# A Sea of Stars - Ch. 11 - Surprises

              there
exists an
old Chinese saying: may you
live in interesting times
but sometimes, things
can get       just a
little           too
interesting


Lillian awoke from her dream full of bittersweet memories. It had been a while since she’d dreamed of her mother. Since she’d felt the cool touch of her hands on her faces. Heard the soft voice, reading to her before bed. But the memories of after were terribly bitter. They had found some of the men directly responsible for the bombing, but never those in charge. And no reason was ever given. Truly, that was the worst-it being just a random act of violence.

And the man in the dark suit–it had been Mr. Smith again. She was sure of it. John Smith. Such a perfect name for a government agent. What was his relationship with her father? Casting her mind back, she remembered her father leaving and her going to stay with the Henderson’s. He hadn’t returned the next, but the day after he was back. He had a large bruise on one side of his face. He hadn’t explained it, he hadn’t explained anything–just gone on as usual. He’d seemed much more cheerful though, and had cleaned himself up. A few days later, he returned to work. Lillian was happy with the changes, so she hadn’t asked what he’d been doing. Now she wished that she had.

For several minutes, she just stayed in bed, her eyes shut and her mind wondering. She thought to herself, do I really have to get up today? It would be so nice to just sleep for a while longer. Maybe that would mean that life could be a little less crazy than the past few days have been.

Eventually, the more practical side of her won out. She swung her feet over the side of her bed and opened her eyes.

The briefcase was back.

It was sitting on her desk, tilted at a fine angle, almost as if it was mocking her.

“This is not happening.”

She pinched herself. It hurt. She shook her head and rubbed her eyes. The briefcase stayed resolutely on the desk.

“I’m beginning to think you’re just messing with me.”

The briefcase didn’t say anything.

Sighing, she got out of bed. She refused to go over to the briefcase though. “I’m going to wake up soon. This has to be a dream. The briefcase was stolen. It can’t be here.”

She went about getting ready for the day as best she could, but she could feel the briefcase just behind her. She spun towards it. It was still there. She hadn’t woken up.

“Fine.”

She walked over to the briefcase. For several long minutes she just stood there in front of it, inches away.

Finally, she reached out a hand and tried the latch. She half expected her whole room to fade into mist and to wake up again, this time for real. She didn’t. And it was still locked.

“Of course.”

Out of frustration, she picked the briefcase up by the sides. She brief considered smashing it against her desk, but she liked the desk. And somehow she knew that it wouldn’t do the least bit of good. Instead she tossed it onto her bed. It bounced slightly and came to a landing partially perched on her pillows.

She jumped onto the bed and lifted if up, inspecting each side. The dents and scratches she’d seen earlier were still there. Other than that, it seemed a normal enough briefcase. There was a series of faint grooves running all around it, with a smoothed circular region in the center of the front and back. The handle was made of the same metal as the case and had a simple set of hinges affixed to the outside of the briefcase. There were two latches, one to either side of the handle-neither of which would budge of course-and absolutely no sign of any sort of keyhole or combination lock.

She tossed it back on to the pillow.

“Now what,” she was muttering mutinously to herself. “I can’t get you open. I don’t want to leave, because I bet if I do, whoever broke in last night will come back and take you again.” She knew she was rambling, but she couldn’t help herself. “That is, if you were ever stolen. Maybe you just went all invisible again. But that’s impossible. Every few months there are some new sensationalist claim about this new way to make things invisible, but it’s always just the media hyping things up beyond all reasonable expectations.”

Frustrated she slapped the top of the briefcase.

A pleasant female voice came from hidden speakers, somewhere on the briefcase. “Hand print confirmed.”

Lillian shrieked and jumped away from the bed. She waited for a full minute, but nothing else happened. The briefcase seemed to have gone back into its previously slumber.

“Now I know I’m crazy.”

“Voice print confirmed.”

This time she was less surprised. She edged closer to the case. “So you needed my hand and voice to open, is that it?” She tried the latch, it still wouldn’t budge. While she was trying to get the latches open–to no avail–a strand of her hair had fallen on the front side of the case. Suddenly, she felt a tug and smelled a hint of ozone. She glanced up at her hair; one of the strands was conspicuously shorter and singed on the end.

“You took my hair?” she shrieked.

“DNA confirmed.”

