The View from Almost Y3K


by Frederick Rustam ©

Prologue

It was 2999 of the Common Era.

As the fourth millennium loomed, many humans on the settled worlds began to take an interest in the events which had marked the advent of the current millennium, the events known as the Crash of 2000. The mass media began digging into the worldnet history files for sensational history to feed this public curiosity. As a result of a long millennium of careless infoweeding and discarding, though, detailed information about the onset of Y2K was scarce.

The Crash of 2000 was now a whisper out of time, a few paragraphs in the encyclopedias and the histories for schoolchildren. Somewhat fuller treatments of it were to be found in incunabula and obscure scholarly journals and theses. Some historians activated by the new public curiosity opportunistically chose to believe that much of the old story remained untold. In the classic way of their profession, they assumed that there were new aspects of the subject to be investigated, and academic reputations to be enhanced thereby.

Secure in the knowledge that their contemporary worlds could not be overturned by the childlike faith in computer technology which had characterized the citizens of Century 20, historical scholars turned toward the fount of galactic humanity: Earth. (Old Earth, that is - not New Earth, Earth II [et. al.], Terra, NovaTerra, Terranor, etc.) Only on Earth existed those records which could fully explain the panic and the societal breakdown that occurred prior to and after January 1, 2000.

The Gattes Foundation, a well-endowed educational and charitable organization with branches on many worlds, decided to send two distinguished scholars from Hermion to Earth to recover "lost" information. The researches of these two scholars would be closely examined to determine if the history of the Crash of 2000 provided any cautionary lessons for the enlightened humankind of the soon-to-arrive fourth millennium.

On The Mall

The sleek tourist aerospaceplane settled heavily onto the concrete runway of Capital Mall Aeroport like a seagull with clipped wings.

The runway was centered on the broad, open space of grass and cherry trees between the ruins of formerly-stately buildings. The trees were in their spectacular spring bloom of white blossoms, and the center of the city had seemed a sea of this traditional flora to the passengers peering out the windows of their plane. The craft circled and banked twice, once to starboard and once to port, in order to offer its passengers an overview before landing.

The Mall was an unusual setting for an aeroport. It had been laid out as a linear strip of open parkland, and had been built upon only at its margins. But now the whole city was a park. Since it was visited mostly by the offworld wealthy, or those subsidized, Washton's port-of-entry had been constructed for their convenience within the attractive, downtown "monumental axis," of which the Mall constituted the green centerpiece. The suburban lands were being used for a more important purpose: agriculture.

Those humans remaining on Earth performed a valuable service for their cousins who had scattered almost to the corners of the galaxy onto worlds less salutary than their homeworld. Earth was now one of the breadbaskets of the galaxy, and the fertile lands surrounding the former capital of Washton were too valuable for any other use. Not that any other use was being contemplated. The area was rather depopulated, centuries after the so-called "Y2K Bug" had begun the city's abandonment and destruction.

The tourists debarked, blinking, from the tourplane into the cool spring sunlight and scanned the surface for their hired tourguides. These were standing next to their electric tourcars in a semicircle about the plane's exit door and portable stairway, calmly awaiting their scheduled customers.

A middle-aged couple were the last to emerge from the plane. They paused at the top of the stairway and shaded their eyes to seek their own tourguide.

"There he is."

The plump, matronly woman was dressed for travel and inconvenience in a severe but fashionable suit. She pointed to the man below who carried a signboard which proclaimed him to be the dragoman of CAPITAL SCHOLAR TOURS.

"Right on time, I see," said the white-haired male passenger, a tweedy, professorial type. "His outfit has a good reputation. This should be a most enjoyable and informative tour."

He fished in his jacket pocket for his tobacco pipe. The fuel for it was in his shoulderbag. Traces of ash on his jacket showed him to be a serious smoker. He put the pipe between clenched teeth for cosmetic effect. Now, he would be seen here as an elite academic. He longed to light-up, but he deferred his craving until he could consult with their tourguide. Even in these enlightened times, some were annoyed by tobacco smoke. Unfortunately, his traveling companion was one of those.

"It should be," she opined. "It cost the Foundation plenty."

They scanned the horizon for the lay of the land. All around the bucolic Mall lay tidied-up ruins. Few new buildings were in sight. Those needed for the operation of the Aeroport were low and fairly inconspicuous, nearby. Customs and immigration red-tape had been handled in orbit. The passengers had been cleared and officially welcomed. The Park was theirs to explore, now.

