Getting in was easy enough, the door – although caked with unwashed grime and rust – slid open with Haskell’s help and a long, low groan.
The lights in the engineering hallway flickered restlessly like trapped moths, the floor was sticky with un-cleaned oil spills, the dust and dropped Cheese Poofs clinging to it.
Anny switched on the flashlight on her wristwatch, but almost wished she hadn’t. The walls didn’t fare much better than the floor. Something in the shadows skittered away from the light.
“Weeks? Looks like no one’s seen this place in months,” WISR noted.
“Dad’s really let this place go.”
Together, they made their way to the bay in the back of the corridor, the dull hum growing louder and louder as they grew closer.
Once, twice, three times the rusted gears and seldom-used airlock tried to pull apart, only to leave a gap of a few inches. Haskell was trying to get it to move, but the old doors just wouldn’t budge.
Anny reached into her back pocket for her knife, light trained on the door’s panel. It took a few tries, repositioning the wide, flat blade this way and that, before she wrenched it free.
Corroded components and wires chewed bare sparked, making Anny yelp and flinch away.
“Are you alright?”
“Y-yeah. Just surprised is all!”
Quickly, she worked the wires inside, snipping a few and twisting together others, more than once sending critters in the space scurrying.
“There we go!” she finally cried, wiping at her forehead with her wrist, “The motor’s deactivated, should be easy to open now!”
WISR shoved the two halves apart, the low hum becoming a deafening roar.
Only a few lights blinking in the shadows like distant stars were the only sign that there was something in the dark with them until the lights overhead came to life one by one.
A machine the size of a room, the size of a ship reached out further than she could see or even imagine. Heat radiated off of it in waves, plastering Anny’s hair to the back of her neck and burning at her cheeks. She could barely stand to look at it, she turned away.
“How are you going to take apart this whole entire thing?” she asked incredulously.
WISR’s grin didn’t drop a pixel.
“That’s my job,” he said, “Guard the door, Security is coming.”
She pulled the two halves of the door together behind her to make sure nothing looked out of place. Just as she snapped the panel shut when the thud of jackboots and the rattle of duty belts and gun holsters echoed down the hall.
One of the officer’s tugged off his helmet, revealing a curly mess of sandy brown helmet-hair.
“Locklear? Seriously?” the other cried.
“Gregor, Duke!” Shoulda known you two Junior Cadet kids would turn Sec.”
“What brings you here? Captain said you took off years back!”
She fished out the badge from where it tangled between here bag strap and jacket.
“Official business. Took up with the AI game.”
WISR rubbed his hands together, his trademark parenthetical smile growing to a gleeful letter D grin. Oh, this was going to be fun. Immediately, the system tried to reject his access, blocking out the connection from the wire in his wrist, but he was prepared for that.
The security surrounding it was robust, to be sure, and would be nearly impossible to get around, except for one thing. The Grand Captain was the kind of man who had zero time to care about passwords. ‘GUEST’, ‘ADMIN’, finally good old-fashioned ‘PASSWORD’ did the trick, and he was in.
Duke, the one still in full gear, took it from her hand and examined the holograms in the weak light.
“So you heard the alarm too?” Gregor asked.
Anny nodded, “My associate is another AI, he’s currently analyzing the system inside to make sure it wasn’t tampered with.”
Right. Classified. None of the three people standing around the hallway were supposed to know about it.
Now that WISR was inside the system, it was time to start breaking things. There were more elegant solutions, sure, but nothing was quite as satisfying – or time-efficient – as taking a rowhammer to the studs of this house of code until he found the load-bearer.
“We should probably report this to your father, he’s the Captain on duty and all,” Duke remarked.
Anny’s eyes went wide and she chewed on her lip as she frantically wracked her brain for an answer.
“You don’t want to do that!” she blurted out.
“Dad’s real- real busy, y’know! He trusted me to take care of this himself and if you want to be the one to tell him that you don’t trust me or his judgement and that you think his daughter is incompetent, then be my guest! But you may want to put in a transfer order to another station first.”
The two guards exchanged nervous glances.
“Well. If you’ve got it covered…”
“Yeah, you are a professional now and all.”
WISR shook his head, the blue screen naming exactly what kind of FATAL ERROR that’d befallen the computer clearing from his monitor as he tugged out the connecting cable.
One by one, the lights snapped out, stars giving way to darkness, the whirring of the machine died away.
“Alright, well, we gotta get back to patrols,” Duke said.
“Nice seeing you again!” Greggor added with a wave as he turned away.
Anny took a deep breath, then another, with a heavy sigh of relief. Finally, once she was sure they were gone, she wrenched apart the door once again. WISR stumbled out, unsteady on his legs, she reached out to catch him before he truly fell.
“It’s done,” he pronounced.
“Are you okay?” she asked, “You’re burning up!”
She waved a hand towards his cooling vents, although she supposed that wasn’t really helping a whole lot.
“I’ll be alright.”
“Only problem is now we have to tell the Captain.”