Thursday, November 20, 2008

It Turns Out

An irregular blog feature inspired by our soon-to-be ex-President, and not a moment too soon ...

"It turns out that there's a lot of interlinks through the financial system." -- George W. Bush, September 21, 2008

Shit, who knew?

It turns out ....

... that the main reason Obama won is that the country got less white. Whites were 81% of the vote in 2000. In 2008, they were 72% of the vote. McCain won among Southern Whites by 38 percentage points, and whites overall by about 12%, but Obama won by huge margins in every other group -- he took 95% of the black vote, 66% of the Hispanic vote, and 63% of the Asian vote.

It turns out ...

... that the Southern Strategy of marketing racism in code words, which worked brilliantly for two generations, is broken. Two generation ago a substantial part of this country really was racist, but the racists have been dying out. What's left is a country that's less white than it used to be and rather more white than it's going to be -- the Census Bureau estimates the non-Hispanic white population of the United States at 46% by 2050. Hispanics will be 30% of the population, blacks 15%, and Asians 9%. A few years back there were about 10,000 elected black officials in this country: 50 of them were Republican; one half of one percent.

Republicans will adapt: they have to. They'll find a way to market themselves to non-white audiences, they'll shed the (relatively few, any more) genuine racists among their ranks, and they'll become competitive again -- or they'll cease to exist and a new party will come into existence. Politics abhors a vacuum.

It turns out ...

... that people under 30 voted for Obama by 3:1. This is the period when voting patterns are set -- which is good news for Democrats and more in a long string of bad news for Republicans.

"It is my belief that our party has lost a generation of young voters." -- Ohio GOP Chairman Kevin DeWine

It turns out ...

... that George W. Bush was the Herbert Hoover of our era. (Well, worse; Herbert Hoover merely presided over an economic disaster. But economically, he's the first President to approach the Hooverian ballpark ...)

It remains to be seen if Barrack Obama is FDR.

It turns out ...

... that investing in the stock market during Republican Presidencies is a bad, bad idea. By raw coincidence, I am assured by my Republican friends, the stock market does substantially better during Democratic Presidencies than during Republican Presidencies.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average, when George Bush took office, was 10,587. As of today it's below 8,000 -- about where it was in 1997. If this were an unfortunate coincidence, well, that'd be one thing, but it's not. Ever since the end of the Great Depression, the stock market has done better during Democratic administrations than during Republican administrations.

Look here:

"Looking at the 72-year period between 1927 and 1999, the study shows that a broad stock index, similar to the S&P 500, returned approximately 11 percent more a year on average under a Democratic president versus safer, three-month Treasurys. By comparison, the index only returned 2 percent more a year versus the T-bills when Republicans were in office."

Worth a click-through -- but note that the study cited was performed in 2004, before the greatest economic crisis of the last 80 years hit.

It turns out ...

... that Senate Democrats will welcome back into their caucus, and into their leadership, a man who vigorously campaigned against their Presidential candidate, and who campaigned against other members of their caucus, if he really really wants to keep his job. "Whores" and "cowards" are two words that spring to mind, but neither one quite fits. I'll keep working at it.

I understand why people vote Republican. I do -- I don't agree with it, not lately, but the core of pure yellow at the heart of the Democratic establishment has to be heartening to America's enemies. Republicans may be crazed, but you'd have to hunt to find a group as gutless as the ones Democrats have elected to leadership positions in the House and Senate.

It turns out ...

... that Quantum of Solace is a good movie, but not a very good movie. It's not as good as Casino Royale, though it's better if you watch Casino Royale again before viewing it -- I did.

I will say that this is my favorite Bond, surpassing even Sean Connery. Heresy, I know, but ranking Bonds on a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being best ....

Daniel Craig, 10
Sean Connery, 9
Pierce Brosnan, 6
Timothy Dalton, 6
Roger Moore, 2

Daniel Craig is the best actor to play Bond, by quite a margin. (Connery became a very good actor in later years -- but not when the series started. The Connery of Untouchables is not the Connery of Dr. No.)

Craig's Bond is a blue-eyed sociopath, a man who kills when it's convenient and without remorse or much in the way of affect. Quantum is a lousy Bond movie; Bond movies are Western kabuki, highly formalized, and Quantum ignores most of the formalities. We don't get the right music, we don't get the "Bond, James Bond," we don't get the gadgets, we don't even get "shaken, not stirred" -- Miss Moneypenney is gone, and so is Q. And I don't care much. We get a man struggling to hang onto the shreds of his humanity, and I'm there. I'm willing to wait and watch this Bond evolve toward the more elegant Bond of the Connery/Brosnan mold.

He certainly does look good in a tuxedo.

Next episode, please.

It turns out ...

... that HDTV is not an unalloyed blessing. I had clear memories of Ursula Andress coming out of the showers naked in Dr. No -- I saw a 1080P copy of the movie recently, and in fact she's wearing a flesh-colored one-piece.

Technology giveth, and technology taketh away ... I've seen two high-def porn movies at this point, and it may be that there's a resolution limit beyond which porn should not be shot. DVD resolution, maybe. Just thinking aloud on that one.

(Still ... Phoebe Cates in "Fast Times at Ridgemont High" justifies HDTV pretty much all by herself. I am not really open to discussion on this point.)

It turns out ...

... that David Tennant is leaving Doctor Who after the 2009 season. I haven't written about Doctor Who on this blog before -- I just discovered the relaunched Who in the last year, and as with Battlestar Galactica, went through it in a couple dozen sessions -- and it's brilliant, a show that all by itself has defined a Golden Age of science fiction.

I've also watched Torchwood, the spinoff series, and while it's OK (and pretty gay), it's not up to the standards of invention of the Eccleston (one season) and Tennant (four seasons so far) Doctor Who. The current Doctor is the last survivor of the Time War, a strikingly lonely man or alien or whatever he is, who's out to have fun and do the right thing. There's the suggestion that he killed millions in the Time War, destroying the race of the Time Lords and their Dalek enemies in that conflict -- but we're never shown the war, just the aftermath (a good decision, that)..., in which an immortal man, the last of his kind, keeps his head up and keeps swinging away at what the universe throws at him.

There are iconic moments -- in particular the ending of "The Family of Blood," which has a downright epic conclusion to the tale of evil, short-lived aliens who want to live forever, running head-on into the last of the Time Lords ...

He never raised his voice, that was the worst thing. The fury of the Time Lord.

