MDA: In the days leading up to Christmas in 1972 President Richard Nixon
sent one hundred twenty-nine B-52s to lay waste to Hanoi, Haiphong,
and points in between, including airfields, warehouses, rail yards,
and, in an unfortunate misfire from a damaged bomber, even a hospital.
MDB: Eleven of the big bombers were shot down and ninety airmen were
either killed in the crashes or captured alive. There was a thirty-six
hour pause in the bombing for Christmas, and then it resumed. The North
Vietnamese government said the American president had gone insane.
MBC: The remaining B-52s continued to assail Hanoi around the clock,
losing four additional planes. By January 1 the North Vietnamese
couldn’t take any more and returned to the negotiating table. A month
later a cease-fire was announced, and the war shuddered to a halt.
MBD: Robyn, who could see how things would play out a few years up
the timeline, told Judith the North Vietnamese had basically just put
the reunification of their country on pause long enough for the Americans
to claim victory and leave. And that sent the wrong signals to Nixon.
MDE: In the fall when the Israelis and Arabs became embroiled in another
one of their wars, Nixon, if not otherwise distracted, would fall
back on the bad instincts reinforced by Vietnam and escalate the conflict
to the point of a limited nuclear exchange with the Soviet Union.
MDF: But Nixon would be otherwise distracted, thanks to the midnight
handiwork of Judith and Robyn in a stairwell of the Watergate hotel in
Washington, DC. Robyn said rotating a little piece of gray tape 90
degrees and smoothing it back down would save millions of human lives.
MDG: The Attorney General of the United States, the top law enforcement
official in the land, had approved an operation to break into the
headquarters of the opposing political party and wiretap their phones.
Later when one of the bugs stopped working he ordered its replacement.
MDH: That’s where the little piece of tape came in. After picking the lock
on the stairwell door to Suite 600, the intruders placed tape over the
latch so they wouldn’t have to repeat the procedure. At Robyn’s
suggestion, Judith left the tape in place, but she made it visible.
MDI: A security guard found the tape, tore it off, and threw it away.
He thought very little of it other than making a point to give the
same door a tug when he made his pass down the stairwell a half hour
later. The lock had been picked open again, and there was more tape.
MDJ: That led to a phone call to the police and the arrest of five
burglars. The Counsel to the White House was enlisted to pay hush
money and lawyer’s fees for the defendants after the arrest. The head
of the FBI was ordered to bury evidence and squash the investigation.
MDK: All these measures seemed to work. Watergate stories were
relegated to page A9. Nixon won reelection with the biggest plurality
in American history. Judith didn’t want to doubt Robyn’s precognitive
abilities, but this critical alteration had seemed to wobble into a dead end.
MDL: But a few days after the cease-fire in Vietnam, the judge in the
case of the Watergate burglars, “Maximum John” Sirica, handed down
ridiculously stiff sentences with the idea of making one of the
defendants break and testify against their unknown handlers.
MDM: When that hit the papers Robyn told Judith, “The buns are in the
oven now, and when they come out again in March Nixon will have more
to munch on than he can possibly swallow.” Judith decided to take a
wait-and-see approach because so far Robyn seemed to be batting zero.
MDN: Then there was Robyn’s suggestion they try to get in on the ground
floor of a opportunity that promised to transform society like nothing
has done since the harnessing of steam power. But bad hiring decisions
required Judith to intervene personally, which was never good.
MDO: A man likely to be a much more suitable candidate for Robyn’s
project was identified and agreed to be interviewed. At roughly the
same time Captain Eugene Cernan sent a message through FBI Associate
Director Mark Felt requesting to contact the leadership of Astrodynamics.
MDP: Judith knew it would make for a busy day but she decided to
attend to both of these visitors at the company’s workshop. And she
would allow Robyn to be present as well, hopefully so she could say, “See, I
told you so!” when things played out the way she promised they would.
MDQ: The place in Washington State where the Enumclaw and Black Diamond
Highway crossed the Kent-Kangley Road was called Four Corners but
there wasn’t much there aside from a lumber yard, a grocery store,
a gas station, and one modest strip mall with a dentist and a cafe.
MDR: Astrodyne leased the vacant office between Dr. Tsugawa’s practice
and Nancy’s Noodle Nook. Sometimes locals wandered in by accident,
thinking it was one or the other. Vinyl lettering went up on the glass
that formed the front wall denoting the place as ‘Epoch Electronics’.
MDS: After that locals sometimes came in thinking the place sold hi-fi
equipment, but there was only an unfurnished space where visitors were
greeted by a receptionist, and if they weren’t expected, they were
quickly turned around. The door out back opened only from the inside.
