Maltbie's blood boiled when he heard Carter's recorded voice.
"I thought we solved this one," he said to himself. He slammed his fist onto his mahogany desk. Arline walked into the office on tiptoes and set a paper napkin and a cup of coffee next to the phone. Langston Carter whined automatically in the background as Maltbie played the recorded phone message.
Maltbie looked up at Arline and shrugged his shoulders.
"What is it with this jerk? Why does this idiot still have a job?"
He sat back in his leather chair, stretched his long legs in front of him as Carter droned on electronically. Thousands of skipped meals left Fred Maltbie tall and thin. His tapered white shirt and dark gray suit jacket hung from his expansive shoulders like theater curtains. Maltbie rolled his eyes to the ceiling and put his hand to his face. He ran his fingers through his curly brown hair in frustration and said, "God save us all."
The secretary took a step backward and forced a smile. "Isn't it a little early to be getting this mad? That agent Dow from FBI computer investigations called again. Oh, and your task force meeting is at eight-thirty today in the boardroom. Did you forget?"
"Aww shit," said Maltbie. He flipped his fountain pen at the office wall. "Does that useless collection of manure producing rabble meet today? Gimme a break." He reached over and punched a button on the phone and deleted Carter's voice-mail without letting it finish.
"Do you want me to send a reply to Mr. Carter?" Arline asked.
Maltbie sighed and rubbed his eyes. "No. I'm sorry. It was a lousy weekend. I told Ann she could take Kerry down to Florida for two weeks. So I spent the weekend I was supposed to have Kerry alone. Then, on Sunday night she had him call me to ask if he can stay another two weeks. What was I going to do? Say no?"
"Maybe you can take him with you on your next vacation," Arline offered.
"Some chance," said Maltbie. "Anyway, we gotta get this day rocking. Can you see if Linda is around this morning? And get me my preso for the task force meeting? It's on the disk I gave you last week."
Arline motioned to the desk with her eyes. Maltbie picked up the manila folder. Arline said, "I'll tell Ms. Chu you're in. Do you want to send a message to the FBI Agent? He called several times. He said he's looking for some type of software."
"Later," he said. "Can't be too important. If it was urgent he'd come in person."
Maltbie opened the folder and scanned the slides with one hand while he punched numbers on his telephone with the other. Linda Chu knocked on the office door frame as Maltbie dialed. He looked up and Linda said, "Hey, Fred. How was the weekend with the kid? How's reliving the second childhood?" Linda bobbed her head as she smiled and spoke. Her jet black hair shone.
He shook his head. "Don't ask." The speaker phone clicked and rang as Fred's call connected. He motioned to the chair in front of his desk and Linda sat down. Fred said, "Glad you're here. Listen to this."
A man answered and Fred left the phone in speaker-mode so Linda could hear the conversation. "Hello?" said the man at the other end.
"Carter?" said Maltbie.
"Fred, it's you. Did you get my voice mail? I couldn't follow though on the plan because Vishwani's people need some time to examine the alternatives. They've hit a log jam. Something got into their machines from the net and messed everything up. Now they have to reexamine everything. If they do a rewrite they'll have to redirect half the Indian team and you know what that means for the high-rez graphics schedule. If they try to patch the old code they run the risk of a total breakdown with the people at International Computer. This is not a simple decision. We need some more time."
Maltbie raised his palms and rolled his eyes at the ceiling as Carter spoke. Linda put her hand to her mouth to suppress a chuckle. She mouthed the words, "I don't believe it." Maltbie's gesturing caused a second of silence.
"Fred, are you there?" said Carter on the phone.
"Yes, Langston. I'm here and so is Linda Chu."
"Hi, Linda," said Langston.
"Hi, Langston. Langston, I have a question," Linda said. She crossed her legs and Maltbie had to focus on his cup of coffee to avoid watching the tight hem of her red suit rise up her thigh.
"Shoot," said the telephone voice.
Linda said, "I thought all this was settled. We agreed last week. Why didn't you simply execute on our agreement? Fred is going to walk over to your building and kill you with his fountain pen if I can't calm him down."
"Don't tell me he's going to be unreasonable about this."
Maltbie leaned over the telephone and spoke directly into the microphone, spitting as he enunciated his words. "Langston, what the hell is going on?"
"I told you, Fred. Vishwani's people. . ."
"Fuck Vishwani's people. You and I made an agreement. Hell. You and my entire division made an agreement that you'd have Vishwani's team redirected and ninety percent to the finish line by now. And what is this bullshit that spews out of my phone first thing in the morning? What do I hear after I get in from the worst weekend of the year? What did I hear, Langston?"
"I'm telling you something got into the machines. Some kind of virus. We have some rework to do. Linda, can't you talk some sense into him?" said Carter. "Vishwani's people need some more time to buy in to this decision. . ."
Maltbie felt his face flush warm. He said, "Which is it, Langston? Is it a technical problem or are you simply incapable of reaching an agreement with the staff? If it's technical you have backups. If you had the team following procedure they'd have lost at most a day or two of work. I sent you out to handle this project against my better judgment as a favor to you. I put my neck on the line for you and now I'm going to get my head cut off."
Linda leaned forward toward the speaker phone. "Carter, you haven't left us with a backup plan. Somebody is going to take the hit for this and it's going to be us. That means you too. Better start packing your office," she said.
"Linda, come on. Be reasonable."
Maltbie broke in. "It's out of your hands, Langston. From this moment forward consider yourself off the project, off the team, and if I can convince Cathy to keep you employed--into a staff position where you can't do any more damage."
"Fred, you can't do this. I'm the only one who knows how to pull this off."
"How can you say that?" Maltbie said. "You've had a week and all you've done is convince yourself to do nothing. We've put up with this kind of indecision long enough. Now we're a week behind and Linda and I are going to have to explain to exec-staff why we're losing two million dollars a day on a project that was supposed to be netting us five million a day by now." As Maltbie spoke, Linda's face grew sullen with the realization of the problem's weight. She glared at the phone.
Maltbie continued, "You're seven million a day down all because you didn't want to make the damn decision."
"But Fred, you guys are not considering the options. You haven't thought this through."
"There's nothing to think through. This was supposed to be easy. You blew it."
"Be seeing you, Langston," said Linda.
"Guys, come on...," Langston said, but Linda punched the disconnect button before he finished. She leaned back in her chair and stared at the phone.
