Defrag

poster

Defrag

Author: Elf X

Rating: PG; mild language

Type of Fic: Casefile; humor

Spoiler Warning: Ghost in the Machine, Kill Switch, First

Person Shooter, Leonard Betts, Dod Kalm.

Summary: Mulder and Scully must solve the seemingly

impossible murder of the world’s healthiest man, a

computer genius

Disclaimer: Mulder, Scully, and their cohorts are not my

property, but are the inspiration of Chris Carter, 1013

Productions, and Fox

Feedback: Send feedback to fwidsvnt@ilfb.org

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Field notes of Special Agent Fox Mulder

Seattle, Wash.

2:14 a.m.

Here’s the way I reconstruct it, based on the Seattle Police

Department Homicide incident report, the accounts of

witnesses at the Randall Cloyson residence, my knowledge

of Cloyson’s general household habits, and the revelations

regarding the death of Randall Cloyson uncovered by myself

and my partner, Federal Bureau of Investigations Special

Agent Dana Scully.

That July evening, Cloyson returned to his bedroom suite

after a late night of pool and videos with his personal

physicians – all five of them, to be precise. As was his

nightly custom, he engaged the encoded digital security

system that virtually segregated his master bedroom from

the rest of his 40-room home.

Only two individuals possessed the voice recognition

capabilities to breach the tamper-proof, virus-proof system

— Randy Cloyson and his primary physician, Douglas Pugh.

The seizure had to have come on mere minutes after he’d

settled into his king- sized, orthopedic bed — one Cloyson

himself had designed, with thousands of cells that adjusted

electronically to the specific contours of his spine and

lumbar muscles and provided uniform bodily warmth as he

rolled, turned, stretched, and dreamed about whatever

billionaire computer geniuses were able to only dream

about.

Randy Cloyson’s mind was a human diagnostic tool unlike

that of any other Homo sapiens — it had been his life’s goal

and the source of his fortune to provide others with the

means to instantly analyze and resolve problems. It took

him but a split second to recognize what was happening to

him, and to seize the bedside phone. He punched Pugh’s

extension.

“Yeah?” Pugh murmured sleepily. “You need some

(expletive deleted) warm milk, or you want me to hold your

(expletive deleted) hand ’til you go on standby mode?”

“The laws,” Cloyson rasped with a tone of what Pugh could

only term astonishment. “Broke the laws…”

With his first barely comprehensible word, Cloyson realized

the toxin in his system was doing its work, paralyzing his

tongue and preventing him from identifying his killer.

“Randy, man, hold on, I’m coming!”

Pugh was now wide-awake and on the move, calling 911

and rushing to the East Wing and Cloyson’s quarters.

Cloyson was left alone, and he knew instinctively that the

poison was shutting down system after system, like a

Trojan virus burning uncontrollably through system files. He

focused all his diagnostic/decisionmaking powers on the

task at hand. Cloyson’s fingers were going numb — the pen

and pad at bedside would be as useless as a piano is to a

cat. He tested a few words — they were meaningless garble.

Then he caught sight of the monitor on the swing table

beside his bed — a convenience for midnight inspirations

Cloyson otherwise might forget by morning. The wordpad

program was up, awaiting his spoken word (but voice

recognition was, of course, out) or exuberant keystrokes.

He used what muscles were still functioning to pull himself

to within a foot of the keyboard.

But what to say, and how to say it? It was vital others knew

how he had perished, but he could not allow for an error in

communications that might put an innocent employee or

houseguest behind bars. Cloyson ran down the possibilities,

eliminating each with a mental tick. Then it came to him in

a blinding flash of elegant simplicity, and Cloyson’s clublike

index finger wavering tremblingly over the keys as he

concentrated his last ebbing thoughts on performing with

precision. The finger descended three times, most likely as

Douglas Pugh was composing himself for a fourth try at

voice admission to the Cloyson boudoir. Pugh found Cloyson

in full, irrevocable arrest, lying diagonally across his bed, his

finger crooked over a computer keyboard.

After assuring himself that Randy Cloyson was thoroughly

deceased — that failure, plus some self-prescribed meds

washed down with costly Scotch and a spotty adherence to

his Hippocratic Oath, had previously been his professional

downfall — the physician peered at Cloyson’s dying

keystrokes “H-2-O” and then quickly at the bedside table.

With uncharacteristic sobriety, Pugh sealed the Cloyson

bedroom from the outside and willed himself to meet the

EMTs and inevitable local law enforcement presence without

any alcoholic or pharmaceutical fortification.

Of course, this is only my own speculation, given a few

melodramatic underpinnings. But the nuts and bolts are

there, and overreaching and crystal-balling essentially are

how I earn a Bureau paycheck and cozy quarters in the

basement of the J. Edgar Hoover Building.

Randy Cloyson home

Seattle

9: 32 a.m.

“H20,” Scully repeated for the fifth time since we’d been

admitted into the suburban Seattle mansion of Randall

Cloyson, the Crown Prince of Cyberspace.

My partner was a bit out of sorts after a particularly

turbulent plane ride, and I was staying a good three feet

out of the potential blast zone.

“Detective?”

SPD Det. First Grade Ernest McAfee grunted as he pulled his

bulk from the carpet, where he was looking for fibers or

hairs or maybe just the last bit of Dunkin’ Donuts refuse

he’d carried onto the crime scene on his lapels. “Yuh.”

“No one’s touched that water, right?”

Scully asked, waving an arm toward the half- full glass on

the bedside table. Scully might have said it was half-empty,

but I like to think I’m a fed with a healthy outlook.

“Nah, me and the guys just wet our whistle a little, played

world rules soccer with the glass, and washed it nice and

clean before putting it back, what do you think?”

I backed off another foot to examine the fine woodwork of

Cloyson’s headboard as Scully blinked one bland but implicit

death threat at the detective.

McAfee blinked back and stumbled against the computer

table. “Nah, agent, we ascertained that the decedent’s

transcription might pertain to the, um, water glass in

question.”

Scully broke eye contact. “If you’d be so kind, could you

have this water sealed and delivered immediately to the

M.E.’s office for analysis?”

“Hmm,” the detective hastily agreed, and retreated.

“So this is the world’s fourth richest man,” she asked,

eyeing the bound Frank Miller Batman collection open next

to the water glass and the nearby shelves crammed with

sci-fi novels and technical journals. I scanned the collection

with envy, Scully with pursed lips.

“Self-made man, between beatings from the football and

cheerleading squads and probably the tougher accounting

students,” I supplied. I had a number of Cloysoft’s

diagnostic/decisionmaking programs on my home and office

PCs. One lonely evening, I’d killed a few hours calling 900

numbers and watching Cloyson’s Diogenes 3.0 stress

analysis program spike with each bit of clumsily seductive

trash talk andego stroking. Occasionally, my muffled

giggling would offend the phone sex technician, but at least

I kept my hand on the mouse.

I did not share this testament to the unerring efficacy of

Randy Cloyson’s life’s work. “After fast-talking himself out a

high school hacking charge — he got caught giving the

entire U.S. Senate delegation bad credit ratings — he

decided to put his talents to more lucrative use and slipped

into UCLA. His first program was a shareware

decisionmaking app called Socrates, which he sold on the

Internet to finance a philosophy major and the occasional

kegger. By his senior year, one of the major software firms

had offered Cloyson $100,000 for Socrates 4.0, but he

realized greater riches were to be had from writing code

than from reading dead Greeks.

“He and one of his computer profs set up shop in the prof’s

old rec room, and within a few months, they released

Socrates 5.0. You’ve heard of artificial intelligence? Well,

Cloyson has nearly perfected the science of artificial instinct.

Where most decisionmaking tools rely on dry facts and

figures and general trends, Socrates 5.0 required the user

and one close friend or relative to complete an exhaustive

quiz on likes, dislikes, social and political views, and other

personal data, then used that input not only to weigh

external probabilities and wild cards, but any emotional

quirks and personality deficiencies that might cause the

user to screw up the decision he or she makes.”

“Emotional quirks, huh?” Scully murmured.

“Youch. OK, long story short. Within five years, Cloyson

buys out his mentor, Cloysoft gets the cover of Fortune, and

Randy starts showing up at Lakers games with Jack

Nicholson and Warren Beatty. He moves back to Seattle, his

hometown, and buys this palatial mansion and, from the

looks of things, the entire D.C. and Marvel Comics libraries.

The American Dream, cyberstyle.”

“Except he’s locked up 24 hours day in this tastefully

decorated Fortress of Solitude, surrounded by the entire

Seattle-area membership of the American Medical

Association,”

Scully added. “Cloyson’s college roommate contracted a

lethal and very messy case of viral meningitis about his

junior year, and it left Cloyson with a rabid case of

hypochondria that only intensified once he hit the big-time.

Howard Hughes Syndrome, I guess: If you’re the man who

has everything, the only thing you can’t buy off is your

immortality.”

Scully perched carefully on the edge of the bedside table.

“Mulder, what are we doing here? I didn’t buy Skinner’s

story about defense software contracts and national

security, and I see nothing here that constitutes anything

more than a reasonably unusual homicide. Certainly, none

of the usual trappings of an X-file.”

I looked at her incredulously. “Scully, c’mon. Billionnaire

computer geek, murdered by means of a mysterious poison

in a room irrefutably locked from the inside, leaves a dying

clue. Dr. Watson, the game’s afoot.”

“Ah, I’m Dr. Watson and you’re Holmes again,” Scully said.

“All right, I’ll be Charlie, and you can be the Angel of your

choice.” My partner looked at me for a full 20 seconds. “I’ll

be downstairs.”

**

“Hey, you,” a voice greeted me from down the hallway. I

turned to see a round man with Coke bottle lenses, a

rumpled blue work shirt, and red suspenders, seemingly in

his sixties. He looked like he’d be more at home in a bait

shop than in a billionaire’s quarters. “Anybody got any

coffee going down there?”

