Monday, November 9, 2015


Hey, diary. Sorry I didn't write anything yesterday. Nothing personal. Just, nothing especially noteworthy happened. I considered a fantasy novel of my own. Like a cooler version of Lord of the Rings. I watched a lot of TV. I was two years behind on all my favorite shows. I was glad to see that the finale of How I Met Your Mother was immensely satisfying, instead of negating the entire show.
Well, if yesterday was uneventful, I made up for it today.
At six twenty-three, Joanne opened my door. Not using the keycard, but by firing bullets at the hinges. I saw her, covered in blood, and holding that gun. Sam wasn't in sight. "Joanne, did you-"
"No. Sam was going to transfer me to some buyer. The deal went south, and..."
"He was shot. Is he still alive?"
"I don't know."
"I see. Well, unless he told you the passwords to disarm the cyanide capsules in our arms, we have some work to do. Also, don't use guns to unlock doors. Eventually, you're going to get hit by shrapnel." Some women just don't have common sense.

As Joanne and I unscrewed the hinges of Gabe's door, I tried to get to know her. She was in her early fifties. "I had a husband once," she said. "But we began drifting apart long before anyone had heard of M.AD.N.E.S.S."
"How long have you had it?"
"Oh, about seven years."
"I've had it for two and a half."
"And your brother?"
"Found out about it five days ago, although he has had it significantly longer than that."
"What were you like... before," she asked.
I finished unscrewing the top hinge. "Frankly, I was a bit of an airhead. People said that I had the looks, and Gabe had the brains. Which was a bit offensive, because Gabe was no genius either."
The door opened. "Excuse me," my brother said. "I was extremely bright. I simply chose not to apply myself."
"Sure," I said. "Keep telling yourself that."
"What about you," Gabe asked Joanne. "What were you like?"
"I... I don't really know what I was like. I wasn't really like anything, I guess. Never really did much. Never really loved anyone, or anything. Just sort of let my life drift by. Until one day, I got curious about where wind comes from. So I started reading and reading, and I couldn't stop. Around the third day, I realized what I was. A dirty rotten mook."
There was a pause. "You really shouldn't say that word," Gabe said.
"Why not. I'm a mook. A mooky mooky mook."
"Hey," I said. "Maybe instead of spouting epithets, we could go break Daniel out of his room."

"Alright," I said. "We have seventeen hours and four minutes before cyanide capsules in our arms kill us all. So, here is what is going to happen. Daniel and I are going to go into Sam's lab, and see what we can learn about the capsules, and if we can find a way to neutralize them. Gabe and Joanne, explore the house. If you find money, take it. If you find what looks to be useful information, take it. If you find what looks to be dangerous technology left lying around the house..." I paused. "Use your best judgment."
Daniel and I descended into the depths of Barton's home. We went over the laboratory, until we found the want Sam had used to dispense the capsules. There were three capsules left inside.
"What should we do," Daniel asked.
"These capsules are supposed to be tamper-proof. But nothing can be proof against all forms of tampering. So I say we take one apart, figure out how it works, and figure out how to fool it. Then, we use the other two to test our ideas on whatever unfortunate rodents we can find. Sound like a plan?"
"Actually, first, let's get some X-rays of this. That way we'll have a better idea what we're looking at."
We scanned it. "Actually," Daniel said, "if we scan it from a few more angles, it would be trivial to write up a program to draw up a 3-D structure. Ought to be helpful."
I did the scans while he banged out the code.
"Looks good," I said, as he whizzed through a 3-D map on a computer screen.
"Mostly just hacked together stuff I found online," he said. "Its more code than I could actually write out in the fifteen minutes allotted to me."
We discussed what we thought the various components did. "Okay," I said. "I think we're ready to take this bad boy apart."
We proceeded to take that bad boy apart.

