, etc.  Borrow a design feature from the ancient flying reptiles of the Jurassic and Cretaceous, and strengthen their wings with stiff collagen fibers.  Liberate their hind legs from skin-stretching duties, without going to feathers, which can’t heal, or grow as fast as synthetic flesh.

     Then we’ll give them poisonous stingers.  Phil had already begun gathering data on various natural animal poisons, from insects, spiders, snakes, scorpions, etc.  To be sure, we’ll select quick-acting, merciful poisons.  And, of course, we’ll give them carnivorous appetites.

     Phil felt a little bad about picking on bats to serve as the basis for his simulated monsters, since he knew how essential bats were as rain forest seed dispersers, and as insectivores.  He liked bats and what they did for the environment, and felt they weren’t properly appreciated by the public.  He didn’t want to give the irrational public any reason to fear bats any more than they already did.  But, with any luck the public wouldn’t get wind of what he was working on, anyway.

     We’ll also give the BELFRYBATs the behavior of the social insects, where only the queen can reproduce, and the individual workers are totally devoted to the survival of the hive, not the individual.  In other words, an individual won’t hesitate to give its life for the hive. We’ll have two sizes of worker BATs, large and small.  The large ones will have a reasonable degree of intelligence, something on the order of a monkey.  Hardwired into their brains, there will be knowledge of how to operate simple human gizmos, such as doorknobs and latches.  Also, knowledge on how to lob heavy objects through glass windows, so that they’ll be able to go places where they’re not wanted, at least in a local sense.  So these are the bare-bones, basic features, Phil reflected.

     In addition to the basics, we’ve accumulated a lot of bells and whistles.  From previous projects at ABC, we’ve got the “alipuscles” immune system, and fast reproduction.  Rapid reproduction comes through the incorporation of engineered bacteria, and through each cell carrying only the genes that it really needs, instead of each cell carrying a bunch of “junk” genes, as well as genes needed only in other tissue types.  In other words, the only time the full complement of genes is carried from one cell to another, is when a queen makes another queen. Workers come in two sizes; numerous small ones and fewer large ones. They will carry almost all the genes, excluding queen genes.  But, only in their undifferentiated embryo stage will their cells carry all their genes; as soon as differentiation starts, unneeded genes are dropped, in each cell type.  Heck of a lot faster-growing and more efficient than nature’s kludges, Phil thought proudly.

     Then, Phil reviewed some of the newer features, primarily the “checksum” feature that had been devised for their next generation of pest-control products.  This next generation was almost completely designed already.  In this newer scheme, pest control synthetic organisms would be allowed to reproduce, unlike the first generation. They would depend on lab-cloned engineered trees that couldn’t reproduce in the wild, for their leash compounds.  Since the new pest control critters could reproduce, though, the environmentalists were hooting and hollering quite loudly that they could evolve away from a need for the leash compounds, and run rampant.  The “checksum” system was an answer to the problem, but Phil expected it to be many years before the idea was approved.

     After the public had realized that legislation lagged behind technology, and that ABC’s co-operation with the NIH and EPA had been voluntary, Congress had been quick to “solve” the nonexistent problem of unregulated parts of the biotech industry.  What the hell, he thought, ABC is probably making more money with the existing scheme, anyway.  But it sure would be nice to eliminate the need to deliver new critters all the time, to remote third world areas that need this stuff the most.  At least these regulations wouldn’t apply to this new project, since the government routinely exempts itself from the laws that it passes, he reflected.  Hypocrisy can be downright useful at times!

     He thought a bit about how neat the checksum system was, and how it could be used to make sure the BELFRYBATs couldn’t evolve into something out of control.  The idea had first been brought up by Martha Lonetree, an electrical engineer and computer type.  She’d apparently derived the idea from electronics techniques.  Too bad she’d decided not to work for Phil’s group, he lamented to himself.

     As strands of DNA unraveled and duplicated, in the queen’s reproductive system, they would create RNA, which would in turn create useful proteins, like usual.  However, under the right circumstances, they’d also create complex proteins representing a “signature” derived from the sequence of nucleic acids in the DNA, for the sole purpose of being “tasted” by special, small organs in the reproductive system. These small organs would snip a cell or two off of passing embryos, and perform the checksum technique.  Any mutation in the DNA would cause the signature proteins to taste wrong, and the small organs would release a poison to kill any mutated offspring.

     Phil also reviewed features concocted solely for BATs.  These included having a special side tract in the alimentary canal of the queens, so that sick, aged, and dying worker BATs could sacrifice themselves to be eaten by the queen.  The queen, instead of digesting their cells and proteins down to their constituent amino acids, and then building them back up to BAT proteins, would very efficiently salvage entire cells and proteins to be refurbished and built back into new BATs, thereby saving a lot of time.  Slick, he thought!  This, and a simple yet robust immune system, are nice side benefits of having them all be totally identical.

     Special information-carrying chemicals would accumulate in the brains of worker BATs, denoting field conditions such as food supplies, proximity and number of nearest other hives, etc., so that when aged, sick, and dying BATs were eaten by queens, the queens could “read” this information and make reproductive choices, such as whether to make more queens, or small or large worker BATs, and how many.

     Then, there’s the techniques for gathering and processing food, and making it into more BATs.  Workers would gather flesh, and carry it in their claws or in their gullets.  They would bring it to the queen, which would lay eggs in it.  The eggs, unlike natural eggs, would actually absorb nutrients directly, thereby maturing to larvae, and ultimately, BATs, much faster than any natural system.  Worker BATs, queens, eggs, and larvae would all secrete chemicals, including lactic acid and compounds stolen from nature’s bottlefly maggots, into the food supply for the purpose of preventing bacteria from decomposing the flesh before the BATs could use it.  Disgusting, yes, but hey, it’s just a computer simulation, at least so far, he reflected.  So long as everybody behaves, it’ll never become reality.  Just like the old bugaboo, nuclear holocaust.

     Then there’s the additional safety features we’ve got to design in, he thought.  The “cycle counter” that counts generations since genesis. How to introduce the first BATs to enemy territory was a big unknown, and an issue that didn’t really have to be addressed, since they were only doing simulations.  Anyway, the biological cycle counter would allow two things: In the first two or three generations, after introducing only a handful of BATs, the BATs would be programmed to lay low, to avoid humans, and to increase their numbers only by eating insects and wild and domestic animals.

     Only after building up their numbers would they attack humans.  At that stage, the cycle counter will trigger changes in their programs, so that they could only eat humans and already-dead animals, to minimize environmental impact.  They’d be programmed to seek humans by smell, and to die if their diet strayed too far from having the requisite predominance of human proteins.  Finally, they’d be programmed to stop reproducing after twelve generations, which was estimated to be plenty of time to wipe out an enemy, as an additional safety mechanism.

     And, of course, finally there’s the leash compounds, without which the queen can’t reproduce.  This was another big unknown, this matter of how these leash chemicals would be introduced.  It made Phil feel better that it wasn’t being addressed, because, after all, they were only messing with computer simulations at this point.  He could wait to worry about such matters till a later time, which would hopefully never come, when an enemy would actually deserve to have such a weapon unleashed on them.  Phil could always decide whether or not to continue participating later, as circumstances warranted.

     Anyway, even though the matter of how the leash compounds would be delivered wasn’t addressed, Frank did dictate to ABC that a mechanism should be designed into the larger BATs to exchange a series of chemical and nervous “handshaking” signals with an unspecified delivery system. The BAT would be attracted to the leash deliverer by smell.  After the large BAT conducted the proper rituals, the leash compounds would be delivered to it, and it would in turn deliver them to a queen, which would also have to conduct the neuro-chemical ritual to take delivery. The handshaking systems on large BATs and queens, as well as the payload of leash chemicals themselves, would immediately be destroyed in the event of death, capture, or other trauma.  All this would be done to prevent the enemy from capturing and analyzing the leash compounds, so that the enemy couldn’t turn the BATs back on their creators.  Pretty clever, Phil mused.  Gotta play it safe from the very beginning, even if we never go beyond simulations.

     So Phil spent all day, sitting there and prioritizing, estimating time, resources, and strategies needed for completing various tasks, and deciding which tasks might be delegated to which of his subordinates, and to himself.  It wasn’t the most fun he’d ever had.

     Fortunately, after every day there comes an evening, and Phil made the most of his.  He got out his bong and filled it with ice and cheap wine, and then filled the bowl and torched the mother.  Those old gurgling sounds and intoxicating tastes, so long forgotten until just a few weeks ago, felt familiar and reassuring.  Now that Gloria was gone, he could do as he wanted, both at work and at home.  He sure did miss her, but at least he had things to do, both at home and at work, to take his mind off of her.  Shortly, he was doing some touch and goes on the runway of reality.

     But, it did worry him a bit.  The feds had made him take a piss test when he signed up, and he was still eligible for surprise inspection.  So, he went and bought himself a copy of “High Times” to see what kind of countermeasures he could take, so that he could toke up while still working for Uncle Sanctimonious.  Too bad they’d found out about the spy at ABC, and used that information to twist ABC’s arms into accepting piss tests and other intrusions into people’s private lives, despite ABC having initially said that they wouldn’t take the contract with all the usual federal bullshit.  What Phil wanted to know, was, if pot was such a terribly bad thing for one’s job performance, then why’d they need a piss test to tell who was doing it in the first place?  It seemed to him that some people were perfectly capable of performing well, despite an occasional toke, and that others were perfectly capable of being idiots without so much as considering popping an illegal vitamin tablet.

     Anyway, he had looked through “High Times” to see what he might do to keep the feds off of his back.  He’d decided against buying clean urine, and putting it in a fake dick to be worn over his real one, so as to fool Uncle Snooper’s minions even when they watched the pissing ceremonies closely.  He had a certain amount of dignity, and wasn’t going to take it away from himself by wearing a fake dick, even if others didn’t respect his dignity as much as he did.

     He settled on taking large doses of a natural herb called golden seal, and a synthetic concoction called THC-B-Gone, from Holland. Either one alone was supposed to be enough to fool busybodies, but he took both to play it safe.  Sometimes he’d burp up a bit of golden seal, after having swallowed it in gelatin capsules. It would just about cause him to retch, it tasted so bad.  These things he bought from his local dealer, along with megadoses of vitamins.  Uncle Sanctimonious had done so much for the dealers when he’d outlawed vitamins.  Now, they had even more customers, and there was even less respect between lawmen and their subjects.

     So Phil sat in his living room and got stoned, and thought more than a few disgruntled thoughts about the dictatorial majority.  He’d sure like to actually live in a free country someday, he thought. Somewhere where the government didn’t make all of one’s charity and medical decisions.  Somewhere where people wouldn’t think that the solution to all problems was simply to put in jail, all those whose lifestyles differed from their own.  Somewhere where the government wouldn’t take most of one’s money to redistribute it for charity and medical care, and then use the fact that the public paid for health problems, to justify playing nanny to all the people and their health habits.

     What could he as a mere individual taxpayer do about mandatory minimum sentences for vitamin pushers, he wondered.  He thought about how the pig and shrink industries sure sucked a lot of bucks out of gullible voters, saying, see here how we’re having to set free the murderers, ‘cause we don’t have enough room in the jails, or enough shrinks, to take care of the dopers?  How could he, Phil, as a member of the most oppressed minority in the US, namely, drug users, do anything against the dictatorial majority?  Other than consume some of this good stuff, and pay a few bucks to the dealers?

     The bong, which Phil affectionately had come to name “Motherfucker,” from his college gang’s name for their bong, as in, “Hey, pass that motherfucker over here, will ya?,” gurgled some more, and he slipped away into one of his favorite pot fantasies as of lately. He’d be called to jury duty to bust some fiendish pot pusher, and he’d pretend to be such a good conformist sheep, just like they liked for jury duty.

     They’d pretend to amass a jury of the offender’s peers, as in, “Sir, can you administer the law as I give it to you,” and, “Are you willing to put the defendant in jail for twenty years for violating the law?” (Translation: Can you be a cog in the State’s machine, and put some little kid away for decades, for selling a few gram’s worth of shit to some government snitch?  If you’re not willing to do this, and admit it, then you couldn’t possibly be the offender’s “peer”.)

     Phil would pretend to be their dupe.  They can pretend, and I can pretend.  Undo pretense with more pretense.  “Oh, yes, of course we all need to obey the law.  If we decided we only had to obey the ones we liked, there’d be chaos!  And, oh, yes, of course I’ll listen to all the evidence impartially.” Then he’d be put on the jury, and he’d sit there and be bored to tears, listening to how the brave government troops spent half of the taxpayers’ money to take the taxpayers’ freedoms away.

     Then, he’d go to deliberate the case with the jury, and he’d rub all their noses in what a bunch of stupid sheep and dupes they were. How racist they were.  “Did you know,” he could hear himself saying, “That ninety percent of people in jail for coke are poor blacks?  The lawmen just regard this as a way to put all the niggers in jail.  Think about it.  A rich white person buys drugs once a month, in huge amounts, and doesn’t run as much of a risk as a poor person who buys every day. And, of course, he can afford a better lawyer.  And we’ll give the white cocaine dealer a lighter sentence than the black crack dealer, even though the crack’s got a heck of a lot less active ingredient.  Someday we’ll pay a huge price for our racism, above and beyond being gouged for more money for more jails.  Why don’t we just let addicts punish themselves, instead of paying out big bucks?  They can punish themselves far more efficiently than we can.”

     The other jurors would badger him about not trying to legislate, and harp on all the evidence.  He’d say, “Well, look at whose testimony this is.  Government hypocrites who buy and sell illegal drugs, and then bust people for buying and selling drugs.  Hypocrites who lie, who represent themselves as people looking to buy and sell drugs for private enjoyment, who are actually narks.  I don’t accept the testimony of liars and hypocrites.” The other jurors would object, saying, how can you be against sting operations?  How ‘bout stinging people who want murder for hire?  This is for our protection!  And Phil would point out that in murder for hire stings, at least the government didn’t actually commit the crime, murder, but in the case of drug stings, the government actually did the exact same thing that it was busting, which was buying and selling drugs.

     Phil thought about what an ethical juror would do, in a country where the dictatorial majority had decided to punish the wearing of blue ribbons with death.  Would he or she be honest, and say, no, please excuse me from the jury, ‘cause I don’t believe in this law, and allow the tyrannical piggy wiggies to have their wicked ways?  To go ahead and stuff their juries with their piggy wiggy fellow fascists?  Or would an ethical person lie, sneak onto the jury, and do what’s right?

     So, the mighty Phil would strike a blow for the rights of an oppressed minority, and hang the jury.  The oppressed minority would speak, in one of the few ways, other than picking up a gun, that it could speak and be heeded.  Others, as sick as Phil was of pigs who regarded the knowledge that someone, somewhere, might be getting an illegal buzz, as being every bit as threatening as being shot or mugged, would see what he’d done, and start a movement.  The media would come and interview him, and he’d be a big hero.  Maybe he’d start getting thousands of people together, and take a gram of coke and dilute it with a ton of baking soda, and pass it out among them, and they’d all march to the local pig station and all get mandatory ten-year jail sentences, each for a handful of coke molecules sufficient to stone a paramecium. People would come to their senses, and realize how much of a waste it was, to try to make everyone’s moral choices for them.  So, drugs would be legalized.  So went his fantasy, at least.

     Then he got tired of being grumpy, and moved his stoned thoughts on to other topics.  He sure missed Gloria.  It wasn’t just that he’d been reduced to playing with seedy CD ROMs on his home computer and cuffing his ‘nads; he also missed her company and intellectual stimulation. He’d tried once or twice to pick up the babes at the singles bars, but it was just no good.  They were all at the bar to see how many men they could say no to, or to see how many men they could get to kiss their asses, while they debated if any of them maybe might maybe be almost sort of good enough.

     Phil decided that maybe he should actually try to do something about it, other than just sitting around and moping, or calling Gloria to commiserate.  And there it sat, beckoning to him¾all that technological reaching-out power, all bound up in wads of silicon, plastic, steel, and glass¾his home computer and FOUL.  Reach out and touch someone.  But seedy CD ROMs were as far as Phil would go.  He knew all about high-dollar virtual sex parlors, and software that he could buy even for his simple home computer.  Such software could allow him to tweak every aspect of the body and personality of a silicon slut¾or whatever else he might be into.  For a few thousand bucks, he could even buy hologram projectors and other accessories.  Even software to allow him to swipe Gloria’s face off of home movies, or some famous young wild thang actress, and splice them onto his favorite seedy CD ROM action. But, Phil had his dignity.  Maybe technology could help him reach out in some other manner.

     So he fired up his home FOS and made a transaction or two, and spent a dollar or two hundred, and got access to the personals.  He started to skim through what wonderful wenches the local market might have to offer.  Most had images attached; a few didn’t.  Those that didn’t, he blew off, right off the bat.  DWF, SWF, blonde, redhead, likes moonlit walks, likes candlelight dinners, likes successful executives.  Very good-looking.  And modest, too, Phil added to himself. They’re all beauty queens.  Frosted blonde.  VGIB.  VGIB?  OK, he thought, I know that DWF and SWF are divorced and single white females respectively, but what the hell does VGIB mean?  What?  A footnote? Ah-ha!  Very Good In Bed!  Another modest one!  But at least she’s got a sense of humor!  That particular one was too old, though.  Phil wondered how many of them were lying about their ages, and how many of the images might be a decade or two old.