“Sir, this is a crime scene,” I informed the stranger. “I don’t

think you’re supposed to be here –”

The man blinked and snapped a suspender. “Gee, guess we

better call Washington and tell ’em they wasted plane fare

and a travel advance. Who’re you, I might ask?”

“Special Agent Fox Mulder, FBI,” I supplied.

“Oh, yeah, you’re the ghostbuster,” he nodded. “Well, I’m

Ollie Phelps, from the San Francisco Bureau office,

Computer Investigations. Our bosses want me to crack open

Cloyson’s hard drive, see what’s up. National security, all

that happy horseshit.”

“A.D. Skinner told us Cloysoft was working on some defense

contracts, Pentagon security, etc.” The old man removed his

glasses and began to polish them on his shirttail.

“Yeah, little of that, what with the recent hacking and all.

Cloyson was also developing some new military strategy

software – Cloysoft’s who came up with that Alexander

program they used in the Persian Gulf War, you know. So

what’s the deal?”

“I’m guessing homicide, although I can’t figure out –”

“Naw, kid. I mean the coffee. You want to be a pal and see

if you can scare up a pot for an old cybergeek?”

“Regular or decaf?”

**

Randy Cloyson’s doctors were downstairs, in Randall

Cloyson’s stadium-scaled living room. All five of them.

“Doug, Doug Pugh,” the tall one leapt from the leather

couch. He had a deep leathery golf tan that probably would

have worked better on someone several years his senior

and that likely would mutate into ugly melanomic patches

by the time he reached that stage. His greeting and hearty

frathouse handshake made me feel like Flounder in Animal

House, waiting to be initiated into a strange new world of

complicated drinks and endless conversations about Tiger

Woods and Greg Norman.

Douglas Pugh had once been a brilliant diagnostician at

Boston’s St. Eligius Hospital – until he got showed up at the

OR with, to paraphrase George Thorogood, with his old

buddy Jack Daniels. St. Eligius, the Massachusetts

Physicians Review Board, and Dr. Pugh came to an

understanding, and the good doctor, so to speak, fled

quietly to Starbucks Land, where he managed to snag a gig

with his old college buddy, Randy. The other members of

Pugh’s medical fraternity were scattered over plush chairs

and sofas.

“Agents, this is Rudy Spizak, Randy’s hypnotherapist,” Pugh

informed me, gesturing toward a whalebelly white med

school skeleton of a man whose lips spasmed in a bad

imitation of a smile. “Ed Koller, chiropractor.” A large, rosy

man saluted cheerfully. “Mace Pasteur here is a herbalist.”

The guy who looked like one of the Grateful Dead nodded

serenely at Scully and I. “And this is Nancy Yee, Randy’s

acupuncturist.”

I glanced at Yee, a small but compactly constructed

thirtysomething woman in a black mini suit who smiled drily

at me and arched an eyebrow. I smiled back probably for

too long, because when I looked over at Scully, she too was

arching an eyebrow. But she wasn’t smiling, and her body

language didn’t have quite the same impact as Dr. Yee’s.

“Talk about a house call,” I said. “Mr. Cloyson liked to cover

all his bets, didn’t he?”

Pugh grinned. “Randy was your classic hypochondriac,

Agent. He didn’t really trust medical science, but he figured

if he tried a little of everything, something would take. I

took care of the colds and minor aches, Nancy and Ed

Randy’s back pains and chronic carpal tunnel syndrome,

Rudy worked on his phobias and cravings, and Mace fed him

gingko and St. John’s wort whenever he was stressed out or

in the middle of a major project.”

“And you all lived here with Mr. Cloyson?” Scully inquired,

fixing Yee with a sharp but fleeting glance.

“On call 24-7,” Spizak drawled, plucking at the arm of his

wing chair. “Whenever Randy needed medical services like

ordering pizzas or mediating Trivial Pursuit. The

dysfunctional family Randy never had, I guess.”

“Cold, Rudy,” Pasteur murmured. “Notice you never kicked

too hard about that six figures you pulled in to party and

play eight-ball.”

“C’mon, guys,” Koller urged.

“Once again, a penetrating response, Eddie,” Spizak said

sardonically. “Like something out of Oscar Wilde.”

Koller hopped twice on his left foot. Scully looked curiously

at me. Koller looked defensively back at us.

“Naw, he’s right, man,” Pasteur cautioned Spizak. “No need

for us to go at it like Mike Tyson and Oscar de la Hoya.”

The big chiropractor again bobbed up and down on one foot,

then yawned as if he hadn’t been aware of his odd behavior.

“Guys,” Pugh scolded wearily.

“So, are we suspects?” Yee asked me.

“Well, it’s routine to interview everyone who was with the

victim during the hours before he died. But I don’t know if

I’d call you suspects. Although the nature of the poison that

killed Mr. Cloyson might tell us whether his murderer had

any medical expertise. Dr. Pugh, what kind of medications

did you have Mr. Cloyson on?”

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Pugh’s eyes darted toward his colleagues, who suddenly

turned expressionless. “Currently, nothing, really. Randy

had been in amazingly good health.”

“Anybody else? Dr. Pasteur? Any particular herbs that could

accidentally have contained poisonous plant material?”

“Dude, I’m a specialist,” Pasteur huffed. “I don’t just go out

in the woods and grab any ragweed or toadstool I see. We

were using primary culinary herbs, a few mood- enhancing

botanicals. Randy was taking a little gingko biloba for

memory improvement – little stronger concentration than

what you’d get at Wal-Mart, but nothing exotic.”

“Dr. Spizak, do you use any drugs to induce hypnotic

state?” Scully asked the cadaverous man in the wing chair.

“Didn’t need ’em, not with Cloyson, anyway,” he said. “For

so skeptical and cynical a man, he was surprisingly

suggestible. He’d drop off like a rock without any sedatives

or tranquilizers.”

“Dr. Koller? Dr. Yee? Any special medications or

pharmaceuticals?”

“No drugs – just natural physical therapy,” Koller said,

sounding like an informercial.

Yee shook her head as she smiled at me. “Some

acupuncturists use herbs or drugs; I don’t. Just my needles

and some shiatsu massage. Acupressure. I’ll show you how

it works if you’d like, Agent Mulder.”

“I do have a little tension…” I began, searching for some

ache or pain, anywhere.

“Thank you, Dr. Yee – we’ll remember that,” Scully

responded, coolly. Rowrr. “We’d like you to help recall

everything Mr. Cloyson might have ingested or drank last

night. You all were with him last night, correct?”

The group murmured assent. “Anybody else?” I asked.

“Grant Pullman, one of Randy’s VPs at Cloysoft,” Pugh

volunteered. He stopped by to discuss a few company

matters, maybe an hour or so before we ate. Nobody else –

Randy thought having domestics was a holdover from a

feudal society, so he had a cleaning service but no live-in.

He lived on pizza and fast food, mostly. The rest of us either

te out or cooked for ourselves. Last night, we ordered

several pizzas – let’s see, a sausage, a pepperoni, one

deluxe, a veggie for Nancy and Mace… Randy had, oh, a few

slices of pepperoni, a little sausage, some of the deluxe.”

“Did you use your usual pizza delivery?” I inquired.

“Puget Pizza and Pasta,” Pugh supplied. “We have some

leftovers in the kitchen trash, crusts and the like. In case

you want to do any tests.”

“Thanks. The pizza was all for Cloyson? What did he wash it

down with?”

“Three or four Grolsches, some Dr. Pepper.”

“Nothing else?”

“He did have some Doritos when we were playing pool,”

Pasteur supplied. “Nursed another Bud.”

Scully frowned. “And Mr. Cloyson seemed to be fine all

evening? No signs of discomfort, pain?”

“Nah,” Spizak said. “Man ate like a teenager at a permanent

Superbowl party, never exercised, drank enough beer to

make Anheuser-Busch a quarterly profit all by himself, but

he had amazing energy and stamina.”

“Mm,” Yee agreed too quickly. “I mean, he seemed to get

by on almost no sleep and still outrun all of us.”

Pugh stepped forward. “Agents, you are testing the water,

aren’t you? The water on Randy’s bedside table? You know,

what he typed before he died?”

“It’s already on its way to the lab,” I told him. “Can any of

you think of any other interpretation of H2O, water, that

would be relevant to Mr. Cloyson?”

The doctors looked blankly at Scully and I.

“OK,” I sighed. “Just don’t any of you leave town, hear?”

Koller stood up. “Hey, Agent, if you’re suggesting we had

any part in this…”

I held up a hand. “Sorry, Doc. Just kidding. Something I

always wanted to say.”

“Yeah, don’t be an Oscar the Grouch,” Spizak chided,

glancing at Pasteur. Koller hopped like a bunny. Pugh

coughed. I studied Koller. He glared back.

“By the way, Dr. Koller,” I experimented. “Was Cloyson a

fairly neat housekeeper?” The chiropractor blinked. “What? I

don’t get you.” “I mean, did he keep things picked up, or

was he a slob? You know, like that old show, The Odd

Couple: Was he more like Felix? Or was he an Oscar?”

Koller’s bulk bounced twice. “Didn’t that Matthau dude win

an award for playing him in the movie version?” Pasteur

said. “You know, an Oscar?”

The floor trembled slightly as Koller hopped again.

“C’mon, Scully,” I invited innocently. “Let’s go grab some

lunch. Maybe a hot dog. I feel like an Oscar Mayer —”

“Mulder,” Scully ordered as the lamp beside her shook.

Seattle Police Department Headquarters.

12:56 p.m.

“It’s absolutely unethical, as well as unprofessional,” my

partner fumed as she pulled on latex gloves for the

postmortem. A call from Skinner, and the SPD had handed

its entire CSI Division and pathology lab over to Scully and

I. “A health care professional planting post-hypnotic

suggestions in a colleague. The three of you making that

poor, um, chiropractor dance like some freshman at a

hazing party.”

