The Poor Surgeon

Excerpt from the novel Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance icon-external-link-12x12 icon-search-12x12 by Robert M. Parsig icon-external-link-12x12 icon-search-12x12

Robert M. Pirsig's "Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance" book cover. [Formatted]

     I should talk now about Phaedrus’ knife. It’ll help understand some of the things we talked about.
     The application of this knife, the division of the world into parts and the building of this structure, is something everybody does. All the time we are aware of millions of things around us—these changing shapes, these burning hills, the sound of the engine, the feel of the throttle, each rock and weed and fence post and piece of debris beside the road—aware of these things but not really conscious of them unless there is something unusual or unless they reflect something we are predisposed to see. We could not possibly be conscious of these things and remember all of them because our mind would be so full of useless details we would be unable to think. From all this awareness we must select, and what we select and call consciousness is never the same as the awareness because the process of selection mutates it. We take a handful of sand from the endless landscape of awareness around us and call that handful of sand the world.
     Once we have the handful of sand, the world of which we are conscious, a process of discrimination goes to work on it. This is the knife. We divide the sand into parts. This and that. Here and there. Black and white. Now and then. The discrimination is the division of the conscious universe into parts.
     The handful of sand looks uniform at first, but the longer we look at it the more diverse we find it to be. Each grain of sand is different. No two are alike. Some are similar in one way, some are similar in another way, and we can form the sand into separate piles on the basis of this similarity and dissimilarity. Shades of color in different piles—sizes in different piles—grain shapes in different piles—subtypes of grain shapes in different piles—grades of opacity in different piles—and so on, and on, and on. You’d think the process of subdivision and classification would come to an end somewhere, but it doesn’t. It just goes on and on.
     Classical understanding is concerned with the piles and the basis for sorting and interrelating them. Romantic understanding is directed toward the handful of sand before the sorting begins. Both are valid ways of looking at the world although irreconcilable with each other.
     What has become an urgent necessity is a way of looking at the world that does violence to neither of these two kinds of understanding and unites them into one. Such an understanding will not reject sand-sorting or contemplation of unsorted sand for its own sake. Such an understanding will instead seek to direct attention to the endless landscape from which the sand is taken. That is what Phaedrus, the poor surgeon, was trying to do.
     To understand what he was trying to do it’s necessary to see that part of the landscape, inseparable from it, which must be understood, is a figure in the middle of it, sorting sand into piles. To see the landscape without seeing this figure is not to see the landscape at all. To reject that part of the Buddha that attends to the analysis of motorcycles is to miss the Buddha entirely.
     There is a perennial classical question that asks which part of the motorcycle, which grain of sand in which pile, is the Buddha. Obviously to ask that question is to look in the wrong direction, for the Buddha is everywhere. But just as obviously to ask that question is to look in the right direction, for the Buddha is everywhere. About the Buddha that exists independently of any analytical thought much has been said—some would say too much, and would question any attempt to add to it. But about the Buddha that exists within analytical thought, and gives that analytical thought its direction, virtually nothing has been said, and there are historic reasons for this. But history keeps happening, and it seems no harm and maybe some positive good to add to our historical heritage with some talk in this area of discourse.
     When analytic thought, the knife, is applied to experience, something is always killed in the process. That is fairly well understood, at least in the arts. Mark Twain’s experience comes to mind, in which, after he had mastered the analytic knowledge needed to pilot the Mississippi River, he discovered the river had lost its beauty. Something is always killed. But what is less noticed in the arts—something is always created too. And instead of just dwelling on what is killed it’s important also to see what’s created and to see the process as a kind of death-birth continuity that is neither good nor bad, but just is.
     We pass through a town called Marmarth but John doesn’t stop even for a rest and so we go on. More furnace heat, into some badlands, and we cross the border into Montana. A sign by the road announces it.
     Sylvia waves her arms up and down and I beep the horn in response, but when I look at the sign my feelings are not jubilant at all. For me its information causes a sudden inward tension that can’t exist for them. They’ve no way of knowing we’re now in the country where he lived.
     All this talk so far about classic and romantic understanding must seem a strangely oblique way of describing him, but to get at Phaedrus, this oblique route is the only one to take. To describe his physical appearance or the statistics of his life would be to dwell on misleading superficialities. And to come at him directly would be to invite disaster.
     He was insane. And when you look directly at an insane man all you see is a reflection of your own knowledge that he’s insane, which is not to see him at all. To see him you must see what he saw and when you are trying to see the vision of an insane man, an oblique route is the only way to come at it. Otherwise your own opinions block the way. There is only one access to him that I can see as passable and we still have a way to go.
     I’ve been going into all this business of analyses and definitions and hierarchies not for their own sake but to lay the groundwork for an understanding of the direction in which Phaedrus went.
     I told Chris the other night that Phaedrus spent his entire life pursuing a ghost. That was true. The ghost he pursued was the ghost that underlies all of technology, all of modern science, all of Western thought. It was the ghost of rationality itself. I told Chris that he found the ghost and that when he found it he thrashed it good. I think in a figurative sense that is true. The things I hope to bring to light as we go along are some of the things he uncovered. Now the times are such that others may at last find them of value. No one then would see the ghost that Phaedrus pursued, but I think now that more and more people see it, or get glimpses of it in bad moments, a ghost which calls itself rationality but whose appearance is that of incoherence and meaninglessness, which causes the most normal of everyday acts to seem slightly mad because of their irrelevance to anything else. This is the ghost of normal everyday assumptions which declares that the ultimate purpose in life, which is to keep alive, is impossible, but that this is the ultimate purpose of life anyway, so that great minds struggle to cure diseases so that people may live longer, but only madmen ask why. One lives longer in order that he may live longer. There is no other purpose. That is what the ghost says.

