Thursday, August 18, 2011

Land Leave 11

A rubik's cube. Which has over 43 quintillion combinations.

Land Leave part 11:

“And you are sure?” Sorensen looked at the screen in front of him. It didn't add up, yet there it was.

“Absolutely sir, I checked and double-checked,” the security officer was a cautious man; careful and measured.

“Alright, I'll go down personally, have two MPs meet me,” Sorensen nearly ran out of the room. As he made his way to the aft holding bay, he thought about the facts. A transmission had been sent from the Oort cloud on an unauthorized and unused channel. The origin of that long-distance relay had been on one of the modified ret ships that were used for the cube's retrieval. The contents of the message were a simple binary code—redundant and easy to interpret, 000, 101, 101. The three numbers then repeated for the entirety of the message. It was a code indicating that some predetermined action had been achieved. Sorensen guessed that the 'yes' the ones indicated was that the cube had been retrieved and the attack on Mars should continue.

But that was only part of the story. If the Eve was going to be used as a transporting body, why blow it up at New Alexandria? How come there wasn't a more extensive attack on the Eve at the Oort cloud? And how was Rojas involved?

James and Bill got up and started heading back to the bay when they were stopped by Sorensen. “Stop, James, I need you to come with me, you are under arrest for treason.”

The two of them looked confused more than anything. James was completely dumbfounded by the accusation, “arrest? Treason? How—what? That's wrong. That's wrong.” It was all James could say to defend himself.

“Hold on, I'm going to go get Kelvin and Bacchi. Maybe they can clear this up,” Bill dashed down the hall and saw Kelvin in the control room to the bay. “Where's Bacchi?”

“He's at the cube again, what's up?” Dr. Kelvin saw the look of panic on Bill's face and immediately registered that something was wrong.

“They're arresting James for treason.”

“Arrested,” Kelvin didn't let her surprise register on her face. She steeled herself and turned on the comm to Bacchi, “James has been arrested. Keep working, I'll handle this,” she turned to Bill, “let's go,” Dr. Kelvin got up swiftly and was down the hall in less than three seconds. “This is wrong Sorensen, what did Rojas do?”

“I agree, but the evidence is incontrovertible. A transmission was sent on an unused channel to the Jovian system upon retrieval of the cube. It was sent from ensign Rojas' ret ship during the mission,” the elevator doors opened and the group stepped in.

“I couldn't have done that, the cloud was too dense for me to have done anything other than focus on not dying,” James pleaded desperately.

“It was sent from the modified sensor system that yours and Tan's ret ships were equipped with,” Sorensen looked at the elevator doors.

“What? That's impossible! I never trained Rojas or Tan to use that equipment, it was all--” Dr. Kelvin stopped.

“It was all what?” Bill asked helpfully.

“Stop the elevator! It was Bacchi! We have to go back. Stop the elevator damn it!” Dr. Kelvin's face had gone white.

“Do it,” Sorensen motioned to one of the MPs, “Order a lock-down on the aft bay, get me more security down here!”

The elevator stopped and reversed moving at double speed. The doors opened and the group rushed to the control room. Kelvin got on the comm, “Bacchi, come out, we need to talk.”

“I think we are on the verge of discovery Dr. Kelvin. I think you'll be pleasantly surprised to find I am one step ahead of you,” Bacchi's voice sounded preoccupied over the comm.

“The doors to the bay are locked. He fused them shut,” Bill kept trying the switch over and over again.

“Open the bay doors Tomas!” Kelvin was tracking Bacchi's vitals on the screen. His heart rate was rising, “what are you doing in there?”

“The square grooves. The ones that look like there are pieces missing? I have one. Got it as a souvenir from the Jovian government. And I am going to find out what this enormous die really is. You know I never really liked the Communist idea. It was too far-fetched. But a pre-solar weapon of mass destruction? That made sense. So here we go.” A loud click was heard over the comm. The circle on the face of the cube lit up. It started to glow brightly, ominously pointed at the core of the ship. “Did I start it up? Am I going to kill you all? Hopefully. Then I will be spared the agony of trying to fly a brick through a wormhole and fight off the remnants of the AmU fleet.” He laughed maniacally, his voice reaching higher and higher pitches. Something was going on in that cube.

Dr. Kelvin looked at Bacchi's vital signs. His oxygen levels were depleting. “Tomas! Get out of there! There's a leak in your suit, you're losing air fast.”

The cube suddenly powered down, the circle glowed faintly and pulsed slowly. Dr. Bacchi seemed to have come to a bleak realization; inserting the square was just part of the puzzle. His voice came over the comm, defeated and almost comically high pitched, “No bang? No infinite weapon? I thought--” And then the reality set in; Bacchi had fused himself inside the bay in a desperate gambit, but now he was in an airless bay with a leak in his suit, “get me out of here!” He rushed to the door pulling on the melted handles.

“Re-pressurize the bay!” Sorensen yelled at Dr. Kelvin.

“I already started the sequence, but this bay is too big, it takes ten minutes for pressure to become breathable,” James was now trying to save the life of the man who had moments before put his head on the chopping block.

