"There is no god but man."
Equinox: A Journal of Scientific Illuminism
"Cardinal Francis Arinze of Nigeria said...that the devil
may be to blame for the growth of Protestant Fundamentalist
sects and religious movements which lure Catholics away from
"There have been some reports, Absolaam," said Deborah, "About
more attacks on Roman Catholics and Anglicans."
"Good," said the General, curtly.
"Absolaam!" Deborah said, shocked, "Surely you can't condone
attacks on people just because of their beliefs?"
"Not in principle, no," replied Wye, "But in the case of the
Roman Catholic church, I'm perfectly happy to make an exception."
A worried frown creased Deborah's brow, "You do have something
against the Catholic church, don't you? I mean, Graham and I are
both opposed to organised religions - for sound reasons, based on
the past behaviour of those groups. But you've got a grudge here,
haven't you, Absolaam?" It was more of a statement than a
"Yes, if you must know," the Dictator snarled. Quickly, his
voice mellowed, as he asked, "Did you know that I was raised a
"No, I didn't."
"Yes," there was a long pause, then, "If you really want to know
what I've got against the Roman Catholic church, Deborah, then
I'll tell you - but that means you'll have to listen to a fairly
long story," he warned.
"It's okay, Absolaam," Deborah said, "Go ahead and tell me your
"Okay - but don't say you weren't warned. It all happened way
back when, when I was fifteen years old. At that time, I'd only
recently rejected the teachings of my Catholic upbringing, and I
hadn't yet broken free of that conditioning," Wye paused, as
though debating whether to add the next sentence. Then, he said
it, "If I'm honest, I still haven't broken free from it even now
- not entirely.
"Just after my fifteenth birthday, John, a close friend from
school, invited me down for the weekend - he lived about twenty
miles away from my parents's house. Then he sprang a surprise on
me - there was going to be a party that Saturday night, round at
his mate's house...."
Saturday night arrived, and John and Absolaam were ready.
Telling John's parents that they were Spending The Night at a
friend's House, the two set off toward the party, attired in
jeans and T-shirt - or, in Absolaam's case, jeans and a short-
sleeved shirt. At that age, Absolaam detested T-shirts.
After their arrival, Absolaam was at a loss what to do - this
was his first 'teenage party.' John got the two of them a drink
then Absolaam sat on a sofa in the front room with his coke and
John vanished, leaving him alone in a room full of strangers.
Time passed, and Absolaam was bored. Cursing his shyness, his
reluctance to talk to complete strangers, he considered simply
leaving - but wouldn't he have to let John know first? Absolaam
wasn't sure about how to handle things like this - the situation
was totally unfamiliar to him.
A gentle pressure beside him settled the matter. Turning, he saw
a young woman - looking back, she couldn't have been more than
fourteen but, to Absolaam's fifteen years, she seemed to be a
mature young lady. She smiled as she turned to him and introduced
herself as Rebecca.
Absolaam stammered a hesitant reply and turned to his drink,
studying the Coca-Cola glass intently, as though engrossed by the
swirl of brown liquid, and prayed. Half of him prayed that
Rebecca would stay and talk, half that she would get up and leave
Rebecca showed no signs of moving away and, finally, Absolaam
looked up to her brown eyes and, noticing her lack of a drink,
offered to get her a Coke from the nearby table. As mentioned, he
hadn't been to a teenage party before, and was unsure what to do.
Still smiling ("She's laughing at me!" Absolaam's paranoic brain
maintained), Rebecca asked for an orange juice and settled back
on the sofa to await the drink. Stumbling across the room,
Absolaam collected a refill for himself and a cloudy orange juice
for Rebecca before, somehow, making it back to the sofa -
surprised to see her still there.
For the first time, he noticed her clothing. She was wearing
what seemed to be the uniform at this party: jeans and T-shirt.
The T-shirt was extremely tight, however, and her hardly-
developed young breasts pushed, bra-less, against the flimsy
Absolaam had never had any opportunities with girls, had barely
thought about them in fact. But he had read all the right books,
re-reading That Passage in James Herbert's Lair enough times to
assure himself that breasts were meant to push against some sort
of flimsy material. And a T-shirt is as flimsy as any other.