And then we discovered why, why this Doctor who had fought with gods and demons, why he had run away from us and hidden.

He was being kind.

He wrapped my father in unbreakable chains forged in the heart of a dwarf star.

He tricked my mother into the event horizon of a collapsing galaxy to be imprisoned there forever.

He still visits my sister once a year, every year. I wonder if one day he might forgive her but there she is, can you see? He trapped her inside a mirror ... every mirror. If ever you look at your reflection and see something move behind you just for a second, that’s her. That’s always her.

As for me, I was suspended in time and the Doctor put me to work, standing over the fields of England as their protector.

We wanted to live forever.

So the Doctor made sure that we did.

Careful what you wish for. Tennant plays the Doctor again in four more one-hour specials -- five more hours of the best science fiction ever televised.

It turns out ...

... that people who kill children are prone to other failings as well.


The Last Dancer copies should ship at Thanksgiving. Sorry, I've been on the road and swamped. But home again and catching up.

(Thought about calling this "thoughts from the road," but I ran across the "turn out" quote again, and I like it better ....)

Yes, more AI War coming. And another chunk of Last Five Exits, too.

It's been suggested that the way I'm categorizing these posts is useless to most people -- I can see that. I'm going to add more generic posts categories going forward:

Fiction (mine)
Fiction (not mine)

Maybe a couple others. I suppose I could add one for Alan Rodgers as well, but most of that material's going on over to the Alan Rodgers Experience. There are probably another half dozen posts going up over there -- some video from my daughters, a complete copy of the dependency court document on the death of Anthony Rodgers and the abuse that infant suffered before he died, a few other things. And then that blog will be allowed to sit, unless something interesting happens that's worth commenting on. I've got even money on a murder-suicide somewhere down the road.

Amy Casil, a downright remarkable human being, has sent me half a dozen psychotic messages lately -- one of them bragging about how many friends she's got. I'm curious if any of them have children, and if so, how many of them would let the love of her life babysit, unsupervised....


I'd be lying if I said I wasn't going to miss George Bush at all. He's been great for comedy. This, amazingly, is not photoshopped -- I got it directly off the White House website.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Hell Next Five Exits

Where things come from ...

My sons are taken with the world described in "The Collapse of the Levels," and Bram, my oldest, keeps pitching ideas at me. One day he asked if there were freeways in the Levels, and I thought about it. "Maybe during the Republic of Potsdam," I offered.

Do the freeways just run in Middle Earth, or do they go across Heaven and Hell? I allowed as how they might cross the Levels ... and he grinned. "Hell, Next Five Exits," he said. "There's a guy who's getting chased, and he drives to Hell."

Now, this is the essence of plotting: this happened, and then this happened, and then this happened ... I've met adults who had problems plotting, but I've never met kids who did.

I had a piece laying around for quite a while, about a guy being chased along the edge of the Grand Canyon, by vampires ... it worked well enough.

During the same walk on the beach where Bram threw "Hell, Next Five Exits" at me, he got off some cynical observations about life, the universe, and everything -- and I quoted at him more or less the text that opens this piece.

This is set about 70,000 years before the events in "The Collapse of the Levels."

Hell, Next Five Exits

All creation is ultimately an act of romanticism. This is true even for the cynics, perhaps especially so. To assert a world barren and brutal, a world of nothing but betrayal and bad faith, is to impose on what is.

Some people can be trusted.


The Freeway Naranda runs across the edge of the Canyon Loss. Where the Loss crosses Middle Earth it is, as most school children can tell you, two hundred miles long, forty miles across at its widest, and nearly four miles deep. The River Definite that cut the Canyon (so teach the stonebenders in those schools) runs down out of the mountains, twining together out of a myriad of small streams into the great River, and thunders down through the Loss on its way to the Desert Infinite. In olden days – before the Sixth Republic, in any event – that water passed through a dozen small towns on its way to becoming nothing, out among the Infinite’s fractal mirages.

But no longer, and not in my lifetime nor that of your grandparents. My Sulhola ancestors killed those small towns, stole the Definite’s water and watched the towns dry up and die: and for three hundred years now the Definite has come to its end at City Arch, where fourteen million souls drink and wash and farm that river into oblivion.


The world is one hundred and eighty thousand years old, so the earth witches and stonebenders say – some few historians agree with them. And they may be right, I don’t know. More historians agree that is has been one hundred and fifty-five thousand years since the Fracture, but there is disagreement there, too.

That the Republic of Potsdam is twenty-four thousand years old is a certainty: my family traces its lineage to the Republic’s founding and like most of good ancestry I can recite mine, root and branch, to the Morning Republic.

In twenty-four thousand years, or one hundred and fifty-five, or one hundred and eighty, what was happening to me had most likely never happened before to anyone else.

The Naranda runs mostly through Middle Earth. But it starts in Heaven, and it ends in Hell.

A crush of vampires had chased me almost two thousand miles down that freeway, from the edge of Heaven to the edge of Hell. I was a hundred miles past Arch when I saw the sign that says, to any soul less desperate than I, turn back:

Hell Next Five Exits.


The crush burst in on us at our lodge in Tajan. The lodge was newish, having been in my family perhaps ten generations, and was nestled half a mile high in the Near Northern Mountains, with a one-lane partially paved road, unmarked and with certain discouragements for the casual traveler, winding its way up from the Naranda. Tajan is a small town on the lower slopes of Saternly Mount; it has some four hundred rope people, perhaps two hundred lorun like myself. The tree people pass through occasionally, and there are some number of dragons at Satlake – they come and go as dragons will, and I could not tell you within a dozen how many there were at a given time, despite my family’s hereditary rights of passage over Tajan. We had never pushed for an accurate count – would you?

There’d been trouble with vampires further north, up near the River Ruby, so we should have given some thought to them – but we didn’t, not I nor our retainers nor Captain Balsam Remane. No crush had been as far south as Tajan in living memory …

Everyone is dead now -- Gurn, Remane, Ahjan, Terrero, even little Uadalure – everyone, as I say, except me, so placing blame elsewhere is both pointless and ungentlemanly. The blame is mine, because I’m alive to bear it.


