Author : V.L. Ilian

Vice manager Hans Heidelberg exited the elevator with unusual nervousness. He knew the chief was awaiting his report but never in his life had Hans been so unsure about himself.

“Mr. DeVries… The report on the 2 hour outage of our mainframe is complete.”

“Well… get on with it.”

Hans took a deep breath imagining the scene where he gets fired for incompetence in interpreting the data.

“Less than 24 hours ago the mainframe started constructing a profile for a new employee, Joana Baker, a young graduate student who’d been accepted as a research assistant. 6 seconds into the profile build a speeding ticket threw up a red flag with the plausibility checker.”

“How can a speeding ticket fail a plausibility check?”

“It seems it had been issued exactly 54 minutes earlier in Singapore. The AI established that Joana Baker could not have traveled from Singapore to her interview in a 20 minute window. However this did not freeze our mainframe. A series of programs started running to check for mistakes, identity theft and a number of other theories.”

Hans put his thumbdrive on chief’s desk and pressed the little button on it. The file of Joana Baker appeared on the display surface of the desk in front of Mr. DeVries.

“It turned out another Joana Baker who lives in Singapore received that ticket.”

A second file appeared next to the first one that also read Joana Baker but the photo was of the same person. Different hairstyle, different clothes but undoubtedly the same person.

“The puzzle is their biometrics match 99%”

“Separated sisters?”

Hans pushed the little button again.

“Researching this other woman threw up several other plausibility errors. We discovered a third woman named Joana Bakker living in Amsterdam.”

A new file was being displayed, again of a woman who strongly resembled the first.

“Are you certain this is correct?”

Hans swallowed dryly and continued.

“All 3 women are exactly the same age and match biometrically 99%. This time the results attracted the interest of a background program that had been running continuously for 20 years. It had the credentials to prioritize itself and it did so by putting every program on hold. This resulted in the freezing of all our operations.”

“What program is this? Who gave it these permissions?”

“When queried it identifies itself as Project Harper Detector v3.2.”

Mr. DeVries changed his expression noticeably.

“No links, no ownership info and there’s no project Harper in our database. It was so firmly rooted in our mainframe we couldn’t stop it without cutting all the power. We were ready to do just that when it finished and returned the mainframe to normal operation. It… gave us some results”

Hans pressed the little button again, the first three files shrunk and the desk was filled with files. All variations Joana Baker, all 99% match to the first, spread all over the world.

“In total we’ve identified 27 Joana Baker… s. Born on the same date, in fact if we take into account errors in hospital clocks… they’re all born at approximately 13:30GMT.”

Hans waited to be fired.

In a moment that is rarely witnessed Mr. DeVries smiled broadly.

“Project Harper was a classified research initiative… we tried to create ripples in the fabric of the universe. The theory was that if we could disrupt space-time we could create anomalies that we could detect and find out how the great machine ticks. After 11 years of failures the project was abandoned but we left an AI running to spot data anomalies just in case.”

Hans looked down at the 27 files.

“…The universe threw an exception error?”

“Yes… Now we just have to figure out how.”

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