He started off looking a little guilty, as if he was trying to find a reasonable excuse for his behavior, but it didn't take him long to resign himself to just going with it. "Mornin'," he greeted me.
I blinked again, completed my orientation, and answered back. "Good morning."
His hand lay atop my arm. His thumb rubbed over the bump of my elbow. He was not-looking at me too studiously to be casual. I waited him out, taking the excuse to steal a few seconds of indulgence before getting started on the day. At length, he put his head back down on his pillow and snuggled in a bit. "You're twitchy when you sleep."
That sounded familiar. "What do you mean, twitchy?"
"You usually look like you're dreaming or something. With the eyeballs twitching back and forth, you know?"
"They don't call it rapid eye movement for nothing."
"But people don't go straight from REM to being awake. Not without being all groggy and confused. Which, of course, you never are. I remember you being twitchy... 'before'. But is there... stuff going on in there these days, while you're sleeping?"
Ah. Another one of these questions. Who knew there would be so many of them? I turned my head to face him more comfortably. "You got me on this one."
"I do?" He looked proud for just a heartbeat, before he realized what it implied. "What do you mean?"
"Zero doesn't always sleep when I do. It's not always 'awake', though. It's acknowledged the human need for natural, undisturbed dreaming. But when that's out of the way, Zero may use the free cycles for diagnostics, maintenance, post-processing, things of that nature."
"Oh." He spent a few seconds dwelling on that. "But your dreams are your own?"
"Yes. Given the generally illogical nature of most dreams, I'm sure Zero is more than happy to stay far, far away from them."
::Dreams are a mass of incomprehensible brain activity that not even the human mind can interpret coherently.::
I smiled and summed up. "Yes, Zero has no interest in human dreaming."
"But you... you get enough sleep and all?"
"Am I twitchy all of the time?" I asked, curious as to what physical effects were triggered by Zero's extracurricular activities. I didn't keep close tabs on what he did while I was sleeping. Zero responded by showing me where I could access that data, and claimed that the eye movements were a human reflex not of his conjuring.
"No," Duo admitted. "Not all of the time. Just occasionally. More so when... when you've got a lot of stuff going on. A lot of stuff to think about right now, I guess. Think up anything interesting?"
"I'm worried," I told him, knowing he didn't expect an answer. "I think the situation in the colonies is far more precarious than the one on Earth, despite the movement being born on Earth. Things will escalate quickly, given the history of the colonies."
"Their history makes them out to be a bunch of fence-sitting chickens."
"The people in charge of the colonies, perhaps. But this isn't an official political action. The people rebelling now are those in the younger generation, people old enough to remember Federation rule, but young enough to rebel. Maybe they didn't get their chance the first time, and they see this as their opportunity to redeem themselves."
"God, I hate kids. Why didn't they rebel ten years ago, when everyone else was rebelling? Wasn't cool enough for them or something? Coulda done some good then." The sour expression on his face was enough to make me want to kiss it away, but he was in the middle of a good rant. I let him be. "I'm not the biggest fan of ESUN myself, but there's a huge difference between ESUN and the Federation or OZ. The Feds were a military complex. They didn't pussyfoot around the issue of annexing the colonies. None of this 'economic encroachment' crap. They saw what they wanted, and they took it, and they killed anyone that stood up to them. The only way to fight that was with the kinds of stuff that we did. But ten years later -- hell, ten years ago, before I got too old for this crap? No way in hell I would ever have joined the cause because of 'economic encroachment'. Would you have?"
He had a point. I mulled over it for a few seconds, my fingers itching to twiddle with the end of his braid. "No, probably not. Who says people don't learn from the past? We taught the colonists that an effective way to achieve a change in government was through acts of violence. They finally figured out in the end that they had to take a stand, or else their suffering would never stop. And that's what they're doing right now. With no more weapons of mass destruction in their hands, they turn to other means, but the impetus behind their actions remains the same as ever."
His finger prodded me ungently in the shoulder. "Don't even go there, man. Don't even go there." He sighed, poked me once more, then pushed the blanket aside. "Time to get started on the day."
