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A War of Perceptions

by Greg Swann

"The Soviet Union today again renewed its offer to cease all space defense research in exchange for a similar ban by the United States."

Quentin Collins-Clark scowled at the announcer, a prissy man in a red bowtie. The television blared out over the din of the bar, clinks and chuckles and bitter sighs...

"This is the seven-hundred-sixty-third day the Kremlin has extended this arms control initiative. So far, the White House has not responded."

Pure agitprop, and Quentin knew it. He ran down the proof in his mind: the offer is not sincere, the lack of a response is not a response, and anything that happens seven-hundred-sixty-three times in a row is not news, but monotony. As usual, the news is the news, and like Joe McCarthy, Abbie Hoffman, and so many others, the Soviets have just discovered a new way to be the news, the news-that-is-the-news, every day. He smiled bitterly, not hiding from what he had learned about his profession so many years before. The trick to selling anything is knowing what the customer wants in exchange, and for anybody smart enough to figure out that 'news' can be exchanged for publicity and propaganda, the spectrum's the limit...

"MOM--Mothers Opposed to Madness--and DADD--Doctors Against Deadly Defense--condemned the administration's silence. Said Dr. Ephraim Grant, 'By failing to respond, the president makes evident his readiness to commit mass murder by nuclear annihilation...'"

Bullshit!, Quent argued silently with the television. Bullshit all the way through, including the clever acronyms that managed not only to suggest that people could be for madness or deadly defense, but to evoke vague stirrings of emotional bonds...

"An opposing view was offered by Physicist Oswald Corbet, of STAND--Scientists and Teachers for Accelerated Nuclear Disarmament. 'The president must be allowed to proceed with disarmament at his own pace,' he said."

"Some opposing viewpoint!," Quentin spat, not noticing that he had spoken aloud. He scowled at the glass of icewater before him, angry that his colleagues could be such dupes, angrier still that the president wouldn't say out loud that the United States has a right to defend itself from predators, and angry again that America could be smeared for mass murder to the benefit of actual mass murderers without anyone pointing out the injustice...

He looked up, noticing his expression in the mirror behind the bar, his brow dug deep with the furrows of anger, his cheeks pulled tight, the flame of his pitch-black eyes. He studied himself for a moment with the careful attention of his craft, then laughed silently. What would Olivia say, if she saw me now? 'Stop it, Quent,' he heard in the ear of beloved memory. 'You won't change anything by being unhappy. All you'll do is make misery a bad habit.' He squared his broad shoulders, wrestling against the unfamiliar restraints of his bulky suit. I'll bet you'd like to see me now, darling, he thought, seeming to gaze at his reflection but seeing only his mental image of Olivia, thin, perfect, enraptured. He grinned, raking a hand through his thick, coal-black hair, laughing to her at his own ridiculous appearance. All I'm missing is the organ-grinder...

"In a related development," the prissy announcer continued, "yet another Space Defense Initiative scientist has defected to the Soviet Bloc."

Quentin's eyes shot to the screen, then locked to it, aghast at what he saw.

"Dr. Olivia Collins-Clark, architect of many of the computer programs to be used in the 'Star Wars' defense, announced just moments ago that she has defected to Poland, as an expression of opposition to U.S. weapons policy." No!, his mind called in rage. I told you not to go to that stupid conference. I told you it was a trap... On the screen, Olivia sat in a straight-back chair, surrounded by beefy men in uniforms. She looked wan, and her silky blonde hair was disheveled, but she held herself with the endurance that refuses to grant final victory to pain, her eyes teary, but alight with a fire that will not be extinguished...

"Polish authorities provided this videocast, but expressed regret that technical difficulties prevented broadcast of the audio signal. A spokesman relayed her remarks: 'I have defected in order to protest the insane nuclear imperialism of my home country. I shall remain here until the United States agrees to forego its goal of global domination from space.'"

At some point far above the thunder of his rage he almost wanted to laugh: he could read her lips plainly on the screen. "I'm okay, Quentin. I know you'll get me out of here as soon as you can, so I'm not worried. And since I'm not worried, don't you worry either. Okay, darling?" She smiled, aware of the price of a soundless smile on national video, but knowing also why it had to be paid. Despite his anger, he couldn't resist, he never could. He smiled in return, tenderly, winsomely, longingly...

But then he turned to stare angrily at the tumbler of water before him, his eyes locked to it, unseeing in their rage. How could they?, he asked himself. How could they fall for something so blatant, so obvious? It was like that 'paradox' of the cat Olivia had told him about, the one she said erred by treating ignorance as a datum. Only this was once worse, because the repetition of obvious lies seeks to treat a known datum as if it were ignorance...

Olivia kidnapped, dammit!--kidnapped like all the other SDI 'defectors', snatched away from their lives, their work, their families, then smeared by their own countrymen as traitors. And it works, with the aid of eminently useless idiots it works, because you cannot claim to know the status of the cat prior to discovery, and you cannot discover anything if the box is locked shut from the inside...

His eyes fixed on the bright beads of white light condensed in the sweat on his glass. It's like some grotesque optical illusion, he mused, a system of magnifying lenses and distorting mirrors and truth-bending prisms, all trained on a skittish cockroach but projecting the image of a loathsome monster, frothy with rage. An illusion, but an illusion no one dared to challenge, as though to acknowledge it were to fall prey to it...

But that's just the opposite of the truth...! And then, suddenly, in a blinding flash that began as an image in a fervent mind and ended with the shattering crash of a tumbler cast away by a man too preoccupied too notice, too exultant to care, he sprung from his stool and raced out of the bar.

"What the hell!?!," said a fat man, looking ruefully at the liquor he'd splattered in his alarm.

"...You know," said a gangly kid, drinking what he saved on shaving foam, "that guy looks like--"

"Q.C. Clark?," asked his drinking-buddy, a short, swarthy man with tight-clenched eyes. "He don't look the same without his jungle clothes, does he?"

"Wow!," said the kid. "Q.C. Clark, right here! We were practically drinking with him!"

"Sure, kid," said the swarthy man. "I once used a urinal just after the Secretary of State..."

The kid ploughed on, his wonder undimmed. "Why do they call him Q.C., anyway?"

"'Quick Change'," said the fat man. "When he was first getting started, here in New York, he used to run four or five scams at once. He was always racing around, trying to find a place to make a quick change of costume."

"Bullshit!," the swarthy man countered. "The nickname comes from 'Quality Control'. That's what they called him in Washington, when he uncovered the scandal in the Department of Education."

