Sunday, 11 November 2012

Part three: the first space pirate


Kel's stomach still groaned from the dodgy cucumber as he hid in an alcove on the main corridor, while Lloyd ran a bypass on the hatch lock - the lock that Chen had promptly installed after finding Kel snooping around his lair previously. 
"Got to give that boffin sod some credit, this lock has some nifty anti-intrusion software tacked on to it" said Lloyd, his voice echoing in the empty corridor. 
"Ssshhh" hissed Kel, wary of Chen returning, wary of his gun. 
They had left Chen with Delilah in the canteen, the female companion practically pouncing on the scientist as Chen emerged to grab some food. She'd abandoned her initially flirtations approach, Chen wasn't interested and Kel worried that the distraction wasn't going to work. Then Delilah surprised him, and more importantly, Chen, by launching into a worryingly well informed tirade on the positive role of the congloms in modern scientific research. Which was, of course, like a red rag to a bull for Chen who responded with an impassioned attack on the conglom economic and scientific model. Other's in the canteen looked on uncomfortably as the two argued. Delilah's surprisingly deep understanding of free market economics up against the scientist's model of a more equitable system. 
Kel couldn't help but laugh as he left the canteen to go and meet up with Lloyd. Delilah was a woman of sometimes alarming depth. He just hoped that depth could keep Chen occupied for long enough to find out what he was up to. 
With a beep, and then a clunk, the lock blinked off and the hatch swung open. Lloyd headed inside with a self-satisfied grunt, followed by Kel who gave a last nervous look down the corridor before stepping into Chen’s hastily assembled computer lab. 
The smell in the dank room had got worse since Kel was last there, but Lloyd seemed oblivious as he slipped into the displays projected by the powerful computer network, hands busy manipulating the data feeds. Kel didn't have a clue what was going on. He could barely manage his own iris augment, let alone stand at the centre of a powerful computer network using multiple displays which seemed to dance and spin around Lloyd. Charts were called up, replaced by video, or microscope feeds. Maps and equations popped into the air, then disappeared in a haze of other data. 
"Oh, fuuuuuck" Lloyd said after a couple of minutes.
"What?" demanded Kel.
"Look" urged Lloyd. In front of Kel popped into existence an image of Europa, those familiar cracks on the otherwise smooth surface of the moon slowly orbiting in front of him. 
"Europa. So what?"
"Just look" Lloyd spoke with a seriousness that Kel hadn't heard before. 
The image of Europa span faster, then zoomed on a smaller section of the moon above which a small cartwheel like shape slowly turned. 
"That us?" Kel reached a hand up, to try and touch the image, but it just went straight through, the air he'd disturbed sending dust particles spinning in the light projected by the image. 
"Uh huh, now check this out" a red dotted line started to arc away from the loop habitat. The image that Lloyd had called up shifted to track the red line as it curved in towards the moon's surface. Down it went, through the magnetosphere, through the thin atmosphere, the dotted line tracked into towards a collection of buildings on the moon's surface. The line pierced them and the image flashed red, the light casting eerie shadows around the room they were in. 
"Er, I'm not sure what I'm watching" wondered Kel uncertainly.
"He's going to fuck the new factory"
"Fuck it hard"
"Lloyd, what's he going to do?" Kel was starting to get scared.
"The mad bastard is going to use my scripts to get something on board the supply ship"
“That's what you said earlier, before the fancy graphics and, you know, swearing"
“Yeah, except then I didn't think the something would actually be him"
"I don't follow" said Kel "He's going to steal the ship? Head back Earth-wards? But he had the opportunity to go back with the rest of his science team and rejected it?" 
"He ain't going back to Earth. All this fancy equipment is modelling an impact path" Lloyd ran a hand down his face and exhaled.
"A what?"
"He ain't a pilot and you can't just tell the AI where to go, so he's gonna wipe the ship control and add in his own flight path"
"Can we go back to explaining the 'impact' bit"
"He's gonna send the ship straight into the new conglom factory"
"That was my reaction" said Lloyd.
"So what do we do? You can wipe the flight plans, right?" Kel's mind was racing .
"Sure, but don't you think that's gonna piss off the grumpy guy with the gun?" Lloyd's moved nervously, the images around him flickered. 
"I think it probably would" said Chen.
Kel and Lloyd jumped, turning towards the hatchway in unison. The hatchway in which Chen stood in front of. With his gun raised. 
"I paid you good money to install this with no questions asked Lloyd" Chen pointed his gun at the now shivering systems analyst.
