There were four thousand and seven codes that an adminiculum had to learn by heart before graduating. If they didn't know them, then they weren't adminiculums, merely another pen pusher. Of those four thousand and seven codes two thousand were about protocol and manners of ceremony so that they could advise their hosts. It was all about how you bowed and addressed a person, how they were related to you in the grand scheme of things. It was about knowing your place and making sure that everyone else knew it as well.
One thousand of these codes were the laws that governed Cygnus. It was a relatively small amount of laws when one thought about the ways that someone could commit a crime, but one thousand was quite enough to memorize. The other thousand were how to get around those laws if need be, the loopholes that could be exploited and changed. You needed to know both, what good was a law if you didn't know how to break it?
The last seven were the most heavily guarded, written only in the memories of the adminiculums. They had been added seven years prior to Ishmael's graduation as an adminiculum. It was especially irritating since adminiculum s were only allowed to learn those when they turned fourteen, just before graduating. They had started doing it just recently enough for the senior adminiculums to expect perfection.
Unlike the others they were all numbers, seventeen thousand digits to be precise. Each of the seven codes had five sequences each, some with more digits involved than others so that it wouldn't be predictable. They were carefully handcrafted to be unbreakable, and they were almost impossibly complicated.
There was a good reason for them to be so complicated though. These were the universal firewall codes that guarded the main frame of the Cygnus regulation system. The main frame contained every piece of information from every house and business in their three-planet system known as the Cygnian planet archipelago. Adminiculums, working for government hosts, could easily enter into different layers and hide information there while anyone else who would have to save on the unsecured level.
Although before these codes adminiculums were important as attaches and advisors, the addition of the codes made them indispensable. For that reason the adminiculums had now been given a permanent place in their small universe, although in truth they were little more than glorified secretaries. They were certainly treated as such, or perhaps worse. Secretaries could go home at the end of the day or quit if they got tired of their job; they couldn't. They were property of the state.
Still, everyone knew the codes were valuable. Adminiculums were the only ones who knew them, so every government official and important businessmen needed them. The codes were secret. Under no circumstances were the codes to be discussed, even to other adminiculums. Very few people actually knew that they existed at all.
So Ishmael was, despite himself, impressed that someone had managed to break one. Not only that but they'd managed to break one at Fistula I, the physical base of the main frame. This person had a lot of gall; such a thing was the height of rudeness. He knew he should be horrified, especially as a neophyte in his job. However, the careful ingenuity behind it was impressive to him. It must have taken that person years to fully crack it, perhaps starting as early as when the codes had first come out, and then using it would have been even harder.
He tapped the keypad at the door once, just to make sure that the reading was right, especially about the timing between the sequences of the code. The tap of his fingers on the metal echoed slightly. The echo wasn't loud though, hinting that the metal was fairly solid. This wasn't surprising; from what he had seen he could tell that the door itself was of a sturdier make than the others on Fistula I satellite.
Not only that, but had been concealed behind a few layers of metal plates that blended into the walls. They acted as both camouflage and protection, although Ishmael couldn't imagine anyone wanting to blast their way through the door. Clearly this door was important; it even had above average metal as well as codes protecting it. How the perpetrator had managed to find it in the first place was a mystery.
A number had been stamped into the metal above it; a three. He frowned at that, wondering if it was a store room of some kind. It couldn't be; not from the way that everyone was acting about it. If it were just a place that they kept supplies in then an adminiculum wouldn't have been killed and Ishmael wouldn't have been there.
He shuddered when he thought about the fact that, a few days ago, the place that he was standing had been awash in blood. He hadn't seen any pictures, but he'd heard more than enough about it on the way over. Ishmael closed his eyes briefly, trying not to vomit. He had a nervous stomach on a good day but just thinking about the fact that that the blood in question had been of a large quantitywas enough to send him nearly over the edge.
Opening his eyes again he looked at the keypad. He erased his own typings and tapped the side slightly. The model was of a singular make; not unheard of but not exactly typical. The troubling thing was that he could tell that the keypad on the outside didn't have a twin on the inside. That meant the door was built for keeping things in, not out.
"So," Host Rockbury, CEO of the Fistula I satellite, said as he tapped his foot impatiently, "analysis?"
Ishmael stood up and wiped his sweaty hands on his gray jumpsuit. He needed to come off as professional. It didn't do to mess up on your first day.
"The door wasn't forced sir," he said, "The proper sequences were put in that would cause the door to open manually sir."
"But it wasn't 56624?" asked Rockbury.
Jonah, thought Ishmael, His name was Jonah. He tutored me for two years before graduating last year, before he took this job. Two years he worked for you. You can remember all those numbers but not his name after two years? You just didn't want to learn his name you fat bastard.
"Well 4746235?" asked Rockbury.
"Seeing as he was dead at the time I don't think so, sir," Ishmael said, gripping his hand into a fist behind his back.
Rolling his eyes Rockbury said;
"You know, I can never tell if adminiculums are trying to be insolent or just stating the facts. I was referring to if he ordered the door to be opened and the command went through afterwards."
"No sir," said Ishmael , "There was too little time between the third sequence and the fourth. It was done manually, not from some remote location. Am I right in assuming there aren't any more adminiculums in the vicinity sir?"
