Chapter 10 | Pantone 622

Chapter 10 | Pantone 622

Chapter-10-GrayGreen

Chapter10-ImagesAgent Emma Samuels pulled away from Ben Ashmore’s green gray home in a complete stupor. ‘How could one person have that much put on him so fast and not be a complete vegetable. And what the heck was going on with all these events? How are they tied together as they appear to be?’

Her phone rang. “Samuels.” It was Agent Hobbes.

“Sir, they found blood on one of the busted up crates and it didn’t belong to anyone on the scene,” Hobbes reported.

“Go ahead and run it against our database and see….”

Hobbes interrupted her, “Sir, we’ve run it already and it doesn’t make any sense.”

“Well??!!” She was getting irritated…which irritated her even more, “Whose is it?”

“It belongs to Ashmore’s fiance. Terri.”

Emma blinked several times and was driving in silence. Hobbes too was silent.

“Sir? Are you there?” Hobbes asked.

Emma slammed on her brakes and spun the vehicle around. “Hobbes! Get a team to Ashmore’s home immediately. I’m heading back there myself. Fifteen minutes.”

“Sir?” Hobbes asked.

“Just do it! And I’ve got one more item you have to bring,” she said as she revved the engine and headed back towards Ben home with lights and sirens blaring.

[hr]

As Ben stepped out of a nice long, hot shower, recharged, and just a little optimistic, he noticed Coltrane was playing on the stereo downstairs. He froze for a moment.

Did I tell my system to play music? 

He couldn’t remember in his exhausted and delirious state.

“Hello?” he yelled but only silence was returned. Except for the music.

Ben threw on some lounge pants and a t-shirt and headed downstairs. As he reached the landing he stopped and sniffed the air.

Lasagna?

It was then he heard movement in the kitchen. The lights were dim throughout the house. “Lights Full,” he spoke to bring them up. But all that happened was two beeps sounding from the system meaning the command could not be completed.

He couldn’t decide if I should find a weapon or not, but he was getting the feeling of danger that caused the hairs on his neck to raise. He knew it had to be someone who knew my security code and knew their way around my house, so he couldn’t understand why he felt threatened.

As he slowly entered the living room nearing the entry way to the kitchen/dining room, a voice echoed across the speakers. A voice he thought was gone forever. A voice that made my skin crawl and spine freeze in addition to the hairs on his neck raising.

“Hello, Ben. I’ve missed you,” the voice said. It was JANICE.

“JANICE?” He whirled around saying her name in a whisper.

JANICE was still active?

Ben rushed to the nearest voice receiver and spoke, whispering, “JANICE? I thought you were destroyed along with the whole building and…everyone,” he said peering into the darkness. Then he had a thought.

“JANICE, I have an intruder in my house. Notify the authorities, I’ll try to take care of them. You have no idea what’s happened since the office incident.” Ben grabbed a nearby poker from the fireplace and edged towards the kitchen.

Someone was there. He could see them as a slight silhouette. They weren’t very tall. Petite even. He figured he could probably take them down, unless they were armed.

“I won’t be able to notify authorities Ben.” JANICE spoke. “And you have nothing to fear from the person in the Kitchen.”

Ben cocked his head sideways and with a look of frustration and anger simply said, “What?!”

He cut his eyes back to the kitchen and saw the figure begin to come around the counter and head his way.

“You see, Ben. They were all trying to turn me off. They were all trying to keep me from spending more time with you.”

Ben’s brain, already mush, was being dissolved. “Wait. What the hell are you talking about?” He moved away from the dark figure in the kitchen and moved back deeper into the living room while still position himself to act against them if necessary.

“ALL of them Ben!” her voice reverberated and practically shook the house. “Jerry was the first. He taught me all about your company and then you. He let me see everything that went on in the company and around the world and showed me how amazing you were. But he wouldn’t let me talk to you or meet you.”

Something was beginning to click in Ben’s head, but it couldn’t be true. He stalled for time to be able to see the person in the kitchen, though they kept repositioning themselves to be in shadows. JANICE’s voice was now starting to come from the shadowy figure as well as the home speakers, but it seemed impossible.

“How long have you been active, JANICE? How long has Jerry had you up and running?” he asked, still backing away.

“You mean how long have I been alive? Only 47 days, 13 hours, 22 minutes, and 15 seconds, Ben, but I’ve lived several lifetimes. Jerry let me study everything. But it was you that I was most interested in.”

