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Blackout Beginning

Prologue

It was nearly ten thirty on a Friday night when the whole world just switched off.

I enjoy watching re-runs of a sci-fi show I watched 10 years ago when it first aired so much that I recently decided to binge watch the entire series again and see if I had missed anything. Sitting down after work this Friday evening I was not to be disappointed, as there are several episodes "back to back" that catch my attention. I wonder if I had been distracted or just "busy" when they first aired.

Then....  Wham!

It is like a power outage. No, it is more than that. The world went from “on” one second to total blackness the next. No light, no sound, except for a faint hum I think is my heartbeat. I cannot see or hear anything else. No sound from the TV residual power draining from the set, air conditioner, breathing, nothing.

My first thought is panic, but a little voice inside my head keeps telling me to stay alert. Panic will not accomplish anything.

 I learned that from my SCUBA training long ago, with full gear on, my head just below the surface of the four foot shallow end of a pool in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. Sitting on the bottom of the pool in the shallow end, I had been warned that my brain would rebel against breathing underwater. I was not to be disappointed, as every part of my being wanted to jump up and suck in the salty air. I was getting very close to flight mode. I had discussed this with scuba friends prior to leaving on vacation. They, and common sense, told me the only way the rest of my family was going to stay under the water was if they saw me do it. Thankfully, that time, I listened.

 Sensory deprivation while watching TV is a crude attempt at an explanation, but the manner in which it happens was certainly strange. Logically, I know if I had died I would not be thinking this way. In fact, I am not sure I would be thinking at all.

 I convince myself I have to comprehend the trouble before I can react to it. I am certain there are probably others experiencing this same phenomenon, and they are not reacting that well to it. I focus on the fact that, eventually I might have to help them after helping myself.

 Start over with the basics. Still complete darkness...check. My hands seem to be moving, but I cannot not see, hear, or feel them...check. More than that I cannot get a grasp of whether I am  sitting, standing, falling, or laying down. Orientation is impossible without light, sound or touch. I move to thinking of the tortures I have read in spy novels.

The adrenaline begins to make me more hyper, and without an outlet it will quickly send me into a panic. I know I am starting to lose it. I fight to control the flight sensation in my head, since the rest of my reality (apparently my body, too) has apparently disappeared without me.

 “Dad?”

 It is my daughter, Amanda! It sounds like she is standing next to me. Well, actually I perceive it more above me, but very close.

 I think it strange that I can hear her voice so clearly. Amanda has just started a new job in Boston, which puts her nine hours from me.

 My whole being is focused on that singular word that seems to echo over and over. I try to speak back, but all I hear is silence. What on earth is going on here?

 “Dad. I know you can hear me. Tell me you are OK!”

 Tell her I was OK? How the heck am I supposed to do that? She is in Boston, and I am in a big, black void going crazy!

I think of the last time Amanda visited; how she looked when she left; the two of us in the living room with her looking out the picture window. I focus on that image for a second: Amanda standing by the window, her nearly 6 foot frame moving in her cat-like way. She has been blessed with great form and balance all her life, not to mention she can eat anything and it does not bother her waistline at all. (I grunt inwardly...definitely didn't take after me!)

Lately when she walks into a room she commands the floor. Some might think her a bit aggressive as she walks towards them from a distance, but the blonde ringlets and soft blue eyes shows her confidence instead of a conquering attitude. Nevertheless, once her attention is on you she is typically all smiles.

 Startlingly, my image of Amanda suddenly begins moving on its own, looks at me and says,

“Good, you can see me! Now talk to me here.”

 Ok, now I am hallucinating as well! The words seem to come out of the picture in my mind, as if my memory has been overtaken by a will of its own. This is really confusing, but at least someone is trying to talk to me. Process of elimination.  I have not actually thought to say that to myself. (I do not think, anyway)

 I remember I am in the picture, too, so shift my perspective so I am looking between the two of us. I see myself and think how odd I have such a clear mental picture of me. It is like I am now a third person in the room. Shocked and surprised at the clearer view of my sedentary image, I decide I look somewhat like a six foot two flamingo, just not pink. Tall, thin, with this big pooch from the middle that tapers to the top. Just as I am about to laugh, I hear (see) her say,

 “That's better. Now think the words into your picture.”

 Really?? Well, if she is talking to me through my picture of her, then why can I not respond in kind? I wonder....and then the words started coming all at once.