Like an Avenging Angel

Excerpt from the novel Rising Storm icon-external-link-12x12 icon-search-12x12 by S.M. Stirling icon-external-link-12x12 icon-search-12x12

S.M. Stirling's "Rising Storm" book cover. [Formatted]


     If anyone had been able to see through the van’s darkened windows, they would have seen a pair of tall, grim-faced twins, a short, dark, balding muscleman, and a child of angelic beauty. Alissa’s golden hair curled to the center of her back and she looked adorable in a little blue sundress and white sandals. She carried an adult’s white purse that was almost as big as she was.
     The purse contained all of their identity papers, driver’s licenses for each of the Terminators, the deed on their new house, the van’s registration, and several thousand dollars in cash, all that Clea thought they would need to get them safely to their new location in Utah.
     The older Infiltrator didn’t know that Alissa had gathered all of this material in one place, and would have disapproved if she had known. But to Alissa it felt right, and since she didn’t really trust her older sibling, she went with her feelings.
     Alissa was looking forward to getting settled in. She was long overdue for her next growth enhancement and the sense of being off schedule tormented her. Once in a while, to distract herself, she checked her sister’s computer to view whatever Clea was looking at. She wasn’t interested in communication so much as she wished she was in a more interesting place than the endless expanse of rolling sagebrush outside. New York was enormous, filled with buildings of staggering size and teeming with life, at once fascinating and revolting.
     For the most part, like the Terminators, she ignored the often spectacular scenery they were traveling through. Occasionally she would take note of a suitable spot for an ambush, or places for the automated factories.
     But for the most part this land was empty and, as far as she could see, always would be. She flicked her inner vision back to the busy New York streets. That was where the war would take place. There, along the Mississippi, and on the West Coast. Soon, she hoped. For now, this empty land was a good place to begin laying plans and manufacturing allies.
     “I’m hungry,” she said eventually. “Pull in to the next available place.”
     The Terminators didn’t acknowledge her order; there was no need. Even voicing it aloud was mainly a matter of training herself in humanizing her mannerisms.
     They did have supplies on the van, but she was bored and wished to begin socializing both herself and the Terminators to the degree that any of them was capable. You really couldn’t terminate humans effectively if they had warning.


     The restaurant was clean, with a black-and-white tile floor and chipped Formica surfaces; it smelled of cooking but of no particular food or spice unless it was hot oil. The four of them took a booth where rips in the plastic cover had been carefully patched with duct tape, and a waitress in a pink uniform and comfortable-looking shoes came over with plastic-coated menus. The menus were slightly sticky to the touch.
     “Blue-plate special’s chicken-fried steak,” she announced to the puzzled machines and Infiltrator.
     “Chicken… fried… steak?” Alissa asked. She had a ridiculous mental image of a fowl flipping meat onto a grill.
     The waitress grinned. “You never had that, honey?” she asked. “You dip the steak in the same kinda coating you use for chicken, then you fry it.”
     “Interesting,” the Infiltrator said. It didn’t sound very healthy. “We will have that,” she said, handing the menu back to the woman.
     The waitress raised her brows and looked at the Terminators. In her experience, big, tough-looking men usually didn’t take orders from little blond moppets.
     “You boys okay with that?” she asked doubtfully. They handed back the menus and just looked at her. “How would you like those steaks cooked?”
     Alissa blinked as she considered this. It felt like a trick question. “Until they’re done,” she said after a moment.
     The waitress looked at her, a look that said, “Don’t give me any more nonsense, kid.” “Rare, medium, or well-done?” she asked tersely.
     “Ah, medium,” Alissa said. That sounded like a safe choice.
     “To drink?” The waitress’s voice hardened slightly under their unwavering gazes.
     “Just water,” Alissa said. If the dinner was unhealthy she need not compound the error with fluids made with a surfeit of sugar or caffeine.
     “And you boys?” The waitress stood with her pencil poised over her pad.
     “For all of us,” Alissa told her.
     The waitress sniffed and shook her head as she moved off; maybe they were playing some kind of road game to keep the kid entertained. Who cared? The girl seemed polite enough.
     Alissa looked around the room with interest. All of the furnishings seemed to be at least thirty years old, some of the advertisements included. At least those advertisements that took the form of clocks or lights did. Two men at the end of the counter were looking at her. They smiled at her and waggled their fingers in a friendly way. She just looked at them until they turned away.
     The waitress eventually returned with their food and placed a plate before each of the Terminators without comment, dropping the last one in front of Alissa, who picked up her fork.
     “What do you say?” the woman asked, frowning and smiling at the same time.
     Alissa and the Terminators looked at her mutely. The waitress glanced at the Terminators somewhat nervously. “What’s the magic word?” she prompted the Infiltrator.
     This female has gone mad, the I-950 thought. She was certain that most humans didn’t believe in magic. Had she done something to precipitate this condition?
     “Thank you,” the waitress said carefully. She glanced again at the Terminators, then back at Alissa.
     “You’re welcome,” the I-950 said, equally carefully.
     The waitress laughed. “Enjoy,” she said, and moved off chuckling.
     Alissa watched her go nervously. Insane humans were unpredictable and, she’d read, often unnaturally strong. Strong as a Terminator? she wondered. She’d have to look it up.
     Her excellent peripheral vision told her that the two men at the counter were watching her. The I-950 frowned as she sawed at her meat. Was there something strange about her? She studied them carefully.
     They seemed ordinary enough. One was about fifty, with glasses and graying hair. The other was younger, perhaps late twenties, early thirties. That one had dark hair and was thin. Their glances became more furtive and the way they occasionally spoke to each other made her think they were talking about her. With a slight adjustment of her ears she listened in.
     “So, whaddaya think?” the thin one asked.
     “Definitely potential.” The older man glanced at her again. “Could be a real winner.”
     “Should we go for it?”
     After a long pause the older man said, “Big risk, might not be worth the trouble.”
     “Yeah, well, you gotta take the opportunities life sends ya. We gotta do something, for Christ’s sake.” The thin man took a sip of his coffee. “We got bills to pay.”
     The older man snorted and took a sip of his coffee.
     “Let’s see if any opportunities present themselves, okay? No point in doing things the hard way if you don’t have to. And those three boys look plenty hard, if you get my meaning.”
     As far as Alissa could tell, this conversation had nothing to do with her; in any case, it was irrelevant at the moment. She continued to eat steadily, her higher metabolism allowing her to eat adult volumes of food with ease. The waitress, when she returned, complimented her on it.
     “I was very hungry,” Alissa told her. “Are there facilities here?”
     The waitress pursed her lips in amusement and indicated a corridor to her right, moving aside when Alissa slipped out of the booth. “She’s cute,” she said to the Terminators when Alissa was out of hearing. They just looked at her. “So,” she said crisply after a silent moment, “you gonna have dessert?”
     As one, the three Terminators looked toward the bathrooms.
     The waitress rolled her eyes. “Coffee, then, until your little girl gets back?”
     One of the men at the counter threw down some bills and left. The other headed for the rest rooms. The waitress took note, estimating with a glance that the crumpled wad of money would pay their check.
     “Coffee,” the senior Terminator said at last, the answer its decision tree had offered as the best response.
     The waitress nodded and cleared the table; and she made a bet with herself that these weirdos wouldn’t tip.

