Chapter 1.2 Ada: Convictions and Doubts
1.2.1 Ada Sets Out to Paris
Bethesda, Maryland, USA, in the Universe u
About 3 pm Tuesday 1 April 1987
Ada made one last tour of the premises to make sure that everyone knew her second-in-command would take over while she was away, everyone clear on who was to report to whom. Any problem, they could vex me on firstname.lastname@example.org. Satisfied, she returned to her corner office, shut the door and made final preparations for her departure.
She took a long look at herself in the mirror. She liked what she saw. Her bronze two-piece looked good, she thought. Its design combined the practical--capacious pockets--with the elegance of Early Prohibition-Era styling touches like the mid-calf length skirt with its flirty kick pleat for ease of movement. Altogether it projected just the right mix of probity and audacity to fit her position as the Founding Director of the advocacy group XPROW--Extend Prohibition Now!
Her hair looked good, too. It retained a certain gloss, and the gray that had started to invade the youthful chestnut about her fiftieth birthday had by now created an ash-blonde effect. And a few drops of conjunctiva lubricant had set her eyes shining nicely, dark brown—like burnished walnut, as one or other of her lovers had once remarked. Overall, pretty good for sixty-three.
She put on a green fedora, smiling at her reflection. Green was right with bronze. Plus, it was a gesture of solidarity with the all-girl cadre of crack troops, the Green Fedoras, which had recently been dispatched to Central France to help the United Nations deal with certain challenges to Prohibition in that area.
Glancing out through the corner window she noticed the limo that was to take her to the train station had just glided up to the curb, and behind it the CapitalNews van--that would be for an impromptu Prohibition Day TV interview her publicity people had set up for her.
The prospect of an interview still gave her butterflies. Even after fifteen years in frequent contact with the media, she was still apt to be drawn into revealing an unseemly warmth of feeling incompatible with science and reason.
She turned back to the mirror, and with her brilliant dark-brown eyes fixed on her image, lay her hand on her breast and made the sign of the circle, the sign of oneness with Gaea the Earth Mother. "Gaea help me ace this interview," she whispered. Then she snatched up her travel backpack, swept out of her office and pattered down the of stairs to meet the inquisitor.
1.2.2 Ada Grants an Interview
Outdoors, pale sunshine, somewhat chilly, typical Prohibition Day conditions in the Washington DC area. The TV newsman approached, smiling and proffering a microphone, a little unsteady on his Versailles-style medium heels that were the latest thing in masculine fashion. "Hi there," he called in a penetrating tenor, "Dr Lynch? Danny Goodpenny from CapitalNews TV!
Ada was relieved that it was a man, not a woman. She knew how to handle men--a certain glance, a certain subtle gesture of appreciation was all it took to establish a comfortable rapport. Women were too logical, always ready to pounce on some trifling departure from science and reason. Like the cold-blooded Willa 't Hellenbach of the NewYorkTimes....
He’s young, she noted, and tall--upwards of 5-5 without the heels, and his satin knickers bulged in the right place. As usual in the presence of a tall man, she felt an insistent wave of lust, like a gentle summer breeze pushing her nearer....
"Dr Lynch ," Danny blared, "Dr Lynch , you are a research scientist in the field of biochemistry with emphasis on human nutrition and health, and Founder-Director of the advocacy group, Extend Prohibition Now!, or XPROW, dedicated to extending prohibition to include sugary snacks and drinks under the heading of prohibited substances--of prosubs, to use a common abbreviation--and your name is being mentioned as a viable candidate for our next prosub Czarina. Do you care to comment on that?"
"Yes, Danny, I am ready to take on the responsibilities of that or any other position in which I would be uniquely effective in furthering our national effort to stamp out commerce in any and all animal-based or sugary food-like substances whose consumption might threaten the health and security of our United Nations. By the way, you can call me Ada. And Danny," she nodded towards the waiting limousine, "make it snappy, will you Danny, I’m in a rush—"
"Okay, Ada, just a few quick questions to fill in our viewers on these problems that arise, you know, when animals get into it or whatever it was you said. Personally, I wouldn’t want to eat an animal thing—ew, you’d have to be some sort of freak!"
