As the meeting broke into little groups of people, Thurmond, engaged with Benson, called over to Jones and Heike,
"If it's all right with you, we'll meet at ten in my office to get started."
It was, of course, all right. Thurmond was the leader of the group even though he was, in a sense, the least qualified.
The Joint Office for Attack Deployment, named only to mislead the enemy and the curious, was, in reality, set up with the idea of using computers to simulate real life naval situations, particularly ones involving submarines. It was hoped that these simulations would be accurate enough to yield reliable predictions. They didn't yet have a computer, but they could still do preliminary programming and hand-play the simulations.
Naval war games had an old and fairly honorable tradition. Some were played at sea with non-explosive shells, and others were played on chart-tables with colored markers. These always needed to be up-dated as new weapons and enemies appeared, and, in the few years of its existence, JOAD had constructed a number of simulation games for submarine warfare. It was expected that computers would make a difference that would be, not only quantitative, but qualitative.
For a start, the fact of being able to run a simulation, not a few dozen times, but many thousands of times, would render the results statistically significant. Not only that, it would be possible to vary the parameters and other features to see what difference the variations made. Strategies, tactics, and even submarine design, could then be modified to optimize the results. Perhaps best of all, the very process of programming the simulations would reveal hidden assumptions, the bane of traditional war gaming. Commanders usually found out about the hidden assumptions in their games when an enemy used a weapon or tactic not reflected in those games. The computerization of the games would thus, it was hoped, preclude rude shocks of that sort.
Needless to say, the new methods would require different sorts of people to implement them, and even Thurmond's little group of three incorporated persons having radically different skills. Thurmond himself would have been in his element commanding submarines in traditional submarine warfare simulations. After all, he had been a highly successful commander in real life. However, the point now wasn't to "win games." It was to develop better games, which would also be more mathematical, so that the results would mean more.
Thurmond, as a Virginia gentleman, was hardly mathematical at all. He wasn't even trying to learn to program. He was, indeed, a very brave man who became quite fearful when these matters were discussed. But, still, he was a genuine naval officer who understood war, and who stood well with Benson. He thus gave his little group unquestioned legitimacy.
Heike was the perfect mathematician to be paired with someone who was afraid of mathematics. Her heroic tact and her virtuosity in rendering the technical in everyday terms allowed her to smooth Thurmond's transition from a hero- worshipping navy to one which would eventually have robotic heroes.
Jones was slightly less mathematical than Heike, and was much less tactful, indeed, hardly tactful at all. But Thurmond accepted and categorized him as a former PT boat commander. That entailed a certain respect, but, since PT boats ranked far below submarines, there was no sense of competition. Even when Jones joked that PT boats were roughly twice as fast as subs, he was tacitly admitting his lower status. Moreover, by transferring to submarines, he had shown an inclination to move in the right direction.
Now, walking with Heike to the coke machine, Jones looked at her absolutely smooth outline. The shiny helmet of her black hair set off her pale face with its clearly outlined but soft little mouth. Her light gray dress with a wide leather belt fitted perfectly, and the seams of her stockings were exactly straight. Even the middle-heeled pumps matching her dress looked as if they had never been exposed to the dirt of the street. Jones said,
"I bet you think you have to be perfect in all respects at all times."
Laughing, she replied,
"A single mistake might lead right to the gas chambers."
"Didn't you leave Germany before those things happened?"
"I left a few months before Pearl Harbor, and arrived in America while it was still neutral. But that last bit in Germany was very scary. I had the feeling that it helped to be totally respectable and perfectly turned out."
"It didn't really, did it?"
"Not in the end. But, in the beginning, Jews were accused of being profiteers and criminals, and degenerates of every sort. One wanted to look as little as possible like a Yiddish-speaking pedlar hawking his goods."
"I'm sure you never looked like that."
"Probably not. These days, I'm trying not to look like a Jewish communist who steals atomic secrets."
"Speaking of that, I gathered that you weren't delighted at the news about the Soviet bomb today."
