The Fire Shall Try

There's four novels sitting on my shelves. The third and fourth I am gearing up to send out again; the first is entirely horrible; this is the second one-- a science fiction story set in the second half of this century. It's mediocre and outdated enough that it would need a complete rewrite to be published; but it has some interesting stuff which some of you might like to see.

I worked on it from 1986 to early 1991. If it had been published then, I'd probably be mildly notorious, because things keep happening that I predicted. I had the Soviet Union breaking up-- though I expected it would take decades, not a few years. I also foresaw a terrorist attack from a Southern nation that would provoke the US to retaliatory war and internal repression. My description of 21st century electronic media was also pretty close to the Internet, though I missed the astonishing democratization of information brought by the Web.

The world

The basic story of the book is the confrontation of North and South, in the wake of the midcentury collapse of oil resources. The South is energized by not one but two major new ideologies: Usafi, a development of African socialism championed by the large new state of Afrika ya Mashariki, and revisionism (lousy name, I know), a revolutionary ideology from Brazil.

The US and the Soviets invade Brazil to stop the revolution and are defeated; in retaliation the Brazilians assassinate the presidents of both countries. The US president responds to this with repression in the name of anti-terrorism, and creates a new extra-constitutional set of courts and laws to persecute dissidents.

Other things to note on the map: I figured that by 2068 most independence movements would succeed: the Baltic republics, Quebec, the Dravidians in India, the Baluchis, Sinkiang, Tibet, Khalistan (i.e. the Sikhs), Eritrea, southern Sudan, Mindanao. South Africa was divided up.

The map of Africa is particularly different, because I thought that nations would emerge based on ethnicity, rather than the absurd borders left by the colonial states. This was not of course a peaceful process, and Afrika ya Mashariki represents the next stage: a post-nationalist union, creating a regional economic and political power center.

The 'Muslim Bloc' on the map is a political grouping, by the way; that's why it excludes Turkey and Indonesia.

A curiosity of this world is that both Southern revolutionary movements are inspired by Christianity, and that this association would cause the Northern countries to repress Christians. It's fun to go against people's expectations-- this idea confounded a Christian conservative friend of mine, who in effect found himself rooting for the bad guys till halfway through the book. But I'm afraid I underestimated the conservativism of American Christianity, which is unfortunately more set to be a tool than a victim of repression.

At the moment, prospects for a newly radicalized South seem more remote than ever. The futurist must be careful here. Predictions are often too radical-- most early-20th century sf put way too much activity before the year 2000; it's always a safe prediction that the most successful states of today will still be powerful half a century hence. But one must also throw in some unlikely-seeming ideas, because what futurists miss are the things that seem inconceivable at the time of writing. (George Orwell predicted that the intellectual reign of Marx would be destroyed; but he considered colonial subjects to be so retrograde that they hardly registered as human; he would have been shocked to think that India would one day be a powerhouse in computing or that Arabs would in a few decades perpetrate a devastating attack on New York.) Neo-laissez-faire capitalism seems unstoppable right now, and I expect it to still be powerful in the real world of 2068. But by then it will have strong rivals as well.

If I were redoing this world, by the way, I would make the blocs much less unified. The map should not be black and white but mostly gray.

The same future history underlies my fourth novel, by the way, but since it's set almost 3000 years farther on, few of the details matter. For that matter, my Fuschia Chang comics were conceived as taking place in this future too.

Extract 1: Cityscape

This is an aside from Chapter 2; it's an attempt to capture what s.f. books almost never do: the fact that the future would strike us as overwhelmingly bizarre. If I write something like “Thubouier walked down the street and bought a newspaper”, there's no sense that the street or the newspaper are completely different from what you could see today. (Throwing in some coinages-- ‘newsdisk’ or something-- is pitifully inadequate.) Movies can do this much better, though even there I think they make the mistake of making that future far too uniform.

If you, the reader from the past, could be brought to stand on Wells outside the Tong Café, you might be content to listen to Engler and Thubouier schmoozing; but it is surely more likely that you would look around you, turning on your heels like a tourist, to see what the city looks like in 2062.

