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Chapter 26: Revenge of the Nerds

It is dawn. From my bed I can see sunlight on the green pine tops outside the wall. Yawning, Tiger and I roll off onto our exercise mat and stretch the sleep out of our legs. We're back in our old room at the Lion Foundation.

Yesterday, Saturday, we moved Mariposa into her new room, and then went out for a picnic in the park, not including Coyote and Linda. Even the kittens took their computers and two fully charged batteries; we kept their little packs with us when they weren't using the machines. Running the editor and simulator on her laptop, Tiger made some progress on the mysterious errors in the multiplier: she can print out a nonzero content after it's supposedly been cleared, but only on those few cases. Coyote and Linda joined us later and ate the blueberry bagels we saved for them. As planned, after dinner we drove up to the Lion Foundation.

We stretch and exercise, and then I lead Tiger over the wall to run in the forest. A jump and one hand are enough to lift her over. She points toward the hilltop: not our usual short run, but we're rarely here and we should make the most of it. I catch sight of white-haired Dr. Franck going toward the rockpile. Under dense cover the ferns catch at our legs, not like when we were in residence and every trail was trod daily by multiple feet. But winter is coming and many fronds are brown around the edges. The view is spectacular from up on top, and in the chill air I can just make out the dot on the higher peak across our valley.

Me (in Tiger signs): This spring, maybe Coyote's spring break, I swear, we're going to come out here and hike up to that damned tower! When I start a project, I intend to finish it.

Tiger: Right, we've been pushing too hard at jobs and letting ourselves be tied down by details. Emerald will be strong enough by then to walk, I mean run that far, and Fox will be light in our pockets. I'm hungry; let's finish our run.

We return to the Lion Foundation buildings, to the conference room, where Dr. Franck is eating already. Mrs. Ragland has a big bowl of oatmeal waiting for me, and grits for Tiger.

Me: Thanks, Mrs. Ragland. You remembered what our favorites are. Willie sent us a message that he was in charge of a design team for the turbine section of a new aircraft engine. That's great!

Mrs. Ragland: Yes, we're really proud of our boy. And that little baby of theirs is so cute!

Me: Sometime we've got to visit them in Atlanta. Hi, Dr. Franck. We saw you go out running.

Dr. Franck: Yes, I saw you go over the wall. I guess this is the beginning of turning the Foundation over to a new generation.

Me: I hadn't thought of it that way, but I guess it's sort of true. Where's Dr. Deutsch?

Dr. Franck: He said that after you eat and clean up you should find him in his office.

Me: Will do. We're leaving Tiger out of this. Do you know any Tiger signs?

Dr. Franck (in Tiger signs): I've been studying signs; we all have. But I'm sure I don't know enough for a complete conversation.

Tiger: We can use NetBoard, my version, and you can set it to show the signs and the English at the same time. I'm done eating. Let's brush our teeth and get my machine and data glove. Thanks, Mrs. Ragland!

Mrs. Ragland (in hesitant signs): You're welcome, Tiger.

We go back to our room to clean up. Then, while Tiger rounds up staff members for a chat fest, I go around to Dr. Deutsch's office.

Me: Hi, Dr. Deutsch. Um, well, I'm not sure how to begin...

Dr. Deutsch: The first thing, I think, is your salary. Got any ideas?

I do, as a matter of fact. We lions don't have access to the personnel records, but we do have historical summary information, monthly, in which salaries occur as a line item. We also can determine when each person joined the project. I've picked an annual salary equal to Mr. Chernik's when he joined the project at about age 21, scaled for inflation since then. I was shocked when I subtracted the years. The lion foundation staff are aging. I feel that Mr. Chernik was always there for me, tough as a lion whenever I needed someone to lean on. Maybe I'd rather not grow up; I wish the world could stay the right way all the time.

Dr. Deutsch: Is something the matter, Simba?

Me: Yes. Like Peter Pan, I don't want to grow up. But that's a separate issue. As salary, I'd like $48K.

Dr. Deutsch: What's Xylogen giving you?

Me: In that vicinity.

Dr. Deutsch: Come on, Simba! You're worth more than that. You're supposed to give me high figures and I'm supposed to beat you down.

Me: We're financially secure. I'd rather see the money go for projects than into my taxable income account.

Dr. Deutsch: Have you been paying attention to the project's financial reports?

Me: Of course. We're doing OK, but the project certainly is no cash cow.

Dr. Deutsch: Just you wait. Bush corn is going to really take off in the next two or three years as the farmers get the harvest technique worked out. And the Chang project -- he's going to go IPO next January, and if he and we can pull it off, he'll be able to buy back Xylogen like he could buy a corporate jet: pocket change. If you're so well heeled, save the salary we give you and put it into the IPO. Take $55K, and that's my final offer.

Me: Watch out about inside trading.

Dr. Deutsch: It'll all be in the prospectus. What about the salary?

Me: OK, OK, you've talked me into it.

We shake hands. I'm making about $61K at Xylogen, but no way am I going to let that information out. I estimated that Dr. Deutsch is pulling down about $85K to $90K and I'm pretty sure I could have asked for $70K at least and gotten it easily, but I told Dr. Deutsch my reasoning and it's still valid. I'll make my second fortune on Chang's stock.

Speaking of which, I'd better take Dr. Deutsch's advice and charge up the cash, even liquidate some of the mutual fund holdings when the time seems right, sometime from now until the IPO time. And the same for Charlie; I'll advise him to cut cash flow to the bone, but of course not tell him why.

