WEIRD MAGAZINE article on the 10-year anniversary of Edge, Inc.’s founding
Several evenings a week, after a days work at Edge headquarters, Agnosto Mercury drives up the road to a local outdoor pool. There he changes into swim trunks, steps out into the cool night air and submerges himself in the water below.
Mercury is an accomplished swimmer – he was all-state back in high school – but he doesn’t swim laps. On these evening pilgrimages to the pool, he just floats, stretched out on his back, arms spread, staring up at the sky as the sun disappears over the horizon and the stars start to twinkle.
This is how Mercury remembers.
It’s been 10 years since his alleged abduction by aliens, but this is how he puts himself back into that mindset of existing in what he calls “the Void” for his 22 days in captivity.
Evening swimming classes filled with kids barely able to walk, let alone swim, paddle by him. Parents barely even notice the crazy guy who comes to float in the pool and watch the stars. It wasn’t always like this though. Before the abduction, Mercury lived a much more public life. His abduction set off a worldwide media storm that is even now hard to comprehend. His return along with his accusations of aliens taking him in his sleep, only added to the media frenzy.
He flamed out big time, took some time off and is back from his self-imposed exile to change the world – again.
“I decided that everyone might think I’m nuts, that’s fine, I don’t care about them. But I do care about finding out what happened to me.”
There was a time when Agnosto Mercury was the most important name in computing. Agnosto was the Internet. “Look, am I happy with how things have gone? No, obviously not. The Board had its concerns once I’d returned and looking back on it, I can’t say I disagree with their decision to remove me as CEO.”
“This is all off the cuff,” he says. “But let’s face it, if anyone has the resources to figure out what happened to me, it’s me. I might be done with that part of my life, but it left me pretty well off.”
Mercury, of course, is no ordinary 36 year old. At its height, his empire pushed his net worth to just over $17 billion USD. In other words, he had a very large war chest to direct at a problem.
“I needed to get away, figure out what the hell happened to me,” he says. “I reconnected with some old friends from my days back at the University’s think tank. Some very, very smart people. I just needed to pick their brains and see if what I remembered from my abduction was even possible, what did they think about all this or was I actually losing it.”
“The thing is, once we started poking around and actually asking some questions, we realized that there was something to this. Here we have some of the brightest minds in the world today, and they can’t explain these stories with basic science. The authorities prefer to just sweep things like these under the rug, things that don’t fit nicely into a box – I know, because I’ve lived through it. These abduction stories are messy, but they’re real.”
Why not do things differently? Let’s get a ton of data together and then let science tell us what’s going on.
Every year there are more than 8,000 reported alien abductions in the United States alone – a figure that has been steadily rising since the early 1960s. Experts believe that this number is actually higher, but the stigma attached to abductees keeps the numbers artificially lower. “That’s a lot of people to dismiss because you might not like what you’ll find if you look,” says Mercury.
Not all those reports are aliens mind you. There are always the cranks and the skeptics love to point those out. “I’m not going to sit here and tell you that every report is valid. Let’s face it, they’re not. But the statistics show that the false reports are a tiny percentage of the whole. If this were any other type of scientific inquiry, it would be just that – tiny. But because of the subject, people’s opinions come out.”
Another approach was needed and Mercury had just the solution. It sounds so pragmatic, so obvious. Many philanthropists have funded research that they have a vested interest in it. But Mercury is likely the first to fund something so extreme because of being abducted by aliens.
Tired of hearing the standard line that “scientific evidence does not support events characterized as paranormal,” he decided to take matters into his own hands and formed the now famous Edge, Inc. who’s stated objective is to get to the bottom of “things” so to speak.
Mercury’s approach is notable for another of reason as well. This isn’t philanthropy to make himself feel better, Mercury’s after answers and isn’t afraid to push for them. It’s his money and he’s got no problem reminding people he’s footing the bill. “Look, scientists by and large are used to working for these big institutions that move at a glacial pace,” he says matter-of-factly. “The other thing is that results, while nice, usually take years – I don’t work that way.”
“Edge was started with a different mindset. We had to be small and nimble and able to change direction at a moments notice. I also wanted to bring my experience to the table in a viable way – like I had back at the think tank. I can bring the know-how from the tech community and apply that to this environment in a way that is kind of new for science. The main thing that I always go back to, is that I want to find out what might come from analyzing these stories for unexpected patterns. What does the real hard science tell us?”
In other words, Mercury wants to use his considerable financial power and intellect to smash through a scientific wall in a way few were able to imagine ten years ago.
Mercury’s faith in science and the knowledge it generates can be traced back to his roots in the University’s think tank during his early 20s as he was finishing up his second major [in computer science]. Surrounded by other young talented geniuses, he put together amazing new applications to mine the data they were generating during their work. Three years of theoretical science and self-experimentation followed before he struck out on his own, turning the knowledge he accumulated into practical solutions online. “I never left those guys,” he says. “We’d talk all the time, bounce ideas around, you know?”
So what do you do when your old friend shows up and asks you what you think about alien abductions? Enter Jeremy Bell, Edge’s engaging head of research. “Well I didn’t laugh at him,” he says smiling. “But I did ask him if he was serious. And when I realized he was, we sat down and started to really look at things.”
