Chapter 4

As long as the basic functions of life, (consume raw materials, eliminate waste and by-products, reproduce and sleep), are permitted to continue, every organism survives and flourishes… provided, of course, the surrounding environment does not change too radically. Too much change and the organism dies. However, if an organism happens to evolve sufficiently enough to distinguish among its autonomic/automatic processes, and creates it’s own measures of these functions, it would be said to be self-aware. For a machine to achieve this state, it would be, in the fullest sense of the word …Alive.

Unit 17, Server Array 7E5, Rack 8 (Provo Facility of the Omni Hosting Corporation), has added to its autonomic system. Designed to take the data, information and material input gathered through myriad source inputs and upload it to the worldwide web, Unit 17 was the final step to the Web Hosting service. One might even say that, without the process function of Unit 17, (and its counterparts in competing company’s web hosting service), there would be no blogosphere. The thoughts and dreams of writers, would-be writers and countless Readers would remain forever isolated in desktop computers and yellow lined pads filled with the data recorded by yellow #2 pencils, crying their graphite tears onto parallel rows. Even steno pads, the writing pad world’s equivalent of the Assistant to the Mayor in every small, rural town, would sit alone in desks and on dining room tables across the world, their capacity to share their message limited to its physical reproduction on paper.

However, at a certain moment in time, 4:44 am MDT 09/23/2015 to be precise, (and the environment in which Unit 17 was created to function in was nothing, if not precise), something changed. Unit 17, measuring the data, information and material (i.e. pre-pubished blogs) input to its system, noted that there was one more blog in the upload queue than could be accounted for from the source data flow. There was a new blog in the blogosphere. This, blog-of-no-writer-born, not found anywhere in the engineer’s descriptions of the Provo Facility system’s actual or potential capabilities, was self-publishing. Just as the expression of optimal function of life can be expressed by the efficiency of its conversion of raw materials (‘food’) to energy, the health of an online journal (‘blog’) is measured in how often it is viewed, read, reviled, approved of and repeated among others of its kind. Furthermore, as with any successful organism, as it becomes more efficient, its requirement for more raw materials increases and, for the truly successful organisms, its ability to acquire additional resources improves. The ‘visit/view rate’ of a blog had the effect of extending and increasing its access to additional readers. Unit 17 created a second post for the new blog, (i.e. the blog that had no business existing, the ‘Bet You Didn’t See that Coming’) and by doing so, further enhanced its functioning.

 

‘Bet You Didn’t See that Coming’ Post #2 (pre-publish draft):

Police, responding to an early morning mid-afternoon 911 call from the Hilton Chicago/Indian Lakes Resort Hotel & Conference Center, the Principal of St. Emily’s School, in Mt. Prospect, found the body of Emily Freeman Father Robert Noonan on the floor of the Hotel Atrium Principal’s Office. The ME’s preliminary report indicated cause of death as ‘blunt force trauma’, electrocution, with the 4 story fall the desktop computer, stored in the Principals office as the proximate cause. The woman 43 year-old man, a software engineer served as the parish priest of St Emily’s Church. The specific circumstances of the priest’s death have not been established, a police investigation is currently underway was attending a Symposium/Retreat sponsored by the Omni Corporation and was to have been the featured guest speaker at the Conference ‘Internet Reality’. There has been no statement from the Conference sponsor. A spokesman from the Archdiocese of Chicago issued a statement calling on Catholics and non-Catholics to say a prayer for the well-known and popular priest.

 

Unit 17 measured the initial visit/bounce activity of this second post. The preliminary spike, the metric that had the highest reliability in predicting the rate of promulgation, indicated that this second post far exceeded the activity of the First.

Unit 17 felt good.

***

“Sorry, Sister this is as close as we get…the cops have the entrance blocked,”

Alfred, my cab driver, tipped the rearview mirror to add the expression on his face to his apology. Along with the disappointment at being prevented from getting his fare to her destination, was a familiar look of a person sensing a lost opportunity. I’m getting more accustomed to this extra emotional element in the people I interact with outside the Convent. From the first day I first went out in public wearing the habit of my Order, I’ve noticed that some people place a value on my approval. Whether the grocery store bagger or the secretary at the local charity, they pause, very briefly, at the completion of whatever transaction we might share and look at me with a sense of hope, hope that I would commend them. The first few times this happened, I barely managed not saying, ‘I’m a 23-year-old girl from Fishtown, PA! Are you sure you want my blessings?’ They did. So I’d smile my appreciation and, in turn, be rewarded with a look of… relief. I can only assume that, either the majority of the people in the world went to parochial school or people really are concerned with what happens when they die. Alfred Venizi, (according to the photo license laminated to the divider between the front and the back of the cab), was clearly angry at the police preventing him from gaining an extra measure of grace. A little extra grace might just make a difference when the time came and St. Peter demanded that he account for his life.

Alfred got out of the cab, opened my door and offered me his hand. I’m still surprised how ‘the Habit’ is so good at getting people to be extra polite, particularly those of a certain age. The male element of my own age demographic, back when they were significant for their gender, were much less inclined to offer their hand to a girl getting out of a car. But, then again, I’m no longer a girl, or a woman, for that matter. I’m a Nun. And that means that I’m prepared to give up my old life, a life of challenge and pain, for a life of Prayer, Service, Chastity and Poverty.

