The rebel ship Small Necessity hurtled through the hollow sea of space, engines constantly accelerating as she ran from the Imperial pursuit ship. Somewhere in the darkness, missiles were hurtling past, their guidance systems foiled by the Necessity’s shield of countermeasures – programs that jammed targeting systems, misdirected rockets, and preemptively detonated warheads.
Russ’s fingers darted across the keyboard. The pursuit ship’s e-war team had locked frequencies with receptors in the Necessity’s computing network. Their hacking codes were worming into the system, trying to bring down the shields, while he fought to repair, rebuild, and fend them off.
A few unprotected seconds were all it would take for a missile to hit.
“How are we doing?” Captain Tuer stood at his shoulder, peering at his system admin screen as if she could understand what was happening. Maybe she could – they’d been here plenty of times before.
“They’re good,” Russ said. “They got through the first firewall. But I’ve written a little code to-”
“Last time you wrote a little code it was to diagnose our systems,” Tuer said. “It brought everything to a halt.”
“That’s because it was missing an iteration limit,” Russ said distractedly, trying to code while monitors showed how close the missiles were coming. “This time – shit!”
A brute force attack had carried the hackers into the guidance-baffling software. The ship shook as a missile hit the port bow.
Strapped into his seat, Russ hit the key to lock off that part of the mainframe. A back-up guidance-baffling program stirred into life.
He’d known that this would happen. He’d just hoped it would take longer.
Sirens screamed. So did a voice over the intercom. People were dying in engineering, but there was nothing he could do about that. All he could do was to stop more missiles hitting.
Somebody swore on the other side of the bridge. The hackers had broken into the navigation system. Two crews were now fighting over the ship’s course. Even as Russ countered that, weapons control went down, then the program for detonating pursuing missiles.
Every time he fixed a glitch in the code, two more popped up. The hackers were all the way in.
He wanted to fix the beautiful, broken programs he’d written to run the ship. But as he kept fighting fires, more were springing up. He needed to put out the dragon lighting them.
“I’m going into their systems,” he said.
“What?” Tuer asked with a frown. “Couldn’t you have done that before?”
“Not while maintaining ours,” Russ said.
It was easy to reach the pursuit ship’s network. He just piggybacked the two-way signal they were using. Moments later, his screen was full of data as his console got to grips with what it was seeing.
The Necessity shook as another missile hit. Across the room, the rear gunner bellowed an obscenity as his targeting system went blank.
“Do something,” Tuer said, pointing at the furious gunner.
“Can’t,” Russ said. “Not while I’m doing this.”
“Then stop doing that and do your job! This is your stupid little code all over again.”
Russ grinned. She was more right than she knew.
The pursuit crew were busy attacking. They’d only just realised that he was in their system. He opened their diagnostic software and dropped in something of his own – a copy of the little code he’d tried to use on the Necessity.
The one with the unending iterations.
On his screen, data usage stats soared. The other ship’s systems started grinding to a halt.
He flicked back to his own network and reactivated the rear gun systems, then the targeting bafflers, then the code that detonated pursuing missiles.
“They’ve stopped accelerating,” the helmsman said.
“They’ve stopped firing,” someone else announced.
“We’re losing them,” Captain Tuer announced, gazing in incredulity at a monitor.
Russ grinned. He imagined the fury of the pursuit ship’s system administrators as they tried to work out what was wrong. They would be looking for hostile worms, not a friendly little diagnostic program. By the time they found it, the Small Necessity would be well away.
The crew cheered. Tuer patted Russ on the shoulder. The Small Necessity hurtled on through the hollow sea of space.
* * *
This story exists in large part as a thank you. My friend and fellow writer Russell Phillips is always helping me out with website problems, as well as offering other IT help. His catchphrase, “I’ve written a little code…”, symbolises the casual calm with which he can do things with computers far beyond my ken. Thanks Russ. I hope you like the story.
And if you, dear reader, enjoyed this, then please share it, and consider checking out my collection of sci-fi stories, Lies We Will Tell Ourselves.