Monday, 12 November 2012

Part four: intrusion


The refined ore transporter fired a couple of manoeuvring jets as it's on-board AI adjusted to enter the orbit of Ceres. It curved around the massive asteroid, preparing to use it as a gravitational slingshot onto its next way-point. As was usual around extensively mined asteroids, there was a mish-mash of debris in orbit around Ceres, but the transporter's front shielding allowed it to pass through without concern for impacts. At the Lagrangian point between Ceres and the distant sun the debris was a little thicker, the diffused light picking out the occasional metallic edge of some long forgotten waste from a previous mining mission. As the transporter broke through the trash field, a couple of pieces of the metallic scrap bumped and scraped down the hull before coming to rest against in a small nook where the storage section joined to the bulbous ion drive at the rear of the ship. Resting here the discarded scrap offered no real threat to the transporter. The AI noted that it wasn't blocking any vital ports and would most likely be dislodged in the next acceleration phase. The external monitoring programme clicked off as the transporter prepared to leave Ceres orbit.

After a few minutes, one of the pieces of scrap moved.

The other swore. 

"You cool, Milton?" the smaller piece of scrap asked over their secure channel.
"Ripped my fucking thigh case clean off, lucky it wasn't my whole fucking leg. Surely there's an easier way to do this" grumbled Milton, the larger piece of scrap. 
"You got a better way to fool the proximity sensors, let the captain know. Anything important in the case?" an arm emerged from the smaller piece of scrap, pushing away a jagged piece of metal that was obstructing her visor and upper torso. 
"I still don't get why we can't just blow a hole in the fucking side and take what we want, stop all this dicking around. You've got the other hand terminal, right?" Milton kicked away a bent piece of carbonite away, the leg of his vac-suit displaying a jagged scar where the thigh case had been, the flimsy inner lining flexing slightly in the vacuum. 
"If you can pull a rocket or two out of your ass and get past the drone defence, then be my guest. Until then, we do it this way. And yeah, I got a terminal" a vac-suited figure had by now emerged from the small piece of scrap. With the transporter starting to accelerate, she was able to walk across the protrusion of the engine shielding to her colleague, help him detach from the rest of the debris that had been tacked to his suit. 
"Cheers Nita" Milton said, emerging from the debris, "so, where do we make entry then?" 
"Bout 15 metres up there" Nita pointed up the body of the ship, that loomed over them like a skyscraper, "Need to get a move on. The acceleration picks up much more and our e-clamps won't hold". She produced a couple of devices from the case on her back. Looking like shiny metal sink plungers, they clipped to her hands. Leaning forward, they clamped onto the body of the ship, while her feet found purchase in the small gaps between hull sections. Nita began to climb. 
"I said we should have intercepted sooner." Milton produced his own e-clamps and followed Nita up the hull, grunting slightly with the effort. 
"Captain Chen got word that the congloms been fixing upgraded scanners to these rust buckets, didn't want to risk the intercept with less debris to cover our approach" She stopped to look back at Milton "Do you ever pay attention at the briefings?"
"I hear boffins chatting shit and I drift off. So shoot me" 
"We'll both be drifting off if we ain't inside the transporter soon" Nita had reached a small hatch, holding on via one e-clamp while she fiddled in her back case with the other. She produced the spare hand terminal and passed it to Milton. He connected to it a length of wire which finished in a needle about 20cm long.
"You got me a seal?" he asked.
"Just a sec" Nita produced another device from her back case. It looked like a small blade, but glowed blue while the handle had a digital display. She inserted the tip of the device into a small gap at the edge of the hatch, the blade changing from blue to green and back to blue. A section of plating next to the hatch popped up, steam quickly disappearing in the cold of the vacuum. "All yours"
Milton pushed the needle down into the seal located under the displaced plating, piercing the rubberised composite which ran around the edge of the hatch. 
"Ok, here we go" he said as the hand display blinked into life, lines of code scrolling up, none of which Milton understood. "Er, this normally take that long?"
Nita looked over his shoulder.
"They're running a new protocol, this should still crack it though. Get ready" she said.
Milton pulled out something that looked like a short handled spade from a holster on his back. That was because it was a short handled spade. He passed the hand terminal over to Nita, then put the blade of the spade at the edge of the hatch. 
"Any second" said Nita.
The hatch popped up, Milton slid the spade blade in, using it as a lever. Nita quickly pulled the needle from the seal and packed away the terminal. With a boot under the hatch, she helped Milton lift it a little further, then squeezed into the gap they'd made. Milton followed her down and the two pulled the hatch back down. The whole routine took less than ten seconds. 
"We good?" asked Milton. It was pitch black inside, no need for light on an AI run ship, but there was a slight glow from Nita's iris augment as she ran through the intrusion scripts. 
"Yeah, we're in clean"
"Thought the seal was never gonna pop, but that's got to be a record for hatch entrance when we finally got it open" lights flicked on across Milton's shoulders and helmet "Told you the spade would work good"
"Uh-huh. Lloyd notice you thieved it?" Nita's own lights came on.
"That fucking hippy? Not a chance. He just tried to sell me some cucumbers. Must have been wasted"
