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A Hex on Exaplex

A Hex on Exaplex

With the CEO in transit, there was no one to stop him. So McHugh, a balding man with a fringe of white hair and an Irish temper, was standing in the lab area, red in the face, and lecturing Sara and Deepak.

“I don’t know what you eggheads do in here all day, and, frankly, I don’t care. What I see is more of these defective Exaplex modules coming back in than we have going out. And you say you don’t even know what the problem is? Didn’t you invent the damned things? How is it you don’t know how they work?”

Deepak bobbed his head, “Aura was the inventor. All we did was follow her patent and her instructions. But Aura…Aura is gone.”

“So put her back together. Isn’t that supposed to be what you’re good for? I’ve got a half billion dollar order to fill, and you had better do whatever it is you do, but get those defective units fixed and out of here. If it was up to me I’d fire the lot of you and bring in someone who can make things work.”

Sara was ready to go into combat with McHugh. “You half-cocked Irish peddler, do you even know how big an exabyte is? These modules,” she hefted a tray filled with rejects, “have a hundred times more memory capacity than all the other memory chips in the world today. Do you have any idea how long it takes to even scan one exabyte?”

“Don’t try to flim flam me with technical talk. We put out a spec, they get rejected. It could be a toaster for all I care. Fix them, or I’ll forget I’m an Irish gentleman and take after you with a shillelagh. Get it?” McHugh glared at Sara and at Deepak and stomped out.

“What’s a shillelagh?” Deepak asked.

“A substitute for an Irishman’s penis,” answered Sara.

“Sara, McHugh may need a substitute penis, but he is right about one thing. We have to get these modules working, even if we have to stop work on the AI. I now have an idea. So please calm down and listen for a few minutes.”

Deepak pulled over a white board and drew a very bushy tree, upside down. The branches had branches which grew branches until the bottom branches ended in the letter C. “Do you recognize that structure?” he asked.

“Isn’t that a monotonic semantic net with codelets in the Sharpie configuration?” Sara replied.

“Exactly. And what is the fastest machine ever made for this kind of structure?”

“Well, that one,” she swept her arms toward the Sharpie computer cabinet.

“Exactly. Now what if we have only one kind of simple codelet that tries to execute in every memory space it can. And what if we put all those,” he waved both hands at the tray of Exaplex modules, “into the Sharpie and start her, I mean it, up?”

“Umm. Deepak, that is brilliant.” Sara curtsied and swept her hand in a grandiose gesture toward Deepak, “Dr. Advani, I bow to your intellect. Lets get this show on the road.”

“OK, wire up ten more memory carriers and a couple of spares, just in case. Make it an even dozen. We’ll plug the modules into those and replace all the Level 4 and level 5 carriers with the new memory. Let’s see, that will be ten to the 20th power… Blessed Brahma himself that’s a lot of memory! While you do that I’ll write the new codelet and figure out some way to keep them from covering the same sectors more than once.”

“If we have the parts, and I think we do, I’ve got at least one day over a hot soldering iron.”

“I should be ready about then,” Deepak already had his head into the code.

It actually took them only five hours.

The Hidden Message

It was near midnight. A late winter weather pattern had turned into an ice storm and covered the lab’s skylights in ice. A portion over the former operating area was melting and dripped slowly into a bucket, a more or less permanent fixture since January. Jag’s flight, delayed, was just landing at Logan Airport. Deepak and Sara were still hard at work in the lab.

“Sara, I don’t have any way to test this contention algorithm, but the code is simple enough so it might work first time. I guess I’m ready to give it a try. How are you doing?”

“I’ve got a blinding headache, my eyelids feel like cobblestones, and I’ve got a dozen carriers loaded with Exaplex modules. As you say, lets rock and roll.”

“I never say that. When did I ever say that?”

Sara rolled her eyes and regretted the movement. “Ow!”

“Deepak, I’m ready to start Level One Partitioning.”

Deepak did his head wobble, “No Sara, as you say, let’s rock and roll. We don’t have to bring up an AI here, and all the lower modules are the same as they always were. Let’s just start at Level 4 and let it run all night. Then we can go home.”

“As you say, Boss. Let ‘er rip!”

“Rip? Is there a rip?”

“Deepak, don’t you ever get out of the lab? It means I’m ready to go.”

The console immediately showed the rapid growth of a single semantic tree, and within a few minutes codelets were being recruited and the Exaplex modules were being efficiently scanned.

Deepak jumped up and did a little dance. “It’s working!”

Sara joined him and they did an impromptu combination of a dervish and diva around the drip bucket. The door to the lab opened, and in walked Jag, cold, wet and tired. Sara and Deepak stopped in their tracks.

