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Chapter 1: Galene - Brain operating @ 0.6 times normal human speed
Chapter 2: Gregoris @ 3.2x nhs
Chapter 3: Galene @ 0.6x nhs
Chapter 4: Gregoris @ 3.1x nhs
Chapter 5: Galene @ 0.6x nhs
Chapter 6: Galene @ 0.7x nhs
Chapter 7: Gregoris @ 2.4x nhs
Chapter 8: Galene @ 0.7x nhs
Chapter 9: Galene @ 0.6x nhs
Chapter 10: Gregoris @ 3.2x nhs
Chapter 11: Galene @ 0.7x nhs
Chapter 12: Gregoris @ 2.2x nhs
Chapter 13: Natalie @ 1.1x nhs
Chapter 14: Galene @ 0.9x nhs
Chapter 15: Galene @ 0.8x nhs
Chapter 16: Galene @ 0.6x nhs
Chapter 17: Galene @ 0.7x nhs
Chapter 18: Galene @ 0.8x nhs
Chapter 19: Galene @ 1.2x nhs
Chapter 20: Galene @ 0.7x nhs
Chapter 21: Galene @ 1.5x nhs
Chapter 22: Galene @ 1.1x nhs
Chapter 23: Natalie @ 1.0x nhs
Chapter 24: Gregoris @ 2.8x nhs
Chapter 25: Galene @ 1.2x nhs
Chapter 26: Galene @ 0.9x nhs
Chapter 27: Galene @ 0.6x nhs
Chapter 28: Galene @ 1.1x nhs
Chapter 29: Moirai @ 27x nhs
Chapter 30: Galene @ 1.2x nhs
Chapter 31: Galene @ 2.8x nhs
Chapter 32: Galene @ 2.2x nhs
Chapter 33: Melpomene @ 107x nhs
Chapter 34: Galene @ 1.8x nhs
Chapter 35: Galene @ 2.1x nhs
Chapter 36: Gregoris @ 2.9x nhs
Chapter 37: Gregoris @ 2.8x nhs
Chapter 38: Galene @ 2.4x nhs
Chapter 39: Galene @ 2.6x nhs
Chapter 40: Galene @ 1.8x nhs
Chapter 41: Galene @ 3.1x nhs
Chapter 42: Natalie @ 1.1x nhs
Chapter 43: Galene @ 2.7x nhs
Chapter 44: Gregoris @ 5.6x nhs
Chapter 45: Galene @ 1.7x nhs
Chapter 46: Galene @ 1.9x nhs
Chapter 47: Gregoris @ 3.2x nhs
Chapter 48: Gregoris @ 1.9x nhs
Chapter 49: Melpomene @ 107x nhs
Chapter 50: Dolios - Brain operating @ 5.2 times normal human speed
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Chapter 1: Galene - Brain operating @ 0.6 times normal human speed
“So you did spill coffee on the keyboard?” Galene asked calmly.
“Well, yes,” the employee mumbled, rubbing his neck.
“Okay. But you called IT for a computer error,” she noted.
“So, the computer errored out when you spilt coffee on it. This particular coffee, to be exact,” she pointed at the cup. It was half-full of nice, sticky, electronic-destroying cream and sugar.
The employee nodded slowly.
“You couldn’t just say so on the support ticket regarding the coffee and save me a trip?” she said levelly.
“Well, I didn’t. It’s not like you guys at IT have much to do, anyway. This is a technology firm,” the employee said, shifting his tone to sarcastic.
“Of course. We only process 300 tickets each day,” she nodded. The whole time, her fitness tracker hadn’t registered a single uptick in her heartrate. To someone interpreting the data, she might as well be lounging on a comfy sofa.
The employee scoffed.
“I’ll just get you a replacement keyboard,” Galene said, clicking her tongue. She pulled the cord and took the keyboard, making sure the coffee dripped away from her jeans.
“Yes,” the employee said, clapping his hands together. “Please do, but hurry. I have so many emails to send before I can leave for the day.”
