Chapter Fifty-Six

262 28 7

On the top floor of the building, in its own small room—a room that until ten hours ago seemed destined to be its sole and final resting place—the Cray supercomputer runs.

I speed through one hallway and half of a second, tapping what must be the last joules of energy in my overtaxed legs. I have the notion to slide feet first into the power cord, to disable the Cray in a World Cup-worth takedown.

Bad idea. Power loss is erratic—no telling how the receiving software might respond to a partial transmit.

The proper fix won't take long anyway. I keep running, panting, into the Cray's cavity now, caroming off its humming inner panels, spinning to the keyboard and screen.

Even though I expect it, the sight of debug output scrolling down the screen—blocky green text puked out in gluts—chills me to the marrow.

The algorithm is live.

Blackquest 40, devil spawn of my brain, has been deployed.

The OurSpace flight controller has been compromised. Its thrusters are receiving vector values slightly lower than what they should be.

I imagine the passengers in their spacecraft—two men and two women, an astronaut and civilian of each gender if I'm remembering the news story correctly—and what they're feeling. Relief that liftoff is behind them...anticipation at entering outer space...but still plenty of nerves at the remaining work.

Have they detected anything wrong? Probably not. The under-thrust is subtle.

How will the craft fail? Will they bump into the top of Earth's atmosphere and burn up? Take a slow-arcing nosedive into the Pacific Ocean? How many bogus vectors will it take to doom the flight?

I don't have the aerospace props to know, but Oleg surely has access to people who do.

I think about Oren Andreassen watching in his silk bodysuit, triumphant, believing his goal of democratizing private space travel is within reach.

Not so different from me thirty minutes ago, thinking I could disrupt this giant, unfathomable challenge with Carebnb.

My fingertips find keys. Still standing, I navigate by text command to the directory containing the Blackquest value-pair file.

The Cray is the tiniest bit laggy, each directory switch taking an extra tick—which is stunning given its processing power.

That spacecraft flight controller must be hitting this file hard.

I type del value_pair_lookup.txt and press enter.

The Cray answers with a brief message confirming the file's deletion.

In the debug window, the green-text waterfall freezes. A cursor blinks once before being replaced by a peevish red message:

URI FORMATION ERROR: FILE 'value_pair_lookup' NOT AVAILABLE ON SERVER.

Then nothing. The screen stays gloriously fixed—no scrolling, no new text.

No thrusters receiving faulty vector values.

The Trojan horse only gets one fail, then the host reverts to the prior successful algorithm. Incursion over.

In another minute, platters inside the Cray spin down. All bleeps and bloops cease. The room is silent.

The machine—vinyl and silicon, big and ugly and seventies looking—is back to being a pure dust collector.

I stand. About fifty parts of me crackle. The rest are either sore or bleeding.

I lope to the stairs. I'm not hurrying. Shooting pain in my knee forces a sandal to one side, and my next few steps follow—turning my route long and loopy. Someone shouts from the lobby.

I keep not hurrying.

I arrive at the stairwell door. Laying my forearms against the push bar, eyes half closed, I bump. The door opens an inch, than slams back shut.

I push again. The door budges wide enough for me to squeeze through to the pine steps.

Now I can discern the shouts.

"It's still airborne!" Susan is calling up. "No explosions, nothing strange!"

Carter: "Deb, Deb! Are you done? Did you do your—er, whatever you were doing?"

I don't answer. They wouldn't hear me unless I also shouted. And I am not going to shout.

"Two minutes post launch and it's still up!" Susan's voice gains a delirious edge. "Deb—that's you on the stairs, right? Is the patch in place?"

I mumble, "It's not a patch."

But she can't hear. I've only descended one flight. My strides are glacial. I lower each sandal carefully, pausing to breathe at each footfall, yawning often.

"...confirm the patch is uploaded, we're out of the woods?"

"Deb! What's the scoop up there, we good...?"

Susan and Carter begin seeing me at Five, catching glimpses as I make the turn from one flight to the next.

"Good? Are we good?" Carter hops up onto the lip of Semperinity, wingtips clacking, urging toward me. "Deb talk to us, are we golden?"

I say out the corner of my mouth, "We're not golden."

"What? Deb, what'd you say? Do they look okay, the spaceship readings? A-ok?"

"Can't see readings from space." I reach Three. "Not a bidirectional information flow."

Despite my reticence, the bosses are figuring it out. I wouldn't be doing my grumpy sloth routine if work remained to be done. Smiles spread across both their faces.

Susan collapses into an upholstered couch, kicking her heels end-over-end to the floor. Carter plunges both hands into Semperinity's basin and splashes water over his Gatsby slickback and into his eyes—a joyful, baptismal act.

This company, the work of their lives, is saved.

Somewhere, Oleg is watching the OurSpace craft regain its course and enter orbit. He's wishing for a new stressball—possibly one full of gravel.

A chuckle starts at the thought, but never gets off my tongue.

It's two more flights down to the lobby. I take them in a trance—what ungodly number of stairs have I covered these last forty-eight hours?—and keep moving when I reach the ground floor.

Carter rushes up with arms outspread, those white, white teeth gleaming. Seeming to read in my body language that I'm not coming in for a bro-hug, he drops theatrically to one knee.

"Deb Bollinger," he says with one hand over his heart. "That. Was. Epic."

I walk out the double-doors.

Blackquest 40Read this story for FREE!