switched off the radio as he parked. Having gone to bed
late the previous night and then waking late, he had barely had enough
time to dress, grab a protein bar and his books, and speed to
Sundance. He ran to the classroom, arriving almost a full
minute before eleven. Precisely at eleven, Professor Catania
appeared from the back of the room where, somehow, he had
avoided notice by appearing as a slouching student with his
face hidden behind an open book. He distributed the test books
and then left the room without a word.
found himself doubting most of his answers. A few seemed
right; most were in the highly suspicious category. He found
the questions about Socrates’ proof of the Pythagorean
Theorem especially distracting. Instead of toward the Meno,
his thoughts gravitated to the Chrome. He considered that if
the Chrome were trying to "speak" a basic
mathematical proposition like a2 + b2 =
c2, that he couldn’t assume that the Chrome used
the same kind of exponential notation used by humans. He
recalled what little he could of the history of algebraic
notation. Certainly, he thought, the use of a superscript
"2" is only a human convention for symbolizing the
concept of a number multiplied by itself. Chrome exponents
would be symbolized by specific colors perhaps, or patterns
perhaps, or positions within patterns, or maybe positions of
patterns. He systematically considered various ways that color
could be used to represent a base number and its exponent. And
he considered that the Chromes might even use something like a
binary number system, where the positions of the 1s and 0s
represent a corresponding power of 2. He mulled the
possibilities. His head began to ache as the permutations
propagated like furtive mental rabbits.
time was up. He put his exam booklet on the pile on the
professor’s desk and rushed from the room in a definitely
Dr. Max style. Emerging into the hall, Alec ran headlong into
two burly MPs who said that if he was Mr. Alec Booner, he was
to follow them. They escorted him briskly to a bright red
sedan, flanked by two motorcycle escorts, waiting outside the
main entrance. A dark, overcast sky had rolled in—a rarity
in Hawkins Falls—and already a light rain was falling. With
sirens wailing and red and blue lights glistening along the
wet pavement, the sedan and escorts passed quickly through the
various barricades that were now set up on the east side of
the city to enforce one-way traffic out only.
Centroid Café’s ‘Open 24 Hours’ sign was turned off—the
first time Alec had ever seen that. Inside, the large café
had been transmuted from a warm, well-lighted, friendly haunt
into a staging area for piles of electronic gear watched over
by more MPs than Alec could count. There were soldiers
everywhere he looked. Up on the patio he saw more new people.
Standing by General Gomez’ command trailer were two new
generals who were accompanied by several new weasel-looking
fellows who carried small suitcases emblazoned with the
Presidential Seal. There were new faces over by the CIA and
FBI trailers too. Whatever the Delta Green condition was, Alec
decided, it required a large number of big wheels and exotic
guards led him over to his usual seat and side table. As he
drew close, the Chrome revived and began moving and flashing
color patterns slowly. A rousing cheer went up from the
gathered scientists and technicians. But the being was
obviously agitated and in some kind of discomfort. Then
gradually, the slow waltz of color around the
creature’s aura slowly increased in tempo. Soon, the being was
wildly flashing color patterns, in an almost, so it seemed to
Alec, frantic manner.
I speak with General Gomez, please?" Alec said loudly to
an accompanying guard. A moment later, the general appeared at
Alec. I told the other brass here that you are the wonder kid,
and you haven’t let me down. You got it up and running again—just
as I predicted."
did Mont, er…Mr. Sturm tell you that I would like to use the
Chroma Comp for a few experiments?"
yes…yes...he did. And I’ve talked it over with my staff.
And I, well…we decided that it would be best if you just
stayed in your place here."
pleaded with the general to let him just guide Dr. Crink to
look for certain things using the versatile device. "We
need to do some pattern recognition and image extraction
things, and I can’t do that on Mont…on Montego Bay—just,
uh, little fishing boats there. I need to use the world’s
finest equipment—Potomac-class stuff to do the job."
the net-net, kid—my probability boys tell me there’s a
ninety-six percent chance this thing is a secret cyber
surveillance system…from a hidden adversary, probably a
rogue country in Asia. We’ve already taken precautions, of
course. Sooo, umm, now there’s really not much more to do
except some final tests—as long as it keeps going this
Alec remembered Monty’s tactic in persuading the general to
let them come up to the patio for the "repair" on
the fountain. "General, I’m sorry you think there would
be nothing to gain by letting me just use the Chroma Comp for
a few minutes—just a very few minutes. And, well, I’m
sorry that I can’t stay any longer today."
immediately turned and started to gather a few books and other
items that were set aside on the nearby table.
...ummuhumm, you can’t leave now. I need this monkey moving
so the brass can see what were up against here. I…ummm…"
won’t just sit here anymore while the Chrome is dying—especially
when I think I have a clue." Alex started heading for the
back here at once. Ummmhumm ...that’s an order." The
general looked apoplectic.
that he needed to give the general a way out—a way to save
face, he stopped after only a few paces to the door, turned,
and extended a hand in a gesture of a street beggar reaching
for a donation. "This is such a waste, General Gomez. My
hunch might be true. What if the creature means no harm and is
just trying to tell you something important? Please—please—just
a few minutes on the Chroma Comp?"
general’s face was a study in tension. Her impossibly large
smile jerked back and forth as if the two corners of her mouth
were in a fierce tug of war. Unable to prevent Alec’s
departure, and imagining the immediate shutdown of her
demonstration to the other brass, she wavered a few seconds
and then clapped her hands in delight. Suddenly, Alec thought
she looked like a khaki camouflaged version of Alice at the
Mad Hatter’s Tea Party.
it Alec! You’re right. If you have a hunch, a few minutes of
Crink’s time is worth it. Wait here."
general marched over to the main science station where Dr.
Crink, using the Chroma Comp, was directing the work of the
scientists nearby at their monitors and instruments. She
pulled the CIA scientist aside and an animated but inaudible exchange
ensued between them. Then, they began to raise their voices as
the exchange grew hotter.
line of thinking."
forget, general, that you are the one who ordered that we
perform threat analysis and physical testing first."
at the expense of message analysis, Crink!" The general
general, you understand very little about scientific protocols
or processes. You should know that we have to perform many
redundant experiments to verify previous results. We have to
make many lists of the kinds of data we have collected. Then
we need to analyze the data sets. Do you know how long it took
to determine that it’s got a one-way permeable membrane? Of
course you don’t. This kid is just jumping in here and doing
the next step that we were going to—if we hadn’t been
ordered to start tearing down and packing up equipment so you
and your soldier boys can play nookie with your big new
talk big words, Crink. But at least in the Army, we ..umm walk
our talk." The scientist’s face turned almost cherry
red and the general’s so happy teeth glinted in the glare of
the klieg lights as she walked away to confer with the visiting generals nearby. Shortly, the general walked
back to talk to the scientist who was now jabbing his index
finger in the air and dancing around like a little monkey on a
leash. The general lowered her voice to whisper something to
him. It seemed to calm the agitated scientist—as if the
monkey had just received a sweet morsel from its keeper. The
general signaled the guards to bring Alec over.