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Gregory Benford

Of course, to destroy the world, you don't need to push the Button. As the bitter and despairing chiller that follows demonstrates, going about business as usual, regardless of the long-term consequences, is more than sufficient to bring about the last days . . .

Gregory Benford is one of the modern giants of the field. His 1980 novel Timescape won the Nebula Award, the John W. Campbell Memorial Award, the British Science Fiction Association Award, and the Australian Ditmar Award, and is widely considered to be one of the classic novels of the last two decades. His other novels include The Stars in Shroud, In the Ocean of Night, Against Infinity, Artifact, and Across the Sea of Suns, Great Sky River, Tides of Light, Furious Gulf, and Sailing Bright Eternity. His short work has been collected in Matter's End. His most recent books are a new addition to Isaac Asimov's Foundation series, Foundation's Fear, and two new solo novels, Cosm and Deep Time. Benford is a professor of physics at the University of California, Irvine, and is one of the regular science columnists for The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction. As Sterling Blake, under which name "A Desperate Calculus" was originally published, he has written the novel Chiller.

Amy inched shut the frail wooden door of her hotel room and switched on the light. Cockroaches—or at least she hoped they were mere cockroaches—scuttled for dark corners. They were so big she could hear them bumping into the tin plating along one wall.

She shucked off her dusty field jacket, threw it at the lone pine chair and sprawled on the bed. Under the dangling, naked light bulb she slit open her husband's letter eagerly, using a dirty fingernail. Frying fat flavors seeped through the planking but she forgot the smells and noises of the African village. Her eyes raced along the lurching penmanship.


God, I do really need you. What's more, I know it's my 'juice' speaking—only been two weeks, but just at what point do I have to be reasonable? Hey, two scientists who work next to disasterville can afford a little loopy irrationality, right? Thinking about your alabaster breasts a lot. Our eagerly awaited rendezvous will be deep in the sultry jungle, in my tent. I recall your beautiful eyes that evening at Boccifani's and am counting the days . . .

This "superflu" thing is knocking our crew people down pretty fierce now. With our schedule already packed solid, now comes two-week Earth Summit V in São Paulo. Speeches, press, more talk, more dumb delay. Hoist a few with buddies, sure, but pointless, I think. Maybe I can scare up some more funding. Takes plenty juice!—just to keep this operation going! Wish me luck and I'll not even glance at the Latin beauties, promise. Really.


She rolled over onto her side to ease the ache in her back, keeping the letter in the yellow glow that seemed to be dimming. The crackly pages were wrinkled as if they had gotten wet in transit.

A distant generator coughed, stuttered, stopped. The light went out. She lay in the sultry dark, thinking about him and decoding all that the letter said and implied. In the distance a dog yapped and she smelled the sour lick of charcoal on the air. It did not cover the vile sickly-sweet odor of bodies left out in the street. Already they were swelling. Autumn was fairly warm in this brush-country slice of Tanzania and the village lay quiet with the still of the fallen. In a few minutes the generator huffed sluggishly back into its coughing rhythm and the bulb glowed. Watery light seeped into the room. Cockroaches scuttled again.

She finished the letter, which went on in rather impressively salacious detail about portions of her anatomy and did the job she knew Todd had intended. If any Tanzanian snoops got into her mail, they probably would not have the courage to admit it. And it did make her moist, yes.


The day's heavy heat now ebbed. A whispering breeze dispersed the wet, infesting warmth.

Todd got the new site coordinates from their uplink, through their microwave dish. He squatted beside the compact, black matte-finish module and its metallic ear, cupped to hear a satellite far out in chilly vacuum. That such a remote, desiccated, and silvery craft in the empty sky could be locked in electromagnetic embrace with this place of leafy heaviness, transfixed by sweet rot and the stink of distant fires, was to Todd a mute miracle.

Manuel yelled at him in Spanish from below. "Miz Cabrina says to come! Right away!"

"I'm nearly through."

"Right away! She says it is the cops!"

The kid had seen too much American TV. Cop spun like a bright coin in the syrup of thickly accented Spanish. Cops. Authorities. The weight of what he had to do. A fretwork of irksome memories. He stared off into infinity, missing Amy.

He was high up on the slope of thick forest. Toward him flew a rainbird. It came in languid slow motion, flapping in the mild breeze off the far Atlantic, a murmuring wind that lifted the warm weight from the stinging day. The bird's translucent shape flickered against big-bellied clouds and Todd thought of the bird as a gliding bag of genes, biological memories ancient and wrinkled and yet still coming forth. Distant time, floating toward him now across the layered air.

He waved to Manuel. "Tell her to stall them."

He finished getting the data and messages, letting the cool and precise part of him do the job. Every time some rural bigshot showed up his stomach lurched and he forced down jumpy confusions. He struggled to insulate the calm, unsettled center of himself so that he could work. He had thought this whole thing would get easier, but it never did.

The solar panels atop their van caught more power if he parked it in the day's full glare, but then he couldn't get into it without letting the interior cool off. He had driven up here to get a clear view of the rest of the team. He left the van and headed toward where the salvaging team was working.

Coming back down through kilometers of jungle took him through terrain that reflected his inner turmoil. Rotting logs shone with a vile, vivid emerald. Swirls of iridescent lichen engulfed thick-barked trees. He left the cross-country van on the clay road and continued, boots sinking into the thick mat.

Nothing held sway here for long. Hand-sized spiders scuttled like black motes across the intricate green radiance. Exotic vitality, myriad threats. A conservation biologist, he had learned to spot the jungle's traps and viper seductions. He sidestepped a blood vine's barbs, wisely gave a column of lime ants their way. Rustlings escorted him through dappled shadows which held a million minute violences. Carrion moths fluttered by on charcoal wings in search of the fallen. Tall grass blades cut the shifting sunlight. Birds cooed and warbled and stabbed insects from the air. Casually brutal beauty.

He vectored in on the salvaging site. As he worked down-slope the insecticidal fog bombs popped off in the high canopy. Species pattered down through the branches, thumped on logs, a dying rain. The gray haze descended, touched the jungle floor, settled into nooks. Then a vagrant breeze blew it away. His team moved across the hundred-meter perimeter, sweeping uphill.

Smash and grab, Todd thought, watching the workers in floppy jeans and blue work shirts get down on hands and knees. They inched forward, digging out soil samples, picking up fallen insects, fronds, stems, small mammals. Everything, anything. Some snipped samples from the larger plants. Others shinnied up the slick-barked trees and rummaged for the resident ants and spiders and myriad creatures who had not fallen out when the fog hit them. A special team took leaves and branches—too much trouble to haul away whole trees. And even if they'd wanted to, the politicos would scream; timbering rights here had already been auctioned off.