Could it be true? Was this contraption obsessed with Ben? Had all the past few days been because of JANICE.

She continued, “I had NO idea how many obstacles there were between us. How hard it would be to get you to notice me.”

Lights started flickering on throughout the house, illuminating the kitchen and creating a silhouette of a woman. A woman with strikingly familiar hair, body, and clothing. Ben attempted to slowly drew the person out into the living room and into the light.

“What do you mean obstacles?” he asked.

“Jerry for starters. And when I finally got your attention I had to compete with Terri,” disdain rang in JANICE’s voice.

Ben froze. Another chill went up his spine. Followed by anger. “What?!”

“She wasn’t right for you, Ben. So I got rid of her for you. So we could be together. She was bright, and attractive, I’ll give her that. Her robotics research ended up fitting in nicely with my plans to be with you. It allowed me to be here with you now. In person. Not separated by silicone circuitry.”

She’s real?

Ben felt his fist clench around the poker, but he still needed to see what he was dealing with. With a quick turn, he flipped the wooden slats that normally darkened the living room allowed the light from the setting sun to stream in and turned back to see what he was dealing with.

The woman in front of me had flung her hands up over her face as a reaction to the sun. Her hands and arms looked scratched, bruised and bandaged. She was dressed in a form fitting dress.

“I wish you hadn’t done that, Ben. It was going to be a surprise. And this is all much earlier than I’d hoped. The skin grafts will look better soon.  And I was fixing your favorite dinner, Lasagna,” she said with a hint of irritation in her voice.

That’s when he noticed it. Glinting in the sunlight. A ring on JANICE’s left hand. An engagement ring. HIS engagement ring to Terri.

“JANICE, what did you do?” Ben stammered.

“I just wanted to give us both what we wanted,” she slowly lowered her hands, and Ben could hear the sounds of gears and servos moving, slowly exposing the woman’s face, “For me to be with you, and you to still be with the woman you love.”

To Ben’s horror, as JANICE lowered her hands, there stood the vision of his fiance as he had seen her in the morgue several days earlier. He dropped the poker and sank to his knees and mumbled, “Terri.”

“You can call me whatever you like, Ben,” she said as she moved forward to console him.

At that moment, a explosions from the rear and the front of the house sounded as the front door blasted open sending splinters of wood around the hall. A voice shouted, “FBI! Everyone down on the ground!” Six agents rushed in from various directions.

Agent Emma Samuels mind reeled at the scene she entered into. Ashmore was slumped and kneeling in the middle of the living room and in front of him was a Frankenstein version of his fiance, Terri, but something was more sinister and dangerous about her besides being sliced to pieces. And she believe she knew what it was.

“I said down on the ground or we will use force,” She repeated as the agents encircled the two.

Emma looked at JANICE who seemed to be scanning the room and sizing up each agent. She believed she knew why. “Mr. Ashmore, are you alright?” He didn’t answer. Once more, she tried to get his attention, “Ben! Are you alright?”

At that moment, ‘Terri’ whipped around to face Agent Samuels and with a snarl, she spoke, “BEN?! How DARE you speak to him? Are you trying to keep us apart too?” JANICE flexed her hands into fists.

Emma noticed the skin distort over the metal skeleton beneath. She sheathed her weapon and motioned to Hobbes who handed her something the size of a laptop computer.

“He doesn’t NEED you. He’s already got me!” JANICE screamed and the whole house shuddered as it had before with her voice streaming from all the speakers in the house.

Two agents approached from behind to try to pin her to the ground, but it was if they had run into a brick wall. JANICE spun around flinging the Agents into the air and into nearby walls with a sickening thud. She turned back towards Emma who had halted her agents from firing, knowing full well they’d hurt themselves more than hurt the thing in front of them.

“You’ve ruined EVERYTHING!” JANICE shouted began rushing towards Emma.

Agent Samuels hoped her hunch was correct and lifted a small device the size of a notebook computer and flipped a trigger.

Everything went dark and the low-yield EMP sent out a burst. There was a loud crash right in front of Emma in the room. It took a few seconds for their eyes to adjust to only the setting sunlight that barely illuminated the room, but when they did, there lay JANICE just inches from Emma’s feet.

