THE GIFT OF WORDS


There is a time and place for everything is a saying that is banded about often. For me, Sunday morning is a time for words and words are key to opening the world. I learned my appreciation for words from my father and grandfather. Both read a lot and gave me the desire to read. The power of words are in their ability to transport. Unlike any other medium words are all-powerful. They transport both in time and place. How far we get transported is determined by our willingness to grasp the full meaning of the words we encounter. There is no short cut to getting to full understanding. All understanding comes via a dictionary. I had to learn that the hard way. I wanted to get the words without putting in the dictionary time. I resisted examining the meaning of unfamiliar words. My resistance stifled the growth of my vocabulary. Over time I have come to the understanding that a dictionary is an essential tool. I now check my dictionary as often as I can and am the better for it.

Sunday morning is my special day. Sunday morning is my newspaper day. Getting the Sunday paper and reading for hours is my joy. The importance of reading cannot be underestimated. I want to read for fun and encourage all to do the same. Sitting in a comfortable chair with a coffee and the Sunday New York Times makes my weekend. The feel of the paper between my fingers. The sounds and pictures created in my mind are always a joy. Giving that joy to my children is my goal.
Giving the love of words to our children is the most vital gift. We must give them that gift without reservation and allow them to express themselves. They will surprise and delight us. I love words because they have opened the world to me. They bring the outside in and the inside out. They transport and uplift. They transform and elevate. Giving the power of words transmits great expectations and challenges the receiver to greatness.

Let us challenge the children in our life with meaningful words. The love of words will open to them the broad expanses of life’s possibilities.

FOG


The slow climb of the fog over the hillside was fascinating to watch. Sitting in a rocking chair on a wide veranda was almost comforting. However, I was in a hurry to leave town before I had to make any more decisions. The smell of rot was deep in my lung and the feeling of isolation heightened with every passing minute. The sun tried to rise about the fog but it seems as if the fog had a mind of its own. It was as if it was racing to catch up with the rising sun. There was a race to keep an eternal dawn. I could see the problem but the beauty of the orange sun piercing the white fog was irresistible. I stood there and enjoyed the view for much too long. Enjoying the view distracted me from the facts, I was fired from my own project.

I was so distracted by the beauty before me that I did not hear the low whine of the electric scouter until it was just meters in front of me. I noticed the flash of orange against the thick white of the approaching fog. Her hair was red-orange and floated like streams of diluted red ink in a fast flowing river. Marcia was in a hurry. As she jumped off the scouter and ran into the house she shouted, not quite intelligibly, for me to come into the house. I had never seen her in such a state, so I dutifully followed her. She disappeared into the darkness of the house as I closed the door. She was still shouting and I still could not understand what she was trying to tell me.

As I tried to understand her I heard a high-pitched whistle. I turned and opened the door and notice that the fog had moved with a 100 meters of the house. What was creating the noise was not clear. As I stood there a sharp, small blob hit me on the left cheek and without thinking I slapped my face and crushed the small device. I instantly recognized what I was seeing and her babble became intelligible. It was our creation. It was a cloud of nano-bots. I slammed the door shut and for a second was paralyzed by questions. My back was pressed into the door and my eye fixed on the clock about the archway to the dinner room. The second-hand seemed to be moving in slow motion. I had many questions. Who is controlling them? We had designed the system to be a directed cloud. I did not notice, but I was shouting. I could see Marcia running about but I could not hear what she was saying. I felt my body move but had no control. I was moving without purpose then suddenly there was a loud bang and my brain started to function. I pinched myself and it hurt. This is not a dream. I started to see and hear her. From the clock only about twenty seconds had passed.

Marcia slammed the back door shut and started to spray silicon sealant around the door. My daze lifted and I grabbed the canister Marcia offered me and started sealing the door and windows. We got all the windows and doors and them focused on the few bot units that had gotten into the house. Being apart of a hive brain they were lost outside of the cloud so they were easily destroyed. As Marcia caught her breath she started to tell me that an experiment had gone bad and the nano-bots had escaped. It must have shown on my face, since Marcia tried to comfort me. She knew what I was thinking. We did not design autonomous bots, so who is controlling them?

FOCUS


The gentle shake that awoken me became a loud bang and turned into a cascade of light and sound. I did not feel any pain but my head was spinning and I could see my glasses vibrating to a quarter note beat. The tremor became a staccato as I watched my glasses slide off the desk toward the floor. I did not see it hit the floor because the ringing in my left ear was so distracting. As I cupped my ear I could feel my heartbeat in my head. I could not think, but I was sure I was dreaming.

I tended to have vivid dreams but had gotten really good at directing them into something more pleasant. This time all my attempts at direction fell short without any effect on the trajectory of events. I was supposed to be in the safest city in the world and there was no earthquake threat, so I was confused  as to what I was experiencing. I felt alone with my thoughts, but out my right ear I could hear a faint whine. The whine was unmistakable, it was the sound of a helicopter starting up.

The whine cracked the code. I was in a hotel on the waterfront next to the largest heliport in the city. At anytime there would be thirty to forty aircraft and it sounded as if they were all starting up. The ringing in my ear was deafening and made it hard to concentrate. I just tried to breathe. It seemed as if time stood still, then I found myself on the floor. The ringing in my ear had disappeared, but all around me was a blur. I could not feel my glasses and I felt some relief. I called out and someone answered. It was a nurse and she informed me that I was in the safe house and that my op was a bust. I was disappointed.

