Danger and Simulation
It totally amazed Sidney Cynthia Mainwaring that so many people seemed to think her stable, well-balanced, and responsibly mature. Most of them even thought her cultured and lady-like. It seemed to Sid that she was a hysterical wretch just under the surface, hopelessly adrift in a sea of uncontrolled emotion, and probably nymphomaniac to boot.
It was this last element that had led to the present difficulty. She had never slept with the mailman, and, in fact, had sex only with her husband, Cliff. But they got so carried away, often at the same time, that they just couldn't seem to stop for contraception. At first, it had worked out well enough. They had wanted children, and they had a boy and a girl, both in school and both doing well. Her parents were pleased, and Cliff's parents were pleased. Praise the Lord and pass the ammunition! But not a third! By no means! Never! That would fuck up everything.
Sometimes Sid made lists of all the things that would, indeed, be fucked up. Chief among them was the child itself. Every third child in her extended family had something bad wrong with it, and she suspected that the little creature in her womb had either two heads or no brain. She didn't tell Cliff that. He was an engineer, and he'd think it superstition. More respectable intellectually was the matter that she'd have to stay home with the baby and her career would be shot to hell and gone. She said to him,
"They've always thought me stupid because of the way I looked. Now, there's this young man who's willing to let me do all kinds of things the others won't. I'm actually being allowed to help construct a simulation. No one's told him that I can't program, and so, when I do, he incorporates my code into his main program instead of throwing it away."
"This is the guy you're staying up half the night with?"
"Yeah, Tom Williams. He likes being around me, but he doesn't have expectations. He's quite shy with women, and, unlike the others, he likes them. He just doesn't see any reason not to use my skills."
"He may get expectations as he goes along."
Sid knew that Cliff was worried, not that she would have an affair, but that her too obvious sexuality would lead to a misunderstanding, one which would cause trouble, or even get her fired. It had happened before, and she spoke in a sort of shorthand,
"No, Tom's deeply weird, but he's not a shafter. I'm in control. But I'd sleep with him if he could perform a safe abortion on me or find someone to do it!"
"He doesn't sound like the type."
Although Sid knew that she was pregnant, she was going from one doctor to another, asking them to confirm it. It was getting to be like reading different copies of the same edition of a newspaper to confirm something on the front page, but she was actually trolling for something else. Each time, she expressed strong displeasure at the result, and she was waiting for just the slightest suggestion that something could be done about it. Or not even that, really. Sid was waiting for a doctor whose general manner and demeanor wouldn't preclude her from wishing out loud that something could be done about it. Cliff had been helping her scout for doctors who were legitimate and safe, but who, for one reason or another, were out of the main stream. Cliff actually wanted her to go to Sweden, where it could be done best, but she wanted to exhaust the local possibilities first.
Sid got held up in the bridge traffic after work, and expressed out loud to herself the wish that the lady in the big hat who missed the light in front of her would be afflicted with uncontrollable diarrhea at her next garden party. She then had to wait to pick up her daughter from the piano teacher because another woman, equally idiotic, had insisted on talking to the teacher at length and put the whole schedule out of whack. In the end, she had to skip dinner and leave Cliff to feed the children while she went in search of still another doctor.
She was actually in the middle of a bridge when she remembered something. Her friend Shirley, who had married a wealthy Mexican and gone to live in Mexico City, had once remarked that safe abortions were easy to arrange in Mexico. Sid immediately made an illegal U turn on the bridge and returned home.
Getting Cliff out of range of the children, she explained her idea.
"It's illegal there, too, but things are much less strict. You can have someone murdered for fifty bucks, and even the best doctors will perform abortions for twenty. I'll pay thirty and get the number one special service."
Cliff was doubtful, but he took the children out to play while she called Shirley. When he came back, she said,
"It's all set. I'm going next weekend. As a sort of thank-you for arranging it, I invited them to come visit us. They can't get free now, but I'm bringing their two kids back for a visit. Can you handle that?"
"How long are they staying?"
Tom Williams slid silently into the tape room without Sid's noticing and said loudly to her,
"The command economy can be viewed as the opposite of a market economy as regards flow of information. Prices, instead of informing the producer about the desires of the consumer, inform the consumer about the desires of the producer. If I'm in command and I want women to wear pants instead of skirts, I reduce the price of pants and raise the price of skirts."
