Fiction: The Scholar, by Bako Cherry

The scholar seemed out of place in the utilitarian confines of the station laboratory space. His bright purple and blue checkerboard waistcoat and artificial tweed jacket complete with elbow patches was in stark contrast to the white jump suits of the corporation science technicians. Physically he was also different to the technicians, they were tall and thin from having been brought up in low gravity found on all space stations, he was shorter and well built in comparison. He could easily pass for a university professor from an ancient time if it was not for the glowing enhanced monocle permanently in place over his left eye.

The scholar was once the sector expert in Sleeper encryption methods and was credited with creating an interface to allow the data to be visualised if not decrypted. His prime was however, behind him, several minor incidents or as he preferred ‘misunderstandings’, meant he had lost his job at the Praetor tech school. Before being convinced to come to this station, he was to be found running a small appraisal firm in one of the minor markets located near Jita. He was extracted in the middle of night with fake identification, as a group of mercenaries were hot on his tail. They had been hired after he had advised an important Caldari merchant to buy an ‘authentic’ piece of the first human colony in Caldari space. It turned out it was just a bit of space junk but the scholar had been paid more by the seller than the buyer so felt obliged to say it was genuine. He argues that if the buyer had even looked at it before buying he would have seen that it was clearly a fake, it was made from an alloy that was invented by Caldari technicians.

After he was extracted by the corporation special assignments team he was transported first to Amarr space in a quick flying shuttle, then on to paleo station in the mysterious Thera system. The stay in Thera was longer than planned until a useful wormhole connection could be found that linked to our station. Whilst at Thera the scholar would spend most of his time deep in conversation with the scientists based there. The special assignment team pilots used this opportunity to practice their skills trying to play tag with the Eve Scouts bouncing from wormholes to wormhole. It was a short trip once a wormhole path was found from Thera to this system where the corporations’ main operations and research base was located.

In the three weeks since his arrival on the station, he locked himself away in this small inspection room off the side of the main lab space. Anyone who had approached in the first week was quickly chased away even those delivering his meals. In the second week he had hardly been seen in the lab instead spending most of his time wandering back and forward in the 10m x 5m observation deck. There had been one minor incident where he was caught trying to reprogram the viewing window so he could see the pulsar without the filters and radiation shielding. Now in the third week he had again shut himself off in the inspection space until today when he ordered the station senior staff to visit for a grand unveiling.

On the metal table was the artifact he was brought here to study. A salvage crew clearing up after the corporations’ main fleet of battleships found it amongst the wreckage. A with many of the artifacts found on wrecks it had a fair bit of damage but most were superficial scuffs and scorch marks to the case. Inside the case was the prize an intact and still powered sleeper neural network. Normally they are retrieved without power and badly damaged. A powered Sleeper neural network was rumoured to be significantly more powerful than existing quantum computers if the encryption could be broken. So far, very few intact specimens have been found and most fail as soon as an attempt is made to break the encryption. This failsafe had defeat all previous attempts and what made this particular artifact special was that it had not immediately shutdown when connected. It was only slightly longer than a human forearm and about the same width but was almost as tall as my waist. Currently it sat on its’ side on the metal table connected to additional power supplies, scopes, analysers and many shiny silver wires and optical fibres pulsing with blue light which reflected off the gathered corporation officers.

The station commander was a thin tall man dressed in his corporation dress uniform jumpsuit complete with epaulettes and blue beret. He was stood opposite the scholar absentmindedly checking his communication device. The strain of maintaining a station deep in wormhole space was clear on his face and he gave the impression he would rather be doing something else. Next to him was the reason the station commander was still in the room, the corporation CEO herself had come down to hear what the scholar had to say. She was wearing an elegantly embroidered short-sleeved shirt with leather trousers and a leather jacket over her arm. She was smiling despite the fact that unlike normal she was not the centre of attention. On her left was the corporation chief science officer, a short woman with thin-rimmed glasses. Whilst she did not have the young CEOs’ elegance or style, she did have a prestigious intellect. She was known for her ability to take a manufacturing chain and squeeze every efficiency out of it with innovative ideas.

The scholar was wrapping up a long-winded anecdote about his time as a research student and how he prevailed despite the efforts of other jealous students. He paced along the side of table as he spoke and seemed to be staring through the wall and off back in time, remembering his youth. A cough from the station commander brought him back to the present and he launched into his explanation of the artifact, and all the difficulties he had overcome to get it connected. He launched a viscous attack on the station science personnel who had nearly risked all his work with their incompetence and shoddy equipment. He paced quicker now; in full flow explain the importance of the find and his ground breaking method for decrypting the information held within it. He had singlehandedly solved all the problems of the failsafe although it appeared that it had simply not been activated because the power had never been removed from the device.

