The Forge Region – Anttanen Constellation
Uitra System – Planet VI, Moon 4
State War Academy Station
3 February YC 121
Despite all that toing and froing with the Salvager I completed the previous mission rather quickly, just before lunchtime. I thought I could take another one after lunch if I didn’t go too far away searching for food. Thus, after my Saturday’s culinary escapade I returned to the good old “meat and three veggies” ration in the Academy mess hall.
While I was choosing a table with the best view I noticed Hakkaras who was waving his hand at me. I moved to his table and took a seat next to him.
“Hey, thanks for the tritanium, Vladimir,” said the agent. “You delivered it just in time for me to finish a certain manufacturing job by Monday morning. By the way, I hope you don’t mind my calling you by the first name. I think we can drop those formalities.”
“No worries, Hakkaras,” replied I. “I was actually going to see you after the lunch about a new Business assignment. Have you got any?”
“Yes and no. Remember the black box you extracted from the wreck? We have downloaded the data from it and found that Guristas organised a surveillance facility in this system which they use to stage attacks on Academy convoys. Also, the facility contains Guristas databank which is of great interest to our security department. We need someone to go to that surveillance outpost, disinfect it and hack the databank. If you could do that for me I would count this mission toward Business curriculum.”
“Well, I have completed Exploration course where I learned how to hack data containers, and combat engagements, as you know, are nothing new for me. Still, I can’t see how this assignment can be part of Business syllabus.”
“Oh, don’t worry about that,” said Hakkaras. “Exploration can be a lucrative business if you do it right. As to the fighting, don’t forget that this course is offered by State War Academy. Even though we teach business disciplines, we want to ensure that our graduates are combat-ready pilots, not just desk jockeys. This means that not only I can but, in fact, I must provide opportunities for battle training to my students. But honestly, Vladimir, even if it was not part of the curriculum, would you pass up an opportunity to kick Guristas’ ass?”
I remembered the silent wreck of the transport ship and said, “I’ll take it. Do I have fifteen minutes to finish my steak?”
“Oh, plenty. We don’t have any more convoys today, so take your time.”
“Wanna have a bit of fun?” I asked Aura.
“Are we going shopping?” she replied hopefully.
“No, we are going hacking and slashing. Slashing pirates and hacking their databanks. Remember the destroyed transport from which we extracted a blue egg? I know where to find the bastards who attacked it.”
“Cool. Are we flying Ampuhaukka then?”
“Oh, yes,” nodded I. “This task is not for a Venture.”
“Yay! I like Ampuhaukka. It has such a predatory look.”
“I am not taking it for the looks, but I am glad that you too found something to appreciate about Merlin.”
Aura looked confused, “Was it a compliment?”
“Yes, to the ship,” laughed I and warped to the mission location.
It was a strange site. There was a huge station battery, a free-floating antenna and a curious construction which reminded me of a four-poster. The databank, which looked like a missile battery, was inside the “bed” and was guarded by a Guristas Rookie. I was disappointed because I expected to see the strike fleet that took down the transport but found only a noob who didn’t know where the safety was on his railgun.
Anyway, I had a job to do. A few shots from one-twenty-fiver dispatched the clueless watchman. I hoped that the next part would be more exciting as it involved an activity that I was most interested in – hacking.
As I started approaching the databank, Aura asked me in a hushed tone, “Are you sure it’s not a missile battery?”
“Dunno, but the Neocom does not show it as a threat. Anyway, I have it targeted. If it tries to do something funny, it will taste the iron charges from our railguns.”
“Yeah, if it doesn’t alpha us out of the sky,” said Aura morosely. “Those tubes look scary. May be torpedoes.”
“Oh, come on. What do we have to lose?”
“You? Nothing that you can’t restore. As for me, I will completely lose the memory of this mission.”
“Aura, if you go with me on a mission you need to be prepared for the worst scenario. I could have left you dormant so that you wouldn’t lose any memories, but wasn’t it you who insisted on being woken up for every assignment?”
Aura mumbled something incomprehensibly and shut up.
I activated the data analyser and started hacking. Unfortunately, the experience did not live up to my expectations – even with a civilian data analyser I was able to easily crack the only firewall that blocked my way to the system core; and the core itself was pretty weak. So, five minutes after my arrival I became an owner of the encrypted data chip and a datacore with basic civilian tech. I brought the former back to Hakkaras and asked him what to do with the latter.
“Keep it for now, Vladimir,” was his reply. “You’ll need it for invention training. Otherwise, it’s pretty useless.”
I wished Hakkaras good luck with decryption of the chip and left for the day.