They couldn't miss the sign aimed at them from near the runway:

NATIONAL CAPITAL HERITAGE PARK WASHTON, D. C. The New Age of Humankind Began Here Smoking Permitted

They absorbed this information "Ah, good," and "Damn," they thought, respectively, as they began their descent to the soil of Mother Earth.

* * *

"Welcome to Washton, scholars! Drs. Wade and Philbrick, I presume."

The tourguide was a short, voluble black man in his thirties. He was a native of the area and was descended from generations of federal civil servants employed by the Terran Park and Forest Service. He gave his distinguished tourists a little bow of respect.

"Right you are," replied Professor Wade. "I've been weighed, but not found wanting." As he enjoyed the feeble witticism, his fellow traveler groaned. The guide, Gilliam, chuckled and pointed a jesting finger.

It was a good start. Their guide was an easy-going sort, with his own puckish sense of humor. He needed it to deal with offworlders. Many of them had been shaped by their peculiar environments into somewhat peculiar people. He most appreciated those who didn't take their touring, or his tongue-in-cheek patter, too seriously.

"My name is Leroy Gilliam."

He pronounced his forename LEE-roy. This was sufficient to wrinkle some scholarly brows, but these two from the Gattes Foundation had been chosen for their tact as well as their knowledge.

"I'll be your guide while you're visiting us. Thank you for chosing Capital Scholar Tours. We specialize in in-depth informational tours with access to rare historical records. We take you into places the other tour outfits just breeze by. We have a millennium of excellent historical anecdotes to impart.... Allow me to stow your luggage in the car."

Gilliam wasn't an academic. He had naturally accumulated the info he needed for his tour-spiel, and was always on the lookout for new data he could weave into its woof and warp. Unfortunately, the true history of Washton was hard to come by at this thousand-year remove from second-millennial events, and in consequence, much tourguide knowledge was colorfully incorrect - but nicely formulated and well-dramatized for the tourists.

"Where is our hotel, Mr. Gillum?" inquired Professor Philbrick.

"On the restored part of K St. in midtown, Professor, several blocks from the city's monumental area but easily reached by our tourcar." He ignored her garble of his surname. He was accustomed to it.

"I'd like to freshen up before we begin our tour."

"But Jane, can't we see something of the city, first? It's still early, yet," protested Dr. Wade. "We'll want to settle in and have our supper when we get to the hotel, won't we?"

This trip had, from its beginning, been a polite struggle for dominance by each academic. Gilliam immediately sensed this and diplomatically intervened. He was quite skilled in the mediation of petty tourist-disputes.

"We can reach your hotel by a roundabout route, if you like, and we can view some of the customary sights on the way."

"All right. But let's not dawdle. We can tour in earnest, later." Dr. Philbrick wanted to change into a more decorative outfit for touring, but the suggestion of a good meal was hard to resist. She had actually lost weight on the jumpliners from Hermion because the food offered the passengers was so bland and unappetizing.

Gilliam smiled. "Good. Hop in, and we'll be off." He was anxious to try out the latest version of his memorized delivery on these new tourists. He prided himself on his intellectual rapport with scholars.

He raced the tourcar down the runway, away from the parked plane.

"The runway is paved better than the streets are," he explained. "I like to use as much of it as possible.... We'll begin at the ruins of the Capitol Building. There's a nice overlook tower on the brow of Capitol Hill. From there, we can get a good view of the Federal Triangle, where the ancient government located its older, more decorative buildings, the ones which resisted the bombs better."

The tourists squinted at the ruins up on the steep rise, ahead. "The Capitol didn't resist very much," commented Dr. Wade.

"True," agreed their guide. "But unfortunately it was ground-zero for the first bomb. Afterwards, its dispersed rubble was artfully arranged, and the whole place was designated as a tomb for those Congressmen and Senators who were politicking there that day - may their old bones rest in peace."

The tourcar left the runway of the Aeropart and began its climb up potholed Constitution Ave. toward their destination. As they bumped and bounced along, Dr. Philbrick muttered under her breath.

"Some of these potholes date from prenuclear times," said Gilliam. "Yes, indeed - very historical. The ancient local government funded public works rather niggardly, you know. And even now, the Park Service doesn't spend much on the streets. It conveniently chooses to view them as part of the city's unique infrastructure, and the neglect of their deplorable condition as `historic preservation.'"

