He moved quickly up the incline from the side of the road where he’d hidden his car. The sun was low in the sky. He didn’t have much time before the Kirby woman would be running down the path toward the Science Building. For the last five days Rachel Kirby had been putting in twenty-hour workdays and taken only four hours to rest at her condo before she’d gone back to the lab to work. Today should be no different. She’d drive her car to the parking lot three miles from the Science Building and run the rest of the way.
Pelham knelt down as he reached the trees and gazed down at the campus below. A few students were strolling on the sidewalk and there was a girl sitting on the steps of the English building working on her laptop.
Should he take them out? It would confuse the motivation. The police would think he was just a nutcase if he didn’t focus solely on Rachel Kirby. But it would also raise a public outcry and make the chase hotter for him.
Oh, well, he’d decide later. His instincts were usually good when it came down to the final moment.
He opened his gun case.
. . . . . . . . . .
Rachel turned at the front door to see Allie coming down the stairs. “I’ve got to get back to the lab, Allie. I’m late.”
“Not too late to talk to me for a moment.” Allie closed the door and leaned on it, blocking her way. “You’ve got to stop this Rachel. It was bad before but now you’re being stupid. You’re working yourself to exhaustion.”
“I have a few problems to iron out. I’ll rest when I get back on level ground.”
“If you don’t have a breakdown.” Her sister smiled. “We can’t have two invalids around here. Letty would quit on us.”
“I haven’t heard Letty complaining.”
Allie’s smile faded. “No, you wouldn’t. Letty is like you. Nothing is too good for me. Even if it means that you’re both strained to the max.”
Rachel didn’t want to hear this. She had known it was coming. Allie had been too quiet and Rachel had been aware of her watching her but she had hoped to avoid a confrontation. “We’re not strained. I don’t need much sleep and I’m as healthy as a horse. And Letty wouldn’t have her life any other way. She loves taking care of you.”
“I know that. She’s going to hate it when---“
“Shut up, Allie.”
“Why? I’m not afraid any longer. I’ve accepted it.” She looked her in the eye. “I want you to accept it too, Rachel. It’s time.”
It was worse than Rachel thought it could be. “The hell it is. It’s not going to happen.”
“It’s already happening. When I go through one of these downward spirals, it gets harder to walk and I lose control of my hands. My toothpaste went every place but on the brush this morning. And my eyesight is getting worse.”
“Your eyesight? When did this start?”
“Just in the last couple of weeks. I tried to tell myself it wasn’t happening, but I’ve lost a little of my peripheral vision. It scared me.” She made a face. “And then it made me mad. At any rate, it was a wake-up call.”
“You know how GLD works. Symptoms come and go. It may be years before it gets any worse.”
Allie nodded, “I know that. Next week it may correct itself and I’ll have a good period. But I have to be ready. You have to be ready,
Rachel closed her eyes. Dammit. Allie had been struggling with this disease since she was a child, but the past few years had been especially brutal. Globoid Cell Leukodystrophy, aka GLD or Krabbe’s Disease was a rare disorder of the nervous system that most commonly attacked infants. They seldom lived past the age of two, but late-onset GLD patients such as Allie were all over the map in terms of symptoms and prognosis.
Allie brushed her hair away from her face. “You can’t stop it by working yourself to death for me. That’s not what I want. Do you want to know what I want?”
“It doesn’t matter whether I do or not, you’re going to tell me anyway.”
“You bet I am.” She smiled. “I’m lonely, Rachel. I want you to spend time with me instead of in that lab tilting at windmills. The battle is over. Let’s make our peace with it and enjoy.”
Every gentle word Allie was speaking was tearing her apart. “It’s not over,” she said fiercely. “I won’t let it be over.”
“You can’t work miracles, Rachel. You’ve already gone above and beyond. You started a research foundation for me, for God’s sake. Because of you, half of the computers in the free world are working on a cure for GLD.”