"Why would we have sent for you otherwise?" he asked.
"Point taken," Ishmael said, "In that case I would have to conclude that you have a security breach on your hands sir. I suggest reporting this to the senior adminiculums. I can write up a full report sir."
Rockbury raised his eyebrows.
"Isn't the first sir supposed to go in the first phrase and the second in the last?" he asked, "I'm pretty sure that's how I'm supposed to be addressed.
Ishmael swore internally. He hated his new host more and more by the second. Struggling to remember the words for the formal apology he said;
"I apologize for my inappropriate method of address sir. I am but a humble first year adminiculum and did not mean to bring shame on my profession. I can assure you it will not happen again sir."
The words felt like bile on his tongue.
"Alright," Rockbury said, striding down the hall and waving at him to follow, "You are a new graduate, right?"
"Correct sir," Ishmael said, moving to try and keep up with the stout man's gait, "I graduated from the Institute one week ago sir."
The week after graduation had been the worst week of his life. No positions had been open for him so he had meandered, doing all of the grunt work at the Institute. He had been almost relieved when he'd heard that a position had opened up. Learning seconds later that the reason that that position was open was because a friend had died took the relief out of it though.
"Good years at the Institute? Taught you well?"
"Yes sir," Ishmael said.
"Best selection process of the untouchables we have," continued Rockbury, "Best placement program in the system."
Something inside him twitched and writhed at the comment, fire starting deep within him and going straight to his brain. Ishmael was, despite his fifteen years of training to be a calm and composed member of society, considering stabbing his host with the pen he carried in his pocket. In the eye. Hard.
The fact of the matter was that no one knew much about the way that the Institute sorted orphans into the positions of adminiculums, councilors, typists, and guards. Everyone just assumed it was wonderful because, just like the government in most people's eyes, it wouldn't be in place if it wasn't. If there was something wrong with it then it would have been changed a long time ago to a perfect system.
As the pen option was a touch extreme, tempting though it was, Ishmael considered, although he knew it was forbidden, to divulge the fact that they were actually sorted by eye color. People with black eyes became councilors, blue were typists, brown were guards, and people with red eyes like Ishmael were adminiculums. He had been told it was so that the numbers of adminiculums were kept down since red was so rare, but he secretly believed that they did it that way just because they felt like it.
He couldn't believe that no one had noticed. Surely someone with several adminiculums like Rockbury might have commented on the fact that they all had red eyes. The same applied to typists, councilors, and guards. If you had several of them, and since they were all foundlings the chances of them being related were slim, then someone should have thought it strange that they had the same eye color. Or maybe they just didn't care.
In any case, the process meant if you were a ward of the state and born with red eyes then you'd be shipped off to adminiculum training from the moment you were put into the Institute. Children with red eyes up to three were also accepted, he'd heard, but he had no idea what happened if they were older than that. There weren't any other associations for foundlings and he didn't think there was an alternate placement program.
Being an adminiculum was a great career, if you liked to memorize thousands of protocols and numbers every day. You would be relied on heavily by your host to get everything perfect. If you wanted to be both a lawyer and a secretary then it was a marvelous job. Oh yes; there was combat training in case you had to physically stop someone from gaining unwarranted access to your host or was trying to assassinate them. So there was that too.
In other words, if you weren't Ishmael, it was a great career.
"Of course, the thing about the Institute," said Rockbury, "is that if we call out some senior adminiculums they charge your monthly rate and for their day. You see how simply using you cuts costs."
I see that you're a cheap asshole who got Jonah killed and might get me killed too, thought Ishmael, Asshole.
"I see sir."
"The new ones are always the cheapest, and I expect you to be efficient. That's how we run things around here, cheap and efficient," said Rockbury, waving his hand around the satellite proudly, "And I fully expect you to find out what caused the security breach. It's your job after all."
"Of course sir," Ishmael said.
He swallowed, trying to figure out the appropriate way to word what he needed while ot leaving anything out.
"To locate the source of the breach I'd need access to your system first to see if anyone had logged in at certain times sir," said Ishmael, "Anything stored behind the first level will have to be moved to the second until I can patch the breach in the few hours sir."
The words were right, although Rockbury didn't appear to like them. Ishmael shrugged.
"In a case such as this it's better to err on the side of caution sir," said Ishmael, "Rest assured I'll have it fixed as quickly as possible. But first and foremost I'd like to find out what was behind that door. It would give me an insight as to who would have accessed it sir."
Rockbury stopped in mid-step. Ishmael nearly bumped into him, even with his training.
"4746235?" asked Rockbury.
"You seem like a bright kid," Rockbury said, "And I'm sure we're going to get along well. But do me one favor."
Rockbury looked over his shoulder at him.
"Don't ask that."
Ishmael blinked, trying to hold back an incredulous exclamation.
"With all due respect sir," Ishmael said, remembering Jonah recommending the line in cases where you were correcting your host, "That would mean me starting from scratch with nothing to go on sir."
"You're bright," shrugged Rockbury, "You'll figure it out. But that door isn't important, you understand? It's just where we store extra parts for the satellites, just a storage room. Anyone could have wanted to get in there. Understand?"
