Never at Sea

Next: , Previous: , Up: (dir)  

Never at Sea

2010 November 23
Copyright © 2007, 2008, 2009 Robert J. Chassell

Next: , Previous: , Up: Top  

Chapter 1

“We have lost a submarine!” Henry spoke to Laurence. Henry was excited and disturbed. That carried to Laurence, who was not in his usual office. In that case, the message would have come through his wearable. Laurence preferred to read text from his wearable, but he knew most people were not like that. Consequently, he was visiting his crew, the engineers who worked for him, and was in Henry’s office. It was smaller than Laurence’s and cluttered with paper, even though Henry also had a wearable and did not need paper. He was another expatriate; that is why he kept the name ‘Henry’. He was fat, short, bald, and a good engineer.

“What?” Laurence exclaimed. He knew that there was no ‘activity’ at the moment.

The office building had once been a big house. Laurence thought that useful since it had rooms of different sizes. Only his newest employees worked in cubicles that he had placed in the ballroom. The organization did not need another ballroom and it was the right size. All of his employees came to the building to work: there was no electronic communication in or out and they had to leave their wearable computers when they left. There were a very few exceptions, like himself. A server with a large hard drive kept a copy of what people needed. Backups were off-site and well guarded. Fortunately, Laurence’s employees were almost all engineers and liked their work.

The building was a ‘donut’ with a central courtyard. Unlike Laurence’s house, it did not have ‘pastry’, a wall, all around. Instead, the outer part of the building was thicker. That wall served as the guard. Outside windows were narrow although they were not quite slits. Laurence’s office, originally the master bedroom, poked into the central courtyard and had windows on three sides. He could look at the other three rooms that extended into the courtyard. Each had a ‘tower’ on it, like his. They were only store rooms, one additional floor high. Like the other early homes in Bombaia, the rest of the building had only one story.

Henry, who was acting now as a messenger, said, “We lost contact with The Belle of Valparaiso, number 17.”

Laurence responded, “That was just on a training cruise. The crew is experienced. They are repeating what they have done numerous times. There shouldn’t have been any trouble.” He thought of what could go wrong and could not think of any, except for hostile interdiction. And that had not happened for years, not on training cruises. In any case, various sensors in the training area would warn him and them.

“What do the sensors say?” asked Laurence. He could check himself, but letting others do it was wiser.

“That is a problem; they all went off line, all of them, even those that almost no one knew about. Something big has happened.”

“They all went off line … ? That suggests knowledge from the inside … not impossible, but unlikely. We will have to tell Blimov. Fortunately, he is down here, and I am going to see him shortly.” Blimov was Laurence’s boss.

It was hot outside, but dry. Laurence did not cool the air in his office; he did not turn on his air conditioning. Instead he drank lots of water. That meant that when he went outside, he did not feel any hotter. But Henry cooled his own office. Initially, it felt cold to Laurence; then it felt comfortable. In any case, when Laurence went to his van he felt the heat. His guards had not turned on its air conditioning, since they paid attention to his normal habits. They did not know about Henry. However, the van had been under a roof, so sunshine had not fallen on it directly. The guards drank a huge amount of water.

Blimov had come down close to the sea, near to Laurence. He was not in his usual place in the cooler mountains. Nonetheless, Laurence had to travel into the city from his offices by his shipyard on the harbor. None but enemies saw Blimov electronically.

Blimov enjoyed physical presence. He liked sniffing people and his size intimidated them. He came from the United States. His family had migrated from Russia. Perhaps earlier his ancestors had settled in western Russia as Viking conquerors. He looked like a Scandinavian prince, large and muscular. He had been fed properly as a child and played outside. He was smart. His hair was light and now, in the tropics, he stayed out of the sun.

Laurence was tall, too. He was solid as well, but he was not as big as Blimov and not as well exercised. Laurence did not look like a prince; he looked like he worked for a prince, as indeed he did. He rode to Blimov in the van. It carried three rows of seats behind the driver; Laurence sat in the first, two guards sat in the second. The third row was empty. Nobody could see the van’s armor; it had been built-in. A larger engine more than compensated for the extra weight. The van was more lively than otherwise. It could go faster, too. Only bridges and roads had trouble. Bridges fell down earlier; roads disintegrated sooner than they would have otherwise. The vehicle was heavy.

The harbor was smaller than those of Guayaquil or Buenaventura. The city corresponded; it was not as big, either. Laurence preferred that; he was not sure he would be able to cope with a large modern city, its pollution and ugliness. He could adapt, as others had, as he had once; but he was glad he did not need to.

Even though the territory had been conquered by the Spanish, not by the Portuguese, the bay had been named Bombaia, or ‘good bay’. The Spanish named the city identically.

Perhaps the captain who proposed the name had prayed to a Portuguese saint during the time when Portugal was ruled by the Spanish? At one point, hundreds of years ago, his sailors had brought his foundering ship into the bay.

But rather than simply ‘good bay,’ wouldn’t the bay be named after the saint? The whole affair was mysterious, but Laurence did not care strongly enough to find a reasonable explanation. He had no idea of the city’s original name, the name the town held before the Spanish conquest.

The city on the bay nestled between mountains and sea. Most of Bombaia, the city, was inland and on a plain. Its one hill was now a park. Only the oldest part sat by the harbor. Inland, the commercial center centered in one place. Except for a few modern skyscrapers, expensive commerce came out of fine buildings, originally homes for rich ranchers. They were not the oldest buildings, which were by the harbor, but they were not young either.

In the old days, the city had been surrounded by an area that was considered too wet and too buggy for humans. It was no good for houses. Only the very poor lived there, and they had no permanent claim, except among their equals. Now, the land was full of houses. All had been built within the last forty years. They all looked toward the sea and were expensive.

Blimov did not stay in any building constructed so recently. Instead, he had a desk in the hall of a large residence. A rich clan had built the compound years ago. It was surrounded by a wall, a thick wall. Unlike Laurence’s place, guards could patrol on it and did. They were up high and visible. Also unlike Laurence’s compound, a few rooms backed up on to the outer wall. Open space did not surround all the central building. The main hall looked onto an inner garden. Modern lights made it anything but gloomy, but Laurence realized that unless the original owners had burnt thousands of candles, the hall would have vanished in darkness during the day. ‘Well,’ thought Laurence, ‘they were rich enough. Maybe they did burn candles all the time.’

It was a fortress then; it was a fortress now.

Laurence figured that a good many people would be impressed by the size of the hall and its one small desk. It did not have any paper on it. Blimov did not have an obvious computer either, whether wearable or desk. He did not keep records.

Laurence noted that only a few guards were visible. None were local. His were not either, now that he thought of it. He did not pick them; Blimov did. They looked Russian, very fit, not very tall, and not memorable. That is what Laurence noted: the guards did not have any features that would be remembered. He thought of them as being more like spies than guards. It finally occurred to him that by employing the non-memorable, Blimov could have more guards around than anyone would notice. However a true enemy would count. Laurence shook his head. He did not know what Blimov was doing. Even though the guards recognized him, they searched thoroughly and professionally. Neither of Laurence’s guards were permitted close to Blimov.

Most people approaching Blimov would be intimidated by the long walk from the hall’s entrance. Laurence wasn’t. During the walk he wondered what would be Blimov’s topic. He was not terrified but curious. He had news for Blimov, too.

To Laurence’s surprise, Blimov did little more than raise an eyebrow when he was told about the loss of the submarine. This was not what Laurence expected. “It is going to a different ocean,” Blimov said. “We are going into the salvage business.”

He explained, “I did not think it would vanish as soon as it did. I expected to tell you what to expect before it went away. … We have run into a disadvantage of giving people result-oriented orders rather than detailed instructions. In general, they will be happier. But the orders were a problem. You aren’t happier.”

Blimov furrowed his brow. “I was going to warn you first. Others would learn ahead of time, too. I expected a good story. Now rumors will be all over the place. For those who took the submarine, I needed to make a better mark of the time.”

“We had good weather,” said Laurence. “They went out three days early.”

“That explains. The others either were waiting for a different date or like you, had not yet been informed. Things go wrong.” Blimov moved his mouth to the right, and looked as if he was spitting.

“Couldn’t we announce publicly that we are going into salvage?” asked Laurence. “Salvage is legitimate, especially when we avoid famous and historical ships.”

“Officially, no one knows we build submarines. Officially, you do not exist. That is why we cannot announce it,” said Blimov.

“Oh,” said Laurence, “I had forgot that.”

“No problem. After all, you know you exist. Meanwhile, I called you here for a different purpose. I am going to increase your budget dramatically.” Blimov smiled. Laurence tensed. He expected to do more.

Blimov continued quickly. “For the salvage subs, we are going to need high resolution acoustic sensors. That way the operators will be able can see in murk as well as they can on land. But the acoustics cannot make much noise. What the submarines make, if any, needs to be like other ocean noises. No one should be able to detect them.”

He paused for a second and Laurence said, “That will not be difficult at all. Indeed, existing submarines already have devices that make use of the faint background noise of waves. The oceans are pervaded with faint noises. We just have to increase the sensors resolution. That can be done by spending more money and installing more or fancier sensors.”

Blimov nodded and said, “Also, of course, the submarines will need manipulators, arms, so the operators will have something to operate. We will also need scoops, holds, and such. Just as you say, we are not going to salvage old or famous vessels. Instead we will stick to known sinkings with solid stuff on board.” Laurence found himself nodding like Blimov. “That first submarine is going to check the obvious; it does not need high resolution sensors yet.”

Laurence thought and said to Blimov, “Wait a minute … won’t our manipulators make it possible for a nation to plant a heavy, inefficient, first generation nuclear bomb in a harbor? That bomb could generate a wave like the Bikini test of 1946. Such a submarine is more likely to be stolen.”

Laurence went on, “Obviously, no one can get into a much-used harbor or a first world port. We have enough trouble just creeping up to the shore. American ports are impossible. Indeed, since it is easy to detect radiation, first world countries have sensors at border crossing and at the entrances to their major cities, too.

“A poison chemical, a toxin, is heavier than a primitive bomb. One submarine would not do any good. A self-replicating pathogen, a bug, is easy to distribute. You don’t need a submarine, just one human. If they are vaccinated so much the better.”

“… or think they are vaccinated,” said Blimov.

“But I doubt we will see a pathogen,” continued Laurence. “Those who could release one know it might come back and kill them. Pathogens mutate; even a sensible defense might fail. Besides, neither poison chemicals nor bio-weapons offer the same boom and flash as a nuclear bomb. Generals don’t like chemical or biological weapons. They cannot as believably be used in an attack or in a threat.

“But a sub could get into a port in an undeveloped country. I am thinking of a submarine because first generation bombs are always big and heavy. They are too big for rockets. But they require only 1940s technology.

“Even stolen bombs — they won’t work as-is because of locks. But just about anyone can build explosive lenses around a core. It just takes longer to design than a gun. The Nagasaki bomb was at the center of an implosion; it depended on plutonium. The Hiroshima bomb brought its components together through a previously untested gun, untested atomically. It depended on uranium.

“Maybe a modern bomb will not have enough fissile material in it for a crude implosion. Certainly, a modern bomb will have enough plutonium in the nuclear alloy so that a gun won’t work.” He explained parenthetically, “(A gun brings two slugs of uranium together slower than an implosion compresses plutonium; a bomb with plutonium in it requires an implosion.)”

Blimov did not know about the differences between uranium and plutonium, but he did gather that the technology for an implosion was really old. Explosive lenses could be designed more cheaply now. Any technically competent group could do it. That is what the disarmament people said. They wanted to control what could be controlled, the fissile material.

Laurence presumed that Blimov knew more than he did and went on, “Even if the explosion produces a fizzle, the bomb will be dirty, it will release radioactivity. Wind blowing over the city — that requires a decent weather report … most likely the wind will blow inland during the afternoon on a sunny day when the land is warmer than the water.”

Blimov listened patiently. He had not himself thought of becoming a nuclear weapons’ power. He could steal existing bombs. Even if they could not be used as-is, he was confident that Laurence could design explosive lenses for the material. He only needed one or two bombs.

He could deter nuclear attacks. Except he did not need that kind of deterrence. And he did not care about the flash and the boom. He was concerned with assassination plots. He worried about being murdered when he thought about himself. After all, Blimov did not think of what he was doing as war; he was not trying to take over a country.

“I am not going to sell any submarines to anyone,” said Blimov to Laurence. “We will have to make sure that submarines with manipulators cannot be stolen. That should not be hard.

“About two-thirds of a crew would need to be bribed. The crew are paid enough now and since we would attempt to assassinate those who betray us, individual bribes would have to be large. Over all, it would cost a fortune. So we do not have to worry about an inside job.

“Meanwhile, to my main topic. It is getting harder and harder for us to get the special steel plates you need,” he said. “The plates are big. That makes them visible. It is not impossible for us to move them, but it is easier to acquire sensors, processing units, and small motors.

“Also, for the salvaging, we will need to go deeper. That means thicker steel.”

Blimov paused for a moment. His eyes flashed. “What I would like you to do is create an alternative source of steel. We have the iron ore. We need to make steel plates from it. That will be harder than creating salvage subs from existing designs. The salvage subs are almost irrelevant, except we are going into salvage. There is good money there.”

He grinned. “I am sure you can produce steel. I will pay. That is your big increase in budget. It will take several years, but after that, it will become cheaper and much easier for us to provide our own.”

“That presumes I am successful,” said Laurence.

“I know you have the skill,” said Blimov. “I would not employ you otherwise. You will need to separate iron ore from sand. The mix is not far away; it is in dunes or what were dunes before grass grew on them. There is vastly more ore than you need. Even so, this is not a huge deposit. That’s why no one has seized upon it before.”

Laurence looked amazed; Blimov almost laughed. “A very long time ago, miners separated magnetite from beach sand using electromagnets. However, storms can move it away. That happened to Thomas Edison. I don’t expect any of that kind of storm here. Edison was burnt, but he liked working with magnetite. So he went beyond beach sand. He focused on other, inland sources of iron ore, all containing magnetite. He ground up rocks — more cheaply than previous ways — and got rid of most of the junk, keeping only the ore. You won’t have to do that. The dross will be sand. You will have already removed the magnetite.

“In any case, Edison succeeded technically. He was a wonderful engineer. However, he failed commercially, but not, as far as I can figure out, because of his own machinations. Or least not much. You do not have to worry about commerce, just the engineering. You are not as much a genius as Edison, but I know you can do it. I know you can.”

Blimov surprised Laurence by driving him down to a beach south of the harbor. That is to say, Laurence rode with Blimov in his convoy.

Blimov traveled in what appeared to be an old fashioned, large American car. It was one of three, all of which drove along together. Blimov flipped a coin multiple times to decide which to enter. When the fourth option came up, he ignored it and simply flipped again. Laurence did not see the point of that; after all, he flipped one and then again. If heads stood for ‘first’ and tails for ‘rest’ then two flips could choose among three vehicles. He thought that Blimov must be thinking of the total produced by two flips, a binary number of four, even though he only had three vehicles. But then it occurred to Laurence that Blimov’s technique ensured an equal chance to ride in each car; Laurence’ technique favored the first car. Or would Blimov’s technique favor the last car? Laurence realized he no longer could do simple probability calculations in his head and Blimov’s guards had taken his wearable computer.

Like Laurence’s van, the cars were armored but the armor was invisible. The guards traveled separately in several vans. They, too, were invisibly armored. The convoy consisted of six vehicles. A seventh followed; that was Laurence’s van. Moving Blimov was expensive.

After they stopped, Laurence saw that the beach-front land was hilly and not wet. It was empty. He wondered about that. No houses. And it was not far from the city.

The dunes near the ocean moved in the wind. Farther inland, they were covered and held in place by a thin grassy cover. The short, steep hills looked like frozen waves.

On the beach, a couple of Blimov’s guards stood close; Laurence figured they were also trained as medics; the other guards were farther away. Laurence himself only had his two, both of which nodded at Blimov’s and both of which stayed or were kept a long distance away.

“Look,” Blimov said; he waved a magnet he was carrying and pulled it through the sand — Laurence had never seen Blimov do that before — “we can pick up grains of magnetite in this sand.” That was true. There were not many, but some stuck on the magnet. Blimov was pushing hard. Or maybe he was apologizing for his screw up with the vanishing submarine. But then Blimov would not have had a magnet with him. Laurence would accept the apology anyhow, even if it was not said. He knew that even though many operations were delayed, occasionally things went faster than expected. He smiled to himself. ‘Now Blimov will know, too,’ he thought.

Blimov turned and looked towards the grassy hills. Laurence could not but think they would have made good sites for houses. But they were none. “We will have worse rain and worse drought. Drought will likely kill the grass, so strip mining won’t matter.”

Blimov said that and then he laughed, as if he were catching a thought from Laurence, “You are wondering why there are no houses. One reason is that I control the land; by keeping it off the market, my other property is worth more. The fellow who previously controlled the land did the same. A second is that the grass will soon die unless we provide irrigation for it. Droughts are becoming fiercer. Naturally, owners would end up watering lawns close by, but further away? I would have to water that.

“The main issue is separating the sand from the ore; I am sure you can do the rest.” He was repeating himself, Laurence noted, but still it was comforting to hear that, even though ‘the rest’ was harder than separating the sand from the ore. Blimov slapped Laurence on the back. “You have the funding. Go to it!”

So Blimov controlled the dunes. Laurence had not known that before. He had heard of ‘black sands,’ sands with enough magnetite in them to change their color. This did not look different from regular sand. That meant a huge amount of sand hid a very little iron ore. He doubted it was a good deposit.

Laurence had no idea where Blimov had learned of the iron in the sand; he decided not to find out. He was not put off because he thought the action was dangerous, although it was. He thought it was irrelevant. On the other hand, he felt he understood why Blimov knew a little more technical history than expected; he had probably read a biography of Edison at some point and remembered. That was a characteristic of Blimov, he never forgot. Not that the technical history was relevant.

On the other hand, Blimov only focused on the iron ore. Laurence knew he had much more to do. He not only had to refine the ore, he had to alloy and temper the result, and manufacture a host of items. It was not going to be easy. The mining, and even more so, the creation of iron from the separated ore would take a good deal of energy. Then he could manufacture.

Still, with droplets sprayed from special nozzles based on inkjet technology, with the right control codes, which he did not have to develop — that was key, neither he nor his men had to invent either the hardware or the software — with the right inputs, and with enough energy, manufacturing would be possible. The hard part would be getting the right inputs in the first place.

Given the right software, the right control codes, the rest would be straight organization, more or less. Laurence laughed to himself. He would have others work on necessary but distant preconditions, what on the face of them were irrelevant. Among software developers such actions were sometimes called ‘yak shaving’. It was “what you are doing when you are doing tasks that bear no obvious relationship to what you are supposed to be doing.” He could remember the whole definition, even though it was long. It was intended for a single person.

Clearly, software developers did not fit into large organizations in which other people did other jobs, or at least did not when the term was first invented. Each person did everything … ‘highly inefficient,’ thought Laurence, ‘unless those people could not successfully communicate partly-thought ideas to others. Or maybe they were powerless.’ In most engineering, people put together already known components, perhaps in new combinations. However, some engineering was truly original. Laurence wondered whether the term had been invented by a person inventing an original.

Laurence thought of sea water. He was on a beach. The ocean lapped at his feet. He did not want to separate iron ore particles from the sand particles and refine them. That would be hard. With iron dissolved in ocean water, part of the job would already be done.

Blimov’s guards had given back his wearable after keeping it while he was close to their boss. Moreover, even on the beach, the wearable connected to the world. Laurence looked up sea water and discovered that he would have to go through tens of thousands of cubic kilometers to get the iron he needed for just one submarine. That was too much. Blimov’s idea made more sense.

Magnesium was in sea water. It was sixty times more common than iron. He might need it for wiring, for generators or motors. It had two and a half times the electrical resistivity of copper. That was worse than copper, but he could not produce copper readily. Magnesium was not as bad as iron which had six times as much electrical resistivity as copper.

He was not sure whether he would be stopped by the extra heat produced by extra resistance. Would iron wires carry enough permanent magnetism to be a problem? Maybe not; maybe neither. Either way, with iron or magnesium his motors and generators would be less efficient than those with copper.

He could manufacture electrical insulation from the organic material on the hills and in the sea. Again, that would be expensive and take a huge amount of energy.

But if no human produced the insulation or the wiring … ?

The only solution was to build a fast replicator, a fast mechanical replicator. The first copy would cost a huge amount, but Blimov would pay. The second and subsequent copies would cost less, the amount depending on how much he had to import to complete the machines. They would be von Neumann replicators. They could duplicate themselves, assemble themselves.

Von Neumann replicators had been built since the turn of the millennium, but as far as Laurence knew, none had constructed themselves from scratch. They built themselves from pre-constructed parts. The humanly manufactured replicators were not like bacteria, which took molecules and a source of energy and produced more bacteria.

‘Well,’ Laurence thought, ‘bacteria have to be in a certain place. They work only with certain molecules. My von Neumann machines will be like that, but much bigger.’ (He knew that a few people still referred to a machine employing von Neumann’s computer architecture, combining data and instructions, as a von Neumann machine, but he didn’t. He called it a computer using von Neumann architecture.) ‘My von Neumann machines will be much slower to replicate than a bacterium, but much faster than regular human factories. They will have to be faster, otherwise we would waste fewer resources investing in regular machines.’ Gloom passed over Laurence’s face. ‘We cannot do what Blimov wants with regular machines; we don’t have the energy. We have to construct a replicator and assemble an energy source.’

Laurence was not confident that he could build a replicator, but he pressed his thoughts on. ‘My von Neumann machines will not work with molecules or atoms.’ He repeated that to himself. ‘They will work with particles we think of as little but which are thousands of times larger than molecules and atoms. That is the size of droplets. Spray droplet technology, that is what reduces the cost to an amount Blimov can afford.’ He began to feel better. ‘Maybe,’ he thought to himself, ‘the project is doable.’

Laurence never expected to be a pioneer. He did not think of himself as a pioneer, even though no one had previously made von Neumann machines like he was planning.

It was, he decided, ‘A more challenging task than before.’ Fortunately, he knew, the time was right. Most of the software existed. It had been debugged. As assemblers, spray droplet machines were developed and reliable.

Von Neumann himself had invented his notion in the 1950s. He was a genius. Laurence knew himself to be a bright engineer. But he lived generations later. He was not planning to follow footsteps exactly, but he was not entering unmapped territory either. The genius and the previous developers had mapped the land. He was going into a new place, but it was not new to everyone.

Most importantly, he had funding.

Next: , Previous: , Up: Top  

Chapter 2

A beautiful woman peered at Peter over a wine glass. She looked as if she approved of him. She asked, “How is your name spelled?”

G E L M U N D, Peter Gelmund.” Peter smiled. “My last name has no D J sound at the beginning. It sounds as it is spelled. The sound is hard, like the G in ‘good.’ ”

“You have a good name; are you a good man?”

Peter looked at the woman’s left hand. She did not have a wedding ring. He looked at her. She was a little shorter than he, younger, and well dressed. “I am afraid so,” he said, “although you are very attractive. What is your name?”

She grinned. “My name is Elizabeth Scattlewaithe. You only have the single L to cause confusion among Chinese and the like who have not learned to pronounce an L. My names are much worse. They not only have L sounds, they also have TH sounds that much of the world cannot pronounce. What do you do for a living?”

“I sell books,” Peter said. “Not in a bookstore, I am not that kind of book seller. I am more a dealer — not in really rare books. Rather, I am a moderately rare books’ dealer. But that is not why I am here.” He looked around at the political crowd. It was in a large living room. “I am here because this is the most realistic of the various political groupings in the United States. Many are totally out of touch.”

“I would not expect to see a self-employed businessman here,” said Elizabeth. “That is what you are, right?”

“Yes, I am. But I also have children and care for them. I want them to live as well as I do and have children themselves. Business discount rates must be different from social discount rates.” Peter did not notice that he was going away from small talk to what he considered important. “Essentially, businesses can fail quickly. Certainly, I can. Businesses should pay for what they borrow. Bad businesses should vanish. Of course, I hope not to fail. I haven’t in twenty years. I think of myself as running a good business that ought to succeed.”

She nodded but did not say anything. He warmed to her presence.

“On the other hand,” Peter continued speaking, “society lasts or should last for a very long time. It should keep on much longer than you or me. What society requires must be sustainable — I don’t mean it should sustain a specific farm, I mean it should have the ability to grow food. Food requires soil that can be farmed for thousands of years, not soil that becomes a little thinner every decade, not soil that can be restored or improved by fertilizers for a century or so, but which won’t last a millennium. That is where our social focus ought to be. The farm’s business should have a high interest rate; the farm’s soil requires a zero interest rate.”

“That makes sense …” Elizabeth began to speak. At that point Peter’s wife, Abigail, came up. He introduced her. She was not a classic beauty like Elizabeth, but looked good to Peter.

“Your husband is loyal to you,” Elizabeth said. “I asked whether he was a good man and he said ‘yes.’ I don’t like to wear dowdy clothes and men tend to come up on me. So I try to get that issue out of the way as soon as possible. He also explained some of his politics — his conception of interest rates, how they discount the future.”

Abigail looked carefully at the two and said, “Then I will leave you. What Peter says is strange; it sounds abstract when you first hear it. But it is important. I have heard him so many times, I do not want to listen again.” She turned away, her long, pleated dress swirling out.

Elizabeth looked after her, almost wistfully. “She’s a good woman. No wonder you are loyal.” She turned to Peter. “Tell me more about interest rates. It is not like the politics I hear every day, about killing an enemy, that is to say, about winning a vote one way or the other.”

Peter complied. He liked the presence of a beautiful woman who would listen to him. He thought, ‘Other than changing the world, what more could I want?’

“Businesses need to worry about competition, about their use of technology, about resources,” he said. “That is why they need a high discount, a positive rate of interest. We don’t know what is best, so the only possibility is to experiment … and to prune away the failures.

“On the other hand, we are living on a spaceship, a very big spaceship. Most people don’t recognize it as a spaceship, but it is.” He saw that Elizabeth was not following him. “I mean the world,” he said, “the planet. It is very, very big. But our abilities have grown big, too. The planet is like a spaceship; it is a ball. We have to take care of it.”

Elizabeth nodded.

“We only die once. I know, many people do not believe that. But it is true. And that truth applies both to us as individuals and to all of us, to the species.”

“The universe does not owe us a living,” Elizabeth said. She did not say anything about belief.

“No, it doesn’t,” said Peter. “But many people act as if they believe that the planet owes the species a living or their group. In fact, species and groups are as irrelevant to it as anything else. The planet does not have a goal. It is not like a human.”

“What about Gaia?” asked Elizabeth. “The planet’s temperature has stayed roughly the same for millions of years.”

“Feedback loops: the major inorganic feedback loop has two parts. The first consists of volcanos putting carbon dioxide into the air, which increases temperature, on average, so there is more weathering. The second consists of weathered rocks. Weathering takes carbon dioxide out of the air. That reduces temperature. Higher temperature means more weathering, which means more carbon dioxide is removed from the air. That decreases temperature and the amount of weathering goes down. Over hundreds of millions of years, the weathered rock dives underground with the movement of tectonic plates, the rock is converted by heat and pressure, and its carbon dioxide is released again by volcanos. Volcanos also put into the air the kinds of aerosols that lower temperature, but in the long run, that is less important. That is the inorganic feedback loop.

“Organic feedback loops do the same, roughly speaking. Over millions of years they more or less stabilize temperature. It is not really that different from the feedback loop in your house, with a thermostat controlling a furnace or air conditioner. However, a house changes rapidly in human terms and a planet does not.”

“I think I understand,” said Elizabeth. “Both the planet and the house depend on a finite energy source, the sun in the case of the planet, the fuel tank in the case of the house. Both sources of energy last a long time compared to the time in which the feedback loops operate. The feedback loops for the planet take so much longer than humans live that mostly we don’t see them.”

Peter nodded. He was not sure whether she knew about feedback loops. If not, she was smart to understand timescales. If she had learned about feedback loops and time, she had a good memory.

Elizabeth went on, “You are arguing that the way for humans to manage the planet is to adopt zero interest rates for what is relevant to it. That means selecting. It means selecting correctly. Otherwise, you just end up providing welfare for those who do not deserve it, a waste of other resources.”

“That’s right,” said Peter.

“What about third world farmers burning forests to grow food? I am not talking about rich owners burning forests and maybe the peat below them to create plantations, although that happens. I am thinking about essentially innocent people doing what they must.”

“Remote sensing,” said Peter. “Satellites. They permit you to see everything. Computers put the information all together without requiring more people than we have.”

“That is the punishment and restrictions part,” said Elizabeth. “If you don’t believe that foreigners are as good as you, or if you do, but think in terms of winning and losing, like our political races and you want to win, then you want to restrict others. I know, most political districts are gerrymandered so the incumbent wins. But that is neither here nor there. Your talk about remote sensing suggests that you want foreigners to die.”

“I don’t want them to die,” said Peter. “Good guys should be rewarded; only bad guys punished. That is why I am here, not at a different political meeting.”

He went on, “I do believe that foreigners are as good as we, on average. Some are better, some are worse.” He tipped his head left and right as he said that. “We can try to steal from them. Stealing is a restriction. If we succeed, and I suspect we would, loot provides wealth for a short time. But theft provokes counter-reactions. I am not sure we can survive those.”

He became grim. “In any case, stealing does not solve the problem permanently. Perhaps it would solve it during my children’s lives, my grand-children’s lives. But what about their children? Also, I don’t want to be part of a civilization that depends on theft. I don’t want to be a crook.”

Elizabeth looked curious. “I know,” said Peter, “I am the descendant of Europeans who had a higher technology and more deadly germs than the natives. We took their land. That is theft. Even when the natives did not perceive resources, we stole. I don’t want to repeat that. I don’t want my children to become warriors. It is a dishonorable occupation. Doubtless, that is why we praise it so highly.”

Elizabeth knew quite a bit; she also realized that Peter enjoyed a good debate. “If you think in terms of winning and losing, then warriors talk sense. They will tell you it is better to be a live rat than a dead turkey, that eagles can’t fly unless they have food to prey upon; they have to eat.”

Peter responded immediately. “You will notice that the eagle example depends for its force on people paying attention only to parts of ecology? Eagles do not kill all their prey. After consuming all their prey, they would not have anything left to eat. They would die. Lions don’t kill all their prey either. Lions are another animal on the top of its food chain.”

“That’s true,” said Elizabeth, “Can they kill all their prey?”

“We humans can,” said Peter.

Elizabeth was continuing her train of thought. “Those animals survive which don’t destroy their sustenance. However, so long as they live, by which I mean, those animals and plants which can destroy their sustenance, but haven’t yet — those sustenance destroyers may well overcome others. We think of those others as ‘good guys.’ Among animals and plants, those that don’t destroy their sustenance must be protected from being killed by those who do.”

“Eagles and lions who killed all their prey died. Those who didn’t did not. I don’t know if eagles and lions can kill all their prey; often, some prey are smart. Let’s suppose eagles and lions are like humans, who can kill.

“A way to avoid being killed is through separation,” said Peter. “We know that is possible because that is one of the ways in which a new species splits off from an old species. The jargon phrase is ‘geographic speciation.’ A previously single species is split into two parts by a desert, mountain range, or ocean. Members of the species are separated. The second group may not be very big; only a few lions may cross a desert or cling to a log that floats across a strait. But if there are enough to prevent disastrous inbreeding, you may get a new species. The first group can kill off all the animals on which they prey and then die themselves. Eventually, enough prey and enough of the second group’s lions will fill in the region left empty by the first group.”

“Yes,” said Elizabeth, “good point; doubtless that happened. There was enough time. Most prey don’t successfully counter predators. What is relevant to modern humans?”

Peter answered, “Do you remember the old phrase, ‘Cleanliness is next to Godliness?’ There is truth in it. Increased cleanliness meant fewer illnesses and longer lives. Put another way,” he said, “a species that fouls its nest or destroys everything it eats, that species will not survive.

“On the other hand, resilience helps. You don’t want too much cleanliness. Rats did better than wild turkeys, because rats could eat different foods readily, even dirty foods. After they nearly went extinct, wild turkeys” — “Shot by us,” said Elizabeth; Peter nodded — “had to be brought up and released by humans. We, that is to say, some of us, paid for by the rest, had to care for dumb birds.

“Worse,” Peter said, “we humans can no longer be divided into separate parts; anywhere humans have gone, we can go. And, in any case, we don’t have time for speciation. The time left is not as short as many prefer to perceive, but it is not hundreds or thousands of generations either. So for success, we either have to cut back or change our technology.

“Unfortunately, not everyone wants to change technology. They prefer that others die or cut back so long as they feel better off. That implies a world of zero or negative sums, a world of winning and losing, a world of war. I don’t seek that kind of civilization. We may get it, but that is not my goal.”

“That is why I haven’t had children,” said Elizabeth.

Peter digested her remark; he wondered whether she was that pessimistic or whether it was an excuse. He put the question aside as she said, “When you benefit whether or not you contribute, then you are better off when you avoid contributing. You get the benefits without the contribution. Unfortunately, after numerous generations, everyone will learn not to contribute. People will know not to contribute either because of genes or because of upbringing. Then nobody will contribute and everyone will lose.

“Think of a corporation,” Elizabeth said. “They have many good features as well as bad. Originally, they existed to pull together resources.”

“Originally, the word had to do with a single person’s body.” said Peter.

“Yes, I know, but I am thinking of the period when many people came together to create a collegium or legal corporation. People could cooperate with each other more readily than they could before. Presume that some people pretend to contribute but do not. They benefit anyhow.”

“Don’t you think of corporations as entities that transfer resources from those who work to those who don’t?” asked Peter.

“In part they do,” said Elizabeth, “I am not challenging that. What I am trying to say is that you can prevent people from pretending to contribute by catching and punishing them. However, that is costly.”

“That is obvious to a four year old,” said Peter.

“Yes and no. Yes, you can stop people from doing bad by catching and punishing them. That is obvious. No, few four year olds, I don’t know of any,” she smiled, “know the relationship between that and a non-excludable public resource, like climate.

“I am concerned with the conditions under which punishment evolved.”

“Some people like punishing,” said Peter.

“They may look as if they like it. Indeed, individually, many do. But from the point of view of a group or team, those people could spend more time helping the good guys. Their actions may help over all, but it is a cost.”

“So you are saying,” said Peter, “that in the best of worlds, punishment is a waste, but without it, your railroad has too many free riders and you go bankrupt.”

“Right,” said Elizabeth. She then asked, “How did punishing begin? I mean punishing for the benefit of everyone. At the beginning, punishment means a loss of benefit, because it means one less hand helping. Only when three conditions are met do we see more and more of those who are willing to punish free riders.

“The first is that people can choose to avoid contributing. Hardly anybody expects choice to have an influence but it does.

“The second is that when people avoid contributing, they do not get any benefits either. Cooperators benefit.

“The third is that successful pretenders, successful free riders, gain.

“There are many situations where you cannot exclude people. Climate change is an example. You cannot prevent people from suffering or enjoying a climate.”

“Some regions will suffer more and some will enjoy more,” said Peter.

“That is true,” said Elizabeth, “and that causes trouble. For example, think of a town. I imagine a town in the Middle Ages or before. It has a wall around it. Attackers want to kill the men, rape the women, sell the children, and loot the place. When that town is successfully defended, then benefits come to everyone who lives in it, regardless whether they help or not. Those who did not help benefit just like those who defended the place. Unless, of course, those who don’t help are punished. Then they don’t benefit as much.

“As for the beginning of punishment, I imagine a band of proto-hominids, not yet speaking, gathering fruits and vegetables, hunting, scavenging. Pretend you are one of them. Suppose you see that those who help gather food or hunt or scavenge are hurt by those who do not. Suppose you see that under those circumstances, eventually everyone loses. In that case, you are better off being alone. You don’t gain, you don’t lose. That satisfies the first condition, which is that people can choose to avoid contributing.

“But gains come to those who cooperate with others. That is the second condition, those who do not help also do not gain.

“For example, those who cooperate can build bigger irrigation systems than those who act alone. Jump ahead to speaking humans, modern in their minds, although irrigation started thousands of years ago, long before contemporary industry. People can cooperate to build canals. With canals, not only can they get water, they can trade more. For trade, the canals simply have to be bigger than those for water supply. After the industrial revolution, people cooperated to build railroads. They did that mostly in corporations. We think of drones and the rest who transferred resources from the poor to themselves, but there was a good amount of building, too. It was not all theft.”

“Nowadays,” said Peter, “our abilities have grown big. That is what I mean when I said that our planet is a spaceship. A corporation or a bunch of corporations can do something that would not matter to the rest of us if small. It was not until 2,500 years ago that we heard complaints about lack of trees. You can use wood for heat, for repairing and building houses, or for opening up farmland.”

“2,500 years ago, technology was pretty primitive,” said Elizabeth.

“It was not as primitive as it was 3,500 or 4,500 years ago. There were more people 2,500 years ago, too, compared to the time a thousand or two thousand years before. There were not as many as there are now, not by a large factor. If they did have a global impact, it was small and mostly harmless. Nonetheless, they certainly deforested some areas quite effectively and made existence miserable for their successors.

“But the point I am trying to make is that when you don’t cut down many trees, the cutting you do does not matter. Globally, it did not much matter that people cut trees around the Mediterranean Sea. It mattered only to the descendants of those people.

“In the northeastern part of the United States, trees are growing back because they are not needed as much for charcoal to make iron or for lumber; that satisfies everyone who is there. Unfortunately, in the rest of the world, forests are vanishing. We as a species now have too much ability and no restraint. ”

“That is true,” said Elizabeth. The phrase was almost a refrain of hers, Peter noticed. Then she would say something to contradict him.

“— unless people are stopped. That is happening more and more. But I am trying to reach the beginnings of this all, not the end.

“Consider the beginnings,” she said. “If some cooperators, for whatever reason, also punish free riders, it makes sense for the free riders to stop pretending to help. Either they shift to helping or to figuring out a more convincing pretense. The latter is hard. Not many succeed in fooling enough people, although a few do. So the best action for most erstwhile free riders is to stop pretending and actually to help.

“But when you deal with a situation where you cannot exclude people, then you have a problem. Or you might have a problem. Those who cannot think cannot punish free riders. Fortunately, people can think as well as act. In Medieval times, authorities in a besieged city could locate almost everyone. Nowadays, we have satellites. Free riders can be punished.

“You, Peter, are not at the beginning of all this. You are closer to an end. You are trying to change the policies of already thinking people. That is why what you say is so important.”

“Thank you,” said Peter. Then he asked, “Are our desires for children, our love of them, a necessity for any species? Do our desires come before language?”

“They must,” said Elizabeth, “since without them a species dies.”

“In a species with speech and tools, do the other ways of passing on become important?”

Elizabeth looked puzzled so Peter answered himself.

“Children are not the only way,” Peter said. “You can pass on ideas. You can pass on works. Or your culture can do the job for you.”

“Cultures die,” said Elizabeth.

“Yes,” said Peter gloomily, “and people are very much afraid of that.”

He paused for a moment. “It is a good idea not to have children. I do not come from a family that should say this; we have many kids. Yet one of the ways to reduce impact is to reduce numbers, especially the numbers of those who produce lots of deleterious impacts. Of course, population reduction means a smaller economy. It means less optimism. It is not a happy state.

“But people will die regardless, comfortably or painfully.” He went on, “Our planet, our spaceship, cannot carry such a huge load, not forever. I hope our planet can carry the load for the next seven generations. Then we can reduce our impact more or less benignly.”

“So you are arguing that we have to do more than have zero interest rates?” asked Elizabeth.

“Oh, yes,” said Peter. “That is only one part. We should reduce population voluntarily. People will not perceive a population drop in other groups as a personal cut back or as unwanted death. But if a reduction is involuntary, the people involved will fight back. They can do so much more effectively than in centuries past.”

“What do you mean?” asked Elizabeth.

“We are more interdependent and less resilient than we were. A simple pen does not merely require the feather of a goose belonging to you or your neighbor; now the ball comes from one place, the barrel from another. And I am not thinking of the ink supply. You cannot make modern ink from the oil of nuts you gather nearby and from the soot of your night light.”

Peter shook his head. “In the past, more was local. People were less interdependent and more resilient. But we cannot return to the past, except in dreams. For one, we have used the resources. We can return or regain some resources and have less impact on the rest by reducing population. Cutting population is one proposal; it is not the only one.

“Unfortunately, a smaller population causes businesses to have a smaller market. They sell less. They don’t like that proposal. We will have to reduce pessimism and compensate. To have less of an impact on the ecology, we need to change the way we think. That is the only way I know to change the way we act and be successful. In particular, we cannot afford to think of ourselves as getting poorer. People try to avoid poverty.”

He nearly laughed. “Electronic interchanges help; they have less impact than face to face meetings; I am speaking of meetings in which one or the other comes a long distance. But many people do not like them.

“We need new dreams, practical dreams. They should be exported. That way we can help others become richer without fearing that they will have the same dreadful impact we did.”

He nodded. “We should help others. But the world cannot duplicate the United States. We have to pick and choose and change. That means politics — not only the politics of elections, but the politics of ideas, the politics of their enactment, the politics of success.

“Faulty visions of the world, a mis-sense that excludes the positive, minds that imagine only zero or negative sum struggles, a false belief that the physical world or whoever rules it has goals, partial renditions of ecology — all these kill you and me, or our children, or our culture.”

“I could link you to Senator Jelder,” said Elizabeth. “He is not a good man, but he is not very bad. I think of him as both fun and funny. Do write what you want to say. He will read it. He will not listen to you speak; he will talk and talk and talk.”

She smiled, which made Peter’s heart flutter, but then brought him to earth. “The Senator’s bad habit must be a domination issue. He listens when he meets with another senator or with a major contributor. You are not. You can tell when the senator thinks he is in the presence of person who is not quite up to him, but he has to listen — then he fidgets. He is totally quiet and speaks relevantly when he decides the other is an equal.

“You won’t be an equal, not in his terms, which have to do with power and money. So he will talk. On the other hand, he will read what you write. And he will think about it. That is better than most. It is a wonderful virtue. During his talk, he will explain what he intends to do. That is valuable to find out.”

She grinned. “But he will talk your ear off. However, it won’t be for long and you can endure it. And the meeting will ensure that he reads what you write.”

After they went home, Abigail Gelmund looked at Peter in their kitchen. “That Elizabeth is unfortunate,” she said. “What do you mean?” he asked.

“She is too beautiful. Men want her; women feel jealous. And it comes from her looks, from her birth, not from anything she did. You like being in her presence. She is a good listener, so you can show off, be a peacock. She may even be intelligent and able to make smart remarks on what you say.”

“She is intelligent,” said Peter. “I am not criticizing you,” said Abigail. “You are a good man. And she is a pleasure. Still, it is better to look reasonably good and have to work rather than look too good and have to fend off too many men.”

Abigail paused and then said, “The problem affects only a few. Most women know they are not that attractive; I suspect that is why so many dress in ugly clothes — it is a way of saying they are not a part of that world. And most are not. They are merely attractive. But just about everyone wants to look highly attractive.”

“She is Senator Jelder’s mistress,” said Peter. “That makes sense,” said Abigail. “His wife is a political woman through and through. She is not going to complain. She knows where a good part of his support comes from. Big contributors are not going to give him less money because they know he has both a mistress and a wife. As for the rest, your vote does not count.”

“That is true,” said Peter.

“There is an old saying,” said Abigail, “ ‘hell hath no fury like a woman scorned.’ But the senator does not scorn his wife, not from what I have heard. From her point of view, Elizabeth is not a threat. When you think about it, that is not a good situation for Elizabeth. She is a mistress, not a wife. Over the long run, she won’t have as much influence. And she is not independent; she is not like many men and many women.”

“I see,” said Peter.

“In particular, in the past, women were not independent. Pre-industrial technologies favored big muscles. Ever since the last ice age, and maybe before, women were limited. Modern technology and modern law enables us to act more independently than before.”

“What do you mean, ‘modern technology;’ what do you mean when you say that?” asked Peter.

‘I mean the ‘great equalizer’ of the 19th century, the Colt revolver — I mean all those unpleasant technologies that are mostly used in violence of men on men, but which were also used to keep women down. Now it is harder. You, that is to say thugs, are more likely to get killed. Also, we are more educated than we were, or many women are. We are not forced into kitchen, church, and field as we were. We only go into them by choice. Choice makes a big difference.

“But a woman like Elizabeth does not have that much choice. She is too beautiful. She is forced either to become a celebrity or become a mistress. She may be intelligent, she may know a lot, but what really are her choices?”