“The foundation is close to a breakthrough. They’ll come through. I just have to keep---“ Allie was shaking her head. “Don’t you dare give up now. I won’t have it.”
“I’ll fight as long as I can. You deserve that from me. I deserve that for myself. But I’m not going to pretend anymore. Now will you stay home and get some rest?”
Rachel shook her head. “I’m fine.”
Allie moved away from the door. “Then go on and tilt at some more windmills. But when you get tired, come home and be with me.” She started up the stairs. She was moving slowly. It was another sign of the toll the disease was exacting, Rachel thought in agony. When she was going through a down spiral, all the energy and vitality that was Allie was shaded like a lamp with the light turned low. She was two years younger than Rachel and when she had her full strength far more attractive. Her huge dark eyes, peaches and cream complexion, and sleek red-gold hair gave her drama and fascination. But today her eyes were shadowed. She seemed thinner and more fragile than she had even last week.
“I’ll try to take some time off tomorrow,” she called after her.
“That will be nice.” Allie looked back over her shoulder. “Stop frowning. It’s okay, Rachel. I’m not trying to lay a guilt trip on you. I’ve made a good life for myself. I keep busy. I paint, I work on my cars, I do stained glass. But I love you more than anyone in the world and I want you to be part of that life. I just had to tell you how I felt.”
“You’re wrong, Allie.”
“Maybe. Don’t work too hard tonight.” She disappeared around the turn of the stairs.
Rachel stood gazing after her, feeling pain twist through her. It always amazed her how much inner strength was housed in that fragile body. Allie had always had a loving serenity that could occasionally erupt into a puckish humor that was completely different from Rachel’s own character. Rachel burned with energy and Allie glowed with soft warmth. Yet sometimes Allie could be an overwhelming force.
A force that had to keep on existing, dammit.
Keep calm. Emotion wasn’t going to help her keep Allie going. Only work and determination would do that and, in spite of what Allie had said, Rachel would give everything she had to give.
Stop standing here brooding. She was already late getting to the lab. Lately everything had seemed to be falling apart and this latest breach in the flow could be devastating. She had to stop it before it affected the foundation.
Before it affected Allie.
She opened the door and ran down the steps but didn’t jump in the car as she usually did. She had too much emotion tumbling through her and she had to burn some of it off so that she could work tonight. She’d run the eight miles to the lab and maybe it would clear her head. Her usual jog of three miles from the parking lot wasn’t enough.
. . . . . . . . . .
Pelham’s hand tightened on the rifle.
There she was.
Rachel Kirby had come around the corner of the path. She was running hard, her forehead knitted with concentration. In her navy blue running suit she looked even smaller than her five feet-two. She appeared almost childlike, with her delicate features and short brown-gold hair, her face glowing with energy and life. Beneath the canopy of oak trees she could have been an innocent little girl called home to supper.
She was far from innocent.
That delicacy and air of youth and pseudo innocence was just another of her weapons. There was nothing childlike about that cobra. She was filled with venom and power. She knew exactly what she was doing and thought she could get away with it.
Sorry, bitch. Not this time.
He lifted the rifle and sighted down the telescopic lens.
Just a little closer…
. . . . . . . . . .
Lord, it was hot.
Rachel could feel the heat sapping her strength and breath as she ran down the path toward the science building. She had a stitch in her side that was like a dagger thrust. She hated running. Hell, she hated exercise. She ran because she knew it was good for her and in her work this daily run was the only way she could be sure of getting enough exercise to stay strong and functioning. But increasing the miles today had taken its toll on her and the thought of Allie’s words had still haunted her.
Focus on something else. Like her job, maybe. Oh, yes, she knew how to obsess on that. Ask Allie.
With the computer systems she designed, at least there was a sense of order, clear-cut answers to the problems that came her way. Not messy like life.
This project, however, was different than the others. It was important. And sometimes she was paralyzed by the thought that millions of lives could be at stake.
All those lives, but only one that truly mattered to her.
Just a mile more.
