No Naked Ads -> Here!
Larger Font   Reset Font Size   Smaller Font       Night Mode Off   Night Mode

       Congo, p.6

           Michael Crichton
1 2 3 4 5 6 7
Chapter 4


  June 16,1979

  1. Timeline

  IT WAS FARTHER ACROSS AFRICA FROM TANGIER TO Nairobi than it was across the Atlantic Ocean from New York to London - 3,600 miles, an eight-hour flight. Ross spent the time at the computer console, working out what she called "hyperspace probability lines. "

  The screen showed a computer-generated map of Africa, with streaking multicolored lines across it. "These are all timelines," Ross said. "We can weight them for duration and delay factors. " Beneath the screen was a total-elapsed-time clock, which kept shifting numbers.

  "What's that mean?" Elliot asked.

  "The computer's picking the fastest route. You see it's just identified a timeline that will get us on-site in six days eighteen hours and fifty - one minutes. Now it's trying to beat that time. "

  Elliot had to smile. The idea of a computer predicting to the minute when they would reach their Congo location seemed ludicrous to him. But Ross was totally serious.

  As they watched, the computer clock shifted to 5 days 22 hours 24 minutes.

  "Better," Ross said, nodding. "But still not very good. " She pressed another key and the lines shifted, stretching like rubber bands over the African continent. "This is the consortium route," she said, "based on our assumptions about the expedition. They're going in big - thirty or more people, a full-scale undertaking. And they don't know the exact location of the city; at least, we don't think they know. But they have a substantial start on us, at least twelve hours, since their aircraft is already forming up in Nairobi. "

  The clock registered total elapsed time: 5 days 09 hours 19 minutes. Then she pressed a button marked DATE and it shifted to 06 21 790814. "According to this, the consortium will reach the Congo site a little after eight o'clock in the morning on June 21. "

  The computer clicked quietly; the lines continued to stretch and pull, and the clock read a new date: 06 21 79 1224.

  "Well," she said, "that's where we are now. Given maximum favorable movements for us and them, the consortium will beat us to the site by slightly more than four hours, five days from now. "

  Munro walked past, eating a sandwich. "Better lock another path," he said. "Or go radical. "

  "I hesitate to go radical with the ape. "

  Munro shrugged. "Have to do something, with a timeline like that. "

  Elliot listened to them with a vague sense of unreality: they were discussing a difference of hours, five days in the future. "But surely," Elliot said, "over the next few days, with all the arrangements at Nairobi, and then getting into the jungle - you can't put too much faith in those figures. "

  "This isn't like the old days of African exploration," Ross said, "where parties disappeared into the wilds for months. At most, the computer is off by minutes - say, roughly half an hour in the total five-day projection. " She shook her head. "No. We have a problem here, and we've got to do something about it. The stakes are too great. "

  "You mean the diamonds. "

  She nodded, and pointed to the bottom of the screen, where the words BLUE CONTRACT appeared. He asked her what the Blue Contract was.

  "One hell of a lot of money," Ross said. And she added, "I think. " For in truth she did not really know.

  Each new contract at ERTS was given a code name. Only Travis and the computer knew the name of the company buying the contract; everyone else at ERTS, from computer programmers to field personnel, knew the projects only by their color-code names: Red Contract, Yellow Contract, White Contract. This was a business protection for the firms involved. But the ERTS mathematicians could not resist a lively guessing game about contract sources, which was the staple of daily conversation in the company canteen.

  The Blue Contract had come to ERTS in December, 1978. It called for ERTS to locate a natural source of industrial-grade diamonds in a friendly or neutralist country. The diamonds were to be Type IIb, "nitrogen-poor" crystals. No dimensions were specified, so crystal size did not matter; nor were recoverable quantities specified: the contractor would take what he could get. And, most unusual, there was no UECL.

  Nearly all contracts arrived with a unit extraction cost limit. It was not enough to find a mineral source; the minerals had to be extractable at a specified unit cost. This unit cost in turn reflected the richness of the ore body, its remoteness, the availability of local labor, political conditions, the possible need to build airfields, roads, hospitals, mines, or refineries.

  For a contract to come in without a UECL meant only one thing: somebody wanted blue diamonds so badly he didn't care what they cost.

  Within forty-eight hours, the ERTS canteen had explained the Blue Contract. It turned out that Type JIb diamonds were blue from trace quantities of the element boron, which rendered them worthless as gemstones but altered their electronic properties, making them semiconductors with a resistively on the order of 100 ohms centimeters. They also had light-transmissive properties.

  Someone then found a brief article in Electronic News for November 17, 1978: "McPhee Doping Dropped. " It explained that the Waltham, Massachusetts, firm of Silec, Inc. , had abandoned the experimental McPhee technique to dope diamonds artificially with a monolayer boron coating. The McPhee process had been abandoned as too expensive and too unreliable to produce "desirable semi conducting properties. " The article concluded that "other firms have underestimated problems in boron monolayer doping; Morikawa (Tokyo) abandoned the Nagaura process in September of this year. " Working backward, the ERTS canteen fitted additional pieces of the puzzle into place.

  Back in 1971, Intec, the Santa Clara microelectronics firm, had first predicted that diamond semiconductors would be important to a future generation of "super conducting" computers in the 1980s.

  The first generation of electronic computers, ENIAC and UNIVAC, built in the wartime secrecy of the 1940s, employed vacuum tubes. Vacuum tubes had an average life span of twenty hours, but with thousands of glowing hot tubes in a single machine, some computers shut down every seven to twelve minutes. Vacuum-tube technology imposed a limit on the size and power of planned second-generation computers.

  But the second generation never used vacuum tubes. In 1947, the invention of the transistor - a thumbnail-sized sandwich of solid material which performed all the functions of a vacuum tube - ushered in an era of "solid state" electronic devices which drew little power, generated little heat, and were smaller and more reliable than the tubes they replaced. Silicon technology provided the basis for three generations of increasingly compact, reliable, and cheap computers over the next twenty years.

