Horizon: Rebuilt, Ch. 8

Horizon held her hands under a faucet streaming frigid water over the bizarre object that had both caused her immense trouble and saved her life multiple times. She stopped the stream for a moment to examine it again. It was a perfectly smooth metallic sphere with no ports, no indicator lights, nothing to indicate what was inside, even the warning “tell no one!” that had been written on it when she first found it in her pocket had washed away. She held it between thumb and forefinger up to her eyeline and gazed over it again. Are you sure about this?

Samantha appeared in the mirror next to the raccoon’s reflection, she nodded at the sphere she held. “Based on all the data I’ve gathered; I’d say there’s at least an 86% chance that is a custom-built containment unit for a gravitational micro-singularity.”

The raccoon tried to recall the last time she’d seen a container for a microscopic black hole, that time it had been a small disc. She had felt a weight to it then, a literal gravity pulling her towards the device. Horizon imagined she could feel that now, a pit in her stomach and a burn in her throat. She tried to find a seam where the sphere could have been placed around such a disc but found nothing. How did it do those things at the factory? She asked.

“The sphere contains a small amount of computronium and electromagnetic field manipulation equipment in addition to the singularity and its confinement field generator,” Sam explained. “I was able to gain limited access using your pilot credentials and this guy,” she pointed over her shoulder at her fanged tail, “was able to focus the gravitational pull in various directions for your protection.”

Horizon stared at her AI avatar’s tail suspiciously. What is that anyways? I thought I made you to be an avatar for my implant’s AI?

“Well,” Sam looked oddly guilty for some reason. “You see, there’s not exactly ‘an’ AI in your implants.”

What? Horizon thought, confused. Wait, do you mean there’s multiple AIs in me?

The projected panda fidgeted with her hands as she composed a response, “that’s a bit of a simplistic way to put it, but sort of. Are you familiar with the Society of Mind?”

Horizon shook her head, even though she knew she was communicating with an entity only visible to herself. I’m not particularly well-versed in psychology.

“Okay, have you heard that conscious beings are composed of thousands of little minds called agents?”

I might have, that sounds vaguely familiar.

“All right,” Sam stroked her tail as if showing anxiety. “Well conscious beings have all these agents doing their things and when they all happen to go in the same direction it looks like decision-making. The concept of a ‘self’ is really just an illusion produced by the uncoordinated simultaneous actions of those agents.”

Horizon’s eyebrow twitched at that comment. I’m pretty sure that I exist.

“Well, technically speaking, I don’t,” Sam gave an exasperated shrug. “However biological sophonts work, Artificial Intelligences are gestalts of hundreds of thousands of different algorithms that occasionally work towards a common goal. This simulated personality you’re interfacing with represents the output of just a handful of those algorithms.”

So, you’re what? A spokesman?

“That’s a fair approximation of ‘my’ function, yes.” Sam reached a hand towards the mouth at the end of her tail, but it dodged with surprising speed. “However, there are some algorithms in your system that ‘I’ am denied access to. They’re what this guy represents in the visual metaphors of your mind.”

Horizon stared intently at the mouth on the avatar’s tail, trying to focus her thoughts onto it. What algorithms do you represent?

The tail’s maw opened wide and spoke two simple words that brooked no argument: “Insufficient clearance.

Okay then, Horizon conceded. She turned her attention back to the orb in her hand. Is there anything else in here?

Sam disappeared from Horizon’s left side and reappeared next to her right arm, staring intently at the orb. “I couldn’t get much access, but there’s a lot of data stored in there. And I mean a lot of data, possibly more than our whole brain contains, but without a processor that can make use of it.”

And you don’t know what it could be? Horizon guessed.

“Nope,” Sam admitted. “Clyde,” she gestured towards her tail, “doesn’t seem to have any access to it either. I agree with you that Luke Didelph probably made it, but aside from the software to control the singularity I couldn’t tell you what else was inside it.”

Is there any way to find out? Horizon turned the orb over again, taking yet another look for any sort of interface port.

“We tried magnetic induction,” Sam explained. “I was able to take a look at the data, but it was heavily encrypted, with two different codes. Clyde managed to decrypt the Federation code, but he didn’t share any of it with me, of course.”

What about the other code?

Sam sighed, “it’s a few orders of magnitude simpler than the Federation code. However that just means that if I applied all the processing power of your implants to it I’d be able to decode it in one Jord year.”

A year? Horizon gasped in shock.

“Give or take a few months,” the panda added. “And that’s if I divert power from keeping us alive, despite your reckless lifestyle.”

Horizon sighed, she made a motion to set the orb down, then inspiration struck. Could we use an external computer to decode it?

“Oh yeah, sure,” Sam nodded rapidly. “Though I wouldn’t expect any consumer-grade computer from your primitive system to crack it in less than a century. I’d suggest getting hold of one of the Company’s ‘super’ computers or something.”

