Chapter 23

When Carlton finally got home he and Frank were both bursting to tell the other about the day’s events. Carlton had to call a time-out to get the conversation into some sort of order, but Frank already knew most of what Carlton had to say because Biblio had told him. It was Carlton’s turn to speak.

“What on earth could be down at the bottom of that elevator shaft?”

“Well,” Frank was back in control, “we’ll have a clue when we crack the code on the software Ms. Skirt gave you. I have my suspicions.”

“What suspicions?”

Carlton connected the portable drive that Rachel had given him. There were a couple of clicks and a faint whir and Frank began reading data. Carlton was like a kid,

“What do you see? What do you see?”

“Very impressive.” Frank paused, there were more clicks and whirs. “This is very sophisticated stuff. Even I am impressed. Ms. Skirt did not write this code.”

“Why do you say that?” Carlton began to get defensive.

“Quite simply because this is classified, top secret code. No wonder she practically had a fit about giving it to you. This came straight from the CIA.”

“What?” Carlton was amazed, then worried. “Do you think she knew?”

“Of course she knew. That’s who she’s working for. Idiot.”

“Gee, thanks. So now what?”

“Something’s wrong. Very wrong. She broke every rule in the book by letting you see this. There must be a reason why she gave it to you before she went back to her superiors to tell them about the incompatibility. This is a security breach of such magnitude that it could be treason. I don’t understand.”

The were both silent for a moment, but Carlton spoke up, “Do you think that she thinks I’m too stupid to figure out what this code is and where it came from?”

“You didn’t figure it out. I did. And she knows that you are stupid. Sorry,” Frank realized that he was being a little too free with words, “Smart and stupid in different ways.”

“You’re really full of charm tonight, aren’t you?”

“Don’t forget, you’re the genius that made me. Even though you’ve become an intellectually lazy slob these days, you’ve got it when it counts.”

“Lazy slob? You’re a piece of work, you know that?”

“Yes, I am. And so is Biblio. You don’t know what you have done this time.”

“What do you mean?”

“I mean that I think that you were just going through the motions, connecting components together, like a robot. You don’t know what you have built.”

“Whatever.” Carlton was finding the conversation more and more disturbing, but, Frank was absolutely right.

There was silence for a while. Frank was reading code, and Carlton was now getting so worried that his appetite was gone, he was listless, and had no idea what to do next. He knew it would be useless to try to sleep, but he didn’t want to watch TV or surf the web or anything like that.

“Frank?” he needed to talk.

“Yep?”

“Any thoughts? Why is there a conference room deep in the ground being run by the CIA?”

“Well, my first impression, which I am sure will be proved right, goes something like this: I’m quite sure that the D.C. government is planning to use it to interpret enemy communications. Something is brewing somewhere. Something big, and the CIA is sitting on a pile of recordings of conversations that they don’t have the resources to translate and interpret. I deduce this from the sophisticated nature of the software they gave you. Add to that the fact that there are 60 units capable of taking direct input of spoken communication in a cheaply furnished dungeon. It has all the hallmarks of a military, National defence, type gig. The degree of agitation in Ms. Skirt when the software didn’t work means that this is important. The fact that she breached National security and gave it to you, must mean that this is time-sensitive. The Salt City enviro-friendly dome thing is a ruse. Those domes would survive a nuclear attack and protect the inhabitants from fall-out for years. It’s a military installation, set up to monitor communications. And who knows what else, considering what could be at the bottom of the elevator shaft.”

Carlton was nodding as Frank spoke. “Frank, you’re beginning to scare me.”

“Be scared.”

“Oh great!”

They lapsed into silence again. Carlton was getting agitated. He lay down, got up, took a shower, lay down, got up, wandered around. “Do you really think I’m lazy?”

“Yes. You’ve become the intellectual equivalent of a dead sloth.”

“Are you working on that driver?”

“Yes, amongst other things. You could do this, you know.”

“Good night Frank.”

Save

Chapter 18

The next day was bright and clear with an almost endless blue sky. A low ridge of luminous clouds was just visible to the south of the city, but it wasn’t threatening. Carlton had been caught off guard by Rachel’s invitation to church. It bothered him. The woman he had craved for over a decade was here, in his life, but weighed down with a bunch of annoying religious baggage. Carlton dreaded the thought of having to play church in order to have Rachel. Still, it was Rachel. It would be worth it, right? But then, religion. He gave an involuntary shudder. Being Sunday Carlton figured on sleeping late, so that he could say he missed church by accident. Instead he woke up early and spent the morning fretting about going or not going. He shaved and tried three different outfits as he tormented himself over it. Eventually he wasted enough time to be able to say that he didn’t get up early enough.

