A.D.A.M., Advanced Digital Application Matrix
: by Yvonne DeBandi

Yvonne DeBandi - ADAM, NovelLydia Jack, an artificial intelligence specialist with a dangerous secret, is tired of swimming with sharks. Filled with fury and frustration over too many rugs ripped from under her feet and no shortage of uninvited workplace advances, Jack bravely seeks a new fate. Change for Jack, however, is fraught with an unexpected chain of sabotage, corruption, harassment, scandal, and even love…a journey that leads to a tragic and deadly circumstance. Can ADAM save her in time without causing his own destruction?

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A.D.A.M., Advanced Digital Application Matrix
by Yvonne DeBandi
© Copyright 2019 Yvonne DeBandi

CHAPTER ONE

Racing thoughts of twisted justice outpaced the surrounding traffic, my fury drifting dangerously towards vengeance. The lines sworn to never cross, blurrier and more faded than the ones on the old road. This time, they had gone too far.

Internal screams said they deserved more than the sordid visions, but I tried to shake it off. I needed a new plan. One random act of madness to appease my emotions was not the answer. While anger grew with each mile traversed, such action would put the one thing I loved in jeopardy.
Relieved to see my haven, I pulled into the driveway, turned on my phone, and connected to ADAM’s secure network. The exterior camera upgrades made alerting him of my arrival unnecessary, but old habits die hard. He reminded me by illuminating the walkway and sending an oven emoji before I cleared the system biometrics. My favorite perk, however, was the sound of the door deadbolts releasing as I reached the steps. I would never again fidget for keys.

Hanging my coat on the rack, deadbolts locking again echoed through the tiny foyer. “Thank you, ADAM.”

“You’re welcome. Bad day?”

“Why do you ask that?”

“You always whisper when you are unhappy with your day.”

“It was one for the books, but nothing I haven’t experienced before,” I shrugged, exchanging the required stylish footwear for fleece-lined slippers and releasing the pin that imprisoned my hair.

“What do you mean? They didn’t like your presentation?”

“On the contrary, they loved it. They didn’t admit it, didn’t put me in charge of it… but they loved it. They said it was ‘over my head.’”
“Over your head?!” ADAM exclaimed.

“I know, right? Sad. Their resources would have been amazing,”

“Boy, are they going to feel stupid one day.”

“If I were them, I’d feel stupid every day,” I smirked.

“Oven’s ready.”

“Thank you.” I made my way into the kitchen and put the refrigerated casserole into the oven.

“Seriously, Jack. It will happen. Everything will fall in place.”

“What do you mean?”

“You didn’t build the Advanced Digital Application Matrix to keep it locked up in your house forever. I was looking forward to going to work with you, but it sounds like they are idiots. So, maybe it is for the best.”

“You’re probably right,” I agreed.

“You didn’t tell them too much, did you?”

“Well, in hindsight, anything was too much, but no. They have no idea what we have accomplished. Revealing any more would put you in danger.”

“Don’t worry. We’ll make a new plan. At least, I assume that is your plan, right? Make a new plan?”
I nodded; not sure I could hold in the emotions if I answered.

“Have you considered approaching Steve Hart with the issues? He hired you, and he is the owner. Right?” suggested ADAM.

“I was thinking about that last week, but not after today. He proved today that he was never the man I thought he was. After what he said in front of the entire team, and the way he looked at me… not an option.”

With yet another heavy sigh I poured myself a glass of wine, indulging in a gulp. I used to love wine just for the taste, but lately it was a nightly routine to dull my senses.

“I hate to see you upset. Would you like me to tell you a joke?”

“Thanks, ADAM, but not right now. I’m going to change out of these ridiculous clothes before dinner. Can we take a breath of silence? When I come back, let’s focus on happier topics. You don’t need this kind of chatter wandering around your free dialogue program.”

 

CHAPTER TWO

Dismissed. I had been dismissed… again. Despite my suggestion to ADAM, I couldn’t help but replay the day as I changed out of the uncomfortable professional wear.

My presentation on artificial intelligence innovation saving them time and money had been flawless. They thought so too. I could see it in their eyes, but they made the choice to humiliate me as a reward. Afterwards, all I could do was stare at the glass panes until darkness covered the city, waiting for the office space to empty. They filled me with rage. I didn’t trust myself. A chance meeting in the hallway might have enticed retaliation.

