The blue contract could only be understood in the

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The Blue Contract could only be understood in the light of an industry making major advances every few months. Travis had said that the Blue Contract was
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86 “the biggest thing we’ll see in the next ten years. Whoever finds those diamonds has a jump on the technology for at least five years. Five years. Do you know what that means?” Ross knew what it meant. In an industry where competitive edges were measured in months, companies had made fortunes by beating competitors by a matter of weeks with some new techniques or device; Syntel in California had been the first to make a 256K memory chip while everyone else was still making 16K chips and dreaming of 64K chips. Syntel kept their advantage for only sixteen weeks, but realized a profit of more than a hundred and thirty million dollars. “And we’re talking about five years,” Travis said. “That’s an advantage measured in billions of dollars, maybe tens of billions of dollars. If we can get to those diamonds.” These were the reasons for the extraordinary pressure Ross felt as she continued to work with the computer. At the age of twenty-four, she was team leader in a high-technology race involving a half-dozen nations around the globe, all secretly pitting their business and industrial resources against one another. The stakes made any conventional race seem ludicrous. Travis told her before she left, “Don’t be afraid when the pressure makes you crazy. You have billions of dollars riding on your shoulders. Just do the best you can.” Doing the best she could, she managed to reduce the expedition timeline by another three hours and thirty-seven minutes—but they were still slightly behind the consortium projection. Not too far to make up the time, especially with Munro’s cold-blooded shortcuts, but nevertheless behind— which could mean total disaster in a winner-take-all race. And then she received bad news. The screen printed PIGGYBACK SLURP / ALL BETS OFF. “Hell,” Ross said. She felt suddenly tired. Because if there really had been a piggyback slurp, their chances of winning the race were vanishing—before any of them had even set foot in the rain forests of central Africa.
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87 2. Piggyback Slurp TRAVIS FELT LIKE A FOOL. He stared at the hard copy from Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Maryland. ERTS WHY ARE YOU SENDING US ALL THIS MUKENKO DATA WE DON’T REALLY CARE THANKS ANYWAY. That had arrived an hour ago from GSFC/Maryland, but it was already too late by more than five hours. “Damn!” Travis said, staring at the telex. The first indication to Travis that anything was wrong was when the Japanese and Germans broke off negotiations with Munro in Tangier. One minute they had been willing to pay anything; the next minute they could hardly wait to leave. The break-off had come abruptly, discontinuously; it implied the sudden introduction of new data into the consortium computer files.
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