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       Congo, p.3

           Michael Crichton
1 2 3 4 5 6 7
Chapter 1


  June 13,1979

  1. ERTS Houston

  TEN THOUSAND MILES AWAY, IN THE COLD, Windowless main data room of Earth Resources Technology Services, Inc. , of Houston, Karen Ross sat hunched over a mug of coffee in front of a computer terminal, reviewing the latest Landsat images from Africa. Ross was the ERTS Congo Project Supervisor, and as she manipulated the satellite images in artificial contrast colors, blue and purple and green, she glanced at her watch impatiently. She was waiting for the next field transmission from Africa.

  It was now 10:15 P. M. Houston time, but there was no indication of time or place in the room. Day or night, the main data facility of ERTS remained the same. Beneath banks of special kalon fluorescent lights, programming crews in sweaters worked at long rows of quietly clicking computer terminals, providing real-time inputs to the field parties that ERTS maintained around the world. This timeless quality was understood to be necessary for the computers, which required a constant temperature of 60 degrees, dedicated electrical lines, special color-corrected lights that did not interfere with circuitry. It was an environment made for machines; the needs of people were secondary.

  But there was another rationale for the main facility design. ERTS wanted programmers in Houston to identify with the field parties, and if possible to live on their schedules. Inputting baseball games and other local events was discouraged; there was no clock which showed Houston time, although on the far wall eight large digital clocks recorded local time for the various field parties.

  The clock marked CONGO FIELD PARTY read 06:15 A. M. when the overhead intercom said, "Dr. Ross, CCR bounce. "

  She left the console after punching in the digital password blocking codes. Every ERTS terminal had a password control, like a combination lock. It was part of an elaborate system to prevent outside sources tapping into their enormous data bank. ERTS dealt in information, and as R. B. Travis, the head of ERTS, was fond of saying, the easiest way to obtain information was to steal it.

  She crossed the room with long strides. Karen Ross was nearly six feet tall, an attractive though ungainly girl. Only twenty-four years old, she was younger than most of the programmers, but despite her youth, she had a self-possession that most people found striking - even a little unsettling. Karen Ross was a genuine mathematical prodigy.

  At the age of two, while accompanying her mother to the supermarket, she had worked out in her head whether a ten-ounce can at 19C was cheaper than a one-pound-twelve-ounce can at 79C. At three, she startled her father by observing that, unlike other numbers, zero meant different things in different positions. By eight, she had mastered algebra and geometry; by ten, she had taught herself calculus; she entered M. I. T. at thirteen and proceeded to make a series of brilliant discoveries in abstract mathematics, culminating in a treatise, "Topological Prediction in n-Space," which was useful for decision matrices, critical path analyses, and multidimensional mapping. This interest had brought her to the attention of ERTS, where she was made the youngest field supervisor in the company.

  Not everyone liked her. The years of isolation, of being the youngest person in any room, had left her aloof and rather distant. One co-worker described her as "logical to a fault. " Her chilly demeanor had earned her the title "Ross Glacier," after the Antarctic formation.

  And her youth still held her back - at least, age was Trav?is's excuse when he refused to let her lead the Congo expedition into the field, even though she had derived all the Congo database, and by rights should have been the onsite team leader. "I'm sorry," Travis had said, "but this con-

  tract's too big, and I just can't let you have it. " She had pressed, reminding him of her successes leading teams the year before to Pahang and Zambia. Finally he had said, "Look, Karen, that site's ten thousand miles away, in four-plus terrain. We need more than a console hotdogger out there. "

  She bridled under the implication that that was all she was - a console hotdogger, fast at the keyboard, good at playing with Travis's toys. She wanted to prove herself in a four-plus field situation. And the next time she was determined to make Travis let her go.

  Ross pressed the button for the third-floor elevator, marked "CX Access Only. " She caught an envious glance from one of the programmers while she waited for the elevator to arrive. Within ERTS, status was not measured by salary, title, the size of one's office, or the other usual corporate indicators of power. Status at ERTS was purely a matter of access to information - and Karen Ross was one of eight people in the company who had access to the third floor at any time.

