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The Apprentice

Chapter One

"The Last Day Is The First Day"

 

All eyes were on the clock, which rested on the wall; the eyes were waiting and hoping for the end as the second hand continued to sweep around, moving time forward.  The hope was that time would speed up and the end would come sooner than anyone expected.  That was the hope that all were living from.  The end would not speed up even if life hung in the balance; the power of time lives in consistency.  Everyone in the room would have to hold their breath and live through one more Spanish class in seventh grade.  One would think that the last forty-five minutes of the school year would pass fast because there would be no work to do, just chatter.  That would not be the case in Mr. Chesterton's Spanish class.  They would spend every second in dialog and vocabulary.  Everyone should seek to live as Mr. Chesterton because he lived out of his passion and love for teaching language.  Eighth-period Spanish advanced Spanish, the crown jewel for a Spanish teacher, would be business as usual.  

Alex was sitting in the second seat from the front row.  Alex loved learning and growing his brain, but today, the last day of school at John B. Hood Middle School, was when the boards would be up.  In the school gymnasium, on the last day of school each year, there would be bulletin boards rolled into the gymnasium, and on the boards would be all the opportunities for summer learning and internships.  John B. Hood was not your typical middle school; the school contained overachievers who would eventually write the world's future.  Alex was a mid-level kid, meaning that he was not tall, but he was not short.  Some might say that made him average, but Alex was not average.  Alex led his class in brains, but not just in book smarts; Alex was also street smart; he knew how to get things done.  Alex was thinking only about the boards, what the summer might hold for him, and what adventure would wait and fill his days from June through late August.  

Sitting directly in front of Alex was his best friend, Stef; her name was Stefanie, but she preferred to go by Stef.  Stef was as brilliant as Alex, maybe even more book-smart, but Alex balanced the playing field with his street smarts.  Stef was more complicated than Alex.  Everything had to proved to her.  She did not take things just on faith; it needed to be more concrete for Stef to buy in and believe.  "Seeing is believing," Stef would always say.  She even had a T-shirt with the phrase stamped on the back; on the front was a single eye.  Stef was excited about the boards and the possibilities that my wait for her summer break, but she was short on hope.  The funny thing about hope is that it is not always set in stone like concrete; hope is more fluid and moldable.  It was hard for Stef to grasp, but if one knew everything that the past year had drug her through, one would say that you understand and, "Oh, that makes sense."  

Stef and Alex have been tight friends since elementary school, as their families have always been friends.  Their families have been together, supporting each other in good and bad times.  Some on the outside might have thought that it was a romantic issue, but it was a tighter bond than that.  They covered each other in more profound ways.  Every person has their strengths and weaknesses.  Stef and Alex, in some ways, were the same as book covers go, but the words that filled the pages were different. 

As Mr. Chesterton excitedly explained the tense differences about a phrase, Stef slowly passed a text to Alex.  "Something with programming, please, something that will make a difference."  Alex gave it a thumbs up and kept his eyes on the clock; only four minutes left till the start of the break.  Alex and Stef lived in the same digital world.  They did not marvel at the latest and greatest social media apps or video games.  They wrote the code and the algorithms that kept people on their screens.  Last summer, they both did an internship and summer program that involved cleaning up the Drake River, which runs through the city.  This year, they are both hoping for something that involves their talents and love of coding.  Mr. Chesterton was excitedly talking as the second hand on the clock began counting down the school year's final seconds.  Every eye in the room was on the clock, and Mr. Chesterton's voice was just a mumble in the background.  If you could hear the voices in the heads of each student, you would have heard them all counting down 10,9,8,7,6,5,4,3,2,1, and the bell rang.    

With that, the beginning of summer break was on.  Every student collected their backpacks and headed for the door.  But Mr. Chesterton beat them all there.  He wanted a high five from each student as they walked out the door.  He was passionate about Spanish, passionate about teaching, and filled with hope as he educated some of the brightest teens on the planet.  They each gave him a high five, and he was the teacher they all liked.  They all knew that he cared for them.  As soon as the high-five slapped, each student made a mad dash to the gym.  

