Art by Mackenzie Holman, 2021.
The room we entered was dimly lit, only illuminated by a small hydrogen light bulb hanging from the ceiling. The workshop was overflowing with tech, disassembled androids, and broken computers. A small workbench sat in the corner, a monitor and a hard drive glowing on top of its dirty, metal surface.
“The bag?” Anya held her hand out to me.
I handed her the package and she carefully began unwrapping its contents.
“Any complications in the facility?”
“Just a surveyor droid,” I shrugged. “But I managed to take him out with a blaster bolt. I avoided most of the security through the vents.
“We were lucky,” Sal said.
Anya chuckled, “Lucky? I built those vents. It’s thanks to my hard work that Cayd managed to sneak in. Well, and a bit of his skill, I suppose.”
Sal rolled his eyes.
“What is it?” I asked, hoping to change the subject before this turned into another argument.
Anya had removed most of the cloth and plastic sheets covering the contents of the bag. Sitting on the desk was a small, circular container of sorts. It was no larger than the barrel of a gun, yet thin enough to fit beneath a door frame.
“A storage disk,” Anya examined it’s shining chrome finish. “It’s an older model. From 2900 or so… The information on it must be just as old.”
“Hargun said it was valuable!” Sal exclaimed, “All we got was this moldy thing?”
“While I tend not to trust Hargun on everything, old doesn’t necessarily mean cheap,” Anya pressed her finger lightly on Sal’s nose, “and information is often more valuable than money.”
Sal rubbed his nose sheepishly, and Anya walked over to her monitor.
“Can you get the information out of it?” I asked.
Anya plugged the disk into a slot in one of her computers and began typing furiously on the touch screen keyboard, “My computer should be able to download and display the data…”
She clicked a few buttons on her panel, then straightened her posture, “Aha!”
A small window popped up on the monitor with the words “Project Aria” displayed in big, bold letters.
“It’s a government file…” Anya muttered as she scrolled through the window.
“On what?” I asked, leaning over her shoulder.
“I don’t know. Some sort of scientific program…” she clicked a file and a crisscross of dots and lines illuminated on the screen. “What’s this?”
Sal placed his hand on Anya’s shoulder and leaned over, “Some sort of star map. We studied this sort of stuff at the pilot’s academy, for navigation and whatnot.”
“Well what’s it showing?” I asked.
Sal’s eyes scanned the screen. “There! That’s the only thing marked on this map. Some sort of star system.”
Anya zoomed in on the system. Just as Sal said, one of the system’s planets was highlighted with a faint blue glow, bolded letters reading “Planet 444: Inhabitable”.
“‘Inhabitable’? What’s that supposed to mean?” Sal asked.
“It means it’s like Earth,” I said. “People can live there.”
“What?” Sal asked. “Wouldn’t we have heard about this sort of thing? Wouldn’t the government announce a discovery like this?”
“Exactly…” Anya seemed to have a realization. “The government is keeping it from us so they can use the planet for themselves. Think about it: all of those resources, fuel, and metals they could use–without the interference of civilians, laws… They can do whatever they want.”
Sal ran his hand through his hair and took a deep breath, “What do we do now? The feds are going to be searching all over for this thing, and they know we have it.”
“We sell it,” Anya said. “There are tons of other governments who’d be willing to pay millions, maybe billions for this kind of information. New Russia, the Republic of China, Japan… A new planet means more resources, more room for people to live, more–”
“Then what, their government exploits it for themselves? We’d be starting some sort of war here,” Sal countered. “I say we use the information. I know a guy who has a lunar ship. With a few mods and a new engine, we could be on our way to a new world of our own! Off this damn rock and in the open air for once.”
“You’re delusional! You know that?” Anya laughed. “You really think that we can make it across space in a lunar rigger? Just three of us? Me stuck on a ship in the middle of space with you two? And my brother? And his family? Huh, ever thought of them?”
“Oh, what good has your brother ever been for you? I’m just looking for a better life for you and…” Sal tripped over his words, “and me. And getting arrested for selling government secrets is certainly not part of that plan!”
“Guys!” I interrupted, “We’re not doing either of those. We need to release the information.”
“What? Release it?” Anya asked.
I sighed, “You heard me. The government has kept this from us for, what, a hundred years now? Anyone should be able to go if they want to. It’s not up to us, and it’s definitely not up to them. Sal, you said it yourself, you want a better life. I bet you there’s thousands of people–millions, in fact–who’d like to rocket themselves off of this sinkhole.”
“You really expect the public to use this for good?” Sal asked.
“No… but he has a point,” Anya remarked. “We’d be just as selfish if we used it for ourselves.”
Sal scratched his head, “We’ll be tracked down for this you know…”
“We’re already wanted,” I said. “What’s a little more of a bounty on our head’s going to do? Especially if we’re on our way across the stars by then…”
I could tell Sal was thinking about his options, weighing the danger and profit of each, as he always does.
Finally, he sighed. “Always so noble, aren’t you?” Sal grumbled. “If we sold it we’d at least get paid.”
Anya’s fingers danced across the keyboard. “I’ll be able to send this to everyone’s mobile devices and gauntlets. It’ll just take a bit of time to upload–”
She was interrupted by a loud pounding on the door.