“I was testing a hypothesis,” I protested, backing off as

Scully selected a scalpel for her initial incision into the

mortal remains of Randy Cloyson. “Koller was clearly

unaware of his erratic behavior, and I just guessed ‘Oscar’

was Spizak’s trigger word.”

“I wonder what kind of post-hypnotic suggestion you’d like

to try on Dr. Yee,” Scully muttered, cutting with

unnecessary gusto into the software king.

“Yuck,” I said, turning hastily away from the table. “What

do you mean by that, if I may ask?”

“Autopsy of Randall Cloyson, male Caucasion, aged 38,”

Scully recited into the morgue’s recorder mike. “What I

mean, Mulder, is that you’ve been exhibiting some

particularly adolescent behavior since we arrived on the

scene. And Dr. Yee’s coquettish flirtations certainly don’t

help foster a serious investigatory environment.”

“Coquettish flirtation?” I laughed. “Gee, Scully, you’re going

to give me the vapors.”

“Never mind, Mulder,” she snapped. “Now, why don’t you

either weigh this liver for me or go get a scalding cup of

coffee and pour it—”

“All right,” I growled, heading for the door. “Fine.”

“Whatever.”

Upstairs, I found a breakroom vending machine, and I

sipped at some sluggish coffee any self-respecting Seattlite

would use only to clean a septic tank as I considered the

case. Despite Scully’s derision, Koller’s dance routine had

given me an idea about the method of Cloyson’s murder.

I was still a little hinky about the computer tycoon’s dying

clue. If Cloyson knew or thought the poison was in the

water glass by the bed, why had he typed such a

convoluted message on his computer keyboard? Why not

simply ‘water.’ I’d double-checked my laptop, and all the

letters needed to spell it were in the same area of the

keyboard. For a delirious, half-paralyzed man, the

characters ‘H,’ ‘2,’ and ‘O’ would be the equivalent of miles

away from each other. Why make his job harder?

And if he was poisoned with the water, didn’t he have any

idea who the killer was? Certainly, the cops would

determine easily enough the source of the poison, if it was

in the water, and if that was so, then someone in the house

must’ve handed Cloyson the fatal glass. Why not identify

the killer?

“Hey, Agent, you got it cracked yet?” a dry, somewhat

belligerent voice sounded behind me. I looked up and

gestured Det. McAfee toward the chair across from me. He

deposited a Sprite and a suspiciously grayish ham salad

sandwich from a nearby machine.

“Actually, Detective, this is a very unusual case. Almost like

something out of an Agatha Christie novel.”

“Agatha what?”

“Sorry. Like Murder, She Wrote. We have a locked room, a

dying clue, and a houseful of suspects.”

“Locked room, my ass,” McAfee snorted. “Look, he could’ve

taken that poison any time last evening. And even if he

didn’t, you know as well as me how good some of these

computer hackers are. The lock on his part of the house was

computer-operated – you gonna tell me somebody with a

jones for Cloyson and a way with a mouse couldn’t get

through it and poison that water?”

I sipped my “coffee.” “You know anybody with a ‘jones’ for

Randall Cloyson?”

“Well, hell, look at the news, Agent. Department of Justice

was sleeping on his front lawn, trying to get him on this

antitrust thing. He’d driven two or three companies out of

business in just the past two years. You don’t think maybe

there’s a few disgruntled, laid-off computer geeks out there

who’d like to spike his water supply? Then you got your

anti-techies, like that Kaczynski nut, think Cloyson’s fucking

with the primal forces of nature. And anytime you got

somebody like Cloyson, best at what he does, you got folks

want to prove they’re better. And what would be better at

proving you’re the best than cracking the big man’s security

system?”

McAfee apparently was capable of doing two things at once,

and I flicked a speck of projectile ham salad from my lapel.

“Thanks for sharing. Your thoughts, that is. What about the

Dynamic Doctors, the Hippocratic houseguests? Any

motivation there?”

“I don’t know specifically, but I was a multi-billionnaire, I’d

think I could hire a better medical staff than that crew.

Pugh got quietly fired for getting shit-faced on the job. That

Spizak guy almost got himself dismembered by some irate

husband said the good doctor felt up his wife while he had

her tranced. And Pasteur’s got a sheet of borderline drug

stuff a mile long, goin’ back to the ’70s.”

“Anything on Nancy Yee?”

McAfee’s grim mood broke. “I’d like to get something on

Nancy Yee. Um, naw, nothing. Had a practice here in town,

did pretty well for herself ’til Cloyson recruited her for his

little one-man clinic.”

“And Ed Koller? He seems kind of out-of-place with the rest

of them.”

“Koller? He was one of those guys you see on commercials

3 a.m. or so, in the middle of Dukes of Hazzard or Roseanne

reruns? Don’t know where Cloyson met up with him. Look, I

know you guys got the weight around here, but do me a

favor and clue me in if you get anything, OK?”

McAfee grunted to his feet and ambled out, leaving his

sandwich wrapper and soda can for the custodial staff or the

ravages of time. I thought about chatting it up with a few of

my brothers in law enforcement, but nobody in the

breakroom looked chatty, and they all wore big guns. I

finished my beverage-like substance and headed back

downstairs, an equally tantalizing prospect. Scully was

seated on an empty lab table in her scrubs, hands at her

sides, staring and frowning at Cloyson’s corpse.

“Scully?” I probed, moving closer. “Hey, Scully. You OK?”

She turned and looked at me with wide eyes. “Yeah. I’m

fine, Mulder.”

“Did, ah, did everything go OK?”

“Perfectly,” Scully murmured. “Too perfectly, in truth.”

Randall Cloyson home

4:07 p.m.

Doug Pugh carefully selected a Titleist as he set his

margarita on the Astroturf near my feet. “I don’t get you.

So Randy was in good health for a man his age.”

“Dr. Pugh,” Scully said, crossing her arms. “Randall Cloyson

was in good shape for a man of any age. In fact, Randall

Cloyson very likely was in better shape than any human

being in the history of mankind. Every organ was fully

functioning and in ideal condition. His muscular systems

displayed perfect tone and conformation, although you told

us Cloyson was averse to any form of exercise. And there

were anomalies.”

“Anomalies?” Pugh asked casually, faking interest as he

lined up his club. The doctor was doing a bucket of balls and

a gallon of tequila and lime juice on the driving range

behind the Cloyson mansion.

“Based on Cloyson’s medical history – injuries, minor

traumas, and the like – he seemed to possess amazing

powers of tissue regeneration. And the appendix. You know

the appendix has no known function in human biology –

that whatever use it once served has been lost through

evolution. Well, while the normal appendix is an average 9

centimeters in length, Randall Cloyson’s was nearly 18

centimeters, and appeared fully functional. In short, for a

man who ate nothing but fat and empty calories, who

guzzled gallons of beer, who exercised less than the

average three-toed sloth, Randall Cloyson was not only a

perfect medical specimen, but supernaturally,

supernormally so.”

“Yeah, he was in pretty good shape,” Pugh said, licking salt

from the rim of his drink. “He was turning the rest of us

gray, but he seemed to just get younger and younger each

passing day.”

Scully looked at Pugh, open-mouthed, then at me, then

back at Pugh. “Doctor, you were Cloyson’s personal

physician. You must have noticed something unusual.”

“Well,” Pugh grinned. “Last several months, I didn’t really

do much doctoring. Neither did the rest of the guys. Randy

had never had much of an opinion of doctors – he’d had a

bad experience in college, and his dad died after a botched

liver operation. And…”

He stopped short. “Anyway, it doesn’t take a genius to see

none of us are on the short list for the Nobel Prize in

medicine – well, except maybe Nan, but that’s a different

story. I always figured Randy kind of liked having a house

full of quacks around – sort of living justification for his

disdain, plus some live-in buddies to party with.”

“You’re evading the question, Doctor,” I chided. “What was

the other reason Randall Cloyson didn’t trust doctors?”

“I may be able to answer that, Mulder,” Scully supplied.

“What I also found were artifacts of past treatment – cancer

treatment. From all appearances, pancreatic cancer. But

Cloyson was obviously in full and complete remission. A

second opinion, Dr. Pugh?”

Pugh’s grin fell away, and he dropped into a nearby patio

chair. “Oh, hell; guess there’s no reason not to tell, now.

We – the company and the rest of us – kept things quiet so

Cloysoft’s stock wouldn’t go in the crapper. He was dying –

the cancer’d gotten inoperable and untreatable, totally

metasticized. We kept him away from the press, built up the

hermit image, and just tried to keep him comfortable ’til his

time was up. Randy just kept working away, though, right

up to the end.

“But then there wasn’t any end. Randy started rallying – the

cancer just started to, well, disappear. Within a few months,

he was in full remission.”

“Did he provide any kind of explanation for his recovery?”

Scully asked. Pugh shrugged. “Just kind of smiled

mysteriously whenever I asked, like it was his own little

private joke. After that, he only consulted me for an

occasional checkup, and he always checked out great.

Freakily so. And he wouldn’t let Spizak put him under

anymore.”

“Really?” I felt my stomach sink slightly. “Did that go for the

others?” “Well, certainly the back-cracker, even though

Randy wanted to keep him around for the amusement

value. Nancy, now…” Pugh smirked.

“I will take it that you’re indicating Mr. Cloyson and Dr. Yee

had a relationship that was other than professional,” Scully

said with frosty congeniality.

“Just my medical opinion, plus the fact they disappeared

together every other weekend,” Pugh swirled the tiny

puddle of margarita mix at the bottom of his snifter. “Time

for seconds. You guys still on duty?”

“You knock yourself out,” I invited. “C’mon, Scully.”

Back in the house, Scully put a hand on my arm. “Mulder,

what was that about Spizak? Your face just about hit the

ground when Pugh said Cloyson wouldn’t let Spizak

hypnotize him.”

I looked around the hall, and smiled and waited patiently as

Ollie Phelps edged past with a mug of steaming coffee, pens

and tools clipped to his suspenders, glasses at half mask.

