I am an unapologetic fan of ’40s and ’50s science fiction. Yes, it’s dated, but that’s part of it’s charm. What the old authors got wrong can be just as interesting as what they got right, but aside from that, the best of them just knew how to spin a good yarn. You might call what follows “fan fiction” but with a red teaming twist. As the mood strikes and time permits, I’ll follow this episode with more; my ultimate goal is to communicate red teaming principles. Let me know what you think!
Rover is a good robot. Every morning before I leave, he retrieves my paper from the hall, starts my coffee, and steams my Bureau jumpsuit. My last robot, a hand-me-down Martian roller from last century, took twice as long, usually dropped the paper down the hall, and chattered way too much. At least those old Martian models could brew some fine coffee. I understand they descended from Old Earth coffee makers, although that was probably just a story the marketing people dreamed up.
I usually eat down at my office, but I do like to take a couple of minutes to glance at the morning headlines while I down my coffee. The Spacer’s Daily is always a good three hours ahead of the competition, and it often scoops the Bureau Bulletins (BBs). It costs more than I can afford to spend, but it gives me a chance to trump Headquarters now and then with the latest interplanetary news.
Besides, I don’t enjoy sleeping and eating in the same room, but what can I say? I’m living on a red teamer’s salary! One cube unit with retractable bunk, “kitchen” nook, and sanitary station; no windows, no viewer: 250 coins a month, utilities extra.
I unrolled the morning paper to discover that the Crawlies had broken through the Saturn perimeter, only to withdraw again. I’d told anyone who’d listen that it was bound to happen, but they’d mostly just snickered at me. Almost everyone but me (and perhaps the Admiral) believed we’d flattened them for good at Titan last year.
The rest of the news was local stuff, so I passed the paper to Rover for recovery. He ate it with obvious electrocanine relish.
“Set the security on max today when I leave, Rover. I don’t like the looks of that new tenant down at 42B.”
I don’t usually worry about my neighbors, but this guy somehow manages to be in the hall as I leave in the morning and as I return at night. He’s friendly enough–always a wave and a smile–but his wave is a tad too vigorous and his smile just a bit too ingratiating. He reminds me of those religious youths who hand out tracts on New Earth Day hoping to sell me their brand of eternal redemption and bliss.
Yesterday my eager new neighbor tried to talk to me, but I hurried down the hall with a shrug, a mumble, and a quick wave of my own.
Rover ambled to the door. “Anything else, sir?”
These newer canine robots are amazing. Not only do they look like real dogs (if real dogs had titanium skin), they sound like real dogs, too. Yet somehow I understand their barks and whines as well as I understand any of my colleagues. (I’m not sure what that says about my colleagues.)
“No, Rover. That’s all.”
I arrived at the office five minutes late. Bill was already at his desk, head down, glued to his viewer, quietly speaking into the embedded microphone. By the time he looked up, I’d settled into my desk directly opposite him.
We share a single office cube in a thousand-cube Solar Authority pyramid out by the Spaceport. The Bureau could afford to put us up at Headquarters, but we’re their offsite red team. Supposedly we don’t ingest their culture and biases if we work three miles away. So instead we spend our days talking to HQ through our encrypted viewers, exactly as we would on-site.
“Wanna hit the Promenade for lunch today?” Bill asked. Bill’s a sucker for Old Earth food, and the Promenade features some of the most authentic vendors on Luna, or so claim the vendors. I’m not sure how anyone would know if the food weren’t authentic.
“Sure, Bill; love to”
We usually don’t talk face-to-face much during the morning shift, but it’s customary to at least greet colleagues and look them in the eye before diving into the viewer.
Bill also likes to nail down his lunch plans first thing, and I’d already refused his offer three times this week. It’s not that I mind Bill, it’s just that I prefer the Spaceport diner. The food’s awful, but the lunchtime gossip’s usually worth more than a dozen BBs. Plus it has a great view of Old Earth, which makes Bill “anxious” (his word). Bill’s like that.
Bill was back to his viewer, so I grabbed a Nut-E-Bar from my desk, ate it quickly, and pulled my viewer up to my face. Like most people, I prefer to sit up straight when viewing. Bill leans over his viewer. I can’t believe he hasn’t permanently damaged his back, but it seems to work for him. I’ve often wondered if he naps, hunched over with the rubberized light shield enclosing the upper half of his face, but whenever I call his viewer, he responds immediately. I know, we’re in the same cube, but direct conversation interrupts workflow, at least according to Bureau training. I don’t know if it’s true, but I did hear at the diner that a surgically modified Crawlie once dressed up as a human and walked right through Bureau barracks while everyone was glued to a viewer. If true, that must’ve been either some surgery or some workflow. Probably both.
