really see where this problem has anything to do with me,” the CIA man
said. “And, frankly, there are a lot of more important things I could be
physicist, glanced at General LeRoy. The general had that quizzical expression
on his face, the look that meant he was about to do something decisive.
like to see the problem first-hand?” the general asked, innocently.
The CIA man took
a quick look at his wristwatch. “O.K., if it doesn’t take too long. It’s
late enough already.”
take very long, will it, Ford?” the general said, getting out of his
long,” Ford agreed. “Only a lifetime.”
The CIA man
grunted as they went to the doorway and left the general’s office. Going down
the dark, deserted hallway, their footsteps echoed hollowly.
overemphasize the seriousness of the problem,” General LeRoy said to the
CIA man. “Eight ranking members of the General Staff have either resigned
their commissions or gone straight to the violent ward after just one session
with the computer.”
The CIA man
scowled. “Is this area Secure?”
face turned red. “This entire building is as Secure as any edifice in the
Free World, mister. And it’s empty. We’re the only living people inside here at
this hour. I’m not taking any chances.”
to be sure.”
I explain the computer a little more,” Ford said, changing the subject,
“you’ll know what to expect.”
idea,” said the man from CIA.
you that this is the most modern, most complex and delicate computer in the
world … nothing like it has ever been attempted before—anywhere.”
that They don’t have anything like it,” the CIA man agreed.
also know, I suppose, that it was built to simulate actual war situations. We
fight wars in this computer … wars with missiles and bombs and gas. Real
wars, complete down to the tiniest detail. The computer tells us what will
actually happen to every missile, every city, every man … who dies, how many
planes are lost, how many trucks will fail to start on a cold morning, whether
a battle is won or lost …”
interrupted. “The computer runs these analyses for both sides, so we can
see what’s happening to Them, too.”
The CIA man
gestured impatiently. “War games simulations aren’t new. You’ve been doing
them for years.”
this machine is different,” Ford pointed out. “It not only gives a
much more detailed war game. It’s the next logical step in the development of
machine-simulated war games.” He hesitated dramatically.
added a variation of the electro-encephalograph …”
The CIA man
stopped walking. “The electro-what?”
You know, a recording device that reads the electrical patterns of your brain.
Like the electro-cardiograph.”
see, we’ve given the EEG a reverse twist. Instead of using a machine that makes
a recording of the brain’s electrical wave output, we’ve developed a device that
will take the computer’s readout tapes, and turn them into electrical patterns
that are put into your brain!”
took over. “You sit at the machine’s control console. A helmet is placed
over your head. You set the machine in operation. You see the results.”
Ford went on. “Instead of reading rows of figures from the computer’s
printer … you actually see the war being fought. Complete visual and auditory
hallucinations. You can watch the progress of the battles, and as you change
strategy and tactics you can see the results before your eyes.”
originally, was to make it easier for the General Staff to visualize strategic
situations,” General LeRoy said.
one who’s used the machine has either resigned his commission or gone
insane,” Ford added.
The CIA man
cocked an eye at LeRoy. “You’ve used the computer.”
have neither resigned nor cracked up.”
nodded. “I called you in.”
Before the CIA
man could comment, Ford said, “The computer’s right inside this doorway.
Let’s get this over with while the building is still empty.”
They stepped in.
The physicist and the general showed the CIA man through the room-filling rows
of massive consoles.
transistorized and subminiaturized, of course,” Ford explained.
“That’s the only way we could build so much detail into the machine and
still have it small enough to fit inside a single building.”
this is only the control section. Most of this building is taken up by the
circuits, the memory banks, and the rest of it.”
They showed him
finally to a small desk, studded with control buttons and dials. The single
spotlight above the desk lit it brilliantly, in harsh contrast to the
semidarkness of the rest of the room.
you’ve never run the computer before,” Ford said, “General LeRoy will
do the controlling. You just sit and watch what happens.”
The general sat
in one of the well-padded chairs and donned a grotesque headgear that was
connected to the desk by a half-dozen wires. The CIA man took his chair slowly.
When they put
one of the bulky helmets on him, he looked up at them, squinting a little in
the bright light. “This … this isn’t going to … well, do me any
damage, is it?”
goodness, no,” Ford said. “You mean mentally? No, of course not.
You’re not on the General Staff, so it shouldn’t … it won’t … affect you
the way it did the others. Their reaction had nothing to do with the computer
per se …”
civilians have used the computer with no ill effects,” General LeRoy said.
“Ford has used it many times.”
The CIA man
nodded, and they closed the transparent visor over his face. He sat there and
watched General LeRoy press a series of buttons, then turn a dial.
hear me?” The general’s voice came muffled through the helmet.
Here we go. You’re familiar with Situation One-Two-One? That’s what we’re going
to be seeing.”
One-Two-One was a standard war game. The CIA man was well acquainted with it.
He watched the general flip a switch, then sit back and fold his arms over his
chest. A row of lights on the desk console began blinking on and off, one, two,
three … down to the end of the row, then back to the beginning again, on and
off, on and off …
somehow, he could see it!
