Monday, September 28, 2015

The Fugitive Pair - Chapter 28

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Matt’s uncle has an idea for rescuing Zav and the kids.

We spent the next hour discussing and refining my uncle’s idea. The idea was straight-forward—sound a decompression warning throughout the station and take advantage of the confusion to rescue Zav and the kids. Simple as the plan sounded, we had to figure out a lot of details before giving it a go.

I settled down in front of Gunther’s data pad to exercise my hacking skills. Gunther headed out to utilize his connections with the station underworld. He carried a credit stick with a comparatively small balance of a few hundred thousand credits, more than enough to hire help and purchase supplies. Michelle plotted sensor readings for the naval ships in the system, intent on finding the least dangerous route to a wormhole.

I tackled station security first since the plan fell apart if I couldn’t trigger the station’s breach warnings. Without the benefit of the backdoors I’d used when hacking the GenCo systems on Pegasus Station, I had to rely entirely on my wits. Fortunately, Jonas hadn’t let me rest on my laurels after we rescued Mom and Dad from the pirates. He drilled me all the harder, ensuring none of the systems I tried hacking had any connection to the GenCo system. He also brought in some very good network security experts to refine my existing skills and teach me new ones.

It took close to two hours for me to crack station security. I would have spent even more time working on it if one of the guys Jonas brought in hadn’t taught me about social engineering and masking comm codes. Adopting the persona of a harried naval ensign, I called an equally harried departmental assistant administrator in station security. My carefully spun story about synchronizing search team work shifts and our inability to connect to security’s shift roster yielded the assistant’s password to the timekeeping system. While giving me his password, the guy even said, “What the hell, it’s just the shift scheduling system.”

If the guy had any idea what I could do with any admin level password into their system, he’d have hung up on me immediately. But most people really don’t know how much damage a good hacker can do once they have access to the system. Rearranging the duty roster and changing schedules was just the beginning. Then I added Michelle and me to the navy security team, using images of our current disguises for the IDs. Finally, I used the assistant’s password as a stepping stone to far greater system access.

All of this took a lot of time. Gunther returned with purchases, checked on my progress, then went out again with an expanded list of skills we needed to pull off our plan. Michelle brought lunch to me at some point and even stood over me until I ate it. It took longer than I hoped, but I finally found information on our friends. As we’d feared, once station security made a close inspection of the false identities Zav established for the five of them, everything fell apart quickly. Within an hour, security established their true identities and alerted Psi Corps.

The Psi Corps office immediately restricted the information at the highest level of classification and did their best to keep the findings out of navy hands. That would have worked if not for the admiral on hand for the naval maneuvers going on when Michelle and I entered the Piscain system. The flag officer outranked the local Psi Corps office chief and, despite having been in the system for only a week or so, had better relations with station security.

Reading between the lines, I got the idea homeless bums living in repair tunnels had a better relationship with station security than Psi Corps had. And that level of friction helped us out a bit. The admiral offered to transport our friends to the nearest full Psi Corps facility in a fast courier under his command. The Psi Corps office chief, peeved he wasn’t able to contain the embarrassing revelation that Zav and the kids were living right under his nose, tried commandeering the fast courier from the navy. By the time the inter-service pissing contest was over, the admiral had trampled all over the hapless station chief, promising he’d let a Psi Corps message drone exit the system once he was certain the emergency situation was well contained enough to resume external communication with the rest of the Federation. The station chief tried launching a drone anyway, but the navy intercepted and destroyed it.

Reading the station security summary reminded me of reading the minutes of some of the GenCo board’s more contentious meetings. I’d seen preschoolers in mid-tantrum who were more reasonable than these high-ranking government officials. I relayed all of this to Michelle and we marveled at the behavior of these supposed adults. We also breathed sighs of relief. Our timetable was still tight, but not as tight as we had feared.

Finally, I turned my attention to Psi Corps. I didn’t even consider trying social engineering with Psi Corps. God only knew what kind of psychics they had in the office watching out for that kind of thing. I was hardly what you’d call an expert on the subject and had no idea if it was even possible to set up a psychic firewall against that sort of thing, but I refused to jeopardize the entire rescue operation to make my job a little easier. Besides, I just needed access to Psi Corps’ office procedures in case of station-wide emergencies. When the decompression alarm sounded, would they lock the office down or evacuate or do something else entirely different? Of course, the Psi Corps response was best summed up as ‘it depends on the situation’—not nearly as useful as I’d hoped for. Essentially, the response was whatever the station chief decided it should be. It was not a particularly helpful policy from my point of view though I’m sure the station chief loved it.

My groan of frustration brought Michelle over to me. “Your shoulders are hard as a rock, babe,” she said as her hands began kneading my tense muscles. “You need to take a break.”

“I’ll take a break when our friends are with us on this ship and we’re waving goodbye to the Piscain Hub.” Despite my words, I leaned back in the chair and let myself enjoy the shoulder massage. I even tilted my head back just in case Michelle felt like giving me a quick kiss.

She did feel like it though it wasn’t quick at all. Despite the situation—or maybe because of it—our kiss quickly turned passionate. Michelle’s hands wandered down from my shoulders and caressed my chest. My hands rose and returned the favor though I think I got a lot more out of caressing Michelle’s chest than she got caressing mine. Spinning around in the chair, I pulled Michelle into my lap and resumed our kiss.

“I suppose I should have known better than to leave young, horny newlyweds alone for so long.” Uncle Gunther’s voice startled us both though we didn’t jump apart like I think he hoped we would. “You know, children, we’ve got a deadline for rescuing your friends.”

Michelle spun the chair around so we both faced my uncle. “The deadline isn’t quite as pressing as we thought, Gunther. Besides, Matt and I were just taking a short break.”

“I remember being young and newly married, Michelle, and I saw where my nephew’s hands were headed. If they’d gotten there and he managed to stop short of bedding you, he’d be a stronger man than I was at his age.” A lascivious grin crossed my uncle’s face. “And if you’d let him get that far without bedding him… Let’s just say you never struck me as the teasing type.”

“Here’s an idea,” I said, “let’s stop talking about our sex life, Uncle, and start talking about what you’ve been doing for the last five hours.”

“Well, I can promise you it’s not been as interesting as what you were just doing, Matt!” In response to my glare, Uncle Gunther raised his hands in a placating manner. “Okay, I’ll drop that subject.”

“Good,” Michelle and I both said.

“I’ve managed to hire a collection of people with negotiable morals to help us with our distraction. One of them offered unexpected services.” Uncle Gunther’s expression turned serious. “How much more effective will our decompression alarm be if it’s accompanied by an actual decompression?”

What is Matt’s uncle suggesting? Find out in Chapter 29, coming Wednesday!