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Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Chapter 2: The Wolf and the Fox

So here's chapter 2. I'll be holding out for more hits and comments before chapter 3 is put up. So; nyah! Post comments and let me know you're here if you want to read more, it's not that bloody hard.

Having fallen in with a very peculiar crew of security contractors, Mackai does his best to acclimate, but finds yet another pressing issue is keeping things from going his way.

EXCERPT: network wide piracy alerts.
TRANSLATION: All revisions by Open-Bracket-Close-Bracket Semantics Ltd. Subroutines
Sent: BUSEI administration botnet, Basic Universal Regulation and Assisted Intelligence committee division.
Received: Relay Bot @ E. Eridani
Translated at Relay Bot @ E. Eridani into Farsol Semantics
Approval stamp by BUSEI Quality Commons Commission

The following is a general piracy alert for the Orion Arm of the Milky Way Galaxy. [To all you newbies – god only knows, there’s so many of you on Farsol – piracy is not all yarr harr where’s the booty at, fool? Oh wait, wrong kind of booty.]

-Merchant vessels resupplying Sat 1 in orbit around EZ Aquairi were attacked by unknown, jump capable raiding vessels of frigate class. The raiders closed distance and used fast-tracking ballistic weapons to breach the cargo bay. Boarding teams grappled unknown quantities of avionics components and fresh chemical batteries from the holds of the freighters. It is reported that half the boarding teams were killed in lethal accidents or by the crew of the ships. [These are typical pirates, suicidal, poor and desparate. At least far out where the matter density starts to drop. You humans have TAME freebooters.]

-A freighter of the Bellicose class [a model made by you earthlings] preparing for jump re-calibration in high orbit around Lalande 21185 reported contact with an unknown vessel on an intercept course with their vector. They state that this was [twenty minutes] after they began hearing strange, unencrypted radio transmissions. They report the vessel was outbound from an unidentifiable origin. Their path couldn’t be traced back to any planet. [Pirates tend to be modders, that means they use anything they get, hence the radio transmissions.]

-Anomalous activity of unknown vessels has been reported within the range of the Oort cloud of Farsol. Ships in this area are advised to operate under physical-cyber lockdown conditions.

Sunrise Ep.2: The Wolf and the Fox

I meet the benefactors in five minutes.

I was busy testing out the two drone companions in my light kit. The little buggers were four legged spider drones about the size of my fist, standard equipment for Farsol field officers. The TAR-15 Tarantula is a pretty decent model drone, at least for its size. It’s good for reconnaissance in urban or indoor environments (about eighty-five percent of environments you encounter in space… the rest being space.) It also has a nasty little belter gun you can load up with all kinds of cute toy ammo, though the miniature railgun attachment should NEVER be laughed at.

My light kit was curled up like some transforming plastic toy in the corner. I clicked in my sidearm, loaded and ready to fire. Well, at least my ex had taught me one thing… the x-factor will kick your ass when you least expect it, which is why it’s called the x factor in the first place. It stands for extra sucky… wait, that isn’t right, never mind.

I flipped my vision over to wireless and tapped into my drones’ cameras, I was using the hi-fi lenses (one on each) to get some kick ass stereoscopic predator vision (infrared mode! Prrrrrrrrr.) I took the opportunity to look up from mouse-height at my now monolithic form, sitting up on my mattress. I sure do look weird in infrared spectrums… better switch back to normal vision. I thought I managed a cringe while I looked up at my own face, not really though. I was too busy looking like I was high.

Nothing like sense-linking with remotes, it does wonders for making you look smart. So, while I still remember, I will introduce you to my pretty, pretty face. I’m a skinny bloke, but I have the face of a Cossack, chiseled and Slavic. This face has gotten me into worlds of shiny, enjoyable, painful and not-so-good situations over my life.

I was also wearing my specs at this point. They were for making me look good, mostly. They also acted as my HUD, as they were easier to ignore than superimpositions on my eyes. Also; one less important thing; they’re also for interfacing with my equipment in the event my spinal implant ever crashes.