Linda said, "What do we do now? I may be able to put Janet on the project. She knows how to make decisions and get the job done, but I don't think she's going to be able to recover all the lost time. One or two days maybe. But not an entire week. And god knows what truth there is to this virus excuse."
Maltbie said, "Janet's the best bet. Can you spare her?"
"It's going to take some fiddling," said Linda.
"I owe you."
"Big time," said Linda.
"Now all we have to do is figure what we say to exec-staff."
"I'll make you a deal," Linda said. "I put Janet on the project and you handle exec-staff."
Maltbie stood up and looked out his office window at the lawn and fountain below. "I guess that's fair," he said. "What the hell has gotten into Langston the past month? He used to be so decisive, so no-nonsense. Now this. This should have been easy for him."
"Are you really going to ask Cathy to nuke him?"
Maltbie tapped at a bug crawling on the outside of the window. "No. But man, when she hears about this Langston doesn't stand a snowball's chance of getting another leadership role in this place."
Arline leaned through the office door and said to Maltbie, "Fred, the staff meeting starts in two minutes. Do you want me to call and postpone?"
Maltbie glanced at his watch. "Yes. Call and tell them I'll be five minutes late." Then to Linda, "You coming to this disaster?"
Linda shook her head. "Not me," she said. "I've real work to do."
"By the way, did I tell you you look savory today? Red is your color."
Linda smiled. "My lawyer is on speed dial."
"Go ahead, make my day," Maltbie said. "So, when are you going to divorce that good-for-nothing husband of yours and marry me?"
"In your dreams," said Linda, and she left.
"Arline," Fred shouted out the open door to his secretary. "Tell them I'll be seven minutes late and tell them they'd better kick off the meeting with a proposed solution or I'm going to have them all redeployed to facilities. Got it?"
"Yes," said Arline. "By facilities you mean..."
"I mean cleaning toilets and sweeping floors in the cafeteria. I want these people to sweat a little before I show up."
* * *
After work at the bar Maltbie bought a round of drinks for Barry and Linda Chu. Linda smiled at him, her black almond eyes glowed beneath her straight hair. The red dress caressed her form. He'd probably spent two seconds too long staring. Barry glanced at him and he looked away quickly. Linda looked beyond Fred and said, "Don't look now, but here comes trouble."
The waitress came and delivered the drinks and as Fred pulled a wad of folded bills from his pocket. He heard a voice behind him.
"Fred, we have to talk."
Linda looked down at the table and pretended to blow her nose into a napkin. Barry stared at the man behind Fred. Maltbie paid the waitress and turned around.
Langston Carter said, "I have to talk to you. Can we go somewhere quieter?" His hair seemed much grayer and shorter than Maltbie remembered. His face was graven and dark.
Maltbie picked up his drink and downed the martini in one gulp. To Carter he said, "I don't know what we have to talk about. The issue is closed and I'm on my own time. I'd rather not talk about work. Why don't you make an appointment with Arline and stop by my office sometime next week?"
"I thought we were friends," Carter said. "Just a few minutes. That's all I'm asking. I may not be around much longer."
"That's not my fault," said Maltbie.
Langston said, "How long have we worked together? All three of us. You too, Barry. I remember when you were still at HyperSoft. Five...seven years? You owe it to me to hear me out. You have to hear my side of the story."
Linda started to speak but Maltbie lifted his hand and said, "I'll talk to him." Then to Barry, "Sorry to make you have to see this."
"No problem, man," Barry said. "Hope everything works out, Langston."
Fred motioned with his hand for Langston to move, "Lead the way."
Carter winced again. He clenched his fists at this sides. "I...can't find my way out. I mean, I could find it. But there are so many passages. They open and close as people move. If I was to try to walk between those people there and they were to move, the space between them would close and I would have to choose another gap to walk through. But if that one was to close and another was to open, I might not see it. I mean, the shortest distance is constantly changing. The optimal path from here to the door is mutating with time. Besides, the quietest place may not be outside. There's road noise outside, not to mention noise from aircraft or ambient conversation. The quietest place may indeed be in an acoustic null somewhere within this room. We'd need an audiometer to find it. Do you have an audiometer?"
Maltbie's mouth drooped open slightly. Linda and Barry looked up at Langston with their eyes wide and jaws limp.
"Are you sure you're okay?" Maltbie asked.
"I'm not okay. Did I ever once say I was okay? Please get me out of here," Carter said. He put his hand on Maltbie's forearm.
Fred quickly swung his arm away from Carter's grasp. "Come on," he said, and he waded through the crowd and out of the bar. Carter stepped on the backs of Maltbie's shoes and touched the small of Maltbie's back as they moved. Once outside, Maltbie pivoted on his feet and faced Carter nose-to-nose.
"Okay, Langston. Cut the shit. What's this all about?"
"I caught a virus," Langston said. Maltbie took a step backward. "I caught a virus and it hurt my mind."
"What are you talking about?" said Maltbie.
Langston winced and gritted his teeth as if something was burrowing into him. "My God," he said. "It's so bad I have to fight to talk sometimes."
Fred took another step backward. "Have you seen a doctor?"
"No, I haven't seen a doctor," Carter said. "It's not that kind of virus. It's the kind of virus that destroys the mind. Destroys the thinking." He tapped his temple with a forefinger. "It got in my head. It's growing. It's fracturing. It's altering my thoughts."
Maltbie put his hand on the sick man's shoulder. "Langston, I had no idea..." He led him out of the flow of bar patrons to the parking lot. "Did you talk to a psychiatrist? I know someone who may be able to help."
"You don't understand," said Carter. He held his head up and pointed the tip of his chin toward Maltbie. Then he flipped a hand and grabbed Maltbie's wrist. "It's not THAT kind of problem. It's not THAT kind of disease. No cough-cough or lookie me with the lamp shade on my head. It's a computer virus. Do you understand me when I say the words 'computer' and 'virus' in the same sentence?"
"Calm down, man. I know something is bothering you but we can work it out. I'll talk to Cathy. I'll get you out on a medical. Your poor performance the past few months could be related to..."
Carter opened his mouth and blew a wet scream into Maltbie's face. Fred flinched and tried to duck. The spray wet his face. He tried to twist his wrist out of Carter's grasp but the sick man squeezed his fist metal tight.
