STUDY WAR NO MORE>

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STUDY WAR NO MORE
A Fantasy for Radio


by Larry Stark

OFFICIAL VOICE:
Ladies and gentlemen, the United States Government and the management of this radio station wish to point out that the following broadcast is fiction. It is a fantasy that bears no factual relationship to conditions or events in the real world. I repeat, the following broadcast is a fantasy. We will now proceed with the broadcast as scheduled.

SOUND CUE:
DOOR OF A ROOM OPENS; BOB ROSE ENTERS, HUMMING Ain't gonn' study wo' no mo' UNDER HIS BREATH. PUTS DOWN A PACKAGE, THROWS KEYS ON A DESK, THEN, SAYING

ROSE:
Hmmmm. I wonder...

SOUND CUE:
SITS. SWITCHES ON AND BOOTS UP DESK COMPUTER, HUMMING THROUGH THE SOUNDS UNTIL THE SYSTEM IS READY. THEN TYPES IN A FEW PRELIMINARY COMMANDS, AND SAYS TO SELF:

ROSE:
Okay! Let's see what we can do here...

SOUND CUE:
TYPES OUT A LENGTHY COMMAND, PAUSES, ENTERS. AFTER A PAUSE COMPUTER BLEEPS ACKNOWLEDGEMENT.

ROSE:
Hah! Got it on the first try! This one's gonna be a piece of cake!

SOUND CUE:
ROSE LAUGHS HIS HYSTERICAL LAUGH AS HE ONCE AGAIN ATTACKS THE KEYBOARD. FAST FADE INTO A SWIPE OF MUSIC, THEN:

ANOUNCER:
Sound Stage One presents STUDY WAR NO MORE, a fantasy for radio by Larry Stark.

MUSIC CUE:
INTRO. MUSIC SHOULD BE SOMETHING PIZZICATO OR SOMETHING BUILT UP OUT OF COMPUTER-BLIPS.

SOUND CUE:
TURNING ON AND STARTING TAPE RECORDER.

LARRY:
Okay, now that it's all over, I'm going to try to get the story straight in my head. I know I can't print any of it, but I'll sleep more soundly if I can understand it. I'm not even sure where to start. Maybe it all started with the Moscow Summit, or maybe it started with glaznost. Or maybe it could have been the cause of the Summit and glaznost both!
In any case, it started for me back in August of 1988, after the summit, at what everyone was calling THE SOFTWARE SUMMIT in Moscow. One of the soft breezes from the Reagan-Gorbachov thaw was a technology fair, designed to promote East-West good will by showing off American computer technologies that might help the Russians climb out of their industrial and economic backwardness.
At least that was what all the press-releases said. Actually it was just a big scam for western computer firms to show off what they could do, and to write new contracts for software and hardware. The Russians were dazzled by the stuff, but both governments were extremely careful that underneath all the glitter nothing that was really state-of-the-art was even hinted at, and certainly nothing that had the slightest hint of military application went on display. I had seen more interesting stuff described as footnotes to graduate seminars at MIT.
Nevertheless, a free week in Moscow in the summer is nothing a science reporter would turn down --- especially one who had just married his editor. Mary may have been hoping for moonlit walks hand in hand through the park --- which we got to do, by the way --- but she also had to put up with my doing real research for my features about what was on display. The paper sent her along on what was a very early second-honeymoon as my photographer.
It was late in the afternoon of our third day...

SOUND CUE:
FADE-IN UNDER THE LAST SENTENCE THE BACKGROUND BLARE AND BALLYHOO OF A COMPUTER-FAIR MIDWAY. CONTINUE BEHIND THE NEXT SCENE. SOUND OF FLASH- CAMERA.

LARRY:
How many is that?

MARY:
My forty-third bear, I think. God, I thought computer people were imaginative!

LARRY:
They are. But their advertising departments aren't. Bored yet?

MARY:
I've been bored since I got here!

LARRY:
Well, you're not alone. But it's a breakthrough even to see our country selling The Evil Empire something as old hat as a networking system for accounting oversight.

MARY:
You going to use that in your story?

LARRY:
Probably. Why? Too technical?

MARY:
Maybe.

LARRY:
Sometimes I don't see how you put up with me.

MARY:
Oh, I learned a long time ago that if I really can't understand any of the jargon you'll explain it so I do --- no matter how long it takes. That's what makes editing your copy so much fun.

LARRY:
That why you married me? 'Cause I'm so much fun to edit?