By the way; I really hope that never happens.

“Hey, execution time, prisoner.” I heard a familiar brassy voice say through tinny drone audio. Now; I’m cynical, not twisted, there’s a difference. Thus, the joke appealed not so well to me. I would have frowned at Sam’s joke, had I had better control of my mouth. I instinctively turned my vision to face her. My ‘eyes’ whirled around on their eancy weancy legs and looked up at her. I noticed, dastardly, that she was still looking up at my stoned face.

I should forewarn that I’m a pervert. In my defense; most people of both genders value my friendship and my constructiveness in their lives when I’m not an asshole. I’m a pervert, not a shut-in creep. In other words; I looked at everything BESIDES her face… faces get boring after a while. Don’t look at me with those accusing eyes!

So anyway, for those of you who want to know (you star trek geeks and your exotic alien women) she was VERY human. Well, very woman, at least. For those of you who like their women like they like their coffee (no, not cheap and right-this-second! I mean dark and strong!) She would be a winner on her looks alone.

She was rather sinewy, which was obvious through the jersey top and high-waters she was wearing, dumb fabric that fell limply about her betrayed her curves. That aggressive armor she’d worn hadn’t done her any justice! She had this odd yet oddly beguiling tomboy look to her which I hadn’t really noticed before. Mostly because she was too busy threatening people’s well being and alternately keeping me in states of shock and awe.

Speaking of shock… she looked down right at my remote eyes.

My little drones froze, and I was afraid she might haul off and squish the wee things. But she just scoffed, “fucking drone jockeys. If you keep this shit up, you’ll have TWO women you really won’t want to be around.” She was getting more agitated as she went on, I thought now would be a good time to switch back. My eyes blanked for a few seconds, then I was fully back in my own head.

“I mean seriously, what the fuck?” She said aggressively. I paused. “You got anything to say for yourself, asshole?” Good things I could say: her working out shows. No. that could be taken badly… Grovel?… cry? I hate it when my mind gets the blue screen of death! Oh wait, false alarm, I have an idea! And it’s… tell the truth? What the hell?

“I…” Ah, why not? Freakin’ say it! “I’m sorry. I’m a bloody pervert, I know. I was even convincing myself I was guilty… outside my own race? Wow! I sighed and went on. Might as well let this runaway train have one last hurrah. “I also showed you a lot of respect before. Was I trying to exploit you then? I’m happy to say that’s not who I am. Pervert, yes. Jackass, not on my life.” Okay, let’s tally the votes. Hopefully my ballseyness doesn’t end up on her calling me out and punching me in the face. I couldn’t stop myself from pulling my hands up to my shoulders like the skinny kid getting his lunch money pilfered by Big Bubba’

“Hmm,” she nodded thoughtfully. “Good answer. But, if this shit gets me angry again, things will be VERY personal.” She swiftly turned and walked from the room.. I let out a long sigh, being careful not to make it too audible.

I activated my new automation for loading my Tarantulas and shutting them down and watched them skitter into their little cubbyholes in my pack. Luckily, there weren’t any hang-ups or failures. I nodded approvingly and walked out of the cramped bunkroom.

So I’d saved my own ass, didn’t mean I wasn’t feeling guilty. What if what I did WAS kind of screwed up?


I walked in to find ‘Sam standing alone shamelessly. She nodded in my direction and I looked about stupidly.

“Hey,” I said with sarcastic enthusiasm as I gave up looking for the stragglers. “Here’s the idea of a meeting; everyone shows up!” And we were short two heads; my benefactors. Sam pointed down toward the bridge again, no large profiles blocking the main worldview-

“Oh, d’oi!” I said as I smacked myself on the forehead. I looked down a bit further and saw a duo of eight legged creatures about the size of my head curled up in tiny flight chairs. “Captain?” I asked.

“Yes?” the basso voice I’d heard before ripped through the bridge and made me jump. God?

“’Dan, get the hell out of your chair and talk to us over the network.” Sam said impatiently as I looked about nervously. I just hoped there weren’t any more lovely surprises for me, a.k.a., the newbie.

