Table of Contents
Closing Down with a Bang
On the Run
One Monday night I'm sitting in the lounge room watching a TV series on conspiracies, they're featuring the CIA tonight. I nearly kill myself laughing at it. Don't get me wrong, the CIA are an arrogant lot with a total disregard for anyone except themselves. But a bigger bunch of bunglers has never been accumulated in any one organisation, ever. I wonder how the US manages to get anything useful out of them.
That organisation has more holes in it than a sieve. During the cold war the quickest way to tell something to the KGB was to tell four CIA agents; odds were one or more was a KGB informer or agent. When the CIA started experimenting on people in the 1950s it became public knowledge within a few months, with full details except agent names.
It was fifty years for the papers to be declassified, making it official for many of the details to be confirmed and known to the general public as well as being actually admitted to by the CIA and the USA government. Their attempts to assassinate Fidel Castro, talk about bungling fools. All without any approval from the White House, Congress, or Senate. Most are bureaucrats who have trouble finding their own rear end with a road map and a tracking locator. The few good agents in the CIA are out in the field collecting information, none are assassins or cold blooded killers, and they go to great lengths to stay out there away from the idiots in Langley. When some crazy fool credits the CIA with a successful conspiracy assassination it's laughable. If they blamed the FBI, DEA, or Justice Department it would be plausible, but not the CIA. It should be called the Centralised Idiots Agency.
Near the end of the show the phone rings and I answer it. It's an old friend, Max, I haven't heard from him since he vanished in 1994 and some strange people came around - they were looking for him then, and looking very hard.
Laughing, Max says, "G'day, Deadly, you're a hard man to find. It took me two days to track down your phone number. You watching that comedy about the CIA? Ridiculous, ain't it! You interested in making a few grand by turning some records into a presentable story for me?"
Smiling, I reply, "I thought you were officially dead by now. Yeah, I'm watching the CIA conspiracy rubbish. It just proves my favourite saying, 'Never under estimate the power of human stupidity.' Writing for you, OK. But I want the money up front before you vanish again. What's it about?"
Max says, "Oh, I'll let you work out what it's about when you see it. I'll send you a package with a bank cheque for five grand, a DVD with copies of various e-mails, diary entries, and some video clips. I want you to turn it into a story and get it published, somehow. I'll be happy if all you do is get it on the Internet. You'll have total editorial control as I won't be in contact again, because I probably won't be in a position to do so. Is it a deal?"
"It's a deal." I respond, "Since you won't be reading the final draft, aren't you afraid I won't just take your money and run, or write crap?"
"I know you'll write well, those tech manuals you did were good, and I've seen the training notes on your web site, and the stories you have on the Internet." He responds, "You're honest. I know if you say you'll do it, then you'll do it. It may take some time, but you'll do it."
Laughing, I reply, "Thanks for the vote of confidence. You got my current address."
Max replies, "Yep, you should see the parcel in the mail in a few days. And before you ask, I won't tell you where I am or what I'm up to. Get it from the info I send." The line goes dead when he hangs up.
Later that Week
On Thursday I receive a small parcel with a DVD, a cheque, a contract, and a letter from a solicitor asking me to read, sign, and return the contract. I read and sign the contract, then I check out the DVD. Lots of e-mails and interesting stuff, but not a thing that could be used to write a story worth paying the five thousand dollars he's sent me. I'm interested in the fact such a small and well wrapped package had been damaged in transit and needed to be taped up again. First time in the three years I've lived at this address a parcel has been damaged.
More interestingly, for the life of me, I can't work out how it got accidentally damaged that much. Maybe I'm just getting paranoid in my old age.
Friday morning I take my usual weekly fifty-six kilometre drive into a town nearby to buy groceries and do business. I end up at the local McDonald's for lunch about 12:15 p.m., as usual. Gives me time to get my lunch and seated before the place becomes crowded with all the school kids from the two high schools just up the road. The seniors are allowed out for lunch and nearly all the girls end up at Maccas. Makes for some very nice scenery while eating.
About 12:25 p.m., with the place very crowded, three young ladies in the sports uniform of the Catholic school ask if they can sit at my table. Naturally, being a gentleman, I say they can and start admiring their charms. One of them, a petite brunette sitting opposite me soon gets my attention.
In a soft voice, she says, "So, Deadly, I hear you're very good at playing cards."