This is going to be a strain on the finances, taking advantage of Xylogen's polyimide bug at the same time as making a big purchase of Chang's stock. I may want to break a personal rule and buy some of the stock on margin.

There are other details to be worked out, such as just what the lion disc supervisor actually is responsible for (there's a written document on that, and has been for some time), and how I'm to keep the staff up to date on what I've been doing (a progress file, of course).

Me: How long are you going to stick around, Dr. Deutsch? I'm probably going to have to ask questions.

Dr. Deutsch: If we're going to be co-workers, you really shouldn't call me ``Dr. Deutsch'' any more. Call me Sid.

Me: What? That's going to take a lot of getting used to. And I'm supposed to call Dr. Franck ``Dave'' too, I suppose? I'm not trying to be unfriendly or distant, but I grew up with Dr. Deutsch and Dr. Franck and it's going to be really hard to change. Be patient on that one, please. And Mr. Chernik!

Dr. Deutsch: OK, I'll be patient. To answer your other question, actually I'm not leaving. I'll be on the payroll part time as the resident shrink. Marjorie and I have our little cottage, and we're happy there, and Dave is willing to put up with us as long as we're able to handle the environment, which I hope will be a good long time. And someone needs to watch out for the psychological health of you lions, not that you need too much handholding, and there are some lesson sequences I've always wanted to write, but just never had time for. Like music lessons. If the new supervisor doesn't mind, that is. And we'll be going on lots of trips, to see places we've never been able to take the time to see properly. Don't worry, I know how to stay out of the new supervisor's way, and I won't be buzzing around all the time like a fly, but I will be accessible for questions and discussion.

Me: Jeez, that's a relief. I'm sure I won't have any problem with actually doing stuff, putting the lessons and software in their proper directories and shipping it to Milpitas, but what I'm a little uncertain about is policy: what's important, what should be worked on first, what should be thrown out. I know I have to make those decisions, but it sure would be a lot easier if I could talk to someone.

Dr. Deutsch: Lesson mode...

Me: Obviously you do talk to the staff, and so will I. But you're the one who invented all this stuff. I'd particularly value your opinion.

Dr. Deutsch: And I'll give it. When asked. There are some papers you have to sign. Let's go next door to Pat's office.

``Pat'' is Ms. Donegal.

Ms. Donegal: There you are, Simba! I have the papers all ready for you. This is your employment contract, and you'll want to read it carefully because there's a nondisclosure provision on certain items, of which the Chang project is presently the main one, but not the only one. There's also the W-4 form, the designation of beneficiary for your retirement, the health insurance declaration, and the 403(b) form. Oh, hi, Steve; greet our new co-worker, as soon as he reads and signs the contract.

Me: Hi, Mr. Chernik! Look, I'm having a little trouble with the first name thing. Give me some time on that, like maybe ten years. It really feels weird; you'll always be my supervisor, but now we're working together too. It's all going to take some getting used to. Maybe I'm finally growing up, and it's hard.

Mr. Chernik: Tough as a lion! And remember what I told you: you don't have to grow up as long as you add to your capabilities, not losing the ones you have already.

Me: Right; I'm steady. And I'd better read this thing and do it right.

Dr. Franck and Mr. Allerod join us, and the office is getting kind of cramped. I finish reading the contract, and sign it. The other forms are simple and Ms. Donegal has them all filled out from my records and from my answer to e-mail she sent me Friday night, so I can check and sign them quickly. Mr. Rothko blocks the doorway.

Me: Done! Hi, Mr. Allerod; I haven't seen you in a while. And Mr. Rothko; I can hardly see you. Let's go for a short walk in the forest, because I have some questions, and this office is a lot smaller than it was when I was a kid.

Ms. Donegal: Good idea. Out the door, males!

Mr. Rothko: I'll stay here and handle comms. I'd just slow you people down with my crutches, and I think Simba and I will be working together after lunch on file permissions, and I can get caught up with him then. And I can join the handsign practice group now; I don't want to miss that.

Forest leaves are pleasant underfoot. We catch up on kitten progress, and Ms. Donegal is fascinated with Coyote's pair bonding with Linda. Eventually I steer the conversation around to a topic, both specific and generic, that has been bothering me.

Dr. Franck: Well, now, Simba, how does it feel to change from being what was created, to becoming one of the creators?

Me: I'm still created by you people, Dr. Franck. But wow! I've only known about this job for two days, and already it feels like the most natural thing in the world. But I think you have the terminology a bit sideways. In the training area you didn't create me; I created myself using the tools on the lion disc, just like all our clients do. Of course Mr. Chernik explained things to me so I knew to be brave and to work hard and to choose lessons, and that way he put a lot of himself into me. You know the triad: a third genes, a third supervisor, and a third self-construction. We did a good job on me, don't you think? And now I'm going to be putting lessons on the disc that the clients can use to build themselves. That makes a lot of sense, don't you think? For a species at our level to reproduce doesn't just take sex, it takes culture, and I'm proud to be responsible for the cultural element of the lion species. Which just happens to work on humans equally well.

Dr. Deutsch: Just as I feel. Marjorie and I never had physical children, but I think with the lion disc I've done a lot more than my share reproductively. And now it's Simba's turn.

Me: That's just the slightest bit embarrassing for me. Could I change the topic a little, off the heavy philosophy? Mr. Allerod, Dr. Deutsch told me that you also would be retiring fairly soon, and that I should ask you the reason.