"Then why does it have one of the codes as protection sir?" asked Ishmael.
A nerve twitched in Rockbury's forehead.
"Better safe than sorry. But really, it's nothing you should be asking questions about."
I'm going to die here, Ishmael thought, I'm going to die here, doing a job I hate, for a fat man who sees me as expendable.
"Yes sir," Ishmael said, struggling to keep his hate out of his voice.
Rockbury nodded before stopping abruptly. Ishmael stopped the same time he did; he had been taught to anticipate his host's moves. It was part of the combat training. You had to stop in time with them for protocol, but if you mirrored their moves you could also see any threat to their person.
It was another thing that was troubling Ishmael about his first assignment. Combat training was something that Jonah had excelled at. He had been at the top of his class. The idea that someone had caught him off guard was not only unthinkable, but worrying. Ishmael had fumbled through combat training, though he knew in any regular fight he could hold his own. If this person had taken down Jonah then it wasn't a regular fight though.
The idea that he was going to die flashed through his head again as Rockbury punched a few buttons on a keypad. Clunky metal panels slid away to reveal a room. It was poorly furnished, just standard office furniture with bare walls. There was a desk with a chair and a computer, a coffee table and a few armchairs. Ishmael recognized the armchair as the type that could fold out into a bed.
He hadn't expected much more than that. It was all adminiculums needed, all they should want for that matter. His cell back at the Institute had actually had less in it; they had a communal work room where they kept their desks. Still, he felt a dismal feeling in the pit of his stomach. That had been the Institute; this was where he was expected to live out his days.
Rockbury could retire when he became older; Ishmael would be in that position until the day he died. Of course, taking Jonah into consideration, that might not be that long. He might not want to stay there forever but he didn't want it to be his tomb either. It was becoming hard to see another option though.
"There's a bathroom suite that opens with the keypad beneath the desk, around the same size as this room," Rockbury said, "There's a closet in there with jumpsuits issued by the satellite for official wear as well as a few undershirts and so on. Meals should be brought to you at the usual time by kitchen personnel."
"Thank you sir," Ishmael said, "I'm sure I'll be very comfortable here sir."
Rockbury nodded. He was about to leave when a panel slid open, revealing a slender young woman. Knowing ways to find out a person's age was part of protocol training, you didn't want to make a comment that turned out to be wrong, and Ishmael could tell from the curl of her ears that she was nineteen. She was quite pretty, her golden hair pulled back into a braid that fell past her waist.
She started backwards when she saw them.
"Corinne," sighed Rockbury, "what on earth are you doing here?"
She shrugged vaguely and made a few motions with her hands behind her towards the bathroom space. Ishmael thought that she might have been cleaning; her hands were shriveled and blue tinged like they had been dipped in disinfectant. Her clothes were the plain official ones of Fistula I satellite, so he assumed that she was staff. The disinfectant made him assume she was part of the janitorial crew.
Her presence in the room was especially welcome to Ishmael, no matter what Rockbury said. Ishmael had heard in the damage report that though Jonah's blood had been all around the door, his body had been found in his bathroom. He shuddered and sent a silent thank you to Corinne for trying to remove the last traces.
"Yes well, that's very good," Rockbury said indulgently, "but we have staff for that Corinne. You have staff for that now."
She shrugged again. Rockbury turned to Ishmael and smiled.
"This is Corinne Rivers, my fiancée," he said.
Ishmael had expected a different title for Corinne after he heard the 'my', perhaps daughter. She certainly looked young enough for it. The idea that she was actually his fiancée made his stomach do a flip. How did someone like Rockbury, who was forty-six, end up engaged to a nineteen year old?
He quickly scanned her for clues, it wasn't an adminiculum's way to question their host's actions, but he was starting to care less and less about protocol. This was a downright mystery to him. She was wearing the standard Fistula I jumpsuit, but the crest had a blue ring around it. The pads of her fingers seemed especially worn, her fingernails cut to the quick. Ishmael looked at her eyes; blue like the rim of the crest.
For a minute he continued to stare at the eyes before getting the urge to hit himself. It was quite obvious and a wave of irritation at his own stupidity washed over him, followed quickly and nearly overwhelmingly by a wave of sympathy for Corinne. So she was another ward of the state, an Institute child, just like him.
No, not just like him. She was a typist; her pigmentation had given her that bonus. He almost envied her; those children started their training as late as thirteen years old. Still, as Rockbury walked over and put a possessive arm over her shoulders he knew that he wouldn't change places with her for the world.
A ward of the state, as he remembered, was property of the state until the second they died. It was why they had to keep working the same job unless, of course, the state needed them elsewhere. If they wanted to get married and have children then the state would have to approve. If they were offered a proposal from someone as important as Rockbury then the state would undoubtedly approve whether the person in question did or not.
It was a way out of a typist's life though, and Corinne's smile as he put his arm around her didn't seem to be forced. She could quit if she wanted to after she was married although Ishmael knew he wouldn't go docile to the slaughter in the same situation. He wasn't sure what exactly it was that he would do, but Corinne appeared happy with the turn her life had taken. That made one of them.