 

When Alex and Stef arrived, the bulletin boards were crowded with students.  Stef, being the tallest of the two, could see over the shorter munches.  Her eyes moved over the boards and her vision rested on the unbelievable poster.  It read coders needed to be skilled in Python for AI, CC+, Java, Pascal, Perl, and FORTRAN for Algorithms.  Join the team of ZLOTS, The New Ruler.  Apply online using the QR code.

 

Stef told Alex what she saw and read it to him word for word.  Alex looked at Stef and said that is it; that is the one.  Our summer is going to rock!  Stef shook her head and told Alex, 'That's too good to be true.'  Alex looked at Stef.  'Don't get down again; come on, let's scan that QR code and apply!"  'You have to have hope we are the best Python coders in our school!  We got this.'

'Have some hope Stef.'  'Okay, but don't you think that they are looking elsewhere?  Do you think we have a chance?'

 'Of course I do.  I always have hope!  Sometimes it is the only thing that I have!"

"You are so great, Alex.  I will have hope, but I don't want to get my hopes up, just to be popped when we don't get chosen."  

No worries, Stef, we will be rock stars working for ZLOTS.  

Alex and Stef scanned the QR code, and as they walked out of the gymnasium, they began to fill out the application together.  

Outside, the sun was bright and warm; Alex sighed deeply; he thought he had the freedom to be all he could be.  Just as that thought left his brain, his street smarts kicked in.  You could call them his street senses.  Just out of sight, just behind the school doors to the right, was a tall, slender man wearing a black suit.  Alexa took in the sight and placed it in his memory.  As he scanned the individual, he noticed the man was wearing an earpiece in his right ear.  

Seeing this sight was not all that unusual at John B. Hood.  As many of the students had security personnel assigned to them by their families.  However, Alex had never seen this individual before, and the school had rules that required the security personnel to wait at the cars as students exited the building for the day.  Alexa did not make his noticing the man awakard or noticeable after taking in the scene he gave Stef a push and shouted out "it's summer!" He started to run and told Stef to catch him if she can.

The man standing next to the school casually spoke into his wrist, saying, "The Canaries have taken the worm."  In his earpiece, he heard, "Copy that, do not make contact, team two fall in observation mode S.O.P.2".  The man heard chatter in the earpiece from six different men, "Copy That."...

 

Chapter Two

"Faith Marches On"

 

The men on the other side of the radios did as they were instructed.  They only observed Alex and Stef and did not move in to take the Canaries as Alex and Stef were called.  

Alex did not share with Stef what he saw as they left school, he knew Stef would just worry and make something out of what was most likely nothing.  Alex did have his street smarts in full alert, but the afternoon was full of promise, so he chose to live in that versus keeping an eye over his shoulder the whole way home.  As they crossed the street from the school, they hit the same place they did every day.  Stef would get in the car her family had in place to take her safely home.  Alex would continue on another block and catch the city bus home.  Stef and her driver always offered to drive Alex to his house, but Alex refused and said he was obligated to use his bus pass to keep the bus system running.  Alex and Stef came from different lives, but their families had been friends.  Their parents became close friends in college and stayed close ever since.  Stef's mom's side of the family came from money.  They always had it, and the money seemed like it would never run out.  One would think that Stef would never worry because of her family's wealth.  But money can only go so far; this life takes more than the reassurance of cash; this life takes faith, and that faith has to be rooted in the one place where faith comes from.  True faith comes from God, the One True God. 

At the car, Stef and Alex went through their high-five motions of hand fluttering and hip bumps, as was their custom, then an awkward side hug.  It wasn't always like that.  Alex was a hugger, but things all changed a year ago; even the car picking her up was new; once upon a time, Stef's mom or dad would always pick her up after school.  Alex understood and did not force things on the people that he knew; he was an encourager, always hopeful for more, but understood that people could only give what they had.  

