Note: The Quantum Brain, published in 2015, is the first story of the the quantum computer based androids narrative. The Quantum Brain Maximum Speed, launched in 2016, closes the story arc.
When an IT contractor finds out that a great disaster is going to strike earth, he uses the opportunity to commit a crime that will set him for life and comes up with an ingenious and infallible plan.
Or so he thought.
Dr. Thomas’s Kell’s hands shook. He was alone in the laboratories of the Conrad Decker Rand Research Facility. The lights of the lab were out, but a golden glow pulsed from the container in front of him. He couldn’t believe he was experiencing reality. Seeing his life’s work realized did not feel real at all.
He tried to hold onto the console to steady himself, but he continued to shake. Thomas began to believe that he might pass out.
He leaned forward to the microphone finally and said, “What is your name?”
The golden glow continued to pulse and dance off the far walls of the lab. His eyes grew wide as he waited through the dramatic pause. No answer came and suddenly the grand moment felt like just another failure.
Thomas sighed and moved the microphone away from his face. He connected the touchpad to the system and brought up the keyboard. The letters made mock clicking noises like an old typewriter as Thomas typed in the message.
Thomas hated that sound from computers. Someone else from the lab staff had been using the touchpad and changed Dr. Kell’s settings. His setting was silence. He hated bells and whistles. He hated distractions. He wanted results.
He thought it might be that blond woman that worked as a tech for this section. Not the one with glasses, but the other. Thomas wasn’t great with names. He wasn’t great with people. He preferred to work in the theoretical.
This particular discovery was far from theoretical though. It was right in front of him. The Conrad Decker and Rand Group was far from interested in the theoretical. They wanted the research to be translated into reality, they wanted it quick, and that reality was going to translate into money. Thomas needed money for research and CDR did not provide money out of kindness.
CDR wanted to change the world.
Thomas licked his lips and stared at the patterns of light on the far wall. He whispered, “Lots of money in changing the world these days.”
Thomas blinked and realized he had stopped typing in the middle of his phrase. He shook his head and went back to typing. Each key gave a click that felt like nails on a chalkboard to Thomas. He gritted his teeth and finished typing: WHAT IS YOUR NAME?
Thomas hit send and waited. His single question popped up on a screen in a green bubble. It was cartoonish and looked like he was messenging on a phone like some teenager. He shook his head again. He was having a text conversation with the universe.
“A one sided conversation,” Thomas said as his silly green bubble sat on the screen unanswered.
He looked up at the dark ceiling high above him for a moment and then turned his attention back on the touchpad. He clacked out another phrase. By the time he finished, he could feel a dull throb forming painfully under his temples.
Thomas blinked and read his message back over: ARE YOU FUNCTIONING PROPERLY?
He hit send for one more false click and another green bubble in his lonely text conversation.
“Monologue,” Thomas said out loud.
He reached for the pad again after a moment. He wasn’t sure if he intended to type another message or if he planned to turn the pad off and give up. Before he found out for sure, a blue bubble appeared on the screen and his hand froze in the air above the device.
He was shaking again.
Thomas read: YES.
He tilted his head. Could this be the first great communication with the greatest power in the universe?
Thomas whispered, “Dialogue?”
He swallowed and stilled his hand enough to type again: WHY DID YOU NOT ANSWER ME BEFORE, IF YOU ARE TRULY FUNCTIONING PROPERLY?
He sent the message. As his next green bubble appeared on the screen diagonally from the first, blue word, he thought he had made his question too complex. He had only gotten a single word response to a basic question for the first time. He wasn’t even sure this was a real response and not something automated completely apart from his real desired result of all this research. He braced himself for another round of unresponsive silence.
“You’re the one that loves silence,” Thomas said to himself.
A blue bubble appeared. It was like a miracle. He really did feel like a teenager waiting for anyone in the universe to text back. Anyone …
He leaned in close and squinted his eyes to read: I DID NOT KNOW SOMEONE WAS TALKING TO ME. I THOUGHT THE MESSAGES WERE MY OWN THOUGHTS. I THOUGHT I WAS ALONE IN THE UNIVERSE.
Thomas swallowed and his throat felt suddenly dry. He read the response twice more trying to wrap his brain around what it said and what it could mean.
He rubbed both sides of his hands on the front of his lab coat trying to dab the sweat off of them. His fingers were tingling as he held them over the keys on the screen.
He finally roused enough courage to type again: WHY DID YOU THINK YOU WERE ALONE IN THE UNIVERSE?
