Friday, February 27, 2015

Aphrodite Shuddered - Chapter 11

Chapter 11
Mind Bender

Mid-August 1987
Lately I got some vindictive pleasure over the startling news that Xeno Corporation, my former employer, had declared bankruptcy. Most of its remaining Seattle workforce (including three of Servercomp's current investors) were put on the unemployment line. Xeno simply couldn't cut it against the competition from personal computer software, which was transforming the business computing market. And even its feared competitor, the mighty IBM, was having trouble adjusting to the new reality.

Shelly, the young woman I trained to replace me at Xeno, had lost her job there. But on my recommendation, she was quickly hired by Servercomp as a second-shift system administrator, since business was now brisk enough to justify staffing the office late into the night. Business was so good, in fact, that I was finally getting paid for my work and was able to quit my tedious temp job. My position at Servercomp was only slightly more interesting, though: when I wasn't recovering crashed servers, I was processing customer credit card transactions or performing other mundane accounting chores - not exactly the career on the cutting edge of technology I had envisioned. The work wasn't fulfilling but it was potentially rewarding. Whenever the workday got too boring, I consoled myself with the thought that eight cents of every dollar of profit would eventually end-up in my pocket.

Within a few days of quitting the temp agency (and probably not by coincidence), a representative of MJ Recruiters contacted me at Servercomp. I had not heard from them since early-1986. Over the phone, I told the recruiter, a man whom I knew only as Augustus, “I'm really busy, so we better make this a quick conversation. Hey, how did you get this number, anyway?”

He said, “I got it from an interested client.”

“I wonder if they know my unlisted home number, too - never mind, dumb question. Well, you can tell them that I'm very happy with my current situation.”

“All right, but don't be too hasty. They're making an extremely generous offer.” Chuckling, he added, “You were pretty smart to hold-out this long.”

“That was easy enough to do, since I have no interest in government work anymore.” Becoming impatient, I told him, “For the life of me, I can't understand why they keep trying to hire me. I'm just a nobody - a clerk, for chrissakes.”

“I believe we've talked about that before, Denny. They merely want somebody who can start working immediately, without going through a long drawn-out vetting process. Say, could we set-up a face-to-face meeting? I can't go into very much detail on the phone.”

“Naw, I'm sure it would just be a waste of our time. Um, just out of curiosity, what are they offering this time - 45, 50 grand a year?”

Since I had just displayed a bit of interest in spite of myself, he ramped-up the enthusiasm. “Even better than that, Denny! Come on, man, let's get together and at least discuss it.”

With my my mind already made-up, I turned him down flat. “It wouldn't do any good, Augustus. As your client must be aware of by now, I'm part-owner of this business, and so far, things are going great. I don't plan on doing anything else for the duration.”

“I understand. Well, good luck with the computer business. Here's my new contact number, in the event that you change your mind someday...” I absently scribbled his number on a scrap of paper and stuck it into a forgotten corner in my wallet, with no expectation of ever calling him.
During the early-80s, after being discharged from the US Air Force, I hadn't been overly surprised to be recruited for a civilian government position. But now, six years later, their interest in me was as strong as ever, if not more so. While it was true that the military had entrusted me with highly classified intelligence, that in itself did not explain the government's persistence.

The only really unusual duty I pulled while in the military occurred near the end of my enlistment, in 1980, after volunteering (for a $1,000 bonus) to spend a weekend in McLean, Virginia, where I underwent a battery of psychological tests being conducted by an unnamed government agency. Among the tests I took were the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory, the Weschler Adult Intelligence Scale and the Gittinger Personality Assessment System. They never did reveal to me any of the test results. But apparently I had scored enough “correct” answers, because one month later I was invited to volunteer for further testing conducted at an undisclosed location in the Las Vegas area. I happily volunteered - for the $2,000 bonus they offered for participating. The tests were being conducted 60 miles northwest of Nellis Air Force Base, where I was stationed.

To my astonishment, the psychological examinations I endured next involved the testing of my potential psychic abilities. Shortly after arriving at a deceptively rundown-looking scientific laboratory located on a federal facility near Mercury, Nevada, I was tested for my talent at guessing the symbols printed on cards drawn from a deck of Zener Cards, an Extra-Sensory Perception test which most people are familiar with. Then, after receiving a rudimentary course in meditation delivered by a yoga specialist, I was given another run-through on the Zener Cards. In a slightly different test, they gave me the task of guessing the exact order of a well-shuffled 52-card deck of regular playing cards which lay untouched on a table before me. Next came a test of my psychokinetic ability: I sat in front of an extremely sensitive, delicately balanced set of scientific scales and attempted to tip the scales - even by a miniscule amount - by force of will power alone. On that first day, I underwent these three tests repeatedly, with each repetition preceded by a 15-minute session of meditation and controlled breathing.

