Friday, February 20, 2015

The Starburst Coders - Part 2

Fiction Friday! Escape pod here.

The Starburst Coders - Part 2

At the entry to the central control room they found Ranta. He lay blocking the final thick single-person security door which was half open. The window in the heavy metal door was almost totally obscured by dried blood. Chigas had his gun drawn as he pushed the door open fully. He noticed Aibi straight away. She was in her chair at the communications desk. She was either unconscious or dead, the front of her top was caked in blood. Nobody else appeared to be in the room.

"Stay back." he yelled down to Sawara who was at the bottom of the corridor.

He checked Ranta and found his face was smashed in and there was a deep indent in his skull. He was very dead. Stepping over the body of Ranta and into the communications room he went to check on Aibi. She was also dead, gunshot to the stomach. He noticed the thin red wire snaking from the console, over her shoulder and the plug had been pulled out and was resting just outside the discreet socket behind her ear. She had been jacked-in just before and they'd unplugged her when they killed her. Her wrists and ankles were taped to the chair and her finger tips were a mess of ruined flesh. It looked like they'd been stuck by a lump-hammer. Chigas reviewed the console and found it was locked by a passcode. He checked the other terminals but everything was password protected. He didn't have access to this system. A scream across the room made him swing his gun towards the sound. Sawara stood there looking at Aibi in shock.

"I told you to stay back!" Chigas said solemnly.

"Is she.......?"

"Yes she's dead. She was jacked into the system and they tortured her. They unplugged her then killed her. I need you to unlock the system."

Sawara went over to the nearest terminal and tried to log in.

"I'm locked out. Aibi must have been forced to place an encoded lock to restrict access."

Chigas swore. 

"We need to know exactly what happened here." he said.

Both of them moved over to the small office off the main communications room. This was where Chigas usually spent most of the shift. In one corner was a small printer. Generally in New Eden paper was not used. Datapads, holograms and mobile communications had superseded hardcopies a thousand years ago. However when the power went down a hard copy was invaluable to review what had been happening up to that point. This printer activated once per hour and printed out all the log entries for that timeframe. Chigas picked up the last few sheets. The first two showed nothing out of the ordinary. The third logged the supply shuttle arriving and docking. Then it was logged that the the main door was opened. A serious breech of protocol. The main blast door was never supposed to be opened when the supply ship was there. Nobody but the two coders and their minders should even have entered the facilities. More mundane log entries. Chigas' eyes narrowed when he saw the next few lines.

"It looks like they came on the supply shuttle. For some reason they were let in. Then six starbursts were sent."

"Six?" Sawara gasped. Two in a single twelve hour shift was a very busy shift normally."

"I think we can assume that those transmissions are not going to be helpful to the State. We need to find out what was sent and send a cancel order."

"Can we call for help?" Sawara asked hopefully.

"No. There is a dampening field around this facility. The only communications that work are Starbursts."

Chigas took a seat at his desk. He logged onto the security system. He brought up the camera view of the entry room. The three men were there setting something up on a tripod. It looked like a long gun.

"What are they doing?" asked Sawara.

"Its an Amarrian built laser-cutter. We have got an hour to fix this mess otherwise we're going to have company."

He opened the archive folder and played the entry hall footage from three hours ago. The security cameras recorded everything on the outpost. The two watched in silence as the screen showed four men unloading the cargo crates and water buts by the blast door. Chigas noted one discreetly placing the charges for the bomb that was meant to kill them. One of the men then started to talking into the comm panel by the door. With no sound on the security feed it was strange to watch in silence. One of the men looked at the camera directly, not bothering to hide his face. These men didn't care if they were identified. More shouting into the comm panel as two of the men vanished back to the supply ship docked at the end of the docking arm. A few seconds later they reappeared. A struggling woman beside them. More shouting and the third man produced a large knife. The one by the comms panel backed off. Apparently the conversation was over. 

Chigas knew what was happening. The woman was leverage against his counter-part. What would he have done it it was his wife between the two men? Would he have capitulated if he was watching this on screen and someone was threatening Uunse?

A minute later the security blast doors opened and Ranta exited, his hands up as two of the intruders pointed guns at him. He was frisked and his gun taken from him. Who was the woman Chigas thought? Ranta's wife? Grown-up daughter? A lover? The six people vanished into the Facility, Ranta with his hands on his head. Chigas flicked the feed to the communications room. Aibi was there looking frantically out of the window in the locked door. Its what Chigas would have done. Told her to lock herself in the room and not come out whatever happened. He flicked the feed to the corridor camera. The six had stopped by the second security door. It was obvious an argument had broken out. Probably Ranta refusing to open it. Lying that he didn't have access now, making something up about activating a nonexistent lock-down alarm or something. Chigas watched as one of the men, the one who had been communicating via the comms panel, pulled his gun out. He calmly shot the woman in the upper thigh. Chigas winced as he saw her go down clutching her leg in agony. Ranta lost it and was swiftly put down by the butt of a rifle to the back. The woman was writhing on the floor screaming. Blood was pumping from the hole in her leg. Chigas knew they had forced Ranta's hand. The woman, whoever she was, was bleeding out on the floor. She needed to get to the medical bay soon or she would be dead. The medical bay, which was on the other side of the door. Ranta rose from the floor defeated and opened the door. Chigas paused the playback.

"You shouldn't watch this." he said to Sawara.

"No. I want to see. These are the men that are trying to get me. I deserve to know what's coming for me." she said defiantly.

