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       Congo, p.5

           Michael Crichton
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Chapter 3

  DAY 3: TANGIER

  June 15,1979

  1. Ground Truth

  PETER ELLIOT HAD KNOWN AMY SINCE INFANCY. He prided himself on his ability to predict her responses, although he had only known her in a laboratory setting. Now, as she was faced with new situations, her behavior surprised him.

  Elliot had anticipated Amy would be terrified of the takeoff, and had prepared a syringe with Thoralen tranquilizer. But sedation proved unnecessary. Amy watched Jensen and Levine buckle their seat belts, and she immediately buckled herself in, too; she seemed to regard the procedure as an amusing, if simpleminded, game. And although her eyes widened when she heard the full mar of the engines, the human beings around her did not seem disturbed, and Amy imitated their bored indifference, raising her eyebrows and sighing at the tedium of it all.

  Once airborne, however, Amy looked out the window and immediately panicked. She released her seat belt and scurried back and forth across the passenger compartment, moving from window to window, knocking people aside in whimpering terror while she signed, Where ground ground where ground? Outside, the ground was black and indistinct. Where ground? Elliot shot her with Thoralen and then began grooming her, sitting her down and plucking at her hair.

  In the wild, primates devoted several hours each day to grooming one another, removing ticks and lice. Grooming behavior was important in ordering the group's social dominance structure - there was a pattern by which animals groomed each other, and with what frequency. And, like back rubs for people, grooming seemed to have a soothing, calming effect. Within minutes, Amy had relaxed enough to notice that the others were drinking, and she promptly demanded a "green drop drink" - her term for a martini with an olive - and a cigarette. She was allowed this on special occasions such as departmental parties, and Elliot now gave her a drink and a cigarette.

  But the excitement proved too much for her: an hour later, she was quietly looking out the window and signing Nice picture to herself when she vomited. She apologized abjectly, Amy sorry Amy mess Amy Amy sorry.

  "It's all right, Amy," Elliot assured her, stroking the back of her head. Soon afterward, signing Amy sleep now, she twisted the blankets into a nest on the floor and went to sleep, snoring loudly through her broad nostrils. Lying next to her, Elliot thought, how do other gorillas get to sleep with this racket?

  Elliot had his own reaction to the journey. When he had first met Karen Ross, he assumed she was an academic like himself. But this enormous airplane filled with computerized equipment, the acronymic complexity of the entire operation suggested that Earth Resources Technology had powerful resources behind it, perhaps even a military association.

  Karen Ross laughed. "We're much too organized to be military. " She then told him the background of the ERTS interest in Virunga. Like the Project Amy staff, Karen Ross had also stumbled upon the legend of the Lost City of Zinj. But she had drawn very different conclusions from the story.

  During the last three hundred years, there had been several attempts to reach the lost city. In 1692, John Marley, an English adventurer, led an expedition of two hundred into the Congo; it was never heard from again. In 1744, a Dutch expedition went in; in 1804, another British party led by a Scottish aristocrat, Sir James Taggert, approached Virunga from the north, getting as far as the Rawana bend of the Ubangi River. He sent an advance party farther south, but it never returned.

  In 1872, Stanley passed near the Virunga region but did not enter it; in 1899, a German expedition went in, losing more than half its party. A privately financed Italian expedition disappeared entirely in 1911. There had been no more recent searches for the Lost City of Zinj.

  "So no one has ever found it," Elliot said.

  Ross shook her head. "I think several expeditions found the city," she said. "But nobody ever got back out again. "

  Such an outcome was not necessarily mysterious. The early days of African exploration were incredibly hazardous. Even carefully managed expeditions lost half of their party or more. Those who did not succumb to malaria, sleeping sickness, and blackwater fever faced rivers teeming with crocodiles and hippos, jungles with leopards and suspicious, cannibalistic natives. And, for all its luxuriant growth, the rain forest provided little edible food; a number of expeditions had starved to death.

  "I began," Ross said to Elliot, "with the idea that the city existed, after all. Assuming it existed, where would I find it?"

  The Lost City of Zinj was associated with diamond mines, and diamonds were found with volcanoes. This led Ross to look along the Great Rift Valley - an enormous geological fault thirty miles wide, which sliced vertically up the eastern third of the continent for a distance of fifteen hundred miles. The Rift Valley was so huge that its existence was not recognized until the 1890s, when a geologist named Gregory noticed that the cliff walls thirty miles apart were composed of the same rocks. In modern terms the Great Rift was actually an abortive attempt to form an ocean, for the eastern third of the continent had begun splitting off from the rest of the African land mass two hundred million years ago; for some reason, it had stopped before the break was complete.

  On a map the Great Rift depression was marked by two features: a series of thin vertical lakes - Malawi, Tanganyika, Kivu, Mobutu - and a series of volcanoes, including the only active volcanoes in Africa at Virunga. Three volcanoes in the Virunga chain were active: Mukenko, Mubuti, and Kanagarawi. They rose 11,000 - 15,000 feet above the Rift Valley to the east, and the Congo Basin to the west. Thus Virunga seemed a good place to look for diamonds. Her next step was to investigate the ground truth.

  "What's ground truth?" Peter asked.

