by James Bright
In a distant future, Capt. Richard Hargrove and a computer technician, Erik Johansen, are on an interstellar scouting mission. Hargrove had commanded an expedition in which Erik’s older brother, Roger, was killed two years earlier. Hargrove blames himself for Roger’s death, but Erik sees it rather differently. In the end, loyalties must come to terms with justice.
Erik the computer program shifted into a little-used alley, most likely an obsolete server. The Conglomerate tended to leave obsolete programs and servers inside their ships after periodic upgrades, just in case they found someone who could break their new systems. It was redundant, but in space it was always good to have back-ups. Sometimes, though, those back-ups could harbor hostiles, and that’s just what Erik counted on.
Erik spent time observing the passers-by from his dark corner. The simulators were set up to approximate the functions of the enemy programs through the clothes they wore. Simple programs with little communication value always wore streamlined clothing that wouldn’t hide much. Erik needed space to store his weapons, and he watched to see which program he needed to copycat in order to have enough room.
Humanity wasn’t the first enemy the Conglomerate had made, but so far humans were the most reliant on computer warfare. The others tended toward brute force and honor combat, which the Conglomerate had obliged by using masses of infantry bugs — or Crickets — to counter. They hadn’t yet caught up to humanity’s hacking habit, and their security programs were primitive. Hence, when Erik chose to come out of hiding, he was dressed as a service program with enough pocket space to hide the tools of his trade.
There were several street signs in various places of the city, but Erik couldn’t read them since they were written in Amoeboid electric script. Luckily, the Navy knew some of the language, and Erik had been gifted a translator program for the mission. He ducked into another alleyway with a better view of some of the signs and slipped on the translator sunglasses to read them. No use making himself obvious; the glasses were not standard issue for Conglomerate service programs.
Erik read off the signs one by one. Knowing only a little of the language, he couldn’t be certain of what he was reading, but he could pick out the general idea of each sign. Life support left, Information Control Center right. There were other tags on the signs, but he went with what he could read. Information Control was the best place for now. Erik walked calmly out of the alley as if everything were perfectly normal and walked toward the ICC.
As he rounded the corner, Erik tensed up slightly inside. He’d expected security to be centered there, and he’d just confirmed his suspicions. The simulator had chosen to put up a military roadblock to signify an anti-virus program, and this one looked semi-formidable. A pair of pillboxes lined the road with twin machine guns inside each, pointed at anyone passing by, and each program was asked for its reason for passing by an armed guard. Erik found himself at an impasse. He couldn’t turn back without being noticed, but if he went forward without a stated purpose — the guard was shown papers by each program passing — he’d probably be kicked out of the computer, or find his program shot to pieces.
On the off-chance he could bluff his way out, Erik stood straight and marched in line with the others, waiting his turn at the guards. He couldn’t very well waste his weapons here, or he’d tip off the enemy commanders too soon and probably fail getting anywhere else in the system. Perhaps he could fake routine damage and get turned around to maintenance instead? He reached in his standard issue bag for a synthesizing program and set it to copy papers.
When his turn came up, Erik acted as submissive and obedient as the rest of the service programs, but when asked for his papers he pulled out a quickly dummied up set of torn-up sheets, saying they had been damaged in transit. He’d been able to supply enough of the language to make the papers look legit under the damage, and the security drones accepted them. They turned Erik back the way he’d come to get a replacement set of orders. Apparently this type of damage was common in these computers.
Erik ducked back into the alley he’d come from and thought about what to do next. He decided he’d have to have real orders to get by. He settled on the ground and pulled out a laptop. He used a small Infrared laser guide to target a nearby program, hacking into its brain to direct it to come to him. They might look like people, but these things were still programs. They could be hacked at any time.
As the program walked toward Erik, he put away the laptop and ordered the newly enslaved “person” to hand him its papers. It did so. Erik told it to wait for him there, which it did obligingly. Erik walked back to the ICC road, and handed his new papers to the guards, after having doctored them as best he could to match the false ones he’d invented before. The soldier read over the sheets cursorily, just checking to make sure the i’s were dotted and t’s were crossed, before handing them back to Erik, waving him through.