The second day's activities began with an hour of meditation followed by a test in telepathy: I was placed in a tiny, windowless sound-proofed room. On the table inside was a closed-circuit TV monitor, a pencil and a sketch pad. At 30-second intervals, a randomly-selected image appeared on the screen. Then I would concentrate on the image, such as a zebra or a baseball or what-have-you, and try to broadcast the image mentally to another test subject who was sitting in a similar room down the hall. After 20 minutes of my being the “sender”, the monitor went dark and then I became the “receiver” of mental images. Every 30 seconds a musical tone would sound, prompting me to scrawl a crude picture of whatever image popped into my mind at that moment. This procedure was repeated during all of the third day, between increasingly long meditation sessions.

I had been told beforehand that the tests would take three days to complete. But as I packed my overnight bag for the drive back home to Nellis that afternoon, the Duty Officer - an army lieutenant - came to my private room and asked me to report ASAP to the office of Dr Bender, who was this classified project's lead parapsychologist. I would have been shocked if he had not been affiliated with the CIA in some way. Kindly-looking Dr Bender had been lurking in the background throughout these psychic experiments, but I had never spoken with that distinguished white-haired researcher. Moreover, all test subjects - 12 of us - had been kept in virtual isolation from each other and also from the personnel who were conducting the tests.

I knocked on the doctor's door, and he bade me to enter. “Hello! Have a seat, Sergeant Smith.” Closing a manila folder, he said, “Well, I've been looking over your personnel files and medical records. You'd make a fine candidate for another round of tests we have planned over the next two days. Now if you agree to participate, your bonus will be doubled.”

“Really? That's cool. But what's so special about me? Did I do well in the tests?”

“Sorry, but we can't delve into the subject of your tests scores. The particular thing that qualifies you for further testing is your record of drug usage - specifically, LSD and marijuana.”

Slightly embarrassed, I replied hesitantly. “Aah, not, not anymore, doctor. I'll lose my security clearance if I fail another urine test.”

He leaned back in his executive chair and said, “That won't be a problem.” He went on to explain that the upcoming tests would be identical to the ones I had already taken, the only difference being that prior to the first day of testing I would consume a relatively moderate dose (300 micrograms) of LSD. For the second day, each test would start with my taking an ever-increasing dose of distilled extract of marijuana (THC), in pill form. With nothing better to do than return to my paper-shuffling job, I signed the Informed Consent release form and signed one other form, titled Temporary Exemption From the Controlled Substances Act of 1970. The doc then told me, “Copies of these will go into your security file, so there won't be any trouble, I can assure you.” Hearing that, I was unsure whether or not that was actually a good thing, since my enlistment was nearly at an end anyway.

The psychic tests I took under the influence of LSD didn't appear to turn out well, although I never was informed of the results. In the past, I had dropped acid experimentally, in high-school, but the hallucinogenic effects felt during those youthful trips were nothing compared to the way this Pure CIA Acid affected me. As soon as the acid began to deliver a pleasant body buzz, I underwent the Zener Card test. About halfway through the test, I noticed that my grandfather's reedy voice seemed to be speaking into my ear, telling me the name of each symbol on the cards - circle, cross, square, star or wavy lines - which I faithfully repeated aloud as a research assistant drew them one-by-one from the deck. After the last card, I chuckled in amusement and said, “Thanks, grampa!” The young assistant gave me an askance look, as if I had been referring to him.

At the start of the psychokinesis test, 30 minutes later, I was laughing helplessly at the notion that it was possible to move objects with the power of the mind. I gesticulated with arms and hands elaborately as if casting a magic spell, and then I observed arcs of iridescent blue light flaring from my fingertips. I commanded with a pompous air, “Sim-sim-salobim! I hereby order this delicate scientific instrument to be physically influenced merely by the force of my indomitable will - so move, motherfucker! WAAHAHOOOHAHA!”

With my mind in a dense fog, and intense colors swirling before my eyes, orderlies assisted me while I staggered down the hall to a sound-proofed room for the telepathy test. The LSD was peaking at its maximum effect as I entered the claustrophobic room. A female lab assistant's voice came over the loudspeaker, “Sergeant Smith, for the first round you'll be the receiver. The test will begin in 60 seconds.” I howled with raucous laughter because she sounded like Minnie Mouse after breathing helium.