"Thank you," the girl said, as she carefully placed her orange
on the floor beside the sofa, and motioned for Absolaam to do the
Confused, he obeyed as she sidled over the expanse of the sofa
toward the bemused fifteen year-old. Absolaam still had no idea
what she was doing, until her mouth closed on his, her lips
parting and soft tongue forcing its passage between his lips to
caress his teeth.
"So this is what kissing is," thought Absolaam - surprising
himself as he responded in kind, tasting Rebecca's tongue -
hesitantly at first, then more enthusiastically. When they at
last parted, Rebecca stood up.
Absolaam felt a sense of loss. "She must have expected something
more. She probably knows I've never done this before. Maybe I did
something wrong. She's going to get up and leave me here, alone,
again. Maybe if I had..." Rebecca leaned over him. She wore no
perfume, but somehow her scent was nearly overpowering. Her hand
grasped Absolaam's and pulled him to his feet, leading him to the
Absolaam followed blindly, still not understanding what was
happening even when Rebecca pulled him into the bedroom. Not the
one with the coats on the bed, but a bedroom with a single bed
pushed against one wall. A duvet and matching pillowcase on the
bed proclaimed the virtues of Snoopy. Rebecca urged Absolaam onto
the bed, and bade him lie down as she closed the bedroom door.
For a while, the two just stood, watching each other: Absolaam
with no idea what he should be doing, and Rebecca expectantly
waiting for Absolaam to take over. After a short time, however,
she must have seen that he had no idea what was supposed to
happen, and so she sat beside him before removing her T-shirt to
reveal her small breasts to his innocent gaze.
Taking his hand in hers, Rebecca moved it to her left nipple,
using him like a shop window dummy to caress herself. All the
while, Absolaam was dumbfounded, unable to do anything of his own
volition. Eventually, however, when Rebecca removed her close-
fitting jeans, he saw that what he had previously only furtively
read about was going to happen. And he revelled in the prospect.
Absolaam lay down, pulling Rebecca to him and guiding her hands
to the zipper of his jeans. Eagerly, she pulled at it, then
reached inside to grasp his aroused organ. A thrill of pleasure
shot up Absolaam's spine as she lowered her head to his exposed
penis, kissing it at first, licking and caressing with her tongue
before finally sucking gently as she coaxed the first drops of
semen from its tip.
The boy felt throughout that his penis was not a part of him.
Sure, he could feel it and see what was happening. To some,
small, extent, he could even control what was happening. However,
Absolaam seemed to be detached from what Rebecca was doing. He
saw - without comprehending - her slip her tight, faded-pink
panties over her still-developing hips and down her slim legs,
before fully removing his own jeans and Y-fronts for him, somehow
aware that he was incapable of doing it himself.
Straddling his thighs, Rebecca carefully, and manually,
penetrated herself with Absolaam then started to move.
When Absolaam awoke, she was gone. He collected his clothing and
looked around for John - it was morning and the two of them
walked back to John's home.
"It was a long time before I was able to speak about that night,
when I lost my virginity to a girl of fourteen I didn't even
know. But I cherished the memory - like you cherish...well...an
appendectomy scar. That sounds silly, but it was like it was a
secret part of me.
"And thanks to the fucking Church, and particularly to my
Catholic upbringing, I also hated the memory for a long time. It
was a memory of Sin - hateful, disgusting, to be both ignored and
"Even though - at fifteen - I had already rejected the Catholic
church, all that that meant, in practical terms, was that I had
all the Guilt - with a capital 'G' - and not even the catharsis
of confession to help it to go away.
"Nobody who was not brought up as a Roman Catholic can know what
that Guilt feels like. Try to imagine how you would feel if you'd
taken a machine gun down to the local MacDonald's and slaughtered
everybody there. That's roughly how I, as an unmarried Catholic
boy, felt when I thought about that night.
"Years later, when I broke free enough to feel more comfortable
with the whole subject of sex, I came to hate the Catholic church
and all it stood for. That detestation was so strong that, when I
embraced Taoism, it was the single greatest obstacle I had to
overcome before I could learn to live with myself in peace. Even
now I still haven't removed either the Catholic conditioning or
my hate for that religion - not entirely.
