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grams all hate each other s guts! I spend 90 percent
of my working time as a software clerk!"
"So basically, you never design and you never cre-
ate. You just interoperate."
Yuri considered this grim assessment. "Well, yeah,
that s pretty well put."
Preston war med to his theme. "But you have to
do that. Because there s a shearing force in all those
di erent layers of software. It s a thing of eddies, and
whirlpools, and brief bursts of nancial energy. And
the craft of architecture sold its soul so that it could
Yuri set aside a stenciled carton of moo goo gai
pan. "Can I ask you something? At the Milwaukee
Design Regulation Board, I ve got this big keynote
speech coming up ..."
"How long a speech?"
"Full hour. Big dinner speech. Man, I hate those."
"How big a crowd?"
"I dunno---seven, eight hundred. Typical industry
"Could you give me a grand to write that for you?"
Yuri blinked a little. "Yeah, sure, okay."
That money was peanuts, but it was clearly more
cash than Preston had seen in a while, for he sat up
in his steel-framed chair and seemed to regain his
appetite. "Well, there s one consolation in all this.
Roebel s never gonna do another building."
Yuri laughed. "Oh, sure, people keep saying that,
but he keeps surprising em. That mean old man
is gonna bury us all! He s gonna live to be 90 years
"Roebel is 90 years old."
Yuri did some swift mental arithmetic. "Darn---
where does the time go?"
Preston snagged an empty can from the desktop.
"This is all he eats now---these vitamin drinks. Carmen
dragged him into a couple of clinics last year. They
took one look at him and they washed their hands. I
don t know how he stays on his feet. He persists out
of sheer spite."
Yuri considered this bleak diagnosis. Yes, François
was especially gaunt and erratic, even for François.
There had been one little ash where he was like his
keen old self, but ... no concept sketches? François
Roebel was 110 percent concept sketches. "Maybe
the lamp nally went out."
"Yeah, the well ran dry. That s what Carmen says.
You add that to his big software crash, and ..." Preston
apped his hands. "It s Game Over for Pac-Man."
"Carmen came to visit us. Car men seems pretty
distraught about all this."
Carmen Roebel was always distraught---Carmen
was the Queen of Distraughtness---but Preston took
that news hard. It had him all itchy and gritting
his teeth. The poor guy still carried a big torch for
Carmen. That was a pitiful thing to see.
"She s up to her ears in debt," said Preston. "Did
she tell you that?"
In point of fact, Car men had swiftly hit Yuri up
for a personal loan. Every member of the extended
Roebel family hit Yuri up for loans. He d come to con-
sider that a basic cost of his business, something like
a corporate gift to a Little League team.
Yuri sighed. "I don t suppose that François would
write his will and put his a airs in good order."
"François wouldn t leave Carmen a dime! If he had
a dime, he d endow the François Roebel Perpetual
Commemoration Fund." Preston shook his head.
"After all these years, it s come to the crunch! Those
church lunatics will show up here soon ... they want
to see his proposal. He s gonna re up that relic there,
and he ll show them a screen full of snow."
An empty silence stretched in Roebel s spider hole
of an o ce, and somewhere a seagull screeched.
Yuri was no longer an architect---in point of fact,
he d probably never really been one---but he d spent
his whole adult life glossing over the bitter contradic-
tions between complicated systems of software.
There just had to be a hack somewhere for a dire
situation like this one.
"Preston, I know that this isn t quite honest, but---
suppose you show em something out of the old man s
archives? He must have dozens of unbuilt proposals.
Surely those clowns can t tell the di erence anyway."
"The old man sold those clowns his archives. He
sold them all his les three years ago. The church
paid top dollar for them, too. They ve got em all
stored down a zinc-lined bomb shelter someplace."
How, where, and why did computers let crazy
geeks make so much money? Yuri wondered. Had
the world ever been better o for that? Seeding the
world with computers was like sprinkling it with the
fairy dust of pure madness.
Preston had the shameless look of a guy doing
something very stupid for the woman he loved. "Lis-
ten, Yuri: for you this story must seem pretty simple.
The old man loses this commission---so what? You re
doing great out there in the Rust Belt. Because you re
in deconstruction; you could spend the rest of your
life just tearing down the Motor City. But Carmen
needs that retainer fee. She s at her wits end."
Poor old Preston. If only he d found the courage to
abandon his idealistic dreams and take some practi-
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