Author Topic: Chapter 7  (Read 1502 times)

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Offline Daen

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Chapter 7
« on: June 10, 2022, 02:59:46 AM »
Chapter 7

"Will you please go home and get some sleep?" Al asked with obvious frustration. "I just got back, and you've been up for what—twenty-eight hours and counting?"

"Not right now. I'm onto something here." Jia turned the monitor to face him. "It had nothing to do with the conditions in the dam at all. What we saw was entirely because of the modifications we made to the particle exciter."

"We don't even know what we saw," Al reminded her.

"Some kind of particle field we didn't even know existed. Somehow we recorded three-dimensional images and projected them into this room. I've been able to repeat the process—here, see for yourself!"

She flipped the switch before he could object, and once again the room was inundated in orange light. It was a bit clearer this time, but she still couldn't see anything more than a few inches away. "I fine-tuned the settings to make it a bit less crazy, but I'm just guessing here. This wasn't just some random error."

Abruptly, the light vanished, along with the chaos within it. Eberhard was there, his hand on the switch. Jia felt a surge of resentment, but he spoke first. "He's right, Jia. You need to rest. Let him work on this for a while, and then come back tonight, ok? I'll give you a lift."

She opened her mouth in rebuke, but felt light-headed just by turning to face him. She swayed a bit, holding out a hand to the nearby desk. "Fine, I'll go. Just don't report any of this yet, Al. I mean it—not a word to anyone at AFI or the grant office. The moment they hear about it, we'll be swarmed with other people, and..." she felt dizzy again, and Eberhard moved to hold her arm.

"And you want these last few days before the grant expires to figure it out on your own," Al concluded for her. "I'm right there with you. Let me keep working on this for a while. I'll see you tonight, all right?"

Jia gave him a forceful nod, and shrugged off Eberhard's hand. She might be tired, but she wasn't an invalid. Rallying what pride she could, she led him out of the room and back to the surface.


The image of the three of them vanished, replaced by an older Jia. She was standing in a serene pose, with her face and posture serious. "Those first few weeks after the discovery were an exciting time for us. They were also a nightmare in another way. I pushed myself so hard. I can remember never feeling as... drained as I did back then. But it was worth it because of what we came up with."

She looked down. "Al was great. He was always offering helpful suggestions, and we bounced ideas off each other for days on end. Eberhard was wonderful as well. We weren't living together yet, but he took care of me in moments like the one you just saw. He was utterly relentless, to the detriment of his work. I was so enraptured with our discovery, and so devoted to developing it, that I might actually have died if he hadn't been there to look after me."

"As to why I wanted to keep the exciter modifications secret, there was more than just my ego at stake. I didn't figure out the full truth about the exciters for another year, but I had an instinct to keep it all quiet. I've learned to trust my instincts—they kept me safe when Booker was—" she cut off, looking strained. "When I was with Booker." The image of Jia hesitated, as if she wanted to say more, and then reached out and turned off the recording.

Beb and Margo shared a knowing look, as they shut off the exciter in Beb's workshop. They'd watched plenty of movies together, but never personal recordings like this one. They'd also been watching at 1/3 scale, so Jia, Al and Eberhard (or Harding as Beb was trying to remember), were all miniaturized.

"I guess she had an independent streak, right from the start," Margo commented, leaning back and stretching. "Keeping that from her superiors might have gotten her into a lot of trouble."

"She was a gambler," Beb said admiringly. "She was betting she could puzzle it all out better than anyone at AFI, and she was right. They just cheated her out of credit for all of that."

Margo grimaced and turned away. She knew the feeling, Beb was sure. In the PI world, as well as the police, achievements by women were routinely claimed by men. It was probably why she was so keen on upping her profile as a professional and effective investigator.

Beb flipped through the recording chips. "We've got over a dozen more of these recordings. Do you want me to load the next one?"

"No, I'm still working this out myself. If she and Dr. Poe created the first generation of exciters, they could have stood to make a fortune. What if Theo Farrow paid them off at first, but then decided to kill them to keep them quiet?"