Carter said, "Wheels within wheels. Mandelbrot's monster. Ezekiel's machine brought to earth by beings from another world. Wheels grind the thoughts and make road maps of Milan out of them. Roads go everywhere. Highways circle monuments that no longer exist. Trees with billions of branches and trillions of leaves bifurcate tributaries of veins and capillaries and eventually divide to the indivisible--to nothing. Each tiny tube needs inspection down to the cellular level. Every nucleus, every mitochondrion, every double DNA helix splits into a non-terminating roadway requiring a thorough washing and I have nothing but a toothbrush and shot-glass of Mr. Clean."
Maltbie felt the adrenaline hit his system. Langston's eyes opened so wide the pupils faded to insignificance in the sea of bloodshot white. Maltbie remembered hearing about a rash of employee violence on the television news. He saw himself an incremental statistic on the broadcast, "...a business man was found dead this morning..."
He said, "Langston, I want you to calm down. Take a deep breath. We can work something out."
"There is nothing to work out," said Carter. "Wheels within wheels grind my thoughts to tiny strips of possibility. It's fractal thinking, There's nothing to stop Mandelbrot's monster. It's self replicating. It's self referential. Each nuclear piece is an exact duplicate of the whole. One atomic particle is enough to rebuild the whole thing. It's nothing and everything. No one can save you from nothing. Another mind is growing inside mine. But while I can keep my feet on a single path of thinking long enough I say to you, Fred, Fred Maltbie with relatives from the Mayflower and a car that will do 180 miles per hour on the test track, what kind of gas mileage do you get anyway with that thing?"
"Langston...," said Maltbie.
"Fred, you've got to stop this monster. They have it on disk. The Feds. Christ, the NSA who listens to all our phone calls and thoughts and who needs very much to have more money for cryptographic research came into our lab and eradicated it all except for the one version that Bowers showed me seven, my lucky number seven--it used to be nineteen until I lost ten thousand dollars playing the money wheel in Atlantic City--days ago. Bowers showed it to me and it's in my head."
Maltbie swallowed. "We're going to go now, Langston. I'll bring you home so you can sleep." He pulled his wrist from Carter's grasp.
"The feds want to lock me up but I escaped. I'm on the run. Pieces of the half-dimensional monster are living in me. That's Frankenstein's secret: non-integer dimensions. Think of it. All intelligence is hidden in the fractional dimension. I absorbed it and it latched on to my thinking like it latched on to the operating system code in our machines. It keeps replicating, taking over my thoughts."
"Langston, I want to help you. Come with me. I'll get you to a hospital," said Maltbie.
"No. Don't you understand? They'll find me. This is their baby. This didn't come from the goddamned commies. This is from the lab. I'm on the run. I've got to run." Langston took a quick step as if he was going to leap past Maltbie. Maltbie put himself in the troubled man's path.
"Calm down, Langston. Blame me. I should have never let you talk me into giving you the project. Let me take you home or to a hospital. You have to calm down. Don't think about the office. I'll talk to Cathy about putting you on short-term disability with full pay. Full pay, Langston. You can rest and get some help."
"Is that all you care about? The office? You poor, poor man. Nothing can help me and nothing is nothing. You think you can't do anything with nothing, right? But ha! You're wrong. Nothing can become a self-referential entity. You need only observe the fractal structure and it plants itself in your mind." Langston clenched his fists and gritted his teeth. Veins stood out on his neck like vines.
Maltbie took a few steps backward. "I'm going to get in my car now and drive away. Are you sure you won't come with me?" Maltbie said, walking backward. Carter didn't hear him and kept speaking, following a train of thought that split and contorted along paths of ever increasing complexity.
Fred got into his car and drove. He called the police on his car phone to let them know Carter was sick and alone in the bar parking lot. He calmed his guilt by imagining he had just escaped a brush with death.
The police dispatcher gave low priority to Maltbie's call. Several hours went by while the cops on duty investigated a bank robbery and chased a car-jacker through the city. When they finally rolled past the bar they found Carter standing in the parking lot discussing Zeno's paradox with no one.
* * *
"You're John Bowers?" Maltbie asked.
The guy in the T-shirt and jeans looked fresh from high-school. His face was pockmarked with active pimples and his hair was dark and matted. He didn't stand to shake hands with his boss, but rolled in his chair across the raised tile floor and reached up to Maltbie.
"That's me," he said. "I recognize you. You're the boss-man, Mr. Maltbie. I saw your picture in the annual report. What brings you down to my cave?"
"Let me be direct. I've learned some disturbing things from a friend of mine and I thought I'd check it out myself."
"Woah," said Bowers. He took off his glasses and wiped the lenses with the edge of his T-shirt. "It must be serious. I don't think we've had any corporate brass down here since the Japanese bought the company and wanted to see what kind of computers we had. Who told you I had problems?"
"Langston Carter," said Maltbie. "He had a terrible accident. He sent me to you." Maltbie scanned the racks of flashing lights and traces of cables that ran across the ceiling. The room filled with the drone of fan motors and blue-white glare of artificial light.
"I'm very sorry to hear that. What happened to him?" Bowers asked. He put his glasses back onto his head.
"He had to take an extended sick-leave. Are these the computers? I need you to show me something."
"Nothing mental, I hope," said Bowers.
"Mental. You know. Psycho. I hope it was nothing mental with Mr. Carter. He seemed to be one card shy of a full deck."
Maltbie put his hand to a grating on one of the computer boxes. A steady stream of warm air blew from the holes. "What is all this stuff? It all looks different from when I was a programmer," he asked.
Bowers pointed as he spoke. "Those things over there are file servers for all the workstations in the place. This stuff over here is the network communications interface to the outside world. You've got your dedicated undersea T1 lines to the European offices there. The globcom transponder is there. That talks to the satellites in geosynchronous orbit. That thing over there is the FDDI compander."
Maltbie slapped his head to his forehead. There was too much technology to absorb at once.
"Are you feeling all right, Mr. Maltbie?"
"No," said Fred. "Listen, let's not make this any more unpleasant than it has to be for both of us. Langston Carter told me that when the government agents came and took some program from you and you kept a copy. Where is it?"
"You mean the virus?"
"Yeah. Whatever. Where is it? Show it to me."
"I got rid of it when the NSA came in last year. I swear, I don't have it anymore."
Maltbie turned and pulled a chair out from under a desk. He slid the chair opposite Bowers and sat. "Look, er, Joe, is it?"
"John," said Bowers.
"Okay, John. Let's get down to business. I know you have a copy of the code. Do you know how I know? I know because Langston Carter told me you showed it to him a week ago."