The transpara-monitors around the pilot pit ceased emanating lightning-speed readouts and HUDS. The creature in the lowest and largest uplink lifted itself up and scuttled out. It buzzed and flittered to the one in the other seat, prompting that one to rise. They lithely jumped down to the floor and scuttled over to us. They were holding a personal distance oddly adequate between humans, but not very good for giant, fuzzy spiders the size of my head.

I honestly am not terribly afraid of spiders. But still; aliens and spiders... I paused, waiting for them to say something over the babbler, but I was getting nothing downstream from them.

They were odd looking creatures. Though clearly similar to arachnids, they had a number of definite differences. First, they had yellow stained book gills running in a thin duo of slits over their backs and looking as though they continued on under their abdomens. On their other surfaces, they were covered in a thin pelt of tan and white spotted hair. Their forward limbs, the set that didn’t qualify among their eight legs, were long and gangly, almost as much as the legs. The limbs appeared to be able to manipulate objects by curling around them. I suppose they rose to sentience as tool users, like most of us still left stewing in our own excrement inside The Bridge.

I was back to the present as they suddenly stirred. Their gills began to vibrate, then to shimmer in multiple visible electromagnetic spectrums with an effect like a rainbow. They then began to dance about and brandish their forelegs at one another. They were also emitting some audio byproduct. The sound was like mountain wind swimming over well-made wind chimes while a Buddhist Monk played a harp. This was oddly therapeutic for me, that and I had actually gotten some decent sleep. Those together made me feel all right, at least for a second. Damn, I needed a massage…

“I apologize,” the synthetic basso voice rumbled in my head. That ended my lovely moment much like a truck ends a fly on its windshield, sad and not at all lovely. “But, my brother, 1,213, is acting decidedly like our species. This is very un-typical for either of us. We underwent a rather nasty locking of horns just now” There was a pause as my babbler processed some more of the speech. That pleasant romp was a fight?

“Allow me introduce myself and my brother on behalf of the both of us. I am 1,212 and this is 1,213, as I have said before.” Weird way to name oneself, I supposed they were from some massive hive-creche, as arachnids tend to lay massive egg groups. Families tend to go from namimg their kids after the great war hero in the family to naming them after sandwiches by the third kid. I’d hate to think how hard it would be for a family in the thousands.

“Eh…” Sam said aloud. “Their full names are Badhadboadan and badhadboazin, it’s the closest lingual sound to their number-names,” she said, making the pronunciations seem rather easy. “Just call ‘em ‘Dan,” she pointed to the leading one, “and ‘Zin,” she pointed to the other, slightly darker hued one. I hoped I’d be able to tell them apart, I’d likely forget which one was which if they moved.

“We are from the planet Tyrennia, I suppose you could call us Tyrennians, that would be most suitable. You must understand, however, our race doesn’t deal with outsiders. Save the two of us, of course.”

I raised an eyebrow and my babbler sent off the nonverbal signal. Damn thing! I wasn’t expecting that. “Ah, you are curious?” The basso voice said excitedly. I moaned inside my mind. This would be a long conversation, seeing as I was naturally inquisitive but also had an unnaturally short attention span. That and this bloke seemed to be a jabber jaw, good people most of the time, but jeez!

“We were ostracized by our crèche some decades ago for being un-Tyrennian. We are a very collectivist lot, you see. As thus; any dissent is not taken well. We got off with a fair punishment and avoided being recycled… We tend to take this as a gift and a message from Order to move fourth and prosper in the name of our race…” blah, blah, relatively cerebral, though.

“We hope some day we may return rich and show what benefits befit interstellar commerce!” If only they knew about some of the consequences. But they were idealists. Knowing that would never stop them. I had recognized that earlier on when I had heard this gent talk modestly.

“Bridgett should be arriving shortly.” He added hastily. Bridgett, who’s Bridgett? I thought that decidedly hard so my babbler would hear it. “Ah, she is the ship’s engineer.” A grease monkey? Likely to be a rather gruff thing, was this crew going to be all aggressive girls? Damn, I was going to drown in an ocean of burning estrogen!

