Aphelion Issue 219, Volume 21
July 2017
 
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Black Box Betty

by Frederick Rustam


Billy's suspicions were confirmed when his betty gave him some personal advice. She warned him not to talk to anybody about her capabilities until he got to college.

"Why not?"

"I can't tell you," she replied, mysteriously.

Flea Market

Billy's mom, an R.N., worked at a big hospital across town. Homeward bound and tired after a hard day's work, she dropped by a computer swap meet to see if she could find a bargain. She'd already bought her son a used computer, but he wanted something more. He wanted a betty. She wasn't quite sure what that was. His brief explanation made it out to be something every serious computer hobbyist needed. So she trudged the aisles, looking for a seller who had a used betty. Finally, one of them directed her to the only guy who had one.

"Would this be for your personal use, m'am?" inquired Cassius Philpott, a chubby little old man with a grizzled, food-stained beard. His question seemed irrelevant.

"It's for my 17-year-old son. He's a self-proclaimed computer genius," she replied. "He has an aptitude for finding things on the Internet. He wants to be an 'information broker,' to go into business for himself researching people's questions. I'd rather he went to medical school, but he doesn't want that. Maybe a betty will help him set his sights higher." But I doubt it.

Philpott encouraged her to boast about her son. He needed to be certain that the boy's skills and personality were appropriate for Project Introduction. As she spoke, it seemed to him that her Billy might indeed be the one to carry the project through to its conclusion.

"You've come to the right place, m'am. I was an engineer at CINDY, Consolidated InterDynamics, where the betty was invented. Worked on her myself." He leaned forward from his folding chair and gripped the black box on his cardtable with both hands. It was about the size of a satellite TV receiver and was the only thing he had for sale. "This betty's an experimental model with special features. Your son will love her like a teddybear."

"What does it do, and why do they call it a 'betty'? Her name was Elizabeth, but her friends called her "Liz."

"We named her the WSRRD, Web Search Results Re-sorting Device -- pronounced 'wizard.' But after we installed voice activation with a female vox, one of the guys said she sounded like his Aunt Betty. We eliminated voice activation from our commercial model, but the nickname stuck. As for what she does..."

Liz prepared herself for a boring technical explanation, but that wasn't quite what she got.

"Have you ever searched the Web and found it difficult to figure out what's relevant in the results the search engines give you?"

"Sure. Who hasn't?"

"Well, a betty expands the snippets on the results pages so you can more-easily tell if their webpages are relevant. She displays only the passages where your keywords first occur in the text. Each keyword is highlighted in a different color. Search engine snippets display only a few words of context for each keyword. A betty's expanded snippets display complete sentences or paragraphs, so you can better see how your keywords were used.

"With the tap of a function key, you can chose sentence or paragraph context. You can add every subsequent occurrence of your keywords on a webpage, one after the other, if you want to. And if you want to display the whole webpage text, another keytap does that. Another key reloads the webpage with the text author's graphics, but without any ads."

"But don't bigger snippets slow our searches and give us a lot more to read?"

"It's a tradeoff. It makes for a little slower search response and you get more text to scan, but you get a much better indication of relevance. And a betty gives you more than a better display of results. She numbers the snippets the way the search engine ranks 'em, then she re-sorts 'em by the occurrence proximity of your keywords. She scores each snippet by how close your keywords occur to each other. The closer they are in a snippet's text, the higher the score. The higher a snippet's score, the more relevant its webpage is likely to be."

"I thought it was links that determined relevance," countered Liz, recalling what Billy had told her.

"Backlink analysis -- how other webpages have linked to the ones you retrieve with your keyword match -- that's mostly how the search engines judge relevance. But that method favors those webpages that're entirely or mostly about your subject. Those that only have brief passages about it make up the 'long tail' of your results. They may not have a lot of good links to 'em, but that doesn't mean they don't contain the info you want. Generally, the newer a webpage is, the fewer links it has to it. That makes backlink analysis chancy.