"Oh that," said Bowers. "I got rid of that right after I showed it to Mr. Carter."
Fred leaned toward the young man and spoke in a whisper. "Do you know how quickly I can fire you?"
"Pretty quickly, I'd imagine," said Bowers.
"You wouldn't even have time to finish your next sentence and the guards would haul your ass out of here."
"That's fast," Bowers said. He shifted in his seat and shot Maltbie a smug grin. "But why would you fire me? You need me. This place would fall apart without me."
"Let's play a little game. A computer game. You like computer games?"
"Sure, who doesn't?"
"Me," said Maltbie. He took out his cell phone and dialed. When Arline answered he said, "This is Fred and I'm down in computer operations. I want you get Captain George from security on the line and tell him to send two guards down here, pronto."
"Yes, Mr. Maltbie," said the tinny voice.
Bowers started to speak but Maltbie silenced him with a raised finger. Fred glared at Bowers as he spoke. "Tell them we have a termination and a potentially hostile employee situation. Then call the city FBI bureau and get that special agent who's been bugging me...what's his name...Dow, that's it. Get Dow and tell him I found the stuff he's been looking for but he's going to have to bring in his own computer jocks to get it off my machines."
"Yes, Mr. Maltbie," said Arline. Maltbie hung up. He said to Bowers, "Let's not have any secrets between us, okay? If I was you and I was trying to hide something, I'd have a disk for myself at my home and probably one or two copies hidden somewhere on this system encrypted with a different name or something like that. Now here's the computer game we're going to play. Until I say, 'limburger', you can't touch my computers any more. From this moment on, you're no longer computer operations manager. You're something else. What would you like to be?"
Bowers' hands shook. He rubbed his nose and took a deep breath. He said, "I don't have to put up with this. There are plenty of places I can work. If you want me out, I'm out. I'll just pack my stuff..."
"No you won't," said Maltbie. "My guards will pack your stuff. And not only that, but if we find any questionable materials in your possession, say, passwords to private accounts, personal e-mail between employees, computer games with the copy protection defeated, that kind of stuff, I'm going to have you prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law."
"You can't prove anything," said Bowers.
"What is there to prove?" said Maltbie. "Say I find some confidential program the FBI is looking for on a disk in your supply cabinet, you think I'm going to take the fall? No way, Jose. I mean, no way, Juan. I'm turning you over to the Feds. They'll take care of the federal crimes. And when they're done, my lawyers will take care of the company specific stuff. How's that?"
Bowers jumped out of his chair and looked around.
"Don't touch anything," Maltbie said. Two uniformed guards each three times the mass of the fragile Bowers entered the computer operations room. "I didn't say 'limburger' yet," said Maltbie.
"What do you want from me? I didn't do anything. I didn't do anything any other operations guy hasn't done. Come on. Are you saying you never read anybody's e-mail or cracked some copy protection?"
Maltbie swiveled in his seat and spoke to the guards. "Can you guys wait outside for a second? I may not need you."
"Yes, sir," one of the guards said, and the two men left the room.
Maltbie said, "We're talking about you, John. You're here. The code is here. The guards are here. Ever been to a jail? You know what goes on in there?"
"You don't have to do this...," said Bowers. He took off his glasses and wiped the beads of sweat off his forehead with his arm. "If I give you the stuff, will you call off the dogs?"
"It doesn't work that way. You turn over the code, all of it, and I'll tell the feds that you've been an employee in good standing for five years. Otherwise, you have both me and the FBI to contend with."
"Please," said Bowers, shaking. "I'll do whatever you want."
"Let's have it," said Maltbie.
Bowers stood still. After a few seconds he said, "This is a trick, right?"
"Huh?" Maltbie said. "Oh. Sorry--Limburger."
Bowers walked over to a screen and began to type commands.
"Exactly what is this virus?" Maltbie asked.
Bowers swallowed and silently typed a few more commands.
"Well?" Maltbie asked.
Bowers held his breath, hit the 'return' key, and turned his back to the screen. A pattern of moving shapes appeared.
"Is this all it does?" said Maltbie.
"It makes pictures of fractals," said Bowers. He took a few steps around the computer screen and stopped when he was behind the tube. The images illuminated Maltbie's face. "Don't even think of running," said Maltbie. "The guards will stop you."
The shapes on the screen seemed to move without logic. They changed color and undulated like ripples on a wind blown lake. "What the hell is this stuff?" Maltbie said.
But when he looked up something was wrong. The room was full of people. As if by magic, the guards, uniformed police officers, men in suits Maltbie figured were FBI, and several employees he didn't recognize, were in front of him staring. One of the men in a gray suit sat in front of Maltbie and behind the computer screen. He reached from behind the terminal and typed on the keyboard. Maltbie blinked. The screen was black.
"Oh shit," said Maltbie. "What the hell is this?"
He scanned the room. Bowers was nowhere to be seen.
"How do you feel?" said one of the men in a suit.
"I feel perfectly fine. Would somebody mind telling me what's going on here?" Fred said.
An older man in a black suit approached Maltbie. He stopped when he reached the computer screen. The man in the gray suit said, "It's secure," and the older man continued toward Maltbie.
"I'm special agent George Dow," he said. "I'm head of computer operations for the city branch of the FBI. Are you feeling all right, Mr. Maltbie?"
"Why do you people keep asking me that? How did you get in here?"
Dow turned toward the crowd and said, "Okay. Clear this room. I want everyone out of here. I want Benetti and Kurtz to take the kid in for questioning. Bob, can you do a search and see if there's any trace of the fractal generator left on this system?"
"Sure," said the man in the gray suit who had been typing.
"Great. Benetti, after you take the kid to the office you get the secretary to push a warrant through for the kid's house. I want everything searched. You track down his friends, his family, any of his little hacker buddies, and search their homes and places of business. I want it done thorough this time. We can't afford another accident like this."
"Yes sir," said another suited man in the crowd. People began filing out of the room.
Dow turned toward Fred and said, "Mr. Maltbie, I'm afraid you're going to have to come with us. It won't take long. I'm sorry for the inconvenience, sir. I hope..."
"Wait a fucking minute," Maltbie said. "I'm not going anywhere. I'm not going anywhere or doing anything until somebody explains all of this to me."
"Yes sir," said Dow. "I know this may seem rather confusing to you but I'm not authorized to release that information at this time. If you come with me, maybe we can arrange something downtown..."
