"Do you think they'll make a move for the object?" Julia felt a chill pass through her.
Chalmers nodded. "It wouldn't surprise me if every nation on Earth did. We made a deal with the ESA and the Canadians to give them access to it. President Rose doesn't trust the Russians or Chinese after that incident with the computers on the B-2. There's no way he'll share it with them. You need to be ready for anything."
"What aren't you telling me?"
"You know as well as I do that the Chinese have some expert hackers. So do the Russians. And the Israelis. Thanks to the last couple of administrations, we had to outsource most of the components in that craft. What are the odds the Russians didn't slip some kind of backdoor malware in the computers, or that the Chinese didn't steal our encryption codes when they busted Canaveral last month?"
"Tell me you've changed the codes, or I'm turning this thing around."
He sighed. "It's not as easy as that, Commander. Some of those keys are in firmware. We can't change them. We changed what we could, tuned your radios to different bands, and added some electronic countermeasures. Your systems are as secure as we could get them before you launched."
Julia shook her head. "What you're saying is that if they really want to stop this mission, I probably can't prevent it."
"Yeah. That's about the size of it."
"Great. Just great."
"The engineers had a recommendation. When we're done here, open panel A3-02. Pull the red wire out of the socket it's in. That will cut the data communication. If they can't send data your way, they can't hack your systems or get anything out of them. Then again, neither can we. In about six hours, we'll need you to plug it in again for a while so we can feed some new navigation instructions to the computers. I'll signal you in audio when we're ready."
"Fine. Tell those engineers I want them to think like hackers and killers. If they had access to our systems and wanted to kill me, crash Mars One, or vent my fuel, could they do it? If they can, what can I do to stop them, or catch them trying?"
"Will do, Commander. Mission Control, out."
"Mars One, out." The screen went black.
Julia didn't wait for the egg-heads back home. She pulled up the schematics and started looking at them like an attacker. Which systems had the most firmware? Which ones hadn't been modified recently and might have back doors in them? What would be the best way to get the object, and keep the pilot from getting it back to NASA?"
She found the answers to her questions more depressing than she expected them to be. There were at least a dozen ways she could sabotage Mars One from the ground. Vent the fuel. Vent the oxygen. Disable the flight controls. Cut the power to the cockpit. The only thing that didn't depress her was the realization that even if hackers were in the system, they probably wanted the Mimas Object. That meant they'd leave her alone until she had it, and brought it back home. That's when they'd make their move.
"If it was me," she said to her reflection in the black computer screen, "I'd wait until we were on approach to dock with the orbital platform. I'd cut the oxygen to the cockpit and suffocate the pilot. Then I'd land the command module somewhere nearby and take the object from it. There'd be no point in killing me before that, because they'd have to mount their own expedition to get the thing. Better to wait until I got it home, then pounce."
She debated sharing this with Chalmers, but as crafty a politician as that guy was, he'd have already thought of it and had the engineers hard at work to prevent it.
There was nothing to do now but wait for the call from Mission Control.