Grooving On It

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]

     The flatness of the prairie disappears and a deep undulation of the earth begins. Fences are rarer, and the greenness has become paler… all signs that we approach the High Plains.
     We stop for gas at Hague and ask if there is any way to get across the Missouri between Bismarck and and Mobridge. The attendant doesn’t know of any. It is hot now, and John and Sylvia go somewhere to get their long underwear off. The motorcycle gets a change of oil and chain lubrication. Chris watches everything I do but with some impatience. Not a good sign.
     “My eyes hurt,” he says.
     “From what?”
     “From the wind.”
     “We’ll look for some goggles.”
     All of us go in a shop for coffee and rolls. Everything is different except one another, so we look around rather than talk, catching fragments of conversation among people who seem to know each other and are glancing at us because we’re new. Afterward, down the street, I find a thermometer for storage in the saddlebags and some plastic goggles for Chris.
     The hardware man doesn’t know any short route across the Missouri either. John and I study the map. I had hoped we might find an unofficial ferryboat crossing or footbridge or something in the ninety-mile stretch, but evidently there isn’t any because there’s not much to get to on the other side. It’s all Indian reservation. We decide to head south to Mobridge and cross there.
     The road south is awful. Choppy, narrow, bumpy concrete with a bad head wind, going into the sun and big semis going the other way. These roller-coaster hills speed them up on the down side and slow them up on the up side and prevent our seeing very far ahead, making passing nervewracking. The first one gave me a scare because I wasn’t ready for it. Now I hold tight and brace for them. No danger. Just a shock wave that hits you. It is hotter and dryer.
     At Herreid John disappears for a drink while Sylvia and Chris and I find some shade in a park and try to rest. It isn’t restful. A change has taken place and I don’t know quite what it is. The streets of this town are broad, much broader than they need be, and there is a pallor of dust in the air. Empty lots here and there between the buildings have weeds growing in them. The sheet metal equipment sheds and water tower are like those of previous towns but more spread out. Everything is more run-down and mechanical-looking, sort of randomly located. Gradually I see what it is. Nobody is concerned anymore about tidily conserving space. The land isn’t valuable anymore. We are in a Western town.
     We have lunch of hamburgers and malts at an A & W place in Mobridge, cruise down a heavily trafficked main street and then there it is, at the bottom of the hill, the Missouri. All that moving water is strange, banked by grass hills that hardly get any water at all. I turn around and glance at Chris but he doesn’t seem to be particularly interested in it.
     We coast down the hill, clunk onto the bridge and across we go, watching the river through the girders moving by rhythmically, and then we are on the other side.
     We climb a long, lang hill into another kind of country.
     The fences are really all gone now. No brush, no trees. The sweep of the hills is so great John’s motorcycle looks like an ant up ahead moving through the green slopes. Above the slopes outcroppings of rocks stand out overhead at the tops of the bluffs.
     It all has a natural tidiness. If it were abandoned land there would be a chewed-up, scruffy look, with chunks of old foundation concrete, scraps of painted sheet metal and wire, weeds that had gotten in where the sod was broken up for whatever little enterprise was attempted. None of that here. Not kept up, just never messed up in the first place. It’s just the way it always must have been. Reservation land.
     There’s no friendly motorcycle mechanic on the other side of those rocks and I’m wondering if we’re ready for this. If anything goes wrong now we’re in real trouble.
     I check the engine temperature with my hand. It’s reassuringly cool. I put in the clutch and let it coast for a second in order to hear it idling. Something sounds funny and I do it again. It takes me a while to figure out that it’s not the engine at all. There’s an echo from the bluff ahead that lingers after the throttle is closed. Funny. I do this two or three times. Chris wanders what’s wrong and I have him listen to the echo. No comment from him.
     This old engine has a nickels-and-dimes sound to it. As if there were a lot of loose change flying around inside. Sounds awful, but it’s just normal valve clatter. Once you get used to that sound and learn to expect it, you automatically hear any difference. If you don’t hear any, that’s good.
     I tried to get John interested in that sound once but it was hopeless. All he heard was noise and all he saw was the machine and me with greasy tools in my hands, nothing else. That didn’t work.
     He didn’t really see what was going on and was not interested enough to find out. He isn’t so interested in what things mean as in what they are. That’s quite important, that he sees things this way. It took me a long time to see this difference and it’s important for the Chautauqua that I make this difference clear.
     I was so baffled by his refusal even to think about any mechanical subject I kept searching for ways to clue him to the whole thing but didn’t know where to start.
     I thought I would wait until something went wrong with his machine and then I would help him fix it and that way get him into it, but I goofed that one myself because I didn’t understand this difference in the way he looked at things.
     His handlebars had started flipping. Not badly, he said, just a little when you shoved hard on them. I warned him not to use his adjustable wrench on the tightening nuts. It was likely to damage the chrome and start small rust spots. He agreed to use my metric sockets and box-ends.
     When he brought his motorcycle over I got my wrenches out but then noticed that no amount of tightening would stop the slippage, because the ends of the collars were pinched shut.
     “You’re going to have to shim those out,” I said.
     “What’s shim?”