“Did someone mention my name?” I heard said behind me in a squeaky, 21st century London accent. I turned around immediately, not really knowing what to expect by that point. “Why, hello there, sunshine!” She said with incredible zeal, grinning with an unsettling tyrannosaurus rex grin. I suppose this would be Bridgett. This all while she appeared human. She was wearing a rather peculiar outfit, blouse and short dress that looked somewhat out of style but slightly sophisticated in a librarian sort of way… I sat for a few seconds, thoughtless and confused.

“What’s ‘a matter, love?” She questioned mousily, “never seen a girl before?”

“Bridgett, you’re not even technically human…” ‘Sam offered bluntly.

“Ah shaddap!” ‘Bridgett’ said with a scowl. “You know I’m -oh my god, what happened to my real body?” She said with massive drama. “Must have thrown it out the airlock, oh well!” A likely cover story. This masquerader was clearly having some kind of identity crisis.

“Bridgett, this is nonsense.” ‘Dan said over the babbler, like a parent chiding a child. “You are a cybernetic organism and have been so long as we have known you. Do not confuse our new crewmember.”

“Ah,” she squealed, “you’re the new bloke headed for the meat grinders, lovely!” she said that with far too much exuberance for my liking… No liking at all, that is. She then casually jumped onto our babbler-party-line.

“Uhh,” I said over the babbler, “so I’ll be doing drone tech duty, mostly?” I asked. Hopefully non-field work.

“Indeed, though we are also counting on a pilot of a drone controller,” ‘Dan said. That was also known as flying a glorified, unarmed control pod on limited fuel with crappy maneuvering systems and a few dozen cookie-cutter, crappy drones backing you up. Lovely, I don’t think I needed that body I was using anyway, a full cyborg body would suit me just as well, as I’d likely die a few times. I looked at my hand and wondered if I should kiss it goodbye.

It was about then I remembered all the military grade drone equipment and fighter-grade weapons systems they bought. So I hoped and prayed that they were for me. A fighter retrofitted as a drone controller would be a GOOD thing.

“My BFF is on her way!” Bridgett squeaked. I turned, completely off balance (conversationally, so no, no cartoonish fall, you creeps.)

“Who’s that?” I asked quite innocently. I really hoped there was no one so hard to make small talk with as this crazy mystery woman-cybernetic… thingy… whatever she was.

“Ooh, time for an info dump!” Her face blanked and she spouted a massive amount of data on my babbler, which then dumped it on the synthetic part of my brain. It was so heavy I physically said “Oof!” Okay, maybe I can find the important stuff.

“Ooh sorry, duckey! Let me just say the important stuff…”

“S’ okay,” I croaked. Almost had it… either that or I was about to lose physical control and soil myself straining to do so…

Polina Soldeux
AGE: 23 [Converted to Sol years]
PHYSICAL: Human, augmented.
-Birth daughter of “Simon “TheMortician “ Serriistere
-Received certification from Guild Arcanum of conditioning as a Data-Archaeologist, Age 21
-Guild Arcanum Thesis received high notoriety: “Ice Giants: The Singularity and Catastrophe”

“Woah…” I said aloud, dumbstruck with some large measure of awe “Daughter of TheMortician.” He was one of the leading theorists in Data-Archaeology. Even if you weren’t into that, you knew about TheMortician… period. “You know this girl?”

“Yes,” Bridgett gloated, “aaand… she’s our ship’s archaeolologist…ist.” She stumbled foolishly. She was too good at sounding dumb to actually be that dumb. I’ve known stupid people, they like to sound smart. Yes, I am a hateful individual… Only because stupid people get everyone killed in wars, if you fight smart enough, few, if anyone, dies.

Well, if they had this kind of brass on the crew, I suppose it couldn’t be that bad. My luck was looking up!

“Ooh, wot?” Bridgett suddenly looked stern. “Oooh duckey, you’ll be all right, I want you to talk to ‘Zin now…”
“’Zin is clammed up.” Sam said unenthusiastically.