 

"Alright, Stef, did you complete the application?  " "Yep, I did; I know you finished it before I started.  Do you think that we have a chance?  ZLOTS sounds like a very impressive company for coming up and coming eighth graders to have a summer internship with."  Alex just smiled and said I know we do!  We are already in.  It is going to be the best summer ever!  Stef sighed; you are so hopeful; I am not so sure.  Alex shrugged his shoulders; come on, Stef, we, of all people, are supposed to live out of faith.  With that, Alex looked at his watch.  Oh, I have to go, or I will miss my bus, and with that, he ran around the street corner.  

Stef slid into the car's back seat and closed the door; she wanted to believe and have faith as Alex did, but life had dealt her some blows, and she was still rattled.  As the car pulled away from school, her phone vibrated, and she saw Alex's text.  I just got a confirmation text from ZLOTS, which says I am to report tomorrow morning at nine for orientation.  Did you get one?

Stef looked over her text feed, but nothing yet.  She sighed and sent this reply.  I am so happy for you.  I have not received their text, but I believe it will come.  Stef slid deeper into the back seat, reached into her pack, and pulled out her AirPods.  In the absence of a text, she would soothe her anxiousness with tunes.  This was Stef's default to escape reality, which always seemed to be crashing in on her, tuning out the world and listening to Boone.  As she slid the pod into her ear, she could only think about Alex and his dislike of the white devices that blocked out the world.  Alex always said, "Life is dramatic enough without the songs of more tragedy being pumped into your ear."  She smiled and looked out the window as the car drove her home.

In the earpiece, chatter was heard: "Do we follow?"  Negative was heard by one of the agents.  Which agent was doing the asking was unknown to him as the agent asking the question did not identify himself.  He thought to himself that Com's skills were terrible in this operation.  He had only been on the job for a week and wasn't clear on the operation exactly.  To him, it was a paycheck, so he did not need to know everything because the pay was good, and he was not paid for his opinion.  He was considered the rookie, but from what he saw everyone else on the team was just a wannabe operative.  The chatter began in his earpiece again.  Subject one has received the invite; subjects two and three are still being vetted.  Disengage surveillance and return to HQ immediately was heard through the agents earpiece, then a copy that was heard repeatedly.  He thought to himself how cute everyone copies, but no one identifies.  He then spoke into his wrist mike, "S4 copy that."  Maybe the others would catch on or just be ticked off. 

As Alex rode the bus home, he began to search for information on the company ZLOTS that he could find and digest.

There was not much out there to find.  He only found a Wikipedia page that spoke of zloty, which is Poland's national currency.  It stated that zloty was the most traded currency in Central and Eastern Europe.  He thought to himself that was strange, being that it seemed to be a professional company.  Did he get the spelling wrong?  He located an app on his phone an app that he developed, which runs deep scans on both web and the dark web.  He typed in ZLOTS, ZLots, Z lots, Z Lots, and zLots.  The search world run continually until hits were found.  

Stef arrived home, and her mother was at the door waiting to hear about the summer internship possibilities.  Stef smiled and told her mother about ZLOTS and possibly writing code this summer.  Her mother was very excited for Stef and said to her that dinner would be served in an hour and that she would love to hear more about the internship over dinner.  Stef replied, "Sure, Mom," and then headed to her room.  Once Stef entered her room, she sighed and slid onto the couch; she looked at her phone to see if there was a text that she had missed, but nothing.  Surely, they would not pick her since Alex had already received his confirmation.   Stef wanted to believe and have faith, but seeing is believing, and the only way to get to faith was to believe, but that was difficult for her.  