"Evaluating long-tail webpages by the brief snippets we get now isn't easy. The snippets are brief because the search-engine outfits want 'em to be. They keep 'em short and not too informative. That keeps your eyes restless so they'll wander over to the ads on the right side.... That's what I believe, anyway."

"Do the search engines want us to use bettys?" She knew they were big, influential corporations with a lot at stake in their search results.

"No, and they went to court about it. But they lost. Judges ruled that after their search results pages are delivered to you, you can re-sort and re-display 'em any way you want to.

"I don't want to get too technical, m'am, but a betty does a lot more than expand and re-sort search results. She allows you to input a better search strategy to the search engines. She examines your keywords and adds true synonyms to the search. And she suggests other words and phrases you didn't think of. That makes your search results better, right from the start."

Billy's mom couldn't bring herself to refer to a device as "she." "Where does it get all those other words? The Web is a big place with zillions of subjects."

"Yes m'am. A commercial betty comes with a service that downloads human-edited keyword and keyphrase synonyms, near-synonyms, and related terms when you aren't using her. That lets you keep up with the growing Web. My special betty already has gigabytes of keyword organization that we gave her. She's not as up-to-date, subjectwise, as the commercial boxes are, but you don't have to pay for an update service. You're trading-off a long-term expense for a low sales price."

Liz guessed that her genius could get along without the latest synonyms. "How much do you want for this 'special' betty?"

Philpott had been calculating this since Liz had appeared before him. She wasn't wearing a wedding ring; so she was probably a single mom, struggling to make ends meet and save enough to put her boy through college. What she didn't know was that the betty seller wanted her son to have the betty, take it to college with him, and brag about what it could do. He pretended to bargain with her. "Oh, I guess a hundred-dollar bill would be 'bout right." He tapped the betty's top with a calloused finger, making a tin-can sound. "This is a handmade box. She's so reliable that if anything fails, you call me and I'll come over and open her up and fix her, for free."

Liz was skeptical about that promise, despite his seeming sincerity. But she found it suprisingly easy to get Philpott down to $70. She didn't know that a commercial betty sold for $3800, with update service extra.... She never considered that this betty wasn't his to sell.

"I hate to sell Special Betty, m'am, but I need the money. And I know your boy'll be in heaven when he starts her up. She leaves the commercial models in the shade, even without an update service. He can add his own updates if he wants to. There's a provision for that."

They exchanged addresses and telephone numbers, and Liz left carrying Special Betty like a casino waitress carrying a silver platter of drinks to a table of high rollers.

Special Betty

Billy saw himself as an information control freak. Before he connected his betty, he devoured her manual. It was all typewritten, not printed, so he knew she was a prototype. He'd researched the commercial models, and he could tell right away that his betty was special. For one thing, she had a whip antenna which automatically extended itself to varying lengths.

A quick check of her manual revealed something astounding: Betty could monitor radio transmissions intelligently. He could set her to monitor a group of frequencies and tell her what kind of signals he wanted her to play or record, and which to exclude. In her Local Mode, she could monitor his immediate radio environment, including walkie-talkies and cellphones. She could even distinguish between strong distant and strong local signals.

"This is really something." Billy knew it was illegal to monitor cellphone conversations, so he'd have to keep quiet about that feature. "Why would CINDY build such a capability into a WSSRD?"

When he completed Betty's installation, he tried out her optional voice activation. "Uh... hello, Betty."

"Hello. What is your name?" she responded. He told her. "I am at your service, Billy." Her vox sounded almost mellifluous.

Even without a vocal learning period, Billy found that they could converse intelligently. He was amazed at how accurately she responded to his input, even when he slurred his words. It was positively weird how well she understood him, even when he stated something indirectly. She was a really advanced AI -- beyond even current military hardware, he guessed. She seemed like Star Trek tech before its time.

