Mar 12, 2017

Hierion Confinement

In her "spare" time, Stephane Bush handled the task of speaking to reporters about the operation of CERN's Internet eXchange Point. Luckily, requests for information from the press had dwindled through the years following the start of operations at the Large Hadron Collider. But now she'd received a terse email from colleen.l@tcd, with Colleen identifying herself as a student journalist doing a story about the handling of particle decay data from the LHC. In the email was Colleen's Skype user name.

Viewing this as a fairly routine inquiry from a student, Stephane connected via Skype to the Colleen, who immediately gave her full name as Colleen Liscan. While she talked, Colleen seemed to be bouncing in and out of her chair, so her head was only occasionally visible in the video window. Stephane was still working through her email inbox, so she only had a vague impression of Colleen's wild mop of black hair framing a fresh white face that was dominated by two large eyes. For several minutes Colleen rambled on about quarks and gluons. Rather impatiently, Stephane asked, "Who do you work for?"

Colleen replied in her strangely lilting English accent, "I'm writing a story for a magazine called Popular Physics."

Rather rudely, Stephane said, "I've never heard of it."

Colleen laughed. "The magazine is a collaborative project of the Trinity School of Physics and Journalism Department at DCU. It was founded..." Colleen prattled on with a long-winded account of how Popular Physics had been formed by a group of students.

Stephane was always willing to work with students, but she feared Colleen was a bit scatter-brained and disorganized and might become a huge waste of time. With a growing feeling of impatience she interrupted the seemingly endless account of the history of Popular Physics being provided by Colleen and she asked, "What kind of story are you working on now?"

Colleen replied, "I've read about how CERN periodically inserts fake information into the data stream from the LHC detectors, just to make sure that rare types of particle decay events can be effectively recognized by the data analysis teams."

"Yes, that's a common quality control practice for big data projects. The technique was first developed by early SETI astronomers."

Colleen asked, "Have you done SETI work? Well, don't get me started on that." Colleen giggle and continued, "Anyhow, I'd like to watch the next time you insert a test data packet."

Stephane said, "I doubt if anyone from outside CERN has ever been allowed to see that process. Think about the security issues... we don't want anyone knowing how to fake the security code that is used to tag raw data. Anyhow, there is nothing to see. The process is fully automated and computerized."

Colleen nodded. "Yes, but...actually, what I want to do is insert a fake data packet of my own... as a test. Ian told me you'd be able to do it."

Stephane muttered, "Verdammt noch mal."


Stephane knew instantly that the 'Ian' mentioned by Colleen must be Ian Slate, a particle physicist at Trinity College. Stephane also knew that Ian was a blabber mouth.

Colleen switched briefly to German, "Bitte nicht böse sein." She quickly went back to English, "I tricked Ian into telling me that you handle the test data inserts."

For a moment, Stephane thought about denying her role in testing if rare decay events could be efficiently spotted by the thousands of physicists who ran their data analysis algorithms through the vast data pool flowing out of the LHC. Somehow, she knew that it would be futile to pretend that Colleen was mistaken. She decided to simply end the Skype call. "I have nothing further to say. Goodbye."

Colleen raised one of her thick, dark eyebrows. "I think you will be interested in the test I want to run, Dr. Bush. I believe I've discovered a type of particle decay that is being systematically missed."

Stephane was intrigued but skeptical. "Missed by every physicist in the world?"

"Well, I'm afraid there are blind spots whenever you rely on human observers... and human scientists."

Stephane was impressed by Colleen's cool confidence. She asked, "Are you working towards a journalism degree or a physics degree?"

"So far I've only earned a computer science degree here in Dublin, but I hope to add both a journalism and a physics degree to my resume."

Stephane gazed at Colleen's smooth skin and pink lips and asked, "How old are you?"

Colleen laughed again. "I'm older than I look and I'd rather not say. I hope you don't have a blind spot when it comes to young science students."

"I've always helped students in the past, but I want to know how you discovered my role in testing the sensitivity of LHC data analysis network. That is a secret."

"Oh, it wasn't very difficult to figure that out. Just a matter of thinking about who is in the right place to slip in the test data and correlating that short list with the people, or I should say -person- who once gave a seminar on the process."

"That seminar was not open to the public."

"And yet you list it on your CV."

"Nobody outside of CERN has seen my CV for many years."

"Wrong. Because of government funding for CERN, your CV was part of a data dump provided to the French government and it was part of a Wikileaks release last year. For my computer science senior thesis I wrote a worm that searches wiki data sets... even the deletion histories. So, at least I've seen your CV recently."

"I see. Well, Miss Liscan, I can tell that you are going to be a formidable science journalist... part hacker, part physicist... part gossip monger. Now, before I hang up, tell me; what is this particle detection 'blind spot' that you are so worried about?"

"Let me show you. It is here on my Google drive. Click this link..."


Stephane clicked on the provided link and downloaded a large file: what appeared to be an LHC data packet. Stephane searched the LHC database for that particular packet using its ID code, but nothing was found. Strangely, the encrypted security code parsed as "true data'. Stephane felt her pulse quicken.