Once past the guards, Erik wasted no time finding a hide-away. He put the glasses back on, reading the signs in the area. He passed the records and ship’s information centers with barely a look. Later on there would be time for that. Right now, he needed to locate Tactical and see what kind of fleet data they had. He needed to know whether he’d hit the flagship or not.
The fourth side-street mentioned the words “Tactical Center” and Erik headed there. He’d already translated the orders he carried well enough to know he’d gotten lucky; this was where his new slave had been headed.
In the shorter line to pass the Tactical security point Erik had time to think about what he’d do. It wouldn’t be the first program he’d pulled from a computer and kept for his own use, and it might be beneficial to the Space Navy to have such a program on file. The question was whether he could pull it off without letting the enemies know he was in their system, or worse, allowing them to track him back to the Sight.
A plan unfolded in his mind as he walked in line, but he shoved it to the back burner for the moment as his turn came at a new checkpoint. He put on the same act as before and passed the security point without incident. Then he walked purposefully through the Tactical Information Center and looked for the signs of a fleet command post. It only took him a minute of walking to discover what he was looking for, and a ghost of a smile touched his lips. Bingo.
Erik walked purposefully over to the Fleet Command center, pulling out a small “spam” bomb that would temporarily overload the two security guards outside the center. One thing the enemies hadn’t figured out was that as you got closer to sensitive information the more security you should post, rather than relying on successive layers to keep out hostiles. This had been the post he had been reserving his first strike for, and he used it to good effect: the bomb coated the guards in sticky black tar — unimportant data that kept them in the dark while Erik worked.
Erik marched right into the Center and stepped out of traffic, letting other programs pass by. The tar was semi-normal to any computer; all programs got bombarded with unimportant data that was usually filtered out before becoming noticeable. There would be a little time before his trick was found, as long as no one else came in to do noticeable damage before he was done.
The one great feature of the translation glasses was that they learned by doing; the more Erik used them, the more they understood. By now he could understand basic ideas and speak pidgin Amoeboid, though it was only enough to tell him general directions. That was fine by him; he’d been briefed on the first three planned volleys of the Warp Cannons. With the information he could gather here, he’d know enough Amoeboid by landing time to direct ships into the warheads’ paths.
Erik spammed the “clerks” in the Center before copying as many files as he could into his bag for translating. After that, he scrambled the different orders for the fleet, hopefully sending ships careening through space into each other. Then Erik backed out and walked calmly to his entry street, not needing orders to go the other way since security was more worried about programs’ entering the command centers than leaving them.
Once out of the secure sections, Erik lost himself in the crowd of programs and made his way out, unplugging himself from the enemy computer to report to Hargrove what he’d done inside the system.
“Hmm. Not bad. We won’t know the effects except by watching, so pull up the view screen and let’s see what happens.”
Erik sat back and watched the fleet’s movements as they tried to regroup after warp drive. No one, not even the Conglomerate, had been able to correct navigation errors, so it was a rare thing for a fleet to come out of warp in perfect formation. Add to the usual warp distortions the battle damage from the first volley, and the Conglomerate fleet was having a hell of a time regrouping for their final warp jump to the human frontier.
Add in the mixed-up orders that Erik had planted and there were a large number of mid-space collisions, some of which turned whole ships into debris fields that yet more ships collided into. Overall there was little damage to the fleet as a whole, but it took time and effort to sort out what was happening, and orders had to be sent individually to ships to keep them on track. It cost the Conglomerate ships time they didn’t have, and bought the Empire time it desperately needed to line up more shots and cause more chaos.
Erik watched with slight pride the small amount of damage he’d wrought. His satisfaction was dwarfed by the certainty that he needed to keep going back for more attacks. After all, if mixing up orders had done this little bit of damage, it was going to take a bigger stick to poke this fleet into mass suicide. With determination to keep at it, Erik spoke up. “I’m headed back in.” Without waiting for an answer he slapped the viewers back on his eyes and plugged himself back into the flagship’s computer.
Copyright © 2013 by James Bright