Paradigms Lost — Chapter 31

Part IV: Viewed in a Harsh Light

June, 2000

Chapter 31: Presentations in High Places

“This is ridiculous,” I said. “Considering that werewolves weren’t even seriously considered to exist until a few weeks ago, how exactly would it be ‘obvious for anyone skilled in the art’ to combine these elements to detect a werewolf?”

“Hey, I’m on your side, remember?” my patent attorney, John Huffman, said. “The examiner’s pointing to prior art that involves combining infrared and visible to detect living creatures and discriminate them from non-living objects. The argument is that anyone presented with the existence of werewolves and who was skilled in the art would have tried the same thing.”

I snorted. “So what are our options?”

“Well, we can try to modify the claims slightly to include some of the dependent claims; he indicates some of the other work might be innovative.”

“I’m not weakening this basic patent. What’s the other options?”

“We have to file a formal challenge of his evaluation, specifically obviousness. That’s going to be an uphill battle, though.”

“I’ve fought uphill battles before; I’m not backing up on this one. It was not obvious. This took me getting information about them–from sources most people wouldn’t have–and making either shrewd deductions or a couple wild-ass guesses, depending on how you look at it, to come up with that design. Either way means it’s not obvious.”

He grinned. “I agree. And to be honest, I don’t get to try this kind of fight very often.”

I saw a blinking light on my desktop monitor. “Okay, John, thanks. Sorry to cut you off, but I’ve got to go catch a plane.”

I wasn’t unfamiliar with flying, but the VIP treatment–and the fact that someone else was footing the bill–made this flight a little more pleasant. I was disconcerted, however, by seeing a mob of reporters waiting at the gate when I deplaned. I was able to dodge them in Albany–I know the right people–but no chance here.

I ignored the barrage of questions–ranging from the inanely obvious “Are you here for the Werewolf Hearings?” to one guy from one of the fringe outlets asking if I’d heard anything from the Vampire Council–and made my way past them.

Three men in suits seemed to materialize from the crowd; two of them flanked me and slowed the pursuit by the press as the third nodded to me and said “Mr. Wood? Please follow me. We’ve got a car waiting.”

“I kinda assumed you would. Good coordination with your friends there, Mr…?”

“Special Agent Colin Marsh,” he said, guiding me through the maze of the airport. “Thanks. I approve of the free press, I just wish they’d be free somewhere it didn’t hold up traffic.” He glanced at me. “Of course, if you kept a lower profile…”

I shrugged. “I guess I could turn down very large sums of money for television appearances to tell people about something that’s totally blown their minds, but while I wasn’t ever broke I wasn’t rich before, either.”

“Can’t say I blame you,” he conceded.

The waiting vehicle was a classic black limousine–though not quite as posh as one of Verne’s–and pulled away from the curb smoothly with only a purring hum of the engine. “So we’re headed to the Capitol?”

“Not really,” said one of the others. “Agent Jake Finn, Mr. Wood.”

“Glad to meet you, Agent Finn. But I thought –”

“Oh, the public info says that’s where the meeting is, and we’re sure letting it look that way, but completely securing the Capitol Building the way it is? That’s a bitch and a half–sorry for the language–and it’d really interfere with other operations. So we’re actually meeting somewhere else.”

That made sense. “So we’ll seem to drive to the Capitol, but then, what, switch cars?”

He grinned. “Not that complicated. We can go into an underground garage, then take an exit to a different street and continue on.”

It was, in fact, that easy, and about fifteen minutes after that maneuver we pulled into a different underground parking area that was across the river in the Crystal City area near Alexandria. We then walked across to one of several relatively nondescript looking buildings and entered.

A security and guardpost was set up just past the main entrance, completely preventing anyone from getting into the building proper without going through it. A familiar face was waiting there. “Hey, Jeri.”

Agent Jeri Winthrope nodded. “Mr. Wood, glad you made it. You’ll have to go through the security screening before you go any farther, though.”

I went towards the little archway they had set up, which looked something like a metal detector. “Okay, what do I do?”

Three MPs stepped forward. Two aimed rifles directly at my head, one on either side; I noticed my escorts clearing the line of fire. The third man stepped up. “Hold up your hands, Mr. Wood.”