  She stepped onto the third-floor elevator, glancing up at the scanner lens mounted over the door. At ERTS the elevators traveled only one floor, and all were equipped with passive scanners; it was one way that ERTS kept track of the movements of personnel while they were in the building. She said "Karen Ross" for the voice monitors, and turned in a full circle for the scanners. There was a soft electronic bleep, and the door slid open at the third floor.

  She emerged into a small square room with a ceiling video monitor, and faced the unmarked outer door of the Communications Control Room. She repeated "Karen Ross," and inserted her electronic identicard in the slot, resting her fingers on the metallic edge of the card so the computer could record galvanic skin potentials. (This was a refinement instituted three months earlier, after Travis learned that Army experiments with vocal cord surgery had altered voice characteristics precisely enough to false-positive Voiceident programs. ) After a cycling pause, the door buzzed open. She went inside.

  With its red night lights, Communications Control was

  like a soft, warm womb - an impression heightened by the cramped, almost claustrophobic quality of the room, packed with electronic equipment. From floor to ceiling, dozens of video monitors and LEDs flickered and glowed as the technicians spoke in hushed tones, setting dials and twisting knobs. The CCR was the electronic nerve center of ERTS:

  all communications from field parties around the world were routed through here. Everything in the CCR was recorded, not only incoming data but room voice responses, so the exact conversation on the night of June 13, 1979, is known.

  One of the technicians said to her, "We'll have the transponders hooked in in a minute. You want coffee?"

  "No," Ross said.

  "You want to be out there, right?"

  "I earned it," she said. She stared at the video screens, at the bewildering display of rotating and shifting forms as the technicians began the litany of locking in the bird bounce, a transmission from a satellite in orbit, 720 miles over their heads.

  "Signal key. "

  "Signal key. Password mark. "

  "Password mark. "

  "Carrier fix. "

  "Carrier fix. We're rolling. "

  She paid hardly any attention to the familiar phrases. She watched as the screens displayed gray fields of crackling static.

  "Did we open or did they open?" she asked.

  "We initiated," a technician said. "We had it down on the call sheet to check them at dawn local time. So when they didn't initiate, we did. "

  "I wonder why they didn't initiate," Ross said. "Is something wrong?"

  "I don't think so. We put out the initiation trigger and they picked it up and locked in within fifteen seconds, all the appropriate codes. Ah, here we go. "

  At 6:22 A. M. Congo time, the transmission came through:

  there was a final blur of gray static and then the screens cleared. They were looking at a part of the camp in the

  Congo, apparently a view from a tripod-mounted video camera. They saw two tents, a low smoldering fire, the lingering wisps of a foggy dawn. There was no sign of activity, no people.

  One of the technicians laughed. "We caught them still sleeping. Guess they do need you there. " Ross was known for her insistence on formalities.

  "Lock your remote," she said.

  The technician punched in th
e remote override. The field camera, ten thousand miles away, came under their control in Houston.

  "Pan scan," she said.

  At the console, the technician used a joystick. They watched as the video images shifted to the left, and they saw more of the camp. The camp was destroyed: tents crushed and torn, supply tarp pulled away, equipment scattered in the mud. One tent burned brightly, sending up clouds of black smoke. They saw several dead bodies.

  "Jesus," one technician said.

  "Back scan," Ross said. "Spot resolve to six-six. "

  On the screens, the camera panned back across the camp. They looked at the jungle. They still saw no sign of life.

  "Down pan. Reverse sweep. "

  Onscreen, the camera panned down to show the silver dish of the portable antenna, and the black box of the transmitter. Nearby was another body, one of the geologists, lying on his back.

  "Jesus, that's Roger

  "Zoom and T-lock," Ross said. On the tape, her voice sounds cool, almost detached.

  The camera zoomed in on the face. What they saw was grotesque, the head crushed and leaking blood from eyes and nose, mouth gaping toward the sky.

  "What did that?"

  At that moment, a shadow fell across the dead face onscreen. Ross jumped forward, grabbing the joystick and hitting the zoom control. The image widened swiftly; they could see the outline of the shadow now. It was a man. And he was moving.

  "Somebody's there! Somebody's still alive!"

  "He's limping. Looks wounded. "

  Ross stared at the shadow. It did not look to her like a limping man; something was wrong, she couldn't put her finger on what it was.

