Alla inlägg den 16 maj 2011

Av debbyhanxu debbyhanxu - 16 maj 2011 08:53

Crap. Cheap analysis. For all his somber brooding, in weather conducive to contemplation and to dark speculation, Ethan’s every observation seemed obvious and useless. He ruminated on the apple-damp words: THE EYE IN THE APPLE? THE WATCHFUL WORM? THE WORM OF ORIGINAL SIN? DO WORDS HAVE ANY PURPOSE OTHER THAN CONFUSION? Stumped, he was grateful when the phone rang at a few minutes past ten o’clock, drawing him away from the windows and to the desk. Laura Moonves, an old friend from the LAPD, had been tracking down a license-plate number for him. She worked out of the Detective Support Division. Only once before in the past year had he presumed upon their friendship in this way. “Got your pervert,” Laura said. “Suspected pervert,” he corrected. “The three-year-old Honda is registered to Rolf Herman Reynerd in West Hollywood.” She spelled each name and gave him an address. “What kind of parents Rolf a kid?” Laura knew all about names. “It’s not so bad. Nicely masculine, in fact. In Old German, it means ‘famous wolf.’ Ethan, of course, means ‘permanent, assured.’ ” Two years ago, they’d dated. For Laura, Ethan had been anything but permanent, assured. She’d have liked permanence, some assurance. He had been too wounded to provide what she wanted. Or too stupid. “Looked him up for a rap sheet,” Laura said, “but he’s clean. DMV says ‘hair brown, eyes blue.’ Says ‘sex male.’ I like sex male. I don’t [11] get enough sex male. Height six-one, weight one-eighty. DOB—June sixth, nineteen seventy-two, which makes him thirty-one.” Ethan had it all on a notepad. “Thanks, Laura. I owe you one.” “So then tell me—how big’s his charlie?” “Isn’t that in the DMV file?” “I don’t mean Rolf’s charlie. I mean Manheim’s. Does it hang to his ankles or just to his knees?” “I’ve never seen his charlie, but he doesn’t seem to have any trouble walking.” “Cookie, maybe you can introduce us sometime.” Ethan had never known why she called him Cookie. “The man would bore your ass off, Laura, and that’s the truth.” “Pretty as he is, I wouldn’t need conversation. I’d just shove a rag in his mouth, tape his lips shut, and off we’d go to paradise.” “Basically it’s my job to keep people like you away from him.” “Truman derives from two Old English words,” she said. “It means ‘steadfast, loyal, trustworthy, constant.’ ” “You can’t get a date with the Face by making me feel guilty. Besides, when wasn’t I loyal and trustworthy?” “Cookie, two out of four doesn’t mean you deserve your name.” “You were too good for me anyway, Laura. You’ve got more to give than a shlump like me can appreciate.” “I’d like to see your old Ten Card,” she said, referring to his record of service on the force. “Must be more brown stars for ass kissing on that baby than any hundred other cards in the history of the job.” “If you’re done dissing me, I’ve been wondering. ... Rolf. Famous wolf. Does that make sense? What’s a wolf have to do to get famous?” “Kill a lot of sheep, I guess.” By the time Ethan said good-bye to Laura, a thin rain had begun to fall again. Without the ardor of a wind, the droplets barely kissed the study windows. [12] Using the remote control, he switched on the TV and then the VCR. The tape was already loaded. He’d watched it six times before. Exterior security cameras throughout the estate numbered eighty-six. Every house door and window and all the approaches across the grounds were monitored. Only the north wall of the estate abutted public property. This long rampart, including the gate, was under surveillance by cameras mounted in the trees on the land directly across the street, a parcel also owned by Channing Manheim. Anyone reconnoitering the front-wall security, the operation of the gate, and the protocols of visitor identification would detect no cameras on the public side or in the estate trees that overhung the wall. They would assume that surveillance could be conducted solely from within the property. Meanwhile, they would be watched by the cameras on the farther side of the narrow Bel Air byway, barely two lanes wide, which lacked sidewalks and streetlamps. A zoom shot would provide a clear ID to help ensure a conviction if the subject proceeded from reconnoitering to any act of criminal intent. The cameras operated 24/7. From the security office in the groundskeeper’s building and from several points in the house, any videocàm in the system could be accessed if you knew the command. Several televisions in the house and a bank of six in the security office could receive the video feed from any camera. One TV could display as many as four views simultaneously in quarter-screen format. Therefore, the security team was able to study images from as many as twenty-four cameras at any one time. Mostly, the guards drank coffee and bullshitted each other. If an alarm was triggered, however, they could have an immediate, close look at whatever corner of the estate had been violated. Camera by camera, they would be able to track an intruder as he moved from one field of view into another. From the security-office keyboard, a guard could direct the video [13] feed from any of the eighty-six sources to a VCR. The system included twelve VCRs capable of simultaneously recording forty-eight feeds in quarter-screen format. Even if a guard were not paying attention, motion detectors associated with each camera would instigate automatic recording of that field of vision when any living thing larger than a dog passed through its area of responsibility. At 3:32 A.M the previous night, motion detectors related to Camera 01, which ceaselessly panned the western end of the north perimeter, picked up a three-year-old Honda. Instead of passing by as the infrequent other traffic had done throughout the night, the car pulled off the pavement and parked a hundred yards short of the entrance gate. The previous five black boxes had come by Federal Express with fake return addresses. Here Ethan had been presented with the first opportunity to identify the sender. Now, less than seven hours later, he stood in his study and watched the Honda in full-screen format. The narrow shoulder of the road prevented the driver from parking the car entirely out of the eastbound lane. In daylight, the exclusive streets of Bel Air didn’t carry a heavy load of traffic. At that late hour, they were hardly traveled. Nevertheless concerned about safety, the driver of the Honda didn’t kill his headlights when he parked. He left the engine running and switched on his emergency blinkers.

