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Kress was already spluttering farther along the table. "But . . . now wait a minute, I mean, what does that do to the weak nuclear force? You’ve just pulled the rug out from saying there is a weak force at all. I mean . . ."

Kurishoda shrugged. "I agree. And you are about to remind me of the theoretical work that has unified the weak and the electromagnetic forces since the 1980’s. But I suggest that the ‘weak’ interactions are nothing more than electromagnetic forces acting between the dipoles of elementary particles and those of electrons in negative energy states. So, if the two forces were actually only one to begin with, then the whole thing will have to be reexamined."

A lot of muttering and head shaking was going on in the audience. "But it’s been verified, hasn’t it?" someone objected. "I mean, neutrinos are detected routinely. They have been, ever since the fifties."

"Cowan and Reines," another voice supplied. "Neutrino-induced transmutation of chlorine into argon."

"Presumed to be neutrino-induced," Kurishoda threw back, beaming, as if he had been waiting for just that. "The mechanism I have just described accounts for it equally well."

"Experiments have been conducted which suggest they not only exist, but possess mass," another member of the panel pointed out. "It’s been measured."

"How else do you account for the missing mass in the universe?" somebody else in the audience called out.

"And other experimenters have found no indication of mass," Kurishoda replied. "Some experimenters have reported that neutrinos oscillate among three forms, while others say they don’t. As for the missing mass, well, maybe we just have to look for another kind of galaxy-glue." He half-turned, and motioned with his head. "Phil Kress himself has told us about the difficulty in observing anything, and then the ambiguity in deciding what it is. In short, it all relies on statistical methods that are questionable. There is nothing conclusive that proves neutrinos have mass, that the oscillate among three types, or that they exist at all. I contend that everything attributed to them can be explained more simply in terms that are already familiar. William of Occam would have approved."

The audience was clearly all set for a showdown on this. Dupalme raised a hand before anyone else could respond. "Ladies and gentlemen, lunch is waiting. Perhaps we could arrange a special session this evening to explore this subject further?" He looked down inquiringly to someone in the front row, who leaned forward to mutter something up at the dais. "Yes, we’ll post details later this afternoon. . . ." He searched for something with which to wrap the topic up for the moment. "Maybe our speculations on neutrino-beam communications through the planet were a little premature, then, eh?"

Some of the panelists grinned, while others shook their heads. The atmosphere relaxed.

"Well, there’s always tachyons to think about," someone quipped from the audience.

"How about that, Professor Kurishoda?" another called. "Do tachyons exist?"

The professor beamed back over the top of his spectacles. "But of course," he replied. "A tachyon is a quantum of bad taste."

 

Five minutes later, the attendees were spilling through into the central dining hall and dispersing among the tables, already set with a fish appetizer, fruit juices, and tea. Melvin Bowers headed for a quiet spot in a far corner of the room. Jenny Hampden, a research manager from Bell Labs, joined him. They’d met the previous day at breakfast in the hotel, and talked briefly during some of the breaks between sessions. She liked caving, classical music, and cats.

"Well, there goes my favorite theory," Bowers said as they sat down.

"What theory?"

"My neutrino-bomb theory."

"Neutrino bomb? That’s a new one."

"Think about it," Bowers said. "It meets all the requirements for the perfect strategic weapon. It keeps defense contractors profitable and employs people. It justifies the jobs of Pentagon generals and defense analysts. And it gives the media a new scare-word and the peaceniks something to howl about." He smoothed his napkin across his knees and turned up his palms. "But, it has no undesirable side effects: it doesn’t damage property or kill people. The perfect bomb!"

Jenny laughed. "Maybe we could have neutrino-power reactors, too—something to divert the oppositionists away from fusion. Then maybe it could all come on-line, and they mightn’t even notice."

"Hm, there might be something in that, too. I wish somebody’d thought of it back in the seventies."

Jenny put down her fork suddenly. "Oh, Mel, there’s something I forgot. Look, I have to see Takuji right now. I promised him some slides for the talk he’s giving this afternoon. Would you excuse me? I’ll be back in five minutes."

"Sure. I’ll have them hold the entree."

"Thanks." Jenny got up and disappeared in the direction of the door.

