Thursday, August 21, 2008

Black Hole of Cynicism...

After years of screeching that a timeline on pulling out of Iraq would be dangerous ... Bush has negotiated a timeline on pulling out of Iraq.

I recall immediately after 9-11 telling people no, of course the Bush Administration had nothing to do with it. These days, the weight of my own cynicism threatens to turn me into a black hole -- they don't have to worry about turning on the collider at CERN, Dan Moran is the actual threat to the survival of the planet.

I still believe the Bush Administration had nothing to do with 9/11: they're not nearly competent enough to have pulled off something like that. But with an election coming, and McCain close enough to Obama to at least stem the tide of blood Republicans are expecting in this election ... wow, gas prices start to drop. Timelines abruptly aren't treasonous, but simple good policy that takes the issue off of McCain's shoulders. Sorry about all the dead and maimed soldiers.


In a deeply weird coincidence, I wrote this post last night before going to bed. This morning, got to the office -- and found an email from BBC Radio asking to interview me ... about the turning on of the CERN collider.

Monday, August 18, 2008

AI War, continuing ...


Before it was over they had inspected the torches, the cracker, the water tanks that fed the cracker, the oxygen and hydrogen tanks that the cracker fed. The oxygen could be bled directly into the air shafts, if necessary, in the event the lifesystem was damaged. Both the oxygen and hydrogen could be vented into space in the event of an oversupply. Under full boost the cracker would feed the hydrogen tanks as fast as it could crack the water. The system used hydrogen faster than it used oxygen: in the event of prolonged boost, the Unity would have to vent oxygen, or risk fires from over-oxygenated air.

They inspected most of the laser cannon, the missile emplacements, the slipship bay at mid-starboard, with over two hundred slipships. It was the image that stayed with Trent, at the end of the day: row upon row upon row of the small needle-like craft, two dozen rows of five slipships, each slipship capable of carrying one Space Force pilot, or of being operated remotely, or of fighting under control of its onboard computer. Each slip carried laser cannon pointing fore and aft and was equipped to carry a single missile. The ships boosted fast and hot, burning monatomic hydrogen in a chemical reaction.

Trent looked at the missile mountings, and thought, Nukes. I bet anything they're going to be nukes.

Over two hundred of them. There were some four thousand SpaceFarer ships scattered across the System . . . but perhaps as few as a quarter of those SpaceFarer ships would stand a chance in a battle against a Unification slipship; the other three thousand would be plasma within minutes.

They moved on and looked over the troop carrier bay at mid-port, with its six troop carriers. They inspected the lifesystem, and the three Bridges, fore, center, and aft. They examined the sensor arrays, the radar and deep radar, the neutrino detectors, the telescopes and the optical holocams. They inspected the trauma center, the machine shop, and the barracks.

Everything was an odd mix of the sparkling new and items that had been installed almost a decade ago: the Unity had been under construction a long time.

There was security everywhere, both visible holocams and Space Force guards. It was impossible to go from one deck to another without showing ID and undergoing a retinal scan. The same checks were performed at some, but not all, bulkheads, as they moved forward.

As sure as Trent was flipping bits there was security he could not see.

Near the torches the ship was not quite two kilometers tall; it sported one hundred and thirteen decks of unequal height. Some were only three or four meters tall; others scaled up fifty meters or more.

Bulkheads were spaced more evenly, one every seventy-five meters, down the seven kilometer length of the ship.

Trent was thoroughly chilled by the time they were done—knowing the ship's schematics was not the same thing as seeing the ship that had been built around those schematics. A big nuke, planted amidships, might break the ship in two, slow down the Unification's construction of this ship . . . but that was about it. And Trent doubted that even that would stop them; they'd just reassemble the ship and rebuild the parts that had been damaged.

He and Ken quit at 21:15. Ken assured Trent that he didn't have to worry—if he worked hard all day Sunday, Trent would have some idea what was going on before he had to face the staff on Monday. "So you won't look too silly. In the meantime," Ken concluded, "you might as well lose a few games of chess at dinner."

THEY PLAYED at a coffee house that Ken favored, Highland Grounds. Yovia had described it during his interrogation; a lot of the Halfers who played chess, played it at Highland Grounds. It was located in a quarter gee donut out toward the Edge; it took Trent and Ken fifteen minutes by sled to get there.

Ken ordered a black cup of Folgers coffee, and Trent the Uncatchable, one of the best known coffee junkies in the System, in a coffee house filled with the smell of exotic Earth-grown coffees, ordered Eugene Yovia's favorite black breakfast tea.

Trent tried hard not to despise Eugene Yovia, and his taste in women and drinks, as he sat in the quarter gee at Highland Grounds wearing Adam Selstrom's face and sipping bitter black English tea without lemon out of a bulb.

Mostly he failed.

Ken withdrew a long, thin wallet out of his back pocket after they'd seated themselves at a small table on the upper level, overlooking the stage, and set up the board.

Ken unfolded and spread out on the table top a flat sheet of elderly paper.

"What's that?"

Ken turned it around to show it to Trent. Two columns; at the top of the left column, in slightly shaky calligraphic handwriting, it said, Ken, The Grand, The Most High and Exalted Kicking-Butt Chess Champion.

The right hand column said, Crud.

Ken the Grand, Most High, etc., was beating Crud 32 games to 6.

"That's me, on the left," Ken said. "Over on the right—"


Trent won the first game on the thirty-eighth move.

"My game," said Trent. He brought his rook up from C1 to C6, took the pawn protecting the black King. "Check." The black Queen, sitting in row 6, had no choice; to get her King out of check, she had to take the rook, which would put her on the same diagonal with the white bishop, which would leave the black King sitting naked in the middle of the board—

"Want to play this out?"

Ken studied the board. "Nope . . . you've gotten better, Gene."

"At almost everything," said Trent.

"I guess four years and three months is a long time, for you young fellows. I've got white this time, I guess I'll whip you all over the board."

He took fifty-eight moves to turn his one-move advantage into a win, Queening a pawn at fifty-three, checkmating Trent at fifty-eight. He sat back and studied the board when he was done. "You don't play the way you used to, Gene. More careful like, and I don't recall you using that King's Indian defense before, either." He paused and said quickly, "You sure you're not playing out of your inskin?"

"Wouldn't do that to you, Ken."

Ken nodded reluctantly. "You've got a hell of a lot better, son."

Trent grinned at him. "I'm sure I still suck at dropball."

"I guess that's some consolation," Ken conceded.

Trent lost the next four games. It put Ken in a wonderful mood.

NEAR TWO A.M. KEN decided to call it a night. "Thirty-seven games to seven, I guess that's a stopping point. Us old guys have to get our sleep. Or else we die."

"You'll probably outlive me," said Trent.

Ken nodded. "That's the way of it, isn't it? Those of us with nothing to live for, live forever. Whereas you young folks with your hopes and dreams and desires, whammo! Usually that type gets snuffed at an early age. See you in the morning. We'll go play some dropball."

The man didn't say good-bye; he just dropped his chess pieces into the bag he carried, rolled up the mat they'd been playing on, saluted Trent once, and walked out.

Trent waited until he had cycled through the airlock.

