"A nation," he heard himself say, "consists of its laws. A nation does not consist of its situation at a given time. If an individual's morals are situational, that individual is without morals. If a nation's laws are situational, that nation has no laws, and soon isn't a nation." He opened his eyes and confirmed Brown there, his partially disassembled pistol in his hand. The cleaning, lubrication, and examination of the gun's inner workings was ritual, conducted every few nights, though as far as Milgrim knew, Brown hadn't fired the gun since they'd been together.
"What did you say?"
"Are you really so scared of terrorists that you'll dismantle the structures that made America what it is?" Milgrim heard himself ask this with a sense of deep wonder. He was saying these things without consciously having thought them, or at least not in such succinct terms, and they seemed inarguable.
"The fuck --"
"If you are, you let the terrorist win. Because that is exactly, specificially, his goal, his only goal: to frighten you into surrendering the rule of law. That's why they call him 'terrorist.' He uses terrifying threats to induce you to degrade your own society."
Brown opened his mouth. Closed it.
"It's based on the same glitch in human psychology that allows people to believe they can win the lottery. Statistically, almost nobody ever wins the lottery. Statistically, terrorist attacks almost never happen."
There was a look on Brown's face that Milgrim hadn't seen there before. Now Brown tossed a fresh bubble-pack down on the bedspread.
"Good night," Milgrim heard himself say, still insulated by the silver membrane.
Brown turned, walking silently back into his own room in his stocking feet, the partial pistol in his hand.
Milgrim raised his right arm toward the ceiling, straight up, index finger extended and thumb cocked. He brought the thumb down, firing an imaginary shot, then lowered his arm, having no idea at all what to make of whatever it was that had just happened.