(A shortened version of the first pages of the book)
June 16, 2003
Colorado Springs, Colorado, U.S.A.
Mandi checks her watch again, then flips open her e-Helper1, a combination mobile phone, computer and internet browser. She redials Ramu's number but again gets transferred to his voicemail.
Ramu's flight arrived on time, so where is he?
"Mandi, we need a plan B-and fast."Mandi looks at the man standing near her and momentarily does not recognize him as her research assistant. Dressed for the 'live' performance planned for the opening ceremony, he wears black, and a jagged red thunderbolt runs the length of his body. Mandi has a gut feel that they will need more than a plan B, but she simply nods her head and walks onto a makeshift 'stage', a few planks raised just inches above the dirt. Instead of standing behind a podium, Mandi approaches the front of the stage.
"I know we're running about fifteen minutes late," says Mandi to the more than 150 researchers gathered from around the world, "but I have not yet heard from Dr. Ramu Visra. Rest assured, his airplane has landed safely. He must be caught in traffic...I'm sure that he will walk through those doors in a matter of minutes..." Mandi's voice trails off. She looks into the faces of the crowd and recognizes colleagues she has worked with closely for years. Their faces show a shared concern.
"So," she says feigning enthusiasm, hoping absurdly that a renewed vigor could literally make Ramu materialize in their midst, "in the interim, let me tell you a little about Dr. Ramu Visra-whom many of you know only by his nickname, e-man, which," laughs Mandi, "does not stand for elusive man, as many believe-although I do agree that Dr. Visra is rather mysterious. Rather, e-man stands for electromagnetic man. Dr. Ramu Visra is the world's leading researcher on electromagnetic smog or e-smog.
"The public came to know Dr. Visra last month through his bold assertions that all electrical gadgets cause electromagnetic pollution, which impact not only electrosensitives2 but all humans in any number of destructive ways." "Many here heard of Dr. Visra through his published research in last month's prestigious International Medical Association's journal. In that abbreviated article, Dr. Visra gave summary data that led him to make his assertions. It is that data that Dr. Visra will share-in detail-with us during this conference."
"Those of us who have communicated directly with Dr. Visra have quickly earned a deep respect for his commitment to the field. We're all beginning to feel the funding squeeze by the world's largest corporations, whose very livelihood we threaten with our research. Where there once was money for research, there is no more. Where there once was money for conferences such as these, there is no more. As you noticed from our last minute change of venue, those funding cuts have had an impact!"
Pockets of laughter interrupt Mandi. Their conference, which has been an annual, five-star, catered event-funded by the corporations- moved quickly down market after the release of Dr. Visra's public statement and the conference committee's decision to refocus their conference around Dr. Visra's controversial data. The corporate sponsors of the event pulled their funding.
"So-even though we've had to bring our own linens and make our own beds-this outdoor conference venue isn't too bad, is it? And the weather has been great!" Mandi is interrupted again, and this time to clapping. Even though the conference is kicking off late, the attendees' spirits are high. What many have suspected for years-namely the potentially lethal effects of e-smog-Dr. Visra now appears to have proven with extensive and exhaustive trials, which he literally keeps under lock and key.
Mandi signals to her research assistant to telephone again. She then continues, "So who is this elusive personality who's taken the reins in electromagnetic research? You've all certainly heard the media's version, which I'll remind you is funded by the same large corporations whose products Dr. Visra's data targets. As we speak, these corporations are conducting a smear campaign against not only Dr. Visra's credibility but also our field. It is a campaign so insidious and self-serving as to be criminal. We should all be outraged!"
A third time Mandi is interrupted with applause and shouts.
"Dr. Ramu Visra is a researcher like the rest of us, and he doesn't
lack vision and insight. When traditional research methods failed to
produce statistically significant data, Dr. Visra didn't simply record the data and look for the next research grant, which - I must confess - many of us did, blinded by corporate biases and funds. Instead, he rethought his approach. He took his research out of a clean laboratory setting and went into the field. This is where our critics have run rampant. Dr. Visra refused to control for 'confounding variables,' such as environmental pollutants. He maintains, and I agree as do most of us here, that those 'confounding variables' are the variables of real life! We are constantly bombarded by electromagnetic waves and other pollutants in our environments!"
Mandi's arm movements get larger and more certain. She hasn't
noticed that her research assistant is trying to get her attention. After a few seconds, he walks toward Mandi and hands her an e-Helper.
