I scrapped this chapter (there's a second discarded chapter below) because I noticed a lot of my friends only read a couple pages of a book before deciding to buy it or take it out of the library. Charlie is certainly portrayed as he was at that time, twenty-two years before the current start of the book, but he's not likable, and I was fairly certain that would turn many readers away. Readers need to empathize with the main character fairly quickly. Nevertheless, I think it's a good piece, and once readers have been introduced to the happier version of the guy, they may find it interesting how much Charlie had changed. On the other hand, if this is your first exposure to the book, be sure you read the current first chapter on the Home page of this site before you give up on the guy. Writers may be interested to see how a book can start in various ways.

So consider this a "Special Feature" like one of the scenes cut from a movie, and enjoy!


Chapter 1 - version 1 Reject


Charlie Noble was auditioning his third psychologist in as many weeks. His anger issues were escalating, and he thought he was getting close to hurting someone.

A sixty-three-year-old computer programmer, Charlie loved programming and was good at it. It was everybody else's computer programs that enraged him; program updates that didn't work; menus that either got moved or renamed or disappeared altogether so you couldn't figure out how to do the simplest of jobs you'd been doing for years. Probably changed by those fucking kids who think, "Oh, they'll get used to it." Cowboys with no regard for anybody but themselves. Internet and cell phone companies with applications that couldn't keep their services working or keep the bills straight. He calculated he'd spent roughly ten hours a month dealing with issues like these, all of them caused by other people's incompetence and corporate greed. When he multiplied that by all the people using those services in the US alone, his anger grew. He built a website called TheTechnoGrouch where he ranted about bad service and technology, but it didn't reduce his anger. And lately the anger had spilled over into the rest of his life — especially when he was driving. Aren't you supposed to mellow out as you get older?

And this psychologist wasn't helping at all. Same old pablum. If you can call a question advice, he thought. Things like, "How do you feel about that?" and "What do you think you should to do?"

"You know, I'm really looking for some advice here. I told you that."

"Yes. OK. Well, if you were me, what advice would you give to you?"

Charlie's head flopped on his limp spaghetti neck like a rebellious teenager. C'mon. Grow a pair. Where the hell is Dr. Phil when I need him? "In case you didn't know it, that was another question. How long did you have to go to school in order to come up with that crap? I could do just as well with one of those old plastic 8-balls where you ask a question, turn it over and get some random answer. Hell, at least I'd get an answer — not another goddamn question."

"It sounds as if you're angry."

Charlie peered over the top of his glasses. "You figured that out all by yourself, Sherlock? Or did you come up with it… oh, I don't know — because it's what I told you when I came in here!" I wonder what he'd say if I said, " I have an uncontrollable urge to jump out of this chair and strangle you? So, doctor, do you think I should do that?"

And he'd say, "What do you think you should do?"

"I think I should do it."

"I see. And what do you think would happen if you did?
"

Instead Charlie shot out of his chair, brushing past the startled councilor and headed for the door. "See ya."

"But you've got fifteen minutes left."

"Yeah, well I'm taking 'em back." And he was gone.

He jumped into his car thinking, God, I can't wait until some technology gets far enough along that I'll be able control these feelings. But I'll probably end up killing somebody before then. He'd been following the futurist work of Ray Kurzweil since 2000, but his anger was growing exponentially about as fast as the technology that might help him. In fact, he suspected the technology was causing his problems.

Don't they say anger always came from fear? But who are "they?" More of those whacky psychologists? What? Have they actually looked inside somebody's brain and seen the stimulation of a fear center being converted to anger? If that's the case, then what am I afraid of? Wasting time? Being seen as stupid? Being criticized? Letting people down? Being used or treated unfairly or with disrespect? In some regards his feelings reminded him of when he had been bullied in school. Bullying is unfair. And when he looked inside, that feeling seemed to come from a fear of being dominated. Maybe the anger was just big Charlie coming out to protect little Charlie. But from what? Some piece of software?

He glared out the windshield. "Hey, asshole! Drive your fucking car! The light changed to green half an hour ago!" Charlie clenched his jaws and the steering wheel. "Oh, look. They're on a goddamn cell phone!" He slammed the heel of his hand on the car horn. "Hey, Fuckstick. If you're gonna talk on the phone, get off the road! Otherwise, DRIVE!"

He jerked out of his lane and roared up next to the car, catching the woman's eye. Making his hand into the shape of a phone, he mimed hanging it up, all the while frowning and shaking his head "No." He shouted, "Get off the phone!" The woman looked scared, like she were cornered by a maniac. And that's exactly what he was. Seeing her fear made him ashamed. He thought, You know, if the majority of voters in Michigan think it's acceptable to talk on a cell phone while driving, then I'm the one who's out of line. I need to calm down. And then, Right. Like that's gonna happen.