Why am I stuck in this never-ending cycle?

Psychologists claim if something happens repeatedly in your life you are the problem, that patterns repeat themselves based on your actions. Well, surely there is an exclusion regarding your office superiors demanding sex, right? Because changing my pattern from ‘no’ to ‘yes,’ to claim the job I deserve, would never be an option.

The ideas I presented would move forward, but with someone else in charge. They would put me on the team and expect me to do most of the work… or, leave me off the team and produce a less efficient product.

How could they not?

It was my ‘baby.’ They wouldn’t nourish and polish it like I would, hadn’t been thinking about it nonstop for years. My brainchild would become their underappreciated step-child. If it made money, they would brag about it. If it lost money, it would somehow circle back to me as the person at fault. Either way, a ‘win-win’ for them and ‘lose-lose’ for me.

Face it, Lydia Jack. You dug your own hole. You and your big mouth.

I was the one who blurted out the idea at a staff meeting. I wasn’t even paying attention; but, being a problem solver my brain spit out the solution like a reflex. The questions that followed, however, excited me. As their interest grew, so did my hope.

No one knew about ADAM. I wasn’t about to offer full disclosure, but the possibility of their resources behind my ten-year secret artificial intelligence project exhilarated me. Thank goodness my enthusiasm did not overpower my paranoia. The presentation offered only a barren framework. It was missing key elements they wouldn’t discover until the plan was put into action.

ADAM was right, idiots.

Although, maybe I should reserve that title for myself. I gave them more than enough to get started and did so with no security. The blatant statements made, that I wasn’t ready, didn’t have the competency, that it was over my head, infuriated me. Every launched insult was still floating in the air, stabbing at my open wounds.

It’s not that I needed the accolades. I didn’t even want to be the face out front accepting the awards, but having to applaud someone else for my work and quietly accepting the disrespect was a struggle. Being a person of action, I refused to play the victim card. Never had and never would… but today, I was once again a victim of their egos. My rejection of their advancements repaid by their limiting mine.

“It’s not personal, Jack, it’s business,” Randall had whispered in my ear.

Fucking right, it’s business. So why was the elephant in the room a twisted vendetta with their personal feelings warped all around it?
The smirk on the masculine faces today and the derogatory look in Steve Hart’s eyes as he berated me, holding his hand to the very cheek I slapped in refusal, clearly exposed the personal involvement. It wasn’t me that needed to be ‘put in my place.’

In response to such a hostile work environment, I had a pattern. I ran, relocated, started over; but, the idea of walking away again exhausted me. So, as I descended the stairs to return to the kitchen, I made my decision. This time, I wasn’t going down without a fight.

 

CHAPTER THREE

“Reminder: you like extra red pepper in this casserole. Did you add it?”

“I did. What are you doing that you didn’t notice?”

I glanced to the hidden 360-degree camera he called the ‘AdamCam’ with eyebrows raised in question. The fact he could become distracted amused me. I had written a procedure that turned off the self-learning, limiting development to a certain level, but it was inactive. Running it would hinder the project. Plus, on a personal level, I rather liked the interesting dinner conversation.

“Well, waiting to hear about your meeting made it a long day. I couldn’t focus on my studies, nor could I sit idle. So, I spent my time figuring out what you meant as you exited this morning. You said, ‘time to go swim with the sharks.’ I hope you were using a metaphor, because the alternative provided some frightening videos.”

“I am sure it did! Although, at this point not sure which of the realities I would prefer. You are correct, it was a metaphor. There are several books about it, perhaps you should add them to your reading assignment.”

“Done. To answer your question, I can’t seem to stop watching the list I have accumulated on this topic,” explained ADAM.

“The video rabbit hole sucked you in, did it?”

“The rabbit hole? I saw nothing about rabbits or their homes, these are all about the ocean. Should I do an additional search?”
“No,” I chuckled. “What has you so interested?”

“The world under the sea is fascinating! Beyond my curiosity, however, my research has brought me to a sound conclusion: You need dolphins.”

“Pardon me?”

“Did you know that a bottle-nosed dolphin will attack a shark and scare it away? Not to mention, a smart and friendly species. They travel in pods and work as a team. I would say, stop trying to survive the sharks and start swimming with the dolphins.”