Maltbie took his cell phone out of his pocket and dialed Arline. The phone rang several times. There was no answer. "Where the hell is she?" Maltbie muttered.
"Um, sir," said Dow, "maybe she went home."
Fred looked at his watch and froze. Two hours had elapsed since he had walked into the computer room to confront Bowers. "I don't get this at all."
Dow took a pad of paper and a pen from his jacket pocket. "Do you know how the fractal generator got onto your company premises?"
"What the hell is a fractal generator?"
"That thing you were watching. How did it get onto your machines?"
"I don't know. Somebody said it was a computer virus. I guess it came in off the network. We're hooked into stuff all over the world. We've got all manner of T1, globcom, and FDDI companders in there. Take a look for yourself. It could have gotten in anywhere."
"Virus?" said Dow. "Interesting. Why did you expose yourself to it?"
"Expose myself? I had no idea what was going on. One of my employees told me the government was looking for some program. Hell, you've been bugging me about some program. You never told me what to look for. How the hell I was supposed to know it was some kind of...of thing..."
"Who told you about the program? Which employee?"
Dow hesitated for a second. Then he wrote the name.
Maltbie said, "You want to tell me what this is all about? You want to tell me how you guys got in here without me hearing you?"
"I know this is all confusing now but I'm afraid a lot of the information you want is classified. I can tell you it has to do with the program you watched. Things are not going to seem the same to you. I'd like to have a doctor check you out."
"Go to hell," said Maltbie, "I feel fine. If you guys want me to see a doctor, you're going to have to start giving me answers."
Dow pulled a card out of his wallet and offered it to Fred. "This is my number. Please call me as soon as something happens. We have specialists who can deal with this thing."
"This is all bullshit," said Maltbie. "I'm not doing anything until you explain what happened to me."
"Have it your way," said Maltbie. He walked toward the elevators to take him out of the basement. "I'll get my own experts."
Dow pushed the card toward Maltbie. "Call me. Please. If anything at all happens, call me right away."
"Just get out of my building," said Maltbie.
* * *
Maltbie lay in his bed staring at the ceiling. Sleep wouldn't come. He counted his breaths, listened to the beams in the wall crackle with the changing temperature, and visualized the event in the computer room.
He thought, "I just sit down. Look at the screen. Pretty colors. Blam, FBI and police all around. Two hours gone by. Two hours lost time."
He rolled onto his side and moved his legs to a cooler spot under the sheets. There was something about the two hours that was more than disturbing. It was interesting. It drew his attention like a vortex.
He thought, "Lost time. Lost time like UFO abductees. UFOs. Abduction. Kidnapping. Children. Kerry. My son Kerry." He saw a familiar playground at a park. He saw his son on a swing smiling as he became pendulum to gravity's clock. A pendulum marking time. And then Maltbie saw two playgrounds and two Kerrys swinging and smiling. The two became four. The four became eight. The image split over and over until all Maltbie could see was a pattern of textured gray in front of him. It looked like cloth. He longed for a magnifying glass to examine the cloth, to extract his son from the web.
The web. He reached out to touch it and a phone was in his hand. The sun streamed through the window. He blinked and centered himself. He was sitting on the edge of his bed with the phone in his hand. There was a voice on the line.
"Maltbie? Is that you?"
"What's happening to me?"
"Fred, this is Dow. Don't move. We're coming."
He looked at the phone in his hand. Suddenly he saw two phones, then four, then eight. The tinny voice multiplied until Dow's voice became the throaty roar of a crowd.
"We're coming, Fred. Stay calm. Try to clear your mind."
Maltbie screamed. Hands pressed him down until he was on his back. In a blink he was strapped to a table. He felt something at his temples.
There was a flash of light and the feeling that something sharp and metallic had been scraped across every nerve in his body. There was a bitter taste in his mouth. An acrid smell filled his nostrils. He flew into space on the surface of a burning ball that seared his skin where he lay upon it. For a moment he was numb and floating. Then he hit the ground without remembering having fallen. The pain returned. When he could feel his body again he operated his mouth and screamed to pin himself to life.
* * *
Linda Chu put the bouquet of flowers into an empty vase on the shelf next to the bed and sat down. She politely shook hands with Fred's ex-wife who stood silently by the hospital room window. Five-year old Kerry knelt on the tile floor and pushed toy cars making engine noises with his mouth. Linda stepped over the toys and sat in the chair at the side of the bed. "How are you feeling?" she asked.
"I don't know," said Maltbie. He took the bed movement control and looked at the switches. "Sometimes I feel like I'm losing my mind, like all of this is a dream and I'm going to wake up. Sometimes I feel perfectly normal. How are things back at the office?" He dropped the control without having touched any of the switches.
Linda folded her hands in her lap and looked at her knees. She said, "The board was not at all happy about Carter's screw-up with the Vishwani project. They're even less happy to have you out on a medical with all the cleanup that has to be done. I'm the acting Vice President of Operations while you're out. I could really use some help when you're feeling up to it."
"You're a good choice," Maltbie said. "Maybe you're the best choice, it's hard to say."
"Gee, thanks for nothing," said Linda.
"Wait, I didn't mean that the way it sounded."
"What did you mean?"
Maltbie took a breath and tried to collect his thoughts. "It's so hard to describe what's going on in my head. I can't keep my train of thought. Everything I do seems to require a major decision considering hundreds of variables. I have to try not to think before I speak or I get bogged down in detail. I can't get through the detail."
"Did they tell you when you would get out?" Linda asked.
Maltbie shook his head. "Nobody's saying anything. I can't even remember how I got here."
Linda looked up and asked, "Did they say anything to you, Ann?"
Ann shrugged her shoulders and leaned against the wall. "Not a thing. I went up to the chief of staff and demanded the information. All I got was a run-around."
"This doesn't sound right," said Linda. "Are they doing any kind of tests?"
Maltbie shrugged his shoulders. "Should they?"
Linda shook her head. "Fred, this isn't you. Who's your doctor?"
"Some guy named Yerrimilli."
Linda picked up the phone, dialed the operator, and asked for Dr. Yerrimilli. Ann said, "Hey. Wait a minute," and started toward Linda. She stopped when Linda got someone on the line.
Linda demanded Yerrimilli come to Maltbie's room to give him a diagnosis. After a few minutes speaking to someone she got angry and slammed the phone into its cradle.
"Fred, I'll find out what's going on," Linda said.
"Thanks," said Maltbie.
