Early Short Stories

 


The Hearing

 

     You've heard the name Tinger, right?  Sort of up there with the bogeyman, really useful in terrifying little kids into honesty.  Did you know there really are Tingers? There really are.

     It's a derivative name, more slang than anything else, like 'cop' or 'grunt'.  Etiology goes back to Mandarin Chinese.  In Mandarin there is a phrase "tingdedung" that translates as "hear and understand" or "hear with understanding", like "I hear what you're saying and I understand what you mean".   It's a nice compact little phrase expressing a complete English sentence in a single word.  That single word is a jaw breaker, though, so over the years it has been shortened to an emotionally satisfying syllable: ting.

    Tingers hear and understand what a person is saying.  You can't lie to a Tinger.  It's like talking to a living, breathing, lie detector.  The good Tingers are so good you'd swear they must be telepathic, empathic at least.  But, they're not.  They're just very good listeners.

    We've always had them.  There have always been people who could just listen.  It ancient times the skill was attributed to priests on the acceptable side and witch doctors on the unacceptable.  Psychotherapists and psychologists were thought to possess the skill.  But, long before these semi-pros got into the act, there were people who could listen.  They may have been necessary for the development of language.  What's the good of all those words if nobody is around to listen to them?

    You must have talked to one in your life, a person who didn't spend the time that you were running off at the mouth planning what they were going to say that would top what you said.   It would have been a person who seemed to take you in, all of you, everything about you, who made you feel that what you were saying was important to them.  No, not important.  That description misses the mark by a hundred light years.  It would have seemed to you that for that person, what you were saying was the only thing in the universe that mattered.

    Tingers are like that.  They have the ability to take in everything about a person.  They hear the words and they see and feel the tiny muscular twitching in jaw and lips, the minuscule contractions around the eyes and brows, the accumulation of perspiration on the palms, the tics in legs and arms, the emotion that wraps each word and constrains the selection of the next word and phrase.   It's as if they put you on.  You're a fresh set of clothing they try on and get comfortable with.   Once they're comfortable, they hear what you're saying and what you're not saying.  They know you as well as you know yourself, sometimes better than you know yourself.

    A skill like that is worth its weight in gold.  Every intelligence agency must have access to the skill.  Every government, every corporation, every institution of every ilk can benefit from the exercise of the skill.  So, why don't they all have them?

    Because it is a skill.  Maybe everyone can learn but most of us don't.  The government has discovered that you can't train everyone.  You can train the people who would have developed the talent anyway but you can't train the people who - in the normal course of their lives - wouldn't develop it at all.    One theory says that the person has to begin with an inferiority complex.  The person has to be conditioned to believe that what they have to say isn't as interesting or as clever or as important as what everyone else has to say.  They have to learn to content themselves to being the disc in the recorder and not the speaker.   The more they practice, the better they get.

    In the normal universe, this condition doesn't last.  Sooner or later, the listener's frustration becomes overwhelming.  Words start to come out.  When they do erupt they are usually bitter, angry words.  They burst like a water balloon when it can't hold any more water.  Once the balloon is burst, there is no going back.  The skill is lost.  The once-budding Tinger is now a speaker adding their stream of words to the flood washing the world.

    But, if you get to the person before they burst, you can gently lead them away from the cataclysmic release of their own words.  You can build self-esteem out of the talent already there.  You can enhance and hone the skills teaching the person non-verbal communication, behavior and motivational understanding, syntax and semantics and context.  Along the way, you teach the person their words have value, too.  You teach them to render opinions and judgments and feelings but you teach them in a way that does not sacrifice their precious talent.  If you can do that, you can build a Tinger.  If you can build a Tinger, you have tilted the universal odds in your favor.

    Tingers work best in their native language.  They can do well in a second language but not as well as in their native tongue.  Additions of a third and fourth language dilute the skill, the Tinger performing more and more poorly in each new language assimilated.  Ideally, the government would like to have a Tinger Primary in every known language.  In practice, the government takes what it can get.    Anastasia Gonzalez, for example, is an English Primary with a Trapeziod Secondary.  She has a Mandarin Tertiary and is working on a Quaternary in Aldebaran.  Anastasia Gonzalez is worth her weight in gold.   Since she stands five feet two inches tall and weighs just about a hundred pounds, with gold at eight hundred credits an ounce, that makes her worth at least one hundred twenty eight thousands credits a day.  Size eight on her good days, size ten on those days that she'd rather forget.  Light brown hair worn in inverse proportion to her age which is secretly recorded in her personnel files as forty-three but generally assumed by her acquaintances to be mid-thirties.  Her frame is so slender her family worries she is too thin while she worries that the recent acquisition of six pounds has rendered the slacks she favors obsolete.  