Colleen was explaining, "This is a fake data packet that I designed. I want you to insert it into the LHC data stream."

Stephane tried to keep control of her voice, "How did you generate a valid packet ID and security code?"

"I figured out the algorithm that you use to generate the codes. It's a rather obvious permutation of the code structure that you published in your Ph.D. thesis twenty years ago."

Stephane was startled that anyone else could see that connection. "Obvious to who? God?"

"Please, don't get excited, Stephane. What one person invents, someone else can also discover. Your algorithm has generated billions of ID/SC pairs over the past ten years. I had access to the test packet "ignore" filter in Ian's lab so I trained up a neural network... cracking the code did not take long. Of course, my ability to generate fake data is useless unless I can get you to insert my packets into the LHC data stream."

"Even the NSA doesn't have the computing power to crack my code algorithm!"

"Well, my neural network was able to 'guess' the most likely subset of the search space. It only took about a day of supercomputer time to drill down and crack the code." 

Stephane felt embarrassed for not having kept herself informed about the power of modern neural network-based algorithms. "You realize I can immediately change the code structure. This very minute."

"Well, yes, you could, but it would take months to send out techs to install new data decryption keys in all of the data centers. Anyhow, there's no need to do that. Relax, Stephane. I'm not going to tell anyone else how to fake LHC data packets."

Stephane was only able to relax a tiny amount. "What is special about your fake data packet?"

Colleen explained, "It simulates a particle decay event... for a type of particle that was predicted 30 years ago by Gustov Klein."

"What particle?"

"Its a 323 GeV particle that should have been detected by the LHC. The fact that its discovery has not been reported means something is wrong in the data analysis."

Stephane searched online for -and quickly found- a Klein article from 1987. That published article did not mention a 323 GeV particle. "Klein didn't predicted a 323 GeV particle in 1987."

"No, Klein expressed the particle's properties in terms of the as yet unknown properties of the Higgs boson. Do you see Klein's equation 23? If you substitute in the rest mass of the Higgs as determined at the LHC then you get 323 GeV for the mass of Klein's predicted particle."

"I see. But this is just a theoretical prediction."

"No, with the discovery of the Higgs, Klein's theory was confirmed. There is a new particle at 323 GeV, I assure you. And the fake data packet I sent to you is the type of decay event that should exist in the LHC data set. We just need to figure out why it has not been reported by any of the teams that analyze the LHC data."

Annoyed by the whole situation from Colleen's prattle to her hacking of the security code algorithm, Stephane was fidgeting nervously and eager to end the Skype call. "Let me check into this Miss Liscan." She moved her mouse pointer to the Skype 'disconnect' button. "I'll get back to you." She clicked.


Two days later, Stephane answered her front door and found Colleen on her doorstep.

Colleen said, "Hello, Stephane."

Dismayed and rather irritated by Colleen's sudden appearance, Stephane asked, "What are you doing here?" Colleen had a small backpack slung over her shoulders. "I told you I'd contact you."

"I didn't want you to forget about me."

"Well, come in."

Colleen set her backpack on the floor. "Ian told me that you investigated me."

"Yes, I did. And I investigated Klein. He died shortly after publishing that article in 1987, when communism was collapsing in Eastern Europe. He was killed while trying to get out of Hungary."

"Yes, I know. Had he waited just a few more years, the iron curtain would have been gone."

Stephane gestured towards a couch and the two women sat down. "After I read Klein's article, I sent out your fake data packet and it was quickly spotted by many research teams. There is an excited buzz now among a group of old-time Klein fans who are still in love with his theory after 30 years. Today I'll have to tell them that the pretty decay event they found was just a test packet, not actual data."

"No, that would be a mistake, Stephane!"She reached out and grabbed Stephane's arm. "We need those Klein fans to help us figure out why the LHC data stream isn't full of this kind of decay event."

"Obviously you are wrong about that. The data don't lie. There have been no such decays in the real data."

Colleen jumped up an went to gaze out the large front window of Stephane's house. After a moment she turned and said, "Think about it! What if Klein was killed in order to hide the existence of this particle? What if someone is covering up the greatest discovery in physics, the existence of this new particle?"

For a moment Stephane sat in stunned silence. "What are you saying? Don't go off into fantasy land! Colleen, you've proven that any decay event of this type would be easily recognized. The LHC simply hasn't been generating such particle decay events. Don't start imagining some conspiracy, just because a theoretical particle -some silly predicted particle- has not been detected. Sure, maybe Klein was right and this particle exists, but maybe the rate of generating these decay events is smaller than you suspect it should be."

Colleen was looking out the window again. She shook her head and mumbled quietly, "No, no, no..."


Just then the doorbell sounded again. Stephane got up off the couch and opened the front door, revealing a tall woman who was wearing an odd metallic jumpsuit.

The tall woman spoke: "Sorry to interrupt, Stephane... may I come in?"

The woman confidently stepped inside, glanced at Colleen and closed the the door. "Hello, Colleen."

Alarmed by the way the woman had barged into her house, Stephane asked, "Do I know you?"

