Episode 59: Lens Flare

The CryptoBrick was a miracle of technology in the same way that a neanderthal’s cudgel could miraculously shatter a computer that contained advanced security clearance data. The question of needing a fast and reliable method of seeing if certain data could be hazardous to a computer had come up many times, often when the data in question was important enough for it to not matter. The CryptoBrick’s solution was to actually be a computer, a cheap and nearly disposable one designed to receive input in a number of ways but to only present its output through the screen built into one of its rectangular sides. Every model came with advanced cyber security features that allowed its users to clean files or quarantine and delete infected code, but it was understood that anything put onto a CryptoBrick wouldn’t be coming off again. The Astroguard generally only gave a few of them to each ship it sent on a mission, but Captain Andrew Ortega had specifically requested one as part of his equipment after a number of unusual digital crimes, most committed by Doctor Silas Rogers. Given his track record, the Astroguard was willing to grant the request.

“Cowardly but practical,” said Ensign Trell, turning the device over in her hands. “Spying on a problem without giving it a chance to strike back if it detects you may be effective, but it lacks something.”

She set the blocky box onto her workstation and watched its screen light up while its no-frills system booted quickly. Ortega awkwardly looked over her shoulder, not having much room for maneuverability in the closet-sized room marked as the “Technician’s Bay.”

“I wouldn’t say there’s no chance of it striking back,” said Ortega. “It takes a pretty unconventional virus to turn the CryptoBrick against its user, though.”

“How would it do that?”

“The first time I used it, I was trying to track down Doctor Rogers. He’d been using a few different pieces of code to steal some quick cash for another project. I put it in here to examine just how it worked. Apparently, he’d designed the program to detect that it was being installed into a CryptoBrick, and the program activated a secondary function that caused a pattern of bright lights to flash in quick succession on the screen. The effect triggered a pseudo-epileptic hypnotic aftereffect, and I wound up doing Rogers’ dirty work for the next two days.”

Ensign Trell’s eyes lit up and she smiled.

“Impressive. It doesn’t spread the virus, but it does allow some victory to come from containment. The Soul Survivor is a brilliant man.”

Ortega shook his head, but didn’t comment at the use of Doctor Rogers’ chosen title. Instead, he gestured to the screen.

“I think I was able to get everything. We should get started if we’re going to find anything worthwhile.”

“I can have a heuristic scan search for anything that might aid us,” said Trell. “The process would take minutes.”

“Sounds good, but I still think we should check for anything the scan might miss once it’s done. Any detail might be important.”

***

Captain Calen grinned at Pilot William Tan from across the brig’s table.

“Now then, you’ll be telling me everything I want to hear,” said Calen.

“Of course.”

“Don’t think it’ll be that easy for you. I’m sure you’ve had some training for this, but know that it won’t go as easily as you’d expect.”

“I don’t really know much,” said Tan. “I’ll tell you everything I can, and gladly, so-”

“Liar,” said Calen. “You’re a liar. You’re not just a pilot, I can see it in your eyes. There’s something nervous hiding within, and I’ll see the light stolen from them before I’m through.”

“That’s probably just my lenses,” he said. “Cybernetic overlays just over my eyes, said to be made by the Emperor himself. They boost my reaction time and can relay simple information to me. Sometimes I’m reading things they say instead of focusing on whoever I’m talking to.”

“That’s a habit you’ll want to break, and quickly. I hate to say it, Tan, but you represent the forces that took everything from me today, and I’ve been looking for someone to murder because of that. If it weren’t for the fact that Captain Andrew Ortega thinks you might have some infromation, this conversation would have started and ended with me blowing your ship out of the Cypulchral Cloud. Do you understand me?”

“Absolutely,” said Tan. “What do you want to knegh!”

The pilot lurched, clutching his skull. Calen leaned forward, not ready for this turn in the conversation. She’d been looking forward to building up to the point where she could start doing damage, but with Tan looking like he had a migraine she knew she’d have to abandon script.

“Tan?” she said. “Tan! Look me in the eye, cur. Focus!”

William looked up at Captain Calen. The readout on his eyes, previously only displaying general information about his location and Calen, changed. All previous data left his field of vision and new text flowed across it.

CPT. ORTEGA MENTIONED/NEAR/ABSENT. AWAITING SIGNAL.

“What?” asked Tan.

“I said Focus!” said Calen, rising. “Don’t push me, you sorry excuse for a soldier, it won’t take much to rush me along to where I finally get to hear your screams.”

SIGNAL RECEIVED. INITIATING FLARE.

A bright flash of light erupted from William’s eyes, and a series of lightning quick patterns appeared as afterimages in Calen’s eyes. William saw the same, less bright but more accurately focused as his cybernetic lenses shot the image straight onto his retinas.

A moment of silence passed before the two looked at each other, concerned.

“We’ve got to go deeper into the cloud,” said William.

Captain Calen hesitated but nodded.

“You’re right. I’ll probably die in this cursed place, but you’re right. It seems there’s no other option.”

“None,” said William. “The Soul Survivor needs our help.”

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