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Because the black boxes came without a word of explanation, the authorities would not consider them to be death threats. As long as the sender’s intention remained open to debate, this failed to be a matter for the police. Deliveries 4 and 5 had been trusted to an old friend in the print lab of the Scientific Investigation Division of the Los Angeles Police Department, who processed them off the record. They were placed in a glass tank and subjected to a cloud of cyanoacrylate fumes, which readily condensed as a resin on the oils that formed latent prints. In fluorescent light, no friction-ridge patterns of white resin had been visible. Likewise, in a darkened lab, with a cone-shaded halogen lamp focused at oblique angles, the boxes and their contents continued to appear clean. Black magnetic powder, applied with a Magna-Brush, had revealed nothing. Even bathed in a methanol solution of rhodamine 6G, scanned in a dark lab with the eerie beam from a water-cooled argon ion laser generator, the objects had revealed no telltale luminous whorls. The nameless stalker was too careful to leave such evidence. Nevertheless, Ethan handled this sixth delivery with the care he’d exhibited while examining the five previous items. Surely no prints existed to be spoiled, but he might want to check later. [7] With the cuticle scissors, he snipped seven stitches, leaving the final three to serve as hinges. The sender must have treated the apple with lemon juice or with another common culinary preservative to ensure a proper presentation. The meat was mostly white, with only minor browning near the peel. The core remained. The seed pocket had been scooped clean of pits, however, to provide a setting for the inserted item. Ethan had expected a worm: earthworm, corn earworm, cutworm, leech, caterpillar, trematode, one type of worm or another. Instead, nestled in the apple flesh, he found an eye. For an ugly instant, he thought the eye might be real. Then he saw that it was only a plastic orb with convincing details. Not an orb, actually, but a hemisphere. The back of the eye proved to be flat, with a button loop. Somewhere a half-blinded doll still smiled. When the stalker looked at the doll, perhaps he saw the famous object of his obsession likewise mutilated. Ethan was nearly as disturbed by this discovery as he might have been if he’d found a real eye in the red delicious. Under the eye, in the hollowed-out seed pocket, was a tightly folded slip of paper, slightly damp with absorbed juice. When he unfolded it, he saw typing, the first direct message in the six packages: THE EYE IN THE APPLE? THE WATCHFUL WORM? THE WORM OF ORIGINAL SIN? DO WORDS HAVE ANY PURPOSE OTHER THAN CONFUSION? Ethan was confused, all right. Whatever it meant, this threat—the eye in the apple—struck him as particularly vicious. Here the sender had made an angry if enigmatic statement, the symbolism of which must be correctly interpreted, and urgently. BEYOND THE BEVELED GLASS, THE IRON-BLACK clouds that had masked the sky now hid themselves behind gray veils of trailing mist. The wind went elsewhere with its lamentations, and the sodden trees stood as still and solemn as witnesses to a funeral cortege. The gray day drifted into the eye of the storm, and from each of his three study windows, Ethan observed the mourning weather while meditating on the meaning of the apple in the context of the five bizarre items that had preceded it. Nature peered back at him through a milky cataract and, in sympathy with his inner vision, remained clouded. He supposed the shiny apple might represent fame and wealth, the enviable life of his employer. Then the doll’s eye might be a worm of sorts, a symbol of a particular corruption at the core of fame, and therefore an accusation, indictment, and condemnation of the Face. For twelve years, the actor had been the biggest box-office draw in the world. Since his first hit, the celebrity-mad media referred to him as the Face. This flattering sobriquet supposedly had arisen simultaneously from the pens of numerous entertainment reporters in a shared [9] swoon of admiration for his charismatic good looks. In truth, no doubt a clever and perpetually sleepless publicist had called in favors and paid out cold cash to engineer this spontaneous