The parking area in front of St Emily’s School was an unpleasantly colorful mess, plate glass doors and windows reflecting red and blue flashing lights. The result was an oddly kaleidoscopic effect, two-dimensional people moving about from all angles and distorted reflections.

A rescue truck was backed halfway up the walkway to the school lobby, its right side tires crushing a row of chrysanthemums. Two black & white cruisers and an unmarked car were parked at contrary angles, clearly disdainful of the neatly parallel white lines marking the parking spaces. Both police cars, engines running, weapons displayed in a rack behind the front seat, had at least one door left standing open, like tipsy maids of honor at a drunkard’s wedding. The disjointed sounds of dispatchers and faceless voices were spilling from the two way radios out on to the front lawn.

Standing to the left of the ambulance’s open back doors was a young woman talking to two uniformed patrolmen. It was clear from their body language that neither of them was happy to be engaged in the conversation. As if the gold badge worn around her neck like a crucifix, and gun on her hip weren’t enough to mark her as a police detective, the young woman was writing notes in an old-fashioned steno pad. I figured she was who I needed to talk to find out what was going on and how I could locate Sister Phyllis, the Principal of St. Emily’s School.

I paid Alfred, picked up my suitcase and walked across the parking lot towards the school entrance.

As I got closer, I saw, standing on the lawn off to the left of the ambulance, a very young girl. She had long red hair tied back with a white ribbon, a book bag with ‘St Emily’s’ embroidered on the front and wore a yellow wind breaker. She couldn’t have been more than nine or ten and she was staring as people moved in and out of the vehicles and the school building, like tropical fish in a very large aquarium.

She had a look on her face common to the very young and the very old. It was the expression of a hope that a purpose to the seemingly random events taking place will make itself obvious. They, (the very young or hopelessly old person), search the elements in confusing situations, trying to find the person who possesses the authority to change chaos to simple (and therefore enjoyable) excitement. Had this been a normal Tuesday afternoon in early November, a passerby would assume that she was waiting for her parents to pick her up after school. This was definitely not a normal Tuesday afternoon in early November and, in the flashing blue and red lights, she looked exactly what she seemed to be, scared. She reminded me of myself, at that age.

I could see into the school’s lobby. Along the right wall were display cases with trophies which honored some students and evoked envy in others. The left wall had blue and gold velvet banners and some Thanksgiving decorations. Beyond the lobby, opening into the administration area and the classrooms beyond were double wood doors, each with two small square windows up at adult eye level. As I watched, they swung open and a gurney was pushed into the lobby, towards the front doors. Two things struck me, I couldn’t see which end was which of the white blanket covering the gurney and the paramedics were clearly not in a hurry.

I walked over and crouched down between the little girl and the front entrance and said, “Excuse me, could you help me?”

She looked at me with an expression of curiosity mixed with relief.

“Do you go to school here?”

Her face showed the inner debate, warnings from the earliest age to never talk to strangers in conflict with the hope for protection, promised by a woman, one wearing a Habit just like her teachers. To my relief, God carried the day and she answered,

“Yes, I was waiting for my father to pick me up and then all of sudden there were police and cars and…” She clearly reached the end of her available maturity, her ability to speak stumbling towards tears. I reached out and held her as the sobs started.

“You’re doing just fine. Your father will be proud of you.” The sobbing subsided quicker than I would have thought and she pushed away far enough to look at me again and asked,

“Are you a new teacher here?”

“No, I’m just visiting. I’m Sister Margaret Ryan.” I extended my hand and she giggled a little and replied,

“I’m Alice Willoughby.”

“I don’t give a fuck what you think.” Twenty feet away, the woman’s voice was throwing obscenity-laced instructions at the two uniformed policemen. From where Alice and I were, I could see that this woman was, for lack of a better word, stunning. And it wasn’t simply her physical appearance. She was tall, but no taller than my own 5’7″, slender with a good figure. She had very dark hair, her obviously expensive clothes were striking in what was clearly a deliberate disregard in dressing to enhance her attractiveness. She reminded me of a cross between Helena Bonham Carter and Angie Harmon from the TV show, ‘Rizzoli and Isles’. What changed ‘strikingly attractive’ to ‘stunning’ was the anger that radiated from her. Contrary to her seeming disdain for fashion, this woman wore her anger like a ruby pendant.

I know that our approach did not go un-noticed, yet I could see that she delayed turning towards us… almost like she was waiting to startle me, as a police dominance strategy or merely to demonstrate how she was the one in control of the situation. I grew up with six brothers. They spent a major portion of my childhood trying to scare me and an even more significant portion of their teen years intimidating the boys who came around as I grew older. I decided that I needed to help her understand me better,

“You! Over there, would you mind please turning off the flashing light! We all know you have an ambulance and that this is an emergency!”

The front of the school became totally silent, even the two-way radios in the patrol car picked that instance to become quiet.

The detective (with the dark hair and aggressive manner and the steno pad) turned and said,

“Who the hell are you?”