  But by the 1970s, computer designers began to confront the inherent limitations of silicon technology. Although cir?cuits had been shrunk to microscopic dimensions, computation speed was still dependent on circuit length. To miniaturize circuits still more, where distances were already on the order of millionths of an inch, brought back an old problem: heat. Smaller circuits would literally melt from the heat produced. What was needed was some method to eliminate heat and reduce resistance at the same time.

  It had been known since the 1950s that many metals when cooled to extremely low temperatures became "super-conducting," permitting the unimpeded flow of electrons through them. In 1977, IBM announced it was designing an ultra-high-speed computer the size of a grapefruit, chilled with liquid nitrogen. The superconducting computer required a radically new technology, and a new range of low temperature construction materials.

  Doped diamonds would be used extensively throughout.

  Several days later, the ERTS canteen came up with an alternative explanation. According to the new theory, the 1970s had been a decade of unprecedented growth in computers. Although the first computer manufacturers in the 1940s had predicted that four computers would do the computing work of the entire world for the foreseeable future, experts anticipated that by 1990 there would actually be one billion computers - most of them linked by communications networ
ks to other computers. Such networks didn't exist, and might even be theoretically impossible. (A 1975 study by the Hanover Institute concluded there was insufficient metal in the earth's crust to construct the necessary computer transmission lines. )

  According to Harvey Rumbaugh, the 1980s would be characterized by a critical shortage of computer data transmission systems: "Just as the fossil fuel shortage took the industrialized world by surprise in the 1970s, so will the data transmission shortage take the world by surprise in the next ten years. People were denied movement in the 1970s; but they will be denied information in the 1980s, and it remains to be seen which shortage will prove more frustrating. "

  Laser light represented the only hope for handling these massive data requirements, since laser channels carried twenty thousand times the information of an ordinary metal coaxial trunk line. Laser transmission demanded whole new technologies - including thin-spun fiber optics, and doped semiconducting diamonds, which Rumbaugh predicted would be "more valuable than oil" in the coming years.

  Even further, Rumbaugh anticipated that within ten years electricity itself would become obsolete. Future computers would utilize only light circuits, and interface with light transmission data systems. The reason was speed. "Light," Rumbaugh said, "moves at the speed of light. Electricity doesn't. We are living in the final years of microelectronic technology. "

  Certainly microelectronics did not look like a moribund technology. In 1979, microelectronics was a major industry throughout the industrialized world, accounting for eighty billion dollars annually in the United States alone; six of the top twenty corporations in the Fortune 500 were deeply involved in microelectronics. These companies had a history of extraordinary competition and advance, over a period of less than thirty years.

  In 1958, a manufacturer could fit 10 electronic components onto a single silicon chip. By 1970, it was possible to fit 100 units onto a chip of the same size - a tenfold increase in slightly more than a decade.

  But by 1972, it was possible to fit 1,000 units on a chip, and by 1974, 10,000 units. It was expected that by 1980, there would be one million units on a single chip the size of a thumbnail, but, using electronic photo projection, this goal was actually realized in 1978. By the spring of 1979, the new goal was ten million units - or, even better, one billion units - on a single silicon chip by 1980. But nobody expected to wait past June or July of 1979 for this development.

  Such advances within an industry are unprecedented. Comparison to older manufacturing technologies makes this clear. Detroit was content to make trivial product design changes at three-year intervals, but the electronics industry routinely expected order of magnitude advances in the same time. (To keep pace, Detroit would have had to increase automobile gas mileage from 8 miles per gallon in 1970 to 80,000,000 miles per gallon in 1979. Instead, Detroit went from 8 to 16 miles per gallon during that time, further evidence of the coming demise of the automotive industry as the center of the American economy. )

  In such a competitive market, everyone worried about foreign powers, particularly Japan, which since 1973 had maintained a Japanese Cultural Exchange in San Jose - which some considered a cover organization for well-financed industrial espionage.

  The Blue Contract could only be understood in the light of an industry making major advances every few months. Travis had said that the Blue Contract was "the biggest thing we'll see in the next ten years. Whoever finds those diamonds has a jump on the technology for at least five years. Five years. Do you know what that means?"

  Ross knew what it meant. In an industry where competitive edges were measured in months, companies had made fortunes by beating competitors by a matter of weeks with some new techniques or device; Syntel in California had been the first to make a 256K memory chip while everyone else was still making 16K chips and dreaming of 64K chips. Syntel kept their advantage for only sixteen weeks, but realized a profit of more than a hundred and thirty million dollars.

  "And we're talking about five years," Travis said. "That's an advantage measured in billions of dollars, maybe tens of billions of dollars. If we can get to those diamonds. "

  These were the reasons for the extraordinary pressure Ross felt as she continued to work with the computer. At the age of twenty-four, she was team leader in a high-technology race involving a half-dozen nations around the globe, all secretly pitting their business and industrial resources against one another.

  The stakes made any conventional race seem ludicrous. Travis told her before she left, "Don't be afraid when the pressure makes you crazy. You have billions of dollars riding on your shoulders. Just do the best you can. "

  Doing the best she could, she managed to reduce the expedition timeline by another three hours and thirty-seven minutes - but they were still slightly behind the consortium projection. Not too far to make up the time, especially with Munro's cold-blooded shortcuts, but nevertheless behind - which could mean total disaster in a winner-take-all race.

  And then she received bad news.

  The screen printed PIGGYBACK SLURP / ALL BETS OFF.

  "Hell," Ross said. She felt suddenly tired. Because if there really had been a piggyback slurp, their chances of winning the race were vanishing - before any of them had even set foot in the rain forests of central Africa.

  2. Piggyback Slurp


  He stared at the hard copy from Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Maryland.


  That had arrived an hour ago from GSFC/Maryland, but it was already too late by more than five hours.

  "Damn!" Travis said, staring at the telex.

