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general structure do they have?
 First off, Harry, they're not codes. Monoalphabetic systems are codes. Like the cryptograms you
mentioned. The letter  G always turns up, say, as an  M'. But in military and diplomatic
cryptography, the  G will be a different character every time it appears. And the encryption
alphabet isn't usually limited to letters; we use numbers, dollar signs, ampersands, even spaces.
We splashed onto a ramp and joined the Interstate. It was elevated and we looked across rows of
bleak rooftops.  Even the shape of individual words is concealed.
 How?
 By encrypting the spaces.
I knew the answer to the next question before I asked it.  If the encryption alphabet is absolutely
random, which I assume it would have to be, the frequency count would be flat. Right?
 Yes. Given sufficient traffic, it would have to be.
 One more thing, Hutch: a sudden increase in traffic will alert anyone listening that something is
happening even if he can't read the text. How do you hide that?
 Easy. We transmit a continuous signal, twenty-four hours a day. Sometimes it's traffic,
sometimes it's garbage. But you can't tell the difference.
God have mercy on us, I thought. Poor Ed Dickinson.
* * * *
We sat at a small corner table well away from the main dining area. I shivered in wet shoes and a
damp sweater. A small candle guttered cheerfully in front of us.
 Are we still talking about Procyon? he asked.
I nodded.  The same pattern was received twice, three years apart, prior to the Procyon
reception.
 But that's not possible. Chaney leaned forward intently.  The computer would have matched
them automatically. We'd have known.
 I don't think so. Half a dozen prosperous, overweight men in topcoats had pushed in and were
jostling each other in the small entry.  The two hits were on different targets: they would have
looked like an echo.
Chaney reached across the table and gripped my wrist, knocking over a cup. He ignored it.  Son
of a bitch, he said.  Are you suggesting somebody's moving around out there?
 I don't think Ed Dickinson had any doubts.
 Why would he keep it secret?
I'd placed the book on the table at my left hand. It rested there, its plastic cover reflecting the
glittering red light of the candle.  Because they're at war.
The color drained from Chaney's face, and it took on a pallor that was almost ghastly in the lurid
light.
 He believed, I continued,  he really believed that mind equates to morality, intelligence to
compassion. And what did he find after a lifetime? A civilization that had conquered the stars,
but not its own passions and stupidities.
A tall young waiter presented himself. We ordered port and pasta.
 You don't really know there's a war going on out there, Chaney objected.
 Hostility, then. Secrecy on a massive scale, as this must be, has ominous implications.
Dickinson would have saved us all with a vision of order and reason....
The gray eyes met mine. They were filled with pain. Two adolescent girls in the next booth were
giggling. The wine came.
 What has theDecline and Fall to do with it?
 It became his Bible. He was chilled to the bone by it.You should read it, but with caution. It's
quite capable of strangling the soul. Dickinson was a rationalist; he recognized the ultimate truth
in the Roman tragedy: that once expansion has stopped, decay is constant and irreversible. Every
failure of reason or virtue loses more ground.
 I haven't been able to find his book on Gibbon, but I know what he'll say: that Gibbon was not
writing only of the Romans, nor of the British of his own time. He was writing about us....
 Hutch, take a look around. Tell me we're not sliding toward a dark age. Think how that
knowledge must have affected Ed Dickinson.
We drank silently for a few minutes. Time locked in place, and we sat unmoving, the world
frozen around us.
 Did I tell you, I said at last,  that I found the reference for his inscription? He must have had
great respect for you. I opened the book to the conclusion, and turned it for him to read:
The forum of the Roman people, where they assembled to enact their laws, and elect their
magistrates, is now enclosed for the cultivation of potherbs, or thrown open for the reception of
swine and buffaloes.
Chaney stared disconsolately at me.  It's all so hard to believe.
 A man can survive a loss of faith in the Almighty, I said,  provided he does not also lose faith
in himself. That was Dickinson's real tragedy; he came to believe exclusively in radiotelescopes,
the way some people do in religions.
The food, when it came, went untasted.  What are you going to do, Harry?
 About the Procyon text? About the probability that we have quarrelsome neighbors? I'm not
afraid of that kind of information; all it means is that where you find intelligence, you will
probably find stupidity. Anyway, it's time Dickinson got credit for his discovery. And, I thought,
maybe it'll even mean a footnote for me.
I lifted my glass in a mock toast, but Chaney did not respond. We faced each other in an
uncomfortable tableau.  What's wrong? I asked.  Thinking about Dickinson?
 That too. The candle glinted in his eyes.  Harry, do you thinkthey have a SETI project?
 Possibly. Why?
 I was wondering if your aliens know we're here. This restaurant isn't much further from Sirius
than Procyon is. Maybe you better eat up.
About the Author
Jack McDevitt (1935- ) recently retired from a position with the U.S. government to write full-
time, but his stories have been appearing with increasing regularity since the early 1980s and he
has won several awards. Social impacts are never far from his attention [ Pobierz całość w formacie PDF ]