« Peacemaker », Chapter Thirteen   

Chapter Thirteen

Doctor Neveroski plodded down the long hall to where Mrs. Brown waited with the children, Ray and Claire. When he gave her the bad news her husband had succumbed to liver cancer, she just stared at him. Claire screamed and tried to run away, but Ray grabbed her and held her close. Ray’s mother turned her back on the children and began to walk away.

---- The Real Story of Raymond Brown, Paul K. Monprode, 2029

 

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Ray’s eyes blinked in the hazy, flickering light, but he couldn’t quite get the images to coalesce into something recognizable. He was shocked by an intense pain when he moved his head; it felt like a swollen tumor bursting in his brain. He stopped moving and stared at the dull white ceiling. The pain receded and comprehension gradually returned. De Luca had captured them.

Slowly, cautiously, he sat up. A dull pain wrapped around his chest and ribs. Looking down, Ray realized he was naked. His body was spotted with bruises, and a bandage covered most of his left forearm. What have they done to me? Images of too-bright lights, shadowy figures and harsh voices drifted on the fringes of memory, just beyond reach.

His head ached as he turned to look around, but now it was more tolerable. Eyes swiveling back and forth, he was being held in a stark, windowless cell with a single door, a toilet, sink, mirror and two plastic chairs. A graveyard silence burrowed into his consciousness. The air wasn’t cold, but he began to shiver. He looked across the cell again, but there weren’t clothes anywhere.

The cell was harshly lit – too bright for his eyes – but Ray couldn’t find a light switch. He realized he would not be the one to control the light.

His feet touched a smooth, cement floor when he stood up. Legs shaky at first, Ray supported his weight by grabbing the side of the mattress. He walked around the perimeter of the cell, touching each wall, feeling its smooth metallic texture. The cell was actually quite large, about twenty feet on a side with a nine-foot ceiling. Everything was clean and well-maintained, but an oppressive, antiseptic smell filled the air. It had the look of a place that could hold a man for a long time.

He grimaced as a band of pain tightened around his head. The pain was familiar but much worse than the usual hangover. Ray crouched in the center of the cell, hands braced against his knees, feeling like he might vomit, waiting until the pain lessened. His neck was stiff and sore, so he tried to massage the aching muscles. What has that son of a bitch done to me? Gradually, his mind cleared, but the pain remained.

As he paced back and forth, Ray spotted a camera built into the ceiling above one corner of the cell. He was sure De Luca was watching him suffer, naked and confused. That was De Luca’s pleasure; the invisible watcher.

De Luca had him in a very sophisticated cell, with no way to escape. He had to think. Where was Paul? Still feeling sick, he spotted a chair pushed against the wall, walked over and sat down heavily.

A moment later the door slid open, and De Luca glided in, stopping about fifteen feet away. The door slid closed behind him, making a low thud as it met the doorframe.

De Luca smiled pleasantly, as if he were joining a colleague. “Good morning, Ray. You must feel a little groggy, but it’s nothing to be concerned about. You have been, shall we say, under our influence for about twenty hours. The effect will wear off completely in another hour or two.” He adopted a look of concern. “Now the bruises may ache for a few days, but we were careful not to break anything. That would have been unprofessional, and we can’t have that.”

Ray worked to focus his eyes on De Luca. “What about Paul?”

“Mr. Martino is fine. Still sleeping, I believe.”

“Is Richard here?”

De Luca’s face lost its smile, but not his eyes. “Regrettably, I have to give you bad news. Mr. Kim unfortunately passed away during capture. We are not killers, but … you know,” he shrugged, “accidents will happen. We much prefer civilized actions. We were very careful with your capture.”

“Why did you kill him?” Ray shouted. “Richard was a gentle man. He wasn’t dangerous. You could have easily picked him up.” Violence swept through him. He roared, “Tell me why you had to kill him.”

De Luca didn’t move, didn’t speak. He was watching Ray carefully, seemingly aware of every inch between them.

Ray closed his eyes as the band of pain tightened again. He gathered himself to strike and looked up at De Luca, but the security man held a pistol on him.