“-I mean ‘Dan, yes ‘Dan!” Bridgett did a good job of looking worried as she looked toward the hamster-colored spider standing somewhat distant, still looking creepy. It glanced at me with its two main stereoscopic eyes and I looked away quickly.

“-OH MY GOD YOU HAVE TO HELP ME! THE PIRATES-“ Oh shit… new person on the line, likely Ms. Soldeux. Oh, no! Where are you going, luck! Come back! I would like to take a moment to inform everyone I’m also dying a little inside as my stomach flops a bit… yay?

“Get a hold of yourself, Polina,” ‘Dan said with almost human affirmativeness. “What’s happening?”

“Jesus, ‘Dan, I’m about to die…” there was slight sniffling on the other end of the line. “I can’t fight these guys, they’ve been tailing me… they’re pirates or thugs or something… they won’t speak in BUSEI. They’re trying to scare me into ejecting or something!”

“What is she flying?” I asked ‘Sam aloud.

“Last ‘I saw; it was your ship.” Sam said blankly, looking a bit bleak in the face -- though the amusement in her tone didn’t go unnoticed. Another tick on the blacklist under ‘Sam.’ She appeared to be somewhat dazed, maybe in cyberspace trying to evaluate the situation herself. This wasn’t big news compared to what was coming in on the line. I was thinking quick…

“I can’t fight in this thing, I’m running it on auto pilot, it would be suicide to let it fight by itself-“

“Let me pilot it-“ I thought into the conversation network.

A pause, far too long. I was getting impatient. I wanted to do something, anything to get this crap off of my mind!

“Look,” I asserted into the line, “do you want to die?” I only took one unit of interpersonal communication training as part of my basic in the stellar Fallers, by the way. Does it show?

“Get her back here,” I said aloud and directly to ‘Dan (remoting talent also means you know how to whisper in cyberspace.) “Get me in that ship, I don’t care how crappy it is…”

“Mmm… of the quality of excrement?” Dan thought into the babbler line. “As you process excrement in a rather nasty way as a species, I must venture you say that the Sun Lark is unsavory and useless. The statistics of her class and loadout beg to differ.” Another big dump, another big headache. Damn, I’m an Augment, not a bloody super AI!

Wait a second. I reviewed the blurb about the ship…“The DCV Star Lark is of the Kestrel class commissioned by Martani Secuity Inc.” Wow, they were quite legit… the Stellar Fallers based their business model off of MSI. I brought up a 3d turnaround of the hull and watched it spin as the information about the ship continued to jog through my head. It was actually helluva good… More of a fighter craft or miniature warship than an actual drone controller.

I was more interested in the fact that it had an armored cockpit that was fully blinded, no one could see inside. I had an idea. “Okay, I need to get in that ship… I don’t want to risk any lives besides my own.” And yes, a glowing, golden light surrounded me in my supreme protagonism. Thank you, would you like an autograph?

“I’m patching you in to a hailing frequency with the enemy squadron.” ‘Dan whispered back, I think I’ve just been overestimated! Oh shit!

Think fast… name dump of this ship… SSW-DCV Sunrise under the direction of… this would do.

“Speak” a gruff human on the other end of the hail demanded. The lights in the bridge dimmed and both spiders scurried back up into their flight seats. A tactical map came up, there was one green arrow at the center… another flying towards said green arrow, and a hell of a lot of red flying every which way. I muted the hail.

“I assume that red represents potential ways the combat systems onboard think the pirates can kick our ass?”

“Precisely,” ‘Dan said. Damn. I was tempted to throw my hands up in the air and run from the bridge in a panic. But I managed to keep my cool. No autographs, please.

I summoned up my most official Rele-shout for the hail. “This is the SSW-DSV Sunrise under the direction of Sunrise Starwide… aggressive action will result in retaliation in kind.”

“This is of trivial importance to us, for we are shielded!” They said it like king Arthur who just found a durn ‘magic’ laser. I chuckled ruefully. Who did they think I was, an idiot? Or do they think I think they think I think I’m an idiot… ah, screw it!

