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"This is what Paul would bring to an end?" Ishtar asked, gesturing into the clouded distance.

The woman could barely be described as human. From her hyperelongated height, which was now folded in a lotus position on a floating disk, through her narrow face, to her golden eyes and silver, gem-studded, two-meter hair spread out in a peacock pattern, her appearance reeked of xeno origins. But her DNA was as human as the woman standing next to her.

Sheida Ghorbani was nearly three hundred years old and looked to be anywhere from her upper teens to mid twenties. Her skin had the fineness of youth and her titian hair, while closely cropped, had a natural healthy sheen. Wound around her neck and into her hair was a two-meter-long winged lizard with rainbow skin like a billion shimmering gems.

Unlike her companion who was naked but for a scarce loincloth of gold, Sheida wore a simple jumpsuit of cosilk. It would be easy to mistake her for a student. Until you looked at her eyes.

Sheida sighed, looking out across the tarn and petting the lizard. The water of the upland lake was so blue and still that it seemed God's own paintbrush had been dipped into royal blue to paint it. The tarn was surrounded on three sides by snow-capped mountains that dropped precipitously to the water. On the third side the lake exited the valley via a two-hundred-foot waterfall. There a massive multicolumned building that resembled a Greek temple added to the idyllic nature of the scene. The two women had stopped just at the top of the stairs, looking out over the water.

She leaned up against one of the columns and nodded, gesturing with her chin at her friend.

"Well I don't think he intends to destroy the lake," Sheida said with a chuckle. "But he would end much of it, at least for most people. He wants people to learn how to use their legs again," she continued. "To learn to be 'strong' again. And to learn to be human again."

"Humano-form, you mean," Ishtar corrected. " 'Humanity is mind and the soul, not body and form.' Tzumaiyama's philosophies still are unassailable on that subject. But I guess he's the ultimate conservative," she added dryly.

"Bite your tongue," Sheida replied. "You have to delve into data so old it's practically forgotten to define Paul. What he is, whether he knows it or not, is a fascist. I suspect he would call himself a socialist, but he's not."

"A what?" Ishtar asked. She blinked her eyes for a moment as she accessed data then nodded. "Ah, I see what you mean. That is ancient. But it does fit his personality."

"He wants to use the Council's control of energy distribution to coerce people," Sheida said. "That is why he called this meeting."

"And you're sure of this?" Ishtar said. "He has said nothing to me."

"I think he thinks I agree with him because I'm not a Change," Sheida replied.

"Do you?" Ishtar asked. "I have known you for at least a hundred years and except for occasional changes in eye and hair color I have never seen you Change."

"A good Change requires a genetic component," she said, gesturing at Ishtar's form. "You know what Daneh does for a living."

"But we are past that, surely," Ishtar said. "Such mistakes no longer happen."

"Perhaps and perhaps not," Sheida replied. "I choose, however, to retain my own form. It's good enough for me."

"So he thinks you will vote with him?" Ishtar asked.

"Probably. At least from the hints he has been dropping. And I gave him no reason to doubt it, while not committing. Also, I think he waited until Chansa was elected to the Council."

"Chansa is . . . odd," Ishtar said. "I've heard some very ugly rumors about his personal life."

"Odd but brilliant," Sheida replied. "Like the rest of Paul's faction. So bright and yet so lacking in . . . wisdom. It seems to be the one trait we could not enhance in humanity. Immunity, processing power, beauty." She sighed and shook her head. "But not wisdom. They are so very very smart and yet so very stupid for all that the problems do exist."

"You are opposed, correct?" Ishtar asked with a delicate frown.

"Oh, yes," Sheida said with a nod. "They are right that there is a problem. That does not mean that their solutions are either optimum or even in order. But I wonder what he will do when he finds out?"

"I would say 'to be a bug on the wall,' " Ishtar said with a smile. "But unfortunately I'm going to be at the center of the debate."

"Change is an inevitable outgrowth of our technology," Sheida said with a shrug. "From the nannites and the replicators we get the medical technology. And that same technology permits people to be . . ." she glanced at her companion and smiled, "whatever we can imagine."

Ishtar laughed at the ambiguity of the ending and shrugged her slim shoulders. "Perhaps Paul simply means to end all medical technology? Perhaps that too is 'unnecessary'?"

"If so he can take it up with my sister."

* * *

Herzer awoke in light; his genie had changed the force screens from opaque to transparent and now "stood" by, holding out a robe.

