Title: Redstone Chapter 13, Part 1.
It was the kind of day where Tamara felt like she started things off with bad news and bounced to worse. It began with getting word that she was going to need to finagle a way to break into Harrison’s office and steal information that was undoubtedly heavily encrypted, not to mention dealing with all the other security measures in place, before moving on to a call with the president himself.
“They aren’t allowing me very much access,” Tamara said ruefully, trying to turn President Alexander’s situation to potentially benefit her new mission. “I haven’t had verification of his status for over twenty-four hours, which I know was in your original instructions to the staff. Warden Harrison assures me that the system goes down every now and then and there’s nothing he can do to speed it up, but—”
“It’s better that you don’t insist.” Raymond Alexander’s dark eyes were utterly motionless, gazing out of the holoscreen like tiny, sentient black holes. “The Warden knows how to run his facility. Once the monitoring system is active again, you can reinitiate updates.”
“But the Senate’s special council said that twenty-four hour updates were the absolute minimum that we should be documenting, and I don’t want a lapse in protocol to come back and hurt you if it’s investigated.”
“I wouldn’t worry about that, Tamara.” President Alexander smiled. “I’m sure I’ll survive any investigation, under the circumstances. Just do your best.” He cut the communication and Tamara gave in to the urge to bare her teeth at the screen. Of fucking course he would survive any investigation, because he’d pin the blame for the lapse in oversight squarely on her. Poor little natural, they’re really practically children, it was so kind of him to give her a chance but really he should have known better than to pass that sort of responsibility on to someone so obviously damaged.
“You goddamn son of a bitch,” Tamara muttered. She did some mental math and evaluated the bits and pieces she had on hand that might enable her to do the sort of breaking and entering that she now needed to do. Her stocks came up abysmally low. Not enough stored energy to zap a control panel, not enough hardware to manually get through the system, not enough shielding to block herself from oversight. Not, no, nope, nuh-uh. “Well, shit.”
Admiral Liang had been the one to pass the assignment to her, but Tamara knew the originator of the idea had been Garrett. It was risky, sending out multiple high-energy transmissions per day, but she needed more information, and fast. She put a new number into her cadged-together transmitter and sent it out into space. “Answer,” she muttered as she chewed on a fingernail. It was a habit she’d never quite been able to kick, and one that made her father perennially roll his eyes at her. “Answer…c’mon now…”
“Talk to me, Hummingbird.”
Tamara sighed in relief. There was no fighting some instincts, it seemed, including flashing back to her teenage years and Garrett being the only person she could stand while she was trying to come to grips with her new life on Pandora. Just hearing his voice made her shoulders relax a bit. “You know, you’re asking a hell of a lot here.”
“I wouldn’t ask if I didn’t think you could do it.”
“Oh really?” Tamara being happy to talk to Garrett didn’t preclude her bitching him out. “And how am I supposed to do it given my current resources, which don’t include anywhere near the amount of hardware I need to get into a closed system inside a closed room in a part of the building that I’m only ever allowed into with an escort? An escort, by the way, that there’s absolutely no chance of me being able to take out. I am not that kind of fighter and I don’t want to give anyone here any ideas about throwing me into the Pit alongside the rest of those poor fuckers.”
“You can’t repurpose pieces from a bot to help you handle the mechanics?”
“I don’t have access to bots, they’re not allowed in the guest suites,” Tamara snapped. “And even if I did, I’m not Wyl! I’ve got the basics of mechanical repurposing down, but I’m not an expert. Why can’t Wyl do the break-in?”
“Because he’s isolated away from that part of the prison and is being watched more carefully.”
“Yeah, well, without his help I’m not sure what I’m going to be able to do here. Especially not fast.”
There was a moment’s pause. “You can get in touch with Wyl though, right?”
“As long as he’s equipped to detect the code as well as transmit it, yes.” Tamara had been force-fed Morse during her stay at the Academy, and was relieved that she hadn’t had to learn on the fly to be part of this operation.
“If you can get in touch with him and let him know what you need, then he can build it.”
“Great.” Except for the obvious problem left over. “And I then pick it up how? He can’t come to me, and I’m not allowed to go to him. I’m not even allowed into the medical facilities without a dozen people surrounding me.”
