Simple is Better

9 06 2016

Must contain a map. That was this week’s challenge over at Chuck Wendig’s Terrible Minds blog.

And boy, did I need a map. With that prompt, my mind went in at least half a dozen different directions, but in the end, the map became a blueprint, and the story itself something I’m not terribly satisfied with as it’s been done before.

Still… I think I like Jo and Gus. I might make use of them in other stories.

 

Simple is Better

“Hurry up, you can’t stay in there much longer.”

“Don’t you think I know that,” Jo told him through clenched teeth as her fingers darted over the keyboard, eyes flickering over the code on the screen as she came up against one obstacle after the next, breaking through them as quickly as she could. And Gus’ nervous energy wasn’t helping her any, in the way he stood behind her chair, shifting from one foot to the other as he tried to get her to do her job faster than was possible.

“They’re gonna catch onto you, track you back here and then we’re fucked,” he said, leaning closer over her shoulder to look at a screen full of code that he knew absolutely nothing about. He was just here as muscle, to protect Jo in case the authorities did turn up at the little outpost where they had holed up for the intrusion into the Commonwealth’s systems.

“Stop. Talking,” she hissed as she kept typing, knowing full well what was at stake if the Commonwealth forces got to them. Probably, she knew better than Gus, having seen the evidence with her own eyes, heard the screams coming through speakers and read thousands of documents regarding what happened in Commonwealth interrogation rooms. “And stop fucking hovering!”

He did as he was told and took a step back, though he continued with the nervous twitches, the impatient movements of his feet, and looking at his watch every five seconds. He had his orders and he wasn’t happy about them, despite knowing that they were necessary. He checked the gun at his side, nervous fingers running over the cold metal of the thing before they flinched away again. He was a soldier, he reminded himself, just as another part of him told him that soldiers didn’t kill those on their own side.

“Done,” Jo said, and got up from the seat, the screen in front of her returned to the black of its offline status. She reached and yanked out the datastick and couldn’t help a proud smile as she slipped it into a zippered pocket of the utility vest she wore. “We can go now, old man.” She winked at him, gave him a good-natured slap on the shoulder and headed for the door.

Cutting her off before she could open it, Gus shoved the young hacker out of the way, raising a grizzled grey brow at her. “My turn now,” he told her, putting one hand on the gun and the other on the handle to open the door just enough to peek through the gap, looking and listening for trouble out in the corridor. Finding none, he nodded and slipped out ahead of Jo, then motioned to her to follow when he found the corridor to be abandoned. “Hurry.”

***

The blueprint Jo had liberated from the Commonwealth data systems was being displayed on the central holo-table in the War Room, so that all those gathered around could see it as they discussed what to do about this newfound information.

It wasn’t all bad news. They’d had forewarning of this, and with the blueprints now hovering above the table, there was a possibility that they could do something about it. Problem was, what did you do about a juggernaut of a ship like the one that the Commonwealth had built? That was what they were here to discuss, and already it seemed that everyone had an opinion of their own.

They had been at this for hours now, and the only conclusion they had agreed on thus far was that if they did nothing, they were fucked. No one had any other solution, though, and the suggestions of what to do varied from putting a spy in place to take the ship down from the inside to send everyone of their attack fighters (a grand total of seventeen) against the juggernaut in the hope that a direct attack might bring it down.

Not one of the ideas managed to gain any traction and the meeting was coming apart at the seams, devolving into arguments and in a few cases, name-calling. The chairwoman was about to call the meeting off when an aide approached to whisper in her ear for a few seconds before handing her a datapad, then retreated to the shadows to rejoin the other aides hidden there.

She sat reading for a few minutes, letting the voices of the argument fade away into background noise, then tapped out a short message and put the datapad away, raising her head to look around at the assembled brass before smacking her hand hard into the table a couple of times to call for silence.

“Ladies and gentlemen,” she said when the last of the voices fell quiet, her little smile puzzling most of those who sat around the table. There was, after all, nothing to smile about here. “There’s a solution that we haven’t considered, and I think it might work.” She looked to the door, motioning to the young woman standing there with a grizzled old soldier towering over her. “Let me introduced you all to Jo Harkness. She has an idea she’d like to share with us.”

***

“You sure this is gonna work?” Gus asked, sitting beside her in the shuttle, high in orbit above their home, the red plains bright and beautiful below them. His nervous energy was back, but at least he couldn’t pace or hover over her the way they were both strapped into their seats.

“It’ll work,” Jo assured him with a confident nod, her fingers flying over the keyboard, her eyes glued to the screen, despite her urge to look out the windows at the view below. She’d never been in orbit and after today, she wasn’t so sure that she would ever be given the chance again. “Just watch…”

The Commonwealth juggernaut was nothing but a pinprick of light in the dark of space, not much different from the stars surrounding it. Only the green bracket of the head up display allowed Gus to know where to look for whatever was going to happen.

Even so, he almost missed it. The pinprick brightened for a moment, turning a more orangy-red colour, then faded after a few minutes and then vanished a short while after that. He knew what had happened. While the war council had discussed attack plans, the young hacker had located a flaw in the juggernaut’s datasystems, which she had found a way to take advantage of. She had then designed a virus that would trigger the juggernaut’s self destruct sequence, which would destroy the ship from the inside out. No need to risk any lives, no need to send attack ships to deal with the enemy.

All they had needed was a hacker, her datapad and a clear line of sight to aim a comm laser, and the enemy’s greatest weapon had been destroyed in a matter of seconds.

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