Peter smiled and shook his head.

“As I said, few women have that problem.” Abigail continued to speak. “But those who do are slaves as much as modern kings. Everyone wants to suffer like that. It is a failure that what we most want becomes a prison for those who are born to it.”

“You can develop a strange interest,” said Peter. “Didn’t a Japanese Emperor focus on some marine invertebrate?”

“A few will always be different. They can escape. With the right talent, a beautiful woman can become a mathematician. But the rest are trapped. And the rest of us want what they have. We want to be born to beauty or to riches and deference.”

She paused for a moment. “Beauty, of course, depends not only on genes but is a characteristic of your mother’s and grandmother’s health, pre-natal care, diet, and circumstances while growing up. They are necessary. Good genes cannot compensate for a poor diet. Beauty requires a stable society. So do riches and deference. Still, the immediate desire is what is called ‘good birth.’ Elizabeth was born beautiful. But she is going to have a hard time passing that on.”

“Perhaps that is why she looked at you wistfully,” said Peter.

Abigail nodded.

Next: , Previous: , Up: Top  

Chapter 3

When he got home, Laurence found a new bill with a higher price for water. He paused. He did not think the increase was all due to the monopoly that owned the water company or to increases in theft, which higher prices pushed. He could not steal water; he lived in too well known an address. He did not regret that; he did regret that others could steal. Without price and other controls on water, no one could ration it. It was a limited resource. That enabled the sellers to charge. As for those who did not pay, many escaped tracking. Or they paid bribes. They did not own registered houses. They lived in a traditional, not a bureaucratic world. Every dog knew boundaries; bureaucrats did not, or at least, not officially. Nowadays, advances in technology reduced theft but never as much as promised by those who sold advanced technology.

Local water came from high mountain glaciers. Glaciers near the equator; they were not odd when you considered the heights of the mountains. Glaciers were the prime source for what Laurence drank. Moreover, the water fed much of the food grown locally; in addition, it irrigated rich people’s lawns. Because of climate change, those glaciers were vanishing. Aquifers were vanishing, too; they were being pumped dry. But his water did not depend on aquifers, it depended on glaciers. Even the rivers depended on them. Rain on the lowlands was not enough. Only that which was high fell on the mountains as snow. There it stayed through the dry season and fed glaciers.

An inefficient, poorly run, monopolistic water company with a corrupt customer base — that made it worse.

The house took a large staff even though Laurence was the only person for it. Not only did he need full time guards, he needed cooks to feed them and him; he needed cleaners and the rest. It was an old, single story house. He did not know why it had only one story; in the novels he had read, the houses always had two. But then, none of the novels were set in this region. In any case, the servants’ quarters were large enough to sleep everyone.

His chief guard liked the wall around it, and the space between the wall and the house. In one place, the yard grew big enough so that not only could Laurence enter the van but a helicopter could land there.

Laurence did not have a view of other houses, no one did. However, from his bedroom he could see the brighter stars, even though he was in a city. And from the spot in the outer courtyard where he got onto his van or, occasionally, a helicopter, he could see the city’s only hill, Bombaia’s high ground. The one hill marked an upsurge of harder rock that had caused the river to bend around. Centuries ago, houses had been built on it. Now it was a park. Somewhere along the line, the city had enjoyed sensible politics. Laurence was not sure when, but he approved mightily.

In his house, Laurence slept near the central courtyard. He thought of himself as living in a donut. The inner courtyard marked its hole. The whole donut was, as it were, surrounded by a thin pastry, with empty space between the donut and the pastry. The pastry was the outer wall. The outer courtyard separated the donut from the pastry.

Laurence never thought about safety, but his senior guard did. His sleeping arrangements meant that Laurence was deeply inside the building. He was protected from a ground attack. Automated acoustic sensors would tell of an attempt to tunnel under the building and attack from below. Automated guns and anti-missiles would shoot a missile or airplane coming over the wall. Other than that Laurence was a little more careless than he should have been, the guard thought he had a good set up. Besides, Laurence was not really a player, although he was important.

Laurence could afford the water bill. He knew that. Besides moving resources from him to the already rich owners of the water company, the increase in price was designed to reduce consumption. That made sense. There was less water. The increase would make food more expensive. Commercial farms were big and in a known location; their owners had to pay for water. More expensive food for the poor: that could be a problem.

Laurence stood thinking about the implications of his water bill and almost forgot that he was expected to go to a party, a Blimov party. Fortunately, he did remember the party. He even remembered to look at his calendar, which listed it.

Laurence did not expect the party to be too bad. He would have to be friendly to various people, people who supported Blimov. He thought of that as unpleasant work. He knew that some people enjoyed parties intrinsically; he was not one of them. Parties exhausted him. But he got food and drink out of them and usually met at least one interesting person.

This party was designed to show Blimov’s influence, as had the previous ones that Laurence went to. Over time, the message regarding influence faded unless Blimov reinforced it. Laurence rode to it in his van.

The party was in the same hall as Blimov’s office. His desk had vanished. Chairs, sofas, tables and food surrounded the walls. At one end, a band played on a temporarily raised platform. It was rather nice.

Everyone who came had been checked before. But, in addition, they were frisked on entry. Men frisked men, women frisked women. Other women, always two together, looked into handbags; they were X-rayed separately, too. Blimov himself stayed surrounded by his guards. He talked only with a few who were not in his organization.

All the civic leaders came, as did senior people in Blimov’s own organization. Most were human-oriented and corrupt. Laurence did not think of himself as very corrupt, but then most people didn’t. Moreover, Laurence realized, not for the first time, but freshly as if he never thought of it before, he was the only senior person in Blimov’s organization who knew much technology; he was oriented technically. None of the city powers were, although the city needed technically capable people and those able to manage them.

To provide leavening, there were others, neither civic leaders nor Blimov lieutenants. Those were the people Laurence was going to look at.

But first, after finding a drink, Laurence engaged in small talk with city leaders. That was his job. He flattered them. As usual, they were not quite sure what to make of him; he was not like them. But Blimov thought him important, so they did. Then someone in the organization grabbed him. Laurence could not remember his name, but recognized the man distantly. The city leaders were glad that Laurence went to this other fellow and left them to each other.

Captain Nemo turned out to be the captain of one of Laurence’s submarines. Obviously, Laurence thought, the captain’s name was false. Laurence did not think the choice creative although it did say that the fellow was captain of an undersea boat.

“I leave our covered dock under water,” the captain said. “That way no satellite or aerial reconnaissance can discover us. I go real slow and stay close to the bottom. We can stay under water a long time; those big liquid oxygen tanks of yours have made the difference. We are not like an old fashioned nuclear submarine that produces its own oxygen. And we go even slower than a boomer. We creep along. We go so slowly that when we are detected, our signal is rejected by the American computers.”

He smiled at that remark. “The problem is we need a bigger common. We spend more time under water than before and the sub is small. We can work with the size we have, but I would have fewer discipline problems if it were bigger. Crew would be less likely to go crazy. A scream produces the kind of signal that Americans cannot ignore. It tells them our location, too.”

He was lobbying Laurence, but Laurence did not mind. He was learning. “Loss of a submarine, loss of its crew — that you’ll notice. You don’t care about my discipline problems but will pay attention to the loss of a submarine and its crew. At the moment, the risk is two percent per trip. For you that is low. For us seamen, of course, that is high. That is why I am retiring soon. I don’t want to try pushing my luck too far. I’ll have enough to live on. Blimov pays well. Two percent is one in fifty. Suppose that were increased to one in seventy-five. From an insurance point of view, the savings is not much, less than seven-tenths of a percent from the total.

“I know you don’t buy insurance, but you have to replace submarines. To be more positive, you can say that your insurance or replacement costs drop by a third, from two percent to one and a third percent. However, for us crew, it appears to mean a drop in danger of one-half. Yes, a bigger common means the hull must be stretched, more fuel taken, more used. That will cost more. But fewer replacements mean more for you.”

Laurence was not sure that a larger submarine would pay for itself. It would certainly be more detectable; therefore, it would be easier for the Americans to discover and sink or capture. They would be less able to ignore it. On the other hand, a larger submarine might mean he would not have to replace the captain and crew so often.

He asked the captain how much larger? Captain Nemo told him and also said, “I am going to retire; my next voyage will be my last. I won’t be in a larger submarine; I think it is worth it for you.”

Laurence assured the fellow he would look into it. “Computers make it easy to figure the implications on the rest of the boat when we increase the size of a room. The question is going to be how much we increase detectability — will we cross some threshold? How much longer will you and other seamen last? We have been in this business long enough; we have records. But we have changed technology more than we have changed the size of boats; I am not certain I’ll be able to make comparisons that have any validity. But as I said, I will look into it. As you said, subs are going slower and we are spending much more time underwater than we were. Meanwhile …” The captain nodded and backed away.

Laurence saw a woman standing by herself by a wall, not saying anything; it was evident she was regaining energy. He understood. She was tall and willowy; her eyes had to neither look up nor look down at Laurence. He liked that thought: physical equality. He would discover whether she was his mental equal, too. Not the same kind of mind, he was neither looking for nor expecting that, but equal. He could not stand a vacuous conversation. He thought of that kind of talk as work. He had done enough with the city powers. He enjoyed talking shop, but that was not the purpose of the party. He put off eating a little longer, thinking that if worse came to worse, he could run away from the woman. And if better came, he might eat with her or forget eating altogether.

Next: , Previous: , Up: Top  

Chapter 4

Senator Jelder had a good name for a politician: short. Also every one of his constituents and supporters could pronounce it. They even prefixed it with a D sound so the beginning sound was DJ, unlike the French and their JEAN.

Jelder possessed genes that potentially enabled him to be tall and handsome. His upbringing turned that ‘maybe’ into ‘yes.’ Since funders paid considerable attention to tallness, he benefited. Moreover, voters who did not meet him personally or read any of his previous work looked at his handsome face. Consequently, he gained from what others called the ‘Warren Harding error.’ Harding had also been tall and handsome. Unfortunately, after his time as U. S. president, almost every one considered him incompetent. Fortunately, Jelder was not incompetent.

The United States Senator called himself pragmatic. He did not dare call himself conservative, although he acted as one: he favored massive deficits and unbalanced budgets, even when they made no sense in the long run. After all, he figured, he could lose in the short run. He did not want to lose.

He voted for large government when the proceeds went to his friends and supporters — by supporters, he meant those who funded him. In order to gain more power, he favored looking at the private lives of his enemies. This was very much the opposite of conservatives in the mid-twentieth century. They had favored fiscal rectitude, balanced budgets, small government, and individual freedom.

Those politicians were known to have said, ‘Waste not, want not.’ However, too many people at that time remembered the Great Depression and favored ‘stimulus’ when it made sense. So the then conservatives lost.

Over the next two generations, their successors reversed themselves and new conservatives won elections. They were successful in the short term. Unfortunately for them, over the decades, conditions had changed sufficiently that massive deficits and unbalanced budgets no longer succeeded unless you counted a method of transferring resources to politicians’ supporters. It made sense to all except the politicians to say that ‘A penny saved is a penny earned.’

Jelder was smart; he never entwined himself with the conservatives. When they lost power, he remained.

Ordinary people had always been against a government that permitted its agents to investigate private lives — they figured that providing too much discretion and power to any one person would corrupt that person or if not him, a successor. But none of Jelder’s friends were ever investigated, so they did not mind. Indeed, most people did not suffer.

For the vast majority, for anyone with less than eighty per cent of the highest income — the average was fifty percent, the median less since the rich outliers disrupted the average — the probability of investigation was low unless, of course, they could be perceived as other. But mistakes happened. Someone might be confused with another of nearly the same name or nearly the same address. Most people figured that disasters bigger than normal would not happen to them, which was true, and carried on.

Some ‘mistakes’ came because of crooks. Some came because of governments. Most voters did not think in terms of a generation or two. They seldom voted anything directly that influenced programs involving the long term. In years past, by making abortion legal, judges had reduced some degree of illegal encounters, mostly muggings, simply because fewer unwanted children grew up. Fewer unwanted children eventually reduced the number of crooks.

The other option was to make government smaller, at least that part of government that malignantly affected people. That could be done. Indeed, the fear of an unwise government agent meant that Senator Jelder could gain by voting against some police funding. He could and did support prisons more than schools, even the anemic amount in the Federal Education department; in public he was strongly against what he called ‘waste.’

Next: , Previous: , Up: Top  

Chapter 5

The next morning, after the party, Laurence returned to his office. It was big, full of old books; it had an elegant shape — one day, he had measured its length, width, and height, and found it was a golden cuboid. Perhaps, that was why he felt comfortable in it.

The spirals on the face of a sunflower were golden, as were the numbers of petals on daisies. Or most of them. He knew that the measurements of human buildings could be off a bit. Perhaps those looking had found what they were seeking rather than what was. Or maybe an architect had designed his office using irrelevant numbers that were not unpleasant. Perhaps the spirals and the numbers of petals had a different cause. He did not feel strongly enough to learn biology and aesthetics and architecture and investigate further.

Laurence had a desk and table and chairs. He did not make visitors sit uncomfortably low, as some did. He put the chairs around a regular height table.

The room was not necessary. Laurence could get along without one, although he liked this one. He did all his design and most of his administration on his wearable computer. It was easy to make engineering drawings, to make calculations, and to draw up budgets on his wearable. Laurence wondered why more people did not. They did not have to study much engineering.

On the other hand — Laurence was on a quick digression, of the sort that he engaged in frequently — engineers had to know about all the possibilities and how to put them together, what would be cheapest in a given circumstance. That took experience. The designer had to pay attention to what was new. That, Laurence thought, was a part of experience. The past and good procedures could be and were taught in school. But Laurence figured that intelligent experience was key. Simulations provided experience of the unusual. He provided them to his submariners. But engineering required more, at least, his kind of engineering did. Experience took time. Most people lacked it.

As for administration, Laurence enjoyed that too. He was well enough informed to understand that people worked for appreciation, but he did not desire to have as many face-to-face interactions as others liked. He had a few; he learned of the vanishing submarine from a live person. However, for him face-to-face meetings were worse than parties. They were exhausting. So he had too few of them.

In his office, although he did not have to be there, Laurence thought of the problem Blimov had set him. The office acted as a reminder. First, he had to obtain usable energy. Fossil fuels were too expensive; he could not afford gas, oil, or coal. There was none below him. Worse if he used fossil fuel, he would not be independent. It would have to be imported. So would a non-fossil, human-made fuel.

He needed a different source of energy, not fossilized and not imported. The ocean made him think immediately of an electric generator based on temperature differences. It would make use of the small difference in temperature between surface and deep waters. The difference was not small in human terms — people could die in cold water — but it was small in absolute terms. Unfortunately, Laurence could not build a temperature difference generator; there was not a big enough difference close by. Then, he thought of wave power. He realized that would not work either: the ocean was placid. Sometimes, he knew, it was fierce, too fierce. Either was bad.

Laurence settled on a solar heater. During the rainy season everyone would take a vacation. As for it working in the sun: no one was likely to burst a paint bomb over the mirrors. Those who could would think some locals were trying to develop the town. They would not care. He, or rather Blimov, would have to provide the town with some energy. The locals could try to develop with it; they might even succeed.

He would need a square kilometer of mirrors to concentrate a gigawatt of heat. A square kilometer is huge. Taking into account night, the rising and setting of the sun, atmospheric extinction, and all that, he would need six, eight, or ten times that much to guarantee a gigawatt of heat. And a gigawatt of heat would produce no more than a third or so of a gigawatt of electricity.

Fortunately, Blimov controlled everything around. Still the mirrors would require more iron than the submarines. On the other hand, if he could produce the metal locally, that would be one less substance on which the organization would depend.

The mirrors would heat salt; he was on an ocean after all and could get it. With the melted salt he could heat ore, generate electricity, whatever. The salt would store heat. Nothing would be interrupted by night or by a few days of cloudiness. Only long periods without sun, periods of rain, would stop him. Even though the weather was not predictable, the climate was. Clouds always came.

With heat and electricity, he could produce thermal insulation by foaming stone. As for electrical insulation, he had thought of that before. With enough electricity, he could produce it from the grass on the hills and the little growing things in the sea.

He would start small, dig, separate, and refine the ore, construct mirrors, and everything else. He would make enough more so he could expand. It would not be easy. At least, starting small meant he could experiment. Even with the best designs, something always went wrong. He knew that for sure. Perhaps the situation was different; perhaps he or someone else misinterpreted the instructions. He had not done any of this before.

Next: , Previous: , Up: Top  

Chapter 6

It was early in the morning in the western United States. The house was smaller than William Delder expected, but it had the right number, 235. He led his men, all twenty-two of them, armed, with body protection.

They broke down the door; they would claim, of course, that they knocked and there was no answer, but they did not. They entered as quickly as they could, which was not as quickly as William hoped. The front corridor was tiny.

William was smaller than he had hoped when he was twelve. But he was not too short, and he was very active. He knew that people thought of him as taller than he was.

He came to a stairs and was about to go up when a voice cried, “Halt!” He looked up and saw an old woman in a very faded night gown. She was sitting in a chair beside a small table and rested her right elbow on it. She was holding a pistol that she pointed between his eyes.

The table was not big; it was against the wall and looked painted. It had a shelf below the top and a small vase of flowers by the back. The flowers were not in her way.

He stopped. “Your man can kill me; he has got his shotgun pointed at me. But if he kills me, you die, because my reflex is to pull this trigger. And I am aiming towards your face. Unlike the other fellows’, your face is not guarded. Regardless, my pistol has sabotted bullets. If your man shoots, a bullet will not only go through your head, it should penetrate the back of your helmet and the front armor of the fellow behind you, although I doubt it would get out the other side.

“In any case,” she went on, “you depend on my comfort. The bullet might not kill you. It won’t mushroom. Maybe it will just take out a part of your brain … then, you would be worse than dead.

“Me, I am old; I am seventy-eight. I do not want to die just yet, but probably I am not as bothered by the possibility as you are.

“Identify yourself. And don’t anyone move, unless you want to see your boss die.”

She smiled grimly. “Perhaps you had better tell them not to move; and tell your man who is pointing his gun at me to point it away. That is if you value your life.”

She was very composed. William was sweating. Without moving more than his mouth, he said, “Don’t anybody move. Herbert, move your gun away a little.” He was still looking at her, “You are under arrest for holding illegal substances.”

“Then you have the wrong house. And don’t you dare try to plant anything on me; I’ll have you and everyone else in this group — accessories — in jail for a long time. You won’t like it at all.”

She smiled again. “Identify yourself.”

“William Delder,” he said, “Commander …”

“Good,” she said. “Now, have the man to your right, my left, not the man with the gun, who is on your left, slowly — remember the word, slowly, you will repeat that — slowly move and collect everyone’s ID, but don’t get out of my sight. The ones I cannot see we will just have to leave for the moment. Get your warrant, too. Tell him to disarm and slowly climb the stairs and place everything on this desk in front of me.

“Remember, I will have you covered the whole time. I will shoot if worried. You had better tell your man not to get in front of you, else I will kill you or him.

“Also, tell your men not to move. When the time comes, each should say loudly where each ID is. Your men need to speak loudly so I can hear. Then your man can slowly — I have said that word several times, right? — slowly collect each ID.”

The woman was talking a lot, William thought, but she was being clear and she did have her pistol pointed right between his eyes. He could see that. And he was not wearing a face mask. He did not like them. He repeated her instructions. He used the word ‘slowly.’

“The other men, the ones I cannot see, had better stop, too. The guys trying to come up the back stairs make a lot of noise.” William could not hear that but he expected them to do that. “They won’t be able to get to me before you die, either. So if you want to live, tell them to stop. I am sure you have a voice actuated radio, like soldiers.”

She smiled grimly. “I am an old woman. An advantage of this chair and table is that I don’t get tired quickly. Your man will have time to collect the papers, and I will have time. My arm is propped up. But I do get tired. And I will shoot first. Bear that in mind. You cannot out wait me.”

Len collected the IDs from everyone. From William he collected the warrant as well as his ID. Before he could ascend the stairs, the woman said, “Get your ID out too, before you come up. Remember, you are going to come up the stairs slowly, and put everything on the table. You are not going to do anything else. And you will stay out of my line of fire. And you will do everything slowly.”

He almost nodded, but said, “Yes,” instead. He put the others’ IDs and the warrant in his left hand, and unclipped his own with his right hand, then he climbed the stairs slowly and put everything on the table in front of the woman. He noticed a closed door behind her with a chair in front of it. Even if she had not heard or guessed the presence of the men on the back stairs, she was right in saying that they could not come on her unaware. She would shoot while dying.

“I have rocket-assisted, sabotted penetrating rounds in this pistol,” she said when she saw him looking at it. “It does not have that big a caliber, but it is big enough for a sabot. At this range, a bullet would go through your vest — and if I am shot unexpectedly, I plan to kill your boss; but I might just shoot you. Think about that.”

Len backed down the stairs. That seemed safer than turning around.

After he got down, the woman looked at the warrant. She nearly laughed. “The warrant is for 235 East Street. This is 235 West Street. You have the wrong house. And you have woken me; and you have broken down my door.

“Don’t move! Tell everyone not to move.”

Then with her left hand, not her right hand, which was still holding the pistol, the woman pulled out a telephone. “You have got all that?” She had called an emergency number as soon as she heard her door being broken, reported everything, and kept the telephone connected. “Fine. According to my clock, the time is now 4:38 local. You are not going to lose that recording. You are going to tell me the numbers of the top three local media outlets, the number for the Federal Anti-Drug Agency, and the number for Judge Daring, who signed this warrant.”

She waited a moment. “If you don’t, I will look them up myself, and I will remember you were not helpful. Thank you. I knew you would become agreeable. Don’t give me numbers with an answering machine on them. The Judge probably has that for his public number.

“You can tell the police and the people in the ambulance you have sent — I am sure that is what you have done, right? — you can tell them not to enter, but to wait. If anyone moves, I shoot the man who claims to be William Delder. I don’t know that yet; and I won’t until I have checked with at least two sources. I expect to die if I kill, but death is less fearful for me than for him. If I shoot him you will be the cause. It is something you can do nothing about, only listen; you will be the cause because you did not provide believable sources.”

She tipped her head to hold the telephone at her ear so her left hand become free. Then she asked the person at the other end of the telephone to repeat and to speak slowly. “Remember, I am writing left handed, which is awkward for me. In my right hand, I am pointing my pistol.”

William could not see what she wrote; he did see that her eyes were mainly focused on his face. She glanced down occasionally, but most of her attention was still on him. And he could see the hole of the pistol’s barrel, aimed right at him.

After she wrote, she spoke into the telephone, “I am going to hang up now. I am going to dial the numbers you gave me. Before I hang up, where are the police and ambulance you sent?” She nodded, and then said, “Thank you.” She put the telephone down onto the table and pressed its buttons with her left hand.

“Hi. Newsdesk. Yes, this is an emergency. I am pointing my pistol at a man who just entered my house, after breaking the door down, at 235 West Street. I have called nine-one-one. That is how I got your number. The police are waiting outside. I am a seventy-eight year old woman; my name is Gertrude Gelt; I have always been called ‘Gigi’. Nobody calls me Gertrude, which is an old fashioned name.

“There are a whole bunch here. Either they got the wrong house or they are impersonating officers. They are not the police I know. Whether they entered the wrong house or are impersonating officers — either way makes a good story … an old women, in her night gown, holding intruders at gun point … unless of course they shoot me and I shoot them. That is why an ambulance is out there, too, just in case we die. I plan to call other media, as well as Judge Daring, who signed the warrant, that is D A R I N G, and the Federal Anti-Drug Agency. I suggest you come quick.”

She said much the same to the other media outlets. To the last one she said, “If you are the only person there, I suggest you come. You can call it a live report.” She smiled sweetly. “It is very unlikely that your technology will fail while you are here.” She smiled again.

Then she called Judge Daring. He sleepily answered the telephone. “I am at 235 West Street. Did you sign a warrant to break down the door without knocking to enter 235 East Street?” she asked.

“There are many here. They came to the wrong address. You say, you did not write that they could break down the door without knocking enough to wake me? Well, you had better come. I have already called and told three media outlets about you. Yes, I know you have to dress. I will tell the media that you will come.”

Even though by now it was likely he believed him, she still had her pistol aimed at him and neither he nor anyone else moved.

She called FADA, the Federal Anti-Drug Agency. “I am at 235 West Street. Did you send people to 235 East Street?” she asked. “What is the name of the unit’s boss. William Delder. Thank you.” William heard this, but she kept her pistol pointed at him. “You had better get a more senior person. I am still holding a pistol on William Delder. I won’t believe he is not pretending to be William Delder until I hear more. I am a seventy-eight year old woman. I am not as afraid of death as he is.

“I know sleep is likely. Call on another line and patch me through. And do not give me any more guff. Remember, I am an old woman, woken by the crunch of a breaking door. Also, I have called three media outlets. Probably you can get to one or two, but I doubt you can get to three in the necessary time. So you cannot run a cover up. … Thank you.”

She was immaculately polite.

Next: , Previous: , Up: Top  

Chapter 7

The woman’s name was Laura.

“I once lived and worked in Rio de Janeiro … yes, a city on the other side of the continent, a different country, a different language. There I spoke of ‘clients,’ not ‘patients,’ just like I do here. My colleagues supported me. My professional organization did not care. Only two people did anything against me. Nothing would have mattered, except that I lacked a protector. I had to move …”

Laura proved to be Laurence’s mental equal. She was not boring to him. He did not flee. Instead, he invited her to dinner.

She said, “I didn’t join a hierarchical organization to gain a protector that was relevant to me.” Laurence listened. He was enjoying her company. “I suppose my main professional organization would have protected me had I been accused of something within their realm, but calling my customers ‘clients’ rather than ‘patients’ … they did not care. I mean the socially powerful people in the organization. I don’t mean the great therapists or the ordinary members, like me. I don’t think the socially powerful understood that the term implied more equality than they were willing to admit; I think it passed them by. I don’t think they were trying to do me any harm, either.”

Laurence nodded. He did not say anything.

“I would do better in a country ruled by law,” she said. “Unfortunately, social law must match politically-made, legal law. It didn’t. That is why I left my home. The U. S. and all of Europe had and still have decent legal, political laws. Brazil has them, too. But I was caught in a failed social law.”

Like Laura, Laurence would also prefer and do better in a country ruled by law. But in the United States, his birth country, ‘upward mobility’ was not evident, or at least, not for people like him. ‘Sponsored’ upward mobility did not exist either, not for men, not for women. Maybe from the point of view of the powerful, it had never been necessary in the past. The place was unlike England. Historically, in the U. S., you could succeed economically if you were male, regardless of who you were, so long as you were white and of European descent.

Laurence wanted to succeed. He was ambitious. But in the U. S., he could not press forward, so he left. At the time, he thought of himself as acting like his ancestors. They had left Europe. The difference was that he found fewer options. People who were technically competent and willing to use that knowledge — now, they could be found in many places. Agricultural societies that had not changed for centuries no longer stayed agricultural; their leaders discovered more sense in educating their own people. They did not depend on foreign expatriates.

Because of the lack of upward mobility for people like him, sponsored or not, Laurence thought that the United States would more likely explode than muddle through or decline gracefully. Great Britain had enjoyed sponsored upward mobility during its decline; the ambitious shifted into government peacefully. The United States, he was sure, would act more like France during the French Revolution than England after the Industrial Revolution. Only if the U. S. changed dramatically for the better would it not be like France.

But back to Laura; Laurence returned his attention. Laura was another L. Laurence liked that. Her last name was Harbilgar, not an initial L.

Although the local custom was to provide two last names, since descent came from the mother as well as the father, Laura did not. Laurence wondered why? He did not provide two names, but he was a foreigner — he was still perceived as a foreigner as well as feeling himself as one — and so he readily gave only one.

Laura was different. Laurence wondered whether Harbilgar was her mother’s or father’s last name; he did not ask. He did not know whether Brazil was different from Bombaia or whether she had had some terrible difficulty with one or the other parent and wished to forget his or her existence.

Laura liked Laurence. As she later told others, he was a relief. Her clients had difficulties with other people. They reminded her of her own, earlier experiences. She gave them drugs to handle their biochemical problems; most of her work was to teach them how to act with others. Laurence talked about different problems, none that she thought serious, and some of the time he listened to her. He was not easy to get along with, but not as difficult as her clients and not boring.

He began to invite her to his own home every weekend. Dinner was prepared by his cook. She came each time he invited her. Laura told Laurence, “I want to be friends. I do not want to move in. You are too difficult, you drift away, you are focused on your work, you live dangerously. Nonetheless, and this is important, which is why I am emphasizing it, I do like you. It’s just I do not want to be connected to you all the time.”

She felt he was worth visiting and not only for dinners. Even though he spoke mostly of technical subjects, Laura listened. She spoke, too. She noticed that he preferred informative conversation. He walked to the window, he puttered irrelevantly, when she made small talk. He kept calling it ‘purely phatic conversation’. He meant that that kind of talk conveyed emotions, which was helpful. However, he thrived on information.

After she told him she would not move in, she saw he was deeply hurt. “Please remember, I am not from your past. Let’s be friends.” He nodded dumbly.

They connected through the communication of information. Laura noticed all this, but he did not. He always communicated information with people he liked. He thought of other kinds of communication as work. As far as he was concerned, he had enough of that.

“I deal with human software,” Laura said to Laurence; “you deal with mechanical hardware.”

He answered more specifically than she expected, saying, “I work with software, too.” But she responded, “You mostly work with hardware that has software embedded in it. You aren’t a software developer.”

“That is right. In that sense, I mainly deal with hardware. More so, you deal with humans, talk with them. You program human software. I deal with non-human devices. We are very different.”

Laura was a therapist with a private practice. Laurence thought this was odd in a small and remote city, but then, he had had an odd life, too. As he discovered, many of her ‘clients’ were poor, but enough were sufficiently rich that she could live well. She said, “the rich deserve help as much as the poor.” Laura was neither a revolutionary nor a reactionary, but somewhere in between. Based on her words, Laurence thought, she would confuse someone who said, ‘if you are not part of the solution, you are part of the problem.’

Laura and Laurence became an occasional fixture of Bombaia. On some weekends, Laurence visited Laura. His guards minded that less than going to restaurants. Laurence suspected that was because only one other person, a servant, inhabited Laura’s house. That woman needed to be investigated just once.

Laurence enjoyed Laura’s garden. It had no living things in it, but carefully arranged gravel and stones. The design was not new, except among people Laura knew. There it was becoming more common. Most hired others to take care of their rock or Zen gardens, but Laura raked hers. The task satisfied her. Moreover, she did not water a lawn; the garden helped her save water. She did not drink less; she knew that was dangerous, but she did not spill it on a lawn either.

Laurence found he could design in the garden, or rather, he could design while gazing on it. Indeed, so long as he had the right tools and was not bothered, he could design just about anywhere. Nonetheless, he found he did more elegant work in the Zen garden. Laura understood. She did not bother him. Laurence was grateful.

Designs created in Laura’s garden cost Blimov less, not much less, but a little. Laurence wondered whether Blimov noticed.

Laura walked to local stores; she did not drive to a farther and bigger store. Unlike Laurence, she was not at all a target, not even for kidnapping. Others had families who could afford a higher ransom. Besides, she treated members of clans who had members who might kidnap her. The local stores were more expensive than the distant store, and a walk took time; but she could afford the expense and she had decided that the exercise was good for her.

She feared that local stores kept in business by supplying those who could not afford cars, who could not buy anything cheaper. Even though the older parts of the city enjoyed decent bus service, the newer parts, especially the big stores, did not. In fact, the cheapest store could only be reached by car. Taxis were too expensive. Laura decided that walking was much better.

Laurence told Laura that, “If everyone walks to stores, rather than drives, the world will be better. But few walk who can afford a car. That is the trouble. In general, people were not as good as you.” Laura smiled at that. He went on, “In poor countries, people are growing accustomed to driving. In rich countries, they have been accustomed for generations. Stores are getting bigger and further apart.”

Laurence stopped for a moment, thinking. “Mass transit helps,” he said. He figured it was true. But then he went on and said, “Unfortunately, mass transit means waiting.” He paused again. Laura waited.

“You have to wait for a bus or train to come.”

“You don’t in Tokyo,” said Laura, “not hardly.”

“That is true,” said Laurence, “but Tokyo, Japan as a whole, is the exception that proves the rule. In any case, traffic jams there are terrible.”

He stopped for a moment. Laura had presented a contradiction. She was smart enough not to laugh or otherwise interrupt him.

“I am mainly thinking of the U. S. and its emulators,” he said, “not of a country with as high a population density and as few natural resources as Japan. The possibilities in the U. S. are there. But for most people, the dreams are not, not any more.” He shook his head.

“In general, mass transit is less resilient. You can halt it with a strike. Nobody goes on strike against his own car. That is its advantage. You don’t have to wait on what you own. Private cars mean immediate transport. Better yet, you can go all over the place. You do not have to travel along a one-dimensional route as you do with a bus or train.

“Also an enemy can destroy a train or bus more readily than a car. Buses make fewer targets than cars, with more people in each bus. Trains are even easier targets.

“Of course,” he continued, “cars suffer traffic jams in cities. Cars are bad for cities.” He looked at Laura; his mind had drifted off somewhere else. It wanted to convey the information, not the human connection. By looking at her, he returned to her. “Cities should be small enough for walking. Big stores around them attract people, which means they want cars. So we should ban them,” Laurence said. “Cars are useful in rural areas, in regions with low population densities; and maybe big stores are, too. But that is not how the world is going. Cities are growing. So are suburbs. Cities are charging a drive-around fee. That is fine; it reduces congestion. But it won’t stop cars; after all, congestion fees bring revenue. That means each city wants cars, but not too many. It is all wrong.”

Laura did not argue. Instead she said, “It is wrong in more ways than one. I have listened to Gil Delanders …”

“Oh, I know of him,” Laurence interrupted. “He is a local architect. His parents immigrated from Europe, but not from Spain.” He persisted in having one last name. He was an older man, too, but Laurence did not mention that. Nonetheless, the extra age relieved him.

Laura went on, “Besides designing houses, Delanders enjoys the city. He speaks of texture, people’s visual experience. In particular, he points out that the paths and walls of the central city possess details that people enjoy close by, that walkers can see. He argues that the city government should ban cars from that area and make it more open to pedestrians.

“Hah! He also says that places outside the city possess texture. That generates controversy since many do not see it. But Delanders is a careful as you in his language.” She paused for a moment, but Laurence did not notice. He presumed, erroneously, that everyone was precise.

Laura continued. “Delanders said that details on new construction are better seen from further away.” She digressed for a moment. “By ‘new,’ Delanders does not mean current, he means anything built since the 1930s or so.” She returned to her topic. “You cannot see details close by when you look at anything built more or less recently. From a distance, however, you can see details. They subtend the same angle in a person’s eye as details on walls in the old part of the city. That is what counts. The new pattern is good for people riding in cars.”

She repeated what Delanders had said. “ ‘Those coming close will see only blank. Perhaps that is a relief to people accustomed to walking and to detail.’ He hypothesized that a first generation might welcome such a change.

“Unfortunately, and this is where he come back to cars, he said that, ‘those who drive a good deal will not gain relief. They will spend too little time driving at the correct distance from the recently built parts. They will not see sufficient detail. They will enter buildings by walking into them. The walls will be blank; they will see no detail. Second and subsequent generations of drivers will fail to notice, but will feel slightly oppressed by the modern, built world.’ ”

According to Laura, Delanders did not say whether the expanses of empty wall on new construction, the lack of close-by detail, was a result of modern technology, of cars, or of fashion. Laurence thought it was the result of fashion.

“With modern technology,” he said, “you can build any way you want. And you can design details so they jump out at people who are close by. Car drivers need to see their kind of details. You must build both for people walking and for people in cars, too. That is more difficult than one or the other. Still architects will not find that constraint impossible. Indeed, they should welcome it.”

In any case, Laurence was definitive about modern architecture. He made a comparison. “Architecture is like engineering,” he said. “With the proper software, non-architects can do as well as trained architects except, and this is critical, they lack experience. The non-architects will not think of all the possibilities. Computers will offer solutions to the near/distant issue, as well as the other items, but the solutions will be limited. That is where an experienced and trained architect thrives. Some experience can be picked up in school, but most comes from spending huge amounts of time thinking about buildings. That is what a full-time architect does. Like people who are not engineers, people who are not architects will have other interests. So they will never spend the time needed.”

Next, he reversed himself concerning blank walls, “On the other hand,” he said referring back to the conversation regarding empty walls on new buildings, “suppose people driving in cars do see enough of the modern, built environment and do see enough texture. Then they will like it. The first generation will like the blank walls; the second will ignore blank walls, look for texture at a distance, and drive more …”

Laura pulled Laurence back to her kind of life. She felt that in this discussion of architects, he was getting far away. She had enough meandering conversations in normal life and liked focus. She made no mention, indeed, she hardly remembered, that she had brought up an architect in the first place.

Instead, she told Laurence that she used washable, cloth handkerchiefs rather than use-once paper; she recycled where she could; she tried to have as little unwelcome impact on the planet as she could.

Laurence responded. He was not stuck on architecture or engineering. He told her, “That is good. As I said before, if everyone did that, the world would be a better place. Kant was right!

“Always act as if everyone were doing the same. Unfortunately, the solution does not scale. It does not work when you have different numbers. Unlike electrons or words that are the same, people are not identical. Even if four out of five people do the right thing, we will still have problems. Twenty percent are enough. That one-out-of-five will use too many resources. They will drive cars.” Laura noted that Laurence rode around in a big, heavy van that consumed an enormous amount of fuel, but said nothing. At least he was talking about ecology again.

“And,” Laurence said, “Kant was wrong!

“We do not want everyone to do the same thing. Think of hot air balloons. They are piloted by far less than one percent of the population. They are fun to see occasionally. It is even fun to see a whole bunch once in a while. But we do not want everyone in them all the time. They make too much noise when their burners operate; and if everyone flew, the sky would be too cluttered.”

“The good news,” said Laura, “is that we are not going to have a problem with hot air balloons.” She grinned.

“No,” Laurence said, “but the general principle holds. The principle even applies to actions that have a bad impact on the planet, so long as the impact is not too large. We and the planet can afford a few deleterious impacts. The world just absorbs them. Smoke vanishes into the air; it does not become pollution.”

Laura looked puzzled and Laurence saw that. “Think of the pollution of a river. In the very old days, you could dump all you produced, which was not much. The river diluted it. The stuff was gone a few hours travel down river. You could drink river water. Nowadays, the amounts are much bigger and the substances more dangerous. You cannot escape pollution by traveling down river. You shouldn’t dump; others shouldn’t dump.

“That is what I mean when I talk about scaling. Harmless pollution does not scale. Too much overcomes the too little that is transformed. Everyone is wrong who follows the experiences of ancestors.

“In specific places, like cities, pollution goes way back. But we did not have much pollution on a planetary scale until recently. We couldn’t. Well,” he paused, “traditional land clearing, cutting forests, may have had a world-wide impact. But if so, it did little more than slow cooling, and did not do a very good job at that. When impacts are large, that is when problems occur.”

“Yes,” said Laura, “but governance fails on a planetary scale. You cannot solve planetary problems with governments.”

She spoke vigorously. “Governance succeeds in countries with legal systems for everyone. Well, it could work; governments must think right. London does not have ‘pea soup fogs’ any more; a pea soup fog was a thick smog caused by the burning of coal — the smog came from the soot and sulfur in the coal combined with dampness and still air. (No one besides Arrhenius cared about greenhouse gases.) It took more than a century, but the government finally came to think better.” She muttered to herself, then repeated more loudly, so Laurence could hear, “It helps to have alternatives, too, and to understand causes.”

She returned to her main topic. “Big and legal organizations are vulnerable. Rich countries can hurt them. But most of the world is poor and extralegal. While big organizations do big actions, many impacts are small. It is not that each impact is big; it is, as you say, that they add up. In most of the world, laws don’t matter. People bribe the enforcers.”

She did not say anything about Laurence’s organization, which was big, but not legal.

Meanwhile Laurence considered London. He said, “London is one city. You can control its pollution locally. It is like big stores around here. Well … not quite; you have to change each hearth. There are not that many big stores.

“Even with corruption, even with cops paid off, you could ban big stores just outside the city. You could shut them down if they were built. You could bulldoze them. But they don’t vanish. To permit their existence, to encourage cars to go to them, you must have a government that thinks wrongly. Wrongly placed cars and stores do not make sense for anyone powerful, even with their payoffs. They do not make sense for us either, but we are not so powerful.”

He thought for a moment. “Actually, it makes sense for local leaders to behave badly. They can figure, and figure rightly, that whatever they do won’t have much impact on the planet as a whole.”

Laura’s point was more general. She said, “We have to motivate everyone in a non-legal manner. Perhaps big stores can be banned and the higher costs of small stores be accepted. That is local. I think it is unlikely. In any case, I am thinking planetary.

“Greed, selfishness, and short term thinking, that is what we need to consider, how to inspire without law. The good people — like me —” she smiled, “are already persuaded. We cannot control enough people through government.”

Laurence explained his current project, building von Neumann replicators.

Laura said, “Your von Neumann replicators are important. Their material output will appeal. They will not get rid of people’s desire for attention, status, or dignity, but they will get rid of material wants or make them cheap. They will end the need for finite, fossil fuels. They are a solution to the problems of greed, selfishness, and short term thinking, at least with regard to material wants. They are a step in the right direction.”

Next: , Previous: , Up: Top  

Chapter 8

Michelle Danmer came to her clinic early. As she entered, she wished she had more funding. This was a normal dream and she forgot it almost immediately. She did paperwork and then treated various people. Finally, she introduced George Garver and Thomas Rangle. She said, “George Garver meet Thomas Rangle; Thomas Rangle meet George Garver.”

George Garver stared at the stranger who stared back. George saw himself in a mirror, or almost himself. Michelle Danmer laughed. Her eyes flicked back and forth. “You really do look the same. Do either of you know about your birth?” she asked.

“I was adopted,” said Thomas. “I had a brother,” said George. “The implication was that he died very young, but that was never actually said. I know that when I was born, my family was in a really bad way. My mother never had another child. I was the only one. Looking back, I suspect that family finances improved by the time I was 15, but then within a year or so, both my parents died.” He looked at Thomas. “Are you my brother?” he asked.

Today was the last time Thomas Rangle and George Garver would come to the clinic. They were out-patients. Michelle had wanted them to meet earlier, but the laws of privacy and their enforcement prevented that. Michelle thought it ironic that those laws did not prevent large scale data loss or reduce identity theft; they just made her life more difficult. Technically, the clones had ended their connection to the clinic by the time she introduced them.

She called them clones and Thomas took her up on that. “Shouldn’t you refer to us as twins?” he asked. “Yes and no,” she said. “Yes, in that genetically identical twins are clones born at the same time to the same mother. No, in that fraternal twins lack genetic identity but they are born at the same time to the same mother. The key to you is that your genes are the same. You two are genetically identical. However, even though you are the same age, in the same culture, you grew up in different families. Your similarities — not simply in looks, but in preferences and actions — those show the influence of genes. Obviously, were we to predict results, we would want to see many more twin clone studies, but to shake up our ‘single birth’ beliefs, we just need to look at you two. And you two can enjoy the pleasures of having a sibling who understands.”

“Maybe,” said George. Michelle responded, “You can find out whether you enjoy knowing the other. I bet you will, but I might be wrong! I have to leave; I have other work to do. I would love to stay and discover how you get along, but I can’t.” She left.

The twins stayed in the same room. George began talking without disclosing too much of himself. He worried about the future. “I have two lines of a poem,” he said; “that is not enough, but a beginning:

and if he fails, we’ll leave him trying breath
beginning on this half polluted earth

Thomas responded, “Yes, but the real issue is not breath. The issues are soil, climate, water, and energy. Maybe there are more. ‘Earth, air, water, and fire,’ that is what I remember. Little to eat, worse rain and drought, not enough water for irrigation, expensive fuel: that is what those four come to.”

George agreed with Thomas and protested a possible loss, “You are right, but my phrase is memorable, this half polluted earth.”

Thomas said, “That’s true. But your earlier line, trying breath, how does that help? Nobody is going to have trouble breathing. Mostly, they will not live in countries with overly ghastly air. And if they do, the better off will have good filters and nobody else will count. But everyone who does count will notice that a higher portion of farms suffer drought or too much rain. The businesses that own them will explain that even though the price of food is higher, the cost of irrigation has gone up even more than the cost of fuel-made fertilizer, or, conversely, that some fields are flooded.”

