The Money Masquerade

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Chapter 18

El Cerrito Hills, California


Two days later

“Are you still having nightmares about the café shooting Caryss?”

“No, the nightmares are over—though I’m haunted by flashbacks of the young man’s eyes pleading with me for help.”

That, and how he was wrapped in a labyrinth of technology; including a Google Glass with stereo earbuds, laptop, cell phone and multiple wires connected to electrical outlets. The effect was dehumanizing, reminding me of the first time I saw the Lockheed Marin building in Silicon Valley; a windowless box with just a number painted and a forest of electronic antennas twisting from its rooftop.

What has our military industrial complex done to this kids’ mind, body and soul?

Anna kept the mandated 6-feet away, following the strict social distancing orders of government and health officials. She stood within the abundance of pink jasmine that trailed the fences around my garden.

I continued to transplant succulents while chatting. The differing textures and subtle smells of violet and mint provided a sensory delight. “Our nation’s endless gun violence and wars are still a worse pandemic than anything to me—and now people are hoarding more weapons with their panic about the cloudvirus.”

“Probably the same nutcases that are hoarding toilet paper and face masks,” Anna responded.

I lifted a patch of freshly dug soil to my face, practically burying the brown Earth in my nostrils. Horticulture therapy, like perfume to a gardener.

I’d spent all morning with my husband and son gardening in our backyard. Digging in the soil and sunshine lifted my spirits. A light wind licked at the spread of lavender, Mexican sage, and poppies scattered around the patio.

The breeze tousled Anna’s chestnut hair, her golden highlights glistening in the sun. Behind us, the orange hue of the Golden Gate Bridge shined in the distance. My eyes landed on the garden hose which lay on the ground like a dead green snake.

Lengthening my body from squatting to standing to give Anna my full attention, I wiped my garden-gloved hands on my pants. “Where’s Julie, I thought she was coming with you?”

“She’s with Sean’s siblings Genevieve and Aiden. Their flight back to NYC was cancelled so they’re stuck here. They’re comforting each other.” Anna said. “All visitation rights to the hospital have been banned, so they’re hanging at Julie’s place.”

“How’s Sean doing?”

“Better… much better I hear. Yet Jules is concerned about how heavily sedated they have him. She thinks it’s more harmful than helping—”

“That pisses me off! He’s out of the coma and they need to keep him awake, let him walk around, get his blood moving.” The expression on Anna’s face showed me there’s more to the story. I looked at her hiking poles and water-backpack and could see she was eager for fresh air and exercise. “Let’s get going on our hike and talk about it more with a release of endorphins.”

I ran to my garage and pulled out my own hiking poles and sporting gloves, then circled back to the kitchen to fill my hydration pack with filtered water. We did some slow, low intensity stretches to warm-up our muscles.

My favorite local trail—The Hillside Natural Area— was a few blocks from my house and our brisk walk to get there prepared our bodies for the challenge. We set out immediately, enjoying the vast open space of woods, grasslands and creeks. Ahhh yes! — The beauty of living in the hills. We were surrounded with aromatherapy, the strongest scent the eucalyptus trees encircling the trail.

The glint of sunlight through the trees added to the feeling of well-being and tranquility. Keeping at a distance from each other, I called out to Anna, “So tell me more about Sean’s condition, what’s Julie saying? It’s no longer covered by the media, which is all about the cloudvirus.”

Catching her breath on the trail behind me, Anna’s winded voice answered, “Speaking of, Sean was tested for cloudvirus.”

That stopped me in my tracks. I twisted my whole body around to look at her. “Oh my God, I’d nearly forgotten about his recent trip to China to deal with the rare earth metals issue!”

Anna had stopped hiking. She was panting and out of breath. “Are you okay?” I asked

“I’m fine, just go at a slower pace please. Hiking is like skiing with you!” She laughed. “Yes, they tested him because of his trip. But he also presented with respiratory problems. Blessedly, the test was negative, and recovering well.”

Relief swept through me aided by the sound of the birds singing a springtime lullaby. The flowered branches of a nearby rosemary bush seemed to stretch like fingers to catch the life-giving sunshine. “Let’s continue hiking while we talk.”

