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Interesting Times

Alex Bohlen, bioprogrammer for Xpert Systems Implants, sat a few yards from the boxing ring and watched Reinhardt Magnusgarten climb through the ropes. In the seat to Bohlen's right, even as the crowd around them let out its roar of approval, Ed Norton, implant surgeon, gave a grunt of disgust.

"That SOB can't stop clowning."

Bohlen noted Magnusgarten's nose-thumbing gesture across the ring toward Bisbee, the champion.

Bohlen shook his head. "The implant doesn't affect his natural ebullience."

"Ebullience? The guy thinks he's unbeatable. When they weighed in, he laughed in Bisbee's face."

Around them, the shouts of the crowd were rising to a new pitch, and Bohlen listened wonderingly:

"Okay, Maggie! Kill the bastard!"

"Magic Garden! You're in the Garden, boy! You've made it! Hey, hey! Magic Garden!"

"Come on, Maggie! Show him! We're all champs now!"

"One round, Maggie!"

Bohlen leaned toward Norton. "Are all these people crazy?"

"I don't think they are. But I think Magnus may be."

In the ring, Magnusgarten had shrugged off his robe to reveal a large pale physique, and, as the crowd gave a roar of laughter, he patted his none too muscular midsection. He then danced somewhat tipsily around in his corner, and Norton suddenly sprang to his feet, to shout to the trainer, who shook his head and leaned over the ropes to answer:

"Just the usual! You know Maggie!"

Norton sat down, and Bohlen said, "What was that?"

"I thought Magnus might be drunk. Tab says he's just horsing around, as usual."

"That's a relief, at least."

"There's a lot riding on this. Magnus could show a little seriousness."

"That would be nice. But he's done all right so far."

"Sure. Against second-rates. Strictly thanks to the implant."


In the ring, an official, arms raised, was trying to quiet the crowd. The crowd chanted back, "Fight! Fight! Kill him, Maggie! Fight! Fight! Kill him, Maggie! Fight! Fight! Kill him, Maggie!"

Someone tugged at Bohlen's left sleeve. He turned, to smile at a pretty blonde girl in the seat beside him.

"Bo," she said, "I'm scared."

"I told you you might not like it. But don't worry. It's always like this. A lot of noise and emotion. It's just the way it always is."

She shook her head. "I don't mean that. I'm afraid for Magnus. He can't possibly stand up to that man."

Bohlen followed her gaze, to see the two fighters in the center of the ring, right hands outstretched. The contrast jarred him. There in the blaze of the lights was the champion, Bisbee, a light sheen of sweat over powerful muscles, plainly trained to the peak of condition, his face blank, his gaze alert. He had a look of power and lightning reflexes.

And there was Magnusgarten, large, but more lightly built, his muscles less developed, pale, slightly pudgy, a silly faintly nasty grin on his face as he said something to the champion.

By some freak of acoustics, Bohlen caught the words.

Norton swore. "What did the overconfident ass do now?"

Bohlen shook his head. "He said, 'Sweet dreams,' to Bisbee."

"Great. He thinks the implant's magic. He doesn't know the difference between the second-rates he fought to get here and the champion of the world. How could I be so stupid?"

"You? What did you do?"

Norton shook his head. "I bet on him."

Bohlen grinned. "On Magnus?"

Norton nodded. "And it wasn't pennies."

The crowd was shouting and laughing. The girl said in a low voice, "Oh, Magnus." Bohlen turned to reassure her. There was a bell. A huge shout went up. Bohlen looked around.

Bisbee was in the center of the ring, his muscular arms raised to shield his head as Magnus with incredible speed landed blows to the champion's arms, shoulders, and when Bisbee tried to strike back, to his briefly uncovered head. When Bisbee turned, as if to get away, Magnus was already there, blocking him, smashing at Bisbee's well covered head and body.

The crowd screamed, "Maggie! Maggie! You've got him!"

The girl was on her feet with everyone else, clutching Bohlen's arm.

Norton was shouting with the rest of them. "Put him down, Maggie! Put him down!"

Magnusgarten hit Bisbee again and again. Bisbee kept backing and turning, keeping his head well covered. Magnusgarten hit him on the biceps, the shoulders, landed a blow to the midsection. Suddenly, Bisbee lashed out, and his punch missed, pulling him a little off-balance. Magnusgarten hit him to the eyes, and again to the eyes. Bisbee covered his face with his gloves, the sweat running down his well muscled body.

