GOOGLE BETA 3
© 2015 John Selby
Published by the WizeWell Media Group
This is purely a work of fiction: all characters, organizations
and situations represent the author’s imagination.
Thanks to all those risky individuals at Google
and elsewhere who continually push limits
in order to more fully expose
the lurking underbelly of psych-tech.
And as always beyond all words …
eternal thanks to Birgitta.
"In this evolving universe
there is an immeasurable
driving presence we call
the creative power
~ Don Juan Mateus ~
On that mid-December afternoon when Mahalena first appeared, Jack was on campus administering his last exam of the Berkeley semester. At the lectern he spontaneously spouted a quick vacation joke – then realized it was one of his dad’s old quips and got choked up.
Politely declining a student’s eager offer to spend the afternoon together, he walked down to the Tolman Hall parking lot. Climbing up into the VW camper his dad had bequeathed him, he became aware of a casually dressed man sitting in the passenger seat.
“So, breaking and entering – illegal trespass,” Jack mumbled, closing his door and sitting there in the presence of none other than Larry Bish. “Google out playing spy versus spy today?”
The intruder had once been a colleague of Jack’s father down at Stanford before jumping ship to Google Research. He was around fifty, almost a generation older than Jack, fervently trusting new tech to heal the planet of all tech-induced trauma. He’d banged heads with Jack a few weeks ago over a neuro-resonance patent of Jack’s father that Google wanted to license. Larry was also now Jack’s mother’s current lover – but Jack continued to hold him at a distance.
“Just a friendly visit. By the way, I’m looking forward to your TED talk,” Larry said in his upbeat tone, “a bunch of my team plan to come.”
Jack met his eyes evenly, wanting to be off and gone on vacation. “So Mom says she’s working for you direct now,” Jack said.
“Danny’s become quite a serious Google asset. You would too.”
“Oh – that’s why you’re here?”
“Jack, what’s up with you today – bad mood? I think it was Alan Watts who said that life’s so serious, it’ll kill you if you take it seriously.”
“Did you ever get hit real hard right in the solar plexus?”
“Hmm. What’s that all about? Thinking of your dad again?”
“Your mom was telling me just last night that you won’t do therapy. It’s been almost two years, you gotta let go some time.”
“I’ll let go the day the cops finally find out who killed him.”
“So then hear me out – I hunted you down today because I’m onto something that involves your dad. My research team has stumbled onto some seriously illegal psych-tech.”
“So it runs suspiciously parallel to your dad’s last fMRI mood project. I know because I worked on it with him. This new tech is radical – marketed properly it could transform mood-disorder treatment, zero drugs, totally blow away the old-order pharma. With you or without you Google’s going to get it and run with it. All I need from you is a bit of youthful help this afternoon to get closer to the owner of the IP.”
Jack stuck his key into the ignition slot. “Larry. Please. Go Google
“I’m talking about perhaps finding out who did in your dad – and why.”
Jack took his hand off the ignition key, exhaled loudly, unzipped his jacket and leaned back to stare beyond his windshield at a vague barrage of lurking clouds. Larry handed him a grainy headshot of a young woman. Jack stared silently into her eyes.
“We haven’t much info,” Larry was saying. “Just a female contact on the inside, plus vague fed rumblings. And now – a definite Stanford connect between that woman’s brother and your father. And now just this morning I received word that she’ll be showing up at the Marin Museum in, uhm, about an hour and I started thinking – this might be something for Jack, maybe a clue about your dad’s demise.”
“And – you obtained that location fix how?”
Larry smiled his proud grin. “I’m a Google guy, we gather data. We cooperate and so do they. Please. All I need is a lead on the whereabouts of this mystery woman’s twin brother. Really, Jack. I don’t think I ever asked a favor of you before, but this is important. I’d be deeply thankful if you’d head over to the museum and see if you can strike up a conversation. Indulge in some spy versus spy. Perfect way to start a holiday.”
Jack felt strangely attracted to the eyes gazing back at him from the photo – but he handed the picture back. “Larry. My mom likes you and you probably mean well. I’m just not interested in getting involved in anything even remotely linked to Google.”
“Stop it, Jack. That’s an entirely unfounded prejudice against bigness in general, an outdated knee-jerk you inherited from your libertarian dad.”
Jack gave him a cryptic half-smile, half-scowl. “Death to all overblown hi-tech giants.”
Larry took a breath. “I see both sides equally. The reality of Google is the reality of Google – that’s our tech koan, living inside a two hundred percent equation. Your own dad taught that.”
“Leave him out of this.”