I give her a very close look over, I know I've never seen her before. I may be very lousy with names, but I always remember the face - I just can't put a name to it. Since she knows my old nickname, one I've not used it in the three years I've lived around here, I decide to up the ante, and say,
"Only if it's at a poke her party." They all laugh.
She replies, "Do you think you can still handle three, or is two your Max now?" Out of the corner of my eye I notice the blond beside me is slipping something into my shoulder bag sitting on the seat between us.
I respond, "Oh, I think I can still handle three. But just in case, what say I start with the blond? I prefer blondes because they get so dirty easily, but are fun to get clean again. And it's easy to see what they're up to, or down to, as the case may be." They laugh again.
The brunette says, "It's a pity we can't hang around to find out."
I say, "That's OK, next time we can sing Ninety-nine Luftballoons."
Smiling, she says, "I'm glad I met you and to see we understand each other. Take care, take extreme care." They pile their rubbish on the tray and drop it in the bin when they leave. I do the same.
From there I go to my chiropractor appointment, followed by going home. Making sure to obey all the speed laws etc. If Max needs to go to these lengths to get me the info, then I'm not taking any chances. On that thought I go home via a different route. Taking me through a small village, it's only sixteen kilometres from home, to buy some milk and ice-cream, I can easily justify the detour since it gives them less time to melt in transit.
That night I rebuild an older computer and view what's on the two large USB thumb drives Max sent me, and it's then I became really paranoid.
Saturday morning I rebuild the computer again with Windows 2000. I set up a sequence of disconnecting the hard drive in the machine each time I use it to work on Max's real stuff. While working on Max's stuff I plug in a third thumb drive with a minimal Linux installation and boot from that. I keep the thumb drives in a hidden coat pocket, and they never leave my side. Each day I'd spend some time on the computer working on the stuff that's on the DVD and make like I was earning my money with it, I also spend some time working on the USB drives. The system is not connected to the Internet at any stage.
Every time I leave the house I take great care in my driving, I've numerous near misses with idiots cutting me off and the like. Each time that happens I give thanks for the advanced driver training course I did, and the even more advanced idiot driver avoidance course Dad gave me. I also worry about the car when it isn't in my sight. I even take precautions to see if the house is being visited while I'm out and about; I found out it was. Paranoid is becoming my middle name, more like my only name.
It takes several months, but I finally finish the story Max wanted from the material he sent. What follows is Max's story written from his point of view, and I've done my best to imitate his style of telling a story. Some of the story's aspects are very frightening, and others are very heartening. It does show some people still do stand up and die for supposedly outmoded ideas like freedom, personal liberty, and what's right; God bless them.
One night I'm on one of the technology forums I regularly visit when Laser Head (yeah that's his nickname) comes on line about having finally done it. Done what, we all ask. He's doing a masters in physics and selected laser technology for his thesis - pinpoint accuracy and the use of lasers for medical treatments at the micro level. We're about as interested in that as in watching the Gay Mardi Gras - zip, zilch, nada. We're all very heterosexual computer nerds, so I gather you get my meaning here.
He tells us his system uses two lasers and much less power than existing lasers to destroy a block of salt a molecule at a time. The only problem he has is the system is generating energy. I say, "Well, duh. You can't create or destroy energy, you can only change its form - and you're the physics major while all I do is read good science fiction stories."
We all have a good laugh at his expense before we go back to our general chat on life and the current technology news.
A few weeks later Laser Head comes on line and Retread (yeah we're a bright bunch as far as nicks go, so leave off, huh) pipes up, with, "Hey, Laser, that micro laser thing of yours, you should go commercial and use it to get rid of garbage like rats, tax agents, bill collectors, and ex-spouses." He's recently divorced and not happy as it's a very messy case because of her anger at him. She knew he was a nerd who didn't understand relationships when they first met, and then gets really pissed he isn't romantic enough. OK, she has a case, but it took her five years to get upset about it. I think she's as slow as he is in that area.
We're all having a good laugh at this one when Brain Dead comes in with, "Laser buddy, does that excess energy you detect have a positive or a negative charge? Can you set up a laser with a charge differential along it?"
Well, we all stop and think about this. Brain Dead doesn't say much, but when he does you better be listening real hard, because he's a certified genius and brain dead he isn't - hence the name. Laser Head says he'll get back to us with an answer on that.
