Tuesday, October 22, 2013

The Guardians' Last Stand

    I throw myself into the bunker behind Jed.

    Pulsar bolts ricochet from the titanium walls, draw sparks from our armoured heels.

    “Gettin’ bad out there,” says Jed, thudding into a mangled blaster console.  “Gooks must be sendin’ in the cavalry.”

    “We gotta get help.  Lemme flag up a rescue squad.”

    Jed’s eyes flash at my comm-hub from under his protec-goggs.  “With an A52?  You gotta be kidding!”

    “It’s an A53.  So, no problem.”

    Jed shakes his head.  “That’s no A53.  Where’s the chrome trim round the buttons?”

    I flip the comm-hub over and indicate the specs on the rear panel.  “Look, see — A53.  It’s got the genuine Commtech Hubware digital seal, light-up serial number and signal boost upgrade code.”

    “So how come it looks like an A52?  I coulda sworn—”

    Outside the bunker, bombs rain down; the poisoned air shakes with screams.

    I tip back my head and laugh.  “It’s a mod. Like, kinda retro.  I dunno, maybe it’s just me, but I kinda liked the look and feel of the A52.  It’s chunkier, more authentic.  Plus, I don’t like the buttons on the A53.”

    “You kidding?”  Jed slips off his gauntlet and digs inside his pocket for his comm-hub.  “How can you not like buttons like these babies?  They’ve got a real smooth action, and the rounded edges give them an arty look, like it’s a music player or wAnkaida.”

    A loud blast bowls us onto our backs.

    “The buttons are precisely what put me off the A53.”  I cup my bleeding forehead, watch the scarlet droplets kiss the bunker’s acid-ravaged floor.  “It’s like some designer guy has said hey let’s see if I can figure a way to make the buttons on this device look like they’ve been ported in from some other piece of tech — and then gone and sourced the absolute worst kind of buttons he can lay his hands on.”

    “I disagree on two points there.”  Jed pulls off his protec-goggs and scowls right at me.  “First, there’s no way any tech company would ever employ a designer with that kind of mindset.  The scenario you envisage is just insubordination gone crazy.”

    “The designer might be freelance.  That would explain how he could go source any buttons he wants.”

    Clods of shrapnel machete the bunker portal.

    “Point taken.  But why would he deliberately source the worst buttons?  You’re mixing up this guy’s personal values of cosmetic taste and whatnot with preferences of your own.”

    Instinctively, I key my wife’s holo-specs into my comm-hub.  “With all due respect, Sir, I think you’re mistaken.  Look how easy this thing is to use.  I’m gliding here.”

    “It’s no better than mine, pal.”  Jed’s fingers beat down hard on his cherished comm-hub buttons.  “I can get any number, any contact, quick as a flash.”

    K W I K - A S - A - F L A S H

    A heavily armoured Gook Exterminato-bot clambers through the shattered bunker portal.

    “What is it, Sam?  I’m busy in the hypergalactomarket right now.”  Even on a tiny screen, my wife looks beautiful as ever. 

    “Hey, it’s nothin’, hon.  I was just debatin’ a moot point with Jed is all.”

    “Hell, Sam, if it’s nothing, why in blazes did you call me?”

    Jed grabs my comm-hub.  “Heya Suzy.  Listen, maybe you can help us out here.  Your butt-head of a husband has an issue with the buttons on theA53.  Says they’re real crap an’ all whereas I say they’re real arty.  You got a take on this?”

    Lights flash on Jed’s comm-hub.  “Hi there.  A34-62b Pizzas.  How can I help you today?”

    “You can’t, right now,” says Jed, slapping a palm to his forehead.  “We’re right in the middle of shit, but thanks for your call.”

    I grab Jed’s shoulder.  “Don’t hang up just yet.  Maybe we should get some food ported in for when this is all over.”

    “Yeah,” says Suzy.  “If you can get a decent lunch then that will save me cooking a big meal later.”

    I F - Y O U - C A N - G E T - A - D E C E N T - L U N CH

    Jed recoils from the stomp of the Exterminato-bot’s spiked boot.  “Lucky we’re fixing this on my comm-hub.  Keying in our location with your goddamn retro buttons would take an age.”

    My brain kicks into gear.  “Wait.  If we both order pizzas at the same time, you on your comm-hub, me on mine, then we’ll have the objective proof we need to settle the argument once and for all.”

    “Shucks,” says Suzy.  “I guess it’s goodbye then?”

    “Till later, hon, I guess.”

    “Before I go, what kind of pizza are you guys ordering in?  If it’s salami and  cheese, there’s no point me fixing up salami and cheese for dinner later.  Hold on.  Waitaminute—”

    I peer hard at my comm-hub’s hi-rez screen.  “What is it?”