Todd angled along behind the sweeping line of workers, all from Argentina. He caught a few grubs and leaves that had escaped and dropped them into a woman's bag. She smiled and nodded respectfully. Most of them were embarrassingly thankful to have a job. The key idea in the Bio-Salvage Program was to use local labor. That created a native constituency wherever they went. It also kept costs manageable. The urban North was funding this last-ditch effort. Only the depressed wages of the rural South made it affordable.

And here came the freezers. A thinner line of men carrying foam dry ice boxes, like heavy-duty picnic coolers. Into these went each filled sack. Stapled to the neck of each bag was a yellow bar-code strip giving location, date, terrain description. He had run them off in the van this morning. Three more batches were waiting in his pack for the day's work further up the valley.

His pack straps cut into his roll of shoulder muscle, reminding him of how much more remained to do. To save. He could see in the valley below the press of population on the lush land. A crude work camp sprawled like a tan fungus. Among the jungle's riot of emerald invention a dirt road wound like a dirty snake.

He left the team and headed toward the trouble, angling by faded stucco buildings. Puddles from a rain shower mirrored an iron cross over the entrance gate of a Catholic mission. The Pope's presence. Be fruitful, ye innocent, and multiply. Spread like locusts across God's green works.

Ramshackle sheds lay toward the work camp, soiling the air with greasy wood smoke. In the jungle beyond, chain saws snarled in their labors. Beside the clay ruts of the road lay crushed aluminum beer cans and a lurid tabloid about movie stars.

He reached the knot of men as Cabrina started shouting.

"Yes we do! Signed by your own lieutenant governor especial!"

She waved papers at three uniformed types, who wore swathy scowls and revolvers in hip holsters.

"No, no." An officer jerked at the crowd. "These, they say it interferes with their toil."

Here at the edge of the work camp they had already attracted at least fifty. Worn men slouched against a stained yellow wall, scrawny and rawboned and faces slack with fatigue. They were sour twists of men, maraneros from the jungle, a machete their single tool, their worn skins sporting once-jaunty tattoos of wide-winged eagles and rampant bulls and grinning skulls.

"The hell it does." Cabrina crossed her arms over her red jumper and her lips whitened.

"The chemicals, they make coughing and—"

"We went through all that with the foreman. And I have documents—"

"These say nothing about—"

Todd turned out the details and watched lines deepen in the officer's face. Trouble coming, and fast. He was supposed to let Cabrina, as a native, run the interference. Trouble was, these were macho backcountry types. He nodded respectfully to the head officer and said, "Our schedule bothering them?"

The officer looked relieved to deal with a man. "They do not like the fumes or having to stay away from the area."

"Let's see if we can do something about that. Suppose they work upwind?"

So then it got into a back-and-forth negotiation. He hated cutting in on Cabrina but the officer had been near the breaking point. Todd gradually eased Cabrina back in and the officer saw how things were going to go. He accepted that with some facesaving talk and pretty soon it was settled.

Todd walked Cabrina a bit back toward the jungle. "Don't let them rile you. Just stick to the documents."

"But they are so stupid!" Flashing anger, a wrenched mouth.

"Tell me something new."

Their ice van growled into view. It already had the sample sacks from the fogging above. Time to move a kilometer on and repeat the process. All so they could get into this valley and take their samples before these butchers with their bovine complacency could chop it down for cropland or grazing or just to make charcoal. But Todd did not let any of this into his face. Instead he told Cabrina to show the van where to go. Then he went over and spoke to several of the men in his halting Spanish. Smoothing the way. He made sure to stand close to them and speak in the private and respectful way that worked around here.


Amy followed the rest of her team into the ward. It was the same as yesterday and the day before. All beds filled, patients on the floors, haggard faces, nurses looking as bad as the patients. The infection rate here was at least eighty percent of the population. These were just the cases which had made it to the hospital and then had the clout to get in.

Freddie went through the list prepared by the hospital director. They were there to survey and take blood samples but the director seemed to think his visitors bore some cure. Or at least advice.

"Fever, frequent coughing, swellings in the groin," Freddie read, his long black hair getting in the way. He was French and found everything about this place a source of irritation. Amy did not blame him but it was not smart to show it. "Seven percent of cases display septic shock, indicating that the blood stream is directly infected."

"I hope these results will be of help to your researchers," the director said. He was a short man with a look that alternated between pleading and outright panic. Amy did her best to not look at him. His eyes were always asking, asking.

Freddie waved his clipboard. "All is consistent with spread directly among humans by inhalation of infected respiratory droplets?"

The director nodded rapidly. "But we cannot isolate the chain. It seems—"

"Yes, yes, it is so everywhere. The incubation period of the infection is at least two weeks, though it can be up to a month. By that time the original source is impossible to stipulate." Freddie rattled this off because he had said the same thing a dozen times already in Tanzania.

Amy said mildly, "I note that you have not attempted to isolate the septic cases."

The director jerked as if reprimanded and went into an explanation, which did not matter to anyone but would make him feel better, she was sure. She asked for and received limbic fluids, mucus, and blood samples from the deceased patients. The director wanted to talk to someone of higher authority and their international team filled that need. Not that it did any good. They had no vaccine, no real advice except to keep the patients cool and not to use sedation which would suppress their lung function. They told him this and then told his staff and then told him again because he just kept looking at them with those eyes. Then they went away.

In the next town Amy got to a telephone and could hook up her modem. She got an uplink with only a half hour wait. They drove back into the capital city over dusty roads while she read the printouts.


Summary View.

This present plague is certainly a derived form of influenza. It is well known that the "flu" virus undergoes "antigenic" drifts—point mutations in the virus's outer protein coat which can enhance the ability of the virus to attack the human immune system. New pandemic viruses emerge at unpredictable intervals on the order of decades, though the rate of shifts may be increasing. The present pathogenic outbreak, with its unusual two- to three-week incubation period, allows rapid spreading before populations can begin to take precautions—isolation, face masks, etc. Fatality rate is 3% in cases which do not recover within five days. Origin: The apparent derivation of this plague from southern Asia has been obscured by its rapid transmission to both Africa and South America. However, this Asian origin, recently unmasked by detailed hospital studies and demographics, verifies the suspicions of the United Nations Emergency Committee. Asia is the primary source of "flu" outbreaks because of the high incidence there of "integrated farming," which mingles fowl, pigs and fish close together. In Southeast Asia this has been an economic blessing, but a reverse-spin disaster for the North. Viruses from different species mix, recombining and undergoing gene reassortment at a rapid rate. Humans need time to synthesize specific antibodies as a defense. Genetic aspects: Preliminary results suggest that this is a recombinant virus. Influenza has seven segments of RNA, and several seem to have been modified. Some correlations suggest close connection to the swine flu from pigs. This is a shift, not a simple drift. Some recombination has occurred from another reservoir population—but which? Apparently, some rural environment in southern China.