He waited patiently for her to acknowledge him. As a typist he was allowed to talk to her at any time, but as his host's intended he had to wait for her to speak to him first. Ishmael waited as Corinne stared at him politely and he kept his hands straight at his side. A few moments later Rockbury let out a booming laugh.
"Oh, I should have said something," he said, "This is very funny 4746235."
"I'm sure it is sir," Ishmael said, fighting the urge to roll his eyes.
Rockbury turned and looked at his fiancée.
"You see Corinne, he can't speak until you speak to him," he said, "That's why you're both just staring at each other."
Corinne nodded indulgently and Ishmael felt the urge to vomit again.
"She's mute," Rockbury explained, "Can't learn sign language because the Institute doesn't allow it. It's a protocol or restriction, something like that. And there's some sort of disconnect with what she hears and what she thinks, so no real writing skills despite her job. So when she looks at you and nods it counts as acknowledgement."
"Thank you ma'am," Ishmael said, swallowing his horror and disgust at his host's crude words, "I am adminiculum 4746235 or Ishmael. At your service ma'am."
She nodded at him and then pointed to the door.
"Oh, of course angel," gushed Rockbury, "Go ahead. I'll be along soon. Dinner tonight, of course."
She nodded again and walked past Ishmael. He saw her give him another glance before walking out of the room.
"I can't believe the Institute was going to let someone as beautiful as that languish away as a typist," Rockbury said, "Admittedly she wouldn't have been better as an adminiculum or guard, but still. She belongs on the arm of someone important."
"As you say sir," Ishmael said.
Rockbury smiled before jerking his thumb to the desk.
"Well, enough chitchat. Go do what you said you would earlier," he said, "I won't keep you. I know how much 56624 loved to work."
Ishmael gave Rockbury a clipped bow as the man walked out of the room. As soon as the door was closed Ishmael stuffed his fist into his mouth and let out a strangled scream. Old scars from when he had done this in the past stood out against his skin and he bit down harder until his mouth tasted like blood.
When he was done he collapsed into the chair in front of the desk. He glared at the screen for a few minutes before wiping his hands on his pants and logging in. Rockbury's system was open to him; an adminiculum wasn't really a person in the eyes of the technological systems, only an adjunct to their host. They might as well be a hand or an ear as far as the system was concerned.
With a rather unprofessional snort he began moving his files into the second level. He drafted a message to the Fistula I personnel, the important ones at least, that the security breach would be patched soon. His writing style was stifled and constrained, flavorless. It was how he was supposed to write. Ishmael had the feeling that there were more personable ways to write something, but he didn't know them.
Finished he began the arduous project of patching the code. When the code that protected the door broke so did that particular code all around the satellite. The fact that it had been left open after it was done was irritating, a clear sign that an adminiculum hadn't done it. It was like shutting a door when you left the room to him; it was sloppy and rude not to. Whoever had accessed the door had done it in a hurry.
Ishmael frowned at that thought and continued working. In reality the security breach should be his number one concern, not damage control. People couldn't go around murdering adminiculums, and they certainly couldn't go around breaking codes. It was also a personal issue; Jonah had been a friend and he could very well be next if he didn't find out why someone had found the need to eliminate the satellite's adminiculum.
Finishing on the repairs for the first sequence Ishmael leaned back in his chair, his head touching the wall. It wasn't like there was a wealth of information about the incident, probably to keep down bad publicity. If the Institute knew too much about it they would probably send out senior adminiculums, which would incur more costs. That was something Rockbury obviously didn't want; cheap bastard that he was.
Ishmael searched the system until he found the coroner's report, taking care not to focus on any of the images. He was sensitive, and he didn't want to see the image of his mutilated friend. The coroner's report was straightforward; several stab wounds in all of the major arteries. The cause of death was blood loss; and quick blood loss. He had been found in his bathroom an hour after his death, although the alert had been raised for half an hour due to the blood found around the door by an engineer.
There weren't many clues in it either. The attacker had been careful; there were no fingerprints, hairs, or any source of DNA. There was nothing to test, no useful bit of clay that had been dropped or footprints leading away from the site. Then again, if it was an open and shut case, then Ishmael probably wouldn't have heard about it at all.
Frowning he leaned back in his chair. That wasn't that much to go on, but he had to use what he had. No one had said that an adminiculum was supposed to be a detective as part of their duties, but perhaps it was a perk, getting to do something different and slightly unusual. The job certainly had few enough of those.
Feeling thoughtful he pulled out a notepad from his desk drawer and put it on the table. He picked up a pencil and chewed on the end. He typed much faster than he wrote, but it was easier to digest his thoughts when he wrote them down where he could see them. As an adminiculum he had a flawless memory, but if he didn't empty it out every now and then he would get crippling migraines. As it was he already got about one a day.
He jotted down his observations about the door and the hurry, probably due to the adminiculum they had murdered. He wished he knew what was behind it. It looked like the door to a control room, a place that was reinforced to take a lot of damage and survive. If the satellite was going down the control rooms would be the most protected; they were the things that could make or break a satellite in such a situation. He knew that they were supposed to be more important even than the escape pods.
