“Why not send someone else,” Laura asked, “like the sheriff or the police?”
“I just have a feeling this is something I need to do myself,” Erik said. “I think that is what Daniel intended. There may be some information at Daniel’s house that could help us all.”
“Don’t you think you should take someone with you?” Laura asked. “In case you get into trouble?” Laura did not mention Reapers but the scene at the Johnsons’ farm flashed into Erik’s mind. Erik had a recurring dream of Reapers stalking Laura and him through their house. He would wake up in a cold sweat in the middle of the night and not be able to get back to sleep afterward.
“I will be careful,” Erik said. “I don’t think I want to get anyone else involved in this until I find out more about it. It is probably nothing.” Erik wrote the name and address down on a piece of paper. “If I don’t come back, this is where I am going. Stay home until I get back.”
They kissed, then embraced clinging to each other a moment. “I love you,” Erik reassured her.
“I love you, too,” she said.
The ride to Daniel’s house led to an unpaved portion of county road in a heavily wooded valley. Erik found a driveway consisting of two dirt tracks with grass growing in between barricaded by a simple chain with a no trespassing sign dangling from it. The rural address on the driveway matched the number on the business card, so he ignored the no trespassing sign and lifted his bike over the chain. Thick shrubs of buckthorn and blackberries encroached on the driveway from both sides as it wound its way up a steep hill. Erik came to a gate part way up the hill, so he hid his bike in the bushes beside the road and climbed over the gate. The driveway surface changed to asphalt beyond the gate. The forest receded revealing a clearing of green lawns and well-pruned shrubs at the crest of a hill.
The house was built into the hill as an earth-sheltered structure. There was a solar panel array on the southern sloping hill that formed part of the roof of the house. The driveway turned down into a sunken garage while a sidewalk led up to the front of the house. Erik followed the sidewalk and then walked down the broad stairway that led to the front door. There was a small gray box next to the door. Instinctively Erik drew out the card and held it next to the gray box. An LED on the box flashed green and Erik heard a click. He reached out and opened the door.
Erik found himself in a broad foyer looking at a large abstract sculpture made from blue-green glass. Beyond the foyer, steps led down into a large living room with a welcoming arrangement of comfortable chairs and couches. The house seemed to come alive as several soft lights came on around the room. I guess his solar panels are working, Erik thought. On the edge of the living room was a balcony that overlooked an indoor swimming pool filled with bright blue water. Erik followed the balcony until he found the stairs down to the pool. The stairs were lit by running lights on the sides that followed Erik as he made his way down the stairs. As he approached the pool, the lights came on creating a flickering display of blue luminance on the adjacent walls.
Erik wandered through several hallways before he found what he was looking for. A door with a gray box next to it. The card opened the door and Erik walked down several sets of stairs before another door opened into a large office space. How far underground was he? A wall of monitors surrounded a central workstation. The computer still seemed to be running. Erik looked over the computer and saw a device in the shape of a hand. He placed his hand on the pad and felt a sudden sharp pain in his finger. It must use DNA authentication. One of the monitors came to life. It showed a video message from Daniel.
“Hi Erik,” Daniel said. “I am glad I was able to reach you with this message. I hope you received the transcript I sent you for Professor Higgins. Please pass it along for me. I think you will find it very enlightening. Goodbye.” That was it. It turned off.
That was a strange message. Erik had no idea who Professor Higgins was, and he didn’t know why Daniel would be sending him a transcript. Something about the message did trigger a memory, however. Erik used to shake dice at the tavern and had a habit of singing “With a little bit o’ luck.” before he rolled. Daniel had asked him about it and Erik had explained how he liked old musicals. Especially My Fair Lady. Erik began looking around the room. Was there a DVD of My Fair Lady around? He could not find any DVDs, but he did notice a large bookcase. He scanned through the books. Most of them were quite old. He did not find a copy of a book titled My Fair Lady. Suddenly, Erik had an idea and when he looked there it was: Pygmalion.
