Chapter 17

As Nathan spent a busy week taking loads of supplies each day to the camp near Vernal, Marie packed her bags for Chicago. She surprised her parents on Thursday night by returning home and patching up their differences. She apologized for her bad attitude and promised to call them every day.

Carol took her to Salt Lake International Airport on Friday morning, and as the plane took off, Marie realized she wouldn’t see Nathan for a few months. She hated to admit it, but she was annoyed that Nathan had taken her seriously and hadn’t called her. The previous night she had given in and called his cell phone, but all she got was a computerized voice saying his number was no longer in service.

“All I can do is look forward to this new adventure,” she told herself. “The Church job will keep Nathan busy, and he’ll still be there at the end of the summer. Maybe this is for the best.”

By mid-afternoon, she was looking out the plane window at the flat expanses of rural Illinois. The patchwork of fields seemed to go on forever without a mountain in sight. Soon the plane’s captain asked them to fasten their seatbelts, and as the plane descended Marie stared out at the green suburbs of Chicago. Everything looked lush and tranquil.

“This is what all the fuss was about?” she muttered. “Nathan made it sound like they were rioting in the streets.”

The plane touched down at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport, and as she exited the plane and entered the concourse, she saw a thin woman with long blonde hair holding a sign with her name on it. Marie walked over and said, “Hello! I’m Marie.”

The woman’s face brightened. “Welcome! I’m Bianca Ashman. Gretchen Howell sent me in her behalf. She wanted to see you before the end of the day, so I’ll take you directly to her office after we retrieve your luggage.”

“Thank you,” Marie said. “I’m so excited to be here.”

“You’re going to have a wonderful time,” Bianca said. “Just like you, I started out with Naples & Austin as a summer intern, and now I’m Gretchen’s personal assistant. So the sky’s the limit!” 

n

After picking up Marie’s two suitcases, the women made their way to the main parking garage, where they slipped the luggage into the back of a silver Honda CR-Z.

“It was either this or my Ferrari,” Bianca said with a smile. “But I wasn’t sure how much luggage you’d have!”

Marie sensed Bianca wasn’t joking. “It sounds like this is a great company to work for,” Marie said.

“It’s the best,” Bianca said as she drove the car onto I-90 heading east. “You’ll love it.”

“The city looks peaceful,” Marie said. “My parents and boyfriend acted like I was moving to a war zone.”

Bianca shrugged. “The Bloomingdale’s Building where we work is about as risk-free as you can get, but Chicago does have some dangerous places. Just use common sense. I grew up about 100 miles south of here, and I’ve seen a few things, but if you follow some basic rules of thumb, you should be fine.”

“Like what?” Marie asked.

“You know, stick to well-lit places with lots of other people around, don’t jog in the park after dark—and don’t consume lots of alcohol before you stumble home alone.”

Marie laughed. “Is that from personal experience?”

“No comment, but my martial arts training sure came in handy that night!”

Just then an 18-wheeler swerved in front of them. Bianca let out a string of profanities, taking Marie by surprise.

Once Bianca had calmed down a bit, Marie said, “Yeah, that guy was an idiot. Anyway, tell me about the Bloomingdale’s Building. I read that it’s 66-stories high.”

“The building has everything you’d ever need,” Bianca said. “I have a condo there, and some days I don’t even go outside. It has a huge atrium that I like to go sit in when I need some time to myself, and the mall is great.”

“It sounds amazing,” Marie said.

They were silent for a moment before Bianca cocked her head and looked over at Marie. “By the way, did I hear you say ‘boyfriend’ a few moments ago?”

Marie shrugged. “Yeah, I guess you’d say that, but we’re on a break for the summer.”

“Good. I don’t want anything to stop you from hanging out with us on the weekends.”

“Okay, but I don’t drink.”

“Yeah, Gretchen had said you were a Mormon, so I figured as much. But don’t worry, you’ll still have fun, and you can help me get home!”

Just then Marie caught sight of the Magnificent Mile, an imposing row of skyscrapers where their building was located.

“This view is still impressive every time,” Bianca said.

n

Thirty minutes later, the women were walking into the main lobby of Naples & Austin, each carrying one of Marie’s suitcases. Bianca stopped at the front desk and introduced Marie to the receptionist Alexis.

“It’s a pleasure to meet you,” Alexis said with a big smile. “Gretchen told me earlier we should get you processed before you meet with her. Please just run your chip over this scanner and you’ll be set!”

Marie was momentarily speechless. Finally she said, “Uh, I haven’t got the chip yet.”