“Don’t do anything stupid. You know I’ll kill you.”

Ray fought to get his hatred under control. His chance would come. First, he had to learn as much as possible about his enemies.

Ray stood up, turned his back to De Luca and walked along the wall to the far corner of the room. Leaning forward, he pressed his palms on the wall and forced himself to relax. Turning to face his captor, he kept his voice steady, “Where are we now?”

De Luca was friendly again, holstering the gun under his vest but remaining at a safe distance. “You are in one of our main facilities. We call ourselves the Domain, by the way.” Smiling, he said, “Of course, I can’t tell you our geographic location. Security and all that.”

“What did you mean when you said under our influence?”

“It was very important to determine if anyone besides you and Mr. Martino knew of our existence,” De Luca said. “We questioned both of you very carefully using a variety of chemicals. A little physical encouragement, too, of course.” De Luca chuckled, a sound like two heavy chains scraping across each other. “I am pleased you did not involve anyone else.”

De Luca shook his head sympathetically. “You really have to do something about your drinking, you know. Sometimes alcohol can initiate a very bad reaction with our little drugstore items.” He smiled and said, “We had to be oh so careful.”

De Luca continued to smile at him. Fuck you, asshole, Ray wanted to say. Someday I’ll get my hands on your throat. But for now, he had to learn as much as he could. De Luca seemed anxious to talk.

“What else?” Ray said.

“I probably shouldn’t tell you this, but I wouldn’t want you to have any false hopes. We also discovered Revere, your little email virus.” Eyes glowing with pleasure, De Luca said, “Primitive but clever. However, Jim Smith will not be sending it now or at any time in the future.”

Totally deflated, Ray leaned back against the wall. God, what I wouldn’t do for a drink.

“But don’t get depressed. There’s good news, too,” De Luca purred.

Ray looked into De Luca’s smug face once again. The Domain security man moved closer. He was now only ten feet away, but he seemed perfectly balanced and ready.

“We are almost ready to activate the virus – we call it PeaceMaker – and announce our plans to the world,” De Luca said. “We will shortly be in a position of great power and influence. Once we have taken control, you will be released. You won’t be able to hurt us, so there will be no need to keep you imprisoned.” He paused a second and said, “You will be a free man.”

“You son of a bitch.”

De Luca laughed. Ray could see De Luca was very pleased with himself. The bastard must have been nursing a grudge all these years.

“You are going to be very surprised when you learn of our plans,” De Luca said. “The Domain is very different from what you and Mr. Martino imagined.”

Ray was about to ask additional questions, but De Luca motioned him to be quiet. De Luca said, “You need to rest. We will talk later.” The door slid open, and he turned and walked out, glancing back over his shoulder at Ray. De Luca was wearing a satisfied smile as the door closed.

*

A few hours later his cell door slid open, revealing De Luca and two security guards. Lying on the bed, Ray watched the men enter the cell and surround him.

De Luca glared at him and threw a pile of clothes on the bed. “Put these on and come with me.”

Not moving, Ray said, “What do you want?”

“For some reason, the boss wants to talk to you.”

Ray considered refusing, but De Luca’s attitude made that dangerous. Besides, he wanted to see De Luca’s boss; he knew who it would be. He quickly dressed, and a guard cuffed his hands behind his back. He followed De Luca out the door, with a guard on each side.

They traveled down a long windowless hall, well-lit with metallic doors spaced about twenty feet apart. De Luca led them up a staircase and across another long, bright hall. Ray began to comprehend the immense size of the building. Most of the space appeared to be empty but ready for immediate use. Thousands of people could work here, even live here.

A building sized for her plans.

At the end of the hall, they entered a large, well-furnished suite. De Luca led him through the pine-plank foyer, past a huge bedroom with a king-sized bed, and then roughly pushed him into the main living area.

“Gee, you seem to be in a little bit of a snit this morning,” he said to De Luca. “Don’t worry, I’ll put in a good word with Dianne for you.”

De Luca wasn’t pleased. He stood a few feet away, glaring. Ray turned his back on De Luca and looked around.