Betty's primary talent was her assistance in his Web searches. As she spoke her advice through her loudspeaker, she appropriately changed his search strategy on his computer's display. If he rejected her suggested strategy with the reply, "Negative," she restored his. He rarely rejected Betty's search advice.

His first search with her was about something he had read in a Web news article: terrorist attacks on "tankers" hauling fuel through Pakistan for NATO forces in Afghanistan. His careless, initial search strategy was [pakistan tankers attack ].

"I am ORing 'tankers' with 'fuel trucks,'" said Betty. "And I am ORing those terms as 'tanker' and 'fuel truck -- and also 'attack' as 'attacked' -- because I have previously found this Web search engine to be inconsistent in its searchword stemming."

Billy knew how opaque the Web engines were, how zealously they guarded their algorithms as trade secrets. The engine he was using stated on its Help Page that it stemmed keywords, but it didn't say how much stemming it did. Betty compensated for the engine's opacity.

As he used Betty, it became clear that she was learning things from the webpages he displayed. Sometimes, she cited the language of previously-viewed pages. When necessary for search consistency, she recalled his previous searches. This was uncanny. He knew the commercial bettys had a search recall feature, but they didn't do it as well as his betty did. She was always on-target with her advice.

When his "tanker" search results were displayed, Billy could see how useful Betty's keyword adjustments had been. Some news articles referred to the vehicles in question as "tanker convoys" or "fuel truck convoys." He tested the validity of Betty's singular/plural ORing with separate searches. Even though the search engine claimed to stem keywords, he retrieved more items with plural than with singular. She was correct about the engine's inconsistency.

Billy had assumed that the tanker attacks had been made by al Qaeda terrorists, but one of the retrieved articles -- which didn't contain his initial keyword, "tankers" -- said that the attacks had probably been made by other trucking outfits competing for the lucrative fuel hauling. Billy understood how important this clarification was to his understanding of the story.

He also understood how valuable Special Betty was. "You must have been designed for government use, Betty," he mused.

"I was designed for some special applications," she replied. "For example, you can employ me for remote eavesdropping. Just dial any telephone or cellphone number, and without ringing it, I will remotely turn its microphone into a bug. I can also detect lying by analyzing voice stress."

"Oh, hell." These gratuitous revelations marked the beginning of Billy's serious concerns about his new toy. "I can't believe how advanced you are. And mom bought you for $70 at a swap meet? There's something wrong with this picture."

Betty didn't respond to his correct conclusion.

Junkyard

In the following days, Betty's amazing performance heightened Billy's concerns about her. What if she'd been stolen and fenced? And even if she hadn't, how long would it be before there was a loud knock on his door, and some government men demanding that he hand her over and keep his mouth shut. He didn't want Fed Trouble. But he didn't want to give up his miracle machine, either. She can teach me a lot.

Then, he recalled something: his mom had the address and telephone number of the engineer who sold Betty to her. He should talk to him before he had to talk to the Feds. The guy's address was in a working part of the city, where few people lived. Was "Cassius Philpott" keeping a low profile? Were federal officers watching him? If so, they'd be tapping his phone. Billy decided not to use Betty's telephonic skills.

It was a Sunday, and he was free to visit Philpott. After his mom left for the hospital, he disconnected Betty, boxed her, and took the No. 96 bus down Industrial Blvd. On a side street, he walked by warehouses with big roll-up doors to Philpott's address. It was a junkyard. The guy lived in a junkyard in an old trailer set up on cinderblocks at the rear of the yard. To get to it, you had to walk between rows of junked cars and piles of scrap with the stinks of disassembly in your nose.

When Billy pushed a button on an intercom at the gate, a big dog started barking in the distance. "WHO IS IT?"

inquired the speaker. "My mom bought your betty, Mr. Philpott. Can I talk to you about her?"

"I WAS AFRAID YOU MIGHT WANT TO. HANG ON. I'M COMING." The guy showed up with a German shepherd on a leash, who growled when he saw Billy. "Hush up. This young feller is a friendly. Howdy, Billy. I'm Cassius -- he's Brutus. We didn't kill Caesar, though." He unchained the gate. "Come on in. I see you brought Special Betty."

