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PG. No clues offered about this one I'm afraid. I'd rather the story play out
on its own. You can blame Mary Avatar for this one, when I launched "Breathe"
she said she was developing a soft spot for this LBG. Hmmmm.

Feedback and abuse to [email protected], please.



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"I will never use that damn suit again.
Ever.
Not if you paid me.
Not if you threatened me.
Not for anything or anyone.
Period."
- LBG, many years ago.
************************************



Andromeda: Part 5 - Sledgehammer Chapter 1 - Intrusion
by Furball

I haven't worn this suit in decades, but it still feels like a part of me.
That's lucky, since hanging out here in hard vacuum would be pretty suicidal
without it. All the same, it brings back a lot of memories I could do
without. I remind myself I'm doing this for her, swallow hard and push off
from my hidey-rock toward the ship in front of me. It's manouvring, but my
dusty old reflexes serve me well and I touch down almost where I'd planned,
soft as a feather. The sound transmission through the hull should be minimal;
good. I know this class of ship well, I've done my homework. I have
practically everything bar the original blueprints. It's only a short walk
to my chosen maintenance hatch.

The hatch has an alarm, naturally, but this used to be one of my specialties.
Probes extrude from the cuff of the suit, and I direct them through the
cracks to key components. They explore, intertwining and interconnecting,
then pinch off from the suit to form a pretty effective bypass circuit. The
hatch pops open, and nobody's any the wiser. I'm in. Score one for the old
fool.

So why climb in a hatch that opens to the guts of a missile launcher?
Because they reload from inside. Dismantling it takes a couple of hours, and
it's hard work. Every component has to be checked for a score of different
monitoring devices. The builders were smart, randomly installing different
safeguards on different ships, even different launchers. Someone doing what
I'm trying to do can't trust anything. If I were authorized the ship would
know to ignore any alarms I might trip. Lucky for me I don't slip up. Or at
least, I think I don't. It's hard to be sure.

The reload mechanism's fully automated so nobody should be around, but I
was trained better than to assume that. I leave the housing in place while
my glove sensor snakes through the hole where a rivet once sat. There's
nobody here; my luck's still holding. Mustn't get cocky though, luck can't
be trusted. I carefully drill out the last rivet and quietly lower the last
panel to the ground.

This is the most dangerous part. I've upgraded my suit's electronic counter
measures to state of the art, but I still can't be sure the internal sensors
won't spot me. They've probably had some upgrades too, and I can't predict
what. I have to stick to the quiet places, the forgotten crawlways, hide in
the shadows. There's a distinct possibility I'm going to get my ass shot off
here. A rush of excitement rolls through me, I'd forgotten it could feel like
this. I almost feel young again. Almost.

I've been planning my route for a couple of weeks, running sims and fine
tuning. The third crawlspace tells me I've wasted at least some of my time.
There should be room for me to slide through, even suited, but it's a tangle
of jury rigged circuitry. Damn. I have the suit project the local plans into
my mind through my interface port, and give me options. Not too bad, just a
quick jag through the adjacent maintenance tunnel. I won't be exposed long.

Soon I fall into the old routine. Reach a corner, check round it with the
glove sensor. Hide when there's movement, curse when it's blocked, slide
down it when it's not. It's slow going on my own, to pass the time I start
designing gear that could speed it up. Weapons and military gear always
pays well. It occupies the lower levels of my mind while the rest of me
concentrates on not getting caught. I figure only about a quarter of my
route is navigable. This ship's been through a lot of combat, and hasn't
had enough maintenance. It takes forty minutes, but finally I get where I'm
going.

I cut the ECM, and key the door as I pull off my helmet. Instantly, a forest
of cameras and automated weapons swivel to face me, as does a lovely female
face on several screens. "Hello, Andromeda."

"How did you get past my security?"

"Don't worry, it wasn't easy, and I'm real good at this stuff. I used to do
it for a living." That's an understatement, but she doesn't need the full
story. I drop a datacrystal into one of her readers, it holds my research
and recommendations for plugging the security holes. It should take care of
all her questions. "By the way, nice to see you too."

As the data from the crystal unfolds in her mind, she softens. "Sorry,
I'm not used to visitors here. Even Harper hardly ever comes down here."
Strictly speaking, the circuitry that makes up Andromeda's brain stretches
right across the ship, but if she can be said to live in any one place,
it's here. This is the console room. Her inner sanctum. If she is ever
decommissioned, this is where they'll come to switch her off. Her defences
stand down, I feel honoured. She must really trust me. "Why are you here
anyway? Shouldn't you be sneaking up on Rommie?"

"Rommie, HoloRommie, you; You're all aspects of the same person, I care
about all of you. I just realised I'd been neglecting this part of you, so
I thought I'd pull a surprise visit and do something about that." I lower
the pack off my back and open it. First out are some more comfortable
clothes for me. I gesture at them. "Mind if I...." She nods agreement. As
I pull off the suit's cuirass the interface port in my shoulder blade
disconnects with a familiar wet slurp. It's not exactly the same model as
Harper's. Out of the corner of my eye I see images of it from various
angles on screens she doesn't think I can see. They freeze before the skin
closes over it, leaving a line like a deep scar. She seems very interested.
I pretend not to notice.

Dressed more comfortably I delve into the pack again. "For a human woman
I'd have brought chocolate, maybe wine, but you can't taste either. You
couldn't smell flowers even if they'd have survived the trip. I had to get
more creative for you, play to the senses you have." Out come some books
(genuine paper), and a small music generator. All are well used, worn. I
sit cross legged on the counter next to her largest screen, and for hours
we talk. In the books I show her the cream of my people's art, introduce
her to the old pictures of elves, show her how beautiful they are. One look
at her face, and I know I won't be taking that book home with me. I read
her stories, poetry. From the music generator I play her all the best music
from my culture and the ones I've studied. I play her the ancient classics
from pre-diaspora Earth; Beethoven and the Beatles, Presley and the Pistols,
the Rolling Stones and Mark Shreeve. Some she likes more than others, but
she tells me she appreciates them all. She says nobody has ever done this
for her before. I tell her that's a shame, and it is.

Somewhere in the small hours of the morning, my energy is flagging and I'm
considering calling it a night, when she broaches a subject I'd hoped to be
spared. "I ... couldn't help noticing your interface port. I've never seen
one like that before, what are its specs?" I've never heard this part of
her hesitate before; This is important.

I'm quiet for a moment before I reply. I know what's coming, and it scares
me. "Let's just say Harper'd have a massive case of bandwidth envy, and
leave it at that."

"If I had him build an adapter, would you let me use it?"

And there it is.

Crap.

<>

    

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