The volants would catch your eye, of course. They are very sleek and very fast, and you would very much like to ride in one, frightening pigeons and ducking under power lines. They’re certainly better-looking than the cars. The future ought to have lordly vehicles; but these cars are small, and not many of them are new. You don’t see a single American or Japanese-made car; they all seem to come from Mexico, or Brazil, or Korea. There are also plenty of bicycles, although they look quite strange to you. How do the riders hold that position? Is there a wheel inside that egg-shaped thing in front?

There’s a sour smell in the air, a mixture of smog, gas, garbage, and food from the café; and it’s hot, even for a day in July. The greenhouse effect, perhaps. The street is noisy with traffic, voices, mechanical hums, the atonal clang of Brighton music. It’s dirty, too. What must New York look like?

Shrieking electronically, a messenger mec comes bearing down on you down the sidewalk. You step back (feeling all the more like a tourist) and, just before it wheels round a corner, you catch sight of the Chrysler logo on its storage compartment. That solves one mystery.

If this were a movie, you’d say that several set designers had been at work here, and they didn’t get along. Some of the older buildings date back to your time or earlier; you can even see the John Hancock building, looking the same as ever, peeking over a supermarket across the street; right next to it is a new building, a white fluted column like a huge minaret. There are hideously overdecorated buildings, like a nightmare of Cubism, representing a style called Post-Modernist Baroque. There are plastic and wood buildings; but the hot new material seems to be ceramic. The supermarket across the street seems to be made of glazed clay, like an enormous pot; a nightclub behind you is faced entirely in lacquerware, and must have cost buckets.

Some of the buildings are hard to see, because there are signs and ads everywhere. They are wonderful signs, attractive, spare of text, creative. The supermarket’s sign features a pc-animated row of food products rolling and spinning across the storefront; the name of the store appears in small type in the lower right corner. From where you are standing you can count ten or twenty ads for “Mitsubishi Man,” which seems simultaneously to be a holo, a game, a drink, and a perfume; its icon is a Japanese man smiling a James Dean smile under a cowboy hat. A travel agency is offering tours of the Moon. The traffic signs are wordless, and the stoplights are animated: the green light is receding circles, beckoning you on; the red light is a forbidding cycle of expanding squares.

There’s a machine right next to you from which you can rent a copy of the AT Source, or update your own. You have the price of a paper-- $25-- but not in coins. As you watch, the headline is being updated, to KRONON ENERGY BILL FACES UPWARD BATTLE.

The people are as eclectic as the buildings. Blacks, whites, Asians, and what strikes you as an inordinate number of Hispanics, but actually represents the result of decades of intermarriage. Businessmen, in their gaudy dashikis, rush by beggars and street people dressed in rags. A woman with hair like a frozen explosion is leading on a leash what is unmistakeably a small pig. A whiskery old man asks you for a C-note. An Oriental man with a smile much bigger than James Dean’s takes your picture with a holo camera.

You see many things that you simply cannot understand. What are the little white gadgets installed at intervals along the curb? Why did those two women smile and put their hands on their head as they passed each other? Why are there beggars when people are living on the Moon? You’re beginning to feel disoriented; things have changed so much! You’re not sure if it helps, or only adds to the bizarrerie, when Thubouier and Engler, sitting in their strange clothes in the Vietnamese café, start talking about the Cubs’ chances of salvaging the rest of the season.

Extract 2: São Paulo

This passage attempts to give some impression of Brazil after the revolution. Thubouier is an American reporter, wanted for subversion back home; Tereza is his host, a local middle-class student who's bursting with enthusiasm for Revisionism.

Tereza had offered to show Thubouier around São Paulo. Early in the morning he left his hotel, headed for the University in his rented volant, and promptly got lost.

São Paulo was simply too big. With over twenty million people, it was one of the largest cities in the world, and seemed to be completely unplanned. Rio sprawled too, but there you could always orient yourself by the sea, or in relation to one mountain or another. São Paulo extended in all directions, without landmarks, architectural or topographical. You could fly for kilometers, as he was doing now, without the street names, or the size of the buildings, or the sight of a clump of architecture, telling you whether you were heading downtown or away from it. And it was an ugly city, all concrete and advertisements, construction and commercial strips. The upper-class neighborhoods looked garish and vaguely Latin, like parts of California; the lower-class areas were a mad jumble of tiny houses, loud signs, flags, and people. On foot, he tired of the infinite boulevards and the lack of cafés; by volant, it was like a film noir dystopia.