Clay Radcliff was proud of the fact that, like the Boy Scouts on whom he had occasionally preyed, he was always prepared. He never left home without a nice clean handkerchief and his little bottle of chloroform tucked into his belt pouch. He lurked in the men’s room, the door open just a fraction, watching for the glorious little moppet who was soon to be his little movie star.
     Alissa finished her business, washed her hands, and disdained to use the endless linen towel that had apparently never been changed. Wiping off the wet on the skirt of her dress, she walked down the hall back toward the Terminators.
     Clay swung out behind her and with practiced ease clapped the handkerchief over her small face, pulling her tight to his soft stomach as he dragged her into the men’s room.
     Unexpectedly the little brat clawed backward, obviously aiming for his groin. He barely got his leg up in time to protect himself, and even then she grabbed the muscle with the force of a metal clamp. Clay gasped in pain, his mouth wide open in agony and surprise. He swung her off her feet and the girl began to pummel his legs with her sharp little heels. Each kick was like a hammer blow and Clay spread his legs, trying to get away from the punishment.
     Desperately he pressed her body against the wall, clamping her there with all his weight. Still she wriggled and kicked. Damn but the kid was strong! When the hell was she going to black out? Usually they went down instantly. He was getting dizzy from the goddamned fumes and she was still bucking like a bronco!

Alissa’s computer enhancements worked hard to overcome the effects of the chloroform. They warned her that if she didn’t break free in ten seconds she would succumb. The I-950 continued to fight. The slight differences in the muscle attachments in her arms and shoulders gave her a strength far beyond her size and years; and there was a greater flexibility built into her joints that allowed her to perform feats so unlikely that no ordinary human could anticipate them.
     She folded one leg behind her, pointing her foot, and rammed it upward into the man’s groin. He gasped in agony and his grip on her arms loosened. The I-950 twisted her arm free and reached up and back.
     The man didn’t even have time to react to the touch of a tiny hand on his throat. One moment he was folding over the agony in his groin, still trying to keep hold of her, the next he was thrashing on the floor, clawing at thin air, blood spraying from his throat, spurting from his mouth. He fell back, choking, his eyes bugging out in horror, the blood turning to a fan-shaped spray as he tried to scream.
     Alissa’s powerful little hand had snapped his windpipe like a paper straw.

Out in the parking lot Gil’s fingers beat a nervous tattoo on the van’s steering wheel. He’d been in position for over five minutes and he was feeling very conspicuous. Nobody sits outside an emergency door in a van with the motor running for no reason. Anybody who noticed probably wouldn’t think that reason was a good one. Most likely they’d think he was waiting for someone to finish robbing the diner.
     He wished. Robbery carried a fairly light sentence compared with kidnapping.
     Hurry your ass up, Gil! he thought fiercely.
     Three minutes later he slammed his palm against the wheel and opened the van door. He moved to the emergency door and opened it with exquisite caution. Gil breathed a sigh of relief when no alarm sounded. He peeked through the crack and saw no one in the short corridor; there was no sound from either bathroom.
     Gil looked around; no one was watching, so he slipped inside and moved quietly to the men’s room. Pressing his ear against the door, he listened and heard water running. Carefully he tried the knob and it turned. Gritting his teeth, Gil opened the door and slipped inside.

The little girl washing her dress in the sink looked up at Gil, who stood frozen, staring at the man lying on the floor in a spreading pool of blood. Slowly he turned to gaze at her sweet, expressionless face and innocent blue eyes and wondered if he was having a nightmare.
     She blinked at him and Gil shook his head. Her hair was drenched with blood and her face and arms wore flecks of blood so tiny it looked as though they’d been applied in a fine spray. He took a deep breath of the fetid air in the tiny room and nearly gagged on the complex mixture of blood and feces and disinfectant.
     Gil knew that somehow this beautiful little girl was responsible, that somehow, like an avenging angel, she was the answer to all the prayers of all the kids he and Clay had ever hurt. He pressed his back to the door and all he could think to say to her was “no,” over and over, half plea, half denial.