"Okay," I said. "What have you come up with?"
"I was imagining we could hit it with a laser. But I don't think you could calibrate the intensity so it denatures the cyanide but doesn't burn your arm off."
"I was thinking electricity. I'm wondering if we could melt the circuitry."
"Oh," Daniel said. "Good idea. Hold on. Could you put the capsule back together while I run some simulations?"
"Sure," I said. "Why do we need to reassemble it?"
"Just to run some more test. I'd rather get some experimental numbers in addition to calculating every single resistance theoretically."
"Of course." Should have been obvious.
Daniel was a very impressive coder, I had to give him that. And it seemed like his mathematical talents extended far beyond merely calculating sums in his head. I watched him bang out algorithms as I went over the capsules with a multimeter. The numbers were consistent across all three, which was good. And Sam had some very good equipment down there.

"We've got a few minutes while this code runs," Daniel said. "So I have a question. It took you about half a second to  decide that you and I were going to be doing this. Why did you pick me."
"Two reasons. First of all, I wanted you here because you're good, and your skills complement my own. Second of all, I realized that there was a good chance someone down here would mess up. And I'd rather you inhale a poisonous gas than Gabe."
"Fair enough," Daniel said.
"Now, I have a question for you. What did you do to get into J. S. Greenberg?" Did you really try to build an atomic bomb?
"It's a long story."
I glanced at the computer. "Looks like you have four minutes to tell it."
Daniel sighed. "I was diagnosed three years ago. But I was high-functioning. I could blend in. I wasn't a danger to anyone. I... I took my talents to Wall Street. I made little bit of money. No, that's a lie. I made a total of $211,836,394.34. After tax."
"That is not a little bit of money," I agreed.
"I just liked to study the market, and making piles of money was the natural consequence of that. I didn't want to let if affect my life. My wife felt differently. And after my M.A.D.N.E.S.S. diagnosis was upped to level 3... she was my legal guardian. So she had me committed, and last I heard she was living in the Cayman islands."
"So, when we were gambling..."
"I didn't want to win. I had won plenty of money in my life. I got out of that game as soon as possible. Just like I should have done with the stock market. And my marriage."
"That's... the most heartbreaking thing I've ever seen... since the finale of How I Met Your Mother. It's so sweet how even after she dies, Ted still loves her. He doesn't go after Robin, or anything silly like that."
"Of course," Daniel said. "Why would he go after Robin? That would negate the entire show."
I smiled at him. "You know what, Daniel. I hope you don't breathe in cyanide vapor."
"You too, Allegra."

The four of us met up again. "As these extremely unhappy rabbits can attest, we know how to remove the cyanide capsules. Caveat: it involves being tased in the arm."
"Always wanted to be tased standing up for MAD rights," Gabe said. "This sort of counts." Gabe turned to Joanne. "Want to show off what we found?"
"Some money."
"Wow, Joanne. Way to sell it. You can see them trembling with excitement after hearing a description like that. Lady and gentleman, around this house, we found a total of over fifty thousand dollars. It seems our dear captor was not vigilant about keeping track of his cash."
"So it appears," I said.
"But wait! There's more. We also found enough guns to triple the arsenal of Papua New Guinea."
Daniel raised eyebrow.
"We found two guns. And I hotwired one of his cars. And the entire contents of all of his computers is on this flashdrive, decrypted as much as I could muster. Not much we would find useful, but still."
"Nice job, Gabe."
"Thank you, Allegra." He turned to Joanne. "And that, my dear partner, is how you show off your stuff."
"Okay," I said. "Well, once I finish cutting disable cyanide capsules out of everyone's arms, we need to move. Sam knows where we are. Which means that whoever is holding him knows where we are, if he is still alive. That means where we are is not a safe place to be. So, Gabe, while I perform surgery on Joanne, I want you to select a crappy motel."
"Why crappy? We have eight thousand dollars."
"We have no idea how long that will have to last. And no five-star resort is going to accept that much cash regardless."

So, at six twenty two, my arm still wrapped in a bandage from a surgery I had to perform on myself while looking in a mirror using only local anesthesia, having just driven across Boston after two years of not driving, I pulled into the parking lot of the Cambridge Star, a half-star motel in the suburbs. Joanne and I went out to buy some groceries. "Okay," I said. "We now have our freedom. Let us have a feast to celebrate. Does anyone here know how to cook as well as Sam."
The answer, as it turned out, was a resounding no.

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