    Her otherwise light complexion segues into mahogany brown hair providing the perfect frame  for the bluest eyes in the galaxy.  The slender theme of her body is echoed in the narrow line of her nose and re-broadcast in lips that frame her mouth like the wire rim spectacles frame her eyes.  Constant, assiduous care explains the sparkle of teeth that sport enough cragginess for character but not enough to draw attention away from those eyes.

    There are splotches of moles on her cheeks of the variety known as lentigos that she covers nicely with astute application of cosmetics.  The fact these lentigos are not cancerous or pre-cancerous eases the irritation of their existence but if there was one thing she would change about her appearance it would be elimination of these moles.

    Though her hair is worn short on the neck, at the temples it carries enough length and body to conceal long, narrow ears.  On crown and forehead, her hair puffs up into wavelets that cannot have been stirred by the tiny breezes of the Congressional Dome but look as if they have been.

    She is beautiful though she does not recognize the fact.  In her mind there are too many angles in her face, too much weight in hip and thighs, too little body in her hair, and there are those damned lentigos that need too much cosmetic base to conceal.

    Anastasia dresses well but not ostentatiously.  Living and working in the Congressional Dome she has no need for personal transportation.  Her apartment is three rooms and a bath filled with attractive yet functional furniture.  Everything about the apartment, its location, its size, its furnishings, fits with your mental image of what life must be like for a LofC Technician.

    Anastasia is single.  Her beauty attracts lovers; her talent dampens their passion.  It doesn't take a quantum physicist to understand why.  Couplehood needs two-way communication.  Over any length of time, Anastasia's preference for listening becomes unnerving; Anastasia's tinging becomes impossible.  A prospective partner wants to grab her and shake her till words, ideas, opinions get rattled loose.  The partner's demand that she say something, anything, becomes more and more frequent only to be met by a genuinely confused Anastasia Gonzalez.  She doesn't understand what's wrong.  She has no concept that the partner might need feedback.  "Why?" she will ask. "What can it possibly matter to you what I think?  Are you so insecure that you need my affirmation?  Isn't it enough that I want to listen to you?  Isn't that affirmation enough?  If I didn't care, would I want to listen?"

    It might occur to you that another Tinger would be a good partner.  Yes, there are male Tingers.  Imagine, though, two people bent on listening, patiently waiting for the other to say something.  There are couples who can enjoy each other's silence, who are content for long periods of time to simply enjoy the other's presence, but a union of Tingers would stretch that concept beyond any sane bounds.  The ancient complaint "you never talk to me" would suddenly become fact, not perception.  Relationships demand communication.  Communication demands communication.

    Anastasia Gonzalez is listed in the official records of the Civil Service as a Library of Congress Technician and that is where you will find her office, a cubbyhole sandwiched among a hundred other cubbyholes on the third basement level of the Library.  The Library is stuffed into an out of the way corner of the Congressional Dome.  Library of Congress Technician have functions beyond the  cataloguing of the endless flood of words poured on the public record by our loquacious Congresspeople.  What those additional functions might be can be deduced by aligning a few simple facts.  Anastasia is a Library of Congress Technician.  Anastasia is a Tinger.  Tingers are useful intelligence agents.  The Library of Congress is a government agency.

    Miz Gonzalez is independently wealthy, a circumstance only a meticulous investigator will discover.  She is also a self-made woman in that her wealth has been amassed through her skill as a Library of Congress Technician.  The wealth derives from bonuses showered on her by a grateful government and her constitutional inability to indulge herself in spending sprees or other opulence.

    For an example of how she works, picture in your mind the last Congressional hearings on the exploration of the Orion Nebula.  Humanity is getting ready for a major thrust in that direction and the pros and cons, dollars and cents have to be examined in ruthless detail.  Tradition, you know?  Tradition calls for impartial examination of the facts.  Tradition demands that anyone with anything to say must be heard by the committee.  In this case, in addition to the lunatic fringe that tradition usually manages to produce, a Trapeziod also appeared before the committee.  Living out in the Orion Nebula neck of the galactic woods as they do, the Trapeziods thought they had something important to add to the committee's deliberations.

