Science Fiction

Learning to Fly – Chapter 1.4

It turned out that re-configuring government tech to support an illegal cellular network for a criminal slum lord took a little bit longer than Rehki thought it would.  The BMC had designed the interfaces to operate inside the slums, knowing full well that techs and non-techs would try to cannibalize them at some point.  They installed bypasses and security locks on just about everything so that any hacker couldn’t just code their way in and start listening to phone calls.  Instead of acting like a hacker, Rehki imagined she was a BMC tech installing a similar interface in mid-town.  Between her technical skills and a couple of low-level passwords that some disgruntled BMC employee had leaked onto the Net, she was able to access the interface and get to work.

Using a few cards she pulled from burner phones that Vimul had provided, she tricked the interface into running continuous diagnostics on its security sub-routines which gave her free access to the management system.  Within minutes, she created her new network and set it up with the strongest encryption the interface would support.  Next, she modified the encryption sub-routines and planted a custom fail-safe that started streaming a copy of every piece of data in the new network to a cloud data bank she’d setup years ago.  Finally, she programmed the protocols needed to extend the network to the other interfaces throughout the slum.  With the click of a button, the interface board blazed green, and her new network went live.  All that work had taken her a few hours to complete, and she wiped a streak of sweat from her brow. 

“Is it ready then?” a woman’s voice came from behind her.  Rehki whirled and recognized the woman she’d seen in Arjun’s office, although now she was fully clothed. 

“Y-y-yes,” she stammered, closing up the side panel.   

The woman slithered over to her.  She wore a skin-tight, black leather body suit that hugged every curve of her athletic form.  Raven black hair draped along each side of her face and meshed with the thick, black sunglasses over her eyes.  Rehki thought she was as beautiful as she was terrifying.  The woman stuck an arm out, and in her hand was a pair of burner phones, but all Rehki could focus on was the glock strapped into a holster on her hip.  “Arjun says to program these two first and let me check it.” 

“K,” Rehki murmured as she took the phones.  She pulled out the small piece of paper she’d written the security information on and programmed each phone.   

The woman snatched them out of her hands as she finished, tossed one to Vimul who had never left Rehki’s sight, and placed a test call.  She also pulled a phone out of her own pocket and fidgeted with some app on it.  A moment later she nodded and disconnected the call.  “I’m impressed, little girl,” the woman said.  “I don’t detect the signal at all.  How did you do it?” 

Something inside Rehki told her not to trust this woman in black, the same feeling that had kept her alive on her own for years.  “I read an article about it on the Net.  Some BMC tech had done the same thing up in high-town and managed to listen in on a bunch of his girlfriend’s calls before he got discovered.” 

“Oh, really?” the woman mused as she looked over the burner phone.  “And how do you know we will not be discovered in the same fashion?” 

“That guy didn’t encrypt the traffic to cover his tracks.  I did.” Rehki was impressed by the sophistication of her lie.  She decided that working with criminals made you a better criminal.

The woman nodded and tossed the phone back to her.  “Keep that phone on you at all times.  You don’t sleep, you don’t eat, you don’t shit without that phone next to you.  When I call, you don’t wait, you answer.  Understand?” 

Rehki nodded. “And who are you?” 

“I’m Asha.  I work for Arjun, and you work for me.  That’s all you need to know.  When I call you, what do you do?” 

“I answer.” 

“And if you don’t?” 

Rehki gulped, her gaze fixed on Asha’s gun.  “You pay me a visit?”  Vimul smirked and cracked his knuckles.   

“Very good, gulama,” Asha breathed. 

Rehki bowed.  She was starting to feel sick.  “Can I have my power cell now?” 

“May I.” 

“What?” 

“The proper way to ask, little girl, is, ‘May I have my power cell now?’”  

Rehki knew she was being tested.  You couldn’t live a day in the slum without getting tested by someone who either wanted to take what you had or hurt you to get what they wanted.  “May I have my power cell now?  Please?” 

Asha smirked and gestured to the roof exit.  “Vimul will show you out.” 

Rehki scooped up her tools and duffel bag and skirted towards the door while Asha and Vimul followed close behind.  She could almost feel them breathing down the back of her neck.  Her heart raced.  If they were smart, this was exactly when they should kill her.  She braced for the attack.  When she arrived at the bottom of the stairs and back into the main area of the lounge, she finally exhaled, louder than she cared to.  Asha chuckled.  “It’s out back.”  Without another word, Asha slipped off into the lounge. 

“This way, kid,” Vimul grunted, pointing in the opposite direction.  Rehki was happy to follow.  Vimul pushed on a thick, metal door that opened into a back alley next to the lounge.  On the ground, covered in the same blanket that had covered Asha a few hours before, Rehki saw the thick metal casing of a water-based power call.  She peeked under the blanket and found the solar-cell charger, detached but ready for use.  “Now scram,” Vimul growled and slammed the metal door closed behind him. 

The power cell was about the size of a small refrigerator and just about as heavy.  Rehki knew if she tried to carry it, she’d never make it to the workshop much less back to the warehouse and the spaceship.  She looked around the alley for anything useful.  As luck would have it, she managed to find an old, metal shopping cart that was filled with some of the worst-smelling garbage she’d ever seen.  She sighed, thought about the spaceship, and started to remove the trash.  It took almost ten minutes to get it all out, and she had to stop several times to find fresh air and avoid throwing up.  Once cleared, the cart screeched as the rusted metal wheels moved for the first time in months.  She rolled it closer to the cell, tucked the charger onto the lower shelf, and then used every last bit of strength she had to heave the power cell into the cart.  Somehow, the cart maintained its integrity under the weight.   

Rehki knew that anyone with half a brain would try to steal the cart from her the minute she left the alley, so she picked up the worst smelling pieces of garbage she could find and dumped them back into the cart. Then she covered everything with the blanket and began to push the cart down the alley, the metal creaking noticeably as she went.  The horrid smell surrounded her as she re-entered the streets of hard-town.  As she pushed it towards the warehouse, everyone around her chose to give the young, smelly mongrel a wide berth. 

Rehki could feel the weight of the burner phone in her pocket, tethering her to Arjun, Asha, Vimul and the sleazy world behind her.  She knew the only way to escape from them and this life was lying under a pile of debris on the other side of the slum.  Despite all that, Rehki had to keep from laughing in delight as she pushed her new power cell out into the warm, afternoon sun. 

About Bradford W Wendel