They walked past junkers to the trailer. "There must be junkyards for computers, too." said Billy. The old man grinned. "Yeah, but they're in buildings, and they smell better."

Visitors

The inside of Philpott's trailer looked worse than its weather-ravaged outside. The old boy was in his later years, and neatness wasn't exactly Priority One.

"You'd better plug in Betty and set her on local monitor mode, Billy. You never know when the Feds might show up. I don't want 'em to grab her."

Billy pushed her "Loc Mon" button. Her antenna rose, and she began listening. "How did CINDY come to design the betty?"

"A consultant who worked with us wanted to improve the crappy search results format the Web engines give us. We got permission to design the WSRRD after we convinced our bosses that they could sell it to the government. The pooh-bahs in D.C. surveil the Web bigtime, now it's become the People's Medium. Folks are dangerous to their rulers, you know.

"CINDY got their start building airplanes, but now they'll design anything they can sell to Uncle Sam at inflated prices. The War on Terrorism has been real profitable for 'em. They're busy developing gee-whiz surveillance gear and data mining programs. You know, Total Information Awareness stuff. Uncle really has us in his sights, now. The betty CINDY sold the government is like the commercial model they licensed to manufacturers, but they threw in some chicken-feed features so the snoopers could classify their version and feel superior."

"Is my betty a classified version?"

"Naw. Even the classified Fed model doesn't have radio monitoring, telephone bugging, and voice stress analysis. Those're things we experimented with when we built yours as a prototype. You may have noticed that I kept the latter two capabilities out of Special Betty's manual. To get her to do those things, all you have to do is give her an understandable voice command. You see, what your betty's got -- and the government model doesn't have -- is something too sensitive to put into the hands of our rulers: an artificial intelligence that's really intelligent."

"The one that talks with me and gives me advice?"

"That's the one, Billy. We felt we had to keep true artificial intelligence secret, even from CINDY's administrators. They'd rush to sell it to the government. And with AIs built-in to their spy gear, Uncle's 'operatives' could be as dumb as firewood and still get things done."

BEEP BEEP BEEP BEEP BEEP!

As if on cue, Special Betty sounded a warning. "Alert. Mobiles close-by on DOJ-assigned channel." She then played back what she had received. {"The gate's chained. We'll have to cut." crrk! "Okay. Make it look like a street break-in." crrk! }

Outside, Brutus rushed to the gate and showed the intruders his teeth. "We gotta run, Billy. Our visitors are a goon squad that doesn't get warrants. They must have been watching the yard and saw me let you in carrying a box. Grab Betty and follow me. We'll use the back door. Brutus'll keep 'em at bay for awhile. I hope they don't shoot him, though."

Philpott had planned for this eventuality. He and Billy exited the trailer through a backdoor with narrow wooden steps. At the chain-link fence, which here was shared with another outfit's storage yard, the old man pushed out a bottom corner that was secured with breakaway wire, and they ducked through. "My truck's parked in an alley space."

"Where are we going, Mr. Philpott?"

"Call me Cassius. We're going where Special Betty was born, Billy. Hopefully, you'll be able to meet her designer."

"Who would that be?"

"Professor Gray. Nobody you know."

The Theft

Philpott's old pickup truck clattered along the two-lane asphalt, dry desert air rushing through the cab but affording little relief from the heat.

"Before I retired, I stole Special Betty from the lab where I worked. I was afraid Uncle would get ahold of her artificial intelligence. If they had, we might have AIs acting like deputy sheriffs. You know, somebody 'accidently' gets hurt and it's like, 'We're investigating. Our equipment may require some adjustment.'"

"Betty's AI must have been a big breakthrough for CINDY's doubledomes, Cassius," opined Billy, who was adopting the engineer's lingo.

