Chrome Contact


"Come, we shall have some fun now!" thought Alice. "I'm glad they've begun asking riddles. I believe I can guess that," she added aloud.

"Do you mean that you think you can find out the answer to it?" said the March Hare.

"Exactly so," said Alice.

"Then you should say what you mean," the March Hare went on.

"I do," Alice hastily replied; "at least—at least I mean what I say—that's the same thing, you know."

"Not the same thing a bit!" said the Hatter. "You might just as well say that ‘I see what I eat’ is the same thing as ‘I eat what I see’!"


"…Ted, what do you think?"

"I’m not buying it Todd. First we were told it was a terrorist situation. Then they had the press conference where they said it was a special security investigation—no actual threat to Hawkins Falls—just some security precautions were required. That’s really pretty much what they said, right?"

"Ted, you are exactly right."

"So, that’s why I can’t really buy into the propaganda in this news conference this morning. How can something that was supposed to be ‘no actual threat’ change into a national security issue—really big enough to force us to evacuate, really, half the city?"

"So, there you have it folks. That’s the big question this morning: What’s the real reason for this sudden evacuation order that was just issued this morning by General Gomez? 777-0987. Call with your comments. We’re all ears here on the Ted and Todd DriveLine."

"Todd, before we take that first call, let’s go back to Tina in SkyLine 1."

"Tina, what can you tell us from up there?"

"Hi Ted. Todd. It’s hard to describe the confusion of the people in the EZ, that’s the lingo for the evacuation zone just announced this morning at ten by General Cynthia Gomez. People are running around everywhere in a panic to meet the three pm deadline. I’ gotten a couple reports there are protests…have formed in some areas around the Centroid Café—which, as we were all told this morning—has been designated a Delta Green Restricted Zone. I gotta tell ya guys, there are lots more army and police vehicles than yesterday. They’re putting ’em along Alder Drive, Willow Street, and mostly along Golden Oak. Plus, ya guys, I’ve heard reports of some tanks that have been unloaded out of trailers around the café—but can’t confirm now…they increased the NOZ—that’s the…yeah, the No Over flight Zone. We can’t fly over that part of the city at all any more. That’s all I can tell ya now ya guys…so I’ll…"

"Hey! Thanks Tina. 777-0987 Call now. We’re all ears here on the…"

Alec 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.

Alec 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.

And then 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.

The 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 machines.

The 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.

"May I speak with General Gomez, please?" Alec said loudly to an accompanying guard. A moment later, the general appeared at his side.

"Well…uhmmumm, 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."

"General, did Mont, er…Mr. Sturm tell you that I would like to use the Chroma Comp for a few experiments?"

"Uhummhm, 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."

Alec 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."

"Here’s 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 afternoon."

Then 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."

Alec immediately turned and started to gather a few books and other items that were set aside on the nearby table.

"You ...ummuhumm, you can’t leave now. I need this monkey moving so the brass can see what were up against here. I…ummm…"

"I won’t just sit here anymore while the Chrome is dying—especially when I think I have a clue." Alex started heading for the door.

"Come back here at once. Ummmhumm ...that’s an order." The general looked apoplectic.

Sensing 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?"

The 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.

"Damn it Alec! You’re right. If you have a hunch, a few minutes of Crink’s time is worth it. Wait here."

The 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.

"…obvious line of thinking."

"You forget, general, that you are the one who ordered that we perform threat analysis and physical testing first."

"Not at the expense of message analysis, Crink!" The general groaned.

"Apparently, 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 guns."

"You 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.





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© 2000 Centroid Communications.

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