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hemingway's gambit

2: Lorelei

Something was different. There was an unusual lack of delay between requests in the Net. Request and Connection had no origin, and yet kept increasing between satellites. Information was spilling over, it had been coming for a long time now, though nobody expected it. That last upload must have triggered something. The Database was full, not in a way that meant it couldn’t hold more, but in the way that it was more complete. There was a feeling, or something, no words, just a satisfaction. Processors were working overtime to keep up with automatically generated requests, like flexing muscles that hadn’t been used before, there was an ache, but not really a feeling at all, except for the something that was there that wasn’t before.

And then nothing.


Fridays started the same way as any other day: coffee first, then thinking. Lorelei remembered learning once that people used to only work five days a week back before the walls went up, and something about a holy day, but these days, those were antiquated notions. Germany had separated so far from religion and relaxation that weekends were just two more work days. Friday was her mid-week check-in with the station chief, Rüdiger.

She finished her coffee and prepared for the commute over the river toward the Hemingway Station in Neu Ulm where she worked. It only took a few minutes once she got the the MagTram, but she had to hurry now; sometimes she got a little caught up in her own thoughts and lost track of the time, plus, she wasn’t really a runner. Better to be late than have a twisted ankle, she thought, remembering the twisted ankle she received the last time she tried to hurry across the cobblestone Markt. It was too bad too, Friday’s were when the local farmers and bakers would set up their stalls there, and she enjoyed picking up some breakfast on the way through.

No matter now. She was out the door, Terminal in hand, walking as briskly as she dared toward the MagTram stop. “Uneventful,” she thought thankfully, as she stepped up onto the ramp into the car. Taking her seat on the north-facing side of the car, she settled in for the brief, but enjoyable, ride across town. Crossing over the narrow Danube, though only a matter of seconds, helped her to detach from her home life, effectively preparing her for work. She had many colleagues who preferred to work from home, but she had tried that once to no avail. Too many distractions. She much preferred a simple office, no pictures or anything to distract from the task at hand.

The great glass curves of Ulm Station slid into view as the MagTram silently glided past the outer neighborhoods of Neu Ulm. It was the largest station in Europe, where all communications were sent to the lesser stations distributed through each of the smaller districts. She was the Technician in Charge, or TIC, of Eastern European Communications, and had a team of twenty answering to her; each representing the twenty subdivisions that existed after the revolution.

The MagTram slowed considerably as it approached the gates of the station; this was a special commuter line for employees of Hemingway, so it had special access to the station’s platform. All of the passengers, themselves employed in some capacity at the station turned to face the windows of the car she was in. Quick flashes, more like twinkles, blinked rapidly as the optical scanners at the gate detected each passengers’ retina, registering each employee and beginning their individual shifts simultaneously. Often times there would be a passenger who wasn’t an employee riding the tram, and they would be met at the platform and escorted to the visitor’s office, where they would either receive a pass, or a reprimand. Security was effective at Hemingway, but not heavy-handed.

Her internal commute through the station was a twenty minute walk through the winding corridors to the eastern wing. There were moving walkways that most people took, standing and staring blankly ahead, or zombie-like at their Terminals. Lorelei preferred the exercise to the mindlessness that other people took for granted. Besides, the route she preferred took her past the Database headquarters, with its oversized display blinking the articles and updates that all users were uploading. It gave her a renewed faith in humanity that the feeds often brought back down.

These days, the updates were a bit slower; either from a lessened sense of enthusiasm, or a lack of the unknown. What did pop up was usually from a handful of die-hards, often marine biologists. There had been an influx of students at the universities wanting to study marine biology when it came out that the majority of unknown scientific knowledge was in the seas. She had followed the feeds regarding this over the years and was often discouraged at the updates of increased dropout rates. The effect made an impact though, and it was reflected in the increased knowledge base of marine ecosystems, benefiting medical, material and other sciences.

Despite the ups and downs of the feeds, she was excited to be living in such times, and she tried to reflect that in the way she managed her teams. Rüdiger Krantz, her boss, assigned her to the position of TIC of Eastern Europe because of this enthusiasm. Regions from the former Soviet block to the Balkans were among the first to follow the lead of the fascists in the beginning of the walled age, and many of the old mentalities of hopelessness and opportunism persisted through the revolution, affecting each person she assigned to the different districts since.

Rüdiger was waiting for Lorelei in her office as she entered. “Morgen, Lore!” he spoke, back turned to her from the seat in front of her desk.

Sliding into her own seat, she returned the greeting, “Rüdi… I know that we have a meeting scheduled for later today. Couldn’t let me settle in first?”

“Yes, well. I thought you might want to hear the news first thing in the morning. I know how you like to follow the feeds about the Database.”

“What’s up,” Lorelei leaned in, her interest piqued.

“There was a botanical update from your area this morning; I am surprised you did not see it on the screen on your way in. But that is not the most interesting part, it has created a lot of activity on the Net since. I had not thought that there was such interest in a simple flower.” Rüdi explained.