He got up and went down to the bar. The counterman was a husky young fellow about twenty, Samoan at a guess, dressed in what looked to be a hand-sewn black gown with a little matching black cap. "What'll it be, chief?"

Trent looked at him. "You know who I am?"

The counterman blinked. "I don't think so. Should I?"

"Never mind. Small 'c', I get it. I'd like to try that . . . what's it called? Jamaican Blue? How about a bulb of that?"

"Cream? Sugar?"

"Black," Trent assured him. "Black as death. Just to see if I like it."

It was a foolish thing to do. Out of character for Eugene Yovia, to be sure—

Jesus and Harry, though. It was his birthday, and he hadn't been whammoed yet.

ON SUNDAY, March 10, 2080, Ken woke him early. "Get up!" he yelled through the door to Trent's quarters. He banged on the door twice. "Up I say! Early bird gets the worm! Big fat juicy worms!"

It was 06:10.

Trent reminded himself that Ken and Yovia were friends; he was personally starting to hate the man.

They played one on one dropball in the chamber up on Level Four, in ten percent gee, for most of an hour, playing by ones to 11. Trent lost every game. Yovia had clearly thought it the oddest request he'd been faced with during his interrogations, but he'd complied. Luna's surface gravity of one sixth gee is, by a bit, too heavy for a good game of dropball: Trent's people had boosted Yovia up off Luna, into orbit—

Where he had played dropball for two hours.

Trent had watched the holos. Yovia was a lousy player. He had no sense of timing, no shooting eye, had rotten ball control and got faked into the popcorn machine with abysmal regularity.

The wins put Ken in a good mood. They sat together in the sauna afterward, letting the heat work the kinks out of them. "You keep this up, Gene, keep it up. We'll work that fat off you yet."

"If it doesn't kill me." The sweat poured down Trent; his right knee throbbed. "I'm out of practice." It was true enough. Trent had rarely been out of condition in his life, but the last two months in low gravity, favoring his right knee, had taken its toll.

"Nah, this won't kill you. This wouldn't kill a Girl Scout! Tomorrow morning we'll play again, and that'll probably kill you. No loss, you don't have anything to live for anyway, I 'spect."

"I'm going to go to work," Trent said. "There's entirely too much local color in this sauna."

"I'll just have a nap in here," Ken announced.

SHUTTLES LEFT THE hotel for the Unity every half hour. Trent showered, dressed in sensible clothes, and took the 08:30 shuttle over.

In his office—at Deck 35, Bulkhead 212, Cross 9, addressed as 35,212,9—Trent sorted through his work. The computerist staff reported for duty tomorrow: fourteen individuals, fifteen counting Trent, working three rotating shifts, twenty-four hours around. They got weekends off. (In the earliest days of the project they had worked six-day weeks; that had lasted almost two years before the civilians working on the Unity had begun protesting. Midway into the second year, as the size of the project became apparent, as it became more and more clear that the Unity would never be finished by its original late '75 deadline, with thirty percent of the civilian staff refusing extensions to their contracts and heading back downside despite the high pay, working conditions had been improved; it had been years since the computerists had been required to work more than six days in a week.)

Six of the programmers were PKF DataWatch, and six were civilians. Two were Space Force.

There was one serious problem with his staff. Trent had known about the problem since deciding to take over Yovia's position, and still was not certain how to deal with it.

Trent had picked up a good fraction of the Reb records in the mess following the end of the '76 rebellion; and one of the Space Forcers, Lt. Keith Daniels, was a Reb agent, stranded inside Space Force when the Rebs collapsed.

Trent did not intend to make any overtures to Daniels. It appeared to Trent that Daniels was free of suspicion, but appearances were deceptive when dealing with the PKF. So far as Trent knew the man had not had contact with his Reb handlers since late '76. It was not at all impossible that he'd been tagged by the PKF, and left to sit inside Space Force to see what happened, who tried to contact him. Space Force would not have kept an officer they knew had been turned; they'd have shot him as soon as they were sure, and pulled him from sensitive duty long before that. But Trent knew for a fact that the PKF were not above leaving a known agent inside Space Force; they had done it on other occasions.

For now, no action with Daniels. Treat him no differently than any of the others.

Three of the team members had worked with Yovia, four-plus years ago. Trent would have to be careful with them. Reserved, perhaps even depressed, over his divorce. Given the deadlines Trent intended to impose on them, no socializing would be necessary; certainly none was desirable.

Ken was one of the three; the other two were Frenchmen, a pair of the DataWatch officers, Eloise Legut and Jean-Paul Troileác.

Careful and reserved should do it: four years absence could account for a lot of changes in an individual.

Six DataWatch officers.

TRENT SPENT THE rest of the day studying Monitor's code, the code he had allegedly helped write. Monitor consisted of a remarkable collection of sub-systems, of improbable libraries bound together in service of the Unity.

Trent waded into it not long after 10 AM.

When he became aware of the world again, it was almost midnight.

He just made the midnight shuttle back to the hotel, and sat in the shuttle with his eyes closed, floating in the darkness, not thinking, not feeling, until the shuttle docked, and he took the elevator down to his quarters, undressed and showered and got in bed—

"Command," he said aloud. "Lights off."

He lay in bed in the darkness, listening to the gentle hum of the ventilators.

How do you destroy a ship seven kilometers long?

How do you destroy the finest code you've ever seen in your life?

Trent would have given a year of his life to upload that code into the Black Beast, to disassemble it with the full power of the Black Beast at his disposal.

But the Beast was dead—

—and though it wasn't supposed to be, Monitor was alive.


AT 9 A.M. on Monday morning, Trent said, "This won't take long. I appreciate those of you working swing and graveyard coming in for this meeting. We won't need to do it again."

34,282,4 was the ship address for InfoSystems Control itself. Trent had gathered them in a conference room down the corridor from InfoSystems Control: Deck 34, Bulkhead 282, Cross 5.

"Let me start with, I'm glad to be back. Eloise, Jean-Paul, it's good to see you again." Trent smiled at them both. Eloise, the sub-Chief who ran graveyard, smiled back. Jean-Paul, the coder who would probably have been promoted to sub-Chief if Eugene Yovia had not been called back to duty, didn't. Thwarted ambition there, and not improbably a certain degree of hostility; Troileác had once dated Janice Johnson, the woman Yovia had turned himself into a walking joke over. And on that note—

"A word about my face," said Trent. "Everybody's entitled to be a damn fool once in their lives, and I'm on my third or fourth 'once' at this point." The faintest twitch of the lips from Jean-Paul on that one, Trent had no idea if it was a friendly smile or not. "I don't expect to have time for biosculpture until this project has been seen through to completion, so what you see is what you get, and I advise you to get used to it. Feel free to make jokes about it behind my back or to my face. Brownie points for any I haven't heard before.