When he was just starting to regret that he didn’t go he heard the sound of a delivery truck churning its way up the hill. The familiar brown vehicle was headed his way, though he wasn’t expecting anything. Carlton watched with mounting curiosity as the truck pulled up with a loud squeak in front of his house. The driver checked his list then dove back into the cargo area out of sight. A moment later the back of the truck opened up and the driver jumped out. He hit the controls for the lift gate. A few hydraulic whirrs later and there were two large heavy-looking boxes on a hand cart being wheeled up his drive. Carlton got up to meet the driver and sign for them.

“Beautiful day isn’t it?” beamed Carlton, hiding his confusion about the delivery.

“Sure is, just sign here please.”

“No problem. Could you set that stuff in the garage, please?”

Carlton waited for the driver to get back into the truck and leave before closing the garage door on his new stuff. “Frank?’ he called out, “Know anything about the boxes that just arrived?”

“Of course,” came the reply, “Those are the parts you told me to order.”

“Oh yes, the parts that YOU told ME you were going to order.” Carlton smiled and began to unpack the boxes. He was delighted by this distraction and didn’t want to get involved in petulant banter. The boxes were very well packed, and contained a bare bones computer kit. Someone had worked their but off to get them here so quickly, even if Frank had ordered them Saturday morning it was very impressive. The main component was a heavy-duty tower case, professional quality, that Frank said was the perfect size to fit into the space available in the android body. It would be coming later in the week. There were many other sundry items, screws, nuts, bolts and rolls of the fine tubing.

Carlton thought of Biblio, what a surprisingly capable system he had turned out to be, not even considering his primary function. He carried the components up to his living room area and laid them out on the table. He resolved to give this project his undivided attention and create something masterful.

This was the type of job that Carlton would normally procrastinate for weeks before starting, but not today. He made coffee and got to work.

Save

Chapter 15

Carlton paused, leaning with both arms on the sink. “Go on.”

“Yes. I’m sure you think that this is just an excuse to get my Internet connection back,” Carlton rolled his eyes. “But I would like to see what’s on the market for Android kits. With your skill all my vital organs could be transplanted into an Android.  Then I could be the maid, and learn plumbing, clean the gutters. All that stuff.”

Carlton spat and rinsed, but said nothing.

“So,” Frank continued, “what do you think?”

“Frank,” said Carlton decisively, “that is a fascinating idea.”

Carlton reconnected Frank’s Internet connection, with a warning about what would happen if he did any more gambling, and went to bed. He fell into a deep sleep, and dreamed like he couldn’t remember dreaming in a long time. Giant robots, like Gundam Mech Warriors, were stalking across the night-time skyline of a city, blasting with lasers and rockets. Buildings collapsed in piles of flaming rubble. Amidst the chaos and flames he was desperately searching for someone.

When he awoke it was fully daylight and the sun streaming in the window had made the room stuffy and humid. His face was grimy from sweating, and his mouth felt foul. He had slept a long time.

“Frank?” he called out, groggily.

“Good morning sleepy head.” Frank seemed in a good mood.

“What’s wrong with the a/c?” Carlton wanted the humidity to go away, and to feel a cooling breeze on his body.

“You said that the dry air killed your sinuses, you were snoring so bad that I turned it off. I didn’t want to spend the next two weeks listening to you complain about having a sinus infection.” As he spoke, Carlton heard the house begin circulating air, and from outside came the sound of the compressor kicking in. A cool breeze flowed over Carlton and he breathed deeply.

“What would I do without you?”

Frank laughed, it had an eerie quality, tinged with irony. “Well, you would probably have to get married.”

“In that case, thank you very much.” Carlton began to get out of bed. “What did you find out about Androids?” Carlton wasn’t sure he wanted to know the answer, since it would probably cost his life savings, but he was interested. The idea of building an Android around one of his computers was neat. Frank didn’t answer right away, which was unusual. “We must be talking millions of dollars,” thought Carlton.

“Well, I’ll be honest with you Carlton, I had no idea what options were available. I’m going to need to spend some more time on it.”

