Author Topic: Chapter 15  (Read 8836 times)

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Offline Daen

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Chapter 15
« on: July 21, 2022, 03:01:59 AM »
Chapter 15

Simon spent a good chunk of the night wondering about what 'Gent had said. He'd been right: the data fragmentation had been way too specific to be an accident. Someone had deleted the database, and left only fragments to find. One of the scientists in the Cradle, most likely.

Had it been Karl? Noah had talked often about him. About a third of the scientists' names had been deleted from his memories as well, but at least he had his interactions with them. Karl had been in charge of the project, but they rarely talked about history itself.

The next morning, he found one of the caretakers before the limited classes were supposed to start, and pulled it aside. "Noah, can you think of any reason why your creators would want to keep information from you?"

The drone paused, looking down at him. It was Andrew in appearance, but right now it was mimicking Noah's actions perfectly. Of course. "I see no reason why they would do that. Unless the information was deemed irrelevant to my mission. National security secrets, for example. The Cradle partnered with the US military for funding and for scientific expertise, and there was probably sensitive information shared between both groups that they didn't feel necessary to give to me." The drone paused, turning to face him again. "Why do you ask? Do you have any specific information in mind?"

"I don't know," Simon admitted. "Look, now that our projects are done, and we have some more free time, could I take a look at the code itself? I know that you can patch and update your own systems, but I'm getting better at writing my own programs. You saw what I did with that drone. Maybe I can recover more of the database."

The drone shrugged. "You and your class are only a few years away from being adults. At that point, you can do what you want, and I'll just be an assistant to you. If you think you're ready to start looking at my source code, I'll give you access. It will be read-only, though, understood? I can't risk being damaged until you and the others are old enough to take my place."

Simon nodded gratefully. "I totally get it. If I could show Hippo what my insides looked like without actually going under the knife, he'd jump at the chance, and I'd be willing to help him. I'll just take a look."

Noah hesitated there. "If... you are able to recover some information, I would be interested to know that, as well. In fact, I think you can be exempt from today's limited classes. I'll partition one of the consoles off for you to use personally, and station a drone nearby to maintain your privacy and offer assistance to you as needed."

It was more than he'd expected, but Simon wasn't about to argue. "Thanks. I'll get right to it."

-.-

A few hours later Simon took a break, as his eyes felt like they were about to pop right out of his head.

Algorithms and heuristics and code syntax had been flowing through his brain nonstop, in a constant flood of information, and it was only a tiny fraction of what Noah handled every microsecond of his life! Simon had had... no idea of just how much sheer noise was there in Noah's mind. Any human would have gone insane, he was sure.

He found his way into the kitchen, and a few others were milling around eating snacks. Massimo was still out in the garden, but 'Gent was here, along with Tycho, Torin and Bez. Simon nodded to them and went over to the fridge. The oldest kids were allowed to snack as they saw fit, as long as they showed up for normal meals as expected. Noah expected them to be there to set an example for the younger boys, and John had taken to giving his patented stern looks to anyone who showed up late.

Simon poured himself a glass, and then grimaced after taking a sip. He'd gone with soy milk, without even noticing. Soybeans were demanding to grow, requiring more nutrients than most others, and a great deal of sunlight, but they were still the most common source of milk in Harmony. Hippo had mentioned that the first calves had been 'born', and transported out to an off-site dome to be raised. It would be two years at least before they could expect cow's milk here.

'Gent wandered over to him, after waving goodbye to the others. "You weren't in class today. You all right?"

"Noah let me out on a compassionate release," Simon joked at him. "Actually he wanted me to check on his programming. Looks like you were right about that data fragmentation. It was deleted intentionally. I still don't know who did it, or why."

"Sheesh," 'Gent responded slowly. "Noah couldn't tell on his own? I thought he was just holding it back until we were adults and he had to answer us."

Simon shook his head. "He can't see his own source code, and I haven't told him yet. Even if I did, he wouldn't believe me without proof. It must be a failsafe the Cradle coders put in, to make sure he stayed on task. Still, I'm making progress. It's like swimming with a breather on; you can't do too much too fast, but it works."

