A-to-Z Challenge — Letter G
Astraeus Earth Force Station, 2115 A.D.
Rourke had just sat down for lunch when a rolling black-out began in Red Sector, and then quickly coursed through the Blue and Green Sectors. Before Rourke could even get to his feet, the entire Yellow Sector was down too. Only Black Sector, Medic Labs and S&R still had power, but not for long. Rourke raced to the security lift and then into the Command Center. Auxiliary back-up was only available for the security lift, the Station’s intercom system, Medic Labs, the Command Center and the main power supply that kept the Station rotating and life-support functioning. By the time he punched up reports on his computer, Black Sector and S&R were completely down and everything else was relying on auxiliary. They had exactly twelve hours before the entire Station was dead in space.
Rourke began barking orders over the intercom. “Davies, get your team ready in all sectors! We could have a riot on a mass scale with these black outs. Kerchev, get your team up to Command Center. Take the security lift! Brody, I want all engineers working on this black-out! Find the source now!” He then sent out a Station-wide message to all occupants onboard the Astraeus: “Citizens of Astraeus, please remain calm and head to your rooms. Your doors can be opened manually. Every apartment will receive a lantern and bottled water. If you have any problems, report to an officer immediately. Again, I caution you to remain calm. We are working on this problem and will resolve it as soon as possible. Protocol 75.”
Protocol 75 went into full swing. The Rescue team began issuing lanterns and water, the Security team locked down all Merchant shops and restaurants, S&R’s docks were sealed, and Kerchev’s and Brody’s teams began scanning all power sources on the Station. The protocol also alerted Security to a zero-tolerance on any mischief or looting. Medic Labs was put on full alert for incoming casualties. Red flashing lights went off in every sector and a “remain calm” message was sent repeatedly over the intercom system.
In all of his years as Commander of Astraeus, this was only the second time Rourke had to issue Protocol 75. Fifteen years ago, the Assarian’s had attacked the Station over a merchant dispute. It had been a minor skirmish with only a few bombs and armed assassins, but enough to put the entire Station on alert. The whole fiasco had lasted only two hours. There was no telling how long this one would last.
Rourke paced the entire length of the Command Center, stopping at each of the fifteen terminals and asking questions of the techs repeatedly. Finally Kerchev stood up and waved at Rourke.
“Sir, I’ve found the problem!” Kerchev said as he jumped up and down.
“What is it?” Rourke shouted as he raced to Kerchev’s terminal.
“Gremlins, sir!” Kerchev exclaimed as he sat down and began punching codes into his computer.
“Gremlins? What the hell are they?” Rourke said as he looked over Kerchev’s shoulder.
“Basically, sir, it’s a series of annoying viruses meant to go off in a set sequence. They are everywhere!”
“Can you stop them?”
“I don’t know, sir. They’ve pretty much run the gambit of the power system, but it looks like they may be attempting to infiltrate the auxiliary system too.”
“But can you stop them, Kerchev?” Rourke shouted, annoyance growing.
“It will take a while, sir. I will need to code my own virus to kill the Gremlins.”
“Get on it then!”
“Sir! I’ve found the point of entry!” Murphy yelled from across the room.
Rourke ran to Murphy’s terminal. “Where did it begin?” he questioned.
“Black Sector, sir.”
“Can you pinpoint exactly where in Black Sector?”
“Already did, sir. Mechanics,” Murphy said, pointing to his screen.
Rourke leaned over Murphy’s shoulder and looked at the screen. Sure enough, Mechanics was the source of the infection. “Can you tell whose computer issued the virus?”
Murphy looked up at Rourke and said in a quiet voice, “All of them, sir.”
“Bloody hell!” Rourke exclaimed. This hacker was becoming quite the gadfly. He looked over at Marshall, but he was calmly working at his terminal. Whoever this hacker was, he was now mocking the entire leadership of Astraeus. “All of them? How is that even possible?”
Murphy punched in a few codes. “If you look here, sir, you will notice that they all began sending the virus at the exact same time. The only way that is possible, sir, is if someone sent the virus from another source programmed to hit the Mechanic’s computers all at once.”
“Can you track that other source?”
“I can try, sir. If they left any trace of that source, I will find it,” Murphy said, then smirked and mumbled under his breath, “It’s pretty ingenious, bloody genius even.”
“What’s that, Murphy?” Rourke asked, unable to make out what Murphy said.
“Nothing, sir! I am on this!”
“We’ve got ten hours, people and then this Station is dead!” Rourke shouted. “Get your asses moving!”