acclamation and then to sustain it for more than a decade. In a black-and-white Hollywood so distant in time and quality that contemporary moviegoers had only a little more knowledge of it than they had of the Spanish-American War, a fine actress named Greta Garbo had in her day been known as the Face. That flattery had been the work of a studio flack, but Garbo had proved to be more than mere flackery. For ten months, Ethan had been chief of security for Channing Manheim, the Face of the new millennium. As yet he hadn’t glimpsed even the suggestion of Garboesque depths. The face of the Face seemed to be nearly all there was of Channing. Ethan didn’t despise the actor. The Face was affable, as relaxed as might be a genuine demigod living with the sureness that life and youth were for him eternal. The star’s indifference to any circumstances other than his own arose neither from self-absorption nor from a willful lack of compassion. Intellectual limitations denied him an awareness that other people had more than a single script page of backstory, and that their character arcs were too complex to be portrayed in ninety-eight minutes. His occasional cruelties were never conscious. If he hadn’t been who he was, however, and if he hadn’t been so striking in appearance, nothing that Channing said or did would have left an impression. In a Hollywood deli that named sandwiches after stars, Clark Gable might have been roast beef and Liederkranz on rye with horseradish; Cary Grant might have been peppered chicken breast with Swiss cheese on whole wheat with mustard; and Channing Manheim would have been watercress on lightly buttered toast. Ethan didn’t actively dislike his employer, and he didn’t need to like him in order to want to protect him and keep him alive. [10] If the eye in the apple was a symbol of corruption, it might represent the star’s ego inside the beautiful fruit. Perhaps the doll’s eye didn’t stand for corruption, but for the downside of fame. A celebrity of Channing’s magnitude enjoyed little privacy and was always under scrutiny. The eye in the apple might be symbolic of the stalker’s eye—always watching, judging.

Av debbyhanxu debbyhanxu - 16 maj 2011 08:50

"What happened?" one of the scientists shouted (is reputed to have shouted). It was the only question Foggia had a chance to answer. "It's eternity in there," he said, and dropped dead of what was diagnosed as a massive heart attack. The scientists foregathered there were left with his corpse (which was neatly taken care of by the CIA and the Effa Bee Eye) and that strange and awful dying declaration: It's eternity in there. "Daddy, I want to know what happened to the mice," Patty repeated. The only reason she had a chance to ask again was because the man in the expensive suit and the Eterna-Shine shoes had developed into something of a problem for the Jaunt attendants. He didn't really want to take the gas, and was disguising it with a lot of bluff, bully-boy talk. The attendants were doing their job as well as they could­smiling, cajoling, persuading­but it had slowed them down. Mark sighed. He had opened the subject­only as a way of distracting his children from the pre-Jaunt festivities, it was true, but he had opened it­and now he supposed he would have to close it as truthfully as he could without alarming them or upsetting them. He would not tell them, for instance, about C. K. Summer's book, The Politics of the Jaunt, which contained one section called "The Jaunt Under the Rose," a compendium of the more believable rumors about the Jaunt. The story of Rudy Foggia, he of the bridgeclub murders and the uneaten chicken dinner, was in there. There were also case histories of some other thirty (or more . . . or less . . . or who knows) volunteers, scapegoats, or madmen who had Jaunted wide awake over the last three hundred years. Most of them arrived at the other end dead. The rest were hopelessly insane. In some cases, the act of reemerging had actually seemed to shock them to death. Summer's section of Jaunt rumors and apocrypha contained other unsettling intelligence as well: the Jaunt had apparently been used several times as a murder weapon. In the most famous (and only documented) case, which had occurred a mere thirty years ago, a Jaunt researcher named Lester Michaelson had tied up his wife with