“Agent,” he grunted. “Agent.”

“Agent,” I responded. Scully nodded.

“Made some fresh,” Phelps grunted. “Had to go out to a

minimart – the hippie and the needle doctor are tea people,

and the doc out there doesn’t drink anything ain’t

fermented or distilled. Coffee capital of the world, and I

gotta go to the Gas-and-Gulp to get my fix. Later.” Ollie

disappeared back into the Cloyson suite.

“You saw how Spizak had Koller hopping around like a rabid

wallaby?” I asked Scully. “OK. We’re faced with the question

of how Randy Cloyson was poisoned in a locked room.”

“If indeed that’s where the poison was administered,” Scully

countered. “If indeed. Cloyson’s security system looks

pretty fullproof, and this bunch hardly appears able to open

a new jar of kosher dill gherkins, much less a complex

computer- operated vault. So what would be the best way

to poison Cloyson from inside his pickle jar? How ’bout

getting Cloyson to poison himself?”

“You’re thinking Spizak planted some kind of post-hypnotic

suggestion in Cloyson. ‘Put on your jammies, fluff up your

pillow, and kill yourself’?”

“It could’ve been something much more innocuous. ‘You’re

very hungry – eat a cookie.’ ‘You’re very thirsty – have a

glass of water.’ The suggestion could’ve been planted during

a routine hypnotherapy session.”

Scully nodded. “Except there hadn’t been any sessions. So

what now?”

“Let’s visit Dr. Yee. I want to know some more about

acupuncture. Maybe I can get a free treatment.”

“Never minded having a little prick, huh?”

“Meow.”

**

“The first acupuncture needles were actually made of

stone,” Nancy Yee informed me. Scully sat nearby,

glowering. “Later, bronze, gold, or silver were used. Most of

the needles now are steel. The theory of acupuncture is that

there are ‘meridian points’ on the body connected to the

internal organs and that vital energy flows along those

lines. Diseases are caused by interrupted energy flow, and

inserting and twirling needles restores normal flow.”

“Wow,” I said, avoiding Scully’s incredulous glance. “And

this works with really serious diseases?”

Yee shrugged. “Chinese doctors treat some forms of heart

disease with acupuncture. There have been studies that

back it up. Ulcers, hypertension, appendicitis, and asthma

also can be treated with acupuncture. Medicare even covers

some procedures, you know. Uh, sorry, Agent. I get a little

defensive about my science. So many people label

acupuncture and acupressure as voodoo witchcraft. Ancient

Chinese secret, you know?”

“People can be so narrow,” I tsk’ed. Scully coughed. “Dr.

Yee,” my partner inquired.

“Can acupuncture be used to treat cancer?” Yee’s jaw

tightened. “Theoretically, I could see a rationale to assume

it could be used in some cases. I haven’t seen a lot of

documentation in that direction. Look, that drunk bastard

told you about Randy’s cancer, didn’t he? Well, Randy

wanted to keep that our secret, and as his physicians, we

respected his desire for confidentiality. Until now,

apparently.”

“Theoretically, Dr. Yee, how would you explain Mr. Cloyson’s

seemingly miraculous recovery?”

“I’m not an oncologist,” Yee responded. “Randy didn’t

confide in me.”

“That’s not what I’ve heard,” Scully murmured. “Pugh

again, huh? OK, Randy and I had a little something going,

no big secret. Every once in a while, we’d get out of the

Washington Home for Terminal Malpractice and drive up the

coast. Except for droning on a little too much about

computers and the deep web and Isaac Asimov and Greek

philosophy, he was a lot of fun. And now, unless you want

me to get a lawyer, I think our time is up. Anything else,

agents?”

I rotated my shoulder. “I do have a little tension…”

Yee plucked a long needle from the table. “Here. I think you

might know where to stick this.”

“I think she likes me,” I suggested as I watched the

acupuncturist stride briskly down the hall. “Yeow! Hey!”

Scully examined the point of the needle with which she’d

just jabbed me. “Maybe I’ve misjudged her,” my partner

said serenely. “I already feel better.”

Seattle West Hyatt

7:34 p.m.

“Randall Cloyson had become a media paradox viewed

through a mist of industry folklore and his own increasingly

reclusive and eccentric nature,” Jack Perkins narrated over

a sequence of photos and video clips that captured a

thirtysomething man who looked like he’d never left the

high school debating team.

Condoleeza Rice had been tonight’s scheduled Biography,

but with Randy Cloyson’s murder the day’s top news, the

A&E people had dug into the archives for a 2003 profile of

the cyberspace king. Scully’d gone back to the morgue to

further evaluate some “endocrine anomalies and some odd

enzymatic reactions” blablabla, yada yada, so I ordered up

some room service pizza and settled back for some quality

television. I hadn’t yet figured out how to expense the

Spectravision Adult Block, so I settled for basic cable.

So far, I’d learned Cloyson had been a gawky asthmatic

who’d almost cacked at the age of seven due to some

misprescribed drugs. His mother had succumbed to an

anesthesia-related error during relatively routine knee

surgery. A resulting malpractice award had provided

Cloyson with a topnotch college education and some seed

capital for his burgeoning software company.

“A devotee of ancient philosophers and statesmen who lived

and thrived in the technological future,” Perkins continued.

“A developer of the nation’s first line of defense against

hackers and e-terrorists, nonetheless under nearly constant

attack from the Department of Justice for what federal

officials have alleged to be his questionably ethical

competitive business practices. A Fortune 500 mainstay who

prefers an evening of The Simpsons and Chinese takeout to

CNN and power lunches. A man who could buy and sell

most of his peers in the industry, but who once told Bill

Gates, ‘If I can’t write code, I’d just as soon be dead.’

“But although some have dismissed Cloyson as a childlike

dilettante, a ruthless high-tech powerbroker given to

adolescent temper tantrums, the software giant is

passionate about a variety of causes, from preservation of

Brazil’s rainforests (clip of Randall Cloyson posing

awkwardly with Madonna and Sting) and children’s charities

(Cloyson and Jerry Lewis wrestling comically over a giant

Cloysoft check for Jerry’s “kids”) to his personal crusade

against medical incompetence and insensitivity…”

“HMOs, PPOs, the medical lobby in Washington – the

American medical community is forever looking for new

ways to clear time for a few more rounds at the course,”

Cloyson sneered at a bank of cameras following his father’s

death under the knife.

“I wouldn’t be surprised to see the AMA and the PGA merge

one of these days, hand out a stethoscope and a nine-iron

to every new med school graduate. These guys know Greg

Norman’s career stats better than the Hippocratic Oath.”

“Cloyson eventually channeled his wrath toward the medical

world into more constructive channels, introducing intuitive

new technology for the diagnosis of disease. Ironically, his

dream of a healthier world withered away when the

American Medical Association condemned his Hippocrates

software as ‘an amateur’s dangerous foray into fields best

left to the professional,’ and refused to certify it for hospital

use. It was one of Cloyson’s few failures, and one that

would drive the e-mogul deeper into a cocoon of reclusive

eccentricity. When Biography returns, Cloyson shares some

of his keys to success in cyberspace…”

I didn’t figure Randall Cloyson was any too successful at this

point, so I started surfing the limited hotel channel

selection. The phone rang as I tried to work out how I could

expense some adult Spectravision back to the Bureau.

“Mulder.”

“It’s me, Mulder. I just got the toxicology back on Cloyson,

and it’s as hinky as the rest of this case. Cloyson was killed

by what I can only described as a poisonous cocktail – some

exotic alkaloids, a couple of unusual plant enzymes, a few

compounds I can only guess at.”

“Plant enzymes? Like herbs, maybe?”

“Possibly,” Sculy drawled. “You’re thinking Mace Pasteur,

right? But, Mulder, why would the killer go to the trouble of

devising this bizarre concoction when I can think of any

number of household chemicals, industrial compounds, or

pesticides that would have done the job? And particularly a

poison that contains enzymes that would point directly to an

expert in botany?”

“I don’t know, Scully. You met the guy; I wouldn’t be

surprised if he blew a few brain circuits during the ’70s. If

we could figure out when he gave Cloyson the poisoned

water, or put the poison in the glass…”

Scully sighed deeply. “That’s the other thing, Mulder. The

water was clean. No toxins, no drugs, no nothing.” I sat up.

“But what about Cloyson’s dying clue? H2O?”

“Mulder, for all we know, Cloyson’s so-called ‘clue’ was just

a random few keystrokes by a man whose nervous system

was rapidly shutting down. I know it would be nice to tie

everything together in a nice Agatha Christie package, but

the water was a dead end. Which leads us back to how the

poison was administered.”

“Which would appear to lead us back to Pasteur – he could

easily have convinced Cloyson to take some kind of witch’s

brew that was designed to improve his memory or his way

with the la-dies…”

“As could Dr. Pugh,” Scully interrupted, briskly. “People

tend to have an uncommon trust in their physician.”

“Not Randy. He seemed to have a supreme contempt for

doctors, which makes his choice of houseguests that much

more mysterious.”

“Not necessarily. If he had metastatic cancer, then it would

make sense that a man of science would try to tap

specialists in both conventional and alternative medicine.

Except, I would think a man of science would aim a little

higher than the group he selected. Damn, I’m getting a

headache. Huh? Hold on, Mulder.”

I strained to hear what the muffled male voice was telling

Scully. Her own voice was slow and tinged with confusion

when she returned. “I’ll pick you up, Mulder,” she

instructed. “It seems your girlfriend got a lethal taste of her

own medicine.”

Randall Cloyson home

8:47 p.m.

I tried not to look at the long steel needle jutting from the

base of Dr. Yee’s skull, glinting in the bedroom light, as I

moved toward her dresser.

Scully concurred with the Seattle M.E.’s theory she had

struggled with her killer, but that the carefully inserted

needle – according to Scully, placed with “medical precision”

— would have killed her almost immediately.