     “It’s a thin, flat strip of metal. You just slip it around the handlebar under the collar there and it will open up the collar to where you can tighten it again. You use shims like that to make adjustments in all kinds of machines.”
     “Oh,” he said. He was getting interested. “Good. Where do you buy them?”
     “I’ve got some right here,” I said gleefully, holding up a can of beer in my hand.
     He didn’t understand for a moment. Then he said, “What, the can?
     “Sure,” I said, “best shim stock in the world.”
     I thought this was pretty clever myself. Save him a trip to God knows where to get shim stock. Save him time. Save him money.
     But to my surprise he didn’t see the cleverness of this at all. In fact he got noticeably haughty about the whole thing. Pretty soon he was dodging and filling with all kinds of excuses and, before I realized what his real attitude was, we had decided not to fix the handlebars after all.
     As far as I know those handlebars are still loose. And I believe now that he was actually offended at the time. I had had the nerve to propose repair of his new eighteen-hundred-dollar BMW, the pride of a half-century of German mechanical finesse, with a piece of old beer can!
     Ach, du lieber!
     Since then we have had very few conversations about motorcycle maintenance. None, now that I think of it.
     You push it any further and suddenly you are angry, without knowing why.
     I should say, to explain this, that beer-can aluminum is soft and sticky, as metals go. Perfect for the application. Aluminum doesn’t oxidize in wet weather—or, more precisely, it always has a thin layer of oxide that prevents any further oxidation. Also perfect.
     In other words, any true German mechanic, with a half-century of mechanical finesse behind him, would have concluded that this particular solution to this particular technical problem was perfect.should have done was sneak over to the workbench, cut a shim from the beer can, remove the printing and then come back and tell him we were in luck, it was the last one I had, specially imported from Germany. That would have done it. A special shim f rom the private stock of Baron Alfred Krupp, who had to sell it at a great sacrifice. Then he would have gone gaga over it.
     That Krupp’s-private-shim fantasy gratified me for a while, but then it wore off and I saw it was just being vindictive. In its place grew that old feeling I’ve talked about before, a feeling that there’s something bigger involved than is apparent on the surface. You follow these little discrepancies long enough and they sometimes open up into huge revelations. There was just a feeling on my part that this was something a little bigger than I wanted to take on without thinking about it, and I turned instead to my usual habit of trying to extract causes and effects to see what was involved that could possibly lead to such an impasse between John’s view of that lovely shim and my own. This comes up all the time in mechanical work. A hang-up. You just sit and stare and think, and search randomly for new information, and go away and come back again, and after a while the unseen factors start to emerge.
     What emerged in vague form at first and then in sharper outline was the explanation that I had been seeing that shim in a kind of intellectual, rational, cerebral way in which the scientific properties of the metal were all that counted. John was going at it immediately and intuitively, grooving on it. I was going at it in terms of underlying form. He was going at it in terms of immediate appearance. I was seeing what the shim meant. He was seeing what the shim was. That’s how I arrived at that distinction. And when you see what the shim is, in this case, it’s depressing. Who likes to think of a beautiful precision machine fixed with an old hunk of junk?
     I guess I forgot to mention John is a musician, a drummer, who works with groups all over town and makes a pretty fair income from it. I suppose he just thinks about everything the way he thinks about drumming—which is to say he doesn’t really think about it at all. He just does it. Is with it. He just responded to fixing his motorcycle with a beer can the way he would respond to someone dragging the beat while he was playing. It just did a big thud with him and that was it. He didn’t want any part of it.
     At first this difference seemed fairly minor, but then it grew… and grew… and grew… until I began to see why I missed it. Some things you miss because they’re so tiny you overlook them. But some things you don’t see because they’re so huge. We were both looking at the same thing, seeing the same thing, talking about the same thing, thinking about the same thing, except he was looking, seeing, talking and thinking from a completely different dimension.
     He really does care about technology. It’s just that in this other dimension he gets all screwed up and is rebuffed by it. It just won’t swing for him. He tries to swing it without any rational premeditation and botches it and botches it and botches it and after so many botches gives up and just kind of puts a blanket curse on that whole nuts-and-bolts scene. He will not or cannot believe there is anything in this world for which grooving is not the way to go.
     That’s the dimension he’s in. The groovy dimension. I’m being awfully square talking about all this mechanical stuff all the time. It’s all just parts and relationships and analyses and syntheses and figuring things out and it isn’t really here. It’s somewhere else, which thinks it’s here, but’s a million miles away. This is what it’s all about. He’s on this dimensional difference which underlay much of the cultural changes of the sixties, I think, and is still in the process of reshaping our whole national outlook on things. The “generation gap” has been a result of it. The names “beat” and “hip” grew out of it. Now it’s become apparent that this dimension isn’t a fad that’s going to go away next year or the year after. It’s here to stay because it’s a very serious and important way of looking at things that looks incompatible with reason and order and responsibility but actually is not. Now we are down to the root of things.
     My legs have become so stiff they are aching. I hold them out one at a time and turn my foot as far to the left and to the right as it will go to stretch the leg. It helps, but then the other muscles get tired from holding the legs out.