  "At ERTS, we deal mostly in remote sensing," she explained. "Satellite photographs, aerial run-bys, radar side scans. We carry millions of remote images, but there's no substitute for ground truth, the experience of a team actually on the site, finding out what's there. I started with the preliminary expedition we sent in looking for gold. They found diamonds as well. " She punched buttons on the console, and the screen images changed, glowing with dozens of flashing pinpoints of light.

  "This shows the placer deposit locations in streambeds near Virunga. You see the deposits form concentric semicircles leading back to the volcanoes. The obvious conclusion is that diamonds were eroded from the slopes of the Virunga volcanoes, and washed down the streams to their present locations. "

  "So you sent in a party to look for the source?"

  "Yes. " She pointed to the screen. "But don't be deceived by what you see here. This satellite image covers fifty thousand square kilometers of jungle. Most of it has never been seen by white men. It's hard terrain, with visibility limited to a few meters in any direction. An expedition could search that area for years, passing within two hundred meters of the city and failing to see it. So I needed to narrow the search sector. I decided to see if I could find the city. "

  "Find the city? From satellite pictures?"

  "Yes," she said. "And I found it. "

  The rain forests of the world had traditionally frustrated remote-sensing technology. The great jungle trees spread an impenetrable canopy of vegetation, concealing whatever lay beneath. In aerial or satellite pictures, the Congo rain forest appeared as a vast, undulating carpet of featureless and monotonous green. Even large features, rivers fifty or a hundred feet wide, were hidden beneath this leafy canopy, invisible from the air.

  So it seemed unlikely she would find any evidence for a lost city in aerial photographs. But Ross had a different idea: she would utilize the very vegetation that obscured her vision of the ground. -

  The study of vegetation was common in temperate regions, where the foliage underwent seasonal changes. But the equatorial rain forest was unchanging: winter or summer, the foliage remained the same. Ross turned her attention to another aspect, the differences in vegetation albedo.

  Albedo was technically defined as the ratio of electromagnetic energy reflected by a surface to
the amount of energy incident upon it. In terms of the visible spectrum, it was a measure of how "shiny" a surface was. A river had a high albedo, since water reflected most of the sunlight striking it. Vegetation absorbed light, and therefore had a low albedo. Starting in 1977, ERTS developed computer programs which measured albedo precisely, making very fine distinctions.

  Ross asked herself the question: If there was a lost city, what signature might appear in the vegetation? There was an obvious answer: late secondary jungle.

  The untouched or virgin rain forest was called primary jungle. Primary jungle was what most people thought of when they thought of rain forests: huge hardwood trees, mahogany and teak and ebony, and underneath a lower layer of ferns and palms, clinging to the ground. Primary jungle was dark and forbidding, but actually easy to move through. However, if the primary jungle was cleared by man and later abandoned, an entirely different secondary growth took over. The dominant plants were softwoods and fast-growing trees, bamboo and thorny tearing vines, which formed a dense and impenetrable barrier.

  But Ross was not concerned about any aspect of the jungle except its albedo. Because the secondary plants were different, secondary jungle had a different albedo from primary jungle. And it could be graded by age: unlike the hardwood trees of primary jungle, which lived hundreds of years, the softwoods of secondary jungle lived only twenty years or so. Thus as time went on, the secondary jungle was replaced by another form of secondary jungle, and later by still another form.

  By checking regions where late secondary jungle was generally found - such as the banks of large rivers, where innumerable human settlements had been cleared and abandoned - Ross confirmed that the ERTS computers could, indeed, measure the necessary small differences in reflectivity.

  She then instructed the ERTS scanners to search for albedo differences of . 03 or less, with a unit signature size of a hundred meters or less, across the fifty thousand square kilometers of rain forest on the western slopes of the Virunga volcanoes. This job would occupy a team of fifty human aerial photographic analysts for thirty-one years. The computer scanned 129,000 satellite and aerial photographs in under nine hours.

  And found her city.

  In May, 1979, Ross had a computer image showing a very old secondary jungle pattern laid out in a geometric, gridlike form. The pattern was located 2 degrees north of the equator, longitude 3 degrees, on the western slopes of the active volcano Mukenko. The computer estimated the age of the secondary jungle at five hundred to eight hundred years.

  "So you sent an expedition in?" Elliot said.

  Ross nodded. "Three weeks ago, led by a South African named Kruger. The expedition confirmed the placer diamond deposits, went on to search for the origin, and found the ruins of the city. ,,

  "And then what happened?" Elliot asked.

  He ran the videotape a second time.

  Onscreen he saw black-and-white images of the camp, destroyed, smoldering. Several dead bodies with crushed skulls were visible. As they watched, a shadow moved over the dead bodies, and the camera zoomed back to show the outline of the lumbering shadow. Elliot agreed that it looked like the shadow of a gorilla, but he insisted, "Gorillas couldn't do this. Gorillas are peaceful, vegetarian animals. "

  They watched as the tape ran to the end. And then they reviewed her final computer-reconstituted image, which clearly showed the head of a male gorilla.

  "That's ground truth," Ross said.

  Elliot was not so sure. He reran the last three seconds of videotape a final time, staring at the gorilla head. The image was fleeting, leaving a ghostly trail, but something was wrong with it. He couldn't quite identify what. Certainly this was atypical gorilla behavior, but there was something else. -

  He pushed the freeze-frame button and stared at the frozen image. The face and the fur were both gray: unquestionably gray.

