Chapter 21

Rachel stormed out of the library, mostly for show, just to make sure that no one slowed her down with stupid questions about was she feeling well. She stamped to her car, slammed the door shut, and by the time she tire squealed out of the parking lot she was laughing to herself about how absurd she must have looked. She just needed to collect her thoughts, so to maintain a façade of frustration and anger served no purpose now that she was alone.

Stupid Carlton. That was the real problem. But not really, since he was totally clueless about what was going on. She drove carefully home, checking frequently for the plain sedan that was tailing her. Her body-guard, she rolled her eyes. She was involved is some highly sensitive work for the military so there were always people watching to make sure she was doing what she was supposed to do.

Stupid, stupid Carlton. Idiot. But that was rather harsh since he was really just a pawn in an over-sized game of chess. She had to keep him on track to make sure the computer system was fully ready for the start of the international linguistics symposium that started Wednesday morning. He better have everything ready or his ass was on the line.

Stupid, stupid, stupid Carlton. Moron! But that was totally unfair since he was just doing his job, and hers was the ass on the line. He had no idea that he had just built the brain for a secret military counter intelligence facility. He had no clue that the international symposium was just a ruse to make the installation seem legit.

She arrived at her rented town house and went inside. The plain sedan saw her go in. She would have to report right away, and she hadn’t quite got her story straight yet. She was regretting giving a top-secret classified thumb drive to a dumbass like Carlton, poor guy, and she wasn’t sure what the reaction from up top would be. She could lie about it. Tempting, but the words of her Pastor rang in her head, “There are no liars in heaven!”

She picked up her secure phone to call in and took a deep breath. Remember Rachel, she told herself. After Friday none of this will matter anyway. Stupid Carlton.

She dialed the phone, gave her clearance code, and asked to be connected with Agent Smith.

It turned out to be easier than she thought. Agent Smith already knew about how she stormed out of the library. Thankfully her misogynistic security detail had put the incident down to “women’s problems,” so she rode that story all the way to the end of the call. Always be a bitch when you have the chance to.

She went upstairs to her bedroom and turned on the TV, the radio, an oscillating fan and the shower. She peeled off her dress and hose as she did, and made her way to the walk-in closet. She had a plan for Friday, and she wanted to check her kit.

Rachel had not registered for World Monetary Union or received her tattoo yet. She had put it off and put it off with excuse after excuse. Time was running out. She had convinced Agent Smith and the higher-ups that she would take the last appointment on Friday afternoon, as soon as the linguistics symposium was over. She was a government agent with high level security clearance so compliance was expected, but Rachel was also a Christian. She had convinced the higher-ups that this was a good cover, since anyone who had known her in the past knew that she was a devout church goer. They were worried that she was just stalling and that she was going to try to do something to avoid her registration appointment on Friday.

Rachel searched the back of the closet and pulled out a slinky looking black garment. It was very heavy for its size because it was not fabric, but a finely woven Kevlar body armour. It was a tight squeeze but she got into it, like a wet suit with short sleeves and cut off above the knees. It would be quite hidden underneath a pant suit or any of the dresses that she normally wore. It was the best protection money could buy that could be concealed under a party frock. Next came a combination of guns and knives. Three guns and six knives to be exact. Two small pistols were in a cross-draw holster on her hips, with extra ammo clips. Then another pistol with a bit more heft in a shoulder holster. There were six throwing knives in a pouch across her belly. It was uncomfortable and hot. She figured on wearing go-go boots instead of heels, to conceal another knife or two and for traction if she had to run or climb. There were a few other accessories that she added, perusing herself in the full length mirror as she did.

By the time she was done she was ready for fight or flight, and she looked herself in the eye and vowed that she would escape on Friday, or die trying.

And then there was that stupid Carlton. She laughed out loud.

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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.

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Chapter 10

By the time he was done with all the explanations it was late.  Even Rachel began to look tired, and, when the conversation lulled, she stretched and yawned.

“Carlton, this has been great, but I better be getting home.”

He looked at his watch, 1:25 AM.  “Good grief, I had no idea.“ He looked around the empty Café. The bored Barista had all but given up on life.  “You’re right. Thanks, Rachel, this has been the most fun I’ve had for ages.”

“You need to get out more.”  She smiled.  “OK, let’s get out of here.  Walk me to my car?“

“Of course.”

The Barista perked up when he saw them get up, followed them to the door, and, politely, wished them a good night.  Rachel and Carlton both laughed.  They walked in silence for a few minutes.  Carlton had done more talking this evening that in the last two weeks put together and he was tired.  He was also uncertain how to proceed.  It was OK though, because Rachel, in her dependable way, began speaking again.

“Will you be doing the maintenance on the library computer?”

“Yes, and it will be under warranty for three years too, so if anything goes wrong…” he paused and inwardly winced, “you know who to call.”  He felt himself being drawn to the edge of a precipice: emotional entanglement.  Panic began to well up inside, warnings began to sound in his mind.  In a millisecond Carlton lived through a whirlwind romance with Ruth all the way up to the inevitable painful ending.