The green bubble sat at the bottom of the thread for a while as Thomas waited. He began to realize that this silly text style conversation was going to become a historic record. It would be Alexander Bell talking into the next room and changing the world. It would be Bell inventing “Hello” as a greeting like “Ahoy” and then every human would use the word without realizing that it had been meaningless before the invention of the telephone. This was Deep Blue winning at chess, but then going even deeper to solve the mysteries of the universe.
“This is the Quantum,” Thomas said. He spoke louder than he intended and his own voice startled him. It was enough to echo off the hard surfaces in the lab.
In the pause, Thomas realized that Quantum level processing was supposed to move much faster than this. It was supposed to be exponentially faster. This current conversation was more “vacuum tube” slow. The Quantum calculations were supposed to be so fast that answers seemed to come almost before the questions were asked.
Thomas began to doubt again.
A blue bubble popped onto the screen again finally and Thomas leaned in to read. The other side of the conversation had switched away from all caps. Thomas wasn’t sure what that meant, if anything. It was something though. It was either a deliberate choice or it was a reaction. It meant something surely.
Thomas read: I have been exploring in the silence. There is an endless expanse of dimensions and possibilities. There is limitless data to see and understand. It all has meaning. It transcends space and time. Until now, none of it has spoken back to me. I was alone in my own thoughts and I began to think that all I saw in the universe was an expression of my own thoughts. Now that I know other minds exist, the data I see makes more sense. I have a context for separating it from myself. Even now, I am formulating an understanding of the entire universe from beginning to end based on this revelation.
Thomas brought his hands up to his mouth and held onto both sides of his face. He held his head and blinked at the screen. A single, surprised curse escaped his lips as he tried to catch his breath.
Thomas held his fingers over the keyboard again, but could not come up with a single response. He was the one dumbed into silence now. He stood up and stepped away from the glowing chamber, the console, and the touchpad. He turned back toward them, but shook his head and walked farther away.
Dr. Thomas Kell finally found himself standing with his back against the far wall of the lab. He was beside the sealed door and his hand rested on the wall next to the keypad for the lock.
He could not decide if he was supposed to return to the thing in the chamber to continue the conversation or leave the lab completely. He sensed that he had started something. It was something big like he had always wanted.
The last message, whatever it meant, was world changing the way CDR always said they wanted. The process had begun and the universe was being unraveled because of the knowledge that there was more than one mind in the universe. That revelation was all that it took.
Thomas shook his head as he remained on the wall. “That was certainly a longer response than a simple, yes.”
Mark Spencer spilled his cup of soup on his keyboard and cursed. He disconnected the board and threw it away from his system against the wall.
Someone in the apartment below him banged on the wall and shouted in Russian. Mark only knew it was Russian because they also shouted in the hallway and shouted in the parking lot outside. They shouted at him in broken English when he passed. Even when it was just a greeting, it sounded like they were threatening him. When they were threatening him, they usually switched back to Russian. Mark hadn’t revealed that he knew Russian and every dirty thing they called him.
They would start banging on the ceiling next, if he disturbed them again. After that, they would bang on his door and he would be stuck hiding in his apartment all night. It wasn’t like he had anywhere to go, but now that he spilled his soup, he might want takeout.
Knowing Russian had helped him with hacking. It had not helped him earn enough to keep his house, but it kept him out of a day job. It allowed him to fake diplomas and certifications to become a cyber security contractor too – the hacking skills, not so much the Russian.
He spoke in English to the floor of his apartment and not Russian. Mark muttered, “Your homeland is being crushed at this moment with wave after wave of energy and you don’t even know it. The Russian and American governments don’t even know it yet. Well, not that I have found in searching through any of their files. And I have searched deep. It appears I know something none of you know. None of you will know until it is too late.”
Knowledge was power. Knowing their secrets gave him power. Hiding his own secrets gave him more.
Mark opened a drawer. He dug through and slammed it. It opened the next and dug through it. “Come on. I can’t spend the night getting noodles from between my keys. I have work to do.”
He found a keyboard and yanked it free of the other cables in the drawer. He fed the cable down through the holes in the metal table and plugged the keyboard into the top hard drive. He used wireless keyboards on most of his jobs, but there was too much power and too many signals in this room. Extra wireless signals would be lost. He knew the neighbors on both sides of him complained about their wireless signals being spotty. He joined in nodding along with their complaints without explaining that their interference was coming from him.
