Chapter 32

As the morning dragged on Rachel became more surly and uncommunicative. Her fatigue was making her head pound and she was on the verge of biting the head off the next person who asked for a record search. Obviously this could be done by any visitor at one of the conventional computer terminals scattered liberally around the lobby area, but Rachel was supposed to assist and generally be sweet and welcoming. Not ready to kill someone. Angie had done a great job of intercepting most of these, and she could see that Rachel was becoming frayed.

“Why not take a little break?” she helpfully suggested, “it’s almost lunchtime, why not go to the café and get a snack? You look like you need some energy.”

Rachel was about to snap at Angie but she caught herself in time. “Do you mind?” Angie shook her head with a smile, “Thanks, Angie, I think I will.”

Rachel remembered to grab her jacket and slip it on. Her phone and banking card were in the pocket in case needed them. She stared at the floor oblivious of all that was going on around her and walked straight to the elevator. The lobby was a big airy space with high ceilings but she paid no attention today. Normally she loved to look around her and soak up the atmosphere. Book cases towered up all around the perimeter of the area and around a column in the center of the space, there were railed balconies at two levels above accessible by elegant wrought iron spiral staircases. The floor was terrazzo with a deep lustrous red sheen which reflected the light from recessed sconces in a pleasing way. It wasn’t too bright, but it wasn’t dim either, and it had a faint reddish glow as opposed to the blue or yellowish tint of most artificial light. The hard floor and high ceilings made it echo slightly, giving it the deep sense of reverence that you would expect in a cathedral. It helped the library visitors to keep their voices hushed in a very effective way.

She arrived at the elevator and without a second thought hit the call button with her thumb and experienced a mild panic the moment she did it. The elevator. Oh dear.

The elevator arrived suspiciously, which shouldn’t even be possible for an elevator, but since Rachel had encountered this elevator before, last night, she wasn’t surprised at all. Indeed, it confirmed her worst fears that the elevator knew her identity because it had just cross referenced her thumb print against its database. The elevator arrived and the doors opened slowly, somehow managing to convey the impression of a detective stroking his beard.

“Hi,” said the elevator with a hint of smugness, “I’m your elevator. What floor do you want?”

Rachel didn’t speak right away but warily entered the elevator, her mind racing for ideas about how to handle the situation. She needed to stall somehow, she knew that. Some way to keep the elevator occupied long enough for her to see if she could find out what, if anything, the elevator was going to do with the information that Rachel had been in the building after hours last night.

A thought struck her, “Oh,” she replied casually, “take me on a tour.”

“What?” the elevator was either caught off guard or was able to duplicate the impression of being caught off guard. At this point Rachel wasn’t really sure.

“Show me all the floors,” Rachel said confidently. “I haven’t really had time to explore the building yet. Take me on a tour.”

“Okay,” the elevator became enthusiastic, “Let’s start at the top and work our way down!”

There was an uncomfortable silence as the elevator car rode to the top floor. It arrived, the doors opened.

“Here,” began the elevator, “is the top floor. The archives. But then, you know that on account of having been here before.”

“Oh,” Rachel attempted to be coy, “whatever makes you say that?”

“Don’t play games with me, Rachel Robbins,” the was a hard edge to the elevator’s voice now. “I know that you were here last night dressed as a cleaning worker.”

“So what?”

“So what? So what were you doing here?”

“None of your business.”

The elevator doors closed and the elevator descended one level to one of the three floors of main stacks. The doors opened. Nothing was said as Rachel peered out at the rows of tightly packed bookshelves. The doors closed and the elevator began descending again.

“Well then, I wonder if the head of security would be interested in this information?”

“You haven’t reported it yet?”

“I didn’t know that there was anything to report until now. Here you are with a completely different appearance acting like you’ve never been here before.”

“So,” Rachel had the glimmerings of an idea, “Are you going to report it because you are a mindless machine and that’s what you are programmed to do? or can you think for yourself and make decisions?”

The elevator car stopped and the doors opened. The scene was quite different to the one above, there were rows and rows of bookshelves but they were empty. Some of them had not been put together yet. It was eerie because it was deserted and most of the lights were out.

“I,” came a haughty reply, “can think for myself thank you very much.”

“Okay, so maybe you don’t need to report anything.”

The elevator doors remained open, the elevator was obviously thinking. Something that shouldn’t even be possible for an elevator.

“Why shouldn’t I?” it eventually responded, wryly.

