Sure enough, several days later an announcement was made that Stalin (or, properly, his scientists) would be included in the spacecraft project. And so I set up a meeting with Bush’s friend, at an Italian restaurant in lower Manhattan.
Bush remained at the apartment this time, planning his return to Salt Lake City, where he and Phoebe were minded to stay long-term. We sat, ordered, engaged in just a bit of small talk, and then I handed him my list:
Julius Rosenberg (New York)
Harry Gold (New York)
David Greenglass (Manhattan project)
Klaus Fuchs (Manhattan project, London)
Since I’ve been back, I’ve learned that I may have over-promised a bit. I was thinking that these people were involved with the H Bomb design, but that isn’t clear in the sources I’ve reviewed. But I had to do all of this from memory, and at least I gave them legitimate Soviet spies… and atomic spies.
Bush’s contact went immediately to a pay phone and called the names in to someone: Eisenhower, I presume. Then he returned, ate a few bites, and said he had to leave. But he did warn me as we walked out:
“You and Vannevar should get out of New York expeditiously. There are so many Russian agents in government that we can’t remotely keep up… in every department and agency, including CIA. Once they learn their spies were arrested, they’ll come looking for whoever identified them… and that’s you. I won’t give you up, but there will be a dozen people reading, delivering or transcribing my notes, and some of them will also be able to determine where I was on any given day. New York’s a big place, but if I were you, I’d still move out.”
And so I headed back to the apartment, once more getting ready to utterly change my situation. I wasn’t looking forward to it.
* * * * *
Vannevar had already guessed what the operative would tell me, and was ready to leave the next day. Reluctantly I agreed, but only to drive him to someplace away from New York, where he could get an untraceable flight back to Salt Lake City. I told him I’d drive back to Brooklyn afterward, then probably go to Europe. Pan Am had a regular La Guardia to London route in those days.
The truth, however, was that I was tired of stopping and starting. I had lived in four different homes over the past year, not counting short stays, like my week in LA. I just wasn’t in the mood. Once they start shooting, you’ll get in the mood fast, lept through my mind, but emotionally I was done with it.
Still, I pulled it together and we headed west the next morning. Philadelphia was probably too close to New York to cover Vannevar’s trail, and so we continued, again on the Lincoln Highway. We stopped for the night at Pittsburgh, driving on to the Cleveland airport the next morning. Quickly enough he got tickets back to Salt Lake, and I saw him onto the plane.
* * * * *
I was a bit burned out at the time, but our drive to Cleveland was warm and pleasant: my burned-out side was overrun by the mutual appreciation Vannevar and I had for one another.
As we made our way across New York State (and through a couple of small snow storms), Vannevar brought up the subject of the Earth ambient that was such a big thing to my other-worldly friends. And his timing was impeccable, because I was just musing on the fact I mentioned above: that being with him, and the appreciation between us, overcame my somewhat depressive tone of mind just them. That, in turn, made me think that we were creating our own counter-ambient in our Roadmaster, eliminating or minimizing the general ambient of 1948 Earth.
Honestly, I suspected that Vannevar picked up the train of thought from me, somehow. Remember, please, this was a very bright and perceptive man: he was writing about the Internet (more or less) in the 1940s.
The question Vannevar asked me is one that I’ve asked myself, and it’s a powerful question:
“What do you think our lives would be like if we could live in a neutral or positive ambient?”
I smiled what had to have been a Mona Lisa smile. “That’s been I the back of my head since I first understood it… and I think it has led me in some very difficult and interesting directions.”
“Well… I think for starters that all the negative pressures we feel, conformity chief among them, would be significantly reduced. And, truth be told, I think we’re ready for a major breakout of the ambient… at least in my time.”
“How do you mean that?”
“There are all sorts of things that can be temporarily suppressed below their natural level for periods of time, do you agree?”
“I do, of course.”
“I think that has happened to us, and again, very much so in my time, when mass manipulation has risen far beyond levels you know.”
“Even beyond what the Nazis did?” He was worried, and I backed-up a little.
“Well, yes, but not in the same ways.”
I asked if he had read Brave New World, which he hadn’t, so that wasn’t helpful, and I didn’t think Nineteen Eighty-Four was done yet, so that was of no help either. And so I explained, as best I could, the set of influences that would poison the world in our time: Television, which I told him would lead eventually to fixed and homogenized public narratives; politics, unmoored from decency, that would overtake society; two generations of anti-Western teaching through a centralized education complex; central control of scientific research; and centralized social media, the most complete manipulation system in human history.
I made the point that all of these abused primate-level instincts, purposely and scientifically. But as I saw their effect on Vannevar, I carefully added that we were becoming better in spite of them – that we were less brutal, that we were more creative – and that once these targeted abuses broke, we would come out of it better. Then I explained Bitcoin and the push, among mankind’s best, for decentralization.
Vannevar had some speculations of his own. “You must know this feeling,” he began, “where you have an internal feeling that something is wrong – a bad choice or wrong assumption – but that you do it anyway… you can’t… uh…”
“You can’t break your inertia?”
“Yes! Your inertia carries you right past consideration.”
“Then Lord, yes. I definitely know that error.”
“I think that’s related to the negative ambient.”
I thought about it a bit, then started nodding. “I agree, but I wonder if there are middle factors as well.”
He thought a bit, then said, “If so, then what is the core of the issue?”
“I’m not absolutely certain, Vannevar, but I think it comes down to fact that we need to communicate better with our internal parts.”
“And that the ambient works against that?”
Now I was excited. “Yes! I think that’s probably very close to the truth. Precisely how that happens, I don’t know, but I think we’ve hit pay dirt.”
I greatly enjoyed working on ideas with Vannevar, we were very much the same in some important ways, but with broadly differing experiences, which worked nicely. Still, we were soon enough at Cleveland Municipal airport, bidding each other heartfelt goodbyes. We agreed to stay in touch (mostly by mail), and I promised that I’d keep writing. He said he’d get everything published by the Deseret News (of Salt Lake City), if no one else carried it.
Then we hugged, and it was over. I walked back out of the terminal on my own, slipped into my car, and drove back to Pittsburgh for the night. I was fairly well out of sorts, and knew that I would be for some days. I could have pulled myself out of it temporarily, had some screaming need arisen, but it was a natural process I’d just have to go through. In a better ambient, I reasoned within myself, this would be shallower and shorter… but so it is.
And so it was.