Mr. Allerod: Right. You know I had surgery for prostate cancer last spring. They think they got it all, but I know it's a statistical thing: maybe they did and maybe they didn't. That put a shock into me, just like the ten millionth lion disc put a shock into Sid. My motivations are very much like his, except with the possibility of a rather shorter time scale. I'm not sure if you knew; I didn't interact that much with people, because I'm not really a people person, if you know what I mean. But I'm divorced, and I have two kids, and they have kids of their own. I want to get to know them, both my kids and my grandchildren. And I've always wanted to see Paris. Rent a little apartment. Browse around in the bookshops. I'll do both, and with reasonable luck I'll have time to a lot more after that.

Me: Stop, I want to give you a hug. In your situation I'd do just what you're doing. And the same for you, Dr. Deutsch. But who else is thinking about retiring? You've all been part of my life forever, and it's a little unsettling to, you know, do some calculations and see changes coming.

Dr. Franck: I understand Sid's position, but I'm handling it differently. This old mule has a lot of kick left. Remember that day we were running around Temple Square, and I was right on your tail, Simba? I can still do that, up to twenty minutes. The biggest bang I get is creating new life, and Sally feels the same way. Maybe I'll hang it up when the Chang project is done, but I'll bet there'll be another challenge after that. One thing I do want to do is transfer operational responsibility to a younger person, of which we have several, and I'm not talking about you, Simba; you have your own job to do, and I want it done right, hear?

Me: Understood.

Dr. Franck: Phil feels a lot like I do; he thinks lion kittens are a blast, particularly when he's not responsible for them day in and day out, and he's also getting a real kick out of developing the Chang organisms.

Me: I like the sound of that. Dr. Franck, I never really had the opportunity, or the nerve, to ask you this. How did you get into the lion project?

Dr. Franck, laughing: In your press conference Charlie said Crazy Felix died without telling why he put up the money for you people. That's not true, but I just never bothered to correct Charlie. You want to hear the story?

Not just me, but all the staff people prick up their ears.

Dr. Franck: I was 25 and fresh out of grad school. I had a non-tenure track appointment at North Carolina State, and a thesis that everyone said was a very nice technical tour de force: total reassembly, gene by gene, of E. coli. Implying that gene assembly had no practical application and, in particular, they didn't want me competing for funding in their department. I was at a conference and I sat down next to this guy, Felix Stenhorth. Little did I know. The paper was about some developmental regulation problem and they used transgenic kittens. When it was over he turned to me and said, ``The poor kittens. Cats are people, you know.'' We got to talking and it was lunchtime so we went together. He was just nuts about cats, and he had gotten into the cat food business because of it. He told me he had just sold the Ute-Kat pet food brand to Clorox, of all people, for a bundle of cash and stock, and he was looking for some hot biotech projects to invest in, preferably involving cats in a positive way, for the cats he meant, not like in the paper we'd just heard read. And I had this vision, just for a second, the yellow brick road, except the pavement was golden Ute-Kat cans with dollar signs on them, and the Oz characters at the end, specifically the Cowardly Lion. It was like a waking dream. I turned around and told him, you say cats are people. How would you like to make that literally true? I didn't know if I was scamming him out of desperation, or if I could really pull it off, but hell, what did I have to lose besides some presumably small fraction of his fortune? And the wrath of every government agency and religious nut in the phone book?

I burst out laughing: So we lions are a scam!

Dr. Franck: In a way. But Felix was a very astute businessman; he hadn't just fallen off the turnip truck. He must have figured I was a crackpot, but he went along for the entertainment value. He learned differently when he read my thesis, and I learned he was no slouch in the bio area either. We put together a plan, and we took it real slow at first, and of course absolutely in secret. Jeez, I'm glad I married Sally and not someone else; Sally enjoyed pipetting and running gels and so on, and she didn't want a lot of glitz and glamour. Felix bought this place cheap and put up the building; he called it his vacation home, which in a sense it was. And Sally and I kissed off North Carolina State, may I never see that dump again, and moved here full time, and we've never left, except to buy supplies and pick up shipments. Five years, and we had your chromosome 1, the autotrophy and nitrogen fixation, going in Tetrahymena. That's not exactly a cat, but we figured we were on the right track. We hired most of the staff at that time.

Me: That was you, Mr. Chernik?

Mr. Chernik: Right. I was 21 and idealistic as hell, and I needed to work for a few years before I'd have the money for grad school. Laugh. Ten years later we were cranking out lions, and I was a father.

Me: So you were 31 then, which makes you 57 now. Jeez! Sorry.

Mr. Chernik: 58, actually. I don't look it, do I? Keeping my hair helps. Dave, I interrupted. Go on, finish the story.

Dr. Franck: Well, you know it from that point. Felix hoped he'd live to see the result, and he did. Cats as people.

Me: I vaguely remember I was being held by this human who I wasn't familiar with, but everyone was acting nice to him and I figured I ought to go along, and keep my claws to myself. I'll bet that was him.

Dr. Franck: I'm sure it was. Your mate got him good once, though. The surprising thing is, he wasn't even angry; he said getting scratched is just part of living with cats. Shortly after that he died, happy. He left his estate to the Foundation, and it was pretty big, enough to carry us through the time of secrecy and until we started generating revenue from other gene assembly jobs.

Mr. Chernik: So that's how you met Crazy Felix! You never told us. Well, since we're in a spirit of self-revelation, maybe I'd better bare my own secret. Simba, you've probably wondered why I never married Anna, that's Ms. Holbeck, and had kids like the Lewises.