  The first indication to Travis that anything was wrong was when the Japanese and Germans broke off negotiations with Munro in Tangier. One minute they had been willing to pay anything; the next minute they could hardly wait to leave. The break-off had come abruptly, discontinuously; it implied the sudden introduction of new data into the consortium computer files.

  New data from where?

  There could be only one explanation - and now it was confirmed in the GSFC telex from Greenbelt.


  There was a simple answer to that: ERTS wasn't sending any data. At least, not willingly. ERTS and GSFC had an arrangement to exchange data updates - Travis had made that deal in 1978 to obtain cheaper satellite imagery from orbiting Landsats. Satellite imagery was his company's single greatest expense. In return for a look at derived ERTS data, GSFC agreed to supply satellite CCTs at 30 percent below gross rate.

  It seemed like a good deal at the time, and the coded locks were specified in the agreement.

  But now the potential drawbacks loomed large before Travis; his worst fears were confirmed. Once you put a line over two thousand miles from Houston to Greenbelt, you begged for a piggyback data slurp. Somewhere between Texas and Maryland someone had inserted a terminal linkup - probably in the carrier telephone lines - and had begun to slurp out data on a piggyback terminal. This was the form of industrial espionage they most feared.

  A piggyback-slurp terminal tapped in between two legitimate terminals, monitoring the back and forth transmissions. After a time, the piggyback operator knew enough to begin making transmissions on line, slurping out data from both ends, pretending to be GSFC to Houston, and Houston to GSFC. The piggyback terminal could continue to function until one or both legitimate terminals realized that they were being slurped.

  Now the question was: how much data had been slurped out in the last seventy-two hours?

  He had called for twenty-four-hour scanner checks, and the readings were disheartening. It looked as though the ERTS computer had yielded up not only original database elements, but also data-transformation histories - the sequence of operations performed on the data by ERTS over the last four weeks.

  If that was true,
it meant that the Euro-Japanese consortium piggyback knew what transformations ERTS had carried out on the Mukenko data - and therefore they knew where the lost city was located, with pinpoint accuracy. They now knew the location of the city as precisely as Ross did.

  Timelines had to be adjusted, unfavorably to the ERTS team. And the updated computer projections were unequivocal - Ross or no Ross, the likelihood of the ERTS team reaching the site ahead of the Japanese and Germans was flow almost nil.

  From Travis's viewpoint, the entire ERTS expedition was mow a futile exercise, and a waste of time. There was no hope of success. The only unfactorable element was the gorilla Amy, and Travis's instincts told him that a gorilla named Amy would not prove decisive in the discovery of mineral deposits in the northeastern Congo.

  It was hopeless.

  Should he recall the ERTS team? He stared at the console by his desk. "Call cost-time," he said.

  The computer blinked COST - TIME AVAILABLE.

  "Congo Field Survey," he said.

  The screen printed out numbers for the Congo Field Survey: expenditures by the hour, accumulated costs, committed future costs, cutoff points, future branch-point deletions. . . . The project was now just outside Nairobi, and was running at an accumulated cost of slightly over


  Cancellation would cost $227,455.

  "Factor BF," he said.

  The screen changed. B F. He now saw a series of probabilities. "Factor BF" was bona fortuna, good luck - the imponderable in all expeditions, especially remote, dangerous expeditions.

  THINKING A MOMENT, the computer flashed.

  Travis waited. He knew that the computer would require several seconds to perform the computations to assign weights to random factors that might influence the expedition, still five or more days from the target site.

  His beeper buzzed. Rogers, the tap dancer, said, "We've traced the piggyback slurp. It's in Norman, Oklahoma, nominally at the North Central Insurance Corporation of America. NCIC is fifty-one percent owned by a Hawaiian holding company, Halekuli, Inc. , which is in turn owned by mainland Japanese interests. What do you want?"

  "I want a very bad fire," Travis said.

  "Got you," Rogers said. He hung up the phone.

  The screen flashed ASSESSED FACTOR B F and a probability: . 449. He was surprised: that figure meant that ERTS had an almost even chance of attaining the target site befure the consortium. Travis didn't question the mathematics; . 449 was good enough.

  The ERTS expedition would continue to the Congo, at least for the time being. And in the meantime he would do whatever he could to slow down the consortium. Off the top of his head, Travis could think of one or two ideas to accomplish that.

  3. Additional Data

  THE JET WAS MOVING SOUTH OVER LAKE RUDOLPH in northern Kenya when Tom Seamans called Elliot.

  Seamails had finished his computer analysis to discriminate gorillas from other apes, principally chimpanzees. He had then obtained from Houston a videotape of three seconds of a garbled video transmission which seemed to show a gorilla smashing a dish antenna and staring into a camera.

  "Well?" Elliot said, looking at the computer screen. The data flashed up:



  GORILLA: . 9934

  CHIMP: . 1132


  "Hell," Elliot said. At those figures, the study was equivocal, useless.

  "Sorry about that," Seamans said over the phone. "But part of the trouble comes from the test material itself. We had to factor in the computer derivation of that image. The image has been cleaned up, and that means it's been regularized; the critical stuff has been lost. I'd like to work with the original digitized matrix. Can you get me that?"

  Karen Ross was nodding yes. "Sure," Elliot said.

  "I'll go another round with it," Seamans said. "But if you want my gut opinion, it is never going to turn out. The fact is that gorillas show a considerable individual variation in facial structure, just as people do. If we increase our sample base, we're going to get more variation, and a larger population interval. I think you're stuck. You can never prove it's not a gorilla - but for my money, it's not. "

  "Meaning what?" Elliot asked.

  "It's something new," Seamans said. "I'm telling you, if this was really a gorilla, it would have showed up . 89 or . 94, somewhere in there, on this function. But the image comes out at . 39. That's just not good enough. It's not a gorilla, Peter. "

  "Then what is it?"

  "It's a transitional form. I ran a function to measure where the variation was. You know what was the major differential? Skin color. Even in black-and-white, it's not dark enough to be a gorilla, Peter. This is a whole new animal, I promise you. "

  Elliot looked at Ross. "What does this do to your timeline?"

