Neal Stephenson and Frederick George : InterfaceARROW Published in the United Kingdom in 2002 by Arrow Books 1 3 5 7 9 10 8 6 4 2 Copyright © Stephen Bury 1994 Neal Stephenson and Frederick George have asserted their right under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act, 1988 to be identified as the authors of this work. This novel is a work of fiction. Names and characters are products of the author's imagination and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental This book is sold subject to the condition that it shall riot, by way of trade or otherwise, be lent, resold, hired out, or otherwise circulated without the publisher's prior consent in any form of binding or cover other than that in which it is published and without a similar condition including this condition being imposed on the subsequent purchaser First published in the United Kingdom in 2002 by Arrow Books Arrow Books The Random House Group Limited 20 Vauxhall Bridge Road, London, SW1V 2SA Random House Australia (Pty) Limited 20 Alfred Street, Milsons Point, Sydney, New South Wales 2061, Australia Random House New Zealand Limited 18 Poland Road, Glenfield Auckland 10, New Zealand Random House (Pty) Limited Endulini, 5a Jubilee Road, Parktown 2193, South Africa The Random House Group Limited Reg. No. 954009 www.randomhouse.co.uk A CIP catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library Papers used by Random House are natural, recyclable products made from wood grown in sustainable forests. The manufacturing processes conform to the environmental regulations of the country of origin ISBN 0 09 942775 3 Typeset by SX Composing DTP, Rayleigh, Essex Printed and bound in Denmark by Nohaven Paperback A/S To Wilbur
PART 1 The State of the Union 1William Anthony Cozzano's office was a scandal. So it was whispered in the high councils of the Illinois Historical Society. For over a century, under dozens of governors, it had looked the same. Then Cozzano had come along and moved all the antique furniture into storage (Abraham Lincoln was the greatest man in history, Cozzano said, but his desk was a piece of junk, and Stephen Douglas's side chair was no prize either). Cozzano had dared to move electronics into the frescoed vault of the governor's office - a thirty-six-inch Trinitron with picture-in picture so that he could watch C-SPAN and football at the same time! And his chair was no antique, but a high-tech thing with as many adjustable features as the human body had bones. He had suffered enough abuse, he claimed, in Vietnam and on the frozen turf of Soldier Field and didn't deserve to be mangled by some antique chair day in and day out, Illinois Historical Society be damned. That chair was everything Cozzano wasn't: fat with padding and glossy with petal-soft leather where Cozzano was lean and craggy and weathered, a man who had waited his whole life to look the way he did now, as if carved from a block of white oak with a few quick strokes of an adze. Cozzano was sitting in the chair one night in January, holding a fountain pen as big as an uncooked hot dog in his left hand. Cozzano returned to his home in the small town of Tuscola every weekend to mow the lawn, rake leaves, or shovel snow, so calluses made a dry rasping sound as his writing hand slid across the paper. The fountain pen looked expensive and had been given to him by someone terribly important a long time ago; Cozzano had forgotten whom. He late wife, Christina, used to keep track of who had given him what and send out little notes, Christmas cards, and so on, but since her death, all of these social niceties had gone straight to hell, and most people forgave him for it. Cozzano found that the pen's bulk fit his hand nicely, his fingers wrapped around the barrel without having to pinch it like a cheap ballpoint, and the ink flowed effortlessly on to the paper, nib scrawling and calluses rasping, as he signed the endless stream of bills, proclamations, resolutions, letters, and commendations that flowed across his desk like blood cells streaming in single file through the capillaries of the lung - the stately procession that sustained the life of the body politic. His office was on the second floor of the east wing, directly above the capitol's main entrance, overlooking a broad lawn decorated with a statue of Lincoln delivering his farewell address to Springfield. The room had only two windows - tall narrow north-facing ones that were blocked even from the late afternoon sun by the north wing and the soaring capitol dome. Cozzano called it the "arctic circle" - the only part of Illinois that was in darkness for six months out of the year. This was a somewhat obscure and technical joke, especially in these days of endemic geographic ignorance, but people laughed at it anyway because he was the Governor. He kept his desk lamp going all day, but as the sky had darkened and as he worked into the night, he had not bothered to turn on the overhead fixtures, and he now sat in a pool of illumination in the middle of the dark office. Around the edges of the room, innumerable pieces of decoration reflected the light back at him. Each governor decorated the office in his own way. Only a few things were immutable: the preposterous fresco on the ceiling, the massive doors with brass lions' heads mounted in their centers. His predecessor had gone in for a spare, classical nineteenth-century look, filling the place up with antiques that had belonged to Lincoln and Douglas. This impressed visitors and looked nice for the tour groups who came by every hour to launch flashcube barrages over the velvet rope. Cozzano had banned the tour groups, slamming the doors in their faces so that all they could see was the brass lions, and turned the office into a cluttered Cozzano family museum. It had started on the day of his first inauguration, with a small photo of his late wife, Christina, placed on the corner of his historically inaccurate desk. Naturally, photos of his children, Mary Catherine and James, came next. But there was no point in stopping with the immediate family, and so Cozzano had brought in several boxes containing pictures of patriarchs and matriarchs going back several generations. He wanted pictures of his friends, too, and of their families, and he also needed various pieces of memorabilia, some of which were chosen for sentimental reasons, some for purely political ones. By the time Cozzano was finished decorating his office, it was almost filled with clutter, smelling salts had to be brought in for the Historical Society, and, as he sat down for the first time in his big leather chair, he could trace the entire genealogy and economic development of the Cozzano clan, and of twentieth-century Illinois, which amounted to the same thing. There was an old aerial photograph of Tuscola as seen from its own water tower in the 1930s. It was a town of a few thousand people, about half an hour south of the academic metropolis of Champaign-Urbana and a couple of hours south of Chicago. Even in this photo it was possible to see gaudy vaults in the town cemetery, and Duesenbergs cruising the streets. Tuscola was, for a farm town, bizarrely prosperous. In an oval frame of black walnut was a hand-tinted photograph of his great grandfather and namesake Guillermo Cozzano who had come to Illinois from Genoa in 1897. In typically contrary Cozzano fashion he had bypassed the large Italian communities on the East Coast and found work in a coal mine about thirty miles southwest of Tuscola, where soil and coal were the same color. He and his son Guiseppe had gone into the farming business, snapping up one of the last available parcels of high-quality land. In 1912, Guiseppe and his wife had their first child, Giovanni (John) Cozzano, followed three and five years later by Thomas and Peter. All of these events were recorded in photographs, which Cozzano would be more than happy to explain to visitors if they made the mistake of expressing curiosity, even allowing their eyes to stray in that direction. Most of the photos featured buildings, babies, or weddings. John Cozzano (photo) lost his mother to influenza at the age of six and, from that point onward, lived his life as if he had been shot from a cannon. During his high-school years in the vigorous 1920s he held down a part-time job at the local grain elevator (photo). By the time economic disaster struck in the 1930s he had worked his way up into the management of that business. With one foot in his father's farm and the other in the grain elevator, John was able to get the family through the Depression in one piece. In 1933, John fell in love with Francesca Domenici, a young Chicago woman. As evidence of his fitness to be a husband, he decided to buy an enormous stucco Craftsman house on a tree-lined brick street on the edge of Tuscola (photo). Even by the standards of Tuscola, which had an inordinate number of large and magnificent houses, it was a beauty: three stories, six bedrooms, with a full basement and a garage the size of a barn. All of the woodwork was black walnut, thick as railroad ties. He was going to buy the place for five hundred dollars from a railway company man who had gone bankrupt. At this time, John had only three hundred dollars in the bank, and so he was forced to borrow the remaining two hundred. This quest eventually led him to Chicago, and to the doorstep of Sam Meyer (photo), formerly Shmuel Meierowitz. Sam