Bill Todd -- Jones: A Novel of the Early Cold War
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 Chapter 10


Heike at dinner was a different sort of person. Gone was the deferential manner, the respect for elders and seniors, and even the tact. She announced over soup,

"I can make it another six months until my twenty third birthday, and then I'm going to tell the navy to shove one of its sixteen inch guns up its ass."

"Will you be rich by then?"

"A lot richer than the other graduate students at Michigan."

Heike was doing her graduate work backwards. She had arrived in America as a teen-aged mathematical prodigy. Later on, she had proven a significant theorem, and was told at the University of Michigan that it would count as her Ph. D thesis if she cared to take the general examinations. She had spent over a year studying for them, and Jones asked if she was now ready.

"I don't think I'll ever be ready. But they said that I should have taken them last spring, so there'll be no avoiding them this year."

"I bet they know you'll pass, and just want to give you your degree."

"Oh no! They can be very demanding and picky. Lots of people fail."

"Not people like you."

"I don't really know much mathematics. I have a knack for proving things, but, outside of group theory, I'm pretty much lost."

Jones smiled indulgently and asked,

"When you're here, do you do your math before or after work?"

"Mostly before. I get up at five. And then, I do quite a bit during the work day. I'm often sitting on the john proving the odd lemma. One of the secretaries asked me if I have problems with constipation."

"She was probably waiting to use the john."

"No, it was a friendly question. I sort of moaned out an affirmative. I could have said that I'd had a firehose rammed up my rear in a concentration camp."

"They know you were never in one, don't they?"

"Security has my whole file, of course, but I'm known as a refugee. Most people here wouldn't know the details. I can always claim special dispensation in case I do something really bad."

"You look as if you'd like to do something really bad."

"I'm afraid I'm a hopelessly good girl at heart, but I would like to do something to make Went and his friends less likely to start World War III."

"Am I one of those friends?"

"No. You're rational. You don't want to get killed on the basis of some crazy ideology."

"I don't have any ideology, crazy or otherwise."

"I'd like to do somthing to keep them from trying to sneak submarines into seas that are practically Russian lakes."

There was something in Heike's vivacious, almost mischievous, presentation of a scary idea that was arresting. Jones looked carefully around the expensive red-draped restaurant from the perspective of their isolated table and spoke quietly,

"You know, one thing does occur to me. Since we understand computers, and they don't, we could skew the results of simulations in desirable ways without their ever knowing."

Heike burst forth with a little cry of radiant joy. Jones was sure that the waiter thought that he had just proposed marriage. Then, after a moment, she reflected,

"When we actually do get a computer, they'll have to hire other computer people, and we won't be the only ones who understand."

"We'll be senior to those people, and we'll have a say in hiring them, at least if we stay on at JOAD. We can hire dumb people who never will catch on."

Heike nodded and replied,

"The people who do the hiring at JOAD aren't any balls of fire, and it should be possible to get them to hire people like themselves who won't threaten them."

"I wonder how they ever hired you."

"Because I'm sweet and innocent, and I can open my eyes extra wide to look adoringly at middle-aged men."

Heike demonstrated until Jones urged her to stop on the grounds that it made him nervous. He then said,

"Whether our colleagues are dumb or not, we'll only have to choose certain parameters to get the results we want. Those parameters can be hidden deeply in the simulation."

"In most cases the parameters will only represent rough estimates. You can give a reasonable argument for almost any values you choose."

Agreeing wholeheartedly to the prospect of constructing arguments for choices made for other reasons, Jones added,

"The main upshot for us is that we'll have to stay at JOAD at least half-time to stay ahead of any other technical people they may hire."

"Well, university professors seem to be on leave half the time, and there are the summers."

"Even when we're at JOAD, we can spend most of the time doing our real academic work. We only need to be here to guide things and give them a nudge now and then."

Still euphoric, Heike said,

"We really only need to convince Went of our conclusions. With his force of personality, he'll steamroller over the rest of the organization, including our chief."

"Yes. And Went is fascinated by you. I have a certain naval aura that helps ......"

"It means a great deal. You're the only naval mathematician in the place."

"Still, I think you may have to clinch things with Went."

"Not with sex, I hope."

"No, just the kind of youthful femininnity you can deploy so easily."

Heike, now whispering, replied,

"It's more and more as if we're becoming secret agents within a secret organization."

"That's a sobering thought. At least, we don't represent a foreign government, just ourselves."

Heike, with her black eyes and thin-lipped red mouth, now looked far too serious to be a prospective bride. She asked,

"What, exactly, are we trying to do?"

"It would be simplistic to say that we'd be trying to make war less likely. We, in fact, don't know what would make it less likely. Our actions might have the opposite effect."

Heike, laughing, replied,

"Is the moral that we shouldn't mess with history?"

"I wouldn't want to skew our top leadership's perceptions of the balance of forces and risks. That could have incalculable consequences."

"Let's just act to discourage the adventurist tendencies of Went and people like him. If we have to go to war for good reason, so be it. But we don't want to blunder into it by creating a stupid incident that sets off a chain of reactions."

Jones, his mouth half full of a bread stick, replied,

"So we want to make it seem even more hopeless than it already is to try to penetrate the narrow seas in peacetime?"


"We'll then be substituting the judgment of Heike and Jones for that of Went and his fellow submariners. Now that we see how it could be done, how could we not do it?"

"We'll have to get some wine to drink a toast."

"The waiter already thinks that I've just proposed marriage."

"No, really?"

Jones explained, concluding,

"If he sees us clinking glasses, he'll feel confirmed in his opinion."

"Let's clink anyway. This sounds as if it might be more important than marriage."

"Certainly. People get married all the time. Bamboozling the navy away from provocative activities is a bigger thing."

After eating and gossipping about the members of JOAD, Heike returned to their project.

"The best thing would be to have our own secret programming language that no one else understands."

"No one else at JOAD understands the generalized instruction set that we're already using."

"As soon as computers are more widely available, lots of people will start to program."

"Quite apart from secrecy, it'd be nice to have abbreviations for frequently used sequences of code, and even for whole sub-routines."

"We can program the machine to accept our secret code and expand it into ordinary machine code."

"That would be a nice trick. You'll have to write the program for that."

"I guess I can manage it. And in our computer language we'll choose deliberately obscure names for ordinary things."

"Good. When they hire other computer people, they won't have the faintest idea what we're doing."

Heike, evidently picturing in her mind the confusion they would create, smiled pleasantly.

Bill Todd -- Jones: A Novel of the Early Cold War
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