They came on the night of my youngest sister Ahjan’s anacator. In olden days she’d have actually been married at fourteen, but civilization has advanced somewhat since those darker times; now, among our class, a cator is an assumption of some adult responsibilities and privileges, and an excuse for a party. Father and Mother were due to arrive the morning of her birthday, leaving Ahjan and her friends to have their more traditional unstructured fun the day before. And they did – Ahjan had two dozen of her friends with us, and a few of the boys got a little more drunk than was seemly, and a few of the girls got kissed rather thoroughly – but in all no harm. One boy whose name I did not know conceived a passion for Ahjan’s best friend Olinia, and we had to throw him in the lake to restore his senses; but once he’d dried off and perhaps sobered some he apologized, and in round Ahjan’s anacator was a success.

Gurny and I watched the sun set from the front porch that evening. Ahjan and her friends were inside the lodge putting on a play – decent work, some of her crowd were the children of professional entertainers and knew the business of it. They’d invited the lorun townpeople for audience, and about forty had come; and a dozen of the rope people as well. Gurny was worn and I was restless – I’m only three and a half years older than Ahjan, but Gurny was my grandfather’s man and he’d been principle chaperone to Ahjan and her friends in addition to managing logistics and transportation for some forty people – by the time the younger crowd had gone inside for their show, Gurny was moving slowly and was plainly grateful to settle into the biggest of the wooden chairs on the long redwood porch.

I pulled a chair more suited to my size over and sat beside him, a bit upwind. Gurny made a small gesture with two fingers, and I shrugged – he smokes flatweed, and my parents disapprove. I don’t care as long as I don’t have to breathe it. The cigar shook slightly as he lit it – exhaustion, more than age, though the exhaustion was the result of age….

Getting old is unpleasant, Gurny said sometimes, but all the alternatives are worse.

We sat in a comfortable silence while the blue sky took up streaks of pink and orange. Gurny was easy to be with; he’d taught me to read and ride, to hunt and shoot, to fight with and without weapons; had taught me more about being a soldier and a man than my own father. I didn’t resent it, much; Father was a busy and important man and I liked Gurny. Gurny had even taught me the little bit of military magic he knew – not much: witch sight to see in the dark; how to find true West; how to minimize hunger and fatigue; how to find water.

There was enough of a breeze to be comfortable, to stir the Lake off to my left into choppy small blue waves whose peaks caught the sunlight with orange and then red accents, as the sun sat across the long stretch of the Desert Infinite.

Gurny smoked half his cigar before saying, “Your parents are coming in the morning, first thing.”

Even a couple of years ago he’d have known he didn’t need to belabor the obvious to me. “I’ll see things cleaned and boys and girls bedded down in their own wings, before heading to bed myself.”

“Good boy,” said Gurny absently, which might have cost another man his teeth.

I smiled. “And I’ll see Remane posts a guard or two on the corridors.” Later that comment haunted me – the knowledge my only thought for safety had been to put our troops in between the youngsters, rather than around them.

Gurny nodded and puffed away at his cigar. I heard small footsteps behind us, and found my youngest sister Uadalure in her night clothes, fresh from her bath and her hair still wet, her nanny Terrero trailing behind her. Uadalure was four years old, dark-haired and dark-eyed and Middle Earth’s happiest child.

It was already near her bedtime and she’d had a busy day. She climbed up in my lap and whispered, “Tell me a story, Tari.” She curled up against my chest, rested her wet hair against my shoulder, and closed her eyes. “A story about Fluffy,” Fluffy being her ted who’d been left behind in Arch. I’d never thought there was anything much fluffy about her ted -- or anyone else’s – but she doted on him and it was the name she’d chosen.

Gurny closed his eyes and smiled a bit as I started in on the tale. It was the same story every time, Uadalure had objected strenuously the few times I’d tried to introduce changes. “When Fluffy was a baby,” it began, “he wanted a little girl of his own. And he was luckier than any other ted, because the little girl he got was the smartest and nicest and prettiest girl in all of Arch or Tajan--”

Arch was about twenty thousand times the size of Tajan, but they were the two places Uadalure knew.

“Nicest,” she mumbled, half asleep already. “Me.”

“You,” I agreed, and kissed her on her damp forehead. She snuggled a little closer, and her breathing gentled. “When Festival came, Fluffy made sure he was there, because he knew Uadalure’s mother would take her there to play. And because he was so handsome, so pretty, so fluffy, all the little girls who saw Fluffy wanted him to be theirs. But Fluffy said no!”

“No,” came the whisper of agreement.

“Fluffy knew that Uadalure would come and love him and have him forever, if only he was patient. And teds aren’t very good at being patient”—for my measure they were the dumbest creatures that breathed–“but Fluffy knew how important it was that he be patient for Uadalure, because Uadalure’s mommy didn’t like to go the Festival too early in the day. So one little girl after another came and saw Fluffy and wanted him to be hers, one after another after another, but every time Fluffy said …” I waited a beat. No sound came from her but her rhythmic breathing.

“No,” said Gurny very softly. “He said no every time, because Uadalure loved him more than anyone else, and he loved her just as much.”

I stood and handed Uadalure back to Terrero. “Put her in our parent’s room. She should wake up about the time they arrive.”

“Very good, sir. Good night, sir.”

“Good night, Terrero.” I turned to Gurny and held out my right hand.

The faint smile died. “I need help getting out of my chair now?”

“No, Gurny, I know you can get out of the chair on your own. I also know you won’t and I’ll have to wake you after you’ve stiffened and you’ll be unpleasant about it.” I paused and amended, “More unpleasant than you’re going to be anyway.”

Gurny observed that I was impertinent and that my parents had been unmarried when I was conceived. I nodded. “So my father has indicated on occasion. But I’ve seen the paperwork, and it appears to indicate a decent interval between wedding and birth.”

“You can pay special for those sorts of papers,” growled Gurny, taking my hand. I hauled him out of the chair. It was much easier than it would have been even a year ago – I was stronger, and he was lighter.

“You can pay for anything in Arch,” I agreed, and something in my tone struck him – he peered closely at me for a moment, not letting go of my hand.

“What have you been paying for, young sir?”

“Nothing unseemly,” I said, without changing expression. “Those sorts of things cost more than Father is willing to release from my accounts.”

He barked laughter and released me. “You’re old enough to work.”

“I’m old enough to fight, too,” and Gurny merely nodded at that, and clapped me on the shoulder.

It was nearly dark out, so we lit the porch lanterns and went back inside as the thin line of scarlet on the horizon faded to black.


I'll probably finish this soon. It's a discrete little story arc and my son's waiting on it. It does feel like the opening of a kid's book, though.

