Wu Gang Shu moved his towel and change of clothes to his left hand and checked down both sides of the corridor for movement. When neither the Ranger nor Hae Lee managed to appear he moved towards the bathroom door like a sapper approaching the enemy’s barbed wire.
The occupied light on the door latch was off and the door itself sat ajar by less than an inch. Wu listened carefully for five seconds but could hear no sound that indicated anyone was using the ship’s only shower.
The lack of any sign of life in the area caused Wu to sigh. His shoulders sagged like a man condemned and he pushed the door open.
And right on cue Hae Lee began humming as the opened door offered him a perfect view of her towelling off her slim, naked body.
Wu sighed and turned around. He heard her short gasp and the whoosh of her towel flying to shield her modesty.
“Oh Wu.” She said breathlessly. “I didn’t realise I’d left the door unlocked.”
“Again.” Wu muttered. “Sorry.” He said louder. “How much longer do you need?”
“Oh I’m just finishing now.” Hae Lee said without a hint of the embarrassment her voice held only moments ago.
“Great.” Wu said, reaching for the latch without needing to look. “I’ll jump in when you’re done.”
Wu pulled the door shut behind himself until he was sure he heard it click in place. Then he slumped against it. He admitted: having a cute, mousey, mechanic throwing herself at him was a stupid problem to have, but it was still a problem.
He scratched beneath the restraining collar around his neck. He’d developed a habit of scratching where the collar chafed whenever he became nervous, something Hae Lee’s awkward flirting wasn’t helping with. But every time he touched the collar it made his teeth clench and his shoulders tense. He wanted to punch someone, but the only someones on board were Hae Lee, who had been abused enough already and the Ranger, which would not be a good idea.
Wu stayed against the door for another few moments and then stepped away. Hae Lee carefully pulled the latch and let the door swing in a little. She carried her coveralls and other clothes over one arm while the other one kept the towel that was a little too small from falling open and revealing herself.
“Hi again.” She smiled at him. “Oh Wu, do you need me to keep watch for you tonight?”
Wu whipped his head around just in case the Ranger chose that moment to appear behind him. When he saw that she still wasn’t there he hissed at Hae Lee. “Do you think you can be louder? I’m not sure the maintenance droids in the hold could hear you?”
Hae Lee’s confidence washed away in an instant. “I’m, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to. Please don’t get angry”
“No. No. It’s okay.” Wu said, forcing himself to sound calm and soothing. “I’m not getting angry. It’s just a security issue. But yeah, if you could give me a hand tonight that’d be… that’d be great.”
Hae Lee brightened again but her smile remained nervous. “Alright, thank you.”
She turned and rushed off. Trying to stay covered under her tiny towel made her every move awkward and stilted.
Wu waited until she was around the corner and sighed again. He opened up the shower and stepped inside. Making sure the door locked behind him.
Wu found Hae Lee humming happily away in the mess hall as she prepared the evening meal. No-one on this ship could cook to save themselves but Hae Lee’s enthusiasm for the task made her their unofficial chef.
Wu took his place at the dining table and laid out the blanket with all his tools and components on it. The table was low on the ground, barely knee-height and right next to the large couch opposite the monitor. Wu slipped his feet under the table into the sunken section beneath which had the small heater. The combined coffee table and Japanese style Hori-gotatsu dining table saved the mess hall a lot of space and gave the place a warm, just-like-home feel.
Wu looked over the pieces. He’d almost finished modifying one of Hae Lee’s diagnostic scanners. He didn’t need the sensors, just the computing power, his task required number-crunching beyond what his nanoputer could provide.
Wu had been forced to code a new operating system for the scanner from scratch, it had been painfully time-consuming, but he’d been adding a line or two here and there through his nanoputer whenever he got a spare moment. But it was only when he had the scanner in front of him that he could test that the code was actually working.
Fortunately, he’d put the last few lines together while in the shower. Now everything was ready for the acid test.
Wu squeezed his hand around the scanner’s handgrip and the induction pads along its length interfaced with his nano-machines, allowing him to finish uploading the final lines of code and run a complete install of the software.
An electric blue progress bar appeared in the corner of his augmented vision. When it filled up completely the new operating system booted for the first time.
A vidwindow opened up in the air in front of him, showing the command prompt for his new, bare-bones UI. Wu activated the scanner’s wireless connections and input a particular frequency for it to search for. After a moment the UI announced it was connecting.
Wu allowed himself a triumphant smile, so far so good.
From where she was behind the kitchenette, Hae Lee saw Wu brighten up. She covered the wok and turned the heat down to simmer.
“So Wu.” Hae Lee called out. “If you don’t mind me asking… what’s your most important goal in life? What would you like to do more than anything else in the world?”
“Huh?” Wu said. He’d just accessed the control system for the restraining collar on his neck. In Wu’s vision a handful of vidwindows opened up, displaying the encryption of the collar’s controls and the next three most likely encryptions it would switch to. A large vidwindow above all the rest displayed a countdown timer, when it reached zero, he would have only a second to switch to the correct encryption before it activated the collar’s tamper-switch and administered an agonising electric shock. Then it would inform the Ranger that he’d tripped the tamper switch and there’d be hell to pay.