He was already half an hour late. The volant didn’t have a phone, and Tereza wouldn’t be in her apartment anyway; she was going to meet him in the Cidade Universitária-- because he would be able to find it easier. He imagined her waiting for him, arms folded, feet tapping, or worse yet, giving up and going home. There, was that a sign for the university? No, false alarm. The university was in a park; what if he climbed as high as he could go and looked for open areas? He did so, saw a large green space with buildings in it off to his right, and headed for it. It turned out to be the Parque Ibirapuera; the buildings were museums.

He stopped for directions, nodded impatiently through an interminable list of turnings and street corners, and headed off. The directions made sense for about a kilometer, and then he had to stop again. He allowed himself a little anger at Tereza’s expense. She could have met him at his hotel. Perhaps it was awkward by metro, but if she’d come there they’d be sightseeing by now. Stubborn mwali! he thought. I hope she’s still there. College students are always late, aren’t they? I know I was when I was one.

Finally he found the university, and faced the secondary task of finding the exact meeting place-- the Economics building, where he had spoken last night. Everything looked different by day. His overall impression of the university was the same-- it looked cheaply and carelessly thrown together, like an American community college on a gargantuan scale. But now he wondered how he could have found these low grey buildings so impressive, or thought these sparse trees and trodden grounds a forest. At least the students looked the same. They were dressed well, in more expensive versions of the tight jumpsuits and gold that he knew to be popular in the favelas, or in the same African-style clothes you could find in Harvard or Berlin. They rushed by, carrying books or pcs or hip-packs, or lounged in groups on the sidewalks, or sunbathed on the grass. Other people just move through an urban space, he reflected; only students stop and use it.

There was the Economics building. He was over an hour late. Would she be there? Yes, there she was, sitting on a ledge overlooking the main stairway, reading a book. He kept his eyes on her pleasantly as he approached. She was wearing blue and pink leotards that clung to her figure; her brown face was outlined by waves of long black hair. She looked up and smiled when he was only a few meters away.

“There you are,” she said. She jumped down from the ledge to meet him. “You find the place okay?”

“I’m sorry I’m late,” he said. “I’m umbwa.”

“It’s prize,” she assured him. “I only got here ten minutes ago. Have you eaten? Where do you want to go first? Have you seen Avenida Paulista? Want to visit some favelas? We should see the galleries in Chacará.”


They talked about school. She liked college, though she was sure she wouldn’t have liked it before the revolution-- “It was like Santa Catarina,” she sighed. Now everyone was busy implementing educação revisionista, whose emphases were nation-building, student diversity, and working with the comunidades. She was going to graduate in December with a degree in business.

“You want to get into management?” he asked.

“My degree’s in Community Development. I want to work for Ação Hoje. They help the poor start businesses, and help the comunidades with development. Veks my age aren’t running money.” She waved her hands at the proud skyscrapers lining the Avenida Paulista, where they were walking. “They say the big companies can’t find enough entry-levels.”

“It’s just the opposite in the U.S. You don’t want to run a factory, like your father?”

“No, who wants to own things?” said Tereza. “Look across the street, that’s FIESP, the employers’ union, one of the last outposts of Nacionalismo.”

“So is this what you want to do forever?”

“Well, I’m employable at least till 2110. The Foro’s got a plan to eliminate poverty in Brazil by then.”

“You’re kidding. Are they serious?”

“Yes! It’s a good plan,” insisted Tereza. “We’ve been studying it in class. It’s a lunar big project, of course, but no bigger than say the Meiji reforms in Japan.”

“Which was just a wholesale rearrangement of society and values,” protested Thubouier.

“But it got done, didn’t it? It’s not that no one ever wanted to get rid of poverty; it’s just there’s never been a long-term commitment to it.”

“Wasn’t that the idea behind socialism? Or liberation theology?”

