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While Rylan's fingers flew across the shuttle's console, a loud clang rang out from behind him. He jumped up and whipped his head around, catching sight of Darvan. With a sigh, the technician wiped his brow. "Did you have to drop that?"

"Sorry, boss," Darvan answered. He leaned over to recover it, asking, "Did you want me to pick it up?"

Rylan waved his hands. "No, you're fine. Locate Annabelle and escort her here."

"Is she still in her quarters?"

"While the captain eased that restriction, she tends to stay there most of the time." Rylan grabbed a tool and hunched back over the console. "Once you two return, resume working on the emergency protocols."

"Sure thing," the large man answered.

When the door slid shut, Rylan rose, and headed over to the equipment Darvan deposited. He kneeled at the data storage system and opened the control panel. Rylan pulled a diagnostic tool from his sling and connected it to the assembly. He flicked the power switch and waited for the assembly to activate. Once it booted up, he activated the diagnostic tool and drummed his finger on the assembly while he waited for it to connect. But his tool stubbornly refused to establish a connection, and without thinking, he whacked it.

After hitting the device a few more times, Annabelle rested a hand on Rylan's back. "You know beating the equipment won't help any."

"How are you doing, Annabelle?"

She squeezed his shoulder and walked over to an empty chair. "We exhausted every trick attempting to retrieve the data."

"There's always something else," Rylan grumbled as he whacked the diagnostic device.

"We have the hard copy, isn't that good enough?"

Rylan sighed as he rubbed his face and muttered, "Unfortunately, that physical report is firmly entrenched in the Captain's possession."

"Don't you think it's ludicrous to assume we'll need something to hand over," Annabelle replied.

"With the growing rift between the crew, we will require a plethora of options."

"Do you believe some crisis will occur before we arrive home?"

Rylan placed the tool on the system and pinched his nose. "Aside from Cederic assaulting us, and the Captain curtailing our liberties."

"You're still able to come to the shuttle."

"Just because I'm allowed to work in this bucket doesn't mean that the Captain hasn't been curbing my rights."

"Why did you pull me down here?"

Rylan unconnected the tool from the system and turned it over to access the bottom of the device. "Did you replace the power cells?"

"Yes, that was the first thing we did once we got back," Annabelle sneered as she crossed her arms and ankles. "I'm not a complete idiot, Rylan!"

"Relax, I just needed to make sure I didn't have to repeat that test."

"Why's Darvan working on the emergency protocols?"

Rylan cracked open the bottom of the assembly and tossed the panel over his shoulder. "Because no one expects him to be tech-savvy, but he's very adept with computer systems."

Annabelle banged her head cursing. "That's as sneaky as it is brilliant. But is playing on people's preconceptions will do enough to mask his efforts?"

"Yes," Rylan said, tossing another piece of the system away. "If you or I performed the tasks he's completing, they'd be identified in a hot second and disabled."

"And when we attempted to make use of the updated protocols, they would be useless."

"Hence Darvan's current assignment," Rylan muttered as more electronic components flew from the box. "I'm just making sure we have as many options as possible."

"Is that the reason I worked on the other shuttle?"

"One of the reasons," Rylan replied as he extracted the storage modules from the assembly. "Can you grab the readers?"

"What are you hoping to do?" Annabelle asked as she crossed the cockpit to retrieve the devices.

Rylan cracked open the container and pulled a crystal out. He lifted it up and stared at the clear stone. "The moment data is recorded to one of these, it takes a lot of work to destroy that information."

"Then why haven't we been able to access the records from the assembly?" Annabelle inquired as she tossed the readers at Rylan.

He plucked the devices out of the air and grinned. "Most technicians are lazy and never dig into the guts of components."

With her eyes narrowing, Annabelle hissed, "Is that so?"

"Don't take it personally," Rylan replied with a lopsided grin. "This got rubbed into my face too." Without another word, he selected the required reader and inserted the clear crystal. And walked over to the pilot chair. "But if the data wasn't scrubbed, we'll be able to access it. Unfortunately, the sheer number of nodes could drag this process out."

"Why didn't you tell me about this option?"

While Rylan plugged the reader in, he shrugged. "Don't worry about it. Let's just make sure it works."

Annabelle plopped into the second seat and twirled her thumbs. "How soon till we know if this hack will allow us to access anything?"

Rylan leaned back and pointed at her station. "Check out the data yourself."

"It's there?!" Annabelle exclaimed as she spun towards her workstation.

"It really is," Rylan muttered as he explored the information. With a chuckle, he clapped his hands. "It also appears that I grabbed the right crystal."

"How did you pull this off?"

"Dumb luck," Rylan said, pocketing the stone. "But I still want the data pulled off the rest of the stones and copied into portable receptacles."

"How many duplicates of this assembly are you wanting me to produce?"

"You, Darvan, and I need to have one," Rylan answered. "And make sure that the records destroy themselves if we don't authorize the access."

"And the originals?"

"Hide them in the shuttle." Rylan patted his pocket and continued, "But I'll keep this crystal myself."

"Are you going to copy it?"

"No," he mused. "Anymoreand I don't think we'd escape. I will ensure it leaves."
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