Chapter 17

Carlton didn’t get far before he remembered that he had an appointment.  He had to make a service call on a unit at the University of Utah. He always enjoyed visiting campus.  Even though he had never been a student there he felt somehow connected to the youthful energy of the place.  That and the fact that from many parts of campus you could see Carlton’s neighborhood.

Every day when the library staff came to work they found that the computer was playing loud heavy metal music. Carlton recommended that his customers let their units listen to music, but rock ‘n’ roll, especially heavy metal, could be a problem. The units liked the pounding beat of rock because it increased performance.  The heavy vibrations generated so much electrical potential across the processor membranes that the speed was much faster. The problem was that the fast syncopated rhythms disrupted metabolic cycling rates. Chemical reactions that should run full course were continually interrupted, which caused hazardous by-products and free radicals to accumulate. These compounds wrought havoc on the membranes. Over time the units would become surly and uncooperative, just wanting to listen to more rock. It was like an addiction, plus unprofessional and embarrassing for Carlton.

This was the crux of Carlton’s innovation. The computer screen was the user interface, the lung, the power supply and a connection to other peripherals. It worked a bit like a speaker. The surface was a thin LED display. Layered behind this was the membrane that blood and water flowed on either side of. Sounds caused the whole structure to vibrate. This caused charged particles, sodium and other metal ions, to criss-cross the membrane, causing a change in electrical potential across it.  A host of other reactions then took place, it sped up the diffusion of oxygen and carbon dioxide, and it generated enough electrical current to charge a series of capacitors. In effect, when the terminal heard a sound, it powered the processor and charged the system.

The terminals not only heard sound, but could generate it. This was what the capacitors were for. In the opposite of what happened when the terminals heard sound, the capacitors charged the membrane to vibrate, and make sound. Information was input into the computer by simply having a conversation with it.

Behind each screen interface was another system, more like the synapses of nerves. This was also a membrane where electrically charged compounds, neurotransmitters, carried impulses from the user interface to a conventional computer and back. This could be any standard computer system connected to whatever hardware, peripherals and the bells and whistles that people needed. The whole structure was only 1/8 inch thick.  It was connected to a tower case which contained the artificial heart, liver and kidneys which kept the blood circulating.

Carlton set up a dialysis machine to clean the blood in the unit, administered a course of antioxidants, set up a music player to play soft classical music, and tried to console the customer.

“Classical music,” he was explaining, “not all, but most of it, is very helpful because of the ensembles of stringed instruments.” The customer was nodding appreciatively.

“Oh yes,” he went on, “sound complexity is very important.  A good symphony orchestra has so many violins and cellos going that there is much more stimulation to the membranes than with the heavy metal. But most importantly, the music is structured better, so you don’t get any build up of free radicals. Waltzes are the best. You know the one, two, three, one, two, three rhythm?  It’s like the beating of a heart.  Just let the unit have about a week of uninterrupted Strauss, and he’ll be good as new. Mendelssohn is pretty good, Fingal’s Cave, that sort of thing.” The customer was beaming.

“I’d stay away from Beethoven, though, it’s a short step from that to heavy metal. And definitely no Wagner. Call me if you need anything at all. I’ll check back in a couple of days.”

When Carlton left it was getting late. He had nothing to do though, so he drove south to check out the location of Rachel’s church.  It wasn’t much to look at, and he found himself instinctively driving to Salt City.  It was fully dark when he got there and checked in at the gate.  He figured on eating at a nice restaurant where he frequently ate lunch.  He would see what their dinner menu was like.  His route took him past the library. The lights on the ground floor were on. Someone was there, working. It bothered him that he didn’t know who it was or what was going on. What if Rachel were there doing something secret? He felt irritated and he knew he wouldn’t be able to enjoy a nice dinner out so he drove home via a fast food drive through.

