Authors: B. V. Larson
Tags: #Technological Fiction
Books by B. V. Larson
(In Chronological Order)
Blood of Gold
Visit BVLarson.com for more information.
B. V. Larson
Copyright © 2010 by the author.
This book is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This ebook may not be sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each person you share it with. If you're reading this book (not just the sample) and did not purchase it, please purchase your own legal copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are either products of the author’s imagination or used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental. All rights reserved. No part of this publication can be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, without permission in writing from the author.
Wednesday Afternoon, April 12th
... 100 Hours and Counting ...
The gray van rolled up to the school crosswalk. Justin, who was just three days shy of his seventh birthday, didn’t look at it. He didn’t have to because he knew it was there. He had been watching it for a couple of days now. He was hoping the stranger inside wouldn’t offer him any candy or anything, because he would have to say no, and he didn’t want the stranger to get mad.
It was a warm spring afternoon in the college town of Davis, California. The hot, dusty days of summer were just around the corner. The sun burned in the blue sky, splattering white glare over the cars in the teachers’ parking lot of Birchlane Elementary School. As Justin left the school grounds, the sidewalks sprouted guardian ash trees that reminded him of marching soldiers. A breeze up from the Sacramento Delta softly pushed and pulled at the trees. Green leaves fluttered and insects buzzed. Justin reached out and ran one finger over the rough bark of each of the trees as he passed them.
He watched an orange-yellow bus pull out of the parking lot and rev up its smoky diesel engine. The kids inside all seemed to be yelling at once, their noise rising and falling with its own rhythm, completely apart from that of the engine. Justin wished he lived far enough away to take the bus home instead of walking. If he had been on the bus now like those other kids, he wouldn’t have to worry about the gray van.
He knew the van was probably no big deal. There were lots of other kids around, and the gray van was probably here every day to pick up some other kid. Despite this, down deep he
that the van was watching him. He knew that none of the grown-ups would listen to him, because he had told too many fibs. He felt a pang of regret for having gone too far with his stories the past, like the ones about the alligator at school. After that, he was sure they wouldn’t buy anything he said. He had sworn off telling fibs now, and the van sounded too much like a fib. So he hadn’t mentioned it to anyone.
Justin reached the corner when something big rumbled up behind him. The brakes squealed, and the sound made the back of his neck feel hot and prickly. He couldn’t resist twisting around to take a look.
There was the gray van. It was one of the old, fat-looking ones with hardly any windows on the sides. He couldn’t see much of the driver—just his arm poked out into the sunlight from the dark depths of the cab. There were a lot of thick, ropy veins on the arm, and a silver ring on the thumb.
Then Justin was falling. For a panicky moment, he thought the gray van had gotten him somehow, maybe zapped him like the Super Smash-Brothers guys did on his Nintendo all the time. He pitched over and fell sprawling. His lunch box with the square yellow sponge character on it sprang open and sent a plastic baggie containing a half-eaten chocolate-chip cookie skittering across the sidewalk. He realized with hot embarrassment that he had not been looking where he was going and had tripped over his own feet. He scrambled up and looked back, breathing through his open mouth.
He half-expected to find the van had magically vanished, but it hadn’t. Instead it was closer. He watched with bulging eyes as it hopped the curb with a groaning noise of old, protesting shocks. It paused there—its big engine chugging—as if it wanted to roll forward and crush him while he was down and helpless.
The driver turned his thumb up. The silver ring glinted in the sunlight. “Good one, klutz,” the driver said with a gravelly chuckle. Then the front tires angled away from him and the van nosed back down into the street where it belonged, like the shark in
reluctantly giving up on the men in the boat. Justin hadn’t liked that movie. His dad had let him watch it, calling it a “classic”, until his mom had chased him to bed. But not even
hadn’t scared him as much as the van did. He watched as the van executed a sloppy U-turn, nudging up on the opposite curb as it labored in the narrow confines of the street.
Justin grabbed up his lunch box and ran. He didn’t stop until he had reached home. The half-eaten chocolate-chip cookie in the plastic baggie lay behind, forgotten.
... 88 Hours and Counting ...
Computer networks and those who maintain them rarely sleep. The world’s largest network, the Internet, has many thousands of hubs, and many thousands of sleepless operators attend them. In the early morning hours of Thursday, two such people still worked on the main campus server for U. C. Davis.
“Who’s eating eleven gigs of my bandwidth?” demanded Brenda Hastings, the sysop. “It’s three fucking A.M.! We need to shut down the internet link for maintenance.”
Dr. Raymond Vance smiled to himself, his fingers clittering rapidly over the keyboard. Brenda always spoke to him (and everyone else) in a very informal fashion. People often assumed that she was his boss, not the other way around. He never made a big deal out of her cursing and her loud “suggestions” that often sounded like orders. That was just... Brenda.
A bluish light bathed his face, flashing in time with the screen. He used a net-sniffer utility to learn who the user was, although he already had a pretty good idea. “Just a sec,” he said.