  "Can we increase contrast?" he asked Ross. "This image is washed out. "

  "I don't know," Ross said, touching the controls. "I think this is a pretty good image. " She was unable to darken it.

  "It's very gray," he said. "Gorillas are much darker. "

  "Well, this contrast range is correct for video. "

  Elliot was sure this creature was too light to be a mountain gorilla. Either they were seeing a new race of animal, or a new species. A new species of great ape, gray in color, aggressive in behavior, discovered in the eastern Congo.

  He had come on this expedition to verify Amy's dreams - a fascinating psychological insight - but now the stakes were suddenly much higher.

  Ross said, "You don't think this is a gorilla?"

  "There are ways to test it," he said. He stared at the screen, frowning, as the plane flew onward in the night.

  2. B-8 Problems

  "YOU WANT ME TO WHAT'?" TOM SEAMANS SAID, cradling the phone in his shoulder and rolling over to look at his bedside clock. It was 3 A. M.

  "Go to the zoo," Elliot repeated. His voice sounded garbled, as if coming from under water.

  "Peter, where are you calling from?"

  "We're somewhere over the Atlantic now," Elliot said. "On our way to Africa. "

  "Is everything all right?"

  "Everything is fine," Elliot said. "But I want you to go to the zoo first thing in the morning. "

  "And do what?"

  "Videotape the gorillas. Try to get them in movement. That's very important for the discriminant function, that they be moving. "

  "I'd better write this down," Seamans said. Seamans handled the computer programming for the Project Amy staff, and he was accustomed to unusual requests, but not in the middle of the night. "What discriminant function?"

  "While you're at it, run any films we have in the library of gorillas - any gorillas, wild or in zoos or whatever. The more specimens the better, so long as they're moving. And for a baseline, you'd better use chimps. Anything we have on chimps. Transfer it to tape and put it through the function. "

  "What function?" Seamans yawned.

  "The function you're going to write," Elliot said. "I want a multiple variable discriminant function based on total im?agery"

  "You mean a pattern-recognition function?" Seamans had written pattern-recognition functions for Amy's language use, enabling them to monitor her signing around the clock. Sea-mans was proud of that program; in its own way, it was highly inventive.

  "However you structure it," Elliot said. "I just want a function that'll discriminate gorillas from other primates like chimps. A species-differentiating function. "

  "Are you kidding?" Seamans said. "That's a B-8 problem. " In the developing field of pattern-recognition computer programs, so-called B-8 problems were the most difficult; whole teams of researchers had devoted years to trying to teach computers the difference between "B" and "8' ' - precisely because the difference was so obvious. But what was obvious to the human eye was not obvious to the computer scanner. The scanner had to be told, and the specific instructions turned out to be far more difficult than anyone anticipated, particularly for handwritten characters.

  Now Elliot wanted a program that would distinguish between similar visual images of gorillas and chimps. Seamans could not help asking, "Why? It's pretty obvious. A gorilla is a gorilla, and a chimp is a chimp. "

  "Just do it," Elliot said.

  "Can I use size?" On the basis of size alone, gorillas and chimps could be accurately distinguished. But visual functions could not determine size unless the distance from the recording instrument to the subject image was known, as well as the focal length of the recording lens.

  "No, you can't use size," Elliot said. "Element morphology only. "

  Seamans sighed. "Thanks a lot. What resolution?"

  "I need ninety-five-percent confidence limits on species assignment, to be based on less than three seconds of black-and-white scan imagery. "

  Seamans frowned. Obviously, Elliot had three seconds of videotape imagery of some anima
l and he was not sure whether it was a gorilla or not. Elliot had seen enough gorillas over the years to know the difference: gorillas and chimps were utterly different animals in size, appearance, movement, and behavior. They were as different as intelligent oceanic mammals - say, porpoises and whales. In making such discriminations, the human eye was far superior to any computer program that could be devised. Yet Elliot apparently did not trust his eye. What was he thinking of?

  "I'll try," Seamans said, "but it's going to take a while. You don't write that kind of program overnight. "

  "I need it overnight, Tom," Elliot said. "I'll call you back in twenty-four hours. "

  3. Inside the Coffin

  IN ONE CORNER OF THE 747 LIVING MODULE WAS A sound-baffled fiberglass booth, with a hinged hood and a small CRT screen; it was called "the coffin" because of the claustrophobic feeling that came from working inside it. As the airplane crossed the mid-Atlantic, Ross stepped inside the coffin. She had a last look at Elliot and Amy - both asleep, both snoring loudly - and Jensen and Irving playing "submarine chase" on the computer console, as she lowered the hood.

  Ross was tired, but she did not expect to get much sleep for the next two weeks, which was as long as she thought the expedition would last. Within fourteen days - 336 hours - Ross's team would either have beaten the Euro-Japanese consortium or she would have failed and the Zaire Virunga mineral exploration rights would be lost forever.

  The race was already under way, and Karen Ross did not intend to lose it.

  She punched Houston coordinates, including her own sender designation, and waited while the scrambler interlocked. From now on, there would be a signal delay of five seconds at both ends, because both she and Houston would be sending in coded burst transmissions to elude passive listeners.

