The World Message Consortium
From their table by the window she could see the downpour spattering the street outside. A soaked pedestrian, his collar up, gamely hurried by. The proprietor had cranked the striped awning over the tubs of oysters, segregated according to size and quality and providing a kind of street advertisement for the specialty of the house. She felt warm and snug inside the restaurant, the famous theatrical gathering place, Chez Dieux. Since fair weather had been predicted, she was without raincoat or umbrella.
Likewise unencumbered, Vaygay introduced a new subject: “My friend, Meera,” he announced, “is an ecdysiast – that is the right word, yes? When she works in your country she performs for groups of professionals, at meetings and conventions. Meera says that when she takes off her clothes for working-class men – at trade union conventions, that sort of thing – they become wild, shout out improper suggestions, and try to join her on the stage. But when she gives exactly the same performance for doctors or lawyers, they sit there motionless. Actually, she says, some of them lick their lips. My question is: Are the lawyers healthier than the steelworkers?”
That Vaygay had diverse female acquaintances had always been apparent. His approaches to women were so direct and extravagant – herself, for some reason that both pleased and annoyed her, excluded – that they could always say no without embarrassment. Many said yes. But the news about Meera was a little unexpected.
They had spent the morning in a last-minute comparison of notes and interpretations of the new data. The continuing Message transmission had reached an important new stage. Diagrams were being transmitted from Vega the way newspaper wirephotos are transmitted. Each picture was an array raster. The number of tiny black and white dots that made up the picture was the product of two prime
numbers. Again prime numbers were part of the transmission. There was a large set of such diagrams, on following the other, and not at all interleaved with the text. It was like a section of glossy illustrations inserted in the back of a book. Following transmission of the long sequence of diagrams, the unintelligible text continued. From at least some of the diagrams it seemed obvious that Vaygay and Arkhangelsky had been right, that the Message was in part at least the instructions, the blueprints, for building a machine. Its purpose was unknown. At the plenary session of the World Message Consortium, to be held tomorrow at the Elysee Palace, she and Vaygay would present for the first time some of the details to representatives of the other Consortium nations. But word had quietly been passed about the machine hypothesis.
Over lunch, she had summarized her encounter with Rankin and Joss. Vaygay had been attentive, but asked no questions. It was as if she had been confessing some unseemly personal predilection and perhaps that had triggered his train of association.
“You have a friend named Meera who’s a striptease artist? With international venue?”
“Since Wolfgang Pauli discovered the Exclusion Principle while watching the Folies-Bergere, I have felt it my professional duty as a physicist to visit Paris as much as possible. I think of it as my homage to Pauli. But somehow I can never persuade the officials in my country to approve trips solely for this purpose. Usually I must do some pedestrian physics as well.