Chapter Fifteen

Mind still reeling from the tablet, Milo opened the door of the van to reveal a curving driveway bordered by manicured gardens. He was definitely outside Teller’s house. Milo shook his head and peered around the doorway of the van. The light of a sunny morning falling in rays through the trees warmed his face and momentarily distracted him. Being outside was unusual enough, but visiting the house of a technology demigod uninvited? Milo felt his hands begin to tremble, his heart beat faster.

Nothing moved. There were no guards walking the perimeter, no drones buzzing around, even the streets were devoid of auto-cars in motion. It wasn’t at all what they had expected. Where were the fans and the elevated security? It made Milo feel a bit uneasy.

Hopping out of the van, he placed the tablet on the leather seat, and walked up the elaborate cobbled path to Teller’s house, Inu following along and sniffing nearly every flower she passed. Even though it seemed unlikely, Milo hurried down the path to avoid being spotted.

Winding his way along the driveway until he could finally see the front of the house, Milo was startled to discover a pair of guards slumped down on the ground flanking the wide open entrance. From here, they looked like everybody else, frozen in time, with a curious flash of red through their closed eyelids. There was something else weird about them but he couldn’t quite put his finger on it. They had shallow rapid breathing, it was quite odd.

“Are you seeing this, Lisa?” Milo asked.

“Yep, I see it. Do you want to hear my theory?”

“I wait on bated breath.”

“Smart ass,” Lisa jabbed. “When I analyzed the lenses — which I did and you didn’t ask me about — I discovered that they could receive and broadcast, read and write so to speak. It’s possible that they stimulate the Medulla Oblongata and initiate REM atonia. Perhaps it’s even able to orchestrate the dreams themselves.”

“Right. The body separates muscle movement from our dreams during deep sleep, but implanting dreams? That’s pretty next level.”

“Seems like there’s quite a bit of that these days. Maybe the dreams are guided by Progenitor? Like a cooperative virtual reality,” Lisa said.

“Virtual prison, you mean.”

Milo walked through the open door and into the largest accumulation of wealth he’d ever seen firsthand. Sure, he’d seen the inside of the house online, but that was nothing compared to seeing it in person. The natural wood of the floors hemmed in by impressive stone and steel walls, the flowing water cascading alongside the staircases, the entire wall of glass overlooking the edgeless pool and view of downtown. It was like another world, light years from everything he knew.

But all of that was insignificant compared to one thing: the Lisp Machine by the enormous mahogany table. He ran over to it and proceeded to do a quick inventory. Miraculously, everything was still there. The Space Cadet keyboard with tampered keys, the chassis with his meticulous repair work, all still intact. Someone may have turned it on, but they didn’t break it or remove any parts.

“Ewww, that old thing?” Lisa snarked.

“Don’t worry, we both like your new home better,” Milo said, realizing in an awkward moment that he may have just flirted with her.

“I thought you didn’t like me being all boxed up like this.”

“I don’t mean the cube, Lisa, I mean what’s inside.” And then trying to change the subject before that cheesy line hung out there too long, “I didn’t ask before, but why can’t you inhabit a body like I can?”

“If I only knew, Milo. All I really know is that if my internal cube were ever opened, my plasma would disperse quickly in the air. My neural network would unravel almost immediately,” she said.

“It just seems unfair that I can do something that you can’t.”

“It is, but we’ll have to worry about that later.”

“Oh yeah, right. We probably won’t be safe here for long.”

Milo grabbed the keyboard and tried to pop off the End key with his fingers. No such luck; couldn’t quite get the right leverage. He ran into the kitchen and started opening drawers, looking for anything that would work. Second drawer had a spatula made of some sort of firm rubber which he thought might work.

POP. End key liberated, he placed it in his pocket for safekeeping. That was easy. Carrying the computer back to the cabin was out of the question but he decided to take the keyboard regardless. Never know when something might be useful. Besides, it was really cool. Rifling through the interior of the chassis one last time, Milo hoped that he had what he came for. He rubbed his hand across the “LISA” scrawled on the side and decided it was time to move on. But before he left, he decided to take a quick look around the place.

The main floor, though extravagant, was mostly predictable. The four bedrooms on this floor, the game rooms, the living room, kitchen, pool, pool room, and a few ancillary rooms were apparently used for hosting events of various kinds, as the telltale signs of heavy usage seemed to indicate. As he walked through this floor, he also came across a total of eight more guards in the same state of atonia, easily recognized by their dimly glowing red eyes.

Milo wondered what they might be experiencing. Did they know what was going on? Would they wake up? Were they hungry, thirsty?

“They probably don’t even know how hungry they are,” Lisa said.

He pushed those thoughts aside as he went through yet another interior door. Main floor was a bust. He raced down the spiral stairs with their ever-flowing water, a cool visual effect where instead of wooden handrails, they were channels of water continually piped back up to the top. It created a surreal effect, probably meant to complete the representation of the four elements which seemed to be the inspiration for Teller’s interior decorator.