She thought about faith and Alex and how those go hand in hand.  It was only a year ago, and it seemed like it was much longer than that.  She could see Alex pacing on her front lawn as she was sitting on the porch.  He was going on and on about believing and how faith is found in the things we hope for and not in the things we see.  "If you can see it, then you don't have to have faith."  He was so passionate that he encouraged her; Alex always encouraged people to believe and have hope.  Nothing was too big for Alex.  The thing that Stef was facing that day a year ago seemed too big, but here she was a year latter on that day she could not see the next minute, definitely not a year into the future.  Alex had been right then.  Could he be right this time?  Would ZLOTS pick her as well?  She clicked play on Spotify and fell asleep to Boone singing "Beautiful Things."  Her phone vibrated as a new text appeared...

Chapter Three

"Down The Rabbit Hole"

 

As Stef fell asleep on the couch in her room, she quickly became consumed by the dream, the dream that came not every night but was ever present even while she was awake.  The cool air blew through the car windows; you could smell the rain and the newness in the air even after the storm.  She was laughing in her dream; Stef always had a smile on her face in the days of the dream.  The song playing through the car speaker was familiar to her; it was one of her dad's favorites in the old days.  Her dad was not exactly old, but he loved the old music the best.  Stef was the gem of her father's life.  He would give her anything that she asked for.  Luckily, Stef was balanced and did not ask for more than she needed.  Yet Stef always asked if she could play her playlist on the car's Bluetooth.  But that was the one thing that her father would not give her.  If he was driving, it was his tunes and no others.  Every day, he would pick her up from school, and it was his playlist on the Bluetooth.  The drive was the highlight of her day.  In the dream, her father sang at the top of his lungs and smiled as he drove away from Alex at the corner of the school block.  He was always at the same corner.  Stef never asked her dad when he arrived, always to have the same pickup spot.  She imagined he would have to be there an hour before school let out to get the same parking spot every day.  In the dream, Stef could see her eyes looking at the car display to see the title and artist of the song that her father was singing. 

But as soon as she began to read the song title, everything went blurry.  Stef woke up to her mother calling her down to dinner.  What was that song?  Stef muttered to herself as she took out her AirPods.  That dream was so mixed up with emotions: good, happy, and tragic.  I wish I could remember that song.  Stef always seemed sad, especially after she encountered the dream.  It troubled her mother, so Stef shook herself and put a smile on her face as she headed down for dinner.  She could go through the motions for another dinner to keep her mother's worry at bay.  As Stef entered the hallway from her room, she thought she heard something but just ignored it and headed down.  Stef did not realize her phone had fallen between the couch cushions.  

 

Alex looked for the three dots in a bubble, but none appeared.  He became flustered, wondering if Stef was ghosting him.  Why doesn't she reply.  If ZLOTS did not choose her, she should know that he would reject their offer.  In his mind, it was a simple equation.  You want him, you also have to take Stef.  They were a package deal.  Alex felt uneasy, as if something was guiding him to act in a way that was not his typical style.  Alex did not like the feeling but felt at the mercy of his emotions.  He just wanted Stef to reply to his text.  

 

In the darkness of the control room, Michale sat, but in his mind, he was pacing all over the place.  He would be pacing if there was enough room in the control room.  The control room was small, with just enough space for a chair to slide under the desk, which held the controls of all the monitors showing every angle of ZLOTS headquarters.  This position was the post for the rookie agent when not out in the field.  He was restless in his mind.  He wanted peace and dreamt of it every night, but the buzzing in his mind left him at war with himself.  He wondered why he was here, not so much at ZLOTS but in the position where he found his life.  What put him on this path, a path that was filled with winding curves and confusion.  As he stared at the high-def monitors, he was even more confused.  How could this company be so rich in technology and sloppy at discipline?   Discipline determines the outcome of every mission.  That is what he was taught in the Special Forces.  Those were the glory days when he knew what he was fighting for.  He does not know what he is fighting for, but it seems he is always fighting.  Is he fighting for the glory days, or is he just fighting for peace?   Michael's mind was all over the map.  Then, as if it were a flash, he remembered the days before he joined the Special Forces.   He was daydreaming, which often happened while sitting in the control room.  There were cameras over every inch of ZLOTS, but there was nothing to watch, and he had never been told what to look for.  He felt like it was ZLOTS's way of looking important even when they were unimportant.  He settled on one memory as his mind continued to race from one thought to another.  The memory that led his life to this point, the event that seemed to hinge or unhinge his life.  He wanted desperately to take it all back and to find the peace he once had.  Michale had never dreamed this for his life, but he was good at it, living mission to mission, never thinking but only following orders.  He followed his dreams once, but it ended in disaster, and he would not make that mistake again.   Besides, the pay was good at this job; it didn't matter if they were undisciplined in their security ranks; it was just the next mission.  This thought is what Michael told himself to find peace, but it was only a short-term peace.  The war Michael fought within himself would always be there.  He let his emotions guide him in that thought.  To dream, he thought.  That his life could have been something else than it was seemed too far out of reach.