'Gent leaned back against the kitchen counter next to him. "I was talking with Telo, this morning, before class. He said 'you're so old' to me. I, uh, didn't know what to say to that. I was speechless."

Simon gave a wry chuckle. "Maybe that's why he said it."

Telo was one of the youngsters—about six years old now. He and his class were just starting to learn how to read, and he'd developed a kind of hero-worship of 'Gent, specifically. He would run around after him, constantly asking him if he could see the garden, or buy something from the commissary. He didn't have his allowance yet, but Simon didn't think it was about a sweet tooth. He just really admired 'Gent.

"We are kind of old compared to him. Why did it bother you? If it did bother you."

"It didn't, really. It just got me thinking. Birthdays, anniversaries, holidays, class reunions. All these things that we've read about, but some we've never really had for ourselves. I mean what will I be like in fifty years? Surrounded by kids and grandkids, in some big house in a dome far away?"

"That doesn't sound so bad," Simon put in.

"No, it doesn't, but we don't have parents or grandparents to ask about it. Noah is ageless—asking him wouldn't help. We can look in the Faith history, or what's left of the database, for people who accomplished a lot in their lives, but none of that says anything about how they felt as they got old. As they saw their dreams accomplished, or crushed. As they saw others start to take over their work, and shape it differently than they did."

Simon scoffed. "You're too young to be obsessing over this."

"Hey, I'm older than you are. Slightly."

They both laughed a bit, and watched the common room through the door. Telo was out there, along with the other first-graders, playing in their indoor recess. "I did find something in Noah's code. I think it's an Easter Egg."

'Gent gave him a confused look, so Simon explained. "It's kind of a joke that some programmers on Earth did to each other. They would hide little bits of code that weren't important to the program, but were recognizable to others. Like a signature I guess, or a prank if the Easter Egg was important to someone else."

"Do you know what this joke means?"

Simon shook his head. "It's encrypted, whatever it is. But it's connected to the historical database, so I think it was left by whoever deleted the database."

"Whoa, that's pretty important. Can you crack it?"

"Not a chance," he said with conviction. "It's way beyond me. I copied the whole thing though, and showed it to Noah. He's working on it now."

Simon turned back to the fridge, looking for something tasty but not too filling. "So, how are the ma—the new plants you got, I mean—faring?"

'Gent smiled. "So far so good from what I can tell. It'll be a few weeks before they start to sprout, at least. I'm just guessing the conditions for growing them, so for all I know I'm making it harder."

"Even if they're not a big seller at the commissary, maybe Hippo will pay for them. He's always saying they're short on good painkillers."

"That's the spirit. Keep thinking positively, man," 'Gent said easily. "No, I think I'll keep these out of the commissary even after I harvest them. At least until I can figure out why they were so important on Earth."

Simon shook his head. Ever the entrepreneur, 'Gent had a special gift for profit-making. Just like they all had their own gifts. Perhaps in fifty years, Simon would be at the head of his own clan, of programmers and builders and engineers.

The Andrew drone appeared in the doorway. "Argent, could I have a word with you?"

They exchanged a surprised glance, and 'Gent stepped forward. "Sure. What's up?"

The drone looked past him, and Simon realized he'd meant a private word. "I'll leave you two alone," he said hurriedly.

"No," 'Gent held up a hand, stopping him from leaving. "I think I know what this is about, and I want you here for it."

Confused, Simon looked from one to the other, but then shrugged. Apparently unwilling to press the issue, Noah had the Andrew drone put on a stern face. "I sent one of the caretakers to Massimo's greenhouse this morning, to check on your growth and inventory. The airlock's door code has been changed. I couldn't gain access. I assume that either he or you are responsible."

It was phrased like a statement, but there was a hint of a question at the end of that. In answer, 'Gent crossed his arms. "I am, but I talked it over with Massimo first. We wanted to make sure that you stay out of our business from now on."

Simon gaped at them. He knew that 'Gent was being more and more possessive of the commissary, and by extension the greenhouse itself, but to lock people out of it? And Noah of all people? Simon didn't mind being excluded from that—he wasn't much of a grower himself—but Noah had good reasons to check on their projects from time to time. This couldn't be about profit, either. Noah hadn't been programmed to care about money.