"Chen, what are you hoping to achieve here?" Kel was surprised at how calm he felt in asking such a direct question to a suicidal nut case with a gun. 
Chen swung his gun round to Kel, who promptly realised that the feeling of calmness was inversely proportional to having a gun aimed at him. 
"The congloms only seem to understand the seriousness of a situation when they see it on their balance sheets. And so I am finally going to get heard" 
"By pretty much nuking the new facility?" Kel had unconsciously raised his hands, as if this was some kind of primitive stick up. 
"That's about the sum of it" Chen nodded slowly. "Look, Kel, Lloyd, I don't want to drag you in to this, don't want to hurt you. But you must understand that you are currently standing between me and the final act of my life's work" he traced the gun back and forth between them. 
"Th...that' I w....was....just...l...leaving....anyway" stammered Lloyd.
"What then?" Kel's face hardened.
"What?" Chen irritatedly swung back to the companion.
"What happens after your 'life's work' is complete?" asked Kel "You think the congloms are gonna turn round and say 'maybe that nut case had a point after all - let's bring back the science budget?'" Kel's impression of a conglom exec caused Lloyd to give him a puzzled look. 
"I don't care what they do, I just want to show them that their money driven decisions have a tangible impact on their oh so important bottom line" Chen spoke through gritted teeth.
 Lloyd looked over at Kel with a look that said stop pissing off the mental,  but Kel ignored him.
"You don't care about what happens to Europa; to the loop; to us?"
"I'm beginning to care less and less the more and more you ask stupid questions" the gun was clearly aimed at Kel's head.
"What's going to happen after you destroy the factory?" Kel ignored the gun "What do you think the Congloms will do? Maybe go to all the expense of shipping us back to Earth from the loop to ensure a completely transparent enquiry as to what went wrong up here? Or maybe have a much cheaper accident at the o2 unit, forget we ever existed and send the drones back to rebuild the factory?" Kel raised his eyebrows in enquiry. 
"I, er, they wouldn't do that, er, would they?" for the first time doubt flashed across Chen's face. 
"You're not thick Chen. You know how the congloms think, you just haven't worked it all through. Your dumb move here costs us all. What's worse is that it doesn't get you anywhere. Maybe that microbe they named after you gets changed. But maybe also the congloms never send a scientist anywhere ever again. It just isn't VFM if the guys in white coats occasionally go mental and blow up a trillion dollars worth of factory facility" 
"Fuuuuuck" Chen exclaimed, rubbing his forehead with the gun.
"That's what we said" Lloyd's stammer had gone; even his drug addled mind could see the tide of the conversation turn. 
"I can't go on like this though" the gun was waving around as Chen spoke "Trapped up here, most of the labs off limit, the sub ice science facility destroyed"
Kel smiled. Partly because an idea was forming in his mind, but also because Delilah was now creeping up behind Chen hefting what looked like a large steel pipe. 
"It's ok Delilah" he said. Chen whirled round, but Delilah was too quick; with something approaching a fight hardened nonchalance she batted the gun out of his hand.
"You want me to brain this nut job?" she hefted the pipe above Chen, who was rubbing his hand.
"No. I've got an idea" Kel smile grew wider.
"What?" Chen almost spat the word.
"Well. We've got a supply ship coming in that you're all set to board and wipe the AI. We've got a habitat loop full of technical specialists all but forgotten by the congloms. We've got a room full of high-tech scientific apparatus" Kel indicated around them "And you've got a wish to piss off The Man" he nodded at Chen. 
"So?" but Chen's looked showed that he was beginning to follow Kel's thinking.
"We can wipe that ship from the conglom consciousness right?" he asked Lloyd "Make them forget the supply ship ever existed?"
"Er, sure, why not" Lloyd definitely wasn't following Kel's thinking.
"So, we have a ship, a crew and a vendetta" said Kel, counting fingers "Ladies and gentlemen, I give you the solar system's first space pirate" he saluted Chen. 
"But I start screwing with their shipments, then you still might end up with that o2 accident?" Chen was trying to find cracks in Kel's thinking.
"You play it smart. Use the kit you've got built here to screw them a little at a time. You take out a factory in one go, they get pissed off. The occasional shipment drone goes missing, who notices? But it all adds up. Plus, you sell the stuff via here and we all get a little slice"
"15%" said Delilah.
"What?" asked Kel, caught off guard.
"We get a 15% slice of the proceeds. Call it a technical assistance fee" her eyes had lit up; the next stage towards world domination for the fearsome companion. 
"Uh, sure" said Kel.
"Ok" said Chen.
"Cooooool" said Lloyd

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