After spinning around abruptly, she replied,
"What you really want is for women to wear neither pants nor skirts. How are you going to achieve that?"
"Raise the price of both, but reduce the price of knives and guns, so that women will be able to afford weapons of self defense."
"Okay. Who's going to set the prices for Red in our simulation of the command economy?"
"We begin by deciding how many armaments we need, and then calculate how much is left over from our gross national product. We calculate how many civilian goods can be produced with that remnant. Knowing that, we set prices in such a way that there won't be long lines of people waiting to buy a particular kind of goods."
"I keep hearing about long lines to buy soap, much less shoes, in eastern Europe. I wonder if anyone keeps track of the length of those lines."
"I bet they do. In fact, you might say that it's the length of the line rather than the price that signals information back to the producer."
"But he may not alter his production. He may just raise the price to keep the line from going out the door into the street."
"If the lines get too long and boisterous all over the country, he'll have to do something."
"Like hiring more police to beat dissidents up?"
"I suppose so. But that could get expensive. Thus, at a deeper level, the the problem is still basically an economic one."
Sid didn't utter the word, 'bullshit,' but she gave Tom one of her looks. Finally, she said, with an exaggerated accent,
"If it's an economic problem, it seems like somebody should oughtta go bankrupt."
"I guess I need to say that Red has to spend enough on the police agencies to keep the populace restrained, no matter what else he does. And, of course, he does have to provide some consumer goods. When the combined cost of guns, goods, and policing goes out of control, the system is bankrupt. That's when he attacks."
"I thought we had to simulate the dynamics of a committee before we could predict an attack."
"We do eventually. I guess I should say that going bankrupt would strongly influence the members of the committee in that direction."
"You had strike-to-win hawks and beat-to-the draw hawks, but you'd have to call these guys strike-out-of-desperation hawks."
"Yeah. In practice, they'd act just like strike-to-win hawks.
The next morning, Tom attempted to rough out some formulas which would tie together shoe production, the price of shoes, and the length of the lines of people waiting to buy them. It would have been nice to use the computer to generate results, and fiddle with the formulas until the results looked reasonable. However, computer time, even in the middle of the night, was too valuable for that. Instead, Sid pulled out a three-foot engineering slide rule given her by her husband, and began doing calculations according to Tom's formulas. Sid loved using it, and, in a funny way, it made her even prettier. She soon announced,
"This formula gives some funny results."
It was a long time before Tom got formulas which didn't give patently ridiculous results, but, by quitting time, they at least had something which could be used as the basis for a program.
Although they both coded, nothing ran without glitches in their next session the following evening. Sid asked,
"Shall I put some optional stops in between his instructions?"
Tom urged her to do so. The various stop instructions were keyed to switches on the console which could be set to halt the program every time that particular stop instruction came up. It could then be seen exactly what was in the critical registers at that point in the execution. It was a slow process, but, as Tom said to Sid,
"If we stop and check often enough, there's no way we can fail to understand what's happening."
Sid looked somewhat doubtful, but, in the space of some two hours, they had eliminated some problems. Then, suddenly, all the lights on the console went out. As Tom got up to go in search of a technician, he met one coming around the corner of the machine. The man said,
"Sorry we didn't give you some warning. There's a problem with the drum. It may be a while."
By that time, Tom had learned that computer technicians shared with waitresses a particular way of talking about time. If they said that something was "all ready," it meant a minute or two; "It'll be a minute or two" meant five or ten minutes, and "It'll be a while" meant forever. The prudent diner searched out another restaurant in the last case, but, since they wouldn't have been welcome at, say, the Office of Defense Mobilization, Sid and Tom went to the lounge for coffee. They were the only ones there at three in the morning, and he asked her,
"Is Goldstein really having an affair with Janet?"
"Oh yes. I thought I told you before we went to NIH with them."
"You may have done what you thought was telling me, but the message wasn't received."
"Tom, sometimes you intellectuals from the north don't pick up certain kinds of things."
"Anyway, his wife, Ellie, told me. We sort of went out the other night."
Sid insisted on having the whole evening described in some detail, and then asked,
"Did she tell Goldstein all about it?"