“Well, in Latin America socialism has always meant state capitalism. For that matter, so has capitalism. It’s always been the same pack of coders at the top who run everything.”

“Some people would say Brazil’s never had a real market economy,” said Thubouier, feeling that the Northern system deserved some defense.

“There’s coders here who say that, but so what? The real system in Latin America is called ‘whatever’s acceptable to the U.S.’ Whenever we want to change it, you start a coup, or invade, or just tariff the hell out of us, even if all we want is a system more like what you’ve got-- an economy that’s not completely controlled by foreigners, for instance. Plus there’s those veks at the top, the élite and the generals; they always seem to be acceptable to the U.S. That’s what people call capitalism here, and we don’t want any part of it.”

She was using vocês (you Americans), not você (you, Thubouier), but still Thubouier felt somewhat attacked. “I don’t know if that’s fair,” he said. “Who’s done any better? The Muslims? Look at Egypt or Bangladesh.”

“We’re not imitating them, but we’re not as down on them as you are. They’ve never tried to tell us what to do. This is MASP.” Tereza dragged him toward a huge, 20th century concrete cube supported on pillars, whose entire ground floor courtyard was covered with elaborate grafitti; he was not sure if this represented art, vandalism, or revolutionary ardor. “Let’s see what’s on,” she said. “Five Japanese Painters, Architektur Berlin, São Paulo 2020. Want to go in?”

“Sure,” lied Thubouier. He had not walked so much at one time for months, and his feet hurt. “Wouldn’t you say capitalism, or I should say marketism, has had some success in reducing poverty?” he pursued, as they headed for the galleries. “Adam Smith’s track record is better than anybody else’s in producing general prosperity. I mean, it grinds slowly, and usually unfairly, and God knows it leaves us an underclass that’s even more intractable than yours, but....”

“Sure, you’re one of the richest countries in the world, and one fifth of all Americans live in poverty,” said Tereza. “Plus the system rewards you for inhuman programs like laying off all the workers and putting in mecs instead. We say crash it. It’s last year’s samba. Instead of putting Revisionists in jail you should put them in power.”

“I’m not the one who’s putting them in jail,” he reminded her.

Tereza paused, and seemed to change gears. “Yes, I’m sorry. Really, I’m sorry. I can be like that when I’m talking to Americans.”

Like what, arrogant? thought Thubouier. He strongly believed that Revisionism was the best thing that had ever happened to Brazil; but the suggestion that it was superior to the American system he found provoking. Of course, we used to feel that way, he thought, and we must have annoyed everyone else just as much. In 1790 the critics could have said, “The most effective system in the world is the English constitutional monarchy. Okay, prize, it’s got a class system and children in factories, but everything else is worse and always has been. So what makes you think you can do better?”

“You can just see they have a different systems approach,” said Tereza.

Thubouier was trying unsuccessfully to apply this to capitalism or American history, when he realized that she was talking about the picture in front of them, an abstract in Japanese brushwork.

They ate dinner together in a pizzeria packed with students. (Tereza wanted to know if they had pizza in America). They talked about Thubouier’s history of the revolution; she said it was accurate and very perceptive. Indeed, it was required reading in a USP course on the revolution (Thubouier was very gratified), which she hadn’t taken, because the professor was kind of a one-chip (the feeling waned).


I tried to create new slang, much of it based on new technology (e.g. "coder" for "person"), much of it reflecting a more international outlook, including borrowings from Japanese, French, Russian, and Swahili. The glossary also includes political and technological terms that explain something of the world.

Ação Hoje-- a Revisionist organization. [“Action Today”]

airlane-- an established route for volants, usually above an existing roadway. The idea of unrestricted flying terrified police; flyers loved it.

Afrika ya Mashariki-- large, new, progressive nation taking up most of present-day Kenya, Tanzania, and Zaïre. [Swahili, “East Africa”]

ANTA-- worldwide organization, formed when the UN succumbed to political paralysis in the wake of the liberation of Soviet Central Asia. [All Nations Treaty Agency]

antivol-- a drug that suppresses muscle activity through its action on the nervous system.

Arab-- any Muslim, especially the radical non-Arab states: Iran, Pakistan, the Sekizi Memleket.

