#MorningStar episode 14: Contingencies
* The Keepers have discovered that some members of the Elite escaped from Hold-01-Alpha, and have been secretly living in the City for generations. Shira Kuri, Earth’s under-Minister for Logistics is one of them, and her son is now a high-ranking Puppeteer banker.
* PI Nika Marsova has been investigating the disappearance of virologist Dr Jane el-Omar, and has stumbled into what seems to be a Humanity First plot to force her to develop a bioweapon.
* The Keepers have discovered the location of a secure terminal in the Core which can be used to control Contingency systems.
The MC consult the mind of INC-07 and learn that the Morning Star originally had a second scoutship, which was launched around the time of the Awakening.
The Enforcers have learned that a gang has been kidnapping high-ranking Puppeteers and holding them for ransom. They’ve also noticed recreational medical supplies turning up on the street, still in their hospital packaging, suggesting they are being stolen from the Hospital.
The Keepers try and arrange a joint expedition to the Core and Engineering with the MC, but learn that Commander Akryll has already set out. Instead, they end up promising that the MC can accompany them on their expedition to find the Contingency system.
The Keepers use Subterfuge to blame the new supply of drugs on the Throng. They’ve done some analysis, and decided that it is better for public health to simply supply them directly with pure, known product rather than risk whatever their backstreet chemists come up with. The Throng leadership knows, but seems happy with the arrangement: everyone is making money, everyone is getting high, and they end up indebted to the Keepers for it.
Akryll and a team of Listener bots head for engineering. While searching for an elevator in the dark decks they stumble across a deactivated robot factory, which could be utilised to construct more bots for the MC. lacking time for a full analysis, they mark it for future exploitation and move on. At the elevator, all seems well – but just after the doors hiss shut one of the Listeners detects an energy surge of something charging, and notices the tell-tale grid marks in the wall and floor of a power grid: the entire elevator is about to go live! Akryll tries shutting it down in software, but realises it will take too long, so commands the Listeners to try and deactivate it. They take to the walls with their laser cutters, desperately trying to find the power conduits and capacitors, and manage to prevent the trap from discharging. But the elevator is badly damaged. At the top, they find a cable car mechanism which takes them along the Core to the rear engineering section. It deposits them, then disappears back into the darkness.
It does not take them long to find the main reactor – all they have to do is follow the flashing radiation warning signs. The reactor control room is sealed by a thick, armoured door, and it is clear that something has gone horribly wrong. Akryll, being insubstantial, leaves his bots outside and walks in. It looks like there has been a containment failure and the entire control area is irradiated. While the Listeners can probably handle it, it is likely to be worse further in. Akryll tries to pull the ship’s systems together enough to activate the local expert system, but fails. It is clear that he will need a full engineering crew to sort this out. He calls back to the MC to summon one, then settles in to wait…
Meanwhile, in her office, Nika Marsova is reviewing video footage, trying to pinpoint when Dr el-Omar went missing. She’s narrowed it down to a two-hour window, when two large men wearing the loose, flowing robes of Humanity First members walk in. They’ve heard of her investigation and want her to drop it. Dr el-Omar is doing important work for which she is being well compensated, and will be reunited with her family in due course once it is complete. Marsova draws the obvious conclusion: these two know where she is, and hits them with the tranq gun under her desk. They wake up in an Enforcer cell, where Marsova and her former partner Viktor can have a little chat with them.
