Life is sometimes best shown in the obscure

Written in 365 Parts: 169: Escape

They hurried along the corridor trying to make their pace look like someone late rather than someone running away. Fast, but not too fast. Hurried, but not frantic. Don’t alert suspicion. Don’t get too far ahead of your carefully timed schedule. The computer program would activate in sequence, masking your location and passage, but you cannot be too far out of range as it was dangerous to delude the sensors for too long. Especially now. When you were finally leaving.

They could have laughed. They had managed to pull off decades of deceit and trickery. Now they had pulled off the murder of a colleague. The best part about it was that no one would ever know. Hooper had gone off grid and was masquerading as someone else. No one knew where they were and what they were doing. Bye, bye, Hooper. They were a smear in the desert now, there wouldn’t even be a trace of them. The only recoverable element would probably just indicate the presence of genetic material.

However the use of satellites, drones and secure networks. The bodies being examined in the morgue after a break in. The missing equipment from a corporate store. The numerous changes to Justice Department records in the last few days. All of this was an issue. There was no doubt that some small irregularity might be found. It was time to leave, and collect the very fat pension they had accumulated, before someone in government or corporate noticed something. Time to leave this satellite, job, world, system and persona behind.

Step one was to get off the satellite leaving no traces of how they went. This had been planned way in advance. They had a ticket on a public shuttle, but in the executive section that had private booths. They had a false identity and papers and a good enough disguise. They were currently six centimetres taller and a whole lot slimmer than they had been twenty-four hours before. Thanks to some very fast acting growth supplements and weight reduction medication. It had hurt, even the pain medication had only dulled the agony. But it was needed.

They had untyped their gender. For decades they had been clearly identified as male with a single partner, opposite gender, status. Now they had a new biological tag. They used a clone program to replicate skin cells and regrow their biological identity tag with the assumed identity, who had no gender and no preferences. They also had a faked genetic code. There would be a mandatory sample on the shuttle of a skin scrape on the left hand. They had grown a flesh glove over their hands for this.

They turned a corner and quickly joined the back of a short queue. They had timed it perfectly. This was the final group of boarding passengers. They waited until they were close to check in and then moved into the priority line and presented their ticket. The robot system took only a microsecond to log and scan them in. They placed their left hand on the biological scanner and held their breath as the system took a small slice of skin. A wait of close to ten seconds was like an hour until the screen went green, and they were directed into the boarding tube.

Ten minutes later they had stowed their luggage into a locker above the cubicle and opened the small door. They sank into the seat and adjusted straps to fit their new body size. They set the privacy screen and idly started to flick through the entertainment channels. The shuttle would depart in less than thirty minutes. Four hours of flight time to an orbiting station, and then they would disappear again with another identity. They had done it.

There was a flash on the screen. Someone had indicated they wanted to talk to them. Probably the vessel’s staff. A crew member giving some special courtesy to a high class passenger. Well, they were never one to refuse a courtesy. They hit the switch and dropped the privacy screen and looked into the muzzles of four weapons. 

A squad of justice drones were hovering around their cabin and stood behind them with a harsh smile was Hooper. “How are you doing, Perf?” Hooper asked.

My Mummy

On Monday I decided to get the boys to write a poem about their mummy as a test. I made each of them answer questions and then we compiled that into verse. To be honest it was a bit of fun to keep them amused. It was just as much fun for me. I did most of the compilation but almost all the words are theirs, and certainly all the imagery.

Enjoy:

My Mummy

by Ben, Elliott and Asher

My mummy is a nice grass,
A love that is good
With arms and legs.

Her hair is like candy floss
Twisting,
Paper filled with naughty words.

Her eyes are hazelnuts
They can see fear.
They play a game.

Mummies nose is a cone,
With dinosaur’s nostrils.
Or a big fat poo,
A towel,
Made for glasses.

Her mouth is a lipstick’s stick,
Of fiery breath,
That shouts all quiet.

Her ears just hear my voice,
Like a giraffe
Always listening.

She has legs that I don’t know,
Filled with muscles,
And with bones,
An organ wraps around them,
Right down to the toes,
As they came last.

Her arms are like her legs,
But they put things into cups,
Press buttons,
And create.

Mummies brain is the best.
Very, very, smart.
Is for talking just like me,
Is numbers
And a game pad.

But her love is so pretty,
And very, very, strong.
She loves Asher, maybe also…
Daddy,
Elliott,
And Ben.
Simply, all of us.