MARY (Smiling):
Tell you later, after dinner.

LARRY:
Well, if you've shot enough grizzlies for one day, maybe we could...

TERRY BURTT (Calling from afar, then approaching):
Larry! Hey Larry, got a minute?

LARRY:
Oh, Hi Terry. What's up?

TERRY:
Hey, I've got a real scoop for you, but you can't print it.

LARRY:
Oh, really? What is it?

TERRY:
Can I trust the lady?

LARRY:
Mr. Terry Burtt, I'd like you to meet not only my editor, but my new wife. Now what's the story?

TERRY (Embarrassed):
Oh, sorry. My apologies, Mrs.....

MARY:
That can wait. You said a scoop?

TERRY:
A big one. Larry, The Red Baron's alive! I just got proof!

LARRY (Excited):
You really mean it? My God! How did you...

TERRY:
Not here! I'm going to buy myself a good old American Pepsi Cola, and go drink it out by that very noisy Fountain of Industrial Progress. I'll tell you the details there.

MARY:
Larry? Who was he talking about?

LARRY:
Later, love. Right now, I am dying for an ice cream bar, and a very, very noisy water fountain!

SOUND CUE:
A VERY NOISY WATER FOUNTAIN.

LARRY:
Okay, Terry, spill.

TERRY:
I've been checking some of the new Russian software packages. Bob Rose's fingerprints are all over them! They're elegant, they're clean, they're flawless. Not everything, but wherever there's a hard nut, there'll be a solution so slick and crisp it's as though some first-grader suddenly slipped in a word in perfect Palmer Method. Oh, and when a set of values have to be set to a common constant, it's never to zero. Usually to twelve.

LARRY:
So maybe Rose has a slavishly admiring Russian student.

TERRY:
Maybe. But I was running over a number-cruncher for estimating roadway costs yesterday, and came across the same little glitch three times in a row.

LARRY:
So maybe the student didn't learn everything.

TERRY:
Maybe. But when I reset the program properly, the first thing it printed out was "How long did it take you to find this one?" And underneath it was a little airplane with three sets of wings.

LARRY:
My God! The Red Baron flies again!

TERRY:
Exactly! Flies somewhere in the middle of the Russian computer industry.

MARY:
Larry, what's this all about? Who are you talking about?

TERRY:
Baron von Rose was the most legendary computer-hacker of all time! When he put his mind to it, programming a computer was an art-form. Trouble was, so was practical jokes.

LARRY:
A couple years ago he got the bright idea to be the first man to fly across the Atlantic in a hot-air balloon.

TERRY:
They found the wrecked gondola and a semi-inflated life-raft, near where he had radioed for help. We all thought his crazy stunts had finally killed him. But he's alive.

LARRY:
Well, it's still just style. Could still be an adoring student.

TERRY:
Yeah? Well, the fourth time the same glitch came up, it printed out a message from him.

LARRY:
A message!

TERRY:
It said "Admirable solution comrade state-psychiatrist! But even caviar and vodka can get boring after a time. Make certain Fisher plays Ussachevsky in Nome, and bet the farm on a clear win on move ten of the third game. Bring hamburgers and keep the motor running." It was signed The Beagle Buster.

LARRY:
That sounds more like him! Did you believe it?

TERRY:
Yes. And the CIA believed it, too. That's why you can't print it. But I figured you'd like to know, seeing as how you were at MIT together.

LARRY:
Only one semester. Then he had his famous conversation with the phone company, and went from undergraduate to consultant in one week.

MARY:
Who is this you're talking about? Somebody famous?

TERRY:
Infamous.

LARRY:
Uh-oh. That guard looks suspicious. Mary, why don't we take that moonlight stroll in the park tonight, and I'll try to fill you in.

MUSIC CUE:
BRIDGE

OFFICIAL VOICE:
Ladies and gentlemen, we interrupt the broadcast to again remind you that what you are listening to is a fantasy bearing no resemblance whatever to real conditions nor events in the real world. We now resume broadcast of this fantasy.

SOUND CUE:
FOOTSTEPS OF TWO PEOPLE ON GRAVEL UNDER THE FOLLOWING

LARRY:
God, Moscow by moonlight really is as romantic as they say it would be! No wonder Chekhov's three sisters missed the place!

MARY:
But right now it's a little more like A Walk in the Woods, isn't it? Who's this old friend you and Terry were so excited about this afternoon? Some great computer scientist? A Michaelangelo of computer programming?