Hadid as-Sulaf-- a Southern author who thought all existing systems so corrupt that it was an act of mercy to work for their destruction.

bag-- denunciation.

baro dust-- a quick-acting, disabling chemical used in riot control, unfortunately with permanent side effects. [From Baro, Nigeria, where it was first used.]

bastantista-- a lukewarm Revisionist. [bastante, “enough”]

bola-- a game in which a team’s chief object is to pass the ball to the other side. It features constant movement and a fair amount of violence.

bôrras-- slime, the lower orders.

Brighton music-- a popular music style based on the new pc instruments; more atonal and more rhythmically complex than rock; said to be influenced by Arrican music, although few Africans like it.

chnouf-- any of the bewildering array of drugs, legal and illegal, available in the 21st century. There were addicts who never took the same drug twice. [French]

code-- A pc program, or to program; by extension, almost any kind of work or activity; coder, a low-level programmer; by extension, anybody. [Pc talk]

Colégio-- the governing council of Revisionist Brazil.

Colony-- the human settlements on Luna

comunidade-- local community.

conselheiro-- municipal councillor.

conto-- intercontinental aerospace jet.

crash-- destroy, fail, wreck. [Pc talk]

d&c-- disguise and concealment.

debtstyle-- living scandalously in debt, personally or nationally.

downtime-- nasty, awful. [Pc talk]

dwack-- a wimp.

emergence-- the theory that cognition arises from the byplay of billions of low-level units, with no significant middle-level structure, much as temperature derives from the play of molecules.

euromark-- the currency of the European Community; formally, the Unified European Monetary Equivalency.

favelado -- slumdweller.

fly-- move, go, hurry. [Volant talk]

Foro -- legislature of Revisionist Brazil.

frood-- a great guy. [Douglas Adams]

fuzzy school-- theorists who held that the strength of the human mind is in imprecision, approximation, and the ability to learn by practice.

gala-- homosexual. [“Gay and Lesbian Association”]

garoto-- boy, homeboy.

gloopy-- stupid. [Russian]

holo-- pseudo-holographic broadcast or production. The o’s are long.

ikimash!-- let’s go! [Japanese ikimasho]

infodrone-- anyone associated with the high-tech information industry.

intervideo-- interactive entertainment. In its truest form the audience must be a full participant, live-action or through pc simulation; for marketing reasons the term was applied to anything that allowed a modicum of interaction, such as a holo with audience-selected endings.

jambo-- thing, affair. [Swahili]

jeito-- Offsetting the obstacles of Brazilian life is the Brazilian ability to dar um jeito, to find a way, to know a trick or two.

kick flicks-- adventure holos, some of which also qualified as intervideo.

Elena Lhanado-- a leading Brazilian politician and writer

lightful-- good, pleasant.

linda-- a sexy woman. [Spanish]

lunar-- cool, hip; very.

M-- a military measure, short for megadeath: one million deaths or the equivalent in injuries or decreased lifespans.

marketism-- an economic system run by market forces rather than by the state or by privileged combines; what those who admired it, perceiving that most people like markets better than capital, called capitalism.

Masher-- an inhabitant of Afrika ya Mashariki.

mec-- robot. Did we really need another word? Of course not. Did we need to change roadster to car, icebox to fridge? [“mechanical”]

moça -- young woman.

mole-- a nerd, a techie.

Adamu Msafiri-- the statesmanlike founder of Afrika ya Mashariki. music pc-- a specialized pc which allows very fine control over the performance, including such abstract qualities as style and instrumentation.

mwali-- young woman. [Swahili]

nash-- a venereal disease, epidemic around 2062.

neo-- neo-decadent, a European literary movement deploring society’s lack of values, though not adopting any themselves.

news contract-- an agreement from a news source to be an exclusive source for a story, a practice which had spread from the entertainment business to government and business.

nook-- a dweeb.

