The thing that pissed me off the most about being in captivity was that there was so much I needed to do that wasn’t getting done. I was supposed to go with Larry to Pittsburgh to interview a couple of very promising candidates for research positions in the division, but that was a couple of months ago, and I couldn’t help but wonder if Larry ended up going without me. I was supposed to be working on my Ph.D., and I was missing the twice-weekly seminars. I wondered if I’d be able to make them up or would have to start over. The worst of it, though, was being apart from family, colleagues and friends.
And especially being away from Henry! I missed him terribly, but I could only imagine what he must be going through. I knew how it would have affected me if the situation was reversed. I had no idea if he’d been contacted for payment of ransom for my safe return, but then my kidnapping was probably about far more than money. Obviously, my captors were after knowledge of the secrets to the inner workings of my quantum servers, but then why hadn’t they attempted to extract that knowledge from me? Perhaps there was a strategy in waiting, or perhaps they were using me as leverage to get what they wanted from Henry or Jeff.
Undoubtedly, my disappearance had been big news, and I cringed to think what details the news media might have uncovered about my past. The one thing that was certainly known, thanks to all the surveillance cameras around Times Square, was that I’d been kidnapped. Hell, the average Joe on the street probably knew more about it than I did. I wasn’t allowed any contact with the outside world other than an old tube television with a VCR and a small library of tapes. The antenna wasn’t hooked up; I couldn’t even watch the local channels. I was unable to watch anything live and could only guess at the date and time.
Hell, I wasn’t even sure where I was being held or if it was even in the U.S. Initially, I was unconscious for some time and could have easily been spirited out of the country. Logic told me, however, that it was unlikely. More than likely, I was still, at least, in North America and probably still in the U.S., hidden away somewhere where no one would think to find me. The one thing I was certain of was that my captors were Chechen. I already knew Russian fairly well and could manage with Polish and Hungarian. I recognized enough of the language to know it was Chechen, even though I didn’t know enough to understand it. As a language of the Northeast Caucasus, it was related to none of the world’s major languages.
The U.S. Department of Commerce maintains a convoluted classification scheme of items and technologies that are restricted and require a license for export. Some countries have been banned from all exports for political reasons, because of economic sanctions imposed in relation to specific activities, or because they were deemed to provide support to terrorists. Some could not import certain types of technology, either because their having it would facilitate military advancement or otherwise pose a direct threat to the U.S. Russia was banned from receiving most American exports because of sanctions, but exports of technology and particularly of anything employing encryption were banned because they might be used against us. The ban on tech was so tight that no one person, corporation or country dared to violate it lest they be banned from doing business with the U.S. government in perpetuity.
The Russians, however, had no qualms about breaking into our corporate servers and stealing everything we had, but unlike with the government servers that had been breached, Applazon’s security was well beyond anything that could be compromised. Our own quantum computers were coming close to being able to break into the previous generation of security, which was why we’d recently upgraded our security based on the capabilities of our most advanced servers. Although technically a part of the Russian Federation, I doubted that Chechnya had much of an interest in our technology, but it was certainly not beyond the practice of Russian intelligence to employ unsavory third parties to do their dirty work for them. They’d been caught doing so before.
Although it was quite possible Russia was behind my abduction and was using me as a pawn to acquire our technology, that no one had attempted to acquire it from me was baffling. They hadn’t given me access to the internet, not even as a way for them to use me to break into Applazon’s corporate servers, but then they probably realized I wasn’t naïve. No, if I had access to the internet, I’d have stuck to accessing only third-party sites that were impossible to trace. The bottom line was that it was far more likely I could outsmart them than that they could outsmart me.
Although I still suspected my abduction was planned by the Russians, particularly since it was executed so flawlessly, I didn’t put it past the Chechens to try to get money for me, possibly as a side operation. It was likely they realized they could get millions for me from Applazon or from Henry. More than anything, that likely assured they wouldn’t kill me, at least not right away. The longer I remained in captivity, however, the more I wondered if I’d made the right assumptions. Regardless, they wouldn’t tell me anything at all. I knew they knew just who I was, as they always addressed me as ‘Dr. Jeffries’, and they treated me reasonably well, for a prisoner.
