“Coms, tell third squadron to move to our right flank,” the man in the captain’s chair said. “Yes, commander. Relaying message to third squadron.” The battle had been all too easy, even for a raggedy group of pirates and merc’s, he didn’t felt comfortable with an easy victory. He had learned that every encounter had its cost.
“Tech ops, I need a bearing on those ships coming from the planet’s surface. Their behavior hasn’t made much sense. Their attack patterns are almost suicidal,” the commander ordered.
“Jack, what do you think? Something just doesn’t feel right, does it?” the commander said.
“I agree. We have the upper hand: the numbers and the strategic advantage. They should to retreat or regroup. Instead…”
“Instead they come right at us as if they were kamikaze pilots.” The commander took his usual thinking position in his chair, leaning on his right elbow supporting his face with his hand.
“There is no reason to act this way. They aren’t fundamentalist or bend to some sort of an ideological crusade. It’s just an unfortunate colony trapped in the middle of hell,” the man in the uniform interrupted.
“Sir, I am picking up a strange reading on the comm bands. There is a high and unusual amount of data being communicated… actually a very large amount of data,” the comm’s officer stated.
“Please be more specific lieutenant.”
“Based on the interrupted message, the data amounts in tens of times you would normally witness… per ship”
“Between each ship?”
“No, sir, that is what is strange. All data is being sent to one alone ship, deeper into the enemy lines.”
The commander got up from his chair, walked towards the comm’s station and leaned into the holographic display.
“Can you break through the encryption? Find out why the ships are communicating with this much data,” the commander wondered.
“Man to man communication is simple, machine to machine, that’s another story,” Jack his first officer said.
“True, normal communication is rather tightly packed by algorithms. Usually you only see larger amount of data being communicate between drones or remotely operated machines and ships,” the comm’s officer said.
“But ships of these size are man operated. Unless someone deliberately outfitted them to be operated remotely, but for what reason?” wondered the commander.
“Sir, I have a ship from the surface breaking enemy lines on an approach pattern towards us, it’s hailing,” the comm’s officer said.
“Acknowledged, put it through the main,” the commander said.
“Alliance fleet, stop shooting at the ships coming from the planet. I repeat, stop shooting. These ships are filled with civilians: men, women and children. Stop shooting at once! We mean no harm…”
His chest tightened and his breathing became heavy, he thought; No, it can’t be…
As the man was slowly gained consciousness he felt as if his body had been ripped from another reality back into this one. He felt cold as if he had been just thrown into a cold dark cave. He was shivering and could not move. His vision was blurry and unclear. The man could hear a distant voice, a woman voice. He tried to focus on it, to understand it but to no avail. He could not understand what he heard, except for one word, “awake”.
As the man gained more awareness he became forcefully aware of the place he was in. His surroundings were mostly devoid of light; the only real visible light to him were flashes of red and yellow colors. There was also a high pitched sound going on and off, like a siren or an alarm. The lights and the sounds triggered in the man a fearful reaction, a panic attack. This drove the man into a primitive defensive reaction and he tried violently to move, to do something to make him feel safe. But the man could not go anywhere he was trapped, his legs and arms where tied. His heart started to beat more rapidly, his breathing intensified and started to feel dizzy.
By now his vision became more focused, his hearing was more attuned and he could see a woman shouting at him, “Stop, calm down! It’s OK. You’re OK. I’m here to help you…”
The man was still trying to let himself lose but after a while he got exhausted and could not struggle anymore. He started to focus on the woman’s voice, something in the woman’s tone started to calm him down as he glanced into the woman’s eyes. Her bright blue eyes felt familiar and soothing. Her eyes spoke to him in a language that felt familiar to him, a language of sorrow and pain but yet they had compassion in them. He felt an unspoken connection to this strange woman.
In his state he mustered the energy to say the first thing that came to his mind, “Where am I…? Who am I?”.
The entire bridge of the ship was lit up station by station. Everything seemed to be failing or about to. The tall dark man stood tall and straight in his usual place by the captain’s chair. The man had experienced many dangerous situations before and most of them had been under his control but this one was not one of them. He stood there quietly and gave a nod to the captain look signaling that he won’t interfere with his command.
The captain said, “Engineering give me a status report? What is going on?”