"The schedules look fine to me." They looked wonderful to him; he didn't have a single DataWatch officer in his group, though he had both of the Space Forcers, Friedman and Daniels. "We have myself, Moreno, Friedman, Daniels, and Kohl on days, Sub-Chief Wilson, Troileác, Naguchi, Nikcevich, and Redin on swing, and Sub-Chief Legut, Aucoin, Gieseler, Bouvier and Beilenson on graveyard. I'm going to make some minor changes in workflow procedures over the next few weeks, but I do expect them to be minor, at least at first. A couple days after the explosion, a couple days before she resigned, Chief Johannson promised a hundred-twenty day completion on this rework. I think that's a conservative figure. I'll accept a completion date of sixty days; I'll be pleased with a completion date of forty-five days. I am authorized to pay over-time, double-time for weekends, triple-time for over-time on weekends. Estimated cost on the Unity when its construction began was eight billion CU. It's since risen to fourteen billion CU. It is by any measure the single most expensive construction project in Unification history, probably in human history, and aside from some the problems with the torches, which they tell me are being resolved, the Unification is at this point waiting on ... us.

"I'll finish this up with this: I know morale is in the toilet. I know there is nothing harder than redoing work you've done before. If I thought for an instant that we could do a better job by bringing in more people, we'd have them. But unless you're in totally over your head, throwing more people at a late project just makes the project later, that's basic software engineering. We are not in that state.

"Sixty days—make that forty-five—is not a long time. You will find me in my office at six AM every morning. You will find me there at 11 PM. I can't order any of the civilians to work overtime; I could, but won't, request orders be cut for you military people to work overtime. But I will ask you all to work as hard as you have it in you to work for the next six and a half weeks. You'll get paid for it, and I promise you all, if we make that six and ahalf weeks, I will submit each of you for commendations and bonuses. There won't be any reprimands during this period for anyone, even if I imagined you deserved them, and when we're done your personnel reports will be written with every superlative I can find in the dictionary. That's the best I can offer. All I ask in return is that you work yourselves into exhaustion for me."

Trent shut up and sat watching them. After a moment's silence he said, "I'm going to go down the hall and grab a cup of tea. Talk it over among yourselves."

In the galley across the way from InfoSystems Control, he took his time with it, stirring the tea, using the eye droppers to flavor it with lemon, with sugar, then sipping from the bulb until it reached a tolerable mix—which would have taken him a while even if he hadn't been stalling for time; he hated tea. He headed back down the corridor, his velcro walking shoes giving plenty of warning to the coders in the conference room, re-seated himself and quite deliberately locked his bulb to the table before looking around at them.

Eloise Legut smiled at Trent. A short, petite woman, too small to have made the Peace Keeping Force in any service except DataWatch, she had blue eyes and bright red hair cut in a short bob; a slight reddening of her lips was the only makeup Trent could see.

Trent had been speaking in English; her response was in French. It was not rudeness, not even making a point; there was not an individual on the project who was not at least bilingual in French and English, and everyone there had access via either inskin or traceset to realtime translations of any major language spoken by the human race.

She said simply, "We are willing to work as you say."

"Like dogs," said Ken loudly. "Like whipped, bleeding galley slaves."

Trent glanced around the table at the others, got nods in return, one oui, one hai. "Great. Then let's get to business. Sub-Chief Wilson and I went over the work that's been done on the Two-C and Three-C systems, and I'm impressed. I remember the state they were in when I left, and there's no comparison." A safe enough comment, Trent thought, there had to have been significant improvement since late '75. "According to reports we're allegedly four months from completion of the rework on One-C. As I've said, we'll trim that down. Very little actual work was lost in the explosion; most of Monitor's library linkages were lost, the system itself was physically traumatized, and right now we're not at two nine's confidence on any of the twenty-one checkpoints established for rating Monitor as functional. We can break out areas of responsibility here, the work that lands on day, work for swing, and work for graveyard. I don't want overlap if we can avoid it. Each of those twenty-one points goes to one of the three groups, and I'll leave it to Ken and Eloise, and the groups themselves, to decide any further sub-divisions of responsibility. If anybody needs anything from me, just ask."

"I need a bus transfer," said Ken.

THE LIST broke down:

Combat Systems Integration
Tactical Support
Slipship Remote Management
Slipship Launch and Support
Troop Carrier Launch and Support
Laser Cannon

Intership Communications
Remote Instrumentation
Ship Security
Personnel Interaction
Library Management
InfoSystems Redundancy

Ship farm
Damage Control
Systems Repair & Trauma center
Surgery and Sick Bay
Water Cracker

Trent hammered it out, giving way where it mattered, cutting off discussion where it suited him. He caught Ken, Eloise, and Jean-Paul all exchanging glances at various points, but that was fine; if they wanted to conclude that Eugene Yovia had developed a swelled ego during his time downside, it wasn't Trent's problem as long as it didn't affect their work.

It would certainly never really be Eugene Yovia's problem—the man could never return to Unification space unless he or the Unification had died.

Trent let graveyard—consisting of five of the six DataWatch officers, with only Jean-Paul assigned to swing—have the weapons work, and gave swing most of the maintenance work. He hardly cared about either of them: if he did his job correctly, his real job, neither of those areas would ever have an opportunity to matter to anyone.

When they were done he had gotten the four jobs he wanted: ship security, personnel interaction, library management, and infosystems redundancy—Monitor itself.

He had only one real argument, from Ken. Ken had done most of the original work implementing ship security, and felt, not unreasonably, that he could do a better job recoding it than anyone else. "It'll take you years! Years!"

"I won't have any argument on this one," said Trent. "The new Chief of Security for Halfway is a sharp woman, an Elite. Melissa du Bois." He nodded at the six Peaceforcers gathered around the table. "Perhaps some of you officers know her. This is the major area where I'll have to coordinate with her, and I need to know what's going on. I'll be happy to take any advice you've got for me, Ken, but I need to be on top of this one personally."

"I suppose," drawled Keith Daniels, sitting at the far end of the table in his Space Force fatigues, "that it wouldn't make a great deal of sense to have a Space Force officer in charge of security aboard a Space Force vehicle."

Trent smiled at the man. Daniels was young for a Lieutenant in Space Force, twenty-three, with fair blond hair and gray-blue eyes; he reminded Trent a little of himself, a decade ago, before the endless rounds of biosculpture had begun. Daniels had been a teenage computerist in Space Force OCS when the Rebs had turned him. It must have seemed terribly exciting at the time, back in early '76—before watching dozens of Space Forcers go up against the wall, two of his handlers among them, watching them die under PKF lasers, and knowing that he was likely to be next at any moment. Doubltess that had aged the boy some. Trent rather admired his bravery, making the comment: it was in character for a good, partisan Space Force officer, even if it did bring up the very subject Daniels had to want to avoid.

"That," said Trent, "is a policy decision, Lt. Daniels. So far as I know somewhere around eighty Space Forcers got turned by either the Johnny Rebs or the Erisian Claw. At least, the PKF executed that many." Daniels' handsome young features took on an extraordinary blankness. "Again, so far as I know, not a single Peaceforcer was turned, unless you count the Elite Commander, Christine Mirabeau, and—" Trent shook his head. "Who knows for sure why Commander Vance had her executed? Might have been pure internal politics, as far as any of us on the outside know." He didn't look at any of the Peaceforcers sitting at the table, kept his gaze fixed on young Daniels. Daniels stared straight forward, expressionless. "In any event, if I were you, Lieutenant, I believe I'd leave security arrangements to the people who have shown themselves extraordinarily competent at it." Now he glanced around the table, in time to catch two of the DataWatch officers nodding to themselves. "Is there any further comment?"

There was none.

Trent nodded. "Meeting over. Let's get to work."