She nodded. “Awesome. Be back shortly,” she said, shuffling away.
Galene took the service elevator downstairs. She opened the spare parts warehouse with her keycard and threw the destroyed, sticky keyboard into the recycling bin. She grabbed a new keyboard and typed in her comment on the support ticket.
‘Keyboard malfunction, replaced. Support ticket closed.’
Then she went to the bathroom, sat on the toilet, and ate her lunch sandwich. Alone. She made sure plenty of crumbs ended up between the keyboard buttons, since she used it as a plate. She even read a few pages of Asimov’s Foundation, a classic science fiction book she never seemed to find the time to finish.
She’d get him his keyboard eventually.
Five more seconds.
Aaand it’s five o’clock! Time to clock out, bitches!
Galene stood up, threw her laptop bag over her shoulder and skidded towards the door.
“Not so fast,” her boss said from across the IT room.
“What? No, mister, I’m officially off for today. Check the time,” she whined.
Her boss frowned. “I know. But I’ve got a last-minute request, and it’s top priority,” he said, swiping his tablet with meaning.
She grabbed a toy space gun from a desk and threatened him with futuristic destruction in the form of foam projectiles. “Don’t. Move. A finger,” she said with all the menace a flimsy short girl can muster.
He squinted hard at her. She dared him. She double dared him. He tapped.
Galene’s laptop glinged inside the bag. She sighed and opened it to read the ticket she knew had just been assigned to her. It was in the system now. Timestamped and stuff. There was no escaping it.
“Top floor? Come on! Couldn’t you send me at something on my way out of here, at least?” she complained.
“It is what it is,” her boss said and sipped his coffee triumphantly.
She scrolled with the touchpad, resting the laptop on the bend of her outstretched arm. “I don’t even know this set-up, isn’t that George’s area?”
Her boss looked around theatrically. “Do you see any Georgies around?”
“No,” she mocked.
“Look,” her boss sighed. “Help me, help you. Do this high-priority ticket now and I’ll make it up to you tomorrow. I’ll swap you around and you won’t have to see that ass-grabber on floor 31.”
Galene squinted. “Fine,” she spat out. “But the swap better be permanent, or we’re gonna be having coffee at HR tomorrow.” She pointed the space gun at him to underline her point.
“Hey. I’m on your side, Gal! But shit has to get done around here,” her boss pleaded.
“I’m gonna get shit done,” Galene sighed and shuffled towards the door.
“Thank you! You’re the best employee ever,” her boss yelled after her. “And please get up there before dark, it’s kinda urgent.”
Galene stopped her momentum by resting her forehead on the elevator door. She shut her eyes. “Yes, boss.”
She took her time, hovering her finger over the button. Nobody could take that away from her, those precious seconds of calm before climbing up the floors to a ticket. The IT department of Hermes Information Technology was located at the sub-basement of the skyscraper. It was nice and chilly and quiet. Compared to the chaos upstairs, it felt like an oasis. You couldn’t swear when on a ticket. You had to be proper and professional. You had to shut up and smile when an hotshot asshole made an inappropriate remark about your body. That’s why Galene wore jeans and sweatshirts two sizes too big, to cut down on the cat-calls. Otherwise, it wasn’t that hard, the IT job itself. Any computer geek could get up to speed in a single week and start ticketing away like a veteran. Every geek had torn down and built up his own computer before he even knew what the opposite sex was. But it required a certain amount of calm, which Galene had ample of. It required calmness, when some idiot manager thought he could treat you like shit because his economic quarter was down. When shareholders couldn’t wait five minutes for the slideshow presentation to be set up. When employees forgot their passwords and had to be reset for the zillionth time.
Galene could weather all of that.
She opened her droopy eyes and pressed the elevator button.
It chimed instantly. The doors opened. The elevator was waiting for her. Anticipating.
Sometimes, working in a building with 7 different predictive AIs in it, really-really sucked.