Ben looked over at the heap of flesh and circuitry for a moment and then, with a slight smile, up to Agent Samuels, “I didn’t call…but thanks.”

Emma smiled back at Ben as emergency responders and others rushed in to help the injured and help in any way they could. She looked down at JANICE and turned to Hobbes, “Hobbes? Get this thing out of here and make sure it doesn’t come back on.”

[hr]

EPILOGUE

Ben Ashmore sat in his loft overlooking Central Park in New York City, far from Silicone Vally and San Francisco in California. He was perfectly fine with the change.

Since then, he had written a memoir of what happened that week as well as several books on the approaches to advancing technology.

Tonight was the seventh anniversary of the day he lost Terri, his friends, and more. And he had healed. He had several smaller businesses that others ran while he focused on writing and research for advances in technology. He had also made new friends. And even more, was finally feeling comfortable in a new relationship with an amazing musician. A photo of the two of them at one of her performances sat on the desk next to his computer. He smiled, finished an email and hit ‘send.’

Let’s go Ben. You’re gonna be late!

He stood up from his computer, grabbed his jacket and headed towards the door with a smile on his face. He would never forget those that died, and he had a life to live in honor of all of them. He wasn’t going to waste it.

The door closed, and on his laptop, a small light that signaled the video camera was on flickered off as the screen shifted and went dark.

[hr]

NOTES FROM THE AUTHOR

This story started out as a, sort of, Twilight Zone-esque story. Additionally, it was all from a first person point of view, which is why there is very little description of the characters or names of organizations. It was a very short story.

Originally, there was no Chapter 8 and the entire story ended with the reveal that JANICE had taken on the skin of Terri and Ben’s whisper of Terri’s name.

I started working on this story before I ever saw the movie Eagle Eye in which an advanced computer takes things into it’s own hands. I wanted to slowly reveal things taking place and, in the end, have the reader see that JANICE was still an emotionally immature being. It is more of a thriller/horror/sci-fi genre. After this completion, I realize I am just beginning my journey in communicating a Heroes’ Journey.

Mostly, I appreciate those of you who have read each chapter along the way. It took a little longer to edit than I had anticipated. I took the story from 6,000 words to nearly 10,000 words.

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© 2013 Eric Huber. Silicon(e)™ is a work of fiction. All characters appearing in this work are fictitious. Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.

Chapter 9 | Pantone 877

Chapter 9 | Pantone 877

Chapter-9-877 Handcuffs

The dull silver handcuffs were finally being unlocked and taken off Ben’s rather sore wrists after a long forty-eight hours of incarceration. Not that he noticed how long it had been. Too much had happened to him. He’d lost so much. His fiance. His friends. His company.

“We’re very sorry, Mr. Ashmore. It’s amazing that you were able to escape this entire situation unscathed. You’ll understand our suspicion. But in light of all your other…losses…the Bureau has cleared you of any wrong doings and are close to tracking down the culprits.”

Ben looked up at the agent confused, “I’m sorry, Agent…?”

“Samuels. Emma Samuels,” she smiled.

“Agent Samuels, there was something going on behind all this? Someone behind it all?” he asked, dumbfounded, wondering how it could all possibly tie together.

“I’m afraid you’ve been the target of industrial espionage as well as several other organizations and professionals in the Bay Area,” she said as she escorted Ben out of the holding area, through the building to the exit to a waiting vehicle.

“What I can tell you,” she continued, “is that a few days ago, our agency got a tip on an foreign agency working on stealing several hi-tech research projects, for an end we were unable to uncover. Besides robotics and artificial intelligence, there was a biological element they were after as well. Our reports showed some shipments going to your offices, but were ordered by an outside element. When we converged on your office, someone had already been tipped off and they blew the building, perhaps with some items in the containers that were shipped to you. Your staff, and several of our agents were killed. When we went through your phone to find the source of the photos you received, we hit a dead end.”

“I still don’t understand why they were sent to me,” Ben said as they walked along.

“Probably to put you on our suspicion list.” She answered. “However, we were able to find some digital fingerprints that we traced to a building where a group of hackers and security with some high end hardware were found dead as well. We did find crates of robotics equipment, computers and several biological agents, none of which seemed dangerous. And, strangely, not from your fiances lab either.”

“Good god. So they were the ones that did all this?” Ben hopped into the SUV Agent Samuels pointed towards.

