Sven decided he could–must–work the problem out rationally. The others wanted to help, brilliant minds all, but only he had the years of Seeding under his belt. In the end, only he could make the final decision. Scary, scary thought…and he thought about it constantly. This day, he sat in the SCR with Homer and Ben, those two handling console monitoring duty. He stared at the papers in front of him. The papers stared back, expressionless. These job applicants might as well have been Rhesus monkeys. Or squirrels, or Jumpin’ Jupie Stick Men.
“Think, man, think.” He said it aloud without realizing. The Boulder men ignored him; if he wanted help, he’d ask for it.
“You guys mind if I think aloud for a bit? It may sound stupid.”
“Go for it,” The Frog advised. Ben Boulder just nodded.
“Okay okay okay…. Guild strength was always maintained at around one thousand Reps. Was that real? Can I limit my speculation to those numbers?” His electro pencil tapped on the desktop. Tap tap tap. Tap tap tap.
“Maybe I can. Academy academy academy. Two hundred in each class to start. Two year training cycle. Twenty-four months. One hundred four weeks. Two washouts or dropouts every two weeks makes one hundred eight gone, ninety-two make the grade. No new trainees till the old ones are trained; I remember that much. 92 divided by 2 equals…46. 46. Average of 46 new Seeders per year. Was my class average? Crap, no way to tell, got to go with something. 46 newbies a year. Okay okay okay. Posted retirements, mostly health reasons or got rich early, legit? I thilnk legit. Knew enough of ’em.
“Next step. Let’s see, retirement sheet posted annually, call it up, eidetic memory but not really but quasi go go go. 2140, ’41, ’42, ’43, ’44–that’s 5 years, divide by–”
He fell silent, working and reworking the numbers in his head. Kah came with coffee which the others drank gratefully but which the Seeder himself didn’t even realize was there until it had gone cold.
An hour later, he spoke. “Got it,” he told the others with obvious satisfaction. “I don’t believe, gentlemen, that the Guild can possibly have more than two hundred operatives to throw against us, and that would be their entire force. We hit them harder than I realized when we nailed Won Ton and Jenny Santha. Looks like we took out roughly one percent of their total covert army. And that’s if there weren’t any more of the buggers hiding inside the Seconds. Time for a Sandfire meeting.”
“Ill set it up,” Ben volunteered. “Ten-thirty tonight in the restaurant?”
“Good by me.”
By meeting time, Sven had a solid feeling. it was going to be an excellent war council. It had to be; Kah had set out two of her boysenberry pies, and not even Kate could resist those.
“Meeting is open.” Jeremy mumbled the words about his second piece of pie. Kah looked around, then got up to fetch a third pie and a fourth pot of coffee.”
“Yeah, guess I called this one, didn’t I?” Sven decided, regretfully, that he’d have to wait on his second piece of pie. “Okay. Here it is. I think our enemy is the Wizard of Oz.”
“Huh?” This from both young Boulders.
“The Wizard of Oz, as in that antique movie they still run, though danged if I know why. Never did a thing for me.
Kate sang brightly, “Somewhere…over the rainbow….”
He let the silence settle until Cory Arbogast finally broke. “Are you saying the Guild is an illusion?”
“Bingo! Told you that lady of yours was quick, Homer. In the Wizard of Oz, everyone things the Wiz is all-powerful. Then the little girl–”
“Dorothy. Dorothy looks behind the curtain, and here’s this little guy making with the bright lights and amplified voice and stuff. He’s not powerful at all without the illusion.”
Jeremy scowled. “Are you–we know the Guild has some heavy artillery. What–”
“Yes. They have some technology we don’t fully understand, and like the Wiz, they are clever in how they use it. But also like old man Oz, the Guild is not as powerful as everyone thinks.
The others were sitting forward now. Only Ben Boulder looked like he had it figured out, with Kate and Cory both about halfway there.
“I did some numbers this afternoon. We’ve been worried–logically–because we had no idea how many Seeders could be out there with Second Echelon training or above. What were we up against? Thousands? Whole battalions of Seeders inside Seeders inside carriers who could be thrown against us? Or lay an ambush, try to lure our one Seeder, namely me, inside to be destroyed…or worse? Scary stuff, and with good reason. But it finally dawned on me.
“There is only one Guild Academy, at least that we know about. It advertises for applicants, which was how I got there and also how every one of my classmates got there.
“Net result when I ran the numbers was this: If they’ve got 200 total, that has to be about it. We know we took out 2, maybe more, but even just 2 is a full one percent of 200. Now, let’s think about that. At the heaviest part of the Jovian War, our nation had 17 million men under arms. One percent of 17 million is what?”
Kah got it first. “One hundred seventy thousand.”
