hiro.jpg (49640 bytes)            "Hiro puts his computer into speakerphone mode and stands up next to the microphone.

            "Librarian, read it back," he says. And a string of syllables pours out out of the speaker.

            "In the middle of it, Hiro glances up at Juanita. She's standing in the far corner of the room with her fingers stuck in her ears.

            "Down at the base of the stairs, a wirehead begins to talk. Deep down inside the Enterprise, there's more talking going on. And none of it makes any sense. It's just a lot of babbling."

            But Hiro isn't sure if it is the confusion of many different languages or the clammoring of the unified babel. . Juanita comes out to listen, too. Hiro sees a trickle of red under her ear.

            "You're bleeding," he says.

            "I know. A little primitive surgery," she says..."I've been carrying around a scalpel blade for cases like this."

            "What did you do?"

            "Slid it up under the base of the antenna and cut the wire that goes into my skull...so I wouldn't be exposed to the nam-shub of Enki. I'm a neurolinguistic hacker now, Hiro. I went through hell to obtain this knowledge. It's a part of me. Don't expect me to submit to a lobotomy."

            "If we get out of this, will you be my girl?"

            "Naturally," she says. "Only I wouldn't count those chickens just yet."

            "What do you mean?" Hiro asks. The clamoring is steadily rising in level, and the voices seem to be coming closer.

            "When the Librarian read the nam-shub, something very odd was happening in my head. It was like these animal instincts took control of my body and made me want to kill. In fact, I'm pretty sure I would have turned this scalpel on you if I hadn't cut that wire first."

            "What are yoiu telling me, Juanita," Hiro says, "that the nam-shub wasn't working?"

            "What I'm telling you is that those were not linguistic thoughts running through my head two minutes ago." The roar of the crowd rises. "Are you sure the Librarian is fluent in Sumerian?"

            "Only one way to find out." Hiro puts on his goggles and steps back into his office. "Librarian, did you have any trouble translating the tablet?"

            "In the linguistic sense, no, for my software is flawless," the Librarian replies. "However, my scanner did show that a not insignificant portion of the tablet seemed to have been missing from the lower right hand corner. Are you sure the tablet was complete?"

            Somewhere, far back in Hiro's mind, he has a vision of struggling against the wireheads with his katana on the flight deck. Did he swipe a fragment by mistake? It hardly seems possible. But the roar of the wireheads is now a hyper-reality, as they have converged on the control tower and are starting to hammer at the door.

            "If the nam-shub message wasn't sent completely," Hiro says, "then what are they reacting to?"

            "Primitive Sumerians were largely confrontational, because they were warriors first and foremost," Juanita yells over the roar. "If the broadcasts are coming in scrambled, it might just heighten their adrenaline, sharpen their agressive instincts and return them to the days of the hunt."

            "And we are the hunted," Hiro says. "With no way of escaping and nothing to protect ourselves."death.JPG (75508 bytes) Less than fifteen minutes ago, Hiro was held by firm but docile wireheads, and he tried to initiate agression. Now, unknowingly, by losing a fragment of the tablet he has done just that, only intensified roughly one million times. The irony is not lost on Hiro, even as the control room walls collapse in behind Juanita. The warrior prince does not even bother with his swords this time, as he quickly fades into an endless web of clawing hands and thrashing legs.