"Billions of dollars are at stake in what is essentially the ephemeral, but enormously powerful, domain of human creativity," says Fred Warshofsky, author of The Patent Wars. "That creativity, in the form of ideas, innovations, and inventions, has replaced gold, colonies, and raw materials as the new wealth of nations." Advances in biotechnology - as well as in software development, in computer technology, and in the creation of the information superhighway - are testing the limits of our intellectual property laws, which govern patents, copyrights, trademarks, and trade secrets. These rules determine when an idea is so novel that it is patentable, and provide legal mechanisms for collecting the profits generated by this creative capital. Intellectual property is a hot topic right now because it's part and parcel of the second industrial revolution we're going through," says Bruce A. Lehman, U.S. Commissioner of Patents and Trademarks. "Property has always been the essence of capitalism. The only difference is property is changing from tangible to intangible. Today, the only wealth there is in the world is the wealth that comes from the human mind." In recognition of this, provisions for safeguards for intellectual property rights became a linchpin of U.S. endorsement of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT).
But there's growing concern that the incredibly swift pace of
technological development is fast outdistancing our delicately balanced
legal system's ability to protect the rights of artists and inventors,
to give industry an incentive for innovation through patent protection,
and, at the same time, to safeguard the public interest. The rapid
proliferation of technology has become an unstoppable runaway train,
and critics fear we're hurtling at warp speed into a legal abyss. And
it seems that the minute one problem gets resolved, a dozen more crop
up. No wonder lyricist Hal David ("Promises, Promises") lamented that
artists have become "road kill on the information highway" because they
have no protection against cyberthieves who appropriate their work.
What's equally disturbing is that as the technology becomes more complex and the law increasingly esoteric, the victors in these undeclared wars may be those who can afford the heaviest artillery. "Large, powerful companies can bury their smaller opponents in a tidal wave of expensive litigation," says Fred Warshofsky. These legal battles may create what Warshofsky calls "intellectual property cartels," where behemoths like Microsoft and Intel erect interlocking hardware-software monopolies reminiscent of AT&T's hammerlock on telecommunications prior to the breakup of Ma Bell.
As we construct the scaffolding of the information superhighway - which will have the capacity to transmit mountains of data at gigabit speeds - government policymakers, consumer watchdogs, telecommunications industry officials, creative people - artists, writers, musicians-and even librarians are attempting to formulate guidelines to determine who owns all those digitized bits of information. Their debates echo controversies that have split scientists into warring camps over patenting biotechnology products and DNA, the very essence of life. And the outcome of these seemingly are disputes may well de what the world will be I the next millennium.
This paradigm shift has it roots in a 1980 Supreme Court decision that changed pate law in the same way that Roe v. Wade forever altered the abortion debate. In a 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court agreed that scientific discoveries were indeed inventions, and that new life forms can be patented. Specifically, the Court ruled General Electric was entitled to own a new strain of bacteria devised in its New York labs to gobble up oil spills. It is ironic that only one vote changed the course of history, but this landmark ruling paved the way for patent protection for genetic engineering and allowed the burgeoning biotech industry to exploit the staggering commercial potential in the creation of new life forms.
Jeremy Rifkin, head of the Foundation on Economic Trends and a critic of the abuse and misuse of genetic engineering, was incensed. "Now, in the eyes of the law, a living creature is no different than a toaster oven or a computer," he recalled, in a recent interview. He remembers predicting that "this decision will open up the floodgates for the commercialization of the gene pool, which inevitably leads to the patenting of life itself."
At the time, Rifkin sounded like a raging fanatic. But he proved
prophetic. A subsequent 1987 Supreme Court ruling extended patent
protection to genetically altered animals. Then, in August 1993, the
Rural Advancement Foundation International (RAFI) discovered the U.S.
government had filed a patent on the cell line, which contains our
entire genetic code, of an Indian woman from Panama who is stricken
This Guayami woman, like others in her tribe, carries a unique virus and antibodies that may be useful in combating AIDS and leukemia. There's also a community in Africa's Sudan that has a genetic resistance to malaria; inhabitants of Limone, Italy, harbor a gene that protects against heart disease; and some prostitutes in Nairobi may be immune to HIV Each of these unique genetic traits has obvious commercial value. But the idea of patenting these cell lines, which contain human DNA, the key to life itself, kicks up a hornet's nest of legal and ethical issues - not the least of which is the specter of Americans plundering the DNA of Third World people. "The human genome is the common heritage of our species," says Jonathan King, a biology professor at MIT. "The notion of granting patents on human cell lines is comparable to a corporation owning the oxygen in the air. We have numerous examples in history of what happens when you allow humans to be commodities - it's called slavery."
The patent application for the Guayami woman was dropped after
strenuous protests by Panamanian officials. But that didn't stop other
U.S. government agencies from filing similar patents on cell lines from
people in Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands. They think the
controversy is utter nonsense. "This sensational talk about [using this
technology] to clone human beings who will live their lives in
servitude is garbage," counters Patent Commissioner Bruce Lehman.
"We're talking about a technology that creates a biological invention -
and patents are simply a commercial mechanism for people to get paid
for their innovations."
The 1980 Supreme Court ruling - dubbed the Chakrabarty decision after the General Electric scientist who concocted the oil-eating microbe - was probably inevitable, however, given the scientific revolution that had its genesis in 1972. That's when Herbert Boyer of the University of California at San Francisco and Stanford's Stanley Cohen, while wolfing down corned beef sandwiches on the patio of a Waikiki delicatessen, figured out a way of plucking a gene from one organism and patching it into the DNA of another. The hybrid organism they created would then churn out the substance ordered up by the implanted gene.
Gene splicing, as this technique came to be known, was the first fundamentally new drug-making approach in decades, and it equipped scientists with the tools to mine the world's best pharmacopoeia for combating disease: the human immune system. Now drugs could be devised from bodily chemicals - precisely targeted therapeutics that were the Holy Grail of medicine.
Stanford University officials convinced Stanley Cohen to apply for a
patent for this technique. Cohen and Boyer waived their own rights to
royalties from the invention, which has since generated more than $20
million in royalties to Stanford and UC-San Francisco, but their fellow
scientists were indignant. Hundreds of researchers working at dozens of
institutions over three decades had contributed to the body of
knowledge that led to this discovery. For two institutions to claim all
the credit, not to mention millions in royalties, was unconscionable.
This has been the crux of many biotech patent disputes ever since. Science is an incremental process, with each advance built upon the bricks of the last. So when is a discovery such a quantum leap forward that it qualifies as a patentable invention? That was the central issue in the more recent skirmish between DuPont and Cetus over the rights to Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR). Devised by Kary Mullis while he worked at Cetus, PCR is a simple process to amplify even the tiniest bits of DNA. This technique revolutionized genetic research, spawned a billion-dollar industry, earned Mullis a Nobel prize, and was a source of much debate and contention in the recent O. J. Simpson trial.
DuPont's challenge to Cetus's PCR patent was based on papers published in the early 1970s by Nobel laureate Har Gobind Khorana, who was then at MIT, which discussed possible methods of synthesizing multiple copies of small strands of DNA. "Cetus' contention was Mullis took elements that already existed in biology, like the polymerase enzyme that can copy DNA, and saw that they could be turned into a powerful new tool to exponentially amplify DNA," explains Paul Rabinow, a University of California at Berkeley anthropologist and author of an upcoming book on PCR's history.
U.S. patent law rejects patent claims if a description of the
invention was published more than one year before the patent
application was filed. If the court held that Khorana's work did, in
fact, outline a method for using an enzyme to amplify DNA, that would
mean the idea for PCR was in the public domain. But when Mullis took
the stand in the 1991 court battle, jurors were enthralled by the
folksy Southernbred scientist, as he spun out the tale of how the
concept behind PCR came to him in a blinding flash during a midnight
drive up the northern California coast in the spring of 1983. He
convinced the six-member panel that PCR was indeed the product of his -
and only his - fevered imagination.
Kary Mullis's creation of the PCR technique was obviously a conceptual breakthrough. But in other instances, how key a role an individual scientist has played in unearthing something new is not quite so clear-cut. That question was at the heart of the controversy that erupted in 1991 when the National Institutes of Health applied for patents on nearly 3,000 gene fragments discovered in the labs of one of its biochemists, J. Craig Venter, who had devised an ultrafast, automated method of gene sequencing. "There was a mother lode of information, some part of which will have phenomenal commercial potential," explains Reid Adler, a Washington attorney who was then head of the NIH's Office of Technology Transfer. "We wanted to keep options open because no one had thought about how to best transfer this technology. Once data is published, it loses novelty and it is difficult to patent."
But again, scientists were outraged. Patenting genes is now
commonplace, but usually after their utility is determined, whether
they code for blue eyes, or colon cancer. The function of the bits of
DNA the NIH proposed patenting wasn't known, and some scientists
dismissed Venter's discovery as nothing more than using DNA sequencers
as giant biotech copy machines. Deciphering the gene's secrets is the
real grunt work of biomedicine. Researchers feared that in the future,
companies that own a library of gene fragments could lay claim on a
gene after scientists had done all the hard bench work of figuring out
what the genes actually do. James Watson, for one, co-discoverer of the
double-helix structure of DNA and then director of the NIH's Human
Genome Project, denounced the policy as "idiotic" and destructive to
research, the genome project, and international relations.
The NIH, under its new director Harold Varmus, a Nobel prize-winning virologist, has since retreated from its stance on patenting gene fragments. And in the wake of the ensuing furor, Craig Venter left the NIH to direct the Institute for Genomic Research, which is connected with Human Genome Sciences, a biotech bankrolled by $70 million in venture capital dollars. "Scientists are the ultimate prostitutes," Craig Venter told reporters at the 1994 Human Genome Project Conference. "We have to get money where we can in order to do what we want."
Ironically, the NIH found itself on the other side when a similar squabble over what constitutes inventorship erupted in October 1994 when Myriad Genetics, a Salt Lake City biotech, and the University of Utah filed a patent application for the BRCA1 breast cancer gene - and excluded their NIH collaborators. The discovery of a gene that was a marker for breast cancer made headlines and offered new hope for thousands of anxious women with a strong familial history of breast cancer. Soon it would be possible to find out if they carried this gene.
The University of Utah team was led by Mark Skolnick, a former NIH
researcher who migrated to the largely Mormon state because it was the
perfect laboratory for genetic studies. It had a relatively homogeneous
population, and elders of the Mormon Church kept meticulous genealogy
records dating back more than ten generations. So it made immeasurably
easier the job of tracking clusters of familial breast cancer, and then
zeroing in on the common aberrant gene.
But the normally unflappable NIH Director Harold Varmus was angry about the flagrant disregard of the significant role played by the NIH in identifying this gene. "This discovery is the result of the arduous and scientifically challenging work of over 40 researchers at several institutions," he wrote in a scathing letter to Congressman Ron Wyden, who was then chair of a congressional subcommittee that monitors cooperative agreements between academia and industry. Varmus went on to warn that "omission from a patent application of a true inventor could render" the patent invalid. The patent on a test for a predisposition to a cancer that strikes one in nine American women could be worth millions. This bitter dispute was settled in February 1995 when the University of Utah-Myriad Genetics team added the NIH's researchers to the patent application, and awarded the government 25 percent of potential royalties.
The Internet, the nexus of a growing matrix of global computer
networks, is in the nascent stages of a transformation that parallels
what occurred in molecular biology at the dawn of the genetic age. The
emphasis, however, is more on copyright than patent protection (though
scientologists are also questioning what constitutes libel in a digital
world). Some worry that the computer network will follow the same path
as biotechnology, where many feel the probusiness, antiregulatory
Reagan-Bush administrations gave away the store and did little to
protect taxpayers' interests. But others believe it's an exercise in
futility to protect copyright in a digital world.
The Internet, originally devised by the Pentagon in 1969 to safeguard the flow of military information in the event of a nuclear attack, links the nation's intellectual elite at universities, research centers, and government agencies, and provides a subsidized playpen for computer enthusiasts. But now that government funding is drying up, the Net must become self-supporting. Commercialism, which clashes with the Sixties-style countercultural ethic of cyberspace, hag invaded this electronic Eden.
"The Internet is going through severe growing pains," says Anne Branscomb, scholar in residence at the Harvard University Program on Information Resources Policy. "People who come from the sharing tradition are very upset when people assert proprietery rights on information posted on the Internet."
When Paramount Pictures, for one, discovered that computer files
containing audio and video bits from the Star Trek television series
could be downloaded for free by America Online customers, the studio
cried foul - and the online service scurried to erase the offending
files in order to avoid further copyright infringements. "All you need
is one big case to get everybody running scared," observes Dan L. Burk,
a law professor at Seton Hall University in New Jersey.
But copyright law is complex - and tricky to interpret. "Copyright is a strange duck," says Burk. "It's the only place in the law where we condone or encourage restrictions on the flow of information, putting it in some tension with the First Amendment [which guarantees freedom of expression]. That's why we have safety valves like fair use."
But how do you draw the line between fair use and copyright violations in a digital age where information can be copied, sent, or altered with a few keystrokes? And how do you erect toll booths at various electronic gateways to the Internet while still ensuring continued public access?
The Working Group on Intellectual Property Rights, a government panel with representatives from 20 federal agencies, has attempted to answer these questions and to hammer out reforms to the Copyright Act to protect the interests of both users and producers of electronic materials. The group is part of a task force convened by the Clinton administration to implement the National Information Infrastructure (NII). Their final report, which was released in September 1995, has served as the spring-board for forthcoming legislation; the report may have the same impact on cyberspace as the Chakrabarty decision had on biotechnology.
The proposal says any digital transmission of copyrighted work
should be considered infringement. But critics contend this sweeping
mandate is based on obsolete concepts of intellectual property - where
original works like books, films, records, and paintings could be
contained in a neat package - that don't reflect twenty-first century
realities, They also believe this radically tilts the balance of power
in favor of the publishers, and that Draconian controls on electronic
dissemination of information could turn millions of E-mail users into
criminals. "The report assumes that increasing enforcement will protect
copyright on the Net," says Mike Godwin, staff counsel for the
Electronic Frontiers Foundation, a civil liberties group launched by
Lotus founder Mitch Kapor. "But the last thing we want is a law that
felonizes what people are doing in their living rooms." Adds Prudence
S. Adler, assistant executive director of the Association of Research
Libraries, "We're trying to develop some alternative cost recovery
schemes"-aside from the pay per use of copyright - "that don't
interfere with public access."
It may be tough to enforce stricter rules in the electronic realm, though. Some music industry trade groups like ASCAP and BMI routinely deploy spies to discos, radio stations, and even aerobics studios, to ensure song royalties are paid. And Microsoft and other software makers, says Fred Warshofsky, "have formed alliances such as the Software Publisher's Association (SPA) and the Business Software Alliance (BSA) that have over the past several years made a number of highly publicized raids on companies looking for illegal copies of computer programs." But dispatching cybercops to patrol the electronic frontier for copyright violators seems wildly impractical. How do you police the millions of computer users who can make instantaneous copies with a keystroke? A better solution might be along the lines of the compromise reached by VCR-makers and movie producers, who recognized the impossibility of halting illicit taping. VCR firms pay into a royalty pool - these payments are added in to the VCRs' cost - which is distributed to the motion picture producers association.
What's more, emerging nations in the Pacific Rim like Korea,
Malaysia, Singapore, and Taiwan and in Latin American countries such as
Brazil and Argentina, don't recognize discoveries or inventions as
private property. Instead, they've beefed up their economies by
copying, adapting, or simply stealing technology, in
government-sanctioned ripoffs called "free riding." In the future,
developing nations may become electronic havens in cyberspace for
intellectual property plunderers, a Cayman Islands for data thieves
akin to what author Bruce Sterling envisioned in his futuristic
cautionary tale, Islands in the Net.
"That's why it's so important to get a global consensus," says Pamela Samuelson, a professor of law at the University of Pittsburgh Law School. "It doesn't make any sense to try to solve problems domestically if everyone can log on to off-shore sites." In fact, provisions in GATT are designed to circumvent situations like this. The 1 1 6 nations in the trade pact have agreed to uniform rules regarding protection of patents, copyrights, trade secrets, and trademarks in all fields of technology, ranging from electronics and information technologies to biotechnology and pharmaceuticals. Poachers will be hit with stringent sanctions.
An eleventh-hour intellectual property agreement reached between the
United States and China in February 1995 narrowly averted an all-out
trade war. American officials were ready to impose exorbitant tariffs
on Chinese imports and block China's admittance to the newly formed
World Trade Organization, which Beijing bureaucrats believe is a
prerequisite to modernizing their economy. At stake was nearly $3
billion worth of sales American companies lost each year because of the
theft of intellectual property in China, where a thriving black market
did a brisk business in pirated U.S. goods - ranging from CDs, laser
disks, video games, movies, and software to counterfeit copies of
jackets bearing the names of professional sports teams.
But while the Clinton administration boasted about its great victory with the recalcitrant Chinese, many privately wonder how vigorously the Beijing government will pursue violators.
Indeed, the world may be getting wired, but the law lags far behind
the technology. It may be several years before we understand how to
devise sensible mechanisms for protecting the fruits of our
imagination. "It's still the Wild, Wild West on the electronic
frontier," observes Burk, with bandits lurking on highway shoulders and
cybersheriffs dispensing vigilante justice. But one thing is certain:
With brain power becoming such a coveted currency, the twenty-first
century will witness the real revenge of the "nerds" and Nobel
laureates may-finally-command bigger bucks than NFL running backs.
This movie minus frames is by no means the limit of the Turrell light-and-space art experience found in museums around the United States and Europe. Ghost Wedge slices the dark with an oblique wall of cream-of-tomato-soup colored light. In Trace Elements tungsten and fluorescent lamps transform a depthless aperture swirling with foggy, ambient light into a flat glowing rectangle. Heavy Water, in Poitiers, France, invited swimmers to dive into pools of liquefied light. In Halifax, England, white-coated attendants pushed willing victims into the Gasworks, a metal sphere where strobes escalated sublime color fields into what one freaked reviewer described as a kaleidoscope of Islamic tile designs injected straight into the eyeball.
The apotheosis of Turrell's art, however, is Roden Crater, located in the Painted Desert, 45 miles from Flagstaff, Arizona. Turrell's art, however, is Roden Crater, located in the Painted Desert, 45 miles from Flagstaff, Arizona. turrell's monumental earthwork includes carving a celestial observatory out of an extinct volcanic cinder cone. As tall as the Chrysler Building, the 500,000-year-old formation will utilize "geologic knowledge" to delineate events in the sky, including rare planetary alignments. Bunkerlike chambers, oriented toward the four cardinal directions, will frame light-fields empowered by celestial bodies by occluding all but their light. One sky space, a light-filled bathing pool, will function as a radio telescope, transmitting sounds of distant galaxies to bathers. In the reshaped crater bowl, visitors will encounter the phenomenon of "celestial vaulting," the ballooning of the sky into a vast dome.
Roden Crater is the logical culmination of the career of an artist who, from the start, refused to traffic in traditional materials. After studying mathematics and perceptual psychology at Pomona College, Turrell knew he wanted to sculpt with light. But how would he form it? His early works employed flames, but their heat and gases inspired him to seek a less noxious version of his medium. For his first exhibition at the Pasadena Art Museum in 1967, he projected vivid light cubes at corners; they not only altered the spatial dynamics of the room, but appeared from a distance to be solid, hovering objects.
In 1968 he joined Robert Irwin, an artist who dematerialized paintings, and Edward Wortz, a physiological psychologist investigating perceptual problems likely to trouble Apollo astronauts. The three experimented with states of consciousness derived by sensory deprivation, investigated ganzfelds, or homogeneous fields of shadowless light, and light- and soundless, anechoic chambers. A year later, the California-born artist retreated to his Ocean Park studio. Knocking down walls in the old Mendota Hotel, erecting partitions and controlling the amount of light entering windows, he experimented with the aesthetic power of ambient and atmospheric light.
The son of an aeronautical engineer, Turrell initially supported his work by restoring vintage aircraft and flying supplies to remote mines and highway projects. His inspirations, he's said, often come from airborne perceptions of light and weather fronts. As he considered liberating his work from indoor spaces, the Mendota was sold and he was kicked out. A timely Guggenheim grant enabled him to fly an old Helio-Courier plane from Canada to Mexico, in search of the appropriate land formation for his largest work. The Roden, the ideally shaped crater, was not for sale at first. But by 1977, with the help of the Dia Foundation involved in large environmental art projects, he purchased the 1,100-acre site for about $6 an acre.
While he has reshaped the crater rim, enhanced his plans, and raised $6.6 million for the earthwork, his art has spawned more than 100 solo exhibitions, and in 1984 he was awarded a MacArthur Foundation fellowship. Critics praise his work in otherworldly superlatives: "Visions of the Absolute . . . rigged to a dimmer switch." But the average museum-goer needs no art history to revel in it. Curators report enthusiastic visitors leap into the pieces, presumably to join their terrestrial bodies to the sublime luminance within. In Germany, one spaced couple was found procreating in a glowing Turrell. For some, light-and-space art proved disorienting; both the museum and artist were sued by visitors who leaned on light walls and fell in the Whitney's 1981 retrospective.
Interviewer Vicki Lindner met Turrell at his hangar studio at the Flagstaff airport as he returned from designing a stage set for a Gertrude Stein opera in Europe. Lindner and Turrell, whose hobbies include gliding and freefalling, chased fleet pronghorns up gullied two-tracks in her rented Bronco that was not insured for off-road travel. The 52-year-old artist seemed more interested in discussing the black grama grass he'd planted to restore pastures on his Turkey Tanks ranch than the nuances of light-and-space art. But when the huge red and black crater pulsed out of a storm front's screen of wind-whipped pink dust, before a streaming cloud formation called Jacob's Ladder, he exclaimed, "If this were a painting would you believe it? Now you see where the work comes from!"
Omni: What's the difference between a Turrell and a traditional work
of art? Turrell: This art is about your seeing, not mine. Light is my
material, but I use it to affect the medium of direct perception. In
Monet's Haystack - really a record of someone else's seeing - the
haystack is not as important as the light on it. Rather than stand you
in front of a painting of a haystack, I'd just stand you in front of
the haystack so that you wouldn't miss what there was to see, then I'd
remove the object of perception, the haystack. There'd be no confusions
about what you'd be looking at: You'd be looking at your seeing. This
is direct experience, as opposed to interpreted experience. Omni: So
light is perceived as a thing in your art discovered by the viewer?
Turrell: We generally see light as the bearer of the revelation,
something we use to illuminate spaces and surfaces, as opposed to
according it any thingness itself. Think about the lenticular cloud, a
smooth, saucer-shaped cloud formed downstream from an obstruction like
a mountain range and standing still in a high wind. Here comes this
moisture particle, pushed up just enough that the rise precipitates the
water out of the solution and it becomes visible. What we see, however,
is light passing through it at 186,000 miles per second. You're seeing
something that's not there, but we call it a "cloud." We've given cloud
thingness. Much of my work investigates this idea of thingness. I've
removed a lot of the thingness of objects, but substituted the thing of
perception and light. I've given it materiality, whereas we don't
normally accord materiality to light. Omni: Isn't light a powerful
physiological substance? Turrell: Absolutely. We drink light as vitamin
D. They've put it in milk for children. Of course, they've forgotten to
put it in whiskey to help adults stay away from depression. Light
strongly affects the endocrine system, and now it's used to treat
certain forms of cancer. Omni: Ultraviolet light causes cancer, too.
Turrell: Light is radiation. I've had melanoma, so I know. And
psychologically, staring into the campfire, we have the same
relationship to light as a deer hesitating in the headlights of a car.
This glazed-eye vision is a kind of abstract thinking without the
symbolism of words, a theta state. That power of light is what I seek
to use. I don't use light as a carrier of content, as a movie does.
Omni: You call the aperture filled with foggy light in your Divided
Space pieces a "sensing space." What do you mean by that? Turrell: A
sensing space catches, or senses, light - just like the eye or camera,
which we made to approximate our vision. In these spaces the light
differs from ordinary light. In dreams we've seen light like this. We
dream in color. In a lucid dream the colors are as rich as, if not
richer than, when your eyes are open, and the resolution of clarity as
good as a beautiful, high-altitude, sunlit morning. People may be
surprised to see this kind of light in a conscious, awake state. Omni:
How do you create this color? Turrell: Normally we make a space and
turn on the light above. This light empties the space of any atmosphere
and makes it quite blank - the light doesn't pervade it like something
physical. We light architectural spaces with daylight. In daylight the
iris is completely closed. A rich darkness in color only happens at a
low-level light when the iris is open. So you can take your nice little
color wheel and sail it like a Frisbee, because it's meaningless in
I take seeing down to the light level where the iris opens. The eyes
feel, like touch, like when you look into the eyes of a lover and
experience that intensity of touch with the eyes. The intimacy of being
invaded with that kind of look can be frightening. Omni: How do you
construct this sensuous atmosphere? Turrell: I use regular light bulbs,
but I need to work with them - tape them, sometimes they get wrapped. I
need little light out of them, so I use shutters - like strips of black
tape on a plastic tube that you dial to determine how much light you
let out. I control the amount of light that way or with dimmers or a
combination of both. The big thing is to reduce the light to where the
eyes open and the feeling is there. In the Denver Art Museum piece
[Trace Elements], the wattage is less than one candlepower. If you
strike a match, the piece is gone. But it seems light-filled. Omni:
Michael Olijnyk, curator of the Mattress Factory, turned up the
fluorescent tubes on the aperture in Danae, and instantly the piece,
which from a distance seemed a flat glowing lavender plane, turned into
a hole in the wall with lights recessed around it. Turrell: He did! He
shouldn't have done that! How do I know he got it set back exactly
right? Omni: It seems, then, that you use ordinary lighting in
sophisticated ways. Turrell: We don't have the instruments of light I'd
like. I have in my collection an Edison light bulb over 100 years old;
you can put electricity to it and it will light. The light bulbs of
today won't last 100 years, and they're still a filament in an
evacuated glass envelope. We've had great progress in changing the
architecture of fixtures and design aspects of what holds the light,
but I can't get a light I can dial from infrared up through
ultraviolet. My work is going to be seen as primitive art not too long
from now. But I create this instrument of seeing out of what's
available. Omni: Gazing into the aperture in Trace Elements, I felt as
if I were in a blizzard white-out and could hear the wind. Turrell: In
sensory synesthesia, one sense influences sensing in another. Sensing
is really discontinuous. In a Divided Space piece you feel the air in
the aperture is thickened, and you're almost breathing this colored fog
that occupies and inhabits space. Color occupies space in a similar way
to sound. Singing in the shower, you can find one or two notes that
make your voice resonate in that cavity and sound incredible. Light
will do the same thing.
In the kind of space I'm making, I use a combination of complex
frequencies, a bit like a painter does. Only one color will occupy that
volume appropriately, so you search until you find that color. When you
do, it literally fogs up - it looks like light hangs in space. If you
try to see the wall you have to look through this thing, light. It
occupies the space; it is not an illusion. Omni: You don't like the
word "illusion?" Turrell: I strenuously object to the idea that this
work is an illusion. The phrase trompe I'oeil is used for an image you
believe to be there that is really not there. I'm conjuring up a
situation to make you understand what really is. These works allude to
what they really are - a space occupied by a different kind of light.
Omni: Viewers have sometimes become disoriented in your pieces. In City
of Anhirit, a work in Amsterdam and New York, people fell and had to
crawl out on their hands and knees. Turrell: There were four rooms in a
row. As you left the first, pale green room, you retained a pink
afterimage. The next room was red, and you came to it with this pink.
People felt someone was turning the lights up and down. You walked
through the rooms to a door. The door had no color and looked flat. So
people felt the doors were closed; they looked solid, but we know
they're not. And then to try to lean against one of them? . . . I was
startled that people would actually believe it so much they couldn't
see it any other way. Omni: You sound a bit testy . . . Turrell: Well,
in 1982 and 1983, I was sued for $1.5 million by a person whose husband
was a Supreme Court justice in Oregon. They had big law stuff lined up
against me, and it cost me a lot of money to get out of it. Three
people fell at the Whitney [Museum in New York): They all sued. I
wasn't acquitted until the case went to federal court. The justice's
wife broke her wrist. He sued me for lack of conjugal privileges. I
said; "Hey, she just broke her wrist. It must have been a hell of a
hand job." I got $500 in contempt of court for that comment.
Because photos could make the work look transparent or so you
couldn't see through it, they wanted me to build the piece again. I
said, "Give me the fee, and I'll be happy to do it anywhere you want."
This is benign work. Sculpture like Mark Di Suivero's - swinging steel,
big pieces of wood, a great deal of mass - you can get hit by that
thing, hit your head, or get squeezed underneath it. One guy lost a leg
and another was killed. In my art someone looks at this and there's
nothing there - so it's the effect of the art. Yes, I was a little
testy. Omni: Yesterday when we saw Roden Crater surrounded by a haze of
dust-in-fused pink light; you said that vision could offer an idea for
a piece. What thinking processes occur between the vision and the
completed work? Turrell: Looking at the Jacob's Ladder, the veils it
formed, the Varga, or rain that evaporates before it hits the ground,
I'd ask myself, How, where, do you see this? Is it something you see
way out there, or in here? Something you can go through, or enter? Can
it be worked in the near space, or between you and me, so that I can't
see it even though we're in the same physical space? I play with the
idea of the picture plane; I have pieces you enter only with vision,
others you enter that are all around you, and some you pull over your
head like a T-shirt so the inside seeing behind the eyes is affected.
Omni: Is it true you became interested in light as a primary material
when you discovered you preferred projected slides of paintings in art
history classes to the paintings themselves? Turrell: I wanted to work
with light before that, but it's true. A painting like the Mona Lisa is
photographed to fill the frame, and so is a Barnett Newman, whose works
are 20 to 30 feet long. When projected, they're both the same size,
although different in actual scale. More important, the slide is
projected with light so this luminous quality comes off the screen. So
seeing the original works was a disappointment. Omni: You've been a
pilot for 30 years - ever see light you couldn't explain? Turrell: Many
pilots have had interesting experiences, but they know better than to
talk about them too much. People in airline transport have to be
"stable." Remember the Japan Airlines pilot who had a sighting while
flying a cargo plane out of Anchorage? Somehow it was made public and
now he's a taxi driver in Tokyo. I don't disbelieve in UFOs. When I see
a light I don't question whether it's of this world or otherworldly. My
first thought at looking at any light is, Okay, how do I work with
that? I'm also interested in the styles of observed UFO craft; they've
changed to follow our own design sensibility. I used to collect UFO
models: There's the Adamsky disc with the cupola on top and the Buck
Rogers style. In the Twenties, UFO craft were often described as having
rivets; with the idea of modernism, they became sleek, like Ferraris.
Omni: What did the Apollo moon missions mean to you? Turrell: They
expanded the sense of territory we inhabit with consciousness. To see
this blue planet rising over the surface of the moon was pivotal.
Martha Graham or Merce Cunningham should have choreographed the
landings. Instead, we sent up astronauts to drive a golf ball and put a
flag up, which was all stiff, like a penile implant. We rationalize we
went to the moon for the technological spin-offs - we got Tang and
Teflon. Sorry, we didn't. We took this amazing journey. It should have
been celebrated by humans, not just a nation. Omni: Early in your
career you resisted the notion art could be bought and sold. Didn't you
once take back a piece you'd sold to a collector and in its place,
leave the collector a restored vintage Cadillac? Turrell: These are
interesting stories . . . they could be true as well. That was true,
yeah; I even have a hard time rationalizing it today. I was trying to
be reasonable, but it wasn't a reasonable thing to do. At the time I
was having difficulty, wanting what I did to be recognized as art as
much as painting or sculpture. I don't want to be limited to something
you can get into an elevator. I've been able to fly planes because I
restore them and sell them, so they pass through me, just as the art
does. As long as it keeps passing through . . . when you start to need
to hold onto it, it becomes troublesome. Whose art is this? Who owns
it? Omni: Who owns Roden Crater? Turrell: The Skystone Foundation. And
it, in fact, owns me. Owning a piece of the surface of the earth is an
interesting delusion we've created in a capitalist society. We all
think this place is mine. Isn't it ludicrous? Basically objects are
imbued with power of consciousness continually being injected into
them. When consciousness leaves, these things begin their journey to
dust. That's what happens with the house, the relationship, when
thought leaves it. Omni: Well, recently you've done collectible prints
and drawings that raise money for building the crater. Turrell: Now I
make aquatints, wax emulsion drawings, and double-image photographs you
view through stereoptic glasses. I made a hologram of the crater from
the air. Bruce Nauman works with holograms, too, but they're of his
face or testicles, and lack the impression of science. Omni: What led
you to create Roden Crater as art? Turrell: I always wanted to do a
monumental earthwork. It's about taking this cultural artifact we call
"art" into the natural surrounding. We have a tradition of bringing
painting and photography of nature involved with light into the museum
- like the Hudson River School and Ansel Adams. If you take art into
nature it can easily be overpowered. For me to take art into natural
surroundings was not so much to take nature on. instead of competing
with the sunset, I wanted to use it, as light, and create a situation
where perceptions were heightened more than they would be without art
there. Omni: Why this particular volcanic crater? Turrell: Roden's a
beautiful cinder cone, and had the shaping on top I needed. Flying for
seven months, back and forth, just looking at landscape and thinking,
was one of the most special times of my life. I considered a volcano at
the bottom of Craters of the Moon [National Monument] in Idaho, and one
in a pretty little volcanic field near Baker, California. Roden was my
favorite. Omni: How did you reshape the crater? Turrell: I moved
400,000 cubic yards of cinder from high to low spots on the rim to give
it a uniform height. It's not all done, but the crater now actually
shapes the sky. It's such a relief. We were about 200,000 yards into it
and celestial vaulting hadn't happened. Now, you'll come to the top of
the crater wall through a tunnel into an oval, roofless chamber, and
the sky that seemed so flat, even opaque, suddenly will become
domelike. At night, the stars will seem to form the huge vault of
space. You'll get this sense of closure although nothing physical is
there. Omni: How will the chamber work? Turrell: Take a small amount of
light into an underground chamber that occludes light you don't want,
and light you do want will be very strong. Take a sunrise: In a
landscape it can be strong, but if you take the light from it into a
place that's occluding all other ambient light, you make it even more
I'll make precise bunkerlike slits so that light from the horizon up
streams into them. This gives ambient light from an area a spatial
quality; it will have one aspect at night and another at day. it will
change with the season. The ambient light creates a background "noise,"
or setting. When there's an event in light, it will come through and
destroy this sense of atmosphere with its image. These events last
sometimes less than 14 minutes. Omni: What celestial events will the
chamber intensify? Turrell: The spaces look at different portions of
sky Small changes in light-source location will make huge changes in
what you'll see. Four cardinal spaces take in general light; east and
west spaces are specifically for rich floral, sunset colorations. The
north space alters the sensations of the earth moving by removing the
horizon. Each space will have something for morning and night. The only
stable point to look at is the stars, so you'll select them as your
reference. After a time, that stable reference point will move, and
you'll physically feel as if you're leaning. It's not an illusion. Some
portions of sky have more old light - light coming from farther away.
With the Milky Way, you're seeing light from our galaxy. The sun's
light is newer, like pouring Beaujolais into space. To have light from
stars older than the Milky Way means selecting those areas of sky to
align with a space. Then you have relatively old light present to
touch. Omni: How else will visitors encounter the "music of the
spheres?" Turrell: You will have to swim into several spaces. In one
space in the Upper Fumarole, the crater's secondary vent, you can sit
in a nice, warm bath that also acts like an apochromatic lens to focus
the three major colors in the same place. The pool will be a sensing
place and will hold the light. The entire chamber will be surrounded by
a Faraday cage - an opening that allows electromagnetic signals to come
through a mesh of wire in the concrete making the space act like a
radiotelescope. On the bottom sits a mirror like a satellite dish, so
when you lie down at an angle with your ears under water, you'll hear
the radio sources of the stars, sun, Jupiter, the quasars, or whatever
area of sky you're looking at. Omni: Is "the sacred" a part of it?
