James P. Hogan

James P. Hogan by Endgame Enigma Read Free Book Online

Book: James P. Hogan by Endgame Enigma Read Free Book Online
Authors: Endgame Enigma
for a change.”
    “Yes, I already looked. We could use it.” Bernard walked over to the chef, took out two plates of scrambled eggs, ham, and a hotcake, and pressed a button to start the toaster. His wife poured the coffee while he sat down. The item on the screen was about a Japanese astronaut who had scored a first by achieving escape velocity under his own power with a series of hops and a leap off the surface of Deimos, the smaller of the two moons of Mars. “So maybe the old nursery rhyme isn’t so silly after all, if we just change it slightly,” the commentator babbled cheerfully in a way that Bernard found indistinguishable from banal at that time of morning. “The cow jumped off the moon, ho-ho!”
    Foleda snorted. “What else do we have?”
    Myra touched a button on the handpad lying beside the coffeepot, and a yellow light on the wallpanel by the stove came on to indicate that the house-manager was active. “Cancel,” she said in a slightly raised voice. The picture vanished and was replaced by a selection of options. “Five-three,” Myra instructed, and a new list appeared. “Poland,” she said. A headline replaced the list: more warsaw demonstrations. Myra glanced at Bernard. He nodded. “Yes,” she said at the panel. Then, “X-out, out.” The yellow light went off.
    The item concerned Soviet responses to the latest round of protests and strikes in Poland and East Germany. As usual the media were emphasizing the military aspect, with dramatically narrated scenes of troops confronting crowds, NATO units being put on alert – Foleda recognized one shot of rolling tanks as being months old, with no connection to current events at all – and snippets of military and political spokesmen being questioned about the risk of a general European escalation. That was the kind of material that delivered audiences to advertisers, and was only to be expected. Western intelligence had been following the developments behind the present situation since long before the public became aware of them, however, and opinions were that the likelihood of any real shooting was remote.
    The Soviets had accelerated their military buildup in the final decades of the previous century. Their intention had not been so much to provoke war, for they had no more desire than anyone else to be devastated again if they could avoid it, but, taking their cue from the woeful performance of the democracies at Munich in response to Hitler’s aggressions, to gamble that, as before, their adversaries would back down without a fight from the threat of force. And for a time, as Western pacifists howled for appeasement and rediscovered moral outrage with the realization that every pulpit, podium, lectern, and armchair was just twenty minutes from somebody’s launch site, it had seemed to work. But in the crucial early years of the twenty-first century, the Soviets had wavered when they found themselves faced by the prospect of having to take on not only the West’s military technology, but the larger part of the numerically overwhelming population of Asia as well. Originally the Bomb had redressed the balance between sides whose different political systems resulted in unequal commitments to conventional forces. The irony was that when both sides drew even in terms of Bomb-power, people should become the deciding factor to tip the scales. And as Marxism’s original appeal waned in the face of Asia’s rising affluence, the Soviets fell farther behind in the competition for minds and souls. Their moment had gone.
    Paradoxically, it was just this that made the present situation so precarious in a different kind of way. At one time, before Khrushchev, communist dogma had held that the capitalists would launch a last, suicidal war rather than submit to the final triumph of Marx’s immutable laws. Now it seemed more likely to happen the other way around: that in desperation, an irrational element in the Soviet leadership might decide to take

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