Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Safe, Part XIII

Captain Huffold slammed the button on the keypad, muting communications. He realized he’d lost his temper as confused techs from around the room began to swivel their gaze towards him, awaiting orders on what to do next. He took a breath, composed himself, and got up from his chair. “Please divert the feed to my private channel. Hold off on informing Chairman Sollart of the recent developments. I’d like to get a better handle on this situation before we notify him.”

Huffold made his way to his personal suite and wondered how Celia was able to overcome the sedative so quickly. This mystery reminded him of a similar series of questions he had when he’d first learned of Celia’s premature awakening. He’d hurried to his suite, confused but eager to speak with the Keeper. The two had sniped comments back and forth, and during these conversations Robert had to work hard to keep his anger under control; it remained obvious that Celia had the upper hand. He made a mental note not to telegraph his emotions while talking to her.

His suite’s main screen flickered on and he was surprised to see Celia naked from the waist up, fastening the Velcro band on the front of her pants. She must have noticed the transmission light become active on her camera because she quickly turned her back to the lens and began pulling on a long sleeved shirt. “Sorry, Robert. I’m not giving away any more free shows. During my journeys through this ship’s logs, I’ve taken notice to your frequent spying on me through the video feeds. You’re a curious person, aren’t you?”

“Surely you can understand that we must keep tabs on you. You’re very important to us.”

The Safe seated herself in the med bay chair and looked directly into the camera. Her stare, digitized and transmitted across the light years, made its way directly into Robert’s eyes. Though she looked straight ahead, her right hand buzzed over a keypad attached to a machine that was slightly out of frame. Robert noticed that her robot denizens were retreating, one by one, until finally she was alone in the large room. A light veil of smoke hung in the air, leftover from the machines’ welding work on the door.

“Oh, of course,” Celia answered sarcastically. “So important that I simply exude behavioral data, even while in the shower…but, you’re the government employee and I’m simply the village idiot, so what do I know?”

He paused, embarrassed that she’d learned of his frequent invasions into her privacy. “I assure you that we only have your safety and the safety of our colonists at heart.”

“Ahh, yes,” she tapped her right temple with her index finger. “The colonists. All safe and sound.”

Huffold sensed the scorn in her voice. So far she had lied, schemed, and commandeered a colony ship. In short, she’d bested him at every turn. Was she lying now? He needed to find out if the colonists were alright. “Are they? Can you assure me of that? Perhaps if you’d extend a sign of good faith and let my people inspect the Stasis Chamber, they can survey the extent of…”

She cut him off. “Not a chance, Robert. I’m keeping an eye on our new friends. No doubt they have a few of your tricks up their sleeves. There is no way I will grant them access to the chamber. They will see only what I want them to see.”

He shifted his weight in the chair and became alarmed at Celia’s confidence. Her eyes still gazed into the camera while both her hands were now busy, flitting over unseen keypads. Suddenly, an item on one of her screens caught her attention and she looked away.

“I see you’ve started to regain control of my ship,” she said with a raised eyebrow. “Nice try, Robert,” she said coldly. “You must have some pretty smart cookies on your side. Too bad for you I’m smarter.” After a few more seconds of quick keystrokes, she said “Ahh, here we are,” and emphatically tapped the keypad. Huffold saw a text-based message blaze into view in a display near his viewscreen.

“Hub Control of Cornucopia transmission module has been lost.”

He heard the din from the control room through the door of his suite; the techs were going nuts. At least five additional viewscreens sprang to life around him, each showing an unnerving amount of red text. Breaking Celia’s stare, he scanned the incoming information and inhaled sharply. Somehow, Celia had bested Marian’s team and forced an override of the newly-formed remote access they’d established over the Cornucopia. The Hub control had been slowly winning the fight, bringing the more and more of the colony ship’s systems under their control; all of those connections were now being severed with blinding speed.

“Celia! Please, stop! Why are you doing this? What are you trying to accomplish?” he said, exasperated.

She blinked and smiled slowly, reveling in her newly regained power. “So many questions. But as I said before, it’s my turn to ask.” Getting up from the med bay chair, she approached the camera and lowered her voice.

“First, let me ask you Robert…are we on an encrypted channel?”

Wondering what she was playing at now, Huffold answered, “Yes. This is a private conversation.”

“Very good. What I’d like to speak to you about is designated Level Eight confidential by Hub Command. I don’t think you’d want any of your techies hearing this. Nor do I think Chairman Sollart would approve of you learning his secrets.”

