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Episode 207: Sabotage

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It was a small chime that woke Maccabee, not loud enough even to get him to open his eyes. He lay there on his back, his head engulfed in his pillow, the sheets pulled up to his chin and the ambient temperature in the cabin turned down to fifteen Celsius, just the way he liked it when he slept. Why would anyone have a reason to wake him now? The chime was just an alert on the regular com system, not the alarm that would have had him in the Deck already, fully awake; that alarm was loud, and turned on the lights to boot, and his body was attuned to it, because it meant imminent danger.

The chime sounded again, slightly louder, and this time he opened his eyes. The glowing clock at his bedside told him the ship’s time, now matched to the Gatehouse: 03:43, just five hours since he’d gone to bed. Maccabee groaned. The chime sounded again, and this time it was loud, definitely noticeable. There was no avoiding it.

“Receive, audio only,” he growled, his voice harsh with sleep. The com unit chirped in acknowledgement.

“Maccabee?” It was Samara. Of course. “Are you there?”

“Of course I’m here, Samara,” he grumbled. “Who else would be in my cabin right now?”

“Do you really want me to answer that?” she said with just a touch of humor in her voice. She had a point.

“What do you want?” Better to get it over with.

“I’ve got something on the video. The AI flagged it to me fifteen minutes ago. I thought it could wait, but after I watched it a few times. . . .” He could almost hear her shrug. “I ran it past Pinzon, and she agreed.”

“Hold,” he said. Groaning, he threw back the covers and staggered out of bed, touching a control by the mattress to increase the temperature. By the time he reached his desk, the room had warmed considerably. He sat and opened Samara’s call on his holo; her face popped to life in front of him.

“My, my, Maccabee,” she said in a tone that was half-mocking, half-sultry. “Do you always sleep nude?”

“Your pickups can’t see that far, Samara,” he pointed out. “And, yes, I do. Now show me the damn video.”

“Like I said,” she continued, and now her voice was all business, “this was flagged fifteen minutes ago.” Touching a control, she sent the video to him. His system put it on a split image with Samara’s face, as per his preferences. “This the Starboard side main hold. The highlighted man is Crewman Second Class Furugawa, one of our recruits from Kuroishima.” The image zoomed in slightly on the man. He was operating a heavy loader in the zero-g environment of the hold. Behind him, small shipping containers waited in a holding field inside the cargo airway that connected Hornet to the Gatehouse.

“Here’s the pertinent bit,” Samara continued. Furugawa steered the loader towards one of the containers, but he overcorrected, reacting as if he were still in a gravity field. It was a common mistake, and attempting to correct the correction only made matters worse. The loader hit the front container broadside, and then the automatic systems took over and brought it to a halt in short order. Bits of container and cargo scattered in all directions, bouncing off bulkheads as other people rushed in to clean up. Other than the oddly slow response time on the computer intervention, Maccabee saw nothing unusual. The playback ended.

“That’s it?” He shook his head. “Sorry, Samara, I’m still waking up. What was I supposed to see?”

She grinned. “I didn’t see it at first either, but take a look at the enhancement the A.I. cooked up.”

The image jumped back to the beginning of the short video loop and started playing. This time, the container that the loader was going to hit was highlighted in green. Playback moved forward in normal time until just before the impact, then switched to slow motion. Then, the computer rotated the camera angle, extrapolating from other sensors and its own knowledge of physics and about a million other variables at play. The impact drove the side of the loader into the container . . . and Furugawa was expecting it.

The crewman shifted in his seat, appearing to bounce against the restraints, but actually reaching out to grab something, an object highlighted in red by the A.I. The playback froze and the object was enlarged. This was still a theoretical extrapolation, but Maccabee trusted the equipment he’d had installed when Hornet was built, and he knew the computer could model this sort of thing was a high degree of accuracy. Sophisticated sensors inside the ship noted that the object had a significant power signature, but was otherwise of unknown design. The A.I. also rated the threat level of the object as low to mid, meaning it could not be directly employed to damage ship or crew.

“The A.I. triggered the alert after five minutes,” said Samara, “when Furugawa left the hold.”

“His shift was over?”