The room was tastefully decorated. Oriental rugs were spaced over the pine floor, surrounded by white-washed plaster walls with deep blue paneling. He recognized colonial era furniture in every section of the room: Chippendale table and chairs, a mahogany desk with a leather-upholstered chair, a flat-top highboy against the far wall and various other pieces placed about the room.

A stone fireplace dominated one wall, flames twisting from a stack of split logs. The other walls were lined with books, colonial samplers, quilts and photographs, all perfectly arranged. The photographs were of the business: Dianne with her partners, Dianne shaking hands with a former President, Dianne smiling with customers.

The room didn’t have windows. Neither did the other room, from what he could tell. The only light, a soft, uneven glow, came from well-spaced lamps placed throughout the apartment.

In the center of the room, a light-brown camelback sofa and a padded armchair were separated by a Queen Anne coffee table. De Luca pulled him over to the sofa, and his handcuffs were removed.

“What does she want?” he asked, but De Luca and the guards were already leaving.

He quickly surveyed the room, testing the doors, which were locked. Escape was impossible at this point, so he sat on the sofa and waited.

The crackling of the fireplace dominated the quiet room.

A few minutes later, the door opened, and Dianne strode in, dressed in a sheer white blouse, black high heels, and a blue skirt that accented the contours of her body. She stopped just in front him, not saying anything, barely out of reach. He couldn’t take his eyes off her, all his male senses responding.

For the first time in years, he was truly alone with her. In spite of everything, her presence stirred a deep excitement. His eyes traveled up her body, unlocking old passions.

Dianne sat in the armchair and crossed her legs, her skirt riding high up her thigh. His eyes lingered on the soft curves of her legs – no stockings, just smooth skin.

“Our timing is never quite right, is it?” she said.

The sadness in her voice surprised him. He shrugged, his eyes still roving over her body. He knew every inch, where she was most sensitive, how to pleasure her.

Her voice intruded on his thoughts. “I’m sorry about Richard.”

The words were there, but he didn’t detect any hint of remorse. He looked up, his head tilted slightly, alert. Every meeting with her was a contest, and she set the terms.

“Just a little bump in the road,” he offered.

Ignoring his sarcasm, Dianne said, “I had a great deal of respect for Richard. He was a strong, honest young man. It was an unfortunate accident.”

She waited, but Ray remained quiet, unsure where Dianne was leading him. “However, I didn’t bring you here to lament over Richard,” she said finally. “Time moves on, and we have much to discuss.”

So much for Richard.

“I don’t think we have anything to discuss,” he said.

“You’re wrong. You think you understand the Domain. You think you understand me. You have a great deal of knowledge, Ray, but precious little understanding.”

Ray began to speak, but she interrupted him. “Listen to me!” Her eyes returned his intensity. “I know you resent me, but hear me out.”

“Well, you have a captive audience.”

She uncrossed her legs, drawing his glance. His need for this woman disturbed him.

Dianne snapped, “Face up to the truth.” More quietly, “We both know where all this is leading. For once in your life, face it head on.”

“Just say your piece,” Ray said. “Leave out the moralizing. It doesn’t fit you.”

Dianne rose from the chair and walked across the room toward the fireplace. The wood was beginning to burn out, leaving tired, thin flames. He noticed her figure was still good, lean and supple, with firm muscles moving beneath her skirt. Ray watched her bend over, carefully select several thin, dark pieces of kindling and toss them on the fire. The logs caught quickly, and in a moment, the flames danced with power. Dianne stood motionless in front of the fireplace, her back to him.

He knew what she was doing, how she manipulated men, kept them off-balance. It wouldn’t work this time. Ray felt angry, devalued. He tried to find words that would pierce her shell, but his thoughts were conflicted.

Dianne turned and stared at him. “Here’s the bottom line. I want you to join me in the Domain.”

He was stunned; it was the last thing he expected from her. She must be delusional. Ray watched her come back to the chair and sit in front of him. Trying to find his way through the anger and confusion, he said, “I wouldn’t join the Domain –”

Brushing aside his words, Dianne said, “We are ready to seize power, and I want you by my side. You understand the power of PeaceMaker. The federal government will be helpless when all the computers shut down. Manufacturing, banking, transportation – all of it will grind to a halt. They will be begging for mercy.