She smiled and waved at Professor Bullock as he parked his car in the lot. He hated her guts but there was no use giving him ammunition by showing animosity. The best way to handle jealousy was to pretend it wasn’t there.
“You’re out of shape. You’re panting like a pregnant mare.” Simon Monteith was suddenly trotting beside her. “And why are you sucking up to that effete bastard?”
“Shut up, Simon. I wasn’t sucking up to him. I was being civilized.” He was right, she was wheezing, she realized with disgust. “And I didn’t invite you to join me. Why aren’t you in the lab? What do I pay you for?”
“My brain, my initiative, and for putting up with you.”
“Why aren’t you in the lab?” she repeated.
“Dinner break.” He beamed. “And when I saw you gasping and suffering, I thought I’d show you how physically superior I was to you. I don’t get much chance. Are you noticing how easy I’m finding this little dash? I’m not even out of breath.”
“I’m noticing that you’re twenty-four to my thirty-two. Dammit, you were still playing college football when I hired you two years ago.” She added sarcastically. “Children always have more endurance.”
“You used to have endurance. A year ago you ran the Boston Marathon. I was impressed. Then you went to pot.”
“I doubled my miles today. Besides, I’ve been a little busy lately.”
“Yeah, making Val and my lives miserable.” He paused. “How is Allie doing? “
“The usual.” No, not usual. Today she had seen sadness and bewilderment and the beginning of resignation. “She said she missed me. She told me to give it up.”
“And it made you feel guilty and torn and angry. So you decided to run from your house to the lab and get rid some of the emotion.”
She didn’t deny it. “And I had some thinking to do. I’ve been bothered by the amount of computing power we’ve lost in the last week. It’s like our system has suddenly sprung a leak.”
“Rachel, some loss of processing power is unavoidable. With power irregularities, network congestion—“
“Not this much. It’s being siphoned off somewhere. It probably just comes down to one line of code.”
“Out of millions.”
"Yes. And it’s starting to make me crazy.”
“Which means everyone around you is going to catch hell tonight.”
“I can’t. What would you do without me?”
“Get someone who wouldn’t give me the guff you throw at---” Her cell phone rang and she glanced at the ID. “Norton.” She ignored the call until it went to voicemail. It was the third time he’d phoned in the last two hours and she didn’t want to deal with the bastard now. She’d get angry and upset and she had to focus on the work tonight. “Has he been calling the lab?”
He nodded. “I told him you were in Jamaica lying on the beach and had thrown away your cell. Is that okay?”
She smiled. “Perfect.”
“Except that since he’s with the NSA, he probably knows every move you make. Why is he in such a stew?”
“I halved his computer time.”
He gave a low whistle. “That would do it.”
“Too bad. This blasted leak is making me come up short. I wasn’t about to take any time away from the medical research. I don’t even know what project Norton is working on. He’s probably trying to pave the way to build a new and better bomb. Screw him.”
“He can cause trouble. The National Security Agency is nothing to fool with. There are all kinds of ways for Norton to undermine you. Those government dudes are pretty sneaky.”
“I’ll deal with it.”
“I know. You always do. Just a comment.” He looked away from her. “And, actually, I lied. I wasn’t at dinner. I was at Jonesy’s relay lab in Galveston checking on something.”
Her gaze flew to his face. “You found the leak?”
“Maybe. I found a thread that may lead to it.”
“I’ll tell you at the lab.”
He shook his head. “I think you need incentive to keep you going.” He speeded up, leaving her yards behind. “This pace is too boring for me. I’ll see you at the lab.” He darted a sly look over his shoulder. “If you make it.”
She muttered a curse under her breath as she watched him lope away from her. Simon had a puckish and sometimes devilish sense of humor and she wasn’t in the mood for it right now. Then she smiled grudgingly as she trotted after him. At least he’d taken her mind off the pain in her side and his teasing incentive was making her speed up her pace. She wished she could stay pissed at him, but she had known Simon had that wicked slyness when she’d hired him. He was brilliant and as he’d said, innovative, and those qualities often were accompanied by idiosyncrasies. And if that brilliance had led him to finding the processing power leak she had been searching for, then she’d put up with anything he threw at her.