The latches clicked.

Her anger immediately fled. Carefully, she undid the latches. Finally, they didn’t resist. She swung open the case and looked inside.

At first she was puzzled. The inside of the case, both top and bottom, was mostly filled with a bed of a grayish foam. She poked it, leaving a small indentation. It slowly filled in, returning to its original shape. It’s just like those fancy beds that always seemed to be advertised on TV, she thought. Memory foam, was it?

Continuing her inspection, there was a small black disk-similar in size and shape to one of the Frisbees she’d played with as a girl-carefully placed in the foam. It was completely smooth and featureless. The color was actually rather striking. It seemed to soak up the light that fell on it, resulting in a black several shades deeper than it had any right to be.

Other than the foam and the disk, the case was empty.

As she started into it, a blue light began slowly blinking in the middle of the disk. Unsure of what to do, she just watched the pulses. They had a double beating pattern that tickled the back of her mind when she tried to place it. Finally, she reached out for the button. That must have been what the disk had been waiting for, because as soon as she touched it, the light changed to a steady green glow and the device began emitting a faint electric hum.

Suddenly, a glowing blue patch formed over the top of the disk. Lillian pulled her hand back in shock. A hologram? she thought, that’s different. Holograms pretty much went obsolete overnight when optical augs first came into style. Then again, if this was my father’s briefcase, then it predates the augs.

As she watched it, the hologram–nothing more than beams of light interacting with each other–began to shift into what she thought was a face. As the face came into focus, she gasped. It was her father.

The speakers on the disk began to play a pre-recorded message.

*My dearest Lillian. If you’re hearing this message, then it means that I wasn’t able to get off of Earth in time. We knew that there was a chance that the Squills would be full, but I had to take what little chance I had to get you off the planet.

On the chance that things go badly, I’ve made arrangements for you to be taken care of. I’m so sorry that I won’t be able to be there while you grow up. But at least you’ll be given the chance to grow up. I’m so afraid that might not be an option for so many people in a few hours…

There’s so much that I want to tell you, but I’m afraid there isn’t time. John’s already here and we have to leave now if we’re going to make it.

The device you see here is a sophisticated computer. It’s got an artificial intelligence years beyond what the public thinks exists. She knows everything we’ve managed to collect on The Artifact and I’ve instructed her to tell you everything. Hopefully–someday–you’ll be able to see what we’ve gathered and understand.

I pray that you never see this message, but I fear that it may already be too late.

Good bye, my daughter.*

Lillian sat in silence for what felt like a very long time. She felt the tears cursing down her cheeks. The last frame of the hologram still glowed above the disk, her father with an aching sadness clear in his eyes.

Finally, she reached for the disk to turn off the hologram. It disappeared instantly when she touched the glowing green circle. It faded back to a slowly flashing blue. Suddenly, she knew what the strange slow double beat reminded her of: a heartbeat.

Shuddering slight and feeling completely out of sorts–like being half in a dream–she slid the case closed and re-latched the lid. She heard a series of clicks as she closed the latches. When she tried them again, the case had sealed itself.

She slid it under her bed and let her head fall into her hands.

Whatever she’d expected to be in that silver briefcase, it certainly hadn’t compared to what she’d found.

During the day, she went through the motions of her job, feeling like a zombie the entire time. Madeline had approached her when she first set out and tried to find out what was wrong, but Lillian’s answers were so disjointed and mumbled that eventually she stopped asking. She did stay close by Lillian’s side the entire day though, watching her closely. Several times, she started to ask again, but caught herself and kept working in silence. She’s a good friend, Lillian thought. But it didn’t make it any easier to talk.

After lunch, she got a message from Adrian. “Regarding your break-in, I have something to show you. Can you meet me this afternoon at 4? My office?”

She sent back a simple “yes” and continued with her work. She’d have to cut out early, but the day was quiet. They had finished putting up temporary walling where the oven had exploded the day before and moved most of the wreckage into one of the extra storerooms. They’d just have to wait until the next supply connection to get another oven, relying on the one that still worked. Apparently the mission planners hadn’t thought they were critical enough to carry a spare.

“Go ahead,” she said. She sounded like she wanted to ask what was up, but left it at that. “I can cover the rest of your shift.”

“Thank you.”

“Lillian? Are you alright?”

