Brigit’s Flame Contest entry – April Week 2
ACT II: “Let me embrace thee, sour adversity, for wise men say it is the wisest course”
Word Count: 970
If you have not read it yet, Act I is here “A Stranger Comes To Call“. This is part two of the backstory for one of the main characters in my WIP Adrift.
(I did update Act I some, after the polls closed on last week’s competition. The key thing you would find there is a description of the intruder – it’s just before the hard line break if you want to take a peek.)
Mabry stabbed pause with her finger. What was Faraday doing? The guy broke into their ship and he was inviting him to the bridge for cocoa?
From her periphery, Mabry could see responses to the various searches wiggling on screen for her attention. She tapped the first, it was the code used to get in the door. Mabry clenched her fists and jaw. Elgin had signed his work.
A few years before, Mabry had succumbed to the wiles of a hacker from the underground who almost had her convinced to leave Quantum and live on The Taz with him. He was funny, intelligent, brilliant with code, and shared her love for all constructed life forms. Due to the great distance between their respective homes, the totality of their interaction was on the web. Still, without ever having held his hand Mabry had been convinced that he was her soulmate.
Together they had worked on a project that was intended as an encrypted control program for an autonomous research drone capable of critical thinking and independent thought. Mabry had fashioned it after images of Ravens she had found online. It would fly just above ground level to capture images, video, and radar survey data to locate other lifeforms and artifacts. The couple would also be able to retrieve it on-demand and direct it to deliver items stored inside.
She was so foolish. Elgin had suggested they could use it to send each other gifts. So on it’s first real voyage she had sent him a lock of her hair and a carefully handwritten note that she had kept close to her breast while sleeping for weeks. She had even done the sappy romantic thing Gemma sometimes did and kissed the note before curling it into the small test tube with her hair.
A few months later she received the drone back. It returned with a gift of dice from Elgin. Having no idea what that meant, Mabry rolled the dice between her fingers as she scanned Raven’s stored images and other data. Raven played back some surprising scenes. Elgin had been using the drone to deliver black market goods and take blackmail footage of the buyers. He had also fitted the drone with tiny plasma lasers to cut through metal and cause injury. Her self-professed lover had not even tried to hide how he’d corrupted their joint project.
With churning gut and boiling blood, Mabry had pulled Raven to her to shut him down until she could strip him of the exploitive programming. The bird’s laser eyes flared, searing her finger with a quick sizzle. Shock passed through her like a wave. One of her own creations had been so altered it had turned on her. She gripped Raven firmly by the back of the head, careful to point his eyes away from anything valuable, and wrapped a fist-sized sheet of laser guard tape around his head. Heart-broken…enraged Mabry had marched the struggling thing to the disposal room and held him at the bottom of an acid vat with a glass paddle until he dissolved. She threw the dice in after for good measure.
Though she was part of a community of society’s outcasts and exiled, her’s was a group of moral people who had run afoul of the Corps by standing out against corruption. Mabry did not suffer opportunistic thieves motivated by greed, even if they too were working against the Corps. She had spent more than a year angry with herself for being taken in by Elgin. The whole affair still caused her shudders of regret and embarrassment.
Mabry plucked the algorithm from the results bar with a sneer and dropped it into her security assignment database. It was a rhetorical question, really. She had no doubt whose access it would come back to. Whose DNA had been used for authentication.
“You just had to kiss that stupid piece of paper like some giggle-headed girl in a RomVid!” Mabry scolded herself through gritted teeth.
The database pinged politely that it had found a match and Mabry saw her own name wiggling on the screen.
She felt the urge to stab it with a screwdriver. Instead, she waved it off the screen and closed the program.
Mabry sagged, squeezing her head between two hands as she stared at errant pen marks on the surface of her desk. She exhaled to push away some of her tension, then looked up from the desk and pushed her hair back.
Another bit of information was jiggling for her attention. This was a hit from facial recognition. Mabry tapped it even though she knew now that the face was some carefully constructed lie. Instead of the usual data sheet, the program had redirected away from the original link to a Dark Web portal. At the top of the new page were a jumble of word tags typed in bold white font on a black screen. Each of the words were related to QM, Mabry, and the upcoming mission. Designed, no doubt, to ensure that her keyword searches would have directed her to the same page. Below the list was a graphic image of tan field covered in ordered black and white discs. The black discs obviously had control of the board. Only one of the white discs sat at the edge of play, the rest were surrounded on all sides by black ‘stones’. On the facing edge of the board was a small timer that was counting down. The flipping numbers perfectly replicated a timer pasted to the far wall of Mabry’s workshop. It was the launch clock.
Mabry took a deep breath and stabbed at the messaging app on her display. She tapped ‘E’ to pull up the emergency group contacts then tapped 5 to indicate the highest level of urgency.
Elgin was stealing their ship.