Authors: Tom Avitabile
Tags: #Thriller, #Default Category
|The Eighth Day|
|Tags:||Default Category, Thriller|
As "The Eighth Day" opens, a series of bizarre and seemingly unrelated homegrown terrorist attacks are plaguing the nation -- a chemical engineer sets in motion a horrendous explosion killing hundreds of commuters and himself. Hollywood's hottest sex symbol assassinates a sitting Senator. A grandmother stages a sophisticated attack on a train causing massive damage. An airplane full of Silicon Valley's brightest is blown up while refueling. A series of random, deadly events or the unlikely start of an insidious new terror wave? Add to that the suspected tampering with a Presidential election, the use of the Navy's nuclear tipped rockets against California, the collapse of the stock market from within, and the ultimate "merging" of Hollywood and politics and you've got an incendiary mix that explodes across the pages. From the moment Science Advisor to the President William "Wild Bill" Hiccock sticks his foot in his mouth and is tasked with identifying and stopping the threat, he becomes the target of the "established" law enforcement agencies. While watching his back and watching out for the bad guys, he assembles a ragtag group of "out-of-the-box" thinkers-a famous novelist, a retired Navy Admiral, a wise-guy computer hacker sprung from federal prison, and his ex-wife, a leading behavioral psychologist-who must identify and destroy their elusive adversary who always seems to be a step ahead.
JUST IMAGINE THEM all sitting there in their u
William Jennings Hiccock thought, invoking a little trick a politician once revealed on overcoming the fear of public speaking. He scanned the three hundred expectant faces crowded into the Iroquois Banquet Room of the Westchester Hills Country Club.
On second thought, that’s even more frightening.
Braving 50,000 football fans almost every week back at Stanford did little to prepare him for this night and he harbored an unsettling feeling all day. This was a tougher crowd than the one that packed the university’s stadium. Even though they were not as physical as the opposing eleven-man squad hell-bent on making him pay a painful price for every pass completion, this group was just as ominous and even more cutthroat. They were, after all, scientists.
That was the medical term.
“New Rochelle, station stop is New Rochelle,” the train’s public-address system cackled.
“Boob job” was what her best friend called it. “An abomination before God” was her mother’s phrase. And regardless of what anyone else said, Cindy considered it a new lease on life. Ever since she was old enough to care about such things, she wanted to have a better figure. Once she entered the workforce, she noticed that all the shapely women were moving on the fast track and her career was … flat!
From a distance, Hiccock did not appear tall. He possessed the proportions of a smaller person in that they were balanced, his height not all in his legs or in his trunk. It wasn’t until he stood close to someone, or, as in this case, behind a podium, that his towering physical stature became apparent. This head-and-shoulders-above-the-rest quality enabled him to peg a rifle shot of a pass over the line of scrimmage. It was height and athletic ability that made him a valuable weapon to any coach on the gridiron, but those were second on his “things I like about myself” list. First place was solely occupied by his mental prowess. Perhaps his being so good at football was due to the fact that he understood every scientific aspect of the game, from the biokinetic structure of the human-propulsion mechanism to the ballistic trajectory of the leather-covered missile he launched from his rocket arm with deadly accuracy. He once concluded to himself that he didn’t as much play ball as “affect” ball.
That gift of logical analysis, which was the spark and magic to his game in the arena, proved a hindrance to his life off the field, especially when it came to women. Hiccock seldom did anything without serious thought. But he often found women to be emotional beings with contradictory actions and mind-boggling logic. In the Bronx, there used to be a saying, “can’t understand normal thinking.” He never accepted the crude and rude tone of that obscene acronym. Lately, however, he realized there was a kernel of truth there.
What does this have to do in any way with what I’m doing now?
The reason he dwelled on the great male/female divide was the blonde-haired woman in the front row.
They inspired two basic “looks” in the average man: the “long shot” and the “close up.” For the most part, a full head of well-brushed blonde hair, dangling down and shimmering above a black dress, was indeed a head turner. Closer inspection, though, could reveal a supermodel—or your matronly Aunt Mary. As he zoomed in for the front-row woman’s “close up,” he noticed that Aunt Mary definitely
make the trip here tonight.
Glancing away from her and down at his speech notes, he folded them, slid them into his vest pocket, and winged it with a different opening. He planted his feet, took a deep breath, smiled, and went for it.