LARRY:
More the Hieronymous Bosch or Salvador Dali, I'd say. A programming genius, with a devastating sense of humor, and never enough patience for serious work.
Let me give you an example of his style. Back at MIT, he used to play chess with another undergraduate, a serious, studious type terribly proud of his game. This kid had made himself a chess- playing program -- which in itself was pretty spectacular back then -- and insisted he perfected his game by playing against the machine. He had programmed the machine to think up to five moves ahead before choosing the best move, and he boasted that he could beat the machine consistently when it was thinking three moves ahead.
Well, Baron von Rose loved chess, and had a good feeling for it, but he was an emotional, a spontaneous, and an impatient player. It galled him that this guy was so solemn, so analytical, so slow, and so unbeatable all the time.
And so what he did was broke into the guy's program and re- arranged it a little. No matter what level it started at, every ten moves the program would begin thinking another move ahead! If they started out on the third level, ten moves in the machine would go to four moves, and twenty moves in it would be thinking five moves ahead. So, no matter what the poor guy did, no matter how low he set the level, he found it impossible to beat his own chess-plaing program! And that made him unsure of himself when playing other people.

MARY:
That sounds a little cruel to me.

LARRY:
Well, if you knew how arrogant about his chess-game this kid was, you'd feel a little differently.
But Bob didn't stop there. After about a month he went back in and reversed it, so that every tenth move the program fell down a step! Now the kid was winning no matter what level he played at, and he was so cocky he couldn't understand it when Bob won games from him.
Finally one night Bob won three games in a row, and when the guy couldn't understand how he could beat the machine consistently at level seven and yet Rose was skunking him, the Baron explained in front of the assembled crowd exactly what he'd done. The kid never played another chess game again, but The Red Baron became an instant legend around the campus.

MARY:
It still sounds cruel to me.

LARRY:
Well, MIT's a cruel place. But I think Rose was mostly incensed at the kid's making a science out of winning something that ought to be a game. Rose never really minded losing, so long as the games were fun, but being beaten by an unemotional machine drove him wild.

MARY:
What was that you were saying about the phone company?

LARRY:
Ah yes, the Red Baron's first really impressive bit of hacking! There's a tradition of fiddling with the phone company at MIT. Early on Bob had some of the phone-hackers teach him a few scams --- like recording the bleeps of toll-free lines, so that they could make long-distance calls anywhere for free from pay- phones. It fascinated him, so he began to study the phone system in ernest. His gimmick, as I heard it, was to break into the company's billing system, giving himself a privileged number. But he didn't stop there. Without even telling them, he hooked all the phones on his floor into the same line, and pretty soon everyone was being charged a flat seventy-three cents per call, no matter how long it was, no matter where they phoned.

MARY:
My God, didn't they catch on?

LARRY:
Not as quick as you'd think. I suspect Bob covered his tracks pretty well. Actually what did him in was the kids complaining that there were mistakes in their bills!

MARY:
And so Ma Bell sent him to jail? That's stealing, after all.

LARRY:
Well, it was much more impressive than that. Rose fixed it so that there was no record of how much anyone really owed, so everything was circumstantial. And besides, he never actually tried to conceal what he had done. I suspect he just sat back, grinning, wondering how long it would take to catch him. And when they finally did, their major concern was finding out exactly how he'd done it, and asking him what could be done to make certain no one else could ever do it again.
And that was how he left MIT at the beginning of his second undergraduate semester, to work for the phone company. I imagine he thought it was a much more interesting toy to play with from the inside than from the outside. And besides, they paid him to play!

MARY:
And now he's working for the Russians?

LARRY:
Apparently, yes.

MARY:
And what does that give them?

LARRY:
Some of the slickest software programs anywhere. When Bob Rose works, it's elegance personified: Always the simplest solutions, economy and imagination. And always a bit of fun where you'd least expect it.

MARY:
Did he ever work on anything important? Did he have any state secrets to give away?

LARRY:
I really doubt it. He was such an odd-ball, such an outspoken peace-nik, no one in the government would have let him get near anything secret. He scared them with the satellite rescue.

MARY:
What was that?

LARRY:
Oh, the Air Force put up a classified satellite once, something doing some sort of navigational work --- except that it ran into trouble. The optimists say a micro-meteorite punctured a tank of oxygen, and the escaping gas sent the thing into a wildly tumbling orbit. The pessimists suspect the Russians shot a hole in it with a laser-satellite.

MARY:
My God!