Turrell: I look at contexts and am forced to deal with them. I might
create a situation that is like a journey to a place where you'd
encounter a night-blooming cereus. Maybe you'd take a horse or
four-wheel drive. After finding the cactus on this one full-moon night
when it blooms, you'd watch its flower open and orient to the moon.
You'd rush, because the insects have one night to pollinate the plant.
As the moon sunk below the canyon walls, the flower would close and in
the morning it would drop. Now in New York, someone in a nice penthouse
with a greenhouse might serve some great margaritas and blue corn-chip
tortillas with guacamole, and everyone could stand around dressed in
black and watch this event. The object of perception would be the same,
but the experience different. Omni: Were you thinking of the crater's
context when you decided to become a cowboy? Turrell: Please, I'm not a
cowboy, I'm a rancher! There are different job descriptions here. To
begin with, the beauty of the place attracted me, so I noticed some
diminution of it because of some overgrazing. The land around the
crater, its setting and context, is important. So not dealing with the
landscape is terribly arrogant. By practicing holistic range
management, we plan to bring back 155 square miles of grassland. This
area has been traditionally ranched since the 1860s - if I didn't graze
it someone else would. When we first applied for grazing rights they
were denied because we weren't ranchers, so we had to become ranchers.
To take ranching into the twenty-first century, you have to respond to
environmental issues. It's been an interesting process, learning about
the relationship of grasses to grazing animals, Omni: How will visitors
get out here? Turrell: We'll do eight to ten tours a day. I'll have a
staff to take people out. There will be a ramp for the handicapped;
there aren't too many volcanic craters where you can go all the way to
the top in a wheelchair. There'll be as many events during the night as
during the day, so people can stay overnight. Beds will be canted
toward openings, so visitors will be awakened by an image of the sun
overhead. Omni: How will the celestial events change over time?
Turrell: I can go to the planetarium, model the crater's spaces with
cardboard, and actually see what's going to happen in the future. The
continent is moving about an inch a year to the north. Celestial events
are made to be seen over the next 26,000-year cycle of Polaris; the
events will be seen in the center of the spaces about 2,000 years from
now. In 4,000 years they'll be where they are now, but on the opposite
side of the space. After that they'll begin to go out of the spaces. In
the year 25,800 what you see will be located where it was in 1900,
while in the meantime, the cinder cone will be eroding. In some way,
this is the making of a pre-ruin. Omni. What will you do when you
finish Roden Crater? Turrell: I have other outdoor projects in mind.
The next I want to do is on Mars. You have to have goals! You don't
know if you're getting there if you don't have goals!
The first of these is that the self is real. As Descartes put it: "I think, therefore I am." But what if Descartes were wrong? Increasingly, neurologists are coming to the conclusion that there is no "Cartesian observer" in the brain, no central overseer that can be identified with "you" or "I." Instead, what we imagine and feel to be the self stems from activity spread all over the cortex. Further evidence for this is that damage to part of the brain, through accident or disease, often results in a permanent change to the person we once believed ourselves to be.
It is a difficult pill to swallow. But swallow it we must if we are to grow in our understanding of the significance of death. Self is no more than an illusion conjured up, initially, as a survival ploy during our species' evolution and, more recently, brought into sharper relief by the way we are raised in our materialistic culture and society.
To begin to change our attitude toward death, and to better appreciate our relationship to the universe, we need to stop hankering for what can never be realized - our personal immortality. When the brain dies, so too does the self, along with our personality and memories. It is no coincidence that all major religions, Eastern and Western, stress the overarching importance of acting "selflessly" during life. They, like contemporary brain science, recognize that the self is ephemeral and insubstantial, that there is no personal soul, no hope of the individual, as such, continuing in some cozy afterlife.
Yet all is not lost. I mentioned that there were two facts that we need to challenge if we are to progress in our understanding of the mystery of death and the afterlife. The second "fact" that is taken for granted in our culture is the assumption that consciousness is produced by the brain.
According to mainstream opinion, matter, over billions of years, organized itself into more and more ornate forms until, eventually, it achieved sufficient complexity to give rise to consciousness. Working under this assumption, a growing number of scientists are now busily rummaging around in the brain trying to explain how the trick of consciousness is done. Researchers of the stature of Francis Crick, Daniel Dennett, Gerald Edelman, and Roger Penrose have recently come forward with a range of ingenious theories. All purport to explain, in one way or another, consciousness as an epiphenomenon of physical and chemical processes taking place in the brain - and all fail utterly. They fail not because their models are insufficiently accurate or detailed, but because they are trying to do what is, from the outset, impossible.
The truth is that no account of what goes on at the mechanistic level of the brain can shed any light whatsoever on why consciousness exists. No theory can explain why the brain shouldn't work exactly as it does, yet without giving rise to the feeling we all have of "what it is like to be." And there is, I believe, a very simple reason for this. The brain does not produce consciousness at all, any more than a television set creates the programs that appear on its screen. On the contrary, the brain filters and restricts consciousness, just as our senses limit the totality of experience to which we might otherwise have access.
Again, this is no revolutionary new insight - late though it may be in coming to the attention of science. The idea that mind is a fundamental, all-pervasive property of the universe lies at the heart of mystical traditions stretching back over 2,000 years. Nor is the direct experience of what, for want of a better term, we might call "cosmic consciousness" restricted to meditating monks and purveyors of New Age therapies. It comes in flashes to many ordinary folk. And it comes, most telling, to people during near-death experiences at the very time when brain activity has virtually ceased. If the brain really were responsible for consciousness, why should consciousness be found to expand so dramatically at the point when the brain has all but stopped working?
Soon, perhaps, human inquiry will broaden to allow a concerted exploration of the undiscovered land that lies beyond death. Then we may arrive at a true Theory of Everything, one that satisfies the spirit as well as the intellect.
David Darling's most recent book, Soul Search (Villard Books, March 1995), explores the intellectual, scientific, and philosophical implications of defining the soul.
No one future is inevitable," says Stephen Millett, whose job it is to forecast the future. "Many different futures are possible at any given moment. But if you recognize dominant trends, you can create strategies that lead you toward the future you prefer." Millett is head of technology intelligence and management at Battelle Memorial Institute in Columbus, Ohio. His clients, ranking among the world's largest corporations, prefer futures that are prosperous; therefore, they're hungry for tomorrow's strategies today. To accommodate them, 11 of Battle's senior researchers and mangers gathering recently to name the 10 most influential technologies of the next decade.
Who should know better than Battle? Since 1929, the world's largest nonprofit research lab - with 8,000 technical workers in offices around the word - has been a trading post of ideas on the frontier where present meets future. Battelle scientists taught the Manhattan Project how to refine uranium during World War II They pioneered alloys used in the first practical jet engines. When inventor Chester Carlson found no other backers for his electrostatic copying machine, Battelle spent 16 years and hundreds of thousands of dollars working with the Haloid Corporation to realize the machine's commercial potential. Not long after, Haloid changed its name to Xerox. More recently, Battelle researchers devised new ways to neutralize toxic waste, launched a major initiative to develop intelligent roads, and designed a primitive nanocomputer from polymer molecules. They even invented the plastic harness that holds six-packs together.
After earning a doctorate in history at Ohio State University, Millet began honing his judgment and experience as an instructor at the U.S. Air Force Institute of Technology. Thrown in with scientists and engineers, "I watched technologists do forecasting and decided it was far too interesting and fun to be left to them alone." He came to Battelle in 1979 where he specializes in what he calls "applied history which means learning to project the lessons from case studies, historical analogies, and trend analysis into the future."
To pick technology's top 10, Millett selected fellow experts holding among them more than two centuries of experience in fields ranging from electrical engineering and commercial energy systems, to physiology and genetics. "We have a breadth of expertise and a sensitivity to what works and doesn't work in the real world no university has. Our scientists and engineers have been in their fields for a long time," he explains. "They have a sense of technical dynamics and evolution within their specialties, and they can integrate lots of trends."
In three hours of freewheeling conversation, the group's members named over 40 technologies they expect will weigh heavily in our colective future. Then Millett called for a vote. Each expert picked the eight areas he or she believed to be the most influential and assigned each choice a point value from 8 to 1. The breakthrough earning the most points was declared the one Battelle's technology mavens believe will shape our future more distinctly than any other.
The list sports a mix of technologies. Some are sexy; some sedate. There are few surprises. The list's value is not in its power to entertain or amaze, but in the power of those who formulated it to separate the significant from the frivolous. "Some people look at the list and say these technologies are around now," Millett acknowledges. "That's true. Technologies making a difference in our lives 10 years from now have to be around now. Some people will tell you for all the cutting-edge products emerging today, the technologies showed up at least 30 years ago. Some would say 50. Our purpose was not to uncover what will be novel. It was to determine what will be important."
Quickly, though, the silver-thatched forecaster waves away any hint of dogma. "There's nothing inevitable about this list. There's nothing inevitable about anyone's list. We're saying this is a future that has yet to be built but is entirely possible."
In fact, the very structure of technological research is shifting. As Millett explains, "During the 45 years of the Cold War, the federal government was the largest single player in a range of technological research. But in the last six years the government has been going out of the research business in a big way. This shifting of research to private industry results in less emphasis on basic research and a greater focus on practical problemsolving. As industry becomes more involved, a greater proportion is becoming overtly more commercially oriented."
So what is the proper role for government in technology research?
"Developing technology for public infrastructure in the broadest sense,
such as intelligent highways - interactive roads that exchange data
with smart cars," Millett replies, There's research in embedding
sensors in concrete to read stresses continually in bridges. Any time
government builds a transportation or communication link it's a big
deal. The interstate highway system and the Internet were government
projects, and both changed the nature of society. But government
involvement in research is likely to be smaller than in the past."
In spite of this, Battelle named a government project - the mapping of the human genome - as the most important strategic technology of the coming decade. When asked about this choice, Millett responded: "The mapping itself will have no intrinsic commercial value. The government is underwriting this research as a part of the national health infrastructure, and the results will be readily available to everyone. But applying this information to create ways to identify genetic markers within an individual has potentially enormous commercial applications. Knowledge of the genome is the key to curing and eventually eradicating hundreds of diseases, perhaps even slowing the aging process itself."
According to Dr. Craig Hassler, a physiologist, the mapping project is at the point now that the microprocessor industry was in 1982-when people were just beginning to understand what "microprocessor" meant. "There are already sterling examples of diseases we can identify by their genetic signatures," states Hassler. "That list will grow steadily, and in 10 years people will see practical results. Genetic counseling initially will be probabilistic - telling someone they have this great a chance of getting a particular disease by a particular age. As we get better at understanding what gene markers mean, we'll be able to give increasingly accurate predictions."
But ethicists and policymakers have long worried about the social
impacts of the power to predict. The good news is medical insurance
will be very cheap for some folks. The bad news is the ones who'll need
it most are those for whom the price will be astronomical. As Hassler
explained, "The financial impact on society could be tremendous.
Isolated instances already exist of people having insurance problems
because of genetic indicators. These people could become part of a
genetic underclass. If commercial companies refuse to insure people
showing a strong likelihood of developing a particular condition, we
might have to adopt some form of government health care funding. If
private industry can't figure out an equitable way to blend higher and
lower risks, the government becomes the insurer of last resort, and the
only fair way to do it might be for everyone to pool the cost.
"There are also indications that mental abilities, artistic talents, or physical skills might be genetically influenced. One always wonders if the next Einstein is living in an obscure place where he or she won't get the opportunity to become the new Einstein. Should we devise a way to genetically identify talent and direct people into particular pursuits to which they're genetically suited instead of adhering to the ethic that in the United States you can become whatever you want? If we're lucky, we won't map the genome until we've figured out how to settle these issues, but technology always seems to move faster than politics."
After counseling, the next application of genome technology will be diagnostic techniques. "We're constantly discovering new substances in the body," says Hassler. "By knowing your level of a particular enzyme or other biochemical, doctors will be able to diagnose a particular condition. Eventually, from a blood or skin sample a doctor could tell you which diseases you're most likely to get. There's no reason why we couldn't see at-home diagnostic kits, although probably not by 2006.
"A third area is genetic therapy and pharmaceuticals, which will evolve more slowly," continues Hassler. "The process of infusing people with new genetic material is barely in its infancy, so much of the work that needs to be done will just be getting under way between now and 2006."
The second most influential technology on the list is super materials, specifically matrix materials and molecular composites. Chemist Dr. Vince McGinniss explains the concept. "In matrix materials, manufactured fibers - carbon, glass, silicon carbide, or some high-strength metal - are embedded in a flowable ceramic or metal. Matrix materials have tremendous strength, can stand up to intense heat, and are lightweight. The Air Force, the motivator behind matrix materials, is testing them in parts of jet engines, and other applications. One Japanese car company has used matrix materials to reinforce cylinder wall linings. Matrix materials are finding their way into a few products now, and we'll see much more of them in the next few years. Today the process of manufacturing matrix materials in quantity is still complex. Fibers thrown into a resin aren't happy. So you have to treat them with special linking agents to hold them in the flowable matrix material. That interface is where the problems show up - stress or water comes in and breaks the fiber. Because strength in matrix materials comes almost entirely from fiber and very little from surrounding material, you lose all the strength."
Molecular composites, however, are more durable. In fact, according
to McGinniss, "they're the next generation of engineered materials.
With matrix materials, we make two separate things and put them
together. in molecular composites, we design everything - the rigid,
fiber-like segments, the flexible material - into one molecule.
Polyethylene is like that. Low molecular-weight polyethylene is an oil;
a little higher weight gives you paraffin waxes; higher still and you
have Baggies. Going higher, you get crystalline materials with fiber
stronger than steel. That's what racing sails are made of.
"Because a molecular composite is joined to itself, molecule by molecule, making something becomes a matter of arranging the microstructure. Using the computer to model the structure of specific molecules, we see how they can be joined to other molecules. As recently as three years ago, when a client asked us to engineer a new material, we'd head for the lab. Now we go first to the computer."
Dr. David Snediker, a materials scientist, interjects: "Designing
molecules on computers has been evolving for 20 years. Now it's finally
here, and over the next 20 years it will affect our lives more than
almost anything else - in materials, computer memories, power sources
and supplies, integrated circuits - because it makes molecular-level
design efficient. It's changing the face of science. Twenty years ago,
you had to do wet chemistry to learn anything. The extravagantly
equipped lab is now almost obsolete. Experimental work has shifted from
doing many tests under a wide variety of conditions to doing a few
critical experiments to confirm the model. The lab is still where
scientists and engineers confront nature - see it, taste it, feel it.
There's a temptation to stay at the computer and keep working the
model. But when we confront nature now, it's with a scalpel instead of
a meat ax."
The Air Force is currently testing small airplane parts made from molecular composites. By the year 2000, Snediker believes, we'll see much more of these in airplanes and cars. "The materials are already appearing in electronic circuits parts. Because the polymers can withstand heat, you can make them with simple injection molds - you can't do that with matrix materials - and they keep their dimensional stability. That's crucial for the little electronic pins that must line up and make connections in harsh environments. These things will first go into areas needing high heat resistance like electronic circuits near the surface of an auto engine. But most exciting, the technology is moving into optical recording and signal processing.
"The present is based on electronics - moving electrons around. The
future will be photonic - electric current will be replaced by beams of
light imprinted with information. Optical fibers can move roughly 10
times more information over the same size carrier. That creates a
potentially tremendous problem of data storage. The idea is to replace
floppy disks with something putting a million or more bits of
information into a volume the size of a pinhead."
Soon, according to Snediker, "we'll see a low-cost, read-write CD out of Japan. A more efficient way is to build a long-chain polymer carrying a series of special molecules along its backbone. Based on carbon, nitrogen, sulfur, even certain metals would each have a specific interaction with light. This single long molecule could have all the elements necessary to absorb light, change its switching characteristics, store, and retrieve it. Optical storage, the first practical development in the evolution of the optical computer, will be in common use by 2006," predicts Dr. Snediker.
Linking synthetic to synthetic has arrived, but what about technology linking synthetic and biological materials, such as the biochip? As McGinniss explains: "In information processing, you generate a signal, manipulate, store, and retrieve it. You can do that with silicon or gallium arsenide components - or with your brain. If science can replicate DNA, it can build a biochip.
"We've created a protein polymer that teaches clamshells how to grow. We lay down a coating of this polymer and pure calcium carbonate crystallizes on its surface. We lay down another coating of polymer and another layer of calcium carbonate settles on it. Before you know it, you've grown a clamshell to whatever size or shape you want. The protein is a molecular composite with funny little functional groups designed into it that, together, teach a clamshell how to grow. If we can do that, there's no reason we can't teach material how to grow an optical circuit or anything else," says McGinniss. "Ten years might be a little soon, but in 20 we'll see lots of biochips and biocomputers."
The third technology on the list is compact, long-lasting, and
highly portable energy sources. Just how compact, long-lasting, and
portable should we expect these energy sources to be?
Millett answers rather succinctly. "Something the size of a deck of cards that you can carry and plug your computer into should happen in a decade. When you go camping you will be able to take your microwave oven. People who travel with a computer, who rely on medical devices - anyone who needs heat, power, cooling, or electricity in decentralized environment will use these innovations."
Snediker continues. "When the idea came up in our discussions, most of us were probably thinking in terms of batteries. But the concept isn't confined to energy storage. For example, we'll see wider applications for portable solar cells - the kind in your pocket calculator. They should be efficient enough to run a portable computer, as computers become more energy efficient.
"Better batteries for electric cars has gotten a lot of play, but,"
adds Snediker, "I think the action will be in running portable devices
- which will continue to shrink and come in more weird shapes. A few
years ago Polaroid put a long, skinny battery in its camera film pack.
We're seeing work to develop semiconductor polymers and the all-polymer
battery - one way to make a battery from a pile of thin films. From
this, then, you can make a device's chassis be its battery.
"The natural gas industry is working to perfect fuel cells - 'black boxes' that electrochemically break natural gas into hydrogen and oxygen, yielding electricity and steam at once. Fuel cells make so much sense. Our ability to model molecules and their interactions will open up the world of catalysis [the use of catalysts to create chemical reactions] and that's the key to the fuel cell. Over the next 10 years," says Snediker "we'll see fuel cells take on more importance because we'll be able to do the chemistry better."
Practical solar energy, on the other hand, seems perpetually 10 years away. "There's much promise in solar energy," says Snediker, "but to roof your house with solar cells the efficiency must go up - it's now less than 15 percent - and the cost must come down. Our new ability to manipulate molecules should speed that up," but there is no guarantee that it will be finalized in the next decade.
The seemingly less important high-definition television, or HDTV, ranks fourth. "We're talking about digital HDTV," stresses Dr. Dick Ridgway, electrical engineer. "Ten years from now, it will broadcast not only digital-quality images but Dolby Surround-Sound capacity similar to theaters'."
But there are problems involved, not surprisingly, by trying to
satisfy government regulations. As Ridgway explains, "The information
sent to a digital HDTV to keep high-definition, digital quality video
coming to you in real time is on the order of a billion bits per
second. That would take up more than 200 times the space in the
bandwidth spectrum as television is allotted now. But the FCC has ruled
HDTV has to fit in the same airspace now occupied by conventional TV
signals. To meet that requirement, researchers have developed a
compression technique that cuts those billion bits by a factor of 60.
Then, by modifying hardware, they've compressed the signal enough more
to meet the FCC's mandate.
"This is an incredibly oversimplified explanation," Ridgway states, "but if I transmit a picture of something that doesn't move - say, a flower - I only have to send it once. If I send a picture in which some parts are moving, I only have to send the picture parts that are changing. Things in a television picture usually move slowly enough that not every point in every picture has to change every microsecond. In tests, companies are now proving even things like sporting events and car races can be transmitted by HDTV."
Ridgway has called HDTV "a breakthrough for American manufacturers. It gives the United States the chance to become the world's leading manufacturer of electronics again," he believes. "More than 90 percent of U.S. homes have TV-, only 30 percent have computers. The United States continues to be the world leader in computers and software, and when you're talking about digital HDTV, you're talking computer and software technology."
But many believe the Japanese have already left the United States
behind in high-definition video. "The Japanese were among the first to
produce a high-definition TV system, but they made the decision early
on with analog technology - the same as today's TVs are based on,"
responds Ridgway. "A group of U.S. companies, known as the Grand
Alliance [including AT&T, Zenith, General Instruments, Philips of
North America, and others], banded together in May 1993 to pursue a
digital approach. Digital technology won out in FCC trials, and the
Japanese withdrew their application to market analog HDTV in this
"Digital technologies continue to evolve and converge - the information highway, fiber optics, and so on," explains Ridgway, "and their merger is still in its infancy. Eventually, you'll have a box in your home connected to the world, probably through an optical fiber. Instead of watching an HDTV show when it's broadcast, you might download it to watch later. Because the program's in digital format, it can be stored in digital form. If you want a visual image in vastly more detail than the small, low-resolution VGA monitor your home computer can provide, you send the image to your digital HDTV for a better look."
"Most of us would love an affordable motion-picture screen in our house;" adds Millett. "That alone would be a multibillion-dollar HDTV industry. But this technology also can have an enormous impact on the quality of bigscreen movies or any display of enormous size, or great detail: Imagine all your family photos preserved forever in perfect clarity on one CD."
When will consumers benefit from this new format? Ridgway calculates
that "once the FCC defines the standard set of technical specifications
HDTV will be based on, companies in the Grand Alliance aren't going to
sit around. We'll see the first consumer products in two or three
years, but those early products will be expensive. You can't receive
HDTV signals on the TV set you have now. Rather than suddenly switch
from one technology to the other, for some time both regular signals
and HDTV will be broadcast. The shift from one kind of TV set to the
other will be gradual. But by 2006, HDTV will be as common as CD
players and home computers are now."
Fifth on the Top Ten list is the miniaturization of electronics. How small is small? As small as "a wireless, handheld, interactive computer accessing and transmitting data at a distance," responds Millett. "We're getting close to the day when we can combine voice and data communication with data processing. I'll be on the road and access my computer back at the office, access all databases of the Internet or any online service, receive and transmit data, and process it on the spot."
Snediker adds: "Instead of a central processor, cars may have 20 computers on board - little guys, all networked together. That's done by micromachines."
"Miniaturization will play a key role in developing intelligent transportation systems," says Millett. "In 10 years, we won't have self-driving cars, but we'll pack much more functional communications into them - on-board navigation, mapping, traffic and weather reports, calling police or tow truck with information about where the car is."
Snediker squints his eyes and measures with his fingers. "At
Battelle, we've built a wee little heat pump the size of a dime. By
itself, that's just an exercise in miniaturization. But think of
covering a wall with them. Suddenly, you can have a wall that's hot on
one side and cool on the other. That takes you away from central
heating and cooling. Miniaturizing creates enormous opportunities to
put things precisely where they're needed.
"Within five years," he expounds, "forerunners of nanotechnology will involve medical devices - things put unobtrusively into your body to do something without hooking you up to a machine - something going via a needle tip into a vein or a tiny implant sampling your blood or measuring pH and wirelessly transmitting the results. Baby boomers are reaching an age where their parts are starting to wear out."
The integration of power, sensors, and controls is the sixth influential technology on the list. Snediker explains why. "Our ability to model atoms and molecules has been paced with our ability to model systems. Better understanding systems enables us to develop increasingly sophisticated sensors that sharpen our control over systems. The more precise control, the less energy a system consumes. In the near future, automobiles and other machines will be very carefully and elegantly controlled. Honda recently unveiled an engine that reputedly meets California's 1997 clean-air requirements. A central feature of the engine is an extremely tight electronic function-management system."
Millett offers another example. "In many factories engineers do computer-based product design that then must be downloaded and translated manually into controls for machines on the factory floor. As more sensors and feedback loops are introduced on the assembly line, these 'smart systems' could come to control manufacturing from design input to product output."
Omni interviewer Bennett Daviss takes the process another step. "It
would be great if you could walk into an auto showroom, step into
something like a virtual-reality booth, and custom design your own
car," You wouldn't yet choose your own technical specifications or
alloys, but you might have a choice of chassis, two or three engines,
and almost unlimited choices of accessories. Your car would be
delivered in three weeks!"
But what about the human body? Battelle chose antiaging technologies as the seventh on the list. According to Hassler, "With proper self-care a typical human can live to about 120, based on the number of errors that gradually creep into our DNA replications until we have a critical failure somewhere in the system. The more frivolous attempts to combat aging have gotten the most attention because they affect outward appearance. But antiaging technologies are moving in much more significant directions."
Dr. Joyce Durnford, microbiologist, joins the discussion: "Retin-A for wrinkles and alpha hydroxy acids to encourage hair growth are among the few appearance-related things that work to some degree. True antiaging technologies address illnesses and deterioration that come with aging, like heart attacks and arthritis. We expect to see dramatic advances made against chronic diseases, particularly as we develop immunotherapies to tweak the body into helping itself.
"We think a runaway inflammatory response promotes some heart
attacks and some arthritis," Durnford continues, "Pharmaceutical houses
are developing drugs to control the early stages of these responses."
"Cells at an infection or injury site produce on their surfaces cell-adhesion molecules CAMS) that signal blood cells to stop what they're doing and attack the problem. We're targeting various structurally identical substances that could do the same job and be produced synthetically, says Durnford. In conditions provoked by a runaway immune response, a CAM might stop an early step in the condition's development. Some CAM therapies should be. in common use in 10 years. "
In this context, "antiaging" means things that extend productive life. "Entire classes of tissue replacements are being developed," says Durnford. "Synthetic skin and collagen could be used for replacement in several ways. Polymers affiliated with particular human growth factors will be injected at an implant site, stimulating the body's tissue to adhere to the implant quicker and better."
"Medical science has provided lots of spare parts for people," adds Millett, "but so far they tend to come from the 'junkyard.' More of these parts will require tailored materials, sophisticated miniaturized control circuits, a lot of embedded computer capability. This molecular design and miniaturization technology is lying around in our labs and in many products, but instead of being in my coffee pot, 10 years from now it might be in my neighbor."
From bioreplacements the discussion moves to number eight on the
list: precisely targeted medical treatments. Durnford first compares
this to a more commonly understood process of radiation treatment.
"Techniques of attaching radiation to antibodies to identify tumors is
well established in treating several types of metastatic cancers. If
you isolate and synthesize an antibody specific to colon cancer tissue,
and bind a radioactive molecule to it, you can give the antibody
intravenously and it will travel throughout the body and attach itself
to the tumor. Putting the patient in an imaging camera, basically a
Geiger counter, you see where the malignant tissue is. Now, a new
hand-held device lets the surgeon scan for radioactivity during surgery
to be sure all malignancy is gone. Using the antibody to carry a drug,
instead of radioactivity, is promising, but although antibodies deliver
the drug to the tumor surface, they usually fail to penetrate inside.
People are working on that."
"You can broaden the idea of targeted therapy," Durnford theorizes. Hormones, growth factors, a variety of proteins have specific docking sites on specific cells. Any one of them could be used to deliver a drug to a specific organ that needs it. We can expand targeted therapeutics to putting drugs not only where but also when they're needed."
The discussion turns to the ninth technology, hybrid fuel systems for vehicles. "We don't see a single-source solution to the vehicle fuel problem," begins Millett. "A strategic technology at a systems level is a vehicle that can carry multiple fuels and switch back and forth among them under control of a smart system. An internal combustion engine, a bit bigger than a lawn-mower engine that gets 80 miles per gallon, accelerates the vehicle. Then at a preset cruising speed, it switches over to compressed natural gas (CNG), electricity, or some other fuel by sensing pressure changes on the accelerator pedal.
"Fuel is political as hell," posits Snediker. "From a technical
standpoint, everything is in place to do something significantly
different. If the entire Middle East was suddenly cut off, we could
burn natural gas, alcohol, coal, or manure. "We have an expectation
everyone has an inalienable right to own a car. Everyone assumes those
cars will be fueled by stored energy carried on board as a liquid and
distributed nationally. To create economic pressure powerful enough to
change the social expectations would take either a national emergency
or very gradual, long-term shift. Right now, there's no social or
environmental pull on new fuel technologies. No market pull."
Millett predicts that it will be at least 50 years before the U.S. national vehicle fleet runs predominantly on fuels that are not derived from petroleum. in 20 years, however, Snediker believes that city freeways will probably permit no vehicles weighing more than 1,500 pounds. These cars will have little ceramic engines with exquisite controls that get extremely high gas mileage and won't be able to go faster than 60 miles an hour. You'll own a little car and rent the behemoth to take you over highways on long trips. Two of my neighbors do that now."
Finally, the tenth technology is edutainment, which may be construed
as an application of technology rather than a technology in itself. As
Millett explains, "Learning from books is medieval. It's just not the
most efficient way for people to learn. Vision is the most powerful
sense for most people, so information certainly will become more
visual. Ultimately, it may become three-dimensional. A major area of
development will be computerized simulation. People can choose a
situation - the battle of Gettysburg, corporate management, their
marriage - and test their ideas, see what happens, and rerun scenarios
to see how different strategies affect the outcome. Business is already
involved in simulation as a tool to develop judgment. People can make
decisions, see consequences immediately, then see how other decisions
alter those consequences. When people can do that, they gain insight
into what works and what doesn't. Ten years from now, simulation games
could replace TV shows as a major form of entertainment."
Once all 10 of these technologies have been accomplished, what technologies will exist on this list in 2006? Millett muses. "Information storage and retrieval should make the top 10 in 2006. Somewhere on that list will be high-quality products custom-designed and affordably manufactured to an individual's explicit orders - clothes, appliances, luggage, all manner of things. Quite possibly hydrogen energy will be releasing the huge amount of energy locked in water. Management of water resources will make the top 10, driven by demand for resources in the oceans: growing crops, extracting minerals, and so forth.
"Many believe we're on the verge of new worldwide epidemics," Millett continues. "Identifying, preventing, and responding to them might well be on the list in 2006. Technological responses to the demand for personal safety of other kinds will be there, too. Several states have legislation pending allowing people to carry concealed weapons. Demand for personal sensors to detect harmful objects like guns in our vicinity will rise. A jogger might carry a little sensor alerting him or her when another person comes within 10 feet. Home and car security systems could be improved by better sensors, more accurate information, and immediate communication with police or emergency units. Consumer demand for foods high in nutrition and fiber, low in fat, and all natural, will be strong. Work in plant genetics is progressing slower than some predicted, but shows promise in engineering food."
Bennett Daviss poses his final question to the scientist of the
future and the leader of this esteemed group: "Which technologies
surprised you by not making this year's list?"
Millett's response: "A cure for the common cold didn't even come up
Newton's first law states, "An object at rest or in a state of uniform motion," such as my napping brother Paulie, "tends to remain in that state," unless his little brother is bored and stupid enough to try out law number two. Law two says, "When an object is accelerated by force," such as being woken up by a punch in the arm, "the amount of acceleration is equal to the force divided by the mass of the object."
However, it was always law number three that gave me the most
trouble. Law three says, "For every action there is an equal and
opposite reaction." By sneaking up and hitting Paulie in the arm, I
would not produce an equal and opposite reaction but a reaction 30
times as violent as the punch I delivered. At first, I thought this was
unfair. But later, as I learned more about science, I found out that
this phenomenon was explained by Einstein's "Theory of Relativity,"
which says if you punch a relative, especially one older and bigger
than you, you'll have to learn to eat your meals through a straw for
the next two weeks.
Newton's incomplete version of his "laws of motion" can be explained by the "law of probability," a complex statistical equation which suggests Newton "probably" had no older siblings. This would account for such a gross mathematical error in Newton's theory - little siblings just don't pack the same punch as bigger siblings after being rudely awakened, ("the law of diminishing returns").
Another set of laws I wish I had known of earlier were the first two laws of thermodynamics. The first law states that "energy can be neither created nor destroyed but only changed." If I had known that, I wouldn't have been so worried when Paulie smashed the energy forming my nose. He changed it into something resembling a flattened strawberry. Since flattened strawberries are rather tough to breath through, I mistakenly thought my nose was destroyed. I immediately sought the medical attention of my mother by rolling around on the floor and moaning loudly. My mother, who wasn't familiar with the first law of thermodynamics either, didn't realize that the energy that was once my nose was still alive and well - albeit, unrecognizable. After taking me to the hospital she told my father what had happened, and the second law of thermodynamics kicked in.
Law two states "a spontaneous tendency of energy toward the highest degree of randomness." Paulie, not willing to donate any body parts to science, did everything he could to avoid my dad. He ricocheted off walls, furniture, and appliances. By the time my dad finally caught Paulie, everything was pretty random. Debris was everywhere, and the house was a shambles.
Once I learned these laws of physics, they seemed almost too obvious. But if it weren't for great thinkers like Newton and Einstein, who originally identified phenomena and codified them into succinct, understandable, scientific rules, I would still be living in ignorance.
It was rumored that after Einstein became famous for his theories he decided to cash in on his growing popularity and, like Newton, start his own cookie business. It's said that he created a fortune cookie modeled after Newton's fig variety. Enclosed in the gooey middle of each cookie was a little piece of paper, and written on it was a science fact like E = [mc.sup.2]. Needless to say, Fig Einsteins failed.
"It was the mother of all extinctions," says geochemist Kun Wang, noting that the die-off dwarfs all others in the planet's history, including the more celebrated extinction of the dinosaurs 65 million years ago. Paleontologists have long hypothesized that the extinction of marine life unfolded gradually and quietly over several million years. But now Wang, a researcher at the University of Ottawa, is bucking that conventional wisdom.
"It was a sudden change, not a gradual change," he contends. "At
most it took a few thousand years, but it could have been
Scientists first discovered the Permian-Triassic extinction in the 1950s, but since then, incomplete fossil records have kept paleontologists from determining the abruptness or duration of the extinction. Wang, in contrast, used a geochemical approach to produce some compelling evidence that the die-off happened suddenly.
Wang's team located a section of ancient rock that once lay at the bottom of Williston Lake in northeastern British Columbia. Inside the rock they found a rare sample of well-preserved organic carbon called kerogen, which forms when plankton drifts to the basin floor and becomes incorporated into sedimentary rock. When Wang analyzed the kerogen with a mass spectrometer, he discovered an abrupt decrease in the number of carbon-13 atoms right at the border between the Permian and Triassic periods.
To make sense of the drop, the researchers considered photosynthesis. Carbon is composed of two isotopes: carbon-12 and carbon-13. During photosynthesis, phytoplankton compete for their preferred isotope, the carbon-12. But since competition for this isotope is typically intense, the plants usually settle for some carbon-13 as well. If the competition for the carbon-12 suddenly thinned, the surviving phytoplankton would absorb only carbon-12 and pass on carbon-13 altogether. Wang concludes that the abrupt drop in the carbon-13 content of phytoplankton at the Permian-Triassic boundary means that a massive extinction took place, and it happened quickly.
The question now is, what caused the crisis? Wang says the die-off could be linked to the heavy volcanic activity that was occurring at roughly the same time in Siberia, where constant eruptions produced basalt outpourings about the size of Alaska. But a more likely scenario, according to Wang, is that a meteor smashed into Earth and created a huge crater. All of the displaced dust would have blocked sunlight for several weeks and severely limited photosynthesis. "It could have been a meteor like the one that just hit Jupiter," Wang says. "If we had that kind of impact, it would have killed off a lot of life."