  "For the moment, nothing," she said. "Other elements are more critical, and this is unfactorable. "

  The pilot clicked on the intercom. "We are beginning our descent into Nairobi," he said.

  4. Nairobi

  FIVE MILES OUTSIDE NAIROBI, ONE CAN FIND WILD game of the East African savannah. And within the memory of many Nairobi residents the game could be found closer still - gazelles, buffalo, and giraffe wandering around backyards, and the occasional leopard slipping into one's bedroom. In those days, the city still retained the character of a wild colonial station; in its heyday, Nairobi was a fast-living place indeed: "Are you married or do you live in Kenya?" went the standard question. The men were hard-drinking and rough, the women beautiful and loose, and the pattern of life no more predictable than the fox hunts that ranged over the rugged countryside each weekend.

  But modern Nairobi is almost' unrecognizable from the time of those freewheeling colonial days. The few remaining Victorian buildings lie stranded in a modem city of half a million, with traffic jams, stoplights, skyscrapers, supermarkets, same-day dry cleaners, French restaurants, and air pollution.

  The ERTS cargo plane landed at Nairobi International Airport at dawn on the morning of June 16, and Munro contacted porters and assistants for the expedition. They intended to leave Nairobi within two hours - until Travis called from Houston to inform them that Peterson, one of the geologists on the first Congo expedition, had somehow made it back to Nairobi.

  Ross was excited by the news. "Where is he now?" she asked.

  "At the morgue," Travis said.

  Elliot winced as he came close: the body on the stainless steel table was a blond man his own age. The man's arms had been crushed; the skin was swollen, a ghastly purple color. He glanced at Ross. She seemed perfectly cool, not blinking or turning away. The pathologist stepped on a foot petal, activating a microphone overhead. "Would you state your name, please. "

  "Karen Ellen Ross. "

  "Your nationality and passport number?"

  "American, F 1413649. "

  "Can you identify the man before you, Miss Ross?"

  "Yes," she said. "He is James Robert Peterson. "

  "What is your relation to the deceased James Robert Peterson?"

  "I worked with him," she said dully. She seemed to be examining a geological specimen, scrutinizing it unemotionally. Her face showed no reaction.

  The pathologist faced the microphone. "Identity confirmed as James Robert Peterson, male Caucasian, twenty-nine years old, nationality American. " He turned back to Ross. "When was the last time you saw Mr. Peterson?"

  "In May of this year. He was leaving for the Congo. "

  "You have not seen him in the last month?"

  "No," she said. "What happened?"

  The pathologist touched the puffy purple injuries on his arms. His fingertips sank in, leaving indentations like teeth in the flesh. "Damned strange story," the pathologist said.

  The previous day, June 15, Peterson had been flown to Nairobi airport
aboard a small charter cargo plane, in end-stage terminal shock. He died several hours later without regaining consciousness. "Extraordinary he made it at all. Apparently the aircraft made an unscheduled stop for a mechanical problem at Garona field, a dirt track in Zaire. And then this fellow comes stumbling out of the woods, collapsing at their feet. " The pathologist pointed out that the bones had been shattered in both arms. The injuries, he explained, were not new; they had occurred at least four days earlier, perhaps more. "He must have been in incredible pain. "

  Elliot said, "What could cause that injury?"

  The pathologist had never seen anything like it. "Superficially, it resembles mechanical trauma, a crush injury from an automobile or truck. We see a good deal of those here; but mechanical crush injuries are never bilateral, as they are in this case. "

  "So it wasn't a mechanical injury?" Karen Ross asked.

  "Don't know what it was. It's unique in my experience," the pathologist said briskly. "We also found traces of blood under his nails, and a few strands of gray hair. We're running a test now. "

  Across the room, another pathologist looked up from his microscope. "The hair is definitely not human. Cross section doesn't match. Some kind of animal hair, close to human. "

  "The cross section?" Ross said.

  "Best index we have of hair origin," the pathologist said. "For instance, human pubic hair is more elliptical in cross section than other body hair, or facial hair. It's quite characteristic - admissible in court. But especially in this laboratory, we come across a great deal of animal hair, and we're expert in that as well. "

  A large stainless-steel analyzer began pinging. "Blood's coming through," the pathologist said.

  On a video screen they saw twin patterns of pastel-colored streaks. "This is the electrophoresis pattern," the pathologist explained. "To check serum proteins. That's ordinary human blood on the left. On the right we have the blood sample from under the nails. You can see it's definitely not human blood. "

  "Not human blood?" Ross said, glancing at Elliot.

  "It's close to human blood," the pathologist said, staring at the pattern. "But it's not human. Could be a domestic or farm animal - a pig, perhaps. Or else a primate. Monkeys and apes are very close serologically to human beings. We'll have a computer analysis in a minute. "

  On the screen, the computer printed ALPHA AND BETA SERUM GLOBULINS MATCH: GORILLA BLOOD.

  The pathologist said, "There's your answer to what he had under his nails. Gorilla blood. "

  5. Examination

  "SHE WON'T HURT YOU," ELLIOT TOLD THE frightened orderly. They were in the passenger compartment of the 747 cargo jet. "See, she's smiling at you. "

  Amy was indeed giving her most winning smile, being careful not to expose her teeth. But the orderly from the private clinic in Nairobi was not familiar with these fine points of gorilla etiquette. His hands shook as he held the syringe.

  Nairobi was the last opportunity for Amy to receive a thorough checkup. Her large, powerful body belied a constitutional fragility, as her heavy-browed, glowering face belied a meek, rather tender nature. In San Francisco, the Project Amy staff subjected her to a thorough medical regimen - urine samples every other day, stool samples checked weekly for occult blood, complete blood studies monthly, and a trip to the dentist every three months for removal of the black tartar that accumulated from her vegetarian diet.

  Amy took it all in stride, but the terrified orderly did not know that. He approached her holding the syringe in front of him like a weapon. "You sure he won't bite?"

