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The Focus Factor
by Darrell Bain, Gerald W. Mills

Category: Science Fiction/Suspense/Thriller
Description: A scientist whose family is killed by illegal immigrants decides to use his research on autistic idiot-savants to discover a solution to the problem. Before long, he finds himself inextricably involved in a conspiracy to not only solve the illegal immigrant crisis, but almost every other ill besetting America. [Entertaining futuristic suspense. On another level, a manifesto for regime change in America.]
eBook Publisher: Twilight Times Books, 2006
eBookwise Release Date: May 2006

eBookeBook

46 Reader Ratings:
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Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [384 KB]
Words: 88057
Reading time: 251-352 min.


Chapter One

The Red Queen had it right--it did take all the running one could do just to keep in the same place.

The line from Alice in Wonderland brought a thin smile as Murray Blake hung up his lab coat and carefully shrugged an arm into his windbreaker. A week earlier he'd been lost in thought about his research project, in a restaurant no less, and the gun in his right jacket pocket almost conked a woman sitting at the adjacent table. The imaginary headline flashed across his mental screen: 'RESEARCH SCIENTIST K.O.s RESTAURANT PATRON.' He'd managed to catch the heavy bulge just in time and slap it back against his hip--still had the bruise--but it had been a close one.

Lost in thought--those three words certainly said it all. No matter how he stretched for that proverbial carrot it was always the same distance away--just out of reach. Another hectic week at Barrington Research with nothing to show for it but fatigue that cut right through to the bone marrow. Come Monday he'd do it all over again. At the rate his life was flying by, his forty-fourth year might get there before the forty-third was half over. On the flip side, scientific breakthroughs were never part of anyone's timetable, happening when they were ready, not before.

He adjusted the gun handle for easy access, zipped the jacket and picked up his briefcase. One last check around the office showed all terminals secured and the server vault door properly sequenced. It would take a substantial amount of explosive to blow it, but just the past week an identical setup in Boulder had been compromised and data stolen. A steel door eight inches thick simply wasn't enough to guard company secrets any more. Even the smallish banks had gone to fourteen inches. The thought drew a tired sigh. It was all a crap shoot. It depended on what kind of secrets were being guarded--and who wanted them.

He pressed his thumb to the lockplate, holding it long enough for the analyzer to run its comparison. There was an audible whirr behind the door panel, the sound of powerful gear motors sliding heavy bolts into the steel panel, then a heavy thud. Done, at least until Monday. Then it would take a good half hour to get everything up and running again, including a full archive check to be sure nothing had happened over the weekend. So much for office security.

The whole protection thing had been one big charade for years because there'd been nothing much to conceal or protect where he was concerned. Basic research often turned out that way. The heavy bulge in his right pocket had to do with personal safety after he left the Barrington building, not while he was inside. Nobody'd want his scientific data anyway, at least not in its present state. It was one long, sad tale of promising threads that led nowhere. Only in the past few weeks had there been anything to crow about. The research had begun to get exciting--and promising. Definitely a source of renewed drive and personal energy, but still not worth the trouble of carrying a gun. Robbers weren't sophisticated enough to go after that kind of data, but the money he usually carried was another matter. Not that it was a lot, but still ... better to play it safe, as his wife Connie reminded him every so often.

He'd been thinking about the new investigative thread there in the restaurant, not caring to consider the odds against success while he fought down the natural tendency found in all research: push harder, go faster. Some of it couldn't be hurried, and there was the rub. Sit on a rocket, but stand on the brakes. Dreams were hard to deal with that way.

Dust was still being delivered horizontally outside the huge Barrington building, blowing into Oklahoma from Kansas. He ducked instinctively and held up a shielding hand to keep the grit from stinging his face or getting in his eyes, but it did anyway. Half of Kansas had to be covering Oklahoma these days, thanks to the wrong-way wind and constant drought. Or at least it seemed so on days like this. Clouds of the stuff whirled around the parking area floodlight poles, leaving cars with half an inch in a single workday. His own forty-acre spread, not that far from the labs, was no exception. Some of it remained green, but not for much longer if this kept up. Now only scrub oaks and gnarled cedar were hanging on, plus tumbleweeds, tough pasture grass and weeds of various kinds. Drifts of sand obscured the rest. It still rained further south, but who'd want to live there? They got hurricanes that far inland now, along with a spate of tornados every year. Big storms had already come within two hundred miles of the Oklahoma City suburbs, streaking up through Texas and eventually arching back through Kansas and points east as far as Chicago. Another hundred sixty miles north and the damn things would be crossing his front yard. Only the Rockies would stop them some day not that far in the future.

