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The Quantum Connection: Chapter Three

       Last updated: Thursday, January 6, 2005 23:39 EST



    “No, you see, you have to press the circle on the right controller then the left controller. Like this,” I picked up the MEGAMACE and cracked HALCOR over the head with it. “Then if you press right right1 and left right1 at the same time you can kill him. See.” I continued to bludgeon HALCOR over the head with the MEGAMACE as his skull cracked open and blood and brains scattered and splattered everywhere. The huge dragon collapsed onto the castle floor knocking over the giant stone pillar, which had been concealing the Ancient Ruby that was the key to the doorway of Planet Xios.

    “Cool!” the barely eighteen-year-old Sequencer wannabe, Miles, exclaimed as if he had discovered the secrets to the universe. Well, it was kind of a secret to his universe. When they’re fresh to The Realm, it’s like crack, and you get hooked for many months on end. The Realm is a heck of a game platform. I remember back when I started it that I was hooked for the first two semesters at college. That’s why I nearly got booted out for bad grades and was placed on probation with my scholarship. But I didn’t want to lose my meal ticket away from home, so I put down the controllers and picked up the books. Well, sort of.

    Miles had come to the shop asking if I could show him how to get to Xios. He had been begging me to show him for months. I told him he had to try first. Neat thing about The Realm that is unlike video games of the past, there are no cheat books that you can buy to figure out how to slay a beast or open a doorway. Oh sure, there are some pirate Framework sites out there that give tips, but as soon as one mentions The Realm the copyright police shut’em down. RealmSoft was smart in that they registered and/or bought all rights to the concept. If you want to learn how to do something inside, you have to go inside and buy it from a RealmSoft vendor on the streets of Realm Central City. For example, the tips I discovered and sold were posted in Central City and I was paid a royalty credit to my account with RealmSoft for each tip sold. If the pirate sites outside get caught, RealmSoft not only litigates but they also change the laws inside The Realm. Neat business, huh? RealmSoft has a shakedown on all us Sequencers that we can do nothing about, since Sequencing is so damned fun and we’re all addicted to it.

    So I had been showing Miles here how to trip from one planet to another, specifically to Xios. Someone must have told him there was a Node on Xios. It wasn’t me, but I will, for a price. The buzzer on the door bzzzzed and a guy in a tie came in and talked to Robert.

    “He’s over there,” Robert pointed at me.

    I handed the controllers over to Miles, “Okay kid, I gotta take care of something else it looks like.” Miles palmed me twenty bucks and went back to playing the game. I slipped the twenty in my pocket nonchalantly and greeted the suit. “Can I help you with something?”

    “Hi, I’m Larry Waterford. I dropped off that old game system for repair a couple weeks ago.” He held his hand out to me and I shook it.

    “Which one? We get a lotta stuff in here.” I shrugged my shoulders at him.

    “Here’s the ticket the fellow over there gave me when I brought it in.” He handed me a bin number.

    It was the ancient system that I had spent so much time on. “Oh yeah, I remember this one all right. It gave me quite a fit to fix. Well, actually the console was not in too bad shape. I just replaced a capacitor and tuned up the motherboard and added a new fan. The games on the other hand were all scratched up.” I scratched my head and tried to remember where I had put the box. “Ah yes, here it is under here.”

    “So you couldn’t get the games to work, then?” he asked.

    “Oh no, I didn’t mean that. I cleaned them and resurfaced them and all of them worked but this one here.” I pulled out the broken disc and showed him. “You see these two cracks here go all the way through the disk. I tried everything but couldn’t save this disk.” I rummaged through the box for the new version I made him.

    “Oh well,” he interrupted. “At least some of them still work.”

    “Hold on, I wasn’t finished yet. As I said, I couldn’t get this disk repaired. So, I copied it and hacked the encryption code into my Sequencing system at home and found where it was damaged. I rewrote the game code where it was scrambled, re-encrypted it, and then copied the file back onto this disk here.” I handed him the disk, “It plays great! You can’t even tell where I spliced the code.”

    “You mean you reverse-engineered the game and fixed it?” Mr. Waterford asked.

    “Uh, yeah if you say so.” I just shook my head and handed him the box. “If you have any more problems with it, just bring it back to me. But it should work fine for a while. Who knows with those old systems like that.”

    “I hate to ask this, but what do I owe you?”