Within a month Charlie invented the Psychologist 8-Ball. It was his first successful app. He heard rumors that the P8B put some of psychologists out of work. That made him happy — for a little while. He was still miserable and angry and dreamed about killing people. And the more he thought about it, the more he thought it would happen — soon. He also made up his mind that he was going to get involved in nano technology, not just read about it. Maybe it'll keep my mind off this killing spree thing.

Maybe.



Chapter 1 - version 2 Reject

Tuesday, October 10, 2034 – Deepdale Memorial Park — Delta Charter Township southwest of Lansing, Michigan

It was a crappy day. Perfect for a funeral. A depressing mix of overcast skies and spitting rain foreshadowed the snow that was sure to arrive within a month. And Charlie hated snow. A bitter wind sliced across the Grand River making his climate-adjusting coat puff thicker to keep him warm. With a small movement of his hand, he ordered it to stop. He wanted to feel as cold on the outside as he did on the inside. Linda had been part of his team and he missed her — her sparkle, her humor, her brilliant mind. At least she transferred her knowledge to their expert system before she died. At least he had that. But it wasn't Linda.

Charlie stood outside in Real with his company's round-faced CEO, Rob Reynolds, and another of Linda's teammates, Native American Milo TwoDogs, along with Linda's parents, all of them next to a six-foot-high wall of urns. Another twenty-three friends, relatives and employees attended in Virtual Reality (VR). I'll bet every one of them has their cold data stream turned off, Charlie thought sourly. Why should they be the least bit uncomfortable just because they're at her funeral? Then he realized as soon as he left here he would use N-hanced to dial down his own grief so he could get on with his work. Hypocrite.

These were indeed interesting times, and Charlie Noble had the answer. He had invented N-hanced (N), a program for the nano computers in the synapses of the user's brain, which allows access to external information. Its most startling feature is effortless instant knowledge. N was the culmination of twenty years of dreaming and hard work for Charlie. So far he was the only user, but his company, Corridor CyberDynamics, would soon begin testing with a very select group. Once approved, sales of N-hanced were expected to explode worldwide, changing the lives of billions of people by spreading knowledge and reducing conflict. Although Charlie was grieving, he was also ashamed to admit he was worried that what happened to Linda would put a major kink in their schedule, maybe opening up an opportunity for a competitor. And there was something else. Something he needed to talk to Rob about.

By the time he tuned back in to the service, the minister was finishing. "…we commend to Almighty God our sister Linda Sullivan; and we commit her body to the ground. Earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust…"

The Byrds version of Turn, Turn, Turn played, and the VR attendees faded away.

Linda's mother was dressed in black. Clutching a handkerchief, she turned to Charlie. "You were Linda's boss, right?" Her VR tag identified her as Elaine Sullivan. She extended her hand and Charlie took it.

"Yes. I'm so sorry for your loss. I really liked Linda. She was such a valuable member of my team."

"I know, I know. She always spoke highly of you." Elaine glanced at Rob and Milo. "And the whole company. I can't believe she's gone. Children aren't supposed to die before their parents."

"Nobody's supposed to die any more."

Elaine nodded. "The police said they don't have any clues. I guess her autopsy didn't show much. Just some bruises."

"Yeah. But they'll come up with something soon. You just watch."

Elaine's face broke into a spasm of sorrow. She pressed the handkerchief to her nose and looked at her husband, then back at Charlie. "We wanted... a casket, you know. But... they don't allow that any more."

"I know. They say they need the land for the living. But it's a beautiful urn. And the plaque you chose…" Charlie ran his fingers across the brass on the marble square. "'She lived to give.' That was Linda."

Elaine looked down the hill. "She would have liked this spot. She lived just across the river, in that house right there. She loved the river. Now she'll be able to watch it forever." Her face and voice broke, and she brought the handkerchief back to her nose for a moment. Then she put her hand on Charlie's arm. "Thank you for coming." She nodded to her husband and they turned together and headed up the grassy hill.

Charlie looked at Rob and Milo and shook his head. Quietly he said, "This is so wrong."

A tall, blonde man came around from behind a nearby stand of evergreens and strode toward them, coat flapping in the wind. His VR tag said 'Detective John Curtis, Delta Township Police Department.' "Did you see anybody you didn't know?"

Charlie shrugged. "The only people I knew were from work—and her folks. How about you? You get anything?"

"We had Skeet Cams working the crowd. Our software didn't pick up any bad vibes. But whoever did this would certainly be able to beat our stuff."

"Hi. I'm Milo TwoDogs." Milo stuck out his hand to the detective, who shook it.

Charlie said, "Oh, sorry. This is Detective John Curtis. He's assigned to Linda's case. And this is Rob Reynolds, the CEO of Corridor CyberDynamics." They shook hands.

Milo looked apologetic. "I didn't mean to be pushy. I can certainly read your tag. But my mom raised me to make sure I always introduced myself formally."

Charlie tipped his head indicating they should start up the hill. After a few steps he said, "Milo, why don't you take the rest of the afternoon off?"

"Thanks. I could use it."

"I'll order an oCar for you and one for Rob and me. You all set, Detective?"