“He said he needed to take a leak, apparently. The conversation was recorded on the com system.” Samara scowled. “I’d personally beat the shit out of the security guy who let that go, but I think Pinzon will take care of that.”

“Where’d he go?” Maccabee was fully awake now.

“Back to his quarters.” Samara played a quick montage of video, showing Furugawa moving back to his berth, acting completely normally, and not as though he’d just skipped out on his work shift. “He’s still there now.”

“We’ve been recording?” he asked.

“Yes, but the privacy lockouts are still in place. I haven’t seen anything inside the berth.” She shrugged. “The A.I.’s locked on to him now, so if he so much as looks cross-eyed at something, it’ll trigger a security alarm.”

“Still. . . .” This was all damned odd. Just what was that box? “I’m overriding the lockouts.” Maccabee accessed his own security A.I. with his internal com, and a moment later, a high-speed playback of the inside of the berth flickered across the screen. Furugawa moved to his bunk, kicked off his boots, and laid down on his bunk, closing his eyes. No one paid him any attention. The computer kept a green highlight around the object from the hold, even though it was not visible to the unaided eye. Suddenly, the playback went back to normal time and the screen icons indicated that the images were now a live feed. Furugawa lay still.

“Suggestions?” asked Maccabee, watching the crewman laying on his bunk.

“Pinzon wants to bring him in,” Samara answered, but she sounded reluctant about that option. “I’m inclined to let him run, see if he points us to anyone or anything else.” She looked over at her own screen, eyes narrowed with concentration. “I trust the A.I.’s threat analysis.”

“So do I,” said Maccabee, “but there’s a million other things he could do, and any one of them could leave us vulnerable to another threat that the computer can’t analyze.” He sighed. “Shit. Pinzon.” He said that last while tapping into the com system again.

The security chief’s reply was instant: “Sir.”

“Take Crewman Furugawa into custody. Use caution, particularly with whatever it is he brought on board.”

“Clear, sir,” Pinzon replied with professional relish. “On my way.”

“Samara,” Maccabee continued, turning back to his screen, “get dressed and come meet me in five m—”

Maccabee cut off as the screen died and the lights in his cabin suddenly shut off, plunging him into darkness that lasted less than a second before emergency spots along the wall flickered to life. Their pale, greenish glow basked the cabin in unfamiliar shadows. Even before his conscious mind grasped exactly what was happening, Maccabee was accessing his com implant, linking in all the command staff on the fly. Any who were asleep would be woken by the harsh buzzing in their inner ear.

“Everybody up!” barked Maccabee. “We are under attack, repeat, under attack! I’m locking down the ship in sixty seconds.”

Everyone started shouting at once, but Maccabee didn’t have time to talk to everyone, so he shut off all channels except for Samara and Pinzon. Moving quickly, he grabbed a pair of pants and jammed his feet into his boots.

“What the hell’s happening?” said Samara. “How are they doing this?”

“Umbilicals,” stated Pinzon flatly. “I’m still heading for Furugawa.”

“I think we can assume that he won’t be there,” said Maccabee, standing and pulling a three millimeter pistol out of his desk drawer. “I want you to get those umbilicals off my ship, Pinzon! Clear?”

“Crystal, captain.” She sounded very grim.

“The lockdown,” began Samara.

“Pinzon will have a pass. So will you,” he added.

“Will it still work?” Samara asked.

Maccabee stepped up to his cabin door, opened it, and exited into the corridor. “Let’s find out.”

Furugawa thought he was clever, but he hadn’t been playing the game as long as Maccabee. Hornet’s captain had watched once as his crew was killed because they were no longer in command of their ship, and he’d built this one from the keel up with one central concept in mind: control. With a simple, coded signal from his com implant, he opened a gateway from the main computer system to an A.I. that had been patiently waiting for this day since the ship’s construction. Separated from the main computers, from the main power systems, from every possible weakness other than raging cannon fire, this computer routed its commands through disused conduits, hidden gates and secret passages, bypassing every attempt the attacker made to stop it.

