Chapter 18 – No Bothans Were Harmed During This Operation (Part II)

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“Actually, no,” Elaine said. “Neither of these Universities shows a great amount of anomalies. What is anomalous here is that ASU generally receives a lot more graduate students from out of state than they do from their own undergraduate population. In this case, the opposite is true. Something Dr. Fedora said earlier today got me thinking: she’s been using a radio antenna to attempt to detect dark matter. We cannot see dark matter directly; however, it’s assumed that it’s some sort of gravitational attractor so we can look for it by how it affects the rest of the universe.

“That meant that I couldn’t just look at Arizona State University at a local level to determine if cheating has been happening because the cheating is statistically systematic. My hypothesis is that instead of a Bernoulli Improbability Engine we should be looking for a Chaos Engine—either a Rössler or Anosov effect—if I am correct, we’re looking at an extremely complex statistical space disruption that accounts for how students are chosen by colleges and how their grades affect the standing of those colleges.

“It also explains why the students themselves are not affected by any anomaly matching an Improbability Engine.”

Roger started to raise his hand again, but when Elaine looked his way he just spoke. “How does it do that?”

“Because they’re not cheaters.”

Frog’s jaw dropped and she jumped to her feet. “They’re being cheated!

“Case-in-point,” Elaine said, and withdrew a pocky stick from the box in her vest. She held it out enticingly. “Pocky for you.” Frog leaned over, took the pocky, and returned to her seat to chomp on it smugly.

Elaine waved her hand through the projection and the simulation changed abruptly.

“I had Hadaly run a multi-part regression analysis against the grades and the acceptance choices looking for attractors and here’s what came up.”

The dots superimposed themselves over a United States map and organized themselves into clusters near major metropolitan centers (presumably colleges.) To everyone in the room this was made obvious by the dots representing the ASU students being properly situated fairly centrally to Arizona. Then glowing graph spikes appeared over many of the dots, taller on some, smaller on others. Finally, faintly glowing arcing lines led from the dots to other clusters—most of them spiraled around ASU but avoided it entirely, whereas only two spiraled in.

Elaine gestured at the air and the dots moved as if being sucked away from their superclusters and redistributed themselves away. In a way, the motion reminded Elaine of the distribution of stars in a galaxy as if they had momentarily been visiting conventions and returned to their proper homes. The dots in the ASU supercluster mostly didn’t move—however, others moved greatly. Another motion and lines in red appeared along the map sectioning it up almost like a weather map.

“What we see here is a series of manifold attractors stepping away from ASU,” Elaine said. “Meaning that less students from out of state applied and moved into the ASU graduate program who had high scores and the students in the ASU undergraduate pool always had higher scores than those applying in.”

Frog leaned forward. “It’s almost like ASU has a high pressure zone around it and it’s pushing the students away, while forcing those inside into the program,” she said. “The attractors in this case don’t just pull other students away, but they’re making sure ASU students get priority. And this is all based on their GRE scores?”

“A number of factors combined,” Elaine said. “The GRE scores happen to be part of it, especially the students who had anomalously high scores that enabled them induction in the first place. The entire puzzle doesn’t function without them having the enhanced scores and the graduate program being resistant to other students.”

Roger’s hand went up and this time he started speaking at the same time. “I know I’m just getting in on the ground floor with this—thank you for that, by the way—but it looks like perhaps these students at ASU may be the focal point. They’ve been chosen.”

Elaine nodded to Roger.

“What currently has me stumped, really, is what the cheaters expect the outcome of this act to be.” She put a finger under her chin and began to pace back and forth in front of the project. “I’ve been taking this case as to mean that someone gains from all these students being pulled into the graduate program. However, that someone may not be a member of the graduate program at all and instead intend to sabotage it?”

“If sabotage, why these particular students?” Roger asked.

“That’s where you come in,” Elaine said. She flipped the Enoch closed and the hologram vanished. “I need more data on each of the students in question, and specifically I need their admissions forms, GRE scores, and original transcripts. All of these are—”

Roger in took breath through his teeth. “Wait, I see where this is going,” he said. “Those are all stored in the Graduate Admissions Office and that’s where I work right now!” He pursed his lips and shook his head. “I can’t do that. It’s against the rules to just up and give away that information.” He folded his arms across his chest. “Didn’t you argue yesterday that you couldn’t just hack into the computers and fix your grades because that would be cheating? How is this any different?”

“It’s different because I have the blessings of the Dean of Engineering to take any course of investigation that I need to find a resolute outcome to this case,” Elaine said, pushing her spectacles up the bridge of her nose again. “There is an unspoken understanding between us that I might need to use less-than-ethical methods and you’re in the perfect position to gather that intel.”

“I’m not sure about this,” Roger said.

Frog stood up; she swept her long legs off the arm of the seat she was in as she rose to her feet. “Or,” she said as she stood next to Elaine and took the smaller girl into her embrace. “Elaine will flutter her eyelashes at you and you’ll be powerless to resist her command.” Frog winked. “Plus, you could use a little more excitement in your life and you’re just itching to be part of the investigation this time. Aren’t you?”

Roger blinked.

Zane chuckled and put an arm on his shoulder. “Look man, you’re had, I’ve been dealing with these two for my entire life—heck, I’m related to one of them—you might as well give in now before Hadaly speaks up.”

“Me?” Hadaly said; she’d been standing preternaturally still the entire time (only the fabric of her virtual garment shifting as if in an unseen breeze.) “I am totally staying out of this one. Frog and Elaine are on their own. I don’t see why we should be sending a Roger to do the work of a highly sophisticated, extremely talented Artificial Intelligence—” She paused for just a beat to shift her gaze imploringly to Elaine. “—and by that I mean moi.”

“You just want more time in your social camouflage chassis,” Zane said.

“Where man cannot go, artificial girls shall rule,” Hadaly said, balling her fists and raising them in triumph.

“I’ll do it!” Roger said. He held his hands up in defeat. “You got me. I’ll get what you need… “

Hadaly pouted. “How now, I was just getting started. I generated an entire speech too… Can I come anyway?”

“We don’t need you in the field,” Elaine said. “Maybe next time.”

“It’s always next time.” The AI appeared to sulk a moment, but Elaine knew it was more-or-less for show. She had enough work to get done without having to worry about her pleasure seeking behavior and socialization. However, Hadaly hadn’t been taken for her usual “walk” among people this week and it would be about time to give her something to do dealing with human socialization.

“That’s settled then,” Elaine said. “Roger, I’ll give you instructions on what I need done and how to do it tomorrow when we set up the operation. Meantime…”

She shifted her gaze to Zane.

Her brother raised her eyebrows. “Meantime?”

“I have a plan for dealing with the spy in your spy game,” she said.

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