She looked up as they jounced past scrubby farmland. No natural forest or grassland remained; humans had turned all arable land to crops. Insatiable appetite, eating nature itself.

Nobody visible. The superflu knocked everybody flat for at least three days, marvelously infective, and few felt like getting back to the fields right away. That would take another slice out of the food supply here. Behind the tide of illness would come some malnutrition. The U.N. would have to be ready for that, too.

Not my job, though, she thought, and mused longingly of Todd.


São Paulo. Earth Summit V, returning to South America for the first time since Summit I in the good old days of 1992. He was to give a talk about the program and then, by God, he'd be long gone.

On the drive in he had seen kindergarten-age children dig through cow dung, looking for corn kernels the cows hadn't digested. The usual colorful chaos laced with gray despair. Gangs of urchin thieves who didn't know their own last names. Gutters as sewers. Families living in cardboard boxes. Babies found discarded in trash heaps.

He had imagined that his grubby jeans and T-shirt made him look unremarkable, but desperation hones perceptions. The beggars were on him every chance. By now he had learned the trick which fended off the swarms of little urchins wanting Chiclets, the shadowy men with suitcases of silver jewelry, the women at traffic lights hawking bunches of roses. Natives didn't get their windshields washed unless they wanted it, nor did they say "no" a hundred times to accomplish the result. They just held up one finger and waggled it sideways, slowly. The pests magically dispersed. He had no idea what it meant, but it was so easy even a gringo could do it.

His "interest zone" at Earth Summit V was in a hodgepodge of sweltering tents erected in an outdoor park. The grass had been beaten into gray, flat blades. Already there was a dispute between the North delegates, who wanted a uniform pledge of seventy-five percent reduction in use of pesticides. Activists from the poor South worried about hunger more than purity, so the proposal died. This didn't stop anyone from dutifully signing the Earth Pledge which covered one whole wall in thick gray cardboard. After all, it wasn't legally binding.

Todd talked with a lot of the usual Northern crowd from the Nature Conservancy and World Wildlife Fund, who were major sponsors of BioSalvage. They were twittering about a Southern demand that everybody sign a "recognition of the historical, biological and cultural debt" the North owed the South. They roped him into it, because the background argument (in Spanish, so of course most of the condescending Northerners couldn't read it) named BioSalvage as "arrogantly entering our countries and pushing fashionable environmentalism over the needs of the people."

Todd heard this in a soft drink bar, swatting away flies. Before he could respond, a spindly man in a sack shirt elbowed his way into the Northern group. "I know who you are, Mr. Russell. We do not let your 'debt swap' thievery go by."

BioSalvage had some funding from agreements which traded money owed to foreign banks for salvaging rights and local labor. He smiled at the stranger. "All negotiated, friend."

"The debt was contracted illegally!" The man slapped the yellow plastic table, spilling Coke.

"By your governments."

"By your criminals!—who then stole great sums."

Todd spread his hands, still smiling though it was getting harder. "Hey, I'm no banker."

"You are part of a plot to keep us down," the man shot back.

"By saving some species?"

"You are killing them!"

"Yeah, maybe a few days before your countrymen get around to it."

Two other men and a woman joined the irate man. Todd was with several Northerners and a woman from Costa Rica who worked for the Environmental Defense Fund. He tried to keep his tone civil and easy but people started breaking in and pretty soon the Southerners were into Harangue Mode and it went to hell. The Northerners rolled their eyes and the Southerners accused them in quick, staccato jabs of being arrogant, impatient, irritated when somebody couldn't speak English, ready to walk out at the first sign of a long speech when there was so much to say after all.

Todd eased away from the table. The Northerners used words like "proactive" and "empowerment" and kept saying that before they were willing to discuss giving more grants they wanted accountability. They worried about corruption and got thin-lipped when told that they should give without being oppressors of the spirit by trying to manage the money. "Imperialista!" a Brazilian woman hissed, and Todd left.

He took a long walk down littered streets rank with garbage.

Megacities. Humanity growing by a hundred million fresh souls per year, with disease and disorder in ample attendance. Twenty-nine megacities now with more than ten million population. Twenty-five in the "developing" world—only nobody was developing anymore. Tokyo topped the list, as always, at thirty-six million. São Paulo was coming up fast on the outside with thirty-four million. Lagos, Nigeria, which nobody ever thought about, festered with seventeen million despite the multitudes lost to AIDS.

He kicked a can and shrugged off beggars. A man with sores drooling down his face approached but Todd did not dare give him a bill. Uncomfortably he wagged his finger. Indifference was far safer.

Magacities spawned the return of microbes that had toppled empires down through history. Cholera, the old foe. New antibiotic-resistant strains. Cysticercosis, a tapeworm that invades the brain, caught from eating vegetables grown in the city's effluent. Half the world's urban population had at least one skin rash per year.

And big cities demand standardized, easily transported foods. Farmers respond with monocrops, which are more vulnerable to pests and disease and drought. Cities preyed on the cropland and forests which sustain them. Plywood apartment walls in Nagasaki chewed up Borneo 's woodlands.

When he reached his hotel room—bare concrete, tin sink in the room, john down the hall—he found a light blinking on the satellite comm. He located the São Paulo nexus and got a fastprint letter on his private number. It was from Amy and he read it eagerly, the gray walls around him forgotten.


I'm pretty sure friend Freddie is now catching holy hell for not being on top of this superflu faster. There's a pattern, he says. Check out the media feeding frenzy, if you have the time. Use my access codes onto SciNet, too. I'm more worried about Zambia, our next destination. Taking no recognition of U.N. warnings, both sides violating the ceasefire. We'll have armed escorts. Not much use against a virus! All our programs are going slowly, with locals dropping like flies.


The sweetness of her seemed to swarm up into his nostrils then, blotting out the disinfectant smell from the cracked linoleum. He could see her electric black hair tumbling like rolling smoke about her shoulders, spilling onto her full breasts in yellow candle light. After a tough day he would lift her onto him, setting her astride his muscular arch. The hair wreathed them both, making a humid space that was theirs only, musk-rich and silent. She could bounce and stroke and coax from him the tensions of time, and later they would have dark rum laced with lemon. Her eyes could widen with comic rapt amazement, go slit-thin with anger, become suddenly womanly as they reflected the serenity of the languid candle flame.


Remember to dodge the electronic media blood hounds. Sniffers and lickers, I call 'em. Freddie handles them for us, but I'm paranoid—seeing insults spelled out in my alphabet soup. Remember that I love you. Remember to see Kuipers if you get sick! See you in two weeks—so very long!


