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The Six Little Pigs

Posted on Tue Jul 20th, 2021 @ 11:56pm by Commanding Officer Mickey Serendipity & Executive Officer Kenneth McTigue & Passenger Emma Yonkers

Mission: A Knife In The Darkness
Location: SS Albatross Interior, Cargo Cell.
Timeline: A few weeks out from Saturn on route to Pluto

They didn't look dangerous, sat in their foam-lined packing crates. They didn't even look like the sleek aerodynamic cones you saw in the vids, resembling more of an overly complicated coffee maker. Spherical ball at one end with complicated wiring dotting its surface, then a chubby cylinder twice as long banded with heat sinks and coolant lines. Input jacks for computer feeds were marked here and there.

The only thing that marked the Fragmentary Assistant Device out as something other than docile equipment was the radiation trefoil on its casing and the large locking ring at one end. A ring that would have mated perfectly with the ablative heat shield faring and ejection mechanism of an Artemis III intercontinental guided missile.

"Anyone else feel the ghosts that this thing could have made tapping on their shoulders?" Mickey asked, looking down at his terminal as he flicked through the 'short form' 90 page document on periodic maintenance on the FAD. It didn't help that the document kept mentioning the Constitutional Alliance Of American States, an organisation Mickey had had to look up. "I mean one of these things wiped out Cleveland in the 2100s during The Troubles."

Attempting not to glair at the pair, Emma spoke up after swallowing hard, "I grew up with these hanging over our heads. In school I remember the drills, racing out of the classrooms to the hardened underground bunkers. Each day listening to the news for any hint that they might cut the cord and let them fall." She turned and spit, the glob of saliva sailing away to splatter against the cargobay's main airlock door.

"Couldn't just leave it to die in the cold of space, can we?"

"Can you not spit on my ship?" Ken sighed as he saw the liquid spatter in .3G slow motion. "And we both know that Mars had nukes ready to strike Earth just the same. I remember the same drills in school. Except we didn't have hardened bunkers, we were given the ballpark estimation of safe/dead." There wasn't heat or frustration in Ken's voice, only the agreement that nukes suck. "But luckily these ones are going to be used for science, or OPA idiots if we run into pirates."

"Yeah all we need it to get hit by pirates out here in the black. I hate being past Saturn. To far away from real air for my tastes." Emma just shrugged at the spitting question. "Oh I know, still you're not looking at the one that had your name on it..."

"Maybe we can get one of the guys on Kronos to let you punch the trigger, for cathartic reasons." Ken grinned. "What do you think Mick?"

"I think we're getting paid to lug a paperweight with a uranium core to Kronos where a software sync will turn it into a very exciting paper weight," Mickey mumbled as he flipped through the manual. "And aren't all the Martian stealth boomer's named after the continents they're aimed at? I seem to recall a Fleet Week on Mars where a news crew got actual footage of the MCRN Eurasia slipping into its docking berth."

He grunted something and handed the terminal to Ken.

"Can't see a Panel B on that thing, but it keeps saying 'unhinge Panel B to access I/O port for software inspection'," Mickey said.

Ken took the terminal and nodded. "Yeah, lemme take a look." He put the terminal on the edge of the case before rotating the cylinder and pushing against the lower heatsink. "These things tend to slip slightly." With the heatsink out of the way Ken revealed the Panel B.

"As a taxpayer, I'm thrilled to hear that these things 'slip a little'. Makes me feel safe," Mickey said as he leaned in. The panel unhinged and revealed a pretty standard looking data socket. Even the military-industrial complex used industry standards it seemed. A second later said the socket was stuffed with a data tether, and the terminal in his hand beeped happily that the hard drive buried somewhere within the retired nuke was as empty as a politicians conscience.

"One down," Mickey said as he shook his head and spooled the tether back up. "Five to go. We'll box this guy back up and move onto his kin."

Ken secured the little machine of doom back into the smart-foam cradle. "You know military gear. Made by the lowest bidder. Especially applicable for the most important devices."