     He noticed that despite filespace being quite cheap, and there being hardly any limit to the length of the messages these babes could post on the computer dating service, most of them chose to just post short descriptions of themselves.  Most of them were either poorly written, or written with lots of glossy, immodest fluff.  He decided that any wench worthy of his own noble self would be a decent writer, and be willing to describe her thoughts at fairly great lengths.  So he started to read those that were of any substantial length.

     The trouble with those, though, was that sooner or later they’d all expose too many of their thoughts, and Phil would conclude that they were batty.  There they were, in all their glory.  The Elvis-worshipper, the Kennedy assassination conspiracy buff, the Bible bangers, the New Age cosmic vibes psychobabbler, the astrologer, and the man-eating womyn’s libber.

     So, he thought, maybe there’s a lot of babes out there who read these things, but don’t advertise.  Maybe I should go and write up the Manifesto of Phil, and see if I get any nibbles.  Or nipples, maybe, even.  They’ll probably think I’m as much of a kook as I think that they are, though, but what the hey, you never know if you don’t try. So, Motherfucker gurgled once or twice more, and then, Phil put it away and began to write.  Getting stoned and then actually doing something other than sitting around, or sitting around and thinking worried or grumpy thoughts, like thoughts of maybe getting busted, made it much more fun to get stoned, he reflected.

     Dear Most Luscious Babe,” Phil began, and then immediately changed his mind and changed his writing to a slightly more sober “Dear Unknown Snugglebunny”.  Then he choked.  So, he decided to back up a bit, and go and read the rules of the game.  What?  A thousand bucks to post a message on this damned stupid service?  Maybe it’s time to go and look for a different one.  But, no, this was far and away the biggest such service in the area.  And, come to think of it, maybe I don’t really want to belong to a dating service that charges five bucks a head, either.  Maybe he’d write his manifesto first, and then decide whether or not it was worth posting.  He also read the other rules, such as how actual names, addresses, FOS and phone numbers, etc., would only be exchanged after mutual consent.  OK, he decided, let’s get back to writing.

     Hi!  I’m number 038XJ57.  Pleased to meet you,” Phil wrote.  He could fill in the correct account number later, if/when he felt like dropping a grand, in addition to the two hundred he’d already pissed away.  “I’m a thirty-five year old scientist and manager, so I can serve as your ‘success object’ fairly well, although I should certainly hope to be much more.” Any more specific than that, he thought, and somebody might actually guess who I am, seeing as how I’ve had a bit of exposure in the media by now.

     Just as you most certainly should hope to be more than a sex object to me, I hope that I will be more than a success object to you. Not that I insist that you be filthy rich, so that I can rest assured that you’re not a gold-digger.” Although, of course, that wouldn’t hurt, Phil added to himself.  I have no problems in sharing my fairly good fortune, with those who share what they have with me, even if materialists who put a dollar sign to everything, would say that the accounts don’t balance.

     “I do resent being forced to share almost three quarters of what I earn, under threat of jail time, due to the ‘charity’ of the rich politicians who we elect, who find it so easy to be generous with my money, which they forcibly extract from me.  As you can see, I am vehemently anti-socialist.  I feel like, what starts out to be ‘From each according to their ability, to each according to their need’, in reality becomes ‘From each according to their willingness to work without proportional reward, and their willingness to be parasitized, to each according to how well they kiss the Party’s butt.’ Sure, we have two major parties, but they both constitute the Big Government Party.

     “That means I don’t vote Democrat.  On the other hand, I don’t vote for the Republicans, either, ‘cause they’re a bunch of witch-burners. It’s like, the Republicans want to fill the jails with gays, pornographers, abortionists, secular humanists, and witches, while the Democrats want to fill the jails with people who try to cheat the feds out of the 90 % of their incomes that the feds want for socialism.  I figure, one has an ethical obligation to cheat on taxes, ‘cause giving the feds a dollar more than one absolutely has to, is like giving booze to an alcoholic.

     “Given the choice between witch-burners and socialists, I vote Libertarian.  Libertarians are the only organized party that believes in legalizing freedom, and reserving jail space for people who deserve to be jailed.  Anyway, I’ll be reasonably generous with whatever is left after the politicians are done being compassionate with everyone except the taxpayer.  But enough of my politics; we’re talking about something more important, here.

     “We’re talking about Love, or at least, I sure hope we are.  And if we’re talking about Love, then I sure hope we’re talking about the one with the capital “L,” the one that outlasts puppy love, infatuation, lust, whatever.  The one that lasts while we grow old and decrepit with time, together.  I surely wouldn’t want to sully such a pure ideal as Love, with too many lists and conditions.  ‘Laundry List Love’ surely doesn’t have a good ring to it.” Phil actually stole the phrase from Gloria, who’d accused him of such offenses on occasion.

     He’d met Gloria through a video dating service.  But there’d be no reason to mention anything here about her, just ‘cause he’d spent eight years living with her.  Hell, he didn’t even have to call himself divorced, for fear of scaring away ladies who, like himself, counted a divorce or two or five as strikes against a potential mate.  There’d be plenty of time later to ‘fess up to Gloria’s failings later, after his new mate had fallen hopelessly, head over heals in Love with him, he decided.

     But we’re talking serious matters here.  We’re talking about, hopefully, lifelong intimate companionship.  So I should hope to be forgiven if I say this isn’t a matter for equal opportunity legislation, or for any kind of ideas about being non-discriminatory.  Not that I’m talking about anything racial here; I’m fairly broadminded about your religious, ethnic, racial, political, national, etc., background.  I’ll have to ‘fess up that I strongly discriminate on the basis of sex, and sexual preference, in the matter of mate selection only, though.  Only heterosexual females need apply¾sure hope the equal opportunity folks don’t get wind of this!  Seriously, though, the main point I want to make is that no one can make me feel guilty for being discriminating, in its broadest sense, in this matter.  So, of course I have a List, as would any person who would try to be honest and rational about this. But I’ll keep my list short, broad, flexible.

     “At the top of the list would be the usual kind, sweet, humorous, considerate, loving, and lovable-type personality traits.  But, maybe more than anything else, I want an educated and intelligent mate. Educated doesn’t have to mean big, fancy degrees¾I’ve known a few degreed idiots in my day.  Maybe ‘informed’ would be better.  I want to be able to discuss and argue with my mate, about all the myriad issues of the day, and even of days future and past.” Like Gloria, he thought, but definitely a bit less...  strident?  Overly, falsely principled? Pushy?  Intolerant?  Bossy!

     Should he hint at the nature of his work, to make sure his next wild woman was tolerant of such things?  Nah!  Sensitive topic.  Plenty of time for that later, he thought.  Like, at least after I get laid once or twice.

     So, even though we might disagree on a lot of things, I would surely hope that your opinions might be informed at the very least, and that the basic way that you think would be somewhat reasonable.  At a minimum, for example, I would hope that you believe in evolution, rather than literal creationism.  Now, it’s cool if you want to believe that maybe evolution created our bodies, and God created our souls.  I’m not much into God, myself, ‘cause I’ve never met Him.  But I could sure respect you for thinking that God created our souls.  If you think, though, that God’s got an appendix, a scrotum, and an occasional hemorrhoid, seeing as how we are literally, bodily created in his image, then maybe I’d better find another lady to have intelligent conversations with.

     “Other than that, I would just hope that you are generally open-minded or broad-minded.  Tolerant.” He just about added, tolerant of all but intolerance, but decided not to.  Too many people had heard of his speechifying, and a few could maybe ID him from that.  He didn’t want all the babes banging on his door; he wanted to have a look-see first, and just pick out the good ones.  Especially the good-looking young wild thangs, with big tits and no kids, of course, he thought. Come to think of it, I’d better not attach an image, and then, some will blow me off as probably being ugly, seeing as how I wasn’t willing to post my image.  Kind of like what I just got done doing on my first, recent window-shopping excursion.  Oh, well.  The prices of mild fame.

     In other words, I really couldn’t respect you much if you were convinced that only Old Order New Orthodox Reformed Upper Michigan Peninsula Elvis Followers got to go to the Big Concert in the Sky. I believe that even Moslem atheists should be eligible to attend the Big Concert.  Anyway, I would hope that I could respect your views, and that you could respect mine.  Including my view that human nature itself has evolved through a few hundreds of thousands of years as intelligent and culture-bearing hunter-gatherers.  Bear with me for a few moments as I go over the rest of my short and general list, and I’ll review for you what I think sociobiology and other sciences have to say about what a reasonable and rational male-female relationship might look like.  Or, at least, what a logical person might think about relationships, bearing in mind what science has found, along with a few, bare minimum ethical concepts, such as the idea that we should try to treat others like we want to be treated.”

     Phil sat there and thought for a few minutes.  Now, how in the hell could he tell them that he liked to smoke pot, and they’d damn well better like it.  Or, at the very least, leave him alone if he felt like doing it.  He wasn’t going to go through another Gloria-like busybody. On the other hand, he sure didn’t want a coke freak or speed fiend, either.  Or anyone with a serious addiction, be it to any drug, gambling, sex, or even himself, he thought.  I sure can’t write down here, yes, I’m a moderate weed fiend, and please come and bust me now, piggy wiggies.  He almost decided to totally ignore the subject, but then, an idea or two inspired him.  Maybe a few hints and some sarcastic humor might do the trick!

     I’d also hope that our ideas about what is right and what is wrong would be somewhat in harmony.  I don’t have much respect for people who think that right versus wrong corresponds exactly to what is legal versus illegal.  This isn’t merely true in places like Nazi Germany or modern-day Tibet, either.  Many people would recognize that, even if their governments approve of it, Germans burning Jews, and Chinamen tromping all over native Tibetans, are immoral despite being in accordance with their laws.  Or, Moslem peoples who tromp all over the rights of their women, and blame Allah or Moo-hamboned or whoever for it.” Phil looked at the “Moo-hamboned” term, thought a bit about the various brands of violent, psychopathic, foam-at-the-mouth Islamic terrorists running around loose in the world, and looked up the more respectful word, “Mohammad,” and made the change.  No use living too dangerously, unless it’s for a good cause, he decided.

     Less of us stop to think that maybe the FOS-TV preachers in the US of A, right here and now, are doing legal but immoral things when they steal all the money from little old ladies, by selling them tickets to the Big Bingo Game in the Sky. Or, the government, when it steals a whole ranch for a single pot seed that sprouted, or a whole ship, ‘cause some passenger snuck a few illegal vitamin pills on board.

     “Keep in mind that I am a Libertarian.  I think we should just legalize all drugs.  Let addicts punish themselves; they can do it a heck of a lot cheaper than we can.  But I don’t mean to be talking about politics again.  What does all this mean to us?  It means, I don’t put the law on a pedestal.  I don’t snort coke, or do crack, or speed, or heroin, or PCP or LSD or PCBs or plutonium tetrachloride bicarbonate or any other vicious chemical, and I sure hope you don’t, either. Actually, I don’t even do nicotine, and I won’t plan on throwing too much of a fit if or when, a few years from now, they take my alcohol and caffeine away.” OK, I hope that maybe they’ll be sharp enough to pick out what I haven’t mentioned here.

     And I don’t care too much about your habits in the latter categories, either, although I would hope that you don’t get all shit-faced drunk every night.” Phil immediately changed “shit-faced” to “falling-down”; he wasn’t sure what he could get by the censors.  Then he added, “And I will admit that I have a preference for non-smokers, or, more accurately, non-nicotine addicts.” Get the hint?

     Now comes the real fun part, he thought.  Make it real obvious that I despise Uncle Sanctimonious.  But I must confess that I’ve got a serious weakness for those evil concoctions, vitamins.  You know how Uncle Sanctimonious, in all his wisdom, has decided that no one should be able to buy megadoses, defined as anything over the RDA, or Recommended Daily Allowance, of vitamins.  And you’ve got to get a prescription for those weenie 60-mg vitamin C tablets.  Can’t have the ascorbic acid heads out there, beating and robbing little old ladies for their next fix.  Even if years of research says that anti-oxidants help clear your blood of free radicals, and help you live longer.”

     Phil was tempted to explain his pet theories, about how the feds claimed they were just protecting people from vitamin snake-oil salesmen, yet were in reality just protecting the AMA’s turf and the FDA’s power.  Can’t have the people staying healthy without shelling out the bucks to the doctors and pharmacists.  The people are too stupid to make their own health decisions, without Uncle Sam taking care of us all.  But, he’d talked enough politics already.

     So, anyway, I’ve got to warn you that I like to wreck devastation on my body with massive doses of ascorbic acid.  It really gets me off. But, I don’t want to violate the law.  No Sir!  No Ma’am!  Not me!  I respect the law!  So, I just slink off to several different grocery stores, so that no one will catch on, and buy a few grapefruits at each. Then, I stash them deep in my ‘fridge, way back there, behind the rotten milk and the slimy tomatoes, so that no one can see them.  Then, late at night, I sneak down to my ‘fridge, and have one-man ascorbic acid parties.  Far out.  Thousands of times the RDA!

     “But, please keep this secret between the two of us. Grapefruits haven’t been outlawed yet, but I sure wouldn’t want to have them have to make a new law, just to cover a fiend like me.  I’d hate to think that someday, I’d be dead and gone, and y’all would be left here to sing a song about ‘MAN KILLED IN GRAPEFRUIT DEAL GONE BAD’. Rue the day!

     “Other than that, I guess I’d like to add to the laundry list, that I’d like to have my own children.  Since I haven’t made any babies, and screwed up and left them and/or their Momma, I’d not want to be saddled with a ready-made family.  I used to feel guilty about my selfishness, but then I read some sociobiology, and decided I didn’t need to feel guilty about it after all.  More on this later.  Yes, I would feel differently about it if I’d already had my chance to pass on my genes, and messed it up, and abandoned a wife and child, or children.  But, since I haven’t, I’d like to have my own chance to start from scratch. Not that I insist that you be fertile; I’d be happy to adopt.  And I also couldn’t find it in my heart to hold it against you if you were a widow, with children, unless, of course, you had killed your husband, in which case I’d hope you’d spare me any of your ministrations.  It’s just that I don’t want a divorcee with kids.  My life is complicated enough, without having to deal with assorted, contorted, recombinant family issues.

     “That’s my laundry list, pretty much in it’s entirety.  I don’t really care what your hobbies are, so long as they don’t involve sticking pins in dolls that look like me.  We don’t have to share all of each other’s interests.  That could get downright boring, actually. There are some other minor things, like the fact that I’d much rather have you spend your time and money to buy me a beer now and then, instead of spending it all on makeup and fancy clothes and hairdos.

     “Finally, let me give you my perspective on relationships, in view of sociobiology and other recent scientific findings.” Oh, hell, thought Phil.  Give it a rest!  Tomorrow’s another night.  He resolved to finish up later, and not to just blow it off, or get all wrapped up in his work again, to the point of forgetting that there were other things to life. So, he got Motherfucker back out, took another few hits, and went to bed, where he slept peacefully, dreaming dreams of wild young wenches.

     The next day at work, Phil met with Dr. Eisner and General Leech. They met in one of the new secure rooms, where all sorts of precautions were taken to prevent sensitive conversations from being bugged.  These precautions were needed for both conversations within the rooms, and conversations between the rooms’ occupants and parties at the Pentagon. The clustered rooms were arranged bizarrely, almost weirdly enough to conceal from all but the most astute or well-informed onlookers, the fact that they had a lot of space hidden between them.

     As the technical leader of the project, Phil was one of the privileged few who knew that there was a fiber-optic link entirely separate from ONLINE, connecting sensors monitoring the cluster of rooms to the Pentagon, where high-tech wizardry guarded against spies.  It made him just a smidgen nervous, but it lent a certain drama to his life, to be privy to such important goings-on.

     Closing the heavy, special, high-tech door behind him had evoked the slightest hint of claustrophobia in Phil, as if he was being locked up in a bank with all the other valuables.  And the sensor lenses stared at him, and tracked his movements, giving him a tiny bit of the willies. But, really, all that he, and for all that he knew, ABC, cared about, was that all these facilities had been bought and paid for by the feds, and that there were no dangerous radiations of any kind emitted by the monitoring equipment.  Since he didn’t even entertain the vaguest notions of carrying bugs, Phil didn’t dwell on it much.  He cynically reflected that he’d bet this link wasn’t using the same snoopable codes as what the government was requiring all others to use.  Still, it was almost like being Agent Orange in “ESPIONAGE ANGELS,” sitting next to who knows how many millions of dollars worth of nifty gizmos.  Too bad he got paid about three percent of what that worthless what’s-his-face got paid to play Agent Orange.

     Phil reflected momentarily on the perversities of a society where he, a REAL top-secret scientist and defender of the nation, got paid such a small fraction of what the pretend-players got paid, and where Congress, needing testimony about the travails of being a farm family, invites, not farm housewives, but actresses who played farm housewives, to testify.  It sure seems, he thought, that Americans value unreality far too much over reality.