Robert’s heartbeat quickened. Level Eight clearance was the very definition of ‘top secret’, information privy only to heads of state and chairmen of the various global governmental branches.

“You’ve penetrated Hub command’s mainframe?” he asked. Prior to this moment, Robert knew he was dealing with a heightened intelligence, a brilliant mind. The sheer impossibility of her hacking into a Level Eight system demonstrated that he’d underestimated her.

Another smile. “It was difficult, but the spoils proved to be worthwile.” She was close to the camera lens now, her simple beauty nearly filling his monitor.

“Captain, earlier you asked about my motives, what I’m trying to accomplish. I do not wish to reveal my grand designs just yet. However, what I’m about to speak of may provide you with some insight.”

Huffold was confused, excited. “I’m listening, Celia.”

In a near-whisper, she said “Robert, have you ever heard of something Project Kurzweil?”

His eyes darted around his desk as he kicked the term around in his brain. “No, I can’t say that I have,” he answered truthfully.

“Not surprising,” she answered with a nod. “The only people that knew about it were the five scientists that worked on the project, our former Chancellor O’Brien (may he burn in hell), and the project manager – a young go-getter by the name of Charles Sollart. Learn as much as you can about this project and perhaps you will understand what I’m doing with your fantastic ship.”

The transmission ended, leaving Robert staring at a blank viewscreen.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Safe, Part XII

After all the work hours that the comm and tech teams had logged in an attempt to rectify the nearly complete unhinging of the Cornucopia’s mission, Huffold felt that he had no right at all to keep them from viewing the Safe’s initial interview in real time. The Director felt it a fitting reward, and knew that he wasn’t the only one on staff with a healthy curiosity about what she might have to say after being brought out of sedation. Security leaks were considered a non-issue, as he and Chairman Sollart reckoned that if the general public were going to hear about the Hub’s problems with their colony ship then they would have by now. As far as the world--and more importantly, their financial backers--knew, everything was right on schedule.

Still, though, Huffold was sitting erect, spine straightened and tense, at his desk terminal in the back of the ops room. He was taking pains to appear calm but could feel his pulse racing underneath the pristine stiffness of his work uniform. For all the difficulties that had arisen on this ‘routine’ expedition, it seemed as though the Hub had overcome almost all the major challenges without significant difficulty......and yet, his uneasiness lingered.

There was still the mystery of Celia’s lab activity, and the brand new block of computer code that had thus far remained unidentified. Despite Marian’s confidence, the Safe’s new-found technical prowess had produced a bit of programming that had so far defied all endeavors to crack the thing open. The techs had made some progress, however--they could see what ship’s systems the enigma was tied in to--although specifics about its function could still only be guessed at. Auxiliary power, atmospheric navigation, main life support, and the hydroponic grow rooms all had virtual pipelines coming out of the code and tapping in to their control mainframes. The best the team had been able to do was to install cut off subroutines that would engage if the code was activated--that way at least the damn thing wouldn’t be able to access the ship’s functions it appeared to be targeting or tied in to, and perhaps in doing so they could isolate it for dismantling at their convenience.

“Director?” Huffold was brought of his reverie by his assistant, Spooner, and there was a tautness present that could only mean one thing.


“Lt. Asad reporting that the Safe is returning to consciousness.”

“On screen.” Spooner nodded and swiveled his chair back to front, then inclined his head meaningfully towards another tech. Her fingers glided over her terminal’s keyboard, activating the main viewing screen--and bringing up a live feed from the video surveillance of the Cornucopia’s med deck. All eyes were drawn immediately to the slender woman presented in the center of the monitor.

The Safe was seated in a large exam chair, with torso, legs, arms, and ankles bound by sturdy leather restraints. Another strap circled her neck, but this one had more slack to it, and provided support and restriction of movement without compromising the woman’s ability to breathe. Celia’s head was slumped forward, face partially obscured by tendrils of hair that had come loose from her braid. Lt. Samir Asad could be seen on the side of the display, arms crossed, and he held a look of enduring patience. Huffold could not at first locate Specialist Hawley, but a quick browse of the feed from the other cameras in the room showed her standing by the door, to the Safe’s rear left and out of her immediate visual range. Hawley was stationary, but tensed, and Huffold sensed the soldier’s readiness.