"That, Deborah, is the special grudge I have against the Roman
Catholic church, over and above all of the perfectly-sensible
reasons for being against organised religions in general. Thanks
to that church's teachings, what should have been a wonderful
experience was transformed into a detestable circumstance of
Deborah's face was paled. She felt almost physically sick when
she tried to imagine herself in the position of that fifteen
year-old who lost his virginity, knowing nothing of sex except
that he would burn in Hell for the 'crime' even of thinking about
Nonetheless, she pulled herself together enough to ask,
rhetorically, "So you're going to do nothing about these attacks
"No, I've got to do something to stop them," he said, to her
surprise, adding, "If I'm going to destroy the Catholic church
then I've got to protect it from destruction."
"More riddles - am I ever going to be told this religion policy
"Maybe some day," he said, "You'll work it out for yourself. In
the meantime," Absolaam - what else - grinned, "Don't you find it
amusing that one of the titles of the head of the Anglican church
was 'Defender of the Faith,' meaning the Roman Catholic faith?"
"I already knew that - the title was given by the Pope to Henry
the Eighth, just before he split from the Roman Catholic church
and founded the Church of England...Hmmm..." Deborah trailed off
Chapter Twenty One
"No government in the world has voluntarily given away power and
--Professor Stanislav Shatalin, Soviet economist
"Thirtieth Flapper, show the Ambassador in now, please."
Over the previous six months, General Wye and Graham had been
spending much of their time in trimming down the civil service.
The work was slow and difficult - it often seemed that the most
ossified minds in the country had gravitated in that direction.
Progress had been possible only by the expedient of threatening
the then fifty-ninth flapper with the loss of his own position if
progress was not made. Once again, Deborah's technique of
'threaten the leader, not the foot-soldiers' had worked.
Deborah, in the meantime, had been concentrating her efforts on
the scientific research taking place around the country. Scarcely
an hour before, she had brought in a piece of ceramic and thus,
indirectly, sparked off this meeting.
The door to the cabinet room opened, and James Seymour, US
Ambassador to the Court of St James, walked in, "Hello, Sol," he
said, with a wide, ingratiating smile.
Wye ignored the smile, remained seated and merely indicated a
chair for Seymour to sit down in. As the Ambassador was seating
himself, Wye said, "Hello, Mr Cathcart."
Seymour froze a moment, in mid-action, then looked up at Wye. A
worried expression crossed the American's face, and remained even
after he sat down.
"Why did you call me Cathcart, Sol?" he asked, with little hope
of deflecting the Dictator.
"No games, Ambassador," Wye sighed, "I'm tired of playing games.
The only question I want you to answer is: Why did you do it?"
Wye lost his temper, slammed the desk with the palm of his hand
and half rose from his chair, "I said no games!" he shouted. Then
caught himself, and re-took his seat. Wye assumed, once again, a
calm demeanour, as though the anger had never been there.
"Okay - how much do you know?" sighed Seymour, resignedly.
"You talk now, and if I catch you in a lie then you leave.
Talk," commanded Wye.
"Okay - Patrick Cathcart is an alias I have used. It takes the
form of a British passport - Cathcart is a British citizen. It's
sometimes useful to be able to travel to and from these islands
without the US Ambassador himself leaving the country."
Wye sighed, "I said I don't want to play games with you, but I
suppose I'm going to have to be a little more explicit.
"Why did you form the British Liberation Army?"
Graham and Deborah froze in astonishment - this was the first
time they'd heard about this. A flash of fury mixed with hatred
crossed Graham's face - briefly, but it was there and Seymour saw
The Ambassador answered, quickly, "Okay - I didn't want to do
it, you understand?" No sympathetic noises were forthcoming, "I
was under orders - you couldn't be allowed to poach our best
minds while we stood by and did nothing."
"There was nothing you could do. Legally," Wye said, coldly.
"True, true," Seymour nodded, "Nothing legally, so we had to
find another way - that is," he 'corrected' himself hastily, "My
Washington masters had to find another way. So I was ordered to
start up a revolutionary movement."
James was sweating nervously now. One thought kept going round
and round in his mind: Thank God they're not armed, Thank God
they're not armed, Thank God...
"Deborah," the Dictator asked, "Could you pass me that package,
Seymour's paranoia went into overdrive as a gun-sized parcel,
wrapped in cloth, was handed wordlessly over to Wye. As Wye
unwrapped the parcel to reveal what appeared to be a flexible
plastic pole, Seymour's madness turned into puzzlement as he
asked, "What's that?"