“You’re going to have to find a way to connect, Hummingbird. And quickly.” Another pause, a quick shuffle and then— “I have to go, I’ve got a committee meeting in two minutes. Talk to Wyl.”
The transmission ended. Tamara took a moment to lean over and bang her head into her pillow to muffle a brief scream of frustration. “Make it happen,” she muttered snidely as she took apart the comm unit and reconfigured it to send out a Morse signal. “Figure out a miracle already, get your shit together, do the impossible. Fuck you, I’ll figure it out and then I’ll rub it in your face, mister. In your stupid, pretty face.”
The light on the new communicator flicked on. Tamara put it down on the floor, made sure things were set to receive as well, then tapped her first message.
Hello from a little bird.
She wasn’t directly connected to the structure of the prison, so she wasn’t entirely sure her message would get through. It should, and it should still be the sort of thing that, if picked up by Redstone’s communications grid, was dismissed as extraneous noise, but she didn’t want to count on it. The shorter her transmissions, the better.
Less than a minute later, she got a message back. Of course she did, Wyl was on top of things. Tamara nodded along as she translated. Hello little bird. How’s the nest?
Secure so far. Too secure, maybe. Need to see other nest, no equipment, no way in.
There was a long pause. Big nest?
Ahh, no. Tamara was brave where it counted, but she wasn’t Robbie. There was no way she was going into the black heart of Redstone unless she was forced there. Small, but important. Help?
Could. Maybe. Me/R in? Prob no. Eyes, ears, hands on us. Frowny face.
Oh for fuck’s sake, he’d Morse-coded an emoticon. It was so…twenty-first century of him. Tamara smiled despite herself.
Me in. Work on way, but need equip for B&E. Help?
Maybe. Call again tomorrow. Same time.
Well, it was better than Tamara had thought they’d do right off the bat. Good. Thanks.
Owe me so much espresso. Real beans not fake.
A kilo of real coffee beans could cost as much as a top of the line communication unit these days. Tamara would charge it to Garrett. Only the best.
Good. No more messages came in the nest minute, and Tamara took the communicator apart once again.
Well. Now she just had to figure out how to find a way to meet with Wyl in person and get whatever he managed to make for her, then how to sneak herself into the Warden’s office and tap into his personal computer system. All without being seen. Because of course she did. No problem. None whatsoever.
“Keep telling yourself that,” she whispered as she got off her bed and headed for the shower. She felt strung out and sweaty now; hot water wouldn’t wash away her worries, but at least it would take care of the smell.
The funny thing about habits learned in early childhood, as far as Demarcos was concerned, was that you never really outgrew them. The Towers of Bayt were enormous, Frankenstein creations birthed from the skeletons of the colony ships. Because of the vital ship structures colonists had been able to access as they built, the bones of the buildings, those massive, awkward edifices, were made not of durable plasticene meta-materials that resisted impact and vibration and had a dozen other safety features built in. They were metal: old, hard metal that itself had been recycled out of the ruins of Kuala Lumpur’s greatest skyscrapers. On a planet where keeping up your technology was hard, especially in the beginning thanks to the dust storms, communication between different sections of the buildings happened along those metal bones. They were beaten out in a variant of Morse code, in fact.
Demarcos kept his communicator wide open when he was alone in his quarters, monitoring as many frequencies as he possibly could inside Redstone. He didn’t expect to get access to the internal coms between Redstone workers, but occasional bits and pieces of code from the medical unit came in unshielded. It was the one part of the prison that had to be able to connect with everyone who worked there apart from Harrison’s comm, and so had the broadest reach.
He hadn’t been looking for anything other than that. The faint lines of fuzz that floated across his screen were, at first, taken as spatial interference. Nothing important, nothing vital. Except…
Demarcos blinked and looked at the lines again. Was that a…dash? Not an actual dash, but appearing in a rhythm that seemed familiar. And then a dot, a dot, and another…what the fuck?
He launched himself away from his desk and hunched over the comm unit, tracking the interference and trying to make sense of it. Was that a…it was a word.
The fuzz vanished after that, no more to be seen even though he held his breath waiting for it. Demarcos finally exhaled, but he didn’t relax. That was genuine code, ancient code, which meant that someone here was passing notes that they didn’t want the powers that be to know about. Demarcos wasn’t sure what that meant, but he knew one thing.
He was going to find out.