The first musical tone prompted me to draw a picture of a vampire bat with huge fangs, then a cockroach 30 seconds later. My hilarious mood abruptly degraded to vague paranoia. The next sketch was of a bleeding Christ on the Cross. The badly-drawn Jesus suddenly became animated, lifting his thorn-crowned head and telling me, “Believe in me and thus the force of thy will shall be as great as mine own.”

Becoming agitated, I shouted at whoever could hear me, “You guys are just fucking with my head, now - Jesus never spoke English!”

Then Dr Bender's soothing voice came over the intercom. “Sergeant Smith, are you all right? Are you able to continue?”

I replied, “Yeah, tell Jesus I'm fine and dandy.”

“Just breathe deeply for a moment and relax. Close your eyes and rest. Hang in there, Sergeant, we'll be done in less than an hour.”

I followed the doctor's instructions and did begin to feel calmer. Just as the next tone sounded, an image of an extra-terrestrial being popped into my head. The slender, gray ET had a bulbous skull and enormous almond-shaped eyes, looking like the dead aliens I had seen in photos within secret Air Force Intelligence reports. A few seconds after beginning to draw it on paper, I threw the pencil down in horror and yelled, “Hey, fuck this! You people don't really give a shit about ESP - this is all about trying to pick my brain to find out what I know! That's none of the CIA's goddam business!” I bolted out of my chair so fast I almost fell on my face. I tried opening the door but it was locked, setting-off a panic attack. “Lemme outta here, you brainwashing bastards!” I rattled the doorknob and pounded on the thin metal wall . “Unlock this fucking door!” As it turned out, I had merely locked the door from the inside without realizing it. So ended the tests while zonked on LSD - a little prematurely.

After getting nine hours of sleep that night, I felt fairly normal again, and the tests performed next day under the influence of THC went more smoothly, although it was very difficult to stay awake after consuming the equivalent of about five grams of potent pot within a short time span. Later that night, during the hour-long drive back to Nellis Air Force Base, I swore to myself, “I'm never gonna volunteer for anything again - for no amount of fuckin' money!”

Flash forward to the summer of '87:
Not many days after being contacted by Augustus, I was browsing through a used-book store in downtown Seattle. I came across an old paperback which I had seen in libraries and bookstores on occasion but had never even bothered to open. It was titled Psychic Discoveries of the Soviet Union, published way back in 1970. Now I seized it off the shelf and stood there reading it in fascination for nearly an hour. The hair on the back of my neck bristled as I learned that over 20 years ago, the Russians had been conducting the same psychic experiments I had undergone in Mercury, Nevada in 1980. However, the Russian experiments went one step further: test subjects were put in isolation, where they attempted to identify and observe pre-selected objects or people or even sounds such as conversations, at a remote location - even from miles away. The purpose of that, as one might guess, was to develop the capability of psychic spying.

I then wondered, Is THAT the real reason why the government is so eager to hire me?

Copyright 2015 by K.D. Bishop

Tuesday, February 03, 2015

Aphrodite Shuddered - Chapter 10

Chapter 10
Computer Game - Level II

Feb. 1987
After receiving some positive write-ups in computer hobbyist magazines, and a two-page feature story in the Seattle Post-Impressionist newspaper, Servercomp began turning a small profit. To the disappointment of investors who were short on cash, though, all profits had to be plowed right back into additional servers and phone lines to handle the huge increase in online traffic, which had been building steadily for months but was now exploding. Most of the magazine reviews had praised the fast response-times of Servercomp's servers, which was largely due to the company's very close proximity to the city's main Bell Telephone switching center. Joey Blowers, the company CEO, once told me that that was a big reason why he had been so keen to lease the particular office space that Servercomp now occupied.