"You're both wrong," put in a man dressed in medical whites. "I ought to know; I just gave him his annual physical. Q.C. stands for Quentin Charles."

"'Quentin Charles'...?," the kid repeated. "Doesn't sound like much of a name for a hero..."

The medic smiled. "I'll bet you wouldn't say that to his face..."

The kid smiled back. "You bet right. Q.C. Clark is the best combat reporter alive today..."

"The best combat reporter ever," the fat man amended.

"The best reporter, period," the swarthy man confirmed. "The best there is..."

In the darkness Olivia shone of her own light. She sat quietly on the spartan cot, her slim body motionless, imprisoned, but her mind racing free, unlimitable. She was programming, testing algorithms on the 'paper machine' she had taught herself to make with her delicate hands and her sturdy mind. Her fingers were a blur, a real-time binary register of processor states. With ten fingers she could simulate the actions of ten bits of logic, all the integers from zero to 1,023, and by referencing mental pictures of prior results, she could perform Boolean operations on them, tracing her program step by step as she built it.

She seemed unaware of her grim surroundings, oblivious to moldy concrete walls, indifferent to the bare, flyspecked lightbulb that was her sole illumination, unconcerned about the armed thug outside the locked door of her cell, the guard whose pacing shadow penetrated the tiny barred window. As if to defy her surroundings, her pale blue eyes were lit with the ecstasy of total freedom, the sure, joyous serenity of a mind totally in control of its function. Her veil of blonde hair seemed to capture the burning glare of the bulb, to strip it of every color except the pure white of truth, reflecting it back as a challenge and as a declaration of victory.

Deep inside her a point source of anger burned, but she ignored it, not because she mistrusted the emotion, but because anger alone would not release her from her bonds. She knew with the quiet certainty of the not to be questioned that Quentin would rescue her if he had to destroy every 'Workers' Paradise' on the face of the Earth. That thought alone was all the comfort she needed, and all the help she could add by her own effort. The important thing is to stay alive, she had told herself when the three Polish agents informed her that she had 'defected', to stay alive, and to hang on to the joy that makes life worth living. Being kidnapped was bad enough, but being miserable about it would be far worse, for a woman like Olivia. So she worked, refusing to let the artificial limitations imposed by her captors stop her, proceeding with the very work they hoped to destroy.

Without warning the door to her cell burst open. Silhouetted in the doorway was a pudgy man in an ornate uniform. As if to underscore the insolence of the intrusion, he silently inspected the slim young woman before speaking, his murky eyes wet with a vague satisfaction. His hair was shot through with grey, and there were deep gashes cut into his cheeks. "So," he said, his voice heavily accented, "this is the latest testament to the truth of the peoples' cause..."

"No," Olivia replied, in the tone of a teacher correcting a simple error. "This is the latest testament to the ineptitude of the peoples' slave-drivers."

"...I'm pleased to see you live up to your reputation. We were told to expect a brilliant mathematician and programmer. One who, unfortunately, has never learned how to get along... Permit me to introduce myself: I am Colonel Morczyk."

She looked down at her hands, still grinding out numbers even as she devoted the smallest part of her consciousness to the conversation. "Will that be all?"

"Why no," answered Morczyk, startled by her abruptness. "I wanted to... I wanted to get to know you."

"You wanted to get my sanction," she returned contemptuously. "You wanted to hear me say that I think it's right that you're doing this to me. Well, you're in for a long wait, because I won't do it. Not now or ever. As you're letting yourself out, you might ask yourself who it is who 'has never learned how to get along'..."

His faced turned beet red, then white with rage. He spun around on one shoe and stalked away. The guard reached in to pull the door closed, but Olivia was too busy to notice...

"I want two trucks, Leonard."

Leonard Northrup frowned. His eyes roamed around his plush office, gliding slowly, never stopping to examine anything. Every few seconds they would steal a glimpse of the tall bulk before his desk, but he'd scoot them back to some stray corner, shielding his vision from the twin flares of the dark man's eyes as one shields one's eyes from the sight of the sun. There was a studied slovenliness about him, an affected lack of concern for the expensive clothes he wore. His suit was well-made but it fit him poorly, and he wore the professionally-wrinkled white shirts favored by the sons of the best prep schools. His pinched face, thinning red hair, and gold pince nez glasses made him look like nothing so much as an unsuccessful accountant, the man who does the payroll for dog-walking services and two-chair barber shops. He was the president of ABS News, one of a dozen men in the world with the power to declare something news or not-news, the unheralded maker of the news-that-is-the-news...

"Two trucks," Quentin insisted, abstractedly pacing back and forth before the older man's desk. "Two trucks, two crews, two transmitters, two uplinks, two different satellite networks for bringing it all back home."

"...What for?"

"To save my neck, Leonard, to save my neck. Redundancy on everything, so they can't take us off the air, no matter what they do."

"Quent...," Northrup began, studying the ceiling. "Don't you think you're carrying this a little too far?"

Quentin's eyes tightened to a squint. "Just what are you saying...?"

"Well, you know, I mean... gosh! Your wife defects, sure you're angry, but that's no reason to upset--"

"'Upset' your precious arms negotiations, is that it?," Quentin demanded, glowering. "You little worm... First, my wife did not defect. She's been kidnapped. Second, she's one of six SDI scientists who have been kidnapped in the last year, as you know and refuse to report. Third, your arms negotiations have as much value and importance as any contract with kidnappers, murderers, and thieves. Fourth, you don't give a damn about arms control or any other so-called issue. All you care about is selling people what you think they want to hear."

Northrup sat through it all with a look of fury on his face. "Well, what about you?!," he burst. "Isn't that what you're doing?! Don't you just tell people what they want to hear?!? Mr. Hot-Shot Combat Reporter, always taking sides and to hell with impartiality! Aren't you just pandering to your audience?!"

Quentin smiled, as he might at a ghost story. "Hardly. I say what I think should be said, and I don't give a damn who likes it or doesn't."

"Well, not all of us have it that easy!"

"Sure," Quentin replied. "For one thing, I don't have to impress your friends..."

"I don't know what you mean!"

"False, but it's your problem, not mine. I want two trucks, Leonard."

"...I don't know why I should take this from you!"