His gray computer screen held a WorldNet news item, letters shimmering. Todd's program had fished it out of the torrent of news, and it confirmed the worst of his fears. He used her code-keys to gain entry and global search/scan found all the hot buzz:




(AP) A world-sweeping contagion has now leaped from Asia to Africa and on to South America. Simultaneous outbreaks in Cairo, Johannesburg, Mexico City and Buenos Aires confirmed fears that the infection is spreading most rapidly through air travelers. Whole cities have been struck silent and prostrated as a majority of inhabitants succumb within a few days.

Secretary-General Imukurumba called for a total ban on international passenger air travel until the virus is better understood. Airlines have logged a sharp rise in ticket sales in affected regions, apparently from those fleeing.

The Center for Disease Control is reportedly attempting to correlate outbreaks with specific travelers, in an effort to pinpoint the source. Officials declined to confirm this extraordinary move, however.


He suspected that somebody at the CDC was behind this leak, but it might mean something more. More ominously, what point was there in tracing individuals? CDC was moving fast. This thing was a wildfire. And Amy was right in the middle of it.

He sat a long time at a fly-specked Formica table, staring at the remains of his lunch, a chipped blue plate holding rice and beans and a gnawed crescent of green tortilla. Todd felt the old swirl of emotions, unleashed as though they had lain in waiting all this time. Incoherent, disconnected images propelled him down musty corridors of self. Words formed on his lips but evaporated before spoken.


She hated autopsies. Freddie had told her to check this one, and the smell was enough to make her pass out. Slow fans churned at one end of the tiny morgue. Only the examining table was well lit. Its gutters ran with viscous, reeking fluids.

The slim black woman on the table was expertly "unzipped"—carved down from neck to pelvis, organs neatly extracted and lying across her chest and legs. Glistening tubes and lumpy vitals, so clean and smooth they seemed to be manufactured.

"A most interesting characteristic of these cases," the coroner went on in a serene voice that floated in the chilly room. He picked up an elongated gray sac. "The fallopians. Swollen, discolored. The ova sac is distended, you will be seeing here. And red."

Amy said, "Her records show very high temperatures. Could this be—"

"Being the cause of death, this temperature, yes. The contagion invaded the lower abdomen, however, causing further discomfort."

"So this is another variation on the, uh, superflu?"

"I think yes." The coroner elegantly opened the abdomen further and showed off kidneys and liver. "Here too, some swelling. But not as bad as in the reproductive organs."

Amy wanted desperately to get out of this place. Its cloying smells layered the air. Two local doctors stood beside her, watching her face more than the body. They were well-dressed men in their fifties and obviously had never seen a woman in a position of significance in their profession. She asked, "What percentage of your terminal cases display this?"

"About three quarters," the coroner said.

"In men and women alike?" Amy asked.

"Yes, though for the women these effects are more prominent."

"Well, thank you for your help." She nodded to them and left. The two doctors followed her. When she reached the street her driver was standing beside the car with two soldiers. Three more soldiers got out of a big jeep and one of the doctors said, "You are please to come."

There wasn't much to do about it. Nobody was interested in listening to her assertion that she was protected by the Zambia-U.N. terms. They escorted her to a low, squat building on the outskirts of town. As they marched her inside she remarked that the place looked like a bunker. The officer with her replied mildly that it was.

General Movotubo wore crisp fatigues and introduced himself formally. He invited her to sit in a well-decorated office without windows. Coffee? Good. Biscuit? Very good. "And so you will be telling now what? That this disease is the product of my enemies."

"I am here as a United Nations—"

"Yes, yes, but the truth, it must come out. The Landuokoma, they have brought this disease here, is this not so?"

"We don't know how it got here." She tried to understand the expressions which flitted across the heavy-set man's face, which was shiny with nervous sweat.

"Then you cannot say that the Landuokoma did not bring it, this is right?"

Amy stood up. General Movotubo was shorter than her and she recognized now his expression: a look of caged fear. "Listen, staying holed up in here isn't going to protect you against superflu. Not if your personnel go in and out, anyway."

"Then I will go to the countryside! The people will understand. They will see that the Landuokoma caused me to do so."

She started for the door. "Believe me, neither I nor the U.N. cares what you say to your newspapers. Just let me go."

There was a crowd outside the bunker. They did not retreat when she emerged and she had to push and shove her way to her car. The driver sat inside, petrified. But nobody tried to stop them. The faces beyond the window glass were filled with stark dread, not anger.


She linked onto WorldNet back at the hotel. The serene liquid crystal screen blotted out the awareness of the bleak streets beyond the grand marble columns of the foyer.




Environmental Hard Liners Say "Inevitable"(AP) . . . "What I'm saying," Earth First! spokesman Josh Leonard said, "is that we're wasting our resources trying to hold back the tide. It's pointless. Here in the North we have great medical expertise. Plenty of research has gone into fathoming the human immune system, to fixing our cardiovascular plumbing, and the like. But to expend it trying to fix every disease that pops up in the South is anti-Darwinian, and futile. Nature corrects its own mistakes." . . . Many in the industrialized North privately admit being increasingly appalled with the South's runaway numbers. Their views are extreme. They point to how megacities sprawl, teeming with seedy, impoverished masses. Torrents of illegal immigration pour over borders. Responding to deprivation, Southern politico/religious movements froth and foment, few of them appetizing as seen from a Northern distance. "The more the North thinks of humanity as a malignancy," said psychophilosopher Norman Wills, "the more we will unconsciously long for disasters."


Amy was not really surprised. The Nets seethed with similar talk. Todd had been predicting this for years. That made her think of him, and she shut down her laptop.


He stopped at the BioSalvage Southern Repository to pick up the next set of instructions, maps, political spin. It was a huge complex—big, gray, concrete bunker-style for the actual freezing compartments, tin sheds for the sample processing. All the buzz and clatter of the rest of Caracas faded as he walked down alleys between the Repository buildings. Ranks of big liquid nitrogen dewars. Piping, automatic labeling machines, harried workers chattering in highly accented Spanish he could barely make out.

In the foyer a whole wall was devoted to the history of it. At the top was the abstract of Scott's first paper, proposing what he called the Library of Life. The Northern Repository was in fact called that, but here they were more stiff and official.


A broad program of freezing species in threatened ecospheres could preserve biodiversity for eventual use by future generations. Sampling without studying can lower costs dramatically. Local labor can do most of the gathering. Plausible costs of collection and cryogenically suspending the tropical rain forest species, at a sampling fraction of 10–6, are about two billion dollars for a full century. Much more information than species DNA will be saved, allowing future biotechnology to derive high information content and perhaps even resurrect then-extinct species. A parallel program of limited in situ preservation is essential to allow later expression of frozen genomes in members of the same genus. This broad proposal should be debated throughout the entire scientific community.