But Douglas Erwin, a paleontologist at the Smithsonian Institution and an expert on the Permian-Triassic extinction, maintains that the die-off occurred over a significant period of time, possibly as long as three million years. "We just don't have any direct data on a time frame for the extinction at this point," Erwin says.
Wang, however, may be on the verge of collecting just the evidence he needs to prove this theory. He is currently investigating clay samples which may contain tiny spheres of microtektites, or pieces of rock that would have suddenly melted and splashed into the, clay. Significantly for Wang, it is a condition that could only have been caused by meteor impact.
The moon slips and shines in the wrinkled mirror before the prow, and from the northern sky the Bright Companions shoot glancing arrows of light along the water. In the stern of the boat the polesman stands in the watchful solemnity of his task. His movements as he poles and steers the boat are slow, certain, august. The long, low channelboat slides on the black water as silently as the reflection it pursues. A few dark figures huddle in it. One dark figure lies full length on the halfdeck, arms at his sides, closed eyes unseeing that other moon slipping and shining through wisps of fog in the luminous blue night sky. The Husbandman of Sandry is coming home from war.
They had been waiting for him on Sandry Island ever since last spring, when he went with seven men, following the messengers who came to raise the Queen's army. In midsummer four of the men of Sandry brought back the news that he was wounded and was lying in the care of the Queen's own physician. They told of his great valor in battle, and told of their own prowess too, and how they had won the war. Since then there had been no news.
With him now in the channelboat were the three companions who had
stayed with him, and a physician sent by the Queen, an assistant to her
own doctor. This man, an active, slender person in his forties, cramped
by the long night's travel, was quick to leap ashore when the boat slid
silently up along the stone quay of Sandry Farm.
While the boatmen and the others busied themselves making the boat fast and lifting the stretcher and its burden up from the boat to the quay, the doctor went on up to the house. Approaching the island, as the sky imperceptibly lightened from night-blue to colorless pallor, he had seen the spires of windmills, the crowns of trees, and the roofs of the house, all in black silhouette, standing very high after the miles of endlessly level reedbeds and water-channels. "Hello, the people!" he called out as he entered the courtyard. "Wake up! Sandry has come home!"
The kitchen was astir already. Lights sprang up elsewhere in the big house. The doctor heard voices, doors. A stableboy came vaulting out of the loft where he had slept, a dog barked and barked its tardy warning, people began to come out of the housedoor. As the stretcher was borne into the courtyard, the Farmwife came hurrying out, wrapped in a green cloak that hid her nightdress, her hair loose, her feet bare on the stones. She ran to the stretcher as they set it down. "Farre, Farre," she said, kneeling, bending over the still figure. No one spoke or moved in that moment. "He is dead," she said in a whisper, drawing back.
"He is alive," the doctor said. And the oldest of the litterbearers, Pask the saddler, said in his rumbling bass, "He lives, Makali-dem. But the wound was deep."
The doctor looked with pity and respect at the Farmwife, at her bare feet and her clear, bewildered eyes. "Dema," he said, "let us bring him in to the warmth."
"Yes, yes," she said, rising and running ahead to prepare.
When the stretcherbearers came out again, half the people of Sandry were in the courtyard waiting to hear their news. Most of all they looked to old Pask when he came out, and he looked at them all. He was a big, slow man, girthed like an oak, with a stiff face set in deep lines. "Will he live?" a woman ventured. Pask continued looking them all over until he chose to speak. "We'll plant him," he said.
"Ah, ah!" the woman cried, and a groan and sigh went among them all.
"And our grandchildren's children will know his name," said Dyadi, Pask's wife, bosoming through the crowd to her husband. "Hello, old man."
"Hello, old woman," Pask said. They eyed each other from an equal height.
"Still walking, are you?" she said.
"How else get back where I belong?" Pask said. His mouth was too set in a straight line to smile, but his eyes glinted a little.
"Took your time doing it. Come on, old man. You must be perishing." They strode off side by side toward the lane that led to the saddlery and paddocks. The courtyard buzzed on, all in low-voiced groups around the other two returned men, getting and giving the news of the wars, the city, the marsh isles, the farm.
Indoors, in the beautiful high shadowy room where Farre now lay in the bed still warm from his wife's sleep, the physician stood by the bedside, as grave, intent, careful as the polesman had stood in the stern of the channelboat. He watched the wounded man, his fingers on the pulse. The room was perfectly still. The woman stood at the foot of the bed, and presently he turned to her and gave a quiet nod that said, Very well, as can be expected.
"He seems scarcely to breathe," she whispered. Her eyes looked large in her face knotted and clenched with anxiety.
"He's breathing," the escort assured her. "Slow and deep. Dema, my
name is Hamid, assistant to the Queen's physician, Dr. Saker, Her
majesty and the Doctor, who had your husband in his care, desired me to
come with him and stay here as long as I am needed, to give what care I
can. Her majesty charged me to tell you that she is grateful for his
sacrifice, that she honors his courage in her service. She will do what
may be done to prove that gratitude and to show that honor. And still
she bade me tell you that whatever may be done will fall short of his
"Thank you," said the Farmwife, perhaps only partly understanding, gazing only at the set, still face on the pillow. She was trembling a little.
"You're cold, dema," Hamid said gently and respectfully. "You should get dressed."
"Is he warm enough? Was he chilled, in the boat? I can have the fire laid -"
"No. He's warm enough. It's you I speak of, dema."
She glanced at him a little wildly, as if seeing him that moment. "Yes," she said. "Thank you."
"I'll come back in a little while," he said, laid his hand on his
heart, and quietly went out, closing the massive door behind him.
He went across to the kitchen wing and demanded food and drink for a starving man, a thirsty man legcramped from crouching in a damned boat all night. He was not shy, and was used to the authority of his calling. It had been a long journey overland from the city, and then poling through the marshes, with Broad Isle the only hospitable place to stop among the endless channels, and the sun beating down all day, and then the long dream-like discomfort of the night. He made much of his hunger and travail to amuse his hosts and to divert them, too, from asking questions about how the Husbandman did and would do. He did not want to tell them more than the man's wife knew.
But they, discreet or knowing or respectful, asked no direct questions of him. Though their concern for Farre was plain, they asked only, by various indirections, if he was sure to live, and seemed satisfied by that assurance. In some faces Hamid thought he saw a glimpse of something beyond satisfaction: a brooding acceptance in one; an almost conniving intelligence in another. One young fellow blurted out, "Then will he be -" and shut his mouth, under the joined stares of five or six older people. They were a trapmouthed lot, the Sandry Islanders. All that were not actively young looked old: seamed, weatherbeaten, brown skin wrinkled and silvery, hands gnarled, hair thick, coarse, and dry. Only their eyes were quick, observant. And some of them had eyes of an unusual color, like amber; Pask, his wife Dyadi, and several others, as well as Farre himself. The first time Hamid had seen Farre, before the coma deepened, he had been struck by the strong features and those light, clear eyes. They all spoke a strong dialect, but Hamid had grown up not far inland from the marshes, and anyhow had an ear for dialects. By the end of his large and satisfying breakfast he was glottal-stopping with the best of them.
He returned to the great bedroom with a well-loaded tray. As he had
expected, the Farmwife, dressed and shod, was sitting close beside the
bed, her hand lying lightly on her husband's hand. She looked up at
Hamid politely but as an intruder: please be quiet, don't interrupt us,
make him be well and go away... Hamid had no particular eye for beauty
in women, perhaps having seen beauty too often at too short a distance,
where it dissolves; but he responded to a woman's health, to the firm
sweet flesh, the quiver and vigor of full life. And she was fully
alive. She was as tender and powerful as a red-deer doe, as
unconsciously splendid. He wondered if there were fawns, and then saw
the child standing behind her chair. The room, its shutters closed, was
all shadow with a spatter and dappling of broken light across the
islands of heavy furniture, the footboard of the bed, the folds of the
coverlet, the child's face and dark eyes.
"Hamid-dem," the Farmwife said - despite her absorption in her husband she had caught his name, then, with the desperate keen hearing of the sickroom, where every word carries hope or doom - "I still cannot see him breathe."
"Lay your ear against his chest," he said, in a tone deliberately louder than her whisper. "You'll hear the heart beat, and feel the lungs expand. Though slowly, as I said. Dema, I brought this for you. Now you'll sit here, see, at this table. A little more light, a shutter open, so. It won't disturb him, not at all. Light is good. You are to sit here and eat breakfast. Along with your daughter, who must be hungry, too."
She introduced the child, Idi, a girl of five or six, who clapped her hand on her heart and whispered "Give-you-good-day-dema" all in one glottal-stopped word before she shrank back behind her mother.
It is pleasant to be a physician and be obeyed, Hamid reflected, as
the Farmwife and her child, large and little images of each other in
their shirts and full trousers and silken braided hair, sat at the
table where he had put the tray down and meekly ate the breakfast he
had brought. He was charmed to see that between them they left not a
When Makali rose her face had lost the knotted look, and her dark eyes, though still large and still concerned, were tranquil. She has a peaceful heart, he thought. At the same moment his physician's eye caught the signs; she was pregnant, probably about three months along. She whispered to the child, who trotted away. She came back to the chair at the bedside, which he had already relinquished.
"I am going to examine and dress his wound," Hamid said. "Will you watch dema, or come back?"
"Watch," she said.
"Good," he said. Taking off his coat, he asked her to have hot water sent in from the kitchen.
"We have it piped," she said, and went to a door in the farthest shadowy corner. He had not expected such an amenity. Yet he knew that some of these island farms were very ancient places of civilization, drawing for their comfort and provision on inexhaustible sun, wind, and tide, settled in a way of life as immemorial as that of their plowlands and pastures, as full and secure. Not the show-wealth of the city, but the deep richness of the land, was in the steaming pitcher she brought him, and in the woman who brought it.
"You don't need it boiling?" she asked, and he said, "This is what I want."
She was quick and steady, relieved to have a duty, to be of use. When he bared the great sword-wound across her husband's abdomen he glanced up at her to see how she took it. Compressed lips, a steady gaze.
"This," he said, his fingers above the long, dark, unhealed gash,
"looks the worst; but this, here, is the worst. That is superficial, a
mere slash as the sword withdrew. But here, it went in, and deep." He
probed the wound. There was no shrinking or quiver in the man's body;
he lay insensible, "The sword withdrew," Hamid went on, "as the
swordsman died. Your husband killed him even as he struck. And took the
sword from him. When his men came around him he was holding it in his
left hand and his own sword in his right, though he could not rise from
his knees.... Both those swords came here with us.... There, you see?
That was a deep thrust. And a wide blade. That was nearly a deathblow.
But not quite, not quite. Though to be sure, it took its toll." He
looked up at her openly, hoping she would meet his eyes, hoping to
receive from her the glance of acceptance, intelligence, recognition
that he had seen in this face and that among Sandry's people. But her
eyes were on the purple and livid wound, and her face was simply intent.
"Was it wise to move him, carry him so far?" she asked, not questioning his judgment, but in wonder.
"The Doctor said it would do him no harm," Hamid said. "And it has done none. The fever is gone, as it has been for nine days now." She nodded, for she had felt how cool Farre's skin was. "The inflammation of the wound is, if anything, less than it was two days ago. The pulse and breath are strong and steady. This was the place for him to be, dema."
"Yes," she said. "Thank you. Thank you, Hamid-dem." Her clear eyes looked into his for a moment before returning to the wound, the motionless, muscular body, the silent face, the closed eyelids.
Surely, Hamid thought, surely if it were true she'd know it! She couldn't have married the man not knowing! But she says nothing. So it's not true, it's only a story.... But this thought, which gave him a tremendous relief for a moment, gave way to another: She knows and is hiding from the knowledge. Shutting the shadow into the locked room. Closing her ears in case the word is spoken.
He found he had taken a deep breath and was holding it. He wished
the Farmwife were older, tougher, that she loved her farmer less. He
wished he knew what the truth was, and that he need not be the one to
But on an utterly unexpected impulse, he spoke: "It is not death," he said, very low, almost pleading.
She merely nodded, watching. When he reached for a clean cloth, she had it ready to his hand.
As a physician, he asked her of her pregnancy. She was well, all was well. He ordered her to walk daily, to be two hours out of the sickroom in the open air. He wished he might go with her, for he liked her and it would have been a pleasure to walk beside her, watching her go along tall and lithe and robust. But if she was to leave Farre's side for two hours, he was to replace her there: that was simply understood. He obeyed her implicit orders as she obeyed his explicit ones.
His own freedom was considerable, for she spent most of the day in the sickroom, and there was no use his being there, too, little use his being there at all, in fact. Farre needed nothing from him or her or anyone, aside from the little nourishment he took. Twice a day, with infinite patience, she contrived to feed him ten or a dozen sips of Dr. Saker's rich brew of meat and herbs and medicines, which Hamid concocted and strained daily in the kitchen with the cooks' interested aid. Aside from those two halfhours, and once a day the bed-jar for a few drops of urine, there was nothing to be done. No chafing or sores developed on Farre's skin. He lay unmoving, showing no discomfort. His eyes never opened. Once or twice, she said, in the night, he had moved a little, shuddered. Hamid had not seen him make any movement for days.
Surely, if there was any truth in the old book Dr. Saker had shown
him and in Pask's unwilling and enigmatic hints of confirmation, Makali
would know? But she said never a word, and it was too late now for him
to ask. He had lost his chance. And if he could not speak to her, he
would not go behind her back, asking the others if there was any truth
in this tale.
Of course there isn't, he told his conscience. A myth, a rumor, a folktale of the `Old Islanders' ... and the word of an ignorant man, a saddler.... Superstition! What do I see when I look at my patient? A deep coma. A deep, restorative coma. Unusual, yes, but not abnormal, not uncanny. Perhaps such a coma, a very long vegetative period of recovery, common to these islanders, an inbred people, would be the origin of the myth, much exaggerated, made fanciful....
They were a healthy lot, and though he offered his services he had little to do once he had reset a boy's badly splinted arm and scraped out an old fellow's leg abscesses. Sometimes little Idi tagged after him. Clearly she adored her father and missed his company. She never asked, "Will he get well," but Hamid-had seen her crouched at the bedside, quite still, her cheek against Farre's unresponding hand. Touched by the child's dignity, Hamid asked her what games she and her father had played. She thought a long time before she said, "He would tell me what he was doing and sometimes I could help." Evidently she had simply followed Farre in his daily round of farmwork and management. Hamid provided only an unsatisfactory, frivolous substitute. She would listen to his tales of the court and city for a while, not very interested, and soon would run off to her own small, serious duties. Hamid grew restive under the burden of being useless.
He found walking soothed him, and went almost daily on a favorite
circuit: down to the quay and along the dunes to the southeast end of
the island, from which he first saw the open sea, free at last of the
whispering green levels of the reedbeds. Then up the steepest slope on
Sandry, a low hill of worn granite and sparse earth, for the view of
sea and tidal dams, island fields and green marshes from its summit,
where a cluster of windmills caught the sea wind with slender vanes.
Then down the slope past the trees, the Old Grove, to the farmhouse.
There were a couple of dozen houses in sight from Sandry Hill, but `the
farmhouse' was the only one so called, as its owner was called the
Husbandman, or Farmer Sandry, or simply Sandry if he was away from the
island. And nothing would keep an Islander away from his island but his
duty to the crown. Rooted folk, Hamid thought wryly, standing in the
lane near the Old Grove to look at the trees.
Elsewhere on the island, indeed on all the islands, there were no
trees to speak of. Scrub willows down along the streams, a few orchards
of wind-dwarfed, straggling apples. But here in the Grove were great
trees, some with mighty trunks, surely hundreds of years old, and none
of them less than eight or ten times a man's height. They did not crowd
together but grew widely spaced, each spreading its limbs and crown
broadly. In the spacious aisles under them grew a few shrubs and ferns
and a thin, soft, pleasant grass. Their shade was beautiful on these
hot summer days when the sun glared off the sea and the channels and
the sea wind scarcely stirred the fiery air. But Hamid did not go under
the trees. He stood in the lane, looking at that shade under the heavy
Not far from the lane he could see in the grove a sunny gap where an old tree had come down, perishing in a winter gale maybe a century ago, for nothing was left of the fallen trunk but a grassy hummock a few yards long. No sapling had sprung up or been planted to replace the old tree; only a wild rose, rejoicing in the light, flowered thornily over the ruin of its stump.
Hamid walked on, gazing ahead at the house he now knew so well, the massive slate roofs, the shuttered window of the room where Makali was sitting beside her husband, waiting for him to wake.
"Makali, Makali," he said under his breath, grieving for her, angry with her, angry with himself, sorry for himself, listening to the sound of her name.
The room was dark to his still sunbedazzled eyes, but he went to his patient with a certain decisiveness, almost abruptness, and turned back the sheet. He palpated, auscultated, took the pulse. "His breathing has been harsh," Makali murmured.
"He's dehydrated. Needs water."
She rose to fetch the little silver bowl and spoon she used to feed him his soup and water, but Hamid shook his head. The picture in Dr. Saker's ancient book was vivid in his mind, a woodcut, showing exactly what must be done - what must be done, that is, if one believed this myth, which he did not, nor did Makali, or she would surely have said something by now! And yet, there was nothing else to be done. Farre's face was sunken, his hair came loose at a touch. He was dying, very slowly, of thirst.
"The bed must be tipped, so that his head is high, his feet low," Hamid said authoritatively. "The easiest way will be to take off the footboard. Tebra will give me a hand." She went out and returned with the yardman, Tebra, and with him Hamid briskly set about the business. They got the bed fixed at such a slant that he had to put a webbing strap round Farre's chest to keep him from sliding quite down. He asked Makali for a waterproof sheet or cape. Then, fetching a deep copper basin from the kitchen, he filled it with cold water. He spread the sheet of oilskin she had brought under Farre's legs and feet, and propped the basin in an overturned footstool so that it held steady as he laid Farre's feet in the water.
"It must be kept full enough that his soles touch the water," he said to Makali.
"It will keep him cool," she said, asking, uncertain. Hamid did not answer.
Her troubled, frightened look enraged him. He left the room without saying more.
When he returned in the evening she said, "His breathing is much easier."
No doubt, Hamid thought, auscultating, now that he breathes once a minute.
"Hamid-dem," she said, "there is ... something I noticed...."
She heard his ironic, hostile tone, as he did. Both winced. But she was started, had begun to speak, could only go on.
"His . . ." She started again. "It seemed . . ." She drew the sheet down farther, exposing Farre's genitals.
The penis lay almost indistinguishable from the testicles and the
brown, grained skin of the inner groin, as if it had sunk into them, as
if all were returning to an indistinguishable unity, a featureless
"Yes," Hamid said, expressionless, shocked in spite of himself. "The ... the process is following ... what is said to be its course."
She looked at him across her husband's band's body. "But - Can't you -?"
He stood silent a while. "It seems that - My information is that in these cases - a very grave shock to the system, to the body," - he paused, trying to find words - "such as an injury or a great loss, a grief - but in this case, an injury, an almost fatal wound - A wound that almost certainly would have been fatal, had not it inaugurated the ... the process in question, the inherited capacity . . . propensity . . ."
She stood still, still gazing straight at him, so that all the big words shrank to nothing in his mouth. He stooped and with his deft, professional gentleness opened Farre's closed eyelid. "Look!" he said. She too stooped to look, to see the blind eye exposed, without pupil, iris, or white, a polished, featureless, brown bead.
When her indrawn breath was repeated and again repeated in a
dragging sob, Hamid burst out at last, "But you knew, surely! You knew
when you married him."
"Knew," said her dreadful indrawn voice.
The hair stood up on Hamid's arms and scalp. He could not look at her. He lowered the eyelid, thin and stiff as a dry leaf.
She turned away and walked slowly across the long room into the shadows.
"They laugh about it," said the deep, dry voice he had never heard, out of the shadows. "On the land, in the city, people laugh about it, don't they. They talk about the wooden men, the blockheads, the Old Islanders. They don't laugh about it here. When he married me -" She turned to face Hamid, stepping into the shaft of warm twilight from the one unshuttered window so that her clothing glimmered white. "When Farre of Sandry, Farre Older courted me and married me, on the Broad Isle where I lived, the people there said don't do it to me, and the people here said don't do it to him. Marry your own kind, marry in your own kind. But what did we care for that? He didn't care and I didn't care. I didn't believe! I wouldn't believe! But I came here - Those trees, the Grove, the older trees - you've been there, you've seen them. Do you know they have names?" She stopped, and the dragging, gasping, indrawn sob began again. She took hold of a chairback and stood racking it back and forth. "He took me there. `That is my grandfather,'" she said in a hoarse, jeering gasp. "`That's Aita, my mother's grandmother. Doran-dem has stood four hundred years.'"
Her voice failed.
"We don't laugh about it," Hamid said. "It is a tale - something that might be true - a mystery. Who they are, the . . . the olders, what makes them change ... how it happens.... Dr Saker sent me here not only to be of use but to learn. To verify ... the process."
"The process," Makali said.
She came back to the bedside, facing him across it, across the stiff body, the log in the bed.
"What am I carrying here?" she asked, soft and hoarse, her hands on her belly.
"A child," Hamid said, without hesitating and clearly.
"What kind of child?"
"Does it matter?"
She said nothing.
"His child, your child, as your daughter is. Do you know what kind of child Idi is?"
After a while Makali said softly, "Like me. She does not have the amber eyes."
"Would you care less for her if she did?"
"No," she said.
She stood silent. She looked down at her husband, then toward the windows, then straight at Hamid.
"You came to learn," she said.
"Yes. And to give what help I can give."
She nodded. "Thank you," she said.
He laid his hand a moment on his heart.
She sat down in her usual place beside the bed with a deep, very quiet breath, too quiet to be a sigh.
Hamid opened his mouth. "He's blind, deaf, without feeling. He doesn't know if you're there or not there. He's a log, a block, you need not keep this vigil!" All these words said themselves aloud in his mind, but he did not speak one of them. He closed his mouth and stood silent.
"How long?" she asked in her usual soft voice.
"I don't know. That change ... came quickly. Maybe not long now."
She nodded. She laid her hand on her husband's hand, her light warm touch on the hard bones under hard skin, the long, strong, motionless fingers. "Once," she said, "he showed me the stump of one of the olders, one that fell down a long time ago."
Hamid nodded, thinking of the sunny clearing in the grove, the wild rose.
"It had broken right across in a great storm, the trunk had been rotten. It was old, ancient, they weren't sure even who . . . the name . . . hundreds of years old. The roots were still in the ground but the trunk was rotten. So it broke right across in the gale. But the stump was still there in the ground. And you could see. He showed me." After a pause she said, "You could see the bones. The leg bones. In the trunk of the tree. Like pieces of ivory. Inside it. Broken off with it." After another silence, she said, "So they do die. Finally."
Silence again. Though he listened and watched almost automatically, Hamid did not see Farre's chest rise or fall.
"You may go whenever you like, Hamid-dem," she said gently. "I'm all right now. Thank you."
He went to his room. On the table, under the lamp when he lighted it, lay some leaves. He had picked them up from the border of the lane that went by the grove, the grove of the older trees. A few dry leaves, a twig. What their blossom was, their fruit, he did not know. It was summer, between the flower and the seed. And he dared not take a branch, a twig, a leaf from the living tree.
When he joined the people of the farm for supper, old Pask was there.
"Doctor-dem," the saddler said in his rumbling bass, "is he turning?"
"Yes," Hamid said.
"So you're giving him water?"
"You must give him water, dema," the old man said, relentless. "She doesn't know. She's not his kind. She doesn't know his needs."
"But she bears his seed," said Hamid, grinning suddenly, fiercely, at the old man.
Pask did not smile or make any sign, his stiff face impassive. He said, "Yes. The girl's not, but the other may be older." And he turned away.
Next morning after he had sent Makali out for her walk, Hamid studied Farre's feet. They were extended fully into the water, as if he had stretched downward to it, and the skin looked softer. The long brown toes stretched apart a little. And his hands, still motionless, seemed longer, the fingers knotted as with arthritis yet powerful, lying spread on the coverlet at his sides.
Makali came back ruddy and sweaty from her walk in the summer morning. Her vitality, her vulnerability were infinitely moving and pathetic to Hamid after his long contemplation of a slow, inexorable toughening, hardening, withdrawal. He said, "Makali-dem, there is no need for you to be here all day. There is nothing to do for him but keep the water-basin full."
"So it means nothing to him that I sit by him," she said, half questioning half stating.
"I think it does not. Not any more."
Her gallantry touched him. He longed to help her. "Dema, did he, did anyone ever speak to you about - if this should happen - There may be ways we can ease the change, things that are traditionally done - I don't know them. Are there people here whom I might ask - Pask and Dyadi - ?"
"Oh, they'll know what to do when the time comes," she said, with an edge in her voice. "They'll see to it that it's done right. The right way, the old way. You don't have to worry about that. The doctor doesn't have to bury his patient, after all. The gravediggers do that."
"He is not dead."
"No. Only blind and deaf and dumb and doesn't know if I'm in the room or a hundred miles away." She looked up at Hamid, a gaze which for some reason embarrassed him. "If I stuck a knife in his hand would he feel it.?" she asked.
He chose to take the question as one of curiosity, desire to know. "The response to any stimulus has grown steadily less," he said, "and in the last few days it has disappeared. That is, response to any stimulus I've offered." He took up Farre's wrist and pinched it as hard as he could, though the skin was so tough now and the flesh so dry that he had difficulty doing so.
She watched. "He was ticklish," she said. Hamid shook his head. He touched the sole of the long brown foot that rested in the basin of water; there was no withdrawal, no response at all.
"So he feels nothing. Nothing hurts him," she said.
"I think not."
Embarrassed again, Hamid bent down to study the wound. He had left off the bandages, for the slash had closed, leaving a clean seam, and the deep gash had developed a tough lip all round it, a barky ring that was well on the way to sealing it shut.
"I could carve my name on him," Makali said, leaning close to Hamid, and then she bent down over the inert body, kissing and stroking and holding it, her tears running down.
When she had wept a while, Hamid went to call the women of the household, and they came. gathering round her full of solace and took her off to another room. Left alone, Hamid drew the sheet back up over Farre's chest; he felt a satisfaction in her having wept at last, having broken down. Tears were the natural reaction, and the necessary one. A woman clears her mind by weeping, a woman had told him once.
He flicked his thumbnail hard against Farre's shoulder. It was like flicking the headboard, the night table - his nail stung for a moment. He felt a surge of anger against his patient, no patient, no man at all, not any more.
Was his own mind clear? Why was he angry with Farre? Could the man help being what he was, or what he was becoming?
Hamid went out of the house and walked his circuit, went to his own room to read. Late in the afternoon he went to the sickroom. No one was there with Farre. He pulled out the chair she had sat in so many days and nights and sat down. The shadowy silence of the room soothed his mind. A healing was occurring here: a strange healing, a mystery, frightening, but real. Farre had traveled from mortal injury and pain to this quietness; had turned from death to this different, this other life, this older life. Was there any wrong in that? Only that he wronged her in leaving her behind, and he must have done that, and more cruelly, if he had died.
Or was the cruelty in his not dying?
Hamid was still there pondering, half asleep in the twilit serenity of the room, when Makali came in quietly and lighted a dim lamp. She wore a loose, light shirt that showed the movement of her full breasts, and her gauze trousers were gathered at the ankle above her bare feet; it was a hot night, sultry, the air stagnant on the, salt marshes and the sandy fields of the island. She came around the bedstead. Hamid started to get up.
"No, no, stay. I'm sorry, Hamid-dem. Forgive me. Don't get up. I only wanted to apologize for behaving like a child."
"Grief must find its way out," he said.
"I hate to cry. Tears empty me. And pregnancy makes one cry over nothing."
"This is a grief worth crying for, dema."
"Oh, yes," she said. "If we had loved each other. Then I might have cried that basin full." She spoke with a hard lightness. "But that was over years ago. He went off to the war to get away from me. This child I carry, it isn't his. He was always cold, always slow. Always what he is now." She looked down at the figure in the bed with a quick, strange, challenging glance.
"They were right," she said, "half-alive shouldn't marry the living. If your wife was a stick, was a stump, a lump of wood, wouldn't you seek some friend of flesh and blood? Wouldn't you seek the love of your own kind?"
As she spoke she came nearer to Hamid, very near, stooping aver him.
Her closeness, the movement of her clothing, the warmth and smell of
her body, filled his world suddenly and entirely, and when she laid her
hands on his shoulders he reached up to her, sinking upward into her,
pulling her down onto him to drink her body with his mouth, to impale
her heavy softness on the aching point of his desire, so lost in her
that she had pulled away from him before he knew it. She was turning
from him, turning to the bed, where with a long, creaking groan the
stiff body trembled and shook, trying to bend, to rise, and the round
blank balls of the eyes stared out under lifted eyelids.
"There!" Makali cried, breaking free of Hamid's hold, standing triumphant. "Farre!"
The stiff half-lifted arms, the outspread fingers trembled like branches in the wind. No more than that. Again the deep, cracking, creaking groan from within the rigid body. She huddled up against it on the tilted bed, stroking the face and kissing the unblinking eyes, the lips, the breast, the scarred belly, the lump between the joined, grown-together legs. "Go back now," she murmured, "go back to sleep. Go back, my dear, my own, my love, go back now, now I know, now I know. . . ."
Hamid broke from his paralysis and left the room, the house, striding blindly out into the luminous midsummer night. He was very angry with her, for using him; presently with himself, for being usable. His outrage began to die away as he walked. Stopping, seeing where he was, he gave a short, rueful, startled laugh. He had gone astray off the lane, following a path that led right into the Old Grove, a path he had never taken before. All around him, near and far, the huge trunks of the trees were almost invisible under the massive darkness of their crowns. Here and there the moonlight struck through the foliage, making the edges of the leaves silver, pooling like quicksilver in the grass. It was cool under the older trees, windless, perfectly silent.
Hamid shivered. "He'll be with you soon," he said to the
thick-bodied, huge-armed, deep-rooted, dark presences. "Pask and the
others know what to do. He'll be here soon. And she'll come here with
the baby, summer afternoons, and sit in his shade. Maybe she'll be
buried here. At his roots. But I am not staying here." He was walking
as he spoke, back toward the farmhouse and the quay and the channels
through the reeds and the roads that led inland, north, away. "If you
don't mind, I'm on my way, right away. . . ."
The olders stood unmoved as he hurried out from under them and strode down the lane, a dwindling figure, too slight, too quick to be noticed.
Theoretical physicist Richard Feynman died of cancer at the age of 70 in 1988, but his voice lives on. For that matter, so do his jokes. Addison-Wesley Publishing Company has recently released a condensed version of The Feynman Lectures on Physics titled Six Easy Pieces: Essentials of Physics Explained by Its Most Brilliant Teacher But the traditionally conservative publishing house didn't stop with the print version. Accompanying the text is an audio version that allows the listener to get a sense of what it must have been like to be one of Feynman's young students in the early Sixties.
From 1961 to 1963, Richard Feynman taught the freshman physics course at California Institute of Technology. Because of Feynman's reputation as a prankster and congenial showman, and because the Genius," as he's become known, rarely taught classes, the course has become a part of physics folklore and is a great source of pride for Caltech. To give it even more weight, the series culminated in a three-volume book The Feynman Lectures on Physics, which has become standard reading for budding physicists.
The staff of Addison-Wesley had inspiration for the project after a
former Caltech doctoral student told them that the university still had
150 tapes from the lecture series in its archives. "We had always
assumed that the tapes had been destroyed," says Jack Repcheck, a
former Addison-Wesley editor, who is now an editor at Princeton
University Press. "When we found that was not the case, we wanted to
give people a taste of them."
The entertainer Feynman seems a good study for a project combining science and the CD-ROM industry. Robert Biewen, president of W. H. Freeman Publishing advocates the use of CD-ROM in science. "CD-ROM and science make sense when you are able to show something that is important to a concept or idea," he says.
Biewen, who is encouraging his editors to look for books which would translate well to CD-ROM, says the company doesn't plan to simply repeat a book on CD-ROM, but complement it. "We're targeting books which we think can communicate better through the power of CD-ROM and moving objects," he says, "to do things that are impossible on the static, printed page." Freeman's Stephen J. Hawkings's A Brief History of Time CD-ROM is the company's first consumer-oriented science disc.
W. H. Freeman has already published a number of CD-ROMs for its textbook division. According to Biewen, the CDs offer on-screen tutorials and projection capabilities that can be used to instruct an entire class. Biewen explains that while the CD-ROMs are expensive to develop, the process and final product are fascinating.
The attributes of mixing multimedia and science are certainly not lost on CD-ROM publisher Voyager. The New York-based company has published a series of science discs called "First Person," in which users have the opportunity to hear scientists "think out loud." Indeed, Marvin Minsky invites the user into his own living room and, using video and graphics, leads the student through the text of "The Society of Mind." On his CD titled "On Evolution," Stephen Jay Gould helps the user hunt for answers to such riddles as "Who was the naturalist on board the Beagle?" and "Why didn't Darwin use the word `evolution'?" Donald Norman acts as a video host for his CD "Defending Human Attributes in the Age of the Machine."
It's clear from these CDS that fans of science have much to gain as publishers explore the potential of the technology, as science writers begin to write with the medium in mind, and as scientists move beyond the blackboards and the books and come out of the laboratories.
Catherine just can't explain it. She has no idea why she felt so compelled to keep on. driving that night after leaving the Boston night-club where she worked as a receptionist. It was after midnight and she had driven past Somerville, where she lives. Nor does she know why she got off the highway about 10 miles to the north, or why she drove around Saugus and momentarily got lost in a wooded area. But after finding her way out, she noted that it was 2:45 in the. morning - at least 45 minutes later than it should have been.
Feeling anxious, she raced back home. The next day, on local news, she learned that dozens of people throughout. the Northeast had reported a UFO, including a policeman and his wife who had seen an object stop overhead and shine a light on them. Astronomers said the object was a shooting star.
A few weeks later, Catherine decided to contact Harvard psychiatrist
John Mack, author of the 1977 Pulitzer Prize-winning biography of T. E.
Lawrence and known most recently for his outspoken interest in the UFO
abduction phenomenon. In a series of hypnotic regression sessions, Mack
helped Catherine unlock a lifetime of apparent abduction memories,
beginning at the age of three and culminating in that murky night just
weeks before at the age of 22.
Catherine did not enjoy finding out what had happened to her in the woods on the night of March 6, 1991. "I don't want to be there," a very frightened Catherine told Mack while under hypnosis. "I want to drive out."
But she could not. Her car had apparently come to a stop and her body had gone numb. Then suddenly her door had opened. "There is a hand reaching out to get me," Catherine recalled. "It's long and thin and it's only got three fingers." A being With huge, black, almond-shaped eyes then took her from the car, and the two of them were swept up in a beam toward a huge metallic ship.
The alien abductor, the story goes, then took Catherine inside, into a hallway, where four other beings were waiting. When they began pulling at her clothes, she got annoyed. "Stop it," she recalled thinking. "I'm perfectly capable of doing this myself, thank you." Once naked, Catherine was led into an enormous room "the size of an airplane hangar."
She saw rows and rows of tables everywhere. "There are hundreds of humans in. here," she told Mack under hypnosis. "And they're all having things done to them." The rows were about five feet apart, she noted, and anywhere from a third to half the tables had humans on them. She estimates there were between 100 and 200 people in that room. But in the mass of bodies and blank faces she remembers one of them specifically - the one on the table to her left. He was a black man with a beard.
Catherine was forced to sit up on her table and the beings then began running their fingers down her spine. The terrifying examination had begun.