 

THE PITCH 5


“Sir, your team may have designed all our gear, and we are thankful, but we are here to complete a successful strike. Lets keep the chatter to a minimum.” I was disappointed with her attitude, but she was right. We had stopped within 5k of the target. This stop was to finalize the plan and get our last rest for the next 24 hours. Because we were so close to the target 2 members of the security team would stay awake while the rest of the team slept. I distributed 2 sets of tablets to all except Kathy and her communications officer, Mary. They got a single tablet.These were may direct contribution to the project and I was proud.
I was just as proud of my Mechanical Engineering degree but my first true love was biologic systems. I completed college with at least 3 degrees but only one was recognized. I did not complain because I needed the money and at a time when jobs were hard to come by I was promised a lifetime appointment with guaranteed college funding for 2 children. It was a great deal for the Consortium since I spent my PhD years working on developing these pills. My true PhD work was in nucleic acid control and I now have a better understanding of the Consortium’s generosity. These pills were the peak of my work and they were not likely ever going to be released to the public. After more than two hundred years since the double helix discovery we were still afraid of nucleic acids.

Sleep came quickly and the wake up just as fast. According to our watches we had been asleep for 2 hours, but it felt as if we just dozed off and had woken right away. The beauty of my work. I was very proud of the effects and quite disturbed at the side effects but most of us would never experience them. Kathy and Mary looked vigilant and were ready to go. We made ourselves ready. At the last-minute Kathy suggested we pray. The security team quickly lined up holding hands while my team looked blankly at them. We were not the religious types. We allowed them to do their bronze age thing. We checked our weapons and Kathy began to give final instructions.
“Mary will be turning on our implants right now. You and you alone will be able to hear your instructions. The controller will guide us in pairs to our target or targets. Once within 1k of the target we will be linked and the entire target map will be accessible to us all.” She fiddled with her gear for a moment.
“Make ready!”
The response was in unison, “Ready!”
“You’ll never run alone. Let’s run.”

For a second I felt as if the world went black, it did not last. Kathy and I started to move as a unit. Although I was nervous I felt a sense of pride because our work had made it out of the lab. The second of blackness was a momentary blackout in the system. It was the time need to reboot our brains and make the network connections. Many years before we had realized that the human brain was a powerful computer limited by low on board RAM. Many great neuroscientists had worked on improving utilization of the on board RAM. This was a losing proposition that set human evolution back for a century. One crazy low-level guy asked the question that needed to be asked. “Why can’t we just put more RAM in?” He answered his own question by inventing a method for installing more RAM into the human brain. He thought it was a great advance but the authorities did not see his vision. He lost all research grants and soon became a liability to his employer and was let go. I still remember that day. But my father was a dreamer and became even more driven to prove that his invention was feasible, reliable and worthy of further investment. He began to work in our garage and when money ran out he began to sell his inventions to support his preoccupation.

I loved him and it seemed that I was the only one in the household that was interested in his work. I would spend all my time with him in the garage. First I would just watch. I was the first person to hear all his new ideas. For months I would just sit and listen. I thought he was the smartest person alive and I still think he was. After months of me just being there he started to talk to me. He had me write equations and soon I was solving them and before I knew it I was coding. I stopped going to school and just took the quarterly assessments as required. I was the top student in the division. I finally got to the point that he thought I was ready to understand his ultimate plan and we started to talk about biologic systems. He called it wet engineering. I was back at the listening stage. I listened and understood most, but concluded that it was impossible. Then he disappear and my life was never the same. Over those years I had become very close to him. I started to believe that we could do anything and we did for a while. I took his loss very hard but instead of lashing out I retreated. I read more and studied less.

It was a little disconcerting to hear your thoughts and feel your body complete actions while simultaneously feeling like an observer. However disconcerting, it was highly effective. All of us were feeling the same emotional abstraction but we were fully aware of the moments. Another pulse, black, reboot and secondary RAM was engaged. We crossed within the 1k perimeter. Kathy and I now acting as a single unit as we crossed into the next phase. We ran at full speed toward the guard post without any attempt at camouflage. We were moving so fast and so accurate that the guards did not have time to respond. It was the same at all other engagement points. It was over within seconds. Kathy was in my head and she in mine. After the last guard post she allowed me access to her intel.
“From now on they will be expecting us.”
“How do you know that.”
“We had someone on the inside.”
“Had?”
“Yes, she is no longer there.”
“Okay, but how will they detect us.”
“They have a very sensitive sensor network.”
“How sensitive?”
“DNA sensitive.”
I should have known that. It was too late, the strike was beyond the abort point. The engagements became more challenging but we were ready and well prepared. For a unit that had never trained together, things were going as well as could be expected. For a moment I wondered how the other teams where doing. I lost focus and Kathy had to reorient me. As she did I felt the burn of a laser weapon on my left shoulder. My bodysuit sprung into action and I could feel the cold of the nano-particles going to work on the repair job. The initial pain was intense, but was gone within seconds. Fortunately the AI would acknowledge pain and start repairs but would not deviate from task. It had only been 5 minutes since we crossed the 1k perimeter and the entire team had made the rendezvous point. All targets had been neutralized and we were all in some stage of repair. The AI was still up and running at max capacity in spite of the less that optimal physical condition of the team.

THE PITCH 4


As soon as we entered the hall the girls came running.
“Do you guys want to take a walk?”
“Are we going to see birds?”
“I hope we do.” Sarah was usually keen on seeing new birds but I had not taken our bird guide. This was going to be interesting.