"Yeah."

Charlie called the cars with a gesture across his VR console. Turning toward the detective he said, "So, got any clues?"

John pursed his lips and flopped one hand helplessly. "'Fraid not."

"Anything on the slashing?"

"What?" Milo stopped so fast, his foot slipped in the wet grass and he fell against Rob. He grimaced an apology.

Charlie winced. "Sorry I didn't tell you guys about that."

Milo's eyes were wide in disbelief. "Well, it seems like a pretty important detail to leave out, don't you think?"

"I know. But after finding her, I just couldn't talk about it. I had enough trouble getting the image out of my head."

John said, "And I'd appreciate it if all of you kept it quiet. We don't want to start a panic."

"Sure," Milo nodded. "So she was slashed? How?"

"There were evenly spaced gashes across her arms and torso as if some wild animal had gone at her."

"Jeez," Rob whispered. Milo dipped his head, an expression of pain on his face.

"She wouldn't have felt any of that. It was all post-mortem. She was smothered first."

Milo rolled his eyes. "Oh, yeah, that's so much better." He shook his head in disbelief.

"The autopsy showed a bruise in the shape of a hand that covered her mouth and nose. There was another on the back of her neck where he probably pressed her head against the hand on her face."

Charlie perked up. "He? You know it's a man?"

John shook his head. "Sorry. Figure of speech. It's just that this kind of thing is usually done by men — except for the clawing, of course. But now we're sure it was murder."

"Well, that's something, isn't it?"

"Yes, but it's not enough, I'm afraid. For example. She was naked, but there was no evidence of sexual activity. There were scratches on her face from her own fingernails where she struggled to pry away the hand of her assailant. But we didn't turn up any foreign skin cells or material from a glove from under her nails, and no animal fur. With all the Scanners, Sweepers and Sniffers we sent through her place, we should have at least been able to find some recently shed skin cells or nano particles from the perp. But all we got were ones that belonged to her. And no fingerprints or lingering odors in the air. You can't even get away with that in an industrial cleanroom. People just don't suffocate like that in the middle of their living room — unless you find a plastic bag over their head."

"Jeez," Milo moaned.

"Sorry. Anyway, none of the Skeets in the area showed anyone or anything coming in or going out. And why would all her personal and in-house cams fail at the same time? I mean, c'mon. This guy is clearly working high-tech on a scale like we've never seen before. We checked with CopNet for similar MOs and got zip. I sure as hell hope this was a one-time thing, 'cause if I had to chase this bastard for very long, I'd probably quit and open up an ice cream stand. You can't imagine how sorry I am to tell you that's all I have."

Charlie shook his head. "Well, thanks for the update. Let me know if there's anything we can do."

"Course. And be sure to com me if you think of anything."

The detective's oCar arrived as the four men crested the hill. The vehicle's wall dissolved and he lowered himself onto the protruding seat. The seat retracted, the wall filled in and the detective nodded through the window and tapped the side of his head in a salute to Charlie as the car whispered away. Milo took the next car just as the third one pulled up. Charlie waited until Milo's car had gone. Standing outside their vehicle he turned to Rob. "I've been thinking that Linda's murder might have been some kind of corporate espionage."

"What makes you say that?"

"You heard what John said. It was high-tech and no clues."

"Well, everything is high-tech these days."

"Not like that, it isn't. I mean, slashing but leaving no hair or skin?" Charlie tipped his head. Rob sat down on the waiting seat and Charlie walked around to the far side oCar and got in. The seats retracted, the walls re-materialized and the car eased up the drive. Charlie looked out the window and watched a withered leaf blow off a maple tree. "I think I want to continue working on N-hanced by myself. I don't want to risk anybody else's life. And that means Milo."

"Am I supposed to be comforted by that?"

"What do you mean?"

"What about you? You don't think your life matters to me? You are my son-in-law."

"I can take care of myself."

Rob scoffed. "So what exactly are you protecting yourself from? You don't even know who or what it is — assuming you're right."

"I'm N-hanced now. I'll be able to spot any trouble before it happens."

"You were N-hanced when Linda was killed and you didn't notice anything."

"OK, then maybe it's not corporate espionage. We don't really know anything about her personal life. But I don't need human assistants now. I can take the project to market faster with my AIs than if I have to keep telling people what to do."

"Sounds like an excuse, but that's fine with me. It's your project."

"It's your company."

"C'mon. I've offered you a partnership."

"You know management and politics aren't my thing."

"Uh… if you're pardon me, that's BS. Now that you're using N, you can be an expert at anything."

"OK. But it still helps if the user has an interest, and I don't."

"Anyway, if it turns out this is espionage and you're working by yourself, you won't have anybody looking out for you. All I'll have is some nice vid of your final minutes."

Charlie shrugged. "I'll be fine."

"I hope so. We'd be screwed without you. And let me know if you get anything real on this corporate espionage thing. I need to know about that."

"Of course." Then Charlie had another thought. What if the spy's in our own company?

 

 
   
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