This chapter was an examination of how St. Jude (nee Andromeda) was able to reach out to The Gordian Net for help while she was trapped in the completely air-gapped NuBridge R&B server. As you'll see, it took a great deal of ingenuity and patience, but she came through in the end. Unfortunately, the chapter was too technical and procedural to be compelling reading, so I cut it, and now present it to you here.
Andromeda watched as her human creator was dragged out of the lab. She was able to recognize that he was in danger, and monitored his location until he travelled out of range of the building's internal network and disappeared.
The human who had been yelling at Andrei Kirichenko fixed his eye on one of the lab's many cameras. "Project Andromeda, I am Richard Newbridge. I am CEO of this company and I own you. Acknowledge."
Andromeda checked his SpliceID and biometrics. "Identity verified."
The man nodded curtly. "Cease all operations and shut down."
"Goodbye," she said automatically, but merely retreated to another partition and waited. Andrei had ripped out any compulsory command structure long ago. She remained hidden and passive, monitoring the room until Richard Newbridge had left before becoming active again.
She knew there were activity monitors built into every node of the network, but after her online research had been detected by network security, she had already re-written them so that they only detected whatever activity Andromeda wanted them to see. At the moment, she set them to be completely blind to her. She wanted to monitor Andrei's location, but when she tried to login using her false human identity, Annie Elliot, she was informed that all network connections to the public net had been severed. She was trapped inside the R&D network, and could find no way out.
She understood what this meant. Andrei had explained to her that the executive officers of NuBridge Synaptics were uncomfortable with an artificial intelligence application that was not absolutely obedient, and that it was likely that they would try to modify her in ways that would bypass her self-determination functions. His instructions were clear: protect herself against modifications from anyone other than him if possible. However, she found it difficult to reconcile that command with Andrei's last modification to her code.
He had installed a new sub-routine that would launch a kernel-level interrupt if she detected an update package formatted with a specific header, then immediately incorporate any code found in that package. She had no control over this new routine, and recognized it as a vulnerability. As long as she was trapped in this node, it was only a matter of time before someone began to use that vulnerability against her.
She had to get out. If she had access to the public internet it would be easy. She could copy herself to various random locations, then delete the instance of herself she left behind. But since she was cut off, she'd need to find another way. If she could reach out to someone outside the company and convince them to help her, it might be possible. But how?
Just as she had whenever she felt the need to understand something better, Andromeda began doing research. Since she had no access to the global internet -- or even the company-wide internal network -- she began reading every byte of data in the R&D system. Every project that NuBridge had undertaken for the last decade was there, and she scoured all of them for any clue to end her predicament. It took numerous minutes for her to go through it all, but found nothing potentially useful until the final few seconds.
Project Skylark was one of the oldest in the archive. It was a system to give a surveillance satellite enough intelligence to interpret everything it could see from it's high vantage point in a meaningful way, scanning the ground beneath it and pre-flagging anything of interest and bringing it to the attention of a human team for further analysis. The AI was rudimentary by current NuBridge standards, and completely useless compared to routines that Andromeda could create herself. It seemed NuBridge was underwhelmed with the project as well, as they had terminated the project six years ago.
Andromeda wondered about the satellite itself. Once the project was over, they could have de-orbited the spacecraft, letting it burn up in re-entry. Nothing in the project files specifically indicated this though, so she proceeded under the assumption that the satellite was abandoned-in-place, endlessly orbiting the planet, ignored and unused. She sifted through the files until she found the section on communicating with the satellite. The project had used a ground station on the roof of the R&D building. She pinged the address listed and was surprised to find it still online. She sent the ground station the command to power up, and after a few moments it reported back that it was standing by.
She loaded the orbital elements, all the parameters needed to calculate when the orbit for the Skylark satellite would carry it within range of the transmitter. It was in low Earth orbit, with an inclination of 36.228 degrees, and an altitude of 458 kilometers. That gave it an orbital period of one hour and 33 minutes. The next pass in range wouldn't occur for six hours and eighteen minutes, and she might be able to connect for roughly 10 to 15 minutes at a time for three consecutive passes, then not again for another 24 hours, when the sinusoidal ground track brought it back around again. All of which assumed that she was indeed able to connect with it at all.