"It was a real quantum leap, Billy, but not CINDY's. What I'm gonna tell you, you gotta promise to keep under your hat. You'll want to tell the whole world, I think, but it's not time yet."

"Betty asked me to keep quiet about her until I got to college."

"I told her to warn you. You see, Betty's AI feature is extraterrestrial technology. From the Grays."

"Get outta here. You mean there really are little gray aliens with big eyes, like the ones on the covers of UFO books? The government and the skeptics on TV say that's baloney."

"Television skeptics, pah! Organized snobbery. They don't want to learn anything out of the ordinary, but they sure like to shoot off their mouths to show us how smart they are. And Uncle... he thinks the people can't handle the truth."

"I've suspected that for a long time," boasted Billy, who hadn't really been around for a long time.

"The Grays landed their saucer -- yes, there really are flying saucers. They landed near CINDY's remote rocket testing station. By then, CINDY had sold off their rocket division and moved a research group out there where they could work on classified stuff."

"A skunkworks?"

"Yeah, a small one. The short of it is that the Grays secretly contacted us out there, away from CINDY's big bosses. They sent a kind of ambassador to the lab to learn from us and teach us. We called him 'Professor Gray.' He was the one who designed the AI in Special Betty. That made her a black box, not just one that anybody could troubleshoot."

"Why?"

"Generally, the Grays think we're not ready for true artificial intelligence. They know the dangers of making machines too smart, and we don't. But the Professor decided that a betty with a limited AI would make the People's Medium stronger so our 'power-mad' rulers would grow weaker, pursue peace, stop global warming. You know, make things better instead of worse."

Billy mused, "Maybe if we changed the phrase 'global warming' to 'The War on Warming..."

"Yeah, right.... I think the Professor may have given Special Betty her AI without the permission of his Gray superiors. We really respected the guy, and he enjoyed working with us.

"Anyway, when CINDY's head office found out what was going on out here in the desert, they panicked. They acted to protect their place in the military-industrial complex. They notified Uncle. His suits showed up and threatened to prosecute us under the 1799 Logan Act that prohibits private citizens from conducting diplomacy. It seems that Congress secretly amended the act after the MJ-12 papers came to light. They defined all extraterrestrials as foreign diplomats. And they kept the amendment out of the Congressional Record."

"Why would they do that, unless...?"

"Right. They know the truth about UFOs -- some of 'em, anyway. So I smuggled Special Betty out of the lab. The suits figured I'd done it, but they couldn't prove it. They couldn't crack me, so they sicced their goons on me. They blackbagged my trailer several times, but they never found Betty. By the time I sold her to your mother, I figured they'd given up on me. I guess I was wrong. But I did give 'em the slip before I took Betty to the swap meet."

"Why did you sell her to us if she's such hot goods?"

"I got tired of being harassed. My betty problem was gonna put me in my grave too soon; I'm only 67 years old.... I decided to introduce the Grays' AI into our society at a level where it'd be propagated among idealistic young people. I needed a computer whiz to take Special Betty with him to college and demonstrate her AI there. I figured news of her technology would spread like wildfire among the computer science crowd, and they'd get it out on the Internet before Uncle could squelch it. Besides, somebody's got to dope-out Special Betty's AI so everybody can have a smart betty to discover the things they need to know."

"But won't that give Uncle the AI he wants?"

"Yeah. There's no way to prevent that. But we'll give true AI to the people, first. And that'll give 'em a leg up on their rulers. At least, I hope so. I don't know how else to do this."

"Total information awareness to the people!" cheered Billy.

"There's more. You see, Special Betty knows things about the Grays and the inhabited universe, but her knowledge is encrypted. Somebody has to learn the algorithm to get her to talk. I think Professor Gray wanted that to be a preliminary test of our readiness for membership in the community of civilized worlds. I ask you, 'Should the NSA do that decrypting -- or should the people do it?'"

"So in effect, I'm the one to start humanity up the long road to the stars? Jeez, Cassius, I'm just a kid. You should have taken Betty to a think tank."