Magnusgarten laughed, stepped close, said something to Bisbee, then stepped easily around the big muscular fighter, and smashed him in the side.

As Bisbee retreated across the ring, Magnusgarten followed, hit the upraised arms, then the midsection. Bisbee covered himself with gloves, forearms, and elbows. Magnusgarten hit him. Bisbee gave with the punches.

Norton said, "Damn it! Why won't he go down?"

The big crowd fell silent. For several moments there was nothing but the sound of the blows. Then, from somewhere to the rear came an elderly, somewhat cracked male voice:

"Keep it up, Champ! He's wearing out!"

The bell rang.

Magnusgarten, breathing hard, sank onto his stool. Bisbee, the champion, sat down and leaned back. His eyes were puffed, and blood trickled from a cut in his lip.

Norton said uneasily, "This is the first fight to go a full round."

Bohlen said, "Well—Bisbee is the champ."

"I don't like the looks of it. Magnus acts tired already."

Bohlen leaned close to Norton's ear. "Remember the program."

Norton nodded, but said moodily, "If there had been more strength in Magnus's blows, Bisbee would be down by now."

"He's no weakling. He's hurt Bisbee. You can see that."

"I know he's no weakling. But he doesn't do his part. Tab has to train him playing games and he has to do it between parties. Magnus throws the whole burden on other people."

"The reporters love it. So does the crowd."

"That won't help him if Bisbee connects."

There was the sound of the bell.

Magnusgarten came unsteadily to his feet. He sucked in a deep breath and blew it out, looking across the ring at Bisbee.

The champion, hands partly raised, stalked warily across the ring.

The cracked voice called from the back, "Watch him, Champ! He's not that bushed!"

The champion's guard jerked up higher.

At the same instant, Magnusgarten pivoted. Bisbee reeled back, hands in front of his face. Magnusgarten laughed, stepped aside, struck Bisbee's gloves as if to knock his guard down, hit him in the side, in the elbows, hit the raised gloves, smashed Bisbee in the ear, struck again to the head, where the upraised arms soaked up the force of the blows, smashed him on the biceps, again on the biceps, as if to lacerate the muscles, to destroy Bisbee's power of defense—

Bisbee backed, moved with the blows, covered himself, retreated around the ring as Magnus advanced.

The crowd screamed for action. Time and again, Magnusgarten lashed out, breathing hard, and the champion slipped away.

Among the shouts of "Yellow!" "Coward!" "Come on and fight!" came a cracked voice, "That's it, Champ! Wear him down!"

The bell finally rang.

A shout went up.

Norton sat back. "My God!"

From the rear of the arena, as the shouting died down, came the cracked voice, "He's slowing, Champ. Next round, push him a little."

Norton twisted in his seat. "Who is that? Damn it, I wish he'd shut up!"

The girl said, "Is it true?"

Bohlen looked at her anxious face. "Is what true?"

"Is Magnus tired?"

"He's bound to be a little tired."

"But doesn't the—the chip—the implant—It makes him an expert, doesn't it?"

As Bohlen hesitated, Norton leaned across him to snarl, "The bastard won't train, that's the trouble. The implant steps up his coordination. It gives him skill he wouldn't have. But he thinks it's magic and he doesn't train."

"But couldn't the implant make him train?"

Norton glanced at Bohlen. "How about it?"

Bohlen hesitated. "Maybe some day. So far, we can't do anything for motivation. I never even thought of the problem." He frowned at Norton. "Did you?"

"I thought if we got someone big and strong, who knew the rudiments, who'd take the risk of the surgery, and if we could get the chip implanted—I thought that would do it."

"That's what I thought."

The bell rang.

Bisbee, his guard well up, cautiously crossed the ring.

Magnusgarten, breathing hard, his hands down, stood, legs slightly trembling, in his corner.

The thin cracked voice called, "Test him a little, Champ!"

Bisbee's left hand lashed out.

Magnusgarten moved his head and body just a little, slipped the blow, and brought up both hands. The champion's right smashed solidly into Magnusgarten's midsection. Magnusgarten went back on the ropes, bounced off, and as Bisbee swung a right that missed, the cracked voice yelled, "Cover, Champ!" Magnusgarten's fists flashed out to Bisbee's briefly unprotected head. The blows were solid, coordinated, and one followed another so fast Bohlen wasn't sure whether there had been three, four, or half-a-dozen.

