The 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.
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…
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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© 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.