"Yes, Danny, a freak, although the preferred term is prosub user, or simply user. A user is a freak, as you say, and also a criminal. Ingesting substances of animal origin such as milk, meat, fish, eggs--I'm sorry, but we must use the proper words to describe these animal parts and bodily fluids--ingesting such substances is not only aberrant, it is commonly and legally accepted as evidence of activity contrary to the law as embodied in the United Nations Prohibition Amendment of 1 April 1920. Users may do prison time, or a stiff stint of community service if caught and convicted. On the medical side, long-term users addicted to these prosubs have been found to suffer disproportionately from a number of serious diseases, the acronym for which is CHAOS AND OUCH."
Danny’s face froze in panic. CHAOS AND OUCH—now there was a sure-fire audience-loser. He had to get back on the trivia track in a hurry. But Ada overrode his protests, using a clanging tone she reserved for just that purpose:
"CHAOS AND OUCH is an acronym for diet-related diseases ranging from the life-threatening, like cancer and heart disease, through the disabling, like arthritis and nephritis, to the merely painful and embarrassing, like hemorrhoids. Furthermore, as XPROW has emphasized, research has shown that consumption of sugary snacks and drinks can itself lead to diabetes. Diabetes, that's the D in CHAOS AND OUCH."
"Okay, Ada," Danny broke in finally, "so let’s get real here, okay? I mean, where do we get off here? Why don’t we let these kooks and perverts eat whatever—you know, prosubs—and get a good dose of these CHAOS AND OUCH diseases nobody ever heard of and go away and die and leave it at that? Why do we have to have Prohibition?"
Why do we we have to have Prohibition? Good question, Ada thought, and was dismayed to realize that her mind had stalled on--horrors!--the truth: without Prohibition, XPROW would have nothing to advocate the extension of. She gabbled to cover her embarrassment:
"Danny, you characterized CHAOS AND OUCH as diseases nobody ever heard of. That's not entirely true. CHAOS AND OUCH continues to place a heavy burden on health care providers throughout the United Nations. But since the inception of Prohibition, compliance has improved, and the number of sufferers from CHAOS AND OUCH has decreased steadily to such a small fraction of the population that many a well-informed person like yourself is unaware of them. And that is the reason why we have to have, and must continue to have, Prohibition!"
As she was saying this her pulse-rate subsided, her mind cleared. The interview really wasn't a disaster, she told herself. Went quite well, as it happened. Danny liked it....
But--and with that "but" she felt a sudden chill of dread--what if it had been icy Willa 't Hellenbach instead of cute Danny Goodpenny? Things would have gone bad fast. The cerebral Willa would have stepped unhurried into the dead air with her famous shark's-tooth smile and...it was too awful to think about!
Batting aside Danny's follow-ups, she backed off to the sanctuary of the limo waiting to take her to the train station..
1.2.3 Ada Acknowledges Weaknesses
Ensconced in the First Class section of the fast train, the new hydrogen fuel-cell powered Metroliner streaking smoothly and silently towards Newark Airport, Ada had every opportunity to relax and recover from the tension of the interview. But she had trouble unwinding, letting it all go.
She pulled herself together. She'd done well. She had unhesitatingly filled in a potentially dangerous, possibly thought-provoking pause with a stream of wise-sounding trivia totally devoid of science and reason, and as a result her bid for a cabinet post was still very much alive.
How had she pulled off that convenient feat of sophism? Perhaps she had unconsciously imitated the elderly block-head, the United Nations secretary general emeritus Aristotle Patras. She was remotely acquainted with him--he was a crony of her Gaea-father, Professor Paul Ducru--and she'd formed a habit of listening to the smooth-talking geezer's annual Prohibition Day addresses.
It occurred to her then that it was Prohibition Day and the old boy would have already delivered his 1987 address. She took out her vex to catch up with his current views and to check any variations in his "thinking" from previous years....