"Because I'm a four-share, Leonard. Because when I switched to ABS, five million viewers switched with me, which translates to more than fifty thousand dollars extra a minute for every minute of advertising you broadcast. Because those five million will go with me to CBC, if I have to go there to get the resources I need." Quentin smiled, remembering all the Northrups of the past, the ones who had actually had the power to stand in his way. "Because I've got you by the short-hairs, Leonard. I'm selling what you're buying, five million hungry minds on whom you can inflict Soviet propaganda and bathroom sanitation rituals..."

Northrup sighed, slumping in his chair. "Well, I don't see why we have to have two uplinks. That gets expensive..."

"It'll pay for itself. And doing without could cost me or Olivia to the ultimate. While we're on the subject, I want the live feed to go to VNN."

"Those thieves! Why?"

"Because they're off-shore. We're building a triangle, and we can't afford to have one side cave in."

"A triangle? What are you talking about...?"

"Something Olivia taught me. A triangle forms an island of strength and stability by setting equal forces in opposition. It's the principle behind bicycles, wood-frame houses, the tripods on every camera at ABS..."

"Yeah, so?"

"So, if we're going to all this trouble to keep the Soviets from shutting us down, we should make an effort to keep the Americans from shutting us down."

"You don't think they'd do that...?"

"I don't know, Leonard. Olivia says the only thing she regrets about designing defense systems is that there's no one to defend us from our defenders. I don't know if we've sunk that low yet, but I know that my only hope of getting my wife out of there is to keep those bastards on TV all the time. I can't risk even the shortest interruption."

"Wait... Do you expect me to pre-empt everything, to run this stuff continuously?"

"No. And that's another reason for selling the feed to VNN. They can use it. You sell both links to them, let them run what they want, but they have to have an editor watching at all times. You buy back hourly updates from them, and take free access to anything I order live to the network. You sell your updates and the live feeds to the other networks as pool footage, and everyone gets rich. The president of Sparkleeflush will think he's died and gone to bathroom heaven."

Despite everything Northrup laughed.

"Two trucks, Leonard. I'll pick them up in West Berlin in seventy-two hours."

"...You're really going through with this, aren't you?"

"You bet!"

"Well, it's your neck..."

"And your neck if you stand in my way."

"You've made that clear enough," Northrup returned. "But this had better pull ratings. We're not in this business for charity!"

"No..., not for charity. But not for money either... The news is the news, and that's motive enough, right? Reminds me of a cartoon I saw once, a little man saying, 'I don't need to change-- I already agree with everyone'. Well, Leonard, I'll get your confirmation, but only because that's how I'll get what I want."

For once Northrup seemed totally involved in the action. "What do you want, Quentin?"

Q.C. Clark smiled. "Life, Leonard. My life in the way I want it. My work. My wife. My reward."

"...and to hell with everybody else..."

"To hell with anyone who won't stay out of my way."

"...I see."

"I wish you did... Listen, I need to make some calls. Do I have an office around here?"

Northrup's face was red with embarrassment.

"Stop it, Leonard. For once I approve. If I had an office, I'd never use it. Better to give the space to someone who comes in more often than once a year. Just lend me a conference room and a phone and I'll be all right."

Northrup sighed, exhausted. "I don't know what to do about you..."

"Just let me do my job. And when you see by the sweeps that I'm right about the ratings, send me a bucket of ice cream. Banana-walnut. It's Olivia's favorite."

Northrup scowled, then laughed openly, laughed in a way he thought he had forgotten... "You're too much!"

"Nope. Just enough. Just exactly enough..." Quentin smiled, and it seemed to Northrup that the room brightened, that, just for a moment, he could see things that were always there, but always unnoticed...

Later, alone in the conference room, Quentin mumbled into the telephone. "Quiet Water," he said.

"Go ahead," came the reply, a soft, detached voice.

"I need you to plant a story."

"Hmm... How high?"

"The Times or the Post," Quentin replied. "Within three days."

"Too soon. The pigeon would disappear, quietly, but permanently..."

"What's your next best offer?"

"Can you live with a rumor? I could stir up something in Langley or Brighton Beach. It'll bubble up in time."

"Is that the best you can do?"

"The best I can do in three days," the soft voice returned. "Besides, it's better this way. Reporters are prouder of lies they find on their own."

Quentin laughed delightedly. "You know the field so well..."

He heard a laugh to match his own on the other end of the line. "Do plumbers know pipes? Do mechanics know engines? Does Q.C. Clark know how to put the fire to Communists?"

"I knew I had a fan somewhere. I'm in the office, so it's easy to forget."

"You have a lot of fans, Quent. A lot of people who are going to be rooting for you when you go for Olivia."

"That's another thing I like about you," Quentin said. "You were smart enough to figure that out."

"What I like about you is that you were smart enough to know I'd want to be in on it. So what's the scam, Quick Change. I've got all the news money can buy. And this time it's half the usual price."

"But you never let me pay you! Half of zero is still zero."

"Well then, how about I double-up on the good will?"

Quentin laughed and the two murmured quietly together, in the intimacy of shared danger. He was still smiling when he hung up, but then his mind drifted to Olivia, out of reach, imprisoned, maybe even dead... Not wanting to, but not knowing how to stop himself, he fell to brooding. He was almost certain they would keep her alive, but how can one tell, when the box is locked from the inside...?

Olivia was the machine, free, enraptured. Her hands danced wild calculations as she soared through space, a solar-powered satellite. She was debugging, setting up worst-case glitch conditions, then slamming them through the processor to see if it would fail. She sat cross-legged on her cot, motionless except for the flight of her fingers, the image of studious concentration. But the picture was confounded by her smile, full, intimate, the echo of the deepest of satisfactions. Far above the rote calculations of debugging, she was thinking about Quentin, about what he would do when he carried her out of this cell, like a princess from a medieval dungeon, thinking about the prize that belongs to the victors alone...

Morczyk entered silently and stood watching for a moment. Of his American charges, this one was the enigma. The others could be counted upon to vacillate between hopeless supplication and black despair, but this one insisted on finding pleasure in prison... He had tried speaking to her several times over the past three days, but she would tear herself from her concentration only long enough to drop casual insults while making clear that she would never cooperate, no matter what. If not for her smile, he would not have believed it; he had seen great men and small broken by the Soviet whip. But the smile spoke of something that would endure... anything! In the horror of the visions that shimmered behind his every thought, he saw her tortured, defiled, bleeding from a dozen wounds, yet still smiling, refusing to renounce happiness for any reason, ever, to the last moment of her life. Morczyk recoiled silently, catching a hint of an unseen danger, as if she possessed a power he could neither give nor take, could never touch in any way at all, a power that could crush him as easily as an elephant crushes a beetle... He looked at the slim young woman, powerful with the energy of her passions, but no match for him. He laughed soundlessly at himself for considering her a threat. Then he felt ready to speak.