I was kept in what appeared to be a one-bedroom apartment, although there was no discernible window or even a place where a window might have been. Although I wasn’t locked inside, there was always a guard posted outside the door, and no matter when I checked, the guard was awake. There was a small kitchen with a refrigerator stocked with bottled water and some very basic snacks, and there was a microwave that I was free to use to heat the snacks. However, neither the refrigerator nor the microwave bore any markings, brand names or logos, inside or out, nor were there any other appliances at all that could have clued me in by their manufacture. In the bathroom, the sink, toilet and even the shower fixtures lacked any trademarks or other identifying features. The electrical outlets were all North American standard 110-volt outlets, and the switches were standard toggles, but then it would have been simple enough to install those anywhere in the world if they wanted to provide a familiar environment for me. Regardless, there were no trademarks or logos of any kind, even on the packaged snack foods.
There was no clock or calendar, and the only clue I had to the time was when they brought me my meals. Like clockwork, I was fed three times a day. They even asked me what I wanted. At first, I tried testing them a bit and asked for prime rib, lobster tail and even escargots, but when I asked for such things, they’d answer that they’d see what they could find. The prime rib was substituted with a hamburger, the lobster tail with shrimp and the escargots with mushrooms. However, so long as I asked for something more reasonable, that was usually what I got, even if it was something like a veggie burger and sweet-potato fries. The food was surprisingly tasty, and I certainly didn’t starve. It was kind of like airline food; it served the purpose.
With little else to do, I made it a point to work out every day. It would’ve been so easy to just let myself go, but I intended to get out of my captivity and needed to keep in shape for my boyfriend… or to escape. I developed a regular strengthening routine, making sure to focus on upper extremities three days a week and lower extremities on the alternate three days a week, with a day off on the seventh day. Not that I believed in any one god, but hey, if a day of rest was good enough for the god of the Jews, Christians and Muslims, certainly it was good enough for me. I also took up aerobic dancing, dancing at least once every day to whatever tunes I fancied imagining in my head at the time.
Other than the old tube television and VCR, there was no radio, telephone or other communication device in the apartment, so I asked for pen and paper and began to keep a journal. In time, I started to write my memoir, starting from my earliest memories to just before I escaped from home. I was writing it in Japanese and transliterating it using the cursive Hebrew alphabet with a few modifications for sounds that were in neither language. It wasn’t perfect, but I doubted that would deter all but the casual observer who might try to read it. I would have preferred to type it myself, but if I ever got out of captivity with my notes intact, I’d have everything transliterated, translated and transcribed someday. Hell, I could probably let Alesia do it. With a little programming, she could, which meant that the Russians could do it, too.
When I wasn’t working on my journal, working out or watching a tape on that old TV, I gave serious thought to new inventions based on superconducting ceramics. Those I dared not write down for fear of my captors making use of my notes to acquire the underlying technology. Fortunately, I didn’t need to. I had always been able to solve complex mathematics problems and calculations in my head, and I remembered everything. I gave serious thought to how we might use superconducting ceramics to store energy directly as an alternative to lithium-based batteries. I’d done some work on this before but had set it aside when I concluded there was a risk of explosion. Now, I certainly had the time to explore the concept in greater detail. Sitting with my journal and trying to make it look like I was lost in deep thought or watching a mindless program on the TV, I zoned out and worked on possible solutions.
Superconductors have the unusual property that current can flow in the absence of an applied voltage. Without any resistance, it’s a matter of Ohm’s Law. Energy storage using toroidal electromagnets, cooled with liquid helium, had been demonstrated decades ago; it was the electromagnetic equivalent of a frictionless flywheel. Indeed, superconducting MRI machines used perpetual current to generate magnetic fields that remained stable for months. However, not only weren’t helium-cooled superconducting magnetics economically feasible for energy storage when compared to the use of on-demand fossil fuel plants, but their size and weight precluded any possible use in mobile applications. Ceramic superconductors had the potential to change all that. If I could find a way to manufacture superconducting ceramics in the shape of a torus, a magnetically-induced current could store limitless power in a compact form factor, without the weight associated with conventional batteries. Given the inevitable shift to the use of renewable energy, a superconducting energy storage mechanism couldn’t come at a more fortuitous time.
