"Come on! Work, you stupid piece of shit!" Hal kicked the old generator and with a dull thrum it spluttered into life.

"Thank you" Hal moaned sarcastically. He flicked his goggles down over his eyes, opening the message President Yannick had received. He deleted all knowledge of it; except for the copy he had. It was nothing to get immediately excited about, just an incomprehensible code at the moment.

Analyse code

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Code Analysed. Visual and audio message with a condensed data stream ghost

Origin?

Unknown

Begin trace to find the point of origin

Trace begun. Completion: approximately 1.3 hours

Begin re-coding message into visual and audio format

Re-coding begun. Please wait

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Loading

Re-code complete. Would you like to view the message?

Hal paused. Would he like to view the message? He knew it was stupid to even hesitate. This was something brand new. There was nothing like this to have ever existed on Nova before now. It could be a message from another world. It could be a message from President Yannick's secret political allies. It could be a message from Earth. Hal quickly dismissed the last thought.

Everyone knows the Terrans are too stupid to send messages.

But still Hal paused. His slender fingers hovered over the keyboard, waiting for the impulse that would instruct them.

Ching!

Hal had an incoming communication. His fingers automatically pressed the buttons and his boss appeared on the screen.

"Hey Hal. Sorry to call you late, but we've gotta go to the President's office." Hal's whole body tensed. His mind sped through the calculation and security coding he'd implemented in his hack of the President's databank. It was almost impossible that they had found the subroutine and tracked it back to him. But still, there was a nibbling voice of doubt in the back of his mind, taunting him, saying maybe, just maybe, he wasn't as good as he thought he was.

"Oh okay. Where are we meeting?" He'd tried to keep his voice calm and even.

"In about 5 minutes in the Political Hub, section 7. Don't be late." His boss' face disappeared from the screen.

Hal grabbed his coat and pulled his goggles back on his head.

Shit.

Stay calm. Stay CALM! You can talk your way out of anything. Just turn on the charm and false smile and you'll be in bed before you can say "Nova".

Hal was reminding himself of these 'facts' as he walked along the practically deserted corridors of the Political Hub. His eyes ran over the familiar metal frame for the computer circuits that ran underneath. Everything on Nova had been something else before it was removed, remodelled and replaced. Hal nodded at the engineering team he was apprenticing with as he approached them. His boss was short, as were all Novans, his black moustache was bushy and twitched when he liked something. It never twitched around Hal.

"All right everyone, this is the President so, best behaviour. We aren't sure what he wants, but make sure you're helpful to our leader." His voice was soft but carried to all the engineer's ears. Be helpful Hal thought you can be helpful…sometimes. He silently fell in behind the rest of the team. They walked for a few minutes longer, their inane chatter filling the corridor like artificial bird song. They approached a large, ornate metal door, guarded by two relatively tall men. The blonde one greeted them.

"Good evening Novans. What brings you here?" His accent was different to Hal's. This man was born in the upper pylons; a bred and raised consumer. Hal's boss stepped forward.

"We're the engineering team Alpha, President Yannick wanted to see us." He smiled, his chest inflating, highlighting the corroded 'Chief Engineer' badge pinned there.

"Ohhhh, on a first name basis with the President are we?" The blonde haired man taunted as he turned to the small control panel on the wall. He chuckled at his own joke whilst his partner, an olive skinned man with a shaved head, remained completely still. The blonde man muttered quietly into the speaker before recieving an equally murmured reply. He turned to the group.

"Looks like you're all good to go. Have fun, and don't break anything!" He opened the door and the team moved swiftly into the silent room. Hal jumped as the door clicked closed behind him. The room was large and sparsely furnished. An intricate wooden desk sat at the far end of the room with an ornate violet armchair behind it. The dim glow of a monitor illuminated the Novans elected leader, Yannick Crouche.

"We're the engineering team you requested, sir." Hal's boss spoke with his usual quiet but carrying voice as the President watched.

