This first chapter is mostly scene setting and explanation. Things will begin to heat up in the following chapters
I. In the Beginning
My name is James, and I love really old houses. The architectural oddities, secret rooms and passages, and the sense of living history have always fascinated me. Our home was no exception. My family had owned, worked and lived on the land as far back as anyone could tell. The old rambling house sat on about five hundred acres of what was currently rolling meadows and a large wood lot close to the Welsh coast.
I spent a good deal of my early years exploring the 'big house', out buildings and the property in general. My Great grand father would ramble on for hours at night by the fire about the history of the house and lands. Every time he mentioned some old feature of the property I'd have to go find it for myself. I explored the ruins of old stone buildings, caves, and a scattering of almost prehistoric mining sites. He took me down into the cellars and showed me an old narrow passage that led to an group of unused underground rooms he referred to as the 'dungeons'. I remember being disappointed that there were no chains on the walls or tiny dark cells for prisoners. There was an even narrower Atairway that led to a door in an old shed at the edge of the gardens.
I talked father into letting me have the 'dungeon' as my own private space.
“As long as you maintain good marks in school.”, was his only condition.
I moved an old table and chair down there to use as a desk as well as a comfortable reading chair. At first I used a couple of kerosene lamps to light the area, but soon contrived to wire in lights and outlets, modernizing the the rooms and making them more comfortable. Needles to say, I was motivated by father's condition and actually spent most of my time down there in study. I also used the dungeon to hide a small but growing collection of porn.
As a teenager I pursued an eclectic group of hobbies; archery and bow making, iron work, metal casting, electronics, computers, and probably dozens of others. Just after graduating from what most would call high school, I found a project that would change my life forever.
I reasoned that, if one could monitor the electrical activity of the brain, more sensitive sensors might be able to read actual information from a living brain and as a working corollary information might be able to be inserted into the brain. I developed a mesh of sensors that could pick up signals from the entire brain when worn like one of those medieval skull caps you sometimes see in old pictures. Soon, with aid of my bank of computers working in parallel, I could read significant amounts of information from my own brain.
I needed another brain to read to refine the process, but did not want to involve my parents at this point. I thought about my small, almost nonexistent, circle of friends. The only name that seemed to fit was Jennifer, a frequent lab partner, and who was almost as much of a propeller head as I was. I figured 'come to my dungeon laboratory' might be a poor approach.
So, I gave her a call and asked her for a date to see the new super hero movie playing at the town cinema. Being at loose ends until she went to university, she agreed to a mid week date and we soon had details worked out.
At about 7:00, Wednesday evening, I pulled up to Jennifer's house in my old Ford Anglia. Jennifer met me at the door. She was a petite blond, and while not voluptuous, her small breasts and narrow waist gave her a very nice figure. Clear blue eyes and waist length strait blonde hair completed the picture. What I liked most about her was her quiet intelligence, he never had to restate things for her to understand. Tonight she wore a modest white skirt and a knit vest over a long sleeved white blouse.
“We're off, Mum.”, she called over her shoulder as she stepped outside.
“Have fun, kids.”, her mother called back, as she pulled the door closed.
“Still driving your old Potter car?” she commented as she saw the car at the curb.
“It runs.”, I answered dryly.
We made small talk on the way to the cinema, once there, we bought popcorn and drinks and found our seats. Being mid week, the cinema was sparsely attended and we had no one sitting close by. We continued to make small talk until the lights went down and the previews started to roll.
I had a plan to pique her curiosity.
The last thing I said as the sound came up was, “I have a new project going, you should . . . Whoops, it's starting!”
Then I made a point of 'shushing' her every time she started to ask a question.
Two and a half hours later, as we were walking out she pulled me out of the Queue.
“What new project?”, She demanded.
“Hold on, I need to hit the loo.”, I walked quickly into the loo, leaving her standing there, fuming.
I took my time, knowing that she could not suppress her curiosity. When I came out, Jennifer was nowhere to be seen. I looked around the lobby and peered out through the front windows, looking for her. Just as I was beginning to think I might have overdone the curiosity baiting, Jennifer walked quickly from the girl's loo and made a bee line to me.
