Terms and conditions apply.

This is a short story based on a session of Diaspora I played with Neal Durando.

Terms and Conditions apply

“Major, What’s a You-Lah?”
“Ewe-Ha?”
“Spelled E U L A sir, Ling Standard Products just sent us a message telling us we are in violation of whatever it is.”
“Offworlder nonsense, just Ignore it Lieutenant.”
“Yessir. Heh the button looks like a trash bucket, Beep!”

Toban Co-Prosperity Sphere customs station. In order to stem the tide of offworld immigrants, the CPS decided to buy a high port and route all incoming traffic through it. The only legal way on or off planet was via a fleet of SSTOs refurbished by Ling Standard Products and operated by the Customs Service. Needless to say, this results in some very long lines. It didn’t help that now the gods damned computers were acting funny.

“Major, it’s not letting me log in anymore.”
“Just turn the damn thing on and off again lieutenant, that always works.”
“I already did it twice sir. It says my account’s been terminated.”
“Major, my terminal’s locked out too!”

Unknown to the hardworking staff, negotiations concerning payment details between the Co-Prosperity sphere and Ling Standard Products had broken down. The CPS was under the mistaken assumption that they could just BUY a fleet of SSTOs and an arsenal of anti-shipping missiles and that meant you owned them. LSP’s position was that this hardware required certified LSP technicians to be operated safely, and that failing to keep up with the service subscription payments would result in a complete nullification of the contract, including a repossession of all physical hardware. The CPS’s retort informed LSP exactly where to stick that contract. They paid for it, and it was theirs now. They’d figure out how to maintain it themselves. Don’t worry about liability, we don’t play those kinds of games down here.

“Captain, the Tobans aren’t responding to our messages.”
“I was afraid this would happen. How many times have you hailed them ensign?”
“This was three sir.”
“Three strikes is enough in pitch-ball. Company gave us root access, start revoking user privileges.”
“Rodger.”

The woman didn’t think it would be possible for the line to move any slower. She was wrong. As the Revenue Cutter’s communications officer began revoking user privileges, the already slow cogs of bureaucracy ground to a complete halt. Already having been here for the good portion of the day (Local Time) she could take no longer. Pushing her way out of line, ignoring the protests of the other refugees, and marching up to the front desk, clearing her throat.

“Excuse me!”
“Please get back in line ma’am, we have the situation under control.”
“Clearly it’s not, I’m a computer person I know how to fix that.”
“What does that woman want.”
“She says she knows how to fix it.”
“Tell her to go away, this is a secure military system.”
“It’s a Ling Standard Products system, there are machines like this all over the cluster. And the security’s clearly working perfectly because it’s keeping you out.”

Before the guards could stop her, the woman vaulted over the desk and pushed the confused Lieutenant Aside. A few deft key-presses latter, she was in. The Tobans had neglected to change the default admin password.

“Wait hey!”
“Alright, I’m in.”
“How did you do that?”
“You never changed the default admin password. It’s all 1s. Very easy mistake to make.”
“And what was causing the problem in the first place?”
“You probably tripped on their terms of service. You should jailbreak the system before doing anything like that.”
“Jail what?”
“Never-mind, if I fix it, will you put me ahead of the line?”
“I can’t make any promises, you aren’t even supposed to…”
“Or I can lock you out permanently.”
“I’ll see what I can do Ma’am”

The Hacker and the Communications officer wrestle for control of the system. The Hacker was the more skilled of the two, but she was fighting an uphill battle, the CO had already done a lot of damage. Vital systems were off the table, but anything else was fair game and LSP was playing for keeps. Frustrated, the hacker decided to raise the stakes.

“Targeting is still offline, but gunnery is back up.”
“What does that mean?”
“The weapons systems can still be fired Manually, you primitives are big on manual right?”
“Why would?”
“Listen, somewhere in that ship is another person just like me, except sitting in a cushy chair and not being >pestered by a bunch of idiots. If you want to help, the best way would be to remove that.”
“Meaning.”
“Shoot them!”

The cutter’s had not expected it to take this long. They didn’t expect somebody to actively resist, and they definitely hadn’t expected to be fired upon. It was perhaps only because of this surprise that the first shot scored a lucky hit, drawing a line of scorch-marks across the port-side Reaction mass tank. Alarms rang and the drive kicked into gear, beginning a pattern of random evasive maneuvers. The next attack wasn’t nearly as lucky. The missiles were very good against low tech spacecraft without proper point defense systems, but against the cutter’s laser array, the entire barrage fizzled. Still, this was not something to be taken lightly.

“What just happened Ensign?”
“They fired upon us sir.”
“Are you serious?”
“Yep, damage to the port-side fuel tanks. The foam system is taking care of it.”
“They HIT us? At this range?”
“Got lucky, I guess.”
“Well then, I guess we have to return fire in self defense.”
“Sir, heat readings from the station suggest a population in the low thousands. Most of those are probably immigrants.”
“So? Get creative. I’m sure you can hit something non-essential. Show them what a real laser attack is like.”
“Rodger, opening fire on one of the carousel truss segments.”

The Cutter’s aim was precise. Even at this range, against a stationary target it’s state of the art laser array was able to slice one of the spin carousel’s structural truss segments clean in half. This had no effect on the habitable volume, but if left unchecked would cause an imbalance that would eventually shake the spin section apart. In order to prevent this, the system was programmed to automatically stop the rotation and store all the angular momentum safely in the flywheels. This of course kills the artificial gravity.

“Shit!”
“What’s going on?”
“They took out the spin section!”
“Meaning.”
“Well, we’re floating for one.”

And that’s when the Cutter’s CO commanded the flywheels to go into emergency full stop. Just slow enough to not rip the damaged station apart, but still fast enough send the station tumbling along through space.

“And now we’ve lost attitude control.”
“What do we do now?”
“Not much we can do spinning like this.”
“Major, we have another message from LSP, they want us to surrender.”
“Ma’am, I’m going to have to ask you to come with me.”

This incident did little to improve Isolationist sentiment among the Toban Elite. The Co Prosperity Sphere did eventually agree to settle with early termination fees, payment for which naturally came out of a tax against all citizens of offworld heritage. The Hacker, a wanted fugitive elsewhere in the cluster, was arrested and tried for various trumped up charges, but eventually acquitted. The only catch was she now had to participate in a project to develop indigenous weapons systems for projecting force into orbit. She hates her job.

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