Although the kids and spouses had only recently meet the kids seem to have become fast friends. Several kids wanted to join us on our walk. The count had gotten to 6 kids when I started to feel like I was a tour guide. The only problem with that was that I did not know where I was going. This was going to be an adventure. We loaded into the elevator and made our way to the surface. The sun was high in the sky but the temp felt perfect. I looked at my watch and documented the time so we would not be out too late. At the same time Sarah went about introducing the kids. She reminded me of my oldest brother. She was not the oldest but she was a born leader. Watching her reminded me of why this project was important.

As the leader of an important project I received many visitors. I had on many occasions taken consortium members on tours so tour guide was often my title. Tour guide to my kids felt good. However, this was a little different. The kids were better listeners or maybe not. It seemed as if they asked about every plant and noise. During college I spend almost all my weekends birding, hiking or snorkeling. Nature was my escape from the carnage that was the Pale war. I missed those days, nature not the carnage. The beauty of the forest around us was a vivid reminder of how much we had lost. As we walked beneath the overhangs of magnificent trees I felt sad for our loss, but I was like a grade school teacher. The kids should not see me grief. They asked so many questions that I was looking for a reason to return to the house. I kept walking because I loved walking in nature and the many questions distracted me from what tomorrow would bring. The chirp of birds everywhere was soothing and stimulating simultaneous. The smell of trees and the distant sound of water kept me walking. Before we had noticed the sun was fast approaching the horizon. Sharon was enjoying the experience as well and I suspected it reminded her of our long weekend hikes in college and the early years of our life together. I had proposed to her while we were on a weekend hike. She did not appreciate  the timing. Gladly she overlooked my bad timing.

“Mike I think it is time we turned around.” As usual Sharon always knew just the right time. That was my cue to get the kids together.
Sarah was the furthest away from us and I shouted for her and she instantly understood. She immediately lead the kids that were with her towards us. Sharon was always nervous about leaving anyone behind and so counted. They were all accounted for and we started the walk back. The sun was racing toward the horizon and without any street light the beauty of the setting sun was inspiring. The rapidity of the approaching darkness was sped up my the shad of the towering trees around us. We picked up the pace and all arrived back at base slightly sweaty. We were met by worried looking staff.
“Mr Gold, I am Mildred, and I am responsible for your safety. Please no unattended walks.”
“We just took a walk, what’s the problem.”
“The problem is that we are not alone.”
“What do you mean?”
“Have you ever seen a bear in the wild?”
“No”
“Please be careful. I’d like everyone to be in doors before sundown every day.”
“Thanks for the heads up.”
I walked away and did not intend on conforming to her request. Sharon and I both instantly understood each other. We both walk away with Sarah and Samantha following.
“Mike I see that look in your eyes. You don’t plan on complying, do you?”
“Great minds think alike.”
“That is what I thought.”
It was dinner time and I had not seen our work space. We were directed to the cafeteria and enjoyed a wonderful meal. The food was too good.
After dinner I was too tired to go looking for the new workspace. We all when to out quarters.

I was roused by my alarm, it was 6am and I did not remember going to bed. It was Saturday morning and I had nothing planned. I rolled over and went back to sleep. It had been more than 5 years since I last slept in. Sleep was wonderful and refreshing. I was jarred back to reality by Samantha pulling on my leg and calling me to come to breakfast. As I stumbled out of bed I felt the cool floor. It was a wonderful felling. The smell of fried dumplings filled my nose and brought me back to my childhood. My eyes finally adjusted to the light as we got to the table and I was treated to the beauty of a plate of ackee and salt fish with fired dumplings. It was at least 20 years since I had any of this. I had a smile on my face as I sat.
Sarah noticed, “Daddy why are you laughing?”
“Honey, Daddy is happy to have breakfast with you guys and mommy.”
“Thanks for staying home Daddy.”
Having meals with the girls was such a rare occurrence that I could not remember the last time. They enjoyed the food but had many questions. I was surprised that I could answer. For a moment I forgot how greatly the world was about to change. As I remember it, when I signed up for the project they had asked me about my favorite meal from my childhood. Now it makes sense. My other team members and their families would be having a similar experience. For just long enough we were happy. We had nowhere to be.
“Sharon, did you make this?” She started to laugh hysterically. Between the laughter she said no.
“Breakfast was delivered and the table set by our wonderful staff.”
I didn’t realize that this was the level of service that was going to be provided. As we ate I could feel the tension in the air. Sharon wanted to know more. She had been patient with me but she wanted answers. She was a remarkable woman who had given up her career for the life of a suburban housewife. She did it very well and I continue to love her just as much as the day we meet. But the time had come.
“Lets take a walk and chat after we are done here. Just us.”
“Thanks, I need the air.”
“Like the old days?”
I smiled. The old days where a distant but very pleasant memory.