  The screen glowed: TRAVIS.

  She typed back: R OS S. She picked up the telephone receiver.

  "It's a bitch," Travis said, although it was not Travis's voice, but a computer-generated flat audio signal, without expression.

  "Tell me," Ross said.

  "The consortium's rolling," Travis's surrogate voice said. "Details," Ross said, and waited for the five-second delay. She could imagine Travis in the CCR in Houston, hearing her own computer-generated voice. That flat voice required a change in speech patterns; what was ordinarily conveyed by phrasing and emphasis had to be made explicit.

  "They know you're on your way," Travis's voice whined. "They are pushing their own schedule. The Germans are behind it - your friend Richter. I'm arranging a feeding in a matter of minutes. That's the good news. "

  "And the bad news?"

  "The Congo has gone to hell in the last ten hours," Travis said. "We have a nasty GPU. "

  "Print," she said.

  On the screen, she saw printed GEOPOLITICAL UPDATE, followed by a dense paragraph. It read:

  ZAIRE EMBASSY WASHINGTON STATES EASTERN BORDERS VIA RWANDA CLOSED / NO EXPLANATION / PRESUMPTION 101 AMIN TROOPS FLEEING TANZANIAN

  INVASION UGANDA INTO EASTERN ZAIRE / CONSEQUENT DISRUPTION / BUT FACTS DIFFER / LOCAL TRIBES {KIGANI} ON RAMPAGE / REPORTED ATROCITIES AND CANNIBALISM ETC / FOREST - DWELLING PYGMIES UNRELIABLE / KILLING ALL VISITORS CONGO RAIN FOREST / ZAIRE GOVERNMENT DIS?PATCHED GENERAL MUGURU (AKA BUTCHER OF STAN - LEYVILLE) / PUT DOWN KIGANI REBELLION 'AT ALL COSTS' / SITUATION HIGHLY UNSTABLE / ONLY LEGAL ENTRY INTO ZAIRE NOW WEST THROUGH KINSHASA / YOU ARE ON YOUR OWN / ACQUISITION WHITE HUNTER

  MUNRO NOW PARAMOUNT IMPORTANCE WHATEVER COST / KEEP HIM FROM CONSORTIUM WILL PAY ANYTHING / YOUR SITUATION EXTREME DANGER / MUST HAVE MUNRO TO SURVIVE /

  She stared at the screen. It was the worst possible news. She said, "Have you got a time course?"

  EURO - JAPANESE CONSORTIUM NOW COMPRISES MORIKAWA (JAPAN) / GERLICH (GERMANY) / VOORSTER (AMSTERDAM) / UNFORTUNATELY HAVE RESOLVED

  DIFFERENCES NOW IN COMPLETE ACCORD / MONITORING US CANNOT ANTICIPATE SECURE TRANSMISSIONS ANYTIME HENCEFORTH / ANTICIPATE ELECTRONIC

  COUNTERMEASURES AND WARFARE TACTICS IN PURSUIT OF TWO - B GOAL / THEY WILL ENTER CONGO (RELIABLE SOURCE) WITHIN 48 HOURS NOW SEEKING MUNRO /

  "When will they reach Tangier?" she asked.

  "In six hours. You?"

  "Seven hours. And Munro?"

  "We don't know about Munro," Travis said. "Can you booby him?"

  "Absolutely," Ross said. "I'll arrange the booby now. If Munro doesn't see things our way, I promise you it'll be seventy-two hours before he's allowed out of the country. "

  "What've you got?" Travis asked.

  "Czech submachine guns. Found on the premises, with his prints on them, carefully applied. That should do it. "

  "That should do it," Travis agreed. "What about your passengers?" He was referring to Elliot and Amy.

  "They're fine," Ross said. "They know nothing. "

  "Keep it that way," Travis said, and hung up.

  4. Feeding Time

  "IT'S FEEDING TIME," TRAVIS CALLED CHEERFULLY. "Who's at the trough?"

  "We've got five tap dancers on Beta dataline," Rogers said. Rogers was the electronic surveillance expert, the bug catcher.

  "Anybody we know?"

  "Know them all," Rogers said, slightly annoyed. "Beta line is our main cross-trunk line in-house, so whoever wants to tap in to our system will naturally plug in there. You get more bits and pieces that way. Of course we aren't using Beta anymore except for routine uncoded garbage - taxes and payroll, that stuff. "

  "We have to arrange a feed," Travis said. A feed meant putting false data out over a tapped line, to be picked up. It was a delicate operation. "You have the consortium on the line?"

  "Sure. What do you want to feed them?"

  "Coordinates for the lost city," Travis said.

  Rogers nodded, mopping his brow. He was a portly man who sweated profusely. "How good do you want it?"

  "Damned good," Travis said. "You won't fool the Japanese with static. "

  "You don't want to give them the actual co-ords?"

  "God, no. But I want them reasonably close. Say, within two hundred kilometers. "

  "Can do," Rogers said.

  "Coded?" Travis said.

  'Of course. "

  "You have a code they can break in twelve to fifteen hours?"