He knew from his training in the Special Forces that emotions were bad leaders, but he seemed to always follow orders even if the leader was unfit to give orders.  For now thinking back on what could have been was the battle.  So Michael pushed the thought behind him and focused on the mission, even if he was unsure what the mission was.

 

Alex picked up his phone again to see if Stef had replied to his last text, but there were no notifications.  Alex was screaming inside his head.  Come on, and let's figure this out together.  His emotions were causing him to think of the worst-case scenarios.  He thought Stef was mad at him for getting such a quick response from ZLOTS.  He thought she must have been turned down, so she was upset with him.  He wanted to fix everything; no internship was worth losing or hurting their friendship.  He thought he might text again, but then he realized he should deal with the emotions that seemed to have taken over his actions.  He knew they would pick her, and they would have an awesome summer writing code.  He thought to himself that he needed to get a grip on things.  

Stef's mother immediately saw that Stef had another dream, so she quickly asked Stef to tell her about the internship that she and Alex were so excited about.  Stef looked at her mom and asked if it was that obvious.  Her mother said, "Yes, I can always tell I am your mother." Stef looked around and patted her pockets before sitting at the dinner table.  Her mother asked her if she had lost something.  Stef replied, "Just looking for my phone, not sure if they have accepted my application."  They got back to Alex pretty fast.  Stef looked at her mother, who said yes, you can go find it, even though they had a strict no-phone policy at the dinner table.  Stef ran back to her room and found the beeping from the single her watch sent to her phone.  She turned it over to see that she had five unread texts.  Four were from Alex, and one was from a number she did not know.  The number she did not know was ZLOTS, confirming she had to report at nine o'clock the next morning for orientation, just like Alex received earlier that day.  She shouted to her mother as she ran down the stairs, "They picked me too." She quickly jumped over to Alex's texts and made a quick reply.  "I am in with ZLOTS having dinner will text when done..."

Chapter Four

"The Fight"

 

Stef was feeling great!  Dinner was excellent, and she felt so complete that ZLOTS had confirmed and accepted her application.  She felt at peace as she conversed with her mother and grandparents.  The fact that she had been chosen made her feel like she mattered and had importance.  She always doubted herself and did not believe she had what it would take to make it through life.  Stef thought while taking a bite of the roast beef; Alex was always right!  Stef wasted so much time worrying and being anxious over things she had no control over.  If she could believe in herself, so many troubles would leave her life.  She smiled and enjoyed every bite of her dinner and dessert.  When Stef finished her dinner, she grabbed her phone, ran upstairs, and texted Alex.  

Alex was sitting at what he called his command center, trying to find more information about ZLOTS.  Alexa liked to live proactively and wanted to know as much as he could about the company he would be interning for.  Being proactive in life helped Alex because it gave what he called his edge; Alex always liked to believe that he was the smartest guy in the room.  His search for more information turned up nothing, and he became flustered.  Then Stef's text came in on the screen.  