their daughter's plexiplast Dreamropes and pushed her, screaming, through the Jaunt portal at Silver City, Nevada. But before doing it, Michaelson had pushed the Nil button on his Jaunt board, erasing each and every one of the hundreds of thousands of possible portals through which Mrs. Michaelson might have emerged - anywhere from neighboring Reno to the experimental Jaunt-Station on Io, one of the Jovian moons. So there was Mrs. Michaelson, Jaunting forever somewhere out there in the ozone. Michaelson's lawyer, after Michaelson had been held sane and able to stand trial for what he had done (within the narrow limits of the law, perhaps he was sane, but in any practical sense, Lester Michaelson was just as mad as a hatter), had ciphered a novel defense: his client could not be tried for murder because no one could prove conclusively that Mrs. Michaelson was dead. This had raised the terrible specter of the woman, discorporeal but somehow still sentient, screaming in limbo . . . forever. Michaelson was convicted and executed. In addition, Summers suggested, the Jaunt had been used by various tinpot dictators to get rid of political dissidents and political adversaries; some thought that the Mafia had their own illegal Jaunt-Stations, tied into the central Jaunt computer through their CIA connections. It was suggested that the Mafia used the Jaunt's Nil capability to get rid of bodies which, unlike that of the unfortunate Mrs. Michaelson, were already dead. Seen in that light, the Jaunt became the ultimate Jimmy Hoffa machine, ever so much better than the local gravel pit or quarry. All of this had led to Summer's conclusions and theories about the Jaunt; and that, of course, led back to Patty's persistent question about the mice. "Well," Mark said slowly, as his wife signaled with her eyes for him to be careful, "even now no one really knows, Patty. But all the experiments with animals­including the mice­seemed to lead to the conclusion that while the Jaunt is almost instantaneous physically, it takes a long, long time mentally." "I don't get it," Patty said glumly. "I knew I wouldn't."But Ricky was looking at his father thoughtfully. "They went on thinking," he said. "The test animals. And so would we, if we didn't get knocked out." "Yes," Mark said. "That's what we believe now."Something was dawning in Ricky's eyes. Fright? Excitement? "It isn't just teleportation, is it, Dad? It's some kind of time-warp."It's eternity in there, Mark thought."In a way," he said. "But that's a comic-book phrase­it sounds good but doesn't really mean anything, Rick. It seems to revolve around the idea of consciousness, and the fact that consciousness doesn't particulate­it remains whole and constant. It also retains some screwy sense of time. But we don't know how pure consciousness would measure time, or even if that concept has any meaning to pure mind. We can't even conceive what pure mind might be." Mark fell silent, troubled by his son's eyes, which were suddenly so sharp and curious. He understands but he doesn't understand, Mark thought. Your mind can be your best friend; it can keep you amused even when there's nothing to read, nothing to do. But it can turn on you when it's left with no input for too long. It can turn on you, which means that it turns on itself, savages itself, perhaps consumes itself in an unthinkable act of auto-cannibalism. How long in there, in terms of years? 0.000000000067 seconds for the body to Jaunt, but how long for the unparticulated consciousness? A hundred years? A thousand? A million? A billion? How long alone with your thoughts in an endless field of white? And then, when a billion eternities have passed, the crashing return of light and form and body. Who wouldn't go insane? "Ricky­"he began, but the Jaunt attendants had arrived with their cart. "Are you ready?" one asked. Mark nodded. "Daddy, I'm scared," Patty said in a thin voice. "Will it hurt?" "No, honey, of course it won't hurt," Mark said, and his voice was calm enough, but his heart was beating a little fast­it always did, although this would be something like his twenty-fifth Jaunt. "I'll go first and you'll see how easy it is."The Jaunt attendant looked at him questioningly. Mark nodded and made a smile. The mask descended. Mark took it in his own hands and breathed deep of the dark.

