The Present – ESS Endeavour
The hanger deck was bustling with activity when Captain Bell arrived. Millwood’s plane had been safely brought aboard and was now sitting in the middle of the hanger. Medics hovered nearby as the deck crew prepared to crack open the cockpit.
The canopy was lifted up and several people lifted the colonel out of his seat. Millwood was immediately lowered on to a stretcher.
“He’s alive,” one of the medics announced. He’s suffering from hypothermia. He’s disoriented and very confused.
The stretcher was attached to a bed base and wheeled directly out of the hanger – to be taken to the medical bay.
Bell wanted to call out ‘Take care of him,’ but he knew that was not necessary.
At that moment, Ensign McDermott entered the hanger, still in her flight suit, helmet under her arm.
“Is he okay?” she asked frantically.
“The Colonel is alive,” Bell assured her. “He’s been taken to the medical bay. He’s in good hands.”
The young pilot gave a visible sigh of relief.
“You did brilliant work out there Ensign,” Bell placed an encouraging hand on her shoulder. “You probably saved his life. Well done.”
The Surface of Xinju
Private Gardner’s condition had not improved and Doctor Banks was getting worried. She tried her radio again.
“This is landing party one – come in shuttle.”
The vague sound of a highly distorted voice responded through the static. “This is the shuttle, go ahead landing party one.”
“We request emergency pickup. One of our party is injured.”
“I’m sorry Doctor, I got caught in some very bad weather, and the radio went out. I will return to your location as soon as possible but the storm isn’t making it easy. I will have to go the long way.”
“Make it quick Shuttle – Private Gardner has been bitten by a native life form and appears to have been poisoned.”
“One way or another I’ll get to you.”
Banks put away her radio and walked over to where Gardner was lying on the ground. “Shuttle is on its way. Be strong Soldier.”
ESS Endeavour – Engineering Deck
Lieutenant Tareen felt like he’d been on his feet all afternoon – or was it morning? Honestly he’d lost track. Chief Henderson had called in and reported that he had news. Tareen had come straight here – eager to discover what the engineer had uncovered.
He found Henderson waiting in the main engine room. The man had a pained and concerned look on his face.
“What have you got Chief?”
“You’d better come into my office Lieutenant.”
Tareen followed the engineer into a cramped and messy office. I was not unlike his own.
“I realised just when we were talking last time that I’d been looking in the wrong place all along. My inspiration actually came from the damage to Colonel Millwood’s plane. The reason I could find nothing in the engine control system is because there was nothing there to be found. I realised that the one system that could have a direct impact on the workings of the engines, but wasn’t part of them, was the inertial dampeners.
Tareen nodded, the pieces starting to fall into place.
“Look at this.” Henderson brought up a page of code which meant nothing to the security officer. “I found a routine here that doesn’t belong. It’s a diagnostic function in the interface through which the engines communicate with the inertial dampeners. The engines ask the dampeners for their status, and this code, reports incorrectly that the dampeners are failing. The engines therefore think they cannot operate at their full potential because it’s not safe.”
“But the bridge androids ran diagnostics on both the engines and the dampeners.”
“Yes. That’s the beauty of this thing. Both of those systems were working perfectly. It was only the link between them. The engines were fooled into thinking that the dampeners were damaged.”
“Very clever,” Tareen observed. “What about the malfunction of Commander Murphy’s life pod?”
“Once I knew what I was looking for, I found another change made during the same revision of the system software. That is, it was uploaded at the same time.”
“It was into the power distribution subroutine. It was hard-coded to assume that Commander Murphy’s pod was unoccupied and didn’t require power, but it wasn’t programmed to kick in until two days into our journey.”
“So Murphy was a specific target then.”
“Yes he was.”
“How could such changes be made without being detected?”
“That’s the thing. I’ve brought up the change logs on this part of the codebase. Around the time that this code was inserted, the logging was turned off. That means we don’t know who made the change.”
“How could logging be turned off?”
“Not even I have the authority to do that Lieutenant. It was a command-level override.”
“So that rules out everyone in your department. In fact, it only leaves one suspect.” Tareen now understood why Henderson looked so sullen. “Chief, I think I have a very unpleasant duty to perform.”
The general atmosphere of the bridge was decidedly more jovial when Bell arrived back. Word had already spread through the ship that Millwood was alive and the crew were celebrating the success of the rescue. Lin was looking particularly pleased.
“Well done Captain.”
“Our return course to Xinju has been plotted.”
“Very good. Helm, take us out – full speed.”
“Aye Sir,” the officer at the helm replied.
“I wonder how our landing party on the planet’s surface is getting along. Hopefully they’ve found a nice location for us to start building the new human civilisation.”
“I’m certainly eager to hear of their progress too Captain,” Lin said.
At that moment, the main door opened and Lieutenant Tareen entered, followed by four security guards. The Lieutenant wore a poker face – he was impossible to read. Bell had never seen the man like this before.
“Lieutenant, don’t you have an investigation to complete?”
“I’m afraid the investigation is nearing its end. That’s what has brought me here.”
“What’s going on?” Bell asked, suddenly feeling somewhat nervous for reasons he couldn’t quite ascertain.
“Captain Anderson Bell, I am placing you under arrest for the murder of Commander Alan Murphy, and the sabotage of Earth Space Force property.”