"What is that you do with your hands?"

"Oh!," she said, her eyes popping open in surprise. "Oh, you again..." She was angry at him for chasing Quentin away. She continued debugging, her fingers threshing the air before her, and a part of her mind pulled her back into her husband's arms.


"It's a mathematical notation system," she replied mechanically.

"I see... I suppose if we made films, one of our mathematicians could puzzle out the meaning."

"Probably not."

"Oh, but the best minds of Poland work for the peoples' cause!"

She laughed delightedly. "That's true, but not in the way you mean it. The best minds of Poland work for freedom--from America!" But as a precaution she stopped herself, then began to encrypt. No strain, just like driving a car, easier if you don't worry about it.

"What did you do?"

"I put it into a code. You may have an evil genius on your side, but it will take him time to break this monster. At some point you have to ask yourself: to how many places do I really need to know pi?" She laughed.

"Is that what you're doing, solving for pi?"

"Yes," she lied.

"...What for?"

"For fun, of course. You know about fun, don't you? Or maybe you don't. 'The people' cannot collectivize enjoyment. Either you make it for yourself or you do without..."

He walked out without replying.

She laughed triumphantly, a laugh that joined her to Quentin more intimately than ever, as though her fantasy had never been interrupted. Without bothering to debate it, she switched all of her debugging to mental operations while she used her hands to run through a pi algorithm, still encrypted. It slows things down, she reflected, but there's no point in taking chances, no matter how stupid they are. With the fullness of her total commitment she embraced Quentin, pulling him endlessly closer in the ecstasy of imagination. It was fun, almost enough...

"Q.C. Clark," Quentin said to the camera, the darkness a black velvet backdrop. He was leaning against the saddle of a motorcycle parked on a barren road. "We're behind the Iron Curtain. For once." He wore the camouflage fatigues that were his on-air trademark and he looked into the camera as if he were looking straight into the eyes of his viewers. His rugged clothes, his casual stance, the hint of far horizons in his clear black eyes--they made him look like a backwoods guide, patiently explaining the need for precaution in the wilds. Yet somehow he seemed to convey also the crisp clarity of the office or the classroom, almost as though the cameras and scenery were swept away and he communicated with the unseen watchers mind to mind, in patterns of pulsing white light...

"The whole crew is here with me. Ajaye Achimbe." The camera swung to face a thick black man straddling his motorcycle. He was dressed in khakis, and he carried a bulbous white helmet under one arm. "The man who once ran from New Lisbon to Brazzaville to get our tapes to the network."

The camera turned to a muscular hispanic. He stood tall beside his bike, smiling luxuriantly. "Raoul Velasquez, the hero of Lago Nicaragua, the combat photographer who gets so close to the action he has to use an underwater housing to keep the war out of his camera."

The camera turned again, panning to a thin young oriental, almost self-effacing, yet with a fire of defiance in his eyes. "And Li Cheung, the man who built the blinds that let us see the truth behind Pol Pot.

"You've seen us from Angola," Quentin said, the camera swinging back to face him. "From Nicaragua, from Cambodia and the Philippines, from Iraq and Afghanistan. But you've never seen us behind the Iron Curtain...

"We go where the fighting is, and perhaps that's our error. Here there is no fighting...

"I've never claimed to be impartial. I always side with the freedom fighters. But here there are no freedom fighters...

"Maybe it's as the professors and pundits tell us, that the Soviets have joined civilization, that the absence of armed conflict is proof of their humanity. Or maybe it's proof of something else...

"This is no test, either way, but you have a chance, for once, to see for yourself what the 'dictatorship of the proletariat' intends for the world. Certainly the East Germans have treated us well--while the cameras were rolling. We'll find out now whether the Poles are as hospitable..."

Quentin threw a leg over his motorcycle and thrust down on the kick-start. The bike roared to life, in time with the three others. The four men rode side-by-side up the deserted road, the camera following them as they approached the lonely border station. Behind them, two semi-tractors inched forward, the giant trucks bearing the parabolic dishes that kept Quentin in constant contact with the West.

The four men pulled up to the wooden barrier blocking the road and waited. Quentin asked, "How far?"

"Thirty, thirty-five miles," said Achimbe.

"Half an hour?"

Achimbe studied the road. "This is not the autobahn..."

Quentin looked at his watch. "It's all right. We have time."

A border guard was approaching slowly, warily. His bulky overcoat did not hide his thin frame. He carried a submachinegun about waist high. As he drew near, Velasquez and Cheung raised minicams, so that the guard was blasted with light from two angles at once. He was young, barely old enough to shave, and the fear in his eyes was tempered by wonder.

"Drop it, Klaus," Quentin advised. "We've got you covered."

"Who... Who are you...?"

"Q.C. Clark. ABS News. Your mother watches me. Late at night, on the West German channel."

The guard blushed, a look of horror in his eyes.

"Don't worry, I won't tell your overlords. Not that it would be any surprise to them..."

"What do you..." The young guard swallowed hard. "What do you want?"

Quentin smiled. "I've come to pick up my wife. I take it the East Germans didn't phone ahead?"

"No. We were told to expect no one."

"Well, that's who you deserved. But I'm here instead. With entourage." He turned to look pointedly at the video trucks behind him. "Achimbe, take a run up ahead. See if the road gets better."

"Or worse," said the black man, lifting the barrier as he rode under it. He gunned the bike and sped away.

The guard spun around, raising his machinegun. "Stop him!"

"Don't do it, Klaus. You're on TV. Maybe you're too young to know it, but the overlords would be very unhappy if you killed a man on television."

He fought with himself for a long moment before speaking. "...My name is not Klaus."

"Oh? What is it?"


"Pleased to meet you, Tadeus. I'm sure that, as the new, improved, image-conscious Communist, you'll appreciate your situation. We have two satellite uplinks. The first is transmitting pictures of us, including the films made by Cheung and Velasquez here. The second is sending pictures of the first. If you attempt to destroy either dish, films will be transmitted to the West by the other. And I've told my audience that, if my signal is interrupted for any reason, they may assume the worst. Your overlords have sought to steal the credibility they could not earn, by showing only what they wanted to be seen. I have removed that option. Now the world will see what I want to look at, and your job is to hide what you can."