Aside from some new material dealing with the perennial problems of adolescents' education and demographic imbalance, the address differed from previous ones more in delivery than in content. Towards the end, the geezer's famously resonant voice went a bit tight, and he seemed to lose his place for a moment. But by that point he was well into his denunciation of the tabloid media with their weird-oh stuff like visitations from the universe U, and no one would have been taking any notice anyway.
Ada was always careful to avoid any reference to the weird sort of thing. The secretary-general emeritus had little to lose, but for her it would be professional suicide to show any interest in matters outside the purview of science and reason.
Which is not to say she was indifferent to such matters. In fact Ada, like a great many u-people, secretly felt a certain fascination with U, and yes, with the notion, so frequently bruited in the tabloid media, that a human being might someday make a U-to-u transition. So it was with a feeling akin to complicity with Aristotle Patras that she noticed that in the vehemence of his denunciation of the tabloids, he'd hinted at a prurient interest in such strangely thrilling fantasies....
1.2.4 Ada Reviews Her Options
Her thoughts segued to the relatively mundane political matter that was the chief purpose of her visit to France.
Now that the Green Fedoras had landed in that country, it was time for her to cultivate political alliances in Paris as assiduously as in Washington. In particular, she aimed to ingratiate herself with a certain highly influential law-maker, Madame Cava—a forbidding prospect since that personage had so far adamantly distanced herself from American initiatives in combating CHAOS AND OUCH. However, Madame Cava also happened to be a friend--an intimate friend, in fact, of Professor Ducru, or "Uncle Paul" as she'd called him since infancy although he was not related as far as she knew. Perhaps Uncle Paul would give her an introduction....
And then again, perhaps he would not. Uncle Paul was detached and unpredictable by nature, and Ada could not count on his cooperation. He could be so irrationally stubborn at times! Yet there was a core of generosity in his makeup--he'd always been there to help her adoptive parents in times of trouble, and she remembered from childhood that the Lynches, grateful to be relieved of financial hardship on her account, often referred to him as "the good Mr Ducru." He'd borne the full cost of her education at the Sorbonne, and after that, Stanford. And recently, apropos nothing, he'd given her a lifetime lease on an apartment in his rambling old mansion "Château Mourey" in Chezelet in the Touraine....
Ada smiled with filial affection. Yes, she thought, Uncle Paul’s a quirky old coot, but I’ll get around him somehow--maybe play the custody card. She gave the custody matter a moment's consideration. It was about Georges, their pet piglet. The courts still hadn't decided whether Georges should remain with Professor Ducru in France or, as Ada wanted, to return with with her to America, and so far neither side had shown any sign of giving in. As it was, Georges stayed at Château Mourey year round, cared for by Professor Ducru except when Ada happened to be there. Yes, she decided, if pressed I'll agree to let things stay that way.
With the sudden whoosh as the Metroliner sped through the Iselin commuter stop, Ada’s mind jumped back to personal matters. She pictured her current lover, Stig the tennis star, the Slashing Swede as he was called by the media: muscular, agile—and tall, a towering 5-8 in his sneakers. It was because of Stig she was on the Metroliner, now 15 minutes from Newark Airport. She could have taken an Air France flight direct to Paris from Washington's Edith Bolling International Airport, but she'd vexed Stig she would meet up with him at Newark.
On the other hand, Stig was definitely a tall man, one of the tallest she had ever entered in her computerized registry of lovers. Smiling dreamily, she fingered the tiny, sleek CompuLocket hanging over her right ear. Such a cute little gizmo, and practical, too--always at hand in case of need of temporary data storage when, as often happened in romantic situations, she didn't have her mobilvex handy.
Ada had a sudden intuition. Stig’s great height—that must be what was behind his preoccupation lately. They had changed the rules of tennis in favor of shorter players, made the server stand back from the line by six inches for each inch of height over five feet. Stig must have had to work full-time on his serve. The whole thing could take weeks, all the way through to the French Open.
Well, so much for Stig, Ada thought. If he were to show up, okay. If not, and she happened to come across another man….
The Metroliner slid silently to rest at Newark Airport: 5:31 pm, one minute late, 119 minutes ahead of flight time to Paris.