The Money Masquerade

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Chapter 17


STANFORD ICU

SEAN

My eyes fluttered open. The silver lining of a curtain turned into a rock-walled ceiling through my blurred vision. Or are those holes with electrical outlets up there? Machines battled with faint chatter as I tried to gather my senses.

The shooting filtered into focus but was surreal—like a Twilight Zone episode.

Blood, lots of blood, my blood. It’s real. My high-powered career nearly got me killed.

The blanket was warm as I lay ramrod straight on my back. Stretching my sore body, I examined the surroundings. Two vague shapes appeared in the corner.

“Mr. Coleman?” One shape spoke and I recognized the soft compassionate voice. Nurse Lee.

I had to give myself a reasonability test before I spoke. Was I hallucinating? Did three men I worked with for over a decade try to kill me? One of them someone I considered a good friend. Their faces became clear in my mind, as did the guns in their hands.

Chris Helm. I wanted to say his name, but nothing came to my lips. What if it’s an illusion and I implicate my buddy? The man who spearheaded my career through DARPA and helped me get funding through the CIA’s venture capital firm. Then it hit me; that’s why he tried to kill me. I had shut off his money stream.

Ahmad bin Talden, a Saudi executive linked to Silicon Valley venture capital and global arms deals. He’s the one connected to the current White House administration. The one who aimed a gun at my head.

Jed Snead. The head of the Joint Artificial Intelligence Center. I remember his words as he aimed his gun at my torso. “We need your software, Coleman, or we’ll never be able to target and eliminate our enemies.”

I’m surprised they didn’t fly a tiny microbot filled with lethal poison into my yard to induce a heart attack. It would have been a cleaner operation. Many people die of heart attacks while soaking in hot tubs.

Rather than say their names, I gave every ounce of energy I had to form one word. A word I was told to never repeat. The operation that nearly got me killed. I’d signed classified business agreements to keep the mission a secret. Tech’s love-affair with the nondisclosure agreement is wreaking havoc on world peace.

With a croaky voice, I said, “Sp-Springnest.” Why am I stuttering when my thoughts are clear?

“Excuse us, sir?” A male voice. I strained and my vision cleared to reveal the smooth oval face of a young man dressed in casual trousers and a neat t-shirt. He had a round boyish face that made him look about sixteen.

Nurse Lee introduced him, “Our critical care social worker, Doug Peters is here to help you piece things together, Mr. Coleman. This is for your protection before law enforcement speaks with you.”

“Th-they… they sh-shot me.” I blurted out. “In… in my own ba-backyard.”

“Yes, Mr. Coleman. What else do you remember? What’s this ‘Springnest’ you mentioned?” asked Doug.

Fuck the secret mission. I was shot before I divulged it. What do I have to lose now? I repeated the code name of the military mission, “Springne-nest. It’s the or-organization th-that’s after m-me.”

It was the most I’ve said since being cooped up in this insufferable chaotic low-tech box. With all its machines and wires sticking out, you’d think an ICU in the tech-hub capital of the world could drop into the 21st Century. Too busy building weapons instead, which ironically is what landed me here.

I also wondered about all the whispered concerns over masks, face shields, and gloves. What’s going on here, an infectious disease? How long had I been in a coma? When I was in China last month, I was forced by law to wear a mask due to the Cloud Virus. Has it spread here?

I wanted to ask all these questions, but my mind could only send certain messages to my mouth.

“Can you elaborate on this Springnest organization. Any names? The social worker asked.

Since when are hospital staff law enforcement? “H-have you re-re-reported the sh-shooting to the co-cops?” I asked rather than answering the question. My mouth is dry. I didn’t wait before I asked another question, “Wa-water pl-please?”

“I’m sorry, it’s too soon,” Nurse Lee said as she checked my IV. “You’re receiving liquids and nutrients. We didn’t have to report the incident, your neighbor called the cops when he heard gunshots.”

Steve? Next door? He’s always looked out for me. I remembered him calling to me over the fence as I sat in my hot tub. Before three surprise visitors from tech-hell showed up.

I threw all caution to the wind, like a last-minute attempt to push a villain off a cliff. My life was at stake.

My voice splashed out in rough waves: “Sp-Springnest is the co-co-codename for a se-se-se-secret gov-government pr-program. It in-involves m-missions in Af-Afghanistan using te-technology from Si-Silicon Va-Valley and across the gl—”

“I’m sorry Mr. Coleman.” Doug tossed up his hands. “We cannot discuss classified military information. We need to hear only what you remember about the shooting.”

“Th-that’s wh-what I’m getting at, if you’d ju-just l-listen!” I felt my blood pressure rise.

Nurse Lee stepped in, “Mr. Peters, we need to let Mr. Coleman rest now.”

“N-no!” I answered. “I ne-need to get th-this out n-now.” I wanted to lift my hospital bed up and chuck it into the hallway, but too dizzy from blood loss and drugs.

Doug exhaled noisily, one of those exasperated sounds that show a person’s time is being wasted. “Without going into details of the mission, Mr. Coleman, what do you remember about this Springnext—”

“F-faces.”

“How are these— faces— related to someone trying to murder you?” Doug’s asked in a sensitive tone.

His words hung a moment in the air before I could process them. Over the next sixty seconds I describe— stammer and all—the three men that came to my spa area trying to persuade me to accept funding for my startup from In-Q-Tel and SoftBank. Then how, when I refused, they held me at gunpoint in a failed attempt to get my intellectual property.

“Mr. Coleman,” Doug prodded. “Are you implying that top military officials and the intelligence community are behind your attempted murder?”

“Y-yes,” I answered with full confidence. “And a fo-fourth p-person had g-given th-them the d-di-directive to c-carry it out.”

“A fourth person?” Doug’s eyebrows lifted with curiosity.

“P-President C-Crown.”

Doug’s whole body seemed to stiffen. “Now you’re implicating the President of the United States of America?” He exclaimed; the sound of his voice incredulous.

“Yes.”

When they moved toward the other side of the room with obvious concern for my mental health, I figured they already think I’m nuts, so why stop now. I blurt out, “Sp-Springnest isn’t m-much unlike the J-JEDI project out of S-Silicon V-Valley—the P-Pentagon’s d-dark force. Th-The in-international war cl-clouds are g-gathering! My tech-technology will not p-provide more d-death to the w-world!”

I hear muffled voices. Nurse Lee whispered to the social worker, “ICU Psychosis, we see this often.”

Did she think I hadn’t heard this? I may have PTSD, but not psychosis. Then Doug whispered back to her, “Yes, I see this often as an ICU social worker. The patients often present with complete visions straight out of a Sci-Fi Movie.”

“N-no! I’m -n-not having d-delusional v-visions. This is r-r-real!” I hear my raspy voice cry out. I’m thirsty, tired, and scared. Not just for my life, but how deep my career got connected to White House corruption, and how such actions are granted complete presidential and business-class immunity from the law.

Nurse Lee jiggled my IV and I had a bad feeling where this was going. “P-please d-d-don’t s-sedate me m-more, I’m f-f-fine!” I insisted.

But before long, I fell into a dark hole of oblivion.

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