Alissa stared at the human. Then she smiled slightly, watching him pale as her expression changed. “You should have knocked,” she said gently.
     He turned to open the door and she squatted to pick up the chloroform-soaked handkerchief, then sprang up and grabbed him, her legs clamping around his arms so tightly he couldn’t dislodge her. The man shrugged and struggled, opening his mouth as though to shout. The I-950 pressed the handkerchief over his mouth and nose, effectively gagging him. Within seconds he began to totter. Apparently sensing his danger, he began trying to bite her, but Alissa easily kept his jaws apart. Then he slammed himself into the bathroom door. She grimaced and held on, extending her senses to see if anyone had heard the sound. Apparently the crash had been more significant in the bathroom’s small confines. No one commented, no one came.
     Her computer tested the man’s vital signs and concluded that he would shortly be unconscious. The I-950 lost patience; shortly wasn’t soon enough. She took one hand from his mouth and felt along the column of his throat. The man tried to shout, making muffled sounds, then tried to turn his head, obviously meaning to shake off both of her hands, almost succeeding in actually moving. Alissa found what she was searching for, and with a flex of her fingers she felt his hyoid bone snap.
     That should hurry things along, she thought with satisfaction.
     For a moment his struggles became more violent, then he fell forward. The computer confirmed unconsciousness and she let him go; pushing herself upright, she stared down at him. A brief spasm passed through the body and it voided, finally going limp. That was good. She hadn’t wanted any more blood to contend with.
     As she scrubbed her dress the child part of Alissa enjoyed pretending that Skynet had set up a test for her, just like it used to do for Serena, her mother/sister, a test that she had passed. But the computer part of her objected to the dissonance and with a wistful sigh she put the idea from her.
     She looked at the bodies on the floor. It would probably be best to leave here now. This incident had already caused enough delay.
     Holding up the dress, Alissa studied it. Most of the stains were gone, but there was a shadow of brownish red at the neckline. Future washings would probably remove the stain. Meanwhile she could hardly walk through the diner in a soaking-wet dress. She ordered the T-101s to meet her at the van and slipped out the back door in her underpants.


     The guys’ attitude had changed dramatically in just the few days that John had been gone. Wendy listened to them with growing unease.
     “I feel like I’ve been hypnotized,” Snog was saying. “I can’t believe I was making life-changing promises to some seventeen-year-old!”
     “If what John was telling us is true—” Wendy began.
     “Hey! He lied about his age,” Yam pointed out.
     “That’s because you guys were making such a big deal about it,” she said crossly. “Anyway, if Judgment Day happens, then at least we’ll have lives.”
     “His father is from the future,” Brad said dreamily. “He probably hasn’t even been born yet.” He looked around at his friends. “How the hell does that work?”
     “Not too well,” Yam commented. “At least as far as his dad was concerned.”
     “Yeah,” Carl agreed. “Imagine sending your father back through time to become your father, knowing he’s going to get killed.”
     There was a silence as they all contemplated the idea.
     “Do it to my old man in a flash,” Yam muttered.
     “Yeah, I’ve met him, I second that,” Carl said. They high-fived.
     Wendy frowned but said nothing. She listened uneasily, not liking the implied criticism of John, and not sure where they were going with this. Not knowing for sure how she felt about all this.
     On the one hand, she felt uneasy knowing that all John’s mother’s ravings were nothing but the truth; on the other, she didn’t like knowing that far from being the victim of some government conspiracy, his mother really had blown up a bunch of computer companies.
     And what would you have done? she kept asking herself. As yet she didn’t have an answer.
     “His mother must be terrifying,” Brad said, almost as though he was listening in on her thoughts.
     “I heard she was a fox,” Snog said, and waggled his brows.
     The guys started kidding and snickering about that, and Wendy listened. Maybe they were just acting out because John intimidated them. Her lips quirked in a smile. If seventeen-year-old John was intimidating, then maybe his mom was actually terrifying.
     “So what are we gonna do?” Carl asked. He looked directly at Snog.
     Snog shrugged, his eyes wide in a manner that invited Carl to say more.
     “What do you mean, what are we gonna do?” Wendy demanded.
     “Oh, c’mon,” Carl almost shouted. “When he’s around, you somehow can believe all that crazy shit. But let’s get real, guys. A father who hasn’t been born yet? Killer robots? A maniacal computer that’s going to blow up the world? That’s bullshit! None of that can possibly be real!”
     “But this is real,” Snog said. He held up the chip that John had left with them. “And he sure didn’t create this thing.” He gave Wendy an apologetic glance. “John’s smart, but he’s not smart like us, and none of us could have come up with this design, never mind actually manufacturing it. I know we all want to go into denial, guys. I can feel the pull myself. But there’s always this.” He shook the chip. “And this says it wasn’t a dream, and it isn’t a lie, it’s real. So what I’m gonna do is figure this baby out, then I’m gonna get my degree and get the hell outta Dodge before the fire comes down.”
     Wendy let out her pent-up breath quietly, tremendously relieved. If Snog had backed out on this project John had given them, the others would have followed his lead. There wouldn’t have been a thing she could have done about it, either to change their minds or to retrieve the chip.
     She met Snog’s glance and she still didn’t feel absolutely secure about him, but for now, he was on John’s side, and that would have to do.


     There had been a little spate of customers and it was a half hour later when the waitress noticed that the three men were still seated, unmoving and silent before their untouched coffee, and the little girl wasn’t back from the rest room yet. These guys are seriously getting on my nerves, she thought.
     She brought over the check.
     “Twenty-eight eighty-seven, boys,” she said with false cheer. “Hope you enjoyed it.” She stood, smiling expectantly, determined not to be intimidated by their size and their silence, even though she was.
     The three Terminators looked at her, their faces expressionless, unblinking. Then one of them took a wallet out of Alissa’s bag and extracted two twenties. The waitress, so tense she actually felt taller, began to count out change. Then, as one, they suddenly rose and walked out, paying her no more attention than if she’d been invisible.
     “Well, hell!” she murmured. Then she shook herself.
     She’d been wrong; they were good tippers. But she hoped she’d never meet their like again.

Soon after her strange customers had gone it occurred to the waitress that she might want to check the ladies’ room. She didn’t quite trust that strange little girl.
     Opening the door, she found the place in perfect order. Well, as perfect as a rest room ever got. As she went back down the corridor she decided to check the men’s room to see if it needed paper.
     A bloodcurdling scream was heard all the way to the kitchen.