Bisbee went down. The sound brought the crowd to its feet and silence to the arena.

Bohlen reached in his hip pocket, and brought out a handkerchief. He mopped his face and brow. "Close."

The girl said wonderingly, admiringly, "I never thought Magnus could do it!"

The worshipful tone irritated Bohlen, but he clamped his jaws shut. Norton, sweat running down his face, looking as if he had been in the ring himself, leaned across Bohlen to speak in a low voice.

"Magnus hasn't done a damned thing! Every move he's made has been programmed. I did the surgery, Bo here programmed the chip. The rest of the team sweated right along with us. And now the lazy bastard is supposed to get all the credit? When you see him, tell him to train! He could have lost this fight!"

There was an indrawn breath from the crowd. Bohlen turned back to look in the ring.

Magnusgarten, blood running from his nose and lip, leaning painfully on the ropes, stared as Bisbee stood up and the referee stepped back.

It suddenly dawned on Bohlen that the champion had stayed down for the count of nine voluntarily. Bisbee's face looked puffed around the eyes, and his lip was cut and swollen, but his movements showed no weakness.

The wondering murmur of the crowd sounded like the sea washing up on a long flat beach, and Bohlen thought of the turn of the tide.

Then the bell signaled the end of the round.

Norton leaned over to Bohlen. "Now what?"

Bohlen drew a deep breath. He kept his voice low. "The chip can judge the visual images, and give the commands to Magnus's muscles. If Bisbee knocks out Magnus's vision, or if Magnus's strength gives out, there isn't much the chip can do."

"Then it's up to Magnus?"

"What do you mean?"

"The champ's been soaking up punishment since the fight started. Magnus is worn to a thread dishing it out. This can't go on. Bisbee's going to connect. What good will the chip do then?"

"If the chip gets no input, it has him cover. That's all it can do."

"Then when it comes to the final settlement, it's up to Magnus?"

Bohlen frowned. "I'm not sure I follow. Magnus can override the implant any time. But I don't know what good that will do. We picked Magnus because he was a promising fighter. But the skills in that chip are distilled from every first-rate boxer we could get to cooperate. The only people who could hope to equal it would be first-rate champions themselves: Sullivan. Dempsey. Louis."

"And Bisbee?"

"Maybe. Especially since Magnus is out of shape."

The bell rang, and Bohlen looked up to see Bisbee come out of his corner, and Magnus, with a look of doom, motionless, hands down, still in his corner. Bohlen glanced at the girl. Tears were running down her cheeks.

Bohlen bent over, ignoring the ring.

"Are you in love with Magnus?"

She nodded hopelessly.

From the back of the arena came the cracked voice.

"Paste him around, Champ. Wear him down."

Norton turned around.

"Who in hell is that?"

Bohlen forced himself to watch.

Bisbee had moved close. Bohlen now saw an unexpected display of skill as Magnusgarten tied up Bisbee, robbed his punches of most of their force, took the heavy blows on his arms instead of his head, blocked, turned, weaved, slipped the blows, gasped for breath, wincing with the force of the punches that did get through, spending the round soaking up punishment and dealing out in return nothing that was any real threat to the champion. Finally, the bell rang.

Norton sank down in his seat. "I thought Magnus was done. But he's still alive. What now?"

Bohlen shook his head.

Norton said, "He's more worn out than when the round started. Bisbee looks fresher."

"I'm afraid Magnus is just a sparring partner to him now. But he's on his feet. He could still win."

"Bisbee batters him on the arms. What happens when he gets Magnus so numb and arm-weary he can't cover himself?"

"I'm afraid that's it."

"Nothing programmed for this problem?"

"The problem isn't cut and dried. There are stratagems, evaluations, sequences of moves. It depends on what Bisbee does. And boxing isn't all skill. It depends on condition, guts, will. We picked Magnus because he was a promising fighter. We didn't know he was going to take his training easy. I'm surprised he's lasted this long."

"I've got a lot on this bout."

"We all have. The press acts as if this decides it for skill implants."

Norton shook his head. "The technology will go on. Maybe some illusions will go."

"I can think of one—let technology do all the work. If Magnus loses, it will be that that did it."

The bell rang.

Magnus moved quickly out of his corner. After an exchange of blows in the center of the ring, the champion moved in impatiently. Magnus's brief show of strength gave out, but he succeeded in tying up the champion and slowing him down, though he himself landed few blows that had much force. The round passed in a silence from the crowd, and just as the next round started, a familiar cracked voice spoke up:

"Okay, Champ. Take him."