And Simon usually knew better than to step over the line in his little jabs. He must have found out something at the relay station. Eagerness surged through her at the thought. Even if he had a clue, it would be something they could work on.
And, hell, maybe Rachel needed him pricking at her occasionally. She would probably become obnoxious if she was allowed to have everything her own way. Most of the people surrounding her would say she was already there.
He and Val had worked to exhaustion for the last few weeks and she hadn’t been easy on either of them. She was lucky they didn’t walk out on her.
The Science building was just ahead, thank God. Simon was probably already lolling at his desk and waiting with that Siamese cat smile for her to walk into the lab. Bastard. She’d have to think of some way to make sure he paid. Maybe she’d work on getting in shape and leave him in the dust. His male pride would be---
A whistle of sound.
Pain streaking through her temple.
. . . . . . . . . .
Was she dead?
No, Rachel’s head was pounding with agony. You shouldn’t have to feel pain if you were dead. Unless you were in hell. And this smelled more like a hospital than hell. Though how did she know what hell smelled like? Brimstone was one of the popular descriptions, but she---
“Doctor Kirby? I’m sorry to---”
“Go away.” She didn’t open her eyes. “Unless you’re my doctor and can give me an aspirin for this damn headache.”
“I’m Detective Don Finley with Houston PD. I need a few words with you. I promise I won’t keep you long.”
“Am I dying?”
“No, ma’am. You’re only suffering a mild concussion. The shot brushed your temple. You’ll be fine.”
“Am I in jail?”
“No, you’re at Sharpston Medical Center.”
“Then go away.”
“The medical team said I could question you. I’m sorry, ma’am. If you don’t talk to me, I’ll only have to come back tomorrow and the perpetrator will have a better chance of getting away. Five minutes.”
He sounded determined and she wasn’t up to arguing with anyone at the moment. She flinched as she opened her eyes to look at him. Forties. Thin with receding pale brown hair. Cool gray eyes. “Talk.”
“You’re aware that you were shot by a sniper at the university?”
“No.” She tried to remember that last moment of pain, but it was all a blur.
“You don’t appear shocked.”
“I’ll be shocked tomorrow if my headache gets better. Come back then.”
“At first we were afraid that we might be having another campus killing spree, but we’ve changed our mind. We don’t believe it was a random shooting. You were the only target. Do you have any idea who would have reason to try to kill you?”
“Not at the moment.”
“No enemies? No one hates you enough to kill you?”
“Lots of people hate me enough to kill me. I just didn’t think they would. It takes a certain kind of personality to actually commit to violence.”
“Give me names of possible suspects.”
“Tomorrow will be soon enough.” She had a sudden thought. “Wait. Send someone to watch my house. My sister, Allie, and my housekeeper, Letty Clark, are alone there.”
“You think they’re in danger?”
“I don’t know. But I don’t take chances.”
“If you’ll cooperate, we’ll cooperate.”
She studied him. “Don’t try to blackmail me. Your job is to guard citizens. Now guard them. You said I was the only target. Simon and Val weren’t hurt?”
“Your assistants? No.”
Relief poured through her. “Good.” She closed her eyes. “Keep an eye on them, too.”
“Because I don’t want to have to replace them if you let them get killed.”
“We already have them under surveillance.”
“I need to see Simon right away.”
“You’re not allowed visitors. They made an exception in my case.”
“Then go away and tell the doctor I need more meds. I’ll call you tomorrow.”
She could sense him hesitating. She opened her eyes again. “You’re not going to get anything else from me right now. I’m not going to turn you loose on anyone unless I’m sure there’s a chance they’re guilty.”
“It’s our job to determine that.”
“No, the buck always stops with me and I’ve accepted it,” she said curtly. “I can’t think much less analyze the situation. You’ll get your names when I can.”