A siren sounded through the ship, a single, long tone, followed by dead silence. Maccabee could see no crew in his line of sight, but he knew that all of them would be getting quickly out of the way of any door, hatches, or emergency seals in the ship. Five seconds was all the time they had, and then every one of those openings slammed shut and locked itself down. The ship echoed with the satisfyingly heavy thuds of sealing hatches and closing bulkheads. Maccabee almost breathed a sigh of relief. Everything was working as it should.

“Pinzon?” he asked. He was already heading for Samara’s cabin, just down the corridor from his, but separated by one sealed bulkhead.

“The pass is working, captain, but I’m going to have to take a moment to get my team.” She paused, obviously working it out. “Give me five minutes.”

“Understood.” Maccabee let the pressure door open in front of him and saw Samara standing in front of her cabin door, looking impatient. She wore workout clothes, short, tight pants and a lightweight top, but she’d managed to get a pistol strapped to her waist, with another one in her hand.

“How do we find Furugawa?” she asked.

“He can’t have gone far,” answered Maccabee. He queried the A.I. “Maybe there’s someone I can contact in his berth.” A moment later, the computer was scrolling a list of names directly into his brain, superimposing them onto his field of view through his visual cortex. “Czerney.” Samara nodded. The lieutenant was not the best officer, but she was smart, tough, and knew enough not to ask questions at the wrong time.

The A.I. patched Maccabee through, signaling Czerney through her implant that this was a secret call. “Czerney, this is the captain. Is Furugawa still in your berth?”

“Nope,” she answered. “Soon as the lights went out, he was on his feet and out the door before anyone else even blinked. Then the lockdown happened.”

“Did he leave anything on his bunk?” asked Maccabee.

“Hold on,” she replied.

“Careful, it might be dangerous.”

“Hey, I got it, cap.” He didn’t hear anything else for a moment. “I don’t see anything unusual, cap. Rillins says that Furugawa took something with him when he rushed out of here. Is he behind this?”

“No time, Czerney.” Maccabee thought quickly, then made his decision. “I’m giving you override authority, Czerney. The A.I. will let you through the lockdown. Get yourself a weapon, find Furugawa, and contain him. The XO and I are on our way.”

“Clear, cap.”

Maccabee cut the signal, issued a quick series of instructions to the A.I., and then turned to Samara, giving her a nod. “Let’s go.”

Doors and hatches slid and cycled open as they approached and then shut again immediately after they’d past. Crew members looked up in surprise when the doors opened, but relaxed when they saw the captain. Choosing his route carefully, Maccabee went past Alger’s quarters, letting the big Scot out to join them.

“About bloody time,” he growled as he fell into step beside Maccabee. He carried his favorite weapon, a combat shotgun loaded with heavy slugs. “I was wondering if you were ever going to answer my call.”

“I wasn’t,” answered Maccabee, “at least not immediately.” He quickly filled in Alger on the situation. “Whatever he’s got, it can’t do that much damage by itself, but if he can manually bypass the doors, then he might be able to get somewhere where he can inflict a lot more injury.”

“The reactors?” asked Samara, as they pounded down a narrow, metal stairway. All the lifts were shut off during the lockdown, even for Maccabee. Opening a door was one thing, but running the whole lift system would have defeated the purpose of the security measure.

“Even if he can bypass individual doors, he won’t be able to move fast,” muttered Alger, bringing up the rear. “We should be able to pin him between Czerney and us.”

As though the mention of her name had caught her attention, Czerney’s voice suddenly spoke in Maccabee’s head. “Captain, we have a problem.” She sounded frightened, and that was a very bad sign.

“What?”

“He’s cutting through bulkheads like cheese, cap,” she said. “Don’t know how, but the ceramasteel’s still glowing, and I don’t think I can follow. The doors he’s cut are shut down.”

“Shit!” Maccabee skidded to a stop, and Samara nearly ran him over. He accessed the A.I. Because of the outside system shutdown, its functions were limited, and it had no way of querying exactly what damage had occurred without opening all the doors. Maccabee gave it the instruction to do so and shut them immediately. A moment later, he had his answer. “Reactor One.”

“How’s he getting there?” asked Samara as Maccabee started running. The A.I. recalculated for his speed, knowing exactly what path he would take, and he didn’t have to slow down for a single door—they finished opening exactly as he reached them.