Norton gave a low curse, and crouched lower in his seat.

Bisbee crossed the ring before Magnus seemed to realize what was happening, then Magnus, nearby in the ring, pivoted to land a blow to Bisbee's head. Bisbee, seeming unaffected, smashed Magnus to the midsection, to double him over, then abruptly delivered a sequence of head and body blows that brought the crowd to its feet, and suddenly Magnus was down, near the edge of the ring closest to Bohlen and Norton.

Now, for the first time, there was a shout of "Bisbee! Bisbee!"

The girl, crying, stood up, clutching Bohlen's arm.

Bohlen realized the count had already reached three. He shook his head.

As the count reached seven, Magnus opened his eyes. He turned his head, to see the crying girl. At the count of nine, he struggled to his feet.

Bohlen, frowning, noted blood running from a cut above Bisbee's right eye. That must have happened in the exchange of blows just before Magnus went down. Bisbee, seeming unaware of it, forced the fight, and Magnus again showed his skill in defense. Just before the bell rang, Magnus landed a blow that hit the champion above the right eye. Then he dragged himself to his corner and dropped onto the stool.

Bohlen sank back in his seat.

Norton said grudgingly, "The skill is the chip's. But he's got guts, all right. I think I'd have stayed on the deck."

Bohlen nodded. "I don't know any way to program courage. Bisbee's eye doesn't look good, either."

"No. But this dents our slogan that 'Anyone's an expert with an XPert Implant.' There's more than skill involved. You can't turn everything over to the implant."

"No, I don't think anyone would care to try it. It isn't the chip that feels the blows."

The girl was sitting, trembling, with her eyes shut and head bowed. Bohlen looked at her thoughtfully, then heard the bell.

This time, both fighters were cautious, as Magnus circled to get a blow at Bisbee's eye, and Bisbee sought to prevent it. Bohlen, watching the seemingly academic series of combinations as both fighters boxed, was surprised to note how often Magnus, though plainly the weaker, still managed to score. By the end of the round, the cut over Bisbee's eye was visibly worse, and the eye nearly shut. But Magnus seemed scarcely able to stay on his feet.

Norton said, "Damn it, even if he half-blinds him, how will he put him down?"

"Be glad he's still conscious."

"If he lives through it, I hope next time he trains. Damn it, if he hadn't had an implant, he'd have trained!"

"Every time we get a technological advance, we lose something. People expect the technology to do it all."

"Ah, it's the usual thing. Tough barbarians from the northland erupt into the tropics, and conquer the weaklings lying around in the sun. A couple of generations later, they get whipped themselves by a fresh batch of barbarians. Now we make an oil burner and put the tropics into the home. The chip is the worst. It's supposed to do the thinking and planning. The problem has been around since the Vandals, and we're losing ground."

"I wonder if actually it might be possible to somehow program the training routine into the chip?"

The bell rang.

From the back of the hall, a cracked voice called, "Champ—You've got to force him."

Norton shook his head. "That guy ought to be in Bisbee's corner. If he'd just shut up, we might live through this yet."

Bisbee, seeming to pay no attention, tried to box Magnus at long range, while Magnus tried to circle, to take advantage of the poor vision of that swollen right eye. The fight turned into a sparring match, and Bohlen, groggy himself, watched with less and less attention. Toward the end of the round, he became aware that Magnus had just landed a blow to the head. Bisbee's broad back was to Bohlen, who didn't realize anything more had happened until he saw Magnus's head snap back, and Magnus went back on the ropes. Bohlen came awake to see Magnus, doubled over, take a murderous right uppercut that straightened him up, then he dropped unconscious to the floor.

Bisbee turned and walked across the ring.

The count, monotonously intoned, reached eight, and Magnus had yet to move or open an eye.

The bell rang.

Bisbee gave his head a slight shake, and walked to his corner.

Bohlen, groggy, glanced at the girl, who sat staring dazedly at her hands, as if afraid to look in the ring. Bohlen, who felt the same way, made the effort to look up.

In the ring, officials were conferring. Someone, apparently a doctor, was examining Magnus.

The bell rang.

Norton said, "What round is this?"

"Don't ask me."

"Wasn't that an unusually short break between rounds?"

"If you can still judge time, you're better off than I am."

Magnus, his guard up, was facing the champion, who bored in as Magnus gave an exhibition of skill that reduced Bisbee to a look almost of clumsiness. By the end of the round, Bisbee's right eye was nearly shut.