THE NEXT WEEK passed in an astonishing blur.

Trent awoke each morning, worked out in the hotel gym, sometimes with Ken but usually alone, showered and dressed and caught the 5:30 AM shuttle to the Unity. As promised, he was in his office every day by six. As promised, he did not leave until at least 11 PM.

He had been designed, three decades prior, by one of the finest genegineers of her era, Suzanne Montignet. There was a flaw in him; of the 227 "Project Superman" genies born between 2048 and 2051, 226 had been telepaths, designs based on Carl Castanaveras. The exact nature of the error that had produced Trent was never determined; but the nature of the flaw was in no doubt. He was not a telepath. Unlike the Castanaveras telepaths, he had been born with blue eyes. Unlike them, he had reached adulthood without suffering the murderous rages that Carl Castanaveras and his children appeared born to.

And unlike all of them except Denice Castanaveras, he was still alive.

He was a true genie. He had never required much sleep; he got by easily enough on a few hours a night. He was naturally faster and stronger and more resistant to disease than most humans, was measurably smarter than most humans. For most of his life he had gotten into shape easily, and stayed there easily.

But the human body, even a finely designed one, is a mechanism, and even with modern medical technology, Trent's machine had been subjected to grievous damage both recently, and frequently over over the course of the years. His right knee was sore most of the time. He didn't let it stop him from working out; he just made sure that his workouts were in the gyms in low gee, and tried to keep from straining the knee. Occasional twinges from his ribs reminded him how recently they'd been broken.

He was careful in the gym. He did not dare seek medical help while he was at Halfway. He was not Eugene Yovia, and could not pass as him in a medical examination. He had internal scars the man did not have, knitted bones where Yovia's had never broken; his blood type was an AB positive variant, where Yovia's was type A.

Trent's immune system was the finest that money could buy. It was supplemented by a nanoprocessor controlled immune booster that had been developed by Mitsubishi during the '76 rebellion; a blood sample would show the boosters, too. Fully two thirds of the commonest prescription drugs would have no effect on Trent; they tended to be prescribed to attack problems that Trent's immune boosters handled better, and therefore the immune boosters, after finding the molecular signatures of the various drugs, destroyed them before they could upset Trent's metabolic balance.

There was relatively little a doctor could do to Trent that was likely to harm him . . . but the first blood sample drawn from his veins would mark him as an imposter, a man with the wrong blood type, with an immune system Yovia could not possibly have afforded, nor had the opportunity to have installed.

He worked out and tried to be careful, and tried not to worry about it, about a body that was growing increasingly difficult with the passage of the years.

It wasn't hard. He had other things to worry about that were more pressing . . . and things that did not require worry, exactly, that were more fascinating.

He worked eighteen hour days.

THE PEOPLE TRENT worked with would have made great Players. Not one of the fourteen lacked the talent, the insight or the inclination; before a week was up Trent knew it for a fact. It was likely that one or more of them had gone across the Interface and danced, at least once; in the case of the DataWatch officers, it was a certainty.

Know Thine Enemy: depending on whose estimates you trusted, somewhere between seven and a dozen of the top hundred Players on the planet when Trent had left Earth in 2069 had been PKF DataWatch in disguise.

Yes, but which ones? Trent's guess was closer to twelve than seven. DataWatch officers did not tend to behave any differently on the other side of Interface than real Players; all Players were secretive to the point of paranoia, at least all those who survived for any length of time—somebody was out to get them.

The Sunday after they started work, the subject came up at lunch, in the cafeteria aboard the Unity. Ken and Trent ate together, Ken sitting at Trent's right elbow, Marie Kohl sitting across the table from him. Trent tried to keep his eyes off Ken's lunch—a bowl of raw peeled tomatoes, heavily salted.

Jean-Paul Troileac and Eloise Legut sat together at the far end of the table, eating breakfast and a very late dinner, respectively. Jean-Paul was reporting for duty five hours early; Eloise, the graveyard Sub-Chief, had waited for him. The two were dating, Trent had learned, and had been virtually since the day Eugene Yovia had gone downside with Janice Johnson.

Marie Kohl opened the subject by saying, "I was reading some of your code last night before I went home."


"You've gotten better since '75, in some areas."

"Thank you."

"You've gotten an awful lot better, in Human Interface in particular. I saw some of the code you wrote back then—" Kohl shook her head, hair threatening to come loose with the motion. Her hairstyle marked her as a citizen as clearly as everything else about her; in gravity it hung in a platinum blond cascade down to the small of her back. She wore it in a bun while in drop, but it still made Trent uneasy to look at it; he envisioned her trying to get a helmet on over during a breach, and shivered. A dangerous conceit in a pressurized environment; no military service would have tolerated it—nor any SpaceFarer business, for that matter. "No comparison," Kohl continued. "This stuff you're doing now is elegant. I might even say that it reminds me of, uhm, Image code." She stopped and looked at Trent expectantly.

"Image code?" Trent said politely. Out of the corner of his eye Trent watched Jean-Paul, eating his breakfast down at the end of the table, stiffening. "And where would you have seen such code? Image code is illegal. Illegal to possess in executable form, illegal to transmit in any form without prior authorization from DataWatch."

Kohl shrugged. She was German, not a native English speaker; perhaps she did not correctly interpret Trent's tone of voice. "Everybody dabbles in that area a little bit, and I know you have. You could not be doing the work you're doing right now without having studied Image code pretty extensively."

Kohl was correct; everyone at the table knew it; but that was not the point. If she kept talking she was going to force either Jean-Paul or Eloise, both sitting well within ear shot, to take notice of the conversation.

Trent gazed at her blankly. "Everyone does, do they? I don't. I don't dance and I certainly don't Play. And I don't really know what you're talking about." The woman couldn't be missing the tone of voice—

"Then you should try it," Kohl said, "just once. Cut yourself an Image, just something quick and dirty, and take it over the Interface. It's an amazing feel—"

At the end of the table, Jean-Paul had turned around to watch them both.

"Have you," said Trent quickly, "ever studied Zen?"

It brought Kohl up short. "No."

"I see. 'Those who speak do not know, and those who know do not speak.'"

Kohl stared at Trent, and then the woman flushed to the tips of her ears. "Thank you. Thank you very much. I will remember that."

Trent nodded, not looking away.

Kohl turned and left.

At the end of the table Jean-Paul caught Trent's eye. He might have nodded slightly before returning to his lunch.

"You do have a way with women," Ken commented. "It's a gift, I believe. A gift from God."

THE FOLLOWING TUESDAY, just before midnight, as Trent was preparing to shut down for the night, Jean-Paul knocked on the frame of his open door. "Chief?"

Trent swiveled in his seat. "Officer?"

An obvious flicker of annoyance crossed the man's face. "That's 'Lieutenant.' I finished OCS in February."

"No offense intended," said Trent. He gestured. "Have a seat. What can I do for you?"

Jean-Paul settled in. He said rather hesitantly, "You and I . . . we have not always been the best of friends."

A personal conversation. Great. Trent said carefully, "Not the best, no."

Jean-Paul nodded rather jerkily. "Some of the things I said to you the last time I saw you—"

Trent had no idea what he was talking about. "That's in the past, Lieutenant. I see no need to bring it up."