  "He's going to walk in front of the lens," she said. It was almost too much to hope for. "What's that audio static?"

  They were hearing an odd sound, like a hissing or a sighing.

  "It's not static, it's in the transmission. "

  "Resolve it," Ross said. The technicians punched buttons, altering the audio frequencies, but the sound remained peculiar and indistinct. And then the shadow moved, and the man stepped in front of the lens.

  "Diopter," Ross said, but it was too late. The face had already appeared, very near the lens. It was too close to focus without a diopter. They saw a blurred, dark shape, nothing more. Before they could click in the diopter, it was gone.

  "A native?"

  "This region of the Congo is uninhabited," Ross said.

  "Something inhabits it. "

  "Pan scan," Ross said. "See if you can get him onscreen again. "

  The camera continued to pan. She could imagine it sitting on its tripod in the jungle, motor whirring as the lens head swung around. Then suddenly the image tilted and fell sideways.

  "He knocked it over. "


  The video image crackled, shifting lines of static. It became very difficult to see.

  "Resolve it! Resolve it!"

  They had a final glimpse of a large face and a dark hand as the silver dish antenna was smashed. The image from the Congo shrank to a spot, and was gone.

  2. Interference Signature

  DURING JUNE OF 1979, EARTH RESOURCES TECHNOLOGY had field teams studying uranium deposits in Bolivia, copper deposits in Pakistan, agricultural field utilization in Kashmir, glacier advance in Iceland, timber resources in Malaysia, and diamond deposits in the Congo. This was not unusual for ERTS; they generally had between six and eight groups in the field at any time.

  Since their teams were often in hazardous or politically unstable regions, they were vigilant in watching for the first signs of "interference signatures. " (In remote-sensing terminology, a "signature" is the characteristic appearance of an object or geological feature in a photograph or video image. ) Most interference signatures were political. In 1977, ERTS had airlifted a team out of Borneo during a local Communist uprising, and again from Nigeria in 1978 during a military coup. Occasionally the signatures were geological; they had pulled a team from Guatemala in 1976 after the earthquake there.

  In the opinion of R. B. Travis, called out of bed in the late hours of June 13, 1979, the videotapes from the Congo were "the worst interference signature ever," but the problem remained mysterious. All they knew was that the camp had been destroyed in a mere six minutes - the time between the signal initiation from Houston and the reception in the Congo. The rapidity was frightening; Travis's first instruction to his team was to figure out "what the hell happened out there. "

  A heavyset man of forty-eight, Travis was accustomed to crises. By training he was an engineer with a background in satellite construction for RCA and later Rockwell; in his thirties he had shifted to management, becoming what aerospace engineers called a "rain dancer. " Companies manufacturing satellites contracted eighteen to twenty-four months in advance for a launch rocket to put the satellite in orbit - and then hoped that the satellite, with its half-million working parts, would be ready on the assigned day. If it was not, the only alternative was to pray for bad weather delaying the launch, to dance for rain.

  Travis had managed to keep a sense of humor after a decade of high-tech problems; his management philosophy was summarized by a large sign mounted behind his desk, which read "S. D. T. A. G. W. " It stood for "Some Damn Thing Always Goes Wrong. "

  But Travis was not amused on the night of June 13. His entire expedition had been lost, all the ERTS party killed - eight of his people, and however many local porters were with them. The worst disaster in ERTS history, worse even than Nigeria in '78. Travis felt fatigued, mentally drained, as he thought of all the phone calls ahead of him. Not the calls he would make, but those he would receive. Would so-and-so be back in time for a daughter's graduation, a son's Little League playoff? Those calls would be routed to Travis, and he would have to listen to the bright expectation in the voices, the hopefulness, and his own careful answers - he wasn't sure, he understood the problem, he would do his best, of course, of course. . . . The coming deception exhausted him in advance.

  Because Travis couldn't tell anyone what had happened for at least two weeks, perhaps a month. And then he would be making phone calls himself, and visits to the homes, and attending the memorial services where there would be no casket, a deadly blank space, a gap, and the inevitable questions from families and relatives that he couldn't answer while they scrutinized his face, looking for the least muscle twitch, or hesitation, or sign.

  What could he tell them?

