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Everything came to a head one day when Clifford was working at home in his study at the top of the house, when Aub called, looking angry and disturbed in a way Clifford had never seen before. "I've just been talking to my boss and his boss," Aub informed him without preliminaries. His voice was seething. "So now I know what gives."

"Hey, calm down, buddy," Clifford answered. "What's with all the bosses? Now you know what? What gives?"

Aub took a second to compose himself. "There was a zombie from Washington there too. They want me to take another job."

Clifford sensed the connection immediately. His brow creased in suspicion. "What kind of job?" he asked.

"They wouldn't come clean with any specifics, but it was obvious they intend taking further—a lot further—the experiments that were set up to prove your theories. They want me to set up a team and head it . . . to manage the whole thing." Aub moistened his lips and asked, "Do you know anything about this yet officially?"

"No way."

"That's what I thought. That's just what I damn well thought!" Aub glowered while Clifford thought over what he had just said.

"Where is this job going to be located?" Clifford asked at last.

Aub showed his hands and sighed. "Again, they wouldn't say. But what I did gather was that there are going to be lots of people in on it, from all kinds of places. Not just experimental particle guys like me, but the works—mathematical guys, physics guys, cosmology guys . . . you name it. They're getting a whole circus together."

"I see. . . ." Clifford murmured slowly.

"But do you, Brad? . . . Really?" Aub's beard quivered in indignation. "They're setting up a whole hogh-power scientific team, on the quiet, to take your work apart and go through it with a fine-tooth comb. But they're not even telling you it's happening, let alone inviting you in on it. It's plain piracy. Next thing, they'll be setting up some stooge with his name in big lights all over as having started the business. You won't buy their apples, so they're cutting you out."

Clifford's initial calm began changing to a cold, creeping anger. The picture he had long suspected deep down inside was now laid bare. Fighting to keep himself under control, he asked, "So, what did you do—take the job?"

Aub shook his head firmly. "If I hadn't known what I do, I probably would have—it would have sounded pretty interesting. But as things were, I wanted to check the score with you. They told me it was politically sensitive and all that junk, and not to breathe a word about it, but what the hell? I'm damn glad I did check it with you, too. Right now, I'm in just the mood to go back upstairs and tell them to upstick it asswise."

Clifford was still in an ugly mood downstairs in the living-room ten minutes later, when he recounted the conversation to Sarah. "It's the end," he fumed, pacing from one side of the room to the other. "This time I've had it. First thing tomorrow, I'm going to see Edwards—and Jarrit too, if he's around—and spell out to them just what I know about their little plan and all the rest of the bullshit. They can throw me out if they like, but to see their faces will be worth it; to see them scurrying for the woodwork."

Sarah contemplated the ceiling and drummed her fingers on the arm of her chair until the pounding of his footsteps had stopped, and she sensed that he was looking at her again. She shook her head. "Brad, you know you can't do that—assuming you don't have a coronary or something first. It's not practical."

"Oh? And why not?"

"Because. . . ."

"Because what?"

Sarah sighed patiently. "Because of Aub. To be credible, you'd have to tell them where you got the information, and that would drag Aub into it. The only other way would mean starting a big scene and then having nothing to back up the accusations with. Either way, it's not practical." And although she wasn't saying it, whatever the short-term satisfaction of such an action, ultimately it would achieve nothing significant. Even if such a showdown were to result in Clifford's being belatedly offered his due place in the operation, the price now would be more than his pride and his principles would permit him to pay.

"Yeah . . . I guess you're right," Clifford mumbled. He walked across the room and stood staring out of the window for a long time, unsure of what he was going to do next. Sarah said nothing but sat contemplating the toe of her shoe. She had a fairly good idea what Brad was going to do.

"You can't," Corrigan said flatly. "Your contract says so."

"That's academic now," Clifford retorted. "I've already told you—I have."

A long table was set at right angles to the desk in Jarrit's office—useful for impromptu conferences and small meetings. Jarrit leaned forward, fists clenched on the desktop in front of him, while Edwards and Corrigan were seated next to each other on one side of the table. Clifford sat opposite them. All four faces were grim.