"May I smoke?" asked Dr. Wade, who began digging into his shoulderbag for his tobacco.

"No," replied Dr. Philbrick.

"Smoke 'em if ya got 'em, Professor" said Gilliam, brightly. "That's an old Terran military saying. Heh, heh. I used to be in the Air Guard. I flew rescue missions in tornado country, you know."

"You don't say?" said Dr. Wade. "I was in our Territorial Army on Hermion, myself. I won a sharpshooter medal, in fact. That was before my eyes gave out on me. Too much studying of old manuscripts by dim candlelight did it."

Dr. Philbrick rolled her eyes skyward at this old-boy braggadocio and blinked at the burgeoning smoke, as her fellow scholar ignored her customary objection to his filthy habit and lit up.

On Capitol Hill

"Is that the Lincun Monument?" inquired Dr. Wade. "That tower on the knoll in the middle of the Mall?"

"That's the monument to John Washton, Professor. The Abel Lincun Memorial is behind it at the far end of the Reflecting Pool - that roofless, marble ruin with the thirteen fluted columns. One column for each of the Merican states, you see."

"I thought there were 50 states. Weren't there that many stars in the old Merican flag?" Dr. Philbrick had done her homework. But Gilliam was not troubled by her remark. He smoothly handled such corrective rejoinders as he received from his academic tourists.

"We've wondered about that seeming inconsistency, Professor. Perhaps you and Dr. Wade can discover the truth in the remnant records."

"Wouldn't that be a coup then, Jane?" enthused Dr. Wade. She ignored him; his sudden enthusiasms rarely resulted in useful contributions to knowledge. Gilliam returned the discussion to the panorama.

"The Washton Monument was formerly much taller, but the first bomb knocked off the upper three-fourths. It fractured precisely at the point where its ancient construction had been suspended for some years... a funding problem, I believe. The older part seems to have been better built. We can climb up to the top of it, if you like. The view is not bad."

"I don't think so," offered Dr. Philbrick, whose feet were already giving her trouble. "This view is good enough. We're here to learn from ancient documents the information we need for our paper."

Dr. Wade puffed on his pipe and scanned the horizon for the fabled White House, the palace of the former rulers.

Gilliam anticipated his question. "That pile of white stones north of the Monument is the ruins of the White House."

"Gracious. Have they painted the rubble white?" asked Dr. Philbrick, perceptively. "How awful." Her tact did not extend to inanimate objects.

"Yes, Professor. That's for the regular tourists because they expect to see something white there. The palace was actually built of gray sandstone, painted white to look better. The original paint is long gone, of course. The ruins have been updated, so to speak."

Gilliam then offered one of his historical anecdotes. "There's an amusing story about that palace. During World War II, the Allied leaders planned a conference in Casablanca, which is a city in Africa. An Axis spy in Spain heard about this and reported it to Axis intelligence as an opportunity for high-level assassination." He paused for effect.

"But he took the name `Casablanca' to mean the White House, here, and the Axis missed a chance to kill the assembled enemy leaders at a place much closer to the front lines than Washton."

Dr. Philbrick listened to their guide's story with a serious expression and captured it with her personal Audione. Her fellow scholar merely chuckled at the tale. "Interesting," he commented. "I spy some tourists over there at Casablanca with their videors. "Little do they know what happened during that ancient war."

"No, indeed. Those people haven't booked Capital Scholar Tours, Professor." Gilliam smiled and prepared to deliver his zinger. "You and Dr. Philbrick will actually enter the White House - and there, you'll read the original documents of the ancient administrations."

"How?" asked Dr. Philbrick. "It's just a pile of stones, now."

Gilliam's smile widened in his dark, animated face to the width of a Cheshire Cat's. "Honored Professors, like an ocean iceberg, most of the White House is actually below the surface." He raised his eyebrows meaningfully. Gilliam enjoyed toying with visitors from far places.

"You mean...?" Dr. Philbrick knew that few records of the times had been salvaged from the local offices and archives. Most of these were safely held by the Smithsonian Institution's Museum of the Great Crash.

"You'll enter the underground White House, the real White House, using an escape conduit especially built for the security of the last elected President, Alfred Bore. It's a facility known only to a few of the capital cognoscenti - and you're privileged to use it!"