    “Let’s see.” I took the ticket and scanned it. The computer rang up the total repairs and parts. “That looks like eight dollars for the parts, thirty-five for the labor, taxes, blah blah blah…comes to forty-six dollars and forty-four cents. All our services come with a thirty-day guarantee and you can buy a ninety-day one for fifteen dollars. You interested?”

    “Not really,” he nodded and shook his head no.

    “Alright then, forty-six forty-four.”

    “Just one more question,” he paused.


    “Uh…how did you find the bad code and how did you know the difference in the good code and the bad code? There must’ve been millions of lines in there for a video game.” He seemed perplexed about what I had accomplished, as if it were too much for any good Sequencer.

    “Oh that. It’s really kinda simple. I generated a couple of different codes for that. One of the codes was a couple of Agents that would crawl through the code from beginning to end, the other would allow the Agents to run the code in small increments. This enabled the Agents to make an assessment of when blocks looked similar to other blocks, if there were random or unusual blocks, and if they would execute feasibly or not. Then the Agent would highlight the code in my text editor. Simple stuff for any Sequencer - besides I already had the Agent codes. I just had to modify them some. All in all it took about a week and a half to finish the code breaking and repair.”

    “What software did you use for that? Telescript2 or Obliq2 or LotusScript4 or what?” This guy must’ve known something about Sequencing but he sure didn’t look or act like a Sequencer.

    “None of those - too clunky for me. I have my own platform that I use. It’s sort of similar to the old Linux platform I guess. And the code, well, it is most similar to the old Multi-Agent Markup Language.” I responded.

    “You ever worked on this level of coding before?” He asked.

    “I used to work on router code and stuff back before…uh, here.” I motioned to the repair shop but I wanted to say, The Rain. I felt sad all of a sudden.

    “I see. Uh, what’s your name again?” “Steven, Steven Montana,” I replied. “Well, hey Steven, thanks and good job.” He left.

    What an odd fellow, I thought. He was about five nine with neatly cropped black hair wearing black pants, white shirt, and tie. He carried himself more like an engineer or a business manager, than a programmer. I meant to ask why he wanted that old thing fixed so badly. Heck, the repair bill was more than that thing was worth, but I forgot.

    A few days passed and Mr. Waterford came back to VR’s and had some interesting questions for me.

    “Steven, hi,” he sounded excited. “How are you?”

    “Doin’ alright I guess. Havin’ trouble with your game again?”

    “Huh…oh, no. I came back to talk to you. Do you have a minute or perhaps I could buy you a burger or something?” Curiouser and curiouser, said Alice.

    “Uh, man I’m straight, but flattered,” I replied.

    Waterford looked at me and started chuckling. Holding up his left hand and pointing out his wedding band he said, “Mr. Montana, I assure you this is purely business. I might have some more, uh, lucrative possibilities for you than this place.”

    “Okay. There’s a sandwich shop around the corner, you’re buying.” Didn’t hurt to listen, especially for a free meal.

    “Good,” he said. “Lead the way.”

    “Hey Robert, I’m takin’ my lunch break now. Be back in a bit.” The little blue haired punk just grunted and nodded at me.

    The actual lunch part of lunch was not that exciting, just a foot-long club loaded and a bag of Doritos, to wash it down a super sized Mountain Dew. I hadn’t had my sugar or caffeine fix that morning so I figured a couple refills on the thirty-two ounce Mountain Dew should hold me through the afternoon. Pretty standard lunch stuff for me. The lunch conversation, on the other hand, turned out to be quite exciting.

    “You see it’s like this,” Mr. Waterford was telling me. “That was some pretty good code decryption, hardware reverse engineering, and code writing. Just so happens I could probably use someone like you in my outfit.”

    “What kind of outfit?” I asked.

    “I work for the United States Air Force Space Vehicles Directorate out of Albuquerque, New Mexico. We have a branch lab here at Wright Patterson. I’m the Lead Systems Engineer over the local division of the Innovative Concepts Group. We call it the ICG for short.”

    “No shit?”

    “Uh, yeah no shit. My group does a lot of…uh… unique problem solving for various organizations and we support and conduct the development of new innovative and wild technologies.”

    “Hey, that’s pretty cool. So what does that have to do with me?” I hoped I knew where this was going. If I was right, I knew a blue-haired and pierced punk that I was going to say good riddance to.