North-- the high-tech, information-oriented nations of the Northern hemisphere: North America, Europe, Russia, Japan and its satellites.

nortista-- a Northerner.

nuker-- a bad time.

one-chip-- stupid, primitive. [Pc talk]

overservicing-- the glut of service and information workers in the North, which was beginning to pull down wages.

pc-- computer. [“personal computer”]

panel-- one page of a pc document. [Pc talk]

Paulista-- an inhabitant of São Paulo.

photonics-- an exceedingly small-scale technology based on the interactions of photons rather than electrons.

plokker-- bastard. [Russian plokhoy, bad]

prize-- good.

program-- to write code. Will it program?-- will it work?

Marianna Quente-- the founder of Revisionism.

q&d-- sex. [Pc talk, “quick but ugly code”]

remade-- having had body parts, or the face, regenerated through oncogenetic medicine.

retain-- to imprison under the Foreign Interests Act.

rec-- sex.

Revisão Hoje-- the Revisionist daily newspaper. [“Revision Today”]

revision-- in Revisionist theory, reform through a new vision of society.

Revisionism-- the ideology of revolutionary Brazil. [From the title of Marianna Quente’s book A necesidade de revisão]

script-- any stereotyped or expected behavior. [Holo talk]

Sekizi Memleket-- the confederation of the Muslim states of former Soviet Central Asia. [Turkic, “Ten Nations”]

sidade-- chic. [universidade]

South-- the countries of the Southern Hemisphere, ranging from appalling rural squalor to industrial powerhouses.

sorvete-- cool. [“ice cream”]

Southernist, Southie-- a supporter of Southern causes, Revisionist, Muslim, or African, or of radical reform in the North.

ted-- boy, young man.

telemedia-- the information industry, including software, graphics, publishing, communications, and education.

Uozawa structures-- a pointer-based schema developed by Miyako Uozawa to organize information for omnidirectional access.

umbwa-- bastard; scum, slime. [Swahili mbwa, “dog”]

união-- administrative division of Revisionist Brazil [“union” of communities]

Usafi-- the philosophy of Afrika ya Mashariki, whose values are community, freedom, simple living, and the dignity of man. [Swahili, “Cleansing”]

vapor-- uncertainty; hot air. [“vaporware”, Pc talk]

vek-- guy, person. [Russian chelovek]

vijiji-- the villages of Afrika ya Mashariki, more powerful than comunidades; for instance, all land was, technically, owned by the vijiji.

volant-- flying car. [French, (voiture) volante]

voloro-- magnetic interurban transport, almost as fast as planes and much more user-friendly.

Washington Compact-- the once secret U.S.-Soviet defense treaty.

zadacha-- computer-directed loyalty test. [Russian, “exercise”]

Extract 3: Washington

This takes place late in the book. Wolle is one of the viewpoint characters, at first friends with Thubouier and Engler (a lawyer) and Engler's wife Jean Arcis. This passage marks a late point in his moral fall: he ends up working for the US government as it slides into dictatorship. Dennis is a Wolle's boss, the Secretary of Defense; Barcton is the President.

Dennis was in Wolle’s office, sitting in Wolle’s chair. This made Wolle feel obscurely uncomfortable, but it had happened naturally enough-- they had arrived together-- and it would be childish to complain. Wolle had a new assignment, coordinating the application of the zadacha in all firms which did business with the government, and Dennis was reading a summary of his project plan.

“Good work,” said Dennis finally, and Wolle relaxed a little. “The only changes I’d make would be to tighten up the education process, and add more media.”

“I thought four months after the announcement was already tight.”

“The President wants to get flying on this right away. Besides, four months means we’re on the air in mid-January, which is going to be gridlock. Better move it up. Another thing, you’ve got much too much time scheduled for programming. The plokker works, doesn’t it?”

“Well, Sung thinks it generates too many false alarms. Plus there’s hardly any documentation, except in Russian, and parts of it should be restructured so it’s easier to maintain.”

“Listen, Wolle, if you ask a mole like Sung for a wish list, she’s always got one,” Dennis explained. “It’s just pc code. If there’s problems, we’ll eyeball them when they come up. Just as well; I think you’re going to be down at least two programmers and four processing staff. If you want, I’ll go over the per-company loop with you; I’m sure we can dig out some efficiencies.”

