Central Authority Vessel Nirvana
“I do not like this,” said Guardian Tezla. “I do not like it one bit. Something smells bad.”
“Would you like me to adjust the atmospheric controls to remove unpleasant odours?” asked Janx.
Tezla was used to her drone companion being overly literal in response to her comments. She suspected it did so on purpose, to amuse itself.
Drones weren’t supposed to have a sense of humour, but her experiences in the Central Authority told her otherwise. There was something about the way they resented having to employ human guardians that needled them into making unnecessarily arch retorts.
“What else do we have on CS Mayden?” She had the Central Authority’s records on the captain of the VGV Motherboard open on the screen in front of her and it was not very illuminating.
“You are currently viewing all of the available information on Chief Supervisor Mayden,” said Janx. The small drone was hovering just above Tezla’s shoulder, observing the same screen even though it had the information running on its own internal systems.
Outside the ship, dozens of Vendx drones were floating helplessly, inactive and unable to offer any further hindrance.
“Would you like me to have the debris cleared around the ship?” asked Janx. Central Authority drones had a thing about tidying up.
“No,” said Tezla. “They were sent to distract us. Ignore them. They aren’t going anywhere.”
“This is the first time a Vendx ship has attacked an Authority vessel,” said Janx. “It is unprecedented.”
“Mayden was right, Vendx aren’t that stupid. They didn’t send the drones.”
“The hijackers, then?”
“Hijackers.” Tezla snorted through her nose. The idea was preposterous. There hadn’t been any piracy in the four quadrants in over a thousand years. You could steal a ship easily enough but where would you hide? The galaxy wasn’t that big, No, something more insidious was going on here. And if that were true, chances were that someone on Vendx’s payroll was involved. “Have you identified where these hijackers are?”
“Vendx has declared all crew on the Motherboard as enemy combatants. Technically, they are all hijackers.”
Corporate shenanigans — she recognised the signs. Presumably, they had done it to protect themselves from lawsuits, but it conveniently provided a smokescreen to hide the true instigators. Until she knew what was going on, it was better not to rush in.
Tezla scanned through Mayden’s files at maximum speed. She was able to absorb it a much faster rate than a normal person but it didn’t help. There was nothing here to indicate the man was anything more than a mid-level employee of the corporation, and not much more than a glorified cabin boy.
He may have been in command of the company flagship, but it wasn’t much more than a showboat.
“What about Vendx’s records?” said Tezla. “Can’t we access them?”
“Treaty 412 only allows access to private files once a state of emergency has been declared. The Central Authority is evaluating the situation and has put the threat level at eighteen percent likelihood of an emergency declaration being made in the next twenty-four hours.”
“Eighteen percent? You have to be kidding me?”
“I am being entirely serious, Guardian,” said the drone.
“Okay, fine, override the internal guidance mandate. I’m declaring an emergency.”
“Guardian override has been requested.”
“Don’t request it, implement it.”
“Please state reasoning. Please include as much prima facie evidence as possible to substantiate your claim.”
Tezla took a breath. She had been trained to maintain her composure under the most intense conditions, but there were some days… “Defer reason. I’ll submit at a later date.”
“Reason for deferment?”
“Because this is an emergency.” It was hard not to raise her voice, but the training helped.
There was a pause. “Conditions have been met. Emergency status is now in effect. The Fourth Quadrant is under Central Authority guidance for the next thirty days, standard.”
“Great,” said Tezla. “Let’s hope we won’t need that long to sort this out. The Vendx files on Mayden?”
“Accessing now,” said Janx, the light around its disc-body flashing. “On your screen.”
New text appeared in front of Tezla. She scrolled through it using ocular commands.
“The request was met with some resistance,” continued Janx. “They made a formal appeal against the procurement of the files. You are required to give them a judgement ruling within thirty days, standard.”
“I’ll be sure to do that. Remind-me, twenty-nine days.”
“I have entered the remind-me in your diary.”
Tezla’s ocular implant absorbed the information flashing across the screen in a blur. Employment record, psych evaluation, disciplinary reports, mission reports. There were several hundred pages. Her eyes flickered. “This… this is useless. There’s nothing here. Is this all of it? Are you sure they aren’t hiding something?”
“Some duplicate files were excluded for similarity or irrelevance. Would you like me to include the omitted results.”
“Yes, might as well.” More pages appeared, all of which were irrelevant. “According to this, he’s nobody special, rose through the ranks the usual way — bribes.”
“Internal contributions are not bribes,” said Janx.
“Yep, that’s what I meant, internal contributions. Psych eval is standard stuff for corporate stiffs. Low-level sociopathic inclinations, nothing stands out. I don’t think he’s behind this.”
“Central Authority puts the likelihood of a single entity coordinating this development at six percent.”
“Six? Really? And what about the declaration of war? Wasn’t that sent by a single entity?”
“Likelihood of a miscreant-level entity being responsible is at eighty-four percent.”
“Wow, pretty sure of yourself.”
“Yes, I disagree.” Tezla closed the Mayden files. “We’ve got Vendx, us, that guild, whatever it’s called.”
“The Free Volunteers Guild.”
“Yes, them. And the Antecessor sites oxygenating at the same time — how’s that going, by the way?”
“Guardians have been dispatched to investigate.”
“Lucky them. I don’t know why this is all happening but I can guarantee you there’s somebody behind it, pulling the strings. Not everything happens at the same time without careful coordination.”
