I learnt from (the chimpanzee) Flo how to be mother. Flo was patient, tolerant. She was supportive.

She was always there. She was playful. She enjoyed having her babies, as good mothers do.
--Jane Goodall

Prologue Thirty years he’d worked here, six days a week, opening the door for the morning throngs and locking out the crime-riddled downtown every night. Alfred swished his broom back and forth in practiced steady sweeps. He took pride in the sparkle off the tile floor, the glisten of sinks in the bathrooms and the never-full trash bins. Years ago, an eager youth awed by the majesty of Los Angeles’ legal system, he’d dreamt of working hard and making a place for himself in this grand old courthouse. Now, his wife estranged, his daughter dead, he just felt tired. Alland changed that. Alfred mopped his brow with a faded kerchief. The air conditioner was broken—again. By the time it got hot enough people complained and his bosses sent him to get the big box fans stored in the basement, he’d be gone. He sighed. Every breath hurt his chest. It could be the illness. Or nerves. Probably nerves, but it didn’t matter any more. He checked his battered Timex. One fifty. Five more minutes gone forever. Time passed slowly when all you did was wait. He glanced toward Room 22 and blinked back the pain. God never intended a father outlive his children. He could see the Assassin—Mr. Smith he called himself—behind the back row, head down,

lips moving. The man’s skin was a warm dry brown despite the heat, his face smooth and unlined. The low rumble of voices and the crinkle of food wrappers muffled his words. He stopped and stared at something with those empty eyes, and began again. Not yet time. A man was supposed to take care of his family. Alfred had been excited six months ago when he hired Mr. Smith, but now he felt nothing. No fear. No hate. No regret. At least not for what he was about to do. Alfred didn’t judge people. That was the Almighty’s job, but he knew God understood. In exchange for Alfred’s savings, the Assassin agreed to kill Musai Alland, but allow him—Alfred—to claim responsibility. Alfred would have done it himself, but he had no idea how to end another man’s life. One fifty-two. Not much longer. In the reflection off the mirrored elevator doors, Alfred saw himself as the TV cameras would. A clean, pressed uniform bagged on an emaciated frame. Shoes, old and cracked, shone with polish. His sparse grey hair lay neatly against his freckled skull. Worry lined his face. More than worry— failure, for not knowing his only child was about to die. For ignoring the vulnerability of her youth. For the delight he felt raising such a wonderful creature as his Angel. A thin gold band, scarred from years of labor, shimmered against his parchment skin, his sole reminder of the stunning exotic dancer who stole his heart and his dreams, leaving nothing but a child who thought her daddy was perfect. Today everything ended. He gave the cat away this morning. Angel had found it in the alley, left eye missing and fur covered in blood. She nursed it back to health and loved it with every beat of her seventeen-year-old heart. When she disappeared, it wandered the apartment, searching for Angel with one yellow eye.

He checked his watch again. One fifty-five. He had a friend who guarded the jury, made sure it wasn’t distracted during deliberations. He said they’d have a decision after lunch, but that ended twenty-five minutes ago. What could they be debating? The defendant was guilty. Two o’clock. He heard the trill of the courtroom phone and then the pound of the gavel. All rise… **** Alfred Zematis’ personnel file called him dependable, friendly, and a hard worker. He kept to himself and had taken only three sick days in thirty years. The first was for the birth of his daughter, Angel. Alfred had proudly shown pictures of a pink and white bundle of squirming limbs and satin skin. His finger, thick as a sausage, its nail grimy with black dirt, would hover over her cherub cheeks and he’d repeat a promise he’d made: No evil would touch her, no matter what it cost him. His next sick day came when a neighbor left an urgent message with Alfred’s supervisor that one-year-old Angel had been crying all morning. Alfred rushed home to find a farewell note from his wife pinned to Angel’s yellow-and-white patchwork blanket. He hugged the infant, changed her diapers, and assured her that as long as they had each other, nothing in God’s glorious world could hurt them. From then on, until the County’s onsite daycare center had room, he could be found scrubbing floors or changing light bulbs or mopping with Angel tied to his chest in a homemade sling, Alfred’s heart beating against hers. Alfred took his third and final sick day when seventeen-year-old Angel died. Every night, alone in his two-room flat from sundown to sunup, he clawed at his memories, flailing at his failure to stop Alland. He’d known—in that way a man knows—the job offer wasn’t what it appeared, but Angel had been so excited. The money—so much for just one evening—meant Dosa, her pet name for her papa, would not have to work overtime. She gave him a web address, a password, and kissed

him for the last time. He had logged on that night from the library. It was a live cam of a nondescript room. A handsome, dark-skinned male introduced himself as Musai Alland. He wore conservative pleated slacks, a dark turtleneck and a thick gold chain around a muscular neck. He stood over an avatar—a caricature—of a naked girl, her limbs secured to a plywood platform and a belt holding her head so she couldn’t move. Blood oozed from cuts crisscrossing her pale skin and the grisly remains of nail beds where fingernails should have been. Alland assured the audience the pathetic creature was fictitious, her apparent pain the result of high-tech circuitry. He asked their input: Did they feel contempt for Alland because he invented such a device or disgust for the predator who destroyed the young girl? Did they pity her misery? Alfred felt mostly amazement at the humanness of the creature—her cracked voice, her tangled hair, the crazed look in her eyes. She squirmed and pleaded while the man named Alland brushed a soothing hand over her frightened face. Alland inhaled her fear with a narrow, aquiline nose and studied her misery with wide-set, soulless eyes. Behind him appeared a second man, notable only for the three-inch scar on his cheek that marred an otherwise perfect face. He nodded once and disappeared into the background. Alland selected a squat cylinder from a table to his left, like the mace canisters people carry for protection. He smiled at the avatar as he showed it to her. She pulled back, feral eyes wide, but she had nowhere to go. He watched her beg until her sobs became hysterical hiccups. Then, he sprayed the can into her mouth. She howled in pain, writhing from the chemicals. He squirted her pixie ears, button nose, her wide terrified eyes and her vagina. Her primal screams filled the room, vibrating from the walls, and her fingers clawed at the wooden bed creating bloody streaks under her hands. Her neck cords bulged like the roots of an old oak tree and her back arched beneath the wide

unforgiving straps. As tears sprang to Alfred’s eyes, he wondered what this horror show had to do with his Angel. Until one word soaked through: “Dosa!” Alfred blanched. No one used that name but Angel. He called her his angel and she called him her Archangel, or ‘two A’s—Dosa. Now he saw it, in the curve of her blood-spattered neck and the swell of her tortured cheek. The crazed eyes—that last week overflowed with the fullness of life— begged for mercy that would never come. Through blinding tears, he stabbed at the library’s pay phone, but got only the website’s answer machine. He called the police and gave them the website. They promised to get back to him. When he returned to the computer, Alland was handing Angel a jagged piece of wood. She grasped it in shaking hands and slashed her wrists over and over until they were but a gory sludge of tissue and blood. Alfred forced himself to watch until he was sure her soul had left the wrecked body. The next morning, he straightened his worn clothes, smoothed his hair, and appeared at the office of the District Attorney. The golden letters over the door said he protected the innocent. Alfred forced himself to remain calm as the Great Man brushed invisible lint from his Armani suit and splayed manicured fingers across the pristine top of his desk. “I have five minutes, Alfred.” Alfred rocked side to side as he talked, head bowed, coarse hands clutching his County work cap. Well before the DA’s diamond-studded Patek Philippe watch ticked off the allotted time, he shook his head. “It’s a simulacrum, Alfred, not your daughter. Torturing a simulated human is not a crime.” Alfred didn’t even know what a ‘sim-yoo-lay-crum’ was. He had dropped out of high school when his mother died and worked sixty hours a week to raise his five siblings. A man took care of his own. He left the DA’s office, somewhat comforted, until Angel’s body turned up in a dumpster,

