For All Nails #3: The Ivory Tower
By David Mix Barrington
"Professor Belanger? Mr. Abramowitz is here."
"Ah, thank you. Josh, come in! Beer? Cider? Tea?"
"Tea's fine, thanks. It's been a while, Gerard. I see you're pretty well settled in here."
"Yes, it may be a less exciting life than being a Deputy Minister, but I wouldn't be anywhere else in the world." He gestured at the view of the Adirondacks across Lake Champlain. "Particularly in the autumn. How was the trip?"
"Oh, three hours from New York, counting the wait in Albany. The leaves were magnificent going by Ticonderoga and I had a lovely walk through town from the station. The streetcar was right there as you said, but I wanted to see Burlington -- very refreshing after Burgoyne to have a short walk from one end of town to the other."
"Well, if you want small you could always go back to Fort McKenzie. It gets cold here in the winter, but not like there! I have to say I miss the company, particularly yours, but it's not the place to make a life."
"I quite agree, and that's part of why I'm here. You told me several times that once the Project was finished, you were coming back here and never leaving again. Is that still the plan?"
"There's really everything I want here, except maybe for the symphony an hour away in Montreal. I have problems to work on, some brilliant students, solid colleagues, and these leaves out my window in September. Why do you ask? You're not trying to hire me away?"
"No, I was pretty sure you'd say that. In fact, since I took this job I've been thinking about you, and the life you want to lead. My problem, and the nation's problem, is that we need men FN2 like you to be working together in harness to some extent, like we did at Fort McKenzie. The nation's very security, not to mention our prosperity, depend on our base of science and engineering knowledge."
"You want bigger and better bombs?"
"Well, yes, but that's only part of it, and I don't see it as being your part necessarily."
"I did notice that half our old Physics Section seems to have joined Hinajosa in Michigan City."
"A coincidence, no doubt. But if you ever feel like dropping in on Raul, let me know and I can arrange a very interesting tour. You can talk about old times, and maybe help with some of his calculations. But my point is, if I can't bring you to national research, I want to bring national research to you. I've gotten hold of a bit of the Science Ministry's private ledger, you see. I want to find the best people in the universities, the best reliable ones I mean, and give them the tools they need to do the job."
"You want to pay me to develop the mathematics of calculation? I'm doing that already."
"But you're not building calculating machines -- you haven't the time. Suppose you had a commercial firm down the road that was willing to spend thousands of pounds to try out your ideas? Like that 'calculus engine' you told me about. Or the vitavision screen typewriter where you change the words as you go. Or the library in every home...FN3"
"None of those things exist yet, Josh, and no one's going to get an NFA loan to build something you can't sell for decades."
"The NFA will give the loan if the Science Ministry tells them to. Oh, I've no doubt they'll get their money back, if only on things we buy back from these new firms. But those firms' real job will be to work out the consequences of your ideas, and those of the other people I'm bringing on board. Of course, anything that ought to move to a Defence Ministry workshop goes there, and you agree not to talk about it. Some things you publish, and some things stay within the government. But we'll mostly have the researchers decide which is which, not the CBI."
"Have you sounded out the University men yet? The Chancellor's a big man in the PJP FN4 -- he's not going to be happy about anything to do with the military or the CBI. We just had a student march demanding military training on campus, and he had the marchers forcibly removed from the quad."
"I think these things can be worked out. The money for your campus lab comes from the Science Ministry, the private firm is financed by the NC NFA, no Defence money to be seen. And the CBI is good at not being noticed when they want to be. They just quietly check out your students."
"I wonder what they'll think of Contreras? FN5 His father is some sort of oilman in Mexico, and I think he wants to go back there. Are you telling me I shouldn't talk to him? He's the one who's worked out that theory I told you about, about calculations that can be done but only very slowly..."
"I think we take things like that as they come. Certainly your mathematical theories should be discussed with anyone in the world, and your overall approaches to the machinery. We'll just trust that by being next to you here, our firm will be the best placed to actually make the things work. I'm not expecting any Mexican spies crawling through your corridors -- they're looking for the Bomb, not calculators."
"I'll let you know if there's a man with a serape and a sound recorder in my garden. Do you suppose if we just gave them the Bomb, they'd be happy?"
"You sound like Volk."
"Volk is an idiot. He has a halfway sensible idea about the Bomb being too terrible to use, and then goes off on this Masonist nonsense. Yes, we can win friends by giving money away, but it's a rough neighborhood out there and we need to be better armed than anyone else. And if the Bomb's no good, that makes the rest of our strength more important, not less. No,seriously, I don't think we should give Mercator the Bomb, because looking for it will keep him busy for a few years. And if Mexico stays peaceful long enough, Mercator will go the way of Hermión. We can live with Mexico, just like we can live with Germany, but we can't turn our back on any of them and we can't withdraw within our borders."
"Well, you know I have a soft spot for the Germans -- I don't think Numidia would still be there as a Jewish homeland FN6 if we'd left it to our cousins in London. The War has been over for a while, and Germany's giving more freedom to its clients all the time."
"Do you still have any family in Tripoli?" FN7
"You know, second and third cousins, but most of them came to Montreal in the Eighties with my grandfather. I went there once in '59 -- still a lot of rebuilding going on but you won't hear a bad word about the Germans there."
"I suppose I should worry about France, but my people have been here for three centuries now. I guess it's different for your lot."
"If we ever forget that we're the chosen people, someone reminds us. At least we can visit the Temple as long as the Germans are there. The locals just don't want many of us moving in... But don't keep me in suspense. Are you on board for this research idea?"
"Absolutely. We had something in Fort Mackenzie, Josh. You put so many clever people in one place and something has to happen. Have you got a name for the private firm yet?"
"No, do you?"
"Arthur Laboratories. Chester Arthur was the greatest man ever to come out of these parts, I think, FN8 though people still say he was crazy. This university wouldn't be what it is without him, I can tell you that."
"Arthur Laboratories it is. Let's drink to knowledge, and to our new enterprise."
Forward to FAN # 4: The Traitorous Eight.
Forward to 14 April 1969: Two Angry Citizens Per Distant Unit Per City.
Forward to Calculating Machines: Leebild Electronics, PLC.
Return to For All Nails.