Ignoring the question for the moment, Wye said, "You killed two
of my people, Seymour. My first two astronauts. And," he added,
almost as an afterthought, "You destroyed my first space-going
"Your country is going to pay for that act."
Seymour wasn't sure whether to be more shocked by the words or
the straightforward manner in which they had been said. He felt,
basically, that the calm, precise tones made the threat more
convincing - and far more terrifying. He began to sweat again.
"This," Wye indicated the plastic pole, "Is what you will pay
"What is it?" Seymour asked again, stumbling slightly over the
"A broad-range, room-temperature superconductor," Wye said.
Seeing that the puzzled look still remained in Seymour's eyes, he
went on, "You don't know what that means, do you?" It was a
statement, not a question, but the Ambassador shook his head
Amazed, Wye said, almost to himself, but loud enough so that
Seymour could hear, "It's no wonder that your country has gone to
the dogs - your education system is appalling. Any five year-old
child in the British Isles could tell you what this is - and what
"Simply," he went on, louder, "A superconductor is a material
which will conduct electricity without wastage - it doesn't offer
any resistance to the current. This implies that power can be
transmitted along a superconductor far more cheaply and
efficiently than along an ordinary conductor. The power
transmission part of the entire National Network," he explained
further, "Could - in theory - be one giant superconductor.
"The major problems with superconductors up 'til now - and the
reason why they haven't been more widely used - are, firstly,
that they only operate at extremely low temperatures, secondly,
because a sudden power surge could result in their being suddenly
quenched - which could be extremely dangerous - and, thirdly,
they have been difficult and expensive to manufacture. The
National Network, for example, doesn't use superconducting
cables, essentially for those very reasons.
"What I have here, though," he said, with a wide, predatory
grin, "Is the world's first universally usable, economic and -
for all practical purposes - unquenchable superconductor. This
material behaves as a superconductor at any temperature up to
plus one hundred degrees."
"Celsius?" asked Seymour.
"Of course celsius!" Wye snapped, "Do you realise what this
means?" The US Ambassador shook his head, still not
understanding, "It means easy, cheap levitation. It means
cheaper, more efficient and longer lasting electrical equipment -
it means...Hell, it means a huge step forward for the human
"And you want to sell this to the United States?" asked Seymour,
"Well, I'd have to consult some experts, have some checks made
and meet with my superiors before I could give you anything like
an opinion..." The ambassador trailed off at the sight of Wye's
shaking head, and wicked grin.
"No," the Dictator said, "I'm showing this to you now as an
example of what the United States will not have access to. This
material will go on sale in one months time - to any country
except the United States.
"Any country which provides our superconductor to the US will
suffer an absolute trade embargo from the British Isles. And I
think," Wye's grin widened, though Seymour would have sworn that
that was impossible, "I think you know what that would mean - and
I think you know that no country which could afford to buy
something like this would take the slightest risk of being cut
off from its supply of microchips, computing technology and
expertise, aerospace and nuclear technology, transgenic animals,
pharmaceuticals, medical expertise and equipment.
"I don't think I need to go on, do I?" Seymour shook his head,
his nerves shot to Hell by this time, "I think, personally, that
a major factor in any decisions about risk-taking will be the
fact that, despite your efforts," there was real venom in those
three words, "Britain owns the only fully-functioning, reusable
and economic ground-to-orbit spacecraft on the planet.
"You may go now," Wye said, casually, "As of this moment, there
is an embargo on the trading of high technology between the
British Isles and the United States."
"You can't mean that?" the US Ambassador exclaimed, in
disbelief, "How do you expect us to...?"
"I don't expect you to do anything, Mister Patrick Cathcart,"
said Wye, "But I do expect your government to do something, if it
wants access to British technology.
"The trade embargo - with all the conditions I have outlined -
will effectively cut the US off from the source of the highest
technology on this planet. It will continue for one week."
At he heard the one week time limit, Seymour visibly relaxed.
Seeing this, Wye continued, "After that week, the embargo will
continue indefinitely, unless and until your government makes a
full and frank statement, revealing its involvement with the BLA,
the reasons for the formation of that group, the intentions of
the BLA itself and - in particular - the reason for the murder of
the crew of the Phaelon."
