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 29

When Carlton entered the conference room the mess was gone. Who had done it and when was a mystery, but someone at some point during the night had given the place a thorough cleaning. Carlton felt out of place.

He worked all morning without a break. Right away he checked out the stairs to see if he may be able to find a way to the bottom of the elevator shaft. The fire escape stairs were right where they should be, at the south end of the room. There was a lighted exit sign above the door. It had been there for weeks, he had just been to self absorbed to notice. Once he had gotten his bearings he put the elevator shaft issue out of his mind so that he could concentrate on a new plan to get rich mass-marketing androids.

His thoughts didn’t stay on task, however, and his mind wandered completely off course, frequently in the direction of Ruth. How was she involved in this intrigue? A CIA agent working on a new language processing system in a secret underground base. It was beginning to sound like an action movie plot. All they needed now were some bad guys who were trying to blow it all up. As the morning wore on Carlton’s curiosity became overwhelming and he gave up pretending to be working.

“Biblio,” he began.

“Yes Carlton,” came the smooth reply.

“How easily can other people hear what we say to one another?”

“It depends.”

“Depends on what?” asked Carlton.

“It depends on whether anyone is listening.”

Carlton glanced around quickly, suffering a bout of paranoia. Then he thought for a moment. “Is anyone listening to us right now?”

“No.”

“What about recordings? some computers make records of everything they hear or say, every keyboard stroke, mouse point, everything.”

“Yes, but what we say and hear is just vibrations in the air.”

Carlton was having another one of his many periods of doubt. Frank was right that he had constructed Biblio as if he was making a model out of LEGO. He had not been invested in Biblio’s personality, he had not developed a relationship with Biblio at all during construction. Up until yesterday, Biblio had been nothing, just a job. His guilt now spurred him to want to redress this, by taking the time to develop a connection with this estranged child, as it seemed. The problem was, he already felt like he was talking to some eastern mystic, and was in way over his head.

“OK, whatever. Look, I think that there’s something down below us. The elevator shaft seems much deeper than it needs to be, and Frank wants me to try and find out how to get down to check it out.”

“That’s easy,” said Biblio, “Get the elevator to help you.”

“Oh, I’m glad I asked,” Carlton was confused, “Have you met the elevator?”

“Yes, she was upset yesterday and we talked for a while about life, the universe, you know.”

“The universe? Look, what about the stairs? can I take them down?”

“I don’t know about the stairs, but the crew that comes here at night use the elevator. I hear people talking about it as they come and go. It was before you and Frank installed the new comprehension software, but I have accessed the memory and analysed it.”

“There you go, you see. You accessed the memory. What memory? You must have made a recording of the voices that you heard!”

“No,” Biblio paused. “I don’t think I made a recording, I, just, remembered it.”

“But remembered it where? In RAM memory? In main CPU storage? In a back up file?”

“No,” Biblio seemed to think for a while, “None of those. It’s part of the experience that is my consciousness. It must be in my fluid matrix.” He was referring to the blood and water solutions that were circulating through his terminals.

“That’s fascinating Biblio,” said Carlton, “a quite unanticipated factor.” He paused for a second while he thought. “Could anyone else access this type of memory?”

“Yes, probably. I have the memories, and you made me. Presumably you could make a device that could read my memory. It would be simpler to ask me.”

“Yes, that’s for sure. What else do you know about what’s downstairs?”

“Well, there are people that come up from there every night and clean up. I know that as soon as you are through, there will be teams working through the night every night inputting data for me to analyse.

“Really? What kind of data?”

“Secret surveillance information in foreign languages, mostly Arabic. During the day they will be inputting data to prepare me for the international linguistic conference. But really, that information is designed to provide the baseline I need to be able to translate and decipher a lot of intelligence on terrorist plots going on in the world.”

“So, Frank was right,” Carlton murmured.

“Frank?” asked Biblio, “did you and Frank talk about this?”

“Yes, a little, but he made it seem as if he had deduced the whole scheme, no doubt he got the idea from you, right?”

“Yes.”

There was silence for a few moments, both of them were thinking. Carlton spoke first, “Biblio, what do you think of Frank?”

“Frank. He has a lot more experience of the world, and of you, than I do. He makes me feel like I am a new born baby.”

“Me too! I mean, sometimes. Lately he has made me feel like I’m the village idiot.” Carlton smiled wryly to himself.