    “Like I said, you did some good reverse engineering on that game console of my wife’s. That was her favorite game back in college that you fixed. I gave it to her for our twenty-fifth anniversary. She used to play that thing all the time. I found it in the attic a while back and had been trying to find someone that could fix it. VR’s is the first place I found that would touch it. My guess is because of you.” He paused to check my reaction and to take a bite of his sandwich. With a mouthful he continued, “So, have you ever been arrested for anything before or done any illegal stuff? What about drugs? If you can’t pass a drug test I’m wasting my time.”

    “Uh, no I’m pretty dull. Sequencing is my only addiction. I have some prescription drugs if that matters.”

    “Nah, that’s fine. Okay, what about education? Where did you learn how to do all this stuff?” He took a sip of his soda.

    I proceeded to tell him about the high school science fairs and the University of Dayton and …The Rain. And finished up with how I ended up at VR’s.

    “Sorry to hear that about your family and friends. I had a lot of friends at Space Park in El Segundo and my first cousin was stationed in Ramstein. I understand some of what you went through, sorry. On the other hand, it’s good that you are doing okay. It would be easier if you had finished school though. How many more classes do you need?” He seemed fairly genuine with his concerns. He would be much better to work for than Robert. I was beginning to feel underdressed and too unprofessional for this meeting. I was getting nervous.

    “I believe I am six classes short. I could probably finish it up in one hard semester. Two tops. Are you seriously considering making me a job offer?”

    “Two semesters sounds about right,” he began. “How about this, you come and work for me as a cooperative education student while finishing your degree as fast as possible. As soon as you graduate we will move you from a co-op to an engineer at a GS-07 pay scale. That’s about forty-seven thousand a year. Of course until you graduate you will be at a GS-4 bringing in about half that. The government has good benefits and insurance, so, my guess is that you would be much better off with us. Also, by the time you finished with your co-oping your security clearances might be through.”

    “You mean this would be secret stuff?” I was getting excited.

    “Oh, I thought I had mentioned that. Is that a problem for you?” he smiled.

    “NO! I would love to do that kind of stuff. A real job and real pay, where do I sign?” My straw made that obnoxious noise that they make when you run out of soda. I considered getting up for more but wasn’t sure if it would be good timing.

    “Well, what you need to do is go to this website and fill out the electronic form and resume. Put this job number,” he handed me a slip of paper with a dot gov website and some numbers on it, “in the blanks where it asks for it and use my name as a point of contact. You’ll be called in for the official interview. Don’t worry; you have the job in my mind. We just have to follow the rules to get you there.” He paused for a second. “You might go to the web and brush up on what goes on at Wright Pat especially in our group and be sure to wear a tie. And …uh…you might want to get a haircut, my boss is old military and …well, you understand.”

    I instinctively brushed my long bangs out of my eyes. “Okay, that’s no problem. I needed a haircut anyway.”



    It took about a month to get the drug testing, paper work, interviews, and job offer letter in order. During that time I had registered for two classes the next semester and for the cooperative education program. Before school started in the Fall I had told Robert to kiss my ass, collected my things, and walked out on him in the middle of a shift. I started working a couple of weeks later. I had to take out a small student loan to make it until my paychecks started. I was very happy about my situation, but my mood swings still persisted.

    Finally, the first day on the job came and life was looking up. Actually the entire day was kind of hectic since I had to deal with security, social security, human resources, and I had to go through a new employee orientation, all of which took until well after lunch. The lady at the security desk took a decent badge image of me I thought. I was sportin’ my new student-loan-purchased wardrobe and haircut. Of course, I got soaked by an afternoon post-Rain thunderstorm while trying to figure out how to put the security decal on the window of the classic Cutlass. That was just a minor incident. Then I spent a few minutes driving around the base looking for the Space Vehicles Directorate Building. So, I didn’t actually get to my new office (get that-I actually have an office) until nearly three o’clock in the afternoon. I had just enough time to meet my boss’s boss, the secretary, Alice, a few of the other employees of the Innovative Concepts Group, or ICG as they called it, and to find where they hid pens and paper before it was time to go home. I didn’t even get started on things like e-mail, software, where the printers are, and where the closest bathrooms to my office are. But in time I would settle in and be much happier than at VR’s.

    That night after my first day on the job Lazarus and I celebrated and then I cried for hours. I know I was sad from losing…everyone I had ever known in an instant, but that had been nearly three years ago and I was getting back on my feet. I shouldn’t have been so bipolar for so long, should I? The drugs were not helping. My plan was to see a new doctor as soon as my insurance with the Air Force kicked in. I already had scheduled an appointment.

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