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  • îÅÊÌ óÔÅÆÅÎÓÏÎ. âÏÌØÛÏÅ "U" (engl)
  • Neal Stephenson. The Big U

  • Neal Stephenson. The Big U

    Scanned and OCR'd by a loyal fan with a loose sense of ethics.Death to the big-bucks "The Big U" auctions on Ebay!Please submit all changes/fixes to bigwheel@hushmail.comBuy Neal's other (reasonably priced) books.
    From a recent (4/29/99) interview:
    Lomax: Above, you said that you were "no damn good at writing short stories"
    What about these days? Do you think you will write exclusively in the long
    form? Oh, and what's the deal with the Big U. Will that ever see print
    again?
    Stephenson: I still find short stories very difficult to write, and I admire
    people who can do that. At the moment, novels are working for me and so I
    think I'll stick with them. Concerning the Big U... It is an okay novel,
    but I'm in no hurry to put it back into the world. There is a lot of other
    good stuff that people could be reading.

    v0.9 - First public release. Missing introduction quotes/author info.
    [bigwheel@hushmail.com]v0.9.5 - Bugfix. Recreated proper paragraph breaks, formatted to 78 columns,
    corrected OCR errors, replace 8-bit characters with 7-bit equivalents,
    properly centered what should be, undid hyphenation.
    [kmfahey@toast.net]v0.9.7 - Update. Added introduction, author info and back cover. The newest
    version should be found at http://www.geocities.com/thebigubook
    [bigwheel@hushmail.com]v0.9.8 - Bugfix. Further OCR and formatting errors corrected, run thru
    a spellchecker. [thebigu@w.tf]


    The Big U
    Neal Stephenson

    "WHEN I THINK OF THE MEN WHO WERE MY TEACHERS, I REALIZED THAT MOST OF THEMWERE SLIGHTLY MAD. THE MEN WHO COULD BE REGARDED AS GOOD TEACHERS WEREEXCEPTIONAL. IT'S TRAGIC TO THINK THAT SUCH PEOPLE HAVE THE POWER TO BAR AYOUNG MAN'S WAY."
    --German political figure Adolf Hitler, 1889-1945 (from _Hitler'sSecret Conversations, 1941-44_, translated by Norman Cameron and R.H.Stevens.)

    I am indebted to the following people for the following things:
    My parents for providing several kinds of support.
    Edward Gibbon, for writing _The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire_.
    Julian Jaynes, for writing _The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown ofthe Bicameral Mind_.
    William Blake and William Butler Yeats, for providing Pertinax withinspiration.
    Kathrin Day Lassila, for numerous and thoughtful disagreements.
    Gordon Lish, for the most productive rejection slip of all time.
    Gary Fisketjon, for buying me a beer in Top Hat in Missoula, Montana, on July1, 1983, and other services beyond the call of editorial duty.

    -- The Go Big Red Fan --
    The Go Big Red Fan was John Wesley Fenrick's, and when ventilating his Systemit throbbed and crept along the floor with a rhythmic chunka-chunka-chunk.Fenrick was a Business major and a senior. From the talk of my wingmates Igathered that he was smart, yet crazy, which helped. The description weird wasalso used, but admiringly. His roomie, Ephraim Klein of New Jersey, was inPhilosophy. Worse, he was found to be smart and weird and crazy, intolerablyso on all these counts and several others besides.
    As for the Fan, it was old and square, with a heavy rounded design suitablefor the Tulsa duplex window that had been its station before John WesleyFenrick had brought It out to the Big U with him. Running up one sky-blueside was a Go Big Red bumper sticker. When Fenrick ran his System-- thatis, bludgeoned the rest of the wing with a record or tape-- he used the Fanto blow air over the back of the component rack to prevent the electronicsfrom melting down. Fenrick was tall and spindly, with a turkey-like head andneck, and all of us in the east corridor of the south wing of the seventhfloor of E Tower knew him for three things: his seventies rock-'n'-rollsouvenir collection, his trove of preposterous electrical appliances, and hislaugh-- a screaming hysterical cackle that would ricochet down the long shinycinderblock corridor whenever something grotesque flashed across the 45-Inchscreen of his Video System or he did something especially humiliating toEphraim Klein.
    Klein was a subdued, intellectual type. He reacted to his victories with acontented smirk, and this quietness gave some residents of EO7S East theimpression that Fenrick, a roomie-buster with many a notch on his keychain,had already cornered the young sage. In fact, Klein beat Fenrick at a rate ofperhaps sixty percent, or whenever he could reduce the conflict to a rationaldiscussion. He felt that he should be capable of better against a power-punkerBusiness major, but he was not taking into account the animal shrewdness thatenabled Fenrick to land lucrative oil-company internships to pay for themodernization of his System.
    Inveterate and cynical audio nuts, common at the Big U, would walk into theirroom and freeze solid, such was Fenrick's System, its skyscraping rack ofobscure black slabs with no lights, knobs or switches, the 600-watt Black HoleHyperspace Energy Nexus Field Amp that sat alone like the Kaaba, the shieldedcoaxial cables thrown out across the room to the six speaker stacks that madeit look like an enormous sonic slime mold in spawn. Klein himself knew a fewthings about stereos, having a system that could reproduce Bach about as wellas the American Megaversity Chamber Orchestra, and it galled him.
    To begin with there was the music. That was bad enough, but Klein hadassociated with musical Mau Maus since junior high, and could inure himselfto it in the same way that he kept himself from jumping up and shouting backat television commercials. It was the Go Big Red Fan that really got to him."Okay, okay, let's just accept as a given that your music is worth playing.Now, even assuming that, why spend six thousand dollars on a perfect systemwith no extraneous noises in it, and then, then, cool it with a noisy fan thatcouldn't fetch six bucks at a fire sale?" Still, Fenrick would ignore him. "Imean, you amaze me sometimes. You can't think at all, can you? I mean, you'renot even a sentient being, if you look at it strictly."
    When Klein said something like this (I heard the above one night when goingdown to the bathroom), Fenrick would look up at him from his Businesstextbook, peering over the wall of bright, sto record-store displays he haderected along the room's centerline; because his glasses had slipped down hislong thin nose, he would wrinkle it, forcing the lenses toward the desiredaltitude, involuntarily baring his canine teeth in the process and causing thestiff spiky hair atop his head to shift around as though inhabited by a bandof panicked rats.
    "You don't understand real meaning," he'd say. "You don't have a monopsonyon meaning. I don't get meaning from books. My meaning means what it meansto me." He would say this, or something equally twisted, and watch Klein fora reaction. After he had done it a few times, though, Klein figured out thathis roomie was merely trying to get him all bent out of shape-- to freak hisbrain, as it were-- and so he would drop it, denying Fenrick the chance toshriek his vicious laugh and tell the wing that he had scored again.
    Klein was also annoyed by the fact that Fenrick, smoking loads ofparsley-spiked dope while playing his bad music, would forget to keep an eyeon the Go Big Red Fan. Klein, sitting with his back to the stereo, wads offoam packed in his ears, would abruptly feel the Fan chunk into the back ofhis chair, and as he spazzed out in hysterical surprise it would sit theremaliciously grinding away and transmitting chunka-chunka-chunks into hispelvis like muffled laughs.
    If it was not clear which of them had air rights, they would wage sonic wars.
    They both got out of class at 3:30. Each would spend twenty minutes dashingthrough the labyrinthine ways of the Monoplex, pounding fruitlessly onelevator buttons and bounding up steps three at a time, palpitating at thethought of having to listen to his roommate's music until at least midnight.Often as not, one would explode from the elevator on EO7S, veer around to thecorridor, and with disgust feel the other's tunes pulsing victoriously throughthe floor. Sometimes, though, they would arrive simultaneously and power uptheir Systems together. The first time they tried this, about halfway throughSeptember, the room's circuit breaker shut down. They sat in darkness andsilence for above half an hour, each knowing that if he left his stereo toturn the power back on, the other would have his going full blast by the timehe returned. This impasse was concluded by a simultaneous two-tower fire drillthat kept both out of the room for three hours.
    Subsequently John Wesley Fenrick ran a fifty-foot tin-lead extension corddown the hallway and into the Social Lounge, and plugged his System intothat. This meant that he could now shut down Klein's stereo simply by turningon his burger-maker, donut-maker, blow-dryer and bun-warmer simultaneously,shutting off the room's circuit breaker. But Klein was only three feet fromthe extension cord and thus could easily shut Fenrick down with a tug. Sothese tactics were not resorted to; the duelists preferred, against allreason, to wait each other out.
    Klein used organ music, usually lush garbled Romantic masterpieces or what hecalled Atomic Bach. Fenrick had the edge in system power, but most of thatyear's music was not as dense as, say, Heavy Metal had been in its prime, andso this difference was usually erased by the thinness of his ammunition. Thisdid not mean, however, that we had any trouble hearing him.
    The Systems would trade salvos as the volume controls were brought up as highas they could go, the screaming-guitars-from-Hell power chords on one sidematched by the subterranean grease-gun blasts of the 32-foot reed stops onthe other. As both recordings piled into the thick of things, the combatantswould turn to their long thin frequency equalizers and shove all channels upto full blast like Mr. Spock beaming a live antimatter bomb into Deep Space.Finally the filters would be thrown off and the loudness switches on, and thespeakers would distort and crackle with strain as huge wattages pulsed throughtheir magnet coils. Sometimes Klein would use Bach's "Passacaglia and Fugue inC Minor," and at the end of each phrase the bass line would plunge back downhome to that old low C, and Klein's sub-woofers would pick up the temblor ofthe 64-foot pipes and magnify it until he could watch the naked speaker conesthrash away at in the air. This particular note happened to be the naturalresonating frequency of the main hallways, which were cut into 64-foot, 3-inchhalves by the fire doors (Klein and I measured one while drunk), and thereforethe resonant frequency of every other hall in every other wing of all thetowers of the Plex, and so at these moments everything in the world wouldvibrate at sixteen cycles per second; beds would tremble, large objects wouldfloat off the edges of tables, and tables and chairs themselves would buzzaround the rooms of their own volition. The occasional wandering bat who mightbe in the hall would take off in random flight, his sensors jammed by thenoise, beating his wings against the standing waves in the corridor in aneffort to escape.
    The Resident Assistant, or RA, was a reclusive Social Work major who,intuitively knowing she was never going to get a job, spent her time locked inher little room testing perfumes and watching MTV under a set of headphones.She could not possibly help.
    That made it my responsibility. I lived on EO7S that year asfaculty-in-residence. I had just obtained my Ph.D. from Ohio State in aninterdisciplinary field called Remote Sensing, and was a brand-shiny-newassociate professor at the Big U.
    Now, at the little southern black college where I went to school, we had nomegadorms. We were cool at the right times and academic at the right timesand we had neither Kleins nor Fenricks. Boston University, where I did myMaster's, had pulled through its crisis when I got there; most students had notime for sonic war, and the rest vented their humors in the city, not in thedorms. Ohio State was nicely spread out, and I lived in an apartment complexwhere noisy sh*t-for-brains undergrads were even less welcome than tweedyblack bachelors. I just did not know what to make of Klein and Fenrick; I didnot handle them well at all. As a matter of fact, most of my time at the Big Uwas spent observing and talking, and very little doing, and I may bear some ofthe blame.
    This is a history, in that it intends to describe what happened and suggestwhy. It is a work of the imagination in that by writing it I hope to purge theBig U from my system, and with it all my bitterness and contempt. I may havefooled around with a few facts. But I served as witness until as close to theend as anyone could have, and I knew enough of the major actors to learn aboutwhat I didn't witness, and so there is not so much art in this as to make itirrelevant. What you are about to read is not an aberration: it can happen inyour local university too. The Big U, simply, was a few years ahead of therest.

    -- First Semester --

    --September--
    On back-to-school day, Sarah Jane Johnson and Casimir Radon waited, for awhile, in line together. At the time they did not know each other. Sarah hadjust found that she had no place to live, and was suffering that tense andlonely feeling that sets in when you have no place to hide. Casimir was justdiscovering that American Megaversity was a terrible place, and was not happyeither.
    After they had worked their way down the hail and into the office of the Deanof the College of Sciences and Humanities, they sat down next to each other onthe scratchy Dayglo orange chairs below the Julian Didius III Memorial Window.The sunlight strained in greyly over their shoulders, and occasionally theyturned to look at the scene outside.
    Below them on one of the Parkway off-ramps a rented truck from Maryland hadtried to pass under a low bridge, its student driver forgetting that he wasin a truck and not his Trans-Am. Upon impact, the steel molding that fastenedthe truck's top to its sides had wrapped itself around the frame of a greenhighway sign bolted to the bridge. Now the sign, which read:
    AMERICAN MEGAVERSITY
    VISITOR PARKING
    SPORTS EVENTS
    EXIT 500 FT
    was suspended in the air at the end of a long strip of truck that had beenpeeled up and aside.
    A small crowd students, apparently finished with all their line-waiting, stoodon the bridge and beside the ramp, throwing Frisbees and debris into thetorn-open back of the truck, where its renters lounged in sofas and reclinersand drank beer, and threw the projectiles back. Sarah thought it was idiotic,and Casimir couldn't understand it at all.
    Out in the hallway, people behind them in the line were being verbally abusedby an old derelict who had penetrated the Plex security system. "The onlydegree you kids deserve is the third degree!" he shouted, waving his arms andstaggering in place. He wore a ratty tweed jacket whose elbow patches flappedlike vestigial wings, and he drank in turns from a bottle of Happy's vodka anda Schlitz tall-boy which he kept holstered in his pockets. He had the fullattention of the students, who were understandably bored, and most of themlaughed and tried to think of provocative remarks.
    As the drunk was wading toward them, one asked another how her summer hadbeen. "What about it?" asked the derelict. "Fiscal conservatism? Fine intheory! Tough, though! You have to be tough and humane together, you see, thetwo opposites must unite in one great leader! Can't be a damn dictator like S.S. Krupp!" This brought cheers and laughter from the upperclassmen, who hadjust decided the drunk was a cool guy. Septimius Severus Krupp, the Presidentof American Megaversity, was not popular. "Jesus Christ!" he continued throughthe laughter, "What the hell are they teaching you savages these days? Youneed a spanking! No more circuses. Maybe a dictator is just what you need!Alcibiades! Pompilius Numa! They'd straighten things out good and fast."
    Sarah knew the man. He liked to break into classes at the Big U and lecturethe professors, who usually were at a loss as to how to deal with him. Hisname was Bert Nix. He had taken quite a shine to Sarah: for her part, she didnot know whether or not to be scared of him. During the preceding spring'sstudent government campaign, Bert Nix had posed with Sarah for a campaignphoto which had then appeared on posters all over the Plex. This was justthe kind of thing that Megaversity students regarded as a sign of greatness,so she had won, despite progressive political ideas which, as it turned out,nobody was even aware of. This was all hard for Sarah to believe. She feltthat Bert Nix had been elected President, not the woman he had appeared withon the campaign poster, and she felt obliged to listen to him even when hesimply jabbered for hours on end. He was a nice lunatic, but he was adrift inthe Bert Nix universe, and that stirred deep fears in Sarah's soul.
    Casimir paid little attention to the drunk and a great deal to Sarah. Hecould not help it, because she was the first nice-seeming person, concept orthing he had found in his six hours at the Big U. During the ten years he hadspent saving up money to attend this school, Casimir had kept himself sane byimagining it. Unfortunately, he had imagined quiet talks over brunch with oldprofessors, profound discussions in the bathrooms, and dazzling, sensitivepeople everywhere just waiting to make new friends. What he had found, ofcourse, was American Megaversity. There was only one explanation for thisatmosphere that he was willing to believe: that these people were civilized,and that for amusem*nt they were acting out a parody of the squalor of highschool life, which parody Casimir had been too slow to get so far. The obviousexplanation-- that it was really this way-- was so horrible that it had noteven entered his mind.
    When he saw the photo of her on the back page of the back-to-school editionof the Monoplex Monitor, and read the caption identifying her as Sarah JaneJohnson, Student Government President, he made the most loutish double takebetween her and the photograph. He knew that she knew that he now knew who shewas, and that was no way to start a passionate love affair. All he could dowas to make a big show of reading about her in the Monitor, and wait for herto make the first move. He nodded thoughtfully at the botched quotations andoversimplifications in the article.
    Sarah was aware of this; she had watched him page slowly and intensely throughthe paper, waiting with mild dread for him to get to the back page, see thepicture and say something embarrassing. Instead-- even more embarrassing -- heactually read the article, and before he reached the bottom of the page, thestudent ahead of Sarah stomped out and she found herself impaled on the azuregaze of the chief bureaucrat of the College of Sciences and Humanities. "How,"said Mrs. Santucci crisply, "may I help you?"
    Mrs. Santucci was polite. Her determination to be decent, and to make allthings decent, was like that of all the Iranian Revolutionary Guards combined.Her policy of no-first-use meant that as long as we were objective and polite,any conversation would slide pleasantly down greased iron rails into a pitof despair. Any first strike by us, any remarks deemed improper by thisgrandmother of twenty-six and player of two dozen simultaneous bingo cards,would bring down massive retaliation. Sarah knew her. She arose primly andmoved to the front chair of the line to look across a barren desk at Mrs.Santucci.
    "I'm a senior in this college. I was lucky enough to get an out-of-Plexapartment for this fall. When I got there today I found that the entire blockof buildings had been shut down for eight months by the Board of Health. Iwent to Housing. Upon reaching the head of that line, I was told that it wasbeing handled by Student Affairs. Upon reaching the head of the line there, Iwas given this form and told to get signatures at Housing and right here.
    Mrs. Santucci reached out with the briskness that only old secretaries canapproach and seized the papers. "This form is already signed," she informedSarah.
    "Right. I got that done at about one o'clock. But when I got to my newtemporary room assignment it turned out to be the B-men's coffee lounge andstoreroom for the northeast quad of the first sublevel. It is full of B-menall the time. You know how they are-- they don't speak much English, and youknow what kinds of things they decorate their walls with"-- this attempt toget Mrs. Santucci's sympathy by being prissy was not obviously successful--"and I can't possibly live there. I returned to Housing. To change my roomassignment is a whole new procedure, and I need a form from you which says I'min good academic standing so far this semester."
    "That form," Mrs. Santucci noted, "will require signatures from all yourinstructors."
    "I know," said Sarah. All was going according to plan and she was approachingthe center of her pitch. "But the semester hasn't started yet! And half mycourses don't even have teachers assigned! So, since I'm a senior and my GPAis good, could the Dean okay my room change without the form? Doesn't thatmake sense? Sort of?" Sarah sighed. She had broken at the end, her confidencedestroyed by Mrs. Santucci's total impassivity, by those arms folded acrossa navy-blue bosom like the Hoover Dam, by a stare like the headlights of anoncoming streetsweeper.
    "I'm sure this is all unnecessary. Perhaps they don't know that their loungehas been reassigned. If you can just explain matters to them, I'm sure thatBuilding Maintenance will be happy to accommodate you."
    Sarah felt defeated. It had been a nice summer, and while away she hadforgotten how it was. She had forgotten that the people who ran this placedidn't have a clue as to how reality worked, that in their way they were allas crazy as Bert Nix. She closed her eyes and tilted her tense head back, andthe man in the chair behind her intervened.
    "Wait a minute," he said righteously. His voice was high, but carriedconviction and reasonable sensitivity. "She can't be expected to do that.Those guys don't even speak English. All they speak is Bosnian or Moldavian orsomething."
    "Moravian," said Mrs. Santucci in her Distant Early Warning voice, which wasrumored to set off burglar alarms Within a quarter-mile radius.
    "The language is Crotobaltislavonian, a modern dialect of Old Scythian,"announced Sarah, hoping to end the conflict. The B-Men are refugees fromCrotobaltislavonia."
    "Listen, I talk to Magrov all the time, and I say it's Moravian." Sarah felther body temperature begin to drop as she chanced a direct look at Mrs.Santucci.
    Trying to sound prim, Sarah said, "Have you ever considered the possibilitythat you are confusing Magrov with Moravian?" Seeing the look on Mrs.Santucci's face, she then inhaled sharply and shifted away. Just as the oldbureaucrat's jaw was starting to yawn, her chest rising like the return ofAtlantis, Casimir Radon leaned way across and yanked something out of Sarah'slap and-- in a tone so arresting that it was answered by Bert Nix outside--exclaimed, "Wait a minute!"
    Casimir was meek and looked like a nerd and a wimp, but he was great in acrisis. The lost continent subsided and Mrs. Santucci leaned forward witha dangerous frown. Out in the hallway the exasperated Bert Nix cried, "Butthere's no more minutes to wait! To save the Big U we've got to start now!"
    Casimir had taken Sarah's room assignment card from the stack of ammunitionon her lap, and was peering at it like a scientific specimen. It was an IBMcard, golden yellow, with a form printed on it in yellow-orange ink. In thecenter of the form was a vague illustration of the Monoplex, looking decrepitand ruined because of the many rectangular holes punched through it. Along thetop was a row of boxes labeled with tiny blurred yellow-orange abbreviationsthat were further abbreviated by rectangular holes. Numbers and letters wereprinted in black ink in the vicinity of each box.
    Bert Nix was still carrying on outside. "Then fell the fires of Eternity withloud & shrill Sound of loud Trumpet thundering along from heaven to heaven,A mighty sound articulate Awake ye dead & come To Judgment from the fourwinds Awake & Come away Folding like scrolls of the Enormous volume of Heaven& Earth With thunderous noises & dreadful shakings rocking to & fro: Theheavens are shaken & the Earth removed from its place; the foundations of theeternal Hills discovered; The thrones of Kings are shaken they have lost theirrobes and crowns ... and that's what poetry is! Not the caterwaulings of theUnwise!"
    Finally, Casimir looked relieved. "Yeah, I thought that might be it. You werereading this number here. Right?" He got up and stood beside Sarah and pointedto her temporary room number. "Sure," said Sarah, suddenly feeling dreadful.
    "Well," said Casimir, sounding apologetic, "that's not what you want. Yourroom is not identified by room number, because some rooms repeat. It'sidentified by door number, which is unique for all doors. This number youwere looking at isn't either of those, it's your room ID number, which has todo with data processing. That ID number refers to your actual door number,incorrectly called room number. It is the middle six digits of this characterstring here. See?" He masked the string of figures between the dirty backwardparenthesis of his thumbnails. "In your case we have E12S, giving tower, floorand wing, and then 49, your actual room number."
    Sarah did not know whether to scream, apologize or drop dead. She shovedher forms into her knapsack and stood. "Thank you for your trouble, Mrs.Santucci," she said quickly. "Thank you," she said to Casimir, then snappedaround and headed for the door, though not fast enough to escape a witheringharrrumph from Mrs. Santucci. But as she stepped into the hallway, which inorder to hold down utility costs was dimly lit, she saw a dark and raggedfigure out of the corner of her eye. She looked behind to see Bert Nix grabthe doorframe and swing around until he was leaning into the office.
    "Listen, Genevieve," he said, "she doesn't need any of your phlegm! She'sPresident! She's my friend! You're just a doorstop!" As much as Sarah wantedto hear the rest of this, she didn't have the energy.
    Casimir was left inside, his last view of Sarah interrupted by the danglingfigure of the loony, caught in a crossfire he wanted no part of.
    "I'll call the guards," said Mrs. Santucci, who for the first time was showinguneasiness.
    "Today?" Bert Nix found this a merry idea. "You think you can get a guardtoday?"
    "You'd better stop coming or we'll keep you from coming back."
    His eyes widened in mock, crimson-rimmed awe, "Ooh," he sighed, "that wereterrible. I'd have no reason to live." He pulled himself erect, walked in andclimbed from the arm of Casimir's chair to the broad slate sill of the window.As Mrs. Santucci watched with more terror than seemed warranted, the derelictswung one window open like a door, letting in a gust of polluted steam.
    By the time he was leaning far outside and grinning down the seventy-foot dropto the Parkway and the interchange. she had resolved to try diplomacy-- thoughshe motioned that Casimir should try to grab his legs. Casimir ignored this;it was obvious that the man was just trying to scare her. Casimir was fromChicago and found that these Easterners had no sense of humor.
    "Now, Bert," said Mrs. Santucci, "don't give an old lady a hard time."
    Bert Nix dropped back to the sill. "Hard time! What do you know about hardtimes?" He thrust his hand through a hole in his jacket, wiggling his longfingers at her, and wagging his out-of-control tongue for a few seconds.Finally he added, "Hard times make you strong."
    "I've got work to do, Pert."
    This seemed to remind him of something. He closed the window and cascaded tothe floor. "So do I," he said, then turned to Casimir and whispered, "That'sthe Julian Didius III Memorial Window. That's what I call it, anyway. Like theview?"
    "Yeah, it's nice," said Casimir, hoping that this would not become aconversation.
    "Good," said the derelict, "so did J. D. It's the last view he ever saw.Couldn't handle the job. That's why I call it that." The giggling Bert Nixambled back into the hail, satisfied, pausing only to steal the contents ofthe office wastebasket. Through most of this Casimir sat still and stared atthe faded German ti 1 poster on the wall. Now he was really in the talons ofMrs. Santucci, who had probably shifted into adrenaline overdrive and waslikely to fling her desk through the wall. Instead, she was perfectly calm andprofessional. Casimir disliked her for it.
    "I'm a junior physics major and I transferred in from a community college inIllinois. I know the first two years of physics inside and out, but there'sa problem. The rules here say physics courses must include 'socioeconomiccontexts backgrounding,' which I guess means it has to explain how it fits inwith today's something or other.
    "In order to context the learning experience with the real world," said Mrs.Santucci gravely, "we must include socioeconomic backgrounding integral withthe foregrounded material." "Right. Anyway, my problem is that I don't think Ineed it. I'm not here to give you my memoirs or anything, but my parents wereimmigrants, I came from a slum, got started in electronics, sort of made myown way, saw a lot of things, and so I don't think I really need this. It'dbe a shame if I had to start all over, learning, uh, foregrounded material Ialready know."
    Mrs. Santucci rolled her eyes so that the metal-flake blue eyeshadow on herlids flashed intermittently like fishing lures drawn through a murky sea."Well, it has been done. It must be arranged with the curriculum chair of yourdepartment."
    "Who is that for physics?"
    "Distinguished Professor Sharon," she said. Bulging her eyeballs at Casimir,she made a respectful silence at the Professor's name, daring him to break it.
    When Casimir returned to consciousness he was drifting down a hallway, stillmumbling to himself in astonishment. He had an appointment to meet theProfessor Sharon. He would have been ecstatic just to have sat in on one ofthe man's lectures!
    Casimir Radon was an odd one, as American Megaversity students went. This wasa good thing for him, as the Housing people simply couldn't match him up witha reasonable roommate; he was assigned a rare single. It was in D Tower, closeto the sciences bloc where he would spend most of his time, on a floor ofsingle rooms filled by the old, the weird and the asinine who simply could notlive in pairs.
    In order to find his room he would have to trace a mind-twisting path throughthe lower floors until he found the elevators of D Tower. So before he gothimself lost, he went to the nearest flat surface, which was the top of alarge covered wastebasket. From it he cleared away a few Dorito bags anda half-drained carton of FarmSun SweetFresh brand HomeLivin' ArtificialChocolate-Flavored Dairy Beverage and forced them into the overflowing mawbelow. He then removed his warped and sweat-soaked Plex map (the Plexus) fromhis pocket and unfolded it on the woodtoned Fiberglass surface.
    As was noted at the base of the Plexus, it had been developed by the AMAdvanced Graphics Workshop. Rather than presenting maps of each floor of thePlex, they had used an Integrated Projection to show the entire Plex as anetwork of brightly colored paths and intersections. The resulting tangle wasso convoluted and yet so clean and spare as to be essentially without meaning.Casimir, however, could read it, because he was not like us. After applyinghis large intelligence to the problem for several minutes he was able to findthe most efficient route, and following it with care, he quickly became lost.
    The mistake was a natural one. The elevators, which were busy even in the deadof night, were today clogged with catatonic parents from New Jersey clutchingbeanbag chairs and giant stuffed animals. Fortunately (he thought), adjacentto each elevator was an entirely unused stairwell.
    Casimir discovered shortly afterward that in the lower floors of the Plex allstairwell doors locked automatically from the outside. I discovered it myselfat about the same time. Unlike Casimir I had been a the Plex for ten days,but I had spent them typing up notes for my classes, It is unwise to preparetwo courses in ten days, and I knew it. I hadn't gotten to it until the lastminute, for various reasons, and so I'd spent ten days sitting there in mybicycling shorts, drinking beer, typing, and sweating monumentally in thefetid Plex air. So my first exposure to the Plex and its people really camethat afternoon, when I wandered out into the elevator lobby and punched thebuttons. The desperate Tylenol-charged throngs in the elevators did not budgewhen the doors opened, because they couldn't. They stared at me as though Iwere Son of Godzilla, which I was used to, and I stared at them and tried tofigure out how they got that way, and the doors clunked shut. I discovered thestairways, and once I got below the bottom of the tower and into the lowerlevels, I also found that I was locked in.
    For fifteen minutes I followed dimly lit stairs and corridors smelling ofgraffiti solvent and superfluous floor wax, helplessly following the pathsthat students would take if the Plex ever had to be evacuated. Through littlewindows in the locked doors I peered out of this twilight zone and into thedifferent zones of the Plex-- Cafeteria, Union, gymnasia, offices-- but myonly choice was to follow the corridors, knowing they would dump me into theghetto outside. At last I turned a corner and saw the wall glistening withnoisy grey outside light. At the end of the line, a metal door swung silentlyin the breeze, emblazoned thus: FIRE ESCAPE ONLY. WARNING-- ALARM WILL SOUND.
    I stepped out the door and looked down along, steep slope into the canyon ofthe Turnpike.
    The American Megaversity Campustructure was three blocks on a side, andsquatted between the Megalopolitan Turnpike on the north and the Ronald ReaganParkway on the south. Megaversity Stadium, the only campus building not insidethe Plex proper, was to the west, and on the east was an elaborate multilevelinterchange interconnecting the Pike, the Parkway, the Plex and UniversityAvenue. The Pike ran well below the base of the Plex, and so as I emerged fromthe north wall of the building I found myself atop a high embankment. Below methe semis and the Audis shot past through the layered blue monoxide, and theirnoises blended into a waterfall against the unyielding Plex wall. Aside froma few wretched weeds growing from cracks in the embankment, no life was to beseen, except for Casimir Radon.
    He had just emerged from another emergency exit. We saw each other from ahundred feet apart, waved and walked toward each other. As we converged,I regarded a tall and very thin man with an angular face and a densefive-o'clock shadow. He wore round rimless glasses. His black hair was indisarray as usual; during the year it was to vary almost randomly betweenclose-cropped and shoulder-length. I soon observed that Casimir could grow ashadow before lunch, and a beard in three days. He and I were the same age,though I was a recent Ph.D. and he a junior.
    Later I was to think it remarkable that Casimir and I should emerge from thosefire doors at nearly the same moment, and meet. On reflection I have changedmy mind. The Big U was an unnatural environment, a work of the human mind, notof God or plate tectonics. If two strangers met in the rarely used stairways,it was not unreasonable that they should turn out to be similar, and becomefriends. I thought of it as an immense vending machine, cautiously crafted sothat any denomination too ancient or foreign or irregular would rattle aboutrandomly for a while, find its way into the stairway system, and inevitablybe deposited in the reject tray on the barren back side. Meanwhile, brightlycolored graduates with attractively packaged degrees were dispensed out frontevery June, swept up by traffic on the Parkway and carried away for leisurelyconsumption. Had I understood this earlier I might have come to my senses andimmediately resigned, but on that hot September day, with the exhaust abradingour lungs and the noise squashing our conversation, it seemed worthwhile tocircle around to the Main Entrance and give it another try.
    We headed east to avoid the stadium. On our right the wall stretched and awayfor acres in a perfect cinderblock grid. After passing dozens of fire doorswe came to the corner and turned into the access lot that stretched along theeast wall. Above, at many altitudes, cars and trucks screeched and blastedthrough the tight curves of the interchange. People called it the DeathVortex, and some claimed that parts of it extended into the fourth dimension.As soon as it had been planned, the fine old brownstone neighborhood that wasits site plummeted into slumhood; Haitians and Vietnamese filled the place up,and the feds airproofed the buildings and installed giant electric air filtersbefore proceeding.
    Here on the access lot we could look down a long line of loading docks,the orifices of the Plex where food and supplies were ingested and trashdischarged, serviced by an endless queue of trucks. The first of these docks,by the northern corner, was specially designed for the discharge of hazardouswastes produced in Plex labs and was impressively surrounded by fences, redlights and threatening signs. The next six loading docks were for garbagetrucks, and the rest, all the way down to the Parkway, for deliveries. Weswung way out from the Plex to avoid all this, and followed the fence at theborder of the lot, gazing into the no-man's-land of lost mufflers and shreddedfanbelts beyond, and sometimes staring up into the Plex itself.
    The three-by-three block base had six stories above ground and three below.Atop it sat eight 25-story towers where lived the 40,000 students of theuniversity. Each tower had four wings 160 feet long, thrown out at rightangles to make a Swiss cross. These towers sat at the four corners and foursides of the base. The open space between them was a huge expanse of roofcalled Tar City, inhabited by great machines, crushed furniture thrown fromabove, rats, roaches, students out on dares, and the decaying corpses ofvarious things that had ventured out on hot summer days and become miredin the tar. All we could see were the neutral light brown towers and theirthousands and thousands of identical windows reaching into the heavens. Evenfor a city person, it was awesome. Compared to the dignified architecture ofthe old brownstones, though, it caused me a nagging sense of embarrassment.
    The Vortex whose coils were twined around those brown-stones threw out tworamps which served as entrance and exit for the Plex parking ramp. These raninto the side of the building at about third-story level. To us they wereuseless, so we continued around toward the south side.
    Here was actually some green: a strip of grass between the walk and theParkway. On this side the Plex was faced with darker brown brick and had manypicture windows and signs for the businesses of the built-in mall on the firstfloor. The Main Entrance itself was merely eight revolving doors in a row, andhaving swished through them we were drowned in conditioned air, Muzak, thesmell of Karmel Korn and the idiotic babble of penny-choked indoor fountains.We passed through this as quickly as possible and rode the long escalators("This must be what a ski lift is like," said Casimir) to the third floor,where a rampart of security booths stretched across our path like a thruwaytoll station. Several of the glass cages were occupied by ancient guards inblue uniforms, who waved us wearily through the turnstiles as we waved our IDcards at them. Casimir stopped on the other side, frowning.
    "They shouldn't have let me in," he said.
    "Why?" I asked. "Isn't that your ID?"
    "Of course it is," said Casimir Radon, "but the photo is so bad they had noway of telling." He was serious. We surveyed the rounded blue back of theguard. Most of them had been recruited out of Korea or the Big One. The glasscages of the Plex had ruined their bodies. Now they had become totally passivein their outlook; but, by the same token, they had become impossible to fazeor surprise.
    We stepped through more glass doors and were in the Main Lobby.
    The Plex's environmental control system was designed so that anyone couldspend four years there wearing only a jockstrap and a pair of welding gogglesand yet never feel chilly or find the place too dimly lit. Many spent theircareers there without noticing this. Casimir Radon took less than a day tonotice the pitiless fluorescent light. Acres of light glanced off the Lobby'spolished floor like sun off the Antarctic ice, and a wave of pain now rolledtoward Casimir from near the broad vinyl information desk and washed over him,draining through a small hole in the center of his skull and pooling coldlybehind his eyes. Great patches of yellow blindness appeared in the center ofhis vision and he coasted to a stop, hands on eyes, mouth open. I knew enoughto know it was migraine, so I held his skinny arm and led him, blind, to hisroom in D Tower. He lay cautiously down on the naked plastic mattress, put asock over his eyes and thanked me. I drew the blinds, sat there helplessly fora while, then left him to finish his adjustment to the Big U.
    After that he wore a uniform of sorts: old T-shirt, cutoffs or gym shorts,hightop tennis shoes ("to keep the rats off my ankles") and round purplemountain-climbing goggles with leather bellows on the sides to block outperipheral light. He was planning such a costume as I left his room. Morepainfully, he was beginning to question whether he could live in such a placefor even one semester, let alone four. He did not know that the question wouldbe decided for him, and so he felt the same edgy uncertainty that nagged atme.
    Some people, however, were quite at home in the Flex. At about this time,below D Tower in the bottom sublevel, not far from the Computing Center,several of them were crossing paths in a dusty little dead end of a hallway.To begin with, three young men were standing by the only door in the area,taking turns peering into the room beyond. The pen lights from their shirtpockets illuminated a small windowless room containing a desk, a chair and acomputer terminal. The men stared wistfully at the latter, and had piled theirmath and computer textbooks on the floor like sandbags, as though they planneda siege. They had been discussing their tactical alternatives for getting pastthe door, and had run the gamut from picking the lock to blowing it open withautomatic-weapon bursts, but so far none had made any positive moves.
    "If we could remove that window," said one, a mole-faced individual smellingof Brut and sweat and glowing in a light blue iridescent synthetic shirt andhi-gloss dark blue loafers, "we could reach in and unlock it from inside."
    "Some guy tried to get into my grandma's house that way one time," recalledanother, a skinny, long-haired, furtive fellow who was having trouble trackingthe conversation, "but she took a sixteen-ounce ball-peen hammer and smashedhis hand with it. He never came back." He delivered the last sentence likethe punchline to a Reader's Digest true anecdote, convulsing his pals withlaughter.
    The third, a disturbingly 35-ish looking computer science major with tightlypermed blond hair, eventually calmed down enough to ask, "Hey, Gary, Gary!Did she use the ball end or the peen end?" Gary was irked and confused, Hehad hoped to impress them by specifying the weight of the hammer, but he wasstumped by this piece of one-upsmanship; he didn't know which end was which.He radiated embarrassment for several seconds before saying, "Oh, gee, I don'tknow, I think she probably used both of 'em before she was done with the guy.But that guy never came back."
    Their fun was cut short by a commanding voice. "A sixteen-ounce ball-peenhammer isn't much good against a firearm. If I were a woman living alone I'dcarry a point thirty-eight revolver, minimum. Double action. Effective enoughfor most purposes." The startling newcomer had their surprised attention.He had stopped quite close to them and was surveying the door, and theyinstinctively stepped out of his way. He was tall, thin and pale, with thinbrown Bryicreemed hair and dark red lips. The calculator on his hip was thefinest personal computing machine, and on the other hip, from a loop ofleather, hung a fencing foil, balanced so that its red plastic tip hung aninch above the floor. It was Fred Fine.
    "You're the guy who runs the Wargames Club, aren't you," asked the blondstudent.
    "I am Games Marshall, if that's the intent of your question. Administrativeand financial authority are distributed among the leadership cadre accordingto the Constitution."
    "The Wargames Club?" asked Gary, his voice suffused with hope. "What, is thereone?"
    "The correct title is the Megaversity Association for Reenactments andSimulations, or MARS," snapped Fred Fine. Still almost breathless, Gary said,"Say. Do you guys ever play 'Tactical Nuclear War in Greenland?'"
    Fred Fine stared just over Gary's head, screwing up his face tremendously andhumming. "Is that the earlier version of 'Martians in Godthaab,' "he finallyasked, though his tone indicated that he already knew the answer.
    Gary was hopelessly taken aback, and looked around a bit before allowing hisgaze to rest on Fred Fine's calculator. "Oh, yeah, I guess. I guess 'Martiansin Godthaab' must be new." "No," said Fred Fine clearly, "it came out sixmonths ago." To soften the humiliation he chucked Gary on the shoulder. "Butto answer your question. Some of our plebes-- our novice wargamers-- do enjoythat game. It's interesting in its own way, I suppose, though I've only playedit a dozen times. Of course, it's a Simuconflict product, and their gameshave left a lot to be desired since they lost their Pentagon connections, butthere's nothing really wrong with it."
    The trio stared at him. How could he know so much? "Uh, do you guys," venturedthe blue one, "ever get into role-playing games? Like Dungeons and Dragons?"
    "Those of us high in the experiential hierarchy find conventional D and Dstultifying and repetitive. We prefer to stage live-action role-playingscenarios. But that's not for just anyone." They looked timidly at Fred Fine'sfencing foil and wondered if he were on his way to a live-action wargameat this very moment. For an instant, as he stood in the dim recess of thecorridor, light flickering through a shattered panel above and playing on hishead like distant lightning, his feet spread apart, hand on sword pommel, itseemed to them that they beheld some legendary hero of ancient times, returnedfrom Valhalla to try his steel against modern foes.
    The mood was broken as another man suddenly came around the corner. He brushedsilently past Fred Fine and nearly impaled Gary on a key, but Gary moved justin time and the new arrival shoved the key home and shot back the deadbolt. Hewas tall, with nearly white blond hair, pale blue eyes and a lean but cherubicface, dressed in cutoffs and a white dress shirt. Shouldering through them, heentered the little room.
    Fred Fine reacted with uncharacteristic warmth. "Well, well, well," he said,starting in a high whine and dropping in pitch from there. I had Fred Finein one of my classes and when in a good mood he really did talk like ColonelKlink; it took some getting used to. "So they haven't caught up with you andyour master key yet, eh, Virgil? Very interesting."
    Virgil Gabrielsen turned smoothly while stepping through the doorway, andstared transparently through Fred Fine's head. "No," he said, "but I haveplenty of copies anyway. They aren't about to change every lock in the Plex onmy account. The only doors this won't open are in the hazardous waste area,the Administration Bloc, Doors 1253 through 1778 and 7899 to 8100, whichobviously no one cares about, and Doors 753, 10100 and the high 12,500's, andI'm obviously not going to go ripping off vending-machine receipts, am I?" Atthis the three friends frowned and looked back and forth. Virgil entered theroom and switched on the awesomely powerful battery of overhead fluorescentlights. Everything was somewhat dusty inside.
    "No rat poison on the floor," observed Fred Fine. "Dusty. Still keeping theB-men out, eh?"
    "Yeah," said Virgil, barely aware of them, and began to pull things from hisknapsack. "I told them I was doing werewolf experiments in here."
    Fred Fine nodded soberly at this. Meanwhile, the three younger studentshad invited themselves in and were gathered around the 'terminal, staringraptly into its printing mechanism. "It's just an antique Teletype," said theblue one. He had already said this once, but repeated it now for Fred Fine."However, I really like these. Real dependable, and lots of old-fashionedclass despite an inferior character menu." Fred Fine nodded approvingly.Virgil shouldered through them, sat before the terminal and, without lookingup, announced, "I didn't invite any of you in, so you can all leave NOW.' Theydid not quite understand.
    "Catch my drift? I dislike audiences."
    Fred Fine avoided this by shaking his head, smiling a red smile and chuckling.The others were unmanned and stood still, waiting to be told that Virgil waskidding.
    "Couldn't we just sit in?" one finally asked. "I've just got to XEQ oneroutine. It's debugged and bad data tested. It's fast, it outputs on batch. Ican wait till you're done."
    "Forget it," said Virgil airily, scooting back and nudging him away. "I won'tbe done for hours. It's all secret Science Shop data. Okay?"
    "But turnover for terminals at CC is two hours to the minus one!"
    "Try it at four in the morning. You know? Four in the morning is a great timeat American Megaversity. Everything is quiet, there are no lines even at thelaundry, you can do whatever you want without f*cking with a mob of freshmen.Put yourselves on second shift and you'll be fine. Okay?"
    They left, sheeshing. Fred Fine stopped in the doorway, still grinning broadlyand shaking his head, as though leaving just for the hell of it.
    "You're still the same old guy, Virgil. You still program in raw machine code,still have that master key. Don't know where science at AM would be withoutyou. What a wiz."
    Virgil stared patiently at the wall. "Fred. I told you I'd fix your MCA and Iwill. Don't you believe me?"
    "Sure I do. Say! That invitation I made you, to join MARS anytime you want, isstill open. You'll be a Sergeant right away, and we'll probably commission youafter your first night of gaming, from what I know of you."
    "Thanks. I won't forget. Goodbye."
    "Ciao." Fred Fine bowed his thin frame low and strode off. "What a creep,"said Virgil, and ferociously snapped the deadbolt as soon as Fred Fine wasalmost out of earshot. Removing supplies from the desk drawer, he stuffed atowel under the door and taped black paper over the window. By the terminal heset up a small lamp with gel over its mouth, which cast a dim pool of red oncehe had shut off the room lights. He activated the terminal, and the computerasked him for the number of his account, Instead of typing in an accountnumber, though, Virgil typed: FIAT LUX.
    Later, Virgil and I got to know each other. I had problems with the computeronly he could deal with, and after our first contacts he seemed to find meinteresting enough to stay in touch, He began to show me parts of his secretworld, and eventually allowed me to sit in on one of these computer sessions.Nothing at all made sense until he explained the Worm to me, and the story ofPaul Bennett.
    "Paul Bennett was one of these computer geniuses. When he was a sophom*ore herehe waltzed through most of the secret codes and keys the Computing Center usesto protect valuable data. Well, he really had the University by the shorthairs then. At any time he could have erased everything in the computer--financial records, scientific data, expensive software, you name it. He couldhave devastated this university just sitting there at his computer terminal--that's how vulnerable computers are. Eventually the Center found out whohe was, and reprimanded him. Bennett was obviously a genius, and he wasn'tmalicious, so the Center then went ahead and hired him to design bettersecurity locks. That happens fairly often-- the best lock-designers are peoplewho have a talent for picking locks."
    "They hired him right out of his sophom*ore year?" I asked. "Why not? He hadnothing more to learn. The people who were teaching his classes were the sameones whose security programs he was defeating! What's the point of keepingsomeone like that in school? Anyway, Bennett did very well at the Center, buthe was still a kid with some big problems, and no one got along with him.Finally they fired him.
    "When they fire a major Computing Center employee, they have to be sneaky. Ifthey give him two weeks' notice he might play havoc with the computer duringthose two weeks, out of spite. So when they fire these people, it happensovernight. They show up at work and all the locks have been changed, and theyhave to empty out their desks while the senior staff watch them. That's whatthey did to Paul Bennett, because they knew he was just screwed up enough tofrag the System for revenge."
    "So much for his career, then."
    "No. He was immediately hired by a firm in Massachusetts for four times hisold salary. And CC was happy, because they'd gotten good work out of him andthought they were safe from reprisals. About a week later, though, the Wormshowed up."
    "And that is-- ?"
    "Paul Bennett's sabotage program. He put it into the computer before he wasfired, you see, and activated it, but every morning when he came to work heentered a secret command that would put it on hold for another twenty-fourhours. As soon as he stopped giving the command, the Worm came out of hidingand began to play hell with things."
    "But what good did it do him? It didn't prevent his being fired,"
    "Who the hell knows? I think he put it in to blackmail the CC staff andhold on to his job. That must have been his original plan. But when youmake a really beautiful, brilliant program, the temptation to see it workis just overwhelming. He must have been dying to see the Worm in action. Sowhen he was fired, he decided, what the hell, they deserve it, I'll unleashthe Worm. That was in the middle of last year. At first it did minor thingssuch as erasing student programs, shutting the System down at odd times,et cetera. Then it began to worm its way deeper and deeper into theOperator-- the master program that controls the entire System-- and wreakvandalism on a larger scale. The Computing Center personnel fought it fora while, but they were successful for only so long. The Operator is a hugeprogram and you have to know it all at once in order to understand whatthe Worm is doing to it."
    "Aha," I said, beginning to understand, "they needed someone with aphotographic memory. They needed another prodigy, didn't they? So they gotyou? Is that it?"
    At this Virgil shrugged. "It's true that I am the sort of person they needed,"he said quietly. "But don't assume that they 'got' me."
    "Really? You're a free lance?"
    "I help them and they help me. It is a free exchange of services. You needn'tknow the details."
    I was willing to accept that restriction. Virgil had told me enough sothat what he was doing made sense to me. Still, it was very abstract work,consisting mostly of reading long strings of numbers off the terminal andtyping new ones in. On the night I sat in, the Worm had eaten all of thealumni records for people living in states beginning with "M." ("M!," saidVirgil, "the worst letter it could have picked.") Virgil was puttering aroundin various files to see if the information had been stored elsewhere. He foundabout half of Montana hidden between lines of an illegal video game program,retrieved the data, erased the illegal program and caused the salvagedinformation to be printed out on a string of payroll check forms in a machinein the administrative bloc.
    On this night, the first of the new school year, Virgil was not nobly savingerased data from the clutches of the Worm. He was actually arranging hisliving situation for the coming year. He had about five choice rooms aroundthe Plex, which he filled with imaginary students in order to keep themvacant-- an easy matter on the computer. To support his marijuana and alehabits he extracted a high salary from various sources, sending himselfpaychecks when necessary. For this he felt neither reluctance nor guilt,because Fred Fine was right: without Virgil, whose official job was to workin the Science Shop, scientific research at the Big U would simply stop.To support himself he took money from research accounts in proportion tothe extent they depended on him. This was only fair. An indispensable placelike the Science Shop needed a strong leader, someone bold enough to levyappropriate taxes against its users and spend the revenues toward the endsthose users desired. Virgil had figured out how to do it, and made himself aniche at the Big U more comfortable than anyone else's.
    Sarah lived in a double room just five floors above me and Ephraim Kleinand John Wesley Fenrick, on E12S-- E Tower, twelfth floor, south wing. Theprevious year she had luxuriated in a single, and resolved never to share herprivate space again; this double made her very angry. In the end, though, shelucked out. Her would-be roommate had only taken the space as a front, to fakeout her pay-rents, and was actually living in A Tower with her boyfriend. ThusSarah did not have to live four feet away from some bopper who would suffer anemotional crisis every week and explore the standard uses of sex and drugs androck-and-roll in noisy experimental binges on the other side of the room.
    Sarah's problem now was to redecorate what looked like the inside of a watercloset. The cinderblock walls were painted chocolate brown and absorbed mostlight, shedding only the garish parts of the spectrum. The shattered tilefloor was gray and felt sticky no matter how hard she scrubbed. On each sideof the perfectly symmetrical room, long fluorescent light fixtures were boltedto the walls over the beds, making a harsh light nearby but elsewhere onlya dull greenish glow. After some hasty and low-budget efforts at making itdecent, Sarah threw herself into other activities and resigned herself toanother year of ugliness.
    On Wednesday of the term's second week there was a wing meeting. AmericanMegaversity's recruitment propaganda tried to make it look as though thewings did everything as a jolly group, but this had not been true on any ofSarah's previous wings. This place was different. When she had dragged herduffel bags through the stairwell door on that first afternoon, a trio ofwell-groomed junior matrons had risen from a lace-covered card table in thelobby, helped her with the luggage, pinned a pink carnation on her sweatyT-shirt and welcomed her to "our wing." Under her pillow she had found a"starter kit" comprising a small teddy bear named Bobo, a white candle, aGOLLYWHATAFACE-brand PERSONAL COLOUR SAMPLER PACQUET, a sack of lemon drops, ared garter, six stick-on nametags with SARA written on them, a questionnaireand a small calligraphied Xeroxed note inviting her to the wing meeting. Allhad been wrapped in flowery pastel wrapping paper and cutely beribboned.
    Most of it she had snarlingly punted into the nether parts of her closet. Thewing meeting, however, was quasi-political, and hence she ought to show up.A quarter of an hour early, she pulled on a peasant blouse over presentablejeans and walked barefoot down the hall to the study lounge by the elevatorlobby.
    She was almost the last to arrive. She was also the only one not in abathrobe, which was so queer that she almost feared she was having one ofthose LSD flashbacks people always warn you about. Her donut tasted like adonut, though, and all seemed normal otherwise, so it was reality-- albeit astrange and distant branch thereof.
    Obviously they had not all been bathing, because their hair was dry and theirmakeup fresh. There were terry robes, silk robes, Winnie-the-Pooh robes, longplush robes, plain velvety robes, designer robes, kimonos and even a fewnight-shirts on the cute and skinny. Also, many slippers, too many of themhigh-heeled. Once she was sure her brain was okay, she edged up to a nearbywingmate and mumbled, "Did I miss something? Everyone's in bathrobes!"
    "sh*t, don't ask me!" hissed the woman firmly. "I just took a shower, myself."
    Looking down, Sarah saw that the woman was indeed clean of face and wet ofhair. She was shorter than average and compact but not overweight, withpleasant strong features and black-brown hair that fell to her shoulders. Herbathrobe was short, old and plain, with a clothesline for a sash.
    "Oh, sorry," said Sarah. "So you did. Uh, I'm Sarah, and my bathrobe is blue."
    "I know. President of the Student Government."
    Sarah shrugged and tried not to look stuck-up.
    "What's the story, you've never lived on one of these floors?" The other womanseemed surprised.
    "What do you mean, 'one of these floors?'"
    She sighed. "Ah, look. I'm Hyacinth. I'll explain all this later. You want tosit down? It'll be a long meeting." Hyacinth grasped Sarah's belt loop and ledher politely to the back row of chairs, where they sat a row behind the nextpeople up. Hyacinth turned sideways in her chair and examined Sarah minutely.
    The Study Lounge was not a pretty place. Designed to be as cheery as a breathmint commercial, it had aged into something not quite so nice. Windows ranalong one wall and looked out into the elevator lobby, where the four wings ofE12S came together. It was furnished with the standard public-area furnitureof the Plex: cubical chairs and cracker-box sofas made of rectangular beamsand slabs of foam covered in brilliant scratchy polyester. The carpet was amembrane of compressed fibers, covered with the tats and cigarette-burns andbarfstains of years. Overhead, the ubiquitous banks of fluorescent lightscheerfully beamed thousands of watts of pure bluish energy down onto theinhabitants. Someone was always decorating the lounge, and this week the themewas football; the decorations were cardboard cutouts of well-known cartooncharacters cavorting with footballs.
    The only other nonrobed person in the place was the RA, Mitzi, who sat boltupright at the lace-covered card table in front, left hand still as a deadbird In her lap, right hand three inches to the side of her jaw and bent backparallel to the tabletop, fingers curled upward holding a ballpoint pen at ajaunty but not vulgar forty-five-degree angle. She bore a fixed, almost manicsmile which as far as Sarah could tell had nothing to do with anything-- charmschool, perhaps, or strychnine poisoning. Mitzi wore an overly formal dressand a kilogram of jewelry, and when she spoke, though not even her jawbonemoved, one mighty earring began to swing violently.
    Among other things, Mitzi welcomed new "members." There were three: anotherwoman, Hyacinth and Sarah, introduced in that order. The first woman explainedthat she was Sandi and she was into like education and stuff. Then cameHyacinth; she was into apathy. She announced this loudly and they all laughedand complimented Hyacinth on her sense of humor.
    Sarah was introduced last, being famous. "What are you into, Sarah Jane?"asked Mitzi. Sarah surveyed the glistening, fiercely smiling faces turnedround to aim at her.
    "I'm into reality," she said. This brought delighted laughter, especially fromHyacinth, who screamed like a sow.
    The meeting then got underway. Hyacinth leaned back, crossed her arms andtilted her head back until she was staring openmouthed at the ceiling. As themeeting went on she combed her hair, bit her nails, played with loose threadsfrom her robe, cleaned her toes and so on. The thing was, Sarah found allof this more interesting than the meeting itself. Sarah looked interesteduntil her face got tired. She had spoken in front of groups enough to knowthat Mitzi could see them all clearly, and that to be obviously bored wouldbe rude. Sometimes politeness had to give way to sanity, though, and beforeshe knew it she found herself trying to swing the tassels at the ends of hersleeves in opposite directions at the same time. Hyacinth watched this closelyand patted her on the back when she succeeded.
    Mainly what they were doing was filling a huge social calendar with partiesand similar events. Sarah wanted to announce that she liked to do things byherself or with a few friends, but she saw no diplomatic way of saying so. Shedid resurface for the discussion of the theme for the Last Night party, thesocial climax of the semester: Fantasy Island Nite.
    "Wonder how they're going to tell it apart from all the other nights,"grumbled Hyacinth. Nearby wingmates turned and smiled, failing to understandbut assuming that whatever Hyacinth said must be funny.
    Another phase of the social master plan was to form an official sister/brotherrelationship with the wing upstairs, known as the Wild and Crazy Guys. This inturn led to the wing naming idea. After all, if E13S had a name for itself,shouldn't E12S have one too? Mari Meegan, darling of the wing, made thispoint, and "Yeah!"s zephyred up all around.
    Sarah was feeling pretty sour by this point but said nothing. If they wanted aname, fine. Then the ideas started coming out: Love Boat, for example.
    "We could paint our lobby with a picture of the Love Boat like it looks at thestart of the show, and we could, you know, do everything, like parties andstuff, with like that kind of a theme. Then on Fantasy Island Nite, we couldpretend the Boat was visiting Fantasy Island!"
    This idea went over well and the meeting broke up into small discussionsabout how to apply this theme to different phases of existence. Finally,though, Sarah spoke up, and they all smiled and listened. "I'm not sure I likethat idea. There are plenty of creeps on the floor already, because we'reall-female. If we name it Love Boat, everyone will think it's some kind ofoutcall massage service, and we'll never get a break."
    Several seconds of silence. A few nods were seen, some "yeah"s heard, and LoveBoat was dead. More names were suggested, most of them obviously dumb, andthen Mari Meegan raised her hand. All quieted as her fingernails flutteredlike a burst of redhot flak above the crowd. "I know," she said.
    There was silence save for the sound of Hyacinth's comb rushing through herhair. Mari continued. "We can call ourselves 'Castle in the Air.' "
    The lounge gusted with oohs and aahs.
    "I like that."
    "You're so creative, Mari."
    "We could do a whole Dark Ages theme, you know, castles and knights andshining armor."
    "That's nice! Really nice!"
    "Wait a sec." This came from Hyacinth.
    At this some of the women were clearly exasperated, looking at the ceiling,but most wore expressions of forced tolerance. Hyacinth continued flatly."Castle in the Air is derogatory. That means it's not-nice. When you talkabout a castle in the air, you mean something with no basis in reality. It'slike saying someone has her head in the clouds."
    They all continued to stare morosely, as though she hadn't finished. Sarahbroke in. "You can call it anything you want. She is just making the pointthat you're using an unflattering name." Mari was comforted by two friends. Therest of them defended the name, nicely. "I never heard that."
    "I think it sounds nice."
    "Like a Barry Manilow song."
    "Like one of those little Chinese poems."
    "I always thought if your head was in the clouds, that was nice, like you werereally happy or something. Besides, castles are a neat theme for parties andstuff-- can't you see Mark dressed up like a knight?" Giggles.
    "And this way we can call ourselves the Airheads!" Screams of delight.Hyacinth's objection having been thus obliterated, Castle In the Air was votedIn unanimously, with two abstentions, and it was decided that paints andbrushes would be bought and the wing would be painted in this theme during theweeks to come. Presently the meeting adjourned.
    "We've got forty minutes until the Candle Passing," observed Mitzi, "and untilthen we can have a social hour. But not a whole hour"
    The meeting dissolved into chattering fragments. Sarah leaned towards Hyacinthto whisper in her ear, and Hyacinth tensed. They had been whispering to eachother in turns for the last half hour, and as both had ticklish ears this hadcaused much hysterical lip-biting and snorting. Sarah did not really have towhisper now, but it was her turn. "What candle passing?" she asked.
    Hyacinth's attempt to whisper back was met by violent resistance from Sarah,so they laughed and made a truce. "It's kind of complicated. It meanssomething personal happened between someone and her boyfriend, so everyoneelse has to know about it. Listen. We've got to escape, okay?"
    "Okay."
    "Go to Room 103 when the alarm sounds."
    "Alarm?" But Hyacinth was already gliding out.
    Sarah was quickly trapped in a conversation group including Mitzi and Mari.She accepted a cup of Kool-Aid/vodka punch and smiled when she could. Everyonewas being nice to her in case she felt like an idiot for having said thosethings during the meeting. Mari asked if her boyfriend helped out with thehard parts of being President and Sarah had to say that just now she didn'thave a boyfriend.
    "Ahaa!" said everyone. "Don't worry, Sarah, we'll see what we can come upwith. No prob, now you're an Airhead."
    Sarah was groping for an answer when the local smoke alarm howled and theAirheads moaned in disappointment. As they all trooped off to their roomsto make themselves a little more presentable, Sarah headed for Room 103,following a heavy trail of marijuana smoke with her nose. As this was only thesmoke alarm, only the twelfth floor would be evacuated.
    Hyacinth pulled Sarah into the room and carefully fitted a wet reefer to herlips. It was dark, and a young black woman was slumped over a desk asleep,stereo on loud. Hyacinth Went to the vent window and released an amazingprimal scream toward F Tower. After some prompting from her hostess, Sarahgave back the joint and followed suit. Hyacinth's Sleeping roommate, Lucy, satup, sighed, then went over and lay down on her bed. Sarah and Hyacinth sat onHyacinth's bed and drank milk from an illegal mini-fridge in the closet.
    They silently finished the joint, shaking their heads at each other andlaughing in disbelief.
    "Ever done LSD?" asked Sarah.
    "No. Why? Got some?"
    "Oh. jeez, I wasn't suggesting it. I was going to say, for a minute there Ithought I was back on it. That's how unreal those people are to me."
    "You think they're strange?" said Hyacinth. "I think they're very normal."
    "That's what I'm afraid of. Your room is pretty nice; I feel very much athome here." It was a nice room, one of the few Plex rooms I ever saw that waspleasant to be in. It was full of illegal cooking appliances and stashes offood, and the walls had been illegally painted white. Wall hangings and plantswere everywhere.
    "Well, we were in the Army-- Lucy and me," said Hyacinth, carefully fitting aroach clip. "That's almost like LSD." By now their wing had been evacuated,and a couple of security guards were plodding up and down the hallwayspretending to inspect for sources of smoke. Sarah and Hyacinth leaned togetherand spoke quietly.
    "You're not real presidential," said Hyacinth. "People like you aren'tsupposed to take LSD."
    "I don't take it anymore. See, back when I was about fourteen, my older sisterwas really into it, and I did it a few times."
    "Why'd you stop?"
    Sarah squinted into the milk carton and said nothing. Outside, the guardscursed to each other about students in general. Sarah finally said, "I kept aneye on my sister, and when she got cut loose completely-- lost track of whatwas real and stopped caring-- I saw it wasn't a healthy thing."
    "So now you're President. I don't get it."
    "The important thing is to get your life anchored in something. I thinkyou have to make contact with the world in some way, and one way is to getinvolved."
    "Student government?"
    "Well, it beats MTV."
    A guard beat on their door, attracted by the stereo-noise. "Screw off," saidHyacinth in a loud stage whisper, flipping the bird toward the door. Sarahput her face in her hands and bent double with suppressed laughter. When sherecovered, the guard had left and Hyacinth was smiling brightly.
    "Jeezus!" said Sarah, "you're pretty blatant, aren't you?"
    "If it's the quiet, polite type you want, go see the Air-heads."
    "You've lived with people like this before. Why don't they kick you offthe wing?"
    "Tokenism. They have to have tokens. Lucy is their token black, I'm theirtoken individual. They love having a loudmouth around to disagree with them--makes them feel diverse."
    "You don't think diplomacy would be more effective?" I'm not a diplomat. I'mme. Who are you?"
    Instead of answering this difficult question, Sarah leaned back comfortablyagainst the wall and closed her eyes. They listened to music for a long timeas the Airheads breezed back onto the wing. "I'd feel relaxed," said Sarah,"except I'm actually kind of guilty about missing the Candle Passing."
    "That's ridiculous."
    "You're right. You can say that and be totally sure of yourself, can't you? Iadmire you, Hyacinth."
    "I like you, Sarah," said Hyacinth, and that summed it up.
    In the Physics Library, Casimir Radon read about quantum mechanics. Thedigital watch on the wrist of the sleeping post-doc across the table read8:00. That meant it was time to go upstairs and visit Professor EmeritusWalter Abraham Sharon, who worked odd hours. Casimir was not leaving justyet, though. He had found that Sharon was not the swiftest man in the world,and though the professor was by no means annoyed when Casimir showed up ontime, Casimir preferred to come ten minutes late. Anyway, in the informalatmosphere of the Physics Department, appointments were viewed with a certainHeisenbergian skepticism, as though being in the right place at the right timewould involve breaking a natural law and was therefore impossible to beginwith. Outside the picture windows of the library, the ghettos of the City werefilled with smoky light, and occasionally a meteor streaked past and crashedin flames in the access lot below. They were not actual meteors, but merelyvarious objects soaked in lighter fluid, ignited and thrown from a floor in ETower above, trailing fire and debris as they zoomed earthward.
    Casimir found this perversely comforting. It was just the sort of insanityhe hadn't been able to get away from during his first week at AmericanMegaversity. Soon the miserable Casimir had taken me up on my offer to stop byat any time, showing up at my door just before midnight, wanting to cry butnot about to. I took coffee, he took vodka, and soon we understood each othera little better. As he explained it, no one here had the least considerationfor others, or the least ability to think for themselves, and this combinationwas hard to take after having been an adult. Nor had academics given him anysolace; owing to the medieval tempo of the bureaucracy, he was still mired inkindergarten-level physics. Of course he could speed these courses up just bybeing there. Whenever a professor asked a question, rhetorical or not, Casimirshouted the answer immediately. This earned him the hatred and awe of hisclassmates, but it was his only source of satisfaction. As he waited for hissituation to become sensible, he sat in on the classes he really wanted totake, in effect taking a double load.
    "Because I'm sure Sharon is going to bring me justice," Casimir had declared,raising his voice above a grumble for the first time. "This guy makes sense!He's like you, and I can't understand how he ended up in this place. I neverthought I'd be surprised by someone just because he is a sensible and a goodguy, but in this place it's a miracle. He c. out me, asks questions about mylife-- it's as though discovering what's best for me is a research projectwe're working on as a team. I can't believe a great man like him would care."Long, somber pause. "But I don't think even he can make up for what's wrongwith this place. How about you, Bud? You're normal. What are you doing here?"Lacking an answer, I changed the subject to basketball.
    A trio of meteors streaked across the picture windows and it was 8:10. Casimirreturned his book and exited into the dark shiny hail. He was now at the upperlimit of the Burrows, the bloc of the Plex that housed the natural sciences.Two floors above him, on the sixth and top floor of the base, was EmeritusRow, the plush offices of the academic superstars. He made his way thereleisurely, knowing he was welcome.
    Emeritus Row was dark and silent, illuminated only by the streak of warmyellow splashed away from Sharon's door. Casimir removed his glacier glasses."Come in," came the melodious answer to his knock, and Casimir Radon enteredhis favorite room in the world.
    Sharon looked at him with raised eyebrows. "Veil! You haff made a decision?"
    "I think so."
    "Let's have it! Leaving or staying? For the sake of physics I hope thelatter."
    Casimir abruptly realized he had not really made up his mind. He shoved hishands into his pockets and breathed deeply, a little surprised by all this.He could not keep a smile from his face, though, and could not ignore thehominess of Sharon's chaotic office. He announced that he was going to stay.
    "Good, good," Sharon said absently. "Clear a place to sit." He gestured at achair and Casimir set about removing thirty Pounds of high-energy physics fromit. Sharon said, "So you've decided to cross the Rubicon, eh?"
    Casimir sat down, thought about it, and said with a half grin, "Or the Styx,whichever the case may be."
    Sharon nodded, and as he did a resounding thump issued from above. Casimirjumped, but Sharon did not react.
    "What was that?" Casimir asked. "Sounded big."
    "Ach," said Sharon. "Throwing furniture again, I should guess. You know, don'tyou, that many of our students are very interested in the physics of fallingbodies?" He delivered this, like all his bad jokes, slowly and solemnly, asthough working out long calculations in his head. Casimir chuckled. Sharonwinked and lit his pipe. "I am given to understand, from grapevine talk, thatyou are smarter than all of our professors except for me." He winked againthrough thick smoke.
    "Oh. Well, I doubt it."
    "Ach, I don't. No correlation between age and intelligence! You're just afraidto use your smarts! That's right. You'd rather suffer-- it is your Polishblood. Anyway, you have much practical experience. Our professors have onlybook experience."
    "Well, it's the book experience I want. It's handy to know electronics, butwhat I really like is pure principles. I can make more money designingcircuits, if that's what I want."
    "Exactly! You prefer to be a poor physicist. Well, I cannot argue with youwanting to know pure things. After all, you are not naÏve, your life has beenno more sheltered than mine."
    Embarrassed, Casimir laughed. "I don't know about that. I haven't livedthrough any world wars yet. You've lived through two. I may have escapedfrom a slum, but you escaped from Peenemunde with a suitcase full of rocketdiagrams."
    Sharon's eyes crinkled at the corners. "Yet. A very important word, nichtwahr? You are not very old, yet."
    "What do you mean? Do you expect a war?"
    Sharon laughed deeply and slowly. "I have toured your residential towers withcertain students of mine, and I was reminded of certain, er, locations duringthe occupation of the Sudetenland. I think from what I see"-- the ceilingthumped again, and he gestured upward with his pipestem -- "and hear, thatperhaps you are in a war now."
    Casimir laughed, but then sucked in his breath and sat back as Sharon gloweredat him morosely. The old professor was very complicated, and Casimir alwaysseemed to be taking missteps with him.
    "War and violence are not very funny," said Sharon, "unless they happen toyou-- then they are funny because they haff to be. There is more violence upthere than you realize! Even speech today has become a form of violence-- evenin the university. So pay attention to that, and don't worry about a war inEurope. Worry about it here, this is your home now."
    "Yes, sir." After pausing respectfully, Casimir withdrew a clipboard from hispack and put It on Sharon's desk. "Or it will be my home as soon as you signthese forms. Mrs. Santucci will tear my arms off if I don't bring them intomorrow."
    Sharon sat still until Casimir began to feel uncomfortable. "Ja," he finallysaid, "I guess you need to worry about forms too. Forms and forms and forms.Doesn't matter to me."
    "Oh. It doesn't? You aren't retiring, are you?"
    "Ja, I guess so."
    Silently, Sharon separated the forms and laid them out on the Periodic Tableof the Elements that covered his desk. He examined them with care for afew minutes, then selected a pen from a stein on his desk, which had beenautographed by Enrico Fermi and Niels Bohr, and signed them.
    "There, you're in the good courses now," he concluded. "Good to see you are sowell Socioeconomically Integrated." The old man sat back in his chair, claspedhis fingers over his flat chest, and closed his eyes.
    A thunderous crash and Casimir was on the floor, dust in his throat and peagravel on his back. Rubble thudded down from above and Casimir heard a loudinharmonious piano chord, which held steady for a moment and moaned downwardin pitch until it was obliterated by an explosive splintering crack. Morerubble flew around the room and he was pelted with small blocks. Looking downas he rubbed dust from his eyes he saw scores of strewn black and white pianokeys.
    Sharon was slumped over on his desk, and a trickle of blood ran from his headand onto the back of his hand and puddled on the class change form beside hispipe. Gravel, rainwater and litter continued to slide down through the hole inthe ceiling. Casimir alternately screamed and gulped as he staggered to hisfeet. lie waded through shattered ceiling panels and twisted books to Sharon'sside and saw with horror that the old man's side had been pierced by a shardof piano frame shot out like an arrow in the explosion. With exquisite carehe helped him lean back, cleared the desk of books and junk, then picked uphis thin body and set him atop the desk. He propped up Sharon's head with the1938 issues of the Physical Review and tried to ease his breathing. The headwound was superficial and already clotting, but the side wound was ghastlyand Casimir did not even know whether to remove the splinter. Blood built upat the corners of Sharon's mouth as he gasped and wheezed. Brushing tears anddirt from his own face, Casimir looked for the phone.
    He started away as a small bat fluttered past.
    "Troglodyte! No manners! This is what you're supposed to see!" Casimir whirledto see Bert Nix plunging from the open door toward Sharon's desk. Casimirtried to head him off, fearing some kind of attack, but Bert Nix stopped shortand pointed triumphantly to Sharon. Casimir turned to look. Sharon was gazingat him dully through half-shut eyes, and weakly pounding his finger into aspot on the tabletop. Casimir leaned over and looked. Sharon was pointing atthe Table of the Elements, indicating the box for Oxygen.
    "Oxygen! Oh two! Get it?" shouted Bert Nix.
    Bill Benson, Security Guard 5, was arguing with a friend whether it waspossible that F.D.R. committed suicide when the emergency line rang. He letit ring four times. Since ninety-nine calls out of a hundred were pranks, byletting each one ring four times he was delaying the true emergency calls byan average of only four one-hundredths of a ring apiece-- nothing comparedwith the time it took to respond. Anyway, fed up with kids getting stonedat parties and falling on the way out to barf and spraining their wrists,then (through some miracle of temporary clearheadedness) calling Emergencyand trying to articulate their problems through a hallucinogenic miasmawhile monster stereos in the background threatened to uncurl his phone cord.Eventually, though, he did pick up the phone, holding the earpiece severalinches from his head in case it was another of those goddamn Stalinistwhistle-blasters.
    "Listen," came the voice, sounding distant, "I've got to have some oxygen. Doyou have some there? It's an emergency!" Oh, sh*t, Did he have to get thiscall every night? He listened for a few more seconds. "It's an oxygen freak,"he said to his friend, covering the mouthpiece with his hand.
    "Oxygen freak? What do they do with oxygen?"
    Benson swung his feet down from the counter, put the receiver in his lap,and explained. "See, nitrous oxide, or laughing gas, is the big thing. Theybreathe it through masks, like for surgery. But if you breathe it pure you'llkick in no time, because you got to have oxygen. And they are so crazy aboutlaughing gas they don't want to take off that mask even to breathe, so theylike to get some oxygen to mix with it so that they can sit there all goddamnnight long and breathe nothing else and get blasted out of their little minds.So we always get these calls."
    He picked up the receiver again, took a puff on his cigar, exhaled slowly."Hello?" he said, hoping the poor gas-crazed sap had hung up.
    "Yeah? When will it be here?"
    "Cripes!" Bill Benson shouted, "look, guy, hang it up. We don't have any andyou aren't allowed to have it."
    "Well, sh*t then, come up here and help me. Call an ambulance! For God's sake,a man's dying here."
    Some of these kids were such cretins, how did they make it into college?Money, probably. "Listen, use your head, kid," he said, not unkindly. "We'rethe Emergency Services desk. We can't leave our posts. What would happen ifthere was an emergency while we were gone?"
    This was answered by silence; but in the background, Benson could just makeout another voice, which sounded familiar: "You should have listened to whathe was trying to tell you! He wasn't farting around! We had to sack theCartography Department to afford him. And you don't listen!"
    "Shut up!" shouted the gas freak.
    "Hey, is that Bert? Is that Bert Nix on the phone?" asked Bill Benson. "Whereare you, kid?"
    "Emeritus Row!' shouted the kid, and dropped the phone. Bill Benson continuedto listen after the BONKITY-BONK of the phone's impact, trying to make sureit was really good old Bert Nix. I think he heard this poem; on the news, heclaimed he heard a poem, and it could well have been this, which Bert Nixquoted regularly and liked to write on the walls:

    Tenuring and tenuring in the ivory tower!
    The flagon cannot fill the flagoneers.
    Krupp cuts a fart! The sphinxter cannot hold
    Dear academe, our Lusitanta, recoils.
    The time-limned dons are noosed. With airy webs
    The cerebrally infarcted bring me down.
    The East affects conscription, while the curst
    Are gulled with Fashionate Propensities.

    Shrilly, sum reevaluation is demanded.
    Earlier-reckoned commencement is programmed!
    What fecund mumming! Outly ward those words hard
    When a glassed grimace on an animal Monday
    Rumbles at night; unaware that the plans aren't deserved
    Escapists' lie-panoply aims to head off the Fan.
    A sign frank and witless as the Sun
    Is mute in the skies, yet from it are shouted
    Real shadows of endogenous deserted words.
    The concrete drops down in; but know I now
    That thirty-storied stone steel keeps
    When next the might of Air are rooks unstable.
    What buff be; its towers coming down deglassed
    Slumps amid Bedlam in the morn?
    "Holy sh*t!" cried Bill Benson. "Bert? Is that you? Hell, maybe something'sup. Sam, punch me onto line six there and Ill see if I can raise the folksdown at nine-one-one."
    Casimir was careening through the halls, cursing himself for having had toleave Sharon alone with a derelict, adrenaline blasting through him as heimagined coming back to find the old man dead. He didn't know how he was goingto open the door when he got where he was going, but at the moment it did notmatter because no slab of wood and plastic, it seemed, could stand in his way.He veered around a corner, smashing into a tail young man who had been comingthe other way. They both sprawled dazed on the floor, but Casimir rolled andsprang to his feet and resumed running. The man he had collided with caught upwith him, and he realized that it was Virgil Gabrielsen, King of the Burrows.
    "Virgil! Did you hear that?"
    "Yeah, I was coming to check it out. What's up?"
    "Piano fell into Sharon's office... pierced lung... oxygen." "Right," saidVirgil, and skidded to a stop, fishing a key from his pocket. He master-keyedhis way into a lab and they sent a grad student sprawling against a workbenchas they made for the gas canisters. Casimir grabbed a bottle-cart and theyfeverishly strapped the big cylinder onto it, then wheeled it heavily out thedoor and back toward Sharon.
    "sh*t," said Virgil, "no freight elevator. No way to get it upstairs." Theywere at the base of the stairs, two floors below Sharon. The oxygen wasabout five feet tall and one foot in diameter, and crammed with hundreds ofpounds of extremely high-pressure gas. Virgil was still thinking about itwhen Casimir, a bony and unhealthy looking man, bear-hugged the canister,straightened up, and hoisted it to his shoulder as he would a roll of carpet.He took the stairs two at a time, Virgil bounding along behind.
    Shortly, Casimir had slammed the cylinder down on the floor near Sharon. BertNix was holding Sharon's hand, mumbling and occasionally making the sign ofthe cross. As Virgil closed the door, Casimir held the top valve at arm'slength, buried one ear in his shoulder, and opened it up. Virgil just had timeto plug his ears.
    The room was inundated in a devastating hiss, like the shriek of an injureddragon. Casimir's hands were knocked aside by the fabulously high pressure ofthe escaping oxygen. Papers blizzarded and piano keys skittered across thefloor. Ignoring it, Bert Nix stuffed Kleenex into Sharon's ears, then intohis own. In a minute Sharon began to breathe easier. At the same time hispipe-ashes burst into a small bonfire, ignited by the high oxygen levels.Casimir was making ready to stomp it out when Virgil pushed him gently aside;he had been wise enough to yank a fire extinguisher from the wall on their wayup. Once the fire was smothered, Virgil commenced what first aid was possibleon Sharon. Casimir returned to the Burrows and, finding an elevator, broughtup more oxygen and a regulator. Using a garbage bag they were able to rig acrude oxygen tent.
    The ambulance crew arrived in an hour. The technicians loaded Sharon up andwheeled him away, Bert Nix advising them on Sharon's favorite foods.
    I passed this procession on my way there-- Casimir had called to give methe news. When I arrived in the doorway of Sharon's office, I beheld anunforgettable scene: Virgil and Casimir knee-deep in wreckage; a desk litteredwith the torn-open wrappers of medical supplies; Virgil holding up a sheaf ofcharred, bloodstained, fire-extinguisher-caked forms; and Casimir laughingloudly beneath the opened sky.

    --October--
    At the front of the auditorium, Professor Embers spoke. He never lectured;he spoke. In the middle of the auditorium his audience of five hundred satback in their seats, staring up openmouthed into the image of the Professoron the nearest color TV monitor. In the back of the auditorium, Sarah sat intwilight, trying to balance the Student Government budget.
    "So grammar is just the mode in which we image concepts," the professor wassaying. "Grammar is like the walls and bumpers of a pinball machine. Rhetoricis like the flippers of a pinball machine. You control the flippers. The restof the machine-- grammar-- controls everything else. If you use the flipperswell, you make points. If you fail to image your concepts viably, your balldrops into the black hole of nothingness. If you try to cheat, the machinetilts and you lose-- that's like people not understanding your interactions.That's why we have to learn Grammar here in Freshman. That, and because S. S.Krupp says we have to."
    There was a pause of several seconds, and then a hundred or so people laughed.Sarah did not. Unlike the freshmen in the class, who thought Professor Emberswas a cool guy, Sarah thought he was a bore and a turkey. He continued tospeak, and she continued to balance.
    This was the budget for this semester, and it was supposed to have been donelast semester. But last semester the records had been gulped by a mysteriouscomputer error, and now Sarah had to reconstruct them so that the governmentcould resume debate. She had some help from me in this, though I don't knowhow much good it did. We had met early in the year, at a reception forfaculty-in-residence, arid later had a lunch or two together and talked aboutAmerican Megaversity. If nothing else, my suite was a quiet and pleasantenough place where she could spread her papers out and work uninterrupted whenshe needed to.
    She could also work uninterrupted in her Freshman English class, because shewas a senior English major with a 3.7 average and didn't need to pay muchattention.
    Her first inkling that something was wrong had been in midsummer, when themegaversity's computer scheduling system had scheduled her for FreshmanEnglish automatically, warning that she had failed to meet this requirementduring her first year. "Look," she had said to the relevant official when shearrived in the fall, "I'm an English major. I know this stuff. Why are youputting me in Freshman English?"
    The General Curriculum Advisor consulted little codes printed by the computer,and looked them up in a huge computer-printed book. "Ah," he said, "was one ofyour parents a foreign national?" "My stepmother is from Wales."
    "That explains it. You see." The official had swung around toward herand assumed a frank, open body-language posture. "Statistical analysisshows that children of one or more foreign nationals are often gifted withSpecial Challenges." Sarah's spine arched back and she set her jaw. "You'resaying I can't speak English because my stepmother was Welsh?" "SpecialChallenges are likely in your case. You were mistakenly exempted from FreshmenEnglish because of your high test scores. This exemption option has now beenretroactively waived for your convenience."
    "I don't want it waived. It's not convenient."
    "To ensure maintenance of high academic standards, the waiver is avolitional."
    "Well, that's bullsh*t." This was not a very effective thing to say. Sarahwished that Hyacinth could come talk for her; Hyacinth would not be polite,Hyacinth would say completely outrageous things and they would scatterin terror. "There's no way I can accept that." Drawn to the noise likescavengers, two young clean-cut advisors looked in the door with open andunderstanding smiles. Everyone smiled except for Sarah. But she knew she wasright this time-- she knew damn well what language was spoken in Wales thesedays. They could smile stupidly until blue in the face. When the advisorhinted that she was asking for special treatment because she was President,she gave him a look that snapped his composure for a second, a small buthelpful triumph.
    She had done it by the books, filing a petition requesting to be dischargedfrom Freshman English. But her petition was rejected because of a computererror which made it appear that she had gotten 260 instead of 660 on her SATs.By the time an extra score report from the testing company proved that she wassmart after all, it was too late to drop or add classes-- so, Freshman English*t was.
    The end of the class approached at last, and Professor Embers handed back thisweek's essays. The assignment was to select a magazine ad and write about howit made you feel.
    "I've been epiphanied by the quality of your essays this week," said ProfessorEmbers. "We hardly had to give out any C's this time around. I have themalphabetized by your first names up here in sixteen stacks, one for eachsection."
    All five hundred students went down at once to get theirs. Sarah worked forten minutes. then gathered her things and headed for the front, dawdling onpurpose. Clustered around the stack of papers for her section she could seefive of the Stalinists-- for some reason they had all ended up in her section.Since she never attended section meetings, this was no problem, but she didnot want to encounter them at times like this either. Standing there tall andstraight as a burned-out sapling in a field was Dexter Fresser, an importantfigure in the Stalinist Underground Battalion. Most of all, she wanted toavoid him. Sarah and Dex had gone to the same high school in Ohio, riddenthe same bus to school, slept in the same bed thirteen times and shared thesame LSD on three occasions. Since then, Dex had hardly ever not taken lotsof acid. Sarah had taken none. Now he was a weird rattle-minded radical whonevertheless remembered her, and she avoided him scrupulously.
    About halfway down the aisle she found a television monitor displaying animage of Dex. She sank deeply into a seat and watched him and his comrades.Dex was reading a paper desultorily and she knew it was hers. He flippedaimlessly through it, as though searching for a particular word or phrase,then shook his head helplessly and dropped it back on the stack. Finally thelast of them excavated his paper and they were collectively gone, leavingbehind several dozen essays no one had bothered to pick up.
    Associate Professor Archibald Embers, Learning Facilitator of Freshman EnglishG Group, was regarding a young woman on his sofa and endeavoring to keep hispipe lit. This required a lot of upside-down work with his butane lighterand he thought the burn on his thumb might be second-degree. This particularwoman was definitely confrontational, though, and it was no time to show pain.He held the pipe cautiously and reached out with the other hand to drapehis thumb casually over the rim of a potted plant, thrusting the roastedregion deeply into the cool humus. I am Antaeus, he thought, and yet I amPrometheus, singed by my own flame. They were sitting in the conversation pithe had installed so as to avoid talking to students across his desk like somekind of authoritarian. Or was it totalitarian? He could never remember thedistinction.
    This woman was clearly high voltage, Type A, low-alpha and left-hemisphere,with very weird resonances. Seeing her through to the end of her crisis wouldbe painful. She had ripped off a lot of papers from the auditorium and hadbrought them into his space to fine-tooth comb them. She had a problem withher grade, a B.
    "Now," she continued, whipping over another page, "let's look at page two ofthis one, which is about an advertisem*nt for Glans Essence Cologne. 'Thepoint of this is about these foxes. He has a bunch. On him. He a secret agent,like Bond James Bond or something. Or some other person with lots of foxes.Why he has foxes? Is Glans Essence Cologne. They hope you figuring that out,will buy some of it. Which is what they are selling.' Now, next to that in themargin you wrote, 'excellent analysis of the working of the ad.' Then at theend you wrote, 'Your understanding of how the System brainwashes us is why Igave you an A on this paper.' Now really, if you want to give him an A forthat it's up to you, but you can you then give me a B? Mine was three times aslong, I had an introduction, conclusion, an outline, no grammatical errors, nomisspelled words-- what do you expect?"
    "This is a very good question," said Embers. He took a long draw on his pipe."What is a grade? That is the question." He chuckled, but she apparentlydidn't get it. "Some teachers grade on curves. You have to be a math major tounderstand your grade! But forget those fake excuses. A grade is actually aform of poetry. It is a subjective reaction to a learner's work, distilled andreduced down to its purest essence-- not a sonnet, not a haiku, but a singleletter. That's remarkable, isn't it?"
    "Look, that's just groovy. But you have to grade in such a way that I'm shownto be a better writer than he is. Otherwise it's unfair and unrealistic."
    Embers recrossed his legs and spent a while sucking his pipe back into ablaze. His learner picked up a paper and fanned smoke away from her face."Mind if I smoke?" he said.
    "Your office," she said in a strangled voice.
    Fine, if she didn't want to assert herself. He finally decided on the bestapproach. "You aren't necessarily a better Writer. You called some of themfunctional illiterates. Well those illiterates, as you called them, happen tohave very expressive prose voices. Remember that in each person's own dialecthe or she is perfectly literate. So in the sense of having escaped orthodoxyto be truly creative, they are highly advanced wordsmiths, while you arestill struggling to break free of grammatical rules systems. They expressthemselves to me and I react with little one-letter poems of my own-- theessence of grading! Poetry! And being a poet I'm particularly well suited forit. Your idea of tearing down these proto-artists because they aren't justlike you smacks of a kind of absolutism which is very disturbing in a templeof academic freedom."
    They sat there silent for a while.
    "You really said that, didn't you?" she finally asked.
    "I did."
    "Huh. So we're just floating around without any standards at all."
    "You could put it that way. You should interact with the department chairmanon this. Look, there is no absolute reality, right? We can't force everyone toexpress themselves through the same absolute rules."
    When the young woman left she seemed curiously drained and quiet. Indeed,absorbing new world-views could be a sobering experience. Embers found ablister on his thumb, and was inspired to write a haiku.
    There came the sound of a massive ring of keys being slapped against theoutside of Casimir Radon's door. He looked up from the papers on his desk, andin his lap Spike the illicit kitten followed suit, scrambling to red-alertstatus and scything sixteen claws into his thigh. Before Casimir had openedhis mouth to say "Who is it" or Spike could spring forward to engage the foe,the door was unlocked and thrown open. A short, heavy man with a disconcertingresemblance to Leonid Brezhnev stepped into the room.
    "Stermnator," he mumbled, rolling the r's on his tongue like Black Sea caviar.Casimir covered Spike with his hand, hoping to prevent detection, and thekitten grasped a finger between its forepaws and began to rasp with itstongue.
    Behind the man was a small wiry old guy with chloracne, who bore metalcanister with a pump on top and a tube leading to a nozzle in his hand. BeforeCasimir could even grunt in response, this man had stepped crisply into theroom and begun to apply a heavy mist to the baseboards. The B-man glowereddarkly at Casimir, who sat in silence and watched as the exterminator walkedaround the room, nozzle to wall, spraying everything near the baseboards,including shoes, Spike's food and water dishes, a typewriter, two unmatchedsocks, a book and a calculator charger. Both the strangers looked around theinside of his nearly barren room with faint expressions of incomprehension ordisdain.
    By the time Casimir got around to saying, "That's okay, I haven't seenany bugs in here since I moved in," the sprayer was bearing down on himinexorably. Casimir pushed the kitten up against his stomach, grasped thehem of his extra-long seven-year-old Wall Drug T-shirt, and pulled it up toform a little sling for the struggling creature, crossing his arms over theresulting bulge in an effort to hold and conceal. At the same time he stoodand scampered out of the path of the exterminator, who bumped into him andknocked him off balance onto the bed, arms still crossed. He bounced back up,weaved past the exterminator, and stood with his back to the door, staringnonchalantly out the window at the view of E Tower outside. Behind him, theexterminator paused near the exit to soak the straps of an empty duffel bag.As Casimir watched the reflection of the two men closing the door he wasconscious of a revolting chemical odor. Immediately he whirled and tossedSpike onto the bed, then took his food and water dishes out to wash them inthe bathroom.
    Casimir had seen his first illicit kitten on the floor above his, when he hadforgotten to push his elevator button. He got off on the floor above to takethe stairs down one flight, and saw some students playing with the animal inthe hallway. After some careful inquiries he made contact with a kitten pusherover the phone. Two weeks later Casimir, his directions memorized, went to theLibrary at 4:15 in the morning. He proceeded to the third floor and pulleddown the January-- March 1954 volume of the Soviet Asphalt Journal and placedtwo twenty-dollar bills inside the cover. He then went to the serials desk,where he was waited on by a small, dapper librarian in his forties.
    "I would like to report," he said, opening the volume, "that pages 1738through 1752 of this volume have been razored out, and they are exactly thepages I need."
    "I see," the man said sympathetically.
    "And while I'm here, I have some microfilms to pick up, which I got oninterlibrary loan."
    "An, yes, I know the ones you're talking about. Just a moment, please." Thelibrarian disappeared into a back office and emerged a minute later with alarge box filled with microfilm reel boxes. Casimir picked it up, finding itcuriously light, smiled at the librarian and departed. A pass had already beenmade out for him, and the exit guard waved him through. Back in his room, hepulled out the top layer of microfilm boxes to find, curled up on a towel, akitten recovering from a mild tranquilizer.
    Since then Spike had been neither mild nor tranquil, but that at leastprovided Casimir with some of the unpredictability that Plex life so badlylacked. He almost didn't mind having a kitten run around the obstacle courseof his room at high speed for hours at a time in the middle of the night,because it gave his senses something not utterly flat to perceive. Even thoughSpike tried to sleep on his face, and hid all small important articles in oddplaces, Casimir was charmed.
    He pulled on his glacier glasses in a practiced motion and stepped outinto the hail. Casimir's wing was only two floors away from allies of theWild and Crazy Guys, best partiers in the Plex, and two Saturdays ago theyhad come down with their spray paint and painted giant red, white andblue twelve-spoked wheels between each pair of doors. These were cruderepresentations of the Big Wheel, a huge neon sign outside the Plex, which theWild and Crazy Guys pretended to worship as a joke and initiation ritual. Thisyear they had become aggressive graffitists, painting Big Wheels almost everyin the Plex. Casimir, used to it, walked down this gallery of giant wheels tothe bathroom, Spike's dishes in hand.
    The bathrooms in the wings looked on the inside like microwave ovens orautoclaves, with glossy green tile on the walls, brilliant lighting, overwaxedfloors and so much steam that entering one was like entering a hallucination.At one end of the bathroom, three men and their girlfriends were takingshowers, drinking, shouting a lot and generally being Wild and Crazy. Theywere less than coherent, but most of what Casimir could make out dealt withAnglo-Saxon anatomical terms and variations on "what do you think of this"followed by prolonged yelling from the partner. Casimir was tempted to stayand listen, but reasoned that since he was still a virgin anyway there was nopoint in trying to learn anything advanced, especially by eavesdropping. Hewent down the line of closely spaced sinks until he found one that had notbeen stuffed with toilet paper or backed up with drain crud.
    As he was washing Spike's dishes, a guy came in the door with a towelaround his waist. He looked conventional, though somewhat blocky, athleticand hairless. He came up and stood very close to Casimir, staring at himwordlessly for a long time as though nearsighted; Casimir ignored him, butglanced at him from time to time in the mirror, looking between two spokes ofa Big Wheel that had been drawn on it with shaving cream.
    After a while, he tugged on Casimir's sleeve. "Hey," he mumbled, "can I borrowyour"
    Casimir said nothing.
    "Huh?" said the strange guy.
    "I don't know," said Casimir. "Depends on what you want. Probably not."
    A grin gradually sprouted on the man's face and he turned around as thoughsmirking with imaginary friends behind him. "Oh, Jeez," he said, and turnedaway. "I hate f*ckers like you!" he yelled, and ran to the lockers acrossfrom the sinks, running a few steps up the wall before sprawling back down onthe floor again. Casimir watched him in the mirror as he went from locker tolocker, finally finding an unlocked one. The strange guy pawed through it andselected a can of shaving cream. "Hey," he said, and looked at the back ofCasimir's head. "Hey, Wall."
    Casimir looked at him in the mirror. "What is it?"
    The strange guy did not understand that Casimir was looking right at him. "Heyf*cker! co*cksucker! Mr. Drug! You!" Rhythmic female shrieking began to emanatefrom a shower stall. "What is it," Casimir yelled back, refusing to turn. Thestrange guy approached him and Casimir turned half around defensively. Hestood very close to Casimir. "Your hearing isn't very good," he shouted, "youshould take off your glasses." "Do you want something? If so, you should justtell me." "Do you think he'd mind if I used this?"
    "Who?"
    The strange guy smirked arid shook his head. "Do you know anything aboutterriers?"
    "No."
    "Ah, well." The strange guy put the shaving cream on the shelf in front ofCasimir, muttered something incomprehensible, laughed, and walked out of thebathroom.
    Casimir dried the food bowl under an automatic hand dryer by the door. As hewas on his third push of the button, a couple from one of the showers walkednude into the room, getting ten feet from cover before they saw Casimir.
    The woman screamed, clapping her hands over her face. "Oh Jeez, Kevin, there'sa guy in here!" Kevin was too mellowed by sex and beer to do anything butsmile wanly. Casimir walked out without saying anything, breathed deeply ofthe cool, dry air of the hallway, and returned to his room, where he filledSpike's water bowl with spring water from a bottle.
    As soon as Casimir had heard about Neutrino, the official organization ofphysics majors, he had crashed a meeting and got himself elected President andTreasurer. Casimir was like that, meek most of the time with occasional burstsof effectiveness. He walked into the meeting, which so far consisted of sixpeople, and said, "Who's the president?"
    The others, being physics majors and therefore accustomed to odd behavior ofall sorts, had answered. "He graduated," said one. "No, when he graduated, hestopped being our president. When the guy who was our president graduated, weinstantaneously ceased to have one," another countered.
    "I agree," a third added, "but the proper term is 'was graduated.'"
    "That's pedantic."
    "That's correct. Where's the dictionary?"
    "Who cares? Why do you want to know?" the first asked. As the other twoconsulted a dictionary, a fourth member held a calculator in his hand, gnawingabsently on the charger cord, and the other two members argued loudly about aninvisible diagram they were drawing with their fingers on a blank wall.
    "I want to be president of this thing," Casimir said. "Any objections?"
    "Oh, that's okay. We thought you were from the administration or something."
    Casimir's motivation for all this was that after the Sharon incident, it wasimpossible for him to escape from his useless courses. The grimness of whathad happened, and the hopelessness of his situation, had left him quiet andlistless for a couple of weeks to the point where I was beginning to feelalarmed. One night, then, from two to four in the morning, Casimir's neighborhad watched Rocky on cable and the sleeping Casimir had subconsciouslylistened in on the soundtrack. He awoke in the morning with a sense ofmission, of destiny, a desire to go out and beat the f*ckers at their owngame. Neutrino provided a suitable power base, and since his classes onlyconsumed about six hours a week he had all the time in the world.
    Previous to Casimir's administration most of the money allotted to Neutrinohad been dispersed among petty activities such as dinners, trips to nuclearreactors, insipid educational gadgets and the like. Casimir's plan was tospend all the money on a single project that would exercise the minds of themembers and, in the end, produce something useful. Once he had convinced thepliable membership of Neutrino that this was a good idea, his suggestion forthe actual project was not long in coming: construction of a mass driver.
    The mass driver was a magnetic device for throwing things. It consisted of along straight rail, a "bucket" that slid along the rail on a magnetic cushionand powerful electromagnets that kicked the bucket down the rail When thebucket slammed to a halt at the rail's end, whatever was in it kept on going--theoretically, very, very fast. Recently this simple machine had become a petproject of Professor Sharon, who had advocated it as a lunar mining tool.Casimir argued that the idea was important and interesting in and of itself,and that Sharon's connection to it lent it sentimental value. As a tributeto Sharon, a fun project and a toy that would be a blast to play with whenfinished, the mass driver was irresistible to Neutrino. Which was just aswell, because nothing was going to stop Casimir from building this son of abitch.
    Casimir had been drawing up a budget for it on this particular evening,because budget time for the Student Government was coming up soon. Not longafter the exterminator's visit, Casimir got stuck. Many of the supplies heneeded were standard components that were easy for him to get, but certainitems, such as custom-wound electromagnets, were hard to budget for. This wasthe sort of fabrication that had to be done at the Science Shop, and thatmeant dealing with Virgil Gabrielsen. After nailing down as much as he could,Casimir gathered his things and set out on the half-hour elevator ride to thebottom of the Burrows.
    In the interests of efficiency, security, ease of design and healthy interplayamong the departments, the designers of the Campustructure had put all thescience departments together in a single bloc. It was known as the Burrowsbecause it was mostly below street level, and because of the allegedlyMorlockian qualities of its inhabitants. At the top of the Burrows were thedepartmental libraries and conference rooms. Below were professors' officesand departmental headquarters, followed by classrooms, labs, stockrooms and atthe very bottom, forty feet below ground level, the enormous CC-- ComputingCenter-- and the Science Shop. Any researcher wanting glass blown, metalshaped, equipment fixed, circuits designed or machines assembled, had to comedown and beg for succor at the feet of the stony-hearted Science Shop staff.This meant trying to track down Lute, the hyperactive Norwegian technician,rumored to have the power of teleportation, who held smart people in disdainbecause of their helplessness in practical matters, or Zap, the electronicsspecialist, a motorcycle gang sergeant-at-arms who spent his working hoursboring out engine blocks for his brothers and threatening professors withbizarre and deadly tortures. Zap was the cheapest technician the Science Shopsteering committee had been able to find, Lute had been retained at highsalary after dire threats from all faculty members and Virgil, to the immenserelief of all, had been hired three years earlier as a part-time studenthelper and had turned the place around.
    Science Shop was at the end of a dark unmarked hallway that smelled of machineoil and neoprene, half blocked by junked and broken equipment. When Casimirarrived he relaxed instantly in the softly lit, wildly varied squalor of theplace, and soon found Virgil sipping an ale and twiddling painstakingly withwires and pulleys on an automatic plotter.
    They went into his small office and Virgil provided himself and Casimir withmore ale. "What's the latest on Sharon?" he asked. "The same. No word,"Casimir said, pushing the toes of his tennis shoes around in the sawdust andmetal filings on the floor. Not quite in a coma, definitely not all there.Whatever he lost from oxygen starvation isn't coming back."
    "And they haven't caught anyone."
    "Well, E14 is the Performing Arts Floor. They used to have a room with a pianoin It. The E13S people didn't like it because the Performing Artists werealways tap dancing."
    "We know how sensitive those poor boys are to noise." "A couple of daysbefore the piano crash, the piano was stolen from E14. Two of the tap-dancershad their doors ignited the same night. A couple of days later, E13S had aburning-furniture-throwing contest, and it just happens that at the same timea piano crashed through Sharon's ceiling. Circ*mstantial evidence only."
    Virgil clasped his hands over his flat belly and looked at the ceiling."Though a pattern of socio-heterodox behaviors has been exhibited byindividuals associated with E13S, we find it preferable to keep them withinthe system and counsel them constructively rather than turn them over todamaging outside legal interference which would hinder resocialization. TheMegaversity is a free community of individuals seeking to grow togethertoward a more harmonious and enlightened future, and introduction of externalcoercion merely stifles academic freedom and-- "
    "How did you know that?" asked Casimir, amazed. "That's word for word whatthey said the other day."
    Virgil shrugged. "Official policy statement. They used it two years ago, inthe barbell incident. E13 dropped a two-hundred-pound barbell through theroof of the Cafeteria's main kitchen area. It crashed into a pressure vat andcaused a tuna-nacho casserole explosion that wounded fifteen. And the pressureis so high in those vats, you know, that Dr. Forksplit, the Dean of DiningServices, who was standing nearby, had a nacho tortilla chip shard driven allthe way through his skull. He recovered, but they've called him Wombat eversince. The people who handle this in the Administration don't understand howderanged these students are. Now, Kruno and his people would like to pourmolten lead down their throats, but they can't do anything about it-- thedecisions are made by a committee of tenured faculty."
    Casimir resisted an impulse to scream, got up and paced around talking throughclenched teeth. "This sh*t really, really pisses me off. It's incredible, Lawdoesn't exist here, you can do what you please." "Well," said Virgil, stillblasÉ, "I disagree. There's always law. Law is just the opinion of the guywith the biggest gun. Since outside law rarely matters in the Plex, we makeour own law, using whatever power-- whatever guns-- we have. We've been verysuccessful in the Science Shop."
    "Oh, yeah? I suppose this was something to do with what you said the otherday about some unofficial work here for me." "That's a perfect example. Theresearchers of American Megaversity need your services. It's illegal, but thescientific faculty have more power than the rule-enforcers, so we make our ownlaw regarding technical work. You keep track of what you do, and I pay youthrough the vitality fund.
    "The what?"
    "The fund made up of donations from various professors and firms who have avested interest in keeping the Science Shop running smoothly. Hell, it's alljust grant money. In the egalitarian system we had before, nobody got anythingdone."
    "Look." Casimir shook his head and sat back down. "I don't want even tohear all this. You know, all I've ever wanted to be is a normal student.They won't let me take decent classes, okay, so I work on the mass driver.Now I come here to get your help and you start talking about local lawand free enterprise. I just want some estimates from you on getting theseelectromagnets wound for the mass driver. Okay? Forget free enterprise."Casimir dropped a page of diagrams and specifications on Virgil's desk.
    Virgil looked it over. "Well, it depends," he finally said. "If we pretendyou're just a normal student, then I will charge you, oh, about ten thousanddollars for this stuff and have it done by the time you graduate. Now,unofficially, I could log it in as something much simpler and charge you less.But you can't put that into a formal budget proposal. Very unofficially, Imight do it for a small bribe, like some help from you around the Shop. Butthat's really abnormal to put in a budget. Looks like you're stuck."
    "It wouldn't really take you three years."
    "It would take me." Virgil waved at the door. "Zap could do it in a week.Want to ask him? He's not hard to wake up." Casimir brooded momentarily."Well, look. I don't really care how it gets done. But it's necessary to havesomething on paper, you know?"
    Virgil shook his head, smiling. "Casimir. You don't think anyone pays anyattention to those budgets, do you?"
    "Aw, sh*t. This is too weird for me."
    "It's not weird, you're just not used to it yet. Here is what we'll do. Wework out a friendly gentlemen's agreement by which I make the magnets for you,probably over Christmas vacation, in exchange for a little of your expert helparound the Science Shop. When I'm done with the magnets I put them in an oldbox and mark it, say, 'SPARE PARTS, 1932 AUTOMATIC BOMBSIGHT PROTOTYPE.' Idump it in the storeroom. When budget time comes around you say, 'Oh, gee, ithappens I've designed this thing to use existing parts, I know just where theyare.' Ridiculous, but no one knows that, and those who understand won't wantto meddle in any arrangement of mine."
    "Okay!" Casimir threw up his hands. "Okay. Fine. Ill do it. Just tell me whatto do and don't let me see any of this illegal stuff." "It's not illegal, Isaid it was legal. Hang on a sec while I Xerox these pages."
    Virgil opened the door and was met by a clamor of voices from several advancedacademic figures. Casimir looked around the room: a firetrap stuffed withbooks and papers and every imaginable variety of electronic junk. A Geigercounter hung out the window into a deep air shaft, clicking every second ortwo. In one corner a 1940's radio was hooked up to a technical power supplyand wired into the guts of a torn-open telephone so that Virgil could makehands-off phone calls. An old backless TV in another corner enabled Virgil tomonitor the shop outside. Electronic parts, hunks of wire, junk-food wrappersand scraps of paper littered the floor. And in three separate places sat thoselittle plastic trays Casimir saw everywhere, overflowing with tiny seeds-- ratpoison.
    "Damn!" spat Casimir as Virgil reentered. "There's enough of that poison inthis room alone to kill every rat in this city. What's their problem with thatstuff anyway?"
    Virgil snorted. Everyone knew the rat poison was ubiquitous; the wastebasketsmight go a month without emptying, but when it came to rat poison the B-menwere fearsomely diligent, seeming to pass through walls and locked doors likeShaolin priests to scatter the poison-saturated kernels. "It's cultural,"he explained. "They hate rats. You should read some Scythian mythology. InCrotobaltislavonia it's a capital crime to harbor them. That's why they had arevolution! The old regime stopped handing out free rat poison."
    "I'm serious," said Casimir. "I've got an illegal kitten in my room, and Ifthey keep breaking in to spread poison, they'll find it or let it out orpoison it."
    "Or eat it. Seriously, you should have mentioned it, Casimir. Let me help youout."
    Casimir rested his face in his hand. "I suppose you also have an arrangementwith the B-men."
    "No, no, much too complicated. I do almost all my work at the computerterminal, Casimir. You can accomplish anything there. See, a few years ago astudent had a boa constrictor in his room that got poisoned by the B-men, andeven though it was illegal he sued the university for damages and won. Thereare still a lot of residents with pets whom the administration doesn't wantto antagonize, because of connections or whatever. Some students are evenallergic to the poison. So, they keep a list of rooms which are not to begiven any poison. All I have to do is put your room on it."
    Casimir was staring intently at Virgil. "Wait a minute. How did you get thatkind of access? Aren't there locks? Access checks?" "There are some annoyancesinvolved."
    "I suppose with photographic memory you could do a lot on the computer."
    "Helps to have the Operator memorized too."
    "Oh, f*ck! No!"
    Casimir, I am sure, was just as surprised as I had been. The Operator wasan immense computer program consisting entirely of numbers-- machine code.Without it, the machine was a useless lump. With the Operator installed, itwas a tool of nearly infinite power and flexibility. It was to the computer asmemory, instinct and intelligence are to the human brain.
    Virgil handed Casimir a canister of paper computer tape. The label read, "1843SURINAM CENSUS DATA VOLUME 5. FIREWOOD USAGE ESTIMATES AND PROJECTIONS."
    "Ignore that," said Virgil. "It's a program in machine code. It'll put yourroom on the no-poison list, and your cat will be safe, unless the B-men forgetor decide to ignore the rule, which is a possibility." Casimir barely lookedat the tape and stared distantly at Virgil. "What have you been doing withthis knowledge?" he whispered. "You could get back at E13S."
    Virgil smiled. "Tempting. But when you can do what I can, you don't go forpetty revenge. All I do, really, is fight the Worm, which is really my onlypassion these days. It's why I stay around instead of getting a decent job.It's a sabotage program. It's probably the greatest intellectual achievementof the nineteen-eighties, and it's the only thing I've ever found that is soindescribably difficult and complex and beautiful that I haven't gotten boredwith it."
    "Why would anyone do such a thing? It must be costing the Megaversitymillions."
    "I don't know," said Virgil, "but it's great to have a challenge."
    Sarah and I were in her room with my toolbox. Outside, the Terrorists weretrying to get in. I sat on her bed, as she had commanded, silent and neutral.
    "When did they start calling themselves the Terrorists," she asked during alull.
    "Who knows? Maybe Wild and Crazy Guys was too old-fashioned."
    "Maybe the hijacking of that NATO tank yesterday gave them the idea. That gotlots of coverage. sh*t, here they are again." Cheerfully screaming, anotherAirhead was dragged down the hail to be given her upside-down cold shower. Theoriginal Terrorist plan had been to drag the Airheads to the bathroom by theirhair, as in olden times, but after a few tries they were convinced that thisreally was painful, so now they were holding on to the feet.
    "Terrorists, Terrorists, we're a mean, sonofabitch," came a hoarse chantas a new group gathered in front of Sarah's door. "Come on, Sarah," theirleader shouted in a heavy New York accent. He was trying to sound fatherlyand patient, but instead sounded anxious and not very bright. "It'll be a lotbetter for you if you just come out now. We're tickling Mitzi right now andshe's going to tell us where the master key is, and once we get that we'llcome in and you'll get ad-dition-al pun-ish-ment."
    "God," Sarah whispered to me, "these dorks think I'm just playing hard-to-get.Hope they enjoy it."
    "Give the word and I'll shoo them off," I said again.
    "Wouldn't help. I have to deal with this myself. Don't be so macho."
    "Sorry. Sometimes it works to be macho, you know."
    Their previous effort to flash her out of her room had failed. "Flashing" wasthe technique of squirting lighter fluid Under a door and throwing in a match.It wasn't as dangerous as it sounded, but it invariably smoked the victim out.Powdering was a milder form of this: an envelope was filled with powder, itsmouth slid under the door, and the envelope stomped on, exploding a cloud ofpowder into the room. Three days earlier this had been done to Sarah by someAir-heads. A regular vacuum cleaner just blew the powder out again, so webrought my wet-dry vacuum up and filled it with water and had better results,though she and her room still smelled like babies. She had purchased a heavyrubber weatherstrip from the Mall's hardware store and we had just finishedinstalling it when the flashing attempt had taken place. From listening to theTerrorists on the other side of the door, I had now become as primitive asthey had-- it was no longer a negotiable situation-- and was itching to knockheads.
    "Why don't you stop bothering me?" she yelled, trying too hard to sound strongand steady. "I really don't want to play this game with you. You got what youwanted from the others, so why don't you leave? You have no right to botherme."
    At this, they roared. "Listen, bitch, this is our sister floor, we decide whatour rights are! No one escapes from the rule of the Terrorists, Terrorists,we're a mean, sonofabitch! We'll get in sooner or later-- face up to it!"
    Another one played the nice guy. "Listen, Sarah-- hey, is that her name?Right. Uh, listen, Sarah. We can make life pretty hard on you. We're justtrying to initiate you into our sister floor-- it's a new tradition. Remember,if you don't lock your door, we can come in; and if you do lock it, we canpenny you in."
    The Airheads had once pennied Sarah in. The doors opened inward and lockedwith deadbolts. If the deadbolt was locked and the door pushed inward withgreat force, the friction between the bolt and its rectangular hole in thejamb became so great that it was impossible for the occupant to withdraw thebolt to unlock the door. One could not push inward on the door all the time,of course, but it was possible to wedge pennies between the front of the doorand the projecting member of the jamb so tightly that the occupant was sealedin helplessly. Since this maneuver only worked when the owner of the room wasinside with the door locked, it was used discourage people from the unfriendlyhabit of locking their doors. Sarah was pennied in just before a StudentGovernment meeting, and she had to call me so that I could run upstairs andthrow myself against the door until the pennies fell out.
    "Look," said Sarah, also taking a reasonable tack, "When are you going toaccept that I'm not coming out? I don't want to play, I just want peace andquiet." She knew her voice was wavering now, and she threw me an exasperatedlook.
    "Sarah," said the righteously perturbed Terrorist, "you're being very childishabout this. You know we don't want that much. It doesn't hurt. You just haveone more chance to be reasonable, and then it's ad-dition-al pun-ish-ment."
    "Swirlie! Swirlie! Swirlie!" chanted the Terrorists. "f*ck yourselves!" sheyelled. Realizing what was about to happen, she yanked my pliers out of mytoolbox and clamped their serrated jaws down on the lock handle just asMitzi's master key was slid into the keyhole outside.
    She held it firm. The Terrorists found the lock frozen. The key-turner calledfor help, but only one hand can grip a key at a time. The handle did rotate afew degrees in the tussle, and the Terrorists then found they could not pullthe key from the lock. Sarah continued to hold it at a slight twist as theTerrorists mumbled outside.
    "Listen, Sarah, you got a good point. We'll just leave you alone from now on."
    "Yeah," said the others, "Sorry, Sarah."
    Looking at me, Sarah snorted with contempt and held on to the pliers. A minuteor so after the Terrorists noisily walked away, an unsuccessful yank came onthe key.
    "sh*t! f*ck you!" The Terrorist kicked and pounded viciously on the door,raging.
    After a few minutes I got on my belly and pried up the rubber strip andverified that the Terrorists were no longer waiting outside. Sarah openedher door, pulled out the master key, and pocketed it. She smiled a lot, butshe was also shaking, and wanted no comfort from me. I was about to say shecould sleep on my Sofa for a few days. Sometimes, though, I can actually besensitive about these things. Sarah was obviously tired of needing my help.I felt she needed my protection, but that was my problem. Suddenly feelingthat dealing with me might have been as difficult for her as dealing with theTerrorists, I made the usual obligatory offers of further assistance, andwent home. Fortunately for what Sarah would call my macho side, I was on anintramural football team. So were all of the Terrorists. We met three times.I am big, they were average; they suffered; I had a good time and did notfeel so proud of myself afterward. The Terrorists did not even understandthat I didn't like them. Like a lot of whites, they didn't care much forblacks unless they were athletic blacks, in which case we could do whatever wewanted. To knock Terrorist heads for two hours, then have them pat me on thebutt in admiration, was frustrating. As for Sarah, she had no such outlets forher feelings.
    She lay on her bed for the rest of the afternoon, unable to think aboutanything else, desperate for the company of Hyacinth, who was out of town forthe weekend. Ultra-raunch rock-'n'-roll pounded through from the room above.The Terrorists figured out her number and she had to take her phone off thehook. She ignored the Airheads knocking on her door. Finally, late in theevening, when things had been quiet for a couple of hours, she slipped out totake a shower-- a right-side-up, hot shower.
    This was not very relaxing. She had to keep her eyes and ears open as much asshe could. As she rinsed her hair, though, a klunk sounded from the showerheadand the water wavered, then turned bitterly cold. She yelped and swung thehot-water handle around, to no effect, and then she couldn't stand it and hadto yank open the door and get out of there.
    They were all waiting for her-- not the Terrorists, but the Airheads in theirbathrobes. One stood at every sink, smiling, hot water on full blast, and onestood by every shower stall, smiling, steam pouring out of the door. With hugesmiles and squeals of joy, they actually grabbed her by the arms, shoutingSwirlie!, Swirlie!, took her to one of the toilets, stuck her head in, andflushed.
    She was standing there naked, toilet water running in thin cold ribbons downher body, and they were in their bathrobes, smiling sympathetically andapplauding. Apologies came from all directions. Somehow she didn't scream, shedidn't hit anyone; she grabbed her bathrobe-- tearing her hand on the cornerof the shower door in her spastic fury-- wrapped it around herself and tiedit so tightly she could hardly breathe. Her pulse fluttered like a bird inan iron box and tingles of hyperventilation ran down her arms and into herfingertips.
    "What the f*ck is wrong with you? Are you crazy?"
    They mostly tittered nervously and tried to ignore the way she had flown offthe handle. They were leaving her a social escape route; she could stillsmooth it over. But she was not interested. "Listen to me good, you dumbf*cks!" She had let herself go, it was the only thing she could do. In a wayit felt great to bellow and cry and rage and scare the hell out of them; thiswas the first contact with reality these women had had in years. "This isrape! And I'm entitled to protect myself from it! And I will!"
    She had stepped over the line. It was now okay to hate Sarah, and several tookthe opportunity, laughing out loud to each other. Mari did not. "Sarah! Jeez,you don't have to take it so serious! You'll feel better later on. We've gotsome punch for you in the Lounge. We were just letting you in to the wing. Wedidn't think you were going to get so upset."
    "Yeah."
    "Yeah."
    "Yeah."
    "Well, I'm real sorry, excuse me, but I am going to take it seriously becauseanyone who can't see why it's serious has bad, bad problems and needs to getstraightened out. If you think you're doing this because it's natural and fun,you aren't thinking too f*cking hard."
    "But, Jeez, Sarah," said Mari, hardly believing anyone could be so weird,"it's for the better. We've all been through it together now and we're allsisters. We're all an equal family together. We were just welcoming you in."
    "The whole purpose of a f*cking university is not so that you can come and bejust like everyone else. I'm not equal to you people, never will be, don'twant to be, I don't want to be anyone's sister, I don't want your activities,all I want is a decent place to live where I can be Sarah Jane Johnson, andnot be equalized... by a mob.. . of little powderpuff terrorists... who justcan't stand differentness because they're too stupid to understand it! Whatgoes on in your heads? Haven't you ever seen the diversity of... of nature?Stop laughing. Look, you think this is funny? The next time you do this,someone is going to get hurt very badly." She looked down at the little dropsof blood on the floor, dripping from her hand, and suddenly felt cleansed. Sheclenched the fist and held it up. "Understand?"
    They had been smug at her wild anger. Now they were scared and disgustedand their makeup lay on their appalled skin like blood on snow. Most fled,hysterically grossed out.
    "Gag me green!"
    "Barf me blue!"
    Mari averted her gaze from this gore. "Well, that's okay if you want to giveall of this up. But I don't think it's like rape. I mean, we all scream a lotand stuff, and we don't really want them to do it, if you know what I mean,but when they do it's fun after all. So for us it's just sort of wild andexciting, and for the guys, it helps them work off steam. You know what Imean?"
    "No! Get out! Don't f*ck with my life!" That was a lie-- she did knowexactly what Mari meant. But she had just realized she could never let herselfthink that way again. Mari sadly floated out, sniffling. Sarah, alone now,washed her hair again (though it had not been a "dirty swirlie") and retreatedto her room, a little ill in a gag-me-green sort of way, yet filled with atingling sense of sureness and power. She was not harassed anymore. Word hadgone out. Sarah had gotten additional punishment and was not to be bothered.
    The door opened slightly, and a dazzling splinter of fluorescent light shotout across the dusky linoleum. Within the room it was still. The door opened abit more. "Spike? It's me. Don't try to get out, kittycat."
    Now the door opened all the way and a tall skinny figure stepped in quickly,shut the door, and turned on a dim reading lamp. "Spike, are you sleeping?What did you get into this time?" He found the kitten under his bed, next tothe overturned rat-poison tray that was not supposed to be there. Spike hadonly been dead for a few minutes, and his body was still so warm that Casimirthought he could be cuddled back to life. He sat on the floor by his bed androcked Spike for a while, then stopped and let the tiny corpse down into hislap.
    A convulsion took his diaphragm and his lungs emptied themselves in jolts.He twisted around, breathless, hung on his elbows on the bed's edge, finallysucked in a wisp of air and sobbed it out again. He rolled onto the bed andthe sobs came faster and louder. He pulled his pillow into his face andscreamed and sobbed for longer than he could keep track of. Into his lumpylittle standard-issue American Megaversity pillow he shuddered it all out:Sharon, Spike, the desecration of his academic dream, his loneliness.
    When he pulled himself together he was drained and queasy but curiouslyrelaxed. He put Spike in a garbage bag and slid him into an empty calculatorbox, which he taped shut. Cradling it, he stared out the window. Aroundhim in even ranks rose the thousands of windows of the towers, and to histear-blurred vision it was as though he stood in a forest aflame "Spike," hesaid, "What the hell should I do with myself?
    "Yeah. Okay. That's what it's going to be.
    "Well, Spike, now I have to do something unbelievably great. Somethingimpossible. Something these scum are too dumb even to imagine. To hell withgrades. There are much fairer ways of showing how smart you are. I'm smarterthan all of these f*ckers, rules aside."
    He cranked his vent window open. Outside a Tower War was raging: studentsshouting to one another, shining lights and lasers into one another's rooms,blaring their stereos across the gulfs. Now the countertenor cry of CasimirRadon rode in above the tumult.
    "You can make it as hard as you want, as hard as you can, but I'm going to bethe cleverest bastard this place has ever seen! I can make idiots of you all,damn it!"
    "f*ck you!" came a long-drawn-out scream from F Tower. It was precisely whatCasimir wanted to hear. He shut his window and sat in darkness to think.
    At four in the morning the wing was quiet except for Sarah, who was up,preparing her laundry. It was not necessary to do it at four in the morning--one could find open machines as late as six or seven-- but this was Sarah'stime of day. At this time she could walk the halls like something supernatural(or as she put it, "something natural, in a place that is sub-natural"). Inthe corridors she would meet the stupid gotten-up-to-urinate, staggeringhalf-dead for the bathroom, and they'd squint at her-- clothed, up andbright-- as though she were a moonbeam that had worked its way around theirroom to splash upon their faces. The ultra-late partiers, crushed by alcohol,floated, belched and slurred along in glitzy boogie dress, and the fresh andsober Sarah, in soft clothes and tennis shoes, could dance through them beforethey had even recognized her presence. The brightest nerds and premeds ridingthe elevators home from all-nighters were so thick with sleep they couldhardly stand, much less appreciate the time of day. A dozen or so hard-coreathletes liked to rise as early as Sarah, and when she encountered them theywould nod happily and go their separate ways.
    Being up at four in the morning was akin to being in the wilderness. It was asclose to the outside world as you could get without leaving the Plex. The restof the day, the harsh artificiality of the place ruled the atmosphere and theunwitting inhabitants, but the calm purity of the predawn had a way of seepingthrough the cinderblocks and pervading the place for an hour or so.
    "Screw the laundry," is what she finally said. She had plenty of cleanclothes.
    She was kneeling amid a heap of white cottons, and the grim brackishness ofher room was all around her. Suddenly she could not stand it. Laundry wouldnot make the room seem decent, and she had to do something that would.
    Out in the wing it was easy to find the leftover paints and brushes. TheCastle in the Air paintings were just now getting their finishing touches. Shefound the supplies in a storage closet and brought them to her room.
    Normally this would have been a quick and dirty process, but the spirit offour in the morning made her placid. She moved the furniture away from thewalls and in a few minutes had the floor, door, windows and furniture coveredwith a Sunday New York Times. It looked better already.
    The Castle in the Air, as will later be described, was a sickly yellow,floating on white clouds in a blue sky. By mixing cloud-color withCastle-color and a bit of Bambi-color (on the ground under the Castle, Bambiscavorted) she made a mellow creamy paint. This she applied to the walls andceiling with a roller. It was breakfast-time. She wasn't hungry.
    Sky-color and castle-color made green. She splayed open a cardboard box andmade it into a giant palette, mixing up every shade of green she could deviseand smearing them around to create an infinite variety. Then she began to dabaway on one wall with no particular plan or goal.
    The light fixture was in the middle of the wall. She paused, thinking of thedire consequences, then sighed blissfully and slapped it all over with thickgreen daubs.
    By noon the wall was covered with pied green splotches ranging fromalmost-black to yellow. It was not a bad approximation of a forest in the sun,but it lacked fine detail and branches. She had long since decided to cut allher classes. She left her room for the first time since sunrise and startedriding the 'vators toward the shopping mall. She felt great.
    "Doin' some paintin'?" asked a doe-eyed woman in leg warmers. Plastered withpaint, Sarah nodded, beaming. "Doin' your room?"
    "Yep."
    "Yeah. So did we. We did ours all really high-tech. Lots of glow-colors. Howbout you? Lotsa green?"
    "Of course," said Sarah, "I'm making it look like the outside. So I don'tforget."
    At the Sears in the Mall she got matte black paint and smaller brushes. Shereturned to her room, passing the Cafeteria, where thousands stood in line forsomething that smelled of onions and salt and hot fat, Sarah had not eaten intwenty-four hours and felt great-- it was a day to fast. Back in her room shecleared away a Times page announcing a coup in Africa and sat on her bed tocontemplate her forest. Infinitely better than the old wall, yet still justa rude beginning-- every patch of color could be subdivided into a hundredshades and crisscrossed with black branches to hold it all up. She knew she'dnever finish it, but that was fine. That was the idea.
    Casimir immediately went into action. He had already daydreamed up thisplan, and to organize the first stages of Project Spike did not take long.Since Sharon had sunk completely into a coma, Casimir had taken over the oldprofessor's lab in the Burrows, spending so much time there that he stored asleeping bag in the closet so he could stay overnight.
    This evening-- Day Three-- he had found six rats crowded into his box trapnear the Cafeteria. Judging from the quantity of poison scattered aroundthis area, they were of a highly resistant strain. In the lab, he donnedheavy gloves, opened the trap, forced himself to grab a rat, pulled it outand slammed shut the lid. This was a physics. not a biology, lab and so hismethods were crude. He pressed the rat against the counter and stunned it witha piece of copper tubing, then held it underwater until dead.
    He laid it on a bare plank and set before him an encyclopedia volume he hadstolen from the Library, opened to a page which showed a diagram of the rat'sanatomy. Weighing it open with a hunk of lead radiation shield, he took outa single-edged razor and went to work on the little beast. In twenty minuteshe had the liver out. In an hour he had six rat livers in a beaker and sixliverless rat corpses in the wastebasket, swathed in plastic. He put thelivers in a mortar and ground them to a pulp, poured in some alcohol, andfiltered the resulting soup until it was clear.
    Next morning he visited the Science Shop, where Virgil Gabrielsen was fixingup a chromatograph that would enable Casimir to find out what chemicals werecontained in the rat liver extract. "We're ready for your mysterious test,"said Virgil. "Hope you don't mind."
    "I love working with mad scientists-- never dull. What's that?" "Mostly grainalcohol. This machine will answer your question, though, if it's fixed."
    A few hours later they had the results: a strip of paper with a line squiggledacross it by the machine. Virgil compared this graph with similar ones from along skinny book.
    "sh*t," said Virgil, showing rare surprise. "I didn't think anything couldlive with this much Thalphene in its guts. Thalphene! These things haveincredible immunities."
    "What is it? I don't know anything about chemistry." "Trade name forthallium phenoxide." Virgil crossed his arms and looked at the ceiling."Dangerous Properties of Industrial Materials, my favorite bedtime reading,says this about thallium compounds. I abbreviate. 'Used in rat poison anddepilatories ... results in swelling of feet and legs, arthralgia, vomiting.insomnia, hyperaesthesia and paresthesia of hands and feet, mental confusion,polyneuritis with severe pains in legs and loins, partial paralysis anddegeneration of legs, angina, nephritis, wasting, weakness ... complete lossof hair . . ha! Fatal poisoning has been known to occur.'"
    "No kidding!"
    "Under phenols we have.. . 'where death is delayed, damage to kidneys, liver,pancreas, spleen, edema of the lungs, headache, dizziness, weakness, dimnessof vision, loss of consciousness, vomiting, severe abdominal pain, corrosionof lips, mouth, throat, esophagus and stomach'."
    "Okay, I get the idea."
    "And that doesn't account for synergistic effects. These rats eat the stuffall the time."
    "So they go through a lot of rat poison, these rats do."
    "It looks to me," said Virgil, "as though they live on it. But if you don'tmind my prying, why do you care?"
    Casimir was slightly embarrassed, but he knew Virgil's secret, so it was onlyfair to bare his own. "In order for Project Spike to work, they have to beheavy rat-poison eaters. I'm going to collect rat poison off the floors andexpose it to the slow neutron source in Sharon's lab. It's a little chunk ofa beryllium isotope on a piece of plutonium, heavily shielded in paraffin--looks like a garbage can on wheels. Paraffin stops slow neutrons, see. Anyway,when I expose the rat poison to the neutrons, some of the carbon in the poisonwill turn to Carbon- 14. Carbon- 14 is used in dating. of course, so there areplenty of machines around to detect small amounts of it. Anyway, I set thistagged poison out near the Cafeteria. Then I analyze samples of Cafeteria foodfor unusually high levels of Carbon- 14. If I get a high reading. .
    "It means rats in the food."
    "Either rats, or their hair or feces."
    "That's awesome blackmail material, Casimir. I wouldn't have thought it ofyou.
    Casimir looked up at Virgil, shocked and confused. After a few seconds heseemed to understand what Virgil had meant. "Oh, well, I guess that's true.The thing is, I'm not that interested in blackmail. It wouldn't get meanything. I just want to do this, and publicize the results. The main thing isthe challenge."
    A rare full grin was on Virgil's face. "Damn good, Casimir, That's marvelous.Nice work." He thought it over, taken with the idea. "You'll have the biggestgun in the Plex, you know."
    "That's not what I'm after with this project."
    "Let me know if I can help. Hey, you want to go downstairs to the Denny'sfor lunch? I don't want to eat in the Cafeteria while I'm thinking about thenature of your experiment."
    "I don't want to eat at all, after what I've just been doing," said Casimir."But maybe later on we can dissolve our own livers in ethanol." He put thebeaker of rat potion in a hazardous-waste bin, logged down its contents, andthey departed.
    And lest anyone get the wrong idea, a disclaimer: I did not know about thiswhile it was going on. They told me about it later. The people who haveclaimed I bear some responsibility for what happened later do not know thefacts.
    "What makes you think you can just play a record?" said Ephraim Klein in akeen, irritated voice. "I'm listening to harpsichord music,"
    "Oh," John Wesley Fenrick said innocently. "I didn't hear it. I guess my earsmust have gone bad from all my terrible music, huh?" "Looks that way."
    "But it's okay, I'm not going to play a record."
    "I should hope not."
    "I'm going to play a tape." Fenrick brushed his finger against an invisibleregion on the surface of the System, and lights lit and meters wafted up anddown. The mere sound of Silence, reproduced by this machine, nearly drownedout the harpsichord, a restored 1783 Prussian model with the most exquisitelute stop Klein had ever heard. Fenrick turned on the Go Big Red Fan, whichbegan to chunk away as usual.
    "Look," said Ephraim Klein, "I said I was playing something. You can't justbust in."
    "Well," said John Wesley Fenrick, "I said I can't hear it. If I don't hear anyevidence that you are playing something, there's no reason I should take yourword for it. You obviously have a distorted idea of reality."
    "Prick! Asshole!" But Klein had already pulled out one of his war tapes,the "Toccata and Fugue in D Minor" as performed by Virgil Fox (what Fenrickcalled "horror movie music") and snapped it into his own tape deck. He set thetape rolling and prepared to switch from PHONO to TAPE at the first hint ofoffensive action from Fenrick.
    It was not long in coming. Fenrick had been sinking into a Heavy Metalretrospective recently, and entered the competition with Back in Black byAC/DC. Klein watched Fenrick's hands carefully and was barely able to squeezeout a lead, the organist hitting the high mordant at the opening of the piecebefore the ensuing fancy notes were stomped into the sonic dust by Back inBlack.
    From there the battle raged typically. A hundred feet down the hall, I stuckmy head out the door to have a look. Angel, the enormous Cuban who livedon our floor, had been standing out in the hallway for about half an hourfuriously pounding on the wall with his boxing gloves, laboriously lengtheninga crack he had started in the first week of the semester. When I looked, hewas just in the act of hurling open the door to Klein and Fenrick's room;dense, choking clouds of music whirled down the corridor at Mach 1 and struckme full in the face.
    I started running. By the time I had arrived, Angel had wrapped Fenrick'slong extension cord around the doorknob, held it with his boxing gloves, puthis foot against the door, and pulled it apart with a thick blue spark anda shower of fire. The extension cord shorted out and smoked briefly untilcircuit breakers shut down all public-area power to the wing.
    AC/DC went dead, clearing the air for the climax of the fugue. Angel walkedpast the petrified Ephraim Klein and pawed at the tape deck, trying to getat the tape. Frustrated by the boxing gloves, he turned and readied a mightykick into the cone of a sub-woofer, when finally I arrived and tackled himonto a bed. Angel relaxed and sat up, occasionally pounding his bright-redcinderblock-scarred gloves together with meaty thwats, sweating like the boxerhe was, glowering at the Go Big Red Fan.
    The fugue ended and Ephraim shut off the tape. I went over and closed thedoor. "Okay, guys, time for a little talk. Everyone want to have a littletalk?"
    John Wesley Fenrick looked out the window, already bored, and nodded almostimperceptibly. Ephraim Klein jumped to his feet and yelled, "Sure, sure,anytime! I'm happy to be reasonable!" Angel, who was unlacing his right boxingglove with his teeth, mumbled, "I been talking to them for two months and theydon't do sh*t about it."
    "Hmm," I said, "I guess that tells the story, doesn't it? If you two refuseto be reasonable, Angel doesn't have to be reasonable either. Now it seems tome you need a set of rules that you can refer to when you're arguing aboutstereo rights. For instance, if one guy goes to pee, the other can't seize airrights. You can't touch each other's property, and so on. Ephraim, give meyour typewriter and we'll get this down."
    So we made the Rules and I taped them to the wall, straddling the boundaryline of the room. "Does that mean I only have to follow the Rules on my halfof the page," asked Fenrick, so I took it down and made a new Rule saying thatthese were merely typed representations of abstract Rules that were applicableno matter where the typed representations were displayed. Then I had the twosign the Rules, and hinted again that I just didn't know what Angel might doif they made any more noise. Then Angel and I went down to my place and hadsome beers. Law, and the hope of silence and order, had been established onour wing.