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He and Mosconi had drugged several mice, put them through Portal One, retrieved them at the other side, and had waited anxiously for their test subjects to reawaken . . . or to die. They had reawakened, and after a brief recovery period they had taken up their mouse-lives - eating, fucking, playing, and shitting - with no ill effects whatsoever. Those mice became the first of several generations which were studied with great interest. They showed no long-term ill effects; they did not die sooner, their pups were not born with two heads or green fur and neither did these pups show any other longterm effects. "When did they start with people, Dad?" Rick asked, although he had certainly read this in school. "Tell that part!" "I wanna know what happened to the mice!'' Patty said again. Although the Jaunt attendants had now reached the head of their aisle (they themselves were near the foot), Mark Oates paused a moment to reflect. His daughter, who knew less, had nevertheless listened to her heart and asked the right question. Therefore, it was his son's question he chose to answer. The first human Jaunters had not been astronauts or test pilots; they were convict volunteers who had not even been screened with any particular interest in their psychological stability. In fact, it was the view of the scientists now in charge (Carune was not one of them; he had become what is commonly called a titular head) that the freakier they were, the better; if a mental spaz could go through and come out all right­or at least, no worse than he or she had been going in­then the process was probably safe for the executives, politicians, and fashion models of the world. Half a dozen of these volunteers were brought to Province, Vermont (a site which had since become every bit as famous as Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, had once been), gassed, and fed through the portals exactly two hand-miles apart, one by one. Mark told his children this, because of course all six of the volunteers came back just fine and feeling perky, thank you. He did not tell them about the purported seventh volunteer. This figure, who might have been real, or myth, or (most probably) a combination of the two, even had a name: Rudy Foggia. Foggia was supposed to have been a convicted murderer, sentenced to death in the state of Florida for the murders of four old people at a Sarasota bridge party. According to the apocrypha, the combined forces of the Central Intelligence Agency and the Effa Bee Eye had come to Foggia with a unique, one-time, take-it-or-leave-it, absolutely-not-to-be-repeated offer. Take the Jaunt wide awake. Come through okay and we put your pardon, signed by Governor Thurgood, in your hand. Out you walk, free to follow the One True Cross or to off a few more old folks playing bridge in their yellow pants and white shoes. Come through dead or insane, tough titty. As the kitty was purported to have said. What do you say? Foggia, who understood that Florida was one state that really meant business about the death penalty and whose lawyer had told him that he was in all probability the next to ride Old Sparky, said okay. Enough scientists to fill a jury box (with four or five left over as alternates) were present on the Great Day in the summer of 2007, but if the Foggia story was true­and Mark Oates believed it probably was­he doubted if it had been any of the scientists who talked. More likely it had been one of the guards who had flown with Foggia from Raiford to Montpelier and then escorted him from Montpelier to Province in an armored truck. "If I come through this alive," Foggia is reported to have said, "I want a chicken dinner before I blow this joint." He then stepped through Portal One and reappeared at Portal Two immediately. He came through alive, but Rudy Foggia was in no condition to eat his chicken dinner. In the space it took to Jaunt across the two miles (pegged at 0.000000000067 of a second by computer), Foggia's hair had turned snow white. His face had not changed in any physical way­it was not lined or jowly or wasted­but it gave the impression of great, almost incredible age. Foggia shuffled out of the portal, his eyes bulging blankly, his mouth twitching, his hands splayed out in front of him. Presently he began to drool. The scientists who had gathered around drew away from him and no, Mark really doubted if any of them had talked; they knew about the rats, after all, and the guinea pigs, and the hamsters; any animal, in fact, with more brains than your average flatworm. They must have felt a bit like those German scientists who tried to impregnate Jewish women with the sperm of German shepherds.

Av debbyhanxu debbyhanxu - 16 maj 2011 08:48

He looked in. He saw the pencil in cut-off view, as if a knife had chopped smoothly through it. Carune felt with his fingers where the rest of the pencil should have been, and of course there was nothing. He ran across the barn to Portal Two, and there was the missing part of the pencil, lying on the top crate. Heart thumping so hard that it seemed to shake his entire chest, Carune grasped the sharpened point of his pencil and pulled it the rest of the way through. He held it up; he looked at it. Suddenly he took it and wrote IT WORKS! on a piece of barn-board. He wrote it so hard that the lead snapped on the last letter. Carune began to laugh shrilly in the empty barn; to laugh so hard that he startled the sleeping swallows into flight among the high rafters. "Works!" he shouted, and ran back to Portal One. He was waving his arms, the broken pencil knotted up in one fist. "Works! Works! Do you hear me, Carson, you prick? It works AND I DID IT!" "Mark, watch what you say to the children," Marilys reproached him. Mark shrugged. "It's what he's supposed to have said." "Well, can't you do a little selective editing?" "Dad?" Patty asked. "Is that pencil in the museum, too?" "Does a bear shit in the woods?" Mark said, and then clapped one hand over his mouth. Both children giggled wildly - but that shrill note was gone from Patty's voice, Mark was glad to hear - and after a moment of trying to look serious, Marilys began to giggle too. The keys went through next; Carune simply tossed them through the portal. He was beginning to think on track again now, and it seemed to him that the first thing that needed finding out was if the process produced things on the other end exactly as they had been, or if they were in any way changed by the trip. He saw the keys go through and disappear; at exactly the same moment he heard them jingle on the crate across the barn. He ran across - really only trotting now - and on the way he paused to shove the lead shower curtain back on its track. He didn't need either it or the ion gun now. Just as well, since the ion gun was smashed beyond repair. He grabbed the keys, went to the lock the government had forced him to put on the door, and tried the Yale key. It worked perfectly. He tried the house key. It also worked. So did the keys which opened his file cabinets and the one which started the Brat pickup. Carune pocketed the keys and took off his watch. It was a Seiko quartz LC with a built-in calculator below the digital face twenty-four tiny buttons that would allow him to do everything from addition to subtraction to square roots. A delicate piece of machinery - and just as important, a chronometer. Carune put it down in front of Portal One and pushed it through with a pencil. He ran across and grabbed it up. When he put it through, the watch had said 11:31:07. It now said 11:31:49. Very good. Right on the money, only he should have had an assistant over there to peg the fact that there had been no time gain once and forever. Well, no matter. Soon enough the government would have him wading hip deep in assistants. He tried the calculator. Two and two still made four, eight divided by four was still two; the square root of eleven was still 3.3166247 . . . and so on. That was when he decided it was mouse-time. "What happened with the mice, Dad?" Ricky asked.