Dutifully he wrote that down too. It wasn't much of an observation, but he was thorough. He stared at his words. If someone was in a hurry then why did they take the time to put Jonah's body in the bathroom? It didn't make any sense. To Ishmael it seemed like the more sensible thing would be to just leave the body there.
He stared at his words for a little longer before putting the notepad safely into his pocket. He was going to have to think this through and be careful about it too. Somewhere on the satellite there was a murderer who targeted adminiculums. He might not be going anywhere in his life, but he was going to live long enough to be bitter about it.
The door opened and a member of the serving staff left a tray on the coffee table. He nodded to them; an adminiculum had more status than them on the satellite, at least in staff terms. He wasn't supposed to talk to them for that reason, but like everyone else on the ship, things could change for them. They could get promoted to the point where he might be working for the server in a few years, but he'd be the same.
As he dug into the food he wondered what the rest of the satellite contained. He knew that Fistula I acted as a storage site most of the data for the internet bases that formed the backbone of all communication and cultural exchanges on his planet. However, he still wasn't sure what was kept where. It wasn't really his business, but no one other than adminiculums seemed to know what his business was supposed to be.
He smiled and took a final mouthful of food. He could take advantage of that. Getting up he exited his room and began strolling the corridors. No one gave him a second glance as he looked around. Not that there were many people around. Most were in the mess hall around that time eating with their friends or colleagues. Only untouchables like adminiculums ate away from everyone else.
There were the standard library and entertainment rooms. He even came across a classroom for keeping the engineers up to date on the latest advancements in technology. It was a job that required continued learning. There were more computers in there than he'd seen in his entire life, all hooked up to keypads.
Although he shouldn't have, he walked into the room. Wires hung in thick bundles from the ceiling. Every now and then he saw an electric blue spark travel down them. An impossible amount of electricity must have been used to feed them. Connection to the internet must have been difficult as well; the satellite acted as a reflector for the internet, not a sponge. That was probably very expensive.
He looked around all of the computers. A few files had been left on the displays and he read the words with great interest. Making sure that no one was watching him he sat down at one of the displays. Clicking open several files he began scanning them, reading about the latest developments in communication and transmission technology.
Ishmael opened up a few more files and began reading the reports of an engineer called Jack Green. He wasn't particularly good writer, even Ishmael with his limited literary background could tell that, but even the blunderings in the engineer's writings was fascinating. Ishmael wondered if he could somehow disguise his eye color and sit in on one of the classes. It was probably impossible, but you never knew.
With a shrug he got up and walked past the door to the classroom. He was just about to pass into the library when he stopped. There was another door, much like the first one he had been to that morning. Ishmael frowned again. Whereas the first door had been quite some distance from the rest of the crew this was smack dab in the hub of the ship's life.
Cautiously he looked around. He had already dawdled in the classroom; but he hadn't been caught doing that. It was all a matter of whether or not he got caught poking around. He was quite close to the engineer dorms admittedly, but he could pretend that he was inspecting something. It would be the truth, at least in this case.
Running his hand along the doorframe his eyes narrowed in inspection. Again, his training told him it was a control room. Everything was right for it, even the type of keypad at the door. The keypad didn't have a twin again, but it was still reinforced for a control room. A further part of his training, the one that told him he shouldn't be curious because his host had told him not to worry about it, told him to leave it.
However, he couldn't. Had this door been accessed during the security breach as well? Ishmael tapped the keypad and found the last log in entry; it had been four weeks ago. It hadn't been involved, but he knew it was connected somehow. He looked above the door. The number on it was a large six. Ishmael began to wonder if that other door had been part of a set. That would mean that there were at least six of these strange doors, doors that Rockbury didn't want people looking into, scattered around the satellite.
Six was far too much for a control room; there was only one and the emergency back-up room. If you had six then they would be too hard to maintain. There would be too many commands issued from them that could contradict commands issued from other control rooms. It just wouldn't work.
Ishmael gave the door a hard look and took his hand off it. He was going to find those other doors. He didn't know if it would do him any good, but surely there were more doors and that must mean something. There was no doubt in him about that. However, what would you need that would take six reinforced rooms to hold?
No, there could be hundreds of them for all he knew. He couldn't jump to conclusions or let too much speculation get in the way of the facts. Adminiculums were supposed to know that sort of thing. Ishmael's red eyes declared him an adminiculum after all, and he was going to at least try to do his job.
He took out his notepad and began scribbling his notes down on it. Something hard knocked into his back, nearly pushing him to the floor. Ishmael caught himself at the last minute and jumped backwards, staring behind him. An engineer stared straight back at him, his hands clenching the handle of his cart tightly with his weathered hands. His jaw chomped up and down on a piece of gum, his chin unshaven and his eyes tired.
"Sorry about that," he said, "Cart's a little hard to stop sometimes."
"No problem…" Ishmael said, straightening and trying to remember how to address engineers before giving up, "…sir."
The old man's eyebrows went up.
"Sir?" he asked, "Name's Trillway, everyone calls me that. Gawd boy, take the stick out of your ass and…ah."
He rolled his eyes.
"Adminiculum. Why do I bother?" he asked, "They come in, they come out, and they all have that stick. Do they implant it in the Institute?"