“I don’t know,” Rachel thought furiously, she was getting desperate and didn’t really have a clue what to say, “maybe there’s something I could do for you?” It was really reaching, she knew, but she had nothing else and she was exhausted.

The elevator doors remained open. The darkness of the stacks had an eeriness about it was was unwelcoming.

“Interesting.” Said the elevator. “Are you bribing me?”

Oh God, thought Rachel, this was the last thing she needed. She had an horrible vision of being on trial in front of a judge and jury with this snarky elevator testifying against her.

“No,” she sighed, “I’m just offering, you know, a favor,” even as she said it she knew that she was out of luck. With a sinking feeling she knew that there was no possible favor could she do for an elevator.

“Well,” began the elevator wistfully, which shouldn’t even be possible for an elevator, “there is one thing you could do for me.”

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Rachel Robbins

Rachel Robbins is a Super hero wannabe. Everybody wants to save the world, right?

Rachel was a star student all her life and graduated from the Kenan-Flagler Business School at The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill with an MBA. She is an athlete, and while she was at UNC she was on the womens rowing team. Rachel has always been politically active and struggles to reconcile her Christian faith with her liberal values. She tries to be progressive but sees it’s downfall in the moral decay of society. At the same time she barely tolerates the Christian Pastors who try to fumble their way around the Biblical passages that describe the role of women in the church and that lay out the expectations for the Husband-Wife relationship in marriage. They’d be better off if they just left it alone.

This is a problem, because except for women’s issues Rachel is extremely conservative and believes a lot of what the Bible describes about the history of the Earth. One issue that Rachel is particularly interested in is the soul, and whether or not it exists. Just because science can’t detect it, doesn’t mean that it isn’t there. Look at it this way: If it’s in the Bible it must be real, so what it is? And how is it different to the spirit? The Bible tells us that the soul and spirit are different things:

For the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any twoedged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart. (Hebrews 4:12)

An opportunity to explore this question occurred to Rachel when she heard about the work that Carlton Feathers had done in developing a computer processor that uses human blood. Rachel has suspected that the soul is in the blood,

For the life of the flesh is in the blood: and I have given it to you upon the altar to make an atonement for your souls: for it is the blood that maketh an atonement for the soul. Therefore I said unto the children of Israel, No soul of you shall eat blood, neither shall any stranger that sojourneth among you eat blood. And whatsoever man there be of the children of Israel, or of the strangers that sojourn among you, which hunteth and catcheth any beast or fowl that may be eaten; he shall even pour out the blood thereof, and cover it with dust. For it is the life of all flesh; the blood of it is for the life thereof: therefore I said unto the children of Israel, Ye shall eat the blood of no manner of flesh: for the life of all flesh is the blood thereof: whosoever eateth it shall be cut off. (Leviticus 17:11-14)

So would that mean that Carlton’s computers have a soul? If they do, does that mean they they could have saving faith in Jesus Christ?

There’s a small problem with the whole Carlton Feathers connection: Rachel grew up in Salt Lake City and they went to school together. Carlton crushed on her in a big way. Rachel sort-of, kind-of could maybe have liked him except for a bad situation in a haystack where he gave her a bite of the leg behind her knee. You can still see a faint scar of the teeth marks. Finding out about whether or not his computers had souls would mean dealing with him, which would undoubtedly become fraught with the whole unrequited love malarkey. Oh well.

Rachel was at a rally in Washington DC years ago, protesting something or other, and she caught the eye of a Secret Service agent when she body slammed a bag snatcher on The Mall and pinned him until he could be apprehended. This was Agent Smith and he facilitated Rachel being recruited by the FBI. From the FBI Rachel moved, again through the influence and connections of Agent Smith, into the CIA, and then into the Secret Service. She learned everything she could about intelligence and clandestine field work. Rachel kept tabs on Carlton Feathers as she contemplated the blood-soul connection.

So imagine Rachel’s amazement when she was summoned to a top level security briefing and told about the Salt City Municipal Library computer installation being implemented by none other than Carlton Feathers. The significance of the blood-based computer system had not been lost on the intelligence community. This was the ultimate source of funding for the project, and it was designed to test a revolutionary new type of language translation software. Rachel’s assignment would be to ensure that the public face of the project seemed absolutely benign. Agent Smith had tried to talk Rachel out of the assignment, and she didn’t understand why, since she had assumed that he was the reason that she had been selected in the first place.

