Midnight Page 29


Gently removing Moose's head from her lap, standing and brushing a few dog hairs from her jeans, Tessa said, "Well, the phones aren't working, so Sam can't call the Bureau, and if we walk out of town we risk an encounter with Watkins's patrols or these Boogeymen. Unless you know a ham radio enthusiast who'd let us use his set to get a message relayed, then so as far as I can see, we've got to drive out."


"Roadblocks, remember," Harry said.


She said, "Well, I figure we'll have to drive out in a truck, something big and mean, ram straight through the damn roadblock, make it to the highway, then out of their jurisdiction. Even if we do get chased down by county cops, that's fine, because Sam can get them to call the Bureau, verify his assignment, then they'll be on our side."


"Who's the federal agent here, anyway?" Sam asked.


Tessa felt herself blush. "Sorry. See, a documentary filmmaker is almost always her own producer, sometimes producer and director and writer too. That means if the art part of it is going to work, the business part of it has to work first, so I'm used to doing a lot of planning, logistics. Didn't mean to step on your toes."


"Step on them any time."


Sam smiled, and she liked him when he smiled. She realized she was even attracted to him a little. He was neither handsome nor ugly, and not what most people meant by "plain," either. He was rather … nondescript but pleasant-looking. She sensed a darkness in him, something deeper than his current worries about events in Moonlight Cove—maybe sadness at some loss, maybe long-repressed anger related to some injustice he had suffered, maybe a general pessimism arising from too much contact in his work with the worst elements of society. But when he smiled he was transformed.


"You really going to smash out in a truck?" Harry asked.


"Maybe as a last resort," Sam said. "But we'd have to find a rig big enough and then steal it, and that's an operation in itself. Besides, they might have riot guns at the roadblock, loaded with magnum rounds, maybe automatic weapons. I wouldn't want to run that kind of flak even in a Mack truck. You can ride into hell in a tank, but the devil will get his hands on you anyway, so it's best not to go there in the first place."


"So where do we go?" Tessa asked.


"To sleep," Sam said. "There's a way out of this, a way to get through to the Bureau. I can sort of see it out of the corner of my eye, but when I try to look directly at it, it goes away, and that's because I'm tired. I need a couple of hours in the sack to get fresh and think straight."


Tessa was exhausted, too, though after what had happened at Cove Lodge, she was somewhat surprised that she not only could sleep but wanted to. As she'd stood in her motel room, listening to the screams of the dying and the savage shrieks of the killers, she wouldn't have thought she'd ever sleep again.


56


Shaddack arrived at Peyser's at five minutes till four in the morning. He drove his charcoal-gray van with heavily tinted windows, rather than his Mercedes, because a computer terminal was mounted on the console of the van, between the seats, where the manufacturer had originally intended to provide a built-in cooler. As eventful as the night had been thus far, it seemed a good idea to stay within reach of the data link that, like a spider, spun a silken web enmeshing all of Moonlight Cove. He parked on the wide shoulder of the two-lane rural blacktop, directly in front of the house.


As Shaddack walked across the yard to the front porch, distant rumbling rolled along the Pacific horizon. The hard wind that had harried the fog eastward had also brought a storm in from the west. During the past couple of hours, churning clouds had clothed the heavens, shrouding the na*ed stars that had burned briefly between the passing of the mist and the coming of the thunderheads. Now the night was very dark and deep. He shivered inside his cashmere topcoat, under which he still wore a sweat suit.


A couple of deputies were sitting in black-and-whites in the driveway. They watched him, pale faces beyond dusty car windows, and he liked to think they regarded him with fear and reverence, for he was in a sense their maker.


Loman Watkins was waiting for him in the front room. The place had been wrecked. Neil Penniworth sat on the only undamaged piece of furniture; he looked badly shaken and could not meet Shaddack's gaze. Watkins was pacing. A few spatters of blood marked his uniform, but he looked unhurt; if he'd sustained injuries, they had been minor and had already healed. More likely, the blood belonged to someone else.


"What happened here?" Shaddack asked.


Ignoring the question, Watkins spoke to his officer "Go out to the car, Neil. Stay close to the other men."