George failed to notice that Thomas paid as much attention to the future as he. Instead, he asked, “So what are you suggesting?” He was more specific. “We have air and water. Species collapse — keeping them is a non-human point of view, except that collapse can serve us humans as warning.”

“What do you mean, ‘non-human?’ ” Thomas asked.

George replied, “Humans won’t save most other animals. I am not saying that is inhuman, just that saving them is non-human. Of course, people need to eat, but rice and beans do fine. They are not animated. As for the animated … rats will continue in cities. We will not be able to get rid of them. I am not sure of preferred animals; most likely, the last will live in zoos. Eventually, they will die, since they will not be properly fed when zoos’ budgets are cut.”

George was pessimistic. He went on. “Energy is key. In traditional language, energy is ‘fire’. With cheap energy, we can clean up air and water. I am not so sure we can produce everything else that is needed for a comfortable life, not with the number of people on the planet.”

“I am not sure about numbers of people either,” said Thomas. “Let me think about your verses.” He fell silent. “How about:

bad soil, flood, drought, strange storms, too little fire;
this half polluted earth won’t kill us all,
but many deaths will come too soon.

“Yes, I know that last line is short a weak-strong, an iamb, but I cannot think of anything else. And it is all true.”

“Well, we hope we won’t suffer extinction, like all those species that have gone before us,” George said grimly. “At least,” he smiled, “you kept my favorite phrase, this half polluted earth.”

That was enough. Thomas said, “I came here to end an addiction. Why did you come?”

Michelle returned just then, but neither Thomas nor George saw.

“I also came to cure myself. I think we are more similar than we imagine.” He looked at Thomas’ clothes. “You have done well enough,” George said.

“Yes,” said Michelle. The two brothers were both startled. They had not expected interruption. “Together you are evidence that clones, twins, will accomplish much the same,” she said, “even if they are brought up by different families. At least, as long as they live in the same culture. I don’t know what happens when you are widely separated.”

She wrinkled her forehead. “Your phenotypes are similar. Physically, you look nearly identical. Behaviorally, you have nearly the same preferences. In approximately the same circumstances — not exactly the same, but roughly — you have done about the same. You got addicted at the same time and have cured yourself at the same time.”

“With your help,” said Thomas. George nodded. “Yes, I helped a little,” said Michelle, “but you decided and you, both of you, stuck with the decision. Sticking is big, and that is all you.”

“Sticking with it was hard,” said George. This time Thomas nodded. “I almost gave up a number of times.” Thomas nodded harder. “I am surprised you did not give us a drug that removed our cravings permanently.” Thomas nodded again.

Michelle creased her brow again. “There are none, not that I know.”

“I thought that modern medicine had created vaccines that caused antibodies to glomb onto forbidden molecules,” said George.

Thomas interrupted, which Michelle thought was unusual and told her his depth of concern. “I expected you to provide a medicine that decreased my want for longer and by much more than what you gave us. Such a medicine would have satisfied my brain’s desire and would have stopped my addiction.”

“More of what I gave you, or a more powerful version, would not solve the problem, simply shift it. Besides, it would lead to an even greater dependency on a legal company-made drug. It is not a vaccine; you have to take a pill every day. A company would like that, but you might not. Moreover, such a substitution could harm your natural production. Certainly, nothing is available in the U. S.

George looked directly at Michelle. “What is your success rate after five years?” he asked.

“Five years … I don’t know. But the studies I’ve seen suggest it is not very good. It is really hard to give up an unfashionable addiction, whether it be illegal, as this one was, or legal as you are suggesting.”

“What do you mean, ‘unfashionable?’ ” asked George.

“Smoking was fashionable,” said Michelle. “Over a generation or so, it became unfashionable and people cut back.”

“Couldn’t legal medicines be designed,” asked Thomas, “to trigger more and permanent production of whatever exists already in humans?”

“ ‘Triggering more and permanent production’ … I don’t know about that either,” said Michelle. “We may be seeing the reason big companies don’t do the research. It could get banned. Such a drug would not produce a straightforward healing. It would cause the body to create an addition to what was there, like a second heart. That could be dangerous.”

“But it is also dangerous to have too few natural substances; I mean those a human body normally produces,” said Thomas. “That is like having a hole in your heart. You may live, but you won’t live as well.”

Michelle nodded.

Next: , Previous: , Up: Top  

Chapter 9

For some reason Laurence remembered being recruited by Blimov. Perhaps meeting him again reminded him. Perhaps the memory was connected with his new project. Laurence did not know.

When Blimov recruited Laurence, both were in a city surrounded by high mountains. It was not as hot as lower down, but the mountains kept the air pollution close by. It was like the bottom of a pail. But this pail was huge.

Blimov always stayed in buildings with good filters or rode in sealed cars; he never noticed the pollution. But Laurence did. Before getting recruited, he was not rich, could not afford air filters, and breathed unprocessed air. Initially, it was harsh on his throat, but then he became accustomed to it. He did not get sore throats any more. Unfortunately, he kept thinking that the pollution he breathed was worse than smoking cigarettes. He expected to die younger than he would otherwise.

Consequently, Laurence welcomed his move to the city by sea. It took him away from a huge and polluted city. Laurence liked Bombaia. Besides being smaller, it was less polluted. Nonetheless, even though Laurence did not cool the air, he did filter it. Ocean breezes helped, but were not enough. When it was wet, he dehumidified the air.

Blimov had searched for an engineer extensively, found Laurence, and discovered more about him than Laurence knew. Laurence would have taken any reasonable pay, but Blimov did not want him to succumb to bribes from rivals. He paid well.

When Blimov recruited Laurence, Blimov had said, “Many of the men who work in this organization are pretty bad. They are killers, sociopaths. You are not like that; I can tell.” He gazed at Laurence.

“Others work just for revenge or for money. I mean, that is all they seek. Everyone wants revenge and a good living, but I am thinking more than that.”

He stopped for a moment. Laurence had not said anything. “When you look carefully, the net effect is that we are working for justice. That is curious, but true. We are undermining those with power. They need not, but they are misusing that power.”

Laurence heard Blimov speaking formally. He thought that was a good sign. He liked justice, too.

Blimov went on. “The justice is for everyone. It is not just for a small portion of the world’s population. That is important. It is not only justice for people in this organization, although we benefit. As I said, there are members who look merely for revenge, which they call ‘justice’. It is not justice; it is revenge. As you can see, we have to look at everything. That is justice.”

Blimov looked sad for a moment. “Some innocents are hurt. They do not benefit. There is no way to avoid that. But there are not many of them, not compared to the whole world. I like it that we are working for justice.”

Shortly after Blimov hired Laurence, Blimov was attacked by one of his senior lieutenants. Laurence knew the man only as Dick. He did not yet know what attributes came with his name or his last name or names. The man controlled transport. Laurence would be designing submarines. That is why he came to the same meeting. Laurence had not even moved down to the ocean; he was still in the mountains.

Laurence came to the meeting a few minutes before Dick. Blimov had a dramatically big office, with a desk he sat behind and chairs that could be pulled up on front. The desk was almost as big as a table.

Dick hid a plastic gun in a cutout in a paperback book. He carried the book in a side pocket of his jacket. He had carried a book for quite some time. No one thought it unusual, except initially. He had not been much of a reader before. Laurence thought that it would have been just as well if he did not read the trash he did. It never occurred to him that this book was just a cover.

Guards frisked Dick like everyone else. Dick showed the book to them and even opened the beginning of it to show text. He passed through the X-ray machine and metal detectors with no trouble at all. So with the pistol he was let in to the room with Blimov.

Blimov did not let people come too close. That meant an assassin had to throw a knife or shoot. None could come close enough to hold a knife.

Many knives are hard to throw. Indeed, the guards let Laurence carry his Swiss Army knife into the meeting. “As long as we know its there,” said one of them. Blimov was not trying to make life impossible. The guard went on, “If you do unfold a blade to open an envelope or something like that, remember that you will be watched carefully by men with fingers on their triggers. It is best for you to keep everything readily visible, move slowly, and stand away from Blimov.”

He added other instructions, “Don’t go to Blimov’s side of the desk. That will get you too close. He will turn papers around so you can read them. Indeed, he explains them so well I think he can read upside down.”

Dick fanned the book open in his pocket and pulled the gun. Yet Blimov was even faster. Maybe, Laurence thought, he had sensed something. Blimov’s hands were behind his desk. He must have picked up a loaded pistol kept in a drawer. Blimov shot Dick in the face. The bullet burst his head, continued, and buried itself in the ceiling. Dick died immediately. At the same time, one guard shot the gun out of his hand; actually, he hit the man’s arm, not the gun itself; and another shot him in the leg.

Blimov was a little sad he had killed the man before interrogation, but as he said, “He was fast and I was scared.” Clearly, the guards were not supposed to kill a potential assassin. Equally clearly, Blimov had not had the time to raise his pistol above the top of the desk. Considering the angles, which Laurence could not avoid doing, that was why Blimov shot Dick in the face.

As more guards poured into the room, Laurence walked further away from Blimov. He kept his arms away from his side and was glad his hands were empty.

Blimov was as accurate with his pistol as the guards were with theirs. Laurence was not amazed at the guards skill. Doubtless, they practiced every day. Blimov was another matter. How did he find the time to practice? Laurence wondered. Maybe shooting was important to him.

Laurence supposed he could hit a barn door at twenty feet, but that was about it. ‘Whoops!’ he thought to himself, ‘I have to think in meters, not feet. Twenty feet is about six meters. Six is not the number for this. I bet the locals speak of hitting a barn door at five meters or ten.’

The digression calmed Laurence. Consequently, he was able to understand the discovery that the pistol was plastic. That explained how it got through the X-ray machine and avoided touching off the metal detectors. It fit the cutout in the book well. It was a small pistol. And it was thin enough so that a fair number of pages could be opened before getting to the cutout.

The guards even opened a cartridge. They were quick but careful. Only one guard’s hands and eyes were at risk; he stood his body behind a thick pile of books on Blimov’s desk. One book looked to Laurence like an unabridged dictionary. Laurence wondered where they came from. He did not think Blimov had any books on his desk. But there wasn’t a shelf or table nearby either.

Blimov had moved away; so had everyone else. Yet nothing was said. The opening proceeded harmlessly. Even Laurence could see that the cartridge was plastic, the bullet ceramic, and the powder doubly sealed. Doubly sealing the powder made the impulsive force weaker than it would have been otherwise, but as one of the guards said, “That is good reason for the failure of the chemical sensors.” No one else said anything, but several nodded. Laurence had not known Blimov had chemical sensors around him, but understood. They could work in ‘real time’. Not only were they more sensitive than humans’ noses, they were more sensitive than dogs’.

After establishing all this, which did not take long at all, Blimov asked who had failed to open the book in multiple places. That would have shown the compartment that hid the pistol. There had been three guards at the entrance. They were not in the room. Laurence presumed they were still guarding the door. Others replaced them and all three came in. Blimov asked his question again. Two looked at the third, a younger fellow. He said, with fright in his eyes, “It was me.” Blimov shot and killed him right there. He fell back over the other body.

Laurence noticed that Blimov was breathing a little faster than normal, but not much faster, not as fast as Laurence, who was simply a bystander.

An older, more senior guard said, “Dick must have hoped to kill quickly. He was not a suicide soldier. He did not believe anything strongly enough. He must have thought that we guards were the same, that we would have no loyalty to the dead. That would mean we would not kill him, but transfer our allegiance to him.” He had been the guard who had shot the pistol out of Dick’s hand. The guard looked directly at Blimov, “Dick must have also thought that we did not like you. If we thought that, then he could think we would hold off shooting him until we could think about the situation and change our allegiance.”

Blimov laughed. “You shot as quickly as I did. That is good. And you followed instructions; you did not shoot to kill. That is excellent. I could not do anything other than I did; but that is how it goes. In any case, we can guess his motivation: he wanted to run this organization even though he was not quite capable. Running transport — that meant he was smart, but that was as high as he could go.”

Laurence let his breath out slowly. He was not quite sure what he had got into. At least, everyone was professional. And he had not liked Dick. The man’s second, who Laurence hoped would get promoted, was more likable.

Blimov looked up and cracked a smile at Laurence. “This hardly ever happens,” he said. “Mostly, we are a peaceful, bureaucratic organization. It is good practice, though.”

He grinned openly. “Fortunately for you, you do not need to think about any of this. I know you will brood; but I hope you will distract yourself quickly. I want you to design submarines and administer their construction. Specification details will have to wait. I will have to inform every one. You will have to come back on another day. Still, new submarines will not be that different from those we already have. Please think of improvements!”

Laurence left that memory. He thought of it as a digression. Something to think about as his mind wandered. To him, a digression meant that his unconscious was working.

Next: , Previous: , Up: Top  

Chapter 10

Laurence had been considering movement. His von Neumann replicators could not occupy the same place. They were not like two light waves; they were material. So when one replicated, it had to build the second away from the first. Laurence laughed at himself. Most people, even most engineers, would remember that two different material objects could not be in the same place. Cars and books could not be in the same place at the same time. But he had to think about waves first. He shook his head. Fortunately, no one was there to watch him. Otherwise they might have become concerned with his sanity.

The point, and Laurence got to it quickly, was that at least some of his machines had to move themselves. That meant they had to be independent and roll on wheels or crawl on treads. He could produce wire mesh wheels, like the first lunar buggy. At least, he thought he could. The wire would have to be springy. Then he thought again. Solid treads would be easier to make. Moreover, they would not flex. That might be better. His mobile machines did not have to move fast. He could certainly use what was available locally.

Them he moved onto another memory, another digression. In this case, he remembered his own name … that did not require much conscious processing in his head, so, he figured, his unconscious must be working hard.

Laurence recalled that no one ever had thought of calling him by a shorter nickname, such as ‘Larry’. Such a name would not fit. Even when he was young, he had been a Laurence, not a Larry. For decades, people had told him that he looked older than he was; then he looked younger, always as a Laurence. He thought of himself as Laurence Lenter. He hardly ever remembered his middle name, Jacob, although he did this time. His initials contained only the two Ls.

Laurence considered his boss, Blimov, more peculiar. Blimov permitted only one name. No American ever called him ‘Ivan’; no Russian ever called him ‘Ivan Vissarionovich’. He thought of himself as the only Blimov. He was not, except according to his organization. There, another Blimov — as far as Laurence knew, no relation — had to change his name. The man did not mind. The man was a guard and accustomed to aliases. His alias followed the local custom; he provided two last names.

The guard looked like the grandson of immigrants. No one thought that he himself was an immigrant, even though he was. His accent came through, but strangers thought he grew up locally in a ‘little Russia.’ He let the few outsiders he met believe that. He told them he was ‘in private security’; that made sense to them. The statement was even true, although not as outsiders imagined.

Laurence was thinking about construction. The advantage of hands was that they were flexible. They could pick up other tools. The disadvantage was that they were not very efficient. Maybe he should build both hands and direct connections for the most frequently used tools?

Laurence could build arms from metal tubes. In effect, the tubes would serve as exoskeletons. Sensor and power cables could run safely inside. So could mechanical cables. Those were the cables that moved everything. Since the motors did not have to be inside tubes, they could be larger.

Arm joints could be hinges that stretched out rather than in. They might look ugly, but would be safer. The arms would not ‘feel;’ there would be no pressure or temperature sensors on them. Vision sensors would have to watch their motions. The vision sensors would be on different arms. Only fingers for those arms that had them, and maybe only the tips of fingers, would need sensors.

Robot fingers would not need temperature sensors. Infrared sensors on other arms could detect and quantify heat. They were not expensive, which was good, since he would have to buy them by the thousand. They could be mounted on the same stalks as visible light sensors. Laurence considered whether infrared and visible light sensors could be the same. In that case, he might have to use mirrors for focusing. Lenses focused different frequencies at different distances; mirrors did not. Laurence thought of different colors as different frequencies. He almost always remembered to speak to others using words of color or length rather than frequency. When he wanted to specify a red, he would speak of a wavelength of 670 nanometers rather than 450 terahertz. He thought in terahertz.

Laurence could make focusing mirrors locally. They would be concave. His computers could handle imperfections; so long as the mirrors were reflective, he would not have to polish them to the same perfection as humans did for their telescopes. He would have known targets to look at, images of straight lines and circles. That way, the computers could compensate for wavy images and the lack of focus produced by imperfect mirrors.

Big mirrors would heat salt, which would heat water to steam, which would spin a turbine connected to an electrical generator, the electricity of which would operate manufacturing machines. At the same time, the hot salt would warm other substances and provide the energy for certain chemical reactions.

The buildings in which manufacturing took place would be fixed. But movable robots would build them. The buildings would ingest raw materials and excrete manufactured goods and more, only some of which would be gas or liquid. A von Neumann device required robots not only to fix and build, but also to carry solids.

Movable robots needed an energy source. Fortunately, his turbine generated electricity. But he could not operate robots though extension cords. Actually, he could, he realized. The cords would have to be thick. Their existence would make it all more complicated. He thought about batteries … they did not have to be good, just good enough. The batteries had to be producible with the materials he could obtain locally. Fortunately, there were more different materials in large enough quantities than he thought originally …

The first problem was not physical. No rebuilding necessary. It was a human mistake: forgetfulness. When he made the detailed designs for robots, Henry forgot to provide tunnels for the power lines for the central processing units. (Laurence had developed the general designs.) Henry had spent more of his time checking the software for the treads that enabled the robots to travel over rough country. He had made sure that the software could recognize almost anything that was jumbled, whether natural or built. That was hard. In addition, he had tested the software to make sure the robots would not bump into each other. The robots, with their sensors, computers, and hands were not as good as humans. No one was sure that one of the robots could safely walk a dog. It could not wash dishes, either, although it had the right software. But the robots were good enough for their environment.

As for the simple mistake, forgetting power line tunnels: Henry was very apologetic. Laurence told him it was a problem, but not too worry. “You forgot; the people who reviewed your work forgot. I even looked at your designs and did not see the error. At least you provided holes and tunnels for the other power lines.”

Laurence had Henry redo the design, which mainly meant making the robots a smidgen longer. He also made sure the design software remembered the need. No one was going to make that mistake again.

A few weeks later, rain fell in torrents. That plus the winds prevented his workers from building anything outside. Laurence was not surprised. As predicted, the rainy season had come. The storms were worse than recorded, but not much worse.

During the placid, sunny days preceding the change, Laurence had put up several buildings. In those buildings, he had his workers build the initial separators, refiners, and constructors.

What could he build using spray-droplet machines? In his case, just about everything he needed. He could not build the sensors, the processing units, or their memories since they involved parts too small for his droplets; but those items could be imported. Lubricants could be imported.

Locally, he could produce smaller droplet machines that could build his regular spray-droplet machines. The smaller droplet machines could reproduce themselves, too; that was critical.

The process was slow, but not too slow. It was not impossible. All he had to do was install the first set of machines and get the right software. He did. The software had to be modified. That is what he had developers for. They made and tested the modifications.

His own separators, refiners, and constructors: with a little effort, he had them built by spray-droplet machines. They worked. They were not as good as those used conventionally. Moreover, the spray-droplet machines he had built himself were themselves slower than conventional tools. They used more energy. However, they were good enough. Fortunately, no one thing followed another. He remembered the old saying, ‘one woman can make a baby in nine months; two are no quicker.’ His situation was different. He could use locally-built spray-droplet machines in parallel and assemble more quickly.

The spray-droplet machines made mirrors; they made the plinths on which the mirrors sat. The mirrors did not reflect as high a portion of infalling light as those that Laurence studied. Because they did not reflect it, they got warmer. But they did not get much warmer. Even though they did not match the technical specifications of mirrors that Laurence could buy, like the locally built spray-droplet machines, they were good enough.

The plinths were big and heavy, as were the mirrors. They had to resist storms. The chains that moved the mirrors were big and heavy, too. All the parts were big and heavy. They all looked rugged.

To a conventional builder, appearance was a design factor. Not to Laurence, not this time. Devices with fancier alloys in them could be as rugged as those that his spray-droplet machines built. Such devices could look more or less rugged; looks had nothing to do with traditional size. An engineer created a cover that conveyed an appearance to humans. The fellow who specified the cover might not be the engineer who designed the guts of the machine; indeed, he probably was not. He might not think of himself as an engineer. He would be an industrial decorator.

In this case, size did matter. What looked weak was weak; what looked rugged was rugged. Appearance matched reality. You did not need special equipment to discover strength. You could see it by looking.

Laurence’s machines were not limited by what he could produce. He could import additions to his metal. He could make stronger alloys. The extra amounts would be small. Nonetheless, he tried to avoid imports. But as much as possible, he did without. After all, his devices worked. And when the sun came out again, more would be produced, so his devices would become cheaper and cheaper and cheaper.

Laurence based his solar concentrator on an old design. Its surface, each mirror a segment of that surface, followed a mathematical curve called the ‘conchoid of Nicomedes’. The mirrors themselves were flat; each was a small part of the overall reflector. The flatness did not matter. Laurence needed only two motors to move all his mirrors. He had to connect them with chains and axles, but that was easy. One motor moved the mirrors to follow the sun every day from east to west; the other moved them north and south over a year.

He could build those motors locally, except for their controllers which required imports.

The parts were assembled by robots. Their skeletons, most of their parts, came from the spray-droplet machines, too. Like the mirrors, these robots were slower and not as good as those which Laurence studied, but almost all the parts were local.

Movable robots could clean the mirrors and replace them if necessary. They could use lasers to reflect light off them; smooth mirrors would reflect the light up into the air; none, or rather an amount below a threshold, would come back. But roughened mirrors would reflect light back to sensors on the robots. He made sure the sensors, CPU, and software understood.

Age related weathering — he expected that and figured he would have to replace every mirror. But he would not have to replace them all at once. Or maybe he would: dust storms — they were infrequent but they would wipe out every mirror all at once. So that production could continue, he had to make sure he always had enough heat in his salt to generate enough replacements to begin again.

Laurence had to acquire lasers and sensors, but that could be done. His von Neumann machines did not have full ‘closure,’ the jargon term for completeness, but they were close enough.

As for aiming the sun’s reflected light on the furnace in the first place: initially, Laurence could not think of any cheap way to do that. After aiming a mirror, that was another matter. But getting it in the right position in the first place …

Laurence could hire someone. Each mirror balanced on its plinth; it did not matter that it was heavy. It would have hand holds, so it could be moved. After aiming a mirror, the man or woman doing the job could drape its chains over its cogs and make finer adjustments by connecting the movable parts.

The fellow hired could be quite quick. He would stand behind the mirror and look through a hole in it to the furnace. At the same time, he would look at a mirror surrounding the hole; that mirror would have to parallel the main, front mirror. That was easy enough to make.

The person who aimed would see the bright spot produced on his shirt by the sun light coming through the hole. Center that spot in the hole and, at the same time, look through the hole and aim at the furnace. Simple geometry would ensure the sunlight fell properly. Unfortunately, industrial heaters required millions of mirrors, even when the mirrors were big. There had to be a cheaper way.

In any case, even with cheaper aiming, the initial cost would be high. Fortunately, Blimov funded it all. His profits were high, too.

Laurence needed carbon, or rather carbon monoxide, to reduce the iron ore. The atmosphere held lots of carbon dioxide, but to convert it to carbon monoxide was difficult. Carbon dioxide was a stable end product. Converting it back took a huge amount of energy. ‘Well,’ he figured, ‘if I make made them big enough, my electric generators will produce the necessary amount of energy. As the excretion of von Neumann machines, generators can be made cheaply and rapidly.’ He liked using the biological term, excretion; from the point of view of the machine, it was accurate. From the human point of view, the results were desired and valuable, both to produce more von Neumann machines and in themselves. Then again, human excreta was desired in some places. Laurence thought it should be desired everywhere.

He discovered he did not know whether carbon monoxide production required electricity or energy in some other form. In any case, he needed electric generators. He could look up how to manufacture carbon monoxide from air.

Spray-droplet machines needed to operate in an argon atmosphere; otherwise their droplets would burn. The argon could come from the air. It was nearly one percent argon by volume. Air contained twenty or twenty-five times as much argon as carbon dioxide. ‘Fortunately,’ Laurence knew, ‘argon does not hinder long wavelength radiation like carbon dioxide; it is not a greenhouse gas.’

Laurence would have to build argon extractors. Spray-droplet machines could build them, or much of them. The software to control them was debugged.

With argon and with spray-droplet machines, Laurence could produce machines that could produce carbon monoxide. With carbon monoxide, he could refine iron ore. From the iron and steel produced, plus the rest, he could and would make more spray-droplet machines. He could make more electric generators, more diggers, and more refiners. That would enable him to reduce more ore.

The original problem, that of producing steel plates for his submarines — that was a minor issue.

As Laurence and his people built more machines, as the machines built more copies of themselves, he expected their incremental costs to drop, their marginal costs as economists called them. He figured out how to construct a robot for initial aiming. It only worked when the sun shown, but so did a human. The design was trivial. A robot carried a general set of sensors to tell where the sun was; those low resolution sensors told the robot to move the mirror when it was aimed in a way that did not reflect sunlight properly. A more specific and higher resolution set of sensors viewed the resulting spot and centered the aim point correctly. It looked for a modulated laser shining from just above the aim point, the furnace to receive the light. That laser signal was modulated to be easy to distinguish.

Laurence was behind the times; his experience, his keeping track, was not quite good enough. His sensors and the software in his processing units could have recognized the furnace building. He had not realized yet that older software had been revamped and debugged. Nor did he realize that although the mirrors and the laser beacon looked at were different, the robots used the same, new software to recognize both. So did the repair robots. Still, what Laurence designed was cheap enough.

Eventually, the costs of building with robots would go below the costs of manufacturing that employed local people. That was one reason he made the shift from humans to robots before then. Another was that the humans would do more interesting work than if they were stuck putting thousands and thousands of mirrors on as many plinths. It did not occur to Laurence that some people preferred jobs they could learn once and then not think about.

Laurence always thought of his work.

Next: , Previous: , Up: Top  

Chapter 11

Tim said, “Dad, you will like this ride.” They walked together among thick crowds. “I know,” Tim said continuing, “you are an administrator, solving problems other people create. But I just realized that secretly, you would prefer the simplicity of prediction, simple physics.”

John Tarnover smiled. The youngster was right. Maybe Tim was turning into a young man. John did prefer the simplicity of high school physics. It was not like the people he dealt with day after day.

He remembered. For some reason, Tim’s words brought memories to him. Years before, on a small lawn behind the then Tarnover house, John had tried playing baseball with his son. John had been rich enough to afford an independent house, but not yet rich enough to afford a big one.

Earlier, his wife had died suddenly. A fast growing tumor killed her. John did not expect that. Almost everyone he knew lived a full life, except those who died in automobile accidents. The present was not like the past, when people died all the time.

At first, John had been in despair; he could not do anything for her, except make her last moments comfortable. He felt powerless. In his unintended concern for her, he ignored Tim. Tim was young and probably thought that in some way, he caused the death. But Tim never said that.

As far as John could tell, Tim enjoyed learning to catch and hit the ball. But John had realized that he did not like the game. When he had been a child, the game had been organized by adults who got in the way. Earlier, baseball involved children who organized teams of whoever was around. But not by the time John was young. Adults supervised too much.

He was not sure what people did in the present. In his time, many adults took their children to stores. They learned to enjoy adult company there and to buy. John did not think that becoming an adult consumer was a good idea. Libraries were better, except that a child could go off on his own. Children did not always need adults but when John had the time to be with Tim, he wanted both of them to be together.

During Tim’s upbringing, it never occurred to John that his son was more important than work. Most of the time he ignored Tim. He did not do this intentionally. He met all of Tim’s physical needs. But the job took almost all of John’ time. He fitted Tim into the interstices of a week. Over the years, John found himself working more and more hours. In the extra time, he produced more reports, although he and his agency failed to raise the price of illegal drugs beyond what anyone ordinary could afford.

Raising the price high: that was the goal. Other actions failed among a population who thought that authorities lied. That was key, John decided. ‘Believing those granted authority by the culture.’ He corrected himself. Everyone believed their culture; however, different people belonged to different cultures, even in the same country. What he meant was ‘Believing whoever is granted authority by the government.’

John never did decide what to do with his son. He never played baseball again; it brought up too many ghastly memories. He did not go shopping. The connection between the two was awkward. Even though he had the money, John never thought of music or sailing. Both of them were endeavors he could share with his son. Like horseback riding, another possibility, the activities had a place for the less expert and the more expert.

Fortunately for John, he worked more and more hours. He seldom thought about the hours, and when he spoke about them with others, he complained. But occasionally he spoke only to himself and was truthful: then he admitted he was happier working.

John returned to the present. Tim was speaking. “The ride is like swinging a bucket of water on a rope.” That was a traditional image. John visualized it easily. Suddenly, he realized that his mental sense was of a wooden bucket held by a rope made of sisal, not a modern image of a plastic pail with a rope made of synthetic fiber. Tim was still speaking, “except it is big. It is a hoop or short barrel rather than a bucket, and people get in it. The barrel spins up so you are pressed against its wall. That is why we think of it as a big hoop rather than a short barrel.

“Then it tips. You stay stuck to the wall. You can imagine a loop in a continually accelerating rocket, with a car that goes over the top. If the centrifugal force on the car is more than the acceleration towards the back of the rocket, the car sticks all the way around. And, yes, before you say anything, I know that centrifugal force is imaginary, that the feel comes from your being prevented from going in a straight line.”

“I’ll try it,” said John. John could see that Tim was happy. “When tipped, the acceleration you feel,” Tim said, “increases and decreases depending on whether you are at the bottom or the top. That is because we are constantly pulled by the Earth which is the equivalent of a rocket accelerating at one gravity and, at the same time, we are going around and around vertically.”

The ride came in a temporary amusement fair that covered a large, flat field. John wondered whether people in the town owned it jointly, that is to say, whether the town owned it, or whether individuals owned it. If it were owned privately, what restrictions were there on the use of the land? He didn’t know. He could readily imagine the land being converted in some way that prevented ever again using it as a fairground. That would reduce the value of his house. There were no other large fields available nearby and the amusement fair would stop coming.

Tim bounced off the ride. “That was wonderful!” he said, his eyes glowing. John felt a bit sick; he could not take the constant changes in acceleration. He wondered whether that was a poor stomach or a sign of getting old. Tim never noticed. “We stuck to the wall, which did become a floor. When we were at the top, the world really did look like it was tipped. It is like the book came alive!”

Next: , Previous: , Up: Top  

Chapter 12

“My parents were not Supers.” Laurence was speaking to Laura.

“Supers?” asked Laura.

“The word is new. ‘Super’ as in ‘superman’ or ‘superwoman’; the plural refers to people who believe in supernatural causes.

The word must come from ‘supernaturalist,’ ” said Laura, “shortened to two syllables. Darwin was a naturalist, a word with four syllables.”

“Yes,” said Laurence. “My parents were not Supers.”

He explained, “They felt that either we did not know, which was very common and still is, or one thing led to another. As far as they were concerned the ‘one thing leading to another’ could be highly complex. I think the intent of other people saying the phrase is to diminish complexity, but I am not sure. In any case, my parents saw ‘one thing leading to another’ as possibly complex.”

Laura looked at Laurence quizzically, but did not say anything.

“They gave an example of the different evolutions, over millions and millions of years, of not very good eyes, partial eyes, our eyes, better eyes. Those evolutions were anything but simple and would never have occurred had they been random, at least not in the millions of years that were available. We are impressed by the duration, but as a practical matter, millions and millions of years is not enough time for anything random. You had to have the better surviving and reproducing. That is fixing, which led to the better eyes being the basis of the next set of alternatives. Random is only the beginning. Selection of the better provided a direction.”

“I see,” said Laura.

Laurence ignored the pun, presumed she meant she understood, and said, “But my parents did not advertise. They kept going to their traditional church; they made sure I remembered the old stories. I suspect they felt that Brights lacked good social and political groupings. Certainly, I don’t know of any, and we are generations on. My hunch … ”

“You used another term I don’t know, ‘Brights,’ ” said Laura.

“My apologies,” said Laurence. “I did not intend to. That word is common in my language. Oh well. It is new, too; it is a neologism. ‘Bright’ is the term used for people, such as certain followers of Confucius and Buddha, who figure that causes are natural rather than supernatural, and that we humans know some causes and are ignorant of others. Weirdly enough, some attackers called people ‘greedy’ who said ‘we knew of some non-supernatural causes’. That was because those people were called ‘materialists’. In the attackers’ rhetoric, the meaning of word was not taken from ‘expect some material causes, some non-supernatural causes’ but from ‘he wins who dies with the most material objects.’ In any case, as I said, my parents were Brights in the closet. They did not tell others.

“As a practical matter, they figured that a few other people had it made. They figured that those others wanted to keep people like them down. The others had two choices: use force or use belief. The second was cheaper. So ignorance would be pushed by those who had it made. But they would disguise it so there would be fewer questions.”

Laura spoke, “My parents were like that, except I doubt they had a conscious understanding of what they were doing. They just did.”

Laurence did not follow up the fuzziness Laura reported. “I suspect my parents were highly disappointed by the lack of decent alternatives. For human comfort, for social, political, and economic help, they were willing to put up with considerable foolishness.”

He looked sad. “I am disappointed, too. I don’t know whether the lack comes from an excess focus on individuality, which has been so powerful in ensuring dignity for each, or whether the result is from a lack of leaders’ individual incentive, or whether it comes from the lack of a good story or set of stories.”

“Explicate,” said Laura, figuring Laurence would understand the one word perfectly well. It was a moment before she realized she should have said, “Explicate, please.”

“The focus on individuals has meant voting as equals rather than as an eighth of another. For some reason, I remember an eighth as being the value of one of my ancestors, a male freeman, compared to a so-called ‘better.’

“The focus,” he said, “has meant that bullies are not supposed to beat you up, if you were a man, or rape you if you were a women. It has meant that women may vote. Over the past few centuries, individuality has had a powerful effect. People like dignity. They are the center of their own universes and they like the sense that they are important not only to their friends and community, but officially.

“But you can’t have too much of a such a focus. As a practical matter, you have fewer options. You cannot get away with as much. Superiors watch you. Hierarchy gets bigger. It can; it scales. Organizationally, equality doesn’t. Generally, but not always, equals forgive, perhaps because they cannot do anything. Superiors do not forgive.”

“You are distinguishing individuality from equality,” said Laura.

“Yes. The two are very different,” said Laurence. “Put another way, a few individuals succeed, most don’t. Hardly anyone is equal. Every society has those few who climb to the top. As a tactical gambit, they might say nice things to those below them, but they will not think them. Or at least, enough will think badly of others. It does not take many to cause trouble.”

“Law scales,” said Laura.

“That is true,” said Laurence, “but most of the world is extralegal and do what is customary. Law is not relevant, not formal law. We need to consider greed and selfishness, exactly as you said.”

Laurence creased his brow. It looked like a frown. Laura knew now that Laurence was not unhappy; he was recollecting. “Consider the time when a quarter of all English food came through co-ops,” he said. “That was the turn of the 20th century.”

Laura didn’t know the history, and she was willing to listen.

“If you just wanted power, running a large co-op provided. However, if you wanted both power and money, if you were power-hungry and greedy, then a co-op would not do. I suspect that is why co-ops became less significant. Others say that co-ops ossified. They say that those who ran co-ops wanted people to eat ‘good’ food. They did not sell ‘cheap’ food. That might be true, too. It marks another kind of inequality, thinking people are stupid.”

Laurence stopped for a second, but Laura did not interrupt. He continued. “I am not saying that people aren’t stupid; but I am saying that nobody likes being told that. And people may be smart. They may have intelligent reasons on how to spend limited resources. They may prefer to spend them on cheap food even if they know it will not be good for them over twenty years, but is fine now. For one, they can devote the money saved to education or experience.”

Laura nodded. She was not going to break Laurence’s flow by speaking.

“As for a lack of leaders’ incentive — I am back to religion: it is like the problem suffered by English co-ops. The best organizers, the best managers, go elsewhere. Incentives don’t satisfy all a manager’s wants.

“Moreover, managers, which is what most priests and ministers are in practice, can see what is offered by an existing organization. A new one is risky. If you fail, you do not have much of an option, at least not if you are an ordinary leader, which is to say one in a thousand of the population. Nobody is going to believe you if you change your stated beliefs. I know, a few people have changed them successfully; we read their biographies. But they are rare.”

He paused for a moment and then said parenthetically, “(I am not talking about an authoritarian of the left becoming an authoritarian of the right; that is fairly common. I am saying that few people shift from favoring individual freedom when possible to authoritarianism and that few people of any sort take dramatic risks.)

“Similarly, there are a few politic people who choose after thinking. But they are not many. People like us do not end up running big organizations. And speaking of people like us: I am not sure what we would do under wildly different circumstances. In any case, the kind of leaders we are talking about are rare.”

Laurence stopped again; Laura understood him to be considering.

“Lastly,” he said, “it may be that managers, organizers are bothered by lack of a good story. The Pagans, the Jews, the Christians, regardless of belief or denomination, they all have or had different stories for different days of the year. In some ways the stories did not change; they were all part of one story. A single story is helpful to a society; it means people are all on the same wavelength, to use a 20th century radio metaphor. To cooperate, people have to think somewhat the same. Otherwise, they go off in too many different directions.”

Laura saw those remarks on similarity as a digression, but she was confident that Laurence would return to the subject of what to believe.

“No one,” Laurence said, “as far as I know …” Laura grinned; Laurence always had to state his conditions thoroughly, “no one has written a story or set of stories for those who are Western and are not supernaturalists that will satisfy Galen’s four types: the yes-or-no people, the more-or-less’es, the should’s, and the are’s.”

He noticed that Laura was puzzled. “The Sanguine or Innovative are yes-or-no people, the Melancholic or Guardian are more-or-less’es, the Choleric or Idealist are should’s, the Phlegmatic or Curious are are’s. Those are the types. I invented new names for them, the yes-or-no people, the more-or-less’es, the should’s, and the are’s. Galen thought of humors, which were of course wrong although his idea of a psychological mixture is right. Plato thought of what people could do. Paracelsus and Adickes focused on other parts of temperament. But they all fit. There are more than four types, but those are the biggest.

“In the Christians’ New Testament, there are four gospels. I think there is one for each preference. I am not completely sure; I have not read them recently. In any case, you can read them all; we are talking about preferred ways of thinking, nothing else. But it means that those familiar prefer one over the others.

“And I don’t know of any equivalent set of non-supernatural stories.”

Next: , Previous: , Up: Top  

Chapter 13

Early in the morning, the ringing of the telephone brought John Tarnover awake instantly. The call was from his office. At this hour, only bad news would come. It about a raid on a wrong house.

On the way to West Street, his office briefed him on Gertrude Gelt. She turned out to be a retired elementary school teacher. Her major hobby had been to act in amateur theater. All that information was public. John focused on Gertrude Gelt. Since he was being briefed on only one person, he never thought of computers which could collate information on millions. For many years in her acting, she had played competent, little old ladies. Now she was an old lady. John feared she was competent.

John was tall and thin. He did not think of himself as a cop. He had never walked a beat; he had only administered. He had taken part in a number of raids, but that was primarily to push his career. Now he was senior, although he was not so high as to be politically appointed. In the normal course, that should come shortly. He did not think of himself as corrupt either.

After he arrived at the house, he spoke to the media. “It was a mistake,” he said. “Judge Daring signed a warrant for 235 East Street. This is clearly West Street.” He also said, repeatedly, that they would pay for a new door. He knew that laws had been passed that enabled police to make mistakes that only cost victims, not perpetrators. Gertude Gelt would not be able to get recompense for her loss of sleep and confidence, only for her door.

It came across, although John did not realize that, as if he felt that the replacement of a door more than compensated for the loss of Gelt’s ‘castle,’ the word in the phrase, ‘my home is my castle.’

Somehow, Gertrude Gelt looked more frail than she should; and Judge Daring sounded sensible and rational, no more stuffy than could be expected of any judge.

John was bothered by the mistake. It should not have happened. By all reports, 235 East Street was a good target. It was not so big he should have stayed awake or gone along with the raid, but it was not so small, either.

He had moved his career by going after small time smugglers. He responded to anonymous calls which told of them. He realized that the calls were almost always from the agents of big operators. In effect, his men did the dirty work.

Moreover, he had taken part in raids in which he planted drugs on otherwise clean men. He became, in effect, judge, jury, and executioner. The courts were formalities. Nowadays, he simply told his subordinates that the men were ‘kingpins’. He seldom went out into the field.

No one found evidence on kingpins, except for what was planted. They were careful. However, John did not feel bad. He figured he was a pretty good judge of the character that came through surveillance and that he had sent away only a few innocents. Their lives were, of course, destroyed. He thought of himself as a warrior, fighting in a domestic war, the innocents as collateral damage. He liked that euphemism. It was better than saying that a thousand guilty should go free rather than one innocent be imprisoned. His error rate was much higher than one in a thousand.

He and his people raised the price of illegal drugs. He wondered how much the increase in price cut back consumption. It had to cut back a little. It occurred to him that the increased price was good for the suppliers. The price increase was much bigger than the decrease in consumption. For some reason, he had never thought of that before.

John came upon William Delder. He had met Delder before, but did not know him well. The man seemed incorrupt. “It was a mistake,” Delder said, referring to the house on West street, “simply a mistake.”

“I can’t promote you,” said John, “or keep you in this town. I have to exile you, but I can keep you in the agency. I will ask the media to lay off. I will say that you are suffering the delayed effect of the death of your daughter.”

“Thank you,” said William. “My wife has been saying to me that my career has been worthless. I have been telling her that I don’t have many options. She said I could go into private security, but I can’t really.” He did not say why, but John thought he understood. Private security was for people and companies who could afford them. William gained considerable psychic income from the notion that he was defending everyone, not just a few. He certainly was not paid much, although the last anti-corruption drive had led to increases. Higher pay did not stop corruption, but it meant that a man or woman was not forced to be corrupt just to keep up with his neighbors. John did not think the man took bribes. He also noted that William did not ask where he would be sent. That was just as well. John did not know.

Then, after more questions about the raid by John, William told him that Franklin Scott had directed him and his people to the wrong house. “I always depend on Franklin; he knows the city better than I and we end up at the right place. But this time we didn’t.”

John interviewed Franklin. The man’s story supported William’s. John could not tell whether or not Franklin was honest. John knew that everyone thought they could detect lying, but they did not always. Only a few experts were really good. John was better than average, but he was not really good.

John remembered a very old visual recording of an interrogation of a spy called Kim Philby. He had just tipped off two associates, who had fled. Philby stayed behind. He was not caught. The interrogators proclaimed him innocent even though he wasn’t. Only later, on relooking at the recording, would anyone notice the spy’s very brief flash of contempt. That was the give-away.

John could see that previous anti-corruption efforts had succeeded, at least in part. Sometimes he despaired that he was so bureaucratic, so dull. He understood that the restrictions were designed to prevent him from hiring friends and relatives or engaging in certain kinds of fraud. As far as he could see, they worked. He could not figure out ways to be corrupt and he did not think others could either.

It occurred to him that in so far as the restrictions had been successful for a generation or two, outsiders, such as voters, forgot their source. Good people complained about too many forms. They said that intelligent civil servants lacked authority and could not act. They did not think of a form, of instituted dullness, as the consequence of earlier fights against bad guys.

On the one hand, John was pleased to note, his agency was not too vulnerable to corruption. His program was well defined, old, and without many financial impacts of its own. That all meant corruption was less likely. His employees were paid enough to live at the level of a typical middle-class bureaucrat. They did not have to accept bribes.

On the other hand, the agency was heavily involved with crooks. Catching them was its purpose. And they, or at least, the more important among them, had lots of money, far more than any of his people.

John considered more. ‘Throughout the world, corruption is universally seen as theft,’ he said to himself. ‘People consider corruption to be immoral whether it be bribes sought by a government official or high prices charged by someone in a private corporation.’

John decided that since he was young, corruption had grown worse in the U. S. He looked around. More people gave up. They offered less legitimacy to their government than before. They did not accept but gave in to the private businesses that ruled their lives. When he was young, only people ‘on the wrong side of the tracks’ — a saying from before automobiles — paid bribes to cops who demanded them. Only they paid excessively high prices to businessmen who charged them. People like his parents complained and were heard. They did not pay bribes. The prices they paid were high, but not excessive.

John decided to go against corruption, but not be too visible. He was not that kind of person. In any case, he would not be able to deal with long term problems, such as whether or not his country was being hollowed out, or whether he himself should wonder whether more senior people were benefiting in some way from non-obvious corruption.

Even in his own bailiwick, he could not use many of the regular techniques: he could not raise salaries; he could not use contingent contracts; he could not increase the level of formal penalties. And he could not change the formal burden of proof from ‘innocent until proven guilty,’ as had been done in other places.