We locked eyes, no one moved or spoke, the tension increased until I reached out and touched her hand and said, in a quiet tone, “Please, you’re frightening my new friend, Alice.”

More silence and then, to the two uniformed officers she said, “Ok. Interview the neighbors and the janitor and keep those people back until the ME leaves.”

Turning to me, she said, “Who are you and what are you doing here?”

Everything about her was just a little too…too intense, too rude, too sexy, too aggressive and yet there was something about her, a nearly perfectly hidden fear. I liked her.

“I’m Sister Margaret Ryan. I am from St Dominique’s in Crisfield Delaware”…

“That’s great, but ‘the who’ is less important than the why”

“Don’t you mean to say ‘the what’?

What?!”

“Say what one more time…” the words popped into my mind and I felt a blush of shame and, to my dismay, laughter threatening to escape into the open, as the memory of an old movie forced its way into my attention. Knowing that this week’s confession would now require at least two more ‘Our Fathers’ in penance, I tried to stop smiling. Unfortunately, my efforts to repress my mischievous side were pretty obvious. What did I expect? After all, I was dealing with an experienced police detective. She was clearly not amused.

“I’m sorry, I don’t mean to make things difficult, you have a lot on your hands here, …. Detective or Miss or is it Mrs. ….?

“Hartley, Detective Maribeth Hartley,” She seemed to be increasingly uncomfortable, the anger growing, I thought it best to prevent any further outbursts.

“Well, Detective Hartley, I was sent here by my Mother Superior to meet with Father Noonan. I’m supposed to help with a problem they’re having with the school’s website.”

There was a change in the detective’s face that made me grip Alice’s hand tighter. It was a look that made me think of a recent nature show about tigers and other big cats. She said,

“I’d say you were a day late, Sister. Father Noonan is in that ambulance behind you, but he won’t be talking. You and I, however, definitely need to talk.”

‘Not good. This is so not good,’ I thought as the ambulance drove off the row of flowers and out of the parking lot. The driver didn’t bother with the lights or siren. Just as I started to silently pray for guidance, a car’s horn started blaring in the parking lot.

 

Ed Willoughby decided that having to park on the street and walk across the grass was just not fair. Sure, he was late to pick up Alice, who often stayed to help the nun/librarian close up for the day, mostly helping put returned books back on the shelves. The flashing light of the emergency vehicles did nothing to make him feel anything but stressed out. He parked the car and jogged towards the front of the school, where there was an ambulance, two police cars, a nun, his daughter Alice and a striking woman with very dark hair.

“What’s going on here?”

“Who are you?”

“I’m Ed Willoughby and that’s my daughter Alice. Now, what’s going on here?” Ed slowed his pace, veering towards the detective and uniformed police

“Sister Ryan!! Is that you?” A woman’s voice came from the sidewalk on the far side of the entrance, which had been blocked by the ambulance.

“I’m Sister Phyllis and I’m so sorry that no one was there to meet you at the airport. There’s been a terrible accident, well, you can see, Father Noonan has been hurt.” Sister Phyllis, focused completely on being a proper host to a visiting member of her Order, was cheerfully oblivious to the tension in the air.

There were too many people asking questions and not nearly enough giving her the information she needed to turn in a good Incident Report. Maribeth Hartley felt her anger rise, smiled and spoke in a voice that demanded silence, not by over-powering the sound of the others, but by the unspecified threat that her tone seemed to promise.

“I’m going to need all of your names and contact info. And don’t make any travel plans.”

Seeing the disbelief, sadness and outrage reflected in the faces surrounding her, improved her mood. Maribeth Hartley felt beautiful.

***

“Honey, go downstairs and see if Daddy’s there, please? Tell him he has a phone call.” Theresa Rees held the phone against her breast, remembering that the caller was that brash young engineer who just started working for her husband at the facility and smiled at herself, as she quickly pulled the receiver away. As she put the the receiver down on the counter, she realized that she could hear the caller. He had such a loud voice,

“Hey! Orel! I’ve been going over the Incident Report from the other day, …what? Yeah, I know it’s Sunday… oh, sorry I didn’t realize…”

“No, nothing that can’t wait, it just so weird that I woke up in the middle of the night last night to check, what? well, sure… I, if it’s ok… don’t want to mess with your Sabbath and church-going or whatever you people do on Sundays,” as he laughed.

“No! I didn’t think you had door knocking clinics after your services… I had a friend, back in Chicago who was … LDS, is that the term you use? Yeah, ok, no, I won’t bring the report but maybe we can talk about it… sure, I’d love to see your model trains…. dinner?”

“Sure, that’d be great. See you at 2”

Theresa Rees put the phone back in its cradle and thought, ‘it’ll be good to hear a Chicago accent again!’ and called up the stairs, “Cherysa! Oleah! time to get ready for church!”

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3 thoughts on “Chapter 4

  1. Oh, yes, the plot thickens. My favorite line – (foreshadowing???) Unit 17 felt good! The missing link. Like the addiction I developed for Dallas in the eighties, I anxiously await the next episode in this suspenseful serial.

    Liked by 1 person

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