The boy floating, horizontal, in midair was young and tall with broad shoulders and close cropped black hair. His body seemed to be wasting away, but something of it conveyed an aura of former strength, like an old strongman, far past his prime. Herzer blinked his eyes uncertainly, working them to clear a crust gluing his eyelashes shut. After a moment he sent a command and nannites scurried across his face, clearing the debris of sleep.

"Master Herzer, your appointment with Doctor Ghorbani is in one hour and thirty minutes."

"Thonk 'ou, genie," the boy slurred, sending a mental command to the grav field holding him suspended. Most people found it easier to interface vocally, since direct mental interaction required a tremendously disciplined thought process. But in Herzer's case, his vocal systems had deteriorated so fast that he had been forced to the disclipine.

The grav field rotated him vertical and he waited until he was sure his legs would hold him before he released the last tendrils of support. Then he shakily donned the robe, with the assistance of the genie, and shuffled across the room to a float-chair.

He collapsed in the chair and let the genie begin the process of feeding him. His hand shook as he reached for the spoon floating above the bowl and then started to shake more and more until it was flailing in the air. He sent another command to a medical program and the recalcitrant hand dropped to his side, momentarily dead. He hated using the override; he was always unsure if the part would "restart." But it was better than letting it flail him to death.

At a nod the genie took up the spoon and carefully fed the boy the bland pap. Some of it, inevitably, dribbled out of his malfunctioning lips but the nannites scurried across, picking it up and translating it out to be reprocessed.

When the food was done the genie produced a glass of liquid and Herzer carefully reached for it. This time both his hands were more or less working and he managed to drink the entire glass of water without spilling much.

"Su'cess," he whispered to himself. "Have 'een any me'ages?"

"No, Master Herzer," the genie replied.

Of course not. If there had been the genie would have told him already. But, what the hell, no reason not to hope that someone would give a damn if he was alive.

He sent a command to the chair to lift him to his feet and then another to clothe him. A loose coverall of black cosilk appeared on his body and he nodded in satisfaction. If his progressive neurology got much worse he might not even be able to manage direct neurological controls. What then?

He'd long before come to the conclusion that if that happened he would use his last commands to take him high in the air, turn off his protection fields and drop him. One last moment of glorious flight. Some days he wondered why he hadn't done it already.

But not yet. One more doctor. Maybe this one would be able to do something.

If not . . .

* * *

Paul Bowman pursed his lips and fingered the titanium strip that was his badge of office as the last members of the council filed into the Chamber.

Bowmam was abnormally short, barely over a meter and a half, and human in appearance. His age was indeterminate, since the privacy barrier on personal information was rigidly enforced by the Net, but his black hair was turning to gray and his skin was beginning to show fine lines. Assuming that he had refused all longevity Changes, that would make him around three hundred or so years old. For at least one hundred of those years he had been a member of the Council that governed the information web of Earth and if he had anything to say about it, the time had finally come to take his rightful place as its undisputed leader.

Meetings of the Terrestrial Council for Information Strategy and Management always took place in the Chamber. Given modern technology it was too difficult to simulate one of the council members if the meetings were held remotely. This did cause a few problems for some of the members, but at least currently all the members were terrestrial—or avian in the case of Ungphakorn—so it was unnecessary to have, for example, aqueous support.

The room occupied nearly the entire immense building, but the sole furniture was a circular table in the middle. Around the rim of the vast room, more like an auditorium or theater than a boardroom, rank upon rank of seats were ranged, ramping upwards in tiers almost to the top of the chamber. Once upon a time it had been the boast of the world that all meetings of the Council were fully open to the public. "All shall view the sparrow's fall."

With incredibly rare exceptions, none of the seats had been filled in nearly a thousand years.

Like the Knights of the Round Table, all who sat at the table were considered equal. There was no specific head of the committee, the gavel being passed in rota or held by whoever called a special council. There were thirteen chairs, for the thirteen Key-holders who governed the Web, but only eleven were normally filled. Over the three-thousand-year lifetime of the Web, the control Keys had changed hands and fallen in and out of "licit" control. At the moment two were in the hands of individuals who existed outside of the mainstream and who refused, by and large, to work with the committee.

