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The van seemed to get smaller.
I was looking straight ahead at the women on the tennis court, realizing for the first time that Mark was probably crazy. It was a safe bet that he had at least one gun under his coat and the fact that his trained Rottweiler was lying on the bench seat behind me made me nervous.
But I had to ask the question, so I finally did.
"Why what?" he said.
"Why would a computer program decide I should be killed?"
"You still got that second phone, don't you?" he asked.
"Yes," I said.
"I know you think I'm a moonshine swigging hyped-up hillbilly who thinks The X-Files and Warehouse 13 are documentaries, but I'm going to let you get a look at a different world so you'll have a better chance of staying alive. Now where's the lab you got the artifacts at?"
His train of thought was confusing, but I told him that the lab doing the testing on the artifacts was in Livonia. He brought up a map on the dashboard interface and asked for the exact address.
"Now what we need is a restaurant in a strip mall," he said. "Like a Coney Island. Best case it should be ten to twenty minutes from where the lab is and there's got be a shopping center or another strip mall across the street. We want a busy area with no construction. This van will have to blend in but be able to get out quick. No easy throttle points and plenty of traffic."
We scrolled through the map, found out what we were looking for and then Mark kicked the view up to 3-D and looked at the intersection from different angles.
"What you have to remember," he said, "is that the government has military technology in your home town. Once you get by that, you'll start to understand how deep a hole you're in."
I heard springs creak behind me. In the rearview mirror I saw the Rottweiler named Patriot was standing up for a stretch.
"Does he have to go the bathroom?" I asked.
"Patriot, sit your ass down," Mark said. "And according to our on-board computer we're about twenty-five minutes from the strip mall that's near the lab. That track with you?"
"What? Sure that's about right, depending on the time of day. Rush hour it's thirty-five to forty-five minutes from here."
"But it ain't rush hour, is it?"
"Well, no, not yet."
"Then let's make tracks. When I tell you to, you dial up your friend on that second pre-paid phone you got. You tell him to meet you at the restaurant we're going to stake out and to bring the alien artifacts with him. We won't be there. We'll be in the parking lot across the street counting how many feds show up to take you down."
"Do we have to do this?" I asked.
I was already nervous and headed toward meltdown. UFO's and aliens were bad enough. Being hunted by the government wasn't something I wanted to think about more than I had to.
"Yep, let's roll."
As I pulled out of the parking lot and left the women in tennis outfits, the picnic tables and the trees behind, I couldn't get the idea of the Secret Enemy out of my mind. The image of an eye rimmed with barbed wire was too weird to let go of. I had to find out more.
"What is this Secret Enemy?" I asked. "is it a Secret Society? Like the Illuminati or the Masons if they were armed and dangerous. It sounds sort of like Fu Manchu pulling the strings on the New World Order. Is it something like that?"
The dashboard computer pointed out we should turn left. That irritated me. I hated being stuck half-way in evolving technological worlds. Why bother telling me I need to turn? I knew cars could turn themselves, accelerate, brake, open and close the doors for us. Ten more years, twenty more years and nobody would need a Driver's License anymore except the cars that drove them. If technology would move a little quicker, I wouldn't need some dashboard harpy telling me it was time to turn. I had enough stress as it was.
"Let's talk evolution," said Mark.
Patriot snuffled like a pig and I almost laughed, but checked myself when I realized it wasn't a good idea to laugh at a two hundred pound Rottweiler when she was only two feet behind me in a van that suddenly seemed smaller still.
"What's evolution got to do with it?"
"Watch how fast you're going. We don't need to get pulled over for speeding. Better. Just try to stay three or five miles below the speed limit. Now think about this- how much have the birds and bees and dogs and monkeys and human beings evolved in the last two hundred years?"
I thought about it, trying to guess where he was going before answering. I hated set-up questions. Always had. Finally I gave up.
"Not too much," I said. "But the evolutionary process is slow. Two hundred years isn't anything when you're talking evolution."
"Is that so? How much have machines evolved in the last two hundred years? Computer hardware? Computer software?"
"A lot, I guess. But what's that got to do with the Secret Enemy? Are you saying computers are the Secret Enemy? Like in The Terminator where they are self-aware or something?"
He lifted his thermos bottle up, unscrewed the lid and poured himself a cup of coffee. The smell hit me the right way at the right time.
"Styrofoam okay for you?" he asked, and reached behind the seat to get a short stack of cups.
"Definitely," I said.
Mark poured me a cup, then passed it over.
"It's still hot," he said. "Picked it up at the Detroiter truckstop just before I showed up to get you."
"Thanks, I needed this."
"Things aren't like what you're thinking," he said. "There's no grand conspiracy going on. The Secret Enemy is you and me and what we do and how we do it. The way we're always building better roads to drive over the edge into deeper and deeper holes. Machines don't need to think. There's no artificial intelligence mastermind behind the software decision that you needed to die. It's just that we're always killing ourselves by bad decisions based on good ideas. Then they get out of control and turn into good decisions based on bad ideas. And we get more and more efficient at it by passing it over to software that can't question what we're instructing it to do. It can't really say, Wait a minute, is this a good idea?
"So when government drones put together their ever evolving event-handling protocols and tell the software what kind of decisions need to be made, eventually the software takes over making sure these protocols are followed. Computers move along a lot faster than we do, friend. So the software was making the decision it was programmed to by ordering your death. Part of the extra terrestrial meets civilian contact module. You think I'm nuts, I know, but they have event modules for every contingency. They're always tinkering with them and making up new ones."
"That sounds kind of paranoid," I said.
"Did you know sixteen percent of the people on Facebook aren't real? They're artificial intelligence modules in place to establish civilian control. You think that Arab Spring Twitter and Facebook stuff came from real people? You're just not getting it. Did you see that Curiosity has a Twitter following? You know, Curiosity- the robot ship that we landed on Mars. Think about that. The government can activate an army of artificial Facebook people to shift opinion when they want people's thinking to go a certain way. Same way they do with Twitter."
"How do you know that for sure?" I said. "How do you know there really is a software program for handling things like what to do when someone discovers evidence of alien intervention?"
"You have arrived," said the dashboard computer.
"You're about to find out. Going to see a whole lot of people you didn't invite show up at that restaurant. Park over there," he told me. "Where that cluster of vans are. Be the one on the outside two spaces apart from the rest. We don't want anyone looking in at what we're carrying."
"They've seen dogs before," I said.
Mark was up and in the back of the van, breaking open cases and making noise. Every time I turned my head to see what he was doing he told me to keep my eyes on the place across the street.
"Okay, time to make that call to your scientist friend," he said.
I turned to see what he'd put together.
"Is that a rocket launcher?" I asked nervously.