     Phil had to bring himself back to reality as he regarded the Doctor and the General.  He still hadn’t quite gotten to the point where he could address them by their first names, Stanley and Frank.  He wasn’t so sure he really wanted to, especially in the case of Dr. Eisner.  They went over the plans one more time.  Phil reviewed all the features that were to be designed.  The Doctor and the General both nodded sagely.

     “Yes, Doctor Schrock, it sure sounds good to me.  By the way, since we’ll be working together a lot, is it OK if we just call you Phil?” Phil nodded affirmatively.  “Good.  I’m Frank, and this is Stanley.  So, Phil, might you have any questions for us?  In the big picture scheme of things, or about what we’ll be expecting?”

     “Well, actually, I guess I do.  About military and political strategy.  We’re obviously designing these things to be as realistic as possible, and I’d think it’s not merely for purposes of making the simulations as realistic as possible, so that the data gathered from them is valid, but also for other reasons.  Reasons such as, if an enemy ever comes up with similar weapons, or in some other manner threatened us very seriously, we’d be prepared to move quickly from simulations to hardware¾or, I guess, ‘wetware’ would be a better term here.  In other words, the existence of these simulations will serve as a deterrent, to some extent, even if we have no intention of building them.  You’ve hinted as much, on occasion, and I have no trouble with that.  Or, with keeping real quiet about these matters.

     “It may be way too early to worry about such matters, but I have two questions.  One is, might it be wise, way on down the road, to actually verify our designs?  As long as we’re extremely careful, both in the doing of it, and in keeping it secret, then I can’t see why we shouldn’t do it.  The other, though, is, what’s the value of a deterrent that is kept secret?  How can we both let a potential enemy know that they’d better watch their steps, or else; at the same time as we keep the extent of our efforts secret from all the bleeding hearts and anti-biotech fanatics here in the US?  I mean, you’ve seen how they carry on about what we’ve done so far, just from us picking on their damn, precious bugs we’d otherwise be poisoning to death, along with the environment.” Phil decided not to add any comments comparing the magnitudes of what was being risked in the two different cases, of Anti-Bug Critters versus anti-human bioweapons.  He didn’t want to sound too doubtful.  Gotta be a team player, you know.

     “Well,” Frank explained, “The second question is easiest to deal with, so let me answer that first.  We’ve got to walk a fine line.  If we reveal too much, the protesters will scream even more than they do already, and the enemy will know precisely what we have, and so, will be able to take effective countermeasures.  On the other hand, something so secret that the enemy doesn’t even know about it, obviously doesn’t have much deterrent value.  So, we’ve got to walk that fine line.  And there are sometimes ways one can let the enemy know more about what one is doing, than one lets the public know about, without the risk of having the enemy letting the public know what’s going on.  But these are matters best left to the experts, like the CIA for example, and our political leadership.”

     In other words, don’t trouble your pretty little head about it, Phil thought.  And political leadership?  Do we really have any of that in this country, or do they all just knee-jerk whichever way the votes are blowing?  And buy votes with people’s pork?  And confiscate ranches because a pot seed or two germinated on the back forty?  Phil reminded himself that there were many nations far more oppressive than the US, and wrenched his consciousness back to listening to Frank.

     “...goes, well, this is a real sensitive matter.  But, you’re a big player in all this, and you’ve taken your oath and passed background checks.  So, I do believe that you should know about this.  I hope you’ll keep in mind just how extremely sensitive this is.  You do have a need to know, though, I think, seeing as how you’ll be the chief designer, here.  Yes, we’ve considered doing a trial run, unless you’ll be absolutely, completely convinced, at the end of the project, that everything will work exactly as intended.  Even then, we’d be tempted to make sure.  But this brings up a few questions for you.  First, how likely will you be to be able to completely prove that your simulations are correct?”

     Phil squirmed a bit.  “To be honest, there’s just so far that simulations can go.  We just run out of computer power.  This problem shows up most severely when we talk about how brains will work.” Phil thought he saw the hint of a superior, condescending smirk on Stanley’s face.  Hey, you bum, you couldn’t get anywhere close to doing what we’ve done here, he thought.

     “Especially with regards to the larger BATs, which will be far smarter than anything we’ve ever designed before, we’ll not be nearly so sure of ourselves as with other body parts and features.  Where we’ll be 99.999 percent sure of ourselves, with regards to other features, we might only be eighty or ninety percent sure of ourselves on the matter of brains.  Maybe when we have far bigger computers, and far fancier software, we’ll be able to accurately simulate every neuron and interconnection in a brain the size and complexity of what we’re talking about here, but I’d not expect something like that to happen for at least another six or seven years.  Certainly after we’re done with this project.  So, trial verifications would, indeed, be wise.”

     Frank nodded, then grinned.  “My next question is, how would you like to take a high-dollar boondoggle to Earth orbit some day?”

     Phil got bug-eyed.  He’d always dreamed of this ultimate joy ride, and seeing Earth from space.  He’d never thought of it as a realistic wish.  “Where do I sign?  I’d love to!  Does this have anything to do with what we’re talking about?”

     Frank frowned just a wee tad, as if he thought Phil was dense. “Sure it does.  That’s where we’ll eventually do our verification.  We wouldn’t want to run a risk, no matter how small, of our weapons not working quite right, and getting loose and running rampant.  Space provides us the ultimate isolation.  Something goes wrong, you blast the facility into a high, stable orbit, or even into the Sun.  But, of course such a disaster would be next to impossible, and we’d provide all the levels of isolation customarily provided on Earth.  And, hopefully you’ll still be our chief designer at that time, and so we’ll want you to be there.  Stanley, too, since he’ll be the only one with detailed technical knowledge of both ABC’s and Epsilon’s efforts.”

     Oh, great.  Nothing like a geek to take the fun out of a joy ride, Phil thought.  “Does that mean we have to design to accommodate zero gravity?  And if so, then, how are we really going to be sure that they’ll work right in gravity?”

     “We’re not talking about one of the handful of zero gravity stations.  We’re talking about the rotating, artificial gravity, international station we’re now building with the Russians, Canada, Europe, and Japan.  All the major contributors have their own modules. One of our modules will be top secret, limited access.  We’ll put some manned intelligence-gathering facilities in there, along with a biological lab with all the toys and isolation features that we’ll need. This module will be able to be isolated from the rest of the station, for this kind of activity.  And, we’ll be able to detach it and send it away, if the very worst should happen.”

     “Since we’re considering the totally improbable, then what do we do if somehow the rest of the station gets contaminated with runaway pathogens or some such?,” Phil asked.

     “Well, that’s still better than contaminating Earth,” Frank replied.  “And we could rescue survivors, isolate and treat them in space till we were confident that they didn’t carry anything threatening, and then, bring them back down.”

     What if they don’t know the score, and start coming down in their little life boats, Phil wondered.  I guess we’d have to blast ‘em from the sky, if we really wanted to play it safe, he thought.  He also wondered whether any of the other nations sharing the station knew about the US plans, but he sure wasn’t going to ask any more questions.  No use in sounding like too much of a troublemaker.

     That was about it for his meeting with Frank and Stanley.  They all agreed to go with what they had, and start designing.  First, though, there was yet another bureaucratic hurdle to be cleared before actual design work could begin, and that was to go and visit the project’s chief bean counter, Debra Kenner, and go over finances.  Phil wished Stanley and Frank a safe journey back to Washington, left the secure room, and wandered off to his office, where he made a few quick hardcopies of some numbers he’d thrown together.  Then he called Debra, to make sure she was ready for him, and walked on down the hall to her office.  Sure, he thought, finances are boring, but at least I’ll have something most pleasant to stare at and drool over, to keep boredom at bay.

     He was not at all disappointed.  She was wearing a fairly low-cut, sheer silk blouse, and a skimpy, flesh-colored bra.  He loved to watch those ample, supple breasts swish back and forth under the thin silk. Both her medium-length, wavy, shiny blonde hair and her smooth silk begged him for caresses.  It was all he could do to even keep a quarter of his mind devoted to going over the numbers.  She didn’t help matters much when she smiled at him so broadly, or when she stooped over to pick up a piece of paper that she’d dropped, giving him a prime view of firm cleavage.  Or, for that matter, when she stood behind him, and brushed her breast against his arm, as she stooped over him to point at some numbers.

     Phil squirmed a bit, mostly to make some more room in his pants. He looked at her fingers, looking for anything resembling an engagement or wedding ring.  He really didn’t know too much about her, other than the fact that she looked delectable.  He didn’t see any such rings, nor could he see any pictures of boyfriends in her office.  He was just about ready to start working up his nerve to ask her for a date, when he started to get his doubts.  He compared her momentarily to Gloria. Gloria would never wear long, painted fingernails, or gobs of makeup, like this Debra chick he was finding himself leering so lecherously at.

     Painted ladies spend all their time and money on looking spiffy, instead of buying beer or otherwise pampering their men, he reminded himself.  On the other hand, they’re a good, quick lay occasionally. Why would a woman primp and preen all day, after all, if not to attract a studly hombre like me?  I could always nag her into reform later, though, he thought.  Like, after she’s caught me, the studliest of any hombre she could ever desire.  But, really, I should stay clear of involvements with people I work with.  Gotta be professional, you know. But, boy oh boy, what a hunkette!

     Then, he remembered that work of literature, his romantic manifesto, that he’d worked on last night.  He decided he’d give that a chance, before embarking on a risky office romance.  Still, he found himself thinking of silly, petty little financial questions to ask her about, to prolong their visit a bit.  Maybe I can see a few more sights, he thought.

     He finally broke free, and wandered back to his office, where he promptly started to unshackle the design juggernaut.  There’d be no more of this business of just brainstorming and collecting data about genes and proteins, bats and maggots, spiders and scorpions and snakes and snails and puppy dog tails.  They had their basic design concepts and some data, a customer, an application, approval, and money.  What more could one want?  They were ready to actually start some serious designing.  They were off to the races!

     Phil got home at seven that night, which was a compromise between his urges to work harder and faster, and his urges to keep his sanity and some semblance of a real life, at home.  He got Motherfucker out of its hiding place in the downstairs closet, and had a few hits, and then munched a braunschweiger, horseradish, etc., sandwich.  He then promptly got back to his manifesto, but not before reflecting on what a busy life he was leading.  Working, getting stoned, chasing wild women.  What more could a man ask for?  Except, maybe, catching one of those wild women. One like Gloria, except less bossy.  But, we won’t think about her. That’s why we’re keeping busy.

     OK, now, where’d we leave off last night...  Oh, yes.  Finally, let me give you my perspective on relationships, in view of sociobiology and other recent scientific findings.” Phil sat there and thought about it for a few seconds.  OK, so you might think I’m a geek, applying science to romance.  But, what’s so bad about being rational, and communicating completely honestly?  That’s what I plan to do here. Those of you who follow theories of romance having to be this crazy, wild, ‘chemistry’ thing, and common sense and logic are just so un-romantic, well...” Phil was just about to write down, “Your thinking may qualify you for a short fling with me, but I’d like something more,” when he decided, no, those sorts of chicks don’t go for my type, anyway, ‘cause I don’t abuse ‘em just the right way.  So, he finished his paragraph with, “I, too, like ‘chemistry’, but I think for Love with the capital “L” to last, there’s got to be a lot more.

     “Anyway, there’s a lot to be said for being rational, and for reasoning from sound, demonstrable starting premises.  I think evolution is a lot more demonstrable, and a lot more informative as to human nature and ethics, than creationism.  To you who would argue that it is debasing to think we’re just another animal, that this gives us excuses for acting like animals, I would say, don’t get so wrapped up in how Godly and holy you are.  You have the same basic body structure as any other mammal, and despite all your churchgoing and other pretenses, you act in many ways the same as a lot of monkeys and apes.  At the very least, you can’t argue with the facts that you eat, breathe, sleep, urinate, defecate, and copulate basically the same as any other mammal.” Or at least, I sure hope you do, he added to himself.  Wonder if that’ll slip by the censors, he asked himself.  At least I didn’t say, piss, shit, and fuck!

     I can even argue quite persuasively that there is at least one category in which belief in evolution is more likely to lead to ethical behavior than belief in creationism.  That is the category of beliefs having to do with preserving the environment and species diversity.  If you really believe that God arbitrarily decided one day seven or ten thousand years ago, to just snap his fingers and create various habitats and species, and that He then created us to be Lords of all Creation, then you might think it’s OK to wipe them out.  After all, maybe if we kiss His butt just right, we can persuade Him to snap His fingers again, and undo all the damage that we’ve done.  A believer in evolution, on the other hand, realizes that once we destroy a species, we can never get them back.

     “But, what I really wanted to discuss here, is the implications of evolution and sociobiology regarding human mating behavior.  Let’s see what we’d get, as far as rational mating behavior goes, if we took what science has told us about basic human nature, and a very simple formulation of ethics, namely, ‘Treat others the way you’d like to be treated’.  Let’s be honest about it, now.  What you as a female have to offer is far more valuable than what I have to offer, if we’re just talking about simple biology and mating behavior.  That which is rare, is valuable, and that which is plentiful, is cheap.  Simple economics. You have a few egg cells for every ten million sperm that I make.  You can only make only a few babies, while I could theoretically make millions.

     “In other words, setting aside ethics and civilization and such, my best reproductive strategy would be to go out and knock up every babe I can lure into my sack.  After all, the name of the evolutionary game is to pass one’s genes on as often as one can.  Animals who don’t have the urge to survive and reproduce, find their genes crowded out by the genes of animals who do have these urges.  So, evolution gave me an urge to drop my pants as often as I can.

     “You, on the other hand, can only give birth to a limited number of offspring.  So, your best strategy is to make your few babies count, to increase their probability of surviving to reproductive age themselves. After all, we’re complicated organisms, and require many years of nurturing to get to the point where we can pass our parent’s genes on to yet another generation.  The process of passing genes on to future generations doesn’t end at birthing your baby.

     “One of the best tactics for gaining that strategic end of making your few babies count, is to make sure Pop hangs out to take care of the little ones.  That means that you instinctively know that what you have is more valuable than what men have to offer, and that you need all the assurance that you can get, that he won’t just cut and run, to go and sow his wild seeds some more, as soon as you’re preggers.  You want commitment, stability, emotional attachment.  Male and female mating behavior is somewhat of an antagonistic contest at times, where the male tries to deceive the female, so as to be able to chase as many nubile young wild things as possible, while the female wants monogamy and commitment.

     “In other words, in our hundreds of thousands of years as hunter-gatherers, women who didn’t care who all they mated with, or whether or not any male really attached to them, didn’t get much help, come baby-sitting time.  No man was sure they were his kids, and so, none bothered to see that she got some meat, or to see that the little ones didn’t get munched by a saber-tooth tiger.  This was before the welfare check replaced the concept of fatherhood, remember.  So, the cave woman who insisted on commitment and attachment to her mate, was more likely to pass on the genes.  Of course, at the same time, there was, and is, a potential for males to hit an evolutionary jackpot by being the philanderer, the Don Juan, the playboy.  Men who manage to persuade several women simultaneously, that they’re passionately in love with them, may get to pass on quite a few genes.

     “If you have any doubts that yours is worth more than mine, just ask yourself two simple questions, which most people who have their heads above the sand, wouldn’t need to collect any data to answer:  1) What is the ratio of topless bars for men, to male strip-tease bars for women?” Phil regarded them all as foolishness, comparable to paying the restaurants to smell their food.  “2) What is the ratio of male heterosexual prostitutes to female heterosexual prostitutes?” Phil had never visited a prostitute, because he felt it was a violation of his dignity, to admit that hers was more valuable than his.  Now, maybe if they could agree to alternate on who pays....

     “It has also been in the interests of women, and in their reproductive interests, to attach to the most powerful male they can find, the best provider.  That’s the one that can feed their kids the best.  Of course, our behavior didn’t evolve for the modern world, so our instincts don’t take into account, for example, birth control, or wealth unimaginable to a cave man.  So, a man still wants to spread his seed, even after he’s had a vasectomy, and a woman still thinks that hers is more valuable, even when there’s no chance of procreation.  And a woman is still more likely to want a doctor or a lawyer, rather than a plumber, even though, today, all are fully capable of feeding the kids all the good food that they need, and despite the fact that the plumber might be a much nicer guy, in a lot of cases.

     “I guess I could gripe about women going for the richest guy around, but I won’t bother.” ‘Specially since, to most people, I’m one of those rich fat cats, he added to himself.  What does bug me is that the vast majority of women are still thinking with their gonads.  Are we rational creatures, capable of rising above our instincts, or not?  You expect me to overcome my instincts that tell me to sow my seed far and wide.  Then why can’t you overcome your instincts that tell you that yours is worth more than mine?  How come the guy’s got to make all the first moves, make all the phone calls, pay for most of the dates?  Do you really believe that the golden rule has a little addendum, like, ‘Treat others the way you’d like to be treated, except if he’s a guy and you’re a gal, and he’s trying to chase you, in which case you should debate whether or not he’s good enough, while he makes all the effort’?”

