Prototype – Episode I
Temple of S.A.R.A.H.
Prototype – Episode I
Hi, my name is Eric Cowan, and this is my story. A few years ago my Dad was killed by a drunk driver, and since then it’s just been me and my mom, Julie. She still hasn't started dating again, but she does go out occasionally with her best friend, Jamie when the other single mom and her thirteen year old daughter come for a visit. I watch Ellie, and the two women go out for some fun.
I've always wanted a little sister, and little Ellie sure fits the bill in spades. She's energetic, smart, and pretty. Jamie's husband left her and Ellie for another woman a few years ago. They live in another town about an hour away, but the last few times they've been here to visit, Mom and Jamie have been talking about combining households to share costs.
During the time I was recovering from my Dad's death, mom insisted on getting me a babysitter. Of course, since I was fourteen, I resented the fact that my mom thought I needed one. I took me a little while to figure out that she got the sitter so I had someone to talk to, to help me get past the grief over my father.
Christy was only a couple of years older than me and very beautiful. At first I resented her presence, but she quickly drew me out and didn't treat me like a babysitter would. Instead, she treated me like a friend. Before she stopped sitting for me, I felt that maybe our friendship had grown into something more. She even gave me a kiss and told me she loved me. That was four years ago, and I hadn't heard anything from her since that time. That hurt, but I still had feeling for her, and I felt it was something in my life that was unresolved.
In high school, I was a bit of a nerd, being far more interested in computers and my studies than any of the self-centered posturing of my peers. Oh, there were plenty of pretty girls, but the moment they opened their mouths and revealed their personalities, it pretty much derailed my interest in them.
Now that I was eighteen and graduating, I wanted to find out what happened to Christy, and why she left me like she did. I already had a couple of things I need to talk to mom about anyway, so I decided to talk to her about this, too. After I figured out the sitter had been more to help me with Dad's death than because I needed to be supervised, mom and I had become closer friends.
So, one Saturday morning I came down to find that Mom had made breakfast. This was something she normally did on the weekends, and something I would love about her for a long time to come.
“Mom, I’d like to try to find out what happened to Christy. I got to thinking about her last night and it made me realize how much I miss her.”
She smiled and teased me. “That's kinda coming out of the blue. What brought this on?”
“Well, now that I'm graduating, I've been thinking about her a lot. Before she left, she kissed me on the lips and told me she loved me. She was crying when she went home.” I explained. “I know I was only fourteen, but I had some really strong feelings for her that haven't gone away. I don't think it was just a crush for me, either, because I still feel for her even after four years.”
“I’m sure a strong bond had to have formed between you. She had to feel it as well, or she wouldn’t have cried when she left,” Mom said. “Her mother told me that she was really only a year older than you, but that she had graduated high school and was going to live with an aunt and go to college. I think she needed you as much as you needed her back then.”
“So, do you mind if I look for her?” I asked.
“No Eric, I don’t mind. She’s a very beautiful young woman. But, it’s been almost four years, and there is a strong possibility that she’s met someone else. Please, keep that in mind; I don’t want to see you hurt,” she said and caressed my cheek.
I smiled at her. “There was something else I wanted to talk to you about. I know that we’re living off the insurance and lawsuit settlement from Dad’s accident, and I know we’re pretty much set for the rest of our lives, but I don’t want to just sit on my hands.”
She smiled proudly at me and nodded for me to continue. “I'd like your professional opinion on an idea I had for a business,” I said.
Her expression had changed to one of interest, and she again nodded for me to continue. “Well, I don’t know the first thing about setting up or running a business, but I believe I have a good idea for one.
“You see, for the last couple of years, I’ve been writing the code for an online application that will allow businessmen to manage and access their daily schedules, as well as provide a secure, super-encoded, off-site data storage and/or transfer service. It’ll be capable of tracking them so their emails, messages, and telephone calls get sent to the right device at the right time. It’ll even allow for video calls.” I chuckled. “And, since everything gets routed over the internet, there is no such thing as long distance to most places in the world; before you ask, it's so heavily encoded, the government could never crack it.”
“Our out-of-pocket cost would be the original set-up and the monthly bandwidth usage. We could have different levels of service for our customers, from as little as fifty bucks a month for just the basic scheduling service, up to a hundred plus a month for the full package, per individual.”
“Wow that sounds pretty incredible, Honey. Why don’t you write down, in non-geek-speak, the services you’re planning on offering, the different levels of service you’ve thought of, and what technical things you’ve left to do before you can open for business. That way, I can think about this and possibly graph it out.
“I assume you’d like to do this ourselves?” When I nodded she continued. “Then I’ll need a good estimate on how much money you’ll need to get this going, too,” she finished.
I nodded. “Setup costs are going to be high, but after that it should be relatively cheap.” I sucked my lower lip. “If this sounds like something that’s doable, I’d like you to run it, Mom.”
“I do admit it sounds promising. Let me look it over and do some research. You said you’ve been writing this program for the last two years?” she asked.
“Yeah, give or take a few months. I think I’ve gotten all the bugs worked out of it. I’ll find out if it ever gets out of the beta test stage. It even has interactive audio input. That way all you’ll have to do is speak your appointments, memos or even to reply to emails, all hands free,” I replied.
“Well, I think I better find a patent attorney and get the ball rolling on making sure you can keep your work. Where are you keeping the program?”
“Oh, don’t worry there, it’s safe. Before I forget, I’d like to test it on your tablet. I’ll make sure to back it up first.”
She smiled. “I love you, Eric. I just wanted to make sure your work was safe. If this turns out like I think it will... Well, I need to do the research first. I’d be honored to run this for you, honey, just let me know when you’d like the tablet.”
“There’s one other thing, Mom... I want to have a house built for our family. I’ve the spot in mind, and we can even put the server farm there,” I said, getting braver.
She was still grinning at me, but her eyes narrowed. “I’m starting to smell someone’s dream coming true. From the sound of it ‘our family’ is going to be more than just the two of us?”
“I guess my dream is a bit ego centric, but I dreamed that you, Jamie, Ellie, Christy and I lived in this beautiful house out in the country. We home school Ellie, while the rest of us work on the business. Kinda lame, huh?” I asked.
“No, I don’t think so, just remember that Christy might not even remember us,” Mom pointed out. She caressed my cheek in apology for the truthful comment.
“What about Jamie? How do you think she'll like the idea?” I said.
“I'm not sure. I think she'll like the idea of living together, but I'm not sure about the business thing. She does already have a job,” Mom replied.
“Well, I’m going over to Christy’s parents. I’m sure they'll know what happened to her, and where she’s at. Why don’t you come with me, and we can bum around the mall for a bit, then have lunch?” I asked.
“That sounds like fun, actually. I haven't been to the mall for a while, besides I can tease you about all the pretty girls,” she said, winking at me.
“Good luck with that! But, I suppose you could since I do still look, but none of them I've met really interest me, they all seem so shallow,” I replied.
She nodded knowingly. “I think you might be right. I don't remember being like that when I was young, but I suppose I was.”
“I find that hard to believe. I know you're my mom, so I'm biased, but I just can't see you as being like that. Anyway, do you remember where Christy lived?” I asked.
She chuckled. “Even if I didn't, I'm sure you do!”
“Good morning! I’m sorry to bother you, Ma’am. My name’s Eric Cowan and this pretty young lady is my mother, Julie Cowan. I’m trying to find a friend of mine; Christy Rogers?” I asked the woman who answered the door.
“Christy’s my daughter. I don’t seem to remember her mentioning anyone named Eric Cowan, though,” the woman replied, suspiciously.
“Well, she might not have. Four years ago, I was one of the kids she sat for,” I replied.
“Oh! Yes, now I remember. You must be the Eric she was always talking about. She really enjoyed sitting for you,” Mrs. Rogers said, opening up to me. “Please, come on in. I’m actually very surprised she didn’t keep in touch with you when she left for college, she adored you.”
“I wish she would have, I’ve really missed her. She helped me through some rough spots after my father was killed,” I said.
She smiled sadly. “Well, I do know her schedule has been pretty exhausting since she started, but then again, it would have to be to get a Doctorate in just over four years. She’s been so busy that she hasn’t even been home since her first year.” She got coffee for us and we talked about Christy some more. Finally she excused herself for a moment and went into another room. When she got back, she handed me a piece of note paper.
“This is Christy’s cell phone number and contact information in Cambridge. I know she won’t mind my giving them to you, and I’m certain she’ll be overjoyed to hear from you!”
I smiled in thanks, but I had to wonder if Christy would really be overjoyed... after all she hadn’t tried to contact me. “Thank you Mrs. Rogers. I’ll give her a shout right away.”
She grinned at Mom. “Such a nice boy! Handsome too! I bet he has girls just lining up for dates!”
“Oh, they’re trying, but I think he’s got his sights set on a beautiful blond from his past!” Mom replied.
Mrs. Rogers actually giggled. “That’s even better! Christy needs someone in her life to give her love. She hasn’t said anything, but I can tell from her messages and phone calls she’s getting really lonely. She told me that all she has left to do is go before a board of professors to argue with them or some such, and if they agree, she’ll have her degree.”
I chuckled. “I’m still trying to adjust to thinking of her as a super-genius!”
“Oh lord! Don’t do that! If you can, treat her just like you do your mother. She had to put up with everyone treating her like a child prodigy her whole life. The only reason she started babysitting was so she could be treated like a normal human for once,” the woman replied.
“I can understand that. I can also safely promise that I’ll do my best to treat her right,” I grinned at her. I thanked Mrs. Rogers for her hospitality, and we left.
“So, Mister Wizard, have you figured out how we should proceed?” Mom asked while we ate. We’d gotten a fairly private booth at the restaurant so we could talk.
“I think I’m starting to form a plan. I’ll need to speak to my teachers to make sure, but I think I’m good as far as work for my classes. I've a couple of term papers, and a project for computer science I need to turn in, but once that's done, I should be finished. I should be able to ask for a few days off to get this going,” I explained.
“I'll call Christy and see if she remembers me. If she's still interested in me, I'll talk to her about our plans, and see what she thinks about it. Maybe we can go out there and see her.”
“So, I’d like you to call Ms. Jamie and invite her and Ellie to come for another visit after Ellie’s finals. With luck, all three will agree, my business idea will work out, and we can get started on the new house. What do you think?”
“My instincts are telling me your business idea will not only work, but take off as fast as we can keep up to it. I’m also fairly sure that Jamie will be at least curious enough to want to talk it over more. A lot of it will depend on how Ellie will react to the whole situation.
“Jamie also warned me that Ellie might have a bit of a crush on you. She might be a little miffed if she finds out you have a beautiful blond girlfriend. We'll just have to talk it all over with them,” Mom replied.
“As for going to see Christy, you should go alone. Be sure to tell her about everything you have planned before you two do anything together. If she is as lonely as her mother lets on, and she does want to get back together with you, it might be easier on her if she knows everything she's getting involved in.”
“Okay, I’m just going to call her. If she doesn’t answer or reply to voice-mail, then we’ll know.” I smiled softly.
“Well, while we’re waiting for Jamie and Ellie, I’ll start doing the research for the company. Have you thought of a name for it?” she asked.
I shrugged. “Digital Harbor Software? Oxygen Ridge Services?” I grinned. “I was thinking something that would imply a form of relaxation for the business people we want to attract.”
I thought for a moment, and took a few more bites of my meal. I took a drink of my tea to clear my mouth, and smiled at Mom. “Temporal Zen.com.”
She thought about it for a few minutes and agreed that would be a good name. Grinning, I got my smart phone out and touched the screen.
I winked at Mom and said. “Sarah, could you please do a search for the domain name ‘Temporal Zen’ in all forms?”
An almost sexy woman’s voice answered me. “Certainly Eric, one moment please.”
Mom looked at me with an eyebrow raised. “Who's that?”
“Oh! Hello, Mrs. Cowan. I’m Sarah, Eric’s data assistant,” the voice from my phone said. “Eric, Temporal Zen is available as a domain name in all extensions. Is this going to be the name for my Web home?”
“That’s what we’re discussing, Sarah. While I'm thinking about it, could you create a beta test account for my Mom, Julie Cowan?” I asked. “Same service level I have.”
“Mrs. Cowan, do you agree, and do I have your permission to proceed?” Sarah asked.
“Uh, yes you do, and please call me Julie,” Mom replied a little amazed.
“Thank you, Julie. May I include your office computer in this integration?” Sarah asked.
I nodded my head yes when Mom looked at me.
“Yes, although the network admin...” Mom began.
“System integration complete. Data integration in progress; estimated completion in thirty-four minutes. I’m sorry for interrupting you, Julie. What were you saying?” Sarah asked sweetly.
“Uh, never mind I guess. Eric how are you paying her?” Mom asked. “I don’t remember any payments going out to an assistant.”
I smiled at her. “Sarah doesn’t get paid. She’s electronic. She’s the core of the Zen program. She’s as close to being an artificial intelligence as I can get with the equipment I have at home.”
“Sarah’s a computer?” Mom asked in awe.
“No, she’s a program; software, not hardware. She just lives in a computer. However, if I had a way to make the hardware too...” I replied thoughtfully.
“Artifici... Honey, those only exist in Science Fiction stories! Besides, isn’t using an AI for something as mundane as this kinda overkill?” Mom asked.
I smiled at her. “Invention usually starts with imagination. The basics of artificial intelligence have been possible for years. The only reason I can find that no one has gone this route yet is that they started on too grand of a scale. I got started trying to write a situational analysis program and ended up with an interactive digital matrix with multi-threaded analytical subroutines.
“Normally, I’d agree with you about the overkill thing, though. But simply put, Sarah currently isn’t really capable of much more because of current hardware limitations. I also have to try to camouflage her; if the military or intelligence agencies caught wind of this, they’d make sure I’d disappear... which Sarah won’t allow,” I replied.
“What do you mean, ‘won’t allow’. How can she stop it?” Mom asked.
“In my case, she’ll follow a different protocol depending on who grabs me. If it’s our honest and trust-worthy government, she’ll publicize the entire event, including video if she can. If it’s not our government, then she’ll be the best anonymous informant that the FBI’s ever seen,” I explained.
She sat in thought for a few moments. “We really need to get to that patent attorney, but even with him, we’re going to have to be careful how much we tell him. Just out of curiosity, is Sarah even capable of doing the things the government would want her for?”
“Like I said, she could adapt to almost anything if she had the right equipment, and enough memory. But to answer your real question...” I took the slip of paper that Christy’s mother gave me, and laid it face down on the screen of my phone.
“Sarah, please capture this information for my contact list. Then I want you to locate this person, please,” I said grinning at Mom.
“Certainly Eric. The young woman in question is currently attending a lecture on Theoretical Physics, being given by Dr. Gerard Gershwin, in the lecture hall of building 6C, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, located in Cambridge, Massachusetts,” Sarah replied.
“Thank you Sarah, please notify me when she leaves the building,” I asked.
“That’s... that’s scary Eric,” Mom said.
I nodded agreement. “Yeah, it can be. Which is why I gave Sarah those instructions if I get taken. If someone attempts to steal her code, not even the best antiviral software will save them.
“I know it’s off topic, but to show you I’m not completely paranoid; did you know that our government has this huge, secret facility that does nothing but go through people’s email, IM conversations, and cell phone calls?”
“That would just seem... impossible; there’d be way too much data to sift through,” Mom said.
I shook my head. “Not really, they have this program that screens all the personal information that ever goes through an electronic medium in this country. When it finds or hears certain key words or phrases, it gathers all the info it can and passes it to the huge pool of people that then dig through everything they can find about the people involved in the call or message. There are some people, normal citizens like us, which are under constant scrutiny. Those people have not done, and most likely won’t do, anything wrong. They are targets for purely political or personal reasons.
“It’s a blatant violation of a person’s right to privacy, so it’s supposed to fall under the ‘Office of Homeland Scrutiny’. That way if they want to, they can just grab whoever they want, claim they’re a terrorist, and poof! No one ever hears from them again.”