Written in 365 Parts: 168: Fleshbags You Fancy

Drick found themselves, once again, sat at the same pop up food stall poking at a bowl of noodles with a resin bi-pronged fork. This time Marsh sat with Drick at a small round table near the back of the food court area. A quaint term for what was supposed to be a temporary location. Drick could remember when the tables looked just old. Now even the stains on the surface had stains on them. What appeared to be a laquer on the aluminium top was actually generations of sauces carefully smeared together and heat sealed by thousands of hot plates.

Marsh was tucking into the noodles with a gusto reserved for those who were enjoying life. He shovelled huge forkfuls into his mouth and chewed with relish. Drick didn’t have the heart to tell him that what he was eating was most likely a tunnel bunny, the local term for any rodent or creature that lived underground or rubble. He was enjoying the food and that was all that really mattered. Marsh even seemed to like the mushrooms and tunnel fungus that was at the bottom of the bowl. He finished and immediately went to get another. He asked Drick but they politely refused, they hadn’t finished the first bowl.

Marsh was close to finishing his third bowl when Lane arrived. Drick watched Marsh study the woman taking careful note of his eyes and his expression. Drick was impressed, he hadn’t lingered over Lane’s incredibly sculptured body, more looked her up and down in an interested, but casual, fashion. 

Lane smiled and sat down. She dropped a few credit bars on the table and waved a hand at one of the roving serving staff. “Beers and shots for the three of us and I will cover the food,” she said. “Take the rest of the credit as a tip.” The staff member smiled at Lane in a genuine fashion. 

“They only give real smiles to big tippers?” Asked Marsh.

“Pays to be a representative for the Union” Lane replied. “So you are Marsh, I guess. Your photo doesn’t do you any favours. You are a lot trimmer and more chiselled than a holoscan shows.”

“I am about fifteen centimetres taller as well,” said Marsh. He noticed the blank look on their faces. “Old two dimensional movie reference for you. I am Marsh, yes. I guess you are Lane?”

“I am.”

“Drick told me about you.” He smiled and shook Lane’s outstretched arm. She noticed that he took the time to read her bio tag. “Sorry,” he said smiling in embarrassment. “I haven’t really got used to scanning icons and knowing what they mean from a distance yet. So I have to take the time to look properly so that I don’t look more like an idiot later.”

“That’s fine.” Lane flashed him a smile. “I hope everything Drick told you was bad?” She winked at Drick who rolled their eyes.

“The worst,” said Marsh. “Did she talk about me?”

“Sure, she never said you had a nice voice though.”

“Of for,” Drick rolled their eyes, “will you two quit it or get a room.” Drick snarled, “I can only stand so much of this rat shit before I lose my stomach.” The end of Drick’s sentence was punctuated by the server placing drinks on the table. Drick held up the shot glass, muttered “up yours” and drained it. Putting the glass on the table Drick picked up the beer. “So we’re going to talk?” Drick stared at Lane.

“Sure. Always nice to have a conversation with new people, friends and total asshats like you Drick.”

“Sweet, I see the charm is only wasted on the flesh bags you fancy.”

“No,” Lane smiled. “I just add extra for them. I wouldn’t waste any emotion on you Drick. You’d simply use it against me or someone else. You are a serial bastard after all. Isn’t that your favourite phrase for yourself?”

“Maybe. Did you get the material I sent?”

“We did. I have to say on that matter I, and my superiors are understandably overwhelmed. We asked you to retrieve some very specific information and any other small bits associated. We didn’t expect you to get all the material, and so much more. It is an incredible achievement. Admittedly it cost us a significant sum in materials. The clones and vessels alone were an executive’s ransom, But the return is breathtaking.”

“Well, thanks. I guess that pays off all my debts and adds a little in reserve?”

“Of course.”

“Good. I will be wanting to use some of that straight away. I will need a ship and a crew, able to sweep and go anywhere in system. Then I will need some significant time with a medical team and I need you to clear up a lot of loose ends on the planet for me.”

“Interesting.” Lane frowned. “You sound as if you are leaving us Drick?”

“We are. Firstly to a location in the system, and then elsewhere. I won’t be discussing where.”

“That’s a shame. What you did for us nets you a lot of respect. You could easily retire here, or move into the Union full time. They would protect you and I know they would find use for your, quite considerable, talent.”

