Monday, July 27, 2009

Safe, Part X

Sidearm held firmly, arm relaxed but outstretched with her right hand clasped underneath the grip, Specialist Hawley padded silently down the Cornucopia’s main corridor and towards the quarters that Celia had taken for herself. Samir was moving on the opposite side, a shadow to her, silent as well. In a distant part of her mind she was aware of the scrutiny they were under, with live video and audio feed recorded for examination later. Director Huffold could alter her mission with direct orders, if needed, via a small earpiece identical to one that Samir wore. She was thankful she couldn’t hear any of the Hub team’s anxious breathing through the audio--only direct vocalizations were transmitted.

Daniela had changed her opinion of Samir’s character, albeit thus far in one area only. As exasperating as it had been to try and explain basic star travel and ship’s systems to the man, he had proven himself a careful investigator, and was taking this re-hijacking of the Cornucopia seriously. His maneuvers and movements in sweeping through the ship had been classroom-precise, and he had a good eye for details. Although she still doubted his ability to improvise in a firefight, she was certain that he had spent many hours at the firing range and in mock scenarios.

After docking, she and Samir had only checked a few of the larger areas and other rooms for evidence of the renegade Safe before concentrating their search on the control room and her living area. They had spent a few extra minutes in one of the Suspension rooms, examining the wreckage that had been Dr. Simmons’ pod hardware, and confirming his death. A quick but careful search of the room found Zoe Brazzo, as well, but curiously there had been no damage to her life support systems, and her body still lived. Anger, quickly suppressed, boiled up in Samir at the waste and callousness of the murder of the doctor. In spite of his obliteratingly tame title, Civil Engineer Rank 7 Asad was no stranger to violence, but that was from many years before and the senselessness of this act was inexcusable. With a brief glance of understanding between them, the two members of the Freya’s strike team left the large room, wincing at the dull reverberating thud of the door’s lock re-engaging behind them, initiated at a distance by the techs at the Hub.

They could feel confident that Celia was not in the rest of the ship, even though they had not surveyed it yet, due to extra measures that had been implemented by Huffold and others in the Hub. On the trip out to rendezvous the Freya had been dropping relay stations at regular intervals, which made communications between Earth and the insertion team nearly instantaneous. Huffold’s computer team had been working previously unheard of hours, as well, and were slowly bringing the whole of the massive colony ship’s systems online in a remote capacity, with more and more being run from the Hub’s consoles. This was due in part to the new and faster data transfer available with the relay system, but also to the engineers’ ingenuity.

Coming around a bend in the corridor, Hawley froze an instant after Samir had come to an abrupt halt. From the outside of the hallway, he had a better view of what was coming in to view. Speaking without vocalization, just mouthing the words so they would be picked up and translated by sensors in their dental work, Samir talked to his partner 10 meters away without a sound.

“Someone is there. The bottom of a foot, as though attached to a prone body, near the wall on your side, 30 meters ahead.” Other than his mouth, he did not move a muscle while speaking, and Daniela was still, as well.


Their focus now concentrated on any noise or movement outside of themselves, Samir fleetingly reflected on how alone they were out here, and was immensely relieved that his partner was competent. Her plan was a good one. Daniela waited for 3 minutes to pass, and was pleased when no immediate direction came from the Hub. That meant they trusted her enough to remain objective, and to complete this mission. Her mouth moved soundlessly, giving her orders for approach.

Samir stepped forward, stretching his still muscles while the bend in the passageway revealed more of the body of the floor. Its legs came in view, the pelvis and torso, and finally he could see her head, face obscured by medium-length brown hair. The woman’s whole body was now in view and had not moved at all since they first approached.

“Hard to tell for sure, but it looks like the Safe.” It was nearly impossible to communicate shades of emotion over the soundless system, but Hawley could see confusion on Samir’s face, and likely was reflected in her own. What was the woman doing on the floor? Daniela nodded purposefully, an indication for Samir to proceed.

Briefly touching a small stud on his combat rifle to switch ammo, Samir carefully targeted the woman on the floor, and sent a dart with a powerful sedative into her buttock. After counting to thirty, he and Daniela moved as one around the bend, and approached the now sedated figure. Daniela squatted and brushed back the woman’s hair from her face while Samir stood a little distance away, and the Specialist’s features softened slightly when she recognized the girl she had sent off with the government years ago.

