Black Boxes

Ship Data Recorders

Fraeia watches carefully as I assess the black box placed at the center of the table. "What happens now?"   I watch my screen closely, scanning the box for everything I can think of. Explosives? None detected. Radiation? None detected. The only way to know for sure is to open it up. "We crack it open and scan what's inside."   "Why not just plug it in? Wouldn't that be quicker?"   "No," I reply, repeating the word over and over as a smile creeps across my face. "Dhitol would know better." I slide open the top of the box and a dense, oily liquid spills out onto the table. I see two drives, and a rotating mechanism between them. "See? Dummy drive. Who knows what would have happened if we plugged it in."
Humans have called them black boxes since we first developed flight. They were neither boxes nor were they black. They were painted bright orange to make them more visible at the scene of a crash. When we took to the void, however, it didn't matter what color they were. Space is big. If it even slightly finds itself drifting, it's gone.   For this reason, any well-made ship will have at least three black boxes, hidden away in centralized critical systems of the vessel. They are now painted black to make them harder to find. If a ship gets destroyed in battle, a black box will have crucial data stored inside. This data can be anything from logged communication, technological data, military ciphers, and more.   A black box contains all relevant information about a vessel. It's the vessel's DNA. It lists anything and everything that could be relevant to the ship's capabilities, mission, and crew. It also logs information regarding its demise. Salvaging one is like striking gold, especially during a war. Most military ships have measures in place to sabotage this information if not collected in the right amount of time.
   

The black box

The box is made of three-dimensional, porous graphene. It's ten times stronger than steel but significantly lighter. The box, itself, houses the collected data, but it's always connected to a hub, a network of wires that stretch across the ship collecting and transferring that data to the drives in the box.   The inner space of the box varies from species to species, but almost always has some form of liquid to help absorb impact, prevent extreme heat outside from frying the drives, and to keep the drives cool should they be the source of that heat. All one needs to do is crack the box open, or connect it to one's ship. The latter is advised, especially if you're messing with something salvaged from military vessels.   There are usually countermeasures in place to prevent access. In this case, upon removing the black box, the port to the original drive slides back and a second port takes its place. A dummy drive could unleash all kinds of malicious software in your ship's systems. Imagine stumbling on empty ships, the crew drifting through space after the entire ship vented itself for no reason.


Highest bidder

Salvaging a black box puts you in a good position, but managing to get inside and poke around the data is even better. You can sell a black box for a high price, but if there's a war on, you can pit both sides against each other. While lucrative, it's a dangerous game to play.   Notifying anyone of what you have is risky in itself. They could just board and take it by force, or attack and retrieve it from the wreckage. If you know what you're doing and have a little luck, you may end up with a bidding war on your hands.   It's an easy con to pull off. One side wants their data back, the other wants to exploit it. If you open the box and retrieve it, you can copy the data. That way everyone wins and you're twice as rich.
I watch the data on the screen, scrolling through every line in search of anything that could help us find what we're looking for.   Fraeia does the same with a pair of headphones on their head, listening to every conversation that happened on the vessel prior to it being deployed to The Fever Breach. "How far back should I go?" They ask.   I reply, my eyes fixed to the screen as the cargo manifests scroll by. "As far back as it takes. We have no idea how long they've had antimatter on board."   After an hour or so, I stop scrolling. A line catches my eye. My translator is struggling to keep up as it is, but there's a word here that remains unchanged. I have no idea what it means. I call out while waving. a hand to get their attention, "Fray?"   They pause the recording, remove their headphones, and ask"What is it?"   "You would know more than me. What does…" I try to sound the word out based on what little I know of their language, "she… no… Shilohl-"   "Xilohlist?" They ask.   "I think?" I turn the screen and they glance at the word.   Once they see it, they smile and nod. "That's it. Xilolist is a code used by Dhitol merchants. It usually indicates contraband. Smugglers use it when other species look too close."   "How do we know its antimatter?" I ask, turning the screen back to me. "Dhitol ships were retrofitted to be warships. They were all merchants at one point."   They put the headphones back on, and fiddle with their own screen as they answer, "Yes, but Dhitol takes the military seriously. They want it to be a paragon of their values. That word on the manifest of a battleship would strip someone of their rank." They pause and listen in on whatever recording they have pulled up. "My guess is on a military vessel, the word would mean experimental weaponry."   "That makes sense."   They set the headphones down and move to look over my shoulder. "We could solve this easily. Where does the manifest say they departed with this mystery cargo? If it lacks the infrastructure, we know to keep looking."     I look and recognize the name immediately. "Oh."   "Kambrea," Fraeia says with a nod.   I scoff and lean back in my chair. "Of course, it would be there."   Fraeia laughs and shakes their head. "You thought they'd make it easy? Don't worry. We'll manage."


Cover image: by JJ Ying

Comments

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3 Feb, 2022 07:10

FINALLY a black box is black. Im curious about Kambrea

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Love to code, but this one is driving me crazy!
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Garrett Grace Lewis
28 Apr, 2022 00:02

I appreciate the detail provided as to how anti-tamper methods are implemented!

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