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On the day that the Polish freighter Ludmilla laid an egg in New York harbor, Abner Longmans ("One-Shot") Braun was in the city going about his normal business, which was making another million dollars. As we found out later, almost nothing else was normal about that particular week end for Braun. For one thing, he had brought his family with him--a complete departure from routine--reflecting the unprecedentedly legitimate nature of the deals he was trying to make. From every point of view it was a bad week end for the CIA to mix into his affairs, but nobody had explained that to the master of the Ludmilla.
I had better add here that we knew nothing about this until afterward; from the point of view of the storyteller, an organization like Civilian Intelligence Associates gets to all its facts backwards, entering the tale at the pay-off, working back to the hook, and winding up with a sheaf of background facts to feed into the computer for Next Time. It's rough on the various people who've tried to fictionalize what we do--particularly for the lazy examples of the breed, who come to us expecting that their plotting has already been done for them--but it's inherent in the way we operate, and there it is.
Certainly nobody at CIA so much as thought of Braun when the news first came through. Harry Anderton, the Harbor Defense chief, called us at 0830 Friday to take on the job of identifying the egg; this was when our records show us officially entering the affair, but, of course, Anderton had been keeping the wires to Washington steaming for an hour before that, getting authorization to spend some of his money on us (our clearance status was then and is nowC&R--clean and routine).
I was in the central office when the call came through, and had some difficulty in making out precisely what Anderton wanted of us. "Slow down, Colonel Anderton, please," I begged him. "Two or three seconds won't make that much difference. How did you find out about this egg in the first place?"
"The automatic compartment bulkheads on the Ludmilla were defective," he said. "It seems that this egg was buried among a lot of other crates in the dump-cell of the hold--"
"What's a dump cell?"
"It's a sea lock for getting rid of dangerous cargo. The bottom of it opens right to Davy Jones. Standard fitting for ships carrying explosives, radioactives, anything that might act up unexpectedly."
"All right," I said. "Go ahead."
"Well, there was a timer on the dump-cell floor, set to drop the egg when the ship came up the river. That worked fine, but the automatic bulkheads that are supposed to keep the rest of the ship from being flooded while the cell's open, didn't. At least they didn't do a thorough job. The Ludmilla began to list and the captain yelled for help. When the Harbor Patrol found the dump-cell open, they called us in."
"I see." I thought about it a moment. "In other words, you don't know whether the Ludmilla really laid an egg or not."
"That's what I keep trying to explain to you, Dr. Harris. We don't know what she dropped and we haven't any way of finding out. It could be a bomb--it could be anything. We're sweating everybody on board the ship now, but it's my guess that none of them know anything; the whole procedure was designed to be automatic."
"All right, we'll take it," I said. "You've got divers down?"
"We'll worry about the buts from here on. Get us a direct line from your barge to the big board here so we can direct the work. Better get on over here yourself."
"Right." He sounded relieved. Official people have a lot of confidence in CIA; too much, in my estimation. Some day the job will come along that we can't handle, and then Washington will be kicking itself--or, more likely, some scapegoat--for having failed to develop a comparable government department.
Not that there was much prospect of Washington's doing that. Official thinking had been running in the other direction for years. The precedent was the Associated Universities organization which ran Brookhaven; CIA had been started the same way, by a loose corporation of universities and industries all of which had wanted to own an ULTIMAC and no one of which had had the money to buy one for itself. The Eisenhower administration, with its emphasis on private enterprise and concomitant reluctance to sink federal funds into projects of such size, had turned the two examples into a nice fat trend, which ULTIMAC herself said wasn't going to be reversed within the practicable lifetime of CIA.
I buzzed for two staffers, and in five minutes got Clark Cheyney and Joan Hadamard, CIA's business manager and social science division chief respectively. The titles were almost solely for the benefit of the T/O--that is, Clark and Joan do serve in those capacities, but said service takes about two per cent of their capacities and their time. I shot them a couple of sentences of explanation, trusting them to pick up whatever else they needed from the tape, and checked the line to the divers' barge.
It was already open; Anderton had gone to work quickly and with decision once he was sure we were taking on the major question. The television screen lit, but nothing showed on it but murky light, striped with streamers of darkness slowly rising and falling. The audio went cloonck ... oing, oing ... bonk ... oing ... Underwater noises, shapeless and characterless.
"Hello, out there in the harbor. This is CIA, Harris calling. Come in, please."
"Monig here," the audio said. Boink ... oing, oing...
"Got anything yet?"
"Not a thing, Dr. Harris," Monig said. "You can't see three inches in front of your face down here--it's too silty. We've bumped into a couple of crates, but so far, no egg."
Cheyney, looking even more like a bulldog than usual, was setting his stopwatch by one of the eight clocks on ULTIMAC's face. "Want me to take the divers?" he said.
"No, Clark, not yet. I'd rather have Joan do it for the moment." I passed the mike to her. "You'd better run a probability series first."
"Check." He began feeding tape into the integrator's mouth. "What's your angle, Peter?"
"The ship. I want to see how heavily shielded that dump-cell is."
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A waste of money. Doesnt even make sense.
T-T Tears of joy. You see these tears of utter joy? Thank you so, so very much. I love it.