“But I’m not a vindictive woman. I don’t want innocent people hurt, although there will be some collateral damage. I will restrain PeaceMaker as long as they follow my orders.”

Maybe there’s an opening here, he suddenly realized. Be subtle, for once.

“You know I don’t care about power,” Ray said. “Why are you telling me all this?”

Leaning forward, her bare arms on her knees, Dianne said, “I want the power, but it’s more than that. I’m going to use my power wisely.

“Ray, it’s all so clear. The power of a people lies more with the technology of their corporations and less with the weapons of the military or the size of the government. The ability to control the wealth of the nation has been passing out of the hands of the government for many years. Government never had much of a role in creating wealth, although it could and often did ruin an economy through excessive regulation and taxation.

“This historic tide was recognized by many national governments, and they decided to kill it.” Dianne’s voice took on a hard edge. “The federal government launched its so-called anti-trust lawsuit against VPS. Other governments joined the attack against the great technology companies. One by one, VPS and other corporations were broken up or harshly controlled. Litigation, regulation and direct government control strangled our corporations. The federal government and its allies were in charge.

“You know the result. Innovation slowed down and in some cases stopped altogether. The world economy began to stagnate, and now most of the world is in a recession. Our computer model predicts the recession will turn into a great depression. The very poor nations have remained impoverished. Wars and conflicts have continued. Terrorism is on the rise. What remains of technology is used by governments to rule, not to make a better life for the people.

Ray tried to speak, but Dianne wasn’t finished. A torrent of words kept roaring out, relentless until they ran their course.

“The Domain is the best hope for humanity in our lifetime. Rather than drive the world into recession and soon a great depression, we will provide a rising standard of living. Rather than using technology to invade and restrict individual freedom, we will make technology the servant of the individual. Rather than fighting war after war without end, we will forge universal peace.

“We intend to be the counterweight to the national governments. We intend to greatly diminish their power. We intend to stop them from waging war. We intend to prevent them from bringing an economic disaster upon us. We intend to be the shield guarding individual freedom.” Her eyes glowed with passion. “It will be my gift.

Can she really believe that? If she releases PeaceMaker, millions will die in the disaster she will have created. If the attack is successful, she’ll become a dictator with limitless power.

“The politicians have been talking for decades about a new world order or a bridge to the future.” She paused, staring at him, “Well, it’s here.

“Don’t you see? I’m offering you the only path that will make you complete. You can help me define the future or you can go back to that cell. Remember what you said to me that night on the Chesapeake? That we belong together … that we just might make each other happy. That was the truth about us then and it’s still the truth. I want you at my side, but the choice is yours. You have to get past your anger and understand that I’m offering you the future.”

He was captivated by the emotion in her eyes. She seemed like a young girl, confiding to a friend about a new love. Ray had never seen her so alive – so vibrant. He wasn’t sure if she was sincere – it was so hard to believe her – but he knew a path that included the Domain would never work.

Still …

“I don’t understand,” he said. “Why do you want me to join the Domain? Why do you need me now, after all these years?”

She leaned back and crossed her legs. “Well, I could say that you are the best software technologist I know. Your knowledge of Atlas and your genius for software would be crucial to our success. You’ve taken Atlas so far already. Think about what you could accomplish with unlimited resources. Where could you take us in five years? Ten?”

She’s very good at this. Knows all the buttons to push.

Dianne paused for a moment, studying him. Her eyes traveled up his body and then locked into his own. The room became unbearably warm.

She seemed to take a deep breath and then said, “All that is true, but it’s not the reason I need you.”

Ray watched her move off the chair and sit next to him on the sofa, her leg pressed against his. Dianne wasn’t beautiful, not really, but he couldn’t take his eyes away. Her lips were thin and straight, with lines beginning to appear at the corners. He could see flecks of color, blue and gray, in her eyes now that she was so close. She smelled fresh and clean, like he remembered.

She pressed against his shoulder, her breasts outlined against the sheer blouse as she twisted her body. Her voice was softer now.