"...I see."

"Good. Run inside and tell your cronies to call ahead, to warn the overlords to sheath their swords. Then come back out and hop in one of the trucks. You can ride with us."

"Am I... Am I being held hostage?"

Quentin smiled. "Yes. But not by me... If you don't want to come, send someone else. I just want someone to be able to see our monitors, so there's no doubt about what's being photographed."

"Anything else?"

"Yes," said Quentin, a wry glint in his eyes. "Where did you learn to speak English?"

The guard blushed again. "I watch the American movies. Late at night, on the West German channel."

Quentin smiled. "I see..."

The smile lingered with him on the road. The cool air ripping past him was refreshing and for a while he was almost rid of the dread that had haunted him for three days, the fear, the frustration, the despair, the frenzy to be ready in time and the unspoken doubts that it might not be enough, that it might never be enough...

Cheung and Achimbe had it worse, he told himself. They had worked for two days without sleep, trying to cram an impossible volume of equipment into impossibly small spaces. And Velasquez, too. His winning smile had won him the privilege of rounding up every stray bicycle in West Berlin, an effort that had brought him the stern attentions of the local constables more than once. Compared to them, I had it easy...

But it had not been easy. The worrying about endless fussy details and the much greater concerns about Olivia had taken their toll on his sleep and on his nerves. The tensions had been building inside him until they screamed for release. But he had to wait. For the cameras and transmitters. For the crews hand-picked from every ABS operation in Europe. And, most importantly, he had to wait for Quiet Water's careful lie to become news, the news-that-is-the-news, the news that's fit to print. Or is it printed to fit...?

But now the waiting was over. In the dark of the endless night, Quentin felt almost free enough to laugh, to take his pain and doubt and frustration and craft of them a joy that would burst through any barrier, to reveal all that can be known...

Later, when the lights of the prison camp were a flare on the horizon, he stopped the caravan. He sent the three other motorcycles off to circle around the camp, so that they would approach it from four directions, then climbed inside the truck to sit beside Tadeus.

"Why are we waiting here?," the boy asked.

"Prime-time," said Quentin.

"...I don't understand."

"We're waiting for the network news shows to come on, in New York and Washington. I'd just as soon go in now, but it will make a big difference to the overlords."

"...Do you think they care?"

"I know they care. They don't give a damn what does happen, but they care about what they can get people to think is happening. You can bet every P.R. man in the Kremlin is watching this broadcast. And every P.R. man in the White House, for that matter..."

Tadeus smiled weakly, saying nothing.

"How far are we from Gorzow?," Quentin asked.

"About ten kilometers."

"Think anybody's up watching TV at this hour?"

"Not many."

"Well, let's give the few of them a treat." He flipped a switch on the panel before him.

"What did you do?"

Quentin smiled. "I unlocked the box from the inside... We're now broadcasting locally, over the state channel. We're jamming them off the air for about fifty miles around."

"But why...? The Soviets might care what the Americans think, but they certainly don't care about the Poles."

"They don't care about one Pole, and not ten. But what about thousands...? You're in the army, you tell me: what is the status of a general whose troops have deserted him?"

A quick grin flickered across the younger man's face. "You know..., on the state TV they're always telling us how terrible things are around the world, how the war and strife and turmoil rob every man of his freedom. But at least those people are free to fight... We have tranquility, but at what price...?"

The hazy aura in the distance, the klieg lights of the prison camp, seemed to provide the answer for both to see...

In the quiet of the locked cell, Morczyk felt almost at home. His captive ignored him, but he had grown used to that. He studied her with the patient attention a child gives an insect, as though by mere exposure to her he could unlock the mystery of her serenity, her ecstasy, her determination. Her whole demeanor was alien to him, yet somehow familiar, as though she bore some fragment of his discarded past, something he had resolved to live without...

"You know," he mused aloud, not knowing quite why he felt the need to speak, "I've had the feeling that there is something you could tell me, something I've sensed but never seen..."

"There is," she replied, granting him nothing.

"What is it?"

"It doesn't matter. You wouldn't hear it anyway."

He frowned. "Why wouldn't I?"

Olivia shrugged. "You're locked outside your own house. Only someone inside can let you back in..."

He scowled, sorting among possible responses. "...Do all Americans speak in riddles?"

She mocked him with the soundless, triumphant laughter in her eyes. "Do all rapists try to get permission first?"

His face went white with rage. "You're asking for it, young lady!" He took a menacing step toward her.

"Think twice," she advised, flexing her strong fingers. "You might be surprised. Permanently surprised."

He recoiled from the threat, then blanched again as its meaning sunk in. He felt an urgent need to take revenge upon her. "...The Soviets know how to deal with people like you!"

"No," she replied, unruffled. "The Soviets know how to deal with people like you. That's what bothers you most, isn't it?"

"I don't know what you mean!"

"Yes you do. You stand in a locked cell in a prison. You know that someone is in chains, and you know it's not me. That leaves one person to be the slave, doesn't it? You sought for your value outside of yourself, and you have found it. You gave your life, your time, your mind, your happiness--you gave everything you had to your peoples' cause. Yet you are of no value to it at all, and all you got in exchange were forgotten longings and black depressions. But I have given nothing to your state, and never will; I treasure all that is mine--for the sake of my own happiness. And it is doing so that makes me valuable to your state, despite my opposition to it. Does it gall you to know that if I emasculate you nothing will happen, but if you rape me you will pay for it with your life? What would you think of a warrior who cared more for the approval of his enemies than his allies? What would it say about the status of the allies?"

He said nothing, just scowled at the floor.

"In other words, Colonel Morczyk, who's the prisoner here?"

Without being summoned, two words swept aside the miasma of acrid humiliations and petty indignities that oozed always through his memories, two words that seemed to suggest all that was foreign to him, all that was fresh and young and joyous and pure: 'someone inside'... He understood and decided not to. He lashed out at the words, clawing out in the air in the action of an uncensored spirit, making real for once the savagery that lurked behind the staged performance of staid civilization. Despite her harsh resolutions, he saw a hint of fear leap to her eyes and he grasped out at it, as an evidence of his command of the situation. He advanced on her slowly, his hands hanging loose at his sides, his face convulsed in rage, his eyes burning with a feral madness...

It was in that moment that he heard the sound, a far-off rumbling. At first he thought it was the voice of his own rage, but he listened more closely. Motors, more than one...

Olivia heard the sound echoed in his expression. She laughed harshly, a stinging blow. "Now you've had it!"

