Friday, October 16, 2015

The Fugitive Pair - Chapter 36

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< Chapter 35                                                                                                       Chapter 37 >
With station security controlling their elevator, Kristin tries using her telekinetic power to pry out the elevator’s control panel.

My hands hovered next to the edge of the control panel, ready to grab it and yank it out as soon as Kristin’s ability pulled it far enough away from the wall. The teenage psychic poured everything she had into the effort, the strain obvious on her face.

“How long is this going to take, babe?” Michelle asked.

“Too long,” I responded as I searched my pockets for anything I could jam into the narrow opening and use as a pry bar.

“You heard what Matt said. Why aren’t the rest of the telekinetics helping Kristin?” Michelle demanded.

A stir ran through the crowd of psychics at my back and four people stepped closer. No one said anything, but the gap between the wall and the control panel widened quickly. A second later, I jammed my fingers into the expanding gap and yanked with all my strength. With a metallic creak, the panel popped off entirely. At the same instant, the elevator started descending—no doubt toward a lobby full of heavily armed station security officers.

Pulling out my data pad, I reached into the control panel’s wiring and grabbed the diagnostic connector. I plugged it into my pad and the elevator interface popped up on my screen. Flicking to the manual maintenance screen, I quickly locked the elevator in place. That control overrides everything else in the system, otherwise a tech working in the shaft could be hit by a moving elevator. The car stopped with a jerk and I returned to the main screen in search of the security controls. We had no more than a minute before someone in security figured out what I did and canceled it.

Michelle, her voice pitched low, asked the four late-arriving telekinetics, “Why did you wait so long to help Kristin?”

Her voice tremulous, a woman replied, “Because no one told us to help.”

“No one told you?” Michelle said, her tone incredulous. “God in heaven, do you want station security to capture you and send you back to Psi Corps?”

“N-no,” the woman stammered. “But we’re not allowed to use our powers unless we’re told to use them.”

“That is a Psi Corps rule! They’re the people you’re running away from, remember?” Michelle all but yelled. Her tone changed and it was obvious she was speaking to everyone in the elevator. “In an emergency, you cannot simply sit around waiting for someone to give you orders. You’ve got to act decisively or we’ll never get off this station. Is that clear?”

A chorus of assents followed. Their tentative nature drew an exasperated sigh from Michelle. I could easily imagine her casting her eyes toward heaven in a silent prayer for patience.

Into the quiet which followed, Zav said, “Michelle, you must understand that Psi Corps conditions psychics from a very young age. Unauthorized use of their ability leads to swift and severe punishment. I’m afraid it’s going to take more than your impassioned speech to break that conditioning.”

As the conversation took place behind me, I continued flicking through menu screens on my data pad. As expected, the security menu was password protected. I tried the default password—you’d be amazed how many otherwise secure systems never bother disabling that password—but whoever set this system up wasn’t that careless. A little note even popped up stating the password would expire in eight days. That didn’t help me, but it did give me a thought.

“Does anyone know how long the current chief of station security has been in that position?” I called into the silence.

When no one answered, Michelle said, “Let me check the station net. Maybe it will tell me. While I’m looking, do you mind telling me why this is so important?”

“The security menu is password protected and has to be changed on a regular basis. Based on what I learned from my hacker contacts, that second bit is very rare in menus like this one.” While explaining, I worked back through the screens, looking for the admin menu. “The elevator control software is a couple of years old. If the station chief started after that, he may have instituted the password rules for security systems but probably didn’t think of doing that for another department’s controls.”

“That’s about as clear as mud, babe,” Michelle muttered, still tapping on her pad.

“Short and sweet, your average elevator maintenance tech doesn’t worry much about software security. After all, you’ve got to get inside the control panel to even access it,” I explained. “If those password rules weren’t in place when the software was installed, maybe they left the default admin password active. The thing is, you only get a couple of tries with that password before the system locks you out. If the security chief has been around for more than two years, I’ll look for another way to hack into the security controls.”

“Found the info on the station chief,” Michelle crowed. “Let’s see, she took the job eight months ago.”

“Good enough.” I looked over my shoulder at the mass of people staring intently at me. “Cross your fingers and hope for the best!”

I entered the typical default administrative username and password—‘admin’ and ‘password’—and tapped Enter. The screen blinked once and then the administrator screen displayed. “I’m in!”

Everyone gave a relieved cheer as I tapped my way through menus to the command most feared by system security personnel. I selected ‘Reset to Default Configuration’ then entered the administrator password again to confirm I had the authorization to do this. Why the system asked for a password I had to enter just to get to this screen, I don’t know, but it’s standard in just about every kind of control software I’ve ever hacked. Data scrolled rapidly across the screen for a few seconds, then the display returned to normal. I quickly changed the admin password, then accessed the standard elevator controls and directed the car to level eight. With a slight jerk, the car ascended.

“Can they track where the car is going, Matt?” Michelle asked.

“Not immediately. When everything reset, station security lost their connection with the car.” I quickly access the security menu again, this time gaining access without the required password. “If someone is really clever, they might figure out what I’ve done. That’s why I’m entering my own security password.”

Seconds later, I exited the security menu. My passwords wouldn’t stand for long against a good security person, but I only needed them to last another minute or two.

With the first crisis averted, Michelle once again turned to the psychics. “How many of you are telepaths?” A lot of hands went up. “Good. Can you scan ahead of us and tell us if anyone is waiting for us on level eight?”

Those with their hands raised looked uncertainly amongst themselves. Into the silence, Zav said, “They can learn how to do that, but I’m afraid they’ve only been trained to use their abilities on people stand right in front of them. For the rest of our escape, it will be easier if you simply assume their abilities are limited to what they can see.” Zav nodded to the teenage boy who met Michelle and me when we entered Piscain Station. “I trained Gene differently.”

“I’m way ahead of you, Zav,” Gene said, his eyes unfocused. “There are seven security officers waiting for us on level eight and varying numbers of officers waiting at the elevator doors on other levels. They’ve got their blasters trained on the doors and are authorized to shoot if we even look threatening.”

While the elevator car wasn’t badly crowded, even with thirty of us in it, there was no way we could get more than a handful of us out of the line of fire. The elevator rose quickly toward level eight, leaving little time for planning.

“Everyone get down on your knees and put your hands on top of your head,” I barked. “Michelle, you and I will be right up front so the officers won’t have to hunt for us.” I caught Mark by the arm before he sank to his knees. “I need you next to me, Mark.”

Mark nodded, understanding my idea immediately. The Psi Corps psychics had no idea what I was planning and that made them nervous.

“Is he going to attack the officers?” one of them asked. “Because I don’t think that’s a good idea.”

Mark and I sank to our knees as the elevator slowed. Shaking my head, I said, “Mark is going to do what he does best. He’s going to make friends.”

The elevator stopped and the doors slid open.

Will a nervous officer shoot before Mark can do anything? Find out in Chapter 37, coming Monday!