I glanced at the Sunrise’s military datashee --, kinetic attack drones, ballistic cannon.

“We are a fully equipped military vessel with fully capable ballistic combat networks, attacks by ships reliant on shields alone are strongly cautioned against.” Translation from corporate speak: “If you fuck with us wif yo’ punk ass shields, you gonna’ die!”

“Well then, we have armor… shit, Milligan, what do we do?” Was delivered downstream from the hail. Okay, so they were either stupid at bluffing, and thus actually equipped with potent armor and damage control… Or; they sucked at bluffing and were trying to bluff. The latter was covered by Murphy’s Law (synopsis: “oh shit! I didn’t plan for that!”) And thus a bad gamble on my part.

The green arrow was now nearly on top of our green dot. “Where’s the docking bay?” I said aloud.

“Follow me,” Sam said to the air. I wanted to get there right now. “I’m guessing you mean the docking systems for the sun Lark? We have those. They’re fairly new.” Thank god… no extra vehicular activity I’d have to do.

So here’s ingenious plan A: First, I convince them the Sun Lark is going runaway and attacking it would make many things explode… second. Oh shit, what was second? Oh, yes! I jump in and make it do crazy things, bluffing them into running like sissy school tikes that’ve seen a ghost. Hah, sometimes even I amaze myself.

We ran from the bridge while I half mindedly tried to formulate a response to the last sorta-bluff on the hail. Okay, going to have to think fast, time to begin the execution of plan A…

“Oh shit, what the fuck is wrong with our flight computer on that drone?!” I willed over the hail.

“There isn’t anything wrong with-“ Sam said aloud.

“Not the time, Sam, part of my plan.” I grumbled mischeviosly. She shook her head and rolled her eyes as we continued down the hall.

“What the fuck, the one we’re chasing?” Came the gruff voice on the other line.

“Yes, you gotta’ let us get that thing linked up, it’s about to go runaway!” I willed down the hailing line, feigning panic. “If you knock it out of the sky, rocket powered death will be flinging everywhere, and it will be angry!” That’s what happens when loaded ships explode… Hence; why military strategy now emphasizes, fewer, more powerful buggers instead of gank swarms (a.k.a. kamikaze fireworks.)

“Are you kidding, mate?” He asked skeptically.

“No. It’s loaded and primed, we’ve got to stop the thing before it goes apeshit!” I really hoped I performed a convincing “we’ve got to disarm this bomb before the bus goes under 30 miles per hour!”

“Let us link it up and empty the bays, we might be able to wrangle it before it’s too late!” I said plaintively down the hail line.

“Oh shit, Hal, let the thing dock, they have to unload the weapons!” Suckers! The fun thing is, we’d be loading the weapons in… the weapons-

“Sam, oh shit! Sam!” I yelled. She turned and raised her eyebrows in some bastard mix of exasperation and concern, where did she learn to do all this human body language? “Are the weapons you bought for the ship ready in the dock?” I said in meatspace once again.

“Who do you think we are, slugs? It’s been ten hours since we left, yes!” I sighed and wiped the sweat from my brow.

“Ms. Soldeux?” I said to the convo’ line.


“Yes you can! Let the autopilot bring you in, then get ready to leg it out of the hatch, I’m doing switchsies.” I said evenly down the line.

“…alright, just get me the fuck out of here-“

“I will,” I said with firmness that even shocked me, since when was I a cool talker?

There was a hellish slam below us as we entered the bay. The roof was barely over my head and the one narrow serviceway to the hatch was surrounded by beltways with lead bullets lined up on them and tiny elevators with clamps for missiles.

“Where’s the hatch?” I asked. Sam pointed down to a circular port in the center.

“That’s the ship-to-ship port, the ship will dock upside down, don’t puke when you exit gravity or hit your head or something.” She said with a hint of concern. That was a first. I wonder if she approved of this buccaneering lumberjackery.

I leaned down over the hatch and squatted there, waiting. Time to ice the cake. “Shit!” I yelled in a panic down the hailing line, “What do you mean it’s overrunning our networks?”