What we have here is a conflict of visions of reality. The wold as you see it right here, right now, is reality, regardless of what the scientists say it might be. That’s the way Johnh sees it. But the world as revealed by its scientific discoveries is also reality, regardless of how it may appear, and people in John’s dimension are going to have to do more than just ignore it if they want to hang on to their vision of reality. John will discover this if his points burn out.
     That’s really why he got upset that day when he couldn’t get his engine started. It was an intrusion on his reality. It just blew a hole right through his whole groovy way of looking at things and he would not face up to it because it seemed to threaten his whole life style. In a way he was experiencing the same sort of anger scientific people have sometimes about abstract art, or at least used to have. That didn’t fit their lifestyle either.
     What you’ve got here, really, are two realities, one of immediate artistic appearance and one of underlying scientific explanation, and they don’t match and they don’t fit and they don’t really have much of anything to do with one another. That’s quite a situation. You might say there’s a little problem here.

The Great Military Dickhead

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]

VON ROSSBACH ESTANCIA, PARAGUAY

     *Craig Kipfer,* John wrote. *Definitely someone up to something. He’s not in science or engineering or computing, at least not that I can discover. His name doesn’t appear on any government payroll after his fifth year in the army, when he was honorably discharged. But his computer is hedged around with more protections than the CIA. Not that they’re the very best, but that’s beside the point. Just thought you might like to check him out.*
     *You found him,* Wendy answered. *Why don’t you check him out? He might just be paranoid. Lots of people are. What’s he supposed to do for a living?*
     *Hell if I know,* he wrote. *Look, if he notices that he’s being watched and finds out where I’m from, he’s going to think I’m more dangerous to him than I am and probably will act accordingly. If he gets your address he’ll think mischievous student with too much time on her hands. Besides, I honestly think you’re probably better at this sort of thing than I am.*
     *Flatterer,* she wrote. *What do you mean he’ll “act accordingly?” Do you think this dude is dangerous or something?*
     Do I? John asked himself. Would he put Wendy in danger to satisfy his curiosity about this guy? Dieter didn’t recognize the name, though he agreed the guy seemed suspicious. Frankly they didn’t know enough to tell if he was dangerous or not.
     *I can’t answer that,* he admitted. *He’s strange enough that I’d advise you to handle him with extreme caution. And if he does seem to become aware of you, lose his address fast. I wouldn’t ask you to check him out if I really thought he was trouble, but anytime you do this stuff you’re taking a risk.*
     *I know,* Wendy agreed. *Okay, I’ll look into it. I need to keep my hacking skills sharp anyway. Bye.*
     John frowned. Kipfer’s files were mysterious enough to raise a warning flag with him. With his experience, though, warning flags meant something very different than they might to Wendy. She could get herself into serious trouble. His mind shied away from the word danger. He felt vaguely guilty about possibly putting her in harm’s way.
     That’s something I’ll need to get over before I become the Great Military Dickhead, he thought scornfully. Still… Aw, c’mon! He’s probably a lot less dangerous than those Luddites she used to tease. Which was almost certainly true, even if he was simply looking for an easy way out of an unpleasant feeling.
     Maybe the reason for this guilt was that he really wanted to get to know Wendy a bit better. He liked her voice. Maybe I could call her again, he thought. Then he remembered that she hadn’t been all that impressed with him the first time they’d spoken. Of course this time he’d be calling because he was interested in her rather than in her skills. But I don’t think she’d appreciate my letting her know that.

