Dear Mr Ruan
Thank you for this opportunity to gather and compose my thoughts pursuant to our conversation of last Tuesday. You were correct to suggest this: writing things down clarifies and stimulates recollection.
I have written this text off line, then converted and encrypted it before sending, as requested. I hope that when we meet soon, whether in Sydney or Shanghai, I will have more to tell, but that seems doubtful.
I have taken your suggestion in reproducing dialogue and making the account as sequential and readable as possible. The extra time and care taken has certainly been beneficial, though so much remains unexplained.
Nothing in the text is commercially sensitive, but there is some potential for embarrassment; consequently, I concur with your desire for secrecy. As the chief investor and a true believer in our enterprise, you are entitled to know the whole truth, which I now furnish to the best of my ability. What I cannot furnish are explanations.
Anybody reading this account will find little believable in it. Yet it is the only account which can be given. You have asked me for a detailed description of all the events and I am giving it to you in all honesty, if not accuracy. I cannot offer accuracy because it is hard to be accurate about things which pass all understanding and defy all physical laws.
Since it is unlikely we can continue our project in its present form, my only remaining interest is to show gratitude to Ruan Investing by telling you all I know and telling others absolutely nothing. No laws or ethics will be violated by this silence of mine, since those external people who have been disadvantaged by our difficulties could never establish causation, even with our best cooperation. My view is that we were co-victims, not a cause.
Nothing I write here is contradicted by other members of staff or by your own local Chinese representatives who witnessed some of the events. We are all in the unfortunate position of having to ask you to give credence to the incredible. Please be assured that all here agree on the need for silence and discretion. You may, perhaps, wish to firm up on secrecy at your end after you have read my account.
Lastly, Mr Ruan, in this account there are European cultural and ritual references which may be foreign to many Chinese, but not so to you. My background is surfing and computing, with little room for matters cultural beyond what is learned through gaming and movies. My hope is that, with your Oxford background and wide interests, you may have some inklings as to the roles of culture, tradition and ritual in the events. I will merely relate, not interpret. Perhaps you will be able to explain things to me, at least a little.
It was thanks to your commercial expertise and backing, and your confidence in me, that I was able to keep pursuing the allegedly impossible dream of exaflop computing without straying far from the startup’s original headquarters on Sydney’s Northern Beaches and without having to reconcile such a long term and visionary undertaking with any short term bottom lines. You are a benefactor of science, Mr Ruan, of the true liberal sort no longer thought to exist.
Strong satellite reception and lack of electronic interference were, of course, the deciding factors in locating our business to where we did. In this, I acted on your advice as well as my own preferences. Our shared belief in a relaxed and medium security environment in a bushland setting I still regard as sound. High security would have meant suspicion and speculation, mentions from drunks on late night radio and so on. An old observatory on a sandstone ridge overlooking the Pacific attracted no attention, and, as far as all were concerned, we were yet another quirky IT business, though with extra space and hardware needs. In fact, we were just another IT business, albeit a very ambitious one.
The whole point of the operation was to build a distributive supercomputer system which was cheap and compact at its core. The critical features were mostly in my head, not in plans or on display. How satellite was to be incorporated was kept secret. The only piece of radical hardware, which I need not mention, was utterly inconspicuous, hidden in the heart of the system and known only to me (and to you, of course). Nobody would have learned much by intruding or spying, while, as you pointed out, such research in China would have attracted swarms of government and private interference regardless of how much information could be gained.
Up on Observatory Bluff, with just the one narrow approach road, we were bothered by the odd journalist and conspiracy nut – and there were those two Korean snoopers – but by and large the setting was secure, tranquil and conducive to good work. Moreover, to attract and keep good staff, you cannot beat the Sydney Peninsular. When employees can slip down to Bilgola for a surf or Avalon for a coffee you scarcely need HR.
Of course, I now have cause to regret the location, but not for reasons which were foreseeable when we set up.
The Observatory, as you know, was only a shell when it was acquired for our work. Since it was covered by heritage orders, we could not have turned it into a high security building had we wanted to. Nonetheless, the large and clear internal space and solidity of the structure made it easy to monitor and secure to a level of medium security. The main entrance led into a reception area staffed at all times, including nights and holidays. The fire exit was well secured and never used.
As to the perimeter, though there we no security cameras along it, it was very solidly fenced. (There were, of course, cameras at the main gate and at all possible entry points to the building.) The bush had regrown over the years of disuse so that there was a certain bushfire risk which we averted by “accidental” back-burns. (It was easier to do this than to apply for permission to clear in what is now the Observatory Bluff Nature Reserve. The head ranger was sensible enough to look away from our “accidents”, actually carried out with the help of a retired ranger.)
Apart from the minor intrusions mentioned above, we had no problems to do with security till the night of April 30 and May 1. Before detailing what happened then, I feel I should relate certain other matters to do with the one staff member who left us in the two years we operated at the Observatory. Whether this person has any connection with subsequent events is not something I can determine, though I and the police have made enquiries.
Adele Mockrie was a programmer, a very quiet, even sullen, young woman who joined the team a month after we moved in to the Observatory due to the shocking disappearance of Sarah Tobin, a star programmer and personal friend who had been with me from the early days. (I mentioned this matter to you. Sarah, from Israel, was a triathlete and may have drowned when training in the surf at Collaroy. Her body has never been found, nor is it certain that she was in the surf that day, but drowning or shark are the only likely explanations for her complete disappearance.) Adele Mockrie came to us almost miraculously with excellent credentials through the new-school-tie network of IT. Like all junior staff, she was not told of the scope of our work: while it was obvious that we were mainly focused on increasing computer speed and power, we avoided ever using such sensational terms as exaflop.