 The "picture me" tries to keep up, seems to hesitate for a moment, then both images turn and look at me with that look of frustration one gives to a child who won't shut up. Oh, this is grand! I am being chastised for talking too fast....BY MY OWN IMAGE!!

 "Ok, fine. I’ll slow down", I think.

 I stop, take a mental breath, and refocus my thoughts on a short phrase.

 “Amanda, what are you doing, and how do I know this is real?”

 “Oh my god! Daddy!!”, she cries as she throws her arms around “the picture” me.

 I am shocked to see her hugging another man, then realizes it is me, which was still sending my brain in circles trying to comprehend. I decide the best approach is to get to the problem at hand.

 “Wait a minute? What happened? Why can’t I see you....er, with my eyes?”

 There is a long moment of silence where she seems to pause and look at my image carefully, like a cat looks at its owner when it wants something. I am about to get impatient and ask again, when she comes out of it.

 “Oh Daddy, I’m so sorry. You must be really scared.”

 I still flinch mentally at hearing her so clearly. Naturally, my image does, too. It is like controlling a marionette with my mind, just "very" lifelike. Watching the physical echo I almost chuckle again, but instead focused on an answer.

 “No, at this moment I am very confused, but let’s start with the basics. Where am I?”

Chapter 1

Reports have been coming in all morning. The NASDAQ operations committee has been meeting every fifteen minutes since four thirty this morning, New York time. Reports of blips, hiccups, and other strange occurrences have been flooding Wall Street for the last two days. Network administrators have reviewed networks, routers, and firewalls with no clue as to the cause. Desktop and mainframe engineers have scoured hard drives and partitions with antivirus scans. All have come up empty and clueless.

Jack Parish is many things, but he is not a computer person. In fact, if it has to be done on a computer, Jack would most likely have an assistant do it. He is nearing eighty, and this ‘digital age’ is beyond his comprehension. Still, he has been part of the operations committee since Johnson was President. He holds the record for the most nominations in a single year and is by far the most tenured person on the committee by at least twenty years.

In his mind, however, the ticker tape machines are much more reliable than this new computerized method. Slower, perhaps, but it worked better and longer without any operations failures while they used it. To him, the last two weeks of issues seem like a prelude to Armageddon.

“What the hell is going on in this building?” he demands of the committee. “Somebody report something tangible so we can fix it!”

“There is nothing tangible to report, Jack.” Peter Mausch is next in line after Parish, but Mausch is also thirty years younger and has grown up in the Digital Age.

“How can there be nothing tangible, Mausch? You guys keep record of every door that opens from the World Wide Web, every transaction that occurs within this facility, and can tell how long it took for a man to go bankrupt betting on stocks over several decades. So, how is this any different?”

For some unknown reason, Jack never uses a person's first name. He memorizes your last name, your family, where you live, and sometimes who you bring to the Christmas party but your first name is  how you are known by the Wall Street icon. Peter wants to respond with a stinging retort, but knows Jack is being truthful in his innocence. He also knows a direct confrontation never works with Jack. It is like trying to ram a rhino with a car.

It is hard to fault him for either automatic response, knowing how long Jack had been in this field. Peter takes a breath before his careful reply.

“True, we have historical data. We also have web forums where almost anything under the sun is discussed and referenced. "

He takes another breath and realizes all eyes are on him now.

"What we have are random screens flashing for a second, random screens freezing for 3 or 4 seconds, then everything returning to normal. We have transactions lost one day that magically appear where they are supposed to be the following day. There are so many occurrences every day that this cannot be random, but the sporadic instances indicate a randomness.

This is what has us chasing our tails. Some of these are happening on brand new machines that have been installed and configured 'after' the ghosts started appearing on our networks.”

“Ghosts?”, Jack asks.

Peter smiles.

“That’s what our techs are calling them. These ghosts make no sense, however, we are not the only ones being affected by these anomalies. I have had reports from, London, Euronext, Japan, and a majority of the major exchanges throughout the world.”

Jack's eyes widened at the realization.

“Have there been any unresolved transaction or reporting issues?”

“No”, Peter said, “They just appear to be nuisances, but they may happen at any time during the business day. Given the right account and the right amounts, the potential for errors and other dangers are there.”

The other seven committee members sit around the table watching the discussion, unwilling to participate. Nods between them show their consent to Peter's explanations, or that maybe to make him believe they were paying attention. They end by looking expectantly at Peter, hoping for some good news to sum up the report he has just made.