Before we could finish eating there was loud wailing of a what seemed like an alarm tone. A voice come over the intercom informing us that this was not a test. It just all became real. I hugged the girls tightly and I was suddenly overwhelmed by the burden of what would be happening. I sat the girls down and they instinctively started to cry. I looked up and Sharon was crying too.
“Guys, it will be ok.”
As I tried to comfort them the reality was setting in on me. Our life as we know it was over.
“Group hug guys”
I squeezed them tightly. We were still hugging when there was a knock at the door. I opened the door but did not immediately see anyone. I stepped out into the hallway and then notice Jenny. She was walking from door to door knocking. We were soon all in the hallway. Jenny was dressed in fatigues with a pistol on her left hip.
“Ladies and gentlemen I have some news. We will have to move our plans up. Instead of Monday we will be deployed today. You will be provided gear and all team members need to be top side at 1300.”
On cue 2 big guys pushing large carts delivered our gear. By this time the families were all in the hallway. The spouses looked bewildered and the team was business like. We all took our gear and retreated into our space. There was another knock on my door and Sharon answered. It was Jenny.
“Hello, Mrs Gold, I need to speak with you and your husband.”
“Come in please.”
She sat us down and as she began to speak I drifted off into the ether. I could not believe that we were here. I had been preparing for this for my entire professional life, but never really thought of how I would handle it. I just did not want my kids to experience the same trauma I had growing up. I wanted them to have both their parents for as long as our life lasted. I had been working toward this day but never really addressed the many possible out comes. I just lost the chance to explain to Sharon what was going on and lost the chance to just hangout with the girls. A tear rolled down my left cheek. I tried to wipe it away without the ladies noticing but failed.
“It’s ok honey.” Sharon was trying to comfort me, but her tears were welling up and flowing out. I lost all control of my emotions. Sarah put on her bug sister act, “Daddy, it’s ok.”
Jenny reach over and held my had and I was surprisingly reassured.
“Mikey, it’s going to be ok. We are prepared.”
I wiped by face and Jenny continued to explain to Sharon what was happening.
“Will all the spouses get things explained?”
“Yes, everyone is being briefed as we speak.”
Sharon was looking straight into my eyes as Jenny explained what has been happening and what the next steps will be. I really wanted to be the one to explain all this to her, but I had lost my chance. She took it remarkably well. Jenny left and I started to get prepare to leave. The girls were watching TV while I got dressed. They looked so happy and content. I drew strength from their demeanor. I knew they did not understand what was to befall them but they were my reason to be strong. I was doing all this so they could have a better life. I looked up and the girls were watching me. I pulled my backpack on and gave them each a kiss. As I turned to Sharon we heard the alarm tone again. This time it was coming from the TV. This is not a test, this is not a test, shouted the voice from the TV. The volume seemed to me at maximum. It had started. We were now officially at war.

“This is not going as planned. We should have struck first.” As the words came out of my mouth I realized that someone must have known something.
It was all coming together. We had been pushed to speed up our work. We did meet the revised deadline, but we were not mentally prepared.
“Give daddy a hug.” I tried to remember the warmth of the girls. I kissed Sharon and walked out as quickly as possible. The entire team was in the hallway. All 10 of us. We did not look the part. We were all back packs and a single side arm. The light weight dress will come in handy for the next stage.
“Said your goodbyes?” All around the answer was the same. We were all ready.
“Got enough sleep?” That was a question with only one answer. As a group we made sure we got at least 8 hours of sleep every night. Most of us had been doing that from day one. We had to be prepared for the inevitable. A well rested runner was always the best. We packed into the elevator and made it top side. Once outside we meet our protection detail. I assumed that they had come in overnight. They didn’t look worse for the wear. These guys definitely knew what the mission was. They were carrying weapons designed by our team. Lightweight and programmable with biometric signatures. The alloy was top-secret and could not be used without a unanimous vote of the consortium. Jenny was dressed but it was obvious that she was not going to be apart of this mission. We listened as Jenny gave final instructions. She did not address why the mission was being fast tracked. She assured us that we had all the necessary skills to complete a successful mission. The consortium had a way of being super confident, but they might have underestimated this endeavor. I examined our all female security team and was not sure if this was the correct team. In total we were going to be 15 people on this mission.
“I am Kathy and I am going to be in charge until we reach our objective. No one falls behind unless I say so.”
Her voice seemed so mellow, but I knew better. The consortium chose all female security teams for a reason. They were better shots, more instinctive and ultimately a lot more violent to the enemy. We all put out ear pieces in and followed the instructions. We lined up with a partner. Kathy and I would be in the lead. I noticed the inscription on her jacket “You’ll never walk alone”. I asked her if she was a Liverpool FC fan. “My dad was. I am here in his memory.” We synchronized our watches and we started the run. An hour into it and I was happy that I had not been a stranger to running in the forest. It was therapeutic and distracting. The music in my earpiece was just loud enough with the perfect tempo to allow for a comfortable run. None of us knew our destination. We were following the instructions in our earpiece. Two hours in and it was time for a rest. This was a very fit group, so after only 10 minutes we were ready to continue. As we started off again we could see the difference between us lab rats and the professionals. After a 4 hour run we were instructed to make camp for the night and await further instruction. Combat meals were nothing to write home about, but the necessary calories were present. I fell asleep wondering what the girls would be doing.

The warmth of the sun on my check was enough to awaken me and as I opened my eyes I notice that I was the last one up. I packed up and was given my breakfast ration. Kathy did seen pleased.
“Guys, we are behind today. We have at least 6 hours of daylight to work with. Lets make it count.” The pace was brisk and remarkably quiet. I was surprised at the discipline of the team. The pace sped up as we went along. We made up a remarkable amount of distance and got to our target within 4.5 hours. The area covered was truly amazing, but I should not have been surprised. My entire team had been preparing for this one mission for at least 2 years. We were all the fittest people we knew. The security detail was expected to keep up. I started to chat to Kathy about how great we did and she reminded me that this was just one leg of a long and dangerous process. Her face was stern and betrayed her disrespect for me and my team.