Chigas resumed the video. As Ranta opened the door the man who still had his gun out put two more shots into the womans chest. She stopped moving as a struggling Ranta was held by the other two men screaming. The group continued, dragging the dead woman's body with them. The pool of blood by the door is what Chigas had already seen, where the men made the bloody footprints as they left the secure area. Chigas swapped the feed to the camera covering the Communications Room door. These guys obviously had intel on the place he was sure now. They knew back there that the final door could only be opened from inside so the woman was no longer a bargaining chip. The two watched as the man who was presumably the leader shouted into the comms panel on the door. Aibi was frantic the other side. The men started slamming Ranta's face into the door's small window. The silent feedback showed Aibi screaming for them to stop. Finally she broke and opened the door. The men swarmed into the room. Ranta was dropped onto the floor barely conscience. The leader noticed how he'd fallen and took hold of the heavy metal security door. He heaved against it, slamming it against Ranta's head. Ranta convulsed and stopped moving as his head was partially crushed between the heavy door and its frame.

Chigas swapped the feed to the wide-angle camera of the communications room. They watched as Aibi was forced into the chair and bound to the arm supports. One man took the neural interface lead and plugged it into her head by force. The leader set a datapad down in front of her. The angle prevented Chigas and Sawara seeing what was displayed to her. Aibi was shaking her head and crying, obviously refusing to send the message or messages. More shouting followed by a slap from the leader. Finally he pulled a pair of pliers from his pocket. He grabbed her left hand and used the pliers to rip off a fingernail. Even though the playback was silent, Chigas thought for a second he could actually hear Aibi's howl of agony as he watched on the screen. A second and third finger quickly followed. As he closed the pliers around the end of one of the fingers he'd previously ripped the nail from, her head flew back and her mouth opened in another silent scream. The effort on the mans face was clear as he crushed her finger tip turning it into a bloody pulp. She still held strong, even spitting in his face when he faced her. She was rewarded with another backhanded slap before he finished off the other nails of her left hand before crushing each of her fingers above the last knuckle. Chigas was impressed with her resolve. He had got halfway through her right hand before she passed out from the pain. They had obviously come prepared as they jabbed a stim-stick into her upper arm. She immediately woke, the cocktail of drugs bringing her around and heightening her senses so that her damage hands would hurt even more. Chigas could only imagine the pain she was in as her saw her whip her head back and scream at the top of her lungs.

When her head came back forward she was nodding and sobbing. They'd broken her. Chigas didn't judge. The woman was a civilian. She wasn't trained to withstand that. She focused on the datapad. Her eyes capturing the orders and encoding it via her brain implant. The leader changed the datapad five more times, swiching to different messages Chigas assumed. Eventually he picked it up and placed it back in his pocket and unplugged her implant cable. Aibi's head hung forward as she sobbed. The leader took his pistol and shot her twice in the stomach. Her body shook with each impact. Chigas glowered at the screen. He could have done her in the heart or the head. No, he was mad she made him work for it so had decided to make it slow and painful. She would take a while to die from those wounds and every second would be agony for her. Chigas started to imagine what he'd do to that bastard if he got his hands on him.

"Spin it back. Back to where he was flicking through the datapad." Sawara said suddenly.

Chigas rewound it to where Aibi had started nodding.

"There!" Sawara point on the screen.

Chigas looked carefully. Behind Aibi there was a glass fronted cabinet containing computer equipment. The datapads reflection was feintly visible. Chigas zoomed in and enhanced. 

"Bravo, nine, zulu, echo, four. Cleansing fire. Gamma, gamma, four, two, seven."

Chigas' blood ran cold. Sawara read the next message. The term "cleansing fire" was mentioned in all six.

"Whatever Cleansing Fire is, its what they wanted to activate. The first part of the code is the agent identifier, the last bit is the go code."

"Operation Cleansing Fire is a last resort program against the Gallente." Chigas said "If full-scale war to break-out and we were about to lose, it was to be our parting gift to them. Six sleeper agents, hidden in the six largest cities on Gallente Prime. Each with a compact fission bomb. Projected casualties around 500 million. The devastation was hoped to distract the frogs long enough for remnants of the State to flee and hide deep in null-sec."

"But we are not at full-scale war with the Gallente!" Sawara stated.

"We will be, unless we can send the abort codes. Not even CONCORD would stop the Gallente from invading after that loss of life. We need...."

Chigas's voice trailed back as he turned his attention back to the screen. The video had been re-playing from where the codes had been revealed and it now had reached the point where the men had left. Chigas noticed something and zoomed the camera close into Aibi.

"Oh no. She was still alive when they left her. You can see how she's twitching. The bastards left her like that." gasped Sawara.

"That's not twitching." Chigas said. "Each finger is moving in turn and repeating a sequence. Six, one, three, two, one. She keeps repeating that sequence on each of her fingers."

Suddenly Sawara dashed out of the room. Chigas sprang up to follow. She went to the comms console and gingerly took the interface plug from Aibi's lifeless shoulder. She plugged herself in and leaned over the console. Just using her mind '61321' appeared in red digits on screen followed by "System Unlocked" and the screen going green.

Chigas stepped back knowing that Sawara was working to undo what had been done. He moved Ranta's body and secured the Comms Room door knowing the intruders would soon be through the main blast doors. They still might not be able to stop it. There were three of them and only one of him and he was down to his last magazine. They would capture Sawara, torture her and get her to resend the code. Then they would kill her and there would be nobody to stop them.

Chigas froze. His mind going back to the meeting with his boss. The question that he asked Chigas with regard to his last mission as an operative. He'd had to kill a Caldari citizen, a young woman who had done nothing wrong technically. "Would you do it again?" his bosses voice echoed around his head. Chigas glanced over at Sawara who was concentrating on sending out new Starbursts cancelling the orders to nuke the Gallente cities that would start a devastating war. For the good of the State he could put an end to the threat in a matter of minutes. He just had to simply shoot her in the head once she was finished. With no coder, no more Starbursts could be sent.

He started to contemplate the word 'simply'.

To be concluded....

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