LARRY:
And there it was, a quarter of a million dollars worth of nuts and bolts, spinning so crazily the inertial-guidance system was simply too dizzy to be of any use. All the Air Force brains could think of doing was to wait two years for the Shuttle Program to come along so they could go up and grab it physically, or just to blow the thing up and start over.
Well, Bob and a couple of friends from his little consulting group dropped by one week-end, asking a couple of questions, and the Air Force let him try to save it. They had a second identical satellite in the lab, so first they turned on the gyroscopes of the guidance system in the one here on the ground, and then Bob wrote out some instructions that told the space-born satellite to ignore its own gyros and believe what the one in the lab told it. That established "which way was up", and between what the satellite reasoned from that, and some directions Bob sent along to guide it, they fired retro-rockets in all the right directions, stopped the spinning, re-activated the guidance, and saved the satellite.

MARY:
That sounds like a great story! I'd expect to read about it in an article in the Atlantic or the New Yorker. How come no one ever heard about it?

LARRY:
Stories about some wise-cracking hacker saving the Air Force's bacon with an afternoon of brilliant imagination don't get written about very often. Still, they do get gossipped about by all the right people to all the right people, and Red Baron Associates began getting big-money contracts and interesting problems to solve. Rose was working on his second million when he started flying in balloons.

MARY:
Why do you think he did it? And why do you think he wants to come back?

LARRY:
Damn if I know! We'll just have to get him back and ask him!

MARY:
Oh sure! All you have to do is persuade Bobby Fisher to come out of retirement to play Ussachevsky --- the only person who beat him in tournament chess --- in Nome, Alaska, of all places! Come on, Larry! That's fantasy-land, isn't it?

LARRY: (Narrating)
Well, when people like the State Department and the Defense Department and the CIA, and even the United Nations get behind an idea, a lot of fantasies can come true. I'll spare you the details --- not that I really know many of the details! --- but just over two years later, in Nome, Alaska, Ussachevsky made the chess- playing blunder of the twentieth century on the tenth move of the third game! There were ugly charges of sabotage and espionage and hanky-panky, the match was abruptly ended --- and amid the turmoil, a portly, balding, red-bearded man with an impish grin walked into a police station demanding political assylum as an American citizen. Six hours later, I was reunited with the roommate I had in the first semester of my freshman year at MIT, twenty years ago.

OFFICIAL VOICE:
Ladies and gentlemen, due to the nature of what is to follow, we feel it necessary to remind everyone listening that what you are hearing is fantasy, bearing no resemblance to real events . We now return you to tonight's Fictional presentation.

LARRY:
Bob?

BOB:
Well it's about time you showed up! The first human being I've met since I walked into this place! Why is it no one in the KGB or the CIA can understand a basic human craving for good fried won-ton?

LARRY:
They promised me we could have something sent in, if you'd only make some sort of explanation.

BOB:
But I've been explaining till I'm blue in the face! Can I help it if your average government police thug has never until today felt the need to be computer-literate! Jeez!

LARRY:
I think that's why they sent for me.

BOB:
No, they sent for you because I have been howling for the past hour that we weren't going to get anywhere unless these boorish yahoos turned up a decent interpreter for me! And the first fool they trotted in was the head of the Slavic department at the local university! Hell, I think, is spending eternity at the mercy of small minds.

LARRY (snickering):
Off-hand, Baron, I wonder if you or they have been having the worse time! Look, I have to tell them something true and something comprehensible or we'll never get those won-ton.

BOB (With a vast, exasperated sigh):
Oh, I suppose so. What is it they think I haven't told them already?

LARRY:
Well, for starters, what the hell happened to Usachevsky?

BOB:
Oh, that egocentric animal! You remember me making you read Yasunari Kawabata's THE MASTER OF GO?

LARRY:
I do indeed.

BOB:
Same story. Fisher's an artist, Usachevsky will use any crutch to win. He won their previous match by spending a full year, eight hours a day, replaying Fisher's games --- and had a team of flunkies play out every possible variation on every move before he would make a reply. All he did was program himself to be a Fisher-beater.
Well, since he didn't stay world champion, some scurrilous backbiters in the Soviet chess world began saying maybe poor Bobby had just had a touch of the flu back in Helsinki, and maybe he ought to prove it wasn't just a fluke.

LARRY:
Of course, you never said so yourself, did you.