  That was his only consolation - perhaps in a few weeks, Travis could tell them more. One thing was certain: if he were to make the dreadful calls tonight, he could tell the

  families nothing at all, for ERTS had no idea what had gone wrong. That fact added to Travis's sense of exhaustion. And there were details: Morris, the insurance auditor, came in and said, "What do you want to do about the terms?" ERTS took Out term life insurance policies for every expedition member, and also for local porters. African porters received U. S. $15,000 each in insurance, which seemed trivial until one recognized that African per capita income averaged U. S. $180 per year. But Travis had always argued that local expedition people should share risk benefits - even if it meant paying widowed families a small fortune, in their terms. Even if it cost ERTS a small fortune for the insurance.

  "Hold them," Travis said.

  "Those policies are costing us per day - "

  "Hold them," Travis said.

  "For how long?"

  "Thirty days," Travis said.

  "Thirty more days?"

  "That's right. "

  "But we know the holders are dead. " Morris could not reconcile himself to the waste of money. His actuarial mind rebelled.

  "That's right," Travis said. "But you'd better slip the porters' families some cash to keep them quiet. "

  "Jesus. How much are we talking about?"

  "Five hundred dollars each. "

  "How do we account that?"

fees," Travis said. "Bury it in legal, local disposition. ''

  "And the American team people that we've lost?"

  "They have MasterCard," Travis said. "Stop worrying. "

  Roberts, the British-born ERTS press liaison, came into his office. "You want to open this can up?"

  "No," Travis said. "I want to kill it. "

  "For how long?"

  "Thirty days.

  "Bloody hell. Your own staff will leak inside thirty days," Roberts said. "I promise you. "

  "If they do, you'll squash it," Travis said. "I need another thirty days to make this contract. "

  "Do we know what happened out there?"

  "No," Travis said. "But we will. "


  "From the tapes. "

  "Those tapes are a mess. "

  "So far," Travis said. And he called in the specialty teams of console hotdoggers. Travis had long since concluded that although ERTS could wake up political advisers around the world, they were most likely to get information in-house. "Everything we know from the Congo field expedition," he said, "is registered on that final videotape. I want a seven-band visual and audio salvage, starting right now. Because that tape is all we have. "

  The specialty teams went to work.

  3. Recovery

  ERTS REFERRED TO THE PROCESS AS "DATA RECOVERY," or sometimes as "data salvage. " The terms evoked images of deep-sea operations, and they were oddly appropriate.

  To recover or salvage data meant that coherent meaning was pulled to the surface from the depths of massive electronic information storage. And, like salvage from the sea, it was a slow and delicate process, where a single false step meant the irretrievable loss of the very elements one was trying to bring up. ERTS had whole salvage crews skilled in the art of data recovery. One crew immediately went to work on the audio recovery, another on the visual recovery.

  But Karen Ross was already engaged in a visual recovery.

  The procedures she followed were highly sophisticated, and only possible at ERTS.

  Earth Resources Technology was a relatively new company, formed in 1975 in response to the explosive growth of information on the Earth and its resources. The amount of material handled by ERTS was staggering: just the Landsat imagery alone amounted to more than five hundred thousand pictures, and sixteen new images were acquired every hour, around the clock. With the addition of conventional and draped aerial photography, infrared photography, and artificial aperture side-looking radar, the total information available to ERTS exceeded two million images, with new input on the order of thirty images an hour. All this information had to be catalogued, stored, and made available for instantaneous retrieval. ERTS was like a library which acquired seven hundred new books a day. It was not surprising that the librarians worked at fever pitch around the clock.

  Visitors to ERTS never seemed to realize that even with computers, such data-handling capacity would have been impossible ten years earlier. Nor did visitors understand the basic nature of the ERTS information - they assumed that the pictures on the screens were photographic, although they were not.

  Photography was a nineteenth-century chemical system for recording information using light-sensitive silver salts. ERTS utilized a twentieth-century electronic system for recording information, analogous to chemical photographs, but very different. Instead of cameras, ERTS used multi-spectral scanners; instead of film, they used CCTs - computer compatible tapes. In fact, ERTS did not bother with "pictures" as they were ordinarily understood from old-fashioned photographic technology. ERTS bought "data scans" which they converted to "data displays," as the need arose.