“I think so.” She was surprised to find that it was actually true. The day’s quiet labor had given her back a degree of equilibrium.

“Do you want to talk about it?” she said, still concerned.

“Not yet.” Perhaps after talking with Adrian. It would be nice to see who had broken into her room.

She nodded her acceptance. “I’m her for you Lil.”

The corners of Lillian’s mouth turned up, ever so slightly. “I know you are.” She turned away and set off for Adrian’s office.

She arrived to a shut door and the muffled sounds of a heated conversion. She checked her watch–four on the dot. She knocked quietly on the door. The conversion continued for moment longer then went silent.

“Lillian?” Adrian must have raised his voice, it was suddenly much clearer than the argument had been. “I’ll be with you in just a second.”

She took one of the chairs, directly under the painting of Mars, and half fell into it.

A few minutes later, the door to Adrian’s office banged open with some force. Jacobs came barging out, his face several shades of red. “I was trying to help her,” he nearly yelled over his shoulder. Without another word or even a glance over his shoulder he stormed out into the hallway. Lillian wasn’t even sure that he’d seen her. She stared at the door for a moment and then turned back to Adrian’s office. He was standing in the doorway, looking as calm as he always did, but Lillian thought she could detect the faint sheen of perspiration on his brow.

He stood to one side of the door, gesturing her inside. She crossed the room and he followed her in.

“What was that about?” she asked as he closed the door behind him.

He hesitated a second before answering. “Well… you actually.”

If she’d been expecting anything, that certainly wasn’t it. “Me?”

“It seems that young Mr. Jacobs has been poking his nose in where it doesn’t belong.” It sounded weird to here someone referring to Jacobs that way, she hadn’t heard it in years. “The security computers for instance.”

Lillian tried to keep her face still, but something must have shown.

“You knew, didn’t you?”

Hoping that he didn’t know for sure, she stayed silent.

She let out the breath she’d been holding. Apparently he did know. And from Jacob’s no less. “He did.”

He nodded at the confirmation, as if he’d been expecting it. “Did you know that tampering with the existing security systems is explicitly prohibited?”

“I probably could have guessed,” she said dryly. It was nice to know that despite all that had happened, sarcasm still worked.

He smiled a bit at that. “Actually it’s enough that he would probably get kicked off the ship if I were to report it.”

“Up until a few days ago, we’d never had any serious security breach on any of the gateships,” he said matter of factually. “Now there’s a pair of explosions and in the middle of all that I find someone monkeying around in my security software.”

He shrugged, suddenly looking uncomfortable. “I wrote several of the systems in use on all of the gate ships. All of the way back to the Daedalus.” He smiled suddenly. “It’s good job insurance. I can always go out on any gateship I want.”

Lillian nodded. “I think I can understand that.”

“I bet you can,” he said, suddenly serious. “I’ve looked at your record you know. Except for two months back on Mars after Daedalus was parked, you’ve been on gateships since you were 14.”

He looked at my records?, she thought. But it really wasn’t the surprising. It was a matter of public record and–as part of the security team–he probably had to know the backgrounds of everyone on the ship.

He was watching her, seemingly waiting for something.

She decided to move the conversation back on its original course. “You said you had news about the break-in?”

There was a slight shake to his head. It didn’t look like he was disagreeing with her, but rather that he was shaking himself out of some private train of thought.

“I did,” he replied. “And it’s actually thanks to your friend that I noticed it.”

“Oh really?” She hesitated before continuing, “Is that why you haven’t reported him yet?”

“Not really. Actually, he’s something of a puzzle. He absolutely refused to tell me why he was digging around in the ship’s computers. Even when I told him that he could be forcibly transferred to one of the mining stations for that. He told me it was ‘none of my damn business.’” He mimicked Jacobs’ voice nearly perfectly and then chuckled. “I wonder if he considered that’s exactly what my damn business is.”

Lillian had to marvel at Jacobs for that. She wasn’t sure that she would have had the guts to directly cross a security officer like that.

Adrian continued, “So now Lillian, I have a question for you. And I really hope you decide to answer me truthfully, for both your own sake and for Mr. Jacobs’. Why did you ask him to improve your security? Particularly right before your room was broken into.”

