taking joy in human unreason

Breached Defenses

Ginber 06, 000165

The cafeteria was blissfully empty as Hardi hunkered down with a bowl of oatmeal.

Robert Yuk's lanky frame slid into the seat across from Hardi. "Why, good morning, Ms. Harding Rhodes," he said cheerily.

"Mmph," Hardi managed. She tucked even deeper into her bowl.

Robert's smile got bigger as he doctored his cereal with tons of sweetener. "Not a morning person, Ms. Harding Rhodes?"

Hardi huffed a sigh. "Stop saying my goddamn name, Dr. Robert Yuk. I'm very much a morning person, but Tria Bran, that drunk woman, was — is — my roommate. She puked way past what could have possibly been in her stomach."

Robert shook his head in sympathy. "Sometimes they vomit from their toes, I think." His lips were compressed, holding back laughter.

Hardi glared at him through narrowed eyes. "It's not funny."

His grin reappeared. "Sure it is." He took a big bite of his cereal. "What you need is coffee. Why don't you have some?"

"Because the damn coffee maker is broken. Look, Dr. Yuk," she took a deep breath, "I don't really want company right now."

He chuckled around a mouthful of food, making Hardi pull back at the sight. "It's Robert. And I bet money you don't want company on this trip at all." He held out his hands in a shrug. "Am I right?"

Hardi smiled a little in spite of herself. "Maybe."

"That's fine," he said casually. "We have another couple of days to compare terrorism " — said in a whisper — "notes. Maybe I can convince you I'm more than a posh, debonair, doctor-extraordinaire by then."

Hardi snorted. "There's nobody 'posh' on this rust bucket."

Robert looked around, as if for the first time. "You may be right."

They ate in silence for a minute before Robert said idly, "Well, since we aren't talking about work, we should talk about ourselves."

Hardi looked up at him, but kept eating. As soon as she ran out of food, she was out of here. She asked dryly, "What in our personal lives could possibly be of interest to each other?"

"Well, I can tie my shoelaces with one hand," he said eagerly.

Hardi blinked. "I think I'm done here," she muttered as she stood with her tray. "Have a good day, Dr. Yuk."

"Robert," he said around another mouthful of food, "and it really helps if you soften the 'u'. Make it just a bit more like 'yook' than 'yuck'."

Hardi looked down at him. "Yuk," she said, trying it out as he suggested.

"Yup," he said with a nod. "See, it's much less interesting that way. You'll be bored with 'Yuk' and onto 'Robert' soon." He grinned impishly.

Hardi chuckled, and made herself turn away. "Alright, then. Have a good one, Dr. Yuk."

He waved and slurped the remaining milk from his bowl.

Hardi got rid of her dishes and headed back toward her quarters. She could probably get some sleep now that Tria was passed out.

The door to her quarters was locked this morning — as she'd left it — but it didn't open at her palm touching the doorplate. Hardi swallowed a curse, and tried again. Just a blat of sound from the computer: access denied.

She crossed the corridor and tapped the comm, connecting to Guest Affairs.

"Yes?" intoned a bored man's voice. His puffy face filled the screen, and he blinked owlishly at her.

"Hi," she said tersely, "this is Harding Rhodes, and my palm print is being denied at my door."

Unable to resist, the man asked, "Are you sure it's your door?"

Hardi caught herself actually checking, then shook her head. "Yes, it's my damn door. Room 7, Deck 3."

"Ah, the lap of luxury," he joked, pecking at the console in front of him. Hardi watched him blink slowly again and nearly blinked with him.

"I'm showing that room registered to Tria Bran and Harding Rhodes," he said. "Which one are you?"

"Your security is absolutely amazing," she retorted. "I could be neither of those, but now I know exactly who I need to be."

The man just looked at her.

"I'm Harding," she said simply.

"Well, if you're Harding, it should be working." Hardi could see him working up to another joke. Lords, this man was slow.

He didn't disappoint. "Are you sure it's your hand that you're scanning?"

"Listen, sir, I'm about done with this." Hardi pulled out her identification that listed her as government consultant. She held it to the camera and said firmly, "I need access to my room now. Make it happen, and leave this channel open once you do." She took down the ID and glared at the man.

How his eyes widened any further, Hardi had no idea, but they did. He quickly entered some commands and her door slid open behind her.

Hardi whirled and entered the room, immediately spotting Tria at her desk. Hardi's mobile work computer sat on the desk, with two extra drives attached. Tria froze in the act of disconnecting them.

Loudly and clearly, Hardi said over her shoulder, "Guest Affairs guy, call security immediately." She didn't move any further into the room and Tria still sat with her hands poised.

"Yeah, okay. Yeah," the Guest Affairs man stuttered.

Hardi slowly reached into her pocket and pulled out her comm, setting it to voice record with a touch. "Who do you work for?" she asked Tria.

Tria sat back in the chair and let her hands fall from the cables. "Don't ask stupid fucking questions that I'm not going to answer," she spat.

"They're still worth asking," said a voice over Hardi's shoulder.

She jumped and looked to see Robert standing there, looking considerably less amused than he had been at breakfast. She glanced over at Tria to make sure she wasn't trying anything.