I blinked, but did so. Having rifles ready to blow your brains out encourages compliance with simple instructions. The MP took each hand, examined it carefully front and back and scraped it with something that looked like an emery board–probably was an emery board — and then stepped back. “On your left and right you will see a metal cylinder. Please pick up each cylinder and hold it tightly. It is very important that you make good contact with both cylinders, sir.”

The way he said very, and the way he now raised his weapon and his companions took a breath and steadied their stances, made me suspect that I was the one it was most important to.

The silver cylinders were each attached to a retractable cable that went into the booth walls. I grinned suddenly. “Oh, I get it. Very clever.” I squeezed both tightly. “That should work, and pretty hard to get around.”

After about ten seconds someone off to the side gestured and the MP’s went to “at ease” stance. “All clear, sir. Welcome to the conference, Mr. Wood.”

“Thanks,” I said, not without some considerable relief. “So why that particular test, Jeri? I mean, you could’ve used some silver-based drops or something.”

She gestured for me to follow. “Yes, we could, but if you add other materials to the mix there’s a chance of reacting to those materials; the chemical mess you hit Virigar with would poison a human being anyway, and some people would break out in a rash if exposed. We wanted pure silver, since there’s no documented cases of actual silver (as opposed to silver alloy) allergies; that way if the person holding it reacted at all funny, we could be pretty sure we had a Wolf.”

I nodded. “And the cables there mean you’ve got it hooked to something–resistivity, capacitance, something–that tells you whether the person’s actually making contact with the metal. Emery board takes a sample, scratches any coatings on the hands. Nice.” I glanced back, made out the logo above the rear side of the booth. “Oh, of course. Shadowgard Tech. Smart outfit. It’s a good stopgap, though you need something better in the long run. I can figure ways to scam this.”

She grimaced. “You’re kidding. That fast?”

“I’ve been thinking about this problem longer than anyone else. Maybe I’ll give Shadowgard a call; I’ll need someone with experience in the security industry to market my solution, and if we improve their design there a bit it’ll be a good supporting solution for mine.” I looked at her. “Now, everyone who comes into the building goes through that procedure?”

“Including the people manning that barricade, yes.”

I whistled. “And some of the people coming in here are awfully… high up, I’d bet. Caught any?”

She grimaced. “Three so far. Fortunately, looks like after Morgantown they’re trying to be at least a little circumspect; all of the human beings they were duplicating turned out to be alive. A couple of the guards present when they were unmasked… weren’t so lucky.” She nodded to the guards at a set of double doors and ushered me in. “Still, it provided a lot of urgency to the meeting –”

“Especially,” said a very familiar voice with a Texan twang, “since one of them was my friend Sal Battaglia, the Speaker of the House.”

I stared for a moment. I’m not normally prone to anything approaching stage fright, and I’d been interviewed a lot in the last couple of weeks, but this was something way out of my normal league. At the head of the meeting table was the President of the United States, Rexford Aisley Ash the Second, and seated near him was most of his cabinet–plus enough military men–some from other countries–that the room had, as a friend of mine might have put it, “More stars than Hollywood and more scrambled eggs than a truckstop diner.”

Not being a military man myself I didn’t salute, but I did immediately walk up to the President. “A great honor to meet you, Mr. President.”

His grip was firm but not too tight–a classic politician’s handclasp. “Oh, much more my honor, Mr. Wood. You’ve managed to turn this country upside down more than I’ve managed yet. Please, take your seat–it’s down at the far end, opposite me.”

As I did so, I realized everyone was continuing to look at me, and the President stood again. “Well, everyone, our guest of honor’s here, and I’m sure we’re all ready to hear what he has to say. Mr. Wood, you read the briefing materials?”

I swallowed and took a breath. I thought I’d just be one person they were talking to, not the only star of the darn show. “Yes, sir. You’re working on just how we respond to a threat we never realized existed, and so you want me to give my views on the situation. I’ve prepared a presentation, and you can ask questions afterwards.”

He nodded. “All right, then–let’s get started.”

I gave a quick summary of who I was–before all this mess, at least–and then went over the events that led to what the papers and newscasts were now calling “the Morgantown Incident”. This was a careful blend of fact and fiction, but I was reasonably confident it would hold up because Jeri Winthrope had worked with me and Verne to make the story hold water a lot better than the old vampire coverup.