thrown away like so much trash. Alfred couldn’t tell the detectives much about the second man, and the scar matched no one in the National Crime Information Center database, NCIC, but he picked Musai Alland from a line-up. Alland’s high priced attorney assured the jury that his client wished to attract Hollywood’s attention, not the police. Why use a real person when a simulacrum would do? **** When strangers looked at Mr. Smith, if they noticed him at all, they saw a handsome welldressed man with those dark foreign looks that could be Italian, or Middle Eastern. Maybe even Spanish. They didn’t suspect the passion he felt for Allah that colored every decision in his unusual life. They didn’t see the man responsible for murdering thousands of innocents around the world in his zealousness to please his god, nor the hatred that fueled that aggression, or even his life’s purpose, which was an assassin. Mr. Smith prayed three times a day, showered morning and night and performed every sacred ablution, but never felt clean in this unholy land. The scent of animals slaughtered in names other than Allah’s, the noxious aroma of the infidels’ cologne blaring their carnal pursuits, the stench of their sweat, leeched into the Assassin’s being until bile burned his throat. He longed for his Muslim community of humble homes and wives in modest hijabs—may Allah be pleased with them— where the faithful followed the time-honored laws of Nature without thought of corporeal needs or capitalist squander. Was it not Allah—Allahu Akbar—who created everything before the Western infidels perverted it to their hedonistic ways? This self-proclaimed world leader repulsed him with their unfettered press, their ignorance of the laws of God and inability to accept any viewpoint but their own. In Islam, the good of the community was valued over the one. Yet, the Qur’an—Masha Allah—instructed he live in harmony

with the infidels. This he had done until the infidel invaded Iraq—Allah’s land—and forced their democracy on all. Now, Allah trusted him to destroy the tyrants. Insha'Allah. Subhan Allah. As he traversed the wide Courthouse hall with its dirty tile floor and barren walls, the din assaulted his ears—low male voices and high-pitched females, the jingle of cell phones, and the hedonistic music seeping from earbuds. Their souls were already dead. Their bodies would die in Allah’s merciful time. “I desire nothing but reform, and with none but Allah is my direction to the right and successful path. On him do I rely and to him do I turn.” “I hope we can eat in here.” The Assassin jerked his head toward the voice. Somehow, he’d entered Room 22. The courtroom was filled with profligate sinners whispering among themselves. They insulted Allah, the women side-by-side with their consorts as though equals and the men choked into submission by their lust. None in this unholy land understood duty. The vacuous face of a half-naked whore stared at a swarthy man with ferret eyes. His stench assaulted the Assassin. Rolls of fat tumbled from the neck and armholes of his grey-white tank top and stretched the thin-ribbed cotton to its maximum. “Look at this.” Ferret Eyes shoved a newspaper in front of Whore. His face was florid from the heat and sweat dotted his scalp, turning his close-cut blond hair into a damp, musky swamp. “ ‘Is it Real or is it Memorex? Can a Jury Tell the Difference?’ It used to be easy—you knew it when you saw it.” He snickered at his banal wit. “Now, who knows?” The desire to rid the world of this shallow heathen grew like a desert flower under spring rain.

The Assassin stuffed his hands into his pockets before they could crush the arrogance from the infidel eyes and chanted. Allah is Great, Allah is Great I bear witness that there is no divinity but Allah I bear witness that Muhammad is Allah's Messenger These infidels were not who Allah instructed he kill today. Whore tittered and flicked a pierced tongue over anemic lips. Tattoos covered more of her skinny body than the tube-top miniskirt. “I want Alland to autograph my boob. I can sell the picture on eBay.” Ferret Eyes shifted his rheumy gaze to her surgically enhanced chest and then away. “It’s hot in here. I’m going to prop that door open.” He glanced at the Assassin standing in the rear and back at Whore. “Save my seat, honey, huh?” A CNN reporter’s words floated through the open door. “As the quality of digital and print media exceeds our ability to detect flaws, courts must make life-defining decisions based on criteria they don’t fully grasp or stand qualified to judge. The doctored photo of President Clinton shaking hands with Saddam Hussein did more to bring the critical nature of this legal quandary to the fore than any event in recent memory.” Ferret Eyes nodded his head sagely. “The prosecutor says Alland tortured and killed a girl disguised as an a-va-tar—a fake person.” He stumbled over the word’s pronunciation. “Alland’s attorneys say there was no real girl, only the a-va-tar.” Ferret Eyes poked Whore with chubby fingers. “What d’you think?” The Assassin marveled at the American propensity to talk to complete strangers. “Musai has skills, you know?” Whore chomped on a wad of gum and cracked the knuckles of

her red chapped hands as she fixed hooded eyes onto the dais where the judge would appear. “He’s a genius with this computer stuff—like really high tech. The FBI asks him for advice.” Ferret Eyes scratched his belly and started to respond, but the reporter drowned him out. “Advances in computer graphics blur the line between fact and fiction to virtual oblivion. If the prosecution loses today, Hollywood and videographers nationwide gain the official loophole they need to cloak even pornography in the lawful guise of computer simulations.” The pound of the gavel silenced further discussion. The jury had reached its decision. “All rise…” **** The Assassin slipped from the room as the judge thanked the jury for their service. Now, he alone offered Zematis retribution. Allah understood righting the wrongs of the temporal world, with methods not always clear to others. The Assassin took it on faith. The janitor must also. Zematis approached, head tilted, eyebrows raised. The Assassin allowed a smile to cross his lips as he led Zematis into the stairwell. “We are close,” he soothed as he hurried the old man’s shuffling pace. “Trust me.” “When will you kill him?” Zematis whispered as the heavy fire door slammed behind him. The Assassin turned toward Alfred as understanding crossed the old man’s face. “That scar—” The Assassin wrenched Alfred’s neck until he heard a satisfying snap and tossed the carcass over the stairwell. It bounced off a railing and thunked to a stop three floors down. The Assassin hurried down the stairs and pounded a note into the broken body. Alfred appeared at peace for the first time since they’d met. The killer had grown to like the old man, who felt such pain for the loss of his daughter. …they who are slain (in Allah’s way) live, finding their sustenance in the Presence of their

Lord. They rejoice in the Bounty provided by Allah. The Assassin felt joy for Zematis. He had served Allah no less than Alland would. What a rare find, Alland. When the Assassin—with his god's help– had called for Muslims to destroy America, the Frenchman Alland answered. He had proven his worth when he identified the American infidel willing to trade secrets for money, but when Allah sent him to Los Angeles, Alland had fallen for the beautiful Angel. He couldn’t get her out of his mind and she began to interfere with his divine work. He had been forced to destroy her. The father should have understood, should have realized the part his daughter played in God’s plan, but he had issued his own fatwa, against Alland. The Assassin, praise be to Allah, had answered Alfred’s call. Alland was too valuable to be killed. He dialed a number as he entered the downtown rush of people. “It has begun.” The connection broke. The brilliance of Alland’s partner, Kalian Delamagente, provided the Prophet and his followers their first solid opportunity to avenge the deaths of the faithful. How fitting to use the infidel’s own people. He placed another call as he awaited his New York flight. His NSA contact would be pleased with his news. **** In 1979, the People of Islam deposed the Shah of Iran and stormed the U.S. Embassy In 1982, the People of Islam bombed the US Embassy in Beirut In 1983, they blew up the U.S. Marine barracks in Beirut In 1988, they bombed Pan Am Flight 103 In 1990, led by the courageous Saddam Hussein, they invaded Kuwait In 1993, they bombed the World Trade Center in New York

In 1996, they bombed U.S. Air Force housing in Saudi Arabia In 1998, they bombed U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania In 2000, they attacked and disabled the USS Cole In 2001, they destroyed the American Twin Towers and the Pentagon America has no stomach for this fight or the resolve to see it through. America must withdraw all Trident submarines from the world’s oceans. Do this or Allah’s wrath will fall like a firestorm on your people. Allah Inshallah. The janitor’s death, with its grisly message, catapulted Alland’s acquittal to its above-the-fold position in the Los Angeles Times. The jurors attributed their verdict to the fine print in the credits: Simulations provided by K. Delamagente. Any similarity to real places or events is strictly coincidental.

