Campaign has ended. This book was not selected for publication.
We will let you know if this book becomes available on Amazon. Want to know if this book becomes available on Amazon?
Back to top

First pages

Chapter 1

The huge counter-weighted, stainless steel door swung outwards, slowly, silently, exposing a medium-sized room that appeared to be carved from a block of solid steel. Overhead lights, all low-power LEDs, switched on automatically. There were no windows, no other exits. The mirror-like finish of the walls, floor, and ceiling warped the reflections of the man standing just outside the doorway.

Nathan Travers stepped into the room and turned to a small keypad set in the wall beside the single entrance. He entered a code, repeating it twice for validation, and the huge door began its return trip. It would take thirty seconds to close, and he waited for the slight clunk that would announce the seal was complete. The security process controlling the door required his DNA and an extensive series of passwords before it would unlock, a time-consuming process if ever it was needed.

For now, he was locked inside the steel chamber.

Nathan counted; this would be trip number ten. He wondered briefly whether there was a limit to the number of times he should undertake these trips.

He shrugged.

Time would tell.

He was an inch under six feet and had a slim, fit build. He wore an anonymous polo shirt with well-washed, faded jeans and Reeboks. His attire would not appear out of place at any time in recent years. His hair, graying, was cut short in an intended timeless style. He was in his early fifties, although deep lines of inexplicable weariness belied his age.

He carried a large, heavy backpack, brown with black flaps and straps.

He was alone in the room. The cold blue finish of his steel environment created a hallucinatory depthless effect. Temperature-controlled air was flowing from a nearby vent at two or three degrees below his comfort level. A barely-used, large wooden desk stood almost in the center of the room. A black Aero chair was waiting beside the desk.

The desk supported three workstations connected to a single monitor. The equipment showed its age, and again he made a mental note to consider its replacement. The workstations were connected to an adjacent external storage array configured to RAID 0+1. Heavy network and power cables, insulated against disruptive radiation and other external influences, connected to each workstation and flowed down and disappeared into holes drilled into the steel floor. The network cables led to other processing units, external to the steel room, via cutouts and circuitous routes intended to prevent anyone tracing the links back to these workstations.

Other equipment, its purpose not obvious, stood in the corner to Nathan’s right. Part of this was a vertical cylinder with a curved sliding door. The cylinder, with its bottom, top, and sliding door covered in heavyweight, braided steel mesh, formed a man-sized Faraday cage.

Racked shelving beside the Faraday cage held more processing units plus a small monitor. A basic keyboard, located inside the cage, was connected to the first of the rack-mounted processing units. The monitor display was visible from inside the cage. A large, doorless cabinet, its shelves filled with more electronic equipment, was located on the other side of the cage. Its contents produced a soft, low-frequency hum, felt more than heard. Sequences of flashing green and amber lights indicated it also contained arrays of processors. Heavy power supply cables pushed up from holes in the steel floor and disappeared into the cabinet, and other cables connected it and the base of the Faraday cage.

Nathan had checked the four sets of identical power supplies, each housed either in adjacent secure rooms or, in the case of externally sourced power, routed indirectly to this room. The power units supplied trickle-fed capacitor constructs that guaranteed uninterrupted power consistency for the intended intensive operation of the equipment.

Small amounts of dust had accumulated in the room and, disturbed by his movements as he walked to the desk, caused him to sneeze. This happened every time he visited. He cursed softly. Again, he had not thought to arrange additional filtering in the ventilation system. For the tenth time, he wondered how a sealed room with a filtered air supply could gather so much dust. It seemed to increase with each visit, which was its own paradox.

Nathan sneezed again.

He placed his backpack on the desk and carefully removed a RAID device complete with disks, identical to the storage structure currently connected to the workstations. The net data capacity of each disk was four terabytes and the array was capable of storing twenty terabytes in total, striped across two sets of mirrored disks. He placed the backpack on the floor, aware of its other precious contents, not least of which was a package containing just under a thousand flawless-graded diamonds, each between two and three carats. They were required to further fund his activities.