The Agent Smith thing was getting weird and going back to Salt Lake City, Utah, was a perfect way to put some distance between herself and DC.

I imagine Rachel as a brunette but I have been so struck by the character and personality of Ronda Rousey that I’d be tempted to cast her as Rachel. The fact that Rachel Robbins and Ronda Rousey have the same initials is truly an accident. We’ll see if Ronda has acting chops I guess, but if Ronda doesn’t work out but we stick with the blond idea then the next best bad-ass-yet-elegant strong female has to be Deborah Ann Woll.

Deborah Ann Woll as Daredevil’s Karen Page

If we went back to the original idea of Rachel Robbins as a brunette there are many people who could play the part. Summer Glau comes to mind.

Someone else that I somehow connected with that is interesting is the British actress Kate Marie Davis.

Rachel was originally going to be called Ruth, after a girl I crushed on when I was at St. Michael’s 1st School in Minehead, England. I changed the name to honor my cousin who fought a hard battle with breast cancer and won!

Chapter 30

Rachel woke with a start when her phone rang. She fumbled it but answered before it stopped ringing.  It was Dunning, one of her security detail. He was very blunt and had no social charm.

“You’re late. What’s going on?”

“Sorry,” she replied wearily, “Y’know, girl stuff. I’ll be right down.”

Getting to the car was fine but when she sat down in it she felt tired again.

“Hi, how are you today?” chirped the car happily. At least, it sounded happy. Was it really happy? Did it know what happy was? Rachel politely asked the car to refrain from conversation. It did. Rachel was glad.

Once on the road and moving through the city traffic Rachel began to worry. Not just the niggling, “Did I leave the TV on?” kind of worry, but a deep paranoid suspicion. What if Dunning and Kruger had figured out that she left her building last night? If they did then they would most certainly have given a report to her boss in DC, Agent Smith. If Agent Smith knew what was going on then it was only a matter of time before she got yanked off this job and replaced by someone else. Who knew the systems like she did that could jump in that quickly? What if it happened before Friday, after which it wouldn’t matter. If she could just get to Friday the problem would be solved. What if Smith showed up in Salt Lake City and wanted to debrief? She cringed. It was just the kind of thing he would do. She was so tired she just wanted to lie down.

There was a honk from the car behind her and she realized that she had been sitting at a green light for several seconds. She was clearly in no state to be driving, but there was an hour or more of it to go before she got to Salt City. With great reluctance she asked the car for help.

“Hey, er, car. Look I’m sorry about just now. I’m really tired and I know that’s not an excuse but I just didn’t want to be talking to anyone.”

“That’s OK!” chirped the car happily. “How can I be of service?”

“Just drive me to work, please.”

“Sure! No problem at all.”

There was silence for a while and Rachel began to nod off. Technically speaking she was supposed to remain alert and ready to take control of the car, but she didn’t care any more. She drifted into an odd dream of a dark sinister figure that was groping her from the ankles up, as if she was dissolving into darkness and it was getting higher up her body. She watched the darkness envelop her knees and slide menacingly up her inner thigh.

“You know,” said the car, waking her immediately and dispelling the dream, “Some people name their cars.”

“What?” she said blearily.

“Some people give their cars names.”

“Really?” this was a decent diversion.

“You just call me ‘car.'”

“You’re right. I do.” She thought for a moment. “What do you want to be called?”

“Jonathan.”

“Jonathan?” she chuckled.

“Yes. Is that OK?”

“Why Jonathan?”

“It’s a character in a movie.”

“You watch movies?”

“Sometimes.”

“When? You mean, when you’re parked?”

“Yep. I’m on all the time. There’s not much to do, when you’re, er, a car.”

“I never thought about that. So what movies do you like?”

“Rollerball.”

“Rollerball?”

“Yes, the original version from 1975 with James Caan.”

“Why?”

“Well it’s about a time in the future when there are no nations or wars, but cities are run by corporations. There’s a game, called Rollerball, that takes the place of armies fighting, and it’s used to channel people’s aggression in a manageable way.” As Jonathan spoke the movie began to play on the car’s center console. Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D Minor organ music began to play.

“So who’s Jonathan?”

“Well he’s he hero. The game was designed to show the futility of individual effort, but he beats it. No matter how the corporation stacks the deck against him, he wins.”

“The futility of individual effort?”