There is little to tell of Adele Mockrie. She was not a compatible staff member, her work was mediocre and I found her to be unpleasantly sly. It even crossed my mind that she was there to spy, though the only thing she might have learned was that our goal of a compact ubercomputer was indeed achievable. Her free time was spent pacing about the grounds, and sometimes she would stroll into the bush. She often appeared to be muttering, and I wondered if she was religious or maybe a little touched.
One Monday there was a call from a friend to tell us she was sick and would not be coming in to work. And that was the last we saw of Adele Mockrie, at least in the workplace. When my secretary tried to contact her to formally wind up her employment she had moved with no forwarding address.
At the time we were too busy to care much about Adele Mockrie’s whereabouts. She was quickly replaced by an excellent young man from Delhi, newly graduated from SCC, and her access codes and clearances were cancelled.
I did see her one more time, just by chance, on the Corso at Manly. She was sitting in a large group at a long outside table. I was hardly in the mood for scenes so I pretended not to have seen her, a discourtesy she returned. What did strike me was the group she was in: they were people of all ages and types, from tattooed goth girls to older men in business suits. All were serious, too serious for the place and weather, and seemed to be conferring as if in a boardroom. They had something in common, but what? Were they family members after a funeral?
That is all I can say about Adele Mockrie, and she may well have no connection with subsequent events. I mention her as the only person who had knowledge of our work and who may have been in some way hostile or disaffected. I am covering all bases, if you will excuse some of the dated management speak I know you dislike.
I was first to arrive at the Observatory on May 1. Seeing the gate open, I assumed someone had arrived before me, since our arrangement with our security guard was that he would not unlock the heavily padlocked gate till the first staff arrival. He was to open neither the gate nor the Observatory building to anybody who was not staff, unless the person was thoroughly identified as police, security or para-medic, and on duty.
But there was only the guard’s car parked within the perimeter and I could see that the Observatory’s main door was wide open.
Uneasy now, I jumped from my car and rushed forward.
On the gravel in front of the entrance lay the inert body of our security guard for that night, who happened to be a surfing acquaintance called Kyle Foster. From the wide splatter of blood near his motionless head I assumed the worst.
In fact, Kyle had been bludgeoned to death.
Before I describe the scene inside (of which you have seen the photographs) I should mention that I still do not know how security was circumvented. Did someone lure Kyle to the gate then force him at gunpoint to unlock? Did someone – as unlikely as it seems – have unauthorised keys to the premises? Adele Mockrie? Someone more trusted? Or did a person well known to Kyle ring and get him to leave his post then admit that person under some pretence? We still have no clues to any of this. If somebody had rung and said there was an emergency involving his family he was unlikely to have reacted without verifying. (Kyle was one of those smart, capable peninsular guys who work below their intelligence and ability till age thirty so they can spend most of their time surfing.)
When I stepped inside I was expecting to see signs of damage or theft, especially theft of files and papers. Yet there was none of that.
On the floor of the Observatory circles, symbols and pentagrams had been traced in chalk. But what was most strange was the trench which had been etched in the stone flooring. I can only assume it had been jack-hammered, because it was quite deep and long.
In front lay a freshly slaughtered sheep, its cut throat placed so it would drain into the trench. Around the trench, the floor was sticky with what we later learned to be heavy sprinklings of honey, wine, mineral water and wheatmeal.
There was nothing else amiss. The banks of main system computers had not even been approached; desks, papers, files and staff computers were untouched.
When I contacted the police they responded quickly and well. All outside tracks and footprints were examined and photographed; at the gate and inside, fingerprints were taken; one or two marks in the sticky mess near the trench were examined and recorded; there were all sorts of enquiries made in the area, and staff interviews, needless to say. Further afield, recent sheep thefts and purchases were explored. Local wiccans and such like people were put under observation and questioned, though not in specific reference to the crime. I named Adele Mockrie as the only former employee who may have been disgruntled or hostile.
None of this led to anything.
The authorities agreed with me that Kyle’s murder should be announced and described publicly, but that the event was best described as a simple break-in turned brutal. This secrecy had two benefits: anyone mentioning rituals or satanism in relation to the crime could be considered suspect or at least in the know; and our business avoided the sensationalism and attention which would have been inevitable if all details had been released.
The dates April 30 and May 1, constituting Gaelic Mayday and Walpurgis Night, were likely significant. Why we should be targeted by a group of satanists willing to murder to get access to the building was not obvious. The best explanation I could arrive at, with the concurrence of the police, is that an old observatory could be considered attractive because of its optimum exposure to things celestial. Silly, but a better explanation than any other we could come up with.
After May 1 we became far more security-minded, with extra security staff, patrols, cameras, and an elaborate alarm system. We had to fight the heritage people for permission to make a few alterations to the premises, but a word from the NSW Commissioner of Police finally persuaded them.
I will add that your support and kindness to the family of Kyle Foster was noted by all, Mr Ruan.
The only thing odd which occurred through the rest of May was the appearance of an elderly tramp in the bushland beyond the observatory. We kept a close eye on him and mentioned him to the police and rangers, who questioned the man but could not limit his access to public bushland; they could only prohibit him from camping. Almost certainly he was camped in one of the many caves below the sandstone ridge, but after a while we got used to his presence and could see no harm in him. When police offered to arrange accommodation and other forms of assistance he was not interested. He was one of those sober homeless persons who are happy to be homeless and free. Australia was once full of such “swaggies”.
The old man was lean, not emaciated, with abundant white hair and beard which he managed to keep in order. Though dressed in cast-offs, he seemed clean and even neat in his appearance.
When I saw him seated on a rock outside the fence one afternoon, I decided to walk out and speak to the man. He was the only neighbour we had, so I wanted to dispel any feeling of suspicion or rejection from our end.
And so I made the acquaintance of the man we came to know as Rexie.
(To be continued)