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I turned Prof. Mellow over to one of our wizard handlers and later learned that we set him up in a special complex of greenhouses, ostensibly doing research on new allergy meds for major pharma.

In order to spread our voiceprint traps, the ACC set up several NGOs to integrate vox-cutter tech into the public-call-office landline systems in Pakistani villages and to subsidize the extension of cell coverage in remote areas. Back at home, we sent go-tos on shopping trips to stockpile cheap prepaid cell phones. We made cash purchases of handsets at every Wal-Mart and Radio Shack across America. We shipped boxloads of them to linemen who replaced their chips with our own vox-cutter SIMMs and bundled them for distribution with hand-crank chargers.

Our wizards were keeping tabs on the town where we staged our shopping-center test. We were monitoring for any possible fallout or aftereffects, such as a change in homicide, suicide, or domestic-­violence rates. The only aftereffect we detected was the lingering spell M seemed to have cast on the coffee wholesaler whose stock we had adulterated. Shortly after the test, he phoned his sister in Texas and told her about a woman he’d met on a recent Sunday after church. They had hit it off in a big way. She had a precocious little girl who after only two days was calling him Uncle Duane. Uncle Duane was perplexed when all of a sudden his two special girls left town without so much as a good-bye, and he wondered if they were in any kind of trouble.

A year later he continued to wonder, in rambling weekly calls to his sister. And I was unhappy with M about involving her kid in an operation.


Time passed, and Project Phone Home burbled along. Prof. Mellow was making great strides in realizing two of our requirements for Ambrosia osamum. First, the drug was to accumulate not in the ragweed leaf or flower but on the surface of its pollen, where it could be readily absorbed by the mucous membranes of the eyes and nose. Second, the TC genes were to be expressed only in the first generation of ragweed plants. After that they turned themselves off. The last thing we wanted was for this guiltweed to get away from us and spread to wild plants. Unlike Prof. Mellow with his pet dandelions, the ACC is opposed to letting GM ­Frankensteins loose. We’re patriots, not God.

When the time came for human trials, the prof rounded up volunteers among the greenhouse workers. The results were positive: red, runny noses; itchy eyes; and inflamed consciences.


Then some bad news arrived to spoil the mood. The civilian researchers from the army TC project were being called in for lengthy interviews. We felt pretty confident about our contact, since her neck was on the same block as ours. But there was the possibility the army might interview her with the help of the drug itself. M and C had become compromised.

On top of that, Uncle Duane was still obsessing about M. By now she and the kid were the lost loves of his life, and he posted photos of them on Flickr and on sites for missing and exploited children. Worse, his sister in Texas had persuaded him to hire a detective, for his own peace of mind.

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Credit: Istvan Banyai

Tagged: Communications

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