He frowned. “I’ll leave but I don’t want to wait for---“
“Go away or I’ll scream and they’ll come in and kick you out. I may even throw in a harassment charge.”
He stood there staring at her for an instant then turned on his heel. “You’re right. It may take too long right now to go through the list of suspects who might want to kill you.”
She had antagonized him she realized vaguely as he left the room. Too bad. He was only doing his job. But she had no time or strength to argue with him now. She had to rest and heal and get back to doing her job.
Someone had tried to kill her. It was a strange and chilling thought. She had tried not to show the shock she was experiencing to that detective. Shock was a form of weakness and she must never be perceived as weak. She couldn’t let her guard down and let that cop see that she was afraid. There was no use whining when she had always known the risks of what she was doing and was prepared to deal with them.
She mustn’t let this madness get in the way. Let the police find out who had shot her. It was probably some crackpot who had decided she was the cause of all his problems. She had to live. She had to work. There were too many people depending on her. Allie was depending on her. She would get through this as she had all the other barriers she’d had to leap.
Get over the pain. Heal. Get back to work.
. . . . . . . . . .
“Tough nut,” Gonzalez murmured as Detective Finley came out of Rachel Kirby’s room. “She looked like a broken angel lying there until she opened her mouth.”
“An angel she’s not,” Finley said emphatically. “But we need to know what else she could be. Call the president of the university and get a report on Rachel Kirby and her work here.”
“I already called him and made an appointment.” He handed him a few sheets of paper. “This is the initial report on her, Simon Monteith, and Val Cho. Nothing about her work at the university, just the bare bones. That last line is interesting. They have top secret government clearance.”
“For the work they’re doing?”
“Why else? It has to be something to do with that huge computer in the Science lab. From what I’ve heard that computer has a capacity that the Pentagon would envy.”
“Get me details.” He scanned the report and then headed for the waiting room. “Are Simon Monteith and Val Cho still waiting to see her?”
Gonzalez nodded. “They said they’d wait until she was well enough for them to see her. They seem upset. They must be pretty close to her.”
“Then it must go only one way,” he said sarcastically. “She said the reason she didn’t want them shot was because she’d have to replace them. She’s a real sweetheart.” He was glancing at the scanty info on Rachel Kirby. “Unmarried, parents dead, one sister, Allie, two years younger. Send a car to set up surveillance on the sister.” He’d tried to bluff Rachel Kirby but if there was a chance her family was in danger, it was his job to protect them. And Rachel had known he would do his job. Even in her pain she had been able to see through him, dammit.
And Gonzalez was right, he realized, as he entered the waiting room. The young man and woman who worked with Rachel Kirby seemed genuinely worried. They were both in their twenties, dressed in jeans and sweaters and were very different in appearance. Simon Monteith was big and muscular with blue eyes and close cropped sandy hair. Val Cho was obviously of Asian descent, medium height, dark haired, dark eyes, and strikingly attractive.
“I’m Detective Finley. I’d like to ask you a few questions.”
“We don’t know anything,” Val Cho said flatly. “Don’t waste your time talking to us. Get out there and find the son of a bitch who shot Rachel.”
“Easy,” Simon said gently. “He has to follow procedure, Val.”
Finley sized up Val for a moment. “A bit defensive, aren’t you? Got a problem with authority?”
Simon turned to the detective. “You might be too, if you’d spent the first ten years of your life in a North Korean concentration camp.”
“I don’t need you to make excuses for me, Simon,” Val said curtly. She looked the detective in the eye. “Are we under suspicion?”
“No, we’ve checked and you were both in your lab when the shooting occurred. I thought you might have an idea who might have done it. Dr. Kirby wasn’t willing to cooperate.” He paused. “And she was a little belligerent.”
“You must have caught her in a good mood,” Simon said lightly. “She’s usually more than a little. Particularly when she’s feeling helpless.”
“Is that why she said there were people wanting to kill her?”