“Not interested. Thanks for the offer.”

“Well I was asked to invite you. I was also ready to negotiate a substantial reward package. But I know you, Drick. You have your mind set on a course and I doubt even a planetary body could pull you off trajectory. I can arrange for what you want. I would say that it will still leave you with us in your debt.”

“I know,” said Drick with a smile. “I will be transferring that credit to a few people on the planet. They will be made known to you. They will benefit from what I am owed. I assume that’s acceptable?”

“Of course.”

“Good. then get some more drinks in, and we can fill in some more details.”

Written in 365 Parts: 167: When Do You Go?

“Things are going to get very problematic around here,” Drick walked over to the sideboard and poured Krennar a malt whisky from the wide selection of drinks. “Here,” Drick passed Krennar the drink and noticed that they swirled it a little, and savoured the scent, before tasting.

“It’s good,” said Krennar, “hell Rodero you have real talent. If I didn’t know it wasn’t real I would swear that it was.”

“Some of it is the memory of the taste in your mind,” said Rodero, smiling, “the rest is, as you said, pure talent.”

“How problematical?” Krennar looked at Drick. “You want to let me know more? Or is this a case of minimum need to know?” Krennar sipped at the drink.

“I will tell you as much as I can,” said Drick. “Some of it I cannot tell you. It is a matter of professional courtesy that I keep some details back. I made a promise.”

“Very well.”

“How about I explain what I think you need to know, and then if you feel you need to know more, ask questions and I will fill in what I can?” Drick raised an eyebrow and smiled slightly. Drick moved over to the drinks once more and poured a large vodka and slipped some ice into it, looking at Marsh Drick noticed him nod and poured the same for him. Rodero was already nursing their own particular cocktail mixture that likely was infused with more than just spirits.

“We have a copy of pretty much everything that was on their server stack. Don’t ask what was on there as it is a lot and most of it I haven’t looked at, and nor will I. Someone else paid for that privilege. Don’t ask how and where we got it, as I won’t tell you that either.”

“I think I can guess.”

“You can guess as much as you like.”Drick smiled, “Onto the important bits. I have a confession from the chief of their operational security that they had planned to kill Hooper.”

“Hooper’s dead?” Krennar stood up.

“No. They’re alive. Very alive. We knew that they’d be targeted and we took steps to avoid it. They have been coming down like a hail of bastards since this event happened. They clearly are willing to sacrifice whatever they can to kill Marsh and stop any investigation. It stinks. It goes high up. So we have been planning every step and guessing their moves.”

“That must have taken some thinking?”

“Well I have a lot of experience of dealing with this level of shit. Centuries of it. Whereas Rodero here was given a lot of access to some very powerful intellects and a group of the world’s best slicers to help them narrow down probabilities. Don’t ask them how they did it as you will be on the sorry side of a conversation about differential equations and something called statistics and other such crap. Upshot is, we had good guesses as to their every move and so we prepared for all of them.”

“How was the data collected? I know those types of systems. They are more protected than half of the best military networks.”

“There are always gaps in any security. What had to be done was avoiding the system locking down entirely. Thankfully I had noticed the overconfidence of the operations staff. So I relied on that to wager they would keep the system in full backup and recovery mode. I kept someone alive to use their own extremely fancy implants against them. On the bonus side I also got a confession of the assault on Hooper and infiltration of the Justice Department, theft and fraud. A whole shebang with intellect imprint to prove the data is not faked. I need you to get that to Hooper and to secure a copy elsewhere as insurance.”

“I can do that. Where is Hooper?”

“They are in Justice Central. Hidden away doing their own little investigation and pretending to be dead. They should break silence very soon and that’s when you’ll be able to contact them and hand over this package of proof. There are some accompanying pieces of evidence, like the fact that Volstron had an illicit mech in their lobby. There’s enough for the Justice to get warrants and do a full study. The sensor footage on the data files we will give you should be enough for a conviction.”

“You said it went higher?”

“It does. Some high ranking executives in Volstron and Yee On Kline have been feeding massive sums of money and post-service boardroom positions to civil servants and military officers. All high ranking. They have been buying silence and secrecy. They are hiding something in the outer system. I have a vague idea about what it might be. I am not sure but my gut tells me that it is connected to Marsh.”

“You have proof?”

“Well that’s where it gets interesting. I don’t have anyone in Volstron or Yee On Kline. However our security chief, and the criminal gang he worked with, kept very extensive details of every call, payoff and deal they made. They also made secret recordings. I have those. I can let you have some of them, the rest are promised to an associate.”