“He’s using something to cut through the doors!” Maccabee yelled over his shoulder. “It must be the box!”

“No way that has enough power, Maccabee!” she shouted back. She was right, but Furugawa was doing it, somehow.

Hornet was not a big ship, and in under sixty seconds, they were barging into the reactor room. The opposite entrance had a hole burned right through it, and Furugawa was just coming through, seemingly unbothered by the heat that had to be radiating off the melted edges of the ceramasteel as they glowed a bright, ugly red. Cradled in his hands was a full-sized blaster rifle. Even that weapon—wherever the hell he’d gotten it—shouldn’t have been powerful enough to blast through that many doors, but there was no other explanation. Two crewmen were down near the door, fragments of ceramasteel embedded in their faces and chests. Another four were by the bulkhead, trying to open the weapons locker. It had been shut by the lockdown.

Maccabee raised his pistol in the same instant as he took in the scene, and fired in the next. A ripple of air tracked the hypervelocity bullets as they cut across the containment room—and missed. Furugawa simply dodged aside, moving so fast his body blurred, and Maccabee realized in that instant that he’d made a terrible, terrible mistake. The only thing that might yet save him was the lockdown—by now, the reactor would have shut itself down completely.

“You’re not getting out of here alive, Furugawa!” he shouted, silently allowing the A.I. to open the weapons locker. The crew at that station grabbed the various pistols, and quickly moved for cover. Samara stood resolutely by Maccabee, one of her two pistols raised and ready to fire, but she’d seen Furugawa move too. Alger had already gone to ground. Even the fastest person could be surprised. It was Maccabee’s job to distract the enemy.

“I don’t need an active reactor, captain,” shouted Furugawa from the other side of the twenty-meter room. “A hydrogen feed will do just as well.”

“Don’t kid yourself,” replied Maccabee. “You might have burned through a few bulkheads, but the containment bottle? The hydrogen tanks? I don’t think so.” He silently prayed that he was right about that.

“We’ll see, captain,” came Furugawa’s answer. Then silence.

Maccabee glanced at Samara, then heard Pinzon’s voice in his ear. “Captain, we are severing the last umbilical now.” She paused. “Done.”

“You’re certain?” he subvocalized to her, not wanting Furugawa to hear any of this.

“Absolutely, sir,” she answered, and there was no doubting the certainty in Pinzon’s voice.

Maccabee accessed the A.I. and instructed it to reboot the ship’s systems, being careful that it was not endangered itself. Whatever virus had overtaken Hornet’s normal computer systems was certainly still on the ship, but Maccabee’s A.I. was capable of taking care of virtually anything it discovered, as long as the virus was cut off from its source. By severing the umbilicals, Maccabee hoped he’d achieved that cut off. This was, unfortunately, the only way to find out.

The emergency lights dimmed, and then, suddenly, the full lighting array on the overhead of the reactor compartment blinked to life. The hum of ship’s systems coming back on filled the air around them.

“Looks like your friends aren’t standing behind you, eh Furugawa?” asked Maccabee. He had just enough time to tackle Samara to the floor as he saw the crewman pop up in the far corner of the compartment and fire off a shot from his blaster. The blue bolt passed right above them, missing by centimeters, and the heat washing off it was intense, scorching Maccabee’s bare back. He still managed to pump off a few rounds as he fell, hoping that they might connect. No such luck.

Half a dozen other people in the compartment had the same idea, however, and Furugawa’s position was deluged with high-velocity rounds from several directions at once. Maccabee heard a short, sharp yelp of pain. Then another blaster bolt flew downrange, exploding against the bulkhead right by the other crewmen in the compartment. One disappeared in blue fire while three others were thrown clear. Another shot followed immediately, and the bulkhead glowed an angry red as it absorbed the high-energy subatomic particles.

Samara was scrambling to her feet, a gun in each hand, firing rounds as she moved towards cover, and Maccabee thought he heard the sound of Alger’s shotgun, though it was hard to hear over the thundering roar of railpistols and blaster rifle. Picking up his gun where it had landed on the deck, Maccabee pushed himself up and fired off a few rounds of his own, moving quickly towards some sort of shelter. No answering blaster fire arrived, perhaps indicating that Furugawa had finally run down the charge on his weapon. Or that it had a long recycle time after that burst of shots.