"Anything else?" Seymour asked, sarcastically.
"Yes," the General said, "I will also expect full apologies and
compensatory payments to be made, by your government, to the
families of the crew of the Phaelon - the amounts being the cost
of the Phaelon itself: one hundred million pounds sterling."
"Each?" the Ambassador asked, weakly.
"Each," Wye confirmed before dismissing the Ambassador from his
presence with a disgusted look.
"Okay - Cut!" Wye shouted at the ceiling, once Seymour had left
The television image shifted to show the Dictator, in faded T-
shirt and casual trousers, perched - as usual - on a bar stool,
sipping his usual bourbon.
"The film you have just seen," he said into the camera, "Was a
recording made of my meeting earlier this afternoon with the
United States Ambassador, James Seymour.
"As you heard, there now exists a trade embargo between the
British Isles and the United States of America, which will
continue until the US government makes reparations for its act of
war in destroying the Phaelon, and apologises to the families of
the Phaelon's crew to the satisfaction of those families.
"The export of physical objects to the US - microchips,
superconductant materials, and the like - can be fairly easily
"I ask for your co-operation, however, in preventing the export
of scientific and technological information to that country while
the trade embargo stands.
"You all heard the US Ambassador admit responsibility for the
Phaelon murders - we all await the same admission - made in
public - from the US government.
"Before I conclude, I would just like to make one final
statement on a different subject.
"Since the murder of the Phaelon's crew, I have received some
reports of persecution of the few remaining members of the Roman
Catholic and Anglican churches.
"This persecution must - and will! - stop. Right now."
The Dictator glared into the camera, his grin now calculated to
show as much menace and determination as possible, "I will not
tolerate persecution of any group - majority or minority - in
"Any Catholics or Anglicans who are watching - if you are
attacked or reviled by anybody then make a report via your
Network terminal immediately, and - if your charges stand up in a
court of law - the offenders will be jailed for," Wye grinned
more widely, "For a very long time."
The picture faded to black.
"Bastard Americans!" Gerald said, heartily. Dot agreed.
To the surprise of their parents, their five year old twins also
agreed, nodding as they said, simultaneously, and with some
hostility, "They killed the Phaelon."
"I don't know why he's so keen on protecting those damned
Christians, though," Gerald added, belligerently, "I mean - they
paid for the Phaelon to be bombed!"
"I know, dear," said Dot, "But you know it doesn't pay to cross
the Dictator when he gets an idea in his head. Remember what
happened to Anderson and Cartwright."
Gerald cast his mind back. Anderson and Cartwright were
scientists who had been refusing to publish their work on the
Network. Even now, it still wasn't clear whether they had been
hoping to avoid paying the government's fifty percent on
applications of their discoveries, or merely wished to hog the
lion's share to themselves.
It had all taken place six months ago but, even so, the memory
of that broadcast stuck in the mind. They had each been stripped
of their British citizenship and shipped out of the country,
never to return.
Oh, they had both found positions - in the US, as it happens -
but they were never able to do much top-quality work, cut off
from the scientific community as they were.
"Perhaps you're right, Dot."
Mrs Wainthrop snored loudly, and dreamed of benzene rings.
Chapter Twenty Two
"Everything is theoretically impossible, until it's done."
--Robert A. Heinlein, Between Planets
Earlier in the afternoon of June the seventh, while they had
waited for the US Ambassador to arrive, Wye asked Deborah how the
pace of progress had managed to increase so quickly in so short a
time - it was only two and a half years, after all, since they
had taken power.
"It's simple enough, Absolaam," she replied, "If you ask
yourself one simple question: What has been the greatest
bottleneck in scientific research in the twentieth century?"
"I'm not sure," the Dictator answered, "Money for 'pure'
research? Freedom to pursue areas of interest? Not enough well-
trained, able scientists?"
"Those things are important, yes. But the most limiting factor
has been the amount of scientific knowledge."
"Not enough, you mean?"
Deborah laughed, "No - far from it. There's far too much."
"There are hundreds - thousands - of scientific journals," she
explained, "And although they're nominally devoted to specific
fields of research, the lines of demarcation in science have
never been very strong and often a researcher can spend years
developing a theory or a technique that, in another field, is
well known and has been for years.