“Great,”  Rachel noticed the flicker in Carlton’s countenance, and summed it up with accuracy and insight.  However, she was not here to play games, and had an agenda that Carlton knew nothing about.  Her heart went out to Carlton.  He was like so many others she had met, so desperate and so small.  So afraid.

“They probably have your number at the library, but why don’t you let me write it down now?”  She smiled, but did not look into Carlton’s face, rather, she rummaged in her pocket-book.  Then they were at her car.  She thanked Carlton again for a pleasant evening, and chuckled as he clumsily fumbled the car door.  When she was seated she put the key in and rolled down the window.

“Carlton,”

“Yes,”

“One last thing.  Do you go to church anywhere?”

“Church?“

“Yes, I just started going to Anchor Baptist Church, why don’t you come Sunday? Oh, Tomorrow!”

Carlton frowned, talk about curve balls.  “I’ll think about it.“

“OK, bye.”  She checked the mirrors, looked over her shoulder, waved, and drove off into the night.

A chasm opened up below Carlton’s feet, and her stared down into oblivion. So, not only was he going to get his heart broken, again, but he was going to get drawn into a bunch of religious clap-trap while it was happening. He sighed. Shook his head in an attempt to clear it, then walked to his own car contemplating the trials and pitfalls of life. Only yesterday he had been safe and secure in his introverted bubble. Now he was naked and exposed in a situation that, though he had dreamed of it for years, he didn’t want to be in.

It was Rachel though. It wasn’t some random woman that he blundered into. His heart was already leaking blood from the anticipated wounds as he made his way home. Home, that was a convenient distraction, but another situation that he really didn’t feel like dealing with right now.

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Chapter 7

Carlton knew the perfect place.  A hip counter-culture coffee shop with an independent label brand.  The kind of place where poets and students hang out.  To Carlton the coffee had a very slightly burnt taste, like they were trying too hard to be cool, but it was cool because it was local.  Carlton liked it.  It was in downtown Salt Lake City, an hour away, but Carlton lived near there and it turned out, Rachel did too.  This was the place where, in his daydreams, he had gotten down on one knee and asked this woman to marry him many times.

Rachel was a constant bubble of questions about the computer, Salt City, and Carlton’s life.  She kept it up quite easily which was fortunate, because if the conversation was left up to Carlton it would probably been a few nervous murmurs.  Carlton felt like a kid again.  They laughed about old times, old friends, and 10 years of lonely life evaporated out of Carlton’s mind.

She would not stop asking about the computer.  Every time the conversation strayed to some childhood event, Rachel steered back to Carlton’s computer at the library.  It wasn’t so bad, Carlton got to explain how it worked, and how he had developed the systems that ran it. Let’s not forget that he was the genius who had revolutionized computing. Even though, however, the revolution had turned out to be a minor blip in the march of progress. He felt self-conscious and he checked over his shoulder more than once.

Carlton had rehearsed conversations like this one, with Rachel, in his daydreams.  He had played out his scene in a way in which he was completely prepared, composed, in charge, and directing the action. Now that he was speaking with her for real it was strange, not like he had thought at all. He was nervous, disconnected, and frequently exposed, unaccustomed to any scrutiny or expectation of accountability, suddenly being scrutinized and held accountable. He had imagined her gazing at him with big school girl eyes like a star-struck kid.  Not so.  Here was a mature woman who was not going to take any crap, and was certainly not going to swallow Carlton’s usual line of bull.  Yet she kept on asking questions, and he kept on answering them.

At times his answers became deeply technical and he was afraid he was boring her. Rachel, however, did not seem to have have any difficulty grasping the details.  Rather, she was quite familiar with the back story of how the blood-based computer system came about.  She knew about some of the recent breakthroughs and developments too. After a while he relaxed. It was delightful that all the time he talked he could gaze into her face. It was too much to be true. Not only was she sitting here with him, but he actually had an excuse to look at her, and looking at her was what he wanted more than a dying man in a desert wanted a glass of water.  It was the face of his dreams, both awake and asleep, but now it was not a girl in his memory, but a woman in his presence.  It was a far more beautiful face than his imagination had dreamed of, it was a woman, not a kid, there were lines and a seriousness that was startling, but there was a girl in there too and at times if emerged with a flourish. The best part of it was that she kept on smiling, listening and asking questions.

As time ticked by Carlton noticed that the coffee shop had emptied out.  They were getting irritated looks from the Barista, who clearly wanted to be elsewhere.  Carlton tried once or twice to wrap up the conversation and move on, out of a weird sense of wanting to do the Barista a favor and let him close up the shop, but Rachel was a lively stream of questions and comments so he gave up. They talked and laughed. Carlton felt himself falling in love, for real, not in an imaginary way. Yet he could already feel the pain of another failure, it brooded at the edge of his thought. He lived the emotions of the whole cycle of acceptance, trust then dismissal and being crushed. But this was Rachel. He would go through all of it for her, that was his dream come true.

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