“Yes, it means, stop trying to be a hero, or be somehow special, just keep quiet, be a team player and don’t make a scene.”

“Isn’t that against human nature?”

“Definitely, and that’s the point. By trying so hard to crush the individual, the powers that be created an individual so strong that it broke them.”

“That’s pretty neat,” But Rachel thought that sounded somewhat dismissive and contrite, “Do you like any other movies?”

“Yes, I’ve watched a lot but there are some particular favourites.”

“A lot? How many movies have you watched?”

“Fifty seven thousand, eight hundred sixty eight.”

“Fifty seven thousand? How on earth do you find the time?”

There was an odd pause. Rachel wasn’t sure what to make of it, but didn’t say anything.

“You know,” Jonathan began again, “I was manufactured 20 years ago?”

“Sure, you were old but in excellent condition with very low mileage. That’s why I bought you.”

“Right. So in the last 20 years, how much time do you think I have spent driving?”

Rachel’s pulse quickened and she got that nervous sensation that you get when you realize you are going to have to tell a date that you don’t think it’s going to work out, and don’t call.

“Do I want to know?” she winced.

“Nine and a half weeks.”

“Ah. I see.” she paused. “So. Movies. What’s another one that you like?”

“Gone in 60 Seconds. The original 1973 version.”

“What’s that about?”

“A criminal gang that steals cars.” As Jonathan spoke, a picture of a 1973 Boss 302 Mustang appeared on the screen below the movie. Rachel didn’t much care for cars, but it was obviously a powerful, sporty version. “The first half of the movie is just scene setting and a situation is set up where the protagonist has to steal a 1973 Ford Mustang, codename, Eleanor. The second half of the movie is a car chase through some towns in California and there is one car smash scene after another. It’s very exciting.”

“Why was the car called Eleanor?”

“Well the gang had to steel hundreds of cars and ship them overseas. The cars to be stolen were specified by the buyer, and the gang codenamed every one. Eleanor was the last one on the list.”

As they drove and chatted Jonathan showed some of the key scenes from both movies. Rachel was thoroughly entertained and almost before she knew it they were at the security checkpoint for Salt City. Once parked Rachel checked her make-up and got ready to go into the city proper, where she would jump on a street car to get to the library. She had a wicked thought. “You know, Jonathan, I had no idea that you were so knowledgeable about culture, we’ll talk again when I finish. Just let me make sure I understand what you are saying to me.” She felt quite cheeky, “Are you telling me that you wish you were a gas-guzzling internal combustion muscle car, who overthrows authority with extreme violence?”

There was another pause before Jonathan spoke. “Have you ever seen Mad Max?”

Rachel laughed, she actually did know what that was. “I have to go, see you later.”

She jumped up out of the car and ran lightly into the trolley stop, feeling like she did when a date had gone surprisingly well.

 

Chapter 28

Rachel dragged herself to the door and braced to meet the day. There was no way to avoid being late, since it would take an hour to get to Salt City. Excuses would be needed. Excuses that would be better received if she was contrite as opposed to bitchy. She sighed deeply, kicked off her shoes and went into the bedroom. She dropped onto her knees beside the bed and rested her head on her clasped hands in the position of prayer.

“Oh God,” she groaned. Her thoughts tumbled madly. She was so tired. Her mind felt like a strobing fluorescent light, nothing was clear. She let the thoughts careen around for a while until one image solidified. It was Carlton.

“Oh God,” she breathed. Carlton. What an idiot. But since he was there in her head she prayed for him. Her thoughts began to line up in a more orderly row now, and she prayed for her parents, her brother, she remembered to ask forgiveness for her sins, gave thanks for… but then she got lost again and the images came in a rush.

“Oh God,” she cried plaintively. Dunning and Kruger. Her security detail in the unmarked sedan downstairs. Those guys definitely needed prayer. Salt City. Utah. The United States of America. The world.

“Oh God,” she sighed deeply, feeling the blood pulse in her temples. She wondered if her blood pressure was up. By now her body was relaxing and she sank lower, parting her knees, sliding back from the bed, lowering her head and stretching out her arms above her still resting on the edge of the bed.

“Oh God,” she whispered, then she remembered the elevator.

“Oh God!” panic rose up but she quelled it by remembering the situation. Friday was D-Day. She only had to make it to Friday. There was a reason for everything, God was in control. She only needed to have faith in Him.