He was poised
incredibly somewhere in space, and he could see it all in a funny,
blurry-double-sighted, dream-like way. He seemed to be seeing several pictures
and hearing many voices, all at once. It was all mixed up, and yet it made a
weird kind of sense.
For a panicked
instant he wanted to rip the helmet off his head. It’s only an illusion, he
told himself, forcing calm on his unwilling nerves. Only an illusion.
But it seemed
He was watching
the Gulf of Mexico. He could see Florida off to his right, and the arching
coast of the southeastern United States. He could even make out the Rio Grande
One-Two-One started, he remembered, with the discovery of missile-bearing Enemy
submarines in the Gulf. Even as he watched the whole area—as though perched on
a satellite—he could see, underwater and close-up, the menacing shadowy figure
of a submarine gliding through the crystal blue sea.
He saw, too, a
patrol plane as it spotted the submarine and sent an urgent radio warning.
picture dissolved in a bewildering burst of bubbles. A missile had been
launched. Within seconds, another burst—this time a nuclear depth
charge—utterly destroyed the submarine.
confusing. He was everyplace at once. The details were overpowering, but the
total picture was agonizingly clear.
fired missiles from the Gulf of Mexico. Four were immediately sunk, but too
late. New Orleans, St. Louis and three Air Force bases were obliterated by
The CIA man was
familiar with the opening stages of the war. The first missile fired at the
United States was the signal for whole fleets of missiles and bombers to launch
themselves at the Enemy. It was confusing to see the world at once; at times he
could not tell if the fireball and mushroom cloud was over Chicago or Shanghai,
New York or Novosibirsk, Baltimore or Budapest.
It did not make
much difference, really. They all got it in the first few hours of the war; as
did London and Moscow, Washington and Peking, Detroit and Delhi, and many, many
systems on all sides seemed to operate well, except that there were never
enough anti-missiles. Defensive systems were expensive compared to attack
rockets. It was cheaper to build a deterrent than to defend against it.
flashed up from submarines and railway cars, from underground silos and stratospheric
jets; secret ones fired off automatically when a certain airbase command post
ceased beaming out a restraining radio signal. The defensive systems were
simply overloaded. And when the bombs ran out, the missiles carried dust and
germs and gas. On and on. For six days and six firelit nights. Launch, boost,
coast, re-enter, death.
And now it was
over, the CIA man thought. The missiles were all gone. The airplanes were
exhausted. The nations that had built the weapons no longer existed. By all the
rules he knew of, the war should have been ended.
Yet the fighting
did not end. The machine knew better. There were still many ways to kill an
enemy. Time-tested ways. There were armies fighting in four continents, armies
that had marched overland, or splashed ashore from the sea, or dropped out of
war went on. When the tanks ran out of gas, and the flame throwers became
useless, and even the prosaic artillery pieces had no more rounds to fire,
there were still simple guns and even simpler bayonets and swords.
armies, the descendents of the Alexanders and Caesars and Temujins and
Wellingtons and Grants and Rommels, relived their evolution in reverse.
The war went on.
Slowly, inevitably, the armies split apart into smaller and smaller units,
until the tortured countryside that so recently had felt the impact of nuclear
war once again knew the tread of bands of armed marauders. The tiny savage
groups, stranded in alien lands, far from the homes and families that they knew
to be destroyed, carried on a mockery of war, lived off the land, fought their
own countrymen if the occasion suited, and revived the ancient terror of
hand-wielded, personal, one-head-at-a-time killing.
The CIA man
watched the world disintegrate. Death was an individual business now, and none
the better for no longer being mass-produced. In agonized fascination he saw
the myriad ways in which a man might die. Murder was only one of them.
Radiation, disease, toxic gases that lingered and drifted on the once-innocent
winds, and—finally—the most efficient destroyer of them all: starvation.
people (give or take a meaningless hundred million) lived on the planet Earth
when the war began. Now, with the tenuous thread of civilization burned away,
most of those who were not killed by the fighting itself succumbed inexorably
died, of course. Life went on. Some were lucky.
A long darkness
settled on the world. Life went on for a few, a pitiful few, a bitter, hateful,
suspicious, savage few. Cities became pestholes. Books became fuel. Knowledge
died. Civilization was completely gone from the planet Earth.
The helmet was
lifted slowly off his head. The CIA man found that he was too weak to raise his
arms and help. He was shivering and damp with perspiration.
see,” Ford said quietly, “why the military men cracked up when they
used the computer.”
even, was pale. “How can a man with any conscience at all direct a
military operation when he knows that that will be the consequence?”
The CIA man
struck up a cigarette and pulled hard on it. He exhaled sharply. “Are all
the war games … like that? Every plan?”
worse,” Ford said. “We picked an average one for you. Even some of
the ‘brushfire’ games get out of hand and end up like that.”
what do you intend to do? Why did you call me in? What can I do?”
with CIA,” the general said. “Don’t you handle espionage?”
what’s that got to do with it?”
The general looked at him. “It seems to me
that the next logical step is to make damned certain that They get the plans to
this computer … and fast!”