Todd had to wait for his appointment. He fidgeted in the foyer. A woman coming out of the executive area wobbled a bit, then collapsed, her clipboard clattering on marble. Nobody went to help. The secretaries and guards drew back, turned, were gone. Todd helped the woman struggle into a chair. She was already running a fever and could hardly speak. He knew there wasn't anything to do beyond getting her a glass of water. When he came back with one, a medical team was there. They simply loaded her onto a stretcher and took her out to an unmarked van. Probably they were just going to take her home. The hospitals were already jammed, he had heard.

He took his mind off matters by reading the rest of the Honor Wall, as it was labeled. Papers advocating the BioSalvage idea. A Nobel for Scott. Begrudging support from most conservation biologists.


Our situation resembles a browser in the ancient library at Alexandria, who suddenly notes that the trove he had begun inspecting has caught fire. Already a wing has burned, and the mobs outside seem certain to block any fire-fighting crews. What to do? There is no time to patrol the aisles, discerningly plucking forth a treatise of Aristotle, or deciding whether to leave behind Alexander the Great's laundry list. Instead, a better strategy is to run through the remaining library, tossing texts into a basket at random, sampling each section to give broad coverage. Perhaps it would be wise to take smaller texts, in order to carry more, and then flee into an unknown future.


"Dr. Russell? I am Leon Segueno."

The man in a severe black suit was not his usual monitor. "Where's Confuelos?"

"Ill, I believe. I'll give you the latest instructions."

Back into the executive area, another new wrinkle. Segueno went through the fresh maps with dispatch. Map coordinates, rendezvous points with the choppers, local authorities who would need soothing. A fresh package of local currency to grease palms, where necessary. Standard stuff.

"I take it you will be monitoring all three of your groups continuously?"

An odd question. Segueno didn't seem familiar with procedures. Probably a political hack.

"I get around as much as I can. Working the back roads, it isn't easy."

"You get to many towns."

"Gotta buy a few beers for the local brass hats."

"Have you difficulty with the superflu?"

"Some of the crew dropped out. We hired more."

"And you?"

"I keep away from anybody who's sniffling or coughing."

"But some say it is spread by ordinary breath."

He frowned. "Hadn't heard that."

"A United Nations team reported so."

"Might explain how it spreads so fast."

"Sí, sí. Your wife, I gather she is working for the U.N.?"

"On this same problem, right. I hadn't heard that angle, though."

"You must be very proud of her."

"Uh, yes." Where was this going?

"To be separated, it is not good. Will you see her soon?"

No reason to hide anything, even from an officious bureaucrat. "This week. She's joining me in the field."

Segueno chuckled. "Not the kind of reunion I would have picked. Well, good luck to you."

He tried to read the man's expression and got nothing but a polished blandness behind the eyes. Maybe the guy was angling for some kind of payoff? Nothing would surprise him anymore, even in the Repository.

He stopped off in the main bay. High sheet-metal ceiling, gantries, steel ramps. Stacks of blue plastic coolers, filled with the labeled sacks that teams like his own sent in. Sorting lines prepared them further. Each cooler was logged and integrated into a geographical inventory, so that future researchers could study correlations with other regions. Then the coolers went into big aluminum canisters. The gantries lowered these into permanent place. Tubes hooked up, monitors added, and then the liquid nitrogen pumped in with a hiss. A filmy fog, and another slice of vanishing life was on its way to the next age.

Todd wondered just when biology would advance to the point where these samples could be unfolded, their genes read. And then? Nobody could dictate to the future. They might resurrect extinct species, make leopards again pace the jungle paths. Or maybe they would revive beetles—God must have loved them, He made so many kinds, as Haldane himself had remarked. Maybe there was something wonderful in those shiny carapaces, and the future would need it.

Todd shrugged. It was reassuring to come here and feel a part of it all.

Going out through the foyer, he stopped and read the rest of the gilt lettering on polished black marble.


We must be prudent. Leading figures in biodiversity argue that a large scale species dieback seems inevitable, leading to a blighted world which will eventually learn the price of such folly. The political impact of such a disaster will be immense. Politics comes and goes, but extinction is forever. We may be judged harshly by our grandchildren, our era labeled the Great Dying or the Age of Appetite. A future generation could well reach out for means to recover their lost biological heritage. If scientific progress has followed the paths many envision today, they will have the means to perform seeming miracles. They will have developed ethical and social mechanisms we cannot guess, but we can prepare now the broad outlines of a recovery strategy, simply by banking biological information. These are the crucial years for us to act, as the Library of Life burns furiously around us, throughout the world.


He left. When he got into his rental Ford in the parking lot, he saw Segueno looking down at him through a high window.


He had not expected to get a telephone call. On a one-day stop in Goias, Brazil, to pick up more coolers and a fresh crew, there was little time to hang around the hotel. But somehow she traced him and got through on the sole telephone in the manager's office. He recognized Amy's voice immediately despite the bad connection.

"Todd? I was worried."

"Nothing's gone wrong with your plans, has it?"

"No, no, I'll be there in two days. But I just heard from Freddie that a lot of people who were delegates at the Earth Summit have come down with superflu. Are you all right?"

"Sure, fine. How's it there?"

"I've got a million tales to tell. The civil war's still going on and we're pulling out. I wrote you a letter, I'll send it satellite squirt to your modem address."

"Great. God, I've missed you."

Her warm chuckle came through the purr of static. "I'll expect you to prove it."

"I'll be all set up in a fresh camp, just out from Maraba. A driver will pick you up."

"Terrif. Isn't it terrible, about the Earth Summit?"

"Nobody's immune."

"I guess not. We're seeing ninety percent affliction in some villages here."

"What about this ban on passenger travel? Will that—"

"It isn't sticking. Anyway, we have U.N. passes. Don't worry, lover, I'll get there if I have to walk."


He got her letter over modem within a few minutes.


We're pinning down the epidemiology. Higher fevers in women, but about 97% recover. Freddie's getting the lab results from the samples we sent in. He's convinced there'll be a vaccine, pronto.

But it's hard to concentrate, babe. This place is getting worse by the hour. We got a briefing on safety in Zambia, all very official, but most of the useful stuff we picked up from drivers, cops, locals on street corners. You have to watch details, like your license plates. I got some neutral plates from some distant country. People sell them in garages. Don't dare use the old dodge of putting a PRESS label on your car. Journalists draw fire here, and a TV label is worse. Locals see TV as more powerful than the lowly word-artists of newspapers. TV's the big propaganda club and everybody's got some reason to be mad at it.

We got a four-wheel job that'll go off-road. Had to be careful not to get one that looked like a military jeep. They draw fire. We settled on a white Bighorn, figuring that snipers might think we were U.N. peacekeeping forces. On the other hand, there's undoubtedly some faction that hates the U.N., too. Plenty of people here blame us—Westerners—for the superflu. We get hostile stares, a few thrown rocks. Freddie took a tomato in the chest today. Rotten, of course. Otherwise, somebody'd have eaten it.