Yes, there is more Long Run coming. Probably a couple days.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Say It Ain't So, John

After we liquidated things with Quietvision, they (quite decently) sent me the remaining copies. We've got two boxes of "Last Dancer" hardcovers, 20 copies, we're going to get rid of. $50 apiece, shipping included inside the U.S. -- an extra $10 outside the U.S. I've seen them going on Ebay for lots more than that. Drop me a line in the comments if you want one. They go in order requested.


Say It Ain't So ...

I've always admired John McCain. (Don't misunderstand; I'm not voting for him. I can't imagine voting Republican at the moment. But that's policy, and has nothing to do with McCain's quality as an individual.) As to McCain's quality as an individual -- he's an asshole, but that's not the worst failing for a politician. I'm sure, temper issues and all, he's a nicer guy than Bill Clinton, another guy with a volcanic temper. McCain's pragmatic and you can do business with him, which I've always liked -- I'm not a big fan of "bipartisanship," which is a longer post than I have time for at the moment -- but I do like pragmatic, and pragmatic married to something like character is the best you can ask for out of any politician.

Politics is an ugly business, and the first requirement is that you win. I don't have a problem (a moral problem, anyway) with much that McCain's done up to this point. Ditto Obama. A lot of what McCain's done so far has been a mistake, but that's just a judgement issue, not a moral one.

In 2000 robocallers in North Carolina, during the Republican primaries, called voters and told them that John McCain had fathered an illegitimate black child. It was the nastiest possible libel; McCain has an adopted daughter of Indian background. Bush's operatives took that adoption and used McCain's daughter as the bsis of a smear intended to inflame the racist sentiments of Republican primary voters.

My longtime admiration for McCain took a hit when he embraced Bush on stage at the 2004 convention. Screw the politics of it; Bush used McCain's daughter, lied about her, to pick up the votes of racists. And McCain embraced him four years later. Imagine being the daughter, watching that on television?

But life is full of compromises. OK, that hug was one. But yesterday I read that John McCain hired the firm that executed that racist smear against his own daughter. Hired them. Paid them.

I'm hard to surprise, when it comes to politics. Steve Barnes, who I admire, thinks Obama is a "political philosopher" -- I don't think so. I think Obama is a Chicago pol, a street fighter -- better than a philosopher. See Al Gore, who I do admire: but as a politician your first responsibility is to win, and Obama's so far willing to do what it takes to win. Gore wasn't. (Which doesn't change the fact that he did win -- the only time all the votes were ever counted in Florida, Gore won by every single standard that actually involved counting all the votes .... of course Bush was in the White House by the.)

But even politicians should have lines they won't cross. The contempt I always felt for Bill Clinton was an artifact of my inability to see where that line was, for him -- the admiration I always felt for McCain came from what was, I thought, a pretty clear set of lines he wouldn't cross, not even to win. He's blurred a few of those, running for President -- fair enough, ambition can make even good men do things they wouldn't brag about.

But I don't see how you parse this last as anything but a betrayal of his daughter. It wouldn't have surprised me from Bill Clinton, but it sure does surprise me from McCain.

Shame on you, John McCain.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Caine Black Knife

At Amazon.

I Still Believe ...

Well, no I don't. 3-1 is a pretty big hole, and while I won't count them out, the Dodgers will need a lot of luck to get past this Phillies team. There are three games left, if the Dodgers are lucky, and two of them are in Philadelphia, and the Dodgers need all three.

That Game 4 loss is a classic sign of an overmatched team. Win the first two games at home, go on the road and drop Game 3 -- pretty normal. The underdog usually wins Game 3, because the implications (down 3-0) are so disastrous for them if they don't. Then, good teams win Game 4 and things are pretty bleak for the underdog from that point forward ...

This certainly counts as success for the Dodgers, however. Short of a World Series appearance I'm skeptical they keep Manny Ramirez -- he's old, which isn't that big a deal in the American League, where a big hitter can move to the designated hitter and be productive in his declining years, than it is in the National League, where a slow, aging player on the field is a danger to the team.

But after 20 years they've won a series, and even without Ramirez they have a young, talented squad. That's something.


Matt Stover's new novel, Caine Black Knife, is out. More about that tomorrow, but the very short form is, go buy it now.


Things have indeed settled down -- and my schedule has lightened up considerably -- I'm up to around 20 hours a week writing time right now, and if things stay the same, my output should rise dramatically. (It's been ~4 hours a week the last couple years.) may not blog much more -- I suspect everyone would rather see Trent text than blog text.

I'm going to issue the first complete half of AI War as an e-book -- my November 30 date's looking unlikely. Sorry, I should have known better than to make that post. That move ate up most of a month, unfortunately, but the first half of AI War is in clean shape and leaves the story at a good stopping point -- not a lengthy stopping point, I hope. I'm talking to Outpost Press right now to produce bound copies of the novel, but I'm not clear on timelines yet.


Yes, there surely is more coming on the Alan Rodgers front. I'm waiting until after the election, because no one'll be paying attention until then anyway, but post-Nov. 4 we're going to do a fairly large push on that situation. The Alan Rodgers Experience is back online -- no new posts, as I say, I've been busy, but some of the material that's coming there is an update on the last year or so, interviews and blogs with my daughters, profiles of some of the people inhabiting the Los Angeles Family Court system, scanned copies of various documents generated in the last few years, a review of two years of posts by Alan Rodgers and Amy Casil over on, including the part where she sought a restraining order against him and he had a bugfuck flipout over it and started threatening her and her surviving child and then demanded she apologize to him publicly ... the list of people Alan's demanded public apologies from is striking, going through all his posts. After killing their little brother, he demanded that Alex and Andrea apologize to him as well. This hasn't happened yet but doubtless he's still waiting ...

The part of my deposition where Alan Rodgers lawyer asks if Amy Casil might have gone down to Alan's office and caused that explosion of filth in a drunken bender after the baby's death is priceless. If they'd just go away and leave be people who want nothing to do with them, watching them fuck with each other would itself be a form of entertainment. At one point in his posts, Alan mutters that Amy Casil is accusing him of things that would require legal action if she said them publicly. I can imagine what that could be -- something to do with intentional homicide, maybe? She certainly already knew he'd killed that baby through negligence.

After Alan threatened to kill her daughter, Casil left him. After Alan killed her baby, Casil left him. And then sought a restraining order against him and Alan responded by threatening her and her daughter again, publicly. And then she went back to him, again. Fascinating woman, at least in a clinical sense.

