Home > Congo(7)

Author: Michael Crichton

"But what about the specific personnel visas to cross the borders, the manifests - "

"Details," Travis said. "That's what liquor is for," referring to bribes, which were often liquor. In many parts of the world, expedition teams went in with crates of liquor and

boxes of those perennial favorites, transistor radios and Polaroid cameras.

"Details? How're you going to cross the border?"

"We'll need a good man for that. Maybe Munro."

"Munro? That's playing rough. The Zaire government hates Munro."

"He's resourceful, and he knows the area."

Martin, the diplomatic expert, cleared his throat and said, "I'm not sure I should be here for this discussion. It looks to me as if you are proposing to enter a sovereign state with an illegal party led by a former Congo mercenary soldier    

"Not at all," Travis said. "I'm obliged to put a support party into the field to assist my people already there. Happens all the time. I have no reason to think anybody is in trouble; just a routine support party. I haven't got time to go through official channels. I may not be showing the best judgment in whom I hire, but it's nothing more serious than that."

By 11:45 P.M. on the night of June 13, the main sequencing of the next ERTS expedition had been worked out and confirmed by the computer. A fully loaded 747 could leave Houston at 8 P.M. the following evening, June 14; the plane could be in Africa on June 15 to pick up Munro "or someone like him"; and the full team could be in place in the Congo on June 17.

In ninety-six hours.

From the main data room, Karen Ross could look through the glass walls into Travis's office and see the arguments taking place. In her logical way, she concluded that Travis had "Q'd" himself, meaning that he had drawn false conclusions from insufficient data, and had said Q.E.D. too soon. Ross felt there was no point in going back into the Congo until they knew what they were up against. She remained at her console, checking the image she had recovered.

Ross bought this image - but how could she make Travis buy it?

In the highly sophisticated data-processing world of ERTS, there was a constant danger that extracted information would begin to "float" - that the images would cut loose from reality, like a ship cut loose from its moorings. This was true particularly when the database was put through multiple manipulations - when you were rotating 106 pixels in computer-generated hyperspace.

So ERTS evolved other ways to check the validity of images they got back from the computer. Ross ran two check programs against the gorilla image. The first was called APNF, for Animation Predicted Next Frame.

It was possible to treat videotape as if it were movie film, a succession of stills. She showed the computer several "stills" in succession, and then asked it to create the Predicted Next Frame. This PNF was then checked against the actual next frame.

She ran eight PNFs in a row, and they worked. If there was an error in the data handling, it was at least a consistent error.

Encouraged, she next ran a "fast and dirty three?space." Here the flat video image was assumed to have certain three-dimensional characteristics, based on gray-scale patterns. In essence, the computer decided that the shadow of a nose, or a mountain range, meant that the nose or mountain range protruded above the surrounding surface. Succeeding images could be checked against these assumptions. As the gorilla moved, the computer verified that the flat image was, indeed, three-dimensional and coherent.

This proved beyond a doubt that the image was real.

She went to see Travis.

"Let's say I buy this image," Travis said, frowning. "I still don't see why you should take the next expedition in."

Ross said, "What did the other team find?"

"The other team?" Travis asked innocently.

"You gave that tape to another salvage team to confirm my recovery," Ross said.

Travis glanced at his watch. "They haven't pulled any-

thing out yet." And he added, "We all know you're fast with the database."

Ross smiled. "That's why you need me to take the expedition in," she said. "I know the database, because I generated the database. And if you intend to send another team in right away, before this gorilla thing is solved, the only hope you have is for the team leader to be fast onsite with the data. This time, you need a console hotdogger in the field. Or the next expedition will end up like the last one. Because you still don't know what happened to the last expedition."

Travis sat behind his desk, and stared at her for a long time. She recognized his hesitation as a sign that he was weakening.

"And I want to go outside," Ross said.

"To an outside expert?"

"Yes. Somebody on our grant list."

"Risky," Travis said. "I hate to involve outside people at this point. You know the consortium is breathing down our necks. You up the leak averages."

''It's important,'' Ross insisted.

Travis sighed. "Okay, if you think it's important." He sighed again. "Just don't delay your'team."

Ross was already packing up her hard copy.

Alone, Travis frowned, turning over his decision in his mind. Even if they ran the next Congo expedition slambam, in and out in less than fifteen days, their fixed costs would still exceed three hundred thousand dollars. The Board was going to scream - sending an untried, twenty-four-year-old kid, a girl, into the field with this kind of responsibility. Especially on a project as important as this one, where the stakes were enormous, and where they had already fallen behind on every timeline and cost projection. And Ross was so cold, she was likely to prove a poor field leader, alienating the others in the team.

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