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"It was not like an electric shock," Carune wrote in his one and only article on the subject before the government shut him up. The article was published, of all places, in Popular Mechanics. He had sold it to them for seven hundred and fifty dollars in a last-ditch effort to keep the Jaunt a matter of private enterprise. "There was none of that unpleasant tingle that one gets if one grasps a frayed lamp cord, for instance. It was more like the sensation one gets if one puts one's hand on the casing of some small machine that is working very hard. The vibration is so fast and light that it is, literally, a tingling sensation. "Then I looked down at the portal and saw that my index finger was gone on a diagonal slant through the middle knuckle, and my second finger was gone slightly above that. In addition, the nail portion of my third finger had disappeared." Carune had jerked his hand back instinctively, crying out. He so much expected to see blood, he wrote later, that he actually hallucinated blood for a moment or two. His elbow struck the ion gun and knocked it off the table. He stood there with his fingers in his mouth, verifying that they were still there, and whole. The thought that he had been working too hard crossed his mind. And then the other thought crossed his mind: the thought that the last set of modifications might have . . . might have done something. He did not push his fingers back in; in fact, Carune only Jaunted once more in his entire life. At first, he did nothing. He took a long, aimless walk around the barn, running his hands through his hair, wondering if he should call Carson in New Jersey or perhaps Buffington in Charlotte. Carson wouldn't accept a collect phone call, the cheap ass-kissing bastard, but Buffington probably would. Then an idea struck and he ran across to Portal Two, thinking that if his fingers had actually crossed the barn, there might be some sign of it. There was not, of course. Portal Two stood atop three stacked Pomona orange crates, looking like nothing so much as one of those toy guillotines missing the blade. On one side of its stainless-steel frame was a plug-in jack, from which a cord ran back to the transmission terminal, which was little more than a particle transformer hooked into a computer feed-line. Which reminded him - Carune glanced at his watch and saw it was quarter past eleven. His deal with the government consisted of short money, plus computer time, which was infinitely valuable. His computer tie-in lasted until three o'clock this afternoon, and then it was good-bye until Monday. He had to get moving, had to do something - "I glanced at the pile of crates again," Carune writes in his Popular Mechanics article, "and then I looked at the pads of my fingers. And sure enough, the proof was there. It would not, I thought then convince anyone but myself; but in the beginning, of course, it is only one's self that one has to convince." "What was it, Dad?" Ricky asked. "Yeah!" Patty added. "What?" Mark grinned a little. They were all hooked now, even Marilys. They had nearly forgotten where they were. From the corner of his eye he could see the Jaunt attendants whisper-wheeling their cart slowly among the Jaunters, putting them to sleep. It was never as rapid a process in the civilian sector as it was in the military, he had discovered; civilians got nervous and wanted to talk it over. The nozzle and the rubber mask were too reminiscent of hospital operating rooms, where the surgeon with his knives lurked somewhere behind the anaesthetist with her selection of gases in stainless-steel canisters. Sometimes there was panic, hysteria; and always there were a few who simply lost their nerve. Mark had observed two of these as he spoke to the children: two men who had simply arisen from their couches, walked across to the entryway with no fanfare at all, unpinned the validation papers that had been affixed to their lapels, turned them in, and exited without looking back. Jaunt attendants were under strict instructions not to argue with those who left; there were always standbys, sometimes as many as forty or fifty of them, hoping against hope. As those who simply couldn't take it left, standbys were let in with their own validations pinned to their shirts. "Carune found two splinters in his index finger," he told the children. "He took them out and put them aside. One was lost, but you can see the other one in the Smithsonian Annex in Washington. It's in a hermetically sealed glass case near the moon rocks the first space travellers brought back from the moon - " "Our moon, Dad, or one of Mars's?" Ricky asked. "Ours," Mark said, smiling a little. "Only