One evening in mid-March, the company held an impromptu office party/shareholders meeting, partly in celebration of the accountant's report that for the month of February Servercomp had turned a profit of over $6,000 - the most by far in its eight months of existence. Nearly all of the major shareholders were in attendance as Joey, white and in his early-30s, made an announcement: “All the recent media buzz surrounding the company has drawn the interest of several venture capitalists, so the board of directors - namely Herb, Ron and myself - has voted unanimously to authorize the issuance of 20 additional shares, increasing the number of company shares to 120.” Then, after some investors made noises of protest, Joey held up his hands and continued. “I knew you wouldn't like the sound of that, but we have no choice but to raise more capital to continue the rapid increase of our file storage capacity and phone-line capacity, or else we won't be able to compete with America On-Line and Prodigy. Look at it philosophically: 80 percent of something is infinitely better than 100 percent of nothing.” Then he clapped once and with a sly smile said, “Now, allow me to tell you guys something you'll like much better: those 20 shares will be sold for 30,000 dollars - each!” That elicited an appreciative sigh from everyone, including myself. The value of my own holdings, originally $5,000, had suddenly ballooned to over $250,000 (in theory). I wasn't going to say a word about that to Angie, as she would fall under the delusion that we were wealthy.

Wanting to drive home before I could drink too much of the freely flowing champagne, I grabbed my coat and said my goodbyes. Our Chief Operations Officer, Herb Toker, a tall and fat white guy of around 40, took me aside. With his breathy voice and noticeable lisp, which was exaggerated by the champagne, he asked, “I wath wondering, Denny - are you still working at that temp job?”

“Yeah, but it's just a way to pay the bills for the time being.”

“So you're doing okay financially, then?”

“Yeah, I guess so. Uh, why do you ask?”

“Well, I wath just going to ask if you'd be interested in selling some of your share-th back to the company. You'd get at least 30 thousand per share, perhap-th more.”

“Angie would love it if I did that, but I have no plans to sell my holdings.” I added with a laugh, “Especially now, just as it's getting interesting. Those hundreds of hours I worked for no pay are finally starting to pay-off, apparently. I can't believe how many new customers have signed-up this month - more than 500 and the month is only half over. It's getting hard to stay on top of everything, now.”
“That'th the kind of problem we like, eh, “Herb happily replied.

“Yeah, really.” My tongue loosened by alcohol, I then brought up an issue that had occupied my thoughts, on-and-off, for the past few months: “Although it makes it tough to keep illegal activity off our system. Have you seen what goes-on these days? Half of our new customers appear to be local prostitutes and pimps trying to drum-up business in the chat rooms.”

Herb dismissed my concerns with a flap of his hand. “Oh, don't worry about that, Denny. That'th why we got so many rules of conduct listed in the small print in the customers' contracts, legally covering our a-thes by banning every kind of criminal activity. Like you said, it'th getting almost impossible to stay on top of everything, but if the law ever becomes interested in one of our customer-th, of cour-th we'll cooperate.”

Now more-or-less reconciled to the situation, I made the rationalizing statement, “Yeah, I don't suppose that anyone at Sprint or A-T-and-T loses any sleep just because customers use their phone lines to commit crimes.”


* * *
One July day in 1987, I walked the short distance from home to downtown to pick-up my rather anemic paycheck at the temp agency. Lately I had been dreaming about the day when I could finally ditch the keyboard pounding data entry job, ever since receiving my very first quarterly dividend from Servercomp recently. And it was hard not to dwell on the fact that my shares in the company were worth roughly $350,000. After a long day of Carpal Tunnel Syndrome-inducing keypunching, I couldn't resist fantasizing about the kind of cool cars and electronic crap I could afford if I cashed-in immediately.

After depositing my paycheck at the bank, I killed time on that beautiful afternoon by mingling with tourists on the waterfront. At nearby Pike Place Market, I stopped and perused reading material at a big news stand which stocked every major out-of-town newspaper as well as hundreds of magazine titles. While scanning the covers on the large selection of dirty magazines, I saw a female face on the cover of XXX Video Review that looked oddly familiar. I yanked the magazine out of the rack and stared at the gorgeous young ice-blonde porn star. “That's Marta? No fuckin' way!” I said under my breath. Then I read the cover blurb next to her: Marta Eicher - Europe's Hottest New Adult Video Starlet! “Eicher, hell - more like Eichenburger.” Still, I scarcely believed it was actually her until I flipped through the magazine and found a short bio about her. It said that she was 18 years old, born in Frankfurt, Germany and had lived in the US in 1985.  Eighteen months had passed since the last time I saw Marta.

I paid the 10 bucks for the porn mag and could hardly wait to get home to show it to Tina and Angie. Tina then exclaimed, "Good Lord, look at all the filth in this magazine! Angie, check-out this big black muthafucka that Marta's givin' a blowjob to - now, he's hung! “ Then she turned to me and admonished, This is all yer fault, Herc."

Copyright 2015 by K.D. Bishop