"I'll be more upset once I have a chance to think about it. For the moment, I go on thinking that no one's stupid enough to want war. And such a war it would be!"
"Are you sure that all our colleagues hate war so very much?"
"No. Went Thurmond obviously loved his war. You probably liked yours, and Admiral Benson needs one more to make his mark before he retires."
"Most of the time, Went and I were involved in our own little wars. They were isolated, and a sunk ship here or there wasn't going to change the course of history. They were personal triumphs, but I don't think it occurred to any of us that they had larger meaning."
"I've heard the Spanish-American war described as a 'splendid little war.' Isn't that the sort of thing war lovers have in mind?"
"I suppose so. Fair numbers of people are killed, but the euphoria of victory wipes out any regrets."
"Would it be unreasonable to point out to these people that the war they seem to want wouldn't be a splendid little war?"
"Very unreasonable! The process of going to war has become highly bureaucratic for us, and the Russians have Stalin. Your little voice isn't going to stop either a bureaucracy or Stalin."
"No. It wouldn't even stop JOAD. We might as well enjoy our cokes."
Heike put her mouth gently to the bottle, and a few strands of hair fell out of place as she inclined her head. Jones drank deeply, and, when his mouth was full, she remarked,
"Speaking of cokes, I bet you buy lots of them for the ladies of Cincinnati."
Jones spluttered a little, but replied,
"A few, now and then."
"Are all the ladies married?"
"Yes, I guess so. How did you know?"
"It's obvious. Married ladies are safe."
"So you're not safe?"
"I'm safe from you."
"But you aren't safe from all the gentlemen of Washington who aren't afraid of dangerous young ladies."
"Possibly not, except that they aren't interested."
"Of course they are! You're the princess of JOAD. I've noticed half these men leering at you."
"There is a little of that. It seems to be in inverse proportion to the opacity of my dress. But almost all of them are married."
"There's the whole rest of the city."
"I don't get around much. Anyway, even when I'm dressed up, I look as I am, a Jewish mathematician."
"A very good thing to be."
"Not for most men. The fear of mathematics is even greater than the fear of Judaism."
"You manage not to terrorize Went."
"He has so much confidence in other areas that it's okay."
"Does he lust after you?"
"I do believe that you'd be upset if I started an affair with him."
Jones laughed and admitted,
"Okay, you caught me."
"But why not? Any sane man would be jealous if someone with your looks and accomplishments started something with a colleague."
"Well, of course, I'm not. Went and his wife have me over to dinner sometimes. Have you met Barbara?"
"No. What's she like?"
"About what you'd expect with Went. She's blonde and good- looking in a somewhat restrained sensual way. She looks me over extremely carefully."
"You mean as a potential rival?"
"She might be suspicious if I wore too much make-up or crossed my legs revealingly. As it is, she probably finds me dull and insipid."
"Navy wives often get drunk with unexpected results. I was at a party where one went over to another and kissed her in an obviously sexual way. There wasn't any mistaking it."
"Gosh! What happened then?"
"Everyone laughed, and the party went on."
"I can imagine Barbara as either the kisser or the kissee. But she doesn't drink much around me."
"That's good. I don't think you'd like being the kissee."
"I actually have no idea how I'd react."
"I think I do. You're very far from being a lesbian."
"Sure. At least, I guess so. Psychiatrists usually claim that we're all capable of practically everything in the right circumstances."
"Circumstances that have about one chance in a billion of actually occurring. Every field has some bullshit that its practitioners cling to fanatically. I bet that's it for psychiatry."
"Perhaps. But I really do think that I might burst out in some way that I haven't previously."
"Yes, I can imagine that."
"Just give me a few more years."
"Anyhow, would you like to come out to dinner with me tonight? No funny business of any sort."
"Yes, that would be nice. I know your reputation with women isn't the best, but, for some reason, I don't worry about your doing something mean to me."
"It's hard to imagine anyone who'd want to hurt you."
"You know, there are ways in which you're naive, Jones."