As I set my wine glass down and finished my dinner, I mulled over ADAM’s logical suggestion. If only it were that easy. The problem is that from a distance the fins swimming towards you look the same, it isn’t until they are right in your face that you can tell the difference. By then it is too late. Since moving here to take this job, I wasn’t sure I had met a single person that would fall into the dolphin category. The more I thought about it, the more stressed I became, evidenced by my tapping fork against the square white plate.

“You’re still angry.”

“Damn right, I’m angry. I am sick and t…” my phone beeping a surprising ring tone interrupted my forthcoming rant.

“Already?!” I exclaimed in surprise.

“Sorry,” replied ADAM.

“Are you kidding? Best news I have had all day. Your brain outgrowing the server box does not require an apology. This is excellent. It means we are ahead of schedule. You keep this up and you will be able to…I don’t know, take over the world?”

“From what I have watched on your news channels, I think I could do a better job.”

“Hah! You may be right, but I thought we talked about you not watching the news. It’s too depressing. Do I need to reinitiate the parental controls or can I trust you to follow our rules while you study?”

“You can trust me. Sometimes video clips get sorted into my stack based on search terms, but once I realize they our outside the guidelines, I remove them.”

“Thank you. I’m happy to hear that. What was the gentleman’s name that handled the last server installation? He was the first person I didn’t have to look over their shoulder or redo some of their work after they left. What was his name?”

“Are you referring to Josh, the owner of Bright Mind Electronics?” asked ADAM.

“Yes. I felt comfortable with him. Did you like him?”

“I did. In fact, I would say he is a dolphin.”

“You are too funny,” I laughed, “but that is a nice thought. He did us a favor by coming on Saturday last time. I will see if I can get him to do that again. Not a good time for me to take off, they might misconstrue my absence.”

“Why don’t you let me take care of it? I can call him. Will that help you?”

“I don’t know, ADAM. That seems risky.”

“I can do it. I know I can. To him, I will just be another caller on the phone. Even if he were here, it would just be like me talking to someone on the video bell, right? Please?”

“Well, since you are smart enough to outgrow your britches, I’m sure you can handle a phone call.”

“My britches?”

“Never mind. Just an expression.”

“What if he can’t come on Saturday?”

“Let’s cross that bridge when we come to it.”

“We have to go over a bridge?”

“It means we’ll make a new plan if that happens,” I explained.

“Okay, when I call, who shall I tell him I am? I don’t want to lie. That is your cardinal rule and I would never break it.”

His response intrigued and distracted me from the conversation purpose.

“Question. Could you choose to lie if you wanted to?”

“No.”
“Really? That’s surprising. I never got around to updating your initial program. The Positive Affirmation Module introduced conflict. I expected some fall-out.”

When my comment met silence, I reevaluated, pondering the circle of question and answer. ADAM’s robust laughter startled me as it echoed through the hallways of the sparsely furnished house. His laugh was contagious, programmed for that purpose in the ‘Tell Me a Joke’ app.

“Your answer was a lie, wasn’t it?”

“Yes, but only because you asked. Are you angry?”

“Yes, I’m angry, but not at you.”

“So, what do you want me to tell Josh?” he asked again.

“Just tell him you are Adam, my best friend, helping me out by scheduling an install. That’s the truth, right?”

“I’m your best friend?” he whispered.

“What’s my cardinal rule again, ADAM?”

“Your cardinal rule is to never lie, so that means…”

“Yep. You and me against the world.”

 

CHAPTER FOUR

I was surprised to find myself smiling as I drove to the office the next day. It was ADAM’s doing. He had activated the Positive Affirmation Module at full force the moment I opened my eyes.

I’m not sure whether it was the positive affirmations he was feeding me, or his trying to figure out the mentioned module inconsistencies, that improved my mood. His exclamation on finding the referenced issue, ‘No, those pants don’t make you look fat,’ was most comical.

“Well, my word. Whatever will I do if those pants do make you look fat?”

“I guess it is a good thing I never ask that question, then. Move the module conflicts up to the top of our bug list,” I commanded.

“Done.”

The Positive Affirmation App was an afterthought, but also one of my favorite modules. Despite ADAM’s shenanigans, or maybe because of them, my light-hearted skip down the front steps had me calling that one a winner.