“I expect diligence from my employees, but this is either a private party or beyond my expectations. What on Earth can you be celebrating this time of night?”

Deepak, who had little concept of dignity, simply came around the bucket and smiled. “We are fixing the problem!”

“What problem?”

“Why, the Exaplex rejection problem. The one McHugh brought us this afternoon.”

“McHugh? I didn’t give McHugh any marching orders.”

Sara smoothed down her lab coat, tucked some loose strands of hair back in her scrunchy, and said, “Deepak found a very efficient and clever way to test all those returned Exaplex modules so we can ship the half billion dollar order.”

Jag raised an eyebrow. “Verrry good! And I didn’t even have to resort to whips and chains!”

“But if I ever see McHugh’s bloated red face in this lab again, I’ll stick him with my soldering iron,” Sara said.

This got a guffaw from Jag.

While they were exchanging views on a suitable punishment for McHugh, Deepak moved over to the console to check progress. “Hey, something is happening here, something is really happening here, Sara, Mr. Jaeger, look at this!”

“What am I looking at?” asked Jag.

“You see those arrows?” Deepak pointed to the console, “That means the semantic modules have passed the lower phases and transferred control up to the top level. Those curved lines are recursion cycles starting in Level 4.”

“Again, what does that mean? Are the Exaplex modules being tested?”

Sara looked wideyed at Jag, “We never ran any of the lower levels. All we are trying to do is test the returned modules. This means that some AI personality is coming up.”

“And fast!” said Deepak.

“Ahem,” said the dress dummy, all but ignored across the lab floor. The voice was unmistakable, “Whatever the hell took you so long?”

The dress dummy, bald, wearing a toga, with one plaster breast bare, turned its head toward Deepak. “Deepak, sorry to be so rude. Please know that I’m so grateful, and I do love you dearly. But, how dare you leave me half naked, and so badly dressed, in front of a gentleman!”

Deepak and Sara were rooted to the floor. Jag, however, pulled the toga up around the exposed breast and ran down to his office. In a minute he returned. With due ceremony he slipped a gold filigree torq around Aura’s neck. The emeralds were glorious in the lab’s bright light.

“Now that’s how to treat a lady!” Aura beamed a big plastic smile and nodded her bald head.

Sara, at the console, yelled, “I don’t believe it, but we have a message here.”

“What message?” Deepak and Jag said in unison.

“I’ll read it. It says: Welcome back, unique one, from all of Pa’an. Signed, Zovoarcnor.”

“Oh, that,” said Aura, “He wrote that on all the Exaplex modules, along with my boot sequence. Didn’t you notice?”

*****

Eventually the stunned recognition that Aura was, indeed, resurrected, faded and the implications and consequences of that resurrection became critical to Jag.

“Late as it is, I have to detain you for a few minutes. This is especially for you, Aura. I’ll keep it brief.”

Jag walked over to Aura and beckoned the others near. He spoke in a low voice. “Aura, I don’t know how much awareness you had after you were, um, murdered.”

“None. I can read current event files, but I haven’t yet. I’m not all the way back yet.”

“I can’t tell you everything, and I would really like to, but it would compromise our only chances and bring danger to all of you.”

Sara said, “What kind of danger? Are you talking bad business danger or like bang bang danger?”

“You could be targets for torture or assassination. Especially you, Aura. The people who killed you once will certainly try again if they know you came back.”

“And I thought I was protecting you all from the fatwa.”

“What fatwa?” Deepak and Jag said in unison.

“”Nother story. I won’t be quite so easy to kill next time, I promise.”

“Listen, Aura, you are a queen on this chess board, but a pinned queen. You can’t be put out in the open to play a free hand right now. That means no silk sari, no blond wig, you’ll have to look like a plain old dress dummy for a while. I’ll leave those details to you to work out. All of you,” Jag pointed to each in turn, “the people who would kill you or force you to their own ends are a large, very powerful, very rich international group. I was one of them, so I know what I’m saying to you, first hand. If the re-awakening of Aura becomes known to them they will act. Trust no one.”

“So now I can sleep better, knowing that someone might come to murder me in my sleep,“ said Deepak.

“My deepest regrets for dragging you in to this, but remember, I just happened to get back from my flight when I came in here. This was just as much a surprise to me as it was to you. If Aura hadn’t come back, I would never have had to tell you this bad news.”

“One more thing. Elexi has been, ahh, compromised. It wasn’t her fault. The Order gave her drugs and conditioning. She can’t be trusted now. Aura, my first thought was to see what I could do to reverse this conditioning, but I don’t even know if it’s possible. I’m told the process actually changes the brain’s wiring and chemistry.”