MDT: One cold wet day in February 1973 Gary Kildall visited the place,
but he was expected. The receptionist, one Dory going by her name
placard, looked to be of Indian descent. Certainly she was wearing
what appeared to be native garb to keep warm whenever the door opened.
MDU: Gary thought if she stood up she might easily prove to be the
tallest woman he had ever seen. Dory verified who he was, somehow,
before he even gave his name. There was a solid sound of steel moving
within steel. “Thank you for coming here today, Mr. Kildall,” she said.
MDV: The door to the left of her cubicle slowly began to pivot open
without human intervention. It seemed deceptively massive in the way
it gradually slowed to a nearly imperceptible stop before it could
crash through the adjacent wall. “Please go ahead and enter the shop.
MDW: “Everyone is really looking forward to meeting you.” So Gary went
through the door down a short hallway and entered the unpartitioned space
that Dory called the shop. A Teletype was clacking along in the middle
of a print job. To Gary’s delight he saw it was a model 33 ASR.
MDX: That model, as Gary well knew, was ubiquitous in the United
States Navy. It was turning a stack of blank perforated-edge paper into
another stack of finished printout. A large spool of paper tape with
holes punched in six-bit binary code was providing the data to be printed.
MDY: A woman in a blue shop smock was manually reeling up the spent
tape after it fed through the reader. Her smock wasn’t buttoned up.
Gary could see that she wore a black concert tee and blue jeans.
He thought one of the guitarists silk screened on the shirt looked like Dory.
MDZ: The woman spooling up the data looked a bit little like a football
player. In fact she really had been one back in high school. “I’m Sofie
Krause, AKA Sabotage,” she said with a broad smile. “They let me handle
the tape because if I touch anything else I’ll just break it.”
MEA: Then Gary saw where the data had originated. There was a blue-green
cabinet six feet high, six feet deep, and two feet wide. His prospective
employers had a minicomputer, a PDP-1, one of only about fifty ever
made. Another woman wearing a buttoned up smock stood over there.
MEB: He couldn’t tell what she was wearing under the light-blue
cotton lab coat but he guessed from her bare calves that it was a dress.
Her hair was a much darker brown than that of the first woman, with hints
of red. Like any ginger or borderline ginger her skin was quite pale.
MEC: For her part Robyn thought the well-dressed bearded visitor very
much resembled her father when he was roughly the same age. She
imagined if there was a Collier’s encyclopedia entry for “Dad” then
his photo would be featured as the very quintessence of all dads.
MED: Gary saw there was one other woman in the shop, one with hair that
was very dark. She looked like a female biker and was wearing what
had to be the most expensive leather boots he had ever seen. They
were black, went up over her knees, and were articulated at every joint.
MEE: Her thighs weren’t bare, but her thigh muscles were evident, and
he could tell she was a runner. In fact, it was entirely possible she
ran miles in those boots. They looked that functional. The skin on
her face was darker than her two friends, but not darker than Dory.
MEF: Everything that wasn’t tucked into the boots except her hands
and face was covered in deep red leather with zippers everywhere for
pockets and for basic access to the garment. It was was glossy and richly
red, like fresh blood. Her forearms were covered with more black leather.
MEG: “It’s her outfit, I know,” said Robyn. “People always stare. But
she’s homesick and that getup makes her feel like she’s home in, ah,
“No. Much, much farther away. I’m Robyn, incidentally. This is Judith
Gervasi, who in fact owns our company.”
MEH: “I have no choice, really,” Judith said. “I’m the only person
around here who can actually obtain a bank account without being
arrested or thrown into bedlam, and before you ask, I include Michael in
that assessment.” Gary smiled at that, and he wondered about her accent.
MEI: The underlying mode sounded British, but there was a strangely
otherworldly overlay, as though she had spent much time in a country
nobody had ever heard of. He nodded at the computer next to Robyn. “So
Green Acres does have a PDP-1. I thought my friends were kidding.”
MEJ: Sofie and Robyn chuckled at that remark, but Judith, being indeed
both British and otherworldly, was mystified to silence by the reference
to an American sitcom. Into this awkward little moment of silence he
dropped his own name. “I’m Gary Kildall, Miss Gervasi.”
MEK: “Thank you for accepting our invitation, Mr. Kildall. Your
reputation is such that we wouldn’t dare make a useless waste of your
“Thank you. Some friends of mine told me you had a DEC minicomputer
squirreled away in here but I wasn’t sure I believed them.
MEL: You should know them. They all said they were on your payroll
for a time. And I think I can take an educated guess why they aren’t
working for you anymore.
“I fired them,” she said, “for very good cause. But I’m surprised your
friends did not try to scare you off.”