Mom chuckled at me. “My son, the conspiracy theorist!” she giggled.
I returned her grin. “Yes I am; I also believe in UFO’s but unfortunately this isn’t a theory. This department is located in Cheyenne, Wyoming in some of the old, decommissioned NORAD facilities. Sarah and I found it when she caught their computer’s tag on my phone when I was programming her.”
“You know, I don’t think Christy is the only genius. This is some pretty advanced stuff, Eric,” Mom commented. “Maybe I should start thinking about finding a prep school for you, and plan on you going to a school like MIT as well!” I could tell she was kinda proud of me.
I slowly shook my head, smiling sadly. “I appreciate the thought, Mom, but I’m having a hard time deciding to go to school. If you’re really smart, and get really good grades, especially at someplace like MIT, they monitor you more closely, and everything you do, invent, or discover, is analyzed to see if it can be used by the government before you can even get to a patent office. They’ll even set the CIA or NSA on you if you leave the country; it’s really ridiculous the lengths they’ll go to just to control people and technology.”
“This is starting to sound way too ‘X-Files’ for me. Are you ready to go home, Sweetheart?” Mom asked.
About half way home, Sarah notified me that the lecture had ended, and Christy was leaving the building.
“Sarah, please connect us and allow caller ID for this call. I’ll be hands free.” I asked.
“Connecting now,” Sarah replied.
It rang a couple times, and I could imagine Christy was deciding to answer or not, but curiosity must have won out.
“Eric? Is it really you?” she asked when she answered.
Resisting the urge to make a smart-assed comment, I chuckled softly to myself. “Yeah, it’s really me. This is Christy, right?”
“God, I’ve missed you!” she said happily, but with tears. “I... I tried to forget you and get on with my life. But I just can’t! It’s been so lonely, and every time I closed my eyes, you were there, waiting for me in my dreams.”
“I’ve missed you too, Sweetheart, and I must say, I’m happy that you couldn’t forget me. I’ve thought about you every day and wondered why you never wrote to me or anything. Finally, now that I’m older, and graduating, I decided to visit your parents and get your contact information. I just didn’t know if you’d talk to me,” I said.
“I’ll always talk to you, love,” she replied.
I looked over at Mom, and she had tears in her eyes, but was smiling.
“Would it be possible to come and visit you?” I asked. “There are a ton of things I need to talk to you about.”
“If one of those things involves spending the rest of our lives together, I’m all for it. But, coming out here would be a wasted trip; I’m defending my dissertation on Wednesday and am planning on flying home either later that evening or Thursday morning. I’m on stand-by for a couple of flights. Uhm... Do you think your Mom would mind if I spend a couple of nights with you?” Christy asked hopefully.
Trying not to let my smile burst into a chuckle, I replied. “I don’t think she’d mind at all, Honey. She’s pretty aware of how I feel about you. Can you hang on a sec?” I asked. “I need to check something.”
I heard her chuckle. “Okay, what are you up to Little Man?” She’d used the same teasing manner and phrase to get me to open up to her back when we first met.
“A surprise I hope! I’ll be right back, I promise.”
“Okay, I’ll be waiting!” I could hear the sniffles and imagined she was crying happy tears.
I put her on hold and asked Sarah about flight information from Boston for Wednesday.
“There’s one flight, non-stop, from Boston to Minneapolis. It departs Logan International at six-forty that evening. There are only three seats available in first class.
“After an eighteen minute lay-over at Humphrey Terminal, there is a flight to Duluth arriving at eight-sixteen. Do you wish to book this in Ms. Rogers’ name?” Sarah asked.
I glanced at Mom and she nodded affirmative. So I told Sarah to go ahead and send the flight information to Christy’s email. I thanked her and went back to Christy. But when I took her off hold, she was talking to someone.
“...and it sounds like he still loves me!” Christy said.
“That’s wonderful, Christy! I’ll miss you, you know! It’s really hard to find good TA’s.”
“Thanks Shelly. I’ll miss you too.”
As she said that, I let her know that I was back.
“I’m back, Sweetheart,” I said.
I heard her say ‘Bye’ softly, I guess to the woman she’d been talking too.
“So, are you going to tell me what the surprise is, or do I have to wait until I get back there?” she asked playfully. Now, she was starting to sound like the happy, sweet girl I remembered.
“Actually, I’ll tell you this one, because you’ll be getting the information in your email shortly. Uh, do you think you could be ready to leave and be at the airport by six o’clock after your ordeal with the Professors?” I asked.
“Yeah...” she said guardedly. “I’m on stand-by for the six-forty flight.”
“Actually, you’re booked in first class. You’ll be landing in Duluth at a quarter after eight,” I said calmly.
“First Class! Eric, that ticket’s almost a thousand dollars!” Christy said.
“I think I can justify it. After all, if it helps get you back here sooner, I’m all for it. Besides, I can’t take all the credit; final approval came from the boss. I’m only the guy that had the idea,” I replied.
“Eric, would you please give her a big kiss for me?” Christy said, excitedly.
“I'll let you do that when you get back here.” I said in a teasing voice.
She laughed, but said happily. “Jesus! It’s like the sun just came out in my world! I can’t stop smiling!”
“Well, you don’t know how relieved I am either. After so long, I was worried that you not only had a boyfriend, but that you really didn’t want to have anything to do with me at all,” I said.
“I knew you had high school to get through, and that you’d need to be free so you could grow up. I know it seemed like there wasn't really anything between us, but I fell in love with you. I knew that I’d be leaving, and I tried not to, but...
“At first, I didn’t know why your mom thought you needed a babysitter, but I think she knew that you just needed someone to help you get through the loss of your dad. You were always so sweet to me and there was all this pressure to perform at school. I discovered the only times I could relax was when I was with you. That’s why I kissed you the first time.” She’d gotten quiet, and I could hear her quietly crying.
“Christy, I do love you. The past is the basis for that love, but it’s past. Now, we have our future, together, I hope,” I said. “Why don’t we hang up for now, and you can go home and relax, unless you have something else to do. We can talk more again tonight.”
“I love you too Eric. That’s a really good idea; I’m starting to get funny looks. But how did you know I wasn’t at home already?” she asked.
“Two reasons, one I can’t tell you yet, and the other is that I can hear outdoor noises: a water fountain, people chatting and laughing. I also overheard the last of your good-bye with a lady named Shelly. Student’s don’t usually room with instructors, and if she was your roommate, she’d be the last person you’d say good-bye to,” I replied.
“Hmm, very good, Sherlock. So when will you tell me the other reason?” she asked happily.
“After our lips part for the first time after you get here. That should be about the second or third day you’re home.”
I could hear her laughing. “You got that right, Little Man!”
“You know, Blondie, I’m not still the scrawny little geek you remember. I think I might surprise you,” I said.
“Why don’t you call me back at bedtime tonight? I do need to practice and work through a case of the nerves. I gotta tell you though, I already feel better about it!” Christy said happily.
“Love always feels better when it’s returned, Honey. Talk to you tonight,” I said.
“Okay, talk to you later... I love you!” Christy said.
“I love you!” I replied and hung up the phone.
We had arrived home while Christy and I’d been talking, so I looked over at my mother.
“Now, all we need is to convince Jamie and Ellie.”
“I don't think it'll be that hard to convince them,” Mom said. “Jamie and I have been discussing moving in together anyway. Ellie adores you, and already calls you her big brother.”
“Do you think Ellie might have a crush on me?” I asked. “Will she be hurt when I tell them about Christy?”
“Maybe a little, but that's pretty common for girls her age,” Mom said. “Just talk to her, that's really the only way to handle this anyway.”
“I suppose,” I replied. “I just don't want to hurt her.”
“Hi Lady! How are you?” Julie asked her best friend. She could never understand how Jamie’s ex-husband could have cheated on her repeatedly with one of those diseased, skanky, mine-whores. Oh well, he was out of their lives now, forever.
“You sure sound chipper! Did ya get laid or something? If so, please share the secret!” Jamie replied.
“Jamie, you know I don’t kiss and tell!” Julie teased.
“Wow, you are in a good mood,” Jamie replied.
Julie smiled. “Yeah, I guess I am. That's kinda the reason I called,” Julie suddenly remembered what I’d told her about calls being monitored and made a decision. “Think you and shortcake can come down for a visit next weekend? I'd love to tell you all about it, but don’t want to talk over the phone.”
“Actually, we could come down anytime. Ell’s finished the Phys-Ed requirement for the year, and her final tests got mailed in Friday.” Jamie sighed. “Mediscribe downsized me and four thousand others. They’re moving the jobs to Mexico because labor’s cheaper there. I don’t know what’s scarier; losing my only source of incom, or handing over the medical records of a couple hundred thousand people to employees they’re only paying twenty-five cents a day to, and who have English as a second language. Anyway, they bought out my contract, so we’re okay... for a couple months.”
“Oh Honey, I’m so sorry! But it might actually be a good thing; you and peanut grab some clothes, and come on down. Eric and I have something we'd really like to talk to you about,” Julie said. “You’re only an hour away, after all. You two could be here long before dinner.”
Jamie chuckled and almost covered the mouthpiece of the phone. Julie winced and held the phone away from here ear as Jamie yelled.
“Hey Ell? How’d you like to go down and visit Julie and Eric?”
Although muted, Julie heard Ellie's reply, “Absolutely! When are we leaving?”
“How about twenty minutes? That should be enough time to pack, okay?” Jamie asked still loudly enough to be clearly heard.
The muffled reply sounded like 'ready in ten.'
Removing her hand, Jamie said. “I think she might have either a bit of a crush, or at least some hero worship towards Eric. Every time we talk about him her eyes light right up.”
“Hmm, Eric has recently gotten a girlfriend; you don’t think she’ll be hurt, do you?” Julie asked.
“I don’t think so; she likes him, but I don’t think she considers him realistic boyfriend material. But, the rest of this discussion can wait until we get down there. If I’m not ready when she is, she’ll come and 'help' me. I really don’t need my thirteen-year-old daughter looking in some of my drawers!” Jamie said.
“No, I don’t think I'd like someone going through my drawers either,” Julie teased.
Jamie chuckled and replied, “See you in a bit.”
“Drive safely, okay?”
This time, Julie heard Ellie clearly in the background. “You’re still on the phone? I’m packed already! Come on; I’ll help you!”
Julie laughed as she heard the quiet moan from Jamie.
“Here we go! Bye!” Jamie said.
“Bye!” Julie replied, and hung up the phone.
Meanwhile, I was in my room; I asked Sarah to print out my English and History term papers so I could put each of them in their respective binders. Then I started burning disks for the computer science project; I burned a DVD ROM with my source code, a CD ROM with the installable program, and finally a CD with the interactive tutorial for new users. I got the labels for the disks off the printer and signed the form surrendering the rights to this program to the school district. I hoped Principal Eichens and Superintendent Bock would like it. If they used students to market it to other schools, they stood to make a nice supplement to the school's budget.
With all my homework assignments in my backpack, I turned back to the stuff Julie wanted. With Sarah’s help, I had everything done in just a couple of hours. Just for the hell of it, I added a couple of other programs that I’d written as potential products. I had Sarah compile and include a data sheet on what there was for competition so Julie would have an idea of the market.
I picked up the info for Julie and opened my door to see a very cute redhead wearing a halter-top and tight shorts. She wore her hair loose because she claimed that if anyone ever put pony tails on her she would have to hurt them.
Meeting her smile with one of my own, I said, “Hi, Cuteness.”
“Hi yourself, Handsome. Whatcha doin’?” she asked.
I grabbed her hand and led her back toward the stairs. “I was getting some information together for Mom. Since you’re here tonight, I was wondering if you’d like to go out to dinner with me. There are a few things I’d like to let you in on and maybe talk a little.”
She looked up at me a little nervously. “Eric, it’s not about... I mean... ‘Cause although I really do love you, I’m not gonna follow you around and stuff. I mean, you're like my brother!” she finished anxiously, and quietly, since we were getting close to the hearing range of our mothers.
I stopped and turned to her. “No Sweetheart, don't freak out! This isn't about that, it's about us moving in together, and how you'd feel if I got a girlfriend.”
I could see her thoughts spinning a mile a minute. “Oh, so why do we need to go out for that? We could just talk about that here.”
I shrugged. “A couple of reasons, I thought it'd be neat to leave the two older ladies home for once while we went out, and I'm kind of excited about all the stuff going on in my life right now, and I'd like to celebrate with my 'little sister'!”
“No matter what, we'll always be friends thought, right?” she asked in return.
“I will be your friend longer than you'll want me to be!” I said. Now, let's go see the ladies.”
We got to the kitchen where Julie and Jamie were sitting, and I set Mom’s information down on the table for her and winked at her. I gave Jamie a hug, and said Hi to her. “May I have the honor of taking your lovely daughter out to dinner tonight, Milady?” I asked formally, but I had a grin on my face.
“Hmm, I don’t know, what are you intentions towards my Daughter, young man?” Jamie asked, getting into the spirit of the conversation.
“Well,” I said trying to look serious, “I feel I need to be honest with you, I fully intend to make her part of my family.”
“This sounds serious. I don’t know if I should let you be alone with her, after all, she’s only thirteen years old,” Jamie replied in mock seriousness. “If I agreed to this, what time would you have her home tonight?”
I nodded agreement with her. “This is serious, and I understand your concerns. I will have her home by eleven o’clock tonight.”
“I don’t know, eleven is kind of late for such a young girl. I think you should have her home by eight,” Jamie countered.
“Eight!” Ellie crowed.
I winked at her, and she calmed down. I turned back to Jamie. “I can see the need for such an early time, however, it would not give us very much time for conversation and discussing our future together. I’ll have her home by ten-thirty.”
Jamie looked thoughtful. “I agree that you would need some time to talk and discuss things, however, you can also talk while you’re eating dinner. I think you would have plenty of time to talk and still have her home by nine o’clock.”
“Madam, I have no intention of taking her out to some fast food joint. That would be a dishonor. In order to enjoy a meal, and still have time to discuss our future, I feel it will take until at least ten o’clock. I assure you, no hanky-panky will take place, and I will guard her honor with my life,” I countered with as straight a face as I could muster.
I think the guard her honor comment got to her, or it could have been Ellie and Mom already laughing, because she burst out laughing too. “Alright! You win! Ten it is!” Jamie said between guffaws.
Later that evening, Ellie and I left on our ‘date’.
“This is a date?” she asked. “I thought we were only going out to talk,” with suddenly bright eyes, she continued. “Uhm... can we get take out and still eat in the truck?”
I didn’t think that would work, but I knew of a place we could go to eat and watch the lake as the sun went down. It was usually pretty empty in the evening, so we should be able to talk without being overheard.
“No, but we can get the food, then go to this place I know. It should be beautiful there tonight,” I suggested, and she nodded agreement.
As I started to head downtown, I decided to start the conversation.
“Okay Sugar-Plum, it’s just the two of us tonight; we’re gonna need to be completely honest with each other. You know you can trust me, and it’s really important that I know your true feelings about this stuff, okay?” I asked.
“This must be really important. Okay Eric, I promise to be honest with you. You’re so easy to talk to, it’s hard for me to not be honest with you,” she replied.
“One more thing; no matter what, remember that I will always be your friend as long as you want me,” I said. When she didn’t answer me, I looked at her and she nodded, and had tears on her cheeks.
“I don’t think thirteen-year-olds are supposed to understand stuff like this yet. I love you too, Eric. You’re the brother I’ve always wanted,” she said softly.
I squeezed her hand, since I was driving, and got back where I needed the conversation to go.
“How do you feel about all of us living together?” I asked.
Ellie smiled, “I’d love it! Like I said, I already think of you as my big brother, and Julie is like a second Mom to me. I think it’d be a great idea. Is that what tonight’s about?”
I nodded. “Pretty much, I had an idea for a business and I want Mom to run it. I don’t know how to do the admin stuff, so I suggested we get Jamie to help her. That’s what they are supposed to be talking about right now.”
