When they returned to New Cardiff, the four were greeted by Captain Enfield.
"What the hell happened out there?" he asked.
"I have no idea what went wrong," said Leah.
"I'm not talking about the probe. I'm talking about why you didn't turn around as soon as you knew something was wrong with the communications network."
Leah remained silent.
"Well, if that's how you want to be about it... Back to your quarters. I'll talk this over with you later. As for the rest of you, you can go. There's a lot of paperwork I have to go through... I think I can get away with letting the rest of you off the hook."
Barrett Residence, New Cardiff, 8th January 2094
SMGStevebegan messaging cyberkittyat 12:34
cyberkitty: hey babes! how's it going?
SMGSteve: Argh. Rough night. Harry kept waking me up.
SMGSteve: Stupid cat.
SMGSteve: Anyway, have you heard from Leah recently? I haven't seen her since...
SMGSteve You know.
cyberkitty: no, i haven't. nobody has.
SMGSteve: Well, look who's here.
SMGSteve: Had fun with the court marshal?
sapphicScope: Been better.
cyberkitty: any idea what happened out there?
SMGSteve: Why am I not surprised?
SMGSteve: If there's anything I've learned from watching old movies, it's that this is ALWAYS sabotage.
sapphicScope: I can't really say any more on here.
sapphicScope: Not grounded any more, though.
sapphicScope: I'm gonna be over at Gonzo's, if anyone's interested.
SMGSteve: I'll head there now.
sapphicScope signed off.
SMGSteve signed off.
Steve turned off the computer and walked over to Gonzo's Café.
Most of New Cardiff was still covered in snow. The weather control systems in the roof could just about be seen, behind the bright lights which illuminated the colony during daylight hours. Taller buildings, built from materials cannibalised from the Clarke, were beginning to rise as the numerous corporations that had come to Europa began to set up their Jupiter offices. As he neared the promenade, the crowds began to thicken, full of people going about their business.
Steve encountered Leah just outside of Gonzo's. The two of them sat in the café and ordered lunch.
"So, what's going on?" asked Steve.
"I checked the security cameras on the rover bay, not long before we left. Somebody swapped the smaller charges we were supposed to be using with near-identical seismic charges," replied Leah furtively.
"Who, and why?"
"That's the thing- nobody who has access to seismic charges was in Storage at the time and the only people who knew about the probe at that time were Dad and me. As for why, that's even less clear, for obvious reasons."
"Right. Anything else?"
"Oh, yeah- somebody made copies of the probe's messages."
Gower Residence, New Cardiff
Terrwyn sighed and closed the chat client. There was nothing really to do...
Except analysing the messages from the alien probe. She played the first one again.
"Veðirí ár. Orðberiŋr ðiz várt zendadá til artrí vítvul viná oxk yetz vindat án. Virðt vyárzendá ár orðr zün alakárízreixr."
It still made no sense to her. She had considered sending it to Joe- this whole linguistics thing was his sort of thing, after all. Would Joe tell Leah and Steve about it? She didn't think so. Joe was busy at the moment, playing Amazing Worlds Online.
She joined Joe in-game with her character, a Cyber-Neko specialising in stealth and tech skills.
It wasn't long before she found Joe, caught up in an encounter. His character, an Arbiter like Steve's, was facing off against a Drider spec ops team.
cyberkitty: mind if I help?
LeConnisteur: Hey, thanks
LeConnisteur: But I wouldn't recommend it, 'cause of the XP penalty.
cyberkitty: what xp penalty?
LeConnisteur: Chaotic vs Chaotic. I know these dri's are Evil and you're Good, but apparantly that's not a good enough reason for full XP.
cyberkitty: i'll help anyway, but can you talk to me on TIM when we're done?
Terrwyn hacked the Driders' weapons and disabled them whilst Joe switched his unique Lawgiver to full-automatic and loaded it with high-explosive ammo, a Drider's main weakness.
With Terrwyn's help, the encounter was finished in less than a minute. The two of them logged out of the game and connected on Trenton Instant Messenger. Terrwyn sent Joe the file and he said he'd look at it and try to translate some of it.
Terrwyn closed down the computer and headed downstairs to her 'lab'. Some materials for a project she was working on had come and were waiting by a 3D printer. Various computer and robotic components were stored in large boxes and there was a large toolbox on one of the benches.
She put the materials in the printer and flicked a memory stick out of her wrist. She plugged it into the printer and it started the process of constructing the new component she needed for the project.
Ten minutes later, the part was finished. It was the graphics card for a body-integrated computer. BICs were increasingly common among the cyborg community as a way of incorporating desktop-level computing power into a mobile platform, which was especially useful for gaming.
She wouldn't install it just yet. She needed Steve to come along and get it installed, and he was with Leah. She wondered if there was anything else she needed to do...
Steve arrived home after his meeting with Leah. It would probably be decades before the aliens actually arrived, so what was there to worry?
He headed up to his bedroom and opened up TIM.
SMGSteveconnected to cyberkitty 13:02
cyberkitty: hello! can you come over?
cyberkitty: there's something I need your help with.
SMGSteve: What's that?
cyberkitty: its that computer I was building! I need you to help me install it.
SMGSteve: OK, I'll be there in a minute.
Steve arrived at Terrwyn's house and met her in the lab. She had fitted some of the components herself, but Steve had to put most of the important parts into the case, which was embedded in her back.
"What's all this?" he asked.
"It's a body-integrated computer. It's pretty much the ultimate mobile gaming platform," replied Terrwyn.
"What's the point? Surely you can just use your brain's processing power?"
"I tried that last week, remember? That big migraine I had?"
"Ah, right. So, what do you need me to do?"
"Well, the motherboard and all that stuff need to go in and be wired up."
"I... I think I can do this. I've built a PC before."
Steve got to work with some hesitation. It wasn't that long ago that saying his girlfriend had 'Intel Inside' would've gotten some very strange looks, even after the Transhumanism Act.
But these were strange times.
"Hey, Terrwyn," he said, as he was wiring the graphics card in, "Leah said that someone may have made a copy of the probe's transmission."
Terrwyn jumped. "What?"
"What? I thought you might like to know."
"Err... Okay," she said, nervously.
"Was it you?"
There was a pause.
"No, why would it be?"
Steve got back to work. There was no way she would do that... was there?
RSF New Cardiff, at the same time
In a dark room, Jack was meeting with the CEO of _ Cyberware, a large technology firm with interests in the Jupiter sector.
The CEO, a small red-haired woman in her 50s, was not there in person. Instead, her private yacht, which had been fitted with an experimental demi-lightspeed 'jump drive', was parked in a geostationary orbit above New Cardiff. A video link had been set up.
"Has the alien probe been destroyed?" asked the CEO.
"Affirmative," replied the Captain, "However, there is a... problem."
"A problem? What do you mean, Enfield?"
"Somebody made a copy of the transmission. There's still no indication of who did it, though. The encryption is almost impossible to crack with what we have here..."
"We have a powerful bio-neural computer at our Stockholm facility. Send us the data and it will be decrypted within..." she turned away from the camera for a few seconds, "We will need to see the data to be sure."
"It's being transferred to your ship now."
"Good. You will hear from us again when we arrive back at Earth."
The video link cut out. Jack left the room and returned to his 'official' office. He looked at the data logs one more time. He didn't know much about that sort of thing, but he had a feeling as to who might have made the copy.