“Remember how we were? How good it was?” She smiled. “We talked every day during the initial speech recognition project. No matter where I was, I would call you.”

“Some of those calls were pretty heated. We didn’t always agree.”

Dianne laughed. “That’s the truth.” Her hand was on his knee. “I was right most of the time. Admit it.”

“Most of the time,” he agreed, aware of the gentle pressure of her fingertips. “You had a good feel for what people wanted.”

“I still do. This is going to work and I want you with me again. It can be just like it was – the two of us leading the way.

“We were so good together,” Dianne said. “Remember the first time we made love? In my office? I had to practically tackle you because you were trying to be such a gentleman.” She chuckled. “Your resistance ended quickly – you made so much noise I was afraid someone would discover us.”

Her hand drifted across his thigh, fingertips applying a gentle pressure through his pants. Go along with her, he thought. Make her believe that you buy into her scheme. You’ll find a way to destroy PeaceMaker.

“I remember,” Ray said. “You were hitting some high notes, too.”

She laughed, then lightly kissed his lips. “Nice,” she murmured. “We can be together, again. Developing great software, making decisions that help people live a better life.” She kissed him again, a long, hungry kiss that he returned without thinking.

Ray realized he had to keep his desire under control. Let her seduce you, but don’t make it too easy.

“Listen, Dianne,” he said, “I want to believe you, but can it really happen? Can the Domain override the federal government?”

“When all the computers shut down, what can they do?” she said. “Virtually all lines of communication will be gone. Their databases, computer models, command and control systems – all gone. Television and radio – gone. Major sources of transportation such as planes, ships and trains can’t move without computer guidance. Why, they won’t even be able to surrender until we give them back a little processing capacity.”

As he listened, the sweet pressure of her fingers brought him to arousal. Images of late evenings in her office flickered in his mind … planning the first Atlas project that changed the face of computing … consoling her after VPS lost the final appeal … making love so many nights like it would never end.

Ray crushed his lips against her mouth, pushing her head back against the couch. His hand was drawn to her breasts, caressing the smooth silk of her blouse, feeling her nipples stiffen. She moaned as his fingers slipped beneath her blouse. The quickening sound of her breath filled his ears, deepening his arousal, but he forced himself to think.

What am I doing? She’s just going to use me again. Sleep with her, but don’t let her get to you.

“I’ve wanted you for years,” Ray said, trying to find his anger. “You walked out on me after the accident. I’m still an alcoholic. Always will be. I know you hate that. Nothing has changed.”

She buried her head in his neck, her lips demanding, her hair caressing his cheek. “Everything has changed.” Dianne kissed his neck again and her voice drifted up. “I had to leave. I couldn’t trust you with my plans. I knew it would take years to get to this point.”

Her head came up, and she kissed him passionately on the lips. He didn’t want her to stop, but she pulled away and said, “In a few days, the need for secrecy will be over. Everyone will know of the Domain because I’ll go public. I’ll be on every TV, every website explaining my actions. Some will welcome our plan, some will accept it grudgingly, but they will all go along.”

Ray was moved by the power of her ideas, by the emotion in her voice. He wanted to believe she was wrong, but he understood the power of PeaceMaker. I have to destroy PeaceMaker before she turns it loose, he thought. Before she destroys herself.

“My work has always been to empower the individual,” he said. “I can’t be part of a dictatorship.”

“I don’t want to destroy the federal government. Just make it work better.”

Ray was dimly aware his belt was loose, that he was free. He moaned as pleasure radiated through his body. The heat was making his mind fuzzy. His anger was gone. Her blouse was open, and Ray could feel her breasts pressed against his shoulder. Dianne’s lips parted as she kissed him, her breathing loud and ragged. He returned her passion, then pulled back just enough to see her eyes.

“What about Paul?” he whispered. “I don’t want him hurt.”

“We’ll take care of him.” She breathed, “Oh, yes,” and he felt her shift her weight as she pulled off her skirt. Her hand encircled him … stroked him … drove off all thoughts except for this woman at this moment. Roughly grasping her shoulders, Ray pushed her down on the couch and lost himself in the pleasure of their bodies.