Chapter 1 Kalian Delamagente’s night wasn’t going well. For starters, the dull thudding headache that began several hours ago had burned through her left eye and exploded like shrapnel over her head and shoulders. Aspirin had done nothing except upset her stomach. She pawed through her purse, past a collection of tissues, change, and AA batteries, until she found an Imitrex. She bit it in half, dry swallowed, and closed her eyes to wait. On a normal night, she’d be home, curled on the couch reading, Sandy’s cold muzzle snuggled into her lap, but today she’d stayed at her lab to work on tomorrow’s presentation. Despite weeks of fifteen-hour days, her fate remained in the grip of a hunk of circuits with a god complex. Technically, Otto was an AI—artificial intelligence—programmed to collect data and present it as a multi-sensory report. Some considered him a brain clone, but he was more than that. Otto made decisions based on an objective interpretation of facts, immune to emotion and experience. This sounded good when she stood for her Orals, but implementation had proven a challenge. From the moment she pushed Otto’s go pedal, he stopped listening to her. Deadlines and rules became constraints of lesser AI’s. Every time she added attributes such as ‘team player’ (a difficult concept for binary code), he used his problem solving algorithms to circumvent her instructions. She finally decided to give him his virtual head and see where he went. If he didn’t succeed by the time her

funds ran out, they’d both be deactivated. And not just her future depended on what happened tomorrow. For most of her son Sean’s youth, she’d been an absentee mother, relying first on her parents, and then grandparents, while she pursued college dreams. This worked until their death left her alone, without a safety net. Raising a son turned out to be like one of those personality tests where you had no idea what the right answer was. What did children talk about? What did a ten-year-old want for his birthday? How had her parents made holidays festive? With each failure, Sean’s confidence slipped further until one day, he asked, Are you leaving, too. That started her metamorphosis. She helped him with homework, attended his music events and volunteered for fieldtrips. They spent a lot of time at first talking about school, and then his day, and finally anything on their minds. Gradually, slowly, she fell in love with the wonderful man her boy was becoming. She didn’t know when it happened, but she had no idea how she’d survive alone. She could live with headaches, but not with failing her son. That fear wrapped around her like a New York traffic jam, until she felt her mother’s gaze, across the gulf of time, smiling as though she knew everything would work out. Kali rubbed her neck, opened her eyes, and returned to work. **** In the bleak emptiness of night, Riverside Church chimed ten o’clock. Kali yawned and tried to rearrange herself, but couldn’t find a position she hadn’t already abused. Whoever said life “like wine” got better with age had never been a thirty-something mother-slash-grad student. She closed her eyes and let migraine-inspired nausea roll through her like a tsunami. Ten hours to show time. Six hundred minutes. Thirty-six thousand seconds. Despite the competition’s focus on Trident submarines, Kali would use early man to showcase Otto’s data gathering skills. It’s what she’d been working on when she entered the NSA—National Security Agency—competition and she hadn’t

had time to reprogram Otto. Actually, the dawn of man was an inspired choice. Only the hardest bones—skulls, jaws, teeth—weathered the winds and rains that ground mountains to dust and rocks to pebbles. The rare survivor became the basis for evolutionary theory. As luck would have it, Otto excelled at just that sort of conclusion-drawing. It was up to Kali to make the argument that what Otto did for understanding man’s two-million year journey would work for intelligence gathering and Trident submarines. The problem was, Kali couldn’t control Otto. She never knew where he would drop her in the temporal river of man’s past. She’d plugged in a particular day—June 4th 1.8 million b.c.e—but he reminded her the Egyptians hadn’t yet invented the calendar. If she focused on one scenario, he’d retrieve thousands with the same space-time position. And that wasn’t her worst problem. Otto’s movie froze after eleven seconds. Maybe it was too much data or too little or any of a zillion possibilities, but she needed to solve it tonight. She massaged her temples as Otto rendered a 3D Pleistocene simulation complete with scents (from sensory ports she’d installed on the CPU), surround sounds, three-dimensional images, even multivariate climate—as well as the primordial primate who had become a familiar figure in Otto’s movies. Another unexplainable quirk. Why had Otto latched onto this female? He was programmed to provide the big picture, not track an individual, but he always returned to her as though trying to communicate something to Kali. Let the judges think she planned it. Truth be known, Kali had grown fond of the creature. She was curious, friendly, with a sophisticated style of communication Kali wouldn’t have dreamt existed when mankind was new. Maybe through this female, Otto intended to explain why this early iteration prospered and prior

hominids, like Australopithecus, became extinct. When she started her PhD, Kali had concentrated on that exact question, but the grant gatekeepers wanted her in the field, not feeding data into computers, and her fellowship wasn’t renewed. She applied for the NSA grant as a last resort, shrugging off childhood dreams that started with ‘I’ll never…’ and ended with idealisms like ‘sell my soul to the devil’. Her headache had dulled, but now her stomach growled. She poked through junk food wrappers littering her desk and found a plastic container with a brown, furry lump. When she shook it, nothing moved so she headed for the vending machines. Somewhere a door slammed and footsteps echoed in the empty halls. She hurriedly selected a double-package of chips, filled a plastic cup with water from the drinking fountain, and rushed back to her lab. As she nibbled, the female habiline trotted across the African savanna. Despite a truncated forehead, prognathic snout, and negligible chin, in a jogging suit, she’d be indistinguishable from most of Columbia’s students. Her long slender legs topped with the round firmness of mankind’s first gluteus maximus brought grace to her movements. Her thorax was raised so she could draw the deep breaths required for extended jogging. Kali jogged five miles a day, but this female did that before breakfast. “Who are you?” Her shoulder length hair hung like exploded cattails, the color of dusty obsidian. A bulge broke the flat plane of her lightly-furred stomach. Dried mud and dung covered her face and shoulders. Slender digits of well-formed hands grabbed vegetation as she ran. Every movement bristled with caution and confidence as she searched her surroundings. Her head swiveled side-to-side, over and over. Until she stared straight into the face of her twenty-first century observer. Coffee-brown eyes,

the same variegated shade as Kali’s, sparkled with intelligence. And something else. A desiccated trail of tears etched the female’s dark face like an African wadi, but Kali saw no cuts or bruises. Could early humans feel emotional pain? A paleo-horse’s nicker made the female gasp. Was she frightened? Kali dredged up the jingle she’d learned in second grade. Eyes in front, they hunt. Eyes to the side, they hide. These primitive horses—Hipparion—were vegetarians, not carnivores. Someone barked what sounded like ‘Lhootih’ as the movie froze, eleven seconds after it started. “Lyta.” The female had a name. Kali stretched. Where would Otto go next? Sometimes a young Lyta brachiated through the jungle canopy, arm over arm; other times she crossed the dry savanna with a baby in tow. If Otto had a plan, he wasn’t sharing it. Not that he could without vocal processors. Another detail awaiting an infusion of money. Kali tugged at her tiny diamond earrings, all that remained of her mother. She couldn’t afford to fail. Her stomach knotted and she remembered how she got into this predicament. Cat. Her headache buzzed just thinking of her genius friend. She and Cat—Catherine Stockbury, the self-proclaimed philomathic autodidact with the 190 IQ—shared an office because the other Columbia PhD candidates thought Kali too old and Cat too mean. It hadn’t taken long to realize Cat’s haunting beauty was merely a distraction for the razor edge of her mind. She had wellthought-out opinions, liberally shared, but like acquiring a taste for coffee, Cat was worth it and they became best friends. One evening months ago, Kali had needed a break from grading papers and Cat just liked breaks, so they ate take-out while Kali complained about the inequities of research funding. Two