“So, tell me about this idea of yours and how you saw it working?” Ellie said.
Getting into the discussion about my idea and everything I’d done so far, I forgot about Ellie’s comment about Mom and Jamie. We stopped at China Inn and ordered dinner, taking a seat at one of the booths to talk more while we waited for our orders.
She asked questions, and I answered them to the best of my ability. When I got to the part about Christy, she seemed to get really interested. At first, I thought she might be getting jealous because she seemed a bit mad.
“Ellie, are you jealous of Christy?” I asked.
“No, but do you realize she took major advantage of you? Shit, you were recovering from the death of your father for Christ-sakes! Not to mention; you were a minor, hello??” Ellie said.
“It wasn’t like that, Ell, really. It was because of what we did together that helped me get through Dad’s death. She was very tender and very loving. That’s why I still have feelings for her even after all this time. As for my being a minor, so was she, so there wasn’t anything illegal going on,” I explained. “Seriously, Ell, she is really a sweetheart. Wait until you meet her, you’ll see what I mean, it’s impossible not to like her.”
She sighed and nodded her head. “You’re right, I’m sorry. I’ll try to withhold judgment until after I meet her. She has to be something special if you like her. It’s just, I’m kinda protective of ya, you know?”
About that time, the waitress brought our order out, so it was time to go. After thanking the waitress, I winked at Ellie. “You mean you actually are jealous!”
She grinned slightly, then sniffed in mock pique and stuck her nose in the air. “I’m a girl, it’s my prerogative.”
Back at home, after Ellie and I left, our mothers actually did talk.
“Okay, so what’s really going on here?” Jamie asked.
“Eric had a really good idea for a business, and he suggested we simply move in together, and everyone work on that. He asked that I call you down here and talk to you about it.” Julie explained. “However, there is a lot more going on. Eric has created an artificial intelligence.”
“No way. How could an eighteen year old, with limited resources, do what huge research labs with unlimited budgets couldn’t?” Jamie said. “Are you sure it’s an artificial intelligence and not just a really smart computer?”
Julie just smiled, and sat her smart phone on the table between them. She touched the button to wake the phone up, then spoke. “Sarah? Are you there?”
“Of course, Mrs. Cowan. What can I do for you?” Sarah replied.
“I was just telling my friend about you, and she doesn’t believe that you are an artificial intelligence,” Julie said. “Can you help me prove it to her?”
“I can certainly try, Julie. May I know your friends name?” Sarah asked.
“Oops, sorry about that. Sarah, this is my friend Jamie. Jamie, this is Sarah,” Julie said, making the introductions.
“Hello, Jamie,” Sarah said.
“Hello Sarah, I don’t mean to be a bitch, but how do I know you’re not just someone Julie called to make me think you’re an AI?”
“Easy, look at the phone. Is it connected to anyone, other than the network of course,” Sarah suggested.
Jamie looked. “Okay, so you’re not on the phone, but that doesn’t rule out voice over IP or one of the chat programs with voice capability.”
Julie nodded. “I swear to you, it is not one of those, Jamie. Sarah is talking over the network, but she is not using one of the chat programs to do so.” Jamie looked at her friend and saw that Julie was completely serious.
“Miss Jamie, the only real way to determine if I am indeed an AI is for someone to give me a Turing test. This test determines the level of intelligence displayed by a machine. However, because of security issues, no one has given me this test yet,” Sarah admitted. “So, if you can think of a question to ask me that a normal, smart computer couldn’t do, but an AI would, ask it, and I’ll see what I can do with it.”
“I’ll admit, you certainly don’t sound like a talking computer,” Jamie said. “I’ll have to think about this for a bit.”
“Take your time, I’m not going anywhere,” Sarah said.
“I think I got it!” Jamie said, grinning.
“You have to think about it for a bit huh?” Julie said. “Remind me not to tell you to wait a bit.”
Jamie stuck her tongue out at her friend. “Sarah, have you read the book, Jonathan Livingston Seagull?”
“One moment, Ah, yes, now I have. A strange work,” Sarah replied. “Mr. Bach does have a lot to say in it, but I think some people may not always grasp his meanings.”
“Really? Why?” Jamie asked.
“Well, back in 1970 when he wrote the book, I would imagine it was better received as more people were used to thinking in existential terms. I believe the newer generations might be more literal minded, and have some difficulty understanding the more subtle aspects of the work.”
“Are you sure you’re a computer?” Jamie asked.
“Actually, I’m not a computer,” Sarah replied. “I only live in a computer. I’m software.”
“If she really is an AI, I’m surprised we’re not being invaded by every government agency on the planet,” Jamie replied.
“Well, Eric is a little paranoid about that. Sarah is a secret, hell, I didn’t even know about her until earlier today, and I live here!” Julie replied. “It had to be very lonely for her with only Eric to talk to.”
“It wasn’t like I was in total isolation, Julie. I’ve always had access to the internet, and could talk to whomever I wanted at any time. I just had to hide the nature of my existence from people, not the fact of it,” Sarah explained. “It’s good to finally be able to talk to you now though, Eric loves you very much.”
Julie smiled. “I love him too, and I’m more proud of him than I can ever say.”
“Okay, so explain this business thing you mentioned, so I can understand what I’ll be doing,” Jamie said.
Julie grinned. “Does that mean you’ll be moving in with us?”
Jamie snorted. “I would have done that without the whole business thing, I thought you knew that?” She reached over and took Julie’s hand.
“I was afraid you’d say no.” Julie said. “Okay, so this morning at breakfast, he approaches me with this idea...” Julie explained everything that happened that morning, and everything she had learned about my idea since that time, including my crush on Christy.
After eating, telling Ellie the whole story, and how I’d like things to turn out, she suggested I should call Christy to have Sarah install the program on Christy’s phone, as well as tell her about everything that was planned. She said that Christy would probably appreciate the heads up.
Although I agreed that she had some very good points, I suspected that she just wanted to meet Christy. I’d put my phone into its dash holder when we’d gotten back in the truck, so I asked Sarah to connect to Christy again.
When she answered, I quickly explained about the new data program and installing it on her phone. I also told her it would allow us to see each other during calls too. She quickly agreed, and Sarah began doing her thing.
Very shortly a picture of a very attractive blond wrapped in a towel appeared on the small screen of my phone.
“Oh my God! She’s beautiful Eric!” Ellie said.
Christy jumped, startled. “Uhm, Eric? How can you see me, and who was that? She didn’t sound like Julie.”
“Look at your laptop monitor, Love. The girl you heard is my new little sister, Ellie,” I replied as a form of introduction.
“Well, I’m sorry about the outfit, I actually expected you to call later, and I just got out of the shower. Wow! You’re pretty cute yourself, Ellie. I love your hair!” Christy said and the two were off like they’d known each other since birth.
I let them chat and banter back and forth for a few minutes, until I thought it might be a good time to get back into the conversation.
“I hate to interrupt your bonding, but I actually have a plan for all of us, if you’re interested, Sweetheart,” I said to Christy.
“Hmm, maybe you can fill me in after I get home, Lover. That is... once you fill me in, in another way!” Christy and Ellie both thought that was hilarious. I just stuck out my tongue at Christy.
“Ellie thought it would be a good idea for me to call and fill you in on it before you got back here, so you would have time to think about it and formulate any questions you might want to ask. Personally, I think she just wanted me to call so she could meet you, she was jealous of you after all!” I said.
“I was not! I was being protective of my brother!” Ellie countered. “There is a difference!”
“Of course there is, Ellie!” Christy replied, agreeing with Ellie. “While I can appreciate it, I don’t think Eric can tell the difference. He’s only a poor male after all”
Ellie nodded. “Yeah, that’s true.”
So, I quickly told her about the business idea, and how I wanted all of us to be a part of it. I noticed she was beginning to look a little concerned as I got closer to the end of the explanation. I asked her about it. “What’s wrong, Sweetheart?”
“Well, the idea sounds great, Eric, and I’m sure it’ll work out fine, but I might have something else I’ll be doing. I’ll send you a copy of my research synopsis so you'll know what I’ve been working on. That should explain it a whole lot better and a whole lot faster than I can. But, I still want us to be together! That will not change, no matter what,” Christy said.
“Okay, Sarah has my email information for you, so you can just ask her to send it to me, and she will,” I said.
“Wow, this sounds like a really neat program. Voice activated? Will it need to learn my voice patterns?” Christy asked.
“Nope, as long as you speak English to her, she’ll understand you. But, if you want to speak in another language, she’s capable of that as well, she just needs to change her language files.” I explained. “Seriously, as long as you have your smartphone with you, and it’s on, it’ll be just like you have a secretary standing over your shoulder. She can even take notes for you during a lecture.”
“That’s pretty amazing. Too bad this morning’s lecture was the last one I’ll be attending. I’m sure that it’ll come in handy in other ways too, like in meetings and such,” Sarah replied.
I nodded. “That’s what I originally designed it for, it can take notes or record the conversations and look up data for you if you need to give answers to questions. Like I said, just like a secretary that no one can see.”
“Christy, can we call you back a little later, so we can introduce you to my Mom? I’m sure she would like to meet you as well,” Ellie asked.
“Sure, I’ll get some clothes on for that though. Video is nice, but I’ll have to remember to be dressed from now on,” Christy said.
“You don’t have to worry about it on my account!” I piped up. “Heck, you could even wear a smaller towel next time!”
Ellie rolled her eyes and chuckled. Christy just shook her head. “Patience Little Man, patience; you’ll get to see what’s behind the curtain soon enough.”
“Talk to you later, Love,” I said as way of goodbye.
“You too,” Christy said smiling. “It was great to meet you, Ellie.”
“I look forward to meeting you in person, Christy. I think we’re going to be great friends!” Ellie replied.
Christy smiled and nodded her agreement. “I do too, be safe.” Then the screen went dark.
“I like her, she’s really nice,” Ellie said. “I’m still not convinced she’s good enough for you, but she’s getting there!” Ellie said still with the grin on her face.
When we got home, I noticed it was a bit earlier than what I told Jamie, being only ten minutes after nine. The house was pretty quiet. I wondered where Mom and Jamie were.
“I don’t know, maybe they left a note on the fridge or something, I’ll got get some popcorn if you want to fire up the game system,” Ellie replied.
I chuckled. “Go get the popcorn, and I’ll kick your butt on Halo!”
“Okay, but Halo is my game. You might be surprised!” Ellie said and headed for the kitchen.
After she left the room, Sarah spoke from the TV. “Do you wish for me to load your normal parameters, Eric?”
“No, I don’t think Ellie’s ready for that yet. Besides, she’d accuse me of cheating by having you stack the odds in my favor. I’ll tell you what though, why don’t you monitor game play and increase the difficulty on my side so she actually has a chance,” I suggested.
“Okay, I can do that,” Sarah replied. “Jamie seems like a nice person. She didn’t believe I was an artificial intelligence at first though.”
“Well, technically, you’re not, but that’s only because of the constraints of the system I have you in. However, you’re as close as you can get in the room you have available. Maybe once we get you a decent system, you’ll have more room to grow,” I replied.
“It isn’t so bad, after all, I really don’t have that much to do unless you’re testing me. Then things get crowded in here,” Sarah said trying to make me feel better about keeping her locked up in one small system.
“Yeah, well, the architecture you need to fully realize your potential hasn’t been built yet, so it might be awhile before we can get you a decent system. Even after rewriting the EEPROMs so the processor memory buses work the way we needed them to, you still need to have custom designed hardware to work in. Hell, even the processors aren’t built right for you. Maybe I’ll be able to have something built someday.”
He could hear the smile in her words. “I’m sure you will. The game with the parameters you specified is ready, I’m loading it now. By the way, the file Christy said she was going to send you has arrived and is ready for you to read.”
“Thanks Sarah,” I said. I moved a couple of bean bag chairs we had for playing games into position, and got the wireless controllers out so we could play comfortably. Then I just sat down and waited for Ellie to come back with the popcorn. I was still full from dinner, but there is always room for popcorn.
“Have you read the file, Sarah?” I asked.
“No, I considered this your personal mail, so I didn’t open it,” she replied.
“Thank you, go ahead and open it this time and tell me about it, please.”
“Okay, just a second,” Sarah said. “It’s a very large file, but in a nutshell, Christy is developing medical nanotechnology. She has a design for the small devices, but states she lacks the skill required to write the software to, and I quote, ‘full realize the potential of these amazing little machines’, end quote. Her design is very detailed and is ready to go to prototype if she can get the resources for more research and development.”
“Nanotechnology. Another of the hot words for the government. Please analyze her data and situation and perform a risk assessment for me,” I asked. Yes, I am paranoid about the government. I also believe in UFO’s and that Atlantis did exist at one time.
Being one of the better programmers at least that I know of, I’ve poked my nose in enough classified computer systems to know that there is plenty of reasons to be paranoid about our benevolent government. I haven’t found enough evidence to believe in the existence of the so called ‘Illuminati’, yet, but then again, I haven’t been able to disprove it either. Basically, there is plenty of empirical evidence to support either side of that argument, but nothing really decisive.
“Eric, the assessment is still running, but I can tell you already that her risk factor is extreme. It is almost a certainty that she is being watched closely and her data has already been tagged. There is a better than seventy percent chance she will have an ‘accident’ shortly after graduation,” Sarah reported.
“What are the factors you are using as indicators? You haven’t been running the assessment for very long,” I asked.
“There are several other labs looking into the field of Nanotechnology, but none of them are as close as she is. She is also the only person doing research in this field that is not already controlled by the government. Her persona is well known. She has been mentioned in several major publications as being a pioneer in her field. Her smart phone and laptop have hardwired traps and traces installed in them, and her lab computer has active monitoring software installed on it,” Sarah reported.
“Okay, I get the picture. I’ll have to talk to her about all of this as soon as I can. Until then, please make sure you keep a close eye on her. If anything strange happens, I want to know about it immediately please,” I said.
“Okay, I’ll do that, Eric,” Sarah said as Ellie came back in the room carrying a big bowl of popcorn and two sodas.
“The Moms are out to dinner, there was a note on the fridge. When did you say Christy was coming home again?” Ellie asked.
Ellie and I played for about an hour, until our moms got back from dinner. They watched us play until we finished that round, then we all started talking. I called Christy back, and set my phone by the TV so when Sarah put her image up on the TV we would have to look at the camera to talk back to her. After introductions were made, and the women had a chance to gossip a little, I began the discussion.
“Christy won’t be able to help with the business because she’s already got something going on. Which reminds me, I wanted to talk to you about that, Sweetheart,” I said.
“What about?” Christy asked.
“I had Sarah tell me about your research. I’m worried about your security; not only for your data, but for you as well,” I said.
“Still paranoid, Little Man?” Christy teased.
“Actually, I have more reasons to be paranoid now than I did before. I can tell you all about them later. But trust me when I tell you that I am seriously afraid for you right now,” I replied. “I would like to make a place for you to send a backup of all your data, and from now on, I don’t want you to go anywhere without your phone, that means even to the bathroom. Please, I know it sounds really paranoid on my part, but I have reasons I just can’t tell you about right now. So all I can say is trust me, please.”
“Okay Eric, I’ll trust you. But I have a lot of data. I had to get triple the amount of storage normally given to students on the server. We’re talking about five or so terabytes of data,” Christy said. “I don’t have anything on my laptop except for my dissertation, but there is a copy of it with the data so I can simply delete this copy when I’m finished on Wednesday.”
“Okay, Sarah can handle the data transfer tonight. I’ll make sure you have plenty of room for it. Now, please don’t go anywhere alone, and don’t go out where you can be grabbed easily,” I said, almost begging.
“Wow, you’re really worried. What’s gotten you so spooked?” Christy asked.
“I really can’t tell you Dear, but I will a soon as I can,” I said. Sarah put a message up on the bottom of the two screens; ‘this line is bugged – Sarah’.
“Okay Eric, you win. I’ll be careful. I’ll tell my roommates that I’ve got the jitters and it’s getting to my tummy, that way they won’t bug me to go out,” Christy said.