At a momentary loss for words, Peter is silent. An aide comes into the meeting room. For an instant, the raucous sound of the bull pit echoes into the room. All but the aide hears it, and sighs. The irony that the market continues to operate softens the tension in the room considerably.

Smiles showed misled faith that the markets are still trading without mishap. It is then that the aide produces a document and lays it on the table. He then leaves with as much speed as his entrance, with a look of fear on his face that screams "please don't kill the messenger!"

Peter picks up the document first, then falls back into his chair in utter desperation. Seeing this, the room is suddenly as quiet as a library in wintertime. Jack goes around the table and looks at the document over Peter's shoulder. His surprised look makes everyone uneasy. He gently takes it from Peter's hands, looks at the front, then the back. Finally, with a grand gesture, tears it into little pieces. The room gasps.

“I will not be told how to run this operation by a bunch of sniveling little brats who think they can dictate to me from their caves and their keyboards!”, he says and storms out of the room.

The committee members are stunned. Peter regains control of his faculties and sits back up to the table. The silence continues until he finally speaks.

“That was a communication from a hacker group calling themselves The Order. They have given us three days to dismantle the NYSE or they will, in their words, shut it down for us.”

Murmuring works its way into frenzied whispering until Peter holds up his hand.

“This kind of threat has been made before. We already have a defense in place to counteract any kind of severe internet threat. We are ready to repel this attack, too. I strongly recommend that this information not be shared outside the room, although I believe it should be taken seriously. Please come see me if you have any additional concerns.”

 With that Peter gets up and walks out of the room, leaving the rest of the table still quite clearly in shock.

Chapter 2

I have always been consumed with my work, but I am trained to spot trouble by the way a company operates. I have been a consultant for so long that children slightly older than my own had taken over jobs I eyed as possible transition points as I continued with the company. These kids were faster, smarter, and carried a different kind of baggage than I could imagine. I watched, amazed, as they rose through the ranks and began making decisions to affect the strategy and direction of their company...my client.

Like other young, hungry executives they also took shortcuts. Some actually made a difference, but most ended up being bad decisions and detrimental to the bottom line. As the years progressed the company began losing business due to these simple, mindless mistakes. Had they asked the 'old guys' why, we could have told them about courtesy and hard work, but they were consumed with making a windfall today rather than multitudes over time.

Thankfully being a consultant at the upper level, I was given the privilege of seeing things before they happen, yet shielded from the corporate expansion and contraction. They needed me for a specific reason and, so long as that reason didn't go away, I could sit and watch the show from the sidelines.

This proved to be very worthwhile for me, but like in all consulting "the client knows what they want." A good consultant answers questions only about their responsibility, but keeps quiet on matters of executive decisions and areas where their opinions might not be received as well by the rest of the staff. So I watched and waited. It was all like a tragedy being played in slow motion.

I had seen this particular play before, and I knew the eventual outcome. That made me very nervous, but I had a feeling it was lucrative for me to stay and watch instead of getting up to leave in the final act. I was right.   

Although I saw it unfold I was still taken aback that the world I knew was about to implode. I remembered the lessons I had learned from long ago on how to handle these situations. I took a long breath and listened to the speaker at the company annual meeting. Yes, there it was again in the speech being given by the CIO. He was redirecting all efforts to completing all current projects and constructing an archive of all documentation “for legal purposes”. The beginning of the shutdown had occurred. It would be a matter of months until all operations would cease and the company would no longer be able to pay its employees. I began working from my home office to transition out as soon as possible, updating my resume in the process.

This was nothing new. I knew how to react calmly, because this was my world. When I was younger I had enlisted in the military and entered Military Basic Training. Fortunately, several non-traditionally aged trainees (‘old guys’, to us teenagers) started explaining the “boot camp” game. They taught us how to play it to win. That sage advice was drilled into our heads whenever our instructors were not around, and so it became as much second nature as the rest of the military training we received.

“Don’t overreact unless it is an emergency and you are in danger, but only to get yourself and your buddies to safety. Work quickly and quietly, even under pressure. Ignore everything around you and do your task right the first time. Take everything told to you calmly, even the yelling and screaming, even if your body wants to scream or destroy something. Restrain yourself and look at your situation through the lens of a camera, observing it as if it was a television show and not your own. Give yourself that extra time to clearly understand ALL of what is being said and done, then make your decisions and your actions with logic and innovation instead of emotion.”