"There has been no formal request, and therefore no approval," Edwards pointed out. "The matter will have to be considered in the regular manner."

"Screw the regular manner," Clifford said. "I've quit."

"I don't think you fully realize the gravity of this, Dr. Clifford," Jarrit said. "This is not some trivial question that can be settled by local procedures. You are employed under the terms of a special federal directive which states, quite unequivocally, that you do not have the right to terminate your contract unilaterally. Surely I don't have to remind you that we—the whole Western world—are facing a crisis. We are living in an emergency situation."

"The screwups that brought it on had nothing to do with me. I've quit."

"Maybe not," Corrigan said. "But the same could be said for everybody else. Nevertheless, you'd agree that you have a share in the obligation to protect the nation from their consequences, wouldn't you?"

"That's what your book says. I never said so."

"Oh, is that so?" Corrigan felt himself getting into stride the familiar feeling of limbering up before destroying another awkward witness. "Are you telling us you are above the law of this country? Do you consider yourself?"

"I'm telling you I'm not an object for compulsory purchase. The goods aren't for sale."

"You're copping out, then, huh? That's what you're saying?" Corrigan's voice rose. "Democracy can go to the wall."

"What do you know about democracy?" Clifford's tone was close to a sneer.

"I believe in what it says. That's what I know," Corrigan snapped back. "People have a right to choose how they want to live, and I'll fight any bastards who try to come here and take that away. Nobody's going to ram some crummy ideology I don't want down my throat, or tell me what or what not to believe. I make my own decisions. That's what I know about democracy, and that's what I say you've got a duty to defend."

"That's okay, then." Clifford's voice sank to a whisper. "I've chosen. You're doing the ramming. There's no difference between you and them! You're all preaching bundles of delusions—all the same crap. Why can't you all go home and forget about it? The people of this planet have already chosen how they want to live, but the message doesn't suit you, so you don't hear it: They want to be left alone."

"People!" Corrigan's face reddened. "What do people know? Nothing! They know nothing!" Jarrit and Edwards fidgeted uncomfortably, but Corrigan didn't notice. "Most of them have never had a thought in their lives. They don't know what they want until somebody strong enough stands up and tells them what to want. And when millions of them want the same thing, they've got power, and that's what it's all about. . . ." He checked himself finally, realizing his mouth had gone too far, and subsided back into his seat.

"And that's democracy?" Clifford challenged.

Jarrit cleared his throat and broke in before the exchange could escalate further. "You realize, of course, Dr. Clifford, that if you insist on pursuing this course of action, the financial consequences to yourself would be quite serious? Your severance pay, outstanding leave pay, retirement contributions and all other accrued benefits would automatically be forfeit."

"Naturally." Clifford's voice was heavy with sarcasm.

"What about your security classification?" Corrigan asked. "It would be reduced to the lowest you can have and still walk the streets."

"Which would deny you any prospect of future employment in government service," Edwards added. "Or with any government contractor. Think about that."

"And you'd lose draft-exemption status," Jarrit said.

"You'd be jeopardizing your whole career," Edwards summarized.

Clifford looked slowly from one to another of them and accepted the pointlessness of further speeches. "Shove all of it," he said. "I've quit."

Suddenly, Corrigan exploded again. "Scientists! You're telling me about delusions, and all the time you're chasing after reality, truth, and all that shit? Let me tell you something. That's the biggest delusion. There is no objective reality. Reality is whatever you choose to believe is real. Strong wills and cast-iron beliefs make the reality happen. . . . When a hundred million people stand together and believe strongly enough in what they want, then it'll happen that way. That's what defines truth. Men who were strong built this world; the world didn't build them. Truth is truth when enough people say it is—that's the reality of the world we live in. Your world is the delusion. Numbers, statistics, pieces of paper. . . . What have they got to do with people? It's people who make events, and it's about time you made it your business to grow up and try to understand it. We made you what you are, and we own you. You exist because your toys are useful to us. We don't exist because of any of your doodlings. You think about that!"

Clifford let the silence hang to accentuate the embarrassment evident on the faces of Edwards and Jarrit. Turning away from Corrigan to exclude him pointedly, he concluded quietly, "I've quit. I couldn't put the reasons into better words than that."

 
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