“Thanks, Kah. That’s right. 170,000. Now, what was the greatest military disaster our side ever suffered–not counting General Ping Tong’s humongous boo-boo in central China? Anybody remember their Jovian War history?”
“I do.” Homer rubbed his chin thoughtfully. “It was right here in the U.S. in 2079, the winter battle that covered most of Ohio. General Sedlacek served as our overall Commander, Admiral Slnor for the Jupies.”
“Right. Thanks, Homer. Now, do you remember the troop casualties on our side? Not the civilians, just the military losses?”
“Yup. Military history was one of my best subjects. All branches of the armed services combined, we lost 153,499 dead and–holy–!!”
“That’s right, Frog Man. Holy body bag count, Batman! Educate the room, will you?”
Security Chief Homer Arbogast looked around slowly. This was suddenly his police squad room. Time to give the troops the scoop before sending them out to deal with the night. Not that he’d ever been as well conditioned physically during his time as a desk sergeant as he was now. Even his mind seemed to be a leaner, swifter machine since he’d taken up residence in Tonopah. He spoke slowly but with great clarity.
“In the Battle of Ohio, we lost just under one percent of our combined air, land and sea forces. Might sound odd to count the Navy, but their long range carrier fighters were involved in a big way. If you include the estimated 15,000 militia casualties, it comes out to exactly one percent of every fighter our country had at the time. Exactly one percent. General Sedlacek was relieved of command and busted down to Major, his otherwise brilliant career effectively terminated.”
Sven had taken advantage of Homer’s brief discourse to grab a few more bites of boysenberry pie but had to swallow quickly when the big Security Chief came to an abrupt halt.
“Okay. Thanks, Homer. The point is, never mind the stories we hear from this and that past war where unit losses occurred at levels of thirty percent on up to total eradication. Any one percent of loss of total war capacity is a serious matter. Of course, the capacity to generate replacement warriors has an impact. In the Jovian War, and in earlier wars, new recruits were often sent into combat with as little as a few hours of training. This is a weapon, that is the enemy, point this, pull that, go shoot.
“But that does not apply to the high tech boys. If one percent of your fighter pilots are killed off each day, you’re out of air cover in about three months. And Seeders take about as long to get good at their trade as do jet jockeys.”
He paused for a long swallow of Purple Panther Pee, a soft drink that sounded alcoholic–or something–but wasn’t. No one else in the group could stand the sugary stuff, but the Seeder loved it. Kate coughed twice, a regular thing for her.
“So,” he continued, “What Homer and I are saying is that the Guild has to be scared dungless ever since we took out one percent of their available operatives. They could be training more Seconds on a crash basis, but that’s really doubtful. I got the distinct impression from Wonny that they have extremely rigid criteria for that, er, so-called promotion–and that those criteria cannot, must not be abridged. Plus, we’re not the only war front that worries them, whether they’ve decided I’m here or not. First and foremost, there is A.S.P., which pretty much has to be for real. Even if the Anti Seeder Project is only eight or ten old hands who’ve gotten out safely, it’s still a huge threat to the Guild.”
Pete Boulder interrupted with a question. “Do you think many have done that, Sven? Made it out safely, I mean.”
“Yup. I do. How many, who the heck knows? But the same selection and experience criteria that go into making a candidate for Second also stab Guild Admin types with their own swords. Who are the candidates? Seeders with quite a few years of experience. No Seeder is ever accepted to the Academy unless he or she has demonstrated an IQ of 140 or higher on the Guild’s own testing scale. And the longer a Seeder operates prior to seletion as a Second, the greater the chance he–or she–will catch on to the real deal and become disillusioned with committing slow suicide on every assignment.
“Maybe those who show signs of catching on but are not Second material are invaded and reprogrammed, but obviously they wouldn’t dare do that much ahaead of time. So, yeah, I think there are a fair number. I made it out, and though I was one of the most capable, hey. If I’m out, others have gotten out before me. Which means….”
“I’ve got it.” Cory Arbogast’s eyes were blue tonight and twinkling. She’d killed (in the comedy sense) onstage as Edsella this night; nothing could spoil that. “The Guild has to walk a razor’s edge.”
Kah looked puzzled. “A razor’s edge?”
“Sure.” The dark haired Hoelringer smiled rather nastily. “If they select or reprogram a Seeder too quickly, they run out of bodies in the field altogether. But whenever they wait too long, they create their own enemies. And those enemies, like Sven here, are all smart as sh*t, tough as nails, and ticked off as a stepped-on diamondback.”
“Exactly.” Sven looked around, helped himself to the rest of the pie while everyone thought that over, then took a deep breath and put it on the line.
“I’m tired of playing defense. I think it’s time we take it to the mothers.”