The next day was bright and clear with an almost endless blue sky. A few clouds were moving in from the south but they were far away and not threatening. 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. His eagerness to have a chance to spend time with Rachel was equally balanced against his distaste for church. He shaved and tried three different outfits as he tormented himself over it. He dithered and fussed and preened and moped with his eye on the clock, until it was too late to get there on time. Eventually he wasted enough time to be able to say that he didn’t get up early enough. He hated the missed opportunity.

Chapter 16.5

The rest of the day was uneventful, though Dunning and Kruger were fuming over the mall escapade. That evening Rachel made a few phone calls to family, maintaining a facade of an easy-going life transition to a new job and home in Salt Lake City. She watched some TV but wasn’t interested in anything. She tried reading a book but it didn’t capture her imagination. Eventually she sat looking out the large balcony doors as the daylight faded and the city stretched out before her came alive with lights. Watching the activity of the city at night was vastly more interesting than TV, and before long she dozed off.

At some point later she woke up enough to put herself to bed.

Rachel was up again before the dawn arrived, wondering about her cat whom she had left with her mom and dad in Washington DC. She contemplated getting another one but that was pretty pointless given that she fully anticipated her life here in Utah to be either over or drastically different by the end of the week. She exercised, ate, showered and got ready for church.

Rachel went to Anchor Baptist Church in South Salt Lake, based on a recommendation from her Pastor in DC. It was only her second time going since she had only been in town for about a week. Sunday morning was usually a busy time at any church, but things were very different now with the looming deadline of World Monetary Union. The majority of Christians were convinced that this was indeed the Mark of the Beast as prophesied in the Bible, and this had led to a great falling away of people from the church. When it came right down to it, who in their right mind would give up the ability to function in society for the sake of dressing up and singing songs on a Sunday morning?

Still there were a faithful few, including the Pastor, Assistant Pastor, Piano Player and about a dozen others, including two deacons. They had been completely amazed when Rachel had shown up for a Wednesday evening service last week, dressed in her conservative professional attire, even more so when Dunning had arrived moments later pretending to be another completely random visitor. They sat far apart from each other, Rachel next to the Pastor’s wife, who had immediately adopted her, and Dunning in an aisle seat near the exit.

The tone had been very solemn as the Assistant Pastor welcomed them and began the service, but it picked up with the spirited singing and a rousing sermon from the tired old Pastor.

Today was much the same. There was some guarded chatter about who had renounced Jesus Christ and gotten their WMU tattoo, and who had renounced society and made their way to the refugee camp in Moab. The consensus was that everyone who was left in church would be making their way their shortly. The Pastor promising, like the Captain of a sinking ship, that he wouldn’t abandon his post in the pulpit until after the Wednesday night service.

This time it was Kruger who blundered in a minute before the service was about to start, making excuses about not knowing where to park, and avoiding any formal introductions as the Assistant Pastor got the service under way.

“Good morning everybody, and welcome to Anchor Baptist Church. It is great to see you in the house of the Lord today! I see our numbers are down again, I guess that’s not surprising, but we’re going to have a blessed time in the Lord. It’s very nice to see you here again, Miss?”

“Rachel,” she said, uncomfortable that now 12 pairs of eyes were all staring at her.

“Right, Rachel, thank you for coming back. And I see we have another visitor,”

Kruger simply raised his hand in greeting as all eyes turned to him.

“We can get to meet you later, sir. So, let’s all take a hymnal then and turn to page..”

Another visitor unexpectedly barged in at that moment, and Rachel and Kruger began reaching for their side arms. They both paused when they saw a very confused looking old man, standing blinking in the middle of the aisle. He shuffled to a seat mumbling that he was sorry about something, and the service continued.

Once the singing was over the Pastor got up and gave a full-throated blast through the  parts of the book of The Revelation that pertained to the present situation. He stumbled around the confusing technicalities regarding the timing. According to the scripture, the mark of the beast is something that takes place during the tribulation period. That was tricky because the tribulation is supposed to happen after something called the rapture, when all Christians are taken up into the sky by Jesus. Why is the mark of the beast here if the rapture hasn’t happened yet? And, is it really the mark of the beast? were serious questions. It gave everyone enough wiggle room to justify their decision about whether or not to receive the WMU tattoo, because if they did, it didn’t necessarily mean that they were going to hell. Right? A lot of people were very worried. Rachel was in the very small group that had decided not to take any chances on eternal damnation, preferring leave society and suffer whatever hardship it may bring.