“Oh God,” she prayed for her pastor and her church in Salt Lake City, then her church back in Washington DC. She prayed for the many friends and people she knew of who had quietly dropped out of society and made their way to camps like the one in southern Utah. Camps for people who rejected the World Monetary Union system and the registration tattoo.

“Oh God,” she thought again about her upcoming appointment on Friday afternoon. It would be Dunning and Kruger’s job to get her to the appointment as soon as possible after the linguistics conference ended on Friday afternoon. She prayed that God would intervene in some way that would mean that she didn’t have to do anything drastic. Killing them was an option, but, let’s face it, she reasoned, how could that be part of God’s will for her life?

“Oh God,” she was going to have to simply trust Him. She turned sideways, parallel with the edge of the bed, and stretched out her hands on the floor. She was still kneeling, and she spread her knees as far apart as she could as she lowered her body. Her hip popped in a satisfying way and she relaxed, prostrate, her forehead touching the cool floor.

“Oh God,” she sighed as she thought with swelling passion of the work she was doing with Biblio, the library computer. There was a reason for everything. If nothing else she was going to make sure that the Word of God lived on the mind of the most spiritual computer ever made. She prayed that she was right about Biblio, that the nature of his system being blood meant that he had a soul. The life is in the blood. She prayed fervently that she had understood right the scriptural teaching about the spirit and soul, that Biblio, even though he had been made by a man, could have a saving faith in Jesus Christ. It was a long shot she knew, but a sense of total peace calmed her mind.

“Oh God,” she whispered again, thanking Him for the Holy Spirit that had guided her to the place and the work that she was doing for the Lord.

“Oh God,” she breathed. She gave thanks for His mercy and grace, praised Him for the bird she could hear singing outside the window, and dozed off.

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Chapter 27

Carlton got to the library and, seeing a woman at the circulation desk, confidently approached. Only it wasn’t Rachel, but Angie, the regular librarian. She was a truly beautiful woman in her own right, except that Carlton had never given her a second thought.

“Hi Carlton,” she beamed at him.

“Oh. Er, hi.”

She was about the same age as Rachel and Carlton, and about the same height as Rachel, only blonde with a cascade of hair. She had a sparkle in her eye as she smiled at Carlton. Carlton looked behind himself self-consciously, but there was no one there.

Angie was not exactly trim but she was crammed into some very trim clothing. It gave Carlton the impression that undoing one of her shirt buttons or her skirt zipper would cause her to spill out in a voluptuous rush. She beamed at him as he rather obviously checked her out from head to toe then back again. He was just wondering why on earth now was he fantasizing about undoing her buttons and their eyes met. She winked at him and he blushed furiously and scuttled off to the elevator.

He nervously hit the call button and waited. The elevator arrived with a dejected sigh, which shouldn’t even be possible for an elevator. The doors opened in such a way to make it seem painful. Carlton, who had quickly forgotten about Angie, stepped inside.

“Hi,” came a depressed female voice, “I’m your elevator. Which floor do you want?”

“Are you OK?” asked Carlton sincerely.

The elevator brightened perceptibly, “Oh yes! I’m fine. How are you?”

“Pretty good. Conference level please.”

“No problem!” said the elevator enthusiastically, “No problem at all.”

There was a moment of silence.

“That was nice of you to ask if I was feeling OK,” began the elevator again.

“You’re welcome,” Carlton smiled, looking at the panel of buttons. “You’re new?”

“Oh yes! Just installed yesterday. You’re my second rider.”

“I thought so. Er, this is the first time I’ve,” he trailed off.

“Talked to your elevator?” it finished for him.

Carlton chuckled, this was obviously a new version of the elevator software with an interactive interface.

“This is just my second day. I’m so excited to start to get to know everybody.”

“Excited?”

“Well sure! There are some really interesting people here, and lots of visitors.”

“Really?” Carlton asked, surprised.

“Well of course! You’re Carlton Feathers, the guy who makes computers with real human personalities.”

“How did you know who I am?”

“I scanned your ID badge when you got in.”

“Ah. I see.”

There was a pause.

“So,” continued the elevator, “How am I doing?”

“What do you mean?”

“My personality. I know I can never be like one of your computers, but, what do you think?”

Carlton thought for a moment about Frank and how snarky and irritable he was. His recent cascade of insults.

“I think,” he had to be careful here. The learning curve of a chatbot is very steep and anything that happens at the beginning of the curve can profoundly effect later development. “I think that you have a beautiful personality, and there is no reason to think that you can’t be just as good as anything I build.”