Chapter 2: Gregoris @ 3.2x nhs
Gregoris reviewed the data for the next stock market opening. He speed-read the summaries the AI had given him of the business news in Asia, and opened up two interviews with a couple of important CEOs from the region.
The videos took their merry time loading. He tapped and tapped, the loading icon swirling, mocking him in his face.
When would they get this stupid computer fixed?
Five seconds to load a damn video?
Five whole seconds?
Gregoris shifted his attention back to the summaries. His eyes scanned the text, making sure he kept the beginnings and endings of the lines in his peripheral vision. He scanned at a steady, swift pace. He had to consciously force himself not to skip over lines, as he usually did. Dyslexia was a bitch in that way. It was easy for his gaze to drift and gloss over entire paragraphs without him noticing.
And then he’d have to go back and re-read them.
Waste of time.
He absorbed half a page of distilled data when the videos finally decided to load.
He watched. They were translated from Mandarin and Korean by AIs. The video itself was edited, again by an AI. Chopped down to the important bits, there were no pauses, no idle sitting up and looking around, no introductions. Just plain information.
And it was also played at 3.2 times the normal speed.
Gregoris skipped ahead with his keyboard, taking in the important questions, watching intently at the man’s expressions while taking in the translated text.
He swiped back and forth in the video’s timeline, rewatching bits, skipping back to parts.
Then he got it.
The subtext, the meaning, the gist, call it what you want. He got what the hard data couldn’t tell you. What data mining algorithms couldn’t dig up.
Shijie was about to launch a new tech product. Their CEO was basically squirming not to reveal that bit of info.
That meant it was too soon.
He picked up the phone and speed-dialled the stock buyers division.
In the time it took the human to pick up on the other line, he absorbed two more pages of the distilled news from the region.
No pleasantries. He had been clear on that with all of his business acquaintances. “Buy 320 million on Shijie.”
A pause. “Three-twenty? Did I hear that right? Jeez man, I’ll need to get approval for that kind of-”
“Then get it,” Gregoris said flatly.
“Okay, okay! Can I get some kind of data to back this up or something...” The man trailed off. His email had just received the data in question, the subtle pieces of the puzzle that led Gregoris to that particular decision.
“Read it, get approval and send me confirmation,” Gregoris said and hung up.
His clock beeped, the alarm to get to sleep.
Gregoris climbed up into his sleeping pod, a futuristic looking piece of furniture with a recliner and an enormous plastic bubble over the head. He slid into position and he was soon snoring away in his power-nap.
Precisely twenty minutes later, Gregoris woke up, splashed some water on his face and sat back at his workstation.
He went through the notifications of his voice mails. He had asked people to send their questions in that way, so he could speed them up and listen to them while he typed the responses.
He deleted the four messages from the CFO of Hermes without opening them. The man was a buffoon who liked the sound of his own voice. He objected to everything and never read any report people gave him. He was a total time-sink. A black hole of back and forth correspondence, and there was nothing anybody could do because of the powerful position he held in the company.
Gregoris replied without listening to his messages, with generalities. ‘Your concerns are understandable. Data shows, etc etc. The company has been secretly working up to a big reveal for months etc etc.’
Gregoris sighed and send the email away.
He sped up the rest of the messages. His own department head could be listened to at 4.2x speed, the man spoke like a stroke victim. You could boil an egg in the gaps of the conversation with the guy. He replied to him in email.
Irma, the stock division’s head was quick. She could be listened to at 2.3x speed. He replied to her as well. ‘No ma’am, it’s unlikely that the Shijie CEO’s expressions were due to him being constipated. The man has had perfect health treatments and organ replacements for a decade now.’ He attached the documents that supported his counterargument. They were illegally-obtained documents procured by the non-existent corporate espionage division of Hermes, but he could share them freely with Irma. It was all encoded anyway and she had the required clearance, plus her hands were already dirtier than a plumber fixing a backed up toilet.
He hesitated. The response from the Hermes’ CEO himself, was half a second long.
Half a second.
It could easily be a ‘go ahead.’
It could also be a ‘no.’