     Maybe I should write it down here in real basic, simple terms, he thought.  Like that old geezer at the singles bar that I was bitching to about the wenches, trying to explain it to him in terms of sociobiology. He said to me, “Son, it’s a lot simpler than that.  Like they used to say in the old days.  ‘Sugar is Sweet, and so is Honey; Beat your Meat, and Save your Money’.” Think they’d get the hint, here, if I wrote it down that way?  Or, would they even be phased by my threat to withhold my precious bodily fluids from them?  Maybe not.  Maybe I’d better stick to the more high-brow arguments.

     Women’s lib has been around for about a century now, and women expect to be treated as equals, after marriage.  That’s fine and dandy, except they’re still treating men as second-class citizens on the dating scene.  You want to be liberated, except when it means you might actually have to put forth some effort.  You say you can’t make the first move, for fear of rejection.  Do you think men feel any different?

     “There’s been this nasty gossip I’ve heard making the rounds, about how the gene that enables one to ask for a first date, resides on the “Y” chromosome.  As a well-informed scientist who takes pride in staying up to date on a wide variety of subjects, let me assure you that there is no truth to these rumors.

     “Another thing that gets my goat is how many of you can’t distinguish between the glib, smooth-talking guy who kisses your butt just the right way, who promises you the moon and the stars, and the guy who is more honest, stable, sensible, and therefore doesn’t promise you as much, but will deliver on his promises.  In other words, why do you insist on being promised the moon and the stars, and then, you’re disappointed when all you can find, are liars?  Can’t you see the difference?

     “I try to behave ethically, and rise above my instincts, when ethics require me to.  I would expect the same of you.  I’m not all hung up on passing on my genes; like I said, I’d be willing to adopt, or to marry a widow with kids.  I’m not a total ogre.  It’s just that I don’t want a divorcee with kids, and I’m not about to feel guilty about it.  I told you earlier that I’d explain why, in a sociobiology context.  Well, here goes.

     “I once read some sociobiology literature, actually from a few years back, by a fella named Robert Trivers or some such, that many females face a bit of a dilemma.  They’d like a Don Juan, a Casanova, a guy who knows how to sweep them off their feet, to promise them the moon and the stars.  Not only do they make them feel good, they’ve also got those philandering genes, so that the woman’s male kids might in turn know how to kiss butt just the right way, and pass some of his Mom’s genes along with his philandering genes.  This is all unconscious, of course.  But, the Don Juans of the world often don’t make such good, stable fathers.  So, the lady who wants a dashing Don Juan to sweep her off of her feet, also wants a dull, stable, sensible slob like me to come home and play with the kids.

     “If she can’t find a man who can, or will, do both¾and such men are rare¾she’ll try to get the best of both worlds.  Marry Casanova, who kisses her butt just right, and who gives her male kids the ability to spread her genes far and wide and wild, in the next generation, by being yet another Casanova.  Then, get divorced after he runs around too much (what a surprise, what heartbreak!).  Now, find a dull, boring, stable, solid sort who comes home to take care of the kids.  A good, nice chump.

     “When I read that, all traces of guilt over my reluctance to marry a divorcee with kids, vanished.  I finally understood why it was that highly eligible, nubile young wild thangs would debate for so long on whether or not I might be good enough, while the divorcees with kids would settle for me.” It may have been eight years since I’ve been on the scene, Phil thought, but I remember it like it was yesterday. “Well, I won’t be your chump.  If this goes on for too long, soon all the men will know all about kissing your butts, and no men at all will remember how to raise kids.  Butt-kissing genes, you see, will get passed on, while sensible, stable genes won’t.  Not a scheme to which I’d care to contribute.  Men who are willing to raise other men’s kids may be saints, but I’m not one of them.

     “Put it another way¾when you were a younger wild thang, and got pregnant by Don Juan, who you pretty much knew wasn’t going to hang out and help with Junior, then why did you keep Junior?  You knew two parents were better than one, you knew there were good potential parents out there just dying to adopt, and you also knew that you might meet a nicer man at some time in the future who’d also want to pass his genes on, just as you wanted to pass yours on, but you decided to be selfish. So, don’t blame me for being selfish.”

     Phil looked at his last paragraph, thinking, now, why should I put this in here?  If this applies to Ms. Right, then she’s not Ms.  right, anyway.  I’m just getting my licks in, probably at the price of scaring off the real Ms. Right.  It might feel good to blow off some steam, but I’ll just have to consider it to have been blown off, just right now.  I can’t save the world from women who want to be random, arbitrary, and capricious with their powers of procreation.  After all, what fun is it to have power if one can’t use it arbitrarily?  He deleted the paragraph, reluctantly.

     Well, I was going to tell you all about game theory and what computer simulations of games can tell us about ethical strategies¾basically, they tell us that the best strategy is to return good for good, and bad for bad, or at the very least, lack of good for bad, leavened with some forgiveness, because sometimes other players do bad to us without having wanted to¾and, I was going to tell you of some other cases where we need to rise above our programmed instincts, other than my instinct to be promiscuous, and yours to regard your contribution to reproduction as being more valuable than mine.  But, I’ve got to wrap this up.  We’ve got to save some stuff to talk about, later.

     “Finally, let me mention a few concepts that I gleaned from a favorite book from a ways back, by Warren Farrell, called ‘Why Men Are the Way They Are’.  These ideas are that the price men pay for being success objects is war, while the price women pay for being sex objects is rape.  The book is about men’s liberation, and really, about women’s liberation, too.  About how we can break free of role-playing, and just be human beings.” He’d passed out many a copy of this book while he was on the make, as a method of putting his love interests on notice that they couldn’t get away with the usual shenanigans with him.  When he’d found Gloria, and given her a copy, she’d said she didn’t find anything at all unusual about the idea that men and women should REALLY act as equals, and that his was just as valuable as hers.  He promptly decided, at this point, that Gloria was the babe for him.

     War and success objects?  Rape and sex objects?  What he was talking about may not be obvious, but think about it.  If women selected the most generous men, the ones that give most of their money to the poor, instead of the richest, most greedy men, who legally or illegally rob their neighbors blind, then maybe there’d be less war.  War is the price we pay for being success objects.  Similarly, if women didn’t think that their role was to do nothing other than look beautiful, and act as a prize, or reward, or commodity, for the most powerful men, then maybe there’d be fewer men who want to take their reward by force.  Not that I’m trying to make excuses for rapists.  It’s just that I like neither war nor rape, and would prefer that we’d play the roles of human beings, rather than being sex and success objects.”

     He looked at his last few paragraphs, about Warren Farrell’s ideas, and thought a moment or two.  Gloria had been quite offended by the idea that men could blame women for wars, pointing out that men could simply steer clear of women who were greedy gold diggers.  Maybe his target audience would be similarly offended.  Besides, he thought, if I get them to think about it too much, they’ll decide to go for that sensitive plumber, instead of Phil the success object.  So, he deleted his last two paragraphs.

     Then, he got to thinking about Gloria.  What would she think about me now, he wondered.  Would she compare me to the Nazi prison guards who maimed and murdered during the day, and came home to kiss their wives and play with their kids at night, because I prepare to destroy human lives at work, and then, come home and try to prepare for making human life at night, by chasing wild babes?  Work at destroying, play at creating.  Well, she just doesn’t need to know about my efforts, in either category, he thought.  That brought up another question, though: Might she be seeing someone else by now?  Bad thoughts!  Get back to work!  Or play, rather.

     “So, the bottom line is that I won’t promise you the Moon and the stars, but I will deliver on what I promise.  What I promise, is to treat you the way I want you to treat me.  That does not mean that I will let you walk all over me, because, if I was such a jerk as to want to walk all over you, I’d hope that you’d wake me up out of my arrogance, and tell me to shape up.  As a favor to me, just as I’d do the same for you, if you wanted to walk all over me.  The golden rule doesn’t require us to be patsies, you see, if this makes any sense.

     So, if you wouldn’t think that I was very desirable, if all that I thought that I’d have to do, in order to contribute my part, was to look beautiful, then don’t you take that viewpoint, either.  If you want to be more than a sex object, then regard me as more than a success object. So, dearest Unknown Snugglebunny, call 038XJ57 for a good time.  I may not be romantic enough to light the fireplace very often, but I sure can light a can of sterno as well as the next guy, and we can roast marshmallows over the sterno fire.  You see, I don’t make extravagant promises, but I’ll keep the ones that I make.”

     Phil read over his great work of literature once or twice, and made minor corrections.  Then, he spent a grand of his hard-earned dollars, over the ONLINE, got his dating account number, and substituted the number for the 038XJ57s in his text, and posted it.  He never did get any nibbles, or nipples, for that matter, from his posting.  He sure couldn’t figure out why. I guess honesty is only appreciated when it’s sycophantic honesty, he thought.  I should’ve promised them the moon and the stars.  Oh, well.

     So, after a few months of slaving away at work, and not doing much at home besides reading, visiting with Motherfucker (which got to be boring, ‘cause all he’d think about while stoned, was work), watching his seedy CD ROMs, and occasionally calling Gloria, he broke down, and asked Debra Kenner for a date.

     The first date went well, although he found himself mentally scrolling through his laundry list, trying to fill in each square accurately, with the lowest possible margin for error.  Well, let’s see; she sure drove up in an expensive car and wore nice clothes.  Does that mean she’s really actually rich, or does she merely pretend to be rich, and live on the edge of bankruptcy?  And if she really is rich, then, through what means?  Can’t be too nosy about these things.  And she sure does primp and preen a lot, apparently.  Does that leave her the time and money to buy me a beer occasionally?  Time will in due course fill out these squares, he assured himself.  Patience is a virgin.

     He did manage, though, to ask her if her Lexus was in the government pool at work, referring to the pool of fifty or so vehicles that top government contract employees rotated amongst themselves.  He’d not seen it in the pool before.  This was a method, along with disguises and varying travel routes, that the most valuable or knowledgeable employees used to protect themselves from foreign agents and terrorists. Some employees regarded membership in the pool as a status symbol, but Phil regarded it as an inconvenience, having to know how to drive all these different vehicles.  He didn’t pay much attention to who belonged to the select group, and who didn’t.

     She replied that she was flattered, that he’d think that she was important enough to belong to this group; but that, no, hers was her own private vehicle.  She was just a bean-counter, but she sure seemed to be proud of being able to own her own Lexus, the way she said it.

     He was a little disquieted by the way she snapped at the waitress at one point; he wondered, if they got serious, how long it would be till she treated him that way.  He reminded himself that there were fun things to do on dates, other than preparing for a serious relationship, and concentrated on just relaxing and having a good time.  It wasn’t too long till they were at his place, having a few drinks and a few good snuggles.  They were tame snuggles, though, and Phil had no trouble making himself behave.  He debated sounding her out about her opinion about drugs, to see if she was a real party girl.  He decided that this, too, could wait.  It is best, he reflected, to whip out neither one’s dong, nor one’s bong, on a first date.  Gotta keep up appearances, you know.

     He dropped her off at her place at 12:30 that Sunday morning, and she gave him a reasonably affectionate kiss, and assured him that she’d call him for another date next weekend.  Well, he thought, if she does, that’ll reflect fairly favorably for her rating in square number one.

     She did indeed call him for another date before the next weekend, and Saturday night saw them out for a night on the town once more.  Lo and behold, she even paid, and Phil’s hopes rose.  Maybe his was worth as much as hers!  He debated giving her a copy of his favorite men’s liberation book, but decided he’d stick to less serious things.  He was still somewhat worried about dating a person he worked with.  But, at least once every few minutes, he found himself speculating about what a good roll in the hay she might be.  It’s been too long, and those seedy CD ROMs are just too far removed from the real thing, he thought.

     They drank a bit more that night than they’d drunk on their first date, and once more they ended up at Phil’s house.  Phil’s house was larger and more comfortable than her condo.  He steered the conversation to his libertarian views on illegal vitamins and drugs, and she laughed up a storm when he furtively offered to let her share in his stash of grapefruits as a source of ascorbic acid trips.  “Such a silly boy you are!” she protested, giving him a feminine shove.  It wasn’t long till they were both sucking on Motherfucker, although Phil refrained from introducing him by name.

     “I’d never have suspected you of being a head, you sly devil, you,” she confessed to him.  “You play the straight-laced one so well, at work.  Actually, though, this is something I haven’t done in years.” It seemed to Phil that she said this as though there were other, more high-class drugs that she might indulge in, and that pot was for hoi polloi.  Oh, no, he thought, not a coke whore!  He’d learned in college to stay away from women who were too good to smoke pot with him, but who were also only too happy to have men give them a toot or ten.  Oh, give her a break, he thought, at least she’s getting stoned with me.

     “But tell me,” she said, “Don’t you worry about piss tests? Doesn’t this stuff stay in your bloodstream for about a month?” Phil breathed a little easier; maybe she preferred something else to pot not because pot was for peasants, but because Uncle Sanctimonious could detect it so much longer than other drugs.  Great! he thought, here’s Uncle Sanctimonious, the same one that injected unknowing Americans with plutonium in the nineteen forties, supposedly protecting us from our own freely selected toxins of choice, but actually encouraging us to take lovely things like PCP, LSD, and coke, rather than harmless pot, out of concern over which stays in our bloodstreams longest.

     Phil trotted out his golden seal and THC-B-Gone, and told Debra what they did, and how he’d bought them from his dealer.  He also ‘fessed up about how bad the golden seal tasted.  She took one whiff of the capsules and agreed with him.  She accepted some THC-B-Gone, though. “All right, Big Boy, now that I can quit worrying about that, let’s party!” They both had a few more tokes, and she giggled like a schoolgirl.  She sat in his lap, put her arms around his neck, pushed her breasts into his chest, and gave him a big kiss.  “Thanks for showing me a good time, Big Boy,” she purred, squirming.

     Phil laughed, and commented, “And now, maybe we can talk about whatever pops up!”

     Debra chuckled, jiggling her breasts most enticingly.  Phil watched them over and through her low-cut blouse, trying not to be too obvious. “That’s about all we’ll do tonight, Big Boy, is talk about it.” She squirmed some more, just about driving him mad.  “You wouldn’t want to take advantage of me, in my inebriated state, now, would you?”

     “I’ll have to plead the fifth on that one,” he confessed, “Shouldn’t you read me my rights before asking me a question like that?” Under cover of the conversation, Phil’s right hand snuck into position to give her left breast a good workout.  Their lips sought each other, and his knee sought her crotch.  They had a good time for the better part of an hour, although their clothes stayed on.  He ruined most of her earlier efforts at primping and preening.  It was two in the morning when he dropped her off at her condo, this time.

     Yet another week went by, busy as usual for both Phil and, from what she told him, Debra as well.  Genes and proteins, bats and maggots, spiders and scorpions and snakes and snails and puppy dog tails, were all conspiring to keep his days fully occupied.  But, he did find time to call her and arrange for yet another Saturday night escapade.  It did seem to him to be a rather bizarre situation, though, when he got together with her that week to go over her monthly report on his department’s finances.  Here he was, being professional with a woman who he’d gotten stoned with, and whose breasts he’d massaged, just a few days ago.  If it bothered her, it sure didn’t show.

     So, for the third weekend in a row, Phil had something to do on Saturday night, besides playing with seedy CD ROMs.  When he picked her up at her place, she hopped into his car enthusiastically, and proceeded to do her best imitation of whatever it was that she was imitating; he wasn’t sure.  Maybe a puppy, wetting the floor over seeing its long-lost master.  Or maybe a teenage girl, on her first date.  Or, maybe all the above.

     She grabbed his arm and tugged on his sleeve.  “Hey, Big Boy, so tell me, tell me, tell me!?  Are we going to someplace really chic, or what!?” She leaned out of her seat, wide-eyed, and beseeched, “Can we, huh, can we, can we, can we?”

     “Sheik restaurants are passe,” he informed her.  “I’m taking you to a Trojan restaurant!”

     “Oh, you silly boy!” she giggled, giving him a shove.  They zoomed away in the Jaguar he’d pulled strings to get out of the government pool for the weekend, jabbering about this and that.  When the topic turned to work, for the first time on their dates that Phil could remember, she quizzed him about real-life verification runs.  “So tell me, Big Boy, what do you think about all the speculation in the trashy rags and editorials, about how ABC and the feds will sneak off in the middle of the night somewhere, sometime, and make sure all those computer simulations are correct?”

     Phil did his best to look pained, which wasn’t that hard to do. “Come on now, snugglebunny, you know we can’t talk about these things! Besides, I, for one, can think of aspects of biology that are a hell of a lot more interesting, anyway!” Debra seemed to nod slightly, approvingly.  He wasn’t sure whether it was because he was a good trooper, keeping the secrets secret, or because she agreed about other biology topics being more interesting.  He sure hoped it was the latter!

     Not too much later, they found themselves once more at his house, getting ready to party.  Phil was getting Motherfucker out, when Debra motioned to him to put it away.  “My treat this time, Big Boy.  Let’s toot the toot!” He’d much rather tweak her teats, he reflected, ostensibly watching her dig a mirror, a straw, a razor blade, and a vial of coke out of her purse, but actually concentrating more on her shapely gazongas.  He’d not snorted any in almost a decade, and wasn’t really enthused about it at all.  It made him a tad paranoid, as he recalled, and it sure seemed to be a waste of money.  Not good bang for the buck at all, like pot or booze.