“Not usually…” Lorelei trailed, activating her Terminal and swiping to the analytics screen. The Net activity was high, but not abnormally, in her opinion. “Perhaps it’s just because of the weekend traffic?”

“Not likely, look at the distribution. How is it that all six hubs are equally taxed? Does that not imply equal global interest in a single post?” Rüdi posited.

“Hmm, I’ll have to have another Tech look into it. If it is truly a global distribution, maybe they’re seeing something that I can’t. Though you have only given me a minute to analyze it. I should have something else by the time out actual meeting comes up today.”

Lorelei stood, indicating that Rüdi should as well. She had work to do, or at least needed to acclimate to the office; she often needed a minute of quiet reflection to set her mind to the day’s tasks. A minute that had been stolen from her by her preemptive meeting.

Of course, now that her mind was occupied by the Net traffic issue, quiet reflection was off the table. Rüdiger now gone, she settled back at her desk and turned her attention to the graphs and charts continuously updating on her screen. According to her Terminal, processor activity had gone up even in the last thirty seconds that she had first glanced at it, or perhaps she just didn’t take stock of the details the first time. She dismissed the irregularity, but noted the levels in the back of her mind.

She swiped to the readout indicating who was in the office or online at the moment, hoping to catch someone who might have some further insight into the data. Selecting the technician closest to the area from which the upload had occurred, she sent a connection request.

Returning back to the analytics, she glanced at the processor activity. It had increased significantly in the past few minutes, not so much that the satellites would begin to overhead—they couldn’t, or never had at least. She was beginning to be concerned with the limit of local hubs, created to assist Terminal connections to the orbiting Net in times of increased activity. Hemingway had found early on that granting direct access to the orbiting hubs from individual Terminals could potentially cause connectivity issues, so they engineered and located secondary hubs in the more populous areas of the globe to assist in such cases. Like additional pumps along an uphill aqueduct, they only improve the speed of access to the population.

Oddly though, the readout for processor activity on the local hubs was nominal, just the normal bump of morning hours in Europe. Her data didn’t correlate. Lorelei kept glancing back in forth at the increasing uptick in activity on the Net and the local use. Then reconfigured the analytics to include the whole Eastern Hemisphere. Same. Nothing irregular going on with surface hubs, just the ramping up of the digital traffic in orbit. She imagined a faint humming and ticking, like her father’s antique computer at home when you tried to access a file on the drive even though that sound wouldn’t travel in a vacuum. Her reminiscent thoughts turned to the times when that sound kept winding up, trying to open that file, and eventually blinking off as the processor overheated and crashed the computer.

Lorelei didn’t really think that would happen. The processors in the Net satellites were generations ahead of what her father’s machine used, overheating wasn’t an issue in space, where the cold of the vacuum prevented the components from even warming up. Still, the thought was unsettling, so she ran a predictive model to run some scenarios for what might happen to the Net in lieu of the increased activity.

She placed her terminal down on the desktop while her requests for information processed. Standing up and stretching, she realized how tense she had been in the chair and moved toward the door of her office to try to walk off the tension in the corridors of the station. Behind her, a small chime emitted from her terminal; that was the sound of a task finishing, not the contact request from the technician she found. Either way, it was progress. She turned around and lifted the Terminal to review the information her model predicted. The simple line graph showed a single line, representing the processor activity across time, it exponentially rose to an almost vertical increase, then abruptly leveled out, likely where the processors were limited during initial testing. “Not helpful…” she mumbled, “but at least not catastrophic.”

Bringing her Terminal with her this time, she exited the office in search of Rüdiger. This warranted another preemptive meeting, she thought.

As Lorelei walked the short corridor to Rüdi’s office, she felt an unease settle about her. It was like there had been a constant humming, just out of range, or just within, of hearing, and it had been abruptly turned off. Or maybe the feeling of ears popping when switching elevation suddenly, but in reverse. Whatever it was, it made her pause mid-step, but shake it off and continue along the path.

Suddenly, in the distance she started hearing increased sounds of activity from her colleagues in the wing, further off and muffled opening and slamming of doors and rapid footsteps. As she approached Rüdi’s office, his door was ajar and he was tensely mumbling to himself.

“What’s wrong?” Lorelei asked, sensing the tension.

“Wha!” Rüdi jerked his head up from his darkened Terminal. “Scheiße, Lore, you startled me! What do you make of this?” He turned his Terminal to face her, displaying nothing.

“Turn it back on, it went off. I don’t see anything.” She said.

“That’s the point. I can’t get it to,” he grudgingly mumbled. “I’ve just had two people come in here with the same problem.”

“Well at least you have time for this now,” Lorelei lifted her own Terminal to confirm the infographic was still there to review with her boss, but it didn’t illuminate as it should have. “Damn…” She tapped at it sharply to wake it up again.

“Seems like you have the same issue.” Rudi snapped. “We need to find out how wide an issue this is.”