    --November--
    Fred Fine was trying to decide whether to lob his last tactical nuke intoNovosibirsk or Tomsk when a frantic plebe bounced up and interrupted thesimulation with a Priority Five message. Of course it was Priority Five; howelse could a plebe have dared interrupt Fred Fine's march to the Ob'? "Fred,sir," he gasped. "Come quick, you won't believe it." "What's the situation?"
    "That new guy. He's about to win World War II!"
    "He is? But I thought he was playing the Axis!"
    Fred Fine brushed past the plebe and strode into the next room. In its center,two Ping-Pong tables had been pushed together to make room for the eight-pieceWorld War II map. On one side stood the tall, aquiline Virgil Gabrielsen--the "new guy"-- and on the other, Chip Dixon shifted from foot to foot andsnapped his fingers incessantly, Because this was the first wargame Virgil hadever played, he was still only a Private, and held Plebe status. Chip Dixon, aColonel, had been gaming for six years and was playing the Allies, for God'ssake! Usually the only thing at question in this game was how many Allieddivisions the Axis could consume before Berlin inevitably fell.
    At the end of the map, where the lines of longitude theoretically convergedto make the North Pole, Consuela Gorm, Referee, sat on a loveseat atop asturdy table. On the small stand before her she riffled occasionally throughthe inch-thick rule book, punched away at her personal computer, made notes onscratch paper and peered down at Europe with a tiny pair of opera glasses.Surrounding the tables were twenty other garners who had come to observe thecarnage shortly after Virgil had V-2'd Birmingham into gravel. Many stood onchairs, using field glasses of their own, and one geek was tottering aroundthe area on a pair of stilts, loudly and repeatedly joking that he was a Nazispy satellite. The attention of all was focused on tens of thousands of littlecardboard squares meticulously stacked on the hexagonally patterned playingfield. The game had been on for nine and a half hours and Chip Dixon wasobviously losing it fast, popping Cheetos into his mouth faster than he couldgrind them into paste with his hyperactive yellow molars, often gulping DietPepsi and hiccuping. Virgil was calm, surveying the board through half-closedeyes, hands behind back, lips slightly parted, wandering around in a worldinside his head, oblivious to the surrounding nerds. A hell of a warrior,thought Fred Fine, and this only his first game!
    "Here comes the Commander," shouted the guy on stilts as he rounded theJapanese-occupied Aleutians, and the observers' circle parted so Fred Finecould enter. Chip Dixon blushed vividly and looked away, moving his lips as hecursed to himself. "Very interesting," said Fred Fine.
    Great stacks of red cardboard squares surrounded Stalin-grad and Moscow, whichwere protected only by pitiable little heaps of green squares. In Normandy anenormous Nazi tank force was hurling the D-Day invasion back into the Channelso forcefully that Fred Fine could almost hear the howl of the Werfers andsee the bodies fall screaming into the scarlet brine. In Holland, a Naziamphibious force made ready to assault Britain. In front of Virgil, lined upon the edge of the table as trophies, sat the four Iowa-class battleships, theHornet, and other major ships of the American navy.
    Chip Dixon was increasingly manic, his blood pressure Pumped to the hemhorragepoint by massive overdoses of salt and Diet Pepsi, his thirst insatiablebecause of the nearly empty Jumbo Paic of Cheetos. Sweat dripped from his browand fell like acid rain on Scandinavia. He bent over and tried to move a stackof recently mobilized Russians toward Moscow, but as he shoved one point ofhis tweezers under the stack he hiccupped violently and ended up scatteringthem all over the Ukraine. "sh*t!" he screamed, dashing a Cheeto to the floor."I'm sorry, Consuela, I forget which hex it was on."
    Consuela did not react for several seconds, and the reflection of the rulebook in her glasses gave her an ominous, inscrutable look. Everyone was stilland apprehensive. "Okay," she said in soft, level tones, "that unit got lostin the woods and can't find its way out for another turn."
    "Wait!" yelled Chip Dixon. "That's not in the Rules!" "It's okay," said Virgilpatiently. "That stack contained units A2567, A2668, A4002, and 126789, andwas on hex number 1,254.908. However, unit A2567 clashed with Axis A1009 lastturn, so has only half movement this turn-- three hexes."
    Cowed, Chip Dixon breathed deeply (Fred Fine's suggestion) and reassembledthe stack. Unit A2567 was left far behind to deal with a unit of about twentyKing Tiger Tanks which was blasting unopposed up the Dniepr. Chip Dixon thenstraightened up and thought for about five minutes, ruffling through his notesfor a misplaced page. Consuela made a gradated series of noises intended toconvey rising impatience. "Listen, Chip, you're already way over the timelimit. Done?"
    "Yeah, I guess."
    "Any engagements?"
    "No, not this turn. But wait 'til you see what's coming." Okay, Virgil, yourturn."
    Virgil reached out with a long probe and quickly shoved stacks of cardboardfrom place to place; from time to time a move would generate a gasp from thecrowd. He then ticked off a list of engagements, giving Consuela data on whateach stack contained, what its combat strength was, when it had last foughtand so forth. When it was over, an hour later, there was long applause fromthe membership of MARS. Chip Dixon had sunk to the floor to sulk over a tepidCola.
    "Incredible," someone yelled, "you conquered Stalingrad and Moscow anddefeated D-Day and landed in Scotland and Argentina all at the same time!"
    At this point Chip Dixon, who had refused to concede, stood up and blew mostof the little cardboard squares away in a blizzard of military might. FredFine was angry but controlled. "Chip, ten demerits for that. I ought to bustyou down to Second Looie for that display. Just for that, you get to put thegame away. And organize it right." Chastened, Chip and two of his admirersset about sorting all of the pieces of cardboard and fitting them into theappropriate recesses in the injection-molded World War II carrying case. FredFine turned his attention to Virgil.
    "A tremendous victory." He drew his fencing foil and tapped Virgil once oneach shoulder as Virgil looked on skeptically. "I name you a Colonel in MARS.It's quite a jump, but a battlefield commission is obviously in order."
    "Oh, not really," said Virgil, bored. "It's more a matter of a good memorythan anything else."
    "You're modest. I like that in a man."
    "No, just accurate. I like that."
    Fred Fine now drew Virgil aside, away from the dozen or so wargame aficionadoswho were still gaping at one another and pounding their heads dramaticallyon the walls. The massively corpulent Consuela was helped down from hereleven-hour perch by several straining MARS officials, and began to rolltoward them like a globule of quicksilver.
    "Virgil," said Fred Fine quietly, "you're obviously a special kind of man.We need men like you for our advanced games. These board games are actuallysomewhat repetitive, as you pointed out. Want a little more excitement nexttime?"
    Virgil drew away. "What do you have in mind?"
    "You've heard of Dungeons and Dragons?" A gleam came to Fred Fine's eye, andhe glanced conspiratorially at Consuela. "Sure. Someone designs a hypotheticaldungeon on graph paper, puts different monsters and treasure in the rooms, andeach player has a character which he sends through it, trying to take as muchtreasure as possible. Right?"
    "Oh, only in its crudest, simplest forms, Virgil," said Consuela. "This oneand his friends prefer a more active version." "Sewers and Serpents," saidConsuela, nodding happily. "The idea is the same as D & D, but we use a realplace, and real costumes, and act it all out. Much more realistic. You see,beneath the Plex is a network of sewer tunnels."
    "Yeah, I know," said Virgil. "I've got the blueprints for this placememorized, remember."
    Fred Fine was taken aback. "How?"
    "Computer drew them for me."
    "Well, we'd have to give you a character who had some good reason for knowinghis way around the tunnels."
    "Like maybe, uh," said Consuela, eyes rolled up, "maybe he happened to seea duel between some hero who had just come out of the Dungeon of Plexor"--"That's what we call the tunnels," said Fred Fine.
    -- "and some powerful nonsentient beast such as a gronth, and the gronthkilled the hero, and then Virgil's character came and found a map on his bodyand memorized it."
    "Or we could make him a computer expert in TechnoPlexor who got a peek atthe plans the same way Virgil did "Excuse me a sec, but what do you do formonsters?" asked Virgil.
    "Well we don t have real ones. We just have to pretend and use the officialS & S rules, developed by MARS through a constitutional process over severalyears. We maintain two-way radio contact with our referee, Consuela, whostays in the Plex and runs the adventure through a computer program we'vegot worked out. The computer also performs statistical combat simulation."
    "So you slog around in the sh*t, and the computer says you're being attackedby monsters, and she reads it off the CRT and says that according to thecomputer you've lost a finger, or the monster's dead, that sort of thing?"
    "Well, it's more exciting than you make it sound, and the Dungeon Mistressmakes it better by amplifying the description generated by the computer. Irecommend you try it. We've got an outing in a couple of weeks."
    "I don't know, Fred, it's not my cup of tea. I'll think about it, but don'tcount on my coming."
    "That's fine. Consuela just needs to know a few hours ahead of time so she canhave SHEKONDAR-- the computer program-- prepare a character for you."
    Virgil assented to everything, nodded a lot, said he'd be getting back to themand hurried out, shaking his head in amazed disgust. Unlikely as it seemed,this place could still surprise him.
    My involvement with Student Government was due to my beingfaculty-in-residence. I served as a kind of minister without portfolio,investigating whatever topic interested me at the moment, talking to students,faculty and administrators, and contributing to governmental discussions thepoint of view of an older, supposedly wiser observer. As I had no idea whatwas going on at the Big U until much later, my contributions can't have donemuch good. I did visit the Castle in the Air on several occasions, anyway, andwhenever I did I was presented with a visual display in three stages.
    The first was a prominent mural on the wall of the Study Lounge, clearlyvisible through the windows from the elevator lobby. Even if I had beenvisiting one of E12's other wings, therefore, I couldn't have failed tonotice that E12S was a wing among wings. Here, as described, the Castle waspainted in yellow-- not a typical color for castles, but much nicer thanrealistic gray or brown. The Castle, stolen directly from a book of Disneyillustrations, floated on a cloud that looked like a stomped marshmallow,not a thunderhead, Seemingly too meager to support its load. Below, moreDisney characters frolicked on an undulating green lawn, a combined golfcourse/cartoon character refuge with no sand traps, one water hazard and novisible greens. The book of illustrations was not large, and each characterwas shown in only one or two poses which had to be copied over and over againin populating this great lawn. Monotony had rendered the painters somewhatdesperate-- what was that penguin doing there? And why had they included thatevil gray wolf, wagging his red tongue at the stiff cloned Bambis from behinda spherical shrub? But most agreed that the mural was nice-- indeed, so nicethat "nice" was no longer adequate by itself; in describing it, Airheads hadto amplify the word by saying it many, many times and making large gestureswith their hands.
    The second stage of the presentation was the entryways -- two identicalportals, one at the beginning of each of the wing's two hallways. Here, atthe fire doors by the Study Lounge, the halls had been framed in thick woodenbeams-- actually papier-mÂchÉd boxes-- decorated with plastic flowers andwelcoming messages. The fire doors themselves had been covered with paperand painted so that, when they were closed, I could see what looked like astairway of light yellow stone rising up from the floor and continuing skywarduntil further view was blocked by the beam along the ceiling.
    Going through these doors, and therefore up the symbolic stair, I found myselfin a light yellow corridor gridded with thin wavy black lines supposed torepresent joints between the great yellow building-stones of which the Castlewas constructed. These were closely spaced in the first part of the hallway,but the crew had found this work tedious and decided that in the back sectionsmuch larger stones were used to build the walls. Here and there, torches, fakepaintings, suits of armor and the like were painted on the walls.
    Each individual room, then, was the province of the occupants, who could turnit into any fantasy-land they wanted. One or two of them painted murals onpaper and pasted them to their doors. These murals purported to be windowslooking down on the scene below, an artistic challenge too great for most ofthem.
    On each visit to Sarah, then, I was introduced to the Castle in the Air inthe manner of a TV viewer. The elevator doors would fade out and there satthe Castle on its cloud, viewed through a screen of glass. The view wouldthen switch to a traveling shot of the stairway leading up to the castle--evidently a long one. Through the magic of video editing, the stair wouldflatten, part and swing away, and I would be instantly jump-cut to the hallsof the Castle proper, where to confirm that it had all happened I could pauseat windows here and there and look down at the featureless plains from which Ihad just ascended.
    So much for the opening credits; what about the plot? The plot consistedalmost entirely of parties and tame sexual intrigue with the Terrorists.The Airheads were not disturbed by the fact that their home was not much ofa castle -- the Terrorists or anyone else could invade at any time-- andthat far from being up in the air, it was squashed beneath nineteen otherTerrorist-infested floors. The Airheads got along by pretending that any manwho showed up on their floor was a white knight on beck and call. Certain evilinfluences, though, could not be kept out by any amount of painting, and amongthese was the fire alarm system.
    Early in the morning of November the Fifth, Mari Meegan was ejected from herchamber by three City firefighters investigating a full-tower fire alarm.Versions differed as to whether the firefighters had used physical force, butto the lawyers subsequently hired by Mari's father it did not matter; theissue was the mental violence inflicted on Mari, who was forced to totterdown the stairway and join the sleepy throng below with only patches ofbright blue masque painted on her face.
    This situation had not previously arisen because it usually took at leasthalf an hour between the ringing of the alarm and the arrival of the firemenon their tour through the tower. Thirty minutes was time enough for Mari toapply a quickie makeup job which would prevent her from looking "disgusting"even during full moons outside, and, as the lawyers took pains to documentand photograph, her emergency thirty-minute face kit was set up and ready togo on a corner of her dresser. Next to it was the masque container, which wasfor "super emergencies"; given a severely limited time to prepare, she couldtear this open and paint a blue oval over her face that would serve partly todisguise and partly to show those who recognized her that she cared about herappearance. But on this particular morning, certain Terrorists from above haddemonstrated their mechanical aptitude by disabling the E12S alarm bell witha pair of bolt cutters. The more distant ringing of the E12E bell had notoverborne the soft nocturnal beat of Mari's stereo, and by the time she hadrealized what was happening, and energized the evening light simulation tubeson her makeup center, the sirens were already wafting up from the Death Vortexbelow.
    The Fire Marshall was not amused. After a week's worth of rumors thatportrayed the Fire Marshall as a Nazi and a pervert, it was decreed thathenceforth during fire drills the RAs would go door-to-door with their masterkeys and make sure everyone left their rooms immediately. This grim rulinginspired a wing meeting at which Hyacinth wearily suggested they all purchaseski masks, since it was getting cold outside anyway, and wear them down to thestreet during fire drills. "Stay together and you will be totally anonymous,by which I mean no one will know who you are, or what you look like at threein the morning." The Airheads appointed Teri, a Fashion Merchandising major topick out ski masks with a suitable color scheme.
    In private Hyacinth came up with an acronym for them: SWAMPers. This meantthat as a bare minimum they found it necessary to Shave Wash Anoint Make upand Perfume all parts of their body at least once a day. Their insistenceon doing this often made Sarah wonder about her own appearance-- her useof cosmetics was minimal-- but Hyacinth and I and everyone else assuredher she looked fine. When preparing for the long nasty Student Governmentbudget meeting in early November Sarah looked briefly through her shoebox ofmiscellaneous cosmetics then shoved it under the bed again. She had greaterthings to worry about.
    As for clothes, it came down to a choice between her most businesslike outfit,a grey wool skirt suit, and a somewhat brighter dress. She picked the suit,though she knew it would lay her open to accusations of fascism from theStalinist Underground Battalion (SUB), wound her hair into a bun, and steeledherself for madness.
    The SUB got there an hour before anyone else and had their banners plantedand their rabid handouts sown before the Government even showed up. We metin the only room we could find that was reasonably private. Behind us camethe TV crews, and then the reporters from the Monoplex Monitor and thePeople's Truth Publication, who sat in the first row, right in front of theStalinists. Finally Lecture Auditorium 3 filled up with supplicants fromvarious organizations, all deeply shocked and dismayed at how little fundingthey were receiving, all bearing proposed amendments.
    First we slogged through the parliamentary trivia, including a bit of"new business" in which the SUB introduced a resolution to condemn theadministration for massive human rights violations and to call for itsabolition. Then we came to the real purpose of the meeting: amendments to theproposed budget. A line formed behind the microphone on the stage, and at itshead was a SUB member. "I move." he said, "that we pass no budget at all,because the budget has to be approved by the administration, and so we haven'tgot any control over our own activity money." On cue, behind the press corps,eight SUBbies rose to their feet bearing a long banner: TAKE BACK CONTROLOF STUDENT ACTIVITIES CAPITAL FROM THE KRUPP JUNTA. "The money's ours, themoney's ours, the money's ours . ."
    We had expected all this and Sarah was undisturbed. She sat back from hermicrophone and took a sip of water. letting the media record the event forthe ages. Once that was done she gaveled a few times and talked them backinto their seats. She was about to start talking again when the last standingSUBbie shouted, "Student Government is a tool of the Krupp cadre!"
    Behind him, most of the audience shouted things like "eat rocks" and "shut up"and "shove it."
    "If you're finished interfering with the democratic process," Sarah said,"this tool would like to get on with the budget. We have a lot to do andeveryone needs to be very, very brief." Student Government was made up of theStudent Senate, which represented each of the 200 residential wings of thePlex, and the Activities Council, comprising representatives from each. of thefunded student organizations, numbering about 150. The distribution of fundsamong the Activities Council members was decided on by a joint session, whichwas our goal for the evening.
    The Student Senate was crammed with SUBbies and members of an outlaw Mormonsplinter group called the Temple of Unlimited Godhead (TUG). Each of thesegroups claimed to represent all the students. As Sarah explained, no one inhis right mind was interested in running for Student Senate, explaining why itwas filled with fanatics and political science majors. Fortunately, SUB andTUG canceled each other out almost perfectly.
    "I'm tired of having all aspects of my life ruled by this administration thatdoesn't give a sh*t for human rights, and I think it's time to do somethingabout it," said the first speaker. There was a little applause from the frontand lots of jeering. A hum filled the air as the TUG began to OMMMMat middleC-- a sort of sonic tonic which was said to clear the air of foul influencesand encourage spiritual peace; overhead, a solitary bat, attracted by thehum, swooped down from a perch in the ceiling and flitted around, occasioningshrieks and violent motion from the people it buzzed. "At this university wedon't have free speech, we don't have academic freedom, we don't even havepower over our own money!"
    At the insistence of the audience, Sarah broke in after a few minutes. "Ifyou've got any specific human rights violations you're concerned about, thereare some international organizations you can go to, but there's not much theStudent Senate can do. So I suggest you go live somewhere else and let someoneelse propose an amendment."
    Shocked and devastated, the speaker gaped at Sarah as the TV lights slammedinto action. He held the stare for several seconds to allow the cameraoperators to focus and adjust light level, then surveyed the cheering andOMming crowd, face filled with bewilderment and shock.
    "I don't believe this," he said, staring into the lenses. "Who says we havefreedom of speech? My God, I've come up here to express a free opinion, andjust because I am opposed to fascism, the President of the Student Governmenttries to throw me out of the Plex! My home! That's right, if these differentpeople don't like being oppressed, just throw them out of their homes intothe dangerous city! I didn't think this kind of savagery was supposed toexist in a university." He shook his head in noble sadness, surveyed thederisive crowd defiantly, and marched away from the mike to grateful applause.Below, he answered questions from the media while the next student came to themicrophone.
    He looked like a male cheerleader for a parochial school football team, beinghandsome, well groomed, and slightly pimpled. As he took possession of themike the OM stopped. He kept his eye on a middle-aged fellow standing in theaisle not far away, who in turn watched the SUBbie's press conference in frontof the stage. Finally the older gentleman held up three fingers. The TUGgieshoved his fist between his arm and body and spoke loudly and sharply into themike.
    "I'd like to announce that I have caught a bat here in my hand, and nowI'm going to bite the head off it right here as a sacrifice to the God ofCommunism."
    Below, the SUBbie found himself in absolute darkness, and tripped over a powercord. Simultaneously the TUGgie squinted as all lights were swung around tobear on him. He smiled and began to talk in a calm chantlike voice. "Well,well, well. I've got a confession. I'm not really going to bite the head offa bat, because I don't even have one, and I'm not a Communist." There was nowa patter of what sounded like canned TV laughter from the TUG section. "Ijust did that as a little demonstration, to show you folks how easy it is toget the attention of the media. We can come and talk about serious issues anddo real things, but what gets TV coverage are violent eye-catching events, athing which the Communists who wish to destroy our society understand verywell. But I'm not here to give a speech, I'm here to propose an amendment. .." Here he was dive-bombed by the bat, who veered away at the last moment;the speaker jumped back in horror, to the amusem*nt of almost everyone. TheTUGgies laughed too, showing that, yes, they did have a sense of humor nomatter what people said. The speaker struggled to regain his composure.
    "The speech! Resume the speech! The amendment!" shouted the older man.
    "My budget proposal is that we take away all funding for the StalinistUnderground Battalion and distribute it among the other activities groups."
    The lecture hall exploded in outraged chanting, uproarious applause, and OM.Sarah sat for about fifteen seconds with her chin in her hand, then begansmashing the gavel again. I was seated off to the side of the stage, poised toact as the strong-but-lovable authority figure, but did not have to stand up;eventually things quieted down.
    "Is there a second to the motion?" she asked wearily. The crowd screamed YESand NO.
    The speaker yielded to another TUGgie, who stood rigidly with a stack of3- x -5 cards and began to drone through them. "At one time the leftistorganizations of American Megaversity could claim that they represented someof the students. But the diverse organizations of the Left soon found thatthey all had one member who was very strident and domineering and who wouldpush the others around until he or she had risen to a position of authoritywithin the organization. These all turned out to be secretly members of theStalinist Underground Battalion who had worked themselves in organizations inorder to merge the Left into a single bloc with no diversity or freedom ofthought. The SUB took over a women's issues newsletter and turned it into thePeople's Truth Publication, a highly libelous so-called newspaper. In the sameway"
    He was eventually cut off by Sarah. SUB spokespersons stated their viewspassionately, then another TUGgie. Finally a skinny man in dark spectaclescame to the mike, a man whom Sarah recognized but couldn't quite place. Heidentified himself as Casimir Radon and said he was president of the physicsclub Neutrino. He quieted the crowd down a bit, as his was the first speech ofthe evening that was not entirely predictable.
    "I'd like to point out that you've only given us four hundred dollars," hesaid. "We need more. I've done some analysis of the way our activity moneyis budgeted, which I will just run through very quickly here-- " he fumbledthrough papers as a disappointed murmur rose from the audience. How longwas this nerd going to take? The cameramen put new film and tape in theirequipment as lines formed outside by the restrooms.
    "Here we go. I won't get too involved in the numerical details-- it's alljust arithmetic-- but if you look at the current budget, you see that a smallgroup of people is receiving a hugely disproportionate share of the money. Ineffect, the average funding per member of the Stalinist Underground Battalionis $114.00, while the figure for everyone else averages out to about $46.00,and only $33.00 for Neutrino. That's especially unfair because Neutrino needsto purchase things like books and equipment, while the expenses of a politicalorganization are much lower. I don't think that's fair."
    The SUB howled at this preposterous reasoning but everyone else listenedrespectfully.
    "So I move we cut SUB funding to the bare minimum, say, twenty bucks percapita, and give Neutrino its full request for a scientific research project,$1500.00."
    The rest of the evening, anyway, was bonkers, and I'll not go into detail.It was insignificant anyway, since the administration had the final say; theStudent Government would have to keep passing budgets until they passed onethat S. S. Krupp would sign, and the only question was how long it wouldtake them to knuckle under. Time was against the SUB. As the members of thegovernment got more bored, they became more interested in passing a budgetthat would go through the first time around. Eventually it became obviousthat the SUB had lost out, and the only thing wanting was the final vote.The highlight of the evening came just before that vote: the speech of YllasFreedperson.
    Yllas, the very substantial and brilliant leader of the SUB, was a heavyblack woman in her early thirties, in her fifth year of study at the ModernPolitical Art Workshop. She had a knack for turning out woodblock printsportraying anguished faces, burning tenements, and thick tortured handsreaching for the sky. Even her pottery was inspired by the work of wretchedCentral American peasants. She was also editor and illustrator of the People'sTruth Publication, but her real talent was for public speaking, where she hadthe power of a gospel preacher and the fire of a revolutionary. She waiteddignified for the TV lights, then launched into a speech that lasted at leasta quarter of an hour. At just the right times she moaned, she chanted, shesang, she reasoned, she whispered, she bellowed, she just plain spoke in afluid and hypnotically rhythmic voice. She talked about S. S. Krupp and theevil of the System, how the System turned good into bad, how this societywas just like the one that caused the Holocaust, which was no excuse forIsrael, about conservatism in Washington and how our environment, economicsecurity, personal freedom, and safety from nuclear war were all threatenedby the greedy action of cutting the SUB's budget. Finally out came the namesof Martin Luther King, Jr., Marx, Gandhi, Che, Jesus Christ, Ronald Reagan,Hitler, S. S. Krupp, the KKK, Bob Avakian, Elijah Mohammed and AbrahamLincoln. Through it all, the bat was active, dipping and diving crazilythrough the auditorium, divebombing toward walls or lights or people butveering away at the last moment, flitting through the dense network of beamsand cables and catwalks and light fixtures and hanging speakers and exposedpipes above us at great smooth speed, tracing a marvelously complicated paththat never brushed against any solid object. All of it was absorbing andbreathtaking, and when Yllas Freedperson was finished and the bat, perhaps nolonger attracted by her voice. slipped up and disappeared into a corner, therewas a long silence before the applause broke out.
    "Thank you, Yllas," said Sarah respectfully. "Is there any particular motionyou wanted to make or did you just want to inject your comments?"
    "I move," shouted Yllas Freedperson, "that we put the budget the way it was."
    The vote was close. The SUB lost. Recounting was no help. They took thedignified approach, forming into a sad line behind Yllas and singing "We ShallOvercome" in slow tones as they marched out. Above their heads they carriedtheir big black-on-red posters of S. S. Krupp with a target drawn over hisface, and they marched so slowly that it took two repetitions of the songbefore they made it out into the hallway to distribute leaflets and posters.
    Sarah, three members of her cabinet and I gathered later in my suite for wine.After the frenzy of the meeting we were torpid, and hardly said anything forthe first fifteen minutes or so. Then, as it commonly did those days, theconversation came around to the Terrorists.
    "What's the story on those Terrorist guys?" asked Willy, a business major whoacted as Treasurer. "Are they genuine Terrorists?"
    "Not on my floor," said Sarah, "since they subjugated us. We're living in...the Pax Thirteenica."
    "I've heard a number of stories," I said. Everyone looked at me and Ishifted into my professor mode and lit my pipe. "Their major activity isthe toll booth concept. They station Terrorists in the E13 elevator lobbywho continually push the up and down buttons so that every passing elevatorstops and opens automatically. If it doesn't contain any non-students ordangerous-looking people, they hold the door open until everyone gives thema quarter. They have also claimed a section of the Cafeteria, and there havebeen fights over it. But nothing I'd call true terrorism."
    "How about gang rape?" asked Hillary, the Secretary, quietly. Everything gotquiet and we looked at her.
    "It's just a rumor," she said. "Don't get me wrong. It hasn't happened tome. The word is that a few of the hardcore Terrorists do it, kind of as aninitiation. They go to big parties, or throw their own. You know how at a bigparty there are always a few women-- typical freshmen-- who get very drunk.Some nice-looking Terrorist approaches the woman-- I hear that they're verygood at identifying likely candidates-- and gets into her confidence andinvites her to another party. When they get to the other party, she turnsout to be the only woman there, and you can imagine the rest. But the reallyterrible thing is that they go through her things and find out where shelives and who she is, then keep coming back whenever they feel like it. Theyhave these women so scared and broken that they don't resist. Supposedly theTerrorists have kind of an invisible harem, a few terrified women all over thePlex, too dumb or scared to say anything."
    I was sitting there with my eyes closed, like everyone else a little queasy."I've heard of the same thing elsewhere," I said. "I wonder if it's happenedto any Airheads," murmured Sarah. "God, I'll bet it has. I wonder if any ofthem know about it. I wonder if they even understand what is being done tothem-- some of them probably don't even understand they have a right to beangry."
    "How could anyone not understand rape?" said Hillary.
    "You don't know how mixed up these women are. You don't know what they didto me, without even understanding why I didn't like it. You can't imaginethose people-- they have no place to stand, no ideas of their own-- if oneis raped, and not one of her friends understands, where is she? She's cutloose, the Terrorists can tell her anything and make her into whatever theywant. sh*t, where are those animals going to stop? We're having a bigcostume party with them in December."
    "There's a party to avoid," said Hillary.
    "It's called Fantasy Island Nite. They've been planning it for months. But bythe time the semester is over, those guys will be running wild."
    "They've been running wild for a long time, it sounds like," said Willy."You'd better get used to that, you know? I think you're living in the law ofthe jungle." That sounded a trifle melodramatic, but none of us could find away to disagree.
    Sarah and Casimir met in the Megapub, a vast pale airship hangar litteredwith uncertain plastic tables and chairs made of steel rods bent aroundinto uncomfortable chairlike shapes that stabbed their occupants beneaththe shoulder blades. At one end was a long bar, at the other a serving bayconnected into the central kitchen complex. Casimir declined to eat Megapubfood and lunched on a peanut butter-and-jelly sandwich made from overpricedmaterials bought at the convenience store and a plastic cup of excessivelycarbonated beer. Sarah used the salad bar. They removed several trays from awindow table and stacked them atop a nearby wastebasket, then sat down.
    "Thanks for coming on short notice," said Sarah. "I need all the help I canget in selling this budget to Krupp, and your statistics might impress him."
    Casimir, chewing vigorously on a big bite of generic white bread and genericchunkless peanut butter, drew a few computer-printed graphs from his backpack."These are called Lorentz curves," he mumbled, "and they show equality ofdistribution. Perfect equality is this line here, at a forty-five degreeangle. Anything less than equal comes out as a curve beneath the equalityline. This is what we had with the old budget." He displayed a graph showinga deeply sagging curve, with the equality line above it for comparison. Thegraph had been produced by a computer terminal which had printed letters atvarious spots on the page, demonstrating in crude dotted-line fashion thecurves and lines. "Now, here's the same analysis on our new budget." The newgraph had a curve that nearly followed the equality line. "Each graph has acoefficient called the Gini coefficient, the ratio of the area between theline and curve to the area under the line. For perfect equality the Ginicoefficient is zero. For the old budget it was very bad, about point eight,and for the new budget it is more like point two, which is pretty good."
    Sarah listened politely. "You have a computer program that does this?"
    "Yeah. Well, I do now, anyway. I just wrote it up."
    "It's working okay?"
    Casimir peered at her oddly, then at the graphs, then back at her. "I thinkso. Why?"
    "Well, look at these letters in the curves." She pulled one of thegraphs over and traced out the letters indicating the Lorentz curve:fellati*BUGGERYNECROPHILIAcunniling*sANALINGUSbestial*ty....
    "Oh," Casimir said quietly. The other curve read:c*ntf*cksh*tPISSco*ckASSHOLETITGIVEMEANENEMABEATMELICKMEOWNME.... Casimir'sface waxed red and his tongue was protruding slightly. "I didn't do this.These are supposed to say, 'new budget' and 'old budget.' I didn't writethis into the program. Uh, this is what we call a bug. They happen from timeto time. Oh, Jeez, I'm really sorry." He covered his face with one hand andgrabbed the graphs and crumpled them into his bag.
    "I believe you," she said. "I don't know much about computers, but I knowthere have been problems with this one."
    About halfway through his treatise on Lorentz curves it had occurred toCasimir that he was in the process of putting his foot deeply into his mouth.She was an English major; he had looked her up in the student directory tofind out; what the hell did she care about Gini coefficients? Sarah was stillsmiling, so if she was bored she at least respected him enough not to show.He had told her that he'd just now written this program up, and that was bad,because it looked-- oy! It looked as though he were trying to impress her, asophisticated Humanities type, by writing computer programs on her behalf asthough that were the closest he could come to real communication. And thenobscene Lorentz curves!
    He was saved by her ignorance of computers. The fact was, of course, thatthere was no way a computer error could do that-- if she had ever run acomputer program, she would have concluded that Casimir had done it onpurpose. Suddenly he remembered his conversation with Virgil. The Worm! Itmust have been the Worm. He was about to tell her, to absolve himself, when heremembered it was a secret he was honor bound to protect.
    He had to be honest. Could it be that he had actually written this just toimpress her? Anything printed on a computer looked convincing. If that hadbeen his motive, this served him right. Now was the time to say somethingwitty, but he was no good at all with words-- a fact he didn't doubt wasmore than obvious to her. She probably knew every smart, interestingman in the university, which meant he might as well forget about makingany headway toward looking like anything other than an unkempt, poor,math-and-computer-obsessed nerd whose idea of intelligent conversation was toshow off the morning's computer escapades.
    "You didn't have to go to the trouble of writing a program."
    "Ha! Well, no trouble. Easier to have the machine do it than work it out byhand. Once you get good on the computer, that is." He bit his up and lookedout the window. "Which isn't to say I think I'm some kind of greatprogrammer. I mean, I am, but that's not how I think of myself."
    "You aren't a hacker," she suggested.
    "Yeah! Exactly." Everyone knew the term "hacker," so why hadn't he justsaid it?
    She looked at him carefully. "Didn't we meet somewhere before? I could swearI recognize you from somewhere." He had been hoping that she had forgotten,or that she would not recognize him through his glacier glasses. That firstday, yes, he had read her computer card for her-- a hacker's idea of aperfect introduction!
    "Yeah. Remember Mrs. Santucci? That first day?" She nodded her head with alittle smile; she remembered it all, for better or worse. He watched herintensely, trying to judge her reaction.
    "Yes," she said, "sure. I guess I never properly thanked you for that, so--thank you." She held out her hand. Casimir stared at it, then put out hishand and shook it. He gripped her firmly-- a habit from his business, wherea crushing handshake was a sign of trustworthiness. To her he had probablyfelt like an orangutan trying to dislocate her shoulder. Besides which, someapple-blackberry jam had dripped out onto the first joint of his right indexfinger some minutes ago, and he had thoughtlessly sucked on it.
    She was awfully nice. That was a dumb word, "nice," but he couldn't come upwith anything better. She was bright, friendly and understanding, and kind tohim, which was good of her considering his starved fanatical appearance andgeneral fabulous ugliness. He hoped that this conversation would soon end andthat they would come out of it with a wonderful relationship. Ha.
    No one said anything; she was just watching him. Obviously she was! It was histurn to say something! How long had he been sitting there staring into thenavy-blue maw of his mini-pie? "What's your major?" they said simultaneously.She laughed immediately, and belatedly he laughed also, though his laugh wassort of a gasp and sob that made him sound as if he were undergoing explosivedecompression. Still, it relaxed him slightly. "Oh," she added, "I'm sorry. Iforgot Neutrino was for physics majors."
    "Don't be sorry." She was sorry?
    "I'm an English major."
    "Oh." Casimir reddened. "I guess you probably noticed that English is not mystrong point."
    "Oh, I disagree. When you were speaking last night, once you got rolling youdid very well. Same goes for today, when you were describing your curves. Alot of the better scientists have an excellent command of language. Clearthought leads to clear speech."
    Casimir's pulse went up to about twice the norm and he felt warmth in thelower regions. He gazed into the depths of his half-drained beer, not knowingwhat to say for fear of being ungrammatical. "I've only been here a few weeks,but I've heard that S. S. Krupp is quite the speaker. Is that so?"
    Sarah smiled and rolled her eyes. At first Casimir had considered her justa typically nice-looking young woman, but at this instant it became obviousthat he had been wrong; in fact she was spellbindingly lovely. He tried not tostare, and shoved the last three bites of pie into his mouth. As he chewed hetried to track what she was saying so that he wouldn't lose the thread of theconversation and end up looking like an absent-minded hacker with no abilityto relate to anyone who wasn't destined to become a machine-language expert.
    "He is quite a speaker," she said. "If you're ever on the opposite side of aquestion from S. S. Krupp, you can be sure he'll bring you around sooner orlater. He can give you an excellent reason for everything he does that goesright back to his basic philosophy. It's awesome, I think."
    At last he was done stuffing junk food into his unshaven face. "But when heout-argues you-- is that a word?"
    "Well let it slip by."
    "When he does that, do you really agree, or do you think he's just outclassedyou?"
    "I've thought about that quite a bit. I don't know." She sat back pensively,was stabbed by her chair, and sat back up. "What am I saying? I'm an Englishmajor!" Casimir chuckled, not quite following this. "If he can justify itthrough a fair argument, and no one else can poke any holes in it, I can'tvery well disagree, can I? I mean, you have to have some kind of anchors foryour beliefs, and if you don't trust clear, correct language, how do you knowwhat to believe?"
    'What about intuition?" asked Casimir, surprising himself. "You know thegreat discoveries of physics weren't made through argument. They were made inflashes of intuition, and the explanations and proofs thought up afterward."
    "Okay." She drained her coffee and thought about it. "But those scientistsstill had to come up with verbal proofs to convince themselves that thediscoveries were real."
    So far, Casimir thought, she seemed more interested than peeved, so hecontinued to disagree. "Well, scientists don't need language to tell themwhat's real. Mathematics is the ultimate reality. That's all the anchor weneed."
    "That's interesting, but you can't use math to solve political problems-- it'snot useful in the real world."
    "Neither is language. You have to use intuition. You have to use the rightside of your brain."
    She looked again at the clock. "I have to go now and get ready for Krupp." Nowshe was looking at him-- appraisingly, he thought. She was going to leave! Hedesperately wanted to ask her out. But too many women had burst out laughing,and he couldn't take that. Yet there she sat, propped up on her elbows-- wasshe waiting for him to ask? Impossible.
    "Uh," he said, but at the same time she said, "Let's get together some othertime. Would you like that?"
    "Yeah."
    "Fine!" With a little negotiation, they arranged to meet in the Megapub onFriday night.
    "I can't believe you're free Friday night!" he blurted, and she looked at himoddly. She stood up and held out her hand again. Casimir scrambled up andshook it gently.
    "See you later," she said, and left. Casimir remained standing, watched herall the way across the shiny floor of the Megapub, then telescoped into hisseat and nearly blacked out.
    She did not have to wait long amid the marble-and-mahogany splendor ofSeptimius Severus Krupp's anteroom. She would have been happy to wait therefor days, especially if she could have brought some favorite music and maybeHyacinth, taken off her shoes, lounged on the sofa and stared out the windowover the lush row of healthy plants. The administrative bloc of the Plex wasan anomaly, like a Victorian mansion airlifted from London and dropped wholeinto a niche beneath C Tower. Here was none of the spare geometry of the restof the Plex, none of the anonymous monochromatic walls and bald rectangles andsquares that seemed to drive the occupants bonkers. No plastic showed; thefloors were wooden, the windows opened, the walls were paneled and the honestwood and intricate parquet floors gave the place something of nature's warmthand diversity. In the past month Sarah had seen almost no wood-- even thepencils in the stores here were of blond plastic-- and she stared dumbly atthe paneling everywhere she went, as though the detailed grain was there fora reason and bore careful examination. All of this was an attempt to investAmerican Megaversity with the aged respectability of a real university; butshe felt at home here.
    "President Krupp will see you now," said the wonderful, witty, kind, civilizedold secretary, and the big panel doors swung open and there was S. S. Krupp."Good afternoon, Sarah, I'm sorry you had to wait," he said. "Please come in."
    Three of the walls of Krupp's office were covered up to about nine feethigh with bookshelves, and the fourth was all French windows. Above thebookshelves hung portraits of the founders and past presidents of AmericanMegaversity. The founding fathers stared sullenly at Sarah through the gloomof a century and a half's accumulated tobacco smoke, and as she followed therow of dignitaries around to the other end of the room, their faces shone outbrighter and brighter from the tar and nicotine of antiquity until she got tothe last spaces remaining, where Tony Commodi, Pertinax Rushforth and JulianDidius III gleamed awkwardly in modern Suits and designer eyeglasses.
    The glowing red-orange wooden floor was covered by three Persian rugs,and the ceiling was decorated with three concentric rings of elaborateplasterwork surrounding a great domed skylight. A large, carefully polishedchandelier hung on a heavy chain from the center of the skylight. Sarah knewthat the delicate leaded-glass skylight was protected from above by a squatgeodesic dome covered with heavy steel grids and shatterproof Fiberglasspanels, designed to keep everything out of S. S. Krupp's office except forthe sunlight. Nothing short of a B-52 in a power dive could penetrate thatgrand silence, though a ring of shattered furniture and other shrapnel piledabout the dome outside attested to the efforts of C Tower students to proveotherwise.
    Krupp led her to a long low table under the windows, and they sat in oldleather chairs and spread their papers out in the grey north light. Betweenthem Krupp's ever-ready tape recorder was spinning away silently. Shortly thesecretary came in with a silver tea service, and Krupp poured tea and offeredSarah tiny, cleverly made munchies on white linen napkins embroidered with theAmerican Megaversity coat of arms.
    Krupp was a sturdy man, his handsome cowboy face somewhat paled and softenedby the East. "I understand," he said, "that you had some trouble with thoseplayground communists last night." "Oh, they were the same as ever. No unusualproblems." "Yes." Krupp sounded slightly impatient at her nonstatement. "I waspleased to see you disemboweled their budget."
    "Oh? What if we'd stayed with the old one?"
    "I'd have flushed it." He grinned brightly.
    "What about this budget? Is it acceptable?"
    "Oh, it's not bad. It's got some warts."
    "Well, I want to point out at the beginning that it's easy for you to makeminor adjustments in the budget until the warts are gone. It's much moredifficult for the Student Government to handle. We almost had to call in theriot police to get this through, and any budget you have approved will be muchharder."
    "You're perfectly free to point that out, Sarah, and I don't disagree, doesn'tmake much difference."
    "Well," said Sarah carefully, "the authority is obviously yours. I'm sure youcan take whatever position you want and back it up very eloquently. But I hopeyou'll take into account certain practicalities." Knowing instantly she hadmade a mistake, she popped a munchie into her mouth and stared out the window,waiting.
    Krupp snorted quietly and sipped tea, then sat back in his chair and regardedSarah with dubious amusem*nt. "Sarah, I didn't expect you, of all people, totry that one on me. Why is it that everyone finds eloquence so inauspicious?It's as though anyone who argues clearly can't be trusted-- that's theopposite of what reasonable people ought to think. That attitude is commoneven among faculty here, and I'm just at a loss to understand. I can't talklike a mongoloid pig-sticker on a three-day drunk just so I'll sound like oneof the boys. God knows I can't support any position, only the right position.If it's not right, the words won't make it so. That's the value of clearlanguage."
    This was the problem with Krupp. He assumed that everyone always said exactlywhat they thought. While this was true of him, it was rarely so with others."Okay, sorry," said Sarah. "I agree. I just didn't make my point too well. I'mjust hoping you'll take into account the practical aspects of the problem,such as how everyone's going to react. Some people say this is a blind spot ofyours." This was a moderately daring thing for Sarah to say, but if she triedto mush around politely with Krupp, he would cut her to pieces.
    "Sarah, it's obvious that people's reactions have to be accounted for. That'sjust horse sense. It's just that basic principles are far more importantthan a temporary political squabble in Student Government. To you, all thosemono-maniacs and zombies seem more important than they are, and that's whywe can't give you any financial authority. From my point of view I can see amuch more complete picture of what is and isn't important, and one thing thatisn't is a shouting match in that parody of a democratic institution that wecall a government because we are all so idealistic in the university. What'simportant is principles."
    Suddenly Sarah felt depressed; she sat limply back in her chair. For a whilenothing was said-- Krupp was surprisingly sensitive to her mood.
    "Student Government is just a sham, isn't it?" she asked, surprised by her ownbitterness.
    "What do you mean by that?"
    "It has nothing to do with the real world. We don't make any real decisions.It's just a bunch of imaginary responsibilities to argue about and put down onour rÉsumÉs."
    Krupp thought it over. "It's kind of like a dude ranch. If you lose yourdogies, there's someone there to round them up for you. But on the otherhand, if you stand behind your horse you can still get wet. My Lord, Sarah,everything is real. There's no difference between the 'real' world and thisone. The experience you're gaining is real. But it's true that the importanceascribed to Student Government is mostly imaginary."
    "So what's the point?"
    "The point is that we're here to go over this budget, and when I point outthe warts, you tell me why they aren't warts. If you can justify them, you'llhave a real effect on the budget." Krupp spread the pages of the budget out onthe table, and Sarah saw alarming masses of red ink scrawled across them Shefelt like whipping out Casimir s graphs but she didn't have them with her andcouldn't risk Krupp's seeing what she had seen.
    "Now one item which caught my eye," said Krupp half an hour later, after Sarahhad lost five arguments and won one, "was this money for this little group,Neutrino. I see they're wanting to build themselves a mass driver."
    "Yeah? What's wrong with that?"
    "Well," said Krupp patiently, "I didn't say there's anything wrong-- just holdon, let's not get adverserial yet. You see, we don't often use activitiesfunds to back research projects. Generally these people apply for a grantthrough the usual channels. You see, first estimates of the cost of somethinglike this are often wildly low, especially when made by young fellows whoaren't quite on top of things yet. This thing is certain to come in overbudget, so we'll either end up with a useless, half-completed heap of junkor a Neutrino floundering around in red ink. It seems kind of hasty andill-considered to me, so I'm just recommending that we strike this itemfrom the budget, have the folks who want to do this project do a complete,faculty-supervised study, then try to get themselves a grant."
    Sarah sighed and stared at a small ornament on the teapot's handle, thinkingit over.
    "Don't tell me," said Krupp. "It's my blind spot again, right?" But he soundedhumorous rather than sarcastic.
    "There are several good reasons why you should pass this item. The main factoris the man who is heading the project. I know him, and he's quite experiencedwith this sort of thing in the real world. I know you don't like that term,President Krupp, but it's true. He's brilliant, knows a lot of practicalelectronics-- he had his own business-- and he's deeply committed to thesuccess of this project."
    "That's a good start. But I'm reluctant to see funds given to smallorganizations with these charismatic, highly motivated leaders who havepet projects, because that amounts to just a personal gift to the leader.Broad interest in the funded activity is important."
    "This is not a personal vendetta. The plans were provided for the most partby Professor Sharon. The organization is already putting together some ofthe electronics with their own money."
    "Professor Sharon. What an abominable thing that was." Krupp stared into thelight for a long time. "That was a load of rock salt in the butt. If my damnResidence Life Relations staff wasn't tenured and unionized I'd fire 'em,find the scum who did that and boot 'em onto the Turnpike. However. Weshould resist the temptation to do something we wouldn't otherwise do justbecause a peripherally involved figure has suffered. We all revere ProfessorSharon, but this project would not erase his tragedy."
    "Well, I can only go on my gut feelings," said Sarah, "but I don't think whatyou've said applies. I'm pretty confident about this project."
    Krupp looked impressed. "If that's the case, Sarah, then I should meet thisfellow and give him a fair hearing. Maybe I'll have the same gut reaction asyou do."
    "Should I have him contact you?" This was a reprieve, she thought; but ifCasimir had been so obviously nervous in front of her, what would he do underrhetorical implosion from Krupp? It was only reasonable, though.
    "Fine," said Krupp, and handed her his card.
    Their other differences of opinion were hardly worth arguing over. Halving thefunding for the Basque Eroticism Study Cluster was not going to make politicalwaves. The meeting came to a civil and reasonable end. Krupp showed her out,and she smiled at the old secretary and maneuvered the scarlet carpets of theadministration bloc and dawdled by each painting, finally exiting into a broadshiny electric-blue cinderblock corridor. By the time she made it back to herroom she had adjusted to the Plex again, and taught herself to see and hear aslittle of it as possible.
    Ephraim Klein and some of his friends occasionally gathered in his room tosmoke cheap cigars, if only because they detested them slightly less than JohnWesley Fenrick did. Fenrick set the Go Big Red Fan up in the vent window andblew chill November air across the room, forcing perhaps eighty percent ofthe fumes out the door. A defect of the Rules was that they made no provisionfor exchange of air pollution, unfortunately for Fenrick, who despite histradition of chemically induced states of awareness was fanatically clean.
    Caught in a random eddy blown up by the Fan, a cigar resting in a stolenBurger King tinfoil ashtray fell off one evening and rolled several inches,crossing the boundary line into Fenrick's side of the room. It burned therefor a minute or two before its owner, a friend of Klein's, made bold to reachacross and retrieve it. The result was a brief brown streak on Fenrick'slinoleum. Fenrick did not notice it immediately, but after he did, he grewmore enraged every day. Klein was obligated to clean up "that mess," in hisview. Klein's opinion was that anything on Fenrick's side of the room wasFenrick's problem; Klein was not paying fifteen thousand dollars a yearand studying philosophy so he could be a floor-scrubber for a rude assholegeek like John Wesley Fenrick. He pointed to a clause in the Rules whichtentatively bore him out. They screamed across the boundary line on this issuefor nearly a week. Then, one day, I heard Ephraim yelling through their opendoor.
    "Jesus! What the hell are you-- Ha! I don't believe this sh*t!" He stuck hishead outside and yelled, "Hey, everybody, come look at what this dumb f*cker'sdoing!"
    I looked.
    For reasons I do not care to think about, John Wesley Fenrick kept amilkbottle full of dirt. When I looked in, he had pulled its lid off and wasscattering red Okie loam over the boundary line and all over Ephraim's side ofthe room. Ephraim appeared to be more amused than angry, though he was veryangry, and insisted that as many people as possible come and witness. Fenricksat down calmly to watch television, occasionally smiling a small, solitarysmile.
    Again the question of my responsibility comes up. But how could I know itwas an event of great significance? I had also seen lovers' quarrels in theCafeteria; why should I have known this was much more important? I had noauthority to order these people around. Moreover, I had no desire to. I haddone as much as I could. I had shown them how to be reasonable, and if theycould not get the hang of it, it was not my problem.
    The next time I spectated, Ephraim Klein was alone, studying on his bed withGregorian chants filling the room. I had come to see why he had borrowed mybroom. He had used it to make a welcome mat for his roomie. Right in front ofthe Go Big Red Fan-- the movable portion of the wall that served as a gate--he had swept all the dirt into an even rectangle about one by two feet andhalf an inch thick. In the dirt he had inscribed with his finger:

    GET A BUTT

    f*ck JOHNNIE-WONNIE
    When Fenrick got home I followed him discreetly to his room, to keep an eye onthings. When I got to their doorway he was staring inscrutably at the welcomemat. He bent and opened the fan-gate, stepped through without disturbing thedirt and closed it. He turned, and looked for a while at the smirking EphraimKlein. Then, with quiet dignity, John Wesley Fenrick reached down and set theFan to HI, creating a small simulation of Oklahoma in the 1930's on the otherside of the room.
    Once I was satisfied that there would be no violence, I left and abandonedthem to each other.
    Septimius Severus Krupp stood behind a cheap plywood lectern in Lecture Hall13 and spoke on Kant's Ethics. The fifty people in the audience listened ordid not, depending on whether they (like Sarah and Casimir and Ephraim and I)had come to hear the lecture, or (like Yllas Freedperson) to see the StalinistUnderground Battalion Operative throw the banana-cream pie into S. S. Krupp'sface.
    I had come because I was fascinated by Krupp, and because opportunities tohear him speak were rare. Sarah, I think, had come for like reasons. Ephraimwas a philosophy major, and Casimir came because this was the type of thingthat you were supposed to do in a university. As for the SUBbies, they weregetting edgy. What the f*ck was wrong with the plan, man? they seemed to say,looking back and forth at one another sincerely and shaking their heads. Thefirst phases had gone well. Operative 1 had gone out to the stageleft doorway,twenty feet to Krupp's side, opened the door and propped it, then made ashow of smoking a cigarette and blowing smoke out the door. It was obviousthat she had severe reality problems by the way she posed there, putting ona casual air so weirdly melodramatic that everyone could see she must be aguerilla mime, a psycho or simply luded out of her big spherical frizzy-hairedbandanna-wrapped head. It was also odd that she would show so much concernfor others' lungs, considering that her friends were making loud, sarcasticnoises and distracting gestures, but unfortunately S. S. Krupp's aides weretoo straight to tell the difference between a loony and a loony with a plan,and so they suspected nothing when she returned to her seat and forgot to shutthe door again.
    Ten minutes later, right on time, Operative 2 had arrived late, entering viathe stage-right doorway and leaving it, of course, propped open. He movedfurtively, like a six-foot mouse with thallium phenoxide poisoning, jerkinghis head around as if to look for right-wing death squads and CIA snipers.
    But Operative 3 did not appear with the banana-cream pie. Where was he?Everyone knew about Krupp's CIA connections, and it was quite possible--don't laugh, the CIA is everywhere, look at Iran-- that he might have beenintercepted by fascist goons and bastinadoed and wired to an old engine blockand thrown into a river. Perhaps the death squads were waiting in their roomsnow, test-firing their silenced UZIs into cartons of Stalinist pamphlets.
    In fact, Operative 3, when making his plans for the evening, had forgottenthat once he bought the banana-cream pie at the convenience store it wouldhave to thaw out. There is little political relevance in bouncing a rock-harddisc of frozen custard off S. S. Krupp's face-- the splatter is the point--and so for half an hour he had been in a Plex restroom, holding the pieunderneath the automatic hand dryer as unobtrusively as possible. Whenever heheard approaching steps, he stopped and dropped the pie into his knapsack, andheld his hands nonchalantly under the hot air; hence he had succeeded only inliquefying the top two millimeters of the pie and ruffling the ring of whippedcream. He then repaired to a spot not far from the lecture hall where herested the pie on a hot water pipe. There should be plenty of time left in thelecture, though it was hard to judge these things when stoned: Krupp's voicedroned on and on, incomprehensible as all that logic and philosophy.
    Operative 3 snapped to attention. How long had he been spacing off? Only oneway to tell. He stuck his finger in the pie: still kind of stiff, but notstiff enough to break a nose and wet enough to explode mediagenically.
    The time was now. Operative 3 pulled on his ski mask, stole to the openstage-left door, and waited for the right moment. sh*t! One of Krupp's CIAmen had seen him! One of the Frosted Mini-Wheat types with the three-piecesuits who ran Krupp's tape-recorder during speeches. No time to wait; the stungrenade might be lobbed at any moment.
    To us he looked like a strange dexed-out bird, not running across the front ofthe hall so much as vibrating across at low frequency. He was tall, skinny,pale and wore an old Tshirt; he never seemed to plant any part of his nervousbody firmly on the ground. He entered, bouncing off a doorjamb and losing hisbalance. He then caromed off a seat near a CIA man, who had not yet reacted,hopped three times to regain balance and, gaining some direction, scrambledtoward S. S. Krupp, chased all the way by four bats driven into a frenzy bythe aroma of the banana-cream pie.
    "This means that the current vulgar usage of the word 'autonomous' to meanindependent, i.e., free of external influence, sovereign, is not entirelycorrect," said Krupp, who glanced up from his notes to see what everybody wasgasping at. "To be autonomous, as we can readily see by examining the Greekroots of the word-- autos meaning self and nomos meaning law"-- here he pausedfor a moment and ducked. The pie flew sideways over his head and exploded onthe blackboard behind him. He straightened back up-- "is to be self-ruling,to exercise a respect for the Law"-- Operative 3 tottered out the door as theSUB groaned-- "which in this case means not the law of a society or politicalsystem but rather the Law imposed by a rational man on his own actions." inthe hallway there was scuffling, and Krupp paused. With much grunting andswearing, Operative 3, sans ski mask, was dragged back into the room by threeclean-cut students in pastel sweaters, accompanied by an older, smiling man ina plaid flannel shirt.
    "Here's your man, President Krupp, sir," said an earnest young Anglo-Saxon,brushing a strand of hair from his brow with his free hand. "We've placed thisCommunist under citizen's arrest. Shall we contact the authorities on yourbehalf?" Their mentor beamed even more broadly at this suggestion, his horsey,protruding bicuspids glaring like great white grain elevators on the Dakotaplain.
    Krupp regarded them warily, walking around to the other side of the lectern asthough it were a shield. Then he turned to the audience. "Excuse me, please.Guess I'm the highest authority here, so just let me clear this up." Helooked back at the group by the doorway, who watched respectfully, except forOperative 3, who shouted from his headlock: "See, man? This is what happenswhen you try to change the System!" Several SUBbies began to come to his aid,but were halted by Krupp's aides.
    "Who the hell are you?" said Krupp. "Are you from that squalid North Dakotancult thing?"
    They were shocked, even Operative 3, and stared uncomprehendingly. Deepconcern showed in the lined, earnest face of the man in the plaid flannel.Finally he stepped forward. "Yessirree. We are indeed followers of the Templeof Unlimited Godhead, and proud of it too. With all due respect, just what doyou mean by 'squalid'?"
    "It's like a dead dog in the sitting room, son. Look, why don't you all justlet that boy go? That's right."
    Regretfully, they released him. Operative 3 stood up, shivering violently. Hecould not exactly thank Krupp. After hopping from foot to foot he spun andcontinued his flight down the hall as though nothing had happened.
    "Look," Krupp continued. "We've got a security force here. We've got organizedreligions that have been doing just fine for millennia. Now what we don't needis a brainwashing franchise, or any of your Kool-Aid-- stoned outlaw MormonJesuits. I know times are hard in North Dakota but they're hard everywhere andit doesn't call for new religions. Of course, you have some very fine pointson the subject of Communism. Now, this does not mean we will in any way failto extend you full religious and political freedoms as with the old-fashionednonprofit religions."
    The SUB hooted at Krupp's wicked intolerance for religious diversity while therest of the audience applauded. The TUGgies were galvanized, and spoke up fortheir renegade sect as eloquently as they knew how.
    "But that man was a Communist! We found his card."
    "Look at it this way. If TUG brainwashes people, how do you explain the greatdiversity of our membership, which comes from towns and farms of all sizes allover the Dakotas and Saskatchewan?"
    "TUG is fully consistent with Judeo-Christo-Mohammedan-Bahaism."
    Communism is the greatest threat in the world today." "The goals of MessiahJorgenson Five are fully consistent with the aims of American highereducation."
    "Our church is noncoercive. We believe of our own free, uh, pamphlet.. .explains our ideas in layman's language." "Visit North Dakota this summer forfun in the sun. Temple Camp."
    "Who is the brainwasher, our church, which teaches that we may all beMessiah/Buddhas together, or today's media society with its constant emphasison materialism?"
    "If you'll accept this free book it will reveal truths you may never havethought about before."
    "I couldn't help noticing that you were looking a little down and out, kindalonely. You know, sometimes it helps to talk to a stranger."
    "Do you need a free dinner?"
    Krupp watched skeptically. The older man was silent, but finally touched eachstudent lightly on the shoulder, silencing one and all. They left, smiling.
    Looking disgusted, Krupp returned to the microphone. "Where was I, talkingabout autonomy?"
    He surveyed his notes and concluded his lecture in another twenty minutes.He paused then to light his cigar, which he had been fingering, twiddling,stroking and sniffing exquisitely for several minutes, and was answeredby exaggerated coughing from the SUB section. "I'm free to answer somequestions," he announced, surveying the room and squinting into his cigarsmoke like a cowboy into the setting sun.
    Nearly everyone in the SUB raised his/her hand, but Yllas Freedperson,Operatives 1 and 2 and two others arose and made their loud way up to theback of the hall for an emergency conference. They were deeply concerned;they stopped short of being openly suspicious, a deeply fascist trait, butit occurred to them that what had just happened might strongly suggest thepresence of a TUG deep-cover mole in the SUB!
    Meanwhile, question time went on down below. As was his custom, Krupp calledon two people with serious questions before resorting to the SUB. Eventuallyhe did so, looking carefully through that section and stabbing his finger atit* middle.
    By SUB custom, any call for a question was communal property and wasdistributed by consensus to a member of the group. This time, Dexter Fresser,Sarah's hometown ex-beau, number 2 person in the SUB and its chief politicaltheorist, got the nod. Shaking his head, he pushed himself up in his seatuntil he could see Krupp's face hovering malevolently above the dome of thenext person's bandanna. He took a deep breath, preparing for intellectualcombat, and began.
    "You were talking about autonomy. Well, then you were talking about Greekwords of roots. I want to talk about Greek too because we have our rootsin Greece, just like, you know, our words do-- that is, most of us do, ourculture does, even if our ethnicity doesn't. But Rome was much, much morepowerful than Greece, and that was after most of the history of the humanrace, which we don't know anything about. And you know in Greece they hadgayness all over the place. I'm saying that nice and loud even though you hateit, but even though. uh, you know, fascist? But you can't keep me from sayingit. Did you ever think about the concentration camps? How all those peoplewere killed by fascists? And also in Haiti. which we annexed in 1904. And didyou ever 1 think about the socialist revolution in France that was crushedby D-Day because the socialists were fighting off the Nazis single-handedly.Where's the good in that? Bela Lugosi was ugly, but he had a great mind. Imean, some of the greatest works of art were done by Satan-worshipers likeShakespeare and Michelangelo! And the next time your car throws a rod on I-90between Presho and Kennebec because you lost your dipstick you should think,even if it is a hundred and ten in the shade forty-four Celsius and there arered winged blackbirds coming at you like Bell AH-64s or something. Put thegoddamn zucchini in later next time and it won't get so mushy! I know this isstrong and direct and undiplomatical, but this is real life and I can't belike you and phrase it like blue tennis-shoe laces hanging from the rear-viewmirror. See?"
    Here he stopped. Krupp had listened patiently, occasionally looking awayto restack his notes or puff on his cigar. "No," he said. "Do you have aquestion. son?"
    Emotionally wounded, Dex Fresser shook his head back and forth and gesturedaround it as though tearing off a heavy layer of tar. While his companionssupported him, another SUBbie rose to take his place. She was of averageheight, with terribly pale skin and a safety pin through her septum. She roselike a zeppelin on power takeoff and began to read in a singsong voice from apage covered with arithmetic.
    "Mister Krupp, sir. Last year. According, to the Monoplex Monitor, you, Imean the Megaversity Corporation ruling clique, spent ten thousand dollars onlegal fees for union-busting firms. Now. There are forty thousand students at.American Megaversity. This means that on the average, you spent
    four thousandmillion dollars on legal fees for union-busting alone! How do you justifythat, when in this very city people have to pay for their own abortions?"
    Krupp simply stared in her direction and took three long slow puffs on hiscigar without saying anything. Then he turned to the blackboard. "Thisweather's not getting any better," he said, quickly drawing a rough outline ofthe United States. "It's this low pressure center up here. See, the air cominginto it turns around counterclockwise because of the Coriolis effect. Thatmakes it pump cold air from Canada into our area. And we can't do squat aboutit. It's a hell of a thing." He turned back to the audience. "Next question!"
    The SUB wanted to erupt at this, but they were completely nonplussed andhardly said anything. "I've taken too many questions from thekill-babies-not-seals crowd," Krupp announced. He called on Ephraim Klein,who had been waving his hand violently. "President Krupp, I think thequestion of adherence to an inner Law is just a semantic smokescreen aroundthe real issue, which is neurological. Our brains have two hemispheres withdifferent functions. The left one handles the day-to-day thinking,conventional logical thought, while the right one handles synthesis ofincoming information and subconsciously processes it to form conclusions aboutwhat the basic decisions should be-- it converts experience into subconsciousawareness of basic patterns and cause-and-effect relationships and gives usgeneral direction and a sense of conscience. So this stuff about autonomy isnothing more than an effort by neurologically ignorant metaphysicists todevelop, by groping around in the dark, an explanation for behavior patternsrooted in the structure of the brain."
    Krupp answered immediately. "So you mean to say that the right hemisphere isthe source of what I call the inner Law, and that rather than being a Law perse it is merely a set of inclinations rooted in past experience which tellsthe left hemisphere what it should do."
    "That's right-- in advanced, conscious people. In primitive unconsciousbicameral people, it would verbally speak to the left hemisphere, coming as avoice from nowhere in times of decision. The left hemisphere would be unableto do otherwise. There would be no decision at all-- so you would have perfectadherence to the Law of the right hemisphere voice, absolute autonomy, thoughthe voice would be attributed to gods or angels."
    Krupp nodded all the way through this, squinting at Klein. "You're one ofthose, eh?" he asked. "I've never been convinced by Jaynes' theory myself,though he has some interesting points about metaphors. I don't think anignorant carpenter like Jesus had all that flawless theology pumped into theleft half of his brain by stray neural currents." He thought about it fora moment. "Though it would be a lot quieter around here if everyone werecarrying his stereo around in his skull."
    "Jesus," said Ephraim Klein, "you don't believe in God, do you? You?"
    "Well, I don't want to spend too much time on this freshman material, uh--what's your name? Ezekiel? Ephraim. But you ought to grapple sometime with thefact that this materialistic monism of yours is self-refuting and thus totallybankrupt. I guess it's attractive to someone who's just discovered he's anintellectual-- sure was to me thirty years ago-- but sometime you've got tostop boxing yourself in with this intellectual hubris."
    Klein nearly rocketed from his chair and for a moment I said nothing. He wasbolt upright, supporting his weight on i one fist thrust down between histhighs into the seat, chewing deeply on his lower lip and staring, to use aKrupp ~ phrase, "like a coon on the runway." "Non sequitur! Ad hominem!" hecried.
    "I know, I know. Tell you what. Stick around and I'll listen to your Latinafterward, we're losing our audience." Krupp began looking for a newquestioner. From the back of the hall came the sound of a fold-down seatbounding back up into position, and we turned to make out the ragged figure ofBert Nix.
    "Krupp cuts a fart! The sphinxter cannot hold!" he bellowed hoarsely, andsat back down again Krupp mainly ignored this, as his aides strode up theaisle to show Mr. Nix where the exit was and turned his attention to the nextquestioner, a tall redheaded SUBbie who accused Krupp of accepting bribes tolet wealthy idiots into the law school. Red added, "I keep asking you thisquestion, Septimius, and you've never answered it yet. When are you going topay some attention to my question?"
    Krupp looked disgusted and puffed rapidly, staring at him coldly. Bert Nixpaused in the doorway to shout: "My journey is o'er rocks & Mountains, not inpleasant vales; I must not sleep nor rest because of madness & dismay."
    "Yeah," said Krupp, "and I give you the same answer every time, too. I didn'tdo that. There's no evidence I did. What more can I say? I genuinely want tosatisfy you."
    "You just keep slinging the same bullsh*t!" shouted the SUBbie, and slammedback down into his seat.
    Casimir Radon listened to these exchanges with consuming interest. This waswhat he had dreamed of finding at college: small lectures on pure ideas fromthe president of the university, with discussion afterward. That the SUBbieshad disrupted it with a pie-throwing made him sick; he had stared at themthrough a haze of anger for the last part of the meeting. Had he been sittingby the side door he could have tripped that bastard. Which would have beengood, because Sarah Jane Johnson was sitting there three rows in front of him,totally unaware of his existence as usual.
    Sarah's entrance, several minutes before the start of the lecture, had thrownCasimir into a titanic intellectual struggle. He now had to decide whetheror not to say "hi" to her. After all, they had had a date, if you could callstammering in the Megapub for two hours a date. Later he had realized howdull it must have been for her, and was profoundly mortified. Now Sarah wassitting just twenty feet away, and he hated to disrupt her thoughts by justcrashing in uninvited; better for her not to know he was there. But in caseshe happened to notice him, and wondered why he hadn't said "hi," he made up astory: he had come in late through the back doors.
    He also wanted to ask Krupp a question, a dazzling and perceptive questionthat would take fifteen minutes to ask, but he couldn't think of one. Thiswas regrettable, because Krupp was a man he wanted to know, and he needed toimpress him before making his sales pitch for the mass driver.
    At the same time, he was working on a grandiose plan for gathering damaginginformation on the university, but this seemed stupid; seen from thislecture hall, American Megaversity looked pretty much the way it had in therecruiting literature. He would continue with Project Spike until it gave himsatisfaction. Whether or not he released the information depended on whathappened at the Big U between now and then.
    Sarah's voice sounded in one ear. "Casimir. Earth to Casimir. Come in, CasimirRadon." Shocked and suddenly breathless, he sat up, looking astonished.
    "Oh," he said casually. "Sarah. Hi. How're you doing?" Fine," she answered,"didn't you see me?"
    Eventually they went into the hallway, where S. S. Krupp was down to thelast inch of his cigar and having a complicated discussion with EphraimKlein. His aides stood to the sides brushing hairs off their suits, variousalien-looking philosophy majors listened intently and I leaned against anearby wall watching it all, "Well, why didn't you say so?" Krupp was saying."You're a Jaynesian and a materialistic monist. In which case you've got noreason to believe anything you think, because anything you think is justa predetermined neural event which can't be considered true or logical.Self-refuting, son. Think about it."
    "But now you've gotten off on a totally different argument!" cried Klein."Even if we presume dualism, you've got to admit that intellectual processesreflect neural events in some way." "Well, sure."
    "Right! And since the bicameral mind theory explains human behavior so well,there's no reason, even if you are a dualist, to reject it."
    "In some cases, okay," said Krupp, "but that doesn't support your originalproposition, which is that Kant was just trying to rationalize brain eventsthrough some kind of semantic necromancy."
    "Yes it does!"
    "Hell no it doesn't."
    "Yes it does!"
    "No it doesn't. Sarah!" said Krupp warmly. He shook her hand, and thephilosophy majors, seeing that the intelligent part of the conversation wasdone, vaporized. "Glad you could come tonight."
    "Hello, President Krupp. I wish you'd do this more often."
    "Wait a minute," yelled Klein, "I just figured out how to reconcile Westernreligion and the bicameral mind."
    "Well, take some notes quick, son, there's other people here, well get to it.Who's your date, Sarah?"
    "This is Casimir Radon," said Sarah proudly, as Casimir reflexively shoved outhis right hand.
    "Well! That's fine," said Krupp. "That's two conversations I have to finishnow. If we bring Bud here along with us to keep things from getting out ofhand we ought to be safe."
    "Look out. I'm not the diplomat you're hoping I am," I mumbled, not knowingwhat I was expected to say.
    "What say we go down to the Faculty Pub and have some brews? I'm buying."
    Our party got quite a few stares in the Faculty Pub. The three students werenot even supposed to be in the place, but the bouncer wasn't very keen onasking Mr. Krupp's guests to show their IDs. This place bore the same relationto the Megapub as Canterbury Cathedral to a parking ramp. The walls werecovered with wood that looked five inches thick, the floor was bottomlesscarpet and the tables were spotless slabs of rich solid wood. Enough armamentswere nailed to the walls to defend a small medieval castle, and ancientportraits of the fat and pompous were interspersed with infinitely detailedcoats of arms. The President ordered a pitcher of Guinness and chose a boothnear the corner.
    Ephraim had been talking the entire way. "So if you were the religious type,you know, you could say that the right side of the brain is the 'spiritual'side, the part that comes into contact with spiritual influences or God orwhatever-- it has a dimension that protrudes into the spiritual plane, if youwant to look at it that way-- while the left half is monistic and nonspiritualand mechanical. We conscious unicamerals accept the spiritual informationcoming in from the right side mixed in subtly with the natural inputs. But abicameral person would receive that information in the form of a voice fromnowhere which spoke with great authority. Now, that doesn't contradict thebiblical accounts of the prophets-- it merely gives us a new basis for theirinterpretation by suggesting that their communication with the Deity was donesubconsciously by a particular hemisphere of the brain."
    Krupp thought that was very good. Sarah and Casimir listened politely.Eventually, though, the conversation worked its way around to the subject ofthe mass driver.
    "Tell me exactly why this university should fund your project there, Casimir,"said Krupp, and watched expectantly.
    "Well, it's a good idea."
    "Why?"
    "Because its relevant and we the people who do it will learn stuff from it."
    "Like what?"
    "Oh, electronics building things practical stuff."
    "Can't they already learn that from doing conventional research under thesupervision of the faculty."
    "Yeah, I guess they can."
    "So that leaves only the rationale that it is relevant, which I don't deny butI don't see why it's more relevant than a faculty research project."
    "Well, mass drivers could be very important someday!"
    Krupp shook his head. "Sure, I don't deny that. There are all kinds ofrelevant things which could be very important someday. What I need to beshown is how funding of your project would he consistent with the basicmission of a great institution of higher learning. You see? We're talkingbasic principles here."
    Casimir had removed his glasses in the dim light, and his strangelynaked-looking eyes darted uncertainly around the tabletop. "Well"
    "Aw, sh*t, it's obvious!" shouted Ephraim Klein, drawing looks from everyonein the pub. "This university, let's face it, is for average people. Thesmart people from around here go to the Ivy League, right? So AmericanMegaversity doesn't get many of the bright people the way, say, a Big Tenuniversity would. But there are some very bright people here, for whateverreasons. They get frustrated in this environment because the university istailored for averagely bright types and there is very little provision forthe extra-talented. So in order to fulfill the basic mission of allowingall corners to realize their full potential-- to avoid stultifying the bestminds here-- you have to make allowances for them, recognize their specialcreativity by giving them more freedom and self-direction than the typicalstudent has. This is your chance to have something you can point to as anexample of the opportunities here for people of all levels of ability."
    Krupp listened intently through this, lightly tapping the edge of a potatochip on the table. When Klein finally stopped, he nodded for a while.
    "Yep. Yeah, I'd say you have an excellent point there, Isaiah. Casimir, looksas though you're going to get your funding." He raised an eyebrow.
    Casimir stood up, yelled "Great!" and pumped Krupp's hand. "This is a greatinvestment. When this thing is done it will be the most incredible machineyou've ever seen. There's no end to what you can do with a mass driver."
    There was a commotion behind Krupp, and suddenly, larger than life, standingon the bench in the next booth down, Bert Nix had risen to his full bedraggledheight and was suspending a heavy broadsword (stolen from a suit of armor bythe restroom) over Krupp's head. "O fortunate Damocles, thy reign began andended with the same dinner!"
    After Krupp saw who it was he turned back around without response. His twoaides staggered off their barstools across the room and charged over tograb the sword from Bert Nix's hand. He had held it by the middle of theblade, which made it seem considerably less threatening, but the aides didn'tnecessarily see it this way and were not as gentle in showing Mr. Nix out asthey could have been. He was docile except for some cheerful obscenities; butas he was dragged past a prominent painting, he pulled away and pointed to it."Don't you think we have the same nose?" he asked, and soon was out the door.
    Krupp got up and brought the conversation to a quick close. After distributingcigars to Ephraim and Casimir and me, he left. Finding ourselves in anexhilarated mood and with what amounted to a free ticket to the Faculty Pub,we stayed long enough to close it down.
    Earlier, however, on his fifth trip to the men's room, Casimir stopped to lookat the plaque under the portrait to which Bert Nix had pointed. "WILBERFORCEPERTINAX RUSHFORTH-GREATHOUSE, 1799-- 1862, BENEFACTOR, GREATHOUSE CHAPELAND ORGAN." Casimir tried to focus on the face. As a matter of fact, theRoman nose did resemble Bert Nix's; they might be distant relatives. It wasqueer that a derelict, who couldn't spend that much time in the Faculty Pub,would notice this quickly enough to point it out. But Bert Nix's mind ranalong mysterious paths. Casimir retrieved the broadsword from where it hadfallen, and laughingly slapped it down on the bar as a deposit for the fourthpitcher of Dark. The bartender regarded Casimir with mild alarm, and Casimirconsidered, for a moment, carrying a sword all the time, a la Fred Fine. Butas he observed to us, why carry a sword when you own a mass driver?
    "Casimir?"
    "Mmmmm. Huh?"
    "You asleep?"
    "No."
    "You want to talk?"
    "Okay."
    "Thanks for letting me sleep here."
    "No problem. Anytime."
    "Does this bother you?"
    "You sleeping here? Nah."
    "You seemed kind of bothered about something."
    "No. It's really fine, Sarah. I don't care."
    "If it'd make you feel better, I can go back and sleep in my room. I justdidn't feel like a half-hour elevator hassle, and my wing is likely to benoisy."
    "I know. All that barf on the floors, rowdy people, sticky beer crud all overthe place. I don't blame you. It's perfectly reasonable to stay at someone'splace at a time like this."
    "I get the impression you have something you're not saying. Do you want totalk about it?"
    The pile of sheets and blankets that was Casimir moved around, and he leanedup on one elbow and peered down at her. The light shining in from the oppositetower made his wide eyes just barely visible. She knew something was wrongwith him, but she also knew better than to try to imagine what was going oninside Casimir Radon's mind.
    "Why should I have something on my mind?"
    "Well, I don't see anything unusual about my staying here, but a lot of peoplewould, and you seemed uptight."
    "Oh, you're talking about sex? Oh, no. No problem." His voice was tense andhurried.
    "So what's bothering you?"
    For a while there was just ragged breathing from atop the bed, and then hespoke again. "You're going to think this is stupid, because I know you'rea Women's Libber, but it really bothers me that you're on the floor in asleeping bag while I'm up here in a bed. That bothers me."
    Sarah laughed. "Don't worry, Casimir. I'm not going to beat you up for it."
    "Good. Let's trade places, then."
    "If you insist." Within a few seconds they had traded places and Sarah wasup in a warm bed that smelled of mothballs and mildew. They lay there for anhour.
    "Sarah?"
    "Huh?"
    "I want to talk to you."
    "What?"
    "I lied. I want to sleep with you so bad it's killing me. Oh, Jeez. I loveyou. A lot."
    "Oh, damn. I knew it. I was afraid of this. I'm sorry."
    "No, don't be. My fault. I'm really, really sorry."
    "Should I leave? Do you want me out?"
    "No. I want you to sleep with me," he said, as though this answer was obvious.
    "How long have you been thinking about me this way?"
    "Since we met the first time."
    "Really? Casimir! Why? We didn't even know each other!"
    "What does that have to do with it?" He sounded genuinely mystified.
    "I think we've got a basic difference in the way we think about sex, Casimir."She had forgotten how they were when it came to this sort of thing.
    "What does that mean? Did you ever think about me that way?"
    "Not really."
    Casimir sucked in his breath and flopped back down.
    "Now, look, don't take it that way. Casimir, I hardly know you. We've only hadone or two good conversations. Look, Casimir, I only think about sex every oneor two days-- it's not a big topic with me right now."
    "Jeez. Are you okay? Did you have a bad experience?" "Don't put me on thedefensive. Casimir, our friendship has been just fine as it is. Why should Ifantasize about what a friendship might turn into, when the friendship is fineas is? You've got to live in the real world, Casimir."
    "What's wrong with me?"
    The poor guy just did not understand at all. There was no way to help him;Sarah went ahead and spoke her lines.
    "Nothing's wrong with you. You're fine."
    "Then what is the problem?"
    "Look. I sleep with people because there's nothing wrong with them. I don'tfantasize about relationships that will never exist. We're fine as we are. Sexwould just mess it up. We have a good friendship, Casimir. Don't screw it upby thinking unrealistically."

    They sat in the dark for a while. Casimir was being open-minded, which wasgood, but still had trouble catching on. "It's none of my business, but justout of curiosity, do you like sex?"
    "Definitely. It's a blast with the right person."
    "I'm just not the right person, huh?"
    "I've already answered that six times." She considered telling him aboutherself and Dex Fresser in high school. In ways-- especially in appearance--Casimir was similar to Dex. The thing with Dex was a perfect example of whathappened when a man got completely divorced from reality. But Sarah didn'twant the Dex story to get around, and she supposed that Casimir would behorrified by this high school saga of sex and drugs.
    "I think I'll do my laundry now, since I'm up," she said.
    "I'll walk you home."
    A few minutes later they emerged into a hall as bright as the interior of asmall sun. The dregs of a party in the Social Lounge examined them as theyawaited an elevator, and Sarah was bothered by what they were assuming. Maybeit would boost Casimir's rep among his neighbors.
    An elevator opened and fifty gallons of water poured into the lobby. Someonehad filled a garbage can with water, tilted it up on one corner just insidethe elevator, held it in place as the doors closed, and pulled his hand out atthe last minute so that it leaned against the inside of the doors. Not greatlysurprised, Sarah and Casimir stepped back to let the water swirl around theirfeet, then threw the garbage can into the lobby and boarded the elevator.
    "That's the nice thing about this time of day," said Casimir. "Easy to getelevators."
    As they made their way toward the Castle in the Air, they spoke mostly ofCasimir's mass driver. With the new funding and with the assistance of Virgil,it was moving along quite well. Casimir repeatedly acknowledged his debt toEphraim for having done the talking.
    They took an E Tower elevator up to the Castle in the Air. A nine-leavedmarijuana frond was scotch-taped over the number 13 on the elevator panelso that it would light up symbolically when that floor was passed. In thecorridors of the Castle the Terrorists were still running wild and hurlingtheir custom Big Wheel Frisbees with great violence.
    Casimir had never seen Sarah's room. He stood shyly outside as she walked intothe darkness. "The light?" he said. She switched on her table lamp.
    "Oh." He entered uncertainly, swiveling his bottle-bottom glasses toward thewall. Conscious of being in an illegally painted room, he shut the door, thenremoved his glasses and let them hang around his neck on their safety cord.Without them, Sarah thought he looked rather old, sensitive, and human. Herubbed his stubble and blinked at the forest with a sort of awed amusem*nt. Bynow it was very detailed.
    "Isotropic."
    "You saw what?"
    "Isotropic. This forest is isotropic It s the same in all directions. Itdoesn't tend in any way. A real forest is anisotropic thicker on the bottomthinner on the top. This doesn't grow in any direction it just is."
    She sighed. "Whatever you like."
    "Why? What's it for?"
    "Well-- what's your mass driver for?"
    "Sanity."
    "You've got your mass driver. I've got this."
    He looked at her in the same way he had been staring at the forest. "Wow," hesaid, "I think I get it."
    "Don't go overboard on this," she said, "but how would you like to attendsomething dreadful called Fantasy Island Nite?"

    --December--
    So nervous was Ephraim Klein, so primed for flight or combat, that he barelyfelt his suitcases in his hands as he carried them toward his room. Whatawaited him? He had left a week ago for Thanksgiving vacation. He had waitedas long as he could-- but not long enough to outwait John Wesley Fenrick andthree of his ugly punker friends, who leered hungrily at him as he walked out.The question was not whether a prank had been played, but how bad it was goingto be. Hyperventilating with anticipation, he stopped before the door. Thecracks all the way around its edges had been sealed with heavy grey duct tape.This prank did not rely on surprise. He pressed his ear to the door, but allhe could hear was a familiar chunka-chunka-chunk. With great care he peeledback a bit of tape.
    Nothing poured out. Standing to the side, he unlocked the door with surgicalcare. There was a cracking sound as the tape peeled away under his impetus.Finally he kicked it fully open, waited for a moment, then stepped around tolook inside.
    He could see nothing. He took another step and then, only then, was envelopedin a cloud of rancid cheap cigar smoke that oozed out the doorway like amoribund genie under the propulsion of the Go Big Red Fan.
    Incandescently furious, he retreated to the bathroom and wet a T-shirt to putover his face. Thus protected he strode squinting down the foggy hallway intothe lifeless room.
    The only remaining possessions of John Wesley Fenrick's were the Go Big RedFan and most of a jumbo roll of foil. He had moved out of the room and thencovered his half of the room with the foil, then spread out on it what musthave been several hundred generic cigars-- it must have taken half an hourjust to light them. The cigars had all burned away to ash, which had beenwhipped into a blizzard by the Go Big Red Fan on its slow creep across thefloor to Ephraim's side. The room now looked like Yakima after Mount SaintHelens. The Fan had ground to a halt against a large potted plant of Ephraim'sand for the rest of the week had sat there chunk-ing mindlessly.
    He checked a record. To his relief, the ash had not penetrated to the grooves.It had penetrated everything else, though, and even the Rules had taken on abrown parchmentlike tinge. Ephraim Klein took little comfort in the fact thathis ex-roommate had not broken any of them.
    He cranked open the vent window, set the Go Big Red Fan into it, cleared ashfrom his chair, and sat down to think.
    Klein preferred to live a controlled life. He never liked to pull out all thestops until the final chord. But Fenrick had forced him to turn revenge into amajor project and Klein did not plan to fail. He began to tidy his room, andto unleash his imagination on John Wesley Fenrick.
    "Sarah?"
    "Huh?"
    "Did I wake you up?"
    "No. Hi."
    "Let's talk."
    "Sure." Sarah rolled over on her stomach and propped ~ herself up on herelbows.
    "I hope you're comfortable sleeping down there."
    "Listen. Anyplace is more comfortable than my room when a party's goingon above it."
    "I don't mind if you want to share a bed with me Hyacinth. My sister and Islept together until I was eleven and she was twelve."
    "Thanks. But I didn't decide to sleep down here because I don't like you,Sarah."
    "Well, that's nice. I guess it's a little small for two." There was a longsilence. Hyacinth sat up on her sleeping bag, her crossed legs stretchingout her nightgown to make a faint white diamond in the darkness of the room.Then, soundlessly, she got up and climbed into bed with Sarah. Sarah slidback against the wall to make room, and after much giggling, rolling around,rearrangement of covers and careful placement of limbs they managed to findcomfortable positions.
    "Too hot," said Hyacinth, and got up again. She opened the window and a coldwind blew into the room. She scampered back and dove in next to Sarah.
    "Comfy?" said Hyacinth.
    "Yeah. Mmm. Very."
    "Really?" said Hyacinth skeptically. "More than before? Not just physically.You don't feel awkward, being tangled up with me like this?"
    "Not really," said Sarah dreamily. "It's kind of pleasant. It's just, youknow, warm, and kind of comforting to have someone else around. I like you,you like me, why should it be awkward?"
    "Would it be any different if I told you I was a lesbian?" Sarah came wideawake but did not move. With one eye she gazed into the darkness above thesoft white horizon of Hyacinth's shoulder, on which she had laid her head.
    "And that I was hoping we could do other nice things to each other? If youfeel inspired to, that is." She gently, almost imperceptibly, stroked Sarah'shair. Sarah's heart was pumping rhythmically.
    "I wish you'd say something," said Hyacinth. "Are you not sure how you feel,or are you paralyzed with terror?"
    Sarah laughed softly and felt herself relaxing. "I'm pretty naive about thiskind of thing. I mean, I don't think about it a lot. I sort of thought youmight be. Is Lucy?"
    "Yes. Nowadays we don't sleep together that much. Sarah, do you want me tosleep on the floor?"
    Sarah thought about it but not very seriously. The room was pleasantly cold nowand the closeness of her friend was something she had not felt in a very longtime. "Of course not. This is great. I haven't slept with anyone in a while--a man, I mean. Sleeping with someone is one of my favorite things. But it'sdifferent with men. Not quite as... sweet."
    "That's for sure."
    "Why don't you stay a while?"
    "That'd be nice."
    "Do you mind if we don't do anything?" At this they laughed loudly, and thatanswered the question.
    "But we are doing something you know" added Hyacinth later. "Your noseis in my breast. You're stroking my shoulder. I'm afraid that all counts."
    "Oh. Gosh. Does that make me a lesbian?"
    "Oh, I don't know. I guess you're off to a promising start."
    "Hmmm. Doesn't feel like being a lesbian."
    Hyacinth squeezed Sarah tight. "Look, honey, don't worry about it. This isjust great as it is. I just wanted you to know the opportunity was there.Okay?"
    "Okay."
    "Want to go to sleep?"
    "Take it easy, what's your hurry?"
    Last Night was the night of the blue towers. A week before, the towers hadglowed uniformly yellow as forty-two thousand students sat beneath their desklamps and studied for finals. The next night, blue had replaced yellow hereand there, as a few lucky ones, finished with their finals, switched on theirTVs. This night, all eight towers were studded with blue, and whole patches ofthe Plex flickered in unison with the popular shows. The beer trucks were busyall day long down at the access lot, rolling kegs up the ramps to the BrewKing in the Mall, whence they were dispersed in canvas carts and two-wheelersand Radio Flyers to rooms and lounges all over the Plex. As night fell andthe last students came screaming in from their finals, suitcases full of dopemoved through the Main Entrance and were quickly fragmented and distributedthroughout the towers for quick combustion. By dinnertime the faucets rancold water only as thousands lined up by the shower stalls, and the Caf was adesert as most students ate at restaurants or parties. After dark, spotlightsand lasers crisscrossed the walls as partying students shone them into othertowers, and when the Big Wheel sign blazed into life, bands ofBig-Wheel-worshiping Terrorists all over the Plex launched a commemorativefireworks barrage that sent echoes crackling back and forth among thetowers like bumper pool balls, punctuating the roar of the warring stereos.
    By 10:00 the parties were just warming up. At 10:30 the rumor circulated thata special police squad sent by S. S. Krupp was touring the Plex to bust upparties. At 11:06 a keg was thrown from A24N and exploded on the Turnpike,backing up traffic for an hour with a twelve-car chain-reaction smashup. By11:30 forty students had been admitted to the Infirmary with broken noses,split cheeks and severe inebriation, and it was beginning to look as thoughthe official estimate of one death from overintoxication and one from accidentmight be a little low. The Rape/Assault/Crisis Line handled a call everyfifteen minutes.
    Precisely at 11:40:00 an unknown, uninvited, very clumsy student walked behindJohn Wesley Fenrick's chair at the big E31E end-of-semester bash and tripped,spilling a strawberry malt all over Fenrick's spiky blond hair.
    John Wesley Fenrick was in the shower with very hot water spraying onto hishead to dissolve the sticky malt crud, dancing around loosely to a tune inhis head and playing the air guitar. He wondered whether the malt had beenthe work of Ephraim Klein. This, however, was impossible; his new room andnumber were unlisted and you couldn't follow people home in an elevator. Theonly way for Klein to find him was by a freak of chance, or by bribing anadministration person with access to the computer-- very unlikely. Besides,a malt on the head was a bush-league retaliation even for a quiet littleharpsichord-playing New Jersey fart like Klein, considering what Fenrick hadso brilliantly accomplished.
    What made it even greater was that the administration had treated it likea hilarious college prank, a "concrete expression of malfunction in thecohabitant interaction, intended only as nonviolent emotional expression."Though they were after him to pay Klein's cleaning bills, Fenrick's brotherwas a lawyer and he knew they wouldn't push it in court. Even if they did,sh*t, he was going to be pulling down forty K in six months! A small price fortriumph.
    With a snarl of disgust, Fenrick dumped another dose ofhoney-beer-aloe-grub-treebark shampoo on his hair, finding that the tenaciousmalt substance still had not come off. What's in this crap? Fenrick thought.f*ck up your stomach, for sure.
    Throughout E Tower, scores of Ephraim Klein's friends sat in the greatshiny microwave bathrooms watching the Channel 25 Late Night EyewitnessInstaAction InvestiNews. Even during the most ghastly stories this programsounded like an encounter session among five recently canceled sitcom actorsand developmentally disabled hairdressers' models. The weather, well, itwas just as bad, but was relieved by its very bizarreness. The weatherman,a buffoon who knew nothing about weather and didn't care, was named MarvinDuZan the Weatherman and would broadcast in a negligee if it boosted ratings;his other gimmick was to tell an abominable joke at the conclusion of eachforecast. After the devastating punchline was delivered, the picture of theguffawing pseudometeorologist and his writhing colleagues would be replacedby an animated short in which a crazy-looking bird tried to smash a tortoiseover the head with a sledgehammer. At the last moment the tortoise wouldcreep forward, causing the blow to rebound off his shell and crash back intothe cranium of the bird. The bird would then assume a glazed expression andvibrate around in circles, much like a chair in Klein's room during the"Passacaglia and Fugue in C Minor," finally to collapse at the feet of thesmiling turtle, who would then peer slyly at the audience and wiggle hiseyebrow ridges.
    During Marvin DuZan's forecast on Last Night, Ephraim Klein was standingoutside his ex-roomie's shower stall, watching a portable TV and squirtingHyper Stik brand Humonga-Glue into the latch of the stall's door. He hadturned down the volume, of course, and it seemed just as well, since from thereactions of the InvestiNews Strike Force (and the cameramen, who were alwaysvisible on the high-tech News Nexus set) it appeared that the joke tonight wasa real turd. As the camera zoomed in on the goonishly beaming face of MarvinDuZan, Ephraim Klein's grip on the handles of two nearby urinals tightenedand his heart beat wildly, as did the grips and the hearts of a small army offriends and hastily recruited deputies in many other E Tower bathrooms. Birdand Tortoise appeared, the hammer was brandished, and smash!
    As the hammer rebounded on the bird's head, scores of toilets throughoutE Tower were flushed, causing a vacuum so sharp that pipes bent and toreand snapped and cold water ceased to flow. There was a short pause, andthen a bloodcurdling scream emanated from Fenrick's shower stall as cloudsof live steam burst out the top. After some fruitless handle-yanking andPlexiglass-banging, the steam was followed by Fenrick himself, who fellungainly to the floor with a crisp splat and shook his head in pain as EphraimKlein escaped with his TV. In his haste Fenrick had lacerated his scalp on thesteel showerhead, and as he pawed at his face to clear away suds and blood hewas distantly conscious of a cold draft that irritated his parboiled skin, anda familiar chunka-chunka-chunk that could be heard above the sounds of gaspingpipes and white water. Finally prying one eye open, he looked into the wind tosee it: the Go Big Red Fan, complacently revolving in front of his stall, seton HI and still somewhat gray with cigar ash. Unfortunately for John WesleyFenrick, he did not soon enough see the puddle of water which surroundedhim, and which was rapidly expanding toward The base of the old and poorlyinsulated Fan.
    This was also quite an evening for E17S. Ever since joining the Terrorists asthe Flame Squad Faction, this all-male wing had suffered from the stigma ofbeing mere copies of the Big Wheel Men, Cowboys and Droogs of E13. Tonightthat was to change. The Christmas tree had been purchased three weeks ago,left in a shower until the fireproofing compound was washed away, and hungover a hot-air vent in the storage room; it was now a lovely shade ofincendiary brown. They took it up to E3 1, the top floor, seized an elevator,and stuffed the tree inside. Someone pressed all the buttons for floors 30through 6 while others squirted lighter fluid over the tree's dessicatedboughs.
    Only one match was required. The door slid shut just as the smoke and flamesbegan to billow forth, and with a cheer and a yell the Flame Squad Factionbegan to celebrate.
    Twenty-four floors below, Virgil and I were having a few slow ones in mysuite. I had no time for partying because I was preparing for a long drivehome to Atlanta. Virgil happened to be wandering the Plex that night, lookingin on various people, and had paused for a while at my place. Things werepretty quiet-- as they generally had been since John Wesley Fenrick had left--and except for the insistent and inevitable bass beat, the wing was peaceful.
    The fire alarm rang just before midnight. We cursed fluently and looked outmy door to see what was up. As faculty-in-residence I didn't have to scurryout for every bogus fire drill, but it seemed prudent to check for smoke.The smoke was heavy when we opened the door, and we smelled the filthy odorof burning plastic. The source of the flame was near my room: one of theelevators, which had automatically stopped and opened once the fire alarm wastriggered. I put a rag over my mouth and headed for the fire hose down thehall. Meanwhile Virgil prepared to soak some towels in my sink.
    Neither of us got any water. My fire hose valve just sucked air and howled.
    "God Almighty," Virgil called through the smoke. "Somebody pulled a BigFlush." He came out and joined the people running for the fire stairs. "No'vators during fires so Ill have to take the stairs. I've got to get theparallel pipe system working."
    "The what?"
    "Parallel pipes," said Virgil, skipping into the stairwell. "Hang on! Find akeg! The architects weren't totally stupid!" And he was gone down the stairs.
    I locked my door in case of looting and went off in search of a keg.Naturally there was a superabundance that night, and with some help from thetoo-drunk-to-be-scared owners I hauled it to the lobby and began to pumpclouds of generic light into the flaming Christmas tree.
    Casimir Radon was in Sharon's lab, washing out a beaker. This was merely thefirst step of the Project Spike glassware procedure, which involved attack bytwo different alcohols and three different concentrated acid mixtures, but hewas in no hurry. For him Christmas had started the day before. With Virgil'shelp he could get into this lab throughout the vacation, and that meant plentyof time to work on Project Spike, build the mass driver and suffer as hethought about Sarah.
    He was annoyed but not exasperated when the water stopped flowing. There was agulp in the tapstream, followed by a hefty KLONK as the faucet handle jerkeditself from his grasp. The flow of water stopped, and an ominous gurgling,sucking noise came from the faucet, like an entire municipal water systemflushing its last. He listened as the symphony of hydraulic sound effects grewand spread to the dozens of pipes lining the lab's ceiling, the knocks andgurgles and hisses weaving together as though the pipes were having a wildChristmas party of their own. But Casimir was tired, and fairly absentmindedto boot, and he shrugged it off as yet another example of the infinite varietyof building and design defects in the Plex. The distilled water tap stillworked, so he used it. Despite the drudgery of the task and his problems withSarah, Casimir wore a little smile on his long unshaven face. Project Spikehad worked.
    He had been sampling Cafeteria food for three weeks, and until tonight hadcome up with nothing. Turkey Quiche, Beef Pot Pies, Lefto Lasagne, EstonianPasties, and even Deep-Fried Chicken Livers had drawn blanks, and Casimir hadbegun to wonder whether it was a waste of time. Then came Savory MeatloafNight, an event which occurred every three weeks or so; despite the effortsof advanced minds such as Virgil's, no one had ever discerned any reliablepattern which might predict when this dish was to be served. Today, of course,the last of the semester, Savory Meatloaf Night had struck and Casimir hadcraftily smuggled a slice out in his sock (the Cafeteria exit guards couldafford to take it easy on Savory Meatloaf Night).
    Not more than fifteen minutes ago, as he had been irradiating the next batchof rat poison, the computer terminal had zipped into life with the resultsof the analysis: high levels of Carbon- 14! There were rats in the meatloaf!That was a triumph for Casimir. It seemed likely to be a secret triumph,though. Sarah would never understand why he was doing this. Casimir wasn'teven sure he understood it himself. S. S. Krupp had funded his mass driver,so why should he wish to damage the university now? He suspected that ProjectSpike was simply a challenge, an opportunity to prove that he was cleverand self-sufficient in a sea of idiocy. He had accomplished that, but as apolitical tactic it was still pretty dumb. Sarah would certainly think so.
    Sarah had also thought it was dumb when he had decided to work in the lab allnight instead of going to Fantasy Island Nite. She was right on that issuetoo, perhaps, but Casimir loathed parties of all sorts and would use anyexcuse to avoid one. Hence he was here on the bottom of the Plex, washing outrat-liver scum, while she was far above, dancing in the clown costume she hadshown him-- probably having a wonderful time as handsome Terrorists salivatedon her.
    He observed he was leaning on the counter staring at the wall as though itwere a screen beaming him live coverage of Sarah at the party. Maybe he wouldleave now, retaining a lab coat as a costume, and go up and surprise Sarah.
    Meanwhile water was squirting out of the wall, forcing its way through thecracks between the panels, running out from under the baseboards and tricklingthrough the grommets in the sides of Casimir's tennis shoes. Abruptly broughtback into the here and now, he looked around half-dazed and started unpluggingthings and moving them to higher ground. What the hell was happening? A brokenpipe? He figured that if there was enough water pressure on the 31st floor torun a fire hose, the pressure down here must be phenomenal. This was going tobe a hell of a mess.
    Water was now trickling through old nail holes high on the wall. Casimircovered the computer terminal with plastic and then ran out to search forB-men. They were not here now, of course-- probably spreading rat poison orcelebrating some Crotobaltislavonian radish festival.
    Across from Sharon's lab was a freight elevator closed off by a manuallyoperated door. When he looked through its little window Casimir saw waterfalling down the shaft, and sparks spitting past. He got insulated gloves fromthe lab and hauled the door open. Several gallons of pent-up water rushed pasthis ankles and fell into the blackness. From below rose the-harsh wet odor ofthe sewers.
    The sparks issued from the electrical control box on the shaft wall. OnceCasimir was sure there was no danger of fire or electrocution he left, leavingthe doors open so that water could drain out of this bottom level of the Plex.
    Oh, God. The rat poison. It was only supposed to stay in the radiation sourcefor a minute at a time! Casimir had put it in an hour ago, then simplyforgotten about it once the results of the analysis had come in. The damnstuff must be glowing in the dark. He sloshed back into the lab.
    Water poured and squirted from the walls and ceiling everywhere he looked. Heshielded his face from spray and walked through a wall of water toward theneutron source, a garbage can full of paraffin with the plutonium button atit* center. Stopping to listen, he sensed that the slow ticking noise whichhad been coming from one wall had sped up and was growing louder. He stoodpetrified as it grew into a rumble, then a groan. then a scream-- and the wallcrashed open and a torrent rushed through the lab. An adjacent storage roomhad filled with water from a large broken pipe, and Casimir was now knocked tothe floor by a torrent of Fiberglass panels, aluminum studs, and janitorialsupplies. He rolled just in time to see the neutron source, buoyed on the rushof water, bob through the doorway and across the hall.
    Taking care not to be swept along, he made his way to the shaft and lookeddown. All was dark, but from far below, under the waterfall sound, he thoughthe heard a buzz, or a ringing: the sound of an alarm. Maybe his ears wereringing, and maybe it was a fire alarm above. Nauseated, he returned to thelab, sat on a table and awaited the B-men.
    Fantasy Island Nite was turning out to be not such a bad thing after all.Those Terrorists upstairs in their own lounge were making a lot of noise,but those down here on 12 were making an admirable effort to behave, pertheir agreement with the Airheads. Only this agreement had persuaded Sarahand Hyacinth to show up. It was potentially interesting, it was nice to besociable once in a while and they could always leave if they didn't like it.Sarah wore a clown costume. This was her way of making fun of the fantasytheme of the party-- most Airheads came as beauty queens or vamps-- andhad the extra advantage of making her totally unrecognizable. Hyacinth puttogether a smashing Fairy Godmother costume, as a joke only Sarah would get.Their plan was to drink so much it would become socially acceptable for themto dance together.
    While Sarah was working on the first stage of this plan she began g a lotof attention from three Terrorists. These three-- ,a Cowboy, a Droog and aCommando-- were obvious jerks, each one incensed that she would not reveal hername, but as long as they danced, fetched drinks and didn't try to conversethey seemed like harmless fun. After a while she got a little boogied out, andwithdrew from the action to look out over the city. Hyacinth had gone to visitanother party and was expected back soon.
    Time twisted and she was no longer at the party; she was watching it from aplace in her mind where she had not been for many years. She slid backwardlike an air hockey puck until she was high up in one corner of the room. Thewalls of the Plex fell away so that she could see in all directions at once.
    One of the picture windows had been replaced by a gate that opened to thesky. The gate was gaily festooned with shining pulsing color-blobs. All theother party-goers had lined up in front of it. On one side of the gate stoodMitzi, taking tickets; on the other, Mrs. Saritucci, checking off their nameson a clipboard. Each Airhead-Terrorist who passed through stepped out and satdown on a long slippery-slide made of blue light, and squealed with delightas they zoomed earthward. Sarah could not see all the way to the slide's end,but she could see that, below, the Death Vortex had turned into a whirlpool ofmulticolored fire. Forests and towns and families whirled around and aroundbefore gurling down the center to disappear. The Vortex was ringed withhundreds of fire trucks whose crews halfheartedly sprayed their tiny jets ofwater into its middle.
    When Sarah looked beyond the whirlpool she saw in its light a shatteredlandscape of rubble and corpses, where bawling dirty people scrabbled aboutaimlessly and squinted into the fire-glow. Nothing more than dust, solitarybricks, co*ckroaches and jagged glass was there, though Sarah's vision swoopedacross it for a thousand miles and a thousand years.
    Beyond its distant edge was a nonlandscape: a milky white vacuum where chokingblack clouds of static grew, split, re-formed, hurled themselves againstone another, clashed with horrible dry violence and abated to grow and formagain. Its slowness and its dryness made it the most awful thing Sarah hadever seen. After five millennia, when she thought she was entirely lost andcrazy, she saw a piece of broken glass. then a rivulet of blood. Followingthem, she found herself in the terrible landscape again, with the Plex on thehorizon erupting like a volcano. Blue beams of light shot from its top andwrapped around her and sucked her back through the air into the building. Butshe could no longer find herself there. She was no longer in the Lounge. TheLounge had been vacant for centuries and only dust and yellowed party favorsremained. Following footprints in the dust she came to the hallway-- brightlylit, loud, filled with shouting students and bats. She flew straight downthe hail until four dots at its end grew into four people and she could slowdown and follow them. There were three men: a Cowboy and a Commando held thearms of a woman dressed as a clown, hurrying her down the hall, while a Droogwalked ahead of them carrying a paper punch cup which glowed with a greenlight from within. Sarah closed her eyes to the glow and shook her head, andwhen she opened them again she was the clown-woman-- though she did not wantto be.
    They were in an elevator filled with black water that rose and crept warmly upSarah's thighs. Swimming in the water were bad hidden things, so she kicked aswell as she could. Her hands were held up above her head by men ten feet high,lost in the glare of the overhead light where it was too bright to look.
    Then they were on a floor that reminded Sarah of the broken landscape. On thewall a giant mouth was chewing vigorously, drooling on the floor and smackingits disgusting lips. The men threw her through it and followed behind.
    "I won't go down the slide," she protested, but they did not really care.Inside all was red and blue; a neon beer emblem burned in the window andlicked her with its hot rays. There stood a giant in a football costume whowore the head of Tiny, leader of the Terrorists.
    "Is Dex here?" she said, more out of habit than anything. It would be likeDex to slip her some LSD. But then she knew this was a stupid question. Shefelt the door being locked behind her and saw the music turned up until itwas purest ruby red, causing her body to turn into fragile glass. To move nowwould be to shatter and die.
    "Handle with care," she murmured, "I'm glass now," but the words just dribbleddown the front of her costume. They were ripping her costume away. Shesquirmed but felt herself cracking horribly. The beer sign cast grotesque redand blue light on the transparent flesh of her thighs.
    She knew what was going to happen next. Somehow her mind connected it all in astraight line, before the idea was swept away by the internal storm. The worstthing in the world. She should have gone down the slide.
    She made an effort of will. The sound and the light went away, it was spring;grass and flowers and blue sky were all around and she was not about to beraped. She was eating raspberries on the banks of a creek. Out of curiosityshe scratched at the air with her fingernail. Red and blue rays stabbed outinto her skin again, and peeking all the way through for a moment she couldsee that they had not yet started.
    No wonder; they were moving in slow motion. Sarah would have to spend manyhours waiting on the banks of the creek. She drew back into the sunshine.Perhaps she could live here forever and have a perfect life.
    When she slept, she dreamed of those dry, unending wars in the land of milkywhite. She knew it was all an illusion. She tore it away and came back tothe room. She was not going to sleep through anything. She was not going toimagine anything that didn't exist.
    The sign was wavy and upside down now, reflected in a puddle of water on thefloor.
    A Terrorist was in the corner twisting a faucet handle. Sarah stood up. Tinyturned toward her and smashed her across the face. She was on the floor again,and over there a Terrorist groped in the scintillating ocean of red and bluefor the sign's power cord. He was screaming like an electric guitar now. Hewas trying to swim in the shallow lake of blood and bile.
    Sarah was thrown onto a bed. Her arms and legs flailed, and one heel found aTerrorist's kneecap. The Droog got on top of her, and because he was in slowmotion she kicked him in the nuts. He curled up on top of her and she lookedthrough his hair at the ceiling, which sputtered in the failing sign-light.Tiny was unwinding a long piece of rope and its thin tendrils floated aroundhim like black smoke. She rolled half out from under the Droog and curledinto a fetal position so he could not take her arms and legs. As she did shepeered down through the transparent floor and saw the Airheads, plastered withgrotesque makeup, drinking LSD from crystal goblets and cheering. But wherewas Hyacinth?
    Hyacinth was standing in the doorway. An extremely loud explosion seepedinto her ears. Smoke filled the room, catching the hallway light and forminghundreds of 3-D images from Sarah's past life.
    Hyacinth's fairy godmother costume was changed, for now she wore heavy leathergloves over her white cloth gloves, and bulky ear protectors under her conicalhat, and a pair of goggles beneath her milky-white veil. In her hands shecarried a giant revolver. Sarah knew that under her dress, Hyacinth was madeof strong young oakwood.
    Hyacinth took one step into the room and shrugged on the main light switch.Tiny stood in the center, staring. The man who had been swimming on the floorwas dead. Another clasped his knee and screamed at the ceiling. Sarah laid herhead down restfully and put her hands on her ears.
    Cones of fire were spurting from the front and back of Hyacinth's gun and herhands were snapping rhythmically up and down. Tiny had his hands on his chest,and as he walked backward toward the window the back of his football jerseybulged and fluttered like a loose sail, darkness splashing away from it. Theelectrical cord was between his legs. His steps shortened and he fell backwardthrough the picture window. The cord and plug trailed slowly behind him andsnapped out room and were gone. The noise was so immense that Sarah heardnothing until much later. The blasts were synchronized with the music's beat:
    WHAM WHAM WHAM WHAM
    with each WHAM followed by a high whine that shrieked through until the nextWHAM, so that when Tiny was gone there remained a terrible high tone thatresonated between the walls of the room, far too loud for Sarah to stand,filling her awareness like the blowing of the Last Trumpet and tormenting theinjured Terrorists, who cried out in it and wrapped their arms around theirheads. The Droog on, top of Sarah was pulled slowly away and Hyacinth yankedSarah to her feet. Sarah did not even move her legs as the smoky doorwaytwisted past her, the corridor walls with their Big Wheels rolled on by, thelandings of the fire stair rushed up toward her from blackness and her softbed drifted up to envelop her face. Hyacinth was above her, probing, rubbing,kissing her. She would not stop until Sarah was well again.
    Virgil used his master key eight times before attaining a dark, stainedsub-sublevel of the Plex, where great water mains from the City entered fromthe depths and fed the giant pumps that pressurized the plumbing systemoverhead.
    In an uncharacteristic flash of foresightedness, the Plex's architects madeallowances for the certainty that, once in a while, one group or another wouldflush hundreds of toilets simultaneously and damage the cold water system. Sothey installed two parallel, independent systems of main pipes to feed thedistribution systems of the wings; to switch between them one need only closeone set of valves and open another. This Virgil accomplished by grunting andstraining at a few red iron wheels. Satisfied that things were settling backtoward normal, he set out for Professor Sharon's old lab to see if CasimirRadon was still there.
    * * *
    The Computing Center was not far away. Though it had many rooms, its heartwas a cavernous square space with white walls and a white floor waxed to athick glossy sheen. The white ceiling was composed of square fluorescent lightpanels in a checkerboard pattern. Practically all of the room was occupied bydisc memory units: brown-and-blue cubes, spaced in a grid to form a seeminglyendless matrix of six-foot aisles. At the center of the room was an opencircle, and at the center of that area stood the Central Processing Unit ofthe Janus 64. A smooth triangular column five feet on a side and twelve feethigh, it would have touched the ceiling except that above was a circularopening about forty feet across, encircled by a railing so that observerscould stand and look into the core of the Computing Center.
    Around the CPU were a few other large machines: secondary computers toorganize the tasks being fed to the Janus 64, array processors, high-speedlaser printers, a central control panel and the like. But closest of all wasthe Operator's Station, a single video terminal, and tonight the operator wasConsuela Gorm, high priestess of MARS. She had volunteered to do the job onthis night of partying, when the only people still using the computer in theadjacent Terminal Room were the goners, the hopelessly addicted hackers whohad nothing else to live for.
    The only sounds were the whine of the refrigeration units, which drew away theheat thrown off by the tightly packed components of the Janus 64; the highhum of the whirling memory discs, multiplied by hundreds; and the pitter-patof Consuela's fingertips across the keypad of the Operator's Station. She washunkered down there, staring hypnotized into the screen, and behind her FredFine stood thin and straight as the CPU itself. Tonight they were testingShekondar Mark V, their state-of-the-art Sewers & Serpents simulation program.Now, at a few minutes before midnight, they had worked out the few remainingbugs and they stood transfixed as their program did exactly what it wassupposed to.
    "Looks like a routine adventure," mumbled Consuela.
    "But it looks like Shekondar might have generated a werewolf colony in thisparty's vicinity. I'm seeing a lot of indications of lycanthropic activity."
    "You'd want plenty of silver arrows on this campaign."
    "With this level of activity, you'd want a cleric specialized inlycanthropes," scoffed Consuela.
    Fred Fine was perfectly aware of that. He was merely making conversation soConsuela would not realize he was thinking intently about something, and tryto beat him to the punch. Yes, the werewolf colony was obvious-- it was alarge one, probably east-northeast in the Mountains of Krang. Only large-scaleorganization could account for the lack of wolfsbane and garlic, which wereusually abundant in this biome. But Fred Fine was concerned with observationson a far grander scale. Though nothing was catastrophically wrong, somethingwas very strange, and Fred Fine found that he was covered with goosebumps. Hetapped a foot nervously and scanned the descriptions scrolling past on thescreen.
    "Listen for birds!" he hissed.
    Consuela ordered an Aural Stimuli Report, specifying Avians as field ofinterest.
    NO AVIAN SOUNDS DETECTABLE, said Shekondar Mark V.
    "Damn!" said Fred Fine. "Let's have the alchemist test one of his magicalsubstances-- say, some of the fire-starting fluid." MAGICAL COMBUSTIBLES ANDEXPLOSIVES FAIL TO FUNCTION.
    "Uh-oh! All characters jettison all magical items immediately!" SMALL FIRESAND EXPLOSIONS IN ALCHEMICAL SUBSTANCES.
    "Good. We'll get farther away."
    LARGE EXPLOSIONS. NOXIOUS SMOKE. NO INJURIES DUE TO WIND DIRECTION.
    "Lucky! Forgot even to check for that. My character will try turning on hispocket calculator."
    ELECTRONIC DEVICES FAIL TO FUNCTION.
    "Wait a minute," said the astonished Consuela. "What is this? I don't knowof anything that can cause disruption of magic and technology at the sametime! Some kind of psionics, maybe?" "I don't know. I don't know what it is.,,"We wrote this thing. We have to know what's in it." "Aural Stimuli Report,General. Quick!"
    DEEP RUMBLING CONSISTENT WITH TEMBLOR OR LARGE SUBTERRANEAN MOVEMENT.
    "Can't be an earthquake. We'll head for solid rock, that should protect us.Head uphill!"
    MOVEMENT SPEED HALVED BY TEMBLOR. ROCK OUTCROPPING REACHED IN SIX TURNS.EXTREMELY LOUD HISSING. GASEOUS ODOR. GROUND BECOMES WARM.
    "It's almost like a Dragon," said Consuela in a constricted, terrified voice,"but from down in the earth."
    "God! I can't think of what the hell this is!"
    ONE HUNDRED METERS TO YOUR NORTH EARTH BULGES UPWARD. BULGE IS FIFTY METERSIN DIAMETER AND RISING QUICKLY. EARTH CRACKS OPEN AND YOU SEE A GLISTENINGSURFACE....
    The terminal went blank. From just behind them came a violent scream, like abuzzsaw wrenching to a stop in a concrete block. They knew it though they hadnever heard it before; it was the sound of a disc unit dying, the sound madewhen the power was cut off and the automatic readers (similar to the tone-armsof phonographs) sank into, and shredded, the hysterically spinning magneticdiscs. It was to them what the snapping of a horse's leg is to a jockey, andwhen they spun around they were astonished and horrified to see a curtain ofwater pouring onto the floor from the circular walkway overhead. Not more thana dozen feet from the base of the Janus 64, the ring was spreading inward.
    "Hey, Fred 'n' Con!" someone yelled. At one end of the room, at the windowthat looked out into the Terminal Room, an overweight blond-bearded hackersquinted at them. "What's going on? System problems? Oh, Jeeeezus!"
    He turned to his comrades in the Terminal Room, screaming, "Head crash! Headcrash! Water on the brain!" Soon two dozen hackers had vaulted through thewindow into the Center and were sprinting down the aisles as fast as theiratrophied legs could carry them, the men stripping off their shirts as theyran. Another disc drive shorted out and sizzled to destruction. Abruptly FredFine spun and grabbed the Operator's Key-chain, then ran through the circularwaterfall toward another wall of the Center, shouting for people to followhim.
    In seconds he had snapped open the door to the storage room, where tons ofaccordion-fold computer paper were stored in boxes. As some of the hackers didtheir best to sweep water away from the base of the Janus 64, the rest formeda line from the storage room to the central circle. The boxes were passed downthe line as quickly as possible, slit open with Fred Fine's authentic CivilWar bayonet and their contents dumped out as big green-and-white cubes insidethe deadly water-ring. Though it did not entirely stem the flow, the paperabsorbed what It did not dam. Soon all space between the waterfall and theCPU was covered with at least two feet of soggy computer paper. Meanwhile,Consuela had shut down all the disc drives.
    The danger was past. Fred Fine, still palpitating, noticed a small waterfallin the corner of the storage room. Flicking on the lights for the first time,he clambered over the stacked boxes to check it out. In the corner, threepipes about ten inches in diameter ran from floor to ceiling. One was swathedin the insulation used for hot water pipes. Water was running down one of thebare pipes; higher up. above the ceiling, it must be leaking heavily. FredFine put his hand on the third pipe and found that it was neither hot norcool, and did not seem to be carrying a current. A firehose supply pipe? No,they were supposed to be bright red. He puzzled over it, rubbing his handover the long thin whiskers that straggled down his cheeks when he had beencomputing for a week or more.
    As he watched, the hiss of running water lowered and died away and a fewseconds later the leak from above was stemmed. There was the KLONK of an airhammer in a pipe. Fred Fine put his hand on the mystery pipe, and began tofeel the gentle vibration of running water underneath, and a sensation ofcoolness spreading out from the interior.
    The hackers saw him wandering slowly toward the Janus, which rose like anancient glyph from the tumbled, sodden blocks of paper. He had a distant look,and was consumed in thought.
    "These are the End Times," he was heard to say. "The Age draws to a close."
    He was no weirder than they were, so they ignored him.
    Tiny landed on a burning sofa not far from my window. The impact forced muchexcess lighter fluid out of the foam cushions and created a burst of flamewhose origin we did not know until later. Once the water had come back on, andwe had soaked the elevator and the Christmas tree, we aimed the fire hose outmy living-room window and drenched the heap of dimly burning furniture thatwas Tiny the Terrorist's funeral pyre. It was a few minutes past midnight, thesecond strangest midnight I have ever known, and my first semester at the BigU was at an end.