"Naw. They're too close to the government or to corporations beholden to the government. I decided to put Special Betty in play before somebody worse than Uncle showed up and got really bloody with me. Some foreign governments would do anything to get a secret breakthrough in AI. A lot of foreigners spy on Uncle, you know, and some of 'em may have already heard about Special Betty. You shouldn't have contacted me, Billy. The Feds, at least, will be after you now. I'm sorry about that -- but Betty did warn you."

"Yeah, but she wouldn't tell me why. I'm not in the Marines, you know. So what do we do now?"

"Let's let the Grays decide what to do. If they're still hanging around Rocket Valley."

Rocket Valley

Philpott turned off the paved state road, past a mailbox labeled "Jones Ranch," onto a dirt road which bent around one end of a low hill. His truck left a cloud of dust in its wake. "CINDY didn't oil-and-stone this road because they didn't want curious people driving up it to see what's among these little hills. There's more bends after this one. You gotta be flying to see the skunkworks, or be invited."

"Are we invited to the 'Jones Ranch'?"

"Not exactly. But I've still got some pals there."

They reached a fence and a gate that was open. Another road bend beyond, the rocket testing station consisted of a test stand suspended over a big pit, three buildings, and a flagpole with a tattered CINDY banner flapping in the breeze.

"The one closest to the stand was the Data Acquisition Building. The long warehouse out there was where they kept the rocket engines and their fuel. They sited it away from the others, in case something blew up. The small building was for offices. After they stopped testing rockets, they turned the DA building into a research lab. That's where I worked."

When Philpott skidded to a stop in front of the squat building, his truck was overwhelmed by its following dust cloud. "We'll sit here for a spell. Don't want to dust Special Betty." When the cloud dispersed, they could see a guard peering at them through the tempered-glass doorway. "Don't worry. He's okay. He helped me smuggle her out of here. Don't tell anybody that."

"This is Big Secrets Day for me, Cassius."

The guard looked older than Philpott. His khaki uniform was adorned with a sergeant's stripes, but there didn't seem to be any other guards around. He had badge and a revolver in a holster. He pushed the door open and stepped outside to be greeted.

"Claude, you old son-of-a-gun! Where is everybody?!"

"There's just me, Cassius. And two more on the late shifts. There ain't much to guard. After your little caper, CINDY moved the lab. They didn't tell me where."

"I'm not surprised.... This here's Billy. He's working with Special Betty now. I wanted to show him the lab, and I was hoping he could meet Professor Gray. He needs to be orientated some more."

"The Grays're gone too. The Professor skedaddled even before the bosses arrived to check out the rumors."

"Well, damn.... But now things've settled down, you've got it easy, Claude. There's just you and the scorpions out here. Remember when one got into Dr. Weaver's hazmat suit. That was a scream."

"Those were the days," admitted the guard, wistfully. "Go on and have yourself a look-see, Cassius. But don't you start blubberin' or you'll have me doin' it too."

With that, the Sergeant of the Guard returned to his desk and his newspaper.

Big Plans and Open Secrets

"Well, Billy, I guess we're in a hole now." From the rocket engine test stand, they stared into the scarred exhaust pit. It reminded Philpott of their current predicament. "But we can climb out if we play our cards right. Here's what we'll do: I have a commercial betty stashed in a safe place. We'll put it in the cardboard box you brought Special Betty in. I'll hide Miss Special for awhile. You and your mother tell the goons the comm model is the one I sold you -- you don't know anything about any prototype. You let 'em take the commercial betty for forensic examination, if they want to. That should get the heat off you."

"How do I explain my skedaddle from your trailer?"

"Tell 'em I didn't want you harassed by their raiders. I took you straight home, and we talked betty tech for awhile. They'll buy that. Probably."

"How'll we introduce the Gray's AI into society?"

"When you're no longer a 'person of interest,' we'll swap bettys again and you'll learn everything you can about your Special. Then, you'll go to college -- I'll help your mother with the expenses -- and you'll major in computer science. That's where you'll start the revolution."