And no meant no, when coming from the corporation’s head.
He tapped his finger on the desk, an old habit that he thought he had conditioned himself out of years ago. But he couldn’t contain his anxiety.
So much time wasted, if this just got cock-blocked from above! It was a perfect storm of international events, and he had managed to pluck out a sliver of information from the aether and deliver a winning move to his company, if the cowards in power would actually go for it. No algorithm could do that, despite what the nerds at floor 51 thought. Sure, algorithms could make thousands of transactions per second, could dredge up decades of data for patterns and shifts in the market. But they were also stupid. Extremely stupid. Actually, they were stupid enough that the world market had nearly crashed seventeen times already in this millennium because one auto-trader glitched and sent the rest into a recursive loop of frenzy. People, actual humans, had to intervene and shut them down, freezing the market and reviewing the transactions manually over months of work.
But, even Gregoris, who hated the trading algorithms to his core, could begrudgingly agree that they worked. They offered incremental profits, tiny percentages. But tiny percentages every day and with millions of dollars or euros or yen, meant hundreds of thousands in profit. Money that the average employee could only dream of after twenty years of hard work, were being shifted electronically around the world a hundred times per second.
It didn’t matter, half the world’s stock markets nowadays were automated anyway.
But the boss had faith in him, in his ability to see beyond the mechanical data mining, to intuit.
He shivered. The office wasn’t cold, of course. It was at optimal temperature. It was psychological. He opened the voicemail from the CEO. From Hermes himself.
He played it at normal speed, the boss was always quick and to the point anyway.
The voice was far too young-sounding for a position this important. If you didn’t actually know who he was, you’d dismiss him as a teenage prankster.
But the important thing was, that the words had been, “Do it.”
He played the message back three times before taking the next breath.
The Asian markets opened on time.
Hashtags in social media, Twitter, Facebook, Agora, blew up with the announcement of the tech giant Shijie. It was something about a game, of people catching knockoff Pokemons or something, but the device projected the game directly into the gamer’s field of view. There were no contact lenses needed.
People could see the monsters chomping down on the edge of their sofas and catch them, in blissful Shared Augmented Reality.
And Hermes had bought all available stock just in time, right before the announcement.
He had made his company a profit of 98 million euros.
Beat that, stupid algorithm.
Chapter 3: Galene @ 0.6x nhs
The elevator dinged, and the doors slid open. This was the first time Galene ever stepped foot into the penthouse. There was no particular reason for that, the boss just assigned the IT crowd into the same floors so that they’d get familiar with the quirks of the system in each office and the equivalent fleshware problems.
There was a clear air of privilege up here. There was a reception area with expensive leather couches, doors that were sleek but secure, electronics integrated into the design of the place. Galene had seen the offices of top executives in the corp, this was similar to those but certainly a step above them.
Someone spoke, and Galene yelped. “Oh em gee, you scared the crap out of me!”
The woman smiled softly. “Hello, Galene. Sorry for sneaking up on you. It must be the carpet, walking is so silent on it. I will make sure to cough next time.”
Galene tugged her laptop bag nervously. “Yeah. Thick carpets.” Had she seen that woman somewhere before? The woman’s resting face seemed weird, somehow. Her make-up or something. Her open mouth. It was like, a mask? No, a Greek tragedy mask! That’s it!
“How rude of me, I haven’t introduced myself. I’m Melpomene. Nice to meet you.” She gave her hand.
Galene shook it. “So, you called for a computer problem?”
“Right this way. Follow me, please.”
Melpomene used her keycard and they got further inside. Galene couldn’t see it all, but from guessing the layout she saw that the penthouse occupied the entire floor. That was weird, because she had been used to the floor layout in the rest of the skyscraper, and it was a familiar set of big floor spaces for the employees with corner offices for the managers. This was made differently.
The decoration was modern and seemed expensive. They got into the flat itself, which showed more lived-in than the lobby. It wasn’t messy per se, again, Galene wouldn’t dare accuse anyone of being a slob, but there were clear signs of someone living here permanently.