But he could increase chances that corruption would be detected. He could make surprise inspections. Even on his own, he could engage in statistical analysis. He could find those who made ‘mistakes’ that were frequently beneficial to crooks.

But first, he had to select people he thought were honest. He could not offer more pay, but he could provide them with good travel, good transfers, training that they liked, and praise. He could offer more pay, through promotion, but he could not do much of that. Still, he had to promote the incorruptible. It did not do any good for his agency to be full of people bribed to look the other way.

First he found all in his agency whose children had been hurt. He figured those people where less likely to be dishonest. The search was not easy, but he claimed that he was setting up a ‘support group’ for such people. Then he talked with each person. Providing support was only a part of his purpose. As far as that went, he found he could not be a member; he was too much a boss. Indeed, he found that several support groups already existed.

But for John’s other purpose, that was neither here nor there. No one spoke badly of others. John could not determine who were dishonest, regardless whether they had children. But enough praised each honest employee that he could decide who they were. Franklin Scott was not one of them.

John had the power. When he could act without being too obvious, he put those who were called honest in charge. He was not too happy with his ability to do that. He remembered his early studies:

corruption = monopoly + discretion - accountability

He wondered whether he himself had too much monopoly and discretion. His ability to act without being obvious meant his position enabled him to get away with less accountability. That was the opposite conclusion than he had come to before, but then he had been trying to figure out how to make more money directly; this was about power.

Perhaps William Delder was honest. No one said Franklin Scott was honest although no one said he was dishonest, either. Maybe his mistake was intended. Perhaps he was paid to direct Delder to West Street rather than East Street. Or perhaps he was innocent.

John could not simply accuse Scott. Suppose the man were innocent? Suppose John made a mistake in calling him corrupt? He thought it all though. Over time, if not immediately, everyone would be hurt by the ‘collateral damage’ of falsely accusing Scott. The men and women who worked in every government office would be perceived as and would feel less legitimate. They would not be able to do their jobs as well.

But John did not like corruption. On the one hand, benefits would continue to companies that provided jailers for prisoners and profits for shareholders. With corruption, prisons would be full of those who could not pay to get out.

On the other hand, losses would continue for ordinary people. They would have only clans and cults to fall back on. They would not be able to depend on governments, on big private businesses, or on large religious organizations since the senior people in all would be or might be corrupt. They might not be, of course; but how could senior people signal their innocence to others except by acting more dramatically than most? How could an ordinary person be ordinarily honest?

John determined that William Delder was probably not corrupt. He decided to send Delder to an out-of-state, privately-run conference on corruption. It was the only kind of reward John could give and might be useful. He decided to transfer Franklin Scott to a different region. Perhaps, John thought, the man did not have connections there and would be forced to act honestly. And if he were honest, the new experience would help.

Next: , Previous: , Up: Top  

Chapter 14

Laurence visited Laura at her house. He liked doing that, but he could not very often. He was busy with work. Although he did not know, that was fine with her. She could only stand him occasionally, but quite liked him when she saw him.

This time she was wearing shorts and a T-shirt. She displayed long, slim legs. Laurence appreciated the opportunity to look. Usually, Laura wore clothing that covered her. But she did not think that shorts and T-shirt would influence Laurence to change his actions and she was right.

She said, “It is significant that people describe the same event differently.” Laura was trying to trigger Laurence to speak and she succeeded.

The Rashomon effect,” said Laurence.

“Yes,” said Laura. “Various of my clients see the same event and talk about it to me differently. You really cannot trust eyewitnesses, even though our whole culture is based on them.”

“Eyewitness accounts vary,” said Laurence. “That is well established. Legal systems have known this for centuries. For treason the United States Constitution requires that testimony on the same overt act come from two witnesses. A single person might get it wrong or be bribed. It is harder to get two to agree. More is better yet.”

“What do you mean?” asked Laura. She had not expected Laurence to refer to the United States Constitution. Worse, she realized that when he spoke of bribery, Laurence was speaking about corruption. She had not planned on that.

He said, “Classical Athenian juries numbered more than a hundred. That was to avoid bribery. Defendants came to use sweet-talking lawyers instead. Those lawyers gave an advantage to the rich, but it was not as obvious as a direct payment to your judge or juror.”

Laurence thought for a moment; he stared off into space. Laura was smart enough to keep silent. “Interestingly, in what became fairly lawful countries, although at that time they were as corrupt as any, a special form of seeking got invented.”

Laura raised an eyebrow, but Laurence never noticed.

He said, “Instead of trying to persuade another by appealing to an eyewitness or some other external authority, you would strive to persuade another by generating an internal experience in the other person. That kind of persuasion is strong, since an internal experience is undeniable. It is the ultimate authority.”

“Numinous experiences are internal,” said Laura. “They are often false religious experiences.” Internal experience was closer to what she had intended when she brought up the Rashomon effect, but she did not know how Laurence would go.

“That is true,” said Laurence. “numinous experiences are internal. I will get to them in a minute. It turns out there is a mechanism for figuring them out.”

“You have a notion and a way to go,” said Laura.

“Yes, I do.” said Laurence. It did not occur to him that Laura was being sarcastic in a gentle way. He kept on. “A common cultural understanding fails. It may be wrong. A widely accepted authority may be wrong. Those are external. Besides, people are convinced by internal experience more than anything else. That includes a numinous experience, as you say.”

He stepped back for a second and then corrected himself. “Well, adults are convinced by internal experience. Children are convinced by their parents. That is an external experience. The action makes sense. Generally, parents try to do the best for their children. Their advice is as good as they can give. But speaking of people after they have grown up and left home, after they have become adults, then they are most persuaded by internal experience. After all, it is their experience, not someone else’s.”

Laura nodded. So far, Laurence had not said anything new. Then it occurred to her to speak, “To distrust someone else, you have to have a suspicion of authority; you also have to be suspicious of those who lack authority, but you won’t believe them anyhow. Otherwise, you will continue to believe in the external as well as the internal.”

“That is true,” said Laurence. “So these corrupt countries generated a suspicion of authority. Perhaps their corruption was more visible, less customary, than others? I am not sure.”

He shook his head. “As for not seeking: that makes it too easy to have a Rashomon effect. Four people may see the same event in four different ways. Each may think the other three are seeing visions, hallucinations, although mostly the differences are small.”

Laura nodded again; she was being entertaining, encouraging Laurence.

He went on, “Instead, the goal is to discover what the witnesses see in common, if anything. That is hard. Perhaps a witness comes from a different culture; that’s good. That solves your numinous issue.”

Laura did not understand, but did not want to break in. She waited.

“The whole underlying notion may be wrong, although everyone accepts it. For a very long time, people thought of fire as an element that mixed other elements. That turned out to be wrong. But before the discovery, everything people did, or enough that people did, supported the notion.”

Laurence meant the idea that witnesses held, presuming they were from one culture. He spoke of ‘everyone’ meaning ‘everyone within that culture.’ Laurence’s words were confusing; he did not speak in terms of highly different cultures, each of which thought of fire in a different way. In this case, his language was not precise. People knew that it was definitely possible for an idea to be wrong. But most would not check if the idea were sufficiently vague. If the idea was about the hurt caused by a heavy rock dropped on your toe, that was one thing; it was specific; but if the idea was about the invisible components mixed by fire, that was another; it was vague.

Laura considered. She said, “People in the same culture may see the same things. Indeed, that is most common. Only in a rapidly changing culture can they see differently.”

Laurence nodded. “I am not a seeker; I am a builder. I work with what is available. That has become dramatically more in the past few centuries. Our culture, every culture, has changed hugely.”

As far a Laura was concerned, engineering was an irrelevancy. She still was not sure where Laurence was going, but he was going somewhere.

Laurence said, “It happened initially that most of the seekers who followed the pattern were European.”

Laura nodded. She and Laurence were both descended from Europeans whose governments at the time were not so good. Perhaps that is why they both suspected authorities.

Laurence went on. “Their idea of people from a different culture was of people from a different European country. At least, they had plenty of enemies.” He meant the early scientists. “They would get contradicted. Naturally, they did what they could rather than what they or others might want. That is why taste and smell were studied late.”

He stood back for a moment. “Bricks and billiard balls, that is to say, cubes and spheres, are a lot easier to study than taste and smell.”

Laura almost said that bricks were not cubes, then she realized that they were close enough given the knowledge of the time.

Laurence went on, “Other cultures prevent seeking even more than the European — and there was and is a huge amount of European bias against seeking. So with the collapse of Europe and their descendants, like the United States, I fear that seeking will come to a stop. People will think that there is no way to settle an argument among eyewitnesses, whatever it may be, except through Aristotle’s traditional means.”

“Or,” said Laura, “the culture will be stable and non-changing. They won’t be permitted to seek.”

“That is possible,” said Laurence. He returned to his first statement, to his thoughts about the Rashomon Effect. “Or they will say that you cannot prove an underlying notion. That is the sophisticated argument and is mostly true. But it is not entirely true. An underlying notion takes longer to prove. Also, in general, it requires a replacement notion, which usually requires a genius to invent.” Laura could see that he was not going to swerve. He would remember her thoughts, but not answer her right away.

“The big shift was made centuries ago,” said Laurence. “It was to avoid asking ‘why?’ and ask ‘how?’ instead. The ‘why’ answers almost always came within a single culture. For example, you might say that the reason you had a numinous experience was that your ancestors visited. That is a ‘why’. Or you might speak of one of the gods. In a monotheistic culture, you might speak of God. In one form of Christianity, I know for sure, people speak of the Mother of God. I am sure they still say it. After all, a numinous experience, whether it be religious or not and most are religious, compounds the emotions of ‘love, fear, dependence, fascination, unworthiness, majesty, and connection. The experience is powerful. It is undeniable.’ ”

Laura knew that Laurence was quoting. She tried to distract him. “A ‘how’ explanation can be numinous; in any case, in modern times, we often find several explanations for an event.”

“Yes,” said Laurence. “Speaking is always a simplification of reality and every simplification contains multiple descriptions. The goal is to find the best for your purposes. Aristotle, who first wrote of essentials, was trying to do that when he claimed there was one; or perhaps he really believed that only one simplification was possible. In any case, he was interesting, but wrong.”

“You can only shelf books beside each other,” said Laura. “You cannot have them take up the same space. The volume they occupy is essential.”

“Yes,” said Laurence, “material objects must be separate. Waves can overlap. However, you can index books in different ways. Indexing helps search. That becomes important as people use different searches for navigation.”

Laura was puzzled for a moment; she thought of navigation as having to do with ships. Then she stopped being confused. She extended the word metaphorically, to mean navigation for a book or computer. She had not expected Laurence to use that metaphor.

Laurence returned to the numinous and spoke more. “Traditionally, a numinous experience was interpreted inside a single culture. Communication about it does not go to another culture very well. The second culture’s beliefs are different. I don’t mean the differences between French and German cultures; there are some, but not many. I mean the difference between traditional European culture and traditional Chinese culture.

“So when you have two or three wildly different cultures, then you can determine what is common and what is peculiar. That is how you deal with the Rashomon effect.”

Laurence stopped. This is where he had been going. Laura nodded vigorously. For her this was new.

Then Laurence started again. “Historically, almost always, traditional explanations have been wrong, except for what is obvious to all, like dropping a rock on your toe. That hurts. Traditional answers have almost always been to ‘why?’ At least the ‘how’ answers can be given by someone with a different background.”

Laura realized that Laurence was speaking precisely again. His words, ‘a different background’ might refer to a person just a little different, perhaps going to a different school in the same town, or refer to a person hugely different, perhaps coming from a strange culture.

Laurence kept on. “The nature of the explanations change.” Laura did not know what Laurence meant. She waited. “No one now says of star patterns that ‘our ancestors arranged all this’. No one asks Aristotle to explain a brick that falls on your toe, although his observations were good for his time. We have superseded his explanations.

“If you think that brick was dropped by a human or by an entity like a human, then asking ‘why’ makes sense in a given culture. Why was the entity negligent? We know that much just happens, but suppose you thought that everything was caused by a motivated entity? In that case, asking ‘why’ is appropriate. But outside of people and animals, most of the world is not like that. ‘Why’ questions fail.

“Now,” Laurence said and Laura thought, ‘that word is a filler; it does not mean anything; except that this time it is not a filler, but Lawrence being precise,’ “no one talks about persuasion in general.” ‘Finally,’ thought Laura, ‘he is focusing again.’

“Persuasion is what this is really about. People like me have to be persuaded that Newton’s ideas are better than Aristotle’s, and that for really delicate work, Einstein’s are better than Newton’s.”

‘I’m right,’ thought Laura. ‘He is not speaking directly to the question of changing explanations. He is talking about persuasion.’

“I know,” Laurence said, “you are going to say that evidence supports the later person, not the earlier. But what is evidence other than a form of observation that persuades? Had you the funding, you could observe for yourself.”

He grinned. “You could make it an internal experience. That is an important part of this form of persuasion. But you will lack the time. You won’t observe everything. You can’t. You are going to have to trust others. The only way you can sort out the Rashomon effect is to read others’ observations and reasonings. The more the reporters, the more different the cultures, the better you will be. But there is a limit. It is difficult.

“Explanations, at least among people like me, no longer come from saying that one of the gods visited. They come from others’ reasoning or observation.

“I design and build devices. For me, accepting an explanation is harder. At least, it is harder if I want to check the underlying notions of what we are doing. It is easier to go along with the culture. I think most engineers are like that; they go along with engineering culture. But I don’t know for sure. I may be insulting them. I don’t meet enough other engineers.”

Laura was puzzled for a moment. He was an engineer himself and he had a huge number working for him. Doubtless he meant, ‘engineers of his caliber’ though he would say ‘engineers with his interests,’ meaning both ‘engineers of his ability’ and ‘engineers with his interests.’

Laurence continued, “Anyhow, the point I am trying to make is that science is a form of rhetoric. However, scientists are encouraged to undertake specific actions. Few talk about science as rhetoric or persuasion. Scientists are supposed to make measurements as well as they can and tell us the errors in them. They must always report their sources, whether they be from other people, from reasoning, or from observation. Nonetheless, if you don’t think of it as a form of persuasion, you will be confused.”

Laura did not say whether she agreed with Laurence or not. She would consider it. Meanwhile, she nodded. If nothing else, his company was good.

Next: , Previous: , Up: Top  

Chapter 15

“How can a submarine disappear?” Blimov twirled around the room. He did not expect an answer to his question and the messenger said nothing. Blimov continued speaking, more to himself than anyone else. “It is a salvage submarine with manipulators and high resolution acoustic sensors. Losing it is worse than losing a regular submarine.” He was beginning to fear that it had been stolen by a new nuclear power, just as Laurence warned.

The submarine had been working on a sunken ship, the third. Ships sank, many in war and some in peace. They listed their freight for insurers, at least the legal transports did, and that was all that Blimov cared about. He sought concentrated, high value substances that were not destroyed by decades of immersion and were not traceable. That mostly meant metals of various sorts. Records showed what was what. The whole business was proving valuable.

Blimov ordered a search on the sea floor, found it had already been started, and rephrased his order as a continuation. The search employed the second submarine with its high resolution acoustic sensors. It had been working on another part of the same ship. Laurence had bought the sensors as well as the manipulators and had both installed; salvage was profitable.

The high resolution sensors worked. On screens, computers painted results that looked as good or better than seeing by eye. The submarine did not give away its location by sending sound out; the sensors formed their images from background noise. The second submarine would have seen the lost submarine or its wreckage.

No remnants were found; the missing submarine had not sunk or been sunk. The search was confirmation. It had been stolen. The first people who knew this besides the perpetrators and the victims were in the second submarine; they could see the lack of results immediately. (They had been hidden by the sunken ship’s superstructure when the first submarine vanished.) Somewhat later, when the sub returned and after reporting, a copy of the data was sent on. Different computers and different eyes said the same as its crew. No remnants could be seen.

Laurence heard; the news got around quickly. He felt black. As far as he could figure, a submarine like this, with manipulators, would be stolen only by a previously backward power, one that had built a crude nuclear bomb. It was exactly, and unfortunately, as he had predicted. The enemy wanted to place a big, primitive bomb in someone else’s harbor.

Salvage competitors could build or buy their own. That would be simpler and maybe even cheaper. Less risky, too.

Blimov called for a meeting in his regular place. It was not planned and Blimov wanted it immediately. He hired a very fancy, very fast helicopter to take Laurence from his lower, seaside city to the mountains.

The organization had several helicopters, but none so fast and none so luxurious. Clearly, Blimov wanted him quickly. The faster helicopter would only save a few minutes. Laurence did not think it was worth the extra cost, but still, he decided to enjoy the luxury. He could not change anything. And he did not think he would ever again be treated so royally. The pilots and stewardess thought or claimed they thought that he was an American scientist called suddenly by his corporation.

Laurence was not responsible for the submarine’s loss, although he had described something like this. Since he knew Blimov did not punish messengers or foretellers of doom, he was not worried. He figured that Blimov was going to ask him for a technical solution. That was the one problem in Laurence’s mind: he could not think of any.

The head of transport was at the meeting; that was the fellow that Laurence liked even if he had almost no technical knowledge. He had been promoted after Dick attacked. The new man — no longer so new — was wise and treated Laurence well. He, too, had nothing to do with salvage.

The head of salvage came into the meeting. He was sweating. Blimov noticed and said, “I saw and OK’d everything you did. So long as you did not try to betray me, you have nothing to fear.”

Blimov was wise enough to give Laurence credit for raising the possibility that a salvage submarine might be stolen. “Even after you spoke, I thought it might sink,” he said, “but not that it might be stolen. The failed search indicates it has been.”

He looked around at them. “We have procedures for a sinking, especially one caused; that happens too frequently. But we do not have anything prepared for a sub stolen. My question is, what should we do?”

Before anyone had a chance to answer, most likely, Laurence thought, to say he did not know, a communication’s expert came in. “We have been monitoring the emergency bands,” he said. “One of the officers on the missing submarine spoke. He said, ‘Gelar Orange here. We have been hijacked; a couple of us got free. I have found the scuttling switch; it is right beside this communication’s gear but hard to get at. I’ll sink the ship; that will bother the pirates. Please rescue me.’ Then there was a bit of noise in the background and his signal stopped.

“He said nothing about the submarine; he knew the transmission was public. Still, he managed to communicate long enough for the key item to come through, that is the signal that tells where the ship is located. Several coastguards and at least one navy will try to intercept. The submarine will go down with the ship; it probably has already. It has now been a couple of minutes since the transmission.

“The ship’s location was sent automatically; and in any case, satellites can locate the transmission, although not as accurately as when the ship reports itself. The crew will stick to the standard story; they will claim they were running a small ship with a valuable cargo, a legal cargo; someone, somewhere must have betrayed them. I hope they can all get out.”

Two navies, four coast guards, and several bystanders searched. Over a dozen ships took part.

Nothing was found besides flotsam. That wreckage looked new. The ship or its remains were supposed to exist. There had been the radio call. To the navy, coast guards, and police, it sounded like a fairly normal case of piracy, except that this fellow — they did not know who Gelar Orange was — got free and scuttled the ship.

Nothing identifying the ship was found. There were no survivors. Laurence was mystified, but not Blimov. The next day, after Laurence went home, Blimov called and said, “Those ‘scuttling charges’ were more than that. Everything was blown to smithereens. There were probably Claymore mines hidden to kill people, even those on deck. The idea was that no one would survive; no one would be able to provide any information. Dead men don’t talk.”

He stopped for a moment. “That is expensive. It is cheaper to hire someone like you to design a boat and to create a shipyard to build it … unless you want eventually to get rid of all your witnesses. The crew of a ship is smaller than the number in a shipyard, even a small shipyard. I doubt any crew knew they were going to die had the theft been successful.” He did not stop to consider, but merely slowed to make his point. “I doubt they imagined they were destined to die. They probably thought they would make a good deal of money and, while not immediately, they would be honored when the time came.”

He did stop and thought of a different question. “I wonder how many knew the ship was mined? Perhaps everyone did. That is easier to explain; no one goes into failure; no one expects to blow themselves up. The ship could be mined; the crew on that sort of ship would be optimistic.”

Blimov’s thesis about the ship’s explosives was upheld by an analysis of the noise in the transmission. When louder signals and static were removed, they heard a male voice shouting fearfully, “We are all going to die!”

Two weeks later, Laurence was again travelling with Blimov. He suddenly saw the car in front of him vanish in fire and smoke; it was empty of passengers. Following his random coin flips, Blimov had picked the second car.

The driver in the first car survived, but not happily. He went to hospital. The explosion was outside the car and its armor protected him. Nonetheless, the car was tossed and flipped, with him inside. If Blimov and Laurence been inside, they both would have been put out of action for a while.

Blimov did not think the attack was revenge for the enemy ship and its crew. He said practically, “They, whoever they are, their leaders, are more cynical than that. They must be. Otherwise, they would not have tried to steal a submarine. A rival won’t have made the attack either. They know that there is only a one in three chance of getting me.”

He thought for a moment, then spoke, “I bet it was intended as distraction, to keep our minds off the other salvage sub. If the attack got us, that’s fine to them; if it didn’t, they thought we would think about it. We certainly will. But why would such a distraction be considered valuable?” Blimov was speaking to himself, but turned to Laurence. “My sense is that they do not want us thinking about the other salvage sub. I won’t be surprised if it suffers an attack. What should we do? We want it to keep on working.”

Laurence had to think for a while. He had not figured out any solution so far. The salvage submarine was not inside a sensor net, like those in the training area. It could be caught underwater, invisibly to anyone on the surface. He could attach more fancy sensors to it, and Blimov would pay for them. That way the submarine would not have any blind spots around it. But that would not be enough. There were not enough crew to distinguish between big fishes and swimmers disguised as fishes. Computer processing was not good enough to determine which was which, not yet. Only when the submarine failed to report back would any on his side besides its crew know it was missing.

Then it occurred to him. “We can run a thin line or cable from the mother ship on the surface to the submarine. The cable will have fiberoptics in it for communications and maybe a powerline, too. Besides showing the control room, it can transmit images from the outside. No sub crew need be involved. If the submarine is intercepted, then the crew on the surface ship will know enough to investigate any nearby ship that is big enough to carry the submarine. If worse comes to worse, they can sink that ship.

“A replacement crew could sail a sub around the world. But they cannot do that immediately. Even if the replacements are familiar with submarines, the controls and specifications for one of ours are just enough different. So there has to be a surface ship to carry it. So if our mother ship knows of a hijacking soon enough, it can act. We will let the news become available. Our action will deter.”

Next: , Previous: , Up: Top  

Chapter 16

“ ‘Money, markets, and multiple motives’ — they all start with an M sound,” said Peter to Abigail. He was musing out loud.

“Money began more than two and a half millennia ago,” said Abigail smiling. “Markets much earlier.”

“More Ms,” said Peter. He wondered for a moment whether other languages than English would enjoy the same alliteration. Then he returned to his main topic. “My point,” he said, “is that people have known and acted within social structures for a very long time.”

“Are you beginning another of your anthropological disquisitions?” asked Abigail. “Yes,” said Peter. “What else do we have to do?”

“We could play cards,” said Abigail. “I did not say we should become bored,” said Peter. Abigail did not respond. She knew that Peter was musing. Besides, his words interested her, even if he sometimes went on. She nodded in permission.

“Small bands of adults can all decide equally,” he said. “ ‘All for one and one for all.’ It is a great dream. In modern guise, it comes down to whether we view another person as one of us or not? That is the first of the social structures. It has nothing to do with ‘money, markets, or multiple motives.’ ”

“Sometimes we still are all for one and each for all,” said Abigail. “Yes,” said Peter, “but you cannot keep adding more people. The notion does not scale. For a complex society, one with more than a few hundred adults in it, we need more senior and less senior people. A few make decisions for the rest. The second social structure provides for larger numbers of people, for scaling.”

“Ships have captains and seamen,” said Abigail. “Yes, that is very true,” said Peter, nodding his head. “That is a good example. We cannot operate a ship without that kind of social structure. But you will notice that many of the crew are focused on one aspect more than anyone else — except perhaps their replacement is equally focused. It is not as if anyone can do anything at or below their level, which was once the case for officers and men on sailing ships: any able bodied seaman could do the job of any other able bodied seaman, and any officer could be an officer and, if necessary, do the job of an able bodied seaman.”

“Is that true?” asked Abigail. “I think so,” said Peter. “That is one reason they started so young. Teenage boys could run up and down shrouds quickly.”

“Shrouds?’ asked Abigail. “The webbing on the ropes that kept masts on sailing ships from tipping over.” Abigail nodded. “I understand,” she said.

“Nowadays,” Peter said, “we have documents. The presumption is that if necessary, officers can learn enough. Often, those instructions are printed. That requires the least extra technology. Most of reading is in a person’s head; you have to learn to read. Everyone has already done that. The technology comes along with the person.”

“Are you saying that a hierarchy has people who know different things?” asked Abigail.

“No, no,” said Peter. “… the opposite. For this, a simple hierarchy has people who can do everything, but some have more social power. Knowing a specific skill, having professional knowledge that is different from the rest, that involves a different social structure.

“The ‘all for one and one for all’ mode is somewhat social,” he said, “that is to say, those who favor it will mostly like other people. However, I don’t think that is the entire truth. Many, perhaps most, will focus their preference on the technical aspects of the world. They will be the people who enjoy working with non-human animals, with nature, and with machines. They will be really good pianists, truck drivers, computer programmers, and gardeners. In the old days, some became swordsmen. When they think about the social world, which won’t be very often, they will imagine the ‘all for one and one for all’ mode. They will think that first because it will be their preference. They know the world is not like that.

“People who have a hunger for membership usually are social. They don’t have to be; they could be hermits. In any case, their social preference will be different. They won’t be ‘all for one and one for all’; they will be hierarchical. Their preferred mode will scale.”

“You talked about money, markets, and multiple motives,” said Abigail.

“Yes,” said Peter, “and as you pointed out, people have known about these for millennia.” He did not mention the M sounds that began every word although he smiled briefly when he thought of them. For some reason, they tickled him, even though he expected that for words with equivalent meanings, different languages offered different initial sounds.

“Since the rise of agriculture ten millennia or so ago, organizations have grown larger. ‘One for all and all for one’ has failed.”

“Families and markets existed even before agriculture,” said Abigail. “That is true,” said Peter, squinting his eyes a bit. “People had to have had these perceptions long ago.”

“What do you mean, ‘perceptions?’ ” asked Abigail. “Non-profit, private, and governmental organizations are all full of people who act,” she said. “Many have more than a dozen or so members. We would not be here without action.”

“People perceive and act, both,” said Peter. “You cannot act without perception. This kind of perception is, I think, inborn, seeing ‘one for all and all for one,’ hierarchy, something else, and the Ms: money, markets, and multiple motives. People can see them all, but have different preferences.”

“What do you mean, ‘something else?’ ” asked Abigail.

“Well, the anthropologist I got this from, Alan Page Fiske, talked about the villagers of an African tribe who all hoed together according to a drum beat. That kind of farming is not familiar to most Westerners.”

Then he smiled. “Think of mass production.” Peter knew that would be familiar. “With it, everything is made the same. In the early days, people manufactured, not machines. The word manufacture originally meant ‘making by hand’. At first, each item was more or less different. Only with the division of labor did similarity become stronger. At the beginning of the industrial revolution, Adam Smith talked about pin making. He wrote of men making many pins. The men divided their labor. That is what Smith focused on. However, Smith did not note that each pin was more or less the same, not to my knowledge.

“Later, machines came more and more into prominence. At least one fellow I have read, Lewis Mumford, talked about them as ‘slaves.’ His machines were like human slaves, but better because they weren’t conscious, did not complain, and did not stop. Each machine helped make instances of goods that were similar to each other. The social equivalent of mass production is equal voting and equal rights under the law.”

“You have three forms,” said Abigail. “You have not specified markets or money in any of them. In the first, everyone provides for or helps everyone else; in the second, the more senior allocate, like the father of a traditional family or,” she looked up briefly, “the captain of a ship. In the third form, everything is the same.”

“You don’t need money or markets in any of the first three forms,” said Peter. “As a practical matter, the third mechanism only occurs sometimes. Or maybe it occurs all the time, but we are only conscious of it occasionally.

“The first scheme, ‘all for one and one for all’ does not scale; it cannot handle a large number of people. Hierarchy can. Moreover, you can have the more senior allocating what has been produced by the third mechanism.”

“Not everyone has to be able to do everything,” said Abigail. “No,” said Peter. “That is not needed. Hierarchy is a very powerful organizational mechanism. You don’t have to know how to carry out the orders you give.”

“So what is your point?” asked Abigail. “I am getting there,” said Peter.

“My argument,” he said, “has to do with size. The first mechanism, ‘one for all and all for one,’ depends on and requires a small group. You do not need law or justice or anything like that. The second, hierarchy, implies law when it is big, since those who are lower need to know what to do for those who are senior. The law need not be just; however, it has to be there, along with order, for people to know what to do.”

“What is this about ‘law?’ ” asked Abigail. “Instructions can be spoken,” she said.

“I am not talking about written law,” said Peter. “That comes later. I am concerned with an orderly set of instructions that a person must obey or be hurt. Essentially, that is what a hierarchy is.”

“You can follow instructions voluntarily,” said Abigail. “That is how most people operate most of the time.”

“Yes,” said Peter, “but behind that voluntarism lies the possibility of penalty. Acting voluntarily is good, but I am talking about ultimates. ‘Carrot and stick.’ Behind the carrot is the stick. You can argue that the carrot part is the reward. That is what we are aiming for. It is not quite voluntarism, but is better than simply avoiding hurt.”

Peter thought for a moment. “You are right,” he said. “It is fair to speak of rewards when we are talking of hierarchy. A lower person must obey and if successful may be rewarded. If he disobeys, he may be hurt. In theory, of course, rewards and punishments should follow actions immediately, but in practice, they don’t. That is why I am using the word ‘perhaps.’ For those who want it, that is the ‘hunger for membership’ that I mentioned earlier. Those people feel an obligation.”

“Everyone feels an obligation,” said Abigail.

“Yes,” said Peter, “but this is special; some feel more obligated, more responsible, more burdened by the actions of other people than most.”

“What is your fourth perception or mechanism or way of acting?” asked Abigail. “So far, all I know is that the description in English is alliterative: money, markets, and multiple motives.”

Peter said, “Before I say anything else, let me point out that people have traded for thousands of years, since long before agriculture was invented. I am sure they traded before they became homo sapiens. People and their predecessors had multiple motives. Money, however, as you said, was invented only about three thousand years ago, or perhaps a bit earlier or a bit later.”

Then he said, “In that last, fourth mechanism, there are different reasons for doing something. It is not simply that one is more important than another; that is a hierarchical measure. The different reasons can be quantified. I am sure traders knew how much meteoric iron to exchange for barley to exchange for lapis lazuli. They knew the value of things before money was invented. The big advantage of money is that it simplified the process and gives a numerical value.”

“We use it for more than simple exchange,” said Abigail. “Yes,” said Peter, “but consider exchange.”

He went on. “Since it is hard to quantify everything, hierarchy continues. That is especially the case when the more senior do not have to know how to do something a less powerful person does. More recently, corporations became ways in which the more senior allocated resources.”

“By ‘recently,’ you mean ‘in the last century or so,’ not ‘in the past few minutes,’ right?,” said Abigail. “Yes,” said Peter. “A century or two, those generations — that is a short time in historical terms. The duration is long only to humans living each day during their whole lives.”

Peter returned to his prime subject. “In the original U. S. telephone company, for example,” he said, “no one knew how much a single installation cost. They only knew about averages. The more senior people knew only that they had to allocate resources to hire a number of people. They could not charge the actual cost of a single installation or a single emergency repair; they could not figure it out. However, they had people available whom they could direct. That was hierarchy within the corporation.”

“They charged customers,” said Abigail.

“Yes, but it was the average cost, or thereabouts.

“However, corporations had people who knew whether one good was worth a half another or one and a half times. Such people bought and sold. That had to do with matters outside the corporation. They had to perceive differently than those who based price on average cost.”

“What if the outside allocates mostly by power?” asked Abigail.

“Then we have a situation like the U. S. in World War II or like the Soviet Union throughout its rule. Hierarchy works great when you know what you want over a period of time with few changes. That is why one side wins in a state-versus-state war. They usually don’t last long.

“The Soviet Union won World War II, but it failed in the end. That is because over time it could not handle change well. Its government funded coal and iron industries, which had come into prominence before 1917. They could and did produce many tanks; they won in the 1940s. They produced thousands and thousands of tanks.”

“What about the U. S.? We did a huge amount in the Second World War,” said Abigail.

“Yes, but we did not suffer or fight as much as the Soviet Union,” said Peter. “In any case, later, the Soviet Union never spread electronic computers widely. Hierarchy fails to handle change, in this case, economic change — that is to say, change in less than a generation or two. I am not saying that there was not some change. There was. What I am saying is that relative to the United States at that time, the Soviet Union did not do as well.”

“The U. S. is no longer doing so well,” said Abigail. “No, it is not,” said Peter. “But I am trying to avoid the present. It is distracting.”

“What is your solution?” asked Abigail. “So far, you have said that a sense of ‘all for one and one for all’ does not scale, that hierarchy does, but it does not handle change well.”

“I made the point that each mechanism requires certain features. ‘All for one and one for all’ requires only order. Hierarchy requires both order and law. The third mechanism requires three components: order, law, and a sense of justice. That sense of justice is traditional; it is what children learn. Without it, even with others, people will not do the same. Either you will not have parallel actions or you won’t have reciprocal actions separated by time.”

“How does making a series of similar toys require tradition?” asked Abigail.

“For most manufactures, you need many people to invent, build, and maintain the machines as well as to market and sell the result. The highly successful require more than a dozen or so people, more than the number who would be in a coven.”

“The number in a coven is thirteen,” said Abigail.

“That’s what I meant by ‘or so,’ ” said Peter.

Abigail nodded and asked, “So in your terms, is a hierarchy required but not a sense of justice?”

“No,” said Peter. “Businesses and countries can and do operate only by hierarchy for a short time. However, no business or country can succeed for a long time, for several generations, without a sense of justice.”

“… and a sense of justice comes from tradition, which is what children learn.” said Abigail.

“Yes,” said Peter, “but children only learn the same things when they are in the same culture. They learn what was good for their parents. That is what tradition is. The justice coming from that kind of tradition fails when cultures differ or circumstances become different.

“As for perceptions and actions with change (I mean, change that takes less than a generation) … those perceptions and actions require that people expect the current process to deliver justice as well as law and order. The only current process we know that delivers within a generation or two is some form of democracy. (In practice, the word has lost meaning. I mean that every adult takes part in ruling. That is not what many think is the definition; they think of it as meaning a form of corruption, as in Stalin’s country.)

“When people are children and change is slow or does not occur at all, adults are seldom self-centered. Most learn to be part of a bigger society. That is the value of tradition. However, with rapid change, adults perceive themselves as central in their own world. When they all take part in government a little, they grant it a little legitimacy. That overcomes the solipsism entailed by being a central figure to one’s own self.”

“You are conflating economic change, social change, and political change,” said Abigail.

“Yes, I am,” said Peter, “but I think they should be brought together. All three depend on the four social structures that people perceive and act upon. Three of those social structures can incorporate large numbers of people, so you can have boats and villages and various organizations. But only one of the four handles rapid change.”

“Looking at the past,” Abigail smiled to herself; she knew Peter, “how would you use your categories to characterize it?”

“My sense,” said Peter, “is that in the 18th and 19th centuries, the English had enough of a monetary and market economy and enough democracy that they were able to change well enough. They were not perfect; they did not change quickly either economically or politically, not compared to the present.”

“That does not tell us why the English started changing in the first place.”

“No, it doesn’t,” said Peter. “I don’t know why. But I do know that their change was quicker than anyone else. Also at that time, as far as I can determine, enough people took part in decisions. In any case, they had no large scale civil war. I am not saying conditions were good; they weren’t. I am only saying that they did not have a civil war. They were unlike the French. The British had their civil war over a century earlier.

“The northern U. S. adapted to the new technologies in the later 19th and in the 20th century after its civil war. It fought a civil war with a section that was more strongly in the past. Of course, the U. S. North was a mixture. The U. S. South nearly won; the North lacked enough time to become dramatically more successful economically. That would have required another decade or two of the economic growth rates in the North before the war. Had it waited longer, the U. S. South would have lost. It had to declare independence, and take a risk, or lose for sure. It could not keep up.”

“What about Mussolini and Hitler?” asked Abigail.

Peter nodded. “Their politics depended on a core group that worked in an uneasy alliance with traditional powers. They influenced a huge number of people who felt their communities were declining and that they themselves were being humiliated. Both pushed technologies they learned as children, but failed to set up institutions to encourage the technologies of the time, like radar sensors and nuclear weapons. It is not that they did not set up some institutions; the trouble for the Germans and the Japanese is that they were not effective. There was work on both radar sensors and nuclear weapons. Indeed, German radar at half a gigahertz was better than the American. But neither the Germans nor the Japanese developed as many different types as the United States.

“Also remember, when the Japanese Empire attacked the United States, its airplanes and torpedoes were better than any in the United States. But in the next several years, the U. S. improved and deployed more effective technology than the Japanese. I don’t think the U. S. could do that now; it certainly cannot handle the challenges of asymmetrical war.” Peter shook his head, more to stop himself than anyone else. “I don’t want to get into the present,” he said.

“Returning to history … the issue is social adaption. I talked about that before. In this case, I doubt that Italy and Germany were able to adapt quickly enough. Germany developed missiles and jets. However, Hitler went into the Soviet Union, Mussolini into Ethiopia. That is an expansion of geographic space, not of technical space. Neither effectively made much of an attempt to succeed by more rapid domestic change, not even using finite resources such as coal. Germany had coal and its government paid hugely for the conversion of solid coal to liquid fuel; but that conversion did not enable them to win the war. Their attempts were ineffective … that is my point.”

“I am not sure whether what you say is relevant,” said Abigail. “For a long time,” she said, “countries like England and the United States adapted better than others. They overcame challengers. In the 19th century, the English overcame the French. In the 20th, the Americans overcame the Axis Powers and the Soviet Union. It may be more useful to talk about adaptation and social optimism.”

“What do you mean?” asked Peter, evidently unbothered that his wife had, for practical purposes, dismissed his notions.

“I don’t know about the English,” said Abigail. “They were first and might be different; I don’t know. However, I do know that Europeans who emigrated to the U. S. before inexpensive and rapid communications were a self-selected group who were willing to give up their earlier habits. On the other hand, those who stayed in Europe kept those earlier patterns. Lots of people went to America to make money and after two or four years, returned to Europe. But I think a half or two-thirds of the migrants stayed in the U. S..

“Those Europeans who stayed in the U. S. were optimistic that they or their children would get ahead. They did not expect to follow the same laws or technologies as their grandfathers. They were energetic. Enough tried new businesses that some became very successful, like Andrew Carnegie. He was an immigrant. He also famously said, ‘Never be a pioneer,’ a technological pioneer. He adopted proven technology. His steel works employed the best that was proven.

“My sense is that self-selection works well when the society is optimistic and leads to addiction and crazy religions when it is pessimistic,” she said.

“The U. S. has plenty of crazy religions,” said Peter. “I am not certain self-selection is the issue. In the U. S. at the end of the 19th century, the immigration offices of large railroads loaned money to religious people to buy land that the railroads had been given by taxpayers as a subsidy, or pointed towards banks. That way, railroads could sell the land. The men in those immigration offices thought, rightly as far as I know, that the religious would be more likely to pay those mortgages than others.”

“That may be true,” said Abigail. “However, there are two issues: one is that you do not need a high portion of any population to give up the past, just a higher portion. That is if you want to be first or second. Eventually, of course, everyone decides that technological change is likely. Every country shifts. Self-selection stops mattering. You may be looking too closely to the present.”

Peter nodded. “The second issue,” Abigail said, “is that maybe the religious who came around that time were different. Perhaps what we think of as a crazy religion is the most sensible action in a pessimistic society. Perhaps those religions’ growth in the U. S. several generations later is a consequence of the society becoming more pessimistic.”

Next: , Previous: , Up: Top  

Chapter 17

The people that Laurence was against had chosen to abandon a previous tradition, a good one; at least, those in the United States had. Or their leaders had chosen to abandon it for them. The tradition had been that of using many organizations and technologies to solve problems. Instead, they chose to adopt another tradition, also one of theirs. The second way to solve problems consisted of fighting and taking. The first tradition presumed that everyone could rise; the second presumed that those who won would be counterbalanced by those who lost.

Laurence preferred the first tradition, that of solving problems with many organizations and many technologies. He expected most attempts to fail. But a few would succeed. They could be built on. If the first tradition was not to be, Laurence figured he should, as he did, seek justice and a good life for himself.

Ultimately, Laurence thought of himself as working for justice — justice for most of the world, not for the losers. He had been persuaded by Blimov. Gaining revenge and living a good life helped; they helped a great deal, but were not all. He was a little worried about the losers’ associates. Most, after all, were innocent. But he ignored that worry.

Laurence considered whether he would have supported the second tradition, that of fighting, had he been accepted when young. He felt he would have. He had tried so hard. Had he been accepted, he would have devoted his talents against everything for which he now stood.

But he had been low then, socially. That is how he felt. He would never have been accepted as other than as he was, a smart fellow. He had been accepted by other innocents who also lacked power, but that was not enough. Worse for his birth country, for the United States, Laurence was not good at dealing with people. He could not rise in its kind of world.

Laurence did not think of himself as a soldier fighting an asymmetrical war nor did Blimov. But he was. He was using his talents to undermine his birth country, believing in a ‘plausible promise,’ as the cynical called it, that of justice. He did not expect quick results, but he did not hope for justice in an afterlife either. As for his present, he was living well enough.

The goal was not traditional, that of taking over a country. Laurence hoped, eventually, that his efforts would change the world. The United States would become weaker. As a side effect, that would make his organization less profitable; people in the country could not afford to buy as much; he might lose his job. But he did not expect that before he retired. A better world, he hoped for that.

‘Well,’ thought Laurence, ‘a good part of the population prefers to think in terms of black or white, of one or the other, whether wine is in a glass or drunk.’

He thought more. ‘Although people can think otherwise — that is rather obvious; they buy more or less, they do not think in absolutes, so they must be able to think differently — they desire not to think that way. A portion of the population prefers to think absolutely.’

He thought to himself, ‘That desire to think absolutely means this group tends to forget that rich countries’ success comes from three sources, not one. It comes from technological advance, from theft from humans, and from theft from non-human nature. Most people concern themselves with theft from humans, not with theft from non-human nature or with technological advance. Hmm …’ He stopped thinking consciously for a moment and then thought to himself again. ‘Major technological changes cannot be predicted. However, theft is predictable, even non-human robbery. Nonetheless, there are true Aristotelians who think in terms of a single essential.

‘Anyhow, for most people, most of the time, those causes are not relevant. They become relevant when they think they are being robbed.

‘The causes are relevant for those who set or hope to set policy. That is only a minority. Other people, most people, will occasionally evaluate this minority. If institutions permit, they will support or oppose those who set policy; if not, they will act more or less stupidly. As a practical matter, many people will focus on the quicker solution, which only involves theft. Or they will get pushed to focus on it.’

Laurence thought more. ‘You cannot predict major technological changes and when you steal successfully, whether from people or from non-human nature, you get the wealth and you get it quickly. Technical advance takes a long time, decades, not days. Besides, theft makes sense in a high population, impacted environment. There are not enough resources for all. So that second tradition, which has always been there, comes to the fore.’

That was depressing. Laurence shied away from his thoughts. He turned to schooling. That was slightly less depressing, but not much less. ‘People need modern education,’ he thought. ‘Without it, they will fail to learn how to learn. They will not understand why their water becomes more expensive. Or rather, they will think they know, but will misunderstand. Theft again: perhaps they will think the greater cost is only due to theft by those who can get water without being recorded or maybe they will think it is only due to an entity that is monopolistic and inefficient.’

He grimaced. ‘Thefts are part of the cause, but not all, thefts from people, thefts from nature.’ Even though he knew an additional cause, and had for a long time, he could not help thinking it. ‘Another partial reason comes from the growth in greenhouse gasses. That results in the vanishing, or at least, in decreases in the size of high mountain glaciers. We get our water from them. Others get it from other places.’

Schooling and education was funded by another organization, the legal government. Fortunately, it did not seem too bad. To Laurence, the anti-enlightenment parts were more a matter of ritual than anything else. They would put off people like him. True study, as he considered it, searching for confirmation, criticism as the antidote for error, all the results of modernity — they were pushed by some teachers. The outcome was a mix; and in any case, Laurence expected better in the future.