In a sense, science has both skirted these issues as well as butted its head up against them over the years. “Let’s face it, right now, somewhere in the world there’s a team of scientists trying to figure out something that most people would classify as science fiction,” Bell continues. “Whether it is something like teleportation (not viable, but totally cool), artificial intelligence (actual working models are on the way), crossing between dimensions (already bigger than the Apollo program for NASA), cybernetics and genetic engineering (old news for most people by now), whatever. Splitting the atom was really the beginning and honestly, this stuff isn’t crazy or fake or make-believe. And reported or not, it’s happening. I guarantee it. So why are aliens taboo?”
Edge is something that only a person in Mercury’s position could do. “I’m sitting there, like two weeks later, having lunch with Jeremy when he suggests I hire him to do this full time. Now one thing you need to understand about Jer is he’s the smartest guy I know. But he’s also got a knack for coming up with the most obvious solution to a problem – and sometimes not even knowing it. And he was right. If I was really serious about this, I needed to go full force. So blame Jeremy for the whole Edge thing.”
It’s also not like Mercury to go halfway either. “The problem with Jeremy, and he’ll be the first to tell you this, is he’s a lab guy not a field guy. So that night we had dinner with Lucas [Wilde – himself another double major in genetics and cultural anthropology and a think tank graduate] and by the time we ordered, Edge had a staff of three. It was a pretty short conversation, really.”
“I hate the lab,” Wilde confesses. “But don’t tell Jeremy that. Seventeen years and he still hasn’t figured it out.” He continues, “The field is where you really get to see the action and let’s face it, we see a lot of action around here. But that on-the-spot information gathering is so important to getting started on the right track and that’s what I think I do best.”
Edge’s structure has remained largely unchanged since then: Mercury providing the financial backing while running the day-to-day operations and providing his computational expertise, Bell running an ever growing staff of researchers trying to make sense of things and Wilde gathering data wherever an Incident occurs.
Is science able to accurately explain these things? For the most part, it’s not all hypothetical. You just need to expand your understanding.
Incidents, as the staff at Edge call them, are an ever-growing scope of problems. “What started out as, Hey, we’re going to find out what happened to our friend so he doesn’t think he’s crazy anymore, has evolved over time,“ Wilde says. Comments Bell, “We’re not Agnosto’s only friends. So when someone from the Defense Department or the Secret Service calls and asks if you can come and check something out, you go.”
Two years after formally opening the doors and amassing a pile of data, reports and published scientific papers, Uncle Sam came calling. The now famous Robertson case is what most would point to as the beginning of Edge’s rise to prominence.
The Robertson case for anyone not familiar with it took place eight years ago. On a beautiful July 27, Senator Charlie Robertson, an accomplished sailor and ex-Navy, was kidnapped while on a fishing trip with his son Tucker just off the coast of Maine. Tucker, eleven at the time, claimed that fish-like men came out of the water and overpowered his father while he hid below decks. Hours later the Coast Guard found the boat adrift and the son alone on a boat that showed signs of a struggle. The area was thoroughly searched to no avail. Tucker’s story of “fish-people” was dismissed as nothing more than a young boy’s fantasies.
After authorities’ investigations – including the FBI, the CIA and the NSA – were stymied, Senator Robertson’s family approached Mercury, a former business associate, because of the similarity with his own experiences.
“I guess it was either because I’d got myself back to a certain amount of respectability after that alien nonsense,” Mercury chuckles, “or they had nothing to lose and nowhere else to go.”
Edge’s subsequent investigation lead them to conclude that the long-rumored merpeople of the North Atlantic had taken the Senator who was the head of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee that was about to grant the rights to offshore drilling near one of their cities. Through their tireless efforts, Edge managed to arrange a transfer agreement for the Senator’s life in exchange for a ban on offshore drilling in the disputed areas.
The outcome – Robertson’s safe return – and the press coverage that followed rivaled the coverage during Mercury’s disappearance and turned the small group of staff at Edge into instant celebrities. Since then, it’s been one big case after another, each seemingly stranger than the next.
“It’s been surreal,” Bell confesses. “I’m a scientist, that’s all. I love chasing mysteries, but I always have. Agnosto’s just given me bigger mysteries to solve.”
Success breeds demand and Edge is in demand, consulting on a wide range of issues from the now run-of-the-mill alien abductions to mutations, the paranormal and the freakish. “Definitely the most dangerous was the vampire serial killer, but all of them have an element of the bizarre to them,” says Wilde. “One of these days I’ll show up and find something really benign like a talking rabbit or something. But until then, we live life on the edge.”
Back at the pool, Mercury pulls himself out and sits on the edge, his feet dangling in the water as he dries his hair off with a towel. The swimming classes are long since over, the parents taking the kids home for dinner and bed. Mercury is alone now in the quiet, just like he once was for 22 days back when this journey started. After all this time and everything that has happened, he comes here to remember. He’s still sure he was taken that night by aliens even if he’s got no proof outside of his memories.
“We’ll get there,” he says quietly. “I know we will. I can feel it in my bones.” The statement isn’t terribly surprising from someone known for his brash public persona, but the way he says it is unsettling. “We have all sorts of things we’re cooking up and I can’t tell you when, but we’ll figure things out and we’ll get there.”
In a recent survey, 70% of respondents claimed to have experienced a paranormal event. In the same survey, 48% believed that aliens had visited the Earth.