Nathan switched on the monitor at the desk. At the prompt, he keyed in his username and password. He then entered responses to a series of security questions. After almost a minute, the monitor displayed a diagram reflecting connections to each workstation and thence to the existing storage unit. Nathan entered a series of short commands at a blinking command-line cursor at the bottom of the screen. The display reset, showing new data, and he checked the results.

Satisfied, Nathan entered commands to suspend the workstations’ links to the current RAID device, switched off its power supply, and disconnected the cables and power input. He moved the unit to one side, out of his way. He placed the new data storage unit in position and reconnected the cables and the power supply. He switched it on and watched as the new hardware booted up. Comforted by the implied results indicated by a row of green lights across the front of the new storage unit, he lifted the superseded device from the desk and, with care, placed it in his backpack. It contained data that he would compare with the baseline provided by the previous nine units.

The comparison was to determine whether his trips so far had caused any measurable variations in events the equipment was recording, variations that could mean this was the last trip he would make.

Nathan sat at the monitor and ran a set of disk-checking procedures, intently examining and evaluating the results. Finally, certain of the correct functioning of the newly installed storage unit, he logged out, terminating the monitor’s display of links to the three workstations. He switched off the monitor.

He stood up and stretched, relieved that his efforts had been successful.

The process had failed once before. The remedial steps had required time-consuming re-connection of the original storage unit and a repeat of the disk-validation process, followed by replacement of the new disks. Nathan now ensured he had fully tested the new hardware before he entered the room, as well as after he had connected it to the workstations.

Nathan lifted his backpack into position, ignoring the heavy weight settling onto his shoulders. He walked over to the Faraday cage. He stopped at the racked workstation and, reaching inside the cage to the small keyboard, entered instructions. LEDs on the cabinet-based equipment turned from amber to green. He verified each green light as the system self-validated. He stepped into the Faraday cage and stood on the small metal platform. He closed the sliding door, entered a short command, and hit the return key on the keyboard.

The monitoring equipment indicator lights blinked as power surged. The large cabinet generated a mixed range of sounds, the sonic mix ascending from its initial almost inaudible level to a nerve-wrenching series of shrieks, as though protesting against the intentions of the man standing on the platform. Then, without notice, the sound stopped.

The silence was sudden, complete, deafening.

Small lightning chains spread across the exterior of the Faraday cage, crackling their fury. The odor of ozone penetrated the metal mesh.

Nathan did not move.

After another twenty seconds, in a series of flickers, he began to slowly disappear.

Almost in counterpoint to his own status, an outline of another person, an unexpected intruder, flickered its appearance some two to three feet away from the Faraday cage. That’s impossible, Nathan thought.

The intruder was dressed as a clown with a fluffy blond wig. His face was white, and he wore a large red nose.

Nathan reached towards the escape key on the keyboard and almost abended the process. Terminating the transfer at this point was a step he had never tested. He halted his movement, deciding this was not the time to begin such a test.

For the next ten seconds, each visible sequence of Nathan’s existence in the sealed room grew shorter and fainter until, at last, he disappeared. His departing sneeze echoed around the supposedly empty room.

The clown figure was now fully visible in the small room; that is, if anyone had been there to see him. He examined the workstations, watched, for a moment, the flickering green lights on the RAID unit, and then he, too, disappeared.

After a short period, the LEDs switched off.

The room would sit for another fifteen years or for a month or so—in this room, effectively, there was no difference—before it was again to be visited by the man with the backpack.

Whether the clown would return was not yet known.

***

Chapter 2

Toby McIntosh reread the attorney’s letter that had been delivered two minutes prior by an ebike courier. The courier had apologized when she handed over the envelope—she blamed traffic delays. Toby cursed. He muttered an excuse to the graduate student who was waiting for his semester review and rushed out of his office. He checked his watch as he headed to the elevator bank.

Someone—according to the letter, it would be a chauffeur driving a black Tesla—would be waiting for him in the no parking zone in front of the building. Based on the scheduled arrival time of the vehicle, Toby was now late.

He was on the eighth floor of an off-campus Caltech faculty building in Los Angeles and normally, to support his fitness regime, he would run down the stairs. The elevator bank was closer, and typically the elevators were quicker, unless the journey coincided with a rush of undergrad students. Then, chaos ensued, in either case, as groups of noisy students rushed up and down the stairwell or lined up to catch one of the four elevators, of which often three would be out of service, their status apparently due to a funding issue of some kind.