"That's not as reassuring as you think it is," Mickey said. The next crate looked the same as the last, but when it opened revealed a FAD that had not had the best of lives. This one had been beaten by its previous partners, ripped out of a loving MRV warhead family, and slammed into a box. Its case was dull, scuffed in places, and...

" that rust?" Mickey asked, leaning close to look at the connector bracket at one end.

Leaning over to look at the one Mickey was monkeying with, Emma laughed, "Yeah it really looks like it. Though just remember you can drop these or hit them with hammer and it won't go off... but..." She scooted over to another one and started doing what she watched Ken do, as if that distance would keep her safe.

"Lovely," Mickey grumbled as he waited for Emma to move the civilian nuke around to expose the data port. Like the rest of the device, it looked old. But thankfully a few things that had remained standard across the centuries was data ports. The input cable slid in easily enough, and Mickey shook his head. "Maybe we can charge the ISA for fixing up their FAD-"

A dull whine began to resonate from the Fragmentation Assistance Device, and computer gibberish began to play across the terminal's screen.

"Whoa!" the CO snapped at the nuke. "This things got the software running on it."

"Let me look." Ken said as he took the terminal from the captain. His eyes ran across the actively deploying lines of code. "Well, that's not good..." The engineer mused. "So, uh, could someone grab me a hammer?" He asked casually.

"Because something made in Russia needs a hammer?" Mickey asked, turning and rummaging through the tool kit. Oddly enough there was a hammer within it.

"Umm... Maybe don't hit the thermonuclear bomb with a fucking hammer... Hmmm maybe we should... I don't know, maybe it is all that Marine training I got back in the Corps, but... I don't know... just turn it off?" Emma pointed at the red button on the side of the display that was labeled kill switch. "Or is that one of you Stupid Earth jokes that you guys put into things all the time?"

"Well Yonkers, if you ever get the appropriate training to work with these units. The kind they gave me, you'd know that that red button doesn't kill this particular sequence." Ken explained as he took the hammer and struck the connector mount, launching it into the internal cavity of the unit. This action effectively destroyed the processors inside, neutralising the weapon. "That bit of code we saw running was the Zero Day priming sequence. The kind they send when the C&C centre doesn't want grunts on at the sites to cancel. It's purposefully made so nobody can disable it when triggered." He then looked at the hammer, "Unless you can get to the warhead installed deep in the fuselage. It triggering is due to this being made in Russia at a time where quality control was done by giving the QC officer an extra bottle of vodka instead of a checklist." Ken mimicked the thickest Russian accent, "Da, looks good comrade. More vodka!"

"From the people that brought you the Tu-22," Mickey said. "Look worst this thing can do is detonate its shaped charges. Triggers and the nuclear core is safe on the barge, so we could have just tossed it out of an airlock and let it go out in style."

He thought for a second.

"You know the ISA is going to want us to pay for that?"

"No time for an airlock." Ken dismissed the remark out of hand. "Besides, we're not going to pay for that. The testing sequence is part of the contract, and there is a fault-mitigation clause in it. This was a UNN authorised technique to fix this issue." Ken then cracked a smile, "Besides, you kind of wanted to use the hammer yourself, didn't you?"

"No. No I was content to not get blown to pieces," Mickey sighed. "Four more to go."

Ken produced a terminal of his own. "Let's get cracking then."

Shaking her head again, Emma went over to another package and started going through the necessary work to make sure it was as Mickey said, a scary paperweight. It took a bit of prying to pop the panel off since it was properly rusted, and possibly vacuum wielded, but using a screw driver as a pry bar and a spanner as a hammer she got it open.

"You remember that Chinese place in Lunagrad? The one with the cookies?" Mickey said. "I always got this same prediction in my fortune cookie. 'Big surprise in small packages'."

This time the terminals test program didn't start a count down to a dud going off.

"Do they have Chinese food on Mars? I hear tofu is a art form," Mickey asked.


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