A puzzled expression was on his face, communications expert Ryder staring at the screen. Writing was there, and it wasn’t anything he had inputted into the computer, the complex symbols appearing to be more gibberish than message. And yet the Drule felt certain it was a message, and an urgent one at that. That could only explain why the message continued to repeat itself, arriving once every five minutes for the last ten hours.
When the message had fist begun to appear, Ryder had been as quick as his partner Voden to write it off as some error. He had even speculated that some fool had unleashed a virus into the central computer, but a diagnostics run had shown none of the other programs had had their functions interfered with. It appeared to be nothing more than a nuisance, flashing on the screen long enough to deliver it’s symbols.
Voden had set off to develop a program that would disable the message, claiming it was an eyesore. Ryder could certainly agree with that, finding it kept interrupting whatever programs he worked on to flash it’s message at him. He put in inquiries to the other ships, and learned that they too were being plague by this persistent pest, the communication crews unable to determine the origin or reason why it was happening.
Ryder enjoyed a good mystery, almost as much as he enjoyed a good fuck. He thrived on engaging his mind, and figuring out puzzles, deciphering clues that no one else could understand. And his mind was quick, his intelligence such that he had earned high marks in the academy. He had been able to write his own ticket in life, his skills highly sought after, earning him praise and accolades.
He was even responsible for several of the computer programs that help maintain key functions onboard the colony ships, the people’s survival dependent on the code he had developed. It irked him to see this message interfering with the programs now, and when his annoyance began to recede, and he truly focused on the problem, he noticed something. A repeating pattern of symbols, hinting at the key to breaking the code.
He leaned forward in his seat, pen and paper in hand. Voden was in the back of the room, he could hear the Drule swearing softly under his breath, trying to write a disabling program on a data pad. Those data pads were unaffected so long as they didn’t connect to the central computers, and so far Voden had ruined half a dozen of them when he tried to introduce his hastily construed vaccine program into the mainframe.
Ryder had already written down the symbols as they appeared, studying them from all angles. He wasn’t even sure of how much time he had devoted to the deciphering, but so far he had verified that this symbol was a H, and this one was a P. Now if he could only figure out the rest of the symbols to figure out all the words!
“Damn it!” Voden shouted, and something smashed into the floor. Ryder did not so much as jump, not shaken by Voden’s tantrum.
“Another data pad ruined?” He inquired mildly, staring at his paper. Was this symbol an L, and the one next to it an O?
“I just don’t know what to do!” confessed Voden, sounding at his wit’s end.
“Maybe you should take a break.” Suggested Ryder, positive he had figure out another symbol. “Get something to eat.”
“I’m not hungry.” Voden muttered, and Ryder chuckled.
“Then go get ME something to eat!”
“Get it yourself!” snapped Voden, and Ryder could hear tinkering behind him. Surely Voden had started on yet another data pad, both Drules knowing there wasn’t much else to do until the message stopped.
“I’m busy.” Ryder retorted, noting he had spelled out a word. And what a word it was, help flashing on the screen. Could the message be an SOS of some kind? And if so, from who?
“Busy? Yeah right!” scoffed Voden. “All you’ve been doing is staring at the screen. You’re not even trying to fix the problem!”
“Might not be fixable…” Ryder murmured, staring as the deciphering started to come together.
“Everything is fixable.” Voden retorted, then grew quiet as Ryder’s response.
“Our world was not.”
Minutes passed in silence, Ryder diligent as he worked on deciphering the words. What had looked to be a complex code was proving to be quite easy once the pattern emerged. He gasped when he read the translation he had written, staring at the words in sequence for the first time. “Voden!” The Drule didn’t answer, so he tried again. “Voden! Come here!”
“What, did a bug crawl up your ass or something?” Voden grumbled, and Ryder snarled at him. Just the sound and his eyes flashing in rage got the other Drule to apologize, Voden holding his hands up in submission. “Sorry. What ya got?”
Ryder held up the paper, letting Voden read off the message printed there. “King Lotor, Princess Allura captured. Send help to the storage rooms on the ravager ship.” Voden frowned then, running a hand over his hair. “What, is that some kind of joke?”
“I don’t know what it is.” Ryder admitted. “But, if there’s a chance that is true…”
“But the King’s not missing.” Voden protested. “He’s just on another ship.”
“Which ship is he on?” Ryder asked, realizing he hadn’t paid as close attention to the King’s whereabouts as he should have. From the look on Voden’s face, he hadn’t either, the Drule frowning.
“You don’t know, do you?” Ryder asked, and Voden scowled.
“Hang on, I think I can find out.” Voden returned to his work table, lifting one of the spare data pads off it. “The information should be recorded in here…” He began accessing the data pad’s memory banks, frowning as he scanned through the words. “Lord Kratos is on nightmare, Albatos on death striker, and Phor is on supremacy.”
“And what about the King?” prodded Ryder.
“It…it doesn’t say.” Voden’s frowned deepened. “That’s strange. We’re supposed to be kept up to date on the king’s whereabouts at all times. It’s a security measure!”
“Someone has not been doing their job…” Ryder muttered.
“But he has to be okay!” added Voden. “He’s been giving orders! I heard some myself.”
“You heard it from the King?” Ryder asked sharply, and Voden shook his head.
“No. It was Zark who relayed the orders to me. He heard it from Samara who heard it from….”