THE PITCH 3


“Mike, your alarm is going off.”
“I got it.”
It was already 6am and my head was clear. I had a great night and it was going to be a beautiful day. We had so much experience in hotels that we had developed home and hotel routines. We would bring our Keurig and make coffee just like we did at home. The light was still low as I finally got out of bed and made my way to the kitchen. For a moderately price hotel it was very well done. The kitchen was almost as good as ours at home. I made my coffee and did my 15 minutes of meditation on the balcony. Starting the day off right was essential and I listened to Miles Davies “kind of blue” daily. I had been doing that for over a decade and every time I did it sounded so fresh.
The warmth of the rising sun was therapeutic and reminded me of my childhood. The tranquility did not last.
“Morning daddy.”

My morning meditation was over, but the best part of the day was just beginning. The early morning belonged to me and the girls. Sharon was never a morning person. Breakfast, music and dancing. We had a great time no matter where we woke up. We home schooled and I was the music teacher. I never thought my music lessons would be of any use, but the girls loved my teaching. I suspect they just wanted to hang out with daddy without interruption. This was another wonderful morning. I was going to miss this time. I usually was called promptly at 801 am seven days a week. This had been ongoing for about 4 years. It was now 830am and no call. I knew what that meant. I got our stuff together them roused her. We were checked out at by 0905 and on the road. The drive upstate was very pleasant. We had spent our honeymoon here and we knew the back roads well. Upstate NY was some of the most beautiful country around. After 4 hours of a very pleasant scenic drive we arrived at our first stop. The diner was in the middle of nowhere, but there was only one parking spot available and we parked.
“It is lunch time ladies.”
“Daddy I want pancakes with blueberries.”
“Sure beautiful.”
“what do you want dear”
“I want eggs.”
“Is that it?”
“I said eggs dad.”
“Okay, okay, eggs it is.”
“Thanks daddy.”
“So ladies when we get inside I want you to sit quietly. What will happen if we are not quiet?”
In unison they both said,”we will be put on time out”
“Thanks ladies.”

Sharon was now fully awake and we went into the diner. This was the diner where we had our first breakfast as a married couple. We had not been back since them, but it looked as if nothing had changed. As we ordered, I looked around and noticed that my entire team was there. It seems we all had our families with us. Each table had 4 people, spouse and 2 children. This was the first time in 4 years we had all been in the same place outside of our lab. None of us had ever knowingly meet spouses or children. This was as it was to be. The kids and spouses were blissfully unaware of the situation.

Breakfast for lunch was wonderful. The scrambled eggs were as great as I had remembered. The girls cleaned their plates and wanted more. We obliged and ordered more. Slowly the diner emptied and I settle the bill and we were on our way. The roads became smaller and more narrow and soon we were deep in the forest. Three hours after leaving the diner we arrived. We were the last to arrive at what looked like a small bed and breakfast. I left the family in the car and went inside. There she was again, Jenny. The entire team was present, the families had been introduced and the spouses and kids where in the large conference room chatting. I got my girls and introduced them to the other families. The girls found there corner and were lost in conversation by the time I left the room.

The team meet in the smaller room. Jenny and her team were also present. Jenny asked me to start. I walked back to my car to retrieve my thumb drive. I was not very security aware, but all my computers where encrypted thanks to I.T. I took a seat in the car and thought about what I was about to do. Lives were about to change forever. No matter what the team members decided their life as they knew it was over. I looked at the pictures of my brothers and regained my strength. I walked up the stairs with renewed confidence. As I entered the conference room I noticed how small the room was. I took the chair at the head of the table and turned on my phone. We recorded all meetings on a secure device and this was my secure device for audio recording. I opened my water bottle and took a sip.

“I have known all of you for about 4 years and we have become a family. I lost my siblings in the Pale Wars and you have been my family. I want to thank you all for the friendship and the excellent work you all have done. Now, why are we here? We are about to change the planet as we know it. This group was envisioned and established many years ago. Five years ago I was charged with picking the members of this team. You are the best. I cannot tell exactly what will happen from here on but I can tell you what we have achieved. We have been given permission and funding to build out our AI solution.” Before I could finish there was applause. We had indeed worked hard on solving many challenges. The AI prototype in  simulations had completed all tasks assigned and was up and running for 6 mouths without any down time. I was about to explain the entire program as I knew it but Jenny and her people promptly took over the meeting. Jenny stood and began to speak from the back of the room.

“Ladies and gentlemen, ‘the Consortium’ is very thankful and pleased with your work. My team is here to assist you in refining a working prototype. We do recognize that your system has been extensively tested and what you built is already purpose ready.”
I was tempted to interject but did not. My team did not know it yet but their lives where about to change forever. Another member of Jenny’s team stood and introduced himself.
“Hey guys congrats. I am very pleased to have the privilege to work with you. I will be responsible for making sure you have all the resources needed to complete this phase of your work.”
Jenny chimed in again. “You have all followed the instructions well and have come with your families and we are happy to have you. My team has spent the last 3 years making sure you will have a great place to live and work. Any questions.”
The room was strangely quiet. Jenny continued.
“At this moment your families are being shown to their new accommodations. Thanks for your cooperation.”
There were murmurs and Jenny reminded us all that we did signed a contract.
Jenny and her team left the room and the questions started. I tried my best to answer the questions but I did not have all the answers. “Guys remember the Pale Wars, we all did what was necessary to win. Now we are doing what is needed to never go back to that place.” The thought of the Pale War was enough to have everyone forget their questions. The trauma was so deep that this many years later we were still trapped by the emotions. We dispersed and found our accommodations.

