Chapter Fifty-One

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Susan and I watch between the muscle-ridged backs of Oleg and Fedor. The laptop screen displays a dashboard of virtual meters: Number of Running Processes, Inputs Received, Outputs Replaced, Outputs Rejected, Total Duration of Output Circumvention.

This last meter, a bar, is significantly larger than the others, and shows a checkered flag at the end. I squint to read the value beside the flag.

5:00 min.

So that's the goal line. For testing purposes, five minutes will stand in for forever.

The Russians must want this nuclear power plant of theirs back in a hurry.

As the various meters begin populating with data, I catch Susan stealing peeks my way. The looks feel solicitous, as though she wants to impart some sentiment or meaning, but I ignore them. I'm thinking ahead to the next phase—to escape, once Elite takes off with our successful (or not) code.

How long will they wait before detonating the charges? Will they detonate the charges?

I have to assume so. Everybody will need to beat it outside, across the street. Should I yell that the whole place is wired to blow, or just gently encourage people to evacuate in an orderly fashion?

I have a feeling when the time comes, neither "gently" nor "orderly" will be high on my list of achievable modes.

I check the meter readings.

Number of Running Processes: 6012.

Inputs Received: 973,288.

Outputs Replaced: 973,124.

Outputs Rejected: 0.

Total Duration of Output Circumvention: 0:47 min.

Has it really just been forty-seven seconds? This test is going to feel like forever, anyway.

The group around us—engineers, account coordinators, middle managers—watches with rapt faces. Something like dog's breath reeks behind me, and elbows keep poking my ribs. The lobby monitors that've been showing static for the last forty hours are back on CNN; the news crawl rolls under a live shot from Cape Canaveral—the private spaceflight that gave the biz-siders their topic.

Up ahead, Minosh inches toward the double-doors but is stopped by a glowering Elite facilitator.

As Total Duration passes two minutes, a smile begins on Susan's face and one of her wrists uncurls. I feel a mild loosening of the gut too; the networking code, those TCP/IP calls out to the Cray, must be working—otherwise the test would have bombed immediately.

Oleg, standing before the laptop with great primacy, remains stone faced.

Number of Running Processes: 6012.

Inputs Received: 4,831,980.

Outputs Replaced: 4,831,729.

Outputs Rejected: 0.

Total Duration of Output Circumvention: 3:55 min.

With the Total Duration bar close to 80 percent full, a mere quarter inch of screen from the checkered flag, a floaty sensation enters my legs. I'm excited and revving for action—for the escape. No whammies in nearly five million value-pair tries is a great sign. There's every chance the Cray finished, that its text file is sitting on the hard drive done, three sextillion-odd rows big.

Number of Running Processes: 6012.

Inputs Received: 6,022,194.

Outputs Replaced: 6,021,935.

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