“If you recognize in Ted’s description a resemblance to Sicily,” Brad murmured, “that’s not purely coincidental.” Kate by now had recovered her self-control and was leaning forward with elbows on knees, listening intently.
“The data-net must have posed a terrible threat to them,” she suggested.
“True, but one they were able to guard against,” Ted answered. “Until now, I mean. They took every precaution. They built the Delphi system on the base provided by the existing gambling syndicates. They claim it was modeled on the stock market, but there was really very little difference, since by then gambling money was one of the two or three biggest sources of speculative investment. They took to leaving tribes alone when they went on the warpath, and the result was that the most ambitious kids, the ones with both rage and intelligence, wound up dead or crippled. That came naturally. Since time immemorial they’d been carefully isolating gang wars from involvement with the general public. Also they turned over the massive computer capacity designed to get men safely to and from the Moon to tracking a population moving to a new place at the rate of twenty percent a year. And so on. I don’t need to recite the whole list.”
“But if they were so careful how did you — ?” Kate checked and bit her lip. “Oh. Stupid of me. Hearing Aid.”
“Mm-hm.” Ted dropped back into his chair. “Our computer capacity at Precipice has been adequate to dissect out patterns from the calls made to Hearing Aid for about—oh—sixteen or seventeen years. Now and then, moreover, we’ve had a single call that opened up a whole new area of investigation for us. Yours while you were at Tarnover, for example.” He nodded at Nick. “We’ve quietly followed up one lead after another, accumulating things like the keys needed to open Federal-secure data banks, convinced that ultimately a crisis must occur that would leave the public dazed and panicky. At which time they would want to be told where they were in the world. To further our design we created the—the underground railroad which we passed you along: friends, colleagues, associates, supporters, sympathizers, in literally hundreds of different professions.”
“Paul Freeman put it neatly,” Nick said. “According to him, Precipice is a very big place once you learn to recognize it.”
Ted chuckled. “Oh, yes! If you count in all those people whom we’ve created freemen, entitled to be defended by our defenses, our population totals five or six times what you find in a census return.”
“We had models to copy,” Brad said. “The old hippie movement, for one. The eighteenth-century community of science. An organization called Open Door which flourished in the middle of the last century. And so forth.”
“Your foresight was fantastic,” Kate said warmly.
“Pretty fair,” Ted acknowledged. “Above average, that’s for certain. But we never foresaw that the crisis would arrive in the shape of one young man!”
“Not one,” Nick said. “Several. Tarnover deserter, life-style counselor, preacher, fencing hustler—”
“Person,” Kate said firmly, and laid her hand over his. “And by the way, Ted!”
“Thank you for saving Bagheera.”
“Wasn’t too hard. Did you talk to Jake Treves on the way here, find out why he was able to help out?” She shook her head. “He put us straight into the concealed compartment. We didn’t show our heads the whole time.”
“Safer that way, I guess. Well, Jake is one of the people working on the problem of how to get our dogs to live to a ripe old age. It’s part of a wide program to find out how stress is linked to aging. When you get the chance you’ll enjoy talking to Jake, you know. Your father’s hypothesis—” He was interrupted. Distant in the night there was a sharp bark, followed by another and another.
Brad cocked Ms head. “Sounds as though Nat caught the bomber we’re expecting.” Ted rose to his feet. “If so,” he grunted, “I wouldn’t care to be in his shoes.”
AMONG THE FACTORS THAT CLIMAXED IN A BREAKDOWN OF GOVERNMENT 1: Thank you for your inquiry concerning the whereabouts of Secret Service Operative Miskin A. Breadloaf. He is under intensive medical care at Precipice CA recovering from injuries sustained while resisting arrest by Sheriff Theodore Horovitz. He was in possession of six self-seeking catapult bombs, U.S. Army Code QB3, issued to him at 1010 PST yesterday from stocks held in the National Guard Armory at San Feliciano CA in pursuance of Confidential Presidential Directive #919 007 HVW, which states in full: “I’m sick of Hearing Aid. Get the buggers who run it and never mind who else you hurt.” 2: As a result of the failure of Mr. Breadloaf’s mission a strike has been authorized against Precipice CA at 0730 PST tomorrow by aircraft based at Lowndes Field near San Diego. Since this is to be carried out with junior nukes (USAF Code 19L-J2J Mr. Breadloaf is not expected to survive.