minutes into her tirade, it became clear Cat wasn’t listening. She sat slack-jawed, eyes fixed on Otto’s latest Lyta scene. “I smell red oats grass...” “Otto collects info on flora and fauna, paleoclimate, geography, everything he can, and creates a data-driven simulation.” Perspiration dripped down Cat’s temples. “More than that. I’m…there.” Kali leaned back, now on comfortable territory. “The scents and sounds come from sensory ports, but that’s only part.” Kali chewed her tuna burger and worked out how to explain it. “I stitched together a 360 degree four-dimensional panorama—” “You included time.” Kali nodded and continued, “…of Pleistocene Africa from the billions of megabytes collected about the era. The result is similar to those virtual tours of hotel rooms, but Otto carries it further. As you move through the habitat, Otto re-renders everything as your eyes would in real time. His processors are so fast and his database so huge—equivalent to the digital size of the Library of Congress—he can add the details that make it feel real. “Let’s take the ‘pothole’ you stepped in. It’s a reasonable assumption the equatorial heat would spiderweb the savanna with crevices. Where I might not have thought to add that, Otto would never miss it. The eagle’s kree you heard? Even then, raptors scavenged.” Kali popped a fry into her mouth before continuing. “The ‘actors’—Homo habilis, Australopithecine and Homo erectus—are built using data from ancient bones and teeth. Because there are so few organic remains, the creatures aren’t as realistic as their surroundings.” A severe understatement. In fact, they were cardboard figures amidst a lush, vibrant world. “It’s like virtual reality, Kali.” “In a way, but virtual reality has limits. Otto is more a simulated reality. He isn’t predesigned,

as the world around you isn’t. Everything is interactive and you can influence what you choose. When you enter Otto’s world, you and he discover it as you go. ” Cat extracted a file from her desk drawer and tossed it to Kali. “Strategies in Support of Trident Submarines. Fascinating.” Where was this going? “Go online and apply for the grant.” “But Otto is an educational tool.” Cat fixed Kali with an intimidating glare. “You just described an intelligence tool.” A spot of pink bloomed on each cheek. “Every day, US agents develop intel pictures based on millions and millions of intercepts. The sheer volume overwhelms the effort. The hope a better mousetrap exists—an Otto—is the raison d’etre for this grant. If Otto can uncover intelligence affecting Trident submarines, they want to meet him.” “I know nothing about submarines. How am I supposed to build a scenario?” With a tap of her finger on Lyta’s world, Cat ordered, “Explain that. They’ll get the idea.” “Why don’t you enter? Your DNA virus is a slam-dunk.” Kali had seen Cat’s research, an ingenious approach to disabling submarines through their computer network. Cat nonchalantly flipped her invitation toward Kali. “The government thinks American subs are invincible.” Her gaze slid off. “Everything has an Achilles heel, Kali. A sub’s is its network.” Kali didn’t believe that. “They must use state-of-the-art firewalls. I don’t have a decimal point of their resources and I never have problems.” Cat twisted a finger through her hair and nodded as a smile crept across her lips. “Against nonorganic attacks.” Kali stuttered, “Non-organic, like worms and trojans. What else is there?” Cat’s brow creased as she struggled with the polyglot of ideas storming through her

extraordinary brain. “Let me explain. Though you avoid the flu virus, you wouldn’t think twice about exposing yourself to a computer virus. Why? Because you believe influenza can’t infect computers and an electronic virus can’t attack organic matter. But think how naïve that is.” Kali was thinking, and couldn’t come up with a reason. The physiology of man and machine made them immune to each other’s diseases. People didn’t rust and machines didn’t get cancer. Simple facts. As though she read Kali’s mind, Cat continued. “A computer’s make-up isn’t that dissimilar from yours. Both are collections of electric impulses and scripting. Consider this: The deadliest viruses known to man—Ebola, the plague, small pox—have deoxyribonucleic acid as their genetic material. The same DNA contained in each of your fifty trillion cells and the same DNA which will power tomorrow’s computers.” Kali’s head was swimming. How did the flu and computers and DNA tie together?. Still, if she knew anything about Cat, it was that the intellectual trip never failed to satisfy, so she nodded. Sure. She’d read a lot about DNA computers. Their blinding speed, minimalist size and portability made their potential stunning—once scientists figured them out. Cat continued. “DNA that fits in a drop of water with room to spare carries its own energy pack and can perform ten trillion operations at once. The mechanics are deceptively simple. A high school senior won a scholarship to college by programming the Declaration of Independence into a DNA molecule. She described it as counterintuitively easy.” Cat paused to see if Kali understood. “I get it. Every high school biology student knows DNA is the essence of an organism’s physiognomy, but how could DNA invade inorganic material like Otto’s digital data streams?” Cat smiled and held up a glass petri dish holding a blob of dark viscous goo. “My DNA virus, NEV for Nine-eleven, can be smeared on any electronic channel.” She swiped a finger through the

ooze and applied it to her computer cord. “It’s absorbed, works into the electronic channels and is carried to the network.” An hour glass appeared on her computer screen, tumbled a few times and was replaced by a green circle. “The firewalls just gave it a pass. They’re looking for digital threats, not organic. NEV is now free to attack the network in whatever way it has been programmed.” Lee Greenwood’s God Bless the USA blared from the speakers. Kali felt the blood drain from her face. “The NSA can’t ignore this. They’re the ones who stop threats. Don’t they have that big cyberthreat division?” “So big they think DNA viruses don’t exist. Troglodytes. NEV required only simple reengineering—merging the typical computer virus programming into DNA’s ladder of sugars and phosphates. A dolt could do it.” “How’d you change their minds?” The ghost of a smile crept over Cat’s face. “I first sent a simple textual explanation. They didn’t even notice the file size. I’d hidden a rootkit inside— “Which gave you a tunnel to their network.” “When they turned me down, I unleashed a sasser virus,” “Those’re mean.” “It dropped a payload of remote control software which gave me access to everything. I downloaded porn onto the Administrator’s computer. He called me within five minutes.” Kali loved when Cat talked geek. “I can’t believe they missed the stuffed file.” “Intellectual myopia is human nature, Kali. Too often, it pre-empts reason. Look at the 9-11 conspiracy nuts who claim the government killed its own citizens because an airplane can’t blow up a skyscraper. This despite perspicacious scientific reports to the contrary.” Cat had a point. Two of Kali’s friends believed the accusations because they made more sense

than discussions of jet fuel and building codes and steel strength. People believed what they understood. “That’s brilliant.” Kali sighed. Cat shook her head. “Frightening. We must neutralize NEV before someone deploys it against us. The only tricky part of its creation was believing in it. Once our enemies make that intellectual leap, America is at grave risk. How do I convince the NSA that our most deadly enemy isn’t the suicide bomber or the warrior with an AK-47, but the next great idea?” Worry lines framed her mouth. “NEV can not only eradicate the country’s ability to wage war, it can control America’s supreme weapon, the Trident submarines.” Kali leaned forward. “You’ll have to educate me on Tridents, Cat.” Kali wasn’t anti-war, but she did feel talking to our enemies in terms they understood would accomplish more than bludgeoning them into submission. Force made them compliant only until they could fight back. Cat flexed her foot. Her words came out weary, but urgent. “Tridents are self-contained battle stations. They can stay submerged for months at a time. They make their own air and water and can run on nuclear power for decades without refueling. Each of their nukes can split apart in flight and hit over a hundred targets and millions of people with dead-on accuracy. NEV can put Armageddon in the hands of a misanthrope, or a madman with his own agenda and I’m the only one with a solution.” Cat’s eyes locked onto Kali. “So how’s Otto?” Kali snorted. Just like Cat. Why spend more time discussing a topic when she had nothing new to say? “The NSA is looking for research like yours, Cat, not mine.” “We’ll see about that. Let’s play Do it My Way.” They used this project analysis tool when one or the other was desperate. It allowed only facts

