5: Mt. Si

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Mount Si is four thousand feet of maples, hemlock, ferns, talus rocks, and, in the upper reaches, tumbled stones and stunted fir. In the summer daylight hours it's rare to go half an hour without seeing other hikers; and since folks in the Pacific Northwest are almost supernaturally fit, it's common to see joggers, 70-year-old rock-climbing buffs, clutches of scouts, and pregnant women powering up and down the trail as if it were no more strenuous than a walk around the mall.

But Walden was on the mountain at night, alone. Earlier there was a group of high schoolers hanging out by the treeline for a while, no doubt doing something slightly illegal, but Walden kept to the shadows until they were gone. Then he followed a stream through the dark woods down the less-traveled, northern side of the summit, until he reached a broad rocky clearing of stunted ferns and Scotch broom. He lay on the open face of the rocks, listening to the water, nothing above him but the summer stars.

He'd wanted to force his mind away from its two obsessions -- Paula (and Tori, and Max) on the one hand, and Logan (and his project) on the other. If he could quiet his mind for a while, maybe he could see a clear way forward. So he'd forced his body up the mountain at a reckless pace, covering the four miles in less than an hour, his heart pounding so loud and his muscles crying so painfully that, towards the top, he could think of nothing but putting one foot in front of another.

Now his body had cooled, and his breathing was quiet, and his mind was drifting inexorably back to its obsessions.

Logan's project. And here, too, there were two poles of attraction: fear of what might happen when the technology was acquired by the military, and -- perhaps just as bad -- by private corporations. He had no illusions that the magic hand of the free market would use this technology responsibly. Imagine selling a screen to a consumer -- wall-mounted, tablet, phone, whatever -- and being able to know what everyone in the house was thinking from then on? The possibilities for targeted advertising alone boggled the mind. Is your customer trying to decide what to have for dinner? Interrupt the show or the browser and show a pizza delivery commercial. Are they tired? Show an ad for an energy drink or a mattress store. Were they going on a date, getting ready for a job interview, falling in love? The ads could be delivered at just the right time to open the wallets. And if the ad was too annoying, too frequent? Then turn them off for a while. The device would learn exactly how many advertisements, and what kind, would be most effective...

He realized with horror that his treacherous mind was working through the engineering challenges and possibilities without asking him first whether this was an acceptable train of thought.

But the device had such amazing potential. Put it in a car, and it could tell if the driver was falling asleep. Put it in an office to see if your employees let their minds wander too often, or if you're driving them too hard. Give it to salesmen so they can see which customer wandering the showroom floor is really ready to buy, and maybe even which ones can really afford that speedster. Put it in a courtroom -- Logan said it wouldn't work as a lie detector, but who can guard their minds for hours at a time? One stray thought would betray a criminal. Put it in the halls of Congress... He laughed out loud.

The ideas kept coming until he was dizzy with them, and the stars spun him and the whole Earth under him.

But the military... if the military had it, what would they do with it? It could read minds, but not control them. It would really be not much more than a surveillance device. They already had plenty of those... But reading minds? The thought repulsed him.

But if he dragged his mind away from Logan's project, he ended up back at Max, Paula, and Tori. If anyone on Earth was family for him, it was them. He desperately wanted to talk to them, to share his pain with them, so he didn't have to carry it by himself. But Paula wouldn't answer his calls, and Tori... she couldn't carry her own pain, much less help with anyone else's. And he blamed himself for that. Talking with her now would help nobody.

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⏰ Last updated: Nov 09, 2015 ⏰

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