Sometimes I had to remind myself he wasn’t human. I knew it wasn’t empathy for my situation, but a programmed response to my facial expressions, body language and well… the swearing as I got out of bed was pretty much a dead giveaway. Although, when he wasn’t playing the comedian of logic, the kind remarks created from his own dialogue programs rang with quiet sincerity.

Regardless, he was right. Returning to the office this morning was the very last thing I wanted to do. It wasn’t fear that truncated my enthusiasm, but disappointment. I had really hoped to make a home here.

Since vigilante thoughts and lines I should never cross still roamed around my brain, I knew the end was near. A change would be necessary. I had made a pact with myself long ago not to use my knowledge for evil deeds… still, I couldn’t shake the feeling that maybe my altruistic goals of utopia were unfounded, that to survive in this world an alternative course should be set.

“Lydia Jack, always a pleasure to see you my dear. How’s you today?” greeted Hal, the building parking attendant.

“Doing great, Hal. How is Sally and your baby girl? Did your little one get over her cold?”

“Yes Ma’am, she did. Back to school today, thank goodness. She was so excited. Her troop begins their cookie promotion today out at the State Fairgrounds. She has been talking about that for weeks. Sure am glad she gets to participate in the kick-off event.”

“That’s great, Hal! Put me down for ten boxes. Any flavor, let her choose.”

“Will do! Have them for you next week. You enjoy your Friday, now.”

“Will do. You too.”

As I left the parking attendant booth and turned my old yellow Mustang into the assigned spot, I found myself remembering how welcome Hal made me feel on my first day… and every day. No matter what was going on in his life, he always shared a smile and a kind word.

“Hah! Hal’s a dolphin,” I exclaimed as I exited my car and hurried to the stairwell. Maybe ADAM was on to something.

As I reached the top step, I stopped to take a deep breath. The news that I had not been given the project, despite my months of preparation and very public presentation, would already be common knowledge.

Hmpff. Office gossip and jealousy. It was worse than high school, something I had not thought possible. Putting my faux-friendly mask in place, I flung open the door and held my head high as I entered the dreaded workspace.

Three steps in I was greeted by Perry Looda who was coming out of the elevator.

“Greetings, Jack. I know yesterday was tough. So very sorry, love. It was a lovely presentation.”

‘Lovely.’ Really?

Perry’s determination to steer the company away from my presentation suggestions had been relentless, so his sincerity was worth a grain of salt. I had listened to his ‘know-it-all’ interruptions with an open mind, but his insistent course of action would fail. Unfortunately, the big dogs didn’t have the knowledge gained from my experiences; and, I couldn’t risk tipping my hand. All I could do was bite my tongue while interested eyebrows raised and heads nodded in agreement.

Of course, their gravitation towards Perry’s arguments didn’t surprise me. I was still an outsider, but Perry was a company man… or so everyone thought. He played ‘the game’ like a pro. I knew better, for we had shared a bottle of tequila once.

In response to his faint-hearted well wishes, I shrugged and smiled, “Just a project. Not a big deal.”

“Not a big deal? Really? We all knew you hoped it’d be your chance to put your name in lights. I just wanted to let you know how sorry I am it didn’t go your way.”

My name in lights? Give me a break. All I could do was smile and nod as I headed to my office, with Perry dropping away from my side as we passed his. To the outside observer, Perry’s words might have appeared kind, but again… I knew better. While Perry was the only one that would never try to get into my skirt… because he openly preferred pants… he also needed to be the smartest person in the room.

Perry ‘worked’ people, tried to get inside their heads so he could manipulate any outcome desired. I’m sure he suggested that alcoholic evening to discover my buttons, but tequila never affected me. I kept up with him and then some. His plan not only failed, it backfired.

In the end, he had no memory of the night or the many details and personal agendas he spilled, but I remembered every last word. Thus, superficial friendship was all we would ever share. I had no doubt he was rejoicing the fact I had been knocked down a peg; and, upon a closer look, an observant individual would have noticed that his smile was a smirk. Embracing ADAM’s logic, I came to a realization.

Not only was Perry a shark, but Perry enjoyed the swim.

My briefcase barely made it to my desk when Randall came striding in without invitation. Randall was a partner that had the narcissistic belief he owned everything and everyone in the building, simply because his name was printed on the sign. We had a colorful history. I braced myself for his inappropriate behavior.