He Was About to Risk Something He Really Valued Here—the Continued Respect of this Man

Excerpt from the novel Rising Storm icon-external-link-12x12 icon-search-12x12 by S.M. Stirling icon-external-link-12x12 icon-search-12x12

S.M. Stirling's "Rising Storm" book cover. [Formatted]


     Almost into Oregon, on the east side of Goose Lake, nestled beneath the spreading, green canopy of old-growth pines, was a small log cabin. It had one story, a stone chimney, and three rooms, one with a glass wall facing the lake as well as a state-of-the-art woodstove. It also boasted its own generator plus a slew of more esoteric gadgets. For a rustic log cabin it was amazingly twenty-first century.
     Extending out into the lake nearby was a wooden pier; a small boat with an outboard motor was tied up at the far end. The pier was so low to the water that one could step aboard easily.
     At the very end of the pier, seated in an aluminum chair with yellow plastic webbing, was a big man of about sixty. His gray hair was covered with a battered khaki hat decorated with fishhooks and a plastic badge that held a fishing and a hunting license. He wore tan shorts, white socks with sandals, and a neon-orange shirt decorated with bright blue hibiscus blossoms and green hummingbirds.
     In one hand he held a high-end rod and reel, the butt end resting on his thigh. The other hand was curled in his lap; he appeared to be dozing. Beside him a can of beer sat atop a red-and-white cooler.
     Dieter had been observing this tranquil scene for over two hours from various locations around the cabin. It appeared that there wasn’t anybody around except for him and the old man. Which made a nice change. Several times now he’d had to abort contact with someone he wanted to recruit because of a Sector presence. But if they were here they were too well hidden for him to spot. Time to make his move. He crept silently toward the pier.
     The old man’s hand jerked and suddenly held a Walther P-38, old and well maintained and deadly, the 9mm eyehole looking as big as a cannon when it settled unwaveringly on Dieter’s face. His eyes moved to the tiny mirrors on the inner edge of his oversized sunglasses.
     “Jesus Christ, Dieter, what took you so damned long?” he demanded. “I thought my goddamned bladder was going to explode.” He stood up and held out the rod. “Here, reel this in and come into the cabin.”
     Dieter stood with his mouth open, caught flat-footed. Like some raw recruit, he thought.
     “How did you know?” he asked, accepting the rod.
     “Christ Almighty, you were making so much racket I thought I was being invaded by bears. Bring the beer in, too.”
     Von Rossbach watched the older man trot up the path to the cabin for a moment; then shaking his head, he began to reel in the unused lure. He’d always said the boss was psychic.
     When von Rossbach was a young agent assigned to Doc Holmes’s unit, he’d quickly become aware that his mentor possessed an acute situational awareness. And though Doc was well schooled in every facet of covert technology, he made it plain that he preferred his agents to rely mainly on their native faculties.
     “What are you gonna do if your batteries run out?” he’d ask sarcastically. “Go home?”
     Doc could be as exasperating as he was amazing. At some point whenever they got together, he left Dieter feeling like the overconfident young student in a kung fu movie who could never get the best of the master.
     Dieter tucked the rod under one arm, the chair under the other, and picked up the cooler. In a way it was kind of nice to know that he still had things to learn. At least it means that I’m not the old master yet. And he’s never made me walk over rice paper without tearing it, or asked me to trust the Force.
     When he entered the cabin Doc was flicking switches on what looked like an incredibly complex stereo unit.
     “Siddown,” Doc invited. “Have yourself a brew.”
     He continued to fiddle with the console, though no music began to play. Von Rossbach selected a beer and sat watching him, making no comment.
     Finally Holmes took a seat himself and, indicating the console, spoke as though continuing an ongoing conversation, “Yeah, the Sector promised me they wouldn’t keep me under observation when I retired. They lied.” He put a finger by his nose and winked. “But I never made them any promises in return. What I just did then was erase the little bit of conversation we just had and replace it with tweeting birds and lake water lapping the pier.” He grinned. “I pity the poor schmo they’ve got listening in on me; his brain is probably turning to New Age paste.” Taking a sip of beer, he studied his former agent.
     “So, what brings you here to Goose Lake? I heard you’d retired to Paraguay, of all places.”
     Dieter shifted in his chair. “Paraguay is nice,” he said, a bit defensively. “A little boring sometimes, but basically very nice.”
     With a snort Doc said, “So’s Goose Lake, if you like being bored out of your mind.” He wagged a finger. “You’ve been causing comment, dear boy. What’s this I hear about you and Sarah Connor?”
     “How do you know about that?” von Rossbach demanded.
     Doc looked smug. “Remember how I said I never made them any promises? Wellll… I found a way to keep myself updated. When you left I hear you just… left.”
     “I burned out all at once,” Dieter agreed. “I couldn’t wait to get out of there. They agreed.”
     “Wanna talk about it?” Doc asked.
     “Nothing to talk about,” von Rossbach said. “There was nothing particular about my last mission that made it my last. It just was. Maybe I didn’t take enough time between assignments, maybe I should have taken a desk job instead of staying in the field.” He shrugged his big shoulders. “I don’t know; it was just over.”
