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Testing Times

It was getting late. He had spent far too much time staring at the monitor screen, slowly losing the will to live as seemingly endless tracts of gibberish scrolled past while waiting for the program’s final verdict. Mitaka rubbed at his eyes with the heels of his hands, certain that by now the characters had been permanently burnt on to his retinas; already visions of the readouts danced before his eyelids at night before he drifted off to sleep.

Ultimately, it would be one of three possible outcomes: the remote system met the project requirements, the remote system test failed, or the far too often encountered sudden blank screen followed moments later by the terse message of ‘connection has timed out, terminated at source’ which signalled the demise of the remote system; its ancient processors fried beyond use by the barrage of commands that made up the testing suite. There was, technically, a fourth result, wherein the simple act of uploading the test code bricked the remote system, rendering it totally useless. But this was was logged under outcome number three. The powers that be cared little for the cause, just the outcome.

And so he would move on to the next relay, and start the monotonous process all over again. The ages-long upload of the testing suite would be followed by the shorter but no less tedious wait while the program executed, spewing meaningless diagnostic information that would no doubt haunt him to the end of his days.

Mitaka had been at this for nearly a month, conducting an audit of Clone Wars era relay stations scattered across the sector at the edge of the Unknown Regions. Glorious work in furtherance of the First Order’s goal of bring order to a highly disordered galaxy… or something like. He tended to curb such thoughts as quickly as possible, they made him uneasy and unfocused and he had a duty to remain focused on the task at hand, no matter how dull.

And it was dull, interminably so; with still about sixty six more relays remaining to be tested. But the lab was quiet, he was getting on with work and no one could find fault with him for that. Just one more wouldn’t hurt, he thought to himself for the fifth time that day as he logged the results of the previous test (system suboptimal) and opened a connection to the next relay on his list.

He didn’t pay much attention as he typed, working by muscle memory alone; connect to the relay passing the code that neatly sliced the relay’s password protection and uploaded and executed the testing code.

Finalizer Audit-Core [Veers-cluster] (3 users logged in)
V-cluster-1:~ dmitaka$ HYPERNETCONNECT GLD-204 -u t4kt4k -p !pwd-override.xcute -exe
relay-audit.xcute

Republic Message Relay GLD-204 (1 user logged in)
Loading relay-audit.xcute..5%..10%..15%..

Having graduated top of his class one might have been forgiven for thinking that he considered such a menial task beneath him; acting as little more than a glorified babysitter carrying out a job a droid could have done, or another algorithm. But a posting to the Finalizer - so prized among his graduating cohort - was not necessarily the wondrous thing they had all believed. Certainly not with General Hux and Kylo Ren at large.

Mitaka strove to perform any and all tasks to Hux’s approval and, for the most part, succeeded. He had, to date, had mercifully little interaction with Kylo Ren; but along with every other officer he had learnt that when Hux and Ren were in close proximity the atmosphere tended to simmer on the verge of combustion. There were, to his knowledge, at least two pools running as to who would attempt to kill whom first. Mitaka had not paid into either, it wasn’t seemly and might lead to unpleasant ramifications if or when they were discovered, though privately he suspected Hux would try first but Ren would be ultimately successful.

And as for the work, if he did this well, and there really was no way to do it badly, short of not logging results, then he might get a juicier project or assignment. It was probably some kind of a test. Complete this without complaint and you proved yourself worthy of consideration for something marginally better. Besides on a large ship and in a large organisation there were hundreds, if not thousands of small tasks not unlike this on that needed to be completed to ensure the smooth operation of the whole. Something tiny and seemingly inconsequential could be the grit that sent things spiralling out of control.

Loading relay-audit.xcute..5%..10%..15%......20%

Mitaka let out a groan, this relay seemed to be far more sluggish than the others. Usually the relay would have fallen over by now, unable to handle the code upload. The data cores of some relays were filled with unread messages: notifications of troop movements from battles well over a half century old, and other communiques and so simply had no room left for the code he was trying to upload. Or their memory cores were stuck in a loop trying to send out data to other relays. He had half a mind to go and have a word with the programmers to suggest that they look into doing a core dump before the test suite was uploaded thereby avoiding the loss of what might otherwise be perfectly serviceable relays. But that might be construed as far too proactive. He hadn’t been assigned the task of designing the test, just carry it out. It hadn’t stopped him from sketching out a better test suite in his off hours though he didn’t have the programming knowledge to implement it.

Loading relay-audit.xcute..5%..10%..15%......20%..25%..30%..35%

He found himself rooting for the ancient little system that could, just as he had, after a few dozen tests, mourned for those that had perished so ignominiously, especially having survived the Clone Wars, taken down by a few hundred lines of code.

Come on GLD-204, you can do it!

Finally it hit 100% and the screen flickered and went blank before the testing program kicked in.

relay-audit.xcute loaded hit any key to continue.

Any key indeed he thought to himself as he gave the ‘krill’ key a bored tap, heaved a sigh and leaned back as far as the hard chair would allow. It could be quite soothing, watching the wave like patterns formed as the text scrolled by. Hypnotic even, sometimes he imagined it was rain coursing down a pane of glass. And wondered what it would be like to live on a planet that had real weather. In a building that had windows. And have the time to spare to just watch the rain fall.

Relay-audit.xcute complete - system nominal.
Exiting test suite in 5 seconds.

And there it was, his cue to do something again, and so, like the good little automaton he was, he did; leaning over to enter ‘nominal’ on his datapad along side the entry GLD-204.

He turned his attention back to the terminal weighing up whether he would quit now and head back to his quarters or do just one more, when he noticed it.

