Chapter 8: The Cruiser
Copyright© 2017 by Hunter Johnson
Jason cheerfully followed Cherry Singh to see where she had entered his part of the ship. Singh began muttering, saying that she couldn’t see the door where she expected to be and began feeling along the wall. She muttered that she had found it, and that an accursed hologram had obscured the door.
Jason carefully inspected the hologram projector which was a small sphere on the floor next to the wall and saw that someone had turned it to project panels that looked like wood over the door. The general officer’s sections of the ship looked quite luxurious, with holographic wood panels, velvet panels and even expensive-looking art and sculptures. None of that existed other than in holographic form except in rooms near the bridge and in the top-level wardroom’s. Jason thought it was a great idea and it made the ship look sumptuous, rather than the formidable but bleak warship with Spartan accommodations he expected. The holograms could also be used to hide doors he realized.
This was again evidence of subtle sabotage. It prevented him from finding the marines. He would have seen the door and explored beyond.
They passed through the bulkhead and joined the intelligence, cyberwarfare, and communications team where Cherry Singh introduced him as the battle’s supreme military commander. Jason smiled while wondering if she was serious or pulling his leg.
“Sir, may we ask some questions of the admiral before we begin?”
“Sergeant McAndrew please save the questions for afterwards. Our commander has led us to believe that he has no rank and wishes to be addressed as Jason and if any rank is to be used he refers to himself as ‘the accidental commander,’” said Maj. Singh as the audience tittered.
“Thank you for your introduction, Major Singh.”
Jason went on to explain what he had told the others about the passwords before continuing his later findings.
“I discovered disruptive and wasteful subroutines hidden in many of Ship’s programs. They seriously interfered with Ship’s efficiency. I used my modified hacking routines to search for reports and emails and to look for passwords to try and switch off the interference at top-level. I found that everything that I did, some scumbag program reversed. I tried to find the superordinate program that controlled the sabotage, but without success. I found critical system passwords, but I couldn’t find the highest-level program that switched it all on and off.
“I have the greatest difficulty working with trans-dimensional programming. This means I couldn’t achieve what I had aimed at doing,” said Jason sadly.
He looked around at the group and noted most of the thirty people in this group were women. He saw that there were only four males.
A tall woman stood up to ask a question. “What crystal do you have, and what is the nature of the difficulty that you are experiencing?”
“I have no crystal. While it’s true that my family comes from the Empire, University education on Earth didn’t include trans-dimensional programming. Trans-dimensional programming was an unknown concept on Earth. We knew about different dimensions from mathematical predictions, but had no way of using or working with them. Therefore, we know nothing of crystals and so nothing was obtained on Earth.
“I was exposed to the concepts of trans-dimensional programming for the first time on the ship. I used the learning machines to understand the fundamentals of programming in the Empire. I know about the importance of crystals but I’ve not acquired one. I couldn’t persuade Ship to allow me to enter a trans-dimensional space to get a crystal.”
“You can’t do trans-dimensional programming without a crystal. Were you born with one?” she asked, looking at him quizzically with her head tilted to one side.
“You may be surprised to learn that we people from primitive planets may find a way to do the impossible! The only crystal I possess is the crystal in my slate computer,” said Jason, “but I’m not sure what you are trying to ask or say.”
“So how do you do trans-dimensional programming and programming analysis?” She asked him.
“I’ve really battled with trans-dimensional programming, it looks distorted to me as I’m sure it does for you without a crystal. The hologram gives me a headache and I can only program or debug programs briefly. Sometimes I half close my eyes and it looks a bit clearer but in general it’s distorted and moves around a lot. I know I need a crystal but I couldn’t get one so I was forced to use the best way I could think of, to do what I need to do.”
They all looked at him as if he was indeed a strange beast. He heard a few titters from the back.
“Remember Earth is sixty-five thousand years behind the Empire. My family were sent to earth from the Empire a thousand years ago without any Empire technology. On Earth the first computers were invented in my youth. I had to work with a learning machine on the ship and an uncooperative Ship as far as crystals were concerned. With a crystal, it may be simple for all of you but I faced continuous obstacles in trying to find out about crystals and acquire one. I don’t know if I’ve a slot for such a crystal, but I assume that there’s every possibility that I do have one.