Lillian looked at the desk, frantically trying to think of some way out of the situation. Something told her that she really didn’t want to reveal the briefcase–at least not until she unraveled some more of that particular mystery–and it wasn’t her place to tell Jacobs’ secrets. But what else could she possibly say?

Adrian waited patiently. I bet he thinks I’m trying to come up with a convincing story to tell, Lillian though. And aren’t I?

She finally settled on a reasonable half-truth. “Well it’s just all of these goings on of the last few days. The bombings and all that. You know that I’ve lived on the gateships for years and I’m sure you know how little space we have. Everything I own of any value to me is in that room. I guess I was just being paranoid.”

He did nod at that, but apparently it wasn’t enough to satisfy him. “And is there anything of particular value in your room? Something that someone might want to steal?” He stopped for a moment, but before she could answer, he had one more question. “Something that you might not want to report stolen perhaps?”

He knew! Somehow he knew. About the briefcase or about the binders, she wasn’t sure. But about one of them. She froze.

He seemed to take that as confirmation. He stood and walked around the desk. She noticed how much taller he seemed, particularly standing over her like that. “Lillian. I’m as big a believer in freedom and personal rights as anyone. But if you’ve been keeping something that might endanger the lives of anyone on this ship, I need to know about it.”

“Anything that could make you a target of these attacks.”

“What?” she repeated as her surprise grew.

“Think about it,” he said. He started ticking the points off on his fingers. “When the first bombs went off, you were standing right at the trigger point.” One finger. “ When the second went off, you were in the next room over.” Two fingers. “And it was in the oven that you had worked on earlier in the day.” Three. “So it really looks like either you’ve been planting the bombs or you’re the target of them.”

“You think I did this?” she said, her voice risen to a shrill whistle. She stood as well, looking directly up into Adrian’s face.

“No,” he said, backing off slightly and raising his hands between them. “Actually I don’t. I’m leaning strongly towards the latter option.”

Her mouth opened and closed without a word coming out. It took a moment before she managed to get control of herself. “Well, that’s good.” Realizing how bad that must sound, she tried again. “I mean, I didn’t do it.” No better, she thought. “But why?” Still not good, but at least that was a little bit better.

His head tiled to one side. “You really don’t remember do you?”

The sudden jump was puzzling. Of course she remembered just about being blown up. She’d been there. But she had a feeling that wasn’t what he was asking. “Remember what?”

“I guess you were quite a bit younger then,” he said with a wistful look in his eyes. “And we never really had any reason to interact.”

“What? When?” She quite honestly had no idea what he talking about.

“On the Daedalus,” he said, a leading tone in his voice. It was like he was trying to force her to remember. “I did say that I wrote the gateships’ security systems. I was on the entire voyage. Just like you.”

Frantically she thought back through her memories, but try as she might, she couldn’t remember having seen Adrian before he joined the crew of the Borealis years ago. And not many times since then, at least not until very recently.

“I don’t remember you,” she admitted after a moment. “Sorry.”

He waved his hand at her, “no, no, don’t apologize.” He walked back around his desk and rummaged in one of his drawers. He came out with an old style picture frame. He handed it over to Lillian.

She recognized the picture; it was a crew snapshot from the Halfway Bash on the Daedalus. She was standing off to one side with the rest of the maintenance crew. She smiled in recognition at several of the faces, including that of her old mentor. She kept scanning along the picture until she found the cluster of security, all in their black jumpsuits. And in the back…

She looked up at Adrian, “You really were.”

She started to hand the picture back as he replied. “I told you. Tanaka-san and I were actually good friends.” She almost dropped the picture. Adrian had been friends with her mentor? Adrian’s hand darted out and caught the picture. He returned it to its drawer and sat back down.

“You knew Tanaka-sensei?”

She’d been given less than a day to prepare and to make her choice. In 24 hours, the Daedalus was scheduled to leave begin accelerating out of the Solar System forever and Lillian would either be on it or she wouldn’t. It wouldn’t likely make any difference to the crew and it surely wouldn’t make any difference to the ship itself. But it would make a huge difference to Lillian.

She was still a girl, just ready to start high school. Yet she’d been selected for an apprenticeship on one of the gateships. It was truly an honor. She had to wonder though. Why her?

She first got the message late in the evening. She would have to send back a reply by the following morning. If she was to join the Daedalus, she would have to be at the departure point by local noon to catch the last crew shuttle. She decided to sleep on it.