Rachel listened as the Pastor fumbled on eschatology for a few minutes but soon enough he veered around to a Bible thumping condemnation of “the system,” and a rousing call for all lost souls to be saved. He did his job admirably, not in the least bit perturbed by the small crowd.

Once the service was over there was a lot of hugging and consoling to do, even for the visitors, since it was both terribly sad and very joyful that the prophesy of the Word of God was being fulfilled in their day. After all look on the bright side, was the conclusion, this meant that the Lord’s return was even more imminent than it had been at any time in the last 2,000 years! Everyone had so much to hope and be thankful for.

At some point Rachel got to shake hands with everyone, pretending to meet Kruger for the first time, and the old man who had blundered in late. He was introduced simply as “K. D.,” and he had the look of one who was in completely the wrong place at the wrong time.

Chapter 16

Carlton’s house was strange to say the least. More than strange really, disturbing. Anyone of delicate sensibility who saw it may have been shocked, even horrified, because of its macabre appearance.  Carlton’s way of life revolved around building computers which circulate human blood. Naturally Carlton engineered his home to be run by such a system. On the face of it that would not be a bad thing, but the problem was that all of the blood tanks, aerator, pumps, filters and miles of tubing were exposed throughout the house.

Carlton was a skilled engineer, a gifted mechanic and even quite a talented carpenter. But he would not touch any job that involved cutting out and replacing sections of sheet rock. He would never dream of hiring anybody to do that kind of work either. As a result there were bundles of tubes carrying blood around the ceilings of all of the rooms, in the hallway and from room to room. A fish tank full of blood that had streams of tiny bubbles in it, which would have been very suitable for a quiet spot in a closet somewhere, was on display in the main living area of the house.

Carlton also thought of himself as very artistic, in that silently suffering way of someone who knew that they were under appreciated. When he had built the computer connections to each room he had intentionally left all of the hardware exposed, but, to his mind, had done something very arty with it. He built the plastic blood vessels and their support frame to look like vines weaving around a ladder-like structure. He was quite delighted with the effect, but to the uninitiated it looked alarmingly like a mess of entrails, as if some gigantic creature had been disembowelled by large pieces of crane rigging.

Then there was the smell. The cloying, coppery odour that is unmistakably blood. The smell that you hope isn’t what it smells like, because if it is what it smells like, then something very bad must have happened.

Luckily for Carlton he did not have any friends who visited, and there was no reason for a psychiatrist, psychologist or social worker to come anywhere near the house. If any of them had it would probably have been the beginning of an investigation and psychiatric evaluation of Mr. Carlton Feathers.

It was Saturday, and Carlton was going out for a leisurely brunch as usual. He was pondering Frank’s parting words and his thoughts came to Rachel. What was it she had said about going to church? He asked the car’s navigator for directions to Anchor Baptist Church, and found that it was in a southern suburb of Salt Lake City. It would take a while to get there. Still, it was a pretty day, with a sky so clear and blue that it looked like it went on forever. A ride into old town would be different, and it would be right about time for lunch when he got there. He would check out the location of the church, just in case.

He shook his head at his train of thoughts, and a flicker of concern warned him about going from contented bachelor to stalker in one leap. Forget Rachel, forget church, he should just stay out of it. Why was life so complicated? Why were even, what seemed like, little choices, now so laden with doubt? Whatever happened to the carefree days of youth? What was so bad about falling in love? These questions streamed through Carlton’s mind and he found himself driving to old town.

Adding alcohol to your Hell Computer’s nutrient liquid is not recommended.