I got distracted before I could really dig in deep, however. There was a pattern to the holes in the network. I started pinging satellites and got confirmation of my theories. "Comm lines to Earth are down."
"Huh?" Duo looked up from his terminal, where he'd been going over the morning reports. "I'm up and running over here. Granted, the connection's about as crappy as it could get today, but it's running."
"They are still a couple of relays up, trying to deal with all of the traffic on their own. Just enough to make it seem like the system is still running. But other than that, none of the waypoints are responding."
"Suspicious," Trowa remarked with his usual blandness. When we'd met him in the hall outside of our rooms this morning, his face had betrayed no reaction to our choice of sleeping arrangements. He was probably amused.
"Can you debug it?" Duo asked.
I shook my head. "They've already been routed around. None of my direct attempts to contact them have received any response."
"Well, I know what we'll be looking at this morning." He didn't seemed dismayed by that. It was probably more interesting than reading reports. "Though maybe your contacts might know something about it, Trowa?"
Trowa shrugged. "Maybe. I can start my rounds. You two can deal with this."
"How long will it take you to circulate?"
"As long as it takes. We don't think this is urgent, right?"
Duo looked to me for confirmation before answering. "I doubt anyone cut off the comms because they're about to attack us. They would have attacked right after, and the comms went down...?"
"Six hours ago," I filled in.
"Kind of defeats the purpose behind the whole 'surprise attack' notion," he continued smoothly. "Besides, not like it would really matter. We all agree that Earth doesn't have much power up here to get things done, and their response time sucks even when they've got a working comm, so..."
I picked up the threat assessment where he left off. "The other options would be that they were planning something against Earth, and they wouldn't want us to find out about it and warn them, or they were already attacking Earth, and they wouldn't want us to find out and stop them. They don't have the resources for a physical assault, which we would have been able to detect by now anyway, and a tech attack requires them to have a working network connection as well."
Trowa indicated his agreement with a nod. "Given their goals, it wouldn't surprise me if this was an end, not a means. They just want Earth out of here, after all. I'll check it out in the field."
We worked out the details, made the arrangements, and then headed out to the shuttle port. We saw him off at the commuter terminals, then went on to the Preventer's docks and continued our attempts to wrangle the use of a small shuttle from them. It took longer than we had expected, and we finally won ourselves a ride and headed on out to the closest comsat in the Earth-space relay.
"Looks pretty dead," Duo observed, staring at the dim satellite in front of us. It looked old and abandoned, even though it had been functional just the other day. From our visual inspection of the exterior, we found nothing that would have explained its outage.
"At least it's intact, and right where we expected it to be."
He snorted. "We'll have to deploy beacons, at least, if we can't fix this sucker, just so no one runs into it out here."
"I'm sure we have a few in the emergency kits."
He located the hangar bay and began maneuvering our craft inside. "Were you totally bullshitting your way past the paper-pushers when you said you knew about comsats?"
"I've dealt with them before." I transmitted the proper codes to the comsat, and was rewarded by the faint glow of lights embedded in the walls of the bay. "It still has at least minimal power."
"That'll make things easier," he muttered to himself, keeping a close eye on the sensors to help guide him into the hold. "Blowing them up, you mean?"
"Well, yes. But you can't sabotage a system effectively if you aren't familiar with its details."
"Yeah. Right. Well, I guess we're the most qualified, anyway. Kinda sad when we're the closest they've got to a repair crew on Moon Base right now, though."
With the shortage of trained maintenance personnel, we could expect it to be quite a while before the official engineers made their way to the satellite. We couldn't wait that long. Even if there wasn't anything tremendously fishy going on, we needed to get the comsat up and running well enough to at least contact Quatre on the ground and give him an update. We'd taken a copy of the specs with us. It would have to do. "It helped us get here, didn't it? I'll go pull the suits."
We got ourselves outfitted with little difficulty. The ability to shimmy into an EV suit in short order was not a skill that was quickly forgotten by anyone raised in the colonies. Disembarking into the zero-g environment outside prompted a nostalgic sigh from Duo. "Ah, I missed this."