Her dreams were strange, as they often had been since her forced exodus from Earth. Dreams of being chased by some unstoppable force, bent on destroying her. Not human kind in general, as had nearly been the case, but her in specific. Those at least seemed reasonable enough–at least according to the doctors with their fancy degrees on the wall. Everyone had dreams of being chased. And she’d already lived through more than most her age.

Other dreams were about a strange blue woman trying hard to tell her something. Something dreadfully important. But no matter how hard the blue woman tried to speak, nothing came out but a curious warbling wail that Lillian could barely stand to listen to. Those were more interesting, but the doctors didn’t tell her what they thought of those. What use where doctors if they didn’t tell you what was wrong? Or how to fix it?

Her final dream of the night, and the only one she actually remembered upon waking was a dream of swimming. But not swimming as she had done those years ago back on Earth, but rather swimming deep in the heart of space. She’d pass around planets and stars, swimming through the dust from which all things had come. The dust to which they all would one day return. Swimming through a sea of stars.

When she awoke, she knew. She would go on the Daedalus.

She arrived at the designated point a little short of an hour early. The whole area was nearly deserted, almost creepily so. The only other human being, so far as she could tell, was an elderly (at least from her perspective) looking Japanese gentlemen, sitting calmly on one of the benches with his eyes closed–apparently taking a nap.

She carefully rolled her bag over next to the man. That one bag contained all of her worldly possessions. The books from her mother that she’d managed to bring with her. A small computer that was designed to be used by younger hands that the school had given her for having such high marks last year. Everything else, she’d left behind. There would be clothing and other such supplies given to her on the Daedalus when she arrived.

She sat next to the Japanese man and studied him. He wasn’t actually as old as she’d first thought. Still much older than her, he had a number of wrinkles and his hair was starting to go gray, but the main reason she’d thought him older was his height. Looking more carefully, she noted that he was just unusually short rather than bent from age. If he were to stand back to back with her, he wouldn’t be more than a half dozen centimeters taller.

“You know,” he said without opening his eyes, “it’s not polite to stare.”

Startled, Lillian jerked back. Other than his mouth, the Japanese man hadn’t moved a muscle. “I’m sorry.”

When the man didn’t respond or make any sort of movement at all, she thought that she must have just imagined the first response. Still, he was starting to creep her out. She started to get up and move to another seat. But again he spoke without any other sign of movement, “little one, what do they call you?”

“Sir?”

He turned his head towards her, but only very slightly. If she hadn’t been watching so closely, she was sure she would have missed the movement entirely. “Your name. What is your name?”

“Lillian, sir. Lillian Shaw.”

His eyes opened completely and he turned to look at her. First just his head and then his upper body followed along. Lillian froze when she say his eyes. They were pale blue–the color of a cloudless sky. She thought back to all of the other Japanese men that she’d seen both when she’d lived on Earth and after. None of them had such piercing blue eyes, had they? She couldn’t be completely sure, but she didn’t remember any such.

“Lillian Shaw you say,” his voice was quick and his English was very precise. He spoke without a hint of an accent, but there was just a hint that English wasn’t his first language. He spoke it too well. “I once knew a Shaw. Jason Shaw, I believe it was.”

“Jason Shaw is…” she hesitated. “was my father.”

The man bowed his head. “I’m sorry. I only met him once, but he seemed to be a good man.”

“He was,” she knew she sounded defensive, but she couldn’t help it.

The Japanese man didn’t reply. He merely watched Lillian and waited. For what, she hadn’t the slightest idea. They stood like that for what felt like hours (although likely wasn’t more than a minute or two) before finally, Lillian had to speak. She thought carefully about what to say, but eventually she asked the first thing that had popped into her mind. “Sir? You know my name now. It’s only fair that you tell me yours.”

The Japanese man threw back his head and laughed. “Oh, I think we’re going to get along just fine, little one. You can call me Tanaka. For you Tanaka-sensei.”

“Sir?”

“I’m going to be your teacher.”

By all accounts, Tanaka-sensei was an excellent teacher. He knew the systems on the Daedalus better than he knew himself and everything he knew, he passed along to Lillian. At first, she couldn’t remember more than the barest fraction of what he told her–and he refused to let her right anything down. In an emergency, there is no time for notes, he always said and made her commit everything to memory.