     He sat and watched her chop it up and draw lines, thinking.  Well, I can’t accuse her of being a coke whore, ‘cause this sure is a new twist; she’s powdering my nose, instead of wanting me to powder hers! Still, the idea of chasing a lady whose tastes in drugs were more hard-core than his own, disconcerted him a bit.  If they ever got serious, how soon would they both be tooting all their money away?  Or, would she take up dealing as a way to raise more toot money, and get them both busted?  He felt queasy about running up some sort of unspoken party debt with her, snorting her expensive coke, but hey, he thought, it’s her free choice, and why do I always have to be so serious-minded about the wenches I try to chase, anyway?  Let’s just relax and have a good time.  Don’t be a prudish dweeb.

     So, they tooted the toot, although he was somewhat tame; she snorted twice as much as she could persuade him to snort.  She became animated and started to chatter at a mile a minute; he barely listened to any of it, being all wrapped up in worrying about the police maybe cruising by and scanning for coke-hyper brain wave emissions.  He put his left arm around her as they sat there on his couch, nodding at her pronouncements on occasion as appropriate.  These actions of his seemed to reassure her that he was listening carefully, and certainly served to keep him from floating entirely free into paranoid unreality.  Any world where there were solid, warm, snugglable babes to cuddle, surely couldn’t harbor police with brain wave scanners.

     He did make a somewhat serious effort to comprehend the overall theme of her ramblings, though, despite his paranoia.  Just in case there’d be a quiz afterwards.  As best as he could make it out, it seemed that it had something to do with her having been on the verge of becoming a famous actress or model in her younger days.  He thought about a younger Debra, and found it to be a rather fascinating concept, to envision her breasts as even more shapely and firm than they were now.  He captured that thought, and concentrated on it as an antidote to paranoid brain waves.

     Soon, he found his fingers doing a subtly syncopated squeezing action on her breast, keeping a vague beat with his nodding head, which in turn, marched to the distant beat of her faraway chatter.  This chatter soon subsided, to be replaced by hybrid purrs, moans, and groans.  Phil’s hands crept under her blouse, and loosened her bra.  He was proud of this feat, seeing as how he’d not practiced that particular skill in many years.  Finally, his hands caressed her breasts directly, free of interference from clumsy cloth.

     It wasn’t too long before Phil had a topless Debra on his hands, lips, and tongue.  When he slipped his hand into her panties, though, she stopped him.  OK, he thought, I can handle that.  So, he concentrated on giving those delectable bare titties a really, really good workout, and gave her the old dry humps.  He tried not to think of how much he might resemble a dog humping on some poor slob’s trousers, and shot his load.

     They relaxed a while in each other’s arms, and Phil swallowed his urges to ask her if it had been as good for her as it had been for him. She seemed to be ready for some more heavy petting, but he’d already blown his wad, so she eventually put herself back together.  Then, seemingly bored with Phil the hit-and-run lover, she dug her coke back out.  She snorted a bit more, but Phil declined.  She was soon yakking again, while Phil was nodding off.  She woke him up, a bit sharply, and made him snort just one more snort to keep him on the road while he dropped her off at her place.  It was three thirty by the time he got back home, and he had never been more glad to drop, exhausted, into his bed.

 


 

CHAPTER 11

 

     Frank Leech sat in the lab at the Pentagon, watching a tape of his and Stanley’s recent conversation with Phil Schrock at ABC, and listening to Seymour Brothers, the resident civilian expert, expounding on various readings of the remote polygraph.  He’d explained to Frank how various sensors detected faint electrical and magnetic fields given off by human subjects, and how sophisticated computer hardware and software could, with special lighting, analyze muscle tone and movement under human facial skin, and measure breathing and pulse rates, just by examining hologram images.  Still, Frank didn’t much care about all those details; all he cared about was the fact that they had yet another method of securing the national interests against evil-doers of both the domestic and international varieties.

     Frank, as the military authority responsible for operations at ABC, was one of a few truly select individuals to know much of anything about remote polygraphy.  Even Stanley didn’t know about it, officially or otherwise, and Frank had every intention of keeping it that way.  In fact, Frank had managed to have Seymour and OMNIGRAPH direct their talents towards analyzing Stanley as well as Phil, even though it was against policy to use OMNIGRAPH to investigate high-ranking government employees, without approval from the highest authorities.

     This policy was instituted in hopes that it would prevent OMNIGRAPH from becoming a tool in political witch-hunts, which would inevitably result in some high-powered person becoming pissed off, and spilling the beans, when they found out about being remotely shrinked by a machine. Still, what Stanley didn’t know, wouldn’t hurt him, and only a small amount of Frank’s power of rank had to be exerted before Seymour bent the rules for him.  Besides, it was all so easy, since they already had Stanley right there, side by side with Phil, who was the actual, official target of inquiry.  Or at least, one of the official targets.

     “He’s afraid of you, big-time,” Seymour had told him, in reference to Stanley.  “He’s also carrying a whole bunch of something that is closely related to guilt, maybe more so, fear of getting busted for something.  We can’t really read minds, you know.  But, it’s not like whatever it is that he feels spooked about, is really, really anti-authority all the way.  It’s more like, maybe, he’s torn.  Some of the people who he fears would approve, and others wouldn’t, about whatever it is that he’s carrying around, all hidden and bottled up.”

     Shit! Frank had thought, this wasn’t too much different from psychobabble, Astrology, or New-Age religion.  Make whatever you can out of some vague mumbo-jumbo.  Spent a few hundred million dollars, and what do you get?  High-tech fortune cookies!  So Phil’s a suspicious character, and Stanley’s a suspicious character, and Agent X at ABC is hiding something.  We’re all suspicious!  Frank had pressed Seymour a bit on the matters of, well now, just how sure are we of all this?  What does it say about me, am I a communist spy also?  Just how do you calibrate this damn thing anyway?

     Seymour had done a bit of hopping up and down, adamantly insisting that, well, OK, so there’s a bunch of subjectivity involved, and it’s a new and somewhat unproven technology, and it could still have a bug or two in it, but still, I can swear to you that I’m basically onto something in all cases.  OMNIGRAPH is imprecise, but relatively accurate.  And no, OMNIGRAPH says you’re a good guy, not a communist spy. Frank had thought, of course you’re going to say that to me!  If I looked like the enemy, you’d be squealing to my boss, saying nary a word to me.  And how the hell am I going to double-check your good word for all this, anyway?  He could sure see how this technology could be perverted to be just another tool of political manipulation.  Sort of like psychiatry, but worse.  Frank just had a hard time believing the machine, when it seemed to say that almost everyone that it looked at was a devious or anti-authority scuzzbucket of some sort or another.

     Still, Frank found it to be tantalizing, helpful information to be considered, to see what OMNIGRAPH had to say about the reliability of various key players, especially Phil.  Phil was, after all, the key, creative genius behind the biggest chunk of all this nifty new biowarfare stuff, and his dependability was of paramount importance.

     So, Frank and Seymour were going over the recordings from the earlier conversation between Frank, Stanley, and Phil for the fifth time, concentrating this time once more on Phil.  Between each run, they’d submit some ideas as to what did and what didn’t make sense in terms of what they thought the characters were thinking, and OMNIGRAPH would take these ideas into account on it’s next run.  Eventually, within some fairly sharp limits, feedback between humans and machines was able to help reach some tentative conclusions.

     The purposes were not only to glean as much information as possible from this, one of the few sequences where sensitive topics were discussed, but also to prep Frank, in terms of how Phil (and, secondarily, Stanley) reacted to various topics and questions, so that Frank could provide the right stimuli later, to ferret out what it was that these characters were hiding.  Frank was awfully tempted to just get them into the secure rooms, and hammer away at them with question after question about subjects in which they might be guilty, but he knew that he had to restrain himself.  If he wasn’t subtle, they’d surely smell a dead rat.

     So, Phil’s image was saying for the fifth time, “....How can we both let a potential enemy know that they’d better watch their steps, or else; at the same time as we keep the extent of our efforts secret from all the bleeding hearts and anti-biotech fanatics here in the US?  I mean, you’ve seen how they carry on about what we’ve done so far, just from us picking on their damn, precious bugs we’d otherwise be poisoning to death, along with the environment.” Seymour stopped the action, and provided commentary.

     Stripped of all the references to the neat charts, graphs, numbers, pictures, circles, and arrows that accompanied the moving holograms of Phil, what he basically had to say was that despite the spoken contempt of rabid environmentalists, Phil really was an adamant defender of the environment himself.  It was probably just that he regarded himself as more practical.  Also, Phil was leaving some comment unspoken, that he sort of wanted to tack onto the end of his question, but didn’t have the courage to voice.  Something like, maybe, Seymour speculated, the stakes being a lot higher in the case of bioweapons versus pest control.

     Seymour, you young, impertinent snot, you! Frank thought to himself, can’t you see that high stakes cut both ways?  Sure, the price is a lot higher if we, by some improbable accident, fuck up, but don’t you also see that what we can gain is also more valuable?  In one case, we protect the farm environment from a couple of quarts of naughty chemical pesticides per acre; in the other, we protect our very liberties to be free, and to think red-blooded American thoughts, without too many innocent American soldiers having to shed their blood.

     Also, how the hell can you go off and question what we’re doing? We’re the good guys!  And, if you question us, we might think you’re not one of us.  Frank reminded himself that Seymour was merely giving voice to speculated Phil ruminations, as opposed to voicing his own thoughts. So, Frank restrained his impulses to preach.

     OK, Frank thought once more, we can forgive Phil for valuing the environment, as long as he also values national security, preferably more than the environment.  No tree-huggers need apply for the really sensitive government work, in Frank’s book.  He watched as Seymour started the records once more.  He listened to his reply to Phil’s questions, which, he reflected impartially, were quite articulate.  It ended with himself saying, “...But, these are matters best left to the experts, like the CIA for example, and our political leadership.” Seymour stopped the action once more.

     Seymour had finally, after all these sessions, started to catch on to the meaning of Frank’s impatient hand wavings during his technical talk, so he just cut to the chase, this time.  “He’s thinking some very doubtful, pessimistic thoughts here about the CIA and the political leadership.”

     So who doesn’t, Frank wondered, especially with regards to the slimy politicians?  Still, he noted these potentially heretical thoughts of Phil’s, just for background information, mostly.  One couldn’t really serve the State, and do it well, if one questioned everything, Frank reminded himself, though.  Seymour spoke a command at OMNIGRAPH once more, and the images and sounds resumed their march.

     “Well, that’s still better than contaminating Earth,” Frank replied to Phil’s questions about an improbable bio-accident in space.  “And we could rescue survivors, isolate and treat them in space till we were confident that they didn’t carry anything threatening, and then, bring them back down.” Seymour stopped the action again, and commented, “Here, Phil is very aware of the low probabilities of such accidents, but he still seems to have significant, lingering worries and questions that he’s not willing to ask.  OMNIGRAPH and I would guess that he’s worried about other personnel on the station not knowing about such an accident, and coming Earthwards, contaminated, in their life boats.”

     Well, hell, it’s a damned good thing that this Phil dude knows how to keep his yapper shut!  So what if he worries about the improbable? That’s a sign of a good engineer, scientist, or even, of a military man, he reflected, as long as they don’t obsess on it.  Cover all the angles as best you can, even when they’re improbable.  But, don’t dwell on the improbable to the point of demoralizing the troops, or to the point of not doing a good thing because of a small risk.  These parts of Phil’s apparent thoughts he had no trouble with.  In fact, he actually worried more about Seymour at the moment.  It was just too bad that, in order to get Seymour’s expert help, they had to expose him to all this totally top-secret stuff.

     At least Seymour seemed to be tempered by common sense.  He commented, “All in all, I’d say Phil is a very independent-minded sort, who does question authority a lot, even when he doesn’t admit it.  I’d say that at long as what we’re doing makes a reasonable amount of sense, and we take the trouble to explain things to him, then he’ll be a team player and a good sport.  He is quite the non-conformist at times, but I really don’t see a huge problem with him.”

     Seymour didn’t have to say more, because he’d already said it earlier.  Yes, Frank recalled, I know you worry more about Stanley and Agent X than you do about Phil; you think they carry more guilt by far than he does.  I do appreciate you not telling me all about it yet once again.  But I think his free-spirit tendencies could be more troublesome than these other two, since he’s a much bigger player.  But, I suppose creative geniuses are allowed their little foibles.  If they weren’t independent-minded, they’d probably never have original ideas in the first place.  Even if their prima donna ways get in the way of unit cohesiveness at times, which I can’t even really accuse Phil of, then, we still need these creative types around.  Still, Phil warranted continued close inspection.

     “OK, then, let’s look at Agent X’s records again.” Frank referred to her as Agent X, even though he’d known Debra Kenner’s name ever since ABC had taken the contract.  He continued to call her Agent X, ostensibly for habitual levels of secrecy above and beyond all the nifty gizmos they were using to keep conversations private.  Calling her Agent X instead of Debra Kenner, though, also served to keep him from thinking too much about her as a real human being.  He had demanded and gotten her name, as well as co-captaincy of the operation, along with Alan Riggs of the DIA.

     Frank briefly reviewed what he knew about Agent X. She had been recruited as a side benefit of some secret Pentagon psyche-war research, which included not only development of OMNIGRAPH’s abilities to infer emotional states, but also the ability to have a computer generate realistic holograms and voices of digitally fabricated humans.  Under various pretenses, including academic psychology experiments, advertising effectiveness surveys, and the recruitment of actors and actresses, the government had collected data on what kinds of people react in what kinds of ways to what kinds of images and sounds.  The feds had gone to great lengths to disguise their efforts, even going so far as to publish psychobabble papers about their research (ignoring the real gist of it, of course).  They also set up an advertising agency, and put on a few plays.

     Debra had been an amateur part-time actress at the time some years ago when OMNIGRAPH was being developed, and she and the feds had had the good fortune to run into each other.  She’d been recruited for some studies, where real humans played roles opposite computer-generated holograms.  This had all been done as auditions and rehearsals, though.  She still didn’t know the real purposes of the “acting” she’d done, as far as Frank knew.

     When word had serendipitously reached Alan Riggs, that Debra’s day job was at ABC, he’d had a creative idea or two.  They had used OMNIGRAPH’s growing abilities to scope out Debra, her attitudes, and her abilities.  It had all been so convenient, since she was already prancing around in front of all those sensors.  She’d checked out OK¾she tended to obey authority; you could even say she was patriotic.  She could keep secrets.  She didn’t have any drug habits, anti-American inclinations, or dark personal secrets.  Or, at least, she didn’t have any that could be detected at that time.  Now, though, according to Seymour, things had changed, or were changing.  Frank sure wished OMNIGRAPH could really read minds, instead of just serving up high-tech fortune cookies.

     Anyway, they’d done a detailed psychological study of Debra, mostly through her “acting” in front of OMNIGRAPH’s sensors, and discovered that she practically worshipped her idealized mother, who’d died in her early childhood, leaving her to the less than tender ministrations of a distant and sometimes psychologically abusive father.  Then, they’d figured out what Debra’s image of her mother was, and fabricated an image to get close to matching this image, so that Debra would be attracted to, and have a need to please, the image.  Then, they had waited a few months, to make sure she wouldn’t connect her acting with the feds, and had approached her about acting as an agent for the feds at ABC.

     She had accepted.  The tax-free covert funds had probably helped immensely in persuading her.  Some agents had set it all up, where she’d started coming to a federal building in Atlanta twice a month for debrief, in front of OMNIGRAPH sensors and her “handler”.  Her handler was actually a computer-generated hologram, deliberately created to resemble her long-gone mother to her subconscious.  Debra, of course, thought of Ms.  “Susan Doe” as a representation of a real person, and apparently didn’t think it too terribly strange that she’d never met her in person.  Frank could see where spooks might often act only from a distance, so he didn’t think of Agent X as being too terribly stupid for not being suspicious of “Susan Doe”.

     Alan Riggs and his agents used to have sole ownership of who actually did the communicating with Agent X. Now, Frank had a slice of the action, too.  Whichever authorized person wanted to debrief Agent X at a given time, would talk to her hologram, while she would see an image of Sue Doe, saying whatever it was that the authorized person was saying.  It took a few seconds for OMNIGRAPH to translate the words, inflections, body language, etc., of the real handler, to those of Sue Doe, but this communications lag was easily explained away to Agent X as being undesired side effects of some very special anti-bugging technology.

     So, there was Frank, watching a stale conversation between a fabricated female hologram saying the things that he’d said, and Agent X, in a secure room at ABC.  Frank had to fight off the occasional attack of heebie-jeebies, seeing himself as an older woman.

     It sure was nice, he thought, to have all the facilities right there at ABC, so that they could talk to Agent X easily and often. Unlike the old days he’d heard about, when it had been much harder to arrange a “meeting” with Agent X. The round-the-clock secure room guards at ABC had been instructed to keep absolutely secret, who went to the secure rooms, and when.  They’d shoo away any nosy ABC employees who might try to hang around and watch.  So, Frank and the other feds didn’t worry too much about anyone catching on to the fact that Agent X went to the secure rooms fairly often.