Me: Right; I'm sure you remember me and Charlie subtly urging you two on. And what was that about becoming a father; is it related?

Mr. Chernik: Subtly, hah! You and Charlie are the boys I could never make myself. I have the gene for Huntington's disease. Are you familiar with that?

Me: Autosomal dominant, as I remember, and not very nice.

Mr. Chernik: Right, so it would be absolutely unfair for me to have children; they would have a fifty percent chance to get it. The gene has to die with me. Some of your genetic material came from the staff, and my Huntington's gene was detected when you people were being checked, just before assembly. Huntington's disease has variable penetrance, but I didn't want Anna tied down to... To me as I would most likely become. That's why I never married her, but she stuck with me anyway. I have a black capsule that Dr. Newman made up for me. When I trip, or somehow move suddenly, I have to use a lot of discipline and steadiness not to ask myself, is that the disease finally showing up? You and Charlie have been good examples to me in that.

I hug Mr. Chernik.

Me: If you want me there when you take the black capsule, just call. I'm sorry you have Huntington's disease; I'd just kind of assumed you were going to be around forever. Look, I'm not sure if it's appropriate for me to say this, but I think you're being very brave about the disease. Like Maria, Coyote and Mariposa's mother.

Mr. Chernik: It is appropriate, and I appreciate it. Co-worker. Now look, let's change the topic, because the right way to handle Huntington's disease is to take a few simple precautions like a vasectomy, and then plunge into serious denial. What have you heard about the Chang project? I'm the lead designer on it.

Me: You never told me!

Mr. Chernik: The whole thing is inside information. If you listen you can't tell Tiger or anyone else until the prospectus comes out. OK? Think of doing a job on a crop plant like we did on you. The Chang bush has an immune system! And the ameboid cells produce several kinds of chitinase, so they eat fungus for breakfast, nematodes for lunch and insects for dinner, and hell will freeze over before the parasites get resistant. That part took the most work, but the dynamite feature is the energy regulation. During the day it doesn't reduce carbon dioxide with light energy, it isomerizes quinones. Then at night when it's cool the stomata open and it takes in carbon dioxide, reduces it with the energy stored in the quinones, and excretes oxygen. And not only does it avoid evaporation in the cool night, it actively transports water vapor into the cells using quinone energy! These things can and do have a net positive water balance in the Panamint valley in summer; that's the one next door to Death Valley, and we have a small, very secret test plot.

Me: So the desert blooms. Is it any easier to harvest than the bush corn?

Mr. Chernik: Worse: bush corn at least has ears that you can grab off, but Chang bushes have seeds, kind of like wheat, and they're all over the plant. But we solved that one, plus defense from external predators: acacia ants with big clicking mandibles. You put a cardboard box next to the bush and spray a pheromone on one of the interior sides. Sooner or later an ant finds it. She goes into harvest mode, goes up the bush laying a special trail and finds a seed, ripe ones only, and pulls it off, leaving the chaff. Then she retraces her path but only after finding a seed she marks over the trail with recruitment pheromone. Within a few minutes every ant in the colony hits the trail, comes down to the box and gets activated. They take the seeds they find back to the box, place them on the pheromone (and of course they drop to the bottom), and start the cycle over. When the bush is stripped they wander around looking for ripe seeds, but after about fifteen minutes the program fades out and they go back to their normal duties. Neat, eh? I can imagine a little solar powered toy truck that drives out to a bush, waits for the ants to fill it, and drives back to a central collection point.

Me: Built-in harvesters! Who thought that one up?

Mr. Chernik: Marci Donegal. She knows about the problem with the bush corn, and after seeing a nature program she put two and two together. She doesn't know it yet, but Chang is going to pay her in stock.

Ms. Donegal: I wrote up a contract that protects both Marci and Chang.

Me: That's nice. In my dealings with him he's always seemed like a pretty decent guy. So how do you keep Chang bushes from taking over the whole desert?

Mr. Chernik: The quinone photoisomerase is a metalloenzyme centered on vanadium. There are only a few places in the world where Chang bushes could grow without artifical supplementation. Also the seeds self-pollinate, but if germinated they die shortly after. Root origination is not wonderful either, so it's hard, though not impossible, to clone the bushes illegally. Farmers pretty much have to buy the things from Chang, and we get our royalty. If the desert blooms it's deliberate, and paid for.

Me: There's one problem: the kind of people who would benefit most from this plant probably couldn't afford it.

Mr. Chernik: Chang plans for sharecropping. He'll give people plants in return for a contract for a quarter of the crop for the third, fourth and fifth years. That's to let the plants grow to full size. We don't really know how long the plants will last, but we've tried to do some accelerated life tests. We don't know how realistic they are, but we're estimating a life of thirty years. Certainly Chang isn't ripping the people off.

Me: Jeez! That story by itself is worth the trip up here. You can be sure I'm going to buy Chang's stock. Look, I heard rain last night and there should be water in the stream. Who wants to run down there?

It's fun to splash through the stream like a bunch of kittens. A lawyer, splashing through a stream naked? Ms. Donegal had better watch out or she'll get disbarred. At lunch back at the Foundation building Tiger says she's been having a wonderful time, but she'll have to do endurance exercises for her hand before she comes back up here, because it feels like it's going to fall off from making signs. She says the teenagers speak her language better than she does, since she's slowed down by her brain damage; they say it's cool to have a language that for a while the adults didn't know. After lunch Tiger goes off alone for a long, quiet walk in the forest, while I work with Mr. Rothko to take possession of the lion disc files.