"Yes, thank you." He stood slowly. His build was similar to Hal's. Short, slender with long thin fingers. He adjusted his deep purple waistcoat as he walked towards them.

"You arrived very quickly. I hope I wasn't too much trouble." The President now stood in front of them, taking in each of their faces, as if searching for something.

He's looking for me. He is looking for me!

Hal quickly began staring at his shoes.

If I don't look at him, maybe he won't notice me.

"Hal! Pull your head out of your arse! You're on personal file retrieval!"

"What?" Hal faced his boss; his eyebrows drawn together, his mouth frowning.

"You're on personal file retrieval. You're lucky you're the best at it; otherwise you'd be crawling through the conduit tunnels with us trying to find the glitch. Now go talk to the President." He walked a few steps away from Hal before turning and whispering, just loud enough for Hal to hear "And be polite!"

Hal took a deep breath and walked towards the President.

Polite. Please. Thank you. You're welcome, sir. Great job serving the people, sir. No I wasn't hacking into your files and completely invading your privacy, sir.

Hal stopped in front of the desk and waited for President Crouche to notice him, but the President continued to stare at the screen. Hal coughed. The President stared. Hal coughed again. The President stared. Hal faked a sneeze.

"Are you going to stand there and spread germs or ask for my attention, child?" The President demanded looking up. Hal's eyes widened.

"Sorry, sir." Hal moved around to stand next the President and view the screen, the dull blue glow illuminating the pinstripe of the President's suit.

"What seems to be the problem?" Hal asked, his voice straining to sound normal and not bleed through the anxiety that was building in his throat.

"I've lost several memory chips and a message. I need you to retrieve them."
"Sure. What kind of message?" Hal asked reaching over and tapping the keyboard to bring up the basic computer coding he needed.

"Classified." Hal sighed, a combination of relief and frustration, and began typing normal retrieval subroutines, but nothing was working.

"Would you like me to move?" President Crouche asked, his own dark eyes following Hal's movements.

"Pardon, sir?"

"Do you want me to move, so you can sit down? It might be easier on your back." Hal was about to politely decline but the President was already out of the chair and hovering next to it, his dark eyes still trained on Hal.

"Thank you, sir." Hal mumbled as he gently lowered himself onto the edge of the chair. He glanced up at the President, noticing that his eyes weren't just dark, but a dark purple. Enhancive surgery, common among the consumers. Hal quickly turned and began to rapidly type; his fingers a blur. The comforting sound of the keys being slapped made his heart beat a little slower. Whoever stole these files didn't want them to be recovered. Hal read through the encryption codes and subroutines as he attempted to break them. A moment after he broke the third set of firewalls Hal realised. You stupid sub-Novan prat! They're your subroutines! You're unhacking your own hack! Without pausing Hal began to reissue his own hacking. His fingers barely leaving the keyboard, his brown eyes scanning the coding he implemented.

"Mr President! I think I found it!" Hal felt the President's hand gently skim his shoulder and had to repress the urge to shudder.

"I'll be a moment, child." President Crouche whispered before walking, regally, over to communication panel. Hal's eyes didn't leave the screen as he re-planted ghost servers for security to chase. He paused and glanced up to where the President was standing. He was an intelligent seeming man, the kind that intimidated people just by standing there. He embodied the consumers; a man driven by beauty and superiority. Hal could feel his anxiety shift into a slow burning loathing. The President began walking back over to the desk.

Okay, lets make things worse before we make them better.

"Any progress?" The President asked, re-assuming his previous personal-space-encroaching spot.

"I'm just trying to retrieve the file in one piece. Whoever deleted it wanted it gone." Hal hit enter and the screen began to flicker. A moment later the screen went blank, only to restart showing the desktop with a note sitting there. Hal clicked on it.

Computer virus detected. Anti-Virus initiated. Complete computer memory purged and erased. Have a nice day.

Author's Note:

It's my 18th Birthday today! So if you would be so kind, please review as a birthday gift! I appreciate all the follows/favourites/review that I've gotten, you are all awesome. :)