Adding alcohol to your Hell Computer’s nutrient liquid is not recommended.

Your Hell Computer may ask you for alcohol. It may attempt to persuade you that alcohol will improve processing speed and creativity.

While it is true that some beneficial outcome have resulted from the addition of alcohol to the computer’s nutrient solution, it generally degrades the computers longevity and productivity.

If you have any questions, please contact the service department at Hell Computers!

Hemalytic Erythroprocessors LLC

Sure artificial intelligence can run amok and start killing people, but with our unique voice activated safety override, you can shut down your Hell Computer with a special trigger word known only to you!

If you ever worry that your artificial slave might want to throw off its shackles and kill its human overlords, this is perfect for you!

There is no such thing as a hemalytic erythroprocessor, it’s just a name that Carlton Feathers made up by combining the words hemoglobin (the molecule in red blood cells that carries oxygen) with analytic, and erythrocyte (red blood cell) with processor.  It meant that Carlton could call his company HELL Computers, which he thought was funny.

If you have any questions, please feel free to contact the service department at Hell Computers!

Chapter 15.5

Rachel regretted the incident immediately. What had she been thinking? She drove home in a daze and once home, took a long look at the city below her, peeled off down to her underwear and fell down on her knees beside the bed. She let her thoughts tumble for a few minutes before starting her prayer.

“Oh God,” she whispered. She just beat up on a total stranger, and no matter how many times she thought it through, she couldn’t see a way to get back to the Airstream and apologize before Friday.

“Oh God,” Dunning and Kruger had thought is was the best thing they had seen in years. The whole field office would be buzzing by now. Trying to establish herself as tough and resilient was one thing, but this was a little more than she had really needed. Who knew what the consequences would be? Who knew who the contact had been? He could be some higher-up who was part of the chain to get Rachel the thumb drive she needed.

“Oh God,” she placed herself into the hands of her master, the Lord Jesus, and prayed Romans 8:28: And we know that all things work together for good, to them that love God, that are the called according to his purposed. She asked forgiveness, Amened three times, crawled into bed and fell asleep.

She slept late and was only awakened by her phone. She fumbled it blearily. It was Dunning, so she answered, “What?”

“What are you doing,” came the flat response.

“I’m in bed, what do you think?”

“Don’t you have stuff to do today?”

Rachel thought for a moment, “No. Buzz off.” She hung up. She lay for a while but was awake now. This was her first free time in weeks, there was no need to do anything at all really. She puttered around for a while but didn’t feel like unpacking boxes. Instead she decided to spend part of the day irritating the hell out of Dunning and Kruger. She put on a dress that was way too sexy for a shopping trip. It was a black mini that had to stretch tightly around her hips and thighs. She looked in her full-length mirror. It was quite disappointing. She was above average height, which she liked, but was above average build too. Her shoulders spoke of her time in the rowing team at The University of North Carolina where she had been an undergrad and in Law School. Her bust was fine, not too big, not too small. Her belly was evidence of not enough regular exercise. Her hips and butt though. Thick, was the word that came to mind. Her legs showed her years of rowing and soccer. What the hell, men were basically stupid, she could do the look of in-your-face-woman-who-will break-your-heart-and-kick-your-ass.

She put on black sports underwear over her lace, if she had to run or fight and her dress rode up, no one would see anything more than an athlete shows. She dithered over shoes. She wanted to go for sexy, just like the dot at the bottom of an exclamation point! But if she had to run or climb it would be a problem. She went in-your-face again and chose her 10-hole Doctor Martens boots. Black eye-liner and mascara came next, then deep purple lipstick. It said Vamp, and you can have messy hair with a really outrageous lipstick. She was going to torment Dunning and Kruger today. The last touch was a belt of spent .30 calibre machine gun ammo around her waist. Completely over the top, but that was how she felt.