There's material relating to recent court developments I haven't covered yet, but that's coming. Dr. Jane Ellen Shatz, a court ordered reunification therapist, thought it would be valuable to put the drunken, abusive, mentally impaired baby killer into therapy with his surviving children: we've quite thoroughly declined to do that. It's possibly unfair of me to note that she only got paid if the kids went to reunification therapy, but I take note, and will add that some therapists don't threaten their "clients," which Shatz did to my daughters. My daughters may have more to say on their experiences with Dr. Shatz.

I'm surprised by none of this. This is the court system that found O.J. Simpson a competent parent to take his children back, after he cut their mother's head off. It's a good place for monsters like Alan.

(On a mildly unrelated note, nice to see O.J. heading away to lockup. Couldn't happen to a nicer guy. Gives one hope for karma in other areas of life.)

If you're a blogger who'd like to blog about this, drop me a line in the comments. If you are or know a reporter for a meaningfully sized media outlet, ditto. I've got contacts within NPR and the L.A. Times, and I'll be following up with them as well. The Group News Blog is already on board to cover this after the election.


Along with the Matt Stover post, some politics coming tomorrow too. Interesting times.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Hello ...

We moved in September, and as those of you wish large families know, this is a major production. So I haven't been posting much. But we're settled now and I should be around a bit more. Some interesting things to discuss, too .....

Great time to be a Dodgers fan.

Yes, will be more AI War up sometime this week.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Pirate Guy

Thanks to Steve Perry for forwarding this ....

Thinking about getting some little gold hoop earrings. Just for the look.


One more for the Dodgers and they've won their division. Admittedly this is the worst division in baseball -- earlier this year it was in contention for the worst division in MLB history -- but hey, they're the Dodgers. This is progress.

BTW, you Brooklyn Dodgers fans -- I've heard it all. The reason I was born in Los Angeles in the first place was that my father followed the Dodgers 0ut from Brooklyn, fifty years ago this year ....

I am pleased for Joe Torrey. A year after being unceremoniously booted out of New York, he has the Dodgers in the playoffs -- and the Yankees are missing the playoffs for the first time in a decade or more.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Choking Dogs?

7 With 9 Left ...

The Dodgers magic number -- the combination of Dodgers wins and Arizona Cardinals losses that guarantee the Dodgers will make the postseason -- is down to 7, with 9 games remaining.

I've been called a front runner occasionally because I'm a Lakers fan (Celtics fans can skip the next clause in this sentence) and the Lakers have been the most dominant franchise in NBA history -- also because I'm a UCLA Bruins basketball fan, and there was that Wooden thing, I root for USC football and they've been pretty dominant lately ....

I'm an L.A. guy. You gotta cut me slack on that stuff.

I'm also a Dodgers fan, and it's been 19 years since the Dodgers won a playoff series.

19 ... years.

In 19 years the Dodgers have won one playoff game.

A couple years back one of my daughters had a pack of boys over to the house. They were good boys who said "Yes, sir" and "No, sir" and were on the track team at her high school, but there was a pack of them. At one point one of them mentioned the Dodgers and another kid said, sneering, "The Dodgers suck. The Dodgers have always sucked."

I was in the other room and the shock of hearing that brought me into the living room ... the pack looked at me, and I hesitated. Because they were young. 15 or so. And the Dodgers had always sucked, their entire lives. None of them had even been born the last time the Dodgers had won a playoff series.

"Never mind," I told them. "I forget sometimes that I'm old."

The Los Angeles Dodgers were the only team to win two World Series during the 1980s. They did it with two very different teams -- the 1981 Dodgers of Garvey and Cey and Fernando, and the 1988 Dodgers of Orel Hershiser, who won the Cy Young Award, and Kirk Gibson, who won the MVP that year and came up with one of the most magical home runs in the history of baseball.

Everyone expected the '81 Dodgers, if not to win the World Series, at least to threaten to win it. That team was a mini-dynasty and was loaded with talent. But the '88 Dodgers weren't -- before the World Series began that year, one of the announcers described them as the biggest underdog to play in the World Series in his memory. The Dodgers went to the World Series that year behind unearthly pitching by Orel Hershiser; everyone expected the Dodgers to win two games in that series, the two games Hershiser pitched, and to lose the series 4-2. Aside from Hershiser and regular season MVP Gibson, they didn't have much -- not a single position player made the All-Star team that year, for example. And they were facing the Oakland Athletics, which had amazing hitting and amazing pitching and had swept the Red Sox for the American League championship.

The Dodgers won that series in 5 games, but the moment everyone remembers is the end of Game 1. In the bottom of the 9th Kirk Gibson was sent in to pinch hit with the Dodgers down 4-3 and a man on base. Dennis Eckersley, the best reliever in baseball that year (and that era, for that matter) -- was on the mound when Gibson came up. Two outs, man on base, and Gibson had a badly injured knee and couldn't really run ...

I was at home, in an apartment complex of about a hundred units, watching the game with my wife Holly. I turned to Holly, said, "He's looking for a homer. He can't run."

Gibson worked the count to 3 & 2 ...

I turned back to her and said: "In a bad movie, this is where the hero smashes a home run and" --

-- while my head was turned away from the tv, a roar that rattled the walls of the apartment went up, a deep base bellow was like nothing I'd ever heard before. I turned my head back in time to watch Kirk Gibson trotting around the bases on those bad knees, pumping his fists. Possibly the most memorable moment in Dodgers baseball history -- I'd missed it, talking.

None of the boys in my house that day had been alive when that happened. All they knew was that the Dodgers were Choking Dogs, to quote local sportswriter TJ Simers, guys who played well in the summer, but not down the stretch when it counted: one year the Dodgers had the best record in baseball at the All-Star break, and managed to miss the playoffs. I doubt that's ever happened to another team in the history of MLB baseball.

Beyond that -- I've been annoyed at baseball ever since the World Series was cancelled by a lockout. I wasn't always the hard core basketball fan you've seen on this blog -- when I was a kid, I followed baseball, football, and basketball, and of the three, basketball was probably third. Roman Gabriel and Jack Youngblood and Don Drysdale and Sandy Koufax hung on my walls when I was a kid, not Jerry West. (Some of that was my Dad, who had no patience with basketball -- and paid for the posters.) But more of it was me -- being a Lakers fan was a cross in those days, and Fuck the Celtics, you know what I mean? But in 1979 Magic Johnson came to the Lakers and the Rams left for Anaheim, and while I remained fond of the Rams, I stopped rooting: only someone who knows nothing of Los Angeles would think that a team behind the Orange Curtain was an L.A. team. In their place we got the Raiders, from Oakland -- and I hated the Raiders when they were in Oakland, hated them when they were in L.A., and hate them today. Then in '94 both the Raiders and Rams left -- the Raiders back to Oakland, the Rams to St. Louis -- and there was no football in Los Angeles, which admittedly was at an improvement over the Raiders stinking the place up.