Now was probably a completely inappropriate time to bring this up, but we didn't have anything else to do as we drifted through the long hallways to the central control room. "Maybe.... when this is over... Maybe we ought to consider a change of venue."
"Huh?" He turned his head in my direction, but the helmets severely limited peripheral vision.
"I like our place," I was quick to reassure him. "But... we didn't really choose it, you know? I joined up, you chose a nearby school. After we got together, we found a place that was sort of in between both. Then you joined up, and we moved closer and, well... I don't know. Maybe that isn't where we want to be."
There was a long pause before he answered. "I thought you weren't going to quit?"
I had more than enough reason to, but even more reason not to. "I don't have to work out of the capital. We've got offices all over the world and the colonies."
There was an even longer pause, during which we brushed the dust off a wall sign and followed the arrow in the direction of our destination, before he answered next. "What makes you bring this up, all of a sudden?"
"We were talking about moving last night. Metaphorically, anyway. But also... guilt, maybe," I admitted. "I chose to join the Preventers. That's where I felt I needed to be. You... I don't presume to know what you were thinking at the time. But you decided to try school out for a while, and you chose a school that was near the capital, and... I hope I didn't influence your decision, Duo."
"Of course you influenced my decision, Heero," he answered softly, but with an edge. "I wanted to be near you, near someone familiar. It was good, knowing there was someone there that could give me some pointers if I needed them."
"But you didn't really enjoy your time there, at the college."
"Sure I did," he retorted, a little more sharply.
"You dropped out."
"I was done."
There was a problem right there. There wasn't really a 'done' in this situation. "I thought maybe... you might not have been 'done' so early if you'd found a school that was a better fit for you. That maybe I somehow limited your choices."
"I swear to friggin' god, Yuy. You find the most ridiculous things to feel guilty about."
And he found the ridiculous things to be stubborn about. Fortunately, our debate was cut short by our arrival in the control room. Environmental controls were still in working order. While we waited for the small room to be pressurized and oxygenated, we did what we could with our bulky gloves on. Things went significantly faster after we could remove our helmets and peel ourselves out of the tops of our EV suits. The air was musty, but breathable. We confirmed power in the system and activated the satellite. It turned on, but the computer systems encountered numerous errors as it attempted to boot up.
"Hacked?" Duo asked.
"Looks like it." I broke into the boot routine, bypassed the satellite's high-level functionality in favor of gaining simple access to its core, and triggered some diagnostics. After a minute, the preliminary results came back. "Hardware all still looks good."
"How many of these comsats were there again? A lot, in any case. And someone hacked them all? Shit, that must have been some piece of coordinated work to do that."
"Maybe. Maybe not. Once you gain access to one comsat in the network, the rest of them aren't that difficult to access as well."
He stuck his tongue out in distaste. "Global system?"
"Global system sucks sometimes."
"Yes, it kind of does." Next time I wrote a security report for Une, I would be sure to underline this fact several times.
Duo scanned the data I was pulling up. "Can't blame this one on the groundbounders, though. The comsats have always been like this, haven't they?"
"Yes. It's a network relay, after all. It wouldn't make as much sense for all of them to be separate. If the software needs upgrading, you don't want to be doing it one satellite at a time, for instance. Communications would be disrupted for days."
"How hard is it to gain access to one?"
"It could have been very simple, if we assume it was like ZenNet. It's quite possible they had someone on the inside to give them that access. If not, it's still possible. They've had plenty of time to work on it. It'd take less time if someone planted some hardware on one of the satellites to intercept the signals. That would take half of the work out of it right there."
"It's the comms themselves that have the strong security, isn't it?"
"Yes. Priority was given to encryption of the messages. The relay was built robustly enough to handle the disabling of a few satellites on the network, but it takes just one weak point in the line for important communiqués to be intercepted and decrypted."
"So the next best thing is just to take the comm lines down altogether. Why wouldn't someone think of that?"
"But what nefarious soul could possibly want to do that?" I asked dryly. "And if I remember my history correctly, this whole comm relay sprang up pretty quickly in response to a sudden demand. Back in a day when Earth and space were at peace."
