Paths To Otherwhere
Copyright © 1995
James P. Hogan
The woman in the tan business suit sat in a padded recliner that
looked like a dentist's chair. Her head lay in a concave rest
that kept it positioned exactly, in the focal zone of the projection
array a few inches above. She was staring at one of the screens
on a panel in front of her. Leonard Sarvin, Deputy Director of
the Defense Research Administration, stood to one side, out of
the field being directed by the machine. His principal assistant,
John Fiske, was with him. The department had poured millions into
this, and the Director was being harried by the President's office
for a progress update. Jesse Willard, the National Laboratory's
executive director, watched from the other side of the chair,
while the chief scientist of the project, who was handling the
demonstration, checked other screens. Cabinets and equipment racks
lined the partitioned space around them. The hum of pumps and
cooling fans came from other machinery beyond.
"It's quite straightforward." Kintner looked up and
addressed the three visitors. "We're Black. The machine plays
Red. It's our move. But the bet has to be real. Let's make it
ten dollars, say. You've got three choices for how the game will
go: Win for Black, win for Red, or a draw. Winners divide the
"What happens if we all lose?" Fiske asked.
Kintner smiled thinly. "Then I suppose thirty dollars goes
The two men from Washington looked at each other, as if checking
for something they might have missed. They both shrugged together.
"Ten on Black," Sarvin said.
"Black," Fiske agreed. He looked at Kintner and Willard.
"I mean . . . what else is there to say?"
The screen showed a position in a checkers game. Red was down
to four men, one of them blocked, the others positioned hopelessly.
Black still had five men, plus another two already crowned. No
six-year-old could have lost from that position.
The woman in the chair continued staring with a puzzled expression,
however. Her name was Jane. She had only recently been promoted
to Fiske's personal secretary, and the role of being the guinea
pig had fallen on her as the junior member of the party. Her eyes
and common sense were telling her the same as the other two had
said. And yet . . .
As she considered the three options in turn, DRAW seemed to shout
insistently from somewhere deep in her mind. It made no sense;
yet every instinct impelled her toward it. She bit her lip, uneasy
at the thought of appearing foolish. But Kintner's instructions
had been quite clear: "Forget everything you think you know.
Just play your hunches."
"Ten on a draw," she said finally.
Beside her, Fiske laughed. "Okay. It's your money."
"Then let's see what happens," Willard said. "Would
somebody care to decide the move?"
Sarvin and Fiske looked at each other again. Fiske pointed at
the screen. "How about that guy to there? Move him up. Why
"Looks good to me," Sarvin agreed.
"Very well," Willard said.
Kintner tapped at keys. The move appeared below the board, with
a request to confirm. He hit the Y key.
And the board disappeared, to be replaced by the legend:
WHAT WE DIDN'T TELL YOU WAS THAT THE GAME SELFDESTRUCTS AT THIS
Willard's manner lost the flippancy that he had been maintaining.
"It doesn't predict the actual future. That's impossible
on principle. But what the machine can do is extract the probabilities
of possible alternatives from the weightings of the Multiverse
branching structure ahead. And since it's driven by real future
outcomes, not theoretical models or probabilities, it delivers
a correct indication even if the truth is not as you've been led
to believe. Think what an impact this will have on strategic policymaking.
It could enable us to restore the entire world balance."
Just at that moment, it was having an impact on other things too.
Jane, still coupled into the machine, was getting vivid premonitions
of where more in life was heading than just a checkers game. For
months now she had been buying Jack's line about doors he could
open for her in the department, a marriage that was just a pretense.
. . . How could she have been so naive? Fancy dinners on his expense
account, a few nights in hotels when they went on trips like this-and
she'd thought she was heading for the big-time social circuit
and a career? WRONG! WRONG! WRONG! the machine was telling
her. Everything about that future felt bad. There was nothing
specific that she could pinpoint; just overwhelming forebodings
of anger, hurt, shame, ridicule. But it felt as certain as the
result of the checkers game had a few minutes earlier.
She sat up sharply, her eyes blazing at him. Fiske saw the change
in her and shook his head, mystified. "Hey, what is it?"
There was no way that she could control the indignation boiling
up inside. At the same time, in an official visit and with others
present, the moment was not appropriate for confrontation.
She got up. "We have to talk-later," she said tightly.
Then, to the others, "I'm sorry. Will you excuse me, please?"
And with that, she walked quickly from the scene.
Sarvin frowned. Fiske looked appealingly at the scientists. "I'm
sorry. . . . I really don't know what that was all about."
He made a helpless gesture, as if trusting them to understand.
"It's nobody's fault," Kintner said. "The process
does have deeper side-effects. We're still learning about them
They were getting reports of strange happenings from a number
of places where research was being conducted. The world didn't
need this loose in it as well, on top of everything else, he told
"It's too potent to be left out there for any foreign power
to harness and exploit," Kintner told Willard later, when
they were alone in Willard's office. "The whole thing has
to be brought under official direction. All other projects should
be terminated. Get the best people in the field here and put everything
under one centralized authority, where it can be controlled."
"I already talked to Sarvin about it," Willard said.
"He's making the same recommendation. We're trying to schedule
a meeting in Washington with the Security Council about it for
Baen Book 10/20/95
Copyright © 1995 by James P. Hogan