“Statistically, the probability is over three percent.”
“This is why you need people like me.”
“The Central Authority recognises Guardian Tezla’s important contribution to our mandate.”
“Thanks,” said Tezla. “But this person, this entity, isn’t a statistic. They’re a menace. You have to find them with a stick, preferably a red-hot poker.”
“I have checked the armoury. Red-hot poker is not on the manifest. Would you like me to put in a requisition order?”
“No, I brought my own. I’m going to find this menace, and then I’m going to squeeze the truth out of them. What about Mayden’s orders from Vendx, I don’t see them here.”
“Orders are sealed.”
“Under Treaty 417—”
“I need clearance to—”
“From the Central Authority.”
“Emergency status,” said Tezla. She had long ago realised there was no point trying to streamline the way the CA operated. You had to go through the same series of box ticks for every request. It was quicker to just do it.
“On your screen. An official complaint has been lodged.”
“How long do I have to respond?”
“Thirty days, standard.”
“Fine. Add it to the remind-me.” The screen displayed the orders from Vendx Head Office. “Aha.”
“You have found something?” asked Janx.
“A repair ticket for a faulty simulation machine.”
“And that is noteworthy because…?”
“Because you don’t send two cruisers and a flagship to pick up a broken down sim-U.”
“Your logic is sound,” said the drone. “The machine is no longer under warranty.”
“That’s got nothing to do with it,” said Tezla. “Give me everything on the guild’s sim-U history.”
“We do not have access to the guild records.”
“Emergency status,” said Tezla.
“The guild is not a cosignatory on the Treaty 400 series. We have no legal recourse in this matter. I can put in a request to the guild’s main office.”
“Yes, I’m sure they’ll very happily volunteer the information. What about Vendx? They installed the machine, do they have access to the guild’s records?”
“Yes. But it is a questionable approach. May I advise making a request for guidance from the—”
“No, you may not. Give me everything Vendx has on the guild.”
“Vendx Processing Headquarters have installed a firewall. We will need to make a formal request for an injunction to access more information.”
“How long will that take? No, let me guess, thirty days, standard.”
“Forget it. Withdraw the request. Go directly through the ship’s computers. The Motherboard will hold localised files, I’m guessing.”
“Aha,” said the drone, mimicking Tezla. Mocking her, it could be said.
“The ship’s systems have been compromised. There are seventeen thousand requests logged in the execution queue. The central processor is in reboot paralysis.”
“It’s been stunlocked. Still think there isn’t a deeper purpose behind this?”
“Reevaluation in progress.”
“Don’t bother. Is it a virus?”
“Antiviral processes are active and show no sign of infection.”
“Which antivirus programme are they using?” asked Tezla. “Not their own pre-installed one, I hope. That would explain everything.”
“The Vendx Regulation 3.2V has been certified as a—”
“Yes, yes, I know, I know. It was a joke.”
“I see,” said Janx. Tezla doubted it.
“What software are they running.”
“Grandma,” said Janx.
“That is the identification I received. Grandma.”
“I’ve never heard of it. Can you do a check?”
“No such software is registered. It isn’t certified. It looks like a bespoke code.”
“You think those cheap bastards would pay to have a specialised… wait, let me see. Bring it up here.”
Tezla looked at the code streaming across her screen. “Amazing…” she muttered to herself. Someone had replaced the anti-virus software with a virus. The cheek of it. No, not a virus. Something more banal than that. A memory bank of some kind, filling every available byte of the ship’s memory, taking up every process.
But it wasn’t just the scale of it, it was also remarkably sophisticated, performing millions of actions in an almost mesmerising dance of interweaving executables. No sooner had one process finished than another request was made before the host system could regain control.
“I can intercept the software’s core prog—”
“No!” said Tezla. The last thing she needed was to let that thing onto her ship. “Just keep an eye on it. Let’s see where it’s coming from. And get Mayden back on the line. He’s got some explaining to do. In the meantime, let’s give whoever’s behind this something to keep them busy.”
She removed the clutter from the screen and initiated a weapon’s check.
“We do not have authorisation to open fire,” said Janx, sounding a little concerned.
“We aren’t under attack.”
“We will be in a minute if I have anything to do with it. Are we hardwired to the Motherboard’s hull?”
“Have you got Mayden back?”
“They’ve put me on hold,” said Janx.
“Hmm. I had my suspicions about him but now I’m just annoyed. Flood the Motherboard’s internal systems with noise. All signals terminated. Let’s hear her death scream.”
“That will cause a major incident,” said Janx.
“I’m counting on it.”
“The simulation machines will get kicked. They are currently in use.”
“Not for much longer. Do it.” They might have been able to hoodwink Vendx, but the Central Authority was not so easily fooled. Time to flush the little buggers out.
“I am required to advise you that such a course of action—”
“Very well, Guardian. Please brace yourself.”
The ship shook as a pulse of energy hit the Motherboard. The huge vessel seemed to shiver for a moment.
“Is it done?” asked Tezla. There was no reply. “Janx?”
“46,656 drones have been neutralised over Fraiche City,” said Janx.
“What? By whom?”
“I told you to hit the ship,” said Tezla.
“We did. It was diverted.”
“That’s impossible,” said Tezla.
“Statistically,” said Janx, “it is only very, very unlikely.”
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