We ascended the beautiful natural hillside, up a steep incline that used every breath we had, so there was no talking for a good ten minutes. What a test for our own respiratory health. There were a few other people on the trail, all keeping within proper distance and waving to us. Nothing like an infectious disease to bring people together in a friendly way. We were all together on this sinking ship.

At the top of the hill we appreciated our surroundings. Anna let out a satisfied sigh as she stared at the panoramic landscape. “My favorite view in this city,” she declared.

I took in a deep breath, filling my lungs with the crisp air thick with the smell of damp leaves and tree bark. “It’s spectacular.”

The Golden Gate and Bay Bridges, Angel Island, Alcatraz and other monumental icons from this angle created a skyline etched for a painting.

I continued on topic; “So…that’s great Sean tested negative for the virus. But I still think the ICU isn’t treating him right with heavy sedation. They should take what Sean said about President Crown’s involvement in the shooting seriously. Maybe that’s what the “C” on Sean’s text stood for.”

“No, the C stands for someone else. What I can’t understand is why the cops aren’t using Sean’s cell phone data to trace the perpetrators.”

I took a big sip from my hydration pack, clenching the drinking tube between my teeth while sucking in the water. With a frustrated sigh, I added, “And why would anyone be surprised our crazed Commander-in-Chief may have his hands dirty—”

“There’s more to it—there’s other reasons the ICU workers think Sean’s gone nuts.” Anna said. “Let me finish! Julie told me Sean has implicated top U.S. military and intelligence officials in his attempted murder. When they told him that he’s been tested for the virus, he screamed, “It’s DARPA and the defense people behind cloudvirus! Stop DARPA Vader!” So, they thought he’s hallucinating another Sci-Fi movie and sedated him more.”

Anna’s words hit me like a bullet to my heart. Defense Advanced Research Agency. Of course! “I don’t think Sean’s telling them crazy stuff at all, I warned him not to work with that agency over a decade ago! The Pentagon and DARPA have been involved in some weird experimentations—pushing to use underground tunnels for secrecy.”

“The hospitals are too overwhelmed with not having enough basic supplies like masks, plastic shields, and gloves for the medical staff,” Anna said. “Julie mentioned that while Sean was tested, they scrambled for bandanas and community donations to protect themselves.”

“And protect the patients,” I responded. “This all goes back to what I’ve been saying about how we need to invest in medical technology over military technology—especially weird things like cyborg insects!”

Anna shook her head. “Are you overthinking again Caryss? Doing that connect-the-dots thingy?”

“You mean thinking for myself? I can remember something I overheard on a business trip to China back in the ’90s. The Chinese Ministry of Science & Technology was speaking at a conference in Bejing and had announced, ’We will make capitalism America’s biggest enemy, through California’s Silicon Valley.’”

Anna snapped a few shots of the view and flowers. “Do you blame China for the coronavirus breakout?” She blatantly asked, surprising me with such controversial question.

“No. I believe it was discovered there, but I don’t blame the Chinese. I’m trying to show how China has wanted to win the reckless global competition of military power. I’m hinting at hidden geopolitical forces people don’t know about,” I said.

“Shouldn’t we be talking about being at one with nature instead of how DARPA is messing with our natural world?” Anna watched a cluster of butterflies fluttering through the trail.

“We already are at one with nature. I’m past the denial or panic stage of the cloudvirus and onto acceptance of its connection to the global military madness. America has led the world into an apocalyptic—”

“Then get it out.” Anna’s voice showed weariness. Even anger, which was unlike her. “I’m listening.”

“Come on Anna, ‘A walk in nature walks the soul back home’. Remember the Mary Davis quote we both love? This affects both of us. We are equally as concerned as the other for our son and grandson’s future! Let’s look at this talk and walk in the wilderness as therapeutic not antagonistic.”

“You have a valid point, go on.”