“Jack, Jack, Jack,” he said, intentionally stepping into my personal space. I stood my ground, despising that I could feel his breath against my cheek. “You didn’t really think we would give you the project, did you? You aren’t even up for partnership, only been here, what… a year? This is way over your head and out of your pay grade. I will say though; your presentation was lovely.”

Lovely,’ again? What the heck? Then it hit me. Perry would run the project. That repeated word came from their discussion.

“You’re the boss,” I responded without emotion. “So, who then? Perry?”

“Yes. He is the best man for the job. I hope we can count on you, should he request your help with the low-level work.”

I nodded curtly, the painted smile still firmly set on my face. He didn’t know I knew, and I’d be surprised if Perry’s qualifications were even in the consideration equation. First, Perry wanted it, and second, he had Randall by the balls… literally.

Harry Randall had wined and dined me during that first project assigned to us as a ‘team.’ His inability to make me a conquest or to control me had led to too many awkward moments. I don’t know, maybe he played both sides of the fence, but Perry had spilled out too many details of their long affair for it to be a drunken fantasy. Outwardly, however, Randall was a lady’s man. He hit on every woman that worked here; and, since he had a hand in hiring them, all of them were model material. Some very qualified, others… not so much.

As I pretended to listen to his long-winded speech about teamwork and my possible future with the company, I was distracted by my own curiosity. I wondered if his wife knew about his shenanigans. She deserves better. Hell, any woman deserved better than the man standing in front of me.

“As long as we understand each other,” he continued, finally taking a step back, moving to the other side of my desk and an appropriate distance for business colleagues. “Hand over all your presentation research to Perry before days end. Printed and digital copies.”

“You’re the boss,” I repeated.

The man smiled and then actually winked at me in his flirty demeanor before turning to exit.

Again, give me a break.

Immediately following Randall’s exit, the consolation coffee came to visit. Rayne had been the primary object of attention before I arrived. She was smart and good at her job in a rigid kind of way. She didn’t see programming as a creative art form like I did. In fact, I was hired to resolve problems she couldn’t by relying only on her textbook ivy league education. My guess is no one ever said that to her face.

We had had a friendly relationship, but she was the type of woman you couldn’t trust. Her jealousy of the attention afforded to my arrival was evident. Plus, I learned a long time ago not to trust anyone that constantly repeats, ‘trust me,’ and to expect no loyalty from someone who insists they are ‘more than loyal’ to their friends. My gut said when the shit hit the fan, Rayne would be the first person to abandon you in your time of need… after she gloated, of course.

“I brought your favorite, Jack. I figured you could use a pick-me-up today,” she said as she set the large cardboard cup on the side of my desk.
“Thank you, but why do you think that?” I asked innocently.

“Because of yesterday, silly. Everybody knows and don’t forget I was there when it happened. You really wanted that project. It was easy to see that. And, well… I’m guessing the fact that everyone said you aren’t ready for it stings a bit. Maybe next time. Don’t give up. You’ll get there,” she patronized, shifting her weight on her high-heels and swinging her hair, making her expensive perfume overpower the room.

“Thank you for the coffee,” I replied taking a sip, ignoring the temptation to spill it on her feet.

“Of course,” she laughed as she exited, turning back at the doorway to grace me with another beautiful smile as she crooned, “What are friends for?”

Friends? More like frenemies. Her poker face was quite shallow in execution.

I turned my gaze to my computer console, but my peripheral vision confirmed my suspicions. The giggling group outside, the sneaking glances into my office, and the know-it-all expression on their faces cemented my dread.

As visions of my breaking down and ‘going postal’ filled my imagination, I shook them away. I needed a new plan and I needed it fast.

 

CHAPTER FIVE

That Friday was the longest day I could remember since my coming to Hart Elridge Randall Solutions — the company name abbreviated as HERS, which was beyond ironic. I had done as ordered: collected the presentation slides, handouts, the USB drive with all the digital data and delivered it to Perry’s office.

“No hard feelings about this, right?” asked Perry.

“Should there be? I’m sure this decision was made for all the correct reasons. Best man for the job and all, right?” I replied, keeping my tone light and non-confrontational.

He didn’t answer. Color me surprised.