Urgent mail? In my Lion Foundation mailbox? I'd better see what it is. Does one of the lions know a reason I shouldn't take the job? No, it's Coyote, telling me to call Frank Encke and giving the number. The next one is from Frank directly and says about the same thing, but he requests a line with some privacy at my end.

Me: Mr. Rothko, something just popped up having to do with Tiger's job. Something nasty, I suspect. Is there a phone I can use? You know, I never made a phone call from here; I don't even know what phone facilities we have! We always used NetBoard, with audio if we needed it.

Mr. Rothko: Sure, I'll just disappear for a few minutes. Dial nine for the outside line.

I dial up Mr. Encke.

Mr. Encke: Hello, Simba; that was fast response. Are you familiar with my position in Whinx?

Me: Yes, the number three guy, in charge of development. You hired Tiger. But we've never met.

Mr. Encke: Right, and with luck that will change.

Me: You're not going to offer me a job, are you? The reason I'm up here at the Lion Foundation is to accept a job.

Mr. Encke: Only as a consultant for a few hours of work. You're right, I'm in charge of development, and the W19 satellite communication chipset is one of the projects that's in my area, the one Tiger is working on. Something came up on Friday, and I've been working with our lawyer all weekend. Tell me, how far has Tiger gotten in her rehabilitation? Given an unfamiliar design in quantum logic, could she run some simulation tests on it? How familiar are you with what we do here?

Me: Fairly familiar. I modified a copy of your cell editor so she can use it, and of course we have a text editor with Tiger signs also, and we can translate them into fairly coherent English. She's been practicing and building up her mental strength by finishing her assignment from before the accident, and she's doing rather well if I do say so myself. She's been using your simulator, setting up and modifying test data, to try to debug the thing, and she's made significant progress. The only problem she has is with the filenames: someone has to highlight them so she can cut and paste. If she's going to use the directory extensively she'll rename the files or make symbolic links to them with names that can be represented by Tiger signs, but I assume that's not going to happen here.

Mr. Encke: I understand she has a speech problem. Could you give me some details on that?

Me: She can't use alphabetic representations of any kind, in or out, including phonemic speech. She has software which can translate between running text and Tiger signs, and she can also decode button labels and similar bitmapped text. We don't have voice recognition or production, though. Actually, production wouldn't be too hard, but it's not written because so far Tiger hasn't been in a situation where it would be useful. But I can see that at work voice production might be handy.

Mr. Encke: Suppose Tiger were in a meeting with some people. Suppose I want her to run these tests and report her results to the group. What would be the best way to handle it, if it could be done?

Me: NetBoard; that's what she uses to talk to her friends. In fact, Tiger and the foundation staff have been burning up the net all morning until her data glove practically wore out.

Mr. Encke: I've heard of it but haven't used it. Could you give me a rundown on NetBoard?

Me: Each session has arbitrarily many windows with text and graphics overlaid, generally line drawings though you can insert or overlay a bitmap if you have one to show. For a two-way conversation we generally set it up for two column interleaved text replicated in one window on each person's machine; each partner's text stream goes in one column, the columns being kept in synch, but either one can draw anywhere. For a multi-person conference we'll have a shared window, the same idea but one column with everyone interleaved, and normally individual pages on separate windows for more extensive postings. We can also put it in insert mode to work on a document, with each person extending one or more paragraphs or adding additional paragraphs, while the software minds the spacing and keeps each person's cursor visible on his or her window. Documents can have multiple pages that you can flip or view simultaneously. There's also an audio channel which is very nice if you're not Tiger. The software is on the lion disc if you have one, or you can get it from lots of FTP sites including the Lion Foundation.

Mr. Encke: Is a record kept of the session or only the final document? That is, suppose someone types something and then erases it, can you unerase when reviewing the session?

Me: Yes. One person originates the session and provides storage for the files. He can turn logging on or off, and the log shows every keystroke.

Mr. Encke: How about installation? How long would it take?

Me: You're thinking of doing this meeting with NetBoard, aren't you? Put it in your home bin directory and make sure it's publicly readable. The audio is a separate program, if you use it, but it's just those two executables. It uses a nonprivileged port, so you don't need root access. Setting preferences is useful, but it's perfectly fine out of the box if you like your generic font and window size.

Mr. Encke: I know this is kind of short notice, but do you suppose you and Tiger could meet me in my office at 0800 tomorrow? The agenda would go like this: You sign a standard consulting agreement with a nondisclosure provision. You install NetBoard somewhere reasonable; I'll bully our info services guy to put it onto our server. Debug it and get it working. At approximately 0900 we'll start our meeting which will include Tiger's little test. She reports her findings. All hell breaks loose. I'm planning for the meeting to take about an hour but I know there are a lot of unknown factors so it could drag on. Be prepared to entertain yourselves watching the fur fly. If it goes on to noon, God I hope not, but if it does, you and Tiger can just walk out.

Me: The time sounds reasonable. How many people are going to be in this meeting? I'm wondering if everyone has a laptop, and if you already have wiring for them?

Mr. Encke: Good point about the wiring. Six people including you two. The company paid for laptops for all of ours, and I can borrow machines for any who don't bring them. What do you suggest for wiring?

Me: I'll bring two of my hubs and a roll of wire. I've got a suggestion. Download NetBoard, originate a session, and just leave it running. Tiger's in the forest, and I'll go out and find her; it's time for her to come in now anyway. She'll contact you and you can get familiar with the program, and you can tell her some more details about her role. What's your hostname?