Bowers carried on eating alone. Was it called the Yellow Dragon? Red Dragon? . . . No, not Dragon, but Red something . . . He didn’t notice the tall, elegantly groomed figure approaching from among the bodies still milling about to find places in the middle of the room. "Ah, Dr. Bowers, good day to you."

Bowers looked up. "Igor Lukich," he said, using the Russian familiar patronymic.

"Do you mind if I join you?"

"Not at all. Sit down, please. Oh, not there. That side’s taken."

It was Professor Dyashkin, the director of a Soviet communications-research establishment in Siberia. Dyashkin’s name was known internationally, and he and Bowers were friends from previous professional gatherings in Moscow and Bombay. They had both been involved in an informal spontaneous discussion that had taken place the night before among a group of scientists at one of the hotels in which the conference attendees were staying.

"An interesting notion of Kurishoda’s," Bowers said after Dyashkin had sat down. "I was just saying to the friend I’m with—Jenny Hampden of Bell, I don’t know if you’ve met; she’ll be back in a few minutes—neutrinos would make the perfect bomb. Then all of you and all of us could stop worrying, eh?"

Dyashkin smiled automatically, but he didn’t ask Bowers to elaborate and was evidently not in the mood for small talk. He scanned the surroundings constantly with his eyes, and seemed nervous. Bowers became serious and looked at the Russian inquiringly as he continued eating. "We know each other from several years now, yes, Dr. Bowers?" Dyashkin said. He spoke guardedly, with an elbow resting on the table and a hand covering his mouth.

Bowers nodded. "I guess so—in a formal kind of way, anyhow."

"Even so, sometimes we must take risks and trust our judgment. I judge you as someone who can be trusted."

Bowers wiped his mouth with a corner of his napkin and resumed chewing slowly. When he spoke, his voice had dropped to match Dyashkin’s. "What are you driving at?"

"When are you due to go back to the USA?" Dyashkin asked.

"Well, I’m on a one-year exchange here in Osaka. But I was planning to go home for a vacation right after this conference is over. Why?"

"Anyone might join us at the table, so I come straight to the point while we are alone." Bowers waited. Dyashkin drew a long, shaky breath. "Look, Dr. Bowers, it is possible that I might be interested in coming over, if the conditions were right. You understand?"

It took Bowers a moment. "To us, you mean? Over to our side?"

Dyashkin nodded almost imperceptibly. "Yes. Personal reasons—too much to go into now. But what I want to know from you is, would you be willing to convey my proposition to the appropriate authorities?"

"Proposition? But I don’t know anything about what it is. How would—"

"I can arrange that. What I have to know now is, would you be willing to help me?"

Bowers chewed in silence for a while. "I’ll have to think about it," he said finally.

"How long will you need? Please understand that we constantly risk being under observation when we travel abroad. The KGB even infiltrate their people into conferences such as this."

"Give me until tonight. I’ll meet you in the bar of our hotel at, say, eight. Do you think it would be safe to talk there?"

Dyashkin shook his head. "I don’t want to talk. All I need at this stage is a yes or a no answer."

"Okay, I won’t say anything. If I offer to stand the first round of drinks, the answer’s yes. Okay?"

"As you say, a deal."

Two more figures materialized at the table. "Gustav and Sandy," Bowers greeted. "It’s about time—we were starting to get lonely here. Say, did I ever tell you my theory about the perfect bomb? . . ."

 

That afternoon, Bowers called the US embassy in Tokyo for advice. Later, back at the hotel, he went through into the bar for an after-dinner drink. Precisely at eight o’clock, Dyashkin appeared and joined him. "Hi," Bowers said. "Quite a day today, eh? What are you having, Igor? The first one’s on me." The Russian asked for a vodka and soda.

Later, while they were talking, Dyashkin pointed to the orange document folder that Bowers had placed on the seat beside him. It was one of the packages issued to each attendee, and contained the conference agenda, copies of the papers being presented, and other information. "Obtain another package from the registration desk," he said. "Tomorrow there is a paper on laser solitons scheduled for three o’clock. Be there, and place the folder on the floor by your chair. I will exchange it for one I’ll be carrying, which will contain details of the proposal that I wish you to carry to the American authorities."

 
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