  Rogers nodded. "We've got a dilly. Looks like hell, but then when you work it, it pops out. Got an internal weakness in concealed lettering frequency. At the other end, looks like we made a mistake, but it's very breakable. "

  "It can't be too easy," Travis warned.

  "Oh, no, they'll earn their yen. They'll never suspect a feed. We ran it past the army and they came back all smiles, teaching us a lesson. Never knew it was a setup. "

  "Okay," Travis said, "put the data out, and let's feed them. I want something that'll give them a sense of confidence for the next forty-eight hours or more - until they figure out that we've screwed them. "

  "Delighted," Rogers said, and he moved off to Beta terminal.

  Travis sighed. The feeding would soon begin, and he hoped it would protect his team in the field - long enough for them to get to the diamonds first.

  5. Dangerous Signatures

  THE SOFT MURMUR OF VOICES WOKE HIM.

  "How unequivocal is that signature?"

  "Pretty damn unequivocal. Here's the pissup, nine days ago, and it's not even epicentered. "

  "That's cloud cover?"

  "No, that's not cloud cover, it's too black. That's ejecta from the signature. "

  "Hell. "

  Elliot opened his eyes to see dawn breaking as a thin red line against blue-black through the windows of the passenger compartment. His watch read 5:11 - five in the morning, San Francisco time. He had slept only two hours since calling Seamans. He yawned and glanced down at Amy, curled up in her nest of blankets on the floor. Amy snored loudly. The other bunks were unoccupied.

  He heard soft voices again, and looked toward the computer console
. Jensen and Irving were staring at a screen and talking quietly. "Dangerous signature. We got a computer projection on that?"

  "Coming. It'll take a while. I asked for a five-year run-back, as well as the other pissups. "

  Elliot climbed out of his cot and looked at the screen. "What's pissups?" he said.

  "PSOPs are prior significant orbital passes by the satellite," Jensen explained. "They're called pissups because we usually ask for them when we're already pissing upwind. We've been looking at this volcanic signature here," Jensen said, pointing to the screen. "It's not too promising. "

  "What volcanic signature?" Elliot asked.

  They showed him the billowing plumes of smoke - dark green in artificial computer-generated colors - which belched from the mouth of Mukenko, one of the active volcanoes of the Virunga range. "Mukenko erupts on the average of once every three years," Irving said. "The last eruption was March, 1977, but it looks like it's gearing up for another full eruption in the next week or so. We're waiting now for the probability assessment. "

  "Does Ross know about this?"

  They shrugged. "She knows, but she doesn't seem worried. She got an urgent GPU - geopolitical update - from Houston about two hours ago, and she went directly into the cargo bay. Haven't seen her since. "

  Elliot went into the dimly lit cargo bay of the jet. The cargo bay was not insulated and it was chilly: the trucks had a thin frost on metal and glass, and his breath hissed from his mouth. He found Karen Ross working at a table under low pools of light. Her back was turned to him, but when he approached, she dropped what she was doing and turned to face him.

  "I thought you were asleep," she said.

  "I got restless. What's going on?"

  "Just checking supplies. This is our advanced technology unit," she said, lifting up a small backpack. "We've developed a miniaturized package for field parties; twenty pounds of equipment contains everything a man needs for two weeks:

  food, water, clothing, everything. "

  "Even water?" Elliot asked.

  Water was heavy: seven-tenths of human body weight was water, and most of the weight of food was water; that was why dehydrated food was so light. But water was far more critical to human life than food. Men could survive for weeks without food, but they would die in a matter of hours without water. And water was heavy.

  Ross smiled. "The average man consumes four to six liters a day, which is eight to thirteen pounds of weight. On a two-week expedition to a desert region, we'd have to provide two hundred pounds of water for each man. But we have a NASA water-recycling unit which purifies all excretions, including urine. It weighs six ounces. That's how we do it. "

  Seeing his expression, she said, "It's not bad at all. Our purified water is cleaner than what you get from the tap. ,'

  "I'll take your word for it. " Elliot picked up a pair of strange-looking sunglasses. They were very dark and thick, and there was a peculiar lens mounted over the forehead bridge.

  "Holographic night goggles," Ross said. "Employing thin-film diffraction optics. " She then pointed out a vibration-free camera lens with optical systems that compensated for movement, strobe infrared lights, and miniature survey lasers no larger than a pencil eraser. There was also a series of small tripods with rapid-geared motors mounted on the top, and brackets to hold something, but she did not explain these devices beyond saying they were "defensive units. "

  Elliot drifted toward the far table, where he found six submachine guns set out under the lights. He picked one up; it was heavy, and gleaming with grease. Clips of ammunition lay stacked nearby. Elliot did not notice the lettering on the stock; the machine guns were Russian AK-47s manufactured under license in Czechoslovakia.

  He glanced at Ross.

  "Just precautions," Ross said. "We carry them on every expedition. It doesn't mean anything. "

  Elliot shook his head. "Tell me about your GPU from Houston," he said.

  "I'm not worried about it," she said.

  "I am," Elliot said.

  As Ross explained it, the GPU was just a technical report. The Zaire government had closed its eastern borders during the previous twenty-four hours; no tourist or commercial traffic could enter the country from Rwanda or Uganda; everyone now had to enter the country from the west, through Kinshasa.