“Let me see what I can do on my own.” Wolle was discouraged. He had derived his time estimates with a firm eye on the deadline that had been handed to him, which was non-negotiable. As usual, there wasn’t enough time; the only solution was to add staff. He thought 25 people could do it, assuming months and persons were completely interchangeable (but of course productivity plummets when you send in the Mongolian hordes) and assuming he would get his staff on time (but of course you always got them late, with no adjustment in the end date). He had asked for a staff of 28; Dennis had just reduced it to 22, with no guarantees even of that. And the blame for a slipped deadline would be his. How long would he have to run projects this way?

Dennis was musing. “As you rewrite it, after each sentence, ask yourself what Landau’s going to say. I had to fight to keep this project in Defense, and we can still lose it if Landau nukes it enough. Fortunately, the final decision is the President’s.”

Barcton liked to play his subordinates against each other; this was annoying, but at least it meant that Landau didn’t always get his way.

“What do you think Landau’s going to say?” asked Wolle.

“You should be able to figure that out,” said Dennis, with a hint of impatience.

“Yes, of course. Maybe I should mention Sung’s evaluation,” said Wolle, trying to recover. “Landau would rather we get false alarms than have a real Southie slip through.”

“Anyone would,” pointed out Dennis.

“Right. I’ll wordsmith a new version right away.”

“I’ll tell you another thing,” said Dennis, gazing very seriously at Wolle. He stared at him until Wolle looked down at his desk. “This is a high-visibility project. You’re going to be the head of a new federal agency. It’s not just Landau you’re going to be dealing with. You’ll be talking to executives, media, supporters, Congresspeople.”

“I won’t let you down,” promised Wolle.

“If I thought you would I wouldn’t have nominated you,” remarked Dennis. “The only thing I worry about-- the only thing some of these people may say-- is, what’s your track record? What’s this vek’s yardage in smoking out Southies?”

“Well, you know I’ve been--”

“Yes, I know,” interrupted Dennis. “I can allowance it. The point is, you’re going to be facing coders who see a gap there, and you’re not going to be in a position to argue.”

“I don’t exactly interface with a lot of Southernists,” complained Wolle.

“Look, run the program, Wolle. It frustrates me when I see that that plokker in Justice, Ducheski, Dubalski, whoever the hell it is, get the credit for this Southie lawyer, Engler, when he’s a friend of yours. I had to do a little football with Landau on this. You know it’s bullshit to me, and I try to insulate Defense from it as much as I can, but on the other hand, it’s like handing them a laser and saying ‘Nuke us.’”

Wolle felt resentful of this new burden, but of course he was expected to be grateful for Dennis’s forbearance. “I understand,” he said, abjectly. “I suppose I was thinking that my personal ties might lead to prejudice.”

“You can hope that your ties aren’t too personal,” said Dennis, grimly, but with his usual undercurrent of irony. “You might be interested to know that we’ve released him, with a cranial tracer. We want to know who he sees.”

“I haven’t heard anything from him,” said Wolle, quickly.

“Yes, we know,” smiled Dennis. “He’s in hiding-- what he thinks is hiding, of course. His most significant contact so far is with a colleague of his, a vek named Morich. Do you know him?”

“No,” said Wolle, almost regretfully. “Really, I don’t.”

Dennis reached for his briefcase and rifled through it. “I’ve got something here from the Engler case... Here it is. This might amuse you.”

He handed a pc output to Wolle. It was a black and white photograph of a naked woman, gripped tightly by two men in uniform. The background was nondescript, institutional. His first thought was that it was a snapshot of a crime in progress, or that it was from some steamy holo. Then, with a shock, he realized that it was a photo of Jean Arcis. He looked closer. The men were holding her with her head back and her arms behind her. Her face was bruised and red, distorted and ugly with pain.

He handed the photo wordlessly back to Dennis. For once his mind refused to consider what was the most politic response. His primary sensation was disbelief. Was it really the woman he knew, that he had seen over the dinner table, or putting David to bed? How could they take that kind of a picture of her? Worse yet-- what happened next?

“She’s a lunar looker,” commented Dennis, looking at the photo. “She’s just the kind of mwali we want for our genetic program.”

“Our what?” said Wolle, stupidly.