     “After my practically having to rub my naked titties in that self-absorbed numskull’s face, Don Juan has finally asked me out, and we went out this last weekend,” Agent X was saying, using the code name assigned to Phil.  Sue had hinted to Agent X that it would be quite useful to the feds to gain a lot more insight into Phil, who was, after all, one of the most critical elements of the whole project.  Sue had only hinted, though; they didn’t want Agent X to be too obvious, or to be too resentful of being pushed into things.

     “That’s great!” Sue said, after a few seconds of pause time.  Sue went on to praise Agent X, using terms that apparently had some sort of “insider” meanings.  Only the “That’s Great!” had been Frank’s words; the rest had been filled in by OMNIGRAPH.  Frank found it to be quite disconcerting, communicating through a damned infernal machine that edited his remarks, and put words in his mouth.  At least, when he was actually talking to Agent X, he couldn’t see all that; it was only the instant replays that were all confusingly fucked up.

     Frank had actually done that particular session in partnership with one of Alan’s men.  He and Joe had sat there, side by side, with Joe showing him the ropes.  They had a little lever that they’d flip back and forth, telling OMNIGRAPH which of the two of them should be used as the model for generating Sue at any given time.  That is, who was in control of communicating with agent X at any given time, or at least, to whatever extent it wasn’t OMNIGRAPH itself that was doing the communicating.  Frank would almost feel like he was back in pilot training, with the instructor pilot yelling “My plane!” and taking over the controls, whenever Joe would flip the lever his way.

     Anyway, Seymour and Frank reviewed recent recordings of sessions with Agent X, going over this, that, and the other thing.  Frank regarded it as some superb luck, to have Agent X be able to get this close to Phil.  Now, they might be able to really get a handle on just how reliable Phil was!  Stripped of details, what Frank got out of it all was that Agent X was making a big deal out of how she was compromising her principles and dignity and all, going out with Phil for the feds, while she was really actually enjoying it.  Sue, reacting to inputs that certainly didn’t come from Frank, had sympathized deeply with Agent X, for the great indignities she was suffering.

     They’d even given her another pay raise, to smooth her ruffled feathers.  This was above and beyond the pay raise she’d gotten when the presence of an unknown spy was announced at ABC, as a method of making sure ABC would toe the line on security.  First, she gets more money because of the stress of not being known, and now, she gets more money again, this time from the stress of perhaps getting to be known, carnally!  Frank was pretty disgusted, but he promised himself he’d make it all worthwhile to the taxpayers, someday on down the road, by saving the lives of hundreds of thousands, maybe millions, of Americans, through this newest biotechnology, even if those ungrateful slobs didn’t appreciate it yet.

     They quit for the day, agreeing to meet again the next day well before five, for the call to Agent X in Atlanta.  Frank was chomping at the bit to do these missions solo, free of Alan Riggs or any of his boys.  He felt that after boning up on the behavior of an Agent X in her natural habitat, as revealed by an OMNIGRAPH, he was prepared to fly OMNIGRAPH solo.  But, he’d already broached the subject earlier that day to Joe, who’d said he was under orders to stay involved, at least for a while yet.

     Five of five the next day arrived fairly close to being on time, give or take a few femptoseconds.  Frank was there.  Joe was not.  There was a mission to be performed, and, although he sure could have beeped or called Joe, or Seymour, or even Alan, to get a substitute, he decided to snatch an excuse to go solo.

     The mission, of course, was the usual: have Sue debrief Agent X, AKA Debra Kenner.  He called the secure room at ABC at five in the afternoon on a Wednesday, as scheduled.  Five had been selected as a time when most everyone would be going home, or thinking about going home, so that no one would be likely to wonder where Debra was.

     After the usual pleasantries, which were pretty much entirely OMNIGRAPH’s show, they got down to business.  “So, how are you and Don Juan getting along?,” Frank wanted to know.

     “Oh, OK I guess,” Agent X said evasively.  OMNIGRAPH’s readouts, along with Frank’s sense of tactics, indicated to him that he should sidetrack a bit, be less direct, go to other topics, and come back later.

     “Any hints from Don Juan as to his loyalties, strength of belief in what he’s doing, depth of commitment, or the degree to which he keeps secrets, or any of those kinds of things that we’ve talked about?”

     “Well, I did try to get him to talk about his work a bit, like we talked about, but he shied away from that topic real fast.  He seems to be playing by the rules, at least with me.”

     Yeah, we know, sweetie, he thought.  We had a bug in that neat Jaguar in the government pool that Don Juan pulled strings to get to impress you with.  We may not have been able to hear much above the motor sounds, but we did hear that.  It’s a good thing that we can double-check on you occasionally.

     “Did you get a chance to probe around on whether or not he plays by the rules on personal security measures?  You know, taking different routes every day, wearing disguises, that kind of thing?  You know how highly we value his particular glob of gray matter.  Pound for pound, probably our most treasured asset.  How ‘bout it?”

     “Yes, I did.  He’s just a bit scared, so he takes it seriously. Plus, I think he gets off on it, on how important he is, that he’d need to take all these precautions to fend off unwanted attention.”

     “Any good scuttlebutt making the rounds at ABC, about anyone involved in the contract?  That we haven’t already talked about?” Frank dug at a stubborn booger lodged deep in his left nostril.  Having OMNIGRAPH totally revamp all the things he did and said had distinct advantages, he thought.

     “Apparently one of the computer hardware engineers, Hank Swain, is getting it on with a software lady by the name of Cindy Sanders.  They’ve been known to put on the occasional display, like teenagers in heat.”  Blah, blah, blah.  She filled him in.  Or, did she fill her in? To her, it was her, at least.  Frank hated to think about it.  He sat there and listened to Agent X go on about the young lovers, watching the readouts that seemed to indicate that maybe Agent X got just a bit aroused by this topic.  He grabbed his can of dip, put a pinch between his cheek and gum, and spat in his empty coffee cup.  Gotta get me a little stimulant to get me through all of this yakking, he thought. Thank God for OMNIGRAPH; she won’t see and get all grossed out, he thought.  Sure wish I could use OMNIGRAPH at home for those tedious social calls!

     Finally, she wound down.  “OK, sweetie.  Thanks for the update. Sounds pretty harmless, as far as national security goes.  But, of course we’re always happy to add to our collection of data.  You never know when a particular piece of data might come in handy.  You know, knowledge is good, that kind of thing.” Frank felt just a tiny bit embarrassed, saying such a simpleton thing.  Sure, it was nice not to have to be too terribly careful in how one said things, seeing as how it instantly got edited anyway.  But, I’m getting just too damned slovenly; I’ve got to see if I can do better, he thought.

     “They say that Man’s flight through life is sustained by the power of his knowledge, you know,” he said, quoting from the Eagle and Fledgling statue in the Air Gardens at the Air Force Academy.  He wondered whether such statements fit into Sue’s personality.  How much would OMNIGRAPH butcher what he was saying this time?  Would he some day say something truly great and original, a historical quote, and some damned wad of silicon would mangle it, and relegate to forgotten mediocrity?  Back to the here and now.  Butchery of his present pearls of wisdom?  The instant replay would tell him in a little while.

     “Anything else we might be interested in?  Don’t be afraid to pass on things that are a little less certain.  Even if they’re just rumors that might not have much substance, we’d like to know about them. Sometimes rumors are true, you know, and our situation is just too high-stakes for us to take any risks.  Besides, like we talked about before, we’re not about to go and ruin someone’s life purely on the basis of gossip.  But we do like to know about things, so that we can check them out if need be.”

     “Actually, yes.  I’ve heard that Woody Pike might be gay.  He’s got a male roommate, for a few years now.  Some kind-hearted older secretary lady tried to set him up with a chick from her church, and he wasn’t interested.  She even showed him a picture, and she was definitely a hunkette, from what I was told.  He didn’t even explain why, either.”

     “Humph!” Frank scratched his balls, thoughtfully.  A faggot; how ‘bout that!  Let’s see, now; the latest government policy, for civilian defense workers and military alike, is that, if you try to hide your gayness, out of devious sneakiness, then someone could make you spill the top-secret beans by threatening to tell the guv’mnt about you, and that’s just too risky.  So, if the G-men find out about it, out you go, ‘cause of the fact that someone might threaten to tell the feds, after all.  Makes perfect sense to me!  Now, this other part, about keeping the ones that are proud of their faggishness, the ones that always have to offend everyone with who they are, these, why, since they have nothing to hide, and therefore aren’t subject to blackmail, these we have to keep.

     It stuck in his craw big-time, this having to put up with militant queers.  But, there’s times when you just gotta click those heels, salute, and say, “Yes, SIR, sir!” and bend with the wind, and even pretend to like it, if you’re smart.  But, on to brighter subjects.  On, to heterosexuality!  “Thanks.  We’ll check it out.” DRUM OUT THE QUEER!  OK, now, we know she doesn’t like gays, either.  Now, in such close contrast with speaking of the evils of loving one’s own sex, maybe we can get her to brag a bit about her own, wholesome heterosexuality. We’ll have to see what OMNIGRAPH has to say about this.  Pause.  Get the silence to put her on her toes; make her feel she’s got to speak.

     “So, sweetie, how’s prospects of getting really, really close to Don Juan?” There was quite a delay for Sue to translate and say this. Frank sure wondered whether it was such a good rule to not be allowed to watch Sue in action, while piloting her, out of fear of getting distracted.  He waited for Agent X’s reaction.  BINGO!  OMNIGRAPH’s readouts say, you got it right, this time!  She’ll talk!  I’m an accomplished Sue/OMNIGRAPH pilot, on my first solo! he crowed to himself.

     “Well,” she said, shyly, slyly, “You could definitely say he’s attracted to me.  He’s made that obvious.” She tossed her hair, thrust those well-formed, sleek breasts out proudly, and batted her eyelashes a bit.  Frank noticed a bit of bagginess under her eyes, that makeup couldn’t hide.  Was Phil keeping her awake to the wee hours every night?  Nah!  He was too much of a workaholic for that.

     “So, has he scrogged your bones yet, or not?,” Frank felt like asking her, and letting OMNIGRAPH do its usual prettifying of everything he said, anyway.  However, since he was aware that all of his inputs were being recorded, he decided he’d have to keep it at least semi-professional.  “So, have you two, um, gone all the way yet, if I might ask?” Frank had been real skeptical of all this psychobabble mumbo-jumbo all along; this business of trying to manipulate Agent X by having her handler resemble her mother.  However, he could sure see how, in this particular case, she’d be a lot more forthcoming, with what she thought was her female handler.  Still, he thought, I shouldn’t give these shrink types too much credit; they had no way of foreseeing this particular set of circumstances.

     Agent X sat there for the longest time, trying to look stone-faced, but letting various faint expressions ripple across her face.  Sue sure was taking her good ol’ time on this one, he thought, trying to make sense out of the readouts.  What kind of woman-to-woman talk is this? This re-run oughta be real interesting!

     Finally, Agent X replied, after taking her good ol’ time herself, in pauses and various ahs and umms and fidgeting and qualifiers, saying, basically, that they’d “...Been almost there, but not quite.” She was all emotional, breathing fast, and her heart was beating fast.  Frank tried to concentrate on the readouts, but found himself concentrating instead on those tight, luscious mounds on her chest, heaving up and down in her emotional state, whatever it was.  Neither her clothes, nor her defensive posture, could hide those quivering, delectable bundles of squeezable play-dough.

     Frank found himself getting all aroused.  Jesus H. Christ, he thought, this is so much better than any of those seedy CD ROMs that I’ve ever seen, and she’s not even hinted at taking any of her clothes off!  How could this be?  Is it because her hologram represents something closer to reality than the CD ROMs?

     “Almost there, but not quite?,” he found himself asking what that meant.  Shit! he thought, this young punk scientist-snot is getting better fringe benefits than I am!  Could there be a way to get Sue to persuade Agent X that she should sleep with this nice, older General-type-dude, as well, also in the name of national security?  But, why? Maybe as a warm-up exercise for her activities with Don Juan, to make sure she did it right.  Nah! it’ll never fly, he concluded, after having thought seriously about it for approximately 1.53 picoseconds. They were, however, a very exciting 1.53 picoseconds.

     Frank repositioned himself in his chair, and straightened his crotch out.  He reminded himself that he was being recorded.  All this may be very tip of the top secret, he thought, and there may not be many chances of more than a handful of people ever seeing my inputs to Sue, but there’s no way of telling who those people might be.  I might be able to get away with picking my nose, dipping tobacco, and even scratching my dick on occasion, but there are definite limits.

     He sat there and wondered, how should I ask for details?  Or, does it matter, other than having to look semi-professional on the recordings, seeing as how it all gets edited anyway?  OK, we’ve got to keep this somewhat on track, he urged himself.  He didn’t need to do a detailed study of the readouts to figure out that if he got too nosy, she might balk at talking more about it.  Got to relate this back to the business of national security.

     “So, in your views, and in your experience, do you think that Don Juan is sexually normal?  I mean, does he have any tendencies towards weird, perverted things, that he might want to keep hidden, that might make him a security risk?  What is his sexual behavior like?”

     Frank used OMNIGRAPH’s/Sue’s translate pause time, and its/her more long-winded question-asking time, to consolidate his feces.  Getting his shit together, in this case, consisted not only in trying to get his mind back on the matters at hand, but also, in watching the readouts, and trying to determine Agent X’s state of mind.

     “Oh, I think he’s quite normal, all right.” She said, seeming to brighten momentarily, almost smiling gleefully, as best as Frank could make out from the readouts, and from watching her face.  Then, she seemed to slump back down into whatever negative emotional state she’d been in earlier.  “But what are you people trying to do to me!” she cried, “You’re making me into a whore for Uncle Sam!” She started to sob hysterically, bobbing those lovely titties up and down.  “And just to think, I’ve been saving myself for someone special, all along!”

     You lying slut, Frank thought.  I don’t need Seymour’s goddamn Ph.D. to figure out what the readouts say on this one!  You’re fibbing big-time, and you probably just want to dig into the public trough a bit more deeply!

     Still, this made Frank even more curious as to why he found all this so exciting.  If she was just acting, in this pseudo-emotional state that made her titties jiggle up and down so enticingly, then she was no more real than those seedy CD ROMs.  Come to think of it, this situation is pretty unreal, he thought, talking to Agent X, who plays one role for ABC and another for us, and who also plays false roles to try to deceive us, at the same time as a computer disguises itself, and myself, to her eyes.

     He found himself thinking back to his days as a Cadet at the US Air Force Academy, where they’d all spoken longingly of the “Real Air Force”.  Then, in the real Air Force, some of them, the ones who didn’t hang around, being military, too long after their obligations had ended, spoke of the civilian world as being the real world.  So where was the real world, anyway, when all its inhabitants ran around playing roles and deluding themselves and each other?  All except for me, of course, he reflected.  I’m firmly grounded in reality.  It’s just that a bit of fantasy gives me a good heterosexual hard-on now and then.

     So, why is it, then, that this pretty much fully clothed image before me gets me so aroused, he wondered yet again.  Then, finally, in a rare burst of introspective understanding, it hit him.  This sexual tension was heightened by the very fact that he could do nothing about it!  The hologram of Agent X continued to sob, wail, and moan, and Frank wanted to reach out and comfort her, and more.  There’s just this... something vulnerable, in need of protection, especially protection from other horny men, that she’s crying out for, he thought.  Something I’d just love to provide, but can’t, especially as “Sue,” damn her ass!

     His mind meandered into unexplored territory, thinking about the heightening of sexual tension that takes place when any action towards satisfaction is strictly forbidden.  Hot damn! he thought, this might be my ticket to millions, someday!  What we do, is, we sell yet another neat, expensive accessory with those CD ROM players!  One that projects a hologram of your mother, your high school principal, the Pope, or your favorite FOS-TV preacher, that scolds you if you so much as scratch your dick while watching your favorite porn!  Nah, on second thought, that sounds pretty corny.  You’d get over it in about three seconds.  We need more oomph, here, he thought.  Some more “zap!” factor.

     That’s it!  Some zap!  You get a hologram of Zeus, Thor, Jehovah, Allah, whoever¾the default would be Jehovah, in long white beard, flowing robes, and cop cap¾to sit on top of your porn screen or hologram images, and he throws out loud thunderclaps and holographic lightning steaks, whenever you scratch your crotch.  Nifty sensors and pattern-recognition software detect suspicious hand movements.  Maybe we even embed, like, a real Taser or cattleprod or some such, to deliver something really shocking, inside the holographic lightning.  Then, in the ultimate act of Power and Control, you push the remote control button to command God to Butt Out and Buzz Off, and then you can have your way with Rosy.  Submit to her charms, and cuff your ‘nads, with or without high-tech pleasure-enhancing paraphernalia.

     Get back to the job! Frank scolded himself.  The national security is at stake!  Besides, what if they have one of these damned mind-reading hunks of silicon and glass, peering into my mind right now? But, he did decide he’d file the idea, in his mind if nowhere else. Maybe he could make his millions after he’d retire.  Maybe I should file for a patent right now, before the idea occurs to someone else on the cutting edge of technology, he thought.