We go out in convoys, seeking superflu vectors. Single cars are lots more vulnerable. And if we break down, like yesterday, you've got help.

I picked up some tips in case we come under fire. (Now don't be a nervous husband! You know I like field work . . .) Bad idea to ride in the back seat of a two-door—hard to get out fast. Sit in the front seat and keep the door slightly open so you can dive out. Windows open, too, so you can hear what's coming down.

Even in town we're careful with the lights. Minimal flashlight use. Shrouds over camera lights as much as you can. A camera crew interviewing us from CNN draped dark cloth over their heads so nobody could see the dim blue glow of the viewfinder leaking from around their eyes.

Not what you wanted your wife to be doing, right? But it's exciting! Sorry if this is unfeminine. You'll soon have a chance to check out whether all this macho stuff has changed my, uh, talents. Just a week! I'll try to be all frilly-frilly. Lover, store up that juice of yours."


He stared at the glimmering phosphors of his laptop. Superflu at the Earth Summit. Vaccine upcoming. Vectors colliding, and always outside the teeming city with its hoarse voices, squalling babies and swelling mothers, the rot of mad growth Could a species which produced so many mouths be anything more than a blight? Their endless masses cast doubt upon the importance of any individual, diminished the mind's inner sense

He read the letter again as if he were under water, bubbles springing from his lips and floating up into a filmy world he hoped someday to see. He and Amy struggled, knee-deep in the mud of lunatic mobs. How long, before they were dragged down? But at least for a few moments longer they had the shadowy recesses of each other.


He waited impatiently for her beside his tent. He had come back early from the crew sites and a visit to the local brass hats. It had gone pretty well but he could not repress his desire for her, his impatience. He calmed himself by sitting in his canvas-backed chair, boots propped up on a stump left by the land clearing. He had some background files from Amy and he idly paged through them on his laptop. A review paper in Nature tried to put the superflu in historical perspective.


There were in fact three bubonic plagues, each so named because the disease began with buboes—swollen lymph glands in the groin, armpit, neck. Its pneumonic form spread quickly, on breaths swarming with micro-organisms, every cough throwing micro-organisms to the wind. A bacterial disease, the bacillus Pasteurella pestis was carried by fleas on Rattus rattus.

In assessing the potentials of Superflu, consider the first bubonic pandemic. Termed the Plague of Justinian (540-590), who was the Caesar of the era, it began the decline of the Roman Empire, strengthened Christianity with its claims of an afterlife, and discredited Roman medicine, whose nostrums proved useless—thus strangling a baby science. By the second day of an everlasting fever, the victims saw phantoms which called, beckoning toward the grave. The plague ended only when it killed so many, up to half the population of some cities, that it ran out of carriers. It killed a hundred million, a third of the region's population, and four times the Black Death toll of 1346-1361.

Our Superflu closely resembles the Spanish Influenza, which actually originated in Kansas. It was history's worst outbreak, as rated by deaths per day—thirty million in a single fall season of 1918. The virus mutated quickly. Accidental Russian lab release of a frozen sample in 1977 caused a minor outbreak . . .


He lay on his cot, waiting for the sound of his jeep, bearing Amy. Through the heavy air came the oddly weak slap of a distant shot. Then three more, quick.

He stumbled outside the tent. Bird rustlings, something scampering in the bush. He was pretty sure the shots had come from up the hill, where the dirt road meandered down. It was impossible to see anything in the twilight trees.

He had envisioned this many times before but that did not help with the biting visceral alarm, the blur of wild thoughts. He thought he had no illusions about what might happen. He walked quickly inside and slapped his laptop shut. Two moths battered at the lone lantern in his tent, throwing a shrapnel of shadows on the walls, magnified anxiety.

Automatically he picked up the micro-disks which carried his decoding routines and vital records. He kept none of it on hard disk so he did not need to erase the laptop. His backpack always carried a day's food and water and he swung it onto his back as he left the tent and trotted into the jungle.

Evening falls heavily beneath the canopy. He went through a mat of vines, slapping aside the stinging flies which rose angrily.

Boots thumping behind him? No, up on the dirt road. A man's shout.

He bent over and worked his way down a steep slope. He wished he had remembered to bring his helmet. He crouched further to keep below the ferns but some caught him in the face. In the fading shafts of green radiance he went quietly, stooped forward. Cathedral pillars of old trees were furred with orange moss. The day's heat still thickened the air. He figured that if she got away from them she would go downhill. From the road that led quickly into a narrowing canyon. He angled to the left and ran along an open patch of rock and into the lip of the canyon about halfway down. Impossible to see anything in there but green masses.

There was enough light for them to search for her. She would keep moving and hope they didn't track her by the sound. Noise travels uphill better in a canyon. He plunged into lacerating fronds and worked his way toward where he knew a stream trickled down.

Somebody maybe twenty meters ahead and down slope. Todd angled up to get a look. His breath caught when he saw her, just a glimpse of her hair in a fading gleam of dusk. Branches snapped under his boots as he went after her. She heard as he had hoped and slipped behind a tree. He whispered, "Amy! Todd!" and there she was suddenly, gripping her pop-out pistol.

"Oh God!" she said and kissed him suddenly.

"Are you hurt?" he whispered.

"No." Her gaze ricocheted around the masses of green upslope from them. "I shot the driver of my jeep. In the shoulder, to make him stop. I had to, that Segueno—"

"Him. I wondered what the hell he was—Wait, what'd you shoot at after that?"

"The jeep behind us."

"They stopped?"

"Just around the curve, but they were running toward me."

"Where was Segueno?"

"In my jeep."

"He didn't shoot at you?"

"No, I don't think—"

"He probably didn't want to."

"Who is he? He said he was with World Emergency Services—"

"He's probably got a dozen IDs. Come on."

They forked off from the stream. It was clearer there and the obvious way to go so he figured to stay away from it and move laterally away from the camp. The best they could do would be to reach the highway about five kilometers away and hitch a ride before anybody covered that or stopped traffic. She had no more idea than he did how many people they had but the followup jeep implied they could get more pretty quickly. It probably had good comm gear in it. In the dark they would take several hours to reach the highway. Plenty of time to cover the escapes but they had to try it.

The thin light was almost gone now. Amy was gasping—probably from the shock more than anything else, he thought. She did look as though she had not been sleeping well. The leaden night was coming on fast when they stopped.