Manufacturing cyanosilicate crystals as a toroidal ceramic structure would be formidable, but I had no doubt that it could be done. I even had some thoughts on how we might tweak the crystalline structure to induce curvature, but the only way to evaluate those designs would be with computer models, and that would have to wait until I was out of captivity. In theory, there was no limit to the current that could be induced, but real-world currents would be limited by the number of valence electrons in the crystal structure. I couldn’t be sure of the practical limit until I did the simulations and conducted actual experiments. In theory, I calculated that it should be possible to store a ‘charge’ equivalent to as much as twenty watt-hours in a toroidal ceramic element weighing less than a gram. Even if the actual efficiency was only half of that, a toroidal ceramic structure weighing a kilogram would be able to store over ten kilowatt-hours of power, compared to less than half a kilowatt-hour for the best lithium-ion batteries. For applications in which weight was critical, that could be a game changer, but the price tag of a superconducting ‘battery’ wouldn’t be cheap.
With the possibility of lightweight energy storage, my thoughts strayed to the idea of a battery-powered airplane. Assuming we eventually solved all the problems with the superconducting ceramic motor, a propeller-driven airplane would be feasible and cost-effective for transporting freight. I even conceived of a way to improve the lift efficiency by using the Peltier effect to heat the underside of the wing and cool the upper surface, increasing the pressure differential as air passed over the wings. Coming up with a practical design for a battery-powered jet engine, however, remained elusive. People might be willing to spend four hours in a propeller airplane to go from Chicago to New York if the fare was cheap enough, but most people would never be willing to spend twelve hours cooped up in an airplane to go from New York to L.A., even for free. Frankly, I’d have better luck building out high-speed rail with magnetic levitation —”
Then it hit me. High-speed rail for domestic travel was the way to go. Plans had been on the books for years but had been shelved because of the high cost and because of politics. Those plans were already there and ready to use. With superconducting ceramics, I could build a cost-effective propulsion system based on magnetic levitation, with subsonic speeds that would rival those of conventional air travel. However, if I again used the Peltier effect to cool the front surface of the train and heat the rear, it would cut aerodynamic drag by more than ninety percent. Shit, with enough front-end cooling and back-end heating, I could induce laminar flow at supersonic speeds, and there’d be no sonic boom. At Mach 2, New York to L.A. would only take two hours.
But couldn’t the same principle be used for propulsion? If I cooled the front end of an airplane to near the point of air liquefaction and heated the back end, the effect would be similar to that of a jet engine without the engine. The whole outer surface of the aircraft would act as a jet, propelling it forward, potentially at supersonic speeds. Again, with laminar flow, the drag coefficient could be reduced by 99 percent or more, and there’d be no sonic boom. I did some calculations in my head and indeed, the thrust needed for supersonic and even hypersonic travel was achievable and, with my batteries, cost effective. Used in place of the first stage of a rocket, the Peltier thrust engine could cut the cost of launch into space by half or more.
It was a shame we couldn’t use the Peltier thrust effect in the vacuum of space, but the fact that we actually could then hit me like a lightning bolt. The propulsion would come from black- body radiation, and although it would be minuscule, it would be cumulative over the course of a long trip, such as a trip to Mars. With superconducting solar cells to capture sunlight and generate electricity, it would be much more efficient than proposed photonic sails and could make the journey feasible. That would certainly be of interest to Jeff, with his recent suborbital excursions into space and his burgeoning space company. There were so many possibilities to be explored if I could just get out of here. It was all so frustrating; I had tons of time to think but no way to test my ideas. Worse still was the separation from Henry. It sucked.
I waited nearly two months before someone finally came to talk to me. His name was Boris, and he made no secret of the fact that he was Russian. “Dr. Jeffries,” he began as he handed me a steaming mug of coffee. One sip told me it was Deadman’s Reach from Raven’s Brew. He’d done his homework. “We already have received a generous offer from Mr. Barlow and from your boyfriend for your safe return. I’m sure that doesn’t surprise you, and it probably wouldn’t surprise you that our Chechen friends would be happy to take the money and run.”
“And perhaps they might even return me, although their definition of ‘safe’ might not match with what you or I would consider fulfilling their end of the bargain.”