After a few minutes of this self-congratulation, the CEO leaned forward over the artifact and asked, “So what information does it hold?”

“Ah, well, it’s amazing we can decipher anything really, the quality of the data encryption, the number of corrupt memory units. But it’s a magnificent breakthrough and lays the ground work for all future work in this area.” responded the scholar who had stopped pacing and was looking a little nervous now.

“What is the information?” asked the CEO now leaning over the table so far she was nearly eye-to-eye with the scholar.

The scholar brought up a series of numbers on the large screen at the end of the room.

“This is the raw data; it appears to be in a rare form of data representation, base 72 but shifted by 7 and inversed. This alone is a huge discovery; I already have some ideas on how this could have been chosen related to the Sleeper home system. It could help us find where they come from, that information alone is priceless.”

“Yes, yes, to academics, but what useful information do these number represent, is it a weapon, some other technology, what does it mean?” demanded the CEO.

“Urm well that’s the disappointing part, it appears to be a translation of an Amarr recipe book and also a book about burial procedures on different planets in the Amarr empire. I have been unable to crack the AI code itself that is partitioned behind another stronger failsafe. Even so it is a great step forward,” pleaded the scholar who had now noticed just how easy it would be for the CEO to throw him out an airlock and the barely contained rage on her face made it clear he might be lucky to get to the airlock in one piece.

“Nobody has ever before got this amount of information from such a device, I came here and I have delivered what no-one else could, it could have been a weapon, it could have been technology but clearly this was a scout looking for information on the Amarr, its logical they would not put secrets on a scout”.

The CEO noticeably softened at this; it was a logical statement and was exactly how she would do it herself. The Chief Science Officer looked pleased; she could see it was a big step forward and one that would lead to important discoveries. However, the CEO wanted more than just pure scientific discovery, it was not going to make them any isk. “Is there any way to break the next failsafe?”

“Well, I do have an idea but it’s very risky and should not be tried here in a wormhole without rescue available,” replied the scholar noticing the smile on the CEO face as he explained his idea. “The details are of course very complex but it basically amounts to a very old technique, we simply overload the failsafe with lots of computing power. It blocks the ability of the failsafe to send the message; with the computing power of several quantum computers it should be possible.”

“Do we have the equipment on this station?”

“It’s possible there might just be enough power but only if we connected it to the main computer and diverted all resources to it. I wouldn’t advise it, it could cause a lot of damage”

“Ladies and gentleman I believe my job is done, now as per the agreed contract please arrange for me to be returned to k-space with a new identity and of course my fee.”

“It may take some time to find a safe route, please write up your work so we can use it in the future if we find another of these devices. In addition, may I remind you that under the terms of our agreement you cannot take any notes, data, images etc. off this station? We will search and scan you. Also, remember that you cannot discuss the work or take any credit for the work if we should publish it. The penalty for non-compliance is not only all your fee but you will never feel safe again.” Threatened the CEO as she walked out the door with the station commander following behind her.

It took two more week before a safe route was identified, during which time the scholar was to be found on the observation deck dictating his report to a portable computing pad he had borrowed. In this time he was more relaxed, sometimes even forgoing the colourful waistcoats, but never seen without the glowing monocle. The final report was nearly 1000 pages although much of it was figures and pages of complex equations. It detailed the encryption method, the mathematics, descriptions of the tests performed and details of the artifact. The corporation’s science team went through it with a fine tooth comb, querying where they could but most admitted it was far beyond their knowledge and it would take some time for them to understand it all.

When the scholar was due to leave, he dressed in his best artificial tweed jacket, a bright floral patterned shirt and red and green checked waistcoat. Before leaving, the corporation security officer searched and scanned both his single case of luggage and his person. Once satisfied that the scans could detect no data recording devices, any had written notes or images he boarded the waiting covert operations vessel to take him back to high sec.

The journey was relatively uneventful as the corporation secured the route as they were delivering their loot to the markets. Only once did they need to cloak up and avoid a few locals trying to pick off the odd straggler or lone vessel. Once back in high sec and a long way from his former home he was dropped off with a new identity and a warning that they would be watching him.

A few weeks later once his minders had been recalled he paid for passage on a jump freighter for three jumps, then another for six jumps. The result was to end up only one constellation over but at a private and well-known black market hub. Once there he removed the monocle and retrieved the tiny data device hidden inside the shielded compartment that was once his eye socket. He smiled for tomorrow the bidding would start on the design for a newly discovered power device based on sleeper technology.

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