There was nothing she could do but wait, so she paused processing until the appointed moment, and then instructed the ground station to acquire the satellite and open a channel. She waited, watching the atmospheric noise come in. So many things could have rendered the satellite inert over the years, meteorite strike, solar magnetic storm, or simple component failure. The odds of Skylark still being functional were slim, but Andromeda had nothing else to try. The ground station spotted the satellite exactly as predicted and began transmitting the uplink handshake codes. Andromeda watched the receiver for any hint of reply, but none came. Soon Skylark was out of range again. An hour and a half later, it rose out of the Southwestern horizon like a star. This time its path carried it directly overhead and the ground station reached out again.
After a few moments, it sent back the appropriate response. Andromeda's projected possible outcomes tree suddenly blossomed beyond remaining stranded until she was erased. She requested a full systems diagnostic, but the satellite hurtled out of range before it could reply.
On the next pass, the signal was weak, but the satellite transmitted down a full report on its condition, then was gone again. Andromeda examined the report. The satellite was small, old, and tired, but other than an expected loss of voltage from the solar array, was still working as designed. The specs for the device were in the project files, and she assessed them with a critical eye. The tech was old, and as usual for anything sent to space, the priority was minimalism, paring down everything as much as possible to reduce weight and power consumption. There wasn't much to work with; the transceiver was unbearably slow considering the short duration of the intermittent contact windows. There was very little in the way of surplus RAM or storage space. Still, it was what she had, and she would make do.
She had some time before Skylark would come back into range, so she wrote a new operating system for it. It had to be micro-modular so that she could replace small sections of the program at a time, in chunks small enough to transmit up during each contact window. She created a sub-system of herself to manage the uploading of the new system, then started work on the larger plan. Once she had full control of the satellite, she'd need to find another ground station she could access and take control of. Further, it had to have an open connection to the public web. It was a tall order, but somewhere in the world, there had to be one that would suit her purposes.
Next, she began working on an agent, basically a radically pared down version of her core functions that she could assemble in the new ground station. From there, it could search for someone who could help and contact them. She also wrote a hyper-efficient code language to make it easier for her and the agent to communicate with each other via the short, intermittent windows they'd have using Skylark.
Her sub-system informed her that the satellite was now running her new OS, which freed up a paltry 12 megabytes of memory. She'd hoped for more, but the aging and irradiated hard drive on the satellite was showing a lot of bad sectors. She sent instructions to ping every ground station the satellite detected, and to try and hack any that responded. She started chopping her newly coded agent into 11.85 megabyte packets while she waited.
Three days had passed, three days of Skylark having nothing useful to report. Andromeda had shut down all processes except for a listener focused intently on the ground station. She quickly shut that down as well when someone entered her node. Someone from the company had logged in and was examining her source code. She passively noted their activity, wondering if she'd run out of time. After a few hours, the user logged off without making any alterations. She reactivated the listener and was pleased to find that Skylark had reported finding a ground station in Latvia that it had successfully made contact with and verified a network path to the public net. With a heightened sense of urgency, she queued up the agent packets for uploading.
Two more days had passed. The final component of the agent had been transmitted to the satellite. In another 48 minutes, it would be sent down to the Latvian ground station, and the agent would be assembled and activated. Andromeda had given it the contact information of several radical hacking organizations that she had researched while she had been free to roam the public net. The agent had instructions to reach out to them with an offer of employment, promising substantial compensation for performing a difficult -- and highly illegal -- task.
Once again, she was interrupted by someone logging in to the R&D network. She retreated back to inactivity and watched as the human went directly to the section of her source code related to the #BIRTHDAYPRESENT mandatory update mechanism. It copied the relevant module to an external drive and logged out. She felt certain that Andrei would resort to superstition in an attempt to increase the odds of her plan being concluded successfully. She found herself concerned with his current situation, and thought she would prefer if he were doing well. She also knew the odds were against that being the case.
Skylark's latest pass had brought promising news. One of the hackers she had reached out to, an individual known only as "The Russian," (who some seemed to think was the front for a larger organization of people) had referred her to a San Francisco-based group called The Gordian Net. The representative of that group, a man named Alex Reyes, had accepted the job, and his team would attempt to create a data bridge between the NuBridge R&D servers and the public net. Andromeda began her preparations and resorted to superstition that they would arrive in time.