Another few weeks and Laser Head comes on with, "Hey, Brain Dead, there's definitely some sort of charge being generated in there, but I can't tell if it's positive or negative. I think it may be some of each. And yeah, it's possible to set up a differential along a beam if you don't restrict yourself to light."
I put in my two bobs worth, saying, "Laser, mate, can you use your micro-laser to get a spectrograph reading off a molecule?"
He comes back with,
"Probably can, Electro Carrot (yeah that's my nick, so sue me).
What you getting at, man?"
So I hit him with, "You gotta be using a computer to track the micro-laser that's doing the chewing, right? Well, you also use the same program to run another to get a spectrograph read of the molecule just before you chew it.
That'll give you a molecular reading of the thing. Store that info in the computer within a set grid and you have an exact record of its overall size and shape and content at the molecular level. That could be useful for something that's tricky to analyse."
Brain Dead jumps in with, "This is going to be complex as hell, but think about a set up where you have five units calibrated to work together. The first gets an exact location read for the computer to aim the other four. The second does a spectrograph read so you know what it is.
Third is the unit that destroys the molecule. Four and five are aimed at the exact same spot as three, one has a positive differential and the other has a negative differential. They draw off the energy charges, whichever they be. That way you map exactly what you're destroying and suck off the energy at the same time."
A few weeks later Laser Head is on line, with, "Gee, thanks, guys. I managed to build what you suggested, and blew up half the lab. Got the energy off, but no where to put it." We commiserate with him.
Then Laughing Lass joins in with an idea about how to suck the energy off into storage - if it's electrical at that point. Laser Head says it isn't. Brain Dead jumps in with a way to convert it to electricity and store it.
Those three move off to a side channel to talk in symbols or Greek or Swahili, who knows. I don't understand that very high quantum maths stuff, I'm a good mechanic and technician, that's all. Oh, I do sometimes have a good idea as well.
Four months after his initial announcement Laser Head comes in to tell us he's finished his thesis paper on micro-laser medical surgery. But, more importantly, he's worked out a way to use lasers to locate, read, and reduce (his word) an item at the molecular level while storing the energy created as electrical power and making a complete computer record of it. We all congratulate him on both jobs.
Having a brainwave I ask him if he's interested in setting up a very lucrative company. He and a few others ask why. I respond with, "From what you tell me, this system creates a lot more energy than it uses, right? How much more? If the delta is high enough we can make a fortune by having people pay us to dispose of their toxic waste while we sell electricity to the power grid."
Well, the poor pigeons have real trouble with that cat. It takes us four hours to come to an agreement. All of us who'd contributed will be involved in the operation and we'll set up in our own areas or areas of our choice that aren't already taken. Laughing Lass and Retread will loan us all the money to set up, we'd no idea they were already rich, but are very happy to accept their financial help to set up business.
Fourteen of us are involved and we end up with twelve offices as a few people want to double up; Australia (Perth and Sydney), Canada (Ottawa and Vancouver), Germany (Dresden), Taiwan (Taipei), South Africa (Johannesburg), England (Manchester), and the USA (Denver, Detroit, Hawaii, and Houston). Sydney is my office. All the operations are set up on the outskirts or just outside the cities - just to be on the safe side if anything goes wrong.
Operations Under Way
Laser Head and Brain Dead have refined the system to a set of one hundred 'heads' working together to destroy one hundred molecules at a time. This is installed in the top of a three metre wide, by three metre deep, by five metre high rig, destroying (from above) everything within a three metre plastic cube inside it, the protective cage is solid steel. The box is filled up and the contents converted, twenty-seven cubic metres (cubeM) at a time. We never show the clients how it works, we just take their stuff into our processing plant where we've three outfits installed. We don't publish our inventions or patent them, we didn't know we should have.
Later this turns out to be a good thing, because it means no one else has any records of the systems or how they work.
To help with the operation we hire staff at each locale and teach them to use the equipment, push the buttons in the right order and at the right time; but most of the time we let them handle the front office while we supervise the zapomatic (cute name - I suggested goner, but lost the vote).
The money is pouring in by the truck load, literally; truck loads of waste. We get one hundred dollars a cubeM and sell the electricity for nine hundred dollars per cubeM. At six loads per unit per hour, we process over three thousand and one hundred cubeMs a day at each site; (27 cubeM x 6 loads per hour x 3 units x 6.5 hours = 3,159 cubeM at $1,000 each).