one manned rocket flight has ever landed on Mars, Ricky, and that was a French expedition somewhere about 2030. Anyway, that's why there happens to be a plain old splinter from an orange crate in the Smithsonian Institution. Because it's the first object that we have that was actually teleported - Jaunted - across space." "What happened then?" Patty asked. "Well, according to the story, Carune ran . . ." Carune ran back to Portal One and stood there for a moment, heart thudding, out of breath. Got to calm down, he told himself. Got to think about this. You can't maximize your time if you go off half-cocked. Deliberately disregarding the forefront of his mind, which was screaming at him to hurry up and do something, he dug his nail-clippers out of his pocket and used the point of the file to dig the splinters out of his index finger. He dropped them onto the white inner sleeve of a Hershey bar he had eaten while tinkering with the transformer and trying to widen its afferent capability (he had apparently succeeded in that beyond his wildest dreams). One rolled off the wrapper and was lost; the other ended up in the Smithsonian Institution, locked in a glass case that was cordoned off with thick velvet ropes and watched vigilantly and eternally by a computer-monitored closed-circuit TV camera. The splinter extraction finished, Carune felt a little calmer. A pencil. That was as good as anything. He took one from beside the clipboard on the shelf above him and ran it gently into Portal One. It disappeared smoothly, inch by inch, like something in an optical illusion or in a very good magician's trick. The pencil had said EBERHARD FABER NO. 2 on one of its sides, black letters stamped on yellow-painted wood. When he had pushed the pencil in until all but EBERH had disappeared, Carune walked around to the other side of Portal One.

Av debbyhanxu debbyhanxu - 16 maj 2011 08:41

"It's been here before," said Dem Lia. She ordered the AI to opaque the windows and to dismiss itself from their company. "Shall we assign roles, duties, priorities, and make initial decisions?" she said softly. The other eight around the table nodded soberly. To a stranger, to someone outside the Spectrum Helix culture, the next five minutes would have been very hard to follow. Total consensus was reached within the first two minutes, but only a small part of the discussion was through talk. The combination of hand gestures, body language, shorthand phrases, and silent nods that had evolved through four centuries of a culture determined to make decisions through consensus worked well here. These people's parents and grandparents knew the necessity of command structure and discipline -- half a million of their people had died in the short but nasty war with the Pax remnant on Vitus-Gray-Balianus B, and then another hundred thousand when the fleeing Pax vandals came looting through their system some thirty years later. But they were determined to elect command through consensus and thereafter make as many decisions as possible through the same means. In the first two minutes, assignments were settled and the subtleties around the duties dealt with. Dem Lia was to be in command. Her single vote could override consensus when necessary. The other green, Res Sandre, preferred to monitor propulsion and engineering, working with the reticent AI named Basho to use this time out of Hawking space to good advantage in taking stock. The red-band male, Patek Georg, to no one's surprise, accepted the position of chief security officer -- both for the ship's formidable defenses and during any contact with the Ousters. Only Dem Lia could override his decisions on use of ship weaponry. The young white-band woman, Den Soa, was to be in charge of communications and diplomacy, but she requested and Peter Delen Dem Tae agreed to share the responsibility with her. Peter's training in psychology had included theoretical exobiopsychology. Dr. Sam would monitor the health of everyone aboard and study the evolutionary biology of the Ousters and Templars if it came to contact. Their ebony-band male, Jon Mikail Dem Alem, assumed command of life support -- both in reviewing and controlling systems in the Helix along with the appropriate AI, but also arranging for necessary environments if they met with the Ousters aboard ship. Oam Rai, the oldest of the nine and the ship's chess master, agreed to coordinate general ship systems and to be Dem Lia's principal advisor as events unfolded. Kem Loi, the astronomer, accepted responsibility for all long-range sensing, but was obviously eager to use her spare time to study the binary system. "Did anyone notice what old friend our white star ahead resembles?" she asked.