The, rest of Catherine's traumatic UFO experience appears in John Mack's controversial book, Abduction: Human Encounters with Aliens, and is rather typical of such stories. But one detail in her story stands out like a Gulliver in Lilliput - that bit about the hundreds of other humans she saw aboard the alien craft that night. And Catherine is by no means alone among alleged abductees in reporting the presence of large numbers of humans aboard the alien crafts.
What accounts like these suggest is that the phenomenon actually involves mass abductions. It appears, as in Catherine's tale, that large numbers of people are being taken, one by one, to central locations that serve as holding facilities for dozens, perhaps hundreds, of others during the same period of time. If the other abductees' stories are true, moreover, sometimes entire groups of people are taken all at once.
Reports of this phenomenon, in fact, confirm some people's worst fears about the alien endeavor. Could we all be pawns in some weird extraterrestrial breeding scheme to repopulate a dying alien world? Or is the entire human race being unwillingly drafted into some hideous alien genetic experiment to produce alien human hybrias? Whatever the case, one thing seems clear: Quite a large number of us are potential targets.
"The phenomenon is not, as the general public tends to believe, an occasional `there's one, let's get him' sort of thing on the part of the aliens," explains David Jacobs, a Temple University historian specializing in twentieth-century U.S. history and the author of the book, Secret Life. Instead, he asserts, we have a mass abduction program taking place covertly. The notion of a secret invasion inevitably springs to mind.
"What we have here," says Jacobs, "is a continual abduction
scenario. It's very much like an assembly line. The aliens get them in.
They go into a waiting area where they see other people sitting around.
They get shown to a table. There are all sorts of people lying on the
tables as various stages of different procedures are being run on them.
Then they get them up, get them out, and new people arrive. It's a
The extraordinary number of people supposedly going through that revolving door should, it seems, help cement the case for the reality of the phenomenon. If multiple participants are involved in an abduction, the logic goes, then the experience cannot be the product of one individual's fantasy or hallucination In fact, the mass abduction cases seem to offer believers a golden opportunity to cross-check the details of the abduction experience from independent perspectives and develop the proof the critics have always demanded.
These mass abductions certainly appear to take place often enough. Jacobs estimates that abductees see other humans aboard the craft in half, if not most, of the cases. And one out of every four alleged abduction episodes involves multiple participants, according to Thomas Bullard, a folklorist whose 1987 University of Indiana doctoral dissertation exhaustively analyzed about 300 published abduction accounts.
Bullard found that while approximately half of these
multiple-participant abduction cases involved just two people - usually
family members or friends - the other half involved either three, four,
or more people who claimed to have been taken at once. There are even
cases in which seven or more people have reportedly been abducted in a
single episode. The situation led Bullard to lament wryly that,
apparently, "there's just no safety in numbers."
One of the earliest mass abduction cases on record actually involved nine people and took place one summer some 40 years ago near Crater Lake, Oregon; it was not, however, reported to a UFO organization until 1982. The participants were a 32-year-old woman known only as Mrs. R., her 15-year-old brother, 10-year-old sister, two daughters and a stepdaughter aged 10 to 13, two younger nephews, and Mrs. R.'s 53-year-old mother.
The witnesses remembered that while looking for a gas station they had come upon what appeared to be a restaurant. Their car engine sputtered and coasted into a parking area where three or four other cars were parked. The "building" was round and lighted and the interior was circular. Mrs. R. remembered commenting to her mother that the place was "really unbelievable." The family then sat down at one of the tables and apparently ordered a meal from short, slender people with blond hair who all looked alike and wore identical silver uniforms and boots that sported the same emblem. "When I think about it now," said Mrs. R.'s mother almost two decades later, "I have a funny feeling like maybe we were a surprise to them."
Mrs. R. thinks they ate and paid their bill before leaving. Though the car would not start immediately, it sort of "coasted" onto the highway first and only then got underway. When the family reached the next town, Mrs. R. discovered that they had not spent any money and that no one in town had ever heard of such a restaurant. Though the family returned tb search for it, they never found it.
"I know I was in a UFO," said Mrs. R. almost three decades after the
experience, though that realization did not begin to register with her
until about 1969, when she started recalling the incident and
discussing it with her family.
Perhaps the best documented of all mass abduction cases involves four young men who were canoeing along the Allagash Waterway in the wilderness of northern Maine on August 26, 1976. Under hypnosis, all four experienced missing time and relived a detailed and amazingly similar UFO abduction episode. This case, which was thoroughly investigated by Raymond Fowler, is unique in the annals of UFO research in that it provides four separate, mutually collaborating accounts of the same event.
It went something like this: On the fifth day of their canoe trip, Jim and Jack Weiner, Charlie Foltz, and Chuck Rak decided to replenish their now-scarce food supply by doing a little night fishing. Before sliding their canoe into the water, they prepared a large bonfire in order to find their way back to camp in the pitch dark wilderness.
They were halfway across a cove when they saw a silent, large,
bright sphere of colored light at treetop level about 200 yards away.
When Charlie began flashing his flashlight at it, the object began
moving toward them. Then, as the sphere - now only about 50 feet above
the Water - approached, the canoeists decided to head for solid ground
and began paddling quickly toward shore. Their paddling became
increasingly frantic when the object emitted a beam of light that
advanced on their canoe.
The next thing Charlie Foltz and Jim Weiner remembered was standing at the campsite watching the object move away. Chuck Rak remembers staying in the canoe and watching it disappear. Jack Weiner remembers first madly trying to outrun the beam of light, then calmly getting out of the canoe.
He finds it odd that they would be in such a hurry one moment and so calm the next. After the object disappeared the four walked up the beach to find that the huge bonfire they had left just 15 or so minutes before was now all coals. Jim thought the large logs they had set on the fire should have burned for two to three hours.
The four men had no memory of what happened during the time it took the bonfire to burn down. And several years would pass before Jim and Jack began to experience a series of strange dreams of alien abductors that would eventually lead them to seek help from UFO investigator Raymond Fowler in May 1988. Over the next two years Fowler hypnotized each of the four men independently and elicited a strangely congruent testimony about being plucked from the water by a beam of light, taken aboard the craft, and forced to undergo medical examinations by aliens.
Each of the four men recalled seeing the other three on board the alien craft. "They were all made to sit on a bench in the nude," says Fowler, "and they watched one after the other being taken off the bench. Some of the examination was done within eyesight of the others and some of it was done after they were taken around the corner from the bench. But when you put it all together like a picture puzzle, you find that everybody is describing the same event from different standpoints."
Fowler went on to produce a 10-volume, 702-page study of this case
and subsequently published a book, The Allagash Abductions, as well.
All of the Allagash witnesses are of sound mind and reputation,"
concludes Fowler. "They not only tell essentially the same story, but
under hypnosis they relive it with all the trauma and emotions that
would be expected of a real physical event. I think the evidence here
is undeniable and would stand up in court if we were only dealing with
an automobile accident or something like that. But when you are talking
about something as bizarre as UFO abductions, people find that very,
very hard to believe."
Even harder to believe is a case that appears to involve a mass, abduction of hundreds of people in New York City late in the summer or early fall of 1992. The case is currently being investigated by Budd Hopkins, who is probably better known as a UFO researcher than as a modern artist these days.
The story first emerged during one of Hopkins' support group meetings for abductees. One person, Mary, was telling the group about a very vivid dream she had had, though she wasn't sure it was a dream. She recalled being in some sort of huge space filled with what appeared to be "people-movers" and many, many humans, all completely naked. The scene somewhat resembled the physical at a selective service exam. And there was a kind of escalator, taking people up to another floor.
At that point, two other abductees in the group, Bill and Joan,
became extremely agitated and said, "Oh gee, I've had a dream just like
Hopkins immediately cut off the conversation so that he could explore their experiences individually Later, when Hopkins probed into Joan's dream under hypnosis, she recalled the same large space, a strange chart on the wall, and, most incredibly, seeing both Mary and Bill there as well, totally naked. Typically, both looked "out of it" to her.
"Carl Sagan always has the idea that you are going to dash around and steal an alien cocktail napkin or something for evidence as you dash out of the place," notes Hopkins, "as if abductees had all their senses intact. But in this, as in other situations, the abductees were in an altered state."
Joan remembers having a perfunctory conversation with Mary in which they expressed surprise at seeing each other there. Hopkins then asked Joan what Mary looked like naked. Joan said that Mary was very round-shouldered and that she had a big long scar at the bikini line.
Mary, as it happens, is extremely found-shouldered and always wears shoulder pads. And she does have a big long scar; it comes from a bladder operation she had as a child. Joan did not see Bill closely, but Hopkins asked her if he had much chest hair Joan said no, and, in fact, he doesn't.
Bill's description of the experience under hypnosis was much the same as Joan's. He also saw a chart on the wall, and though his recollection of it is somewhat different, Hopkins is convinced they are describing the same object. Under hypnosis, Mary was less clear about the episode than the other two, but, as Hopkins points out, she generally doesn't have the recall that other people tend to have.
Hopkins has not explored how the three were "abducted" or how they were returned, and he will not describe the strange chart seen by Bill and Joan, nor the "space" the event itself took place in; he prefers to keep such details to himself as a check on the authenticity of future cases.
"It's a very good case," explains Hopkins, "because there is
literally no way that they knew about this stuff. None of the three is
a friend of the other two in any intimate way. They only know of each
other from the support group. So here we are again stuck with one of
two possibilities. Either they have cooked this up as a hoax, in which
case you have three virtual sociopaths because there is nothing in it
for them. Or it happened;"
While it's certainly difficult to believe that vast numbers of humans are being abducted in this way on a regular basis, there is, surprisingly enough, some data to corroborate these harrowing anecdotal reports. Several surveys conducted over the past decade indicate that millions of Americans have experienced something that UFO researchers think suggests the possibility of abduction by alien beings.
In a 1991 Roper survey, the most impressive of the polls, 119 people of the almost 6,000 questioned revealed they had experienced what UFO investigators call an alien abduction. If the numbers are extrapolated to the entire population of the United States, this translates to a staggering five million abductees.
The Roper poll, of course, is problematic. It has been severely criticized on the grounds that the five so-called key indicators of an abduction experience - reporting unusual lights in a room, missing. time, flying through the air without knowing why, paralysis in the presence of strange bedroom figures, or puzzling scars on the body - may not in fact mean that an abduction has occurred. Psychologists point out that most of these experiences can also be caused by the little-known but quite common phenomenon of sleep paralysis and the various kinds of hallucinations that accompany it.
But David Jacobs, one of the authors of the poll, begs to differ
with his critics. He and Hopkins, Jacobs explains, had thoroughly
pre-tested nine of the eleven abduction-related questions on that poll.
And those nine were questions most frequently answered positively by
abductees, not nonabductees. (The other two questions tested the
reliability of the poll. One of them, for instance, was a fake
question, which gave the pollsters an idea of how many people had the
impulse to answer positively no matter what was asked. The responses
from the 1 percent who responded positively to this question were not
included in the final results.)
"When we first got the numbers, the raw statistics," tics," says Jacobs, "the numbers were ridiculously high - 7 percent, 8 percent. It was politically unacceptable. So we decided to look only at the answers to the best five questions - those we considered to be the highest indicators for an abduction - and didn't consider people potential abductees unless they answered four or all five of those questions positively. By doing that, we got the numbers down to a politically acceptable 2 percent. The best we can say is that about one out of every 50 Americans has had experiences consistent with what abductees have had. That indicates that an awful lot of people out there have had abduction experiences. And this of course is consistent with what the abductees themselves tell us. They come into a room and they see 50, 75, or 100 other people lying on tables, and they report a constant stream of people. And we figure it's twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week."
But to critics, millions of abduction reports actually prove the
opposite - that there are just too many of them for the phenomenon to
be real. That's what Robert Durant, a commercial pilot with a long
interest in UFOs, thought at first. But when he decided to put his
doubts to the test by figuring out how large a work force the aliens
would need to carry out the millions of abductions the Roper survey
suggested were taking place, he began to think the mass abduction
scenario was at least plausible.
"I began very skeptically," notes Durant, I thought no way could these numbers be correct. But I decided to work through the math to see what I would come up with. I began by assuming that abductions are real physical events carried out systematically by a large work force. If this is the case, then the shop-floor parameters relevant to a shoe factory or medical facility ought to apply equally well to the case of an alien abduction program carried out on a host planet."
To avoid comparisons with other fanciful exercises, like counting the number of dancing angels on the head of a pin, Durant searched the literature for actual data points to plug into his equation. How often does the typical abductee claim to be abducted? Though this varies widely, he found that 10 times was not an unreasonable number. At what age do abductions begin and cease? Typically, they begin around age 5 and end by age 55, he discovered. How long did abductions take to accomplish? The periods of missing time reported by abductees range from minutes to days, but most are on the order of two hours. How many aliens does it take to perform an abduction? It's rare, he learned, for more than six aliens to be involved in any one abduction event.
Based on that data, Durant came up with some hair-raising numbers
about the required "alien work force." If five million abductees have
experienced 10 abductions over the last 50 years, then an astonishing
one million abductions take place per year, or 2,740 per day in the
United States alone. If a team of six aliens is required to perform
each two-hour abduction, Durant figured that each team could then
perform 12 abductions a day. So to perform 2,740 abductions a day, he
calculated that the aliens would need 288 teams, or a total of 1,370
Even if you double these figures to account for the fact that most abductions take place at night rather than 24 hours a day, the bottom line, Durant discovered, was that "about 500 crews, totaling about 3,000 aliens could do the job." While these figures may appear large, if you compare them with the numbers needed to man naval vessels, says Durant - 5,500 for an aircraft carrier and about 350 for a destroyer - the whole thing begins to look, well, plausible. "The Way the math worked out kind of knocked me back a bit," he admits. "This is extremely troubling to me because while I'm a total believer in UFOs, I don't buy the physical abduction scenario. And there's no way I'm saying my analysis proves abductions are real, because after all these years, we still don't have a shred of tangible proof."
But Durant's number-crunching exercise was just the beginning. Before long, Dennis Stacy, editor of a monthly UFO publication, The MUFON Journal, had picked up the ball. Doing some math. of his own, he came to conclude the numbers didn't work. By his reckoning, in fact, the alien work force required was way beyond the limits of possibility.
"If the phenomenon is global in nature, as it appears to be," says
Stacy, "then the 1 million abductions a year in the United States grows
to 22 million abductions worldwide. You would then need at least 11,000
alien crews, for a total of 66,000 aliens, to carry out the task, and
of course, 11,000 UFOs overhead at any given hour." And if you take
into account the need for support crews, reasonable shifts, and such,
notes Stacy the numbers, like the Eveready Rabbit, "keep on growing and
growing and growing."
For Stacy, the ridiculously large numbers point to an obvious conclusion. "There must be a terrestrial, that is, psychological in nature, rather than extraterrestrial origin to the abduction experience," he says. "The argument that some 200 million people have been abducted aboard physical flying craft in, say, the last decade or so, is simply unsupportable in terms of common sense and logic. What imaginable need of non-terrestrial science would this serve? And think of the logistics such a fantastic undertaking would involve. UFOs would be stacked up over the world's major metropolitan areas, awaiting landing and abduction rights, like so many 747s. The scale of such an invasion would be impossible for any government to plausibly ignore or cover up."
If the numbers don't make sense, then how do we explain the mass
abduction memories of people like Mary, Bill, Joan, Jack, Jim, Chuck,
and Charlie? William Cone, a clinical psychologist with a private
practice in Newport Beach, California, has done a lot of research on
abductees and thinks that while some cases of mass abduction are quite
impressive, many can be explained as "contamination."
Look for instance, he says, at the Allagash case - the one involving the four men in the canoe. "It's interesting that all of these guys were heavily interested in UFOs and abductions before ever going to see Fowler. They all knew about abductions, and they walked in to Fowler, who they knew had written other books on the subject. They walked in with a pre-set mind of We saw something, we have missing time, so we must have been abducted. And this happens again and again. I find it interesting that 12 years went by when they didn't worry about it, until they read some UFO books.
"The other thing I find incredible," Cone continues, "is that these four guys who have been buddies for all these years go through abduction regression therapy, get all these memories, and manage not to talk about it to their buddies for a year, until they've all been hypnotized. If you were my buddy and that had happened to me, I think I'd tell you. So when they say we didn't talk to each other, I don't buy that. But I think they really did see something. They really did have an experience. But whether it's an abduction experience, I don't know."
Cone ventures a similar explanation for the mass abduction case of
1992 in New York City, which first appeared in a support group meeting
of abductees at Budd Hopkins' home. "There is a great deal of
contamination in this field," notes Cone, "especially in support
groups. We've known since the days of the nineteenth-century French
physician Jean Martin Charcot that support groups contaminate memory.
It's no secret, but somehow UFO researchers, not being mental health
professionals, have never bothered to look at this. They think these
people are getting support, but what they are doing is reaffirming
their own fantasies. I hear this all the time in hospitals I work at.
You put somebody in the support group, and the next day they have their
neighbor's story. I think a lot of that is going on."
In fact, an examination of the literature reveals that those reporting shared abduction experiences virtually always know one another beforehand, or contact one another before giving their stories to independent investigators. Because of this, researchers can never really prove there had been no collaboration, either consciously or unconsciously, between the alleged abductees. The ideal case would involve two or more people who did not know each other but who gave collaborating details of the same abduction incident to independent investigators. There is no such case. Of course, if the reports of mass abductions were literally true, there should, infact, be dozens, hundreds, even thousands of such cases in the files of UFO investigators.
David Jacobs tries to explain why there are none. "The secret aspect
of the phenomenon," he says, "is remarkably efficient and
extraordinarily effective. The way in which the alien program is
instituted militates against having a lot of cases from the same day.
And so does the way in which we find out about cases. Most people who
have had abduction experiences don't really know what has happened to
them. They might know that an odd thing has happened here or there, but
linking it to a UFO abduction is not something most of them would
probably do. So of all the abductees out there we only hear from about
.001 percent of them. But every once in a while we'll have a case where
somebody who is an abductee will come up to another person and say, `I
know you. I've seen you before. And they will trace it back to an
abduction event they have shared."
Jacobs does not look to such experiences for verification of the existence of the abduction phenomenon, however, having long ago moved beyond verification in search of answers to such questions as, Who are they?, Where do they come from?, and What do they want with us? "Yes, some people still want to be persuaded," admits Jacobs. "But it's not something that I spend a lot of time on, because for me that's a little bit of wheel spinning. I realize that for others this is extremely important, but I can't be too much bothered with that because it takes a lot of time and effort and it keeps me away from researching what I think are more important ,aspects of the phenomenon."
For Jacobs, it's the little details in the abduction stories - the kind that have no reason for being there unless they really happened - that tell him this is real. "Just last night," he says, citing one example, "I did a session with a guy who saw maybe 15 other people aboard. He was abducted with his wife and two kids. He remembers being in line with a group of people, and once they went into the waiting area, they took their clothes off. He noted in front of him an older guy, heavy set, and bald with just a fringe of hair on his head. He told me in passing that there was a mole on his left shoulder."
A mole on his left shoulder. To Jacobs, that kind of detail just smacks of a real, rather than an imagined event, But such details will never be enough to convince the rest of the world that Catherine, Jack, Jim, Chuck, Mary, Bill, Joan, and millions of other humans have been abducted by aliens. Something more is needed, something more than what any abduction case, or mass abduction case, for that matter, has yet been able to provide: a shred of physical evidence. If there have been millions of abductions, it seems as if by now, we'd have come up with something certifiably alien - a lab tool, a tunic, a skin sample, a heretofore unknown universal law, or yes, even a measly cocktail napkin.
Human conduct, though often mystifying, is never so perplexing as in the case of the pure psychopath - a "cold-blooded" person who instinctively resorts to lying, cheating, stealing, and perhaps murder without a trace of remorse. How can one in 100 people, by some estimates, turn out this way, incapable of experiencing normal emotions, incapable of feeling love or compassion for others - traits considered the essence of humanity? The answer may lie in faulty mental wiring. Numerous experiments show psychopaths have different physiological responses to stimuli from normals and also employ different mental processes while performing simple tasks.
For more than 25 years, University of British Columbia psychophysiologist Robert Hare, author of Without Conscience, has been probing the minds of psychopaths. In experiments in the Sixties, he and his colleagues measured the responses of psychopaths and normal subjects prior to administering mild electric shocks. Unlike the normals, the psychopaths showed no anticipatory anxiety (measured in terms of sweaty palms) before the shocks. "They weren't apprehensive at all," Hare says. "One might infer that threats of punishment have little effect - something that seems to be true in the real world as well."
Like many other research psychologists, Sven Christianson at the University of Stockholm believes conventional emotional constructs don't apply to psychopaths. In a study with Hare, Adelle Forth of Carleton University, and others, Christianson showed participants 15 color slides and later tested their memory of the scenes. The eighth slide appeared in two versions: one showed a woman riding a bicycle in front of two cars; the other, the same woman lying beside the bicycle with blood oozing from her head, the same two cars in the background. Normal subjects remembered the emotional slide more vividly and paid more attention to more central rather than peripheral details. Psychopaths did not show the same focus and so didn't remember one slide better than the other. "Since the psychopath feels nothing for the woman immersed in blood, he doesn't find the image noteworthy" Christianson says.
Another study by Hare and his group points to similar emotional deficits. In a "lexical decision" task, subjects were presented a string of letters and asked if it were a word or not. Response times and brain waves were measured. Nonpsychopaths identified emotionally charged words like "cancer" or "rape" more quickly than neutral words like "tree" or "plate." And their EEG responses to the emotional words were larger and more prolonged. "When you see the letters c-a-n-c-e-r," says Hare, "you say, `Yes, that's a word,' but you also conjure up images, make associations." Psychopaths don't do that. Whether the word is "paper" or "murder" their response times and EEG patterns do not differ.
At the Bronx VA Medical Center, assistant chief of psychiatry Joanne Intrator and her colleagues used a SPECT imaging machine to measure blood flow in the brains of both psychopath substance abusers, nonpsychopath substance abusers, and control subjects who were asked to perform a word-identification task. Psychopaths used a different strategy to identify emotional words compared to the other groups. "This and other studies suggest that psychopaths process and use language and emotion in a very `superficial' manner," says Hare, a collaborator. Control subjects showed coordinated activity in the frontal cortex, temporal lobes, and amygdala, areas thought to play a role in the integration of thoughts and feelings. "We seem to be targeting the same areas other researchers think may be important for the development of a moral sense and conscience," Hare adds.
Hare and his colleagues are conducting MRI studies to determine whether the anomalies in mental processing are due to underlying structural or functional problems. "New techniques from cognitive neuroscience are opening a window into what's going on here," Hare says. "It looks like there might be a neurophysiological basis for this coldblooded, predatory behavior that has baffled us for so long."
It was the fictional Sherlock Holmes who noted that "the game is afoot." He didn't have UFOs in mind, obviously, but a more elusive quarry could hardly be imagined.
If modern-day UFO detectives are to be successful, they'll want to bring the best available hardware and software to bear on their prey. In this installment, we'll review the basic hardware you'll want to carry into the field. From flashlight and camera to the always handy compass, we'll describe the basic equipment any self-respecting UFO hunter needs. As we focus on tools in the months that follow, we'll supplement this basic tool kit with user-friendly software; a high-tech wish list; an access guide to a potpourri of research tools from maps to mailing lists and databases; and even instructions for procuring government documents and powering onto the Internet.
While some tools are absolutely required, others are optional. Some
are easy to come by - the basic compass, for instance - while others
can be acquired only after careful research or trips to a specialty
store. In the chapter that follows we'll make general recommendations.
Remember, however, especially where electronic and optical equipment is
concerned, that prices and quality can vary widely. Also, there's no
requirement that you pay retail dollar for any specific tool. Bargains
abound out there, from the classified section of your local newspaper
to specialist mail-order catalogs, discount warehouses, and army
surplus stores. The sky's the limit when it comes to UFO-detection
equipment, but so is personal creativity. Some of you may even want to
build or jerry-rig tools of your own. In the end, your basic UFO tool
kit can be as simple or sophisticated as you like, depending on your
budget and your needs. But no UFO sleuth can skip the essentials, and
that is where we begin.
The absolute necessities of any UFO investigator's tool kit start with what I call the three P's - pen or pencil and paper. A written record of your investigation, which includes personal notes and witness interviews, is absolutely essential. No matter how reliable the brand name, electronic equipment is always subject to potential disaster. Tapes break, batteries fail, cameras and recorders get dropped, especially under. field conditions. And while cameras and camcorders can offer documentary exactitude, the sun sets and it can also rain - all outside your control.
The paper, of course, should be in notebook, as opposed to loose-leaf, form. I prefer a little 5-by-8-inch pad, instead of letter or legal sizes, because it's easier to drop in a vest or jacket pocket when you're done with it.
And please remember when you're out in the field: Your notebook can double as a sketchpad. Alongside your own written notes, be sure to sketch the horizon of the sighting scene, noting any visible landmarks, such as power lines, trees, or water towers. Then ask the witness or witnesses to draw in the shape of the object when first sighted and its trajectory, and ask them to date and sign it.
A reliable compass will come in handy at this point. Determine magnetic north and indicate same on your sketch. Directional findings are most useful for eliminating known objects and phenomena like planets, airplane flight patterns, and so on, but they can also literally point you in the direction of additional witnesses. Like pocket change, a good compass can serve two utilitarian purposes. Besides giving directions, it can also act as a crude magnetometer, a device for measuring changes in local magnetic fields, although obviously it can't determine the strength or degree of that change.
But assume that you're investigating a UFO case in which associated electromagnetic Magnetic effects have been reported, such as the stalling of a car's engine or the failure of its electrical system. It's still possible to make a preliminary assessment of magnetic-field fluctuations or variations using nothing more elaborate than a good, reliable compass, previously calibrated, or confirmed, as indicating true north. The technique is fairly simple; in fact, it was even laid out as early as 1968 in the University of Colorado's Scientific Study of Unidentified Flying Objects, otherwise known as the Condon Report.
Here's how it might work. Take the car (or any other nearby piece of
metal) reportedly affected, and, using your compass at a distance, note
its present magnetic orientation. Now take at least ten or fifteen
similar readings at evenly spaced intervals, say every ten to fifteen
inches, around the perimeter of the hood or trunk of the car. If you're
facing the car, for example, take your first measurement just behind
the front left headlight and proceed parallel tb the left side of the
car until you reach the hood hinge in front of the windshield. Continue
to take and record readings from the left side of the car to the
driver's side, then proceed forward until you end just behind the right
headlight, having executed an upside-down U. Carefully record magnetic
north or the deviation from magnetic north at each point.
Crude as they may be, these 15 or so "soundings" represent a sort of magnetic signature," so to speak. To confirm that any significant magnetic field was actually encountered (or altered), a comparison test should be run on a control car of the same year and model, using the same compass and taking readings at the same evenly spaced points, or intervals. Remember to orient the control car (or other metallic object) in the same direction as the originally affected car. Another word of caution: Don't place the compass directly on the car hood or Other metal object being tested; instead, insert your paper notebook (or some other non-conductive material) between the two.
Expect to pay no more than $15 for a good-quality compass. For another $20 or so, Forestry Suppliers (800-360-7788), an engineering supply house, offers compasses calibrated to the northern hemisphere with luminous dials and built-in clinometer for measuring heights and slopes of up to 90 degrees. In addition, the company also sells a 214-page instruction manual for beginners unfamiliar with how to read maps and compasses ($11.95).
Next month we'll cover the subject of maps in detail, but for now,
sketch out your own map, indicating any prominent landmarks. If you
happen to have a detailed map of the region, make notations on that as
The witness should also indicate the angle at which any UFO was seen, This can only be an approximation at best, obviously, but it still remains useful in post-investigative terms. For example, if Venus or the brightest star in the heavens, Sirius, can be shown to have been in the same general direction and altitude at the same time as the reported UFO, then Venus or Sirius becomes at least a prime candidate or suspect. Again, this can be determined by handing the notebook to the witness and letting him or her determine the angle as best as possible. Later, a common plastic protractor, available from graphic and art supply houses, can be used to arrive at the approximate angle.
For the next tool of the trade, just look in your pocket. I'll bet anything you can stick your hand in and pull out a few coins. Take that dime and simply ask the eyewitness to hold it at arm's length and compare it to the apparent size of the object seen and reported. Was the UFO smaller or larger? (You may be surprised to find that two full moons can easily hide behind a single dime.) If distance can later be established with any degree of certainty, this could permit a reliable approximation of the object's actual size or diameter. You may substitute pennies, nickels, and quarters, or even the lid of a styrofoam cup as the situation warrants.
Another basic is also readily available: a supply of plastic bags,
preferably ones with a zip closure, especially if the UFO is reported
to have impacted the environment, leaving behind crushed vegetation or
ground indentations. Mark each sample bag with a permanent laundry
marker or masking tape and pen. Be sure to collect several control
samples as well, beginning nearby and moving progressively further from
the reported contact or landing site, carefully labeling each one and
indicating its position on a map, hand-drawn or otherwise, of the
immediate area. Ideally, these samples should be turned over to a
laboratory for analysis as soon as possible. If you can't afford to
hire a private laboratory on your own - and most of us can't - try
inquiring at the relevant department biology, chemistry, or; physics)
of your local college or university. You may also wish to contact one
of the established UFO organizations to see if they have someone on the
staff willing to assist in any material analysis. Request a copy of the
final report in exchange for your samples.
I would also recommend two flashlights - one penlight and one regular-size - with back-up batteries for both (as well as for any other battery-operated equipment). in a pinch, the penlight can be clamped between your teeth for note-taking or compass-reading at night. If your compass has luminous markings, they can be charged with a brief exposure of light. The larger light can be used for everything from illuminating a distant tree line to changing a flat tire in the middle of a field.
Some hunters like to pack a powerful, hand-held searchlight as a means of signaling" any approaching UFO. Readily available commercial models range in luminosity from 100,000 candlepower up to one million candlepower. The latter, 25 times brighter than an automobile headlight on high beam, is capable of spotting objects up to ten miles away. The Forestry Suppliers catalog carries spotlights ranging in price from approximately $30 to $65, although accessories like spare batteries and bulbs and a car cigarette-lighter attachment can add another $30 to $45 to the final cost.
The basic UFO hunter's field kit should also include an audio tape
recorder and a camera of some sort. These should be regarded as
necessary accessories to, not substitutes for, the already-mentioned
tools. I prefer a mini-cassette recorder because, like the smaller
notebook pad, it can easily be slipped into a shirt or coat pocket. Get
one with the most advanced features you can afford, beginning with
voice-activation and counter. The counter will prove extremely helpful
when it comes to transcribing your interviews later. Observe the Boy
Scout motto to always be prepared and never venture into the field with
new equipment, electronic or otherwise, which you haven't previously
tested and familiarized yourself with.
Like tape recorders, cameras come in a bewildering cornucopia of choice, each with its own advantages and drawbacks. Instant photographic process cameras, for example, convey immediacy at the expense of resolution and other photographic factors. They serve best as a sort of surrogate notepad. Photograph the site during daytime and have the witness draw the UFO on the actual print; then have him or her indicate the angle above the horizon of the UFO with an outstretched arm. Take two photographs of each scene, if you don't want the original marked over. If physical side effects have been reported, by all means document them with the camera if that's all you have. A picture, worth a potential thousand words, is better than no picture at all.
Thirty-five millimeter cameras have proliferated to such a degree in
recent years that it would be impossible to single out any specific
model as the agreed upon "best" for this or that purpose. Some
so-called "point-and-shoot" auto-focus cameras with built-in zoom
lenses and pop-up flash attachments virtually rival their
manufacturer's professional lines in terms of the final product. Again,
assume that much or most of your investigation will be conducted under
less than ideal conditions. Where photography is involved this means
low light levels. Consequently, your camera should have a built-in
flash or a "hot shoe" for attaching a separate flash unit. Flash
photography is notoriously tricky, however, and once again you should
familiarize yourself with taking pictures under various lighting
conditions' before venturing into the field. This applies even to the
newest generation of allegedly "idiot-proof" cameras. I would also
recommend you keep your camera loaded with a relatively high-speed
Color negative (as opposed to slide or transparency) film, one with an
ASA rating of 1000, 1600, or higher, especially if you think you may
have the opportunity to actually photograph a UFO yourself. What you
lose in terms of resolution you'll more than gain back in terms of
light-gathering capabilities. As with batteries, always take more film
than you think you'll need.
Photography is an art that can't be taught here, but you should be aware of at least two techniques. First, if aft all possible, be sure to include some reference point (a house or tree) in any UFO picture. A small speck of light against a dark backdrop is almost useless for analysis, no matter how big it's blown up or enlarged. If you don't see any immediate reference point through the viewfinder, try turning the picture angle from the normal horizontal view to a vertical one. If that doesn't work, trying zooming back from the UFO until a reference point does appear in the frame and snap your picture then.
The range of a typical zoom lens is from 28mm to 35mm (wide angle) to 105mm to 135mm when fully zoomed or telescoped. If you plan to use a larger telescopic lens, say, 2,00mm to 300mm, in order to achieve maximum magnification, be aware that you'll probably need a lightweight tripod for steadiness. It you're caught in the field without a tripod, steady the camera against some solid object, the roof of a car, for example, if available. In a pinch, use someone's shoulder.
Videocameras have advanced by leaps and bounds in recent years as
well, as far as basic features and capabilities are concerned. Most of
the major electronic manufacturers - Sony, Panasonic, and so on - now
offer off-the-shelf CCD (charge-coupled device) camcorders with 12x
zoom lenses capable of capturing reasonable images in low-light
conditions, usually one lux or better. Such cameras can typically be
found within the $700 to $900 price range, depending on included
features. If your budget permits, get one with "steadycam" (to
counteract vibration) and auto-focusing capabilities already on board.
Whether you're using a still camera or videocamera, I recommend that you take along a lightweight tripod. This will not only provide increased stability (and therefore sharpness) for any pictures taken, it will also free your hands and eyes for other activities. A tripod should be considered especially if your investigation involves an alleged UFO "hot spot," that is, circumstances under which a UFO is said to be roaming the immediate area, and could conceivably at virtually any moment.
Finally, you'll want a pair of binoculars with neckstrap and a star chart. Edmund Scientific (609-573-6858) carries the latter for only $2.75. As with cameras, binoculars come in a bewildering variety and price range. Opt for a comfortable combination of weight and optical quality, and expect to pay anywhere from $75 to $300. Binoculars are described by both their magnification power and lens diameter; thus, 7 x 50 binoculars give you a 50mm lens diameter with seven power magnification, adequate for UFO hunting.
Most independent investigators should be able to put together the basic kit above for about $1,000, assuming they start completely from scratch. But for those who already have a camera, binoculars, an mini-cassette recorder, start-up costs will be correspondingly lower.
Next month, look for our UFO hunters' wish list of the best high-tech goodies. But meanwhile, don't waste any time getting started. As one famous detective was fond of saying, "the game is afoot."
When all is said and sung, kiddie pop - from Barney's "I Love You" to old standards like "Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star" - may be brain food for the scientists and mathematicians of tomorrow. If, that is, the preschool children listening sing along and take up keyboard lessons.
According to a recently published study from the University of California-Irvine, preschoolers who participate in keyboard instruction and group singing dramatically enhance the intelligence network required for high-level math and science. Basically, these musical activities appear to strengthen links between brain neurons, building neural bridges used for spatial reasoning, says co-investigator, psychologist Frances H. Rauscher, formerly of the university's Center for Neurobiology of Learning and Memory.
This and other studies now underway emanated from earlier work of
co-investigator, physicist Gordon L. Shaw, UC-Irvine. Shaw and former
graduate student, Xiaodan Leng, created a neuronal model of the cortex.
This model proposed that musical activity and higher cognitive
functions share inherent neural firing patterns which are organized in
a highly structured, spatial-temporal code covering large cortical
While neuroscientists have yet to really look at the brain on a micro level, they can observe patterns. Still, the only way now to determine how certain activities influence others within the brain is to study the resulting behavior.