    Your first inclination might be that the Trapeziods, as their name surely suggests, come from the Trapezium System.  You ought to know better.  There is no rule in astronomic circles that demands consistency in naming.  Sure, the Trapeziods come from that neighborhood but, galactically speaking, their home is two blocks over and a block in front of the nebula.  They got their human name because our astronomers had to trip over the Trapeziod home on their telescopic journey to the Orion Nebula.

    In your mind's eye as you recall the scene HNN provided, the Foreign Relations Committee Chairman, Senator Umberto D'Orle, is sitting mid-dais, his chair slightly elevated above the other committee persons' chairs to emphasize his importance.  Just behind him, on his right, if you think about it hard enough, you'll recall the occasional glimpse of a woman, apparently a staffer to the Chairman.  He turned to her every now and then during the Trapeziod testimony as if checking a fact thrown on the table.  He wasn't checking the reality of the facts the alien presented; he was checking the truthfulness of the alien presenting those facts.

    That's what a LCT does:  she tells you what the interviewee really believes.  She listens and she reports what she hears and understands.

    It is Tuesday, mid-Morning.  The Congressional Dome is set for autumn weather, a brisk breeze carrying an invigorating chill demanding a light jacket for walking the streets.  The breeze stirs the limbs and leaves of the hybrid trees teasing the late summer blossoms into hide-and-seek, a game that ends with the breeze scurrying round and round the dome and the petals strewn in odd locales.  Anastasia is crossing from the out-of-the-way site of her cubicle to the much more public and central confines of the Committee Hearing Building.  

    Her assignment today is again the House Committee on Foreign Relations, Explorations Subcommittee.  There will be no Trapeziods at this hearing nor are any Mandarin-speakers scheduled to testify.  She will be working in her native language and she is pleased at the prospect.   It is exciting to listen to aliens; it is challenging, too.  But, there is something comforting about working with her native tongue.

    Senator Umberto D'Orle will be chairing the meeting.  She isn't certain that she approves of  Umberto D'Orle.  The man is very sharp, perfectly fit for today's role but there is an air about Mr. D'Orle that is unsettling to Miz Gonzalez.  The Senator is a man in his early sixties.  He retains a fair image of the athletic body of his youth.  His gray hair lays flat on his skull looking as if someone had borrowed seven out of every ten of those hairs and forgot to return them.  His deep brown eyes are enlarged behind the thick spectacles set in black horn rims that he wears like a mask.  The man acts as if he knows something the rest of the universe doesn't know.  There is always this "I've got a secret" glint in his eyes; this "if you knew what I know" sarcasm in his voice.  He probably does know lots of things most people don't but he damned sure doesn't know everything.  

    With sudden insight, it occurs to Anastasia the reason Mr. D'Orle acts the way he does around her is that he knows Anastasia can tell there is nothing special about him.  Her ability to Ting unsettles Mr.  D'Orle.  How about that?  She makes him nervous.  Laughter sparkles in those so-blue eyes as Anastasia Gonzalez enters the Hearing Building.

    The hearing begins precisely at 10:30.  The first few minutes are devoted to administrative necessities, role call, determination that necessary witnesses are present, confirmation that HNN is ready to broadcast.  The Honorable Mr. D'Orle never conducts meetings without HNN.  He claims it is part of his no-secrets-from-the-public philosophy.  He hasn't gotten around to admitting that his presence on HNN keeps his weathered face and thinning gray hair before the public in a flagrant exercise of the public's-right-to-know style of campaigning.  He also hasn't arrived at that measure of self-disclosure that admits certain key elements of the committee's functioning do indeed occur off camera.

    The first witness is Chief Cosmonaut and Space Force Major General Aaron Mao, head of manned exploration for the United Stars of the Galaxy.  His testimony will support the need for manned scouting parties into the Orion Nebula.  Manned scouts will be more expensive than automated probes, he will agree, but automated probes cannot secure the information that men can obtain.

    Major General Aaron Mao is a man small in stature but large in charisma.  He is a darling of the press and every child's hero.  He has gone where no man has gone before and come home to tell about it.  From kindergarten to Congress, he has described his voyages in glowing phrase, suitable metaphor, and spellbinding glory.  No one listens to Aaron Mao unaffected.  Those against the expense of his voyages come away with grudging admiration for the man if not his mission.  Those who do not worry economics come away enthralled in his vision, certain a touch of greatness has illuminated their own little worlds, the great man's words filling the firmament of their imaginations with inspirational star shells bursting in continuous splendor.  As he sits before the committee engaging Senator D'Orle in a duel of eye contact dominance, the HNN cameras fall down his gravity well to anchor on the cosmonaut's brow, landing lightly on the seriousness of his intent, the strength of his will, the rightness of his cause.