Some scientists thought the current Midwestern drought was part of a cycle rather than global warming. Who cared? Just have it all end, say tomorrow.

The parking lot was all but empty, just a few lonely cars plus his new Wankel Beehive. It suffered from the dust as much as its occupants did. The windshield was scratched and would need replacing soon. Air filters were good for about one week before they had to be changed. They were stacked fifty deep in his garage. There was modern technology for you--a flywheel that could power the car for up to ten miles, solar panels and fuel cells to supplement the gasoline engine, but no automatic air cleaner. The car had cost a bundle, but it got formidable mileage--a real consideration these days--and gasoline was still available because one of the new depolymerization plants outside the city furnished the oil for a small refinery. Not enough to guarantee anything outside the driving limitations of the Wankel, but who drove more than two hundred miles these days? And the way things were going, he couldn't be sure of proper servicing for the Beehive outside that range anyway. The old Lincoln Expedition was always there for a quick shopping trip downtown, or long distance driving if such a thing ever returned. And if the dust ever stopped.

His finger was alongside the gun's trigger as he punched in the access code on the Beehive's door and glanced quickly around to be sure he was alone. The unconscious act was the result of training and years of self-discipline. Even though the floodlights were adequate, hits were often made just as drivers were opening car doors or as they were settling in a moment later. This time there were no nearby cars to conceal criminals.

He relaxed further as the car door swung upward and a female voice--Connie's voice--welcomed him. "Hello, Mr. Blake. Won't you come in?" He'd originally programmed it with a much more seductive greeting. That hadn't gone over so well when he'd forgotten to kill the greeting before taking on a female passenger.

Once inside, with the door closed, he drew his first really long breath. One of the two most dangerous parts of the commute had been passed without incident. The other would be at the distant end. On the way out of the lot, he waved to the guard. What could be more comforting--and incongruous--than the sight of someone wearing composite body armor and carrying a short-barreled M16A5, especially on a Friday night after a mind-boggling week of work? It made the Barrington facility seem like the only safe place in the universe, except for the parking lot. Bandits on foot could still get through the cyclone fence if they had a mind. It hadn't been that way fifteen years back, when the country hadn't quite fallen into the mess it was in now.

His hair had been solid black then, not shot with gray, and his face wasn't covered with worry lines deep enough to conceal a memory chip. And glasses! He hated wearing them, but who had time for surgery? His eyes weren't really that bad, and the specs did help his eyestrain. Connie said they made him look distinguished. Ha! She'd have said that if he'd grown a Kris Kringle beard.

He was out at the main road before he really felt the pressure let go. A quick status check at the main road said the car's computer could do the driving. The five-mile route to home was well-programmed and the Beehive's reactive programming could handle anything unexpected, like a starving deer wandering onto the road or a snap I.D. check by the state police. That left him hands-free. He stuck one foot up on the dash, clasped both hands behind his head and asked for the digital news. The newsfeed had nothing new on it at all, in spite of what the word 'news' was supposed to mean. Some politician was blathering about ... well, what the heck was he blathering about? A minute later the question remained. A few thousand words, give or take, with time out for throat clearings and a slew of anecdotes, but not one clue as to the subject.

"Goddamned crooks, all of them." He'd muttered the same words a few thousand times before, but usually at home and never when he might be overheard. The Beehive had no audio link, as far as he knew, so he was free to say anything he wanted. His next word to the console was 'bioscience.' The newscast switched before the word was finished, breaking in on a discussion of a new line of chicken corn that held great promise as a source of tasty, low fat protein. Then that topic devolved into politics as well. A debate between pundits of opposing ethical views got off to a lively start. One was based on religious objections to releasing plants imbued with animal genes into the environment, while the other so-called ethicist was no less adamant. She reasoned from an environmental basis, though God knows what she thought people would eat if every new agricultural product was banned, as she seemed to think they should be. Goddamn Luddites, both of 'em.

He switched off the news and took control of the car when it turned onto the gravel road going to his quarter-mile driveway and the 'golden gate.' That's what he and Connie called the thing. Not too many research scientists could afford security fences and gates like his, but in the long run the cost had been worth it. The security fence didn't actually surround his property, but it did go most of the way around. Better than most. Only a small portion was left to cyclone fence and barbed wire.