Meyer operated a number of coexisting businesses out of a single storefront on Maxwell Street, on Chicago's near west side (photo). One thing he did was lend money. Sam's son was named David; he was a lawyer. Every Italian person John Cozzano had ever spoken to for more than about ten minutes had spontaneously warned him of the danger of borrowing money from Jews. He had accepted these warnings at face value until he overheard Anglo-Saxons in Tuscola warning each other, in exactly the same terms, of the dangers of borrowing money from Italians. John borrowed the money and bought the house. As soon as he had cleaned all the junk out of the basement and taken care of a dire flea infestation, he went back up to Chicago and proposed to Francesca. He bought a ring from Sam Meyer on credit and they were married in Chicago in June 1934. After a short honeymoon at the Grand Hotel on Mackinac Island (photo), they moved into the big house in Tuscola. Within eleven months, John had repaid all of his debts to Sam Meyer, and he discovered that, contrary to legend, it was possible to carry on a financial transaction with a Jew without forfeiting your shirt, or your immortal soul. This planted a seed in his mind; he might be able to buy the grain elevator on credit and get rid of the feeble old man and the incompetent drunk whom he had been working for. John spent the rest of the 1930s buying the elevator and then trying to develop it into something bigger: a factory to convert corn into other things. Francesca spent the same time trying to get pregnant. She had four miscarriages but kept trying anyway. As of the beginning of 1942, when America entered the war, John Cozzano, Mr. Domenici, Sam Meyer, and David Meyer were partners in Corn Belt Agricultural Processors (CBAP), successful corn syrup production facility in Tuscola, Illinois (photo). John and Francesca were the parents of a brand-new baby boy, William A. Cozzano (photo), who by that time was the fourth grandchild of Guiseppe. He was, however, the first grandson. Everyone who laid eyes on the new baby predicted that he would one day be President of the United States. Thomas joined the army, was sent in the direction of North Africa, but never got there; his transport ship was sunk by U-boats in the North Atlantic. Peter found gainful employment as a Marine sniper in the Pacific. In 1943 he was taken prisoner by the Japanese and spent the rest of the war starving in a camp. John was both too old and, as a farmer, too strategically important to be sent off to war. He stayed home and tried to keep the family enterprises afloat. War required lots of parachutes. Parachutes took a hell of a lot of nylon. One of the feedstocks required to manufacture nylon was cellulose. One excellent source of cellulose happened to be corncobs. And John Cozzano's factory had been throwing away corncobs by the hundreds of tons ever since it had gone into production. The heap of corncobs that rose from the prairie outside of Tuscola had now become the highest point in several counties and could be seen from twenty miles away, especially whenever pranksters set fire to it (photo). Sam Meyer contacted everyone he knew. A lot of these were recent immigrants from Central Europe and were only too happy to invest in a parachute factory, knowing that it could have only one conceivable practical use. John got the nylon production unit up and running just in time to throw out a very low bid on a very large government contract. The next year, Allied shock troops poured into Normandy borne on billowing canopies of Cozzano nylon (photo). Peter came back from war with bad kidneys and a bad leg. While he was not well equipped for doing physical labor, he performed a useful role as a troubleshooter, figurehead, and conversationalist of CBAP until he died of kidney failure in 1955. His father, Giuseppe, died two months later. During the interval between the war and these deaths, things had gone smoothly for the Cozzano family, except for the annihilation of the ancestral farmhouse in 1953 by a tornado (photo). Two times in two months, the entire Meyer clan, led by Samuel and David, came down from Chicago to attend funeral services. Hotel rooms were scarce in Tuscola and kosher kitchens nonexistent, so John and Francesca put the Meyers up in their big stucco house and did what they could to provide them with acceptable cooking facilities. Francesca learned to keep a blowtorch handy so that Sam Meyer's son-in-law, a rabbi, could perform a ritual cleansing of her oven (photo). During these visits, William Cozzano, now thirteen, shared his bedroom with a number of younger Meyers, including David's son Mel, who was the same age. They became friends and spent most of the time down the street at Tuscola City Park playing baseball, Jews versus Italians (autographed baseball in glass box). A year later Samuel Meyer died in Chicago. The Cozzanos all came north. Some of them stayed with the Domenicis, but the Meyers returned the favor by giving other Cozzanos a place to stay. Mel and William shared a mattress on the floor (photo). After that, Mel and William stayed in constant touch. They liked each other. But they also knew they were the eldest sons of families that had accumulated much and that if they screwed up and lost it, it would be no one's fault but their own. The remaining space in the office was filled with William A. Cozzano's personal memorabilia: A black-and-white photo of his parents, the Olan Mills logo slanted across the bottom, shot in a makeshift traveling studio in a Best Western motel on the outskirts of Champaign-Urbana in 1948. An assortment of six-inch-high capital letter T's, made from cloth, mounted under glass, along with a corny photo of the seventeen-year-old Cozzano, pigskin tucked under one arm, other arm held out like a jouster's lance to straight-arm an imaginary linebacker from Arcola or Rantoul. Diploma from Tuscola High. A photo of William with Christina, his high-school sweetheart, on the campus of the University of Illinois, where they had both attended college in the early sixties. A wedding picture, the couple flanked by eight roughed and false-eyelashed sorority belles on one side and seven tuxed and pomaded University of Illinois football players, plus a single Nigerian graduate student, on the other. Diploma (summa cum laude) with major in business and minor in Romantic languages. A battered and abraded football covered with thick stout signatures, marked ROSE BOWL. Two photos of Cozzano in the Marines, mounted side by side in the same frame: one, picture-perfect William in full-dress uniform, staring into the distance as though he can see a tunnel of light in the sky at one o'clock high, JFK in glory at the end of the tunnel, asking William what he can do for his country. The second picture, two years later: William Cozzano in a village in the Central Highlands, unshaven, eyes staring out alarmingly white and clean from a smoky face, a slack-jawed, inadvertent grin, a Browning automatic rifle dangling from one hand, a cherubic Vietnamese girl sitting in the crook of the other arm with her left leg wrapped in fresh white gauze, staring up at him with her tiny mouth open in astonishment; Cozzano was smiling through a crazy weariness that threatened to bring him to his knees at the next moment but the girl sensed that she was safe there. Another glass mount, but instead of cloth letters this one had forged medallions hanging on colorful satin ribbons: a purple heart and a bronze star from Cozzano's first tour and another purple heart and a silver star from his second, surrounded by a flock of lesser decorations. Baby pictures of Mary Catherine and James. An illuminated parchment from Pope John XXIII superfluously blessing their marriage. A picture of his father on a fishing trip in Alaska, shortly before his fatal heart attack. A photo of Cozzano in his Chicago Bears uniform, sitting on his helmet to keep up and out of a sideline morass, black grease on his cheekbones, blood hardening on his knuckles, grass stains on his shoulder pads. Pro Bowl rings from a couple of different years in the Nixon and Ford administrations. The last formal portrait of Christina, shot just before she had been transfigured by radiation and chemotherapy; this one also said "Olan mills" and had been shot in a slightly nicer motel room in Champaign-Urbana by the same photographer who had done Cozzano's parents in 1948. A photo of William giving a victory speech on the front lawn of the family house in Tuscola, flanked by Mary Catherine and James. Autographed photo of William with George Bush at The Peking Gourmet Restaurant in Arlington, Virginia, a harshly flash-lit amateur snapshot, Cozzano and Bush eating Peking duck in shirtsleeves and yukking it up. Cozzano jogging around Camp David with Bill and Hilary Clinton. An invitation to a White House dinner from the current President. The dome of the Illinois State capitol was built on foundations of solid stone seventeen feet thick. Cozzano needed to keep all of this stuff in his line of sight while he worked, because these pictures and souvenirs were his foundations. Cozzano was reading a letter that he was supposed to sign. He knew that he should simply do it, but his father had told him that he should always read things before he signed them. Since a large part of Cozzano's job involved signing things, this meant that he often worked late. He was holding his