“What new project?” she demanded again, threading her arm through mine and hanging on tightly.
As we walked out I began to explain.
“You know how an EEG can record brain activity?”
“Uh Huh.” she replied.
“Well, I've been working on the sensitivity.”
“ I think I've taught my computer to read minds.”
“What?”, she squeaked, “No way!”
“If you have some time, I can show you.”
“Let me call Mum.”, she replied as she pulled out her phone.
As she talked to her mother, I drove slowly toward her house, just in case the answer was 'no'.
“Okay,”, she said as she finished her call, “as long as I'm home before midnight.”
“Shouldn't be a problem.”, I said as I turned to get on the road out to my house.
“So, how does it work?”.
“Well, I made a fine mesh with hundreds of sensors that covers the entire head.”
“I feed the data through a bank of sixteen computers working in parallel to correlate and interpret. Then, when that's done it prints out a summary of the results.”
“Does it work?”
“Well, it seems to work on me, but I need more varied input to fine tune the algorithms.”, I said.
There was a longish pause.
“You want to, uh, hook me up to this, uh, thing?”She almost stammered.
“Hey, it's safe. I've done hundreds of runs on myself.”, I tried to reassure her.
“We'll see. I want to look this thing over first.”
She settled into silence for the rest of the drive.
When we arrived, the house was dark except for a dim orange glow from one upstairs window.
“Looks like mother and father are in for the night.” I muttered as I pulled the car around the back of the house, stopping next to the dilapidated garden shed.
“We're not going in?”
“We are, but this is my private entrance.”, I grinned at her, “You'll see.”
I dug a key out of my pocket and unlocked the door. Reaching in I fumbled for the light switch. A soft dim light sprang on and I led her through the doorway. I stopped to close the door and lock it, then with another key I unlocked a second door and again fumbled for the light switch. This light was brighter and reveled a narrow staircase.
“Go on down.”, I told her as he turned off the dim light above and stepping through, closed and locked the second door.
“James, this is getting creepy.”, she said as she started down.
“Just watch your step. It will be alright.”
At the bottom of the stairs was a stone arch. And a small pool of light cast by the lights in the stairway.
“Switch on your right.” I told her.
The light sprang on, reveling a room of contrasts. Gleaming chrome wire shelving loaded with electronic equipment all but covered a wall on bumpy dressed stone blocks. An old, but serviceable sofa was against the far wall next to another stone arch. Opposite the shelves was a wide workbench littered with more electronic gear. The floor was cover by a thick carpet and two comfortable looking chairs. The lighting was a double row of fixtures bathing the room in bright light with just the faintest tinge of yellow.
“Welcome to my laboratory.”, I said,using the old European pronunciation “Gramps used to call this 'the dungeon'.”.
“Wow.”, she breathed, “Just like some mad scientist's lair.”
“Except for the lack of killer robots, yeah, I guess it does.”, I said with another grin, “have a seat.”, I waved toward one of the chairs.
I dropped into the other chair and switched on a pair of large computer monitors.
“So, how does this all work?”, she asked with an all inclusive wave of her hand.
“Well,” I said picking up something that looked like a hair net from the bench.
“First, you put on the head set,”, I slipped the net over my head, “then plug it in,”, I attached a thick bundle of fine wires via a complex looking plug.
“When the computers are up and running, just hit the 'record' key and concentrate on something.”
“Show me.” Jennifer demanded.
Setting the headset aside I rose and walked over to the rack of gear and started pressing power buttons. As each computer started, a small screen lit up with a one word message, 'Startup' at the end of the rack he turned on another monitor that showed a network diagram of sixteen nodes. The nodes were all red. As the small individual screens changed their message to 'ready', the nodes of the diagram changed to yellow. After a few seconds the message changed again to 'connected' and the diagram nodes turned green. The entire process only took a couple of minutes.
“Go over there and pick out a book,”, I said, waving toward the end of the shelves.