At the close of the round, as Bisbee and Magnus sank onto their stools, someone cheered, and the crowd joined in.

Norton leaned over beside Bohlen. "Not to take any credit away from Magnus, but I'm wondering. Speaking as a surgeon, a mere mechanic for bodies, it seems to me an opponent could beat Magnus to a pulp, and that chip would keep calculating moves for him. The chip isn't going to get dazed at all, is it? No matter how dazed Magnus gets?"

"I've taken it for granted that if he's groggy, he can't function. It looks as if I was wrong."

"The impression I have is that his skill improves after Bisbee knocks him half-unconscious. We never saw this before. No one ever got this far before."

"It's certainly a point. He acts dead on his feet, but his skill, if anything, improves."

"Well—let's hope he stays a little dazed. If Bisbee gets him again, I'm not sure the bell can save him."

"As it is, I think he's winning on points."

The bell rang. Again the two boxers approached each other. This time, Bisbee seemed determined to take advantage of his strength. Despite another display of skill from Magnus, the blows Bisbee dealt seemed on the edge of putting Magnus down. But when the bell rang, Magnus was still on his feet, and Bisbee's eye was almost shut.

Again the officials conferred, and now a doctor examined Bisbee.

The crowd, apparently worn out themselves, watched in silence.

The bell rang.

As the fight resumed, again Magnus was able to hit almost at will, as Bisbee covered himself, retreated, backed away, and suddenly, as if out of nowhere, smashed Magnus with his left hand, sprang forward, and moving too fast to be clearly seen, landed a sequence of murderous blows.

Again, Magnus was on the floor.

Bisbee stood over him, breathing hard, as the referee tried in vain to get him to move away. Finally, with a heavy sigh, Bisbee turned and walked away.

The count started, and reached eight.

Magnus tried to get to his feet, and failed.

The referee counted, "Nine."

The bell rang.

Bohlen sat unmoving, dazed. Around him, there was a near-total silence. Again the officials conferred. A doctor examined Magnus.

Norton nudged Bohlen. "Let me by. I think she's fainted."

Bohlen looked dully at the girl, slumped in her seat.

Somewhere, a bell rang.

Bohlen sat in a daze, then looked up without curiosity at the ring.

The two fighters were circling each other, both wary, exchanging blows meaningless to Bohlen. It dawned on him that he had missed something. Now the fight seemed almost even. It had obviously been Bisbee's at the end of the last round.

Bohlen looked away, and wondered idly if there was some food around somewhere. Then he asked himself why he felt as he did. Next he wondered how he did feel. It took a while to find a comparison. He felt as if he were a reporter in the Second World War, and the slaughter was still going on now after decades of fighting, and he still didn't know who was going to win.

The bell rang.

"Good God," said Norton.

Bohlen felt a twinge of curiosity, and glanced at the seat to his left.

The girl was gone. "What did—"

Norton said, "I sent her out. It was killing her."

Bohlen nodded absently, "Not a very doctorly way to put it. Your professional manner is underdeveloped."

"I don't feel very doctorly. I feel like a wet rag. How would you put it?"

The bell rang, to signal the beginning of another round.

Bohlen's thoughts moved like glaciers. After a while, he said, "I'd look profound, and say she was being emotionally traumatized by this experience."

Norton, watching the ring, nodded judiciously. "There's still time for you to go to medical school."

There was a crash from just above them, in the ring, and a murmur of voices, then someone said, "One."

Bohlen looked up.

Bisbee lay outstretched on the canvas.

Bohlen stared, trying to see Magnus lying there, because it was Magnus he expected to see. But the fighter stretched out there was Bisbee.

At the count of seven, the champion tried to get up. As he turned his head, Bohlen could see that now his left eye was swollen almost shut. Bisbee fell back onto the canvas.

At the count of nine, he scrambled to his feet.

Magnus crossed the ring, hit Bisbee, and hit him again. The blows weren't heavy, but Bisbee couldn't defend.

Bisbee then covered his head. He was fighting now as he had fought in the first round, but now both eyes were swollen, and blood was trickling down as Magnus methodically opened up a cut over his left eye.

Bisbee lashed out at his tormentor, who moved easily aside, and struck back to catch Bisbee in the mouth. Again Bisbee covered himself.

Magnus hit Bisbee, hit him again. Magnus, though obviously tired, was moving with smooth coordination. Suddenly he laughed.