Laurence managed people as non-human resources. He spoke at the wrong times. He understood complex devices and mechanical systems, not people. He was not a good feudalist. He could manage other people like himself, and did, but that was all. A part of Laurence’s organization consisted of people who buffered from him those who were different.

Blimov recognized it all. He organized everything. Moreover, he understood that not everyone would defer and lie to him, just that most would. Laurence was not one of them. Blimov knew he, Blimov, was the top dog in a hierarchy. Laurence was an underdog, even though he ruled his own, smaller organization. Blimov wanted to stay at the very top. That is why he was a vicious dog, not kindly. Kindness would not keep him alive. He remembered the old saying, “nice guys finish last.” In his business, nice guys died young. So did others. Many died who competed in the human side of the organization. Laurence was not such a competitor. He lived in a different world. It was not that he was stupid as such. He wasn’t technically.

Consequently, at intervals, Blimov listened to Laurence. He did not listen only to technical reports, but also to other comments. They induced clarity. Laurence was a source of truth, albeit, of a special kind.

In return, Blimov gave Laurence technical challenges — Blimov laughed at himself; give was the wrong word. It faintly suggested an unnecessary gift. Blimov provided what Laurence needed. The gift was necessary. Although it was longer to think and harder to remember, Blimov decided he preferred the wordy sentence that ‘some challenges his organization faced could better be solved by non-human means rather than by human means.’ Laurence was the man for the non-human. Along with comfort, challenges kept the man happy.

Next: , Previous: , Up: Top  

Chapter 18

Blimov bought cocarin from factories, which often were still called laboratories. Cocarin was somewhat similar to the earlier cocaine, but not identical. Its production required simpler processing. although one step included an ingredient that was highly complex. However, that chemical was used in a wide variety of legal processes. It was therefore readily obtained and inexpensive. Factories were easy to fund and easy to move.

Even though in many areas, Blimov was the only buyer, he encouraged locals to fund factories. They received income rather than he. Because of the numbers, factories’ simplicity, and widespread knowledge, no one received much money. Blimov lost a little, too, since he did not control everything, but he gained support, which he thought more important.

Moreover, the ease of closing down, disassembling, and moving the parts of a factory meant that corrupt contacts in the government did not have to give warning so far ahead of time. That was a vast advantage.

The leaves came from peasants, ‘farmers’ as many United States officials insisted on calling them. Evidently, they believed that by changing the name, the people would become more independent than they were.

Instead, US-paid attacks forced the peasants to adopt growth under leaves. That way, the plants stayed hidden from sky-borne sensors. It also meant they did not receive as much light. So older plants were replaced by newer, genetically engineered plants that thrived in the shade. In addition, their green was similar to other greens, so they were less detectable when seen; and they exuded chemicals that were similar to other, proper domesticated plants, so chemical sensors, ‘smellers,’ had a harder time detecting them.

Ordinarily, none of the growers would have accepted any of this. However, they wanted to stay alive, so they adapted. The funds provided for legal alternatives were too small. Even though Blimov and the others paid them little, the markets and the government paid even less for food or anything else useful.

The ocean was the big barrier. Aircraft had been used for years. But they were such an obvious transport mechanism that do-gooders insisted on stopping them. Land transport was interdicted after enough people were employed by the legal powers. The numbers meant the technologies for land and air could not be corrupted or their agents gone around, not cheaply and not positively. Consequently illegal organizations turned to ships. Again, do-gooders required that surface ships’ journeys be traced. Any that went near South America had to be searched thoroughly. That was an expense, but consumers did not even know they paid it.

Surface ships could not even drop pods that had been attached under hulls. They were watched too closely and too many people had to be bribed. There was no way to reduce the cost of smuggling on the surface. Only undersea boats succeeded.

From Blimov’s point of view that was fine. His need for submarines kept out small-time ocean smugglers. He only had to worry about a few competitors, not many. He had heard an economist refer to this as ‘oligopolistic competition,’ but he did not need the phrase. Like other businessmen for thousands of years, he knew to keep out of others’ territory, to divvy up new territories more or less peacefully, and not to compete by price.

On land, in the United States themselves, many men and a few women purchased cocarin and passed it on. Eventually, it got to distributors who sold it to addicts. They gave it to people they hoped would become addicts.

Occasionally, new operators tried to break in. They were entrepreneurs, got reported by the old-timers, and were stopped by police.

Blimov did not take control of the distribution network in the United States any more than he took control of the factories at the other end. He wanted people on his side, even when they could not state their preference publicly. Besides, he controlled the economic choke point, the submarine transport. He felt like the first Rockefeller, who had controlled a good portion of the economic choke point for petroleum distribution, the refineries. Both made huge amounts of money.

It all worked out, except, of course, for the original growers on one end, the victims on the other end, and the countries themselves.

Next: , Previous: , Up: Top  

Chapter 19

William Delder’s wife, Regina, first noted that Tarnover did not think William was at fault for going to West rather than East street. “His sending you to this conference is a sign. Yes, I know we have to move.” She had stopped trying to move William into private security. “Fortunately, they are paying for it — after he decided to keep you in the agency, Tarnover did not have much choice. However, he did have choice about the conference and he chose you. You get to enjoy food, drink, and nights in a good hotel. That compensates. I might have been invited, too, except I think this is serious; you are supposed to learn. They don’t want you throwing off a half day here and a half day there to show me around. I doubt you will have the energy for other temptations either.”

“It looks to me that it will be hard work,” said William. “Yes, and you’ll like that,” said Regina.

The event was more a ‘how to’ education on controlling corruption than a conference. It focused on experiences that were very like his, such as depending on a single person. He learned how to prevent corruption or its possibility, for example, by having two or more people tell him independently of each other. Hopefully, what they said would be the same.

His watching for corruption struck Delder as extra work; and he could not work much more. Indeed, regardless, he would have to do less of his desired job; so would subordinates; so would superiors. A session touched on that. The speaker, actually William thought, the man should be called a teacher, said that ‘a preoccupation with corruption can be costly.’

William took notes.

The speaker said, “The extra efforts to fight corruption are not even a waste of resources. They are as much a need as any other kind of defense. They are like resilience or an army. No one likes either, but sad experience shows they are necessary.”

William came away remembering: in anything discretionary, at least two people ought to work together. Most of the time, that is a waste. In true competition, which means freedom, easy entry, and low initial costs, doubling is not necessary; otherwise, it is.

Secondly, everything should be done transparently. That means mistakes are visible. Since it is always human to err, that means thinking in terms of probabilities. Some people, William was told, don’t like that. They prefer traditional logic, black and white, not a logic of probabilities, which is between black and white.

‘Also, regarding probability, corruption can be hidden as mistakes and not be visible to those who use probability.’ William understood: faked mistakes could deceive evaluators like him. In his operation, to hide considerable corruption, his agency would have to go after many people who did not count. That would mean evaluators would expect more mistakes.

Thirdly, everything should be accountable. That meant more than checking for and describing recidivism rates or managing money; it meant explaining; it meant writing everything down.

If he was successful, if anyone was successful, within a decade or two, few would remember why the agency used extra resources, why no one could make a decision on his or her own. Critics would call it waste.

Moreover, his agency mostly went after small operators, many of them. Of course, there were good reasons to go against the small as well as the big. For one, there was a tipping point when enough small timers thought that whatever they were doing was not worth it. But did his agency stop enough small timers? William did not think so.

Franklin Scott had to move, too. He was not happy at all. He did not know anybody in the new region and lost more than half his income. He could not complain either; the new place was exactly where he should have been assigned had he followed an approved career. However, he was not following such a career and did not like his new location.

Still, he liked the idea of going to jail even less. To save himself, he would have to do his job more correctly. He might even arrest some crooks! He did not know any here who would shoot him; and those powerful and far away would understand. At least, he hoped so.

Doing more of his job; that meant writing more, being more bureaucratic. Scott preferred being crooked; then he kept no records. Previously, he had not written.

His loss of income meant the loss of high living during vacations. In addition, it meant the loss of extra savings. He did not dare live beyond his means locally; that would get him caught. He did not care so much for his loss of extra savings: he saved from convention rather than from anything else. However, he did care about his fancy living. Still, fitting ordinary vacations within his visible income was better than going to jail. In this new place, he would act more as a harmless bureaucrat. He would make do.

Next: , Previous: , Up: Top  

Chapter 20

The morning was cool although the sun had just risen and promised to heat everything. Laurence came out to the van in the center of his outer court yard and prepared to get into it.

The iron ore in the sand led Laurence to study his local geology. He knew his house was on a sedimentary plain. Except for the city’s one hill, it was all sediment. The rocks and sand under him came from the mountains. They had been eroded off them over millions of years. ‘Which mountains?’ he wondered. ‘Rivers will not necessarily come straight.’ He figured they must have carried the rocks, especially when flooded and running fast.

Some rocks, of course, could come from any mountain. They would not tell him which. But others could be linked to specific mountains. Those were the rocks he would look for. A few of the surface stones had been brought when the house was built or even more recently. That complicated matters. Still, rocks would tell, so long as they were part of the sediment and not dumped.

An unusual pebble caught his eye in front of his house. Laurence did not think of it as possible tracer, just as a good looking pebble. Its color was reddish. Maybe he did think of it as a tracer, too. Later, he never could remember. He bent down just before entering his van. That meant a bullet intended for his head missed.

One guard jumped on top of him and then pushed him under the vehicle out of direct sight. A moment later, the other guard, his pistol drawn, but not fired, looked at him and his guard from the other side of the van and said, “We will let you in this side. You are lucky you ducked just then. In the future, we will have to park closer to the wall and you will have to enter there. That way no high ground will be visible and no one will be able to get you by shooting from a distance. Always, it is the beginning and ends of trips that are dangerous, since their locations are predictable.”

The guard said nothing about having failed to foresee the attempt. Clearly, neither had thought previously that Laurence was a very likely target.

Also, neither guard reminded Laurence that he had told them he preferred to enter the van in the sunlight, rather than in the shadow of the wall. It was just that much nicer to do in the early morning. Now he would have to go into the shadow.

Blimov called a short time later. He had been told of the attempt, probably by his own guards. After speaking like Laurence’s guard and saying how fortunate Laurence was to be alive, Blimov said, “The attempt means you are perceived as valuable. That tether to the submarine has stopped two attempts to our knowledge. At least, guards on the mother ship looking at images transmitted along the fiberoptic cable saw unidentified swimmers come towards the sub from behind. The swimmers looked like men pretending to be fish. The guards told the sub’s crew to move away from their salvage. Swimmers came again from a different angle. That had been the direction of another blind spot, not as wide. Again they were seen and again the sub moved. The movement cost us, but nothing compared to the loss of a submarine.”

Laurence noted that there was no actual proof of the source, but he agreed, it was most probable that those going after the submarine were now going after him.

Blimov spoke again. “Each time swimmers came towards the submarine, our mother ship saw another large ship on the surface. That ship was not close by and apparently not doing anything wrong. There was no reason to go closer and identify it better. You are right, that surface ship, besides carrying the attacking swimmers, has to carry the sub after it has been caught.”

He paused for a moment and sounded puzzled. “Why should they attack you after the fact? It is like closing the barn door after the horses have left.” Laurence enjoyed Blimov’s use of old expressions, except he thought this one was not quite worded in the old way, not even in translation. “Maybe,” Blimov went on, “the attackers fear you will think of something else.”

Laurence did think of something else, except he did not think it was necessary. If capture was likely, the submarine could drop a small packet with a complete record of the past two days, both inside and out. The device would respond only to a coded sound hidden in the background.

It would show those coming up from the outside or a betrayal from the inside. So long as only one or two in the submarine knew about the device, other people inside could force a betrayal and be noted. But before making the release, the submarine should go down to the solid surface so the device’s release would be hidden from enemy sensors. He had to invent a plausible reason for why the submarine would do that.

An additional device would add complexity to the sub, but not too much. Then again, adding a little here, a little there, produced a sorites or heap paradox. No one would know when to stop. Yet the system would collapse when it became too complex. Everyone became tired. An attack created stress. How could he keep it simple? Maybe Laurence should not bother. He no longer felt confident the idea was any good. Besides, he liked his earlier idea of a fiberoptic in a tether. Crew on the mother ship could watch more screens; a simple monitoring computer could weed out the boring parts. Humans were very bad at boredom. But they were still better than computers at complex perception. Moreover, it would be harder to organize a successful betrayal, since crew would have to be subverted both on the submarine and on its mother ship.

Laurence thought about the issue during the drive to his work. He paid no attention to his physical surroundings.

That evening, the van parked near the wall. The sun had moved; the wall was in sunlight. The air was not so cool as in the morning and the wall radiated heat. But nothing could be seen outside the compound.

Two additional guards met him by the house. Laurence was glad he did not have to hire them or pay for them. He did not know anything about guards; he wondered whether they were necessary to keep him alive. The extras would cost a fortune, at least if guards stayed for twenty-four hours a day, went on vacations, and the like. To gain two full time extras, he would have to pay for many more than two only.

He was not sure he needed extra protection. Perhaps a simple change in procedure was all. Still, he did not have to pay. He could leave the decision to others.

By the next morning, Laurence had stopped thinking about assassination and started thinking about a different, more tractable problem related to his von Neumann device. Except, he had to interrupt that thought when he went to the van. It was pulled up close to the wall, in the shade. Out of the sun, Laurence felt chilly. In the new location, the hill to the east could not be seen. Reciprocally, that meant no one on the hill could see or shoot him. Indeed, everything outside the compound was invisible except the sky.

Laurence discovered that he did not have to choose randomly between two vans the way Blimov chose among three cars. Either Blimov thought Laurence was less important than he or else Blimov and the guards thought another assassination attempt was less likely than before. Laurence hoped the latter.

Next: , Previous: , Up: Top  

Chapter 21

Laurence heard of yet another attempt on Blimov, this by a rival gang. That would not have mattered to Laurence except that the potential murderers had nearly infiltrated Blimov’s security and, as it turned out, placed a few people in his shipyard. The penetration involved bribing sociopaths with a huge offer. None were in security — ‘nearly’ was the operative word, as Laurence learned — but they came close.

None of Blimov’s security people tried to gain information by torture; they knew it was good for intimidating the ordinary when a plausible promise failed. But torture failed to deliver information from those who might know but were trained to resist and even to mislead. It did not succeed with sociopaths.

Those caught in the penetration were sociopaths. They were not influenced, as most were and Laurence himself was, by notions of justice and a reasonably good life. Blimov offered both a fair amount of money and justice; these men were greedier.

Instead of torture, Blimov’s security made use of modern technology. When a subject recognized a picture, a medical device showed more activity in a certain part of the brain than when he did not — even when he lied in a convincing manner.

Laurence wondered how many legitimate organizations owned such devices. They were expensive, even to rent, and slow. They would not have caught Philby. However, Blimov obtained one. He knew that the older polygraph was useless, except for finding information from basically honest people.

Blimov was not worried about the honest in his organization. They were few. He was worried about those who believed in what they were doing and were from different organizations and cultures. They could be honest to their superiors; in any event, they would be trying to deceive him and his organization. Also, he worried about the arrogant because they passed as helpful. Not that a technological device could discover them. They did not need to work for a different organization. They could be dishonest.

For security, Blimov wanted those who could detect falsehood or arrogance better than most; studies indicated that while people liked to believe they were good at detecting lies, they were not. But a few were excellent; they had the talent. Such were the people hired by managers whom Blimov trusted to know.

Once caught, security used its device. A problem with it was that investigators had to know exactly what they were looking for. Otherwise the appropriate part of the image of the brain would not be the only part that lit up. Moreover, the pictures could not be of things seen in the normal course of events; the brain would light up. As a practical matter, Blimov never learned which rival gang bribed his people. A cutout prevented that. After the first detentions, he disappeared. Blimov’s men never caught him. They were confident he was paid by a rival.

Although the cutout recruited people in the mountains, he could not recruit people in the shipyard. He had no excuse to go down there. However, those caught did; and security found out who was recruited by showing pictures of everyone. It took a long time.

The fellows questioned did not try to close their eyes; they knew Blimov’s security would hurt them if they did. They tried to think as little as possible. That did not do any good, but it was an action they could undertake. They expected to die and wanted to commit suicide, but were prevented.

Of the three in Laurence’s shipyard, one committed suicide. He acted as soon as he saw the guards come for him. The other two did not. All three had been expected to kill Blimov the next time he came down or help the killers’ escape. After investigation, they were sentenced to die, to die publicly. Everyone in the organization in Bombaia had to watch. Torture would not persuade the worst but death might. At least, so Blimov thought.

Blimov was the executioner. He wanted everyone to know that he held the cords of life and death. A group of security people had acted like a jury; it was very unlikely that either of the suspects was innocent. The judgment on them was easy.

Laurence figured that the reason for a separation of judge, jury, and executioner was to prevent corruption, accident, or error. He also thought that Blimov’s organization could get there, except that neither Blimov nor most of the other members of his organization wanted to become a government.

Blimov stood on a platform as the two were led up. Both wore shirts, trousers, and shoes; they looked normal, only a little dazed. Laurence wondered whether they had been drugged slightly to reduce anxiety. Neither wore a blindfold; each could walk. Their arms were tied behind them at the wrists, not the elbows. It looked as if they were merely holding them behind themselves. They did not stumble.

Blimov stated the charges and then shot each through their foreheads with his pistol. The blood and other parts of their brains flew off the platform behind it.

Neither spoke during his execution.

Next: , Previous: , Up: Top  

Chapter 22

George invited Thomas to come visit him. It turned out he lived fairly close by. There was not a big difference between them in circumstance or taste. Thomas liked George’s house, but was not sure what to say. That did not matter. George spoke up.

“I run ‘Lornavale BetterBuy,’ ” he said. “Nothing physical about it. I suggest to subscribers what to buy. The occupation is weird. You would not think it necessary. Nonetheless, it succeeds nicely. People do not have time to select items on their own or perhaps they lack the interest or knowledge. In effect, they hire me.

“Companies send me products. I try them out. There are organizations that do much more extensive jobs. Sometimes, they take good care to have nothing to do with the producers. Their buyers are anonymous. That increases the likelihood they will see an average product, rather than one specially selected. I sometimes worry that mine are selected for me.

“In any case, I read and avoid being inconsistent; if one organization or another says that a do-hickey is going to fall apart I will not recommend it. Fortunately, that is not hard. Things are better than they once were. It is now a question of preference: do you like buttons that click or will a silent button do as well? If you go for buttons that click, should they be single purpose or multiple? Do you want the software that selects one connection over another to be overtly available? Put another way, which interface do you prefer?

“My contribution is to shorten lists. The big, extensive reports are fine; everyone needs that kind of report once in a while. But I recommend fewer items to the kind of people who like what I recommend. Others recommend other items to other people. I don’t mention many items in each issue, but talk about three of each kind, why a third or so of my subscribers might pick one, a third another, and so on. My big effort is to explain why. Short lists and why; that is what people pay me for.”

“I do much the same,” said Thomas, “with ‘Riddlesdown SoftChoice.’ I tell people about computer programs. The programs themselves are freely redistributable and most people already have them. However, there are so many, few know which to use. I don’t talk about obvious tools, such as those for dealing with words or numbers, sounds or pictures. Everyone has their favorites. People know about them. I talk about lesser known but useful tools. A program must be less than obvious, but not so specialized that only a one or two professions need it. I am not a marine biologist or structural engineer or anything like that. Discovering the right programs is hard. I am not a programmer either. It is a matter of finding the right fit between me and my clients. I lack a large number of subscribers, but those I have are loyal.”

“How did you find the name, ‘Riddlesdown SoftChoice?’ ” asked George.

“My lawyer said it would be better to prefix the name,” said Thomas. “I chose one of our suburbs, Riddlesdown, although that name is better known as a place in the London Borough of Croydon.”

“That is very similar to what happened to me,” said George. “Trademark law and my lawyer forced me to pick an unused prefix. So I picked Lornavale. That is how I invented ‘Lornavale BetterBuy.’ You might think we lived in the suburbs.”

“We both live on the edge of town; this is not quite a suburb, but it is close,” said Thomas.

“That is true,” said George. “In any case, for the trademark office, ‘BetterBuy’ was too commonplace. The idea is that customers should distinguish ‘Lornavale BetterBuy’ from other buying services. The trademark office also keeps names for first movers or those who picked really good names. They are usually short. Big, successful companies like that since it provides an edge. I am just trying to make a living so I don’t mind what amounts to a lesser name so long as it does not put off subscribers.”

Next: , Previous: , Up: Top  

Chapter 23

Laura decided that Laurence should go out more. Her first experience was discouraging.

They both went to a Tom Stoppard play, The Real Inspector Hound. It was produced in English, its original language, not Spanish. Few people knew English and fewer would go to the play, so it was presented in a small playhouse.

After they sat, Laura counted six guards surrounding them. Each required a ticket. Half way through, the senior guard asked Laurence and Laura to move. He spoke primarily to Laura. “I don’t expect any trouble,” he said. “Nobody knew that we would come. But now we are visible. Enemy organizers do not hire suicide assassins; however, the crowd is such that a man with a pistol might escape after shooting. That makes it much more likely that someone would. A murderer only has to be successful once; we have to keep Laurence alive for years and years.”

They went to a smaller room next to the main hall. In it, a hole had been drilled through the wall and a cable poked through. Laurence and Laura listened to the rest of the play on very good speakers and watched it on a high resolution screen. The guard said, “When I said we would leave the equipment here afterward, the house manager became very helpful.” Laura had not expected any of this; she kept being aware of the expense of a simple ‘evening out’: it cost more than a month of her income. She did not like the cost and the effort.

Afterward, Laurence said that the play was well written and interesting. “It is about fate and free will. Unfortunately, the author has not caught up with the knowledge of his time; or perhaps he did not expect his audience to have any sense of contemporary questioning. Or I don’t understand Stoppard.”

“What do you mean?” asked Laura.

“By time the play was written, quantum mechanics had been around for more than a generation. I don’t think they were part of the ‘goes without saying’ context that Stoppard left out. Nevertheless, he could have written as Penrose did. None of the play grabbed me.” That, Laura figured, meant he did not care for it but was not upset.

But she wanted to try again, this time more conservatively. She suggested they go to see Shakespeare in the city’s main playhouse. Hamlet had been translated into South American Spanish. The language was modern.

Rather than sit in the crowd, Laurence and Laura sat in a box. The guards relaxed. Laura was a bit puzzled to see Laurence sit towards the back but then realized that from where he sat he could see only the stage. No one in the audience could see him; conversely, he could see none of them. Unlike the use of expensive boxes in the past, he was not trying to see or be seen.

Laurence sat on the left; Laura on the right. He found a mirror to his left in an open-topped, narrow enclosure next to his chair and transferred it to his right hand. Doubtless that was intentional, since he held it over his head and looked at the reflection of the audience in it. He held it so Laura could see, too. The chief guard looked on approvingly. “This box, along with another, has been reinforced. It is very unlikely anyone will succeed in doing anything. Moreover, very few will know who is here or which box we are in.”

At a flash of puzzlement from Laura, he explained further: “We are not the only people who come to plays and who are at risk.”

Laurence said that the modern words helped him understand the play better than the original, somewhat obsolete English, even if they were translated. But he also said that Shakespeare wrote better phrases. “ ‘… the dread of something after death …’ — that was better in the original English.” He had read the play years before but never seen it performed. He had never heard it in Spanish.

He was not so sure of the play’s metaphysics — Laurence had seen no believable evidence that people lived after they died — but he said, “I like the ghost nonetheless!” Over all, he said, it was a good performance. Laura decided the evening was a success.

Several weeks later, they looked at paintings. For a short time, the city’s art museum carried a touring show of Picasso; in effect, the paintings were borrowed. Laura told Laurence, “You will like these pictures in particular. They are more literal than many Picasso painted.”

At a time when there were few others, the two of them plus six guards visited the museum. Fitting in the right time, not telling anyone what was planned or when — that was hard. But Laura was growing accustomed to being followed by huge numbers, huge in her thoughts. As far as she was concerned, Laurence was forced to live a more limited life than she. Except that so long as he could design and administer, he did not think so. He focused on his work and liked it.

In any case, Laura thought the visit a success. She thought about the guards. They mostly watched other people, as they should; occasionally, they looked at the pictures. Perhaps the visit would widen their horizons.

Laurence liked Picasso. Evidently, he had never seen an original or a good duplicate. And he was a middle-aged man. Laurence’s limitations were not all external. Perhaps he really did think that everything outside of his work was irrelevant. Laura wondered.

“Technically,” Laurence said, “Picasso is better than I expected; he really was good at his job. And you are right, I do prefer paintings with an easily seen topic. They make sense to me. I am not so much into indirection, not in painting. I do enough of that in my own work.” Laura had not the foggiest idea how he could be indirect, but Laurence never noticed her puzzlement. Instead, he went on.

“Perhaps if I studied, the abstractions of painting would become more solid; but as is, I depend on general knowledge. I suppose that is what limited Stoppard. He did not have the genius of Shakespeare to write extraordinary words about then commonplace notions. Shakespeare wrote about living after you stopped, punishment by a superior, suicide, and hell. We mostly think differently now. But Shakespeare wrote so well!”

Writing well,’ that was often said. Laura was disappointed. Still, she was pleased that Laurence had been willing to see the play at all. It wasn’t engineering.

Laurence went on. “I have to say, Stoppard was better than most. Unfortunately, like the rest of us he lacked the ability to create our culture. Well, he may have done that a little, but I am thinking big.

“Picasso changed our perceptions more. It is definitely the case that he did wonderful work. I think his paintings are beautiful. I would like one on my wall!”

Next: , Previous: , Up: Top  

Chapter 24

A sneeze! The sneeze echoed through the submarine. Everyone heard. Captain Nemo heard people whisper ‘Bless you’ and ‘Gesundheit’ for emotional rapport, but never speak the words out loud.

The crewman said quietly, “I did not know it was coming.” The captain rephrased that in his mind, ‘I did not know consciously it was coming.’ Perhaps the man had an unconscious desire for suicide. The captain knew that sensors heard. They had been deployed to catch him.

According to its own data, the submarine was over a flat and muddy plain, the worst place to be. But rocks, big enough rocks, started peppering the bottom less than a kilometer away.

If the submarine could get there in time and rest on the bottom between boulders, it would not be found and would be protected from all but explosions directly above. They stood a chance of survival.

The submarine dared not go fast; otherwise, it would be found. Survival came from an enemy’s imprecision.

Within a few minutes, the submarine’s sensors picked up towed sonar arrays entering the water. Probably, unmanned helicopters pulled them. Someone was alert. But the submarine was stealthed against that kind of towed sonar and not discovered.

Over two hours later, after the sonar crew on the submarine had found two boulders and the steering crew had nestled between them, surface ships came. A ping, or rather, a string of them, told the surface ships the submarine had left the barren plain. If it had been there, the pings’ complex audio wave form would have shown the submarine to the sensors or shown them an empty space where it had to be. No one expected the submarine to still be over the barren plain; its departure was expected. But the sonar and the enemy crew could not determine its location among the rocks. The submarine pretended to be another rock.

Instead, the naval force spent more than a man’s lifetime earnings on depth charges that exploded over the rocks, killed many fish, and damaged the bottom. The explosions shook but did not damage the submarine.

While the bombardment went on, Captain Nemo wondered whether anyone, in any military, still thought of himself as a knight in shining armor or whether he recognized that danger was probabilistic. In this case, hiding was safest. It might not work, but then again, it might. Death depended on luck and how much the opposition was willing to spend. More depth charges cost more; they also exploded closer together; more depth charges would be more likely to destroy the submarine and kill its crew.

Sensible men cost, too. The captain was motivated primarily by greed; he needed to be paid a good deal. Others were motivated by a belief in their culture or country; or they had a lower rank. They required less money. The fellows that inspired suicide attacks had to be persuasive themselves and also lived in societies that expected many to die. Even those leaders dared not waste their troops. Without a visible reason for each death, they would lose personal persuasiveness. He did not knowingly carry suicide solders. In any event, in a circumstance like this, the captain thought, hiding made the most sense.

After the bombardment ended, the submarine sat unmoving for another forty-eight hours. Obviously, an unmanned sonar device would stay and look for signal differences. If a rock disappeared, that is where the submarine had been. Any motion of an object bigger than a fish would be the submarine. To be safe, the submarine stayed where it was. Moving would be more dangerous. To prevent discovery when traveling, the boat would leave a shell behind. That shell would look like an unmoving and uninteresting rock. It was a long wait, but everyone on the boat was well trained.

Meanwhile, the captain looked at the sneezer’s record. Could anyone have detected the sneeze ahead of time? There was no physical reason for the sneeze, he was quite sure of that. The captain looked anyhow. But the fellow looked as healthy as everyone else.

Did the sailor have dangerous personal characteristics? Was he excessively anti-authority? No. Indeed, he appeared to welcome sensible regulation, needful regulation. He was against foolish regulation, but then so was just about everybody. No one in the submarine, indeed, no one in any part of the organization, permitted foolish regulations.

Was the man excessively impulsive or did he think ahead? He thought ahead. He did not feel himself invulnerable, either, but acted suitably cautious.

Unlike many men, the fellow was not excessively macho. That, thought the captain, was a characteristic of knights in shining armor. Being excessively macho was a danger in the modern world. Doubtless, in a more traditional world, the characteristic had been helpful to the powers that were. That is why macho men survived. With early technologies, not too many macho would get themselves killed. And those who lived would support their culture. Moreover, even those who died would not bring death to many others. Consequently, being macho would not matter, except to those surrounding.

The sailor was not excessively resigned, either. He was not like many who had been beaten so often as to be beaten down. On paper he looked like good crew. And he had nearly killed them all.

The captain felt disturbed. Maybe the fellow’s unconscious suffered guilt. That was the only possibility left, at least, that was all the captain could consider. Maybe the man’s unconscious no longer held with destroying so many lives.

Afterward, Captain Nemo’s last voyage became very dull. As far as he knew, no one detected his boat. He crept even slower than before and closer to the bottom. The trip towards the U. S. took longer.

Next: , Previous: , Up: Top  

Chapter 25

From John Tarnover’s point of view, Franklin Scott thrived in his new location. It was far enough away from where he had been previously that it not only felt different, it was different. Delder went to another city.

Scott arrested a fellow whom everyone knew about. The man was not important; he carried a small amount of drugs around the region. But after talking with his lawyer and making a deal with the prosecutor to serve less time, he told Scott about other minor crooks. Scott watched them, obtained good evidence, and arrested them one by one. His paperwork was excellent. None of the crooks told of the senior people at 235 East Street but they did speak of other powerful crooks in the same FADA region. Scott passed on their names and locations. He was not in a place to arrest them, but within the agency, he would get a good portion of the credit.

Tarnover did not know that Scott did not like his new location and did not like his job. But he did not plan to quit; that was too dangerous. He felt punished. At least, he was not in jail and he had not betrayed his illegal employers; indeed, by providing information on their competitors, he had done them a big favor — enough so he would not be killed or forgot.

William Delder did not do badly either. He accomplished less than he did before … or perhaps, in reality, he accomplished as much. He did not make any more mistakes, like going to the wrong house. He reorganized his operations so corruption was less an option than it had been before. He always obtained advice from at least two people. Tarnover was happy at that. Like Scott, Delder, or rather his agents, made small arrests first. Unlike the first arrested by Scott, none had previously been known to the agency. Instead, Delder’s agents found a street on which drugs were bought and sold fairly openly. His men watched, waited, and made their arrests while the dealers still had the drugs on them. Delder set up procedures so the evidence would not vanish. The mechanisms were old, wasteful, and had been ignored by an agency trying to be efficient and without much funding. One of the crooks, past thirty, decided that with money, a new and secret identity, and a new location, he would be willing to tell Delder’s people what he knew of the next level up. They were the same crooks, in the same region, that Scott’s informant had exploded.

Delder wondered whether the crook would have been willing to take less; but the man was old enough to want to give up crime and he did need a new identity and a bit of capital to restart. He had honest skills. Delder knew that a good many older crooks had no non-criminal skills, no money, and were now bitter and more ruthless than they had ever been before. They felt they could not quit. Prisons were schools for crime. Unlike prisons in the U. S. in the old days, a crook could not prepare himself for an honest life after he left. Prisons were meant for people whom ordinary taxpayers, who paid for them, had decided should be crooks for the rest of their lives. They were not designed for men who in the normal course of aging in their mid-thirties would decide to go straight.

Next: , Previous: , Up: Top  

Chapter 26

Peter Gelmund should have been more surprised when Senator Jelder said he would see Peter. As it turned out, he had read what Peter had written.

The Senator talked to Peter in Jelder’s local office. More precisely, the Senator delivered a monologue, exactly as Elizabeth Scattlewaithe predicted. He sounded weary.

“Most of those who vote for me do not pay me the money that attracts voters,” he said. “So I am dependent on the rich, who do give me money. They or their organizations give me enough to win and a little more. I use the additional mainly for a few others. It is hard work. I have to raise vast amounts every day. And I have to speak personally. It costs me a huge amount of time.

“Our dependence on financial support separate from voting — that produces a built-in conflict. So you say, ‘let’s have tax paid support.’ Then money gets spent on changing people’s ways of thinking.

“After Goldwater’s defeat in 1964, a few rich Americans paid for a change in how American conservatives thought: not a less intrusive government, but a more intrusive government; not frugality, but deficits; not stay-at-home defense, but preemptive attack. With a little help, they succeeded. Early on, their opponents helped. They had planned to hurt enemies, but ended up hurting themselves unintentionally. For example, swayable conservative writers got expelled from organizations where they would have heard a variety of thoughts. Another example: college administrations succumbed to pressure to follow a single political course and fired or did not hire those who believed differently. Later, opponents abroad provided unplanned help.”

Peter nodded; the Senator kept talking, “We have been eating their fruits ever since,” he said. “That is what I mean by changing ways of thinking.”

The Senator nodded his head. “That is what you are trying to do, too, change ways of thinking. In terms of content, you are on the other side, but that is neither here nor there. Unfortunately, you fear the future dramatically, so you want changes soon. You lack patience. And you lack the money to support a few hundred people for the next couple of generations.” He grinned.

“Bear in mind, we politicians serve to settle disputes among the rich. That is the main benefit we provide. Lawyers, judges, and courts also settle disputes. The difference is that we make arrangements they can’t. Like their’s, our settlements are better than war. That is not minor, not at all. Mostly, disputes are between the rich. They are the people who run this society. Actually, the rich run all societies. If the rulers are not rich — they are often not rich after revolutions or big attempts at reform — their successors become rich within a few generations.”

He nodded again. “The financial support for different politicians comes from different people. We offer different menus, different political themes. The rich choose among us. For them, we are like different restaurants. And within one restaurant, they can select from its menu.

“A few politicians are sufficiently rich on their own that they do not need much backing from others. They run their own restaurants. The rest of us have to attract gifts.”

He paused, but not quite long enough for Peter to say anything. “In Roosevelt’s time, American wages did not matter to international bankers. Among others, they funded him. So he could afford to support Social Security, which increased business costs. On the other hand, American textile manufactures employed many Americans. Each was paid a relatively small amount, but their employers considered the total too high; so they opposed Social Security. Except that some employers were frightened by the Bolsheviks in Russia. They preferred lower profits to death, Social Security to revolution. That is how Roosevelt presented himself, as the savior of the rich.”

“I thought …” said Peter, before being interrupted. “I mean presented himself to his funders,” said the Senator.

“ ‘Money, guns, and lawyers.’ That is from an old song.” Jelder surprised Peter. He had not expected Jelder to know it. The Senator continued. “The song is true. With money, you can move resources. Guns require money at first. You have to pay for them. Later, guns can be used to get money. Lawyers mean persuasion. Again, lawyers require resources, which requires money. Guns induce fear; that is useful for intimidation, but in the long run fear fails since some fight back. Acceptance is better.

“Some kinds of persuasion are easier than others. It is always expensive to persuade people to act against their own interests, but it is not impossible. It is more expensive than persuading them to go along with their interests. You have to frame events differently. In the short run, persuasion is more expensive than fear, but it is cheaper in the long run.

“I don’t think the average politician chooses his theme. He or she follows a path that was set by his parents or grandparents, be it ameliorative, stick it to ’em, or whatever. A few non-average politicians change, but not your average politician. He is not capable.

“Besides settling disputes among the rich, many politicians are concerned about people they meet. Often, that is why they went into this business in the first place. So frequently, you will find politicians doing decent, intelligent things, at least for individuals.

“Mostly, politicians are smart and honorable. They only lie to the public, not to people who count. Once you get to know them, most politicians are nice.”

Peter was not sure whether politicians were fundamentally nice or just pretended to be, but he nodded anyhow. Nodding was about all he could do.

Senator Jelder kept talking. “Like everybody else, politicians mostly think short term. You are talking long term. On the one hand, in a funny way, long term problems are easier to deal with, since most politicians don’t care one way or the other. On the other hand, they are harder, since they can always be put off.

“Leadership has to be a couple of generations behind the times. What counts to a politician is what others learn before they are five. They can vote in a generation or so, but few become powerful in less than two. Of course a few great leaders, a few non-average leaders, can do wonders. But most leaders are more or less average.

“Put another way, it will be a half century before we act on a new failing. A legislature can pass a law quickly, an executive can respond quickly to a traditional problem, but that is not what this is.” Peter realized that the Senator thought of the administration and legislature as different, although he didn’t.

“The problems,” the Senator continued, “come from new failings. If they destroy us in less than fifty years, then we die. We cannot respond more quickly. Traditionalists are even worse. They may not even recognize the danger. They may think that what succeeded for their grandfathers, like hard work that produces impacts, but more so, will succeed for them. But you have to act smarter, not harder. Only rocks are hard.”

Peter had to grin. The Senator could not help but be rhetorical. He kept on speaking.

“We don’t want more impacts, certainly not global impacts. That is why we have to be smarter.

“You are talking about zero interest rates for certain actions and positive interest rates for others. I keep thinking, people do not like the concept of interest rates. They hate the notion. For one, interest rates don’t match their own experience. People don’t have one preference, they have a variety. And none of them carry an exponential rate of discount.”

Peter looked puzzled and Senator Jelder caught it. “People tend to expect very high interest rates in the short term and lower ones in the long term. Regular individuals do not imagine an exponential rate of discount, only businessmen and others who have experience. Also, and this is important, no one has one preference, he or she has a variety. But let’s leave that aside. Exponential rates of discount, normal interest rates, are what we live by.

“I know you are trying to make certain long term rates be zero. That is the only way to sustain the world. You can’t just use the word ‘sustainable’. Maybe the word you want is ‘everlasting.’ Farms will be replaced; but topsoil must go on forever. Soil, water, energy supplies: they all must be everlasting.

“As for short term business rates, they are what companies can get. That is true. They are crucial to farmers. But as a practical matter, most people do not like to think about any kind of interest rate.”

The Senator continued talking. “Fortunately, you don’t need to involve legislatures. You don’t need to ask me. You don’t need to ask us to write new laws. You can get what you want simply by writing. People already give money to organizations that have zero interest rates. Those organizations may not call them zero interest rates; that is smart, but their rates are effectively zero.

“You seek more such organizations, doing more. You want three items: that the understanding be more overt, be more common, and be written down.

“As you say,” said Senator Jelder; Peter doubted he himself had said it, but the Senator claimed he had and kept on talking, “the understanding has to become more overt, otherwise people will think that big discounts should apply everywhere. You must make it more common, otherwise people will find it hard to defend. And the understanding needs to be written down and preserved, otherwise people in five generations are likely to forget.”

The Senator looked at Peter directly. “Greater visibility will mean more organizations. Powerful organizations will be able to guard themselves. That is useful, since in much of the world, governments do not protect you unless you can influence them enough. Foreign do-gooders may not be able to influence local governments favorably unless they are visible.

“In any case, people do not give away enough to pay for others’ education, pension, medical care, or defense. That is why we must have taxes. They are essentially transfer payments. People don’t think of the military as consuming welfare monies, but it does. And that welfare is just as important as any other kind of welfare. In any event, we are a strong country. The government receives taxes. Others are not. But that is neither here nor there. People do give away enough to protect our ecology, or at least, a good part of it.

“There are certain things that only governments can do. Only governments can avoid giving an advantage to those who don’t shift from a cheap fossil fuel which dumps the exhaust into the atmosphere to a more expensive fuel that reduces fossil carbon buildup.”

Peter nodded agreement. “An externality not counted in the cost,” he said. The Senator kept right on speaking.

“Without a powerful government to enforce the law, those who do not make the shift will pay less so their costs will be lower. They will be able to put the good guys out of business. For them, property consists of the goods a bully can take and bads that he does not keep. The bads will hurt those less powerful.”

He stopped for a moment. “In much of the world, governments are disregarded.” The Senator looked unhappy at that concept. “They may speak loudly, but they don’t carry a stick.”

‘Senator Jelder can imagine being disregarded,’ thought Peter; ‘or he can persuade me that he can think that; he is a good politician.’

“Or,” the Senator went on, “everyone of significance in such a country thinks short term or lives and works in a place without visible pollution. But we can coerce their big businesses, because they have to trade with us. We can put tariffs on improperly priced goods, those which are based on technologies that dump carbon dioxide or other greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere. We are a big customer.

“In their localities, by which I mean the ones that do not follow or adopt sensible laws, people can do dreadfully and hurt us as a side effect. Poisoned water, poisoned air, air with too much carbon dioxide or what have you — they can cross borders without customs being able to charge. We cannot stop that, not without a boycott or other kind of warfare on the region we suspect is the originator. Fortunately, with a few exceptions, we aren’t much troubled. We can survive and make this place better.

“I said earlier that you don’t need to involve legislatures. Legislatures are already involved in this. They are changing the definition of property by setting up civil services that ban certain actions or set a cap on them. You probably don’t think of our actions as ‘changing the definition of property;’ you probably think of them as ‘you and others and their descendants becoming healthier.’ A libertarian would say that the government is becoming more intrusive. It comes to the same thing, except you do not think of property. You would think of property if you owned enough to give me vast sums — not directly, of course, that would be illegal.” He smiled briefly. “But you don’t give me huge amounts of money. And you are not a libertarian. So you think of health.”

‘The Senator is right,’ Peter said to himself. ‘I am concerned more with health than anything else.’

“What you can do,” the Senator said, “and this will succeed even in places with poor government, is make understanding more overt, more common, and more often preserved.

“You shouldn’t talk about interest rates, not in your fundamental work. As I said, people don’t like them. You can talk about soil as important now and forever. ‘Everlasting’ is a good word. You can point out that food does not become less valued over time.”

He digressed for a moment. “You should also remind people of the danger of too little food or the wrong sort. A good number of now traditional government actions were to ensure enough healthy food.” Then he returned to his main point: “Of course, you can and should mention interest rates in a reference for more advanced readers. You can be confident that most people will not bother but that a few will.”

Elizabeth was right, Peter thought. The Senator talked a huge amount but had read what he wrote. Moreover, he did say what he was going to do, which was nothing. Peter was not happy about the latter, but at least the man had understood him.

After he left Senator Jelder and went home, Peter told Abigail that Senator Jelder would not do anything. She nodded sympathetically. Then he turned on her. “Sympathy often works,” he said, “or you cannot do anything. That is why people prayed to Zeus or whomever.”

“ ‘God helps those who help themselves,’ ” said Abigail. “Yes,” said Peter, “but suppose you cannot help yourself in the here and now. That is the presumption in that phrase, that you will be able to help yourself in the here and now.” He stopped and caught his breath.

“In any case, sympathy often helps. Often, you can only offer sympathy and prayer. But this time we must act, not just a few of us, but a whole lot of us. Otherwise, our children and other’s children will have a worse life than we.”

“What are you going to do?” asked Abigail.

“I am not sure.”

Next: , Previous: , Up: Top  

Chapter 27

The submarine came close to shore. It had cruised very slowly and very closely to the bottom. So far, that had been safe. After signaling the shore and receiving a safe reply, Captain Nemo and two crewmen crawled into a miniature submarine that had traveled with the bigger submarine inside the bottom of its outer hull. The miniature submarine, which carried the drug, could be dropped on command from the bigger submarine. Everyone presumed such an action would be detected; it was a last resort. Nonetheless, if alive and if caught, the crew would claim they were mere travelers. No one would believe the story, but it was better than saying they were drug smugglers.