What he meant was that Capital Scholar Tours bribed the Park Superintendent to allow entry into the hallowed hall of ancient governance. He collected his envelope every month, without fail. This arrangement made C.S.T. the premier Washton tour outfit for the serious visitor.

Dr. Wade took the pipe from his mouth and gaped at their guide. Gray smoke slowly rose from his mouth. With a final puff, he said, "That's wonderful. Isn't it, Jane? Where does this conduit begin, Mr. Gillums?" He swept an arm horizonward.

Their guide pointed to the misty distance just north of the Lincun Memorial's columns. "There, Professor. You see that wide freeway and the revetted bank on the other side of it? Use the 'oculars, and you should just make out the surface entrance to the conduit."

Wade peered through the mounted electrobinoculars provided at the overlook. "I can't see anything."

"Oh, I'm sorry... I forgot," apologized Gilliam. He took a token from his pocket and inserted it into the optical device. "The Park Service counts every tourist coin, you know."

"I see something, now. It looks like a kind of low building built into the high bank beside the road. It's rather inconspicuous."

"Let me see, Jim, before our time expires and that thing turns off." Dr. Philbrick took her turn at the large 'ocular.

"What is that place?" she inquired. "Is it a bunker of some kind? Is that where the last ruler sought refuge from the Y2K rioters."

Gilliam's face took on a puckish expression. This was a moment he traditionally enjoyed. "Ah, no. It's a sewage pumping station... actually."

The 'ocular clicked and went dark just then.

This seemed an omen to Dr. Wade, who began puffing furiously.

In the Conduit

"You thought we'd have to crawl up a sewer pipe to the White House--- right," joshed Gilliam to the two tourists who rode behind him.

"That possibility did occur to me," admitted Dr. Wade. "Not that I'm unaccustomed to dealing with sewage, you understand. Have you ever attended a faculty meeting, Mr. Gillums?" He grinned and looked to his fellow academic for verification. Dr. Philbrick made a face of disapproval. She liked faculty meetings; she often used them to float controversial ideas and interpretations to great effect.

"Can't say as I have, Professor," smiled their guide/driver.

Dr. Philbrick held on to her floppy hat as the yellow, open Public Works utility vehicle they were hanging onto sped forward through the dimly-lit tunnel toward the underground White House. Its trolley pole drew blue-white sparks from the power-wire above. These garishly illuminated the dark interior of the large conduit. Gilliam enjoyed driving fast, and the Park Police had citations to prove it.

"The government built this tunnel to centralize the White House utility connections in a secure channel, and to provide an escape route for President Bore. You see, the governing class knew what instability the Y2K computer crisis would bring to Merican society so they concealed their emergency planning from the public."

"Because they didn't want a `panic,'" guessed Dr. Philbrick.

"Right, Professor. They judged the voters too undisciplined to be told the truth about the, let us say... anomaly. And in those days, the unwashed millions were, indeed, difficult to control."

"Why?" asked Dr. Wade. "I thought ancient people were better-behaved than those of our contemporary human society."

"Television, Professor. Years of indulgence in commercial pop culture had dulled the intellectual abilities but sharpened the emotional sensitivities of twentieth-century folks. When the Y2K crisis exploded upon society, they just couldn't handle it. The government knew the perilous truth, so it just drifted into the new millennium with minimum official preparation. More would have been noticed and exploited by the mass media."

"Scandalous," opined Dr. Phibrick. "It's hard to believe," added Dr. Wade. Both knew, though, that governments had changed little, fundamentally, since those ancient times on Old Earth.

"Believe it, Professor. The evidence lies in the ruins above us."

"Phew!" Dr. Philbrick held her nose. Dr. Wade recycled his fragrant pipe smoke. They were passing through a zone where the sewer had for years leaked and had left a pungent odor of failure in every crack and crevice of the tunnel's concrete. Park Service repairs had been somewhat substandard. This was not a usual tourist venue.

"Only a little farther to go, Professors, and we'll find ourselves secure in Casablanca. Heh, heh," assured Gilliam. "It smells better, there. The last President had it ozonated. He was quite concerned about the environment, you know. Yes, indeed."

* * *

"Are the state files and papers lying around for just anyone to peruse?" inquired Dr. Philbrick. "I can't visualize that, Mr. Gillum. The Mericans are reputed to have been very security-conscious."