     OK¾back to quasi-reality¾she’s pissing and moaning about being a whore for the State, is she?  Well, what can I tell her?  “Listen, honey, baby, sweetheart, darling, we all have to do things at times that we don’t like to do, but we’ve got to do them, for the greater good.  Now, I’m not really saying you should sleep with him.  I’m just saying, we’re all whores.  It’s just a question of who or what you want to be a whore for.  As to myself, I’m a whore for my country, in many senses.  And that’s not such a bad thing to be.  For all its shortcomings, our government is just about the most nicest government you’ll ever run into.  In other words, count your blessings.  You could be a whore for China, or Iran.”

     Frank watched the readouts more than her breasts, this time, as OMNIGRAPH performed its magic.  Agent X seemed to calm back down a bit, and she came back with, “So, just what is it that you want me to do from here?  I guess I could go all the way with him, if you really, really want me to, but you know I can’t let him think this is like a real, permanent thing.  I’d just hate to break his heart, later.  He’s generally a pretty good guy, you know, and I’d hate to have to do this.”

     Shit! he thought, I sure wish I wasn’t soloing, now!  If only Joe or Seymour was here, to help make decisions, and share the blame if we fuck up!  OMNIGRAPH may be a great, even original, translator, but it sure can’t make strategic decisions, or decisions about objectives.  On the one hand, it sure would be nice to get a chance to get even more information about Phil.  And, this soap opera sure has been a bright spot in my life!  It would sure be quite titillating to see what happens next!

     On the other hand, she might want us to bankrupt the treasury in order to overcome her principles, and she might somehow spill the beans on just who she really is, to Phil (oops, I mean, Don Juan).  After all, he’s a brilliant, if nerdy, scientist, and she’s just a dumb dame.  He might figure it out.  She might get all emotional, sometime, and let something slip.  There’s danger to the mission, here.  Plus, I hate the thought of Phil getting better fringe benefits than I do!

     “Well,” he said, “You just do what you think is best.” That’s it! Give autonomy to the local commanders¾give ‘em just enough rope to hang themselves with, and you can wash your hands afterwards!  Frank knew how to make decisions, but he really preferred not to be totally responsible for the consequences, whenever possible.

     Agent X looked blank for the longest time, even after the readout indicated that Sue was done.  Finally, she said, “What?  You mean, you don’t know what it is that you want me to do?  I thought y’all had a master plan or something!”

     Oh, no!  Now what?!  Frank was just about ready to panic.  She’s as afraid of making a decision as I am, he thought; no one wants to make a decision alone, that might end up being a bad decision.  Then, inspiration hit once more.  “Tell you what, sweetie.  It’s not that we don’t care what it is that you do.  It’s just that we know that you have more information than we do, and that we trust your good judgment. But, we’ll do you a favor, and give you some guidance, so that you don’t have to make a tough decision.  Here’s the deal: It’s not just up to you; there’s no real choice.  If you want to do it, then, you’re required to do it.  If you don’t, then, you’re not authorized.  And that’s final.”

     OMNIGRAPH/Sue was ponderously slow once more in getting this concept across, but seemed to do so satisfactorily.  Agent X gave a playful salute, and they broke the link.

     Frank was anxious to watch the re-run, but took a few seconds to reflect, first.  OK, so what’s the big picture here?  What is really important?  Well, obviously, Phil’s reliability and loyalty is the real objective here.  At best, we want to ensure it; if we can’t, then we need damage control.  We’ve got to have firm control.  So OMNIGRAPH says he’s hiding something?  He seems to believe in what he is doing, at least so far, but he questions authority?  On the other hand, OMNIGRAPH says that just about everyone is bad news.

     Frank thought about it some more, and concluded that Phil was really probably OK.  After all, he reflected, he’s obviously a red-blooded all-American guy-type man fella, seeing as how he likes luscious young babes just like I do.

     OK!  Time for re-runs!  Yee-hah!  Maybe I can even sneak out some audiovisual data, for further study at home!  But, I guess that really wouldn’t be the same, somehow.  Oh, well!


 

 

CHAPTER 12

 

     He called her on a Wednesday night that week, even though it was really actually her turn to call him, but hey, who’s keeping track of these things anymore, anyway?  She’d fulfilled her general obligation to put out part of the dating effort so far, so Phil resolved not to be a bean-counting effortometer¾oops! he thought, she is a bean counter, I’ve got to reform my thinking, here¾I’m resolving to not be a... penny-counting tightwad, with my social interactions any more than I am with my money.  Not that I do any serious social interacting of any kind, other than at work, and now, chasing Debra, these days, anyway. Besides, I almost got laid, not but a few days ago!

     She seemed somewhat...  aloof?  Certainly, she wasn’t the enthused chatterbox she’d been at times.  Reticent.  Uncommunicative.  Like someone had just tromped on her, and she was still stewing, but didn’t want to talk about it.  She said she had a lot of things she had to get done this weekend.  OK, so, like what?  Like washing your hair, or what, Phil wondered, but he was far, far too much of a liberated man, far too inclined to give people their space, that he sure as hell wasn’t going to ask her what she was doing.  Could even end up in me and my foolish mouth promising to help her do whatever it is that she’s got to do this weekend, and regretting it, he thought.  Maybe she wants to go visit her friends in the country, and clean out chicken pens, for all I know.

     So, he told her to call him when she had a chance.  Suited him fine.  Motherfucker, seedy CD ROMs, and spare time reading, maybe even a bit of dragging the ol’ files home from work, and calling Gloria, would keep him busy enough.

     Sure enough, Wednesday next week she called him.  Asked him out, even.  Not to a sheik restaurant, either, but to Ruddfuckers and to a movie.  She said she felt in a low-brow mood, so he should make sure he got the high-rise truck with the balloon tires from the government pool, this weekend.  Too bad they don’t have drive-in movies, anymore, she said.  Too bad Elvis is dead, too, Phil thought, wondering, what the hell is she up to now, just being bizarre, or what?

     He definitely didn’t mind a big, fat, greasy burger now and then. Change of pace from pretentious restaurants, anyway, he thought. Besides, I can stuff myself with all the trimmings; just make, like, a salad.  Too bad I can’t get a bunny-bag for my pet rabbit at home, for all the extra salad I don’t eat.  Not that he really had any pets; Gloria had taken the pud-tats, which he missed, sometimes.

     He did actually manage to glom onto the high-rise pickup with the balloon tires for the weekend, and enjoyed driving it.  Slowly on the corners, to be sure.  He even wore a red plaid lumberjack-man type flannel shirt, to pick her up that Saturday night.  “So, what do you say we go take in some Monster Tractor Pull contests at the Local Fair?,” he asked her when he picked her up.  She just chuckled.

     He was definitely not disappointed with fare at Ruddfuckers; it was all that he’d dreamed that it would be.  It always was, somehow.  All that plutonium-free, distilled essence of cholesterol could never fail to satisfy!

     The movie, on the other hand, left something to be desired, in Phil’s mind, if not in Debra’s.  It was that damned Agent Orange again, this time in THE MAN WITH THE GOLDEN FINGER.  Overpaid bum!  Cavorting around with all those good-looking babes, and getting outrageously overpaid for doing it!  Debra thought it was funny, but Phil found it boring and predictable.  Only the chase scenes were any good, and that was just ‘cause he found himself wondering how many cars and stuntmen they smacked up, making some of this stuff.

     The movie was over soon enough, though, and Phil found himself at Debra’s condo, this time.  She was definitely into a change of pace, it seemed.  She made them some drinks and showed him lots of photos from her days as a budding amateur actress, and he was, of course, very fascinated.  Really.  He was grateful that it was too late, and they were too tired, for her to whip out videos of her acting.  He did confess that some other day, he’d feel privileged to see them, though. It’s just too bad, he reflected, that he’d heard no indications of this acting of hers being the kind of “acting” that really got him going!

     So, they caught a snatch of the evening news.  They caught the tail end of something about international bickering over sea-floor mining rights, and then, they started into the usual rape, murder, mayhem type stuff, at which point Debra turned the channel to some vapid supposedly-funny talk show.  Phil used the loud, obnoxious canned laughter¾OK, maybe it wasn’t canned, but for all the sycophancy of the studio audience, it might as well have been, in Phil’s book¾to mask his encroachments on Debra.  By about the fifteenth round of the show’s officially sanctioned funny lines, he was squeezing her bare nipples, underneath her sweater, shirt, and bra.

     She seemed subdued, passive.  But she didn’t resist when Phil slid his hand down her panties.  Oh, goody, he thought, I get to have my way with her!  She just quietly let him lead her by the hand to her bedroom. There, he undressed her, admiring her shapely body.  Neither of them said a thing.  She just stood there, for the most part, regarding him with what she apparently thought was a neutral or thoughtful expression. The hints of emotion on her face, although not readily decipherable, made Phil uncomfortable.  Still, he thought, here’s this luscious lady, all decked out in nothing, waiting for me to ravish her.  Get with the program!

     He promptly got himself similarly attired, and pulled her down towards himself, sitting on her waterbed.  She came towards him, but remained standing.  He guided her onto his lap, where he got her to at least semi-sit.  She kept her feet on the floor, though, and one arm behind him, bracing herself on the edge of the waterbed.  He promptly got to work, massaging and sucking on her, in all the right places. Still, no real reaction.  Phil was starting to feel distinctly uncomfortable.  Oh! maybe that’s it, silly boy, he thought, she wants to hear some appropriate lines first.

     “But, honey, baby, sweetheart, darling!” he mumbled huskily, passionately, between mouthfuls.  “I Love You!” She chuckled, but looked disgusted, in a jaded sort of way.

     “Oh, give me a break.  I don’t want to hear it,” she said, somewhat coldly, it seemed to Phil.  What the hey! he thought, what kind of narcissism is this?  We’d all like for people to tell us they love us, while we fend them off.  Still, maybe she could be forgiven for doubting his sincerity, under the circumstances.

     “But I do love you.  Maybe not with a capital ‘L’, at least not just yet, like big commitments or anything, but I do care about you. Enough to say I love you, at least,” he insisted, stroking her breast. Enough to tell you whatever it is that you’re waiting to hear, soon’s I figure out what that is, he thought.  So, what are the magic words that need to be uttered, in order for us to have a suitably enthusiastic love-making session, anyway?  At least, give me a hint or two.

     “I don’t know if I’m ready for love,” she said, cynically.

     Phil started to worry just a wee bit about being accused of rape, if she didn’t sign a consent form.  You never know, he thought, what with her non-participatory apparent lack of enthusiasm, and the way “sexual correctness” laws and standards are, these days.  She sure seemed more enthused about making out, last time.  I’d better not mention a consent form, though, or she’ll really get pissed.  And it’s definitely not yet time to whip out my second “beeper,” that’s actually a condom carrying case, either, he thought.

     “Well, are you at least ready for some good, clean, wholesome fun, then?,” he inquired, petting her pubic hair.

     She relaxed a bit, actually sitting down in his lap, and lifting her feet off the floor, but still not getting anywhere close to abandoning herself to passion.  Phil found himself comparing his circumstances to the first time he and Gloria had made love.  They hadn’t dickered over its meaning, or debated about who loved who more than the other loved him or her, or anything of the sort.  He couldn’t even remember which had come first, the love sweet-talk or the love-making.  He sure as hell couldn’t remember ever telling Gloria that he loved her, and having her reply that she couldn’t handle it.  And Gloria had actually been an eager partner in their activities, instead of being a passive sex object.

     “I don’t know, Big Boy, can you show me some good, clean, wholesome fun?  Maybe you have to get me ready.” The words sounded good, but the delivery left something to be desired.  She still just sat there.  But he rolled back onto the bed, taking Debra with him, and stretching her naked body out alongside his.  He stroked and kissed her, but she pretty much just laid there, looking at him a bit wide-eyed.  He pulled some blankets over them, thinking, maybe if we just lay here, and get nice and warm under the covers, and have all this skin contact, she’ll warm up a bit, sexually as well as thermally.

     But, alas, such was not the case.  Phil started to debate if maybe his dignity might be more important than his dick, just as he was starting a slow, rhythmical hip motion.  She still seemed passive; defensive, even.  What’s the deal, here, he wondered.  Am I good enough to warrant some enthusiasm, or not?

     “Come on, now, babe!  Are we in this together, or not?,” he asked, stopping what he was doing.  She looked at him, as if to say, who, me? How could any real red-blooded Man not be just totally overcome with passion in my Naked Presence?  What more could you ask for, above and beyond a body as obviously gorgeous as mine?  Phil tried to tell himself he was reading too much into her demeanor, and that he’d better tread carefully, but his sense of dignity was at stake.

     “Shake a leg!  If I want to make love to a passive object, my pillow will do quite fine, thank you!” As soon as those words were out of his mouth, he knew that he’d gone too far.  Or, at least, his dick knew that he’d gone too far.  His dignity would’ve begged to differ. She drew a sharp breath, looking totally shocked and horrified.  Phil hopped out of bed, dodging her flailing arms.  He slapped on his clothes in a reasonable imitation of no time flat, while she clutched blankets to herself, screaming like a banshee.

     Phil didn’t listen too carefully, seeing as how he was concentrating on becoming fully clothed and gone, but he did catch just a tiny bit of what she was hollering at him.  It didn’t bode too well for the future of their relationship, or even of her good will, it seemed to him.  He took one last look at her, sitting there, tightly clutching cloth to those precious titties he’d so recently sucked and fondled.  They might as well be on the surface of Venus, now, as far as his prospects of fondling them once more were concerned, he reflected. But, she sure made a comical picture, and he almost wished he had a camera, right then, to capture it.  He didn’t even bother to try to think of something clever to say as he left, ‘cause she wouldn’t even have heard it, anyway.  He just grinned sheepishly and made himself scarce.

     When he got home, he dragged out Motherfucker and got good and stoned.  Relax.  Take some of the tension off.  You’ve had a hard day’s play.  Except, it just didn’t work out that way.  He sat there and worried about his last random piss test, the only one he’d had since he’d taken up with Motherfucker again, after all those years.  Or, since he’d taken up with Motherfucker II.  Motherfucker I was long gone, with some member of the ol’ college gang; he couldn’t even remember which member.  Long live the memory of Motherfucker I, he toasted, sucking on Motherfucker II.  Party time!

     It wasn’t party time, though.  It was worry time.  Not only had he had a recent piss test, with results, or actual efficacy of golden seal and THC-B-Gone still unknown; he now also had a pissed-off woman who knew his evil ways on his hands.  He might be a wee tad paranoid, he thought, but stranger things have been known to happen.  She might think that, since her drug of choice, cocaine, stays in her bloodstream a heck of a lot less longer than pot stays in mine, that she’ll clean up her act and then rat on my ass.  Her attitude just now certainly doesn’t rule out such actions.

     And they’re really hot to trot on busting users, these days, he recalled.  Gotta blame all that crime, and the shitty economy and state of affairs in general, on somebody, after all.  Why not have a war on drugs?  Maybe even lynch a drug pusher or two, or burn ‘em at the stake, and have some weenie roasts.  Take our minds off of our deteriorating society and environment.

     So he got stoned, but without any pleasure.  He then went to bed, but couldn’t get to sleep for a while, what with being stoned, and worrying.  When he did finally fall asleep, he dreamed dreams of running from here to there, moving his stash of pot from hiding place to hiding place, and sometimes watching the hiding places to make sure that no one had spied him or his stash.

     On Sunday morning, he arose at nine, got stoned once more and tried to read the news.  He worried again.  He looked at the scarce remains of the ounce he’d bought a few months earlier.  He took a final toke or two, toasting the long-gone college days and the old gang and a younger, more carefree Phil.  Then, he flushed the remaining pot down the toilet, cringing.  Now, this was REAL drug abuse!  Fortunately, there wasn’t much left, so he could bring himself to do it.

     Then, he put the glass form of Motherfucker in several layers of grocery bags, and sent him to the Happy Toking Grounds with a hammer, swearing not to resurrect a Motherfucker III till some sunny day when people might be free to decide what to put, and what not to put, into their bodies.  He took a short walk, and respectfully buried Motherfucker II in a trash bin in the neighborhood park.  He buried him with full honors, giving him a mental salute as he strolled on back to his house.

     Back at his house, to make matters complete, he took his vitamins and his handgun, and hid them quite well in the attic.  Silly, maybe, but it sure makes me feel a lot better, he thought.  Not much extra trouble to sneak up into the attic to support my vitamin habit, and security in this walled compound is good enough that I don’t need my handgun that handy, anyway.  He felt far less at risk over his gun and his vitamins than he had felt over his pot, because the penalties were a bit less, and the police dogs were generally only trained to sniff out drugs.  Otherwise, they’d be busting his grapefruits, he thought.

     He ate the rest of his golden seal and THC-B-gone, and ate a very hearty breakfast to dilute and keep down the golden seal.  He still had some raunchy burps.  He put these matters out of his mind, drove out into the country, and took a walk.  Then, he came back home, worked on some work files a bit, and got to bed early, in preparation for Monday back at ABC.  He thought about what it might be like, in a week or so, when he’d have to meet with Debra at work to go over finances.  Not something he was looking forward to, somehow, he thought, drifting off to sleep.

