Stanford Hospital ICU
Two Weeks later
I hear voices floating around me but can’t speak. It’s like fog—not seeing anything but able to feel the IV and restraints on my wrists.
I’m trapped inside my body, detached from the world, empty.
To lie in this hospital bed unable to move—not even an eyelid, is sheer hell. To understand what is being said around me but be unable to respond—agony. The worst part is hearing my fate discussed without being able to defend my awareness.
From a distance I hear a newscaster speak, “Terror at Tech-Millionaire Home?” I even detect the question mark in his voice which shows the media admits they know nothing of what happened.
I see blood splattering around my hot tub, a fight for survival. Then recognize with dread it’s my blood. My mind travels through a series of visions in a netherworld of floating images:
… a group of college kids doing pushups on the beach in Coronado, California. They are commanded to charge into forty-five-degree surf by Navy SEAL trainers, a few without a good neoprene wetsuit to keep them warm. The vision blurs in and out, and I see it’s a group of students I mentored as a research assistant in the Stanford technology lab.
One student asks, “Why is this our homework assignment?”
“You signed up for the Hacking for Defense class, didn’t you?” a SEAL snarls.
The student flips her long blonde hair over her shoulder, glancing out at the violent, crashing waves. A riptide forms in the distance. “This isn’t what I had in mind when—”
“Do you want college credits for this course or not, kid.” bellows the SEAL.
“Does our coursework need to mirror training for real-life warfare?”
The image fades out with her kicked out of the class for lack of participation.
The cops think they’re chasing down street thugs who tried to rob a wealthy man’s home, looking in the wrong places. Perhaps right now they are questioning an innocent black guy in a hoodie with a backpack.
How can I let them know the men they should look for work for years with me in Silicon Valley? C-level executives linked to top-secret programs claimed to protect our national security. They sat with me in boardrooms and even soaked in my hot tub casually discussing business deals before they tried to murder me.
Now that I’m lying here with bullet wounds, I realize a few of my cherished career colleagues served as a lightning rod for darker motivations.
I’m a good guy, aren’t I? In my deepest state of unconsciousness—perhaps when my active brain is sleeping—I enter an otherworldly haze of hallucinations;
I walk through a large graveyard at the base of a lush green valley between two canyon walls. The cemetery is overgrown with weeds and the tombstones all askew, many fallen, or pushed to their sides. The canyon walls are carved with images of angels and demons.
“Make your choice,” a strong female voice demands. “Sinner or Saint?”
“Both,” I hear my inner conscience reply.
There is a distant, numbed pain, thanks to the opioids pumping through my veins. My mouth is sore from the tubes that together with the breathing machines fight to keep me alive.
The real pain is in my heart and soul. The constant reminder that what brought me to this ICU is writing code the military is itching to use in targeted drone strikes.
This is not what I want my life’s work to support. My semi-conscious brain went into an overdrive of memories:
As a young boy, watching admirably as soldiers come to the rescue of coal miners in my home state of Kentucky, a humanitarian military. One man I see lifted out of the explosive aftermath is my dad. My eleven-year-old mind thinks, “I know what I want to do when I grow up; invent something that can help in disaster recovery.”
My software was meant to be used as a tool for search and rescue of human life. I never wanted my technology to go from the boardroom to the battlefield. My mind floats in and out of consciousness, drifting to another flashback…
The tall, distinguished man in glasses walks into my computer networking class and says something to my professor. I’m asked to follow the dark stranger into the hallway.
Alone with the mystery guy, I see he’s half man, half machine. He extends a gloved robotic-like hand, his breathing heavy.
“I’m Chris Helm, Director of DARPA. You’re recognized by the Stanford Research Institute as a rising star and selected for the Young Faculty Award. DARPA is prepared to fund $2.8 million to help your tech startup. We will provide industry and DoD contacts with ongoing mentoring …”
I didn’t hear the rest, or it didn’t register. The $2.8 million offer sold my software to the insidious defense sector, and with it my soul. What grad student yearning for success wouldn’t have taken the bait?
No More! I want to show future generations technologies of warfare are unnecessary to be successful in a computer science career.
If I have a future. Odd, how taking money for killing almost got me killed. I drift back to another strange dream.
