Chapter no 22

Quantum Radio

At the DARPA facility near the banks of the Anacostia River in Washington, DC, Ty peered out the office’s wide window at the open-concept team room, watching Bishop arguing with two of his colleagues, who were dressed in plain clothes.

“Something’s wrong,” he said, drawing the attention of Richter and his mother, who came to stand beside him at the window.

As if sensing their eyes on him, Bishop turned, stared at them for a long second, then stalked toward his office.

He pushed the door open and exhaled, clearly annoyed. “Okay, settle a debate. We’re ordering lunch.” He held up two fingers. “I’m going to give you two choices to make it simple because I’m sick of arguing about it. Chipotle or Panera?”

“I’m fine with either,” Helen said.

“Same,” Ty muttered, a little surprised that this was the subject of the strenuous debate.

“Richter?” Bishop asked, hand held out, palm up. “I too am neutral on this decision.”

“So if we get Panera,” Bishop said, “everybody is going to be happy?” “What is Panera?” Richter asked. “Is it like pizza?”

“Panera Bread. You don’t have Panera in Zürich?” “You only eat bread for lunch?”

Bishop closed his eyes. “No, Gerhard, it’s like a café. They’ve got everything: soups, salads, paninis, cold sandwiches, bakery stuff—and that’s the problem. Bill says it’s like hospital food. They have everything, but nothing is really that good, especially if you’ve had it a bunch—and we have lately. He keeps saying, ‘Panera is overpriced hospital food, change my mind.’”

“Well,” Helen said slowly, “as someone whose office is on the campus of Georgetown University at the med school and who routinely eats at the university hospital cafeteria next door, I can assure you I am quite comfortable with hospital food.”

Bishop let his head fall back. “So you are saying it’s like hospital food?” “I didn’t say that—”

“What I’m not hearing is Chipotle,” Bishop snapped. “That’s clearly out.”

“I can do Chipotle,” Ty said. “Me too,” Helen said.

“No, no,” Bishop muttered. “I get it. Fine—we’re doing Jersey Mike’s.

We haven’t had it since last Tuesday, so it’s time.” With that, Bishop left the three of them in silence.

Richter’s back was turned. He was still staring through the large window when he spoke. “He’s cracking.”

“He’s fine,” Helen responded.

“What he is,” Richter said slowly, “is ill-suited to the intensity of this new phase of our endeavor.”

Helen shook her head. “Well, few mortals possess your fortitude, Gerhard. We’ll simply have to make do.”

“We must consider the prospect that he may be incapable of seeing this through.”

“He’s just stressed,” Helen said. “During times of duress, we take comfort in routines, and it can be even more jarring if those routines are disrupted. His blood sugar might also be low, which triggers the release of hormones like cortisol and adrenaline, causing even more stress and activating the body’s fight-or-flight response. It can impact decision-making.”

Ty massaged his forehead. He was seeing a whole new side of his parents, one that was equally illuminating and trying. “Mom, he’s just hangry.”

“Yes, he’s hangry.”


When Bishop returned after lunch, he was indeed in better spirits.

“You all want to stretch your legs?” he asked before leading them out of the office and to the elevator.

At basement level four, they exited into a small foyer with white walls, a gray linoleum-tiled floor, and a white drop ceiling. A single door loomed ahead with a biometric hand reader beside it.

Bishop planted his hand there, and the door clicked open, revealing a corridor wider than Ty had expected based on the small foyer. The passage was empty except for three metal rolling carts scattered along it. Each was littered with opened packages with what looked like small mechanical parts and electronic components. A set of closed double doors sealed the opposite end.

Bishop led them down the corridor to a wide window that looked into a clean room where three people were working in space suits hooked up to spiraling hoses that hung from the ceiling. They were crouched over a metal table, examining something through a microscope. With their hands, they were operating a surgical arm that reached down, moving very slightly and flashing a light every few seconds.

Along the far wall, a 3D printer was building something Ty couldn’t see.

To him, the scene looked like a surgical operating room, with the three “doctors” diligently performing surgery on a small object.

“They’ve decided to build the device?” Richter said. “Yes,” Bishop replied.

“What convinced them?” Ty asked.

Bishop shrugged. “Same reason we built the atom bomb and got to the moon first. They’re scared someone will beat us to it—and what it could mean. Right now, the Covenant might be constructing its own device. The premise we’re operating under is that whoever finishes first will likely control the future.”

On that point, Ty agreed.

Bishop turned his back to the window and focused on Ty. “I’ve asked again if we can show you the schematics for the device.”

“Asked who?”

“The White House. They’re managing the entire operation directly. It’s that important.”

“So I assume you’re telling me this because the answer was no.” “I’m sorry, Ty. It’s not my call.”

“They wouldn’t be building that device without my work.”

“I know.”

“They don’t trust me.”

Bishop grimaced. “I can’t say—”

“Is it because of Penny? Because I dated a Covenant agent? They think I might be one too.”

“Look, Ty, it is what it is.”

Richter spoke then, his gaze still on the three suited figures working in the clean room. “Why are you telling him this now?”

Ty felt it was a good question—one that cut right to the heart of the issue. “Because,” Bishop said, exhaling, “they want me to ask you about the

device. Specifically, if there’s a… code that might activate it.”

Ty turned that question over in his mind, trying to put his anger aside. He had to admit, the question surprised him. He had assumed the device would be one that they simply turned on. “Why would they ask that? Is there an interface of some kind on the device?”

Bishop’s gaze drifted up to the ceiling. “I’ll take that as a yes.”

Bishop let his focus drift back to Ty.

“So there is an interface. What type? You’re asking me for a code to operate it, but you’re not even supplying the syntax the code might be in. Or the length. You guys want me in the dark, but you also want me to solve problems I don’t understand. It’s not fair.”

“No,” Bishop said, “it’s not. That’s DC. And, frankly, that’s what working on classified projects is like sometimes.”

“What is this interface? You’ve got to give me something. Does it select which particles are accelerated?”

“We think it’s simply a way to tune the quantum radio.”

“Tune,” Ty said, thinking. “As in modulating the horizontal and vertical betatron tunes? You can do that by varying the strength of the quadrupole magnets—”

Bishop held up a hand. “No—it’s nothing like that. We’re looking for a sequence. An ordered arrangement of a set of symbols.”

“How many?”

“We don’t know.”

“How big is the character set?”

Bishop chewed his lip. “Twelve.” “How do you know it’s a code?”

“It follows based on the layout of the interface.” “You’ve got to let me see it.”

“I can’t.”

“Then I can’t help you.”

“Just… try to think of a code that might activate it. If the Covenant is building their own quantum radio—if we are indeed in a race here—we need to be prepared to activate our device first.”

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