As I walked out of the conference room it suddenly hit me. Where are going to live? Just then I heard the characteristic chime of an elevator. Underground housing does make sense. I found the elevator.  George, my #2, and I entered. He pushed down. George and I knew most of the details and as we talked we were both excited and terrified. We were mostly worried about our kids. The ride down was longer than we anticipated and so was disconcerting. Once the elevator doors opened we could feel the change in temperature. Their was a grand hall with kids running everywhere and a few spouses chatting in one corner. The children had just meet but were behaving as if they had known each other for all their lives.
“Good thing they are all about the same age.” George said what I was thinking.
“I wonder if this was the plan.” George looked at me as if to say, yes it was.
I had known George long enough to understand that he would not raise an issue unless he had good reason to.
I did not have any insight but it seem too much like a coincident.
“At least the kids will be happy while we work.”
I saw the girls playing but did not see Sharon. I looked around and there she was in the middle of the group of spouses. I am going to have questions to answer. She walked over to me and gave me a big huge.
“Thanks for keeping us safe.” I was lost.
“What did they tell you guys.”
“They told us that you guys are working on a project that was going to be in the running for the Noble Peace prize next year.”
I was quit disappointed that they had once again constrained me to not being able to fully discuss my work with my wife. Unfortunately this was what I signed up for. The Nubian Core was no longer supposed to exist. They were officially disbanded after the war. The truth is always more colorful than fiction. The newspapers had reported that the core was still active, but no serious person believed. We were alive and more active than before. We had become a deep black program.

“Sharon do you want to show me where we will be staying.”
“let’s go.”
The walk was not as long as I would have expected but it was more pleasant too. As we approached there was a faint beam of red light that scanned us. The scanning was almost instantaneously followed by the opening of a door.
“This is our place. It is much smaller than we are used to but it will do.”
Sharon was must more pleasant about this whole situation than I had anticipated. The fact that our life had been up rooted did not seem to bother her. I was bewildered, but was sure the spouses were not told the real story.
“When I was in my meeting who spoke with you guys.”
“There was a very lovely older lady. She runs the inn and she explained it all.”
“So you are okay with the arrangement?”
“Why would I not be? It is just a work retreat.”
“Okay, cool.”
There it was, she thought this was just going to be a short-term stay.
I was not sure what was discussed but she did not have the full picture. I tried not to look disappointed, but I was. I was looking forward to discussing my work and why I was involved. I could no longer do that, not yet anyway.

“So when are we going fishing?”
She grew up in the country and missed going fishing regularly and I had promised her to make time. Now that we were in the country she was calling me out on that promise.
“Okay sweetie, we will go fishing.”
“Just us okay?”
“Who are we going to leave the kids with?”
“I have it arranged, don’t worry.”
“Since you have thought it through when are we going?”
“Well, tomorrow morning would be great.”
I felt as if I had walked right into it. I did not like the idea of fishing.
“I am sure you have arranged for us to have supplies?”
“It has all been taken care of. We just need to get there.”
“Thanks for the arrangement.”
We had finished the tour before I had noticed.

Friday was always a rest day and this Friday was not going to be different. This could not have been planned any better. The irony was not lost on me. This likely would be the last rest Friday for a longtime to come. We decided to walk the grounds with the kids.
The walk back to the main hall was much faster than coming downing. The passageway was well-lit and I could see more security measures. The cameras were very small and I noticed them as something that was designed by my team. Our work was classified but surprisingly ubiquitous. None of us had gotten public credit for our work. We all took the money instead. In the war we were encouraged to single out our team members and praise them for their work. Since the war praise was replaced by cash. We all had enough money to live comfortably. Strangely, I missed the old days. The competition was fierce, friendly and the products were saving our soldiers. We would have worked for food only, and we mostly did.

 

THE PITCH


Driving in slow traffic is like drinking lukewarm coffee. I promised myself never to do it, but I was in traffic day dreaming of my pitch appointment. My limit was 30 minutes in stand still traffic and I would pull over, park or walk to the nearest cafe. Since there was no shoulder to speak of on the FDR I was eager to get to the closest exit. Gladly there would be many cafes to choose from. I pulled off at 59th and uncharacteristically there was a parking spot. It was strange but I parked and decided to walk north.

My appointment was at 10am but it was only 833am so I was in the breakfast rush. Why was I here this early? I knew the answer to that. My watch was an hour fast and so I was up and on the road much earlier than I should have been. Consequently, I was here at a cafe in the morning rush. Not my favorite place to be, but at least the line was moving briskly. I ordered a medium black coffee. It was very hot and my tongue paid the price for my impatience. The accompanying bagel was wonderful. It was a plain NYC style bagel with walnut-raisin cream cheese. I took a bite and the cold cream cheese cooled my scalded tongue. It was like kissing your high school sweetheart. You always have a sweet spot for her, but could never go back. However,  I was still wondering why I had stopped having this combo. I knew exactly why. I had just lost 30 pounds and was never going to let myself be deceived by this wonderful experience again. I decided not to sit in the cafe but to go back to my car and relax with NPR.