It's been 14 years since there was pro football in L.A. -- well, except for USC.

1994 was also the year that the World Series was cancelled by a baseball strike. "A plague on both their houses" -- I couldn't tell you if the owners or players were at fault, and don't care to this day. World War II didn't interrupt the World Series, but greedy bastards on both sides managed it in 1994.

It's been 14 years since I've really cared who won the World Series, aside from rooting against the Yankees and Boston. (You'd think I'd really hate it when the Yankees play the Red Sox? Nope, because no matter what, one of them has to lose.)

But I'm still a Dodgers fan. And the last couple years, slowly, they've started to look like the old Dodgers -- despite being owned by a bastard from Boston, a real estate developer named Frank McCourt. Prior to McCourt, News Corp. had owned the Dodgers -- Rupert Murdoch -- meaning I had not one but two reasons to despise Rupert Murdoch, his politics and what his company did to my Dodgers during their ownership of it. Prior to Murdoch, the Dodgers had always been at least respectable; during the Murdoch era they were a joke and never got much past being a joke.

I'm not signing off on McCourt -- he's made decisions regarding the Dodgers I either don't understand or don't agree with -- but he cares. He's intensely focused on the Dodgers and while some of the decisions may have been goofy, having an involved and bright man as owner has plainly helped the organization regain its focus. They've actually developed young players -- the Dodgers farm system used to be the envy of the rest of baseball, and lately it's started producing again, which is nice to see. When Manny Ramirez became available recently, the Dodgers chased him, and Ramirez's presence has plainly energized this team ....

Which doesn't mean anything yet. I'm optimistic. I'm hopeful. The Dodgers have won 14 of their last 17 games, there are only 9 games left this season, and the Dodgers need some combination of 7 Dodgers wins and Arizona losses to make the playoffs.

Not even Choking Dogs should be able to screw that up.


Brilliant: Welcome to the Third World!,0,7282720.column

Most of what's wrong with our economy comes down to borrowing money rather than paying as you go. The extremely low interest rates that caused the housing boom & bust were directly related to the Bush Administration's need to keep interest rates down to help finance their massive borrowing. The oil shocks were coming anyway, Peak Oil has always been a reality, but the rest of this could have been avoided by sane fiscal policy.


Speaking of sanity -- interesting couple of weeks coming. We've got family court next week -- they're apparently inclined to send my 12 year old son to reunification therapy with the baby killer -- and my daughter is talking about going to go see the District Attorney about things Alan said after Anthony died. I've thought Alan murdered that baby ever since I read the entire dependency doc, but apparently he said things she's sat on ever since. I don't think she wants to see Alan go to jail for the rest of his life -- I admit, I do -- but, like me, I think she's about reached the limit of what she's willing to tolerate.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Gregory Mcdonald

Gregory Mcdonald died on Sunday, apparently. His website hasn't been updated yet:

Like too many writers, his later work wasn't up to the standards of his earlier work. Sometimes that's an actual decline, and sometimes it's merely regression to the mean -- an artist who's done something groundbreaking isn't likely to keep doing something groundbreaking. There was a little of both in Mcdonald's career -- "Fletch" is simply brilliant and not quite like anything I know of that came before it. I won't claim Mcdonald invented the dialog driven novel, but he surely perfected it. Kevin Smith's told people for years he learned to write dialog from Gregory Mcdonald; so did I. The scene in "The Long Run" where Trent meets Melissa du Bois for the first time -- that was me, trying to be Mcdonald. I won't claim I succeeded, but it's not a bad scene for something written by an 18 year old, and that's Mcdonald's influence almost entirely: if you're going to imitate, and at 18 you're going to, imitating the best is a great idea.

(I read an interview with Michael Jordan recently. He said, in essence, of course Kobe Bryant imitated him. As he, Jordan, had imitated the generation before him. It's how sports and how art evolves. Jordan influenced how an entire generation of basketball players played the game: Mcdonald influenced how an entire generation of writers wrote dialog.)

"Fletch" introduces Irwin Maurice Fletcher, who, sensibly enough, goes by Fletch. The sequel, the "Godfather 2" of the Mcdonald universe, is "Confess, Fletch," in which Mcdonald introduced Francis Xavier Flynn -- one of the great characters in literature, sharing space with Fletch, another of the great characters. That Mcdonald never had Flynn and Fletch together in another novel is one of the real missed opportunities in literature -- but the one novel in which they do both appear together will have to stand as among the finest mysteries ever written. (And personally, one of my favorite novels period.)

Within the last year, my daughter Andrea went hunting through the paperbacks on my bookshelf. She dug out the raggediest books on the shelf and went to pick out something to read -- the ugliest of the books was "Confess, Fletch," which was sitting on the shelf with no back cover and torn in half down the spine -- literally in two pieces. "Well," she said, "you've sure read this one a lot." So she took "Confess Fletch" and went off to read. When she got done, she said, "He reminds me of you, except, I liked it better."

"He reminds me of you" is a compliment I will happily take, even if it is wholly backwards. No surprise about the rest of it, either. :-)


The opening of "Confess, Fletch:"

FLETCH snapped on the light and looked into the den.

Except for the long windows and the area over the desk, the walls were lined with books. There were two red leather wing chairs in the room, a small divan, and a coffee table.

On the little desk was a black telephone.

Fletch dialled "0". "Get me the police, please."

"Is this an emergency?"

"Not at the moment."

The painting over the desk was a Ford Madox Brown--a country couple wrapped against the wind.

"Then please dial '555-7523'."

"Thank you."

He did so.

"Sergeant McAuliffe speaking."

"Sergeant, this is Mister Fletcher, 152 Beacon Street, apartment 6B."

"Yes, sir."

"There's a murdered girl in my living room."

"A what girl?"


Naked, her breasts and hips full, her stomach lean, she lay on her back between the coffee table and the divan. Her head was on the hardwood floor in the space between the carpet and the fireplace. Her face, whiter than the areas kept from the sun by her bikini, eyes staring, looked as if she were about to complain of some minor discomfort, such as, "Move your arm, will you?" or "Your watchband is scratching me".