“Who is the associate?”

“I am not going to tell you, I told you that you can guess. They financed this whole operation. When I delivered the initial data they wanted from the nightclub, with extras, they opened up some more finance to me. I have a meeting with one of their operatives shortly where I will be using that credit line.”

“Do you need anything more from me?”

“A couple of small things. I need a highly experienced surgical team and some tickets on very specific craft. The aftermath of this operation is going to be extensive. They will not be bothering to be discreet. Marsh and I will soon have a big bounty on our heads. Larger than before. So I need to get a long way away from here. But there are a few things to wrap up first. I need to find an experimental geneticist and visit the outer system. I can handle both of those myself. You need to get the other items I have asked for. Questions?”

“When you say you are going a long way away, I guess that means forever?”

“Probably.”

“So I will not see you again?”

“No. But I will be leaving you with that information. Trust me, someone is going to cover most of those people. They will not allow a scandal. That’s going to be very good leverage for someone like you. I also will be leaving you a sum of whatever funds remain after we leave.”

“Will you not need funds where you are going?”

“I will make sure that we are well cared for. The rest is left to you, Hooper and Rodero.”

“When do you go?”

“At this point this conversation is wasting my time? Any more questions?”

“No. I expect I will see you one last time. I will go and start with preparations.”

“Thank you.”

Written in 365 Parts: 166: Goose Lake

Krennar walked into the large room of the lake house to find three people already waiting for them. Drick was dressed in a tight fitting one piece jumpsuit with a slim utility belt. Marsh was dressed in simple green fatigues, functional and loose fitting without being baggy. Rodero had come in a cream tweed double breasted suit, canary cravat, laced cream coloured suede shoes and a bright red tartan mohican above a ginger bearded face with mirrored sunglasses.

Krennar glanced out of the broad windows that filled one wall of the room. They looked out onto a wide veranda that was over the edge of the lake. In the distance a v-shaped wedge of geese came slowly into landing on the lake bringing up thin lines of spray. The geese did not settle into the water, instead they started to skate upon the top, performing some elaborate dance with sprays of water, flips, twists and turns. The geese were walking on water and performing ballet.

“Interesting construct,” Krennar smiled at Rodero, “is that just for me?” They indicated the geese outside.

“Yeah,” said Rodero, “I thought you’d appreciate it.”

“You should have used swans.”

“Why?”

“Look it up.” Krennar turned to Drick. “I assume I am here for a very good reason? I also assume you are going to tell me you had something to do with the assault on the Volstron Compound?”

“Oh,” said Drick sweetly, “were they attacked?”

“Don’t play innocent, Drick, it doesn’t suit you. Can we go back to the aggressive sociopath please.”

“That’s not a nice word.” Drick smiled, “But I guess I deserve it for the bullshit answer.”

“You did, and so?”

“Yeah we were there. But I am not admitting to anything at all. Fortunate bystanders is how I will answer any question. There is no evidence that I was in their compound. I believe that if you check traffic footage, that was collected by Volstron themselves and transferred to Judicial Central during that assault, you will see that I was outside. I was clearly seen by a number of bystanders. I even had a brief chat with a robot sentinel guard who was preventing people from getting too close.”

“Well that’s nicely convenient.”

“Isn’t it just,” Drick smiled broadly.

“So why am I here?”

“We need your help,” said Marsh.

“And I need you to transfer some data to the Judiciary and I don’t want them knowing where it came from. You represent a number of people, hell you could even use it for a bargaining piece.” Drick paused. “Some of it will likely be of real interest to Hooper but I don’t want to pass this to them. They are using an, as close to a by the book, approach to nail their quarry. No need to directly muddy the waters with material gained somewhat unserupticiously.”

“Is it obvious that it may have been gained in an illicit manner?”

“Depends,” replied Drick. “Can you cook up a story that involves direct transmission traces of internal calls between Volstron and Judicial Central involving illicit obtained encryption devices? Where the information was obtained from Volstron’s own deep archives.”

“Not likely,” said Krennar. 

“Then best not to use it that way.” Marsh added.

A puzzled look suddenly came over Krennar’s face and uncleared almost as quickly. “Are you telling me you have access to Volstron’s deep security?”