"Not that I'm aware of sir," said Ishmael, fighting the urge to agree, "But I'm sure that the senior adminiculums will be very interested in hearing that suggestion for improvement of posture and speaking, sir."
Trillway stared at him for a second before throwing his head back and laughing.
"You're not bad boy," he said, "Not like the other one…John was it?"
"Jonah sir," Ishmael said, swallowing a lump in his throat.
"Yeah, that stick was way up there. Probably made of iron too," said Trillway, "Anyway, whatcha doing on this side of the ship? Rockbury probably wouldn't like you down here."
"I am simply taking a stroll sir," said Ishmael, swallowing a lump of panic, "There is no need to inform my host about my position sir."
Trillway sighed and shook his head.
"Jonah was like that too, thinking I was some tattling rat," he said, "You shouldn't be so concerned about our asshole CEO."
"I take it you're not fond of my host sir," Ishmael said, the corners of his lips turning up slightly.
"You don't either, don't pretend otherwise," snorted Trillway, "Jonah hated him too; everyone does. Only that little fiancée of his seems to have any regard at all for him, and that's only because she doesn't seem to have all her nuts and bolts screwed in just right if you know what I mean."
One of his hands clenched behind his back. He was disgusted by Corinne's willingness to go through with marrying someone like Rockbury. Ishmael didn't know if she could protest it, but she seemed like a decent person. Was she really that desperate to get out of her future that she'd complacently marry someone like Rockbury?
Still, Trillway's comments seemed a little extreme.
"If you're referring to the fact that she's mute-" he started.
"I'm talking about the way she's always knitting, not even wearable the stuff she's making," Trillway interrupted, "At least, I hope they aren't. Gawd what that must feel like against the skin. They teach that at the Institute to while away the hours?"
"We are not allowed to have hobbies unrelated to our trade at the Institute sir," said Ishmael.
"Oh," said Trillway.
Frowning he took a tool box out of the cart and set it down on the ground.
"Sort of explains the stick," he said.
There was no way he was going to allow Trillway, sympathetic as he appeared to be, to draw him into his displeasure with his current situation. You could get fired for that and returned to the Institute where the punishments for such disrespect was severe. So he said nothing, simply watching as Trillway opened up his toolbox.
Seemingly sensing the change in the mood Trillway changed the subject accordingly.
"Surprised you're even here," said Trillway, "Last thing I expected when I rounded that corner was an adminiculum. Don't you stay you locked up in a little cage somewhere?"
"Close to it sir," Ishmael said, "But I'm trying to find out what caused the security breach that led to Jonah's death sir."
Trillway raised his eyebrows. and knelt down next to the door with the six above it. He took out a screw driver out of the toolbox and opened a panel.
"Right funny business that," he said, "They had the security department look it up. No fingerprints."
"I'm aware of that sir," said Ishmael, "If it were that easy then they would have figured it out before now. There are methods to remove your fingerprints sir."
"Yes, I know, I know," said Trillway, shining a small flashlight into the panel, "But it was very clean, that scene. Not the blood of course, that was everywhere. On the ceiling too, heard that from a friend in janitorial. But very efficient as well. All the major arteries cut, very quick. Not nice though."
"Nice sir?" asked Ishmael.
"Like, they used some sort of jagged thin knife," said Trillway, "Just dug it in there and twisted, ripped it out. Explains the blood on the ceiling. Moping it up and disinfecting it for days they were."
Ishmael winced. Trillway paused and frowned.
"Did you know him?" he asked.
"My tutor at the Institute sir," Ishmael said stiffly.
"Ah, sorry," Trillway said, "I'm just saying that it was odd that way. And why put the body in the bathroom?"
"I wouldn't know sir," Ishmael said.
"No one does. Very brave of you to take this job."
"Didn't have a choice sir."
"Oh, right," Trillway said, taking out a wrench and disappearing halfway into the panel, "That's how it works for you."
Ishmael fell silent and watched as Trillway tinkered away in the panel. He seemed comfortable; obviously he had done this before. If he had been there multiple times then it was possible he knew what the doors were used for. Rockbury might be pissed to find out that Ishmael was asking about the doors, but that was only if he found out.
"Where does this door lead to sir?" he asked.
"Not sure," said Trillway, "Takes up a helluva lot of electricity though. That's the reason I'm here; repairing the flow. Very important that these aren't interrupted…what my supervisor tells me anyway, and beyond that I'm not too bothered. These doors account for nearly half of the stations power usage."
"Really?" asked Ishmael, "And no one knows what's behind them sir?"
"Now don't go jumping to conclusions there. Someone does I'm sure," Trillway said, "They wouldn't have something that they didn't know what it did."
Just like they wouldn't keep sorting by eye color if it wasn't a good idea, thought Ishmael bitterly.
"I think that they have something to do with connecting us to the Cygian planet archipelago," continued Trillway, "Know what I mean?"
"We're a satellite though sir," Ishmael said, more to himself than to Trillway, "I was pretty much under the impression that the outside dish keeps us connected."
From beneath the panel Trillway gave a snort.
"You'd have to talk to one of the chief engineers about that boy," he said, "I'm just an inside one and- sonuvabitch."
