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Chapter 0
New Zealand
Tuesday, November 20

‘You’re sure everything is in place? Monitoring of radio, television, CCTV, Internet, telephones?’

‘How many more times? Yes, to all of the above.’

‘And when exactly will you release the trackbot?’

‘I’ve scheduled deployment for 03:00 New Zealand Standard Time. For all the networks we are going to infiltrate, it is the quietest global period of activity. It should not matter; I am being ultra-cautious. The earliest the bionic trigger will occur is in four days, so the trackbot will have plenty of time to adapt to any counter-attack before the monitoring begins.

‘Thanks to Regor’s neural programming the trackbot is aware of over 7,000 written and spoken languages and over 39,000 alternate names and dialects. When it detects any target activity it will send the translated details to our host machine. There the data will be analysed and filtered, and a list of candidate suspects and events produced. We will be looking for a coincidence of exceptional mental and physical achievements since these will be the most obvious sign that the triggers have been activated.’

‘Worc, you are either a genius or a fool. I am worried the trackbot’s presence will be detected, and its activity traced back to here.’

‘Luap, you can stop at genius. Only the Emorphs would be capable of tracking us, and if they did … well, that is exactly what we want.’

‘And you are sure Zhitkur and Groom Lake will not discover the Emorphs first?’

‘Extremely unlikely. They are reliant on public information being available. Many of the significant events won’t ever reach the public domain, and Zhitkur will concentrate mainly on Russia and Groom Lake on the USA.’

Chapter 1
New York City, USA
Sunday Morning, December 2

Despite being the first day of his new career, Mark Leverheusen had been through his usual ritual this Sunday morning.

He slept unusually late, not rising until eight o’clock, and then spent an hour jogging in Central Park. On his return, he picked up a copy of the New York Times from the newsstand outside his apartment block, and for a final burst of exercise ran up the stairs to the twelfth floor, burdened by the encyclopaedic weight of his newspaper. Showered, and clad in just a towelling robe, he prepared toast topped with grated cheese and squeezed fresh orange juice for his breakfast. He placed his tray on the glass-and-chrome table adjacent to the picture window, and dropped into his favourite sculptured brown leather armchair.

He looked across the Park and focused upon the swelling number of fans gathering at Strawberry Fields. When he ran past earlier, there were perhaps a dozen John Lennon devotees. Now there were at least fifty to pay homage, albeit six days early, to the thirty-second anniversary of his death. Mark knew this fact since he had been born three days before the rock star had been killed outside the Dakota building which overlooked his memorial. Despite the generation difference he had become a devotee of Beatles music and wore his hair in their style – Janette had liked it that way.

Mark was more tired than usual. The after-dinner chat the previous night had continued until 2 a.m., and this morning New York City was suffering one of its ad-hoc, global-warming temperature extremes; 73 degrees Fahrenheit in December had been a shade too sapping for a 10-mile run. His old Achilles injury was nagging too. Nonetheless, he was satisfied with his exercise.

Until today, Sunday morning had been the only opportunity for an open-air sporting outlet. His graphics design skills for Tate & Carpenter had kept him at his desk from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., six days a week, and jogging through the streets or parks in NYC outside of daylight hours was a risk he avoided following a random mugging six months ago – the two-inch ragged scar on his left cheek was the evidence. Despite his fitness and physique, fending off three heavies became a lost cause when a knife was drawn. He kept his life, but had had to surrender his runner’s watch and MP3 player. From now, he would be able to satisfy his physical fix whenever he felt inclined.

He picked up his newspaper and separated the Sports Section. For such a world-renowned journal, the sports coverage was too insular and American for his liking. His sporting interests were diverse: national basketball, ice hockey, football, baseball, athletics, and tennis were statistically rich and he soaked up the results like a sponge. International events, unless an American had broken a world record or been a victor, barely warranted a mention. He would have to wait until later to catch up with weekend overseas news, when he visited his favourite Internet sites devoted to international performances.

Also tomorrow, he would pick up a paper copy of the British Sunday Telegraph from Grand Central station, so that he could indulge himself in a particular passion, the results and reports of UK soccer matches. For the moment, he contented himself with the numerical delights of tables and statistics that accompanied Saturday’s domestic results. After the major sports, he moved on to the minor pastimes, and absorbed yet more details to quench his insatiable desire for the mathematics of human endeavour. He avoided motor and equestrian sports on the basis these were not the strict result of an individual’s ability. A car’s performance or a horse’s nature could easily compensate for human failings – in his opinion.