“You understand our Chechen friends very well,” Boris continued. “Obviously, my superiors don’t need your money at all. We have plenty of ways to raise money without resorting to kidnapping high-profile business executives. We’ve long had the means to drain all your banks of everything they have, but that stunt is not one to be taken lightly.”
“And with just one of my data mini-centers, we have the capability of mining enough Bitcoin to shake the cryptocurrency markets to their core.”
“Why do you think the ransomware attacks stopped? As I’m sure you’re aware, there’s a fine line between the Russian crime syndicates and the oligarchs. You, on the other hand, are far more than a business executive, and as a scientist on a fast track to earn a Nobel Prize, you have knowledge and abilities that are of great interest to us.”
“Then why haven’t you attempted to extract some of that knowledge from me in the time I’ve been here?” I asked.
“Even when our little operation was in the beginning of the planning stages, our psychologists concluded you wouldn’t be amenable to anything we could offer in exchange for what you know. We could offer you a lifetime of luxury with your boyfriend or threaten you with the death of everyone you love, and you still wouldn’t cooperate,” Boris continued.
Was that really true? What would I do if they threatened to kill Henry? What if they threatened to harm Franklin, or Mora and James, or the entire Gonzalez clan, or the Rodriguez family, or Billy and Greg? Would I really resist their attempts to get me to talk, or was this just Boris’ way of showing me what they could do if they wanted to?
“So, we threatened to kill the goose that laid the golden egg if Mr. Barlow doesn’t give us what we want. It’s a fair trade – a scientist who’s just seventeen and could be worth billions upon billions of dollars to him over the course of his lifetime, and all he has to do is give us what you’ve developed for him so far. Yes, I think it’s a fair trade, but Mr. Barlow has chosen to refuse anything but money in exchange for your safe return. There isn’t enough cryptocurrency in the world that’s worth giving you up for that.”
“But if you killed me, you’d have nothing,” I responded, stating the obvious.
“Sadly, that’s true, but it would serve as an example and tell the world we mean business. Additionally, it might slow everyone else down long enough for our scientists to catch up,” Boris went on.
“Except that Applazon already has enough expertise to stay well ahead of you for generations, even without me,” I pointed out, “and America would certainly retaliate against such a brazen act. It could well lead to war.”
“Yes, we are aware of that, and it’s one of the reasons you’re still alive,” he continued. “However, even in captivity, you can’t resist the urge to come up with new ideas, no? I’m willing to bet you already have working-prototype designs in your head that you’re dying to put to use. We can help you with that. Perhaps with a little persuasion, we can even get you to divulge them to us. Perhaps with chemical inducement if not with threats to harm those who are important to you.”
Fuck, he was right about the prototypes, but could he really pry them out of my brain with drugs? I had no doubt that he had very powerful methods available, but I had years of practice suppressing my thoughts – in school and during sex with my supposed father. Shit, I had the ability to hide my deepest thoughts even from myself, so how would the Russians be able to get at them.
“I’m sure you think you’re stronger than we are,” Boris went on, “and maybe it’s true. With chemical agents and torture, we have a lot that we can try with very little to lose. It would be a shame if we destroyed that incredible brain of yours in the process, but that would be of little consequence to us. At least we can try, but you’ve been through torture at the hands of the pedophile who raised you, and if you survived that, nothing we do is likely to be effective.
“We still have hope that Mr. Barlow will realize that it’s in his best interest to be more reasonable than his government says he should be. There’s also the possibility that you will, in time, recognize just how far your country has fallen and how easily we could crush it. We could have already destroyed America if we wanted to, but America is still much more useful to us, hobbled as it is, by the likes of Mr. Trump. If you work with us instead of against us, together we can restore America to its rightful position of greatness, side by side as our ally rather than as our enemy. You can make that happen.”
“By betraying my country and everything I believe in,” I countered.
“I’m sure in time you’ll come to see it differently,” Boris challenged, “but our patience is limited.”
“Could you at least give me access to a real TV with more than a library of old programs that my grandparents would’ve liked. Access to the internet would be nice, but at least an Applazon Plus account, Paramount+, Disney+, Hulu, HBO Max and Sling. There’s only so much I can write in my journal before I run out of things to write, especially with the vast number of things I have to do every day,” I added sarcastically.