They had dismounted from their Public Works utilicar. They found themselves in a sub-basement of the fabled alban palace of ancient Merica. Pipes and cables lined the walls and hung overhead. Barrels were stacked-up, helter-skelter. The sallow ambient light from the grime-coated fluorescents overhead was too weak to read an unlighted wristwatch by.

"Oh no, Professor. No, indeed. The records are under the oversight of an official Archivist, a man little-known to the public. He lives and works here. In fact, I don't believe he's seen sunlight since he was given the responsibility for the underground White House. He's the contemporary equivalent of an ancient monk in a scriptorium."

"Really?... What's his name?" asked Dr. Wade.

"I can't wait to tell you," grinned Gilliam.

Among the Records

"Mr. Moule, may I introduce Dr. Philbrick and Dr. Wade, historical scholars from Hermion."

("`Mole'!") Wade almost snickered at the Archivist's name, but a quick nudge of warning from Dr. Philbrick squelched him. She knew that they were dependent upon this Mr. Moule's goodwill for the success of their study project.

Moule grunted a greeting and returned his gaze to his computer monitor. He didn't care for the Park Service policy of accepting bribes to allow offworld scholars to invade his "privacy." The silence following the introduction lay heavy in the stagnant air of his office. Despite the ozonators, the atmosphere needed more refreshment from above. Dr. Wade surmised it was a clogged-filter problem.

"Well, then, I'll leave you two scholars in Mr. Moule's capable hands. If you need me, just key the autophone and page me by name. I'll return at 1700 hours to see if you're ready to quit for the day."

Moule grunted at the prospect of having them there that long.

The two academics were sorry to lose their personable, accommodating tourguide. Both viewed Mr. Moule as an uncooperative type. They'd met plenty of similar types in academia, but Dr. Philbrick judged Moule's lack of an higher degree to be a factor in his seeming aloofness from them. She was correct. The Archivist was an autodidact, and was quite prideful of his work in the basement of the ancient palace.

They stood, awaiting Moule's assistance. The elderly man continued to stare at his monitor screen as if obsessed with its display. He was skinny, and dressed like a trusted company bookkeeper in an out-of-date boiler suit and starched collar. His gray hair was parted in the middle and slicked down to his large ears. He wore a pair of old-fashioned half-moon spectacles, through which he peered at the display of a document.

"We'll leave you to your work and just browse about," said Dr. Wade. He guessed this would provoke Moule into action on their behalf. It did.

"No!" The Archivist leaped up from his desk with a speed which belied his age. "I've prepared two workstations for you in another office. You'll browse there. Stay confined to what's available in the computerized files. The papers here are too valuable and fragile. Many of them haven't been properly indexed, yet. Come this way."

He hurried from his office into the central corridor.

"This looks like fun," whispered Dr. Philbrick to her colleague. "That fellow is straight out of a Dickens novel."

"Who?" Many of his colleague's exotic references were new to Wade.

"Later," she replied, as she sneaked a look-see at Moule's computer monitor. "Go into the hallway - I want to see what he was reading."

Dr. Wade stepped into the corridor. Moule had already disappeared into another office through one of the open doorways. He was now in the one designated by him as a workplace for "foreigners."

Dr. Philbrick quickly scanned the display on Moule's monitor, then joined Dr. Wade in searching for the elusive, refractory Archivist.

"What was he reading?'" asked Dr. Wade.

Moule popped his head out a door down the corridor. "Here!" he directed the tourists, sharply. "In here, you two."

"Some legal deposition about a sex case, it seems," she whispered to her colleague. "Sensational stuff. Of no use to us, I'm sure."

Researches

"We're agreed, then?" declared Dr. Wade, hopefully.

"Yes. The American government simply didn't take the Y2K computer problem seriously enough. Its program managers left too much to be corrected in the last days - somewhat like Christmas shopping or income-tax filing. And the government's minimizing of the problem set a bad example for the commercial sector. Both were simply overwhelmed by uncorrected computer problems after the arrival of the new millennium."

Professors Philbrick and Wade were in the fifth day of their researches among the records in the basement offices of the White House. From the computerized files, they had copied many records into their belly-mounted portacomps, and they had compiled a long list of citations for their planned comprehensive paper on the genesis of the Year 2000 Crash.

