Authors: Richard Dooling
Copyright © 1998 by Richard Dooling
All rights reserved under International and Pan-American Copyright Conventions. Published in the United States by Random House, Inc., New York, and simultaneously in Canada by Random House of Canada Limited, Toronto.
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Brain storm / Richard Dooling.
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he beheadings are almost identical,” said Joe Watson, placing his memo on the walnut expanse of Arthur Mahoney’s worktable. Watson resisted the impulse to retrieve the memo on beheadings from the senior partner’s elbow and check it again for typos. Arthur Mahoney—silver-haired mentor and the partner in charge of young Watson’s career at Stern, Pale & Covin—had been less than enthusiastic about the last two memos Watson had done for him, and Watson feared that another unsatisfying piece of work might jeopardize the comfortable, protected niche he’d made for himself as research and writing factotum to the head of the litigation department.
“Almost identical?” asked Arthur. He set aside the stack of correspondence and enclosures he had been reviewing, swiveled in his recliner, and attended to his young associate and the press of the business at hand: decapitations.
“Yes,” said Watson, panicking as he suddenly realized he had forgotten to use the spell checker himself (instead of just having his secretary do it), so he could activate the homophone feature of the firm’s word processing software and double-check for words that were spelled correctly but were misused, like
in the last
memo, and Arthur had filled the margins with a handwritten screed on the importance of precision.
“Is this something more than look and feel?” asked Arthur. “We’ve seen so many of these damn beheadings. And you associates tend to make wild, very serious, highly theoretical allegations without thinking about the weeks of courtroom labor you’ll need to prove them. How do you distinguish one beheading from another? I’ll have to rely on young people to teach me about decapitations. We didn’t have such grisly spectacles in my day.”
“Both heads are severed at the third cervical vertebra—right here,” said Watson, running a finger across the back of his own neck by way of illustration.
“So?” said Arthur. “Seems a likely enough site.”
“Similar-sounding crunches occur when the blades strike the vertebra. The arteries and veins sprout like seaweed and spurt blood everywhere. I’m having the splatter patterns analyzed to be sure, but the splotches look identical. The heads topple forward and then roll down stairs—three stairs, to be exact, with three kerplunks. The animated victims turn their headless stumps toward the gamer and squirt blood through the windpipes onto the screen. The heads themselves are mounted on pikes, and in both cases the heads say, ‘Ouch, that smarts!’ in a kind of cartoon voice, at the instant of impalement.”
Arthur made a small steeple of his index fingers and tapped it against his pursed lips. “Joseph,” he said with a benevolent smile, “I can imagine myself arguing to a federal district judge that one beheading is identical to another. I can imagine myself arguing that one beheading is wholly distinguishable from some other beheading which has been served up by way of comparison, but I’m straining somewhat to imagine myself arguing that two beheadings are
identical. Instead of issuing general proclamations of their near identity, perhaps your analysis could commence with a succinct delineation of the difference or differences, however slight, between the two beheadings. I’ll speak plainly: What is keeping our almost identical beheadings from becoming completely identical beheadings?”
“A halberd and a scimitar, sir,” said Watson.
“A halberd,” said Arthur.
“It’s kind of a combination poleax and pike mounted on a six-foot handle,” Watson explained. “You’ve probably seen knights and
beefeaters and whatnot holding them. Or maybe if you’ve been to a museum you’ve seen them leaning against suits of armor. The Met in New York has quite a collection.”
“I know what a halberd is,” said Arthur.
“I knew you would,” said Watson, deciding not to mention that he had exhaustively researched the subject of halberds to the tune of six or seven billable hours, had viewed the Met’s collection of halberds on-line at http://www.nycmet.com/medieval/halberds, and had submitted his time under the heading “Research Look-and-Feel Issues Involving Ancillary Armaments, 6.75 Hours.”
“In CarnageMaster, the Crusader’s head is cut off by a Maltese knight with a halberd, but in Greek SlaughterHouse, Medusa is beheaded by Perseus, who uses a blazing scimitar.”
“And a polished shield for a mirror?” Arthur asked eagerly.
“No,” said Watson, “I don’t think our clients are up on their Greek mythology. Perseus just kind of looks right at Medusa and whops off her head with a scimitar he must have stolen from a vanquished Turk after doing a little time traveling. Now, you’re probably thinking, That’s different—Perseus and his scimitar are different from a Maltese knight with a halberd. But when the weapons are displayed later, the blood drips in precisely the same patterns from the blades to the same reticulated stone floor of an identical castle—the Castle of Skulls—which was designed by our client’s multimedia programmers.”