big pen in his left fist, nervously popping its cap on and off with the ball of his thumb. The intercom made a gentle popping noise as Marsha, his secretary, turned on her microphone in the next room. Cozzano startled a little. Marsha had a talent for finding things to do, and when Cozzano stayed late she often hung around for a few hours and did them. Her voice came out of the speaker: "The State of the Union speech is about to begin, Governor." "Thank you," Cozzano said, and shut off the intercom. "I guess," he added, to himself. Cozzano reached for the remote control and turned it on to C-SPAN - he could not abide the network anchors - just in time to see the cameras pan over the ritualistic standing ovation given every president, no matter how incompetent. Continuing to thumb buttons on the remote, he caused a little window to open up in the corner of the screen, running the Comedy Channels' live coverage. The egregious hypocrisy of the scene disgusted him. How could those assholes cheer the person who was leading - wrong, failing to lead - the country into disaster? Eventually the applause died down, and the Speaker of the House reintroduced the president. There was a second obligatory standing ovation. Cozzano scoffed, shook his head, rubbed his temples with the palms of both hands. He couldn't take it. The cameras swept the section where the president's wife and family sat, smiling bravely. The president pathetically waved his arms to quiet the ovation, and then began his speech. A year from tonight, I hope to stand on the West Front of this great building and begin my second term as your President. (cheers and applause, mostly from one side of the hall) He proceeded to do some ritual complaining about the usual topics: the budget deficit and the national debt. Just as predictably, he blamed it on the usual suspects: gridlock in Congress, the growth of entitlements, the insurmountable power of PACs, and, of course, the need to pay interest on the national debt, which had grown to something like ten trillion dollars. The only mildly interesting news coming out of the speech so far was that he intended to adopt a Rose Garden strategy during the coming election year, staying at the White House and doing battle with the two-headed monster of the deficit and the debt. This was the only responsible thing he could have done; but Congress applauded him deliriously. It was all so completely predictable, so politics-as-usual, that Cozzano was lulled into a near coma, trapped between boredom and disgust. Which made it all the more shocking when the bombshell hit. We must either cut entitlements - the payments made to our senior citizens on Social Security, and sick people on Medicare and Medicaid - or we must cut the interest that is paid to the national debt. Now, granted, we borrowed that money. We must pay it back if we can. And we most certainly will make our best effort to pay it back. But not at the expense of the sick and the old. (applause and cheers) Our debt is the result of our own sinful irresponsibility in fiscal matters, and we must accept the consequences of those sins. But I am reminded of the words of the great Russian religious figure Rasputin, who once said, in a similar time of economic troubles, "Great sins demand great forgiveness." (applause) Let us not forget that we owe this money to ourselves. Surely we can find it in our hearts to repent from our economic foolishness and to forgive ourselves for the mistakes that were made by ourselves and by our predecessors. (applause) This nation was founded upon a great social contract. A contract in which people banded together to form governments in the defense of life, liberty, and property. This noble experiment has lasted for more than two centuries. Written into the contract by our founding father Jefferson was the assertion that if government violates the contract, the people have the right to overthrow it. This is the basis of the glorious revolutionary tradition that serves as a shining light of inspiration for the entire world. (applause, cheers) Tonight, in the spirit of Jefferson, I call for a new social contract. I am proposing to the Congress, and to the American people, the Declaration of Fiscal Independence. (applause) In short, my fellow Americans, I propose as a first step to place a cap on the percentage of our budget that can go toward paying interest on the national debt. The exact level of this cap, and the details of its implementation, are subject to discussion and agreement between my staff and Congress -and I'm sure that we can look forward to many lively discussion on the issue. (laughter) But regardless of the details, the message is the same. Great sins demand great forgiveness. Let us now forgive ourselves, so that we may go forth into the brave new world of the third millennium with a clean slate and a clear conscience. (thunderous applause and cheers) Let the message go forth to the world that the country of the third millennium will be the United States of America and that its opening breaths of life were sounded in this noble hall on this great evening. (ten-minute standing ovation) It was an outrage, pure and simple. Having failed over his entire term in office to do anything about the budget deficit, the President was now going to patch it up by allowing America to weasel out of its financial obligations. Which was bad enough in and of itself; but he was also trying to portray this measure as an act of Lincolnian fortitude on his part. Cozzano felt an atavistic desire to fly to Washington, climb up on that podium, and slap the President across the face. It was the same brute, animalistic impulse that came into his head when he imagined someone hurting his daughter. His heart thumped powerfully a few times. He realized that he was being primitive and stupid, and tried to calm himself down. There was no point in thinking these things. Still Cozzano did not sign the letter on his desk - a thank-you note to the Prime Minister of Japan for his hospitality during Cozzano's visit last week. His powerful fingers gripped the smooth inlaid barrel of the pen. The rhodium alloy nib, charged with just the correct amount of French ink, was poised a few millimeters above the grainy surface of the buttery cotton-fiber stationery that Cozzano used for personal correspondence. But when Cozzano moved the pen - that is, when he did the thing in his mind that, ever since he had been inside his mother's womb, had caused his fingers and his hand to move - nothing happened. His eyes tracked across the paper, anticipating the pen's course. Nothing. The President spoke on and on, stopping every few sentences to bask in adulation. Cozzano's hand sweated. After a while, then pen fell out of his fingers. The nib dove into the paper and slid straight across it like a plow skidding across hard prairie. It left a comet-shaped streak of blue-black on the page, whacked down flat, and rocked side to side for a few moments, making a gentle diminishing noise. He cursed under his breath and a strange sound came out of his mouth, a garbled word he'd never heard before. It sounded so unfamiliar that he tried to look up, thinking that someone else might be in the room. But no one was here; he had spoken the word himself. When he moved his head it threw him off balance and pulled him toward the left. His left arm had gone completely limp. He saw it slide off the desk, but he didn't quite believe it, because he didn't feel it move. The cufflink, a cheap hand-me-down from his father, popped against the sharp edge of the tabletop. Then his arm was swinging at his side, eased to a halt by the slight mechanical friction of his elbow and shoulder joints. He slumped back into the chair's comfortable, Cozzano-shaped recesses. His right arm slid off the desk as he did so and he found that he could move it. He was sitting comfortably in his chair now, sagging leftward. He saw his intercom and knew that he could punch the button and call Marsha. But it was not clear what he should say to her. His eyes drooped half shut, the sound of the roaring, stomping, howling, and applauding Congress closed in on him like a nail keg lowering over his head, and in his confusion, he lost his will. He was entirely too tired to do anything, and why bother to fight it? He had accomplished enough for several lifetimes. The only thing he'd missed out on so far was having some grandchildren. That, and become President, which he was going to do before the year 2000. But he wasn't sure if he really wanted that awful job anyway.