Dr. Philbrick added, "I think we have enough information now to draw a confident conclusion about management failures at the top of the American government. What troubles me most is the lack of leadership by President Gore's predecessor, who actually had the responsibility for the Y2K correction effort, yet who seemed little concerned with the problem until he had to declare martial law throughout his nation and rule by decree."

"Oh, he was concerned with a problem, all right---but not that one."

Mr. Moule, the Archivist, stood in the doorway of their office, staring at them with a typically sour expression. During their stay in the subterranean White House, he had regarded them with a sneering condescension and had avoided speaking to them, except when they dared to ask for assistance. Now that they were ready to depart with their data and their hasty conclusions, he chose to fling his bombshell.

"What do you mean, Mr. Moule?" asked Dr. Wade.

"I mean S-E-X, Professor - sex." He smirked at the two academics. "How could you two spend five days researching Y2K in the White House and not discover the reason for President Clinton's distraction from his government's most serious problem? There are hints of it even in the public records."

The professors looked at each other. To what was he referring?

"Please enlighten us," requested Dr. Philbrick, who was miffed at his derogation of their scholarly competence.

"It's simply this: in the last years of his Presidency, William J. Clinton was distracted by sex scandals. They essentially began with his affair, of sorts, with a young White House intern. His political opposition exploited his mistake and tried to remove him from office."

"They sought to remove him from office over a private sexual matter?" asked Dr. Wade, incredulously. "Was that constitutional?"

"He officially lied about it. The Republicans believed that was sufficient misconduct for his impeachment and removal. They failed, ultimately, but the removal effort spawned a continuing stream of revelations of past adulterous affairs and marital problems which plagued Clinton and diverted him from the Y2K problem for most of the rest of his term. Didn't you read those memorandums by his executive assistants in which they agreed how to handle the serious Y2K problems?"

"Well, yes. We did note a few such memoranda, but they don't mention a sex scandal," asserted Dr. Philbrick.

"Of course they don't. In those days - as now - the idea was to not leave `negative' material in public records. But they wrote many confidential memos and archived them in a `superdestruct' computer, a machine which could completely erase its `sensitive' contents at the touch of a button. A highly-reliable machine, whose contents were not backed-up on permanent media. However, in the aftermath of the sudden bombing of the city, records deletion was overlooked. I recovered all of the machine's contents," declared the Archivist with overarching pride.

"Interesting... We did find several position papers on Y2K issued by the President, but there didn't seem to be much urgency expressed," said Dr. Wade.

"Noooo. Clinton's underlings absorbed the Y2K problem in such a way as to spare him concern. They felt he had enough concern about his scandals. They received intelligence from the bureaucracy, but they minimized it and drew up minimal feedback-directives for their President's signature. The whole government was thus lulled by inept leadership and by wishful thinking. If your project paper doesn't discuss the pre-Y2K scandal factor, you've accomplished little here."

Since the Gattes Foundation had only allotted a few days for research on distant Earth, the professors were now faced with a concern of their own - a loss of meaningful data - a situation Mr. Moule knew exactly how to exploit.

"What about Vice President Albert Gore? Wasn't he cognizant of the problem? He was the administration's expert on the `information age,' wasn't he?" Dr. Wade had wondered about this but had discovered little that cast light on the responsibility situation.

"Sure. But he had no power to effect change in the civil service. The Vice Presidency was largely a ceremonial office. Gore made a lot of speeches, but not many about Y2K. He didn't want to upset the applecart. He knew how diverted the President was from the problem. Gore wanted to succeed him, so he had to maintain good relations with Clinton's people."

"But I copied a press release they issued, which proclaimed the social security system to be Y2K-compliant," said Dr. Philbrick.

"Of course," replied Moule, wearily. "The checks for the old folks had to flow, or the party in power was doomed. The administration demanded that much, but the rest of the government was pretty much left to its own initiatives about computer-Y2K."

"I know how inertial governments can be," said Dr. Wade. "From my military experiences," he added. Dr. Philbrick frowned.

Moule's time for recognition had arrived. "Fortunately for you two, I've compiled a bibliography of confidential documents which clearly demonstrate how the sex scandals affected the Y2K initiatives of the White House."

"That would be useful," chirped Dr. Wade. "Wouldn't it, Jane?" Dr. Philbrick sensed what was coming. She wasn't too happy about it.

"Of course, I'll expect to receive joint authorship of any academic papers or press releases you may write," demanded Mr. Moule, with a grim determination. "And a share of any emoluments which derive there from."