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Images, trajectories, and data columns appeared over the table. "What is that?" said the older yellow-band woman, Oam Rai. "An Ouster forest ring," said Jon Mikail Dem Alem. "All this way. All these years. And some ancient Ouster Hegira seedship beat us to it." "Beat us to what?" asked Res Sandre, the other green. "There are no planets in this system are there, Saigyô?" "No, ma'am," said the AI. "Were you thinking of restocking on their forest ring?" said Dem Lia. The plan had been to avoid any Aenean, Pax, or Ouster worlds or strongholds found along their long voyage away from human space. "This orbital forest ring is exceptionally bountiful," said Saigyô the AI, "but our real reason for awakening you and beginning the in-system deceleration is that someone living on or near the ring is transmitting a distress signal on an early Hegemony code band. It is very weak, but we have been picking it up for two hundred and twenty-eight light-years." This gave them all pause. The Helix had been launched some eighty years after the Aenean Shared Moment, that pivotal event in human history which had marked the beginning of a new era for most of the human race. Previous to the Shared Moment, the Church-manipulated Pax society had ruled human space for three hundred years. These Ousters would have missed all of Pax history and probably most of the thousand years of Hegemony history that preceded the Pax. In addition to that, the Helix's time-debt added more than four hundred years of travel. If these Ousters had been part of the original Hegira from Old Earth or from the Old Neighborhood Systems in the earliest days of the Hegemony, they may well have been out of touch with the rest of the human race for fifteen hundred standard years or more. "Interesting," said Peter Delen Dem Tae, whose blue-band training included profound immersion in psychology and anthropology. "Saigyô, play the distress signal, please," said Dem Lia. There came a series of static hisses, pops, and whistles with what might have been two words electronically filtered out. The accent was early Hegemony Web English. "What does it say?" said Dem Lia. "I can't quite make it out." "Help us," said Saigyô. The AI's voice was tinted with an Asian accent and usually sounded slightly amused, but his tone was flat and serious now. The nine around the table looked at one another again in silence. Their goal had been to leave human and posthuman Aenean space far behind them, allowing their people, the Amoiete Spectrum Helix culture, to pursue their own goals, to find their own destiny free of Aenean intervention. But Ousters were just another branch of human stock, attempting to determine their own evolutionary path by adapting to space, their Templar allies traveling with them, using their genetic secrets to grow orbital forest rings and even spherical startrees completely surrounding their suns. "How many Ousters do you estimate live on the orbital forest ring?" asked Den Soa, who with her white training would probably be their diplomat if and when they made contact. "Seven hundred million on the thirty-degree arc we can resolve on this side of the sun," said the AI. "If they have migrated to all or most of the ring, obviously we can estimate a population of several billion." "Any sign of Akerataeli or the zeplens?" asked Patek Georg. All of the great forest rings and startree spheres had been collaborative efforts with these two alien races, which had joined forces with the Ousters and Templars during the Fall of the Hegemony. "None," said Saigyô "But you might notice this remote view of the ring itself in the center window. We are still sixty-three AU's out from the ring ... this is amplified ten thousand times." They all turned to look at the front window where the forest ring seemed only thousands of kilometers away, its green leaves and yellow and brown branches and braided main trunk curving away out of sight, the G8 star blazing beyond. "It looks wrong," said Dem Lia. "This is the anomaly that added to the urgency of the distress signal and decided us to bring you out of deep sleep," said Saigyô, his voice sounding slightly bemused again. "This orbital forest ring is not of Ouster or Templar bioconstruction." Doctor Samel Ria Kem Ali whistled softly. "An alien-built forest ring. But with human-descended Ousters living on it." "And there is something else we have found since entering the system," said Saigyô. Suddenly the left window was filled with a view of a machine -- a spacecraft -- so huge and ungainly that it almost defied description. An image of the Helix was superimposed at the bottom of the screen to give scale. The Helix was a kilometer long. The base of this other spacecraft was at least a thousand times as long. The monster was huge and broad, bulbous and ugly, carbon black and insectoidal, bearing the worst features of both organic evolution and industrial manufacture. Centered in the front of it was what appeared to be a steel-toothed maw, a rough opening lined with a seemingly endless series of mandibles and shredding blades and razor-sharp rotors. "It looks like God's razor," said Patek Georg Dem Mio, the cool irony undercut slightly by a just-perceptible quaver in his voice. "God's razor my ass," said Jon Mikail Dem Alem softly. As an ebony, life support was one of his specialties, and he had grown up tending the huge farms on Vitus-Gray-Balianus B. "That's a threshing machine from hell." "Where is it?" Dem Lia started to ask, but already Saigyô had thrown the plot on the holo showing their deceleration trajectory in toward the forest ring. The obscene machine-ship was coming in from above the ecliptic, was some twenty-eight AU's ahead of them, was decelerating rapidly but not nearly as aggressively as the Helix, and was headed directly for the Ouster forest ring. The trajectory plot was clear -- at its current rate of deceleration, the machine would directly intercept the ring in nine standard days. "This may be the cause of their distress signal," the other green, Res Sandre, said dryly. "If it were coming at me or my world, I'd scream so loudly that you'd hear me two hundred and twenty-eight light-years away without a radio," said the young white-band, Den Soa. "If we started picking up this weak signal some two hundred twenty-eight light-years ago," said Patek Georg, "it means that either that thing has been decelerating in-system very slowly, or ... "

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