He then walks away, sits down and puts his head in his hands. Mandi
puts the e-Helper to her ear and listens. The crowd is left suspended
mid sentence, with only the sound of wind blowing leaves across the
floor of their outdoor venue.
Only those individuals sitting in the front hear the small catch in
Mandi's throat before she turns momentarily away from the crowd.
She looks outside at the trees, then turns around and speaks
haltingly, "There has been a terrible accident...On the way from the
airport...Ramu is dead. His girlfriend, Stephanie McGrath, is in
critical condition. I…I…don't know what to say..."
Mandi does not have to say anything. Strangers voice their
disbelief to each other and a few individuals shout questions. They
collectively mourn a man whom most have never met but who held
the knowledge and data to potentially change the course of many,
The true horror of the situation will not come until later, with the
discovery that at approximately the same time as Dr. Ramu Visra's
'accident', his small Malaysian university laboratory is being
ransacked. Files are taken and a virus is eating its way through the
electronic data stored on the laboratory PCs as well as the larger
central server. A localized electrical fire chars the university's backup files, making them irretrievable. Dr. Visra's university colleagues happen to be off campus for the day, attending a professional development workshop thanks to money provided by an
Dr. Ramu Visra and his data are gone.
June 16, 2003
Gold Coast, Queensland, Australia
The young girl jumps off the school bus and runs up both hills on
the way back home, until she bursts, by now quite out of breath, into
her brother's bedroom.
"Paul, is it true? Huh, is it true?" she yells as she heaves her
backpack from her tiny shoulders and dodges the small kitchen table.
Paul is having one of his 'bad days' and has been in bed all day.
"Are you going to be part of the D&D3G?3" yells the girl as she leaps onto her brother's bed.
"Evette get off me!" laughs Paul.
Evette ignores her brother and reaches over him to throw open
the drapes, letting the sun pour into the dim, cramped room. Evette
sees a shaft of sunlight fall across Paul's thin arm.
"Come on 'fess up, or else," she says, beaming. She raises her
hands slowly in front of her face, poised to tickle.
Before Paul can answer, Evette falls forward and they tumble
laughing and shouting. Evette's little arms and fingers dig into Paul's ribs until he calls, "Uncle! Uncle! OK, stop! I'll tell you! Stop!" Evette springs off the bed and falls into the beanbag chair next to Paul's bed. She rests her feet on Paul's mattress, rocking her feet so they tap against her brother's feet.
"Does Mum know?" she asks suddenly serious.
Paul looks at Evette quickly. "Mum can't know. She wouldn't let
me join. Please, you can't tell her."
Evette is silent. Ever since she heard today that her brother was
joining the computer club, she has had mixed emotions. She is happy
for her brother. He has often talked to her about wanting to be
3 D&D3G is an abbreviation of Dungeons and Dragons-Third Generation.
'normal'-wanting to be able to run and play and own gadgets, like
the other teenagers he knows.
But Evette knows that her brother is not 'normal' and she has
begun to wonder if he ever will be. Their Mum tells them often that
Paul is 'special' and 'different', but they both know what she is
really saying is that Paul is sick. They do not know what he has and
their Mum won't tell them, but they know that he is very ill.
"You're going to get sick...If you spend that much time on the
computer, you're going to get sick, really sick, like you are now,"
says Evette looking directly at her brother.
"I know," responds Paul in a hushed voice.
They listen as a raven caws loudly from outside Paul's window.
A few branches scrape against the corrugated tin roof, sounding like
chalk against a chalkboard.
"So tell me about it. What's it like?" asks Evette, forcing her
voice to be enthusiastic. She knows that she should tell their Mum
everything, for the sake of Paul's health.
"It's so cool," Paul blurts out quickly. "Scott's got a machine that
we used to scan me, including my face, and the computer uses it to
generate an electronic version of me! I just saw it last night. It looks just like me ten years from now. You should see the big muscles I have and how fast I can run! I get the name for my new online
character at the initiation next week..." He pauses, then asks, "Are
you going to tell her?"
Evette does not answer. She cannot look at her brother.
"Evette, it's the only way I can be… well, free," pleads Paul in a
soft voice. "My computer character-me-can run and jump and swim,
and never get tired. I can go outside. I never have headaches or bad
days or anything. I'm finally normal. Please don't tell her. If you tell her, she'll pull me out of school again. All my friends are at school."