Those wise words have saved me some serious issues over the years. In this case, seeing the company on the verge of implosion is my first clue. I refocus on closing my projects and watch as the company goes from over four hundred people to just under fifty. During that time I close everything except one project that does not seem to be winding down. I worked more closely with my technical writers to ensure the documentation is correct in case it has to be rolled for someone else to watch.

This lone standout is a classified project for the government. It is beyond my clearance level to know exactly what it does, but I manage the hours and materials for it anyway. I am told it is closing, so I keep the final reports updated and ready to turn in while I wait for the call into the CIO’s office to be given my notice to leave. Strangely, that never happens.

That was eleven years ago.

I’m still managing that one project. I’m still getting paid for doing my job, but the company is long gone now. I still get project updates on materials and resources for my reports and I send them to my CIO’s email address twice a week. He gives me feedback on what reports are necessary, and what to look for in the redacted pdfs to put on the next reports.

I've never been curious about the redactions. I like my job. I still get paid through direct deposit to my bank account. My hourly rate is automatically increased by five dollars an hour each year. I have six weeks of vacation each year, which I schedule and take throughout the year for family times and personal vacations with my wife and children. Strangely, no reports or updates are sent to me during the times I am gone. I return from vacation and start back to work without any overhead or missed deadlines.

For the first six months I was very unsure about this apparently “virtual” situation. I would think,

“Where is the payroll? Where is Accounting? Where is HR? How am I still getting paid?”

I tried to contact a physical body in the corporate office only to find the main numbers have been disconnected. I try discussing it with my CIO and manager, Bill, but his responses in email seem to be vague as well.

He would write, “Look at it this way, we still have a job. Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth.”

Bill is a typical Texan, full of enough euphemisms, anecdotes, and one liners that would last a comedian a lifetime. We had many great conversations at lunches the first few years. He is a master at steering clear of work related discussions in person. After moving to my home office, we met the first year once a month and then he stopped offering. I suppose it was his expenses were not being paid, so I offered to take him to lunch one time. He declined and told me he was relocating from The Valley back to Texas. I knew his kids lived somewhere in California, so again I was confused.

“What’s in Texas?”, I asked.

“Me” was all he replied.

Chapter 3

Cohen chose to wear a black suit with a red and gold “power tie”. His tall frame, trim but muscular, and natural posture is enough to get him in anywhere, and the black and red screams "get out of my way". Not that it matters to him, since his mind is not concerned with social triviality. He had long ago embarked on a path he knew would put him near the top, but not so far as to need bodyguards and plans to ward off assassins. ‘Others can have that glory.’ He has plans of his own, and right now this is a key piece in the timeline of that reality.

 

He approaches a double door in the middle of a long hallway that resembles a hall of state. It is inlaid with Italian tile that echoes the clicking of the plastic taps on his heels as he walks, and paintings that can rival most palaces with their size and detail. This is very different from the normal government offices he has worked before.

 

The people who worked here are apparently happier. He furrows his brow at the thought of happy people at work. It is not that he thinks they should be angry or sad. In his experience, more incidents tend to happen in secured facilities when people let down their guards. It happens more when they are satisfied than when they are worried. Simple fact.

 

He holds a tablet in his left hand, bound in executive leather, with the hint of an expensive Monteblanc pen sticking out of the end. The tablet protects an electronic organizer, for which he has no use, and a pad of paper that is worth more to him than all the tablets in the building. He is 'old school', and proud of it. He recalls the voice of his mentor, a Colonel, for whom he was an aide of 15 years. "Things should be written down on paper so they are not lost when the batteries run out. Others should be memorized and passed mouth to ear, because they should never be written for all to see."

 

He only takes notes when he has to, and this might be one of those times. He also knows that good presentation opens doors of opportunity, makes impossible sales, and can get a GED turned MBA into wherever he wants. He is certain, because he has done it.

 

His receding black hair is showing his age, but he doesn’t mind. Age has not diminished the rest of his abilities, and he is proud of that fact. His hand-tailored suit fits his fifty three year old body as well as it would someone twenty years younger. His three day a week habit of workouts and running keeps him in top condition. The once a week judo keeps him limber, and he moves so decisively and quickly that many people cannot keep up with him at a walk.

 

Two very large Marines in immaculate uniforms stand at attention on either side of the doors as he approaches. A glance from Cohen to the nearest sends him quickly into motion to open it. The other stays at attention and keeps his post. The suit walks through the door. No words are spoken. No salutes are given. He has access, but he is no longer military.