"Yes, sir," Penniworth said. He was huddled in his chair, bent forward, looking down at his shoes.


"You'll be okay, Neil."


"I think so."


"It wasn't a question. It was a statement You'll be okay. You have enough strength to resist. You've proven that already."


Penniworth nodded, got up, and headed for the door.


Shaddack said, "What's this all about?"


Turning toward the hallway at the other end of the room, Watkins said, "Come with me." His voice was as cold and hard as ice, informed by fear and anger, but noticeably devoid of the grudging respect with which he had spoken to Shaddack ever since he had been converted in August.


Displeased by that change in Watkins, uneasy, Shaddack frowned and followed him back down the hall.


The cop stopped at a closed door, turned to Shaddack. "You told me that what you've done to us is improve our biological efficiency by injecting us with these … these biochips."


"A misnomer, really. They're not chips at all, but incredibly small microspheres."


In spite of the regressives and a few other problems that had developed with the Moonhawk Project, Shaddack's pride of achievement was undiminished. Glitches could be fixed. Bugs could be worked out of the system. He was still the genius of his age; he not only felt this to be true, but knew it as well as he knew in which direction to look for the rising sun each morning.


Genius …


The ordinary silicon microchip that made possible the computer revolution had been the size of a fingernail, and had contained one million circuits etched onto it by photo lithography. The smallest circuit on the chip had been one-hundredth as wide as a human hair. Breakthroughs in X-ray lithography, using giant particle accelerators called synchrotrons, eventually made possible the imprinting of one billion circuits on a chip, with features as small as one-thousandth the width of a human hair. Shrinking dimensions was the primary way to gain computer speed, improving both function and capabilities.


The microspheres developed by New Wave were one four-thousandth the size of a microchip. Each was imprinted with a quarter-million circuits. This had been achieved by the application of a radically new form of X-ray lithography that made it possible to etch circuits on amazingly small surfaces and without having to hold those surfaces perfectly still.


Conversion of Old People into New People began with the injection of hundreds of thousands of these microspheres, in solution, into the bloodstream. They were biologically interactive in function, but the material itself was biologically inert, so the immune system wasn't triggered. There were different kinds of microspheres. Some were heart-tropic, meaning they moved through the veins to the heart and took up residence there, attaching themselves to the walls of the blood vessels that serviced the cardiac muscle. Some spheres were liver-tropic, lung-tropic, kidney-tropic, bowel-tropic, brain-tropic, and so on. They settled in clusters at those sites and were designed in such a way that, when touching, their circuits linked.


Those clusters, spread throughout the body, eventually provided about fifty billion usable circuits that had the potential for data processing, considerably more than in the largest supercomputers of the 1980s. In a sense, by injection, a super-supercomputer had been put inside the human body.


Moonlight Cove and the surrounding area were constantly bathed in microwave transmissions from dishes on top of the main building at New Wave. A fraction of those transmissions involved the police computer system, and another fraction could be drawn upon to power-up the microspheres inside each of the New People.


A small number of spheres were of a different material and served as transducers and power distributors. When one of the Old People received his third injection of microspheres, the power spheres at once drew on those microwave transmissions, converting them into electrical current and distributing it throughout the network. The amount of current needed to operate the system was exceedingly small.


Other specialized spheres in each cluster were memory units. Some of those carried the program that would operate the system; that program was loaded the moment power entered the network.


To Watkins, Shaddack said, "Long ago I became convinced that the basic problem with the human animal is its extremely emotional nature. I've freed you from that burden. In so doing, I've made you not only mentally healthier but physically healthier as well."


"How? I know so little of how the Change is effected."


"You're a cybernetic organism now—that is, part man and part machine—but you don't need to understand it, Loman. You use a telephone, yet you've no idea of how to build a phone system from scratch. You don't know how a computer works, yet you can use one. And you don't have to know how the computer in you works in order to use it, either."


Watkins's eyes were clouded with fear. "Do I use it … or does it use me?"


"Of course, it doesn't use you."