Bianca and Alexis looked at each other in surprise. Bianca finally said, “That’s okay. There’s a chip implantation center down in the mall. We’ll take care of it after you talk with Gretchen.”

Soon Marie was walking into Gretchen’s office, and her new boss came around the desk and gave her a quick embrace. “It’s wonderful you could come before the semester was over.”

“Everything worked out well,” Marie said. “My professors were very understanding.”

“I’m grateful for that,” Gretchen said. “And I suppose you got to know Bianca during your ride from the airport?”

“Yes, we hit it off right from the start,” Marie said.

“Excellent,” Gretchen said. “Bianca is a fantastic help to me. She enjoys the nightclub scene, but she’s always here on Monday morning bright and early, raring to go to work.”

“Yes, she seems to be top-notch.”

Gretchen then glanced at her door to make sure it was closed before saying, “I hope you don’t emulate her. I had thousands of women to choose for this internship, and I chose you. Do you know why?”

“Actually, no.”

“You’re immensely talented, which truly helped, but during our interview you told me about your high moral standards, which I’ve found to be severely lacking among the internship candidates in recent years. So if Bianca or Alexis invite you out on the town, I hope you follow that Wisdom Word you were telling me about. I’d actually be quite disappointed if you don’t.”

“Don’t worry,” Marie said. “During our drive here Bianca invited me to go out with her this weekend, and I explained that I don’t drink.”

“How did she respond?”

Marie smiled, “She was fine with it, partly because she’s knows I’ll still be sober at the end of the night!”

They then discussed several responsibilities Marie would handle during the internship, and Gretchen explained that to enter a restricted part of the building she’d have to run her chip across a scanner on the door.

Marie raised her right hand. “Um, that might be a problem. As I told Alexis as I came in, I haven’t received the chip yet.”

Gretchen looked perplexed. “Really? Is it against your religion to get the chip?”

Marie shrugged. “It’s discouraged, but not forbidden.”

“Would you be willing to get it?” Gretchen asked. “Honestly, without the chip you won’t function very well in many of the assignments I have planned for you.”

Marie’s heart was beating rapidly, but after a moment’s hesitation, she nodded. “Yes, that would be fine. Bianca mentioned she could take me to an implantation center this evening.”

Gretchen smiled widely. “Fantastic! You’ll love it and wonder why you never got it before.”

n

The following morning Aaron Shaw arrived early at the NSA Data Center. He had expected Naples & Austin to give Marie an ultimatum about getting the chip, and he hoped she’d have the courage to tell them she couldn’t—thus disqualifying her from the internship.

However, she had sounded thrilled with how everything was going when they’d talked to her the night before. She described her new apartment and told them about the new friends she’d already made—but she didn’t mention anything about getting the chip.

The urge to know if Marie had gotten the chip had nagged at him all night, and he finally decided to go into work and find out, even though it was a Saturday.

The NSA offices were a flurry of activity seven days a week, so his presence didn’t seem unusual to anyone. He waved to some co-workers as he reached his desk, then he logged onto his computer and entered Marie’s basic information into the national database.

Within seconds a screen popped up listing Marie’s vital statistics, as well as a recent photo of her. Next to the photo was a box that read “Chip implanted” and gave the implantation date as the previous evening.

He quickly typed in a password that allowed him to monitor her location through the GPS device embedded in her chip. Her present location was in her apartment inside the Bloomingdale’s Building. He hit another key to trace her movements in the hours since the chip was implanted. He scrolled down and saw that she’d been at a nightclub until nearly 2 a.m.

“Wow, she’s been gone less than two days and is already out on the town,” he muttered.

His head began to pound as he resisted the urge to call her right then, but he knew it wasn’t wise. He hated to spy on his daughter’s activities, but he needed to keep this tracking ability as the ace up his sleeve.

Aaron switched to another screen that he had bookmarked—the profile of a man known as “Brix” on the streets of Chicago. The NSA had identified this convicted felon as the leader of a growing underground offshoot of the Occupy movement. Brix’s group also wanted to bring down the supposed “one percent” but was planning a more sinister way to do so—murdering them in public areas. The FBI was keeping track of Brix and his followers, watching for any chance to arrest him, but so far Brix was a free man.

Aaron typed in the GPS password to see where Brix was that morning. His skin crawled as he saw Brix’s location—inside a vehicle driving down the Magnificent Mile.

“That’s just too close for comfort,” Aaron whispered, feeling completely helpless concerning his daughter. “Heavenly Father, please watch over my sweet Marie.”