Sentient Domain: Chapter 17

This chapter is eligible for winning bonuses in the Sentient Domain Game. An index of all relevant posts can be found here.

Pavi decided to pull the panels out of the wall. She was going crazy with boredom and she couldn’t think of anything else to do. They’d probably come and tie her up again, but if she were fast and lucky she might find a way to break out first. She started with the panels next to the door.

Just as she suspected, there’d once been a manual interface to the computer in that section of wall. The front end was gone, just leaving the wires, but it was a relief to know that her instincts about the infrastructure for the ship were right. Even with working chips, there was no way she could use the crippled manual interface to get into the system, so she moved on to the next panel.

That was where the camera and room sensors were wired into the ship’s systems. Pavi debated disconnecting the camera. Ultimately she decided against it. They already knew she was dismantling things, but might not be worried yet. If she disconnected the camera they’d have to come right away because she might be doing anything. Besides, time spent disconnecting the camera was time she wasn’t looking for options that would lead to an escape.

Pavi had just finished pulling off the third panel when the door to her cell slid open. She sighed and sat down. She’d hoped for more time, but there was no point in resisting.

The door stayed open, but nobody came into the cell.

Pavi stood up and peered out. There wasn’t anybody in the hallway. She turned and looked at the wires in the wall. She hadn’t done anything to them, besides which, it shouldn’t be possible to open the door from inside the cell with those wires.

Somebody had opened the door for Pavi to escape.

Pavi briefly considered the possibility that Dessie was letting her escape so they could kill her in the attempt. It was the only way for her to kill Pavi and survive the wrath of the other captains. Pavi didn’t like the prospect that she was about to walk into a death trap, but she couldn’t really turn down an open door. This was a moment for bravado tempered with caution.

The Harper’s Cry was an updated model of the same ship as the Mike, and the floor plan hadn’t changed much between the models. Pavi ran down the row of cells, looking for signs that Aliph and Bett were in one of them. She didn’t hear anybody, but if she’d given up kicking and screaming in the first hour she was reasonably certain those kids hadn’t even tried the loud protest approach.

She could manually open each of the cells as she went by and check to see if they were in there, but that was a guaranteed way to be within three meters of her cell when the guards arrived. Instead, she ran to the first access shoot and climbed up two decks. Then she ducked across the corridor into a console room.

With her chips, Pavi could have hacked the lobotomized Harper’s Cry without thinking about it. Stuck using a built-in manual interface, it took her nine minutes. It would have taken longer but Mike had pointed out years before that she was working with pirates. They’d installed redundant back doors. Pavi silently thanked his foresight as she gained access to the system and took a look to evaluate her situation.

Over twenty minutes had passed since Pavi started pulling panels out of the wall, but it didn’t look like anybody had noticed yet. With the the computer crippled, the Harper’s Cry must be painfully understaffed. Pavi scrambled the camera feeds to pipe old recorded footage from her cell back through as new footage. Then she started looking for Aliph and Bett.

They weren’t in any of the cells in the brig and Pavi congratulated herself on not wasting time trying to find them there, though she’d have felt foolish if they’d been in the cell next door. Pavi scanned through the system, suddenly worried they’d already been turned over to the ICA, when she spotted them in the medlab.

“Pavi, if you’re receiving this, turn your chip on to broadcast for one second, then switch it back off,” Mike’s voice said through her chip.

Pavi jumped, then did as instructed.

“Great. Okay, I just stopped to report in to Commander Jackson. There’s not a lot I can do to help past opening your cell. The network on the Harpers been trashed. And there’s no way I can process a dump from your chip right now, so we’ll have to improvise. One burst for yes, two for no. Understand?”

Pavi flicked the chip on, then off, once.

“Are you okay?”

One again.

“Is there something you think I can do to help?”

Pavi needed to get Aliph and Bett out of medlab, if they could even leave medlab – she wasn’t sure why they were there yet – and get off the ship. But she couldn’t think of a way to communicate that to Mike using ad hoc Morse code. Two bursts.

“I’m on my way. I don’t know where the Whimper is, but if you haven’t found another way off the ship, I’ll be there in a few hours. I’m going back under weft again.”

At least that explained why the door opened and there was nobody waiting for her. Pavi went back to searching the system data to figure out why Aliph and Bett were in medlab. Then she decided it didn’t matter. She couldn’t trust the data in the system, so she might as well sneak into the medlab and see for herself. Ten more minutes and she’d scrambled the feeds on her route to the medlab – she’d get there unobserved.