Most of the rest of the room replicated the interior of the ancient Greek Parthenon. The exception was the ceiling, which was covered with a mural of the ascent of man through the ages, culminating in the current era. It started with panels of early hunter-gatherers, showing their technology and cultural motifs, then progressed up through early agriculture, metallurgy, the discovery of philosophy and scientific method, democracy, industry, the rights of man, information technology, advanced biology, quantum engineering and finally an almost God-like succession as the combination of the advances led to a world of peace and plenitude for all.

Paul often came into the room and stared up at the mural, tracking the progress and wondering where they had gone wrong.

He looked around at the gathered Council and carefully schooled his features to prevent any hint of revulsion crossing them; surely the Council that ran the Earth could be limited to true humans!

But it was not. Ishtar was close, but so Changed as to be clearly beyond any semblance of true humanity. As to Ungphakorn and Cantor . . .

Now he pointedly avoided looking at those members of the Council who were not human in appearance as he tapped his gavel and called the meeting to order.

"I'm called this meeting to discuss the current population challenge," he said, then paused as Ungphakorn ruffled its feathers.

"I fail to sssee where that isss any of our concccern," the council member said, rewrapping itself on its perch. Its body had been formed into a quetzacoatl: a long, multicolored, brightly feathered, winged-serpent, the sex specifically neuter. The mouth of the serpent had been modified to permit human speech but it still caused a sibilant hissing on many words.

Paul had come to the conclusion that Ungphakorn did it just to annoy him.

"It is our concern as the last vestige of government," Bowman replied, looking directly at Sheida. "The population of the earth has fallen below one billion people. Given current trends in birth rate, the human race, in any form, will be gone in less than a thousand years; barely five generations. We have to take action and soon."

"So what action would you take?" Javlatanugs Cantor asked. In deference to the conditions of the council chamber, Cantor had Changed to a near humanoform. But he had retained the hirsute body-covering and massiveness of his normal bear shape. It gave him an appearance somewhat like a Sasquatch. Which was why the Sasquatch confederation considered him their spokesperson. "Each breeds as they wish. And each child takes the form they wish. This is called freedom."

"This is called suicide," Chansa snapped. The newest member of the Council had a fully human appearance, but his huge size virtually had to be a Change. Now he pounded the table with a fist the size of a melon and glared at the werebear across the table. "I suppose you would be just as glad to have the human race die out."

"I am human, you ignorant gorilla," Cantor replied. "And, no, I don't care to have humanity disappear. But I don't agree that it's a problem. And even if it is, I haven't heard a suggestion how to fix it. And I can't imagine a suggestion that wouldn't require the Council to step outside its clear authority. So I don't understand why we're having this meeting."

"As I stated, we are the only authority left," Paul interjected. "If I may continue? We are all aware of the fact that as quality of life improves, birthrate declines."

"Except under conditions of cultural imprinting," Cantor interjected.

"But there are no longer any cultures that have a positive birthrate," Bowman snapped back. "So that's a red herring. The fact is that everyone on Earth has more than ample resources. Between the power plants and replication . . ."

"Everyone livesss as godsss," Ungphakorn said. "Or dolphinsss or bearsss or dragonsss. And nobody hasss children becaussse they're a pain in the asss to take care of. Tell usss sssomething we don't know."

"The answer is to ration power," Chansa said bluntly.

"WHAT?" Cantor bellowed.

As the argument exploded, Sheida glanced around the room, looking at the faces and trying to guess who knew about the bombshell Chansa had just dropped. She suspected from the pained expression on Bowman's face that he had intended to work up to the conclusion.

"It is the only way!" Paul shouted. "No! Listen for a moment! Just hear me out!"

He waited until the shouting and muttering had died then gestured around. "We are a dying race. If we continue as we have been, the last human, of whatever form, will close a door in a few thousand years and that will be it. I'm not talking about shutting everything down and dropping the world into chaos, I'm just talking about . . . reinstituting cultural items that will strengthen the interest in children, in discovery and advancement! And, at the same time, strengthen us as a species! We have descended into lotus-eating, all of our virtue lost to the sink of endless games and delights! We must regain our virtue as humans, so that we can take our true birthright and continue to thrive as a species!"

"So you would end the games and delights?"