A gruff voice called from outside, “This is the LSFPD, open up!”
“I’m guessing that’s not a delivery drone…” Sal said.
Anya began typing faster. “You two guard the door! I’ll finish the upload as soon as possible.”
“You’d better hurry,” Sal warned as he grabbed his rifle. “They don’t seem too happy.”
“I can’t really make it go any faster!” Anya yelled as more pounding echoed against the door.
I loaded my pistol and took my position next to the door frame. Sal stood on the other side. He looked like he was ready to club the soldiers with his rifle.
“This is your last warning!” the voice outside the door yelled.
“Anya…” I hissed. “Is it ready?”
“It’s uploaded!” Anya announced in excitement, “I just need to send it–”
The front door burst off its hinges, and a small explosion shook the workshop. Smoke and sparks burst into the room as the three of us were all knocked off our feet.
“Hands in the air!” Several officers emerged from the haze, rifles pointed at our heads.
I coughed and silently followed the orders. Sal dropped his rifle to the ground. The same leading officer entered the building, his eyes continuing to pierce into me through the slit of his helmet.
He held out his hand to Anya as another officer handcuffed her arms behind her back. “I believe you have something of ours.”
“More like you’ve been keeping something from us,” Anya growled.
The leading officer chuckled. “Who is this us?” He scanned the room, “All I see is three criminals living in a dump.”
“We know what’s on the disk,” I said.
“Oh really?” the officer turned to me. “And why would that make any difference? Will people really believe what you say? Who will they trust? The word of a drag racer? An ex-engineer? A lowly thief?” He emphasized each syllable, his diction dripping with disgust. “Or their own government?”
I looked at Anya, noticing that she had started to struggle with the officer holding her. She was slowly managing to back him up into her computer. I gave her a brief look and she returned it with one of her own; she wanted me to keep talking.
Good thing that was my specialty.
I quickly turned back to the lead officer, putting on my best cocky smile, “They might not believe it, but it certainly doesn’t hurt to try. In order to overthrow corruption, you have to start somewhere.” I managed to move closer to him, dragging the officer holding my wrists with me. I was looking him straight in his eyes as I emphasized each word carefully, “Or does that humiliate you? That your secret has been discovered by a drag racer? A hacker? And a lowly,” I spit at his feet, “thief? Who’s going to be hurt more? Us, or your fragile pride?”
The officer curled his lip, “It will hurt you, Cayden Hayes. Trust me,” his eyes were filled with a cold, manic malice, “I will make it hurt. Now this is your last chance, Hayes. Where is the disk? Or this blaster is about to make a dent in your pretty boy forehead.”
I frantically look at Anya, and she gives me a knowing look.
I turned back to the officer, “You lose.”
Anya put her full force behind her, sending her and the officer behind her crashing into the computer. I swung my arms around, sending the officer holding me colliding with him. Sal kicked his officer in the leg, breaking free from his grasp, and lunging towards our rifles.
“Cayd!” He called and tossed me my pistol.
I loaded it and fired in one fluid motion, aiming at an officer on the ground scrambling to grab his own gun, “Anya! Send it out!”
Anya scrambled towards the computer, still handcuffed. Another officer collided with her, slamming her against the wall. Sal turned his rifle around, aiming it at the officer holding Anya. His fingers hover over the trigger, finding the perfect moment to shoot as Anya struggles to break free.
The leading officer growled in frustration, taking a shot at Sal’s rifle, sending his blaster bolt off course, flying towards the single lightbulb on the ceiling. Sparks flew throughout the room, the only light source coming from the computer.
I reloaded again, taking a shot at the leading officer. He fell to the ground, clutching his chest. I took aim at the officer holding Anya, pulling the trigger and he fell to the floor, smoke billowing from his helmet.
Anya rushed back over to her keyboard.
Sal turned back around, aiming his gun at the leading officer. I followed suit.
The room smelled of blaster fire and burnt flesh. The rest of the officer’s comrades laid on the floor, smoke curling from their wounds.
“You don’t know what you’ve started!” The officer had blood trickling from underneath his chestplate. “If you send that out, the world won’t be the same: rebellions, riots, full on insurrection!”
“We’ll take the good and the bad,” I said.
“It’s sent!” Anya called from her desk. “Every device in New America just received the file.”
One by one, each of Anya’s computer monitors and devices sounded with the notification, their screens illuminating the dim light of the workshop. The sounds and lights started closer to the computer, slowly expanding outward until the room was a symphony of notification noise. My own wrist comm flashed before the multi-colored light show seemed to escape into the world outside. We stood in silence for a moment, taking in the sights and sounds.
The leading officer looked down at his own gauntlet as it flashed. He spat a wad of blood onto the ground. “You think you’re so noble, don’t you?”
Anya turned to us, “I’ve had enough with this guy. Ready to go?”
“Where are we going?” Sal said, his face tight with concern. “We’re basically the most wanted criminals in the nation.”
“I don’t know,” Anya said. Then she put her arms around Sal and me, “I guess we’ll be heading into unknown territory.”
Sal smiled, “That’s our specialty, isn’t it?”
And the three of us walked into the chaos erupting in the streets outside.