    “They have cheese on special offer.  Two for one.  The stuff you like.  So I’m thinking maybe don’t go for Four Cheese or Goat’s Cheese or anything like that.”

    D O N T - G O - F O R - G O A T S - C H E E S E

    Jed’s severed head cannonballs into the portal ceiling.

    “Just give me a second, hon.  I gotta think about all the carbs here.”

    Lights flash on Jed’s comm-hub.  “Are you guys done ordering yet?  So far I’m taking for two Salami & Cheese, one Goat’s Cheese and two Four Cheese.  And can I just check what you mean by AAAAUUUUUGGGHHHH?  Is that a new brand of mayo or am I swiping alien plastic?”

    “Nope.  Just my commander’s head flying off.”

    “Is he pissed with you again?” says Suzy.  “Sounded real fired up about the A53 deal, like he had a chip on his shoulder about it or something.”

    “No kiddin’.”  I cup both comm-hubs in my hands.  “It’s plain as day to me that my modded, chunky A52 style buttons are way easier to use than Jed’s rounded A53 efforts.”

    “Hey,” says the pizza guy, staring from comm-hub to comm-hub, “is the lady ordering too?”

    “What do you think?” says Suzy.  “Is it worth ordering four pizzas while you have the guy online?  Two for you and Jed, and two more for dinner later while we take in a show?”

    A squirt of blood squishes in my eye from Jed’s pulsating neck wound.  “No hon, Jed really has had his head ripped off.”

    My comm-hub falls silent for a moment as Suzy puts on her thinking face.  “Ok, then go with three,” she says, and flashes her eyes at the pizza guy.  “Any special offers on threesomes?”

    A N Y - S P E C I AL - O F F E R S - O N - T H R E E S O M E S

    The pizza guy blushes.   “Not today, madam.”  He adjusts his spotted dickie bow tie and gazes up at me.  “If I might be so impertinent, I have an observation to make about your comm-hub issue.”

    My eyebrows prick up.  “Shoot.”

    “Are you right- or left-handed, Sir?

    “That’s not a question that really applies to me—”

    “Well, here’s the thing.  You appear to have your own comm-hub in your favoured hand, while I’m sitting here in your left, all of which sorta gives your modded A52 buttons something of an unfair advantage in the hand-eye co-ordination department.”

    “Hey, watch your mouth, kid!”  My wife’s face flares red.  “I’ll have you know my husband is hooked up with the most elite gook-bustin’ space commando troop this side of the Marveducci Sun!  You don’t get anywhere near that level if’n one of your hands is less good than the other!  My husband is as ambidextrous as it’s possible to be without cyborg-enhancements, which, for the record, son, he’s too proud to have fitted to his limbs — all of which he was about to tell you before you butted the hell on in.”

    “Ok, my bad,” says the pizza guy.  “Run the test then maybe we can fix you up with some pizzas.  On the house.








    Mr space commando guy?”

    “He has a NAME, kid.”

    “Sorry.  Madam.  Make that double free pizzas.”

    “Sam, what do you think?  Are we going Four or Goat or what?”

    “Yeah.  I could sure do with taking your order right now.  We got a long queue outside the Thru-U-Airzippa Port.”

    “Sam?  Sam?  Where in hell are you, Sam?”

    “Hope you don’t mind me butting in again, madam, but if memory serves me correctly, one of the bugaboos with modding an A53 — particularly either the main console or the external input interface — is that sometimes the signals can get re-routed via an out-planet server.  When that happens, one of two things can glitch out.  First, the battery runs down real quick and the onboard chip initiates a shut-down of non-essential information and services, which might explain the loss of signal from your husband’s in-helm vox-o-pod.  However, my guess is that’s not the case because there’s been no fizzing sound — which is what you normally hear when your battery’s just about to die.  So I’m figuring it’s scenario two: a mechanical fault involving one or more of your husband’s modded buttons that has alerted the onboard security bot to a possible unauthorised user scenario and booted the whole comm-hub down as a precautionary measure.  It’s essentially the same effect as a battery failure, only without the fizzing sound.”

    “I hear what you’re saying, but the comm-hubs issued by the military don’t work in quite the same way as their civilian counterparts, as I’m sure Sam will confirm when he resets the rear panel emergency security scenario console flipper switch array.  If there’s any kind of security breach, any half decent A-series comm-hub self-destructs rather than booting down.”

    “You sure?”

    “Yeah.  Like the fizzing sound you say precedes a battery failure, the security breach software emits a beep before it releases the acid from the comm-hub rescue vault.  Sam showed me once.  Hell, I’ll never forget it — he damn near ruined the  tiles in our conservatory.  It’s a beep beep, a kinda beep beep beep — a real funny sound, I just can’t get it.”

    “Hey, that’s weird.  Sounds like the beep we get here on the lock doors over the refuse disposal hangar.  Weird thing is, the system is made by the same people who rig the A-series comm-hubs.  I was down there the other day when the alarm went off.  Kinda like a beep beep beep.  Like a beep beep beep.  Hell, that’s so hard to do.”

