Brigit’s Flame Contest entry – April Week 1
ACT I: “We know what we are, but know not what we may be.”
Word Count: 1,866
This story is set in the same world as Dallas & Inna and Saran & Greaves – meet Mabry & Faraday. (Edited since poll closed – slight revision, fixed some typos)
A blue face in a darkened room looked sharply right as a notification tone crashed a cymbal by her right ear. Seated body slowly slid right to follow her head when she saw the name of the sender in her inbox.
The screen filled with a familiar face.
“His and Hers – dreaming,” recited a male voice.
She closed the message, waved an encryption program open, then tapped out the numbers 0408. The sound of a ringing meditation bowl streamed from the speakers. A digital extrapolation of the sound wove itself around the encryption interface. Within thirty seconds a subroutine launched the message again. Upon relaunch, a file download burst through. The encrypted files stacked up, each transmitted from a different node determined by the subtle changes in the gently escalating tones of the music.
When the fifth file download completed the face returned to her screen.
“File received. What’s your status, Faraday?” She asked with concern.
“We’ve had a minor breach,” he replied, “but it may be an innocent mistake. I need your advice, Mabry. Watch the video and ping me back.”
“Seen and heard. Pingback on River’s Song – your move on three.”
Mabry tapped the message closed, then dropped the five files into a vid player.
“Mabry, you are still holed up in this cave,” A voice called from the door. “Come to the party with me?”
Mabry turned, already lifting her hand to wave the interruption off. It was Vanessa, a colleague who was close to the rest of Mabry’s family.
Mabry shook her head and explained in a tone that begged patience, “There’s something going on at the Port, Vane. I need to check it out.”
“Can’t it wait?” The other seemed on the verge of a pout. “We’ll be at the Port soon enough…Mabry, help me out here. I promised your sister that I’d look after you, but you don’t make it easy.”
“Gemma knows I can take care of myself.” Mabry turned back to her glowing monitors, annoyed that her sister had discussed her with someone else as though she were a child.
“You can take care of yourself in all of the basic…life-support ways, but you get locked into a project or problem and forget to unplug. There’s a whole world happening outside your head and the workshop. The whole community wants to celebrate, and cheer, and dance. You are a part of that. Hell, it’s because of you we even have a reason to celebrate. Come enjoy the party. Be the celebrity; let them ply you with gratitude and accolades.”
Mabry flashed a quick, distracted smile over her shoulder. “Okay, Vane. I’ll meet you out there in an hour or so. We had an intruder at the Port. Faraday thinks it might be nothing, but I need to review the vid to be sure.”
“O,” Vanessa commented thoughtfully, crossing the room. “And it’s not like we can just call Port Security. Can I help?” She set her wine glass down on the desk.
Mabry picked the glass up carefully and handed it back to Vanessa. “Let me watch the vid and I’ll know more. Go on to the party. I’ll either meet you in an hour or I’ll message you if the situation calls for more hands.”
Vanessa sighed. “You don’t have to do everything by yourself. <sigh> You don’t let people in, you don’t come out – sometimes I think you’d be happier if the whole world went away and left you alone with your toys. If you’re not out there in an hour I’m bringing the party to you. And it will be messy.”
Mabry smiled flatly and nodded. She tapped play on the vid before Vanessa was out the door.
The first few images were stills from the exterior eyes set up to watch the aerobridge portals. A man-shape, of average height with a sleighter than average build, between the ages of 18 and 30 approached the portal furthest from the gate. Based on the time stamp, he didn’t even pause for breath between stepping onto the gangway and turning down the narrow portal that led to the ship’s door. His actions were decisive, not furtive – he had the attitude of someone who belonged there. The man extended a key card attached to an accordion lanyard clipped to his jumpsuit. There were no symbols or brands on card or clothing. Video recording kicked in the moment he waived the card at the reader. The door cam gave Mabry the first clear view of his face.
After spending a moment studying his face, Mabry knocked five years youth from her initial age estimate. She scoured the ten seconds frame-by-frame until she found the perfect moment to capture. The man’s strikingly protruding eyes were dark black, with flecks of black dotting the sclera. Red veins branched out from his lower lids like coral and one eye had collected blood along the left side of the iris. A recent fight? Excessive drug use? Exhaustion? His forehead was high and broad, with the hair shaved down to a turquoise fuzz. The lighting of the image wasn’t great – his skin was somewhere between olive and jaundiced and shined with either sweat or oil. His mouth was broad, like his forehead, with thin flat lips that seemed to be grasping his face to keep from falling off. The nose – narrow and short with a knot bulging from the bridge like an old break – looked as though it came from a different box than the rest of his face.
