Mad Crab Mojave: Chapter 48

In which Jones does a bit of data science

Jones headed back to the business center. He needed to clear his mind. He needed something pure. Fortunately, the business center workstation had Excel. Jones cleaned the formatted the data dump he’d acquired from the train switching panel. As he dug in, he saw that he had the switch logs from the whole of the Mojave railroad network. Jones realized that he could reconstruct weeks worth of train movements. The hours ticked by. Jones generated a small time-series map of train events. Then, he had an idea - he found the selection of logs that matched the date of the news broadcast he’d watched in the Virtual Vegas airport. With luck, he would determine what had caused the train wreck that had made the local news.

Jones began to flow into the code. The business center faded into its own wallpaper. The glow of the computer screen illuminated the room. He could almost hear the snapping of his neurons as they processed, organized and revised the information in front of him. He was creating concepts. He was mapping them onto reality. For the first time in a long time, Jones felt alive. His fingers raced over the keyboard. He hit CTRL-V many times. Finally, leaning back, eyelids blinking, endorphins pumping, Jones saw the pattern.

As he had suspected, it was a faulty switch. Error messages peppered the logs, as some engineer ran the same command over and over and got the same failing result. A bit that didn’t flip, while the train continued on its course to the fiery result. He remembered the railroad spokesperson declaring that this train line had an exceptionally high record of safety. What could cause this exception?

As Jones reviewed the time-series, he saw that the trains had started on a completely irregular series of routes. Instead of moving back and forth between industrial outposts and various mineral deposits, they were circling, looping back on themselves, and meeting up at random junctions. Jones thought about the hastily patched USB port he’d used to get the data in the first place. Such a port could be used to get data out. It could also be used to load programs in.

Marta’s words echoed in his head. “Mad Crab wants to control everything.”

The trains went to Virtual Vegas, they went through Searchlight, they went through the Mojave Preserve, they went through Needles. Jones understood now why he couldn’t find the quantum supercomputer. It was perpetually in transit, rumbling around the Mojave in a boxcar while Mad Crab figured out what to do with it.

He looked at his phone. He wanted to call Agent Moss, and tell her what he’d learned, but his phone was finally dead.

In the distance, Jones heard what sounded like a truck backfiring. Then many trucks. He got up and looked out the window of the business center. Then, gasping, he ducked, and looked up at the computer screen. It was dark. A bullet had destroyed his masterpiece. Jones dropped to the floor.