He was fortunate; there were no students waiting when he reached the elevators. Even more fortuitous, an elevator car was waiting, ready, its doors not yet closing. He rushed into the car, pressed the ground floor button, sighed his relief when he checked the elevator’s direction of travel—it was downward—and relaxed.

Four minutes later, he exited onto the street and stood beside the no-parking zone. It was empty of vehicles. A homeless veteran approached from the side of the building, pushing himself on a slide-along. The man had no legs, and his right arm was artificial, ending in metal claws. Tiny metal wires embedded in his skull showed faintly under his skin. He had sergeant’s chevrons on his jacket sleeve. The man held out a metal cup. Toby dug into his wallet, extracted a twenty-dollar bill and pushed it into the receptacle. He thought the man was probably a survivor of one of DARPA’s more extreme experiments and the injuries were from the Army’s failed venture in Iran.

The vet nodded. “Thanks, Doc. Remember, we have your back. These guys are frauds.” He glanced out at the road.

As Toby looked around, a black Suburban screeched to a halt, and two men jumped out. The vet pushed himself away. The new arrivals were suits. At least, he thought, they weren’t brownshirts—the president’s militia members were still uncommon in California. One of the men flipped an ID badge as he approached Toby. The maneuver was quick and practiced; there was no opportunity to verify the man’s identity. The other suit had a photograph in his left hand and was checking it as he moved forward.

Toby had commenced an AR video when he exited the AI-Robotics faculty building and was recording everything within his vision. When the Suburban pulled up, he had given a sub-vocal command, and the video began to stream to his vblog. When the man flipped his badge, Toby sent a text alert to all his subscribers. Within seconds, his audience would total perhaps two hundred thousand or more worldwide; it still intrigued him how many people were entertained by his transmissions. He was capturing sound as well as image, and he thought this broadcast would intrigue his viewers.

“The photo checks,” the second man said to his companion. He returned the photograph to his pocket and flashed his ID at Toby.

“Old-fashioned,” Toby thought, adjusting his glasses. Augmented reality was far better than a hard-copy image.

The nearest man, the one who had first flipped his ID wallet, said, “FBI. I’m Agent Raines. This is Agent Lilley. Get in the vehicle.” He indicated the open rear door.

Toby stood firm. “Sorry, guys. I’m waiting for someone. Besides, you don’t have a warrant for my arrest. I know, because I haven’t done anything wrong.”

“Smart ass. How about interfering with a terrorist investigation?” Raines grabbed Toby’s arm and pressured him towards the vehicle.

Toby resisted, snapping his arm away from the self-identified FBI agent. He aggressively worked out and was, he thought, probably way fitter than Agent Raines, who appeared to be donut-driven overweight.

“We can add resisting arrest,” suggested the other agent. He’d drawn a weapon, his general mien threatening.

Toby looked the second agent up and down. He held focus for a moment on the weapon in the agent’s hand and widened the image to capture both men and the Suburban. He flashed the vehicle’s license number to a corner of the image.

Raines was tall and thin, and his deodorant was flower fragrant and strong. Toby tried not to breathe. He issued another sub-vocal command and inserted a caption into the streaming video. He stepped back onto the pavement and raised his hand.

“Stop—I’m recording all of this and streaming it live. My vblog counter shows there are over two hundred thousand people watching right now. About one hundred and fifty thousand here in LA and, in minutes, there’ll be far more across the country, according to Google metrics. You’ll soon be famous, worldwide. The audience will double in the next five minutes. People like to share my videos.” He focused on each man in turn; ensuring the camera in his glasses captured clear facial images.

He addressed the man who had introduced himself as Agent Raines. “You accosted me, grabbed my arm, and tried to force me into your vehicle for no apparent reason. I think the ID you flashed was as genuine as the alt-right’s sympathy for the sick and the poor. How about you leave, before you’re totally embarrassed? Your choice.”

The two men looked at each other, perplexed. Lilley shook his head and returned his weapon to its holster.