The preschooler study set out to do just that. The study involved 33 youngsters enrolled at two L.A. County preschools. Nineteen were provided with eight months of weekly keyboard instruction and daily group singing sessions; 14 did not receive any musical training.
In the 30-minute, daily singing sessions, the preschoolers chortled a variety of songs, from new hits to classic favorites. For the keyboard instruction, Eric L Wright of the Irvine Conservatory traded in the traditional A-B-C method of piano teaching and developed a series of mathematically oriented keyboard exercises. Numbers were assigned to fingers - the thumb being 1, index 2, and so on - as well as to the keys - C-1, D-2, and so on. "When you look at music, it truly is a mathematical production; we wanted to see the impact this mathematical approach would have," says Wright.
Rauscher then tested the children's spatial reasoning with a series of five tasks, including object assembly and animal pegs (assembling cardboard puzzle pieces into familiar objects) from the Wechsler Preschool and Primary Scale of Intelligence Revised Performance Subtest, and "Absurdities" (verbal descriptions of what is "wrong" or "silly" about a given picture) from the Stanford-Binet intelligence Scale.
The results: 17 of the 19 kids who received music lessons increased their spatial-temporal IQs by a 46 percent mean. Those children who received no music lessons only improved by a 6 percent mean, which is less than expected by chance. The study further suggests, says Rauscher, that other tasks which depend upon spatial-temporal processes - chess, geometry, sculpture, and the computer game Tetris - will probably also be enhanced by music training.
And even if your child shows no signs of becoming the next Mozart or Elvis Presley, the genius of an Albert Einstein or Madame Curie may be hiding behind those missed notes or sour chords just waiting to burst into equations.
Meet one Katharina Wilson, an attractive, intelligent, apparently well-adjusted, 34-year-old woman. Born in a small college town in the Deep South, Wilson now lives in Portland, Oregon, with her second husband, Erik. She sees herself as "an average American woman," a fitting self-description marred by just one fact: She also claims to be a UFO abductee.
At first glance, Wilson's story sounds rather typical of other abduction lore. She claims to have been abducted and reproductively traumatized since the age of six by small alien creatures with large black eyes. Then, in her late twenties, she decided to come out of the UFO closet and tell all.
What's different about Wilson's account, however, is in the way it comes to us - straight up. She has told her story - all of it, every dirty detail - on her own. It does not come to us secondhand, through a Budd Hopkins or a David Jacobs, to name just two of the most prominent UFO abduction researchers in this country. Instead, the story comes to us pure and wholly unfiltered in a book Wilson has written and published herself.
Why is this so important? Because hearing
about alien abductions directly from experiencers reveals aspects of
the phenomenon long ignored - or perhaps just swept under the carpet -
by most researchers. And in the end, these regularly hidden details may
be vital in determining the cause of the UFO abduction phenomenon.
Indeed, as a journalist who's investigated more than my fair share of UFO abductions, I've learned that many aspects of the so-called abduction phenomenon just don't make it into print. instead, most investigators inevitably process the stories, molding the accounts to fit the theories they favor or the patterns they expect to find. Things that don't fit their preconceived notion of what's really happening "out there" are often deliberately left out of subsequent retellings of the tale.
In the standard abduction scenario, a person may or may not have seen a UFO but is somehow whisked away from his or her home or car by small gray creatures and forced to undergo some sort of medical examination aboard a spaceship. The incident usually turns out to be one of many in the person's past involving it variety of reproductive assaults - semen sampling, artificial insemination, and fetus removal - resulting in the production of human/ alien starbabies that the ETs keep.
Generally lacking in the standard scenario, however, is the wide variety of other phenomena that the person often claims to have experienced as well - the psychic perceptions, the premonitions, the bedroom encounters with dead relatives, the ghosts, the time travel, and more. Despite what is often a nearly mindnumbing display of high strangeness, you would be hard pressed to find such descriptions in the published accounts.
In the standard abduction scenario, as brought to us by the experts," these messy details are summarily expunged. What we are left with is a cleaned-up story, a tale that stays unerringly "on mark," thus fitting the desired "alien" mold.
Of course, to some extent information selection happens, often unconsciously in every field of human inquiry. But in a protodiscipline like UFOlogy where the basic data is itself a subject of contention, this sort of filtering is particularly damaging.
Now all this has changed, thanks to The Alien Jigsaw, Katharina Wilson's courageous effort to buck the wave of censorship and tell all. In this brutally honest, firsthand account, Wilson describes a harrowing lifetime of encounters with what she sincerely believes are aliens. She holds nothing back, and provides numerous surprises along the way. To begin with she tells us of not one, or two, or a dozen abduction episodes, but an astounding 119 of them, occurring in a span of just 26 years. And her experiences involve not just your typical aliens, but also encounters with the dead, time-travel episodes, psychic experiences, and even a vision of an eight-foot-tall floating penguin - everything you can imagine and a whole lot more.
In the middle of one abduction episode, for example, Wilson somehow encounters her present husband as a young man, years before she met him. Later in the episode she is terrified when told by the aliens that it is 1957 - three years before she was born. Wilson also credits the aliens with saving her life; she twice had alien premonitions of nearly being killed by lightning, and on August 7, 1989 Wilson put on a pair of rubber-soled shoes just moments before lightning shattered the courtyard wall and nearly killed her.
I don't think Wilson is perpetrating a
hoax. If she were, she certainly would have left out the journal entry
dated August 4, 1992. "I'm with Senator Gore," Wilson wrote, "and we
are in a large room with many people. He is organizing something.
Governor Clinton must be here, too - now I'm looking directly at
President Bush. He really looks tired - beaten." When Wilson tells Gore
that she has never voted Republican, Bush looks at her "with a look of
disgust on his face." Later, she realizes that Gore and Clinton are
preparing a feast, and she watches as it grows larger and larger.
Following this journal entry, Wilson writes: "Although I did not remember seeing any alien beings associated with this encounter, it felt the same way all of my other visitations felt. It was extremely vivid." I asked Wilson if she had actually seen Bush, Gore, and Clinton.
"I hope not," she replied with just a touch of humor.
But that's a contradiction, I pointed out. You say your alien encounters are real and that this encounter with political figures was just as real as those you have with the aliens.
"Did I say that.?" she said. "Well, I don't think it was Gore because he was very short. I thought that was some form of camouflage." Wilson regards this episode as an alien-inspired vision of the Clinton and Gore win in November 1992.
Wilson also believes one of the beings
actually helped her with the book, pointing out before the book went to
press that she had transcribed five journal dates incorrectly.
Though some may think Wilson's account ridiculous, it is, in fact, typical of the sort of outre material that abductees consider part and parcel of their alien experiences. It's no wonder that investigators intent on proving the alien root of UFO abductions often leave such material out of their published stories. It clearly weakens their case.
What does Wilson think about her verboten account, so potentially damaging to the alien hypothesis and contrary to UFOlogy's unwritten code?
"Some people suggested that I cut out some of this material," she told me, "but I thought there is a lot more going on, and even though we don't understand it, it doesn't mean that it shouldn't be reported. As far as I know, this has not been done before. The book was really put out there for other experiencers, because I know they are experiencing things that they cannot account for by reading Budd Hopkins' Intruders and David Jacobs' Secret Life.
Despite her candid attitude, Wilson's ultimate conclusion echoes that of the abduction gurus: "The aliens are probably collecting ova," she opines, landing strictly within the standard-issue abduction scenario and sounding a lot like Budd Hopkins, who was the first to investigate her case back in 1988.
In fact, like Hopkins, who has penned the introduction for The Alien Jigsaw, Wilson tends to blame aliens for just about all the weirdness. "I know that penguins aren't eight feet tall, and they don't float in, midair," she explains. "That was an instance of camouflage and screen memory. And I don't really think dead people are visiting me. I think that's a form of alien manipulation. I do believe that the time travel is real, but I think there have been a few occasions where they manipulated, md into thinking that happened."
If you think about it, of course, the
surrealistic scenes described by Wilson have the fantastical feel of
dreams. Is she, in fact, recalling nocturnal images from the land of
dreamy dreams - concocted by a trick of consciousness, cooked in the
fires of REM, and transformed in the morning to a cocktail dish of
aliens, starbabies, and UFOs? When I ask Wilson for the temporal
context of her encounters, her response is typically straight-forward -
and telling. "I would have to say, that the last thing I remember prior
to most of these experiences," she said, "is going to bed."
Isn't that sequence - going to bed, falling asleep, getting abducted," and waking up - suggestive of the nightly journey we all take to the imagistic outback of the dream?
"That's a fair question," she replies. "But I happen to have dreams all the time and, even if I don't leave my bed, abductions and dreams just do not feel the same."
Whether Wilson is reporting from the land of Nod, the domain of aliens, or some other realm yet unknown, we may never know. But whatever the truth of the matter, it's time to applaud her tell-all book and attitude. Her story is, in fact, far more typical of abduction cases than we have been led to believe. And the only way to learn the truth behind the UFO abduction phenomenon is to let it all hang out.
Wilson's candid tale may have already opened the floodgates. Some researchers new to the field have begun to balk at the pre-packaged version of the abduction phenomenon we have been spoon-fed by the experts, and other abductees are beginning to step forward with stories of their own. A 24-year-old businessman from Harrison County, West Virginia, for example, has come forth claiming that he has been abducted by aliens at least 1,500 times.
Any theory attempting to explain the universe must rely on a special kind of inventory - a comprehensive survey of the celestial objects adorning the heavens. Just as a storekeeper regularly reviews and refines his inventory, astronomers have begun to update theirs, making new maps of the sky in wavelengths ran in from radio to x-ray. In contrast to traditional astronomical surveys, which photograph the entire sky in numerous, overlapping segments, most of the new surveys either in progress or planned will be digitized: Rather than just taking snapshots with cameras, astronomers now employ advanced detectors that measure the amount of light reaching us from all parts of the sky and then combine that information arithmetically to produce detailed images of the stars and galaxies distributed above.
While some astronomers move forward with these new surveys, others
work "backward" in a sense, digitizing old-fashioned photographs by
translating the information they contain into a string of numbers that
can be analyzed and manipulated by computers. A team at Maryland's
Space Telescope Science Institute (ST Scl) is currently digitizing
recent pictures of the Southern Hemisphere sky taken by an
Anglo-australian observatory, as well as the contents of the Second
Palomar Observatory Sky Survey, a new atlas that includes nearly 3,000
photographs of the northern sky. (The first Palomar survey was
completed in 1957.) Interestingly, these pictures are stored on glass
plates rather than film, because film can bend and thus distort the
positions of celestial objects. The ST Scl group expects to finish
scanning both sets of plates by 1998 or 1999.
The ST Scl-Palomar collaboration makes tremendous sense to George Djorgovski, an astronomer at the California Institute of Technology and the Palomar Observatory. Computer technology, he says, provides "a way of milking the data for all it's worth and, in fact, more than it was worth originally."
Once digitized, the Palomar survey will contain an unprecedented amount of astronomical data - three terabytes, enough information to fill six million books. The project will ultimately identify two billion stars and 50 million galaxies.
The big challenge comes in trying to process all that information. "In the past, people haven't been able to analyze data as fast as they can collect it," says Usama Fayyad, a computer scientist at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California. To avoid a similar bottleneck, Fayyad, Djorgovski, and Nick Weir, an astronomer formerly at Caltech and Palomar, have developed a new software program called SKICAT that automatically finds and classifies sky objects while noting their position and brightness. In the old days, astronomers spent untold hours staring at plates through a microscope or magnifying glass, counting little dots and charting their position with a ruler. SKICAT not only automates the process, it also does the job more quickly and more accurately than humans. "Historical classification tasks that took years can now be done in a matter of hours," Weir says.
ST Scl intends to put the catalog entries online, making them accessible to anyone with a modem. And after the second Palomar photos are completely digitized, Djorgovski and his colleagues at Caltech plan to digitize the first Palomar survey. By comparing recent pictures of the sky to those taken years ago, astronomers can study transient phenomena such as supernova bursts, quasars, and variable stars. "Who knows what was in the sky back then?" Fayyad muses. The extended time coverage also permits scientists to chart the motions of stars, which offer clues about the structure of the galaxy.
Eventually, astronomers hope to unearth secrets lurking in other plate collections scattered around the world. "These plates won't last forever, especially if exposed to air pollution," Lasker warns. "We should digitize them now, while we still have the chance."
Hard plas-soled boots pounded and echoed off the narrow street driving casual loungers and pedestrians into the nearest cover. Doorways, back alleys, any space away from that sound became suddenly crowded with terrified, scattering people.
The leader signaled and the pounding became a whisper of carefully placed feet in a softer, still determined pace.
The Sanitation Squad halted abruptly on the leader's hand signal. Frank Slater leaned against the black wall, his ISO suit scraping away rebel graffiti. Idiots, he thought; they know it comes off easily but they persist in painting and spraying their seditious nonsense.
He peered around the wall, cursing the ISO suit for jutting out before he could see. If the pissy little informant was right, there should be two men under that halo. On a foggy damp night like this the street light was aptly named, its cold bluish light surrounded by a misty saint's corona. And there he was. Brad Johnson's baby brother. Johnson himself would be on the scene in minutes, there having been a general police call.
There were actually four of them, but all
the better. Rebels were
rebels and he and his unit were empowered to eradicate where deemed
necessary. Slater smiled. It usually was necessary.
Even at this distance, he could see the red eyes of the carrier. His brow furrowed. How could the scum rebels stand close to a man so clearly infected with CHROMO? No matter. It was time to get to work. The carrier must be the first target. There must be no chance of his getting away. Slater let his weapon hang from its sling and made a pattern of signals that his men, through long hours of training, understood immediately. The man in the long gray topcoat was his, Slater's.
A patrol's nearing wail was the signal for Slater to spring into action. That vehicle could only be Brad Johnson responding. Slater jumped out, his weapon already fixed on Terry Johnson. The group of four, alerted by the siren, were crouching, ready to bolt. Two of them did and were cut down by Slater's men. One of them was the carrier. Their bodies, already lifeless when they smashed into and slid along the street, smoked with the crackling energy of the Sanitation Squad's weapons. Terry Johnson and the remaining rebel put their hands up. Slater laughed out loud, the metallic sound eerie in counterpoint to the nearing siren. He smoked the quaking rebel next to the Johnson brat. The body jumped and slid near the other two. Apart from briefly closing his eyes and compressing his lips, Terry Johnson said nothing and revealed nothing of his feelings or reaction. Slater smiled approvingly. The boy had balls, no question. He was a traitor and a fool, from a family of fools, but he had balls.
Slater walked closer as the siren behind him stopped, the patrol car's wheels sliding on the wet ground. Doors were opening. Voices raised. Brad Johnson's booming above the others. "Wait, Slater - don't fire!" he pleaded. Now, thought Slater. Now. The boy blinked once, then attempted what Slater thought might be a sneer.
The charge blew away Terry Johnson's head, disintegrating each fragment with a lingering succession of crackling puffs of blue lights. They died away in tiny sparks bouncing along the street. Brad Johnson's initial bellow of fear and rage echoed once along the now quiet street. A smiling Slater turned to face him.
It was a recurring nightmare.
Brad Johnson's dream world has become a monochrome, monotone hell. In that inferno, a twelve-year-old boy, trapped in an ISO protective suit far too large for him, screamed soundlessly, his breath misting the faceplate. As Brad clawed at the suiting's controls, trying to open it to help the boy, a green mist began to rise in the suit like stagnant water, slowly gathering around the boy's chin, then lips, then ...
Every time he awoke from the dream, Brad's hands were still clawing, hooked like talons, still trying to open the damned suit. He knew that boy. His face, so clear in the dream, blurred into something like a police fugitive sketch on waking, its features not really those of anyone. But he knew that boy.
Another drink, he was certain, would not help him at all to figure out exactly what it was he was up against. But it would ease things a bit. Make him feel he was up to it.
To going up against Dr. Maelstrom. There. That wasn't so hard, was it? No, that special blended liquor didn't solve anything, but it sure made you breathe deeply. (He eschewed the opti-cube. As it was, he'd been using it more than he thought safe. Psychosis was a real danger with the little old cube.) He checked the time. A few minutes yet before he had to leave for the shareholders' meeting. Brad poured himself three more fingers in a wide glass.
After all, Richard Maelstrom had to piss
like anybody else, didn't
he? In fact, Brad remembered a time when he and the all-powerful head
of Genetix were side by side at the company urinals. The Captain of all
Captains of industry had cupped his penis so that it would be safe from
Brad's possible gaze.
He took another sip of the amber bliss. Oh yes. Much better.
Brad concentrated on Raymond Masters, Dr. Maelstrom's dogsbody, for all his brilliance. Then, of course, there was Masters' wife, Sonia. What should he make of her?
Brad stepped over the ISO window and stared out at the city he'd once loved. He looked past his reflection; an athlete going to seed. His hair, though still full, was lank and lifeless. His slacks, not quite freshly pressed. The once-trim waistline protruded above the loosened belt.
The city's pinpoint windows winked like stars on the impossibly high edifices. How he had once loved that city. He tried to remember how he'd felt, that very long time ago. It was no use. Too much had happened since. Too many killings in the name of protection. Protection from CHROMO: the disease that has inspired abject, deathly fear in all of us for how long now?
And to Brad and his men had fallen the
awful task of protecting the
general populace. Protecting their lives, that is, by taking the lives
of others. Of the afflicted.
Sonia Masters had sworn to him that she was close, very close, to finding the key. Not according to her husband, the celebrated discoverer of the lock to that key, the CHROMO molecular chain. Masters' brilliant research had culminated in the exposure of the elegant pattern now so familiar through constant vidnews bulletins. Culminated.
And then stopped.
Somehow, Raymond Masters, superscientist, winner of every truly prestigious international prize, holder of some of the most complex and envied genetic patents, had come up against a solid wall. CHROMO yielded its outline, its mathematically elegant patterns, like a posturing flirt, then halted all further advances. Stopped at the moment of intimacy, the moment of revelation. The moment of pleasure.
How then could Sonia Masters say she was fashioning the key? Was she deluded? She would not lie to Brad. Not now. But if neither lie nor delusion - what? Not a real cure, surely.
Across the city he once loved, lay the Sprawl. In its labyrinthine alleys and hovels, the broken streets and filthy poverty, rebels without hope plotted. He pitied them. The military man in him hated them for their ineptitude, their lack of discipline, of power.
He checked the time again. Now he was sure of what he would say at the meeting when called. It would be short and sweet and they wouldn't like it one bit. Brad Johnson rubbed at the stubble on his chin and decided that, if two drinks were this beneficial, why then, two more . . .
Dr. Richard Maelstrom's passion was chess. Computers having long since become grandmaster players, Maelstrom tired easily of draw play, however elegant the moves. Three-dimensional chess was his game. He loved sucking in the computer programs, making seemingly random and illogical moves and then listening to the low whir as the idiot machine tried desperately to log in the strategy for future use. That machine reminded him of Masters. He chuckled as he thought of Raymond.
Masters had balked at first. Oh, he ranted
a bit about his
principles, his ethics, the morality of it all - God help us! In the
end it all came down to the matter. The matter. The stuff that cannot
be held in the hand, or smelled, or felt. But for Richard Maelstrom it
was as palpable as air and just as important: it was power.
Maelstrom's computer reminded him of the time in soft, mellifluous tones. When Maelstrom grunted, the machine, mistaking it for absentmindedness, said, "The shareholders' meeting, sir." Maelstrom waved at it impatiently, "Yes, yes, I know. Bishop captures pawn. Queen check."
He smiled as the machine whirred, trying to make sense of the move, It was simple, really. Take the pawn. The machine - for so Maelstrom thought of it, never giving it a name - would be forced to take the bishop with its king, thereby losing its castling privilege. It was a fair trade, Maelstrom felt.
He had explained the project to Masters in words of many syllables, that being Masters' mode of understanding and expression. Maelstrom could almost hear the whirring in the man's brain as he tried to log in the sense and store the strategy for future use.
Genetix, the entity Maelstrom had
fashioned as surely as it were
clay in his hands, was embarking on the greatest, the most expansive
industrial enterprise in the history of the planet. Nothing less. Its
scope was no longer a measurable form. It was beyond wealth, beyond
power. It was ultimate.
And Raymond Masters would be responsible.
Of course, Masters didn't know that. It was his speech at the shareholders' conference that would trigger the explosion. It would mushroom immediately and become The Project. And the Japanese, those double-dealing, genetically self-centered, would-be world leaders, would atone. Maelstrom liked that.
They would atone.
To have to explain it to Masters at any length was a measure of the man's essential smallness. But he was reachable. The carrot, looming impossibly large before his astonished eyes, shielded him from the stick behind. He would, did, submit. Con Amore.
His wife Sonia was another matter.
Masters, Maelstrom mused, seemed to have only a tenuous control over her. Her constant probing into what she called the key to CHROMO's lock was - unsettling. She was not approachable through the same avenues of conviction as her husband. Nor was the used-up hulk of an ex-commander, Brad Johnson. He was no longer a factor, excepting insofar as he could still be used, public hero that he still was. And Maelstrom knew just how to use him.
That was part of his genius.
"Shareholders' meeting in 22 minutes, 17 seconds," the computer reminded him. It would not do so again, having been programmed against what his owner would consider nagging. Maelstrom called for the door and it whispered open. He turned and conceded the game.
The machine, insofar as any machine could be, was puzzled. "You ... concede, sir?" It whirred, then clicked, then accepted. As a smiling Maelstrom left to go to the Genetix shareholders' meeting, the singular turning point of his remarkable life, he chuckled at the machine's inherent stupidity, and its surprising malleability.
Spiral remembered his sixth birthday quite
clearly. His father
overheard him blurting out as fast as his baby syntax would allow, the
square root of a seven-figure number to his astonished uncle. He beat
the boy until restrained by a horrified family.
Father and son thereafter regarded each other only peripherally, suspiciously, and as seldom as possible. After CHROMO felled most of his family, Spiral made his plans to leave. Only his mother kept him from fleeing their now uncrowded home. When the Squads killed her like an animal, her eyes blazing red with the disease, Spiral left. He felt a horrible guilt that her death was his freedom. But it was worth a lot to look over his shoulder on leaving and see his father staring after him, stunned and alone.
He made his way easily into the first ranks of the rebel cadres. They were cells, really. Five men to a cell. If captured, they could not tell what they did not know, however ingenious the persuasion. Their connections were cellular; easily and often changed, impossible to trace.
His ability to snake his way through
cyberspace was invaluable. Any
degree of classified information was open to him. He checked the day's
haul. A pass to a conference on holo-solids and their artificial
gestation - whatever that was about. Must be good for something. Some
profit for him or the cause. He would bring it to Mr. Lightstone as he
did with almost everything he brought back from the 'space.
Lightstone was the man. He made it all happen. Without him there was no rebel cause; he was it. A first-class VIP pass for the Genetix shareholders' meeting tonight. With it, anyone would gain instant entry. Unchallenged. That looked real good. Mr. Lightstone would know what to do with that. He was the man who was going to make things right. Though, in some vague way, Spiral did not want things to be made right. He liked things the way they were; with infiltrators, spies, good guys, bad guys. The Sprawl and the City, the black wall to be broached with contraband, guards to be bribed, and above all what he alone could supply: info.
As he made his circuitous way back to Lightstone-or where Lightstone might be-he glanced at a terminal way station with the usual longing. It was one of the new models, one he hadn't tried to tap into yet. No. Enough for the day. He sorted through the rest of the take and put it neatly into the little boxes. That was how he thought of the processes of his brain: little boxes, like egg crates, all stuffed with info, and all instantly accessible.
Spiral knew he was important to the cause. Lightstone himself, his arm around Spiral's shoulder, would praise him to the others, Spiral regarded Mr. Lightstone with great love and something close to pity. For all his years, his courage and generalship, Mr. Lightstone was somewhat naive. He seemed to be sure of the cause winning, an end to the fighting. There was no end to the cause, the fight. Any more than there was an end to CHROMO. It was the disease that kept the struggle going, Spiral knew. While there was CHROMO, there would be the fight, the cause, the good guys and the bad guys.
Spiral was proud to be known by name to
every Squad in and out of
the Sprawl. His capture or death, he knew, would have meant instant
recognition, promotion for every man on the team that brought him down.
He was twelve years old.
Maelstrom considered the enigmatic Lightstone, leader of the rebel resistance. His legend had grown beyond reasonable belief. His narrow escapes, retold and told again throughout the Sprawl and into the city, gave credence to the biggest part of his mythos: that Lightstone was part holo, part machine, wholly untouchable. There would be time enough to deal with him and the rebels. They served a purpose, after all. Were it in Maelstrom's power to magically vaporize them all instantly, he would not.
Maelstrom watched the glittering lights of the city blurring past the limo window. The chauffeur occasionally glanced at the traff-ease screen as it computed the time it would take to reach the Genetix auditorium. Cruising the VIP lane made the trip easier, though there was some traffic this evening.
Still, Lightstone was a bit beyond
control. Too many recent
casualties among the Sanitation Squads. Morale was slipping. As good as
Frank Slater was, he was not the leader Brad Johnson used to be. 'Used
to be' being the operative term. Yet Slater had what Maelstrom most
needed: an amoral ferocity that could be turned, like a white-hot
torch, against whatever target it was directed. Slater seemed to hate
everything outside of himself with a paranoid simplicity. The man was
invaluable. A great tool. Like all tools, useful. Until the day they
were no longer useful. Then ...
Lightstone stared at the pass with disbelief.
The boy, Spiral, had outdone himself. Lightstone doubted the cause could continue in its present escalation of harrying the Maelstrom structure without the gifted boy. The Genetix shareholders' meeting tonight was no mere bean counting profit-and-loss affair. Though some members might have expected it to be just a self-congratulatory gathering, the atmosphere, the feel of the thing, told him otherwise. Something was up. Something big. Everyone who was anyone would be there tonight. Including, Lightstone mused, some previously uninvited guests, courtesy of our gifted young Spiral.
Frank Slater's dream would come true.
Brad Johnson would fall into his hands, along with the Masters bitch. There is injustice after all, Slater chuckled, winking at one of his men. The man nodded uneasily. The others did their best to ignore the weird, metallic chuckles emanating from Frank Slater's ISO suit.
Brad Johnson's brother, sent out to kill
Lightstone - a prime
assignment given to baby brother and better handled by himself - had
been turned instead into a traitor by that freakish entity. What
infernal incantations the evil Lightstone had breathed into that little
man's ear no one could tell, and Slater could not guess at. What a
pleasure - what a delight - it had been to waste the little bastard.
Then to see big brother boo-hooing over the corpse - ah, that had been
even better. It had taken three men to hold the raging Brad back from
Slater. Or at least, thought Slater, that was how it appeared. Had
their positions been reversed, Slater knew it would take more than
three men to stop him from whatever damage he wished to inflict. When
Johnson had calmed down sufficiently and the men had released him,
staying close by at the ready, Johnson had threatened legal action.
Slater almost spit into his faceplate in utter disgust.
The whole damned family was like to like; self-righteous poseurs. Ineffectual as eunuchs. Johnson's appointment, for example, to the theater of war where he had distinguished' himself was what actors called actor-proof. it had been like shooting fish in a barrel. Hardly any resistance. They could have sent Bo-Bo the chimp and he would have garnered every ribbon and medal given to Johnson. That hogwash about rescuing his men from an encirclement. A leader took care of his men, that was that. That appointment should have been mine, Slater often whispered through gritted teeth.
For Frank Slater, the killing had become pleasurable early on. Dumb shit Brad Johnson with his professional scruples. He'd have let that diseased kid get away that day. Ten-year-old kid, his eyes already a deep red with CHROMO, his movements erratic. The little twerp would've infected half the damned Sprawl. One shot brought him down. Little guy. He remembered Johnson's look. Made Slater happy for a week.
Taking Brad Johnson's place would be only
logical. Should have come
sooner, but . . . what the hell. Commanding the Squads was what Slater
was born for. And hey - it was for the public weal, wasn't it? He was
the bulwark between CHROMO and the gutless populace hiding up in the
great citadel, in their mile-high condos, away from the Sprawl. Away
from the poverty, the stink, the CHROMO - the action.
He was a hunter by disposition, by nature. Though hunting CHROMO vectors was not entirely satisfying; they had no means with which to fight back, not much defense. Oh, occasionally an armed ragtag inflicted a casualty or two among his men, or the rare armed rebel appearing out of nowhere, wild-eyed, making a suicide attack.
These skirmishes kept the politicos generous and on their toes. Funding was never a worry; the fat asses gave him more than he asked. Invitations to their fancy homes, too. The menfolk uneasy with him, the women fascinated. He found the women disgustingly easy and eventually of no interest to him at all.
Slater looked forward to no more than the hunt, may it last forever. That, and the final showdown with Brad Johnson. Big fucking hero Johnson, has-been drunk, his eyeballs rolling with opticube use. Christ, how he hated that son of a bitch! Killing his brother had been most satisfying. Now Frank Slater looked forward to killing Brad Johnson.
Slowly would be good.
Killing Lightstone - the Lightstone -
would then be the capstone of
his career. He was bound to be persona most grata and - in the highest
circles. Maelstrom himself - der alte-el supremo - would place the
circle of blue ribbon around his neck. On national vid. The nation's
highest award. Nothing closed to him, nothing held back. Oh, the swells
would still regard him with what they thought was condescension. But it
was weak, like the light wave from an exhausted weapon, its power
source used up. It was he, Slater, who held the high ground, from which
he regarded them all. Only Maelstrom loomed above, and that aerie
Slater granted to him readily, gladly.
Maelstrom after all, was Maelstrom.
Sonia Masters leaned closer to one of the screens. Her lithe body twisted slightly as she strove to force a result with body English. Raymond Masters watched her while he pretended to read his news printout of the day. He needn't bother to pretend, he knew. She was so absorbed she would not have noticed him dancing a hornpipe.
It would be impossible, he knew, to make her understand the project. She only saw her own efforts at finding the key. Her world was in that multiscreen workstation, staring at the damned CHROMO configuration. He watched her edge the substructure closer to the CHROMO grape cluster. CHROMO shied away, as it always did; coy, quivering with seeming vulnerability. Raymond's lips formed a sneer CHROMO was about as vulnerable as laminated rocket skin. His sneer turned into a genuine smile as he saw CHROMO gather itself, certain now of its foe's essential weakness. It straightened. The quivering stopped. Like a faking fighter; it came off the ropes, suddenly not tired or weak. Adapted. Quickly, easily.
Sonia shook her head, her lustrous hair
spilling about her
shoulders, then bent to the task again. Masters checked the time. Soon
he would be speaking at the shareholders' meeting. Maelstrom had
insisted that he, Masters, speak first. The first words on the road to
Project Habitat. Raymond felt the beads of sweat on his upper lip. He
patted it gently with a fresh, stiff linen handkerchief.
It would be a dead end, this substructure. Promising, then nothing. CHROMO was too good. Too adaptive. He remembered reading about the old ebola strain, late twentieth century. The victims took it to the grave. Outbreaks were sporadic and limited. CHROMO, on the other hand, weakened and maddened its victims, but they survived far longer. The vector, an incubator of swarming, multiplying billions of bacteria, staggered on to infect others. CHROMO was smart.
Sonia leaned closer again, to the screens. Her concentration, Raymond marveled, was total. It really was time they were going.
The greater scheme, the enormous enterprise, would be beyond her. The project did not lend itself to easy description, and besides, she would never understand or condone Raymond's sacrifices in the cause of the greatest industrial ... It was no use, he though, looking at his wife's intent face. He would never tell her either, of the sacrifices he had made in the name of the enterprise, would go on making as it matured into reality. What was it Jeremy Bentham said - "greatest good for the greatest number?" Bentham would have understood. Sonia never would.
And CHROMO was the key. Sonia searched for the key to CHROMO, not knowing the disease was itself the main element in the great enterprise. Without it, there was no enterprise, no Maelstrom, in fact. The entire structure would collapse without its basic underpinning. That was the great secret.
Masters marveled at the paradox: CHROMO
needed us and, in its
struggle for primacy, killed us. And we, for our own purposes, needed
the deadliest plague we had ever known. CHROMO.DQ
Warning: Enter CHROMO At Your Own Risk
Welcome tot he world of CHROMO - if welcome is the right word.
CHROMO - a world of tradegy and triumph, hope and hopelessness, heroes and villains, a deadly disease and the desperate search for a cure.
CHROMO - something new in the world of science fiction, a bold new approach to storytelling.
Over the months and years ahead, CHROMO will take shape in many media ... novels and stories, graphic stories, interactive CD-ROMS, motion pictures, the Internet, media not yet invented. CHROMO will spread across them all ... taking you along.
For now, enjoy this preview of the world
of CHROMO ... if you're
The top brass at Ford had good reason to preen during the public dedication of the company's new Scientific Research Laboratory, held in Dearborn, Michigan, at the end of 1994. The expanded lab culminates a $1.2 billion investment in R&D facilities that began more than five years ago.
John McTague, Ford's vice president of technical affairs, put the expenditure in a business perspective. "The rapid development and application of advanced technologies are fast becoming one of the key competitive advantages a company can have," he said, spinning off that old adage, "You have to spend money to make money."
But the payoff from this brand of research comes far down the road, only after a particular product or process is perfected to the point that dozens or even hundreds of thousands of them can be knocked off flawlessly and inexpensively and millions of car owners will find the ideas useful enough to purchase.
Carl Johnson doesn't think car plants will
employ the liquid
competitive molding technique for plastic body parts much before the
next century. Still, he directs its research with urgent determination
to contribute to a motor-scene anxious for light, fuel-thrifty cars.
His task is to discover fast, low-cost ways to mold plastic around pre-shaped mats of glass or carbon reinforcement that make the finished pieces at least as strong as steel, but up to 60 percent lighter. Johnson oversees four technicians in a material-science lab as large as a tennis court, stretching upward nearly three stories, where it's capped by a tangle of catwalk, gantry crane, and ductwork large enough to make a good venue for a chase scene in a James Bond flick. The lab is packed with refrigerator-size industrial computers, toolchests, wires, hoses, conduits, cables, and three big molding machines. The largest one, big enough to fill a suburban garage, presses out liquid composite molded fenders in trial runs, letting out a persistent hiss and whir that's punctuated by the occasional pneumatic-robotic whoosh of serious machinery.
Across the building, in the chemical engineering department, the labs are smaller, but the discovery continues with the same earnest anticipation. In the atmospheric chemistry lab, Tim Wallington has built a 140-liter smog chamber to test the environmental impact of new fuels. Looking like a seven-foot-long glass thermos bottle, the chamber takes ultrapurified air and then mixes in nitrogen monoxide, an engine by-product. A cylindrical band of UV lights wrapping the thermos bottle mimics the sun, turning the mixture to nitrogen dioxide - smog. Wallington then runs the brew through an infrared spectrometer, revealing its precise chemical nature.
A few doors down, simulators in the catalyst research lab pipe gases through reactive compounds to find the formulas that scrub the air cleanest. Four orange-red, tabletop infernos burn' in minifurnaces encased in glass and fed by a tangle of cables, tubes, and cords.
Of course, Ford isn't alone in this type of work. Across town, General Motors operates its own future-focused R&D lab within the GM technical center which is housed in a square-mile campus configured by the visionary architect Eero Saarinen. Honda conducts R&D in Torrance, California, Marysville, Ohio, and at its home bases in Wako and Tochigi, Japan. Virtually every automaker pours millions - sometimes billions - of dollars into scientific inquiry. Separately, their efforts push and pull the companies into greater or lesser positions within the ever-changing competitive hierarchy. But collectively, the research advances the state of automobility everywhere.