  Amy, trying to be helpful, signed, Amy promise no bite. She was signing slowly, deliberately, as she always did when confronted by someone who did not know her language.

  "She promises not to bite you," Elliot said.

  "So you say," the orderly said. Elliot did not bother to explain that he hadn't said it; she had.

  After the blood samples were drawn, the orderly relaxed a little. Packing up, he said, "Certainly is an ugly brute. "

  "You've hurt her feelings," Elliot said.

  And, indeed, Amy was signing vigorously, What ugly? "Nothing, Amy," Elliot said. "He's just never seen a gorilla before. "

  The orderly said, "I beg your pardon?"

  "You've hurt her feelings. You'd better apologize. "

  The orderly snapped his medical case shut. He stared at Elliot and then at Amy. "Apologize to him?"

  "Her," Elliot said. "Yes. How would you like to be told you're ugly?"

  Elliot felt strongly about this. Over the years, he had come to feel acutely the prejudices that human beings showed toward apes, considering chimpanzees to be cute children, or?angs to be wise old men, and gorillas to be hulking, dangerous brutes. They were wrong in every case.

  Each of these animals was unique, and did not fit the human stereotypes at all. Chimps, for example, were much more callous than gorillas ever were. Because chimps were extroverts, an angry chimp was far more dangerous than an angry gorilla; at the zoo, Elliot would watch in amazement as human mothers pushed their children closer to look at the chimps, but recoiled protectively at the sight of the gorillas. These mothers obviously did not know that wild chimpanzees caught and ate human infants - something gorillas never did.

  Elliot had witnessed repeatedly the human prejudice against gorillas, and had come to recognize its effect on Amy. Amy could not help the fact that she was huge and black and heavy-browed and squash-faced. Behind the face people considered so repulsive was an intelligent and sensitive consciousness, sympathetic to the people around her, It pained her when people ran away, or screamed in fear, or made cruel remarks.

  The orderly frowned. "You mean that he understands English?"

  "Yes, she does. " The gender change was something else

  Elliot didn't like. People who were afraid of Amy always assumed she was male.

  The orderly shook his head. "I don't believe it. "

  "Amy, show the man to the door. "

  Amy lumbered over to the door and opened it for the orderly, whose eyes widened as he left. Amy closed the door behind him.

  Silly human man, Amy signed.

  "Never mind," Elliot said. "Come, Peter tickle Amy. " And for the next fifteen minutes, he tickled her as she rolled on the floor and grunted in deep satisfaction. Elliot never noticed the door open behind him, never noticed the shadow falling across the floor, until it was too late and he turned his head to look up and saw the dark cylinder swing down, and his head erupted with blinding white pain and everything went black.

  6. Kidnapped


  "Don't move, sir," a voice said.

  Elliot opened his eyes and stared into a bright light shining down on him. He was still lying on his back in the aircraft; someone was bent over him.

  "Look to the right. . . now to the left. . . . Can you flex your fingers?"

  He followed the instructions. The light was taken away and he saw a black man in a white suit crouched beside him. The man touched Elliot's head; his fingers came away red with blood. "Nothing to be alarmed about," the man said; "it's quite superficial. " He looked off. "How long would you estimate he was unconscious?"

  "Couple of minutes, no more," Munro said.

  The high-pitched squeal came again. He saw Ross moving around the passenger section, wearing a shoulder pack, and holding a wand in front of her. There was another squeal. "Damn," she said, and plucked something from the molding around the window. "That's five. They really did a job. "

  Munro looked down at Elliot. "How do you feel?" he asked.

  "He should be put under observation for twenty-four hours," the black man said. "Just as a precaution. "

  "Twenty-four hours!" Ross said, moving around the compartment.

  Elliot said, "Where is she?"

  "They took her," Munro said. "They opened the rear door, inflated the pneumatic slide, and were gone befor
e anyone realized what happened. We found this next to you. "

  Munro gave him a small glass vial with Japanese markings. The sides of the vial were scratched and scored; at one end was a rubber plunger, at the other end a broken needle.

  Elliot sat up.

  "Easy there," the doctor said.

  "I feel fine," Elliot said, although his head was throbbing. He turned the vial over in his hand. "There was frost on it when you found it?"

  Munro nodded. "Very cold. "

  "CO2," Elliot said. It was a dart from a gas gun. He shook his head. "They broke the needle off in her. " He could imagine Amy's screams of outrage. She was unaccustomed to anything but the tenderest treatment. Perhaps that was one of the shortcomings of his work with her; he had not prepared her well enough for the real world. He sniffed the vial, smelled a pungent odor. "Lobaxin. Fast-acting soporific, onset within fifteen seconds. It's what they'd use. " Elliot was angry. Lobaxin was not often used on animals because it caused liver damage. And they had broken the needle - He got to his feet and leaned on Munro, who put his arm

  around him. The doctor protested.

  "I'm fine," Elliot said.

  Across the room, there was another squeal, this one loud and prolonged. Ross was moving her wand over the medicine cabinet, past the bottles of pills and supplies. The sound seemed to embarrass her; quickly she moved away, shutting the cabinet.

  She crossed the passenger compartment, and a squeal was heard again. Ross removed a small black device from the underside of one seat. "Look at this. They must have brought an extra person just to plant the bugs. It'll take hours to sterilize the plane. We can't wait~"

  She went immediately to the computer console and began typing.

  Elliot said, "Where are they now? The consortium?"

  "The main party left from Kubala airport outside Nairobi six hours ago," Munro said.

  "Then they didn't take Amy with them. "

  "Of course they didn't take her," Ross said, sounding annoyed. "They've got no use for her. "

  "Have they killed her?" Elliot asked.

  "Maybe," Munro said quietly.

  "Oh, Jesus . .

  "But I doubt it," Munro continued. "They don't want any publicity, and Amy's famous - as famous in some circles as an ambassador or a head of state. She's a talking gorilla, and there aren't many of those. She's been on television news, she's had her picture in the newspapers. . . . They'd kill you before they killed her. "

  "Just so they don't kill her," Elliot said.