“Bernardo Bernhardt was a grad student under your father, he came to Stanford just after I left. And yes – I do begin to consider him a suspect. We’ve got a seriously explosive situation here, an ultimate terrorist tool if in the wrong hands – and this guy Bernardo is definitely mister wrong hands. And listen – what I’m bringing you is the fact that Bernardo Bernhardt was there in the lab at Stanford the night your dad died.”
“But – no way,” Jack reacted, his interest finally rising. “The police never told me anything about any Bernardo Bernhardt.”
“The guy went under a different name back then – he’s a slippery eel. And that woman, his sister, is her brother’s nemesis, some feminist native-rights activist flying below everybody’s radar.”
Larry handed Jack the photo again. “Just drive over and have some fun with her – see what you can find out about her brother and your dad. Worth a couple hours to check her out. Her name’s Mahalena. Phone me around eight this evening.”
A cold rain was pounding the Marin Museum of Natural History. The lobby clock showed a quarter past four but already the place was jam-packed with curious locals. A native sculpture of a glowering male face on a pedestal, a lobby teaser for the visiting Mayan collection, stared down at the press of eager visitors who’d been lured here by the morning news reporting a somewhat scandalous sculpture of ancient Mayan genitalia that were temporarily on display.
A brochure stated that the collection’s center-piece was a life-size jade phallus that, at least from its brochure photo, did possess a rather remarkable organic similarity to God’s own handiwork. The carving had been discovered during the winter of 1939 about 20 feet down in the crystal clear waters of highland Guatemala’s Lago Atitlan.
The deep-diving native boy who’d brought the piece to the surface had sold it that very next day to two noted Scottish archeologists who were busy digging up random Mayan remains wherever they might find them. They also purchased or otherwise absconded with eleven other ancient stone carvings before being recalled home – and then, because of confused wartime situations, all twelve pieces were stored and completely forgotten for decades until a small fire in some London storeroom provoked a re-filing and subsequent rediscovery.
Finished reading the brochure, I stood there a moment. The museum’s lobby smelled of over-ripe perfume sharpened by the wooly hint of wet army blanket. Vacant stone eyes stared down at me from a Mayan statue perched up high in the lobby, waking up a bunch of teen memories. I’d travelled down to Guatemala as an exchange student when I was 16. A rush of vivid remembrances from that trip hit me.
Feeling slightly disoriented and a bit hot, I unzipped my jacket. Looking around the room, blurred colors moved past my eyes. My gaze came casually to rest on a young woman sitting over on a stuffed sofa in the far corner. She was the woman in the photo – Mahalena Bernhardt. And she wasn’t doing anything at all, she was simply sitting there calmly … looking right back into my eyes.
People between us moved and she disappeared from view. Without conscious decision I let my body move with the general flow of gabbling visitors toward the inner rooms of the display – then the sea of bodies parted and there she was again, sitting quietly in the midst of the lobby buzz, with her eyes now closed.
She was wearing ordinary American clothes but to me she looked qualitatively different from the other people in the room. In fact, with her long dark hair, high forehead and strong nose, her face seemed subtly similar to the Mayan statue looming right behind her. She turned her head as if sensing my eyes on her and again met my gaze, breaking the frozen moment with a slight smile.
No one else noticed what was going on but I felt struck to the quick – her smile had shifted into the welcome of an intimate friend. I must know her, she seemed so intensely familiar; maybe she was in one of my classes, I had over a hundred students this semester. But surely I would have recognized this particular woman. She was about my age, a bit younger than thirty, no make-up, wearing dark blue pants and a blouse that slightly revealed the beautiful curves of her body.
She crossed her legs, cocked her head and suddenly lost the smile altogether as she looked intently at me. The impact was unexpectedly strong. Flustered beyond reason, I felt the impulse to turn and get the hell out of the building away from her. Instead I glanced back in her direction but more people coming into the museum had again closed the visual corridor.
I started to push impulsively toward her, not wanting to lose contact. But bodies banged into me, moving the other direction. Surrendering to the movement of the crowd, I walked on into the inner display room.
At almost that same moment, entirely unbeknown to me until much later, Larry Bish had arrived in a white Ford in the museum parking lot. Also (quite separately, as I’d learn from an entirely different source) there were already two nondescript vans in the vicinity with surveillance cameras videoing everyone coming and going from the museum that afternoon. Recognizing the arrival of a complication, they kept a special eye on Larry as he talked on his phone and watched a live-feed video being sent from a compatriot’s hand-held inside the museum.