She had forty-five minutes until the end of the current shift. During that time she wasn’t likely to accidentally bump into somebody wandering the hallway, so before then she needed to get where she was going and either be off the ship or hiding somewhere safe until Mike could get to them. Pavi dispensed with subtlety and ran.

Outside the medlab she stopped to consider her options. She was bound to run into somebody the moment she walked in, and she couldn’t count on loyalty from the crew of a mutinous captain. She didn’t have the physical presence to intimidate anybody into listening to her – most people had several centimeters and a double fistful of kilos on her – so barging in and demanding assistance wouldn’t help. Absent a better plan, Pavi fell back to hacking a solution together.

There was another manual interface built into the corridor outside the medlab. It was isolated from the interface she’d already hacked, so it took another ten minutes to get into it. Pavi kept a close eye on the time. She did not want to be caught hacking into the ship when shifts turned over.

Once into the interface, Pavi could see camera feeds from the medlab. Aliph and Bett were in their own rooms. They didn’t look too chipper, but they were sitting in chairs at the tables in their rooms rather than lying in bed on an IV, so Pavi took that as a good sign. Better yet, it looked like there were only two med officers on duty. Pavi didn’t recognize either of them – they’d never served directly with her – so talking them into helping her wasn’t going to work. Pavi decided to trick them into helping her instead. Five more minutes of work on the interface and she had what she needed.

“Officer Bok, this is Captain Dessik,” Pavi said. The computer modulated her voice as it transmitted the signal to make it match Dessie’s.

“Yes, Captain?” the senior med officer replied.

“We need to make amends with the admiral. She’s on her way there. Do everything she asks, except giving her access to the computer. That’s the only thing we’ve got left to negotiate with.”

“We’ll have to shut down everything in the med lab to keep her from accessing it.”

“Then do that. I’ll be there to meet her as soon as I can.”

“Yes, Captain.”

Pavi watched as they shut down the interfaces in the medlab. She wouldn’t be able to access the computer from there, but they wouldn’t either. Besides, she suspected they wouldn’t have believed her otherwise; judging by the extent to which they’d trashed their computer, Dessie must be thoroughly paranoid about keeping Pavi out of the system. Then again, given how smoothly this escape was progressing, it might not be paranoia.

Just as the two med officers finished shutting down all medlab access to the computer, Pavi sauntered in.

“Admiral,” both officers said with a low bow at the waist.

Pavi acknowledged them with a bare nod of her head. “Take me to them,” Pavi said. “And explain to me exactly why they’re here.”

“This way,” Officer Bok said, taking her toward the rooms where Aliph and Bett were staying. So far, so good. “We shaved their heads in keeping with standard protocol. They fell ill after that. According to the Captain’s contact with the ICA it’s an expected psychosomatic reaction. We’ve treated them as instructed. Their fevers broke this morning. We’re just starting them back on solid food; they were NPO until an hour ago. They’re still weak, but they seem fine now.”

Pavi glared at him, nodding curtly as he talked.

Aliph was still sitting at the table in his room, staring listlessly into space, when Officer Bok and Pavi entered. He didn’t seem to notice them until Pavi put a hand on his shoulder. “Aliph? Are you feeling okay?” she asked.

“Admiral Valshorn,” Aliph said with surprise. “Are you not a prisoner too?”

“Not anymore. And neither are you. You up for a walk?”

“I am much better now,” Aliph said, rising.

There was a green tinge to his skin and his head looked weird with just a few days’ stubble on it. Pavi tried not to stare at him. “Let’s go get Bett. Then I’ll give you a tour of the ship. Walking will make you feel better,” Pavi said.

Pavi caught Officer Bok stiffen when she said that. Well, it would be just as out of character for her to sit still for Dessie’s convenience as it would be for Dessie to give her interface access. It didn’t take Kempari training to play yourself.

Bett was on her way to the door when they opened it. “I am glad you are well, Admiral Valshorn.” She looked just as green and monkish as her brother. In fact, with their bald heads the siblings looked even more identical. Only Aliph’s extra height served as a quick visual distinguisher. “I believe a walk will do much to assist our recovery. We thank you for your generous offer of a tour,” Bett said.

Pavi and Officer Bok both stared at Bett a moment. Did sound carry that well in the medlab? Pavi decided to experiment with it the next time she had a spare moment on the Mike.

“They are healthy enough for a quick tour, aren’t they?” Pavi said with a heavy dose of “they’d better be” in her tone.