"...What is it?"

"My husband!"

As she said this, her eyes seemed to glow, to burn eagerly with a pulsing, arctic-white light, the brimming cascade of joyous tears reflected by the bulb overhead. Morczyk saw in her eyes the response he had sought, the confirmation he needed so desperately. He saw that it was not for him... In that one instant he felt impotent, emasculated, immobilized by the contradiction of attempting to steal what can only be volunteered, to commandeer that which can never be faked or forced... To defile not the woman, but the values that made the woman worth desiring, to scourge not the husband, but the values that drew her to him. These were the objects of his rage, his silent enemies... He spun around and raced out of the room, leaving the door agape in his haste.

Olivia ran out behind him, oblivious to the shouting guards. Morczyk reached the heavy door to the outside first, but Olivia pushed past him. He tried to restrain her, but she tore free with a savagery and strength he had not expected. She burst through the door into a sunburst of man-made light.

When Quentin saw her, he was stopped, transfixed. The joy that had been bubbling within him as he rode seemed to fuse in an instant into a perfect whole, indivisible, almost unendurable... He saw her here, in the prison camp, as he had seen her through long nights of endless yearning. In the image of his vision, she moved slowly, languidly, with a poise that looked almost lazy until one realized that she committed her every muscle to the smallest motion. In the bright lights of the video cameras, she ran at top speed, and Quentin barely had time to jump off his bike before she crashed into his arms, grasping him tightly, as a release and an affirmation.

His response was even more violent, because it was tender. He hugged her to him, gently, with the touch of hungry wonder. He sought not to restrain her, nor to succor her, but simply to celebrate the immense value that was again his to treasure, to rejoice in the victory over a suffering that never had to matter, that never had to hurt at all...

He nestled his head against hers, pushing back gently. Her lips found his and they merged, with one rapturous kiss tearing down every barrier that could stand between them. In that moment there was no prison camp, no guard dogs or barbed-wire fences, no mindless thugs with machineguns. There was only their passion, indivisible, a fixed point in space around which the universe danced...

When he broke away his eyes were lit with relief and laughter. "I told you not to come."

She carefully inspected his face, the tight creases of tension in his brows and on his cheeks, the craggy lines of lost sleep around his eyes. "I told you not to worry about me." She laughed.

"Hmm," he said, hugging her tighter. "We should listen to each other more often. I'll bet you programmed, right?"

She nodded, proud for the time of her life she had not lost to pain.

"It made me happy to think about that, while I was worrying, that you'd continue with your work and they wouldn't be able to do a thing to stop you, just as none of their guns can shoot down my broadcast waves." He growled hungrily. "My Wife, the Rocket Scientist."

"Mmm...!," she responded, hugging him with the full power of her mind. "My Husband, the TV Star..."

Morczyk approached them slowly, warily. He was blinded by the light. He raised a hand to block the glare but it didn't seem to help. At least some of the light was coming from the headlights of the rumbling motorcycles. He looked at the riders, seemingly unarmed, yet somehow menacing, the silvered visors of their white helmets seeming to cast back to him the reflection of a revolting evil, too horrible to approach. His captive was clasped in the arms of a tall, dark-haired man whose helmet was mounted on the handlebars of his motorcycle.

On the stranger's cycle, the headlight seemed dimmed, subdued, a flickering greyish blue. As he drew nearer, he saw to his horror that it was a television, pointed directly at him. Unable to stop himself, his every instinct crying out against it, he walked toward the TV, gaping in awe and terror as his own image 'approached' him on the screen...

"Smile, Klaus," Quentin said, a glorious laughter in his voice. "You're on TV. Wave 'hi' to your mother or she'll never forgive you..."

Morczyk was stopped for a moment by an explosive burst of rage. "They're making films!," he screamed to the guards lumbering out of the building. "Destroy those cameras!" He pointed to the light-blasting minicams held by Cheung and Velasquez.

He smiled in momentary satisfaction as the guards tore the cameras away, throwing them to the ground. One group tried to stomp theirs to oblivion, but the other group was smarter: they stood back and blasted the minicam with their machineguns...

The moment was ended when he glanced back to the video monitor and saw that the destruction of the cameras was being recorded, the flickering image alternating between the stompers and the shooters, then stopping on Morczyk's own face, a mask of horror, doubt, and impotent rage...

"Stop it, Klaus," Quentin counseled. "There's nothing you can do about it. It's out of your hands. All you can do now is try to save your own neck..."

"Who are you?!?"

"Q.C. Clark. ABS News."

As Morczyk watched the TV the image flickered to a side-view of the dark-haired man, his wife nestled beside him, to the guards now standing around like oafs, palsied by the cameras, to long-shot views of the prison from two directions, then back to Morczyk, who shrank from the scrutiny.

"We're broadcasting live to a consortium of thirty-seven TV networks in twenty-four nations. Combined estimated audience is three-hundred-forty-five million viewers, each of whom wants to reap an understanding of the Communist spirit. I thank you for giving them this demonstration. I suspect your KGB familiar would advise against giving another..."

"...This can't be--"

"This can't be happening?," Quentin asked, smiling. "It is, Klaus, it is. I've got two satellite uplinks." The image flickered again to the long shots. "If you do anything to one, that news will be reported by the other. If you destroy both, that will be even bigger news. How would your friend in the KGB advise you to react?"

Morczyk sighed bitterly, defeated. "...My name is not Klaus. It's Casimir."

Quentin suppressed a chuckle. "Did you happen to see The New York Times yesterday, Klaus?"

"I don't know what you are talking about."

"Very interesting story," Quentin said, pulling a newspaper clipping from his pocket. "A tip from an unnamed Soviet source. Maybe you missed it. There are so many unnamed Soviet sources in the Times, it's easy enough to miss one."

Morczyk did not respond.

"'Soviets say defectors are free to re-defect'," Quentin read. "'Not holding Americans hostage, says diplomat'. There's a lot here. I'll just hit the high points. 'The unnamed source, who has close ties to the Soviet mission to the United Nations, confirmed that the U.S.S.R. is "not holding anyone hostage. If there are Americans in Poland who wish to leave, we will let them. We will surrender them to any American offering safe conduct"'." Quentin paused, smiling wryly. "Looks like somebody let the cat out of the box, Klaus..."

