General Shana Vodic was in a bind. The Commander of the Legion of the Heart, she was in the difficult situation of preparing to welcome a new Emperor to the Imperial Palace without having any control over the Palace’s computer systems. It was an excruciatingly frustrating situation, and when Shana Vodic got frustrated, she smoked. She knew smoking was a bad habit, and she’d tried to quit many times, but she was an very intense and angry person, and smoking helped calm her down.
It wasn’t working this time, though. Too much was going wrong, and finding solutions was proving to be difficult. She had the former Emperor, the weasel Adlamor Finegal, in her custody, and he was spilling his guts in a desperate attempt to save his pitiful life, but after much “interrogation” (i.e., torture), Vodic had been forced to admit that he was telling the truth when he said he didn’t know how to regain control of the Palace computers.
So she had a stern and unforgiving man coming to claim the Throne, and when he got there, she would be unable to allow him into the Palace. Her worry was that the new Emperor would think that she had reneged on their deal, and was trying to hold the Palace against him. If Extrator attacked the Palace, it would be disastrous. For both sides.
“General,” said one of her aides, breaking her out of her thoughts, “I have some news for you, ma’am.” She was in her office, looking out the window at the mob gathered in the courtyard, desperately trying to find some way into the Palace. At least the lockdown of the Palace was having some positive effect.
“Proceed, Captain,” she said without turning from the window. He cleared his throat before he began speaking.
“We, um, captured Adlamor Finegal’s chief aide, Vemnor Halais,” he said, “We think he was the one who locked down the Palace’s computer systems.” General Vodic brightened at this. She turned to the captain, her stern frown a slight bit less stern than usual.
“Oh?” she said, “Good! Now we can finally contact the Emperor and let him know that we’re ready for him.” The captain cleared his throat again and looked nervous, causing Vodic to narrow her eyes. “What?” she growled.
“Well, um, about that,” he said, and then hesitated. “Halais is, um, dead.”
“Dead!” exclaimed Vodic.
“We did find his personal tablet,” the captain said quickly. “We think he had routed control of the Palace systems to it.”
“Oh, well, then it doesn’t matter if he’s dead or not,” Vodic said. The captain frowned, and Vodic sighed, aware that there was more bad news coming.
“Actually, ma’am, it does matter,” he said hesitantly, “You see, his tablet was, um, well, it was heavily encrypted, and we’re, uh…we’re not sure if we’ll be able to access it.”
“What!” the general snarled, “Well, you’d better work fast! You need to get into that tablet before the Emperor gets here!”
“General,” the captain said quietly, “We’re not sure we’ll be able to access it at all.” Vodin just stared at him in disbelief.
“You cannot be serious,” Vodic said, just barely keeping her fury in check.
“I wish I was joking, ma’am,” the captain said, shaking his head, “but our IT staff has looked at the tablet, and the encryption on it is unlike anything they’ve ever seen. Apparently Halais had created a method of encryption far more advanced than anything currently available to the military.”
“How can that be possible?” Vodic asked, still having trouble believing what she was hearing.
“I don’t know, ma’am,” the captain said, “Halais had a reputation for brilliance, but it seems like that may have been an understatement.” Vodic frowned, trying to think fast. It didn’t seem like she had very many options.
“Okay, Captain,” she said finally, “what do you suggest we do?”
“Me, ma’am?” he asked, surprised.
“Yes, you,” she said, “I need ideas, and I’m having a hard time thinking of any myself. I’ll take just about any suggestions I can get at this point.”
“Well, ma’am, I would put the Palace’s entire IT staff to work on Halais’s tablet, and I would set a demolitions team to work on breaking through the door to the main landing bay so that the Emperor and his troops can get into the Palace. And, if I were you, I would make sure I was there to meet him in person to explain this whole mess to him.”
“Very well,” Vodic said with a nod, “Tell the IT staff to break into that tablet, and get some of our IT guys on it too. And send a demolition team to the main landing bay. That’s where I’ll be if anyone needs me.” The captain saluted and ran off. Vodic grabbed her tablet and quickly left her office, on her way to the main landing bay.
Breaking open the landing bay door would be difficult, to say the least. Like all of the Palace’s doors, it was made of mylium and arvinium, and was designed to withstand full bombardment from a star cruiser. Vodic wasn’t sure if there was anything they could do to break it open, but they definitely weren’t going to succeed if they didn’t try.
By the time she got down to the main landing bay, the Legion’s demolition team was already there. The commander of the team was a grizzled old man with one eye, Lt. Colonel Hargin Chrevis. Chrevis had been in the Imperial Army for 40 years, and he’d worked in demolition his entire career. There was no one in the Imperial Armed Forces who knew more about explosives than he did. If Col. Chrevis couldn’t figure out a way to break through the landing bay door, no one could.
“This is gonna be a tough nut to crack, General,” Chrevis said by way of greeting.
“I know, Colonel,” Vodic responded, “but it has to be done. If we can’t let the Emperor’s forces in, he’s going to think that we’re trying to hold the Palace against him. You don’t need me to tell you what a disaster that would be.” Chrevis nodded grimly, and then began barking orders to his team.
To be continued…