    The Senator is not happy with the profile beaming out at him from the HNN monitors.  First of all, it is not his profile which shines thereon.  Secondly, the Senator believes Aaron Mao to be a fop and a fool.  Thirdly, this is Senator D'Orle's committee meeting and not the cosmetic-naut dandy's.  As soon as the man yields the contest of wills, the Senator fully intends to recapture the attention of the cameras.  

    The only person physically present in the chamber who realizes there is a pas de deux, a dance of dominance being choreographed between the two men is Anastasia Gonzalez.  She tings both men's motivation and quickly hides her understanding smile behind a hand to her lips.  She is the only one in the committee chamber who has noticed their duel but in the HNN control room, the broadcast director reaches the same conclusion the Tinger has.  He issues orders for a split screen with tight coverage of the contender's eyes hoping the shards that knife from the men's souls are picked up, ready to call for special effects to clarify their existence if necessary.  Applying decades of experience, the director plays the scene.  His instructions to his crew make the confrontation obvious to the most unaware viewer, shading here, highlighting there, bringing the silent serve and volley to life with shifting cameras and masterful timing.

    The Senator, too, has decades of experience.  His view of the monitors shows much too clearly the contest being waged.  Damning the HNN director for his dramatic flair, Umberto D'Orle decides to cut the spectacle short.  He breaks eye contact knowing he has lost the battle but, by god, he will win the war.

    When he speaks, his baritone words convey nothing at all to the HNN audience of the irritation engendered by HNN's pickup of his optic duel with General Mao.  In an everyday officiousness inherent in the conduct of a committee hearing, conveying near boredom at the proceedings, the Senator asks for the cosmonaut's opening remarks.

    Sitting behind the Senator, Anastasia Gonzalez identifies the tension coursing through D'Orle's  body, matches the tension with the even rumble of the Chairman's opening delivery, and concludes General Mao is in for a long day.

    Major General Aaron Mao's voice will keep him out of politics.  He owns a high, rasping tenor.  Radio transmission of his remarks, lacking the charisma that surrounds the man, produces the image of a petulant teenager asking for permission to use the family car on Saturday night, certain as he asks that dad will say no.  Over the years, the General has attended a score of public speaking classes to improve this aspect of his public persona but has gained very little improvement.  He doesn't hem and he doesn't haw.  He speaks with precision and enunciates clearly.  He rehearses his speeches, even this minor opening remark.  Despite these preparations, his voice remains at mid-puberty sophistication.

His words fill the committee chamber with that customary precision and to the majority of his audience his words seem sincere and logical and controlled.  Anastasia hears the irritation and frustration and disgust that the sound of his voice produces within the General.  She finds buried in the semantic purity of his thought the impurity of his self-doubt.  To Anastasia, confidence and mastery of this committee flow in his speech but those qualities flow over a bedrock of suspicion in his mind.  His opening remarks are rendered to the committee and to HNN as evidence of a certainty of purpose but to the Tinger as a bluff thrown at the enemy who might thwart his ambition.

"Mr. Chairman and fellow committee members" the general intones, "I'd like to begin with a historical reminder that space is the final frontier.  From our vantage now, a thousand years forward from when those words were first pronounced, we lose sight of their verity.  Space is our final frontier.

    "How we explore frontiers speaks of our humanity.  On Earth, we sent men.  We sent Columbus and Coronado, Lewis and Clark, and a hundred others.  The tales they brought back of the frontiers they explored spurred new exploration and new settlers.  Those men didn't write letters.  They didn't publish biographic journals.  They came back and talked to their countrymen.  Their words inspired the next wave and the waves that followed.

"When humanity went into space, we sent men.  Gargarin and Shepard, Collins and Armstrong.  We didn't read their reports.  We listened to their words.  Their spoken words filled us with the wonder and the mystery and the challenge.  When we listened to a human being talk of 'a small step', we could see ourselves taking that step.  Our children could see themselves making that step and it was those children who, in fact,  made the next steps.

    "It has always been the willingness of men to risk their lives to explore the unknown that has made the unknown attractive.  The great unasked and unanswered question: is it worth dying for?  If it's worth dying for, it must be worth going to see.  A man can understand that.  A child can feel that.