BOB:
What, me criticize one of my most ardent champions? Never! We were the geatest of friends! Usachevsky even asked me if a computer could dBASE and cross-reference every one of Bobby's games in such a way that it could predict just what move he'd make in any new game he'd play. And so I did.

LARRY:
And your program led him up a garden path and pushed him over the tenth move, right?

BOB:
Well... Hehehe-Yeah! Haaahaaahaaa! Anyone depending on a mere machine to do his real thinking for him deserves exactly what he gets! Can we have some won-ton now?

LARRY:
Not until I get one more answer. Why did you go to Russia?

BOB:
Because no one in my own country wouold let me play with missles.

LARRY:
Bub Bob! With your fantastic reputation for fits of the terminal cutes, would you let yourself within twenty miles of an ICBM program?

BOB:
But they're so much fun!!! Besides, quirky or not I'm the best damned programmer in the business. Big people should do big things. I could do it better than anyone else!

LARRY:
But I'll bet I can guess what a miliary mind would think about your ideas of "better"! You mean the Russians let you work on their missile programs?

BOB:
Not ... exactly. But they did have a little internal guidance program that was all bollixed up, and I showed them a clear and obvious solution they were profoundly grateful for. And that was all I needed.

LARRY:
Needed for what? What do you mean, Bob?

BOB:
Oh, come on, Larry!! Once I get a key to the candy-store, I can eat myself sick before anyone notices! I just did a little diddling in my spare time, that's all.

LARRY:
Diddling.

BOB:
Yeah.

LARRY:
What did you do, Bob?

BOB:
Hehehehmmmmn! Viruses!

LARRY:
What!

BOB:
Yeah! Lovely, simple, self-actuated viruses! And they're keyed into the launch-command! It turns the rocket into one of those self-destructing revolvers where the barrel points back at the person pulling the trigger. Oh God, Larry, they're such beautiful viruses!

LARRY:
Now wait a minute, Bob. Are you trying to tell me that you fixed it so that if the Russians try to fire their intercontinental ballistic missles, they'll all just blow up instead?

BOB:
Well, not all of them, no. But they'll never know which ones will blow up until they do try to fire them, and that's just as good. Why the hell do you think there was that flurry of testing a while back? Why do you think the disarmament talks have been moving along so rationally lately? They know something's wrong, although they have no idea what. And it's a neat, self-replicating virus, too. More and more rockets are infected the more they try to dig it out. Oh, Larry, this is the best virus I've ever made!!

LARRY (Stunned):
Congratulations, Baron Von Rose. My guess is, once all those boorish yahoos you've been screaming at understand what you've done --- rendering the entire Soviet nuclear umbrella inoperative --- they'll probably want to give you a Medal of Freedom. Hell, maybe even a Nobel Peace Prize. Congratulations.

BOB (Suddely contrite):
Well, they might, until they find out the same thing is true of the American nuclear arsenal as well.

LARRY:
WHAT!!!!

BOB:
Of course! What good would it be to screw up just one side? I told you: once I get the key to a candy-story, I just eat myself sick!

LARRY:
But of course you could go in and remove all the viruses, can't you?

BOB:
Oh, I don't think so. It's really hard to know just where to look, you see. I mean, it's a GOOD virus! No, I don't think even I could get any of them out. And I'm the best there is.

LARRY:
But that means you've destroyed the whole basis of international stability for the last forty years! This means chaos!

BOB:
Sometimes a little chaos is GOOD for people! Maybe now, with all that expensive complex of deterrence and MAD and such behind us, maybe people will begin thinking about different ways to get along with one another that doesn't involve threats of total obliteration! I told you, Larry: People who depend on machines to do their thinking for them get exactly what they deserve!
Now can we PLEASE have some fried won-ton?

MUSIC CUE: CLOSING THEME.

ANNOUNCER:
You have been listening to STUDY WAR NO MORE, a fantasy for radio by Larry Stark, produced by Sound Stage One.

BOB ROSE:
Ladies and gentlemen, the program you have just heard is a work of the imagination. Nothing remotely like this could possibly happen in our real world.
Honest.


Love,
===Anon.


You want
MORE Stories?
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Once you've read my stories, please send your thoughts about them to me at larry@theatermirror.com or call
1(617)524-1768.


You want
MORE Stories?
Click Here!


Once you've read my stories, please send your thoughts about them to me at larry@theatermirror.com or call
1(617)524-1768.


THE THEATER MIRROR, Boston's LIVE Theater Guide

| MARQUEE | USHER | SEATS | INTERMISSION | CURTAIN |