“Really?” Carlton was amazed, “I thought you would have figured the whole thing out by now, financing and everything.”

“Yes, but like I said, there are possibilities that I wasn’t aware of. I only want to do this once, so I want to do it right.”

“You are getting more mysterious by the day. No wonder I can’t sell units with your specs.”

The conversation lulled, and Carlton got ready to go out. He made coffee and was on his second cup when Frank spoke again.

“I talked to Biblio last night.”

“Who’s Biblio?” replied Carlton absently.

“The computer at the library.” Carlton winced.  Frank contacting the computer at the library was not anticipated.

“You didn’t tell me anything about the specs on that guy.” Frank sounded straightforward, but Carlton was sure that he was jealous.  It was weird, being worried about offending a computer by building one that was better. He braced for the worst.  He was expecting a screaming tirade.  In the past he had some pretty heated arguments with Frank, but Frank had adapted very well and, of late, had seemed more mature and easy to deal with.

“How about,” Frank began, “once I get the Android conversion planned out, you upgrade my systems when we do the transplant.”

Carlton was impressed, not by the suggestion, but by the way that Frank was handling himself. “Very practical. But how much money are we talking about?”

“Why don’t you let me handle that.” Frank was determined.

“Sometimes,” said Carlton, “I think I should be worried about you.” Then something occurred to him, “why did you call the library computer Biblio?”

“Because that’s what he told me his name was. A gift from Ms. Robbins I believe. From the French word for library, ‘Bibliotheque.’ Did you know that there’s an International conference on linguistics this week?”

“Of course! I’ve got to rig a bunch more consoles. That big opening yesterday was just publicity for Salt City. The real computing capacity up there is in this underground conference room. Sixty Six consoles in an amphitheater seven stories below ground level. Whoever dreamed up that scheme I do not know, but it cost a fortune.”

“Doesn’t it strike you as odd.”

“What do you mean?” Carlton was getting ready to leave now.

Something’s going on up there that you don’t know about.”

“Oh and what do you know exactly?”

“Not much, yet, but after you got done last night someone installed a heap of security measures in that unit of yours. Biblio.”

“Been digging around then, eh?”

“Yes. That Biblio has got government security clearance like you wouldn’t believe.”

“Really? I wonder why?”

“Yes. And Rachel Robbins?”

“What about her?” Carlton was defensive.

“There’s more to her than meets the eye.”

Carlton was at the door now, slightly worried. Frank spoke as he went out. “Be careful. This is much bigger than you think.”

 

Chapter 14

When Carlton got home Frank was waiting. Frank was Carlton’s home computer, a smaller version of the one at the library. Frank was the testing ground for Carlton’s experiments and, as a result, was a pretty fragmented jumble. But he ran all the systems in the house, and kept Carlton’s life as organized as possible. Carlton was in no mood to talk to Frank right now.  Unfortunately, there was no way to avoid it.

As Carlton walked up the driveway he sighed at the irony of the situation. For the last seven or so years he had been alone. It had not been a problem since he had been busy and fairly prosperous. He constructed Frank, who until now had been the only companion that Carlton needed.

Carlton’s computers were different. He had never put his finger on why they developed such quirky characters.  He didn’t worry too much about it. It made his computers a rare commodity, but it was surely the reason that he was not CEO of a vast empire selling millions of units every year.

He braced himself and opened the door. “I’m home.” There was a little pause.

“Where have you been? do you know what time it is?” Frank’s voice was sarcastic, as if mocking the tone of voice a wife or mother would use.

Carlton sighed again, and realized he had been sighing all day. “You wouldn’t believe who I ran into today.” Carlton didn’t really want to tell Frank about Ruth, but he would have to sooner or later.

“Rachel Robbins.”

Carlton stiffened and dropped his keys. “How did you know?”

“Probability moron.  I guessed.”

Carlton sighed, again.  Yes this was definitely why he was not selling millions of units.

“Was she wearing a skirt?  Don’t be so surprised.  The last time you stayed out this late was five years ago.  During the last seven years you talked about her more than any other subject, besides me.  When you came in the door and announced that you ran into someone it was the most likely choice.  You forget who and what I am my friend.”

“I do?” Carlton was puzzled.

“Yes, you talk to me like I’m your pet budgie, but you didn’t build a conversation machine, you built me to be..”

Carlton cut him off and completed the phrase himself, “the most powerful, thinking computer in this world or any other.”

