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Sir, that's not a question with an easy answer. Are they stupid? No, they are not. But do they see things in the same way that we do? No, they do not. That's the fundamental problem dealing with them-

Okay, I am not omniscient, and I'm not perfect, POTUS admitted crossly after the second puff. Now, back to China.

And they're the ones who control the guns, van Damm noted.

Do they? Robby Jackson asked, just before Arnie van Damm could.

That's the problem with good intelligence information. It doesn't agree with what your own people think-assuming they really think at all, the Vice President observed.

There was amusement around the coffee table at that one.

Things will quiet down if the other side has half a brain, Adler said hopefully.

Her smile was downright motherly. Surely, Mr. President. And she headed back to the secretaries' room, closing the curved door behind her.

Things will quiet down if the other side has half a brain, Adler said hopefully.

Roger that, Arnie, Jackson confirmed.

I see trouble, Jackson said, before anyone else could. Ryan figured it was his background as a fighter pilot to be first in things. They're just out of touch with the rest of the world. The only way to get them back in touch will involve some pain. Not to their people, especially, but sure as hell to the guys who make the decisions.

And? Jackson asked.

I think you know, Ellen, Jack told her.

I think you know, Ellen, Jack told her.

Around the coffee table, there were the usual half-humorous snorts that accompany an observation that is neither especially funny nor readily escapable.

We don't, really, SecState answered. We have a bunch of good people, but the problem is in getting them all to agree on something when we need an important call. They never do, Adler concluded. He frowned before going on. Look, these guys are kings from a different culture. It was already very different from ours long before Marxism arrived, and the thoughts of our old friend Karl only made things worse. They're kings because they have absolute power. There are some limitations on that power, but we don't fully understand what they are, and therefore it's hard for us to enforce or to exploit them. They are Klingons. So, what we need is a Mr. Spock. Got one handy, anyone?

They can forget MFN, van Damm said. Congress would impeach you if you asked for it, Jack. And you can figure that the Hill will offer Taiwan any weapons system they want to buy next go-round.

Okay, I am not omniscient, and I'm not perfect, POTUS admitted crossly after the second puff. Now, back to China.

Not fair, Robby, Ryan told his VP.

I know, I know. Jackson held up surrendering hands. I just can't forget the motto of the whole intelligence community: 'We bet your life.' It's lonely out there with a fighter plane strapped to your back, risking your life on the basis of a piece of paper with somebody's opinion typed on it, when you never know the guy it's from or the data it's based on. He paused to stir his coffee. You know, out in the fleet we used to think-well, we used to hope-that decisions made in this room here were based on solid data. It's quite a disappointment to learn what things are really like.

Sir, that's not a question with an easy answer. Are they stupid? No, they are not. But do they see things in the same way that we do? No, they do not. That's the fundamental problem dealing with them-

The door opened seven seconds later. Yes, Mr. President?

Yeah, Klingons, Ryan observed tersely. Aliens from outer space. Jesus, Scott, how do we predict what they're going to do?

The door opened seven seconds later. Yes, Mr. President?

I know, I know. Jackson held up surrendering hands. I just can't forget the motto of the whole intelligence community: 'We bet your life.' It's lonely out there with a fighter plane strapped to your back, risking your life on the basis of a piece of paper with somebody's opinion typed on it, when you never know the guy it's from or the data it's based on. He paused to stir his coffee. You know, out in the fleet we used to think-well, we used to hope-that decisions made in this room here were based on solid data. It's quite a disappointment to learn what things are really like.

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