With another curse Trillway pushed himself out of the panel. In one fist a bunch of wires was clenched. Trillway looked irritated as he threw them on the cart.
"What is it?" asked Ishmael.
"That's the fifteenth time I've been working in these damn panels and found this," he hissed, "Casings peeled away, the bronze and microchips for the security feed taken out. Thought it was rats since they've dislodged wires and wires were dislodged. Made sense at first but gawd this is specific."
"Rats?" asked Ishmael.
"Oh, we all get rats," said Trillway dismissively, "Where there's humans there's rats. But this ain't rats. Something's up with the system or some shit. I'm putting in a formal complaint with Rockbury, just you wait and see."
He took a handkerchief out and wiped his forehead.
"Wait a minute," said Ishmael, "There's security feed for the inside of these? I mean, they have cameras watching what's going on inside there?"
"Well, yes," Trillway said, looking surprised, "There's security feed just about everywhere."
"Even the classrooms?" asked Ishmael, wincing inwardly.
"No, not them. Nothing to damage without everyone knowing," said Trillway, "But yeah, they're cameras around here."
"But why the wires?" asked Ishmael, "I thought cameras gave wireless feed now."
Trillway looked at him admiringly.
"For an adminiculum you really know your stuff," said Trillway, "Yeah, they're wireless but sometimes they break or lose connections. The cameras operate on their own but the wires act as a back up in case the cameras break."
"Huh," said Ishmael.
One of his hands rested on the doorframe again. Whatever was in there required attention, and a lot of it if they used a security backup system. Considering all of the other corners cut around the satellite a backup system seemed extravagant. Behind that door was something valuable, something that the satellite needed an spared no expense to keep. In short, whatever it was, it most definitely wasn't where they kept spare parts.
"You know," said Trillway, "you haven't said sir in five minutes."
Ishmael sighed and rubbed his forehead.
"I apologize for my inappropriate method of address sir," he intoned duly, "I am but a humble first year adminiculum and did not mean to bring shame on my profession. I can assure you it will not happen again sir."
Trillway stared at him.
"Gawd," he said, "I meant it as a compliment."
Ishmael's mouth quirked into the semblance of a smile. Just then footsteps pounded down the hall.
"Trillway!" a man in his forties barked, "Why isn't the electric line fixed yet? You've been down here for ten damn minutes!"
Ishmael turned his head and looked at the newcomer. He could have been related to Rockbury for all of the arrogance he exuded. Ishmael snapped his hands to his side and gave a brief, sharp bow. It was standard, although it made him feel like a marionette each time he did it. The man stopped and eyed him warily.
"I apologize for keeping Trillway sir," he said, "I was simply making a few inquiries about the upkeep of the satellite sir."
The man's eyebrows furrowed as he took in Ishmael's look. He could feel him staring at his eyes. Recognition came over his face. Of course, they always recognized adminiculums by their eye color. How could no one not figure out that that was how they sorted people? They really didn't care.
"Oh, you're Rockbury's new adminiculum," the man said.
"That's right sir," Ishmael said, giving a rather more over-exaggerated bow, "I am adminiculum 4746235 or Ishmael. At your service sir."
Jackson paused. He gave him a suspicious look and Ishmael thought he saw a flicker of something strange in his eyes.
"Well I'm Chief Engineer Thorton Jackson," he snapped back, regaining his composure, "And you can tell Rockbury that my engineers are expected to do their jobs, not errands for his people. Office CEO's with their stuffed shirts can go straight to hell and you can tell him that from me to him!"
A chief of something? That put them directly below the CEO. Jackson probably had only marginally less face to face time with Rockbury than Ishmael did. Apparently Ishmael wasn't the only one who didn't like Rockbury. He could sympathize with him on that, but not on his rude manner. Inwardly he grinned. He was going to enjoy annoying him.
"I am not allowed to say a swear word in the vicinity of my host sir," Ishmael said, fighting his grin, "If I were to say the word 'hell' to host Rockbury I would be breaking the third protocol of proper deportment in the presence of my superior-"
"Idiot!" snapped Jackson, "Just get out of here."
"I will do so forthwith sir," said Ishmael.
He spun on his heel and walked bow-legged out of the hall. As he left he saw Trillway snickering. It made him smile. His job wasn't going to be so bad if he ran into more people like him. Shoving his hands into his pockets he began whistling as he made his way back to his room. The keypad opened at his touch and he walked inside.
Sitting back at his desk he began the repairs for the second sequence. This sequence was much harder than the first and took longer. Feeling tired he glanced at the solar clock on his desk; it was nine at night. Adminiculums were supposed to be in bed at nine thirty unless their host had need of them at a late night engagement. Ishmael shrugged his jumpsuit off and got into his undershirt, pulling the chair out so it formed a bed. He remembered what Trillway had said about the doors and wrote down a note about it on his notepad before getting into bed and turning off the light.
Ishmael fell asleep soon. He'd gotten used to going to bed at that time; with few exceptions it had been his bedtime for fifteen years. Only, that night, there was no gently snoring of the other members of the Institute around him. This time it was only him, only the thick silence of his new chambers.