“Nah. Who kills someone because they’re testy? Look, they let you talk to her. Can you get them to let Val and me in to see her? She’ll feel better if she knows we’re keeping things running.”
“And what do you do in that lab? I understand it houses one of those supercomputers.”
“It’s not a supercomputer in the traditional sense. But still, Jonesy could eventually have the capacity to run the entire country.”
“Just our nickname for the computer. Matthew Alvin Jones donated the computer to the university. When you live and work with a computer as intimately as Val and I do, it becomes almost a person to you.”
“I wouldn’t think anyone could become intimate with a computer.”
“You’re wrong. You should see Rachel working with it. She can make it do tricks that are pretty amazing. It’s almost an extension of her.”
“And what do you do in that lab?” he repeated.
Monteith chuckled. “Well, we’re not trying to undermine Wall Street or concocting biological weapons. We just process and allocate data.”
He glanced down at the dossier. “Then why would you give up an offer at AT&T that would have put you on a very lucrative fast track?”
“Money isn’t everything. I like university life. Lots of beer parties and football games. It’s relaxing.”
Val snorted. “For God’s sake, stop hedging, Simon. If you don’t want to tell him, don’t do it.” She looked Finley in the eye. “It’s a good job with potential to develop into something extraordinary. We’re both learning a hell of a lot from Rachel and we’re grateful. Yes, she’s tough as nails, but she has to be. She doesn’t deserve some nut trying to kill her.”
He leafed through the dossiers. “Her report says she received her PhD in Computer Science when she was fifteen and her Doctorate in Medicine at twenty. Impressive. She worked in Japan for four years before she returned to the U.S. You were working in a government lab in Yokohama during that period. Is that where you met?”
“And later she pulled strings and brought you over here when she started working here at the university. You must be grateful.”
“No, Rachel doesn’t accept gratitude as a concept.” She smiled faintly. “She says it gets in the way. The giver tends to feel sanctimonious and the receiver feels a tinge of resentment at owing a debt. She brought me here because she wanted to do it. I came because I wanted to do it.”
“Why, you? Why not a U.S. student?”
“I’m brilliant.” She glanced blandly at Simon. “And look what she got when she hired Simon.”
“A bonanza,” Simon said. “Not a Madam Butterfly who thinks she’s a Nobel Prize candidate.”
“Madam Butterfly was Japanese.”
“Whatever.” Simon turned back to the detective. “Can you get us in to see her?”
“Maybe. She said she wanted to see you. Why do you have to have security clearance to work in the lab?”
“Ask Rachel.” He stood up. “And you know the reason I have security clearance is because I’m not a blabbermouth. Now will you get me in to see her?” He paused. “It’s important.”
Val took a step closer, her hands clenched into fists. “I know she probably made you angry. She has to wheel and deal so much that she has a tendency to be blunt as hell when she lets down her guard. But Rachel has to juggle problems you couldn’t even imagine. Give her a break.”
“Give me a break. I have my captain hot on my ass to find who this shooter is. Who’s to know if that sniper might not decide to choose another target? School shootings are a nightmare. Every parent of every student at the university will be on the phone wanting to know why he wasn’t caught and why we didn’t know this was going to happen. I’m walking around in the dark and I don’t like it.” He paused. “So you get me out of hot water and give me something to tell me my captain and I’ll get you into see her.”
Val hesitated. “What do you want to know? We have no idea who shot her.”
“Too many candidates?”
“Maybe thousands. I’m not joking. We get thousands of applicants who want us to dole out processing power to their research. We might make or break careers. To some of these people, it may even be a matter of life or death.”
“Processing power? I still don’t know what the hell you’re talking about. It can’t be that important.”
“Believe me, it’s that important.”
“And what exactly do you do in that lab?”
Val spoke simply, as if talking to a child. “You know the expression “two heads are better than one?”
Finley nodded. “Of course.”
“Think about how much better three hundred thousand heads would be. Because that’s what we have.”