It was the first that Aikawa Gouvois had spoken and Sheida didn't know if he was on Paul's side or not. He was fully humanoform, but also perfectly Asiatic in features. Thousands of years of crossbreeding and genetic tinkering meant that most humans naturally tended to be a light brown in color and have very few noticeable features, other than striking beauty, perhaps one of the reasons that so many chose wild body forms. Aikawa, however, had the broad face and epicanthic fold of a classic Son of Han. His appearance was so true to standard that it actually detracted from his looks; the flattened nose, broad cheekbones and epicanthic folds being decidedly nonstandard.

Without doing a DNA scan and violating privacy, Sheida couldn't tell if his appearance was natural or artificial. Whichever it was, the appearance was a personal statement, like Bowman's height. However, it was a far more ambiguous one. And Aikawa had also cultivated a poker face to make any of the rest of the Council envious.

"Frankly, I would make them work for the games and delights, yes," Paul said. "I think that we need to reinstitute work. For those of you who don't know what that word means . . ."

"Ssspare usss, Paul," Ungphakorn said. "What we do now isss 'work,' at leassst when it comesss to talking to you. And mossst of usss have no more children than any of the ressst of the world."

"I don't see you raising a huge brood, Paul," Ishtar interjected.

"I have five children," Bowman replied, proudly.

"Yes, and you have dumped the actual job of raising them off on five separate females," Ishtar snapped. "What you don't understand, you stupid little man, is that since each of them only had one child, and since by law you have to have both a male and female genetics to produce a child, all of your 'work' to produce multiple children has been in vain. As long as women control reproduction, men are nothing but a source of DNA."

"Perhaps that should be changed as well," Paul snapped. "Why should women control reproduction? If I want to have a child which is mine and another male's, the choice should be mine. Or three children by my own genetics. What is wrong with that?"

"Law and history," Sheida interjected with a sigh. She looked at his surprised face and laughed out loud. "What? You thought because I didn't object to your statements and that I have had minimal Change that I agreed with you? Far from it. Let us discuss your suggestion."

She leaned back, called up some texts for a moment's review, then nodded. "In the . . . twenty-first century, the Iron Brotherhood was founded. Its stated intention was to 'eliminate the scourge of womankind by replacing them.' Using the relatively new DNA structuring abilities of the time, they grew children in early-model uterine replicators, 'all male children from all male genetics.' They only existed as a functional group for about three generations. The children were dysfunctional in the extreme since the average male has all the maternal instincts of a male leopard. By and large they were raised with minimal positive input and minimal interaction because males are lousy mothers."

"So you say," Bowman snarled. "That is history so old that it's practically fable!"

"There are at least four similar failures in history, Paul," she said with a thin smile. "Many of them closer in time. Individual males may be excellent mothers, but letting any old male uncork a child 'just because' is a route to another dysfunctional generation. And we've had far too many of those over the years. You really should do some research for a change instead of just listening to the voices in your head. Speaking of which, what sort of 'work' were you intending to enforce?"

"I said nothing of 'enforce,' " Bowman snapped.

"As you wish. I'm not sure what other term to use for making people do things they don't want to do and don't have to do. But I'd like an answer to the question."

"It would be up to the individual," Paul said. "But attainment of goods and energy would be dependent upon work. Manufacturing, services, that sort of thing. I have a five-year plan to shift from full replication to a work-based economy."

" 'A five-year plan,' " Sheida said with a groan. "Do you know how horrifying those words are to even a casual student of that history you dismiss as fable?"


"Never mind," she sighed. "The one thing we learn from history is that we're doomed to repeat it. So you are discussing industrial work? For males and females? Or information technology work?"

"It would be open to both," Paul agreed. "And both."

"You do realize that in anything but a low-tech agricultural environment, there is no surety of population increase, right? That population growth is a market-based factor? And that it's only low-tech agriculture that has a market for children? More hands to do the chores. That is not the case in an industrial society. Especially one where both sexes work."

"There have been plenty of industrial societies that had high population growth rates," Celine Reinshafen said. The woman was dark and almost skeletally thin, her long black hair drawn back in a bun. She shrugged at Sheida and smiled thinly. "I know that much history."

"Generalities that you learned from your nanny are not what we're dealing with here," Sheida said. "All of those societies were in postagriculture adjustment or had a strong cultural emphasis on children. If we had a few million members of the Church of Latter Day Saints, Reform Zoroastrian or Islam we wouldn't be in this situation."

"So you agree that there is a problem?" Chansa said. "Then why are you arguing?"