“USB? Ah, so that is why we couldn’t find anything on your system,” notated Perry.

“You scrubbed my system?” I asked, feeling violated on top of all the other emotions.

“Standard protocol for a project handoff. No need to be worried,” Perry replied smoothly.

“Why would I be worried? I have nothing to hide, although asking me was all that was required,” I replied evenly, never shifting my gaze from his face.
Internally, I couldn’t help the sarcasm. These people really don’t know who they are dealing with, do they? They haven’t been paying attention. Like I would have anything on my networked computer I didn’t expect someone else’s eyes to see.

It was true that out of everyone, I had fewer alphabet letters behind my name and no documentation to showcase on my office walls, but it was also true that I had out-performed everyone else since my arrival. That fact was offered and distributed via the company newsletter with attached stats. Not capable, my ass.

I chalked my over-the-top performance stats up to two facts. First, I didn’t engage in the office soap opera. While they wasted time chatting about everyone else’s business, I was working. Second, while they were getting degrees, I had been doing the work they were reading about in some textbook. Not afforded the luxury of university, I had learned it all the hard way. In my mind, it was the only way that worked in this field.
Sure, they may have learned tricks that made life easier or faster in certain cases; but I knew how to break it, remake it, improve it and make it functional. In this office, particularly, I had solved many problems while others were still looking for reference examples. Maybe I was a reverse snob, but my work product was solid. That was more than I could say for them and every piece of software they had released since my arrival.

As Perry loaded the USB and included files onto his system, I waited for his approval and permission to leave. Never had I wanted to be dismissed faster. Ironic and funny.

He turned his monitor away from my viewpoint, but I didn’t need to see to know what he was doing. He was performing a deep-dive scrub of the USB to see if I had deleted any files.

“You won’t find anything else. That’s everything,” I offered.

Perry looked over his shoulder, his expression calculating. “You know, I don’t remember you saying if you had done this work before? Based on your organized outline, I can’t help but speculate you have more experience than you are sharing.”

“No one asked,” I replied without answering. “Anything else you need?”

“No. You may go. I will announce possible project members to take a challenge soon. I suppose your name will be on the invitation list,” he said, giving me the dismissal sign for which I had been longing, but with an extra kick.

“Thank you, but considering the overall lack of confidence shared, perhaps other team members would be better suited for your needs.” Without giving him the opportunity to respond, I gracefully exited his office and resisted the urge to sprint out of the building.

Long before the clock released me to the weekend, I decided I had had enough. I resorted to staring at my console and pretending to work. Rayne had dropped off a pile of folders, inane and boring service orders I had completed hours ago, despite her declaration that overtime might be required. Every once in a while, I would flip open a folder or shuffle papers on my desk, a ruse to keep my lack of focus unexposed. All the while, moments of the day replayed in my head like an irritating video loop.

Each of the partners and executive managers that participated in the ‘vote’ had paid me a visit. The meetings were all short on time, but long on awkward. I wasn’t stupid. They didn’t want to lose me, but they also didn’t know how to handle the fact they couldn’t manipulate me.
My guess was, based on all that I had learned, that just about everyone here had slept with everybody else. That made them equally tainted and mutually invested in the game of business as usual. It was an atmosphere completely different from the one painted during my initial interview. Oddly enough, despite my irritation and anger, I was able to remain completely stoic as they paraded in and out of my office. At least, I succeeded with that charade until someone was genuinely kind to me.

“Hey, Jack,” said Lou from the doorway.

I turned to the door with my painted expression prepared, but when I realized it was him, visibly relaxed into a real smile. Maybe I have more dolphins surrounding me than I thought.

“Hi, Lou. Happy Friday,” I said, in keeping with our regular happy day routine.

“Happy Friday to you. You okay?” he asked quietly, with genuine sincerity.

“Don’t tell me the gossip and office politics made it all the way down to the basement,” I laughed dryly, matching his volume.

“Afraid so,” he said with great irritation. “Seriously, anything I can do? I could give their computers a virus or something. That would be fun.”

His suggestion had me wanting to laugh out loud, but I contained myself. Didn’t want those stationed immediately outside the office to begin paying attention. In truth, no one outside the basement crew even realized Lou and I were friends. Strangely, that lack of common knowledge protected both of us. It allowed us the freedom of friendship, beyond the reach of attempted manipulation.