"I don't know. That's what makes it so awkward for me when I'm with him."
"She probably did tell him. I doubt very much that he minds."
"Then he may be laughing up his sleeve at my attempts to act as if nothing happened."
"He might enjoy asking you directly what happened, and then watching you wriggle. If I'd been there, in a position to whisper to you, I would've advised you to have nothing whatever to do with Ellie."
"That's probably good advice, but, if I only acted wisely, I'd never get it together with any woman."
"I know it must seem that way to you, but, really, there are lots of attractive single women who're available."
"Anyhow, it doesn't sound as if Goldstein is likely to shoot me. He may have a little fun with me, but ......"
"Suppose you fall in love with Ellie. She might drop you immediately if Goldstein broke off with Janet, or if something else happened in their marriage."
"I don't think Ellie's the kind of woman you fall in love with. She's pretty cool and calculating."
Sid gave Tom a don't-say-I-didn't-warn-you look as she changed the subject. As it turned out, they never did get back on the machine that night.
By this time, Tom had gotten his sleeping a little better organized, and was back in action by noon. He found that he had barely missed the main lunchtime groups, which took advantage of DRI's flexibility to beat the rush. He had just looked in Bruce's office and found it empty when he almost ran into Pete Helton. Pete burst out,
"Hey, are ya lookin for someone to go to lunch with?"
The others, of course, had ducked Pete. Desperate for company, he had caught Tom fair and square. Pete led the way to a little place a couple of blocks away.
The restaurant, really a diner, wasn't one of those modest places that professional people like to "find" and boast about with such words as,
"It's filled with ordinary regular people, and it's a nice change. The food's also quite good."
The people were ordinary and regular all right, but almost everything they said would have offended the largely liberal sensibilities of most of the people at DRI. The food was very greasy and didn't seem quite good, even to Tom.
Not to be undone by the rest of the clientele, Pete leered at Tom and said,
"I hear you been workin late with that Sid. I'd like to fuck her from here to N'Yawk awready."
Tom replied only,
"She's happily married, and I wouldn't know what to do with a woman anyway."
This last was only qualifiedly true, but it was the sort of admission that people in Pete's world didn't make. He stared at Tom in astonishment, and then changed the subject slightly,
"I wanted ta use the machine at night with a program, but Bruce said I wasn't ready."
There was certainly an element of angry jealousy in Pete's tone, and he might easily have added something like,
"How come you get to use it and I don't. Do you think you're better'n me?"
Pete did not, in fact, say anything quite so direct. He had learned that much at DRI. On the other hand, there was something childish and naive about him. He seemed really to believe that, once he learned a little more, he would be allowed on the machine. Tom had heard the others talk about him, and knew that no such thing would ever happen. On the other hand, Bruce, easily the kindest-hearted of the lot, really would spend time with Pete and teach him what he could. Pete then thought that Bruce's teaching, plus what he could get from his friend Jacky, would make him as good as anyone.
A little later, after they had finished their hamburgers, Pete said,
"I wrecked my car last week."
"That's terrible. Were you hurt?"
"Nah, I ran over a trolley island. Heh heh."
The streets of Washington were full of concrete trolley islands for riders waiting to board the cars. An island had on each end a raised concrete section, a foot or so above street level, to give the prospective passengers some protection. These weren't lit at night, and it wasn't terribly hard for an inattentive driver to hit one. If the speed was sufficient, the car would go right over the island, disembowelling itself in the process. Tom asked Pete if the car was totalled, and he replied,
"It split the crankcase, took out the transmission, and ripped out the differential and the whole rear axle."
"Were you insured?"
"Nah, but I'll get promoted and make some money. Then I'll get a better car."
Pete continued to laugh about the episode, and it made Tom uneasy. Being able to laugh at one's misfortunes was generally an attractive characteristic, but Pete didn't have the light self-deprecatory touch that was approved in the university/DRI culture. Tom felt like asking whether there had been anyone waiting for a trolley when he drove over the island, but didn't.
Pete then went on to talk about his new girl friend, a secretary in a downtown office building. Fortunately, he spoke of her without obscenity, and, surprisingly, with a certain amount of awe. On his accounting, at least, she was very pretty and came from a good family. Tom congratulated him as they returned to the building.