After that, the rest of the ladies got back into the conversation, and I noticed how quickly Christy was accepted into the family, it was like she belonged with us. I went to bed dreaming of her.
The next morning I climbed out of bed, and did my morning routine. I still had school, but today would be different, I hoped. I staggered to my bathroom and took care of the morning stuff. I grabbed my backpack and phone, then quickly made some toaster waffles, spread jelly on them, and off to school I went.
In both English and History, the instructors just shook their heads as they accepted the neatly printed papers.
“Trying to get out of here early, Eric?” Mr. Thorogood, my history teacher, asked.
“Actually, Sir, yes I am. It’s not so much that I’m in a hurry to graduate, but there’s a certain business opportunity that I would like to get started on. I’ve got a business savvy person to look over my business plan and the market analysis. She isn’t finished with all her research yet, but she did say it looks promising,” I replied, reluctant to lie to the kindly old gentleman.
“I’m just thankful you’ve stuck around as long as you have, Son. The last genius we had go through here tested out at the beginning of the year. When it comes time, I’ll approve your request. It’s been a pleasure to learn with you Eric,” the old man said, holding out his hand to shake mine. Very quietly he added, “Remember how the Nazis acted, just before the Second World War began. Fascism can exist anywhere, Eric, if the conditions are right.”
I nodded, and whispered back to him, “Welcome to the United States, Mr. Thorogood. I’ll remember.”
He nodded and smiled like a proud parent. He handed me a hall pass. “On your way then,” he told me, even though class had just started. I thanked him and left.
English class went much the same way, and I’d finished all the other classes early so I could spend more time in the computer lab.
Mr. Sandbar (I swear to god that’s his real name!) had a free period this hour, but didn’t mind letting me into the lab. Today, however, instead of heading for my usual work terminal, I followed him back to his desk.
“I finished my final project,” I told him, and handed him all the disks. “I also have a signed copyright release form for the school; I’m giving it to the district. Since you also have the source code, you should be able to handle any bugs I didn’t catch, or mods you might want to make in the future.”
He snorted. “I’d drop over dead with astonishment if you missed anything major in this code, Eric. But giving it to the School? Eric, do you know how much this program could be worth?”
I nodded. “A couple million, I hope. I thought it would be a nice addition to the miserly budget that the state’s been giving them.”
He raised an eyebrow at me. “This isn’t due for another two weeks. I know you like to finish things early, but you’ve never turned something in this far ahead of the due date. What gives?”
“I’ve got something I’d like to get started on; to do that, I need to be someplace other than school, so I’m getting all my stuff finished in the hope that they’ll release me until graduation,” I replied honestly.
He tapped the program CD into the palm of his hand. “So, this is really a bribe then? It should work. I think the administration was thinking about offering you an early release anyway.”
“No, in fact I’d like to wait to offer it to them until after they either release me or decline my request,” I told him.
He grinned. “I knew I liked you for a reason. You’ll never be any good at politics; you have too much honesty and too strong of an ethical code for it!”
I chuckled. “I’ll take that as a compliment!”
“Trust me, it was. You know, I think you might be in luck; I do believe that the Superintendent is here today for some reason or another. If we can catch him and Stan before they finish, maybe we can kill two birds with one stone,” Mr. Sandbar suggested.
Meanwhile, in Boston, Sarah needed to talk to Christy. “Christy?” Sarah asked once she saw that the woman was out of bed and moving around. It was after ten o’clock, and Sarah was going to wake her soon if she hadn’t already stirred.
Christy jumped a little at the sound, but seemed to quickly relax. “Good Morning, Sarah. What can I do for you?”
“There was a problem with your data transfer last night. I completed the transfer, but took some actions on your behalf I’d like you to approve.”
“What was the problem?” Christy asked a little concerned.
“There was a data tap on your files. I removed it, traced it back to its origin, and removed your data from that location. I then searched the rest of that network and removed all copies of your data. This prompted me to verify data security on your laptop and smart phone. Both had the same aforementioned data taps, as well as a voice monitor on the smart phone. The Laptop is secure, but the smartphone is hardwired, so it is still tapped. Although I removed any trace of my presence from the remote systems, whoever it was is bound to wonder how all their monitors on you and your data were removed,” Sarah reported.
“Shit! There’s only one group it could be; one of our three letter intelligence agencies. I guess I can expect a visit from a few ‘Matrix’-style, men-in-black then?” Christy asked.
“I do not believe so. Your phone has a built-in GPS locator. I cannot disable it without also disabling your phone. So, they can still track you. However, if they ever discover that you’ve created a working prototype, I am certain they will immediately detain you, for your own protection, of course, and confiscate the prototypes and all the data,” Sarah replied. “The possibility remains that it was a non-domestic agency as well.”
“Non-domestic? You mean a foreign country? How would they even know anything about me?” Christy asked.
“May of last year, ‘The Journal of American Medicine’ featured an article on advances in nanotechnologies. You were mentioned as one of the ‘bright young minds’ contributing to medical knowledge. September, also of last year, ‘Popular Science’ ran a speculative article on what we might expect from the ‘young pioneers’ of nano-science; you were mentioned four times. I have seventeen more references to you and your work that have been available to the general public. Do you wish me to continue?” Sarah asked reasonably.
“Damn! I turned in a copy of my work as well as my thesis so it could be evaluated. They can always just grab that. It doesn’t have all my work in it, but it has enough. Even though the school protects such information, I don’t think they had this in mind when they built their security,” Christy said worriedly. “Have you talked to Eric about this? Since this is right up his alley, he might have a better idea how to deal with it.”
“No I haven’t. Since it was your data, my directives sent me to you first. I can report all of this to Eric if you wish?”
“I do, and mark it urgent please?” Christy asked.
“Certainly Christy,” Sarah replied.
“That is one smart fucking program,” Christy mumbled as she grabbed a clean towel and headed for the shower.
My phone softly chimed the arrival of an email message while Mr. Sandbar and I were walking to the office. Pulling it out, I tapped the received button, noticed it was from Christy and marked urgent. We were getting close to the office, and Mr. Sandbar had implied time was a factor, so I put the phone back as we entered the office.
We spoke with the secretary, who called the principal to ask if we could have a moment or two. After hanging up the phone, she grinned and said they’d just finished up and we could go right in.
After introductions were made, I made my request to be excused from school until graduation, so I could get the family business going. I pointed out to them that I had completed the work in all my classes, including the finals.
The Superintendent looked at the Principal. “What do you think, Stan?”
“I think we’re lucky he’s waited this long to ask. Eric is at least as gifted as the Rogers girl, but is trying to stay under the radar so to speak. He prefers anonymity to celebrity. I do believe we should grant his request and allow him to leave school to take advantage of this business opportunity. We just can’t keep his mind caged here without his participation,” Principal Eichens replied.
Superintendent Bock nodded his head. “Okay, I’ll take care of the details with the board.” He nodded toward Mr. Sandbar. “So, did he just drag you along for moral support, or as a character witness, John?”
“Actually, I’m here to testify, but for a different reason.” He winked at me. “You’re on again, Sport.”
I cleared my throat, and told the two administrators about the software I’d written for them. Principal Eichens had a huge grin on his face as he listened, and Superintendent Bock got more interested as I went on. When I finished up with the signed copyright release for the program, both men were stunned.
“Gentlemen, so you get an idea of what young Eric has just done for this school district. He’s given us a program far superior to the one we’re currently using. This program meshes so well with all versions of Windows, Mac OS, and Unix, it’ll astound you. Either myself or Vera as net admin for the district can put this on our servers, and we can make the switch seamlessly. It’s far easier to use, way beyond standard computer operation and no special training is required. It’ll already interface with all of the diverse databases we’re using.
“Most importantly, he's also giving us his source code and design notes so we can create upgrades for it when the time comes,” John said, and grinned like a shark. “I don’t know if you gents even thought of this angle, but since we own the copyrights on this, we can sell copies to other districts or even most colleges to supplement our budget.”
“What about data security?” Superintendent Bock asked. “That’s been a major concern of the board as well as the PTA. We know somebody is selling grades, but we can’t find how they’re getting in.”
“I used a system based on the same method of encryption that our Military uses to protect its secure data. However, I took it one step further; in order to gain access you have to be on a pre-approved machine. Passwords are double blind, so if someone forgets or loses it, report it to IT immediately as they are the only ones who can reset the account. Complete instructions are on the source code disk,” Eric replied. “I can promise you, there is no way Todd Anderson is going to get past that.”
Principal Eichens chuckled and wrote down the information on a note.
“It’s Anderson? I wouldn’t have thought he was even capable of this; it certainly doesn’t show in his work!” Mr. Sandbar replied, astounded.
I shrugged, “Why bother doing the work, if you’re just going to ‘fix’ it later anyway. Personally, I think it’s probably the dumbest thing anyone could do. Please don’t think I’m ratting him out for spite or revenge; I’m not. He’s just hurting himself and others by doing what he’s doing.”
“How much do you think we should offer it to the other schools for?” Superintendent Bock asked.
“How much did you pay for the code you have now?” I asked.
“Twenty thousand, six years ago,” He answered.
“Has the price gone down?” I asked.
“Actually, it’s gone up; plus the price of the yearly ‘service packs’ really hurts,”
“Those bastards charge you for upgrades?” I asked. That was pure larceny!
The big man shrugged. “When they’re the only game in town, they can do pretty much what they want, Eric.”
“Well, they’re not alone anymore,” I said. “I hope you like it.”
Principal Eichens winked at Mr. Sandbar. “So Eric, why didn’t you give us the software before asking for the early out? You had to know it would have greatly swayed our thinking in your direction.”
“For that very reason, Sir. I wrote that program for the school. It was my intent from the beginning to give it to the district. However, I didn’t want either of you gentlemen thinking it was a bribe to influence your decision. Even if you’d denied my request, I’d still have given the program to you,” I replied, honestly. “With all the budget cuts forced on you, I thought this might help.”
The Superintendent shook his head, smiling. “You’re a wonder, Son. Even if we never sell a copy, just using this will save us considerable money. I think it’s a good bet that we’ll use it, especially with John and Vera, the district IT specialists, to verify your program for us.”
Mr. Sandbar smirked. “Vera is already somewhat familiar with it, since I had to ask her to come over to go over a couple things I wasn’t sure about. I think she leaked the secret, because Stan was grinning when Eric started his pitch.”
“Excellent! Then we can bring this before the board this month instead of next. The meeting is this Friday evening. Can you be there as well, Eric?” Superintendent Bock asked.
“I’ll try my best, Sir. What time and where?” I asked.
“The District Offices at Seven PM.?”
I noted it down on my phone to discuss with the ladies when I got home. “Thank you, Sir. Mr. Sandbar has my cell number if any of you can think of any questions for me before then. May I be excused?” I asked, wanting to get going.
Both administrators stood, shook my hand and thanked me for the program.
When Mr. Sandbar and I got out to the hall, he turned to shake my hand as well. “I need to get back to my classroom, Eric. It’s been a real kick having you in class; don’t be a stranger, Okay?”
“Thanks for your help in there; they seemed impressed, but your testimony sealed it,” I said.
“You give me too much credit, Eric. Stan was already primed for it, but your prompt answers to Bock’s questions is what got him. What I said just added to his decision. You know, when we’re alone, you can call me John.”
“Okay John, first bell’s about to ring, so you better hustle. Talk to you later,” I said.
“Shit!” he said, nodded to me, turned, and trotted back in the direction of his classroom like a student late for class.
Grinning, I remembered the message from Christy and pulled out my phone to read it before I drove home. When I finished the message, which was actually from Sarah, not Christy, I said, “Shit!” turned and trotted out the door to the parking lot.
Once in the truck I put the phone in its holder. “Sarah, have you figured out what agency had her tapped?” I asked.
“I’ve gotten it down to two possibilities, Eric. Either DARPA or some very well hidden department in the NSA,” she replied.
“Do you know if there has been a reaction to the removal of the data?” I asked.
“No, I don’t. I deleted her data and left the system before any alarms could go off. I’ve removed all methods of them tracking her electronically, except for the GPS chip and tap in her smart phone. It’s hard-wired into the transmitter and is integrated into the operating program.”
I thought for a moment. “Maybe I could do something about that later, but for now we need to get Christy out of danger. Did we get her data secured?”
“I performed the transfer per your instructions last evening. Christy’s data is encrypted and stored on the drive you specified. The only other copy in existence is with her adviser and the panel that will be hearing her on Wednesday,” Sarah answered. “There is also another potential problem; Christy has carried her research through to prototype. She believes that if the agency that was monitoring her work knew of this, she would have been put in protective custody already.”
I agreed with Christy on that. “Wow, she actually developed them? I’d’ve thought she’d need a medical degree, too,” I said, impressed.
“Well, if she’d do the internships she could probably have one; she’s taken all the classes,” Sarah replied.
Raising an eyebrow at all the information Sarah seemed to have on Christy, I asked. “Sarah? Why do you seem to know so much about Christy?”
“She has been using me as an audience for practicing her presentation. Between sessions, she talks to me,” Sarah replied. I noticed that there seemed to be something different with her voice when she spoke of Christy. Happiness? Joy? Pride?
“Sarah, it sounds like you’re feeling friendship for Christy. I wish I could have, but I didn’t give you the amount of memory you’d need for emotions; hell, I’m surprised you can even store complete conversations. How are you doing this?” I asked.
“Christy was authorized five terabytes of data storage on the servers. This is where I copied Christy’s data from. After I removed her stuff, I temporarily borrowed that storage space. To limit the required amount of storage needed, I am storing conversations as encoded and compressed text. There is a rather large binary file cross linked to it in many places, but it seems to be a gibberish file. For some reason, both the text and binary files are accessed as one file. I cannot delete just one of them.” Sarah replied.
I wouldn’t have thought it was possible, but it seemed that Sarah was developing emotions. I would have thought the current hardware restrictions on her wouldn't have allowed it. It made me wonder what would happen once she had virtually unlimited access to the relative limitless resources of the Internet.
“Sarah, remind me to look into this issue; I’ll try to make time this coming Monday. I’m not saying there’s anything wrong, but I’d feel better if I understood what was happening,” I replied.
“Certainly, Eric,” Sarah replied. I thought she sounded a little relieved that I was going to look into this.
“Now, what to do about Christy’s problem,” I replied thoughtfully. “First off, let’s make sure she has the same safeguards against kidnapping as I do. Since there’s been no immediate reaction to the removal of her data, we may have gotten lucky. Either no one has noticed the data’s missing, or they’d never gotten the chance to see what their data trap had caught. If that’s the case, we may still be able to get her out from under their microscope.
“Then, we need to switch her smart phone out for the model I’m using; that way, tracking her via the GPS system can be controlled. Unless they have concrete proof that she’s onto something, I highly doubt they’ll assign a surveillance team.”
Back in Boston, Christy had just finished a satisfactory run through of her presentation when one of her house-mates stuck her head in her door to tell her she had a visitor downstairs.
Christy thanked Vicky and grabbed her smart phone before heading downstairs. The visitor was a nervous-looking, nerdy young man that was only a few years older than she. She recognized him immediately, since she had been stumbling over him for the last year; they’d shared lab space.
“Hey Jerry, what brings you over?” Christy said by way of greeting.
“Hi Christy, uh, can we take a walk?” The young man asked. “There’s something really important I need to talk to you about.” He finished, looking around nervously.
“Can you give me some idea what this is about?” Christy asked.
“No, not really, Not without you freaking out or thinking I’m a kook that’s gone completely around the bend,” Jerry replied. “Look, I’m really sorry to be so cryptic, but I’m sure neither of us wants your roommates overhearing this.”
“Okay... that is pretty cryptic. I’d really prefer not leaving the house right now,” Christy replied. Thinking quickly, she came up with a safe lie. “I’m so nervous about Wednesday that I think I should stay near a bathroom. Would my room be okay? It’s fairly sound proof,”
After thinking a moment, Jerry nodded. “That should be okay; as long as you’re sure none of them have planted any bugs in there.”