“Celia, what have you done?” she mouthed, audible only to Samir’s headset. He prudently remained silent. After a moment, Daniela removed the dart, checking to make sure the full dose had been delivered, and tucked it away into a belt pouch. Reaching in to another, slimmer pouch, she removed a foil package and tore it open. Placing the contents on Celia’s lower back, a transdermal patch that would slowly release a milder sedative and keep the Safe unconscious, Daniela spoke out loud to the Hub.

“The Safe has been neutralized and is sedated and in custody. Proceeding with cleanup.”

Huffold let out the breath he had not known he was holding, and turned to Chairman Sollart.

“It seems unbelievable, after all we planned for.”

“Yes, very smooth. Your people are to be commended, Director.”

“Thank you, sir. I’ll make sure they know it came from you.” He ran a hand through his hair, stress from the last few weeks slowly dissipating. Dropping his arm to his side, Huffold faced the Chairman again.

“We’ll proceed as planned, and continue to transfer control of the ship to our techs. I’ve also initiated an inquiry as to whether or not remote guidance of future colony ships should be the standard, and expect to have a recommendation shortly after the Cornucopia arrives at its destination. The Frey will continue, and a package with their updated mission status will be ready soon. The Freya will proceed with their duties, securing the Safe and assembling data on her activities.”

Sollart waited for Huffold to finish, then nodded with a grunt of approval. At that, he turned and left the control room. He had a data transfer of his own to gather, but there was no hurry. It could reach the Frey either before or after the official file had been sent from this office.

Huffold watched the Director leave, then turned to his staff, who were still congratulating themselves on a successful operation, and raised his voice to be heard above the din. “I have asked for everything you had, and more, and you have given it freely. This shows me both your professionalism and your commitment to the success of this colony and of the Hub’s undertakings as a whole. Your obligation to duty has not gone unnoticed, and the rewards will be substantial. You have my thanks.”

A general roar of approval met his finished speech, and Huffold smiled and headed over to his computer tech’s station, wanting one more influx of information before going back to his office.

“What’s the word, Marian?” He put his hand on the young woman’s shoulder, a near-prodigy from the South Conitnent settlements with long, tapering fingers that seemed to dance across the keyboards in front of her while working. Her shaved head used to cause some discomfort among his older team members, but the dark woman’s competence and easy smile had won many of them over quickly.

“The mainframe search was going well, Director, if slowly, but that was because of the massive amount of data we had to sift through.” She shifted in her chair, turning it slightly to face him, and Huffold removed his hand and stepped back. “Just before the Freya docked, however, we hit a haakplek....a snag. Although we were unable to change or block anything at the time because of the usual transmission delay, the relay stations are working well and currently there is virtually no obstruksie. No obstruction in continuity.”

Huffold considered this information, and remembered that Marian had a habit of lapsing sporadically into her native Afrikaans when nervous. “But....”

“It seems that our rogue has spent some time with the ship’s computer programming manuals. She set up several data road blocks, seemingly attempting to keep us from our remote access agenda. They are simple, yet very effective, just the kind of thing that you would expect someone who learned from a teksboek , a....textbook? Yes, a student, to do. That’s the problem.”

Huffold frowned slightly, not liking that there was another issue just as things had seemingly been resolved. “I’m sure you will ‘splain.”

“Programmers and hackers have to move fast to keep up with new techniques, so are fluid and creative, quickly abandoning the basic forms they learn in school to things that are more practical in the real wereld. These blocks and reroutages are troublesome because they are simple, and no one who has been out of school for two or three years is familiar with them. There are a few college instructors we keep on a list for consults, and I have sent messages to them. However....” Marian turned towards her monitor.

Huffold stood, waiting patiently while internally exploring solutions.

“This is new.” She pointed to a block of code on her screen. “This is unlike all the rest of the Safe’s programming, but definitely done by her. It is malleable and slippery, and attempts to bypass or define it have failed so far. But, we have only started, and I predict that we will have probed its geheime, its secrets, within the day.”

Huffold nodded and left her to her work, returning to his office under the weight of a new complication. Calling up a still frame of the Safe’s face from the Freya’s initial feed to his wall monitors, the Director looked at her placid features carefully, studying them.

“Celia, what have you done?”


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