“Oh shit! What the fuck!” the gruff bloke yelled on the other side of the line.

The hatch opened. “Oh fuck, oh fuck!” Polina yelled as she dove feet first through the hatch. I grabbed her and lifted her promptly out of the way so she didn’t fall on her ass. She really sucked at getting out of that tin can. “Who are you?” She asked in exasperation as I let her down. A load of carrier trays and lines locked into the ship below me as I leaned down, the hum of moving service systems pervading the bay.

“A dead man.” I said plainly as I jumped down the hatch, the hum subsiding through the armored hull of the ship and coming through faintly through the narrow hatch.

“Do you got it, man?” The gruff bloke on the other side of the line asked. Oh shit… um… where was I? The weapons were just about done loading.

“What the hell, it’s overriding the docking systems! What kind of bug did this thing pick up?” The hatch closed in a ripple of spinning sections and clicking knobs and sliders.

I was already releasing the docking pads hugging the small fightercraft to the bottom of our hull when the response down the hail came. “I’m beginning to wonder myself.” The hailee said after a long pause. The words were said with a sudden coldness that chilled me to the bone.

“Real bugs wipe out a ship in seconds, why the hell didn’t it just leave you for dead? Prick, you’re screwing with us!” Was yelled down the line.

Shit, oh shit. My mind blanked for a few seconds, then I was back. What the fuck was I doing out here? What would I say? Did they just lead me into a trap?

“I…” think, think, think!

“Prime the guns, Hal, shoot the little gnat down!” Active lock alarms started going off and big, nasty looking, red triangles filled the faux-window covering the cockpit canopy of my ship. They buzzed angrily around, enhanced sights -- laser rangefinders all sorts of things trying to track my craft!

“Oh my god… it’s a virus!” I yelled in alarm down the hail. Going to plan B… or is it just plan A extended?

“Hold that! What the fuck do you mean!” came down the hailing line.

“We had a combat AI onboard, it held back the infection, but now it’s being subverted.” I paused, mostly for drama. “I think the fighter’s still runaway, we couldn’t get any of the ammo off of it!” Of course, I was in the fighter. “Now OUR computer’s starting to go ape!”

“Fuck, shoot that bird down, I’ll take an area blast instead of a direct attack!” The gruff bloke said down the line in a panicked blur.

“No, don’t risk it! If that thing gets in Rele-contact with you, you’re computer’s next! It must be some kind of nasty marketeer meta-being!” I said with desperation down the hailing line. This was like a science fiction B-Movie. I knew they’d take this, real viral vectors could pass easily. Their only option would be to run.

I started up the auto-combat routine in the ship. “I’m telling you that things loaded, oh shit, man, it’s gunning for you, GET OUT NOW!” I sounded even more panicked then when I was panicked. Mostly because I was about to get plucked out of the sky if this didn’t work. I started activating random gestures in the control interface that had linked to my mind.

The weapons primed and the afterburner started by coincidence. The screen also shifted to infrared and Poinga’s smash hit “Cowgirls of the stars” started playing in my head. Who the hell installs a media center in a military craft? Then I saw the pink, fuzzy dice bouncing and floating in the zero gravity and cursed the day that little girl used this beautiful, beautiful ship as a yacht!

Oh god, I hope I don’t die. I thumbed over to the tactical overlay and watched a medium-sized shitheap of a ship turn around and implode to an infinitely small point from a hundred different directions. They’ve run.

“Are they on the trace, ‘Dan?” I asked down the overstretched babbler chat. I was exasperated and likely running off of a shitload of waste adrenaline.

“They jumped out, it was an emergency jump, they aren’t coming back. It looks like they went to a completely different branch of the network.” ‘Dan burbled. I sighed and collapsed in the flight chair. Holy crap… I wasn’t going to die slash wasn’t dead.


“A human interchange model, huh? Why did you need me to do that, 1,212?” Bleh, can’t see.

“I’m sorry Newsdot-“ ‘Dan said in my head. Oh wait, eyes are closed.