"Marie was right," Jean-Paul said abruptly. "Your work has grown a great deal more elegant. I will not ask you where the experience in human interfaces came from—"

"I studied," said Trent flatly. "Real hard."

"Of course," said Jean-Paul hastily. "I did not mean to imply otherwise."

The man was nervous. Trent the Uncatchable sat in the presence of a nervous DataWatch officer, and felt a sudden flash of empathy for the man, even if he had no idea why the fellow was nervous: Jean-Paul was making him nervous.

"I . . . you see," Jean-Paul said, and started over. "If I. . ."

Trent said very carefully, "What can I do for you?"

Jean-Paul burst out, "I want to change shifts."

Trent sat in the silence looking at the man.

He said, "I see," because he didn't and it was all he could think of.

"Eloise and I are . . . involved with each other, perhaps you know this."

Trent said, "I see," because finally he did. "And since I've instituted the new work schedules the two of you almost never see each other when you're off-duty." He sat back slightly in his chair. "I'm sorry, Lieutenant. I knew the two of you were dating one another, and the situation I'd put you into simply never crossed my mind. Please forgive me." It hadn't crossed his mind. It should have. Trent closed his eyes, thinking about it, then opened them to look at Jean-Paul shifting nervously in the seat in front of him—this deadly, dangerously bright DataWatch officer, shifting on the seat in front of him like a child in the schoolmaster's office. Trent had a sudden intense flash of gratitude for the life that fate and Mohammed Vance had handed him, a brief horrifying vision of another life, one filled with schedules and paychecks, deadlines and supervisors you disliked but had to stay on the good side of anyway—

Is that what life is like for the honest ones, the good citizens?

Trent had to shake himself out of it. "If you can find someone to trade with you on Sub-Chief Legut's shift, I'd be happy to move you over. Uh, make that, if Beilenson or Bouvier can trade with you. There's no point in moving Eloise, and the other two can't do the coding you're doing on swing."

"Officer Bouvier has already agreed to trade." The man's conscience warred within him quite visibly. "This will throw us back two days, perhaps three. I'll have to show her the code I've linked and edited, and she'll—"

Trent shook his head. "Don't worry about it. I'd rather lose the time and have the two of you at your best performance."

Jean-Paul Troileac held himself still for an instant. Then he nodded, a precise movement. "Thank you, Chief."

Call me Gene, Trent wanted to say—but he clearly didn't know all the things about "his" history with this man that he might have, and it was best to be safe. "You're welcome, Lieutenant."

Jean-Paul started to say something else, then shook his head and left instead.

"Well, Monitor," said Trent a moment later, "what did you think about that?"

Nearly thirty percent of Monitor's processors had been mounted, and close to eighty percent of its workspaces; Monitor said, "I am impressed with the way you handled the matter, Chief. Based on voice analysis, Lieutenant Legut began the conversation experiencing serious conflict. His stress level had declined significantly by the time your conversation was concluded."

Trent's smiled. "You are a piece of work, Monitor."

"Yes, of course," it said equably. "If I understand your colloquialism, Chief Yovia, I am indeed 'a piece of work.'" It paused. "I believe a counter-compliment is an appropriate response, Chief?"

It would not have asked the question of anyone but one of its coders; it knew that a question regarding its own behavior would have been an inappropriate response except in that privileged domain. Trent grinned. "Yes. A counter-compliment is an appropriate response."

"Very well. Your typing, sir, has improved dramatically since your last logged work session, on Friday, December 27, 2075."

Trent burst out laughing. "Yeah," he said. "I wouldn't be the least bit surprised by that."

"Indeed, the improvment is quite remarkable. You have improved from 55 words per minute to 140 at peak typing speed. You now strike the space bar with your right thumb rather than your left. Your typing patterns have also altered radically; your favored keyboard layout has altered from the traditional Dvorak to an enhanced 240-key Unicode board. You have acquired the distinctive habit of tapping the EOL key while you are thinking. When you configured this workstation you immediately turned off the end-of-line warning beep, indicating an adjustment to this habit. You make data entry errors that you did not make during your last tour of duty, and have ceased making the great majority of those errors which you were then prone to."

Monitor stopped.

Trent said, through the smile frozen on his face, "Anything else?"

"In terms of what, sir?"

Trent licked suddenly dry lips. "Are there any other changes you've observed in me that you find striking?"

"Oh, indeed, Chief, numerous changes. In the four years, two months and twenty-three days since my last observation of you, you have grown four centimeters, an event nearly unheard of among men between the ages of thirty-two and thirty-six, at least when those years are spent under one gravity. Your fingers appear nearly two centimeters longer than during your last tour. Your accent, previously that of a British man educated at Oxford, today on occasion exhibits quite manifest elements of an American accent, most apparently that of the Long Island Fringe. Behaviorially the changes are nearly as drastic. You have virtually ceased coding via inskin; on the rare occasions you have done so your inskin contact has apparently been through radio packet rather than through the socket mounted in your left parietal lobe. Though I am unable to directly monitor the inskin jack at your workstation, the inskin listed in your file, of FrancoDEC manufacture, is limited to transmission of textual information and traceset cues, at speeds not exceeding 128 kilobytes per second. By comparison the inskin you appear to be using has transferred data at speeds of several hundred megabytes per second. This closely approximates the volume of data transmitted across the human optic nerve. No other sensory organ of the human brain can process information in the volume that you have received via your inskin. This implies that your inskin is tied to your visual cortex."

Trent said very slowly, "You are an amazing piece of code, Monitor."

"Yes, sir. Would you like another compliment?"

"No . . . I'm still recovering from the last one. Have you spoken to anyone about the changes you've observed?"

Monitor sounded surprised. "No, Chief. I have placed them in your file, in order to continue optimizing my responses to you. Should I have done otherwise?"

"No," Trent assured it, relief rushing through him in an overwhelming wave. "You have handled it correctly. In fact—" He phrased it carefully. "I would prefer that you not discuss these changes with anyone, unless of course you are questioned about me in the course of an explicitly identified investigation by one of my superiors. Many of the changes you've mentioned are things my ex-wife used to criticize me for; I am very sensitive about them. By discussing them with others, you will be exposing me to emotional distress and possible psychological damage."

There was a long silence. ". . . I see. Yes, Chief. I understand. Forgive me if I have caused you emotional distress with this conversation."

"No, no," said Trent. "Not at all. If you notice any further changes, please bring them to my attention, when we are in private. I would appreciate it. It would be a service to me in the performance of my duties, and thereby a service to the Unification."

The phrase had special meaning to Monitor: "A service to the Unification," it repeated. "Yes, Chief. I will exert care in seeing that you are notified, in private, of any further changes I observe."

"Thank you," said Trent with great sincerity. "Thank you very much."


HE TOOK THE 1 AM shuttle back to the hotel.

Obviously no one had ever taught Monitor to look for imposters.

Sweat stained the back of his shirt.

Maybe being a citizen sucks, Trent thought. Kissing up to the boss. But I bet they hardly ever go to bed wondering if they're going to wake up in custody.

On Death Row.


ON WEDNESDAY, MARCH 20, 2080, a week and five days after Trent's arrival at Halfway, Melissa du Bois appeared without warning in the open doorway of Trent's office aboard the Unity. "Chief Yovia."