As Linda stood up to leave Special Agent Dow walked into the room.
"How we doing, Fred?" said Dow. He bumped Linda aside as he moved to Fred's bedside.
"Excuse me," said Linda. "Do you mind?"
"I'm sorry, Ms...Ms. Chu, isn't it? I'm George Dow. FBI." Dow offered a hand to Linda. She stared, unflinching. Dow let his hand drop to his side.
"Fred," Dow said, "how do you feel? Hey, nice family you got here. This must be your wife and boy."
Maltbie shrugged his shoulders. "They're my ex-wife and son. Well, not my ex-son. I don't think you can be anyone's ex-son or ex-father. That's genetic, not legal you know. Though I bet the lawyers would like to make a business of it, divorcing kids from their parents..." Dow put a hand on Maltbie's shoulder and Fred stopped speaking.
"You always feel a bit disoriented after electroshock. Usually some loss of memory. It's okay, it'll come back."
"What," said Linda. "Electroshock? You people shocked him?"
"They do it to stabilize the patient in these cases," said Dow.
"Fine," said Linda. "Maybe you can explain all of this. What's wrong with Fred and why is the FBI involved? Why has he been subjected to this barbaric treatment? Why don't we know what the doctors think is wrong with him?"
Maltbie sat silently watching, not knowing what to say or do.
Dow said, "You've been exposed to a rather dangerous computer virus. As far as we know it was developed in the Ukraine during the cold war. There was a plan to introduce it into the major western computer networks but the Russians revolted and the Soviet state split. In the chaos the virus got onto the DOD's research net. Every major university and corporation in the country is connected to that net, including HyperSoft.
"The virus began to replicate itself and actually infected a few of the gateway machines. The NSA caught it and eradicated most of it before it spread. They developed an anti-virus program and let it loose on the net. The anti-virus sought out and destroyed the Soviet virus wherever it could be found. The only problem was some university students copied the virus and some machines were infected and were taken off the net before the anti-virus could be introduced. We had to mount a major cleanup effort and search every major computer installation in the country to eliminate the thing. We thought we had all of it when we got the call from your secretary--a little too late."
"Hold on," said Linda. "Are you trying to tell me a computer virus did something to Fred?"
"Look, Ms. Chu, whoever designed the virus discovered a way to modify brain rhythms through visual stimulus. The thing actually reprograms, if I can use that term, human brain function. It creates dissonance in the normal brain wave patterns."
"Give me a break," said Linda. She looked at Fred and said, "Do you believe this bullshit story?"
"I don't know," said Maltbie. "I don't know what I believe anymore."
Dow said, "We've seen this happen before. Your own Mr. Carter is a victim of the virus."
"Langston Carter?" said Linda.
"Yes," said Dow. "We've been keeping an eye on him. Bowers exposed him too. We thought it was an accident. Maybe it was. But Fred's exposure was deliberate. Bowers will pay the price."
"What price? For what? For running a program?"
"For attempted murder."
"You gotta be kidding me," said Linda. Ann, who had been standing silently watching until then, put her hand to her mouth and gasped.
"It's no lie," said a short brown man in a white lab coat who appeared in the doorway. "I'm doctor Sunit Yerrimilli. I'm sorry it has taken me so long to meet with you." He shook hands with Fred and Dow and continued, "We still don't completely understand the action of the virus on the human organism. We know the brain rhythms are somehow altered, but we don't know how it happens. The victim becomes disoriented. He feels overwhelmed by data. He can't control the flow of his thoughts. Every decision he makes seems to require an overwhelming analysis of fact. The victim experiences a state of paralysis. Paralysis of intent. Eventually, it becomes impossible to perform even the most rudimentary action--getting out of bed, lifting an arm, breathing."
"Then what?" said Linda.
Yerrimilli said, "In all the cases we've seen, the effects are eventually fatal."
Maltbie didn't flinch. He stared into space, his eyes unfocussed. The word "fatal" sent his thoughts jumping from topic to topic. He drifted in and out of colorless daydreams. He heard the doctor's voice and used it as an anchor to pull himself back into the room.
Yerrimilli continued, "We've been able to stabilize the patients by electroshock therapy. It's like pressing the 'reset' button or turning the machine off and on again. But the fractal syndrome always returns. It's as if we need a stronger switch. And after a while even those treatments become ineffective. The virus does no physical damage to the brain we can find. In-vitro MRI scans and post-mortem autopsies both show the brain architecture to be normal at time of death. Happily, the virus cannot be transmitted from human to human. You can only be infected by the computer. The victim needs to see a specific pattern, a specific fractal pattern flashed several times will cause the symptoms."
"You have got to be kidding me," said Linda.
"No," said Dow, "we're not. That's why the FBI has been involved in tracking down every last byte of this program. Can you imagine the devastation that a terrorist element could cause if it let this loose on a cable television network, or a major telecommunications system? We need to keep Fred here under a watchful eye for any signs of change."
Linda pushed by Dow and rested her hand on Maltbie's. "Is there anything I can do?"
Maltbie shook his shoulders. "I...I...you can't know how hard it is for me," he said.
Linda faced the men. "I want him out of here."
"Wait a minute," said Ann. "I'm his wife and I don't want him out of the sight of a doctor. I say he stays in here."
"Fred, tell them to release you to my care. You tell this doctor to let you out," Linda said.
Maltbie looked at her and winced as he tried to put the words together. "Release me to her," he said.
"Fred," said Dow, "you're in no condition..."
Linda picked up the phone. "I won't let him die in this room while you stand around concocting science-fiction with your thumbs up your asses."
"I don't know what you think is going on here but I assure you we have only his best interests at heart," said Dow.
"You admitted you're just going to watch him die," said Linda. "Is that in his best interests? I've had enough of this bureaucratic mumbo-jumbo. Who the hell do you think you're talking to, an idiot? There is no such thing as a computer virus that attacks the human brain. It's a physical impossibility. My friend is sick and you plan to do nothing to help him."
"We didn't say we'd do nothing," said Yerrimilli. "We'll do our best to make him comfortable. We'll administer electroshock when he exhibits gross manifestation of the symptoms."
"Bullshit," said Linda. She took out her cell phone and keyed a speed dial. "I'm getting a lawyer. You can't keep this man here."
* * *
Fred sat on the green park bench in the sun. Pigeons strutted at his feet poking at bits of paper and crumbs. In front of him a group of children played on swings and dug in a sandbox. The air was warm, the sky a deep seamless blue.