"As Abraham Lincoln once said, 'my esteemed colleague has his facts in order but his conclusions are in error.' That's why. Among other things, the rate of decrease is decreasing. Yes, Paul, I've been looking at the same thing for nearly a hundred years. It just occurred to you! Congratulations!"

"So what is the answer?" Bowman asked. "And who in the hell is Abraham Lincoln?"

"Give me strength," she replied, looking upward. "Skip the literary allusions. The answer, as usual, is to leave it alone.

"Look, there are more differences between men and women than plumbing. Something I don't think you understand. We were talking about maternal instincts a moment ago. On a scale of one to ten, men average about four. Whereas women average about eight. There are women who can't stand children or babies. Still most women think that babies are just adorable, but let other things get in the way of having them. Men, on the other hand, rarely think that babies are great. Women tend to coo and ooh and ahh over babies; men tend to give them a wide berth.

"Some of this is still cultural, but most of it is genetic and the reason it's cultural is that the genetics pressure the culture. If you want, I can get my sister to show you the individual genes. They express whether there is a general positive response to babies and children. Or, for that matter, small, furry animals. These responses can be masked by culture, but they are expressed much more aggressively in females than in males. With me so far?"

"So why aren't there enough children?" Aikawa asked.

"Because, as Ungphakorn pointed out, children are a pain in the ass," Sheida replied. "There isn't a nanny yet designed that can give children the right kind of love and attention for maximum positive development; that takes a human and preferably a female. One female can do a decent job, especially with the quality of life in this era. One female and one male work okay, better than just a female. Multiple females and a male work pretty well, possibly better than straight monogamy. Multiple males and one female is suboptimum. One male depends on an unusual male. That's all 'in general' and there is some flex on individuals. But those are the best patterns overall as proven by repeated and reproducible studies. End of child-rearing lecture.

"But if you have kids, and are raising them well, they take up time, lots of it. So you end up spending time on your children that you could be using . . . other ways. And the world is filled with other things to do. Most people would rather surf or mass-game than answer 'why, why, why' questions all day long.

"Most women realize this and realize that they are going to be doing most of the rearing. Those that don't, learn after the first child. And if they give the kid away, the Net won't let them replicate another; they lose the right."

"Another thing we could change," Celine said. "Producing large numbers of fully viable human children is a trivial exercise. Indeed, there are still improvements that could be made to the human genome, despite the work that has been done over the centuries."

"Who is going to raise them?" Ishtar snapped. "What she just said is that most people don't want to go to the trouble. We already have a slight surplus of unwanted children. Are you saying that we should have more?"

"There's also a cultural conditioning aspect," Sheida said. "Human populations tipped over in the mid-twenty-first century and have been tending downward ever since. But our society still has a cultural mythos that 'Gaea is wounded.' Which is why nearly fifteen percent of total energy usage goes to repairing 'environmental damage' on a world where the last strip mine shut down a thousand years ago! People still think we have a population problem, so having passels of kids is societally frowned upon."

"And your point is?" Paul asked.

"Women aren't all the same, either," Sheida continued. "There are women who through a combination of genetics and culture adore children. You can find them out there, the women who have had three, four, five children, despite the cultural prohibitions. Their bodies say 'make babies.' They don't use their bodies anymore, thank God, what a God awful mess that would be, but they still raise the kids."

"One of the reasons that the rate of population decrease has been decreasing is an increasing trend towards those genes. Basically, women who didn't want babies haven't reproduced for the last two to three thousand years. I think we're leveling off, or will in the next two, three hundred years. Also, we're always pushing the boundaries of life extension. We're up to five hundred years now. We could be over a thousand in the next century or so. That, right there, will change the premises."

"If we gain at all," Paul said. "You have your trends to show, I have mine. The rate of scientific progress has dropped to nothing. Quantum jumping and replication were developed nearly five centuries ago and they were the last significant scientific breakthrough. Despite your pronouncements, the population rate is crashing and we are stagnating and falling into sloth and lotus-eating. We're becoming less and less human every year and if we don't do something, there may be no humans left. A crisis is upon us and you stick your head in the sand and prattle about 'maternal genetics'!"

"It's not prattle, Bowman, it's science," Sheida said. "But logic seems to have left you behind. You want to make people 'work,' but at work that has never, historically, enhanced reproduction, work that has, in fact, tended to detract from it. I have to ask: can all of this work be done by those who have chosen to Change?"

"The program may necessitate some adjustments to the Change . . . fad," Paul said with a distasteful expression.