“The engines are failing, the power reactor is failing, radar is failing… everything seems to be failing system by system, sir,” the chief engineer said through the comm’s.
“What’s working then?”
“At the moment we still have engines, navigation, comm’s, life-support and most ship wide internal systems. Other than that we are quickly losing control of the ship and it’s happening fast. It’s not making any sense…”
The captain looked around too get a look of what was going on. Station after station went offline or if it still were online it was filled with warnings and errors.
“Would you clarify chief?” the captain demanded.
“All of the failing systems are separate physical entities, they shouldn’t be failing one by one like this. The only thing common is the software, and even that is sandboxed into individual entities to keep each system functioning in case of errors.
Each entity is controlled and protected by two persons, well… unless you have the master keys. Only three people have that, you, me and the first officer,” the chief stated.
“What are you suggesting chief?”
“Nothing really, but taking inconsideration our recent rendezvous with our guests,” the captain gleaned towards the tall dark man whose mood had changed to a stiffer one from his usual calm demeanor, “and the fact that no part of this ship is damaged. I can only conclude that something or someone is tempering with the ships systems.”
“Something like an AI virus?” the captain asked.
“Most likely both; a virus and someone operating it. It’s just too damn targeted and effective to be able to do all this to a random ship within all the ship types out there.”
“Roger that chief, keep working on it and inform if you find a solution.”
The captain turned around and approached the tall dark man, “Mr. Anderson, is there something I should be aware of?”
Anderson answered without hesitation, “No not at all captain, unless there is something I should be…”
“I hope you are not indicating that one of my men are involved in this. I know each one of them and I can tell you Mr. Anderson that I trust them a hell of lot more than the mercenaries you and your secret police…”
Anderson straightened his posture, took a step towards the captain and looked him in the eyes, “The secret police does as it pleases captain. I hope I do not have to remind you that we have the highest authoritative of any law enforcement agency and most of all: your orders are very clear.
Especially the part where you are not supposed to ask any questions and to fully comply to whatever I or my men need.”
Anderson took a step back and said, “Captain, I do assure you that neither me nor my men are behind the trouble at hand; even taking into consideration how you were recruited to this mission.”
He paused for a moment and continued, “You have my trust and confidence when it come to the matter’s regarding this ship and its crew, but, as long as it doesn’t interfere with my mission.”
He took another step back and lifted his hand pointing towards the captain’s chair, “Now, I would suggest you turn your attention to the crisis at hand. Find a way to keep this ship and its crew alive.”
There was a long pause between the men before the captain simply nodded and turned around heading towards his command station.
Anderson turned away and headed towards his hired mercenaries. “Major, tell me what do you think of the situation? What of our guests on board?”
“Sir, I was just about to tell you that I lost contact with the captain’s men near the med bay. That is not all, the ships security officer tells me that he lost most of the ships security access: especially surveillance.
This happened only a few moments before contact was lost with the captain’s men. It cannot be just a coincidence,” answered the major.
“Then go to the med bay with your men and make sure that our guests are secure. In case of trouble you know your priority.”
“And major… be careful. This does not seem like the work of amateurs. All is too well organized and just too convenient,” said Anderson.
The major nodded and gathered his men before leaving the bridge.
Anderson had one last problem to deal with. His least favorite one and something he had little control over, his shadow.
“Commander I suppose you want a status report?” Anderson said.
“Yes I do,” the commander said.
“You probably heard the situation we are in. There isn’t much more to add to that. The captain is doing his best to find out the root of the problem and fixit.
While the captain tries to fix his ship I have sent the major and his men to the med bay to secure our target.”
“That sounds like a good precaution General but is there a problem at the med bay. Is the procedure going as planned?”
“Unfortunately the major tells me that we’ve lost contact with the med bay. There is no up to date info on what is the current status.”
The commander’s face tightened, his body language closed down.
“General I am not happy with what I am hearing. This operation is too important to our organization, to the council and our director. The operation must succeed at all costs,” the commander said.
“And it shall succeed. The major is more than capable of handling the issue. His reputation is exceptional.”
Anderson took a pause before continuing in a sharpened tone, “Commander, excuse me for I must return back to my duties. We shall continue on the subject when the status changes.”