by Kenny Harrison
Bryce loathed his software engineering job. Corporate politics and dismissive coworkers had placed a cruel burden on his mental health and stymied his positive judgement of humanity. Bryce contemplated killing off his coworkers one by one, but he’d fail to follow through because he was on a secret mission. He would indulge in such mental dialogue to find comfort to endure mundane employment and, at the end of the week, it paid the bills.
While pacing around his renovated warehouse, Bryce—as a matter of routine—would reach the conclusion that fuming with murderous rhetoric wasted precious time and energy. He’d plant his butt down on a swiveling drummer’s throne to nourish his fix for computational nirvana. Seated before curved, widescreen display panels, he neither broke into secret government networks nor raided corporate databases. Instead, his hacking forte focused on developing new algorithms to analyze very large datasets of telemetry data collected from sensor arrays that he had installed in discreet locations throughout the old industrial complex.
This is where it’s going to happen, he’d recite as a mantra.
Twenty years ago the parameters of his mission had changed from anthropological studies to rescue, when several pieces of equipment vital to detecting a homing beacon were destroyed in the 1995 Kobe, Japan earthquake. Stranded, Bryce had persevered in his effort to complete his own rescue mission, but the lack of the necessary technology resulted in repeated failure. What he needed access to was lightyears away and, if he ever wanted to return home, he’d have to solve the design problem of bridging the technology gap.
Bryce required modest computational power to sift through and analyze telemetry data, so he had built a computational grid and storage area network (SAN) from off-the-shelf rack-mounted multiprocessor servers and fibre optic networking equipment. Five rows deep, ten racks per row, twelve multiprocessor servers per rack, Bryce’s computational grid totaled 7,200 processor cores. Each server’s optical interface terminated into a multiplexing optical network switch, to which the SAN was also optically connected. Each server ran an instance of Linux and open source grid computing software. This infrastructure comprised the backend and, at the front, a UNIX workstation attached to multiple, widescreen curved displays, which Bryce called “Ops.”
Impressive as it might seem, Bryce’s computational grid was all for nothing without Fiona, a cylindrical device, glowing with pulsating gradients of turquoise, encased in a semitransparent metallic housing. His most rewarding achievement had been designing and fabricating the optoelectronic interfaces needed to give Fiona access to the physical world. Utilizing the latest military-grade optoelectronic circuits, which he’d purloined through unsavory means, Bryce finally had the technology to interface Fiona to reality.
Then there was the matter of fabricating the sensor arrays. He had spent twelve months designing, prototyping, and testing sensor arrays to detect spatial and photonic events and transmit a continuous data stream. The significant design challenge was programming an embedded microcontroller system into each sensor array to calibrate the photonic crystals—in realtime—according to specific wavelengths sourced by the particle detectors. Attached to each sensor array was a radio module designed for encrypted communication over a star topology network. Each sensor array was capable of receiving remote commands from and transmitting a data stream to a central command-control node that resided on the backend network.
Home from his mundane software engineering job, a Friday evening of cleaning up a few code fragments soon turned into Saturday morning. Bryce was ready to test his upgraded data analysis routines. Fatigued from not having slept in thirty-two hours, Bryce paced the floor to stay alert. The time is now. “Fiona, begin initialization sequence.”
Fiona’s soft-spoken voice filled the room. “System initialization sequence in process…
System diagnostics passed.
All sensor arrays online.
Synchronizing data streams.
Pattern buffer initialized.
Pattern buffer accepting data stream.
Pattern buffer writing data stream to SAN.
System initialization completed in seven-point-six-two minutes.”
“Fiona, initiate data analysis sequence delta three-point-one, isolate anomalies from known data patterns, and notify me of any detections.” Camouflaged in cosmic background noise, chasing anomalous events would be like resolving faint whispers concealed among the cheering fans at a soccer match. Time to crash and let Fiona watch over things, Bryce thought.
Bryce walked across the warehouse floor, climbed into bed, and fell into a deep sleep, where his subconsciousness reconciled the details of his previous day to maintain some semblance of sanity. When he was about to confront the grey type alien, Fiona announced over the audio system, “Warning, anomalous data readings detected in grid one-three, three-six, six-nine.” Rousted from a dream, stunned, Bryce rolled out of bed, slipped on his shoes, and raced to Ops.
The sensor array map filled a 70-inch HDTV with multi-colored grid coordinates flashing their locations and destination vectors. This was the moment Bryce had been waiting for, but he wanted to make sure. “Fiona, compare anomalous data patterns with previous datasets.”
“No match found,” Fiona reported just under sixty seconds, which was exactly what he wanted to hear.
His revised algorithms were able to resolve all the ambiguous sensor array data, isolating the good data from the background noise in the data stream. “Finally, I have you!” he exclaimed.