"Oh, ho!" Cantor said. "Now we come to it! You want me to be a nice little humanoform and work in a . . . what's the word, a place where things were made?"

"Factory," Sheida supplied.

"You want me to be a nice little humanoform 'working' in a factory instead of what I choose to be!" He stood up, kicked back the chair and transformed. Suddenly, in the place of the large, hirsute "man," a four-meter-high grizzly bear reared.

"I doooo' 'hin' soooo," the grizzly growled. He leaned forward and rested on the table, his long claws gouging the natural wood of the tabletop, as his head transformed back to human. "I'm not giving up my form for you, Paul Bowman! Nor am I going to force any of the Changed!"

Ishtar caught Sheida's eye and threw a Whisper into her ear. "Makes me glad he's not a dragon."

"I think we're done here," Ungphakorn said. "The Finn isssn't going to ssside with you, if he even bothersss to find out what the dissscusssion wasss about. The Demon might, but only for the chaosss that would ensssue. Ssso you need ssseven to implement."

"Nine," Sheida said. "Revocation of the Change rules will require nine; they were implemented with eight votes. Actually, one of them was implemented with a unanimous vote of Council so you'll have to get one of the Hacks to agree to override that one."

"Which was?" Ishtar asked.

" 'No revocation of Change under conditions in which the Changed would be placed in mortal peril.' So you'd have to recover all the mer-people, delphinos, whalers and all the rest before you could change them back. And the logistics of changing back all the mer and delphinos, alone, boggles the mind; it requires human intervention because of the risk factors. And then there would be the genetic flaws that would creep in during the process. Just what we need: more wild gene faults."

"Not to mention make sssure no one wasss flying when you took away their ability," Ungphakorn added dryly. "You don't have enough votesss to implement, Bowman, even with the Demon. Give it up."

"Never," Paul said, getting to his feet. "The future of humanity is in our hands, and you are throwing it away. For fantasies of a race of maternal females arising from nowhere and . . ." he stopped and just gestured wordlessly at the quetzacoatl.

"I do believe that you're looking for the word 'abomination,' " Ishtar said lightly. "Aren't you?"

"Yes!" Chansa snapped, his patience apparently gone. "Abominations! Dragons and unicorns and your precious mer-people! These are not humans! They are filth, nothing but degenerate FILTH!"

"Oh, my," Ishtar said. "I do believe that we've annoyed our good Chansa. And let me ask you, boy, do your natural genetics indicate that you should be three meters tall and two hundred kilos?"

"That is beside the point," the council member growled. "At least I am human."

"Yes, well, I think that about sssettlesss that," Ungphakorn said. "Thanksss for clearing up that little point. Time for a voiccce vote. I motion that the dissscusssion of waysss to forccce people to 'work' ssso that they begin breeding fassster and dissscusssionsss of forsss-able end to the 'abominable' Changed be permanently tabled."

"We haven't heard from a few of the council members," Sheida pointed out. "Minjie? Tetzacola? You've been unusually silent."

"That's because we're with Paul." The answerer was Said Dracovich, but she gestured at the rest. "We six think that the best action to take is to enforce some restrictions. To . . . put pressure on the human race again so it can be strong. Expose it to the fire for a while to temper the steel."

"Oh, deary, deary, deary," Ishtar said. "First we're abominations and now we're simple knife blades to be tinkered with."

"All of us do not consider the Changed to be abominations," Celine said. "I have assisted too many Changes to consider it abomination. But Change is resource intensive and support of the Changed is more so; just look at Cantor for example. Such resource overuse redirects it from important projects."

She paused and smiled ingratiatingly at Ishtar. "I will add, though, that Change among the leadership would, of course, be fully acceptable. So no one in this room has anything to fear from this program."

"Riiigh'," Cantor growled skeptically. He had shifted back to full bear form when Chansa started talking. "So no' 'ere we're being bribe'. I secon'!"

"All in favor?" Ishtar asked.

"A'," Cantor said.

"Aye," Sheida.

"Aye," Aikawa said. " 'The true abomination is intolerance.' "

"Aye," Ungphakorn.

"Aye," Ishtar finished. "That's it. You need nine votes to override all the protocols in place to prevent your 'program,' Paul. So until three of us die, you're shit out of luck."

"We'll see," Bowman said. "The necessity for this will become clear. I promise you."

"Not as long as I've got eyes to see," Sheida answered.

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