Long Fall — Chapter 21

Welcome to the Special Saturday Update, which is special… because… it’s on Saturday. In this very, very special episode of Biotech Legacy: Long Fall, we’ll be reading Chapter 21: Cracking Safe. Get ready to be astounded, amazed, or hopefully at least a tiny bit entertained.

If you’re just joining Biotech Legacy: Long Fall, you can find all of the preceding chapters right here at the Oktopod Blog.

The previous novel, Biotech Legacy: Stars Rain Down, is currently available exclusively through Amazon.

Now take a deep breath and get scrolling, soldier!


Chapter 21
Cracking Safe

While his two companions paced, Nils Jansen sat cross-legged on The Beagle’s floor, with attention fixed firmly on his phone’s display. The images were projected onto his eyes using Eireki technology, and though he originally distrusted the machine’s ability to read commands directly from his nervous system, that was no longer an issue.

Fleet regulations allowed personnel to change a small and very specific set of options on their phones, and like most regulations, Nils had blatantly ignored the lot of them. He replaced the operating system with an unlocked version that gave him access to all of its inner workings, and then went about covertly installing a number of tools that the brass certainly wouldn’t appreciate. His phone had packet sniffers, network scanners, password crackers… Lots of fun toys, for girls and boys.

He’d also switched the drab background color to a looping animation which he watched whenever he was bored or stressed out. It was a crudely drawn cartoon of Larry Hopkins being face-slapped with a big fish who looked positively scandalized at his involvement in the whole affair.

Jansen hadn’t always been interested in computer security, but he’d spent six-months trapped in a shoe-box with only two things to occupy his time: a pile of dry technical manuals, and a project that required considerable technical expertise. He shielded himself against the slings and arrows of outrageous boredom with books that were only mildly less dull.

After being miraculously rescued, he was sure he’d never want to see another manual as long as he lived, but the truth was far stranger. The books had become a source of comfort (rather like the asinine radio show he’d broadcast during the ordeal), and he soon discovered they were the only thing left that could still hold his attention… well, that and mentally abusing Larry Hopkins.

Jansen’s heavily modded phone was presently trying and failing to brute force the armory’s combination lock. He’d already spent the past several hours looking for more elegant ways to override the locker’s security but ultimately came up empty handed and frustrated. His only remaining option was to sit and wait while the phone spat millions and millions of passwords at the door.

He felt rotten right down to the pit of his stomach because of one unanswered question. They couldn’t know if the outpost had killed its target or not, and Jansen absolutely refused to face down another unknown alien menace with a pointed stick. A gun would make him feel a lot better.

“Any progress, Technician?”

He hated when Marco called him Technician, but he generally hated when Marco called him anything. The blast of annoyance made him momentarily forget which lie he’d told his stalwart captain. “Ummm… no,” he said slowly to buy time, and then it came to him. “I’ve been trying everything to get those bay doors open, but they’re going nowhere. The mainframe won’t reboot.”

None of that was a lie, per se. He’d set his phone to ping the outpost’s command network every few minutes, and shoot him a notification if anything showed signs of life. He just wasn’t actively working on that problem because it would be a giant waste of his otherwise valuable time. He had more pressing matters, like getting hold of the damned blasters.

Hopkins said, “I still say we head for Station Control. We can fix the mainframe and get automated defenses back online.” He was obviously trying to hit that perfect balance of commanding and inspirational, and he was just as obviously failing. His voice was an octive too high, and the way he raised tone at the end of each sentence made him sound like a tipsy leprechaun.

“Not without my gun,” Jansen said.

Marco crossed his arms. “Yeah, see… I still don’t have the access codes, Nils. Let me repeat it slowly this time… Only Fleet Command can open it. Only. Fleet. Command.”

“And the radio’s dead,” Jansen said as he continued to fiddle with his cracking tools. “Story of my fucking life, man. I mean that literally. Nils Jansen was born in a small hospital in the countryside and the radio went dead. It was as if millions of radios suddenly cried out in terror, and were suddenly silenced.”

Marco shook his head. “Isn’t the second suddenly a little redundant?”

“Yup,” Jansen agreed.

As usual, Hopkins refused to partake in even an instant of levity. “Fine, so let’s find a way into the locker. Could we bash it with a wrench?”

Jansen would’ve poked fun, but they’d all mastered the delicate art of bashing things with wrenches like god damned monkeys during their months of captivity. When all they’d had were wrenches, every problem started to look like a nail.