I took in a deep, cleansing breath of the great outdoors. “Okay, China has its own DARPA-like agency now. Their version is called COSTIND. It stands for The Commission of Science, Technology and Industry making radical emerging technologies for ‘national defense’ as well. They copied the program the U.S. had started to keep up in this dangerous race to outpace us in militaristic use of artificial intelligence.”

“Using these advanced, creepy technologies as a competitive weapon?” Anna’s tone sounded a bit softer and I wouldn’t have continued this topic had I not known she too, is more afraid of what nonstop war has done to our ecosystem and people than the virus itself.

“That’s what I think—as leverage. Both exploit mosquitos and whatever creature chosen as a vector for human experiments injecting dangerous viruses into plants and wildlife. I’m convinced it’s the global-tech power-struggle that’s the culprit.”

“You make it sound like these cutthroat competitive military science experiments could have spilled out into this deadly strain of cloudvirus?” Anna swung her hydration backpack around and grabbed a couple energy bars handing one to me.

Sometimes I wish I’d never seen certain contracts pass my desk so long ago while working my cherished Silicon Valley circuit.

“Yes…” I paused. “Maybe not on purpose—I’m not insisting this virus was planted intentionally. But even one of America’s most famous and influential technologists Bill Joy warned that 21st Century technologies will be so powerful they can spawn accidents and abuses.”

“Come to think of it, Sean mentioned during his lavish party that DARPA has conducted research involving bats and cloudviruses since 2018 in and around China,” Anna mentioned.

“And the wild masked men using sex as power for money gave him the finger and voiced words that could kill,” I responded. The animosity toward Sean from some of the tech big wigs suddenly made sense.

“There were some rather interesting conversations at Sean’s. I remember next-to-naked entrepreneurial women in the hot tub being openly and acceptingly harassed to pitch their technology to investors,” Anna recalled.

“Makes you wonder who under those masks tried to kill Sean.” I took in the surreal landscape of the bay while saying this, the city skyline and wisps of fog over the Golden Gate Bridge painting yet another beautiful painting worthy of a spot on a wall of our world’s top art museums.

If we still have our art institutions after this all settles down, I thought. It seems our spending on war is edging out arts and the humanities.

Anna brought her pace to a light jog as we descended the hiking path. “Yup. There’s something strange about the mad-scientist research that claims the virus appeared through natural evolution and attacked the world overnight.”

I slipped on some damp eucalyptus leaves, nearly falling on my ass. “The loss of biodiversity has been happening over time, due to destructive human activity. The human actions are what seems to be left out of the equation.”

Anna threw up her hands, “Whatever. I don’t have all the answers.”

“I’m just saying… cloudviruses have been around for centuries. The two deadly strains of it in China and Saudi Arabia before this outbreak—are awash with Silicon Valley cash and happened during the timeline of the ‘war against terrorism.’. I can’t say there’s a connection but makes me wonder.”

We trekked down an easy, narrow path winding through wildflowers and weeds. I hoped the butterflies, too, weren’t turned into robotic insects. Anna plucked a flower and stuck it behind her ear. Perhaps my artist friend was hinting, ‘let’s talk about peace and love.’

“Anna… the Internet—that great information highway; It was one of those brilliant inventions by the original version of DARPA, before it went to the dark side. And now… they’re funding research for weird things like beetles with electronic backpacks acting like mini-drones. They’ve produced these cyborg bugs as close as Cal Berkeley and Davis. From East to West this shit’s happening. Harvard researchers designed freakish RoboBees! For what? To act as killer bees and destroy the planet and people?

Anna turned her face toward the sun, a tremulous smile forming on her lips. “There’s a thin line between love and hate; just as there’s a thin line between good and evil. With the current media war and rising tensions between the U.S. and China… you might be onto something.”

It broke my heart. The reason I moved to California twenty-five years ago, before the world seemed to lose all its innocence and idealism was to help build the misinformation superhighway that has spiraled dangerously out of control.

“Yes,” I answered. “We’ve militarized most every institution in America through corporate funding. Even the CDC. What did that Canadian philosopher, Marshall McLuhan say? Something like; ‘World War III will be a guerrilla information war, with no division between military and civilian participation.’”

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