Satisfied that the angle was the most ideal, she slid the cap to the side and dropped it into a facial recognition software.
Mabry pulled up the access log codes to reverse engineer the algorithm that had broken through their security. There were no key cards issued for her vessel. Everyone who had access – from crew to passengers – was chipped. Their security clearance was embedded under the skin and the access string was intertwined with their DNA. Port Security had been told the vessel was undergoing refitting prior to being decomissioned. The access Mabry had granted them on day one had decayed after 24 hours. The intruder had circumvented her security protocol far too easily. What was his purpose? Why did Faraday think this was an innocent mistake? It’s not like they had left the door open.
With those two applications running in the background, she logged into an underground profile Mabry used on occasion to research software and hardware coming out of the Corp black market. She set a few rudimentary keyword searches in motion to ferret out any chatter about the Port, the QM ship, or Quantum Migration in general.
Mabry restarted the vid. Faraday’s recorded voice broke the silence.
“I know someone is there.
A shadow twitched in the corner of an empty changing room, but there was no audible reply.
“I observed you board, hiding will do you no good. In fact, you are currently in danger. Life support to this sector is already being rerouted to conserve resources.”
The shadow stepped forward and looked around for the speaker.
“You turned off the oxygen? Man, that’s cold.” The shadow shook what passed for a head and crept to the door he had entered by.
“I didn’t shut it down on your account. This is the time of day scheduled for diagnostics and simulations. It’s automatic.”
The young man, now standing in the glow of a hallway, looked left then right, leaning back a bit to try to see around a curved wall.
“Over here,” said a casual voice over his left shoulder.
He jumped, then turned around to face it – taking two long strides back for comfort.
There was no one there.
A circle of lights came to life and danced around a vent-like panel in the wall.
“Sorry about that,” Faraday said cheekily, “I couldn’t resist. Did you know you could move that fast? I’m on the bridge; come to the fore. Meet me there. The bridge is three decks above and toward the bow. I’ll light a path.”
The young man hesitated in the corridor. “You one of those Port Security flat heads?” he asked.
“I’m the chief pilot on this vessel,” Faraday replied somewhat indignantly. “I’d suggest you walk quickly – you are depleting the oxygen in this area.”
“I didn’t steal nothin’ or break nothin’.” The man made his case as he walked toward the next line of flashing lights. “I just needed a place to crash tonight. A few hours sleep and I would-a been gone.”
“Relax. I didn’t call security. But I will call them to get you out of that sector if you don’t hurry. A suffocation on my shift would set us back months. I am curious. How do you end up bunkless on a spaceport?”
“Just ’cause you kept me from dyin’ in my sleep don’t mean I gotta tell you my life story. How I got here and where I sleep is my business.”
“Right,” said Faraday, “you don’t want to get cozy and chat. I’ll just put away the cocoa mugs and lead you to the nearest exit.”
The intruder chuckled. “If that was to make me think twice ’bout leavin’, you should know – I don’t even know what co-co is, Man. Who’s wastin’ breath now?”
“You’ve never had cocoa? It’s a drink made from milk and chocolate. It’s very rich and pleasing.”
“I never had milk, never had chocolate. I already pass the door?” The lights had stopped blinking on the wall. He was in the middle of the corridor with no outlet on either side.
“I’m deciding,” Faraday replied evenly. “On one hand, I get the feeling you’ll be more trouble than you are worth. On the other hand, you’ve gone your whole life without chocolate, milk, and cocoa. How can I let you walk away from this opportunity.”
“Maybe it’s better not to know what I’m missing. Show me the door.”
“But where will you go?” The voice asked calmly in a soft tone.
The young man tipped his chin to the speaker. “Why you care?”
“It is my duty to care for anyone onboard the ship.”
“But I’m not crew, I just slipped in uninvited.”
“That part of my job description is a bit of a grey area. You have clearly stated that you intend no harm, vandalism, or theft. And you are engaging in conversation with me as you make way through the corridors. I feel these circumstances allow me to interpret your presence as that of a friend, not foe. So I care.”
“What about the life support?” The intruder asked.
“All systems are functioning on the bridge. It’s only the cargo and sleepers’ facility that have been shut down.”
“You know what?” The young man asked, jabbing his chin in the air again. “I’m gonna come up there are drink your co-co, but you gotta promise me that Port Security will not be at the gate waiting for me when we’re done.”
“No Port Security,” Faraday promised. Then he opened the access panel that led to the stairwell.