A confused expression shot across Jansen’s face at that thought, then was gone.

He glanced at his phone’s display and expanded the window. The machine had tried 1% of all possible passwords, and it estimated three days to exhaust the entire list.

He could wait, he assured himself

A sound like a giant and terrifying water drum came from somewhere in the distance.

Jansen stared at the progress bar so hard his eyes began to hurt.

“What the crap was that?” Hopkins shouted.

Marco marched to his fancy chair and called up The Beagle’s sensor readout. He tapped and dragged at the screen with a particularly serious look on his face. “This is weird, guys. Picking up a ton of positron emissions.”

“Antimatter weapon,” Nils said in a gravelly voice, like an old sailor telling tale of the whale that nearly killed him. “I’ve read about ’em. Vile stuff.” He chose not to mention that he’d read about them in a comic book.

Hopkins glared at him. “Where exactly, Nils? Better Idiots & Jack-Asses Quarterly? Popular Pseudo-Science?

Jansen affected a thoughtful expression. “No, I think it was in I’ve Been Hiding Spiders In Your Bed Every Night For Three Years. Umm… The magazine. Did I do that right?”

Hopkins gave Jansen one of his most rare looks. His eyes swelled to monstrous proportions, showing whites the way a shark does the instant before it devours a pretty bikini model. Then it entered its next phase. His nostrils flared, his lips curled on both sides, and he resembled a 1930s-era movie vampire trying to hypnotize its victim.

Jansen knew that he would see that very expression the day Hopkins finally strangled him to death.

Marco chuckled. “Ya know, I think you may be onto something, Technician. According to the computer, the dispersion patterns are consistent with a matter/antimatter reaction.”

Jansen was more amazed than anyone. “Told you,” he said self-assuredly. “So then, do the aliens have antimatter weapons?”

“The Oikeyans?” Hopkins asked.

“Yeah, those aliens.”

“I don’t think so. Wouldn’t be much Earth left if they did.”

Marco’s voice took on a grim tone. He was speaking at a wake. “Then it’s the Nefrem.”

“It could be the Nefrem,” Jansen said.

Hopkins continued to glare at him. “Who the crap else could it be, Nils?”

Jansen could hardly believe how dim and uncreative these two could be. Bullshitting them would have been so much easier if they’d just fill in the blanks every once in a while. “Care to do a little math, Hop? There are a few hundred billion stars in our galaxy, multiplied by a handful of planets… That’s like a trillion places where life could’ve evolved. And you think the Nefrem are the only assholes in space?”

But yeah, he thought to himself, it’s the Nefrem. There was no sense getting the other two worked up, though. Not before Jansen had his gun.

Marco and Hopkins began to argue about something uninteresting, so Jansen turned his attention back to the phone, where a notification throbbed at the edges of his peripheral vision. He accepted it, and a command console jumped to the foreground.

“Renaissance OS 0.86 Beta. 0545 GMT. Maintenance Mode, Power On & Self-Test…”

A huge list of messages scrolled up the screen, detailing all the systems waking from their slumber. Jansen tried to read the whole thing, but his eyes glazed over and he just assumed things were hunky-dory.

Then a login prompt appeared and began to blink. He entered his credentials and was taken to the admin interface.

“Guys,” Jansen said.

No one replied.

“Guys?”

He minimized the phone’s screen and looked around, but his teammates were nowhere to be seen. “Guys?!”

He heard a ruckus from the ship’s cargo hold. A minute later, Marco and Hopkins came up the lift carrying a large powertool between them.

Jansen squinted. “Is that a fricking autohammer?”

“Yup!” Hopkins said cheerily.

“Turns out we had something better than a wrench,” Marco added.

Jansen shook his head. “You two are fucking idiots, you know that?”

“What the hell?”

“Alright… First, you’re seriously using Hop’s ideas now? Come on, Marco… I mean, come on. Second, the armory and its contents do that melty thing the instant its outer shell is damaged. You can’t crack it with a hammer or it all goes splat. Third… You’re idiots. QED.”

“You restated your thesis as an argument,” Marco grumbled.

Hopkins fumed, but the anger vanished a second later. “Okay, what if we neutralize the process somehow? Add something to retard it.”

Jansen was about to strike the soft underbelly of Larry Hopkins’ pudgy psyche when he realized there was something there. “Eh, we have liquid nitrogen,” he said.

Marco understood immediately and his eyes lit up. “Like two-hundred liters of the stuff.”