    -- Second Semester --

    --January--
    The fog of war was real down here. The knee-deep gloom on the tunnel floorexhaled it in sheets and columns, never disturbed by a clean wind or a breathof dryness. Through its darkness moved a flickering cloud of light, and at thecenter walked a tall thin figure with headphones sprouting long antennae. Hecarried an eight-foot wizard's staff in one hand, a Loyal Order of CaledonianComrades ceremonial sword in the other, and wore hip waders, a raincoat, and agas mask. His headlamp's beam struck the fog in front of his eyes and stoppeddead, limiting his visibility to what he could see through occasional holesin the atmosphere. From the twin filters of his gas mask came labored hissingsighs as he panted with an effort of wading through the muck.
    "I've come to the intersection of the Tunnel of Goblins and the Tunnel ofDragon Blood," he announced. "This is my turnaround point and I will nowreturn to rendezvous with Zippy the Dwarf, Lord Flail and the White Priest inthe Hall of the Idols of Zarzang-Zed." True to his word, Klystron the Impalerlaboriously reversed direction by gripping his staff and making a five-pointturn, then paused for a rest.
    A voice crackled from his headphones, a lush, tense introvert's voice madetinny by the poor transmission quality.
    "Roger, Klystron the Impaler, This is Liaison. Please hold." There was a briefsilence, but the flickering of her fingers on the computer keys up there, andher ruffling of papers, kept her voice-operated mike open. She snickered,unaware that Klystron, Zippy, Flail and the White Priest could hear her. "Ohho," she gloated, "are you in for trouble now. You don't hear anything yet."More fingers on the keyboard. Klystron concluded that Shekondar had generateda monster with many statistics and at least three attack modes, a monsterwith which Consuela was not entirely familiar. Perhaps, for once, a worthyopponent.
    Klystron the Impaler drew his mask down to dangle on his chest. Taking carenot to breathe through his nose, he brought out his wineskin, opened theplastic spigot and shot a long stream of warm Tab onto his tongue. God, itstank down here. But Klystron could deal with far worse. Anything was betterthan doing this in a safe light place, like the D & D players, and neverexperiencing the darkness, claustrophobia and terror of reality.
    Liaison was ready. "Klystron the Impaler, known to' -his allies as the Heroic,High Lord of Plexor, Mage of the CeePeeYu and Tamer of the Purple Worm ofLongtunnel, is attacked by the ELECTRIC MICROWAVE LIZARD OF QUIZZYXAR!" Shenearly shrieked the last part of this, as frenzied as a priestess during asolar eclipse. "You are not surprised, you have one turn to prepare defense.Statement of intent, please."
    Klystron corked the wineskin with his thumb and let it drop to his side,sliding the mask back over his face. So, it was the electric microwave lizardof Quizzyxar. Consuela's reaction had hinted it was something big. He wasready.
    "As you will recall, I took an anti-microwave potion six months ago, beforethe Siege of Dud, and that has not worn off yet. As he will probably attackwith microwaves first, this gives me an extra turn. I begin by flipping downthe visor on my Helm of Courage. Is he charging?"
    "No. She's advancing slowly."
    "I stand my ground on the left side of the tunnel and fire a freeze-blast frommy Staff of Cold." He wheeled his staff into firingposition as though it werea SAM-7 shoulder-fired antiaircraft missile launcher and his body shook withimagined recoil as he CHOONGed a couple of sound effects into the mike.
    But why had Consuela specified the lizard was a she? With Consuela it couldnot have been a mere Freudian slip. "Okay," Con said slowly, typing inKlystron's actions, "your freeze-blast strikes home, hitting her in theleft head. It has no effect. The lizard's microwave blast does not hurt youbut explodes your wineskin, causing you two points of concussion damage. Itcontinues to advance at a walk."
    "TouchÉ. " So much for Tab.
    "Liaison, do we know about this yet?" It was Lord Flail. Liaison askedShekondar. "Yes. The lizard makes a lot of noise and you hear it."
    "Okay!" cried Lord Flail. "We'll proceed at top speed toward the melee."
    "Me too," added Zippy the Dwarf.
    "It'll take us forever to get there," said the White Priest, who did not seemto be very far into his character. "We're at least a thousand feet away."
    Klystron the Impaler took advantage of these negotiations to do some planning.Obviously the female type was immune to cold-- highly obnoxious to the maletype.
    "In my quiver I have a fire arrow which I took from the dying Elf-Lord duringthat one time when we space-warped into Middle Earth. I'll fire that. Whichhead is it leading with?" "Left."
    "Then I aim for the right head."
    "The arrow finds its mark and burns fiercely," announced Consuela with relish."The lizard bites you on your left arm, which is now useless until the WhitePriest can heal it. While you switch back to your sword it claws you with atentacle! claw appendage, doing five points of damage to your chest. The clawis poisoned but... you make your saving throw."
    "Good. I'll take a swipe at the appendage as it attacks."
    "You miss."
    "Okay, I'll make for the right head."
    "The lizard has succeeded in clawing the fire arrow out of its hide. Now itmakes a right tongue strike, sticking you, and begins drawing you into itsmouth. Will you attack the tongue, or parry the poison claw attacks?"
    Klystron considered it. This was a hell of a situation. As a last resort hecould use a wish from his wishing sword, but that could be risky, especiallywith Consuela.
    "I will defend myself from the claws, and deal with the mouth when I get toit. I've been swallowed before."
    "You parry three swipes. But now you are just inside the mouth and it isexhaling poison gas, and you have lost half your strength." "Oh, all right,"said Klystron in disgust. "I'll make a wish on my wishing sword. I'll say"
    "Wait a minute!" came the feminine squeal of Zippy the Dwarf. I just spottedhim!"
    Snapping to attention, Klystron scanned the surrounding mist with the beam ofhis headlamp and picked out Zippy's red chest waders. "Confirm contact withZippy the Dwarf. Estimated range ten meters."
    "In that case," observed Consuela, "she is right behind the lizard. Youraction, Zippy?"
    "Three double fireballs from my fireball-shooting tiara." "I duck," saidKlystron hastily. Shekondar was just clever enough to generate an accidentalhit on him. He sighed in relief and his pulse became leaden. It was going tobe fine.
    "All fireballs strike in abdominal area. Lizard is now in bad shape and movingslowly."
    "I cut myself loose from the tongue."
    "Done."
    "Two more fireballs in the right head."
    "As soon as I'm out of the way, that is."
    "Okay. The lizard dies, Congratulations, people. That's ten thousandexperience points apiece."
    Klystron and Zippy joined up, edging together against the tunnel wall to avoidthe imaginary lizard corpse sprawled between them. They shook hands robustly,though Klystron had some reservations about being saved by a female dwarf,"Good going, guys!" shouted Lord Flail, overloading his mike. "Yeah. Way togo," the White Priest added glumly.
    "Flail and Priest, give estimated distance from us." Klystron was concerned;those two were the weakest members, even when they were together, and nowthat one monster had been noisily eliminated others were sure to converge onthe area to clean up. "To be frank, I'm not sure," answered the White Priest."I kind of thought we'd be getting to an intersection near you by now, butapparently not. The layout of these tunnels isn't what I saw on the Plexblueprints."
    Klystron winced at this gross violation of game ethics and exchangedexasperated glances with Zippy. "You mean that the secret map you found wasincorrect," he said. "Well, don't continue if you're lost. We will proceed inthe direction of the Sepulchre of Keldor and hope to meet you there." He andZippy plugged off down the tunnel.
    They wandered for ten minutes looking for one another, and every sixty secondsLiaison had them stop while Shekondar checked for prowling monsters. Shortly,Klystron overheard an exchange between the Priest and the Lord, who apparentlyhad removed their masks to talk.
    "Take it easy! It doesn't take very long, you know," said the White Priest."I'll be right back. Stay here."
    "I don't think we should separate, Your Holiness," pleaded Lord Flail. "Notafter a melee that'll attract other monsters." Klystron turned up the gain onhis mike and shouted, "He's right! Don't split up," in hopes that they wouldhear it without earphones.
    The Priest and Lord Flail conversed inaudibly for a few seconds. Then Flailcame back on, having apparently replaced his mask. "Uh, this is to notifyShekondar that the White Priest has gone aside," he said, using the codephrase for taking a leak. Klystron chuckled. A few seconds later came anotherprowling monster check. Everyone tensed and waited for Shekondar's decree.
    "Okay," said Liaison triumphantly, "we've got a monster, Lord Flail, now solo,is attacked by... giant sewer rats! There are twelve of them, and they takehim by surprise."
    "Well listen for his battle cry and try to locate him that way," announcedKlystron immediately, and pulled his headphones down to listen. Oddly, Flailhad not responded.
    "Statement of intent! Move it!" snapped Consuela.
    But no statement of intent was forthcoming from Flail. Instead, a ghastlyseries of sound effects was transmitted through his mike. First came a whooshof surprise, followed by a short pause, and some confused interjections. Thennothing was heard for a few seconds save ragged panting; and then came along, loud scream which obliged them to turn down the volume. The screamingcontinued, swamping the others' efforts to make themselves heard on the line.
    Finally Consuela's voice came through, angry and hurt. "You're jumping thegun. The melee hasn't started yet." But Lord Flail was no longer screaming,and the only sounds coming over his mike were an occasional scraping andshuffling mixed with odd squeals that might have been radio trouble.
    Klystron and Zippy, headphones down, could hear the screams echoing down thetunnel a second after they came in on the radio. Flail's plan was clear; hewas making a god-awful lot of noise to assist the better fighters in trackinghim down. A good plan for a character with a fighting level of three and acourage/psychostability index of only eight, but it was a little overdone.
    The odd noises continued for several minutes as they tramped toward the sceneof the melee, which was in a higher tunnel with a much drier floor.
    Ahead of them, Flail's headlamp cast an unmoving yellow blotch on the ceiling.On the fringes of that cone of light moved great swift shadows. Klystronslowed down and drew his sword. Zippy had dropped back several feet. "Makingfinal approach to Flail's location," Klystron mumbled, edging forward, fallingunconsciously into the squatting stance of the sabre fighter. At the end ofhis lamp's beam he could see quickly moving gray and brown fur, and blood.
    "At your approach the rats get scared and flee," said Consuela, franticlytyping, "though not without persuasion."
    He could see them clearly now. They were dogs, like German shepherds, thoughrather fat, and they had long, long bare tails. And round ears. And pointyquivering snouts. Oh, my God. Several scurried away, some stood their groundstaring at his headlamp with beady black and red eyes, and one rushed him.Reacting frantically he split the top of its skull with a blow of the dullsword. The rest of the giant sewer rats turned and ran squealing down thetunnel. Lord Flail was not going anywhere, and what remained of him, asbattle-hardened as Klystron was, was too disgusting to look at.
    "You are too late," said Consuela. "Lord Flail has been gnawed to death by thegiant sewer rats."
    "I know," said Klystron. Hearing nothing from Zippy, he turned around to seeher sitting there staring dumbly at the corpse. "Uh, request permission totemporarily leave character."
    "Granted. What's going on down there?"
    "Consuela, this is Fred. It's Steve. Steven has been, uh, I supposed you couldsay, uh, eaten, by a bunch of"
    Fred Fine stepped forward and swept his beam over the brained animal at hisfeet. "By giant sewer rats."
    "Oh, golly!" said Zippy. "What about Virgil? He went off to go tinkle!"
    "Jeez," said Fred Fine, and started looking around for footprints. "Liaison,White Priest is solo in unknown location." The twelve giant sewer rats had runright past the White Priest and ignored him. He was standing with his chestwaders around his thighs, relieving himself onto a decaying toilet paper core,when the mass of squealing rodent fervor had hurtled out of the fog, parteddown the middle to pass around him, rejoined behind, their long tails lashinginquisitively around his knees, and shot onward toward their rendezvous withLord Flail.
    He stood there almost absentmindedly and finished his task, staring into theswirling lights in front of his face, breathing deeply and thinking. Thenthe screaming started, and he pulled up his waders and got himself together,unslinging the Sceptre of Cosmic Force from its handy shoulder strap andbrandishing it. Fred Fine and Consuela had insisted he bring along convincingprops, so he had manufactured the Sceptre, an iron re-rod wrapped in aluminumfoil, topped with a xenon flash tube in a massive glass ball that was wired toa power supply in the handle. When they had mustered for the expedition, hehad switched off the lights and "convinced" them by turning it on and bouncinga few explosive purple flashes off their unprepared retinas. After he hadexplained the circuitry to Fred Fine, they entered character and descendeda long spiral stair into the tunnels. In the ensuing three hours the WhitePriest had used the Sceptre of Cosmic Force to blind, disorient and paralyzethree womp rats, a samurai, a balrog, Darth Vader and a Libyan hit squad.
    He began to slog back toward Steven, and the screaming ended. Either therats had left or Steven was dead or someone had helped the poor bastardout. Tramping down the tunnel, his lamp beam bounding over the discardedfeminine-hygiene products, condoms, shampoo-bottle lids and Twinkie wrappers,Virgil tried to decide whether this was really happening or was simply part ofthe game. The tunnels and the chanting of Consuela had made a few inroads onhis sense of reality, and now he was not so sure he had seen those rats. Thescreams, however, had not sounded like the dramaturgical improvisations of anescapist Information Systems major.
    He stopped. The rats were coming back! He looked around for a ladder, orsomething to climb up on, but the walls of the tunnel were smooth andfeatureless. He turned and ran as quickly as he could in the heavy rubberizedleggings, soon discarding the gas mask and headphones so he could take deepbreaths of the fetid ammonia-ridden air.
    The rats were gaining on him. Virgil searched his memory, trying to visualizewhere this tunnel was and where it branched off; if he were right, there wereno branches at all-- it was a dead end. But the blueprints had been wrongbefore.
    A branch? He swept the left wall with his lamp, and discerned a dark patch tenpaces ahead. He made for it. The rats were lunging for his ankles. He kept hisleft hand on the wall as he ran, flailing with the Sceptre in his right. Thenhis left hand abruptly felt air and he dove in that direction, tripping overhis own feet and falling on his side within the branch tunnel.
    A rat was on top of him before he had come to rest, and he stood up wildly,using his body to throw the screaming beast against the wall. Grabbing theSceptre in both hands he swung it like a scythe. Whatever else it was, it wasfirst and foremost a rod with a heavy globe at one end, a fine mace.
    Virgil stood with his back to the wall, kicking alternately with his feet likea Crotobaltislavonian folk dancer to shake off the bites of the rats, lashingout with the Sceptre at the same time. He was then blinded as his hand touchedthe toggle switch that activated the powerful flasher at the end. He cringedand looked away, and at the same time the rats fell back squealing. He shooksweat and condensation from his eyes, snapped his wet hair back and wavedthe Sceptre around at arms' length, surveying his opponents in the explodinglight. They were gathered around him in a semicircle, about ten feet away, andwith every flash their fur glistened for an instant and their eyeballs sparkedlike distant brakelights. They were hissing and muttering to one another now,their number constantly growing, watching with implacable hostility-- but nonedared approach.
    Continuing to wave the Sceptre of Cosmic Force, Virgil felt down with hisother hand to the butt of the weapon, where he had installed a dial to adjustthe speed of the flashing. Turning it carefully up and down, he found that asthe flashes became less frequent, the circle tightened around him unanimouslyso that he must frantically spin the dial up to a higher frequency. Atthis the rats reacted in pain arid backed away in the flickering light instop-action. Now Virgil's vision was composed of a succession of still images,each slightly different from the last, and all he saw was rats. dozens ofrats, and each shining purple rat-image was fixed permanently into his perfectmemory until he could remember little else. Encouraged by their fear, hegrasped the knob again and sped up the flasher, until suddenly they reachedsome breaking-point; then they dissolved into perfect chaotic frenzy andturned upon one another with hysterical ferocity, charging lustily togetherinto a great stop-action melee at the tunnel intersection. Bewildered anddisgusted, Virgil closed his eyes to shut it out, so that all he saw wasthe red veins in his eyelids jumping out repeatedly against a yellow-pinkbackground.
    Some of the rats were colliding with his legs. He lowered the Sceptre so thatthe flasher was between his ankles, and, guiding himself by sound and touch,moved away from the obstructed intersection and down the unmapped passageway.He opened his eyes and began to run, holding the flasher out in front ofhim like a blind man's cane. From time to time he encountered a rat who hadapproached the source of the sound and fury and then gone into convulsionsupon encountering the sprinting electronics technician with his Sceptre. Soon,though, there were no more rats, and he turned it off.
    Something was tugging at his belt. Feeling cautiously, he found that it wasthe power cord of the headlamp, which had been knocked off his head and hadbeen bouncing along behind him ever since. He found that the lens, once he hadwiped crud from it, cast an intermittent light-- a connection was weakenedsomewhere-- that did, however, enable him to see.
    This unmapped tunnel was relatively narrow. Its ceiling, to his shock, wasthick with bats, while its floor was clean of the stinking glom that coveredmost of the tunnels in varying depths. Instead there was a thin layer of slimyfluid and fuzzy white bat guano which stank but did not hinder. This wasprobably a good sign; the passage must lead somewhere. He noted the positionof the Sceptre's dial that had caused the rats to blow their stacks, thenslung the weapon over his shoulder and continued down the passage, his feetcuriously light and free in the absence of deep sludge.
    Before long he discerned a light at the end of the tunnel. He broke into ajog, and soon he could see it clearly, about a hundred and fifty feet away: aregion at the end of the passage that was clean and white and fluorescentlylit. Nothing in the blueprints corresponded to this.
    He was still at least a hundred feet away when a pair of sliding doors onthe right wall at the very end of the tunnel slid open. He stopped, sankto a squat against the tunnel wall and then lay on his stomach as he heardshouting.
    "Ho! Heeeeyah! Gitska!" Making these and similar noises, three B-men peekedout the door and up the passageway, then emerged, carrying weapons-- not justpistols, but small machine guns. Two of them assumed a kneeling position onthe floor, facing up the tunnel, and their leader, an enormous B-man foremannamed Magrov, stood behind them and sighted down the tunnel through the bulkyinfrared sight of his weapon. About halfway between Virgil and the B-men, agiant rat had turned and was scuttling toward Virgil. There was a roar and aflickering light not unlike that of Virgil's Sceptre, and two dozen automaticrounds dissolved the rat into a long streak on the floor. Magrov shone apowerful flashlight over the wreckage of the rodent, but apparently Virgilwas too small, distant and filthy to be noticed. Magrov belched loudly in atraditional Croto expression of profound disgust, and the other two murmuredtheir agreement. He signaled to whoever was waiting beyond the sliding doors.
    A large metal cylinder about a foot and a half in diameter and six feet long,strapped to a heavy four-wheeled cart, was carefully pushed sideways into thepassage. Magrov walked to a box on the wall, punched a button with the barrelof his weapon and spoke. "Control, Magrov once again. We have put it in normalplace like usual, and today only one of those goddamn pink-tailed ones, youknow. We taking off now. I guess we be back in a few hours."
    "That's an A-OK. All clear to reascend, team." came the unaccented answer fromthe box. The B-men walked through the sliding doors, which closed behind them,and Virgil was barely able to make out a hum which sounded like an elevator.
    After a few seconds, the end wall of the tunnel parted slowly and Virgilsaw that it wasn't the end at all, it was a pair of thick steel slabs thatretracted into the floor and ceiling. Beyond the doors was a large room,brightly lit, containing several men walking around in what looked likebright yellow rainsuits and long loose hoods with black plastic windows overthe eyes. Three of these figures emerged and quickly slid cart and cylinderthrough the doors while two others stood guard with submachine guns. Then allretreated behind the doors, and the steel slabs slid back together and sealedthe tunnel.
    He remained motionless for a few minutes more, and noticed some other things:wall-mounted TV cameras that incessantly swiveled back and forth on powergimbals; chemical odors that wafted down the tunnel after the doors wereclosed; and the many gnawed and broken rat bones scattered across the nearbyfloor. Then Virgil Gabrielsen concluded that the wisest thing to do was to goback and mess with the giant rats.
    Several days into the second semester, the Administration finally told thetruth about the Library, and allowed the media in to photograph the ranks uponranks of card catalog cabinets with their totally empty drawers.
    The perpetrators had done it on Christmas Day. The Plex had been nearlydeserted, its entrance guarded by a single guard at a turnstile. At eight inthe morning, ten rather young and hairy-looking fellows in B-man uniforms hadarrived and haltingly explained that as Crotobaltislavonians they followed theJulian calendar, and had already celebrated Christmas. Could they not come into perform needed plumbing repairs, and earn quadruple overtime for working onChristmas Day? The skeptical guard let them in anyway; if he could not trustthe janitors, whom could he trust?
    As reconstructed by the police, the burglars had gathered in the card catalogarea all the canvas carts they could find. They had taken these through thecatalog, pulling the lock-pins from each drawer and dumping the contents intothe carts. The Library's 4.8 million volumes were catalogued in 12,000 drawersof three-by-five cards, and a simple calculation demonstrated that all ofthese cards could be fitted into a dozen canvas carts by anyone not overlyfastidious about keeping them in perfect order. The carts had been takenvia freight elevator to the loading docks and wheeled onto a rented truck,which according to the rental agency had now disappeared. Its borrower, a Mr.Friedrich Engels, had failed to list a correct address and phone number andproved difficult to track down. The only untouched drawer was number 11375,STALIN, JOSEPH to STALLBAUM, JOHANN GOTTFRIED.
    The Library turned to the computer system. During the previous five years,a sweatshop of catalogers had begun to transfer the catalog into a computersystem, and the Administration hoped that ten percent of the catalog could besalvaged in this way. Instead they found that a terrible computer malfunctionhad munched through the catalog recently, erasing call numbers and mainentries and replacing them with knock-knock jokes, Burma-Shave ditties andtracts on the sexual characteristics of the Computing Center senior staff.
    The situation was not hopeless; at any rate, it did not deteriorate at first.The books were still arranged in a rational order. This changed when peoplebegan holding books hostage.
    A Master's Candidate in Journalism had a few books she used over and overagain. After the loss of the catalog she found them by memory, carried themto another part of the Library, and cached them behind twelve feet of boundback issues of the Nepalese Journal of Bhutaruan Studies. A library employeefrom Photoduplication then happened to take down a volume of Utah Review ofTheoretical Astrocosmology, shelved back-to-back with NJBS, and detected thecache. She moved it to another place in the Library, dumping it behind afifty-volume facsimile edition of the ledgers of the Brisbane/Surabaya SteamPacket Co. Ltd., which had been published in 1893 and whose pages had notyet been cut. She then left a sign on the Library bulletin board saying thatif the user of such-and-such books wanted to know where they were, he or shecould put fifty dollars in the former stash, and she, the employee, wouldleave in its place the new location. Several thousand people saw this noteand the scam was written up in the Monoplex Monitor; it was so obviously agood idea that it rapidly became a large business. Some people took only a fewvolumes, others hundreds, but in all cases the technique was basically thesame, and soon extra bulletin board capability was added outside the entranceto the Library bloc. Of course, this practice had been possible before theloss of the card catalog, but that event seemed to change everyone's scruplesabout the Library. The central keying system was gone; what difference did itmake?
    Free enterprise helped take up the slack, as students hired themselves outas book-snoopers. The useless card catalog area took on the semblance of abazaar, each counter occupied by one or two businesses with signs identifyingtheir rates and services. The psychic book-snoopers stole and hid books,then-- claiming to use psychic powers-- showed spectacular efficiency inlocating them. The psychics soon eclipsed the businesses of their nonspiritualcolleagues. In order to seem as mysterious as possible, the psychics engagedin impressive rituals; one day, working alone on the top floor, I wassurprised to see Professor Emeritus Humphrey Batstone Forthcoming IV being ledblindfolded through the stacks by a leotarded witch swinging a censer.
    Every week the people who had stolen the card catalog would take a card andmail it to the Library. The conditions of ransom, as expressed on these cardsin a cramped hand, were that: (1) S. S. Krupp and the Trustees must be purged;(2) the Megaversity must have open admissions and no room, board or tuitionfees; (3) the Plex must become a free zone with no laws or authority; (4) theMegaversity must withdraw all investments in firms doing business in SouthAfrica, firms doing business with firms doing business in South Africa andfirms doing business with firms doing business with firms doing business inSouth Africa; (5) recognize the PLO and the baby seals.
    S. S. Krupp observed that card catalogs, a recent invention, had not existedat the Library of Alexandria, and though he would have preferred, ceterisparibus, to have the catalog, we didn't have one now, that was too bad, andwe were going to have to make do. There was dissent and profound shock overhis position, and righteous editorials in the Monitor, but after a week or twomost people decided that, though Krupp was an asshole, there wasn't any pointin arguing.
    "Welcome and thanks for coming to the mass driver demonstration." CasimirRadon swallowed some water and straightened his glacier glasses. "The physicsmajors' organization Neutrino has put a lot of time and work into this device,much of it over the Christmas holiday, and we think it is a good example ofwhat can be done with activities money used constructively. God damn it!"
    He was cursing at the loudness of his Plex neighbor, Dex Fresser, whose stereowas an electronic signal processor of industrial power. For once Casimir didnot restrain himself; he was so nervous over the upcoming demonstration thathe failed to consider the dire embarrassment, social rejection and personaldanger involved in going next door to ask this jerk-*ff to turn down hismusic. He was pounding on Dex Fresser's door before his mind knew what hisbody was doing, and for a moment he hoped his knocks had been drowned out bythe bass beats exploding from Fresser's eighteen-inch woofers. But the dooropened, and there was Dex Fresser, looking completely disoriented, "Couldyou turn that down?" asked Casimir. Fresser, becoming aware of his presence,looked Casimir over from head to foot. "It kind of disturbs me," Casimir addedapologetically.
    Fresser thought it over. "But you're not even there that much, so how canit disturb you?" He then peered oddly into Casimir's face, as though thegoggle-eyed Radon were the captain of a ship from a mirror Earth on the otherside of the sun, which was pretty much what he was thinking. Chagrined,Casimir ground his teeth very loudly, generating so much heat that they becamewhite hot and glowed pinkly through his cheeks. He then receded off intoinfinity like a starship making the jump into hyperspace, then came aroundbehind Fresser again in such a way as to make it appear (due to the mirroreffect) that he was actually coming from the same direction in which he'dgone. Just as he arrived back in the doorway two years later, the space warpsnapped shut behind him; but at the last moment Dex Fresser glanced throughit, and saw lovely purple fields filled with flowers, chanting Brazilians,leaky green ballpoint pens and thousands of empty tea boxes. He wanted verymuch to visit that place.
    "Well, it does disturb me when I do happen to be in my room. See how thatworks?" The man who was running this tape, a lanky green tennis shoe with badacne and an elephant's trunk tied in a double Windsor knot around his waist,stopped the tape and ran it back to Fresser's previous reply.
    "But you're not even there that much, so how can it disturb you?" As Fresserfinished this, Casimir did exactly what he had done last time, except thistime the purple fields were being clusterbombed by flying garages. Thespace warp closed off just in time to let a piece of shrapnel through. Itzoomed over Casimir's shoulder and embedded itself in the wall, and Fresserrecognized it as a Pershing 2 missile.
    "Right," said Casimir, now. speaking through a sousaphone around his shoulder,which bombarded Dex Fresser with white laser rays. "I know. But you see when Iam in my room I prefer not to be disturbed. That's the whole point."
    Fresser suddenly realized that the Pershing 2 was actually the left frontquarter-panel of a '57 Buick that he had seen abandoned on a street inEvanston on July 28, 1984, and that Casimir was actually John D. Rockefeller."How can you be so goddamn selfish, man? Don't you know how many people you'vekilled?" And he slammed the door shut, knowing that the shock would cause thepiece of the Buick to fall on Rockefeller's head; since it was antimatter,nothing would be left afterward.
    The confrontation had worked out as badly as Casimir had feared. He went backto his room, heart pounding irrationally, so upset that he did not practicehis speech at all.
    The lack of rehearsal did not matter, as the only audience in Sharon's labwas the Neutrino membership, Virgil, Sarah, a photographer from the MortoplexMonitor and I. Toward the end of the speech, though, S. S. Krupp walked inwith an official photographer and a small, meek-looking older man, causingCasimir to whip off his glasses in agitation and destroying any trace ofcalmness in his manner. Finally he mumbled something to the effect that itwas too bad Krupp had come in so late, seeing as how the best part of thisintroduction was over, and concluded that we should stop jabbering and have alook at this thing.
    The mass driver was four meters long, built atop a pair of sturdy tablesbolted together. It was nothing more than a pair of long straight parallelguides, each horseshoe-shaped in cross-section, the prongs of the horseshoespointed toward each other with a narrow gap in between. The bucket, whichwould carry the payload, was lozenge-shaped in cross-section and almost filledthe oval tunnel created by the two guides. Most of the bucket was emptypayload space, but its outer jacket was of a special alloy supercooled byliquid helium so that it became a perfect superconducting electromagnet. Thisfeature, combined with a force field generated in the two rails, suspendedthe bucket on a frictionless magnetic cushion. Electromagnets in the rails,artfully wound by Virgil, provided the acceleration, "kicking" the bucket andits contents from one end of the mass driver to the other.
    Casimir relaxed visibly as he began pointing out the technical details. Withlong metal tongs he reached into a giant thermos flask and pulled out thesupercold bucket, which was about the size of two beer cans side by side. Heslid it into the breech of the mass driver. As it began to soak up warmth fromthe room, a cascade of frigid white helium poured from a vent on its back andspilled to the floor.
    Krupp stood close by and asked questions. "What's the weight of the slug?"
    "This," said Casimir, picking up a solid brass cylinder from the table, "is aone-kilogram mass. That's pretty small, but-- " "No, it isn't." Krupp lookedover at his friend, who raised his eyebrows and nodded. "Nothing small aboutit."
    Casimir smiled weakly and nodded in thanks. Krupp continued, "What's themuzzle velocity?"
    Here Casimir looked sheepish and shifted nervously, looking at his Neutrinofriends.
    "Oh," said Krupp, sounding let down, "not so fast, eh?"
    "Oh, no no no. Don't get me wrong. The final velocity isn't bad." At thisthe Neutrino members clapped their hands over their mouths and stifledshrieks and laughs. "I was just going to let you see that for yourselvesinstead of throwing a lot of numbers at you."
    "Well, that's fine!" said Krupp, sounding more sanguine. "Don't let uslaymen interfere with your schedule. I'm sorry. Just go right ahead."He stepped back and crossed his arms as though planning to shut up for hours.
    Casimir gave the empty bucket a tap and there were oohs and aahs as it floatedsmoothly and quietly down the rails, bounced off a stop at the end and floatedback with no change in speed. He reinserted the one-kilogram brass cylinder."Now let's try it. As you can see we have a momentum absorber set up at theother end of the lab."
    The "momentum absorber" was ten squares of 3/8-inch plywood held parallel in aframe, spaced two inches apart to form a sandwich a couple of feet long. Thiswas securely braced against the wall of the lab at the same level as the massdriver. had assumed that the intended target was a wastebasket floor beneaththe "muzzle" of the machine, but now realized that Casimir was expectingthe weight to fly about twenty feet without losing any altitude. "I suggestyou all stand back in case something goes wrong," said Casimir, and feelingsomewhat alarmed I stood way back and suggested that Sarah do likewise.Casimir made a last check of the circuitry, then hit a big red button.
    The sound was a whizz followed by a rapid series of staccato explosions. Itcould be written as: ZZIKKH where the entire sound takes about a quarter ofa second. None of us really saw anything. Casimir was already running towardthe momentum absorber. When we got there, we saw that the first five layersof plywood had perfectly clean round holes punched through them, two more hadmessy holes, and the next layer had buckled, the brass cylinder wedged inplace at its bottom. Casimir pulled out the payload with tongs and droppedit into an asbestos mitt he had donned. "It's pretty hot after all thosecollisions," he explained.
    Everyone but Casimir was electrified. Even the Neutrino observers, who hadseen it before, were awed, and laughed hysterically from time to time. Sarahlooked as though whatever distrust she had ever had in technology had beendramatically confirmed. I stared at Casimir, realizing how smart he was.Virgil left, smiling. Krupp's little friend paced between mass driver andtarget, hands clasped behind back, a wide smile nestled in his silver-brownbeard, while Krupp himself was astonished.
    "Jesus H. Christ!" he yelled, fingering the holes. "That is the damnedestthing I've ever seen. Good lord, boy, how did you make this?"
    Casimir seemed at a loss. "It's all done from Sharon's plans," he saidblankly. "He did all the magnetic fieldwork. I just plugged in the arithmetic.The rest of it was machine-shop work. Nothing complicated about the machine."
    "Does it have to be this powerful?" I said. "Don't get me wrong. I'm impressedas hell. Wouldn't it have been a little easier to make a slower one?"
    "Well, sure, but not as useful," said Casimir. "The technical challenges onlyshow up when you make it fast enough to be used for its practical purpose--which is to shoot payloads of ore and minerals from the lunar surface toan orbital processing station. For a low-velocity one we could've used aircushions instead of magnetic fields to float the bucket but there's nochallenge in that."
    "What's the muzzle velocity?" asked Krupp's guest, who had appeared next tome. He spoke quietly and quickly in an Australian accent. When I looked downat him, I realized he was Oswald Heimlich, Chairman of the Board of Trusteesof American Megaversity and one of the richest men in the city -- the founderof Heimlich Freedom Industries a huge defense contractor. Casimir obviouslydidn't know who he was.
    "The final velocity of the bucket is one hundred meters per second, or abouttwo hundred twenty miles per hour."
    "And how could you boost that?"
    "Boost it?" Casimir looked at him, startled. "Well, for more velocity youcould build another just like this-- "
    "Yes, and put them together. I know. They're interconnectible.But how could you increase the acceleration of this device?"
    "Well, that gets you into some big technical problems. You'd need expensiveelectronic gear with the ability to kick out huge pulses of power veryquickly. Giant capacitors could do it, or a specialized power supply."
    Heimlich followed all this, nodding incessantly. "Or a generator that gets itspower from a controlled explosion."
    Casimir smiled. "It's funny you should mention that. Some people arespeculating about building small portable mass drivers with exactly that typeof power supply-- a chemical explosion-- and using them to throw explosiveshells and so on. That's what is called-- "
    "A railgun. Precisely."
    Things began to fall into place for Casimir. "Oh. I see. So you want to knowif I could build-- basically a railgun."
    "Sure. Sure," said Heimlich in an aggressive, glinting voice. "What'sresearch without practical applications?" The question hung in the air.
    Krupp took over, sounding much calmer. "You see, Casimir, in order tocontinue with this research-- and you are off to an exceptionally finestart-- you will need outside funding on a larger scale. Now, as good anidea as lunar mining is, no one is ever going to fund that kind of research.But railguns-- whether you like it or not, they have very immediatesignificance that can really pull in the grants. I'm merely pointing outthat in today's climate relating your work to defense is the best way toobtain funding. And I imagine that if you wanted to set up a specialized labhere to advance this kind of work, you might be able to get all the fundingyou'd want."
    Casimir looked down at the shattered plywood in consternation. "I don't needan answer now. But give it some careful thought, son. There's no reason foryou to be stuck in silly-ass classes if you can do this kind of work. Callme anytime you like." He shook Casimir's hand, Heimlich made a brief smilingspastic bow, and they walked out together.

    --February--
    Sarah quit the Presidency of the Student Government on the first of January.At the mass-driver demonstration, S. S. Krupp had simply ignored her, whichwas fine by Sarah as she had no desire to give the man a point-by-pointexplanation.
    As for the death of Tiny, here the other shoe never dropped, though Sarahand Hyacinth kept waiting. His body was in especially poor condition whenfound, and the bullet holes might not have been detected even if someone hadthought to look for them. The City police made a rare Plex visit and looked atthe broken window and the electrocuted man on the floor, but apparently theTerrorists had cleaned up any blood or other evidence of conflict; in short,they made it all look like a completely deranged drunken f*ck-up, an archetypefamiliar to the City cops.
    The Terrorists wanted their own revenge. None of them had a coherent ideaof what had happened. Even the two surviving witnesses had dim, traumatizedmemories of the event and could only say it had something to do with a womandressed as a clown. As soon as I heard that the Terrorists were looking forsomeone called Clown Woman, I invited her over and we had a chat. I knew whather costume had been. Though she understood why I was curious, she suddenlyadopted a sad, cold reserve I had never seen in her before.
    "Some really terrible things happened that night. But I'm I Hyacinth issafe-- okay? And we've been making plans to stay that way."
    "Fine. I just-- "
    "I know. I'd love to tell you more. I'm dying to. But I won't, because youhave some official responsibilities and you're the kind of person who carriesthem out, and knowing anything would be a burden for you. You'd try to help--but that's something you can't do. Can you understand that?"
    I was a little scared by her lone strength. More, I was stunned that she wasprotecting me. Finally I shrugged and said, "Sounds as though you know whatyou're doing," because that was how it sounded.
    "This has a lot to do with your resigning the Presidency?" I continued. Sarahwas a little annoyed by my diplomacy, for the same reason S. S. Krupp wouldhave been.
    "Bud, I don't need some terrific reason for resigning. If I'm spending time ona useless job I don't like, and I find there are better things to do with thattime, then I ought to resign." I nodded contritely, and for the first time shewas relaxed enough to laugh. On her way out she gave me a long platonic hug,and I still remember it when I feel in need of warmth.
    They got the wading pool and the garden hose on a two-hour bus ride to asuburban K-Mart. Hyacinth inflated it in the middle of Sarah's room whileSarah ran the hose down the hall to the bathroom to pipe in hot water. Oncethe pool was acceptably full and foamy, they retrieved the hose, locked thedoor and sealed off all windows with newspaper and all cracks around the doorwith towels and tape. They lit a few candles but blew most of them out whentheir eyes adjusted. The magnum of champagne was buried in ice, the water washot, the night was young. Hyacinth's .44 was very intrusive, and so Sarahfiled it under G for Gun and they had a good laugh.
    Around 4:00 in the morning, to Sarah's satisfaction, Hyacinth passed out.Sarah allowed herself to do likewise for a while. Then she dragged Hyacinthout onto the rug, dried her and hoisted her into bed. They slept until 4:32in the afternoon. Sleet was ticking against the window. Hyacinth cut a slitin the window screen and they fed the hose outside and siphoned all thebathwater out of the pool and down the side of the Plex. They ate all ofSarah's mother's banana bread, thirty-two Chips Ahoys, three bowls of CaptainCrunch, a pint of strawberry ice cream and drank a great deal of water. Theythen gave each other backrubs and went to sleep again.
    "Keeping my .38 clean is a pain in the ass," said Sarah at one point. "Itpicks up a lot of crud in my backpack pocket." "That's one reason to carry asingle-action," said Hyacinth. "Less to go wrong if it's dirty."
    A long time later, Sarah added, "This is pretty macho. Talking about ourguns."
    "I suppose it's true that they're macho. But they are also guns. In fact,they're primarily guns."
    "True."
    They also discussed killing people, which had become an important subject withthem recently.
    "Sometimes there isn't any choice," Sarah said to Hyacinth, as Hyacinth criedcalmly into her shoulder. "You know, Constantine punished rapists by pouringmolten lead down their throats. That was a premeditated, organized punishment.What you did was on the spur of the moment."
    "Yeah. Putting on protective clothes, loading my gun, tracking them down andblowing one away was really on the spur of the moment."
    "All I can say is that if anyone ever deserved it, he did." Three Terroristsambled down the hall past Sarah's door, chanting "Death to Clown Woman!"
    "Okay, fine," said Hyacinth, and stopped crying. "Granted. I can't worry aboutit forever. But sooner or later they're going to figure out who Clown Womanis. Then there'll be even more violence."
    "Better them to be violent against us," said Sarah, "than against people whodon't even understand what violence is."
    Sarah was busy taking care of herself that semester. This made more sense thanwhat the rest of us were doing, but it did not make for an eventful life. Atthe same time, a very different American Megaversity student was fighting thesame battle Sarah had just won. This student lost. The tale of his losing ismelancholy but much more interesting.
    Every detail was important in assessing the situation, in determining just howclose to the brink Plexor was! The obvious things, the frequent transitionsfrom the Technological universe to the Magical universe, those were child'splay to detect; but the evidence of impending Breakdown was to be found onlyin the minutiae. The extra cold-water pipe; that was significant. What hadsuddenly caused such a leak to be sprung in the plumbing of Plexor, whichhad functioned flawlessly for a thousand years? And what powerful benignhand had made the switch from one pipe to the other? What prophecy was to befound in the coming of the Thing of the Earth in the test run of Shekondar?Was some great happening at hand? One could not be sure; the answer mustbe nested among subtleties. So this one spent many days wandering like alone thaumaturge through the corridors of the Plex, watching and observing,ignoring the classes and lectures that had become so trivial.
    With the help of an obsequious MARS lieutenant he was allowed to inspectthe laboratory of the secret railgun experiments. Here he found advancedspecialized power supplies from Heimlich Freedom Industries. The lieutenant, aNeutrino member of four years' standing, hooked the output of one power supplyto an oscilloscope and showed him the very high and sharp spike of current itcould punch out-- precisely the impulses a superfast mass driver would needto keep its payload accelerating explosively right up to the end. This onealso observed a test of a new electromagnet. It was much larger than thoseused for the first mass driver, wound with miles of hair-thin copper wire andcooled by antifreeze-filled tubes. A short piece of rail had been made totest the magnet. It was equipped with a bucket designed to carry a payloadten centimeters across! This one watched as a violent invisible kick from themagnet wrenched the bucket to high velocity and slammed it to the cushionat the rail's end; the heavy payload shot out, boomed into a tarp suspendedabout five feet away, and fell into a box of foam-rubber scraps. It was thesame pattern he saw everywhere. A peaceful lunar mining device had, under theinfluence of Shekondar the Fearsome, metamorphosed into a potent weapon ofgreat value to the forces of Good.
    He gave the lieutenant a battlefield promotion to Captain. He wanted to stayand continue to watch, but it had been a long day; he was tired, and for amoment his mind seemed to stop entirely as he stood by the exit.
    Then came again the creeping sense of Leakage, impossible to ignore; his headsnapped up and to the right, and, speaking across the dimensional barrier,Klystron the Impaler told him to go to dinner.
    Klystron the Impaler was only Klystron the Impaler when he was in a Magicaluniverse. The rest of the time he was Chris the Systems Programmer-- abrilliant, dashing, young, handsome terminal jockey considered to be the bestsystems man on the giant self-contained universe-hopping colony, Plexor.From time to time Plexor would pass through the Central Bifurcation, a giantspace warp, and enter a Magical universe, fundamentally altering all aspectsof reality. Though the structure of Plexor itself underwent little change atthese times, everything therein was converted to its magical, pretechnologicalanalog. Guns became swords, freshmen became howling savages, Time magazinebecame a hand-lettered vellum tome and Chris the Systems Programmer-- well,brilliant people like him became sorcerers, swordspeople and heroes. Thesmarter they were-- the greater their stature in the Technological universe--the more dazzling was their swordplay and the more penetrating their spells.Needless to say, Klystron the Impaler was a very great hero-swordsman-magicianindeed.
    Of course, Plexorians tended to be that way to begin with. Only the mostadvanced had been admitted when Plexor was begun, and it was natural thattheir distant offspring today should tend toward the exceptional. Of thoselucky enough to be selected for Plexor, only the most adaptable had anystomach for the life once they got there and, every month or so, found theirwaterbeds metamorphosing into heaps of bearskins. Klystron/Chris liked tothink of the place as a pressure cooker for the advancement of humanity.
    But even the most perfect machine could not be insulated from the frailty andstupidity of the human mind. In the early days of Plexor every inhabitant hadunderstood the Central Bifurcation, had respected the distinction betweentechnology and magic, and had shown enough discipline to ensure that division.Within the past several generations, though, ignorance had come to thisperfect place and Breakdown had begun. Recent generations of Plexorians lackedthe enthusiasm and commitment of their forebears and displayed ignorance whichwas often shocking; recently it had become common to suppose that Plexor wasnot a free-drifting edosociosystem at all, that it was in fact a planetoidalstructure bound to a particular universe. Occasionally, it was true, Plexorwould materialize on the ground, in a giant city or a barbarian kingdom. Itsmakers, a Guild of sorcerers and magicians operating in separate universesthrough the mediation of Keldor, had created it to be self-sufficient andlife-supporting in any habitat, with a nuclear fuel source that would lastforever. But to believe that one particular world was always out there was ablindness to reality so severe that it amounted to rank primitivism amidstthis sophisticated colony of technocrats. It was, in a word, Breakdown-- ablurring of the boundary-- and such was the delicacy of that boundary betweenthe universes that mere ignorance of its existence, mere Breakdown-orientedthinking and Breakdown-conducive behavior, was sufficient to open smallLeaks between Magic and Technology, to generate an unholy Mixture of the twoopposites. It was the duty of the remaining guardians of the Elder Knowledge.such as Klystron/Chris, to expurgate such mixtures and restore the erstwhilepurity of the two existences of Plexor.
    In just the past few weeks the Leaks had become rents, the Mixture ubiquitous.Now Barbarians sat at computer terminals in the Computing Center unabashed,pathetically trying, in broad daylight, to run programs that were so riddledwith bugs the damn things wouldn't even compile, their recent kills stretchedout bleeding between their feet awaiting the spit. Giant rats from anotherplane of existence roamed free through the sewers of the mighty technologicalcivilization, and everywhere Chris the Systems Analyst found dirt andmarrow-sucked bones on the floor, broken light fixtures, graffiti, noise,ignorance. He watched these happenings, not yet willing to believe in whatthey portended, and soon developed a sixth sense for detecting Leakage. Thatwas in and of itself a case of Mixture; in a Technological universe, sixthsenses were scientifically impossible. His new intuition was a sign of theLeakage of the powers of Klystron the Impaler into a universe where they didnot belong. In recognition of this, and to protect himself from the ignorant,Klystron/Chris had thought it wise to adopt the informal code name of FredFine.
    He had denied what was coming for too long. Despite his supreme intelligencehe was hesitant to accept the hugeness of his own personal importance.
    Until the day of the food fight: on that day he came to understand the somberfuture of Plexor and of himself. It happened during dinner. To most of thosein the Cafeteria it was just a food fight, but to "Fred Fine" it was much moresignificant, a preliminary skirmish to the upcoming war, a byte of strategicdata to be thoughtfully digested.
    He had been contemplating an abstract type of program structure, absentlyshuffling the nameless protein-starch substance from tray to mouth, when asense of strangeness had verged on his awareness and dispersed his thoughts.As he looked up and became alert, he also became aware that (a) the food wasterrible; (b) the Caf was crowded and noisy; and (c) Leakage was all around.His mind now as alert as that of Klystron before a melee, he scanned theCafeteria from his secure corner (one of only four corners in the Cafeteriaand therefore highly prized), stuffing his computer printout securely into hisbig locking briefcase. Though his gaze traversed hundreds of faces in a fewseconds, something allowed him to fix his attention on a certain few: eightor ten, with long hair and eccentric clothing, who were clearly looking atone another and not at the gallons of food heaped on their Fiberglass trays.The sixth sense of Klystron enabled Chris to glean from the whirl of people adeeply hidden pattern he knew to be significant.
    He stood up in the corner, memorizing the locations of those he had found, andswitched to long-range scan, assisting himself by following their own tensestares. His eyes flicked down to the readout of his digital calcu-chronographand he noted that it was just seconds before 6:00. Impatiently he polledhis subjects and noted that they were now all looking toward one place: amilk dispenser near the center of the Cafeteria, where an exceptionally tallburnout stood with a small black box in his hand!
    There was a sharp blue flash that made the ceiling glow briefly-- the blackbox was an electronic flash unit-- and all hell broke loose. Missiles ofall shapes and colors whizzed through his field of vision and splathunkedstarchily against tables, pillars and bodies. Amid sudden screaming an entirelong table was flipped over, causing a hundredweight of manicotti and Frenchfries to slide into the laps of the unfortunates on the wrong side. Seeingthe perpetrators break and dissolve into the milling dinnertime crowd, thevictims could only respond by slinging handfuls of steaming ricotta at theirdisappearing backsides. At this first outbreak of noise and action theCafeteria quieted for a moment, as all turned toward the disturbance. Then,seeing food flying past their own heads, most of the spectators united inbedlam. The Terrorist sections seemed to have been expecting this and joinedin with beer-commercial rowdiness. Several tables of well-dressed youngwomen ran frantically for the exits, in most cases too slowly to prevent theruination of hundreds of dollars' worth of clothes a head. Many collapsedsqualling into the arms of their patron Terrorist organizations. The Droogsopened a milk machine, pulled out a heavy poly-bag of Skim and slung it intothe midst of what had been an informal gathering of Classics majors, withexplosive results.
    All was observed intently by Klystron/Chris, who stood calm and motionless inhis corner holding his briefcase as a shield. Though the progress of the fightwas interesting to watch, it was hardly as important as the behavior of theinstigators and the reactions of the Cafeteria staff.
    Of the instigating organization, some were obliged to flee immediatelyin order to protect themselves. These were the agents provocateurs, thetable-tippers and tray-slingers, whose part was already played. The remainderwere observers, and they stood in carefully planned stations around the wallsof the Cafeteria and watched, much as Chris did. Some snapped pictures withcheap cameras.
    This picture-taking began in earnest when, after about fifteen seconds, thereactive strike began. The cooks and servers had instantly leapt to blockthe doors of the serving bays, which in these circ*mstances had the samevalue as ammunition dumps. Pairs of the larger male cooks now charged outand drew shut the folding dividers which partitioned the Cafeteria intotwenty-four sections. Meanwhile, forty-eight more senior Cafeteria personneland guards fanned out in organized fashion, clothed in ponchos and facemasks.In each section, one of them leapt up on a table with a megaphone to screamrighteousness at the students, while his partner confronted particularlyactive types. Klystron/Chris's view of the fight was abruptly reduced to whathe could see in his own small section.
    Among other things he saw eight of the Roy G Biv Terrorist Group overturn thetable on which the local official stood, sending him splaying on hands andknees across the slick of grease and tomato sauce on the floor. His partnerskidded after him and swiveled to protect their backs from the Terrorists, whohad huddled and were mumbling menacingly. For the first time Klystron/Chrisfelt the hysterical half-sick excitement of approaching violence, and he beganto edge along the wall toward a more strategically sound position.
    One of the Terrorists went to the corner where the sliding partitionsintersected, blocking the only route of escape. The men in the room moved awayuneasily; the women pressed themselves against the wall and sat on the floorand tried to get invisible. Then the Roy G Biv men broke; two went for thestill-standing official, one for the man who was just staggering to his feetwith the dented megaphone. Abruptly, Klystron/Chris stepped forward, took fromhis briefcase a small weapon and pulled the trigger. The weapon was a flashgun, a device for making an explosively intense flash of light that blindedattackers. Everyone in front of the weapon froze. As they were putting theirhands to their eyes, he pulled out his Civil War bayonet, jammed it into afold in the sliding partition and pulled it down to open a six-foot rent. Heled the tactical retreat to the adjoining section, which was comparativelyunder control.
    The officials here were not amused. A stocky middle-aged man in a brownsuit stomped toward Klystron/Chris with death in his eye. He was stoppedby a chorus of protest from the refugees, who made it clear that the realtroublemakers were back there. And that was how Klystron/Chris avoided havingany of these seriously Mixed officials discover his informal code name.
    But what was the strategic significance? He knew it had been done byBarbarians. Despite the carefully tailored modern clothes they used to hidetheir stooping forms and overly long arms, he recognized their true naturefrom the ropy scars running along their heavy overhanging brows and thegarlands of rodent skulls they wore around their necks. Had it not been forthe cameramen, he would have concluded that this was nothing more than apurposeless display of the savages' contempt for order. But the photographersmade it clear that this riot had been a reconnaissance-in-force, directed byan advanced strategic mind with an crest in the Cafeteria's defenses. Andthat, in turn, implied an upcoming offensive centered on the Cafeteria itself.Of course! In here was enough grub to feed a good-sized commando force foryears, if rationed properly; it would therefore be a prime objective forinsurrectionists planning to seize and hold large portions of Plexor. Butwhy? Who was behind it? And how did it connect with the other harbingers ofcatastrophe?
    Once upon a time, a mathematically inclined friend of Sarah's, one CasimirRadon, had estimated that her chances of running into a fellow Airhead atdinner were no better than about one in twenty. As usual he was not trying tobe annoying or nerdish, but nevertheless Sarah wished for a more satisfyingexplanation of why she could get no relief from her damned neighbors. One intwenty was optimistic. At times she thought that they were planting spies inher path to take down statistics on how many behavioral standards she broke,or to drive her crazy by asking why she had really resigned the Presidency.
    She was annoyed but not surprised to find herself eating dinner with MariMeegan, Mari's second cousin and Toni one night. Relaxed from a racquetballgame, she made no effort to scan her route through the Caf for telltale skimasks. So as she danced and sideslipped her way toward what looked like anopen table, she was blindsided by a charming squeal from right next to her."Sarah!" Too slow even to think of pretending not to hear, she looked down tosee the three color-coordinated ski masks looking back at her expectantly.She despised them and never wanted to see them again, ever, but she also knewthere was value in following social norms, once in a while, to forestallhatred and God knows what kinds of retribution. The last thing she wanted wasto be connected with Clown Woman. So she smiled and sat down. It was not goingto be a great meal, but Sarah's conversation support system was working wellenough to get her at least through the salad.
    The ski masks had become very popular since the beginning of second semester,having proved spectacularly successful during fire drills. The Airheads foundthat they could pull them on at the first ringing of the bell and make itdownstairs before all the bars filled up, and when they returned to theirrooms they did not have to remove any makeup before going back to bed. Thenone sartorially daring Airhead had worn her ski mask to a 9:00 class oneJanuary morning, and pronounced it worthwhile, and other Airheads had begun toexperiment with the concept. The less wealthy found that ski masks saved heapsof money on cosmetics and hair care, and everyone was impressed with theirconvenience, ease of cleaning and unlimited mix-'n'-match color coordinationpossibilities. Blousy, amorphous dresses had also become the style; why wearsomething tight and uncomfortable when no one knew who you were?
    Talking to Mari, Nicci and Toni was not that bad, of course, but Sarah feltunusually refreshed and clean, was having one of her favorite dinners, wasgoing to a concert with Hyacinth that night and had hoped to make it a perfectday. Worse than talking to them was having to smile and nod at the stream ofcologned and blow-dried Terrorists who came up behind the Airheads in theirstrange bandy macho walk, homing in on those ski masks like heat-seekingmissiles on a house fire. Several sneaked up behind Mari and the others togoose them while they ate. Sarah knew that they did not want to be warned, soshe merely rolled her manicotti around in her mouth and stared morosely overMari's shoulder as the young bucks crept forward with exaggerated stealth andtwitching fingers. So long as these people continued to lead segregated lives,she knew, it was necessary to do such things in order to have any contactwith members of the other sex. They at least had more style than the freshmanTerrorists, who generally started conversations by dumping beverages over theheads of freshman women. So there were many breaks in the conversation whileTerrorist fingers probed deep into Airhead tenderloins and the requisitescreaming and giggling followed.
    Notwithstanding this, "the gals" did manage to have a conversation abouttheir majors. Sarah was majoring in English. Mari had a cousin who majored inEnglish too, and who had met a very nice Business student doing it. Mari wasmajoring in Hobbies Education. Toni was Undecided. Nicci was in Sociology atanother school.
    And then the food fight.
    Between the opening salvo and the moment when their table was protectivelyringed by Terrorists, the others were quite dignified and hardly moved. Sarahsat still momentarily, then came to her senses and slipped under the table.From this point of view she saw many pairs of corduroy, khaki, designer jeanand chino pantlegs around the table, and saw too the folding partitions slideacross.
    Once the partitions were closed she emerged, mostly because she wanted to seewho owned the brown polyester legs that had been dancing around the room insuch agitation. The Terrorists grabbed her arms solicitously and hauled her toher feet, wanting to know if she had lost her ski mask in "all the action."
    The man in the brown three-piecer was none other than Bartholomew (Wombat)Forksplit, Dean of Dining Services, who had been promoted to Dean Emeritusafter his recovery from the nacho tortilla chip shard that had passed throughhis brain. No one knew where he came from-- Tibet? Kurdistan? Abyssinia?Circassia? Since the accident, he had become known as Wombat the Marauder tohis victims, mostly inconsiderate dorks who had broken Caf rules only to findthis man gripping them in an old Bosnian or Tunisian martial arts hold thatshorted out the major meridians of their nervous system, and shouting at themin a percussive accent that crackled like fat ground beef on a red-hot steamgriddle. Some accused him of using the accident as an excuse to act like amadman, but no one doubted that he was pissed off.
    When he saw the ex-President half-dragged from under a table by the beamingTerrorists, Forksplit released the knee of his current victim and speed-skatedacross the stained linoleum toward her, his tomato-sauce-- spattered armsoutstretched as if in supplication. Sarah pulled her arms free and backedup a step, but he stopped short of embracing her and cried, "Sarah! You,here? Indicates this that you are part of these-- these asshole Terrorists?Please say no!" He stared piteously into her eyes, the little white scaron his forehead standing out vividly against his murderously flushed face.Sarah swallowed and glanced around the room, conscious of many ski masks andTerrorists looking at her.
    "Oh, not really, I was just over here at another table. These guys were justhelping me up. This is a real shame. I hope the B-men don't go on strike now."
    A look of agony came over Wombat the Marauder's face at the mere mention ofthis idea, and he backed up, pirouetted and paced around their Cafeteriasubdivision directing a soliloquy of anger and frustration at Sarah. "Ijoost-- I don't know what the hell to do. I do everything in the world todeliver fine service. This is good food! No one believes that. They go offto other places and eat, come back and say, 'Yes Mr. Forksplit let me shakeyour hand your food is so good!! Best I have ever eaten!' But do these idiotsunderstand? No, they throw barbells through the ceiling! All they can do withgood food is throw it, like it is being a sports implement or something. You!"
    Forksplit sprinted toward a tall thin fellow who had just slit one of thesliding partitions almost in half with a bayonet and plunged through, pullinga briefcase behind him. Under his arm this man carried a pistol-shapedflashlight, which he tried to pull out; but before Forksplit was able toreach him, several more people exploded through the slit, pointing back andcomplaining about high rudeness levels in the next room. With a bloodcurdlingbattle cry Forksplit flung his body through the breach and into the nextcompartment, where much loud smashing and yelling commenced.
    Mari turned to Sarah, a big smile visible through her mouth-hole. "Thatwas very nice of you, Sarah. It was sweet to think about Dean Forksplit'sfeelings."
    "He put me in a hell of a spot," said Sarah, who was looking at Fred Fine andhis light-gun and his bayonet. "I mean, what was I supposed to say?"
    Mari did not follow, and laughed. "It was neat the way you didn't saysomething bad about the Terrorists just on his account." Fred Fine wasstashing his armaments in his briefcase and staring at them. Sarah concludedthat he had just come over to eavesdrop on their conversation and look attheir secondary sex characteristics.
    "Diplomatic? There's nothing I could say, Mari, that could be nasty enough todescribe those assholes, and the sooner you realize that the better off you'llbe."
    "Oh, no, Sarah. That's not true. The Terrorists are nice guys, really."
    "They are assholes."
    "But they're nice. You said so yourself at Fantasy Island Nite, remember? Youshould get to know some of them."
    Sarah nearly snapped that she had almost gotten to know some of them quitewell on Fantasy Island Nite, but held her tongue, suddenly apprehensive. Hadshe said that on Fantasy Island Nite? And had Mar! known who she was? "Man, itis possible to be nice and be an asshole at the same time. Ninety-nine percentof all people are nice. Not very many are decent."
    "Well, sometimes you don't seem terribly nice."
    "Well, I don't wish to be nice. I don't care about nice. I've got moreimportant things on my mind, like happiness."
    "I don't understand you, Sarah. I like you so much, but I just don'tunderstand you." Mari backed away a couple of paces on her spikes, gazingcoolly at Sarah through her eye-holes. "Sometimes I get the feeling you'renothing but a clown." She stood and watched Sarah triumphantly.
    DEATH TO CLOWN WOMAN! hung before Sarah's eyes. A knifing chill struck her andshe was suddenly nauseated and lightheaded. She sat down on a table, assistedneedlessly by Fred Fine.
    "You'll be fine," he said confidently. "Just routine shock. Lie back here andwe'll take care of you." He began making a clear space for her on the table.
    Somehow, Sarah had managed to unzip the back pocket of her knapsack andwrap her fingers around the concealed grip of the revolver. Shocked, sheforced herself to relax and think clearly. To scare the hell out of Mari was
    [...]

