Leo looked at the screen in his hand, supposedly showing the latest scan he and Trevor had completed. He scrolled to the top of the report. It had the first date and time of being submitted to Captain, and the second date and time of having been submitted to Coalition Oversight.
The handheld was system linked, so Leo swiped out of the report and opened the ship’s system to look into recent archives. The original report saved in records was uncorrupted. The copy of the report saved in Captain’s backups was also uncorrupted. Trevor had been reading over his shoulder and tapped the corner tab of Captain’s backup copy to see the file transfer details. The file size after transfer was less than half of what it should have been, and the time in transfer was almost three seconds longer than usual.
Trevor used the handheld she was holding to look up the copied report and found zero anomalies in the details. The original report from five cycles ago was uncorrupted.
“Well?” Captain asked when they both stopped going through the information at hand.
“You go first so mine makes sense,” Trevor said. She and Leo each walked around opposite sides of Captain’s desk so they were standing on either side of her, taking turns leaning forward as they explained the quick findings to prove the transmission to Coalition had been corrupted and not any of Dockland’s systems.
“How did this even get caught?” Trevor asked when they were done.
“The report came up as a redundancy error after being submitted and we were advised to re-preform the scan. We’ve had to do it before, but never for you two. When I queried the advisory, the bolt from Senior Coalition who just spoke to you requested a secure holovid to inform me three other ships had been affected for a similar shift offset so far. But only in our exploration group, none of the others have reported a clustered disruption.”
“And you said it’s only affecting the ships in line for scanning planet seventy-four?” Leo asked Captain. She nodded agreement. “What’s wrong?” Leo asked Trevor.
Looking at Captain had put Trevor in his line of sight on the other side of her, and the handheld Trevor held was shaking. Leo hesitated in reaching around Captain when Trevor quickly hunched, dropping the handheld onto the desk and shoving her hands into her pockets.
“Go ahead, Analyst. Not having a relationship registered isn’t the same as keeping it a secret,” Captain said to Leo with half a smile.
“I’m fine,” Trevor argued. She wasn’t able to glare at Captain, and likely didn’t want to anyway. Glaring at Leo would have meant looking at him. Her tone dropped the temperature in the bridgeside and her eyes could’ve burned holes into the desktop, though.
“Really? You’re fine?” Captain asked, dropping sarcasm like tossing lead-acid batteries into low orbit. “Say ‘planet seventy-four’ without clenching a fist,” she added. “Your behavior the past month has been noted and for the past two weeks flagged as out of normal for you, Analyst. Both by monthly mental health reviews and by crew observations.”
Trevor hissed out a quick breath as if she’d been punched. The accusation in the glare she threw at Leo felt like a punch.
“Wrong target. He hasn’t said a thing. But in case you forgot, you usually have onboard friends and they’ve been worried enough about you to talk to me.” Captain’s glare was sterner than anything Trevor could plate because grandmothers who also earned exploration-red Captain’s stripes on their shoulders had a lot of practice at that kind of thing.
“I’m fine,” Trevor stated through gritted teeth.
“Maybe it’s a latent Daion defense?” Leo asked quickly. It was a desperate attempt to get Captain’s attention off of Trevor. Trevor didn’t like anyone but close friends and family seeing her upset, and being centered by a person in authority because of being upset would only make things worse for whatever was going on inside her head.
“What?” Captain asked, spinning her chair so she could stare in confusion at Leo. Her mind mostly likely still focused on Trevor’s behavior and so his question made no sense.
“The altered reports. I was doing some reading about the history of planet seventy-four before Trevor and I were called here, and Daions went fully defensive at the end of the plague. There have been other defense systems that exploration scans have triggered unknowingly. Maybe this one is latent rather than assertive?”
“How do four altered reports grow into a defense system in your mind?” Captain demanded. Leo swallowed. The theory he’d thrown out there was only half an idea wrapped up in a gut feeling, and the gut feeling was only the caring one about getting Captain’s attention off of Trevor.
“Well, delays and stall tactics could be something to give a longer preparation time for an assertive system to start or… something?” Leo finished vaguely. Captain stared at him, waiting silently for an intelligent theory to come out of his mouth. “I mean, I’m just saying so far the corrupted reports have only affected ships after they’ve communicated the forty-eight hour notification of scan completion to Coalition, right? We’ve all gotten the response with solar system coordinates and planet location per solar order for planet seventy-four. A passive system that monitors communication regarding this Daion world could be capable of interrupting transmissions –”
“And potentially corrupt with misleading reports as a delay tactic to provide time for a large scale planetary defense system to power up,” Captain interrupted to finish the sentence. She leaned back in her chair and stared up, folding her hands in her lap. “Well. This line of thought is more ominous and precarious than anything I’d wanted to deal with on this shift,” she told the ceiling.
“Was there any consistency in the shifts used to make the corrupted reports?” Leo asked.
“The only consistencies were each corrupted report being from within the past eight cycles, and replacing the most immediate completed shift.”
“So all the corrupted reports were copied from among the earliest scans for the planets we’re each at,” Trevor added.
“Exactly,” Leo agreed. “I’d assume from that, the delay was meant to pick the maximum believable separation between reports.”
“But then it’s not a Daion defense system,” Trevor stated. “Whoever did this needed to know ships would be required to repeat scans, so this had to be set up after Coalition started maintaining redundancy checks. That means this was set up after the fiasco with Coliander.” Trevor shook her head to the negative as she spoke, the half-formed idea Leo had suggested taking up residence in her own thoughts and not making sense.
“Coliander’s Captain sure destroyed the best way for having a cycle off work without anyone in Senior Coalition noticing,” Captain lamented, sharing a quick grin with the crew members standing on either side of her. “Did you two know those redundancy checks run for every new report and go through verification against every report filed since the RedunSystem was implemented? Senior Coalition is even paying for people to manually submit older reports so they can catch data previous to RedunSystem initiation being submitted. But you’re right, the RedunSystem has only been operational for twenty-something standard years, and Daion worlds were depopulated long before that.”
“But the corruption is still only affecting ships given lists with planet seventy-four. So… if it’s not Daion, what else could it be?” Leo asked.
“I’m trying to figure that out,” Captain said. “Give me something short and in writing. Summarize our thoughts on this in a way I can support as Dockland’s position during more communications with Senior Coalition,” she ordered. “The only recommendation I have right now is for Coalition Oversight to include planet seventy-four in their canned response to more ships in our exploration group, and maybe a couple of ships from other explorations. If the clustered disruption spreads to those ships for their next ReadScan reports, we can start theorizing about some kind of possible Daion defense system. Anything you two can think of to add, include it in your summary.” She nodded to herself and waved a dismissal at them. “Oh, and,” she said, stressing the ‘and’ so much that both Leo and Trevor stopped and looked back from half-way to the door. “You two should probably register before we recall at the end of this exploration. There is zero way of ensuring you get assigned together if you sign up for the next exploration and you’re not registered.”
“File saved,” Leo said quickly, sliding in the agreement before Trevor could say something he wasn’t prepared to hear.
A weekly blog updating on Fridays with quick personal blurbs about me, as in what's going on during my life as an Author and mom, and that doles out my short stories and novellas in bite-sized parts for everyone to read for free!