“I’d stay close and take it slow, but a gentle stroll should be fine,” Officer Bok said.

Pavi looped an arm around each of the siblings and turned toward the door. “We’ll take it easy. When she gets here, tell Dessie I’ll just be a minute,” Pavi said.

“Of course, Admiral.”

Both officers bowed as Pavi waltzed out of the medlab, a bald adolescent on each arm. There were only ten minutes to the change of shift and they had a lot of ground to cover if they were going to make it to the shuttle bay. “Either of you feel up for a jog?” Pavi asked.

“We feel fine,” the siblings said in unison.

Cute, just like her and Rita when they were kids. “Then let’s go. Mike’s on his way, but I don’t want to try hanging out here for his rescue. The computer on this ship is way too trashed for Mike to be much help.” Pavi let go of the siblings and took off at a jog. She’d have preferred a dead run, but didn’t trust them to make it if she pushed too hard. They might claim to feel fine, but Pavi hadn’t seen many people that green winning races.

It was two minutes to change of shift when they reached the shuttle bay. The manual switch for opening the door worked without any trouble. Pavi pushed the siblings through the door, then followed them in. Except the shuttles, the bay was empty. Pavi hadn’t expected to run into anybody on duty there, but the shuttle bay was a traditional place for couples to seek privacy. There were twenty shuttles in the bay. Pavi led them over to the one closest to the flight tunnel, and farthest from the door’s line of sight. The shuttle doors opened to let them on without trouble. The only problem was the clamps holding the shuttle in place.

“Get comfortable. This should only take a few minutes,” Pavi said as she knelt down before the manual interface for the clamps.

Half an hour later she was still working on it.

One of the things updated between the Mike and the Harper’s Cry was the shuttle launch system. The Harper’s Cry could hold six more shuttles and had half the turn-around time from landing to launch. Part of that overhaul had been a natural consequence of technology advancing; more people commonly had more powerful chips, so the interface for managing the shuttle system was significantly more effective on the newer ship. The other part of it had been a consequence of streamlining the hardware used in the system. On a crew where everybody had a fully operational chip interface, why take up room with wiring in complete manual interfaces at every contact point? The manufacturers for the Harper’s Cry had substituted troubleshooting interfaces for the fully-functional ones on the Mike. The hack job was doable, but everything took four times as long as it should because the interface wasn’t meant to take control of the system.

Pavi remained calm for the first half hour of work. When the system inexplicably shutdown and cycled for the third time, just as Pavi thought she was making progress, she took a moment to cuss the interface, the shuttle, and the ship’s manufacturers

“Can we assist you?” Aliph asked from inside the shuttle.

“Do you know how to make a troubleshooting interface designed to re-sync wireless access stable for an entire system config?” Pavi asked.

“No.”

“Then I don’t think so,” Pavi said. She sat down to try again.

Five minutes later she heard the shuttle bay doors open.

“Admiral Valshorn? We know you’re in here. There’s no way you’ll get that hacked manually in the next two minutes. Come on out.”

“Like hell,” Pavi muttered as she started forcing the interface through the first steps of obtaining full functionality.

“Captain Dessik said to shoot you rather than let you take them off the ship. Please, Admiral, we will not mutiny against our captain.”

“You should double-check the rank system before you decide which one of us you won’t mutiny against,” Pavi shouted back. It gave away her location, but they had to know where she was already. She hadn’t scrambled the video in the shuttle bay.

“We’ll count to five, Admiral. On five you’ll be in range and if you haven’t surrendered, we’ll have to shoot.”

“Bullets or tasers?” Pavi asked. The interface crashed again.

“Bullets.”

Pavi breathed a sigh of relief. She hadn’t been sure whether or not they were bluffing about shooting her until then. Nobody would fire a bullet in the shuttle bay; they were too close to the outer hull of the ship and shuttles were too valuable to risk damaging. “That’s going to get messy,” Pavi said.

“Five. Four.”

The interface came back up and Pavi started again, even though it was clearly becoming less stable the more she worked on it. Pavi would give anything to have her chips back.

“Three.”

She didn’t think it would do any good, but she briefly switched on her chip, just in case Mike was still in rage.

“Two.”

Nothing from Mike. If they were armed, the guards were probably about to tase her. She preemptively renewed her grudge against Dessie.

“One.”

Pavi was surprised when the clamps on the shuttle released. Not nearly as surprised, though, as when a bullet broke her fourth and fifth ribs on its way to her lung.

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