Tag Archives: Herald

Episode 163: The Rocketpark Screwjob

Captain Ortega fired the blaster again, but Harold Zamona, moving faster than anything his size should be able to move, jumped behind one of the arena’s ramps. Ortega used his rocket to move into the air, wary of a sudden approach by the former wrestler and worryingly aware by now that his blaster, even on deadly settings, was mostly ineffective. At the strongest settings, his blaster could take out steel walls in seconds, but he wasn’t detecting more than a light singe whenever he successfully fired on Zamona, and the neurological properties of the blaster on the lower settings never did more than daze. He’d encountered other creatures that were effectively immune to his weaponry before, of course… ethereal beings of energy, ancient beasts with thick skin designed for volcanic worlds, and military-grade robots had all shrugged of his blaster… but none seemed so close to a baseline human as Zamona. His primary weapon was simply not effective.

The wrestler appeared overhead, somehow at the top of a ramp that arced higher than Ortega had flown. The captain killed his rocketpack’s engine just enough to start dropping like a stone, reactivated it when he’d fallen far enough to miss Zamona’s initial downward punch, and propelled forward in a graceful arc that took him toward the massive, transparent window that composed most of the wall of the park-like chamber. Ortega activated his reversal thrusters to keep himself from colliding with the transparent wall, and was treated to a spectacular view of Veskid amid the stars just as he heard the sound of Zamona hitting the ground behind him. He looked back and saw the titanic figure standing up from a crouch, and tensed while Zamona took calm, easygoing steps toward him.

“You’re pretty nimble for someone in a beat-up space suit. I can keep this up all day, though. The Dyson Empire’s not eager t’see someone so capable foolishly throwin’ their life away. What say you throw in the towel and tell the folks at home that you’re surrenderin’, and that they should too.”

“Seriously?” said Ortega, smiling. “I’ve got you on the ropes.”

“Funny. I don’t think you’re gonna like how this ends, though. Parents, you might wanna send your kids out of the room if they’re watchin’ this.”

Zamona jumped forward and Ortega rocketed upward. Zamona’s fist connected with the window and a horrible crunching sound cascaded through the room. Ortega held his breath as warning alarms started chiming, but he relaxed when he saw the herald’s fist retract to reveal that the window had crumpled instead of shattered.

“Transparent metal instead of shielded glass!” Ortega shouted.

“Couldn’t tell you.”

“Makes sense for a window that size, it holds up better against air pressure,” Ortega said, touching down on the ground. Zamona raised a confused eyebrow.

“Not flying away? Rethought surrender?”

“Nah,” said Ortega, unlatching the rocket pack from his back. “Just switching weapons. Computer, go to full burn, head for the big guy.”

Ortega swung the pack forward just as the engines turned from red to orange, yellow, blue, and white. The pack rocketed toward a surprised Zamona, slammed into him, and pushed him into the window. The Herald struggled for a second, further increasing the structural damage on the wall behind him, as he reached forward and tried to manipulate the pack.

“Nice try,” he said. “I’ve still got just enough control to not let this thing push me out, though. And it’s just not gonna hit hard enough to hurt me.”

“Don’t need to hurt you,” said Ortega. He pulled the trigger on his blaster and fired, striking the window just over Zamona’s shoulder. Too late, Harold reflexively lifted a massive hand to ward off the blast, not realizing that he wasn’t the target. An orange glow accompanied the increased heat as the transparent wall distorted. Harold looked back.

“Wait-”

The combined force of the rocket pack and the herald’s shoulders took their toll. The diminishing cohesion of the window failed, and the wall ruptured. An intense rush of air defenestrated the former wrestler, and the rocket made sure that he vanished into the void before he could react to what was happening.

Captain Ortega felt the rush of air and reflexively activated the magnetic boots on his spacesuit, a futile action while standing on the grass and soil of the rocket park arena. In a moment he’d lost his footing and been pulled into the emptiness just outside of the ship’s hull.

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Episode 77: Dangerous Protocols

“Nothing in this panel either,” said Ensign Trell, examining the book-thin component. She pushed it back into the wall and it locked into place with a satisfying clunk.

Captain Ortega nodded, resisting the urge to ask if she was sure. He’d seen more than his share of ship circuitry, and even performed emergency repairs under duress, but his field experience couldn’t match Trell’s actual engineering training. When it came to identifying if something was unusual in the computer circuitry, Ortega wouldn’t be able to do much more than confirm that everything looked like the standard fare.