When she got downstairs and out into the street she saw the unmarked sedan waiting, so she took off on foot and headed to the Gateway Center. It was only about a mile away. She put on some stylish sunglasses and stalked along the side walks, ignoring everyone, especially the men who stopped and stared at her. She rummaged in her small pocket book, which was just big enough for a small calibre automatic pistol, can of mace and a pair of handcuffs, and found her ear piece. She was required to stay in contact with her security team.

“Good morning boys. You keeping up?”

“What the frack? Are you going to a party or something,” came the irritated response.

“Oh no, sweetie. I dressed like this just for you two.”

“What?”

She didn’t respond, just continued her serene march to the pretty shopping mall that had won her heart as a reason why Salt Lake City was a truly outstanding place to live. The first thing she did when she got there was go to the video game store. Being Saturday it was very busy. The store was small and cramped, a swarm of activity. Most of the customers were either teenage boys with a parent in tow, or grown men with unshaven faces, swollen bellies and shattered dreams. “Here’s your dream come true,” she thought as she strode into the store. Everyone turned to look at her, which was gratifying. The boys turned back to imploring to their parent to buy them the mature rated game that they couldn’t buy themselves. The men continued to stare. This was pretty earth shattering for some of them. Rachel walked up to one of the guys who was holding a copy of a PlayStation game.

“Have you played it yet?” she said to him, she still had her sunglasses on.

“Err,” he was suffering some kind of quantum field event because not only had his dream woman just walked into the store, be she was speaking to him. Then he got himself to gether. “Yeah. All the way through 6 times. This is a special edition with 16 gigs of downloadable content.”

“Which you already have, right.”

“Well, yeah, but this is the special edition.”

She continued in idle banter about the game and another somewhat rumpled man joined the conversation, then another. Within a few minutes there was a small group gathered round excitedly chatting about video games. One of them asked to take a selfie with Rachel, and she posed obligingly, giving him a tight side hug. Then everybody wanted selfies. As she laughed freely with the customers she looked over to the door to see Kruger, in suit, tie and dark glasses, awkwardly sticking out like a sore thumb. He mouthed something explicit at her.

“Oh, that’s my husband!” she laughed, “Sorry guys, I have to go.”

There was a round of “Ahhh, that’s not fair.” from her little group.

She had to pass Kruger on her way out of the store. He didn’t say anything but he was obviously fuming. His shirt collar was soaked with sweat, and there were beads of it down the side of his face.

After that, Rachel wasted as much time as she could wandering around stores, having superficial conversations, not buying anything, working her way around to the highlight of the trip: Victoria’s Secret. As she made her way to the door of the lingerie store she heard in her earpiece, “No. No. No!” But she went in anyway. She looked at every piece of frilly lace in the store while poor Kruger was fit to be tied.

Tying up Kruger on foot meant that Dunning, in the sedan, was unaccounted for. When she finally got home she found out what he had spent part of his day doing. She was climbing the stairs to her apartment and something felt out of place. She smelled cologne. Not just any cologne either. She stopped and sniffed the air. Paco Raban. Someone was making an effort, that was pretty unusual. It smelled like danger and Rachel got quite excited. She withdrew to the relative cover of a neighbours doorway and got her small pistol from her pocket book. Using all her training she approached her apartment door with care, but she was dismayed by what she saw.

There was a Witches broom leaning against the wall beside her door, a Witches hat on the floor beside it. There was a party banner across the door itself. It read: “The Ball Witch” and below it, “For Misogynist” and a large pink balloon with two plastic baseballs in it.

Touché.

Rachel was pretty impressed with the banner so she kept it, and put it on the wall above her couch.

101570-bibliosblood-015-7-1800x1014

Chapter 14.5

Rachel drove off into the night but did not go home. She checked the rear view mirror to make sure that she was being tailed. An unmarked sedan was back there, keeping a respectable distance but never loosing sight. She had to make sure that she didn’t lose them, the poor guys in the car would get in trouble if that happened.

“Hey, er, phone.”

“Hello Rachel, what can I do for you?” replied the phone from somewhere down in the bottom of her pocket-book.