"Sure. So, ship plans says we head down that way" Nita pointed with her lights down the repair drone crawl space. It was a tight fit for the vac-suit clad humans, in a ship not designed with them in mind. Nor could they take the suits of for a little more wiggle room, as the ship ran with an internal vacuum. The seal around the hatch wasn't to maintain air pressure on the ship, rather it was shielding against electronic warfare - no cracks in the hull could be permitted lest an attack get through them to target the internal systems. The needle probe was a neat bypass, something not planned for by the ship building AI that constructed its vessels to withstand a larger scale electronic attack.   
"Ladies first" Milton gestured in mock deference.
It was an awkward journey as the gravity caused by the thrust slowly increased. They were crawling over tubes thick with heavily shielded cabling. The big transporters kept wireless data transmissions to a minimum, too easy to intercept. This also meant that the two intruders had to work their way to a central data node to carry out the mission, with Milton complaining all the way. 
"We nearly there yet?" he asked for the 16th time. Nita had been counting, teeth grinding a little harder at each repetition. 
"Just up ahead"
"You said that last time. Fuck me, gravity just hit 1.9g. Knew we should have intercepted sooner"
"Ok, we're here"
"Really? Where's the node?" Milton crawled alongside Nita. She pointed, with some effort, above them. 
"Through there" she said "We gotta cut through"
“Well, they don't call me the fastest plasma lance in space for nothing. No wonder Chen wanted me on board." Milton's mood lightened a little as he pulled the small cutting torch from around his left forearm. "Now this is proper man's work. None of that boffin shit. Where you want the cut"
"I've pinged you the overlay, use that"
"Aye aye" he saluted, then opened up the message from Nita; his iris augment projected a dotted line for a small hole onto the nano-carbonite above them. He went to work. Nita ran back through her intrusion scripts, but all still showed as green; the ship still didn't know they were there. 
"Be careful as you finish" she said as the glow of the plasma torch almost completed its circuit above them.
"I know how to cut, girl"
"You cut in 2.1g before? That carbonite disc you're cutting out right above our heads is gonna come down with a bang".
Milton grunted an acknowledgement and shuffled a little bit to the side. Nita crawled a little further down the crawl space. A few seconds later the carbonite crashed down, albeit silent in the vacuum. Milton gave a rueful thumbs up. Nita rolled her eyes, and edged back underneath the hole. 
"Climbing up is gonna be fun" said Milton, shuffling up next to her. 
"Indeed" even the effort of lifting her arms to the edges of the hole took a surprising amount of effort. Pushing over twice her body weight through the breach was going to be exhausting. But they needed to get hard-wired to the node. With a grunt of effort, she lifted her torso up, got her head through the gap, then her shoulders. It was a little easier when she could get her legs underneath and push with a bit more force. With a small woop, she rolled onto the floor of the node room. 
"What do I do?" asked Milton from back in the crawl space. 
Nita shook her head in frustration at his inability to pay attention to Chen's plans. Her neck quickly started to ache as a result of the movement. 
"Stay where you are"
The node was little to look at. Wire trunking erupted from its base, supporting on top the obelisk like mainframe. Nita remained on the floor, crawling to the node. Once there she could climb up it a little way, open up a small access panel, before slumping back down. Her iris display read 2.4g. She caught her breath for a minute or two, then pulled the hand terminal back out from her thigh case. Instead of a needle, she connected a data ribbon to it, then began that hard climb back up the node to the port. It took a couple of attempts, but she got the cable installed and the terminal once again came to life. 
Resting her head on some cable trunking and the terminal on her chest, Nita linked it up to her iris augment so as not to have to manipulate the terminal with an increasingly heavy hand. Data streams flowed as the scripts they'd developed burrowed into to the ship's management systems. The idea wasn't to wipe or take over the AI, as that would be noticed by the central control back on Earth. Instead the scripts were meant to influence the ship AI; an electronic guiding hand. 
The transporter rumbled.
"What was that?" asked an alarmed Milton.
"It's working" Nita couldn't hide the delight from her voice, "That was from the main-bay, the haulage drones have started up"
"About bloody time. Can we go now?"
"Soon, just need to cover our tracks"
"It's getting harder to breath. My lungs ache. HEY! What's that?"
"WHAT?" Nita looked round frantically, the only thing out of place was Milton's head poking up through the hole. 
"In the corner, behind you"
Nita couldn't turn her head round far enough, so put the terminal down on the floor and rolled on to her stomach. Behind her was a cupboard. 
"It's a cupboard" she said.
"But what is inside the cupboard, thicko?" 
"Next to a data node? Probably a fire suppression drone, or maybe a, oh" her heart sank.
"Exactly. We gotta get a picture for my collection" Milton was crawling through the hole.
"We haven't go time" she picked back up the terminal "We're done. Need to get to pick-up"
"Won't take a sec" Milton was crawling slowly towards the cupboard, complaints about aching lungs forgotten. "Common, throw the terminal over"
Nita grunted, part in frustration and part in effort as she reached up to unhook the data cable from the node. Throwing it proved impossible in the now 2.7g, so instead she pushed it towards Milton's foot, which he used to hook it towards an outstretched hand. 
"Which script I use?" he asked once the terminal was connected to a small port at the side of the cupboard. 
"Intrusion ver 3.2, should be the first option you get"
"Got it. Come to daddy" this spoken to the cupboard, which hinged open. 
Revealing a spyder,

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