to prove a point—no emotional pleas, anecdotal stories, opinions, generalizations—and the loser must accept the winner’s conclusions. Cat usually won. Kali swallowed a mouthful of tuna sandwich, took a gulp of unsweetened tea and started. The more she and Cat talked, the more commonalities they found between Otto and intelligence techniques. Both he and government analysts sorted through huge volumes of unrelated information according to prescribed algorithms, but Otto did it better. He sifted through all types of intercepted intelligence—electronic, signal, human, verbal—found patterns, and presented his conclusions to all five senses rather than one. When they finished, Cat dropped into silence. Kali sipped her tea while her friend’s exceptional brain analyzed everything. Halfway through the third onion ring, she jerked. “Otto’s like HAL, before HAL went crazy.” By the time Cat left, Kali had submitted her entry. The invitation arrived two days later and Otto became the NSA’s hope for a better submarine mousetrap and Kali’s hope for financial independence. **** As Otto sorted through gigabytes of data, collected like pieces and rejected others, the gremlin inside Kali’s skull continued his attack. She massaged her temples and pondered whether Lyta got headaches. Absently, she reached for a five-by-seven photo of a gawky teen and a panting yellow Lab, her son Sean and Sandy. Sean’s collar stood up on one side, down on the other, as did Sandy’s ears. One oversized hand scratched Sandy and the other gripped the neck of a weathered string bass. Youthful freckles sprinkled the bridge of his nose. His straightforward laughing gaze said he trusted Kali would never let him down. Otto burped. He was ready with another video.

Chapter 2 Farha felt good—exhausted from his job in the so-called City of Angels, but satisfied. He now knew the name behind Alland’s success. He closed his eyes and reviewed Delamagente’s background. Pregnant at fourteen, followed by the death of her parents, had ended a promising academic career. Now, son grown, she had returned to academia and stumbled on a revolutionary intelligence tool. Farha couldn’t wait to get his hands on it. With his guidance, her ‘Otto’ would bring America’s doom. Farha Al-Zahrawi’s family were also learned people forced by events to follow unusual paths. His father moved the family to Canada when Farha was a boy. Why? Farha had never asked that question. They lived the humble life of a college professor, though his father traveled often as part of his commitment to their imam and the mosque. His mother was well-educated, with a bibliophile’s joy of words and writing, which she passed on to her three sons, each night after their evening meal. It was an ideal life. That is, until the FBI placed the elder Al-Zahrawi on the Suspected Terrorists List for ‘financing the 9-11 attacks on America’. The family fled to war-torn Afghanistan where his parents

were murdered, victims of American mortars. That irrevocably changed the life path of Farha and his brothers. The Qur’an ordered that those who killed Muslims must themselves be killed. Farha’s elder brother went first, and died attacking an American outpost without killing a single soldier. Omar, the next in line, ended up in Guantanamo for tossing an IED into a Humvee filled with U.S. servicemen. It was a dud. That left it to Farha to revenge not just his parents now, but his two brothers also. The FBI accused him of running an Afghani al-Qaeda training camp and masterminding the 1998 attack on the US Kenya embassy, but were unable to prove it. When asked about it by CBC News, he answered, “If I had done that, why would I be here, walking freely, in your beautiful nation?" They’d nodded and moved on to the many humanitarian causes he funded. But, in fact, he was the architect. That August morning more than a decade ago, Farha parked across the street from the American Kenyan embassy while an eighteen wheeler crashed through the rear security into the building. Thousands of gallons of diesel fuel in its trailer exploded, destroying the building. Before the Americans could respond, Farha blew up the Tanzanian embassy, followed by the devastating attack on the USS Cole. When brother jihadists attacked America at home on September 11th, Farha expected this bastion of Western influence to melt like ice in the desert sun, as Europe had done after the massive explosions in Madrid and the unstoppable riots in Paris. But instead, they had declared war on Islam. Farha shrugged. It was again up to him. He looked at the report with its fourteen numbers. They filled barely a page, but had taken two years to collect. Twenty-four months hiding atop hirise buildings, amid mountainous scrub brush, waiting for submarines. No one did a better job hiding subs than America, but this one page held their undoing. That’s what had caught Farha’s attention, so many years ago: What did America do that other

nations didn’t? The science required to decloak a submarine was simple enough for any college student. Earth’s magnetosphere surrounded the planet in equidistant rows of fluxes, akin to a magnetic bubble, unless disturbed by the passage of something metal. One of his engineering professors at Oxford likened it to a thief escaping through a crowd. The swarm shuffles apart to allow the intruder room and returns to their original position when he’s gone. Police can find the thief by the ripple his passage leaves in the crowd. The skinnier the thief, the harder it was to find the ripple. The trick with submarines was minimizing the ripple. America not only hid their submarine’s magnetic wake better than anyone else, they went a step further. Because the weight and mass of objects was never precisely the same, each disruption was slightly different, creating an object’s ‘magnetic signature’. The US Navy had collected these for every submarine in the world, including the Tridents, and used them to identify an enemy’s boat. That’s what Farha wanted: the signature. If he couldn’t find the subs by the ripple they left, he’d find them by their signatures. The problem was, these were stored on a top secret SIPNet server, which required the highest clearance to just sit in front of. Even with permission, nothing could be copied from or to the drive. He’d offered uncountable wealth to any number of Navy personnel to hack it. They’d laughed; tried and failed. He’d thanked them and slit their throats. No one laughed at him, and no one refused to help Allah. He finally found an employee with the required clearance and a crippling gambling debt. For a million dollars, all the man had to do was log on and take screen shots of the monitor with a camera hidden in a button on his shirt. Before he finished the words, log on, the man shook his head. All his top secret clearance allowed him to do was sit at the computer. Not log-in. That required authorization from the next level up in his chain of command. Finding two defectors in tandem had proven impossible. Farha grudgingly admitted that in this

area, the United States Navy protected their information well. He’d have to get the magnetic signatures himself. He found the Tridents’ home ports on a web site available to the public under the Freedom of Information laws. The site helpfully explained how Tridents returned periodically for maintenance. Farha purchased a Magnetic Anomaly Detector—MAD, aimed it at an incoming sub and waited for the magnetosphere’s wrinkle to appear. Nothing. No matter how close he got, the Tridents left no discernable magnetic wake, even before entering the huge degaussing arches tasked with demagnetizing them. Next, Farha tried to bribe the officers who purchased the Navy’s MAD devices, first with money, and then threats, mutilation of critical body parts, even killed a wife and child in front of the husband, to no avail. One tough Marine laughed at Farha, gasping out as his skin was cut from his body that Farha could build his own if his raghead friends weren’t lost in the fifteenth century. Farha gutted him for the insult, spilling his living entrails onto a bed of hot coals, but the man had given Farha an idea. Re-engineered MAD device in hand, thanks to an America-hating German, Farha had rented a hi-rise apartment in Bangor Washington with a line of sight to the submarines in port, and instructed his mujahideen to stay until they succeeded. Days passed, and then weeks, before a submarine appeared. They recorded the fin number, aimed the MAD device at the boat and uploaded the magnetic signature to Farha. The bend in the fluxes created a ghostly shape that matched perfectly to the picture of the submarine in port. Farha sent workers to every Navy degaussing facility with orders to collect the Trident signatures, and went to the next step of his plan. These electronic images should be able—in theory—to identify a Trident’s position anywhere in the world. All Farha had to do was develop an

algorithm that separated out all magnetic objects except the Trident. His programmers tried over and over, but as soon as the sub dove, they lost it. There was simply too much interference from underwater metal, debris, even ocean floor geology. He had no choice but to rely on the female Delamagente. As he waited for tomorrow’s presentation, an idea percolated. The Trident’s nuclear power was more potent than many of the world’s nine nuclear nations. Selling the subs’ locations to those intent on destroying them would make Farha wealthy, but America’s enemies would certainly pay more to control one. Probably enough to fund the jihad forever. Delamagente’s roommate, Stockbury, would unveil just such an invention tomorrow. Farha laughed. Alhamdulillah. With a sophisticated MAD device such as Otto, and the ability to take over any computer network with Stockbury’s DNA virus, America’s days of attacking Islam and sinning against Allah, were over.