Sitting at his workstation, Trent had to turn his head slightly to see his door. He hadn't recognized the voice, the flat newdancer's accent spoken across half the System, but there was no mistaking the shape—an exquisitely fit woman poured into the magslips, black shorts, and the buttoned black and silver short-sleeved shirt that constituted casual station and ship wear for PKF.

She looked like a beach bunny. "Chief du Bois." As though she were preparing for a serious volleyball game. Trent turned in his chair to face her. "Can I help you?"

She smiled at him. "Certainly. If you're free for lunch, I've been going over your daily reports. I'll be starting my end-of-week report tomorrow, and it all looks quite good; but if you have time, I'd like to sit down with you and go over some items I don't quite understand."

Trent smiled back at her. It was a real effort. "Sure. I'd love to. Noon?"

"How about one o'clock? I'm supposed to sit down with the Space Force forward bridge security detail at eleven o'clock. It won't take long to put the fear of God into them, I don't believe, but twelve o'clock is a bit tight. Conference room 22? It's at 18,940,4. I'll have lunch served."

"I'll be there."

She grinned at him, a flash of white teeth against tanned brown skin. "Wonderful."

THE UNITY'S INTERNAL transportation system was one of the first pieces of support equipment to come online; it had been put in place along with the hull and the ship's spine, and had been used to ferry materials and people even before the ship's interior had been pressurized. The nearest access was just aft of Trent's office; at 12:40 he got in line behind four waiting Space Forcers and one Peaceforcer, none of whom Trent recognized, and waited about three minutes before the line had emptied and an open capsule appeared for him. He got inside and said, "Command, 18,940,4."

The capsule accelerated to sixty kph and stayed there for several minutes before beginning to gently declerate.

At 12:50 the capsule deposited Trent at the station nearest 18,940,4, about two hundred meters aft and port of conference room 22. Trent got slightly lost finding the conference room; he got turned around on the capsule and ended up heading starboard before catching his error. He turned around and headed the other direction, and reached C22 at 1:00 PM.

Melissa du Bois glanced at the clock holo against the wall when he came in. "Exactly on time, Chief. I very much admire punctuality."

Trent smiled at her, tried to hide a flash of absurd pride in himself. He hadn't been late once yet while imitating Eugene Yovia, not once. He barely recognized himself—certainly no one else was going to. "Yes indeed," said Trent cheerfully. "Promptness is next to . . . next to . . . well, I'm sure it's next to something. How did your chat with the Space Forcer boys go?"

She sat at the empty conference table, intended for eight or ten persons, with only her handheld in front of her. She gestured to Trent to sit next to her, and turned on her handheld. "One of them's a woman."

"In Space Force security?" It actually surprised Trent. "When did they break the gender line?"

"During the TriCentennial, Chief, men were subverted by Rebs and Claw more than four times as frequently as women."

Trent had known that; his post-rebellion analysis had been thorough. He was mildly surprised that the Unification had caught it, though, and genuinely surprised it had acted upon the knowledge.

He let himself looked suitably impressed by her statistic. "So how did your chat with the Space Force people go?"

Her smile wasn't the least forced. "Quite well, Chief. Gene. We have problems at times, procedural questions between our services, but they get settled. In the final analysis, we all want the same thing."

It was not out of character for Yovia—but even so it was nothing that Trent had intended to say. It popped out of his mouth. "Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness?"

The dryness and the words caught her attention. She looked at him sharply. "Peace. Peace in the service of the Unification."

A smile touched Trent's lips. He couldn't stop it. "Of course."

Her tone changed. "You find that amusing?"

Trent wiped the smile off his face and gave her the most thoroughly blank look he could manage. "Me? Not at all. No. No," he reassured her. "I think that building the largest weapon in human history is a great way to have peace."

She leaned back in her seat as Trent sat in the seat beside her, putting distance between them, regarding him with a thoroughly professional demeanor, with gleaming black Elite holocam eyes. "You know, Gene, I had this problem with you during your security check, too. At times you remind me of—someone else."

In his best Eugene Yovia accent, Trent said, "Dare I guess Adam Selstrom?"
She nodded, but Trent didn't make the mistake of thinking she was saying yes to his question. "I don't spend much time on entertainments, and I concede, I did not recognize your sculpture." She grinned abruptly. "Your file refers to that godawful biosculpture; I suppose the person writing it thought anyone meeting you would know what he meant by that. But your face isn't what I was referring to, Gene. It's your manner, your attitude. You're a very arrogant man, Gene."

Yovia was arrogant; it was one of the few things Trent completely admired about the man. So it was not out of character for Trent to say, "I have reason to be."

"Why did you agree to come upside, Gene? The goals or the process?"

Trent understood her perfectly. He gave her Yovia's answer. "The process, Melissa. I love my work. I wouldn't be any good at it if I didn't, would I. I don't necessarily agree with what you're going to do with my work once I'm through with it, but . . ." He smiled at her. "You know this is the classic argument between military and scientists."

Melissa nodded. "Of course," she said, then continued with a noticeable reluctance, "Well, shall we discuss the process? I'm happy with your aproach to the rework, and to the evident response of your teams to that approach. I've gone through your dailies, and theirs as well, and so far there has been nothing but mutual praise."

"We do good work."

"Apparently," said Melissa pensively. "Based on your dailies, to the degree that I understand them, you're well ahead of schedule. Your current estimate to completion—"

"Thirty-one days," Trent said instantly.

"Yes." She studied her handheld. "For a total, to completion, of forty-one days from the moment you took over this project." She looked up at him. "Ship Security was originally Sub-Chief Wilson's responsibility. You took it away from him. Why?"

She'd had that cop voice down ten years earlier, when she was only twenty-three. Today—

Trent had to shake himself. "Why do I feel like I've just been accused of a crime?"

She gazed steadily at him. "Answer the question, Gene."

"Well, you intimidate me, luv." At the familiarity she quirked an eyebrow slightly. "Oh, it's true," he assured her. "I knew you'd be asking about Ship Security, didn't I. So I took it over so that I could answer your questions."

"There was a memo in my mail this morning," said Melissa, "from Mohammed Vance."

Trent's heart stopped beating.

He said politely, "The Elite Commander? Really."

"The Elite Commander wants to know how a hundred twenty day rework—Chief Johannsen's estimate—has turned into a forty-one day rework. At this rate you're going to be done by April 21."

Trent said, "New people." He tried to listen to his heart—surely it had started beating again by now—


Trent looked up. "What?"

"Are you listening to me?"

"Did you say something?"


"What was it?"

"I asked if 'new people' was your entire answer."

"I didn't hear that question," Trent admitted. "I may have been listening, but I wasn't hearing."

A disturbed look crossed Melissa's features. She looked slightly off to the side and her lips worked silently. Listening, but I wasn't—

"I got sidetracked," Trent told her quickly.

She shook her head and refocused on him. "Really."

"I think my heart stopped for a moment. But it's all right now."

"I see." That damn cop voice again. "Perhaps you should see the medic."

"No," Trent assured her. "No, no, I'm fine. I'll probably play some dropball tonight before I go to bed, that's how good I feel right now, I might even beat Ken. Listen," he said in a confidential voice, "you tell the Elite Commander everything is under control, and he's not to worry."