"Murdered," Fletch repeated.

There was a raw spot behind the girl's left ear. It had had time to neither swell nor bleed. There was just a gully with slim blood streaks running along it. Her hair streamed away from it as if to escape.

"This is the Police Business phone."

"Isn't murder police business?"

"You're supposed to call Emergency with a murder."

"I think the emergency is over."

"I mean, I don't even have a tape recorder on this phone."

"So talk to your boss. Make a recommendation."

"Is this some kinda joke?"

"No. It isn't."

"No one's ever called Police Business phone to report a murder. Who is this?"

"Look, would you take a message? 152 Beacon Street, apartment 6B, murder, the name is Fletcher. Would you write that down?"

"156 Beacon Street?"

"152 Beacon Street, 6B." Through the den door, Fletch's eyes passed over his empty suitcases standing in the hall. "Apartment is in the name of Connors."

"Your name is Fletcher?"

"With an 'F'. Let Homicide know, will you? They'll be interested."


FLETCH looked at his watch. It was twenty-one minutes to ten.

Instinctively he timed the swiftness of the police.

He returned to the living room and mixed himself a Scotch and water at the sideboard. He would not bother with ice. He concentrated on opening the Scotch bottle, making more of a job of it than was necessary. He did not look in the direction of the girl.

She was beautiful, she was dead, and he had seen enough of her.

Sloshing the drink in his glass as he walked, he went back into the den and turned on all the lights.

He stood at the desk, looking closely at the Brown. The cottage behind the country couple was just slightly tilted in its landscape, as if it, too, were being affected by the wind. Fletch had seen similiar Browns, but never even a reproduction of this painting.

The phone made him jump. Some of his drink splashed on to the desk blotter.

He placed his glass on the blotter, and his handkerchief over the stains before answering.

"Mister Fletcher?"


"Ah, good, you did arrive. Welcome to Boston."

"Thank you. Who is this?"

"Ronald Horan. Horan Gallery. I tried to get you earlier."

"I went out to dinner."

"Your letter mentioned you'd be staying in Bart Connor's apartment. We did some restoration work for him a year or two ago."

"It's very good of you to call, Mister Horan."

"Well, I'm very excited by this Picasso you mentioned in your letter. You said it's called 'Vino, Viola, Mademoiselle'?"

"It's been called that. God knows how Picasso thought of it."

"Of course, I'm puzzled why you came all the way from Rome to Boston to engage me as your broker. . . ."

"There's some evidence the painting is in this part of the world. Possibly even in Boston."

"I see. Still, I expect we could have handled it by correspondence."

"As I wrote in my letter, there may be one or two other matters I'd like to consult you about."

"Yes, of course. Anything to be of service. Perhaps I should start by warning you that this painting might not exist."

"It exists."

"I've looked it up, and there is no record of it anywhere that I can find."

"I have a photograph of it."

"Very possibly it does exist. There are a great many Picassos in existence which have never been recorded. On the other hand, the body of Picasso's work very often has been victim to fakes. I'm sure you know his work has been counterfeited more than the work of anyone else in history."

"I do know, yes."

"Well, I wouldn't be giving you professional service if I didn't bring these matters up to you. If such a painting exists, and it's authentic, I'll do everything I can to find it for you and arrange for the purchase."

Rotating blue lights from the roofs of police cars storeys below began to flash against the long, light window curtains. There had been no sound of sirens.

"Are you free to come by tomorrow morning, Mister Fletcher?"

Fletch said, "I'm not sure."

"I was thinking of ten-thirty."

"Ten-thirty will be fine. If I'm free at all."

"Good. You have my address."


"Let's see, you're on Beacon Street across from the Gardens, right?"

"I think so."

Fletch pushed the curtains aside. There were three police cars in the street. Across the street was an iron railing. The darkness beyond had to be a park.

"Then what you do is this: leave your apartment and turn right, that is, east, and go to the end of the Gardens. Then turn left on Arlington Street, that is, away from the river. Newbury Street will be the third block on your right. The gallery is about two and a half blocks down the street."

"Thank you. I've got it."

"I'll send someone down to open the door to you at ten-thirty precisely. We're not a walk-in gallery, you know."

"I wouldn't think so. I'm sorry, Mister Horan, I think there's someone at my door."

"Quite all right. I look forward to seeing you in the morning."

Fletch hung up.

The door buzzer sounded.

It was seven minutes to ten.


"MY NAME's Flynn. Inspector Flynn."

The man in the well-cut, three-piece, brown tweed suit filled the den doorway. His chest and shoulders were enormous, his brown hair full and curly. Between these two masses of overblown brown was a face so small it had the cherubic quality of an eight-year-old boy, or a dwarf. Even with the hair, his head was small in proportion to his body, like a tiny, innocent-looking knob in control of a huge, powerful machine. Nothing indoors had the precise colour of his green eyes. It was the bright, sparkling green of sunlight on a wet spring meadow.

Below the break of his right trouser leg were a half-dozen dots of blood.

"Pardon my pants. I'm fresh from an axe murder."

For such a huge chest cavity, for anyone, for that matter, his voice was incredibly soft and gentle.

Fletch said, "You're an Irish cop."

"I am that."

"I'm sorry." Fletch stood up. "I meant nothing derogatory by that."

Flynn said, "Neither did I."

There was no proffer to shake hands.

As Flynn vacated the doorway, a younger and shorter man came in, carrying a notepad and ballpoint pen. He had the grizzled head of someone fried on a Marine Corps drill ground a score of times, like a drill sergeant. The rubbery skin around his eyes and mouth suggested his eagerness to shove his face in yours, tighten his skin, and shout encouraging obscenities up your nose. In repose, the slack skin gave him the appearance of a petulant basset. His suit and shirt were cheap, ill-fitting, but spotless, and his shoes, even this late on a drizzly day, gleamed.

"This is Grover," said Flynn. "The department doesn't trust me to do my own parking."

He settled himself in a red leather chair.

Fletch sat down.

It was twenty-six minutes past ten.

He remained waiting in the den. A young, uniformed policeman waited with him, standing at parade rest, carefully keeping his eyes averted from Fletch. Beyond the den, other police, plainclothesmen, moved around the apartment. Fletch wondered if any reporters had sneaked in with them. Fletch heard the murmur of their voices, but caught nothing of what they said. Occasionally, a streak of light from a camera flashbulb crossed the hall, from either the left, where the bedrooms were, or the right, where the living room was.

