Quantum Echoes

Naval Intelligence Central Complex
Lowell City, Fenris
Capital of the deWulf Corporate Democracy

“Excuse me, PackMaster Schäfer? I have something you need to see.”

Theodora Schäfer looked up from her desk, sliding her display to the side. Her staff knew not to disturb her unless it was something important, and her adjutant Derval Maler knew that better than anyone. So if he was there, he was there for a reason.

“Yes Derval? What is it?”

“You remember that we’ve been logging all of those extraneous datastreams in the quantum computer we salvaged from Helgoland Bight, correct?”

Theodora looked back at him blandly. “Vaguely. I remember we did a fairly in-depth examination of the thing before it got handed off to Steyer un Sohn for reverse engineering and analysis.” Her lips tightened at the memory. In truth the part she remembered and hated was that they simply couldn’t understand it, and they’d signed off on the hardware on the basis that ‘it probably wasn’t going to explode’ and not much beyond that.

“Ah, well. Over the years Steyer’s gotten a reasonably good grasp of the technology. In the broad strokes at least. But several parts of the system are still alien. They’ve noted that there are some additional processing threads that originate from several unidentified subcomponents. Occasionally they put a bit of load on the main processor array, but they’ve always assumed that they’re some kind of error checking or system test. The hardware was still more or less fully operational even after a few centuries of deep space exposure, so it was assumed to have some fairly impressive self-diagnostics.”

“Assumed.”

“Well, yes. The threads aren’t encrypted; they can’t be. So Steyer just recorded all the data and put it into cold storage.”

That made Theodora chuckle. “That must be costing them a pretty few Kett in storage fees.”

“Even bulk storage isn’t cheap, with that amount of data being stored. But, stored it is.”

“So what’s the point of all this? It can’t just be about a warehouse of junk data.”

Derval nodded as he laid down a dataslate showing two sets of identical data. “The left hand data sample is part of a processing thread from two weeks ago. The right hand is from secure recordings of star system KR 229.”

KR 229. Now THAT rang a bell. “Wait. Is that the system that-“

Derval nodded. “The system that the G2R2 array observed disappearing. We have no idea what the rest of the processing thread was, but we know one thing for certain. Part of the input data was a full dataset for the system’s orbital data. With one additional point between the orbits of the c and d components.”

Theodora’s face tightened further, jaw clamping tight.

“Before you ask, I already verified that nobody was running any experimental data using KR 229’s parameters. Steyer’s logging shows that this entire processing thread originated from an unknown component, spent three hours running a low-priority process of some kind, before having data output to the same component. That component is completely isolated from the rest of the processing array. No connections in or out, no emissions of any kind.”

Theodora pushed herself back from her desk, standing up and walking around it to look at floor to ceiling window on the north side of her office. Beyond it was the grey overcast skyline of Lowell, droplets of rain hitting the glass as a storm rolled in from the north.

“You know why I have this window here, Derval?”

“No PackMaster.”

“That’s because HR says that even two hundred meters underground, it’s important for our sanity to think we’re not two hundred meters underground. But I know it’s because matter how tempting it might be, it means I can’t just jump through it and leave some incompetent bureaucrat to deal with this mess.”

An empty silence filled the room for long moments before Theodora turned on her heel and walked back to her desk before picking up the dataslate.

“Take this to Senior Analyst Trost in Forecasting. He won’t know what to do with it. Yet.”

“If I might ask, PackMaster…”

“Yes?”

“You don’t seem that disturbed. Poorly understood technology in our use is processing data about a star system that was destroyed over two thousand years ago which was observed barely two years ago. Data that we never provided.”

Theodora looked at him and smiled. A sharp line that spread across her face, thin enough to slice atoms apart.

“If you ever go so far as to find yourself sitting behind this desk, Derval, you will find that madness is not is merely a side effect. It is the currency we pay for understanding.”

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