“You need to remember that there are many concepts that were part of your basic childhood education that I’ve no idea about. I came onboard the ship and everyone shunned me except the chefs and farmers. This was allegedly because of instructions from a nonexistent captain that people still followed mindlessly. They answered questions when asked, but volunteered nothing of any value. I assume the saboteurs were acting against me even then.
“No one would or even could tell me how to get a crystal except for Ship and as I told you she was entirely uncooperative in the interests of my safety, and her brief to protect me. Ship knew all about the trans-dimensional spaces, but didn’t know how crystals got there and didn’t want me to take the risk of my going into such a space when she was responsible for my well-being.
“Now I’ll finish the story which you will no doubt find it amusing or bizarre, most likely both.
“On my planet, there’s a group of people from a very cold part of the planet who used opaic glasses with a narrow horizontal slit, to prevent blindness from reflection of light from snow and ice. It gave me an idea to try the same concept to solve the problem of the trans-dimensional programming. I used a replicator to make a frame and I cut a slot into a piece of plasti-board to reduce my field of vision. It helped me to work longer.
“I was stuck with what I had,” said Jason his voice full of frustration, “and it made the work very slow and very difficult and I frequently got headaches if I worked, too long,” said Jason painfully recording his experiences
“That’s truly amazing,” said one of the other programmers. “I didn’t know anybody who could turn up so much information and progress so far into the computer systems without at least one major crystal. Do you know if you’ve a slot?” She asked.
“It’s very embarrassing,” said Jason. “I’ve to admit that I’ve no idea if I have a slot, but I think there’s a good chance that I have one and if I’m lucky, more than one. My family was well connected in the Empire and I believe there’s a rumor that the Emperor has more than one slot. I’m looking forward to the opportunity to go into trans-dimensional space to see if I can find one. I don’t know where I’ll find this crystal, even if I go into such a space. I don’t know if I dig it up, or if I get it from someone or something. I don’t know what these crystals are, I don’t know how I find one or who makes them, and I don’t know what they do. It must seem ridiculous to all of you where this knowledge is basic stuff, but if everyone from the Empire has a slot, then I have a slot.”
Jason looked around. Most of them were sitting with their mouths open looking at him incredulously. He suspected it would have been like him meeting someone from the Stone Age who was trying to understand the nature of electricity but had managed to plug in an electric toothbrush to charge it and had used it somewhat effectively. He laughed at his metaphor. Many in the room laughed with him breaking the palpable tension.
“Jason from what we understand everyone has at least one slot for a crystal,” said Singh, “a crystal simplifies and facilitates work in trans-dimensional programming. When you’ve a crystal, you can see the program or subroutines much as you can see other programs in this dimension. I’ve never encountered anyone who could do trans-dimensional programming without a crystal. You are the first person I’ve ever encountered who has used such a strange workaround.
“Attached to the room that houses Ship there are a series of trans-dimensional rooms. We all have used one of those rooms, or rooms similar to them elsewhere, but only once. It’s the singular one where we find crystals. Parts of the computer are in these different rooms. Trans-dimensional programming applies to those computer components that are in the trans-dimensional rooms. The computer has different parts of itself in different dimensions. One of these dimensions has crystals. We don’t know who puts them there or who creates them. They appear to behave as an additional computer that can interface with our brains.”
“The way we get them is by sending marines or pilots into one of these rooms, one at a time, to find a crystal. They go in and find a table that has crystals. The person sees their own trans-dimensional slot as we call it and tries to insert the crystals into the slot. It’s a very uncomfortable experience for the person and can be quite dangerous. There are inhabitants of the dimension who are hostile. Time is of the essence when you are in a dimensional room. The longer you are there the more dangerous it is. The person puts their crystal into the slot which seems to help stabilize the environment which is quite distorted and shifting prior to crystal insertion and then leaves the room. It takes two days to a week to adapt to the crystal. During that time, the person can’t function very effectively. Ship was right about it being dangerous and Ship is responsible for your well-being.