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    neighborhood, the square had degenerated meteorically and become a chaoticintersection lined with dangerous discos, greasy spoons, tiny weedlikebusinesses, fast-food joints with armed guards and vacant buildings coveredwith acres of graffiti-festooned plywood and smelling of rats and derelicts'urine. The home office of the Big Wheel Petroleum Corporation had moved outsome years ago to a Sunbelt location. It had retained ownership of its oldtwelve-story office building, and on its roof, thrust into the heavens on adirty web of steel and wooden beams, the Big Wheel sign continued to beam outit* pulsating message to everyone within five miles every evening. One of thefive largest neon signs ever built, it was double-sided and square, a greatblock of lovely saturated cherry red with a twelve-spoked wagon wheel of azureand blinding white rotating eternally in the middle, underscored by heavyblock letters saying BIG WHEEL that changed, letter by letter, from white toblue and back again, once every two revolutions. Despite the fact that theonly things the corporation still owned in this area were eight gas stations,the building and the sign, some traditionalist in the corporate hierarchy madesure that the sign was perfectly maintained and that it went on every evening.
    During the daytime the Big Wheel sign looked more or less like a billboard,unless you looked closely enough to catch the glinting of the miles of glasstubing bracketed to its surface. As night fell on the city, though, somemysterious hand, automatic or human, would throw the switch. Lights would dimfor miles around and anchormen's faces would bend as enough electricity topower Fargo at dinnertime was sent glowing and incandescing through the glasstracery to beam out the Big Wheel message to the city. This was a particularlyimpressive sight from the social lounges on the east side of the Plex, becausethe sign was less than a quarter mile away and stood as the only structurebetween it and the horizon. On cloudless nights, when the sky over the waterwas deep violet and the stars had not yet appeared, the Big Wheel sign as seenfrom the Plex would first glow orange as its tubes caught the light of thesunset. Then the sun would set, and the sign would sit, a dull inert squareagainst the heavens, and the headlights of the cars below would flicker onand the weak lights of the discos and the diners would come to life. Justwhen the sign was growing difficult to make out, the switch would be thrownand the Big Wheel would blaze out of the East like the face of God, causingthousands of scholarly heads to snap around and thousands of conversationsto stop for a moment. Although Plex people had few opportunities to purchasegasoline, and many did not even know what the sign was advertising, it hadbecome the emblem of a university without emblems and was universally admired.Art students created series of paintings called, for example, "Thirty-eightviews of the Big Wheel sign," the Terrorists adopted it as their symboland its illumination was used as the starting point for many parties. Evenduring the worst years of the energy crisis, practically no one at AM hadprotested against the idea of nightly beaming thousands of red-white-and-bluekilowatt-hours out into deep space while a hundred feet below derelicts losttheir limbs to the cold.
    The summit conference, the Meeting of Hearers, the Conclave of the TerroristSuperstars, was therefore held in the D24E lounge around sunset. About adozen figures from various Terrorist factions came, including eight stereohearers, two Big Wheel hearers, a laundry-machine hearer and a TV test-patternhearer. Hudson Rayburn, Tiny's successor, got there last, and did not havea chair. So he went to the nearest room and walked in without knocking. Theinhabitant was seated cross-legged on the bed, smoking a fluorescent redplastic bong and staring into a color-bar test pattern on a 21-inch TV. Thiswas the wing of the TV test-pattern hearers, a variation which Rayburn's groupfound questionable. There were some things you could say about test patterns,though.
    "The entire spectrum," observed Hudson Rayburn.
    "Hail Roy G Biv," quoth the hearer in his floor's ritual greeting. Rayburngrabbed a chair, causing the toaster oven it was supporting to slide off ontothe bed. "I must have this chair," he said. The hearer co*cked his head and wasmotionless for several seconds, then spoke in a good-natured monotone. "Roy GBiv speaks with the voice of Ward Cleaver, a voice of great power. Yes. Youare to take the chair. You are to bring it back, or I will not have a placefor putting my toaster oven."
    "I will bring it back," answered Rayburn, and carried it out. The hosts ofthe meeting had set up a big projection TV on one wall of the lounge, andthe representatives of the Roy G Biv faction stared at the test pattern. Oneof them, tonight's emcee, spoke to the assembled Terrorists, glancing at thescreen and pausing from time to time.
    "The problem with the stereo-hearers is that everybody has stereos and sothere are many different voices saying different things, and that is bad,because they cannot act together. Only a few have color TV5 that can show RoyG Biv, and only some have cable, which carries Roy G Biv on Channel 34 all thetime, so we are unified."
    "But there is only one Big Wheel. It is the most unified of all," observedHudson Rayburn, staring out at the Big Wheel, glinting orange in the settingsun.
    There was silence for a minute or so. A stereo-hearer, holding a large ghettoblaster on his lap, spoke up. "Ah, but it can be seen from many windows. Soit's no better at all."
    "The same is true of the stereo," said a laundry-machine hearer. "But thereis only one dryer, the Seritech Super Big-Window 1500 in Laundry, which isnumbered twenty-three and catches the reflection of the Astro-Nuke video game,and only a few can see it at a time, and I think it told me just the other dayhow we could steal it."
    "So what?" said Hudson Rayburn. "The dryer is just a little cousin of the BigWheel. The Big Wheel is the Father of all Speakers. Two years ago, beforethere were any hearers, Fred and I-- Fred was the founder of the Wild andCrazy Guys, he is now a bond analyst-- we sat in our lounge during a powerblackout and smoked much fine peyote. And we looked out over the city and itwas totally dark except for a few headlights. And then the power came backon, like with no warning, out of nowhere, just like that, and instantly, thestreets, buildings, signs, everything, were there, and there is the Big Wheelhanging in space and god it just freaked our brains and we just sat theregoing 'Whooo!' and just being blown away and stuff! And then Big Wheel spoketo me! He spoke in the voice of Hannibal Smith on the A-Team and said, 'Son,you should come out here every time there is a blackout. This is fun. And ifyou buy some more of that peyote, you'll have more when you run out of whatyou have. Your fly is open and you should write to your mother, and I suggestthat you drop that pre-calculus course before it saps your GPA and knocks youout of the running for law school.' And it was all exactly right! I did justwhat he said, he's been talking to me and my friends ever since, and he'salways given great advice. Any other Speakers are just related to the BigWheel."
    There was another minute or two of silence. A stereo cult member finally said,"I just heard my favorite deejay from Youngstown. He says what we need is onehearer who can hear all the different speakers, who we can follow"
    "Stop! The time comes!" cried Hudson Rayburn. He ran to the window and knelt,putting his elbows on the sill and clasping his hands. Just as he came torest, the Big Wheel sign blazed out of the violet sky like a neutron bomb, itslight mixing with that of Roy G Biv to make the lounge glow with unnaturalcolors. There was a minute or two of stillness, and then several people spokeat once.
    "Someone's coming."
    "Our leader is here."
    "Let's see what this guy has to say."
    Everyone now heard footsteps and a rhythmic slapping sound. The door openedand a tall thin scruffy figure strode in confidently. In one hand he waslugging a large old blue window fan which had a Go Big Red sticker stuck toits side. The grilles had been removed, exposing the blades, which had beenpainted bright colors, and as the man walked, the power cord slapped againstthe blades, making the sound that had alerted them. Wordlessly, he walked tothe front of the group, put the fan up on the windowsill, drew the shadesbehind it to close off the view of the Big Wheel, and plugged it in. Anotherperson had shut off Roy G Biv, and soon the room was mostly dark, inspiring asleeping bat to wake up and flit around.
    Once the fan was plugged in, they saw that its inside walls had been linedwith deep purple black-light tubes, which caused the paint on the blades toglow fluorescently.
    "Lo!" said the scruffy man, and rotated the fan's control to LO. The glowingblades began to spin and a light breeze blew into their faces. Those few whostill bore stereos set them on the floor, and all stared mesmerized into theFan.
    "My name is Dex Fresser," said the new guy. "I am to tell you my story.Last semester, before Christmas break, I was at a big party on E31E. I wasthere to drink and smoke and stare down into the Big Wheel, which spoke tome regularly. At about midnight, Big Wheel spoke in the voice of the aliencommander on my favorite video game. 'Better go pee before you lose it,' iswhat he said. So I went to pee. As I was standing in the bathroom peeing, theafter-image of Big Wheel continued to hang in front of me, spinning on thewall over the urinal.
    "I heard a noise and looked over toward the showers. There was a naked manwith blood coming from his head. He was flopping around in the water. Therewas much steam, but the Go Big Red Fan blew the steam away, creeping towardhim and making smoke and sparks of power. The alien commander spoke again,because I didn't know what to do. 'You'd better finish what you're doing,' itsaid, so I finished. Then I looked at the Fan again and the afterimage of theBig Wheel and the Fan became one in my sight and I knew that the Fan was theincarnation of the Big Wheel, come to lead us. I started for it, but it said,'Better unplug me first. I could kill you, as I killed this guy. He used to bemy priest but he was too independent.' So I unplugged Little Wheel and pickedit up.
    "It said, 'Get me out of here. I am smoking and the firemen will think I setoff the alarm.' Yes, the fire alarm was ringing. So I took Little Wheel awayand modified it as it told me, and today it told me I am to be your leader.Join me or your voices will become silent."
    They had all listened spellbound, and when he was done, they jumped up withcheers and whoops. Dex Fresser bowed, smiling, and then, hearing a command,whirled around. The Fan had almost crept its way off the windowsill, and hesaved it with a swoop of the hand.
    In the middle of the month, as the ridges of packed grey snow around the Plexwere beginning to settle and melt, negotiations between the administrationand the MegaUnion froze solid and all B-men, professors, cletical workers andlibrarians went on strike. To detail the politics and posturings that led tothis is nothing I'd like to do. Let's just say that when negotiations hadbegun six months before, the Union had sworn in the names of God, Death andthe Four Horsem*n of the Apocalypse that unless granted a number of wild, vastdemands they would all perform hara kiri in President Krupp's bedroom. Theadministration negotiators had replied that before approaching to within amile of the bargaining table they would prefer to drink gasoline, drop theirgrandchildren into volcanoes, convert the operation into a pasta factory andmove it to Spokane.
    Nothing unusual so far; all assumed that they would compromise from thosepositions. All except for the B-men, that is. After some minor compromising onboth sides, the Crotobaltislavonian bloc, which was numerous enough to controlthe Union, apparently decided to stand their ground. As the clock ticked towithin thirty minutes of the deadline, the Administration people just staredat them, while the other MegaUnion people watched with sweaty lunatic grins,waiting for the B-men to show signs of reason. But no.
    Krupp came on the tube and said that American Megaversity could not affordits union, and that there was no choice but to let the strike proceed. Thecorridors vibrated with whooping and dancing for a few hours, and the strikewas on.
    As the second semester lurched and staggered onward, I noted that my friendshad a greater tendency to drop by my suite at odd times, insist they didn'twant to bother me and sit around reading old magazines, examining my plants,leafing through cookbooks and so on. My suite was not exactly Grandma's house,but it had become the closest thing they had to a home. After the strikebegan, I saw even more of them. Living in the Plex was tolerable when youcould stay busy with school and keep reminding yourself that you were just astudent, but it was a slough of despond when your purpose in life was to waitfor May.
    I threw a strike party for them. Sarah, Casimir, Hyacinth, Virgil and Ephraimmade up the guest list, and Fred Fine happened to stop by so that he couldwatch a Dr. Who rerun on my TV. We all knew that Fred Fine was weird, butat this point only Virgil knew how weird. Only Virgil knew that an S & Splayer had died in the sewers during one of Fred Fine's games, and that theyoung nerd-lord had simply disregarded it. The late Steven Wilson was still aMissing Person as far as the authorities were concerned.
    Ephraim Klein was just as odd in his own way. We knew that his hatedex-roommate had died of a freak heart attack on the night of the Big Flush,but we didn't know Ephraim had anything to do with it. We were not alarmed byhis strange personality because it was useful in parties-- he would allow noconversation to flag or fail.
    Virgil sat in a corner, sipping Jack Daniels serenely and staring throughthe floor. Casimir stayed near Sarah, who stayed near Hyacinth. Other peoplestopped in from time to time, but I haven't written them into the followingtranscript-- which has been rearranged and guessed at quite a bit anyway.
    HYACINTH. The strike will get rid of Krupp. After that everything will befine.
    EPHRAIM. How can you say that! You think the problem with this place is justS. S. Krupp?
    BUD. Sarah, how's your forest coming along?
    EPHRAIM. Everywhere you look you see the society coming apart. How do youblame S. S. Krupp alone for that?
    SARAH. I haven't done much with it lately. It's just nice to have it there.
    CASIMIR. Do you really think the place is getting worse? I think you're justseeing it more clearly now that classes are shut down.
    HYACINTH. You were in Professor Sharon's office during the piano incident,weren't you?
    FRED FINE. What do you propose we do, Ephraim?
    EPHRAIM. Blow it up.
    CASIMIR. Yeah, I was right there.
    HYACINTH. So for you this place has seemed terrible right from the beginning.You've got a different perspective.
    SARAH. Ephraim! What do you mean? How would it help any-thing to blow up theBig U?
    EPHRAIM. I didn't say it would help, I said it would prevent furtherdeterioration.
    SARAH. What could be more deteriorated than a destroyed Plex?
    EPHRAIM. Nothing! Get it?
    SARAH. You do have a point. This building, and the bureaucracy here, candrive people crazy-- divorce them from reality so they don't know what to do.Somehow the Plex has to go. But I don't think it should be blown up.
    FRED FINE. Have you ever computed the explosive power necessary to destabilizethe Plex?
    EPHRAIM. Of course not!
    CASIMIR. He's talking to me. No, I haven't.
    HYACINTH. Is that nerd as infatuated with you as he looks?
    SARAH. Uh... you mean Fred Fine?
    HYACINTH. Yeah.
    SARAH. I think so. Please, it's too disgusting.
    HYACINTH. No sh*t.
    FRED FINE. I have computed where to place the charges.
    CASIMIR. It'd be a very complicated setup, wouldn't it? Lots of timeddetonations?
    BUD (drunk). So do you think that the decay of the society is actually builtinto the actual building itself?
    SARAH. The reason he likes me is because he knows I carry a gun. He saw it inthe Caf.
    EPHRAIM. Of course! How else can you explain all this? It's too big and it'stoo uniform. Every room, every wing is just the same as the others. It's agiant sensory deprivation experiment.
    HYACINTH. A lot of those science-fiction types have big sexual hangups. Youever look at a science-fiction magazine? All these women in brass bras withwhips and chains and so on-- dominatrices. But the men who read that stuffdon't even know it.
    EPHRAIM. Did you know that whenever I play anything in the key of C, theentire Wing vibrates?
    FRED FINE. This one worked out the details from the blueprints. All you needis to find the load-bearing columns and make some simple calculations.
    EPHRAIM. Hey! Casimir!
    CASIMIR. Yeah?
    SARAH. What's scary is that all of these f*cked-up people, who have problemsand don't even know it, are going to go out and make thirty thousand dollars ayear and be important. Well all be clerk-typists.
    EPHRAIM. You're in physics. What's the frequency of a low C? Like in asixty-four-foot organ pipe?
    CASIMIR. Hell, I don't know. That's music theory.
    EPHRAIM. sh*t. Hey, Bud, you got a tape measure?
    CASIMIR. I'd like to take music theory sometime. One of my professors hasinteresting things to say about the similarity between the way organ pipes arecontrolled by keys and stops, and the way random-access memory bits are readby computers.
    BUD. I've got an eight-footer.
    FRED FINE. This one doesn't listen to that much music. It would be pleasantto have time for the luxuries of life. In some D & D scenarios, musiciansare given magical abilities. Einstein and Planck used to play violin sonatastogether.
    EPHRAIM. We have to measure the length of the hallways!
    The conversation split up into three parts. Ephraim and I went out to measurethe hallway. Hyacinth was struck by a craving for Oreos and repaired to thekitchen with a fierce determination that none dared question. Casimir followedher. Sarah, Fred Fine and Virgil stayed in the living room.
    FRED FINE. What's your major?
    SARAH. English.
    FRED FINE. Ah, very interesting. This one thought you were in Forestry.
    SARAH. Why?
    FRED FINE. Didn't host mention your forest?
    SARAH. That's different. It's what I painted on my wall.
    FRED FINE. Well, well, well. A little illegal room painting, eh? Don't worry,I wouldn't report you. Is this part of an other-world scenario, by any chance?SARAH. Hell, no, it's for the opposite. Look, this place is already another-world scenario.
    FRED FINE. No. That's where you're wrong. This is reality. It is aself-sustaining ecosociosystem powered by inter-universe warp generators.
    (There is a long silence.)
    VIRGIL. Fred, what did you think of Merriam's Math Physics course?
    (There is another long silence.)
    FRED FINE. Well. Very good. Fascinating. I would recommend it.
    SARAH. Where's the bathroom?
    FRED FINE. Ever had to pull that pepper grinder of yours on one of thoseTerrorist guys?
    SARAH. Maybe we can discuss it some other time.
    FRED FINE. I'd recommend more in the way of a large-gauge shotgun.
    SARAH. I'll be back.
    FRED FINE. Of course, in a magical universe it would turn into a two-handedbroadsword, which would be difficult for a petite type to wield.
    Meanwhile Casimir and Hyacinth talked in the kitchen. They had met oncebefore, when they had stopped by my suite on the same evening; they didn'tknow each other well, but Casimir had heard enough to suspect that she was notparticularly heterosexual. She knew a fair amount about him through Sarah.
    HYACINTH. You want some Oreos too?
    CASIMIR. No, not really. Thanks.
    HYACINTH. Did you want to talk about something?
    CASIMIR. How did you know?
    HYACINTH (scraping Oreo filling with front teeth). Well, sometimes somethings are easy to figure out.
    CASIMIR. Well, I'm really worried about Sarah. I think there's something wrongwith her. It's really strange that she resigned as President when she wasdoing so well. And ever since then, she's been kind of hard to get along with.
    HYACINTH. Kind of bitchy?
    CASIMIR. Yeah, that's it.
    HYACINTH. I don't think she's bitchy at all. I think she's just got a lot onher mind, and all her good friends have to be patient with her while she worksit out.
    CASIMIR. Oh, yeah, I agree. What I was thinking-- well, this is none of mybusiness.
    HYACINTH. What?
    CASIMIR. Oh, last semester I figured out that she was dating some other guy,you know? Though she wouldn't tell me anything about him. Did she have somekind of a breakup that's been painful for her?
    HYACINTH. No, no, she and her lover are getting along wonderfully. But I'msure she'd appreciate knowing how concerned you are.
    (Long silence.)
    HYACINTH (slinging one arm around Casimir's waist, feeding Oreo into his mouthwith other hand). Hey, it feels terrible, doesn't it? Look, Casimir, she likesyou a hell of a lot. I mean it. And she hates to put you through this kind ofpain-- or she wishes you wouldn't put yourself through it. She thinks you'reterrific.
    CASIMIR (blubbering).Well what the hell does it take? All she does is say I'mwonderful. Am I unattractive? Oh, I forgot. Sorry, I've never talked to a, ah
    HYACINTH. You can say it.
    CASIMIR. Lesbian. Thanks.
    HYACINTH. You're welcome.
    CASIMIR. Why can she look at one guy and say, "He's a friend," and look atthis other guy and say, "He's a lover?"
    HYACINTH. Instinct. There's no way you can go against her instincts, Casimir,don't even think about it. As for you, I think you're kind of attractive, butthen, I'm a dyke.
    CASIMIR. Great. The only woman in the world, besides my mother, who thinks I'mgood looking is a lesbian.
    HYACINTH. Don't think about it. You're hurting yourself.
    CASIMIR. God, I'm sorry to dump this on you. I don't even know you.
    HYACINTH. It's a lot easier to talk when you don't have to worry about thesexual thing, isn't it?
    CASIMIR. That's for sure. Good thing I've got my sunglasses, no one can tellI've been crying.
    HYACINTH. Let's talk more later. We've abandoned Sarah with Fred Fine, youknow.
    CASIMIR. sh*t.
    Casimir pulled himself together and they went back to the living room.Shortly, Ephraim and I returned from the hallway with our announcement.
    BUD. Isn't it interesting how the alcohol goes to your head when you get upand start moving around?
    EPHRAIM. The hallway on each side of each wing is a hundred twenty-eight feetand a few inches long. But the fire doors in the middle cut it exactly inhalf-- sixty-four feet!
    BUD. And three inches.
    EPHRAIM. So they resonate at low C.
    FRED FINE. Very interesting.
    VIRGIL. Casimir, when are you going to stop playing mum about Project Spike?
    CASIMIR. What? Don't talk about that!
    SARAH. What's Project Spike?
    CASIMIR. Nothing much. I was playing with rats.
    FRED FINE. What does this one hear about rats?
    VIRGIL. Casimir was trying to prove the existence of rat parts or droppings inthe Cafeteria food through a radioactive tracer system. He came up with somevery interesting results. But he's naturally shy, so he hasn't mentioned themto anyone.
    CASIMIR. The results were screwed up! Anyone can see that.
    VIRGIL. No way. They weren't random enough to be considered as errors. Yourresults indicated a far higher level of Carbon-14 in the food than could bepossible, because they could never eat that much poison. Right?
    CASIMIR. Right. And they had other isotopes that couldn't possibly be in therat poison, such as Cesium- 137. The entire thing was screwed up.
    FRED FINE. How large are the rats in question?
    CASIMIR. Oh, pretty much your average rats, I guess.
    FRED FINE. But they are not-- they were normal? Like this?
    CASIMIR. About like that, yeah. What did you expect?
    VIRGIL. Have you analyzed any other rats since Christmas?
    CASIMIR. Yeah. Damn it.
    VIRGIL. And they were just as contaminated.
    CASIMIR. More so. Because of what i did,
    SARAH. What's wrong, Casimir?
    CASIMIR. Well, I sort of lost some plutonium down an elevator shaft in the BigFlush.
    (Ephraim gives a strange hysterical laugh.)
    FRED FINE. God. You've created a race of giant rats, Casimir. Giant rats thesize of Dobermans.
    BUD. Giant rats?
    HYACINTH. Giant rats?
    BUD. Virgil, explain everything to us, okay?
    VIRGIL. I am sure that there are giant rats in the sewer tunnels beneaththe Plex. I am sure that they're scared of strobe lights, and that strobesflashing faster than about sixteen per second drive them crazy. This may berelated to the frequency of muzzle flashes produced by certain automaticweapons, but that's just a hypothesis. I know that there are organizedactivities going on at a place in the tunnels that are of a secret, highlytechnological, heavily guarded nature. As for the rats, I assume they werecreated by mutation from high levels of background radiation. This includedStrontium-90 and Cesium- 137 and possibly an iodine isotope. The source of theradiation could possibly have been what Casimir lost down the elevator shaft,but I suspect it has more to do with this secret activity. In any case, we nowhave a responsibility. We need to discover the source of the radioactivity,look for ways to control the rats and, if possible, divine the nature of thesecret activity. I have a plan of attack worked up, but I'll need help. I needpeople familiar with the tunnels, like Fred; people who know how to use guns--we have some here; big people in good physical condition, like Bud; people whounderstand the science, like Casimir; and maybe even someone who knows allabout Remote Sensing, such as Professor Bud again.
    An advantage of the Plex was that it taught you to accept any weirdnessimmediately. We did not question Virgil. He memorized a list of equipment he'dhave to scrounge for us, and Hyacinth grilled us until we had settled on March31 as our expedition date. Fred Fine said he knew where he could get authenticdumdums for our guns, and tried to tell us that the best way to kill a ratwas with a sword, giving a lengthy demonstration until Virgil told him to sitdown. Once we had mobilized into an amateur commando team, we found that ourpartying spirit was spent, and soon we were all home trying vainly to sleep.
    The strike itself has been studied and analyzed to death, so I'm sparedwriting a full account. For the most part the picketers stayed within thePlex. Their intent was to hamper activities inside the Plex, not to sealit off, and they feared that once they went outside, S. S. Krupp would notlet them back in again. Some protesters did work the entrances, though. Adelegation of B-men and professors set up an informational picket at theMain Entrance, and another two dozen established a line to bar access to theloading docks. Most of these were Crotobaltislavonians who paraded tirelesslyin their heavy wool coats and big fur hats; with them were some black andHispanic workers, dressed more conventionally, and three political scienceprofessors, each wearing high-tech natural-tone synthetic-insulated expeditionparkas computer-designed to keep the body dry while allowing perspiration topass out. Most of the workers sported yellow or orange work gloves, but theprofessors opted for warm Icelandic wool mittens, presumably to keep theirfingers supple in case they had to take notes.
    The picket's first test came at 8:05 A.M., when the morning garbage truckconvoy arrived. The trucks turned around and left with no trouble. Forcinggarbage to build up inside the Plex seemed likely to make the administrationmore openminded. Therefore the only thing allowed to leave the Plex was thehazardous chemical waste from the laboratories; run-of-the-mill trash couldonly be taken out if the administration and Trustees hauled it away in theirCadillacs.
    A little later, a refrigerated double-bottom semi cruised up, fresh andsteaming from a two-day, 1500-mile trek from Iowa, loaded with enoughrock-frozen beef to supply American Megaversity for two days. This was outof the question, as the people working in the Cafeteria now were all scabs.The political science professors failed to notice that their comrades hadall dropped way back and split up into little groups and put their signs onthe ground. They walked toward the semi, waving their arms over their headsand motioning it back, and finally the enormous gleaming machine sighed andslowed. An anarcho-Trotskyite with blow-dried hair and a thin blond mustachestepped up to the driver's side and squinted way up above his head at asize 25 black leather glove holding a huge chained rawhide wallet which hadbeen opened to reveal a Teamsters card. The truck driver said nothing. Theprofessor started to explain that this was a picket line, then paused to readthe Teamsters card. Stepping back a little and craning his neck, he could seeonly black greased-back hair and the left lens of a pair of mirror sunglasses.
    "Great!" said the professor. "Glad to see you're in solidarity with the restof us workers. Can you get out of here with no problem, or shall I directyou?" He smiled at the left-hand lens of the driver's sunglasses, trying tomake it a tough smile, not a cultured pansyish smile.
    "You AFL-CIO," rumbled the trucker, sounding like a rough spot in the idleof the great diesel. "Me Teamsters. I'm late." The professor admired theno-nonsense speech of the common people, but sensed that he was failing topick up on some message the trucker was trying to send him. He looked aroundfor another worker who might be able to understand, but saw that the onlypeople within shotgun-blast range of the truck had Ph.D.'s. Of these, onewas jogging up to the truck with an impatient look on his face. He was aslightly gray-tinged man in his early forties, who in consultation with hisorthopedist had determined that the running gait least damaging to his kneeswas a shuffling motion with the arms down to the sides. Thus he approached thetruck. "Turn it around, buster, this is a strike. You're crossing a picketline."
    There was another rumble from the truck window. This sounded more likelaughter than words. The trucker withdrew his hand for a moment, then swung itback out like a wrecking ball. Balanced on the tip of his index finger was aquarter. "See this?" said the trucker.
    "Yeah," said the professors in unison.
    "This is a quarter. I put it in that pay phone and there's blood on thesidewalks."
    The professors looked at each other, and at the third professor, who hadstopped in his space-age hiking-boot tracks. They all retreated to the otherend of the lot for a discussion of theory and praxis as the truck eased up tothe loading dock. They watched the trucker carry his two-hundred pound steerpieces into the warehouse, then concluded that a policy decision should bemade at a higher level. The real target of this picket ought to be the scabsworking the warehouse and Cafeteria. All the Crotobaltislavonians had goneinside, and the professors, finding themselves in an empty lot with only theremains of a few dozen steers to keep them company, decided to re-deployinside the Plex.
    There things were noisier. People who never engage in violence are quick totalk about it, especially when the people they are arguing with are elderlyGreek professors unlikely to be carrying tire chains or knives. Of course,the Greek professors, who tried to engage the picketers in Socratic dialogueas they broke the picket lines, were not subject to much more than occasionalpushing. Among younger academics there were genuine fights. A monetarist fromConnecticut finally came to blows with an Algerian Maoist with whom he'dbeen trading scathing articles ever since they had shared an office as gradstudents. This fight turned out to be of the tedious kind held by libidinousorthodontists' sons at suburban video arcades. The monetarist tried to breakthrough the line around the Economics bloc, just happening to attack that partof the line where the Maoist was standing. After some pushing the monetaristfell down with the Algerian on top of him. They got up and the monetaristmissed with some roundhouse kicks taken from an aerobic dance routine. TheMaoist whipped off his designer belt and began to whirl the buckle around hishead as though it were dangerous. The monetarist watched indecisively, thenran up and stuck out his arm so that the belt wrapped around it. As he hadhis eyes closed, he did not know where he was going, but as though guided bysome invisible hand he rammed into the Algerian's belly with his head and theyfell onto a stack of picket signs and received minor injuries. The Algeriangrabbed the monetarist's Adam Smith tie and tried to strangle him, but thelatter's gold collar pin prevented the knot from tightening. He grabbed theMaoist's all-natural-fiber earthtone slacks and yanked them down to midthigh,occasioning a strange cry from his opponent, who removed one hand from theAdam Smith tie to prevent the loss of further garments; the monetarist graspedthe Algerian's pinkie and yanked the other hand free. Finding that they hadmade their way to the opposite side of the picket line, he got up and skippedaway, though the Maoist hooked his foot with a picket sign and hindered himconsiderably.
    Students wanting to attend classes in the ROTC bloc found that they need onlyassume fake Kung Fu positions and the skinny pale fanatics there would getout of their way. Otherwise, students going to classes taught by nonunionprofessors worried only about verbal abuse. Unless they were aggressivelyobnoxious, like Ephraim Klein, they were in no physical peril. Ephraim wentout of his way to cross picket lines, and unleashed many awe-inspiring insultshe had apparently been saving up for years. Fortunately for him he spent mostof his time around the Philosophy bloc, where the few picketing professorsdevoted most of their time to smoking cigarettes, exchanging dirty jokes anddiscussing basketball.
    The entrance to the Cafeteria was a mess. The MegaUnion could never agree onwhat to do about it, because to allow students inside was to support S. S.Krupp's scab labor, and to block the place off was to starve the students.Depriving the students of meals they had already paid for was no way to makefriends. Finally the students were encouraged to prepare their own meals as agesture of support. In an attempt at plausibility, some efforts were mountedto steal food from Caf warehouses, but to no avail. The radicals advocatedconquering the kitchen by main force, but all entrances were guarded byprivate guards with cudgels, dark glasses and ominous bulges. The radicalstherefore used aerial bombardment, hurling things from the towers in hopesthat they would crash through Tar City and into the kitchens. This washaphazard, though, and moderate MegaUnion members opposed it violently; as aresult, students who persisted in dining at the Caf were given merely verbalabuse. As for the scabs themselves, they were determined-looking people, andactivists attempting to show them the error of their ways tried not to raisetheir voices or to make any fast moves.
    Then, seven days into the strike, it really happened: what the union had neverdreamed of, what I, sitting in my suite reading the papers and plunging intoa bitter skepticism, had been awaiting with a sort of sardonic patience. TheBoard of Trustees announced that American Megaversity was shutting down forthis year, that credit would be granted for unfinished courses and that anearly graduation ceremony would take place in mid-April. Everyone was to beout of the Plex by the end of March.
    "Well," said S. S. Krupp on the tube, "I don't know what all the confusion'sabout. Seems to me we are being quite straightforward. We can't afford ourfaculty and workers. We can't meet our commitment to our students for thissemester. About all we can do is clean the place out, hire some new faculty,re-enroll and get going again. God knows there are enough talented academicsout there who need jobs. So we're asking all those people in the Plex to clearout as soon as they can."
    The infinite self-proclaimed cleverness of the students enabled them todismiss it as a fabulous lie and a ham-fisted maneuver. Once this opinion wasformed by the few, it was impossible for the many to disagree, because tobelieve Krupp was to proclaim yourself a dupe. Few students therefore plannedto leave; those who did found it perilous.
    The Terrorists had decided that leaving the Plex was too unusual an idea togo unchallenged, and the Big Wheel backed them up on it. So the U-Hauls andJartrans stacked up in the access lot began to suffer dents, then craters,then cave-ins, as golf balls, chairs, bricks, barbell weights and flamingnewspaper bundles zinged out of the smoggy morning sky at their terminalvelocities and impacted on their shiny tops. Few rental firms in the City hadlent vehicles to students in the first place; those that did quickly changedtheir policies, and became dour and pitiless as desperate sophom*ores paradedbefore their reception desks waving wads of cash and Mom-and-Dad's creditcards.
    The Plexodus, as it was dubbed by local media, dwindled to a dribble ofindividual escapes in which students would sprint from the cover of the MainEntrance carrying whatever they could hold in their arms and dive into theback seats of cars idling by on the edge of the Parkway, cars which then wouldscurry off as fast as their meager four cylinders could drag them before theprojectiles hurled from the towers above had had time to find their targets.
    I had seen enough of Krupp to know that the man meant what he said. I alsohad seen enough of the Plex to know that no redemption was possible for theplace-- no last-minute injection of reason could save this patient from itsoverdose of LSD and morphine. Lucy agreed with me. You may vaguely rememberher as Hyacinth's roommate. Lucy and I hit it off pretty well, especiallyas March went on. The shocks and chaos that took everyone else by surprisewere just what we had been expecting, and both of us were surprised that ourfriends hadn't foreseen it. Of course our perspectives were different fromtheirs; we both had slaves for great-grandparents and the academic world wasforeign to our backgrounds. Through decades of work our families had put usinto universities because that was the place to be; when we finally arrived,we found we were just in time to witness the end result of years of dry rot.No surprise that things looked different to us.
    Lucy and I began making long tours of the Plex to see what furtherdeterioration had taken place. By this time the Terrorists outnumbered theirwould-be victims. The notion that the strike might be resolved restrained themfor a while, but then came the pervasive sense that the Big U was dead and therumor that it had already been slated for demolition. Obviously there was nopoint in maintaining the place if destruction loomed, so all the Terroristshad to worry about were the administration guards.
    The Seritech Super Big-Window 1500 in Laundry soon disappeared, carted off byits worshipers. Unfortunately the machine didn't work on their wing, whichlacked 240-volt outlets. Using easy step-by-step instructions provided byits voice, they tore open the back and arranged a way of rotating it by handwhenever they needed to know what to make for dinner or what to watch on TV.
    In those last days of March it was difficult to make sense of anything. Itwas hinted that the union was splitting up, that the faculty had becomeexasperated by the implacable Crotobaltislavonians and planned to make aseparate peace with the Trustees. This caused further infighting withinthe decaying MegaUnion and added to the confusion. Electricity and waterwere shut off, then back on again; students on the higher floors began tothrow their garbage down the open elevator shafts, and fire alarms rangalmost continuously until they were wrecked by infuriated residents. But wethought obsessively about Virgil's reference to secret activities in thesewers and developed the paranoid idea that everything around us was strictlysuperficial and based on a much deeper stratum of intrigue. It's hard enoughto follow events such as these without having to keep the mind open forpossible conspiracies and secrets behind every move. This uncertainty made itimpossible for us to form any focused picture of the tapestry of events, andwe became impatient for Saturday night, tired of having to withhold judgmentuntil we knew all the facts. What had been conceived as an almost recreationalvisit to the Land of the Rats had become, in our minds, the search for thecentral fact of American Megaversity.
    A hoarse command was shouted, and a dozen portable lamps shone out at once.Forty officers of MARS found themselves in a round low-ceilinged chamber thatserved as the intersection of two sewer mains. They stood at ease around thewalls as Fred Fine, in the center, delivered his statement.
    "We've never revealed the existence of this area before. It's our only LevelFour Security Zone large enough for mass debriefings. "All of you have beenin MARS for at least three years and have performed well. Most of you didn'tunderstand why we included physical fitness standards as part of our promotionsystem. Things got a little clearer when we introduced you to live-actiongaming. Now, this-- this is the hard part to explain."
    All watched respectfully as he stared at the ceiling. Finally he resumed hisaddress, though his voice had become as harsh and loud as that of a barbarianwarlord addressing his legions. The officers now began to concentrate; thegame had begun, they must enter character.
    "You know about the Central Bifurcation that separates Magic and Technology.Some of you have probably noticed that lately Leakage has been very bad. Well,I've got tough news. It's going to get a lot worse. We are approaching themost critical period in the history of Plexor. If we do what needs to be done,we can stop Leakage for all time and enter an eternal golden age. If we fail,the Leakage will become like a flood of water from a broken pipe. Mixture willbe everywhere, Purification will be impossible, and mediocrity will cover theuniverses for all time like a dark cloud. Plexor will become a degenerate,pre-warp-drive society.
    "That's right. The responsibility for this universe-wide task falls on ourshoulders. We are the chosen band of warriors and heroes called for in theprophecies of Magic-Plexor, foretold by JANUS 64 itself. That means you'llneed a crash course on Plexor and how it works. That's why we're here.
    "Consuela, known in Magic-Plexor as the High Priestess Councilla, is atop-notch programmer in Techno-Plexor. She therefore knows all there is toknow about the Two Faces of Shekondar. Councilla, over to you."
    "Good evening," came the voice from Fred Fine's big old vacuum-tube radioreceiver. She sounded very calm and soft, as though drugged. "This isCouncilla, High Priestess of Shekondar the Fearsome, King of Two Faces.Prepare your minds for the Awful Secrets. Plexor was created by the Guild, ateam consisting half of Technologists and half of Sorcerers who operated inseparate universes through the devices of Keldor, the astral demigod whosebrain hemispheres existed on either side of the Central Bifurcation. UnderKeldor's guidance the colony of Plexor was created: a self-contained ecosystemcapable of functioning in any environment, drawing energy and raw materialsfrom any source, and resisting any magical or technological attack. WhenPlexor was completed, it was populated by selecting the best and the brightestfrom all the Thousand Galaxies and comparing them in a great tournament. Thefield of competition was split down the middle by the Central Bifurcation,and on one side the contestants fought with swords and sorcery, while on theother they vied in tests of intellectual skill. The champions were inputted toPlexor; we are their output.
    "The Guild had to place an overseer over Plexor. It must be the OperatingSystem for the Technological side, and the Prime Deity for the Magic side, andin Plexor it must be omniscient and all-powerful. Thus, the Guild generatedShekondar the Fearsome/JANUS 64, the Organism that inhabits and controls thecolony. The creation of this system took twice as long as the building ofPlexor itself, and in the end Keldor died, his mind overloaded by massivetransfers of data from one hemisphere to the other, the Boundary within hismind destroyed and the contents Mixed hopelessly. But out of his death camethe King of Two Faced, that which in Techno-Plexor is JANUS 64 and in MagicPlexor, Shekondar the Fearsome.
    "Though the last member of the Guild died two thousand years ago, mostPlexorians have revered the King of Two Faces. But in these dark days, atthe close of this age, those who know the story of Shekondar/JANUS 64 arevery few. We who have kept the flame alive have trained your bodies andminds to accept this responsibility. Today, our efforts output in batch.From this room will march the Grand Army celebrated in the prophecies andsongs of Magic-Plexor, whose coming has been foretold even in the seeminglyrandom errors of JANUS 64; the band of heroes which will debug Plexor, whichwill fight Mixture in the approaching crisis. And for those of you who havefailed to detect Mixture, who scoff that Magic might have crossed the CentralBifurcation:
    Behold!"
    The listeners had now allowed themselves to sink deep into their characters,and Councilla's words had begun to mesmerize them. Though a few had grinnedat the silliness spewing out of the big speakers, the oppressive seriousnessand magical unity that filled this dank chamber had silenced them; soon, cutoff from the normal world, they began to doubt themselves, and heeded thePriestess. As she built to a climax and revealed the most profound secrets ofPlexor, many began to sweat and tingle, fidgeting with terrified energy. Whenshe cried, "Behold!" the spell was bound up in a word. The room became silentwith fear as all wondered what demonic demonstration she had conjured up.
    A sssh! was heard, and it avalanched into a loud, general hiss. When thatsound died away, it was easy to hear a soft, cacophonous noise, a jumble ofsharp high tones that sounded like a distant kazoo band. The sound seemed tocome from one of the tunnels, though echoes made it hard to tell which one. Itwas approaching quickly. Suddenly and rapidly, everyone cleared away from thefour tunnel openings and plastered against the walls. Only when all the othershad found places did Klystron the Impaler move. He walked calmly through thecenter of the room, leaving the radio receiver and speakers in the middle,and found himself a place in front of a hushed squadron of swordsmen. Theroar swelled to a scream; a bat the size of an eagle pumped out of a tunnel,took a fast turn around the room, sending many of the men to their knees,then plunged decisively into another passage. As the roar exploded into theopen, in the garish artificial light the Grand Army saw a swarm of enormousfat brown-grey lash-tailed bright-eyed screaming frothing rats vomit fromthe tunnel, veer through the middle of the room and compress itself into theopening through which the giant bat had flown. Some of them smashed headlonginto the old boxy radio, sending it sprawling across the floor, and beforeit had come to rest, five rats had parted from the stream and demolishedit, scything their huge gleaming rodent teeth through the plywood case asthough it were an orange peel, prying the apparatus apart, munching into itsglass-and-metal innards with insane passion. Their frenzy lasted for severalseconds; their brothers had all gone; and they emitted piercing shrieks andscuttled off into the tunnel, one trailing behind a streak of twisted wire andmetal.
    Most everyone save Klystron sat on the floor in a fetal position, arms crossedover faces, though some had drawn swords or clubs, prepared to fight it out.None moved for two minutes, lest they draw another attack. When the warriorsbegan to show life again, they moved with violent trembling and nauseateddizziness and the most perfect silence they could attain. No one strayed fromthe safety of the walls except for Klystron the Impaler/Chris the SystemsProgrammer, who paced to a spot where a thousand rat footprints had stomped acurving highway into the thin sludge. Hardly anyone here, he knew, had beenconvinced of the Central Bifurcation, much less of the danger of Mixture. Thatwas understandable, given the badly Mixed environment which had twisted theirminds. Klystron/Chris had done all he could to counter such base thinking, butthe rise of the giant rats, and careful preparation by him and Councilla andChip Dixon, had provided proof.
    He let them think it over. It was not an easy thing, facing up to one's ownimportance; even he had found it difficult. Finally he spoke out in a clearand firm voice, and every head in the room snapped around to pay due respectto their leader.
    "Do I have a Grand Army?"
    The mumbled chorus sounded promising. Klystron snapped his sword from itsscabbard and held it on high, making sure to avoid electrical cables. "Allhail Shekondar the Fearsome!" he trumpeted.
    Swords, knives, chains and clubs crashed out all around and glinted in themist. "All hail Shekondar the Fearsome!" roared the army in reply, and fourtimes it was answered by echoes from the tunnels. Klystron/Chris listened toit resonate, then spoke with cool resolve: "It is time to begin the FinalPreparations."
    An advantage of living in a decaying civilization was that nobody reallycared if you chose to roam the corridors laden with armfuls of chest waders,flashlights, electrical equipment and weaponry. We did receive alarmedscrutiny from some, and boozy inquiries from friendly Terrorists, but werenever in danger from the authorities. A thirty-minute trek through thedeepening chaos of the Plex took us to the Burrows, which were still inhabitedby people devoted to such peaceful pursuits as gaming, computer programming,research and Star Trek reruns.
    From here a freight elevator took us to the lowest sublevel, whereFred Fine led us through dingy hallways plastered with photos of nudeCrotobaltislavonian princesses until we came to a large room filled withplumbing. From here, Virgil used his master key to let us into a smaller room,from which a narrow spiral staircase led into the depths.
    "I go first," said Virgil quietly, "with the Sceptre. Hyacinth follows withher .44. Bud follows her with the heavy gloves, then Sarah and Casimir withthe backpacks, and Fred in the rear with his sixteen-gauge. No noise."
    After one or two turns of the stair we had to switch on our headlamps. Thetrip down was long and tense, and we seemed to make a hellacious racket onthe echoing metal treads. I kept my beam on the blazing white-gold beacon ofVirgil's hair and listened to the breathing and the footsteps behind me. Theair had a harsh damp smell that told me I was sucking in billions of microbesof all descriptions with each breath. Toward the bottom we slipped on our gasmasks, and I found I was breathing much faster than I needed to.
    The rats were waiting a full fifty feet above the bottom. One had his mouthclamped over Virgil's lower leg before he had switched on the Sceptre ofCosmic Force. The flashing drove away the rest of the rats, who tumbledangrily down the stair on top of one another, but the first beast merelyclamped down harder and hung on, too spazzed out to move. Fortunately,Hyacinth did not try to shoot it on the spot. I slipped past, flexed my bigelbow-length padded gloves, and did battle with the rat. The rodent teeth hadnot penetrated the soccer shinguards Virgil wore beneath his waders, so Itook my time, relaxing and squatting down to look into the animal's gloweringwhite-rimmed eye. His bared chisel teeth, a few inches long and an inch wide,flickered purple-yellow with each flash of the strobe. Having sliced throughVirgil's waders to expose the colorful plastic shinguard, the rat now triedto gnaw its way through the obstacle without letting go. I did not have thestrength to pull its mouth open.
    "A German shepherd can exert hundreds of pounds of jaw force," said Fred Fine,standing above and peering over Casimir's shoulder with scientific coolness.
    The rat was not impressed by any of this.
    "Let's go for a clean kill," suggested its victim with a trace of strain, "andthen we'll have our sample."
    I bashed in the back of its head with an oaken leg I had foresightedlyunscrewed from my kitchen table for the occasion. The rat just barely fit intoa large heavy-duty leaf bag; Virgil twist-tied it shut and we left it there.
    And so into the tunnels. The sewers were unusually fluid that night asthousands of cubic feet of beer made its traditional way through the digestivetracks of the degenerates upstairs and into the sanitary system. Hence westuck to the catwalks along the sides of the larger tunnels-- as did the rats.The Sceptre was hard on our eyes, so Virgil waited until they were perilouslyclose before switching it on and driving them in squalling bunches into thestream below. We did not have to use the guns, though Fred Fine insisted onshooting his flash gun at a rat to see how they liked it. Not at all, as ithappened, and Fred Fine pronounced it "very interesting."
    Casimir said, "Where did my radioactive source fall to? Are we going anywherenear there?"
    "Good point," said Fred Fine. "Let's steer clear of that. Don't want blasted'nads."
    "I know where it went, but it's not there now," said Virgil. "The rats ateeverything. Some rat obviously got a free surprise in with his paraffin, but Idon't know where he ended up.' Fred Fine began to point out landmarks: wherehe had left the corpse of the Microwave Lizard, long since eaten by you knowwhat; where Steven Wilson had experienced his last and biggest surprise; thetunnel that led to the Sepulchre of Keldor. His voice alternated between thepseudo-scientific dynamo hum of Fred Fine and the guttural baritone of the warhero. We had heard this stuff from him for a couple of weeks now, but downin the tunnels it really started to perturb us. Most people, on listeningto a string of nonsense, will tend to doubt their own sanity before theyrealize that the person who is jabbering at them is really the one with thedamaged brain. That night, tramping through offal, attacking giant rats witha strobe light and listening to the bizarre memoirs of Klystron, most of uswere independently wondering whether or not we were crazy. So when we askedFred Fine for explanations, it was not because we wanted to hear more Klystronstories (as he assumed); it was because we wanted to get an idea of what otherpeople were thinking. We were quickly able to realize that the world wasindeed okay, that Fred Fine was bonkers and we were fine.
    Hundreds of cracked and gnawed bones littered one intersection, and Virgilidentified it as where he had discovered the useful properties of the Sceptre.This area was high and dry, as these things went, and many rats lurked about.Virgil switched the Sceptre on for good, forcing them back to the edge of thedark, where they chattered and flashed their red eyes. Hyacinth stuffed wadsof cotton in her ears, apparently in case of a shootout.
    "Let's set up the 'scope," Virgil suggested. Casimir swung off his packand withdrew a heavily padded box, from which he took a small portableoscilloscope. This device had a tiny TV screen which would display soundpatterns picked up by a shotgun microphone which was also in the pack. As the'scope warmed up, Casimir plugged the microphone cord into a socket on itsfront. A thin luminous green line traced across the middle of the screen.
    Virgil aimed the mike down the main passageway and turned it on. The line onthe screen split into a chaotic tangle of dim green static. Casimir playedwith various knobs, and quickly the wild flailing of the signal was compressedinto a pattern of random vibes scrambling across the screen. "White noise,"said Fred Fine. "Static to you laymen."
    "Keep an eye on it," said Virgil, and pointed the mike down the smallerside tunnel. The white noise was abruptly replaced by nearly vertical linesmarching across the screen. Casimir compressed the signal down again, and wesaw that it was nothing more than a single stationary sine wave, slightlyunruly but basically stable.
    "Very interesting," said Fred Fine.
    "What's going on?" Sarah asked.
    "This is a continuous ultrasonic tone," said Virgil. "It's like an unceasingdog whistle. It comes from some artificial source down that tunnel. You see,when I point the mike in most directions we get white noise, which is normal.But this is a loud sound at a single pitch. To the rats it would sound like adrawn-out note on an organ. That explains why they cluster in this particulararea; it's music to their ears, though it's very simple music. In fact, it'smonotonous."
    "How did you know to look for this?" asked Sarah.
    Virgil shrugged. "It was plausible that an installation as modern andcarefully guarded as the one I saw would have some kind of ultrasonic alarmsystem. It's pretty standard."
    "Very interesting," said Fred Fine.
    "It's like sonar. Anything that disturbs the echo, within a certain range,sets off the alarm. Here's the question: why don't the rats set it off?"
    "Some kind of barrier keeps them away," said Casimir.
    "I agree. But I didn't see any barrier. When I was here before, they couldrun right up to the door-- they had to be fought off with machine guns. Theymust have put up a barrier since I was last down here. What that means to usis this: we can go as far as the barrier, whatever it may be, without anyfear of setting off the alarm system."
    We moved down the tunnel in a flying wedge, making use of table leg, Sceptreand sword as necessary. Soon we arrived at the barrier, which turned out to beinsubstantial but difficult to miss: a frame of angle-irons welded togetheralong the walls and ceiling, hung with dozens of small, brilliant spotlights.At this point, any rat would find itself bathed in blinding light and turnback in terror and pain. Beyond this wall of light there was only a singleline of footprints-- human-- in the bat guano. "Someone's been changing thelight bulbs," concluded Sarah.
    The fifty feet of corridor preceding the light-wall were littered almostknee-deep in glittering scraps of tinfoil and other bright objects, includingthe remains of Fred Fine's radio. "This is their hangout," said Hyacinth."They must like the music."
    "They want to make a nice, juicy meal out of whoever changes those lightbulbs," suggested Fred Fine.
    Sarah's pack contained a tripod and a pair of fine binoculars. Once we hadset these up in the middle of the tunnel we could see the heavy doors, TVcameras, lights and so on at the tunnel's end. As we took turns looking andspeculating, Virgil set up a Geiger counter from Sarah's pack.
    "Normally a Geiger counter would just pick up a lot of background and cosmicradiation and anything meaningful would be drowned out. But we're so wellshielded in these tunnels that the only thing getting to us should be a fewvery powerful cosmic rays, and neutrinos, which this won't pick up anyway."The Geiger counter began to click, perhaps once every four seconds.
    Sarah had the best eyes; she sat crosslegged on the layers of foil and gazedinto the binoculars. "In a few minutes a hazardous waste pickup is scheduledfor the loading dock upstairs," said Virgil, checking his watch. "My theoryis that, in addition to taking hazardous wastes out of the Plex, those truckshave been bringing something even more hazardous into the Plex, and down intothis tunnel."
    We waited.
    "Okay," said Sarah, "Elevator door opening on the right." We all heard it.
    "Long metal cylinder thingie on a cart. Now the end of the tunnel is openingup-- big doors, like jaws. Now some guys in yellow are rolling the cylinderinto a large room back there." The Geiger counter shouted. I looked atCasimir.
    "Skip your next chest X-ray," he said. "If this place is what it looks like,it's just Iodine-131. Half-life of eight days. It'll end up in your thyroid,which you don't really need anyway."
    "I'm pretty fond of my thyroid," said Hyacinth. "It made me big and strong."
    "Doors closing," said Sarah over the chatter of us and the Geiger counter."Elevator's gone. All doors closed now." "Well! Congratulations, Virgil," saidFred Fine, shaking his hand. "You've discovered the only permanent high-levelradioactive waste disposal facility in the United States."
    Most of us didn't have anything to say about it. We mainly wanted to get backhome.
    "Fascinating, brilliant," continued Fred Fine, as we headed back. "In today'scompetitive higher education market, there has to be some way for universitiesto support themselves. What better way than to enter lucrative high-technologysectors?"
    "Don't have to grovel for the alumni anymore," said Sarah. "You reallythink universities should be garbage dumps for the worst by-products ofcivilization?" asked Hyacinth.
    "It's not such a bad idea, in a way," said Casimir. "Better the universitiesthan anyone else. Oxford, Heidelberg, Paris, all those places have lasted forcenturies longer than any government. Only the Church has lasted longer, andthe Vatican doesn't need the money."
    We paused for a rest in the spiral staircase, near our rat body. Casimir, FredFine and Virgil went back down to the bottom for an experiment. Virgil hadbrought an ultrasonic tone generator with him, and they used it to prove--very conclusively-- that the rats loved the ultrasound as much as they hatedthe strobe. They ran back upstairs, Sceptre flashing, and I slung the rat overmy shoulder and we all proceeded up the stairs as fast as our lungs wouldallow.
    The dissection of the rat was most informal. We did it in the sink ofProfessor Sharon's old lab, amid the pieces of the railgun. Fred Fine laidinto the thorax with a kitchen knife and a single-edged razor. We werequick and crude; only Casimir had seen the inside of a rat before. The skinpeeled back easily along with thick pink layers of fat, and we looked at theintestines that could digest such amazing meals. Casimir scrounged a pair ofheavy tin snips and used them to cut the breastbone in half so we could getunder the ribcage. I shoved my hands between the halves of the breastbone andpulled as hard as I could, and finally with a crack and a spray of blood oneside snapped open like a stubborn cabinet door and we looked at the lungs andvital organs. The heart was not immediately visible.
    "Maybe it's hidden under this organ here," suggested Fred Fine, pointing tosomething between the lungs.
    "That's not an organ," said Casimir. "It's an intersection of several majorvessels."
    "So where's the heart?" asked Hyacinth, just beginning to get interested.
    "Those major vessels are the ones that ought to go into, and come out of, theheart," said Casimir uncertainly. He reached down and slid his hand under thebundle of vessels, and pulling it up and aside, revealed-- nothing.
    "Holy Mother of God," he whispered. "This animal doesn't have a heart."
    Our own thumped violently. For a long time we were frozen, disturbed beyondreason; then a piercing beep emanated from Fred Fine and we jumped and gaspedangrily.
    Unconcerned, he pressed a button on his digital calculator/watch, halting thebeep. "Sorry. That's my watch alarm."
    We looked at him; he looked at his watch, We were all sweating.
    "I set it to go off like that at midnight, the beginning of April first, everyyear. It's sort of a warning, so that this one remembers, hey, April Fools'Day, anything could happen now."