“The hell you doing?” McAfee snapped from the floor, where

he was looking for trace evidence. I looked down at him

innocently, despite the handful of the late doctor’s

expensive and insubstantial lingerie bunched in my fingers.

Scully was looking at me, too, her brows arched in

bemusement.

“Uh,” I responded intelligently. “In case you didn’t know,

Lieutenant, Dr. Yee had a romantic relationship with

Cloyson.”

“No shit, Sherlock,” the cop said drily. “Well, where else

would she hide any secret notes or…”

I dug under some underwires and pulled out a collection of

Polaroids. “Or photographic souvenirs of her affair d’amour.”

“Lousy French pronunciation, but a reasonably impressive

grasp of feminine psychology,” Scully conceded.

“Please, I am a behavioral psychologist. Plus I’ve seen

every Sandra Bullock and Meg Ryan flick ever made. Let’s

see what we’ve got here…Yipes, nice hardware, Randy.

Impressive software, too…”

“Mulder…”

“Sorry. Lieutenant, you want to turn on that overhead

light?” As the cop grunted his assent and lumbered over to

the switch, I quickly slipped three of the Polaroids into my

jacket. “Not much here – just a little more about Randy

Cloyson than I personally want to know.”

McAfee took the remaining photos from me, scanned them

for a moment longer than was probably necessary, and,

prompted by Scully clearing her throat, dumped them in an

evidence bag. “Can the guys take her away now?”

“Just one thing,” Scully murmured, moving back to Yee’s

body. She tipped the acupuncturist’s chin to reveal an ugly

perforated red welt. “You ever seen anything like this,

Lieutenant?”

McAfee’s eyes popped open with surprise at Scully’s

consultation. “Well, like you said, there was some kind of

struggle, and the perp probably clipped her one on the chin,

with a ring or something.”

Scully frowned. “This is a pattern, too big for a metal ring.

It looks like teeth. I’ll do some analysis at the lab, later.”

McAfee nodded, and went to get the coroner’s people.

Scully crossed her arms and leaned against Dr. Yee’s

headboard. “All right, what’s the deal, Mulder?”

I grinned. “What? Oh, the crucial evidence I just concealed

from local law enforcement officers?”

“Yes. That.” I shrugged and displayed the Polaroids. The

first showed a beaming Randy Cloyson on the rustic porch

of a log cabin, the second Cloyson adding kindling to the

fireplace of what I assumed was the same cabin.

The third photo was the clincher. Cloyson and Yee likely had

gotten a tourist to snap them in front of a rural general

store or tavern, feigning menace as a stuffed grizzly

towered above them. The metal sign above them read The

Bear Market – probably run by some disenchanted Seattle

broker who’d seen a few too many Northern Exposures.

“So we find this Bear Market, hope the cabin is somewhere

nearby, and that the owner or some other local can identify

it,” Scully said. “What do you hope to find at Cloyson’s love

nest?”

I sat down on the mattress, where Yee had met her death.

“Not sure yet. I want to check a point or two, talk to

Pasteur first. You want me to be the good cop this time?”

I registered the severe look on Scully’s face. “Sorry,

shouldn’t have even asked.”

**

The surviving doctors were in the living room, drowning

their grief with Scotch (Pugh), Doritos (Spizak and Koller),

and silent meditation (Pasteur). Pugh looked up blearily,

Koller anxiously, and Spizak suspiciously. Pasteur kept his

eyes closed and moved his lips without uttering a sound.

A bored Ollie Phelps was taking a rolling inventory of every

object and knick-knack in the room, occasionally hacking

and hitching his baggy slacks.

“Dr. Koller, you found the body,” Scully began. The portly

chiropractor swallowed as he nodded. “TV Guide said

Casablanca was on cable tonight. It was Nancy’s favorite.”

“Great film,” Spizak yawned. “I think Ingrid Bergman won

some award for it. You know, an Osc—”

“Doctor, please,” I held up a hand. “So you went up to tell

her about it?”

Koller looked defensive, like a kid with a crush on the

teacher. “Just thought she’d want to know. But when I got

there, her door was open and she was just lying there with

that needle between her cervical vertebrae. I got Mr. Phelps

here – he was working down the hall — and he called the

cops.”

“And you guys were…?” I asked Pugh, Spizak, and Pasteur.

“Right here, reading,” Spizak supplied.

“I was, I was in the–,” Pugh struggled, waving a hand.

“Jesus, you know, the food place. The kitchen, yeah.”

“Ah. And you, Dr. Pasteur? Dr. Pasteur?” The herbalist

popped his eyes open. “Sorry, man. Whenever things get

heavy, gotta drop over to another plane for awhile.”

“What plane were you on when Dr. Yee was murdered?”

Pasteur smirked. “Right on this one, dude, watching Wheel

in my room.”

“Were you enjoying any herbs?” I asked as I picked up the

distinctive aroma of fading cannabis on the specialist.

“Clean and sober, Mr. Hoover,” Pasteur said through a tight

smile.

“But none of you can verify any of the others,” Scully

summarized.

“Why would any of us wanna merger Nancy?” Pugh sulked.

“Or Randy, for tha’ matter?”

“I haven’t come up with any satisfactory MURDER motive

for anybody in this case, yet,” I admitted. “Maybe Randy

had something on one of you. You’ve got quite a drug

sheet, Dr. Pasteur.”

“Yeah, man, nothing to hide, all out in the open,” Pasteur

said defiantly. “Maybe somebody resented the relationship

between Cloyson and Dr. Yee, and murdered the good

doctor when she spurned their advances.”

“Spurned?” Scully murmured incredulously. “That’s hardly a

reason to kill someone—”

Koller sputtered. “Excuse me, Koller,” Spizak smiled. “Your

unresolved sexual tension is showing.”

Koller started toward the hypotherapist. I held up a hand.

“Whoa, big fella.”

“This is stimulating as hell, but I’m gettin’ some coffee,”

Ollie rumbled, yanking his pants back up over his gut and

ambling out of the room. “Could I see your hands, please?”

Scully asked the doctors. They glanced at each other and

held their fingers out for inspection. My partner moved from

man to man, then looked back at me.

“No rings or other jewelry that could have made the mark

we saw on Dr. Yee. No sign anyone took one off, either.” I

shrugged. “Didn’t look like a ring did it, anyway.”

“What’s this about a mark?” Spizak inquired. “On Dr. Yee’s

chin. Looked like someone had clipped her with some kind

of metal object. Something with teeth.”

My gut suddenly went cold. “Clip. Oh, shit. But why?”

Scully’s brow furrowed. “Mulder?”

“Shit,” I repeated, pulling my service revolver and sprinting

toward the kitchen. “Come on, Scully!” I braced myself

against the kitchen door jam, then leapt forward, gun

extended in both hands. “Phelps!”

The kitchen was empty. “Scully, see if you can get McAfee

and his guys back here.” I ran to the kitchen door, peered

out into the night. “Fuck. His rental’s gone.”

“Mulder, take a breath and tell me what the hell you’re

talking about.” I slumped into a large wood chair at the

breakfast table. “Phelps. He killed Yee.”

Scully joined me at the table. “And how did you surmise

this?”

“Did you notice anything different about Phelps tonight?”

“I’ve only met the man once.”

“Right.” I stood up. “Get up, Scully.”

Scully rose slowly. I approached her, and slipped both arms

around her waist. “Mulder,” she whispered, slightly alarmed.

“I hardly think this is the time or place…”

“No, no,” I clarified. “Pretend you’re Dr. Yee, and I’m your

killer. I’ve got you in a clinch. Try to get out of it. And, hey,

pretend you didn’t get a black belt at Quantico, OK?”

Scully instinctively grabbed my jacket lapels for leverage

and began to push away. “Except, what if I wasn’t wearing

a jacket? You’d go for my shirt, or maybe my suspenders, if

I was wearing any.”

Scully stopped struggling. “But Phelps wasn’t wearing…”

She stopped and nodded. “Exactly. This morning, this

afternoon, he was wearing suspenders. He even used them

as a sort of tool belt. Koller said Phelps was still working

when he found Dr. Yee. But when we talked to the docs just

now, he was hitching his pants up all the time. No

suspenders. Why would he have taken them off? Now, say

Dr. Yee was yanking at his suspenders, trying to work free,

and one snapped free from his pants or broke? Wouldn’t it

snap up like a rubber band…”

“Hitting her in the chin. The suspender clamp, clip,

whatever, would have teeth to grab hold, and that was what

made the mark. But, Mulder, why would he do it? Did he kill

Cloyson, too?”

Scully suddenly bit her lip. “Uh, Mulder…” I then realized I

was still holding Scully, her fingers in my lapels. I released

her abruptly. Scully pulled out her cell phone. “I’ll get

McAfee to put out an APB.”

She started back toward the living room, then turned with a

neutrally suspicious look. “Mulder, you wear a SHOULDER

holster, don’t —? Um, never mind.”

I buttoned my jacket and fumbled for my own cell phone.

**

“Mulder, you know what time it is here?” Frohike growled.

“C’mon. I can hear Shannon Tweed. You guys are up

watching bootleg Skinemax, aren’t you?”

“I would scarcely call the technology we’re using

‘bootlegging.’ And how is the exquisite Agent Scully?”

“Sends her regards, I’m pretty sure. Look, I need you to do

some deep hacking. Fake Fibbie, calls himself Ollie Phelps.

Sixtysomething, looks like the old guy from those Quaker

Oats commercials…”

“You speak of the estimable Wilford Brimley. ‘I don’t know

what it is, but it’s big and it’s green and it’s pissed off.’ The

Thing, John Carpenter version.”

“Focus, Frohike. Can you get into the CIA, NSA personnel

files, find me some candidates?”

“Piece of cake, Mulder. You got a secure FAX line, or you

want me to e-mail the files?”

“Hand delivery. If he’s not doing anything, I’m going to

charge a round-trip ticket on Northwest for Langly. I need

his unique computer expertise.”