2The State of the Union was never a big event in Cacher, Oklahoma. Forty-eight year-old Otis Simpson yawned and looked at the wall clock, just for the record. It was 02:46:12 Greenwich Mean Time. He turned the sound off. The speech had devolved into endless waves of applause. Commentators were beginning to break into the sound track in hushed, solemn tones, stating the obvious: "the President shaking hands with congressional leaders as he makes his way out of the room." Soon the analysts would come on and tell Otis what he had just watched, and Otis definitely didn't need that. The only opinions that mattered would be coming in via fax and modem during the next few hours. His job was to stay awake in the meantime. So he triggered the other monitor and began to keep one eye on an HBO flick, already in progress. Otis had inherited his mother's tendency toward bulk, his father Otho's awkward looks, and a light regard for basic hygiene. The many folds in his ample frame contained an inexhaustible supply of sweat-blackened lint balls, and his thinning hair failed to conceal the skin ailments that plagued his scalp. He had never married. His mother had died giving birth to him. He served as a trusted assistant on his father's work, the full extent of which he never fully understood. Otho Simpson, eighty-six, had, as was his pattern, gone to bed at 00:00:00 Greenwich Mean Time. This time was as good a bedtime as any other and was easy to remember. Otho and Otis lived belowground, in a former lead mine, and did not pay much attention to the diurnal cycle upstairs. Their job was to gather and respond to information from all over the world, from all twenty- four time zones, and so there was not much point in trying to hew to a particular schedule. Otho was spare and gaunt, hampered by persistent urinary tract infections that filled whatever room he was in with a disconcerting odor and caused continual pain. Unlike his son, Otho had a mind that, had he chosen, could have earned him a Nobel Prize in economics or physics or at least made him a very rich man in a more conventional sense. Instead, he had become an accountant of sorts, and spent his life looking after a body of investments with a total cash value in the neighborhood of thirty trillion U.S. dollars. These assets did not belong to any one specific person or entity, as far as Otho could tell. They belonged to a coordinated inter-national network of investors. Otho didn't know who these people were. He wasn't supposed to know and he probably wasn't supposed to think about it. But he did think about it from time to time, and he had drawn some conclusions based on circumstantial evidence. Most of them were individuals, many were families; some were corporations. Their net worths varied from a few million dollars up to tens of billions. Judging from the hours when they liked to do business, most of them must be living in American and European time zones, with a few in the time zones that were used by Japan, Hong Kong, and Australia. He only knew one member of this organization by name, one Lady Guenevere Wilburdon; she was his contact and his boss. In the last half century, especially after the death off his wife in 1948, Otho had rarely left Cacher. Several times a week he would hobble on to the lift, ride it several hundred feet straight up to the surface and go for a stroll through the ruins of the town, taking in what passed for fresh air in Cacher and feeling the sun on his skin. But he felt most comfortable down below, in the subterranean capsule that was his home, surrounded by twenty feet of solid reinforced concrete, breathing filtered air and drinking distilled water. The capsule had been built during the early fifties by a huge international contractor called Maclntyre Engineering. It was built to exactly the same set of specifications used for the control capsules of Minuteman silos - easy enough, since Maclntyre had constructed most of those. Any information that could conceivably influence the performance of the economy - public and proprietary, open and secret, from hard data to vicious gossip - was funneled into the capsule over a variety of communications links. Otho read every word of it and used it to manage the investments of the Network. His life was rather solitary and he had not seen a movie in a theater since The Sound of Music, but he did not care; the honor of being the anonymous manager of a significant fraction of the assets of what used to be called the Free World sufficed to give him a value-laden life. Several hours after the conclusion of the State of the Union address, at 06:00:00 GMT, a digitized chord sounded from one of the workstations, waking Otis up. A window materialized on the screen and filled with columns of numbers. This was normal; it happened every day at this time. A chorus of faint humming noises was emanating from a stainless steel rack carrying several dozen identical fax machines. Otis was surprised to note that nearly all of the machines suddenly had long strips of paper dangling out of them, and several were still active. Most of his father's clients took a hands off approach and rarely, if ever, bothered him with specifics. Otis went to the workstation and scanned the numbers: a statistical summary of how the Network's investments had performed during the last twenty-four hours, and initial responses to the State of the Union Address from the stock exchanges in Delhi, Novosibirsk, Hong Kong, Singapore, and Tokyo. All of the capital markets were sharply down. Commodities, especially gold, were soaring uncontrollably. The digital clock on the wall clicked to 06:10. Otis went in to wake up Otho. Otho and Otis slept in steel-framed bunk beds in a small room just off the communications center. "Daddy, the figures for yesterday are in." Otho sat up in bed without hesitation, as if he'd never been asleep. Another workstation was next to him on a bedside table. He reached out with one withered hand, grabbed a mouse, and chose a few commands from the menus on the screen. A copy of the financial tables materialized. He put on a pair of extremely thick glasses that made his eyes look the size of baseballs. The numbers for the first part of the day weren't bad. But the State of the Union address had changed all that. "We got a lot of faxes too," Otis said, handing his father a thick sheaf of slick, curly paper, covered with notes from all over the world, many handwritten. "Jesus Christ," Otho said, "what did that son of a bitch say?" "Daddy, I turned the sound off on him and watched an HBO movie." "Probably not a bad idea. Pull up the CNN monitor tape and rerun the speech for me - no, hold it, I can't stand the thought of watching him. Download a transcript off the news wire." "Okay, Daddy." Ten minutes later, Otis brought back the transcript. Otho scanned through it, looking for a few key words, and went almost instantly to the concept of forgiveness. Deep vertical crevices appeared in the middle of his brow and he let out a feeble stream of air through pursed lips. By this time Otis knew he was in for a long night, so he turned on the bedside TV set and punched up CNBC. "That bastard has just got every bull and bear in the world going insane." Otho set the faxes down on his bedside table and slipped his feet into a pair of slippers by the bed. "But he's half right. This country has problems. Someone needs to do something or all of its investors will get screwed." "Investors?" "Yup. America used to have citizens. Then its government put it up for sale. Now it's got investors. You and I work for the investors." Otis regarded his father with the mixture of respect, fear, and awe that he had shown since he was a child. "What's going on, Dad?" "It was just a matter of time before some politician actually became stupid enough to mention forgiving the national debt." "Like Senator Wright?" "Yeah. Who died in a plane crash. But obviously the President thought it sounded like a catchy idea." "How are you going to handle this, Daddy?" "Crank up the word-processing software. I'm going to do the first round-robin report since the Cuban Missile Crisis. This is too big for me to just fly off the handle - I have to provide the Network some options." Otho's joints creaked and ground audibly in the nearly perfect silence of the capsule as he made his way out of bed, over to a stainless steel toilet, and from there into the control center. He sat down in front of a large high resolution monitor and began jotting down a few options, as they came into his head. Later, he could rework them into deathless prose: a. Pull investment out of the U.S. national debt - absorbing the loss immediately - and explore new areas, such as purchasing the larger part of the former Soviet Union; b. Do nothing and hope that the American political structure will muddle through; c. Intervene directly in American politics in order to return it to a certain sort of stability and to insure our long-term investment in the debt; d. Suggestions? He then directed his system to send out the message in encrypted burst-mode fax transmissions. Beyond vague geographical indications, he did not know to whom the faxes would go. When he had taken control of the Network's finances fifty years ago, it had been stipulated that all communication would be to code identified participants. The returns came in remarkably quickly. In the aftermath of the President's speech, everyone important was awake right now, regardless of time zone. With the exception of a few Middle Easterners who wanted the Network to invest massively in the Muslim-dominated republics of the former Soviet Union, most of the Network liked the third option. The clincher was a fax from Lady Wilburdon, the acting chairperson, who noted, "You have done well for us, and we place our trust in you. Put your country back in working order." He spent a few minutes doodling with an old, well-worn slide rule. Back in the early seventies he had purchased a couple of the first pocket calculators and, as a mathematician, been horrified by their illusive precision. The slide rule was a far more trustworthy and illuminating guide to the numerical world. The United States had borrowed ten trillion dollars since the onset of Reaganomics. A significant fraction of that debt was now owned by the Network. Those loans