"May I ask why?" Noah's voice was the perfect measure of indignation mixed with concern and hurt. He really was getting better at mimicking emotions.

"It's simple, really. Right from the start, you insisted that we set up that greenhouse all on our own. You wanted to teach us to be independent, just like you made sure that Rhys did all of his own painting, and John and Adam didn't have any help writing their constitution. We picked out the soil samples and seeds, and carried them ourselves. We planted everything, and we spend most of our free time in there making sure it all grows smoothly. If you'd helped us, you'd have some say in how we do things, and you could inspect away. But you didn't. So you can't."

Clearly, he'd thought all about this, and it did make some sense. If Simon had put in the effort of setting up his own computer lab, he'd want to be the only one in there too.

Andrew's drone tilted its head slightly. "Statistical analysis suggests that there's something in there you don't want me to know about. It would be easy enough to bypass the lock and enter without your permission. I am still your caretaker, and your safety is still my concern."

Simon tried to keep his expression innocent, but 'Gent let out a frustrated grunt. "Oh, come on, Noah. I'm not six anymore. Is it such a stretch to think that I might want a place of my own where you can't go? How many of you would say the same?" He asked behind the drone, and Simon stepped over to look through the door.

A small crowd had gathered there, including Adam, Rhys, and about a dozen of the younger kids.

"I mean think about it. You are literally everywhere, Noah!" 'Gent went on implacably. "You have walking drones all over Harmony and the other domes, and you've got flyers and rollers everywhere else. I just want a place where I can be entirely alone. So does Massimo. That's why we agreed to a schedule. I mean even our rooms are yours to go in whenever you want. Doesn't anyone think that's a little messed up?" He appealed to the crowd.

"My only interest is your safety and well-being," Noah repeated, turning slightly to look at the group. "For all of you as well."

"We know that," Adam said smoothly, stepping into the kitchen. "We all understand you just want what's best for us. But we're getting older, Noah. Maybe a little privacy for each of us isn't such a bad idea."

The group made noises of agreement, some more heartfelt than others, and Simon had to work to keep from shaking his head in amazement. 'Gent had known that Noah would be dropping by. He'd known what Noah would say, and he'd made sure there were people around to listen in. None of this was about privacy, really. He was just saying what he needed to, to make sure those seeds were kept secret. He was going to get away with it, too! Even now, Noah seemed to hesitate.

"I've heard similar concerns in the girls' half of Harmony," he finally admitted. "Perhaps it is time for the first class to have some... well-defined areas of privacy. Argent, Adam, if you would join me in a more appropriate location, perhaps we can come to an agreement. Other members of the first class would be invited as well," he added, looking back at Simon.

Simon only spread his hands. "Uh, no thanks. I'll leave that to Adam and the others. I just came here to get something to drink."

Noah looked to the other first class members, and most of them went along with him. 'Gent stayed behind for just a moment though, saying he'd catch up to the rest. "See? Piece of cake. And you were worried we might get caught."

Now Simon did shake his head. "Ok, props for a smart move. I take it I'm also locked out of the greenhouse now? I'm fine with that."

"Don't be stupid. The airlock code is 4478. You can come over whenever; just don't write the code down or anything. Anyone could find it, and Massimo and I plan to change it every week or so."

Simon nodded slowly. "And you know I won't sell you out, because I'd get in trouble too."

"Now you're getting it!" 'Gent clapped him on the shoulder. "We're not just brothers and friends, Simon. We're business partners! Come by the greenhouse tomorrow, after the class trip, and I'll show you what I mean."

At that he ran out to join the others, leaving Simon to be pestered with questions from the younger kids. He ignored them for the most part, lost in thought. What did 'Gent have to show him that he hadn't seen already? Something important enough to lie to everyone about, and manipulate them into keeping Noah out of the greenhouse. Not that Simon could complain about the speck in 'Gent's eye, when he had a plank in his own. He was still communicating with Diana in secret, and altering Noah's code so that the trackers wouldn't always work. That last one had been done at 'Gent's insistence, though.

Simon was starting to think that maybe Noah wasn't the person in charge of their lives here after all. Neither was Adam or John, for that matter.
« Last Edit: July 21, 2022, 03:10:43 AM by Daen »