Just as they were about to separate, Pete said,
"Some people are coming over Thursday night to help me move. We'll have some beers afterwards."
Tom was almost in the act of making his excuses when Pete added,
"Bruce is coming over. We'll get started about eight."
That was surprising. It was strictly pity on Bruce's part, particularly since he had back trouble and shouldn't be helping anyone move. Tom, who was nearer Pete's age and a more eligible mover, could hardly refuse. He mumbled his acquiescence as it occurred to him that there was a way in which Pete was clever.
When he finally did get away from Pete, and headed for his office, Tom met Sid in the corridor. She looked as elegant as ever, hardly as if she had been up half the night. When he complimented her, she replied,
"You look fresh too. In my case it's artifice and in yours it's just plain youth. Have you talked with Goldstein today?"
She spoke, not in anxiety, but in jest. Tom replied,
"Only briefly, but I'm invited out for drinks after work."
Sid shook her head in mock sadness and clicked away on her heels.
As it turned out, there were no searching questions, no innuendos, and no odd looks from the Goldsteins. They both acted absolutely as if nothing had happened, or, at any rate, as if anything that had happened was normal and appropriate to the friendship.
Whatever might have been said against them, there was one thing about both Goldstein and Ellie. They were never tired intellectually. They never wanted to talk about the weather or sports, or anything that didn't require concentrated thought. Tom had the feeling that they positively needed puzzles and problems the way most people needed food and drink. It was great for Tom. He could bring them whatever problem had him hung up, and they would set to work on it with a will. On this occasion, he told them about the further development of his model.
Ellie asked, with a smile,
"Are you trying to test communism against capitalism?"
It was, of course, naive to pretend that anything as simple as his model could say which sort of economy would work better, but Tom replied,
"I have a few grandiose impulses now and then."
"Do you hope that capitalism wins?"
"I suppose so. I'm pretty apolitical on the whole, but it is our system."
Ellie looked at him sharply and said,
"I hope communism wins economically."
Tom was quite surprised. He knew many intellectuals rather like the Goldsteins who did have leftist leanings, but he had never heard either Goldstein express anything of the sort. And, of course, there was the matter of DRI. Goldstein would certainly have gotten into trouble with the security people if he had been heard saying what Ellie had just said. Even her saying it would have caused some people to wonder about divided loyalties. She herself seemed to have some misgivings, and said,
"I don't want them to conquer the world or anything. I just think that, if they become richer than we are, they won't start a war."
"But you said just the other day that their economic system will collapse."
"I think it will, but I hope I'm wrong. They're likely to nuke us if they see they're losing."
"I thought that I'd categorized all the principal positions, but I'll have to make up a new category for you."
Tom explained the differences between Strike-to-Win hawks, Beat-to-the Draw hawks, Old-Fashioned-Adventurist hawks, and doves, adding,
"The doves are people who think we can dominate the world by winning economically, and, at the same time, maintain such a massive deterrent that Red won't dare strike at us."
"I don't think that position is realistic. I doubt that we can always be strong enough under all conditions to be secure against a paranoid Soviet Union that thinks we're determined to destroy them economically. It'd be safer to just let them be richer."
"I guess I'll have to distinguish between doves who want to win and doves who want to lose."
It was then that Goldstein said,
"I'm not so sure we'll win the economic race. If we see that we're losing, we may nuke them with a surprise attack."
On the overt level, Goldstein was just mentioning a possibility, or, at most, making a prediction. Indeed, it wasn't uncommon for people who distrusted the American leadership, particularly John Foster Dulles, to give warnings of that sort. But something else was involved in this case. Goldstein was more intense than Tom had ever seen him, at least apart from the flap with Jacky. In the tight hard expression of his eyes and mouth there was a passion far exceeding the sort of sexual jealousy that Tom had earlier worried about. Goldstein was no leftist, and it wasn't just that he thought his own chances of survival would be better with a Blue first strike. He wanted the United States to attack with a passion that went beyond all reason.
Ellie looked at Tom quickly to see if he had seen. He knew, and knew that she knew, that it was dangerous for a person with that attitude to be in a position which would allow him to slant policy with a skewed representation of the facts.