Monday, April 25, 2016

Bark: Elite: Dangerous - Requiem - Chapter Eight



Euryale: EG Main HQ

I stared out of the canopy of Fell From The Top(...) for hours, watching the traffic passing overhead, a constant stream of incoming and outgoing ships of all sizes, colours and affiliations. I drank deeply from a half-litre glass filled with Eranin Pearl Whisky. The potent silver spirit burned my throat and numbed my grief. Each sip I took was both medicine and a punishment for my continued existence when all the people I had ever loved had been taken away from me. I accepted the pain willingly - knowing my hangover the next morning would not be pretty. ASTRA warned me that I was drinking a dangerous, potentially toxic, amount of ethanol.

"Shut up, ASTRA. Honestly, at this point, what do I have to lose?"

"Your revenge, my lord." the AI told me, sending a chill down my spine.

I set down the glass on the radar projector panel, blinking with the realisation that ASTRA was correct. Revenge. Revenge against Zemina. It was the only thing I had left to live for. The Senator's mail response to my threat following Laure's assassination had been utterly contemptuous.

Good luck with that, traitor's son. I have eyes everywhere. You won't make it within a hundred light seconds of my station.


Her taunting reply made it obvious that Zemina wanted me to do the hard work for her by embarking on a suicide run into Synteini to attack her base at Lagerkvist Station. I knew that I would never be able to get close enough to the Senator to kill her. She was too well-defended and I lacked the necessary resources to do any more than superficial damage to her Orbis starport. I had taken refuge in the independent system of Euryale, on the border of Zemina's sphere of influence in the Empire, to consider my options. I wasn't going to throw my life away in a futile gesture of defiance. The legal protection her position as a Senator gave her might have indemnified Zemina against potential fallout from Laure's murder, but for a woman in her position, a loss of face could be more damaging than a bullet. I wanted to hurt Zemina, damage her, and in the Empire, there were worse things to inflict upon someone than death. Instead of trying to kill her, I would dishonour her, make her seem weak, fatally wounding her political ambitions. It would be a fitting punishment, more lingering and poisonous than death. The only remaining question was how, and what would I need to do it?

"ASTRA, I think I'd like to take a look at that data package now."

An hour after Imperial Intelligence had verified Laure's death at Beta-1 Tucanae, Serf Myles, her adjutant at Adams Orbital, had sent me an encoded data package, along with his condolences. In the days since the assassination, I hadn't been able to work up the courage to open it.

"Yes, my lord. There's a short video message, and a binary file. Would you like to watch the video?"

"Just give me the audio, ASTRA." If the video was what I thought it was, I couldn't bear the thought of seeing Laure's beautiful face again, knowing that I had ended our final conversation without telling her how much I loved her.

"Hello, Aemon." Laure's voice echoed silkily around the flight deck. "If you've received this, you'll know by now that something has happened to me. I just want you to know that I love you, and I never would have changed a minute of it. By now all of my assets should have been transferred over to you, but I have one more gift, for you to use as you see fit. I've attached the command codes to Adams Orbital to this message. They're hardwired into the station and can't be changed. It's a safeguard to make sure that the Governor can never be locked out of their station. I know you'll put them to good use. Goodbye, Aemon."

"Goodbye, Laure." I said to myself, reaching again for the glass of whisky. "I'll miss you."

I swirled the whisky around the glass, contemplating how I could utilise the backdoor access codes to the Coriolis station. Zemina had left her Interdictor in position outside Adams Orbital, ostensibly to maintain order in the interim period before a new Governor could be installed, but I suspected it was there to keep me out of the system and away from the station. As I walked to the galley to top up my drink, a plan began to take form. No-one I knew in the Empire would dare risk helping me sabotage Zemina's ambitions, but I did know one person who would happily sacrifice internal organs to gain control of a space station crammed to the rafters with High Tech goods.

With my whisky fully recharged, I sat at my desk in my stateroom, fingering the chip Thunda Sue had given me in the nightclub at Sorbago. While Senator Torval was an influential figure in the Empire, my own standing in the Imperial Navy gave me access to information that was well-hidden from the public at large. The latest intelligence reports I had received implicated Thunda's crew with the theft of no less than four 50kT tactical fusion warheads from the shipyard at Groombridge 34 in the immediate aftermath following my assault on the Farragut-class battlecruiser that had been under construction there. The dossier also claimed that Thunda Sue hadn't had any luck thus far in being able to sell the weapons on the black market. 

First and foremost, I knew that Suzie was a businesswoman. The potential value of the nukes paled in comparison to the command codes for a space station in one of the Empire's most technologically advanced economies. I felt sure that she would make the trade in an instant. I just needed to crack the encryption on the data chip she had given me to be able to set up a meeting. I took another sip of whisky as I turned over the ceramic cuboid in the fingers of my right hand, trying to put myself into Thunda's head. What would she use as an encryption code?

I thought back to the conversations I'd had with Suzie since we'd first met during my hunt for the rogue Imperial agent, Zeta. I activated the OLED touchscreen on the chip, my fingers hovering over the miniature keyboard as I pondered what the pirate queen would have set as a password. Suzie had already invited me to join her operation twice, heavily intimating an interest that she had in me beyond the professional skills I could bring to her crew. Even so, I knew that she wouldn't simply give away access to her whereabouts. Suzie would want me to work for it a little bit.

I used my terminal to help me eliminate the usual password choices people used for basic encryptions, date of birth, place of birth, names of pets and siblings. I smiled when I saw that Suzie had programmed the chip with sarcastic, withering responses to these basic attempts to crack the encoding on the chip.

TRY AGAIN, SWEETIE...


LAME...


SURELY YOU CAN DO BETTER THAN THAT...


DID YOU REALLY THINK I'D BE SO OBVIOUS?


NOT THIS TIME, SUGAR...


I put the chip back down on my desk in amused frustration, chuckling as I slurped another hit of whisky for inspiration. I ran my fingers through my hair, imagining the affectionate smirk on the willowy pirate's face as she cheerfully mocked my efforts. Then it hit me. 

"Sugar." I entered the word into my terminal, before typing the first keyword result from the Galactopedia entry into the chip's touch sensitive interface.

sucrose


GETTING WARMER...

"Hah!" I laughed in delight, glad to know I was finally on the right track. "I think I've got it."

c12h22o11

I held my breath and tapped the Enter key on the touchscreen.

WELL DONE, SWEETIE.


Suzie's congratulation message appeared on the screen for just a second before disappearing to reveal a rolling hyperwave frequency and countersign that changed once every thirty seconds. The chip Suzie had given me was a security dongle that would give me access to the Thunda Crew's private hyperwave comms net.  I inserted the dongle into my terminal's chip reader slot and opened my mail app.

Suzie, it's Roche. I need to speak to you. I'd like to give you an offer you can't refuse.


It took less than two minutes to receive her reply.

Kappa Fornacis. 9pm GST tomorrow. You know where.
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