"The development of chaos theory in mathematics, for instance,
was held up a decade because mathematicians don't generally read
articles in journals of meteorology.
"More recently, the line of approach which led to the room-
temperature superconductor was inspired by, of all things, an
article in a paleontological journal about prehistoric ways of
making clay pots.
"So, the most important thing - and the thing which has kept
scientists here, in this country, despite comparable offers of
money for salaries and research overseas - is the National
"I was talking to a particle physicist the other day - Colin
Simoney, do you remember him?"
"Sure - the linear accelerator guy. I hear his theory about
neutrinos travelling faster than light turned out to have holes
"Yes - but the experiments suggested something even more
interesting. He's working on a theory of matter transmission
"'Beam me up, Scotty' stuff?"
"That's right - though his theory, last time we talked, seems to
imply that, if it's possible, the range would be very limited
inside a gravitational field. Just how limited he hasn't worked
"But, as I was saying, I was talking to him when he mentioned
the Network. According to Colin, it's the most useful tool he
"Why is that?"
"Well, remember what I said about those articles that weren't
read by the right person because they were published in the
journals of a different field?
"That whole problem has all but disappeared now. If a researcher
wants to read everything published about - say - the velocity of
a neutrino then he has access to every article in every journal
or textbook - even works of fiction.
"Anything and everything ever published on the subject can be
obtained within seconds at the push of a button. He can widen, or
narrow down, the field of search just as easily."
"So you're saying that the Network is responsible for the pace
"Not just the Network, but it's probably the major factor."
"You must have noticed that once all of the scientific and
philosophical journals ever published were stored in the
computers, then new developments in all areas of the sciences
came thicker and faster. Even with the Network it's starting to
get tough to keep abreast of things now.
"Oddly enough," she added, "The completion of the science
fiction library increased the pace of development rapidly as
well. My guess is that a general search for a subject or a key
word or phrase is picking up some of the more bizarre ideas from
science fiction. Except that, in the light of current knowledge,
many of those ideas don't look quite so bizarre any more."
"Come on - now you must be joking."
"Why?" she asked, seriously, "Surely you're aware that
television, the communication satellite, genetic engineering,
robots, nanotechnology, the laser, holograms, computers, the
atomic bomb, the space craft, the answering machine, the
mechanical drilling machine, and so on and so on, ad infinitum -
all of these inventions were first thought of in science fiction.
"Think of waldoes, for Eris's sake. That entire class of remote-
controlled devices was invented in a novella by Robert A.
Heinlein - they're even named, in real life, after Waldo Jones,
the character who invented them in Heinlein's story."
"Okay - I stand corrected," Wye said, making conciliatory
"Sorry - I do have a tendency to lecture," Deborah said, smiling
ruefully, "As I'm sure you've noticed."
Wye just grinned in reluctant agreement.
"But the point is that an idea in a science fiction story - even
if it's bizarre in itself - might well contain the germ of a
damned useful invention or a crucial theory. And that's
particularly the case when it comes to ideas in the novels of the
'hard' science fiction authors, like Heinlein, Larry Niven or
"And now, with the Network, all of our scientists can keep in
constant touch with whatever information they require whenever
they need it. Combine that with the fact that the resources to
pursue their research are also fairly easily available, and is it
any wonder that they're making so much progress so quickly?"
"I suppose not," the General said, with some awe.
"You know," Deborah said, a distant look in her eyes, "So far,
in the past two and a half years, we have spent close to nine
hundred billion pounds sterling on scientific research - a third
of that on the Network alone.
"And, so far, the government's fifty percent cut alone of that
same research has paid for itself twice over in sales of
technology and expertise to other countries.
"Absolaam," Deborah concluded, "I don't think we need to worry
about our scientists moving overseas - at least, not until other
countries built their own equivalent of the Network. And even
then they'd probably need to connect their Network to ours before
it could tempt anybody away.
"Some of the researchers have made so much money - even though
it's likely to be split fifty ways on each application - that
there's actually been talk of them getting together and building
private spacecraft to get out to the asteroid belt and found a
"Now you have to be joking," Wye said, but it was more a
question than a statement as he considered what one percent of
the returns on the new superconductor would bring. "Maybe not,"
he admitted, "Some of them must be billionaires by now."