“Just because you are capable of translating your thoughts to Japanese and then writing them using the Hebrew alphabet doesn’t mean we’re not capable of figuring it out, you know,” Boris said. Fuck, I’d hoped that using disparate languages would be enough to confuse them. “Maybe you should record your ideas for inventions.”
“With my memory, there’s no need for that,” I replied. “I’m not saying that I have any, but even if I were thinking up new ideas, I wouldn’t need to write them down. As long as I eventually get out of here and as long as you don’t scramble my brain, I’ll remember them well enough to implement them.”
“Suppressed memories have a way of coming out eventually, Dr. Jeffries, but if you wish, I can get you books to occupy your time. We have access to a vast library of books in many languages,” Boris responded. “I can’t give you access to anything that provides access to live TV for obvious reasons, but I’ll see if I can get you a television with access to some of the streaming services you requested.”
“That would be a start, but I feel so isolated here,” I replied. “You really need to give me access to cable television or the internet before I’ll even think about cooperating in any way, shape or form.”
“Dr. Jeffries, you’re in no position to make demands,” Boris responded. “I’m sure you’ll agree that we’ve treated you well —”
“If you ignore the fact that I’m in captivity,” I countered.
“You are in a nice apartment, no?” Boris challenged. “You have a hot shower every day, fresh clothing and good food. For someone in captivity, as you put it, you live pretty well, wouldn’t you say?”
“In other words, I live the life of a house pet and I should be grateful?” I asked as I waved my hand in an arc to show that I was referring to the entirety of my life here.
“I’ll remind you that it could be a lot worse, Dr. Jeffries,” Boris replied.
“Or you could kill me,” I added. “The bottom line is that you know and I know that I’m unlikely to provide you with anything you want or need no matter what you do. However, I’m worth absolutely nothing to you if I’m dead or outright hostile to you. However, should you wait me out, there’s always the possibility that in time, I’ll let my guard down and provide something that might allow you to gain access to the knowledge you seek. Or perhaps my government will decide that I’m more valuable to their future than anything Applazon might give you now. The only real choices you have are to let me go, to kill me or to keep me here in relative comfort and wait for an opportunity to get what you can. As I see it, the more comfortable I am, the more likely you are to get what you want, either way.”
Sighing, Boris responded, “To an extent, you are right. If we mistreat you, it will undoubtedly come back to haunt us, so our only choice is to give you much of what you want. We can’t give you cable TV though. There’s too much chance you’ll get enough information to figure out where you are, and that could be the start of your plans for escape. I am prepared to give you access to streaming services. We’ll set you up with Applazon Plus for now. No live-streaming services that you might use to plan an escape. If there’s anything else you need, you only have to ask and we’ll try to get it for you, within reason. In return, we hope you will be forthcoming when we ask for your help.”
“I can promise you nothing,” I replied.
“And beyond this one request, we promise nothing, either,” Boris said.
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It was unfortunate that Boris had only provided access to Applazon Plus, but it was a start. If it weren’t for the fact that I was almost certainly being watched and my viewing habits being monitored, I’d have had little difficulty getting around the restrictions imposed by Boris and the firewalls erected to prevent me from accessing other services. I wasn’t allowed to use my own account for obvious reasons, but the account Boris did set up for me allowed a fair amount of latitude in accessing the services that were available through Applazon. Unfortunately, access to Applazon’s live-streaming services was blocked, which meant I wasn’t able to get into any of the news programs, but I was able to subscribe to Paramount+, Disney+ and HBO Max.
Although Paramount+ allowed full access to CBS, that didn’t include any live programs. However, all regular TV shows were available for streaming the day after shown, which meant I could watch all of the network news programs with a one-day delay. Just having that access made all the difference in the world. I even figured out how to get the current time in New York, so I knew that back home, it was 12:35 PM Eastern Standard Time on Tuesday, December 8, 2022. It turned out that my actual birthday had come and gone, and I was now seventeen for real. Being aware of the true passage of time made me feel so much more connected. Unfortunately, I’d missed the midterm election and my first opportunity to vote.