Mr. Encke: You sure the installation won't be a problem?

Me: Piece of cake.

Mr. Encke: OK, I'll give it a try. See you. And thanks.

Me: You're welcome. Bye for now.

Very, very interesting. I mail Tiger a report, and ask Dr. Deutsch to tell her to read it if she returns before I do. Then I go out for a high speed hunt through the forest.

No, she isn't on the hilltop. Jeez, it's been a long time! I loved to smell the pines and firs when I lived here, and I love them now. Recent tracks lead down the north trail. At the stream there are the impressions of bare feet that we made among the plants, but one lion print is someplace I don't remember stepping, and is quite damp besides. I follow the stream to the rocky stretch. I can't run over the rocks but I quickly gain altitude on four legs. And there, disappearing around a rock, is a black tail with a white tip.

Me (by voice): Tiger! Wait up!

She looks around for the source of the noise but misses me, in plain sight. When is her vision going to get unscrambled? Ever? I catch up and she smells me and recognizes me. She hugs one handed and I hug back. She's been messing around in the stream too, judging by the dampness on her fur.

Me (by signs): Having a nice walk? I took a chance on finding you.

Tiger: Nice. And I'm glad you came. Come back down two or three levels.

Me: Why? What did you find?

Tiger: A flat rock with a minimum of bark chips and sand.

In all our time at the Lion Foundation, and all our time since, Tiger was too fastidious to mate in the forest. I regret her injury, but nothing is all bad, and releasing her spontaneity is its silver lining. We need to be careful to keep bits and chips off our sensitive surfaces, and a quick rinse with stream water is considered prudent just before we unite, but it's an experience to be remembered. My vision is of the stream overflowing with liquid fire. Tiger eeps in ecstasy.

Afterward... Did I hear it, or was that eep just wishful thinking? If real, it means that some regeneration is finally taking place in Tiger's brain, and maybe, just maybe, her speech and vision may not be lost forever.

Me: Actually I had a reason to come out and find you. Mr. Encke got in contact with me. He's going to move politically against Caiden tomorrow morning. He says you're going to test a quantum logic design, you report your results in a meeting, and then the fur flies. He's supposed to install NetBoard on his home machine, and you should try out a NetBoard session with him, like, now.

Tiger: A chance to use all that colorful vocabulary Coyote programmed into the translator files! OK, let's go back to the building and do it! There should be plenty of time before dinner. Simba, could you check something before we go? When we were mating I was laying on my stump, and it kind of feels itchy now, and when I rub it, it feels a little funny.

Me: Let's have a look. I don't see anything wrong with the scar. Hmm. Where does it itch, maybe here?

Tiger: That's one of them.

Me: There's a lump there. Let me feel more... here's a second one. Feel it yourself. We'd better have Dr. Newman have a look.

Tiger: They don't feel sick; they feel like, I don't know, like the supports around the edge of my ear.

Me: Could it be arm bones? Tiger, try something for me, would you? Remember when we were mating? Give me a pleasure call. An instinctive one, like Emerald makes.

Tiger: My voice is gone.

Me: Just do it. Blank your mind and remember how you felt. You want to try mating again, to bring back the mood?

Tiger: Eep.

Tiger (by signs): I did it! Eep, eep, eep, eep! I can talk! Oh, Simba, yes I do want to mate again! I'm growing back! Eep! Eep!

Monday morning we're in the Whinx conference room, with my hubs on the table and wires running to designated places. Mr. Encke bullied his info services guru to install NetBoard last night, so I don't have to do that part of it. The conference table is nice mahogany, long with curving sides so all participants can see each other easily. Mr. Encke is at the end, with his coffee and his laptop, though he's running the NetBoard master session on his big machine. To his right is Mr. Hacik the lawyer, then Tiger, with the big data glove plugged into her laptop, and then me. Two wires run to the opposite side. Besides our windows on the main session, Tiger and I have a second private NetBoard session so I can send alphabetic data to Tiger and talk to her as needed. Switching between my handsigns and written Tiger signs is a strain for her, while switching between two NetBoard sessions isn't hard.

Mr. Encke: Caiden and Porter, there you are! And you brought your laptops, good. Have a seat and jack in to the wires there. Stefan, you have your NetBoard session connected? Good. You both know Mr. Hacik, I'm sure. Tiger is going to help us today in the meeting, and since she can't use voice we're going to conduct the meeting on NetBoard, so she can participate. I think this is a reasonable accommodation for her disability. Accompanying her is Simba Leones, her mate, who has signed a nondisclosure consulting agreement. He's managing the networking and her translation software, which is sort of in alpha test mode at the moment. Now here's what you do: type NetBoard followed by my machine name, encke1. There, I see you, Porter. And Caiden. We're ready to go.

Now Encke starts typing in the shared window.

Mr. Encke: I'm not sure Tiger knows this, but in the W19 contract there are milestone checks, and there's a penalty of a million dollars if the design isn't done by 15 October, two days from now. Following that is three million on 1 December. Caiden, on Friday you reported that you had finished the design. That's great news!

Porter and Caiden look at each other, more puzzled than basking in praise.

Mr. Porter (by voice): Yes, Caiden's people really stretched themselves for this one.