"'Everything's under control, and he's not to worry.'"

"Exactly. We like the hardware, and the hardware likes us. We have mutual respect and admiration."

She stared at him. "You have mutual respect and admiration. With the hardware. And this has trimmed seventy-seven days off your completion estimates."

"Plus new people."

"New people."

"And over-time. We work late. Every night."

"I know," she said, "I've audited your dailies. I don't understand them, but I've sure audited them. Gene?"


"Why did you have biosculpture?"

"My ex-wife wanted me to."

Melissa du Bois sat back in her chair, hands clasped behind her head, looking him over thoughtfully. Trent had the strangest impression that she knew—knew who he was, knew what he was thinking. And that was impossible. "Don't you feel a little stupid?"

Trent said, "Well. Not often."


"HOW ABOUT SOME midnight chess?"

Trent looked up from his workstation, from the library listings he was wading through, and stretched. The vertebrae in his neck cracked audibly.

Ken floated in his doorway.

Trent said, "Don't you ever sleep?"

"Plenty of time to sleep when I'm dead," said Ken. "You and me need to talk."

IT WAS ALMOST one o'clock by the time Trent and Ken reached Highland Grounds. The place was quiet. Guido sat behind the counter, wearing a sensible traceset and goggles. Aside from Ken and Trent the only other occupant was an elderly woman who was knitting while also wearing a sensible traceset.

Trent and Ken sat together in the corner, playing chess.

"I was thinking we might go over to the InfoNet Relay Station tomorrow," said Ken.

Trent had made Ken put the clock away. They played without hurry and Trent took his time answering. "What for?"

Ken shrugged. "Traffic analysis asked for me. I thought you might enjoy coming with me. After the Rebellion"—Ken was an American; you could hear the capitalization of the word—"they had me over to supervise the installation of the new security routines. Trent the Uncatchable had his hands on that station for most of three days during the Rebellion."

Trent said, "I heard that."

Ken shrugged. "They thought he might have done something with it while he had his hands on it. They tore that place apart, top to bottom."

Trent nodded. The InfoNet Relay Station at Halfway had been, back in '76, the primary orbital trunk for the entire InfoNet; more data had passed through it than through all the rest of the Relay Stations combined. That had changed—having been made aware of the weakness in the setup, the Unification had, predictably, changed it. The system was far more decentralized than it had been as recently as '76; today half a dozen new auxiliary Relay Stations were online, each capable of carrying nearly as much traffic as the Relay Station at Halfway.

Trent said, "Find anything?"

Ken shook his head. "Nope. If Trent did anything to it, he did it—careful-like. I stripped out the system software and expert systems myself, rebuilt from libraries. Installed traffic analysis with some very tight encryption; hasn't been a byte passed through that Station in over three years I couldn't tell you where it came from and where it was going."

Trent nodded. When he'd taken the Station, he'd expected that. He wanted to ask Ken if they'd checked the Station hardware, but there was no point in putting ideas in the man's head. "So something interesting's happening in traffic pattern analysis?"

Ken shrugged. He pushed a pawn forward one space. He was playing black and marking time, waiting to see how Trent intended to develop his attack. "The activity log is blank about four seconds, two days back. And we lost another second yesterday."

A startled look crossed Trent's features. "Four seconds?"

"Yep. We're so far ahead on the rework, they asked if I could come on over and look over my bindings on the Station security libraries."

"That doesn't sound like a software problem."

"Nope. We got hardware going down, most probably." Ken didn't look up from the chess board. "I expect we should have replaced the hardware from scratch. That Uncatchable fellow," he shook his head, "he's a tricky bastard."

"So they say." Trent castled.

"You're in trouble now," said Ken.

Trent studied the board. "I'm kicking your butt."

"Look behind you."

"I know that trick," said Trent. "I turn around and you knock over the board and claim—"

"Look behind you," said Ken again.

They were sitting up on the second level, overlooking the stage and the bar; Trent turned in his chair, and looked down, toward the entrance. The airlock had just finished cycling, and the woman stepping through, already half out of her p-suit, looked both younger and prettier than she did in uniform.

It was Melissa.

TRENT JOINED HER at the bar. "Came looking for me, did you."

Trent liked pretending to be English; he liked finishing his questions with periods. It made everything sound more amusing.

Melissa didn't look at him; but a smile twitched across her lips. "As the Security Chief, I would say that you are suffering from paranoia."

"And as Melissa du Bois?"

The smile grew. She had ordered a mug of hot chocolate with whipped cream; it sat on the counter, next to her handheld, with a transparent cover over it, and a straw stuck through it. "You're flattering yourself." Now she did glance at him, looking up from her drink. "A lot."

"Uh huh." Trent gestured to Guido. "I'll try one of those." Anything but black breakfast tea, he thought.

"I'm really not looking for company, Gene."

"Uh huh." Trent sat down on the stool next to her.

Ken glided by them, wearing his p-suit, chess set in one hand and helmet in the other. "I'm an old man," he said loudly. "And this young punk kept me playing chess after a twenty-hour work day!"

"Twelve," said Trent. "Barely twelve."

"He's a slavemaster! And a chess fiend!"

Trent said, "Good night, Ken."

Melissa said, "Good night, Sub-Chief Wilson."

Trent said, "He asked me for a game."

Melissa studied him. "You don't listen very well."

Trent grinned at her. "Okay. What would you like to tell me?"

She turned away from him. "That you don't listen very well."

"You said that once already."

"And I had to repeat myself," she observed. "Because you don't—"

"Yeah, well."

"I'm not looking for company," she said for the second time.

Guido appeared in front of Trent, holding a mug of hot chocolate. He hadn't taken his sensable traceset off, nor removed the goggles; apparently he'd made the drink by touch—he found the countertop by touch, clicked the magnetic base of the mug to the metal surface, and wandered away.

"There are two million people at Halfway," Trent said. "Did you know that?"
"I knew that," Melissa said.

"And you just ran into me, did you?"

"It's a long story," she said.

"I'm not in a hurry."

Melissa sipped at her drink. "I am the Chief of Security at Halfway."

"I knew that," Trent observed.

"So I live in the house that the last Chief of Security lived in. And the one before that, who was a man named Neil Corona, who came here, to Highland Grounds, with some frequency. Do you know why he came here so often?"

Trent shook his head.

"His house—now my house—is two minute's boost from here." She smiled at Trent. "You're staying at the Halfway Hilton. All the civilians on your team are. That's almost twenty minute's boost from here. And you happen to be here by chance?" Her English took on both a mocking tone, and a little of the French accent she had had when Trent first met her. "You expect me to believe that you didn't come here looking for me?"

"I didn't," said Trent, "though I would have if I'd known." He paused. "This is destiny, then. Us running into each other."

She raised an eyebrow. "Destiny?"

"Destiny. Kismet, karma, fate. We were meant to meet one another tonight."

"I do not think so."

Trent couldn't think of anything to say, so he said what he was thinking. "I love your face."

Her expression and her voice chilled a good ten degrees. "Excuse me?"

"God gives you the face you're born with; but you earn the face you die with. So they say." He wanted to touch her, to run his fingertips over those gorgeous cheeks. "You have a great face. It has character."

"You have Adam Selstrom's face," she said gently.