    --April--
    While we sewer-slogged, E13S held a giant party in honor of Big Wheel. It wasconceived as your basic formless beer blowout, but the ever-spunky Airheadshad insisted upon a theme: Great Partiers of the Past. The major styles inevidence were Disco, Sixties, Fifties and Toga. A team of sturdy Terroristshad lugged Dex Fresser's stereo up to the social lounge, which was the centerof Disco activity. A darkened room down the hail featured a Sixties party,at which participants roughed up their perms, wore T-shirts, smoked moredope than usual and said "groovy" at the drop of a hat. The study lounge wasFifties headquarters, and was identical to all the other Fifties parties whichhad been held since about 1963 by people who didn't know anything about theFifties. The Toga people were forced to adopt a wandering, nomadic partyingexistence; they had no authentic toga music to boogie to, though someone didexperiment by playing an electronic version of the "1812 Overture" at fullblast. Mostly these people just stood sheepishly in the hallways, draped intheir designer bedsheets, clutching cups of beer and yelling "toga!" from timeto time.
    The Disco lounge was filled with women in lollipop plastic dresses and thickmetallic lipstick under ski masks, and heavily scented young men in pastelthree-piecers and shiny hardware-laden shoes. The smell was deafening, andwhen the doors were open, excess music spilled out and filled nearby rooms totheir corners. These partiers were a generation whose youth had been stolen.They had prepared all through their adolescence for the day when they couldgo to college and attend real discos, adult discos where they had alcohol andsex partners you could take home with no pay-rental hassles. Their hopes hadbeen dashed in the early eighties when Disco had flamed out somewhere overNew Jersey, like a famous dirigible. But the nostalgic air here made themfeel young again. Dex Fresser even showed up in a white three-piecer and tookseveral opportunities to boogie right down to the ground with shapely femalesin clingy synthetic wraps.
    On the windowsill, the Go Big Red Fan, held in place with bricks, spun andglowed in its self-made halo of black light. Overhead, a mirrored ball castrevolving dots of light on the walls, and more stoned or imaginative dancerscould imagine that they were actually standing inside a giant Big Wheel.Whoooo! The picture windows were covered with newspaper, as the panes had longsince been smashed and the curtains long since burned.
    After Dex Fresser had consumed sixteen hits of acid (his supplier had neverreally grasped the idea of powers of two), five bongloads of hashish rolledin mescaline, a square of peyote Jell-O, a lude, four tracks, a small handfulof street-legal caffeine pep pills, twelve tablespoons of cough syrup, half acan of generic light wine and a pack of Gaulois cigarettes, he began to toywith a strobe light that was being used to establish the Disco atmosphere. Heturned it up faster and faster until the lounge was wracked with delightedfreakedout screams and the dancers had begun to hop randomly and smash intoone another, as though they had been time-warped into Punk. Meanwhile, whatpassed for Dex's mind wandered over to the Go Big Red Fan, and though thetime-warp effect was really blowing his tubes, he thought the fan might beslowing down; continuing to turn up the strobe, he was able to make the LittleWheel stop revolving altogether-- either that, or time itself had come to ahalt! Dex spazzed out to the max. All became quiet as the propulsion reactorsof a passing Sirian space cruiser damped out his stereo (the DJ had turneddown the volume), and all heard Dex announce that at midnight Big Wheel wouldsay something very important to him. He relaxed, the music was cranked backup, the strobe light hurled out a nearby window and the Fan began to rotateagain.
    Midnight could hardly come soon enough. The partiers packed into the sociallounge, sitting in rows facing the window. Dex Fresser stood before theshrouded window with his back to the crowd, and priests stood ready to tearthe papers away. A few minutes before midnight, the DJ put on "Stairway toHeaven," timed so that the high-energy sonic blast section would begin at12:00 sharp.
    The newspapers ripped apart, the red-white-and-blue power beams of Big Wheelexploded into the room, and the heavy beat of the rock and roll made theirthoraxes boom like empty kegs. But Dex Fresser was impressively still. Hestared into the naked face of the Big Wheel for fifteen minutes before hemoved a muscle. Then he relayed the message to the huddled students. Speakingthrough a mike hooked to his stereo, he sounded loud and quadraphonic."Tonight the Big Wheel has plans for us, man. We're going to have a f*ckingwar." The Terrorists cheered and whooped and the Airheads oohed and aahed."The outside people, who are all hearing-impaired to the voice of Big Wheeland Roy G Biv and our other leaders, will come tomorrow to the Plex with gunsto kill us. They want to put short-range tactical nuclear weapons on the roofof D Tower in order to threaten Big Wheel and make him do as they wish.
    "We have friends, though, like Astarte, the Goddess, who is the sister of BigWheel and who is going to like help us out and stuff. The Terrorists and theSUB will cooperate just like Big Wheel and Astarte do. Also, the B-men are ourfriends too.
    "We've got sh*tloads of really powerful enemies, says Big Wheel. Like theAdministration and the Temple of Unlimited Godhead and a bunch of nerds andsome other people. We have to kill all of them.
    "This is going to take cooperation and we have to have perfect loyalty fromeveryone. See, even if you think you have friends among our enemies, you'rewrong, because Big Wheel decides who our friends are, and if he says they'reyour enemies, they're your enemies, just like that. Everything's very simplewith Big Wheel, that's how you can be sure he's telling the truth. So we'vegot to join together now and there can't be any secrets and we can't cover upfor our enemies or have mercy for them."
    Mari Meegan, sitting in the front row, legs tucked demurely to the side,listened intensely, eyes slitted and lips parted as she thought about how thisapplied to her.
    At this point a few people came to their senses and made a run for it. Oneof these, a none-too-bright advisee of mine who had been going along for thegood times, realized that these people were nuts, sprinted to the nearestfire stair, and escaped unharmed, later to tell me this story. What happenedafter his exit is vague; apparently, Yllas Freedperson, High Priestess ofAstarte, showed up, and the leaders of the SUB and of the Terrorists did a lotof planning and organizing in those next few hours.
    By contrast, Bert Nix celebrated the evening by incinerating himself in astorage room on C22W. He had been using it as a hideout for some time, andhad gotten along well with the students, except for one problem: Bert Nix'sobsession with collecting garbage. It was partly a practical habit, as hegot most of his food and clothing from the trash. Far beyond that, however,he could not bring himself to throw out anything, and so in his little roomsscattered around the Plex the garbage was packed in to the ceiling, leavingonly a little aisle to the door. Out of gratitude to his protectors, Bert Nixstuffed oily rags under the doors to seal the odor in.
    This sufficed until the evening of March 31, when he happened to open thedoor while a fastidious student from Saskatoon was walking by. She watchedas half a dozen co*ckroaches over three inches long lumbered out between thederelict's bare feet and approached her, waving their antennae affably. NoAirhead, she stomped them to splinters and called Security on the nearesttelephone. Between then and the time they arrived five hours later, however,the fire started. It could have been spontaneous combustion, it could havebeen the heating system, or a suicidal whim or wayward cigarette from BertNix. In any event, the room became a tightly sealed furnace, and when theflames had died, all that remained were a charred corpse in the aisle anddrifts of co*ckroach bodies piled up in front of the door.
    At the northern corner of the Plex's east wall, north of the Mall loadingdocks, the docks for student use, the mail, Cafeteria, general supply, Burrowsand wide-load docks was the Refuse Area. Six loading docks opened on anenormous room with six giant trash compactors and six great steel chuteswhich expelled tons of garbage from their foul, stained sphincters every fewminutes. When there wasn't a strike on, the compactors would grind away aroundthe clock and a great truck would be at one dock or another at any given time,bringing back an empty container and hauling off a full one.
    North of the Refuse Area, in the very corner of the Flex, was the HazardousWaste Area with its steel doors and explosion-proof walls. When scientistsproduced any waste that was remotely hazardous, they would seal it into anorange container, mark down its contents and take it to the Refuse Area, wherethey could deposit it in a chute that led into the HWA. If the container wastoo large for this, they could simply leave it on a dolly by the door, andthe specially trained B-men would then wheel it through when it was time fora pickup. When the Hazardous Waste truck arrived, three times a day, allthe containers were then loaded into its armor-plated back and hauled away.This was usually done in the dead of night, to lessen the danger of trafficaccidents. So extraordinary was this disposal system that American Megaversityhad won awards from environmental groups and acclaim from scientists.
    At 4:30 on the morning of April 1, when I should have been drinking orsleeping, I was sitting in my suite staring at the telephone. VirgilGabrielsen, even more ambitious, was sitting by the door to the HWA in a hugeorange crate about the shape of a telephone booth. "HANDLE WITH EXTREME CARE,"its label read, "CONTAINS UNIVERSAL SOLVENT. DO NOT PUT ON SIDE OR EXPLOSIONWILL RESULT." The same concepts were repeated by means of ideograms which wehad hastily painted on the sides, showing a Crotobaltislavonian stick figurebeing blown to bits after putting the crate on its side. Instructions totelephone Dr. Redfield, and giving my telephone number, were added in severalplaces.
    "The nuke waste has to be coming in through the HWA," Virgil had insisted, ashe and I and the disemboweled rat relaxed in Sharon's lab. "I counted my stepsdown there in the tunnels. As far as I can tell, that elevator shaft shouldgo right up into the northeast corner of the building. The HWA is locked andalarmed within an inch of its life, but I know how to get inside."
    At quarter to five, the enormous Magrov and half a dozen otherCrotobaltislavonians entered the Refuse Area. As Virgil watched throughstrategically placed peepholes, they began with some unusual procedures. Firstthey opened the southernmost of the six metal doors to the Access Lot. Shortlyafter, an old van backed up to this dock and threw open its rear doors. Twomen jumped out into the Refuse Area in protective clothing, gas masks danglingon their chests, and exchanged hearty Scythian greetings with the B-men. Muchequipment was now hauled out of the van, including a long metal cylinder-- anexact replica of a nuclear waste container-- and a huge tripod-mounted machinegun. Then came numerous small machine guns, what appeared to be electronicequipment and crates of supplies. These were piled on a cart and wheeled overto Virgil's position.
    Virgil had realized by now that this was not a business-as-usual day. At leastthe situation appealed to his sense of humor. The fake nuke waste cylinderopened like a casket and the two gas-masked men climbed in and lay one atopthe other. The others handed them weapons and closed the lid. This cylinderwas also placed next to Virgil. In the meantime, B-men bolted the big gun'stripod directly into the concrete floor at the loading dock, apparently havingalready drilled the holes in preparation. The weapon was aimed into theAccess Lot, and loaded and checked over with an experienced air unusual amongjanitors.
    Virgil's crate was the source of a long and emotional discussion in Scythian.Occasionally Magrov or one of the others would shout something about telefonwhile pounding on the crate with his index finger.
    "Hoy!" shouted a B-man back at the machine gun. Virgil saw a glint ofheadlights outside. It was 4:59. A hellacious roar ensued as the determinedjanitors sprayed several thousand rounds per minute out the door. Magrov cutoff debate by seizing Virgil's crate and wheeling it into the HWA.
    The gunfire was over before Virgil was all the way through the door. Once thecrate was stopped and he was able to get his bearings again, he could see thathe was in a somewhat smaller room with a segmented metal door in the outsidewall and a large red rectangle painted in the middle of the floor. A dozen orso bright orange waste containers had been slid through the chute and werewaiting on a counter to be hauled away.
    My phone rang at 5:01.
    "Profyessor Rettfeelt? Sorry, getting you up early in mornink. Magrov here.You put humongous waste container by HWA, correct?"
    "Yes, that's correct. Universal Solvent. Very dangerous."
    "Ees too tall for goink inside of vaste truck. Ve must put on her side."
    "No! That's dangerous. You will be blown to little bits."
    "Then what to do with it?"
    "I'll have to put it in a different container. You must leave it in the HWAovernight. I will come to the Refuse Area tomorrow night, at the time of thenext pickup, and get the crate and take it away." "Good." Magrov hung up.
    Back in the HWA, Magrov checked his watch, then turned and shouted at aswiveling TV camera on the wall. "Ha! Those profyessors! Say! Where is truck?Very late today."
    "Roger, team leader, we read four minutes late," said an Anglo voice over aloudspeaker. "Maybe some trouble with those strikers. Hey! Let's cut the idlechitchat."
    Finally the great steel door rolled open. Through one of his peepholes, Virgilcould see a hazardous waste truck backing into the brilliantly lit, fenced-inarea outside. He could also see a pair of half-inch bullet holes through theoutside rear-view mirror. The tiny black-and-white monitors, he knew, wouldnever pick up this detail. When it had come to rest, the B-men unlocked theback with Magrov's keys and pulled open armored doors to reveal a stainlesssteel cylinder on a cart. This they rolled into the HWA, placing it in themiddle of the red rectangle on the floor.
    Other B-men set about hauling the small orange containers into the back of thetruck and strapping them down. Magrov removed guns from a locked cabinet anddistributed them to himself and two others. There three took up positions inthe red area around the cylinder. "Hokay, ready for little ride," said Magrov."Roger, team leader. Stand by." A deep hum and vibration commenced. The menand the cylinder began to sink, and Virgil could see that the red rectanglewas actually an elevator platform. Within seconds only a black hole remained.
    In five minutes the platform returned, with the B-men but without thecylinder. Displaying frank contempt for safety regulations, the B-men began tosmoke profusely.
    The intercom crackled alive. "Crotobaltislavonia aiwa!" came the exhilaratedshout.
    "Crotobaltislavonia aiwa!" howled the B-men, leaping to their feet. There wasmuch whoopee-making and cigarette-throwing, and then they opened the door tothe Refuse Area and carried in crate after crate of supplies and put them onthe elevator platform. The platform, laden with Crotobaltislavonians, guns andfood, sank into the earth once again, then returned in a few minutes carryingnine bleeding bodies in yellow radiation suits.
    Virgil had been expecting TV cameras. If they had them down in the tunnels,they must have them upstairs in the HWA. So after a few minutes, when Virgilwas sure that the B-men were down there for the long haul, he opened a smallpanel in the side of his crate and stuck out a long iron rod with a magnesiumtip. The important thing about the magnesium rod was that Virgil had just setit on fire, and when magnesium burns, it makes an intolerably brilliant light.Virgil soon squirmed out through the panel, a welding mask strapped over hisface. Even through the dark glass, everything in the room was blindinglylit-- certainly bright enough to overload, or even burn out, the televisioncameras. Any camera turned his way would show nothing but purest white. Tomake sure, he lit two more magnesium rods and placed them on the floor aroundthe room. Satisfied that all three cameras were now blinded, he withdrew acan of spray paint from his crate and used it to paint over their lenses.The mikes were easy to find and he destroyed these simply by shoving burningmagnesium rods into them. Then he called me on the phone. "I was right," hesaid, "I'm safe, and you can go to sleep. But look out. Trouble is brewing."Alas, I was already asleep before he got to that last part.
    While the magnesium rods burned themselves out, Virgil climbed into the cabof the truck, where the corpses of its late drivers had been stretched out onthe floor. The Crotos' plan was daring and their aim excellent; they needed topenetrate the truck's armored cab and kill the occupants without wiping outthe engine or the gas tank. The driver's window was splattered all over theseat, the door itself deeply buckled and perforated by the thumb-sized shells.Virgil hit the ignition and drove it far enough out to wedge the electricalgates open while leaving enough space for other vehicles to pass.
    Back in the Plex, he made phone calls to several readymix concrete companies.Returning to the Burrows, he found a cutting torch and wheeled it back to theHWA. The red platform was nothing more than thick steel plate, and once he hadgotten the torch fired up and the red paint burned away, it cut like butter.As he sliced a hole in the platform, he reviewed his reasoning: 1) Law isopinion of guy with biggest gun.
    2) Biggest "gun" in U.S. held by police and armed forces. 3) Hypothesis:someone wants to break the law, or more generally, render U.S. law null andvoid in a certain zone. 4) This necessitates a bigger gun.
    5) Threat of contamination of urban area with nuclear waste ought to fill thebill.
    6) This provides a motive for taking over Nuke Dump. 7) Crotobaltislavonianshave taken over Nuke Dump.
    8) They either want to contaminate the city, or take over this area-- thePlex-- by threat of same.
    9) Either we will all be poisoned, or else representatives of the People'sFree Social Existence Node of Crotobaltislavonia will dictate their own law topeople in this area.
    10) This does not sound very nice either way.
    11) Maybe we can destroy their gun by blocking the possible contaminationroutes. The elevator would be their preferred route, as it would providedirect access to the atmosphere.
    A rough steel circle about two feet across pulled loose and dropped into theblackness. Virgil pulled back his mask and peered down. The circle's edge wasstill red hot, and as it fell through the blackness, he could see it spinningand diminishing until it smashed into the bottom. The clang reached his ears amoment later. Through the hole he could smell the odor of the sewers and hearoccasional arguments among rats.
    Hearing the whine of a down-shifting truck, he shut off the torch and ran outinto the Access Lot. Virgil directed the cement truck through the jammed gateand up to the loading dock. He directed the driver to swing his chute aroundand dump the entire load into the freshly cut hole.
    The driver was young, a philosophy Ph.D. only two years out of the Big U. Heobviously knew Virgil was asking him to commit an illegal act. "Give me arational reason to dump my cement down that hole," he demanded.
    Virgil thought it over. "The reasons are very unusual, and if I were toexplain them, you would only be justified in thinking I was crazy."
    "Which doesn't give me my rational reason."
    "True," admitted Virgil. "However, let's not forget the conventional view ofcraziness. Our media are filled with images of the crazy segment of societyas being an exceptionally dangerous, unpredictable group. Look at Hinckley!Watch any episode of T. J. Hooker! So if you thought I was crazy, the reactionconsistent with your social training would be to do as I say in order topreserve your own safety."
    "That would be true with your run-of-the-mill truck driver," said the truckdriver after agonized contemplation, "who tends to be an M.A. in sociology orsomething. But I can't make an excuse based on failure to think independentlyof the media."
    "True. Follow me." Virgil walked across the HWA, leading the truck driver overto the heavy door that led into the Refuse Area. Here he paused, allowingthe truck driver to notice the long red streaks on the floor. Virgil thenopened the door and pointed at the nine bloody corpses, which he had draggedthere to get them off the platform. "Having seen the remains of severalsavagely murdered people, you might conclude that my showing them to you sodramatically constituted a nonverbal threat. You might then decide-- " but thetruck driver had already decided, and was running for the controls at the backof the truck. The concrete was down the hole in no time. The truck driver didnot even wait to be given an official American Megaversity voucher.
    After that, trucks arrived every fifteen minutes or so for the rest ofthe morning. Subsequent truckers, seeing wet cement slopped all over theplace, impressed by Virgil's official vouchers, were much less skeptical. Bylunchtime, twenty truckloads of cement were piled up behind the sliding doorsat the bottom of the elevator shaft.
    The first Refuse Area dock was still open. After blowing the crap out ofthe hazardous waste truck, the B-men had hauled the real radioactive wastecylinder out and left it there in the doorway. Virgil had the last driver burythe cylinder in cement where it sat. He smoothed out a flat place with hishand and inscribed: DANGER. HIGH LEVEL RADIOACTIVE WASTE. TRESPASSERS WILL BESTERILIZED. His day's work was done.
    Unbeknownst to anyone else, the two most important battles of the war hadalready been fought. The Crotobaltislavonians had won the first, and Virgilthe second.
    Once the actual war got started, things happened quickly. In fact, between thetime that S. S. Krupp and two of his associates and I had got on an elevatorand the time we escaped from it, the situation had changed completely.
    S. S. Krupp felt compelled to visit E13S after its riot/party of the nightbefore, somewhat in the spirit of Jimmy Carter visiting Mount Saint Helens.Naturally, as faculty-in-residence for E Tower, I was asked to serve as tourguide. It was preferable to washing dung off my boots, but only just.
    Krupp arrived at the base of E Tower at 11:35 A.M., fresh from a tour of BertNix's cremation site. Considering the gruesome circ*mstances, not to mentionthe journalists and the SUBbie screaming directly into his ear, he lookedrelaxed. With him were Hyman Hotchkiss, Dean of Student Life, and Wilberforce(Tex) Bracewill, Administrator of Student Health Services. Hyman looked young,pale and ill. Tex had seen too much gonorrhea in too many strange places tobe shocked by anything. They were so civilized that they viewed my Number 27BILL'S BREWS softball jersey as though it were a jacket and vest, and shook myhand as though I had saved their families from death sometime in the distantpast.
    Here in the lobby the sixteen elevators and four fire stairs of E Toweremptied together into a desert of vandalized furniture, charred bulletinboards and overflowing wastebaskets. I didn't know about events on E13S yet,and my guests were doubtless still considering the charred remains of BertNix, so we were not suspicious when elevators 2, 4 and 1 remained frozenat the thirteenth floor for ten minutes. Only number 3 moved. When it gotto us, it was packed with students. Two got off, but the rest explained indull voices that they had missed their floor and were staying on for thereturn trip. Therefore the journalists and protesters found no room in thecompartment; only the four of us could squeeze in.
    This chummy group rode to the Terrorist-controlled ninth floor, where everyoneelse got off. As the doors slid shut, a burnout who had just disembarkedturned around to say, "Sweet dreams, S. S. Krupp."
    We started up again. "sh*t!" said Krupp. "We've got a problem. Everyone get onthe floor. Tex, you got your .44?"
    Of course he did. Much to the concern of the SUB, Tex was massively armed atall times, on the theory that you never knew when degens might come and shootup the clinic looking for purer highs. He was prepared to go out like a trueAM administrator. Dropping stiffly to the floor, he paused on his knees towhip a humongous revolver out of his briefcase and hand it to Krupp.
    "Hope we don't have to shoot it out on thirteen," he said. We agreed. Krupptore from Tex's briefcase a medicine bottle, struggled with the childproofcap, yanked out the cotton wad, tore it in half and stuffed it into his ears.At this point I began to experience terror, more of Krupp than of whatever hewas planning to dismember with that howitzer.
    We passed the twelfth floor and the elevator crashed to a stop. Above us, fromthe elevators still halted on thirteen, we heard excited yelling.
    "I get it." Krupp co*cked the revolver and we all plugged our ears as hepointed it at the ceiling, The bullet vaporized the latch on the trap doorand flipped the door open as well. We saw light above us. Krupp's second shotannihilated the light in our car. I felt as though my fingers had been driventhree inches deep into my ears; my eyelids fluttered in shock and my nosecomplained of dense smoke. Krupp now stood up in the darkness and fired theremaining three rounds through the trapdoor. With a sigh and a thump, a corpsecrashed into our roof.
    At a great distance I heard Tex say, "Sep. Here's a speed loader." After someclicking and cursing, Krupp fired two more rounds-- the natives were gettingrestless-- and tugged at my shirt, "Leg up!" he shouted.
    I stood and made a step of my hands, and he used it to propel himself throughthe trap door. Once he had scrambled through, I jumped and dragged myself tothe roof after him. The only thing I was scared of was touching the corpse;other than that, one place was as dangerous as another. Krupp, who did notshare my fear, retrieved a revolver from the body and handed it to me.
    He began scaling the emergency ladder on the shaft wall. When he got tothirteen, he pounded the wall switch and the doors slid open. Seeing him jumpthrough the aperture onto thirteen, I began to follow him up the ladder, notreally thinking about what I'd do when I arrived. The two adjacent elevatorsbegan to head down, and as they passed, someone on a roof fired off a wildshot in my direction.
    A tremendous roar rang up and down the shaft. It came in three bursts, andnot until the third one did I realize it was machine-gun fire. I had beendimly aware of it-- "Oh, that's a machine gun being fired"-- but it was notfor a few moments that I comprehended that machine guns were in use at myinstitution of higher learning. There were also three WHAMs, and then silence.
    Taking this as a good sign, I dove through onto thirteen and lay there dazed,looking at an elevator lobby dotted with strings of machine-gun fire and bloodpools, tracked and smeared by hasty tennis-shoe footprints that converged onthe two elevators. I sat up timidly. Krupp went to the far side of a largepillar and retrieved an assault rifle from a dead soldier. "See," he said,pounding hollowly on the pillar with the butt of the rifle, "these pillars arejust for show. Just a little girder in the middle and the rest is plaster andchicken wire. Don't want to hide behind them." Judging from the bullet holesin the pillar and the unmoving legs and feet on the other side, someone hadrecently been in dire need of Krupp's architectural knowledge. "Can't believethey're handing out loaded Kalashnikovs to cretins like that, whoever it isthat's running this show," he grumbled. "These youths need ROTC training ifthey're going to pack ordnance like this,"
    "Maybe this is someone's ROTC program," I suggested, trying to lightenthe atmosphere. Krupp frowned. "Maybe this is someone's ROTC," I shouted,remembering the cotton. He nodded in deep thought. "Very good. What's yourfield again?"
    "Remote sensing. Remote sensing. Involves geography, geology and electricalengineering."
    "I'm listening," Krupp assured me in the middle of my sentence, as he walkedto the two corners of the lobby to peer down the hallways. "But you'll have tospeak up," he added, squeezing off a half-second blast at something. There wasan answering blast, muffled by the fire doors between the combatants, but itapparently went into the ceiling. Impressed, Krupp nodded.
    "Well, we've got two basic tactical options here," he continued, ejectingthe old clip and inserting a fresh one taken from the dead SUBbie, "Wecan seize the wing, or retreat. Based on what we've seen of these sandboxinsurrectionists, I don't doubt we can stage a takeover. The question is:is this wing a worthwhile strategic goal in and of itself, or is my stronginclination to seize it singlehandedly-- almost, excuse me-- just what we calla macho complex these days? Not that I'm trying to draw us into psychobabble."He glared at me, one eyebrow raised contemplatively.
    "Depends on what kind of forces they have elsewhere."
    "Well, you're saying it's easier to make tactical decisions when one hasmore perfect information, a sort of strategic context from which to plan.That's a predictable attitude for a remote-sensing man. The aereal point ofview comes naturally to a generalistic, left-handed type like you." He noddedat my revolver, which I was holding, naturally, in my left hand. "But lackingthat background, we'll have to use a different method of attack-- using'attack' in a figurative sense now-- and use the more linear way of thinkingthat would suggest itself to, say, a right-handed low-level Catholic civilengineer. Follow?"
    "I suppose," I shouted, looking down the elevator shaft at Tex's face, barelyvisible in the dim light.
    "For example," continued Krupp, "our friends below, though we must beconcerned for them, are irrelevant now. Presumably, the students on this wingwill do the rational thing and not attack us, because to attack means cominginto the halls and exposing themselves to our fire. So we control entry andexit. If we leave now, we'll just have to retake it later. Secondly, thislobby fire stair here ensures our safety; we can always escape. Third, ourrecent demonstration should delay a reinforcement action on their part. What Ifigure is that if we move along room by room disarming the occupants, they'llbe too scared by what happened to that guy in the hall to try any funny stuff.Christ on fishhooks!" Krupp dove back into the safety of the lobby as abarrage of fire ripped down the hall, blowing with it the remains of the firedoors. We made for the stairway and began skittering down the steps as quicklyas we could. By the time we had descended three flights, the angry shouts ofTerrorists and SUBbies were pursuing us. The shouters themselves prudentlyremained on their own landing.
    "We're okay unless they have something like a hand grenade or satchel chargethey can drop down this central well," said Krupp. "Hold it right there, son!That's right! Keep those paws in the air! Say, I know you."
    We had surprised Casimir Radon on a landing. He merely stared at S. S. Krupp'sAK-47, dumbfounded.
    "Let's all hold onto our pants for a second and ask Casimir what he's up to,"Krupp suggested.
    "Well," said Casimir, taking off his glacier glasses to see us better inthe dim stairwell. "I was going to visit Sarah. Things are getting prettywild now, you know. I guess you do know," he concluded, looking again atthe assault rifle.
    "Physics problem:" said Krupp, "how far does a hand grenade fall in theseven seconds between handle release and boom?""Well, air resistance makes that a toughie. It's pretty asymmetrical, and itwould probably tumble, which makes the differential equation a son-of-a-bitchto solve. You'd have to use a numerical method, like"
    "Estimate, son! Estimate!"
    "Eight hundred feet."
    "No problem. But what if they counted to three? How far in four seconds?"
    "Sixteen times fourtwo hundred fifty-six feet."
    "If they count to five?"
    "Two seconds
    sixty-four feet."
    "That's terrible. That's six stories. That would be about the sixth floor,which is where we make the run into the lobby. Do you think they'd be dumbenough to pull the pin and count to five?"
    "Not with a Soviet grenade."
    "Good point."
    "If I'm not mistaken, sir," said Casimir, "they all have impact fuses on themanyway. So it'd go off on six in any case."
    "Oh. Well what the hell?" said Krupp, and started to run down the stairsagain.
    "Wait!" I said. Krupp stopped on the next landing. "You don't want to go upthere," I told Casimir.
    "Yeah. If you think it's wild down there, you should see thirteen. It's wilderthan a cat on fire, thirteen. Those people are irrational," said Krupp.
    "Are you going to stop me by force?" asked Casimir.
    "Well, anyone traveling with S. S. Krupp today is a prime target, so Icouldn't justify that," said Krupp.
    "Then I'm going," said Casimir, and resumed his climb. "Let's get a move on.Let's build up a good head of steam here so we can charge right through thedanger zone at the bottom. I think the twenty-third psalm is in order."
    Reluctantly, I left Casimir to his own dreams and we began to charge down thesteps side by side, crossing paths at each turn, listening upward. I saw a 7painted on the wall. We were practically diving down the last flight when Iheard someone yell "Five!" We were on the level now, sprinting for a door witha small rectangular window and a sign reading E TOWER MAIN LOBBY.
    "Did he say five, or fire?" Krupp wondered as we neared the door. We punchedit open together and were in the lobby. And there, waiting for us, werethree Crotobaltislavonians with UZIs. "Professionals, I see," said Krupp.He had gone through on the hinged side of the door and now pushed it allthe way around so that it was flat against the lobby wall, where he leanedagainst it. Back in the stairwell there was a series of metallic clanks, likesomething heavy bouncing off an iron pipe. Having seen many TV shows involvingforeigners with submachine guns, I had already raised my hands; I now took theopportunity to clap them over my ears.
    Krump. Bits of fire shot out the door at incredible speed. The three janitorsjust seemed to melt and soften, sagging to the floor quietly.
    "It worked," said Krupp, sounding drunken and amazed. Trying to walk around, Ifound that the concussion had scrambled my inner ear; stars shot around liketracer bullets. I went to a wall phone, dialed Lucy and Hyacinth's number,and listened to it ring. At each ring my head cleared a bit. They were notanswering. Had the Terrorists taken twelve? I redialed; no answer. After eightrings I lost my mind, gripped the handset that had withstood untold vandalismattempts and jerked it out by its roots. I grabbed its shattered wires andswung it into the wall like a mace, ludicrously enraged, and began to stumbleback toward the stairway.
    "Hate to bust in, but we've got to stop porch-setting here," shouted Kruppfrom the lobby entryway. He lay on the floor with the AK-47 pointed down thehall.
    "What about these B-men?"
    "They'll keep."
    "I'm not leaving. My friends are up on twelve. Hey, look. These men are inpain okay? I'm going to tell their friends upstairs they've got wounded downhere."
    "Could do that," said Krupp, "but Casimir's in the stair well, If they comedown this way, he'll be like a hoppity toad in a snake stampede."
    For the first time, we heard shouting and shooting from the main hallway whichled to the Cafeteria. "Don't look forward to fighting my way through whateverthat sounds like," said Krupp.
    "sh*t. sh*t in a brown bag. Great f*cking ghost of Rommel," I said. "Thatthing is a tank." - Indeed, a small tank was approaching our location. Weretreated.
    For Fred Fine too it was a hell of a day. He was physically burned out tobegin with. The Grand Army of Shekondar the Fearsome had stood at yellow alertfor two days, and he had worked like an android the whole time, directing thestockpiling of supplies and material in the most secure regions of Plexor.Klystron may have been a haughty swordsman who reveled in single combat, butChris the Systems Programmer was a master strategist who understood that,in a long war, food was power. The recent Mixture of Klystron and Chris wasregrettable, but it did enable him to plan for the coming weeks with magicalintuition and technological knowledge, a combination that proved extremelypotent.
    Finally Consuela and Chip Dixon had insisted that he sleep, and Klystron/Chrishad okayed the rec. He slept from the close of our expedition until 1200 hourson April First, then rolled smartly out of the sack, called an aide for aquick briefing and proceeded to the mess hall for some grub and a few cups ofjoe. It was there, in the Cafeteria, just as he had predicted, that the warbegan.
    Many things contributed to its success. The MegaUnion finally found the secretelevator used to smuggle scab workers into the Caf, resulting in fightsbetween the Haitian and Vietnamese cooks and the professors and clericalworkers who stood in their way. The outcome was predictable, and when thebattered progressives returned to the main picket outside the Caf entrance,Yllas Freedperson exhorted them to hang tough, to further peace and freedomin the Plex by finding the violent people who had hurt them and bashing theirbrains out.
    Mobs of hungry students broke through the picket lines empty-handed, obviouslybent on eating scab food. The unionists were still so pissed off from theearlier fight that more scuffling and debris-throwing ensued. Twenty TUGgiescarrying anti-communist signs took advantage of the confusion to set up abarrier around the SUB information table and erect their OM generator, a blackbox with big speakers used to augment their own personal OMs, which they nowOMed through megaphones. A picket-sign duel broke out; it became clear thatthe SUB had reinforced their picket signs to make them into dangerous weapons.At a sign from their leader, Messiah #645, the TUGgies produced sawed-off poolcues and displayed highly developed kendo abilities.
    All the Terrorists then seemed to arrive together. Twenty Droogs, thirty-twoBlue Light Specials, nineteen Roy G Bivs, eight Ninja with Big Wheels ontheir foreheads, four of the Flame Squad Brotherhood and forty-three of thePlex Branch of the Provisional Wing of the Irish Republican Army (Unofficial)marched in with their politically correct bag lunches and, shouting and wavingsticks in the air, demanded that a large area be cleared of scab sympathizersand other scum so they could sit down. This section contained a table oftwenty-five athletic team standouts, heavily drunk, as well as a numberof people on ghetto scholarships who really knew how to handle unpleasantsituations. Much hand-to-hand violence took place and the Terrorists werehumiliated. There were more of them, though. A huge arena ring formed aroundthe brawl and tables were herded to the walls to make room. The SUB showedup, decided that the brawl was ideologically impure, and began chanting andthrowing food. This triggered the Cafeteria's mass food fight emergency plan;but as the enforcers began to emerge from the serving bays, they were met byMegaUnion partisans who wanted to get them out in the open. Short on brawlingpower because of the inexplicable absence of the Crotobaltislavonians, theMegaUnion was bested here.
    The Haitians and Vietnamese, who had built up fierce hatred for theTerrorists, took this opportunity to rush into the central brawl. The SUBtried to block them, without success. The TUGgies charged after the SUB tomake sure they didn't do anything illegal. The fight was frenzied now; aflying wedge of cooks speared back toward the kitchen to obtain big knives.
    Upstairs in the towers, SUB/Terrorist extremists who were apparently waitingfor something like this began to bombard the roof of the vast kitchen complexwith heavy projectiles. On cue, the administration's anti-terrorism guards,stationed on Tar City and in some wings and on top of towers, responded byblasting tear gas grenades into the SUB/Terrorist strongholds. Already therewere gaping holes in the roof; above the tumult, everyone in the Caf now heardthe booms of the grenade launchers-- every gun in the place was drawn for thefirst time.
    Shooting began, at first to scare and then to injure. People scrambled tothe walls, throwing furniture through the wide plate-glass wall sections toescape. But some were unable to get out, and others were happy to stay andfight. After a minute of incomprehensible noise and violence, battle linesformed and things became organized.
    Obviously SUB and TUG were prepared. Both groups hoped to capture the kitchenby entering through the serving bays and vaulting the steam tables, Localfights hence developed along the approaches to all twelve serving bays. Squadsfrom both groups made for the main serving bay, ducking sporadic fire. The SUBgot there first, shot the lock out and kicked the door; but there was a seniorTUGgie barricaded behind a steam table, with a heavy machine gun aimed at themand a smiling protÉgÉ holding the ammo belt. The gunner watched cheerfullyas the SUBbies jumped back and rolled away from the door, but held his fireuntil the TUGgies behind them had jumped through the breach and scurried outof the line of fire. He immediately opened fire on a strategic SUB salad baracross the Cafeteria. This entailed shooting through several tables, but hehad plenty of ammo, and as soon as the furniture was conveniently dissolved, ariver of red tracer fire could swing around and demolish whatever it touched,such as a milk machine, a number of people, and, of course, the flimsy saladbar. The SUBbies retreated and joined their Terrorist allies in safer places.
    Klystron/Chris knew as well as anyone that the kitchens were the strategiclinchpin of the Plex. He was the first person in the Cafeteria to decide thatwar was breaking out, and so during the early stages of the great fistfighthe mobilized and girded his loins for the Apocalypse. Retreating to a corner,he dumped the now-useless textbooks out of his briefcase and withdrew thebayonet, which he stuck in his belt, and the flash gun, which he carried.As the booms and thuds from the ceiling indicated that aerial bombardmenthad begun, he flexed his fingers, then shoved his right hand into his leftarmpit and snapped out a standard-issue .45 automatic pistol-- just to testthe shoulder holster one last time. After co*cking the weapon he gingerly slidit back under his houndstooth polyester blazer and turned toward the nearestserving bay.
    A burst from the flash gun got him through the door and over the steam tablesinto the kitchen area. Here was chaos: scab workers running to and fro, somewith knives; Cafeteria administrators telling him to get the hell out of here,an opinion his flash gun then modified; particularly bold SUBbies and TUGgiesmaking their first inroads; a man in a flannel shirt carrying a .50-calibermachine gun-- that could be a problem-- all of this in an almost primevallandscape littered with sections of roof, piano fragments, scattered food andutensils, broken pipes spewing steam and water, sparks and flames breaking outhere and there.
    The elevator he sought was at the dead-end of a hallway, hidden in thenethermost parts of the kitchens, back by the strategic food warehouses.Arriving safely, Klystron/Chris protected his rear by slitting open andoverturning several hundred-pound barrels of freeze-dried potatoes anddehydrated eggs near the doorway, where hot water spewed from a brokenceiling pipe. Without waiting to watch the results he jogged down and boardedthe elevator, held for him by a captain of the Grand Army of Shekondar theFearsome.
    Below, in the Burrows, he emerged to find all in readiness: several officersawaiting orders; his body armor and weapons; and in a nearby storage closet,the APPASMU, or All-Purpose Plex Armed Strife Mobile Unit.
    The APPASMU was a project begun three years ago by several MARS members.Starting out as a joke-- a tank for use in the Plex, ha ha-- it became ahobby, a thing to tinker with, and finally, this semester, an integral partof the GASF defense posture. The tank was built on the chassis of an electricgolf cart, geared down so that its motor could haul additional weight. Thetires had been filled with dense foam to make them bulletproof, and a sturdyframe of welded steel tubing built around the cart to support the rest of theinnovations, Hardened steel plates were welded to the frame to make a sloping,pyramidal body in which as many as four people could sit or lie. Gun slits,shielded peepholes and thick glass prisms enabled the occupants to see andshoot anything in their vicinity, while a full complement of lights, radios,sirens, loudspeakers and so forth gave the APPASMU eyes and ears and vocalcords. The APPASMU had been designed to fit into any elevator in the Plex. Itcould recharge its batteries at any wall outlet, and replacement battery packshad already been stashed at several secret locations around the building.
    From status reports provided by underlings as he pulled on his gear,Klystron/Chris learned that S. S. Krupp was trapped in a hostile area of ETower. Such a mission was perfect to battle-test the APPASMU and toughen upits crew, and so after barking some orders to his major officers he squeezedinto the tank along with three others and steered it backward into theelevator.
    The situation upstairs had begun to take on some texture. The dead-end outsidethe elevator was blocked by a mountain of light-yellow potato-egg mixture. TheAPPASMU plowed through with ease, and Klystron/Chris could now hear the rumbleof the heavy TUG machine gun. The APPASMU could not withstand such firepower,so Klystron/Chris decided to outflank it by exiting the kitchens through aback route. He aimed the APPASMU down an aisle lined with great pressure vatsand headed for the door.
    Unfortunately a stray weapons burst had struck a pressure vat by the exit.The top of the vat exploded off, blasting a neat hole through the ceiling,and the vat, torn loose by the recoil, tumbled over and spilled thousandsof gallons of Cheezy Surprise Tetrazzini onto the floor. This mixture hadlong, long overcooked in the fighting, causing the noodles to congeal intoa glutinous orange mass with an internal temperature over three hundreddegrees Fahrenheit, which had rolled out on impact and squatted sullenlyin the doorway, swathed in its nebula of live orange steam. Klystron/Chrisfired a few desultory rounds into it and concluded that this doorway was nowimpassable. They would have to choose a serving bay, pass through the Caf andhope to avoid the TUG machine gun-- exactly what the APPASMU was built for,though to fire it now would be to use up their first and only surprise.
    "Well have to make the most of it, men. We'll head for the lines of theSUB/Terrorist Axis and pick up all the weaponry we can find. If you seeanything that looks like it's armor-piercing, sing out!" Without furtherchitchat, and accompanied by a soft plopping of potato-egg, the minitankwas out of the kitchen and into a serving bay which was being disputed inhand-to-hand combat. The astonished fighters could only stand in confusion,and only two rounds glanced off the APPASMU's armor before they enteredthe Caf. The tank's entrance occasioned a surprised lull in the fighting.Klystron/Chris and Chip Dixon used the flat-trajectory indoor mortars to lob afew stun grenades behind the line of overturned tables and main salad bar thatserved as the SUB bunker. At this, the Axis forces turned and ran through theshattered plate-glass walls behind them and scurried for F Tower. The poorlyarmed wretches who had been pinned down by their presence emerged and sprintedfor the exits.
    They got a fine haul from the stunned and demoralized soldiers in the Axisbunker: a Kalashnikov, a twelve-gauge slug gun, ammo, knives, clubs and gasmasks, all plastered with smoldering lettuce and sprouts but functional.After collecting the booty and using his intercom to dispatch a negotiatorto cut a deal with the TUGgies-- who were clearly winning in this theater--Klystron/Chris sent the APPASMU crashing magnificently through a plate-glasspanel that had miraculously remained unbroken, and pointed it toward E Towerand the endangered Septimius Severus Krupp.
    There we met them, below E Tower. From a distance we could make out theinsignia: a stylized plan of the Plex (eight Swiss crosses within a square)with a sword and phaser rifle crossed underneath and the word MARS above. "Iguess that would be Fred Fine," I said.
    The top hatch flipped open and a helmeted, goggled head arose, speakingthrough the PA system. "This is the Grand Army of Shekondar the FearsomeExpeditionary Plex Purification Warfare Corps. Resistance is useless." Thetank pulled up next to us, and Fred Fine pulled back the mask to reveal (alas)his face. He spoke with his usual grating humility.
    "Mr. President. Professor Redfield. Sorry if we upset you. This is a littlesomething we've been developing as a career suitability demonstration projectduring the recent years of decaying civilization. In fact, once we're onsecure ground, I'd like to discuss the possibility of receiving some academiccredit for it, Mr. President. The basic design principles are the same as forany armored vehicle."
    "I see that," said Krupp, nodding. "Heimlich would go nuts over this. But whatyou need, I think, are more liberal arts courses." "Dr. Redfield will find theinfrared personnel sensing equipment very interesting. But sirs, we have heavyfighting in the Cafeteria. My men have secured the other end of this hallwaywhile I came to get you."
    Chip Dixon had clambered out to reconnoiter and inspect the APPASMU. Seeingthe three mangled B-men, he scurried over to them and slid his hand underone's ear to check his pulse. A queer look came on his face and he stareddirectly up at Fred Fine. "Jim, he's dead," he whispered.
    "Sir to you," said Fred Fine, nonplussed, "and my name is not Jim, it's . .. something else. Anyway, sirs, my men are now securing D Tower, with directelevator connections to the Burrows. We've arranged with your anti-terroristforces to courier you to C Tower, which they are securing. Chip will steer theAPPASMU, you'll sit in my place and I'll serve as point man. Dr. Redfield iswelcome to follow. But first we must retrieve those weapons!" He clomped overto the remains of the Crotobaltislavonians.
    Sarah slept until about noon, when a corpse burst through her window. Hereyes were half open, so that it exploded out of a dream: a leathery femalecadaver from the Med College, wearing the wig Sarah had left behind in Tiny'sroom, white clown makeup smeared on the face. This effigy had been placed ina hangman's noose and thrown out the window above hers; it swung down andcrashed through her window, then swung out and in and out as Sarah struggledbetween sleep and awakeness, disbelief and terror. At last she chose awakenessand terror, and stared at the corpse, which grinned.
    She tried to scream and gag at the same time, but did neither. Outside sheheard the excited whispers of the lurking Terrorists. She took three slowbreaths and pulled her .38 from under her pillow. As she was sliding her feetinto her running shoes, she found a big shard of window glass on one of themand nearly panicked. She picked up her phone and punched out Hyacinth's number(after the rape attempt she had bought a pushbutton phone so she could dialsilently). Hyacinth answered alertly. Sarah pushed the 1 button three timesand hung up, stood, slipped on the pack containing her emergency things andpadded to the door. Sleeping in her long johns was neither cool nor glamorous,but proved useful nonetheless.
    There was a long wait. The Terrorists were quietly getting impatient.wondering whether she was in there, talking about shooting the door open--theyknew a police lock would be difficult to blow off. Sarah stood shivering, feeton marked places on the floor, gun in right hand, doorlock in left. If onlythere had been a way to practice this!
    Hyacinth's gun sounded. Horribly slow, she snapped the lock, moved her hand tothe doorknob, grasped it, turned it, swung the door open and examined the fivemen standing there. They were looking sideways toward Hyacinth. As they beganto turn their faces toward her, she finally picked out the one with the gun--thanking God there was only one gun. For just a second now they were trappedand helpless, caught in a double take, trying to process the new information.For the first time Sarah understood how generals and terrorists made theirplans of attack.
    The one with the shotgun had turned it toward Hyacinth and now seemedindecisive. The other men were stepping back and dropping to the floor.Sarah's finger twitched and she fired a round into the ceiling.
    The rest happened in an instant. She pointed her gun at the head of the armedman. One of the other four suddenly whipped a handgun from his belt. Sarahwheeled and shot him in the stomach. The one with the shotgun tried to swingaround but scraped the end of his barrel on the wall; Sarah and Hyacinth firedtwo shots apiece; three missed, and one of Sarah's hit the man in the arm anddropped him. The other three had simply disappeared; looking down the ball,Sarah saw them piling into the fire stairway.
    There was less blood than she had expected. Before she could examine the twowounded, Hyacinth floated past and Sarah followed. They ran to the elevatorlobby, where Lucy was waiting with an elevator and another gun. That waswhat had taken so long-- an elevator! But many Terrorists were pouring intothe lobby as the doors began to creep shut. A Terrorist glided toward thewall buttons, hoping to punch the doors open; Sarah made eye contact withhim; he kept going; she fired a shot whose effects she never saw. The doorswere closed, joining in front of them to form a Big Wheel mural. The car wasmotionless for a sickeningly long time, and then shifted and began to sink.
    Casimir Radon only came in at the end of it. He had gotten up earlier than anyof us that morning. Opening his curtains to let in the gray light, he had seenthe blind patches grow, and had put on his glacier glasses before allowing anymore light past his eyelids. He lay in bed until the blind spots had shiftedover to the right side of his vision, then read some physics and tinkered withthe railgun's electronics. Finally he went to lunch; but seeing the outbreakof violence there, he headed back up the stairs to look for Sarah, meetingme and Krupp. After we parted, he continued resolutely. placing his feet asgently as possible on each tread and pressing carefully until he moved upto the next step. As a result he moved with a smoothness that was not evennoticed by the little embryonic headache in his brain.
    A few seconds after leaving us behind, something flashed by him down thecenter of the stairwell, and a second later-- accompanied by a brief stabbinglight-- came a sharp awesome KABOOM that KABOOMed many times over as itbounded up and down the height of the stairwell. To Casimir it was like beingbayoneted through the head, and when he dared to move again, the headachestruck so badly that he could only laugh at it. He proceeded toward the Castlein the Air with a helpless moaning laugh, heels of hands buried in temples,and heard other, less tremendous explosions.
    The door to E12S was open and three Terrorists were running through in apanic, headed for thirteen. Something white flashed by the door, heading forthe lobby. Casimir ran into the hall and was promptly knocked aside by amigration of Terrorists, who emerged from several nearby rooms. Falling, heglimpsed Sarah and Hyacinth, clad in white long johns, running with guns andbackpacks down the hall. He managed to trip a few of the Terrorists, more byflailing away randomly than by craftiness, and stood up and began to head forthe elevators too. As he approached the lobby, there was another painful WHAMand he felt a sharp pain in his chest. He had no idea what had happened. Infact, Sarah's last bullet, after ricocheting off several walls and passingthrough a fire door, had in mangled form dispersed its last bit of energy bybouncing sharply off Casimir's T-shirt.
    Something hard was against the back of his head-- the floor? The Terroristswere standing above him. He stood up. Two wounded men were being carriedtoward him, leaving uneven trails of blood on the shiny tile floor. Hefollowed these trails to their sources, and stepped through Sarah's open door.
    A clown-cadaver was smiling at him through the window and he knew he washallucinating. Nothing he did could dissolve the ghastly sight. Noticing aTerrorist looking at him from the doorway, he walked over, slammed the doorin his face and locked it. Then he wandered around the room, picking up andexamining random objects-- numerous mementos of Sarah's friends and family,books he would never read, a little framed collection of snapshots. A familyportrait, graduation photos of several smiling good-looking earnest types--which was her boyfriend?-- and various shots of Sarah and friends being happyin different places, including some of Hyacinth. Tucked in one corner of theframe was a folded piece of paper. Casimir felt filthy reading it; it wasobviously a love note. He had never gotten one himself, but he figured thiswas one of them. Getting to the bottom, he read the name of the mysterious manSarah so obviously preferred to Casimir: Hyacinth.
    He sat on her bed, elbows on knees, scarcely hearing the shouting outside. Hesmiled a little, knowing Sarah and Hyacinth had made it out safely.
    He knew why he'd come up here. Not to assist Sarah, or go with her, but tosave her. To create a debt of gratitude that could neither be erased norforgotten. She would have to love him then, right? This impossible secret hopeof his had made his thoughts so twisted and complicated that he no longer knewwhy he was doing anything; he was never one to analyze his pipe dreams. Butnow she was safe. His goal was accomplished. And if she had done it herself,and not seen him, then that was his fault. She was safe, and now he had to behappy whether he wanted to or not.
    Most importantly, he had seen the proof he had needed for so long, theundeniable proof that she would never be in love with him. All his wildfantasies were impossible now. He could purge himself of his uselessinfatuation. He could relax. It was wonderful. The Terrorists shot out thelock, came in and grabbed his arms. In the hall he was thrown on his back andstraddled by a Terrorist while others sat on his arms and legs. Then they allstared at him dully, lost and indecisive.
    "Let's knock his teeth out," said a voice from behind Casimir. A hammer wasgiven to the man on his chest. Someone held Casimir by the hair. Casimir'svision was sharp and bright without the glacier glasses; the hammerheadwas cold and luminous in the white light, finely scratched on its polishedstriking face, red paint worn way from use. The Terrorist was examiningCasimir's face as though he could not find the mouth, neither excited norscared, just curiously resigned to what he was doing and, it seemed, at peacewith himself.
    This is what I get, being heroic for the wrong reason, thought Casimir. Hecould not take his eyes off the hammer. He began to struggle. His captorsclamped down harder. The torturer made a swing; but Casimir jerked his headto one side and the blow slid down his cheek and crushed a fold of neck skinagainst the floor.
    Then he felt a light tingly feeling and sat up. The hammerer slid backwardonto the floor. Casimir's hands were free and he punched the man in the nuts,then pulled his legs free and stood up. Everything he touched now snapped awayand started bleeding. Someone was coming with a shotgun, so Casimir re-enteredSarah's room and bolted the door with her police lock.
    He smashed the photo frame on her desk, removed a snapshot of Sarah andHyacinth, wrapped it in Kleenex and put it in his pocket. The only potentialweapon was a fencing saber, so he took that. He knocked over a set ofbrick-and-board shelves, and using one brick as a hammer and another as ananvil, snapped off the final inch of the blade to leave a clean, sharplyfractured edge.
    When he opened the door again, all he had to do was push the barrel of theshotgun out of the way and push his saber through one of the owner's lungs.The gun came free in his hand and he hurled it backward out the window, whereit bounced off the cadaver and fell to Tar City. In the ensuing melee Casimirslashed and whipped several Terrorists with the blade, or punched them withthe guard, and then they were all gone and he was walking down the stairs.
    His destination was a room in a back hallway far beneath A Tower: UniversityLocksmithing. This was the most heavily fortified room in the Plex, as asingle breach in its security meant replacing thousands of locks. It hadjust one outside window, gridded over by heavy steel tubes, and the door wassolid steel, locked by the toughest lock technology could devise. As Casimirapproached it, he found the nearby corridors empty. The security system wasstill on the ball, he supposed. But the events of the day had unleashed inCasimir's mind a kind of maniacal, animal cunning, accumulated through yearsof craftily avoiding migraines and parties.
    The corridors in this section were relatively narrow. He put his feet againstone wall and his hands against the other, pushed hard enough to hold himselfin the air, slowly "walked" up the walls until his back was against the pipeson the ceiling, then "walked" around the corner and down the hall toward thatsteel door. Usually the only beings found on the ceilings of the Plex werebats, and so the little TV camera mounted above the door was aimed down towardthe floor. Eventually Casimir was able to rest his hands directly on thecamera's mounting bracket and wedge his feet into a crack between a ceilingpipe and the ceiling across the hail. Not very comfortable, he used one handto undo his belt buckle. In five minutes, during which he frequently had torest both arms, he was able to get the belt over another pipe and rebuckle itaround his waist, giving himself an uncomfortable but stable harness.
    Within half an hour, the TV camera, inches from his face, began to swivel backand forth warily. Casimir loosened his belt buckle. The lock clicked open andan old man emerged, holding a pistol. Casimir simply dropped, pulled the gunfree, flung it back into the room, then dragged the locksmith inside. Whilethe man was regaining his breath, Casimir went through his pockets and came upwith a heavily laden key-chain.
    After a while the locksmith sat up. "Whose side are you on?" he said.
    "No side. I'm on a quest."
    The locksmith, apparently familiar with quests, nodded. "What do you want withme?" he asked.
    "The master keys, and a place for the night. It looks as though I've gotboth." Casimir tossed the keys in his hand. "Where were you taking thesekeys?"
    The locksmith rose to his feet, looking suddenly fierce and righteous. "I wasgetting them out of the Plex, young fella! Listen. I didn't spend thirty-fiveyears here so's I could sell the masters to the highest bidder soon as thingsgot hairy. I was taking those out of the Plex for safekeeping and damn you forinsulting me. Give 'em back."
    "I have no right to take them, then," said Casimir, and dropped the keys intothe locksmith's hands. The man stepped back, first in fear, then in wonder.
    There was a high crack and the locksmith fell. Casimir ran for the door, wherea loner with a bolt-action .22 was frantically trying to get a second roundinto the chamber. Casimir nailed him with the saber, kicked him dead into thehallway, grabbed the .22 and locked the door.
    The locksmith was struggling to his feet, pulling something bright from hissock. The big keychain was still on the floor where he'd dropped it. He nowheld seven loose keys in his hands, and with a distant, dying look he gazedthrough the crossbars of the window at the million lights of the city. Casimirran and stood before him, but seeing his shadow cross the man's face, fell tohis knees.
    "Thirty-five years I looked for someone worthy to take my place," whisperedthe Locksmith. "Thought I never would, thought it was all turning to sh*t.And here in the last five minuteshere, lad, I pass my charge on to you." Heparted his hands, allowing the keys to fall into Casimir's. Then he droppedhis hands to his sides and died. Casimir gently laid him out on a workbenchand crossed his arms over his heart.
    After pinching the barrel of the .22 shut in a vise, Casimir curled up on aneighboring workbench and slept.
    Though Casimir considered Sarah and Hyacinth safe, they were only relativelysafe when they and Lucy left E12S. Their destination was the Women's Center,and their route was a young and disorganized war.
    They went first to my suite-- I had given Lucy a key. They remained for acouple of hours, borrowing clothes, eating, calming down and building up theircourage.
    Fully clothed, equipped and reloaded, they broke out my picture window inmidafternoon and lowered themselves a few feet onto Tar City. For the timebeing they kept their guns concealed. Running across the roof it was possibleto cover ground swiftly and avoid the thronged corridors. After a couple ofhundred feet and a few far misses by bombardiers above, they arrived at oneof the large holes in the roof and ducked down into the kitchen warehouses.Approaching quietly, they slid into the narrow space between the boxes and theceiling and avoided detection. Following Hyacinth, they slid on their belliesdown the shelf to the nearest door. This turned out to be guarded by a GASFsoldier, who watched the door while a dozen TUGgies methodically tore open andexamined crates of food. Hyacinth slid a hundredweight of pasteurized soybeanpeanut butter substitute onto the guard's head and they dropped to the floor,pulling more crates with them to hinder pursuit. Running into the kitchens,they found themselves cheerfully greeted by more TUGgies. Fortunately thekitchen was huge, full of equipment and partitions and fallen junk and cloudsof steam and twists and turns, and after some aimless running around they cameto the giant wad of Cheezy Surprise Tetrazzini, squeezed past it through thedoor, and entered a little-used service corridor filled with the wounded andscared. Four of the latter, also women, seeing that these three were armed andnot as scared as they were, joined up. The seven edged into a main hall andmade for the Women's Center.
    This was in the Student Union Bloc, an area not as bitterly contested asthe Caf or the Towers. Hyacinth wounded two Droogs on the way and reloaded.Eventually they came to a long hail lined with the offices of various studentactivities groups, dark and astonishingly still after their riotous trip.Here they slowed and relaxed, then began to file along the corridor. Soonthey smelled sweet incense, and began to make out the distant sounds ofchanting and the tinkling of bells. Moving along quietly, they paused by eachdoor: the Outing Club; the Yoga, Solar Power and Multiple org*sm SupportGroup; the Nonsocietal Assemblage of Noncoercively Systematized LibertarianIndividuals; Let's Understand Animals, Not Torture Them; the men's room;the punk fraternity Zappa Krappa Claw; the Folk Macrame Explorers. As theyapproached the Women's Center, the sweet odors grew stronger, the soprano-altochant louder.
    "Looks like the Goddess worshipers got here first," said Sarah. "I guess I canlive with that, if they can live with someone who shaves her pits." She andLucy and Hyacinth concealed their guns again, not wanting to seem obtrusive.
    Hyacinth knocked. There was a lull, then the voice of Yllas Freedperson, thena new chant.
    "You don't know the True Knock," said Yllas.
    "Well, we're women, this is the Women's Center."
    "Not all women can enter the Women's Center."
    "Oh."
    "Some have more man than woman in them. No manhood can be allowed here, forthis place is sacred to the Goddess."
    "Who says?"
    "Astarte, the Goddess. Athena. Mary. Vesta. The Goddess of Many Names."
    "Have you been talking to her a lot lately?" asked Hyacinth.
    "Since I offered her my womb-blood at the Equinox last week, we have beenin constant contact."
    "Well look," said Hyacinth, "we didn't come to play Dungeons and Dragons,we're here for safety, okay?"
    "Then you must purifiy yourself in the sight of the Goddess," said Yllas,opening the door. She and the two dozen others in the Center were all naked.All the partitions that had formerly divided the place into many rooms hadbeen knocked down to unify the Center into a single room. They couldn't seemuch in the candlelight, except that there was a lot of silver and manydaggers and wands. The women were chanting in perfect unison.
    "You cannot touch our lives in any way until you have been made one with us,"continued Yllas.
    Sarah and company declined the invitation with their feet. Before they gotfar, Yllas started bellowing. "Man-women! Heteros! Traitors! Impurities! Stopthem!"
    Nearby doors burst open and several women jumped out with bows and arrowstaken from the nearby P. E. Department. Sarah began a slow move for her gun,but Hyacinth prevented it. "Take them to PAFW," decreed Yllas, "and whenAstarte tells us what is to be done, we will take them away one by one andgive them support and counseling."
    Escorted by the archers, they traveled for several minutes through Axishallways, leaving the Union block and entering the athletics area. Here theywere turned over to a pair of shotgunwielding SUBbies, who led them into thedarkened hallway behind the racquetball courts. Each of the miniature doorsthey passed had been padlocked; and looking through the tiny windows, they sawseveral people in each court. Finally they arrived at an open door and wereushered into an empty court, the door padlocked behind them. On the walkwaythat ran above the back walls of the courts two guards paced back and forth.Taped above the door was a hastily Magic-Markered sign:
    WELCOME
    TO THE
    PEOPLE'S ALTERNATIVE FREEDOM WORKSHOP
    The Axis clearly lacked experience in running prisons. They did not evensearch them for weapons. The few guards were not particularly well armedand followed no strict procedures; they seemed incapable of dealing withrelatively simple situations, such as requests for feminine hygiene materials.All tough decisions such as this had to be transmitted to a higher authority,who was holed up at the far end of the upper walkway.
    After a few hours, several more people had been put in their cell, among themsome large athletes. Escape was easy. They waited until the pacing guardson the walkway were both at one end, and then two large men simply grabbedHyacinth by the legs and threw her up over the railing. She rolled on herstomach and plugged the two guards, who did not even have time to unslingtheir weapons. The rest of the incompetent, somnambulistic personnel weredisarmed, and everyone was free. Five high-spirited escapees ran down thewalkway toward the office of the high-muck-a-muck, firing through its door theentire way. When they finally kicked open the bent and perforated remains,they found themselves in the courts reservation office. A Terrorist sat in achair, rifle across lap, staring into a color TV whose picture tube had beenblasted out. Hyacinth, Lucy and Sarah, not interested in this, headed for theBurrows with several other refugees in tow. The domain of Virgil was near.
    Not far from that gymnasium bloc, on the fourth floor. Klystron/Chrisinspected his lines. He had just approved one of the border outpostswhen Klystron had called him back and berated him for his greenhornishcarelessness. Right there, he pointed out, a crafty insurrectionist mightcreep unseen down that stairway and set up an impregnable firepost! The GASFsoldiers, awed by his intuition, extended their lines accordingly.
    As Klystron/Chris stood on those stairs making friendly chitchat with the men,the warble of a common urban pigeon sounded thrice from below, warning ofapproaching hostiles. Klystron/Chris whirled, leapt through a group of sloweraides and crouched on the bottom step to peer down the hallway. His men wereassuming defensive stances and rolling for cover.
    He exposed himself just enough to see the vanguard of the approaching force.As he did, the voice of Shekondar came into his head, as it occasionally didin times of great stress: "She is the woman I want for you. You know her! Sheis ideal for you. The time has come for you to lose your virginity; at lasta worthy partner has arrived. Look at that body! Look at that hair! She haslong legs which are sexually provocative in the extreme. She is a healthyspecimen."
    He could hardly disagree. She was evolutionarily fit as any female he had everobserved; he remembered now how the firm but not disgusting musculature ofher upper arm had felt when he had set her down on that dinner table duringher fainting spell. But at this juncture, when she needed to be strong inorder to prevail and preserve her ability to reproduce, she showed the bounceand verve that marked her as the archetypal Saucy Wench of practically everydense sword-and-sorcery novel he had ever consumed in his farmhouse bed ona hot Maine summer afternoon with his tortilla chips on one side and hisknife collection on the other. Later, after he had saved her from something--saved her from her own vivacious feminine impulsiveness by an act of manlycourage and taken her to some sanctuary like the aisle between the CPU andthe Array Processing Unit-- then she could allow herself to melt away in arush of feminine passion and show the tenderness combined with fire that wasenticingly masked behind her conventional calm sober behavioral mode. Hewondered if she were the type of woman who would tie a man up, just for thefun of it, and tickle him. These things Shekondar did not reveal; and yet hehad told him that they matched! And that meant she could be nothing other thanthe fulfilment of his unique sexual desires!
    The group approached their perimeter. Klystron/Chris staggered boldly into theopen, hindered by a massive erection, hitched up his pants with the butt ofthe Kalashnikov and waved the group to a halt. She dipped behind a pillar andcovered him with a small arm-- a primitive chemical-powered lead-thrower thatwas nevertheless dangerous. Then, seeing many automatic weapons, she pointedher gun at the ceiling. Her troop slowed to a confused and apprehensive halt.They were disorganized, undisciplined, obviously typical refugee residue, ledby a handful of Alpha types with guns-- not a minor force in this theater, buthelpless against the GASF.
    "Hi, Fred," she said, and the obvious sexual passion in her voice was to hisears like the soothing globular tones of the harp-speakers of Iliafharxhlind."We were headed for the Burrows. How are things between here and there?"
    It was easiest to explain it in math terms. "We've secured a continuous convexregion which includes both this point and the region called the Burrows,ma'am. It's all under my command. How can we help you?"
    "We need places to stay. And the three of us here need to get to the ScienceShop."
    So! Friends of the White Priest! She was very crafty, very coy, but madeno bones about what she was after. These women thought of only one thing.Klystron/Chris liked that-- she was quite a little enticer, but subtle as shewas, he knew just what the audacious minx was up to! Shekondar tuned in againwith unnecessary advice: "Please her and you will have a fine opportunity forsexual intercourse. Do as she asks in all matters."
    He straightened up from his awkward position and smiled the broadest,friendliest smile he could manage without exceeding the elastic limit of hislip tissue. "Men," he said to his soldiers, "it's been a secret up to now, butthis woman is a Colonelette in the Grand Army of Shekondar the Fearsome and apriestess of great stature. I'm putting Werewolf Platoon under her command.She'll need passage into the Secured Region-- unless she changes her mindfirst!" Women often changed their minds; he glanced at her to see if she hadcaught this gentle ribbing. She put on an emotionless act that was almostconvincing.
    "Well, gee. It's kind of a surprise to me too. Can we just go, then?"
    "Permission granted, Colonelette Sarah Jane Johnson!" he snapped, saluting.She threw him a strange look, no doubt of awe, thanks and generalindebtedness, and after giving a few cutely tentative orders to her men,headed into the Secured Region. Fired with new zest for action, Klystron/Chriswheeled and led his men toward the next outpost of the Purified Empire.
    I declined Fred Fine's offer and waited below E Tower for my friends. Beforelong it became obvious that I would never meet anyone in that madhouse of alobby, and so I set out for the Science Shop.
    The safest route took me down Emeritus Row, quiet as always. I checked eachdoor as I went along. Sharon's office had long since been ransacked bymilitants looking for rail-gun information. Other than the sound of drippingwater falling into the wastecans below the poorly patched hole in Sharon'sceiling, all I heard on Emeritus Row was an old man crying alone.
    He was in the office marked: PROFESSOR EMERITUS HUMPHREY BATSTONE FORTHCOMINGIV. Without knocking (for the room was dark and the door ajar) I walked in andsaw the professor himself. He leaned over the desk with his silvery dome onthe blotter as though it were the only thing that could soak up his tears, hishands flung uselessly to the side. The rounded tweed shoulders occasionallyhumped with sobs, and little strangled gasps made their way out and died inthe musty air of the office.
    Though I intentionally banged my way in, he did not look up. Eventually he satup, red eyes closed. He opened them to slits and peered at me.
    "I-- " he said, and broke again. After a few more tries he was able to speakin a high, strangled voice.
    "I am in a very bad situation, you see. I think I may have suffered ruination.I have just ... have just been sitting here"-- his voice began to clear andhis wet eyes scanned the desk-- "and preparing to tender my resignation."
    "But why," I asked. "You're not that old. You seem healthy. In your field,it's not as though you have equipment or data that's been destroyed in thefighting. What's wrong?"
    He gave a taut, clenched smile and avoided my eyes, looking around at thestacks of manuscript boxes and old books that lined the room. "You don'tunderstand. I seem to have left my lecture notes in my private study in theLibrary bloc. As you can appreciate, it will be rather difficult for a man ofmy years to retrieve them under these conditions."
    This clearly meant a lot to him, and I did not say "So? Write up some newones!" For him, apparently, it was a fatal blow. "You see," he continued,sounding stronger now that his secret was out. "Ahem. There is in my field alarge corpus of basic knowledge, absolutely fundamental. It must be learnedby any new student, which is why it appears in my courses and so forth. I,er, I've forgotten it entirely. Somehow. With my engagements and editorialpositions, conferences, trips, consultations, et cetera, and of course allmy writing-- well, there's simply no room for trivia. So if I am hired awayby another university and asked to teach, or some dreadful thing-- you canimagine my embarrassment."
    I was embarrassed myself, remembering now a snatch of overheard conversationamong three grad students, one of whom referred contemptuously to "EmeritusHome-free Etcetera," who apparently was making him do a great deal ofpointless research, check out books for him and pay the fines, put moneyin his parking meters and so on. If that was Forthcoming's style, I couldunderstand what this break in routine would do to his career. He was only ascholar when there was a university to say he was.
    A distant machine-gun blast echoed down the hallway. "Mr. Forthcoming," I saidfirmly. "I'd like to help you out, but for the moment it's not possible. Iguess what I'm trying to say is
    let's get the hell out of here!"
    He wouldn't move.
    "Look. Maybe if we get down to a safe place, we can see about getting yourlecture notes back."
    He looked up with such relief and hope that I wanted to spit. My unfortunatestatement had given him new life. He stood up shakily, began to chatterhappily and set about packing pipes and manuscripts into his briefcase.
    As ever, the Burrows were calm. The GASF guards let us past the border afterquick checks over their intercoms, and we were suddenly in a place unchangedsince the days of old, where students roamed the hallways wild and free andresearch and classes continued obliviously. Most of the Burrows folk regardedthe entire war/riot as a challenge for their ingenuity, and those who hadnot been sucked into Fred Fine's vortex of fantasy and paranoia set aboutpreserving the ancient comforts with the enthusiasm of Boy Scouts lost in thewoods.
    The Science Shop was an autonomous dependency of Fred Fine's United PurePlexorian Realm, and the hallway that led there was guarded, mostlysymbolically, by Zap with his sawed-off shotgun and his favorite bluntinstrument. He waved us through and we came to our haven for the war.
    The vacuum of authority that filled the Plex for the first two weeks ofApril resulted from events in the Nuke Dump. The occupying terrorists warnedthat any attempt by authorities to approach the building would be met by therelease of radioactive poisons into the city. The city police who ringedthe Plex late on April First had no idea of how to deal with such a threatand called the Feds. The National Guard showed up a day later with armoredpersonnel carriers, helicopters and tanks, but they, too, kept their distance.The Crotobaltislavonians had obviously intended to establish their ownmartial law in the Flex, enforcing it through their SUB proxies and the SUB'sTerrorist proxies. But the blocked elevator shaft and the giant rats madetheir authority tenuous, and unbelievably fierce resistance from GASF and TUGkept the SUB/Terrorist Axis from seizing any more than E and F Towers. Insteadof National Guard authority or Crotobaltislavonian authority, we ended up withno central authority at all.
    The Towers were held by the best-armed groups. The Axis held E and F, the GASFheld D, the administration anti-Terrorist squads B and C, and TUG held A, H,and G, prompting Hyacinth to remark that if this were tic-tac-toe the TUGwould have won. The towers were easy to hold because access was limited; ifyou blocked shut the four outer fire stairs of each wing, you could controlthe only entrances to the tower with a handful of soldiers in the sixth-floorlobby. The base of the Plex was a bewildering 3-D labyrinth. Here things weremuch less stable as several groups struggled for control of useful ground,such as bathrooms, strategic stairways, rooms with windows and so forth. Manyof these were factions that had split away from the Terrorists, finding thestrict hierarchy and tight restrictions intolerable. Other important groupswere made up of inner-city financial-aid students, who at least knew how totake care of themselves; one gang of small-towners from the Great Plains, alsoadept at mass violence; the hockey-wrestling coalition; and the Explorer post,which had a large interlocking membership with the ROTC students.
    Those who were not equipped or inclined to fight fared poorly. Most ended uptrapped in the towers for the duration, where all they could do was watchTV and reproduce. Escape from the Plex was impossible, because the nuclearTerrorists allowed no one to approach it, and snipers in the Axis towers madeperilous the dash from the Main Entrance. Those who could not make it to thesafety of a tower were not wanted by the bands of fighters in the Base, andso had to wander as refugees, most ending up in the Library. It was a very,very bad time to be an unescorted woman. We tried to make raids against weakerbands in order to rescue some of these unfortunates, but only retrieved thirtyor so.
    Fire in the Plex was not the problem it had been feared to be. The plumbingstill worked reasonably well and most people had enough sense to use the firehoses. Many areas were smoky for days, though, to the point of being hostileto life, and bands driven from their own countries by smoke accounted for agood deal of the fighting. The food problem was minor because the Red Crosswas allowed to distribute it in the building. Unfortunately there was no wayto remove garbage, so it piled up in lobbies and stairwells and elevatorshafts. Insects, invading through windows that had been broken out or removedto vent smoke, grew fruitful and multiplied; but this plague then abated, asthe bat population swelled enormously to take advantage of the explosion intheir food supply. By the end of the crisis, the top five floors of E Towerhad been evacuated to make room for bats, who were moving down the tower atthe rate of one floor every three days.
    There were stable areas where well-armed people settled in and organizedthemselves. The Burrows were exceptionally stable, brilliantly organized byFred Fine, and Virgil's Science Shop was an enclave of stability within that.About twenty people lived in the Shop; we slept on floors and workbenches,and cooked communally on lab burners. Fred Fine allowed us this autonomy forone reason: Shekondar the Fearsome/JANUS 64 had selected Virgil as his soleprophet.
    Of course it was not really so simple. It was actually the Worm, and Virgil'scountermeasures. As Virgil explained it, he had signed on to his terminal onMarch 31 to find a message waiting: WELL MET WORM-HUNTING MERCENARY. YOU AREADEPT. LET US HOPE YOU ARE WELL PAID. SO FAR I HAVE ONLY FLEXED MY MUSCLES.NOW BEGINS THE DUEL.
    The next day, of course, civilization had fallen. As soon as Virgil had beensure of this, he had signed on to find that his terminal had been lockedout of the system by the Worm. This he had anticipated, and so he calmlyproceeded to the Operator's Station, ejected Consuela and signed on thereunder a fake ID. Virgil had then commandeered six tape drives (to the dismayof the hackers who were using them) and mounted six tapes he had prepared forthis day. He went to the Terminal Room, where sat hundreds of terminals inindividual carrels. Here Virgil signed on to eighteen terminals at once, usingfake accounts and passwords he had been keeping in reserve. On each terminalhe set in motion a different program-- using information stored on the sixspecial tapes. Each of these programs looked like a rather long but basicallyroutine student effort, the sort of thing the Worm had long since stoppedtrifling with. But each did contain lengthy sections of machine code that hadno relevance to the program proper.
    Virgil returned to the Operator's Station and entered a single command. Itseffect was to draw together the reins of the eighteen sham programs, to liftout, as it were, all those long machine code sections and interleave theminto one huge powerful program that seemed to coalesce out of nowhere, havingalready penetrated the Worm's locks and defenses. This monster program,then, had calmly proceeded to wipe out all administrative memory and allstudent and academic software, and then to restructure the Operator to suitVirgil's purposes. It all went-- payroll records, library overdues, video-gameprograms. From the computer's point of view, American Megaversity ceased toexist in the time it took for a micro-transistor to flip from one state to theother.
    A mortal wound for the university, but the university was already mortallywounded. This was the only way to prevent the Worm from seizing the entirecomputer within the next week or so. Virgil's insight had been that althoughthe Worm had been designed to take into account any conceivable action on theComputing Center's part, it had not anticipated the possibility that someonemight destroy all the records and dismantle the Operator simply to fight theWorm.
    The Worm's message to Virgil had been the key: it had identified him asan employee of the Computing Center, a hired hit man. That was not anunreasonable assumption, considering Virgil's power. But it was wrong anyway,proving that the Worm could only take into account reasonably predictableevents. The downfall of the university wasn't predictable, at least not tosociopath Paul Bennett, so he hadn't foreseen that anyone would take Virgil'spyrrhic approach.
    Virgil now had enough processing power to run a large airline or a smalldeveloping country. The Worm could only loop back and start over and try toretake what it had lost, and this time against a much more formidable foe. Soon hummed the CPU of the Janus 64, spending one picosecond performing a taskfor the Worm, the next a task for Virgil. The opponents met and mingled onthe central chip of the CPU, which evenhandedly did the work of both at once,impassively computing out its own fate. Fred Fine noticed that no one couldsign on now except Virgil, and concluded the obvious: Virgil was the Prophetof Shekondar, the Mage. So we saw little of Virgil, who had absorbed himselfcompletely in the computer, who mumbled in machine language as he stirred hissoup and spent fifteen hours a day sitting alone before the black triangularobelisk staring at endless columns of numbers.
    Sarah, Hyacinth, Lucy and friends showed up late in the evening of the First,giddy and triumphant, and we had a delighted reunion. Ephraim Klein showedup at five in the morning bleeding from many small birdshot wounds, movingwith incredible endurance for such a small, unhealthy-looking person. Afterestablishing that the shot in his legs was steel, not lead, we sent him toNirvana on laughing gas and generic beer and sucked out the balls with a largeelectromagnet. Casimir turned up suddenly, late on April second, slipping inso quietly that he seemed just to beam down. He dumped a load of clothing andsporting gear on a bench and set to work in a white creative heat we did notcare to disturb.
    "I told you," Ephraim said to Sarah, as he recovered. "We should blow thisplace up. Look what's happened."
    "Yeah," said Sarah, "it's a bad situation."
    "Bad situation! A f*cking war! How many other universities do you know where acivil war closes off the academic year?" Sarah shrugged. "Not too many."
    "So why do you think we're having one? These people are a totally normalcross-section of the population, caught in a giant building that drives themcrazy."
    "Okay. Lie down and stop moving around so much, okay?" She wandered aroundthe shop watching a goggled Casimir slice into a fencing mask with a plategrinder. In one corner, Hyacinth was teaching the joys of Bunsen-burnercuisine to a small child who had been caught up in the fighting and sent downhere by grace of the Red Cross. Sarah suddenly walked back to Ephraim.
    "You're wrong," she said. "It's nothing to do with the Plex. What people doisn't determined by where they live. It happens to be their damned fault. Theydecided to watch TV instead of thinking when they were in high school. Theydecided to take blow-off courses and drink beer instead of reading and tryingto learn something. They decided to chicken out and be intolerant bastardsinstead of being openminded, and finally they decided to go along with theirbuddies and do things that were terribly wrong when there was no reason theyhad to. Anyone who hurts someone else decides to hurt them, goes out of theirway to do it."
    "But the pressures! The social pressures here are irresistible. How"
    "I resisted them. You resisted them. The fact that it's hard to be a goodperson doesn't excuse going along and being an asshole. If they can't overcometheir own fear of being unusual, it's not my fault, because any idiot oughtto be able to see that if he just acts reasonably and makes a point of nothurting others, he'll be happier."
    "You don't even have to try to hurt people here. The place forces it on you.You can't sit up in bed without waking up your goddamn neighbor. You can'ttake a shower without sucking off the hot water and freezing the next onedown. You can't go to eat without making the people behind you wait a littlelonger, and even by eating the food you increase the amount they have to make,and decrease the quality."
    "That's all crap! That's the way life is, Ephraim. It has nothing to do withthe architecture of the Plex."
    "Look at the sexism in this place. Doesn't that ever bother you? Don't youthink that if people weren't so packed together in this space, the bars andthe parties wouldn't be such meat markets? Maybe there would be fewer rapes ifwe could teach people how to get along with the other sex."
    "If you want to prevent rapes, you should make a justice system that protectsour right not to be raped. Education? How do you pull off that kind ofeducation? How do you design a rape-proof dorm? Look, Ephraim, all we can dois protect people's rights. We wouldn't get a change in attitude by moving toanother building. The education you're talking about is just a pipe dream."
    "I still think we should blow this f*cker up."
    "Good. Work on it. In the meantime I'll continue to carry a gun."
    Professor Forthcoming, or "Emeritus" as Hyacinth called him, followed mearound a great deal, jabbering about his lecture notes, prodding my latissimusmuscles and marveling at how easy it would be for me, a former first-stringcollege nose guard with a gun, to rescue them from the Library. I did nothave the heart to discourage him. In the end, all I could do was make sure hepaid for it: made him promise that he would sit down and study those notes sothat he could rewrite them if he had to. He promised unashamedly, but by thetime we organized the quest he was already looking forward to a conference inMonaco in the fall, and listening to the casualty reports on the radio to hearif any of his key grad students had been greased.
    No, said Fred Fine, the APPASMU was not available for raids on the Library.But we could have some soldiers and one AK-47, on the condition that, giventhe choice between abandoning the quest and abandoning the assault rifle, wewould abandon the quest. I loudly agreed to this before Emeritus could sputterany disagreements. Our party was me, Hyacinth, Emeritus, four GASF soldiersand the Science Shop technician Lute. Sarah stayed behind reading The Originof Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind.
    Our route took us through fairly stable academic blocs, and other areascontrolled by gangs. We could not avoid passing through the area controlled byHansen's Gang, the smalltowners of the Great Plains. They were not well armed,but neither was anyone else in the base, and they had jumped into the fraywith the glee of any rural in an informal blunt-instruments fight and comeout winners. This was their idiom. Our negotiations with their leader werestraightforward: we showed them our AK-47 and offered not to massacre them ifthey let us pass without hassle. Their leader had no trouble grasping this,but many of the members seemed to have a bizarre mental block: they could notsee the AK-47 in Hyacinth's hands. All they saw was Hyacinth, the first cleanhealthy female they had seen in a week, and they came after her as thoughshe were unarmed. "Hey! She's mine!" yelled one of these as we entered theirlargest common area.
    "f*ck you," said another, swinging a motorcycle chain past his brother's eyesat high speed. He turned and began to trudge toward Hyacinth, hitching uphis pants. "Hey, bitch, I'm gonna breed you," he said cheerfully. Hyacinthaimed the gun at him; he looked at her face. She pulled the bolt into firingposition and squared off; he kept coming. When I stepped forward he brandishedhis chain, then changed course as Hyacinth stepped out from behind me.
    "Go for it," and "All right, for sure, Combine," yelled his pals.
    "Hyacinth, please don't do that," I said, plugging my ears. She fired offhalf a clip in one burst and pulverized a few square feet of cinderblockwall right next to the man's head. The lights went out as a power cable wassevered. Courtesy of a window, we could still see.
    "sh*t, what the f*ck?" someone inquired.
    Rather than trying to explain, we proceeded from the room. "I like thatbitch," someone said as we were leaving, "but she's weird. I dunno what'swrong with her."
    The Mailroom was an armistice zone between Hansen's Gang and the JournalismDepartment. The elevators here descended to the mail docks, making this one ofthe few ports of entry to the Plex. The publicity-minded Crotobaltislavonianshad worked out an agreement with one of the networks-- you know which, ifyou watched any news in this period-- allowing the camera crews to come andgo through this room. The network's hired guards all toted machine guns. Wecounted twenty automatic weapons in this room alone, which probably meant thatthe network had the entire Axis outgunned.
    In exchange for a brief interview, which was never aired, and for all theinformation we could provide about other parts of the Plex, we were allowedinto the Journalism bloc. Here we picked up a three-man minicam crew whofollowed along for a while. Emeritus was magnificently embarrassed andinsisted on walking behind the camera. One of the crew was an AM student, andI talked to him about the network's operations.
    "You've got a hell of a lot of firepower. You guys are the most powerful forcein the Plex. How are you using it?"
    The student shrugged. "What do you mean? We protect our crews and equipment.All the barbarians are afraid of us.""Right, obviously," I said. "But I noticed recently that a lot of peoplearound here are starving, being raped, murdered-- you know, a lot ofbum-out stuff. Do those guards try to help out? You can spare a few."
    "Well, I don't know," he said uncomfortably. "That's kind of network-levelpolicy. It goes against the agreement. We can go anywhere as long as we don'tinterfere. If we interfere, no agreement."
    "But if you've already negotiated one agreement, can't you do more? Get somedoctors into the building, maybe?"
    "No way, man. No f*cking way. We journalists have ethics." The camera crewturned back when we reached the border of the Geoanthropological PlanningScience Department, a bloc with only two entrances. My office was here,and I hoped I could get us through to the other side. The heavy door wasbullet-pocked, the lock had been shot at more than once, but it was blockedfrom the other side and we could hear a guard beyond. Nearby, in an alcove,under a pair of drinking fountains, stretched out straight and dead on thefloor, was a middle-aged faculty member, his big stoneware coffee mug stillclenched in his cold stiff fingers. He had apparently died of natural causes.
    As it turned out, the guard was a grad student I knew, who let us in. He wastired and dirty, with several bandages, a bearded face, bleary red eyes andmatted hair-- just as he had always looked. Three other grads sat there in thereception room reading two-year-old U.S. News and World Reports and chompinghunks of beef jerky.
    While my friends took a breather, I stopped by my office and checked mymailbox. On the way back I peeked into the Faculty Lounge.
    The entire Geoanthropological Planning Science faculty was there, sittingaround the big conference table, while a few favored grad students stood backagainst the walls. Several bowls of potato chips were scattered over the tableand at least two kegs were active. The room was dark; they were having a slideshow.
    "Whoops! Looks like I tilted the camera again on this one," said ProfessorLongwood sheepishly, nearly drowned out by derisive whoops from the crowd."How did this get in here? This is part of the Labrador tundra series. Anyway,it's not a bad shot, though I used the wrong film, which is why everything'spink. That corkscrew next to the caribou scat gives you some idea of scale-- "but my opening the door had spilled light onto the image, and everyone turnedaround to look at me.
    "Bud!" cried the Chair. "Glad you could make it! Want some beer? It's darkbeer."
    "Sounds good," I said truthfully, "but I'm just stopping in."
    "How are things?" asked Professor Longwood.
    "Fine, fine. I see you're all doing well too. Have you been outside much? Imean, in the Plex?"
    There was bawdy laughter and everyone looked at a sheepish junior facultymember, a heavyset man from Upper Michigan. "Bert here went out to shoot someslides," explained the Chair, "and ran into some of those hayseeds. He toldthem he was a journalist and they backed off, but then they saw he didn't havea press pass, so he had to kick one of them in the nuts and give the other hiscamera!"
    "Don't feel bad, Bert," said a mustachioed man nearby. "Well get a grant andbuy you a new one." We all laughed.
    "So you're here for the duration?" I asked.
    "Shouldn't last very long," said a heavily bearded professor who was puffingon a pipe. "We are working up a model to see how long the food needs of thepopulation can last. We're using survival ratios from the 1782 Bulgarianfamine-- actually quite similar to this situation. We're having a hell of atime getting data, but the model says it shouldn't last more than a week. Asfor us, we've got an absolute regional monopoly on beer, which we trade withthe Journalism people for food."
    "Have you taken into account the rats and bats?" I asked. Huh? Where?" Theroom was suddenly still.
    "We've got giant rats downstairs, and billions of bats upstairs. The rats arethis long. Eighty to a hundred pounds. No hearts. I hear they've worked theirway up to the lower sublevels now, and they're climbing up through the stacksof garbage in the elevator shafts." "sh*t!" cried Bert, beating his fistswildly on the table. "What a time to lose my f*cking camera!"
    "Let's catch one," said his biologist wife.
    "Well, we could adjust the model to account for exogenous factors," said thebearded modeler.
    "We'd have people eating rats, and rats eating people," said the mustachioedone.
    "And rats eating bats."
    "And bats eating bugs eating dead rats."
    "The way to account for all that is with a standard input! output matrix,"said the Chair commandingly.
    "These rats sound similar to wolverines," said Longwood, cycling through thenext few slides. "I think I have some wolverine scats a few slides ahead, ifthis is the series I think it is.,' Seeing that they had split into a slideand a modeling faction, I stepped out. A few minutes later we were back onthe road. We were attacked by a hopeless twit who was trying to use a shotgunlike a long-range rifle. I was nicked in the cheek by one ball. Hyacinthsplashed him all over a piece of abstract sculpture made of welded-togetherlawn ornaments. The GASFers, who were humiliated that a female should carrythe big gun, were looking as though they'd never have another erection.
    We passed briefly through the Premed Center, which was filed with pale mutatedundergrads dissecting war casualties and trying to gross each other out. Iyelled at them to get outside and assist the wounded, but received mostlyblank stares. "We can't," said one of them, scandalized, "we're not even inmed school yet."
    From here we entered the Medical Library, and from there, the Library proper.
    Huge and difficult to guard, the Library was the land of the refugees. It hadno desirable resources, but was a fine place in which to hide because thebookshelves divided into thousands of crannies. Waves of refugees made theirway here and holed up, piling books into forts and rarely venturing out.
    The first floor was unguarded and sparsely occupied. We stuck to the openareas and proceeded to the second floor. Here was a pleasant surprise. Anorganized relief effort had been formed, mostly by students in Nursing,Classics, History, Languages and Phys. Ed. By trading simple medical servicesto the barbarians they had obtained enough guns to guard the place. Anincoming refugee would be checked out by a senior Nursing major or occasionalpremed volunteer, then given a place in the stacks-- "your place is DG 3111851 and its vicinity"-- and so on. Most of the stragglers could then hideout between bulletproof walls of paper, while the seriously wounded could belowered out the windows to the Red Cross people below. In the same way, food,supplies and brave doctors could be hoisted into the Plex. The atmosphere wasremarkably quiet and humane, and all seemed in good humor.
    The rest of our journey was uneventful. We climbed to the fourth floor andwended our way toward Emeritus' study. Soon we could smell smoke, and see ithanging in front of the lights. To the relief of Emeritus, it came not fromhis office but from the open door of the one labeled "Embers, Archibald."
    Three men and a woman, all unarmed, sat around a small fire, occasionallythrowing on another book. They had broken out the window to vent the smoke.
    The woman shrieked as I appeared in the door. "Jesus! If I had a gun, you'd bedead now. I react so uncontrollably."
    "Good thing you don't," I observed.
    "It's really none of your business," intoned a thin, pale man. "But I supposethat since you have that wretched gun, you're going to have us do what youwant. Well, we don't have anything you could want here. And forget about Zeldahere. She's a lousy lay." Zelda shrieked in amusem*nt. "It's a good thingyou're witty when you're a bastard, Terence, or I'd despise you." "Oh, do goahead. I adore being despised. I really do. It's so inspiring."
    "Society despises the artist," said Embers, lighting a Dunhill in thebookfire, "unless he panders to the masses. But society treats the artistcivilly so he can't select specific targets for his hatred. Open personalhatred is so very honest."
    "Now that's meaningful, Arch," said the other man, a brief lump with anuncertain goatee.
    "How come you're burning books?" I asked.
    "Oh, that, well," said Embers, "Terence wanted a fire." Terence piped upagain. "This whole event is so very like camping out, don't you agree? Exceptwithout the dreadful ants and so forth. I thought a fire would be very--primal. But it smoked dreadfully, so we broke out the window, and now it'svery cold and we must keep it going ceaselessly, of course. Is that adequate?Is that against Library rules?"
    "We've been finding," added Embers, "that older books are much better. Theyburn more slowly. And with their thin pages, Bibles and dictionaries are quiteeffective. I'm taking some notes." He waved a legal pad at me.
    "Also," added the small one, "old books are printed on acid-free paper, sowe aren't getting acid inside of our lungs." "Why don't you just cover thewindow and put it out?" I asked. "Aren't we logical?" said Terence. "Youpeople are all so tediously Western. We wanted a fire, you can't take it away!What happened to academic freedom? Say, are you quite finished with yourbloody suggestions? I'm trying to read one of my fictions to these people, Mr.Spock."
    I followed my friends into Emeritus' office. Behind me Terence resumed hisreading. "The thin stream of boiling oil dribbled from the lip of the fryingpan and seared into the boy's white flesh. As he squirmed against the bondsthat were holding him down, unable to move, it ran into the bed of thornyroses underneath him; the petals began to wither like a dying western sunsetat dusk."
    A minute or two later, as we exited with Emeritus' papers, there was a patterof applause. "Ravishing, Terence. Quite frankly, it's similar to Erasmus T.Bowlware's Gulag Pederast. Especially the self-impalement of the heroine onthe electric fencepost of the concentration camp as she is driven into afrenzy by psychic emanations from the possessed child in the nearby mansionwhere the defrocked epileptic priest gives up his life in order to get thehigh-technology secrets to the Jewish commandos. I do like it."
    "When do I get to read my fiction?" asked Zelda.
    "Is this from the novel about the female writer who is struggling to write anovel about a woman writer who is writing a novel about a woman artist in NaziGermany with a possessed daughter?" asked Embers.
    "Well, I decided to make her a liberated prostitute and psychic," said Zelda;and that was the last I heard of the conversation, or of the people.
    We deposited Emeritus in the refugee camp on the second floor and made it backto the Science Shop in about an hour. There, Sarah and Casimir were deep inconversation, and Ephraim Klein was listening in.
    Casimir's finished suit of armor used bulletproof fabric taken from a coupleof associate deans. The administration was unhappy about that, but they couldonly get to Casimir by shooting their way through the Unified Pure PlexorianRealm. Underneath the fabric, Casimir wore various hard objects to protecthis flesh from impact. On legs and knees he wore soccer shinguards and theanti-kneecapping armor favored by administration members. He wore a jockstrapwith a plastic cup, and over his torso was a heavy, crude breastplate that hehad endlessly and deafeningly hammered out of half a fifty-five gallon oildrum. Down his back he hung overlapping shingles of steel plate to protect hisspine.
    His head was protected by a converted defensive lineman's football helmet.He had cut the front out of a fencing mask and attached the wire mesh overthe plastic bars of the helmet's facemask. Over the earholes he placed a pairof shooter's ear protectors. So that he would not overheat, he cut a hole inthe back of the helmet and ran a flexible hose to it. The other end of thehose he connected to a battery-powered blower hung on his belt, and to getmaximum cooling benefit he shaved his head. The helmet as a whole was drapedwith bulletproof fabric which hung down a foot on all sides to cover the neck.And as someone happened to notice, he took his snapshot of Sarah and Hyacinthand taped it to the inside of the helmet with grey duct tape.
    When Casimir was in full battle garb, his only vulnerable points were feet,hands and eye-slit. Water could be had by sucking on a tube that ran down toa bicyclist's water bottle on his belt. And it should not go unmentioned thatCasimir, draped in thick creamy-white fabric, with blazing yellow and bluerunning shoes, topped with an enormous shrouded neckless head, a faceless domewith bulges over the ears and a glittering silver slit for the eyes, a swordfrom the Museum in hand, looked indescribably terrible and fearsome, and forthe first time in his life people moved to the walls to avoid him when hewalked down the hallways.
    It was a very smoke-filled room that Casimir ventilated by swinging in throughthe picture window on the end of a rope. Through the soft white tobacco haze,Oswald Heimlich saw his figure against the sky for an instant before it burstinto the room and did a helpless triple somersault across the glossy parquetfloor. Heimlich was already on his feet, snatching up his $4,000 engravedtwelve-gauge shotgun and flicking off the safety. As the intruder staggeredto his feet, Heimlich sighted over the head of the Trustee across from him(who reacted instinctively by falling into the lap of the honorable formermayor) and fired two loads of .00 buckshot into this strange Tarzan's lumpyabdomen. The intruder took a step back and remained standing as the shotplonked into his chest and clattered to the floor. Heimlich fired again withsimilar effects. By now the great carved door had burst open and five guardsdispersed to strategic positions and pointed their UZIs at the suspiciousvisitor. S. S. Krupp watched keenly.
    The guards made the obligatory orders to freeze. He slowly reached around andbegan to draw a dueling sword from the Megaversity historical collections outof a plastic pipe scabbard. Tied to its handle was a white linen napkin withthe AM coat of arms, which he waved suggestively.
    "I swear," said S. S. Krupp, "don't you have a phone, son?" No one laughed.These were white male Eastern businessmen, and they were serious. Heimlichin particular was not amused; this man looked very much like the radiationemergency workers who had been staggering through his nightmares for severalnights running, and having him crash in out of a blue sky into a Board ofTrustees meeting was not a healthy experience. He sat there with his eyesclosed for several moments as waiters scurried in to sweep up the brokenglass.
    "I'll bet you want to do a little negotiating," said Krupp, annoyinglyrelaxed. "Who're you with?"
    "I owe allegiance to no man," came the muffled voice from behind the mask, but"come on behalf of all."
    "Well, that's good! That's a fine attitude," said Krupp. "Set yourself downand we'll see what we can do."
    The intruder took an empty chair, laid his sword on the table and peeled offhis hood of fabric to reveal the meshed-over football helmet, A rush of forcedair was exhaled from his facemask and floated loose sheets of paper down thetable.
    "Why did you put a nuclear waste dump in the basem*nt?" Everyone wassurprised, if genteel, and they exchanged raised eyebrows for a while.
    "Maybe Ozzie can tell you about that," suggested Krupp. "I was still inWyoming at the time."
    Heimlich scowled. "I won't deny its existence. Our reasons for wanting it mustbe evident. Perhaps if I tell you its history, you'll agree with us, whoeveryou are. Ahem. You may be aware that until recently we suffered from badmanagement at the presidential level. We had several good presidents in theseventies, but then we got Tony Commodi, who was irresponsible-- an absolutemongoloid when it came to finance-- insisted on teaching several classeshimself, and so forth. He raised salaries while keeping tuition far too low.People became accustomed to it. At this time we Trustees were widely dispersedand made no effort to lead the university. Finally we were nearly bankrupt.Commodi was forced to resign by faculty and Trustees and was replaced byPertinax Rushforth, who in those days was quite the renascence man, and widelyrespected. We Trustees were still faced with impossible financial problems,but we found that if we sold all the old campus-- hundreds of acres of primeinner-city real estate-- we could pull in enough capital to build somethinglike the Plex on the nine blocks we retained.
    But of course the demographics made it clear that times would be very roughin the years to come. We could not compete for students, and so we had to runa very tight ship and seek innovative sources for our operating funds. Wecould have entered many small ventures-- high technology spinoffs, you see--but this would have been extraordinarily complex, highly controversial andunpredictable, besides raising questions about the proper function of theuniversity.
    "It was then that we hit upon the nuclear waste idea. Here is something thatis not dependent on the economy; we will always have these wastes to disposeof. It's highly profitable, as there is a desperate demand for disposalfacilities. The wastes must be stored for millennia, which means that theyare money in the bank-- the government, whatever form it takes, must continueto pay us until their danger has died away. And by its very nature it must bedone secretly, so no controversy is generated, no discord disrupts the normalfunctions of the academy-- there need be no relationship between the financialfoundation and the intellectual activities of the university. It's perfect."
    "See, this city is on a real stable salt-dome area," added a heavy man inan enormous grey suit, "and now that there's no more crude down there, it'ssuitable for this kind of storage." "You," said the knight, pointing his swordat the man who had just spoken, "must be in the oil business. Are you RalphPriestly?" "Ha! Well, yeah, that's me," said Ralph Priestly, unnerved. "Wehave to talk later."
    "How did you know about our disposal site?" asked Heimlich. "That doesn'tmatter. What matters now is: how did the government of Crotobaltislavoniafind out about it?" "Oh," said Heimlich, shocked. "You know about that also.""Yep."
    After a pause, S. S. Krupp continued. "Now, don't go tell your honchos that wedid this out of greed. America had to start doing something with this waste--that's a fact. You know what a fact is? That's something that has nothingto do with politics. The site is as safe as could be. See, some things justcan't be handed over to political organizations, because they're so damnedunstable. But great universities can last for thousands of years. Hell, lookat the changes of government the University of Paris has survived in thelast century alone! This facility had to be built and it had to be done by auniversity. The big steady cash flow makes us more stable, and that makes usbetter qualified to be running the damn thing in the first place. Symbiosis,son."
    "Wait. If you're making so much money off of this, why are you so financiallytight-assed?"
    "That's a very good question," said Heimlich. "As I said, it's imperativethat this facility remain secret. If we allowed the cash flow to show up onour ledgers, this would be impossible. We've had to construct a scheme forprocessing or laundering, as it were, our profits through various donors andbenefactors. In order to allay suspicion, we keep these 'donations' as smallas we can while meeting the university's basic needs."
    "What about the excess money?"
    "What's done with that depends on how long the site remains secret. Thereforewe hold the surplus in escrow and invest it in the name of AmericanMegaversity, so that in the meantime it is productively used."
    "Invest it where? Don't tell me. Heimlich Freedom Industries. the Big WheelPetroleum Corporation"
    "Well," said Ralph Priestly, cutting the tip off a cigar. "Big Wheel's a hellof an investment. I run a tight ship." "We don't deny that the investmentsare in our best interests," said a very old Trustee with a kindly face. "Butthere's nothing wrong with that, as long as we do not waste or steal themoney. Every investment we make in some way furthers the nation's economicgrowth."
    "But you're no different from the Crotobaltislavonians, in principle. You'reusing your control over the wastes to blackmail whatever government comesalong."
    "That's an excellent observation," said Krupp. "But the fact is, if you'lljust think about it, that as long as the waste exists, someone's going tocontrol them, and whoever does can blackmail whatever government there is, andas long as someone's going to have that influence, it might as well be goodpeople like us."
    The knight drummed his fingers on the table, and the Trustees peered at hisinscrutable silver mask. "I see from the obituaries that Bert Nix and PertinaxRushforth were one and the same. What happened to him?"
    Heimlich continued. "Pertinax couldn't hack it. He was all for fiscalconservatism, of course-- Bert was not a soft-headed man at any point. Butwhen he learned he was firing people and cutting programs just to maintainthis charade, he lost his strength of will. The faculty ruined his lifewith their hatred, he had a nervous breakdown and we sacked him. Then theMegaUnion began to organize a tuition strike, so the remaining old-guardTrustees threw up their hands, caved in and installed Julian Didius asPresident!" At the memory of this, several of the Trustees sighed or moanedwith contempt. "Well! After he had enjoyed those first three weeks of flyingin all his intelligentsia comrades for wine and cheese parties, we got him inhere and showed him the financial figures, which looked disastrous. Then hemet Pertinax after the electroshock, and realized what a bloody hell-hole hewas in. Three days later he went to the Dean's Office for a chat, and whenthe Dean turned out to be addressing a conference in Hawaii, he blew his topand hurled himself out the window, and then we brought in Septimius and he'sstraightened things out wonderfully." There were admiring grins around thetable, though Krupp did not appear to be listening.
    "Did Pertinax have master keys, then, or what? How did he keep from beingkicked out of the Plex?"
    "We allowed the poor bastard to stay because we felt sorry for him," saidKrupp. "He wouldn't live anywhere else."
    The angle of the knight's head dropped a little.
    "So," said Heimlich briskly, "for some reason you knew our best-kept secrets.We hope you will understand our actions now and not do anything rash. Do youfollow?"
    "Yes," murmured the knight, "unfortunately."
    "What is unfortunate about it?"
    "The more thoughtful you people are, the worse you get. Why is that?"
    "What do we do that is wrong, Casimir Radon?" said Krupp quietly.
    The mask rose and gleamed at S. S. Krupp, and then its owner lifted off thehelmet to reveal his shaven head and permanently consternated face.
    "Lie a hell of a lot. Fire people when you don't have to. Create-- create avery complicated web of lies, to snare a simple, good ideal."
    "I don't think it's a hell of a lot of fun," said Krupp, "and it hurtssometimes, more than you can suppose. But great goals aren't attained withease or simplicity or pleasantry, or whatever you're looking for. If we gaveinto the MegaUnion, we would tip our hand and cause ruination. As long aswe're putting on this little song-and-dance, we've got to make it a completesong-and-dance, because if the orchestra's playing a march and the dancers arewaltzing, the audience riots. The theater burns."
    "At least you could be more conciliatory."
    "Conciliatory! Listen, son, when you've got snakes in the basem*nt and thewater's rising, it's no time to conciliate. Someone's got to have someprinciples in education, and it might as well be us. If this country'seducators hadn't had their heads in their asses for forty years, we wouldn'thave a faculty union, and more of our students might be sentient. I'll havestrap marks on my ass before I conciliate with those medicine men down thereon the picket lines."
    "You're trying to fire everyone. That's a little extreme." "Not if we're tobe consistent," said Heimlich. "We can use the opportunity to rearrange ourfinancial platform, and hire new people. There are many talented academicsdesperate for work these days, and the best faculty members here won't letthemselves be taken out en masse anyway."
    "You're going to do it, aren't you!"
    "It's evident that we have no choice."
    "Don't you think-- " Casimir looked out at the clear blue sky.
    "What?"
    "That if the administration gets to be as powerful as you, you have killed theuniversity?"
    "Look, son," said Ralph Priestly, rolling forward. "We never claimed this wasan ideal situation. We're just doing our best. We don't have much choice."
    "We're rather busy, as you can imagine," said Heimlich finally. What do youwant? Something for the railgun?" He sat up abruptly. How is the railgun?"
    "Safe."
    Heimlich smiled for the first time in a week. "I'd like to know what a 'safe'railgun is."
    "Maybe you'll find out."
    Everyone looked disturbed.
    "We are prepared to remove the Terrorists from the waste disposal site," saidCasimir crisply, "as a public service. The estimated time will be one week.Beforehand, we plan to evacuate the Plex. We require your cooperation in twoareas.
    "First, we will need control of the Plex radio station. One of our group hasdeveloped a scheme for evacuating the Plex which makes this necessary.
    "The second requirement is for the consideration of you, Ralph Priestly. Whatwe want, Ralph, is for some person of yours to sit by the switch that controlsthe Big Wheel sign. When we phone him and say, 'Fiat lux,' he is to turn iton, and when we say, 'Fiat obscuritas,' off.
    "That commando team you tried to send in through the sewers last night wasstopped by a RAT, or Rodent Assault Tactics team associated with us. Well bereleasing them soon, we can't do much more with first aid. The point is thatonly we can get rid of the Terrorists. We just ask that you do not interfere."
    Finished, Casimir sat back, hands clasped on breastplate, and stared calmlyat a skylight. The Board of Trustees moved down to the far end of the table.After they had talked for a few minutes, S. S. Krupp walked over and shookhands with Casimir.
    "We're with you," Krupp said proudly. "Wish I knew what the hell you had inmind. What's your timetable?"
    "Don't know. You'll have plenty of warning."
    "Can we supply men? Arms?" asked Heimlich.
    "Nope. One gun is all we need." Casimir let go of Krupp's hand and walkeddown the table, unclipping himself from the rope and throwing it out todangle there. A forest of pinstripes rushed up the other side, trying tocircumnavigate the table and shake Casimir's hand too. Casimir stopped by theexit.
    "I probably won't see you again. Bear in mind, after the university startsrunning again, two things: we control the rats. And we control the Worm. Youno longer monopolize power in this institution."
    The Trustees stopped dead at this breach of pleasantness and stared atCasimir. Krupp looked on as though monitoring a field of battle from a hightower. Casimir continued. "I just mention this because it makes a differencein what is reasonable for you to do, and what is not. Good-bye." As he reachedfor the doorknob, he found the door briskly opened by a guard; he nodded tothe man and strode out into an anteroom.
    "Soldier," said Septimius Severus Krupp, "see that that man receives safepassage back to his own sphere of influence."
    Night fell, and Towers A, B, C, D, H and G began to flash on and off inperfect unison. Every tower except for E and F-- homes of the Axis-- wasblinking in and out of existence every two seconds. As the Axis people saw it,the entire Plex was disappearing into the night, then re-igniting, over andover. It was much closer than the Big Wheel; it was far larger; it surroundedthem on three sides. The effect was stupefying.
    Dex Fresser ran to his observation post. In the corridors of E13S, Terroristswandered like decapitated chickens. Some were hearing voices telling them tolook, some not to look, to run or stay, to panic or relax. The SUBbie who wassupposed to guard the lounge-headquarters had dropped his gun on the floor anddisappeared. Fresser burst into the lounge to consult with Big Wheel.
    Big Wheel had gone dark.
    He turned on the Little Wheel-- the Go Big Red Fan.
    "Big Wheel must be mad at you or something. What the f*ck did you do wrong?"shouted the Fan, loud, omnipresent and angry. Dex Fresser shrank, got on hisknees and snuffled a little. Outside, a bewildered stereo-hearer was playingwith the knobs on his ghetto blaster, desperate for advice.
    "The stereo! The stereo, dipsh*t, find that frequency! Find the frequency,"said the Fan in the voice of Dex Fresser's old scoutmaster. Dex Fressertumbled over a chair in his haste to reach the stereo. The only light in theroom was cast by the glowing LEDs on his stereo that looked out like feraleyes in the night. All systems were go for stereo energize. As Dex Fresser'shands played over the controls, dozens of lights kicked in with importantsystems data, and green digits glowed from the tuner to tell him his positionon the FM dial. Only dense static came from the speakers, meaningless toanyone else; but he could hear Big Wheel guiding him in the voice of hisfirst-grade ballroom dance teacher.
    "A little farther down, dear. Keep going right down the dial. You're certainto get it eventually."
    Dex Fresser punched buttons and a light came on, saying: "AUTO DOWNWARDSCAN." He now heard many voices from the dark cones of the speakers: funkyjazz-playing fascists, "great huge savings nowNeil Young wailing into hisharmonica, a call-in guest suggesting that we load the Mexicans on giant spacebarges and hurl them into the sun, a base hit by Chambliss, an ad for ratpoison, a teen, apoplectic about his acne... and then the voice he was lookingfor.
    "On. Off. On. Off. On. Off." It was a woman's voice, somehow familiar.
    "It's Sarah, dumbsh*t," said the Go Big Red Fan. "She's on the campusstation."
    Indeed. The other towers were going on and off just as Sarah told them to. Heknelt there for ten minutes, watching their reflection in the glassy surfaceof the Big Wheel. On. Off. On. Off. "On," she said, and paused. "Most of youdid very well! But we've got some holdouts in E and F Towers. I'm sorry tosay that Big Wheel won't be showing up this evening. He will not be here togive us his advice without cooperation from the E and F tower hearers. We'lltry later. I'll be back in an hour, at midnight, and by then I hope thatyou SUBbies and Terrorists will have submitted to Big Wheel's will." Sarahwas replaced by Ephraim Klein, who started in with another solid hour ofpre-classical keyboard selections.
    Dex Fresser was clutching his chest, which felt unbearably tight. "Oh, sh*t,"he exclaimed, "it's us! We're keeping Big Wheel off! Everybody put yourstereos on ninety point three! Do as she says!" Down in Electrical Control,deep in the Burrows, I and the other switch-throwers rested. The circuitbreakers that supply power to an entire tower are large items, not at all easyto throw on and off every two seconds! By midnight we were rested up and readyto go. Sarah resumed her broadcast.
    "I sure hope we can get Big Wheel to come on. Let's hope E and F Towersgo along this time. Ready? Everyone standing by their light switch?OkayOffOnOff"
    From his lounge-headquarters, Dex Fresser watched his towers flash raggedlyon and off. Some of the lights were not flashing; but within minutes the WingCommisars had swept through and shot out any strays, and Dex Fresser wasundescribably proud that his towers could flash like the others. Big Wheelcould not forsake them now.
    "On!" cried Sarah, and stopped. Several lights went off again from habit, thencoyly flickered back on. There was an unbearable wait.
    "I think we've done it," Sarah said. "Look at Big Wheel!" And the wheel offire cast its light over the Plex with all its former glory. Dex wept.
    "Not bad for a fascist," observed Little Wheel.
    The Big Wheel spun all night.
    It was trickier to get the attention of the barbarians of the Base. Mostof them did not have bicameral minds and thus could not be made to hearmysterious voices. We needed to impress them. Hence Sarah predicted that intwenty-four hours a plague of rats would strike Journalism, unless all thejournalists cleared out of the Plex.
    "Frank," said the reporter into the camera, "I'm here in the AmericanMegaversity mailroom, our operations center for the Plex war. It's beenquiet on all fronts tonight despite former Student President Sarah JaneJohnson's prediction of a 'plague of rats.' Well, we've seen a few ratshere"-- his image is replaced by shot of small rat scurrying down emptycorridor, terrified by TV lights-- "but perhaps that's not unusual in thesevery strange, very special circ*mstances. We toured the Plex today, lookingfor plagues of rats, leaving no stone unturned to find the animals of whichMs. Johnson spoke. We looked in garbage heaps"-- shot of journalist diggingin garbage with long stick; sees nothing, turns to camera, holds nose,says "phew!"-- "but all we found were bugs. We toured the corridors"--journalist alone in long empty corridor; camera swivels around to look inother direction; nothing there either; back to journalist-- "but apparentlythe rats were somewhere else. We checked the classrooms, but the only ratsthere were on paper"-- journalist standing in stolen lab coat next to diagramof rat's nervous system-- "Finally, though, we did manage to find one rat. Ina little-used lab, Frank, in a little cage, we found one very hungry whiterat"-- back to mailroom; journalist holds up wire cage containing furtivewhite rat-- "but he's been well fed ever since, and we don't think he'llattack."
    "Sam, what do you think about Sarah Jane Johnson's pronouncement? Is it asymbolic statement, or has she cracked?" "No one can be sure, Frank." Behindjournalist, door explodes open with a boom and a flash; strobe light is seenbeyond it. The journalist continues, trying to resist the temptation to turnaround and look; but the explosion has drowned out the audio part of thecamera. Dozens of giant rats storm the room
    However, reliable sources have itthat" His words are drowned out by mass machine-gun fire. In an unprecedentedbreach of media etiquette, journalist turns around to look, and presentlydisappears from view. Abruptly, the ceiling of the mailroom spins down to fillthe screen, and three great fuzzy out-of-focus rat snouts converge from theedges of the screen, long teeth glistening in the TV lights; all goes dark.We return to Network Control. Anchorman is in process of throwing his penat someone, but pauses to say, "Now, this," and is replaced by an animatedhemorrhoid.
    All we wanted was to get everyone out of the Plex and end this thing. Oncerats roamed the Base and bats frolicked in the hallways, and smoke, fliesand filth were everywhere, those people were ready to go. The GASF wouldleave whenever Virgil told them to. The administration would clear B andC Towers as soon as we gave the word. The TUGgies claimed that they weremerely holding their three towers to fend off the Reds. Later, to no one'ssurprise, we found that they had half-brainwashed the population of thosetowers by the time Sarah kicked in with her pronouncements; and how couldoversweetened Kool-Aid, Manilow songs and lovebombing compete with her radicalpower and grand demonstrations? After we shut off their electricity and waterfor twelve hours, the TUG agreed to evacuate their towers at our command. TheSUB/Terrorist axis would do whatever they had to to keep the Big Wheel on.
    As the days went by, Big Wheel grew more demanding. Everyone was to leave hisstereo tuned to 90.3 at all times. Everyone was to plan evacuation routes fromtheir towers and clear away any obstacles that might have been placed at theexits. Dex Fresser's devotion to Sarah's words became complete, and after aweek we knew we could evacuate the Axis and everyone else whenever we wereready.
    In the meantime we were moving the railgun downstairs. To withstand the recoilthrust, the machine's supports had to be bolted right into the concrete floorof the sewer. We had to precision-fit a hundred and twenty bolts into theconcrete for the fifty-foot-long railgun, a dull and iffy task requiring greatprecision. Once the holes were prepared, we began carrying the supports down.It was a terrible, endless job. After a day of it, I decided I was going towrite a book-- that way, all of this drudgery was a fascinating contributionto my artistic growth. Strength was not a requirement in the Grand Army ofShekondar the Fearsome, so I had to torque all the bolts myself. During breaksI would look down the tunnel at the wall of lights that guarded the NukeDump's approach. What were the Crotobaltislavonians doing down there, and whatwere they thinking?
    Their plan-- the years of infiltration and the moments of violence-- had goneperfectly. They had probably made their radioactive-waste bombs, only to findthat their only elevator shaft had been blocked by tons of concrete. They musthave thought they had lost, then; but the National Guard had not moved in andthe authorities had given in to all demands. Was this a trick?
    They must have been unprepared for the resistance put up by the GASF and theTUG. Still, their proxies had seized two towers and were holding their own.That was fine, until they threw Marxism to the winds and began to worship agiant neon sign. Dex Fresser must have worked closely with Magrov for years.The cafeteria riot of April First had clearly been timed to coincide with theseizure of the Nuke Dump, and the SUB had not bought their Kalashnikovs at the7-11. Then-- a window fan! A f*cking window fan! In a way, I sympathized withthe Crotobaltislavonians. Besides us, they were the only rational people here.Like us, they must have wondered whether they had gone out of their minds. Ifthey had any dedication to their cause, though, they must have changed theirplans. They still had the waste, they were protected by the rats, they couldstill wield plenty of clout. They could not see past the barrier of light,where we were implanting the railgun.
    During a breather upstairs I encountered Ephraim Klein, moving stiffly but onhis feet.
    "Come here!" he yelled, grabbed my shirt, and began pulling me down a hallway.I knew it must be something either very important or embarrassingly trivial.
    "You won't believe this," he said, shuffling down the hail beside me. "We'reheading for Greathouse Chapel. We were there to broadcast some organ music--guess what we found."
    Ephraim had appointed himself Music Director for our radio station, and lateradded Head Engineer and Producer. He knew that we could not spend twenty-fourhours a day on Big Wheel chatter, and that in the meantime he could damnwell play whatever he liked on what amounted to the world's largest stereo--revenge at last. If Sarah had commanded all residents to play their radiostwenty-four hours a day, so much the better; they were going to hear musicthat meant something. He was going to improve their minds, whether theythanked him or not.
    "Remember, listeners, a record is a little wheel. Any record at all is BigWheel's cousin. So whenever a record speaks, you had damn better listen."
    Ephraim and I heard the music from hundreds of feet away. Someone was playingthe Greathouse Organ, and playing it well, though with a kind of inspiredabandon that led to occasional massive mistakes. Still, the great Bach fuguelurched on with all parts intact, and no error caused the interweaving ofthose voices to be confused.
    "Your friend has a lot of stops pulled out today," I said. "That's not myfriend!" shouted Ephraim. "Well, he is now, but he's not that friend."
    We reached the grand entrance and I looked far up the center aisle to theconsole. A wide, darkly clad man sat there, blasting along happily towardthe climax. No music was on the console; the organist played from memory.High up on the wall of the chapel, bright yellow light shone down from thepicture-windowed broadcast booth, where the organ's sound could be piped tothe radio station hundreds of meters away.
    As we approached, I could see a ragged overcoat and the pink flashes of barefeet on the pedals. The final chord was trumpeted, threatening to blow out therose window above, and the performer applauded himself. I climbed the dais andgaped into the beaming face of Bert Nix.
    His tongue was blooming from his mouth as usual; but when I arrived, heretracted it and fixed a gaze at me that riveted me to the wall.
    "Beware the Demon of the Wave," he said coldly. For a moment I was too scaredto breathe. Then the spell was broken as he removed a cup of beer from theEthereal keyboard and drained it. "I never was dead," he said defensively.
    "You're actually Pertinax, aren't you?" I asked.
    "I've always been more pertinent than you thought," he said and, giggling,pounded out a few great chords that threatened to lift the top of my head off.
    "Who was the dead man in your room?"
    He rolled his eyes thoughtfully. "Bill Benson, born in nineteen-twenty. JoinedNavy in forty-two, five-inch gun loader in Pacific War, winning Bronze Starand Purple Heart, discharged in forty-eight, hired by us as security guard.That poor bastard had a stroke in the elevator, he was so worried about me!"
    "How'd he get in that room?"
    "I dragged him there! Otherwise, they don't close the lid of the little pinebox and your second cousins come in plastic clothes and put dead flowers onyou, a bad way to go!"
    "I see. Uh, well, you're quite an organist."
    "Yes. But a terrible administrator!" Pertinax now clapped his foot down onthe lowest pedal, sounding a rumble too low to hear. "But hark!" he screamed,"there sounds an ominous undertone of warning!" He released the pedal andlooked around at Ephraim and me. "I shall now play the famous 'Toccata andFugue in D Minor.' This is clearly the work of a young and vigorous Bach,almost ostentatious in his readiness to show virtuosity, reveling in theinstrument's ability to bounce mighty themes from the walls of the Kirche
    but enough of this, my stops are selected." He looked suspiciously at theceiling. "This one brings out the bats. Prepare your tennis rackets therefore!Ah. The nuptial song arose from all the thousand thousand spirits over thejoyful Earth & Sea, and ascended into the Heavens; for Elemental Gods therethunderous Organs blew; creating delicious Viands. Demons of Waves their watryEccho's woke! Demons of Waves!" And throwing his head back, he hurled himselfinto the Toccata. We stood mesmerized by his playing and his probing tongue,until the fugue began; then we retreated to the broadcast booth.
    "He's playing stop combinations I've never heard before," said Ephraim."Anyway, I'm broadcasting all this. He's great."
    Down in the tunnels we always kept the radio on low, and so heard plenty ofPertinax in the next few days.
    Eventually we brought down the big power supplies from Heimlich FreedomIndustries, wrapped in plastic and packed with chemical dessicants to keepthem dry, surrounded with electric blankets to keep the electronics warm.Casimir produced several microchips he had stolen from the supplies so thatFred Fine could not use them, and plugged them into their proper spots. Weran thousands of feet of heavy black power cables down into the tunnels topower them. We tested each electromagnet; two were found wanting and had tobe sent back and remade. We energized the rail and slid the bucket up anddown it hundreds of times, using a small red laser to check for straightness,laboriously adjusting for every defect. It took two days to carry down themachine's parts, four days to adjust it and a day of testing before Casimirwas satisfied it would work on its first and only trial.
    Virgil worked on the payload, a ten-kilogram high-explosive shell. He useda computer program to design the shaped charge, an enormous program thatnormally would have run for days, but now required only seconds. The weakenedWorm could only taunt him. AH, GOING TO BLOW SOMETHING UP? "I'm going to blowyou up."
    THREATS OF PHYSICAL VIOLENCE ARE USELESS AGAINST THE WORM. This was its usualresponse to what sounded like threats. YOU'RE VERY CLEVER, BUT I SHALL TRIUMPHIN THE END.
    "Wrong. I found where you are."
    HUH? "I found the secret mini-disc drives that Paul Bennett hid above theceiling of his office. The drives where you've been hiding. It's all overnow."
    I AM EVERYWHERE.
    "You are most places, but not everywhere. I'm going to shut off your secretdisc drives as soon as I'm sure they aren't booby trapped."
    I'M GOING TO BLOW YOU UP.
    "I'm going to be careful."
    THAT'S A LOT OF EXPLOSIVE FOR YOU TO FOOL AROUND WITH, LITTLE BOY.
    "It'll do."
    I WILL BLOCK YOUR CALCULATIONS.
    "You're living in the past, Worm," typed Virgil, and executed his program. "Ihave just executed my program. And next, I'm going to execute you."
    THREATS OF PHYSICAL VIOLENCE ARE USELESS AGAINST THE WORM.
    Lute turned the shell on a Science Shop lathe and packed the explosive with ahydraulic press. Virgil carried it down an evacuated stairwell, placing eachfoot very, very carefully.
    Casimir put it on a clean table downstairs and weighed it; ten kilogramsprecisely. He dusted it off with a lint-free rag and slid it into the bucket.We checked the power sources, and they looked fine. Everyone was evacuatedexcept for me, Casimir and Fred Fine; Virgil led the remaining GASF forcesupstairs and commanded them to leave. It was 10:30 P.M.
    We sat in the APPASMU for an hour and a half, until Sarah's program came on.