A man, to be precise.
“Please wait here for a moment,” Melpomene said and stepped into the next room.
Galene mumbled back and looked around. There were lots of cool stuff here. Nerdy gadgets littered the place. Oh, cool! A lightsaber toy. Neat. She looked around the shelves, there were bookcases practically on every wall. There were rows and rows of books, but some bookcases had only stacks of solid state hard drives. Their labels had the contents on them, and they were old TV shows, full seasons of Netflix series, movies. One entire bookcase had book titles.
Wait, two-hundred book titles per SSD? That wasn’t right, you could fit millions of books in each of the drives.
Galene bit her lip and touched the lightsaber. She grabbed it, and it made the familiar wooshing sound. It was too loud and Galene winced. She was about to put it back, but was distracted.
Over the corridor, she could hear Melpomene talk to a man.
Her voice was funny. Weird, somehow. “ObviouslytheysentherbecauseGeorgewasn’tavailable.”
Was she speaking faster?
The man replied something.
Holy shit! She was speaking faster.
The man sighed? Something like that. “Doessheevenknowwhatshe’sdoing?”
What a douche!
Galene fumbled with the lightsaber, and she dropped it on the floor.
Melpomene came back, glanced at her while she placed the prop back and smiled. “Follow me next door, if you please.”
“Ahem. Sure.” Galene followed.
The man was in his forties. To Galene’s eyes, he looked old. Handsome, but old. He had greying sideburns, that detail that made a man superhot for a few years in his lifetime, as if Nature was giving him one last chance to spread his genes before taking away his erection.
“Hello. Well, the problem is... I don’t really know what it is, George had isolated something... Call me Greg, for short,” he spat out in nonlinear conversation and presented his hand.
Galene shook it. “Hello. I’m Galene. Call me Gal, for short.”
“Short is good.”
She chuckled, “You’re not referring to our height difference, are you?” She was average to short for a woman, and he was 1.80 meters, so he had a good head over her.
“Hah! No, I was talking about swiftness.” He checked his watch. Not a smartwatch, an actual old-timey digital watch, with buttons and sports thingies on it. Weird. “Well, I’m about to have a phone call, please carry on with your computer troubleshooting.” He pointed at one of the towers in his workstation. He had an enormous set-up, not unusual for analysts, with four splayed out monitors, two towers with separate mechanical keyboards, headphones, surround sound (not holosound, which was again, weird), and a dedicated optic fibre line to one of Hermes’ AIs. That last one Gal knew, because she had worked on the other end, while fixing problems with her colleague George.
On the screen was a video feed, frozen, with generated subtitles underneath. The program showed a ‘3.0x’ at the corner.
Gal shrugged and threw her laptop bag on the desk. She crawled underneath the desk and accessed the computer tower. Is was funny how nobody told you how much crawling underneath desks an IT worker had to do. It should have been right in the job description: Information Technology, Desk Crawling.
Oh well, at least this place was clean.
Greg spoke on the phone at the next room, while Mel hovered around. “Greg mentioned issues with video playback, how they’d be slow to load sometimes.”
“Okay, let’s see.” Gal checked out the classic issues of troubleshooting, loose cables, a reset of the computer, unplug peripherals. Then she sat on the desk-chair and loaded up some videos. They seemed fine, no dropped frames, no artifacts on the image. She fed the sound into the headset so as not to make noise and listened. The audio was fine, in time with the video.
If you ignored the fact that everything was played back at 3x times the normal speed, it all worked okay. How could anyone follow that? “I don’t see what the problem is.”
“Well, there is a five-second delay when switching between the feeds.”
Gal nodded slowly, pursing her lips. “Five whole seconds? Well, we certainly can’t have that!” Be calm, Gal. Now you know why the boss sent ya.
“Excellent,” Mel said and left her to work alone.
Gal sighed, and slowly clicked around the settings. She tweaked some of the video program’s settings so it utilised more of the processor, ran some tests and managed to drop the delay when switching down to 1 second.