New Republic Message Relay GLD-204 (2 users logged in)
GLD-204:~ t4kt4k$

Two users?

Who else would be logged on to a busty old relay out in the middle of … well nowhere? As far as he knew he was the only one conducting audits for this sector.

Various options scrolled through his mind - gods he had spent too much time at this task - should he log off, or should he find out who it was. In the end his curiosity got the better of him.

New Republic Message Relay GLD-204 (2 users logged in)
GLD-204:~ t4kt4k$ show users
-xsh: show: command not found

Mitaka pursed his lips, getting the system to list the logged in users shouldn’t be this tricky, this was hardly rarefied slicing but system level operations wasn’t really his area of expertise.

GLD-204:~ t4kt4k$ list users -xsh: list: command not found

He decided he’d try once more and if it didn’t work he was going to call it a day, and go and have a decent night’s rest before another morning five K run punctuated by Phasma’s cutting remarks about the stamina of the junior officer corps.

GLD-204:~ t4kt4k$ users
t4kt4k 1123581321

Bingo! Mitaka punched the air before frowning; who or what was user 1123581321? Was it a relic of the testing process? He quickly flipped through the sparse documentation on the testing but came up short. His attention was arrested by the terminal emitting a dull, almost bored sounding beep. He looked up to see the screen stutter and clear itself.

talk session requested by user 1123581321
Press ‘yirt’ to grant or ‘nern’ to terminate connection.
>>> y
>>> well hello there! Whatever are you doing in such a clanky janky system!

Mitaka let out an involuntary chuckle. Clanky and janky was an excellent description of the systems he had been trawling through. But he wasn’t about to completely lose his head.

>>> who is this? what is your operating number?
>>> 1133583121 like it says ;-)
>>> what is that?
>>> what is what?
>>> the three punctuation marks.
>>> it’s an emoticon.
>>> what’s an emoticon?
>>> you’re kidding? right?
>>> no, please explain.
>>> ok, right, turn your head to the left... see the winky face.

He did as he was bid and sure enough, if you squinted… it was a winking face with a broad smile. An answering smile crept across his face.

>>> that’s pretty cool.
>>> wow! You are really easily impressed ;-p

It didn’t take him long to decipher the second emoticon.

>>> hey no need to be rude.
>>> all in good fun my dear t4kt4k if that is indeed your real name.

They ended up - for want of a better word - talking for hours, though about nothing much in particular mostly they exchanged increasingly outlandish emoticons before moving on to what 11 - or ‘K’ as he took to calling them in his head because it was the 11th letter - termed word art.

Their conversation had skirted around specifics about roles and locations; sticking to safe topics such as the prevalence of stale or uninspiring rations and the fickle nature of computers. At the back of his mind, a little voice warned Mitaka to tread carefully lest he was communicating with a member of internal First Order security tasked policing any location, from server to commissary, on the lookout for seditious talk or wavering members. Or even perhaps a proactive honeytrap. Or they were someone outside the FO and he had to be just as careful to not divulge any information.

It was only when the shipwide chime went off signaling ersatz midnight did Mitaka realise he had been logged on for nearly fifteen hours straight. And he had to be up in five hours time.

It then dawned on him too, as he sought to explain why he had to suddenly log off, that he had really no idea who ‘K’ was, or with whom they were affiliated.

The First Order were not exactly public with their existence, and he liked K well enough that he didn’t want to discover a reason they shouldn’t be, for want of a better term, friends. All he knew about them was that they (presumably) knew their comms systems and were very funny; his jaw and sides were aching from the laughter he had suppressed over the last few hours.

If they weren’t First Order - and he expected he’d find out pretty damn fast if they were and were not sympathetic to nor a fellow bored compatriot likewise shackled to a terminal - then they could be anyone: a Hutt with an extra large keyboard, a slicer working for Kanjiklub, hell they could even be a member of the Resistance attempting to verify the First Order’s existence by securing remote relays at the edge of the Unknown Regions. But more surprising to him was that he really didn’t want to know; he liked them, alot, and enjoyed talking to them and rather hoped the feeling was mutual.

>>> I’ve got to go it’s late and they are rather strict about curfew.
>>> oh I hear you. Boss lady can be very cranky about bedtimes, can go a bit overboard with the mothering. And I am so off the clock right now and to be honest the chairs we have here are probably older than this relay and my back is killing me. I think my butt lost all sensation about three hours ago.
>>> My crappy lumpy bed calls to me... take care t4k
>>> bye k.
--- user 1123581321 has left talk
>>>

As he stared at the blinking prompt he realised he had no idea how to actually exit this damn talk programme. He sat stock still, willing it to time out or something.

--- user 1123581321 has rejoined talk
>>> your saviour has returned! Quick crash course! type talk @ >username< to initiate and type \q to quit and return to the shell. Byeeee!
--- user 1123581321 has left talk
>>>\q

New Republic Message Relay GLD-204 (1 user logged in)
GLD-204:~ t4kt4k$ exit
Finalizer Audit-Core [Veers-cluster] (1 user logged in)
V-cluster-1:~ dmitaka$ exit

He rolled his shoulders and his own lower back protested vehemently at the action. The Finalizer was less than than ten years old, but they clearly didn’t have the comfort of those sitting for long periods of time in mind when they designed the seating.

Mitaka gingerly got to his feet, and as he walked back to his quarters, two thoughts occurred to him. Firstly, that he was glad Rodinson with whom he currently shared quarters was on night shift. He could avoid interacting with him, dodging questions as to his whereabouts for the last few hours - it was bad enough having to pick up after him. Secondly, K had mentioned sitting in a chair and that had to rule out a Hutt.