Unfortunately, Trell’s time examining the hardware meant that Ortega was left sifting through what information he could on the ship’s software. Thanks to the CryptoBrick analysis earlier he had a few insights on where to look inside the ship’s computers, but most of the data was information he’d already seen.

“You’re sure that it’s safe to pull those components out of the wall while we’re accessing the mainframe?”

“Absolutely,” said Trell. “The subsystems are designed to be removed on the fly. The worst case scenario is that you’ll be without some data while I’m looking over everything. I’m starting to think that there’s either no trace of the phoenix circuitry on this ship, or that Tan already destroyed it before we arrived.”

“Do you really think he wouldn’t have told your Captain by now?”

“She wouldn’t torture someone in a medbay.”

“Really?” said Ortega. “That seems like the ideal place.”

A look of confused disgust crossed Trell’s face.

“What kind of sick person uses medical equipment for torture?”

“The… kind of sick person who doesn’t want the torture to be lethal?”

“People in your culture must not understand torture if it gets lethal.”

“People in my culture really don’t,” said Ortega. “We have laws against it.”

“So do we,” said Trell.

“Either way, there’s no signs of systematic destruction, or any kind of intentional damage against the ship,” said Ortega. “This place is almost pristine.”

“I suppose you’d have the expertise to recognize that,” said Trell. “Have you looked up information on self-destruct procedures?”

“No,” said Ortega, tapping new information into the terminal interface. “Good idea, though.”

The computer had a basic user command structure, one that Ortega felt was almost a few years out of date for a relatively new military power like the Dyson Empire. It was simple enough to use, but felt important.

“Why would someone with access to last year’s hardware use software that would have been on its way out five years ago?”

“Familiarity, perhaps?” said Trell, reaching for the next maintenance panel.

“Would you do it for familiarity?”

“No,” said Trell. “I’d only do it if I wanted absolute certainty that anyone using it would be familiar with the software. It’s probably a good idea for a rapidly constructed militia. The Soul Survivor did suggest… and our own experiences with Tan suggests… that this so-called Emperor quickly assimilates anyone with a modicum of competence into his service. If there was no time for a custom operating system… by far the best approach, in my opinion… an older system that people would be familiar with might help things along.”

“You’d prefer to make a custom operating system, though?”

“I already have one,” said Trell. “I plan on retiring to a moon fortress after I leave the military, one stocked with the trophies of a great career, and I’ve already established a preliminary system that can be modified for most of the kinds of bases I might acquire.”

“Would you incorporate any older operating systems onto your custom system? Something seems off about this.”

He pulled up the selected data. Five data files tagged as relating to self destruct systems popped onto his screen.

“I might,” said Trell. “I could take the graphical parts, overlay it.”

“Why would you do that?” asked Ortega. He tapped one of the files, the one titled ‘Self Destruct Protocols: Operation Eclipse Procedure.’

“Again, familiarity for others,” said Trell. “Guests. Or enemies.”

“Catering to familiarity for enemies?”

The file opened, and a video file started to play.

“No, not catering to them,” said Trell. “I’d use it as a decoy, or a lure. Set it up to look like it was a standard file system, probably even make a few non-essential commands work as expected, but just make it a facade that covers a ruse or trap. Something designed to lead them on a wild goose chase, feed them false information or activate a trap.”

The lights darkened in the chamber. Trell and Ortega looked up, surprised. The video file began to play, and every terminal in the room switched to the video as well. A large, dark-skinned man appeared, wearing a uniform of the Dyson empire and a pair of bulky, mechanical gauntlets.

“What did you find?” asked Trell.

“The Emperor’s Herald, someone named Zamona,” said Ortega. “I’ve seen him once before. Right before Doctor Rogers and I had to make it to your ship.”

“Congratulations on securing one of the Dyson Empire’s vessels intact,” said Zamona. “We also appreciate your interest in the Operation Eclipse Protocols, especially as they pertain to self destruct sequences.”

“He’s gloating,” said Trell. “Gloating in a video that might never have been seen. I admire the dedication, but it means we’re in trouble.”

“As you know, self destruct sequences involve legitimate security concerns which you, alas, have now become. If this vessel is within range, it will transmit images of your facial features, voice prints, or any other identifying characteristics which may be useful in learning who you are and what may have brought you here. The good news is that, while you will only have sixty seconds to live, you will gain a firsthand look at the self destruct information you sought, an experience that no one else alive can appreciate. Enjoy your final minute of life, and make peace in whatever way you see fit.”

The video ended, and a timer began counting down from sixty seconds. The lights returned to their standard setting, and a dull, dangerous hum began resonating through the walls.