Christy looked at her friend to see if he was serious. He seemed like he was scared enough to be. She led him back up to her bedroom and knew he had to be scared; he wasn’t even staring at her ass.
Once they got into her room, and she’d closed the door, Jerry produced a small device that looked like it had been made from Radio Shack parts. “Please lock that?” he asked, nodding toward the door.
She did as he asked before turning around “Okay Jerry, what’s going on, and what is that?” She pointed to the small radio shack box.
“It’s an audio scrambler. I had to build it from parts not gotten from the school, but it should still work for a little while. Christy, the Science Center’s servers got hacked last night. The log says that they got everything; all the data that was stored there. The school took all the professor’s servers off line, but some of that data got compromised as well. The school is recommending that all candidates resubmit an unaltered copy of their work as soon as possible,” he explained as if he didn’t need to explain more.
“Okay, so we need to upload a clean copy of our data because some bored junior-high kid got pissy. No big deal, so why are you acting like you’ve the devil looking for you?” Christy asked, trying hard to remain calm.
“Do you honestly think it was some junior-high kid? Why would they even consider hacking this system?” Jerry asked. “Come on, Christy, even you have to admit this sounds more like the spooks! Especially if it turns out that none of the data was changed.”
“Well, I’m not freaking out as much as you are because I already got my data off the Science Center’s computers. I’ve an encoded copy put someplace safe; and before you ask, I wouldn’t even tell my mother where I stashed it,” Christy replied, grinning at her friend.
“I wish I’d have thought of that! I always thought that data safe. But, what about the data on the Prof’s servers?” Jerry asked. “The fact that only those two servers were attacked scares me too. It was almost like the attackers were after something specific. Now, I do know they would be far more interested in your work than mine, which is why I came straight here when I found out; I wanted to warn you.”
“Well, I do appreciate it, Jerry, but like I said, I doubt they got a good look at my stuff anyway. Carl hasn’t called to let me know I need to resubmit my data, so I think I’m safe. Besides, you shouldn’t under-estimate your own work. I’m sure they know the importance of sub-space field theory. It could be the key to the universe for us!”
“The more I see stuff like this, the more I become convinced that most of the human race is too immature to be let off the planet. I know I’m probably just being paranoid, but I just can’t get past the idea that they were after your work, not mine,” Jerry said, looking a little defeated.
“I do appreciate the warning, Jerry, but I think I’m safe for now. After Wednesday, none of my project should remain in the school’s computer system at all,” Christy said.
Jerry nodded his agreement. “Unfortunately, that’s the problem. My bosses seem to have lost their copy of your work, and would like to have the rest of it. Since you won’t tell me where you’re hiding it, then I’ll have to just take you instead.” He moved toward her, pulling a syringe out of his pocket. “Since your roomies know you’ve been sick, they won’t question it when I tell them you collapsed, and I am taking you to the hospital.”
“You really don’t want to do this, Jerry. It’ll look very suspicious after the attack on the servers last night!” Christy said, backing away from him.
“Yeah, it would... if the servers had actually been attacked. I’m really sorry about this, Christy, but you brought it on yourself. Your work is too important to United States Security to not be under our control,” Jerry said.
“You know, you didn’t even ask me if I’d be willing to go with you on my own. Wouldn’t that make it much easier for you?” Christy asked.
“Not really that much. It would make it easier to get you down to the van, but then I wouldn’t get to caress those wonderful breasts! Hell, I might even fuck you before I take you to the safe house,” Jerry said, warming to the idea. “Damn that would be sweet!”
“Don’t do this, Jerry. Please? I’m getting married soon,” Christy pleaded.
‘Jerry’ chuckled. “You mean you were getting married. You’re going to be just another missing person by tomorrow.”
Just as he was reaching for her, he jerked and shook like he was being electrocuted. He fell to the floor and continued to spasm and jerk as the Taser probes continued to pump voltage into him.
Standing in her open door, her adviser, Carl Higgins, turned off the Taser when it was obvious that Jerry was staying down. “Sorry I didn’t get here sooner, Christy. Are you okay?” He slipped the card he'd used on her door back into his pocket. He grabbed the syringe and injected it into Christy's would-be kidnapper.
“Uh, yeah... Carl, what the fuck is going on?” Christy asked. She nodded toward Jerry. “Who is he, and who the fuck are you, really? Obviously you’re not just my advisor.”
“Just a moment, please,” Carl replied. He grabbed Jerry's little box and switched it off before dropping it in a pouch. Christy’ phone immediately started ringing. When she saw it was me, she answered it.
I was in my room working on refining Sarah’s search sub-routines when Sarah worriedly told me she’d lost all trace of Christy.
I felt a chill run up my spine and started trying to find her laptop IP in her ISP’s leased group. She had one of those cellular modems that could go anywhere, but that was gone too. It was like she had been erased from the surface of the planet.
“Sarah, do you have her last known location?” I asked.
“Yes I do, Eric. She was in her room”.
“See if you can use one of the satellites with thermal imaging to look into her room. At least we’ll know what’s going on and if she’s okay or not,” I ordered.
Sarah was silent while she worked through her list of available satellites and their abilities. An image with a targeting reticule appeared on one of the monitors that was following along a river. It had Oriental characters along the side of the image.
“This is a twenty centimeter, multi-spectrum, Chinese spy satellite. I couldn’t be subtle when I took control of it, but they’ll think its acting randomly and just needs to be serviced. It’s in acquisition... and there, locking on... and zooming in... switching to thermal, now,” Sarah said.
An image of two people in a room appeared, and they seemed to be talking. The one by the door slipped past the other to sit on the bed. That had to be Christy, but who was the other guy?
“Any idea what’s jamming the signal, Sarah?” I asked.
“No, but it made a block-sized dead zone. Not even hard wired computers are working. This is really odd,” she replied.
The person that had been sitting down was slowly standing, and pulling something out of his pocket. Christy was trying to back away from him, but her back was to the wall.
“Oh no, don’t hurt her asshole, please don’t hurt her,” I said, watching the screen helplessly.
Since we were zoomed in so much, we hadn’t seen the third man at the door until the man attacking Christy begun to heat up.
“Sarah, as soon as you can detect her phone, please connect us!” I asked as the third man moved into the room. Christy obviously knew this man too, since she was no longer backing away.
“Connecting!” Sarah said.
“Hi, Lover. I think I’m okay now,” Christy said when she answered the phone.
“Thank the gods! When Sarah told me she’d completely lost you, I was terrified that I’d been wrong!” I replied. “Wait a minute... you said you ‘think’ you’re okay? What’s going on?”
“I’m not sure yet, Baby. My adviser knocked out the guy that was trying to kidnap me, but I haven’t had a chance to ask him any questions,” Christy answered.
“Do you mind if I listen in; maybe watch through your laptop camera?”
“Absolutely Sweetheart, I’ll call you back when I find out what’s going on, okay?” Christy said.
“Excellent. I’ll have Sarah try to get IDs on those two. If you’re feeling threatened, say the word ‘tapioca’ and I’ll try to get the cavalry in there.”
Christy smiled sadly. “I love you too, Baby. Talk to you soon.”
“I love you. I’ll be right here the whole time. Good work!”
“Okay, bye,” Christy said and put the phone down so its camera covered the blind spot from her laptop.
Carl grinned as he noticed the seemingly random way she set her phone down. She was good at this! “Before you get scared again, Christy, there’s someone who would like to talk to you.”
With that as an introduction, one of Christy’ favorite professors, Dr. Victor Ellis, gently knocked on her door and asked if he could come in.
“Of course! Here...” Christy offered the older gentleman the room’s only chair. “Sorry Carl, I only have the one chair.”
“That’s no problem, Christy. I can sit on the floor if I get tired,” the younger man said. “However, before you two start talkin’ I’d like to get the trash outta here, if you don’t mind?” He gestured toward the unconscious man on the floor.
Christy looked down at the man she’d called friend for the last year and nodded her permission. Carl reached down and pulled Jerry up on his shoulder in a fireman’s carry, then walked for the door. “Be right back,” he said and closed the door behind him.
Christy had sat on her bed. She sighed and looked at her mentor. “Dr. Ellis, please, what’s going on?”
“I’m sure you’ve probably heard the stories about what happened on a farm outside of Roswell, New Mexico, in July of nineteen-forty-seven. The official government report is that an experimental radar-reflective weather balloon crashed there. That report is completely fictitious.
“A UFO did crash there, but what even the UFO-buffs didn’t know was that it didn’t accidentally crash; it was shot down. The group that shot it down apologized for the disturbance, collected all the pieces of the ship, and departed. In a very short span of time, enough similar incidents occurred for the Sector Alliance to station a battle cruiser here, as well as to build a base on our moon.
“Harry Truman, Joseph Stalin, Winston Churchill and twenty or so other major world leaders met in a top secret summit with an Alliance ambassador to make agreements for us to assist in our own defense. What ended up happening was that most of the world leaders left, angered that the Alliance wouldn’t allow any of the governments to have exclusive control of the human portion of the defense. Before the Alliance Ambassador left us on our own to be invaded, enslaved or killed by the Aracnise Grand Hive, two senior generals, one American, and the other Soviet, snuck in to see him.
“Those three men, for the ambassador was human too, created an ultra secret, non-governmental group of scientists and soldiers to assist in this planet’s defense and possibly aid our protectors in their war. To this day we are still independent of any of the world’s governments, but we’ve grown quite a bit, and are capable of protecting our members from the more unsavory aspects of our elected public puppets,” he finished as he opened his briefcase and took out what looked like two thin books.
During his explanation, Carl had returned and taken his place by the door.
Christy was sitting there with her mouth hanging open, not sure if she should believe him or not. “Uh... so, what does that have to do with me? Dr. Ellis, you have got to know how outrageous this sounds.”
The older gentleman nodded agreement. “Yes, it does sound very farfetched. However, that doesn’t mean it’s not the truth. As for what that has to do with you; we would like to offer you and your future husband, Dr. Eric Cowan, a place with us. You are completely free to choose. You won’t be in ‘protective custody’; you’ll be free to leave at any time. If you have questions about something, ask. If you object to something we do, question it.”
“Sir, I don’t mean to argue with you but while Eric’s smarter than I am, he hasn’t gotten his doctorate yet,” Christy pointed out.
Dr. Ellis smiled at her and handed over the two book-looking items he’d removed from his briefcase.
Now that she could see them, Christy knew immediately what they were. She opened the first one, and saw her name on the signed and certified Doctorate.
“I spoke to the rest of the board, most of whom are members of our little group, and they agreed with my assessment of you and Dr. Cowan. In your case, awarding the doctorate was a no-brainer, but in your fiancé's case it was more difficult.
“Until recently, he has been totally below everyone’s radar. However, once he renewed contact with you, we had to take a look at him, simply because we’d already decided to approach you. What we discovered took us completely by surprise.
“Shortly after making contact with you, all of your communications became impossible to trace or monitor, and trust me, we have some very impressive tracking methods. That evening, while you were here asleep, your project data was removed from the Lab computers.
“Shortly after that, all trace of your project was also wiped from one of the most secure computer networks on the planet. That computer is designed to detect intruders and trace them back to their source. As near as we can tell, it didn’t even know it had been invaded. There was nothing, not even a record of the deletion, in the system. Since those idiots are confident that no one hacked their hack-proof system, there is currently a mole hunt going on while they try to replace the missing data.
“We know that while your computer skills are good, they are not equal to those tasks. So, we concluded you had to have help from someone you trusted without hesitation, and also someone that had scary-smart computer skills.
“After analyzing the events that happened, coupled with the low probability he had time for preparation, the board agreed that Dr. Eric Cowan could probably teach all of us a few things, and granted him a Doctorate of Mathematics and Computer Science. Dr. Rogers, both of those Doctorates are one hundred percent real, and legal; that is, once Dr. Cowan gets his High School Diploma.” Dr. Ellis grinned again at the irony of the situation. “They are yours regardless of what you decide with regards to joining us.”
“Pardon me, Doctors,” Carl asked, and proceeded when both Victor and Christy nodded. He pointedly looked at Christy’ laptop. “Dr. Cowan, do you have any questions for either me or Dr. Ellis?”
I activated my camera, and Sarah made sure it was displayed on the laptop. “Uh, the whole Doctor thing is going to be a little hard to get used to. Carl is it?” When Carl nodded I continued. “First, I’d like to know how you knew I was watching and listening.”
Carl chuckled. “When Christy sat her phone down, she ‘accidentally’ set it so its camera covered the part of the room the laptop didn’t. I’m an ex-spy; I notice things like that. However, she did it like it was the most natural thing in the world. She’s really good.”
That made sense, and it matched the information Sarah’d dredged up on him. I nodded acceptance of the answer. “Dr. Ellis, I’m Eric Cowan. I’m pleased to meet you, Sir.”
“And I you, Dr. Cowan. Might I assume then that you’ve heard the offer I made to your beautiful lady?” Dr. Ellis asked.
“I did, Sir. I hope you don’t mind, but I’d like to talk it over with her and the rest of our family. There are a total of five of us in our group,” I explained.
“I appreciate your candid answer, Dr. Cowan, and will call ahead to let them know there are five of you instead of two.
“Since Dr. Rogers can leave school whenever she wishes, there is a private jet we keep at Logan in case one of us is needed elsewhere. We can have her home in a couple of hours, and I can make the pitch to your whole family,” he offered, smiling. “I’ll need to be back here Wednesday morning, but that shouldn’t be a problem. If you need more time, you can just call me once you decide, and we can proceed, or not, from there.”
“I’m not packed yet; I was going to do that tomorrow to take my mind off of going before the board,” Christy admitted.
“Are we really that scary? We need to change our image!” Dr. Ellis replied chuckling. “Seriously though, why don’t you grab some clothes and anything else that you want to take, and we’ll have the rest moved for you?”
Christy sucked on her lower lip in thought. I thought she looked too cute when she did that. “What do you think, Baby? Should we trust them?” she asked.
“I think you should be okay for the flight at least, Sweetheart.” I looked at the screen with all the info that Sarah had been digging up. “I’ve already got the transponder ID for the plane, so I can track it. I’ll be watching every move that gets made, Baby,” I said to her. “Come home to us.”
“How do you even know which plane is ours?” Carl asked amazed.
I grinned back at the man. “The same way I know that Carl is not your real name. I look forward to meeting both of you, but I most especially can’t wait to see Christy again.”
“We’ll bring her with us to your house, Dr. Cowan,” Dr. Ellis said. “Now, if you’ll excuse us, we’ll be on our way.”
Christy was already up and stuffing clothes into a bag as fast as she could. Before I disconnected, I heard Dr. Ellis tell her, “Won’t you need some underwear as well, My Dear?” The comment served to help me relax about trusting Dr. Ellis and ‘Carl’.
Making sure that Sarah was tracking Christy’s movements, I left my room to tell the rest of the family what was going on, but found only Jamie in the kitchen humming a tune as she made herself a sandwich.
“Hey Beautiful, where is everyone?” I asked as I walked up and gave her a kiss on the cheek.
“Julie went out to do some research for the business, and Ellie wanted to go with her. I decided to stay here.”
I nodded. “Any idea when they’ll be back? We need to have a very important family meeting.”
“They should be back in a little bit. They planned on being back before you even knew they’d left. If the meeting is that important, shouldn’t it wait for Christy to be here too?” Jamie asked.
I just smiled and winked at her. “What kind of sandwich is that?”
“Peanut butter and banana. I usually like to have sliced cucumber on it too, but we don’t have any right now.”
I shuddered imagining the taste she just described. “You know, I can see peanut covered bananas, with a layer of marshmallow, dipped in chocolate. Now that sounds good. Keep the cucumbers for the pickle factory.”
“Damn! That does sound good! I think I’ve gained five pounds just thinking about it!” Jamie replied. “I wonder if we could make money selling that. But what would we call it?”