"Are you in on this, too, Doctor?" Hardi asked.

"Nah," he drawled. "I only do computers for medical work and video games, really. What were you looking for?" he asked Tria conversationally.

Tria stood up, and Hardi barked, "Whoa. Sit your ass back down, Spiky. I'm not looking for more trouble than I already have." Tria flopped back down into the chair with a curse.

"Where's security?" Hardi muttered to Robert.

He moved over to the comm and the slow man said, "They're on the way, I swear."

"Apparently, they're on their way," Robert repeated unnecessarily.

"His question still stands," Hardi said to Tria. "What are you snooping for?" She kept her comm held out and recording.

Tria spit across the desk at Hardi. "Fuck you, you spineless drone. You want to stop me? Come fucking stop me!" Tria stood and picked up Hardi's computer.

"No —" Hardi started into the room.

Tria smashed the corner of the computer into one of the external drives, cracking the case and crushing the electronics inside. She raised the computer and brought it down again before Hardi bull rushed her away from the desk.

Hardi felt something give in Tria's torso as they impacted with the wall, and Tria yelped. Hardi untangled herself quickly and bounced up, out of Tria's reach.

Tria held her ribs and groaned, but stayed down.

Hardi turned at the sound of voices outside the room. Security had finally arrived, and Robert was showing his identification as he explained what had happened once he arrived. He glanced over when he heard the groan, and was obviously relieved to see it was Tria down instead of Hardi.

Hardi put her computer back on her desk from where Tria dropped it and stood while it loaded up.

"Ma'am, we're going to need to talk to you," one of the security officers said. Joss, his nameplate said.

"That's fine," Hardi said distractedly. "Just come get me when you want to talk. I need to know what she was doing."

Robert chimed in, "Someone should probably scrape the culprit up off the floor. She's going to need a doctor." He chuckled. "I'm in too much shock to perform doctorly duties myself, so it'll have to be someone else."

Everyone in the room looked at Robert with varying degrees of incredulity. He smiled and shrugged.

One of the officers helped Tria up — who was cursing profusely — and shuffled her out of the room.

"Hey," Hardi waved at the officer, "I'm going to need to be present during her interrogations." She checked audit logs to find any removed or edited files on her drive.

The officer looked at Joss, who was evidently the boss.

Joss said, "Ms. Rhodes, we need more information about what you're doing here before we can make any promises in that regard. We'll also need to confiscate that computer."

"Oh, no," Hardi said with a shake of her head, still sifting through logs. It didn't look like Tria had unencrypted anything, or if she did, it was on one of the external drives. She backed up her existing audit logs as evidence and plugged in the remaining working drive.

"This computer is being used in a Level 1 project," Hardi continued, "and you won't be going through it, either."

"Do you have documentation of that?" Joss asked.

"Yes," she said, going over to her bags and pulling out a small folder. It was a set of documents — all properly watermarked and verifiable — that a consultant or agent could show local authorities to get themselves breathing room. It included a list of Hardi's untouchable gear.

Joss scanned the documents thoroughly and carefully, running the various seals and watermarks through his scanner. Hardi waited patiently, trying to figure out how in the hell Tria had even gotten into her system without ripping out the internal drive. Tria must have done something to snag Hardi's password. That was worrying.

When Hardi's documents checked out, Joss signed a page in the folder to signify that he'd accessed its contents and handed it all back.

"Alright, folks," he said to the team in the room. "We do have a Level 1 incident here, so let's treat this with care. Don't interrogate the prisoner until I and Ms. Rhodes are present."

"And me," piped up Robert. Everyone looked at him again. "We're on the same mission. I'm just lucky I didn't get stuck with a roommate."

Hardi frowned. How had he avoided having a roommate?

"Ms. Rhodes," Joss said, looking back to Hardi, "please be careful in your investigation of the computer. Lost evidence could cause all sorts of problems."

"Yup," she replied.

The security crew took Tria's possessions with them as they left. Hardi gave them the broken drive in a bag, all of its pieces included. Joss didn't seem to appreciate the gift.

Robert leaned against the door frame after they all filed out, watching Hardi. She plugged away at the external drive, finding the drive had been formatted, probably while Hardi argued with the Guest Affairs joker outside.

She dropped down to lower-level data access and saw that there had been files copied to the drive before the formatting.

"Ah..." she breathed. She looked up briefly at Robert. "My files on Ming Ung, as I expected."

Robert picked at his fingernails idly. "Containing what?" 

Hardi shrugged. "Background info and histories. Evidence found up until the point of our departure. Not much in the way of my own analysis. I stored that... elsewhere."

He looked momentarily intrigued, but let it drop. "Any idea who she's working for?"

"Nope," she replied. "There are pretty much no suspects for the bombing as far as I know, so the pool is both wide open and vanishingly small."

"'Vanishingly small'," Robert repeated. "That's poetic. I like it."

Hardi chuckled. "I don't." Robert grinned.

"Well," he said as he stood up from the door, "traveling with you is going to be an adventure, it seems."

Next story: Blackout

Previous story: The Welcome Goodbye

Creative Commons License by Melissa Avery-Weir is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License. The fiction segment of this site is driven by Elf Sternberg's Narrator system.