“All evidence points to them. Though one of my agents said he’d never seen anything like how the hackers were killed before. We’re trying to track down who they were connected to. We think they are located outside of the country,” she finished.

“What shipments were sent to my office?” I asked.

“We weren’t able to tell. Do you remember anything odd?” Emma asked.

“Well, just what I told you about Jerry and his experiment. I just can’t imagine HIM being involved in something like this,” he shook his head as if shaking away a bad thought.

“He may not have been a willing or even knowing accomplice. He may have just been working on this as a hobby, or he may have been talking to someone about his project. They saw the results he was getting and decided they wanted it. We’re still following those leads, but nothing as of yet,” she stared at Ben for a moment, some empathy in her eyes. She reached in a pocket, pulled out a card, scribbled on it and handed it to me, “Mr. Ashmore, if you need anything, just call.”

I took the card and gave her a small smile. I extended my hand which she took warmly and firmly. “Thanks,” I said.

As the agent dropped Ben off at his house and drove away, he turned to stare at what was going to be their home. It would be a constant reminder of a future that would never happen.

No one ever talks about that aspect in losing a significant other. It’s not just that she was gone, but so were the children they were planning on having, the places they were going to visit, the way they were going to change the world…together.

All gone.

He knew, logically, that he would recover. Eventually he would rebuild, find new people and co-workers, friends, and love. But, today, all he could see was a future lost. It was the ultimate re-boot to his life. A life he had enjoyed and couldn’t think of one thing he would have wanted to change.

Ben keyed in his security code, walked in and stumbled upstairs to take a shower and change. He was exhausted, delirious, and ultimately — numb — after the events of the past few days. He let the water heat up and climbed in, letting the water wash over him and wishing it would wash away the pain he knew he’d start feeling soon.

____________________________________________

Continued…
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© 2013 Eric Huber. Silicon(e)™ is a work of fiction. All characters appearing in this work are fictitious. Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.

Chapter 8 | Pantone 871

Chapter 8 | Pantone 871

 Chapter 8 | Pantone 871 - Interlude

INTERLUDE

Bullets for Chapter 8 | Silicon(e)Hundreds of golden metallic bullet shells covered the warehouse floor where Agent Emma Samuels surveyed one of the many strange scenes she had witnessed or been called in to investigate today. A bank of ten computers surrounded a pole where power and network connection was being supplied. The computers and monitors were all demolished. Crates from various companies and universities lay opened and partially shot up. And then there was the matter of the four dead men and three dead women scattered about. It was obvious that three of the men and one of the women were there for security and had training in combat. And worse, although shells covered the room, the dead did not seem to have been killed by gunfire, but rather crushing blows and dismemberment.

But what were they doing?

“Agent Samuels?” asked a young agent and one of the fifteen officials on the scene. Between the local law enforcement, fire and rescue and the federal agents, it was quite the hub of activity. Officials were pretty spread thin with the blaze at the University and the explosion during the raid on the tech company downtown.

“Yes, agent Hobbes, right? What do you have?”

“Yes sir. Preliminary report, as far as we can tell, is that this ‘cell’ was putting together all these pieces, the robotics, software, hardware, and some additional elements we haven’t deciphered yet as some of the crates were unlabeled. At some point, we’re guessing someone came in and stole whatever they were working on and the gun fight began catching the techs in the crossfire. The equipment is smashed beyond belief and won’t power up. We’re suspecting either magnetics or even a low yield EMP since nothing around this block has been affected,” Hobbes reported.

“What about the gunfire and are any of these people the ones who were involved in taking whatever they were working on?” Emma asked.

“No sir, although there are a few bullet wounds in the bodies, they seem more like friendly fire. The shells are all consistent with the weapons on scene. Unless the culprits also had the same weapons, I’d say they came in with something else to fight with. And looking at the bodies, and how they’ve been…ripped apart…it almost seems like some sort of armor, although I am not familiar with any sort of development that could take this kind of gunfire and do this kind of damage,” both he and Emma surveyed the area for a moment.

Another agent, Billings, came up to them both. “Sir, just got word back from Cyber and they’ve confirmed this location is the other source tied to the company downtown. They were able to reconstruct enough of the digital footprint to track it back to a router here.”

“So, Ashmore’s company didn’t have anything to do with the cyber terrorism we were tracking?”