“What, you’re giving me a pet name now?” the new voice questioned.

“Calling you by your full name in standard speech would take five minutes, Newsdot.” ‘Dan said monotonously. “Your enterprise name would be much more suitable in this case.”

“I see… Indeed, you’re correct! So, still, why, old bean?”

“Our new crewmember is of the persuasion of which this interchange model caters.” ‘Dan said, that woke me up from my dead stupor.

I looked up at the virtual model of a middle aged, balding. butler-like individual, complete with proper English pronunciation.

“I see, why do you need me to re-brief you? You could just dump on him what I did on you.”

“It’s not so simple, you see, he’s technically a member of the Stellar Fallers.” ‘Dan said with a possible hint of wryness.

The representation’s eyes widened. “Farsol? I can safely assume by my approximation of possibilities that you are likely concerned with using him as leverage to gain access to classified documents?”

“Correct. In accordance with the Farsol Insourcee Enablement act, of course.” I think ‘Dan said that… too many big words.

I slumped in my chair and fell asleep.


The data dump hit me like a bucket of cold water.

“Good morning, sleeping beauty, shall I schedule a manicure for you pansy ass?” I grumbled and sat up, I’d been plopped down on my bed and ‘Sam was standing beside it.

“I checked a background file on MWPedia, certified by lolfacts.rhub,” Sam said smugly. “The article said human circadian rhythm naturally settles into a sixteen hours by eight sleep hours rhythm. I was feeling kind, so I gave you eight hours and ten minutes.” I’d never heard her talk so long… people surprise.

“Any particular reason you suddenly give a crap about me?” I grumbled hoarsely.

She scowled down at me from her standing height over my flat-on-my-ass height. There was a BIG difference. “One, the data that you fell asleep and missed –and that I just dumped on you- is pertaining to your virgin mission. Hopefully we won’t catch the short end of the stick, as they say,” virgins and sticks? Oh god, more morbid humor!

“Second,” she said as she stopped chuckling to herself, “you did a really ballsey thing back there. Plus, you saved a crew member. That’s going above and beyond in my book.”

“So, you forgive me for sneaking a peak before?” I asked, smiling hoefully, but NOT innocently. She frowned, slackened, frowned again, then grunted in frustration.

“Ah hell, why not?”

“So then…” I said, smiling dastardly. (Where’s my pencil mustache, I must twirl it scandalously, then tie a helpless victim to the railroad tracks, mweh, heh, heh!) “What happens if there’s more of that ballsey shit where that came from?” Damn, I hope I don’t get punched in the face for this. Even if I do, it MIGHT be worth it, depending on how many teeth I lose.

“I ‘unno it’s hard to top-“ She suddenly went from genial expression to defcon 1 death glare, then pointed right between my eyes. “You’re pushing it, human!” I chortled a bit, both out of nervousness and because this was funny. “You WON’T get away with that kind of shit again… just this once!” She sighed and walked towards the door, then paused and looked over her shoulder. “By the way; run for landfall is in two hours. Get your heavy kit together and be ready to go groundside.”

“Big guns?” I said plaintively.

“Yes… you might actually be decent with them, the way you behaved before… keep it up and I won’t change my mind. Don’t and I’ll not be within a mile of you when you’re in that stupid suit.” She turned in one fluid motion and walked out.


“Ten years?” ‘Sam questioned, the main view was dominated by pitch-blackness and a single shadow in a land of shadows dominating the view and disappearing below us. “I thought you said this planet wasn’t hot!” I turned my attention to the tactical view, standing out from the normal real-space and only visible through the virtual screens of my spectacles, enhanced reality. There was a solitary green arrow facing a large, bumpy sphere, the view had to be at nearly seven thousand clicks range. I looked at the blank planet.

“Marketeer dominated worlds never cool down,” Polina said morbidly, looking very afraid as red markers pinned themselves along the coastlines of the planet, likely probable settlements. “The AIs are always watching.” My spine shivered as she whispered out the words. I’d shivered because I knew just how right she was.
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