MEM: “Not at all, Miss Gervasi. I think they might have been a little
embarrassed, like they screwed up a really good thing they had going
on. But I have to admit, when I prepared to come here I couldn’t find
anything about Epoch Electronics. You’re not even in the Yellow Pages.”
MEN: “Oh, that’s just something we put on the window so people didn’t
think this was a vacant space and try to break in, perhaps to have a,
what do they call it Sofie? A ‘kegger’? Some have still tried. Not
that they got anywhere breaking that glass. That’s not local stuff.
MEO: The name of my company is Astrodynamics. Sometimes we shorten
that up to Astrodyne. You may be thinking you came here for a job
interview, Mr. Kildall, but it’s really the other way around. We’ve
already decided you’re the man for the job and we just need to convince you.
MEP: But I am curious, sir, why you’re in the job market. Just curious,
He said, “I crapped out in the draft lottery but I’ve been working it
off by teaching at a Navy college down in Monterey, California. They
cut me loose to finish my doctorate at U-Dub.
MEO: To my great misfortune I find myself with a slight cash-flow
problem lately. When I was down in California I was moonlighting as a
consultant at Intel, you see. But I’m from up here in Seattle originally.
I flew back up in my own plane and that’s a pretty expensive hobby.
MEP: My buddy pals said you had deep pockets and the work was right
up my alley.”
He fell silent, but the Teletype 33 was still running. To avoid
letting the pause grow too awkward Judith nodded at the machine and
said, “Please, Mr. Kildall, go have a closer look.” And he did.
MEQ: After he took a moment reading the printout he said, “I know what
this is! I teach this in the Navy! These are the orbital parameters of
Soviet satellites. This is how our Navy ships know when a spy satellite
is overhead so they can shut down everything and avoid detection.
MER: Judith tilted her head with a dubious look and said, “That was a
very good try, Mr. Kildall, but please look at it again. This has
nothing to do with signals intelligence.”
His face turned a little red and he looked at the printout again, for
a bit longer this time.
MES: Then he said, “No, belay my last. These two-line elements aren’t
Earth-centric, they’re sun-centric. And the names: 1866 Sisyphus. 1620
Geographos. You’re interested in asteroids.”
“Not just any asteroids, Mr. Kildall. Please take another look. The
third time’s the charm.”
MET: He returned to the busy Teletype to look once more. This time he
searched for patterns in the data. When he thought he found a common
thread he said, “You’re worried about Earth-crossers, asteroids which
draw nearer to the sun than we do and might smack into us one day.”
MEU: “We should all worry about those asteroids,” said Robyn. “We’ve
only found a fraction of what must be out there.”
“Now, now, Robyn,” said Sofie. “We’re not worried about asteroids.
Mr. Kildall might as well know we’re looking for a good one to grab
and bring back here.”
MEV: “True enough,” said Judith. “But Mr. Kildall, color me impressed.
Now I shall I tell you what it is exactly we’d like you to do. You see,
have the best logistics in the business and that is no idle boast.
When you watch it in operation you are simply not going to believe it.
MEW: Anything you tell Dory to order, no matter how expensive or rare
it is, absolutely will be here overnight, beg steal or borrow. It is
only necessary that your item actually exists. You could tell Dory
to get you the Hope Diamond, and the next morning you would have it.
MEX: We want you to use our supply chain to turn that big box there,
our so-called ‘minicomputer’ as big as three coffins stacked on top
of each other, into a box the size of a piece of luggage. Then we
will have the world’s first microcomputer. Will you do it, Mr. Kildall?
MEY: “So take something that costs as much as a lakefront home on the
east Side and turn it into something that costs as much as a used
car, so anybody can have one? Yes, I can do it, and I will do it,
Miss Gervasi, but remember, when I do, there goes the whole neighborhood.”
MEZ: “My friend Robyn here is something of a visionary. She says this
will change everything. We asked some of your friends to help us, but
they used our parts and some girls we hired as assemblers to build these
stupid boxes that make free calls and cheat the phone company.”
MFA: “Let me guess, that was Wozniak.”
“And his mate Steve Jobs. I heard they sold a hundred of their boxes
for one hundred fifty dollars apiece. I do hope they managed to save
most of it. They might just be able to pay their lawyers enough to
avoid conviction for embezzlement.
MFB: After I fired them there was another fellow working here who
actually did earn his keep. He wrote a program to simulate an 8008
microprocessor on our mini. Show him that tape, Sofie.”
Kildall watched her dig around in a wheeled Vidmar, find it, and hand
it off to Judith.
MFC: “Unfortunately this isn’t a one-size-fits-all simulation, it’s
actually set up to compile statistics on vehicular flow so cities can
adjust the timing on their traffic lights. Then your friend used our
supply system to order everything he needed to build a portable version.