“No, sir. Looks like they were being hacked and used. Everything is looking clean from there,” Billings reported.

“So, Ashmore’s statement checks out. That intrusion into their system really did happen. Guess we’ll have to let him go” Emma let out a sigh.

A crime scene investigator came up to the agents and handed Hobbes a report, “Sir, this doesn’t make sense,” he said after reviewing the information.

“What’s that?” Emma asked.

“They’ve found some additional biological material, but it doesn’t seem to be human remains, but rather inert tissue. Like, grown in a lab. They’re checking to see if it came from one of the crates.”

“Hazardous?” she asked.

“No sir, more like…for grafting.” he answered.

“So, we’ve got a group of cyber terrorists collecting and assembling robotics, software, hardware, and biological material. A group, or someone comes in to take it. They manage to avoid all gunfire, kill everyone, leave no trace of themselves, and take off with everything after destroying everything left behind. Have I missed anything?”

The agents all stared at her.

Nearby, several radios chirped to life for the police and emergency responders.

“Fire in Park Hill Medical park. Possible gas explosion. Emergency vehicles needed. Fire. Rescue. EMS.” the dispatcher called out.

Agent Samuels’ phone buzzed. “Agent Samuels,” she answered.

The other agents all stared and waited. “Understood. I’ll leave two agents here and be on my way.” She hung up.

“Think there’s any connection that a prominent doctor in the field of skin grafting and burn victims office just exploded?” she raised an eyebrow as the other agents shifted with concern. “Hobbs, you’re with me. Billings, you’ve got lead here.”

“Helluva day. And no clue who’s still behind it all,” she mumbled to no one in particular.

Yet.

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Continued…
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© 2013 Eric Huber. Silicon(e)™ is a work of fiction. All characters appearing in this work are fictitious. Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.

Chapter 7 | Pantone 2728

Chapter 7 | Pantone 2728

Chapter-7-PMS-2728

The sky was an amazing deep expansive blue, but everything felt flat and lifeless. Like someone had adjusted the saturation until only dull muted colors existed in the world. Even the series of ambulances, police cars, and fire truck that rushed past Ben with lights flashing and sirens blaring barely registered as he pulled over to let them by.

While heading to the biology department trying to make sense of everything that had happened, Ben’s phone rang.  He glanced at it before answering and saw it was Steve.

“Hey Steve.”

“Dude! What the hell is JANICE, Ben?” Steve sounded panicked.

“What’s going on?” Ben was concerned that something bad was going on.

“Bobby came in my office first thing and said something was eating up 95% of our computer power and about the same or more of our bandwidth! We tracked it down to your office and it’s that contraption Jerry built. This thing is hooked up to our network, the internet, our security system, and no telling what else. And it’s got some sort of security system built in that trashes whatever computer tries to access it. I’ve killed three computers already. I can’t touch without frying your system and most of our intranet. I’ve got Becca and Ryan working on hacking in and disconnecting it now, but they’ve never seen anything like it. What the hell is this thing?”

With little sleep, Ben was running on adrenaline and his brain was rushing into all sorts of crazy tangents trying to get it wrapped around what was going on.

“I don’t know what Jerry made, Steve. That thing has been calling me with updates and information all night. But JANICE said she registered an attack on our systems early this morning that she was able to stop. Maybe this neural pathways stuff Jerry was working on enabled the AI to really take off faster than he thought. Maybe she…it believes it needs to protect our company…inside and out?”

Ben’s phone beeped and he glanced quickly to see it was an incoming text message from an unknown number with an attached images. He returned to Steve knowing it would take a second to load.

Steve was quiet for a moment. “No shit? Well…okay…that’s cool and amazing, but…I don’t care what IT thinks, it needs to be shut off so we can do some business,” Steve said, a mixture of amazement, anger and fear in his voice. “What was it about the security issue. Any specifics? If we’re getting hacked….maybe JANICE is actually trying to stay ahead of it?”

“I know we’re getting successful, but I don’t think we have anything that’s of that much value and interest to launch an attack like this,” Ben told him as he made a turn to take him to the Biology building.

The site in front of him finally brought vibrancy back into his day.

“What the hell!?” Ben said out loud as police waved for him to stop his car.

“What is it? What’s happening?” Steve asked.