The DoD Sith Lords chase me through the corporate maze. “Where’s the flash drive, Coleman! We need that software!” Darth Republican attacks me from the right, Darth Democrat attacks from the left, and I lose my balance somewhere in between, crashing into General Greed.
“I won’t take dark money!” I scream. “Go away, DARPA Vader!”
“We need to rebuild the Pentagon! We are all under threat by an invisible force! Knowledge is power! Give us the USB!”
Chris’s eyes glare red, and I see him as a computerized weapon rather than human. “I won’t turn my innovation into a technological terror!”
Medical machines battle with the chatter of disembodied voices. “Excuse me, ma’am? We do not allow gifts in the ICU.” The critical care nurse’s clear voice breaks my haunted reverie.
“Oh, gosh, I should have known that. What was I thinking?”
“No problem. I’ll hold these for you until after your visit. You must be Sean’s sister, Genevieve?”
A hesitation, then I hear Julie’s soft voice again, “No Genevieve and Aiden will be in soon. I’m his girlfriend, Julie Taylor. We spoke on the phone.”
“I’m Nurse Lee. We’ve made an exception to the visitation policy for you, but just ten minutes, please. And only two people can visit at a time, so you must leave when the family arrives.”
I hear what sounds like the nurse exiting the room. Then the cherished feel of Julie’s hand in mine warms every bone in my body, urging my senses closer to recovery. Our fingers interlace.
“Sean, I’m here. I love you. I don’t know if you can hear me but—”
I will my brain to signal my hand to squeeze hers, not knowing if my nerves communicated to accomplish the goal. It took a huge effort, using every ounce of energy I had in me.
“Oh my God, did I feel that? Can you hear me? Sean? Sean?”
I try to curl my lips into a smile. “I love you too, Jules!” I scream. But there is nothing to hear.
“Sean, I found your phone with a strange string of text messages from a guy saying… saying ‘you’re done’ if you don’t do something. Is this linked to… should I show these messages to the investigators—”
“Ms. Taylor, you’re saying too much to the patient. It could pose a risk,” I hear the nurse insist as she reentered my unit. Doesn’t she realize I hadn’t been this close to feeling alive until Julie’s arrival?
“But he squeezed my hand! I may help find his attempted murderer!” Julie’s voice refutes the nurse’s suggestion.
I hear Nurse Lee walk to my bedside, and she shines a penlight into my eyes to gauge reaction. More flashes of light to blind me. “It might be a palmar grasp reflex. Was it in response to a verbal comment?” she asked Julie.
“He still can’t open his eyes but he’s showing signs of coming out of the coma. You’re the first person he’s responded to, Ms. Taylor. I think your presence has helped him more than anything else.”
This seemed to give Julie the confidence to probe me further. “Sean, if the answer to my question about the text message is yes, please squeeze my hand again.”
This time, I squeeze with all my strength and hold on; my way of saying, yes, the key to finding my attempted killers is within my device! For the first time in my career, I regretted having a clean cell phone with no contract and untraceable.
“He’s squeezing tightly!” Julie informed the nurse, excitement in her voice.
“Okay Sean, let go now,” Nurse Lee commanded.
I let go of Julie’s hand. Again, I will my lips to curve into a smile, and apparently succeed.
“He’s smiling!” I hear Julie exclaim.
I’ll be smiling more if I can expose the head of the intelligence black budget killer squad. a geopolitical spy network to nowhere.
My mind became lucid, traveling back to something Caryssa said to me eleven years ago at a dinner party in the city. At the time, I was Worldwide Channel Manager for the Federal Division of Unabridged Networks, working accounts such as the U.S. Army, Navy, and Homeland Security.
Back in the days I hadn’t recognized the dangerous relationship between D.C. elites and the Saudi Prince that fuels our wars, sadly linked to Silicon Valley. The USA itself, a corporate identity masquerading as a country of democracy:
Sean, get out while you can! That work is contributing to the techno-crazed militarism and abusive surveillances tearing the U.S apart today.”
Had I listened to her sooner; I wouldn’t have been nearly killed twice while trying to pull away from the black budget operation secretly running through American global tech-business.