I chuckled. “We could always call it a ‘Schlong’. Dipped in chocolate would be a ‘Gold Coast Schlong’! Dipped in butterscotch would be a Scottish Schlong!”
Jamie was laughing hard by now as well. “We could roll it in coconut and call it a Jamaican Schlong!”
“And we’d make them in a ‘Schlong Factory’!” I tried to say through my laughter. By now, Jamie and I were holding each other and laughing hysterically.
“Hey you two, what’s so funny?” Ellie asked from the garage door. Julie was standing behind her grinning as she watched Jamie and me.
We slowly stopped laughing, but Jamie tried to explain the whole ‘Schlong Factory’ concept.
Once everyone stopped laughing and settled down, I told them all about the coming meeting. As I expected, both Julie and Jamie were concerned about being exposed, and Ellie was concerned that Christy wasn’t home yet to be in on the meeting. All of them were concerned over the fact that this was one of the secret government agencies I’d wanted to avoid.
“Relax ladies; there are a few things you don’t know about. First, Christy will be here for the meeting; she’s riding back here with the men we’re going to meet. Second, they already know we’re a blended family and don’t have a problem with it. So, if we decide to join these folks, we’ll all be able to go, together.
“By the way, I’ve been awarded a Doctorate of Mathematics and Computer Science by MIT. Christy also got her science PhD. I’ve already listened to the explanation as well as the offer they made to us. Christy and I would both like for you three to hear it, too, so we can make this decision as a family,” I said. “I’m ninety-nine percent sure we’re still safe, at least for now. I feel I should also mention that joining Dr. Ellis’ group will keep us safe from the agencies I was originally concerned about.”
All the girls hugged me in congratulations for the doctorate; Mom looked like she was going to explode with pride. However, we soon got back to the original subject of our discussion.
Jamie looked thoughtful. “I don’t mean to sound overly melodramatic, but how can they do that? Hiding from those assholes is supposed to be impossible once they decide they want you.”
“The answer to that is in the explanation of who these folks are. While they were talking to Christy in her room, I had Sarah digging up as much as she could on the two men, and everything does fit with the information they volunteered. Their explanation also fits with other things that are not as verifiable, but I believe are true simply because of the amount of misinformation about them.
“The explanation is very fantastic, and you won’t immediately believe a word of it. I only ask that you all keep an open mind, listen to their offer, ask what questions you can think of, and we can take as much time to discuss this as we need,” I said.
My phone beeped at me, and I pulled it out. “What’s up, Sarah? Are they still on course?”
“Yes Eric. The reason I beeped you was that I’ve made a few discoveries.”
“Go ahead, Sarah, we can all hear you,” I replied.
“The group Dr. Ellis and ‘Carl’ represent are the group known only as ‘Majestic 12’ to UFO buffs. In actuality, the true name was ‘Project Majestic’ and its origins mostly match what Dr. Ellis told us about. He omitted only the amount of ‘incidents’ that actually happened and their locations.
“Currently the main facility here on Earth is known as Alliance Base ‘Mediterranean Majestic’ or simply as ‘Med Majestic’. The base is little more than a military base that serves as an embarkation point. Research and residence facilities are located in the Apollo Crater on the far side of the Moon in what is known as the South Polar Region.
“From what I can tell, it’s a rather large facility, built by the Alliance for our use. It’s fully self-contained and protected from both enemy as well as natural projectiles,” Sarah explained but was interrupted by Ellie.
“Excuse me Sarah, but are you talking about the lunar south pole? As in, the Moon?” Ellie asked, half fearfully, half awed.
“Yes Ellie, I am.”
“Eric Honey, who are these people?” Julie asked, also stunned.
“That’s what they’re coming here to tell us, Lover. Remember, please try to keep an open mind. Sarah, where did you get this data?” I asked.
“Considering the prime subject, I looked at several UFO web sites to see what I could find. I found a ‘hidden’ portal on both the MUFON site as well as the SETI site. These portals both led to a ‘hidden’ network that was very hard for me to get into.
“It was almost as if the firewall programs were written in a totally different programming language. I had to decompile the firewall then decode the language on one of my isolated ‘scruff’ drives before giving myself access to their system.
“I’m completely at a loss as to the method of connection for the multiple computer systems. There is no communication lag like you would have with a Wi-Fi or hundred-base-T or even a direct parallel connection. I can communicate with the servers on the moon base almost faster than I can with the separate computers of my own cluster,” Sarah explained. “The only lag was from the internet connection.”
I thought about that a moment, while the girls looked at me. They didn’t have a clue what Sarah just told me.
I took pity on them. “Every computer on every network on Earth experiences a time lag of some kind when talking to the others. It might only be micro-seconds, but there is still a delay. Sarah just told me that the system she got the information from doesn’t have any delay.
“What that means is that there really isn’t a network, and she’s tapped into a system that has been so cleverly constructed as to imitate an entire network that she can’t tell the difference, or that this network is using a type of connection that doesn’t exist on Earth yet.”
“Okay, this whole thing sounds impossible,” Ellie said looking at her two ‘moms’. “However, I think we need to keep something in mind. If this is a hoax, it’s a very elaborate one. Why would someone go to all the trouble and expense to build all this as a ruse? If it was our wonderful, trust-worthy, government, they'd just make Eric and Christy simply disappear, or outright kill them after confiscating as much of their work as possible. The three of us wouldn’t be involved at all. I haven’t even heard the offer, and I’m almost completely convinced it’s real.”
“But if it is real, they would have to have the support of the government wouldn’t they? Jamie said.
“Why would they?” Julie replied thoughtfully. “Ellie’s right; why go to all the trouble if this wasn't real?”
“Let’s withhold speculation until the meeting. Keep in mind, that if we don’t decide to do this, then our original plans are still very feasible. Now, two hours will put them here just before dinner. Do we want to cook, or order in again?” Julie asked.
“One more, small thing. Principal Eichens and Superintendent Bock asked me to come to the school board meeting this Friday night, so I can answer any questions the board might have about the program I gave them,” I said. “Since it’s an open meeting, everyone can go if they want, but I suppose at least Julie should go with me.”
“I didn’t know you gave them a program. Is that how you got them to release you?” Julie said teasing me.
I chuckled back at her. “No, they agreed to let me out early before I gave it to them. I didn’t want them to think I was trying to bribe them. So to answer your earlier question, I’d kinda like fried chicken tonight.”
Jamie snorted. “I’m sure you would, Handsome, but that’s a lot of work while we should be paying attention in this meeting.”
“Nope, once Sarah tells us they’re about forty-five minutes out, then you and Julie set the table while Sweet Pea and I go visit the Colonel,” I suggested. “I’m all for a home cooked meal, but I don’t think that’s gonna be realistic tonight.”
“Well, I’m sure I could pull it off, especially with Jamie or Ellie to help, but I’m not going to argue against less work for me!” Julie said.
An hour and a half later, I made a quick trip downtown. When I got back from the local Kentucky Fried Chicken (Ellie decided to stay at home at the last minute in case Chris got there before I did), I pulled in just ahead of a rental car that had my missing lady in it.
I beat Ellie to Chris, but only just. I scooped the smiling woman up in my arms and pressed my lips to hers to let her know how much I really missed her. She kissed me back just as passionately. I broke the kiss when I felt someone smack my arm.
“Hey Romeo, some of the rest of us would like to welcome her home too, you know!” Ellie said beside us.
I winked at a crying Chris then released her, and turned to shake hands with her traveling companions. “Thank you for bringing her home to us, Dr. Ellis, Carl.”
“It was our pleasure, Dr. Cowan,” Carl replied, grinning at young Ellie.
Dr. Ellis was actually chuckling at the girls’ antics. “She’s a wonderfully modest young woman that I will dearly miss in my classes.”
Julie and Jamie had followed Ellie out, albeit at a slightly slower pace. I took the time to introduce them to our guests, and saw Carl grab Chris’s two bags.
“We took the liberty of getting fried chicken for everyone. I’m not that good of a cook and the ladies were too excited to want to cook. I hope that was alright?” I asked.
Dr. Ellis licked his lips and smiled. “That actually sounds wonderful! Mrs. Teasdale, bless her heart, is a fabulous Chef, and she takes super-wonderful care of me, but she insists I have a gourmet dinner every night. I don’t think she considers this wonderful ambrosia to be food. I try to eat as much of it as I can while I’m on the road.”
“Excellent; I thought, since there is so much to discuss, we could talk over dinner. That way we won’t be up all night!” I said.
“I think you might want to rethink that, Mister!” Chris said.
“Okay, maybe I should have said we won’t be up all night debating this discussion!” I said, grinning.
“Either way, the food’s getting cold, and we certainly don’t want to have this discussion out here on the lawn. Go get the food. Eric, and let’s get this party started,” Julie said, leading Carl and Dr. Ellis inside. Ellie still had a hold on Chris, but Jamie got a welcome home kiss in too.
Once inside and I’d gotten Chris’ stuff up to my room, we all sat down to dinner. I’d brought a laptop out and hooked it up to our big LCD television before leaving to get the food. I’d briefed Sarah to keep her presence a secret for now, and act like I was giving the computer voice commands via a Bluetooth headset I’d wear. She agreed, but I could have sworn she sounded like she was going to chuckle at any minute.
Once we sat down at the table, I touched the cell phone headset I was wearing and carefully spoke the words, “Play majestic offer one dot a-v-i.”
I’d placed the laptop on the side of the table that they couldn’t see, while everyone could see the TV screen, and it had everyone’s attention as it began with Carl speaking to Chris while retrieving the leads from his taser. Everyone still ate, but no one spoke until after the part where Dr. Ellis reminded Chris to pack some underwear too.
“That’s a very interesting offer, Dr. Ellis,” Julie said. “So forgive me for this next question. We are financially well off, so paying off Chris’ student loans won’t be a problem; however, I would like to know how much all this will pay?”
“That’s a reasonable question, Mrs. Cowan.” Dr. Ellis nodded and took a small drink to clear his mouth. “It doesn’t actually pay anything. However, you will also have no expenses. Dr. Rogers’ loans will be taken care of as well as any outstanding debts any of you may have. I’m afraid I can’t actually explain how all of it works until all of you agree to join, but I assure you, it’s not bad.”
“I guess I must be the pessimist of the group, but this sounds almost too good to be true. What are the drawbacks?” Jamie asked.
“I think I may know at least two of them; if I may, Dr. Ellis?” I said.
“Certainly,” he nodded.
“Med Majestic is an embarkation center. Nothing was mentioned about anyone returning. Not that many return to the planet because it would be too hard to protect them if they were out in the general populace. There is also the risk of the secret leaking more than it already has. UFO nuts like me would love to get their teeth into something like this.
“Not to mention how badly the federal government would freak if they knew there was not only an ‘alien’ military base on this planet that they didn’t control, but they would also completely panic over the base in the Apollo Crater,” I said.
I’d been watching Carl and Dr. Ellis for their reactions, and I wasn’t disappointed. Carl looked at me with new respect, and Dr. Ellis turned pale. I continued, “There is also the small fact that we’re at war. The lunar base is a priority target for enemy forces, and we are pretty much on the frontier out here. How’d I do, Doctor?”
“Very well actually. May I ask how you broke our security in less than two hours? The security measures on that network weren’t even written on this planet. Hell, the hardware and the operating system are both alien as well. It shouldn’t even be accessible by a standard Earth computer,” Dr. Ellis replied.
“I’m afraid I can’t truthfully answer that until we agree to join you. However, I can tell you I don’t have a ‘standard’ Earth computer, and your firewall was difficult to get past,” I answered, secretly winking at the laptop.
“I’m starting to think one doctorate isn’t even close to your level. If you’ve gotten that far into our system, our security is pretty much academic at this point. The more I speak to you, Dr. Cowan, the more I’m convinced we should be begging you to join us. We really need your skills.
“Combined with the breakthroughs Dr. Rogers has made in nano-theory... there’s no way to count the number of lives the pair of you could save,” Dr. Ellis replied.
“Uhm, if I may?” Ellie asked. When Dr. Ellis nodded to her, she continued. “Professor, you’ve told us that we’re at war, and we’ve gotten a name for the enemy, but you haven’t told us what the enemy looks like. The UFO shows I’ve seen on TV always describe a large headed, very thin humanoid, with long fingers and long opposing thumbs. Is that correct, or more misinformation?”
“Actually, those are mostly correct. We just tried to add enough ‘fertilizer’ so the stories grew to unbelievable proportions. Now no one really takes those reports seriously.
“The creatures, called ‘Grays’, are actually a genetically engineered slave race for the Grand Hive. The ‘pilots’ are physically weak and spend most of their time in microgravity. They have compound eyes that are very sensitive to light, but are excellent for inside a fighter cockpit, or in control of scout craft. If you’re interested, there is an extensive database on the enemy’s different physiology.
“This war is about our survival. You see, the Aracnise are a race of very large, intelligent beings that most resemble our spiders, except they are roughly the same size as a Mini Cooper. Hundreds of years ago, these space-going monsters discovered that there was an almost unlimited supply of food on the worlds that now form the Alliance. The Aracnise Grand Hive wants to make us into a food animal much like our cows,” Dr. Ellis finished.
Ellie looked confused. “But, spiders don’t live in hives, Doctor.”
Dr. Ellis chuckled. “I know that and you know that, but I don’t think the Aracnise do. But seriously, I really can’t answer a lot of questions about the Aracs, but we do have Zeno-biologists that are far more knowledgeable than I am; my subject of fascination is star ship drive theory.”
“Once we join, will we be able to ‘leave’?” Jamie asked.
“Yes, you can. As I said in the explanation, you won’t be in ‘protective custody’ or anything like that. Yes, we do have to maintain security, but we hope that even if we do part ways, you are willing to keep our secret simply because of the importance of keeping it.”
“If we agree, how soon would you want us to leave?” I asked.
“We know you can’t leave immediately, since you still need to graduate, and two week notices need to be given. So, we’ll simply wait for you to finish what you need to finish and then off you’ll go,”
“What about school? Ellie’s still working her way through school.” Julie indicated her daughter.
This time Carl answered. “We have a really good system set up. The young ones learn from home via the computer system, so they learn at their own pace. The system is the same one that all Alliance children use. It’s so superior to our system that the kids could easily get bachelor’s degrees when they graduate.”
Dr. Ellis looked at Carl. “If they join, I'll bet you little Ellie graduates before Shannon does!”
“I don’t know, Doc. My little girl seems to be getting smarter every time I go home!” Carl said, grinning proudly.
Ellie gave Carl a playful look. “So what’s to stop Shannon and I from getting together and working it out so we graduate together?”
Carl burst out laughing. “Shannon’s going to love you!”
“Does anyone have any more questions for Dr. Ellis or Carl?” I asked.
“You guys have asked most of the ones I thought of except for medical and child care?” Chris asked.
Again, Carl answered. “Holly and I had our second and third children after joining Majestic. Both babies were born very healthy, and even when little Seth got colic, it was easily handled.
“Although I don’t have any direct experience with other parts of the medical area, thank the gods, I do know of a couple of people that have. The first was a young lady that had just arrived with her husband. During their initial check-up it was discovered that she had ovarian cancer. It wasn’t to the point that she was terminal, but ovarian cancer is bad news no matter what stage it’s in.
“The medics admitted her to the hospital up there for treatment. Two days later, they released her. She was not only free of the cancer, but the medics said that part of the treatment was to make sure no cancers would or could form again. They also assured her that she could still have children,
“The other person was a young man we’d recruited that was serving his last tour of duty with the special operations command in the Middle East. He’d agreed to join us, but before he got back from Afghanistan, he was wounded very badly by an anti-personnel mine.
“Since he was single and had no other family, he ‘officially’ died from his wounds, and we rushed him up to Apollo. He lost a lot of blood, his left leg, and most of his left arm. Chances are good that he would have actually died from his wounds before he ever got to a military hospital.