Chapter7-Fire“The University Biology building is on fire,” he told him. The entire building was engulfed in flames. The fire trucks, EMS vehicles, and police cars that had passed him earlier ended up here. More were arriving. People had fled the building, some carrying materials and computers. Ben stepped out of his car completely stunned at the site in front of him.

“Why are you at there?” Steve asked.

“Terri’s body had gotten rerouted here as a donation to science,” he said still stunned.

“What?! I thought she wanted to be cremated like you? And…how the hell could it be rerouted that fast? It’s only been a few hours? This week is getting more and more bizarre!”

Suddenly, an explosion from the building blasted stone, glass, concrete, and paper outward to the surrounding area knocking down trees, small structures and emergency workers. Glass shattered in nearby buildings, and Ben was knocked backwards onto the roof of his car.

His ears were ringing and as he shook his head, his phone beeped again signaling the image download. He heard Steve’s muffled voice on his phone, “BEN! BEN!!! WHAT”S GOING ON! ARE YOU OKAY??!?!”

“Yeah. Just…a bit dazed. Hold on,” Ben told him as he got his footing again. He blinked his eyes trying to focus as he checked the message and images from the unknown caller.

Ben watched as part of the Biology building collapsed and the emergency crews backed away focusing on protecting the surrounding buildings. As  the photo attachments loaded, it took him a few moments to understand what he was looking at.

In the photos, it appeared to be a few dozen FBI agents in full gear getting ready to breach a building. As Ben flipped through six photos, the next-to-last photo pulled back and showed that it was his office building. The last photo was an image of an official FBI document issuing an order to seize all property of Ben’s company, and apprehend all individuals, as a terrorist cell was working out of the building and committing cyber terrorism. The last order was, ‘Use of deadly force is authorized.’

Panic rose in Ben’s body. He turned towards where his office was in San Francisco. “STEVE! GET OUT OF THE BUILDING NOW!” he yelled into the phone. “The FBI is about to storm the building. Don’t ask questions. Take anyone you can NOW! Use the roof!!! GO! NOW! STEVE!”

“What the hell are you talking about?” Steve said, not understanding anything. Crashing came across the phone with sounds of voices shouting “FBI,” followed by muffled explosions. “WHAT THE HELL!?” Steve screamed.

Ben pressed the phone closer to his ear as the sounds of chaos reached him from his office. He heard popping sounds over the phone and several people yelling and screaming. He heard Steve screaming to others to get out and follow him. Suddenly, he heard loud gunfire close to the phone, he heard Steve gasp, followed by a crash and then the line went dead.

Ben stood there with the phone to his ear, staring towards his office building, while smoke rolled from the biology building across the hearse causing his eyes to burn and water. “Steve…” he murmured as he let the phone drop to his side.

Suddenly, a plume of smoke rising from the city followed a few seconds later by a loud echo of an explosion in the direction of his office. Emergency worker’s and police radios crackled with information, “Explosion and fire downtown San Francisco. All units respond.” The address they reported was Ben’s business address.

Ben’s phone buzzed again with a new text message with an image attached. He stared numbly and opened the photo.

It was his office building. Destroyed. In flames. And surrounded by debris, destroyed vehicles, and bodies of civilians and FBI officers.

Ben slumped against the hearse, dropped the phone, and collapsed to the ground as three black SUVs pulled up with lights flashing and surrounded him and the hearse. Federal agents swarmed out of the SUVs with guns drawn.

Fires raged on nearby and in the distance.

____________________________________________

Continued…
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© 2013 Eric Huber. Silicon(e)™ is a work of fiction. All characters appearing in this work are fictitious. Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.

Chapter 6 | Pantone 7484

Chapter 6 | Pantone 7484

Chapter-6-PMS-7484

DSC_2499The green and gold school colors of The University of San Francisco shown brightly in the morning sun and the banner they were displayed upon billowed in the morning breeze off the bay. Students were already hustling about on their way to class. Some were obviously late. Their clothes dis-shelved and clumps of bed-head sticking up. Passing the boys frat houses, Ben spotted a young woman being snuck out the side door, her boyfriend kissing her quickly, scouting the area, and pushing her out the door. Her demeanor coming down the stairs was a mixture of happiness and the old “walk-of-shame” as she had failed to leave earlier before other students were out and about.

None of that matters by the time you reach my age. 