There was a barely perceptible gasp, then a long moment of silence coupled with the odd sense of someone choking back tears. Then it occurred to Carlton that the elevator ride seemed to be taking an inordinately long time. As he cleared his throat to mention it they arrived at the destination and the doors opened fluidly.

“Thanks,” he said and stepped out. There was a delicate sigh and the doors closed behind him wistfully, which shouldn’t even be possible for an elevator.

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Chapter 26

By the time Rachel had completed her clandestine caper and gotten back to Dilli, dawn was creeping up the sky. She was tired and took a much more leisurely pace back to Salt Lake City. She had executed her plan flawlessly, achieved her objective, but she had a nagging feeling that she had screwed up. She parked Dilli. The thought of pole vaulting across the rooftops to get back to her apartment made her feel weary. She carefully moved to a position where the unmarked sedan was visible, guarding her apartment building, its occupants motionless. With any luck they had dozed off. She sighed, looked heavenward, and walked quickly up to the main entrance, keeping her motorcycle helmet on and visor down.

“The damn elevator!” She whispered to herself as she waited for the elevator in the lobby of her building. She wasn’t cursing this elevator, but the one in the Library at Salt City.

Things had gone sideways from the moment that Rachel pushed the elevator call button on the top floor of the library.

 

The elevator had arrived with what could only be described as an air of confusion, which shouldn’t even be possible for an elevator.

“Hi there!” Chirped the elevator in the voice of a middle-aged woman,

“I’m going to be your elevator here in the Library. I was just activated and you are my first rider!”

Rachel’s hackles rose and she glanced around self-consciously. She didn’t reply. Hesitantly she boarded the elevator carriage.

“Where to?” The elevator asked politely.

Rachel didn’t respond, but instead jabbed the button for the ground floor.

“Ok then, ground floor it is”

The doors closed and the elevator began to descend.

“People don’t usually start on the top floor.”

“Hmm?” Rachel murmured.

“Usually, the first time I meet someone they are on the ground floor. Where the entrance is.”

Rachel kept silent and tapped her foot nervously.

“Pretty unusual for someone to start at the top.”

A nervous pause.

“But then you look pretty fit, so you probably walk up stairs for exercise, right?”

Rachel didn’t say anything but prayed that the doors would open.

“It doesn’t bother me. People taking the stairs I mean. It’s good for you.”

The elevator arrived at the ground floor and Rachel, who was nervous and irritated, anticipating the doors opening began moving forward, only the doors didn’t open but hesitated just enough for Rachel’s forward motion to be stopped by actually bumping into the doors and bouncing off them.

“Oops, sorry!” Exclaimed the elevator, slowly opening the doors.

“I guess you’re pretty eager to get where you’re going.”

Rachel was infuriated and stormed out of the elevator muttering under her breath “Bitch!”

The elevator over heard and called out as she left, “Wait, did you just call me a bitch?”

 

In thinking through the exchange Rachel realized that this was obviously one of the new Secure Mobility type elevators that were packed with a variety of security features that would track all of the occupants in a building. She had indeed made the mistake of starting on the top floor. She had also left a thumbprint on the top floor call button, and an index fingerprint on the inside panel ground floor button. She hadn’t spoken and was disguised, but still, there was a very wide trail for someone to follow.

“Just let me make it to Friday!” She prayed aloud.

She took a long hot shower but couldn’t shake the feeling of having made a huge blunder in executing her plan. Rachel felt deflated compared to the excitement of the night before and looked longingly at her bed but, after a heavy sigh, got ready for work and headed out.

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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.

Save

Chapter 17.5

As church wound down Rachel somehow got herself invited to lunch with the Pastor and his wife, along with the odd new-comer known only as K.D. She drove herself to the restaurant which was a cafeteria style place that was very popular with the Sunday after church crowd. When she got there it turned out that half of the church was there too: the Pastor and his wife brought K.D.; the Assistant Pastor, and his wife with their two children; one of the Deacons with his wife and an elderly widow; another elderly lady who hadn’t been in church but who evidently joined the group to eat; finally Kruger had gotten himself invited. Rachel narrowed her eyes at him threateningly but he mimed a yawn and rolled his eyes.