"Alex, you are always right!  This is going to be the best summer ever!  Thank you for believing in me!  Alex replied, "Yes, it is.  I don't want to tell you I told you so, but I told you so."  "Stef, I can't find any information about ZLOTS anywhere."  "Don't worry, Alex.  They will tell us everything we need to know about the orientation tomorrow morning.  That is the point of the orientation."  "Yeah, I know Stef, but I just like to be prepared."  "You like to be the smartest guy in the room, and that is what makes you feel safe."  "Just let it go and I will see you in the morning for orientation."

 

Alex took Stef's advice, turned off his monitor, and ended the search for ZLOTS.  He took his bible and his journal out of his desk drawer.  He had been challenged by his father to dig into 2 Peter 1:3-9.  Alex read through the section, and he focused on the word virtue.  "Add to your faith virtue."  Alex thought about what virtue meant to him.  His mind went to the knights of old.  The Templar knights specifically came to his mind.  They lived to protect and sought to live for God in all they did.  In his journal, he drew a Templar cross and wrote the word virtue beside it.  Alex continued to write, "I want to be a man someday who follows God and lives out of what God says is right.  To trust God with everything..."  With that, Alex headed to bed for the night.

 

Michale walked to the front entrance of ZLOTS as he was to work the front gate as the new interns arrived for orientation.  He smiled when he thought about his boss telling him this was a rookie position.  He would happily work the front gate and be outside, even if he would be wrangling a bunch of newbies as they showed up for their first day.  Michale was feeling better today; the restlessness was not as intense.  Maybe it was because he was outside or because he went for a long run this morning.  Running was Michael's thing.  He ran to clear his mind and think about nothing except putting his feet on the trail.  Running is good, but Michale knew it was his default escape.  Yes, it kept him in shape and sharp, but it was a way of not dealing with the deep things he wrestled with.  Sometimes, he ran so long that he thought his body might break.  

Michale looked at the clock.  It was 8:50.  Who would be the first to check in, and would they be at the front entrance before 9:00, or would they be eager and early?  Just as Michale looked down from the clock, he saw two young kids, a guy, and a girl, walking towards the front gate.  "Eager and Early," he thought to himself.  

As Alex and Stef walked towards the front gate, Alex told Stef to stop looking at her phone.  "Put it down."  "You should not always be on your phone, especially when walking around.  You need to pay attention to everything.  It is called being aware of your surroundings."  Stef sighed.  "Yes, I know, I know.  It just helps me, especially when I am nervous."  "Don't be nervous; this is going to be awe...Alex stopped speaking in mid-sentence as he looked up and saw Michale at the front gate of ZLOTS.  

Stef said, "Alex, are you okay?".  Yeah, yeah, just fine.  Alexa knew he knew this person from somewhere, but where was it?  Alex's street smarts were buzzing.  Then it hit him: the security guard driver he had seen at the middle school entrance yesterday after school.  He was out of place because all student drivers were supposed to wait at the cars and not be on the campus.  Michale greeted them, saying, "Good morning.  My name is Michale.  Are you here for the orientation?"  Alex just stared and said nothing.  Then Stef said yes, we are here for the orientation.  Great, Michale said.  "Do you have the student IDs you were instructed to bring?"  Alexa stopped his staring and said yes, we do.  Here is mine.  The Stef handed Michale hers.  Michale said thank you.  Wait here one minute as I get your ZLOTS IDs.

Stef punched Alex in the arm and said what's with you and going off into the staring world?"  "Oh, nothing, just spaced out."  Michale returned with two lanyards with complete ZLOTS name tags and access cards.  As Stef and Alex looked at them, they were astonished as they had their photos on them.  Michale caught their amazement at the name badges and said as they were walking up, the cameras scanned their faces, and the images were generated from several facial scans.  Stef said, "Cool." Alex coughed and told Michale that she was easily impressed.  Stef gave Alex a look.  Michale then interrupted the interaction, pointed to a door, and asked Alex and Stef to check into the orientation room.  Alex shook off Stef's look and said thank you to Michale.  

 

Alex and Stef headed to the door on the side of the building.  The building looked like all other buildings in Drake's warehouse district.  The door was orange and faded; as Alex reached for the door handle, he looked at Stef, smiled, and said, "Here we go. 