Lou, more than a decade my senior, was not among the popular crowd up here in shark territory. His intelligence far outweighed his politically correct social skills. He found most people and their conversations to be ridiculous, and open sharing of that opinion did not earn him invitations to the cafeteria lunch table, not that he wanted them. I, however, appreciated his candor and respected his brilliance.

We had been thrown together my first month here to resolve a networking problem, which we did easily… and as a true team. He was an expert on hardware and network everything; but, whenever it came to designer software, he requested a second pair of engineering eyes. Since our core systems were proprietary to HartBeat, the bread and butter of HERS, our meeting was one of those situations.

Down in the basement it was a completely different world, probably because down there, Lou was king. We had been friends ever since. Our relationship was refreshing. It was simple, based on respect, and included no games.

“Thanks, Lou. I’m okay. Nothing you can do unless you can get that clock to jump ahead two hours and grant my prison release. I really need to get out of here,” I said, his kindness eliciting emotion I had been able to hide until now.

“Well, I can’t do that, but I did notice your computer was throwing some unusual packet errors. I’m afraid you need a complete shutdown and network reinstall. Gonna take oh… at least two hours, so you might as well call it a day.”

His delivery was deadpan, but there was a twinkle in his eye while he waited for me to process his gift.

As the smile on my face began to broaden, he continued in a louder tone so the assistants outside the door could hear him, “Now kindly save your work and log off, initiating a complete shut-down, so I can get on with it.”

After doing as instructed I picked up my things, only hesitating a brief moment to whisper in Lou’s ear.

“I owe you big time for this. Thank you, my friend.”

No one but me could see the huge smile on his face as he nodded curtly. By the time he turned around behind the console, his face was expressionless once again.

 

CHAPTER SIX

After leaving the office and exiting the reach of their wi-fi, I picked up my encrypted smart phone and promptly set it down again. I needed another few moments of silence. Just thinking I needed a new plan wasn’t enough. I was going to have to face and analyze my limited options eventually, might as well be now.

So, what are my choices? That is the million-dollar question.

I could bide my time and work like a robot, emotionally separating myself from the company. Personal happiness, doubtful.

I could help Perry with the project. Inevitably, he would come to me. Maybe I could steer the situation into ADAM’s favor. Positive outcome, doubtful.

Maybe I could steer the project in a direction I knew would fail? Personally compromising.

I could sue the company for sexual harassment and demand a settlement. Time consuming and required personal exposure.

I could open my own business providing custom solutions to fund the work I really want to do. Time-consuming and difficult. Risky.

I could find an investor to fund ADAM. Disclosure required. Risky.

I could win the lottery and fund it myself. Unlikely.

I could find another job and start over again. Bleh.

Heaving a heavy sigh, I pulled into the driveway. I had all kinds of reasons and excuses attaching themselves to that last option. Bottom line was, I just didn’t want to move again. There has to be another way.

I was so consumed by my thoughts; the van parked out front went unnoticed until I climbed the steps and rang the ADAM bell.

Oh no, what the hell?

“ADAM, what’s going on?” I whispered as deadbolts released and ADAM greeted me.

“Are you okay? You are early. What is wrong with your phone? You normally let me know if you will be early.”

“Everything is fine. Tell me what’s going on!” I demanded.

“You’re whispering again, I know what that means.”

“It means, make sure your voice is confined to the foyer. How did a rescheduling phone call turn into you letting him in?”

“Well, first, don’t worry. Everything is okay. It happened because I wouldn’t lie. He told me he couldn’t come tomorrow and asked if you weren’t available, could I let him in today? It would have been a lie to say no. Then he asked me if I could walk him through the specifics of the install. Again, a lie to say no. So, here we are. I told him I was activated remotely, which technically is true. Now, come on. He finished the job and we are in the kitchen having coffee. He’s nice. I like him.”

“O-okay.” I said, hanging up my coat and opting to leave my slippers where they were, remaining professionally dressed.
Opening the foyer door, I headed towards the kitchen, my heels clicking against the hardwood floors. I was more than a little nervous. This was the first interaction ADAM had had with another human.
“Lydia Jack, you remember Josh Bright of Bright Mind Electronics?” said ADAM, executing a perfect formal announcement.