"What does he—"

She fished a crumpled page from her pocket. "I grabbed it to get his attention while I got this pistol out." She laughed suddenly, coughed. "He looked scared. I was really proud of myself. I didn't think I could ever use that little thing but when—"

Todd nodded, looking at the fax of his letter, words underlined:


God, I do really need you. What's more, I know it's my "juice" speaking—only been two weeks, but just at what point do I have to be reasonable? Hey, two scientists who work next to disasterville can afford a little loopy irrationality, right? Thinking about your alabaster breasts a lot. Our eagerly awaited rendezvous will be deep in the sultry jungle, in my tent. I recall your beautiful eyes that evening at Boccifani's and am counting the days . . .


"He thought he was being real smooth." She laughed again, higher this time. Brittle. "Maybe he thought I'd break down or something if he just showed me he was onto us." Todd saw that she was excited still but that would fade fast.

"How many men you think he could get right away?"

She frowned. "I don't know. Who is he, why—"

He knew that she would start to worry soon and it would be better to have her thinking about something else. "He's probably some UN security or something, sniffed us out. He may not know much."

"Special Operations, he told me." She was sobering, eyes bleak.

"He said he was BioSalvage when I saw him in Caracas."

"He's been after us for over a week, then." He gritted his teeth, eyeing the inky jungle. Twilight bird calls came down from the canopy, soft and questioning. Nothing more. Where were they? "I guess we were too obvious."

"Rearranging Fibonacci into Boccifani? I thought it was pretty clever."

Todd had felt that way, too, he realized ruefully. A simple code: give an anagram of a mathematical series—Fibonacci's was easy to remember in the field, each new term just the sum of the two preceding integers—and then arranging the real message in those words of the letter. A real code-breaker probably thought of schemes like that automatically. Served him right for being an arrogant smartass. He said, "I tried to make the messages pretty vague."

Her smile was thin, tired. "I'll say. 'God I do need more juice at next rendezvous.' I had to scramble to be sure virus-3 was waiting at the Earth Summit."

"Sorry. I thought the short incubation strain might be more useful there."

She had stopped panting and now slid her arms around him. "I got that. 'This "superflu" thing knocking people with two-week delay. Juice!' I used that prime sequence—you got my letters?"

"Sure." That wasn't important now. Her heart was tripping, high and rapid against his chest.

"I . . . had some virus-4 with me."

"And now they have it. No matter."

Hesitantly she said, "We've . . . gotten farther than we thought we would, right?"

"It's a done deal. They can't stop it now."

"We're through then?" Eyes large.

"They haven't got us yet."

"Do you suppose they know about the others?"

"I hadn't thought of that." They probably tracked the contagion, correlated with travelers, popped up a list of suspects. He and several others had legitimate missions, traveled widely, and could receive frozen samples of the virus without arousing suspicion. Amy was a good nexus for messages, coded and tucked into her reports. All pretty simple, once somebody guessed that to spread varieties of the virus so fast demanded a systematic, international team. "They've probably got Esther and Clyde, then."

"Damn!" She hugged him fiercely.

Last glimmers of day gave a diffuse glow among the damp tangle of vines and fronds. A rustling alerted him. He caught a quick flitting shadow in time to turn.

A large man carrying a stubby rifle rushed at him. He pushed Amy away and the man came on, bringing the rifle down like a club. Todd ducked and drove a fist into the man's neck. They collided. Momentum slammed him into thick ferns. Rolling, elbows jabbing.

Together they slammed into a tree. Todd yanked on the man's hair, got a grip. He smacked the head against a prow of limestone that jutted up from the leafy forest floor. The man groaned and went limp.

Todd got up and looked for Amy and someone knocked him over from behind. The wind went out of him and when he rolled over there were two men, one holding Amy. The other was Mr. Segueno.

"It is pointless to continue," Segueno called.

"I thought some locals were raiding us." Might as well give it one more try.

No smile. "Of course you did."

The man Todd had knocked out was going to stay that way, apparently. Segueno and the other carried automatic pistols, both pointed politely at his feet. "What the hell is—"

"I assume you are not armed?"

"Look, Segueno—"

They took his pack and found the.38 buried beneath the packaged meals. Amy looked dazed, eyes large. They led them back along the slope. It was hard work and they were drenched in sweat when they reached his tent. There were half a dozen men wearing the subdued tan U.N. uniforms. One brought in a chair for Segueno.

Todd sat in his canvas chair and Amy on the bunk. She stretched out and stared numbly at the moths who still flailed against the unattainable lamp.

"What's this crap?" Todd asked, but he could not put any force into his voice. He wanted to make this easy on Amy. That was all he cared about now.

Segueno unfolded a tattered letter. "She did not destroy this—a mistake."

His letter to Amy. "It's personal. You have no right—"

"You are far beyond issues of rights, as I think you know."

"It was Freddie, wasn't it?" Amy said suddenly, voice sharp. "He was too friendly."

In the fluttering yellow light Segueno's smile gleamed. "I would never have caught such an adroit ruse. The name of a restaurant, a mathematical series. But then, I am not a code-breaker. And your second paragraph begins the sequence again very economical."

Todd said nothing. One guard—he already thought of the uniformed types that way—blocked the tent exit, impassive, holding his 9mm automatic at the ready. Over the men outside talking tensely he heard soft bird calls. He had always liked the birds best of all things in the jungle. Tonight their songs were long and plaintive.

Segueno next produced copies of Amy's letters. "I must say we have not unpuzzled these. She is not using the same series."

Amy stared at the moths now.

"So much about cars, movement—perhaps she was communicating plans? But her use of 'juice' again suggests that she is bringing you some." Segueno pursed his lips, plainly enjoying this.

"You've stooped to intercepting private messages on satellite phone?"

"We have sweeping authority."

"And who's this 'we' anyway?"

"United Nations Special Operations. We picked up the trail of your group a month ago, as the superflu began to spread. Now, what is this 'juice'?"

Todd shook his head silently, trying to hear the birds high in the dark canopy. Segueno slapped him expertly. Todd took it and didn't even look up.

"I am an epidemiologist," Segueno said smoothly. "Or rather, I was. And you are an asymptomatic carrier."

"Come on! How come my crew doesn't get it?" Might was well make him work for everything. Give Amy time to absorb the shock. She was still lying loosely, watching the moths seethe at the lamp.

"Sometimes they do. But you do not directly work with the local laborers, except by choice. Merely breathing in the vapor you emit can infect. And I suspect your immediate associates are inoculated—as, obviously, are you."

Todd hoped that Cabrina had gotten away. He wished he had worked out some alarm signal with her. He was an amateur at this.

"I want the whole story," Segueno said.

"I won't tell you the molecular description, if that's what you mean," Amy said flatly.

Segueno chuckled. "The University of California's Center for Molecular Genetics cracked that problem a week ago. That was when we knew someone had designed this plague."

Todd and Amy glanced at each other. Segueno smiled with relish. "You must have inoculated yourselves and all the rest in your conspiracy. Yet with some molecular twist, for you are all asymptomatic carriers."