“Not any more,” said Drick. “But for a short while we had access to their entire internal network and servers using a high ranking security clearance. The highest ranking. We might have made a copy of a lot of information while we had that access.”

“What the hell are you going to do with it? Once people find out the price on your head will skyrocket and that data will have an even bigger reward, whichever way it is sold.”

“Don’t stress. The first part of that isn’t as much an issue as they don’t know I took it. As I said I have an alibi, a government intelligence recorded proof of location. I was interviewed, as just stated, by a sentinel droid, outside the building, whie it was being attacked. I also will not be holding on to the data. It is going to some other associates. I just have taken a few specific pieces for my own usage.”

“And what usage is that, exactly?”

Written in 365 Parts: 165: Missing Parts

It was difficult to say what the first sensation was when you awoke in a new body. The brain is not as separate from the physical form it inhabits as one would hope. It wasn’t evolved to be. The limitations of senses, reactions and capabilities were important in how the brain interprets and understands the world. Changing the physical form, in an immediate manner, was a shock to the cognitive capabilities and emotional nature.

Under normal circumstances an organic who wanted to undergo a body transfer, taking their collected self and having it transferred into a clone. With a brain grown in a similar way, but a body that could be dissimilar, would undergo a certain process. There would be treatment to reduce the dissociation: medical evaluation and intervention; virtual therapy to slowly condition the transition. Changes would be allowed to take shape in a virtual world, so that you would sense the transformation while being observed to ensure that the minimal amount of distress was caused. Being suddenly awoken in a new body was only done in the most drastic circumstances and was rarely medically advised.

The Officer jerked upright and resisted the urge to scream. Their body was shaking and a dry retching was heard more than felt. They could feel, but all of their nerve endings were jangling in unison so it was hard to focus on any one sensation. They were pushed back onto the recovery couch and someone was speaking to them. It was hard to make out words, or sights, as the sensory feedback was so new. A sharp pressure on their neck and a sudden cold dullness swept across their body.

It was a few moments before the drugs fully took effect. But as they did the sensory information reduced, and implants started to relay information to a confused conscious. They had been pulled immediately out of the growth tanks. The body was complete, and had been in waiting for them, needing only the three week period in their schedule to complete a steady transfer with full recovery. The internal monitor said they had been downloaded in an hour, then immediately brought out of the medically induced coma. Something was desperately wrong.

“What happened?” Their voice felt strange. Internally it sounded like them but the sounds that came from the larynx via the internal echo chamber of their skull wasn’t theirs. Before a mild panic settled they quelled their fear. A new body, they had a new body, that was all. 

“Please try to relax your body. We were instructed to bring you immediately to consciousness,” a medic with an ident band declaring them as a specialist was checking monitors at their side. They had probably been the one who had completed the download of the self. “The process has been greatly accelerated and so you will feel some discomfort and confusion. I have given you a course of medication and instructed your implants to aid with transition. We are routing some of your body’s sensory information, and pre-processing it on a remote location, before feeding it to your consciousness. There should be no visible lag to your perception, but you may find it a little otherworldly.”

“Who by? Who told you to bring me out like this?”

“Your immediate superiors on the Board of Directors.”

“Why?”

“There has been some incident and they are looking for answers I imagine. I was told to allow you to immediately access all your records so you could refresh yourself and fill in any missing parts.”

“Missing parts? What does that mean? Was there an issue with the transfer?”

“No. It was completely successful. You are even responding better than expected with the transition into a different body form. I am afraid that not all your records were available.”

“Tell me the full details.”

“I do not have the full details. I know that what we placed into this organic shell was from your last full backup. All data since then, that was stored on your company’s servers, is not available. Your organisation is saying little. They have fully locked down all internal speculation since the assault.”

“What assault?”

“As I said, you need to let your physical body adjust, so you may as well scan through the data files. Your implants are connected to the secure system. You will be able to absorb as much data as we have, which is very little.”

Written in 365 Parts: 164: We Have A Confession

One hour later and Hooper knew that he had him. It was a him. In the end it was almost obvious who it was., Though if you would have asked Hooper he wouldn’t have believed it to be true. The guy was nosey, but it was always in a friendly way, a caring way. They were always seeking to make your life easier, help out and even cover for you if you were overworked or in a jam.

Which, he now knew, was entirely part of the plan. It was no doubt a method by which they kept suspicion away, and also learned more than they would from other techniques. They were a great guy, one of the team, someone to rely on and who was always there to help out. They didn’t need to be covert about their interest. They could hide inquisitiveness under the disguise of friendship.

