“I feel that there is more to this than you've told me,” said Dr. Wu, getting up to pace again. The morning sun slanted though the windows of his virtual office like spears of honey.
“There's a lot more,” Liz admitted. “I originally came to you to hide, for sanctuary, not therapy.”
“But you were catatonic,” he protested.
She shrugged. “I 'borrowed' something from a colleague to fake the catatonic state. It was an antipersonnel agent designed to render mobs helpless in times of riots. Not permanent, of course, but it kept me from moving long enough to get me into one of your link beds.”
Wu gazed out his window. Some of his other patients had completed their morning exercises and were filing out of their buildings to tend the gardens. “So you used me,” he said, his voice emotionless. “Why the deception?”
This was the hard part. “I can only tell you part of the reason,” she said. “If I tell you too much, it could place you at risk.”
Wu scowled, turning back to face her. “The old 'need to know' excuse? Pardon me if I seem unpatriotic, but it seems to me that rationalization has hidden too much for too long from too many citizens.”
Liz bit her lip. How much could she say? It had to be enough to make sense of her situation in Wu's eyes...but not so much that he would be considered dangerous by the people she'd been hiding from. “You know that I am a physicist,” she began.
“Of course,” he said. “When I prepared for your therapy, I learned as much as I could about your past. What was it about your research at the Solar Division of the UE Department of Energy that you were running away from?”
“I didn't work for the Solar Division,” She informed him. “That was just a cover for accounting. I really worked for the DOE's Strategic Weapons Division.”
His eyebrows rose at that. “I've never heard of it. Why would we need such work on weapons? Don't we have enough already? And Earth is united now – there's no more need for the Mutually Assured Destruction that people say got us through the Cold War.”
Liz had to smile at that. The MAD strategy was Brinkmanship institutionalized: no one will start a nuclear war if we are all ready to destroy the biosphere. MAD indeed, as pointed out in the classic film Doctor Strangelove. But in the opinion of many, it had worked. Until it didn't.
The problem with MAD was that it didn't scale down well. When the United States and the former Soviet Union had possessed tens of thousands of thermonuclear missiles, neither wanted to provoke the other into a full-scale annihilation. But consider a much smaller, poorer nation whose enemy might have only a few nukes. The deterrent threat was much less effective in such cases...particularly when the nations involved believed dying for their religion granted instant Paradise as a reward for martyrdom.
“You're right,” she said. “We shouldn't need weapons of mass destruction. But it was a different time. I believed my husband and daughter were vaporized in Tel Aviv at the outbreak of W3, the initial exchange. I was so horrified that MAD had failed to prevent a limited exchange, I felt I had to do something to keep it from ever happening again. So instead of settling back into academia, I let myself be recruited by the DOE.”
“A lot of people work for the DOE,” Wu commented, “but none of them ever hid in my Enclave before. If you didn't want to continue working for them, why didn't you just find another job?”
“This is where it gets difficult,” she said, grimacing. “I made something so bad that it finally broke through my emotional calluses. I knew I couldn't let anyone use it, so I ran and hid, taking the keys with me.”
Wu poured her another cup of Earl Grey. “You place me in an awkward position,” he told her. “On the one hand, knowing what happened, and what motivated you, would help me understand your psychological needs better than I do. On the other hand,” he said, “if this is as serious as you believe, it might be better for me not to know all the details.”
“I really wish I could tell you everything,” she sighed. “Let's just say we discovered a new way to generate huge quantities of cheap energy. This would be a boon for all mankind. Unfortunately, it was obvious that the physics would also be easy to use as a horrific weapon. That's probably all you need to know.”
“So you ran away and hid in my Enclave,” he said. “I wonder what they have been doing with your discovery all this time? Did you really keep the world safe...or did you just abandon whatever chance you had of influencing decisions in the DOE?”
Liz licked her virtual lips. “I've thought about that,” she said. “In my design for the technology, I obfuscated details, hiding some of the actual principles involved as well as I could. I deleted all the backups of the blueprints and math that I could find, and rigged the machinery so that it was too dangerous to disassemble it. But after all this time, it's possible that someone else has rediscovered the secret. There's not much I can do about that, however.”
“Why are you telling me this now, after all these years?”
“Because Tsuneo was right,” she said. “My family is alive and well – it turns out they were in Jerusalem visiting the Wall when Tel Aviv and Haifa were nuked. Jerusalem is sacred to at least three world religions, so no one wanted to nuke it. Manny and Darla survived, and I've found them. I'm going to be with them as soon as I can move around in the real world without falling and hurting myself.”
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