    "We've always been able to send machines.  No ancient astronaut need have died.  It was never necessary.  Machines could have been destroyed by the inevitable mistakes and human life preserved.  But, NASA knew - though they never said the words aloud - and that ancient Congress knew - though they never made them part of the Congressional Record - that if it wasn't worth dying for, it shouldn't be done.  If men could not return to tell the tale, it wouldn't be done.

    "The adventures of the first astronauts made it possible for the first mechanized voyages.  The death of the first astronauts shifted the enterprise to machines.  Look what happened:  the investigations of the solar system by machine failed to inspire us like the thought of a man placing his foot on the moon.  Machines like Voyager and Galileo and all their successors brought untold knowledge to humanity but no one read their data, looked at their pictures, and came away so inspired they demanded a chance to go see for himself.  Machines produced a feeling of "Oh, yeah, that's what it's like", like watching a holovision documentary.  Oh, yeah, that's what it's like.

    "But, when a man who has been there talks to children in kindergarten. they say "is that what it's like?  Really?  I want to go there and see for myself."  When those early astronauts talked to people, the dream of exploration stayed alive.  When Wong and Hernandez came back from Saturn, when Marshall and Krepov came back from Aldebaran, the dream exploded into the frenzied activity that made possible our meeting this morning.  I have often thought an oral tradition is a genetic by-product of our evolution.  We need to hear a man say the words.  We need to know that someone has experienced what we are dreaming so that our dreams are possible.

    "Can you imagine Martin Luther King simply writing his books.  That he told the world he had a dream, but only in writing?  Would his books have reached inside people like the image of the man standing on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial flinging his words across the multitude:  "I have a dream" he cried and inside a hundred thousand brains the words echoed and replicated and constructed a hundred thousand new dreams.  He had a dream of a frontier, a frontier he had already explored, and he bred the dream, he infested the dream, he cloned the dream in a hundred thousand new minds.  From that hundred thousand, two hundred million new dreams came alive.

    "As you congresspeople look at this exploration of the Orion Nebula, it isn't about dollars and cents.  It isn't about the Trapezium and the data our scientists can amass.  It's about a dream.  It's about humanity and what makes it humanity.

    "It's about the final frontier.

    "If it is about dollars and cents, then why do it?  Because the Trapezium lies in wait; stars being formed?  Maybe a hundred thousand years old, the Trapezium is a cosmologist's sand box; an astronomer's playpen.  When they're done; when they have the new answers to old questions that breed new questions; do we want to be able to say  "Oh, yeah, that's how it is"?  Then, send machines.

    "Or is it about dollars and cents and some powerful corporations see new resources to exploit?  Then, send machines.

    "Or is it about us?  Is it about humanity?  Is it because we've always climbed the mountains simply because they are there?  Then, don't send machines; send men.  Send the bards and the fabulists.  Send the dreamers who will come back to tell you that not only is it there but it looks likes this and it makes you feel like this.  Send the people who believe it is worth risking their life to find out what is on the other side of that river of dust.

    "Is it for our children?  Is it so they can understand what we do not?  Then, don't treat it as a fact finding exercise.  Send men.  No man will ever give you the objective facts and nothing but the facts.  No machine will ever give you the subjective data that builds dreams that prop the next generation.  

    "Do we make dreams a matter of dollars and cents?  Listen, my child, you may dream but you must stay within budget.  You can long for the universe but your pocket book says you must confine yourself to a solar system.  Is this what we tell our children?

    "Leave our children no dreams and you leave them less than people.   What is man if he cannot he dream?   We call them robots and automatons and we shudder when we think of them.  Worse than slaves because a slave can dream of freedom.  What manner of creature does not dream?

    The General finishes his remarks to a scattering of applause that draws a beetling of the brows above the horn-rimmed glasses straddling the bridge of Senator D'Orle's nose.  The heavy black plastic obscures most of the Chairman's brows so that all the General can see is a wisp of gray haze floating above the rims.  It makes the boundary between frame and brow fuzzy, the politician's face somehow out of focus.

    The Senator turns away from the General to consult with a person out of Mao's line of sight.  The combination of the heavy mass that constitutes the committee's bench with the fact the staffer's chair is in a depression behind the committee bench makes it impossible for the cosmonaut to see to whom the Senator is  speaking.