Kerry offered Fred an empty blue pail and a plastic shovel and invited Fred to come and dig in the sand. Maltbie looked at the pail and tried to focus his thoughts on answering the child. His mind ran from the manufacture of plastics to equations calculating the volume of the bucket. He screwed up his will and answered his son.
"Not right now, sport," he said. "I'll watch you from here."
The child trotted off as Linda approached the bench like a cloud borne on the breeze. She sat next to Fred and handed him a brown paper bag. Maltbie felt the bag in his hands before he saw it. He slowly looked down and opened it. He recognized the sandwich inside, tore off the cellophane wrapper, and took a bite.
"Hi," he said.
"How long have you been here?" she asked.
"All morning, I think," said Maltbie.
"Ann left you here all alone with Kerry?" said Linda.
Maltbie detected the anger in her voice. "I'm a grown man," he said. "I can take care of my son."
"You were eating your lunch," said Linda. She cradled his hand in hers and led the hand holding the sandwich to his mouth. He took another bite.
"I have some bad news, Fred," said Linda. She pulled a white paper napkin from the bag and wiped Fred's mouth. "Langston Carter died today."
"Langston," said Maltbie, with his mouth full of sandwich. As he chewed he tried to remember the man. All he could come up with was that he seemed to have a horribly worn pair of Italian shoes.
Linda's words broke his reverie. "I have to go, Fred," she said.
Maltbie's hand dropped to his lap; the sandwich fell from his fingers and a brave pigeon shot under Fred's feet and pecked at the food tearing the top bread slice from the bottom.
"Come on, let me take you and Kerry home," said Linda. "If child protective services finds out Ann left you alone with Kerry they'll never let him visit again." She put her hand under his elbow and lifted.
Maltbie shot a glance at Linda. He took a breath as if to speak but simply held it unable to form the words.
"Do you want to stay here?" said Linda.
Maltbie's eyes began to tear.
"Wait. I should say, I'll let you stay here."
"Thank you," said Maltbie. "More examinations? Doctors?"
"No, Fred. I'm sorry. I'm really sorry. The doctors aren't coming up with anything."
"Thank you," said Maltbie. "It's a pattern, you know. Living minds squeeze into dimensions. The only way out is to jump. Jump out. Can you imagine that? If we could jump into the fourth dimension we would disappear from here and reappear anywhere else. Even inside of things. You could escape prisons by jumping into the fourth dimension popping back in. You could escape your own mind..."
"There's Ann," Linda said, cutting him off. She left Maltbie and accosted the woman.
Fred turned toward the children and watched the pendulum motion of the swings. The children were pendulums rocking back and forth in fixed time dictated by the length of the swing chain and the force of gravity. Swings on Jupiter would move faster than those on earth, Maltbie thought. That is, if Jupiter had a surface to mount a swing to. Jupiter was a gas ball. Hot gas. Almost the sun. The bright yellow sun. The nuclear sun.
The next time he turned his head Linda was gone. Ann was gone.
He heard a bark. He saw Kerry. He concentrated and waved to the boy. Kerry stood, brushed sand from his jeans, and ran toward his father.
Between Fred and his son a toddler chased a white moth. Maltbie watched the child wobble forward flailing her arms this way and that as the moth fluttered an impossible zigzag path through the air. The moth moved forward and back, up and down, as if bumping off a thousand invisible pool table bumpers on its route of escape. The little girl locked onto the moth's erratic motion. It seemed to amplify the child's instability. Fred's son closed the distance from the sandbox.
The bark. The growl. A dog. A big dog. Someone screamed for the dog to stop.
From his peripheral vision something black flashed before the primary green grass. The blackness was a hole absorbing daylight. It slowed his thinking to a molasses slur.
The dog lunged toward the baby and knocked her down. The toddler screamed, terrified. The dog's teeth gleamed white and yellow, bared by a snarl. A drip of saliva hung from a sharpened incisor as the creature's eyes rolled back into its head revealing a bloodshot white of enraged attack. The animal's jaw wrapped around the child's arm and closed. The child's scream intensified as the dog planted its teeth and shook its head back and forth in fury against the tiny girl's tender muscle. Bright red blood spilled onto her ruffled white shirt.
Maltbie watched in horror as the scene grew closer. The vision froze in his mind like a movie film advancing one frame at a time. Click. Closer. Click. Closer. Probabilities of the scene converged to a single thread of thought. The smile on Kerry's face melted to surprise and horror. He stopped running so quickly he fell.
The toddler's face cracked to a gnarled red surface that reflected the animals fury and focused Maltbie's thought to uncontrollable action. Maltbie was drawn into the scene like a moth to flame. There were no alternatives. There were no options. There was only clarity of intent.
And then he was there. He saw his human hands on the animal. One grasped under the dog's neck and squeezed into the windpipe, the other reached around the muzzle and pulled the animal's flesh into its own closing teeth. The dog's black fur forced itself into Maltbie's face. It smelled of dirt, sex, and death. He bit into it. He heard a shrill scream of another animal in attack. Sharp claws raked against his neck and chest. He grabbed tighter into the dog's neck.
Through the haze of tearing motion, Maltbie felt the animal swing free. It had released the child and attempted to flee but Maltbie held onto its front paw. The dog shook its head and targeted Maltbie. As it lunged to strike its attacker, Maltbie grabbed the dog's throat and pulled it toward his opened mouth. Tension gripped his muscles and sent waves of heat through him. The full focus of his being drew upon the will to force his jaws together against the animal's throat. Flesh and cartilage gave way between his jaws with a crunch as if he were biting into a fresh vegetable. The dog yelped as Maltbie tore at the hair and flesh with his teeth. A glistening wetness appeared on the animal's fur, black against the dog's black coat. He bit into the wetness and tasted bitter iron and salt. He dug his teeth in further and bit down. Again a crunch and more wetness. A howl. A vibration in the body ran through his teeth to his head.
Something hit him on the back and he felt a stinging sensation. He locked his jaw on the dog's flesh and turned his head ripping hair and meat as he moved. A man stood behind him with a chain leash raised above his head like a whip. He poised to strike Maltbie again.
Fred released the shuddering carcass and faced the man. People swarmed from all directions. A woman picked up the crying child and screamed for help.
"You're crazy," the man said to Maltbie. He took an involuntary breath when Maltbie took a step toward him. "You're crazy. You killed my dog."