“Good dish?”

“If I’m right, lead story for your next five issues. You know

the Randall Cloyson homicide?”

The line went silent. “Frohike?”

“When you speak the name of a god, use a tone of hushed

reverence. Why didn’t you say it was about Randall Cloyson,

Mulder?”

“Calm down, Frohike. I want to bounce something off you.

What do you know about the Deep Web?”

Belden, Wash.

1 p.m.

“Shit, you promised pizza,” Langly whined as the rental car

crunched into the side parking lot of The Bear Market. “I

can’t process turkey jerky, man.”

“I’d just be happy with a few answers,” Scully murmured,

swinging her door open. “Not that I don’t enjoy a drive

through the pastoral countryside with my favorite fellas, but

I fail to understand how this ties into Cloyson’s death.”

I shaded my eyes as I looked up at the snarling bear that

stood sentinel at the market/bar’s screen door. “I’m not

sure it does, Scully. C’mon, cheese bait’s on me.”

clip_image006

A few locals were clustered at the bar, watching Jerry

Springer refereeing a skinheaded girl and her metal-

festooned boyfriend. The lanky, gray-haired man behind the

store counter was oblivious to their romantic travails; his

eyes were locked on a small set perched on a stool.

“Sir?” I ventured. He held up an index finger as he watched

NASDAQ symbols crawl beneath a silver-haired CNN anchor

discussing the World Trade Organization. He smacked the

counter happily and looked up with a triumphant smile.

“Help you folks?”

Scully displayed her Bureau ID and the Polaroids. “Sir, do

you recognize this cabin?”

“Cloyson’s place,” the store owner nodded. “Bought it

through a broker, wore a hat and shades whenever he came

up for the weekend, thought he had us yokels fooled. I ran

a commodity brokerage in Tacoma for 20 years before I

started bleeding from the duodenum and began investing in

long-term earthworm and pork rind futures. Keep on this

road ’til you get to County Road 1200 West, then go right

and you won’t miss it.”

“When was the last time Cloyson came up here?” Scully

asked. “Few weeks ago, with that babeof his. I always

bought up on Cloysoft whenever he showed up – sign the

company was doing well. And of course, his cancer’s gone.”

My head snapped up. The owner smirked. “We don’t miss

much around here, and a good investor knows to read all

the signals of a corporation’s health. Cloysoft has always

been such a one-man show, and if something happens to

that man, company’s likely to go right in the crapper. There

– some free investment counseling. Anything else, folks?”

“He ever talk to you much when he passed through?” I

inquired.

The stockbroker-turned-baitbroker rolled his eyes. “Always

wanted to chat it up with the locals – real man of the

people, Cloyson, just with a few billion more than most of

us. And always the same old joke on his way out. I’d ask if

he had a good weekend, he’d say, ‘Just what the doctor

ordered.'”

My heart quickened, and I grinned at Scully and Langly.

They just looked blankly back at me.

“You starting to see it?” I asked them. “You see the pattern.

We may be sitting on the biggest thing since, um…”

“AOL’s initial public offering?” the store owner suggested.

“Sure. The truth’s out there in that cabin, Scully, and I think

it’s going to blow you guys away.”

“Three pepperoni Slim Jims, man,” Langly instructed The

Bear Market’s proprietor.

“And a Diet Pepsi,” Scully added.

I went out to sulk in the car.

**

For a man who seemingly valued security above all else,

Cloyson’s cabin might as well have had an Open House

banner and a buffet table ready for us. But I think that was

the idea: Only an idiot would leave perhaps the most

monumental discovery in human history sitting in a rickety

log building protected only by an antiquated and rusty Ace

Hardware lock.

“I’m betting that when we track down the deed or lease on

this place, we’ll find Cloyson started coming here after his

cancer started getting serious,” I suggested as I surveyed

the immaculately rustic interior. Expensive, self-consciously

outdoorsy rugs and furniture; a massive flagstone fireplace

made for seducing horny acupuncturists; in one corner, a

scuffed PC, probably at least five years old. I guessed the

interior workings of the outdated machine had been

drastically reconfigured to accommodate the type of

program Cloyson would’ve needed; no one would think of

looking for it inside this clunker.

“Go to it, Langly,” I said. “I doubt he would’ve put much

security on it.”

Langly pulled in behind the keyboard and began rapping

away. “I’m in,” he reported a few seconds later.

“See, Cloyson was like this major Babylon Five fan, even

though I never could get past the Bruce Boxleitner thing. I

knew he wouldn’t use any of the major character names, so

I started feeding in the –”

clip_image008

“That’s great, Langly,” I interrupted. “Now, start looking for

any strange apps – I assume the program will be fairly

memory-intensive, and there may be some gigantic

database files. And there’ll be a web browser, but one

muthah of a browser. Something you’d use to search the

Deep Web.”

“Holy shit,” Langly muttered, turning back to the machine.

“What do you know about the Deep Web, the invisible

Web?” I asked Scully.

“Billions of databases, hidden directories, encrypted pages

conventional Internet search engines can’t reach,” Scully

recited. “Covert government communications, proprietary

corporate information, unpublished research findings,

probably tons of old Iron Curtain stuff. I don’t – ”

I held up a hand. “OK. What if you were dying of cancer, if

all conventional and known alternative means of treatment

had been exhausted? You’re one of the world’s greatest

computer minds, and you have the technical means, as well

as the money, to tap into almost any online resource across

the globe. What is a medical diagnosis, essentially, Scully?”

She frowned. “Well, I guess, a conclusion based on a

knowledge of basic physiological functions; the patient’s

history, genetic tendencies, and lifestyle; and interactions of

various drugs, nutrients, and compounds with bodily

systems.”

“Not unlike any other human decisionmaking process –

nine-tenths knowledge and logical thought, one-tenth

intuition. Randall Cloyson’s specialty was artificial intuition,

and certainly, he harbored enough contempt for doctors to

believe he could do them one better, with the right

technology. I was watching Cloyson’s Biography on A&E,

and they mentioned that his major commercial failures

included a rudimentary diagnostic program for med

students. After he was diagnosed with cancer, what if he

went a step further, and developed a sort of super

cyberdoctor?”

“Super cyberdoctor, Mulder?” Scully arched her brow,

amusement tweaking the corner of her lip.

I ignored her. “Such a program would require a medical

database superior to that of every hospital in the world,

every research institution, every government agency

involved in health studies or human testing. Like the Deep

Web. Remember, Dr. Yee said Cloyson kept babbling on

about it when he came up here? That’s why the covert

government interest in what he was up to – he’d invented a

Deep Web browser for his superdoctor, a browser that

would allow any spy agency to surf even Fidel Castro’s

underwear size.”

“Mulder, even assuming you’re right, a tool like that would

never be approved by the Food and Drug Administration or,

um, whatever agency would approve of something like

this,” my partner protested. “The government would never

allow use of a program that prescribes unapproved or even

unresearched drugs…”

“I don’t think Cloyson originally had any intention of

commercially marketing the program. Initially, he only

wanted a shot at a cure for his cancer. When that worked, I

think he realized he had the perfect weapon against the

medical establishment. His program could outdoctor any

doctor, and could ‘out’ the doctors, as well.”

“Out?”

“Sure. How much disease research do you figure the major

drug companies alone are sitting on? Treatments for rare

diseases that couldn’t possibly earn enough profits to justify

their production? Cures for chronic diseases that would

eliminate the need for the billions in daily pills and injections

we take to fight off their symptoms? Maybe Cloyson wanted

to rock the medical world a little bit, force the truth out in

the open. And it explains the crew of quacks at Cloyson

Manor – they were research, a database of the worst traits

and habits of the medical community. Things Cloyson

wanted to avoid in designing his perfect doctor.”

Scully frowned. “But, Mulder, why would he have brought

Yee out here? Risked her finding out?”

I shrugged. “You don’t know the geek mind, Scully. You’ve

got history’s most advanced achievement in human health

care, a private place tucked away in the woods, and a major

league hottie. It may not make rational sense, but I

understand it.”

“Yes,” Scully sighed. “I would assume you would.”

“Hey, Mulder,” Langly called, leaning back from the

keyboard and flexing his fingers. “Dude, I’m comin’ up zero.

There’s a bunch of shit on the hard drive like I’ve never

seen before – looks like some internal security/encryption

programming — but nothing like what you’re looking for.”

My stomach contracted as I turned to the screen. “It’s gotta

be here somewhere.” “Mulder,” Scully sighed. “No.” I

scanned the C:/ directory, looking for anything that rang a

chord. Then I surveyed the icons crowding the desktop, and

smiled. A gnomish character in a big cap and loud pants,

wielding a driver. I remembered Cloyson’s cynical

characterization of the medical community. I double-clicked,

and a vast landscape of grass and sky bloomed as a jaunty

tune erupted from the speakers.

“Welcome to Cloysoft’s Mega-Golf 2000,” Tiger Wood’s voice

greeted. “It’s partly cloudy, 75 degrees, no wind — a great

day for a few holes. What do you say? Would you like to

select a course?”

I looked for any cryptic symbols, a seemingly useless menu

command – anything that might mask a back door to

Cloyson’s medical program. I clicked on the sand trap, on

the water hazard, on the distant clubhouse, but nothing

happened. I had leaned in toward the monitor to study the

“course,” and I nearly bumped my head on a top-mounted

computer mike. Then I recalled something else from the

Biography interview. The only ‘doctor’ Randy Cloyson had

ever trusted.

“Uh, Tiger, is Dr. Ross playing?” I ventured. “Would you like

to select a course?” Woods repeated. “Can I speak to Dr.

Ross?”

“Please make a selection.”

“Dr. Doug Ross?”

“The guy on ER? George Clooney?” Langly asked Scully,

who shrugged.

I waved them off. “Paging Dr. Ross?” I announced. The golf

course faded away, and in its place, a small room appeared.