"Quite a few of them," Deborah agreed, "It's only talk at the
moment, though - but I don't think it will be too many years
before it happens. From what they've said to me, the biggest
stumbling block is how to extend the Network over such a great
"Last I heard, they were thinking of taking a copy of the
library with them."
"Pass the toast, please, Graham," Wye asked, over breakfast the
following day. "Thanks," he took a slice from the offered rack
and started to slap butter on it.
"I'm concerned, General," said Graham.
"What," Wye choked slightly. He paused to swallow his mouthful
of toast and wash it down with a thick gulp of black coffee
before trying again, "Excuse me - What about this time?"
"It's been bothering me for a while - ever since the Phaelon
trial, really, but even before that, I suppose," he saw the
impatient looks from both his wife and the General, so he quickly
added, "The legal system, I mean."
"What about it, dearest?" asked Deborah.
"It's a dinosaur," he said, "It's about the only thing left
unchanged in the past two and a half years."
"And you think we should overhaul it, then?" asked Wye, becoming
interested, "Well, why not - things were starting to get a little
dull around here," he grinned.
Deborah smiled, "I know what you mean - everything seems to be
working well enough. Aside from that American thing," she added.
"Well, yes - but that won't last long. They can't afford to take
too long before they give in - their economy wouldn't stand the
bashing," the Dictator said, "It's barely working as it is."
"I hope you're right, Absolaam."
"I do too, General," said Graham, "But, about the legal
Wye cut him off with a wave of his hand, incidentally splashing
melting butter over the tablecloth - he was still holding a piece
of toast. As he started brushing at the mess, trying to clear it
up but only succeeding in spreading it around a bit more, he
asked, "Can't it wait until after breakfast, Graham?"
After breakfast, the three were gathered around a Network
terminal in the cabinet room. Graham was sitting at the keyboard,
his Card operating the terminal, when Wye said, "Oh, by the way,
Graham - mind if I make a quick 'phone call?"
When Graham nodded his okay, the Dictator lifted the receiver
and a box appeared on the screen asking who the call was to be
He quickly typed 'Harold Baines, Network Central' and - after a
few short rings - the 'phone was answered.
"Harold Baines here, Mr Greene," came the voice.
"Huh? Oh, no - it's me, Harold. Absolaam. I'm just using
Graham's Card. Look, did you see the broadcast last night?"
"Sure, Absolaam," Baines's voice came, easily - he had long
since learned to relax when talking to the Dictator, "By the way,
I don't know if you've seen the new results from the artificial
intelligence team - their context-sensitive natural language
processors, I mean. They think they might be able to rig up a
filter to remove all technical information from specific
"Sure, thanks, Harold - maybe you can plug something like that
into calls to the US, but that's not what I'm calling about."
"Oh?" Harold inquired.
"No - it's the new broad-range superconductor. Can you do some
work to see if it would be worthwhile to replace the Network
cabling with the new material?"
"Already done, Absolaam - I've had it done since before the
Network was first finished, in case something like this came up."
"You're a marvel, Harold. Is it worth doing?"
"Well, it wouldn't be a particularly good idea to use
superconductors for electricity transmission, if that's what
"Huh?" Wye was puzzled, "But the new materials can't be
quenched, if that's what you're worried about," he added.
The Dictator could almost hear the shaking of Harold's head as
the young programmer replied, "No, I realise that, Absolaam. The
problem is that... well, consider that might happen if there's a
fire somewhere in the country."
"I can't see any problems, Harold," Wye said, bemused, "In fact,
I'm pretty sure that a superconductor network would be a benefit
there. If I remember correctly," he elaborated, "A superconductor
maintains a constant temperature along its entire length - so we
could dip one end in the North Sea and that would limit the
maximum temperature of the whole Network to around one hundred
degrees: the boiling point of sea water.
"I would have thought that that would help limit the spread of
"Sure, sure, Absolaam," Harold said, "That's not quite right -
the temperature wouldn't be constant along the length of the
Network, but heat would be transmitted faster along the
superconductor than along the copper cables we're using now.
"The problem is: You've got to take it a little bit further.
Bear in mind," he explained, "That, in the case of a severe fire,
a large part of the Network - maybe the whole of the Network -
might easily reach that maximum temperature.
