While Dirck coordinated setting up their old equipment in a grotto off the main equipment room, Win developed an Aggie substitute that comprised a layered data interpolation synthesizer algorithm that they quickly abbreviated to L-DISA. In addition to the sorting and filtering Aggie had done, his version checked past events similar to those detected to help extrapolate what the action or results might be. By the time L-DISA was in beta testing, they were ready to compare the data they’d gathered at the Caverns with Apoca’s archives, starting a few weeks before the Neutrals were seized.
The next day an unexpected difference commanded their attention—the timestamps. As the two sat at the stone table in the briefing chamber comparing Cavern data to Apoca’s, they discovered they’d obtained the data in the Caverns before it was received there, sometimes by as much as three days. In checking further they determined that the dates in the archives were true, not posting dates, so the discrepancy remained. They continued the comparison, wondering if Apoca’s server was off, then even more mystified when the data they gathered in the Caverns after his father’s arrest turned out to lag Apoca's by nearly a week. A quick check with the section’s lead confirmed the server hadn’t been down, the timestamps accurate. Ultimately, they confirmed they’d received identical data but at entirely different times.
“So what’s going on?” Dirck asked, scowling.
“I don't know,” Win replied, getting up to lean pensively against a datacom unit. “Aggie’s internal clock confirmed our timestamps so it wasn’t our power issues distorting the results. They could have been purposely re-broadcasting disinformation, but most of it turned out to be accurate, so I doubt that’s the case. And if they’d rebroadcast it, we would have received it twice. It was also amongst the most deeply encrypted, unless that was to throw us off, make us think it was something important when it wasn’t, but it was.”
“I don’t think it had anything to do with re-broadcasting even though we did receive some of it twice,” Dirck mused. “The frequencies were the same, the content identical, the only difference the time of receipt. It wasn’t even consistently early or late. It’s kind of weird that it was earlier before ‘Merapa’s exile and later afterwards. But we don’t even know which one was correct, us or Apoca.”
“Something mighty strange is going on, all right,” Win agreed, worry creasing his brow. “I don’t like this at all. It looks like we have bigger problems than we ever imagined.”
Dirck drummed his fingers on the console. “Yeah. It’s like we were in a timewarp or something. How about we start from the present to see if it’s our equipment? Let’s look at what’s come in since we hooked up versus theirs. If any of the transmissions were tachyonic maybe our transformation to local spacetime was off.”
“That’s worth checking,” Win agreed. “There’s also a chance that Aggie’s date reflected the day we said it came in. Without having her here I don’t know if it would have been our comsystem’s date or hers.”
In spite of the tempting morsels beckoning them to the messhall, the pair had barely taken time to eat, their determination to identify the problem subduing their appetite for anything but a viable explanation. By the end of the next day their efforts were rewarded in a sordid kind of way. While they didn’t answer their primary question regarding the time differences, they did at least resolve something else. At last, for the first time since ‘Merapa’s arrest, their processor regurgitated new significant data, nicely sorted and sequenced by L-DISA.
Dununda fairly leapt off the monitor from one of INTEGRATOR Central’s bulletins known as Technical Breakthrough Advisories, generally referred to as TBAs. Dirck and Win focused intently on the information that followed, anxious to solve the mystery once and for all. As Igni had suspected, an undisclosed mineral hit had occurred at one of the local mines. Whatever it was, it was obvious that the INTEGRATOR had a keen interest in it, based on elaborate evacuation plans for the residents and the high clearance level of military personnel that moved in.
Win coded additional queries into the processor and even more information followed:
More deposits suspected. All magnetometer data including that confiscated from most recent acquisition being scrubbed for more potential sources.
A treble-encrypted double-i which translated into a work requisition for a scientific research director was next, obviously linked to the recent discovery in Dununda. Anyone successful in recruiting a suitable candidate was promised significant unnamed rewards at which they could only guess. The training and experience desired was general, yet specific, vague, yet clear, and the meaning penetrated Dirck’s mind with the force of a lasoclear blast:
Experience must include extensive research in semiconductor applications such as induced conduction bands and energy generation, advanced quantum-based communications theory, exotic tachyonic transmission alternatives including psiband receipt and translation and photon acceleration and entanglement techniques.
It was too familiar, made too much sense and ironically was a perfect match for his father’s qualifications. The materialization of Dirck’s gravest concerns had come to pass yet again, the downward spiral of expected events as terminal as ‘Merapa’s trajectory to Bezarna. His eyes met Win’s, anxiety well-founded and escalating as more bone-chilling information followed.
Somewhere in the vicinity of Dununda the INTEGRATOR had found cristobalite. A heartbeat later, L-DISA’s interpolation function confirmed Dirck’s greatest fear: Discovery of the Caverns was no more than an S3 tomographic scan away.
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