Morczyk did nothing, knowing he was caught, knowing his superiors would hold him accountable no matter what he did, not fully understanding what he could do, but sensing somehow that the greatest danger of all would be to act as he stood, as a man alone, unbuttressed but indivisible. His anger died in a flood of seething humiliation and he realized that this was the worst punishment of all, the most terrible and the most just, the one that must come first, for any later punishments to have meaning. For a flickering instant he thought he saw himself, saw that the humiliation was coming from... from 'someone inside'... He slammed his mind shut, not wanting to see the source of that blaring light, not wanting to know what it required--or whom. Instead, he accepted his punishment gravely, adding one more indignity to the pile of discarded memories he could neither bear to look at nor cease to mourn, embracing for once and always the uniform he had put on so long ago, the grim forbearance of the champion of 'the peoples' cause'--or the failure of his own...

"The way I see it," Quentin went on, "you can follow two paths. You can continue to claim that the Americans you hold by force are 'defectors', in which case you must give them the chance to 're-defect'. Or you can admit they are prisoners. Which will you choose, Klaus? Which would your pet spook advise?"

The words leapt to his mind, the canticle of fear and vindication: this man knows too much! He almost laughed at himself, falling just short of admitting that what made the reaction comical also made it tragic: this man knows too much about me... Instead, he said, "We have no prisoners here."

"I see at least a dozen--but I'm interested in the ones who didn't volunteer. Go fetch them and we'll see if they wish to be free of your gracious hospitality."

Morczyk fought with himself for an endless time before caving in. He barked at the guards in Polish, as a release for the rage the dark-haired man would always deflect back to him.

His arm still locked around Olivia, Quentin spoke to his unseen audience. "It would seem that the Poles can be almost as accommodating as the East Germans--while the cameras are rolling. There was a small fracas a moment ago." The TV on the motorcycle flickered with images of the camera bashings, then returned to Quentin. "But the new, improved, image-conscious Communist was willing to concede that the true spirit of censorship does not make good television. I have been reunited with my wife, Dr. Olivia Collins-Clark, about whom I am not in the least unbiased, and we are waiting to see if the contradiction of claiming that world-class scientists would defect to the Soviet Bloc, rather than from it, will be carried through to its perversely logical conclusion."

The image switched to the grim steel door of the prison, through which streamed a line of meager men, timid in the blaring light, overshadowed by the beefy guards. In the television they seemed to shrink, to grow smaller with each passing second. One looked up, fear mixed with conviction in his eyes. "The food was really quite good," he said. "And they gave us these clothes," added another, tugging at his grimy jumpsuit.

Quentin spat into the dirt. "Well, if you want to go back to America, follow Achimbe here." He nodded toward the black man. "If you think you have it better here--you deserve it..."

Silently the scientists traipsed off toward one of the video trucks.

"Take Achimbe's bike," Quentin said to Olivia. She broke free of him, smiling a greeting to the dark giant extending his helmet. She mounted the cycle and kicked it to life as Achimbe hustled the scientists along. Quentin took his own helmet from its mounting, strapping it on while walking over to Morczyk.

His eyes still held prisoner by the image in the monitor, Morczyk's mind fought a losing battle for stability, for certainty, for confirmation. He watched in raw terror as his face seemed to grow larger, enormously, hideously larger, until it seemed to fill the screen, leaving nothing for him to see but a haunted spectre he could neither endure to look at nor compel himself to turn from, a reality no image could deflect. "But what...," he said, trying desperately to make contact. "But how have you done this...?"

"Mirrors, Klaus," Quentin replied. "I did it with mirrors..." He pulled the silvered visor of his helmet down over his face, revealing the lens of the camera concealed within. He snapped the visor back up. "I've recovered my values, but that doesn't settle the score. Your alleged government has held my wife by force for more than four days. This is a grievous injury, for which I will one day collect full reparation. But for the moment, I exact only a down payment."

With those words, Quentin stomped his boot down hard on Morczyk's foot. The air was ruptured by the crackle of broken bones.

"Don't forget what you are, Klaus," Quentin cautioned, watching Morczyk watch shock and pain roar across his own face in the monitor. "Don't forget what you have made of yourself. Don't forget the person you must remember, to be..."

Morczyk did not respond. There was no one home. He knocked and knocked, but there was no one inside at all...

"Thus the new, improved, image-conscious Communist," Quentin intoned. "Pinned like a bug to a corkboard--while the cameras are rolling..." He walked back to his own bike and mounted it, kicking the motor to life. "Listen, Klaus, if you were smart, you'd provide us with an escort to West Berlin. If some gun-happy soldier decides to take a shot at us, you'll be blamed for that as well, on top of everything else..."

Dully, as from an enormous distance, Colonel Casimir Morczyk gave the orders. His eyes were still locked to the screen, as though by mere exposure to it he could come to understand its power over him. His image had receded, but it seemed to him that it still loomed large, still seethed in frothy madness, a loathsome evil he could neither acknowledge nor ignore. It stayed with him, the glowing testament to the ideal realized, as the motorcycles rumbled out of view...

In the darkness, Quentin Charles Collins-Clark stood in a flood of light. Olivia was beside him, tenderly holding his hand, and he looked on with satisfaction as members of the crew distributed the bicycles from the slow-moving trucks. The stocky men hustling along the road took them by the armload, passing them on to eager refugees. Over the past hour the caravan had grown to enormous proportions, overloaded cars and trucks, horse carts, and the bikes ferried in from West Berlin, clogging the road in a mile-long cordon.

"Attention Americans," he said into the cameras. "If you're within the range of my local broadcast, listen carefully. The Soviet Union has categorically denied that it is holding Americans hostage, so if you wish to leave now, you may do so. If you are an American who cannot speak English, please request assistance from one who can."

Quentin laughed delightedly. "With me here is Tadeus..."

"Bronsky," said the young guard.

"Tadeus Bronsky, a young Pole who has traveled with us. Tadeus, there are Army trucks surrounding us, blaring some message over bullhorns. Can you tell us what they're saying?"

"'Don't shoot'," Tadeus translated. "'You're on television. Don't do anything without orders'."

"Sage advice," Quentin said, winking to the camera. "It sounds like more than one language to me..."

"It is. First Polish, then Russian, then German, then Spanish. Then Polish again."

"Why Spanish...?"

The boy shrugged. "Los Cubanos."

Quentin grinned. "And the refugees are repeating something also, aren't they?"

"Yes. They're saying 'just say you're an American'."

The laughter in Quentin's eyes roared louder than any sound he could make. "In what languages...?"

