As part of my previously discussed plan to make my site more interesting to me I’m going to publish my ongoing attempt at a dystopic science fiction story, “Sniper.” Part of my reason for putting it up on the site is to get feedback from sf fans and also because I hope at some future time to finish it and put it up for sale. If anyone likes the story, I highly encourage him to spread it to anyone among his acquaintances or sites that he thinks would be likely to be interested. After all the whole reason for the internet is mass communication.
Also, I’m encouraging all comments; positive and negative. Feedback is greatly desired. And away we go.
Link to Installment 1
The American Archipelago
Book 1 – The Sniper
Chapter 5 – Cutter (Continued)
Paul Connors got off the phone call from the man he had put in charge of moving the Boghadairs into their new home. It was a full day since he left Grace and her sons to return to his office and he was relieved to hear that it had gone off without a hitch. He would make a point of going to visit them very soon but for now they had enough to do settling into their new home.
Connors hit a button on his desk that locked the door to his office and then he keyed in the address for Cutter’s mail box. After negotiating the site protocols he pushed the video link button and Mel’s pleasant face appeared on Connor’s screen. “Hello Paul Connors, are you even another order of magnitude wealthier today than yesterday?” Connors had to laugh and said, “No, no I think I’m only incrementally richer today. But I’ll do my best tomorrow. Is your friend Cutter around?” The AI rolled her eyes and said, “Friend? He’s a hopeless case. Anyone as old, evil and rude as he is should be boiled in cocoa nut oil and fed to crabs. But he’s around here somewhere, I’ll wake him up.” Connors smiled and said, “Please just leave a message, I don’t want to wake him up if he’s sleeping.” The young girl made a disparaging noise, “I’ve just sounded the emergency alarm in his earpiece. He’ll probably hit the ceiling and come running but don’t worry he hasn’t got a heart so there’s no danger of an infarction.
Suddenly Connors’s screen split and he could see Cutter’s bleary-eyed face and hear him unleash a stream of invective at the virtual girl. Her image disappeared from the screen and Cutter’s face noticeably calmed and his eyes settled on Connors. Now Cutter’s face appeared slightly sheepish and he said, “Sorry Connors, she doesn’t usually act so irrationally but I think my own stress is starting to rub off on her. I swear to you I’ve measured her psychological profile and there’s no chance of her endangering the mission or slipping up on anything important. It’s just that her emotional algorithms are a little too strong. I can’t afford to deconstruct and reconstruct her personality anytime soon. I don’t have the time and she’s too critical to the work. Just bear with me for the duration.
Connors shook his head slightly, “Cutter, I already know you’re daft. How you amuse yourself with your shadow puppets is your own affair. I’ve always had to trust that you can police your own eccentricities. But I do want to know what’s going on with Bogey. He was pretty low when he showed up here. What’s the status of your mission with him?” The older man frowned, “We’re at square one. He’s just shown up and I’ve tried to explain how difficult his mission will be. But he still knows nothing and has done nothing. I intend to train him in the tools and techniques I’ve created and I’ll demonstrate how we can use your underground infrastructure to evade detection and capture. But I’ll need his help to formulate the detailed plans. His skills at providing real world results will determine what is realistic and safe and what is off the table. Right now I’m trying to decide whether the first steps should be delicate and invisible or devastating and attention grabbing. Both strategies have plusses and minuses. My instincts say start big but I think it’s smarter to learn a few things at the microscopic level and use that knowledge to plan a major attack afterward.”
Connors nodded, “Sure, figure out your strategy. The two of you are the logical team to figure that out. Keep me in the loop so I can protect my people and plan our own steps to avoid blowback. But what I meant about Bogey’s mission is have you figured out how to protect him from himself? When he showed up, I could see he had decided to charge the gates and go out in a blaze of gunfire. Have you talked him out of that?”
“Sure, I have. As soon as I showed him that I can get real intel on his targets I could see that he was adding things up in his head. He’s a smart guy and can see that getting results without dying is better than dying without accomplishing squat. And I pointed out that, him getting caught dead or alive would jeopardize you and his family. That got his attention. But it’s going to take some time for us to work out a plan. If you have any objectives you want to add into the plan hand them over soon so we can do a feasibility analysis on them. Once we get going things are going to get very complicated and very dangerous. Some objectives will be very time sensitive. If we only think of them later, they won’t happen.”
Connors took this in, “I’ll send along anything I can think of right away but you two are the war department. I’m more on the constructive side of things. Just let me know if you need resources. As you say, things will get tricky once they know they’re being targeted. Better to get supplies and materiel in advance.”
Cutter scratched his chin with his thumb, “Yeah, that’s true. I’ll have Bogey give me his equipment list and I’ll double or triple it as a safety factor. Then I’ll get a list of IT components I’ll need and then we’ll buy some crazy things just to spend some of your money. I think demolition supplies will be the hardest to procure without detection.”
“Don’t worry about that. I’ve got a crew that can manufacture that stuff underground without the worry of detection.”
Cutter nodded, “Okay, I’ve got to go now. I’ll send you the list and you can do the same when you have your ideas together. Mel will send that stuff to me through the regular mail route. And don’t worry about her. She’s solid on business.”