Mr. Moule tended to speak like the elitist he believed himself to be.

"But you don't have academic credentials," said Dr. Philbrick, impulsively. Her tact had been stretched to the breaking point by the Archivist. Dr. Wade reached for his pipe and tobacco. His colleague had forbidden him to smoke in the cramped office, but he had brought his smoking accouterments in case of an emergency. This was certainly it.

"Now, Jane. Can't we overlook technical considerations? Mr. Moule's practical credentials are quite solid, I think."

"Joint authorship is out of the question." She coughed loudly at the sight of her colleague's smoke. "A suitable credit, perhaps, but we simply can't have another name on our title pages."

"Joint authorship, Professors, or you get nothing from me. And if you write your paper without reference to the scandal aspect, I'll post my information on that subject to Earth's worldweb. Then, it'll be picked up by dataships and carried to the far corners of the galaxy. Media everywhere will feature it, and your efforts will be, to say the least, undermined." Moule's calculated threat troubled the two scholars, who envisioned the exclusive honors they would receive for their new analysis of Y2K.

"May we discuss this among ourselves, Mr Moule?" asked Dr. Wade. "There's nothing to discuss, Jim," declared Dr. Philbrick.

"Oh yes there is!" asserted Wade with an unexpected, smoky vehemence. Dr. Philbrick's jaw dropped in surprise at his assertive stance.

"Please excuse us, Mr. Moule," asked Wade.

"Don't take too much time about it. My offer can be transferred to other scholars." With that fillip, he disappeared from the doorway but remained nearby, eavesdropping.

"This is an outrageous extortion!" exclaimed Dr. Philbrick.

"This is life, Jane," replied her colleague. "We're bollixed."

Departure

"Are you sure you don't want to visit some more historic sites?" inquired their smiling tourguide, as he accelerated the utilicar away from the White House subbasement. "Vice President Bore's house on Observatory Heights has been partially-restored to honor him for his leadership in the Y2K recovery effort. He really did well, once his predecessor ended martial law and allowed him to take the office he'd been elected to."

Gilliam added, "And he made no diverting inquiries about those political enemies of his predecessor who disappeared during that dictatorial time."

Dr. Philbrick remained silent, still fuming about the extortion of Archivist Moule. "We'll skip that tour, thanks," replied Dr. Wade. "And by the way, it was `Gore' - with a G. `Albert Gore.' But I can understand your mistake. We had to read several of his speeches."

"`Gore'?... Okay. Thanks, Professor. Let me make a note of that." He spoke some corrective words into his Audione. "I like to get things right for my scholarly tourists."

"You're welcome," said Dr. Wade. He sneaked a glance at his morose colleague. She smoldered about the document that Moule had made them sign, assigning him joint credit for their forthcoming analysis of the American government's Y2K response. They'd had to promise him a one-third share of the earnings from the Gattes Foundation's sale of media rights to their discoveries. Wade was frankly concerned at the reaction this might provoke among the administrators back on Hermion.

"Did you two discover anything new about the Great Crash of 2000?"

Just then, their speeding vehicle passed through the tunnel's zone of persistent sewer leakage. The professors wrinkled their noses.

"Yes we did, Mr. Gillums. We turned up some very impertinent data," joked Dr. Wade. "A hell of a stink, in fact."

Gilliam laughed, Wade joined in, and even Dr. Philbrick contributed a slight smile behind a warning finger to her lips.

"I don't suppose you could give me a clue?" pleaded Gilliam. "Capital Scholar Tours likes to stay ahead of the other outfits, informationally speaking."

"Out of the question," snapped Dr. Philbrick, who quickly recovered her pique.

"Say no more, Honored Professors. I know something of the customs of Academe, and I fully appreciate your desire for discretion. Yes, indeed."

"We do have to protect our information until the time for its publication," said Dr. Wade. "The Foundation insists on secrecy."

"Certainly. Quite understandable."

Sunlight appeared at the conduit portal, ahead. Gilliam slowed the sparking utilicar. He gave the two academics a sly little smile.

"But I'll bet you discovered those Presidential sex scandals that handicapped the government's Y2K efforts during the last years of President Will Clifton's term."

The sudden splash of bright sunlight as they emerged from the conduit accentuated the surprised expressions on the faces of the scholarly tourists.

x-x-x


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