“I think I’ve mentioned that this country isn’t run scientifically,” said Dennis. The edge of disapproval in his voice was entirely gone; now he was relaxed, expansive, as if the picture had reminded him of better things. “How can the species improve when any zero can reproduce his germ plasm? In nature the unfit don’t reproduce. We can’t have that, or not yet, but we can approach it from the other side. The fit can reproduce more-- optimally, thousands of times. We’ve got a pilot project in planning.”

“Using prisoners?”

“Sure, why not? What are you worried about-- Southies’ rights?”

“No, of course not,” said Wolle, managing a little irony; his reflexes were back in order.

“She goes to a nice camp, runs some q&d, even gets to take care of the little plokkers for a few years. Compare it to the best Democratic thinking on the subject: lock her up in a cell for her productive years, subject her to some one-chip psychologist’s hot-off-the-disk therapy, and meanwhile she absorbs a criminal education from her cellmates.”

“It’s absurd.”

“All we’re doing is thinking scientifically,” insisted Dennis. “It’s nothing to be afraid of. Think about foreign affairs. For years we tried to be the world’s policeman and Sunday school teacher all at the same time. Playing two roles, and playing them both for plok. Stands to reason things are going to fly if we frankly put national interest first. And here at home we give special privileges, even rewards, to social failures-- prisoners, misfits, the poor. How much would productivity improve in this country if the law rewarded the successful instead of punishing them?”

“Good point,” approved Wolle. “But do you think we push it enough? Barcton doesn’t talk about these positives in his speeches.”

“Barcton--” Dennis made a helpless gesture, dismissing the President and his audience alike. “Don’t worry, we’re talking to the people who count. That article of yours in the Review is part of that. You’ll be doing more of that.”

“I’m looking forward to it.”

“This is just deep background,” chuckled Dennis, standing up. “I want you plokking away at this zadacha project. Remember, I own your soul for the next ten months. But believe me, this is just the first big job I’ve got planned for you. And don’t forget what I said about Engler.”

“I will,” said Wolle, as Dennis left, briefcase in hand.

For a few moments he felt exhilarated, heady with ideas and power. Dennis had never before uttered such sweeping promises, such broad statements of faith in him. Well, he deserved it. He’d worked hard, almost anonymously, for four years; now he was on the verge of real power and influence. Not yet over the top; Dennis’s comment about hard work was a reminder of that. But he was moving now, there was no doubt about that.

If only he could get that picture of Jean Arcis out of his head. It kept coming back to him, and even animating itself; he could see them stripping her, beating her, forcing themselves on her, a woman he had not exactly liked, but knew well, and respected for her kindness to him and her importance to Engler.

There were alarming and mysterious depths to Barctonism; in a sense he lived with them daily, in the form of the constant tests and tensions of Dennis’s office. But that was simply politics, though of a rougher and more virile type than McComas and Blair used to play. There were more frightening things in the depths; the photo was not the first hint of them. He associated them, when he thought about them at all, with Landau. Dennis was the benign influence, the superego, in the Cabinet. But the FBI reported to Dennis.

Those who expressed a fear of Barcton in the media-- well, that was just reactionary posturing, by outsiders, born of misunderstanding. Dennis had just demonstrated the benefits, on every human level, of replacing appeasing, self-destructive liberalism with scientific thinking. Of course the way wouldn’t always run smooth; there are casualties in every battle. But-- the photo. A picture of a naked, crying woman. The sharks in the deep swam near.

Dennis had shown him that photograph for a purpose. To acclimate him to the Barctonist way of thinking? Perhaps; the Barctonists placed great store on facing unpleasant realities. But another answer formed, more likely and more disturbing. It was a demonstration of the importance they placed on ferreting out enemies. It was an illustration of the fate of those outside the Barctonist universe. And it was a warning that if they could come for his friends, they could come for him.

They were watching everywhere Engler went, following the signals from the electronic device in his skull. Was there a hidden camera in his own office, observing him, gauging his reactions? Was Landau discussing him, with his henchmen, right now?

Don’t be crazy, he told himself. They watch their enemies, not their friends. Or if... no, stop it. The best thing is to get back to work.

But a mild shaking afflicted his hands as he typed on his pc keyboard, and it took over an hour for it to entirely disappear.

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