"I loved my wife," said Trent.

Even more gently she said, "You were a damn fool, Gene."

"There's that."

She nodded and turned back to her drink. "You seem like a nice enough fellow. Maybe some day, many years from now when things are different, we can continue this conversation. Right now, though—" She looked at him again. "I couldn't sleep. So I came here to drink hot chocolate, audit my reports, and compose one. To the Elite Commander, telling him that 'everything is under control, and he is not to worry.' Right now you are preventing me from doing that."

"Everything is under control," Trent said. "Everything is cool. In fact," he said, "we are cool. Cool, young, hip, and in control."

Trent could hear the quote marks around the word. "'Hip'? I don't think I know that slang."

"It's like cool," said Trent, "but it requires more work."

"More work."

"Well, that's not accurate actually," said Trent thoughtfully. "Being cool requires no work. Mostly it requires detachment. You can be cool and not care about being cool. Being hip requires style and effort. You can't be hip without working at it."

She was smiling again. "So we are 'cool, young, hip, and in control.'"

Trent thought about it. "Well, I can only speak for myself. And I'm not really young any more. And I'm not sure I've ever been hip. And my life is pretty thoroughly out of control."

"But you are cool?"

Trent grinned at her, pleased with himself; she was enjoying herself, enjoying the conversation. "Don't be silly. For God's sake, I'm a programmer."

She laughed. "So you are not cool, young, hip, or in control."

"No, not really," Trent admitted. "But it's a cool thing to say to people. You get interesting conversations."

"Yes," said Melissa, obviously amused. "Interesting conversations."

Trent paused, then offered, "I used to have a collection of sunglasses. They were cool."

"How long ago?" she said instantly.

Trent didn't even have to think about it; he'd lost them when he left Earth. "When I was eighteen."

"So you could say that it has been a while?"

Eugene Yovia was thirty-six; Trent said, "Well, eighteen years."

Melissa shook her head. "That's a very long time, Gene. I am not sure it counts any more." She took a sip of her hot chocolate, and sat looking at it for a moment. "I think I need to go home now," she said finally. "My hot chocolate isn't."

It popped out. "Want company?"

She tips of her ears turned bright red. She didn't look at him. "My God. You aren't shy, are you?"

"Is that a no?"

"It strikes me as—indiscreet. At best." She burst out, "Do you always proposition women like this?"

"All the time," Trent admitted.

She stared at him. "What do they say?"



"Well, only sometimes. Sometimes they just blush. Like you're doing. Elite skin's gotten a lot better, hasn't it?" He shrugged. "Other times they take the opportunity to insult you. You never know unless you ask."

"My God. Well, I am not going to say yes. I think," she said, "I'm going to go home now." She picked her handheld up, touched it to the payment strip at the edge of the counter, and came to her feet.

Trent nodded. "That's cool."

"Cool." Melissa stood looking at him, and then smiled, unwillingly. "That word."

Trent found himself smiling back at her. It was as though the muscles in his cheeks had taken on a life of their own. "Maybe we'll run into each other again."

Melissa seemed to have the same problem. She smiled back at him, clearly fighting it. "Don't hold your breath, Gene."

AFTER SHE LEFT, the counterman, Guido, said, "Not in this life, Chief."

"You have an amazingly annoying voice," said Trent, and paid and headed home.

Saturday, August 16, 2008


Prayer is when you plead with the universe. Science is when you negotiate.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Happiness ...

Not the best photo I've ever taken, but possibly my favorite. You can click through to a larger version, though not much larger, it got taken off my phone.
I've got the promised next big chunk of AI War ready to post. I hope to get it up tonight, but no hard promises, I'm working until very late tonight.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008


click through for a larger image
forwarded to me by Victor Vescovo

Monday, August 4, 2008

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn died.

My father was a communist -- so he said, and I never had real cause to doubt him. But he was also a Marine, a patriot, and a working capitalist who made a lot of money in the stock market, and if he didn't see a meaningful conflict there, I won't volunteer one for him.

When I was little he used to talk about communism a fair amount. I remember having the vague impression that communists were good guys, and said something to that effect at one point. My dad was a complex man; he was a fan of the idea of communism, not of the communists, and once again, not being a communist or fan of communism myself, I won't try to argue his position for him ... and he's not here to argue it himself, so we'll move on.

His response to my "communists are the good guys" misunderstanding was instructive -- I was maybe 12 or 13, somewhere in there. And he handed me a copy of The Gulag Archipelago.

It's a nasty book on a nasty subject, and not something I'd have handed to my own kids at the same age -- but my Dad was always a little more sure of my maturity than I was, for good and bad. Looking back, I'm glad I read it -- it surely cured me of any sentimental attachment to communism as actually practiced in the Soviet Union. (And as a sort of generic take on the subject of communist economic theory -- eh. It would work if people were angels. Of course, as others have noted, any system works if people are angels. Capitalism has the virtue of working with actual people....)

I'm not vouching for Solzhenitsyn the individual; he was a strident nationalist, and I'm not a big fan of nationalism in the abstract. I'm not particularly a big fan of American nationalism, though until lately I'd have defended it on the grounds that the U.S. was the most benign ruling power in the history of the human race. But Russian nationalism always rubbed my own American nationalism in a bad place, and Solzhenitsyn hit that spot with some regularity as the years passed.

I am vouching for that book. A lot of good came out of that book: anyone with even the vaguest idea that the Soviet Union was anything other than Ronald Reagan's Evil Empire, could not have read that book and remained differently clued. The Gulags were an inevitable part of any system as authoritarian as that behind the Soviet Union. People want to be free; The Gulag Archipelago, I believe, helped a lot of people get closer to that goal. Not a bad accomplishment for one life, for anyone.

Various, and November 30

AI War should be available for purchase on November 30. My birthday. :-) Amy and I spent the weekend working on timelines for various projects, and I feel pretty confident about hitting that date.

Another big chunk coming in a day or two, as well.


Got a post coming about what's going on in L.A. Family Court, as well. We got handed a custody evaluator named Albert Gibbs -- a father's rights advocate who once omitted reporting a girl's claim she'd been sexually molested by her father, in a case with some parallels to ours. Gibbs is a proponent of the theory of "parental alienation" -- basically a theory that says that children who despise Parent A, almost always the father, don't despise him for being, for example, a molester, or an abusive alcoholic, or for having killed someone close to them ... but because Parent B said nasty things about him.

I'm not dreadfully surprised by this; this is the very same court that gave OJ Simpson his children back after he cut their mother's head off. If you're an abusive father, you can't really hope for a better venue in which to try to get your hands on your children.

Fairly lengthy post coming on all that.

Also, my daughter Andrea has been putting together a blog of her own, covering some of this material. I'll link to it when it's up.


The polls have tightened up on Obama and McCain, shortly after McCain released an ad linking Obama to two very sexual white women. (Echoes of "Call me, Harold" ...)

Nasty, but I kind of admire it. I wish Democrats were willing to absolutely anything to win. Politics is war by other means. One of the absolutely genuine reasons to vote Republican -- if a Democrat won't stand up to the attacks of George Bush or John McCain (and so far Obama's not impressing me in this area) -- if he won't stand up to that, are you really going to trust him to stand up to al Qaeda?