“The rules of physics are different for the electronics components when they operate in different dimensions. The electronics engineers have to construct the electronics components in the different dimensions. Many people believe that these dimensions are parts of different universes and are not true dimensions. That, however, is a philosophical discussion for another time. We have not sorted out the mathematics to be sure of what are dimensions what are alternate worlds or what are different universes. I did my thesis in the mathematics of different dimensions and I can tell you it’s way beyond complex. It’s more complex in that all of it is somehow linked. I had better stop talking about it or I’ll ramble on for ages. For your interest the Empress is one of the great experts in the area. I might tell you that she’s a great expert in many areas. She’s a frighteningly brilliant woman.
“Once this mission is over I’ll be happy to discuss these vexed issues with you again and talk about whether you try to get your own crystal. I can’t see any possible reason for you not to get a crystal when it could increase your effectiveness profoundly,” said Singh with determination in her voice. “I’ll discuss this with the Colonels.”
She then asked Jason to hand over of the passwords and explain the entry points in the system that he used to obtain these passwords. Jason noticed that several the computer people used a single lens like a monocle to look at the passwords. Singh explained that they were looking for trans-dimensional hooks that were hidden components of a password.
Soon there was a buzz around the room as people broke up into groups looking at the passwords and then going into the system and looking at the operation of the password generator.
“Major, please, may we ask some questions before Jason leaves?” Sgt. Lena McAndrew asked.
“Jason will you answer a few questions from this group who are undoubtedly very curious to find out a little bit of background?” Maj. Singh asked Jason who nodded and waved his arm towards the sergeant to ask her question.
“Jason we were told in our preliminary briefings that you were part of the royal family and the Empress was sending for you, is that true?”
“Yes, I do understand that the Emperor is a great uncle and I now know that the Empress sent for me. My grandfather first thought it was probably his father.”
“Is it true that you defended the ship using communications satellites?” The question was from a thin and spindly but very handsome looking man sitting near the back, who was smiling while looking for encouragement at some of the others near him.
“Yes, they were one of my limited choice of weapons. We were being attacked by pirates. I had no missiles on my board and very little in the way of charges for the cannons. The situation looked bleak. I thought I’d rather use anything against the pirates, rather than just give up and die or be captured. I knew how complex and expensive those satellites are, but what use with would they have been if we would have all been captured and our futures determined by the infamous Patriarch Zora who poisons the men of the Empire and is hardly a saintly and benevolent character. The battleship itself is an extremely expensive vessel and the cost of sending for me would have been prohibitive for anyone other than the Empress or one of the richer houses. I had nothing else that could go trans dim and damage the pirate ships. We had negligible defenses.
“The Marines and the pilots were also not on my board. Had I not done so many simulations and had an established routine I’d have not asked for the fighters and the Marines. Desperate times call for desperate solutions. Despite the fear and the panic, I felt, I went through the routines and I’m pleased that I did so for all of our sakes.
“I’ll be happy to take as many questions as you want to ask at another time, but for now I need to take a break. I’m feeling waves of exhaustion. This is the first space battle I’ve ever fought and there’s still much to do.”
Jason said his goodbyes, as he felt that he had done as much as he could and returned to his stateroom.
Jason briefly read the recent emails from Lauren and watched a video of Chloe in a school play and one of Chuck playing football. He wrote briefly about his recent experiences, underplaying them so that he wouldn’t distress Lauren and his family and cause them to worry. He missed home, but he felt more alive and stimulated than he had at any time in his life before.
As he thought about the attractive women he had seen over the day he felt stirrings that he had not felt for a long time. He smiled to himself, then he turned his thoughts to the cruiser.
The Colonels along with Maj. Constance Ross arranged to meet with Jason after dinner in the boardroom. They decided to eat together in their own canteen first and consider some preliminary issues before meeting with Jason. They were now dressed in their fatigues.
“Connie what is your opinion about the next steps?” Janet Malone queried her friend and colleague.
“I’ve considered the issues very carefully as well as our options. We definitely need to get him to the gym in the morning. He’s without any shadow of a doubt a fine-looking man, just as I like them, but is a bit young for us. He looks well-muscled and I do like his surprising blue eyes. Unfortunately, his skin looks pale, but when he spends a bit of time in the sun on Cassiopeia he will get a more normal color, but you can’t have everything.