“Kill the gravity in there,” Sorensen motioned to James and looked at Kelvin, “tell Bacchi to move to the ventilation on the walls. Kelvin nodded and did so. Everyone in the control room watched anxiously as Bacchi moved to a vent, pulled off the grate, and shoved his head in.

“Get him out of there,” Sorensen said with a look of disgust.

Thirty minutes later Sorensen and Kelvin sat in interrogation with Bacchi. The room was actually an old vanity room for diplomats. It had a large mirror along one wall and appliance plugs where amenities had been kept. The room now only contained a large wooden table and four chairs.

Rojas and Tan watched from a closed circuit. Sorensen threw up a schematic of the modified ret ship, “you put an automatic dispatch on ensign Rojas' ship knowing full-well that we would come after him. But you are sloppy; none of the minor details were right. Rojas is the son of a senator, he was never trained on the supplementary equipment, and it would have been too difficult to send a signal in that dense cluster without significant risk of physical harm.”

Dr. Tomas Bacchi looked at Sorensen, he knew he was a terrible spy. He was a good scientist though. He had been sure that the cube's activation would have given him the ultimate weapon. “It's all wrong, why didn't it work,” Bacchi mumbled to himself. He looked down at the table with his head in his hands.

“Listen, you are already in about as deep as you could possibly be. We have enough to put you up for the death penalty. We could have let you die and kept the cube from being contaminated. But you have valuable information. And despite your colossal stupidity—fusing the doors shut, nearly killing yourself because of the hole you burned in your suit, and trying to blow up the Eve—we are willing to make a bit of an exchange to find out how to proceed. We'll reduce your charges and get you in a halfway decent prison if you tell us what you know.”

Bacchi was broken, he would have folded either way, “about 14 months before the mission started, I took a vacation to the Galileo Resort orbiting Ganymede. At one of the mines, a crew had found the square. It turned out to be a Rosetta stone of sorts. It provided information on deciphering the system of grooves and bumps that make up the writing on the cube. It also said it was a key, and mentioned the murder of the star. I interpreted this to mean that the cube was responsible for the death of the pre-solar star in some way shape or form.”

“But why did you betray us? Why not just give us this information instead of starting a war?” The hurt in Kelvin's voice was obvious.

“Because you didn't offer me everything. The East Io Company had obtained the square and approached me. Knowing I had worked closely with the crew of the Hestia and that I had a particular lack of moral fiber, they asked if I would be a spy for them,” Bacchi seemed defeated by his own words, “they promised me the head science position in their proposed Jovian empire. Money and unlimited research grants were too hard to pass up.”

“Why not just sign on with the East Io Company and go out without AmU help?” Sorensen was confused.

“No resources! The Jovians and the East Io Company can't do good pinhole travel, their fleet is a bunch of junkers,” Bacchi scoffed, “I suggested the creation of a science team to explore the probable locations of the cube according to the square; I then set about getting a Navy science contract to study the possibility of pre-solar weapons. They almost laughed me out of the room, but the Hestia's strange new readings indicated that there was a slim possibility I was right.”

Kelvin finished, “one military contract later, and with a much more distinguished scientist on your team, you had access to this weapon,” the words came out of her mouth like venom, the betrayal in her voice was obvious.

“What about the attack at New Alexandria?” Sorensen didn't see how that fit into the puzzle.

“I'm not quite sure, I was told there would be an attack and that there was another Jovian on board. I was told he would try to disable either the defenses or the weapons to make obtaining the cube from the Eve in the Oort cloud easier.”

“Oort cloud? There was no attack in the Oort cloud,” Kelvin seemed confused.

“There was supposed to be. But the failure of the bombing, or the 0 in my 101 transmission, meant that the psycho bomber hadn't achieved his mission. The ship following the Hestia could only have made an attack under those circumstances. The second 1 in 101 indicated to go to back-up.”

“A surprise attack on Mars,” Sorensen finished, “The Eve was never supposed to be the transport unless something failed. Why didn't the Eve get captured, they had the jump on us.”

“Weak military. Their navy is so bad, that's why they were desperate for this cube,” Bacchi sounded like he had been abandoned, “listen, if I help you decipher the grooves will you let me free? All I wanted was the glory of discovery.” He started mumbling to himself; it was clear he was depressed.

Kelvin and Sorensen looked at each other. They excused themselves to talk in the hall, “we can still use him. Is there a way we can keep him under supervision?” Kelvin explored options.

“Perhaps. It might be tough, but he has what we need and there isn't much time. Give me 20 minutes to figure out a security situation and we'll--” Sorensen noticed Bill and James running down the hall.

“He's killing himself!” James yelled. The four of them opened the door and rushed to Bacchi. There was blood and glass everywhere. Bacchi had smashed his head against the mirror and slashed his wrists with a large shard of glass.

“Get medical,” Sorensen ordered.

“Too late,” Bill felt Bacchi's pulse; nothing. The four of them stood in the room and looked at each other. The futility of their situation suddenly filled the room: they were in the middle of nowhere with nowhere to go and with no way back to the world they had known. The ship felt empty and alone.