Friends and acquaintances often sought his knowledge. When time permitted, he attended national sporting events throughout New York and neighbouring States. Not that he was enamoured by spectating – TV coverage always gave a better experience – but he frequently received invites from executive friends, who seemed to acquire an excess of corporate hospitality tickets for popular sporting occasions. He could always supply a running commentary of key facts and figures whenever called upon; though he only tendered his wealth of information when asked, lest he be considered a boring data geek. Unbeknown to him, the main reason for his popularity was his sociable nature, strong physique, and good looks. In the eyes of his hosts, he was the eminently available bachelor – a perfect addition to social events, especially when the gathering contained one or more female singletons. Yet, he was dismissive of the women who sought his attention; not overtly, he merely treated each encounter with ultimate respect and politeness – much to the frustration of his prospective suitors. Only the closest of friends knew the reason for his apparent indifference – Mark had been a secondary victim of the events of September 11, 2001.

He was prompted to recall some history as his results scan paused at the regular ten-pin bowling column.

He had met his fiancée, Janette Chisholm, as a sophomore at Princeton University when he was a freshman. They declared love for each other after their second date and were inseparable during their university years. When Janette graduated, they became engaged and she took a job at Alpha Trust Incorporated in New York.

For the next eleven months, Mark had struggled with the conflicting desires of being with Janette as often as he could and completing his final year studies. On graduation with a degree in English in June 2001 he had resolved to become a journalist. None of the jobs that were on offer appealed to him and a chance conversation with Janette’s father – Ed – led to acceptance of a graphics design position at Ed’s own company – Tate & Carpenter. Mark had developed a secondary interest in design work at Princeton and thought the job would be a useful filler until he found an attractive creative writing appointment.

In Janette’s first year at Alpha Trust she had become a local star on the New York bowling alleys. The company’s women’s team had been undefeated in the State league when their lives ended abruptly on that fateful day in 2001. It was sheer coincidence that Janette – the Internet sales manager; Martha – a secretary; and Victoria – an investment consultant, had shared a mild passion for, and latent proficiency in, ten-pin bowling. At a corporate bonding evening, someone had suggested the friendly rivalry of a bowling tournament. Spontaneously the threesome were grouped together by their hair colour and the Redhead Rollers were formed. That night, the performance of the newly established team humbled the rest of Alpha Trust. A few weeks later, following a little weekend coaching from Mark – an accomplished bowler himself – the Redheads joined the State league. Courtesy of outstanding play from Janette, the team had propelled themselves to local sporting fame. Ironically, the key item on the business agenda during the formative bonding session was an agreement to start Alpha’s working day at 8:00 a.m. instead of the customary 9:00 a.m. Thus, when a terrorist-hijacked aeroplane crashed into their offices in the north tower of the World Trade Center at 8:46 a.m. on that tragic morning, the staff were already immersed in their daily routine. Within minutes, Janette, the Redhead Rollers, and the rest of Alpha Trust had ceased to exist.

The fleeting nightmare passed.

Mark returned to the newspaper column headlined “900 Wonderboy – it’s official!” It recounted the story of Tom Wallstein – a youth from Washington – who had bowled a perfect three game series scoring 900 – 36 strikes in a row. It was the third consecutive time he had done it; twice in previous league games, but this time an official observer from the United States Bowling Congress had been a witness. The strangest part of the story was that prior to this achievement, Tom’s average score in the junior league had been a mere 136; comparatively he had gone from zero to hero overnight. Tom had been interviewed, but could not explain his performance other than “Suddenly it clicked in my head what I should do”. Mark knew that perfect 900s had been rolled before: some had been dismissed on technicalities, such as imperfections in lane surface; others because of outside collusion, whereby an accomplice, sitting on top of the pin-setting machinery, had thrown extra skittles at any still standing after a ball had been bowled. Tom’s latest 900 effort appeared to be one of only about a dozen that had been officially sanctioned. Mark raised his eyebrows in recognition of the feat. Statistically, the accomplishment was remarkable. Sure, there was an ideal target to score a strike, usually between pins numbers one and three from a right-handed approach, or one and two from the left. But achieving such accuracy in competition 108 times running, particularly when the alignment of the ten pins was never exactly the same, was … well … an impossible dream for bowlers.

Mark added Tom Wallstein to the list of people he wanted to see when he embarked on his new career tomorrow.

* * *

Tom Wallstein’s achievements had already come to the attention of others, and his name was already on a priority list in New Zealand.