“So,” one of the military types–a General Jean Bravaias, a woman with gray-sprinkled sandy hair–said after some questioning, “you were able to see these creatures–sort them out from regular people–by using this viewer you built, right? What’s the range?”

I waggled my hand from side to side. “Hard to say, General. What little field experience I got showed that my jury-rigged gadget gave me maybe fifteen, twenty feet, but the real limit’s a combination of imager resolution and sensitivity through atmosphere. I’d already gotten that particular infrared camera heavily customized for absolute minimum noise, so I don’t know if you could really improve on that all that much; you’re looking for patterns of heat that are very, very small scale and intensity, combined with some emissions on the UV band, but those are really small. Maybe thirty, thirty-five feet at the outside.”

“Still,” she said, “that’s one hell of a lot better than what we’ve got now, which is somehow getting the target to be in contact with silver directly, then observing the reaction. If we don’t have people right there, watching, a smart man–or…” she hesitated, as many did, “… werewolf, could figure out ways to look like they were carrying out the instructions and actually avoid it. But with people that close… well, they get killed.”

“Well,” said another person–someone from the CIA, I thought, “couldn’t we just give the guards better armor? I’d think –”

“Mr…” I squinted, “… Rosedale, have you ever actually seen a Werewolf?”

“Well, I’ve seen the pictures, but… no.”

I looked around. “How many people here have actually seen one?”

Besides my own hand, Jeri’s went up. Out of fifty other people in the room, only one went up; I guessed that was someone who’d been there when they caught one of the three trying to get into this building. “Then you–all of you–need to really get into your heads what you’re dealing with.” I reached into my bag and found the slender sheath, grasped what was inside carefully. “The average Wolf–when not pretending to be human–stands eight feet high and weighs over five hundred pounds. As my own experience shows, they are capable of sprinting speeds in excess of sixty miles per hour–as fast as the fastest land animal known.

“As for armor,” I continued, and with a practiced flick of my hand I sent something sparkling through the air, to land with a chunk! in the conference table. “Take a look at that.”

Standing up at an angle from the shining wood of the table, vibrating slightly with a faint, chiming hum that was fading away, was a sparkling transparent curved object measuring almost nine inches long. “That is one claw–a hand claw, I think–from an average werewolf. As you can see, I threw that thing very gently, just a flick of my wrist, and it’s buried itself about two inches into the hardwood of the table. I mentioned that my car happens to be armored; when I checked it after my encounter with Virigar, I found that the one that had tried to grab onto my car had cut nearly through the armor in four separate places. And this was with almost no chance to grab and establish purchase.”

I clicked my presentation back to the sketch of a werewolf. “Unfortunately I don’t have any good photos of these things. But I want you to look at that claw, then realize that these,” I pointed to the claws on the sketch, “are what you’re looking at. This is a creature that can outrace a car on anything except a straightaway, that has claws that can cut through anything we have like butter, that’s strong enough to lift one end of an armored car clear from the ground, and that probably has other tricks they didn’t show us this time around, because they’re kinda rusty at this kind of thing.

“And they can look and act exactly like anyone on Earth.”

Faces were noticeably paler around the table. General Bravaias reached out and very carefully pulled the claw free, studying it. “What is this thing made of?”

“We don’t really know, exactly. It’s something like diamond–it’s mostly carbon, anyway–but it doesn’t shatter anything like diamond; it’s almost unbreakable, whether we’re talking impacts, compression, tension, or torque. Right now the guess it’s some form of carbon with an unknown microstructure, but exactly what that microstructure is we won’t know until we get a detailed X-ray crystallographic scan on it–if that works.”

She nodded, then passed the claw back down to me. “In any case, this just makes it clearer that we really need your sensing devices. Yes, I know that’s slightly outside of this meeting’s purpose –”

“Don’t you worry about that, Jean,” said the President. “This is definitely a high priority. Mr. Wood, I’d like to make sure our major installations are protected by these, er…”

“Cry Wolf sensors,” I said with a grin. “That’s the name I want to call them, anyway.”

He laughed. “Let’s hope they don’t “cry wolf” too often, huh? Anyway, I’d like to make sure that happens as soon as possible.”

Hm. That gives me an idea. “Well, sir, I’d be glad to give the government a license on the technology and all, like you get for things like SBIR contracts, but right now I’m getting held up in the patent office…”