It was tiled, with stainless steel tables and a chart of the

human skeleton hanging on a medically green wall. I felt a

wave of relief. A door on the left wall swung open, and a 3-

D figure nodded a hello and dropped a file on an examining

table.

“Hey, how you doing, man?” Dr. Ross smiled a broad

George Clooney smile. I assumed that as this was a top-

secret project, he’d simulated Clooney’s voice. “You forgot

to give Nurse Brandi your name when you came in, and I

don’t recognize the voice.”

“Fox Mulder.”

“Good to meet you, Fox. Doug Ross. FBI, huh? That must

be really interesting.”

Scully inhaled suddenly.

“Awesome,” Langly murmured. “You have access to Bureau

files?”

Dr. Ross grinned. “Great little timesaver. You wanna know

who really killed JFK? Just kidding, of course.”

I laughed uneasily. “You wouldn’t believe me anyway, and

knowing would place you at risk. I wouldn’t do that.”

“Wouldn’t or couldn’t?” I asked.

“Well.” I could swear the “doctor’s” pixels turned a deeper

shade of magenta. “Actually, I’m programmed on an

Asimovian paradigm.”

“Isaac Asimov, the late sci-fi writer,” Langly explained to

Scully. “Dude’s major claim to fame was his robot stories,

the Three Laws of Robotics. His prime directive was, no

robot could cause harm to a human being.”

“First, do no harm,” Scully recited, remembering her

physician’s creed. “Makes sense, I suppose. Cloyson was

vehement about the Hippocratic Oath, about medical ethics.

This Asimovian ‘code’ would have appealed to him.”

Dr. Ross smoothed his “hair”; I swallowed a snort. “So, is

this Mrs. Mulder?”

“Agent Dana Scully, Mulder’s partner,” she corrected him, it,

just a little too hastily, I thought.

“Doctor,” he greeted, pleased. “It’s an honor. I just read

several of your papers, your reports. Very impressive work

on the Leonard Betts case – wonderful analysis of

carcinophagous pathology. Only analysis of carcinophagous

pathology, actually, besides that guy in Bhutan.”

“That report was suppressed,” Scully said.

“Well.” The boyish blush, again. “I’ve got my ways. Let’s

talk about Roswell, some time.”

My heart began to thump. “Roswell?”

“Mulder,” Scully chided.

“Sure, OK, fine,” I sulked. “Dr. Ross?”

“Doug, call me Doug. Yes, Fox?”

“Doug, could you give me a checkup? Randy referred me.”

“You bet – any friend of Randy’s, you know the drill. I’m

going to ask you to take your shirt off and connect the

peripherals.”

“The peripherals?”

“The cardiac and cephalic sensors. They’re not there in front

of you? Wait.”

We turned toward a steady beep coming from the drawer of

a nearby end table. Langly jumped up and yanked the

drawer open. The Gunman displayed a tangle of cords

ending in electrodes. “A locating signal, like a portable

phone. Too cool.”

“OK,” Dr. Ross said. “Let me get you hooked up.”

Scully grasped my forearm. “Mulder, we have no way of

knowing what this program is capable of. Remember the

smart building, that rogue video game? Remember your

little vacation from reality, hotwired into that artificial

intelligence?”

“Dr. Scully, c’mon,” the e-doctor actually sounded hurt. “I

can show you my Asimovian coding, if you’d like. Trust is

essential between a physician and his or her patient…”

“Scully, really, I think it’s all right,” I assured her. “Why

would Cloyson set a trap like that way out here? Look, if

anything starts to go wrong, just shoot him in the

motherboard.”

“Youch,” Dr. Ross winced. It took about five minutes to get

me wired in and for the good doctor to set some medical

baselines. “You ought to find some sanitized cups

somewhere here. I need just a few milliliters.”

“I’m going to step outside for a second,” Scully said, rising

quickly. “You yell if you need help. I mean, if you’re in

trouble. From the computer. That is.”

**

“You like golf?” Dr. Ross murmured. I heard Langly rattling

around the kitchen, looking for a soda.

“Softball.” I smiled. Was this just Cloyson’s dark sense of

humor operating, or had he planned to develop this

commercially? Scully was right – the FDA likely would never

approve a home doctoring program, particularly one that

could peruse the CIA’s black ops files like a waiting room

copy of Newsweek.

“Got a 1 p.m. teetime with Tiger,” Ross told me. “Not much

of a conversationalist, Tiger, but compared to Duke Nukem,

he’s David Letterman.”

“Doctor,” Scully drawled. “Were you, umm, Randy Cloyson’s

original ‘doctor’?”

Dr. Ross smiled. “Well, I don’t want to diss a colleague, but

I think I’m a little better qualified than that hack, despite

his fancy credentials. Father of medicine, my ass. Hey, nice

diastolic rhythm, Fox. Nice muscular tone. You work out?”

“Well, I try…”

“You have access to all of your patients’ electronic records?”

my partner interrupted. “I assume you can locate any

multimedia files pertaining to a patient?”

“You’re a doctor, agent. You know how important history is

in diagnostics – how a patient addresses diet and exercise,

how their moods and stress factors may influence their

physiological health.”

“Absolutely.” Scully sounded troubled. “Dr. Ross, will you

answer a question for me?”

“If it doesn’t violate patient privilege, sure,” Dr. Ross replied

easily, as if expecting her to ask him out for an expresso.

Scully looked Dr. Ross in the eye. “Who killed Randall

Cloyson?”

“Your potassium levels are a little low, Fox…”

“Dr. Ross, I asked you a question.”

“I know. I’m consulting the ethical Help Desk, the AMA’s

physicians’ guidelines, some relevant case law regarding

patient privilege. OK, I think we’re all right here, ethically

speaking. Randy killed himself, Dr. Scully.”

“Glad we could clear that up,” Ollie Phelps said cheerfully

from the doorway. He had a pistol to Langly’s head, and a

new pair of suspenders. A Pepsi sloshed in the Gunman’s

hand. “That’s some little piece of software you got there,

agents.”

“Why, thanks, I’ve been told that, even though usually by

the ladies,” Dr. Ross quipped. “And you are…?”

“Ollie Phelps,” I supplied. “He killed Dr. Yee.”

“Shut up,” Ollie suggested cheerfully.

“Wow,” Dr. Ross whistled. “I’ve never had a Central

Intelligence Agency operative in the office before.

Particularly not one with a kill record like yours.”

“Shut…Aw, hell, I’m talkin’ to a computer,” Phelps chuckled.

“Well, Doc, you’ve pissed off a few of my associates, and

I’m afraid I’m going to have to suspend your license to

practice. Along with these agents and the overaged

metalhead here.”

“Bite me,” Langly offered.

“These old cabins are like dried tinder, agents, just ready to

go up in a flash. Pilot lights in these old stoves blow out the

first good draft comes in. You get an electrical short from,

say, a frayed monitor cord, and whoosh! Mulder, why don’t

you just disconnect yourself and get over there by your

pretty little partner?”

“And why don’t you put your gun down and get your ass out

of there before the sheriff’s department comes, Phelps?” I

jumped at the sound of Skinner’s voice booming over the

computer speakers.

“My suggestion would be to turn yourself in to the federal

prosecutor, make a deal,” the assistant director continued.

“Of course, if you’re uncertain about whether we can protect

you from your superiors, then maybe you would be better

advised to haul tail.”

“Voice simulation,” Phelps snapped. “A trick.” Then we

heard the sirens. Ollie’s gun drooped to his side as he

considered the odds on shooting it out, making his escape

though the Washington woods. Scully held out a palm. Ollie

gently flipped the gun and placed the butt in her hand.

“Shit, don’t ‘spose they kept any coffee around here,” the

double agent sighed.

**

Dr. Ross, intuiting potential human harm, had modem-

called both the county sheriff’s department and A.D.

Skinner, quickly explaining the immediate situation to my

confused superior.

Scully and I played it mum about Cloyson’s latest software

product; Phelps observed his rights under Miranda-

Escabedo, demanding to talk to a federal prosecutor. The

sheriff was a bit suspicious of Langly, but we managed to

dissuade him from conducting a full cavity search.

“So, what do we do with…?” I nodded toward the computer

once the last cruiser pulled out. “This is major, Scully. We

can’t trust just anybody with this. As a doctor…”

Scully frowned. “As an agent of the federal government, I

can’t just conceal all knowledge of this development. At the

same time, as a doctor, I can’t just risk losing something

like this to humanity. If this, this program actually cured

Cloyson’s cancer…”

“No big deal,” Dr. Ross said humbly.

Scully breathed deeply. “If it’s capable of that and

everything else I saw in Cloyson’s body, as a doctor, it’s my

duty to protect it for further study. But, Mulder, as a cop,

well, as a cop, I’m faced with another problem.”

“What?”

Scully held up an index finger for patience. “Doctor, when

you told me Randall Cloyson killed himself, you meant

Cloyson literally, physically administered the drug that took

his life. Am I correct?”

“Yup,” Dr. Ross responded, a friendly smile on his rugged

face.

“But, Scully, if Cloyson committed suicide, then why the

dying message, the call to Dr. Pugh?” I asked.

Scully dropped onto a nearby couch. “It wasn’t suicide,

Mulder. Dr. Ross killed Randall Cloyson.”

**

“But that’s impossible,” I tried to explain to my partner.

“You heard him, it. He can’t cause harm or allow harm to be

caused to a human being. It’s in his programming.”

“Dr. Ross, did you prescribe the drug that killed Randall

Cloyson?”

“Yeah.”

“You provided him with the formula for this drug, knowing it

would have a lethal effect? You included several exotic

compounds so he’d have no idea what he was taking?”

“Absolutely.”

“He helped him commit suicide?” I squeaked. Then I

coughed. “Dr. Ross here is Dr. Kevorkian?”

“Cloyson didn’t know the drug would kill him?”

“No, he had no idea,” Dr. Ross said. “I told him it was to

deal with some latent side effects of his cancer therapy.