"Of course …"


Shaddack wondered what had happened here tonight to have put Watkins in such a state of extreme anxiety. He was more curious than ever to see what was in the bedroom at the threshold of which they had halted. But he was acutely aware that Watkins was in a dangerously excited state and that it was necessary, if frustrating, to take the time to calm his fears.


"Loman, the clustered microspheres within you don't constitute a mind. The system's not in any way truly intelligent. It's a servant, your servant. It frees you from toxic emotions."


Strong emotions—hatred, love, envy, jealousy, the whole long list of human sensibilities—regularly destabilized the biological functions of the body. Medical researchers had proved that different emotions stimulated the production of different brain chemicals, and that those chemicals in turn induced the various organs and tissues of the body to either increase or reduce or alter their function in a less than productive fashion. Shaddack was convinced that a man whose body was ruled by his emotions could not be a totally healthy man and never entirely clearthinking.


The microsphere computer within each of the New People monitored every organ in the body. When it detected the production of various amino-acid compounds and other chemical substances that were produced in response to strong emotion, it used electrical stimuli to override the brain and other organs, shutting off the flow, thus eliminating the physical consequences of an emotion if not the emotion itself. At the same time the microsphere computer stimulated the copious production of other compounds known to repress those same emotions, thereby treating not only the cause but the effect.


"I've released you from all emotions but fear," Shaddack said, "which is necessary for self-preservation. Now that the chemistry of your body is no longer undergoing wild swings, you'll think more clearly."


"So far as I've noticed, I've not suddenly become a genius."


"Well, you might not notice a greater mental acuity yet, but in time you will."


"When?"


"When your body is fully purged of the residue of a lifetime of emotional pollution. Meanwhile, your interior computer"—he lightly tapped Watkins's chest—"is also programmed to use complex electrical stimuli to induce the body to create wholly new amino-acid compounds that keep your blood vessels scoured and free of plaque and clots, kill cancerous cells the moment they appear, and perform a double score of other chores, keeping you far healthier than ordinary men, no doubt dramatically lengthening your life-span."


Shaddack had expected the healing process to be accelerated in New People, but he had been surprised at the almost miraculous speed with which their wounds closed. He still could not entirely understand how new tissue could be formed so quickly, and his current work on Moonhawk was focused on discovering an explanation for that effect. The healing was not accomplished without a price, for the metabolism was fantastically accelerated; stored body fat was burned prodigiously in order to close a wound in seconds or minutes, leaving the healed man pounds lighter, sweat-drenched, and fiercely hungry.


Watkins frowned and wiped one shaky hand across his sweaty face. "I can maybe see that healing would be speeded up, but what gives us the ability to so completely reshape ourselves, to regress to another form? Surely not even buckets of these biological chemicals could tear down our bodies and rebuild them in just a minute or two. How can that be?"


For a moment Shaddack met the other man's gaze, then looked away, coughed, and said, "Listen, I can explain all of this to you later. Right now I want to see Peyser. I hope you were able to restrain him without doing much damage."


As Shaddack reached toward the door to push it open, Watkins seized his wrist, staying his hand. Shaddack was shocked. He did not allow himself to be touched.


"Take your hand off me."


"How can the body be so suddenly reshaped?"


"I told you, we'll discuss it later."


"Now." Watkins's determination was so strong that it carved deep lines in his face. "Now. I'm so scared I can't think straight. I can't function at this level of fear, Shaddack. Look at me. I'm shaking. I feel like I'm going to blow apart. A million pieces. You don't know what happened here tonight, or you'd feel the same way. I've got to know How can our bodies change so suddenly?"


Shaddack hesitated. "I'm working on that."


Surprised, Watkins let go of his wrist and said, "You … you mean you don't know?"


"It's an unexpected effect. I'm beginning to understand it"—which was a lie—"but I've got a lot more work to do." First he had to understand the New People's phenomenal healing powers, which were no doubt an aspect of the same process that allowed them to completely metamorphose into subhuman forms.


"You subjected us to this without knowing what all it might do to us?"


"I knew it would be a benefit, a great gift," Shaddack said impatiently, "No scientist can ever predict all the side effects. He has to proceed with the confidence that whatever side effects arise will not outweigh the benefits."

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