"True." Amy's eyes were wary. "And I breathed in your face on my way in here."

Segueno laughed sourly. "I was inoculated three days ago. We already have a vaccine. Did you seriously think the best minds in medicine would take long to uncover this madness, and cure it?"

Todd said calmly, "Surprised it took this long."

"We have also tracked your contagion, spotted the carriers. You left a characteristic pattern. Quite intelligent, using those who had a legitimate mission and traveled widely. I gather you personally infected hundreds at Earth Summit V, Doctor Russell."

Todd shrugged. "I get around."

"To kill your colleagues."

"Call it a calculus of desperation," Todd said sharply. "Scientists are very mobile people. They spread a virus real well."

"A calculus? How can you be so—" Segueno caught himself, then went on, voice trembling slightly. "As an epidemiologist, I find puzzling two aspects. These strains vary in infectivity. Still, all seem like poor viral design, if one wants to plan a pandemic. First, they kill only a few percent of the cases. Even those are mostly the elderly, from the fever." He frowned scornfully. "Poor workmanship."

"Yeah, I guess we're just too dumb," Todd said.

"You and your gang—we estimate you number some hundred or more, correct?—are crazy, not stupid. So why, then, the concentration of the disorders in the abdominal organs? Influenza is most effective in the lungs."

Amy said crisply, "The virus had proteins which function as an ion channel. We modified those with amantadine to block the transport of fusion glycoproteins to the cell surface—but only in the lungs." She sounded as though she were reciting from something she had long ago planned to say. It was as stilted as the opening remarks in a seminar. "The modification enhances its effect in another specific site."

Segueno nodded. "We know the site—quite easy to trace, really. Abdominal."

"Game's over," Todd said soberly. The CDC must know by now. He felt a weight lifted from him. Their job was done. No need to conceal anything.

"This 'juice,' it is the virus, yes?"

Amy hesitated. Her skin was stretched over her high cheekbones and glassy beneath the yellow light. Todd went over and sat beside her on the cot and patted her hand reassuringly. "Nothing he can do anyway, hon."

Amy nodded cautiously. "Yes, the virus—but a different strain."

Todd said wryly, "To put a li'l spin on the game."

Segueno's face pinched. "You swine."

"Feel like slapping me again?" Todd sat with coiled energy. He wished Segueno would come at him. He was pumped up from the fight earlier. His blood was singing the age-old adrenaline song. The guard was too far away. He watched Todd carefully.

Segueno visibly got control of himself. "Worse than that, I would like. But I am a man with principles."

"So am I."

"You? You are a pair of murderers."

Amy said stiffly, "We are soldiers."

"You are no troops. You are—crazed."

Her face hardened with the courage he so loved in her—the dedication they shared, that defined them. She said as if by rote, "We're fighting for something and we'll pay the price, too."

Segueno eyed Amy with distaste. "What I cannot quite fathom is why you bothered. The virus runs up temperature, but it does not damage the cubical cells or other constituents."

"The ovarian follicles," Amy said. "The virus stimulates production of luteninizing hormone."

Segueno frowned. "But that lasts only a few days."

"That's all it takes. That triggers interaction with the follicle-stimulating hormone." Amy spoke evenly, as though she had prepared herself for this moment, down through the years of work.

"So you force an ovarian follicle to rupture. Quite ordinary. That merely hastens the menstrual cycle."

"Not an ovarian follicle. All of them."

"All . . . ?" His brow wrinkled, puzzled—and then shock froze his face. "You trigger all the follicles? So that all the woman's eggs are released at once?"

Amy nodded. "Your people must know that by now, too."

Segueno nodded automatically, whispering. "I received a bulletin on the way here. Something about an unusual property . . ."

His voice trickled away. The moths threw frantic shadows over tight faces that gleamed with sweat.

"Then . . . they will recover. But be infertile."

Todd breathed out, tensions he did not know that he carried now released. "There. It's done."

"So you did not intend to kill many."

Amy said with cool deliberation, "That is an unavoidable side effect. The fever kills weak people, mostly elderly. We couldn't find any way to edit it out."

"My God . . . There will be no children."

Todd shook his head. "About fifteen percent of the time it doesn't work through all the ovarian follicles. The next generation will drop in population almost an order of magnitude."

Segueno's mouth compressed, lips white. "You are the greatest criminals of all time."

"Probably," Todd said. He felt suddenly tired now that the job was done. And he didn't much care what anybody thought.

"You will be executed."

"Probably," Amy said.

"How . . . how could you . . . ?"

"Our love got us through it," Todd said fiercely. "We could not have children ourselves—a tilted uterus. We simply extended the method."

Amy said in her flat, abstract tone, "We tried attaching an acrosome to sperm, but males can always make new ones. Females are the key. They've got a few hundred ova. Get those, you've solved the problem. Saved the world."

"To rescue the environment," Todd knew he had to say this right. "To stop the madness of more and more people."

Segueno looked at them with revulsion. "You know we will stop it. Distribute the vaccine."

Amy smiled, a slow sliding of lips beneath flinty eyes. "Sure. And you're wondering why we're so calm."

"That is obvious. You are insane. From the highest cultures, the most advanced—such savagery."

"Where else? We respect the environment. We don't breed like animals."

"You, you are . . ." Again Segueno's voice trickled away.

Todd saw the narrowed eyes, the straining jaw muscles, the sheen of sweat in this tight-lipped U.N. bureaucrat and wondered just how a man of such limited horizons could think his disapproval would matter to them. To people who had decided to give themselves to save the world. What a tiny, ordinary mind.

Amy hugged her husband. "At least now we'll be together."

Segueno said bitterly, "We shall try you under local statutes. Make an example. And the rest of your gang, too—we shall track them all down."

The two on the cot sat undisturbed, hugging each other tightly. Todd kissed Amy. They had lived through these moments in imagination many times.

Loudly Segueno said, "You shall live just long enough to see the vaccine stop your plan."

Amy kissed Todd, long and lingering, and then looked up. "Oh, really? And you believe the North will pay for it? When they can just drag their feet, and let it spread unchecked in the tropics?"

Todd smiled grimly. "After they've inoculated themselves, they'll be putting their energy into a 'womb race'—finding fertile women, a 'national natural resource.' Far too busy. And the superflu will do its job."

Segueno's face congested, reddened. Todd watched shock and fear and then rage flit across the man's face. The logic, the inevitable cool logic to it, had finally hit him.

Somehow this last twist had snagged somewhere in Segueno, pushed him over the line. Todd saw something compressed and dark in the face, too late. My mouth, he thought. I've killed us both.

Segueno snatched the pistol from the guard and Todd saw that they would not get to witness the last, pleasant irony, the dance of nations, acted out after all.

It was the last thing he thought, and yet it was only a mild regret.

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