Mr. Encke: Could you type that out, please, so Tiger knows what you're saying? There, got it, thanks. Stretching is what I'm a little worried about. Sometimes when the heat is on, a detail gets forgotten. I know I've done it often enough. But we want Whinx to be known for reliable chips. That's why I asked Tiger here. She knows one part of the W19 design, but she hasn't been through the details and the pressure; she's had her own problems for the last month and a half. Which she's conquered incredibly, I must say. So she should be able to give the chip a test that isn't biased by recent frantic problem solving. Caiden, could you type out for Tiger the directory where the design deliverable is located? She'll paste it off the screen into her special shell, and get to work with a short but thorough test. And meanwhile you can tell me how you pulled this off. The last I heard the project was really behind schedule...

Mr. Encke lets Caiden and Porter drift back into voice since, presumably, Tiger is supposed to be running the test.

Tiger (on the private session): That can't be right! The first test file should have run for at least half a minute even on the compute server. Check my filenames.

Me: They're right; I watched you select them in the shell. Did it dump core?

Tiger: No, it produced output. What the hell, three tests attempted, three passed, zero failed. The sucker is working!

Me: Run it again and time it. Let's see if the full test will run in a reasonable time.

Tiger: There it goes: 0.2 seconds. I think 0.2 seconds is the minimum to start up a program and shut it down.

Me: Run the full test. If it runs too long, kill it. Time the run. Meanwhile, look really carefully at those files. The simulations you did at home always took minutes to finish, on just your ALU. And say on the main session that the test is running.

Tiger: OK, done. Shut up a minute while I snoop.

Tiger digs around. She has to essentially look at every file, because she can't read the filenames to get an idea what they might contain.

Tiger: Oh, shit! That bastard has all the CPU modules bypassed! No wonder it runs fast. What do I do, just tell everyone?

Me: Send mail to Encke with an urgent flag. He can read it right under Caiden's nose. Let him stick the knife in. Include the filename so he can see for himself. Also, make up a test vector file of your own with the modules turned back on. If I were him I'd immediately want an authentic test of the actual design.

Mr. Encke (on NetBoard): How's the test going?

Tiger: Still running. I'm checking what it's doing; it hasn't reported any errors so far.

Tiger sends the message off, and I can see Encke's eyes jump. I can't see his screen but I know a flashing urgent mail icon just popped up. Then I see his eyes jump to Caiden, who misses it because he's looking at Porter. I can just barely see Hacik's screen and now he has a mail icon. What's he doing, he seems to be firing up his own private NetBoard session. Shortly thereafter Tiger receives mail too.

Mr. Encke (by mail): Shit. When I ask for a variant test, what I mean is, test the actual design, not the damned simulator. Can you do that? Make it short, please.

Tiger (on NetBoard): The test is almost done. I have another test file that checks some other aspects of the processor, which I'd like to run if you don't mind, when this one is over. It's shorter. There, the test is done. Here's the score: 17,232 tests attempted, 17,232 tests correct, zero failures. Congratulations, Mr. Caiden.

Mr. Encke (on NetBoard): Great. Let's see the other test please, Tiger.

Tiger: Running.

Everyone waits with a different aspect. Caiden is finally relaxing. Doesn't he know that the simulator can't do so many tests in a few minutes? Or is he the kind of boss who leaves the dirty work to subordinates, and therefore knows nothing about what he's doing? Evidently so. Porter, though, is suspicious of the format of the meeting. Hacik is contemplating a plan of some kind. Encke is contemplating a plan to kick butt. Tiger is pure carnivore. She drums her claw points on the conference table, impatiently.

Me (on the second session): Lose the claws. It's bad for the wood.

The test finishes.

Tiger (on NetBoard): Well, that one didn't go as well. Three tests attempted, one test correct, two failed. It was able to load a word from memory, but an indexed load failed and a multiply failed. Total time, 131 seconds.

Mr. Encke: Well, well. Tiger, do you have any insight why the first test went so well and the second one didn't? If you could, please explain so Mr. Hacik knows what you're talking about.

Tiger: Certainly. For most of the development process each designer runs the simulator on only her part of the chip. For example, I was working on the ALU, the arithmetic and logical unit, and other people were designing the instruction decoder, the memory buffer, the indexer and so on. So how do I test the ALU when the other sections aren't even written yet? We broke the chip up into functional units with well-defined data and contingencies passing from one to the next, as well as contingencies could be well-defined, and we wrote procedural code to simulate operation of each section. I have a file called a test vector which tells the simulator to actually exercise my design for the ALU, but to use the procedural code for all other sections. Whereas, the person doing the indexer would bypass the ALU and everything else but the indexer. Then during final integration you turn on more and more of the design until you get it all to work together. What happened on the first test was, the entire design was bypassed, so effectively we saw a very thorough test of the procedural simulation code, which of course is a lot faster than actually doing the quantum logic. That's what tipped me off: my three item test file finished in an instant, which was impossible, so I ran the longer test to make time to investigate. Then I turned on all the design sections and re-ran the simple test. It wasn't a total failure; the instruction decoder and the memory buffer worked to load the first word.

Mr. Encke: What do you think, Stefan?

Mr. Hacik (by voice, which I cheekily translate on the main session): I think someone's going to need an attorney.

Mr. Caiden (by voice): Davis prepared that test data!

Mr. Encke (on NetBoard): Let's ask him. I'm inviting him onto the session.

Mr. Caiden (by voice): This is outrageous!

Mr. Encke (voice and NetBoard): Shut up, Caiden, before you give your future attorney indigestion.

It takes only about half a minute, punctuated by whining and writhing by Caiden which the rest of us ignore, for Davis to read the instructions that come with a NetBoard invitation icon and to join the session.