"And something's gotta give. Something's always gotta give."
I hummed an absent agreement. Nothing seemed incredibly broken about the satellite. The first step to getting it back up again was to restore the system defaults. After it was running, then we could see what sorts of problems they were. "We need to reset some of these devices. Look here..."
"Well, Heero," Duo drawled as we waited for the results of our most recent quest. "Maybe I'm not one hundred percent certain where I want to be in this life, but I do know this: I don't want to be a comsat engineer."
"Good. I wouldn't like that anyway."
"Is that so?"
"Comsat engineers are always out in the field, always on the move, always on call. And..." I watched the progress bar on the screen struggle the final few pixels to completion. "...we're live."
Duo let out a puff of breath into his bangs. "'Bout damn time. Heh, free long distance, eh?" he joked, watching me patch directly into the line and dial out to Quatre.
"Field test," I answered mildly.
"Think we should reserve the use of this comsat for ourselves? If we put it back into the network, it's just going to get bogged down. I wouldn't mind a lag-free, static-free line to work with."
"Well, we did pay for the repairs, after all..."
"Winner." The tinny voice made it through the speakers with a crackle and a whine before the background noise settled into a low level buzz.
"Yuy and Maxwell here," I answered, adjusting the signal clarity. "Almost all of the comm lines to Earth have been disabled. We just got the comsat closest to Moon Base up and running again."
The speakers popped one last time before deciding to be obedient. "Ah. Yeah, we noticed a dramatic falloff in traffic. Deliberate?"
"Yes. Remote hacking. No physical damage done."
"I see. The situation is still stable down here on the ground. No attacks, no ill effects, but we have uncovered a new cell. We should be able to take them down in a day or two, and then maybe we can head on up. What have you found out so far?"
I slid my chair back a little to let Duo report. He raised an eyebrow at me, but did as requested, with the occasional input from me. When we were done, Quatre gave us his read on the situation, agreeing with our conclusions about the current threat levels. While it may not have been a violent move, the disabling of the surface to space comm lines was definitely a part of their protest action, on a much more significant scale than their attacks against lone mining asteroids and building walls. We needed to step up our investigation.
The next day, they stepped up their operations. Trowa was still in the field, but he reported making progress into tracking down the ways the rebels were coordinating with each other. His success on the ground complemented my research into the online angle while Duo worked on following up on leads from the cases that the Moon Base Preventers had investigated regarding the other recent attacks against the government.
In the middle of the afternoon, Duo came to my workstation, his face grim. "All that work, for nothing."
"What's gone wrong?"
"The comsat's down again."
"Bit of a hardware failure this time, I'd call it."
"I guess they didn't like our fixes." While we'd been there, we had increased its software security.
"Yeah. You could say that. Sure stopped us from fixing it again, anyway."
I stopped what I was doing and gave him my full attention. "Excuse me?"
He sat down at the terminal next to me and pulled up the report. "Gone. Kerblooie. Toast. No coming back from that one."
I absorbed the data quickly, and though the damage to the satellite was significant, I was glad to see it was more than just a debris field. Not long after the 'hardware failure', HQ received word from L2-X1-Alpha, indicating that their colony defense system had been overrun by an external source on the network. Operating under an unknown user's control, two missiles had been launched at the comsat. Once the explosion of the target had been confirmed, the user had relinquished the system back to colony personnel and vanished. Officials were attempting to track down the hacker, but so far, with no success.
"That's not good," I remarked blandly. Someone had to take over Trowa's job while he was out.
Duo snorted. "Do you know how many defense systems there are out here? How many weapons caches? Old arms storage facilities? Defunct bases? For fuck's sake, there's even some colonies on the outer fringe that have anti-extraterrestrial-attack systems! We could secure the biggies, but it would be a drop in the bucket."
"So your official conclusion is, we're screwed?"
"Would you like to report that to Une?"
"Uh, no thanks. Why don't you? She likes you better."
I thought she liked Trowa best. Maybe we could let him pass along the news. "Or maybe we should just try not to let things go that far?"
"Hm. That's a novel idea."
last modified : 5/5/2007 02:55:49 PST