Jennifer rose and walked to the shelves. She began to examine the stacked books, then quickly pulled out an old thick book from the bottom of the stack.
“A Bible?” she asked.
“Gramps gave me that years ago. He said if I was stuck, it might help.”
“Ever read it?”, she asked.
“No, never felt I needed to. Why?”
“I believe you,”, she chuckled waving a pair of crisp one hundred pound bank notes.
“What the . . .”, I trailed off.
I took the old Bible from her and quickly fanned through the pages, finding several more bank notes. I quickly counted them.
There's twenty five hundred pounds here!”, I cried, then softly he added, “Thanks Gramps.”
“Well, you obviously never opened it.”, She said. “now what?”
“Pick a passage.”
She opened the Bible at random and handed it back to me. I sat back down in my chair, put the headset back on and clicked a screen icon. While waiting for the selected program to finish loading, I turned on the printer under the bench. A window opened with something like basic music player controls. I sat and read the passage several times, closed my eyes for a moment, trying to read the passage back from memory. I had to read the passage several more times, but soon had it down. I reached for the mouse and clicked on the 'record' button. I closed my eyes to shut out distractions and concentrated.
After about a minute I snapped my eyes open and reached for the mouse again. to click on the 'stop' button then move over to another section of the screen and clicked a button labeled 'process'. The cooling fans on the bank of computers across the room quickly spooled up to a soft whine as a progress bar appeared and crawled across the screen. After a couple of minutes the screen displayed 'finished', I clicked on another button labeled 'interpret' and almost at once clicked on 'print'.
T he printer started to make typical printer noises and then went quiet after a few seconds.
“Read with me.”, I said, handing her the sheet without looking at it.
I reopened the Bible and read:
“Let the words of my mouth,
“and the meditation of my heart,
“be acceptable in thy sight,
“O Lord, my strength, and my redeemer.
Jennifer mouthed the words with him.
“Wow, that's freaky.”
“Want to try it?”, I asked.
“It's safe, right?”
“Okay, what do I do?”
“Just sit there, what do you want to read?”
“No, that's alright, I have something in mind already”
As I gently placed the headset over her straight blond hair, she seemed to give a little shiver. Must be a little nervous, I thought. Turning to the monitor on the bench, I cleared the last run of the program.
She took a deep breath and with a slight nervous quaver said, “go.”
I clicked 'record', “concentrate.”
I watched a small flashing icon labeled 'Activity'. After a couple of minutes it slowed to what I considered an idle state.
“Okay,” I said, clicking 'process', “I think we got what ever it was.”
Jennifer opened her eyes and looked at the screen. The progress bar crawled slowly across the screen much more slowly than before.
“What were you thinking about?” The Magna Carta?”I asked with a smile.
“Processing time is mainly a function of the amount of data.”
After several minutes the processing was done. I clicked appropriate buttons and soon the printer started. The printer stopped after three sheets.
“What the heck . . .”
At the top of the first sheet sheet was:
“Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
“Did gyre and gimble in the wabe:
“All mimsy were the borogoves,
“And the mome raths outgrabe.”
T he rest and the second and third sheets were filled with gibberish.
“Well, Lewis Carol came out fine but the rest of this is trash.” I pronounced, “What do you make of this?”
We puzzled over the sheets.
“You know,” said Jennifer, “this looks a lot like one time when I tried to print a picture as a text file.”
You might be right,” I replied as he turned back to the screen and started clicking icons and moving thing here and there. Soon another 'processing' progress bar was crawling across the screen.
“Pictures take too long to print,” I said, “I'll put it on screen.”
While the picture, if that's what it was, was processing, Jennifer went back to the pile of books perusing the titles and nodding to herself when she recognized a familiar title or author.
I watched the picture render to the screen line by line. Something about this picture looked very familiar. After a few more lines I realized that, for some reason, the picture was sideways or maybe inverted top to bottom. I craned my head around to get a better perspective. Suddenly the picture became clear to me. I frantically closed the render window and looked at Jennifer where she was still engrossed in the book pile. I thought quickly, considering the source and subject matter of the picture, mentally re-evaluating my friend and sometime lab partner.