Joining Samara behind a structural member supporting the fusion bottle, Maccabee checked his pistol. Sixty rounds, with twenty spent. He’d not had time to bring a reload, but it seemed unlikely that it would make a difference.

“Pinzon, you headed this way?” he asked over the com.

“Yes, sir, just a few bulkheads away.” He could hear her breathing coming fast a sharp.

“Hold outside the entrance. You’ll cover his escape route.”

“Understood.”

Next, Maccabee linked to Alger. “Do you have a shot yet?” All of the communication was silent, carried out through the implanted communications gear in all of Maccabee’s officer’s heads.

“Bloody bugger is fast,” answered Alger. “He dodged a shot and I’ve got shit now. I think he’s working his way under the reactor.”

“We’re on the other side. We’ll catch him.” Maccabee hoped he sounded more confident than he felt.

A noise to his right caught his attention, and he turned just in time to see Furugawa burst from cover. The man was impossibly fast, enhanced by whatever genetics or technology that had been used on him to far beyond the normal bounds of human ability. Maccabee fired, as did Samara, but their shots were hopelessly slow, even though both of them had undergone enhancements of their own. These were obviously no match for Furugawa’s creators’ abilities, and the traitorous crewman nearly flew across the room, followed by a startling pattern of gunfire and ricochets.

The blast doors in Furugawa’s path were sealed, but even as he broke into his run, he was firing again, sending a devastating stream of energy in front of him that burnt, warped, and finally blew open the door, blasting it into the narrow corridor beyond. Maccabee was on his feet now, shouting to Pinzon over the com, but it was all happening so fast! He felt like he was in a nightmare, rooted to the spot or running through glue, barely moving while his enemies circled easily around him.

“Go! Go!” he shouted, as Samara outran him, her legs pumping under her in what would have been an impressive burst of speed until a few seconds before. Alger was rushing in from the far left now, but the big Scot wasn’t exactly fast on his feet. It was Pinzon and Pinzon only who would manage to intercept Furugawa, and Maccabee hadn’t heard anything from her yet, despite his calls.

“He’s past us,” she said, finally, and her voice was grim. “I have two wounded, one dead, captain.”

Skidding to a halt just at the door, Maccabee ducked carefully through the glowing rent Furugawa had left behind. At the same time, he accessed the security A.I. and shut the ship’s outer doors, cutting off Furugawa’s escape—or at least slowing him slightly, depending on just how much juice that gun of his had. The thing had to be powered by something seriously risky, like an anti-matter pump or a singularity generator.

After signaling the general quarters alarm to sound twice, Maccabee tapped into Hornet’s intercom. “This is the captain. Crewman Furugawa is in the process of shooting his way off this ship. He is heavily armed and dangerous. Do not intercept him unless you have no choice. Otherwise, move to your designated duty stations as you are able. Maccabee out.” He knew that most of the crew wouldn’t be able to get to their general quarters stations, since he’d not lifted the lockdown, but at least he was giving them fair warning of what was going on. Of course, Furugawa would hear that message too.

Maccabee caught Samara as she reached Pinzon who was waiting in front of yet another blasted bulkhead. “He’s heading for the airlocks, to the docking collars,” the security chief said in disgust as she turned to Maccabee. He noted immediately that she was hurt, and blood was running from a cut on her head. Pinzon glared at him just for noticing, though, and he knew better than to mention it.

“We’ll take a different deck to intercept him,” he said. “I’ll be damned if I have to keep ducking through these blast holes.”

Samara nodded and immediately started moving again. Maccabee, catching movement out of the corner of his eye, turned and saw Czerney coming at him, fully dressed in a combat uniform she must have had in her cabin, a blaster pistol of medium caliber in her hand. “Where is the fucker?” she hissed, her face contorted with rage. Obviously, she’d seen the reactor compartment.

“This way,” replied Maccabee, rushing after Samara. Czerney and Pinzon both fell in behind him, and he instructed the A.I. to give Alger continuous updates on their status and position. There was no time to wait for the Scot to catch them up.