This Tendency to Brood Might Well Be a Side Effect of Her Chemically Induced Rush to Maturity

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]

MONTANA

     Clea sat absolutely still; one small part of her consciousness monitored the activity of the Terminator on the roof as it upgraded their solar power system. The (highly capable) remainder of her mind was learning from the future experiences of Serena Burns.
     When she’d been younger Clea had very much enjoyed these lessons, particularly those which allowed her to view Burns’s exchanges with Skynet. Especially those moments when Skynet actually took possession of Serena’s implanted computer, essentially becoming Serena.
     Now she found that they depressed her, reminding her forcefully of what she would never have, never know. Once she actually took up her assignment, Clea was certain that her emotions would settle down. This tendency to brood might well be a side effect of her chemically induced rush to maturity.
     Certainly she found Serena’s lightheartedness inappropriate and her cheerfulness obnoxious. Clea was glad she’d never met her progenitor face-to-face; the I-950 was sure she’d have been unable to avoid terminating Serena.
     The memory she was reviewing today was of Serena’s time with the soldiers of the future, when she was infiltrating the enemy in the human-Skynet war. She closed her eyes and saw Lieutenant Zeller coming toward her. This was how she saw all of these memories, from behind Serena’s eyes, as though they were happening to her.

THE YEAR 2029

     “Burns,” Zeller said, looking grim. She made a gesture that indicated the Infiltrator should follow and stalked off.
     Serena tilted her head, then followed. As she walked she reviewed all of her actions from the past week and found nothing to worry about. Yes, she’d managed to get poor Corpsman Gonzales killed, but there was no way the lieutenant could connect her with it. She’d risked directing a small herd of T-90s to the Corpsman’s station behind the lines. Such lines as they had.
     True, it had been a calculated risk; there was always the chance that someone, somewhere, might be monitoring in hopes of detecting such signals. But finding the source in the middle of a firefight when the whole episode had lasted mere seconds was remote in the extreme.
     Besides, Zeller always looked grim. It was just as likely she wanted to recruit the Infiltrator for some hazardous, secret attack. If so, excellent. She wouldn’t be able to return to Zeller’s unit, but some other, distant group would take her to their collective bosom.
     They made their way to a secluded glen and Zeller turned on her heel to glare at Burns. “I don’t know how you did it, but I know you killed him!” she snarled.
     Serena blinked. “What?” she said. “Who…?” It could, after all, have been one of a lot of people.
     “Gonzales!” Zeller stepped a little closer, shaking her head, her mouth a bitter line, her shoulders slightly hunched forward. “He liked you! He liked everybody, and all he wanted to do was help people. How could you?”
     The Infiltrator allowed her mouth to drop open in feigned astonishment and she couldn’t help it—she laughed, trying to make it sound nervous. “What the hell are you talking about, ma’am?” she said. “I wasn’t anywhere near Gonzales when those T-90s found him! There’s no way I could possibly have had anything to do with his death!”
     Serena watched Zeller straighten up, but her glare didn’t diminish. Instead, contempt twisted her attractive features into something like a sneer.
     “I haven’t trusted you from the first moment I saw you,” she said. “Sometimes you can just smell trouble, and you, Burns, stank of it from day one. I’m gonna be watching you, bitch! Watching who you team up with, watching who you go off with. I tell you right now”—she shoved her finger in Serena’s face—“they’d better come back alive!”
     The Infiltrator gave a deep sigh and reached out, intending to break the lieutenant’s slender neck. Instead, the sweeping hand met Zeller’s knife; Serena clamped down on the pain and clenched the fist, jerking the human’s weapon away.
     Zeller’s eyes went wide as Serena’s face stayed mask calm despite the bloody wound. “You’re one of them,” she gasped, snatching fro the plasma rifle slung over her shoulder. “But you can’t be—”
     “Inefficient.” Serena batted the muzzle aside as the burst of a stripped ions tore past her ear. If you’d just shot, you might have gotten me.
     Zeller clubbed her across the side of the face with the butt of the rifle, and Serena caught her in a bear hug and began to squeez. Knees, fists, and a small holdout knife struck her again and again. With what must have been the last of her strength Zeller plunged the knife into the I-950’s side, high up, as though seeking the heart.
     Serena felt the knife puncture her lung and gave the lieutenant a fierce, impatient shake. If she couldn’t smother the stupid bitch, breaking her spine would do nicely. With a gasp Zeller went limp and the Infiltrator dropped her. Infrared confirmed that the body was losing warmth. Not something the cleverest human could fake.
     With a spasm of coughing Serena fell bleeding beside the corpse of Lieutenant Zeller and lay watching the leaf-shadow rustle against the sky while a few hopeful crows looked down and waited. She woke one of the T-90s she’d secreted nearby in a resting state, gave it her location, and ordered it to come to the dell and destroy itself in such a way that it would look as though she had done it.
     The T-90 acknowledged the communication and broke off.
     Laying her aching head back down and rolling onto her side to avoid drowning in her own blood, Serena ordered her computer to moderate the damage she’d taken so that she wouldn’t die before help arrived. She could actually feel the bleeding slow as veins and arteries clamped down, almost stopping the flow.
     Without a doubt she would need time to recuperate in the base hospital. She licked her lips. Perhaps it was time to move on. Zeller might well have revealed her fears to someone eles.
     There was a clicking sound. The T-90’s approach. Serena saw it come up over the rim of the shallow little dell and closed her eyes, allowing herself to go unconscious, confident that the Terminator would follow her instructions to the letter.

