One of Paul Sarath's more annoying specialities was the sudden call, gleeful or gloomy as the case might be, which invariably opened with the words: “Have you heard the news?” Though Rajasinghe had often been tempted to give the general-purpose answer: “Yes – I'm not at all surprised,” he had never had the heart to rob Paul of his simple pleasure.
“What is it this time?” he answered, without much enthusiasm.
“Maxine's on Global Two, talking to Senator Collins. I think our friend Morgan is in trouble. Call you back.”
Paul's excited image faded from the Screen, to be replaced a few seconds later by Maxine Duval's, as Rajasinghe switched to the main news channel. She was sitting in her familiar studio, talking to the Chairman of the Terran Construction Corporation, who seemed to be in a mood of barely suppressed indignation – probably synthetic.
“– Senator Collins, now that the World Court ruling has been given -”
Rajasinghe shunted the entire programme to RECORD, with a muttered: “I thought that wasn't until Friday.” As he turned off the sound and activated his private link with ARISTOTLE, he exclaimed, “My God, it is Friday!”
As always, Ari was on line at once.
“Good morning, Raja. What can I do for you?”
That beautiful, dispassionate voice, untouched by human glottis, had never changed in the forty years that he had known it. Decades – perhaps centuries – after he was dead, it would be talking to other men just as it had spoken to him. (For that matter, how many conversations was it having at this very moment?) Once, this knowledge had depressed Rajasinghe; now it no longer mattered. He did not envy ARISTOTLE'S immortality.
“Good morning, Ari, I'd like today's World Court ruling on the case Astroengineering Corporation versus the Sri Kanda Vihara. The summary will do – let me have the full printout later.”
“Decision 1. Lease of temple site confirmed in perpetuity under Taprobanean and World Law, as codified 2085. Unanimous filing.”
“Decision 2. The construction of the proposed Orbital Tower with its attendant noise, vibration and impact upon a site of great historic and cultural importance would constitute a private nuisance, meriting an injunction under the Law of Torts. At this stage, public interest not of sufficient merit to affect the issue. Ruling 4 to 2, one abstention.”
“Thank you, Ari – cancel printout – I won't need it. Goodbye.” Well, that was that, just as he had expected. Yet he did not know whether to be relieved or disappointed.
Rooted as he was in the past, he was glad that the old traditions were cherished and protected. If one thing had been learned from the bloody history of mankind, it was that only individual human beings mattered: however eccentric their beliefs might be, they must be safeguarded, so long as they did not conflict with wider but equally legitimate interests. What was it that the old poet had said? “There is no such thing as the State.” Perhaps that was going a little too far; but it was better than the other extreme.
At the same time, Rajasinghe felt a mild sense of regret. He had half convinced himself (was this merely co-operating with the inevitable?) that Morgan's fantastic enterprise might be just what was needed to prevent Taprobane (and perhaps the whole world, though that was no longer his responsibility) from sinking into a comfortable, self-satisfied decline. Now the Court had closed that particular avenue, at least for many years.
He wondered what Maxine would have to say on the subject, and switched over to delayed playback. On Global Two, the News Analysis channel (sometimes referred to as the Land of Talking Heads), Senator Collins was still gathering momentum.
“– undoubtedly exceeding his authority and using the resources of his division on projects which did not concern it.”
“But surely, Senator, aren't you being somewhat legalistic? As I understand it, hyperfilament was developed for construction purposes, especially bridges. And isn't this a kind of bridge? I've heard Dr. Morgan use that analogy, though he also calls it a tower.”
“You're being legalistic now, Maxine. I prefer the name 'space elevator'. And you're quite wrong about hyperfilament. It's the result of two hundred years of aerospace research. The fact that the final breakthrough came in the Land Division of my – ah – organisation is irrelevant, though naturally I'm proud that my scientists were involved.”
“You consider that the whole project should be handed over to the Space Division?”
“What project? This is merely a design study one of hundreds that are always going on in TCC. I never hear about a fraction of them, and I don't want to – until they reach the stage when some major decision has to be made.”
“Which is not the case here?”
“Definitely not. My space transportation experts say that they can handle all projected traffic increases – at least for the foreseeable future.”
“Another twenty years.”
“And what happens then? The Tower will take that long to build, according to Dr. Morgan. Suppose it isn't ready in time?”
“Then we'll have something else. My staff is looking into all the possibilities, and it's by no means certain that the space elevator is the right answer.”
“The idea, though, is fundamentally sound?”
“It appears to be, though further studies are required.”
“Then surely you should be grateful to Dr. Morgan for his initial work.”
“I have the utmost respect for Dr. Morgan. He is one of the most brilliant engineers in my organization – if not in the world.”
“I don't think, Senator, that quite answers my question.”
“Very well; I am grateful to Dr. Morgan for bringing this matter to our notice. But I do not approve of the way in which he did it. If I may be blunt, he tried to force my hand.”
“By going outside my organization – his organization – and thus showing a lack of loyalty. As a result of his manoeuvrings, there has been an adverse World Court decision, which inevitably has provoked much unfavourable comment. In the circumstances, I have had no choice but to request – with the utmost regret – that he tender his resignation.”
“Thank you, Senator Collins. As always, it's been a pleasure talking to you.”
“You sweet liar,” said Rajasinghe, as he switched off and took the call that had been flashing for the last minute.
“Did you get it all?” asked Professor Sarath. “So that's the end of Dr. Vannevar Morgan.”
Rajasinghe looked thoughtfully at his old friend for a few seconds.
“You were always fond of jumping to conclusions, Paul. How much would you care to bet?”