When Evette looks up she sees her brother picking at a loose
thread on the bedcover. She knows what he is saying is true. This
might be his only chance to be normal. "I won't tell," mutters
Evette. She clears her throat and looks at her brother, "I won't tell
Mum." Paul smiles and then shuts his eyes.
She goes into the bathroom and pulls open the drawer. She
pushes the vials and pillboxes around until she sees the pillbox with
the blue, childproof cap. She pours a glass of water and goes into
"Here," she hands him the water and pills.
Paul smiles weakly. "Guess I overdid it."
"Vice Squad or The Full Monty?" asks Evette. Ever since Paul
disobeyed their Mum's orders and got himself an E-helper, she and
Paul have watched every movie they can get their hands on. Two of
Paul's favorites are 'Vice Squad' and 'The Full Monty'. To keep
their Mum out of the loop, they describe Paul's symptoms as either
the 'vice squad'-headaches with a vice-like grip-or the 'full monty'-
headaches plus a range of other symptoms from exhaustion to
As Evette sits with her brother, she sees the corner of a magazine
sticking out from underneath his bed. She quietly reaches forward
and slides it out. She flips to the dog-eared page and finds one of
their Mum's articles, which she keeps hidden behind the shoeboxes
in her closet and which Paul ferrets out when their Mum is at work.
Evette reads the sections that their Mum has highlighted and tries to
decipher their Mum's notes jotted along the page's sides.
Years later, when Evette understands the meaning and ramifications of those articles, it is too late. The wealth of phone numbers, notes, and articles that Evette's Mum squirreled away in her closet, many of which Evette cannot later find online or in print, are gone. They have been burned.
November 25, 2012
Elly squats on her haunches and digs her toes into the soft black
ground next to the river. She shades her face with her hand, squints
her chocolate eyes and looks upstream. She softly puts a hand on the
shoulder of Eko, the small boy next to her.
Eko does not notice Elly's touch. He is absorbed in his project-
getting a leech to climb onto the reed he holds before it. He has
watched the leech for almost half an hour. It has left a beautiful
zigzag trail in the mud. He squats motionless, watching the leech
patiently as it approaches his waiting reed.
Eko's concentration is amazing. He does not see or hear anything
around him. Just a few minutes ago, a big brown vulture-like bird
swooped downward, splashing muddy water onto the river's banks.
Red dragonflies hover near them-one even landed in Eko's hair,
flying away only when Elly put her hand on his shoulder. Eko sees
nothing but the leech and his reed.
Elly has mixed feelings about Eko's concentration. Since they
left their home a month ago, Eko's concentration has gotten better
every day. He can now 'focus' for almost an hour. However, is this
level and duration of concentration good? When he is focused, Eko
sees, hears and smells nothing around him except for what has his
attention. The trees-even the sun and the moon-could crash in
around him, and he would not notice. Such singular focus makes him
easy prey in a land of many surprises.
Elly leans forward so she can see Eko's face. Although mostly
gone, she can still see the child's 'worry lines'. Just three weeks ago the small boy's forehead showed deep trenches befitting an old man of many sorrows. As she looks at him, she sees that the deep furrows are gone.
Eko's face is motionless, but his eyes are alert. He looks intently
at the ground and watches the progress of the leech. Gone are his
nervous darting glances. His anxious twitch has also disappeared.
Elly cocks her head to the right and listens intently. In the
distance she hears the sound of an approaching engine. She gently
nudges Eko as she stands up. She remains motionless for a moment,
then nudges him again, more firmly.
Eko slowly gets up and looks into Elly's face. She feels a pang of
pain in her gut and wants to clasp him to her. Instead, she takes his
shoulders gently and nods twice, then turns his small body toward
the wall of green vines. He runs toward the jungle and ducks through
the vines. Elly knows that he stands in a cool dark spot, waiting for
Elly looks around her to ensure that they can disappear into the jungle without leaving much evidence. Others use this path to the river's edge, and she does not want to make it obvious that she and Eko are here. Eko has left little sign of his visit to the river's edge. He has broken no tall reeds and has flattened only a very small area where he squatted. Elly bends down to fluff the small weeds then stands up quickly. The boat engine has cut out.
From the corner of her eye Elly sees movement. Eko's brown face peers out from behind a large purple flower. Elly nods once and Eko's face disappears. She cannot help but smile. After spending so much time together, they can talk without words.
