brock sipped his drink of almost decent scotch and stared at the wall as nurse shermandisappeared into a back room. he wished she had turned the television on - television! - but it wasn't worth arguing about.
she returned in about five minutes. she had four rectangular objects in her hands, identical except for their size. the largest was about the size of a pie, another the size of a book, the third of a pack of cigarettes, and the smallest about as big as a matchbook. she spread them on the low table in front of the couch and sat down beside him. they were different colors, but all looked made of some kind of hard plastic, and each had a plate of what looked like glass or silver on one of the widest sides.
brock stared at them.
"they don't look like much." he looked a little closer. each had a little red light and a little green light on the side. the lights looked off. he reached for the green light on the largest rectangle.
"don't touch it! i'm just showing them to you." nurse sherman pushed the objects a little further away from brock.
"what are they? they look like they might be little televisions."
"they are that. and a lot more."
"or two-way radios. like dick tracy or buck rogers would have."
"they are that too. and a whole, whole lot more besides."
"okay, tell me. exactly what are they?"
"they are portals to the big mush."
"portals? is that what you call them?"
"oh, it doesn't matter what you call them - portals, terminals, pads, flickers, displays - the point is what they connect to."
"the universal brain - otherwise known as the web, the net, the ocean - or the big mush."
brock tried to look interested. suddenly he felt tired. he twirled the ice in his glass, a hint to nurse johnson to get him a refill. "so what exactly does this universal brain do?"
"what does it do? everything."
"that covers a lot of territory. give me an example, why don't you?"
"well the main thing it does - are you ready for this?"
"it shows pictures of naked ladies."
"oh?" brock laughed. "nothing wrong with that. "
"i thought that might get your attention."
"the pictures must be kind of small on some of these."
"oh, you can get screens all sizes - you can get a screen as big as a building."
"is there a new picture every day?"
"no, there are millions of pictures, billions of pictures, 24 hours a day. all shapes, sizes and colors - little women, big women. you might even find some bigger than me." she poked him in the side. "not that you want to look at anybody but me."
"yeah. all very interesting, but what is the problem? say, do you think you can get me another drink?"
"sure, but don't touch these things. i'll explain why when i get back."
brock stared at the "portals", then at his knees. he yawned. suddenly he flashed back to a doorway in singapore - or was it sydney or east st louis? - speaking of dames "all shapes, all sizes"... he yawned again
"hey, don't fall asleep." nurse sherman was back already, and stuck a new, colder drink in his hand.
"sorry. you were saying - about the universal brain."
"all right. the naked ladies - that's to get you hooked."
"i can believe that - hey, wait a minute. i got a question."
"how many people have got these things? i mean, wouldn't just generals and scientists and such even have one?"
"no, everybody has one. that's why they are so insidious."
"all right. so what does it do besides show naked ladies? give me some examples."
"it tells you anything you want to know - anything. and right away. no waiting."
"how about how many doubles ty cobb hit on 3 and 2 counts in 1917? how many jokes abbott and costello told in 1938?"
"it will tell you those things - right away. it will tell you the price of popcorn in addis ababa and on jupiter. it will tell you how many jaguars have thorns in their paws in the amazon jungle - now, or in the year 800. or projected in the year 8000. it will tell you when the bananas are going to go to market on venus and in the aldebaran galaxy. prime numbers - pi to a million places - don't make it laugh. it will tell you - everything."
"huh. kind of scary."
"kind of scary? think about it. if it knows everything, what do you know that it doesn't? and if everybody is plugged into it, what do you know that everybody doesn't know? hey? who then - are you? are you anything? do you still exist?"
"yeah - yeah - i'm starting to see what you mean."
"are you still you? or have you been absorbed into - the universal brain?"
"it's - it's diabolical!" brock took a big gulp of his drink. "hitler and tojo and cyrus the great and jack the ripper all rolled into one couldn't come up with something half so fiendish."
"that's right. but that's only half of it. because here's the worst part - every time you plug into it - it knows where you are! and who you are!"
"no! that's - that's really fiendish."
"so you see - that's why i don't want you turning one on down here. i want this place kept a secret from it. when we get above ground, i'll show you how one works."
"listen sweetie, you're a soldier, right?"
"i sure am."
"and what do soldiers do? what have they always done, from the time of the 300 spartans?"
"they fight. they fight for freedom."
"that's right. and that's what we are going to do, baby, me and you. and a few other carefully selected people. we are going to fight for the freedom of the human race. so listen up."