An ambulance crew entered, rolling a folded stretcher across the hall, towards the living room.

"Close the door, will you, Grover? Then make yourself comfortable at the wee desk there. We don't want to miss a word of what this boyo in the exquisite English tailoring has to say."

The uniformed policeman went through the door as Grover closed it.

"Has anyone read you your rights?" Flynn asked.

"The first fuzz through the door."

"Fuzz, is it?"

Fletch said, "Fuzz."

"In more human language," Flynn continued, "I ask you if you don't think you'd be wiser to have your lawyer present while we question you.

"I don't think so."

Flynn said, "What did you hit her with?"

Fletch could not prevent mild surprise, mild humour appearing in his face. He said nothing.

"All right, then." Flynn settled more comfortably in his chair. "Your name is Fletcher?"

"Peter Fletcher," Fletcher said.

"And who is Connors?"

"He owns this apartment. I'm borrowing it from him. He's in Italy."

Flynn leaned forward in his chair. "Do I take it you're not going to confess immediately to this crime?"

He used his voice like an instrument--a very soft, woodland instrument.

"I'm not going to confess to this crime at all."

"And why not?"

"Because I didn't do it."

"The man says he didn't do it, Grover. Have you written that down?"

"Sitting here," Fletch said, "I've been rehearsing what I might tell you."

"I'm sure you have." Elbows on chair arms, massive shoulders hunched, Flynn folded his hands in his lap. "All right, Mister Fletcher. Supposing you recite to us your opening prevarication."

The green eyes clamped on Fletch's face as if to absorb with full credulity every word.

"I arrived from Rome this afternoon. Came here to the apartment. Changed my clothes, went out to dinner. Came back and found the body."

"This is a dandy, Grover. Let me see if I've got it in all its pristine wonder. Mister Fletcher, you say you fly into a strange city, go to an apartment you're borrowing, and first night there you find a gorgeous naked girl you've never seen before in your life murdered on the living room rug. Is that your story, in short form?"


"Well, now. If that doesn't beat the belly of a fish. I trust you're got every word, Grover, however few of them there were."

Fletch said, "I thought it might help us all get to bed earlier."

"'Get to bed', he says. Now, Grover, here's a man who's had a full day. Would you mind terribly if I led the conversation for a while now?"

"Go ahead," Fletch said.

Looking at his watch, Flynn said, "It's been a near regular custom I've had with my wife since we were married sixteen years ago to get me home by two o'clock feeding. So we have that much time." He glanced at the glass of Scotch and water Grover had moved to the edge of the desk blotter. "First I must ask you how much you've had to drink tonight."

"I've had whatever's gone from that glass, Inspector. An ounce of whisky? Less?" Fletch asked, "You really have inspectors in Boston, uh?"

"There is one: me."

"Good grief."

"I'd say that's a most precise definition. I'm greatly taken with it, myself, and I'm sure Grover is--an Inspector of Boston Police as being 'good grief'. The man has his humour, Grover. However, we were speaking of the man's drinking. How much did you have to drink at dinner?"

"A split. A half bottle of wine."

"He'll even define 'split' for us, Grover. A remarkably definitive man. You had nothing to drink before dinner?"

"Nothing. I was eating alone."

"And you're going to tell me you had nothing to drink on the airplane all the way across the Mediterranean Sea and then the full girth of the Atlantic Ocean, water, water everywhere. . . ."

"I had coffee after we took off. A soft drink with lunch, or whatever it was they served. Coffee afterwards."

"Were you travelling first class?"


"The drinks are free in first class, I've heard."

"I had nothing to drink on the airplane, or before boarding the airplane. I had nothing to drink at the airport, nothing here, wine at the restaurant, and this half glass while I've been waiting for you."

"Grover, would you make a note that in my opinion Mister Fletcher is entirely sober?"

"Would you like a drink, Inspector?" Fletch asked.

"Ach, no. I never touch the dirty stuff. The once I had it, the night after being a student in Dublin, it gave me a terrible headache. I woke up the next morning dead. The thing is, this crime of passion would be much easier to understand if you had a bottle or two of the old juice within you."

"You may find that is so," Fletch said. "When you find the murderer."

"Are you a married man yourself, Mister Fletcher?"

"I'm engaged."

"To be married?"

"I expect to be married. Yes."

"And what is the name of this young lady whose luck, at the moment, is very much in question?"


"Now why didn't I guess that myself? Write down 'Andrew', Grover."

"Angela. Angela de Grassi. She's in Italy."

"She's in Italy, too. Grover. Everyone's in Italy except he who has just come from there. Make a social note. She didn't come with you due to her prejudice against the Boston weather?"

"There are some family problems she has to straighten out."

"And what would the nature of such problems be?"

"I attended her father's funeral yesterday, Inspector."

"Ach. Dicey time to leave your true love's side."

"She should be coming over in a few days."

"I see. And what is it you do for a living?"

"I write on art."

"You're an art critic?"

"I don't like the words 'art critic'. I write on the arts."

"You must make a fortune at it, Mister Fletcher. First class air tickets, this lavish, opulent apartment, the clothes you're wearing. . . ."

"I have some money of my own."

"I see. Having money of your own opens up a great many careers which otherwise might be considered marginal. By the way, what is that painting over the desk? You can't see it from where you are."

"It's a Ford Madox Brown."

"It's entirely my style of work."

"Nineteenth-century English."

"Well, that's one thing I'm not, is nineteenth-century English. And who with a touch of humanity in him would be?”

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Been busy ...

Much to talk about, but I've been a little occupied the last few weeks. Some of what I'm going to talk about is Alan Rodgers -- apparently the baby killer sued me recently for hurting his feelings. (Swear to God.) I've been waiting for a while for a defamation lawsuit from him -- since verything I've posted about him has been true, I figured that was a winning lawsuit. Apparently so did he. So (I haven't seen the lawsuit yet) he sued me, not for saying that I thought he'd murdered his infant son, but because I posted information from the Dependency Court which said a bunch of vile (and true) things about him ... and this hurt his feelings. "Infliction of emotional distress," I think the phrase is.

Alan Rodgers Experience will probably be back online shortly.

Also another chunk of AI War coming soon.


The Dodgers are in first place!

Kobe rocked at the Olympics. It doesn't make up for the collapse against the Celtics, but it was sure nice to watch.

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.