    “That second beep, do you mean like a beep beep or a beep beep?”

    “Hmm.  I don’t think it’s either one.  It’s more like a beep beep.”


    “Like a beep beep.”

    “Hmm.  No.  Go with the first one again.”

    “Like a beep beep.”

    “No, you’ve changed it.”

    “ (cough) Ok.  Sorry.  Like a beep beep?”

    “Hmm.  Now I’m getting real confused.  I didn’t hear a beep beep anyways.  So are you sure it’s a security breach?  Maybe there’s a third option.”

    “Maybe, but can you hold on for a second, madam.  I have a guy here needs to order and he’s getting kinda flustered.”

    “Okay, no problem.”

    “Sorry for the delay, Sir.  We’re kinda busy tonight.  What can I get you?”

    “Huh, lemme see.  Can I get a twelve inch tuna & chilli, a couple garlic breads, a small tub of Virvidian Weasel Pee, and maybe some fries?”

    “Hey, pizza guy.  Can you turn your volume down for a second?  I’m picking up everything your customer is saying.”

    “Hell, lady.  I been listening in to you two for the past five minutes.  But here’s the thing — maybe I can help out here.  I’m a tech guy.  Can I take this comm-hub while you fix the pizzas, son?”

    “Hey, go right ahead, Sir.”

    “Okay, name’s Bob.”

    “Pleased to meet you Bob.  I’m Suzy.”

    “And I’m Quentin.”

    “D’ya hear that, Suzy?”


    “Okay, so Quentin’s comm-hub is picking him up from five feet away because he has the volume boost maxed out — for your music, right?”

    “Yes, Sir.”

    “Whereas, your problem over there is that you can’t pick up your husband’s in-helm vox-o-pod because we’ve figured there’s a glitch with his modded A53, maybe a battery failure or a security issue, right?”


    “What kind of comm-hub are you using?”

    “It’s an A51 my husband modded before he modded the A53.”

    “Okay.  Do you know what mods he modded?  If it’s buttons or screen there’s no problem, but if he’s messed with the insides then it may be that the problem is coming from your end rather than the modded A53.”

    “Excuse me, Sir, but did you say twelve inch or ten inch for the tuna & chilli pizza?”

    “Twelve, please.”

    “Thank you, Sir.”

    “Maybe he did mess with the insides, I dunno.  What I can tell you for sure is that the buttons and screen look perfectly normal.  They have the same real round edges Sam hated on the A52, though of course, the screen is a couple of millimetres wider.”

    “Okay, so we’re looking for the volume boost maxer option.  The volume is set real low on an A51 to filter out background noise, so maybe if you adjust the factory settings we can crank it up and get a handle on your husband’s signal.”

    “Got it.  Which menu screen do I use?  Settings or Options?”

    “If you go into Settings and scroll down, you’ll see a box called Volume Boost Maxer.  Click on that and boost the slider to max.”

    “Okay...I got Settings, but no Volume Boost Maxer.”

    “You sure?”
    “Sure I’m sure.”

    “That’s okay, we can fix this the back way via Options.”

    “Here’s your order, Sir.  That’ll be five hundred creds.”

    “Okay, here’s my card.  Listen up, Suzy, I gotta go real soon.  Quentin needs his comm-hub back and if I stay here at the head of the queue any longer, the guys behind me are gonna go berserkoid.  Maybe if we swap numbers I can call you back in five minutes and we can get this sorted?”

    “Make it ten.  I’m almost at the checkout here in Galacti-bargzz.  Once I’m done I can take your call in my Airzippa.”

    “Any chance you can wait outside?”

    “Why so?”

    “I’m running a C87 here and the off-world tech guys are involved in a whole bunch of industrial action.  It’s been a nightmare day tryin’ to keep pace with the disruption on the network, particularly with signal uploads to the comm consoles  in light family hoppers like the Airzippa.  We can try it, but I don’t think my signal will make it through today.”

    “Okay, I’ll wait outside.  Call me in ten.”

    “See ya.”

    “Thanks, Quentin.”

    “Have a nice day.  Hope it all works out.”

    “It will.  Between you and me, I figure the problem lies with the lady's modded A51.  If she can’t get Volume Boost Max from Settings then it means she’s running Commtech version 2.45, which never shipped with the early A51s.  If she has an early A51 and it’s been modded—”

    “Oh, yeah, I get it!”

    “Yeah.  Anyhow, you take care.”

    “You too.”


fairyhedgehog said...

I'm not sure if you've been reading too much sci-fi or not enough! I absolutely love those guys debating the various tech specs of their comms instead of actually calling up a rescue squad!

Whirlochre said...

It's a myth that I read anything at all...