Raines said, “We’ll be back with a warrant, smart ass. You’ll soon discover there’s a penalty for defying the law.”

The two men returned to their vehicle. Almost before they closed the doors, it had accelerated into the traffic stream. Its departure was accompanied by shouts of protest and squealing brakes as other vehicles did their best to avoid an accident.

Toby removed and reversed his glasses, smiled into the camera lens, and said, “That was an unexpected experience even for Los Angeles. Thank you, everyone, for watching Toby In The City, the vblog for everyone who’s entertained by day-to-day city events. Watch for my next alert. Take care.” He replaced his glasses and ended the transmission. The audience counter had reached half a million.

He wondered what had happened to the vehicle he was supposed to meet. He had his answer less than a minute later when a black Tesla, a new E32, the latest model of their luxury line, exited the slow streaming traffic and pulled up beside him, its electric motor silent. He checked the license plate against the details in the attorney’s message: they matched. He opened the rear door and settled into the seat. The interior had that typical new car smell.

The driver turned around, looked Toby up and down—she was obviously comparing a video image with the real person—and said, “Billie’s me name, Billie Nile. Thought I’d lost you for a minute or two. How’d you get rid of those bozos?” Her auburn hair was cut very short on one side, long on the other. She wore a small chauffeur’s cap on the long side.

“I was broadcasting live on my vblog—Toby In The City—you might know it? I don’t think they enjoyed the publicity.”

“So you’re that Toby? Yeah, I watch it when I’m off shift. Good one. Okay, hold on, we’re running behind schedule. Traffic’s been gnarly today.”

Her take-off was as fast as the Suburban’s had been. Toby watched as she used a break in the traffic flow to ensure she did not create protests from her fellow drivers. Once the vehicle was underway, she switched over to the vehicle’s automatic driving program and sat back in the driver’s seat, relaxed.

Toby projected a stream of vblog comments onto his retinas. He chuckled to himself as he read the series of two hundred-character messages. Viewer reactions were more than positive, and shares were almost record breaking. His advertisers would be happy, and his revenue would show a nice increase. He doubted that the two men and whoever had sent them, law enforcement or otherwise, would be as delighted; their faces were now spread across the Internet. He wondered what it had been about—mistaken identity, perhaps. He folded his VR glasses and placed them in their container, adding that to everything else in his valise. Perhaps he should spend some time to tidy it. Sometime.

Ten minutes into the trip, Billie caught his eye in the rear vision mirror. “I’m taking the 5 south. The traffic will clear out once we get past Irvine. San Diego’s not very busy. We’ll be two and a half hours on the road, so chill. There’s towels and water, plus a coffee brew. Nothing stronger.”

Toby nodded his thanks. “Water will do.”

“I’ll let you know when we’re fifteen minutes away,” Billie said, returning her attention to the highway.

He connected his notepad to the back of the front seat docking station and logged into mind.fm. He wanted to relax and selected the music stream designed for him. After five minutes of playtime he pulled his ear buds out. There was something wrong with the music stream, something that he couldn’t identify. He used the Tesla’s sound system and selected a soft jazz stream. Better, he thought.

Toby had dropped into a half-asleep state when Billie’s voice caught his attention.

“Fifteen minutes, now.”

Billie’s prediction was precise. She stopped the vehicle outside an old building, constructed in stone, set well back from the street. It contained four floors, and both the grounds and the building were well maintained. There was a curving drive to the front of the building with parking on one side close to the entrance. Billie pulled up to the front steps.

“Lemme check with the office before you exit,” Billie said. She punched a quick-dial number, and a succinct conversation followed. She disconnected and turned to Toby. “All clear. I’ll open the door for you.” She escorted him to the front door of the office building, and Toby had a feeling he was being protected, from what he did not know.

“I’ll be here when you’re ready to leave.”

“Thank you.” Toby pushed through the double entry doors; the name of the legal firm across the glass was the only indication of the occupants. A uniformed and armed security guard was waiting for him just inside the entrance. The guard did not introduce himself.