Viktor runs their biometrics, and tags one of them as Ahmed Nasiba, a mid-ranking HF lieutenant. They talk to him first. He repeats the same story: Dr el-Omar is unharmed, and doing important work at a “confidential” facility. He offers to compensate the pair of them for their trouble, but also queries if their hearts are in the right place. They dance around a little, talking about Dr el-Omar’s work as a virologist, the danger of diseases jumping species, and what they could do to reassure her son that she is alright, but get nowhere. Nasiba is not going to take them to her, and they are not going to accept a bribe and let him go. While they’re working out what to do next and letting Nasiba stew, Viktor notices a new crime cross the Enforcers’ feed: apparently a Crew Ensign has been kidnapped in the City, sedated and dragged off the street by HF thugs. Marsova considers releasing Nasiba and his bodyguard in the hope they will lead her to el-Omar…
Brother Will, a group of Keeper hackers, an Enforcer engineer named Yuri, and a seconded MC Colony Defence droid called PAT-7 (a hulking, armoured caterpiller tracked monster with dual auto-targetting lasers) set out for the core to find the Contingency terminal. Their search for an elevator leads them astray in the dark decks, and they are ambushed by Gollums – the grey-skinned, ultrastrong feral supersoldiers who escaped from a lab generations ago. The first they know of the ambush is when they are swarmed, but PAT-7 deals with it, efficiently mowing down Gollums. While his IFF system prevents direct friendly-fire incidents, he punctures a live steam pipe behind Will and Yuri, burning the pair of them. As the surviving Gollums flee into the dark, leaving a few dead on the deck, PAT-7 twirls his lasers and says “targets neutralised”. The area is well outside Gollum territory, but it seems they have moved or expanded recently, which does not bode well for the future.
The expedition finds a heavily damaged elevator, its interior scarred by laser cutters, and heads for the Core. The elevator gives up the ghost a few hundred metres short, and they have to climb the rest of the way in low-G, but they make it. They spend what seems like an eternity wandering the Core, tracing network traffic with Brother Will’s digital sensors, before they find it: a large, armoured door labelled “Contingency Operations”, guarded by floating shipboard security drones – some of the few still operational.
Brother Will finds a nearby terminal and whips up some credentials which will allow them to fool Shipboard Security, at least if they don’t do anything overt. But apparently Contingency Ops protocol requires them to have a security droid escorting them at all times, which means they will be observed. Fortunately Yuri manages to key the door with a breaker-key unobserved, which gets them in without alerting security. The door thunks closed and locks itself behind them.
Inside there is a series of terminals, a display screen, and a biometricly-locked safe. Their Shipboard Security escort takes up a position in a corner of the room, and scans everyone. PAT-7 parks himself opposite, and gives the drone something to scan, acting as a distraction. Brother Will goes to the safe, and surreptitiously opens it with a cloned Crew thumb he produces from a pocket (he came prepared, with the right tool for the job). Inside are a series of files on the contingency options, with activation triggers and deactivation codes, as well as a physical key for system authorisation. He inserts the key into the terminal, and the hackers set to work. They crack the system under the eyes of Shipboard Security, and pull up a list of active and inactive contingency modes. The system is currently in automatic mode, meaning the expert systems will trigger as required. Contingencies waiting to be triggered include Wake (which wakes all cargo), Purge (which ejects all cargo), Recall (which changes navigation parameters), Abort (which triggers a relativistic dive into the nearest star), and Failsafe (which shuts down the main reactor, then detonates a series of bombs along the core and spokes, blowing the ship apart and scattering its components). Some have already activated: FlightEmergency (a damage control system), Containment (various processes to limit the cargo in event of escape), Revive (wakes crew – marked as ERROR), Escape (evacuates surviving crew), and Rescue. the latter was added in-flight, shortly before the Awakening, and its code is different from the rest, bearing the characteristic style of a human AI rather than the alien programmers. Using the control codes from the files, Brother Will and the hackers put the system into safe mode, preventing contingencies from activating. They then start deleting anything which looks dangerous. They adjust the security system parameters, convincing the security drone they can be left alone, then start with the real work: installing a lockdown suite, a device which will remove the system from the ship network and add it to the Keeper’s holy network. But when they try to use it, it triggers an alarm. The contingency security system activates, invades the Keeper network, and reaches out to the Holy Terminal. At the same time, it floods the local digital network with new Code. PAT-7 drops his connection to the MC just before he is overwhelmed. As Brother Will looks up, he seems PAT-7’s lasers swivelling towards him…
So, the human waste is hitting the air circulation device. Who knows what will happen next?