  "They won't," Ross said, with finality. "The consortium isn't interested in Amy. They don't even know why we brought her. They're just trying to blow our timeline - but they won't succeed. "

  Something in her tone suggested that she planned to leave Amy behind. The idea appalled Elliot. "We've got to get her back," he said. "Amy is my responsibility, I can't possibly abandon her here - "

  "Seventy-two minutes," Ross said, pointing to the screen. "We have exactly one hour and twelve minutes before we blow the timeline. " She turned to Munro. "And we have to switch over to the second contingency. "

  "Fine," Munro said. "I'll get the men working on it. "

  "In a new plane," Ross said. "We can't take this one, it's contaminated. " She was punching in call letters to the computer console, her fingers clicking on the keys. "We'll take it straight to point M," Ross said. "Okay?"

  "Absolutely," Munro said.

  Elliot said, "I won't leave Amy. If you're going to leave her behind, you'll have to leave me as well - " Elliot stopped.


  "You can't leave her behind," Elliot said. "I'll stay behind, too. "

  "Let me tell you something," Ross said. "I never believed that Amy was important to this expedition - or you either. From the very beginning she was just a diversion. When I came to San Francisco, I was followed. You and Amy provided a diversion. You threw the consortium into a spin. It was worth it. Now it's not worth it. We'll leave you both behind if we have to. I couldn't care less. "

  7. Bugs

  "WELL, GODDAMN IT," ELLIOT BEGAN, "DO YOU mean to tell me that. . . "

  "That's right," Ross said coldly. "You're expendable. " But even as she spoke, she grabbed his arm firmly and led him out of the airplane while she held her finger to her lips.

  Elliot realized that she intended to pacify him in private, Amy was his responsibility, and to hell with all the diamonds and international intrigue. Outside on the concrete runway he repeated stubbornly, "I'm not leaving without Amy. "

  "Neither am I. " Ross walked quickly across the runway toward a police helicopter.

  Elliot hurried to catch up. "What?"

  "Don't you understand anything?" Ross said. "That airplane's not clean. It's full of bugs, and the consortium's listening in. I made that speech for their benefit. "

  "But who was following you in San Francisco?"

  "Nobody. They're going to spend hours trying to figure out who was. "

  "Amy and I weren't just a diversion?"

  "Not at all," she said. "Look: we don't know what happened to the last ERTS Congo team, but no matter what you or Travis or anyone else says, I think gorillas were involved. And I think that Amy will help us when we get there. "

  "As an ambassador?"

  "We need information," Ross said. "And she knows more about gorillas than we do. "

  "But can you find her in an hour and ten minutes?"

  "Hell, no," Ross said, checking her watch. "This won't take more than twenty minutes. "

  "Lower! Lower!"

  Ross was shouting into her radio headset as she sat alongside the police helicopter pilot. The helicopter was circling the tower of Government House, turning and moving north, toward the Hilton.

  "This is not acceptable, madam," the pilot said politely. "We fly below airspace limitations. "

  "You're too damn high!" Ross said. She was looking at a box on her knees, with four compass-point digital readouts. She flicked switches quickly, while the radio crackled with angry complaints from Nairobi tower.

  "East now, due east," she instructed, and the helicopter tilted and moved east, toward the poor outskirts of the city.

  In the back, Elliot felt his stomach twist with each banking turn on the helicopter. His head pounded and he felt awful, but he had insisted on coming. He was the only person knowledgeable enough to minister to Amy if she was in medical trouble.

  Now, sitting alongside the pilot, Ross said, "Get a reading," and she pointed to the northeast. The helicopter thumped over crude shacks, junked automobile lots, dirt roads. "Slower now, slower. .

  The readouts glowed, the numbers shifting. Elliot saw them all go to zero, simultaneously.

  "Down!" Ross shouted, and the helicopter descended in the center of a vast garbage dump.

  The pilot remained with the helicopter; his final words were disquieting. "Where there's garbage, there's rats," he said.

  "Rats don't bother me," Ross said, climbing out with her box in her hand.

  "Where there's rats, there's cobras," the pilot said.

  "Oh," Ross said.

  She crossed the dump with Elliot. There was a stiff breeze; papers and debris ruffled at their feet. Elliot's head ached, and the odors arising from the dump nauseated him.

  "Not far now," Ross said, watching the box. She was excited, glancing at her watch.


  She bent over and picked through the trash, her hand making circles, digging deeper in frustration, elbow-deep in the trash.

  Finally she came up with a necklace - a necklace she had given Amy when they first boarded the airplane in San Francisco. She turned it over, examining the plastic name tag on it, which Elliot noticed was unusually thick. There were fresh scratches on the back.

  "Hell," Ross said. "Sixteen minutes shot. " And she hurried back to the waiting helicopter.

  Elliot fell into step beside her. "But how can you find her if they got rid of her necklace bug?"

  "Nobody," Ross said, "plants only one bug. This was just a decoy, they were supposed to find it. " She pointed to the scratches on the back. "But they're clever, they reset the frequencies. "

  "Maybe they got rid of the second bug, too," Elliot said.

  "They didn't," Ross said. The helicopter lifted off, a thundering whirr of blades, and the paper and trash of the dump swirled in circles beneath them. She pressed her mouthpiece to her lips and said to the pilot, "Take me to the largest scrap metal source in Nairobi. "

  Within nine minutes, they had picked up another very weak signal, located within an automobile junkyard. The helicopter landed in the street outside, drawing dozens of shouting children. Ross went with Elliot into the junkyard, moving past the rusting hulks of cars and trucks.

  "You're sure she's here?" Elliot said.

  "No question. They have to surround her with metal, it's the only thing they can do. "


  "Shielding. " She picked her way around the broken cars, pausing frequently to refer to her electronic box.

  Then Elliot heard a grunt.

