Chrome Contact


After class, Alec went directly to Dr. Catania's office. Alec found him in owl mode, sitting in an old, overstuffed arm chair hiding in a corner behind piles of journals, books, and file folders piled on the floor.

"Ahh, come in Alec." The old professor said cheerfully with twinkling and blinking owl eyes. "I was concerned about you. I heard a news report this morning about troubles at the Centroid Café, where, I believe you work after school?"

"Yes, I'm the…part-time barista and summer janitor at the café from four until nine."

"So, you were not in harm's way there yesterday?" the professor said with a lifting eyebrow.

"Well…not exactly. Actually, I saw everything that happened."

"You saw the terrorist attack but were unharmed?" the professor gasped incredulously.

"Well…you see, Dr. Max, I'm not supposed to talk about it."

"Why not?"

"An Army general made me sign a confidentiality agreement. I'm not supposed to talk about it with anyone except my boss, Mr. Sturm. The general said it was a matter of national security. But…but that's what I wanted to talk to you about. First, I don't even know exactly what I signed because there was no time to read it and I only have a computer file for a copy."

"That's unconscionable nonsense!" the professor exclaimed suddenly as he sprang to his feet faster than Alec thought was humanly possible. "You were told to sign an agreement under duress, without access to any counsel, and then not even given a copy that's readable?"

"Well, I don't really know that the copy isn't readable," Alec explained, "The general said I could maybe open the files on my computer. I've already tried on my laptop, but I think I don't have enough memory in it."

"Ahh, and do you still have the disk?"

"Yes, right here," Alec said retrieving the disk from his battered old briefcase.

"Shall we try to read it on my box?" the professor said rubbing his hands with obvious relish over the prospect of uncovering a mystery wrapped in a civil-liberties outrage.

"Sure, Dr. Max. That would be a big help."

The spry professor sprang to his computer terminal and slipped in the disk. But after several attempts to open the disk files in various ways, the professor threw up his hands with a loud harrumph. "Alec, it looks to me like you are just one of the latest victims of official cyber junk. You are not supposed to be able to open this. The whole thing smells very fishy to me, I must say."

"That's what Monty said—fishy he called it," Alec recalled out loud. "I think it is too. The…well…thing I saw was not a national security thing…I just feel it."

"Tell you what," the professor said, as he walked to an venerable chalkboard hanging on the wall, "you don't need to tell me anything that you don't want to. Just let me ask you some questions to help you sort this out. Does that make sense to you, Alec?"

"Sure, Dr. Max. That would really help me figure out some of my ideas about…this thing."

Part of the professor's flowchart.

The nimble old man began writing a flowchart furiously on his chalkboard. Through a serious of yes-no and other disjunctive questions, the professor learned that Alec had met a stranger who could not speak but was attempting to communicate with some other kind of language.

"Alec, I'll say this for now," the professor said as he wiped chalk dust off his hands onto his old jacket, "you have to follow your own conscience about how to proceed. Perhaps you could find a way to communicate if you carefully, piece by piece, study the stranger’s message patterns. Remember, all well-formed messages will have elements of redundancy and conceptual primitives. Look for those elements. I know you can do it because you excelled last year in my advanced logic class."

"Well, I did like that class a lot, Dr. Max. It was … well … more interesting than all these old philosophers from Greece in your course now," Alec confessed without guile.

"Alec, do not discard anything in the realm of reason when you are trying to solve any problem that has intelligible elements. Even old Plato might have a clue for you when you least expect it. Use every logic tool, every imaginative schema, every language form you know to tackle this problem. Humm, of course, I don't know how you can do that if you can't gain access to this stranger…yes, that's a problem…" the professor's voice trailed off into silence.

Suddenly, remembering his appointment at the café, Alec glanced at his watch and made a clicking noise. "Thanks, Dr. Max," Alec said with a note of haste. "I'll let you know how things go." 

Taking his leave quickly, Alec ran down the halls of Sundance Main, calculating as he went that he had just enough time to get to the café by four for his meeting with Monty.





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© 2000 Centroid Communications.

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