No alarm was needed for him; his body was used to waking up at a certain time just like it was for going to sleep. He stretched and looked at the clock. It was four a.m. exactly and he knew he was supposed to get dressed and be ready by four fifteen, start working by four twenty, and get his breakfast at five. At five thirty he was supposed to go to his host.
Ishmael got into another gray jumpsuit. He looked at himself in the mirror and let out a long, deep sigh. This one was identical to his first, except for the crest. Instead of having the 'visiting adminiculum' crest of the Institute on it it had the Fistula I logo, ringed in red. He was dressing the part now.
He logged into his computer and began patching the third sequence. While he was waiting for one of his repairs to go through he took out his notepad. He checked the electricity that went in and out and found out that half of it was unaccounted for. He frowned; he was on Rockbury's server after all. Ishmael tried to access the information with his host's usual passwords but it rejected all of them.
Another wave of irritation came over him. He could understand people like Trillway not asking questions; you fix the electric lines and that's that. The why of it may not be that important to them. However, his job was to understand how things worked so he could assist his host. Not knowing where half the electricity of the satellite was going was a rather large oversight.
Ishmael tore through his breakfast, determined to ask about the electricity. He couldn't ask about the door, but the electricity was different. If they weren't related, and as far as Rockbury knew Ishmael had no reason to suspect otherwise, then it was an appropriate question to ask. Strictly speaking it was going against his training since he knew otherwise, but he shrugged his mind's vague protests off.
He walked into his host's office. Corinne was in a chair there. Typed letters were stacked next to her and he could see that she was knitting something. It looked like a sweater, but he couldn't imagine that anyone would ever want to wear it. The yarn was thick and a muddy shade of green. He wondered if she actually liked that color or if it was a favorite of Rockbury's. Either way it was hideous. Trillway's comments about her knitting unwearable garments suddenly began to make sense.
She tilted her head at his approach, smiling politely.
"Good morning and salutations ma'am," he said, nodding to her, "Is host Rockbury available at this time ma'am?"
Corinne tilted her head towards the door. Not knowing what that meant Ishmael approached the door and saw light underneath it. He was just about to open it when Corinne shook her head. He stared at her, puzzled, until he realized that there was more than one voice inside the room. He was in a meeting. One that he hadn't bothered to tell Ishmael about the night before by the message system. Lovely.
He walked to the reception area and sat down. Corinne continued to knit, her needles clicking together. Ishmael stared at her for a while as she worked. Was she happy with this? Was Ishmael the only one who felt like his job and the way he was being treated was degrading? Was he alone in this?
She caught him staring and frowned, pausing mid-stitch. His cheeks flushed from embarrassment but she continued staring at him, her face a polite mask. Obviously Corinne expected him to say something, but he had no idea what he was supposed to say. Ishmael licked his lips nervously.
"Are you happy?" he blurted out.
She blinked. Ishmael felt the intense urge to smack himself; he wasn't supposed to have a conversation like this with his host's intended but he found that once he started he couldn't stop. The words came tumbling out and, to his horror, he realized that he wasn't even putting 'ma'am' in his beginning and end phrases.
"I mean, are you actually happy with what you do? With what's going to happen to you?" asked Ishmael, "The Institute sucks and if I had a way out of my job I'd probably take it but…is this your ideal ending? You type for him and you're going to marry him whenever and then be his wife and have him talk about you like you're not there, like the fact that you can't talk is amusing. And you're okay with that?"
Corinne stuck her chin out and glared at him. He really was alone then; everyone was happy in their positions, content to let their lives be decided for them. He deflated and slouched in his chair, his ramrod position slipping. Ishmael sighed and made a vague gesture with his hand, trying to swat his words away.
"Never mind, sorry ma'am," he said, "Forget I said anything at all. It was stupid and pointless. Just forget it ma'am."
She picked up her knitting again and looked anywhere but at Ishmael. Her hostility was palpable, feeling like a physical force that pushed at him. He got up, feeling the need to get a little further away from her. He'd just made an idiot of himself and, if she did feel the need to, she could probably make her distaste for him known to Rockbury. Not that it would matter too much in the long run.
Sighing again he stood by the door, mustering up the appropriate composure expected of him. Every morning was going to start like this, standing at attention waiting to do the bidding of a host he despised. And he was supposed to be okay with it, should be okay with it. He bit the inside of his cheek, wishing he could go back to his room and scream into his fist again.
Leaning up against the wall he heard faint snatches of conversation through the door.
"…don't like it."
Ishmael raised his eyebrow. Was this some sort of meeting where complaints were voiced? He didn't imagine he could schedule one.
"We didn't need another one….poking around…knows too much already."
"Too much? You know this?"
"No…but I can feel it. We didn't need him…"
He frowned. The voice that was speaking to Rockbury sounded familiar. This made it easy to pinpoint; he had met very few people since he had gotten to Fistula I. Vaguely he remembered his brief encounter with Jackson. He was the only person who made sense really; no one else had the clout to complain to Rockbury face to face.
"No he doesn't….yes we did…"
His blood ran cold as he heard the next line of the conversation.
"…don't know how hard it is to work this system without an adminiculum."