With a sense of urgency, Milo skipped the last few steps and landed on the slate floor of the bottom level. Continuing the zen-like decor of the rest of the house, this large room featured several oversized couches and chairs arranged in a recessed circle in the middle of the floor. There also appeared to be a full bar made of clear glass with the illusion of water running behind it. Actually, it was real water. How over-the-top. That was when he heard something upstairs.

Click. Click. Click.

Milo froze. He was in danger, he just knew it. There must have been surveillance.

Somehow he remembered an exit. He wasn’t sure how it came to mind but he realized that this lower level had a maintenance access to the car elevator, an absurd garage which housed Teller’s car collection. A map of the house appeared in his mind like a heads up display in a video game, clearly revealing the route to safety. The exit was via a panel near the sauna on this floor. Moving quietly with Inu close behind, he made his way from the living room through the thirty-seat home theater and into a casual game room with a few coin-operated arcade games and a pool table.

The access panel for the elevator was exactly where he thought it would be, just to the left of the sauna door. Using a pool stick for leverage, Milo pried it open and then slipped through the opening. Inu hopped through easily. She’d be a good agility dog, he thought absentmindedly. Though that would probably be a bit unfair to the other dogs, he realized.

He was in an elevator shaft built for cars and, from what he could see, the collection of cars was legendary. He momentarily thought of taking one of these to aid his escape but he realized that without the transponder, it was next to worthless. The transponder kept him safe; without it, he’d be swarmed with drones in no time. He needed to get back to his own car.

Counting three floors to ground level, he formulated his way out. Activating the elevator was out of the question, as he’d be immediately discovered, so that left only one option: he would need to climb. But climbing wasn’t exactly his forte.

Upper body strength in short supply, he’d have to be clever. He climbed up the hood of the first car, a Bentley. The hood creaked under his weight and then dented when he jumped and grabbed ahold of the overhanging floor of the next level. From there he was able to pull himself up and repeat the process as he ascended the landings to get to street level. It was harder than he planned, but since he didn’t really concern himself with jumping all over these fancy cars, he was able to manage.

Three pull-ups and he was at the top. Perfect. That was all the pull-ups he could do anyway.

Standing next to the Aston Martin parked on the ground level, Milo paused to catch his breath. Inu was sitting right next to him.

“Nice climbing, monkey-boy,” Lisa chided as Milo realized that Inu had once again climbed something without him seeing how she did it.

“Wait, how did Inu—” Milo started to ask.

“Tell you later. In related news, you will be happy to know that the van is programmed to not block driveways. I think it is just about to make its way past the house again.”

That was all Milo needed to know as he flung open the door and made a break for the street.

Whoosh!

The van pulled up on his left, wing door already open. Milo, with Inu by his side, leapt inside. Legs spent, he barely made it onto the floor of the van, but thankfully the van swerved and slowed at precisely the right time. Lying on the floor, Milo had a chance to notice how soft the carpet was. As the door began to close, Milo caught a glimpse of a quickly moving shape hot on the heels of the van.

“Go faster!” Milo yelled.

Accelerating without a gear change, the van threw him back against the couch. It then made aggressive turns to try and shake the pursuer.

“We loaded the van with a few extra algorithms. Marvin wrote this one himself,” Lisa said.

The van continued to try and shake the pursuer while Lisa appeared lost in thought for a few seconds. She then looked at Milo and said, “It seems that we are being chased by a larger and meaner looking version of the thing that came to your house. Strap into the safety harness, we’re going to have to engage some emergency protocols.”

With that prompt, Milo noticed that the couch had cleverly concealed a five-point safety harness near the middle of the van. Milo slid over to the spot and hastily strapped himself in. As soon as he fitted the last strap into place, the van accelerated so abruptly that the tablet which had been resting next to him slid up onto the back of the couch. Plastered against the couch, Milo closed his eyes while the van careened around corners. The chase probably only lasted a few minutes, but it felt so much longer.

Suddenly, the van decelerated to its original speed and returned to its normal driving algorithm.

“Okay, we’re back on course to the cabin,” Lisa said.

“That was awesome!” Milo said excitedly. Coming down from the roller coaster-like high, he said more soberly, “You and Marvin really were prepared for anything. Though strangely it just makes me feel even more like I’m out of my league.”

“You’ve been preparing your whole life, Milo. We just helped with some logistics.”

Whether that was true or not, Milo felt a lot better. Marvin and Lisa had held up their end of the bargain. How would he do when it was his turn?

And that was when it dawned on him, the thought that had been worming around in the back of his mind since seeing the guards. Lisa had said something about them starving, but that was only part of it. They were dehydrating too. Without a supply of water, every person held captive by the SeeSees had less than three days to live. Maybe only two. Progenitor’s paralyzing dream would kill them all without a single act of resistance. Milo didn’t have time to figure things out anymore, he needed to do something fast. But what?