My viewer queue was completely full. Every BB addressed the Crawlie attack, but despite (or perhaps because of) the Bureau’s broad intelligence network, The Spacer’s Daily report was more concise and better sourced. If anything, the current BBs were post hoc excuses surgically modified and dressed up to appear as intelligence. It was even worse than usual, telling me that the attack was far more damaging than reported.
I placed a call to the Admiral’s chief of staff, Debra. In a barely audible whisper I said “Good morning, Debra. I need to speak to the Admiral immediately.” My viewer processed the audio and sent the text to Debra’s screen, where my words appeared in a cartoon bubble beside the centrally stored image of my face.
The process saves on transmission costs, and according to Bureau training, it also “reduces communication distortion significantly and increases comprehension by a factor of 1.5.”
Debra’s image appeared on my viewer. She’s an old timer at HQ but her viewer image looks like she could be my younger sister.
I suspect she’s been to rejuvenation at least twice. She keeps her hair short in the current style to complement her youthful appearance, but her manner is anything but youthful. Even her static image and cartoon words can intimidate.
I knew what her reply would be, but it didn’t come through. The bubble popped up beside her face, but no text arrived.
After another minute of dumbly staring at the screen, I pushed the viewer away. Bill looked up at the same time, his sandy hair matted to his forehead by the light shield. (I purposely shave my head to avoid this very problem, colloquially known as “Viewer brow” or “V-brow” for short.)
Bill spoke first: “Are they … ” he whispered, still in viewer mode. He cleared his throat and started again, louder this time. “Are they down?” He looked confused, and to be honest, I was at least as confused as he looked, V-brow and all. This had never happened before.
Bill pulled the policy binder from a desk drawer.
“Anything there?” I asked.
He thumbed through it.
“Check under ‘Viewers,'” I added.
Ignoring me, he continued to leaf through the binder.
Finally he said “Nothing I can find. Here, you try, Mr. Idea Man.”
He passed me the binder. Only one per cube, say Bureau rules.
I checked “Viewers”–nothing helpful there. It was all about proper usage, etiquette, and maintenance. I flipped to “Emergencies,” where I found this gem:
During an emergency you may use your viewer only in passive mode so that transmission channels may be left open for Bureau Emergency Services, Transmission (BEST).
On a hunch, I looked up “Failures” and “System Failures”–no such entries.
“This is worthless,” I said and put the binder in my desk. “Didn’t anyone ever consider the possibility that the viewers might go down?”
“That’s our job,” Bill observed. “After all, we’re the offsite red team.” Sometimes Bill states the obvious in a very off-putting way. To be fair, I do it sometimes, too; I’m just not as smug as Bill, so my observations aren’t nearly as annoying.
“Maybe they’re working again,” said Bill as he leaned over his viewer. He immediately popped back up. “You’d better take a look,” he moaned. No hint of smugness there; his face was pale.
On my screen was the Admiral’s normal image–thin face, close-cropped gray hair–with the standard cartoon bubble. The text was red (something new) and said “Shelter in place until further notice.” The Admiral’s picture always looks to me like the photographer caught him mid-smirk, so the combination of smirk and message was particularly disturbing. I’m sure my face was pale.
We sat quietly for several minutes. No sounds filtered in from outside the cube, an unusual state given that our door opened on the atrium. Eventually, Bill asked for the policy binder. I could think of nothing to do, so I returned to the viewer. Yes, the Admiral was definitely smirking.
Our cube door slid open–no knock, no chime. There stood two officers in red jumpsuits and glossy black, full-face helmets emblazoned with the Bureau shield. (I didn’t even know red Bureau jumpsuits existed!) To complete the color theme, the officers wore red-tinted, reflective body armor, and each packed two black xaser pistols in dual red, space-ready holsters.
Bill recovered first. “Who are you?” he asked before they could speak.
The officer on our left flashed a top-security Bureau badge. “We’re the onsite red team,” he said through his helmet speaker. “Come with us.”
Mark Mateski is the founder and editor of Red Team Journal.