Hooper had always found them to be a little too ingratiating. The type of organic who needed to constantly give in order to win favour. Hooper felt that it was a trait to mask something. He put it down to the man being a bit weak and easily confused, but that was obviously just an act. Hooper had to admit that it was a good act. He would have never placed him as a covert operative. Clearly a clever and dangerous one.

The computers were now placing the certainty that they were in each of the three suspect locations. These were three separate buildings where the data had been changed to hide their presence. They were good at hiding themselves, this organic. They had used that software cleverly. But once you had the key to how it worked you could undo any change to sensor readings. Hooper had reversed the alterations and now had a clean set of reports.

Someone had gone to the most expensive coffee shop in Judiciary Central. They had purchased a coffee and a hot chocolate and paid in credit bars which are virtually untraceable. However the shop paid its taxes immediately to avoid interest rates and so the transactions showed. They had gone to the storage locker room and drank their drink. However Hooper’s suspect didn’t go to the coffee shop, the officer on watch did. So very clever. They weren’t hiding themselves, they were hiding their unwitting accomplice.

Hooper knew how the conversation would have gone. His target would arrive and smile as they always did. They would have some pretext to be there, since they ran most of the clubs, events and societies there were lots of reasons for them to talk to people that wouldn’t be official or related to a case. Anything related to active investigations was strictly recorded and monitored. Anything requested for a closed or cold case was recorded. They would have offered a drink, they had done that with Hooper lots of times. They would have made note of the old injury and sent the officer on watch to get the drinks. That gave them time alone in the storage lockers to do as they pleased. Since they could alter the data later and make themselves invisible to records they could have free reign of any location. The software was sophisticated enough to mask logins. But Hooper guessed that they had acquired login cards and methods to access systems using other people’s details.

It was smart. It wasn’t overly complex once you had the ability to re-write sensor data. And if you were a desk sergeant, who had quarters at central and ran all the paperwork, it was clearly surprisingly easy. Hooper would have doubted that anyone could get away with this, had they been asked beforehand. But, since the whole of internal investigations was run using the tight sensor analysis and observation by computer, a system that had been corrupted, no one would have found out. Not unless they did what Hooper had done and known that someone had falsified data. The system believed itself unbreached and infallible.

They must know they had been burning their bridges with the attack on the mortuary and the plains. Even if Hooper had been killed and the trail gone cold at that point, a trail would have been established. The next time a full audit was run the missing missile platform would be discovered and a full investigation would be the natural outcome. So Hooper guessed that they had to be preparing to bolt, or had already gone.

Hooper prepared an initial report and sent it to the Artificial Intellect Judge that had authorised all of Hooper’s progress. To keep things tightly contained he was working with an outside agency who had their own legal representation at the highest level. It was the protection division arm of the government. A smaller, but no less influential, judicial arm who normally only concerned themselves with political legalities. Hooper needed an outside agency. He knew that Justice computers and systems were compromised so had to have an organisation that was close, but still separated.

Hooper sent the report through a security coded channel and at the same time pulled the waiting messages from the server. There were several short messages, mostly from the four people he trusted with the information of him being alive. He opened the most recent one first. It was from Drick and it had just four words, ‘We have a confession’.

Written in 365 Parts: 163: The Quality of the Chocolate

The answer lay, rather unusually, in the quality of the chocolate.

Hooper was running out of time. In less than three hours the favour Hooper pulled, to make sure that their apparent death was a falsehood and Hooper was actually alive, would be posted to the department. Just before that the statistics for computer research time, and artificial intelligence usage, would be revealed. The vast amount of data crunching that Hooper had been running would be visible. Anyone with a moderate level of access would be able to drill down a level or two in the statistics and see how it was being used. If his quarry had any sense they would notice this and be gone. It was an even chance they had fled already. It was a certainty that they would have flags in the system.

 Hooper had, naturally, made sure to keep a monitor running on the shuttle ports. All of the routes onto the satellite; civilian, legal, maintenance and supply. But, there were a large number of vessels that came to Justice Central every hour. There were tens of thousands of vessels each day. Probably millions of inbound and outbound objects to track. Hundreds of thousands of them were organics or intellects. 

The quarry had a good chance to slip past sensors and detection equipment as they had some ability to affect them. They would have some pre-programmed escape route and cover so they could make their way off base. Hooper was certain of these things. Hooper had to keep watching, but also entertain the possibility they may escape.