  No official reason was given for closing the eastern border, although sources in Washington speculated that Idi Amin's troops, fleeing across the Zaire border from the Tanzanian invasion of Uganda, might be causing "local difficulties. " In central Africa, local difficulties usually meant cannibalism and other atrocities.

  "Do you believe that?" Elliot asked. "Cannibalism and atrocities?"

  "No," Ross said. "It's all a lie. It's the Dutch and the Germans and the Japanese - probably your friend Morikawa. The Euro-Japanese electronics consortium knows that ERTS is close to discovering important diamond reserves in Vi?runga. They want to slow us down as much as they can. They've got the fix in somewhere, probably in Kinshasa, and closed the eastern borders. It's nothing more than that. "

  "If there's no danger, why the machine guns?"

  "Just precautions," she said again. "We'll never use machine guns on this trip, believe me. Now why don't you get some sleep? We'll be landing in Tangier soon. "

  "Tangier?"

  "Captain Munro is there. "

  6. Munro

  THE NAME OF "CAPTAIN" CHARLES MUNRO WAS not to be found on the list of the expedition leaders employed by any of the usual field parties. There were several reasons for this, foremost among them his distinctly unsavory reputation.

  Munro had been raised in the wild Northern Frontier Province of Kenya, the illegitimate son of a Scottish farmer and his handsome Indian housekeeper. Munro's father had the bad luck to be killed by Mau Mau guerillas in 1956. * Soon afterward, Munro's mother died of tuberculosis, and Munro made his way to Nairobi where in the late 1950s he worked as a white hunter, leading parties of tourists into the bush. It was during this time that Munro awarded himself the title of "Captain," although he had never served in the military.

  Apparently, Captain Munro found humoring tourists uncongenial; by 1960, he was reported running guns from Uganda into the newly independent Congo. After Moise Tshombe went into exile in 1963, Munro's activities became politically embarrassing, and ultimately forced him to disappear from East Africa in late 1963.

  He appeared again in 1964, as one of General Mobutu's white mercenaries in the Congo, under the leadership of Colonel "Mad Mike" Hoare. Hoare assessed Munro as a "hard, lethal customer who knew the jungle and was highly effective, when we could get him away from the ladies. "

  *Although more than nineteen thousand people were killed in the Mau Mau uprisings. only thirty-seven whites were killed during seven years of terrorism. Each dead white was properly regarded more as a victim of circumstance than of emerging black politics.

  Following the capture of Stanleyville in Operation Dragon Rouge, Munro's name was associated with the mercenary atrocities at a village called Avakabi. Munro again disappeared for several years.

  In 1968, he re-emerged in Tangier, where he lived splendidly and was something of a local character. The source of Munro'. s obviously substantial income was unclear, but he was said to have supplied Communist Sudanese rebels with East German light arms in 1971, to have assisted the royalist Ethiopians in their rebellion in 1974 - 1975, and to have assisted the French paratroopers who dropped into Zaire's Shaba province in 1978.

  His mixed activities made Munro a special case in Africa in the 1970s; although he was persona non grata in a half-dozen African states, he traveled freely throughout the continent, using various passports. It was a transparent ruse: every border official recognized him on sight, but these officials were equally afraid to let him enter the country or to deny him entry.

  Foreign mining and exploration companies, sensitive to local feeling, were reluctant to hire Munro as an expedition lead
er for their parties. It was also true that Munro was by far the most expensive of the bush guides. Nevertheless, he had a reputation for getting tough, difficult jobs done. Under an assumed name, he had taken two German tin-mining parties into the Cameroons in 1974; and he had led one previous ERTS expedition into Angola during the height of the armed conflict in 1977. He quit another ERTS field group headed for Zambia the following year after Houston refused to meet his price: Houston had canceled the expedition.

  In short, Munro was acknowledged as the best man for dangerous travel. That was why the ERTS jet stopped in Tangier.

  At the Tangier airport, the ERTS cargo jet and its contents were bonded, but all ongoing personnel except Amy passed through customs, carrying their personal belongings. Jensen and Irving were pulled aside for searches; trace quantities of heroin were discovered in their hand baggage.

  This bizarre event occurred through a series of remarkable coincidences, In 1977, United States customs agents began to employ neutron backscatter devices, as well as chemical vapor detectors, or sniffers. Both were hand-held electronic devices manufactured under contract by Morikawa Elec?tronics in Tokyo. In 1978, questions arose about the accuracy of these devices; Morikawa suggested that they be tested at other ports of entry around the world, including Singapore, Bangkok, Delhi, Munich, and Tangier.

  Thus Morikawa Electronics knew the capabilities of the detectors at Tangier airport, and they also knew that a variety of substances, including ground poppy seeds and shredded turnip, would produce a false-positive registration on airport sensors. And the "false-positive net" required forty-eight hours to untangle. (It was later shown that both men had somehow acquired traces of turnip on their briefcases. )

  Both Irving and Jensen vigorously denied any knowledge of illicit material, and appealed to the local U. S. consular office. But the case could not be resolved for several days; Ross telephoned Travis in Houston, who determined it was a "Dutch herring. " There was nothing to be done except to carry on, and continue with the expedition as best they could.

  "They think this will stop us," Travis said, "but it won't. "

  "Who's going to do the geology?" Ross asked.