As I walked and admired the bustle of Manhattan street life I felt a twinge of regret. Why did I ever leave? I instantly missed the hustle, the ice-covered sidewalks and the sweltering summer subway. The walking, suited masses were hustling along. I was moving slowly and looked down at my watch and was nearly run over by an anemic looking blonde. As I side-stepped her I slammed into a crazy redhead. We made eye contact and recognized each other instantly.
“Jenny? Jenny Black?”
“Michael Gold?”
I smiled and instantly my mind was awash in terror. I started to sweat heavily and stutter. I had not stuttered since grade school, and only in her presence.
“Give me a hug Mikey?”
I obliged and she squeezed me tightly without my reciprocation. I was tense and she knew it. She was trying to put me at ease. It was not working. I was standing in the middle of the sidewalk in Manhattan being hugged by my grade school bully. She released me but I was not able to escape her penetrating gaze. Her eyes where still as distinctive, but she had definitely grown into an attractive women.
“Mikey it’s been a long time. By the way, are you going to get your bag?”
“Yeah”
“How long has it been?”
I was thinking not long enough, but I could not get the words out.
“20 years last month.”
I was surprised she was that precise.
“Where is your phone Mikey?”
I pulled it out, she tapped her phone to mine and her contact details were transferred.
“Call me.”
She smiled and walked away. After 20 years she still commanded me. As she walked away I noticed that I had dropped my coffee and my bagel had been trampled. Luckily my suit escaped the split coffee. It felt as if I had been there for a lifetime. I checked my watch and it was only 5 minutes.

As I continued to walk I saw a meter-maid writing me a ticket. I ran to the car but it was too late.  “$125!” There was nothing to do but pay it. I got into the car and sat there for the next 20 minutes reliving my 6th grade year. I was the eyeglass wearing, chess playing skinny kid. I was her “favorite” torture target. It had taken me years to forget and get over that year. In less than 5 minutes she had brought me back there. I turned my radio on and played some Bruno Mars for the next 15 minutes. It was all better now. It was 915am as I entered the highway and 15 minutes later I was downtown.

Wall Street always made me feel special. I loved this place, but my Cadillac CTS was out-of-place in a sea of limos. I pulled into the parking garage and made my way to the elevators. The morning rush was already over, so the elevator was empty. I followed my usual routine. I stopped at every 2nd floor until I got to the top. I stepped out into a magnificent lobby and was greeted by the reception staff.

“Good morning Mr Gold.”
“Morning. I hope will be a good one.”
He smiled and I was nearly blinded by the shine of his pearly whites. He handed me a bottle of water. I did not need it, but it was not a suggestion. I took it and placed it in my bag.
“Have a seat, they will call you.”
I continued my routine. I rehearsed my presentation in my head. I had made similar presentations many times. I was very good at it, but I was never very confident. This was my 13th pitch with 12 successes.

“Mr Gold, they will see you now.”
I got myself together and walked into the conference room. The room was smaller than I had imagined, but no less opulent. I took my place and made my presentation. It went well. They started asking questions which were easy for me to answer. They had a reputation of making decisions on the spot so I felt confident. Then she walked into the room and I lost my voice. 30 minutes later I was walking out without an answer.

THE CRUISE


The sun has been out everyday so far with just enough clouds to make the days perfect. Day 4 started like every other day. We awoke in a new country, showered, had coffee and prepared to disembark. The plan today was to find a cafe close to the port and just read and observe. I packed my laptop and a couple of books. As I waited for her I tried out my new bluetooth headset. The music quality was great. A few songs in she told me that she was not feeling well and would rather to stay onboard. I decided to decided to disembarked anyway.

I slung my backpack on and climbed down to the 8th floor where I joined the line to disembark. Once off the boat I walked directly to the bright red Toyota taxi. She was very attractive with curves in all the right places. Her dark skin was beautiful and accentuated by flowing dreadlocks.
“Could you take me to the best cafe in town?”
“Certainly sir.”
As she opened the passenger side back door I continued to admire her curves. We started to chat and before I knew it the car stopped and we were in front of “The Cafe”.

“Honey, here you are. This is  “the Cafe”, it is the best cafe in town.”
“How much does I owe you.”
“Anything you think I deserve.” I gave her a 20.
“Will you be back to get me.”
“Just say when.”
“5?”
“See you sweetie.”
She smiled as I stepped out of the car. It was a mischievous smile, but I ignored it.

I did not remember the trip but I was very happy to be off the boat. I entered the cafe and my day got even better. The sweet, salty, spicy smell of the ocean washed over me as I tried to find a table. The tables were all triangle shaped each with 3 comfortable looking chairs with every person having a view of the ocean. As I sat at a table close to the entrance and looked out onto the ocean I noticed the triangular shape of the cafe. The point directed toward the ocean had a long narrow pier with a several tables. The view was magnificent, but all I could think of was beer. For a moment I thought it too early for a beer.

“White, Red or Beer?” I was puzzled.
“What are you drinking?”
“Beer please.”
He poured a warm pale ale into a chilled mug with just the right amount of froth. I picked it up and the taste transported me to the fine white sand of the beach. After the third beer my bladder started to respond and I needed a restroom. I noticed the bold colors of the restroom sign and quickly followed the directions. I relieved myself and noticed the time. It was half past three and I could only remember drinking beer. I cleaned up and tried to make it back to the table.

“Hey! Hey! Where are you going with my computer? Thief! Stop! where are you going?” Shouting did not seem to make a difference, it seemed as if no one was hearing me. It felt as if I was being ignored. I tried to run but fell and instantly there was the taste of blood in my mouth. I tried to stand but bumped my head on a table. As I rubbed my head I was startled by the hard spot I felt.