The miniature submarine was not comfortable, not even after the delivery. The submarine carried little outbound and the cash that paid for it took up even less room. Captain Nemo had his crew fed the bills into a machine that counted them at the same time those who took the delivery weighed and tested it. No one trusted anyone. Captain Nemo did not know their names. But everything came out right. The delivery vessel slipped back under the sea, traveled several kilometers using a very sophisticated form of dead reckoning, and reattached itself to the bigger submarine. The computer for the miniature submarine took into account the near shore currents which had changed with the tide.

The men in the miniature submarine crawled into the bigger one and stretched. Gerald gave command back when the captain returned. Captain Nemo felt better. He was not carrying anything illegal any more, although he was in an illegal place. He would feel good after he returned home.

The packages traveled through more hands than Tarnover suspected. The price jumped at each hand, but not as much as in the old days when the delivery chain was shorter. The whole procedure was now traditional and customary.

The almost next-to-final link in the delivery chain was a dealer who recognized a plain-clothes policeman by his safe house. The dealer did not know what was going on — he never did find out. He had operated longer than most by being careful. He kept right on driving. He did not go into the house. That meant he did get hold of a new, synthetic adulterant that he had stored. Consequently, he provided a smaller amount and told his buyers a good story. Otherwise, they would not have paid him.

The adulterant cost, but it cost less than the drug. It was not illegal either. The submarine crew wanted to keep their shipments small, as did those closer to the submarine on land. That is why the dealer added it. The man had received very specific instructions to add a small portion of the adulterant initially and then slowly increase the portion. That worked. Nobody he knew had complained.

That Monday, Tim did not hear any story from his friend, who bought from the dealer. Tim’s friend came to school and immediately resold a portion to pay for the rest. Tim knew only that he received less although he paid the same amount as before. His buddy was firm on the price. Tim shrugged. He could not do anything and he wanted the substance. He took his normal amount.

Since Tim ingested a purer dose than usual, he took in more. The amount was not enough to kill him, but it was enough to knock him out. His brain could not take the extra.

The school called John Tarnover and said that Tim was ill. They were taking him to hospital. He was unconscious. The school did not know what happened, or its nurse pretended not to know. Whatever had happened, his treatment was more than the school nurse could handle.

For the hospital doctors, Tim’s admission was routine. They quickly figured out why he was hurt and told his parent: Tim was a ‘druggie.’ Tim’s drug was illegal. He had consumed cocarin. John thought that ironic: cocarin was his main target. Its manufacture and distribution were not monitored. He realized that Tim, as a fifteen year old, must have found it easier to obtain than any alcoholic beverage — in the United States, that was illegal for him, too. Older people could buy beer or wine, even hard spirits; and they were taxed. Their manufacture and sale were monitored. After all, alcohol was a dangerous intoxicant that had long term bad effects.

A drug, an illegal drug that he and his people were supposed to intercept: John did not even know that Tim used it, although based on the time before yesterday, that action should have been unexpected … or maybe not. Tim’s school work was not good, but it was not bad either. It did not provide a signal. Tim’s moods were consistent, at least as far as John could remember: always sullen. Maybe the boy had suffered swings in mood that John did not notice. John could not tell. He had focused on his career.

Tim’s hurt made John realize that no one domestic could be a ‘king;’ they could only be a minor ‘pin.’ He knew he could not go after true kings. He did not have the foreign capability. In other words, his whole life had been useless. It was not a good thought at all. He ran away from it. He was not sure what to do next except to follow routine.

After Tim regained consciousness and could travel more safely, the doctors in the hospital sent him to Michelle’s clinic.

Next: , Previous: , Up: Top  

Chapter 28

John Tarnover was not supposed to have a private meeting with Senator Jelder; there was a definite law against it. Nonetheless, it never occurred to him to avoid arranging such a meeting. An anticorruption law was completely disregarded. John was smart enough to write ahead that he wanted the Senator to press for more money. He specifically wrote how many jobs would come. Although he never said it, he presumed that jobs would translate into votes and that the Senator wanted them.

Senator Jelder was quick and to the point. “I will not press for more money for you,” he said. John pointed out that the Senator voted for prisons rather than school houses; more money for John would fill those prisons. “Perhaps more money for you will,” said the Senator, “However, that has nothing to do with it.”

He did not tell John of the reason. Indeed, he was not sure himself. He guessed that some of his backers feared that with more money John might be successful. Unlike many in his agency, John really was against the use of illegal intoxicants. But Jelder was not sure about his backers. And in any case, many voters complained that arresting more people did no good. When both backers and voters said, ‘don’t spend money on this,’ he didn’t.

Instead, the Senator told John, “I turned down much more important proposals recently. A fellow named Peter Gelmund suggested a slew of what I think are good ideas, such as zero interest rates for some things, like topsoil. I suggested he use the word ‘everlasting’ in place of zero interest rates since people do not like the concept and it does not match their own experience.”

The Senator grinned. “I reminded him that ordinary leadership is a couple of generations behind the times, that a politician depends on people’s unthought conventions, on what they learn before they are five. I said that it will be a half century before we act on new failings. A legislature can pass a law quickly, an administration can respond quickly to a traditional problem, but that is not what these are. We have generated pollution for such a long time that we can extend current laws against it. That is not the issue. His proposals are different. They are new for people in the mainstream. They may be old hat for people like you, but people like you do not give me enough support or votes.

“ ‘Fortunately,’ I told Gelmund, ‘you can write to make your notions more overt, more common, and more preserved.’ I hope he does.”

He looked at John directly. “Your goal,” he said, “is similar. When people want intoxicants less, there will be less demand for them.”

He then dismissed John. “Now I have other things to do. Do the best you can with what you have. I know you are an enthusiast. I think the problem is cultural. Children do not believe our warnings; often, their parents act illegally.” He shrugged. “At least, not many who vote for us get hurt directly.”

John was sure that when the Senator said, ‘their parents act illegally,’ he meant that they act wrongly. John could not help thinking that he had acted badly. In any case, he was as happy to leave as the Senator was to get rid of him. John thought cynically that maybe that was why the Senator spoke as he did. There was no doubt that the Senator was smart. For him, it would be routine to have his staff gather information that was not public and to speak in a way that could be interpreted to hurt.

John left the Senator’s office.

Next: , Previous: , Up: Top  

Chapter 29

On a visit by Laura to Laurence, which the guards liked even better than his visits to her, he said, “I never learned the words or measures for texture, taste, and smell, not when I was young.” They were eating dinner, and Laura presumed that had brought the comment to Laurence.

“I learned the words for colors very early,” he said. “Later, I learned the mechanisms for poetry, like rainbows, and for color.” Laura was puzzled by the phrasing concerning poetry. It did not sound right.

Laurence went on. “I don’t mean the poetic mechanisms, I mean the appreciation mechanisms.” That made more sense. What Laurence had meant to say was that he learned how to appreciate rainbows and color.

“All that is 19th century,” continued Laurence. “Well, rainbows are much earlier. As far as I know, a Persian in the latter 11th century, Christian time, gave the first accurate explanation. Newton, of course, gave a better one, although his corpuscular theory did not handle supernumerary rainbows.”

“You are speaking in terms of explanations, not about what is,” said Laura.

“You see what-is according to your perceptions, do you not?” asked Laurence. “You only know what you sense and can never be sure of the world. That being the case, when you perceive more you can see more. You can enjoy more.” Laura finally understood. That explained why Laurence used the phrase ‘mechanisms for poetry.’ He was not being muddled; he was telling her how he understood the metaphors of poetry. He was being limited, but then, since he was thinking about non-engineering things, he could not help but be limited.

He went on, “I know there are some people who do not enjoy, who think that knowing is bad.” Laura almost laughed. She thought, ‘Laurence confuses enjoyment with knowing.’ He kept speaking. “They are like blind men who will never see rainbows. They prefer blindness. I don’t know why. How often can you see a sun dog and the other circumsolar arcs if you cannot perceive?

“Painters use color. Bad paintings are terrible; I agree with that. Maybe there are people who want to avoid bad paintings in a more permanent way than simply avoiding them. But don’t you want to perceive good paintings? They are wonderful.”

“You are equating perception with knowing,” said Laura.

“Not quite,” said Laurence. “Perception is necessary for knowing. Some perception is inborn; I agree; but much is learned. A baby sees only a little immediately; he or she sees faces and hears mother. Only later can an infant do more. Mothers hear their own babies, too. The question is whether much perception is learned. I think much is, but I don’t know. I bet you know more. I am really a mechanical engineer. You deal with humans; you are a human engineer.”

Laura did not say anything. “As for smell and taste,” said Laurence, who was on a roll, “there was no reason I could not have been taught the words for them early on. I only learned a few, like the word ‘stinky’. I suspect my parents did not know them. Certainly, the books I read did not mention the words and school did not teach them. So I never learned to perceive smells or tastes well.

“I was probably handicapped physically; I don’t think I could smell or taste as well as some people. That is like having poor vision or bad hearing. People who can smell and taste well have a natural advantage. Still, I was a child. Grownups should have discovered and tried to compensate for my deficit. They held my life in trust. You don’t need expensive tools like glasses or hearing aids; words are gratis. I could have learned what to search for when I tasted and sniffed. That would have helped.”

“You are saying learning and science are identical,” said Laura.

“Science is about discovery. You do not want false understandings, do you? They will lead you or your children or your grandchildren to death sooner than true understandings.”

Laura responded grimly, “Science leads to death — think only of modern weapons or pollution!”

Laurence said simply, “Modern weapons and pollution are not discovery; they are misapplied technology.”

He became more of a professor, even though he wasn’t. “People have always been misapplying technology,” he said. “Thousands of years ago, when agriculture was first invented, people misapplied it. That is why the Cedars of Lebanon are no more. But the misapplication had little impact, except locally. World-wide, in the old days it did not matter.”

He did not realize by speaking of the Cedars of Lebanon he had expressed a concern known in one set of cultures but not in others. At least, Laura understood. He returned to present day pollution. “The question is whether humans can now handle big impacts. They have not been able to handle the little ones, that is for sure. In so far as you figure that a little plus a little plus a little leads to a big, then you figure they won’t. It is like combing hair over a small bald spot. That works. But a big bald head — you can’t comb hair over it, although men try.”

Laurence nodded, perhaps to himself, perhaps to Laura. “Maybe enough people will grow scared. A few of us already are, but we lack the power. Others will see that a little plus a little produces a sorites paradox, that is what it is called, a ‘heap paradox.’ They will realize that pollution can go past a tipping point, to use yet another phrase.”

He traded grimness with Laura and said, “The words are there. The perceptions are there. I just don’t know whether enough people will act on them.”

Next: , Previous: , Up: Top  

Chapter 30

John went to Michelle’s clinic to check on Tim.

Michelle had planned to go into anesthesiology but when she was a medical student, an earthquake struck near her home during one of the few occasions she had time to visit.

A man’s right foot was crushed by a collapsed concrete beam. He was held in place by the beam. To get him out before he died, she had to amputate his foot. More commonly, she set broken bones, although she thought that anyone could do that. The man whose foot she amputated lived and when he became lucid, thanked her profusely for saving his life. In any event, she discovered that she thought of anesthesia as more distant than what she had done and she preferred helping directly.

So when the time came, she learned to work in an emergency room. There would be times when almost nothing happened and other times when there would be too much.

Michelle marveled at the ways people hurt themselves. One person waited too long while a deadly and painful tumor grew from nothing to as large as her fist. Another drank too much lye. Michelle could not understand how either could happen, but they did. She understood gunshot and knife wounds. They came from people who hurt others; almost none of such people were failed suicides; the wounds were common.

One winter, her team leader was injured skiing. He had paid for a helicopter ride to the top of a mountain and was coming down on virgin snow. An unexpected dip dropped the bottom out from under him. Most of the time he skied over dips and rises. He saw many and was ready for those he did not see. But this one caught him. He whirled through the air and crashed into a fallen tree.

Although an automatic beacon signaled his unconsciousness — it was very similar to his telephone and used the same radio towers, but was attached to his head — and another helicopter rescued him, his extremities nearly froze during the wait. That caused as many problems as his broken bones and knocked head. Michelle had to take over. She discovered she was good at people, good at administration, and liked it. So when the job at the clinic came available, she took it, even though it was not as fast paced or direct as her work in the Emergency Room. She decided she liked the slower pace and wondered whether she really was feeling older … she did not think so, but …

When John came to the clinic, he was met by Michelle herself, who wanted to find out what the father was like.

She said that Tim was continuing to give up intoxicants of any sort and then spoke of the family. “Even after all these years,” she said, “he misses his mother.” She looked John in the eye. “He also misses you, although you are still alive. He wants a stronger connection. He was very happy with the trip to the fair; he has talked about it several times. I have gained the impression that you take care of him well except for his emotions. Those count.”

John nodded and Michelle continued, “It is a matter of habit, of customary actions. I doubt you will work much less than you do now. I have told Tim that. He will have to make do with a distant father. He can. Many have. He can do better in school, too. I am sure.”

“What will happen?” John asked.

“I don’t know,” said Michelle, “but I think it will all work out. Tim is in a set of people that is wrong for him. However, he is not strongly attached to them. He can move away. He has a good excuse, too, that works for both himself and others: the drug he ingested made him sick, and since that he cannot determine its quality ahead of time, he is best off stopping altogether.”

She smiled. “An advantage of the excuse or story is that it is true. Another advantage is that Tim really felt sick. He will forget feeling sick soon enough; but he will not forget that he cannot determine quality ahead of time.”

She almost giggled. “Actually, it is neither hard nor expensive to carry a small, portable tester and check. They were not around when you and I were young, but they are now. Nonetheless, I don’t expect Tim or his set to adopt them. For one, their supplier is going to be strongly against. He wants to be able to adjust quality. He is probably kicking himself that he forgot to tell the kid he was supplying to be sure to tell everyone else. In any case, the fear will be that the supplier will stop delivering to everyone connected to the tester. Then that whole group would feel the sickness of withdrawal.”

John liked Michelle. She was more direct with him than almost any one else he met, and she talked about matters that were important to him, his work and his son.

So he told her of his visit to Senator Jelder. He did not say when it was or that it was private. He did say that the Senator was not going to support him or his agency; Michelle nodded briskly at that. John went on to say, “The Senator diverted me by talking about another proposal that he said was excellent, but that he would not fund because it was too new: a local fellow named Peter Gelmund suggested that the interest rate for some activities be zero and that others, basically business rates, be normal.”

“What do you mean?” asked Michelle, frowning.

“Topsoil should be everlasting — the Senator preferred that term to ‘zero interest rates’ because, he said, most people did not like interest rates at all. On the other hand, farms are businesses that use soil. Farms should have a normal interest rate.”

“In other words,” said Michelle, “Peter is advocating a mixed economy. Parts of it are governmental, paid by taxes, like human-made infrastructure and parts are not. Except he is extending the notion of infrastructure from the strictly human-made to the natural as well.”

“Yes,” said John. He had not heard the phrase ‘mixed economy’ for years and had not thought of Peter’s notions in that context. John wondered whether the jargon definition for the phrase ‘mixed economy’ was right. It had only two categories, government and non-government.

Roads tended to be owned by a government, but not the cars on them. Generally speaking, but not always, roads, armies, and law were owned and run by a government. They cost an enormous amount initially but not so much to operate. They all required maintenance. Governments had to continue taxing.

Soil does not require maintenance, not in the long run when topsoil grows thicker by knee high amounts. John wondered whether Peter left out an intermediate category when he imagined a third category with its zero interest rate. The intermediate category would be regular government. The first category would be a business, such as a farm, which required a larger interest rate than a government. The farm might put nitrogen in its soil, or other fertilizer, but that would not maintain the soil as extended time would.

The ownership sequence would go from private, through regular government, to zero interest rate properties. That would produce a truly mixed economy.

“Well,” said Michelle, not knowing what John had thought, “we are both supported by taxpayers; as are all public clinics, police, and what we in America call public schools. Roads are too, even if the direct work is done by private contractors. So why isn’t Senator Jelder supporting Peter?”

“The Senator said that Peter’s ideas are too advanced. He said that Peter’s suggestions about interest rates are ‘new for people in the mainstream’ even if old for people like you and me. Evidently, he does not expect to get votes for new ideas and Peter cannot fund him. He said that a government can respond quickly to a traditional problem and called pollution such an item. He said that is why something is being done about it.”

“I see,” said Michelle, “and Peter himself?”

“The Senator suggested writing to make his proposals ‘more overt, more common, and more preserved.’ ”

“The Senator certainly speaks memorably, but what did he mean?” asked Michelle.

“I suspect,” said John, “that without explaining zero interest rates well, businessmen will expect them. They will want an irrelevant subsidy. I am sure that’s what the Senator meant by ‘overt.’ Peter’s idea has to become common enough that people can defend it readily. And besides overt and common, the Senator probably thinks the notion should be preserved from one generation to the next.

“Indeed, such memory or ‘cultural transmission,’ as others call it, is necessary. From one generation to the next, for example, people must remember multi-generational solutions to soil depletion. A zero rate of interest is not useful if the soil is nonetheless destroyed! On the other hand, no one’s great-grandchildren has to remember how to make audio records with analog wavy-tracks on vinyl, although I suppose several do. ‘Overt,’ ‘common,’ and ‘preserved:’ the words make sense once you figure out what they mean.”

“What about you?” asked Michelle.

“The Senator said, ‘When people want intoxicants less, there will be less demand for them.’ That is true. But people will always want intoxicants. He did not give me a meaningful answer. Cocarin is expensive, but not so expensive that kids like Tim cannot afford it. Indeed, as far as I can determine, it is easier for a school kid to obtain it than alcohol, which is a more traditional intoxicant.”

“Only non-distilled alcoholic beverages are traditional. Distilling has been around twenty-five or so generations, no more.”

“I would think,” said John, “that twenty-five generations is enough to create any kind of tradition.”

“That could be true,” said Michelle. “Maybe a tradition takes only a few generations to develop. We should say that distilling did not become sufficiently widespread in enough places long ago. We have less drunkenness than we had generations ago, but we still have an alcohol problem. Anyhow, this new drug, cocarin, is less than a generation old. Nobody knows how to handle it socially.”

“It is not so expensive that people like Tim cannot afford it and not so cheap that it is not manufactured.”

“Yes,” said Michelle, “you might think that agencies like yours exist to maintain that price.”

She saw that John wilted slightly, but he responded, “There have been huge variations in price. In the old days, crack cocaine was much cheaper than regular cocaine.”

“That is true,” said Michelle, “but crack opened a new market. What suppliers did not get in price, they got in volume. That is how Ford sold the Model T. I know, we think of oligopolistic or monopolistic prices nowadays, artificially high prices. Besides, mass production is old fashioned, or at least the notion is; nobody discusses it much any more. Mass production lowers costs. We could have lower prices.” She paused for a moment, then said absently, “Our prices are lower than if all were handmade, but prices are not as low as they might be.” Then she made the comment, “ ‘And if wishes were horses, beggars would ride.’ ”

“That is true about wishes.” said John. “I have to think about lower prices. Set-up costs are high. How are people going to be paid?”

“I don’t know,” said Michelle, “or maybe I do. Fund the set-up costs separately from the continuing costs. You will think this funny, but I stubbed my toe when I was twelve. I did not break it, and it did not hurt all that long, but the accident led me to want to stop pain. As far as I knew at that age only physicians could stop pain, so I aimed toward anesthesiology. It was a good goal for a smart kid. I studied for and went into medicine. That was a high initial cost.

“Then I found I could not only stop pain, I could do something for people who would otherwise die young. So I became an emergency room doctor. Actually, every kind of physician helps people, but I wanted something immediate. At that time, I did not want to help people in general, which is what an administrator does, but to help individuals. Later, I found I was a good administrator; and here I am!”

John said, “When I was in high school — I was not twelve, but had just turned sixteen — a friend was killed by an overdose. The killing did not bother me much as I was young. But that he was never around again, that upset me. That was when we still had a Drug Enforcement Agency. As far as I am concerned, it was a useless organization. I am glad it got replaced by the Federal Anti-Drug Agency. Even though many of the old timers moved over, the new agency did develop a different and better internal culture. FADA looked good, which is why I joined it. I would not have worked for the old DEA; they did not pay as well, either.”

Michelle smiled. “Calling it an ‘anti-drug agency’ had an effect. I have noticed that legal and helpful drugs sold by pharmacies are called ‘medicines’. The word ‘drug’ now almost always means ‘illegal drug.’ It is a definite change.”

“That is so,” said John. “I wonder what would happen if we made them legal, taxed them reasonably, and sold them in ‘drug stores?’ Perhaps the word ‘drug’ would return to its earlier meaning.

“I have to go,” he said, “but I really enjoyed talking with you.”

Michelle quirked her mouth. “Same here,” she said. “In any case, we have Tim in common. He really should be here.”

Next: , Previous: , Up: Top  

Chapter 31

Laurence and the others almost created their von Neumann machine without troubles … almost. Laurence and his people did not pioneer; they used tried and true technologies, albeit they put together the components in a new way. Even though it was new and a big undertaking, design and manufacture of the first instance proceeded well …

Except the clutch between the steam turbine and the electrical generator broke. No one expected to use it; the clutch was there in case the electrical generator had to stop very quickly, more quickly than the rotating mass of the turbine would permit.

The test that led the first clutch to break presumed an enormous torque, much bigger than for a steam turbine and electrical generator of that size in regular use. It happened that the electricity drawn from the generator varied suddenly and hugely as a factory started up. Everything was built strongly. A sudden extra draw would mean the electrical generator would have to produce extra current. The generator would slow as it converted the energy of its rotating mass into electricity, but that would not be enough. It would have to get more from the turbine. That energy would be transferred through the axle, meaning more torque for the clutch. In the von Neumann machine, the clutch had been built even more strongly than normal but not strongly enough. As a whole the machine did not fit normal categories.

Henry thought of putting in a sensor to disconnect wires when the load called for too much extra current, except that would be too quick. The current had to decrease and stop in what to a human was a ‘blink of the eye’ but in electrical terms, was a very long time. Then the surge would be taken care of; the current would not stop because the surge took less time than a ‘blink of an eye.’

Fortunately, it was not hard to program the spray-droplet heads to assemble a larger and tougher clutch. Henry did that. He had done the initial programming, too, but did not think of himself as having made a mistake. Had the metal for the clutch been as strong as the books said it should be, the clutch would have worked. There was something about the spray-droplet machines and the metal in this environment that made the clutch weaker. Henry built with an even larger margin than before — indeed, the second time around, he made the whole assembly even heavier than he thought necessary. It went against all his training and was what old timers once did. Laurence was an old timer; he thought the additional extra margin wise. It did not matter as much as it might have because the von Neumann machine would not take much longer to produce more metal or assemble it and he would not have to buy more sensors, CPUs, or memory. The bigger clutch would need a minuscule amount of extra lubricant, but the amount would be small.

The new clutch’s manufacture took time, but less than set aside. After passing various tests, robots attached the clutch between the electrical generator, which was made locally and the turbine, whose blades had been honed by other robots with purchased diamond paste and otherwise made locally. The von Neumann machine’s electrical generator was not as good as those made conventionally; it was larger and required more cooling. Yet it worked and was cheap. That was all that was wanted.

More confusing was the failure of a motor that pulled on chains that moved the mirrors north and south once a year. It was tested before assembly and jammed immediately. The specific cause was obvious: a piece of metal, the size of a finger. But why was the piece created and put there? That was the mystery.

Finally, after looking through past revisions of the code, a programmer named Mark decided that someone had accidentally copied more than he should have from an otherwise necessary software module. Mark had endured more than his share of jokes about ‘marking’ code and perhaps those jokes helped him search for root causes.

In any case, ‘someone’ — the revision control code made it straightforward to find out who made the mistake — put the extra code into the program for a spray-droplet machine. The extra code told the spray-droplet machine to produce the part that stuck. The extra component fit where the module came from, but not in the new motor.

The original module should have been divided into two, one half controlling the production of what in this case included an extraneous piece of metal and the other half controlling the rest. It wasn’t. Mark, the engineer who fixed it all, thought that might be because the first programmer had not conceived of a different use. Mark did not produce a full root cause report; he did not tell why the original programmer did not divide his module. That would have required delving into the habits of programmers in another organization. Mark did enough to solve the problem and, more importantly, to warn his colleagues to look carefully at otherwise safe software modules. The extra investigation would take a little more time, but he doubted it would be as much as already spent. In his report, Mark never mentioned the name of the fellow who misprogrammed the mirror motor. That was clearly an accident pushed by the original error.

Next: , Previous: , Up: Top  

Chapter 32

In Michelle’s clinic, Tim improved. John was surprised at how slowly. Michelle wasn’t. “He has been a user for a long time; his body has adjusted. It will adjust back. He is young. His body can add or subtract molecules. The good news is there won’t be any deficits, neither intellectual nor emotional.

“Also, he is young enough chronologically to avoid legal consequences. You won’t suffer legally either. There is enough sense that ‘strict fathers’ fail with rebellious kids. The kids don’t learn to avoid rebellion; they learn to avoid getting caught. Avoidance mostly succeeds. Until this happened, I bet you did not guess about Tim.”

“No, I didn’t,” said John.

“To reduce rebellion, you must have a different kind of parent … who thinks about children. None of the important want that,” she said dryly. “You are safe.”

John nodded. He had not thought of legal consequences. Indeed, he had not thought of such consequences for himself at all, not even informal punishments. He knew that illegal drugs made one a crook, not a patient. After all, his job was criminal, not medical. It had not occurred to him that he might suffer legally.

As Tim improved, he forgot what it was like to be sick. It was as Michelle said. However, he did not forget being sick. Moreover, he remembered that since he received less but paid as much, he thought the dealer was raising the price. He took as large a quantity as he usually did, not knowing the drug was less adulterated. That action ended up putting him in the clinic and disclosing his secret.

He did know about testing devices that he could carry with him. However, he was afraid his friend would stop selling to him if he saw Tim test the drug first. Tim knew he would be seen, if not immediately then soon enough.

Maybe he should stop entirely. He liked the stimulus, he liked feeling better — reasons to keep going — but when he left the clinic he would be detoxified. And maybe his father, who would always work too long, would pay better attention.

Meanwhile, John and Michelle kept talking. “We both work long hours,” said Michelle. “This clinic deals mostly with messes created by others.”

“We try to prevent them,” said John; Michelle raised an eyebrow. “At least, I once thought that; now I am not so sure.”

“It looks to me,” said Michelle, “that you are raising the price a little, stopping new businesses, and not collecting taxes. Intoxicating spirits also cause problems; at least, the government collects taxes. I doubt we will cut back except through society. Tobacco consumption has dropped.”

“I don’t even think of smoking,” said John.

“Right!” said Michelle. “Several generations ago, you would have. That is what I mean by society.”

John nodded again.

“Even if we tax and regulate everything like we do spirits and tobacco, I doubt we will soon see as few troubles as from them … and the troubles they cause aren’t small …”

“What do you mean,” asked John.

“For one, potential addicts don’t trust legitimate authorities.”

“That is not a trouble,” said John.

“Distrust causes trouble,” said Michelle. “We know trouble. To prevent it, we need people to trust authority more and to act less badly. Unfortunately, members of governments have lied so often that several generations of honesty will have to pass first. And members of governments, politicians in particular, are the most approachable of authorities. They are not incomprehensible like many other experts.

“Either expect authorities to be honest or depend on social pressure, as with tobacco.”

“Social pressure makes more sense,” said John.

“Yes. Unfortunately, to be successful, social pressure requires a fairly obvious and immediate penalty, like second-hand smoke or a hangover. Even so, it takes a long time. There were benefits to smoking: first-hand smoke often tasted better than second-hand smoke and certainly better than air pollution; besides being habit forming, nicotine produces alertness, intelligence, and thinness. Sharing cigarettes, or just lighting up together, creates friendship. Death was a well known consequence. As far as I know, the description of cigarettes as nails in a coffin came early. That description came before the time of huge advertising campaigns.

“Cocarin has social benefits, too. It produces internal benefits and it lacks obvious, short term penalties. That is why I think authorities like me should be followed.”

Michelle stopped and thought more. “A generalized suspicion of authority is useful. It means people don’t follow leaders over cliffs. Then we have to depend on society. But, as I said, social pressure takes a long time. I am not sure what to do … except it does make sense to elect representatives who either do know more or know how to judge. The planet lacks the time to wait for social pressure. Our representatives, those who aren’t in gerrymandered districts as most of them are, know how to get elected and know current society very well. Unfortunately, they don’t know how to judge for the future or they think they will lose if they do.”

Eventually, Tim left the clinic and returned to school.

Next: , Previous: , Up: Top  

Chapter 33

From a platform built on a grassy hill, Laurence and Laura watched the beginnings of the first von Neumann replicator. Not the earliest beginnings in Laurence’s works, which had come months before, but the beginnings outside. The parts were exactly like those that would be made later. Most were made by spray-droplet machines using software the engineers had obtained. Even the plinths and mirrors were built by spray-droplet machines although other tools would have been quicker. Laurence purchased the parts that could not be built by spray-droplet machines. These parts mainly consisted of sensors, processing units, memories, and lubricant.

Laurence pulled many items together to create a von Neumann machine. He liked that. The technologies were available, but no one had put them together yet. Blimov could afford the first instance. Previously, only the government of a rich country could afford to build a fast replicator and none had. In the past, the hardware had been more expensive, especially computers that were powerful enough. Not enough programs were available then either. Software writers would have had to develop everything. But as the years went by, the price of computer hardware came down and software became available.

Since software had a ‘zero marginal cost,’ as economists said, it could be reproduced by anyone with a computer. When its price was not successfully kept up by any government, price was zero. Yet experts had to be paid. They developed and everyone debugged. Even when software writers and hardware engineers misunderstood each other, which was often, combinations began to work. Axles did not break; programs did not mistake the ground seen by a downward looking sensor as a wall. A rich organization that was neither part of nor subsidized by a government became able to afford the cost.

Laura became fascinated by the many and silent crawlers. One family possessed one set of tools, another a different set. They cooperated like people on a project. They also had arms with hands, which were more general. Laurence explained. Laura knew that so long as he did not do it too often, he thrived on explanation.

Laurence called them robots. Those crawlers that Laura could see carried themselves on moving treads, like bulldozers. Those were the ones that Laura liked. They looked clunky, and somehow friendly, not sleek like purchased machines.

Many had blades on front for pushing dirt; they were bulldozers. Others had front-end loader attachments. All had arms; every robot had two arms with hands.

To Laura, the hands looked as if they were wearing black gloves, one on a left hand and another on a right hand. The hands looked normal, except that when she looked closer, she saw that instead of having four fingers each, the robot hands had only two. Each finger, however, bent in three parts and the thumb bent in two, like human hands.

Laurence explained to Laura, “What you call gloves are built from the local organics; their color is neither here nor there.”

“Is ‘build’ the right word?” asked Laura.

“I’m not sure,” said Laurence. “In any case, they exist to provide soft and compliant surfaces that can pick things up more easily than the underlying hard metal. They are sprayed on metal and around the pressure sensors which are connected to wires and to the insulation sprayed by other, somewhat different spray-droplet devices. There are not as many pressure sensors as in human fingers, which are much better.”

“In other words, they are not gloves that go over skin, but skin itself,” said Laura.

“Yes,” said Laurence. “Their design was quite troublesome. To make those skins, we have to transform living plants quite a bit. The process is worse than making electrical insulation. Manufacturing them requires different machines than usual. Fortunately, we can build those devices.

“We can install tools more easily. In addition, we have the software that enables the central processing unit to determine what needs to be picked up, where it is, how to move the hand there, how to pick up the object … without that pre-existing software we would be stuck. But then, we couldn’t go forward if any of the components did not exist. We cannot afford to do basic research. We can only put together what is already proven.”

He went on, “The hands can pick up anything within their size and weight range. They can operate tools designed for humans that are not attached to robots. We have the software for that. A few robots also come with cranes. They, too, are mostly built with local materials; they collect broken robots.”

As Laurence said, a part of each crawler was bought. Those computers, sensors, memories, and certain lubricants were the prime cost of each replication. They mostly weren’t visible. After the first instance, the rest of each crawler could be and was replicated by a von Neumann machine. An overall machine provided the energy and metals that crawlers required. It cost no more than that of the land itself.

Laurence said, “Each crawler is one cell of a large animal, one insect of an ecology. Previous engineers designed and debugged each of what you might call a cell or an insect. I put all those parts together; I designed the ecology. Me and my colleagues did. Unlike the cells in a human, none of the mobile robots is directly connected to another. The crawlers communicate with radio; that is how they cooperate. Mostly, they decide on their own. We have to purchase the chips for the radios. Some of the construction robots in that building do not move; they aren’t crawlers and are connected by wire.”

He stopped for a moment and considered. “Because each robot has a processing unit, thinking of them as insects in an ecology makes more sense than thinking of them as cells in a body.” He frowned, which Laura realized meant he enjoyed his recollection or thinking. “When I designed this von Neumann machine, I did not make that kind of metaphor; I could see what needed to be done. Most of our problems came from unwanted complexity. Those are not the problems I told you about, since simplicity makes for better stories. The parts themselves were cleverly designed so they do not show complexity to the outside. But we put together a great many parts.

“A replicator needs to be able to sense its surroundings and act upon them. It has to be able to figure out how to do this right. It must be able to repair itself. It has to be able to get rid of the stuff it does not need, like submarines that we want. A replicator needs energy,”

He paused for a moment. “On robots, we see eyes and hands, but not the brains. We don’t see the blueprints, the data, that gets passed on to the next von Neumann machine. We see the energy collector. That will be the biggest part we will see today. Except for the sensors, we won’t see anything I have bought.” Laura nodded.

“We don’t see people’s brains, either,” said Laura. This time, Laurence nodded.

The robot crawlers were electric powered. Their recharging prongs were attached to big, horizontal stalks that came out in front of the treads, but not as far as the bulldozer blades or other parts that stuck out in front. Bulldozer blades and other such parts could raise so that the horizontal prongs could fit into receptors; the blades and such did not stick out as far as the prongs. The robots ran off batteries that looked like big bricks. There were eight in two layers. The batteries filled most of the body. Like most of the rest, they were built from local materials and were good enough although not nearly as good as imports.

The front set of batters was separated from the back set by a three-finger wide grid with parts cut out for battery cables. The cables were thick; that is why the grid was so thick. The batteries unplugged from the cables and the grid and cables between the front and back could be removed. A removable metal cover sat over the top and back. It was held down by latches which squeezed a seal on the cover’s edges. The seal was almost, but not quite rubber. The same material pressed the batteries in place. It was synthesized from the organic compounds Laurence harvested. When he designed the robots, which was early on, Laurence did not expect any of the metal to be quite springy enough. A robot could pull a cart that had treads instead of wheels.

The batteries themselves had squared off corners with inset handles. Although heavy, they could be removed by a human or robot. To unplug they had to slide backwards; that is why the rear came off; once unplugged, they could be lifted out quickly with a crane. Laurence hoped his calculations were right, that the batteries seldom went bad or old.

Modular construction was easier both for other robots and for humans. Relatively easy disassembly was a good idea, too, although strictly speaking, it was not really necessary. With modular construction the building took longer and was less efficient than with fully integrated construction, but programming and design were easier.

The batteries did not store energy as densely as batteries that could be bought. However, they could be recharged quickly and provided power for movement, for arms with tools, for hands, and for going back to a power plug for recharging. They were constructed from local materials; that was their advantage. Second and subsequent batteries did not cost.

Each processing unit and memory fitted into a compartment in the left front of the crawler. It did not span to the farthest left where there were sensors on a movable stalk for sound, infrared, and visible light. Indeed, the compartment did not spread as far as the middle since the processing units and memories did not take up much space. Arms, hands, and many tools sprang from a compartment that spanned the middle and right of the front. That compartment did not go to the furthest right where another set of sensors stood. The arms were long enough to go around the sensors and work on the left as well as the right.

The treads and motors made up additional modules that were longer and taller than the body, but not as wide. A module on the left could be flipped around to fit on the right. The motors ran in either direction equally quickly. Plates covered the outside. They could be removed and the arms of a bulldozer blade attached, along with the geared down electric motors, reels, and cables that lifted a blade up and down. If the crawler did not have the arms of a bulldozer blade, another robot could attach a crane or the arms of a front-end loader.

Unlike most human designs, the tops of the treads stood open. In theory, a crawler could run upside down with sensors and arms held flat and still maintain a little clearance. Laurence was not going to check that theory. The ability was not necessary; it was an accident of design.

Laura stopped listening to Laurence’s technical description, but watched the crawlers put mirrors into position.

Bulldozers dug holes in the sand. That sand, with its iron ore, was gathered by loaders and taken into a building that had been built by Laurence’s men. The next one would be replicated by the machine. What Laurence meant by the word ‘machine’ was not one component, but everything working together. Laura caught her breath thinking of how much work there was to do. Mostly, she thought in terms of one client; but this project was vast. Just this one von Neumann machine was vast; and this one was going to replicate.

The ore was separated from the sand magnetically and taken to the refinery in another part of that same building.

Meanwhile, returning loaders pulled clean sand in a cart or carried it to fill around the bases of the mirrors’ plinths, which were put in the original holes. More robots pulled or carried more sand and filled the large hollows in the bases. The final part of the sand was spread around and its surface leveled off. The plinths’ bases were buried; you could not see them, just the four-ridged metal tubes that climbed to the mirrors’ mounts.

The sand from the holes did not provide enough ore. Other robots dug a big hole. It got filled in and another hole dug.

As for the mirrors, their axles and chains were big. Ordinary blowing grit could not halt them, even when it got into their bearings. The nipples for re-lubrication were large, too. Everything could be done easily by robot. Each plinth and mirror combination had two axles and two chains, one to move the mirror east to west and back each day and the other to move it north and south and back once a year. The axles connected to gears, large gears. A big movement by the chains translated into a small movement by the mirror. At the end of each row or column, the chains draped over cogs on a long axle that required only one motor to move. Its motor was geared, too. More plinths supported the two long axles.

At the same time, other robots built the thermal tower out of parts that came from the building with the separator and refinery. Evidently, at this stage, the separator, refinery, moving robots, and the rest of the equipment was powered by bought electricity. Later, parts would be powered by electricity generated from the sun.

Laura watched the first tower go up. Its opening, into which light poured, was bigger than a mirror. It had to be, since light rays came in at a wide angle. A lower building held the electric generator. The huge vat for molten salt was underground.

Laura noticed that the tower’s opening faced north-west and the tower itself was to the south-east of the mirror field. She asked Laurence.

“The location is a design detail,” he said. “chosen by computer. Given the layout of the land, that is the best place to put the first. The hills behind it are going to be mined soon. Really, the hills are grass covered dunes, full of hematite-bearing sand.

“We are close to the equator. Unlike the coastal strip just north of us, we have a definite rainy season and a definite sunny season. The rain mostly comes around the June solstice. That is when the sun is north of us and the mirrors have to lie over on their backs. They are not efficient; but at that time, the rain and clouds stop sunlight anyhow.” He ignored the rest of the time the mirrors lay canted.

Instead, Laurence described the thermal tower. He was excited.

“The reflected light goes though thick glass that enables the inside to be a vacuum, a good insulator. The glass itself is set at an angle. That way it does not reflect much. During the light’s passage, it absorbs energy, not much as a fraction, but a large mount absolutely. The glass is cooled by water flowing through it in square conduits. I made the conduits square because their front and back sides can be set at an non-reflective angle for one set of mirrors. Light from the other sets of mirrors will heat the glass a bit. The conduits’ top and bottom sides will reflect a little, too, but not enough for us to care.

“The incoming light shines on a metal receiver that conveys the energy as heat to the salt. The receiver has many vertical indentations, so the light has to go between them and is almost fully absorbed in one or other of the many reflections.

“The outside of the receiver looks like old fashioned razor blades stacked on their sides, I mean, the blades are vertical. The blades have no cover and their edges point out. Except each blade is very long.”

Laura liked that metaphor; she could understand it with no trouble. Her father had used old fashioned razor blades. They were made by a corporation which had been founded by a fellow who realized that men would make many small purchases over a lifetime without grasping the total cost. That was a heap paradox as each little cost added up to a big amount. She knew the word for a heap paradox, a ‘sorites’ paradox.

Laura never realized that originally, Laurence’s words about absorbing light had not referred to a metaphor. In the old days, commercial razor blades had been cleaned, stacked, and welded together to construct ‘black bodies’. They made perfect absorbers. The difference was that the solar collector’s receiver was hugely bigger. And modern blades were not like the old ones.

Laurence went on, “The back of the receiver heats the salt. It, too, has vertical channels. They help transfer the heat quickly.”

He did not say that when the whole system cooled, the salt froze. To avoid freezing salt around the receiver, gas replaced it. He used pure hydrogen, even though it burned when mixed with oxygen. The design had to make sure oxygen did not get into the hydrogen, and when it escaped — it was not supposed to, but Laurence feared it would at some time or other — the hydrogen would rise up into the atmosphere and not collect in the building. He would have preferred helium, which did not burn, but he could obtain hydrogen locally. Hydrogen was a good heat conductor.

Some salt was ground into grains. It looked like and had the consistency of table salt. That meant starting was quicker; heat transferred by the gas to the surrounding grains quicker than it could go through blocks. What to do when the melted salt froze — that was a detail Laurence had considered and handled.

He also did not bother to explain the construction of the thermal insulation. That was foamed rock with a very high melting temperature. The melted salt sat in it.

The foamed rock was not melted by concentrated light, which would have made the design more complicated, but by electric heaters. It was shaped in molds that stayed solid because they were cooled. The foam shapes were not all that strong. For protection, robots put them into tough shells.

Like everything else, the shells would have been hard and expensive to build except that properly programmed spray-droplet machines did the job. Their software and hardware had been developed and debugged over the previous generation.

Even though not all the mirrors were built, as soon as the robots finished the thermal tower, Laurence wanted to test. He wanted to melt a portion of the salt. That would take some time, even though he did not plan to melt all the salt all at once. The melted salt would boil water which would operate a steam turbine. The electricity it generated would be solar.

Laurence gave the order for the test. Built mirrors had been lying on their backs; that was the easiest way to install them. A large number of robot crawlers aimed them simultaneously at the thermal tower; crawlers could go under the mirrors and extend their sensors and arms high enough to sight them. Unlike a human, the robots did not have to climb each plinth and stand near the balance point.

The reflected rays had been bouncing up towards the heavens. Now they swept down to the tower. Even though many mirrors had not yet been built, even though their focus was at the tower and many rays beyond it went to the left or right of others, concentrated light started two fires on the grassy hills behind the tower.

For a few seconds, Laurence stared numbly. He had not expected this at all. He did not have robots built to fight fires.

Laura smelled his fear first, then she saw the fires. She and he were on another grassy hill. She wondered whether fire would reach the spot, whether they would have to move.

Laurence had crawlers. Many had blades of one sort or another. All had arms that could dig although the soft ‘skin’ on hands would wear through. He rapidly programmed his robots to go towards the fires and dig trenches around them. Fortunately, he did not have to program them for motion, but simply tell them where to go. Likewise, he did not have to tell them how to dig trenches, the software already contained the code; he only had to tell them what to do.

There was no wind, so no sparks flew to start more fires. Laurence only had two fires to stop, one on a nearer hill and the other on a taller, farther hill. Wide trenches stopped both. The fires burnt themselves out.

Finally Laurence figured out how to prevent such fires in the first place. In a sense, it was easy. Robots should not aim the mirrors simultaneously. In another sense, it was hard, since the robots had to coordinate. They did not have the bandwidth to communicate all at once. Then Laurence realized that the mirrors were not all placed into position at the same time, and that robots should aim them when they are built. Of course, many robots constructed many mirrors at once, just not all of them. A computer in the tower could tell each robot when to move; it could go through their ID numbers. It could do the same when too many robots tried to recharge at once. Like the conductor of an orchestra telling instrumentalists, he could have the computer tell the robots when to act although each would have to know how to act.

Next: , Previous: , Up: Top  

Chapter 34

“I know the Senator will not help you,” Elizabeth said.

“How do you know?” Peter asked.

“He told me,” said Elizabeth. “He liked what you wrote. He talked to me about it, which is unusual. Not only did he say your presentation is good, he talked about the content. The only part he did not enjoy was the material on interest rates. His comments on presentation are from him and he is a professional. I think you should pat yourself on the back.

“As for content, the Senator thinks of you as being in the anger stage of the seven stage cycle of shock, denial, anger, bargaining, depression, testing, and finally accepting. My sense is that he thinks of himself as being depressed, two stages beyond you. Since he does not see enough people changing how they think, he may figure he will be stuck with a depressing reality.”

“I don’t think I am in any of those stages,” said Peter. “We have a problem; this is how to solve it.”