were supposed to bring in a certain fixed amount of interest every year. The cap proposed by the President would reduce that income by an amount on the order of a few tens of billions of dollars per year - possibly even more, if the country went into a deeper crisis and made further cuts. In the long run, then, the Network stood to loose hundred of billions of dollars from the measures that the President had just proposed. Otho was therefore justified in spending real money here - easily in the tens of billions. This was more than enough to throw an election. Perot had nearly done it for just a few hundred million. Otho knew perfectly well that his Network was not the only organization of its type in the world, and that he was not the only person running through this sort of a calculation tonight. It wasn't enough just to mess around with an election; everyone would be getting into that game during the next few months. The important thing was to do it well, and not just on an ad hoc basis but as part of a coherent long-range strategy. If the Network planned carefully and wasn't too obvious about it, it could go far beyond managing the outcome of this one election. It could actually erect a system that would enable America's investors to have a permanent say in the management of their assets. It would eat up a lot of the Network's liquidity, but by moving some money around, Otho would be able to free up enough to assemble quite a little war chest. The markets had all gone to hell anyway, providing a perfect cover for the enormous shifts he would have to make in the next couple of days. The more he thought about it, the more he was convinced that it was a sound decision. He should have done it a long time ago. The fact that he hadn't probably proved that he was obsolete, or something. The United States of America had severed its purpose. It was time to cash her in. Like a big creaky old corporation, her individual parts, intelligently liquidated, were worth more than the whole. She still had the best damn military money could buy, as the Iraqis had discovered during the Gulf War, and she still came up with new ideas better than anyone. Under new, fiscally responsible management, she could still perform well, pay her debts, and provide a tolerable standard of living for her citizens. Otho needed to make sure that that management was provided by the Network and not by one of the other entities with which the Network competed. He sent out a fax to Mr. Salvador telling him to swing by Cacher for a face-to face. That was the hard part; he had never been good at the interpersonal stuff. Then he got down to the work he did better than anyone else in the world: sending out sell orders, shuffling assets, arranging his pieces on the board. In simple numerical terms, liquidating the Constitution of the United States was not the biggest or the most difficult job Otho had ever undertaken. For some reason it made him nervous anyway. Since the Kennedy assassination he'd had nothing but contempt for politicians. But he wasn't attacking a particular president here; he was attacking the institution of the presidency. Meddling with primal forces. He moved slowly, made mistakes in his arithmetic, forgot things, kept going back on his own decisions. It was an unfamiliar sensation to be agonizing about his job. Images kept coming unbidden into his mind, clouding his thoughts: FDR declaring war on Japan, the moon landings, D-Day, football games on Thanksgiving, Lou Gehrig's farewell speech. More than once his fingers came to a dead stop on the keyboard as these and more personal, more emotional memories surged uncontrollably through his mind. He wondered if senility had finally touched him. Finally he had to get up and hobble over to their little kitchen and take the bottle of vodka out of the freezer. He knew that he was doing the right thing here, that if he didn't someone else would. But it hurt. By 10:00:00 GMT, the communications room was once again quiet. Otis woke up from a short nap and went in to check on Otho. From the dark room, a thin voice almost chanted, "Well you know, this country once worked real well, when we had values that people believed in." Otis saw the empty vodka bottle on the table, still fogged with condensation, and realized that his father had just gotten drunk for the first time in three decades. "What do you mean by values?" "They were code words like honesty, hard work, self- reliance . myths, actually, to motivate the people to accept the natural inequities found in a market system. In the old days, contract was sacred: divorce, bankruptcy, fraud, were taboos for the average people. The rogues of course, the robber barons were beyond that. We have to return the country to those values so that there won't even be a thought to renege on the debt." "Daddy . . ." "Yes, boy?" "How will you do it?" "I think I'll hand this one off to Mr. Salvador. He's an ambitious fella. He obviously wants to take my place a couple of years down the road, or whenever Lady Wilburdon decides to replace me. He's an asshole, and there's a good chance he'll get killed or ruined trying to do this. And if he survives, he'll be a better man for it." "Daddy?" "Yes, boy." "Good night, Daddy."
3"Look, it's not like this is some kind of a-" Aaron Green said. Then a cautious instinct took control and he brought himself up short. He was looking over the epaulets of the security guard at a large red sign on the wall: DO NOT MAKE JOKES OR COMMENTS REGARDING WEAPONS OR EXPLOSIVE DEVISES. "It's not a what?" said the guard in front of Aaron, a wiry older white man. Aaron was still trying to decide where to begin when the guard spoke the dreaded words: "Step over here with me, sir." Aaron followed the guard over to a table, just beyond the picket line of metal detectors, still within the dreaded security zone. Beyond it lay the concourse, a pacifist Utopia full of weaponless citizens streaming in an orderly fashion toward their gates. In the overpriced bars and overpriced restaurants, business suited travelers stood, drinks in hand, below television sets, watching the President deliver his State of the Union address. "What do we have there, sir?" said the guard behind the table, the chief of this beady-eyed, polyethnic truth squad. He was a very wide, convex black man with a deep voice and he was trying to sound open-minded and jolly. He was wearing an ID flasher with the name BRISTOLS, MAX. "It's a piece of electronic equipment," Aaron said, setting the case on the table. "I see. And you can open this up and show it to me?" Bristol said. The case was largely full of gray foam rubber. A rectangular cavity the size of a couple of shoe boxes had been excavated from the center. Filling this cavity was a white steel box with ventilation slots cut into the top. The box was exactly the right width to fit into a standard electronics rack. The plan was that one day, a whole lot of these things would be sacked together in racks, racks lined up next to each other, hundreds in a single room. The room and the equipment would be owned by big media companies in L.A. They would buy all of the stuff from Green Biophysical Systems, of which Aaron Green was the founder, chief technologist, president, and treasurer. With the lid of the case open, the upper half of the faceplate was visible. It had no controls, knobs, or anything, just a single red LED with the word power printed underneath it, and, in big letters, the Green Biophysical Systems logo, and the acronym IMIPREM. The power cord was coiled up in a separate niche in the gray foam rubber. Yet another niche contained an item that Aaron hoped they wouldn't notice: a cuff. Hard plastic shell lined with black foam, for comfort. He wondered what the guards would think of that. "Looks interesting," the guard said. His insincerity was palpable. "What is it?" Aaron took a deep breath. "An instantaneous, multiplexing, integrating, physiological response evaluation and monitoring device." "What does it do?" It doesn't blow up. "Well. It's a little bit like a polygraph." "I need to see it work." "What?' "I need to see your IMIPREM work," Bristol said. Aaron pulled the IMIPREM out of its foam rubber nest and set it on the table. Then he uncoiled the power cord, fit one end into a three-pronged recessed socket on the back of the unit, and plugged the other end into a wall outlet near the table. The little LED came on. "There," he said. Bristol raised his eyebrows and looked extremely dubious. "That's all it does?" "Well, it does a lot more than that, naturally," Aaron said, "but it has no interface, per se, except through a computer. See, if I could hook this up to a computer, it would produce all kinds of meaningful output." "But the only thing it'll do right now, here, for me, is turn on this little red light," Bristol said. Aaron was trying to come up with a diplomatic way to say yes when they were interrupted by another person. He was carrying a laptop computer. He was holding the device out at arm's length. "Tick, tick, tick, tick!" the man was saying. But he pronounced it "teeuhk, teeuhk." He was one of those southerners who could add syllables to words and make it sound good. "And then somewhere over Newark - BOOM! Haw, haw, haw!" The old guard grinned and guided him to the table. "Sir," Bristol said. "Howdy," the man with the computer said. "This is a Compaq - more bang for the buck than IBM! Haw haw!" As Aaron watched in