     Monday back at work was a relief, a return to the familiar and predictable.  Phil felt refreshed and renewed now that he’d made some decisions and choices, and now that his social life had been simplified. Even if his social life hadn’t been terribly complicated, it still felt better, yet more simplified.  Too bad that it came at the price of making some of his work life a bit more...  more...  soap-opera-ish, he thought, yet again dreading the next finances session.  Why did I do this, he asked himself.  I knew better than to date people I work with. On the other hand, it could be worse.  What if I had to see her in meetings every day?  What if I wasn’t such a hardheaded asshole about not going to meetings all day?  I know my hatred of meetings hurts my career, but there are up sides!

     Up sides included being able to actually do hands-on design work. Speaking of hands on, he thought, I wonder what that salty old dog, Don McCulley, is up to.  Maybe I could take a break from this genes and proteins thing, and go have a chat with him.  Nah, on second thought, there’s too many other things I’ve got to get done.  Besides, I’d be too tempted to slip into that earthy mode with him, and chat with him like we have in times past about the reproductive behavior of feminine humanoid life-forms.  And that’s just too dangerous of a topic right now.  I’d say to myself, now, surely I can trust Don.  And then, I’d share with him, the latest data from field research.  Maybe embellish it, just a tiny bit.

     Next thing you know, either he or I would enjoy the stories or the telling of them so much, that despite our most secretive resolutions, we might spill the beans too far and too wide for them ever to be cleaned up.  And then, a certain bean counter will have a field day with my field research data, and my ass will be grass.  And everybody and their mother will be the lawnmower.  The bosses.  The HR people.  The media. The feds.  The courts.  Get back to work.  Say nary a word to anyone, and hope she does the same.

     So, he put his nose to the grindstone, and got in a kick-ass day of design work.  The creative ideas just flowed from him like honey from a ladle on a warm summer day.

     He did take just a few minutes now and then for a cup of coffee, and reflected on his sexual adventures.  Maybe he needed to discover just the right bar or just the right crowd, where he could find luscious, lusty young babes with no ties to work, he thought.  Then, I can even collaborate with Don in our research efforts!  Maybe even, attribute the results of the mostest moistest choicest recent hands-on research to a later episode!  Nah, gotta behave; got to devote my life to more worthy, less earthy, causes.  Dignity rules; dick drools.

     He got home at seven-thirty that Monday night, and he brought all his unanswered and unexamined electronic messages with him.  Sometimes he wished he had some sort of bozo filter that would weed all the trash out of his messages; maybe even generate a non-committal reply, something like “I’ve received your input, and am giving it the consideration that it deserves,” automatically, in all the cases where the message actually broke through the bozo barrier, by meeting numerous criteria, those being, like, addressed only to him, directly; and certified, and containing ALL the keywords ASAP, attorney, class action, critical, demand, egregious, emergency, gross, immediate, lawsuit, malicious, negligence or negligent, urgent, utmost, and willful, and maybe a few more.  Maybe some of them at least twice.

     But, he did read them all, and drafted replies to some of them.  It sure seemed that he had a lot of catching up to do.  Some of the “urgent” matters were a week old!  Motherfucker and Debra must’ve taken up more of my time and efforts than I’d realized, he thought.  Speaking of Motherfucker, I sure miss him, he thought, just thinking about those cannibinoids percolating though his vessels.  Party!  Party!  But what’s to party with?  Crappy old booze, hangover-inducing shit that it is, and vitamins.  He dug out his ancient tobacco pipe, which he hadn’t smoked in years, and lit that motherfucker up.  It just wasn’t Motherfucker, though.

     Just about halfway through his bowl, which he found nauseating, Phil heard the doorbell from his back patio where he’d gone for his smoke, so as not to pollute the house.  Who the hell could this be, at past nine in the evening, he wondered, setting down his pipe and heading through the house to the front door.  Any guests are supposed to call from an entrance to this walled suburban community, and get authorization from their visitees.  So what kind of visitors might this be?  Better use the front door’s lights, video camera, and microphone to see who this is.  I’d also better lock the rear door I just went through, too, he thought.  Maybe this is the foreign assassins or agents that I’ve been warned about.  Maybe I’ll wish I had my illegal pistol handier than it is, hidden in the attic.

     As he headed back towards the rear door, he heard a heavy thump in the back yard.  Then, just as he got close to the door, it was flung towards him by the stomp of a heavy black boot.  The black boot was followed by a gun-toting, jacketed and helmeted storm trooper yelling, “Freeze!  I’m with the DEA!” Phil wished he’d been practicing loading his pistol in the back yard, just as this nightmare had hopped over the fence.  Too late now, he thought; they’ll be disappearing me into the “Nacht und Nebel,” or night and fog, probably over my stash of vitamins. No one will ever hear from me again.  I’ll be made an example of.

     “Well, I’m pleased to meet you, too,” Phil offered, “Can I get you a beer or something?  A joint, maybe?  I do wish you’d knock, though.  I mean, with your knuckles, politely, on the front door.  And do you have an invitation?” Phil restrained his impulses to follow up with his excellent rendition of oinks and squeals from a well-known domesticated ungulate.

     The trooper waved his gun towards the front door.  “Our invitation awaits you at the front door, pretty boy.  All nice and signed by His Honor, with your name and address.  I assume you are Phil Schrock.”

     “Yes, I am.  So nice of you to drop by. Care to introduce yourself? Can I return your kind visit sometime, in like manner?”

     “Shut up, asswipe, and open the front door!”

     Phil opened the front door.  About a dozen men stood out there, some in various uniforms, and some not.  Some with guns, and others with radios.  One had a dog on a leash.  The uniform closest to the door stepped forward, saying, “Mister Schrock, we have a warrant to search your residence for contraband.  Kindly step aside, and we’ll be on our way.  With or without you, depending on what we find.” Phil debated pointing out that he was “Doctor” Schrock to the likes of him, but decided not to sound like a pompous asshole.  There were enough of those around already.  He remained standing in the middle of the doorway, blocking access.  Not that it mattered much; one of them already stood behind him with a gun.

     “Let’s see that warrant first.” The warrant was passed to him, and he briefly glanced at it.  It seemed all official-like, but he sure didn’t have much experience in verifying the authenticity of search warrants.  He considered whipping out his lighter and torching it, but figured that such a small amount of satisfaction wouldn’t be worth the price, whatever that might be.  Destroying government property, or contempt of court, or witchcraft, or whatever they’d charge him with, it just wasn’t worth it.  Still, let’s not give in too easily, he thought. “So what kind of justification did you boys round up to enable His Honor to issue this to you?,” he inquired.

     “None of your business, Sir,” Uniform declared, “But, if you really must know, we got a tip.  Now, step aside.”

     Phil stepped aside.  The troopers trooped into his house.  They didn’t even wipe their feet on the doormat, he noticed.  “Why don’t y’all get yourselves some honest jobs?,” Phil glared at them as they filed by. Why, these slobs didn’t even seem to realize that they were raiding the home of a famous, genius-type scientist and defender of the nation, he realized, watching them march by. Didn’t these guys know he was one of the good guys?  Now, if he was a famous actor, even if he was third-rate, he’d be getting more respect, he thought.  Us technogeeks just don’t rank.

     Storm Trooper, his most enthusiastic guest, who’d made it to the party before any of the others, growled, “Shut up, punk.” He maneuvered himself behind Phil, and stuck a gun barrel in his back, giving Uniform a look that said, “Hang out here with me and help me watch this guy, while the rest of us execute this warrant.  This boy is a troublemaker.”

     Uniform took his post in front of Phil, just as Storm Trooper took up rearguard action.  The rest of them fanned out through the house, ripping up everything in sight like bears tearing through rotten logs, hunting for grubs.  The dog, whose name apparently was Charlie, was offered a sniff from the pipe he’d sat down on the patio, but Charlie didn’t alert on it.  He did, however, seem very interested in Motherfucker’s former abode, the downstairs closet.  Neither Charlie nor his master found anything, not even a seed.

     “Hey, Ed!” he heard a voice from upstairs, “Come and check this out!  He’s got copies of VENUSIAN VIXENS and NYMPHOMANIACS OF NEPTUNE!” He heard some other voice ragging on the first.  Something about professionalism.  Phil sure was glad his copies were legitimate, rather than bootleg.  He sat there and pressure-cooked.  He heard the attic door creak open.  Would they find his gun or his vitamins?

     Phil couldn’t stand it any longer, this business of standing there like a slave or a sheep, in his own home.  “What kind of a free country is this, anyway?,” he asked Uniform.

     “It’s a free country for people who obey the law, is what it is,” was Uniform’s reply.

     Phil just about groaned.  What kind of dipshits were these goons? Why didn’t they go bust some murderers or rapists or some such, instead of protecting law-abiding citizens from the evils of vitamins?  Phil debated asking Uniform if he’d obey orders to round up people who violated laws against being Jewish, but decided that he wouldn’t appreciate being called a Nazi.  Or, maybe, worse yet, maybe he would. Most likely, though, it would all be over his head.  History?  What’s that?

     A soft answer turns away wrath, Phil reminded himself.  After all, these were still the good guys.  Compared to the violent, criminal scum types, these were angels of mercy.  What would violent criminals do to his dignity, compared to his present humiliation?  He considered explaining to Uniform and to Storm Trooper that if only they’d refuse their orders to enforce the petty shit, and concentrate on the real criminals, that he’d be a 150 % law-and-order-type dude.  Shit, he might even quit his fancy job, and take an eighty percent cut in pay, to join their ranks, he’d explain to them.  He’d be that enthused about law enforcement, he’d say.

     Phil looked thoughtfully at Uniform, and even strained his eyeballs hard enough to get a glimpse of Storm Trooper, standing there behind him, protecting the world from the fearsome vitamin fiend.  Nah! he concluded, no sense in explaining his thoughts to these good ol’ boys. Besides, he’d be lying.  He’d never be able to join their ranks, unless he’d get himself a frontal lobotomy to go along with the cut in pay. And I’ve always enjoyed a bottle in front of me so much more!  And I would’ve, even during Prohibition, that monumental failure that we absolutely refuse to learn anything from, he thought.

     Still, Phil just had to at least try to reach through to these morons.  “Well, how free are a people when the Law itself ties them in a million knots?  Would you enforce laws that imposed the death penalty for those who wear blue ribbons in their hair, defying the will of Authority?”

     “Against the likes of you, yes I would,” grumbled Uniform, “Besides, you don’t look good in blue.  It’s not your color,” he insisted, lisping just a bit and drooping his wrist.  Storm Trooper chuckled dutifully to what even he apparently regarded as weak humor. Phil steamed some more.  He stared, dismayed, at the shambles his living space was being made into.

     “So, yuns dudes gonna be hepping me straighten out my house, graciously-like, seeing as how nice I’ve been, hosting your party?,” he inquired, sweetly and solicitously.

     “Fat chance of that.  We’re too busy chasing criminal scum like yourself,” Storm Trooper announced from behind him.  “Tight budgets, you know.  It would cost the taxpayers hundreds, maybe thousands of dollars in pay, equipment, overhead and such, helping you straighten out the mess you’ve brought upon yourself.  And those are scarce resources that we’ve got to save for chasing criminals.”

     Yeah, like vitamin fiends and peanut-quota violators, Phil thought. Maybe I should tell them that some of their good buddies are standing guard in warehouses, making sure that the quota peanuts and the non-quota peanuts don’t get mixed.  He could just hear himself say, “In a program dating back to 1949, farmers are allowed to grow peanuts for domestic consumption only if they have a ‘quota’.  Last year, the top quota-owning farmer could’ve ‘earned’ three million dollars, just by selling his quotas.  Quotas that cost all the consumers, while benefiting small special interests and the porkers who they funnel campaign contributions to.  And it’s the likes of you, mindless slaves of the State, who grease the wheels of idiocy, by protecting the public from the perils of non-quota peanuts.”

     Nah!  On second thought, that’s way too eggheaded.  Besides, it wouldn’t really express the force of my anger, he thought.  “What do you mean, that I’ve brought upon myself?  Did I ask you goons to come in here and root through all my personal belongings?”

     “Yeah, you did, you little twerp, when you took it upon yourself to violate the law.  We all know what Charlie got all excited about, just a few minutes ago.”

     “So pass a law against blue ribbons, and the ribbon-wearers are just asking for it, huh?”

     “Damned straight.  What the voters want, the voters gets,” Uniform intoned.

     Including parasitical piggy-wiggies who live on a different form of welfare, packing the jails with potheads and dealers and then hollering for more money for more cops and more jails, Phil thought.  At least, by all appearances they won’t be nabbing my ass and disappearing it into the Nacht und Nebel after all.  They haven’t found anything yet, as far as I can tell.  And, one wouldn’t expect for a troop of baboons to stumble onto some good yummies in their foraging, and not react, after all.

     Just when he was starting to think he’d get off scot-free, one of Atlanta’s finest rushed around the corner from the kitchen, displaying a slightly yellowed plastic bag.  “Hey, Earl!” he hooted.  Apparently, Storm Trooper’s name was Earl, and maybe he was calling the shots. “Look what I found!  Sure as hell smells like golden seal!” Phil’s heart sank, cussing himself for being such a penny-pincher as to save old plastic bags.  On the other hand, there’s the environment to be thunked about, he thought, being just a tiny bit pious.  Maybe I could’ve washed the powder out of that bag where I kept the capsules, though.  Still, his spirits rose again, when he reminded himself that the penalty for this particular heinous crime would be only a few hundred dollars in fines, tops, anyway.  Golden seal isn’t psychoactive, after all.  They really had nothing on him!

     Except, there’s still the attic to be worried about, he worried. These dummies won’t be able to outsmart my hiding abilities, I bet, and surely hope.  The vitamins might not be too troublesome, except that the quantities might make them think I’m a dealer.  But that revolver?  Real trouble there!  Jail time for me, for having dared to doubt their crime-fighting abilities, what with the half-hour it takes for them to react to calls; for taking matters into my own hands and buying a gun. Better hope real hard they don’t find it.  Yes!  Here they come, trooping downstairs, with nothing!

     They looked dejected.  Another prospect for filling the jails, and enhancing their prospects for extorting more money from the taxpayers, shot down in flames, Phil lamented on their behalf.  Quite sincerely, to be sure.  Phil felt his cockiness factor multiply geometrically, now that they were failing in their search.  Watch it, boy! he told himself.

     The troops conferred with Earl.  Some of them seemed ready to give up the hunt.  Earl told them to not give up so easily.  “Let’s give the carpet in that closet a real thorough going-over first,” he commanded. Three civilian-clothed types brought out some tweezers and magnifying glasses, and crowded into the closet.  Phil longed to ask them if they were going in there to beat off, but refrained.  They began to study the carpet meticulously, and Phil was sure glad he’d vacuumed there.  The other goons lounged around.

     “Maybe the rest of you could try to be good party guests, and straighten up the mess you’ve made,” Phil suggested.

     “Maybe you could shut your trap,” Uniform replied.

     “Maybe you bunch of sorry nincompoops could get some conscience, and stop being whores for the State,” Phil pointed out.

     “That’s enough!  Any more o’ that shit outta you, boy, and we’ll haul you in, for interfering with the execution of a warrant!  Now, shut up!”

     Phil clicked his heels together, and rendered his best Nazi salute. “Jawohl, mein Herr!  Sieg Heil!” Three troopers dove at him simultaneously.  He sure was tempted to get in a really good kick at one of their faces, but he practiced great self-restraint.  Besides, why get myself shot to death, he asked himself.  No use in paying all my hard-earned money to a bucket of slimy lawyers, either.

     They tried to read him his rights as they arrested him.  Even though he offered no bodily resistance, he did get his digs in, by oinking and squealing loudly and realistically throughout the attempted reading of his Miranda rights.  Maybe, if I can find form KKKGBXYZ-666-FSB, LEGAL APPLICATION FOR PETITIONER TO DISMISS TESTIMONY DUE TO LACK OF SENSORY COGNITION OF MIRANDA WARNING, and fill it out completely and properly, I can beat this rap.

     Sadly, he was mistaken.  They beat his butt, and made him pay proper respect to his rights.  Afterwards, though, he did his best to enlighten them all as to precisely what a low-bred batch of putrid slime molds they all were, as he was hauled off in handcuffs to the waiting paddy wagon.  The two officers accompanying him to the local hoosegow didn’t appreciate his lectures any more than they liked his oinks and squeals, so they cranked up the stereo.  Country-Punk Anti-Pebble music, at that, which Phil couldn’t stand.  Oh, well, he thought, putting an end to his presentation, all those oinks and squeals were getting pretty rough on the ol’ throat, anyway.  Plus, these turds aren’t about to be seeing the light anytime soon due to any of my efforts.

     Phil was pretty shagged when they got to the station.  He couldn’t believe these dorks, taking him in for lipping off!  And, me being a famous scientist, and all, too, he thought.  Wait till the media gets ahold of what a bunch of barbarous buffoons these jerks have been! Maybe I can call Frank, and have him twist some arms.  So what if the military has no real official powers here, maybe all that would be needed would be a whisper or two about what a valuable top-secret defense researche