As they entered the building, their eyes popped out of their heads.  The building inside was as modern and polished as they had ever seen.  Tech stations were scattered all over the main floor.  At the center was a large sculpture with water pouring over it from the top.  The water ran down the sides of the sculpture into a thin pool made of glass.  It gave the appearance that the water ran onto the floor.  Alex and Stef took it all in and smiled at each other.  Just as Alex was about to say something to Stef, a woman approached them from the other side of the large room.  She smiled and waved them over.  "Welcome to ZLOTS; we all had the same reaction the first time we walked into the building.  It still gets to me today; it's such beauty.   My name is Zelda.  I can show you your workstations and help you complete some questionnaires before orientation begins.  

Zelda lead them both to workstations just across from each other.  She said, "Stef, this will be your new habit, and Alex, your is right here.  Your first questionnaire will appear if you enter your ID number into the computer.  Start working on them as we wait for others to join.  The orientation will occur from your workstation; everything at ZLOTS is run from the mainframe system.  Each questionnaire is based on your algorithms, so the questions will differ for each of you.  Don't let that throw you off.  

Alex and Stef began to type their ID numbers into the computers when Zelda said; please excuse me as more have arrived.  Please let me know if you have any questions.  

Alex saw the questionnaire appear on the screen.  He read the first question.

"What is the one thing you would never do because it goes against all you are and your beliefs?" 

Alex looked up puzzled, but Stef was typing away, the cursor on the computer just blinked as Alex was taken back and unsure of what to type...

Chapter Five

"Questions"

 

Each questionnaire is based on your algorithms, so the questions will differ for each of you.  Don't let that throw you off.  

Alex and Stef began to type their ID numbers into the computers when Zelda said; please excuse me as more have arrived.  Please let me know if you have any questions.  

Alex saw the questionnaire appear on the screen.  He read the first question.

"What is the one thing you would never do because it goes against all you are and your beliefs?" 

Alex looked up puzzled, but Stef was typing away, the cursor on the computer just blinked as Alex was taken back and unsure of what to type...

 

Alex was unsure what to type, so he reread the question because it seemed like a riddle.  What is the one thing that I would never do?  He gave it some more thought.  He wasn't home in his command station; he was out in the open, and it rattled his brain.  At home, in his command station, he would get up and draw something on the whiteboard, but he felt he needed to remain seated here.  Alex looked over to Stef again; she was still typing away.  He now felt pressure to move on, or he would fall more and more behind.  Many people feel pressure when everyone else completes the test or the quiz, but you are still grinding.  It's like you are missing something.  Alex took a deep breath, let out a scream in his head, and began to type the first thing that came to him.   "I would never deny the one true God and question who he made me to be.  This is the sum of my knowledge."  When he finished typing, he hit the submit button and waited for the following question to appear.  Then, on the screen monitor, the words appeared thank you for completing the survey.  Alex looked over to Stef; she was not typing, and her screen had the same image as his.  

Then, on his and Stef's screen, instructions appeared to place earbuds that were on their desk into their ears.  Everyone else in the workstation received the same instructions, so there was a buzz of movement in the room.  Once the earbuds were in, there was a humm, a soothing humm, and then on the monitors appeared the face of women.  It was hard to tell, but in the video, she appeared short in stature and slightly heavy, not so much overweight, and not athletic at all.  She began to speak and everyone could hear her in their earbuds.  