Accordingly, in Ford's catalyst research lab, Dr. Haren Gandhi swirled 10.5 grams of black liquid in a beaker to represent the pollutants emitted each mile from the average automobile of the 1960s. His pride apparent, Dr. Gandhi next held up a small cylinder with just a splash of black in the bottom. That, he said, is the output from a contemporary car. To illustrate the eventual output from an ultra-low-emission vehicle, he let a tiny drop fall from a glass pipette.
"Being part of that improvement," said Dr. Gandhi, who joined Ford research in 1967 and who now manages the chemical engineering labs, "even in a small way - you can't help but feel good about your work and how it helps society."
"Behold! Human beings living in an underground den ... Like ourselves, they see only their own shadows, or the shadows of one another, which the fire throws on the opposite walls of the cave." - Plato, The Republic
I rose from the bed, leaving Diane sprawled across the rumpled sheets, smiling, lipstick smeared and large belly sweaty. She said, "Wow."
"Wow, yourself," I said and turned to the mirror. Behind me, the other woman rose ghostly from the bed and crossed, smiling, to the window.
Diane, said, "Come back to bed, Jack."
"Can't. I have to go. Student appointment."
"so what's new?"
In the mirror I saw her eyes narrow, her mouth tighten. The other woman turned from the window, laughing, one slim graceful arm pushing back a tendril of chestnut hair.
Diane skinned her brown hair back from her
face. "Is it too much to ask, Jack, honey, that just once after we make
love you don't go rushing off like there's a three-alarm fire? Just
I didn't answer.
"I mean, how do you think that makes me feel? Slam-bam-thank-you, ma'am. We have an actual relationship here, we've been going out for three months, it doesn't seem a lot to ask that after we make love you don't just -"
I didn't interrupt. I couldn't. The dizziness was strong this time; soon the nausea would follow. Sex did that. The intensity. Diane ranted, jerking herself to a kneeling position on the bed, framed by lumpy maroon window curtains opened a crack to a neighbor's peeling frame house and weedy garden. Across the room the other Diane stood framed by crimson silk draperies opened a crack to a mellowed-wood cottage riotous with climbing roses. She blew me a lighthearted kiss. Her eyes glowed with understanding.
The nausea came.
"- can't seem to understand how it makes me feel to be treated like -"
I clutched the edge of the dresser, which was both a scratched pressed-board "production" and a polished cherrywood lowboy. Two perfume bottles floated in front of me: yellow plastic spraybottle and clean-lined blown glass. I squeezed my eyes shut. The ghostly Diane disappeared in the act of sauntering, slim and assured, toward the bathroom.
"- don't even really look at me, not when we make love or -"
Eyes shut, I groped for the bedroom door.
I slammed the doors, both of them, and left the apartment before Diane could follow. With her sloppy anger, her overweight nakedness, her completely justified weeping.
Outside was better. I drove my Escort to campus. The other car, the perfectly engineered driving machine with the sleek and balanced lines, shimmered in and out around me, but the vertigo didn't return. I'd never gotten very intense about cars, and over the years I'd learned to handle the double state of anything that wasn't too intense. The rest I avoided. Mostly.
The Aaron Fielding Faculty Office Building jutted boxlike three stories from the asphalt parking lot, and it blended its three floors harmoniously with a low hillside whose wooded lines were repeated in horizontal stretches of brick and wood. The poster-cluttered lobby was full of hurried students trying to see harried advisers, and it was a marble atrium where scholars talked eagerly about the mind of man. I walked down the corridor toward my cubicle, one of a row allotted to teaching assistants and post-docs.
But Dr. Frances Schraeder's door was open, and I couldn't resist.
She sat at her terminal, working, and when I knocked on the doorjamb (scarred metal, ghostly graceful molding), she looked up and smiled. "Jack! Come look at this!"
I came in, with so much relief my eyes prickled. The material Fran's long, agespotted fingers were held poised over her keyboard, and the ideal Fran's long, age-spotted fingers echoed them. The ideal Fran's white hair was fuller, but no whiter, and both were cut in simple short caps. The material Fran wore glasses, but both Frans' bright blue eyes, a little sunken, shone with the same alert tranquility.
She was the only person I'd ever seen who came close to matching what she should have been.
"This is the latest batch of phase space diagrams," Fran said. "The computer just finished them - I haven't even printed them yet."
I crouched beside her to peer at the terminal.
"Don't look any more disorganized to me than the last bunch."
"Nor to me, either, unfortunately. Same old, same old." She laughed: in chaos theory, there is no same old, same old. The phase space diagrams were infinitely complex, never repeating, without control.
But not completely. The control was there, not readily visible, a key we just didn't recognize with the mathematics we had. Yet.
An ideal no one had seen.
"I keep thinking that your young mind will pick up something I've missed," Fran said. "I'll make you a copy of these. Plus, Pyotr Solenski has published some new work in Berlin that I think you should take a look at. I downloaded it from the net and e-mailed you."
I nodded, but didn't answer. For the first time today, calm flowed through me, soothing me.
Fran had done good, if undistinguished,
work in pure mathematics all her life. For the last few years she - and
I, as her graduate student - had worked in the precise and austere
world of iterated function theory, where the result of a given equation
is recycled as the starting value of the next repetition of the same
equation. If you do that, the results are predictable: the sequences
will converge on a given set of numbers. No matter what initial value
you plug into the equation, with enough iterations you end up at the
same figures, called attractors. Every equation can generate a set of
attractors, which iterations converge on like homing pigeons flying
back to their nests.
Until you raise the value plugged into the equation past a point called the Feigenbaum number. Then the sequences produced lose all regularity. You can no longer find any pattern. Attractors disappear. The behavior of even fairly simple equations becomes chaotic. The pigeons fly randomly, blind and lost.
Or do they?
Fran - like dozens of other pure mathematicians around the world - looked at all that chaos, and sorted through it, and thought she glimpsed an order to the pigeons' flight. A chaotic order, a controlled randomness. We'd been looking at nonlinear differential equations, and at their attractors, which cause iterated values not to converge but to diverge. States which start out only infinitesimally separated go on to diverge more and more and more . . . and more, moving toward some hidden values called, aptly enough, strange attractors. Pigeons from the same nest are drawn, through seeming chaos, to points we can identify but not prove the existence of.
Fran and I had a tentative set of
equations for those idealized points.
Only tentative. Something wasn't right. We'd overlooked something, something neither of us could see. It was there - I knew it - but we couldn't see it. When we did, we'd have proof that any physical system showing an ultradependence on initial conditions must have a strange attractor buried somewhere in its structure. The implications would be profound - for chaos mathematics, for fluid mechanics, for weather control.
I loved looking for that equation. Sometimes I thought I could glimpse it, behind the work we were doing, almost visible to me. But not often. And the truth I hadn't told Fran, couldn't tell her, was that I didn't need to find it, not in the way she did. She was driven by the finest kind of intellectual hunger, a true scientist.
I just wanted the peace and calm of looking. The same calm I'd found over the years in simple addition, in algebra, in calculus, in Boolean logic. In numbers, which were not double state but just themselves, no other set of integers or constants or fractals lying behind these ones, better and fuller and more fulfilled. Mathematics had its own arbitrary assumptions - but no shadows on the cave wall.
So I spent as long with Fran in front of the terminal as I could, and printed out the last batch of phase space diagrams and spent time with those, and went over our work yet again, and read Pyotr Solenski's work, and then I could no longer put off returning to the material world.
As soon as I walked into Introduction to Set Theory, my nausea returned.
Mid October. Two more months of teaching this class, twice a week, 90 minutes a session, to keep my fellowship. I didn't know if I could do it. But without the fellowship, I couldn't work with Fran.
Thirty-two faces bobbed in front of me,
with 32 shimmering ghostly behind them. Different. So different. Jim
Mulcahy: a sullen slouching 18-year-old with acned face and resentful
eyes, flunking out - and behind him, the quiet assured Jim, unhamstrung
by whatever had caused that terrible resentfulness, whatever kept him
from listening to me or studying the text. Jessica Harris: straight
A's, thin face pinched by anxiety, thrown into panic whenever she
didn't instantly comprehend some point - and behind her, the confident
Jessica who could wait a minute, study the logic, take pleasure in her
eventual mastery of it. Sixty-four faces, and 64 pieces of furniture in
two rooms, and sometimes when I turned away to the two blackboards (my
writing firm on the pristine surface, and quavery over dust-filled
scratches), even turning away wasn't enough to clear my head.
"The students complain you don't look at them when you talk," my department chair had said. "And you don't make yourself available after class to deal with their problems."
He'd shimmered behind himself, a wise leader and an overworked bureaucrat.
Nobody had any questions. Nobody stayed after class. Nobody in the first 32 students had any comments on infinite sets, and the second 32 I couldn't hear, couldn't reach.
I left the classroom with a raging headache, and almost tripped over a student in the hall.
Chairs lined the corridor walls (water-stained plaster; lively-textured stucco) for students to wait for faculty, or each other, or enlightenment. One chair blocked fully a third of my doorway, apparently shifted there by the girl who sat, head down, drawing in a notebook. My headache was the awful kind that clouds vision. I banged my knee into a corner of the chair (graffiti on varnish on cheap pine; clean hand-stained hardwood). My vision cleared but my knee throbbed painfully.
"Do you mind not blocking the doorway,
"Sorry." She didn't look up, or stop drawing.
"Please move the damned chair."
She hitched it sideways, never raising her eyes from the paper. The chair banged along the hall floor, clanging onto my throbbing brain. Beside her, the other girl shrugged humorously, in charming self-deprecation.
I forced myself. "Are you waiting for me? To see about the class?"
"No." Still she didn't look up, rude even for a student. I pushed past her, and my eyes fell on her drawing paper.
It was full of numbers: a table for binomial distribution of coin-tossing probabilities, with x as the probability of throwing n heads, divided by the probability of throwing an equal number of heads and tails. The columns were neatly labeled. She was filling in the numbers as rapidly as her pen could write, to seven decimal places. From memory, or mental calculation?
I blurted, "Most people don't do that."
"Is that an observation, an insult, or a compliment?"
All I could see of both girls were the bent tops of their heads: lank dirty blonde, feathery golden waves.
She said, "Because if it's an observation, then consider that I said, i already know that."'
The vertigo started to take me.
"If it's an insult, then I said, I'm not most people."'
I put out one hand to steady myself against the wall.
"And if it's a compliment, I said, `Thanks.' I guess."
The hallway pulsed. Students surged toward me, 64 of them, except that I was only supposed to teach 32 and they weren't the ones who really wanted to learn, they were warped and deformed versions of what they should have been and I couldn't teach them because I hated them too much. For not being what they could have been. For throwing off my inner balance, the delicate metaphysical ear that coordinates reality with ideal with acceptance. For careening past the Feigenbaum number, into versions of themselves where attraction was replaced by turbulent chaos. . . . I fell heavily against the wall, gulping air.
"Hey!" The girl looked up. She had a
scrawny, bony face with a too-wide mouth, and a delicate, fine-boned
face with rosy generous lips. But mostly I saw her eyes. They looked at
me with conventional concern, and then at the wall behind me, and then
back at me, and shock ran over me like gasoline fire. The girl reached
out an arm to steady me, but her gaze had already gone again past me,
as mine did everywhere but in the mirror, inexorably drawn to what I
had never seen: the other Jack shimmering behind me, the ideal self I
"It affects you differently than me," Mia said over coffee in the student cafeteria. I'd agreed to go there only because it was nearly empty. "I don't get nauseated or light-headed. I just get mad. It's such a fucking waste."
She sat across from me, and the other Mia sat behind her, green eyes hopeful in her lovely face. Hopeful that we could share this, that she was no longer alone, that I might be able to end her loneliness. The physical Mia didn't look hopeful. She looked just as furious as she said she was.
"Nine times out of ten, Jack, people could become their ideal selves, or at least a whole lot fucking closer, if they just tried. They're just too lazy or screwed up to put some backbone into it."
I looked away from her. "For me," I said hesitantly, "I guess it's mostly the unfairness of it that's such a burden. Seeing the ideal has interfered with every single thing I've ever wanted to do with my life." Except mathematics.
She squinted at me, "Unfairness? So what?
Just don't give in to it."
"I think it's a little more complicated than -"
"It's not. In fact, it's real simple. Just do what you want, anyway. And don't whine."
I'm not -"
"You are. Just don't let the double vision stop you from trying anything you want to. I don't." She glared belligerently. Behind her, the other Mia radiated determination tempered by acceptance.
"Mia, I do try to do the things I want. Math. My dissertation. Teaching." Not that I wanted to be doing that.
"Good," she snapped, and looked over my shoulder. "Double vision doesn't have to defeat us if we don't let it."
I said, "Have you ever found any others like us?" What did my ideal self look like? What strengths could she see on his face?
"No, you're the only one. I thought I was alone."
"Me, too. But if there's two of us, there could be more. Maybe we should -"
"Damn it, Jack, at least look at me when you're talking to me!"
Slowly my gaze moved back to her face. Her physical face. Her mouth gaped in anger; her eyes had narrowed to ugly slits. My gaze moved back.
"Stop it, you asshole! Stop it!"
"Don't call me names, Mia."
"Don't tell me what to do! You have no right to tell me what to do! You're no different from -"
I said, "Why would I look at you if I could look at her?"
She stood up so abruptly that her chair fell over. Then she was gone.
I put my hands over my eyes, blotting out all sight. Of everything.
"What was this system before it started to diverge?" Fran said.
She held in her hands a phase space diagram I hadn't seen before. Her eyes sparkled. Even so, there was something heavy around her mouth, something that wasn't in the Fran behind her, and for a minute I was so startled I couldn't concentrate on the printouts. The ideal Fran, too, looked different from the day before. Her skin glowed from within, almost too strongly, as if a flashlight burned behind its pale fine-grained surface.
"That was rhetorical, Jack. I know what
the system was before it diverged - the equations are there on the
desk. But this one looks different. See . . . here . .
She pointed and explained. Nonlinear systems with points that start out very close together tend to diverge from each other, into chaos. But there was something odd about these particular diagrams: they were chaotic, as always around a strange attractor, but in nonpatterns I hadn't seen before. I couldn't quite grasp the difference. Almost, but not quite.
I said, "Where are those original equations?"
"There. On that paper - no, that one."
"You're using Arnfelser's Constant? Why?"
"Look at the equations again."
I did, and this time I recognized them, even though subatomic particle physics is not my field. James Arnfelser had won the Nobel two years ago for his work on the behavior of electron/positron pairs during the first 30 seconds of the universe's life. Fran was mucking around with the chaos of creation.
I looked at the phase space diagrams again.
She said, "You can almost see it, can't you? Almost . . . see .
She had her hand to her midriff. "It's nothing, Jack. Just indigestion on top of muscle tension on top of sleeplessness. I was up all night on those equations."
"No, I'm fine. Really I am." She smiled at me, and the skin around her eyes, a mass of fine wrinkles, stretched tauter. And behind her, the other Fran didn't smile. At all. She looked at me, and I had the insane idea that somehow, for the first time, she saw me.
It was the first time I'd ever seen them diverge.
"Fran, I want you to see a doctor."
"You're good to be so concerned. But I'm fine. Look, Jack, here on the diagram . . ."
Both Frans lit up with the precise pleasure of numbers. And I - out of cowardice, out of relief - let them.
"... can't understand a thing in this' fucking course."
The voice was low, male, the words distinct but the speaker not identifiable. I turned from writing equations on the board. Thirty-two/sixty-four faces swam in front of me. Did one of you say something?"
Silence. A few girls looked down at their notebooks. The rest of the students stared back at me, stony. I turned back to the board and wrote another half equation.
". . . fucking moron who couldn't teach a dog to piss." A different voice.
My hand, holding the chalk, shook. I went on writing.
". . . shouldn't be allowed in front of a classroom." This time, a girl.
I turned around again. My stomach churned. The students stared back at me. They were all in on this, or at least tacitly complicit.
I heard my voice shake. "If you have any complaints about how this course is being taught, you are advised to take them up with the department chair, or to express them on the course evaluation form distributed at the end of the semester. Meanwhile, we have additional work to cover." I turned back to the board.
". . . fucking prick who can't make anything clear."
My chalk stopped, in the middle of writing an integer. I couldn't make it move again. No matter how hard I concentrated, the chalk wouldn't complete the number.
". . . trying to make us flunk so he looks bigger."
Slowly I turned to face the class.
They sat in front of me, slumping or
smirking or grinning inanely. Empty faces. Stupid faces. A few
embarrassed faces. Fourth-rate minds, interested only in getting by,
ugly gaping maws into which we were supposed to stuff the brilliance of
Maxwell and Boltzmann and von Neumann and Russell and Arnfelser. So
they could masticate it and spit it on the floor.
And behind them . . . behind them . . .
"Get out," I said.
One hundred twenty-eight eyes opened wide.
"You heard me!" I heard myself screaming. "Get out of my classroom! Get out of this university! You don't belong here, it's criminal that you're here, none of you are worth the flame to set you on fire! Get out! You've diverged too far from what you . . . what you ..."
A few boys in the front row sauntered out. A girl in the back started to cry. Then some of them were yelling at me, shrieking, only the shrieking wasn't in my classroom, it was in the hall, down the hall, it was sirens and bells and outside the window, an emergency medical van, and they were carrying Fran out on a stretcher, her long-fingered hand dangling limply over the side, and nobody would listen to me explain that the terrible thing was not that she wasn't moving but that lying on the stretcher so quietly were not two Frans, as there should have been, but only one. Only one.
I didn't go to the funeral.
I took Fran's last set of diagrams, and copied her files off her hard drive, and packed a bag. Before I checked into the Morningside Motel on Route 64, I left messages on Diane's answering machine, and the department chair's, and my landlady's.
" - don't want to see you again. It's not your fault, but I mean it. I'm sorry."
I "resign my teaching fellowship, and my status as a post-doc at this university."
"My rent is paid through the end of the month. I will not be returning. Please pack my things and send them to my sister, COD, at this address. Thank you, "
I bolted the motel door, unwrapped two bottles of Jack Daniels, and raised my glass to the mirror.
But no toast came. To him? Who would not have been doing this stupid melodramatic thing? Who would have seen Fran's death as the random event it was, and grieved it with courage and grace? Who would have figured out the best way to cope with his problems from a healthy sense of balance undestroyed by knowing exactly what he could never, ever, ever measure up to? I'd be damned if I'd drink to him.
"To Fran," I said, and downed it straight, and went on downing it straight until I couldn't see the other, better room lurking behind this one.
Even drunk, you dream.
I didn't know that. I'd expected the hangovers, and the throwing up, and the terrible, blessed blackouts. I'd expected the crying jag. And the emotional pain, like a dull drill. But I'd never been drunk for four days before. I'd thought that when I slept the pain would go away, into oblivion. I didn't know I'd dream.
I dreamed about numbers.
They swam in front of me, pounded the
inside of my eyelids, chased me through dark and indistinct landscapes.
They hunted me with knives and guns and fire. They hurt. I didn't wake
screaming, or disoriented, but I did wake sweating, and in the middle
of the night I hung over the toilet, puking, while numbers swam around
me on the wavering, double floor. The numbers wouldn't go away. And
neither would the thing I was trying to drink myself out of. No matter
how drunk I got, the double vision stayed. Except for the equations,
and they hurt just as much as the polished floor I couldn't touch, the
cool sheets I couldn't feel, the competent Jack I couldn't be. Maybe
the equations hurt more. They were Fran's.
Take Arnfelser's Constant. Plug it into a set of equations describing a nonlinear system ...
Phase space diagrams. Diverging, diverging, gone. A small difference in initial states and you get widely differing states, you get chaos ...
Take Arnfelser's Constant Use it as r. Let x equal . . .
A small difference in initial states. A Fran who diverged only a small amount, a Jack who ...
Take Arnfelser's equation ...
I almost saw it. But not quite.
I wasn't good enough to see it. Only he was.
I poured another whiskey. The knock on the door woke me. It sounded like a battering ram.
"Get out. I paid at the desk this morning. I don't want maid service!"
The shouting transferred the battering ram to my head, but the knocking ceased.
Someone started picking the lock.
I lay on the bed and watched, my anger mounting. The chain was on the door. But when the lock was picked the door opened the length of the chain, and a hand inserted a pair of wirecutters. Two pairs of wirecutters, physical and ideal. Four hands. I didn't even move. If the motel owner wanted me, he could have me. Or the cops. I had reached some sort of final decimal place - I simply didn't care.
The chain, cheap lightweight links, gave way, and the door opened. Mia walked in.
"Christ, Jack. Look at you."
I lay sprawled across the bed, and both Mias wrinkled their noses at the smell.
I said, even though it wasn't what 1 meant, "How the fuck did you get in here?"
"Well, didn't you see how I got in here? Weren't you even conscious?" She walked closer and went on staring at me, in soiled underwear, the empty bottle on the floor. Something moved behind their eyes.
"How did you find me?" it hurt to speak.
"Hacked your Visa account. You put this dump on it."
"Go away, Mia."
"When I'm good and ready. Jesus, look at you."
I tried to roll over, but couldn't, so I closed my eyes.
Mia said, "I didn't think you had it in you. No, I really didn't." Her tone was so stupid - such a mix of ignorance and some sort of stupid feminine idealization of macho asshole behavior - that I opened my eyes again. She was smiling.
"Get. Out. Now."
"Not till you tell me what this is all about. Is it Dr. Schraeder? They told me you two were pals."
Fran. The pain started again. And the numbers.
"That's it, isn't it, Jack? She was your friend, not just your adviser. I'm sorry."
I said, "She was the only person I ever met who was what she was supposed to be."
"Yeah? Well, then, I'm really sorry. I'm not what I'm supposed to be, I know. And you sure the hell aren't. Although, you know ... you look closer to him this morning than you ever did on campus. More ... real." I couldn't shove her out the door, and I couldn't stop her talking, and I couldn't roll over without vomiting. So I brought my arm up and placed it across my eyes.
"Don't cry, Jack. Please don't cry."
"I'm not -"
"On second thought, do cry. Why the fuck
not? Your friend is dead. Go ahead and cry, if you want to!" And she
knelt beside me, despite what I must smell like and look like, and put
her arms around me while, hating every second of it, I cried.
When I was done, I pushed her away. Drawing every fiber of my body into it, I hauled myself off the bed and toward the bathroom. My stomach churned and the rooms wavered. It took two hands to grope along the wall to the shower.
The water hit me, hard and cold and stinging. I stood under it until I was shivering, and it took that long to realize I still had my briefs on. Bending over to strip them off was torture. My toothbrush scraped raw the inside of my mouth, and the nerves in my brain. I didn't even care that when I staggered naked into the bedroom, Mia was still there.
She said, "Your body is closer to his than your face."
"Get out, Mia."
"I told you, when I'm ready. Jack, there aren't any more of us. At least not that I know of. Or that you do. We can't fight like this."
I groped in my overnight bag, untouched
for four days, for fresh underwear. Mia seemed different than she had
in the cafeteria: gentler, less abrasive, although she looked the same.
I didn't care which - or who - she was.
"We need each other," Mia said, and now there was a touch of desperation in her voice. I didn't turn around.
"Jack - listen to me, at least. See me! "
"I see you," I said. "And I don't want to. Not you, not anybody. Get out, Mia.
"Have it your way."
I pulled on my clothes, gritted my teeth to get on my shoes, left them untied. I braced myself to push past her.
She stood in the exact center of the room, her hands dangling helplessly at her sides. Behind her the other Mia stood gracefully, her drooping body full of sorrow. But the physical Mia, face twisted in an ugly grimace, was the only one looking at me.
I stopped dead.
They always both looked at me. At the same time. Everybody's both: Mia, Diane, Fran, the department chair, my students. Where one looked, the other looked. Always.
Mia said, more subdued than I had ever heard her. "Please don't leave me alone with this Jack. I . . . need you."
The other Mia looked across the room, not over my shoulder. Not at him. At . . . what?
From a small difference in initial states you get widely differing states with repeated iterations. Diverging, diverging, chaos . . . and somewhere, in there, the strange attractor. The means to make sense of it.
And just like that, I saw the pattern in the phase space diagrams. I saw the equations.
"Just let me . . . write them down . . ."
But there wasn't any chance I'd forget them. They were there, so clear and obvious and perfect, exactly what Fran and I had been searching for.
Mia cried, "You can't just leave! We're the only two people like this!"
I finished scribbling the equations and straightened. My head ached, my stomach wanted to puke, my intestines prickled and squirmed. My eyes were so puffy I could barely see out of them. But I saw her, looking at me with her scared bravado, and I saw the other one, not looking at me at all. Diverging. She was right - we were the only two people like this, linked in our own chaotic system. And the states I could see were diverging.
"No," I got out, just before I had to go
back into the bathroom. "There aren't two. Soon ... only one of you."
She stared at me like I was crazy, all the time I was puking. And the other Jack was doing God knows what.
I didn't really care.
I haven't published the equations yet.
I will, of course. They're too important not to publish: proof that any physical system showing an ultradependence on initial conditions must have a strange attractor buried somewhere in its structure. The implications for understanding chaos are profound. But it's not easy to publish this kind of innovation when you no longer have even a post-doc position at a decent university. Even though Fran's name will go first on the article.
I may just put it out on the Internet. Without prior peer review, without copyright protection, without comment. Out onto the unstructured, shifting realities of the net. After all, I don't really need formal attention. I don't really want it.
I have what I wanted: relief. The other
faces-other rooms, other buildings, other gardens-are receding from me
now. I catch only glimpses of them out of the corner of my eye,
diminished in size by the distance between us, and getting smaller all
the time. Diverging toward their own strange attractors.
It's not the same for Mia. When she said at the Morningside Motel that I looked more like the ideal Jack than ever before, it wasn't a compliment to my unshaven frowziness. For her, the phase space diagrams are converging. She can barely discern the ideal separate from the physical now; the states are that close.
She smiles at everyone. People are drawn to her as to a magnet; she treats them as if their real selves are their ideal ones.
The crucial characteristic about chaotic systems is that they change unpredictably. Not as unpredictably as before the Schraeder Equations, but still unpredictably. Once you fall into the area past the Feigenbaum number, states converge or diverge chaotically. Tomorrow Mia could see something else. Or I could.
I have no idea what the ideal Mia was looking at when she gazed across the motel room, away from both me and him. When you are not the shadow on the cave wall but the genuine ideal, what is the next state?
I don't want to know. But it doesn't matter whether or not I want it. If that state of life comes into being, then it does, and all we can do is chase it through the chaos of dens and labyrinths and underground caves, trying to pin it momentarily with numbers, as our states diverge from what we know toward something I cannot even imagine, and don't want to.
Although, of course, that too may change.
First-person science-fiction action games are bad for your health. They keep you up all night in front of the computer or TV, run up your phone bill when you make the leap to multiplayer mode, and crank up your virtual violence level to that of a digital Ted Bundy. But hey, they're fun, right?
Doom, which started the whole mess, begat a legion of in-your-face games. Not surprising, for they're as visceral as gaming gets, in or out of the house. With claustrophobic sets, threatening situations and enemies, limited resources, and above all, a view that puts you in the shooter's seat, Doom and its ilk break sweat faster than any other kind of game.
Doom and the next-of-kin Doom //:Hell on Earth (id Software/GT Interactive) are the best places to start. You're a space marine wandering through a Mars moon station (Doom) or a cavernous Earth-based locale (Doom II), armed to the teeth and lookin' for trouble. A cast of bad things fills your sights, from zombielike humans mans to grotesque demons, but a few rounds from a shotgun or plasma rifle and they're toast. The plot is simple: Survive long enough to get to the next level. Play on a network or across phone lines via modem, and these games feel like you're a character in Aliens. If you have a Sega 32X system, you can also play Sega's version of Doom in front of the TV.
Compared to Doom, Interplay's Descent drops you into freefall.
That's because you've got a full range of motion both horizontally and
vertically, without any gravity constraints. If you get nauseous on the
ferris wheel, stay away from Descent. You're driving a robotic
spaceship through corridors, blowing away enemy ships, and trying to
get to the next of 30 levels. The perspective's slick and the freedom
of movement extraordinary. Still, since the threats are machinery, not
embodied evil, it's tougher to get scared by this one.
Adding the ability to look up and down and jump to the first-person viewpoint, Dark Forces manages to evoke the world of LucasArts while slathering on the firepower. The corridor mazes are complex, the sound effects almost overwhelming (this is on CD, so audio is excellent), and though it's only single-player, the heart-pounding meter is near the red zone.
Mars Needs Women (and Kids). Going to Mars would be a frighteningly difficult job, but learning about the Red Planet is a lot less scary, especially with the Next Step: Mars? CD-ROM from IVI Publishing. Perfect for kids (but filled with enough info to keep most adults interested), Next Step: Mars? is a gentle, but thorough, Martian exploratorium. The premise is goofy - you're enlisted by an intergalactic Council to research Earth and its plans to head to- Mars, then report back with your findings - but the interface is slick. There's the 3-D Village of Knowledge, where rooms are filled with objects and data. Narrated reports, video, text, still images, and away-from-the-computer activities take you from the history of our thoughts on Mars to future possibilities of travel.
On the Internet. If the only thing about Star Trek: Voyager that's scarier than Kate Mulgrew's steel wool-edged voice is the possibility of missing an episode, you need to hit the Web page at http.//voyager.paramount.com. Using an interface, you can pull up brief summaries of already-aired episodes, read short bios of the crew (and longer bios of the actors), and download audio and video clips from the series. It's mostly fluff, but it's worth adding to your Netscape or Mosaic hotlist when you forget to punch Record on your VCR.
Depressed for weeks, worried his career was going nowhere, he mulled over a set of apparently unsolvable problems. Otherwise unemployed, Whitfield Diffie was a househusband about to cook dinner for his wife, when he sat down in the living room of their borrowed quarters to ponder once more the ideas that had plagued him for a decade. Diffie cared about hidden writing - codes, ciphers, cryptograms - because he had a passionate interest in keeping people's private lives private. A Sixties radical with blond hair flowing down his back, he saw cryptography was the only way for citizens to protect themselves from government snooping. He also knew, even in the early Seventies, that cryptography was vital to home shopping, digital money, automated offices, and other business-related activity planned for the information highway. Society could never stop doing business face to face and move into computerized negotiations without the invention of digital signatures-electronic "handwriting" as unique as that produced by pen and ink. And on that spring day in 1975, Diffie suddenly saw how to do it. The solution flitted across his mind, left momentarily, then came back in "a real adrenaline rush of excitement." In a brilliant stroke he solved two of the biggest problems in modern cryptography, and, as a bonus, realized for the first time they were related.
In classical cryptography, one secret key
is used both to encrypt and decrypt messages. Diffie saw that this key
could be split: Half would be public knowledge; half would be kept
secret. This idea of separate but mathematically related keys allowed
"two magical things" to happen. People can send you messages, encrypted
with your public key that can be read only with your private key. Or
conversely, you can send out cryptograms that can be read by anybody,
but recognizable as only coming from you. The first realization solves
the problem of making cryptography available to everyone. The second
allows for digital signatures. Split-key or public key cryptography has
been adopted by companies ranging from AT&T to Apple, and Diffie's
cryptographic protocols underlie the security measures incorporated
into all modern computer networks.
Diffie met his wife at the door that evening with a sober look on his face. "I've just discovered a very important idea," he said. "I don't think our lives will ever be the same again."
Diffie, who describes his life as "a model of how not to get things done at the right time," was born to Campbellite Southern Baptist parents in 1944. But he grew up in a mainly Jewish section of Queens, New York, where his father taught Spanish and Latin American history at City College and his mother worked as an independent scholar on the French woman of letters Madame de Sevigne. Largely self-taught in mathematics and always a poor student, Diffie graduated from MIT with a math degree in 1965. To avoid the Vietnam War, he took draft-deferred jobs as a computer programmer at MIT and then Stanford Artificial Intelligence Laboratory. Diffie's early interest in cryptography was rekindled when his boss, Al pioneer John McCarthy, was asked in 1972 to look into security on the ARPAnet, the military communications network that later grew into the Internet.
Diffie eventually quit his job to become the world's first public cryptographer. This began with car trips back and forth across the continent, with stops to buttonhole any scientist willing to talk about cryptography. One conversation led back to Stanford and Martin Hellman, a young professor of electrical engineering. From 1975 to 1978, Diffie and Hellman co-authored a series of now-classic papers on public key cryptography. In 1992, the Swiss Federal institute of Technology awarded Diffie an honorary doctorate in recognition of his creation: public key cryptography.
Secret writing dates back to Egyptian hieroglyphics. Codes and ciphers have always been jealously guarded secrets of state until Diffie and fellow cryptocommandos, who call themselves cypherpunks, began developing expertise on their own. A field traditionally reserved for spies, soldiers, and diplomats is now a hot topic on the internet, with public access to cryptography being the latest battle cry in the information revolution. "For the past few years I've made my living out of politics," says Diffie, who writes position papers and testifies before congressional committees. His latest cause is the Clipper chip, an attempt by the U.S. government to embed cryptographic hardware into the nation's telecommunications channels. These chips will contain back doors allowing the government to eavesdrop on telephone calls and computer messages. Diffie argues that Americans must oppose this effort to put the cryptographic genie back in the bottle.
Our talks began in Diffie's office at Sun
Microsystems's campus in San Mateo and ended at his second office in
downtown Palo Alto. At dinner Diffie's wife, Egyptologist Mary Fischer,
recounted with tears in her eyes the scene of coming home to hear of
her husband's great discovery: "He was right. Our lives were not the
same after that."
Omni: How do you secure all the phones in North America? Diffie: I'd mulled this problem over in my mind for five years, and when I got to Stanford in 1969, I began thinking about a seemingly unrelated problem: How do you conduct business using home computer terminals? I didn't see how to create a paperless office without having what we now call "digital signatures" on your electronic documents. Omni: How did you solve the problem of digital signatures? Diffie: I was aware of two sorts of authentication mechanisms. The first, now used to protect the password table in the UNIX time-sharing system, employs "one-way functions." These are easy to compute in one direction, but hard in the other. The second is called challenge and response. Military fire-control radars send out a randomly selected challenge and only friendly aircraft know how to encrypt the challenge correctly and return it to the radar for verification.
One of these protects you against somebody
studying the lock and figuring out how to make a key; the other against
eavesdroppers on the channel watching the process and knowing how to
repeat it. I was trying to combine both systems in one package when I
saw that it was possible to design a mechanism that could verify a
response to a challenge, even though it could not have figured out the
response. This is what we now call a digital signature. I wrote the
idea down in my journal and forgot about it. It got added to a list
called "Problems for an Ambitious Theory of Cryptography."
About two weeks later I had another
breakthrough. In between cleaning and cooking, I suddenly realized the
problem could be turned around to solve the question bothering me since
1965: How do you initiate secure communication with somebody you've
never met? I'd already seen that by means of an asymmetric pair of
transformations that are the inverses of each other, a crypto system
could either sign or verify a signature. Then I realized if I did the
verification (the nonsecret part) first, I could encrypt messages by
means of oneway functions - in such a way that only one person could
get them back. Omni: Did you shout, Eureka! Diffie: I walked downstairs
to get a Coke, and almost forgot about the idea. I remembered I'd been
thinking about something interesting, but couldn't quite recall what it
was. Then it came back, and I was acutely aware, for the first time in
my work on cryptography, that I'd discovered something really valuable.
After dinner I walked down to Marty Hellman's house. We'd yet to
develop the term "digital signature," so we talked instead about things
like "one-way authentication." It took me an hour but finally Marty
understood and got as excited as I was. Omni: How does public key
cryptography work? Diffie: In classical cryptography, the cryptographic
variable or key controls how plaintext is transformed into ciphertext.