Chapter 3 Another hour passed in eleven second bursts. The lead male set a torrid pace, muscles rippling across a hirsute body, but Lyta had no difficulty keeping up. Her smooth brown face no longer looked pained, just resigned but to what? The phone snapped Kali back to the twentieth century. “Hello?” She heard soft measured breathing, followed by a dial tone. “Jerk,” but she was glad the building had an after-hours guard. Numbers careened across the screen as Otto culled through thousands of encyclopedias, online libraries, databases, historic records, weather charts, maps, primary documents, searching for his next scenario. When he finished collecting data, another program called VripPack would infill the digital picture like a three-dimensional Photoshop. As he worked, Kali observed her lab as a visitor might. Every horizontal surface around Otto’s oversized monitor was covered with stacks of books and printouts. A globe, North-South magnetic fluxes like handles on a teapot, dominated a corner. Cat’s half of the room was spotless, a testament

to her officemate’s anal retentive proclivities. Cat had finished her presentation days ago and was spending the night in DC while Kali was here, begging Otto for a miracle. “Excuse me.” Kali jerked and stabbed her ‘hide screen’ macro. A burly, broad-faced man filled her door. “What… Where’d you come from?” Thick blonde hair surrounded a tan face, and a smile hovered over full lips. He jangled a key. Kali tugged her earring. “Did you just call?” He gave a quizzical look and Kali began again, “Can I help you?” “I’m looking for Faith Saunders. She’s a professor in the history department. I’m taking her out for dinner.” He wore a pressed Polo shirt and khaki pants, and carried a bouquet of wildflowers. The scent of Old Spice drifted under Kali’s nose as he pushed a wayward thatch of hair from his eyes. She frowned at the pale band of skin around his ring finger. “You want 1180 Amsterdam.” Kali pointed to her left. “Oh! Golly gee, it’s easy to get lost here,” he sputtered with a self-effacing smile. “Name’s Fred.” Kali shook his hand. It was soft, fleshy, a little damp. “Hey, I made reservations at Tom’s. Do you think it’s romantic? I’m proposing.” His eyes glowed with childish enthusiasm. Asking Kali for culinary advice was like asking Cyndy Lauper about fashion, but the site of TV’s Seinfeld, should be a good choice, so she nodded. “If it’s crowded, try Café Lalo from You’ve Got Mail. Everyone celebrates there.” He bobbed his head as his eyes took in the clutter. Despite his boyish innocence, something about him was off and she wished he’d leave. “Sorry to bother you.” He flashed a toothy grin, touched his brow with a two-fingered salute,

and disappeared out the door. She breathed a sigh of relief, but couldn’t help imagining the intimate dinner followed by… It would be nice to have a friendly meal after a long day. Otto’s beep pulled Kali back. She unhid her screen and gasped. There stood another female, also man’s ancestor, but three-million years older than Lyta. “How did you get here?” Thick hair-fur shrouded a broad face with jutting brow ridges and a protruding muzzle, projecting almost as far out as a chimpanzee’s. Simian arms dangled halfway down her bandy legs. Dull fuzz covered her body, but not enough to hide a circumspection to her appearance as she stood frozen at edge of a forest. Her almost-human eyes were wide and her breath came in shallow pants. Pre-humans survived by avoiding danger, but this creature exhibited enviable courage as she pointed to herself and mouthed ‘Boah’. “Your name is Boah…” The explosive ‘b’ made the guttural ‘h’ almost an after-thought. A bear-sized bandog padded forward. Lyta barked what sounded like ‘Ump’ and the proto-dog plopped to the ground, massive head nestled between filthy paws, without taking his liquid brown eyes off Boah. Muzzle split in a smile, he resembled a feral Sandy—but bigger, uglier, stronger and dirtier. A thick red tongue hung out and the cheerful up-down movement of his tail sent clouds of dirt into the air. “I can see why Lyta calls you ‘Ump’.” Ump’s dewdrop-shaped ears perked as Boah moved forward. With her squatty figure fully exposed, Kali could see ‘she’ was a he—and the movie froze. The scene stunned Kali. No scientist would put an australopithecine like Boah, a Homo habilis like Lyta and a canis together, yet Otto, with his logical connections based on available facts, did. This would be a perfect example of his deductive reasoning, her digital Hail Mary pass. She spent

the next hour detailing the story of Boah, Lyta and Ump, three unrelated creatures whose lives Otto linked. Finished, she locked her office, collected Otto’s back-up and started home. She called this one Otto, though for network purposes, it was designated ‘Otto Two’, compared to Otto One for the lab Otto. They were clones, mirror images right down to security precautions and screen savers. Anything she could do on Otto One, she could do on Otto Two and she’d come to think of Otto as an ambulatory robot-like AI, not as a split personality. The velvety darkness turned buildings into soft grey contours limned against the New York horizon. Inside the campus borders, the bustle of industry and the sizzle of hope continued despite the hour. Students laughed and flirted on the steps of Lowe Library. A pizza delivery boy swerved past her as Passacaglia in C Minor erupted from the 5,000 pipes of the chapel’s organ. Ten minutes later she reached her building, squashed between two high rises and backed by a cluttered narrow alley. She entered the lobby, a generous word for the locked unguarded foyer no larger than a good-sized broom closet. Columbia subsidized it as long as Kali pursued her PhD. Its linoleum floor was scarred and beige walls chipped, but Kali felt lucky to have it. As she fumbled with her lock, she heard a yip. “Sandy! Shh! You’ll wake Mr. Winters!” But there was no anger to her voice. In truth, Kali preferred dogs to most of the people she knew. They were honest and straightforward, without ulterior motives or hidden agendas. They always gave you a second chance, or a third, which wasn’t Kali’s usual experience with the mass of humanity she crossed paths with at Columbia. Mr. Winters, her only friend in the building, was the exception. His perfect teeth and thick gray hair made him look fifty instead of seventy, despite what he called a ‘botched autopsy’ scar from last year’s quadruple bypass. She’d met him the day she moved, sneaking Sandy through the alley

entrance. Instead of righteous anger, he’d winked. “Dogs have taught me a lot, like how to leave room in my schedule for a nap.” He grinned at his joke as he massaged his knotty hands. Since then, Sandy had become his daily visitor; as far as Kali knew, his only one. She popped the door open and scratched behind the Lab’s ears. When she rescued him from the pound, she’d intended him as company for Sean, during the long evenings Kali worked on her dissertation. Now, she spent as much time with him as her son did. She tossed her brief case with Otto onto the kitchen counter and poured a glass of Crystal Light tea. Something bothered her, but she couldn’t quite pull it from memory. Something about Fred. As she stuffed her keys into the kitchen drawer, where she kept them along with Mr. Winters’ key and a credit card she used for emergencies, she got it. How’d he get into the building? “I’ll think about that later,” she decided as she collapsed onto a scruffy second-hand couch. It was an uninspired plaid, but it’s what she had. Sandy laid his muzzle across her lap. She brushed from the dented crown of his downy head to the coarse fur on his back, over and over, and inhaled the fragrance of home, relaxing until she forgot about keys and Otto’s problems and tomorrow’s presentation. “Bedtime, Sandy.” The dog jumped onto the bed, took a couple of turns and settled, nose dangling over the side as Kali printed her boarding pass, washed her face and brushed her teeth, checked the doors, and dropped into bed. As she reached for the light, she paused at a tuxedoed picture of Sean performing Dragonetti’s Concerto for Double Bass. “If I lose tomorrow, I’ll find a way to send you to college.” The doing would be harder than the promising. She doused the light and tried to sleep.