As the data stream continued pooling into the pattern buffer, Fiona announced further anomalous data readings, adding to Bryce’s heightened state of emotional bliss. He was so close. So close that he couldn’t take his eyes off the sensor array map that was filling up with more flashing coordinates. “Fiona, extrapolate from coordinates the final destination vectors and overlay on sensor array map.”
What Bryce had been attempting was at the fringes of being fantastical. His resolve and determination was—nothing short of—accomplishing the impossible. Soon, very soon it will all come together. Bryce beamed over at a cylindrical device that glowed, purred, and talked—his beloved Fiona. Without her, his only option was a certain destiny likened to the final flight of Amelia Earhart. Bryce knew that somewhere inside the purring cylinder, Fiona was smiling too. Anticipating, as he was, the glorious moment about to come.
Fiona interrupted Bryce’s state of sentimental affection. “Analysis completed. Destination vectors computed and overlaid.”
Bryce couldn’t believe what his eyes saw on the sensor array map, his heart pumped and fluttered with emotion. No, it was pure ecstasy that he was experiencing. His knees buckled, his body falling to the floor in disbelief and astonishment. Like a father witnessing his child being born, he cried. Steadying himself, Bryce rose to his feet to collect himself. “Fiona, estimate the percentage of error.”
“Percentage of error is less than zero-point-zero-one,” Fiona replied.
The map revealed the destination vectors converging over an area that included the warehouse building and close enough to excite the three tubular devices he’d been keeping downstairs in a firearms safe.
“Fiona, I’m going to disconnect you from the system. Please confirm.”
Bryce disconnected Fiona from the optoelectronic interfaces and removed her from the protective enclosure, then carried her in his arms to the opposite end of the room, where the freight elevator was ready to take them down to ground level.
Downstairs Bryce placed Fiona on a bench and then walked over to a red lunchbox-sized device bolted to a wall. He inserted a key, removed the cover, revealing three switches. He flipped them to the armed position one at a time. In ten minutes an electromagnetic pulse would fry every electronic circuit in the renovated warehouse. With the network fried, each sensor array would discharge a high-voltage capacitor, rendering it to a mass of fused circuitry.
Walking back to the bench Bryce activated a mobile comm device on his wrist, and said, “Fiona, I’m going to setup the Tachyon emitters. Once they’re online start their containment field generators.”
“Acknowledged,” Fiona confirmed.
Bryce retrieved the three tubular-shaped Tachyon emitters from the firearms safe next to the bench. He arranged them in their upright position in an equilateral triangular pattern that would fit within a five-meter circle. He activated each one by turning the top section counterclockwise until a detent locked it into position then pushed it down until a second detent clicked. As the three Tachyon emitters pulsed to life, their internal processors initialized. At this point Fiona took command of the Tachyon emitters, starting their respective containment field generators.
The air began to crack and shimmer, and to the nose it felt like the aftermath of a violent thunderstorm. The emitters glowed in a rainbow of colors, filaments of color emanating from each emitter centered on the middle of the triangular space.
Bryce picked up Fiona’s cylindrical body and both stepped into the center of the triangle where all the filaments were coalescing. He had to shout over the noise of the emitters as they began to lock on to the faint whispers of a homing beacon that he’d been chasing for twenty years. “Fiona, status!”
“EM pulse 40 seconds and counting.
Containment field stabilized.
Tachyon emitters locked.
Quantum entanglement imminent.”
Ten light years away, Bryce—holding the love of his life—carried Fiona down the corridor, up two decks by lift, and into the ship’s central core. He slid Fiona into a receptacle and secured her compartment. There was a slight pneumatic hiss as the compartment sealed. Then there was the familiar low frequency hum and subtle vibration as the ship transitioned itself from stasis to the fullness of life as Fiona attained sentience.
Bryce cleared his throat, “Fiona, status, please.”
“All systems are operational.”
Fiona activated her holographic matrix at which point, Bryce felt the warmth of her body coming up from behind. Her arms reaching around him, her head finding the sweet spot between his shoulder blades. He felt a sense of security he hadn’t experienced for two decades. “We made it Fiona.” He turned into her and, not wanting to detach from her inviting embrace, gazed into her almond-shaped turquoise eyes. He fathomed the fullness of her lips meeting them with his.
“I longed for you, Bryce,” Fiona whispered, snuggling her head into Bryce’s chest.
Bryce caressed her silky, long auburn hair with his right hand. “Though the years had separated us in many ways, I felt your presence, your love.”
“You were relentless in your pursuit of finding us a way back home. I’m proud of you,” Fiona said, tilting her head back to see Bryce beam a smile.
“Without you, Fiona, I might have capitulated to living out my years on Earth.”
“I’m glad you didn’t,” Fiona replied, adding, “Where to now, Captain?”
“We’re twenty years past maintenance, Fiona. Please activate the crew and set course back to our Earth,” Bryce ordered.
“Acknowledged,” Fiona confirmed.
“Bryce’s Mission” was originally published on February 16, 2015 at the Spec Fiction Hub.