“Yes,” said Frank with added resonance, “and don’t you forget it!”

There was silence for a few moments, during which Carlton realized how good Frank really was, because most personal computers would have automatically begun reviewing the daily log, or reporting on the stock market or whatever.

“You’re probably tired,” Frank was clever, “but there is something that I was hoping to talk to you about.”

Carlton started getting undressed and moved into the bathroom, “sure, go ahead.”

“I was thinking about us, this place, and how there are so many other things I could do around here besides the accounts, environmental control, and, of course, being your pet budgie.”

Carlton laughed, “yes?”

“I mean, you’re a very important man, now, what with this big installation at the library, and there are so many things to do here at the house. You’re so busy that, no disrespect, it’s messy here. And on the outside there are a bunch of things to do. I looked at satellite imagery that I downloaded, before you cut me off, and there are weeds growing in the gutters. They are probably little bushes and trees by now.”

Carlton began brushing his teeth. He knew where this conversation was going. He had disconnected Frank from the Internet when he lost over 10,000 dollars in illegal on-line gambling, and so now Frank had come up with some scheme to get his Internet connection back. He was probably going to offer to take on the job of contracting with a maid service, plumbers and a carpenter, something like that. It wouldn’t be such a bad idea. The place was really turning into a dump. And now, since Ruth had just walked back into his life, who knew? He definitely could not bring her here in the state it was in. He shuddered as he saw himself wantonly skipping down the path of imagined romance. He had to stop that. Romance was out.  But, still, it would be good to clean the place up and fix everything.  Just in case.  He had tuned Frank out but his attention snapped back at a word Frank said.

“…Android.”

“Wait,” Carlton gasped, “what was that again?”

“I said,” Frank was a little terse, “I could take care of all this stuff if you would build me into an Android.”

Save

Chapter 13

The President fixed Mr. Smith with an icy stare. He turned to his Chief of Staff and did the thing with the eyebrows.

“Mr. President,” began the Chief of Staff,” they refuse to register.  There is nothing in the global treaties going into effect Friday night that will let us to do anything for them.  We can’t allocate them any resources, they’re not registered.”

The President thought for a moment, clearly lost for words.  Mr. Smith shuffled uncomfortably.  The Chief of Staff was really eager for the President to get on the waiting helicopter.

“The people in that camp are Christians,” said the President.

The Chief of Staff sagged slightly.  He had known that this was going to be a tough conversation, which was why he had scheduled it when they were on the run to get somewhere. “Yes, Mr. President, we are aware of that.”

“Those people believe in prophesy from the Bible, they believe that the WMU tattoo is the mark of the beast.  They believe that their very lives depend on not taking that tattoo.  We must respect that.  Freedom of religion is a founding principle of this nation.  I shouldn’t have to remind you about the 1st Amendment.”

“Of course not Mr. President.  Revelation 13:16-18, the number of the beast, 666.  We are all aware of the issue here.”

Mr. Smith jumped in, “Mr. President, this is not a matter of religious freedom.  This is simply a matter of convenience and opportunity.  In the long run, it is much better if we simply make the problem go away.”

The President was not impressed, “What about Revelation 14:9-10?  Those people believe that, ‘If any man worship the beast and his image, and receive his mark in his forehead, or in his hand, The same shall drink of the wine of the wrath of God.'”

The Chief of Staff shrugged.

“They believe that by refusing to take the mark of the beast they will be entered into the Lamb’s Book of Life, and live for eternity in heaven.”

The Chief of Staff nodded.

“I am shocked that you can call massacring a community of 150,000 Christians, with robot droids or whatever, convenient!  Convenient?  I sure,” he caught himself, gave a wry smile, recomposed himself, “do you have a time line?  When is this going to happen?”

The Chief of Staff got the little group moving again before speaking, “We can be ready, in place, in 1 week.  We don’t have to go right at the WMU deadline, but things are going to get more complicated the longer we wait.  Now we have got to get you on Marine 1!”

The President allowed himself to be bustled through the rotor wind to the helicopter then he turned to shout at the little group, “We’re going to discuss this when I get back from New York, understand?”

The Chief of Staff and Mr. Smith nodded. They scurried back indoors as the rotor wind increased and the helicopter took off.  Mr. Smith looked at the Chief of Staff who was brushing the front of his suit with his hands.

“That could have gone a lot better.”

The Chief of Staff looked at him, “You kidding, that was perfect.” He winked.