“Spoken like a true technologist,” said Elizabeth. “The Senator is oriented towards people.”

“That is why I say that we must export a dream we can live with.” Peter thought that was a personable issue. “Few people seek poverty,” he said. “Worse or better, depending on your stance, the technologies are becoming more powerful. We must live with the dream we export, too. Otherwise, people will see us as hypocrites.

“So the dream has to be acceptable and adopted by a majority of Americans. Fortunately, in the past people in this country have adopted rapidly. They can do it again.

“That is why I asked for support from the Senator.”

“Many dreams involve austerity or lower returns for people who make or trade,” said Elizabeth.

“Yes, I know,” said Peter. “There is a portion of Americans who go for poverty, what they call ‘voluntary austerity.’ They say that the unmeasured aspects of life count as much or more than money buys: they think of friends, watching the sun go down, smelling the roses.”

“In a sense, they want to be rich and retired while they are still young,” said Elizabeth.

“Their argument is that if you are in an austere context, you will evaluate yourself differently than if you are a rich person among the poor. They are equating riches with material riches and saying that they themselves are rich in some other way. If everyone adopted it, voluntary austerity would succeed; but everyone won’t, not voluntarily.

“Worse,” said Peter, “lack of profits for business, what you referred to as lower returns for people who make or trade, could kill my proposals.”

“Companies go bankrupt all the time,” said Elizabeth.

“Yes, but bankruptcy is not seen as a consequence of social change, even when it is. A company’s bankruptcy is perceived, mostly correctly, as an error in choosing markets or technology.”

“Markets and technology are a consequence of society,” said Elizabeth.

“That is true,” said Peter, “but from the point of view of a businessman, markets and technology stand still. They do not change in the few months or years that stand before him. Society changes slowly. It implies markets and technology.”

“So are you saying that the kinds of change that you are talking about take much longer than an election cycle? Are you saying that the Senator was right in refusing to help you?” She looked at Peter quizzically.

“Yes to the first question, No to the second,” said Peter. “The Senator was wrong in refusing to help. All over the country, people supported public education, even though they knew that action would not pay off quickly. Now they pay for prisons, although the evidence does not suggest they pay off at all. It is not clear to me that people support the companies that build and run prisons, although they do pay for them and for the whole criminal system.”

“I notice you did not say, ‘criminal justice system,’ ” said Elizabeth.

“I am not sure how much justice there is in the system.”

“Many groups are fighting for more justice,” said Elizabeth.

“Yes, and many people are definitely better off now than they would have been at the beginning of the Twentieth Century. There is no doubt about that. But a person’s judgment involves context. We do not live in 1900. I know, it is a political trope to argue that what was good in the past is good now. People doing very well, relatively speaking, often want to keep what they have. They make this argument. It is against change.

“But current conditions are not like 1900 A. D. We cannot dump ‘bads,’ as economists call them, into rivers, oceans, land, or air. We have more impact. Even in 1900, some places could not take the bads. They could not even take goods, like increased numbers of people. More people is usually considered better, a good, not a bad. But there was a huge amount of migration at the turn of the Twentieth Century. Obviously, none of the migrants saw themselves as good for or good in the places they left.”

“Many came to the United States because of hope,” said Elizabeth.

“They despaired of their home countries,” said Peter. “More people were not good; they were bad. They expected less hope at home. It is normal for people to migrate, but to migrate such long distances in such large numbers, that is the issue.”

After deciding that migration was not her issue, Elizabeth asked, “What do you think of groups on your side?”

“They have been very good and very successful,” said Peter. Elizabeth knew there was going to be a ‘but’ and she was right. “But,” he said, “they have not done enough. Many accept the culture as is. Not all: many. They want to make minor fixes, which are considered major changes. A few impossibly want a fix that won’t go anywhere: that everyone and every business embrace the kind of voluntary austerity that the majority think of as poverty.”

“And your proposals will cause people to change the culture?” asked Elizabeth, smiling.

“Well …,” said Peter. Elizabeth hurriedly asked, “What about organizations that support your zero interest rate notions without calling them ‘zero interest rates’ but talk about setting aside land or water ‘forever’ for our descendants?”

“The Senator was helpful,” said Peter. “He explicated how he understood what I want, and what he said is true. I do want ‘the understanding to be more overt, to be more common, and to be written down.’ Overt, common, and preserved: that is a good listing. Everyone helps.”

That was not an answer, but Elizabeth accepted the words.

Peter went on. “You can’t, well, you can but you shouldn’t, give below market interest rates to market companies. That is a subsidy that eventually backfires. That is what I mean by overt. There is a difference between infrastructure, natural and human, and market companies. We have to be able to defend that notion. That is what I mean by ‘common.’ Right now, we have to explain that difference.”

“That is not the only issue. I doubt that is why you have to explain,” said Elizabeth.

“Since the concept is not perceived as so ridiculous, few laugh at the idea that a company should receive subsidized interest rates. It is not like arguing that we are still ruled by classical Greek gods such as Zeus. That is what I mean by common. Once the difference becomes commonly accepted, nobody is going to argue for silly subsidies. We don’t see any arguments nowadays for the truthful existence of classical Greek gods; we don’t see arguments for dangerous subsidies, either. We just have to extend the sense of danger to charging interest on infrastructure that should not have such a rate.”

Elizabeth expected Peter to remember the Senator’s third item and she was right. “Common and overt understandings must last beyond unaided memory. In the old days, paintings, sculpture, dance, and writing were the only mechanisms. Before writing, memories were exercised more, but compared to the present, little was remembered. Now, we have video and auditory recordings. A big and long lasting impact needs a big and long lasting counter.”

Peter paused for moment. “As a practical matter, we need backups.”

He went on. “In the old days, paintings disintegrated, sculptures broke, and libraries burnt. Human memories died when the humans did. Cultures vanished. Fortunately, we can now make backups more easily and more cheaply than before.”

“There was a lot of dance,” said Elisabeth.

“Yes, but dances mainly kept a society together, whether they were dances of war or of love. Dance cannot embed blueprints like a painting, show how to build like a sculpture, or describe like a book in a library. Dance was important, but not technically.

“That is on the one hand. On the other, we now have a global impact. The world lacks out-of-the-way places. They once existed; people lived in them. They don’t exist any more. The modern world has spread too far. If civilization collapses, there is little reason to expect people to keep the memories or for libraries to last centuries. If civilization does not collapse, there is a chance.”

“Peter, you said that ‘technologies are becoming more powerful.’ Will we be saved by improvements?”

“I don’t know,” Peter responded. “Technologies may go ahead or they may not. They may be like speed: humans traveled faster and faster for millions of years; then they stopped going faster.

“Many people in the United States have what is very nearly a religious belief in technological progress. Certainly, we have progressed over the past few hundred years. There is a basis to hope. But perhaps innovation’s peak was in the latter 19th and early 20th centuries. That is when fortunes were made building and distributing cars and telephones, when electric motors became ubiquitous, when regular food first crossed oceans. Maybe the oft claimed statement that ‘change is going faster’ refers to social change that many dislike, not to technological change that many welcome.

“The point is, we don’t know what the future holds. Maybe technology will save us; maybe it won’t. A new dream has to work regardless. That is why I am suggesting that human businesses be seen as short term and natural infrastructure be seen as long term, regular interest rates and zero interest rates, farms and soil.”

Next: , Previous: , Up: Top  

Chapter 35

The day after putting out the fire, Laurence went through the airport to report to Blimov. He was not going to focus on the fire, although it still bothered him that he had not foreseen the problem. Instead, he was going to say that he had produced a von Neumann machine that was now busy replicating (although the results would take some time), that he had already made some steel for the submarines, and that he was confident new submarines would be cheaper. A helicopter no longer came to Laurence at work or at home. With the profits from salvage, Blimov had purchased a jet. Even with the ground trips to and from the airports, the whole journey was quicker than any helicopter.

The airport was not as crowded as it had been years before. Fewer airplanes flew. The cost of fuel kept going up and prices followed. Again, like water, increasing costs came from several sources. The oil companies were big, greedy, and powerful. Their backers ruled important countries. People in the companies were corrupt. And the cheapest fossil fuels had already been consumed.

At the airport, Laurence met Colonel Romero Selo. The man was a pilot in the government’s air force. He was based elsewhere but flew in occasionally on a training flight. Mostly, Laurence suspected, Romero Selo flew a desk, not an airplane. The guards were not bothered by the colonel. He had been investigated and he or his boss or both had been paid off. Romero Selo pretended not to know what Laurence did.

But then the colonel surprised Laurence by wishing him further success. “With replicators, weapons will grow cheaper. That is the bad news, at least for you. For me it means more interesting work. The good news for every one is that jets will get cheaper fuel. It will mean more water in the stratosphere, which is not good, but military aircraft don’t put much in. The commercial do. In any case, with cheap energy and cheap products, we will be able to reduce the impact. So on the whole, what you are doing is good.”

Laurence was dumbfounded. He did not know how to reply, except to say, “Thank you.” Fortunately for him, his jet was waiting. He hurried off. Romero Selo smiled.

When Laurence arrived at the center, he found that Blimov was angry. He had been attacked again.

The attack was a surprise, but Blimov’s organization defeated it. His men were better trained, better armed, and better led. Their ‘Observation,’ ‘Orientation,’ ‘Decide,’ ‘Act’, or OODA loop was quicker than their enemy’s. As far as Blimov was concerned, the revenue invested for warfare was worth the loss of profit. The conflict caused an enormous amount of destruction. Mostly, bystanders were killed and their property ruined. None of Blimov’s men were captured alive, but several of the enemy were. From the uniforms of the dead and the living, it became evident that the enemy were from the government.

Blimov went among them. He shot those lower ranking. He planned to ransom the senior after gathering information from them.

Troops from the government: that meant to Blimov that generals and politicians had betrayed him. A rival had paid them after he had paid them. When he looked on Laurence, his eyes blazed. “I am going to get those generals and politicians who betrayed me. They took my money and then they took from someone else. I think I know who. We will find out. In any case, I am going to kill those who betrayed me and I am going to punish those who caused this. They went too far. This is not a good way to solve disputes.”

He looked at Laurence more closely. “You have come. I bet you came to tell me that your von Neumann machine is replicating. That is good news. Well, it would be good news if it were not for this.” He turned his head and looked at the dead bodies around him. Laurence decided not to mention Colonel Romero Selo.

“You have been overwhelmed,” said Blimov. He paused for a second, calming down, “… or your news has been.” He smiled grimly. “I am glad your replicator is fast and that it can assemble more than just itself. We need more materials, we need what it can build, just as I need to hire replacements.” He stopped and then said, “We shall return. Somebody else said something like that a long time ago, didn’t he?”

“Yes,” said Laurence, “except that Douglas MacArthur was more egocentric. He said ‘I shall return’ when he was forced out of the Philippines. He did not use ‘we’.”

“Fortunately, we can all be replaced,” said Blimov. He walked away from the others, pulling Laurence along. “It was French President Charles de Gaulle who said, ‘The graveyards are full of indispensable men.’ ”

Blimov spoke to Laurence privately. “Some of us are more rare than others. Most leaders do not want technically competent people like you; I do. You could be replaced, but it would be hard. Furthermore I doubt whether whomever I could find would know as much as you.”

Blimov stopped for a second, to let his praise sink in. Then he went on, “I hope to retire and live a long life after retiring. That is a great advantage of being dispensable. I do not want to be killed as I get weaker. That is what happens to most people in my position.”

As far as Laurence knew, Blimov had not breathed a word of this plan to anyone else. For one, the news could weaken him. But Laurence would keep it secret and not try to steal Blimov’s place.

“Two fellows in this organization could stand in my shoes, and I think both will. One is much younger than the other; I think he will let the older rule for a period. I trust both; neither, I think, will try to kill me after I retire.”

“I am speaking like you,” said Blimov, “full of reservations. I use the phrase ‘I think.’ I don’t talk to others like this.”

“That is because they don’t care for the truth; they don’t care for uncertainties. They believe you have thought the situation through,” said Laurence.

“And you don’t?” asked Blimov, smiling. As he spoke, Laurence realized he had almost made a mistake and had a response ready. “I know you are much better with people than I am.”

“Ah!” said Blimov, “you are learning diplomacy in your old age.”

Nonetheless, to Laurence, Blimov sounded distracted. Laurence suspected he himself behaved that way frequently. After all, he preferred what he considered useful work to what he thought of as irrelevant conversation. But Blimov usually focused on the person to whom he was talking. That was an important part of his attraction.

Indeed, Blimov was thinking about something else: his three goals. Laurence understood them to be power, wealth, and legitimacy. Blimov had gained power and wealth, but he was definitely illegitimate. Laurence knew Blimov should be happy to have gained two out of three. But it rankled on him. He really did want to be legitimate.

Blimiv considered a legitimate leader to be fair. As far as he was concerned, that meant he should fight a large number of so-called legitimate leaders. This was a complication. “I don’t want to be simply the head of a rich gang,” he said to Laurence, “I want to be legitimate.”

Laurence had not the foggiest idea where the word ‘legitimate’ came, but he did say, “Many in our organization support you.”

“Yes, I know that,” said Blimov, “and I suppose that is a kind of legitimacy, but it is not what I mean. I was not pretending or trying to fool you when I said that you and others were, willy-nilly, working for justice. You are. That is important to me. However, justified as it may be, undermining those with power is not the same as extending legitimacy.”

‘Ah,’ thought Laurence, ‘he is bothered that we mainly destroy, rather than build. That is true.’

“I do not mind killing people,” Blimov said, “I do that all the time.” He waved his hand around. “So do others.” He paused for a moment. “But I do not want arbitrary death, certainly not for my friends and not even for my enemies.” Laurence was distracted for a moment wondering whom Blimov thought of as friends.

Blimov ignored or did not notice the distraction. “People should die for good reason,” he said. That caused Laurence to think more. Finding such a reason would be a limitation. Blimov was not like other leaders in this hemisphere who went without limitations and who attracted supporters for the same reason, even when they ensured inefficiency. Laurence realized that Blimov was not like despotic leaders in the other hemisphere, either. He was not traditional at all.

Blimov asked, “Who defines legitimacy?” Laurence knew he asked a rhetorical question and did not answer. Blimov answered himself, “Legitimacy is defined by a society — not everyone in a region, but everyone who considered themselves part of ‘us.’ Thus, the male slave holders of an ancient Greek city would think of themselves as legitimate even though most people in each city were either women or slaves. Some women and slaves thought of themselves as part of that ‘us.’ ” He grimaced. “Nonetheless, it is very easy for two or more groups in a region each to be made up of people who think their leaders are legitimate.”

Blimov looked again at Laurence. “I think of a legitimate leader as being fair and to have studied various books. Each group defines order, law, and justice in that sequence. That makes sense. You need a minimum of order to provide law and you need law to provide justice. We actually provide a fair amount of justice to our people. Fighting does not provide justice; the results are too random. People just worry.” Laurence nodded.

“As I said, two men in this organization could become leaders like me. As I have got older,” Laurence noted that was the first time Blimov had said anything about his age, “I have wondered how to ensure a proper succession. In the old days, many leaders passed on power to their sons. Those actions provided not only order and law, but often traditional justice as well. Heredity succeeded because lesser powers hated civil war. It not only caused enormous material destruction, anyone could die. The prospect of unwanted death upset everyone. They knew they might die by others’ intent as well as by accident.

“So lesser powers went along with the succession. Unfortunately, occasionally immediately and at other times after several generations, hereditary ruling failed. Successors were not as good as founders in skulduggery or whatever. Founders brought up their sons differently than they; after all, they wanted them to live differently. Consequently, successors were not simply more stupid, although that occurred, they had less practice. Almost always, a change in dynasty resulted in civil war.”

“By accepting heredity,” said Laurence, “the lesser powers, as you termed them, may have put off civil war for more than their life times.”

“That is true,” said Blimov. “It was not totally foolish. Also, there were other ways of choosing succession: a few leaders chose from outside their families. In general, that method lasted even fewer generations than smart families. After all, the skills needed to persuade an important person are quite different from the skills of a leader. A fellow who was good at the first is not necessarily good at the second. Or the successor of a successor of a successor …

“The longest lasting institutions chose leaders by committee.” Blimov thought of the Catholic Church, as did Laurence. “Private corporations do the same. A committee is harder to fool than a single person. But will a committee, a board of directors, a College of Cardinals, choose a leader who acts on non-traditional changes that occur in less than a generation? I don’t know whether that is possible. (One of my spies mentioned non-traditional changes; I think he knew what would interest me; the notion is important.)”

“Corporations are succeeding,” said Laurence.

“That is true. My question is, are large corporations going to handle unexpected changes for more than a few centuries?” asked Blimov. “Corporations have as an advantage that their leaders retire. They are seldom in the business for life. Such organizations can adapt quickly.”

“Owners are in the business for life,” said Laurence. “Not small stockholders or institutional owners, but founders and the like.

“Yes,” said Blimov, “but many corporations lack a powerful enough owner to control it; they are ruled by committee.” He smiled.

“In any case,” he went on, “non-traditional events happen more and more often. They are often the result of large impacts and large populations. (Those ideas are from that spy again; he was not helpful to our organization, but I liked the ideas.)

“In the past, both impacts and populations were small. The rapid response of a traditional government to a traditional problem does not solve a non-traditional disaster.”

Laurence noted that Blimov was shifting back to government.

“Without tradition, not enough people go along with a government, any government; I mean, they are outsiders. For non-traditional ruling, people have to feel they are part of a government, perhaps a distant part. In effect, to handle non-traditional events, people choose leaders who would not have risen by heredity or been propelled to the top in some other way. Otherwise, government lacks legitimacy for actions that people have not grown up to accept. Ordinary people do not always choose leaders wisely, but do so more often than heredity or a relatively small committee of the previously powerful.”

Blimov and Laurence both knew that Blimov would never have had a chance of being selected by regular voters. He was not that kind of person. Nonetheless, he was a leader. Possibly, Laurence thought, Blimov could become legitimate, although not as a government leader.

But, Laurence knew, non-traditional actions of the sort needed could only be the result of an innovation such as he provided, or else be done by enough people that only a government could mobilize. In any case, a government had to force resisters, unless they were an irrelevant part of the population. Individuals could and had proposed social mechanisms — Laurence saw everything as a mechanism — but only through technological innovation or through government could anyone succeed.

Blimov could claim to be yet another businessman with a location in Bombaia. He could pretend to have gathered money from investors and from clever real estate deals. He would not say and no one important would investigate how he made his money initially. He could choose his first successor and suggest a second. In many parts of the world, governmental leaders were separate from business leaders. He could claim to be a legitimate example of a businessman.

Unfortunately for Blimov, Laurence did not think that leadership in business would do as well as leadership in engineering. Laurence was more important than Blimov!

Then Blimov shifted topics, in effect, telling Laurence he had said as much as he would. The attack had shaken him but that was all he was going to say. Because of his belief in the leadership of engineering, Laurence went back to Bombaia a happy man in spite of seeing the dead bodies and destruction of the attack.

A few days later, Laurence saw Blimov again. Laurence rode the jet a second time. This time, he met no one in the airport. During the trip he worked his wearable, so he did not feel he was wasting much time. Laurence did not think Blimov needed another face-to-face meeting within a week. All Laurence could do was provide an update of his originally planned report. He did not think of conversation as important. The von Neumann machine had not presented any problems since that first day. Recently, there has been no unexpected events like the fire. It would be two months before he found out whether the system really worked.

Two months was shorter than the two decades or two generations that previous leaders had to wait. So two months was better. Less than a week? That was too soon.

Blimov started by saying, “A cousin of your Colonel Romero Selo led the attempt against us.” Laurence did not bother to ask how Blimov learned who had led the attempt.

Blimov continued, “I bet he sent your colonel away because he knew the man would not try to attack us. Romero Selo has considerable honor in that he can’t be bought a second time. Also, and this is vital, he knows my troops train more and are better equipped than the Army’s. And we have good defenses against his air force. Dishonorably losing — he would not go for it.

“The attack consisted of more than a simple betrayal. Some of the government and some others believed your Von Neumann replicators would hurt them. My rival triggered them, but getting them to act was not as hard as it might have been.”

Laurence decided that was a good time to mention Romero Selo’s strange comments; at least, Laurence thought them strange. He paraphrased, “Romero Selo remarked that ‘Replicators will make weapons cheaper; bad news for me; good news for him. Jet fuel will become cheaper, which is bad news in itself, since it means more water in the stratosphere. But,’ he said, ‘cheap fuel and cheap products will offer possibilities for producing fewer planetary impacts.’ ”

Blimov considered the paraphrase. Clearly to Laurence, he was thinking about its meaning, not Laurence’s words. “Yes, ‘merchants of death’ will do well, not those who manufacture weapons. They will go out of business; those who own such factories will be hurt. Those who work in the factories will lose their jobs, too. However, they will gain a certain kind of material wealth or they should. They will not be as bothered as factory owners.

“Those who control distribution networks, ‘merchants of death’ and the like, some very good, will not be as hurt, except that more manufacturing will be local. All simple metal, ceramic, and plastic manufacturers will vanish. Until von Neumann replicators become better, until we have atomic assemblers, we will have to build computers and sensors the old way. Leather work will continue. So will growing food. So will our own operations, which do not involve a food but ultimately comes from that which is grown. We will continue to have a business!” He smiled.

“Still, it is remarkable,” Blimov said, “(you will pardon the pun).” It took a moment for Laurence to realize that Blimov was connecting the word ‘remarks’ that he had said of Romero Selo with the word ‘remarkable.’ Blimov continued. “We can make considerable money off this technology and save the world, too. I had not thought of this.”

Laurence wondered at Blimov’s statement. He did not believe Blimov had failed to see obvious implications. The man understood. Laurence thought Blimov was being immoral when he said, ‘I had not thought of this.’ Instead, Laurence decided that Blimov was simply being polite to Romero Selo, on the off chance that the man might hear a repeat of the conversation. It never occurred to Laurence that Blimov had only asked for locally-made plates for his submarines. He never imagined that Blimov had been too busy to think about the implications of quickly replicating von Neumann machines.

Laurence expected it, but nonetheless, as the days and months passed, he was pleased to see that the first von Neumann machine succeeded. That is to say, it both replicated and assembled other objects. As he liked to say, other objects were ‘excreta’. He had many plates made for his submarines.

Indeed, as time went on, he had most parts of his submarines built automatically. Almost all the components were described by codes that he or his people could add to the von Neumann machines. They, that is to say, their robots, knew how to put the parts together. The submarines had to be built in covered buildings, moved to the ocean undercover, and launched. Laurence dared not make anything visible from watchers above, whether by day or night. It looked like the original shipyard, which also made a few regular, civilian surface ships as disguise.

One of his replicants was closer to the water. That one built submarines. Another was farther from the ocean. That one made parts of houses and much of what went into them. Laurence discovered that with metal. sand, and some organic material he could produce much of what people wanted. He could not produce everything in plastic, because he did not have enough organic material. He could not produce anything with small components, because the drops from his spray droplet machines were too big. He could not produce or reproduce anything grown. Still, that left a huge number of items he could produce. And he had software or was able to adapt software for many of them.

Rather than dismiss those who had previously worked for the shipyard, Laurence retrained them to work with what he could not produce. With houses as well as submarines, that meant hiring. Laurence was bemused; he had expected fewer jobs.

His spray-droplet machines and robots produced more than submarines and houses and what was in them. Bombaia boomed.

To preserve himself and the organization, Laurence had to make sure that property markings were either outdated or hidden. Some markings, like those on modern internal combustion engines, were not beneficial. Corporations in powerful countries would notice and ask their government to crush the competition so they could continue to be one of a few producers and make high profits. Or, as they said, pay for initial high costs … Others, such as those on steam engines for trains, were beneficial. They spoke of age. He did not have to import metals to make alloys for them either; he even wrote on the steam engines that they were replicas.

For a while, people would be willing to buy from Bombaia because the product plus the transport cost from there was cheaper than any alternative.

Next: , Previous: , Up: Top  

Chapter 36

Michelle telephoned the two brothers; it was a straightforward conference call. “Regarding a drug to remove cravings …,” she said. “I have looked at various studies. Vaccines were investigated. Most of the drug molecules we use, legal or illegal, are too small. There aren’t enough atoms for the immune system to notice. But you can attach a drug molecule to another, bigger one. The immune system responds to the new, big molecule. And then it is fooled. Successor antibodies, at least some of them, go against the small molecules. I did not know any of this, or if I did, I paid no attention. In any case, you can overwhelm the antibodies by providing too many molecules. This kind of development is not easy.”

She stopped and repeated herself. “This kind of development is not easy. But,” she said, “the research has been going on for a long time. The first publication that I know of was in 1974. That early vaccine was not very effective, still …

“Nowadays the side effects of these kinds of vaccination are rare, at least according to the most recent research. But funding has faded. I don’t know about other medicines.

“On another topic, wholly separate: you might want to look into a fellow named Peter Gelmund. He is local. He advocates zero interest rates for certain things, like the preservation of water supplies, but normal interest rates for other things, like the businesses that supply water. In other words, he advocates extending our mixed economy to natural infrastructure as well as human-made infrastructure.”

“Aren’t a good number of non-profits are already doing that?” asked Thomas. “Yes,” said George, after a moment. Michelle imagined that he had nodded, then realized that they were talking by a telephone that was not visual, and spoke to convey the same message.

“They are,” said Michelle. “I think Peter wants to make the ideas more overt. In any case, he is worth looking up.”

“Will do,” said both George and Thomas in the same words at the same time. Michelle smiled when they spoke. They acted like the identical twins they were, even though separated at birth.

George invited Peter to visit. He said he was inviting his twin to come, too. George said he had heard indirectly about Peter and that he was interested in Peter’s notion of zero interest rates.

Peter found the street. Trees lined it. The houses looked as if they had first been built in the latter twentieth century, although most now had solar cells on their roofs. They sold their extra electricity to the utility.

No one could see electric power lines; they were buried. However, every block or two, at a corner, a post stood up near the edge of the sidewalk. It was close to the road and to a manhole. The posts looked newer than the houses, but not newer than the solar cells.

Each post held a large switch at a level above the height of an average adult with his arm held up. A switch’s vertical, visible part stretched more than a hand span long. The bottom of a readily movable, U-shaped bar prevented branches which fell on the switch from turning it off. Up was on, down off. The switches were too high for children to reach. They were in the range of tall men or of anyone standing on a ladder, but few turned them off undesirably. Children did not haul ladders to posts.

Although people in the utility could turn off its power, houses were different. Since there might be anyone or no one in a house whose roof fed power to the other end of the line, both ends of a line had to be disconnected. Two switches could isolate and disconnect a line between them. This was important to every repair person. He or she did not want to be electrocuted accidentally. Moreover, an immediate superior was often sympathetic. A distant superior might be sympathetic, too, and in any case, did not want to send a replacement.

Although an electronic switch was cheaper, a visible mechanical switch was more sure. Each repair truck carried two poles. Only one was necessary. Either could be poked under the safety bar.

The top end had a short triangular piece to push the safety bar out of the way. The bottom end curved out so one hand was held horizontally. The curve told how the pole should be held. Below the top end on the right side of the pole was a double sided hook that went around the switch in either its on or off position.

To turn a switch down to off, a person at the lower end of the pole held it so the horizontal part of the curve pointed out, pushed it so the other end went under the safety bar, and pulled the switch down. To turn it on, he or she poked the pole’s end under the safety bar and pushed up. The horizontal part showed how the triangle kept the safety bar out of the way; the pole had to go up to the left of the switch. Since every pole was the same and properly designed, training took less than a minute.

Switches for above-ground electrical systems worked the same — up was on, down off — but pushed a rod that went up rather than down. They were on the same poles as carried the current. You could see from the ground whether a line was connected. That is presuming you did not trust the position of the switch. Almost everyone except repair people did. For a below-ground system, you had to open a manhole to see whether the line was truly disconnected.

Peter imagined that every organization had members who could steal or make poles. Troublemakers could readily disconnect a fair number of houses; but the number would not be large enough to notice, not outside the local area. Consequently, who would care? The system was resilient.

Peter came to George’s house and entered into a bright and somewhat cluttered living room. Two men greeted him. They dressed differently, but otherwise looked the same. The man on the left pointed to the other and said, “Thomas is my twin brother. We were separated at birth, so he has a different last name, Rangle rather than Garver. I did not know he existed until recently.”

After serving Peter food and drink, George asked him to talk about zero interest rates.

“Our children and grandchildren do and will value their lives just as much as we,” said Peter. “No one ought to say now that they should eat less in fifty years. Unfortunately, that is what a positive rate of interest implies. Incidentally, I come from a big family and have a big family. I speak of children and grandchildren literally. Many do not. However, almost everyone wants their culture to continue. That requires new people as the old die …

“A zero rate of interest says that what is valuable now is equally valuable in a century. Soil, in which you grow food, will be as valuable in ten generations as it is now. But the farm which uses the soil can be replaced; it is not so valuable. So it should have a high interest rate.”

Thomas asked, “You are saying that rules need to change, that soil, which people think is owned by a farm, should henceforth be perceived as a different kind of property. Am I right?”

“Yes,” said Peter. “We already have agricultural abatements and restrictions. I am saying we should extend them.”

“That requires an overtly political move,” said Thomas. “What if we make the wrong choices?”

“If we decide wrongly long enough and widely enough, we suffer. That is one reason I am pushing for more governmental actions in public and not in secret; more punishments for those who act criminally.”

“In the past, though,” asked George, “haven’t even honest and good people made mistakes?”

“Yes, but we know more now than we did in the past. That is an advantage of progress. There is no need to repeat error.”

George nodded; so did his brother. Peter thought it a bit spooky the way the two acted together; but then, he knew very few twins. He would have expected a brother and sister to have nodded at the same time.

“In other words,” said George, “not only do you want accountability in government,” he raised a finger, “with punishment for those who are crooks and rewards for those who do right,” he raised two more fingers, although Peter thought that rewards and punishment went with accountability, “not only do you want transparency and visible government,” he raised a fourth finger and his thumb, and then dropped them all, “you also want people in government to pay attention to outsiders and to choose actions they propose but only when they are right.” He raised two fingers, although by his counting, he should have raised three. “Have I got that right?”

“Accountability, listening, choosing,” said Peter, ignoring the count. “Those are the criteria. Senator Jelder reminded me that in many countries, the legislature and the executive are different. The one proposes, the other administrates. He did not tell me directly, but I realized his implication. It is not necessary to change much.”

George questioned the last part of what Peter said. “Your changes will be huge,” he said. “Only the legal changes will be small and they won’t be as small as you are suggesting since the least vulnerable way to distinguish farms from soils is to list them. That will be the way to separate short term actions from long term actions.”

Peter said, “When administrators do wrong, the legislature can change the law.”

“No,” said George. “It is too hard to return. This will be a heavily fought law. Everyone who seeks a profit will want lower interest rates. Besides, civil servants find or are helped to find loopholes. Listing soils that recover in the long term and saying that you are not going to subsidize anything else new: that is probably the safest way to go although it is a very unsatisfactory.”

“When the politicians do list changes, how,” asked Thomas, “are you going to increase the probability that people in legislatures do right?”

“Like everyone else,” said Peter, “they are going to have to decide who is the charlatan, who is honestly mistaken, and who is right. That is how non-experts choose among experts.”

“You are supposing that the politicians are interested in the long run, that they are not intentionally wrong,” said George. “It is hard to select out crooks, given that they are trying to look innocent. Nonetheless, I think the biggest trouble will be to decide between who is honestly mistaken and who is right. When you think wrongly, as many do, then it is hard to pick those who are honestly mistaken. After all, hardly anyone thinks that they themselves think wrongly.

“Incidentally, I think most changes won’t be in legislative laws, but be done by agencies. Bureaucrats will administer.

“The bureaucrats have to be confident to win, which is to say, they have to think they are right; and they have to be enough like others to be effective, which is to say, they have to believe a good part of the common wisdom.”

Peter responded. “If many others have a wrong idea,” he said, “most likely a philosophical notion, which hardly anyone examines, then for us to be effective, people in a legislature or administration have to act rightly. That is why it is so important to talk. Without a wide ranging discussion, no one in a legislature or administration will consider alternatives.

“It is like a free and competitive market. With a single business, a monopoly, or to a lesser extent with a few businesses, an oligopoly, the chance of finding a correct answer is low. That is simply because one or a few cannot investigate as well as many can. In the world like it is, full of uncertainty, success can only come from a bunch of trials.”

“But,” said Thomas, “we cannot have a bunch of trials. We only have one planet. The whole must follow a single path. We do not live in the old days, where different countries, or different regions in one country could experiment. Well, they can. But critical actions now apply to the whole planet.”

“That’s right,” said Peter. “Consequently, whatever is done that applies to the whole has to be right; otherwise, we suffer. That is what simulations are for, although they are not very good.

“The powers that be pick among options. There are two necessary parts to that: the right action must be among the options and the right action must be chosen. To make sure the right action is one of the options requires wide discussion, otherwise it may be excluded inadvertently. It won’t be simulated. To make sure it is chosen, that, too, requires discussion.”

“I see,” said George. “That is why you want your notions to be ‘overt,’ ‘common,’ and ‘preserved,’ to use Senator Jelder’s words.” He did not say that he had spoken to Michelle and Peter did not notice.

Instead, Peter said, “I want people to live.”

“Yes, yes,” said George, “but before people can do that, your notions have to become overt and common among just about everyone. It does not do any good for a minority live that way. The majority or an influential minority will overcome them.”

He paused for a moment. “No, that’s not true. I am wrong. A minority should live properly. Regardless how many individuals there are, decent people can be overcome, nonetheless … not only will they personally feel better, they will show others how to live, if only by example. That is key. People do like seeing examples.”

“I can help you gather attention,” said Thomas. “That will make your notions more commonplace.” George nodded.

Peter looked relieved. “What are your proposals?” asked George.

“Most important — it seems like an obvious point, but it has implications — we don’t know what is going to happen. Maybe technology will save us; maybe it won’t. Social suggestions, a new and exportable understanding, a dream, must work regardless.

“That is why I am suggesting that some entities be seen as short term, such as a business that carries paper, and other entities as long term, such as the forest from which trees are cut that create the pulp from which the first, unrecycled paper is produced. This leads to regular interest rates and zero interest rates.” Peter stopped for a moment.

George said, “So you are not saying that the forest itself be everlasting; it can be cut. How do you imagine a bunch of bureaucrats will administer this?”

Peter responded, “The forest will be everlasting. Any person or business can pay a fee to cut some trees. That fee certainly must cover planting replacements, taking care of them, and so on.”

“In many parts of the country,” George said, “forests are burned intentionally, so they don’t burn unintentionally and burn down houses and so on. People cut down trees that have grown up around their houses. Are you going to regulate what householders do?”

“Yes,” said Peter, “or at least, have them pay a fee for cutting trees or burning them. The fee may be large or small. In places where forest fires are dangerous, we as a polity might wave the fee for planned burning, for cutting back trees from houses, and the like. What I am saying is that impacts have become big enough that individual action is not enough any more. Our not acting means everyone acts as usual. That is bad. Neighbors are now important, especially distant neighbors you don’t know about, foreigners.”

“People are not going to like that,” said George. “It will take a long time before children in school grow up to become householders themselves.”

“Yes,” said Peter. “So we have to start now.

“As for proposals,” he said, “a dream must consist of old wants that a majority desire. Asking people to consult others before they cut a tree is not desired, not in America. The sense of what is what must change. A minority seek poverty, but not the majority.

“Fortunately, only a minority seek change. So the majority can readily filter out bad ideas. Of course, I think my ideas are great and shouldn’t be filtered out.” He smiled.

“People need food, clothing, shelter, and community.”

“That is very general; the majority must change,” observed Thomas. “Anyhow, go on.”

“Without food, we starve; without clothing, we freeze; without shelter, we suffer while we sleep; without community, we live alone.

“At one time, the list was limited to food, clothing, and shelter.” Peter smiled. “People presumed we would live in communities. Only a very small number lived and died in solitary confinement.

“Unfortunately, communities can be damaged. That has happened already. It has often happened unintentionally. Cheap weapons make it worse. With them, enemies can destroy susceptible communities intentionally and more easily than before.

“This is where our work becomes important.”

George raised an eyebrow to Thomas at the word ‘our.’ He had not said he was going to support Peter, although he expected to. As far as he was concerned, he merely considered advertising Peter’s work. Neither he nor Thomas realized how important that advertising was to Peter.

“Sharing is partly material,” Peter said; “sailors on a ship recognize they are all together. But we don’t all recognize that we are on the same planet. The world is vast. It is too big. That is critical.

“Similarly, some seek status and power for themselves. They perceive themselves as being in a conflict in which they can only win or lose. They hurt others to help themselves. They cannot see that everyone benefits when they cooperate. Put another way, they expect zero or negative sums for the total of the utility to them and others. They do not expect positive sums.

“What I am saying is that we need a dream, a dream which can be exported safely for us. That is what I mean by proposals, suggestions, mutual understandings. A cluster of individuals must share beliefs, otherwise they stand apart.”

Peter finally listed his suggestions:

Peter shifted to a digression, not even aware of it. “ ‘Generator’ is a bad word,” he said, “although we use it all the time. In this case, ‘generator’ implies that the source does not count. It does. An emergency electric generator almost always implies energy from a store of liquid fuel. A better word is ‘converter.’ After a few days or a week, a home converter runs out of its stored energy.

“Rather than the sun of seventy million years ago, devices using the contemporary sun are not the same. Everyone can see that they convert one sort of energy into another. Their input is not supplied by humans. It is not extracted from the ground. Unfortunately, the sun and the wind and their immediate outputs are intermittent. You have to have long range connections, which can be damaged. In any case, home devices store for several days, but they seldom go beyond a fortnight.”

He became more general again. “Of course, the cause of a hurt need not be people. It could be a natural, non-humanly caused variation in the environment. People do not like being hurt. Resiliency is an important defense.”

Then he paused. “There are more suggestions, but the five biggies are knowledge, help, time, quickness, and resiliency.

“Without knowledge, we will act stupidly. We may act stupidly anyhow, but without knowledge, we will do worse. Without helping everyone, some will suffer and decide to hurt the rest of us. As weapons become cheaper, even the unteachable gain power. They don’t have to imagine box cutters.

“Without a long time horizon, we will ignore necessities for species survival. Without quick decision making, we won’t be able to handle immediate problems. Without resiliency, we will die.”

“I see that you are not suggesting any specific action.” said George.

“That’s right,” said Peter. “The intent is to change thinking. We already have actions, some very good. A large number of people think well, too. But not enough people think well enough to change the generally held philosophy on this planet.”

“So you are talking about a domestically-adopted, safe-to-export, meaningful dream,” said George.

“Yes,” said Peter, “a dream that involves knowledge, help, time, quickness, and resiliency.”

Next: , Previous: , Up: Top  

Chapter 37

Laura said, “So … most of the world will lack iron ore that can be separated your way.”

Laurence interrupted, “Actually, it is an old way suggested by Blimov.”

“That does not matter,” said Laura. “Most will have to provide iron differently. The devices will depend on local conditions. People will have to adapt.”

“Yes,” said Laurence, “what is your point?”

“The point is, you do offer a machine that can make electricity cheaply,” said Laura.

She went on, “You need to provide computer processing units, sensors, and more for your machines. That means you do not provide closure.” Laurence raised an eyebrow.

“Yes, I know about the theory of rapidly replicating, inorganic von Neumann machines. I have seen yours and I know people. After all, we slowly replicate.” She fluttered her eyes at him. “We are organic, not inorganic … but in many other ways we are the same.” Laura stopped pretending to look sexy. “We require energy and material inputs, in our case food and air, in your case, light, iron, grass, ocean water, and air. We have eyes, ears, and a nose; you have sensors. There are many similarities. Actually, some replicate themselves through students or what they make, not through children. You are a person who replicates via what you make.”

Laura went on, “An advantage of not having closure is that the device cannot mutate on its own. That is not like us. A human brain develops on its own, unlike the processing unit of an inorganic von Neumann machine like yours. And each of us is different.”

“Yes,” said Laurence, focusing on a small and narrow topic, “however, most human differences are not from mutations. Inborn or genetic differences come from mixing genes in sex, most of them. Such changes are fixed when a child is born. Cultural differences are, well, cultural.”

“Yes, I agree,” said Laura. “Inborn changes are fixed very early; cultural changes are fixed later, although still early in a person’s life. However, your von Neumann machine does not grow its own brain; you provide a brain …”

“Multiple brains,” said Laurence, “remember the robotic crawlers.”

“Yes,” said Laura, “our brain’s equivalent, its processing units, computers that do what needs to be done for the machine. From one von Neumann machine to the next, there is no need for the code to vary and no natural reason for it to. Your von Neumann machines do not experience inborn changes. As for cultural changes: I am not sure what they would be or, indeed, whether they exist.”

“Replicators adapt to the environment,” said Laurence, “whether they are closer or farther away from the sea, whether iron ore is covered with grass, which dunes they are going to build on and which they are going to dig. You are right, those are adaptations. I don’t think von Neumann machines have culture.”

“For us humans,” said Laura, “lack of closure is safer. Even if you disregard the product’s end use, as with a gun for soldiers, you keep getting what you want.

“On the other hand,” Laura looked vivid, “lacking closure, you must acquire outside materials. Each new copy is not incrementally free of cost. An instance of a true von Neumann machine would be. It would be like a sapling growing in a forest.”

“A sapling takes time to grow,” said Laurence.

“Yes,” said Laura, “but we can live with time, especially the short building time of your mechanical replicators.

“Remember, you are talking about electrical generators that are much, much cheaper than contemporary generators. That technical change will lead to huge social and political changes. Carbon can be taken from the air, hydrogen from water; we can make hydrocarbons, fuel …”

Laurence thought for a moment. “Will von Neumann machines be enough?” he asked. “We depend on high mountain glaciers for drinking and irrigation water; they are vanishing. Rain and drought belts are moving. Aquifers are being pumped faster than they fill — and that is just water.”

“That’s true,” said Laura. “I doubt cheap electricity will be enough. Soil is disappearing, too, as are fish. We, who are smart humans, have not lost yet, but we are getting there.

“Cheap electricity will give us time. More people will see rationality as favoring justice. They will insist on appropriate, universal laws, not extralegality. They will counter local rules that do not provide for the protection of strangers or a defense from them.

“Someone will figure out motivations involving greed, selfishness, and short term thinking. We must. On the one hand, people suffer and die quickly if they think only of others and the long term. On the other hand, they also suffer and die quickly when they are too selfish and think too much in the short term.”

“Many people who are greedy want material things,” said Laurence. “We can make many things, but not everything. I guess those who are greedy will go for what we make and then they will go for what we cannot make. Eventually, which may be soon, they will go for status.”

“That is true,” said Laura.

“Will they be short sighted, as well?”

“I don’t know,” said Laura. “I expect so. In any case, we will have more of an opportunity to make a soft landing, as everyone likes to call it, not a hard landing, a crash.”

Laura made powerful arguments. In addition, Laurence wanted to do something with his life to make himself more famous than Blimov. It was a vainglorious wish, but it was a wish nonetheless.

Laurence did not expect Blimov would kill him if he published plans for the von Neumann machine. After all, cheaper steel would go into the submarines. Blimov would be able to continue both his smuggling and his mining of sunken ships. True, the latter would not be so easy. Using current procedures for picking up metal, most would become cheaper. But with a little care, Laurence was sure that Blimov could obtain long lasting substances that von Neumann machines did not make too cheap. He could sell replica steam engines, although Laurence did not think that would be for long. Other von Neumann machines would build them. The fact that a useful von Neumann machine could be built was more important than its design. There was no planetary government to grant Blimov protection, not that any government would anyhow.

Moreover, Laurence remembered that Laura was not planning to live with him. He understood why. He focused on his engineering work. He spoke mostly of it. He really did prefer content-full conversation rather than conversation that he considered to be content-free.

As soon as Laurence agreed to make public the design of his von Neumann machine, Laura sent long messages to a great many people. She did not know all the people; she guessed who should be told.

A good portion of her messages were miscategorized as ‘unwanted’ or ‘too long,’ but enough went to their destinations and were saved so that publication became impossible to stop.

Besides its cover letter, the message contained complete design information. That is what made the messages so long. As an historical reminder, the default printing for visuals showed a light blue background, as if drafters still created blueprints.

A builder required a considerable fortune to pay for the first copy. He, she, or they had to buy the equipment, buy the materials, and hire the workers. A few of those hired had to be highly skilled. It was not easy. However, the message contained information on how long it took to build or buy every part in the city of Bombaia and how much that had cost. The information also included estimates for three other locations. They had different rates of pay and different costs of transport. The totals ended up different.