**** Hector’s eyes narrowed as the blonde stranger snapped at someone on his cell. It wasn’t that Hector distrusted white males, but middle-aged, alone at night on his campus, usually spelled trouble. Hector kept one eye on him as he pretended to study his notes. “She looked frazzled.” Blondie folded an arm across his chest and pawed the ground with a shoe. “I did my part. Leave the money where you always do.” When Blondie left, Hector re-checked the doors to Schermerhorn and the Computer Science building, made a note in his log and continued his rounds. **** Bobby James, the NSA’s senior investigator, had a chiseled leonine face, bull neck and wide shoulders. He carried 250 pounds, seven percent body fat, on a six foot frame of well-defined bone and muscle. He’d been a star fullback in high school, but passed up a scholarship to Texas A&M to fight the good fight in Vietnam. There, he’d learned the power of a uniform to intimidate the guilty and charm the innocent—or not-so-innocent in the case of several women he’d met. He’d retired after his second tour and got a BA with his GI Bill and then a Masters in Economics at night while working days for the Los Angeles Police Department. He exuded a dangerous musky quality that had garnered a nice five-figure side-income as a bit actor until police work turned his boyish smile to a sneer and his intelligent eyes into flat pools of anger. He’d just arrived home after a long week at the NSA’s Texas Cryptology Center. ELINT— electronic intelligence from chat rooms, blogs, emails, web pages—had turned up a problem, so Bobby’d cut short his class and returned to New York. He couldn’t get his mind off that list: Tridents, DNA, early man, AI, NSA grant. An odd combination of words. Could be disinformation, or a cipher, or exactly what it said. ‘Trident’

referred to the net of submarines tasked with delivering a nuclear strike if America’s enemies drew first blood. What did that have to do with DNA and early man? When Bobby had plugged the string into an NSA search engine, he’d gotten just one hit. He loosened his tie as his voicemail played. Updates from agents, two calls from his mother, and a puzzling message from an LAPD friend. As he popped open a Coors—Light, now that he’d been thirty for a few years—and took his first swallow, his phone rang. “When you call twice, I get worried. What’s up?” Bobby’s long-time friend, LA’s Chief of Detectives, started by chatting about this and that, and then told Bobby the LAPD had hit a wall in the Zematis case. Nailed into his chest was a typewritten note warning more deaths would follow if America’s Trident submarines didn’t return to base. Bobby almost choked on his beer at that, and then shook it off until his friend mentioned a Columbia grad student named Kalian Delamagente. “What’s she got to do with it?” He now had Bobby’s full attention. “Probably nothing. My detectives think it’s a hoax since no one else has been murdered, at least not with a note pounded into their sternum.” “Any mention of DNA or the NSA?” “What’re you talking about? No. Nothing like that. I’m just running down a connection between a terrorist named Alland, accused of torturing and murdering Zematis’ daughter, and this Delamagente person. She’s almost next door to you. Can you run it down for me?” Bobby knew just the guy for the job, and, he’d fit right in at the NSA competition the search engine had uncovered.

Chapter 4 The only person who’d had Zeke Rowe’s back more often over the years than Bobby James was Duck Peters, and Duck was a Brother. But now, in the fallow years since Zeke’s fiancée died and the SEALs kicked him out, Bobby’s loyalty made Zeke think of his anthropology professor’s description of Other People as “quixotic mutations of tarradiddling genes”. This cynicism, which Zeke had rejected as an undergrad and embraced as his own after the truck called life crippled him, was why Zeke now spent so much time in archaeological wastelands: People sucked. Except for Bobby. There had never been a tarra in that man’s diddle. The two met on a Joint Task Force charged with stopping internet auctions of American weapons, Bobby had just been promoted to Captain in the LAPD and Zeke was the SEAL’s top Intelligence agent. Within a month, they arrested the ring leader. When the courts released him on a technicality, Bobby was so disgusted, he quit. Later, when the Navy medically retired Zeke, Bobby offered him a job. Zeke refused, preferring to lick his wounds and hide in academia, the career he’d foresaken to become a SEAL. Since then, Zeke had never looked back. Being a paleoanthropologist was safe and

predictable. The zeitgeist of life had become subtle, but satisfying. Bobby must have known Zeke wouldn’t be returning his call this time. “A grant competition? I’d rather go out with my ex-girlfriend.” Zeke couldn’t believe he’d fallen for the old Disguised Caller ID trick. He stretched his legs down the half-finished steps and sipped a warm beer. “The one who dumped you for a woman?” Zeke growled, but said nothing, hoping Bobby would go away. He needed to repair his porch before going to Israel or the Homeowners Association would fine him. The problem with this house—other than the deferred maintenance which had gotten him a great purchase price—was it broke faster than he could fix it. He rubbed his hands on a tattered t-shirt. The slogan—SEAL: Often mistaken for the wrath of God—had faded from washing, but he owned ten more like it. Some days, his favorite was I don’t need a weapon. I am one. Other days, If I weren’t supposed to kill people, God wouldn’t have made me so good at it. It depended upon his mood. “Bobby. I’m retired. Use the young studs who want to prove themselves.” Zeke spent every spare minute in the Israeli badlands researching the theory that had earned him a PhD in Paleoanthropology: Early man left Africa not via the southern tip of the Arabian Peninsula, but by following the Rift Valley into Israel. Despite a valiant sustained effort, he found few fossils to support his theory. Still, the absence of evidence was not evidence of absence, or some such cliché. In five days, Zeke headed out again. “So why’d you keep the phone?” “Because you pay the bill.” “Why’d you leave it on?”

Zeke sighed and agreed to meet Bobby at a local Mexican cantina. **** “What’s on your mind, Bobby?” The smell of peppers and beer saturated the air as Zeke popped a tortilla chip into his mouth. Bobby grinned and swatted a handkerchief over the booth before sitting. “Good to see you, too. You never call. Never write.” Bobby looked younger than when he’d been LAPD, more relaxed. His suit said better paid. “Does your jacket have the same red as your shirt?” “Magenta.” Bobby corrected. “It’s Ralph Lauren Purple Label. My personal shopper picked it. Not too much, right?” Zeke couldn’t think of an answer, so he pointed to Bobby’s shoes. “What happened to the Blahnik’s you were so proud of?” “People said I wore them because of that TV show, Sex and the City. You like these?” Bobby waggled his foot. “GQ gives them better style marks.” The only magazine Zeke read on a regular basis was the American Journal of Archaeology, and it didn’t cover fashion. He shrugged. “Do they get you where you’re going?” They dropped into silence as they waited for their food. The thick adobe walls and overhead fans provided a welcome chill from the heat. The lunch crowd had finished and dinner guests were still in the bar. Dishes clattered in the background, punctuated by Spanish phrases Zeke didn’t understand. When the waitress—Hola! Mi nombre es Marie!—dropped off the last of the sauces and condiments, Bobby got down to business. “It’s one day. You’re the only guy I know with a PhD in—what’s it called?” “Paleoanthropology. How I pay my bills these days.”