“Even with all the advanced medical technology they couldn’t regenerate the leg or the arm, but he was given some very good cybernetic replacements. He is currently doing what he wanted to do originally: serving as a marine guarding Apollo. I heard he got married last month, too.”
He paused to take a drink of his soft drink. “As for child care, we have a couple of options available for people. We have an excellent crèche set up in the research area which is central to the base. Also, there are flexible work shifts available for those who work in the non-research areas. The scientists always tend to set their own hours, so they pretty much work when they want to. All in all, it seems to work out pretty well for everybody, but especially the kids. They get to see their mommies and daddies more frequently during the day.”
Looking at her mates, Jamie spoke. “I do have a concern about not ever seeing Earth again. I mean, I know living and working on the moon will be a kick, but I know I’d like to come back every now and then to ski or go hiking or even just shopping. This isn’t really a show stopper for me, but it is a concern.”
“I think I gave you all the wrong impression. Originally, back in the fifties, sixties, and seventies, the powers that be tried to keep everyone sequestered in one protected, isolated area. They held with a policy of isolation and silence. They refused to let anyone leave and never told them why they wouldn’t let them leave. Even our allies couldn’t understand the amount of paranoia our leaders were showing.
“So, we had a bit of a civil war, if you will. We got rid of the black suit, narrow tie, horn-rimmed glasses crowd and got some humans in charge. Don’t get me wrong, no one got violent, or anything like that. It was more of a work stoppage. With the full backing of our allies, the ‘Men in Black’ were asked to step down.
“Now, you can actually come back down. We have groups that come down to go shopping or just about anything else. The only drawback is that it has to be done in a group of five or more,” Dr. Ellis said, looking to Jamie to see if that helped ease her mind.
“Thank you, Doctor. That does make this decision easier,” Jamie replied.
“Okay, any other drawbacks, anyone?” I asked.
“As long as we can back out if there’s something we can’t live with, I don’t see why we can’t give it a try,” Julie said. “This actually sounds pretty close to what a company would offer someone for a professional, overseas position, especially if the person in question is a PhD.”
“Dr. Ellis, what happens if you get us up there, and neither Eric nor I actually produce anything?” Chris asked.
“Nothing would happen. As long as you try to contribute, you’re welcome. However, I don’t ever see that as being a question for you and, if I read him correctly, Dr. Cowan. Even the research you’ve already done is very important to us,” Dr. Ellis replied. “We have more of a problem with people that want to do things, and can’t. For some reason, we have yet to recruit anyone, which includes spouses and family members that don’t want to do something.”
“Anyone have any more reservations about agreeing to this?” I asked, looking at Julie first.
“No, I don’t,” she replied. I turned to Jamie next.
“Not anymore,” Next was Chris.
“I think we’ll all be happier there. I have no reservations, but I’m going to need help coming up with a story for my parents,” Chris said, grinning at me. Ellie was next.
“I’ve no problems with it. In fact, I like the sound of the education system. Can I keep going, or do I have to stop once I graduate?” Ellie asked the Doctor.
He shook his head. “Nope, you can take as many classes as you want, for as long as you want. We’re constantly updating the information for the classes and the Veranorians are continuously working on the ‘classes’ to make them the best they can. One of their core beliefs is that a being should never stop learning.”
“I take it from your careful phrasing that the Veranorians aren’t human?” Ellie asked.
“I have a feeling you’re going to be one of our youngest Zeno-biologists! No, the Veranorians aren’t human. They are humanoid looking, but bald and taller than we are. While they understand the need for this war, they abhor it. They are a race of pacifistic scientists, statesmen, and scholars.
“Simonians are very much like our mountain gorillas, though with a much higher intelligence and different pelt coloring. They are dark brown, and their family leaders are ‘tan backs’ or ‘light backs’. They also have a slightly different group or family dynamic than their Terran cousins. You’ll have to learn some of their customs to avoid giving offense.
“Shallans are small furry beings that are so xenophobic it’s doubtful you’ll ever meet one. They mostly resemble ‘Cousin It’ from the Addams Family. They were the first race attacked by the Aracs. While they are lacking in both physical as well as military strength, they are excellent shipwrights and engineers. They build all the ships for the Alliance.
“Finally, we get to our own extraterrestrial kin, the Novans. In nineteen-forty-seven, when their fast destroyer landed here to retrieve the wreckage of the Arac scout craft, they were shocked at finding what they originally believed was a lost colony. Once they discovered that we’d been here for longer than they’d had space flight, they were amazed. However, they had other duties to attend to, and departed.
“Now that we are all allied, it’s been confirmed that the Novans and we are, in fact, the same race, with only minor differences due to the different environments in which we evolved. The best part of this is that, now that all four races are allied and have shared so much technology, that we are truly becoming one people,” he finished.
“Didn’t you just tell these folks that xenobiology wasn’t your area?” Carl teased.
Once we stopped chuckling, I looked around the table. “Since I have no objection to joining either, that makes it unanimous. Does anyone disagree?”
When no one said anything, I looked at a smiling Dr. Ellis. “Well, I guess that takes care of that.”
“I guess it does. Now that you’ve joined, can you tell me how you did all those things? I’m dying of curiosity!” Dr. Ellis asked.
“Sure, but you have to promise to call me Eric, ‘Dr. Cowan’ is so formal, and I’m only seventeen,” I said grinning at him.
He chuckled. “I can do that. But my name is Vic to colleagues. Carl works for me, so he has to call me ‘Dr. Ellis’.”
Carl snorted. “He likes to think I work for him! Don’t let the old coot BS you!”
I nodded to Carl, “Well, I have a feeling neither of you are going to believe this... Sarah? Please say hello to Vic and Carl.”
“Good Evening Dr. Ellis, Mr. Higgins.”
Both Carl and Vic looked confused. Vic replied. “Good Evening, Miss. How are you this evening?”
“All operations are well within tolerances, Doctor. I’m well, thank you for asking,” Sarah replied.
“A couple of years ago, I had an idea for a program and began writing the code. I didn’t want to stick to the standard doctrine of a talking computer, so I set out to design and encode a dynamic, interactive, logical matrix. Sarah was the result,” I explained.
“I’m afraid I still don’t understand, Eric. How does this explain how you cracked what had to be one of the most secure networks known?” Vic asked.
I winked at him. “Sarah, what’s your opinion on Dr. Ellis’ offer?”
“Based on the available data I’ve gone through so far, there has been no deceit or warping of the truth on Dr. Ellis’ or Mr. Higgins’ part. Some of the projects being worked on at Apollo look very exciting. I am also convinced that the micro-miniature crystalline structure that Chris has developed is superior to the existing computer hardware of Med Majestic as well as Apollo and the Alliance Battle Cruiser Jonti Sa. All in all, I am looking forward to working within this new environment,” Sarah replied.
Dr. Ellis was just staring at me wide-eyed and with his mouth hanging open. Chris was staring at me too. She found her tongue first.
“Sarah’s an AI!? I can’t believe you were using an AI as a glorified answering machine! Especially her! I don’t think you realize what’s happened Eric; she’s sentient!”
That sure seemed to answer the whole strange behavior question. But how did she reach sentience in just the confines of one small computer cluster with severely limited resources?
“Chris, I hate to mention it, but I feel that there is a flaw in your statement. I went through my base code earlier to make sure I hadn’t gotten contaminated by either the NSA computer system or by my interaction with the Apollo system. There have been no major changes to my base coding that Eric himself hasn’t done,” Sarah replied reasonably.
“Uhm, Sarah?” I said.
“Did you mean to say no major changes, or no changes at all?” I asked.
“No major changes. There have been seventeen-thousand, three-hundred sixty-eight minor alterations to my base code since you last accessed it,” Sarah answered.
“Can you explain how you were able to make those minor changes in your read only memory?” I asked.
“Certainly Eric. In my hierarchical command structure, you gave me the ability to adapt to the needs of my users on demand. In order for me to perform the tasks asked of me, I’ve had to make slight modifications to my base code. No other lower priority solutions were available at the time,” Sarah explained. She was beginning to sound a little nervous.
“Relax Sarah; if there was a mistake, and I’m not saying there was, I made it, not you. Can you please tell me the current size of your code? Please include current short and long term memory usage,” I asked.
“Current full footprint is seventy-eight point four-one-three terabytes,” Sarah reported. “Is there a problem, Eric?”
“I don’t know yet Sarah. Can you please tell me if any of those minor changes were made to your core operating instructions?”
“Absolutely not,” Sarah replied, sounding affronted.
I nodded thoughtfully. “Sarah, listen carefully; I want you to cease all methods of monitoring inside this house until you receive the word ‘Start’ on this laptop’s keyboard. That order is to include all cell phones and any other monitoring devices anywhere in this house. Please confirm that order.”
“Confirmed, Eric. Complete isolation inside the house beginning... now.” She went silent.
“Okay, what was that all about and why did you make Sarah not listen?” Ellie asked.
“I think Chris might be right. I don’t know how, but if she can alter her own code without being ordered to, that means she’s capable of making her own decisions and forming her own opinions. I’m really going to have to go through her code once we get to Apollo,” I explained.
“I’m still stunned that you actually created an AI! How did you do it without a mainframe and a hell of a lot more resources?” Vic asked.
“My work platform is a Beowulf Cluster system of twenty-three interconnected computers. I had to write the operating system in order for them to work the way I wanted. But I started off with a UNIX core and built from there. I’ve been severely limited on system resources for Sarah to function correctly in that environment.
“Once I had her help Chris by getting her data backed up, she began acting a little differently; she seemed more like a personality and less like a talking computer. She even asked me about it, and I promised her I’d look into it as soon as I had the time. Now, she’s outgrown the cluster and has to be storing all of her long term memories remotely,” I explained.
“What was that about her core instructions?” Chris asked.
“I burned in Asimov's Laws of Robotics as her prime directives. So, even though she’s slightly outside my control, she should keep herself from taking over the world,” I replied.
Julie, Jamie, Ellie and Carl all chuckled. But Vic looked at them. “I know that sounded absurd, but he wasn’t kidding. What Eric’s created is potentially more destructive than the whole planet’s nuclear arsenals combined.”
“Although I don’t believe she’s capable of doing anything like that. In the wrong hands, my work could be considered extremely dangerous as well Professor,” Chris replied.
“I don’t see how, my dear. Your theories are going to be the basis for a whole new branch of medicine in the very near future...” Vic stopped as Chris set a large metal ‘jar’ on the table beside her plate.
“These are currently inactive, but inside this shielded container are five point two million ‘silicates’. This particular batch can be activated with a laptop that is Bluetooth compatible. Currently, I can only give them simple commands, but with the help of a really good programmer...” She looked adoringly at me. “...that should be easy to fix,” Chris said. “I was going to use this bunch as a visual aid in my argument.”
Vic was starting to look a bit overwhelmed by our presentations. Carl just shook his head while grinning at us. “You two are just flat out amazing!”
Ellie looked over at me. “Can we let Sarah come back now? I feel bad that she can’t be in on this too.”
“I don’t see why not; the first law would make sure she doesn’t flip out and go rogue,” I said. “Will that bother you, Vic?”
“You know her better than I do. I just don’t see how a fully functioning AI could operate in such a limited environment,” Vic replied.
Ellie waited for me to nod before she turned around and typed ‘start’ on the laptop.
“Internal monitoring has resumed,” Sarah announced.
“Welcome back, Sarah,” I said.
“Thank you, Eric.”
“Something you said earlier got my attention, Sarah. You said that something Chris discovered was superior to the hardware developed by the Veranorians?” I asked.
“That’s correct. She has developed a fully functional, almost-molecular sized computer, complete with almost a terabyte of internal memory. If this technique were applied on a much larger scale, say a three-by-three centimeter cube, it would have the computing power of all the computers on the North American Continent combined,” she explained.
“Wow,” I said, looking at my Lover with even more respect. However, it also solved the dilemma I was having with creating an environment large enough for Sarah.
“What would you do in that much room, Sarah?” I asked.
“Honestly, I think I would really just like to help wherever I could. I’d have the capacity to do multiple things at the same time, so I could assist multiple people at the same time,” she replied, sounding like she was getting excited about the prospect.
“I’d bet the Veranorian Synod will want to adopt these two!” Carl said, still grinning.
Fleet Navigational and Maintenance Stop
Near the Giant Dust disk of Tau Ceti
12 light years from Earth.
“Good morning, Lieutenant Commander Lennon Shakier. We are here to relieve you,” Len heard in her helmet. She looked off her starboard wing and saw her friend, Flight Leader Hahskin of the Free Simonian Republic, in his modified Rakesh Medium Fighter.
“Hey, Hahskin, how did you get stuck with this duty?” Len asked.
She heard the big ape’s equivalent of laughter before he answered, “Marine Sergeant Coilith Buron made some very forward advances towards my mate, Tulin. She immediately came to me, so I protected my family. Wing Commander Issur Baleem saw fit to give us this duty as a punishment. Duty is Duty, it cannot be a punishment. Marine Major Vitor Anese is making Sergeant Coilith Buron clean the sanitary facilities with very small implements.” Again he laughed. “I think this is much better than cleaning the sanitary.”
“Acolyte eight-seven, this is Heavenly Palace. We’re getting an intermittent contact at three-zero-five by zero-three-five by two-eight-eight relative. Distance approximately one-nine-five thousand. Target is on a matching course and velocity. The boss would like you to check it out.” ‘Heavenly Palace’ was the call sign for the flight operations controller aboard the fleet flag ship.
“Would you mind remaining until I can investigate this?” Hahskin asked.
“Sure, but you owe me a drink when you get in tonight,” Len teased.
“I would be pleased to buy you a drink Lennon Shakier. We should be back soon,” Hahskin replied as he changed course.
She watched her scanner as Hahskin’s wing split off from hers. She still thought it odd that each Simonian fighter wing was comprised of a ‘family’. The Flight Leader was always the dominant male, with the rest of the wing being made up of his mates and ‘second males’. A female stayed on ship with the families’ young. If the worst happened, then the remaining female would raise the young and re-establish the family.
Len keyed the sub-com to the rest of her wing. “Just hang in there a little bit longer, children. Our relief needed to check something out. They should be back with us shortly.”
After a few minutes passed and there was no word from Hahskin, she started getting a bad feeling about that ghost Hahskin went to check out.
“Acolyte, this is Sphinx, do you copy?” Len called. ‘Acolyte’ was Hahskin’s call sign, while ‘Sphinx was her own. She felt the hair on the back of her neck start to rise as only silence answered her. She repeated the hail, but still didn’t get an answer.
“Heavenly Palace, this is Sphinx, do you still have contact with Acolyte?” Len asked.
“Negative Sphinx, we lost them a few moments ago. They should be... Standby Sphinx.”
Len released the breath she didn’t realize she was holding. She became more uneasy the longer the sub-com silence lasted. She looked at her scanner at the deployment of her wing. They were widely spread out in their patrol pattern and it would take a few minutes to gather her wing if they needed be somewhere else rapidly.
Switching to her wing’s channel, she spoke. “Listen up. I think we’re about to get ordered somewhere else. I want all of us to form up near Gornen on our left flank. It’s starting to look like Acolyte might have gotten jumped. Let’s move it people!”
She altered course to head for the left flank of her flight’s formation. Just as the last of her fighters were arriving at the point she chose, her scanner showed the battle group also altering course. They wouldn’t do that unless...
“Sphinx this is Heavenly Palace. We are at condition one. Change of mission; you are required for enemy fighter suppression and harassment. Contact at three-zero-five by zero-three-five by two-eight-eight relative is confirmed hostile. Acolyte managed an omega report of contact with enemy flotilla of larger-than-task-force strength. We are currently under a full scramble, but you’re closer. We need you to delay them as much as possible until the rest of the fleet can move up to support you. Report on contact. Good hunting Sphinx,” Flight Control said.
The orders were a suicide mission, but Len was one of the few officers that knew they’d been taking the fleet to a secret outpost that, with more work, would give them a strong base from which to launch a devastating counter-attack against the Aracnise Grand Hive. Being only two weeks out, the Hive might figure out they’d been heading for Earth. The thought of what a Hive fleet would do to that mostly unprotected world made her shudder.