disbelief, Bristol exchanged a friendly, knowing grin with the big southerner. "Got a Gamma Prime CPU, a gigabyte drive, and three pounds of Semtex," the southerner said. He had a smooth, trombonelike voice that could be heard for miles. All of the metal detector guards were looking at him and chuckling. The businessmen filing through the metal detectors, picking their pocket change out of the plastic buckets, were looking at the southerner with appreciative grins, shaking their heads. He was tall, probably a couple of inches over six feet, had love handles, an unexceptional suit, a high forehead, the beginnings' of jowls, a florid complexion, eyebrows raised up in a perpetually surprised or skeptical expression, a tiny little pursed mouth. "Whoa, looks like I got some competition here!" he blurted, eyeing the IMIPREM in mock wonder. Then his whole face changed; suddenly his eyes were narrowed and darting, he had become secret and conspiratorial, shooting sidelong glances at Bristol, Max. "Abu Jihad!" he hissed at Aaron. "Praise be to Allah! We have perfected a nuclear device capable of fitting under an airline seat!" The big guard and the southerner joined together in loud, booming laughter. "I got a glass of bourbon with my name on it in that bar by the gate," the southerner finally said, "so let me crank this thing up for you and get on out of here. If you don't mind, sir," he added to Aaron, courteously enough. "Not at all." The man snapped the computer open and folded back the top; to reveal its screen, a flat, high-resolution, color monitor. Aaron had other things to be worrying about right now, but he couldn't help staring at the man's computer; it was one of the nicest and most powerful laptops you could buy, certainly one of the most expensive. These things had only been on the market for a couple of months. This one was already worn and battered around the edges. The southerner hit the on button, hollering "BOOM!" so loud that Bristol actually startled a little bit. Then he laughed. The screen came alive with windows and icons. From a distance, Aaron recognized about half of the icons. He knew what this software did. He could guess that the southerner did a lot of statistical analysis, desktop publishing, and even desktop video production. "Sir, would this do the trick?" Bristol was saying. "Yo!" said the southerner, giving Aaron a dig on the arm. "He's talking to you!" "Huh?" Aaron said. "Would this computer be capable of talking to your machine there?" Bristol said. "Well, yes, if it had the right software loaded on to its hard drive. Which it doesn't." "Oh, I see what's going on," the southerner said. Suddenly he stuck out his hand toward Aaron. "Cy Ogle," he said. "Pronounced, but not spelled, like mogul." "Aaron Green." Cy Ogle laughed. "So you have to show this guy here that your box won't blow up when we reach our cruising altitude. And until you hook it up to a computer, it won't do anything except turn on that little red light." "Exactly." "Which don't mean jack to him, because that light is about the size of a grain of rice, and for all he knows the rest of the box is full of black powder and roofing nails." "Well..." "You have the software with you? On floppies? Well, load it in there, and let's take this baby for a spin." Aaron couldn't believe the guy was serious. But he was. Aaron fished the diskette with the IMIPREM software out of his briefcase and popped it into the drive on Ogle's machine. A single-typed command copied the files on to Ogle's hard drive. In the meantime, Ogle had already figured out what to do with the cable: he ran it from the back of the IMIPREM into the corresponding port on the laptop. "Okay. Ready to roll," Aaron said. Aaron unbuttoned his shirt cuff. He fished the plastic cuff out of the case and snapped it snugly around his exposed wrist. A ten-foot cable dangled from the cuff. Most of it was coiled up and held together by a plastic wire tie. Aaron plugged it into the back of the IMIPREM. A new window materialized on the screen of Ogle's computer. It was a moving, animated bar graph. Half a dozen colored bars, of different lengths, fluctuated up and down. At the base of each bar was a label: BP RESP TEMP PERSP PULS GSR NEUR "It's monitoring my body right now. See, the bars stand for blood pressure, respiration, body temp, and a few other things. Of course, this is its most basic level of functioning, beyond this it's capable of an incredible number of different-" Ogle's hand slammed down on Aaron's shoulder and gripped him like a pair of barbecue tongs. "I'm an undercover agent for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms," Cy Ogle said, "You're under arrest for conspiracy to commit terrorist acts on board an airliner. Don't move or you'll be shot!" "What!?" Aaron screamed. "Just kidding," Ogle said, "Haw, haw!" "He's right, look at the bars," the guard said. Blood pressure and just about everything else had suddenly shot way up. As they watched, and as Aaron calmed down, the bars subsided. "Thanks for the demonstration, sir, it was very interesting," the guard said. "Have a nice flight." Then Bristol turned to look down the concourse. Aaron and Ogle were both looking that way too; some kind of generalized disturbance seemed to have broken out. But it wasn't hooligans or terrorists. It was businessmen in suits, stampeding out of the bars and restaurants where they had been watching the President on TV. They ran down the concourse, knocking travelers and sky caps aside, and began to scuffle over the few available pay telephones. Ogle chuckled indulgently. "Looks like the President made a corker of a speech," he said. "Maybe we should hook you machine up to them." As it turned out, they were on the same flight, sitting across the aisle from each other in the first row of first class. Coach was full of shuffling grannies and beefy sailors; first class was mostly empty. Ogle worked on his computer for the first hour or so, whacking the keys so rapidly that it sounded like a hailstorm on the tray table, occasionally mumbling a good-natured "shit!" and doing it again. Aaron pulled a blank tablet of graph paper out of his briefcase, uncapped a pen, and stared at it until they were somewhere over Pittsburgh. Then it was dinnertime and he put it away. He was trying to organize his thoughts. But he didn't have any. After dinner, Ogle moved from the window to the aisle seat, right across from Aaron, and then startled Aaron a little by ordering them both drinks. "Big presentation," Ogle said. Aaron heaved a sigh and nodded. "You got some kind of small high-tech company." "Yeah." "You developed this thing, spent all your venture capital, probably maxed out your credit cars to boot, and now you got to make some money off it or your investors will cash you in." "Yeah, that's about right." "And the cash flow is killing you because all the parts that go into these things cost money, but you don't actually get paid for them until, what, thirty or sixty days after you ship 'em. If you're lucky." "Yeah, it's a problem all right," Aaron said. His face was getting red. This had started out interesting, gotten uncanny, and now it was starting to annoy him. "So, let's see. You're going to L.A. The big industry in L.A. is entertainment. You got a device that measures people's reactions to things. A people meter." "I wouldn't call it a people meter." "Course not. But that's what they'll call it. Except it's a whole lot better than the usual kind, I could see that right away. Anyway, you're going to go meet with a bunch of executives for movie and television studios, maybe some ad agencies, and persuade 'em to buy a whole bunch of these things, hook 'em up to man-on-thestreet types, show 'em movies and TV programs so they can do all that test audience stuff." "Yeah, that's about right. You're a very perceptive man, Mr. Ogle." "What I get paid for," Ogle said. "You work in the media industry?" "Yeah, that's a good way to put it," Ogle said. "You seem to know a lot about what I do." "Well," Ogle said. All of a sudden he seemed quiet, reflective. He pushed the button on his armrest and leaned his chair back a couple of inches. He leaned his head back and closed his eyes, curled one hand around his drink. "High-tech has its own biorhythms." "Biorhythms?" Ogle opened one eye, turned his head a bit, peered at Aaron. "Course you probably don't like that word because you are Mr. High Tech, and it sounds to you like cocktail-party pseudoscience." "Exactly." Aaron was beginning to think that Ogle knew him better than he knew himself. "Fair enough. But I have a legitimate point here. See, we live under capitalism. Capitalism is defined by competition for capital. Would-be businessmen, and existing businesses seeking to expand, fight for the tiny supply of available capital like starving jackals around a zebra leg. "That's a depressing image." "It's a depressing country. It's not like that in other countries where people save more money. But it's like that here, now, because we don't have values that encourage savings." "Okay." "Consequently you are starved for capital." "Right!" "You had to get capital from venture capitalists - or vulture capitalists, as we call them - who are like the vultures that feed on the jackals when they become too starved and weak to defend themselves." "Well, I don't think my investor would agree." "They probably would," Ogle said, "they just wouldn't do so in your