Soar (7)

Bob didn’t come in at all. Or the next day. I tried emailing him. I even tried calling him, which he hated. After 48 hours I had to tell someone. Chuck went to his house and found him on the floor, curled up with an N64 and a bottle of small-batch rye. They put him on indefinite sick leave and turned him over to the HR/Medical Complex. They told me he was fine, just needed some time off. Plenty of it. Vacation with no end in sight.

I had to submit a report. I felt bad getting credit for Bob’s work, but he wasn’t around to take it himself. Nobody was. Just me. I was the only person fully immersed in an investigation which was suddenly back to square one – but in such a way as to be closer than we’d ever been before. I was it.

Drew, the Chief DSO, called me into his office. Gave me an office of my own. Gave me Bob’s job, “acting” until Bob came back. Then hired someone else to replace Bob in the job he was supposed to have been doing these last few months. I was full-time, highly-paid and fully-funded, with only one job: find out where it went.

I didn’t even know what it was.

I asked Drew. He told me he’d tell me if it became necessary. Right now it wasn’t. I had a trail. Get sniffing. So I did.

Everything fell into place. In an afternoon I accomplished more than in the previous three months’ combined.

We’d audited the hardware and the software. There was nothing left of whatever had hidden the Program. What I could do was narrow down the ways by which someone could have come in and taken it. And that was easy. There was only one.

There was a lengthy, sustained, two-way connection going into the Program nexus. It was to pull the logs. So that the people in IT could check them. People like me, that long day of days. Some thirty or forty computers had a sustained connection to the Program nexus. For some thirty or forty hours. Each.

The bandwidth usage was easy to find. It accounted for something like six hundred terabytes of data. Of which our work would have required, liberally, a fraction of a percent.

I thought the internet had seemed a little slow.

Then I wanted to cry.

By this point I knew just what I had to do. I pulled every single computer from the IT bullpen and went over it from top to bottom. Then I went through every single userspace that had logged into one of those computers. Looked at browser histories. Read emails. Then I investigated each person. All my former co-workers. Everyone who’d been in that room with me. Phone calls. Bank accounts. Nothing you’re not used to if your state voted Bolshevik in the last election.

Plenty of discrepancies. Which is what happens when you have smart twentysomethings with T passes. One by one, hour by hour, they all checked out. No secret cryptoanarchists, no fifth columnists or thieves. I made sure. It took days. I made sure.

The only people I couldn’t catch up with were Gerhard and Jane. He’d gone on medical leave for cancer treatment and was home with his parents in Turkey. She’d gotten bored, quit, and was hiking the AT.

I felt like dropping him an email, but one, I’d always thought he was kind of a snob, and two, how was I supposed to have found out? Those both paled in comparison to three, which was that I felt like I was stabbing him in the back; standing in front of him and looking him in the eye didn’t make it better when I was still reaching around him with a knife.

It didn’t matter. None of the people in IT were involved. Someone had made use of their, our, computers, all without our knowledge. I had no idea how they’d done it. So I couldn’t trace it to them.

All I could try to do was trace the data.

It was like looking for a needle in a stack of needles. The data had been split into chunks and sent off in a thousand thousand directions.

I took a deep breath, and started on the list.

I thought it was going to take months to go through the list. By the end of a few days I was done. Turns out that there are only so many servers in the world which can handle such huge throughputs of data. Turns out that most of those servers are owned by one of a few dozen companies. All of whom were well inclined, as fellow megalithic corporations, to help us track our data to their server farms.

If only the datatrail ended there. Each piece of data from any one server immediately bounced to another – or a whole host of others. My list had gotten an order of magnitude larger. Whoever set up the theft had put great effort into making my life difficult.

And there was the server wall. Some companies were happy to let us follow our data through their servers. Some were unhappy. Some flat-out refused. I was up against the data transfer policies of multiple companies in multiple countries. Some of whom were designed from the ground up to facilitate anonymous data transfer – both the companies and the countries.