“Hey, Jenn?” I said to get her attention.
When she turned to look at me, I was almost tongue tied.
“What's wrong?”, she asked, “you look like you just saw a ghost.”
“Jenn, do you . . . like me?”, I stammered.
“Of course”, she said, “you're one of my best friends.” She seems suddenly nervous.
“Well, you know the picture the computer got from your mind?”
“Yes . . .”, she replied cautiously.
“Well, I saw it, and I need you to remember, it came from your mind.”
As she walked over I turned again and opened to picture, quickly flipping it, and pointedly looked away. Jennifer was in shock, there on the screen was a picture of her and I in an obviously passionate embrace. Oddly, while the faces were quite clear and recognizable, the bodies in the picture were vague fleshy blurs.
“How . . .” she stammered, blushing furiously.
I could tell the picture upset her, so I quickly closed the image, and swallowing nervously, I turned to Jennifer.
“Jenn, can you tell me what you were thinking when we tried the machine?”
We sat in nervous silence, neither quite willing to actually face the other.
Jennifer took a deep shaky breath and spoke in a small voice, “James, I've liked you for a long time and lately I think I've started to love you, but you never seemed to feel anything for me . . .” her voice trailed off
I turned to look at her, my mouth hanging open. This was almost exactly what I felt about her.
“Jenn,” I stammered, “I like you too, but . . .”his voice trailed off.
Jennifer sat with her eyes looking at the floor, in a shy voice she said, “I was thinking you might have brought me here to . . . do . . . 'things'.”
I stood and stepped in front of her. I held out my hands to her and she slowly placed her hands in mine. I lifted her hands gently and she stood up, still not looking at me. I dropped her left hand and gently lifted her chin until we were looking into each others eyes. Her face was as red as I'd ever seen it.
“I think I'm a prize idiot,” I said softly and began to pull her into a hug.
Jennifer's arms went around my waist, locking me into a fierce hug. I responded in kind and for long moments we just stood there. I leaned down toward her lips and felt her rise onto her toes as she lifted her lips to mine.
The kiss started as a soft and tentative exploration, but soon turned into a fiercely demanding encounter.
I pulled back a little, breaking the kiss. I guided her gently to the sofa. I sat down and pulled her to my lap, sitting her sideways as we resumed kissing. Our hands seemed to be leading a life of their own, gently exploring each other's bodies. I gently cupped one, incredibly soft breast, producing a gasp as she ran her hands across my chest and shoulders. Some timeless interval later when we came up for air, we sat absolutely still looking into each others eyes.
Jennifer broke eye contact, with a shudder.
“We need to . . . uh . . . slow down . . .” she said, “we need to . . . think . . . or plan . . . or something . . .”
With a grinding of mental gears, I took several deep breaths and looked around to get my bearings.
“Yeah.” I admitted, “we need to stop, for a little while . . .”
“What time is it?” she asked, I told Mum I'd be home by twelve.”
I slid her to the sofa and stood to get a better view of one of the computer screens.
“Quarter past eleven,” I let out a heavy sigh of frustration and disappointment, “I guess I better be getting you home.”
“I think you are going to need a lab partner for your project,”, she said with a mischievous grin.
“I agree, but right now you need to get yourself together before we go.”
Jennifer looked down, noticing for the first time that her sweater and blouse were bunched up almost into her armpits exposing her lacy white bra. She quickly straightened her clothes while I tucked in my own shirt and began shutting down the computers. We stayed very close to each other with many frequent touches as if to reassure ourselves that the other were there. The stairs and doors were especially awkward, but we finally reached the car. I handed her into the passenger seat and all but ran around the car to get behind the wheel. On the way she slid over and cuddled to me as I drove one handed and kept my other arm around her. We made it to her house with two minutes to spare. I walked her to her door and with a deep kiss and a fierce hug she slipped through the door giving me a wistful smile.