The link closed and Connors sat for a few minutes thinking about the mad world he now inhabited. Then he shrugged and hit the button to unlock his office door and resumed his busy day.
A thousand miles away, in a small town located next to a mountain lake, Grace Boghadair was finishing up her unpacking in the beautiful spacious house that Connors had sent her to. The boys had been given leave to toss around a baseball in the enormous back field behind the house but warned to stay close to the house in case predators were a threat. There weren’t any nearby but not knowing that, she had used motherly caution to try to do the right thing to keep her kids safe.
Grace was in a kind of happy shock. All the cloak and dagger secrecy and the two-day car ride had been disorienting. Their first night in the new house had been confusing and she had barely gotten clean sheets and blankets on their beds before she collapsed from nervous fatigue. But since waking up every experience in the new location had been fortunate. The huge modern kitchen was stocked with ample stocks of good food. The dining room was cavernous but with the giant oval table arrangement the five of them had a cozy breakfast at one end. The kids were loving the entertainment system in the family room and she had her eye on a padded recliner in the solarium. There were speakers in every room hooked up to the audio system and the living room had a ridiculously large surround sound television area with stadium seating. The whole thing felt like some kind of reality show where the host does a walkthrough so that the audience can hear the contestants oohing and aahing over the luxurious appointments of their dream home.
But if she was pleasantly surprised up till that point she was truly amazed when she found an accordion folder in the small study. Inside was a typed list of the contents and a letter from Connors. The list included two bank accounts with four hundred thousand dollars between them. The names on the accounts were two women’s names Grace had never heard of. There were two packets of hundred-dollar bills adding up to fifty thousand dollars. There were two driver’s licenses with Grace’s picture but with the two names from the bank accounts. There was also a spreadsheet with a list of websites and account numbers, passwords and balances in some currency that she did not recognize along with an equivalent in US dollars. The total was more than thirty million dollars.
Grace shook her head and put the paper back in the folder and walked away from it with a little shudder running through her. But she gave a nervous laugh and decided to relax for the moment in a temporary pool of serenity. The sun was shining, the boys were shouting some kind of fake play-by-play over their baseball game and for just a minute she had no one reminding her that the world had crashed down around her just a few months ago. She knew reality would set in when the sun set and the boys drifted off to sleep and the house became too quiet around her. But for the first time in forever she started to think seriously about what the rest of her life would include besides raising four boys. She still had no idea but at least she’d reached that much closure on the disaster.
Grace looked down at her left hand, at her wedding and engagement rings. She whispered, “Sorry Bob.” And took the rings off and put them on a chain she wore as a necklace. Her boys would need a father and she would be looking for a good man for the job. She owed them that. She only hoped there was such a man out there. Robert had been an exceptional father. She would do everything in her ability to make it happen. Of course, first she would have to find out where the hell she was and who the hell she was supposed to be called with all these drivers’ licenses and bank accounts and phony money. And now she decided she knew what the first order of business was. She would call up Paul Connors and get all of her questions answered. But before she could do anything, the doorbell rang.
Grace was disoriented for a second. Which way was the front door in this enormous house? But she got her bearings in a second and sprinted for the door. She looked through the peephole and saw a small woman with black hair and a big smile. She opened the door and the woman said, “Hi Grace. Mr. Connors asked me to check in with you. I’m Kim Billings and I live in town. Mr. Connors said you might be using Boghadair or two other names but I wanted to tell you about some of the precautions we take around here to avoid government snooping. If you’ve got a few minutes I’d like to tell you about the way we do things here and how we can help you get settled. I guess I’m sort of the secret underground welcome wagon.”
Grace hesitated for a second then let her in. “Would you like a cup of coffee Kim?” Billings nodded her head, “Thanks, I’d love one.” Grace led her to the dining room then went in the kitchen, filled two cups from the fresh pot she’d just made, dropped those off on the table and came back with cream, sugar, and two plates of a pound cake she’d found in the refrigerator and spoons and forks. “Grace were you an octopus in a former life? How can you carry so many things without dropping them?” Grace smiled, “No, in that former life I was a waitress in a diner.”
The two women fixed their coffees and took an appreciative bite or two out of the cake followed by a couple of sips of coffee before continuing their conversation. “Grace, have you had a chance to look through the papers that we left you in the study?” Grace nodded. “Kim do know what’s in that folder?” Mrs. Billings took a sip and said, “Yeah, I was in charge of packaging the money and identity papers with the other papers that Mr. Connors sent along. Do you have any questions about what you found?” Grace let out a small nervous laugh, “I have nothing but questions about all of it. And that’s beyond the absurd amounts of money everywhere I look. Fifty thousand dollars in cash, hundreds of thousands in bank accounts with fake names, millions of dollars on a list. Are you people drug traffickers or spies?” Kim put her cup down, “No we’re not criminals or foreign enemies. We’re part of Paul Connors’ network. We live in two different worlds at the same time. On paper we have the same lives as everyone else in America. We work for small companies in our local communities and own homes and pay taxes. But we also are shareholders in the American Archipelago Corporation. That’s the name Paul Connors gave to his company. And as members of this organization we have great advantages over other people. We have enormous resources available to help us if problems arise in our lives. We also have additional income that does not show up in our outside lives. This money doesn’t show up on income tax because it’s part of accounting that is done by the corporation and is banked and redeemed within the network. AAC has internal access to most of the things that people need on a day to day basis and so we can do most of our business inside the network.” Grace thought about this, “You mean like a company store?”