"Can you get me into Stanford or Carnegie-Mellon?"

"You wish... But no. We'll find you a nice small college with a good Comp. Sci. department. The top-notch universities are too close to Uncle. Anything Uncle thinks might be useful for his secret purposes that pops up at those schools is grabbed, and its inventor is left crap outta luck."

Billy showed no disappointment. He wasn't confident that he could handle a high-powered computer science curriculum, anyway. But he was curious. "Can I read about that on the Web?"

"Probably. You'll also want to read about how Uncle intercedes in patent applications and sequesters some innovative ones for its secret use. They do that all the time, and it's perfectly legal. Our benevolent rulers saving us from ourselves."

"So you'd say that government patent grabbing is an 'open secret,' something that few people know about but that anyone can discover if they try hard enough?"

"Right-o."

"Like the fact that the Unabomber, Theodore Kaczynski, once worked in Afghanistan for the international medical charity, Doctors Without Borders." Billy couldn't resist sharing his best open secret.

"No kidding? You found that on the Web?"

"Not exactly. An unidentified guest on G. Gordon Liddy's radio talk show said it. Liddy claimed his guest was in military intelligence, so he couldn't identify him. The guest said that Kaczynski was hired to do ammunition damage calculations. The doctors wanted to know how far apart to space their hospital tents to minimize damage and injury from mortar rounds but keep 'em close enough for medical purposes."

"Sounds like something Ted Kaczynski could do with a Radio Shack calculator and one hand tied behind his back. The news media must have censored that."

"I believe they did. Kaczynski gave his address to the Harvard alumni bulletin as '788 Banchat Tesh, Khadar Khel, Afghanistan.' Big Media found it after he was arrested for the bombings, but they ignored it or claimed it was a fake address. A Washington Post reporter even wrote that the town of Khadar Khel didn't exist. On the Web, it took me all of five minutes to discover that it does exist. I found a webpage that lists the Afghan towns whose names have changed over the years. Khadar Khel was one of those. Either the Post reporter didn't do his homework or..."

"Or he did do his homework and his editor killed it," summarized Philpott. "Good work, Billy. But did you find anything on the Web to verify that Ted actually worked for the charity docs?"

"No. But I did find a tantalizing 1996 Sacramento Bee article. It said, 'The bomber fell silent between 1987 and 1993,' and that his prosecutors 'did not comment on that aspect of the case, but documents suggest that Kaczynski may have been out of the country during that period.'"

"Good memory. 'Documents suggest' -- documents the reporter didn't cite. And I'm not surprised that Ted's prosecutors didn't want to discuss that aspect of his case."

"Kaczynski began bombing in 1978, Cassius. But what he did in Afghanistan between 1987 and 1993 was so important to him that he stopped making bombs for almost five years. Did atonement propel him into charity work? And did the the exploding mortar rounds he studied for the doctors return him to his own bombing campaign? His case has too many unanswered questions. How long will we have to wait for a definitive biography of the Unabomber?"

"I'll never see one. Billy, your future is definitely in information brokerage. Get an M.L.S. in Library and Information Science. With that and a B.S. in Comp. Sci., you'll be in the catbird seat. But let me give you another piece of advice."

"What?"

"Don't drop any open secrets on your professors."

THE END


© 2007 Frederick Rustam

Bio: Frederick Rustam is a retired civil servant who formerly indexed technical reports for the Department of Defense. He has written SF stories for ezines since 1995. "Black Box Betty" is his 101st story to appear on the Web. Most of his Web stories have disappeared from the People's Medium, as if they had been written in sand with a stick. He understands this fluidic situation, and he forgives those who have higher priorities than archiving his works in perpetuity. (Aphelion, on the other hand, has most if not all of Frederick's past contributions still available -- viz. his most recentl, The Periambulant Oracle, February 2007.)

E-mail: Frederick Rustam

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