Sleeping Giants Page 26

—There is no need to apologize. I did not want us to be disturbed. It is a pleasure to make your acquaintance.

—The pleasure is mine. What did you want to di…discuss?

—It has come to my attention that you disapprove of the direction this project is taking. I would be remiss if I did not take such complaint seriously, especially coming from someone of your intelligence.

—Thank you very much. I didn’t mean to go over your h…head.

—So it was an accident?

—I…

—It does not matter. Now, tell me, what is it that you find so objectionable in the way that Dr. Franklin is leading her team?

—I have all the respect in the world for Dr. Franklin. She is a very good physicist.

—But?

—But she does make mistakes. She’s not as…she’s not as brilliant as you think she is. I often find it necessary to d…double-check her calculations.

—I am certain she appreciates.

—More than anything, Dr. Franklin is too…fragile. She lets her feelings for the members of her team cloud her judgment. She treats Kara and Vincent as if they were her ch…children. Kara is a stubborn, unyielding person, and I feel it is…irresponsible to rely entirely on her good will for this project to move f…forward. I have requested, on several occasions, that she submit to a series of tests to determine why the helmet will only activate for her, and Dr. Franklin has systematically refused.

—Is that statement really accurate? I was told that Ms. Resnik submitted a saliva sample and that you performed an analysis of that sample. In fact, I remember seeing a report in which you conclude that there is nothing out of the ordinary about her genetics.

—I did perform some genetic and biochemical tests and found no chromosomal anomalies, nor any obvious mutation. But there are a lot more tests, mitochondrial analysis. I haven’t even done a full genome sequencing. I could study her brain structure, her eyes might also be the answer.

—Dr. Franklin also performed a retina scan if I am not mistaken.

—I meant that I could study a sample of her eye, not a picture of it.

—Could these other procedures wait until we have recovered all the pieces from the robot, and solved our more immediate problems?

—You don’t understand. It’s not just Kara. We can’t…we can’t move forward without Vincent now. What if he doesn’t survive? What if he can’t w…walk again? Understanding why the helmet worked for Kara might be the key to replacing Vincent as well.

With all due respect, there is too much at stake here to worry about personal feelings, or some mild dis…comfort while I insert a needle into someone’s eye. I thought you of all people…

—You thought I of all people?

—I thought you were…pragmatic, that you understood what needed to be done. Maybe you’ve also become emotionally attached.

—Are you questioning my judgment?

—Let me ask you this. If we needed dogs, and not humans, to control this machine, would we not already have a dozen pu…puppies to spare?

—Puppies…I find the question is a lot more interesting than any answer I could provide. But I thank you for shedding new light on the situation. I have found your comments both insightful and interesting and, I promise you, I will take everything you said under advisement.

—Thank you. That’s all I ask.

—Good day, Ms. Papantoniou.

FILE NO. 129

INTERVIEW WITH ROBERT WOODHULL, ASSISTANT TO THE PRESIDENT FOR NATIONAL SECURITY AFFAIRS

Location: White House, Washington, DC

—What can I do for you, Robert?

—SecDef has moved us to DEFCON 3.

—The Russians?

—Amongst others. The Chinese spotted us leaving their territory. They’ve lodged a formal complaint with the UN.

—Since when do you care about the UN?

—I couldn’t care less about the UN, but the Russians were all ears. They put two and two together very quickly. They still don’t know what we’re after, but they know it’s not just some ancient artifact, if we’re willing to enter every country uninvited to get it. The Turkish government also made your little visit known to the Russians, which didn’t do anything to help.

They are now blaming us, officially that is, for the death of their soldiers in Siberia. They are calling our little incursion a deliberate act of provocation. The Russian ambassador left for Moscow about an hour ago. They’re cleaning out the embassy as we speak. You can almost hear the shredders all the way down here. It’s only a matter of time before China follows suit.

—Have they increased their military readiness?

—You could call it that. In the past three hours, we’ve seen more naval activity out of Russia than we have since the Cuban Missile Crisis. The entire Northern Fleet is on alert, so is most of the Pacific Fleet from what we can tell. There are over one hundred ships operating in the North Atlantic alone.

—Submarines?

—The Severodvinsk set to sea this morning along with two Borei-class subs. The White Sea Base looks like it was abandoned. There are five Delta-IVs roaming around, just as many Delta-IIIs, even their big old Typhoon. Basically, everything with a nuke that is seaworthy is now out there. We haven’t seen any unusual action on the Chinese side, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they sent out part of their fleet as well.

—They are bluffing. You know that.

—So are we. Bluffing doesn’t mean what it used to. No one wants an all-out war, and everyone knows it. Both sides know the other doesn’t want a fight, so we push each other against the wall, a tiny bit further every time. It’s all about saving face but, basically, we’re playing chicken, and both sides think that they can do whatever they want because the other guy will never use its nuclear arsenal. It probably won’t be today, but someday…someday one of us is gonna be terribly wrong.

We’ve deployed our attack subs, of course. If China steps in, we’ll send even more ships to go against their ships. Our aircraft carriers are already on full alert. If we send them out anywhere in the general direction of Asia, they’re gonna launch everything they have and send it our way. You can see where this is going.

Nothing good has ever come of a naval standoff. I know it looks big on the map, but an ocean can get crowded real fast, and I sure as hell don’t like putting my fate in the hands of a dozen half-blind sub captains trying not to bump into anything.

—Do we really need to always respond in kind? Could we not simply do nothing and let the Russians posture for a few days? I never understood the merits of proportional response.

—I’m not sure there are any. It’s just what we call human nature for people with too much firepower in their hands. Ever been in a bar fight?

—I assume this is a rhetorical question.

—Well, that’s how it starts. You bump into someone, make them spill their drink. They yell at you and push you away. You pretend that you apologized while you poke at their chest. Everybody “proportionally responds” until someone gets their teeth knocked out. No one really wants to fight, but no one wants to be the one to back off either. It’s a hundred times worse with military men, and a hundred times more so with politicians.

So we’re gonna do our thing, they’re gonna do their thing, and if we’re really lucky we won’t send twenty million people to their deaths in the process.

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