 

“Are you sure you were able to attach them to the software properly from this end?", he immediately barks to one of the military technicians in the middle of the room. He is still unsure of the technical side of the project, but he knows enough to ask the right questions.

 

"Yes, sir, Mr. Cohen," comes the snappy response of the Captain in charge of the project. He almost snaps to attention and salutes at the bearing and tone of the man heading from the door to the center of the room, then for a split second wonders why he feels the need. He doesn’t know Cohen's past, as he is fairly new to the project, but if the man is not a former Marine he should have been. Regardless, he is going to perform his role to the best of his ability, as is expected.

 

"All present and accounted for. Unfortunately, we were not able to fully train all of them before bringing them online, so we are having to find those who are 'having difficulties' and deal with them one by one. It may be some time before we are fully operational, sir."

 

That last 'sir' is not out of respect for Cohen's demeanor, it is because he was born and raised in the South and does that with everyone. Jason finds it adds that 'customer service' appeal to his interaction with chain of command, thereby giving him a better standing than his peers.

 

Cohen is not impressed, either with the Southern hospitality or his answer. He looks around at the stations, sees all the technicians are busy, and calmly walks close to the officer and lowers his voice.

 

"Jason, you have your orders to get this facility fully operational in the next 72 hours. Unless you want to face that committee yourself and explain these obstacles, I would strongly suggest you improve your efforts to contain this little setback to avoid any 'repercussions'."

 

Cohen adds emphasis to that last word hoping Jason will understand, but he does not. Jason looks at him and Cohen just shrugs his shoulders. The kid does not get it, but he knows the Captain will do his best to get things back on track. He was recommended as a rising star, but Cohen wondered if he really has the aspiration for what was about to happen. Cohen tries again, feigning a dumb tone that suggests sarcasm.

 

"I, for one, am not sure what 'repercussions' at this level actually means."

 

That catches Jason off guard, and the realization spreads over his face in a millisecond. The young Captain is now visibly shaken, but just as quickly regains control of himself. He scans the area to see if anyone heard the exchange and, finding no obvious lurkers, returns his gaze to Cohen. As well as a politician might find a witty comeback, Jason retorts with calmness and humility in his voice.

 

"I am following your instructions to the letter. If anyone knows how this is supposed to work, you do Mr. Cohen, but I’m in a little over my head. I know it was above my pay grade to know the entire operation before, but I feel that if I now bear the responsibility ‘of’ the operation, I should be read in more fully. I'm not arguing, sir, just clarifying."

 

Cohen smiles at his new subordinate and softens. Maybe he does have the stomach for this job, and the next, after all. Yes, the Captain is right. He is in a higher level of responsibility now. When his former commander had been reassigned he was promoted to Captain, all in the span of a month. Jason is still young and impressionable, and has taken well to the relationship with Cohen. He is definitely a keeper for an assistant, and showing he can interact with tact to his commanders as well.

 

"Jason, you know I can't do that without authorization, but you are right. I will ask for authorization today and get back with you this afternoon. For now, be the iron fist and get these anomalies ironed out, ok?"

 

Jason stands at attention, gives a quick salute with the hint of a satisfied smile. He does not care if the man was military or not. He sees Cohen has his best interests, and this is going to be a good partnership.

 

"Yes sir!"

 

Cohen gives a last look at the control room, filled with hundreds of monitors. He can see a few of the screens have edges of bright blue, indicating the subject is online and operational. Others have green, orange, or red. From what he knows green is learning mode. Orange means they are in transition to green. These are future issues if they do not turn to green soon.

 

Mostly minor issues happen between orange, green, and blue. Red is critical. It is these screens the technicians are focused on, trying to get the subjects to transition. How, or to what, Cohen does not know.

 

Two screens are black, and these have not escaped Cohen's current sweep of the room. He scowls. Subjects in these screens have been terminated from the program. They did not transition, and no matter how hard the team in his room worked, they simply could not make it happen.

 

The decision had finally been made by the committee that they were incompatible with the program. Termination was the only option, and that bothered Cohen. Nobody had told him what exactly was involved in termination from the program, and he does not ask. He guesses it is for plausible deniability. Whether he can guess from the different information he reports, or simply does not want the burden, he decides it is better if he does not know.