Every key does it differently. The critical thing in classical systems
is their symmetry. Knowing how to encrypt messages tells you how to
decrypt them. My big realization was understanding how to build a
cryptographic system in which each communication was controlled by not
one, but two keys. The two keys are related, so anything you encrypted
with one can be decrypted with the other. But they also have the
property that if you're told only one key, you can't figure the other
one out. We subsequently called these the public key and the private
key. Omni: What do you gain by splitting the two keys? Diffie: Imagine
you want to send me a secure message. You look up my public key in your
phone book, plug it into your machine, and encrypt a message for me in
such a way that it can be read only with my private key. I generate the
key pair and disseminate my public key as widely as possible, but keep
the private key to myself. Whenever a message encrypted with my public
key comes in, I can read it. Since my private key is required to read
it, nobody else can. This was the invention's first, more mysterious
application. It got us over the fundamental problem in all previous
systems - the only way for you and me to talk cryptographically is if
we first have an "out of band communication," as they say in the
jargon, in which we exchange keys.
Key distribution is a major part of classical cryptography. In the U.S. government, it's handled by the COMSEC, or materials control system which, along with communications intelligence, is one of two major functions of the National Security Agency. COMSEC moves tons of keys around the world every day to cryptographic devices, mostly military, using a range of systems: key lists, paper tape, cards, disks.... When a ship comes into port, the cryptocustodians go ashore with their locked briefcases and pick up tens of pounds of material for keying their machines. Prior to Aldrich Ames, the two most famous spy scandals in a generation involved the sale of cryptographic keys to the Russians - who read our traffic.
With conventional symmetric cryptography,
you can talk securely only to people to whom keys have been
distributed. This just won't do for securing a telephone system.
There's no physical way tb do it. Distributing cryptographic keys to
the entire population would be the equivalent of sending everyone a
registered letter when you installed your phone, just in case you ever
wanted to talk to them. The best you can do is have key distribution
centers" that share keys among subscribers and make introductions.
Omni: What's wrong with that? Diffie: The key distribution center must
set up every call, and worse, it can read all the traffic. But public
key cryptography reduces key storage requirements to the point where
there is only one secret for every person in the network, and that
secret never has to move. The key gets manufactured in your own
cryptographic device, and stays there. The public key is the movable
part. In practice, I get my name and public key signed by a sort of
notary public, so you can recognize it as belonging to me. Then my
secure phone calls yours and hands you my credentials. "Whitfield
Diffie is calling and his public key is such and such." Some central
authority is still involved in introducing us, but it can no longer
read the traffic. Omni: How did you design keys that are both public
and private? Diffie: It's not obvious to you because it isn't obvious.
It wasn't obvious to me, and I did not discover a solution to the
problem as I originally posed it. Marty Hellman and I discovered
another approach - Diffie-Hellman - that solves many problems better.
But three mathematicians at MIT, Ronald Rivest, Adi Shamir, and Leonard
Adleman [RSA], actually solved the original problem. Omni: How does
this approach, the RSA system, work? Diffie: Start with the notion of a
one-way function. If you took algebra in high school, you probably
remember how much easier it is to raise numbers to powers than it is to
take roots. If I ask you for the fifth power of the number 2, it takes
a few seconds of multiplying to discover that 2^5 = 2 x 2 x 2 x 2 x 2 =
32. But if I ask you what's the fifth root of 32, it takes longer to
figure out. If I give you a number as big as ten billion, it'd take you
a very long time to calculate its fifth root. So raising numbers to
powers is a one-way function with respect to the inverse operation of
Another example is multiplying versus factoring. If I give you two numbers - 31 97, which are both prime - you can easily multiply them: 3007. But if I give you the product, 3007, then finding out that 31 and 97 are its factors is much harder. The fact that multiplying prime numbers is easier than factoring them has been a fundamental problem in mathematics since the Greeks.
RSA, which to date is the most successful public key cryptographic system, combines these two phenomena. Raising numbers to powers is a one-way function in relation to extracting roots. Multiplying prime numbers is a one-way function relative to factoring. If the product is big enough, and you alone know its factors, this constitutes a trapdoor that lets you and only you decrypt messages. Omni: How does it work? Diffie: Your cryptographic equipment manufactures two large primes, each of which is 300 digits long, and multiplies them together to get a product 600 digits long. These numbers are big: they utterly dwarf any that describe phenomena in the physical world. The number of particles in the universe, for example, is estimated to be less than 100 dig its long.
The 600-digit number, the product, is made
public. It's immeasurably difficult for anybody but you to factor this
number. The largest number of this type that's been factored - last
year - is "RSA Challenge Number 129." A 129-digit number is a long way
from a 600-digit number. First proposed in the Seventies, the Challenge
was only solved by hundreds of computers working together for years.
Omni: What did you do as a kid? Diffie: The same thing I do as an
adult. I mostly remember staring off into space. From time to time I
did well in mathematics. I read [Robert] Heinlein's The Rolling Stones,
about a family who fixes up an old spaceship and travels from the moon
to the other planets. The family believes mathematics is the key to
understanding the world. One summer, I went off to Europe carrying the
Chemical Rubber Company Handbook of Mathematical Tables. It had no
text, just tables of formulas and integrals. The next summer I studied
G. H. Hardy's Course of Pure Mathematics. This was a better choice, but
probably not as good as taking Courant's calculus. Still, by the time I
entered MIT, I probably knew half as much mathematics as I know now.
As a kid I was passionately interested in military things, but being an intellectual snob, I thought cryptography was vulgar. Everybody liked spying and cryptography, but few people were interested in camouflage, chemical warfare, or the influence of the Crusades on military architecture in thirteenth century Europe. in junior high I lived the "hit parade" life, going to dance parties where I acted like a cross between Elvis and Archie. But I changed completely in high school, and the discussion groups of the Ethical Culture Society became the social and intellectual foundation of my life. I became a peacenik, marched for nuclear disarmament, sang folk songs in Washington Square Park. Wild parties became places where you sat around discussing the meaning of life. At MIT I regarded myself as a pure mathematician, particularly interested in analysis. Curiously, the things I did best are not particularly useful in cryptography. Omni: Were you into sex, drugs, and rock and roll? Diffie: I would not wish to speak ill of any of those things. Omni: I presume you partook of the Sixties revolution. Diffie: Oh yeah, I'm a Sixties man all the way down. Omni: What did you do after college? Diffie: To dodge the draft in 1965, I took a job at the Mitre Corporation, which worked on command and control systems for the military. I worked as a computer programmer on Mathlab, an interactive tool for symbolic mathematics that eventually became the Macsyma system. Software is the greatest development in manufacturing technology in our lifetime, maybe in the millennium. I became seriously interested in proving software correctness. Omni: When does cryptography come back into the picture? Diffie: Security was a large part of the Multics time-sharing computer system going on at MIT, and I began thinking more and more about personal privacy. Multics had elaborate file protection systems, but all required trusting the programmers. Whatever password I had on them, system programmers could always get at my files, and somebody could always get at the system programmers, who wouldn't be interested in going to jail to protect my files. We're verging from a free society into tyranny when the government can go behind my back and subpoena files from system programmers, which is what they do now in bank investigations. I saw that the only way to control my files would be to encrypt them. Omni: Did you go to Stanford to study cryptography? Diffie: No, I went to work with John, Mc-Carthy at the Al lab on the proof of correctness of programs. He was the only other person I knew at the time who understood how important the problem was. Proof of correctness aspires to mathematically prove that the programs you write will always do what you want them to do. Many programs work on an effectively infinite number of inputs, so there are too many possibilities for test.
But in 1972 I got sidetracked when Larry
Roberts, head of information processing at ARPA - the Advanced Research
Projects Agency of the Pentagon - approached the NSA for help with
ARPAnet's security. But as the boss of a mere $100-million-a-year
military research project, poor Larry wasn't entitled to NSA's help.
They told him to go stuff it. So Roberts asked McCarthy to think about
network security. McCarthy did cook up a cryptographic program. All
time-sharing systems since the Sixties had commands that said "encrypt
file," but nobody used them because they were so cumbersome and slow. I
thought a serious cryptographic program should be able to encrypt a
file as fast as you could copy it, and McCarthy's program came nowhere
close to that. Omni: So really, the NSA got you working on
cryptography? Diffie: Yes, I was officially working for ARPA, but only
because they were using NSA's money and doing them a favor. Proof of
correctness of programs has since grown into a big security-related
industry. By spring 1973, I was working on nothing else but
cryptography. This did not please McCarthy, who wanted me back on proof
of correctness. But I was old enough then not to worry about the draft
so I took an indefinite leave of absence.
On one of many cross-country trips, I stopped at the IBM lab in Yorktown Heights [New York] to visit Alan Tritter, one of the first generation of telephone hackers. Tritter called himself "the biggest man in computer science" - he weighed 400 pounds. He introduced me to Alan Konheim, who directed IBM's cryptographic research group - probably the only significant American research group then in cryptography outside the NSA. Konheim was very secretive. He only told me one thing, and probably wishes he'd never said that. "When you get back to Stanford, look up my friend Marty Hellman," he said.
When I returned to California in 1974, I called Hellman. We immediately found each other the best-informed people we'd ever encountered. Marty and I worked together for four years and became a great pain in Konheim's tush. Our first political fight started in 1975, when the government adopted as the data encryption standard [DES] a system developed by IBM. We thought its key was too small. I made my living for several years arguing against DES, and now I'm making a living arguing against a new government standard, the Escrowed Encryption Standard.
The government is trying to push on
everybody a new cryptographic. standard. It's secret and will be
available only in tamper-resistant hardware - the Clipper chip. The
government will control the products you buy. Worse yet, these products
will contain a trapdoor allowing the government to read the traffic
when it feels it needs to. Omni: Why is the Clipper chip so devoutly to
be opposed? Diffie: If the only telecommunications products available
allow the government to spy on your conversations, then there'll be no
privacy left for anybody except fat cats who can fly around to visit
one another in person. This tremendous centralization of the
government's power will create a basic vulnerability in American
communications. Power so centralized in an entity can be captured,
whether by foreign invader or coup d'etat. By creating a system that
can be turned against the American people, we are making the country
vulnerable in a way that could become very important in the future.
Omni: Why's the government pushing it? Diffie: I imagine there's a
hidden intelligence agenda here. The government is obviously terrified
about the proliferation of products over which it has no control.
Widespread deployment of cryptographic systems too difficult for NSA to
routinely break might degrade their performance and result in their
budget being cut. Omni: Didn't Vice President Gore announce that the
government was backing down on the Clipper chip? It will go into our
telephones, but not into our computers. Diffie: I don't think he backed
down on anything. His statement was merely misleading. The Clipper chip
has always been intended for telephones, and we have no idea what he's
cooking up for computers. He merely reiterated the demand for a key
escrow system. This is a mechanism built into cryptographic systems
allowing the government to read the traffic. The keys for bypassing the
encryption will be held in escrow at a pair of government agencies.
Omni: How will the fight end? Diffie: It's hard to believe the
government will get what it wants, but that doesn't mean freedom won't
suffer in the process. They are swimming upstream against the flow of
technology. People dedicated to protecting their communications will
get better systems as time goes on, but that doesn't mean honest
citizens will have that freedom. The administration has insisted it
will not make private use of cryptographic systems illegal, but FBI
director Louis Freeh recently admitted at a meeting in Washington that
if unescrowed encryption got in the way of wiretaps, he'd push for a
law against it. Freeh keeps telling Congress electronic surveillance is
necessary for law enforcement, even though there were fewer than 1,000
court-ordered wiretaps last year, out of nearly 250,000 federal cases.
NSA's former chief lawyer likes to cite the case of a pedophile in
Sacramento who encrypted his computer files. I think the pedophile has
already been convicted, but they want to get hold of his files and put
him away for another ten years. The notion of pedophiles "seducing"
people over the Internet hardly seems a major threat to society.
Banning cryptography is not like gun
control. We don't have drive-by shootings on the Internet. This
approach to crime control is a lot of nonsense. They say they want to
prevent a security-minded criminal from going down to Radio Shack and
buying off-the-shelf communications equipment that will defeat law
enforcement. This means government-approved equipment has to be the
only product available. Omni: Will I be able to go to Radio Shack and
buy a crypto machine nobody can crack? Diffie: I'm inclined to think
so. in the 1790s, when the Bill of Rights was ratified, any two people
could have a private conversation - with a certainty no one in the
world enjoys today - by walking a few meters down the road and looking
to see no one was hiding in the bushes. There were no recording
devices, parabolic microphones, or laser interferometers bouncing off
their eyeglasses. You will note civilization survived. Many of us
regard that period as a golden age in American political culture. Omni:
How secure is the government's proposed escrow system? Diffie: Building
trapdoors into security equipment inherently reduces its security. For
intelligence reasons, the government is demanding the system only use
80-bit keys. This tells you the upper bound on the amount of work
needed to cryptanalyze messages: 2A80 objects. This is a million
million million million computations. It would have to be an incredibly
interesting phone call for anybody to do 2^80 computations to read it.
On the other hand, given the way the system is organized, it takes only
a few times that much work to read all the traffic ever passed through
an individual telephone. In 2005 or 2010, when there's much more
computing power or new cryptanalytic techniques, somebody who's been
recording this traffic might read it with relative ease. And make no
mistake about it, people are recording lots of traffic right now. Omni:
Now that I can get cryptographic programs on the Internet, hasn't the
public outsmarted the spies? Diffie: in no way has the battle for the
availability of cryptography been won. Since the end of World War 11,
people have been saying the end of the spymasters was nigh. But if you
drive through Cheltenham or Fort Meade, you notice a lot of money being
spent on fancy new buildings. Communications intelligence is still
eating high on the hog, because the rate traffic migrates into
potentially vulnerable telecommunication channels exceeds the rate
traffic can be protected. The Internet itself doubles in size every 14
Will more of this traffic be encrypted in
the future? Undoubtedly. Will cryptosystems become and stay popular for
years, even though they have flaws or trapdoors somebody knows how to
exploit? Very possibly. Omni: So, then, the only way to break secret
codes is for a lot of people to attack them? Diffie: Not necessarily a
lot of people, just the right people. Omni: This seems to argue for
making cryptographic algorithms public. Diffie: It certainly does. if
you publish your algorithm you're more likely to hear if somebody
breaks it. Thinking you can keep cryptographic algorithms secret from
your major opponents is folly. It takes strong opponents to break a
good algorithm, but the strongest - best funded - also have the
capacity to acquire the algorithm against any reasonable commercial
attempt to keep it secret. The reason to keep crypto systems secret is
most people working in this business are spies. The NSA is the supplier
of algorithms for the U.S. communications security but something
between three-quarters and 90% of their budget goes to spying, so they
have a vested interest in keeping cryptographic equipment out of their
opponents' hands. Omni: Are you a spy? Diffie: I don't work for anybody
but Sun Microsystems, and I don't snoop for anyone but myself. Omni: Do
you get offers? Diffie: Only from NSA, if that counts, and never good
enough. Omni: The field of cryptography historically has lent itself to
amateurs. Diffie: We amateurs like to think so. Thomas Jefferson
invented a cryptographic system rediscovered among his papers in 1922
and was later adopted by the Navy. If he'd used his own system when he
was Secretary of State instead of one infinitely easier to solve, U.S.
traffic might have been secure into the twentieth century. Instead, it
was porous well into the Forties. Omni: In 1980 you predicted all
computers and telephones would be encrypted by now. Diffie: I was
vastly wrong about the degree to which people would be concerned with
the problem. But the vast majority of the world's communications is
still uncrypted. Interception costs are dropping, meaning the need to
protect telecommunication channels is rising, and at some point this
situation will spark a vast range of products. But so far people still
don't see the damage being done to them by insecure communications, so
they keep postponing the decision to do something about it. Omni: How
can you tell when eavesdropping is happening? Diffie: It's hard for
anyone other than an intelligence organization to know it's being spied
on. You may see "manifestations." Five times in one year you lose
contracts by narrow margins to the same competitor who seems to know in
advance what your bids are going to be. But it's expensive and
difficult to figure out if this is due to a communications security
failure. During the Cold War, spies changed sides relatively
infrequently, but in industry, people change sides every day. Many
people in Silicon Valley constantly move. So security problems in
industry may be more difficult than in the military. The military knows
people are spending lots of money attacking its communications, whereas
industry is usually in the dark about it. Omni: What types of problems
are you working on now? Diffie: Certification of cryptographic systems
is the core problem. The difficulty of finding hidden functions in
computer programs is unboundedly high. How can you certify there aren't
trapdoors in systems, particularly if manufacturers are working with
trade-secret designs? I don't know how ordinary people can be supplied
with something they trust, because the reward for undermining
widely-used systems is very high.
Intelligence agencies are not in business to play fair. They don't want to break traffic that they can arrange to get some easier way. So they're building visible trapdoors into things through the key escrow program. There's no reason to believe they aren't also building trapdoors into things that are hidden. For instance, I've been told the diagnostic computers in cars now record information about your driving style that potentially affects your warranty. If your mechanic can determine the highest speed you achieved in the last several thousand miles, then your car is spying on you. Omni: Sun Microsystems's largest customer is the U.S. government. Has anyone in the company suggested you tone down your criticism? Diffie: I see no sign the government regards my activities as objectionable or that my activities hinder it in any way. Having people testify before Congress and carry on public debate creates the illusion of democracy. Why should they object to that? I give apparent legitimacy to these behind-the-scenes processes. I don't seem to have any real effect on what happens. Omni: In his story "The Gold Bug," Edgar Allan Poe says there is no such thing as a cipher that can't be broken. Do you agree? Diffie: That's a tricky question. Newcomers to the problem are inclined to say it's easy to make an unbreakable system. if you start designing a secure communications product today, by the time it goes into service in 2000, your system is good for 20 or 30 years. But on the last day it's in use, somebody encrypts a sensitive message so important it's still interesting to an opponent 50 years later. This means you're designing today against an opponent who sits down to attack you a century from now. He holds in his pocket calculator more computing power than we now have in the entire world, and he knows a bunch of mathematics as yet undreamed of. Do you see why it's a hard problem?
As star back as the Depression-haunted 1930s, the Dickson Mounds site near Lewistown, Illinois, had been a popular local tourist attraction, famous for its exhibit of over 200 exposed Indian graves, the skeletal remains of their occupants revealed as they had been found years before. The land-owner, Don Dickson, had begun excavating the burials in 1927 - at least partly out of professional interest as a chiropractor (he wanted to examine the bones) - and, in those days, the Dickson Mounds attraction was little more than a wood-frame shelter over a hole in the ground.
Trouble began in the early 1970s, when the state built a new museum on the site. Native Americans, upset by the exploitative exhibit, threatened to protest at the museum's dedication ceremony. The protest never occurred, but complaints continued intermittently until 1989 when, sensing the shifting tide of public opinion, Judith Franke, the museum director, recommended to the governor of Illinois that the exhibit be closed.
But that wasn't the end of the trouble. When the local Lewistown
public heard of the plan to close the site, they protested in return.
The Illinois Department of Natural Resources held hearings; Dickson
Mounds became a battleground of the 1990 Illinois gubernatorial
campaign; and the decision was reversed-the exhibit would stay open.
Native American groups demonstrated outside the museum; some leaped
into the pits and covered the skeletons with blankets; and the verdict
was changed again. In April 1992, the site was officially closed to the
public, a concrete slab was laid over the pit of open graves, and with
that the last exhibit of Native American remains in the country was
sealed. The governor committed $4 million to renovate and expand the
museum, as a salve to the angry residents of Lewistown, but hardly
anyone was pleased by the compromise-native Americans wanted the bones
reburied rather than simply covered over, scientists wanted more time
to study the remains, and the local townspeople still felt their
interests had been manhandled by outsiders.
The bitter conflict at Dickson Mounds is just one of many such clashes that have plagued museums and archaeologists over the past several years, as Native Americans have demanded the return (or "repatriation") of remains and artifacts held by the nation's museums, and more sensitive exhibits on Native American culture. During the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, archaeologists and agents for such prominent institutions as the Smithsonian and the American Museum of Natural History were digging up relics from Native American burial grounds and trading for artifacts on reservations. Vast collections of material - from prehistoric pottery and bone carvings to feather headdresses, mummies, and skeletons-ended up in the display cases and storage boxes of museums. As Native American activism grew during the 1960s and 1970s, pressure on museums to return such objects-particularly the human remains - grew as well.
The repatriation issue reached a watershed in the 1980s, when archaeologists and museum curators, who had largely remained passive before (hoping, perhaps, that the issue would blow over in time), started to give Native American claims serious consideration - and, in some cases, to agree to return all or part of their collections to the tribes. California's Department of Parks and Recreation, which held hundreds of skeletons, was one of the first, yielding to pressure in 1983, but challenge from archaeologists held the repatriation back for many years. As the decade progressed, the weight of opinion began to shift toward the Native American view, and other institutions such as Stanford University and the University of Nebraska agreed to return collections. Most significantly, the Smithsonian Institution, which had held out under increasingly ardent protests for years, signed an agreement with two national Indian organizations in September 1989, providing for the return of some of its 18,500 Native American "specimens" and their associated funeral objects.
As the number of professional archaeologists and museum curators who
favor repatriation has grown, so has a very personal brand of passion
on both sides. Normally polite academic papers in journals such as
American Antiquity drift at times toward insult with terms like
"immoral" and "hypocrisy" and phrases like "the anthropological trap of
cultural relativism." The Council for West Virginia Archaeology and the
Society for West Virginia Archaeology jointly sued the state of West
Virginia over a plan to excavate a burial mound at Cotiga - they felt
the state plan gave too much power to a coalition of Native Americans
who had voiced concern. Not content with a court battle, the plaintiffs
fought it out in the press as well. "I saw things that were vitriolic
against me personally in artifact-trader magazines and collector
magazines," recalls William G. Farrar, deputy commissioner of the West
Virginia Division of Culture and History, with some amusement and a
touch of old irritation.
In keeping with the trend, the state won the case, and a subsequent appeal. "We established that repatriation is a program that's here to stay," says Farrar. Bit by bit, a consensus is forming, says Anthony Klesert, director of the Navajo Nation Archaeological Department in Window Rock, Arizona, "that, indeed, these things are the property of Indian tribes." That consensus is what scares some archaeologists and museum professionals. If objects are returned to Native Americans, there's no way to ensure their fate. "They'll have the right of determining what happens to them," says James Brown, chairman of the anthropology department at Northwestern University, "including the right to sell them." The Yup'ik natives of St. Lawrence Island, Alaska, recently took to raiding their own archaeological sites and selling the valuable artifacts to dealers.
But resale isn't the most disturbing (or likely) possibility by far.
Much of the material returned to Native Americans will be destroyed in
one way or another. The human remains and funeral objects will be
reburied. Other objects, such as the striking wooden war-god sculptures
crafted by the Zuni, will simply be exposed to the elements to
decompose naturally, as they were originally intended to do by Zuni
Certainly, some of the resistance to repatriation derives from sentimentality, but it's the loss of scientific data and access to precious archaeological resources that will hurt the most. "When a new advance comes along," Brown explains, "it's precisely those well-known, well-documented collections that the promoters of the new methodology or perspective go to in order to verify and affirm the usefulness of their approach." Over time, such benchmark collections, which have been analyzed and reanalyzed by dozens of different techniques, become ever more valuable to researchers. In that light," says Brown with a note of regret, "the consignment of the collection to oblivion is rather unfortunate."
The trend toward repatriation and the accommodation of Native
American concerns reflects a general shift in public opinion toward
respecting the viewpoints of historically oppressed minorities. The
same cultural forces that have brought team names like the Washington
Redskins under fire have bequeathed a powerful moral force to the
proponents of repatriation. "For so long archaeologists have taken a
really colonialistic attitude toward Indians and their remains," says
Anthony Klesert. "To a certain extent, we've got it coming." But
there's more to it than fashionable group guilt. Anthropological ethics
dictate a stance of neutral cultural relativism and noninterference,
Klesert explains, "which means taking into account the world-view and
the point-of-view of the people who generated these objects." Looked at
that way, repatriation seems less like a betrayal of scientific
principles than fidelity to scientific ethics, even if it means
precious relics and valuable evidence must be destroyed. "From an
anthropological point of view, maybe that's what should happen,"
Klesert suggests. "If the makers, the designers, the users of the items
want them destroyed, that's the way it should be."
"If that were my grandmother's head up on the shelf," says William Farrar, "I'd be incensed, and so would most of the people in the state of West Virginia." But, Klesert points out, it's not enough to support the Native American viewpoint only when one's own gut-level response agrees with it. "That's missing the point - it's not a question of how would you feel, it's how do they feel." Farrar elaborates: "I don't have to believe in it, but I have to respect their beliefs, the same as I would respect the beliefs of professional archaeologists even if I didn't like professional archaeology."
That becomes a particularly important distinction when issues of respect for Native American beliefs tread on some of our own most treasured principles. One of the points in the Cotiga burial mound dispute was a request by the Native American group that female researchers working at the site not handle the burial materials-the human remains and related funeral objects - while they were menstruating. "My immediate reaction," says Farrar, "was, well, you can ask, but I'm not going to enforce it, and I don't know if anyone will agree to that."
The issue was resolved, however, without conflict. The spokesperson
for the Native American group (a woman) talked it over with the head of
the archaeological team (also a woman), and she agreed to honor their
request. "She said she'd been in that situation on several reservation
digs," Farrar recalls. "That it wouldn't interfere with their work, and
it would foster good relations, so no sweat."
Likewise, the sensitive issue of confidentiality - what critics would call censorship - raises the hackles of Americans weaned on the first amendment. "Confidentiality is an important aspect of a lot of sacred places and sacred ceremonies," says Anthony Klesert. "It has to be respected." Native Americans are often loathe to share information about sacred topics at all, and when they do, they want to have a say about its publication and dissemination. Photographs and other documentation of burial sites may offend some Native Americans, who would rather no such records were kept, even for scientific purposes. Robert Maslowski, president of the Council for West Virginia Archaeology, claims that the original plan for the Cotiga mound excavation would have returned all the materials-even the scientific records - to the Native Americans for disposal, though in the end no such action occurred, and Farrar denies that he would ever have endorsed such a plan. "I will not stand for censorship on anything that comes through this off ice, period, " he insists.
The 1990 Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act
(NAG-PRA) brought some much-needed structure to the morass of ethical
debate. While it essentially favors Native Americans, requiring
repatriation of several categories of material and establishing
procedures for handling burials discovered on federal or tribal lands,
NAGPRA also set some limits on Native American demands. It covers only
a narrow range of relics and requires Native American claimants to
demonstrate some "cultural affiliation" - a "reasonable" link (not
necessarily based on direct genealogical descent) between their
ancestry and the remains or artifacts in question. NAGPRA has become a
reference point for both scientists and Native Americans - a "middle
ground," says Richard Stoffle of the University of Arizona's Bureau of
Applied Research and Anthropology, where the opposing parties can meet
to resolve the specific terms of the act itself as well as the larger
issues of their relationship.
NAGPRA specified that any facility receiving federal funds had to make an inventory of its Native American holdings, determine (in consultation with Native Americans and scientists) which tribes might be culturally affiliated with their objects, inform the tribes of their findings (by November 16, 1995), and return to them any affiliated items in several categories. Generally, NAGPRA demands the return of human remains and associated grave goods, unassociated grave goods (objects of a funereal nature but not accompanied by any remains in the collection), sacred objects-meaning materials vital for the practice of Native American religion-and objects of "cultural patrimony," a vague term alluding to culturally important items which belong to the tribe as a whole, and therefore should never have been traded or sold by individual tribe members.
In many ways, NAGPRA has only refined the debate, not resolved it.
Its gray areas leave room for widely varying interpretations. The
requirement of cultural affiliation is a knottier problem than it might
seem. "From an archaeological standpoint," says Richard Stoffle, it's
very hard to make a connection between what was left in the past and
who lives today." Over the centuries, many different tribes may have
occupied a particular area, and records for some regions (and some
collections) are hopelessly spotty. Stoffle and his colleagues have
conducted several cultural affiliation studies, some in connection with
NAGPRA, to help institutions determine which living people might be
related to their collections. "A cultural affiliation study tells you
who to talk with," Stoffle says. "We take the broadest possible net,
and we look at a place and say who could possibly have lived here in
whatever time period, and we argue for the involvement of all those
But then all that remains are representatives from the various affiliated tribes, not a solution. Critics question how well anyone's concerns will be addressed by such a process, and whether Native American groups are going to make wise decisions about the long lists of artifacts museums are sending them. But archaeologists who have worked closely with Native Americans think they'll be exceptionally careful in going over museum inventories and claiming items. "In most cases they're really conservative," says Richard Stoffle. "The last thing they want to do is bring somebody else's body back to their reservation."
Still, NAGPRA's necessarily vague definitions allow museum directors
to view cultural affiliation as narrowly as possible-indeed,
professional ethics may require them to do so. Museums have a "public
trust," explains Judith Franke, and whatever the personal feelings of
curators, they can't just give objects in their care to whoever makes a
claim. Others feel that NAGPRA ought to be interpreted as broadly as
possible. For instance, says Richard Stoffle, we believe that
unrecognized tribes have a right to participate." He and his colleagues
recommend that unrecognized tribes, not technically covered by NAGPRA,
be included in museum consultations. "Simply because the federal
government currently doesn't recognize them should not disqualify them
from the process," he says. For some, splitting hairs over the degree
of cultural affiliation is nothing but a cynical way for archaeologists
and museums to keep their precious materials. Give me a break," says
Anthony Klesert. "What is clear is that these things aren't related to
us, European-stock archaeologists."
NAGPRA itself may be limited to specific categories of materials and to the holdings of federally funded institutions, but it's also served as a catalyst for discussing and resolving wider issues of respect for Native American concerns. The American Indian Religious Freedom Act of 1978 (AIRFA) mandated protection for a much broader range of materials and issues related to Native American culture: Rather than just burial sites and funeral objects, AIRFA encompasses such things as important wild plants and animals, and what Richard Stoffle calls "traditional cultural properties," sacred sites which may show little or no evidence of human habitation, and so are not often protected from development or intrusion. AIRFA didn't have the "teeth" of NAGPRA, with its very specific requirements, deadlines, and penalties, but many institutions are taking the opportunity to comply with AIRFA's terms as they come into compliance with NAGPRA. "That's good," says Stoffle. "From a Native American standpoint, I think it's a lot better to have AIRFA compliance."
Such broad consultations will likely be NAGPRA's most important and
lasting effect. "Its purpose is certainly not to loot museums," says C.
Timothy McKeown, the National Park Service's program leader for
national implementation of NAGPRA. "The legacy of NAGPRA will be that
it mandates dialogue between museums and Indian tribes." Once
archaeologists, museum curators, federal land managers, and others
start talking to concerned Native Americans and exchanging views,
problems can be resolved before they start. "If NAGPRA works, there
will be a better partnership between museum professionals and the
tribes," says Richard Stoffle.
That partnership will do a lot more than help in avoiding future problems. The adversarial relationship between archaeology and Native Americans has left archaeologists working without the benefit of one of the best potential sources of information - the Native Americans themselves. When it comes to interpreting finds, says Anthony Klesert, "they have the inside track." Nagpra-mandated consultations could yield a wealth of information about museum holdings. "You put indian people on archaeological materials," says Richard Stoffle, "and do so in a manner in which their information is desired for its protection, and they'll share knowledge that archaeologists are hungry for." As NAGPRA deadlines have come and gone, Timothy McKeown has fielded panicky calls from small, understaffed museums with less-than-thoroughly documented collections. "'The Indians are coming,' they say," McKeown recounts. "'What should we do?' I tell them 1'd listen attentively, and I'd jot things down, because you're about to learn a lot about your collection. The experts are coming to you."
Native Americans can also learn something from talking with museum
staff and archaeologists. For decades the federal government pursued a
policy of assimilation and suppression of Native American cultures, and
museums and anthropologists were often the only parties (save the
Indians themselves) interested in preserving a record of those
endangered societies. Particularly in the East and Midwest, where
Native Americans were forcibly removed from their lands, and their
cultures were sharply disrupted by European invasion, archaeology can
provide a unique and vital link to the past.
William Farrar recalls that during the excavation at Cotiga, "there were a lot of Native Americans who came down to the site to see what was going on, and who understand that what the archaeologists are bringing out is also teaching them about their past civilizations." First-hand exposure might even inspire more Native Americans to take up archaeology or anthropology as a profession, which could only be a great boon to research as well as to the ongoing dialogue between the two camps. "There are all too few American Indian archaeologists and anthropologists at least in this part of the country," says Judith Franke.
Anthony Klesert helped establish two programs for training Native Americans as professionals, one at Northern Arizona University and the other at Fort Lewis College in Durango, Colorado, but they're small and poorly funded, supported as they are by the Navajo tribe itself. "We're laying some groundwork here," Klesert says, "but anthropology departments need to be focusing on recruiting Native Americans themselves."
NAGPRA has already had some mutually beneficial side effects. The
Arizona State Museum now has a committee of Native Americans who
consult not only on NAGPRA issues, but on the collection as a whole and
on the presentation of Native American culture in the museum's
exhibits. "The museum's going to be a better place because Indian
people and museum professionals have gotten together," says Stoffle.
NAGPRA also specifies that if a burial is discovered anywhere on federal or tribal land, work at the site must stop for 30 days to allow Native Americans and archaeologists to study the remains and determine their disposal. That clause might actually lead to the completion of more archaeological research. Under NAGPRA, contractors will have an interest in commissioning comprehensive archaeological surveys of potential construction sites, says Timothy McKeown, because "the last thing they want to do is put a construction project through a place where there are burials, and have to wait 30 days every time they hit one." Anthony Klesert recalls one recent case in which the Peabody Coal Company arranged for an exhaustive survey of an Anasazi burial ground before they started digging. "If NAGPRA hadn't been passed," says Klesert, "those remains would have been plowed under by the drag line."
Museum curators and archaeologists would be wise to focus on such encouraging reports. Klesert, for one, believes that substantial repatriation is inevitable, and that opposing it will only hurt more in the end. "The more people drag their feet, the more we start looking like the bad guys in the public eye, and the public is the source of our funding. We depend on the good impressions of the public, and by golly they're going to side with the Indians-they will, there's no question about that."
The power of the Native American appeal comes down to two factors:
the volume of the complaint, and the moral force behind it. No outcry
arose over the handling of the well-preserved body of the now-famous
Ice Man found in the Alps a few years ago, though at only 5,000 years
old and with such good preservation, it might have been possible to
determine likely relatives with far more accuracy than in most Native
American cases. "They have all sorts of Neanderthal human remains on
display in Europe," Klesert points out, "because nobody complains." Had
some of the Swiss "descendants" of the Ice Man raised a protest,
perhaps his remains would have been promptly reburied as well.
Native Americans occupy a unique position in the moral history of
our country, a position which invests their feelings with a profound
force few other interest groups can match. "It's a question of
respect," says William Farrar, and until you can figure out a better
way to handle that, reburial is what's going to happen."
I was walking the telephone wires upside-down, the sky underfoot cold and flat with a few bard bright stars sparsely scattered about it, when I thought bow it would take only an instants weakness to step off to the side and fall up forever into the night. A kind of wildness entered me then and
I began to run. Electric Motors-Controls-Parts. Then, where the slope steepened, along the curving snake of rowhouses that went the full quarter mile up to the Ridge. Twice I overtook pedestrians, hunched and bundled, heads doggedly down, out on incomprehensible errands. They didn't notice me, of course. They never do. The antenna farm was visible from here. I could see the Seven Sisters spangled with red lights, dependent on the earth like stalactites. "Where are you running to, little one?" one tower whispered in a crackling, staticky voice. I think it was Hegemone.