“Sounds like more than a coincidence,” said Arthur, “but is this copyright infringement? Something more than look and feel? Has CarnageMaster stolen the story of Greek SlaughterHouse? The characters?”
“CarnageMaster has stolen the
of Greek SlaughterHouse,” Watson said.
“Hmmm,” said Arthur. “So we have these ‘almost identical’ beheadings, and we have the ‘very similar’ dungeon torture sessions, followed by the ‘almost identical’ disembowelments.”
“That’s right,” said Watson. “Don’t forget the nearly identical large-breasted blondes wearing see-through chain mail shackled to ringbolts and stones inside pink, secret chambers. In both games, male assailants brandish flesh-colored broadswords at them.”
“We need more,” said Arthur. “Subliminal Solutions and the SlaughterHouse team want to be absolutely certain of their position before amending their complaint and adding a request for punitive damages.
We need to be sure this is all—what are the magic words?—‘well grounded in fact and warranted by existing law,’ or we risk Rule Eleven sanctions. More research is indicated.”
“Yes, sir,” said Watson.
Arthur took a call. Watson gathered his papers and headed out, back to his office, a windowless cubicle one fourth the size of Arthur’s spread. Arthur had the big office, the ancient measure of partner power, but he didn’t have a 600 megahertz Pentium VI 3-D system with a subwoofer and a twenty-eight-inch flat-panel display, which the firm had installed in Watson’s office to assist him in analyzing copyright litigation claims for the firm’s software clientele. Arthur didn’t “do” computers, had no use for them. He was an example of that dying breed of lawyer who still pined for the days when former fraternity brothers and family friends paid dearly for sage advice and legal guidance. The old guy had barely an inkling that modern corporate clients were no longer interested in sage advice (they could get that from the in-house lawyers they had on staff). They had all the family friends and wise men they needed; they came to Stern, Pale looking for armies of ruthless litigators and information dominance, so they could massacre their opponents in court.
In the twilight of his august career, Arthur was still dispensing advice and memos to clients, but these days those memos and that advice consisted of information that had been winnowed, gathered, and compressed by associates using powerful computers and search technologies. For young lawyers, like Joe, legal prowess increasingly depended on computer expertise, which meant that one had to curry favor and cultivate relationships not only with senior partners, who played real golf, but also with the management information systems (MIS) people, who played 3-D Microsoft Golf and who controlled access to the machines and the software a young associate needed for optimum research capabilities.
For instance, Arthur barely knew the head of MIS—a shapeless, rumpled dweeb, affectionately known as Inspector Digit—who was Watson’s buddy and primarily responsible for getting Watson into his high-end equipment. Digit was, in the language of the trade, a guy with lots of MIPS but no I/O. Plenty of brainpower, but subject to trap errors, freeze-ups, and system hangs when it came to interacting with humans. When Digit opened his mouth, argot and acronyms, techno-linguistics and programming instruction sets came out. Most lawyers said only
“Uh-huh” and “Fix it” to Digit, which was why Digit valued Watson’s friendship. Watson, in turn, looked to Digit for the very latest in beta browsers and processing power.
Officially, the lawyers were allowed to use only firm-issued desktop PCs (referred to by the information elite as “beige toasters”) that were hooked to the network and ran five-year-old firm-approved software (hopelessly dated stuff, referred to as “stone knives and bearskins”); third-party programs of any kind were strictly forbidden, for obvious security reasons. But unofficially, Inspector Digit and the MIS people gave Watson and a few other silicon turbonerds high-end machines and let them deploy and test the latest Web browsers, agents, robots, and legal systems software. It was the best way to test the stuff before implementing it throughout the network. Watson and the other tech-headed lawyers were always clustergeeking around the new machines, running beta software, crashing supposedly crashproof software, or cycle crunching the networks on purpose, so that the MIS people would order them stand-alone workstations. Also known as propeller heads, spods, and terminal junkies, these associates knew the antiviral and security drills, so there was no point in limiting their use of third-party programs. Besides, restricting the serious user’s choice of software is the equivalent of thought control.
Let Arthur have a big office, thought Watson—I’ll take the workstation with two gigabytes of RAM and the beta software.
His screen came back to life when he moved the trackball, and Watson returned to the Castle of Skulls, ready for another thirty or forty billable hours of dismembering 3-D medieval warlords.
A blinking light on his Personal Information Manager (PIM) indicated that he had external voice mail waiting. He pressed the button. “This is Judge Stang’s clerk, Federal District Court, Eastern District of Missouri, calling Joseph T. Watson, attorney number 76892. Pursuant to the court’s local rules, Judge Stang has appointed you to represent an indigent defendant in Case Number 2002-CR-30084-WJS. For more information about the case and for a copy of the information and the bill of particulars, please call the court at …”