  It came from inside an ancient rust-red Mercedes bus. Elliot climbed through the shattered doors, the rubber gaskets crumbling in his hands, into the interior. He found Amy on her back, tied with adhesive tape. She was groggy, but complained loudly when he tore the tape off her hair.

  He located the broken needle in her right chest and plucked it out with forceps, Amy shrieked, then hugged him. He heard the far-off whine of a police siren.

  "It's all right, Amy, it's all right," he said. He set her down and examined her more carefully. She seemed to be okay.

  And then he said, "Where's the second bug?"

  Ross grinned. "She swallowed it. "

  Now that Amy was safe, Elliot felt a wave of anger. "You made her swallow it? An electronic bug? Don't you realize that she is a very delicate animal and her health is extremely precarious - "

  "Don't get worked up," Ross said. "Remember the vitamins I gave you? You swallowed one, too. " She glanced at her watch. "Thirty-two minutes," she said. "Not bad at all. We have forty minutes before we have to leave Nairobi. "

  8. Present Point

  MUNRO SAT IN THE 747, PUNCHING KEYS ON THE computer. He watched as the lines crisscrossed over the maps, ticking out datalines, timelines, information lock coordinates.

  The computer ran through possible expedition routines quickly, testing a new one every ten seconds. After each data fit, outcomes were printed - cost, logistical difficulties, supply problems, total elapsed times from Houston, from Present Point (Nairobi), where they were now.

  Looking for a solution.

  It wasn't like the old days, Munro thought. Even five years ago, expeditions were still run on guesswork and luck. But now every expedition employed real-time computer planning; Munro had long since been forced to learn BASIC and TW/GESHUND and other major interactive languages. Nobody did it by the seat of the pants anymore. The business had changed.

  Munro had decided to join the ERTS expedition precisely because of those changes. Certainly he hadn't joined because of Karen Ross, who was stubborn and inexperienced. But ERTS had the most elaborate working database, and the most sophisticated planning programs. In the long run, he expected those programs to make the crucial difference. And he liked a smaller team; once the consortium was in the field, their working party of thirty was going to prove unwieldy.

  But he had to find a faster timeline to get them in. Munro pressed the buttons, watching the data flash up. He set trajectories, intersections, junctions. Then, with a practiced eye, he began to eliminate alternatives. He closed out pathways, shut down airfields, eliminated truck routes, avoided river crossings.

  The computer kept coming back with reduced times, but from Present Point (Nairobi) the total elapsed times were always too long. The best projection beat the consortium by thirty-seven minutes - which was nothing to rely on. He frowned, and smoked a cigar. Perhaps if he crossed the Liko River at Mugana.

  He punched the buttons.

  It didn't help. Crossing the Liko was slower. He tried trek?king through the Goroba Valley, even though it was probably too hazardous to execute.


  "Great minds think alike," Munro said, smoking his cigar. But it started him wondering: were there other, unorthodox approaches they had overlooked? And then he had an idea.

  The others wouldn't like it, but it might work. .

  Munro called the logistics equipment list. Yes, they were equipped for it. He punched in the routing, smiling as he saw the line streak straight across Africa, within a few miles of their destination. He called for outcomes.


  He pressed the override button, got the data outcomes anyway. It was just as he thought - they could beat the consortium by a full forty hours. Nearly two full days!

  The computer went back to the previous statement:


  Munro didn't think that was true. He thought they could pull it off, especially if the weather was good. The altitude wouldn't be a problem, and the ground although rough would be reasonably yielding.

  In fact, the more Munro thought about it, the more certain he was that it would work.

  9. Departure

  THE LITTLE FOKKER S-144 PROP PLANE WAS PULLED up alongside the giant 747 cargo jet, like an infant nursing at its mother's breast. Two cargo ramps were in constant motion as men transferred equipment from the larger plane to the smaller one. Returning to the airfield, Ross explained to hot that they would be taking the smaller plane, since the 747 had to be debugged, and since it was "too large" for their needs now.

  "But the jet must be faster," Elliot said.

  "Not necessarily," Ross said, but she did not explain further.

  In any case, things were now happening very fast, and Elliot had other concerns. He helped Amy aboard the Fok?ker, and checked her thoroughly. She seemed to be bruised all over her body - at least she complained that everything hurt when he touched her - but she had no broken bones, and she was in good spirits.

  Several black men were loading equipment into the airplane, laughing and slapping each other on the back, having a fine time. Amy was intrigued with the men, demanding to know What joke ? But they ignored her, concentrating on the work at hand. And she was still groggy from her medication. Soon she fell asleep.

  Ross supervised the loading, and Elliot moved toward the rear of the plane, where she was talking with a jolly black man, whom she introduced as Kahega.

  "Ah," Kahega said, shaking Elliot's hand. "Dr. Elliot. Dr. Ross and Dr. Elliot, two doctors, very excellent. "

  Elliot was not sure why it was excellent.

  Kahega laughed infectiously. "Very good cover," he announced. "Not like the old days with Captain Munro. Now two doctors - a medical mission, yes? Very excellent. Where are the 'medical supplies'?" He cocked an eyebrow.

  "We have no medical supplies. " Ross sighed.

  "Oh, very excellent, Doctor, I like your manner," Kahega said. "You are American, yes? We take what, M-16s? Very good rifle, M-16. I prefer it myself. "

  "Kahega thinks we are running guns," Ross said. "He just can't believe we aren't. "

  Kahega was laughing. "You are with Captain Munro!" he said, as if this explained everything. And then he went off to see about the other workmen.

  "You sure we aren't running guns?" Elliot asked when they were alone.

  "We're after something more valuable than guns," Ross said. She was repacking the equipment, working quickly. Elliot asked if he could help, but she sh
ook her head. "I've got to do this myself. We have to get it down to forty pounds per person. "

  "Forty pounds? For everything?"

  "That's what the computer projection allows. Munro's brought in Kahega and seven other Kikuya assistants. With the three of us, that makes eleven people all together, plus Amy - she gets her full forty pounds. But it means a total of four hundred eighty pounds. " Ross continued to weigh packs and parcels of food.