"Fuck off," I said without slackening my pace, and they all chuckled.
Cars mumbled by. This was ravine country, however built up, and the far side of the road, too steep and rocky for development, was given over to trees and garbage. Hamburger wrappings and white plastic trash bags rustled in their wake. I was running full-out now.
About a block or so from the Ridge, I stumbled and almost fell. I slapped an arm across a telephone pole and just managed to catch myself in time. Aghast at my own carelessness, I hung there, dizzy and alarmed. The ground overhead was black as black, an iron roof, yet somehow was as anxious as a hound to leap upon me, crush me flat, smear me to nothingness. I stared up at it, horrified.
Somebody screamed my name.
I turned. A faint blue figure clung to a television antenna atop a small, stuccoed
In a panic, I scrambled up and ran toward the Ridge and safety. I had a squat in the old Roxy, and once I was through the wall, the Corpsegrinder would not follow. Why this should be so, I did not know. But you learn the rules if you want to survive.
I ran. in the back of my head I could hear the Seven Sisters clucking and gossiping to each other, radiating television and radio over a few dozen frequencies. Indifferent to my plight.
The Corpsegrinder churned up the wires on a hundred needle-sharp legs. I could feel the ion surge it kicked up pushing against me as I reached the intersection of Ridge and Leverington. Cars were pulling up to the pumps at the Atlantic station. Teenagers stood in front of the A-Plus Mini Market, flicking half-smoked cigarettes into the street, stamping their feet like colts, and waiting for something to happen. I couldn't help feeling a great longing disdain for them. Every last one worried about grades and drugs and zits, and all the while snugly barricaded within hulking fortresses of flesh.
I was scant yards from home. The Roxy was a big old movie palace, fallen into disrepair and semiconverted to a skateboarding rink which had gone out of business almost immediately. But it had been a wonderful place once, and the terra-cotta trim was still there: ribbons and river-gods, great puffing faces with panpipes, guitars, flowers,
I grabbed at a rusty flange on the side of the Roxy.
Too late! Pain exploded within me, a sheet of white nausea. All in an instant I lost the name of my second daughter, an April morning when the world was new and I was five, a smoky string of all-nighters in Rensselaer Polytech, the jowly grin of Old Whatsisface the German who lived on LaFountain Street, the fresh pain of a sprained ankle out back of a Banana Republic warehouse, fishing off a yellow rubber raft with my old man on Lake Champlain. All gone, these and a thousand things more, sucked away, crushed to nothing, beyond retrieval.
Furious as any wounded animal, I fought back. Foul bits of substance splattered under my fist. The Corpsegrinder reared up to smash me down, and I scrabbled desperately away. Something tore and gave.
Then I was through the wall and safe and among the bats and gloom.
"Cobb!" the Corpsegrinder shouted. It lashed wildly back and forth, scouring the brick walls with limbs and teeth, as restless as a March wind, as unpredictable as ball lightning.
For the moment I was safe. But it had seized a part of me, tortured it, and made it a part of itself. I could no longer delude myself into thinking it was simply going to go away. "Cahawahawbb!" It broke my name down to a chord of overlapping tones. It had an ugly, lines left a trail of some kind? Maybe. Then again, it might have some special connection with me. To follow me here it must have passed by easier prey. Which implied it had a grudge against me. Maybe I'd known the Corpsegrinder back when it was human. We could once have been important to each other. We might have been lovers. It was possible. The world is a stranger place than I used to believe.
The horror of my existence overtook me then, an acute awareness of the squalor in which I dwelt, the danger which surrounded me, and the dark mystery informing my universe. I wept for all that I had lost.
Eventually, the sun rose up like God's own Peterbilt and with a
triumphant blare of chromed trumpets, gently sent all of us creatures
of the night to sleep. When you die, the first thing that happens is
that the world turns upside-down. You feel an overwhelming
disorientation and a strange sensation that's not quite pain as the
last strands connecting you to your body part, and then you slip out of
physical being and fall from the planet.
As you fall, you attenuate. Your substance expands and thins, glowing more and more faintly as you pick up speed. So far as can be told, it's a process that doesn't ever stop. Fainter, thinner, colder . . . until you've merged into the substance of everyone else who's ever died, spread perfectly uniformly through the universal vacuum forever moving toward but never arriving at absolute zero. Look hard, and the sky is full of the Dead.
Not everyone falls away. Some few are fast-thinking or lucky enough to maintain a tenuous hold on earthly existence. I was one of the lucky ones. I was working late one night on a proposal when I had my heart attack. The office was empty. The ceiling had a wire mesh within the plaster and that's what saved me.
The first response to death is denial. This can't be happening, I
thought. I gaped up at the floor where my body had fallen and would lie
undiscovered until morning. My own corpse, pale and bloodless, wearing
a corporate tie and sleeveless gray Angora sweater. Gold Rolex, Sharper
Image desk accessories, and of course I also thought: I died for this?
By which of course I meant my entire life.
So it was in a state of personal and ontological crisis that I wandered across the ceiling to the location of an old pneumatic message tube, removed and plastered over some 50 years before. I fell from the seventeenth to the twenty-fifth floor, and I learned a lot in the process. Shaken, startled, and already beginning to assume the wariness that the afterlife requires, I went to a window to get a glimpse of the outer world. When I tried to touch the glass, my hand went right through. I jerked back. Cautiously, I leaned forward so that my head stuck out into the night.
What a wonderful experience Times Square is when you're dead! There is ten times the light a living being sees. All metal things vibrate with inner life. Electric wires are thin scratches in the air. Neon sings. The world is filled with strange sights and cries. Everything shifts from beauty to beauty.
Something that looked like a cross between a dragon and a wisp of smoke was feeding in the Square. But it was lost among so many wonders that I gave it no particular thought. Night again. I awoke with Led Zeppelin playing in the back of my head. Stairway to Heaven. Again. It can be a long wait between Dead Milkmen cuts.
"Wakey-risey, little man," crooned one of the Sisters. It was funny how sometimes they took a close personal interest in our doings, and other times ignored us completely. "This is Euphrosyne with the red-eye weather report. The outlook is moody with a chance of existential despair. You won't be going outside tonight if you know what's good for you. There'll be lightning within the hour."
It's too late in the year for lightning," I said.
"Oh dear. Should I inform the weather?"
By now I was beginning to realize that what I had taken on awakening
to be the Corpsegrinder's dark aura was actually the high-pressure
front of an approaching storm. The first drops of rain pattered on the
roof. Wind skirled and the rain grew stronger. Thunder growled in the
distance. "Why don't you just go fuck your-"
A light laugh that trilled up into the supersonic, and she was gone.
I was listening to the rain underfoot when a lightning bolt screamed into existence, turning me inside-out for the briefest instant then cartwheeling gleefully into oblivion. In the instant of restoration following the bolt, the walls were transparent and all the world made of glass, its secrets available to be snooped out. But before comprehension was possible, the walls opaqued again and the lightning's malevolent aftermath faded like a madman's smile in the night.
Through it all the Seven Sisters were laughing and singing, screaming with joy whenever a lightning bolt flashed, and making up nonsense poems from howls, whistles, and static. During a momentary lull, the flat hum of a carrier wave filled my head. Phaenna, by the feel of her. But instead of her voice, I heard only the sound of fearful sobs.
"Widow?" I said. "Is that you?"
"She can't hear you," Phaenna purred. "You're lucky I'm here to bring you up to speed. A lightning bolt hit the transformer outside her house. It was bound to happen sooner or later. Your Nemesis-the one you call the Corpsegrinder, such a cute nickname, by the way-has her trapped."
This was making no sense at all. "Why would the Corpsegrinder be after her?"
"Why why why why?" Phaenna sang, a snatch of some pop ballad or other. "You didn't get answers when you were alive, what makes you think you'd get any now.?" The sobbing went on and on. "She can sit it out," I said. "The Corpsegrinder can't-hey, wait. Didn't they just wire her house for cable? I'm trying to picture it. Phone lines on one side, electric on the other, cable. She can slip out on his blind side."
The sobs lessened and then rose in a most un-Widowlike wail of despair.
"Typical," Phaenna said. "You haven't the slightest notion of what you're talking about. The lightning stroke has altered your little pet. Go out and see for yourself." My hackles rose. "You know damned good and well that I can't-"
Phaenna's attention shifted and the carrier beam died. The Seven Sisters are fickle that way. This time, though, it was just as well. No way was I going out there to face that monstrosity. I couldn't. And I was grateful not to have to admit it.
For a long while I sat thinking about the Corpsegrinder. Even here, protected by the strong walls of the Roxy, the mere thought of it was paralyzing. I tried to imagine what Charlie's Widow was going through, separated from this monster by only a thin curtain of brick and stucco. Feeling the hard radiation of its malice and need . . . It was beyond my powers of visualization. Eventually I gave up and thought instead about my first meeting with the Widow.
She was coming down the hill from Roxborough with her arms out, the inverted image of a child playing a tightrope walker. Placing one foot ahead of the other with deliberate concentration, scanning the wire before her so cautiously that she was less than a block away when she saw me.
Then she was running straight at me. My back was to the transformer
station - there was no place to flee. I shrank away as she stumbled to
"It's you!" she cried. "Oh God, Charlie, I knew you'd come back for me, I waited so long but I never doubted you, never, we can-" She lunged forward as if to hug me. Our eyes met.
All the joy in her died.
"Oh," she said. "It's not you."
I was fresh off the high-tension lines, still vibrating with energy and fear. My mind was a blaze of contradictions. I could remember almost nothing of my post-death existence. Fragments, bits of advice from the old dead, a horrifying confrontation with . . . something, some creature or phenomenon that had driven me to flee Manhattan. Whether it was this event or the fearsome voltage of that radiant highway that had scoured me of experience, I did not know. It's me," I protested.
"No, it's not." Her gaze was unflatteringly frank. "You're not
Charlie and you never were. You're-just the sad remnant of what once
was a man, and not a very good one at that." She turned away. She was
leaving me! In my confusion, I felt such a despair as I had never known
"Please . . ." I said.
A long silence. Then what in a living woman would have been a sigh. "You'd think that I - well, never mind." She offered her hand, and when I would not take it, said, "This way."
I followed her down Main Street, through the shallow canyon of the business district to a diner at the edge of town. it was across from Hubcap Heaven and an automotive junkyard bordered it on two sides. The diner was closed. We settled down on the ceiling.
"That's where the car ended up after I died," she said, gesturing toward the junkyard. "It was right after I got the call about Charlie. I stayed up drinking and after a while it occurred to me that maybe they were wrong, they'd made some sort of horrible mistake and he wasn't really dead, you know?
Like maybe he was in a coma or something, some horrible kind of misdiagnosis, they'd gotten him confused with somebody else, who knows? Terrible things happen in hospitals. They make mistakes.
"I decided I had to go and straighten things out. There wasn't time to make coffee so I went to the medicine cabinet and gulped down a bunch of pills at random, figuring something among them would keep me awake. Then I jumped into the car and started off for Colorado."
"I have no idea how fast I was going - everything was a blur when I crashed. At least I didn't take anybody with me, thank the Lord. There was this one horrible moment of confusion and pain and rage and then I found myself lying on the floor of the car with my corpse just inches beneath me on the underside of the roof." She was silent for a moment. "My first impulse was to crawl out the window. Lucky for me I didn't." Another pause. "It took me most of a night to work my way out of the yard. I had to go from wreck to wreck. There were these gaps to jump. It was a nightmare."
"I'm amazed you had the presence of mind to stay in the car."
"Dying sobers you up fast."
I laughed. I couldn't help it. And without the slightest hesitation,
she joined right in with me. It was a fine warm moment, the first I'd
had since I didn't know when. The two of us set each other off,
laughing louder and louder, our merriment heterodyning until it filled
every television screen for a mile around with snow.
My defenses were down. She reached out and took my hand.
Memory flooded me. It was her first date with Charlie. He was an electrician. Her next-door neighbor was having the place rehabbed. She'd been working in the back yard and he struck up a conversation. Then he asked her out. They went to a disco in the Adam's Mark over on City Line Avenue.
She wasn't eager to get involved with somebody just then. She was still recovering from a hellish affair with a married man who'd thought that since he wasn't available for anything permanent, that made her his property. But when Charlie suggested they go out to the car for some coke - it was the Seventies-she'd said sure. He was going to put the moves on her sooner or later. Might as well get it settled early so they'd have more time for dancing.
But after they'd done up the lines, Charlie had shocked her by
taking her hands in his and kissing them. She worked for a Bucks County
pottery in those days and her hands were rough and red. She was very
sensitive about them.
"Beautiful hands," he murmured. "Such beautiful, beautiful hands."
"You're making fun of me," she protested, hurt.
"No! These are hands that do things, and they've been shaped by the things they've done. The way stones in a stream are shaped by the water that passes over them. The way tools are shaped by their work. A hammer is beautiful, if it's a good hammer, and your hands are, too."
He could have been scamming her. But something in his voice, his manner, said no, he really meant it. She squeezed his hands and saw that they were beautiful, too. Suddenly she was glad she hadn't gone off the pill when she broke up with Daniel. She started to cry. Her date looked alarmed and baffled. But she couldn't stop. All the tears she hadn't cried in the past two years came pouring out of her, unstoppable.
Charlie-boy, she thought, you just got lucky.
All this in an instant. I snatched my hands away, breaking contact. Don't do that!" I cried. "Don't you ever touch me again! "
With flat disdain, the Widow said, "It wasn't pleasant for me either. But l' had to see how much of your life you remember."
It was naive of me, but I was shocked to realize that the passage of memories had gone both ways. But before I could voice my outrage, she said, "There's not much left of you. You're only a fragment of a man, shreds and tatters, hardly anything. No wonder you're so frightened. You've got what Charlie calls a low signal-to-noise ratio. What happened in New York City almost destroyed you."
"That doesn't give you the right to-"
"Oh be still. You need to know this. Living is simple, you just keep
going. But death is complex. It's so hard to hang on and so easy to let
go. The temptation is always there. Believe me, I know. There used to
be five of us in Roxborough, and where are the others now? Two came
through Manayunk last spring and camped out under the El for a season
and they're gone, too. Holding it together is hard work. One day the
stars start singing to you, and the next you begin to listen to them. A
week later they start to make sense. You're just reacting to
events-that's not good enough. If you mean to hold on, you've got to
know why you're doing it."
"So why are you?"
"I'm waiting for Charlie," she said simply.
It occurred to me to wonder exactly how many years she had been waiting. Three? Fifteen? Just how long was it possible to hold on? Even in my confused and emotional state, though, I knew better than to ask. Deep inside she must've known as well as I did that Charlie wasn't coming. "My name's Cobb," I said. "What's yours?"
She hesitated and then, with an odd sidelong look, said, "I'm Charlie's widow. That's all that matters." It was all the name she ever gave, and Charlie's Widow she was to me from then onward. I rolled onto my back on the tin ceiling and spread out my arms and legs, a phantom starfish among the bats. A fragment, she had called me, shreds and tatters. No wonder you're so frightened! In all the months since I'd been washed into this backwater of the power grid, she'd never treated me with anything but a condescension bordering on contempt.
So I went out into the storm after all.
The rain was nothing. It passed right through me. But there were ion-heavy gusts of wind that threatened to knock me off the lines, and the transformer outside the Widow's house was burning a fierce actinic blue. It was a gusher of energy, a flare star brought to earth, dazzling. A bolt of lightning unzipped me, turned me inside out, and restored me before I had a chance to react.
The Corpsegrinder was visible from the Roxy, but between the burning transformer and the creature's metamorphosis, I was within a block of the monster before I understood exactly what it was I was seeing.
It was feeding off the dying transformer, sucking in energy so greedily that it pulsed like a mosquito engorged with blood. Enormous plasma wings warped to either side, hot blue and transparent. They curved entirely around the Widow's house in an unbroken and circular wall. At the resonance points they extruded less detailed versions of the Corpsegrinder itself, like sentinels, all facing the Widow.
Surrounding her with a prickly ring of electricity and malice.
I retreated a block, though the transformer fire apparently hid me from the Corpsegrinder, for it stayed where it was, eyelessly staring inward. Three times I circled the house from a distance, looking for a way in. An unguarded cable, a wrought-iron fence, any unbroken stretch of metal too high or too low for the Corpsegrinder to reach.
Finally, because there was no alternative, I entered the house
across the street from the Widow's, the one that was best shielded from
the spouting and stuttering transformer. A power line took me into the
attic crawlspace. From there I scaled the electrical system down
through the second and first floors and so to the basement. I had a
brief glimpse of a man asleep on a couch before the television. The set
was off but it still held a residual charge. It sat quiescent, smug,
bloated with stolen energies. if the poor bastard on the couch could
have seen what I saw, he'd've never turned on the TV again. In the
basement I hand-over-handed myself from the washing machine to the main
water inlet. Straddling the pipe, I summoned all my courage and plunged
my head underground.
It was black as pitch. I inched forward on the pipe in a kind of panic. I could see nothing, hear nothing, smell nothing, taste nothing. All I could feel was the iron pipe beneath my hands. Just beyond the wall the pipe ended in a T-joint where it hooked into a branch line under the drive. I followed it to the street.
It was awful: like suffocation infinitely prolonged. Like being wrapped in black cloth. Like being drowned in ink. Like strangling noiselessly in the void between the stars. To distract myself, I thought about my old man.
When my father was young, he navigated between cities by radio. Driving dark and usually empty highways, he'd twist the dial back and forth, back and forth, until he'd hit a station. Then he'd withdraw his hand and wait for the station ID. That would give him his rough location-that he was somewhere outside of Albany, say. A sudden signal coming in strong and then abruptly dissolving in groans and eerie whistles was a fluke of the ionosphere, impossibly distant and easily disregarded. One that faded in and immediately out meant he had grazed the edge of a station's range. But then a signal would grow and strengthen as he penetrated its field, crescendo, fade, and collapse into static and silence. That left him north of Troy, let's say, and making good time. He would begin the search for the next station.
You could drive across the continent in this way, passed from hand
to hand by local radio, and tuned in to the geography of the night.
I went over that memory three times, polishing and refining it, before the branch line abruptly ended. One hand groped forward and closed upon nothing.
I had reached the main conduit. For a panicked moment I had feared that it would be concrete or brick or even one of the cedar pipes the city laid down in the nineteenth century, remnants of which still linger here and there beneath the pavement. But by sheer blind luck, the system had been installed during that narrow window of time when the pipes were cast iron. I crawled along its underside first one way and then the other, searching for the branch line for the Widow's. There was a lot of crap under the street. Several times I was blocked by gas lines or by the high-pressure pipes for the fire hydrants and had to awkwardly clamber around them. At last, I found the line and began the painful journey out from the street again.
When I emerged in the Widow's basement, I was a nervous wreck. It
came to me then that I could no longer remember my father's name. A
thing of rags and shreds indeed! I worked my way up the electrical
system, searching every room and unintentionally spying on the family
who had bought the house after her death. In the kitchen a puffy man
stood with his sleeves rolled up, elbow-deep in the sink, angrily
washing dishes by candlelight. A woman who was surely his wife
expressively smoked a cigarette at his stiff back, drawing in the smoke
with bitter intensity and exhaling it in puffs of hatred. On the second
floor a preadolescent girl clutched a tortoise-shell cat so tightly it
struggled to escape, and cried into its fur. In the next room a younger
boy sat on his bed in earphones, Walkman on his lap, staring
sightlessly out the window at the burning transformer. No Widow on
How, I wondered, could she have endured this entropic oven of a blue-collar rowhouse, forever the voyeur at the banquet, watching the living squander what she had already spent? Her trace was everywhere, her presence elusive. I was beginning to think she'd despaired and given herself up to the sky when I found her in the attic, clutching the wire that led to the antenna. She looked up, amazed by my unexpected appearance.
"Come on," I said. "I know a way out." Returning, however, I couldn't retrace the route I'd taken in. it wasn't so much the difficulty of navigating the twisting maze of pipes under the street, though that was bad enough, as the fact that the Widow wouldn't hazard the passage unless I led her by the hand.
"You don't know how difficult this is for me," I said.
"It's the only way I'd dare." A nervous, humorless laugh. "I have
such a lousy sense of direction."
So, steeling myself, I seized her hand and plunged through the wall.
It took all my concentration to keep from sliding off the water pipes, I was so distracted by the violence of her thoughts. We crawled through a hundred memories, all of her married lover, all alike. Here's one:
Daniel snapped on the car radio. Sad music-something classical-flooded the car. "That's bullshit, babe. You know how much I have invested in you?" He jabbed a blunt finger at her dress. "I could buy two good whores for what that thing cost."
Then why don't you, she thought. Get back on your Metroliner and go home to New York City and your wife and your money and your two good whores. Aloud, reasonably, she said, "It's over, Danny, can't you see that?"
"Look, babe. Let's not argue here, okay? Not in the parking lot, with people walking by and everybody listening. Drive us to your place, we can sit down and talk it over like civilized human beings." She clutched the wheel, staring straight ahead. "No. We're going to settle this here and now."
"Christ." One-handed, Daniel wrangled a pack of Kents from a jacket pocket and knocked out a cigarette. Took the end in his lips and drew it out. Punched the lighter. "So talk."
A wash of hopelessness swept over her. Married men were supposed to be easy to get rid of. That was the whole point. "Let me go, Danny," she pleaded. Then, lying, "We can still be friends."
He made a disgusted noise.
"I've tried, Danny, I really have. You don't know how hard I've tried. But it's just not working."
"All right, I've listened. Now let's go." Reaching over her, Daniel threw the gearshift into reverse. He stepped on her foot, mashing it into the accelerator.
The car leaped backward. She shrieked and in a flurry of panic swung the wheel about and slammed on the brakes with her free foot.
With a jolt and a crunch, the car stopped. There was the tinkle of broken plastic. They'd hit a lime-green Hyundai.
"Oh, that's just perfect!" Daniel said. The lighter popped out. He
lit his cigarette and then swung open the door. "I'll check the
damage." Over her shoulder, she saw Daniel tug at his trousers knees as
he crouched to examine the Hyundai. She had a sudden impulse to slew
the car around and escape. Step on the gas and never look back. Watch
his face, dismayed and dwindling, in the rear-view mirror. Eyes flooded
with tears, she began quietly to laugh.
Then Daniel was back. "It's all right, let's go."
"I heard something break."
"It was just a tail-light, okay?" He gave her a funny look. "What the hell are you laughing about?"
She shook her head helplessly, unable to sort out the tears from the laughter. Then somehow they were on the Expressway, the car humming down the indistinct and warping road. She was driving but Daniel was still in control. We were completely lost now and had been for some time. I had taken what I was certain had to be a branch line and it had led nowhere. We'd been tracing its twisty passage for blocks. I stopped and pulled my hand away. I couldn't concentrate. Not with the caustics and poisons of the Widow's past churning through me. Listen," I said. "We've got to get something straight between us."
Her voice came out of nowhere, small and wary. What?"
How to say it? The horror of those memories lay not in their brutality but in their particularity. They nestled into empty spaces where memories of my own should have been. They were as familiar as old shoes. They fit.
"If I could remember any of this crap," I said, "I'd apologize. Hell, I can't blame you for how you feel. Of course you're angry. But it's gone, can't you see that, it's over. You've got to let go. You can't hold me accountable for things I can't even remember, okay? All that shit happened decades ago. I was young. I've changed." The absurdity of the thing swept over me. I'd have laughed if I'd been able. "I'm dead, for pity's sake!"
A long silence. Then, "So you've figured it out."
"You've known all along," I said bitterly. "Ever since I came off the high-tension lines in Manayunk."
She didn't deny it. "I suppose I should be flattered that when you were in trouble you came to me," she said in a way that indicated she was not.
"Why didn't you tell me then? Why drag it out?"
"Don't call me that!
"It's your name. Daniel. Daniel Cobb."
All the emotions I'd been holding back by sheer force of denial closed about me. I flung myself down and clutched the pipe tight, crushing myself against its unforgiving surface. Trapped in the friendless wastes of night, I weighed my fear of letting go against my fear of holding on.
I said nothing. The Widow's voice took on an edgy quality. "Cobb, we can't stay here. You've got to lead me out. I don't have the slightest idea which way to go. I'm lost without your help."
I still could not speak.
"Cobb!" She was close to panic. "I put my own feelings aside. Back in Manayunk. You needed help and I did what I could. Now it's your turn."
Silently, invisibly, I shook my head.
"God damn you, Danny," she said furiously. "I won't let you do this to me again! So you're unhappy with what a jerk you were - that's not my problem. You can't redeem your manliness on me any more. I am not your fucking salvation. I am not some kind of cosmic last chance and it's not my job to talk you down from the ledge."
That stung. "I wasn't asking you to," I mumbled.
"So you're still there! Take my hand and lead us out."
I pulled myself together. "You'll have to follow my voice, babe. Your memories are too intense for me."
We resumed our slow progress. I was sick of crawling, sick of the dark, sick of this lightless horrid existence, disgusted to the pit of my soul with who and what I was. Was there no end to this labyrinth of pipes?
"Wait." I'd brushed by something. Something metal buried in the earth.
"What is it?"
"I think it's -" I groped about, trying to get a sense of the thing's shape. "I think it's a cast-iron gatepost. Here. Wait. Let me climb up and take a look."
Relinquishing my grip on the pipe, I seized hold of the object and stuck my head out of the ground. I emerged at the gate of an iron fence framing the minuscule front yard of a house on Ripka Street. I could see again! It felt so good to feel the clear breath of the world once more that I closed my eyes briefly to savor the sensation.
"How ironic," Euphrosyne said.
"After being so heroic," Thalia said.
"Overcoming his fears," Aglaia said.
"Rescuing the fair maid from terror and durance vile," Cleta said.
"Realizing at last who he is," Phaenna said.
"Beginning that long and difficult road to recovery by finally getting in touch with his innermost feelings," Auxo said. Hegemone giggled.
"What?" I opened my eyes.
That was when the Corpsegrinder struck. It leaped upon me with stunning force, driving spear-long talons through my head and body. The talons were barbed so that they couldn't be pulled free and they burned like molten metal. "Ahhhh, Cobb," the Corpsegrinder crooned. "Now this is sweet."
I screamed and it drank in those screams so that only silence escaped into the outside world. I struggled and it made those struggles its own, leaving me to kick myself deeper and deeper into the drowning pools of its identity. With all my will I resisted. It was not enough. I experienced the languorous pleasure of surrender as that very will and resistance were sucked down into my attacker's substance. The distinction between me and it weakened, strained, dissolved. I transformed.
I was the Corpsegrinder now. Manhattan is a virtual school for the dead. Enough people die there every day to keep any number of monsters fed. From the store of memories the Corpsegrinder had stolen from me, I recalled a quiet moment sitting cross-legged on the tin ceiling of a sleaze joint while table dancers entertained Japanese tourists on the floor above and a kobold instructed me on the finer points of survival. "The worst thing you can be hunted by," he said, "is yourself."
"Fuck you. I used to be human, too."
"Apology accepted. Look, I told you about Salamanders. That's a
shitty way to go, but at least it's final. When they're done with you,
nothing remains. But a Corpsegrinder is a parasite. It has no true
identity of its own, so it constructs one from bits and pieces of
everything that's unpleasant within you. Your basic greeds and lusts.
It gives you a particularly nasty sort of immortality. Remember that
old cartoon? This hideous toad saying, Kiss me and live forever-you'll
be a toad, but you'll live forever."' He grimaced. "If you get the
choice, go with the Salamander."
"So what's this business about hunting myself?"
"Sometimes a Corpsegrinder will rip you in two and let half escape. For a while."
"I dunno. Maybe it likes to play with its food. Ever watch a cat torture a mouse? Maybe it thinks it's fun."
From a million miles away, I thought: So now I know what's happened to me. I'd made quite a run of it, but now it was over. It didn't matter. All that mattered was the hoard of memories, glorious memories, into which I'd been dumped. I wallowed in them, picking out here a winter sunset and there the pain of a jellyfish sting when I was nine. So what if I was already beginning to dissolve? I was intoxicated, drunk, stoned with the raw stuff of experience. I was high on life.
Then the Widow climbed up the gatepost looking for me. "Cobb?"
The Corpsegrinder had moved up the fence to a more comfortable spot in which to digest me. When it saw the Widow, it reflexively parked me in a memory of a gray drizzly day in a Ford Fiesta outside of 30th Street Station. The engine was going and the heater and the windshield wiper, too, so I snapped on the radio to mask their noise. Beethoven filled the car, the Moonlight Sonata.
That's bullshit, babe," I said. You know how much I have invested in you? I could buy two good whores for what that dress cost." She refused to meet my eyes. In a whine that set my teeth on edge, she said, "Danny, can't you see that it's over between us?"
"Look babe, let's not argue in the parking lot, okay?" I was trying hard to be reasonable. "Not with people walking by and listening. We'll go someplace private where we can talk this over calmly, like two civilized human beings." She shifted slightly in the seat and adjusted her skirt with a little tug. Drawing attention to her long legs and fine ass. Making it hard for me to think straight. The bitch really knew how to twist the knife. Even now, crying and begging, she was aware of how it turned me on. And even though I hated being aroused by her little act, I was. The sex was always best after an argument; it made her sluttish.
I clenched my anger in one hand and fisted my pocket with it. Thinking how much I'd like to up and give her a shot. She was begging for it. Secretly, maybe, it was what she wanted; I'd often suspected she'd enjoy being hit. it was too late to act on the impulse, though. The memory was playing out like a tape, immutable, unstoppable.
All the while, like a hallucination or the screen of a television set receiving conflicting signals, I could see the Widow, frozen with fear half in and half out of the ground. She quivered like an acetylene flame. In the memory she was saying something, but with the shift in my emotions came a corresponding warping-away of perception. The train station, car, the windshield wipers and music, all faded to a murmur in my consciousness.
Tentacles whipped around the Widow. She was caught. She struggled
helplessly, deliciously. The Corpsegrinder's emotions pulsed through me
and to my remote horror I found that they were identical with my own. I
wanted the Widow. wanted her so bad there were no words for it I wanted
to clutch her to me so tightly her ribs would splinter and for just
this once she'd know it was real. I wanted tn own her To possess her To
put an end to all her little games To know her every thought and secret
down to the very bottom of her being.
No more lies, babe I thought no more evasions You're mine now
So perfectly in syne was I with the Corpsegrinder's desires that it shifted its primary consciousness back into the liquid sphere of memory where it hung smug and lazy watching a voyeur With a willing agent I was n control of the autonomous functions now. I reshaped the tentacles merging and recombining them into two strong arms. The claws and talon,,; that clutched the fence I made legs again The exterior of the Corpsegrinder I morphed into human semblance, save for that great mass of memories sprouting from our back like a bloated spidersack. Last of all I made the head
I gave it my own face.
"Surprised to see me again babe?' I leered. Her expression was not so much fearful as disappointed. "No," she said wearily. "Deep down, I guess I always knew you'd be back."
As I drew the Widow closer I distantly knew that all that held me to
the Corpsegrinder in that instant was our common store of memories and
my determination not to lose them again. That was enough, though. I
pushed my fare into hers, forcing open her mouth Energies flowed
between us like a feast of tongues
I prepared to drink her in.
There were no barriers between us This was an experience as intense as when, making love, you lose all track of which body is your own and thought dissolves into the animal moment. For a giddy instant I was no less her than I was myself. I was the Widow staring fascinated into the filthy depths of my psyche. She was myself witnessing her astonishment as she realized exactly how little I had ever known her. We both saw her freeze still to the core with horror. Horror not of what I was doing,
But of what I was.
I can't take any credit for what happened then. It was only an impulse, a spasm of the emotions, a sudden and unexpected clarity of vision. Can a single flash of decency redeem a life like mine? I don't believe it. I refuse to believe it. Had there been time for second thoughts, things might well have gone differently. But there was no time to think. There was only time enough to feel an upwelling of revulsion, a visceral desire to be anybody or anything but my own loathsome self, a profound and total yearning to be quit of the burden of such memories as were mine. An aching need to just once do the moral thing.
I let go.
Bobbing gently, the swollen corpus of my past floated up and away, carrying with it the parasitic Corpsegrinder. Everything I had spent all my life accumulating fled from me. It went up like a balloon, spinning, dwindling ... gone. Leaving me only what few flat memories I have narrated here.
And then I cried.
I don't know how long I clung to the fence, mourning my loss. But when I gathered myself together, the Widow was still there.
"Danny," the Widow said. She didn't touch me. "Danny, I'm sorry."
I'd almost rather that she had abandoned me. How do you apologize
for sins you can no longer remember? For having been someone who,
however abhorrent, is gone forever? How can you expect forgiveness from
somebody you have forgotten so completely you don't even know her name?
I felt twisted with shame and misery. Look," I said. "I know I've
behaved badly. More than badly. But there ought to be some way to make
it up to you. For, you know, everything. Somehow. I mean-"
What do you say to somebody who's seen to the bottom of your wretched and inadequate soul?
"I want to apologize," I said.
With something very close to compassion, the Widow said, "It's too late for that, Danny. It's over. Everything's over. You and I only ever had the one trait in common. We neither of us could ever let go of anything. Small wonder we're back together again. But don't you see, it doesn't matter what you want or don't want-you're not going to get it. Not now. You had your chance. it's too late to make things right." Then she stopped, aghast at what she had just said. But we both knew she had spoken the truth.
"Widow," I said as gently as I could, "I'm sure Charlie -"
I shut up.
The Widow closed her eyes and swayed, as if in a wind. A ripple ran
through her and when it was gone her features were simpler, more
schematic, less recognizably human. She was already beginning to
surrender the anthropomorphic.
I tried again. "Widow. . ." Reaching out my guilty hand to her.
She stiffened but did not draw away. Our fingers touched, twined, mated.
"Elizabeth," she said. "My name is Elizabeth Connelly." We huddled together on the ceiling of the Roxy through the dawn and the blank horror that is day. When sunset brought us conscious again, we talked through half the night before making the one decision we knew all along that we'd have to make.
It took us almost an hour to reach the Seven Sisters and climb down to the highest point of Thalia.
We stood holding hands at the top of the mast. Radio waves were gushing out from under us like a great wind. It was all we could do to keep from being blown away.
Underfoot, Thalia was happily chatting with her sisters. Typically, at our moment of greatest resolve, they gave not the slightest indication of interest. But they were all listening to us. Don't ask me how I knew.
"Cobb?" Elizabeth said. "I'm afraid."
"Yeah, me too." A long silence. Then she said, "Let me go first. If you go first, I won't have the nerve."
She took a deep breath-funny, if you think about it-and then she let go, and fell into the sky.
First she was like a kite, and then a scrap of paper, and at the very last she was a rapidly tumbling speck. I stood for a long time watching her failing, dwindling, until she was lost in the background flicker of the universe, just one more spark in infinity.
She was gone and I couldn't help wondering if she had ever really been there at all. Had the Widow truly been Elizabeth Connelly? Or was she just another fragment of my shattered self, a bundle of related memories that I had to come to terms with before I could bring myself to let go? A vast emptiness seemed to spread itself through all of existence. I clutched the mast spasmodically then, and thought: I can't!
But the moment passed. I've got a lot of questions, and there aren't
any answers here. In just another instant, I'll let go and follow
Elizabeth (if Elizabeth she was) into the night. I will fall forever
and I will be converted to background radiation, smeared ever thinner
and cooler across the universe, a smooth, uniform, and universal
message that has only one decode. Let Thalia carry my story to whoever
cares to listen. I won't be here for it.
It's time to go now. Time and then some to leave. I'm frightened, and I'm going.
COPYRIGHT 1995 Omni Publications
COPYRIGHT 2004 Gale Group