The boy couldn't resist. He grinned in return. "In Polish, Russian, German and Spanish."

Quentin eyed the camera in a gleeful caricature of the deadly serious television reporter, the rigid sounding board of other people's voices, other people's choices, other people's ideals. "This has been but one skirmish in the war of perceptions, one campaign in the ancient quest for the right of each man to find truth and beauty in his own spirit, for his own selfish reasons. Perhaps the only thing that can be said of this is that the Soviets can be made to live up to their own deceits--while the cameras are rolling. We have demanded that they live up to their image of civilization and they have done so, in their own quirky fashion."

The monitor beside the camera displayed a soldier trying to restrain a refugee--until he saw he was being photographed. He slapped his captive broadly on the back, saying, "So long, Comrade. So long, my good American friend."

"And so," Quentin continued, "I find myself with an image of my own to uphold, that of the immeasurably credulous American TV newsman." He turned to gaze pointedly at young Tadeus, listening intently. "So I say to you, my American viewers, 'just say you're an American'. I'll believe anything."

He laughed, and the laugh was echoed in the cheering of the Americans on the road to freedom...

Later, alone with Olivia in the mixing booth, he retained the laughter, and the serene ecstasy behind it. He was convinced he would never lose it again, now that he had won it back to him. "Just give them a random sequence of every camera, the bikes and the trucks. I want them always in doubt about which thug will be televised next."

"No problem," she said, her sure fingers dancing over the keyboard of the complex mixing console. "It's all in the firmware. I just have to tickle it."

"Mmm... Come say that to me..."

Dr. Olivia Collins-Clark hit the return key with a finality that was an affirmation of the only pleasure with which her work could not compete, the completion without which work has no meaning. Moving with the full commitment of every muscle, she leapt into his lap, growling hungrily and tickling him ruthlessly in his most vulnerable places.

"Urrr...," he groaned, palsied with pleasure.

She sat back, moving to straddle his knees, and stared lovingly into the beacon of his eyes, onyx gemstones, wet with the tears of an unendurable happiness. She knew her own eyes looked the same, and she knew why she must always look upon this man with a feeling one step away from bursting, why he must always feel the same passion for her. Olivia smiled to all she had gained, to all she had refused to lose...

"It's hard for me to picture you in the role of a politician," she said, gaily mocking him.

"Bite your tongue, woman!"

"What was that you were just doing out there, if not politicking? What I don't understand is how you hope to put it past the American consulate in West Berlin..."

"Oh, no?," he asked, mocking her in return. "Think it through. It was you who taught me what to look for in the first place. Remember that experiment you told me about, the one with the dead cat in the box?"

She started to protest, then stopped herself, waiting him out.

"Well," he went on, "it occurred to me that the Soviet Union is just a giant 'cat box'. Their whole foreign policy is based on the fact that you can't verify anything they say. There's a PR hack on TV saying, 'the cat is alive', 'the cat is dead', 'long live the cat', but nobody can find out for himself what's really going on inside the box."

She gave him a sidelong glance. "You're mangling it terribly, but go on. What about the Americans?"

"The foreign policy of America is to do whatever is necessary to make the Soviets look good. Political stability at home depends from the misguided belief that reducing our own defenses will cause the Soviets to reduce theirs. The United States has to do everything it can to convince Americans that what Boris says is happening to the cat is actually happening-- whether it is or not. Therefore, they'll cave in to the scam for the same reason that the Communists did, because it's the only way to save the foundation of their structure of deceit..."

"A masterful politician!," she said.

"Sure," he returned, laughing at the idea. "A broiled chicken on every TV and a beast for every beauty. Rrrowll!" He swept her to him, pressing her full against his chest.

When they parted, the fire in Olivia's eyes was raging. "Mmm," she seethed. "What a beast!"

"Thank you. You bring out the best in me. That's a part of the same thing: your cat taught me that it's stupid to beat myself up about not being able to know something without having discovered it, stupid to be miserable about what I can't find out, when I could be applying myself to what I can discover. You taught me that wasting time on hopeless ignorance would never produce a datum, nor the joy that comes only from knowing, from seeking, from rejoicing in my own sanction of the time of my life. I owe you so much... My Rocket Scientist! I love you!"

"Unnhh," she moaned, collapsing against him, weak with passion. "I love you so much, Quentin... My TV Star!"

There was a gentle tapping at the door. Olivia jumped up and Quentin got up to answer it. It was a young soldier, no older than Tadeus, holding a cardboard cylinder.

"This was dropped by a helicopter about five minutes ago," he said. "The card is addressed to you."

"Thanks, Klaus," Quentin said, reaching for the package.

The soldier did not extend it. His face was red, and he seemed on the verge of a stammer.

"I know, your name's not Klaus. What it is? Stepan? Anton? Jozef?"

"No, it's--"

"In all of Poland, isn't there one Klaus?" He grinned playfully to the boy.

"No!," the young soldier returned, laughing. "My name is Klaus. I just wanted to say... I just wanted to say thank you..."

"Thank yourself--in West Berlin."

The boy gave Quentin a solemn salute. He extended the package as though it were a crown.

"What is it," Olivia asked, peeking over his shoulder.

"Ice cream." He passed the carton back to her, closing the door.

"Ice cream?!?"

"From Leonard. In New York." He dug into his pocket, pulling out a knife. He folded out the spoon. "We'll have to eat from the same spoon. Hope you don't have anything contagious."

"I do, mister, and you're going to get it real soon..." She tore open the envelope and read the enclosed card aloud. "'Quent, re: Your ratings: Too much!'" She laughed. He had sat down again, the bucket of ice cream beside him on the console. She leapt back into his lap and he touched her in ways she could never resist.

His mouth full of ice cream, he kissed her in a place sensitive to the cold. She shivered above him, a look of ecstasy racing across her face. "Oh?," he asked, mock concerned. "Don't you like that?" She squirmed deliciously. "Oh, I see. Esthetically inelegant. Coals to Newcastle..."

She mewled softly as his kiss warmed itself on the fever of her passion. She thumped a finger on the card. "You're not 'too much', Quentin. You're just enough. Just exactly enough..."

"Mmm," he agreed. "I feel the same way about you. Just exactly enough. If it were any more, I'd faint..."

"Don't you dare, mister. I have plans for you." She laughed nefariously.

"I'll bet you have," he said, laughing exultantly, a laugh to fuel those searching for freedom, for serenity, for happiness, wherever they might be found. "I'll bet you have..."

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