“When I drove up tonight and I saw the laser beam writing ‘The Third Annual Artificial Intelligence Convention’ on the low-hanging cumulus, I felt a surge of pride. Did I say felt? Wow, that’s weird. I mean, scientists aren’t supposed to
. You know, after years of qualifying, quantifying, and qualitating facts, anomalies, and iterations, I think we wind up more like … like efficient machines than humans. We adapt to our black-and-white environment, we join the family of exactitude and flawless logic, and we make warm friends of cold, hard facts. I mean it is drummed into our heads that in pure science there is no place for feelings, emotions, or opinions. It is ‘the truth’ we seek, unclouded by faulty human intervention. It’s almost as though the role of scientists is to sacrifice their humanity for the
Where is this going, where am I going? Look at them. They don’t know whether to be insulted or uncomfortably polite. This is why I should stick to the script.
An uneasy pause hung in the room. A few pairs of eyes started to wander off him and onto the curtains and up to the chandelier in the center of the room. One man was checking his BlackBerry. Bill realized, for the first time, how frightening silence was. Back in the college stadiums of his youth, there was never quiet. Even booing was a sign that somebody was following the program, being a part of it. Silence was a suffocating condition. He felt as though he had a corkscrew inside his stomach and it was twisting his insides into a tightly wound knot. He looked down at the front-row blonde. At least her eyes were still on him. Taking notes, no less!
Somebody was actually writing this down! He started speaking again before he knew what he was going to say.
“That’s a shame.” Heads and eyes turned back to him. “I know you all think that the advancements in AI are just the logical conclusion of earlier steps done methodically.” He started nodding and they followed suit. “But I
feel something tonight. I know you felt it, too!” He delivered that line directly to a rotund man in a tuxedo who had the appearance and complexion of a vine-ripened tomato stuffed in a tight-necked, starched collar. The tomato started nodding as well. “A feeling not decipherable, not discernible or dissectible, just the unbridled pride over how far you have all come down this avenue of research.”
They were smiling now.
They’re with me.
He came back more fervently. “The laser-lit heavens out front literally demonstrated just how far our field has risen from the first amassed loop matrix that I was lucky enough to be a part of, to the …” As he went on, he thought in the back of his mind that at least this crowd, sitting there in their boxer shorts, was giving him, the ex-quarterback, a polite chance to score points.
From the window of the chemical lab, looking out across the nearby Metro-North station, the laser-lit cloud over the country club was little more than a glow in the night sky three miles off. However, Professor Eric Holm would never see it, being focused as he was on the end of the one-inch diamond-tipped drill bit that was simultaneously drilling in and pounding through the concrete at his feet. It was his first time ever using a rotary hammer. It would also be his last. He was amazed that he knew how to operate the drill. Although he could not recall who directed him to do this, he felt a strong compulsion to complete the task.
The buffeting noise the tool created did not concern him. Few places were as deserted as the Intellichip Building in the Central Westchester Industrial Park on Sunday night. With a jolt, the three-foot-long drill bit chewed and punched its way through the eighteen-inch slab of concrete and the drop ceiling that separated the fourth-floor chemical lab from the third-floor substrate bath. With great effort he pulled the heavy tool out of the hole and laid it on the floor. Unaccustomed to any physical labor whatsoever, he grabbed at his side as a muscle extended beyond its normal range. In pain, he didn’t notice the pocket protector fall from his sweat-stained, white short-sleeved shirt.
He opened the petcock on the fifty-five-gallon drum of Freon that was propped up on a wooden cradle at an angle, like a keg of beer. He watched silently as the Freon splashed in pools on the floor.
“Larchmont next stop,” a conductor announced from somewhere on the train. “The rear four cars only will platform at Larchmont.”
After years of denial and not believing that her unlucky lot in life was due to something as trivial as the size of her chest, Cindy turned 180 degrees in her thinking. So, on this crisp, early fall night, Cindy took the 7:35 Metro-North train from Grand Central Station up through Westchester County to Port Chester, where she intended to spend the night at her sister Paula’s house. The next day, with Paula accompanying her for moral support, she would check into Port Chester Hospital. Then, five hours and one-and-one-half cup sizes later, her new life would begin.
“So that’s the way it went all day, hit the ball, drag Bernie, hit the ball, drag Bernie.”
Hiccock had the room laughing after telling a little golf joke about how terrible it is when one of your foursome has a heart attack and dies in the middle of a game. He was getting the hang of public speaking. Totally off his notes, he forged fearlessly ahead into the perils of the ad-lib.