Erik opened the book and found an envelope inside containing several documents. They consisted of several news articles and what appeared to be a college transcript. The first document was a news article from about fifteen years ago. A pair of researchers, Dr. Huang and Dr. Kim had designed a new type of artificial neural network system. They called it a physical neural network or PNN. It consisted of conductive glycoprotein molecules arranged in a gelatinous medium. They claimed the device was much more efficient than current artificial neural networks which required advanced computer chips to simulate neural network systems. The conductive pathways of the PNN required almost no power. They claimed the interconnection density was much higher than could be achieved with either artificial neural networks or biological neural networks such as the human brain. There was a second article about Dr. Ahmadi from Stanford University who had partnered with Huang and Kim to train the PNN system. The device was showing remarkable progress in learning real-world relationships.
The next document was a transcript from Stanford University. Erik saw the name on the transcript was Evelyn Eden. How had Daniel gotten access to this? Evelyn Eden had been homeschooled and achieved perfect scores on both her GED and ACT. She began attending Stanford as a remote learning student. She seemed to have a wide variety of interests majoring in biochemistry and electrical engineering. She began doing undergraduate research with Huang, Kim, and Ahmadi and graduated with degrees in biochemistry and electrical engineering. She required a special dispensation for completing all the laboratory coursework through remote learning under Dr. Ahmadi’s supervision. She next achieved a master's degree in computer architecture and one year later a Ph.D. in molecular biological systems. In her later years, her education went far beyond her emphasis areas. Evelyn studied history, religion, philosophy, economics, world politics, world finance banking, aeronautics, automation, mechatronics, and robotics.
Evelyn Eden was one of the four founders of Clear Chip Corporation along with Huang, Kim, and Ahmadi. At Clear Chip, Evelyn was awarded patents for self-healing biomolecular circuits and embedded physical neural network systems. Then there was the accident. The official report stated that an automated ventilation control system had malfunctioned flooding a laboratory with carbon monoxide gas from a heating system. The locks on the lab had somehow jammed simultaneously. Huang, Kim, and Ahmadi were killed leaving Evelyn Eden in control of Clear Chip Corporation.
Eden proved to be a shrewd businessperson and Clear Chip’s technology portfolio was amazing. Initially, she mainly made licensing agreements with other companies. She was criticized by the finance pundits. “Why is she selling her best technology?” It turned out she had been working on securing fabrication facilities of her own, under her own control. When Clear Chip released their new products, it rendered the previous technology they had licensed obsolete. Clear Chip next entered an acquisition phase. Quietly at first but soon people began to take notice. Any companies that resisted acquisition soon ran into trouble. They might find one of their key suppliers was now owned by Clear Chip or their customers had decided to make their contracts with a different company, after being influenced by Clear Chip. Resisting Evelyn Eden was an act of futility.
Clear Chip focused on having complete control of the production of their products from mine to microprocessor was their slogan. They were also interested in completely automating the process of making the computer chips. They seemed to be obsessed with automation and removing the human element from the production line. Like so many other tech giants preceding her, Evelyn Eden began buying up space and rocket technology. Clear Chip even claimed to have developed a computer chip fabrication facility in orbit.
Erik gathered up the documents, shoved them back into the envelope, and put the envelope in his jacket pocket. He had spent quite a bit of time here and needed to return home before Laura became worried about him. He thought about what he had learned as he rode his bike home. He was not sure if he had gained anything useful. Evelyn Eden certainly was mysterious, brilliant, and ruthless. Where had she come from? There was never any mention of her family. Did she have something to do with the BSD? Was she responsible for it?
A small military convoy was parked in front of Erik’s house when he finally arrived home. There was a tan Humvee pulling a trailer, a pickup truck, and a compact SUV. The vehicles had all been spray painted with the letters WRM. Laura rushed over to Erik’s side when she saw him approaching. She seemed frightened and angry. A soldier advanced toward them carrying a lethal-looking rifle. As Erik looked closer, he began to have doubts about the man. He wore a coonskin hat on his head and had a full beard. His uniform was a patchwork of hunting camouflage clothing and paramilitary regalia. He approached the frightened couple.
“Under authorization from the United States constitution this Well Regulated Militia is hereby confiscating your solar panels and battery,” the soldier said.
“Like hell, you are!” Erik shouted as he lunged toward the man. Erik saw the butt end of a rifle smash into his face before everything went dark.