“I get the idea.” Ryder frowned. “It sounds like no one has heard personally from the King, it’s all be second hand, these orders of his.”
“He’s a busy man.” Argued Voden. “He can’t always tell each and every one of us his orders.”
“Maybe….but I don’t like it.”
“What’s not to like?” Voden asked, and before Ryder could answer, he was walking away. “Anyway, we got bigger problems to worry about. We need to stop this damn message from interfering with the programs or else we won’t be able to do much of anything.”
“Hey Voden…” Ryder said after another five minutes had passed, the Drule staring at the message. “Commander Cossack’s onboard this ship, right?”
“The commander? What do you want with him?” Voden demanded, and Ryder grinned.
“I think I need to bring this message to his attention.”
Voden’s eyes widened in alarm, the Drule shaking his head. “You’re going to bother the commander with something so trivial?!”
“It’s just a feeling I have…” Ryder answered. “Something’s not right…”
“Yeah, not right in your head!” snapped Voden, which earned him an annoyed look from Ryder. “Fine.” He said as Ryder stood up. “Tell the commander your crazy idea. But leave any mention of me out of it! I don’t want or need to be punished for wasting the commander’s valuable time.”
“It’s not like the commander of our armies has had much to do since we arrived on this planet.” Pointed out Ryder, as he walked towards the control room’s exit. “Arus is almost too peaceful.”
“That still doesn’t mean he’ll welcome the trouble!” retorted Voden, and Ryder just laughed good-humoredly at that. He hoped there wouldn’t be trouble, but as a loyal subject of King Lotor, it was his duty to take this message seriously. If it turned out to be real, he would do everything in his power to help the commander locate the King, and he would use that same enthusiasm if it was a prank, Ryder wanting to hunt down whoever had perpetrated this potential false alarm.
As he walked through the corridors of the ship, several people stopped him, wanting to know when the message would stop. They were very annoyed, put out by their inability to connect to the central computer. Of course they could connect to the mainframe, but then their computers would be besieged by the message, leaving them unable to run even the most basic of programs. They couldn’t even send transmission to the other ships, everyone being forced to rely on their hand held communicators to keep abreast of the situation.
He didn’t want to lie to them, so all he could tell them was that Voden was working on developing a program to disable the message. That hardly seemed to satisfy them, they wanted to know why he wasn’t hard at work doing the same. And no amount of excuses that he was on urgent business to see Commander Cossack could appease them.
It took Ryder nearly forty-five minutes to reach Commander Cosack’s private quarters, and all because of the constant pausing he had to do when harassed by other Drules. He breathed a sigh of relief when he was ushered into the Commander’s office, Cossack sitting behind a desk, and scowling. Ryder saw that his computer was on, and realized that Cossack had tried to access the central computer.
“I hope you’re using that genius intellect you’re so famous for to fix this!” Cossack snarled, gesturing at his computer screen.
“Yes, sir. Voden is hard at work developing a program to stop it.”
“But he’s not having much luck, is he?” Cossack said knowingly, and Ryder nodded.
“Not yet sir.”
“And why aren’t you helping him?!” Cossack wanted to know, and Ryder placed the note pad down on the desk.
“I’ve discovered something troubling.” He said, and showed the translated message to the Commander. Cossack’s lips moved as he read the message, and then he looked up and frowned at Ryder.
“What nonsense is this?”
“I’m not sure exactly, but I fear this is a legitimate call for help.” Ryder said. “I’ve done some digging, and there is no known report of where the King currently is. And no one has been issued a direct order from him, it’s all come from other people’s mouths.”
“And you what? Really think his highness is trapped on ravager?” Cossack sounded doubtful.
“I don’t know what to think. But I do know we have to act. Now instead of later.”
“I don’t know…it could be a hoax…” Cossack muttered, and Ryder arched an eyebrow.
“It’s an awfully elaborate hoax, wouldn’t you say? And what purpose would it serve, who among us would dare be so foolish?”
“A young hacker wanting to prove his skills.” Cossack said, and smirked at Ryder. “I know all about you communications expert Ryder. Know how you got admitted into the Drule Academy.”
Ryder refused to become flustered, keeping a serious look on his face. “Those were different times, and there wasn’t as much as stake as there is now. Please commander…gather some of your men. Let us go to the ravager and explore the storage rooms. If he is not there….”
“What would you do if he’s not there?’ Cossack wanted to know, and Ryder blinked. “Would you accept a demotion for wasting my time?”
A demotion would not only mean a loss of status, but a substantial lowering of his pay. And yet Ryder didn’t hesitate, the Drule knowing he could easily gain a new promotion through hard work. “All right, yes.”
Cossack seem surprised at that, as though realizing how seriously Ryder took the message of the trapped King. “Fine. I’ll gather my men. We’ll go to the ravager. I suppose you’ll want to come along?”
“Of course.” Ryder said, then paused. “If I may, a suggestion?”
“Don’t broadcast your intentions over the communicators. Choose only your most trusted men to go aboard the ravager.” Ryder told him, and Cossack nodded.
“Good points. If his highness is indeed imprisoned, no doubt his captors will want to keep him that way.” Cossack rose up out of his seat, and moved around his desk. Ryder moved to follow him out of the room, Cossack setting a brisk pace. A few people tried to stop them, their focus on Ryder, but a stern look and angry growl from the commander had them wisely backing off. Ryder was relieved, knowing that they didn’t have time for any more delays, not if their King was truly the victim of some insidious plot.