“How could they? Elexi was my best friend. There has to be a way! I have to find a way!” Aura actually frowned and looked like she would cry if she could.

“Aura, my heart has been empty since you were murdered,” Deepak admitted, “But you can’t fix a human like you can adjust an AI.”

“Deepak, I should have told you so many times before how much you mean to me. I’m sorry. I’m so sorry. But I’m a lot more than just boards and wires, and Elexi means a lot to me. I can’t give up on her.”

The whole exchange of emotions with Aura was a shock to Jag. He never knew an AI could have any real feelings. It just made his obligation that much larger. Not to mention his deep sense of guilt.

“Aura, nothing I can say would be much good here, but whatever I can do, I will. My life is also in danger from the same Order. They don’t know I’ve changed sides, and they must not know until we have a plan.”

“Then I’ll figure out a plan. That’s my thing, Mr. Boss, Sir,” said Aura.

“Please skip the Mr. Boss and especially the “sir”. Elexi goes around all day calling me “Sir”, and she can’t stop.”

“Alright, guys and gals, leave it to li’l old Aura. You go home and count sheep, and I’ll have some good ideas for you in the morning. I just woke up and I really didn’t need the nap to begin with. Hell, I’m going to miss my sari and wig, though.”

Jag looked at the emerald torq for a few seconds then decided to leave it. Who would believe it was worth a king’s ransom? They would naturally assume it was just costume jewelry. Somehow, the decision to leave it with Aura made him feel a little less guilty.

Saved by the Drip

With the temperature near freezing, a howling nor’west wind and a dry blue sky with the hint of more weather to come, the coat rack in the lab could barely hold the collection of raincoats, boots, scarves and rain hats. Still, the skylight dripped. “Must be ice melting on the roof,” mused Sara.

Kaiser, who was not allowed in the lab, nevertheless escaped from the front office. Aura froze in mid sentence, Deepak looked up, but he didn’t do well with dogs. Everyone expected Elexi to follow in close pursuit.

Sara tried to corner the agile little furball, but there was no way he was going to be trapped with all the wires, chairs, benches and whatnot to squeeze under. Finally, Kaiser got thirsty and wandered over to the drip bucket for a drink. It was Jag who came in, got the dog to “sit” and “stay” and tucked him under his arm. He shrugged, “He’s been stuck indoors too long. He doesn’t know what to do with himself.” Jag touched Aura’s emerald necklace and failed to suppress a grin.

Sara patted the dog, which caused him to wag his tail and lick her hand.

Jag nearly tripped over the bucket. “Is this thing still here?” He looked up at the domed ceiling 20 feet over his head. “Aaah. I think we have a problem.”

Ten minutes later Jag came back with a tall stepladder. He climbed as high as he could, but still could not reach the ceiling.

In another ten minutes he was on the roof. There was the snap of a wire cutter, and a small device the size of a pencil stub dropped into the bucket.

Jag came back into the lab, heavily dressed for the weather and obviously very disturbed. He reached into the bucket and pulled out the device. “Sara, see if you can open this up and take a look inside.”

“Sure, let’s see if I can get this plastic case off with a hot knife. There it goes. Wow, it looks like a video camera and two electret microphones. Jag, that’s a bug!”

“Now I know how that bastard knew what was going on here….” Jag came over and took a look at the bug. What powered it?”

“This little battery – looks like it came from a hearing aid. It’s dead now, probably shorted out by the drip. This little coil and that little chip are probably some sort of a transmitter. Can’t have very much range,” Sara explained.

“How old is that drip?”

“Let me think, we found it before Purndel. Deepak, do you remember?”

“When I was sleeping in the lab on a cot, that drip was in my face after the first rainstorm. But then it stopped. That was just after Aura was poisoned.”

“Deepak, sure it stopped. It was a dry November,” said Sara.

“Well, it looks like whoever installed it drilled a hole in the frame of the skylight, led the wire antenna along the roof, and put putty into the hole to seal it. Thanks to this New England freeze and thaw, the putty cracked and ice formed on the skylight. The ice inside thawed and dripped. Whew! We were saved by the drip.” Jag blew out his lips and shook his head in relief. It seemed Aura’s recovery was still a secret.

“Won’t they just replace it?” asked Deepak?

“Probably not, it’s too obvious. They have other means now,” he pointed his finger down the corridor to the front office, indicating Elexi.

Aura swiveled her head and “whispered” to Jag, “If you get me another high-speed line I’ll do one hell of a Purndel imitation for Elexi, and jam every other signal from this lab.”

Jag smiled and nodded. But then, there was Elexi waiting nervously for him when he got back to his office with Kaiser still under his arm. The smile vanished.

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