“People all over the world let us use their computers when they’re not using them. They do this by installing a small program that lets us send and receive data to and from their systems. Our computer, Jonesy, divides up problems and distributes them through the internet to these thousands of smaller computers.”
Finley nodded, trying to understand. “So you’ve got all these other computers working together on the same problem.”
“Exactly. We get people to donate their computer’s processing power to our projects. We measure this power in terms of computing cycles. The more cycles we can get, the better.”
Simon smiled. “And it’s not just from computers. Tell me, do you have children?”
The detective’s eyes narrowed on him. “Yeah. A boy.”
“Does he have a game console at home? Nintendo, X-Box, Playstation?”
“There’s more computing power in that box than most businesses have. If the owners of those game consoles agree to leave them powered on and connected to the internet even when they’re not being used, they can let us use their processing power – their computing cycles -- for all kinds of projects.”
“And you get them to donate the use of their computers?”
Val nodded. “Absolutely. It costs them nothing, except maybe a few cents in electricity. And Rachel’s software is designed to only use the donor’s systems when they’re not being used for anything else. We use computing power from home users, businesses, anywhere we can get it. And they get to be a part of all kinds of worthwhile causes. It’s a win-win.”
“What kind of causes?”
“All kinds of things, but it’s fantastic for disease research. In one of our projects, we’re examining millions of tissue sample images and comparing them with cancer patient diagnoses and disease progressions. It might help detect cancers earlier and maybe even help cure some types. It’s also useful for comparing DNA strands with certain traits and diseases.”
"So you deal mostly with healthcare projects?”
“Not at all. Jonesy is also helping to develop alternate energy sources. Another project will combat global warming. And by analyzing meteorological patterns over the last fifty years, we’ll be able to forecast the weather with more accuracy than ever before. These are projects that might take years with a traditional mainframe computer, but with the help of your kid’s Playstation computing cycles, it might only take a few months in our system.”
“Who chooses the projects?”
“Rachel. And only Rachel. It was part of her deal. The university isn’t as interested in the good works projects as it is in Rachel’s software. It could revolutionize computing.”
“But haven’t people been doing this already?”
“Not this well. There have always been several weak links in the chain, and Rachel has come up with solutions for almost all of them. Complicated problems need to be divided up, distributed to thousands of computers, then recombined. It’s a tough thing to do.”
“Unless you’re Rachel Kirby, I guess.”
Val shrugged. “She’d say it’s tough, too. But her solutions are brilliant. Her software detects the computing potential of each of the thousands of systems and adjusts for the amount and complexity of calculations parsed out to them.”
“Why the government clearance?”
“Rachel was forced to accept a government project from the NSA. They needed the computing time.”
“Couldn’t they commandeer it?”
“Yes, but they didn’t want to go through regular channels. Jonesy had the power and privacy.”
“What kind of power?”
“Right now, I’d say we control more computer power cycles than the government computer systems in all of Western Europe combined.”
“My God.” Finley and Gonzalez looked at each other in surprise. Finley asked, “And Rachel Kirby is head of this program?”
“She is the program. She persuaded the university to let her run the lab when she heard it was being donated. They get the praise and prestige and she does the work. She goes out and gets contributions to fuel the computer. Every medical and scientific organization in the world would give their eyeteeth to be accepted by Rachel. She only accepts ten a year.”
“Including a government think tank from the NSA.”
“She had no choice. They were pressuring the university and we have to have Jonesy.”
“And possibly the shooter could have been someone who didn’t want this government project to succeed?”
“Maybe. You could say that about most of the projects. Someone always has an axe to grind or a slight to avenge.” Simon said impatiently, “You can tell your captain that. Now will you get them to let me see her?”
Finley hesitated and then turned on his heel. “I’ll do what I can.”IRIS JOHANSEN is the New York Times bestselling author of Pandora’s Daughter, Quicksand, Killer Dreams, On the Run, Countdown, Firestorm, Fatal Tide, Dead Aim, No One to Trust and more. She lives near Atlanta, Georgia.