“A replicating phage?” Suzy repeated. “I never heard that term before.”
“Not surprising. They’re kind of dangerous. Plenty of them have been used in restricted situations. Like, come election time, you disguise one and slip it into the membership list of the opposition party, hoping they don’t have duplicate records. But there are very few in the continental net, and the only big one is inactive until called for. In case you’re interested, it was devised at a place called Electric Skillet, and its function is to shut the net down and prevent it being exploited by a conquering army. They think the job would be complete in thirty seconds.”
Ted frowned. “How come you talk about these phages with authority?” he demanded.
“Well…” Sandy hesitated, then took the plunge. “Well, I’ve had mine running behind me for over six years, and it’s stood me in good stead. I don’t see why one shouldn’t do the same for Hearing Aid.”
“So what the hell do you use one for?”
Keeping his voice level with immense effort, he told them. They listened. And then Ted did an extraordinary thing.
He whistled shrilly. From where she kept her watch Brynhilde rose and ambled over.
“Is this poker lying?” Ted inquired.
She snuffed at Sandy’s crotch—diffidently as though reluctant to take such liberties—shook her head, and went back the way she had come.
“Okay,” Suzy said. “What exactly will you need, and how long will it take?”
DOGGED “Out of the question,” said Dr. Joel Bosch. “He must be lying.” Acutely aware he was sitting in the same office, perhaps even in the same chair, as Nickie Haflinger the day he encountered the late Miranda, Freeman said patiently, “But our techniques eliminate all possibility of deliberate falsehood.”
“Clearly that cannot be the case.” Bosch’s tone was brisk. “I’m very well acquainted with Lilleberg’s work. It’s true he produced some spectacular anomalous results. His explanations of them, however, amounted to no more than doubletalk. We know now what processes must be applied to produce that kind of effect, and Lilleberg never even pretended to use them. They simply didn’t exist when he retired.”
“There was considerable controversy over the so-called Lilleberg Hypothesis,” Freeman persisted.
“That controversy was long ago resolved!” Bosch snapped. And added with a strained attempt at greater politeness: “For reasons which I’m afraid a… a nonspecialist like yourself might find difficult to follow. I’m sorry, but there has to be a flaw in your interrogation methods. I suggest you re-evaluate them. Good afternoon.”
Defeated, Freeman rose. Suddenly a muscle in his left cheek had started to go tic-tic-tic.
HIATUS Outside, the noise of quiet-humming motors as the tribe assembled. Inside, agonized by indecision, she walked back and forth, back and forth, her nails bitten to the quick.
“… after that, of course, I couldn’t go on living with him. I mean could I? Flaunting around the neighborhood like that, not caring who knew what he was up to…” The sound of the motors faded. There was a phone in the corner of the room. She made no move toward it, even now.
“… just sit there! I mean how can you? I mean here I am all alone and it’s the third night in a row and last week was the same and in the name of God come, somebody come and put some weight on these empty dusty stairs and…” If he finds out, he’ll kill me. I know he will. But once I called them and in a way I guess it saved my sanity. Any rate it got me here without committing suicide. Tonight someone else—and yet I know Jemmy would kill me if he guessed.
“… not so much drinking it as lining it, catch? Jee-sowss if I found him cleaning his teeth with it I wouldn’t be surprised and if they marketed a bourbon-flavor toothpaste he’d be the first customer not that he brushes his teeth too often and the stink of them rotting is…”
At last, fatalistically, she did approach the phone. It took her two tries to punch the number; first time, she lost count partway through. The screen lit.
“Hey!” In a desperate whisper, as though Jemmy could hear her from kilometers away. “You got to do something, do it quick! See, my son rides with the Blackass tribe and they just started off for a match with—” A girl’s quiet voice interrupted. “You have contacted Hearing Aid, which exists exclusively to listen. We do not act, intervene or hold conversations. If you wish assistance, apply to one of the regular emergency services.”
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