  Since the ERTS images were just electrical signals recorded on magnetic tape, a great variety of electrical image manipulation was possible. ERTS had 837 computer programs to alter imagery: to enhance it, to eliminate unwanted elements, to bring out details. Ross used fourteen programs on the Congo videotape - particularly on the static-filled section in which the hand and face appeared, just before the antenna was smashed.

  First she earned out what was called a "wash cycle," getting rid of the static. She identified the static lines as occurring at specific scan positions, and having a specific gray-scale value. She instructed the computer to cancel those lines.

  The resulting image showed blank spaces where the static was removed. So she did "fill-in-the-blanks" - instructing the computer to introject imagery, according to what was around the blank spaces. In this operation the computer made a logical guess about what was missing.

  She now had a static-free image, but it was muddy and indistinct, lacking definition. So she did a "high-priced spread" - intensifying the image by spreading the gray-scale values. But for some reason she also got a phase distortion that she had to cancel, and that released spiking glitches previously suppressed, and to get rid of the glitches she had to run three other programs.

  Technical details preoccupied her for an hour, until suddenly the image "popped," coming up bright and clean. She caught her breath as she saw it. The screen showed a dark, brooding face with heavy brows, watchful eyes, a flattened nose, prognathous lips.

  Frozen on the video screen was the face of a male gorilla.

  Travis walked toward her from across the room, shaking his head. "We finished the audio recovery on that hissing noise. The computer confirms it as human breathing, with at least four separate origins. But it's damned strange. According to the analysis, the sound is coming from inhalation, not exhalation, the way people usually make sounds. "

  "The computer is wrong," Ross said. "It's not human. " She pointed to the screen, and the face of the gorilla.

  Travis showed no surprise. "Artifact," he said.

  "It's no artifact. "

  "You did fill-in-the-blanks, and you got an artifact. The tag team's been screwing around with the software at lunch again. " The tag team - the young software programmers - had a tendency to convert data to play highly sophisticated versions of pinball games. Their games sometimes got sub-routed into other programs.

  Ross herself had complained about it. "But this image is real," she insisted, pointing to the screen.

  "Look," Travis said, "last week Harry did fill-in-the-blanks on the Karakorum Mountains and he got back a lunar landing game. You're supposed to land next to the McDonald's stand, all very amusing. " He walked off. "You'd better meet the others in my office. We're setting advance times to get back in. "

  "I'm leading the next team. "

  Travis shook his head. "Out of the question. "

  "But what about this?" she said, pointing to the screen.

  "I'm not buying that image," Travis said. "Gorillas don't behave that way. It's got to be an artifact. " He glanced at his watch. "Right now, the only question I have is how fast we can put a team back in the Congo. "

  4. Return Expedition


  about going back in; from the first time he saw the videotapes from the Congo, the only question was how best to do it. He called in all the section heads: Accounts, Diplo, Remote, Geo, Logistics, Legal. They were all yawning and rubbing their eyes. Travis began by saying, "I want us back in the Congo in ninety-six hours. "

  Then he leaned back in his chair and let them tell him why it couldn't be done. There were plenty of reasons.

  "We can't assemble the air cargo units for shipment in less than a hundred and sixty hours," Cameron, the logistics man said.

  "We can postpone the Himalaya team, and use their units," Travis said.

  "But that's a mountain expedition. "

  "You can modify the units in nine hours," Travis said.

  "But we can't get equipment to fly it out," Lewis, the transport master, said.

  "Korean Airlines has a 747 cargo jet available at SFX. They tell me it can be down here in nine hours. "

  "They have a plane just sitting there?" Lewis said, incredulous.

; "I believe," Travis said, "that they had a last-minute cancellation from another customer. "

  Irwin, the accountant, groaned. "What'd that cost?"

