Previous, Next, Numerical Index, Chronological Index.
For All Nails #78: Water on the Brain

San Cristóbal, New Granada
15 January 1974

Joan Kahn was becoming more and more puzzled.  She had always been good at
making connections between seemingly unrelated facts, and in the last ten
years she had honed that native gift into a highly effective tool.  She had
used it to uncover evidence of hidden North American interference in the
course of Mexican history, and she was here in New Granada to see if she
could uncover more North American interference, but things weren't going the
way she expected.

One of Kahn's guiding principles was that every action, no matter how
carefully hidden, left unexpected traces.  If you wanted to steal a biscuit
from a sweets jar without anyone knowing, it wasn't enough to just replace
the lid.  A careful thief would search for crumbs and sweep them up.  A very
careful thief would brush the stray crumbs out of the broom after sweeping.
A particularly careful thief would wash the crumbs down the sink rather than
just throw them into the rubbish.  However, most thieves wouldn't be that
careful, and some might be careless enough not to sweep up the crumbs in the
first place.  The bigger a secret was, the more people would have to be
involved, and the greater the chance that someone would forget to sweep up
the crumbs.

If the Confederation of North America was secretly backing the new government
of New Granada, there would be plenty of unexpected traces, and Joan Kahn was
very good at finding unexpected traces.  Which was why she was so puzzled.
Her first visit to New Granada ten months before during her book tour hadn't
turned up /anything/.  That meant that either Liddy's operatives had been so
careful about covering up their tracks that they hadn't left any traces at
all (which she didn't believe) or else that the CBI hadn't been behind the
coup (which she also didn't believe).  In the months since her book tour
ended, she had gone to Burgoyne to look up one or two highly-placed sources
and dig into government records, but once again she had turned up nothing.
She had even begun to consider the possibility that the CNA wasn't involved
in the Elbittar Coup after all.

Then, three weeks ago, she had received an audiocartridge in the mail, posted
from New Orleans with no return address.  The cart held a recording of a
conversation between Colonel Elbittar and Ambassador Petrie of the CNA, and
in it Petrie promised to recognize Elbittar's government and double the
amount of Mason Program aid being sent to New Granada.  There was really
nothing startling in the cart -- Monaghan had recognized Elbittar's
government within a week of the coup, and anyone who could read government
budget reports (and Kahn certainly could) knew about the rise in aid to New
Granada -- but it was hard evidence that the CNA had supported Elbittar from
the beginning.  Her suspicions rekindled, Kahn had resumed her investigation.
But instead of clearing up, her puzzlement grew deeper.  So far, she /still/
hadn't been able to find any traces of CNA involvement in the coup itself --
no links between Elbittar and the New Granadan exile community in New
Orleans, no covert CNA funding for the coup.  What she /had/ found were
traces of /Mexican/ involvement.

But that made no sense.  The deposed Hermión dynasty had originally /been/
Mexican, and the Hermións had always kept New Granada within the Mexican
sphere of influence, even after the New Granadans had voted to end their
association with Mexico.  Why on earth would the Mexicans sponsor an
anti-Mexican coup?

She had discovered that the Department of War was sending shipments from a
military base in Mexico del Norte to Ciudad Camacho, which in itself was
startling given that the USM still hadn't recognized Elbittar's government.
A couple of discreet bribes to some underpaid clerks had gained her the
itinerary of one of the shipments, and some quick work at a rest stop here in
San Cristóbal had enabled her to get the carbon paper from between two copies
of that shipment's bill of lading.  Now she was back in her hotel room,
reading the carbon paper's reflection in the bathroom mirror.

Most of the items were perfectly ordinary, or would be if you didn't know
that the Mexican government was officially giving the Elbittar regime the
cold shoulder: spare parts for various weapons and vehicles, machine tools, a
set of maintenance manuals.  But why was someone in Los Alamos shipping
someone in Ciudad Camacho five containers of water?  It wasn't as if Ciudad
Camacho didn't already have plenty of water -- more than Mexico del Norte,
probably.  And it wasn't as if water had any military application...

And with that thought, Joan Kahn's wonderfully, horribly retentive memory
surfaced with a phrase out of Volk's _The Bomb Myth_: N-water.

In his chapter on the physics of atomic fission, Volk had explained that the
core of every atom was made up of two subatomic particles: unitons and
neutrons.  Most iron atoms, for example, had a core made up of 26 unitons and
30 neutrons.  Likewise, most hydrogen atoms had only a single uniton and no
neutrons in their cores.  However, about one hydrogen atom in 7000 was called
neutro-hydrogen, or N-hydrogen, because it included both a uniton and a
neutron in its core.  When the scientists of the Taichung Project needed to
slow down the fission rate of their atomic reactions, they used N-water,
water made with N-hydrogen atoms, to do so.

Kahn felt a momentary panic.  Had the lorry she snuck into been radiative?
But no, Volk had explained that while some atomic cores were unstable, and
hence naturally radiative, the core of N-hydrogen was as stable as ordinary
hydrogen (the Kramer scientists wouldn't have used N-water as a fission
retarder if it had been unstable).  Kahn's panic subsided, to be replaced by
depression as the implications of her discovery began to sink in.

President Moctezuma's denunciation of the Elbittar Coup was a fraud.  Not
only were the Mexicans /not/ displeased with the overthrow of President
Hermión, they were actually /helping/ the new regime set up its own atomic
weapons facility!

Carefully, very carefully, Joan Kahn began to tear up the sheet of carbon
paper until its many fragments were impossible to identify.  Then she put the
shreds in an ashtray and set them on fire.  Then she ground up the ashes into
a fine powder.  Then she flushed the powdered ashes down the water closet.

Then she walked out to the bedroom, lay down on the bed, stared up into the
ceiling, and wondered what to do next.