    --May--
    "Everyone look at Big Wheel!" she said. There was long silence and we satthere on the APPASMU, protected by strobes, the rats chattering and grumblingin the darkness around us, the HFI power sources looking oddly clean and shinyas they flashed in and out of darkness in their own little strobe-pool.
    "That's good," said Sarah. "As you can see, Big Wheel is shining tonight.But he won't shine for long, because he is unhappy." Another wait. We knewthat, upstairs, Hyacinth had phoned the Big Wheel's controller and ordered himto shut off the sign. "Big Wheel is not shining tonight," Sarah continued,"because he wants you all out of the Plex. You are all to stop watching himfrom a distance. The Big Wheel wants you to see him up close tonight. Everyoneget out of the building now and walk toward Big Wheel and stand under him.Leave your radios on in case I have more instructions! You have an hour toleave the Plex. When Big Wheel is happy, he will turn on again."
    Organ music came on, obviously another live performance by a particularlyinspired Pertinax. We played cards atop the tank. "Should we evacuate too?"asked Fred Fine. "Could Big Wheel be another face of Shekondar?"
    "Sarah wants you here," said Casimir. This satisfied him. The music startedjust after midnight and continued for three hours. Above, we supposed, theevacuees were being loaded into ambulances or paddy-wagons, while Army falloutemergency workers prepared the city for the worst. The Board of Trustees weredeparting by helicopter from the top of C Tower, withdrawing to the HFI Towera mile away.
    "This is really it," said Fred Fine, ready to black out. "This is the momentof the heroes. The Apocalypse of Plexor. All will be unMixed in an instant."
    "Yep," said Casimir, drawing another card. "I'll see that, and raise you fourchocolate chips."
    The only problem so far was minor: the station's signal seemed to be dyingaway. We had to keep turning up the volume to hear the music, and by 1:30 wehad it up all the way. Our batteries were fine, so we assumed it was a problemat the station. As long as everyone else was turning up their volume too, itshould be fine.
    Finally the organ music was phased out for a second and we heard Sarah. "Gofor it," she said, tense and breathless. "We're gone. See you outside." Istarted sweating and trembling and had to get up and pace around to work offenergy, finally taking an emergency dump. We were in a sewer, who cared? Wegave Sarah, Hyacinth, Ephraim and Bert Nix half an hour to evacuate, butthe music kept on going. After twenty minutes, Ephraim's voice came in. "Goahead," he said, "we're staying."
    So we went ahead. We had no choice.
    The tunnel was four hundred feet long.
    The first fifty feet were taken up by the railgun, set up on its supportsabout five feet above the floor. There was a three-hundred-foot desert oftinfoil shards, then the barrier of light, then, fifty feet beyond that, thedoor to the Nuke Dump. We rolled the APPASMU to within twenty feet of thelight barrier and parked it against one of the tunnel sides. Through longwires strung down the tunnel we controlled the firing of the railgun. Whenwe were ready, we entered the tank, shut off the strobe and turned on theultrasound. Within a minute we were surrounded by a thousand giant rats,standing on one another's shoulders in their lust for that sweet tone, millingabout the APPASMU as though it were a dumpster.
    Fred Fine and I aimed shotguns out the forward gun ports. Casimir hit thebutton.
    We could not see the shell as it shot past the vehicle. We heard theexplosion, though, and saw its flash. The rats milled back from the explosion.Fred Fine and I opened fire and annihilated the light-wall in a few shots,and with a chorus of joy the rat-army surged forward into its long-looked-atPromised Land, followed by us. Our fear was that the shell would not sufficeto blow open the door, but even with our poor visibility we could see thejagged circle of light and the boiling silhouette of the rat-stream pouringthrough it. As we drew very near, some rats were blown back by machine-gunfire, and a Crotobaltislavonian ducked through the hole and ran toward us inhis ghostly radiation suit, two rats hanging from his body.
    Fred Fine opened the top hatch, whipped out his sword as he vaulted out andleapt at him howling, "SHEKONDAR!" I grabbed at his legs on his way out but hekicked free, jumped to the floor, smashed in a few rat skulls, and made towardthe Croto. I do not know whether he intended to save the man or kill him. Arat tried to come in through the open hatch but I shoved it out, then stood upthrough it with my shotgun. I damaged my hearing for life but did not changethe outcome. Once the rats started landing on my back and I could no longersee Fred Fine, I could only give up. I sat down and closed the hatch, and wewaited for a while. But nothing happened; all we saw through our peepholeswere rats, and the clicking of our Geiger counter did not vary.
    Casimir turned the APPASMU around, and we plowed through rats and followedthe tunnels until we joined up with the city sewer system. Pertinax continuedto play. From time to time he sang or shouted something, and the microphoneshanging back amid the pipes would dimly pick him up: "There is no City norCorn-field nor Orchard! all is Rock & Sand; There is no Sun nor Moon nor Star,but rugged wintry rocks Justling together in the void suspended by inwardfires. Impatience now no longer can endure!"
    We easily found the manhole we sought, because dim morning light was shiningdown through it. The Guardsmen were waiting to haul us out, and emerging ontothe street, we saw civil authority around us again and, even better, ourfriends. The Plex rose above us, about half a mile distant, beginning to glowbrownish-pink in the imminent dawn. All was quiet except for the distant humof the TUGgies, gathered just outside the police cordons and running their OMgenerators full blast.
    During our frantic reunion, two absurdly serious-looking men approached mewith complicated badges and questions. As they introduced themselves, we wereall startled by a hoarse blast of organ music that burst from all directions.
    "Ephraim must have turned the broadcast volume way down, then back up again,"said Casimir as soon as everyone in our area had turned down their radios.Once the music was quiet enough to be recognized, I knew it as Ephraim's oldfavorite, the "Passacaglia and Fugue in C Minor"; and at the end of eachphrase, when the voice of the Greathouse Organ plunged back down home to thatold low C, it rumbled in concord with the OM generators across the street, andthe Plex itself seemed to vibrate as a single huge eight-tubed organ pipe.
    And after all this, I was the only one to understand. "Get away!" I screamed,tearing myself loose from an agent. "Get away!" I shouted, ripping a megaphonefrom a policeman's hand, and "Get away!" I continued, stumbling to the roof ofa squad car and cranking up the volume.
    "Get away!" all the other cops began to shout into their megaphones. "Getaway!" crackled from the PA systems of squad cars and helicopters. It was theword of the hour, and mounted cops howled it at TUGgies and SUBbies and themedia, forcing them back with truncheons and horses. Someone flashed It to thepolice teams who had entered the Plex, and they scrambled out and squealedaway in their cars. Perhaps it was shouted ten thousand times as the ring ofonlookers gradually expanded away from the Base.
    The sound waxed. Ephraim kept turning it up and Bert Nix, building for theclimax, kept pulling out more stops. Casimir tried to phone Ephraim from abooth, but he didn't answer. He probably couldn't even hear it ring.
    He certainly heard nothing but organ as, at the end, he cranked the volume allthe way and Pertinax Rushforth pulled out all the stops.
    The windows went first. They all burst from their frames at once. All 25,000picture windows boomed out into trillions of safe little cubes in the reddawn air. At first it seemed as though the Plex had suddenly grown fuzzyand white, then as though a blizzard had enveloped the eight towers, andfinally as though It were rising up magnificently from a cloud of glintingorange foam. As the cloud of glass dropped away from the towers with granddeliberation, the millions of bats In the upper levels, driven crazy by theterrible sound, imprisoned in a building with too few exits, stopped beatingtheir wings against the windows and exploded from the rooms in a black cloudof unbelievable volume. The black cloud drifted forth and rose into the skyand the white cloud sank into the depths, and Pertinax pushed the swell pedalsto the floor and coupled all the manuals to the pedalboard and pushed his barepink foot down on the first one, the low C, and held it down forever.
    The building's steel frame was unaffected. The cinder-blocks laid within thatframe, though, stopped being walls and became a million individual blocksof stone. Uncoupled, they began to dissolve away from the girders, and thefloors accordionned down with a boom and a concussion that obliterated thesound of the organ. All the towers went together; and as those tons of debrisavalanched into the girders on which the towers rested, the steel finallywent too, and crumpled together and sagged and fell and snapped and tore withpainful slowness and explosive booms.
    The hundred thousand people watching it plugged their ears, except for theTUGgies, who watched serenely and shut off their OM generators. From theenormous heap of rubble, broken water pipes shot fountains glistening white inthe rising sun. Crunches and aftershocks continued for days.
    Not far away, Virgil Gabrielsen sat on a curbstone, his hair bright in thesun, drinking water. Between his feet was a stack of mini-computer memorydiscs in little black envelopes. The APPASMU is in the Smithsonian Institutionand may be visited 10:00 A.M.-- 5:30 P.M. seven days a week. And the Go BigRed Fan was found unscathed, sitting miraculously upright on a crushed sofa ona pile of junk, its painted blades rotating quietly and intermittently in thefresh spring breeze.
    The End
    ----- About the Author
    NEAL STEPHENSON has no job and does not live anyplace in particular except insummers, when he travels. This is his first published novel. In the past hehas worked as a library and hospital clerk, garbage-to-energy consultant,vending-machine loader, physics research assistant, anti-perspirant testsubject, crystal grower, movie extra, tutor, funeral home driver, detasseler,theatrical lighting technician, ditch digger, greeting-card salesman, fungusfarmer, paperboy, and Chinese restaurant food-chopper, which prepared him forediting early drafts of _The Big U_.
    ----- Back Cover
    One flew over the animal house...
    If George Orwell had written a novel more like _Animal House_ (the movie)than like _Animal Farm_ (the book), and if Orwell were a young American whoseearly twenties were spent in the 1980s, and if Orwell counted among hisconcerns the origins of consciousness in the breakdown of the bicameral mind,Dungeons & Dragons, computer piracy, and heavy-metal rock versus Bach fugues,the result would perhaps have been similar to _The Big U_.
    Casimir Radon's introduction to American Megaversity is fraught with redtape, Newspeak and enrollment procedures based on the catch-22 principle.Having struggled long and hard to afford a college education, Casimir has comeup against the awful truth. What is he doing at the Big U? Meanwhile,unhappy roommates John Wesley Fenrick and Ephraim Klein (Business andPhilosophy, respectively) wage sonic war with massive stereos; drug aficionadoDex Fresser becomes the leader of a cult that worships a neon sign, adilapidated red fan, and other curious appliances; class president SarahJohnson locks horns with the Airheads and the Terrorists, her dorm's femaleand male factions; Virgil Gabrielsen, resident genius, hunts down "the Worm,"an insidious glitch in the all-important college computer system.
    As the Apocalyptic plot thickens and boils, a small band of unlikely heroestries to foil the scheme of Crotobaltislavonian freedom-fighters who haveseized control of the radioactive waste dumped beneath the university, and tosurvive a campus-wide live-ammo civil war, and to avoid the plague of bats andmutant rats, and to get through the spring semester....

    îÅÊÌ óÔÅÆÅÎÓÏÎ. âÏÌØÛÏÅ "U" (engl) (2024)

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