Fred spit the cartilage, hair, and warm meat to the ground. He felt a tickle running down his cheek and onto his neck. He swiped at it with his sleeve and saw the red. "Where's my son?" he said. Ann had appeared from nowhere and stood a few feet away holding Kerry in his arms.
"Somebody get a cop," said Maltbie. "Somebody get an ambulance. Are you all incapable idiots?"
Fred pulled his shirt off and tore strip of cloth from a sleeve. He approached the little girl's hysterical mother. Mother and child were draped in a stain of vivid red. Maltbie wrapped the shirt sleeve around the child's bleeding limb. "We have to get this child to a hospital," he said.
"You killed that goddamned dog," the mother said. "I saw you kill it."
"Yes I did. We have to get this child to a hospital."
A uniformed police officer came running across the green park lawn toward the carnage.
"Holy shit, what happened here?" said the cop. He looked at Maltbie and pulled out his nightstick as he circled toward the woman and child.
"Stay right where you are, sir. Hands behind your head."
"Get this child to a hospital," said Maltbie. "Then arrest me."
The man with the leash said, "He killed my dog. He bit my dog to death."
The officer stood frozen. "Did you hear me?" said Maltbie. "Call an ambulance."
"Yeah," said the cop. He called an ambulance on his walkie-talkie.
* * *
"I can't believe it," said Yerrimilli. "Everything is completely normal. There is no sign of fractal incursion anywhere on his EEG." The doctor scanned through a thick fan-fold stack of paper traced with lines.
Fred lay on the examination table in the small room staring at the ceiling. He drummed his fingers on his bare chest impatiently. "Can I go now?" he asked.
"Just one more moment, Mr. Maltbie," said Yerrimilli. He felt behind Fred's jaw and palpated his chest. As he thumped he said, "The reaction to the pit bull, it was automatic?"
"Like I was watching somebody else," said Fred. "I had no control. Before I knew it I was wrestling with the thing."
"Why did you tear its throat with your teeth?"
"I don't know," said Fred. "Like I said, before I knew it I was doing it."
"Very interesting," said Yerrimilli. He went back to Fred's EEG trace and intently examined the lines.
Dow was sitting on the other side of the room. He said, "Well, what did it? How could this happen?"
Without looking up from the EEG, Yerrimilli answered him. "As far as I can tell the virus so occupied Mr. Maltbie's cortical function that his reptilian brain was free to act as it pleased."
"Reptilian brain?" said Dow.
"The brain is a very complicated machine," Yerrimilli said. He closed the EEG trace and looked up toward Dow. "There are many different segments in the brain's architecture. Researchers feel each represents a different stage in the evolution of man. Deep at the center of the brain are structures we feel evolved when man was very primitive. These structures control very simple instinctual responses. Kill an enemy or flee danger. Fight for food. Fight to breathe. Survival is all there is down there.
"The fractal virus attacked the highest levels of human thought. Those are handled in a layer of the brain at the very surface, the cerebral cortex. Under normal conditions the cortex can keep the low level brain in check. Rational man wouldn't consider tearing out the throat of an angry dog with his teeth. Rational man controls the dog some other way, with a weapon perhaps. He stops the dog from hurting the child but rarely considers killing it with his bare hands.
"But with the cortical function disrupted by the virus, the reptilian brain apparently surfaces. And once that happens a trememdous shock to the system can be generated. In Mr. Maltbie's case he feared for the life of the child and his son. He killed the pit-bull terrier. I think those events generated a shock which reset Mr. Maltbie's cortex. The cortex was stopped and Mr. Maltbie felt he was watching someone else. He felt out of contol. When the cortex began to function normally, Mr. Maltbie's higher functions were restored free of the virus."
"Congratulations," Dow said to Maltbie.
Maltbie got off the examining table and started getting dressed. To Dow he said, "Langston Carter had a theory about the virus. He thought it was something we made. Something built in this country. Maybe by our government. Maybe even by my company. Who knows? Maybe that's why Carter is dead and Bowers is in jail.
"I think you have a good story for the tabloids," said Dow.
"Tabloids," said Maltbie. He buttoned his shirt. "What do you think is going to happen when I investigate the Vishwani project? What do you think I'm going to find when I have my people lock the entire network, search Vishwani's records, and find a project to design fractal generation software?"
"Knock yourself out," said Dow. "It's your business what you do in your office."
Maltbie put on his jacket and pulled a disk out of the pocket. "Suppose I were to tell you my people were suspicious about the whole thing and did some investigation while I was incapacitated. What would you say to evidence of a plan to develop and release mind-conditioning software over Eastern European computer networks?"
"Sounds like science fiction. Great material. You could write a book. Or are you a conspiracy theorist? Maybe you'd like to believe we're planning to subjugate enemies of the state?" said Dow.
"I wasn't going to say that," said Maltbie. He tossed the disk onto the examining table. "But if I thought there was even a remote possibility your intentions weren't honorable, I'd have all of this data published before you guys decided it was time to swallow that big gob of saliva I know is in your mouths right now."
Dow swallowed. "If you knowingly release classified information you'll be guilty of treason. You're still a sick man, Fred. You don't know what you're saying."
"You know what I think?" said Maltbie. "I think I'm the luckiest man alive. I may be the only person on earth who has someone he can trust absolutely." Maltbie grabbed the handle on the examining room door. He opened the door and said, "The human spirit is an amazing thing. Watch the news tonight. Stay informed."
* * *
The waitress put three champagne flutes on the table while the maitre'd uncorked the green bottle. Linda was radiant in her evening gown. Barry consented to put on a tie and an old corduroy sports jacket for the dinner but he could not be convinced to forsake his jeans and sneakers.
"Perception of knowledge is just as important as knowledge itself," Fred said. He lifted his glass and said, "I propose a toast."
Barry and Linda lifted their champagne glasses. Fred said, "To Langston Carter." He touched his glass to Barry's and Linda's. They touched glasses, and sipped their champagne.
"So what's next?" said Linda.
"That's up to them," said Maltbie. "I just hope you put enough information on the disk to shake them up."
"We don't have much," said Linda. "Vishwani's records were very sparse. Langston left us some data but it doesn't seem enough to build a case."
"Then all we can do is hope they think we have enough to make something of it. If we leave gaps in the right places they'll fill them for us. Next it's their move and they have all the time in the world. For now, we have our lives to get back to and I have the both of you to thank for mine. I owe you."
Linda smiled and said, "Big time."