"Sweet dreams," he said, and landed a sudden heavy blow to the side of Bisbee's head.

Bisbee staggered.

The bell rang.

Norton said, "They've got to stop this."

A few moments later, they declared Magnus the winner, and he stood with upraised fists, smiling, as the cheers echoed around him. But Bohlen could see no one close to the ring who was cheering. He glanced at Norton, who shook his head.

Bohlen said, "What happened?"

"What do you mean?"

"Bisbee had him. Then I looked away. I was tired of watching it."

"You should have bet on it. You wouldn't have looked away."

"The last I saw, Magnus was on the mat. What happened?"

"It was the same thing again. Magnus was out on his feet, but he moved like a dream. Bisbee couldn't connect. His eyes were swollen shut, and he couldn't follow what Magnus was doing."

"I suppose I should be glad," said Bohlen.

Norton grunted. "At the end, I was hoping Bisbee would win. It would have cost me money, but it would have been worth it. Look at Magnus."

Bohlen didn't look at the ring. "He won on luck. And guts, give him that. But the bell saved him at least twice."

"That's not what he thinks."

Bohlen looked at Magnus. "He thinks he's unbeatable. Damn it! It's the implant!"

Norton said, "And you programmed it."

"Not alone," said Bohlen defensively. "It wasn't my idea."

"I'm not blaming you. What I'm saying is, he's standing up there, taking the cheers. It was luck and the implant that saved him, and you programmed the implant, and I put it in. I tell you, one slip, and he wouldn't be here. He wouldn't have lived through the operation. But is he giving anyone else credit?"


"There's a problem here, Bo."

Bohlen said, "I won't argue with that."

"It never hit me we were making a Frankenstein's monster."

"Well—I wouldn't go that far."

"I would. This isn't the only expert chip there's going to be. This is just the first. This guy is a Boxer. Pretty soon we're going to be making Soldiers. Somewhere, right now, they're doubtless asking how to make Assassins. Sooner or later there'll be a Ninja implant chip. What's it going to be like to live in the same world with this stuff? For the first time, anyone with the money, or who has a backer with the money, will be able to acquire real skill without making the effort to earn it."

Bohlen stared at Magnus, saw Magnus smile easily, condescendingly, to the reporters as they crowded around, asking him to make a muscle, snapping pictures of him with fists raised. Magnus's lip was swollen, and one of his eyes was partly shut, but that didn't dent the easy air of superiority.

Norton said, "How does he look so casual when Bisbee had him on the mat twice?"

"Three times."

Norton blinked. "That's right."

Bohlen shook his head. "Maybe it's just his personality. This may not happen with everyone who gets an implant. He's the first. There will be others. It could even become commonplace."

"Not for a while. There aren't enough surgeons who want to do the operations."

"Yeah, but—"

Norton looked at him.

"But what?"

"That's the next expert implant—the surgical chip."

"You're serious?"

"I wouldn't make this up. It's perfectly logical. The bottleneck, all along, was the interface. A big part of that is the process of implantation. We need capable surgeons. Therefore, develop an implant to increase the number of capable surgeons. That will end the bottleneck. Q. E. D."

Norton swore.

Bohlen said, "Will you refuse the implant?"

"I don't end to end up like Magnus."

"Then you'll be passed by colleagues less capable now than you are."

"I can think of the very cretins who'd jump at the chance." He looked at Bohlen, and suddenly his eyes glinted. "And when does the programmer's chip implant come up?"

Bohlen shook his head. "Third on the list. Another bottleneck."

Norton smiled. "Programming should be a natural for this technique."

"I'm not certain it can be done. But I wouldn't bet against it."

"There are a lot of angles to this thing. Magnus has the idea he is different and superior. I wonder how competition would hit him. I think Bisbee deserves the chance to even things up."

"Would he do it?"

"We could find out."

Bohlen laughed. "It may end up like college. Almost everybody has to have a degree, now. I can see it a few years from now: 'What field is your implant in?'"

"Not so fast. Even with lots of willing surgeons, there's still the operation. Who wants it?"

"It could end up like tonsils and adenoids. Then, after a little more improvement in technique, like going to the dentist."

"People will send their children to the chip-implanter?"

"Why not?"

Norton gazed off into the distance, and shook his head.

"There's one thing we can be reasonably sure of."

Bohlen nodded. "In one sense or another, this technology will be very educational."


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