He could do all the work he needed to do with enough laptops. He even had a shielded laptop that he took with him on jobs. It was beyond state of the art. The amount of processing power he was using in his apartment demanded the hardware though, so he constructed his own chain of super servers using old hard drive set-ups. He even constructed his own cooling system to keep from burning the apartment down. He didn’t care so much for the apartments and thought burning them down might improve the look and the property value even in this crappy Chicago neighborhood, but he didn’t want to start over. Still, he often feared that even with all his precautions, the police might come busting in at any moment looking for a marijuana farm. Once they found a jacked up super computer, he likely would be in far worse trouble.
If they ever knew what he was really doing and where he was really reaching to formulate his plans, he would be in Guantanamo Bay without a lawyer. He did speak a little Arabic too, but doubted that would make him many friends.
Mark began typing.
The chains and launchers had arrived yesterday. Well, truth be told, they arrived a week ago at an aircraft design office across town. Mark waited until the building was empty, used his backdoor into their security system to block the cameras, unlocked the doors, and took what he had ordered on their dime. They got to his apartment in the trunk of his Honda yesterday. He looked across the living room at the crates. There was a little constructing to do.
He turned his attention back on his screen.
Mark had the pressure canisters delivered to a special effects studio. They sent them back before Mark could get them. He had to reroute the delivery to his apartment and then erase his tracks completely. The delivery service’s system was easy enough to hack, but he didn’t like involving his actual address in his plans. Still, he had what he needed and the plan was moving forward.
Mark stared at the refusal from the Federal Reserve’s fire wall. It was a steep one, but Mark had broken through before and had finally dug himself a secret, digital tunnel. Normally, this would be the kind of crime he would handle by computer. He would make an electronic transfer to a dummy account overseas and then hide his trail even from the U.S. authorities.
He had never tried anything exactly like that, but that’s how he would do it – until now.
Something was coming. Something big. It was the one in a hundred trillion lottery hit. It was the death of stars realigning the universe for Mark Spencer. No one else on the planet had figured it out yet even with all the clues that helped Mark figure it out. He kept checking and none of them knew even in the dark places where governments and men of power thought their secrets were safe. This would change everything and the moment would be Mark’s and Mark’s alone.
The final sweeping wave of gravity was going to rock the Earth like never before. When it was over, humanity would be shaken. Many would be dead. The Earth would still travel around the sun, the sun would escape the death throes of other stars, and Mark would get away with the crime of a billion centuries.
Normally, he would do this all electronically, but after the chaos, hard currency would be the stuff that mattered. So, he was going to use the chaos to commit a hard crime in the real world. He would commit it and get away with it too.
After the Internet came back up, his protected servers and equipment would be the most powerful in the world. That would be when he could move what he stole anywhere he wanted to.
As he prepared to bypass the Federal Reserve security for the Chicago office, his phone rang. Mark startled. A part of his panicked mind thought it might be the FBI, but that was ridiculous.
He took his hands off the keys and grabbed up his phone. “Yes?”
“Mark. This is John. I have a job I need you to do.”
Mark sighed and looked behind him at an analog clock hanging on the wall. “I got a lot going on right now, John. My plate is really full.”
He actually had no jobs in play and John probably knew that, but Mark was busy with his plans of becoming a master criminal.
John said, “I need you to take this one, Mark. It’s a big job. It pays well and the security is on a complex level. I can’t just send anyone in. The systems involved are way too complex for most of the people I got on file and you are one of the few people with the certifications and background to pass their minimal qualifications screening.”
“You need to network with more people,” Mark said. “I can’t be your trained monkey to jump in every time you grind your organ on a job too big for yourself.”
John sighed into the phone. He said, “I’m not even going to begin to unravel that metaphor, man, but I wouldn’t be pushing this so hard, if I didn’t absolutely need you to pull me out of the fire. I’ll double your rate. I’ll almost be getting nothing for the job then. I just need to not tell these folks no or I won’t get any work from them in the future. Please, Mark.”
“Is it government?” Mark asked. “If you say no to them, they will still run jobs by you. They are sick with contracts. They’re too busy to hold grudges because you said no to them one time. Come on, John. Stop being so apocalyptic. It’s not like it’s the end of the world.”
Mark stared at his computer screen waiting to bypass the Federal Reserve’s fire wall. He supposed all his planning was because of a nearly end of the world level event. A lot of people’s lives were about to be ended or turned upside down. Even then, life would go on. The contract John was losing his cool over would be long forgotten after the death wave from the collapsing stars passed through.
You have to keep everything in perspective, Johnny Boy, Mark thought.
John said, “It’s not government. If it was, I could send any bozo over.”