As the room watched, the bound woman’s finger’s twitched, then slowly flexed and curled in to fists. Relaxing again, tapered fingers gripped the chair’s arm rests as she cautiously turned her neck from side to side. Seeming to be satisfied that all parts were still intact, Celia raised her head up and blinked, eyes sweeping the room and finally focusing on Asad. She pursed her lips and blew some errants hairs from her face, then looked up at the camera as her viewers in the Hub watched, rapt. One side of her mouth twitched up in to a brief, sardonic smile, then the captive looked back at the lieutenant and sighed. She spoke, a short sentence too quiet for the microphones on the camera to immediately pick up. Before he could give the order, Huffold noticed Spooner flick a finger, pointing, at a man sitting a few seats to his side, and the tech swung in to action, putting in earphones and rewinding the feed on his personal terminal.

Huffold’s confusion at Celia’s behavior was interrupted a few moments later by a sharp exclamation from Marian, who was still working on decrypting the Safe’s bug.

Wat die hel?”

Lt. Asad did not know what to expect, so he had no expectations at all. After helping his partner move the Safe to the med deck and confining her, he had taken several moments to clear his mind for what could be a career-defining interview. For certain, he would be fed questions from the Hub, but he also had the latitude to direct the conversation with this rogue colonist in whatever direction seemed appropriate. He knew that she would awaken soon--the sedation patch had been removed after verifying that the straps were secure, and her return to consciousness was just a few moments away. As calm as he was trying to remain, Samir could not quench the jolt he received when their captive’s fingers twitched, then clenched in to fists. He bedded down his anxiousness and awaited her full revival.

Samir had already decided that he would wait for the keeper to speak first, and then guide the interview from there. However, her first words were entirely out of his realm of conjecture. She raised her head, looked around briefly, then green eyes locked onto his own and she all but whispered a short sentence, barely audible although he was only a few feet away.

“Will you take me to the fjords?”

Samir’s brow clenched in puzzlement, and he glanced briefly at Hawley, who stood by the med deck entrance. Her raised eyebrows offered no help, however, so he placed his attention back on Celia and was forming his reply when a whirring from the bulkheads around the room compelled a shift in attention.

“What the hell?”

Along the med deck’s walls and floors at intervals, small doors had opened and some of the Cornucopia’s maintenance bots were emerging. There was no clean up needed here, though, so their presence and purpose was a mystery--until an aerial drone, arc welder extended and sparking, emerged and accelerated directly at Samir’s head. Completely surprised, the Engineer barely had time to duck and swat at the thing as it reached him, grunting as the small bar of electricity scorched across the back of his hand. The drone wobbled, its flight interrupted, and bounced against a wall. Samir dropped to the ground and rolled on his shoulder, bounding up to a crouch while freeing his weapon from from where it was slung across his back. Sighting quickly, he targeted the drone that had come at him and fired two short bursts, severing a stabilizing wing and causing it to spin to the floor.

“Goddammit!” His partner’s voice came to Samir’s headset, and he risked a look that found her firing on the bots, as well. She was currently keeping the flying attackers at bay, but a ground-based assailant with articulated legs that ended in pinchers was working its way up her leg. Swearing again, Hawley smacked it several times with the butt of her rifle, eventually causing it to dislodge and fall to the floor. A quick thrust of her boot sent it skittering across the floor, damaged beyond operation--these bots were not meant for battle, of course. Samir lost conscious thought for a few more moments and relied purely on reaction and training, aiming and firing rapidly while moving closer to his partner and the door. Shoulder-to-shoulder, the Freya’s recovery team created a small bubble around them that was free of assault....but the bots were coming more quickly now, and there seemed to be no end to them. As he disabled another flyer--this one with double rotating saw blades--Samir would have given much to know how many service drones the colony ship could call on.

Celia sat calmly in the seat they had placed her in, attention divided between their struggle and a small automaton that was slowly but steadily using a pair of shears to cut through her leather restraints. She was smiling again.

“Retreat and regroup.” Hawley’s voice was firm, brooking no argument, so he kept pace with her as they backed out of the doorway, firing intermittently until Daniela slapped the control console, causing the doors to shut. She then keyed in a new code, one issued by the Hub that would lock them securely until the same code was entered again or an override command was transmitted by Huffold. The team then did a quick survey of gear, ammo, and injuries, and waited for orders.

The comm room watched in disbelief as the automated crew emerged and began attacking the team--and then freeing the Safe. As soon as Hawley and Asad were clear and shut the doors, two aerials began welding the seam on the door together, preventing any access short of blasting it open. Shortly thereafter, Celia was free of her bonds, and she calmly placed her rescuer on the floor where it waited like a puppy for another task. Sitting back in her chair and smoothing her hair and clothes, the renegade Safe once again looked back up at the camera that was providing the main feed to the Hub.

“Robert, if you have the time right now, I believe it’s still my turn to ask a question.”