Episode 29: The Scuttler Security Strike

Ensign Trell carefully connected the two wires, and the lights and gravity kicked on in the cramped closet. Captain Calen and Captain Ortega stopped holding themselves against the ceiling and Ortega switched off the flashlight in his space suit. Trell and Calen had been able to scavenge emergency respirators, while Ortega’s suit was built to provide sufficient oxygen in emergencies.

“I can’t connect to the oxygen from here,” said Trell through the respirator’s private channel. “But the gravity and lights should make it easier to work on reclaiming this vessel from the Soul Survivor.”

Ortega resisted the urge to comment on Trell’s use of Doctor Rogers’ assumed name. In the hours since Rogers had assumed control of Calen’s scuttler, it had become very clear that the two Morcalans had a different attitude toward that sort of thing than most of the branches of humanity that Ortega was familiar with. What he saw as enabling the delusions of a madman, they seemed to see as giving proper respect to a worthy competitor who had earned the right to declare certain interpretations of reality as valid.

“Excellent work, Ensign,” said Calen. “That’s three safehavens total for us.”

“I won’t feel completely safe on this ship with Rogers at the helm,” said Ortega. “Or without oxygen. Your respirators and my suit may provide air and short-range communications for us… communications which Rogers may work out how to hear, I’d like to add… but that’s just a temporary measure. If he can take the ship far enough away from civilization, our air supplies will run out in a matter of days, if that long. Or if he’s feeling particularly spiteful, he might just crash us into a passing asteroid, transfering back into his own robotic body.”

“We are all aware of the situation, Ortega,” said Calen. “You do not have to remind us of the tactical changes. We have been at death’s door since I brought life back to the Soul Survivor’s metal shell, but I refuse to let the situation grow so dark that we can’t celebrate our victories when they come.”

“Fair point,” said Ortega. “We still need to figure out our next step. We have our three little hideaways now, but we don’t have much more territory to reclaim that wouldn’t be out in the open.”

“These locations may be enough,” said Trell. “We can’t reach the oxygen from here, but we can tap into the control systems from each location. A manual override would be possible from any any of them, an off-the-books design feature installed in the event that a pirate took command of the ship. The Soul Survivor is more entrenched than a pirate who gains voice command authorization, of course, but from the three different locations we should be able to get our hands on navigation, oxygen, and most of the security features.”

“Well planned, Trell,” said Calen. “Your tactical and mechanical ingenuity again passes all the expectations of a mere ensign.”

“I expect full support from you in achieving a higher rank once we survive and dethrone Emperor Dyson, Captain,” said Trell. “Full support or an honor duel.”

“Of course, of course,” said Calen. “I’ll see you as a lieutenant in the War Engineers before my next commission, you have my word on this.”

“Once we do that, can we figure out where it is he’s taking the ship?” asked Ortega.

“Why?” asked Trell. “It should be easy enough to gain access to that kind of information, but with a Scuttler the odds of him getting out of the system are slim with Dyson’s forces on the watch. Even in ideal circumstances, it would be slow, and the only sensible place to go would be Morcala or to one of the major trade routes out of the system.”

“It’s probably nothing,” said Ortega. “He made a point of coming to Morcalan space, and staying here even when I knew how to find him. I’d like to know what his target was before I file my report when I make it back to the Astroguard.”

“The wealth of Morcala is vast,” said Calen. “It may have been for any number of relics or treasures, stored in the vaults or tombs of pirates and admirals.”

“It’s possible, but he’s never been one to be interested in material possessions,” said Ortega. “Regardless, the first priority is stopping him even if we can’t discover his motives.”

“Agreed,” said Calen. “And if he murders either of you once we go our seperate ways, know that I won’t rest until you’ve been avenged.”

***

Ortega entered Trell’s adaptive security code into the terminal. The code blinked worryingly for a moment, before the screen changed to reveal a security display.

“It recognized the code,” he said, hoping against hope that Doctor Rogers hadn’t yet figured out a way to eavesdrop on their communications. According to Trell’s information, all they would need would be success at a single terminal, but each success would make it easier.

“Understood,” said Trell’s voice, crackling through the speakers in his helmet. “Waiting to hear from the Captain.”

Ortega resisted the urge to say something in response, wanting to keep the communications to a minimum. Calen had opted for taking the longest route, the one that would position her at the hideaway immediately below the bridge in case they only gained a narrow window to act. Ensign Trell had entered her code before the two captains left, an initially tense moment where Ortega had been convinced that Rogers would notice their attempt to hack the computer and steal it back from him. Fortunately, nothing had happened then, or when his code had been entered.

According to the plan, the three would enter the codes to bring up the security interface display, and then they would all use the override codes from the different terminals. Theoretically, Trell could have tried that as soon as her first screen was opened, but an attack from three different directions would give them more chances for success in the event that Rogers had discovered any of the security holes designed to allow a crew to take back the scuttler in this fashion.

It was a longshot. Ortega knew from painful experience that Doctor Rogers was usually drawn to subterfuge or sabotage attempts faster than the averge megalomaniac when emotions weren’t making him irrational, so he knew that as soon as anyone entered a code they would be on a timer.

He almost couldn’t believe it that his code had worked without any real opposition or warning lights. Every moment he expected to hear Rogers’ voice saying something predictably menacing. “So that’s where you’ve been hiding,” or perhaps a simple “I have you now.” If Rogers was nearing the completion of some as yet unnoticed plan, there might be gloating along the lines of “Captain Ortega, you really shouldn’t make it so easy.”

“The Captain says that she’s entered the code,” said Trell over the comm channel. “We’re clear to begin.”

“Fantastic,” said Ortega. “Let Calen know how lucky we are. Typically he never lets something like this get by him.”

“Well, we’re not done yet,” said Trell. “Type the code, but don’t enter it until I give the signal so that it all happens at once.”

“Acknowledged,” said Ortega, quickly typing in the code. “And done. Let me know when.”

Ortega remained tense. A part of him wondered if Rogers had already discovered and dispatched the other two, and was merely imitating Trell’s voice to toy with him. That seemed too patient for the doctor, though. If they could go another thirty seconds without being noticed they would pull it off. They’d been incredibly lucky so far, but it wasn’t over yet. They’d have to work fast even if Rogers didn’t stop them, but they might just emerge victorious.

“Three seconds,” said Trell. Ortega readied his finger. “Two. One.”

Ortega entered the command and watched as the security protocols began to shift on the screen.

“Success here,” came Trell’s voice. The shifting hieroglyphs seemed to be taking their time. Ortega had a sinking feeling as he watched his screen shift and shake.

“The Captain reports success,” said Trell. “She’s already entering the bridge. How is it on your side of things?”

Ortega watched the final protocols initiate before the screen turned a pleasant green.

“Success,” he said. He felt worried. It shouldn’t have been this easy.

He quickly turned in the tiny hideaway, and pushed his way back into the access tube. He crawled quickly. There was no way that it had been this simple.

“Success!” shouted Captain Calen’s voice over the ship’s loudspeaker. “The fool didn’t expect this!”

Ortega winced at that comment. He’d heard similar things from himself and Doctor Rogers too many times. He pushed open the access panel and climbed into the short hallway between the medical bay and the bridge. He could see a triumphant Calen cackling like mad in the bridge.

“It worked!” came Trell’s voice over his helmet. “I didn’t even detect any resistance. Your great enemy should have at least mounted some defenses.”

Ortega ran to the medical bay and looked at the empty spot where Doctor Silas Rogers’ robotic body used to be.

“He didn’t need to,” said Ortega. “I think he’s already off the ship.”

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