"Hello, my name is Broom Hilda.  Once you get to know me, you can call me Broom."  Everyone in the workstations let out a small chuckle.  Broom replied, "Ninety-eight percent of you responded with a chuckle; excellent.  You may be excited or nervous but still have a sense of humor.  The chairs you sit in and the desk you sit at monitor everything about you."  "We have a feed of data coming in from each of you, which is being recorded and analyzed every second."  " ZLOTS is here to shape the future of all things.  Thank you for applying and being selected for this exceptional internship.  If you are one of our younger friends, please note that we have received waivers from your parents; otherwise, you would not be here."  "Thank you for filling out our survey as you first got to your workstation, and thank you for finally being honest and transparent with your thoughts.  Each survey was only completed once we got a transparent and honest reply to our questions.  Some of you finished quickly, and some went a bit longer, but in the end, we got the information we were looking for.  This internship is going to be an excellent experience.  Some of you may go on with ZLOTS  and help write about the future of the globe and the universe, while others will learn a lot and continue with their lives."  So, let's get down to business.  Each day, you will report at 9:00 am to your workstation, and you will log in to your terminal.  Once you have logged in, the assignments that you are to complete will be displayed for you.  If you complete your assignment before the end of the workday, you can sign out and go home, stick around, and receive more assignments.  You are free to do as you wish.  Log that into your system calendar folder if you are not in for family trips or sick days.  It's all good here at ZLOTS, as we are one family working toward one common goal."  At the end of today's program, you will have lunch and time to mix and mingle with ZLOTS full-time staff and developers, and on your way out, you may collect your portal device, which will allow you to communicate with ZLOTS mainframe from anywhere.  If you need something while on the grounds, you can text in for support in the upper right-hand corner of your monitor." "Of course, if you see Zelda on the floor, you can grab her anytime."  Thank you for being here, and you can mingle and have a delicious lunch at this time!"

With that, Alexa snapped his head towards Stef and smiled.  What are we going to be working on he mouthed.  Stef just shrugged her shoulders with a smile.  Then, before Alex could turn back around, Broom answered the question.  "Some of you may be wondering what you will be working on during your time at ZLOTS.  Please understand that everything at ZLOTS is an experiment.  Each day, you will write code independently, and that code will be gathered and placed in the mainframe.  If all goes well, we will unveil the grand experiment for the whole world to see at the end of our summer internship.

Alex did not turn his head this time or mouth anything to Stef.  Frankly, he was freaked out that his response caused Broom to chime back in.  Each person on the workstation floor removed their earbuds and placed them back in the holder on the desk.  As Alex took his out, he noticed the hum or the buzz again, and it rattled him in the back of his brain.  Alex caught up to Stef on the way to the lunch buffet and pulled her aside.  "What questions did they ask you in the survey?"  "Stef replied, "You know, just general questions, favorite color, some family history stuff like that."  Alex looked at her and thought, why did they only ask him the one question?   

He then asked Stef, "Did they ask you what you believe in?"  "Maybe I did not think about it all that much, but now that I do, I realize that the software might have been mining me to learn where I get my truth and knowledge from.  I don't know, Alex, I am just so excited to be here that to me, as I was filling out the survey, the only thing that mattered was looking good for ZLOTS.  Come on, Stef, let's get something to eat.  

At the end of the luncheon, Alex and Stef headed for the door to go home, and they collected their portable ZLOTS communication devices.  

Once they exited the gate, Stef's driver was there with the car; Stef looked at Alex and said we would be happy to drive you home.  Nay, Alex replied I've got the bus all good.  Talk to you tonight! 

As soon as Alex arrived home, he began to run scans on the device that ZLOTS had given them.  He wanted to understand more about the mainframe and how the device connected to it.  It did not seem to need internet, so it must have been on a satellite feed.  While the scans were running, he pulled out his journal and bible, began digging into 2 Peter 1:5 again, and saw the word knowledge.  Then, he had a slight pain in his head, and he realized that the survey was looking to see where he had gained the deepest knowledge of truth.

He pulled up his text feed on his Mac and began to text Stef, but the pain in the back of his head moved to his eyes, and he couldn't focus.  The intensity became so great that he decided to fall into his bed and rest.  Alex's phone buzzed it was a message from Stef, but he did not make a move to pick up his phone.  Soon he was fast asleep.  It seemed like no time had passed when Alex sprung up in his bed, grabbed his phone, and realized that it was 3:00 am and there were ten texts from Stef. 

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