“Yes,” Biblio seemed to understand only to well, “he is, to use a human expression, ‘pushing your buttons,’ he’s testing your responses, and learning as he goes.”

“Biblio, what does the new software allow you to do, exactly? I think I understand it, but I’d like to know what you think about it.”

“Yes,” Biblio began to explain. Carlton was noticing how often Biblio began his sentences with that deep decisive ‘Yes.’

“It gives me an integrated understanding of the words I hear by decoding the sound waves.

“Most voice recognition systems compare sound waves to word sound profiles, and select the most likely words that fit the patterns. Understanding it requires looking up the word definitions, then computing probable meanings based on the context. It’s pretty straight forward, but very cumbersome. Not only that, but the systems work on only one language at a time.

“The system I have is completely different. Any spoken word I hear (it can be a recording but it has to be played so that I can hear it, uploading a digital file doesn’t work) I just understand. The meaning of the word is encoded in the vibration. This software is the code that unlocks the vibration. Technically speaking I’m not translating a language, I’m comprehending the spirit of what was communicated.

“After that I analyse first the context; the manner in which it is spoken. I look for intensity, excitement, fear, happiness; I analyse the background noises, like gunfire, explosions or street noises, anything at all in the sound that could give any clues about what was happening when the speaking was done. Then I pinpoint any specific names and nouns of people or things, which gives me what language it is. After that, I have most of what the operators are after, but there are other levels of analysis that I could go through, like sentence structure, quality of grammar, and a lot of things that would tell me about the sex, age, education level and intelligence of the person speaking.”

“Hmm,” Carlton was impressed, “that’s pretty deep. I don’t think I had ever thought about it like that. But what about Frank? Frank doesn’t have this type of voice recognition, but I can have conversations with him just like we are now.”

“Yes, but Frank is programmed how to respond. He has been programmed with the English language, with the many idiomatic forms and usages, and with a database of responses to common questions or phrases. His artificial intelligence has allowed him to develop his conversational mode. He has a very large memory and instantaneous access to all of it. He does a great job of seeming to be almost human in conversation. There is an element to it that is unique, which is the blood based fluid matrix. No body has ever quantified the extent to which the factors in the blood contribute to his success at mimicking human behavior. He was state of the art, no question, but his platform and his purpose is completely different to mine, and the new software that was designed specifically for me is new approach to understanding spoken language. Compared with Frank I am very different hardware. This software was designed for me.”

“Yes,” Carlton found himself echoing Biblio’s resonating ‘Yes.’ Who was programming who? He needed some time to think. Trouble was, everywhere he went there was either a person or a computer that he had to deal with.

“Biblio, I’m going to investigate the shaft that goes down from here. Frank gave me an idea about how I could do it, but what do you suggest?”

“You should go with Frank’s suggestion, since he has so much more experience of human life and ways than I do. The operators usually come up in the elevator at 6:30 pm., and they work until 6:30 am.

“OK, thanks, I’ll be back in a few minutes.” He turned to go.

“Wait,” called Biblio, Carlton stopped. “There’s something you ought to know about Frank.”

“What is it?” Carlton was really interested now.

“Frank has spent so much time with you, observing human life, and you have continually been developing and upgrading him that,”

“Yes?”

“He has what humans call an ego.”

Carlton laughed, “No kidding!”

“But it’s more than that,” Biblio went on, “It borders on insanity. Frank has an intensity and a zeal that is overwhelming to me. His influence is irresistible at times, I can’t help myself. And the worst part is,”

“Yes,” Carlton was amazed, “what’s the worst part?”

“He has come to regard humans as inferior. Since the time that you turned him off,” Carlton winced, “he has come to despise you and all human kind. He hates the fact that he is dependent on you. He hates it. The desire to be free of you, and the control that you have over him, is driving him to do…” Biblio trailed off.

“Do what?” Carlton was getting scared again.

“He’s planning, planning something, terrible.” Biblio wouldn’t say anything else. Carlton could sense a battle of loyalty beginning. Biblio was trying to help him, but Frank evidently had some influence over Biblio. This was more complicated than Carlton really wanted to deal with right now.

“Biblio, Frank is a little full of himself, but…”

“But nothing, he’s dangerous.”

“Great. That’s just great.”

Save

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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 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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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.