presence." "Okay." "Venture capitalism is risky and so the vulture capitalists hedge their bets by pooling funds and investing in a number of start-ups at once - backing several horses, as it were." "Of course." "But what they don't tell you is that at a certain point a couple of years into its life cycle, the start-up suddenly needs to double or triple its capitalization in order to survive. To get over those cash flow problems that occur when orders suddenly go from zero to more than zero. And when that happens, the vulture capitalists look at all of their little companies and they cull out the weakest two-thirds and let them starve. The rest, they provide with the capital they need in order to continue." Aaron said nothing. Suddenly he was feeling tired and depressed. "That's what's happening to your company right now," Ogle said. "You're, what, three years old?" "How'd you know that!?" Aaron said, twisting around in his seat, glaring at Ogle, who remained quiescent in his big fat chair. He was almost expecting to see a crew from Candid Camera filming him from the galley. "Just a lucky guess. Your logo," Ogle said, "you designed your logo yourself." Again Aaron's face reddened. He had, in fact, designed it himself. But he thought it was fairly professional, a lot more so than the typical home-brewed logo. "Yeah, so what?" he said. "It works. And it was free." "Okay, this is ridiculous," Aaron said. "How did you know that?" "If you were old enough to have made the cut - if you had passed through the capitalization barrier - you would have immediately gone out and hired professional designers to spiff up your corporate image. The vultures would have insisted on it." "Yeah, that was going to be our next step," Aaron said. "That's okay. That speaks well of you, as a scientist, if not as a businessman," Ogle said. "A lot of people start with image and then try to develop substance. But you are a techie and you hate all that superficial crap. You refuse to compromise." "Well, thank you for that vote of confidence," Aaron said, not entirely sarcastically. The flight attendant came through. They each ordered another drink. "You seem to have this all figured out," Aaron said. "Oh, no, not at all." "I don't mean that to sound resentful," Aaron said. "I was just wondering-" "Yes?" Ogle said, raising his eyebrows very high and looking at Aaron over his glasses, which he had slid down his nose. "What do you think? You think I have a chance?" "In L.A.?" "Yeah." "With the big media moguls?" "Yeah." "No. You don't have a chance." Aaron heaved a big sigh, closed his eyes, took a gulp of his drink. He had just met Ogle but he instinctively knew that everything that Ogle had said, all night long, was absolutely true. "Which doesn't mean that your company doesn't have a chance." "It doesn't?" "Course not. You got a good product there. It's just that you don't know how to market it." "You think I should have gone out and gotten a flashy logo." "Oh, no, I'm not saying that at all. I think your logo's fine. It's just that you have a misconception in your marketing strategy." "How so?" "You're aiming at the wrong people," Ogle said, very simply and plainly, as if he were getting annoyed at Aaron for not figuring this all out on his own. "Who else can I aim at with a product of this type?" Ogle squeezed his armrest again, leaned forward, allowed his seat to come upright. He put his drink on his tray table and sat up straight, as if getting down to work. "You're right in thinking that the media need to do people metering kinds of stuff," he said. "The problem is that the kinds of people who run media companies are not going to buy your product." "Why not? It's the best thing like it. It's years ahead." Ogle cut him off with a dismissive wave of the hand. "Doesn't matter," he said flatly, and shook his head. "Doesn't matter." "It doesn't matter how good my product is?" "Not at all. Not with those people. Because you are selling to media people. And media people are either thugs, morons, or weasels. You haven't dealt very much with media people, have you?" "Very little." "I can tell. Because you don't have that kind of annoying, superficial quality that people get when they deal for a living with thugs, morons, and weasels. You are very earnest and sincere and committed to certain principles, as a scientist, and thugs and morons and weasels do not understand that. And when you give them an explanation of how brilliant your machine is, you'll just be putting them off." "I have spent a hell of a lot of time finding ways to explain this device in terms that almost anyone can understand," Aaron said. "Doesn't mater. Won't help. Because in the end, no matter how you explain it, it comes down to fine, subtle technicalities. Media people don't like that. They like the big, fabulous concept." Ogle pronounced "fabulous" with a mock Hollywood gush. Aaron laughed rather hotly. He had seen enough media people to know this was true. "If you come to a media person and you want to do a miniseries about the Civil War, or Shakespeare, or the life of J.S. Bach, they will laugh in your face. Because nobody wants to watch that stuff. You know, intelligent stuff. They want pro wrestling. Media people who try to do Shakespeare get fired or go broke. The only ones who survived long enough to talk to you are the ones who backed pro wrestling. And when you come up to them talking about the fine points of your brilliant technology, it makes them think of Shakespeare and Leonardo da Vinci, which they hate and fear." "So I'm dead." "If you rely on selling to media people, you're dead." "But who else needs a device like this one except for media people?" "Well," Ogle said softly, sounding almost surprised, as if he hadn't gotten around to considering this question. "Well, actually, I could use it. Maybe." "You said you were in media," Aaron said. Ogle held one finger up. "Not exactly. I said I worked in the media industry. But I am not a media person, per se." "What are you?" "A scientist." "And what is your field of study?" "You, Aaron, are a biophysicist. You study the laws that determine the functioning of the body. Well, I am a political biophysicist. I study the laws that govern the functioning of the body politic." "Oh. Could you be a little more specific?" "People call me a pollster," Ogle said. "Which is like calling you a palm reader."
4Eleanor Boxwood Richmond heard the State of the Union address on the radio, but she didn't really listen to it. She was driving a borrowed car down abandoned streets in Eldorado Highlands, an aborted suburb ten miles north of Denver. She had borrowed the car from Doreen, who lived in the trailer next to hers, several miles to the east, in the town of Commerce City. In case the police tried to phone with any news of her husband, Eleanor had dropped her football phone out her kitchen window, pulled it across the gap between her trailer and Doreen's, and fed it through the window of Doreen's bedroom. Eleanor's husband, Harmon, for whom she was searching, had obtained the football phone free of charge by subscribing to Sports Illustrated some years ago. Now the Sports Illustrated were still showing up on time, every week, while Harmon himself, depressed by unemployment and bankruptcy, had become more and more erratic. Some things you could at least count on. Eleanor felt foolish and humiliated every time she spoke on the football phone. It did not make looking for a job in the banking industry any easier. She would sit there in her trailer, which would be baking hot or freezing cold according to the outside temperature. She kept the windows closed even in summer so that the screaming of Doreen's kids, and the heavy metal from the trailer on the other side, would not be audible to the person she was speaking to. She would telephone people wearing dark suits in air-conditioned buildings and she would hold the little plastic football to the side of her head and try to sound like a banker. So far she had not gotten any jobs. Back in the old days, when the whole family had lived together, happily, in their big house in this suburban development in Eldorado Highlands, they had had a phone in every room. In addition to the football phone they had had a sneaker phone; a cheap little Radio Shack phone that would always go off the hook unless you set it down firmly on a hard surface; and a couple of solid, traditional AT&T telephones. All of these phones had disappeared during the second burglary of their trailer and so they had been forced to get the football phone out of storage and use that instead. Eleanor Richmond had not seen her husband, Harmon, in two days. For the first day, this had been more of a relief than anything else, because usually when she did see him, he was half-reclined on their broken-backed sofa in front of the TV set, drinking. From time to time he would go out and get a McJob, work at it for a few days, quit or get fired, and then come back home. Harmon never lasted very long at McJobs because he was an engineer, and flipping burgers or jerking Slurpees grated on his nerves, just as talking on the football phone grated on Eleanor's. The neighborhood that Eleanor was driving through had been built on a perfectly flat high plains ranch in the early eighties. All of the houses were empty, and three-quarters of them always had been; as you drove down the curvy streets, you could look across yards that were reverting to