At first, she made mistakes. She would remember everything up to a point and then blank out completely, even if she had know the subject perfectly just the day before. But as they days turned into weeks and the weeks into year, she learned. And by the time the Daedalus finally reached the Centauri system? She understood.

His reliance on memory wasn’t Tanaka-sensei’s only oddity however, not by a long shot. He was meticulous in both his professional and personal life, almost to a fault. Every piece of equipment he ever used had a place in his shop and it was always exactly where he needed it to be. Luckily, Lillian was neat to start with and needed little training in this regard.

Perhaps Tanaka-sensei’s most interesting quirk was his tendency to talk to the machines he was working with as he worked with them. No matter what he was doing–from fixing the smallest broken shower head in the locker rooms to working in the great fusion engines that drove the ship to the stars–he always talked to the machines. And he always treated them with respect. Most were amused by this and a few seemed to think it downright odd, but no one actually went out and asked him why he did it. No one, that is, except a young girl who didn’t know any different.

“Because one day the machines will rise up against us,” was his reply. “Maybe tomorrow, maybe next year, or maybe not for a thousand lifetimes. But whenever they do, I want them to look back at all those hours we spent together and smile. Perhaps then I will survive the coming robot uprising.”

Lillian just smiled and shook her head at the crazy old Japanese man. But she started talking to the machines as well. And she was always polite.

Over the five years that they shared on the Daedalus, Tanaka and Lillian grew to be more than just mentor and student, they grew to be friends. Towards the last few weeks of the voyage, when his health began to fail, Lillian took on more and more of his official duties although she remained an apprentice by rank.

Just a week before system entry, when they were already measuring the planets as closely as they could moving at an appreciable fraction of the speed of light towards them, Tanaka-sensei slipped into a coma. Lillian was given a field promotion to full mechanical staff and fulfilled both her own role on the ship as well as the hole that her mentor had left.

One week after the ship arrived in the Centauri system and took up orbit around Centauri III–an orbit where it would remain indefinitely so far as the first colonists were concerned–Tanaka-sensei pass on from this world. He hadn’t woken since first slipping into the coma.

It was a heavy blow to Lillian. She’d come to see Tanaka-sensei as a father figure and had come to love him dearly and now–just as she had all those years ago–she lost another father. She spent days moping about in her room on the Daedalus, until one day a week after Tanaka’s death–and after the funeral–an envelope arrived for her carried by a small courtier robot. On it where written her name in a flowing hand than few if any in the this age of computers could master and a simple pair of Japanese characters. Tanaka’s name.

In the envelope where two letters. She carefully opened the first and almost dropped it in surprise when she figured out what it was. It was a personal letter from Tanaka-sensei.

Lillian Shaw,

I write this letter knowing that I am dying and that it is unlikely that I will even reach the Centauri system. In the years that we had, I have given you what I could and you took all that I had to offer. I know that such abilities will serve you well. You are truly the best student that I have ever had the opportunity to teach.

If I may give you one final piece of advice: Request a position on the Borealis. It will be the next gateship to leave Sol and you will have a chance to make a name for yourself if you journey with her.

As a final gift, I’ve written you a letter of recommendation. If an old, now dead, gateship mechanic has any sway with the powers that be, hopefully this latter may help you follow your hopes and dreams.

Best of luck.

Tanaka

PS. Remember to say thank you.

She looked up and, seeing the courier bot that had delivered the robot still standing there as if waiting for something. She did indeed thank it with a smile on her face and the first trace of tears in her eyes. The bot bobbed slightly and went off on its way to whatever next mission it had to accomplish.

The second letter was exactly as Tanaka-sensei had described it, a glowing letter of recommendation. She could feel the blood rushing to her cheeks as she read it and had to skip through the final part quickly before she felt she would catch fire.

From conversations she’d overheard while working to fix the comm station several months prior, she knew that Tanaka-sensei had more than a little pull with a great many people. Particularly within the gateship program. With a letter like that, she could have any post that she wanted.

But she already knew where she was headed. Really, there was no choice at all. She was going to the Borealis.

She looked up and caught Adrian wiping at his eyes as well. “Yes. Yes, I did,” he said after a moment. “And unless the heavens themselves open up and prove me wrong, I refuse to believe that any student of Tanaka’s could have something like this.”