MONTANA, THE PRESENT

     Clea frowned. There! That was exactly the sort of thing that annoyed her about her predecessor. Failing to take notice of how those around her might interpret her actions, having no backup plan. What if Zeller had decided to accuse the Infiltrator in front of a crowd? It was obvious that all Serena had planned to do, if she’d even planned anything at all, was to bluff.
     Such lax behavior had been a hallmark of all her missions. It was the product of overconfidence, in Clea’s opinion. Which, given the many successes that humans were having at the time Serena was sent back, was inexcusable.
     Letting out an annoyed breath, Clea bit her lip. She was supposed to be learning from these studies, yet all she seemed to be gleaning from Serena’s experiences was how much she disliked her.
     With a shake of her head she rose and went to her lab. At least there she could be doing her own work, not imitating her highly unsuccessful “parent.”

From Firebrand to Burnout

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]

CAMBRIDGE, MASSACHUSETTS

     Wendy brushed back her smooth dark red hair and eyed the phone lying on the table before her, willing it to ring, as she took a sip of the cooling coffee. Her eyes swept the almost empty confines of the shabby café, with its bored waitress and long-dead pastries behind filmy glass; she felt nervous, war… and a bit excited, she admitted to herself.
     Perhaps this secret watchdog group could help. Perhaps they were part of the problem and were onto her and just trying to find out what she knew before they—
     Wow, she thought sardonically, great plot line, there. Maybe I should take a course in screenwriting. Zzzzzt! Cue the black helicopter!
     Real life didn’t have a plot. It just bumbled aimlessly on its way, unless you directed it by sheer force of will. Which was harder to do than to say, she knew. She’d seen that in her father’s life. When he was her age he’d been an ardent activist, fighting against the war in Vietnam, fighting for civil rights.
     Now he ran a moderately successful insurance business, just like his dad had done. And as far as Wendy could tell, he had no idea how he’d gotten from firebrand to burnout. She saw herself at his age, complacently middle class, being careful not to rock the boat too hard.
     Did middle age bring about a failure of will, or did you just have more to lose? I guess, she thought, that you always have a lot to lose, it just seems less important when you’re young. So I guess it’s better that you’re inclined to fight the good fight when you’re young and don’t have a lot of commitments. Yeah, commitments, that’s the glue that slows you down, and when it sets, well, your life’s over, I guess.
     Wendy lifted a brow. Maybe this wasn’t the best attitude to assume when she was about to meet AM. Or anyone else for that matter.
     She tapped the cell phone on the table before her. It belonged to the house mother, a really nice woman who left it all over the place, so it wouldn’t be missed. Everyone “borrowed” it, then returned it with a cheerful “Were you looking for this?” She glanced at her watch. It was four; AM should—
     The phone rang.
     She bit her lip and stared at it. Just before the third ring she picked it up. “Yeah?” she said.
     “Watcher?”
     It was a young voice; the youth of it hit her before the fact that it was also a male voice. “How old are you?” she demanded.
     There was a long-drawn-out sigh. “I get a lot of that, he said dryly. “Not as young as I sound, I know that for sure.” Damn! he thought. “Does it matter?”
     “Ye-ah! Why would I want to get involved in someone’s high-school project? Look, kid—”
     “I found you, didn’t I?” John asked, letting his voice get hard. “It took about a minute.”
     “Oh, no it didn’t,” Wendy snapped back. She’d worked very hard obscuring her trail, no way some kid could find it in less than an hour.
     “Wendy, if I’d known you were going to be so judgmental about my voice, I would have had you speak to one of my associates. If this is an issue for you I can hang up now. It’s up to you.”
     Associates, she thought. The kid has associates. Well, that was intriguing. Besides, though he sounded young he sure didn’t come across as a kid. Still…
