By Doc Nebula

The Director steepled his fingers and did his best to look attentive. The administrator standing in front of his desk was several minutes into a deadly dull report filled with interminable statistics... and the most maddening thing about it was that the marvelous automatic calculating machine hidden inside the desk itself was recording every word, in its own marvelous way, and would be able to repeat back any of these numerals, in any order he wished, at any time after the seemingly endless report was finished.

But of course, the Director couldn't tell anyone that. They'd think him mad. Several of his underlings were already seeking excuses to replace him... and they must not. Not until the Task was done.

The reporting administrator finally droned to an end. "Excellent," the Director said, forcing himself to look pleased, to sound brisk. His mind was a muddle of figures... this many units processed, that many still in the system, yet another gradually dwindling number of units yet to be procured and processed. Rates of procurement, efficiency ratios, output, income. It was all entirely tedious, yet he dare not by the slightest tone or expression betray that. "Superior work, my friend" the Director went on, forcing a note of hearty sincerity. "Your service is, as always, impeccable."

The deceptively dull looking little fellow glowed under the stroking, as he always did. A few more moments of empty praise, and he drew himself up, saluted, and received the Director's dismissal. When the door closed behind him, the Director finally, with a grateful sigh, let his head sink into his hands. So much already done... so many people... but perhaps, now, it was over. Perhaps...

He opened a locked drawer to the left side of his desk, reached inside. His tired, searching fingers found a cheap metal flask and flicked it irritably aside. They scrabbled through some papers with growing frustration. It was in there, he knew it was...

With a sigh of relief, he felt the cool, smooth grain of the flat leather case. Drawing it out, he placed it on the desk in front of him. Barely a half inch thick, the shape and size of a standard playing card. Once more, he found himself marveling at the compactness of this miracle. He had long ago given up trying to learn why it had come to him, out of all the people in the world. He had asked it, quite often, at the start... the answers were just more numbers. Charisma factor. Leadership quotient. Cultural credibility index.

He had allowed himself to be convinced, even after being told of the horrors and atrocities that would lie ahead. To think, that he could help reshape the human race's destiny...! It was an awesome responsibility. One he felt he could not, in conscience, allow to pass him by.

He had been so much more naive back then. So stupidly, disgustingly idealistic.

He did not have a name to address the automatic calculator by, nor did he need one. It always knew when he was speaking to it.

"Well?" he said, in weary tones. "You heard the report? Is it enough?"

"The report of the facilitator was cogent and well organized," a somber, unaccented voice replied. "I have processed the data. Unity of probability remains at variance by 17%. I will initiate a projected simulation if you authorize the expenditure of finite resources."

This, in addition to his charisma and organizational skills, was what the calculator needed the Director for. Certain decisions that it was not authorized to make itself. The projected simulation was the most difficult task it could perform, and required the use of resources that were, apparently, unable to be replenished. For that reason, the Director had been extremely frugal in his use of that particular capacity. But... a variance of only 17% was a significant change since the last projection he had authorized, nearly 60 days before. If the Task had been accomplished... if he were finally done...

Further down, in the drawer he had taken the case from, lay the small flat metal pillbox. His personal physician had told him the tablets would work quickly, with a minimum of discomfort. In case of capture, the Director had told him. A nearly absurd thought, a year ago, but he had a reputation for considering every possibility. Not such an absurd thought now, after an unsuccessful assassination attempt, and the tactical reversals that had followed his apparently foolish decisions of the past six months.

It was a balancing act, of course. Difficult to juggle. He had created something truly abominable here, in this 'process'. Something uniquely evil, even in the violent and blood spattered history of humanity. For the best of causes, oh yes, but still, a truly vile thing. He had to make sure this... political slaughterhouse... did not survive him... did not survive the accomplishment of the Task. Otherwise... if it continued on, took on a life of its own... the Director shuddered at that thought.

And yet, it had to survive long enough, also. If the defensive array were depleted before the Task was accomplished, and the various outside factors brought the processing to a premature halt...

So many factors to consider... like keeping a piano constantly in perfect tune while playing Brahm's most demanding sonata on it at the same time...

"Yes," he said, finally, tiredly. "Yes. Do a projection." Tell me, he thought. Tell me it's over. Tell me I can finally stop this madness.

The small leather case made no sound, but above it, hovering in the air, an image appeared. A cube, made of blue light, two feet on a side... it flickered there, blank and empty, for several long seconds. Then, quickly, it filled with a strange, silently crackling haze... which just as quickly resolved itself into strange, solid seeming, miniaturized moving figures.

