For All Nails #78: Water on the Brain
By Johnny Pez
San Cristóbal, New Granada
15 January 1974
Joan Kahn was becoming more and more puzzled. She had always been good at making connections between seemingly unrelated things, and in the last ten years she had honed that native gift into a highly effective tool. She had used it to uncover evidence of hidden North American interference in the course of Mexican history, and she was here in New Granada to see if she could uncover more North American interference, but things weren't going the way she expected.
One of Kahn's guiding principles was that every action, no matter how carefully hidden, left unexpected traces. If you wanted to steal a biscuit from a sweets jar without anyone knowing, it wasn't enough to just replace the lid. A careful thief would search for crumbs and sweep them up. A very careful thief would brush the stray crumbs out of the broom after sweeping. A particularly careful thief would wash the crumbs down the sink rather than just throw them into the rubbish. However, most thieves wouldn't be that careful, and some might be careless enough not to sweep up the crumbs in the first place. The bigger a secret was, the more people would have to be involved, and the greater the chance that someone would forget to sweep up the crumbs.
If the Confederation of North America was secretly backing the new government of New Granada, there would be plenty of unexpected traces, and Joan Kahn was very good at finding unexpected traces. Which was why she was so puzzled. Her first visit to New Granada ten months before during her book tour hadn't turned up anything. That meant that either Liddy's operatives had been so careful about covering up their tracks that they hadn't left any traces at all (which she didn't believe) or else that the CBI hadn't been behind the coup (which she also didn't believe). In the months since her book tour ended, she had gone to Burgoyne to look up one or two highly-placed sources and dig into government records, but once again she had turned up nothing. She had even begun to consider the possibility that the CNA wasn't involved in the Elbittar Coup after all.
Then, three weeks ago, she had received an audiocartridge in the mail, posted from New Orleans with no return address. The cart held a recording of a conversation between Colonel Elbittar and Ambassador Petrie of the CNA, and in it Petrie promised to recognize Elbittar's government and double the amount of Mason Program aid being sent to New Granada. There was really nothing startling in the cart -- Monaghan had recognized Elbittar's government within a week of the coup, and anyone who could read government budget reports (and Kahn certainly could) knew about the rise in aid to New Granada -- but it was hard evidence that the CNA had supported Elbittar from the beginning. Her suspicions rekindled, Kahn had resumed her investigation. But instead of clearing up, her puzzlement grew deeper. So far, she still hadn't been able to find any traces of CNA involvement in the coup itself -- no links between Elbittar and the New Granadan exile community in Tampa, no covert CNA funding for the coup. What she had found were traces of Mexican involvement.
But that made no sense. The deposed Hermión dynasty had originally been Mexican, and the Hermións had always kept New Granada within the Mexican sphere of influence, despite opting out of Calles' statehood referendum scheme. Why on earth would the Mexicans sponsor an anti-Mexican coup?
She had discoverd that the Department of War was sending shipments from a military base in Mexico del Norte to Ciudad Camacho, which in itself was startling given that the USM still hadn't recognized Elbittar's government. A couple of discreet bribes to some underpaid clerks had gained her the itinerary of one of the shipments, and some quick work at a rest stop here in San Cristóbal had enabled her to get the carbon paper from between two copies of that shipment's bill of lading. Now she was back in her hotel room, reading the carbon paper's reflection in the bathroom mirror.
Most of the items were perfectly ordinary, or would be if you didn't know that the Mexican government was officially giving the Elbittar regime the cold shoulder: spare parts for various weapons and vehicles, machine tools, a set of maintenance manuals. But why was someone in Los Alamos shipping someone in Ciudad Camacho five containers of water? It wasn't as if Ciudad Camacho didn't already have plenty of water -- more than Mexico del Norte, probably. And it wasn't as if water had any military application . . .
In his chapter on the physics of atomic fission, Volk had explained that the core of every atom was made up of two subatomic particles: unitons and neutrons. Most iron atoms, for example, had a core made up of 26 unitons and 30 neutrons. Likewise, most hydrogen atoms had only a single uniton and no neutrons in their cores. However, about one hydrogen atom in 7000 was called neutro-hydrogen, or N-hydrogen, because it included both a uniton and a neutron in its core. When the scientists of the Taichung Project needed to slow down the fission rate of their atomic reactions, they used N-water, water made with N-hydrogen atoms, to do so.
Kahn felt a momentary panic. Had the lorry she snuck into been radiative? But no, Volk had explained that while some atomic cores were unstable, and hence naturally radiative, the core of N-hydrogen was as stable as ordinary hydrogen (the Kramer scientists wouldn't have used N-water as a fission retarder if it had been unstable). Kahn's panic subsided, to be replaced by depression as the implications of her discovery began to sink in.
President Moctezuma's denunciation of the Elbittar Coup was a fraud. Not only were the Mexicans not displeased with the overthrow of President Hermión, they were actually helping the new regime set up its own atomic weapons facility!
Carefully, very carefully, Joan Kahn began to tear up the sheet of carbon paper until its many fragments were impossible to identify. Then she put the shreds in an ashtray and set them on fire. Then she ground up the ashes into a fine powder. Then she flushed the powdered ashes down the water closet.
Then she walked out to the bedroom, lay down on the bed, stared up into the ceiling, and wondered what to do next.
(Proceed to Henry the Bad.)
(Proceed to The Wrath of Kahn.)
(Return to For All Nails.)