The cover letter also said the von Neumann machine reproduced successfully, that it produced various goods desired by consumers as well as what it itself needed for reproduction, that it produced electricity in addition to what it itself needed, and that this particular design required magnetite which it separated from beach sand. The cover letter also said that the machine lacked closure, so second and subsequent copies each cost.

It also explained why the machine was constructed as it was. Why, for example, the mirrors did not sweep their reflections down from the sky to the furnace all at the same time, why the furnace building carried a laser placed just above the glassed-in entry, and why that was a mistake.

Although the first copy was challenging, it was not too challenging. Likewise, the first copy cost a considerable amount, but not too much, not nearly as much as five years before. Subsequent copies, constructed by the first von Neumann machine, cost dramatically less. Over time, the cost per unit of humanly usable output kept going down.

Many people and organizations could and would adapt the design. They had the ability and they had the money. Laurence’ machine was aimed at the particular situation of Bombaia. However, the hard parts did not require new genius. Only the relatively easy parts had to be reinvented, like the mining of metallic ore and its automated refining.

Next: , Previous: , Up: Top  

Chapter 38

Peter Gelmund learned of Laurence’ innovation almost immediately. He did not consider it an invention, although many used that word. The inventing had taken place years before. But Laurence had innovated dramatically and that was important. Like Laura, he said it gave humanity a chance.

“Von Neumann replicators,” he said to Abigail, “can mine less rich deposits than currently. That is to say, they can do it economically. Resources won’t be wasted. They can desalinate more cheaply; water and the piping and pumps to distribute it will become more available; there will be more for irrigation. Aquifers need not be drained. Poor people need not starve; the rich will be able to eat more meat.

“With von Neumann replicators, we can make cheap, synthetic liquid fuel that does not add new fossil carbon to the atmosphere when it is burnt. That fuel will do well in cars and planes. Utilities will be able to run existing electric generators more cheaply than before. That will be useful away from the equator, near the poles. We could even make a synthetic coal, although I think it will be easier to introduce inexpensive liquid to solid converters.”

“Many coal miners will be put out of work,” said Abigail.

“That’s true,” said Peter. “We will have to retrain them for other jobs.

“As for fuel,” he said, “every liquid fuel is a store of energy. Petroleum stored solar energy for millions of years. That ‘rock oil,’ as it was called, is extracted and converted for human convenience; humans never produced it. Now we have a liquid fuel that humans do produce and that is produced in the present. Unlike coal, a solid, or rock oil, a liquid, or natural gas, this synthetic liquid fuel is not extracted from a finite store. It is produced. The manufacturing techniques have been known for years, but they have been too expensive outside a laboratory. Now costs have dropped.”

“The ‘store of energy,’ as you call it, is produced from sunlight,” said Abigail.

“Yes,” said Peter, “but we expect the sun to keep shining for a very long time.

“As I said, this instance of technological progress gives us a chance. Cheap energy means hope. We cannot get more food from the sea; but with better policed bans on fishing, the ecology can recreate itself. A fast replicator enables us to show good sense at a bearable cost. Society has time to change.”

Abigail nodded.

Peter went to see the brothers at George’s. By now he had been there enough times that he knew the one way streets.

Unfortunately, a storm had brought down the grid power. The failure was not local; it covered the whole area.

Fortunately, houses were covered with solar panels, which provided some electricity even though the clouds were thick. Moreover, batteries were much better than they had been. Peter knew they would last for days.

However, when he got to George’s the brothers were arguing although at first it sounded as if they agreed.

Thomas said, “Solar panels do not provide enough electricity over time. Batteries and liquid fuel will used up after a while.” George nodded; he could see that. “Grid companies,” said Thomas, “don’t pay for the loss of a company of being down, only for losses of sales of electricity, that is to say, they don’t charge for what they don’t deliver. They are profit oriented.”

He saw that Peter had just come in, greeted him, and included him in the argument. “Moreover,” Thomas continued speaking, “profit-oriented companies are as Peter said a long time ago: such companies will not spend extra for fear that they will be put out of business by those with fewer costs — exactly the same mechanism as in the ancient past when businesses dumped ‘bads’ so they did not have to pay for them. Fortunately for the people who lived in those days, ‘bads’ had little serious impact.

“That is the reason to vote for extra regulation: resilience costs. There must be a change in accounting.”

Thomas went on to say, “Nowadays, electricity is vital: it is not simply that we won’t remember how to be the Romans of two thousand years ago, we will starve!”

This is where the two brothers argued. Thomas pointed out, “We can get enough electricity to run heaters, refrigerators, and computers from our own solar panels during the day and from batteries during the night. Farmers will be far enough away that they won’t be suffering as we are; and if they have no grid electricity, they will still obtain enough energy to operate their weeding machines and the like. Governments look to farmers and food distribution first.”

George countered. “The problem is that people around here cannot get as much as they want. If they do use as much electricity as they normally do, batteries and liquid fuel will, as you say, run out.”

He continued. “Yes, if we are cut off, eventually we will run low, but we should not run out of electricity, not if we use it wisely. I don’t know about people in poorer parts of town; they are more dependent on the grid than we are.

“In any case, just-in-time delivery systems are more efficient, not only for companies, but in general. They require fewer resources. However, they often less resilient, since they often lack alternative delivery routes or big stocks.

“Nonetheless, even when you have alternative delivery routes and warehouses that always keep enough, in other words, a resilient economy, just-in-time delivery is good for a customer. It appears cheaper when he or she does not pay for it directly. Even with just-in-time delivery, he or she almost always receives food, heating fuel, and medicine. Electrical distribution systems get repaired.

“I agree, without stocks and alternative routes for delivery, we are stuck when we run out. But with them, we can go on. With them, there is not much chance, for example, that heating fuel will be used up.”

George went on. “Regulators must consider the cost of more resilience. Are you going to require that electrical distribution companies pay people to work just during emergencies?”

“We do for firemen,” said Thomas, “and, in any case, electrical distributors employ people to do regular work whom they train for emergencies.”

“The extra training is a cost,” said George. “Besides, you can prepare more and more people. You can have too many firemen.

“Resilience means fewer resources elsewhere. It means you cannot decide on your own to spend your resources; it means others cannot decide how to spend theirs, either.

“Regulators who are not corrupted must consider where to put resources.”

For the first time since they had known him, Peter sounded cheerful, in spite of the power failure. “You know,” he said to George and Thomas, “Laurence Lenter has built a practical von Neumann machine and distributed its plans.” They did know, but were curious about Peter.

“How did you learn about it?” asked Thomas.

“A friend of a friend told me. Then it became a major news story.”

“Why are you looking so pleased?” asked George.

“It will give us time,” said Peter.

“Most news stories have focused on the number of people Lenter’s device could put out of work,” said George.

“Yes,” said Peter. “The current complaint is that the machine will put miners put out of work: metal miners and eventually, coal miners. Both the managers of the companies and the leaders of the miners’ unions are against von Neumann machines. The companies will lose profits and the miners’ leaders won’t be able to act as they have traditionally. Those who will benefit are disorganized. They are the customers who will be able to buy more as prices come down.

“It is funny and sad,” he said; both George and Thomas jerked back.

Peter explained the background and then the foreground. “Von Neumann replicators can make material products that we like. Replicator is another term for von Neumann machine. These machines assemble goods. Their intrinsic expense is low, unless they require costly inputs. That is why I am cheerful.

“In addition, Von Neumann assemblers create social leisure, since fewer people have to work to produce the same material goods.

“When a rich or retired person relaxes and does nothing, social leisure is considered good, at least, by most people. But when it leads to unemployment, social leisure is considered bad. That is what I think is funny on the one hand and sad on the other.

“In any case, as a society, we cannot afford too much leisure. Machines cannot do everything. We either have to ban technology or teach adults a different job. I prefer the latter.”

George and Thomas nodded. They preferred adult learning, too.

“Let me be more precise,” Peter said. “With as much success as regular economies, but more quickly, the Lenter machine handles ore, sunlight, water, and such, but nothing as small as atoms or molecules.”

“What does that mean?” asked George.

“It is not like earlier devices,” said Peter, “Those von Neumann machines required modules built by the existing economy. They put them together and reproduced themselves. They did not work with something natural, like ore.”

“Have any machines been built?” asked Thomas.

“Oh, yes,” said Peter, almost dismissing the question. “People have built von Neumann replicators since the beginning of the millennium. The issue has been to make them practical; I mean the social or economic issue.

“Those earlier machines could not work in the wild. Well, in addition to basic inputs, which enable it to run anywhere, Lenter’s machines do require sensors, central processing units, and computer memories, all of which have to be manufactured separately. So they cannot work entirely in the wild, either. But they do not require many extras. That is key, socially and economically. By ‘anywhere,’ I mean a place with sunlight, ocean water, iron ore, and grass or other organic substance.”

“I understand what you mean,” said George. Thomas nodded.

“No one has to pay much for a new instance of itself, which a Lenter machine can produce. I don’t mean ‘not much’ in the sense that you could afford, singly or jointly. I mean ‘not much’ for a fairly rich business, country, city, or non-profit.

“Put another way, Laurence Lenter has built and told the rest of the world the plans for a practical, self-reproducing mechanical device, a von Neumann machine. The critical word is ‘practical.’

“What exactly do you mean by the word ‘practical’?” asked Thomas.

Peter did not answer him directly. Instead, he said, “Lenter’s machine isn’t entirely closed; that’s the jargon. An entirely closed system can reproduce itself from entirely natural substances. Bacteria, rabbits, and people are like that. Moreover, a human economy, with people, schooling, and equipment, can double its size. That is reproduction.”

Eventually, Peter explained the word ‘practical.’ “Lenter’s device cannot build everything from raw materials. But the need for extras is sufficiently small that new von Neumann machines are relatively cheap. That is the good result.”

“And,” said Thomas, “Lenter’s machine makes certain things very cheap.”

“Yes,” said Peter. “Put another way, practical von Neumann machines tell us that we can clean up the planet without impoverishing many.”

“That is your main point, that these machines enable us to clean up the world?” asked Thomas.

“Yes,” said Peter. “Energy comes directly from the sun; we won’t have to move carbon out of the ground and into the air. Indeed, we will be able to extract carbon dioxide from the air and sequester it, either as carbon dioxide or as a burnable carbon in an oil.”

“It is true that non-rock oil benefits us,” said Thomas. “I mean oil that is produced from a non-fossil energy source.” George nodded. “It means less global warming,” Thomas said. “It is a good store of energy, too. On the other hand, non-rock gasoline means there is less incentive to develop better batteries. We will continue to use internal combustion engines, which are intrinsically noisy.”

“Yes,” said Peter. “Fortunately, internal combustion engines can be muffled. Even two-stroke engines will become affordable. They become notoriously less efficient when their exhausts are restricted by mufflers but the decline in the price of fuel will more than compensate. And this kind of internal combustion engine, an ICE that explodes an oxygen-hydrocarbon mixture, may be replaced by a turbine, which can be even quieter.

“There is no doubt about it: when we can cheaply extract carbon dioxide from the air and turn it into fuel using water that need not be drinkable, we provide others with an immoral incentive to continue as they have, a moral hazard. Fortunately, we can beat the immoral.

“At the same time, ordinary people will be able to live in a more resilient way. They will be able to afford metallic weapons, which will become much cheaper. On the one hand, those who attack will gain; on the other hand, those who defend will have weapons, too. Everything will be cheaper, including that which cannot be reproduced by von Neumann machines.”

“Why the latter?” asked George.

“More resources will be available,” said Peter. “The net effect won’t be bad or need not be if we make good decisions politically and socially. We have a chance that old fashioned actions or climate changes or whatever won’t force humans to die.”

“People,” said Thomas, “and countries will have to modify their lives to be more resilient.”

“They have to do that anyhow,” said Peter. “You cannot have a distant bureaucracy guard you, like a national army in the old days. Nowadays, you can be attacked by climate change or resource depletion — by droughts and storms, by high prices that aren’t entirely the result of theft. That can be fixed by Lenter’s machines, or at least, much can be fixed. You can also be attacked by soldiers who are not in a national army, by terrorists … That cannot be fixed. You have to depend on amateurs who may be guided by professionals, but are not themselves professional.

“You may ban von Neumann machines in your country, but if others do not, they can conquer you. As I said earlier, our dream has to provide help to everyone and has to provide resiliency.

“Besides weapons, Lenter’s Von Neumann machines can produce good products, like houses. Machines can melt rock and form the result for the outside of an external wall; the outside of a wall needs to be tough. It can create foamed rock insulation; that can be the middle of the wall. For the inside, it can produce plaster you see and feel.

“In addition,” said Peter, he was thinking of implications, “bad news, or maybe it is not bad, just news,” he paused for a moment, obviously he could not figure whether it was good, bad, or indifferent. Since neither George nor Thomas could read minds, they had not the foggiest idea what the news could be about. They waited, knowing Peter would return to the topic.

“An implication,” he said, “is that as a result of reducing the cost of material objects, people’s focus will shift to the need for a sense of self-worth. That is if people move up Maslow’s needs hierarchy. People will want communities that provide them power, dignity, and attention.”

George nodded; Thomas looked intently.

“In any community, individuals must share a dream,” Peter said. “The dream may be one we like, in which case it is good. But it may not be. Regardless, if individuals don’t share a dream, then each is separate. Other people lack reason to pay attention or provide power and dignity. There is no community. A successful community conquers others; it provides the individuals in it with power, dignity, and attention. We desire a dream that others can adopt that we like and that is safe for us.

“That is what I said before: we need a dream.

“George, the products you recommend will drop in price. Since Lenter’s machines are not closed, I don’t think their prices will drop as far as Thomas’ computer programs. For all practical purposes, their prices are already zero.”

“Not all computer programs have zero prices,’ said Thomas, “not in the United States.” He found it easy to shift from the general to the particular. “Hardly anyone notices software prices that are hidden in the overall cost of a computer or paid for by an employer.”

Peter responded. “That is because the U. S. is law abiding. Our government can and does enforce patents and copyrights. The U. S. government does try to export the same enforcement, but it does not always succeed.

“In any case, regarding Lenter’s von Neumann machines: I mentioned houses, the third in the sequence of food, clothing, shelter, and community.”

Both George and Thomas kept listening. “I don’t know about clothing. It depends on plant or animal fleeces for natural cloth and on chemistry for synthetic cloth. If Lenter’s machine can produce the right chemicals from raw inputs, then it can make synthetic fibers, weave them, and sew them into clothing. I don’t know what can be done right now, although there is no reason it cannot make the equipment. I have not seen anything about clothing or chemicals.

“Lenter’s replicator cannot as yet produce food. Food depends on the manipulation of molecules. His machine can’t do that. At the moment, food can only be grown.” Peter stopped for a moment. “… or collected. Fishing means collection. We have to manage fish stocks, which means growth. In effect, fish are grown. But people tend to think in terms of collecting fish. They call it ‘catching.’ ” He returned to his main topic. “The major point is that von Neumann machines can make tools cheaply. Since they can make farming tools, the cost of food will go down. They can provide energy, too.

“Community is different. No von Neumann machine can produce community.”

“What about initial costs?” asked George.

“That can be a problem. Outside of structures paid for by taxes and gifts, the current method for governments’ funding initial or start up costs is to provide monopolies, such as those in patents and copyrights. Those monopolies may or may not contract with others.

“When there are several big organizations, governments support oligopolies. Seven is about the maximum number of organizations that bureaucrats and politicians can handle or which can handle themselves with ‘price leadership’ and whatnot. In other words, at least in the old days, an oligopoly seldom had more than seven separate organizations in it. Modern technology makes control easier, so the number can rise.”

“The words ‘monopoly’ and ‘oligopoly’ are jargon,” said George.

“Are they?” asked Peter. “To me the words are common. They occur frequently in anti-competitive circumstances. A businessman wants to be head of a monopoly because that enables him to be rich and powerful. A senior government official wants oligopolies because he can handle the people running a few organizations more easily than one opponent monopoly. Competition and freedom implies many organizations.”

“I see competitive and free companies all over the place,” said George.

“That is because they are not important,” said Peter. “If such a company goes bust, who cares, except the people involved?

“I am talking about organizations with more than ten thousand people. Then the organizations become important to the national government. When the country covers a relatively small area, like Germany at the beginning of the 20th century, monopolies will be encouraged. They will be production monopolies as well as those depending on patents and copyrights. When the country covers a big area, like the U. S. at the beginning of the 20th century, oligopolies will be encouraged. Also, in the U. S., big companies competed with technological innovation, which was good.”

“What does all that about monopoly and oligopoly have to do with initial costs?” asked George.

“Part of the reason you had to have big organizations was technological: only when you spent the initial cost of building a big enough steel mill could you produce steel cheaply,” said Peter. “Only elephants, that is to say, large companies, could make aluminum.”

“Big companies each had many plants; you can’t say that technology was the reason,” said George.

“No, technology was not the whole reason,” said Peter. “It was part of the reason. Part was organizational within the company: for example, managers found it easier to prevent competing plants from inadvertently over-producing steel when they controlled them. In the United States, a generation or so before, railroads had competed to provide transportation on certain routes. They went bankrupt, kept operating, and prevented development. Do you remember the ‘Erie?’ It kept running trains after bankruptcy. In the 19th century, it was an important railroad between New York and Chicago.

“Another part of the reason was sociological or political. As I said, bureaucrats and politicians can’t remember more than five or seven organizations in any given field. That is for big countries and old organizations.

“For new companies, you had patents and copyrights. They helped small and competitive organizations, too. They helped individuals gain investment and become new entries. They supported freedom. Patents and copyrights meant that governments not only protected the big, but also the small.”

“Every company begins small,” said George.

“Every new company begins small,” said Peter. “Old companies can re-begin big; that is a social or political issue, not a technological issue. Of course, some companies are big and have been around for a long time.

“Either you have the freedom to compete or you lose.”

“Big, old companies, like the British East India Company, have gone out of business,” said George.

“The British East India Company went out of business for two reasons: firstly, it became very incompetent — that provides an advantage to anyone opposing such a tyranny; secondly, there were vast technological changes in the centuries during which it operated. I am speaking of a very long time. If you were a victim in the early years, you could not hope for your grandchildren to succeed when you lost; you had to hope for your multiply-great grandchildren. Furthermore, I doubt that anyone’s multiply-great grandchildren would have succeeded had there been enforcement of world-wide patent and copyright laws.

“I do think incompetence would have led to revolt eventually, but it might have taken even longer. Organizations have survived for centuries; they have been incredibly incompetent at everything except survival, which is to say, destroying their enemies.”

“How does this relate to initial costs?” asked George. He was like a dog with a bone; he was not going to give up.

“Outside of structures paid for by taxes and gifts,” said Peter, “the current method for funding initial or start up costs is, as I said, to provide monopolies or oligopolies. That is one reason the U. S. is so rich. Many high initial cost operations got started.

“Each organization charges so that average payments cover initial costs. Well, the private ownership of land was and is important, too. That is a classic example of subsidiarity. Owners only call in the people from a government to defend property when they want to keep others out.”

“Big companies charge more than enough to pay for initial costs,” said George.

“Yes,” said Peter, “but consider just the theory of patents and copyrights. Those are types of government enforced monopoly. Average payments cover setup costs and since you may not sell enough, prices have to be a bit higher than the average. From the point of view of a government, patents and copyrights were terrific. Neither cost the government much and only the popular required effort. Moreover, since most of the world lacked governmental enforcement, new expressions and better inventions spread. Good people could and did support them.

“However, technology has advanced. The cost of production has dropped so much that for many products even a minuscule average cost is too much. The cost is seen as unfair. Indeed, for new expressions, the perceived cost of copying a song, movie, or book is zero. The same with computer programs. When price nearly matches perceived cost but is a little more than zero, deciding whether to buy becomes more costly than the paid price. That is why micro-payments have never been popular. From the point of view of the person choosing, decisions have always been expensive. You can only obtain micro-payments comfortably from people who do not make decisions, but engage in habitual actions. Then the payments are not micro. Both of you live on subscriptions. Payment schemes that include the cost of decisions cannot be micro.”

“Fixed payments, subscriptions,” said Thomas. “You know what you are going to spend ahead of time. Subscriptions are a kind of average price.”

“Yes,” said Peter. “Unfortunately, there are two problems. At the beginning, fixed payments are voluntary. Yours are voluntary and likely to continue to be. But eventually, some of them — not yours, but, for example, school payments — become expected. In a sense, those payments become like taxes in which the richer pay a smaller portion of their income than anyone else. This produces a political problem.

“In any case, not all payments are fixed, especially for products that do not yet exist. We need a new mechanism to pay for the initial costs of products whose ongoing costs will be zero or very close. Mostly, the initial cost is in their design. Fortunately, with practical von Neumann machines, manufacturing is easy. Let the crazy people — they are almost always seen by others as crazy — be supported materially by von Neumann machines. Even Lenter’s machine provides a good deal. In addition, let the innovators — the writers, the scientists, the artists — accept gifts. The gifts need not be large if they are numerous. That will help the popular and discourage the unpopular. People can plan how much to give away.”

“A new mechanism means a social change: gifts to different people,” said Thomas.

“I don’t think that will be so difficult,” said Peter. “I am thinking of amounts that will be less than a tithe. Gifting is an old habit. There will be organizations that help, too.

“Managers and leaders can be employed by or possess organizations. Such companies can take cheaply manufactured items, distribute them, and survive through payments or through subscriptions. For choosing among what is produced, a regular person can hire.”

“Critically, we now have time.”

Next: , Previous: , Up: Top  

Chapter 39

Advertising worked. Through it, Gertrude Gelt learned of Peter’s ideas even though the advertisements weren’t very good. At first, she looked for sponsors. She feared that Peter spoke for others. It was evident that George and Thomas paid for it all.

It was not hard to arrange a visit. Neither of the twins had experience with being rich and putting off interlopers. Perhaps, she felt, they were not so rich or perhaps they had been anonymous.

They looked identical even though they had different last names. Thomas explained that they were twins separated at birth. Gertrude Gelt introduced herself as ‘Gigi Gelt.’

“Are you the Gertrude Gelt who was on the news recently?” Thomas asked.

“Yes,” said Gigi.

“When you were younger,” said Thomas, “you played little old ladies in amateur theater. Is that right?”

“Yes, and now I am one,” said Gigi. Thomas laughed. “Please tell me what you think about Peter,” she said.

George spoke and Thomas nodded. “Peter says that ‘firstly, a dream must involve knowledge.’ What he really means is that we must adopt a sensible technology.”

That was not what Gigi asked, but the comment did tell her that George and Thomas needed Peter’s thoughts rather than vice versa. He did not simply mouth their words, although he took many ideas from the vast pool of knowledge that existed.

George continued. “Peter is correct in saying that nothing may depend on new processes; they may be impossible. Fortunately, Lenter has developed a practical von Neumann machine. It is not new technology; it is old technology put together in a different way. It is an innovation. And it will have vast impact. Peter is right in saying that the use of innovations implies a change in schooling regardless whether or not there are any other new technologies. This is one of the impacts that von Neumann machines are going to have.

“My impression,” said George, “is that Peter focuses more on study and investigation than on learning what society approves, which is what most of schooling is about. Perhaps he really is a technological conservative and does not expect new processes. Then study and investigation will be even more important than they are now, since we will have make do with what we have.”

“Alternatively,” said Thomas, unexpectedly, “Peter really is concerned with the downside risk of not creating anything new.” George nodded vigorously and then spoke himself.

“Peter says that ‘secondly, a dream must provide for everyone,’ because technological development has made it so much easier to kill. That is true; he is also right in saying that that has enormous political implications.

“Thirdly,” said George, “Peter says that a ‘dream must provide for the long term.’ In fact, people consider the long term or the short term depending on cues. When they think of their grandchildren, they think long term.

“The problem is that many contemporary organizations depend on a discount rate that doesn’t fit personal experience. I don’t know if Peter really understands that. In any event, he is saying that some discounts make sense and others don’t. He is not against discounting the future, ‘interest rates’ as he refers to them. Peter says that sometimes it makes sense and other times it does not. That is true.

“At the same time some actions must be prevented or frozen and others must occur quickly … Peter does not mean traditional actions. He means new actions for new problems. He is right about that, too.

“For example, in times past, we did not have to worry about the actions of people at a distance; they did not have much impact. It never mattered if savages cut down a few tropical hardwood trees. It did not affect temperate zone savages. Now the descendants of those tropical people are more populous. They are not savages. A portion of them can kill more than a few trees. As a result, they can cause drought belts to move.”

“They can cut down those trees,” said Thomas, “or, if any large population, anywhere, increases their greenhouse gas emissions causing drought, those trees die.”

“Perhaps poor people grow richer …, ” said George, “or perhaps a few rich people, only millions of them, continue to burn fossil fuel of which there is a finite, though unknown, amount left. Action must take place in less than a generation. He says that is a short time.” George continued. “Finally, Peter talks about the need for resiliency. That comes from increased technological efficiency. For one, as I said before, it is now cheaper to take revenge.”

“So you are saying,” said Gigi, “that a common dream must involve knowledge, concern everyone, provide for the long term, yet offer institutions able to make changes quickly, and ensure resiliency.”

“Yes,” said George.

“And be a dream that we like,” said Thomas.

“We have five items in the list,” said Gigi, “technology, people, long term, short term, resiliency. That list suggests a mixed economy, intelligently run. That has never happened in the past, not over the long term.”

George and Thomas looked at each other. Thomas nodded minutely. They had decided that Gigi was worth listening to. Gigi kept a bland face but she understood the by-play.

“We never had world-wide impacts in the past, either,” said George. He explicated: “Whole peoples could die; Carthage could be destroyed; yet nothing mattered to the human population as a whole. Now we have one chance. We don’t have enough easy-to-get resources for a second. The prospect of imminent death concentrates the mind wonderfully.”

“The prospect does not always,” said Gigi. “Many prefer to die.” George raised his eyebrows, then nodded.

“Or, at least,” she said, “few revolt successfully. In any case, we are not talking about imminent death, not for the powerful. Indeed, we are not talking about imminent death for most. We are mostly talking about a harder and shorter life for those as yet unborn; they will be poorer.

“Peter is right to focus on the cues for thinking long term. We don’t do enough. Our leaders do not do enough. He is also right in talking about world-wide impacts. They could not happen before, or if they did, they were not relevant.”

“I know it is a digression,” said George, crunching his forehead, “what do you mean ‘world-wide impacts were not relevant?’ ”

“Some have argued that the Black Death at the end of the Medieval period killed so many people that when trees grew back over farms, the extra carbon they took out of the atmosphere triggered the Little Ice Age. I don’t know whether that is true. Certainly, many people died in Europe and China and there were fewer farms over the next few centuries. The deaths were relevant, but not whether the Black Death triggered the Little Ice Age, not relevant to our immediate problem.

“In any case,” said Gigi, “it’s true, we can only solve our problems through a sensible use of technology, putting the elements together right. Over the past ten thousand years, progress has been to mine more and more. While we do have recycling for iron, a portion is always lost and we don’t have recycling for the coal that refines the iron initially. Moreover, technology has made warfare more cheap. Resilience does make sense. A serf could always kill another with a scythe but armies have become cheaper. The people in governments do not think intelligently over generations, but social systems force them.

“That has been one of the functions of religion. Once they were established, the various great religions have always planned several generations ahead. The early Christians and a minority of people since then have claimed that the end is coming soon, but once Christianity became dominant in Europe, its leaders mostly looked forward. So Peter is right, providing the right social cues will help.”

“Perhaps those who say the world is coming to an end soon see their world, their social world, as coming to an end,” said Thomas.

“That has always been the case,” said George. “People always lived differently over time.”

“Yes, but most people either look forward to changes or they don’t think about them,” said Thomas.

“In any case, Senator Jelder is providing a cue,” said George.

“What is this about Senator Jelder?” asked Gigi.

“Peter visited him. Besides saying he was not going to help, which is why we are, he said that Peter’s ideas should become ‘more overt,’ ‘more common,’ and ‘more preserved.’ ”

“Why did Senator Jelder say this?”

“Well,” said George, “Peter said that the Senator told him that he, Peter, could not fund the Senator enough, which is doubtless true, and that he, Peter, would be able to write.”

“In other words,” said Gigi, “Senator Jelder said he is not going to help; but he won’t oppose Peter either. That is better than having the Senator and his people oppose Peter. It means the Senator, who is smart, does not see his support, especially his financial support, go away. It may even mean that the Senator believes that Peter is more than a crazy kook. That is good.

“In any case,” she said, “you are asking people to remember too many items. Remember, most people won’t care. It will be entirely accidental if they remember anything. Three items is maximum.

“You need to say what the dream consists of. Most people want to be comfortable; they do not want to die too soon.”

“It is important that some infrastructure be everlasting,” said George. Thomas nodded.

“OK, we need to talk about everlasting infrastructure,” said Gigi. “It cannot be the first item, because people don’t care that much beyond grandchildren or great-grandchildren. Or maybe they care but seldom act on account they believe they can’t do anything. They think to themselves, ‘why bother,’ even though decisions they take now will have repercussions down the line. For example, you can only dig up an ore once.”

“Most people do not control mines,” said George.

“That is true,” said Gigi. “In any case, talk about an everlasting infrastructure cannot be first.”

“Communities must be resilient,” said Thomas, to the others’ surprise. “Some will take revenge. There is no way around that. Without resiliency, societies will be too brittle.”

“That’s the third item, then,” said Gigi. “What is the first item? We cannot simply say we have a dream — ‘dream’ is too general.”

“Yes, you said that before,” said George. “The dream has to be for material and spiritual goods that can be obtained with current technologies and knowledge.”

“A sustainable life,” said Thomas.

“Exactly,” said George, “but I hate using the word ‘sustainable’ since it is indirectly attacked so often.”

“Maybe I am trying to restrict things too much,” said Gigi. Both George and Thomas waved their heads back and forth; they were not sure.

“Perhaps,” said Gigi, “we can say, ‘I dream of a comfortable and spiritual life. Our community cannot be brittle, but must be resilient. And while a farm or a water company may vanish, the soil on which we grow food and the water we drink must be everlasting.’ ”

“Could you say that?” asked George. “It would be a good introduction to Peter’s longer comments.”

“I would say, ‘I dream of a comfortable and spiritual life. Well, the dream is not for me; I am too old. It is for others.’ Then I would go on. Are you suggesting that Peter talk as well as write?”

“Yes,” said George. “We have found that on the whole people prefer to listen than to read.”

“… even though that is much less efficient,” said Thomas.

“Please speak about the subject and then talk to Peter as if it were an interview,” said George. He was pulling Gigi in. “We can transcribe the interview, too. When people read, their habits change. Writing has influence, but it takes a long time.”

“Peter is restating,” said Thomas, “and perhaps adding a little to what has already been written and said better than he. He is not starting from nothing. Every little expression counts. He is not great, but is not bad. We want a portion of his audience to act on what he wrote.”

“Politicians,” said Gigi. “Yes,” said George. “They and others seldom think of it, but they establish how prices are devised. Nowadays, they determine whether vanishing is included in the cost.”

“What do you mean?” asked Gigi.

“Imagine,” said George, “a stone age man cutting down a tree and not planting another. That results in a vanishing tree.”

“He probably girdled the tree,” said Thomas, “and may have burnt the base, but not the upper part. If he did use a stone ax, it took forever and three days — which is to say, just a little longer than a steel-headed ax. Stone axes cut as well as steel axes but took longer to make sharp and needed more skill and more experience. Also, in stone age times, the curves of the wooden handle were not done right. Indeed, even Medieval peasants did badly. As far as I know, no one balanced an ax properly until the last half millennium, at least in the West; I don’t know about the East.”

George listened patiently. Then he said, “Early traders, what we would now call ‘merchants’ or ‘businessmen,’ effectively enjoyed a subsidy from their ecology. They had no effect that they noticed. Consequently, they did not count distant impacts as costs. Only the immediate payments for safety, transport, wages, and raw materials got counted.”

“Those costs were counted because they occurred without governments to impose them,” said Gigi. “Businessmen paid taxes, too, when they were forced to. Paying for distant impacts will be seen as a tax. At least, contemporary governments can act world-wide. Medieval governments couldn’t. Worse, they charged taxes for rulers rather than for sustainability.”

“Taxes sustained them; part was spent on the courts and army,” said George.

“That was not what we mean by ‘a sustainable environment,’ ” said Gigi crossly.

Thomas reverted to knowledge. “In Medieval Europe,” he said, “miners thought that ores came back after several centuries rest, that they regrew. So good miners dug in fresh places, which is to say, they only mined the easy.”

“For generations,” said George, “that was more than enough. There was no reason to charge for distant impacts. It might have been different if people lived on a smaller island rather than on this vast ball.”

“No,” said Gigi. “It is not a question of the size of the planet. Look at Easter Island. Almost any place big enough to settle independently will have enough for generations. On Easter Island, it took hundreds of years for the settlers to reduce trees to brush. By the time of the collapse, no one remembered and believed what the island had been like when it was first settled; or perhaps they believed, but not strongly enough to act. Peter is right. Some things need to be everlasting. For the Easter Islanders, it was trees from which they could make ocean-going boats; for us, trees, fish, water, climate, energy in various forms — many more items.

“You are right; an advantage we have is that we can understand more than they. We know more and we have institutions that can last longer — not only religions, even private firms can outlast the fall of a civilization so long as their properties aren’t taken.”

“What do you mean ‘the fall of a civilization?’ ” asked George.

“The fall of Medieval civilization and the rise of the Modern,” said Gigi. “At least one Swedish firm has lasted that long. The Catholic Church, a religious institution, has seen the collapse of both Classical civilization and Medieval civilization. In both cases, the policies stayed more or less the same. That is critical. I don’t know of cities or languages that have kept the same for so long. It is a special kind of conservatism. It is not the conservatism of ‘we will do the same as our grandfathers,’ since that is really stupid when conditions change; it is a responsive, active intent to conserve. The firm handled the Industrial Revolution; I hope it can handle the next. The religious organization did not handle the Industrial Revolution very well; I hope it can handle the next better.”

She paused and thought for a moment, tipping her head from side to side. “I will interview Peter.”

“And Peter will be the bumbling academic who, unfortunately, has something to tell us,” said Thomas, grinning. “That sounds about right.”

“It is even true,” said George, “more or less.”

“Gigi is not as harmless as she seems,” said Thomas to George, “and Peter does not have his head in the clouds quite as far as we like to think, although he can be difficult. An interview is a good idea.”

“And its advertisements,” said George.

“Yes, I will make those. I think the ads should differ; they will be mostly written.” said Gigi.

“What do you mean?” asked George.

“I think of us as producing a pamphlet. I know people will listen to an interview, but I think of it as written. Same with the ads.

“We know that hardly anyone will read what Peter wrote, few will listen to or read the interview, and most will gather whatever information they have by considering ads they won’t attend to. So ads are most important.

“I am not saying that every ad must be different, only that we should change them fairly frequently. Then we can illuminate each of the major items separately: the implications of knowledge, concerning everyone, long term thinking, short term actions, and resilience.”

“The implications will be massive,” said George.

“Yes,” said Gigi. “And nobody wants to change. That is reasonable. People worry about what Thomas called” she nodded at him “the ‘downside risk.’ ” Thomas said, “Peter used the phrase first.”

“Regardless, it is a reasonable worry,” said Gigi. “Nonetheless, the goal is to persuade many people as well as the powers that be.” She grinned at them, somewhat ferociously.

“The beginnings should be the same: Peter and me,” said Gigi. I will have to tell people when we plan to publish, as well as the general ideas. Then we can have the different parts. In each of those, Peter should make a short statement of one of his points. So we have five all told.”

“That sounds good,” said George. “Could you develop more detailed proposals for us?”

“Yes,” said Gigi. “Please give me a night.”

She remembered the way and she liked George and Thomas. The next day at the appointed hour she returned. Again, George welcomed her.

“I have ideas,” she said as they turned to work. It was a straightforward continuation of the previous day.

“In the fixed part, we should have Peter start out optimistically. A more or less practical von Neumann machine really is helpful. He should say something like, ‘Lenter’s replicator gives us time.’ We can have a picture of one making houses.

“Then I have to say what we are going to do, our interview, and when we are going to publish. Next, I should summarize him. After that Peter should summarize his points. Those are the variable segments. A typical segment should contain no more than two or three sentences.

“Here is what I have. First, for the fixed part, I have Peter say, ‘Lenter’s replicator gives us time,’ then I speak: ‘I intend to interview Peter Gelmund and air the results on …’. Then I summarize him: ‘Peter proposes a dream. He talks about a comfortable and spiritual life, community, and resilience. He says that while a farm or water company may vanish, the soil on which we grow food, the water we drink, must be everlasting.’

“Finally, we can have the variable parts spoken by Peter. There are five of them.

“You have to have Peter saying he is going to speak of only one of the five,” said Thomas. “He must mention all five topics,” said Gigi.

“Great ads appeal more to emotion than to reason,” said George. “These don’t.”

“No, they don’t,” said Gigi. “Regardless, we are trying to change the thinking of people who either don’t care, or who fear, or who actively ignore us, or all three.”

“Any technology that permits one-to-many connections presumes that the ‘one’ knows more,” said Thomas.

“Peter is right,” said Gigi.

“I am not saying he and we aren’t,” said Thomas. “Indeed, there have always been people who have seen further ahead and who have been right. Peter and we do know more. But changing the actions of movers and shakers will be difficult. It will take time.”

Gigi smiled. “Yes, that is for sure. It will take time. An advantage of Lenter’s von Neumann machines is that even though they will cost some people, they will not cost everyone; and they will provide benefits. I just hope that the people the machines will cost will be less organized than our side will be.

She went on. “We think Peter is important. Our goal is to tell people what can be done socially and politically after a change. We say that impacts are changing a big world as they have changed small islands. That makes it easier. In any case, our main purpose is to have society consider the long term. Few will read him or others now. That will be later. When they do, the works will become important.

“That is why I have proposed these ads. They are certainly not the best, but they are the best I can imagine for this purpose.”

Next: , Previous: , Up: Top  

Chapter 40

Laurence liked the way Laura had released the information on his von Neumann machine. For one, it was named after him. John von Neumann was honored but the first practical machine was called Lenter’s device; those being built around the world were called ‘Lenter’s devices,’ plural.

Several places had spray droplet machines and other materials. The first of Lenter’s devices was made quickly. That was past. Already the devices were able to make electricity and houses as well as more of themselves.

Nobody asked what Laurence was doing in Bombaia; he was seen as the engineer who had put all together. Blimov was seen the businessman who raised money. Nobody asked about him either. Laurence smiled. The machines were named after him.

Besides itself, Laurence’s own von Neumann machines could make houses and boats. It could not produce too many electric motors because it needed the insulation for reproducing itself. Either he needed to buy more electrical insulation or he needed to synthesize it from organic material at hand.

Trees and other slow growing organics would not do. Fertilized weeds would grow fast enough. With cheap energy, he could make nitrogen fertilizer from air and water. Trace elements he could buy, just as he purchased sensors and computers and the like. That was fine except that molecules with phosphorus and potassium in them were not trace elements and had become expensive.

Now that he thought about it, he could synthesize electrical insulation and clothing out of the liquid hydrocarbon fuel he produced from air and water … from oxygen, carbon, and hydrogen. Not much of any other element would be required. Spray droplet machines could build the necessary chemical reactors. He could purchase catalysts. He would become a chemical engineer. His machines could manufacture many electric motors.

Laurence liked growing plants; they could handle atoms and molecules in ways that his chemical reactors could not. His general purpose manufacturing devices, his spray droplet machines, generated drops that were vastly bigger than atoms. On the other hand, organic weeds could not produce inorganic devices, such as sensors. Nothing could that he had. Well, he would just have to buy. His machines were not self sufficient and closed, just nearly so.

His machines could not produce food for humans but they could produce clothing and shelter, not as good as people wanted, but good enough.

Good enough clothing and shelter, would, as someone in the United States had said, ‘give time.’ It would also hurt.

Some people were vicious. Laurence thought of those who controlled governments that mined expensive energy. They had people pump petroleum out of the ground and at times did not even pay off those who lived on that ground. He was not worried about assassins. So long as Blimov protected him, he felt safe. He wondered about Laura. More and more people learned of their connection. She would have to end her wide open life.

Or maybe she wouldn’t. She was watched by relatives of people she treated. And although he was sure she felt herself freer than he, she did not go as far. She might be safe.

Blimov liked that he was seen as a businessman, a real estate dealer, not as the head of a sophisticated smuggling gang.

Mostly, those reproducing machines that had been built by others also produced electricity and parts of houses. Two did not mine iron or recycle it, but obtained magnesium from the sea. Robots built mirrors and plinths. The robots themselves were made with magnesium. The parts had to be thicker, a complete machine took longer to replicate, and the first cost more, but the result merely had to be in a sunny place by the sea. Eventually, Blimov knew, von Neumann machines would produce most of what people needed for clothing and shelter, although perhaps not what they most wanted. Until they could manipulate atoms, von Neumann machines could not produce food. And, as some American had written, someone one from the United States — he grinned to himself, he was in America, he just was not in North America — von Neumann machines could never produce community.

However, Blimov was upset.

He came into Laurence’s office angrily, waving a pistol, followed by his guards. Laurence had two guards in with him; unfortunately, they were as loyal to Blimov as to Laurence. “You have betrayed me!” Blimov cried. “How?” asked Laurence, feeling absolutely calm. He knew that if Blimov were against him, he would die shortly.

Blimov did not say that Laurence had reduced his market in the U. S. by offering hope. Laurence had not destroyed it; he had merely reduced it. Blimov said, “You told everyone how to produce electricity cheaply.”

“But you did not say not to; indeed, you did not care.”

“It was presumed.” Blimov shouted. “I assumed you understood. We could have made a huge amount of money selling those generators. We could even become legitimate!”

“Cheap energy will give us, the human race, time to do better,” said Laurence. “Smuggling, what you have just and suddenly referred to as an illegitimate act, helps those who oppose the future.”

Blimov shot him, as well as Laurence’s two guards who looked like they were getting ready to defend him.

After the shooting, Blimov said to the remaining guards, all his, “So we got here too late to save Laurence and these two guards from assassins sent by our enemies. We can search for them — we will search for them, but I am sure they will escape. The guards died trying to protect Laurence. Laurence is a hero.”

Previous: , Up: Top  

Chapter 41

Laura was shocked. She had not expected an attempt against Laurence, not any that would succeed. She knew he was well protected.

The relatives of her clients were good to her and her clients were better. She went to Blimov who held her in his arms. Neither she nor the relatives of her clients thought he was the murderer.

Blimov decided to become a legitimate businessman. He knew he would never get elected and he already had power and wealth. His smuggling revenues were lower — people in the U. S. could not afford to buy as much — and his salvage revenues were abysmal — nobody knew what could be got. He packaged the two components of his organization into two parts since he figured the salvage operation could become legal. In both cases, he pointed towards Lenter’s machine to produce submarines.

The salvage submarines were bigger than those used for smuggling; they were only a little bigger, but they were bigger. Prior to his murder, Laurence had not decided whether the slower smuggler boats should be made bigger and therefore more detectable. Blimov decided his buyers should decide.

Von Neumann machines induced a world-wide recession. None of the economies were ready for inexpensive material goods even if none of the von Neumann machines could produce food or community and none had ‘closure.’

Blimov sold his smuggling organization for good money since ultimately it depended on a grown material. His contacts and his people were the main reason he sold it for a good price; the representatives of the buyer made the point that anyone could now build submarines at low costs. He promised to leave most of his people in the organization and take only a few with him. He left those who were aiming towards a good life and revenge. In return, his buyer promised not to kill him. There was not much reason to, especially after he sold the salvage operation. He did not get much for that. Blimov figured there would still be good reason for kidnapping; he was very rich and so he kept his guards.

Blimov invested in non-military services. He figured that the rich militaries, probably several at once, would develop military-oriented artificial intelligence, AI, that could provide such services. They would have to do this for security, even though the extension of services would hurt their economy. They did not like or want AI but would have to have it. They would try to keep their inventions secret, but could not. In order to deter they had to tell the enemy militaries enough to make each invention believable. More successfully they would keep the AIs directed towards the military. Everyone would pay far more for non-military services in the military since those kinds of service made up most of the budget but that was the price to prevent widespread AI. Blimov would profit.

Finally, Blimov was rich, powerful, and legitimate. He had achieved all three of his goals although he did not think so. He had wanted to become a statesman. He was not one. He did not think enabling Laurence counted, even though it did. He would have to become accustomed to being a legitimate businessman. It felt very strange.