“Follow me, Mr. McIntosh.” The guard led him to a small conference room and held the door open. Toby entered the room, and the door closed behind him. The room was furnished with a heavy, carved conference table, oval shaped, styled in solid timber, and six upholstered chairs were evenly spaced around the table. A coffee service with cups and fresh coffee was on the table, together with a water jug and glasses.

A man, standing inside the door, held out his hand. “Mr. McIntosh, I’m Reuben Jones. Thank you for coming on such short notice.” The attorney was dressed in an expensive suit, his thinning hair was brushed back, and his demeanor was very professional.

Toby shook the man’s hand. “Your message said it was about Nate—my uncle—and was urgent.”

“Yes, indeed. Please take a seat.” The attorney waited for a moment for Toby to sit and then followed his example. “You have your driver’s license? We’ll need formal identification, later. We act for your uncle, Nathan Travers. We have instructions, given certain preconditions, requiring us to assume he is unable to deal with his day-to-day affairs for some unavoidable reason. The worst case scenario is that he is deceased. We have been instructed to act on those assumptions, with or without proof.”

“You think Nate is dead? How? What happened?”

“We don’t know. He meets with either myself or one of my partners, if I’m unavailable, on the first day of each month and has done so for more than a year. However, this month—yesterday—he did not keep his appointment and did not communicate with us in any way. That’s what he called a trigger condition.”

“What the heck is a trigger condition?”

“I thought you might be aware—no? Simply that he has missed his appointment. We don’t know what he might have anticipated. His absence could be because he’s fallen ill or been involved in an accident—indeed, he might have suffered a fatal injury—and if so, please accept our sympathies. Your uncle has been a client of the firm for almost twenty years. His instruction was for me, or our next senior partner if I wasn’t available, to hand you a letter that he supplied, as soon as possible after a trigger condition occurring.”

The attorney picked up the folder from the conference table, opened it, and extracted a large envelope. “Here. I’m required to leave you in this conference room for thirty minutes while you read the contents. We’ll have some formalities afterward to work through—paperwork, you know.” As the attorney headed to the door, he said, “Please help yourself to coffee, water, whatever you need. I’ll be back in thirty minutes.” He closed the door softly.

Toby stared at the envelope. Damn, he thought, something has happened to Nate. He reached out, hesitant, reluctant to take up the challenge of the contents.

***

Chapter 3

Toby opened the sealed envelope and checked the contents. There were ten pages of notes, laser printed. His uncle’s signature ended the last page. He returned to the first page. He read it again. He read through the complete document. He read it a second time. He rubbed his eyes and pressed his hands against his forehead. He read the document again. The contents had not changed. His Uncle Nathan was handing over control of his estate to him, Toby, effective immediately. Hell, thought Toby, the old man was worth a couple of billion dollars. He checked the financial summary page. The total amount invested in stocks alone was far more than ten billion dollars, depending on market values.

His hands shaking, he continued to read.

Of course, there were conditions attached. Toby held the first two pages in his left hand and the remaining pages in his right hand, and sat still, deep in thought. His uncle intended he would take on active, full-time management of his affairs. He would need to resign from Caltech and from his advisory and research consulting roles. He checked his watch. Twenty minutes had passed. The attorney, Reuben Jones, would be back in another ten.

Toby read the document again. The final pages contained summaries of assets and investments and concluded with a set of detailed instructions.

Jones, when he returned, would require his signature on some legal documents, transferring control of everything to him. Of course—Toby checked again—ownership was via trusts, both American-based and offshore. It looked as though he’d be visiting Europe as well. He’d never heard of Lichtenstein, nor of Vaduz, its capital. He checked further. His uncle had made provisions to cover the situation if Toby declined. He didn’t study those details. There was no need. He was going to accept.

There was a knock on the door. It opened, and the attorney stepped back into the conference room. He looked at Toby, an inquiring expression on his face.

“Well, Mr. McIntosh?” he asked.

“This is a shock, totally. I’ll accept my uncle’s offer and directions, of course. Can I—if he returns—if he’s alive, can we reverse all this?” He tapped the papers.

“With some difficulties, yes. There would be costs, as well. We could do it.”

“In that case, definitely. What do I have to do?”