It was my job to turn obstinacy into cooperation. I had three things on my side. One, the prestige of a major multinational. Two, an army of lawyers. Three, a giant pit of money.

I got a company charge-card, and approval for as many business-class flights and business-class hotels as I could stomach. I found myself in offices in Osaka, Prague, Maseru, Ushuaia, Yap. Sometimes I’d go in with an official from the American embassy or the local government. Sometimes I’d go in with a judge and three cops. Sometimes I’d go in with three lawyers in grey silk. Sometimes I’d go in with a briefcase full of cash.

Usually I tried one after the other. One or another was bound to work.

One after another the companies buckled. I could trace the data. Then it moved again. And again. But it always moved between the servers of the same companies. I only needed to get them to compromise their ethics once.

The data began to conglomerate into bigger and bigger chunks. Finally I had thirty chunks of data, each in a different server, each of a size that could be what I was looking for. Then each of them disappeared to private addresses. From any of which they could have been copied onto physical storage media, and disappeared.

I had a hunch that, of the thirty chunks of data, twenty-nine of them were giant piles of random bits. Someone was playing Three Card Monte with me. I could have gone to each physical address, with all the inevitable breaking and entering that would entail. But once I’d broken and entered, I could have been staring the real code in the face and I wouldn’t know it. Hard to play Three Card Monte when you don’t know what card you’re trying to find.

I flew back to the States, slept for a day, and then told Drew it was finally time to tell me about the Program.

He wouldn’t tell me.

I asked Chuck. He smilled, told me to ask Drew. I asked Alice. She pretended to ignore me. I asked permission to talk to one of the staff-members who’d worked on the Program. I was denied. Apparently they’d gone to great lengths to encourage the former project employees to forget everything about their work. In fact, most of them were on comfy contracts in other parts of the country. Or other countries. And no two together.

“You’ll just have to rescue each bloc of data,” Drew said. “Then bring it back and we shall tell you whether or not it’s correct.”

So many castles, so few princesses. I wanted to put my head through a wall.

I knew a quicker way. I knew I absolutely shouldn’t do it. I didn’t care. I found myself at a residential mental health facility in the mountains of New Hampshire, and signed myself in as the older brother Bob didn’t have.

I found him sitting in a wicker chair looking out over a valley of pines. He didn’t look bad. His voice trailed off and he didn’t make eye contact, but that was normal.

“I’m not supposed to talk about work,” he said.

“Me neither,” I said. “Talk to me about the Program.”

“The… the thing that got deleted,” he said at length, “we’d been working on it for years. Forty months. I was brought in specifically to work on… work on it. There were dozens of us, Tony, Milbar, Steve Kle, Rachel Heddy… months. Snows and summers. Millions, just millions of dollars. New equipment. New simulations. Making our own equipment, one-offs. All so new. Couldn’t breathe a word. All new. Entirely new. Deep cover…”

He swallowed. “Just a bunch of kids,” he said. “Had an idea. Ran with it. Got the company to swallow it. Millions of dollars, but… a good idea. Maybe. Who knows. Just a bunch of kids…”

His voice dropped to monotone. “Genetic algorithm. Gave it a series of parameters: this result is good, this result is bad. Fed it situations. Hundreds. Then millions. Make choices. All possible choices. See which ones were good, which ones bad. Store the information. Every situation it was presented, stored. Recursive analysis of older data. Forced learning. Prediction. Intent. Trillions of processor cycles. Text, then speech. Input after input…”

He curled his knees up to his chest. I looked around but there weren’t any staff nearby.

I sat on the ground nearby and stared off into the mountains. At length he relaxes, his body unfolded.

At length I figured it out.

“You made an AI?” I asked.

He shrugged. “I don’t know.”

And, then: “I think so.”

I stared out over the pines, until a nurse came to walk him to the tennis courts, and I drove back to Boston with my mind wandering in the clouds.

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~ by davekov on 24 July 2014.

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