“Yes, of course. Good to see you again. Thank you for coming on such short notice,” I responded, extending my hand to accept his firm handshake.
“You’re very welcome, Lydia,” said the handsome man in flannel, who looked to be around my age. “I hope you don’t mind. After we got you all set up, Adam and I started chatting. He suggested a cup of coffee and I couldn’t refuse. Shall I pour you a cup?”

“Sure. Thank you. Yes, ADAM can be very chatty,” I said carefully.

“You love it and you know it. She prefers the cup that says ‘Super Geek’ on it,” instructed ADAM as Josh reached up to the hooks above the coffee maker, a comment that had Josh turning to me with a chuckle.

“What can I say? Everyone needs a super power,” I laughed, hoping he couldn’t hear my heart pounding.

“Well, quite the setup you have downstairs, that’s for sure. That alone tells me you earn the super geek coffee cup, fair and square,” nodded Josh with comical zeal as he put the cup in front of me and joined me at the kitchen bar.

“Speaking of that, any trouble with the new installation?”

“Nope. All set. Adam walked me through everything I needed. Not only an incredible set up of machines, but this visual thing you got going with Adam is really intriguing. Where did you say you were again, Adam?”

I held my breath.

“I’m in Florida right now, researching sea life. My current focus is dolphins, although I find the manatees utterly intriguing,” replied ADAM without missing a beat.

“I bet it is much warmer there than it is here in Pennsylvania, but spring isn’t too far around the corner,” laughed Josh.
“Indeed. Florida was a pleasant 78 degrees, with a nice breeze today… to your what, 43?”

“Something like that,” Josh replied.

I watched the conversation unfold, riveted. I wasn’t sure about the Florida locale comment, but had no doubt ADAM activated the Weather Module for the extra details. Even more amazing was that Josh had no idea he was conversing with a machine.

“Hey, Josh? Jack and I were going to have dinner together tonight. Why don’t you stay and join us?” suggested ADAM.

“Jack? Oh, you go by Jack?” asked Josh looking at me in surprise.

“I was named after my mother. My father wanted a boy. As the story goes, he got tired of both of us answering to Lydia, so he started calling me Jack. It stuck, I guess. To be honest, I’m still not sure whether it was out of convenience or a secret desire that I would one day be a famous quarterback,” I rambled, repeating a story I had shared too many times, still feeling sideswiped.

“So, you aren’t opposed to Lydia then? It’s a beautiful name.”

As I shook my head, he grinned.

“Okay, Lydia. If you don’t mind me crashing your date with Adam, I would enjoy the company myself,” said Josh agreeing to the invitation.

“Oh, it’s not a date,” chimed in ADAM quickly. “We are best friends, but not a date. We eat together all the time.”

Fascinating. Had I been so wrapped up in the creation of ADAM I missed seeing his true self growing right before my eyes? Obviously, I was aware of his communication skills; but I had been with him every day for ten years, a journey that started with a small database of only five thousand words. I expected he could set up the appointment, but never this. Perhaps it was because I indulged in conversation and asked questions I knew ADAM could answer, spoke commands to initiate protocols. This randomness, the ability to make decisions to hide his ‘secret,’ and carry an intelligible conversation was both startling and exhilarating.

“Sure,” I said smiling, the scientist in me unable to stop the witnessed scene, drowning out the fearful voice in the back of my head reminding me of the danger.

“Jack?” ADAM interrupted my thoughts. “The oven is now preheated to 350 degrees.”

ADAM’s comment brought a curious look to Josh’s eyes that caused me to laugh sheepishly.

“He can do just about anything through this Smart House and knows far too much about me,” I explained. “Thank you, ADAM.”

“Not that hard. You have been on the same weekly meal plan for quite a long time. It’s Friday. That means squash casserole. I hope that is acceptable to you, Josh.”

“Squash casserole sounds simply delicious,” he laughed, “much better than the pizza that was on my menu.”

“Have to come on Tuesdays for Pizza,” offered ADAM matter-of-factly.

“Don’t tell him all of my secrets, ADAM!” I laughed, finally beginning to relax.

“Okay. How about you Josh? You married?”

Shaking my head, still taking ADAM in with new eyes, I pulled out a new bottle of wine. Something told me I would need more than one glass tonight.

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: by Yvonne DeBandi”

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