He stopped in the usual spot while the home computer once more made friends with the car. The telescopic retina scan and pattern recognition camera allowed him to stay put, relatively safe from any outlaws who might be hiding in the brush along the gravel road. Illegal immigrants were everywhere, and when work was scarce they formed roving gangs. Goodbye to anything valuable in vulnerable country cottages or estates when the immigangs came visiting. What a world! Couldn't even have a place in the country without spending a fortune on security. Cars like the Beehive even had so-called bulletproof windows that retracted no more than an arm's width. The laminate made driving almost too quiet at times, and ordinary conversation with someone outside was more sign language than anything else. In spite of all that, he could hear his Great Pyrenees dogs barking even now. When the Beehive was running on electricity, their acute hearing picked up its unique whine.

Sugar and Moose, the gentle giants, were as much a part of the security system as the rest. Friendly and lovable, they were instantly ferocious if any of the family were directly threatened. A new litter of pups was almost weaned. When the doggies got their weekly treat of chewies, which amounted to candy for dogs, they were more fun than the goats at feeding time. Sugar was even tending to a few baby chicks whose mother had fallen victim to a bobcat. What a sight when the chicks took to sitting on pups and mother, even sleeping with them. One photo won a prize in Dog World.

He parked the car and had no sooner raised the swing-up door than he was besieged by the monster dust mops. "Hello, Sugar. Howdy, Moose! Hey, you lummoxes, what have you been doing, loafing all day?" They bounced and rolled on the dusty driveway like it was a trampoline, waiting on him to clear the car so they could maul him. Then Connie called from the open door of the mud room. She was waggling the phone. Not even home, and he had a phone call waiting! What could that be about? He fended off the dusty dogs and hurried toward his wife.

He gave her a lingering, affectionate kiss before taking the phone. Age seemed to enhance Connie's subtle beauty. She still wore her reddish curly hair long, pulled casually back in a modified ponytail, and whenever she'd been out in the sun the freckles across the bridge of her nose were more pronounced--like now. She'd gotten home early and had been out trying to do something with the plants bordering the house. An hour in the sun was all it took.

He slipped his free arm around her waist and put the phone to his ear. It Jack Williams, his best friend and a colonel in the army.

"Hey, Murray, we're in town this weekend. What say we get together and you bring me up to date on your research?"

"Bribe me."

"Okay, how's ribs on the barbie sound? On Brenda and me this time. Big and juicy. Bones for the doggies."

"Fine, for openers. Now if you throw in everything the military's been up to since whenever it was we last talked, you got a deal."

"Boy, you strike a hard bargain! Okay, we'll bring some little ribs just for those Chihuahuas. What're their names again?"

"Bandit and Frito. And they're Pomeranians. That's where all the background noise is coming from." Murray held the phone out so his friend could hear the frantic yapping of the fuzzy little dogs as they vied for his attention.

"That's a relief. I thought maybe Connie was strangling a rooster for dinner."

"Matter of fact, we've been talking about you and Brenda staying here next time you get some leave. Not that we miss you, but you barbeque better than I do. This is a real army leave this time, right? You're not AWOL?"

"Last time I went AWOL they begged me never to come back. I didn't listen and look what happened ... made me a colonel. And Murray, when it comes to your cooking, that's not a Bunsen burner you've got out there on the patio. You're not heating something in a test tube. No wonder your dogs won't eat the leftovers. What day?"

"Tomorrow?"

"Sounds good. We'll see you about noon."

He flipped the phone shut. He and Jack had been captains together a long time back. The research position with Barrington had been too attractive to pass up, a chance for better pay and a more interesting job in abnormal genetic physiology, his specialty. He'd originally been drawn to that field of study because of autism that ran in the family, but a chance like that came once in a lifetime. He had resigned his commission and grabbed at it.

Connie's bright smile set off her freckles. "Are they coming?"

"Yep. Guess he wanted to check and make sure I wasn't going to be stuck at the lab before he said anything to you. He's bringing the ribs." He squeezed her, then aimed her inside, heading for the den where the liquor lived. "Where's Keith?"

"In his room. Checking to make sure everything's still there, I suppose."

He glanced at his watch. "Two hours?"

"Sometimes it takes him that long to make sure nothing's been disturbed. You know."

