WW | Ghost in the System

Alyana Kiana walked through Far’be Qoosh station’s densely populated spaces, her two-tone orange hoodie pulled over her head and face to foil the inescapable vision of the automated security cameras. Around her, the sights and smells of fast-food emporiums and struggling merchandise outlets called out to passersby with bright, flashing neon lights and large than life talking or moving holo-projections.

Alyana filtered it all out as she purposefully walked through the busier and seedier underbelly of the large station, knowing full well it would be to next to impossible for the Imperium’s security forces to make her ID and arrest her. Whenever they could, Alayna and Baeth connected to GODIN anonymously and ran facial recognition and image scrubbing software to remove security cam footage and any inadvertently taken pictures of the Wraith crew by unsuspecting tourists or kids whenever they visited public spaces, like Far’be Qoosh. 

“I’m almost in position,” Alayna said, the neural comm implanted in her head relaying her words to Baeth, Gavari, and Brax on the Malevolent. Each time she infiltrated the station, she took a different path, sometimes walking around the station for an hour and changing directions several times to confuse anyone who might be shadowing her—whether Imperium scum or anyone other less desirable adversaries. Aboard the Malevolent, Brax and Gavari used a specially outfitted holo-display to monitor a nearly three-hundred and sixty-degree replica of her surroundings. When she needed to concentrate on the task at hand, the guys covered as her eyes and ears. 

Initially, Brax thought he had mission surveillance under control, but one day he missed something that Gavari—unknowingly watching from the doorway—saw in the holo-display. A cloaked figured had managed to keep up with Alayna but changed his appearance several times. Gavari noticed the man’s subtle limp and flagged him as a hostile. When the man approached Alayna from behind while she worked some technical wizardry in a computer system, thinking he had the upper hand, she dispatched the man him without hesitation. He turned out to be a Nothwrecki recruiter—or kidnapper. On that day forward, Brax learned to appreciate and welcome the assassin’s perspective.

“Making the last turn now,” Alayna reported.

“Yup,” Brax responded, Gavari studying the holo-display.

The men watched Alayna, clad in white-soled black utility boots, brown cargo pants filled with technology and tools, and her unflattering two-tone orange hoodie make a sharp left into a maintenance closet and stopped. Her worn, brown leather messenger bag slung across her chest from her left shoulder. She pressed the button that closed the door and waited as it hissed shut behind her. She looked up and extended her right hand toward the ceiling. She pulled a small remote control from her hoodie’s left pocket, raised it toward the ceiling, and pressed a button. The hatch hissed and slid open. Then, using her feet, she walked her way up the narrow closet and pulled herself up through the ceiling hatch. She closed the hatch behind her and began climbing through the station’s unsightly pipes, conduits, and miles of electrical and GODIN cables that made up the station’s nervous system.

Garen walked into the small room and surveyed the holo-display. “Any problems?” he asked.

“Why are you still on board?” Alayna asked, ignoring his question.

“Nope,” Brax answered.

“I’m heading out soon. I had to do something first.”

“I’m almost in position,” Alayna reported. “Shit, it’s hotter than hell in here today.”

When she found a communications junction, she perched herself on a some rusting water pipes and a ventilation duct and set her messenger bag next to her. She carefully pulled out a portable computer and the comm-interceptor she built on board the Malevolent. It looked like a natural extension of the system to the untrained eye—not that anyone would want to climb through the disgusting pipes to look for anything suspicious.

“I’m gonna hook in to GODIN and look for new things to scrub first,” she said, unfolding a small satchel of multitools. After carefully unscrewing and removing the small access panels, she plugged in a cable and attached the other end to the portable computer. Then she initiated the facial recognition and scrubbing software, which she had secretly installed in serval locations since the process could take days and she didn’t have time to wait around for it to finished.

Next, she began making connections between the interceptor and the comm junction’s circuitry.

“What exactly is that thing going to do?” Brax asked, bored with the idle view of conduits and cables.

“This is our ticket to Imperium data. We got lucky with the Starfly; imagine if we could select our targets from a menu of top secret Imperium military information?”

“That sounds incredible useful,” Brax answered. “It also sounds like a full time job. Who’s going to monitor all this?”

“Mally will.”

“Wait, what? You’re going to sacrifice vital processing power and have Mally crunch through the entire Imperium military communications network in realtime?”

Alayna sighed. “Of course not. I’m going to steal tiny amounts of processing power from unsuspecting computers across the galaxy process and feed Mally with a customized feed of informative based on keywords and other information we choose.”

“That’s my girl.”

“I told you not to call me your girl. Don’t worry, you’ll still be able to fly the ship.”

“Whew,” Brax said, hoping the humor in his tone came through the comm system. “So, what then, we’ll get an alert whenever the Imperium decides to move secret cargo around?”

“That and my little device here will intercept and decode all classified Imperium communications. We’ll have a constant stream of super-secret Imperium intel that will allows us to track people, ships, cargo, and other traffic in the Imperium better.”

“So we’ll whenever the Imperator decides to take shit,” Gavari said, breaking his usual silence.

Alayna chuckled. “Exactly.”

“Some kind of hovering droid is coming,” Gavari said. “Bearing 270-mark-30. Looks like a sentry.”

“Shit,” Alayna whispered, quickly searching through her pockets, looking for any kind of jamming device.

Sentry droids came in various shapes and sizes. They monitored the behind-the-scenes, limited access, maintenance, or operational areas of space stations and starships—basically anywhere unauthorized personnel weren’t supposed to be. Right now, Alayna was somewhere she wasn’t supposed to be.

“Get out of there,” Brax said urgently.

“I’m not done yet,” she answered tersely. “Hold on. Don’t say anything.”

Alayna slung her messenger bag her shoulders and quickly organized her technology at right angles that matched the comm junction’s awkward shapes as best she could—hoping the sentry droid wouldn’t notice it. Then she lowered herself into the pit of pipes beneath her and squeezed into a space under the warm ventilation duct she had been sitting on.

Above her, the sound of rushing air in the duct cancelled out the droid’s hovertech as it approach. Alone for the time being in her head, she’d have to wait for Brax to signal the all clear—assuming the droid didn’t sniff her out. She cursed herself for not adding a personal cloaking device to her SHIFT armor.

Moments turned to minutes, or so it seemed, as Alayna waited for some sort of signal. She placed her hand on the grip of her plasma pistol. If the droid detected her, she only had seconds before it immediately sent an alert to the station’s security station. It would take longer for the station chief to notice a missing droid than to respond to a possible intruder alert.

“It passed by,” Brax whispered in her neural comm, which made him sound like he was in her head.

Alayna exhaled slowly and climbed back up to the top of the ventilation duct. “

“The scrub process is all set,” Alayna reported. “I’m finishing the last of the comm-interceptor connections and then I’ll make my way to another access hatch on some other level.”

“We’ll keep our eyes peeled,” Brax answered.