Alycia expediently solves the problem of getting out of Cairo by just stealing a plane. It’s a small luxury jet, rented to the rich but not wealthy of Egypt who can’t yet afford their own but want to arrive in style. With the CAI computers wiped out by the electromagnetic pulse, she estimates that tracing its departure should take days.
The jet is a Stratos 716X, big enough for six people with bags. The jet’s effective range is a quarter of their planned journey - 4,424 nautical miles between Cairo and Hong Kong. A combination of Emma’s memories, Alex’s hacking, and Alycia’s expertise find them refueling points near Ardebil, Bayramaly, Andijan, and Ürümqi. All of these are run by smugglers, resistance fighters, or other folk who ask no questions and take cash as payment.
Of the four stopovers, Ürümqi is by far the largest and most modern. Home of Xinjiang University and the Xinjiang Silk Road Museum, the city enjoys tourists and students from around the world. Emma and Alex take the opportunity to steal replacement electronics, not only for themselves but for SNOWMAN.
The EMP at the Cairo airport burned out most of his fancy spy gadgets, and some of his power distribution capacity. He’s effectively got a respiratory infection, and must relax at all times to avoid losing power and passing out. Although Alex is distraught, Alycia can sense a certain smugness from SNOWMAN about it. She thinks she understands.
“Leo always built for reliability, didn’t he,” she says finally.
“Yeah. I’m not Inspector Gadget,” SNOWMAN mutters.
“Well you get second pick of the parts,” Alycia says sternly. “I need to build a radar jammer. We’re flying over China now, and nape-of-the-Earth flying won’t fool their air defenses.”
“Fine with me. Means I can get a nap.” SNOWMAN turns over and closes his eyes.
Alycia sends the jet’s autopilot on a course far out to sea, bails out, and navigates an inflatable boat back to Hong Kong. It won’t do to have the jet - and her group - traced from Cairo to here, assuming the smugglers all kept quiet. She painted over the identifying numbers, of course, but there’s only so many stolen luxury mini-jets in the world.
By the time she gets back, Alex is ready with a location and a plan. Now the team sits in the back of a “borrowed” van, outside the former school that’s been repurposed into a data center.
“Didn’t China outlaw crypto mining a couple years ago?” Emma asks curiously.
“Pff. Listen. That just means someone in charge wants a cut of their profits,” Alex explains. “Cryptocurrency mining is just one more way for China to get at the West. But they want it controlled, like everything else. So the miners have a choice. Work for free for the Party, or go to jail.”
“Alright alright alright. Here we go…” Alex watches their phone, then gives thumbs up.
The signal is for when the crypto miners make their monthly payment to their Party sponsor. Until the next payment, nobody will come bother them. That gives the team a month in which to work - assuming nothing else goes wrong.
Alycia realizes that’s a big assumption.
The actual takeover is fast. It’s not hard for Alycia to direct Emma and Alex in close-quarters battle against a bunch of untrained fighters. She’s planted Nono across the street with binoculars, a radio, and orders to inform her if any cars pull up. None do, and the silenced gunshots don’t attract any noticeable attention.
The crypto miners themselves are receptive to the group’s offer. With Alycia playing Good Cop and Emma as Bad Cop, the deal is presented: here’s a sack of cash, we’re taking your stuff, get out and we won’t shoot you in the kneecaps. Oh, and don’t expect your political patron to avenge you - they’d lose face by even acknowledging you. The miners know what’s up, take the cash, and get going under Alycia’s hawklike observation.
Alex is badly needed to repurpose the crypto rig. They rope Hot Mess into helping, not only to be a gopher, but for her powers - “the key thing here is to keep all this stuff cool, and nobody can manage temperature like you”. The flattery, if not the reasoning, seems to work.
This leaves Alycia to work on SNOWMAN, stripping out the now-useless modules. The core systems are intact, but the power system will need a graphene breeder to fix. He’s got four hours of casual activity in him, or about two minutes of high-tension combat, before he has to shut down again. He’s no longer got his arsenal of weapons, flight system, and other goodies. Alycia soon discovers he’s still got his smart attitude, but also his intelligence.
She tells Nono to help out, mostly to give the girl something to do. It’s during servo maintenance that he speaks up. “Alycia, I’m going to help Nono reformulate her patches. But I want her to keep using them.”
“I said no,” Alycia says firmly.
“You haven’t listened to my reasons.”
“Fine. I’ll listen and then say no.”
The next comment gets her attention enough to put down the soldering iron and really listen.
“The patch stimulates exuberant synaptogenesis in sites associated with hypergenius.”
Nono shakes her head. “No, it just lets me enter flow state–”
SNOWMAN cuts her off. “That’s what you thought. Listen. Human cognitive bandwidth is about 110 baud, or bits per second. Flow state is about filtering out unwanted stimuli to allocate that bandwidth to a given task. What your drug is doing is widening that bus - making you capable of exceeding that 110 baud limit. You’re not in flow state, you’ve just got more capacity to focus on a task despite distractions.”
Alycia chimes in, realizing what’s going on. “A typical hallmark of genius is the ability to make connections between seemingly unrelated things - to recognize patterns. Our brains make connections through synaptogenesis - the formation of synapses, or connections between brain cells. But the rate of that formation matters. Exuberant synaptogenesis is the term for how babies learn - so in essence, Nono, you’re learning as fast as a young child learns. You’re gobbling up all this data, and fitting it into a new understanding.”
Nono nods uncertainly. “Why does it hurt so bad?”
SNOWMAN answers this. “Imagine taking your family car to street racing. Imagine doing horrible horrible things to the engine, the manifold, every part of that car, so that you can get racing speeds out of it. You’re driving your brain harder and faster than it’s meant for. That’s how all hypergenius works, to some extent - it just overclocks you, big time, to keep up with a bunch of extra quantum information that’s coming in via Posner molecule formation. That’s why my dad put a chip in my skull, to regulate neural activity so I don’t just burn out from being a Formula 1 all the time.”
Alycia frowns. “But you think you can make it safe?”
SNOWMAN sounds surprised. “Sure. I just need to find the precursor enzyme that controls ANGPT1 expression, and that’ll let us stimulate angiogenesis at the same accelerated pace.”
He glances from face to face. “Uh. In layman’s terms, your brain engine wants to go all-out, but you don’t have a fuel injection system to keep it up, so the engine eats itself to keep up with the demands of street racing. But with it, the more you do spy shit while on the patches, the more of a hypergenius at spycraft you’ll become.”
He looks to Alycia. “I’m assuming you don’t have a chip. I’m guessing that’s because you’ve kept physically active your whole life. That’d stimulate the necessary development.”
Nono looks at Alycia eagerly. SNOWMAN looks at her with a confident smile, sure of his own reasoning.
She sighs and shrugs. “I’ll think about it. To be honest… my father’s chemical tampering with my brain makes me very wary of anything similar. But… I’m willing to be reasonable. If you’re sure you want to take the risk.”
Nono’s eyes, she sees, are set in determination. “I am.”
God help me if she gets hurt doing this. But… maybe it’ll work out.