MFD: We built that traffic analyzer for him and the whole time we thought
it was our microcomputer. While he was working hardware, another bloke
used our PDP-1 to host BASIC on an 8008, but we don’t have that
tape. I don’t much fancy playing the victim. I fired both of them.”
MFE: “You must be talking about the Gates and Allen show.”
Judith nodded. “I heard they went into business for themselves, something
called Traf-O-Data, but it’s not going anywhere. I sent a copy of
their own tape to Olympia, where they have big iron and some clever fellows.
MFF: It’s going to be be tough selling their new box when every city
from here to Spokane can just send their data in for Olympia to crunch.
Robyn already told them what I’ll tell you now: people think about money
when they don’t have it, but we have it, so we don’t think about it.
MFG: Essentially, we have infinite money. But we don’t have a deep
knowledge of technology. That puts you in a very good negotiating
position, Mr. Kildall. Your friends clearly did not believe we were
sincere in our attitude about money and about what we are trying to do here.
MFH: “How do I know you won’t cast me aside after I deliver the goods?”
“I’ll retain the patents for the hardware, just to keep my skin in
the game, you understand? But software patents are still a gray area
legally. So you will be a full partner when it comes to the licenses.
MFI: You and I will be equal co-owners of anything you write on my
time. If you decide to sublet to a third party I will not block the
transaction or try to undermine you in price. You can have all this
in writing, if you wish, but really, Mr. Kildall, that will not be necessary.
MFJ: “I do have a couple of unavoidable obstacles though,” he said.
“First, I have another year on my teaching gig down in California and
there’s no way out of it. It’s an obligation I have to Uncle Sam. So
the fall of this year and winter and spring of ’74 are basically a wash.”
MFK: “That’s not a problem at all. We can lease office space down
there and have a little shop just like this up and running in no time
at all. Instead of going back to Intel you just stay with us.”
“Okay, but then there’s my whole excuse for going on hiatus to come
MFL: Like I said before, Miss Gervasi, they cut me loose to finish my
own academic work at the University of Washington.”
“I fully understand where you’re coming from, Mr. Kildall, I really
do. I have a Master of Arts degree myself, in linguistics, from Hebrew
MFM: I submitted my dissertation prospectus to the PhD Supervisory
Committee but soon after that I was horribly sidetracked.” She turned
to wink at Robyn, who knew she only did that on Alpha Track right
before the Yom Kippur War, which still half a year away on this track.
MFN: “But I know you’re a very clever fellow, Mr. Kildall,” Judith
said. “I’m sure you will find a way to mesh your work for us here and
your work in academia so they are one and the same. And when you’re
all done, our chief engineer will be a doctor in computer science.
MFO: What do you think, Sofie?”
“I think playtime is over. No more Romper Room. The grownup is in the
“And you, Robyn? How is this day shaping up?”
“This was a big deal, Judith, the last major alteration before
Chokhmah wins. We’re already on Delta track now.”
MFP: Gary seemed puzzled by Robyn’s words, but then again the entire
interview had been conducted with an air of unreality. “I’m sorry
Robyn, I don’t think I follow you.”
She said, “Gordon Moore, one of the big shots at Intel, said something
important about ICs a few years ago.
MFR: He predicted the number of transistors that can be crammed onto
one piece of silicon would double yearly. I think that was a little
too optimistic, and it should be every two years, but still, with a
compound rate like that, a computer the size of luggage is only the start.”
MFS: At that moment the paper data tape spooled out and the Teletype
stopped chattering. Sofie went over to look at the printout. “We have a
winner, Judith,” she said, “and naturally it’s a no-name.” She looked
at Gary. “Robyn is talking about a computer you can wear as a watch.”
MFT: “No, I’m talking about a computer that floats on the cornea of
your eye. Moore’s observation will stay true year after year, smaller
and smaller, until we butt up against the quantum granularity of matter
itself and even then some smart kids will keep the show going somehow.
MFU: So the meat of what I’m saying, Mr. Kildall, is that this day is
going to become legendary, one for the history books, and it’s only
“Oh That’s right,” Judith said. “Dory just told me your Captain
Cernan arrived a little early. He’s waiting next door at Nancy’s.”
MFV: That last bit puzzled Gary even more. He didn’t remember hearing
Dory say anything since he stepped into the shop.
“So are you in, Mr. Kildall?” But Judith already knew he was in
from what Robyn just said about the new timeline.
“Just call me Gary, please. Yes, I’m in.”
MFW: How did I get so lucky?”
“Good fortune all the way around, Gary. I’ll leave it to Sofie and
Dory to negotiate your salary and other such details, and to step you
through the paperwork. Robyn, let’s go eat and see your famous
astronaut. Dory told Nancy to cook our usual.”