"Yeah." He held up a bottle of Haig & Haig, arched an eyebrow and she nodded. It was time for relaxation. Their autistic son always ran for his bedroom as soon as he got home, never reappearing until he was satisfied everything was undisturbed there. The van dropped him off only after calling to be sure Connie was home. It was an expensive service, but Keith seemed to find some kind of release at the learning center so they'd kept it up. And the costs kept rising.

Medical care was edging ever closer to the breaking point as new, more expensive technology emerged and the elderly population continued to grow. Added to all that was an entangled, incredibly convoluted mix of government and private claims and payments that had evolved into a monster no one understood, not even administrators or the insurance companies paying for the care. Then there was the mandate to provide care for illegal immigrants and their children, bumping costs and complexities up even more. Patients rarely tried to comprehend the barrage of paperwork that followed any kind of medical care. The future? Even if one could afford the taxes and premiums, it looked terribly bleak.

He pulled two glasses from the shelf, added ice cubes and poured a liberal helping of liquor into each. They'd no sooner gotten comfy on the big couch in the den when Keith joined them.

Murray smiled. "Hi, son. How was your day?" He got no reply. The boy simply went to the mudroom door, just off the enclosed garage, and waited there. It was where he always stood when he figured he was going somewhere, but he always insisted on going with Connie. Both were compulsive actions typical of autistic children, but they evoked sadness in Murray every time he saw them. What was going through Keith's mind? He was bright, but related only spottily to the outside world.

"Connie, did you tell him we were going somewhere?"

"He must have heard you talking about barbeque, and he's right. I do have to run into town and get some shrimp and fixings. We're out."

"How did he know that?"

She shrugged. "Don't ask me, but he's on it now." She took a sip of her drink. "Here. Set this in the fridge for me. It won't take us long for what we need. I'll take the Lincoln."

Her purse was kept locked up in their bedroom because of Keith's fascination with it. She'd tried filling an identical purse with similar but useless items for him to play with, but he never once looked at them. He was hard to fool. She returned a moment later. "We'll be back in a few minutes."

So much for a quiet drink after a hectic week. As they left, he switched on the big screen in the den. There'd be some sort of special running. This one was about the latest famines in Africa and Brazil. He watched a few minutes then turned it off. Famines and starvation had been going on in Africa ever since he could remember. The continent ought to have been depleted of its inhabitants by now, what with rampant diseases outrunning cures, and corrupt governments not having the finances to cover the crying need for treatment. Census figures always showed population figures rising ever upward, though. Famine and disease didn't appear to stop the reproductive urge; more likely the struggle for survival increased it.

Murray stretched out, then crossed his ankles on the coffee table and thought about Keith. His son's condition had undoubtedly played a large part in the direction of the research he was doing now. Ever since the day Keith had been diagnosed as an autistic, he'd been a source of fascination for the way he and others like him could obsessively focus their attention on a single subject to the exclusion of everything else. Remarkable feats of discovery and achievement were fairly common with some forms of autism, particularly those afflicted with Asperger's syndrome--documented feats of prodigious memory, awesome mathematical talents and exceptional accomplishments in the arts and sciences. The question was 'why?'

Some psychologists thought the so called idiot savants weren't all that creative, but simply had their minds totally centered on their interests, so much so they were able to go far beyond any ordinary person's expectations. Baloney! There had to be something other than obsessive attention to detail behind it all.

Such as microproteins.

Everyone's genes produced them, and it had become apparent over the last decade how many of them, previously unknown, could be found circulating in the bloodstream. He'd begun cataloguing the tiny molecules of autistic individuals who displayed creative abilities, comparing them to those of other autistics as well as the ones found in normal persons of both average and super intelligence. The arduous task had begun to pay off in terms of recognizable progress that might lead to a stupendous discovery in the realm of creativity. Genetic physiology wasn't the primary causative mechanism, according to his research, but certainly appeared to play a major role in the process. Monday might bring a breakthrough. Might. Over the weekend his barrage of ultracentrifuges at the laboratory ought to yield enough material to reach some final conclusions. He didn't even have to be there. His lab technician would handle the infinitely painstaking task of isolating the fractions when the run was finished, sometime Sunday. Once he had the results his work would really begin. He might even drop in on Sunday, see how things were going. On second thought, probably not. He'd be recovering from Jack's barbecue and a long evening of chat and catching up. Then too, it was more important to spend quality time with Connie and Keith, come Sunday. Where were they, anyhow? Town was only a few minutes away and she wasn't going to buy out the store, just shrimp and fixings.

It had been over an hour.


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