     Holmes looked at him shrewdly. “I ask again, what’s this about Sarah Connor? Not like you to side with the terrorists.”
     Is that what they’re saying? Dieter thought. Of course it was, what else could they think? “Sarah Connor isn’t a terrorist,” he said aloud. His voice was flat when he said it; he didn’t expect to be believed.
     Doc raised a brow at that. “She’s not? She’s bombed at least three computer companies that we know of. Okay, two of them were Cyberdyne, but that still counts as three hits. Not to mention she’s guilty of drug smuggling and arms dealing. These are things that terrorists do, buddy.”
     Dieter sighed. He was about to risk something he really valued here—the continued respect of this man. “But what if she’s not crazy, Doc?” He looked up and met the other man’s eyes.
     Both of Doc’s brows went up at that. He sat contemplating his former agent for a while. “Not crazy,” he said at last.
     “Would you be willing to listen?” von Rossbach asked him.
     Holmes pursed his lips and blew out a stream of air. He shrugged. “Sure, what the hell, I haven’t got anything else on my schedule right now.”
     Dieter studied him carefully; if he didn’t buy this story, Dieter knew Doc would turn him in to the Sector in a New York minute. He ran one hand over his face, feeling desperate. Well, this is what you’re here for, he told himself.
     “It’s all true,” he said simply. Dieter waived his hands. “All of it.”
     For a moment Doc sat still, looking expectant. “That’s it?” he exclaimed. “That’s your explanation? ‘Cause, y’know, I’m sitting here waiting for something more. What if all I know about Sarah Connor is she likes to blow up computer companies?”
     Tossing his head impatiently, von Rossbach said, “You know more about the case than that! I know you better, Doc. I worked for you for ten years. If you saw my name connected with hers in the Sector’s files, you’d look into it. I know you would.”
     Doc waggled his head back and forth. “Okay, good call.” He went silent for a while, his eyes on the middle distance. “I have to admit I was very intrigued by that guy who shot up the police station, then ten years later showed up in a shopping mall.” He waved a hand at von Rossbach. “It was you! Except that at the time of both incidents, you were working for me, and in the first case, you were actually, physically, with me. So what am I supposed to think? I know you don’t have an evil identical twin. I know they say everybody has a double, but that’s bullshit.”
     Dieter watched Doc as he worked it through, the older man’s fingers tapping on the arms of his chair. Doc looked up at him. “Connor says this guy was some kind of robot.” A statement that was really a question.
     Dieter nodded. “I got to meet a couple of them, Doc. They looked exactly like me. I saw their insides; they’re made of metal. Rods and cams, hydraulics, a really impressive small power unit, computer controls—neural-net computers. They’re real.”
     After studying Dieter for a moment, Doc said, “So it follows that the ultimate killer computer and the Judgment Day crap… all that’s real, too?”
     “I hope not. That’s what Sarah has been trying to prevent all these years.” He bit his lip. “Unfortunately we’ve come to the conclusion that maybe it can’t be stopped. Maybe it’s meant to happen and there’s nothing that can be done to prevent it. The best we can do is mitigate the circumstances. Which is why I’m here.”
     “Yeah, Whang said you were recruiting people.”
     Doc waited him out. Dieter could feel heat creeping up his face. Only Doc could make him feel like a naive kid saying something stupid. “So I was hoping that we could rely on you to help when the time came.” There, that was it. This time he waited for Holmes to speak.
     “You’re serious about this, I can see that,” Doc said at last. “I’m not gonna tell you it makes me feel good; like you’ve found a nice hobby to enliven your retirement.” He tightened his lips to thin line, then met von Rossbach’s eyes. “But I’ve trusted you before now and been right. So… I’ll take a chance and agree to help you. But!” He held up a stern finger. “I’m not going to be party to any wacko terrorist behavior. If your girlfriend feels an urge to blow up anything else, I’d advise you to talk her out of it, or I’m gone. Got it?”
     “Yes,” Dieter said simply. “Thank you.”
     “So what do you want from me anyway?”
     “When the time comes we’ll need someplace marginally safe for people to go.” Dieter looked out at the peaceful lake. “This would make a good destination. We’ll also need your training skills.” He hesitated. “And we’ll need someplace to stockpile supplies.”
     Von Rossbach was enormously relieved. The fact that Holmes had agreed so readily meant that he’d given the matter study and thought. And where Doc led, others would follow; generations of Sector agents and allies had worked with, or trained under, the old man. He was glad he’d taken the chance and approached him.
     Doc nodded once or twice, then narrowed his eyes thoughtfully. “How bad do you expect this thing to get?”
     “Bad,” Dieter said. “Not as bad as it would have been six years ago maybe. But bad. Billions dead. End of civilization as we know it. Possible extinction of the human race.”
     Holmes nodded, his eyes on the braided rug beneath his feet, then he looked up, his eyes sharp. “I really hope she’s crazy, Dieter, if that’s an improvement on the original version.”
     One corner of the Austrian’s mouth quirked in a half smile. “I wish she was.”