Kim took another bite of cake and answered, “Yes, if you consider that a company store could provide home building, most consumer products like appliances and groceries and also commercial and industrial products like office construction, engineering services and even most service specialties such as entertainment and food preparation. Lately it’s gotten to the point that we have to do everything we can to keep up the illusion that our lives are made up of what the government sees of us in its documents and statistics. But we’re like an iceberg, ninety percent of our reality is below the surface. And our system is so much more efficient and since we don’t have to pay the government tax we make ten times more from the corporation economy than what we show to the government. AAC credits aren’t pegged to the dollar but we try to maintain some kind of exchange rate so that we can explain the advantages of our economy to our children. Those were the exchange rates you saw in the account pages that Paul Connors included in your papers. That thirty some-odd million dollars in your accounts represents the current buying power of the AAC credits that Mr. Connors assigned to you. You could even have it turned into US dollars through Mr. Connors’ bank positions but then you’d have to try to explain to the IRS where the money came from and that would be difficult.”
“Kim I’m trying to imagine how all this could exist and yet be completely hidden from everyone else in the country. It seems impossible. How could a secret this big be kept indefinitely? Hasn’t anyone ever spilled the beans to the outside world?”
Kim shook her head, “Never yet. We screen applicants for the community extremely thoroughly. We only gradually allow outsiders to interact with our system. We will have worked with prospects for a year or more before we decide to begin revealing some of the advantages of joining us. Once we’re convinced of someone’s trustworthiness we never have a problem with someone wanting to leave. We provide such a favorable environment that no one wants to leave it once he’s in. I have heard that in certain extremely rare cases unpleasant methods were necessary to silence a deranged member but I think of these as outliers so rare as to be classed with other unavoidable anomalies like dealing with psychopaths. Much more dangerous is the chance that the government will discover us through chance or a mistake in our precautions.”
Grace shook her head, “But I’ve never been involved with your organization. Sure, my husband and his father worked for Mr. Connors for a number of years but we never made much money. We could barely keep our heads above water.” Kim smiled, “The cash money and those accounts represent the credit your husband accumulated while working for us. You weren’t aware of the money you accrued but we were. Your father-in-law also has credits with us but his case is a special one that Paul Connors is handling separately based on promises that were made long ago. But your money is yours and all that you need to do is follow our rules of secrecy to live secure in our community. Well, at least that’s how it would work if there weren’t special circumstances concerning your father-in-law. But for your situation there will be additional safeguards. Those driver’s licenses and bank accounts will help you disappear from the government’s eye. That’s why you’re in this town. You’re at the center of a circle that’s completely made up of our people and contains a number of countermeasures to keep out government surveillance. For the foreseeable future you and your children will need to stay within a fifty-mile radius of your home. Also, we’ll need to restrict your communications to only our people and using the phones and computers we provide.”
Grace thought about this, “It sounds like I’m a prisoner.” “No, I’d say it’s more like you are being provided sanctuary. If Joseph Boghadair does some of the things he said he wants to do, you and your sons will be hunted fugitives and if found you will be prisoners or worse. Mr. Connors wants to prevent that. And we are doing that at considerable risk to ourselves. Hiding you increases the chance that our secret will be discovered while the government searches for you. But as far as feeling like a prisoner, we can provide you with the freedom in our communities that compares with anything you might have had elsewhere in the United States. This area is friendly and prosperous and there are any number of things to do and people to meet. The local schools here are pretty great and the sports clubs are very popular and are enthusiastically supported by the parents. The moms’ club in town is very supportive and if you want to work there are part-time and full-time opportunities that are begging to be filled. You could do a lot worse if you’re comparing this to prison.”
Grace blushed, “I’m sorry if I sounded ungrateful. I was just thinking out loud. I am very grateful to all of you and Mr. Connors in particular for rescuing us. I just think the whole situation I’m in is surreal and I’m trying to absorb everything that has happened to us since Robert was killed.” She reached across the table and placed her right hand over Kim’s left hand. “Thank you for what you’ve done and tell Mr. Connors we’ll do our part and follow the rules and try to fit in. I promise that I’ll watch my boys and make sure that they know what’s expected of them and follow the rules.”
Kim read Grace’s face and eyes and nodded, “Good, then it’s settled. My number is in the phones and when you want more information give me a call and I’ll help you out or give you the contact info of someone who can.” She got up and the two women walked to the door. Right before Kim walked away she said, “Smile Grace, today the sun is shining and you are among friends.” Grace thought about that for a moment. She walked around to the back of the house and saw her sons climbing a beech tree and dangling from the lower branches and daring each other to jump down. The sun was bright in the sky and the air smelled sweet. And then she really did smile.
End of Chapter 5