“My PA—she’s a notary—will be in shortly. She has three sets of documents for you to sign. She’ll notarize them. That’s it from our perspective—you’ll be in control of the assets, companies, and so forth, as set out in your uncle’s notes. We’ll provide letters of introduction to Nathan’s attorneys in Bermuda and Vaduz; you’ll need to attend in person to complete their paperwork. Let me know when you plan to travel. I’d recommend you don’t wait more than six weeks or so to complete the offshore legalities. If you want to retain us to continue providing legal advice and support, we are available.”

There was another soft knock on the door.

“Come in, Aster. Mr. McIntosh is accepting his uncle’s offer. He brought his driver’s license. He’ll need to execute all three of the trustee appointment documents.”

 

 

Still in somewhat of a state of shock, Toby shook hands with the attorney and pushed through the double doors of the office building. He was carrying a briefcase, a new one, provided by Reuben Jones, which was full of documents. There was enough reading material to last for weeks, he thought. More details: legal structures of trusts, details of investments, descriptions of business operations, instructions—the list went on.

Billie was waiting on the outside steps. She escorted him to the rear door of the Tesla, and again Toby had the same feeling of protection. Billie closed his door, and when she was in the driver’s seat, she turned back to Toby.

“Everything okay?” Before he could answer, her cell phone buzzed. “Pardon me,” Billie said, plugging in an earpiece. Another cryptic conversation followed. She concluded her side of the call. “Yes, sir. I understand. I was prepared for that. Thank you.”

She disconnected the call and turned back to Toby.

“As I was saying—everything okay? We’re heading back to LA?”

“Yes, please. To my apartment. Can you drive me—?”

“Certainly. I’m your chauffeur, as you require. Also bodyguard.”

“Bodyguard? Whatever for?”

“Your experience earlier today should provide the answer to that, at least in part. We don’t know how anyone found out—yes, I’m aware of who you are and of your uncle. My boss—he was briefed by the attorney—has confirmed you’re now in control of your uncle’s estate, and I’m responsible for your protection. It’s going to be an interesting ride.”

“Well, I didn’t expect—thank you.”

“I have your address. We’ll go there, first?”

“First? Yes, I suppose. After that—” Toby paused.

Billie waited for a few seconds. “We’ll go to your Uncle’s house? It’ll take us three hours to reach your apartment.”

Toby sat back with the briefcase on his lap, trying to absorb the shocks of the afternoon. It was difficult to believe his uncle was dead. He would, Toby was almost confident, be at his home, wondering why Toby had been to the attorney’s office. If not, perhaps he’d be at one of his other properties. But just in case—he opened the briefcase and selected the first folder; it contained a copy of the papers that the attorney had handed to him. He read each page again, this time with far more concentration. When he finished, he selected the next folder.

An hour or so later, Billie said, “We’re being followed. There’s a black SUV—looks like that Suburban—and it’s been on our tail for the last fifteen miles.”

“You sure?”

“Yes. I’ll keep an eye on it and let you know if anyone else joins in.”

“Thanks.” Toby was curious: why were people after him? He accessed his vblog; perhaps someone had identified the two men who had claimed to be FBI. He started to scroll through the comments and stopped. There were thousands—maybe tens of thousands—of comments. He keyed in a search query, and after a moment the results started to display, this time fewer than a hundred. Yes, people had identified the men, confirming they weren’t law enforcement. He had names, addresses, records. The men belonged to the brownshirts and were from Virginia. It seemed they had prison records for assault, robbery with violence, and other offenses. He wondered what they were doing in California.

Toby decided to contact the FBI—the real FBI. He took out his cell phone and found the number. He dialed it and explained his situation, that he had been accosted by two people claiming to be FBI agents. He forwarded a copy of his vblog video with the addition of the comments identifying the men. The duty officer called him back after reviewing the material.

“Sir, yes, we agree, they are not agents. We’re waiting on confirmation of their identities. Do you know of any reason why these people—or anyone else—should be following you?”

“I’m not sure. It could be something to do with my uncle. Nathan Travers. You might know the name. I’ve just left his attorney’s office. They told me he’s missing. The men following me may have had something to do with his disappearance.”

