I wasn't nervous enough for Anton. 'Jack, this isn't just vaporware. A lot of those photos show what's maybe a graviton generator, maybe not. Director Harms set up a lab on the Moon to build one for us.'


'Heavy funding. Somebody believes in this. But they're getting results! It works!'

I mulled it. 'Alien contact. As a species we don't seem to handle that too well.'

'Maybe this one can't be handled at all.'

'What else is being done?'

'Nothing, or damn close. Silly suggestions, career-oriented crap designed to make a bureau bigger… Nobody wants to use the magic word. War.'

'War. Three hundred and fifty years out of practice, we are. Maybe C. Cretemaster will save us.' I smiled at Anton's bewilderment. 'Look it up in the ARM records. There's supposed to be an alien of sorts living in the cometary halo. He's the force that's been keeping us at peace this past three and a half centuries.'

'Very funny.'

'Mmm. Well, Anton, this is a lot more real for you than me. I haven't yet seen anything upsetting.'

I hadn't called him a liar. I'd only made him aware that I knew nothing to the contrary. For Anton there might be elaborate proofs; but I'd seen nothing, and heard only a scary tale.

Anton reacted gracefully. 'Of course. Well, there's still that bottle.'

Anton's Calvados was as special as he'd claimed, decades old and quite unique. He produced cheese and bread. Good thing; I was ready to eat his arm off. We managed to stick to harmless topics, and parted friends.

The big catlike aliens had taken up residence in my soul.

Aliens aren't implausible. Once upon a time, maybe. But an ancient ETI in a stasis field had been in the Smithsonian since the opening of the twenty-second century, and a quite different creature—C. Cretemaster's real- life analog—had crashed on Mars before the century ended.

Two spacecraft matching course at near lightspeed, that was just short of ridiculous. Kinetic energy considerations… why, two such ships colliding might as well be made of antimatter! Nothing short of a gravity generator could make it work. But Anton was claiming a gravity generator.

His story was plausible in another sense. Faced with warrior aliens, the ARM would do only what they could not avoid. They would build a gravity generator because the ARM must control such a thing. Any further move was a step toward the unthinkable. The ARM took sole credit (and other branches of the United Nations also took sole credit) for the fact that Man had left war behind. I shuddered to think what force it would take to turn the ARM toward war.

I would continue to demand proof of Anton's story. Looking for proof was one way to learn more, and I resist seeing myself as stupid. But I believed him already.

On Thursday we returned to Suite 23309.

'I had to dig deep to find out, but they're not just sitting on their thumbs,' he said. 'There's a game going in Aristarchus Crater, Belt against flatlander. They're playing peace games.'


'They're making formats for contact and negotiation with hypothetical aliens. The models all have the look of those alien corpses, cats with bald tails, but they all think differently—'

'Good.' Here was my proof. I could check this claim.

'Good. Sure. Peace games.' Anton was brooding. Twitchy. 'What about war games?'

'How would you run one? Half your soldiers would be dead at the end… unless you're thinking of rifles with paint bullets. War gets more violent than that.'

Anton laughed. 'Picture every building in Chicago covered with scarlet paint on one side. A nuclear war game.'

'Now what? I mean for us.'

'Yah. Jack, the ARM isn't doing anything to put the human race back on a war footing.'

'Maybe they've done something they haven't told you about.'

'Jack, I don't think so.'

'They haven't let you read all their files, Anton. Two weeks ago you didn't know about peace games in Aristarchus. But okay. What should they be doing?'

'I don't know.'

'How's your chemistry?'

Anton grimaced. 'How's yours? Forget I said that. Maybe I'm back to normal and maybe I'm not.'

'Yah, but you haven't thought of anything. How about weapons? Can't have a war without weapons, and the ARM's been suppressing weapons. We should dip into their files and make up a list. It would save some time, when and if. I know of an experiment that might have been turned into an inertialess drive if it hadn't been suppressed.'


'Early twenty-second. And there was a field projector that would make things burn, late twenty-third.'

'I'll find 'em.' Anton's eyes took on a faraway look. 'There's the archives. I don't mean just the stuff that was built and then destroyed. The archives reach all the way back to the early twentieth. Stuff that was proposed, tanks, orbital beam weapons, kinetic energy weapons, biologicals—'

'We don't want biologicals.'

I thought he hadn't heard. 'Picture crowbars six feet long. A short burn takes them out of orbit, and they steer themselves down to anything with the silhouette you want… a tank or a submarine or a limousine, say. Primitive stuff now, but at least it would do something.' He was really getting into this. The technical terms he was tossing off were masks for horror. He stopped suddenly, then, 'Why not biologicals?'

'Nasty bacteria tailored for us might not work on warcats. We want their biological weapons, and we don't want them to have ours.'

'… Stet. Now here's one for you. How would you adjust a 'doc to make a normal person into a soldier?'

My head snapped up. I saw the guilt spread across his face. He said, 'I had to look up your dossier. Had to, Jack.'

'Sure. All right, I'll see what I can find.' I stood up. 'The easiest way is to pick schitzies and train them as soldiers. We'd start with the same citizens the ARM has been training since… date classified, three hundred years or so. People who need the 'doc to keep their metabolism straight, or else they'll ram a car into a crowd, or strangle—'

'We wouldn't find enough. When you need soldiers, you need thousands. Maybe millions.'

'True. It's a rare condition. Well, good night, Anton.'

I fell asleep on the 'doc table again.

Dawn poked under my eyelids and I got up and moved toward the holophone. Caught a glimpse of myself in a mirror. Rethought. If David saw me looking like this, he'd be booking tickets to attend the funeral. So I took a shower and a cup of coffee first.

My eldest son looked like I had: decidedly rumpled. 'Dad, can't you read a clock?'

'I'm sorry. Really.' These calls are so expensive that there's no point in hanging up. 'How are things in Aristarchus?'

'Clavius. We've been moved out. We've got half the space we used to, and we needed twice the space to hold everything we own. Ah, the time change isn't your fault, Dad, we're all in Clavius now, all but Jennifer. She—' David vanished. A mechanically soothing voice said, 'You have impinged on ARM police business. The cost of your call will be refunded.'

I looked at the empty space where David's face had been. I was ARM… but maybe I'd already heard enough.

My granddaughter Jennifer is a medic. The censor program had reacted to her name in connection with

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