I’m still unsure of what came out of those PaxoSync cannons, but whatever it was, its explosion created a concussive wave that lifted me up and propelled me across the quad. I caught a brief glimpse of the craggy outcrop above Tivnol Quarry as I tumbled through the air. If I could make it that far, I might have a chance, but my neuralnetsys screamed warning that I’d been fixed by a nanopulse tracker.
Novozell had evidently left me a little unwanted surprise–
–“Serpentine!” Kelvin was yelling as I rolled toward the pathway. He was a tiny figure, high up, standing in the open window of his office in DT12, with a bullhorn. “Serpentine, Shel! Serpentine!” I saw him making curving motions with his other hand, but I could not make sense of his words, or if he was even calling out to me. He was laughing so hard that he dropped out of view. When I reached the pathway, I deposited the bags of nanoFerm™ he’d tasked me with delivering, into the culture bath. I headed back toward Hab9 and saw him looking down again. But he had lost his previous mood, eyes slightly narrowed, watching–
The marble steps of the now obliterated foundation rock raced up at me. Serpentine. Yes. Of course. I didn’t have time to take in the tumble of realizations this fragmentary recollection produced, much as I wished to. It was apt; that was enough. Yes. No matter what logic NovoZell and his guns may be able to apply in order to track and anticipate my pattern, if I kept my arc down, my leaps short, my rebound velocity high, and chose a random serpentine path, it would require sheer luck to hit me, tracker or not.
I felt my legs swivel and pivot forward under me. It happened naturally. I landed, feet first – or I should say, my feet landed of their own accord, and flexed, neatly accepting nearly five Gs. They converted that force into propulsive energy, and I caromed off at a sixty-three-degree angle with a twenty-two-degree arc at twenty-four meters per second. Pieces of ground exploded ahead of, and behind.
I had zig-zagged to the outer edge of the quad by the time I detected, dug into the underside of my upper armature, the tiny NPT Novozell had gifted me with. It hadn’t quite burrowed into my exoshell yet. I yanked it out and stabbed it into the centuries-old concrete pillar that marked the original entrance to the campus, and kept moving.
A moment later, lethal ordnance rained down on that unfortunate historical marker, and continued to, for the entire ninety-three seconds it took me to reach the ridge above Tivnol Quarry. I leapt. And slid down into the darkness at the bottom of one of its mineral deposit craters. I burrowed into loose shale, and went into emergency energy rest, pausing all electrical activity. A moment later, a helodrone hummed past overhead. Then another on a slightly different trajectory. And then another. This last craft paused, and began to scan the ground around me. I remained motionless.
Finally, a moment to consider. Serpentine. Another historical record of an occurrence I shared with Kelvin which right up until that moment, I did not know I had. Unbidden recollections. Unknown memories. That was what this unfamiliar sensation was. My builds were conforming and organizing with some sort of logic I was apparently unable to access, only experience. This was a strange new reality. To know that there were certain deep processes going on inside my neural net that I had no control over, and of which I was unaware.
Finally, there was silence.
The helos had cleared. I allowed all systems back online and then pulled myself from the shale debris. I sat for a moment. Now what?
Novozell had Kelvin, and Sarel. Would he have the audacity to destroy Kelvin? Sarel, yes. But Kelvin? It was unthinkable. And Amoya Zidane is proven right? Why does that bother me? I couldn’t allow it to happen, but I had no idea how to stop it. I had Kelvin’s old tablet magged to my flank, where I’d hidden it from Novozell. I released and unfolded it. The same unfamiliar sigil glowed in its center as when Kelvin had – seemingly a long, long time before (but truly only a matter of minutes ago) – passed it to me. I laid my hand on it, and to my astonishment, abruptly found myself with Superuser access to the entire integrated IPR global network: QuantiLinear, QuestAR, and SWSL OpDirec.
To say that this was confounding would be to underestimate my bewilderment by some six to seven powers. There were so many unfathomable aspects to it that it was momentarily impossible to focus on any, but I eventually did, on the most incredible two.
First, this: that what I had come to know during my lifespan as three separate, notoriously secretive, bitterly feuding, and famously uncooperative branches of an uneasy global coalition were, in truth, one entity. Further, that my own branch, SWSL OpDirec (whose physical locus was this campus, the western hub of said Institute of Planetary Regeneration) and PaxoSync, had been, for at least the past three years, involved in an ever expanding, systemic cybernetics war for control of the central gem in the IPR crown, the SunWindSea linkage itself.
But that was not even the most staggering realization. No. The second revelation was so absurd that I could not immediately process it. It seemed to actually repel logical analysis. So, I sat, motionless. Analyzing. For a long time. I actually don’t know how long. I analyzed the entire scaled IPR network and all of its external nodes, over and over and over.
And then. I began to see.
It started with a barely noticeable, deeply hidden flaw in the Central Control hierarchies of SWSL. It had been coded in, eighty-three days prior, to look as if it were a common gateway error. Given the quantum encryption level, that was just about one or two days longer than it would take another scaled network the size of PaxoSync to breach it. But if they did, I could see that they would have been channeled through a clever labyrinth of convincing backdoors, and then, eventually, after weeks of massive levels of code crunching, teased out the protected physical location of the CentCon Remote Autonomous Access Node – the “God key” – of the SWSL itself. Which was…
So. The great and mysterious DJ Nano had not expected this assault. He had arranged it.
And Amoya Zidane is proven right? Why does this bother me?
Copyright 2017 R. W. Frost and Mechanical Design 101
Graphics: Sara McCarthy Designs 2017