  "You are," Travis said.

  "And the electronics?"

  "You're the certified genius," Travis said. "Just make sure you have Munro. He's the key to everything. "

  The song of the muezzin floated over the pastel jumble of houses in the Tangier Casbah at twilight, calling the faithful to evening prayer. In the old days, the muezzin himself appeared in the minarets of the mosque, but now a recording played over loudspeakers: a mechanized call to the Muslim ritual of obeisance.

  Karen Ross sat on the terrace of Captain Munro's house overlooking the Casbah and waited for her audience with the man himself. Beside her, Peter Elliot sat in a chair and snored noisily, exhausted from the long flight.

  They had been waiting nearly three hours, and she was worried. Munro's house was of Moorish design, and open to the outdoors. From the interior she could hear voices, faintly carried by the breeze, speaking some Oriental language.

  One of the graceful Moroccan servant girls that Munro seemed to have in infinite supply came onto the terrace carrying a telephone. She bowed formally. Ross saw that the girl had violet eyes; she was exquisitely beautiful, and could not have been more than sixteen. In careful English the girl said, "This is your telephone to Houston. The bidding will now begin. "

  Karen nudged Peter, who awoke groggily. "The bidding will now begin," she said.

  Peter Elliot was surprised from the moment of his first entrance into Munro's house. He had anticipated a tough military setting and was amazed to see delicate carved Mo?roccan arches and soft gurgling fountains with sunlight sparkling on them.

  Then he saw the Japanese and, Germans in the next room, staring at him and at Ross. The glances were distinctly unfriendly, but Ross stood and said, "Excuse me a moment," and she went forward and embraced a young blond German man warmly. They kissed, chattered happily, and in general appeared to be intimate friends.

  Elliot did not like this development, but he was reassured to see that the Japanese - identically dressed in black suits - were equally displeased. Noticing this, Elliot smiled benignly, to convey a sense of approval for the reunion.

  But when Ross returned, he demanded, "Who was that?"

  "That's Richter," she said. "The most brilliant topologist in Western Europe; his field is n-space extrapolation. His work's extremely elegant. " She smiled. "Almost as elegant as mine. "

  "But he works for the consortium?"

  "Naturally. He's German. "

  "And you're talking with him?"

  "I was delighted for the opportunity," she said. "Karl has a fatal limitation. He can only deal with pre-existing data. He takes what he is given, and does cartwheels with it in n-?space. But he cannot imagine anything new at all. I had a

  professor at M. I. T. who was the same way. Tied to facts, a

  hostage to reality. " She shook her head.

  "Did he ask about Amy?"

  "Of course. "

  "And what did you tell him?"

  "I told him she was sick and probably dying. "

  "And he believed that?"

  "We'll see. There's Munro"

  Captain Munro appeared in the next room, wearing khakis, smoking a cigar. He was a tall, rugged-looking man with a mustache, and soft dark watchful eyes that missed nothing. He talked with the Japanese and Germans, who were evidently unhappy with what he was saying. Moments later, Munro entered their room, smiling broadly.

  "So you're going to the Congo, Dr. Ross. "

  "We are, Captain Munro," she said.

  Munro smiled. "It seems as though everyone is going. " There followed a rapid exchange which Elliot found incomprehensible. Karen Ross said, "Fifty thousand U. S. in Swiss francs against point oh two of first-year adjusted extraction returns. "

  Munro shook his head. "A hundred in Swiss francs and point oh six of first-year return on the primary deposits, crude-grade accounting, no discounting.

  "A hundred in U. S. dollars against point oh one of the first-year return on all deposits, with full discounting from point of origin. "

  "Point of origin? In the middle of the bloody Congo? I would want three years from point of origin: what if you're shut down?"

  "You want a piece, you gamble. Mobutu's clever. "

  "Mobutu's barely in control, and I am still alive because I am no gambler," Munro said. "A hundred against point oh four of first year on primary with front-load discount only. Or I'll take point oh two of yours. "

  "If you're no gambler, I'll give you a straight buy-out for two hundred. "

  Munro shook his head. "You've paid more than that for your MER in Kinshasa. "

  "Prices for everything are inflated in Kinshasa, including mineral exploration rights. And the current exploration limit, the computer CEL, is running well under a thousand. "

  "If you say so. " He smiled, and headed buck into the other room, where the Japanese and Germans were waiting for his return.

  Ross said quickly, "That's not for them to know. "

  "Oh, I'm sure they know it anyway," Munro said, and walked into the other room.

  "Bastard," she whispered to his back. She talked in low tones on the telephone. "He'll never accept that. . . . No, no, he won't go for it. . . they want him bad. . . "

  Elliot said, "You're bidding very high for his services. "

  "He's the best," Ross said, and continued whispering into the telephone. In the next mom, Munro was shaking his head sadly, turning down an offer. Elliot noticed that Richter was very red in the face.

  Munro came back to Karen Ross. "What was your projected CEL?"

  "Under a thousand. "

  "So you say. Yet you know there's an ore intercept. "

  "I don't know there's an ore intercept. "

  "Then you're foolish to spend all this mon
ey to go to the Congo," Munro said. "Aren't you?"

  Karen Ross made no reply. She stared at the ornate ceiling of the room.