Elly looks upstream into the silence. Two years ago her sister died. Sometimes she hears her sister's screams in her head during the twilight hours, when spirits fill the air. And there was another death, only one year ago, which is a death she remembers almost nightly in her dreams. In her dreams she sees a healthy laughing baby tied in a sarong across her back. The wet season in the jungle is when the sickness takes the spirits of those around her. With each wet season comes a great fear in Elly's body. She has seen the sickness take small children and one woman. The sickness starts with vomiting and pains. Sometimes her sister would vomit so severely that she was afraid that her spirit would be cast out. After the vomiting come the loud drums that play in the heads of the sick. The drums are the sign of death.
Much has happened since the deaths. Elly and Eko now live outside the village. She no longer lives in a house with tiled floors. Her floors are dirt. Her home is no longer made of fine local timber; instead she weaves her home from the leaves of the jungle. She no longer sleeps with her husband beside her. He blames her for many things, including the deaths. But she does not listen to him. She knows that the air around the jungle huts where her husband works cause the deaths.
Elly's husband works in the jungle where there are many computers and many orangutans. When they first arrived in the jungle village from their own city, many boat rides away, he took her to the jungle huts and showed her many things. She cannot forget these things.
Although she knows she should not, Elly goes often to the jungle facility and sneaks in. She looks around. She remembers the first time that she went to the huts with her husband. There were fewer huts and fewer computers. Now there are many huts, and they are filled with new computers, new machines, and new orangutans.
Many times there are trucks filled with boxes that drive from the huts to the river. Eko likes to watch the trucks. It is no use trying to keep him away from the trucks and the jungle huts where the sickness is because he is drawn there like a moth to a lantern. Around the huts the air is thick. Her husband could never feel the air, but she and those who have died can feel the air. There is fire in the air around the huts. Sometimes that air spreads into the jungle, as far as their woven house. When the air of her woven house gets too thick with fire air, she and Eko go away for at least one full moon cycle.
After they arrived in the jungle village, Elly's husband stopped listening to her. His new job gave him a confidence that filled his heart. He no longer had space in his heart for her native Dayak4 knowledge. He laughed at her when she spoke about the electricity in the air around the jungle huts and he berated her when she blamed the village deaths on that same air, so she stopped talking about it. He said that she should not curse their lives. Although he said she spoke Dayak nonsense, she could see he feared her curses. Elly no longer goes into the village unless everyone is sleeping. Sometimes she must go to find Eko. He likes to watch the village people, but they fear him; they think he brings the sickness. After she delayed the death of a child, they think she carries the power of her ancestors.
Elly does not know if she carries the power of her ancestors, but she does feel like she bears the spirits of the many orangutans that have died at the jungle compound. Even after her husband said that she could no longer go to the jungle huts to see the orangutans, she went there quietly. She watched from behind large leaves, scared to approach the men with guns sitting outside the huts. When the men went away for mid-day prayer on Fridays, Elly used to visit the helpless baby orangutans in their small cages. When the orangutans got sick, they were taken out of their small cages and put into a large cage set apart from the huts. Sometimes Elly would sneak into the outside cage to sit with the sick orangutans. The small orangutans often crawled into her arms to die. As Elly remembers, she feels the pain in her gut worsening. She shakes her head. She looks upstream again and cocks her head, listening for the sound of the engine. Although she cannot hear it, she decides they must continue their journey. She knows that the Giant Trees grow not far from here. There are always plenty of orangutans nearby, and giant fruits from the giant trees. As Elly and Eko approach the Giant Trees, they hear the piercing screams of a mother and baby orangutan. After the initial shock, Elly sprints through the jungle toward the screams, followed closely Eko. They reach the Giant Trees and frantically search for clues as to what happened.
Not far beyond the Giant Trees, a man kicks a mother orangutan in the ribs and she topples over. The poison from the dart is spreading through her body, and she can no longer protect her baby. He throws the baby into a small cage suspended from bamboo poles. Two men hoist the poles onto their shoulders and continue their trek. It is the second orangutan they have caught today. They walk toward the small cluster of thatch-roofed huts on the boundary of the mining lease. The man looks again at the two young, healthy orangutans. It has been a good day.
1 See Xperts: The Telekinetic
2 Electrosensitives are individuals with particular sensitivity to electromagnetic radiation or fields.
D&D3G is an abbreviation of Dungeons and Dragons-Third
4 Dayak is a term used to describe a group of Indonesian indigenous people. The particular group referred to here is located in Central Kalimantan.