"That's a severe fire anywhere in the Network," Baines added,
"So, in practice, it means that one hundred degrees celsius is
probably going to be the usual minimum operating temperature of
the Network. Now, try to picture the effects of that constant
temperature on the surrounding materials."
"Holy shit," Wye and Deborah each muttered, in low tones.
Deborah was thinking of the effects on communications - with
computers burning out and fibre optics melting and warping, maybe
even burning through.
The Dictator's thoughts, however, were more concerned with
longer-term effects on any metals or plastics in contact with the
Network - and, more especially, on concrete, stone and bricks.
So, while Deborah was imagining a blanket communications
blackout, Wye's mind was filled with images of deteriorating
buildings - buildings which had their structure weakened steadily
until it quickly reached the point of no return. Then - with
little or no warning - the building would suddenly collapse.
Absolaam Wye shuddered at the thought.
"On the other hand," Baines went on, after giving them a little
time to absorb the implications of his previous statements, "The
fibre-optics of the Network - as they stand - will be overloaded
within a couple of decades.
"I guess we didn't realise how damned useful the thing would be
when it was designed," he said, apologetically, "We'll have to
replace them before then - so I reckon it would be a good idea to
begin expanding the capacity of the fibre optic system around
"Expanding it to, say, a million times the current maximum
capacity would require a few more, and faster, computers to
control everything - but the new chips we've been getting from
the Sussex connectionist machine project should help a lot
"Why increase the capacity by so much?" the Dictator asked.
"Why? Because then we'd have room to transmit film-quality
images in real-time. It would also let the Kelly-Skildon
computer-controlled vehicles system become part of the Network
proper, instead of just using spare capacity, as it's doing now."
"Fine - I'll leave it to you, Harold. Any idea on the cost? Of
the fibre-optics, I mean," he added, hastily, "I agree with you
over the superconductor thing."
"Hard to say - how much can you spare?"
"I don't know," Wye glanced at Deborah, a questioning look.
"Say, four hundred billion, Absolaam - might as well do it
properly, and it'll pay for itself in any case if past experience
is anything to go by."
"Did you hear that, Harold?" Wye said into the receiver.
"Sure, Absolaam - four hundred billion sterling. Fine, I'll have
a word with the engineers and see if they can come up with a
scheme to replace everything with minimum disruption. I'd be
surprised if it came to more than two hundred billion, though,"
"Well, you know the drill by now, Harold - don't worry about the
cost. The money's there.
"Oh, and don't schedule anything before the end of the year, by
the way. I'm considering building a few sea water purifying
plants to replace the water company supplies being used at the
"Fine, Absolaam - 'bye."
"'Bye," said Absolaam Wye, replacing the receiver in its cradle.
"Now, Graham," he began, "I've given a little thought to this
legal system idea of yours.
"I don't think it's worth while just to revamp the legal system
for the hell of it." Waving down the Greenes's objections, Wye
carried on: "On the other hand, the existing system is corrupt
and inefficient. And, more importantly, there doesn't seem to be
much connection between the law and justice.
"So," he continued, "I agree that the legal system needs a
revamp, but not just that. I reckon," Wye said, "We need to make
a firm and clean break with the old system - to make a fresh
"Okay, General," Graham said, cautiously, "But perhaps we should
take the current legal system as our starting point - just as
base camp, okay?"
Both his wife and his Dictator nodded their tentative agreement,
so Graham rapidly linked through to the legal files in the
central computer, having the law books in their entirety down-
loaded onto one of the new high-density optical storage disks.
While the law books were being copied onto the disk - which,
even at the speed of the Network, took over an hour - the three
friends partook of a joint, on the principle that the twisted
logic of the law books would probably make more sense to them if
they were mildly stoned.
The text of the articles is identical to the originals like they appeared in old ST NEWS issues. Please take into consideration that the author(s) was (were) a lot younger and less responsible back then. So bad jokes, bad English, youthful arrogance, insults, bravura, over-crediting and tastelessness should be taken with at least a grain of salt. Any contact and/or payment information, as well as deadlines/release dates of any kind should be regarded as outdated. Due to the fact that these pages are not actually contained in an Atari executable here, references to scroll texts, featured demo screens and hidden articles may also be irrelevant.