  The news gave Elliot serious misgivings. The expedition was taking yet another turn, into still greater danger. His immediate desire to back out was checked by his memory of the video screen, and the gray gorilla like creature that he suspected was a new, unknown animal. That was a discovery worth risk. He stared out the window at the porters. "They're Kikuyu?"

  "Yes," she said. "They're good porters, even if they never shut up. Kikuyu tribesmen love to talk. They're all brothers, by the way, so be careful what you say. I just hope Munro didn't have to tell them too much. "

  "The Kikuyu?"

  "No, the NCNA. "

  "The NCNA," Elliot repeated.

  "The Chinese. The Chinese are very interested in computers and electronic technology," Ross said. "Munro must be telling them something in exchange for the advice they're giving him. " She gestured to the window, and Elliot looked out. Sure enough, Munro stood under the shadow of the 747 wing, talking with four Chinese men.

  "Here," Ross said, "stow these in that corner. " She pointed to three large Styrofoam cartons marked AMERICAN SPORT DIVERS, LAKE ELSINORE, CALIF.

  "We doing underwater work?" Elliot asked, puzzled.

  But Ross wasn't paying attention. "I just wish I knew what he was telling them," she said. But as it turned out, Ross needn't have worried, for Munro paid the Chinese in something more valuable to them than electronics information.

  The Fokker lifted off from the Nairobi runway at 14:24 hours, three minutes ahead of their new timeline schedule.

  During the sixteen hours following Amy's recovery, the ERTS expedition traveled 560 miles across the borders of four countries - Kenya, Tanzania, Rwanda, and Zaire - as they went from Nairobi to the Barawana Forest, at the edge of the Congo rain forest. The logistics of this complex move would have been impossible without the assistance of an outside ally. Munro said that he "had friends in low places," and in this case he had turned to the Chinese Secret Service, in Tanzania.

  The Chinese had been active in Africa since the early 1960s, when their spy networks attempted to influence the course of the Congolese civil war because China wanted access to the Congo's rich supplies of uranium. Field operatives were run out of the Bank of China or, more commonly, the New China News Agency. Munro had dealt with a number of NCNA "war correspondents" when he was running arms from 1963 to 1968, and he had never lost his contacts.

  The Chinese financial commitment to Africa was considerable. In the late 1960s, more than half of China's two billion dollars in foreign aid went to African nations. An equal sum was spent secretly; in 1973, Mao Tse-tung complained publicly about the money he had wasted trying to overthrow the Zaire government of President Mobutu.

  The Chinese mission in Africa was meant to counter the Russian influence, but since World War lithe Chinese bore no great love for the Japanese, and Munro's desire to beat the Euro-Japanese consortium fell on sympathetic ears. To celebrate the alliance, Munro had brought three grease-stained cardboard cartons from Hong Kong.

  The two chief Chinese operatives in Africa, Li T'ao and Liu Shu-wen, were both from Hunan province. They found their African posting tedious because of the bland African food, and gratefully accepted Munro's gift of a case of tree ears fungus, a case of hot bean sauce, and a case of chili paste with garlic. The fact that these spices came from neutral Hong Kong, and were not the inferior condiments produced in Taiwan, was a subtle point; in any case, the gift struck exactly the proper note for an informal exchange.

  NCNA operatives assisted Munro with paperwork, some difficult-to-obtain equipment, and information. The Chinese possessed excellent maps, and remarkably detailed information about conditions along the northeast Zaire border - since they were assisting the Tanzanian troops invading Uganda. The Chinese had told him that the jungle rivers were flooding, and had advised him to procure a balloon for crossings. But Munro did not bother to take their advice; indeed, he seemed to have some plan to reach his destination without crossing any rivers at all. Although how, the Chinese could not imagine.

  At 10 P. M. on June 16, the Fokker stopped to refuel at Rawamagena airport, outside Kigali in Rwanda. The local traffic control officer boarded the plane with a clipboard and forms, asking their next destination. Munro said that it was Rawamagena airport, meaning that the aircraft would make a loop, then return.

  Elliot frowned. "But we're going to land somewhere in the - "

  "Sh-h-h," Ross said, shaking her head. "Leave it alone. "

  Certainly the traffic officer seemed content with this flight plan; once the pilot signed the clipboard, he departed. Ross explained that flight controllers in Rwanda were accustomed to aircraft that did not file full plans. "He just wants to know when the plane will be back at his field. The rest is none of his business. "

  Rawamagena airport was sleepy; they had to wait two hours for petrol to be brought, yet the normally impatient Ross waited quietly. And Munro dozed, equally indifferent to the delay.

  "What about the timeline?" Elliot asked.

  "No problem," she said. "We can't leave for three hours anyway. We need the light over Mukenko. "

  "That's where the airfield is?" Elliot asked.

  "If you call it an airfield," Munro said, and he pulled his safari hat down over his eyes and went back to sleep.

  This worried Elliot until Ross explained to him that most outlying African airfields were just dirt strips cut into the bush. The pilots couldn't land at night, or in the foggy morning, because there were often animals on the field, or encamped nomads, or another plane that had put down and was unable to take off again. "We need the light," she explained. "That's why we're waiting. Don't worry: it's all factored in. "

  Elliot accepted her explanation, and went back to check on Amy. Ross sighed. "Don't you think we'd better tell him?" she asked.

  "Why?" Munro said, not lifting his hat.

  "Maybe there's a problem with Amy. "

  "I'll take care of Amy," Munro said.

  "It's going to upset Elliot when he finds out," Ross said.

  "Of course it's going to upset him," Munro said. "But there's no point upsetting him until we have to. After all, what's this jump worth to us?"

  "Forty hours, at least. It's dangerous, but it'll give us a whole new timeline. We could still beat them. "

  "Well, there's your answer," Munro said. "Now keep your mouth shut, and get some rest. "

1 2 3 4 5 6 7
Turn Navi Off
Turn Navi On
Scroll Up
Add comment

Add comment