“Chief, we’ve got a major problem down in S&R,” Shannehey said over the intercom.
When the call came in, Davies was busy in Yellow Sector controlling a crowd of angry Merchants who didn’t want to close their shops. “Can’t you take care of it?” he asked, his voice raised above the shouts from the crowd.
“There’s an Assarian captain down here making threats, sir.”
“Shit! I will be right there!” Davies ended the call and motioned for one of his officers. “Get these merchants in line! Take them to the hole if you need to, but stop this nonsense!”
On his way to the secure lift, Davies called Rourke and informed him of the Assarian. “This is a bloody mess,” he said to Rourke as he entered the lift. “You’d better get down there too.”
The Assarians were ruthless traders. They ignored laws on most stations and ran roughshod among the galaxy. They made demands and threats and rarely listened to diplomacy. Earth Gov had banned them from all Earth Force Stations in 2100 after their bomb scare on Astraeus, but began allowing them trade relations again just in the last year. Davies swore it was a big mistake at the time, and now here they were again making threats. He just hopped they didn’t have the fire power to back them up.
Davies waited just outside of S&R until Rourke arrived. As they walked inside together, Davies asked, “How do you want to handle this?”
Rourke sighed. This day can’t possibly get any worse, he thought. He stopped and turned to Davies. “Well, you know we have to try diplomacy first. Damn it, I hope this doesn’t get out of hand. We barely have enough power for life support. There’s no way we can afford a battle right now.”
Davies patted Rourke on the back. “No, but let’s see if we can outwit this Assarian bastard anyway.”
When Davies and Rourke reached the docks, Shannehey was in a heated argument with the Assarian. “I have strict orders. You cannot unload your cargo until the Commander gives the go-ahead!”
“Where is this Commander? I demand to see him now!” The captain yelled in his deep Assarian accent.
“I am here… Commander Jeremy Rourke of the Astraeus Earth Force Station,” Rourke said as he crossed an arm over his chest and then raised the same arm in the air in a salute, customary when approaching an Assarian.
“Finally!” the Assarian shouted. As he saluted Rourke in the same fashion, he introduced himself. “I am Captain Imod Antuk of the Basserlik, my trading ship. I wish to unload my cargo, Commander, but this… how do you say in Earthling? Ah yes, imbecile… he says I cannot.”
Davies coughed and then cleared his throat. He already didn’t like this captain and he was thankful he didn’t have to handle him. “Shannehey, go back to your station. We’ve got this.”
Rourke gave the Assarian a half-smile. “I am sorry, Captain Antuk, but Officer Shannehey is correct. We are currently undergoing a routine security check on our power supply and all ships are to remain docked and unloaded until we are done with our maintenance.”
“This is unacceptable! I have a schedule to keep!” the Assarian screamed as he stomped his foot on the concrete floor.
“And I have a space station to run, Captain. These routine tests keep my station running smoothly. It should only take a couple more hours and then you can unload your cargo.”
“Unacceptable!” the Assarian yelled again, this time pulling a large laser gun out from under his uniform and pointing it at Rourke and Davies.
“Code 10!” Davies yelled and within seconds ten officers came running into the docking area, guns ready.
Rourke motioned for the officers to stay at a distance and then turned back to the Assarian. “Captain, we don’t need an intergalactic incident over this. Once our tests begin, we cannot shut them down until they are complete. Surely you run such operations on your own ship?”
A frown creased the Assarian’s darkly tanned face. He nodded. “I do. But Commander, I have to keep my schedule. Let me unload.”
“You know I cannot do that. If I let you unload, every ship out there will demand the same. Give us a couple of hours and then you can be the first to unload your cargo. If this is still unacceptable, then I can only suggest that you leave the docking bay now and return at another time.”
The Assarian grumbled and then lowered his gun. “I will not be back in this location for at least a month, but I will do as you ask. You have two Earthling hours and then I will unload, by force if necessary!”
Davies ordered his men to stand down. He breathed a sigh of relief, but still worried about meeting the Assarian’s demands.
Rourke also breathed deeply. “Thank you for being so reasonable, Captain. I will contact you as soon as all systems are operational,”
“Two hours, Commander. Not a second longer!” the Assarian retorted and then turned back to his ship.
Davies waited until the Assarian was out of ear shot and then said, “Just how do you propose we met that deadline? We don’t even know if we can get the Station working at all.”
Rourke stared at Davies. He was bone-tired and frustrated, and it showed all over his face. “I don’t know, Charles, but at least I bought us a couple of hours to find out. I’ve got to get back to the Command Center. If you have any more problems, let me know.”