     “Look, this was supposed to be a get-acquainted conversation,” she said at last. “So why don’t you tell me something about yourself and, uh, your organization, I guess.”
     “We’re not exactly an organization,” John explained, relaxing a little. “We don’t have a central location, for example. Our associates are spread all over the world, all over the Net—”
     “Do you have a central address where their reports can be accessed,” Wendy interrupted. “I mean I assume that you’re collecting information for a reason, which means that you interpret what you collect. Presumably you allow your contributors to assist in that.”
     “Actually…” John thought for a moment. How to put this? “Evaluating the kind of information we’re going after isn’t something a person can just walk in and do. You need training.”
     “So, train me.” Wendy tapped a fingernail on the Formica table. “That’s my price ’cause I don’t work for free, and I refuse to work blind.”
     John raised his eyebrows at that. He didn’t need a loose cannon on board. “You’re not even hired yet and you want a seat on the board,” he protested with a light laugh.
     “Look, why did you even want to talk to me if you don’t think I’m worth investing time in?” She was beginning to get annoyed. Speaking of time, this is a waste of it.
     “It was obvious that you’re very smart,” John said. “Also that you might be so bored you didn’t realize you were killing time in a very dangerous way. A lot of you computer jockeys think that what you’re doing on-line isn’t real and doesn’t count. You think you’re perfectly safe behind your keyboards and monitors, but let me tell you, Wendy, if you kick the tiger hard enough it will find you and it won’t be friendly. Those are real fanatics you were talking to.”
     He paused and ran a hand through his dark hair. “I wanted to take your intelligence and talent and direct it into a useful channel. I’d like you to be safe, lady. You’re at MIT, for God’s sake! To the Luddite movement that’s like ground zero, and you think they couldn’t find you. You’re kidding yourself.”
     Hunh, Wendy thought, the kid’s really passionate about this. She knew she was suppressing the unease his words had awakened in her. Perhaps she had been foolish. Careless? Well, unwise, maybe.
     “So what do you want from me?” she asked quietly.
     “I want you to keep your eyes and ears open and to report to us anything you find out that might be useful. Useful being defined as something that will prevent harm from being done. I really don’t care which camp is generating the damage. Are you interested?”
     Wendy thought about it. Was she interested? I dunno, this all sounds kinda weird. A kid gathering information for some undisclosed reason and passing out dire warnings? I don’t think I want to get involved. It wasn’t like she didn’t have enough to do with her time, after all.
     “Sure,” she heard herself say. Then laughed at how she’d surprised herself.
     “What?” John asked.
     “Sure, whatever,” Wendy said. “I guess I’m game. Tell me what you want and I’ll try to get it for you.” It wasn’t like she was joining the army or something.
     So John told her what he was looking for, gave her a few Internet addresses he wanted her to check into and a few general guidelines. When he was finished he hesitated.
     “What?” she said.
     “You might like to recruit some friends to help you out,” he suggested. “People you can trust.”
     Wendy sighed. “Well, I’d like to think I’m unlikely to recruit people I don’t trust.”
     John winced. “Well, you know what I mean.”
     “Yeah, I guess. See you on-line, kid.”
     He could hear the smile in her voice and pressed his lips together impatiently. This wasn’t a terribly auspicious beginning to their relationship. He’d prefer that his recruits not find him amusing.
     Hey, he reminded himself, if she knew the real story she’d run a mile. Screaming.
     “Thank you,” he said. “I’ll keep in touch.” He hung up and sighed heavily. I really need to be grown up, he thought. Too bad it wasn’t something you could arrange. I guess I could work on my voice, or maybe get some sort of synthesizer. I feel grown up, I just don’t sound it. Oh, well. For real emergencies there was always Dieter.