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.
The streets were busier than before. Messengers were running back and forth, likely carrying more orders, and a crowd of maintenance programs were running toward the Information Control Center. Security seemed to have eased up on the area, but the crowd was still jam-packed. No way through. Erik knew he would have to wait until the crowd lessened slightly before he could make a move, so he snuck into the alley where he’d left the enslaved program.
Luckily it was still there. Erik commanded it to run back to the ship, not telling it what it was running to, just giving directions. Erik watched it run, then slipped safely into the shelter of the alley, sneaking periodic peeks at the crowd. As he waited, he thought carefully about his next moves. The only way he could affect the fleet as a whole was through the ICC. That was where all the orders came to and went from. That didn’t mean he had to strike there to affect ships, just that he had to be precise when attacking anything else.
Erik pulled out another hand grenade and popped it open, The charge on it was set to hit a wide area, but Erik wanted to leave the flagship itself untouched to hide his tracks better. A few ships here and there getting misdirection or steering problems could be accounted for by internal issues on those ships. Problems on the flagship, though... Whether the enemy chalked it up to internal errors or not, there would be a tight sweep of the ship’s computer for the problem. Even he might not be able to hide from whatever the Conglomerate used to investigate.
Erik dialed down the charge, removing some of the “black powder” in the weapon to lower the spread. He wanted this bomb to attack a single target, not coat half the street in tar. After reassembling the grenade, he picked out a passing messenger boy who seemed to be heading away from the ICC, and lobbed the grenade. It struck the messenger in the chest and exploded, covering him and his message bag in tar.
The hit stunned the messenger. Erik used the time to close the twenty feet between them and grab the messenger’s bag. He then ran to another alley and opened the bag, pulling out the pristine document within. He slipped the glasses on and read, his translator working overtime to get everything right. Most words were readable, and the few that weren’t didn’t seem important: these were orders on course corrections for one of the ships, just as Erik had hoped.
Erik figured that this one ship would have to wait while the messenger stood frozen and finally went back for more orders. He took his time and read closely, grinning to himself at the thought of another ship unwittingly crashing into its companion because orders had not come. When he had finished reading, Erik leaned against the wall and slid to a squat, readying his fabricator kit to alter these orders to apply to another ship. All he needed was a name.
Conglomerate names were difficult to understand. There were more races in the nation than a person had fingers and toes, and the names their ships took often reflected that diversity. The target ship for these orders had been called the Felenor’s Revenge. Something from some race’s myth book, Erik thought, but he couldn’t pin it down to any he’d heard of. He knew he’d either have to get into the ICC for the fleet’s manifest or he’d have to leave the computer system to do a name check by eye and telescope.
Taking a quick glance at the crowded ICC, and seeing that the traffic jam was not letting up, Erik walked out, straight for the connection to the Sight. Hitting the intercom button, Erik asked Captain Hargrove, “Can you show me the names on those ships? I have an order sheet I can dummy orders on to keep messing with the enemy, but I need to make the orders semi-plausible to make this work.”
Hargrove shunted the telescope feed to Erik’s view screens and panned the sensors around to give Erik a limited look. While he was watching, Erik thought about what he had gained from the mission so far. He had a messenger program, which he knew he could hack and probably clone, and he had the data format for enemy orders, which he was positively sure he could manipulate to give whatever orders he wanted.
If he could just give the programs to the hackers on the other Cannon Sight ships, they could wage a full information war and destroy the enemy fleet — or at least hold them in this star system for more volleys from the Warp Cannons. That was a good plan, if he could copy the programs.
Erik watched every ship he could see, looking to make out the names. Amoeboid script was the standard written language for all common documents in the Conglomerate; translation was being done on the spot by the same program Erik had morphed into cyberspace sunglasses.
Erik noted names and locations, marking them with his cursor so another program could database them for later. “Captain, can you keep an eye on those ships and feed the view to my computer so it can keep me up to date on the fleet’s movements?”
Hargrove always marveled at how Erik could be a complete insubordinate one minute, but respect rank the instant the mission needed him to ask for something. “Consider it done, Hacker.”
While classed as Naval personnel, outside hackers that had been brought in as an alternative to jail time were given their own rank, keeping them subordinate to their mission commanders but persona non grata to everyone not involved.
“Thanks, Captain. Now it’s time for me to work.” Erik turned off the intercom and started cracking into the messenger program, copying it three times to give the other ships their own tools, just as he did with the message, with his portion of the fleet data.
It only took fifteen minutes to copy everything, then he clicked the intercom back on. “Captain, can you open communications with the other Sights? I want to share something with their hackers.”
“It’ll be a few minutes, Hacker. I have to maneuver us into a straight line of sight with them. I’ll let you know when we’re ready.”
“Thank you, Captain.” Erik sat tight, watching his screens and gladly noting his database was continually updating with ship names and locations as Sight number one moved around. New ships that had been hidden from them where they had been sitting were now being noted and tagged for further tracking. Luckily the sights were small enough to hide in the belt, so as long as none of them moved too fast, they could blend in with the asteroids and avoid detection.
Hargrove piloted expertly between the rocks floating around him, thanking God he’d had two years of specialized training before this mission had come up. Hargrove had always been fascinated by starships. He’d taken infantry assignments because the Navy had had every pilot’s slot filled at the time he’d joined the military. Infantry had been a better job than he’d originally thought it would be, but the star fleet was what he was born for.
Spotting one of the Sights in the distance ahead, Hargrove dropped the ship into an empty space between two asteroids and opened up a line of sight communications array. He flipped on the intercom and gave Erik the go-ahead. “How long will it be?”
“Just give me twenty seconds, Captain. That’ll get these toys into their new owner’s hands.”
Hargrove sat back and took in the view. He had to do the barest movements to keep his ship in place, but by now that was instinctual. His focus was mostly taken up with watching the other ships in the region.
Multiple career changes were common in the empire, and Hargrove figured by the end of this war he was going to be done with piloting, at least combat piloting. He wasn’t sure where he’d go next, either into commercial shipping, or better yet... starship design. The end of the war was going to see a whole new age in ship designing, considering the Empire was intent on fighting to the Conglomerate’s dissolution.
Shifting his thoughts back to the task at hand, Hargrove caught Erik’s short, “I’m finished,” message and started scouting around for the other two Sights. He found them both and repeated the process, thinking about what wonders might be uncovered once Conglomerate ships were captured after the war. Or even before that, once the Captain remembered what was being transferred to the other Sights. Programs, programs that could be rewritten for use in a capture mission.
Once the last of the files was transferred, Hargrove maneuvered back into a safe place from which to view his portion of the enemy fleet and made sure Erik got all the information he needed. He went back to waiting, something most soldiers hated as the worst part of the job.
Hargrove didn’t mind the wait. He just let the patterns of information flow past his eyes, flitting them back and forth from screen to screen. He kept his mind compartmentalized, most of it free to wander but aware enough to notice any changes that popped up.
Hargrove watched as a ship titled Felenor’s Revenge was rammed by another ship. Upon realizing that Erik had had to get that command sheet from somewhere, Hargrove thought, Way to go, Erik. Scratch one more bogey. Erik must have stolen the orders for the stalled Revenge and given them to the other Sights. Now they just needed to figure out how to keep the rest of the fleet off balance for as long as possible.
For the moment, that was Erik’s job, so Hargrove settled back in his seat and let his mind wander back over his last time in command...
Copyright © 2013 by James Bright