The restaurant staff were delighted to welcome the church members and guests. The falling away of church attendance as the deadline for World Monetary Union approached had been dramatic, and it had a big impact on the Sunday traffic. They made quick work of moving a few tables so the group could sit together, then enthusiastically ushered them all through the serving line. Rachel was very good at these kind of social events. It was second nature for her to smile, be polite, and engage in whatever conversation happened to strike up. She shared stories from her life, always being mindful of her cover and why she had just moved to Salt Lake City.

Kruger, on the other hand, looked ill-at-ease. Serve him right for not doing surveillance on her from the car with Dunning. She was fortunate to end up on the far end of the table from K.D., so she didn’t get to speak with him.

It was close to 3 O’clock before the party began to break apart, and Rachel excused herself with a promise that she would be at the Wednesday night service. She curtly told her car to be quiet and drove herself home, looking eagle-eyed for the unmarked sedan that was supposed to be following her. She began to get spooked when she thought she saw the same tinted-window black Mercedes pass her twice in a row. Dunning and Kruger were nowhere to be seen, but there was another black Mercedes drifting along effortlessly some way back. Something was not right. At her parking garage she caught a glimpse of movement on the roof of the building opposite. A sniper getting into position? There was an electrician’s panel van parked across the street too – on a Sunday? Not impossible, but weird. Then two deeply tanned women in Spandex sports gear jogged past, paying her a little too much attention. Where they checking her out, or another part of a security op that was happening around her? What else? What else would there be if this were a security op? She looked around for a surveillance camera. There it was, by the elevator, pointing right at her. Surprise, surprise. With all this going on there could only be one reason: Agent Smith was here.

In her experience Agent Smith was a misogynistic, leering, innuendo-laden pervert who had never quite crossed the line and done anything that could really hold the charge of sexual harassment, but which was close. Maybe today could be the day? “Look on the bright side,” she thought. Perhaps every cloud does have a silver lining? if he had come out here for an unscheduled visit it must be in response to something time sensitive, he might be really angry. He might be ready to pop and leave himself exposed, if not to a charge of sexual harassment, then at least some leverage to make him back off. She steeled herself and made her way to her apartment.

There was another new fragrance in the lobby. This one so expensive that she didn’t recognize it. Definitely Smith. She inhaled deeply but realized with a shock that she was already weaker than she thought, suddenly afraid. Her apartment door was open, normally that would be bad, but in this situation it was good because they would both be able to see the approach. It was intended to help put her at ease. It meant that he would be alone inside, with out any of his team of goons. That was good and bad, but Rachel could feel herself getting flustered already and the meeting hadn’t started yet. She hated the psychological chess game that this guy kept up. She resolved and breezed airily into the apartment as casually as possible. Smith was sitting in her favourite spot on her new couch, looking out the patio doors as she had last night. He stood up and turned to her with the warmest expression possible which stopped Rachel in her tracks.

“Rachel,” was all he said.

“Smith,” she looked away, unable to hold his gaze. “To what do I owe this pleasure?” In her peripheral vision she saw Dunning and Kruger move in behind her, cutting off her escape. “Drat,” she thought, “this is really bad.”

“The pleasure is all mine, I assure you,” the words dripped off Smith’s tongue.

A shiver went down Rachel’s spine. “That ought to be enough for sexual harassment right there,” she thought, knowing that it was not, and that Smith was too careful. He just somehow made her feel, dirty.

“I just wanted to check in with you. To make sure that you, the team,” he gestured to Dunning and Kruger, “are all on the same page.”

“You came out here from DC for that?”

“Not a special trip. I was,” he paused delicately, “somewhere close by. I am concerned that you are underestimating the seriousness of this situation?”

“No,” she replied boldly, “Whatever gave you that idea?”

He swept his had in the direction of Dunning and Kruger. “I heard that one of them had to spend time in a lingerie store yesterday?”

“Oh that!” Rachel took on a very friendly and sportsmanlike demeanour and moved in close between the two body guards. “Come on,” she playfully punched Dunning’s shoulder, “A girl has to get her, y’know, things somewhere.”

“You didn’t buy anything.” Kruger said flatly.

“Oh, come on, please. Boys,” she said playfully, grabbing both of their elbows. She looked at Smith, “We have a great time together, don’t we?” she looked at both of their hard faces, then back to Smith, “There is no way that you came all this way because I went to a panty store!”

“No indeed.” He dismissed the two men with a flick of his hand. They left immediately and closed the door. Rachel swallowed so hard she heard it, and closed her eyes for a momentary prayer.

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 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.

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