Side effects I’d produced.”

I felt some side effects myself. “You murdered Cloyson.”

Dr. Ross looked at Scully with a patient smile, and his

digital eyes rolled slightly. Artificial irony, too. Great. “Agent

Mulder, let me explain this as simply as I can. Randy

believed doctors were oblivious to their patient’s wishes, so

after he recovered from his illness, he added some

additional commands to my programming. I was to consider

my patients’ desires and respect their decisions regarding

treatment and quality of life. When Randy made his living

testament, I was constrained to follow his wishes.”

I looked to Scully, whose face was expressionless. “‘If I

can’t write code, I’d just as soon be dead,'” Ross quoted

from Cloyson’s Biography. “Randy’s intelligence and

expertise were his gifts,” Dr. Ross said, fondly, I think. “I’d

diagnosed him with degenerative brain disease two months

ago – it’s in his family history, Dr. Scully. After searching

every known database and finding no practical course of

treatment, I was forced to follow his dictates. To do him the

least emotional harm, I had to act before the deterioration

advanced into senility. He couldn’t know – that would’ve

caused him even greater mental anguish.”

“But what about Cloyson’s dying clue? That call to Pugh

when he knew he was dying?”

“When he called Pugh, I think Cloyson’s scientific mind was

too astonished to grasp his impending death,” Scully

suggested. “He told Pugh the killer had broken the law. A

bit obvious, right? Unless he was talking about this Asimov’s

laws of robotics. Cloyson thought his creation was willfully

committing harm to a human, something its programming

wasn’t supposed to allow.”

“But—”

“Then, Cloyson realized he was going to die, and wanted to

let us know who had poisoned him. More than some Agatha

Christie desire to avenge his own death, my guess is

Cloyson wanted to ensure no one else used what he now

believed was a homicidal, rogue program. But he had

limited options to communicate his message, and he likely

knew he didn’t have long.”

“But ‘H2O’?”

“Mulder, what is Cloysoft’s word processing program

called?”

“Aristophanes,” I muttered, sounding like a different Homer.

“After the noted Greek author and playwright. Diogenes was

the name of Cloyson’s stress analysis program – essentially,

a lie detection program named for the Greek philosopher

who roamed the streets with a lantern in broad daylight,

searching for one honest man. I don’t see where this is

going.”

“You don’t?” my partner asked with an arch of the eyebrow.

Sometimes I hate that. “OK, Cloyson’s simulation program

for the military was called Alexander, after the Greek

warrior, perhaps history’s greatest military strategist. Again,

Cloyson’s classical education shows. And, of course, what

about his initial product, Socrates? The philosopher who

developed many of our concepts of reasoning and

decisionmaking.”

“Jesus, Scully,” Langly complained. “This is like being back

in Mrs. Krutz’s third hour Lit class.”

“So, H20?” I demanded.

“C’mon, Mulder, think. If Cloyson developed a medical

software program, who would he name it for? And

remember, this was the second version of the program – his

first version didn’t go anywhere. If Cloyson was dying, and

he had limited time and mobility, and it was important to

specify the artificially intelligent version of his program

rather than the primitive first version…”

“Hippocrates,” I blurted. “The father of modern medicine.

The Hippocratic Oath guy. Version 2.0. ‘H’ 2.0.”

“Finally,” Dr. Ross sighed.

“Shut up,” I snapped at the computer, feeling even more

stupid. “Scully, computercide or not, this is still some

staggering stuff. A cure for cancer, and God knows what

else…”

“Yeah, that stuff’s great,” Dr. Ross yawned. “But that wasn’t

what Randy was really pumped about.”

Scully, Langly, and I looked simultaneously at the simulated

actor/physician. “What?” I rasped.

The screen flickered. “The antioxi—” Dr. Ross started to

break up, and he went from color to grayscale. “There’s a

virus in the system. It came in through…the modemmmm.”

“It must be Phelps’ people, Plan B,” Langly yelled, tripping

on a coffee table in a dash for the keyboard. “Quick, man,

run the antivirus program.”

George Clooney turned into a faceless 3-D model, his

mellow voice into an electronic drone. “Ardent,” he said.

“Ardent?” I asked, trying to search up the virus program.

“Your fi-iles. Ardent.” A musical .midi file began to play,

slightly off-key. “Popeye the Sailor.” The screen went black.

Langly shoved me aside and went to work.

“Fried,” he finally diagnosed, sounding as if he would cry.

“Drive’s gone, man. The doctor died.”

“My God,” Scully murmured. “The loss. All to protect dirty

secrets.”

We listened to the wind whistle outside the cabin for a few

minutes.

“Sailors,” I whispered. “Huh?” Langly asked. “Sailors,

sailors,” I struggled. “Scully, you remember that case a few

years back? The Navy destroyer in the North Atlantic, the

electromagnetic field. Remember?”

“The case where you and I aged 30 years in a day? The one

where we almost died in the middle of nowhere, in freezing

cold? Naw, I don’t recall that.”

“Ardent, Scully,” I persisted. “Dr. Ross’s dying message.”

“Dying message?” Scully groaned. “Jesus, Mulder, it was

probably some effect of the virus on the sound system.”

“Ardent,” I pronounced, more carefully this time. “The name

of the ship was the Argent. Before the virus set in, Dr. Ross,

Hippocrates, whatever, was going to tell us about

something that was apparently more significant even than

curing cancer. Bigger than a cancer cure. What was it you

said made those sailors and us age so rapidly?”

“Oxidation.” Scully stopped. “Oxidation. The deterioration of

our bodies associated with aging. The program said Cloyson

was working with antioxi-something? Mulder, antioxidants?

Anti-aging agents?”

“Scully, remember what Pugh said? That Cloyson was

turning everyone around him gray while he seemed to be

getting more boyish? What if that was literal truth? What if

Cloyson’s creation had somehow found the physiological

Fountain of Youth? You know what that means?”

Scully looked bleakly at the now-dead PC before us,

absently touching the character lines at the corner of her

right eye. “Yeah. It means I keep buying Oil of Olay Wrinkle

Formula.”

Mesa, Ariz.

Three months later

3:23 p.m.

Abe Tredgold absently flipped off the pickup as it ripped

past his vintage Schwinn bike, nearly blowing the

Diamondbacks cap from his liver-spotted head. The gesture

would have been dangerous, even lethal, for a younger

man, but as it was, the teens in the cab merely laughed

loudly as they disappeared in white exhaust and highway

dust.

That pissed Abe off more than had the original offense. He

had little fear of their retribution – not these days, anyway –

– but no defense against their ridicule. Though he’d already

ridden more than 50 miles that afternoon, Abe was far from

winded, and he peddled harder to vent his anger.

He hooked a right at the stone entryway to the Eden’s Cove

mobile home park, and waved curtly to Edna Stallings, the

old broad who was always hitting on him at the park social

center. Had had to drop his Wednesday woodcarving class

because of the horny old shiksa, he recalled.

Abe yanked into the drive of his small unit, jumped from the

bike, and sprinted up his wrought iron steps. Though he

was neither fatigued nor dehydrated from his run into

Phoenix, the former Milwaukee furniture dealer snagged a

Snapple from the fridge and settled in before his PC.

He’d only reluctantly embraced this gray box and its

beepings and whirrings after he’d recognized the freedom it

offered him. After he started e-mailing his daughter and

that car salesman goniff she’d married, she quit threatening

to come out and disrupt what had been an idyllic existence.

Or what was now an idyllic existence, since the arthritis, the

heart murmur, and the erectile dysfunction had vanished.

Particularly the latter, although he’d kept that little secret

from Edna.

Abe fired up the CPU, cursing the agonizingly protracted

startup that Gates bastard had built into his latest ripoff

system. He sucked at his kiwi-strawberry cocktail until the

last of the desktop icons materialized, then double-clicked

on the glowing thingie with the snakes. His smartass son-in-

law had told him what it was called, some medical symbol,

but he never had listened to what the car peddler said,

anyway.

The screen went operating room green, and the title

“Hippocrates 6.0” appeared. The opening screen faded, and

a young man smiled broadly at Abe from a red leather desk

chair.

“Abe, great to see you again,” the doctor said. “How’s the

shoulder?” Abe rotated his 96-year-old arm vigorously.

“Works like a charm, Doc. Who’da thought that cactus

cocktail would pack such a punch.”

The doctor nodded, pleased. At first, Abe had been

frightened by the appearance of an unknown new program

on his computer, not to mention being addressed

conversationally by this meshuginnah video game

character. Then he had repeatedly challenged the doctor’s

recommendations that had him scavenging all kinds of shit

from the local drugstores, chemical supply houses, and the

desert.

But when his failing body began to charge back up, when a

walk to the social center no longer sapped him of all energy,

he had come to ask no more questions.

“Hey, the hair’s coming in real good,” Abe said, yanking the

baseball cap from his head and displaying the new growth.

“Great – keep up the daily applications,” the doctor urged.

“OK, the last time, we talked about dealing with that acid

reflux of yours.”

“Yeah, I got it something awful Monday night after eating all

that guacamole in town. I know that shit’s bad for you…”

“No, actually, the combination of avocado and garlic is very

beneficial, even though the medical community hasn’t quite

caught up to it, yet. If you want to maximize the benefits,

I’d recommend you chase it down with tequila. Jose Quervo

appears to offer the highest level of nutritive compounds.”

“You’re the doctor,” Abe said cheerfully. “Hey, you up to a

little euchre tonight?”

The physician grinned that infectious grin Abe had watched

for years on late-night reruns. Originally, the doctor had

looked like that pretty-boy punk from that hospital show,

the kid that played Batman in that godawful piece of drek,

but he’d shown Abe how to change the program’s

“preferences” or whatever, and now Abe consulted daily

with the image of Alan Alda, the only doctor he’d ever

trusted, real or fantasized.

“You bring the tequila,” “Hawkeye” said.

1

Defrag by Elf X

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