    "What can you tell me?" the Senator asks in a voice low enough not to be picked up by HNN microphones.  Anastasia Gonzalez responds quickly.  "He believes most of what he said.  He doesn't expect you to buy into the argument.  He's hoping the other committee members side with him and not you."

    "I could have told you that myself" the Senator snorts.  "Give me something I don't know."

    "He's not sure he is right.  He is not at all sure that men should risk their lives exploring new frontiers."

    "Damn it, how can you say that?  It's what he does.  It's what makes him important enough to be sitting out there right now.  It's what makes him the lord high  cosmo-damned-naut."

    "But, he isn't sure he's right."  Her eyes regard the Senator with calm certainty, her posture revealing no hint of the effect his badgering probe of her tinging of the General has produced.

    "Well, that's something, I suppose," the Chairman mutters as he wheels his chair away from the Tinger and faces the cosmonaut.

    "I'm sure we all appreciate your inspiring remarks, General," the Chairman begins, wishing he was from the Southern System and could affect a nice, sarcastic drawl.  Lacking that artifice he contents himself with a slow, careful pronunciation that manages to produce the desired effect.  "They do inspire me, truly..." yet everyone listening  knows the Senator's platitudes have no semblance to reality, "...but, being the public servant that my constituents have elected me to be, they do beg one or two questions."

    The twin spears of the Senator's regard focus on a spot one centimeter above General Mao's sparse black eyebrows and precisely centered on the witness' forehead.  "Perhaps, you can explain to me and my fellow committeemen, for that matter to all our constituents, why dollars and cents have such an ugly reputation with you?  It seems to me you draw a salary of dollars and cents.  I believe your toys are paid for in dollars and cents.  And I don't think they are your dollars and cents we are talking about."

    "Well, Senator," the General replies, speaking as if he were explaining to a small child the reason manners are important,  "it is my understanding that your desire to send an unmanned probe on this exploration is firmly based on dollars and cents.  While I have nothing in particular against dollars and cents (there is a small titter in the audience quickly hushed by the Chairman's glare), I think - in this regard - there may be a false economy."

    Affecting the condescending humility of a good ole Senator from the Western Systems, a role easy for Umberto D'Orle since that's precisely what he is, the Senator lashes back:  "Help me to understand your reasoning here about this economics thing.  I'm guilty of false economics if I don't want to spend money to waste human life believing it a better thing to waste money to foster human life.  Do I have that right?"

    "Senator, I'm talking about the value of dreams here..."

    "No, General," the Senator interrupts.  He pauses a minute allowing Mao enough time to re-group, to believe the Senator is waiting for him to continue, and then just as the General opens his mouth, the Senator proceeds. "You're talking about nightmares."  His retort draws another titter from the audience that the Senator does nothing to discourage.

    "Your talking about the kinds of decisions this panel gets daily scrutiny over.  We have some colleagues over on Health, Education, and Welfare who think every dollar and cent we spend could be better spent in their bailiwick.  It's an insensitive man who can hear their arguments and ignore them.

    "If my colleagues and I can resist spending a dollar here and a cent there, there will be that much more of the pie for other, perhaps more immediate problems facing this government."  The Senator pauses here waiting for his words to sink into the General but, more importantly, to sink into the audience in the chamber and the much wider audience watching HNN.  When his internal clock tells him the time is right, D'Orle fires another salvo at the cosmonaut.

    "I suppose that's the false economy you were referring to."

    "If I may be allowed to finish, sir" and now the cosmonaut plays his own internal clock waiting three or four seconds, eyebrow raised to the Chairman, his look that of a man fully expecting to be cut off yet again.  A nod from the Chairman opens the gate for Aaron's reply.  "As I said in my opening, if this is only a matter of dollars and cents, then - by all means - use an unmanned probe.  As I also said, I don't think this exploration is about dollars and cents."

    The Chairman delays his own response to confer with the Tinger.  "He's still not sure," she tells the Senator.  "You can probably pick him apart on the relative merits of helping the needy versus sending cosmonauts out to find the universe."

    Turning back to the witness, the Senator frantically searches his mind for the lever the Tinger has proposed.  She can tell him what she tings; she can't do his thinking.  The pressure of the cameras accelerates the Chairman's hasty search producing a question that seems to match the data.  "Tell me, General, how can I balance a hungry little boy's mouth out in the Southern Star System; a mentally ill little girl in the Northern System; a drought in my own Western System against paying for you and your boys' and girls' toys?"