Brenda pointed toward her monitor accusingly. “Twelve! They just cranked it up! Twelve gigs! Who’s sucking up all of my resources?”
The answer swam into being on Ray’s screen. “It’s Nog,” he said simply. “He’s probably just surfing.”
“Of course—surfing with twelve sessions at once. He’s probably running full audio on all of them and mixing it into his headphones too,” muttered Brenda, suddenly deflated. She flopped her bulky body back into her chair, which creaked in protest. She rubbed her forehead and made a wry face. “I’m sorry, Ray. I shouldn’t be yelling. Well, I suppose we could hold off on maintenance until four. Send him a warning note,” she told Ray with a sigh. She sucked in a breath and paused a moment. “Make it a polite note,” she added.
Ray nodded and smiled discreetly at his screen. His keyboard clicked and rattled as he e-mailed the note. No one wanted to screw with Nog unnecessarily. Not even Brenda, famous ass-chewer that she was. Nog was a self-made multi-millionaire that was heavily connected to the college and donated generously for research projects. Sure, he was a nerd and still in his twenties, but that didn’t mean anything. He didn’t talk much, but his money spoke volumes.
Ray’s smile faded as he recalled that he had “screwed with” Nog just last year. But he had deemed it necessary. Nog had taken his AI (Artificial Intelligence) class in the spring term and had never turned in his final project. Despite his acing the tests, Ray had seen fit to give him a B for the class.
Nog had been quietly furious with him ever since. To Ray’s knowledge, he had never gotten a B before. Never.
“Eighty-Seven percent is still a B,” Ray muttered to himself, “Money or not.”
“Are you talking to the keyboard again, Ray?” chuckled Brenda. “Maybe you should go home. There’s not much more you can do tonight.”
“Maybe you’re right,” sighed Ray, rubbing his eyes. “Lecturing tomorrow is going to be rough.”
“Balls!” shouted Brenda suddenly.
“I have to ask...” said Ray, smiling again. Brenda always made him smile.
“Oh, it’s nothing. I was just queuing up the overnight and noticed that the anti-virus sweep tested positive again. Second time this week that the server caught a bug.”
“Nothing that the anti-virus program can’t handle, I hope.”
“Nah. If it can detect it, it can clean it. I just hope it hasn’t ‘done it’s thing’ yet, whatever that might be.”
“I’m off, then,” Ray said, standing and stretching. The swivel chair groaned tiredly and bounced against the back of his knees. On the way home he yawned at least six times before he managed to steer his Ford Explorer into his driveway.
... 84 Hours and Counting ...
6:30 A.M. glowed in electric blue on the clock radio. There was no buzzer, only sappy music and overly energetic deejays that laughed too much at their own weak jokes and hokey sound-effects. It was a family tradition to awaken to the most annoying morning show that could be found on the radio. The annoying ones kept you from going back to sleep.
Sarah groaned beside Ray, rustling the covers. Ray cracked his eyes open, feeling the mind-numbing shock of awakening long before the body is ready. Further shocking him, he found that his son was sitting on the bed beside him, quietly pushing a plastic bulldozer around, making white mounds of the ruffled sheets.
On the radio, the music shifted into high-gear—something with a lot of guitars and what sounded almost like yodeling.
Three hours sleep and two technical lectures to give.
He knew that he would burn today. His eyes would burn and his muscles would burn and the blood would seem to pound in his temples and cheeks and behind his eyes. He could fake it though. He was an old hand at that. He wasn’t so tired that he couldn’t function. He realized vaguely that he was exercising an old habit he had of calculating how much sleep he had gotten and then estimating what kind of shape he would be in for the day. He did it automatically, the way you might calculate how far you had to drive and how much gas you had left. Today, he didn’t have much gas, but it would have to do.
The music had cut out now and the deejays were playing kazoos to intro the helicopter-based traffic report.
“Turn it off,” croaked Sarah, her normally sweet voice sounding like the speech of the dead. No one moved toward the radio, but Justin, realizing that they were awake, lost all signs of mercy. He revved up his bulldozer, his lips buzzing for sound effects, and began ramming the orange plastic blade into Ray’s ribs.
Ray was too stunned by lingering sleep to respond at first. Disappointed, Justin stepped up the assault a notch, rolling the treads up his father’s side and over his bare chest. A hair or two was pulled.
“Is that your bulldozer?” asked Ray, his voice croaking with sleep.
“Nope. It’s a gray van daddy, and it’s commin’ to get you.”
“Whatever it is kid, knock it off,” rumbled Ray, closing his hand over his son’s small hand and the offending toy. He resisted the flash of anger that urged him to toss the toy across the room. He sighed and relaxed. It wasn’t Justin’s fault that his dad had had only three hours sleep.
Justin giggled and struggled free. He went back to lightly nudging Ray’s ribs. “I’m gettin’ you Daddy,” he said.
Ray knew what was expected. He grabbed his son in a bear hug and squeezed him, rubbing his knuckles in his blond hair and tickling him while he growled in his ear. “Outta here, kid.”