When I speak the words, Prisha's mouth and eyes and palms all fall open in wonder, as though she's ready to receive the Holy Spirit.
Paul, not so much.
"That thing hasn't been online in years," he says without moving from his keyboard.
"But it's operational," I say. "Right? Nobody sold off components?"
"No, it—I suppose, yes, we just stashed it upstairs," Paul says. "If memory serves, it should still be up—"
"On Twelve, yep. It's there—I just happened to be in the neighborhood earlier today."
Paul and Jared both stare mistrustfully at me. Minosh's butt is frozen a half-inch over his seat cushion, as though I've just uttered an ancient curse that could open a portal to some algorithmic bizarro world where AND is OR and XOR is NAND.
"Deb." Paul performs that full stop of his, the one that always precedes an idea squash. "We never even used the Cray. Not for a real project. Carter plugged it in to run demos for investors—that's it. I don't know that we ever installed the config files to get it onto the stinking network."
"So?" I'm standing now, flipping a pen end over end and catching it, the thing pleasantly weightless. "Five software engineers can't bootstrap one supercomputer?"
There's a bad joke in there somewhere, but I don't have time. I dash for the stairwell, groggily aware of the others following, not caring whether they do.
The east-facing lobby shows only a tinge of early morning light. Still, pounding up the pine steps, I can see crates of materials stacked near the entrance. Two Elite facilitators are wheeling hand trucks with more. A third facilitator stands at the double-doors, glancing up Second Ave.
They're prepping the getaway.
I swing around from Three to Four, Four to Five, stumbling and soaring and gripping metal twine. Minosh trails by just a step—who knew he was an athlete?—with Graham on his heels. Paul pulls up the rear, huffing a full flight below me.
At Ten, I encounter Fedor backing out of E-wing with a guarded expression. His flattop ears, viewed from below, seem like mere lobes.
He asks, "And where are you going?"
"The Cray," I pant, "supercomputer up on Twelve."
"You should be at your workstations. All software checkpoints have not been met, and—"
"You should get out of my way! I'm trying to make this Frankenstein-ware of yours dance, you oughta be kissing my feet."
The sinews of Fedor's neck stand up in their skin, but he stands aside. We rumble past up the last flights.
I rip the door open at Twelve and run down two halls to the Cray. In its small room, I come across no body—Elite must have carried off the man Graham shot—but one side of the carpet is moist, squishy blackness.
Prisha lifts her foot, examining the sole of her shoe. "What...what did I just step in—"
"Nothing," I say. "I was up in the HVAC ducts earlier, they must've sprung a leak."
The others' faces do not exactly clear—Paul and Graham are steering well clear of the blood—but my frenetic work at the Cray pulls the rest through.
I boot 'er up. The display is monochrome, a bigger version of Hedgehog Eleanor Roosevelt's screen, and the keys are chunky beige: an old-feeling rig.
When I tap commands, though, I know I'm riding a beast. Output returns in a blink. Directory changes, hardware checks, package unzips—she eats all like candy.
YOU ARE READING
Blackquest 40Mystery / Thriller
** WATTYS 2018 WINNER ** Deb Bollinger has no time for corporate training. Her company's top engineer at just twenty-seven, Deb has blocked off her day for the one project she truly cares about: the launch of Carebnb, an app that finds spare beds fo...