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For All Nails #15: More Island Life


White Sands, Ile St. Jean FN1, Nova Scotia

20 June 1970


Joshua Abramowitz surveyed the veranda of the White Sands Hotel. He thought back to the airmobile pilot's last announcement: "Ladies and gentlemen, we are now landing in Charlottetown, Nova Scotia. Please set your watches back fifty years." Certainly the veranda had the confident opulence of the Dewey years, and the music in the background would have fit right into the old Galloway Concert Hall of the Air. If he were the CNA's Deputy Science Minister back then, his life would have been duller (mostly concerned with agronomy), but that was a safer and more elegant time.

He easily spotted his lunch partners at a table overlooking the broad white beach, the warm water of the Golfe de St. Laurent, and the view of red cliffs stretching along the shore in either direction. The man was in his sixties, with neatly trimmed white hair and short beard. (He recalled the more familiar mane of white hair in all directions from news photos -- it wouldn't do for anyone to recognize a once-famous personality here.) The striking young woman (late twenties, he recalled, though she could pass for younger) wore a conservative long skirt to match the veranda and had her red hair piled behind her in the same era's fashion. They were deep in animated conversation, having already covered pages of hotel stationary with equations and diagrams. The man looked up.

"Joshua, how nice to see you! I hope you aren't come to spirit me away again. Two clandestine submersible journeys are quite enough for one lifetime."

Abramowitz looked sharply at the woman, who smiled. The white-haired man smiled as well.

"May I present Mrs. Shirley Gilbert?" FN2 I'm afraid she recognized me almost immediately from my old published papers. She is aware, in rough terms, of my most recent employment and how I came to resign my position there. We've been talking all morning. A remarkable mind, Joshua, just as you said."

Abramowitz identified a scribbled but recognizable diagram of the Kramer Bomb on one of the many pieces of paper, and made a mental note to see that some trusted personnel kept after the scientist's rubbish. Vincent Mercator would pay dearly for that scrap of paper if he could.

"I'm glad to meet you at last, Mrs. Gilbert, and glad to see that you two have hit it off. Perhaps we can arrange to have you continue to work together?"

"It would be the privilege of a lifetime, sir," she said. "I've done the best I can to keep up with developments in atomic science from here, but my widow's pension can only pay for so many books and journals. I've learned more this morning than in the past two years..."

"I think we can promise you both a little better support in that regard, though we don't want this address to show up on too many subscription lists. FN3 After all, Dr. Sterling is here in part because it's one of the last places anyone would look for him. I think it would be best if he laid low here through the summer. What happens after that, Doctor, is largely up to you."

"Truly. That fellow on the submersible, Liddy I believe, suggested that I would be going straight to some secret laboratory."

"Men like Liddy are indispensable in their place, but I'm glad that I, not they, are in charge of science policy. What you've told us so far has more than repaid our investment in bringing you here. You've more than earned a comfortable retirement, here or elsewhere. With a bit of work on your background you could have an emeritus position as any of our major universities. But if you should want to stay on the playing field, so to speak, we of course have plenty of opportunities for you. Naturally we are most interested in tritium reactions, but you could work on calculating machines, or space probes..."

"Space probes!" The woman's green eyes shone. "You know, a controlled tritium reaction would be the ideal propulsion for a craft that could reach the outer planets or even the stars!"

"You've got a bit of a problem putting it in anything, though, don't you, my dear? Sort of like those old alchemists with their universal solvent..."

"But some sort of bottle of magnetic fields, perhaps..."

"I don't mean to interrupt, but do we have an agreement on the rough arrangements? You two stay here in comfort and obscurity for the summer. I daresay there might be other physical types who just happen to decide on a holiday here as well. Mrs. Gilbert, if the Avonlea School District can find another superintendent, you would be most welcome to join Dr. Sterling wherever he decides to relocate. Are you with us?"

"I think so. Part of me will always be on the Island, of course, but since my husband and my foster parents are all gone now... but first a question for each of you. Dr. Sterling, or 'Carlos', if I may, why have you chosen us? After all, we are potentially your third homeland, are we not?"

"I hesitate to compare my losses to yours, my dear, but in a way I am a widower twice over. I saw my homeland descend into military dictatorship and menace the world. My dream that an enlightened private company, backed by the Bomb, could enforce peace on the world -- that has died as well. Kramer wants what is good for Kramer, and what is good for Taiwan. And their leaders in the end are accountants, not statesmen. I have relatively few illusions about the CNA, I hope, but in many ways it is the land of freedom that Mexico tried so hard to be. If men, and women, are free to pursue their destinies, there is no end to what they can accomplish. If Mexico has tritium Bombs and the CNA does not, the free institutions here will be stifled. If both have tritium Bombs, we have the same stalemate, and I truly believe the two sides will have to talk to one another. We will get our international order, and be free to live as we were meant to live."

"That's a good answer. Now you, Deputy Minister. Why me? Why are you giving this opportunity to a widowed schoolteacher from Nova Scotia?"

"Well, I could say that you're the best person for the job, and that would be true, or at least close to it. Your professor at Redmond told me that as an undergraduate you were smarter not only than all the students, but than him and than everyone he had ever met in the physics department of McGill. But I do have an ulterior motive as well. Your talent ought to be serving your country, whether in a secret laboratory or in a university. I'm sure you're not the only woman who could succeed in science given half a chance. As the research assistant of 'Dr. Charles Sterling', you'll get that chance, and possibly lead the way for hundreds of girls and women to follow."

"That's a good answer too. Well, 'Charles'? Would you like a willing pupil for the summer, and for as long after that as you'll have me?"

Abramowitz could not miss the look that passed between the two physicists. Romance? Far stranger things had happened, of course. Urquell had left the CNA for a woman, or more precisely for several women. It never hurt a man at war to be reminded what he was fighting for, even in a War Without War.

The man who had been Carlos Sparling broke his eye contact, turned to Abramowitz, and solemnly held out his hand.


David Mix Barrington



(Proceed to I Got Sunshine in a Bag.)

(Proceed to Rocket Science.)

(Return to For All Nails.)

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