The scans of sensor readings and video footage was taking too long. Justice Central was utilised by the entire collection of legal and governmental departments related to law and enforcement. There were thousands of officers in the department of justice and corrections. Then there were penal officers, solicitors, civilian contractors, prosecutors; and that was before the many criminals, plaintiffs, witnesses, court officers and government or business personnel were counted. In total more than one million people came either onto or left the satellite each day. Some of them by vessel. Some of them by maglev from the accommodation blocks and remand centres outside of central but on the satellite.

The sheer weight of video that had to be processed to coincide with every suspicious sensor reading was immense. That was before you accounted for the fact that much of the sensor reading was a false trail and the video had to be triple checked for the same level of alteration. The system was less than eight percent through the matching. It had found thousands of anomalies and had reported these for further examination. Unfortunately that further examination took time and diverting resources to forensically analyse them reduced the chances of finding something in the feeds. It was a tough balancing act to do at speed. Where did you optimise? Hooper knew that was needed.

It would help if the computers had a suspect. Just a single organic, as they could use their readings to help pattern match and find how the feeds had been altered. If you have a base point of information then you could extrapolate what would have to be changed, and therefore look for those changes.

Hooper was close to grinding teeth together into a fine white powder. Taking a deep breath they reopened the data files and went back to the original clues. The coffee and chocolate particles were the only piece of concrete evidence that there had been manipulation. Unless that day someone had a Mocha. A thought ran quickly over Hooper’s brain and tickled. Chocolate particles and Mocha.

Hooper opened the analysis and looked at the particulate data. There were clear indications of both coffee and chocolate particles on the filter. They were distinct from each other however. Running a trace analysis confirmed that the coffee particles had not attached chocolate and vice versa. There was no evidence that it was a mixed drink. In fact there was clear evidence that it was actual beans. Hooper sat bolt upright. 

Chocolate drinks served on the station, whether as a milkshake, iced drink, in a coffee, or just heated with cream, were usually prepared from a syrup. If you were desperate enough to have them from the machines they were from a gel or a powder. If you were really desperate they were from chemical vats and ‘expertly mixed’ to make your taste buds rebel and flee your mouth. This, though, was actual particles. Particles implied the original product. Not chemical. Not ersatz, not processed to muck. 

There were only two places that served real chocolate beans. They were expensive. There were only five places on the satellite that beans were used to make real coffee. Two places. Only one of which served hot chocolate.

Hooper pulled up the video feed for the coffee shop and paused all other intensive processing work. Then Hooper reassigned all the computer processing power to analysing the sensor feeds and video data from the coffee shop to the storage lockers for the entire of that day.

Written in 365 Parts: 162: We Are Not Good Neighbours

Drick’s head swam but the loud pounding of their own heart was softer now, the rushing blood had subsided. Licking dry lips they coughed a little. They were sat upright in a bed or cot. Soft surface under the whole of their body, trying to open eyes that felt heavy and sticky. Drick squeezed the lids of their eyes together tightly and released a few times, willing moisture onto the dry orbs. Then blinking into bright light as the tears welled up they tried to focus on the room.

“Keep still” the gruff feminine voice, “can you give them something to stop the shaking?”

“Sure,” male voice again, they were a blurry shape. “It will pass anyway, reaction to the poison and temperatures. We nearly lost you. You were seconds from total brain death, I reckon. Which would have been unfortunate, well for us,” Drick detected what sounded like genuine regret. “For you, it would have been better to die.”

“Where am I?” Drick’s voice felt slurred but at least the words were distinct. The shapes were starting to become more solid, edges were less blurry. A face swam into view, male looking with a few days of growth. Sharp cut grey hair, balding in the middle. Overweight, maybe by twenty or thirty kilos above where they would be more comfortable on a spaceship. Though the gravity felt light so they likely didn’t feel those extra pounds. Drick spent too much time going from surface to space to enjoy carrying extra mass. Their eyes were kind, in a sad sort of way. Light grey with flecks of a darker slate, stuck between ice blue and azure.

“You already asked that,” said male voice, “as I said, in the sick bay. We have a few questions for you. You have been unconscious for a few hours. We have you on an intravenous routine to help keep you alive.”