They met Samara on the next deck and broke out into a full run. “He’s fast,” she shouted over her shoulder, “but we might catch him, depending on how long it takes to cut through the doors between here and there!”

“Not very God-damned long!” replied Czerney. “I would have caught him, otherwise!”

Blast doors and hatches opened in front of them as they ran, then closed again, while the A.I. kept Maccabee updated as to Furugawa’s position, direction, and speed. The surveillance systems were fully operational again, as were the security protocols. Maccabee would not have hesitated to activate the latter, sending poison gas pouring into the corridors where Furugawa was on his rampage, even if some of his crew were caught up as well, but there was no point. He couldn’t very well flood the whole ship, and Furugawa was blasting through doors in seconds flat, far too fast for the gas to take effect. But soon . . .

“Hold!” Maccabee barked, and the four of them came to a stop. Samara looked at him like he’d lost his mind, but he just held up a hand. “He’s coming to a security grid. I’m going to try and stop him.”

Watching the scene via the A.I., he activated the grid. It was a fairly simple system, designed to lay quiescent until needed, and then lay waste to anything that moved, and it was fully functional now that main power had been restored. Twined six-barrel railguns bracketed the corridor, and no cover was within sight of those weapons. The space between them was braced by a ten terawatt particle grid, the kind of energy shield that turned aside small missiles, much less blaster fire. As a final measure, cutting lasers crisscrossed the area in a pattern that no human could hope to avoid. It was essentially a massive booby-trap, and about ten like it were spaced around the ship, positioned so that no one could pass them without going through them. Maccabee had hoped to beat Furugawa to this one, but now he watched and waited.

The traitorous crewman knew the security grid was there, but probably didn’t know its full capability, since Maccabee had, to the best of his knowledge, told no one those details. Not even Samara. Furugawa slowed up, then stopped, perhaps noticing the shimmer of the particle grid at the other end of the corridor. The panels concealing the railguns were open, but the guns themselves were not visible, not would they be. The laser emitters were similarly stealthy.

Furugawa shouldered his weapon and fired a single shot that streaked down the corridor and flattened against the particle grid. The grid glowed bright green for a moment as it dissipated the excess energy, then stabilized. So far, so good. Alerted to an enemy, the security grid targeted and prepared to opened fire, shutting a carefully concealed backstop so that the thousand rounds per second it was about to bathe the corridor in wouldn’t go all over the ship as they dissipated their kinetic energy.

Furugawa turned as he heard the backstop closing, but that was the last thing he ever did. No human had ever been fast enough to avoid that kind of barrage, but even if he had been that fast, there was nowhere for him to go. Maccabee flinched as the guns tore Furugawa apart in two seconds of continuous fire; then, the system went back into standby mode, and the backstop slid back into concealment. Maccabee cut the feed, feeling slightly ill.

“Done,” he said simply, and something in his face made Samara grimace. Czerney just nodded in satisfaction and carefully safed her weapon. Pinzon leaned heavily against the bulkhead and let out a long sigh.

“What the bloody hell are you standing around for!” bellowed Alger as he pounded up from behind them, then skidded a stop.

“He’s dead,” said Samara. “Security grid got him.”

“And here I thought those were a waste of money,” Alger mused, resting his shotgun on his shoulder. “Bloody hard hiding ‘em from the scans too.”

Maccabee stopped listening. His special A.I. was still active, and it was sending him another alert. Someone was trying to sneak out through the cargo hold airlock. The video feed projected itself in front of him, and he saw another of the new crew—he couldn’t match her face to a name—working at the controls, trying to attempt a local bypass.

“We’ve got another one,” he said, interrupting some rant from Alger.

“Where?” asked Pinzon, pushing off of the bulkhead.

“Starboard hold,” he replied. “She’s trying to get off the ship.”

“Gas her,” said Czerney, no hint of mercy in her voice.

Maccabee was tempted to agree, but he met Samara’s gaze, and she gave him a slight nod. “No.” Czerney opened her mouth, but he stopped her. “No. If we kill her, we’ve got nothing, nothing but a lot of trouble. If we can catch her . . .”

“Much better,” said Samara, and she sounded a lot more frightening than Czerney ever would.