“I’ll be very interested to see how he approaches planning the attack on the cruiser. I was thinking about what I’d do for the attack on the cruiser and plan ahead before I hear what he thinks. He does like unconventional attacks in Patton’s view where he minimizes casualties and damage to his assets. Did you notice at our meeting that he didn’t explain the missiles, but I did hear he did answer some questions when he was with the cyber group? Either he’s embarrassed or he simply regarded it as part of his strategy. Patton told me that he had never tried that strategy before. I’m sure he never needed to either!
“I must say I do like him. He’s pleasant in a low-keyed manner, but I hope he doesn’t play hard to get, though hard by itself will be acceptable,” said Phoebe Harris giggling like a teenager.
“Singh said that the programmers were ‘gob smacked’ at how much he had extracted from the computer systems. Can you believe it he does not even have a crystal and developed a method of his own to be able to do trans-dim programming?” remarked Janet Malone. “He managed to extract all the critical passwords from the system. One of them is the password of Papa Zora the rat-bag himself. I’m grateful we’ll be able to try to use these passwords in our attack on the cruiser.
“I’ve been thinking about our discussion about how we’ll disable the cruiser. If we mess with their computers, we can buy ourselves a couple of minutes and reduce the amount of damage we’ll sustain. Ship says that it’ll take another five days to have the destroyer ready so it’s not going to be of much use unfortunately. I spent a quite a bit of time in the simulator as you suggested Phoebe and the minimum damage was twenty percent. That’s two weeks of repairs. It could be more if they reboot the computers quickly. We can’t rely on them being ignorant and incompetent. That’s a heavily armed cruiser and built in the Empire only five hundred years ago, and it certainly can do us a lot of damage. The problem is that there’s no ideal time to hit the computer. If we hit their system when we fire missiles and cannon, they will have ample time to reset their computers and to fire back. Yes, we’ll hit them first but they will get a good counter punch. If we delay attacking the computer system until our missiles are at their shields, we’ll do more damage but we’ll also sustain more damage as they will have many opportunities to have fired at us and we’ll be hit by missiles and cannon just after we hit them. Some of their missiles will get through. We have already spent ample time thrashing through these issues, let’s see what his Lordship has up his sleeve.”
The three women made their way to the boardroom, surrounded by their Marine escort, where Jason was waiting with a table full of pastries that Robert had prepared and they were still hot and steaming from the ovens. Jason poured them an orange juice.
“This is the juice of a fruit from Earth and these are some sweet snacks the kitchen has baked for you to try, which are some of my favorites. Please sample some or all of them. Be careful; some of them might still be very hot inside as they contain a fruit called apple. Shall we begin?”
Jason watched as they carefully tasted their juice and sampled the pastries. They looked very pleased with what they were drinking and eating and soon we were eating hungrily despite having eaten a short while previously.
Maj. Constance Ross looked over at her colleagues who nodded to her to present the current update.
“Jason the cruiser computer has now been fully infiltrated by us. We can easily extract information from their systems without detection. What we did find is of no great surprise. Papa Zora himself has given the instructions to capture you dead or alive. We can see the priests have communicated and cooperated with The Mob, but we can’t work out what arrangements or agreements they have made.
“The cruiser has been waiting for two days, but it comes from duty at a planet only two days away. There’s no known Empire planet within two days’ flight from here. They liaised with the mob pirate vessels and dropped off the pods.
“We can take over the ship electronically when necessary. The Empire computer systems have a failsafe backup system to protect the computer from cyberwarfare. They reboot the system and it reverts to a system in protected memory. During the reboot, they will have manual control of their ship and weapons systems. They won’t be able to aim the cannon properly and they will load their missiles much more slowly. We’ll have a short window of opportunity until they re-start the computers,” said Maj. Constance Ross.
“We have all been thinking about how to neutralize the cruiser. I’ve spoken to Ship and she tells me that we’ll be ready within 6 to 8 hours. Let’s share our ideas and select a plan of attack on the cruiser. Please go ahead and present your ideas first as I’m sure you are all much more experienced than I am,” said Jason encouragingly, “then, if I can, I’ll see if I can add to your plan. The fact that I’ve been lucky once with a bizarre intervention, shouldn’t bias your views as to my skill level.”