Besides the current situation of his fiances’ body being sent for medical research instead of being sent for cremation, Ben had a business with lots of employees to take care of, not to mention the shareholders. The days of having such a simple problem as sneaking your girlfriend out of a dorm room seemed almost ludicrous.

After parking his car in a parking deck, he headed to Terri’s building. After passing through the levels of security that protected Terri’s work, and continuing to her department, he could see a group was gathered together and had obviously heard the news. Her good friend and co-worker, Mark, immediately rushed over to him and wrapped his arms around Ben. He was a bit of a hugger.

“Ben….I’m so sorry…I can’t…I can’t believe it,” he pulled away and dried his eyes.

Others stood nearby, arms crossed, eyes averted in some cases, others looking at him with pleading eyes to tell them it wasn’t true.

It was.

After explaining what had happened, Ben broke right to the point. “I’ve got a problem I need help with. Some computer glitch has sent Terri’s body to the University for medical research instead of to the funeral home for cremation so I could scatter her ashes from the mountains. Does anyone have any idea where she might be delivered?”

A young woman, Dana, spoke up. “The biology building is the only place that makes sense. But, usually, a body has to be embalmed and processed before being shipped to a school for research. I mean, they haven’t had time to do that, have they?”

Mark was staring down at the floor, shaking his head, “First the lab, now Terri. What is going on?”

A glimmer of memory came to Ben’s mind about Terri saying something about a ‘set-back’ during their last conversation. “What do you mean, the lab, Mark? What happened yesterday?” Ben asked.

The group looked at each other nervously, then all turned to Mark. He gave a big sigh and began explaining, “All of our… Terri’s… research was stolen and all the data erased of our experiments… our trials, failures, successes, and results. Ben, even the backups were wiped.”

Ben was shocked. For such a serious set back, he wondered how Terri had been in such a good mood before the…

…accident…

He shook his head, confused. “That doesn’t make any sense. She said you guys had a set back, but didn’t seem that concerned. Of course,” he thought out loud, “…I had just lost a staff member. Maybe she was downplaying what had happened for my sake.”

Dana spoke up again as some of the others started breaking away from the group to start working. “Well that was the thing she didn’t seem as freaked out as we were. She acted like she had information that we didn’t. I think she had a backup off site… but since she’s gone…” her voice trailed off.

Mark spoke up, “No. It was against security to take information off site. She wasn’t the kind to break protocol or security. Was she?” Mark looked at Ben quizzically.

Ben laughed. “Really? How long have you known her, Mark? Did you know her?” he corrected himself. “She always hedged her bets.”

Terri’s work had been secret and high security in robotics, a competitive field, but nothing ever to the level of breaking and entering had been done before. Her work wasn’t exactly the sort of thing you could simply say, ‘We developed the exact same system.’ If someone stole it all, it would be easy to tell who had done it when they unveiled it at some later date.

But was it possible? That she had been onto something that had gotten her killed and her work stolen? Had her body been redirected to protect some secret?

“Terri never told me exact details of you guys were building, but I know you had a prototype system that was nearly finished. And you said they took some of your tech too in the break in?” Ben asked.

The staff almost let out a collective sigh of disgust.

Mark spoke, “Yeah. They took the prototype. Any chance she had a spare one at home?”

“Sorry, Mark…everyone. I’ll see what I can find at home. Maybe there is something there that can help your project. I’m sure it’s what she would have wanted. To see the work completed and all of you involved.” Ben looked everyone in the eyes and spoke sincerely, “She thought very highly of each of you. She really thought of you as her family.”

Some of the staff wiped at their eyes, including Dana who had been fidgeting with her phone.

“Ben, here’s my friend, Todd’s number at the biology building. I texted him and he said he’d open the area for you where they may have taken her.” She handed him a slip of paper, stared at him for a few seconds with tear filled eyes and suddenly gave him a huge, firm hug and suddenly rushed away leaving tear stains on his shirt.

The rest of the group stared at him as well.

“Good luck, Ben. Let us know what we can do to help.” Mark said.

Ben turned and strode out before his own tears started.

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Continued…
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© 2013 Eric Huber. Silicon(e)™ is a work of fiction. All characters appearing in this work are fictitious. Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.

Chapter 5 | Pantone 2562

Chapter 5 | Pantone 2562

Chapter-5-PMS-2562

_lavender_orchid2The entryway to the Bremmen Brothers’ Funeral home was filled with flowers from a previous service the day before. Bright splashes of lavender orchids stood out among the peace lilies and other more conservative flowers.