“Before you go back to the pure logic of the labs and I go back to the pure lunacy of Washington, I’m going to borrow a page from my old college coach. Try to imagine a smelly locker room at halftime.” The room laughed exactly on cue and he knew he had them. “Don’t give up. Do not be distracted. Do not be lured away to defense or commercial endeavors. Do not for one second listen to the naysayers, the ill-informed, the doubting Thomases who equate your quest for artificial intelligence with that of a fool’s journey. Every major advance in science has been the result of someone not following the rules, some individual thinking outside the box, someone standing up for an idea that was, at best, scientific heresy.”
The room erupted as the scientific elite, engineers and programmers all at the top of their professions, reacted to their new champion and the national recognition that he would bring to their long-suffering cause. Their optimism was founded on the notion that among the many Nobel Prize winners and nominees in this Westchester country club dining room, he, Hiccock, was the only one of them who had ever won a Heisman Trophy.
The widening pool of Freon found the hole Eric Holm cut in the floor and started to pour through and out the ragged opening in the third-floor acoustic ceiling. Looking into the draining liquid, he was catapulted back to a time in his youth when he was running through his mother’s kitchen and he hit the mop handle, knocking over the wash bucket. The soapy water found a knothole in the wood-planked floor and seeped down into the basement. He caught two beatings that day—one from his frustrated mother and another from his German immigrant father who came home and found his tools in the basement all wet.
Tonight, Holm’s eyes darted around. He had the distinct impression that he was doing something wrong today as well. But he could not stop himself. As the liquid reached the open vat holding the substrate bath, it proceeded to boil. The small twinge in Holm’s back caused him to twist his torso in an effort to alleviate the tightening of the complaining muscle. He was confused by the pain, having no memory of pulling it a minute earlier.
“For my part, as head of the Office of Science and Technology Policy, I will urge my new coach, the president, to support the legislation championed by Senator Dent of California calling for increased funding of the pure science necessary to achieve artificial intelligence in our lifetimes!”
The room combusted into a spontaneous standing ovation. They had found their hero. He was one of them, a pioneer in their field who, as the Science Advisor to the President, now held sway over the national science agenda.
There was a sharp thud as a southbound train sped by on an adjacent track. The doors of the car Cindy was riding in were slammed outward and yanked back by the vacuum created by the two trains passing each other. The noise took her out of her thoughts. Sitting between two men in her oversized cranberry-red sweater, she looked around at the other people on the train. There was the man standing in the doorway listening to his iPod. Tall and on the verge of forty, slightly graying at the temples, just enough to make him look distinguished. That was a pet peeve of hers. Distinguished. What a shitty deal that was. A man could out his gray for all the world to see and he’s deemed
. Let a woman try and go au naturel and she is “just giving up.”
She slowly realized that “Mr. I’m-here-I’m-gray-get-used-to-it” reminded her of a guy she went on a blind date with once. What a disaster! She was an hour late, as she recalled. Always having the worst luck, that icy winter night was no different. Her car locks froze up and she spent an hour in the bitter cold trying to rectify the situation with a Bic lighter. Turned out that the guy was a putz anyway. It was one date and over, as most were.
She unconsciously looked down at her featureless contours and then raised her head to play another round of “Who’s on the Train?” Her eyes landed on an older lady who gave up worrying about her hair and makeup long ago.
She’s either really happy or really nuts.
The man next to her must have had some kind of Chinese food for dinner because …
Eric Holm’s eyes darted around rapidly in their sockets. His instincts to flee prickled at his common sense, but a strong compulsion to stay put overpowered it. He noticed that the tip of his shoe had concrete dust on it from the drilling. He reached into his pants pocket for his handkerchief. The Freon had now created a roiling surface in the substrate bath. Eric Holm leaned down to dab the tip of his shoe. As he did so, the hydrogen chloride of the substrate bath and the Freon achieved critical mass. Seven hundred gallons of docile hydrogen chloride were violently stripped of their chemical inhibitor and now became a 700-gallon fuel explosive bomb with a boiling surface. In the first hundred milliseconds of the expanding hydrogen-fueled fireball, both concrete slabs that made up the floor and ceiling were instantly pulverized, along with the professor. At 200 milliseconds, the remaining hydrogen—now an aerosol—was ignited by the 3,000-degree central fireball, turning the entire 620,000 cubic feet of the third-to-fifth floors of the building into a superbomb. In total, it took one-third of a second for the building to explode.