“Jason, we have spent a few hours thinking about the best plan. We have also looked at simulations testing our ideas,” said Col. Janet Malone.
“On the positive side, we have the advantage of surprise. We would use a stealthy approach blocking their sensors and attack them. Using that approach the major question is the timing of when we interfere with the computer systems to gain most advantage. In the simulation, the most effective time is when we arrive in missile range from them. We knock out their computer system and fire everything we have at them, and then the fighters all leave the ship loaded with anti-ship missiles to add to the firepower,” said Janet Malone emphatically.
“I’ll bring Patton in on this conversation,” said Jason, “to help us evaluate our options if you don’t mind?” There was no disagreement so Jason used the holo-cube on the table to bring Patton in on the conversation.
“Patton, I understand that you’ve been involved with simulating the attacks on the cruiser this afternoon. Can you continue to listen in to the proposals and then we’ll try and model the options and look at the best choice of tactic?”
“We have so far discussed a head-on attack using the full armed resources of the ship and the fighters. I can see that approach is one distinct possibility.”
“Major Ross, can you clarify if the cyber warfare people have blocked communication to the priests on board the ship? I remain paranoid about Ship. I want you to assure me, and Patton, that you won’t communicate this conversation with Ship,” said Jason firmly.”
“Jason, I can assure you that we have blocked the capacity of the priests on the ship to communicate with anybody. We have stopped any communication from Ship to the priests. We are as cautious as you are, and had the same discussion with Patton this afternoon. He reassured us of full confidentiality, but we also can be reassured that we have blocked their ability to sabotage Ship,” said Constance calmly. Jason nodded, thought for a moment, and then continued. “Patton, please estimate the worst-case estimates of damage from the proposed attack,” requested Jason.
“In the worst case, you will lose 30% of the fighters and the ship will sustain major damage that will take a month to repair. In the best case, you will lose 10% of the fighters and sustain two weeks’ worth of damage,” said Patton confidently. Jason sat thinking for a few moments while looking absently at his fingers while fiddling with a small silver fork that Lauren had sent to him, which had been given by his mother’s best friend as a gift to his parents at their wedding. All the others, including his guards watched the delicate fork as it wove its way around his fingers. After an uncomfortable silence, he finally started to speak.
“I’ve been thinking of a slightly different approach,” said Jason carefully, “I want to minimize risks to the battleship and I want to capture the cruiser intact; those are my priorities. If this suggested approach does not work, we can still revert to a full-scale attack using the model you developed, or spend a bit of time exploring other options.
“We have several distinct advantages: we have the advantage of surprise and you’ve access to the ships computer. I want to put them all to sleep and then take over the ship,” he said as they all looked surprised.
“This is my first iteration of the plan before we consult with the engineers and doctors who I’m sure will have ideas to improve the plan, but here is an overview of the idea and the proposed steps.
“We’ll find the cruiser manual to provide ship schematics so we can gain access to the ventilation system of their ship, and prepare an appropriate gas that will put the priests and their minions to sleep. We then get our engineers to design a shuttle based gas delivery system. When the shuttles and delivery systems are ready we feed their sensors false information so they see empty space and we send a shuttle with a sleep gas delivery system to the ship. They drill into the ship and prepare to deliver the gas into the ventilation system. When they’re ready to deliver the gas, we send boarding shuttles to the cargo bay doors. The gas shuttle or shuttles deliver the gas. We observe life signs. When the crew start to lose consciousness, you take control of the computer system and open the doors if you can. If not, we board as we usually do. You can then introduce a suite of computer viruses at that point. We board the ship using boarding shuttles with sufficient Marines to overcome any opposition.
“If the gas delivery system does not work or only works partially there’s no reason for us not to board the ship the hard way. We have done the most difficult part which is to get the boarding shuttles to the ship unobserved. We’ll have a higher casualty rate, but they’re not likely to have many Marines on board. We should overwhelm them quite easily. It’s still a lower risk to us than a head-to-head battle.
“Patton, what is your estimate of the chances of success and risk of the approach that I’ve suggested?” Jason asked