    Behind him, he feels a shudder pass through the Tinger but the Senator can't take the time to find out what is going on.  He has to concentrate for the cameras and for General Mao.  Before his eyes, a kind of re-birth seems to infuse the witness.  Whatever doubt may have been there just traipsed out of the chamber giggling in triumph at the Senator as it went.  Gazing back at him now is a man in complete control, a general back in command.  Senator D'Orle doesn't know what he said but he's pretty sure it was the wrong thing to say.

    "Our toys, Senator?  You're worried about paying for our toys?"  the disbelief that is swimming in these words is vast enough to fill the Congressional Dome.  "Let me tell you something about us and our toys.  Suppose you take them all away and do away with us.  Do that and what do you save?  I think our budget this year runs about a half billion dollars.  A sizable chunk of your dollars and cents.

    "So, you eliminate us and you apply that money to the starving mouth in the Southern System and the mentally ill little girl in the Northern System and that drought of yours out west.  Will you solve those problems?  Certainly, you'll help but will you solve them?  Will any amount of dollars and cents solve them?

    "Those aren't the kind of problems you can go down to the corner store and buy answers to, Senator.  Those are the kinds of problems that you need people to work at for a long time.  Your dollars and cents are going to help pay for a lot of people, maybe as many people as we have cosmonauts.

    "In the meantime, what else is going to happen?  This exploration that we use our toys to perform is going to be done by somebody else.  Let me give you two possibilities.

    "The first possibility is that the somebody else is going to be alien.  If aliens do the exploration we are certainly not going to derive any benefits from it.  The second possibility is that some other group of humans will choose to do the exploring.  Now, if the government doesn't do it, who does that leave?  The corporations.  Sooner or later they will convince themselves there is a profit to be made and they'll go off looking for the pot of gold.  They'll call it research and development and you'll have to give them a tax break.  When they find something, they'll own it.  That's the rules of the game in R&D.

    "Think about corporations owning whole planets.  Does that give you a warm, fuzzy feelings?  Do you think your great grandchildren will thank you for your foresight?

    "What I'm talking about is the economy of dreams.  The children you save in Southern System or the Northern or the Western need a future to grow into.  There's another bromide about "the organism that isn't growing is dying".  That seems to be true in this instance.  We're using up what we've got so we'd better find some more of what we need.  That's basic economics, too, isn't it?"

    "Playing the future off against the present is a game of smoke and mirrors.  We don't have enough money to do everything for everyone so we have to do what's best for everyone.  That includes future generations.  We have to leave them a legacy and a dream.  Our parents did it for us.  Theirs did it for them.  We have to do it for our children."

    "Every two years, the Congress sits down to hammer out a budget.  Once you slice the pie, that ought to be the end of it but it never is.  We have to have meetings like this one to decide whether we really want to spend money we have already decided we ought or need to spend.  Who does it help?

    "When you vote to save money by sending an unmanned probe, will you write a check to Health, Education, and Welfare saying "here's what we saved, guys, good luck"?  Of course, you won't.  The money wasn't saved; the expenditure was saved.  That means if somebody overruns in some other department they'll get their hands slapped but the overall government deficit won't be legally any larger.  On the other hand, if we spend the money already authorized and that other Department overruns its budget, then the deficit grows by whatever the overrun is.  

    "Smoke and mirrors, Senator.  You're not saving any money; you're just not spending it.

    "You know, Senator, I wouldn't have a problem with that if you were a little more honest about it.  Tell me again why you think an unmanned probe is preferable to a manned probe.  This time try to use something besides dollars and cents.  Try to use something that has scientific merit or sociologic merit or any kind of logic at all.  I talk to you in terms of dreams and you get scornful.  You talk to me of dollars and cents and I get incredulous.  Where's the common ground where we can discuss this?"  

    Deep brown complexions don't turn brilliant red, do they?  Does steam really spurt from facial pores or come boiling out of a collar buttoned too tight?   Does fire erupt from human eyes?  Check the disc of this committee meeting.  Look closely at the Senator while the General delivers this dressing down as if he is correcting a well-intentioned but errant butter-bar just out of the Academy.  I think you'll discover each of those descriptions is accurate.  If the Senator was gasping for air, I'd swear it was case of acute coronary angina.

    Time out.  The Senator needs to re-obtain control of his emotions before he lets the cameras see any reaction to this diatribe.  He does the obvious, turning away from the General to the Tinger.  Expecting something to soothe his anger, he is greeted instead with:  "He thinks he has you, Senator."  