Horizon looked at the orb again and considered. A supercomputer you say?

Jennyfur was busy in her lab when Horizon found the white squirrel. The space contained multiple tables and desks covered with assorted biological engineering equipment. Cables snaked from a single central computer tower on the center desk into multiple printers and analyzers, half of them whirring and clicking at any given time. She looked up from a petri dish covered with pink gel as the raccoon entered. “Oh hi! Don’t normally see you down here.”

Horizon nodded at her girlfriend, “I had a bit of a situation, and I was hoping you’d be able to help me.”

Jenny dripped a few drops of solution from a pipette onto the dish as she responded, “is something wrong with your implants? You want to go back into the virtual rig or something?”

Horizon shook her head, “more drytech than wetware I’m afraid.” She pulled the orb out of her pocket and showed it to the squirrel. “Do you know anyone who could decrypt whatever’s stored on this?”

Jenny set her tools onto a rack and stared intently at the mysterious sphere. Before she could say anything, Sam whispered in Horizon’s ear, “are you sure you trust her with this?”

I won’t tell her it’s a black hole unless absolutely necessary, the raccoon retorted silently. And remember that if MechRat gave it to us that means the “tell no one” instruction was not an order.

“Is that FedTech?” Jenny’s question brought Horizon’s attention back to the present.

Horizon gave a small shrug. “I picked it up back on the Resolution, so it probably is, but I’m mostly interested in the data that’s on it. Sam said she didn’t have the processing power to decode it in any reasonable amount of time, so she recommended I find some kind of supercomputer to take care of it.”

“Well,” Jenny considered with a glance over her shoulder towards the processor tower on her desk. “I wouldn’t call it a ‘supercomputer’ per se, but I do have a decently-powered machine here.”

“That’s nice,” Sam popped into existence standing behind the tower. “Based on what I can see here, this thing could crack the encryption in just over half a century.”

“Fifty years?” Jenny gasped in shock. “What, is this thing quantum encrypted or something?”

“No,” Sam retorted. “If it was quantum encrypted your machine here would have no chance. As is, the coder probably used the Resolution‘s quantum computers to develop the encryption but I can’t pick up any uncertainty principles at work here, fortunately.”

Jenny scratched her chin as she thought, “so, if we had a quantum computer…”

Sam looked up at the squirrel with interest. “Are there any quantum computers on this moon?”

“It’s not really something they advertise, but the Company uses them to run the credit network.” Jenny pulled a paychip out of her pocket and held it up, showing the AI panda through Horizon’s eyes the small LCD screen displaying the amount of Surtr Company Scrip stored on the chip under the Company logo. “About seven years ago some guys managed to steal a few quantum cores from the treasury division. They were planning to use the codes on them to rob the Company blind but instead the Company just put out a new scrip and forced us to trade in our old sacs for new ones. At a terrible exchange rate I might add.”

Sam looked very interested now. “So what did they end up doing with the stolen cores?”

Jenny shrugged, “sometimes somebody suggests they have one of them. Occasionally there’s a rumor that one was used in a major cybercrime. But, nobody can say for sure.”

“Would you, by any chance, know where to find one of these people?” Sam blinked out of existence and rematerialized right in the squirrel’s face. “I can’t imagine that those biomods of yours came from a licensed clinic.”

Jenny staggered back, bumping into the desk behind her. “I might know a few people in the black market,” she claimed. “But I’m not really a computers person, I’m more into wetware.”

Sam leaned over Jenny’s protruding stomach to stick her nose right up into Jenny’s. “Still, could you check? Pretty please?”

“Sam, give her some space,” at Horizon’s command the AI turned to glare at the raccoon for a moment. Then she blinked out and reappeared sitting in a cross-legged position on one of the desks at the far side of the room.

“I’m going to need that table in about half an hour,” Jenny complained, pointing at a tray of plates under the illusion’s legs, one tube sticking out of her immaterial thigh. “I might know someone who might have a lead, but I can’t guarantee that anything they’d sell you would be genuine.” She picked up her pipette again and started dripping on plates again, then her eye twitched. “Hold on,” she said, “that Shawn guy you rescued yesterday. He mentioned he was a computers guy.”

“Hmm?” Horizon inquired.

Sam waved a hand and a document appeared in the air next to it, showing the image of the vole Horizon had saved next to a list of qualifications and work history. Horizon focused on the document and it zoomed through the air and came to a stop in front of her face. “An IT journeyman?” she read.

“It says he just barely passed the exams, but the notes from his mentors suggest discipline issues,” Sam explained. “He might actually be helpful.”

“So,” Horizon considered. “You’re suggesting we obtain a stolen quantum computer from some shady guy in the Surtr underworld, and bring a kid who might have the Company out looking for his head after framing him for arson?”

“Pretty much,” Sam commented with a smirk.


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