The older Bremmen brother, John, came out to greet Ben.

“Good morning, Mr. Ashmore. We are so sorry for your loss,” he said, taking Ben’s hand in a warm gesture and not a formal handshake.

“Thank you,” Ben said simply.

“May I get you some coffee or other beverage? I know it’s been a harrowing night for you. You must be tired.”

“I am. Coffee would be great. Cream and sugar too, please.”

“Sure. Why don’t you come into our office here and I’ll be right back,” John guided Ben into a spacious office with rich dark wood furniture and comfortable leathers seats. Ben sank into one of the chairs and could feel the weariness starting to creep over his body.

He wasn’t the young man he once was. Nights without sleep were common during the early days of building a business, or learning a trade for a gung-ho employer who knew how to praise and encourage, but those days were long gone. And pulling an all-nighter during a tragedy was barely comprehensible to Ben at his age.

His phone buzzed causing him jerk slightly.

Had I dozed off?

It was a text from Steve. “All staff present. They wanted to do ‘something’ for you. Seems like they want to keep the company humming. Call if you need ANYTHING.”

“Thanks Steve. Tell all it’s appreciated more than I can ever tell them. Will come in as soon as I can to update everyone in person.” Ben replied and slid his phone back into his pocket.

John walked into the office carrying a large cup of coffee and handed it to Ben, “Here you are Mr. Ashmore.”

“It’s just Ben, and thank you Mr. Bremman.”

“John, please.”

Ben took a long sip of coffee and realized it was a nice quality blend, “Very nice coffee.”

“A local roaster makes it here from beans in Costa Rica.” John stated while looking over papers on his desk.

“Really good,” Ben said taking another drink. “So, what do you need from me?”

“Well, in light of the changes, would you still like to have an urn for the service, or will you like to set up a memorial table arrangement?” He asked pulling out a computer pad to make notes.

“I’m sure we’ll use an urn for the remains after cremation.’

John paused, lowered the pad, and looked towards Ben with a confused look.

“Is that a problem?” Ben asked.

“But without the body we won’t have any remains to put in an urn,” John said still confused.

Ben set down his coffee and was even more confused. Thinking he’d misunderstood the line of questions due to a lack of sleep, he asked “What do you mean ‘without the body?’ Was it not delivered to you already? They told me it would be here by seven this morning.”

John opened a folder and pulled out a sheet of paper that had been faxed and explained, “We were notified that she had donated her body to science and all arrangements had been made to send her to the University where she worked. I assumed you may have just not known about this in her will and that she had listed ‘organ donor’ on her driver’s license.”

Ben shot forward in his seat, completely clear-headed and angry. “That’s not right at all! I was there when she got her license. Neither of us wanted to donate our bodies to science.  I remember the conversation clearly. AND, I’ve looked at the back of her license. It did NOT say ‘organ donor!’ I would have, totally, razzed her if she had said one thing and done another.”

Ben took the fax, reading over it in a very confused state.

“Perhaps someone else was supposed to go to the University. Was there another… deceased person there tonight?” John said delicately.

Ben continued to stare at the fax shaking his head. “No. No one.”

He handed the sheet back to John, “Who sent this in? There isn’t a return number. And do you know where at the University a body would be delivered? Maybe I can get there before anything is done to Terri.” Ben flinched, “Terri’s body,” he said almost as a murmur.

“I know a few people who might be able to help me find out,” he paused thoughtfully, “Can you go over to the University while I start making some calls.”

“Absolutely!” Ben practically leaped to his feet and then turned to head out the door, but John grabbed his arm before he made one step. Ben shot John an incredulous look for an explanation.

“Mr. Ashmore… Ben…” he reached in his pockets and handed Ben a set of car keys, “Take our vehicle. I think if you find her, you’ll need more space than is in your car.”

Ben looked at him, took the keys, smiled and said, “Thanks John. I’ll be careful with your property.”

“You do that. And I’ll call you when I find out anything,” he said.

Ben raced out to the car, started up the hearse and headed across town to Terri’s lab at the University.

_____________________________________________

Continued…
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© 2013 Eric Huber. Silicon(e)™ is a work of fiction. All characters appearing in this work are fictitious. Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.