There was another reason I’d requested access, however, and I could only hope that the good people at Applazon would notice when I accessed content not available to the general public. As a data-center technician, I was aware of the secret links needed to access content, links that didn’t rely on accessing my personal account. That was critical, as I was certain I was being watched, quite literally, and that my viewing activities were being logged. Doing anything to change the settings in the attached Applazon TV would have brought unwanted attention and risked my losing what access I had.
The choice of an Applazon TV as my streaming device was indeed fortuitous, as it ran on top of a UNIX kernel. It was nearly identical to the operating system that powered the Applazon’s phones and computers. Built into the kernel was a feature called Find My Device that could be used to track any Applazon device if it was stolen. Because of privacy concerns, however, the feature could be disabled by changing a setting in the preferences on computers and phones. With the Applazon TV, however, Find My Device was enabled by default, and the setting to disable it was accessible only through a command-line interface. It was highly unlikely my captors were even aware of it; the feature wasn’t even documented outside of Applazon.
Applazon used the location data to determine eligibility to access content from the Applazon Media Store. Unlike location tracking using the IP address, which could be spoofed by simply using a VPN server in another country, Applazon’s location services and Find My Device, in particular, were highly accurate, making use of the WiFi antenna and the same technology Applazon used to track GPS data on their phones. Even if my captors had set it up so the Applazon TV accessed the Applazon Plus servers through another country via a virtual private network, Applazon would know my exact location; they just wouldn’t know it was me. Once my account was known, Applazon could use the location data to pin down my precise location. The only weakness in my plan was that someone had to notice that I was accessing restricted content from offsite.
In order to avoid having my captors see what I was doing, I made it a point to access a beta test site for Applazon Plus Video. It looked exactly like the real site but included content that had not yet been released to the general public. It was a site for implementing and testing access to individual movies and programs before they went live. The tricky part was in teaching the Applazon TV to access the beta site instead of the real one. Applazon had their own app for doing so, but I feared that any attempt to replace the Applazon Plus Video app with an alternative one would be noticed. However, there was also a back door that only a handful of people knew about. Built into the Applazon Plus Video app, it involved an obscure series of selections, but I knew exactly what to select and in what order because I was the one who’d programmed it. Once inside the test site, the Applazon TV would always default to showing content from the test site instead of the live one. Because Applazon generated unique identifier codes for each viewing, there was no way to trace the difference.
Hence, I settled into watching a lot of video from Applazon Plus. There was little doubt that my captors were monitoring my selections and the content, so I mostly stuck to content that was available on the standard site. I did watch a few things that were only available on the beta site but only a few as those might be noticed by my captors. However, accessing anything from the beta site should have triggered a warning of a possible data breach to those monitoring the Applazon Plus Video service. I was counting on it. Now fully aware of the passage of time, Christmas came and went, and 2022 came to a close. January soon turned to February, and Valentine’s Day would soon be upon us. It would’ve been Henry’s and my first Valentine’s Day together. I wondered how he was doing and prayed – yes, prayed – that he had continued his studies in spite of my disappearance. I could only imagine what he must be going through as I would have been a basket case had it been Henry who’d been taken.
Surely, someone at Applazon must have noticed my steady access to the beta-test site for Applazon Plus by now. I wondered if I was being too subtle and therefore tried being a bit more daring in the content I accessed, viewing material that clearly wasn’t intended for general release, and yet I heard nothing. It was as I was perusing the site, looking for something new to watch, that I noticed a preponderance of movies filmed in Cuba before the Castro regime. They were all on the main site, having bypassed beta testing entirely, which made me wonder if my colleagues were trying to tell me I was in Cuba. Actually, that would explain a lot, as it would be very difficult to mount a rescue operation inside Cuba. Cuba remained a repressive regime, and recent protests had only resulted in a bitter crackdown.
Although no longer supported by the Russian government, it was rumored that Cuba still had strong ties to the Russian Federation and that the KGB had never left. Reportedly, Cuba remained a major hub of the Kremlin’s espionage network, particularly when it came to spying on the United States. That notion had only been bolstered by what came to be known as Havana Syndrome, a mysterious ailment now thought to be the result of focused microwave energy. The illness was associated with permanent brain damage and nearly resulted in the closing of the American embassy in Havana, and similar illnesses have since been reported in American embassies around the world, and even in the Whitehouse.