The duty agent replied, “Yes, sir. Hold for a moment.” It was almost a minute before the agent returned to the call. “Sir, we know of Nathan Travers. He’s on our VIP list because of his federal government contracts. We’ll use a drone to catch up and trail the vehicle following you. We’re tracking your cell phone, and we’ll have an escort with you as soon as we can. They’ll accompany you for the remainder of your journey. Please hold.” The agent, after a minute, came back on the line. “You’re headed to Glendale?”

“Yes.” Toby did not ask how the agent knew his likely destination. “After that, we’ll go to my uncle’s house in Bel Air.”

“Good. We’ll arrange for one of our senior agents to meet with you at the Bel Air property. Try to keep your phone available for our calls.”

Toby disconnected and spoke to Billie. “The FBI said they’ll send a team to escort us. They’ll let me know when it’s near.”

“Thanks. I was listening. I’ve sent an emergency signal to my office. Can you send a copy of what you sent them to my boss, also? I’ll give you his cell number. He can provide backup if it’s needed.”

Toby sent off a copy of his files to the number Billie messaged to him. He opened the folder again and tried to concentrate on the contents. He picked up the second folder and leafed through the pages. He stopped and read a page for the second time.

“Billie?”

“Yes, sir?”

“Toby.”

“Yes, Sir Toby?”

“Stop that. I have your resume here. You’re a pilot? You served in the military?”

“They retired me. I ran over my senior officer. Accidentally.”

“Accidentally?”

“Well, he was running away. I chased him—in his vehicle. I hadn’t driven it before. Bumped into him. Broke his leg. I got out and blackened both his eyes while he tried to limp away. Bastard.”

Toby decided to not ask what had caused her to assault the man. “Why are you working as a driver if you have a helicopter license?”

“Both chopper and commercial license; I’m rated on your Cessna. You’ll see. We’ll need to visit one of your uncle’s properties, and while we can fly to a local airport, we have to do the last part by chopper.”

“How come you know more than I do?”

“I’m sure it’s all in the files you’re reading. I got a briefing from my boss, and he got one from the attorney. We made the assumption you’d continue my assignment.”

Toby recognized the unspoken question. “I agree, your assignment will continue.”

“Thank you. I’ll let my boss know.”

“When are we flying to my uncle’s property?”

“If we keep out of the hands of whoever’s following us—Monday morning. I’ve booked the Cessna for ten a.m. departure.”

Toby shrugged. Today was Thursday, and it could not be a more bewildering day. He continued to read files. The more he read, the more the unaccustomed weight of business responsibilities increased their burden. For a short moment, he wondered if he really could step into his uncle’s shoes. He dismissed the thought as rapidly as it had arrived. He was not his uncle, and he would make his own tracks. Nate would take back control when he reappeared, anyway.


AUTHOR Q&A

About me

I live in the snow country in California. I'm Australian and often get tangled in American English. It's 'aluminium', I tell you. I'm a couple of hundred years old; I was the first governor of South Australia, appointed in 1836, and have had numerous adventures since then. This century? I worked in exotic places like Bangkok, Singapore, Istanbul, Amsterdam, Dublin, with side trips to Moscow, Copenhagen, Reykjavík - the list is long. I write Thrillers and SciFi. Sometimes they're best sellers!

Q. Where can readers find out more about you?
A.
There may be additional details on my web site - www.JohnHindmarsh.com. Twitter is @John_Hindmarsh.
Q. This book is part of a series, tell us about your series.
A.
The series addresses questions in a political thriller context. What happens when a superintelligence sets out to prove it's better than man? What will be the social impacts as intelligent robots [bots] take over jobs? How will bots and humankind coexist? What if the SI wants to become president?
Q. What is the inspiration for the story?
A.
What happens when we develop AI (and SI)? Elon Musk: "I think we should be very careful about artificial intelligence... our biggest existential threat is probably that." Stephen Hawking: "Success in creating AI would be the biggest event in human history. Unfortunately, it might also be the last."

Next in:
Mystery, Thriller & Suspense
Human Garbage and The...
Facing the darkness in two gritty crime tales
Farraway Mist
Can she fall in love with a haunted man?
Scourge of God
Is there logic to these supernatural deaths?