"Not well. We met once before, but you can't remember that occasion... just as you will be unable to remember me later today after I leave with Colleen."

Colleen asked, "Who are you?"

"You can call me Ekco."

Stephane and Colleen both though she had said 'echo'. Colleen said, "I'm not going anywhere with you."

Ekco moved close to the girl and brushed a clot of dark curls away from her right eye. "Yes, you will. And you will finally get to meet Klein."

"Gustov Klein?"

"Yes, I had to remove him from Earth 30 years ago, but he waited patiently on the Moon. He got very excited after I told him that his greatest fan would soon come up from Earth to commiserate. The time has come."

Stephane asked, "What's going on?"

Ekco turned her head over her shoulder and replied to Stephane, "Nothing much. You will remain on Earth and complete the recall of Colleen's fake data packet. Soon the hub bub over evidence that support's Klein's theory will die down. You see, it is not safe for you primitive humans to learn about Klein's new particle, what we Genesaunts call a hierion. You'll have no memory of me or hierions an hour from now."

Colleen said, "I'd prefer to stay here with Stephane. You can erase my memories, if you like."

"No, in your case that would not be possible. Last year you devoted your life to finding Klein's predicted particle. I could erase your memory of meeting me here today, but you'd keep working to prove Klein right. No, you must join Klein in exile. Besides, half of the Tryp'At Council suspects you of being an Interventionist agent."

Stephane looked at Colleen with horror and asked, "Interventionist agent?"

Ekco turned and sent a cloud of nanites into Stephane. The nanoprobes quickly inactivated Stephane's motor control circuits. Ekco caught Stephane as she collapsed and placed her limp body on the couch. Echo then scooped up Colleen's backpack from the floor and took hold of the girl's hand.

Colleen thought the lights went out, but her eyes quickly adapted to the dim light. Ekco was tugging her towards a lit doorway. Colleen followed along and they emerged into a well-lit room. An elderly man was standing there. Colleen blinked into the light and mumbled, "Dr. Klein?"

Ekco said, "This is Colleen Liscan, the young student who recently discovered your hierion theory."

Klein stepped forward and took hold of Colleen's hand. He spoke English with a heavy accent. "Wonderful! Tell me, has my theory been confirmed?"

Colleen looked around. A large display screen along one wall showed a magnificent view of the Moon's surface, but gravity seemed Earth normal. She looked at Klein and asked, "You've been held prisoner here for 30 years?"

Ekco replied, "This isn't a prison. Klein was free to move on to the Galactic Core, but he's been watching events on Earth."

Colleen asked Klein, "Then you realize that data from the LHC should have confirmed your prediction?"

Klein shrugged, "Well, Ekco tells me that some data from the LHC have been hidden. Essentially erased."

Colleen turned to Ekco and asked angrily, "Is that possible?"

Ekco nodded. "You saw how easy it was for me to handle Stephane. When she wakes up she'll have no memory of either you or me having been inside her house. We Overseers have access to advanced nanotechnology. We can confine inconvenient memories within the synaptic laboratory of a brain or confine inconvenient particle decay events to the LHC. We simply don't allow data arising from the existence of hierions to enter the LHC data stream. Quantum computers here in the Hierion Domain efficiently spot such forbidden data as it arises and substitute bland data packets."

Colleen was growing increasingly upset. "Forbidden by who? What right do you have to manipulate the LHC data?"

extinction curve (source)
Ekco activated a swarm of infites that had long been resident inside Colleen's brain. Now she had access to previously implanted memories that explained the danger posed to primitive civilizations by hierion-based technologies. The usual objection came to Colleen's lips, "What right do you have to deprive us of our discoveries? We might be different... maybe we Earthlings would not destroy ourselves..."

Ekco sadly shook her head. "No, we humans are a particularly bad risk. However, this Reality has been carefully engineered to allow us to survive. Delaying the development of hierion-based technologies is an important part of our survival trajectory into the future."

Colleen looked carefully at Ekco and asked, "So you are human?"

Ekco shrugged, "I'm a modified human, crafted in the Galactic Core." She allowed her body-shaping nanite prosthetic to return her face and hands to their normal form. "I'm what can be called an Ek'col." Her eyes were about twice the normal size for a human and her hands fingers were nearly twice as long as normal.

Colleen looked at Klein who grinned and said, "I've gotten used to Ekco's unusual appearance through the years. Even though she makes use of fantastic nanotechnology, I do think she is human."

Feeling a lifetime of plans slipping away, Colleen asked plaintively,"And so, what now? We are forever cut off from Earth?"

Klein replied, "I've enjoyed 30 years of studying hierion physics here on the Moon. I've reached the point where I feel there is yet another family of particles beyond the hadrons and the hierions. Ekco tells me that if I want to learn more physics then I must go to the Galactic Core."

Colleen asked Ekco, "But I could stay here, near Earth?"

Ekco smiled enigmatically, "We are no longer very "near" to the Earth that you know. We are now about 80,000 years before your birth. You could remain here and learn physics from the Grendels, as Klein has done, but I suspect you will be happier in the Core where there are other humans."

NEXT: time travel in the 1940s

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