Looking back now, I can’t quite understand why my mind failed to think through possible scenarios regarding my situation – sometimes the present moment can get so engulfing that it cancels out any wider picture; right then my mind was consumed with the lingering presence of that woman back in the lobby, and the sudden staring presence of yet another rough-hewn statue of a Mayan god emitting some ancient mythic message entirely beyond the confines of my professorial mindset.
And then I saw it – the solitary jade carving of the risen phallus, positioned over against the far wall and surrounded by about thirty people plus an armed guard. Perched on a velvet stand, the piece was rotating slowly with spotlights highlighting its various organic curves. Such dug-up artifacts portraying the erect penis and full set of genitalia are fairly common in archeological displays throughout the world, but reflexively I almost laughed outright – here was this blatant stone hard-on right out in public view, being reverently oo’d and aa’d over by tense-lipped matrons and blushing junior-high girls..
A red cord kept observers a few feet back so there’d be no temptation to reach out and touch. Well, if I pushed against the cord I could probably reach the piece, but the guard would be after me instantly. My mind shifted back to the woman in the lobby and I thought perhaps I should turn around and focus in that direction again – but instead I stepped into an open space where I could let my eyes take in the relic close-up.
It was definitely a creative masterpiece, much more anatomically correct than the other pieces. How had ancient Mayans carved something so lifelike without modern tools? As I stood staring at the slowly-rotating statue, an inner image flashed in my mind of this carving held up high to the sky by some powerful naked native man painted all over in blue. A possessive urge came over me to reach out and touch the thing – then the impulse was gone and I was just standing there staring blankly at the slowly-turning display.
“Tradition says that unacceptable priestly behavior related to this piece caused the volcanoes to blow their tops and send lava spewing down over the town and lake,” a low resonant voice right beside me said. “Everything was lost except, as fate would have it, this particular piece.”
I turned my head in the direction of the slightly foreign-accented voice and found the same woman I’d gazed at in the lobby, now standing right next to me. She’d pulled her abundant dark hair back tightly into a pony tail. About half a foot shorter than my six feet, she was light-weight and looked like she could break into a fast run with no effort at all.
The color of her eyes seemed to be the same blue-green as the jade of the statue. Calm but also on high alert, she glanced around the room as if taking in multiple levels at once –
“So tell me,” I said, rotely expressing what I’d been thinking just moments before, “since you seem to have the inside story – was perhaps that carving part of a Mayan ceremonial routine, were there actual female victims?”
My question had a direct impact on her expression – she frowned. “You are asking, at least from your own cultural perspective, a rather pornographic question.”
Again she turned away, looking over at the guard who was talking with some loud tourists. When she looked back her expression had become quite serious. “I will tell you this,” she said very quietly. “Whenever you perceive anyone as a victim, you disturb the deeper integrity of that person. But yes, our history was not what I would have preferred.”
She glanced at her watch and looked around the room as if now
urgently expecting someone. “So tell me,” I asked, suddenly remembering my dad and the specific purpose of this museum visit, “are you – did you perhaps go to Stanford?”
“Me, Stanford University? No – never.”
“But – you’re originally from Guatemala?”
Her expression softened. “I was born and raised on Lago Atitlan, across the lake in Santiago. Since then I have been, well, how do you say it, around.”
A loud commotion jolted the hush of the display room. Along with everyone else, I looked reflexively over to where a young woman, about fifteen feet away by the entry, was staggering around strangely, gasping and gurgling, having some sort of medical problem, perhaps an epileptic fit. The room became deathly quiet as she gagged for air.
The guard made a move toward her but too late – she went into a spasm that gripped her body and sent her collapsing down hard onto the floor. The short dress she had on went flying up, revealing yellow underwear. People gaped and stepped back as she continued writhing on the floor.
I turned my head back to the jade piece and couldn’t quite believe what I saw; the Guatemalan woman was pushing against the red cord so she could come close to the phallus display. Her left hand reached into her purse and emerged with what seemed to be an identical duplicate of the jade carving. Without hesitation her right hand went directly for the original on the pedestal and lifted it up into the air just as her left hand set the replacement on the pedestal.
It wasn’t all that original a move; I vaguely remembered seeing something similar in some jewelry-heist movie. And of course this small local museum would have minimal touch-sensitive security. Nonetheless she’d performed her act deftly. Slipping the stolen piece into her purse, she looked around the room to make sure no one had seen what she’d done – and caught me staring right at her.
“Please, stay calm, say nothing,” she whispered. “Come outside with me now.”
The woman on the floor was beginning to regain some semblance of control, with the distracted guard trying to pull her dress down over her exposed underwear. Suddenly I put two and two together ...