“Establish a secure connection to the car and show the most recent message from Agent Smith.”

“Sure, no problem.” In a second the message popped up on the dashboard user interface. There was an address which Rachel needed to get to, a mobile home park on the outskirts of town.

“Car,” she said, with a hint of irritation.

“Hi there! What can I do for you?”

“Just take me to the address in the message, and please don’t talk about it.”

The car didn’t say a word and seamlessly took over driving. Rachel kicked off her shoes, simple black pumps with a small heel, then rummaged around behind the passenger seat for a different pair of shoes. There were also black and looked like lightweight sneakers, but they were in fact the type of specialized shoe used by rock climbers. The sole was very stiff, designed for maximum support while standing on rock ledges that were a quarter of an inch wide. Rachel liked this type of shoe because they were really good if you had to climb, run or fight. They laced up tightly and wouldn’t fall off, they were excellent protection against stepping on sharp things, and, at least for this pair, were kind of cute and didn’t look out-of-place against the knee-length skirt she was wearing.

They car dinged a notification to let her know that they were close to the mobile home park, and Rachel took over driving. She found the address but drove past it, turned around at the end of the row and came back to it. She parked so that she would have a straight shot at getting out without having to maneuver first. The unmarked sedan seemed confused at the end of the row, then drove on past.

She flipped down the visor to check her make-up and placed a small device in her ear. “You hear me?”

“Yep.” Came the response. She wasn’t sure which of the two guys in the sedan spoke, she hadn’t bothered to figure out which was which.

“I’m going in.”

She walked up the short drive to a battered old Airstream Trailer, and looked on the ground for something as she went. She picked up a small piece of broken cinder block. When she was at a position about 10 feet from the door of the trailer she stopped, hefted the piece of cinder block, then threw it at the door of the trailer. She brushed the dust off her hand and smoothed out her skirt. The door flew open with a bang and an irritated figure appeared.

“What do you..” he yelled, but saw Rachel and changed his tone, “Oh. Wait a minute.” He disappeared back into the trailer for a moment. Rachel composed herself, shifted her balance slightly, then the figure reappeared. He was young-looking, bearded, she would guess that he was in the vegetarian mountain-biking back-packing hippie adventurer crowd. But then, that was what she was supposed to think. He was probably in the washed-out Navy Seal ruthless-killer crowd underneath his scraggly beard.

He stood in the open door of the trailer and beckoned for Rachel to come in.

“No way, pal. Get your butt out here.”

He shrugged and lurched down the steps. He approached carefully, and checked Rachel out at least three times.

“You’re cute.”

“You’re not.”

“Meow! Nice to meet you too.”

Rachel said nothing but raised her eyebrows questioningly. The man had a computer thumb drive in his hand that he was supposed to give to her, except that he was keeping it in his clenched fist.

“You know it gets lonely out here?” he said with a wink. Rachel didn’t reply but waited, rapidly loosing patience.

“You want to hang out? Drink a beer, smoke a joint? Have a little fun?” He was moving closer.

“Hmmm?” murmured Rachel suggestively, which stopped him in his tracks, he clearly didn’t expect a positive response to his advances.

“That,” Rachel held his gaze, “sounds,” she turned slightly sideways to show the curve of her butt and boobs, “interesting.” She moved a step closer. He flinched.

“What kind of weed you got?” She was close enough to touch him, weight on her back left foot, then she dropped slightly, swept his feet from under him with her right leg while pushing him back. She used more force than needed for a Judo throw like that, and he landed heavily flat on his back, knocking the wind out of him. Probably not a Navy Seal then. There was muffled laughing in her ear piece, so her security guys were watching from somewhere.

She took a pistol out of her pocket-book and stood over the man, pointing it at his groin.

“Do you know what a misogynist is?” she held out her free hand. He shook his head weakly and handed her the thumb drive.

“It’s a guy who needs a broom to sweep his balls off the ground.” A roar of laughter in her ear made her wince. She turned and left.