    "Of course the damn fool thinks he has me.  That's why he's a cosmo-bum and I'm a Senator."  In a lethally calm whisper, the Senator dismisses the Tinger's remark: "Once again, little lady, tell me something I don't know."

    "He's on fire.  The messianic torch burns bright in his soul.  You have given him the sword of righteousness and he is hacking away with unbridled enthusiasm.  St George is beating hell out of the dragon."

    The whisper remains icily calm:  "I know that," the Senator prods.

    "No, you don't, Senator."  The whisper that comes back to him is a driving, pounding, accusation, each sentence carving a new tattoo in the Senator's soul.  "You think you know the type.  You think you've got a military asshole taking advantage of the situation to make you look foolish.  You think the man is grandstanding.  He isn't.  He believes every word with every cell in his body.  You have created a martyred-prophet marching gaily to his doom.  He knows you'll be after his job; he doesn't care.  He is too wrapped up in the rightness of his cause."

    "What do you mean I created this monster?" as if the very idea is too preposterous to consider.  Anastasia Gonzalez is more than willing to consider the idea.  "You had to be snide.  You had to talk about his toys.  God, Senator, don't you ever think?  What was he supposed to do?  Sit there and take it just because you feel like dishing it out?"

    "You told me he was unsure he was right?  You told me that was a lever."

    "It was a lever.  He was hanging there by a slender thread held in place by a tiny little rock. He was ready to believe the welfare of little children would move the rock, free the line, and send him tumbling into a defenseless void.  All you had to do was move the lever.  Get him thinking about the hungry children, the homeless adults, the jobless, the disadvantaged, the discriminated-against, the thousand other socially correct malignancies available.  That's all you had to do.

    "But, being the superior Senator you are and have to be, you had to attack.  You had to try to cut the mighty General down to size which says discs about your own inner consistency, Senator.  Instead of behaving like a politician and reasoning for the common good, you had to attack.  You had to attack a military man, for god's sake, and then you wonder at the defense the man puts up."

    The effort to convert angry bellows to whispers engenders control in the Senator.  He develops a mental image of himself listening and heeding the words of the Tinger.  He sees himself appropriately humbled , chastened, and otherwise chagrined.  He envisions a Chairman who pulls himself together and goes out to lead his committee to truth and justice.  All he needs is a plan.

    "So, how do I get to him?" he asks in humble petition.

    "I don't think you can, Senator, not today, not on this subject, maybe never again on this subject."

    Incredulous, the Senator asks if he should concede the point to the pompous ass?

    "Senator, the man is a rock.  When light cannot penetrate a star on its journey to our telescopes, what does it do?"

    "It goes around.  You're telling me I can't break Mao; I'll have to go around him."

    "If you believe you're right; that he's wrong; any chance you had of convincing him is out the window, over the hill, and long gone."

    "That makes sense to me," the Senator agrees, convinced by his memory of the General waiting the Senator's reply as well as the argument the Tinger had made.  He has lost another battle.  Winning the war will take another battle on another field.  At this moment, he had best yield to discretion.  Before he can turn to continue his meeting, Anastasia inserts a last consideration.

    "Do me a favor, please, Senator," she whispers.  Those so-blue eyes catch the Senator's and hold them in eye-cuffs, prisoners till she chooses to unlock the chains.  "You don't know you're right, Senator.  Today's the first time you've been seriously challenged.  Today is the first time it has occurred to you that your party's position on this subject may be wrong.  Today, you have to think about what you're doing  and then only because Aaron Mao rubbed your nose in it.  You still haven't thought your position out.  It's  a game to you, that's all.  It isn't a game to Mao or to a whole lot of other people.  Till you know you're right; don't do anything permanent, please?"

    Disgusted but surprised at the disgust, the Senator looks back from his captivity.  "Did he get to you, too?" he asks the Tinger.

    "Maybe.  I don't know.  I can feel he believes what he is saying; I can feel you're not sure of what you want to do much less what you want to say.  I just thought you needed the spur to think about your actions before you take them.  Just once.  It won't hurt.  You might even like it."

    An unseen key opens the locks and the Senator's eyes and head return to his control.  As he turns back to the chamber audience and the Cosmonaut General, he decides to turn the questioning over to his cohorts on the committee.  He decides he'd like to think a little before he tries to say anything else.

End

 

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