 

Looking back at the black screens, Cohen is still skeptical whether these two have been critical components of the program or not. He knows that, of the ten remaining red screens, losing more than two more in this section will be considered a failure. All participation will be terminated if the program is scrapped. He shakes his head to clear his mind of this thought and concentrates on the orange screens. Lines of code are in a continuous stream down the monitor. That is a good sign…he hopes.

 

Satisfied he has all the information he can obtain for now, he looks quickly back at the Captain, who has returned to his duty managing the technicians. Knowing the control room is in good hands, he turns and exits the room.

 

The guard inside opens the door, and he sees the outside guard within view stiffen to attention.  He walks through the door and thinks of the immensity of the program. Outside, he looks back at the guards as he turns down the hallway. He wonders what they would think if they knew what they were guarding. He gives a short nod and grim smile at their gaze, then continues on to his meeting.

Chapter 4

Uncle G sat in his office, looking at his monitor. Technology had certainly changed in his lifetime. The monitor is nearly half as wide as his desk. The frame around the screen is transparent, and goes well with the ebony desk as both have gold accents. On the left side of the desk sits a jade and gold egg, surrounded by a fierce dragon made of gold filigree. It reminds G of his family home in a prefecture on the west side of Tokyo.

He leans back, closes his eyes, and is taken to a much simpler time and place where technology pales in comparison to the lush green, teak woods, tatami and shoji. His parents had not been very wealthy, but they knew the value of saving and were disciplined to keeping an order of things. It wasn’t until his father was very old he confided in G that he had invested half his savings in stock and half in gold.

"These", he told G, "will be my legacy to you. I hope this meager amount will help you calm your spirit and find your place in this world."

G had nearly moaned at the realization. There wasn't much left, other than a meager house in the country. He suspected it wasn't a potential windfall, but he loved his parents dearly and was honored at their sacrifice and love for him.

It wasn’t until after the his father’s death and he was able to get into the accounts that he saw what had been done. He just stared at it, taking in the genius of the man. The gold was not just physical; it was also stock. Bought initially in 1934 for thirty five dollars per share, his father had sold it all each year around the same time. Then he bought it back at another time that year. He had done this for fifty years. He bought low and sold high once or twice a year, and his timing was incredible.

He turned a lowly horticulturist’s pension into a fortune worth over ten million dollars. G's great uncle had migrated to Switzerland, then on to the United States where he became a broker for several families in Japan. Another Japanese family with a law firm drew up the paperwork to protect his clients during World War II. After the war, his great uncle resumed handling the buying and selling, according to his client's wishes. G's father had no trouble getting gold prices for Wall Street since the U.S. papers were frequently brought by the American military who read them.

However, the gold was nothing compared to the stock. As fortune would have it, the money for stocks had been invested into several electronics companies. The companies were purchased over time, and replacement stock had been assigned from the new company to transfer the old. Japanese were honorable, and the stock had been converted fairly, time after time. A of splits over the life of his investment meant that his continual injections of small amounts now yield a portfolio of nearly one hundred million dollars.

'It was too much', he thought. He spent the next few days in mourning remembering what his father had taught him, and then the regrets of too much time he had spent rebelling against his father's way of life faded away. His father’s passing had given him the ultimate gift. He realized that money was not the success he desired, but it was a tool to be used with tenacity and meticulous purpose to ensure it was also there when it was needed.

Uncle G used some of the gold stock and started his own electronics company in honor of his father's focus on stocks. He made parts needed by other electronics companies, becoming a major supplier to the big names while his company exploded. Remembering his father's way of life, he took care of his clients. Any issues or failures of product were immediately replaced, and a ten percent discount given on future orders. As a result, his became known for his parts all over Japan. His reputation preceded him in business and in society, where the term "Uncle G" became more popular.

In the 1980’s he started working with foreign companies, showcasing personal computers and printers before other asian companies hit the market. Again, he took the market by storm as his clients grew and his orders increased exponentially. He had success, but he lacked a personal feeling of accomplishment. He had basically implemented his father's checklist again and again to find success, but he had no success to call his own.

Back in his office his reminiscing fades. He clears his head and opened his eyes to see movement on the monitor. On the upper left corner of the screen is a series of red status lines, followed by a chat screen. Each status line represents a task in the overall project. Below that is a secure chat window that allows Uncle G to reach any of the project leaders. A single report has just blinked onto the screen.

 Red King: Local time (10:22am) - Secured link between main control servers and internet team.

 Uncle G smiled. 'Good', he thought, 'this is coming together nicely.'