Zeke patted his pockets for a cigarette before he remembered smoking was one of the habits he’d given up this past year. Another was doing stuff he didn’t want to do. “You always were the odd duck.” “You’re thinking of Duck Peters.” Zeke stared through Bobby. After Duck saved Zeke’s life in Iraq, they lost track of each other. Zeke’s fault. He mentally shook and returned his attention to Bobby. “I need you undercover in that paleo area, to find out why intel chatter about submarines mentions this NSA competition. It doesn’t make sense. The entries are all theoretical research, not even prototypes. Even if they’re a good idea, they wouldn’t be useful for years.” “I can’t.” Before Bobby could interrupt, Zeke continued, “I’m going to Israel next week.” Bobby sputtered something, and then covered it with a slurp of coffee. Zeke expected a grimace from the battery acid flavor, but Bobby didn’t seem to notice. His gaze had latched onto an Hispanic family. It seemed to be a birthday party. Both parents wore uniforms—the dad for a security company and mom a local pastry shop—and had the tired but happy faces of so many working families. The man’s blue-black hair was prematurely gray, but his eyes sparkled as he watched his brood. Despite the faded look of hand-me-downs, their clothes were clean and pressed, the youngest in a frilly yellow dress and paper crown with crayon stars along the edges. When she caught Bobby staring, she broke into a beatific smile. Zeke had to look away. This nameless man was living the life Zeke wanted, and lost. Happiness had nothing to do with money or fancy restaurants or new clothes, and everything to do with who traveled with you. Bobby gave a finger wave and switched his attention back to Zeke. “ELINT—electronic intelligence, for those who’ve forgotten—intercepted a flurry of

communiqués connecting an NSA Request for Proposal on Trident Subs to Columbia University, the sale of American secrets and primitive man.” It was all Zeke could do to hide his surprise. Not because of the Columbia connection. Academes habitually financed research with government grants. Nor was it the sale of intel. Oft offered, rarely delivered, still there were the infamous traitors like FBI agent Robert Hanssen and the CIA’s Aldrich Ames. But why primitive man? Zeke chewed his eggs and menudo in silence. He could feel Bobby watching, waiting for a response. He finally shrugged, slouched down with his mug of coffee and met Bobby’s gaze. That’s all his friend needed. “We’re interested in two presentations. One by—” Bobby pulled a notebook from his breast pocket and thumbed through it, “Catherine Stockbury, no PhD. She says she can disable a sub by infecting it with a DNA virus.” “DNA virus, like Ebola? How can that infect a machine?” “It can’t, according to my cryptologists. If it could, America’s enemies would have come up with it before a grad student. The hackers I talked to swear nothing organic or inorganic can get through government cyber security. Ms. Stockbury contends it’s that type of ‘ill-conceived gnomic maxim from the flibbertigibbet old guard’—her words, not mine—that will be our downfall. She says existing firewalls offer no defense against organic attacks, and once someone gets past the ‘ephemeral barrier of historic technologic patterns’—whatever that means—they’ll crack our secrets like a prison break.” Zeke scratched his head. Stockbury had no qualms about speaking her highly-intellectual mind. He respected that. “Is it possible?”

“Prototype DNA computers exist, but their code is incompatible with silicon computers.” He flipped through his notebook again. “The second presentation, by Kalian Delamagente, also no PhD, uses 3D modeling to imitate the logical thinking of the human brain. She designed it for teachers, but morphed it to intel for this grant.” “How’s it work?” “Otto—that’s what she calls her AI—collects everything available from the datasphere.” When Zeke frowned, Bobby added, “The internet, old man. Otto sorts through it and draws conclusions based on pre-programmed parameters.” “How’s that different from current traffic analysts?” “She contends that too often, people see what they want to rather than what is, and report information in their comfort area. Otto disregards emotion and experience. Plus, he reports in video format rather than text. She asserts people pick up more using a combination of senses.” Zeke grunted. It didn’t take an NSA grant to prove that. “What’s she need the grant for?” “Refinements. She wants to enable Otto to interact, answer questions, access government satellite information not in the public datasphere.” That sounded benign enough. The intercepted chatter must apply to Stockbury’s research, except for that last detail. “So where’s ‘primitive man’ come in? You didn’t mention it with either presentation.” “Delamagente created Otto to unravel man’s roots. She asserts if he can sort through the incongruent and minimal remains of mankind’s past and draw reasoned conclusions, he can do the same for the hodge-podge of data-mined intel.” Before Zeke could respond, Bobby held a hand up. “I know. Seems pretty thin, but her proposal is the only lead we have that includes every term on my list. The Conference lasts a day.

Surveil. Take pictures. If you find corroboration, we’ll assign—” Bobby straightened in his seat, cocked his head to the side and smiled, “—a qualified operative.” Zeke threw a handful of chips at him. **** “Are you sure she’s coming?” Zeke whispered into his phone as he scanned the ballroom. He wore casual slacks, deck shoes, a navy polo shirt and carried Bobby’s old faux-leather attaché—all designed to insure Zeke blended in with the penurious academes in attendance. The room was decorated in the vanilla colors designers called calming—which annoyed Zeke—with multicolored indoor-outdoor carpet to hide stains. It had no windows, but a robust air conditioner kept the temperature around freezing. A raised dais for the presenters stood in front bordered by an eight-foot table for judges. Public seating filled the balance of the space. Zeke spotted Catherine Stockbury holding court while she awaited the judges’ nod to begin, but Kalian Delamagente remained in the wind. “You sure you haven’t missed her? Maybe you’re rusty.” Zeke scoffed. “If she was here, I’d find her.” In fact, no one would miss a raven-haired beauty amidst the putty colored, too-skinny/too-fat scholars who populated the room. Stockbury came close, but her worldly expression suggested too much experience and a loss of hope. Delamagente, even in the flat pixels of the NSA’s picture, retained an optimistic innocence. God knew how, considering her background. As he snapped the phone shut, a harried last-minute competitor stumbled in. **** Kali bumped open the door with her hip while juggling a briefcase, two portfolios and Otto’s various accoutrements. She’d almost missed her plane and then couldn’t find a taxi from the airport.

Somewhere along the way, she dumped coffee on her baby blue suit. She hoped no one would notice. “You have coffee on your skirt. “And you have bad manners,” she retorted, tugging at her jacket as she glared into the first friendly face she’d seen since Sandy’s this morning. When she tore her gaze away, she found a sturdy compact man with the disarming looks of a jock lost at a Princess House party. “I was warned the mail-order Emily Post classes wouldn’t work.” His voice was deep, like rich mahogany. He cocked his head, studying her with russet-colored eyes behind dark-rimmed glasses. She fumbled to smooth her imploded French braid. “I hope your name doesn’t start with ‘Judge’.” “Zeke Rowe. Call me Zeke.” He stuck his hand out. “Cam Stuart says hi.” Kali couldn’t recall Cam Stuart, but silently thanked him as she shook Zeke’s hand and felt a void where a finger should be. She strained to keep her face neutral. “I like confident women. Who says you need all that stuff?” He waved at the array of laptops, boxes of printed materials and minions of undergrads assisting the competitors. “Mine’re stuck at the airport,” Kali lied, though something in Zeke’s quiet authority made her trust him. Maybe his missing finger or lopsided smile, or her own fear of failure. “Does everyone feel this way around you, Mr. Zeke Rowe?” “How’s that and I’ll tell you if it’s true?” Her mind drifted to Lyta. “Call me Kali.”

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