Even to Understand the Word ‘Doublethink’ Involved the Use of Doublethink

Excerpt from the novel 1984 icon-external-link-12x12 icon-search-12x12 by George Orwell icon-external-link-12x12 icon-search-12x12

George Orwell's "1984" book cover. [Formatted]

Winston was dreaming of his mother.
     He must, he thought, have been ten or eleven years old when his mother had disappeared. She was a tall, statuesque, rather silent woman with slow movements and magnificent fair hair. His father he remembered more vaguely as dark and thin, dressed always in neat dark clothes (Winston remembered especially the very thin soles of his father’s shoes) and wearing spectacles. The two of them must evidently have been swallowed up in one of the first great purges of the ‘fifties.
     At this moment his mother was sitting in some place deep down beneath him, with his young sister in her arms. He did not remember his sister at all, except as a tiny, feeble baby, always silent, with large, watchful eyes. Both of them were looking up at him. They were down in some subterranean place—the bottom of a well, for instance or a very deep grave—but it was a place which, already far below him, was itself moving downwards. They were in the saloon of a sinking ship, looking up at him through the darkening water. There was still air in the saloon, they could see him and he them, but all the while they were sinking down, down into the green waters which in another moment must hide them from sight for ever. He was out in the light and air while they were being sucked down to death, and they were down there because he was up here. He knew it and they knew it, and he could see the knowledge in their faces. There was no reproach either in their faces or in their hearts, only the knowledge that they must die in order that he might remain alive, and that this was part of the unavoidable order of things.
     He could not remember what had happened, but he knew in his dream that in some way the lives of his mother and his sister had been sacrificed to his own. It was one of those dreams which, while retaining the characteristic dream scenery, are a continuation of one’s intellectual life, and in which one becomes aware of facts and ideas which still seem new and valuable after one is awake. The thing that now suddenly struck Winston was that his mother’s death, nearly thirty years ago, had been tragic and sorrowful in a way that was no longer possible. Tragedy, he perceived, belonged to the ancient time, to a time when there was still privacy, love and friendship, and when the members of a family stood by one another without needing to know the reason. His mother’s memory tore at his heart because she had died loving him, when he was too young and selfish to love her in return, and because somehow, he did not remember how, she had sacrificed herself to a conception of loyalty that was private and unalterable. Such things, he saw, could not happen today. Today there were fear, hatred and pain, but no dignity of emotion, no deep or complex sorrows. All this he seemed to see in the large eyes of his mother and his sister, looking up at him through the green water, hundreds of fathoms down and still sinking.
     Suddenly he was standing on short springy turf, on a summer evening when the slanting rays of the sun gilded the ground. The landscape that he was looking at recurred so often in his dreams that he was never fully certain whether or not he had seen it in the real world. In his waking thoughts he called it the Golden Country. It was an old, rabbit-bitten pasture, with a foot-track wandering across it and a molehill here and there. In the ragged hedge on the opposite side of the field the boughs of the elm trees were swaying very faintly in the breeze, their leaves just stirring in dense masses like women’s hair. Somewher near at hand, though out of sight, there was a clear, slow-moving stream where dace were swimming in the pools under the willow trees.
     The girl with dark hair was coming towards him across the field. With what seemed a single movement she tore off her clothes and flung them disdainfully aside. Her body was white and smooth, but it aroused no desire in him, indeed he barely looked at it. What overwhelmed him in that instant was admiration for the gesture with which she had thrown her clothes aside. With its grace and carelessness it seemed to annihilate a whole culture, a whole system of thought, as though Big Brother and the Party and the Thought Police could all be swept into nothingness by a single splendid movement of the arm. That too was a gesture belonging to the ancient time. Winston woke up with the word ‘Shakespeare’ on his lips.
     The telescreen was giving forth an ear-splitting whistle which continued on the same note for thirty seconds. It was nought seven fifteen, getting-up time for office workers. Winston wrenched his body out of bed—naked, for a member of the Outer Party received only three thousand clothing coupons annually, and a suit of pyjamas was six hundred—and seized a dingy singlet and a pair of shorts that were lying across a chair. The Physical Jerks would begin in three minutes. The next moment he was doubled up by a violent coughing fit which nearly always attacked him soon after waking up. It emptied his lungs so completely that he could only begin breathing again by lying on his back and taking a series of deep gasps. His veins had swelled with the effort of the cough, and the varicose ulcer had started itching.
     ‘Thirty to forty group!’ yapped a piercing female voice. ‘Thirty to forty group! Take your places, please. Thirties to forties!’
     Winston sprang to attention in front of the telescreen, upon which the image of a youngish woman, scrawny but muscular, dressed in tunic and gym-shoes, had already appeared.
     ‘Arms bending and stretching!’ she rapped out. ‘Take your time by me. One, two, three, four! One, two, three, four! Come on, comrades, put a bit of life into it! One, two, three, four! One, two, three, four!…’
     The pain of the coughing fit had not quite driven out of Winston’s mind the impression made by his dream, and the rhythmic movements of the exercise restored it somewhat. As he mechanically shot his arms back and forth, wearing on his face the look of grim enjoyment which was considered proper during the Physical Jerks, he was struggling to think his way backward into the dim period of his early childhood. It was extraordinarily difficult. Beyond the late ‘fifties everything faded. When there were no external records that you could refer to, even the outline of your own life lost its sharpness. You remembered huge events which had quite probably not happened, you remembered the detail of incidents without being able to recapture their atmosphere, and there were long blank periods to which you could assign nothing. Everything had been different then. Even the names of countries, and their shapes on the map, had been different. Airstrip One, for instance, had not been so called in those days: it had been called England or Britain, though London, he felt fairly certain, had always been called London.
     Winston could not definitely remember a time when his country had not been at war, but it was evident that there had been a fairly long interval of peace during his childhood, because one of his early memories was of an air raid which appeared to take everyone by surprise. Perhaps it was the time when the atomic bomb had fallen on Colchester. He did not remember the raid itself, but he did remember his father’s hand clutching his own as they hurried down, down, down into some place deep in the earth, round and round a spiral staircase which rang under his feet and which finally so wearied his legs that he began whimpering and they had to stop and rest. His mother, in her slow dreamy way, was following a long way behind them. She was carrying his baby sister—or perhaps it was only a bundle of blankets that she was carrying: he was not certain whether his sister had been born then. Finally they had emerged into a noisy, crowded place which he had realised to be a Tube station.