A montage of images, quickly passing. Towering cityscapes. Astoundingly wide streets filled with strangely elongated vehicles. Uniformed soldiers, gleaming weapons on their shoulders, marching in formation... a very familiar sight to him, after these last many years, but he could pick out the differences easily by now, having seen this projection so many times before... the unfamiliarity of the weapons, the bulkiness of the uniforms, the bizarre mixture of genders and races among the marching soldiers. Finally, the hook nosed, smiling, clearly Semitic features of the obvious authority figure, raising her arms in front of a wildly cheering mob.

The images began coming faster. Predatory aircraft of an unfamiliar design, so high in the air the land below them had a globular horizon, with cotton fleece, tiny looking clouds crawling across it. Shiny metallic eggs dropping from open hatches through the air. Vast bright lights and distant thunder, blooming and booming. Strange smoking contrails, twisting and weaving through the air, like rocket powered bombs possessed of demonic intelligence.

And, at long last... that chilling final image... the two bleak, lifeless moons hanging side by side, the smaller one cold and grey and still, the other, several times larger, flickering sullenly, like a dying ember, wrapped in writhing bands of sooty black smoke like strands of dead, choking ivy woven into a planetary funeral wreath.

"Projection completed," the voice said, finally. "Simulated outcomes remain without significant variance."

The Director slammed his fist down hard on the desk top next to the leather case. "God DAMN it!" he cursed, bitterly. "When will it end? When will it be over?"

He stopped, rubbed his temples with his fingers... forced himself to calm down.

"I've done so much," he said, finally, dully. "I must have... changed... something by now. Your projections... you can't actually know. We could have already broken the chain of events."

"Probability is 83% by strict logarithmic calculations using standard temporal integers," the voice seemed to agree. "Simulated projection, however, utilizes intuitive processes and gestalt-loop artificial prophecy capacities not fully susceptible to numeric analysis, powered by the expenditure of artificial psionite particles. As such it is considered more reliable than simple calculations based on necessarily imperfect data models."

"It isn't necessarily right," the Director protested, hoarsely. Futilely, he knew. "We could be done. We could have finished. Any more... processing... could be completely unnecessary." He couldn't stand that thought. More than anything else, it was his nightmare. What he had done so far was horrifying beyond all rational thought. To continue it... any of it... in even the slightest degree... after the Task was accomplished...

Could an intolerable evil become more so?

Did he dare to stop?

"I have no way to coerce your actions," the voice reminded him, hellishly bland. "You may choose to curtail all further processing activities if your decision is that the current variance factor is adequate to the completion of the Task. I am not equipped to make such judgements."

The office was silent, then, for several moments.

From outside, the Director could hear the sound of the young boys and the old men, drilling. Marching in unison. Flourishing their broomsticks. Striking them on the cobblestones. Crying the cadences as sharply as they could, in boyish trebles or the quavering tones of the aged. Soon enough they would have to be issued real weapons. Soon enough...

And underneath it all, the other sounds. The shuffle of feet in those cheap paper slippers. The wheezing, asthmatic, labored breathing. The nearly hoarse, choked, straining voices. He heard them more and more lately. He had only to close his eyes to see them, as well. Tramping wearily in the thousands, the tens of thousands, the hundreds of thousands, through the barbed wire gates... never to march out again. Never...

"I'm going mad," he said, finally, in little more than a whisper. "I can't... I can't bear this much longer." He knew it was true. More and more lately, he had had difficulty keeping his temper. He'd started raving, screaming at people, even more than he had to, to maintain their fear of him. Their terror. From the beginning, the automatic calculator had showed him how best to feign the sort of bizarre, irrational insanity his foolish, credulous people tended to accept, in an authority figure, as proof of divine inspiration. But more and more lately, he had had no need to dissemble. This inhuman strain was eroding his reason. It was killing him.

"How many more?" He finally said. "The greatest possible number. How many do I have to process, to... to make it impossible for her to ever come into existence?" He knew the figure. It wouldn't have changed. He shouldn't even hope...

The voice did not even hesitate. "Standard logarithmic projections are unchanged," it said. "However, simulated projections still have a significant chance of showing key variations before the maximum number is reached."

He would have to keep going. A while longer, anyway. He would have to maintain the balancing act. He would have to... continue the processing.

To save the future of the world, he would have to keep killing. And killing. And killing. Until he finally managed to slaughter everyone who might possibly be an ancestral link in the chain that would one day lead to the birth of that terrible woman...

"I have confidence," the voice finally said, "that the process will not need to continue to the maximum numbers. The next simulation may very well show a significant variance. Perhaps even in the next hundred thousand units processed."

"Oh, wonderful," the Director said, trying not to let the hysterical laughter begin. "Oh, that's lovely. You mean I might not actually have to kill all six million of the little Jewish bastards?"

The Director put his head down on his hands and sobbed, for all the millions already dead, and all the millions he might yet have to kill, in order to someday save the world...