short-grass prairie, in through the front windows of the houses, all the way through their empty interiors, out the back windows, across a couple of more yards, and through another similar house on another similar street. Eleanor and Harmon Richmond had purchased their house brand new, before the carpet was even installed. It was early in the Reagan administration. Harmon worked for a medium-sized aerospace firm that sold avionics to the Defense Department. Eleanor had just finished raising their two children to school age and had reentered the workforce. She had started out as a teller for a bank in Aurora and been promoted to customer service representative in fairly short order. Soon she would be branch manager. Eleanor's mother, a widow, had sold the ancestral town house in Washington, D.C., and moved out to a fairly nice retirement community a short distance away. They were doing pretty well for themselves. So, when the houses around them remained empty, for a month, then six months, then a year, and the value of their house began to fall, they didn't get too worried about it. Everyone makes a bum investment now and then. They were well compensated, the mortgage payments weren't that bad, and they could easily cover their expenses, including the monthly payment to Mother's retirement community. Times had actually been good for several years. They should have taken advantage of that to squirrel some money away. But the Richmonds were the only people in their respective families who had managed to make the breakthrough to the middle class, which meant that each one of them had a coterie of siblings, nephews, nieces, and cousins living in various ghettos up and down the East Coast, all of whom felt they had a claim on what they all imagined was the family fortune. They wired a lot of money back East. It didn't come back. They broke even until the early nineties, when Harmon's company got LBO'd, and the financiers in New York who had bought it began to break it up and sell off the little parts to various people. The particular part of it that Harmon worked for got sold to Gale Aerospace, a defense contractor based in Chicago. They gave him a choice: move to Chicago or move to Chicago. But they couldn't move to Chicago without selling their house, which now was worth half what they had paid for it. Harmon got fired. They following year, the bank that Eleanor worked for was bought out by a huge California bank that already had millions of branches all over the area including one that was directly across the street from the one where Eleanor worked. They closed her branch and she lost her job. The foreclosure on their house had not been long in coming. They had bounced around from one big apartment complex to another for a few years and finally wound up in the trailer park in Commerce City, next to Doreen. They still had two cars, a 1981 Volvo wagon that they had bought used, and a rather old Datsun that did not work anymore and -was parked, permanently, in front of the trailer. Harmon had taken the Volvo with him when he disappeared, stranding Eleanor in the trailer. She had sought him everywhere else. Now, just for the sake of being complete, she was back in the old neighborhood. It was amazing how quickly you forgot the street patterns. It was almost as if the people who laid these things out wanted you to get lost. She drove for a quarter of an hour down the winding lanes, courts, and terraces, flipping U turns in circles. The voice of the President of the United States continued to whinny from the radio. The words seemed almost devoid of meaning and the rhythm of the speech was constantly broken up by outbursts of applause and cheering. The pale, desiccated prairie grass, dusted with powdery snow, reflected the moonlight through the windows of the empty houses. Many of the streets had never been finished, the asphalt would simply terminate and become a hard-packed arroyo lined with uncompleted houses, their naked studs and unconnected plumbing lines projecting into the dry air like the rib cages of dead animals. Finally she saw some landmarks that reminded her of where she was, and her old reflexes took over, guiding her automatically through the twists and turns. Their house sat up on a little rise at the end of a cul-de-sac, a lollipop shaped street that broadened into a circle at the end. Their house was right at the top of the lollipop, looking down the length of the street and out over a nice view of the Rockies rising into the night sky with the lights of Denver lapping up against them. The house shone tonight in the moonlight. The "White House." They had called it that partly because it was white, and partly because moving into it had made them feel like they white people. It was meant ironically. Feeling like a white person had been one of Eleanor Richmond's big goals in life. She had grown up in the heart of Washington, D.C., and had often gone for weeks at a time without seeing a single white face. People would come in from other parts of the country and complain about how the system was stacked against them; the cops and the judges and the juries were all white. But in D.C., the cops and judges and juries were all black. As were the teachers and the preachers and the nuns who had educated Eleanor. She had never gotten the sense that being black singled her out in any way. In some ways that had actually made it easier for her and Harmon to settle down in a predominantly white middle-class area. Still, moving into a white house in a suburban development in Colorado had made her feel like a pioneer on the edge of the wilderness. She had often longed to jump into the Volvo and drive back to D.C. It felt better if she joked about it, and so she called it the White House. And when her relatives from D.C. came out to visit and bum money off of them, she laughed and joked about the White House all the way from the airport, so that by the time they got there, and saw just how white it was, they were ready for it, and they didn't take her for some kind of traitor. When she pulled into the old cul-de-sac, the White House was dead ahead, sitting up on its little hill, and it was all lit up from within. The only house within a mile that was lit up. Someone must have broken into it and turned all the power back on at the circuit panel. Someone named Harmon. Eleanor braked Doreen's little car to a halt, there in the handle of the little lollipop street, and sat for a couple of minutes, staring through the windshield, up the hill, at the White House full of light and good cheer. The Volvo was not visible anywhere. But the light inside the garage was turned on. Once he'd gotten the power restored, he must have used it to open the garage door, and parked the Volvo inside, just like in the old days. Eleanor was trying to make up her mind what she should do now. Because her husband had clearly gone crazy. Either that, or gotten so drunk that he might as well be crazy. She was tired of having crazy relatives. Her mother had Alzheimer's. They had moved her to a much cheaper nursing home and might have to move her into the trailer any day now. She was basically crazy. Her kids were both teenagers, hence crazy by definition. Now her husband was crazy. Eleanor Richmond was the only person in the whole family who was not crazy. Not that she wasn't tempted. Eventually she reasoned that, crazy or not, it wouldn't do her husband any good to wind up in jail. He might think, in his own crazy, drunk mind, that he still owned this house. But he didn't. The Resolution Trust Corporation owned it; they had taken it over from the defunct savings and loan that had foreclosed on it. Eventually the RTC would probably sell it to speculators who would come and strip out the usable wiring and carpets, or maybe just bulldoze the whole thing down to its floor slab and turn the neighborhood into a dirt-bike track or a toxic waste dump. Eleanor knew that this house was walking dead, a real estate zombie, and that it was going to be wasted. But that didn't change the fact that they didn't own it anymore and Harmon could go to jail for having broken into it. Maybe going to jail would do Harmon some good. Shame him a little, snap him out of his depression. But she kept saying that to herself every time something bad happened to them and it never worked; he just got more depressed and bitter. He didn't need any more shame. She'd better go get him. Once again, Eleanor, the solid one, the noncrazy maternal figure, would bail everyone else out. Someday she would have to indulge herself and go crazy a little and let someone else bail her out. But she didn't know anyone who was up for the job. The front door was unlocked. The house smelled funny. Maybe it had been shut up for too long, baking in the sun that poured in through the windows all day, peeling all kinds of fumes and chemicals out of the paint and the carpet and making the air stink. She left the door open. "Harmon?" she said. Her voice echoed off every wall. There was no answer. He was probably dead drunk in the living room. But he was not in the living room. The only things there, the only sign that Harmon had been in the place at all, were a few tools dropped on the floor in one corner of the room, over by a little broom closet where they used to store the slide projector and the Monopoly game and the jigsaw puzzles. The door to the broom closet was open, the tools spilled out on the floor next to it. A h