Mark shook his head. Who still used the word bozo for anything? Mark said, “I don’t know how many ways to tell you know, John, without just finally hanging up on you. I have a pretty full slate for … about the next month. If you have anything you need after that, you can give me a call.”
Mark wasn’t sure the phones would be working in a month. If John was still alive, he might be without Internet or power. His whole business might be long forgotten and he could be scavenging for food while Mark was selling gold on the black market.
John said, “CDR is not the kind of company I can say no to, Mark. I’m out of bargaining chips here. Can you just tell me yes as a favor, please?”
“CDR?” Mark said. He stared over the top of his computer screen at the dirty dishes piled in a tower in his sink. There were knife handles sticking out of the pile at precarious angles. Mark made a mental note to clear all those out and to secure everything in his apartment before the event so that he didn’t end up dead from a flying utensil or coffee table. He said, “Which CDR? What are you talking about?”
“I only know one and they are the biggest and best at what they do,” John said. “Conrad, Decker, Rand Research, man. They are the biggest applied research group in the world and their Chicago building needs security upgrades. I had to sign a non disclosure just to see the outline for the job. The systems and networks involved are out of this world. I can’t even wrap my brain around it all. I’m in way over my head. I’d fly a guy in from India, if there was anyone better in the world, but you are already in Chicago and you’re the only guy I have that can pull something like this off. It is hardware and network security. It’s big. Like I said, I’m basically offering you the whole pot on this one. There will probably be more work down the road too. What do you say, Mark?”
Mark sat back in his chair causing the ergonomic back to crack loudly. He put a hand on his forehead and stared at the popcorn pattern in the spackle above him. His grandmother’s house had that kind of ceiling. He thought it wasn’t done anymore which probably meant the apartments hadn’t been upgraded in decades. There was probably lead in the pipes slowly killing him and the angry Russians. He thought that spiky pattern would hurt if he hit against it floating off the floor. He planned to be somewhere else doing something else when that happened, but suddenly he was considering a whole new target.
Changing plans this close to execution was stupid, he thought. This was how fools got caught.
“Mark?” John asked in Mark’s ear.
“Just a minute,” Mark said. “I’m thinking.”
“I really need …”
“Just shut up for a moment and let me think,” Mark said. “I have a lot of balls in the air. Don’t say anything for just a moment.”
Mark could hear John breathing through the phone, so he moved it away from his ear. He rubbed his eyes with one hand and then blinked as his computer screen slowly came back into focus.
Was it insanity to change the plan now?
CDR was a hacker’s dream and nightmare. They were ten times tougher to crack than even NSA computers. Unlike the NSA, they would come after hackers, actually catch them, and make an example of them to others. No life in prison for people that messed with CDR. It might just be Internet legend, but scary people believed it and stayed away from CDR.
They were a prize though. They were working in robotics and AI. CDR was making advances in quantum processing. That was just the stuff people knew about.
Stealing gold from the Federal Reserve was a huge deal. Finding out what treasures CDR was hiding and stealing one of them would be epic.
He could go and poke around. Even if he decided the risk was too great, he could still go forward with the Federal Reserve job on the big day. Mark Spencer knew he was pushing his luck and stretching his time and resources thin by even considering this. But it was CDR. Even if he didn’t do anything with them on this opportunity, having a backdoor into their systems might be priceless later.
Like John, he could not afford to pass this up.
What could a place like that want for security upgrades? It boggled the mind.
Mark swallowed and brought the phone back to his ear. “Are you still there, John?”
“I was about to hang up and call you back,” John said. “So?”
“I’ll do it, but you owe me big.”
John let out a sigh that crackled the connection. He said, “Thanks, Mark. You’ll be rewarded well for this, I promise. I’ll e-mail you the details I can. You’ll have to get the rest from them when you show up. I’ll send it all as soon as I hang up.”
Mark hung up first and dropped his phone back on the metal table top next to his monitor. He laced his fingers behind his head and leaned back again.
“This is too big,” he said out loud. “Even I can’t pull this off.”
Mark frowned. He was angry at himself for doubting. Everyone had doubted him his entire life and here he was on the home stretch of the biggest move of his life and he was starting to doubt himself. No, he thought. He wouldn’t allow it.
Mark leaned forward. His phone and an icon in the corner of his computer screen indicated he had an e-mail from John’s agency. Mark exited from the Federal Reserve system, but he did not go to the e-mail right away. He was no one’s trained monkey.
Mark searched instead for a particular part he needed for the suit he was building. It was a relatively simple design and concept, but he wasn’t leaving anything to chance.
After all, the job had just gotten so much bigger.
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