     There were people sitting all over the stone-flagged floor, and other people, packed tightly together, were sitting on metal bunks, one above the other. Winston and his mother and father found themselves a place on the floor, and near them an old man and an old woman were sitting side by side on a bunk. The old man had on a decent dark suit and a black cloth cap pushed back from very white hair: his face was scarlet and his eyes were blue and full of tears. He reeked of gin. It seemed to breathe out of his skin in place of sweat, and one could have fancied that the tears welling from his eyes were pure gin. But though slightly drunk he was also suffering under some grief that was genuine and unbearable. In his childish way Winston grasped that some terrible thing, something that was beyond forgiveness and could never be remedied, had just happened. It also seemed to him that he knew what it was. Someone whom the old man loved, a little granddaughter perhaps, had been killed. Every few minutes the old man kept repeating:
     ‘We didn’t ought to ‘ave trusted ’em. I said so, Ma, didn’t I? That’s what come of trusting ’em . I said so all along. We didn’t ought to ‘ave trusted the buggers.’
     But which buggers they didn’t ought to have trusted Winston could not now remember.
     Since about that time, war had been literally continuous, though strictly speaking it had not always been the same war. For several months during his childhood there had been confused street fighting in London itself, some of which he remembered vividly. But to trace out the history of the whole period, to say who was fighting whom at any given moment, would have been utterly impossible, since no written record, and no spoken word, ever made mention of any other alignment than the existing one. At this moment, for example, in 1984 (if it was 1984), Oceania was at war with Eurasia and in alliance with Eastasia. In no public or private utterance was it ever admitted that the three powers had at any time been grouped along different lines. Actually, as Winston well knew, it was only four years since Oceania had been at war with Eastasia and in alliance with Eurasia. But that was merely a piece of furtive knowledge which he happened to posses because his memory was not satisfactorily under control. Officially the change of partners had never happened. Oceania was at war with Eurasia: therefore Oceania had always been at war with Eurasia. The enemy of the moment always represented absolute evil, and it followed that any past or future agreement with him was impossible.
     The frightening thing, he reflected for the ten thousandth time as he forced his shoulders painfully backward (with hands on hips, they were gyrating their bodies from the waist, an exercise that was supposed to be good for the back muscles)—the frightening thing was that it might all be true. If the Party could thrust its hand into the past and say of this or that event, it never happened—that, surely, was more terrifying than mere torture and death?
     The Party said that Oceania had never been in alliance with Eurasia. He, Winston Smith, knew that Oceania had been in alliance with Eurasia as short a time as four years ago. But where did that knowledge exist? Only in his own consciousness, which in any case must soon be annihilated. And if all others accepted the lie which the Party imposed—if all records told the same tale—then the lie passed into history and became truth. ‘Who controls the past,’ ran the Party slogan, ‘controls the future: who controls the present controls the past.’ And yet the past, though of its nature alterable, never had been altered. Whatever was true now was true from everlasting to everlasting. It was quite simple. All that was needed was an unending series of victories over your own memory. ‘Reality control’, they called it: in Newspeak, ‘doublethink’.
     ‘Stand easy!’ barked the instructress, a little more genially.
     Winston sank his arms to his sides and slowly refilled his lungs with air. His mind slid away into the labyrinthine world of doublethink. To know and not to know, to be conscious of complete truthfulness while telling carefully-constructed lies, to hold simultaneously two opinions which cancelled out, knowing them to be contradictory and believing in both of them; to use logic against logic, to repudiate morality while laying claim to it, to believe that democracy was impossible and that the Party was the guardian of domocracy; to forget whatever it was necessary to forget, then to draw it back into memory again at the moment when it was needed, and then promptly to forget it again: and above all, to apply the same process to the process itself. That was the ultimate subtlety: consciously to induce unconsciousness, and then, once again, to become unconscious of the act of hypnosis you had just performed. Even to understand the word ‘doublethink’ involved the use of doublethink.
     The instructress had called them to attention again. ‘And now let’s see which of us can touch our toes!’ she said enthusiastically. ‘Right over from the hips, please, comrades. One-two! One-two!…’
     Winston loathed this exercise, which sent shooting pains all the way from his heels to his buttocks and often ended by bringing on another coughing fit. The half-pleasant quality went out of his meditations. The past, he reflected, had not merely been altered, it had been actually destroyed. For how could you establish even the most obvious fact when there existed no record outside your own memory? He tried to remember in what year he had first heard mention of Big Brother. He thought it must have been at some time in the ‘sixties, but it was impossible to be certain. In the Party histories, of course, Big brother figured as the leader and guardian of the Revolution since its very earliest days. His exploits had been gradually pushed backwards in time until already they extended into the fabulous world of the ‘forties and the ‘thirties, when the capitalists in their strange cylindrical hats still rode through the streets of London in great gleaming motor-cars or horse carriages with glass sides. There was no knowing how much of this legend was true and how much invented. Winston could not even remember at what date the Party itself had come into existence. He did not believe he had ever heard the word Ingsoc before 1960, but it was possible that in its Oldspeak form—‘English Socialism’, that is to say—it had been current earlier. Everything melted into mist. Sometimes indeed, you could put your finger on a definite lie. It was not true, for example, as was claimed in the Party history books, that the Party had invented aeroplanes. He remembered aeroplanes since his earliest childhood. But you could prove nothing. There was never any evidence. Just once in his whole life he had held in his hands unmistakable documentary proof of the falsification of a historical fact. And on that occasion—
     ‘Smith!’ screamed the shrewish voice from the telescreen. ‘6079 Smith W! Yes, you! Bend lower, please! You can do better than that. You’re not trying. Lower, please! That’s better, comrade. Now stand at ease, the whole squad, and watch me.’
     A sudden hot sweat had broken out all over Winston’s body. His face remained completely inscrutable. Never show dismay! Never show resentment! A single flicker of the eyes could give you away. He stood watching while the instructress raised her arms above her head and—one could not say gracefully, but with remarkable neatness and efficiency—bent over and tucked the first joint of her fingers under her toes.
     ‘There, comrades! That’s how I want to see you doing it. Watch me again. I’m thirty-nine and I’ve had four children. Now look.’ She bent over again. ‘You see my knees aren’t bent. You can all do it if you want to,’ she added as she straightened herself up. ‘Anyone under forty-five is perfectly capable of touching his toes. We don’t all have the privilege of fighting in the front line, but at least we can all keep fit. Remember our boys on the Malabar front! And the sailors in the Floating Fortresses! Just think what they have to put up with. Now try again. That’s better comrade, that’s much better,’ she added encouragingly as Winston, with a violent lunge, succeeded in touching his toes with knees unbent, for the first time in several years.