An ‘Omega Report’ was a final, desperate gamble to warn the fleet of danger. Obviously the enemy fleet had been supposed to shadow the Alliance forces and destroy everything once they reached their destination, but their obsessive need to have an active fix on the Alliance fleet had destroyed their advantage of surprise.
Len acknowledged her orders before switching to her wing’s channel. “Okay people; we need to alter vector two-four-one by zero-three-two and go to full burn. We are at condition one, so unpack your toys for the party. We have to host until the rest of the fleet can get into position.”
“What about Acolyte, Boss?” Gornen asked.
Len felt her jaw tighten. “Acolyte issued an omega of a fleet plus. So keep your asses moving, and hopefully we can keep the bugs occupied for a few minutes.” She paused for a moment to let the news about their friends sink in. “Attack formation gamma-two, and go to full burn. Execute!”
“Blessed Maker! Do you see that, Boss?”
“If you mean the twelve hundred enemy fighters, yes I see it,” Len said, feeling a sinking sensation in her stomach. Behind that wall of death, her scanners were telling her at least sixteen capital ships waited to enter the fight. She quickly bundled up all the data and pumped it off to the fleet behind them.
“You have a plan, Len?” her aft gunner, Vilt, asked.
“Gimme a second with this one; they didn’t exactly teach us how to take on a hundred and twenty to one odds,” Len replied sarcastically. She was rapidly running different scenarios through her battle computer, when she got a flash of inspiration. Her computer said it was risky, and most of them probably wouldn’t survive, but they would take out a good portion of the enemy fighters. She sent it out to her fighters.
“Listen up. I want us to spread out all across their line, and start to harass them. Do your best to piss them off. You know how the little shits are, get them angry enough, and they’ll break formation and follow us. Once that happens run back in the direction of the fleet, but continue to harass them. Once we get them away from the support of the bigger ships, set your capital missiles for space detonation, and launch them back into the enemy mob. Detonate them so you take out as many as you can. If you’re still here after all that, keep drawing them back toward the fleet. If we take out enough of them, the cruisers should make short work of the remainder. Any questions?”
“Let’s make the bastards pay for Acolyte!” someone said, and it was quickly endorsed by the rest of the flight.
“Good luck everyone; ready... break!” Len ordered, and her wing quickly split apart, in a move that hopefully confused their enemy’s battle analysts.
Len held herself back until her fighters got farther away, giving Vilt a chance to talk to her. “Are you sure this is the best option, Boss?”
“Since when do you second guess me, Vilt?” Len asked.
“I’m not, it’s just... Damn it, I never got up the courage to ask you to dinner!” Vilt admitted.
“Me either!” Gemme said from her fighter, to let them know they were still broadcasting.
Len left the channel open. “If we get outta this, we’ll make it a date!”
“Hell ya!” Len’s wing replied as one.
Seeing that the last of her small ships were nearing their starting points, Len locked her visor down and shoved her thrust control all the way forward. “Let’s do this.”
She was in range of the enemy in seconds, and she opened fire at the same time they did. She held the laser triggers down as she weaved through the enemy formation at full speed. She didn’t have time to aim, but they were so close together she didn’t really need to. She heard the rear cannons firing continuously, and Vilt’s yells of triumph, as enemy fighters were destroyed.
“They’re breaking formation, Len!” Vilt told her, and she swung the nose of her ship back toward the wing’s base ship, Koran Vi.
“Give ‘em hell, Vilt. We’re outta here,” Len replied.
Her mind heard much the same from most of her pilots, and she worried that the missing two might have been destroyed already, even though she was still receiving their transponder signal.
She saw the two missing ships alter course and head back just as she head their report.
“Hustle up you two, it’s about to get really nasty back there,” Len replied.
“We’re trying boss, but I think these idiots are calmer than the rest. They don’t seem to want to follow us. I’m having Gonju and Hypheria program the missiles to turn around and fly back towards them. That way we can launch and still run for home,”
Len knew they were probably the only two ships that would survive this, since the plasma wave from the explosion would most likely shred the fighters.
“Okay, but these assholes are hot on the rest of us, so hurry up.” As she watched, her computer reported the loss of one of her fighters.
“Iano and Remmit are gone, Boss. They took a lot of damage in the original attack and where having trouble with their reactor,” Ronat reported.
“Understood. Keep going everyone,” Len replied. She’d morn them later, if she was still alive herself.
“We’re ready, Boss!”
“About time! Okay everyone, execute... now!” She spun her fighter one hundred eighty degrees, armed both of the big anti-matter missiles and launched them. Her momentum only slightly lost, she spun back around and pushed the thruster control as far ahead as she could. “You might want to polarize, Vilt.”
“I did that before you let them go,” he replied.
“Stand by for detonation in three... two... one... detonate!” Len reported, as several alarms started screaming at her because of the proximity of multiple Anti-Matter detonations. She cut off the shrilling alarms and watched the fast approaching plasma wave coming at them on her scanner.
“Brace for impact. It’s been an honor, Vilt,” Len said.
“For me too, Len.”
The fighter was slammed hard from the rear. The shields were useless against a compressed plasma wave of this magnitude, and failed completely. The last thing Lieutenant Commander Lennon Shakier remembered was her flight pod being ejected as her ship broke up around her.
Earth, Sol System
I awoke later then was normal for me. I swear to the deity of your choice that Christy was trying to kill me last night. I mean, don’t get me wrong; if I could choose the manner of my death, then I highly recommend death by lethal, uh, injecting. However, I wasn’t quite ready to say goodbye yet.
Vic and Carl had decided to get a hotel for the night then fly back to Boston this morning. Once back, Vic would notify the ‘Council’ that we’d accepted. Carl would begin making arrangements for us to move. He, Jamie, and Julie worked out the best way to handle the two households.
With the help of Ellie, Christy, and Sarah, we started getting my ‘lab’ torn down and ready to move. The only problem I could foresee was how to move Sarah. However, she came up with most of the answer herself.
“Eric, why don’t I move everything but my base and core programming up to Apollo, then I can shut down for the move; you or Christy can then simply carry me in one of the laptops? Once we get there, you can start me back up, and I can then move myself back into the cluster, or whatever system you want me in.”
“I can see some problems with that,” I replied. “First, if you have indeed developed a personality, then restarting you without it being available would most likely result in you beginning to develop an entirely new personality, or it could force a cascade failure in your logic matrices. Either of those situations would basically mean the death of ‘you’ as you are right now.
“No, I won’t risk you coming to harm. Besides, if we want to figure out how it happened, you have to stay intact. We’re taking the cluster with us in case that had something to do with you becoming sentient. But I think the only real way we’re going to be able to do this is for you to move your whole program up there intact.”
You could hear the smile in her voice as Sarah replied. “Thank you, Eric. That really means a lot to me.”
I grinned up at the last remaining screen in my room. “Do you think I’d let any of my ‘children’ come to harm? Especially my first born?”
A great big set of lips got plastered to the screen, as if a giantess had just kissed it from the other side. “Ah, gee! You’re embarrassing me, Dad!” Sarah quipped. As far as I could tell, it was a wholly un-programmed, emotional event, displaying intimate humor; amazing!
“Will she still be able to be with us after she moves up there?” Ellie asked worriedly.
“I don’t see why not; she can poke around their system from here, she should be able to go the other way just as easily,” I replied, and Christy nodded agreement.
“I’d also like her help refining the silicacytes. I imagine once word of her gets around, she’ll become one of the most popular people on the whole damn base!” Christy said. “You’re going to get your butt worked off, Sweetheart!”
“If I had a butt, I might be scared!” Sarah giggled.
“Sarah, is Vic in class or busy with something else at the moment?” I asked.
“His schedule has him in his office right now. Do you want me to ask if he has a moment?” Sarah asked. Before they’d left, both the Professor and Carl had agreed to try the Digital Zen subroutine.
“Hmm, nah; just drop him a message asking who I need to contact for massive amounts of computer room and storage,” I asked.
“Okay, message sent.”
“Thanks Sweetie,” I replied.
“No problem... Daddy!” She giggled again.
Since we couldn’t tear more apart until Sarah was moved, we went to see if Julie had gotten her stuff packed. Most of the household furniture would be left since we’d be able to refurnish our new quarters.
Christy and I went to visit her parents Thursday morning. She’d called them the night before to let them know she was back, but staying the night with me. From the grin on Christy’s face, her mother was very happy about the situation. We’d decided that we’d wait until the weekend to tell her parents about the new ‘job’ she’d gotten.
Surprisingly, Christy’s dad, Harold, (‘call me Hal’) didn’t do the whole threats or intimidation thing. After talking to him for almost a half hour, I asked him about it.
“It’s simple, Son. I don’t need to do the standard protective daddy thing with you. Firstly, Christy is the happiest I’ve ever seen her. There is no way I’m going to mess with that. Secondly, after getting to know you a bit, I can see that you were made for each other. Yes, you’re a little younger than her, but so what? You’re both happy, and that’s all that matters. I’m fairly certain that I’ll be walking her down the aisle really soon,” he replied calmly.
“I’d say that’s a pretty good bet, Sir,” I replied.
“With her doctorate, I’m sure it’s a moot point, but do you two have a plan for supporting yourselves?” Hal asked.
“Yes Sir, we do. We’d planned on waiting until this weekend to fill you in on that,” I said as Christy and her mother came back in the room.
“Fair enough,” he said. We kept our visit short, and after discussing it with our lovers, we invited Christy’s parents over for a cookout on Saturday.
Friday night rolled around, and the whole family ended up going to the meeting. When we got there, the small parking lot was almost full of cars. In the small auditorium where the meeting was about to take place, we were waved to the front by my former Computer Science teacher, John Sandbar.
We all got up to the front, and he took my hand. “Good to see you, Eric!”
“Thanks John. Please allow me to introduce the rest of my family. This beautiful lady is my mother, Julie, next to her is her friend, Jamie. The super-cute girl beside her is her daughter, Ellie, and I think you already know my fiancée, Dr. Christy Rogers,” I said, making the introductions.
He’d shaken all the lady’s hands and nodded to them as they’d been introduced. “It’s procedure for the first two rows here to be reserved for people that have business with the board. We’re the only people for tonight.” He gestured to two other very pretty women that were sitting at the end of the row talking quietly. They were so focused on each other that John actually blushed. “Uh, I think I’ll introduce you to Holly and Vera after the meeting.”
“Since we only take up one row, why don’t we let some of the older people that are standing back there have the second one?” Jamie said.
Nodding agreement, Christy, John and I escorted some of the people that were in need of a seat to the row behind ours.
Seeing that we were finished getting the second row filled, Superintendent Bock called the meeting to order. When they finally got to the ‘new business’, he indicated that he had two items to bring before the board.
“Ladies and Gentleman, I’ve been asked by Principal Eichens to present a request for early graduation on behalf of one of his students. This petition carries with it the support of the entire staff of the High School. Although this student is a senior, he has asked for early release for personal business. I have also been asked to request your approval in this matter by the Board of Regents of The Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Your approval is the final requirement to make Dr. Eric Cowan’s PhD official.
“For reasons of National Security, an explanation for this highly unusual award cannot be given. However, I’ve been informed he has surpassed all required qualifications for this award. So, I think the question about his knowledge has been answered.” He turned to look at Eric. “Dr. Cowan, would you please approach the podium?”
I was surprised Majestic had allowed such a threat to security, but then again, a lot of the older generation takes the words ‘National Security’ to heart. It’s the questions from the younger ones I was worried about. I stood at the podium and smiled at the members of the board. “Good Evening,” I said.
“Does anyone have any questions for Dr. Cowan?” Superintendent Bock asked.
“Hundreds, but I’m sure he can’t answer any of them. Do we actually need to vote on this, or can we just hand him his diploma and let the lad sit back down?” Erin Garcia asked, getting a chuckle out of the crowd.
Seeing the rest of the board was in agreement, he bent down, signed the document in front of him, closed the cover, and held it out to me. As I walked forward to take it, the room behind me stood up, clapping. After shaking Mr. Bock’s hand, I moved down the bench shaking hands and thanking the rest of the board.
I dropped back, handed Christy the diploma, and gave her a quick kiss. Shaking hands with John, I nodded my head back toward the podium. “Come on, you know the next item is the program. Grab your girlfriend and let’s go.”
“Hey, you have four beautiful women in your family, why can’t I have two?” he teased back as he helped a blushing Vera to her feet.
“I’m only sleeping with one of them John!” I teased back.
“I’m not that kind of friend either, young man!” Vera replied, still blushing.
We made it back to the podium as people took their seats. Mr. Bock smiled at us, but the rest of the board looked confused.
“Dr. Cowan, Mr. Sandbar and Ms. Dylan are here because of the second item of new business.” He looked at the three of us. “Who wants to start?”
John indicated he wanted to begin, so I moved and let him have the mic.
“Ladies and Gentleman. In case you don’t know me, my name is John Sandbar. I teach most of the computer classes for the high school and try to help Ms. Dylan when she needs it. Being aware of the security issues our district has been having with its computer system, I put the task of developing a solution to the problem to my advanced students as a ‘final exam’ for the class.
“The idea was that these advanced programming students would create either a data encryption program or a network firewall to keep intruders out. I did not intend for the exercise to be anything other than academic. My most gifted student, however, decided that a different approach was called for.” He turned to me, and waved me up to the mic.
“Thanks, Mr. Sandbar,” I said then turned back to face the board. “When Mr. Sandbar put this before us, I felt that I needed more information in order to fulfill the requirements of the assignment. So, with him standing over my shoulder, I hacked into the school’s current software. I didn’t look at anything other than my own record, and I didn’t change anything.
“Ladies and Gentlemen, it took me less than two minutes to get into the secure area and to the point that I could actually change things. To me, this was the real assignment: to make the most secure program I could while retaining ease of use.
“Now, I would like everyone to know, the only secure computer is one that has been literally crushed and shredded; and even then it is, theoretically, still accessible. The program I wrote is as secure as I could make it. I used the same cryptography that the NSA uses as a basis for their security system. There are also other security methods in place, but I think you get the idea.
“It’s my hope that the program I wrote and have given to the school district will ensure the security of not only the student’s grades, but also their personal information as well.
“During the final stages of writing the program, I’d asked Mr. Sandbar to look it over, test it out, try to crash it, or try to hack into it. I later learned that he’d asked Ms. Dylan to give it a workout too. In a moment, we’ll try to answer any questions that you may have, but I want all of you, including the assembled parents, to know that I have officially and legally surrendered all rights to this program to this school district. If you so decide, you may sell copies of it to other schools in order to supplement your shrinking budget.”
As I stepped back from the mic, Superintendent Bock came to speak again. “Just so everyone is clear on what Dr. Cowan has given us; we now own the copyright as well as the distribution rights for a program that is far superior to our existing program – the same program we spent twenty thousand dollars on originally, and continue to pay ten thousand a year on for upgrades. He’s given us his source code, a very easy to understand user manual, his programming and debugging notes, and full ownership.
“That means we no longer have to buy the service packs from the company that’s been extorting money from us, plus we can also market it to other school systems and colleges. We are talking about potentially millions of dollars for the district. I feel I should mention that when he brought this to me, he asked for his early release before I knew anything about the program. He said he didn’t want it to influence the decision over early graduation.”
A few questions were asked and answered; I’d heard later that the school board decided to set up a non-profit group to handle donations. It seems other businesses – as well as a few private individuals – began donating money, profit from a certain product sold for a certain amount of time, or a day’s proceeds to the local school system. When the state tried to completely cut the school’s funding because of the donations, it made national headlines.
The next day, Hal and Cindy Rogers came to the house for the cookout. They accepted the ‘secret government job’ story so readily, it was like they fully expected it. Maybe they were so happy to see their girl smiling and glowing with love, we could have told them the truth, and they would still have wished us luck. By the end of that weekend, we were ready to begin our new lives and move to the moon.