"Pity you can't ask him," Beb responded. One of the founders of AFI, Theo Farrow had died of heart failure last year. His co-founder Branson Aldwin had retired, and Theo's son Holland was running things now.

Margo shook her head. "No, that doesn't make sense. Farrow was a businessman, and the exciters promise to be a multi-billion-dollar investment. He could have paid off dozens of people and it would have just been a rounding error to him. Besides, Jia and Poe could have come up with other ground-breaking discoveries if they hadn't been killed. Businessmen don't go around killing their golden geese like that. We're missing something here. Whatever that 'full truth' about the exciters was, probably."

"Then we should find out what she had to say, right?" Beb beckoned her over. "The next file says it was recorded over a year later."

After a few more seconds of looking frustrated at her inability to figure it out on her own, Margo nodded. Beb put the chip into her exciter, made sure it was still scaled down, and then turned it on.

This setting was much different than the lab inside the dam. This was an upscale corporate penthouse, and the wind whistling through the open balcony window spoke to it being pretty high up. The exciters could record sound, but only from one fixed location, unlike the 3D images they displayed. Still, it got the point across.

Jia was there, in a stunning blue dress adorned with embroidered waves. An older man walked past her, and sat behind a desk on the far wall. From his breathing, Beb could tell he was winded. "Who is that?" She asked Margo in an undertone.

"That's Theo Farrow. I recognize him from looking into AFI. This must have been in their headquarters downtown. That's gotta be at least thirty stories up."

Somehow, Beb found it hard to believe that one of the Fortune 500 had been ok with being recorded in private like that. Which meant Jia had been doing it in secret. Sneaky, sneaky. Beb's opinion of the dead woman went up another notch.

The image of Jia moved up next to the bar, and poured a pair of drinks. Setting one of the glasses down in front of him, she took a seat opposite him. "Did you have a chance to look over my latest idea?"

The old man gave her a faint smile. "It's ambitious, I'll give you that."

"It's necessary, Theo. You've seen how the exciters work. You can see the possibilities at least as well as I can!"

He shook his head. "I'm sorry, Jia. A global distribution would be hard enough even if we had the market for it, but giving out these exciters for free? It would take years, and bankrupt AFI in the process. We need to start local, here in Pennsylvania. Dr. Poe has some very interesting suggestions about how these 3D recordings could be used in medical training. Surgeons could learn how to perform complicated procedures, not by watching, but by actually moving their hands in the same ways! There's definitely a market for it in medical schools."

"Al is an excellent researcher, but he thinks too small," Jia objected. "He always has. Think about how useful exciters could be in the media! Imagine 3D movies and shows and documentaries. Remember how visceral the action sequences were when we were kids? They'll be so much more so now. Besides, I'm not suggesting that we give away top-of-the-line exciters. Just a basic version to give people a taste. I've already marked up a design schematic for what it would look like."

Theo gave her a suspicious look. "Jia, you've done more than anyone to make this project a success, but you're mainly a researcher. I've been in business for fifty years. What you're suggesting would be biting off way more than we could chew—hell, even the most ambitious shark doesn't try to eat a whale on its own!"

Jia didn't look at all fazed by his comparison. "When the television was first invented and distributed, how many TV companies were there? Ten? Twenty? Imagine if one person had control over every TV broadcast right from the start. One company, distributing first a basic model to get people interested, and then holding a once-and-forever monopoly on all products that came from it? AFI would go from local to global in the snap of a finger!"

Beb had no experience in business, but even she felt a little moved by the idea. First electricity, then radio and television, and then the internet. Each had radically changed how people interacted, and each had brought with it a tidal wave of new products and money. AT&T had held a very similar monopoly for a long time. From school, Beb could vaguely remember how it had been broken up in 1984. But that was then. Nowadays, a monopoly over 3D projection would likely never end, and that was what Jia had been selling Theo on.

What didn't make sense to Beb was why. What did Jia have to gain from this? It wasn't like she owned any stock in the company. Or had owned, actually. These recordings made it hard to remember that Jia was dead.