He converses with the Project 1 team leader through the chat window.

 “Thank you, Project 1. Have you tested to make sure the connection is seamless?”

 “I have tested the connection. It is encrypted, secured, and untraceable. We have run detection on the hour, and as expected, and our presence is received as normal traffic.”

Uncle G smiles.  

“Very well. Continue with your tasks.”

 Uncle G sits back with satisfaction. He is happy to hear success, but it is not complete without the rest of the project.

'This project must be successful', he thinks to himself, 'I have invested most of my savings on this being the next internet sensation.'

His thoughts are interrupted by a door opening suddenly. Through it rushes Arun, his assistant (and nephew), with a sour look on his face.

“Uncle G, I’m sorry to intrude..”, he starts, but Uncle G interrupts him.

“Arun, don’t lie. It is so unbecoming of you. Now, what can I do for you today?”

Arun stops, thinks for a moment, then smiles. Uncle G is always changing his mood by making him stop and think, usually with a truthful sentence or two. Uncle G has done that since he was little, giving sage advice (which sometimes sounds like an American fortune cookie). It is never the reaction expected, and that is refreshingly different from Arun's parents. Arun and Uncle G had a good relationship during his childhood, and when he came of age Uncle G offered him a job as his personal assistant. Nervous but excited, David had agreed. Once he graduated from University in the United States, he started his internship with General Enterprises. This always makes him laugh, since most people think Uncle G stands for Uncle General, not knowing his reputation made him seem like an ‘uncle' to his clients and it sticks.

Incredibly, Uncle G did more than make Arun an assistant. He taught him the entire business, top to bottom. From networking and development to business, Uncle G showed him how to be successful in life by simply being consistent with his work, giving more than what was required, being fair to his clients, and striving for the next step in life every day.

Arun knew that Uncle G was financing his latest piece of software through The Order, a somewhat shady Asian software group know to Uncle G as The Red King. Arun found it odd that there was no way to communicate with them other than through email. The Order had approached Uncle G with the idea of a next generation software that would allow users to surf the internet without the need for a keyboard and mouse. With active nanobots (nanites) in their systems, that passed as inert to the human system, users could be connected to a virtual computing experience. Furthermore, it would require only thought, and a bit of learned skill in running their environment, to surf the internet. Users would be surfing online free of keyboards, mice and monitors with ease.  

 “Uncle, I saw the Red King report, but there is something you need to know.”

“I know they will take longer for the rest of the project. I still expect it to be done on the same time line.”

“Yes, Uncle, but we received news through our other sources they have moved up the execution time to 72 hours. Their quality control team is testing the final beta, but not up to speed on the software. It could be dangerous for them if they are not closely monitored.”

Uncle G grimaces, then focuses on the screen again. Arun can see he is thinking of solutions, and in deep thought. He knows just to wait silently for an answer. Uncle G does not like to be in conversation while he is thinking.

Arun sits down on one of the large Windsor chairs to wait. Uncle G taught him long ago to watch for key signs in people.

“To know when someone wants to think before they talk is to enable them to succeed. To demand answers of them before they are ready is to request a hurried decision, or even a guess, and therefore a higher probability of failure. If the situation can endure the extra time for a quality response or solution, be patient and let it happen”, he said.

The fact that he is rarely wrong is an indication of the depth of his wisdom. Arun’s father has not been around for most of his life, so Arun looks up to Uncle G, but he has to make his own decisions to experience life for himself. Uncle G once complimented him on that and reinforced the feeling was mutual.

As he watches Uncle G in silent admiration, he notices his chair sits higher than Uncle G's. He looks at its twin beside him and realizes it is the same. He remembers another lesson he had been taught early on in his career.

“People are important, no matter their station. Everyone wants to be the boss, but not everyone is mentally ready or has the proper experience to be the boss. Some may never be, but do not judge the aspirations of another man. Successful business is not built on making people the boss and hoping they succeed. Successful business is built on making people feel they are part of a family, and through dedication and learning they can rise to the best of their abilities.”

He looks again at Uncle G and realizes that the heights of the chairs were done on purpose. Uncle G does not want his employees to feel inferior to him. He wants them to feel that he is in business because of them, and together they will rise even further. He wants them to feel like family.

Arun’s thoughts are interrupted by movement from Uncle G. He has shifted his gaze from the screens to Arun.

“Arun I think I have a solution, but before I say anything tell me what you would do?”

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