She couldn’t think of any way to respond to that, so she just waited.

After a moment, he cleared he throat and went on. “But that makes it all the more likely that you’re the target. And I still want to know why.”

Lillian nodded. Of course it was all well and good that he finally believed her, but it really meant nothing in the long run if they didn’t find and catch the one who was actually responsible. Speaking of which…

“You were saying something about finding people breaking into my system?” she asked.

“Oh. Right.” He really did forget… “Well, I was tracing back through my system and I found a set of digital finger prints, as it were. Someone had tried to erase them, but I know my system better than anyone. That’s how I found your friend out.”

He isn’t going to be happy to hear that, she thought, but kept her mouth shut.

Adrian went on, “But what was curious was the way that he’d hidden the tracks. There was a sort of echo in the logs that they were hiding in. They probably didn’t think twice about it, it’s a common enough phenomenon in system like this.”

She wasn’t sure what he meant, but nodded anyways. Hopefully Adrian would get to the point sooner rather than later.

“The thing is,” he went on, “there shouldn’t have been an echo. At least not in this particular case. Like I said, I know my system.” He didn’t say it like he was being particularly immodest–more like it was the pure honest truth. “So I dug deeper. It turns out, he wasn’t the first one into your security system. I went in deep and pulled out everything I could find. It turns out, he was the third.”

“Jacobs and the thief,” she murmured under her breath, and then to Adrian, “but then who’s the third?”

He looked up at her, his eyes twinkling and expression bright. He actually seemed to be enjoying this! “That’s what’s so puzzling. And as far as I can tell, none of the three would have had any idea that the other two were in the system. Even though at least two of them were mucking about at the same time.”

“You can tell all of that?” Lillian knew a little about computers, but this was well out of her league. If he had said that he could make the computers dance a merry jig while telling him about the break-ins, she wouldn’t have much reason to doubt him. Other than the lack of feet on the computers of course.

He nodded with a smile. “With a little bit of work, yes.”

“So who were they?” she asked, ready to go after whoever it was, protocol be damned. They may have returned the briefcase, but they still had Jacobs’ binders.

He leaned back in his chair and sighed. “Unfortunately, I have no idea. When Jacobs went in to cover his own tracks, he covered up what was already there. All I can tell you is that one of the other two had physical access to your door panel and the other did not. I have no idea who they were.”

“Yes. One of them would have had to physically use the panel outside of your room. That gets them around a lot of the system-wide security so that they can focus a little more closely. The other one took over the system remotely.”

Lillian honed in on the last bit. That sounded non-trivial, didn’t it? “How hard would that be?”

Adrian seemed to follow her thoughts well enough, which was impressive in itself. Many didn’t. “I could do it. Jacobs probably could…” His voice suddenly dropped to a conspiratorial tone. “although don’t tell him I said that.” Lillian nodded agreement quickly enough, he had a big enough head as it was. As she did, Adrian continued in his normal voices, “Other than that, I can’t think of anyone.”

Lillian felt her eyebrows lifting. So there was someone on the ship that had managed to hide their talents from the security team. That didn’t bode well, particularly if the break in was somehow related to the explosions… Lillian truly hoped that wasn’t the case. It was just too much to consider. She didn’t want to wake up in pieces from some third attack. That was the sort of thing that could really put a damper on one’s day.

“So what about the physical access?” she asked, mostly to take her mind away from thoughts of destruction. “Who could have done that.”

Adrian shrugged, clearly uncomfortable. “Most of the people on the station.” It sounded almost like it hurt him to admit it. “It’s really not that hard to break into a system if you can get physical access and don’t mind breaking a few rules.” That was a sobering thought–if locks couldn’t keep out a determined sort of person, then what could?

Thinking back to all of what he’d said, the end result hit me harder than I would have expected. “So basically what you’re saying is that you don’t know who either of these people are?”

“No,” he said with a sign.

Lillian shook her head. “That’s less than I was hoping to hear.” Although knowing that she was looking for two people rather than one was something at least. Not good by any means. But something.

“I’m sorry,” he replied. And then as if by some sort of consolation. “But don’t worry, I’m still working on it.”

She stood to go. As she stepped out, he called after her. “Oh, and Lillian? Be careful who you trust.”

She left without responding.