[A] Go find a veephone and ask for the incidence of federal intervention per annum for the last five years.
[Q] How the hell were you able to build a tapeworm this complicated?
[A] It’s a talent, like a musician’s, or a poet’s. I can play a computer read-in literally for hours at a time and never hit a wrong note.
[Q] Christ almighty. Well, this flood of data you let loose may be okay for people like you. Me, I’m scared shitless.
[A] I’m sorry you’re scared of being free.
[A] The truth shall make you free.
[Q] You say that as though you believe it.
[A] Well, hell! If I didn’t… ! Anybody here get nightmares because you know data exist you can’t get at and other people can? Anybody suffering with chronic anxiety, insomnia, digestive trouble, general stress response syndrome? Mm-hm. Turn any wet stone and you find victims. And as to the underlying cause… Any of you play at fencing? Yes? Then you know how frustrating it is to find that your opponent has claimed a point slam in the middle of your best potential triangle. All your cherished schemes go crash because he outsmarted you. Well, that’s a game. When it’s a matter of real life it’s not fun any more, is it? And up to now the data net has been consciously manipulated to prevent us finding out what we most need to know.
[Q] Come again?
[A] We know, we feel in our guts, that decisions are constantly being made which are going to wreck our ambitions, our dreams, our personal relationships. But the people making those decisions are keeping them secret, because if they don’t they’ll lose the leverage they have over their subordinates. It’s a marvel we’re not all gibbering with terror. A good few of us do wind up gibbering, don’t they? Others manage to keep afloat by denying—repressing—awareness of the risk that it’s all going to go smash. Others still drive themselves into null passivity, what’s been called “the new conformity,” so that even if they are suddenly unplugged from one side of the continent and relocated on the other they’ll be able to carry on without noticing the change. Which is sick. Is the purpose of creating the largest information-transmission system in history to present mankind with a brand-new reason for paranoia?
[Q] And you think what you’ve done is going to put all this to rights.
[A] Do I sound that arrogant? I hope not! No, what I’ve done at best means there’s a chance of it coming right that didn’t exist before. A chance is better than no chance. The rest… Well, it’s up to all of us, not just to me.
SIEGE PERILOUS It was quiet at Kate’s home: outside, where volunteer students patrolled the streets for three blocks in all directions, proud that here of all places had been chosen to unleash the avalanche of truth; inside also, where Freeman was working at a remote data console donated by G2S on Rico Posta’s authority, coupled via regular phone lines to the corporation’s own immense computer facilities.
The veephone was quiet too. There had been so many calls, they had recruited a filtration service.
Bringing coffee, Kate said, “Paul, how’s it going?”
“Ask Nick. He can keep more things in his head at one time than I can.”
Working with an ordinary desk calculator and a scratch pad, Nick said, “Fairly well. There already were a couple of resource-allocation programs in store, and one of them is very damned good. Very flexible. The update facility is particularly elegant.”
“Better than this, then,” Freeman muttered. “I just found a loophole you could fly an orbital factory through. But I got to one thing that ought to wring some withers.”
“Tell me!” Nick glanced up alertly.
“Proof that all poverty on this continent is artificial except what stems from physical illness, mental incapacity or private choice. Like homesteading a patch of the Canadian northwoods… or going into a monastery. That’s about—oh—a quarter of one percent, max.”
Kate stared at him. “You make it sound as though we’d be better off, not worse, after some kind of continental disaster. And that’s absurd!”