  "We can't get visas from the Zaire Embassy in Washington in time," Martin, the diplomatic man, said. "And there is serious doubt they'd issue them to us at all. As you know, the first set of Congo visas were based on our mineral exploration rights with the Zaire government, and our MERs are non-exclusive. We were granted permission to go in, and so were the Japanese, the Germans, and the Dutch, who've formed a mining consortium. The first ore-body strike takes the contract. If Zaire suspects that our expedition is in trouble, they'll just cancel us out and let the Euro-Japanese consortium try their luck. There are thirty Japanese trade officials in Kinshasa right now, spending yen like water. "

  "I think that's right," Travis said. "If it became known that our expedition is in trouble. "

  "It'll become known the minute we apply for visas. "

  "We won't apply for them. As far as anybody knows," Travis said, "we still have an expedition in Virunga. If we put a second small team into the field fast enough, nobody will ever know that it wasn't the original team. "

  "But what about the specific personnel visas to cross the borders, the manifests - "

  "Details," Travis said. "That's what liquor is for," referring to bribes, which were often liquor. In many parts of the world, expedition teams went in with crates of liquor and

  boxes of those perennial favorites, transistor radios and Polaroid cameras.

  "Details? How're you going to cross the border?"

  "We'll need a good man for that. Maybe Munro. "

  "Munro? That's playing rough. The Zaire government hates Munro. "

  "He's resourceful, and he knows the area. "

  Martin, the diplomatic expert, cleared his throat and said, "I'm not sure I should be here for this discussion. It looks to me as if you are proposing to enter a sovereign state with an illegal party led by a former Congo mercenary soldier

  "Not at all," Travis said. "I'm obliged to put a support party into the field to assist my people already there. Happens all the time. I have no reason to think anybody is in trouble; just a routine support party. I haven't got time to go through official channels. I may not be showing the best judgment in whom I hire, but it's nothing more serious than that. "

  By 11:45 P. M. on the night of June 13, the main sequencing of the next ERTS expedition had been worked out and confirmed by the computer. A fully loaded 747 could leave Houston at 8 P. M. the following evening, June 14; the plane could be in Africa on June 15 to pick up Munro "or someone like him"; and the full team could be in place in the Congo on June 17.

  In ninety-six hours.

  From the main data room, Karen Ross could look through the glass walls into Travis's office and see the arguments taking place. In her logical way, she concluded that Travis had "Q'd" himself, meaning that he had drawn false conclusions from insufficient data, and had said Q. E. D. too soon. Ross felt there was no point in going back into the Congo until they knew what they were up against. She remained at her console, checking the image she had recovered.

  Ross bought this image - but how could she make Travis buy it?

  In the highly sophisticated data-processing world of ERTS, there was a constant danger that extracted information would begin to "float" - that the images would cut loose from reality, like a ship cut loose from its moorings. This was true particularly when the database was put through multiple manipulations - when you were rotating 106 pixels in computer-generated hyperspace.

  So ERTS evolved other ways to check the validity of images they got back from the computer. Ross ran two check programs against the gorilla image. The first was called APNF, for Animation Predicted Next Frame.

  It was possible to treat videotape as if it were movie film, a succession of stills. She showed the computer several "stills" in succession, and then asked it to create the Predicted Next Frame. This PNF was then checked against the actual next frame.

  She ran eight PNFs in a row, and they worked. If there was an error in the data handling, it was at least a consistent error.

  Encouraged, she next ran a "fast and dirty three?space. " Here the flat video image was assumed to have certain three-dimensional characteristics, based on gray-scale patterns. In essence, the computer decided that the shadow of a nose, or a mountain range, meant that the nose or mountain range protruded above the surrounding surface. Succeeding images could be checked against these assumptions. As the gorilla moved, the computer verified that the flat image was, indeed, three-dimensional and coherent.

  This proved beyond a doubt that the image was real.

  She went to see Travis.

  "Let's say I buy this image," Travis said, frowning. "I still don't see why you should take the next expedition in. "

  Ross said, "What did the other team find?"

  "The other team?" Travis asked innocently.

  "You gave that tape to another salvage team to confirm my recovery," Ross said.

  Travis glanced at his watch. "They haven't pulled any-

  thing out yet. " And he added, "We all know you're fast with the database. "

  Ross smiled. "That's why you need me to take the expedition in," she said. "I know the database, because I generated the database. And if you intend to send another team in right away, before this gorilla thing is solved, the only hope you have is for the team leader to be fast onsite with the data. This time, you need a console hotdogger in the field. Or the next expedition will end up like the last one. Because you still don't know what happened to the last expedition. "

  Travis sat behind his desk, and stared at her for a long time. She recognized his hesitation as a sign that he was weakening.