Theo seemed to be considering it as well. "Maybe you would have done well in business after all. I'm glad I never had you as a competitor." He leaned forward and took a sip. "If it were anyone else asking, I wouldn't even consider it, but for you I will. There are hundreds of details to work out, and Holland isn't up to the task yet."

"He's got some very smart people advising him," Jia reminded him, "and I'll be there to talk him through the technical parts. He's a good kid, Theo. He always was, despite your... complicated past with him."

"I know. Thank you for reaching out to him. We both owe you for that."

"I have a complicated family too. Think nothing of it."

The recording paused there, and older-Jia reappeared jarringly. Despite her skills as a scientist, her editing kinda sucked.

"I eventually convinced him to distribute the exciters globally," older-Jia explained. "He died a few months later, but the ball was already rolling. Holland has been overseeing the construction process for all the exciters with input from me, but I still don't know how long it will take to get them everywhere. I'm crossing my fingers and hoping for the best at this point."

Jia gave a slight smile. "I'm sure you're wondering what the 'full truth' about the exciters is, but I can't tell you that. I can't be sure exactly when you'll find these recordings. If it's before the global announcement, I don't want to spoil the surprise. Or my plan to tell everyone at once. Sorry if that's a disappointment, but you're just going to have to wait and see like everyone else." She reached out and shut off the recording again.

Again, Beb stared at Margo in surprise. "So it was Jia's idea to distribute them globally, not some corporate scheme. She was just using Farrow, right?"

"Looks that way," Margo agreed. "But it wasn't for profit, that's for sure. Jia had something else in mind. I'm tempted to skip ahead to the last recording, but I guess she anticipated that. What do you think this global announcement is?"

"No idea. I'm more wondering how it'll happen. Even the most newsworthy story still has to be vetted by various organizations before it starts playing on TV. There are still places on the globe where people have never heard of 9/11, or of the Covid outbreaks. Jia seemed pretty sure she could reach everyone at once, though. She doesn't seem like the kind of woman who makes exaggerated claims. How would she do it?"

They both pondered it for a few more seconds, and Beb glanced at the device in front of them. "The exciters!" They said at nearly the same time.

"She must have embedded a message inside each production model," Beb reasoned happily. "It's probably programmed to play automatically at a set time."

"It would have to be set to local languages," Margo said thoughtfully in response. "And she couldn't be sure exactly when they were all in place, with one exciter in each home in the world. If she set it too early, it would go off before they were all distributed. Too late, and someone might figure out the truth on their own. What the hell was she planning to say??"

It had been itching at her mind for months now, but Beb finally had a reason to say it. "There's one way to find out." Hesitantly, she gestured at the exciter on the table.

Margo was quick all right. "No. Absolutely not," she said immediately. "You can't risk taking one of them apart. I know we don't usually care about legality, but for all you know they have a tamper-proof switch in there. If you so much as loosen a screw, it might send out a signal to AFI. If they knew what Jia knew, and were willing to kill her and the others to keep it a secret, what do you think they'll do to us?"

Beb hadn't thought about that. "Fair point," she said dejectedly. Then another option occurred to her. "What if we got our hands on an exciter that's not a production model? One that isn't configured for public use yet. Then if there is a tamper alarm, they won't know who sent it!"

"That could work. Maybe. We'd have to do it in a public space, though. If the signal includes any kind of GPS location, you wouldn't want to start tinkering with an exciter here. Unless you can block any signal going out? Do you know how to do that?"

Beb hesitated. "I know how, but I've never actually done it before. I'd have to set up a Faraday cage and do all the work inside it. That'll take some time. I might need Tin's help. If he's some kind of special forces guy, he probably has some training in signal usage and how to block it. Do you think he's done watching the recordings by now?"

Margo rolled her eyes. "If history is any guide, he probably finished them hours ago. I'll call him."

"We'll also need one of those unconfigured exciters. Hopefully more than one, if we can manage it. Any idea where we can find them?"

Strangely, Margo hesitated at that. Usually when the two of them got going on a project or idea, it was hard to stop either of them. She looked out the workshop window, south into town. "There is one place."
« Last Edit: June 10, 2022, 03:04:42 AM by Daen »