“Is there a price for this service, or are you just some good neighbours?” Drick coughed again and focussed on the female voice, for some reason Drick felt they were in command here. Dark hair, slightly tanned skin, green eyes. They were bulky for their height, couldn’t be more than one hundred and sixty-five centimetres, but broad shoulders and thick muscled neck. Clearly they had a very physical routine, or a tasking type of work. 

There was one other person in the medical bay. They looked male, a little over one hundred and eighty centimetres, with a mass of unkempt blond hair. Drick couldn’t make out their eye colour or other details as they had goggles on and a respirator mask attached to a filter. They were holding a long barrelled plasma pistol. The gun looked as if it had been modified down from a marine issue blaster carbine. A common practice amongst the seedier denizens of the colonies was to modify the, common to buy, illicit carbine to help hide it under clothing. They made no attempt to hide the weapon in this room; it was pointed lazily towards Drick.

“We are not good neighbours,” the female voice replied. “We are the people who saved you just so that you could tell us what happened to the ship we were stalking. Oh, and you might also want to tell me why you had this communicator, and why my husband has a harpoon through his lifeless body.”

Written in 365 Parts: 161: Don’t Try to Move

Thud. Thud. Thud. Thud. Thud. Thud. Thud. Thud. Thud. Thud. Thud…

Fast repeated booms. Out of sequence like the rhythm section of a freeform Jazz band. Juddering. Stuttering. Thud. Thud. Thud. Thud. Thud. Thud.

Each time it shook Drick’s whole of the body making the nerves scream as if they were bathed in fire. The sound was so loud it shook the whole of their head. It made their eyes twitch even though they were closed. Thud. Thud. Thud. Thud. Thud. Thud.

Air. Can’t breathe. No air. That’s why the heart was irregular. Why the nerves screamed. Every sensation heightened as the body ached for it to end but the brain screamed for any chance. So still they panted. Desperate. Greedy. Aching for a release from the burning in the lungs. How was it possible they were still breathing? They were dead. They had to be dead already.

A shocking realisation. They were breathing air. The sound in their head, the sound of their heart hammering in their chest, forcing blood back into the brain. They could hear. They could feel. They were not dead. The air was fire. It was pepper mixed with acid sprayed onto raw bleeding flesh. It was glorious. 

They struggled but their senses were in turmoil and vision was just a miasma of colourful splashes. How long? How long had they been dead? Why couldn’t they open their eyes?

Voices. They could hear voices. Maybe they were shouting. Hard to tell, harder to understand as the pounding drowned out the sound. There was a rushing noise punctuated by the thuds, which they took to be the sound of their blood. It was as if a raging river were being forced through the ears while someone pounded on their skull with a mallet.

They could feel movement. Some sensations from the body. Trembling limbs, spasms caused by oxygen deprivation and the cold. The cold. The suit had shut down the heating to minimum needed to sustain existence. The eyes felt very cold. The tears had frozen on their eyes and jammed the lids shut. 

The electronics of the suit were shut off. No doubt they had yanked the automatic systems so they could manually give them oxygen. The atmosphere on a spaceship was good enough to support life but not to restore someone from the dead. There had to be a mask, or a tube. That would explain why the lungs burned so much. Oxygen rich gasses were being pumped into them.

Someone was taking off the suit. They could recognise the sensations as the outfit came apart in sections. Each touch and motion caused an agony of sensation. As if they were being beaten. Fiery nerves felt as if they were being kicked around. The pain was unbearable and they drifted into unconsciousness.

Seconds? Minutes? Hours? Days? Hard to tell as they came out of a violent blackness that threatened to tear them apart. They jerked, and rough hands grabbed and restrained them. The thudding was still loud. The rushing still there. But it was lower in intensity and the body no longer shook so much. The rushing in the ears more the murmurs of an angry stream, and not the raging torrents of a rabid river. Again they tried to open the eyes but the muscles wouldn’t obey them. Implants didn’t work. The augmented screens affixed to the inside of the cornea were not responding. Internal repair unit had probably failed to activate. They’d be surprised if half of the electronic systems had survived.

“Don’t try to move” A rough voice that gave good advice. However, it did not sound as if it carried any warmth for their welfare.

“Where Am I?” They tried to say but it came out as mush. Their muscles betrayed them and there was muffling from something that covered their face.

“You’re in our sick bay,” a different voice. Feminine sounding. Still no kindness or warmth. “You were almost gone. We need to administer medication and restoration. Enough to make you able to answer our questions.”