“Abe! Abe!” I looked up and noticed that she was shouting at me.
“What happened? Am I dead?”
“Dead? You are dead asleep again. We are going to be late for the excursion.”
“What time is it?”
“It is 9 O’clock and we need to be off the boat by 915am. Let’s go.”
“Okay”

As I got up from the sofa a small bit of paper fell from my fingers. It was a taxi receipt timed at 920am.

WHAT JUST HAPPENED?


It was a beautiful summer day and the plan was to buy some new swimwear for my girls at the local giant box store. I decided to leave the girls at home and make a fast trip. The plan was, in out and back home before they even noticed. As I pulled into the parking lot I noticed it was fuller than is usual at this time of year. It was summer and the town usually is empty. Not thinking too much I drove around a little then found a spot. It was curious that I did not see anyone leaving the store.  All I saw were people entering. It was a little eerie, but I needed the swimwear for our trip to the YMCA pool.

The sun was shining in all its wonderful summer glory and the heat was oppressive. I dashed into the store and was hit with an Arctic front. I felt as if my nose and fingers were about to freeze. I complained to myself as my usual. The store was unnecessarily cold. I pulled my hat down over my ears, flipped up my hood and pulled the zipper all the way up. It was not a great improvement. I continued on my way. I took the direct route to the toddler section and proceeded to seek out my target apparel. The search was frustrating. There were just too many options. I just needed a purple and a blue swimsuit in toddler sizes. Why are there twenty different colors and shapes. I finally narrowed it down to two of each, then noticed how quiet the store became. I took a sip of my Rockstar and looked around and noticed that the shoppers around me seemed to be in dazed. They seemed to be looking into empty space. I called to the lady that had suggested the swimsuits I finally settled on. She seemed not to notice me, although she was standing two feet away from me. This was frightening. I reached out and grabbed her arm but she still did not respond. I became terrified. I pinched myself, it was painful. I checked for my pistol and it was in place. All the shoppers in my area were in the same daze. I continued deeper into the store and it was the same everywhere. Suddenly, the store started to warm up. It felt as if a bonfire had been lit.

I made eye contract with an older gentleman. He did not have that same dazed look, but he was hiding under a display and beckoned me over. Reluctantly I walked over and joined him under the display. In hushed tones he started to explain to me what was happening. “Have you ever wondered why the stores in town are so cold in the summertime?” He did not give me a chance to answer. I suspected he knew more than I did. He continued, “because it is harvest time.” He noticed the puzzled look on my face. “It is a long story.” He started to moved and I just followed his lead. He was crawling on all fours and I followed. He hid under another display then started to point to the back left corner of the store. For the first time I noticed that the ceiling of the store had a tract system. In the corner a small panel opened and what looked like a four-armed claw device was suspended from the tracts. It started to moving followed by another. I lost count. In a few minutes the claws were lowered to floor level and then hoisted people to the ceiling and routed them to the right back corner of the store. The roof opened and they disappeared. I was confused since no one was struggling. “The cold is for preservation. We are dinner.” I heard but was too stunned to react. It was over before I could compose myself . The lady beside the display looked down and said, “did you lose something.”

I looked around and the man was gone. She asked again and I was still too confused to answer. She walked away and I just sat there. “What just happened.” I looked at my watch and it had only been twenty minutes since I left the house. I was in the store for twelve minutes. I saw the bruise on my arm from me pinching myself. I had swimsuits in hand. This was not a dream. I walked to the cashier and paid. He did not seem concerned or frightened. I walked out of the store.  What just happened?

THE MORNING RUN 2


Marley’s cool tongue felt good on my cheek and I relaxed long enough to realize that there was a ringing in my ears. It was almost painful and I could not think. I looked down and there were spent shells everywhere and my right hand was white knuckled around the CZ. My pants were wet and I could not tell if it was sweat or urine. I could not smell but I could taste that sweetish taste of gunpowder. As I tried to get up I felt warmth on the back of my neck. I turned and got Bailey’s tongue all over my face.

Again I tried to get up but Marley started to bark again and I was once more paralyzed. The ringing in my ear became even louder and through it I heard the loud scream of a blow horn. “Police!” “Put the gun down and lay on your stomach” I complied, but the dogs were not as cooperative. Marley continued to bark and was joined by Bailey. They were almost standing on my back. They continued to bark for far too long it seemed, but gladly the police officers waited. The shouting stopped and the dogs soon stopped barking. However, Marley continued a low-pitched growl that increased in volume if anyone approached. Since I did not have a watch on I could not measure the passage of time, but it seems I was on the ground for a longtime. I looked up and saw the K-9 unit pulling up and also noticed that there was a roadblock. I had never seen this many cars on my street. Nor had I ever seen police in my town with guns drawn. Nor had I ever heard of an alligator exiting the lake in this area. I drifted into what seemed like a dream, seeing but not believing and hearing but not listening.
I was brought back to reality by the growling of Bailey. I focused and saw the police handler and a large German Shepherd moving in my direction. I felt sympathy for the approaching team. Both Marley and Bailey started to moving in the direction of the K-9 team but stopped about a body length away from me. They were posturing and got dust all over my face and into my mouth. I was about to move my arm to clear my eyes of dust when the officer closest to me shouted “Stop!”. I then realized that I was surrounded by 5 officers with guns drawn and pointed at me. I glimpsed yellow police tape in the distance. This was not the morning I had in mind when I went for my run.