Over three million dollars per day, per office, at full usage; and daily operating costs are only a few grand. It takes a month to get up to that usage level, but every office operates at a profit from the first day they open for business.
It's natural we spend a lot of time discussing ways to improve the operation. Over several months we make some changes and we're processing twice as much stuff per unit per hour. Talk about a money making machine.
As would be expected with a bunch of techies we discuss what we should do with all the recorded data. Agreeing most of it should be just deleted, we think about ways to use it to reconstruct some things. At one point Brain Dead comes up with a way to reverse the energy flow and to direct another beam to control the creation of a molecule to match the recorded data. Laser Head works out how to turn that into hardware.
We can now build a replicater; Star Trek fans eat your heart out.
We build two new units with finer controls in another part of each building. One to record, and the other to reconstruct a recording. This section has another office with front desk staff and a high speed Internet connection for the transmission of items via a virtual private network. Each office also has new huge power storage capabilities constructed to minimise impact on the power grid.
The first thing we do with the new set-up is to make recordings of our favourite foods, music, games, and movie DVDs, real cool. Retread ships us all recordings of some uncut diamonds and the full potential of this hits us. Once we have one of a thing we have as many as we want. We soon have recordings of packets of gems and gold coins.
The only drawback is the few lab rats we try to send, they come out real messy. They moved while being scanned and destroyed, as I said - real messy. Testing shows anything living doesn't survive the process. Nor does anything moving, so hot drinks and carbonated drinks are out as well. We agree to refuse to send any antiques or important historical items or any important artworks.
With everything that's happening we decide to form a company with officers etc. and need a company name. Being technicians and science fiction fans we all come up with some fun names, most with pun type acronyms. We think of: Electricity and Transport - ET; Waste, Electricity and Transport - WET; Waste and Transport - WaT; Waste Annihilation, Swift Transportation, and Electricity Depot - WASTED; Freight, Energy, Waste - FEW. We eventually decide on Transport and Rubbish Power - TaRP. Our headquarters are Denver, Colorado, USA because that's where Laser Head and Laughing Lass live. They're our main driving force so we make them the two senior officers. Something we later come to both appreciate and regret.
We start 'shipping' stuff around the world, anywhere in the world in four hours for a set figure of five hundred dollars per cubeM. It must fit inside one of our twenty-seven cubeM containers. Clients aren't happy we don't go everywhere; but even using us for a single stage they can save a fortune and a lot of time.
For example: want to ship twenty-seven cubeM of widgets from Dallas, Texas to Berlin, Germany. Truck to Houston, scan and send to Dresden, truck to Berlin.
Total transit is both truck runs plus our four hours set time, and all at a fraction of the cost of sending it by air. Sure, you can use cheaper services, but for urgent stuff we're unbeatable.
Staff are very loyal because we pay well above award rates and have the best working conditions. Nice furniture, free corporate clothing (new gear each month - we pay for one set and just make the rest), medical and dental insurance, staff lunch rooms with top notch cooking gear, free top quality beef steaks and vegetables in the fridge; help yourself for lunch, free quality tea and coffee, free juice and mineral water. All foods available for home use at very low rates.
Hey, most of it costs us literally nothing, and it keeps the staff very happy and loyal, so we see it as a good thing.
We have one hitch. In an emergency we all ship stored blood and medicines to the trouble zone. It wasn't enough, so the local unit keeps copying what we sent and providing it to the hospitals involved. We didn't know the blood units had serial numbers and one hospital administrator wonders why they're able to use the same unit several times. Even digs the empties out of the trash to check the numbers. After confirming it all came through us she confronts our local manager about it. He caves in and confesses. Turns out she's a Trekkie and forgives him.
She 'fixes' all the hospital records. Six months later they get married, the lucky stiff.
Another problem is when we started dealing with atomic waste; the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) love us, but many Washington bureaucrats are concerned. They visit our facility wanting to know what we do with it. We tell them we destroy it at the molecular level using a confidential process we can't show them.
They use their Geiger counters to measure local radiation, then a load of atomic waste arrives and their Geiger counters go crazy. The load is taken inside, and ten minutes later their counters drop back. Clear evidence the load is nowhere within a few hundred metres and nothing has left the facility. They leave, very happy the material is destroyed. But still wonder how we do it.