Mr. Encke: Davis, I see you. Just type responses in the window. In the last few days, what test data did you put together for Mr. Caiden?

Mr. Davis: I wrote some simple integration tests, and I helped Fran set up a test subvector for testing the rewrite of Tiger's floating add renormalization contingency.

Mr. Encke: Anything about integrating the whole processor?

Mr. Davis: Well, we started with some of the sections, but we can't integrate what's not finished. Mr. Caiden has been telling how important it is to work fast, but without an ALU and an indexer and an address translator we really can't get into the difficult integration areas.

Mr. Caiden (typed in by me): He's lying!

Mr. Davis: Mr. Caiden, I resent that! I'd like you and Mr. Encke to come over here and I'll show you the files.

Mr. Encke: I've seen the files. I'll be over there soon enough. Would you please terminate your connection now?

Davis chops the connection without delay. I've been watching Caiden's eyes, and they've strayed toward the door, the one at the other end of the room, more times than I like to see. I stand up and stroll for the exit, placing Caiden between me and Encke.

Me: Sitting for so long in a closed back chair cramps my tail. Aah, it feels good to stretch.

I lash my tail and give everyone a real good look at my claws and the inside of my mouth, with Smilodon fangs. Caiden shrinks miserably in his chair, seeming to try to vanish beneath the table. Porter is looking very worried. I can't read my screen from here but I can see Tiger's Tiger signs...

Mr. Encke (by voice and NetBoard): Caiden, you have defrauded the company and tried to induce me to defraud one of our customers by certifying the W19 design. You are terminated, as of now. You will be charged criminally and sued civilly. As Mr. Hacik said, you're going to need an attorney, and you can call one from the jail, as soon as the police, who are on their way thanks to Mr. Hacik's message to his secretary, get you there. Porter, I'm fully aware how Caiden brown-nosed his way into your good graces, and first got you to push that ridiculous schedule, over my objections you might remember, and then got you to sack Art Dennison and give Caiden his territory. We're out a minimum of a million bucks because of that, totally needlessly. Sandra has been bitching about how you've been using ASICs as a dumping ground, but she's just going to have to put up with one more exile: you. Simba, check in the hall, please.

I open the door and discover Art Dennison, looking puzzled, whispering to a person I don't know. They come into the room.

Mr. Encke: Jack, you're promoted to replace Porter. Porter, you may report to Sandra to take up your new assignment. Leave your laptop, your company laptop, here for Jack. Move! Caiden, you're not leaving here. Sit at the end of the table. Would you like our consultant to show you which chair to sit in? There, that's a good boy. Art, you're rehabilitated. That's your seat now. I'm sorry you got screwed over, and I'm sorry to dump you in Caiden's mess with a three mill penalty coming up in six weeks, but do the best you can, OK? Now how do you suggest we proceed, as in near term. I sort of promised Davis that I'd show up in your area to apologize for Caiden calling him a liar.

Art: How much am I covering?

Mr. Encke: The whole W19 project. Have fun.

We're interrupted by a knock on the door. Another person in the hall is surprised to see me, but he flashes a badge and I let him in. I indicate Caiden, impolitely with my claw, and Hacik comes round to that end of the table.

Art (on NetBoard and voice): I suggest that right now we proceed to the CPU design area, and Tiger, you're invited too, even though you're not on active duty yet, and I'll personally replace your pictures if they're still somewhere in the office. Then we'll collect the channel assignment people and take over the cafeteria and tell everyone what's happened. I'm going to ask everyone to put their web pages back the way they were, with a progress file, which they'll take the time to update, or create, for the channel assignment people. And Tiger, you'll particularly want to fix your web page up. Caiden, in a fit of professional and businesslike workplace environment, changed your name to Cynthia!

Tiger does a silent threat display in Caiden's direction. He sees it and cringes.

Art: I'm going to ask everyone to post a recommendation how to get a chipset out the door that works cleanly and isn't going to blow up in our faces. I hope by the end of the day to get most of the recommendations and progress files on line and read by me, and then I'll be able to give you an idea how bad it is, and what we can do about it.

Mr. Encke: Stefan! Do you need me to sign papers?

Mr. Hacik: No, go on, don't waste your time on this. I have personal knowledge of the fraud. Thank Tiger for me; I understood what she was saying and I could see that the test vector was totally in bypass mode.

How the mighty are fallen! Like Dr. Chang at Xylogen, Dr. Bergstrom, the founder of Whinx, learns from this experience and wisely decides that his talents don't lie in day-to-day operation, and he relinquishes his CEO role, concentrating on advanced research, where he can do some good. Tiger is very glad for the progress she made at home on the ALU, for Caiden ordered Fran to make major changes in Tiger's design, conservative design practices as he called them, putting the ALU months behind. In fact, besides finishing and integrating the ALU, Tiger helps Fran get the indexer finished, because Fran has been distracted both by the ALU and by Caiden's nitpicks in the indexer design. At the end just about every machine in the company is running pieces of the 17,232 integration checks. On November 30 Encke and Art Dennison invite the customer's contract monitor for an all-night vigil and have her review as many completed test runs as she can. Tiger could never get Art to say straight out that the checks were done before midnight, but the company in fact does not pay the three million dollar penalty.

Meanwhile I finish up the next year's edition of the lion disc, with Claude and Diamond playing tag around my feet, Emerald eeping and batting at my tail, and Bear, Attila and Mariposa occasionally interrupting with questions about lessons.

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