  "Virunga's not exactly a garden spot these days," Munro continued. "The Kigani are on the rampage, and they're cannibals. Pygmies aren't friendly anymore either. Likely to find an arrow in your back for your troubles. Volcanoes always threatening to blow. Tsetse flies. Bad water. Corrupt officials. Not a place to go without a very good reason, hmm? Perhaps you should put off your trip until things settle down. "

  Those were precisely Peter Elliot's sentiments, and he said

  so.

  "Wise man," Munro said, with a broad smile that annoyed Karen Ross.

  "Evidently," Karen Ross said, "we will never come to terms. "

  "That seems clear. " Munro nodded.

  Elliot understood that negotiations were broken off. He got up to shake Munro's hand and leave - but before he could do that, Munro walked into the next room and conferred with the Japanese and Germans.

  "Things are looking up," Ross said.

  "Why?" Elliot said. "Because he thinks he's beaten you down?"

  "No. Because he thinks we know more than they do about the site location and are more likely to hit an ore body and pay off. "

  In the next room, the Japanese and Germans abruptly stood, and walked to the front door. At the door, Munro shook hands with the Germans, and bowed elaborately to the Japanese.

  "I guess you're right," Elliot said to Ross. "He's sending them away. "

  But Ross was frowning, her face grim. "They can't do this," she said. "They can't just quit this way. "

  Elliot was confused again. "I thought you wanted them to quit. "

  "Damn," Ross said. "We've been screwed. " She whispered into the telephone, talking to Houston.

  Elliot didn't understand it at all. And his confusion was not resolved when Munro locked the door behind the last of the departing men, then came back to Elliot and Ross to say that supper was served.

  They ate Moroccan-style, sitting on the floor and eating with their fingers. The first course was a pigeon pie, and it was followed by some sort of stew.

  "So you sent the Japanese off?" Ross said. "Told them no?"

  "Oh, no," Munro said. "That would be impolite. I told

  them I would think about it. And I will. "

  "Then why did they leave?"

  Munro shrugged. "Not my doing, I assure you. I think they heard something on the telephone which changed their whole plan. "

  Karen Ross glanced at her watch, making a note of the time. "Very good stew," she said. She was doing her best to be agreeable.

  "Glad you like it. It's tajin. Camel meat. "

  Karen Ross coughed. Peter Elliot noticed that his own appetite had diminished. Munro turned to him. "So you have the gorilla, Professor Elliot?"

  "How did you know that?"

  "The Japanese told me. The Japanese are fascinated by your gorilla. Can't figure the point of it, drives them mad. A young man with a gorilla, arid a young woman who is searching for - "

  "Industrial-grade diamonds," Karen Ross said.

  "Ah, industrial-grade diamonds. " He turned to Elliot. "I enjoy a frank conversation. Diamonds, fascinating. " His manner suggested that he had been told nothing of importance.

  Ross said, "You've got to take us in, Munro. "

  "World's full of industrial-grade diamonds," Munro said. "You can find them in Africa, India, Russia, Brazil, Canada, even in America - Arkansas, New York, Kentucky - everywhere you look. But you're going to the Congo. "

  The obvious question hung in the air.

  "We are looking for Type Jib boron-coated blue diamonds," Karen Ross said, "which have semi conducting properties important to microelectronics applications. "

  Munro stroked his mustache. "Blue diamonds," he said, nodding. "It makes sense. "

  Ross said that of course it made sense.

  "You can't dope them?" Munro asked.

  "No. It's been tried. There was a commercial boron-doping process, but it was too unreliable. The Americans had one and so did the Japanese. Everyone gave it up as hopeless

  "So you've got to find a natural source. "

  "That's right. I want to get there as soon as possible," Ross said, staring at him, her voice flat.

  "I'm sure you do," Munro said. "Nothing but business for our Dr. Ross, eh?" He crossed the room and, leaning against one of the arches, looked out on the dark Tangier night. "I'm not surprised at all," he said. "As a matter of - "

  At the first blast of machine-gun fire, Munro dived for cover, the glassware on the table splattered, one of the girls screamed, and Elliot and Ross threw themselves to the marble floor as the bullets whined around them, chipping the plaster overhead, raining plaster dust down upon them. The blast lasted thirty seconds or so, and it was followed by complete silence.

  When it was over, they got up hesitantly, staring at one another.

  "The consortium plays for keeps. " Munro grinned. "Just my sort of people. "

  Ross brushed plaster dust off her clothes. She turned to Munro. "Five point two against the first two hundred, no deductions, in Swiss francs, adjusted. "

  "Five point seven, and you have me. "

  "Five point seven. Done. "

  Munro shook hands with them, then announced that he would need a few minutes to pack his things before leaving for Nairobi.

  "Just like that?" Ross asked. She seemed suddenly concerned, glancing again at her watch.

  "What's your problem?" Munro asked.

  "Czech AK-47s," she said. "In your warehouse. "

  Munro showed no surprise. "Better get them out," he said. "The consortium undoubtedly has something similar in the works, and we've got a lot to do in the next few hours. " As he spoke, they heard the police Kiaxons approaching from a distance. Munro said, "We'll take the back stair. "

  An hour later, they were airborne, heading toward Nai?robi.

 
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