Regardless, I watched several of the movies over the next few weeks, letting anyone who was monitoring my viewing habits know that the message had been received. Unfortunately, that potentially included my captors, but if they’d noticed, they didn’t say anything.
<> <> <>
I was afraid my captivity could go on indefinitely, just as had the totally ineffective trade embargo imposed on Cuba in the 1960s that had yet to topple the Communist regime, but then came the day when Boris paid a visit, his first since December.
“Well, Dr. Jeffries, it would appear that your government has deemed you of more value than the electoral votes of Florida,” he began.
“What do you mean by that?” I asked.
“Florida will never again vote for a Democrat, because your president worked out a deal to normalize relations with Cuba and to finally end the trade embargo,” he went on.
“But President Obama already normalized relations with Cuba. We’ve had a presence in the old Embajada de Estados Unidos since 2015,” I pointed out.
“But he failed to remove the embargo, my friend,” Boris countered. “Congress would not let him do it. The Cuban diaspora in Miami would not let him do it. Until now, there was only a staff of ten at the embassy.”
“I seem to recall a wave of illness at the embassy,” I replied. “There was a lot of speculation as to the origin, I’m sure you know people who could’ve intervened to put an end to it.”
“That unfortunate episode was the result of decisions made well above my pay grade,” Boris responded. “Nevertheless, part of the deal behind your release involves a promise that no such assault will never happen again in Cuba or elsewhere. Of course, there is no admission that it happened in the first place.”
“Of course not,” I replied with a chuckle.
“More importantly, Applazon has agreed to install the largest data center in the world in Cuba, employing your very latest technology,” Boris related.
“So, you got what you wanted,” I responded.
“If only,” he answered me, “but it’s a start. We would have liked to have gotten unfettered access to your technology. Your president wanted to normalize relations and end the embargo anyway. Your captivity only increased the pressure to do so. However, our Cuban comrades agreed to trade restrictions that will make it difficult for us, and Applazon will run it, and security will be exceptionally tight. But eventually we will obtain it ourselves.”
“Even with an electron microscope, you’ll never figure it out,” I countered. “The technology involves much more than just the physical and chemical structure of the ceramic elements. By the time you figure out the means to fabricate the crystalline structure, we’ll have moved on to the next generation of quantum computers.”
“We shall see, Dr. Jeffries,” he responded. Let them try. I already was several steps ahead of them when it came to the technology. I couldn’t wait to see what my colleagues had been up to while I was away. I had some catching up to do, and I was way behind in working on my Ph.D. in A.I. I wondered if we’d managed to finish work on a viable, automotive superconducting motor in time to use it in our entries for the Indy 500. Qualifications for the race were just three months away, after all, so it was either now or not until next year.
“So, what happens now?” I asked.
“Now, you’ll shower, you’ll shave, and you’ll get dressed in a fine new suit. You’ll be taken by limousine to an undisclosed location where you’ll be handed over, and then you’ll proceed to the American Embassy for an elaborate ceremony in which the embassy is reopened and the new ambassador is welcomed to his post. There’ll be an elaborate state dinner, and then you’ll board an airplane that will take you home.”
“When will I be able to see my boyfriend?” I asked.
“That, comrade, is not something that’s under my control,” he answered.
Then recalling what he’d just told me, I asked, “Shave? Did you say I needed to shave? I’ve never shaved before in my life.”
“You need to take a look in the mirror, Dr. Jeffries,” Boris responded. “I’m sure you’ll agree that the time has come. I’ll make sure you have the supplies you need for it.”
Running into the bathroom, I took a close look at my face in the mirror. Shit, the peach fuzz that had been visible only with a microscope when I’d last been free wasn’t peach fuzz anymore. Boris was right.
Disclaimer: This story is purely fictional and any resemblance of characters to real individuals is unintentional. Although it takes place in actual locations, in no way are any official policies, opinions or events inferred. Some characters may be underage and at times engage in homosexual acts. Anyone uncomfortable with this should not be reading the story, and the reader assumes responsibility for the legality of reading this type of material where they live. The author retains full copyright and permission must be obtained prior to duplication in any form.