It took all three of them to lug the heavy drum out of cargo and waddle it back to the locker where the precious guns were stored, and another twenty minutes to jury-rig one of their fire extinguishers into a spray nozzle. Then they put the autohammer on top of a small crate, drew a target on the side of the locker with a grease pen, and got ready to start the operation.

Jansen held the makeshift liquid nitrogen sprayer, while Marco and Hopkins manned the hammer. They undid their safeties and waited.

A notification light throbbed at the edge of Jansen’s vision, but he ignored it. He didn’t have time right that second.

Hopkins dialed a few settings into the autohammer, then set his feet and leaned forward. Marco noticed his change in posture and hurried to replicate it.

“Ready?” Hopkins asked.

“Let her rip,” Jansen replied.

Hopkins gripped the autohammer’s handle and squeezed the trigger.

A loud bark erupted from the impact. Hopkins released the trigger and looked at his handywork.

“Didn’t do shit,” Jansen said.

Marco said, “Hit it again.”

Hopkins shrugged and started it back up. The hammerstrikes came quickly, as thunderously loud as the four horsemen galloping across the ship.

There was a hiss and Hopkins stopped. “Open!” he cried out.

Jansen jumped forward and jammed the nozzle into the breach, then squeezed the handle with all his might. The seal wasn’t very good though, and a thick fog bubbled off the contraption and filled the air.

He heard a sound like a big pot boiling, and he felt something slimy drip onto his hand. A few seconds later, the fog cleared to reveal a puddle of green sludge with an assortment of frozen gunparts floating inside. They looked like bits of cauliflower in a soup Jansen would definitely send back to the cook.

He was about to look away when he saw the surface of the sludge move. It bulged, bubbled, and slipped away to reveal a whole and complete—if slightly frosty—pistol.

Jansen snapped the weapon up from the foul smelling sludge in his gloved hand and wiped it off with a rag. At the same time, he called up his phone and broadcast an override signal to the omnibodies.

“One fucking gun,” Hopkins sighed.

Jansen smiled and admired the weapon. It was the fleet’s standard sidearm, a particle pistol called a Lancer. Mist peeled off the device which was all sharp angles and pure aggression. Those were Donovan’s design directives, and Jansen thoroughly approved.

It’d been so long since Jansen had held a gun that he felt a sudden rush of elation. He hadn’t since The Europa Incident, damn that miserable day. No matter how much he tried to forget about that particularly low watermark in his life, it continued to harry him and nip at his heels.

He forced himself to stop smiling and said, “Hey, it’s one more gun than we had, boys. The day’s getting better already.”

The notification light of his phone was still beating, so he checked it. The first message said:

Armory Password Discovered. Lock Disengaged.

Jansen said, “Oh,” then brought up the second message.

Open Issues:

  • Memory Fault in Weapon Guidance
  • Internal Communications Failure

Affected Systems:

  • Defense (Internal, External)
  • Hangar Doors
  • Generator
  • Sensors (External)

Hull Breach Detected

Intruder Alert

He slid the pistol into his holster and said, “By the way, fellas. The system’s back up in diagnostic mode, but it can’t open the hangar doors. Someone has to go outside and hit the local terminal.”

“Outside? That’s the fourth most ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard,” Marco said.

Hopkins shook it off. “No, it makes sense. This is an unmanned outpost, so they’d never expect anyone to be trapped inside.” He put on a brave face. “I’ll go. I’m like the master of unlocking, and shit.”

Jansen nodded. “Good, glad that’s settled. Oh, also… the computer seems to think something’s broken in, and… I’m just tossing this out here… it very well might want to murder our faces. Or meat masks. Or whatever it calls the soft flesh in front of our brain cases.”

A groan escaped Hopkins’ mouth in F-minor while Captain Marco stepped forward and smacked the side of Jansen’s head. But most tellingly, he didn’t countermand the plan.

“Can I at least have the gun?” Hopkins asked pitifully.

“No can do,” Marco said in his very official captain voice. “Our primary objective is to protect The Beagle. Her safety is more important than any of us, Crewman. But don’t fret. We’ll keep a good eye on her while you complete your critical mission.”

“Coward ass pieces of shit,” Hopkins grumbled.

“Now, now, Hopkins,” Jansen said while clasping the other man’s shoulder. “Is that any way to talk to the guy with the gun?”


The next episode is coming your way Tuesday. Next up will be Chapter 22: Body Hacker, which is exactly what it sounds like. See you then!

~Chris

Copyright 2013. All rights (currently) reserved.

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