  "And I want to go outside," Ross said.

  "To an outside expert?"

  "Yes. Somebody on our grant list. "

  "Risky," Travis said. "I hate to involve outside people at this point. You know the consortium is breathing down our necks. You up the leak averages. "

  ''It's important,'' Ross insisted.

  Travis sighed. "Okay, if you think it's important. " He sighed again. "Just don't delay your'team. "

  Ross was already packing up her hard copy.

  Alone, Travis frowned, turning over his decision in his mind. Even if they ran the next Congo expedition slambam, in and out in less than fifteen days, their fixed costs would still exceed three hundred thousand dollars. The Board was going to scream - sending an untried, twenty-four-year-old kid, a girl, into the field with this kind of responsibility. Especially on a project as important as this one, where the stakes were enormous, and where they had already fallen behind on every timeline and cost projection. And Ross was so cold, she was likely to prove a poor field leader, alienating the others in the team.

  Yet Travis had a hunch about the Ross Glacier. His management philosophy, tempered in his rain-dancing days, was always to give the project to whoever had the most to gain from success - or the most to lose from failure.

  He turned to face his console, mounted beside his desk. "Travis," he said, and the screen glowed.

  "Psychograph file," he said.

  The screen showed call prompts.

  "Ross, Karen," Travis said.

  The screen flashed THINKING A MOMENT. That was the programmed response which meant that information was being extracted. He waited.

  Then the psychograph summary printed out across the screen. Every E RI S employee underwent three days of intensive psychological testing to determine not only skills but potential biases. The assessment of Ross would, he felt, be reassuring to the Board.



  It looked like the perfect description of th
e next Congo team leader. He scanned down the screen, looking for the negatives. These were less reassuring.



  And there was a final "flopover" notation. The very concept of personality flopover had been evolved through ERTS testing. It suggested that any dominant personality trait could be suddenly reversed under stress conditions: parental personalities could flop over and turn childishly petulant, hysterical personalities could become icy calm - or logical personalities could become illogical.



  Travis looked at the screen, and decided that such a circumstance was highly unlikely in the coming Congo expedition. He turned the computer off.

  Karen Ross was exhilarated by her new authority. Shortly before midnight, she called up the grant lists on her office terminal. ERTS had animal experts in various areas whom they supported with nominal grants from a non-profit foundation called the Earth Resources Wildlife Fund. The grant lists were arranged taxonomically. Under "Primates" she found fourteen names, including several in Borneo, Malaysia, and Africa as well as the United States. In the United States there was only one gorilla researcher available, a pri?matologist named Dr. Peter Elliot, at the University of California at Berkeley.

  The file onscreen indicated that Elliot was twenty-nine years old, unmarried, an associate professor without tenure in the Department of Zoology. Principal Research Interest was listed as "Primate Communications (Gorilla). " Funding was made to something called Project Amy.

  She checked her watch. It was just midnight in Houston, 10 P. M. in California. She dialed the home number on the screen.

  "Hello," a wary male voice said.

  "Dr. Peter Elliot?"

  "Yes . . . " The voice was still cautious, hesitant. "Are you a reporter?"

  "No," she said. "This is Dr. Karen Ross in Houston; I'm associated with the Earth Resources Wildlife Fund, which supports your research. "

  "Oh, yes . . . " The voice remained cautious. "You're sure you're not a reporter? It's only fair to tell you I'm recording this telephone call as a potential legal document. "

  Karen Ross hesitated. The last thing she needed was some paranoid academic recording ERTS developments. She said nothing.

  "You're American?" he said.

  "Of course. "

  Karen Ross stared at the computer screens, which flashed


  "State your business," Elliot said.

  "Well, we're about to send an expedition into the Virunga region of the Congo, and - "

  "Really? When are you going?" The voice suddenly sounded excited, boyish.

  "Well, as a matter of fact we're leaving in two days, and - "

  "I want to go," Elliot said.

  Ross was so surprised she hardly knew what to say. "Well, Dr. Elliot, that's not why I'm calling you, as a matter of fact - "

  "I'm planning to go there anyway," Elliot said. "With Amy. "

  "Who's Amy?"

  "Amy is a gorilla," Peter Elliot said.

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