Saturday, 1 December 2012



Si never felt as free as when he had his ladies released into the openness of space. Despite his physical body being trapped in the tight confines of a crash-vat, his mind was flying around space, dancing in the dappled light of the sun. 
Aunt Lorn was always in the vanguard, spitting fire at the other ship's drones as she banked around them, rocket engines burning bright. This feast of light and energy gave Great granny Rose and Irene the opportunity to break off and enter a counter-rotating orbit of Europa, seeking to get behind the enemy ship.
Alice and Little Mia followed in Aunt Lorn's wake, but with a little more subtlety. They contained Si's best electronic equipment, the top of the range hardware he'd assembled himself. Deep within the crash-vat he smiled as Mia delicately peeled open the electronic defences of the drone closest to his intervention ship, then Aunt Lorn smashed it apart with a volley of plasma weaponry. 
Si was good. He knew it and even his most outspoken critics (ie most people he met) knew it too. He'd always been talented, right from back in his school days. Si’s universal grade point average was a regional best 97.8. And this despite the fact he rarely attended his automated learning centre. Instead, he'd spent the latter part of his school days developing a sophisticated infiltration programme targeting the central educational AI. On exam results day he'd successfully launched it, even going as far as giving his mum a copy of the e-certificate to put on the wall. 
It took the education AI 7.6 seconds to realise that it had been hacked. This was an all Asia record at the time; the AI was very interested in this occurence. It took another 31.3 seconds to trace the hack back to Si (another record) and an arrest warrant was issued, security drones released. However, at the same time a "person of technical interest" tender was issued to the congloms. The recruitment AI of the congloms quickly appraised the files presented, then launched competitive bids to purchase Si's imminent incarceration. Lanark Horishmo was the top bidder and so the security drones deposited a confused Si at their corporate headquarters within two hours of his hack going live.
Mia and Alice combined their electronic attack on the next enemy drone, disorientating its navigation software and sending it hurtling down towards Europa. If anything, Si was finding this too easy. The initial attack and AI failure had caught him off guard, but since then he had been steadily gaining the electronic upper hand. Whoever he was up against had an impressive electronic arsenal at their disposal, but just didn't seem capable of using it imaginatively. That made it easier and easier for Si to anticipate their attacks; to subvert or misdirect them. Now with his ladies in the field, the tide was turning even quicker. Another enemy drone disintegrated under assault from Aunt Lorn as Little Mia and Alice danced around another, intrusion scripts running hot as they pulled it apart from the inside. 
Great granny Rose and Irene had just about completed their orbit when Si powered down their engines. The other ship loomed in the distance, but was stationary. By cutting off the engines and letting the two ladies drift the remainder of the orbit he could suppress their heat and electronic signatures. Now any drone controller worth a damn would still spot the suspicious objects orbiting on a similar trajectory to his or her own ship and let the ship AI begin evasive manoeuvres. But Si suspected that if their lacklustre control of the drones was anything to go by, Great granny and Irene might just get within range without the ship noticing. 
He was right. 
Shifting Mia, Alice and Aunt Lorn onto a more automated set of scripts - they could more than look after themselves - he was able to concentrate on the two ladies approaching the enemy ship. He gradually powered up their electronic warfare systems, keeping half an eye on the enemy ship at all times to see if it showed any signs of reacting to this threat. It didn't. Si began with a few basic scans, try and see what he was up against. It was an intervention ship similar to their own, but of a design not in any of his technical handbooks. Probably something new out of the shipyards he figured. It lacked any transponder or digital signature, so he didn't have a name for it. However, this wasn't all that unusual as if it was a rival conglom trying to make a move on LH holdings, then running without identification it would make it easier to deny in the the corporate courts back on Earth. 
He'd have to make his move soon as the drifting orbit of Great granny Rose and Irene was taking them ever closer to the enemy intervention ship. He couldn't work his way into the central AI core, that was too well defended and had multiple redundancies. Instead he started an attempt to break into the low-level life support systems. This was something of a speciality of his, he had some scripts purely for this purpose. Never mind "flipping" an enemy drone, there was no bragging rights better than backing up the enemy crew's toilets in zero g. Given that these shits had tried to kill him, never mind messing with the toilets, he felt like breaking the o2 systems. However, it would probably make more sense to disable them rather than kill them all. Try and get some answers over why the hell they had attacked his ship.
Si went to work, aiming to break their lighting systems and set the o2 alarms off, if not actually mess with the air supply. Get them panicking, then push for surrender. However, after just a couple of seconds he stopped. He couldn't locate the life support systems on this particular ship. Those systems normally weren't actively hidden that deep in the AI systems, but even if it was, Si was the guy to root it out. It just wasn't there, did this crew not need to crap or something? There wasn't enough time for introspection though, Rose and Irene were with a thousand clicks now; close range. 
Time to switch his attention. Si went into the enemy engine systems. This caught their attention; it was difficult to attack engines without it setting an alarm off somewhere. He watched via the readings from Great granny Rose and Irene as the enemy ship powered up its manoeuvring thrusters to try and escape his electronic tentacles. Too late; he was in.
It was impressive, the enemy had the latest ion drive, able to reach 0.89 the speed of light. Made his ship look like a bit of a sloth in response. Taking these guys down would be a significant feather in his cap. They might even try to recruit him for this fancy-pants ship, give him a well deserved promotion. Whoever the drone controller was on this ship, he or she was no great shakes, but Si could whip it into shape. 
The enemy ship exploded. 
The feeds from Rose and Irene blanked out, radar trace showing them tumbling off into space under the force of the explosion. Meanwhile, the two drones that Aunt Lorn, Mia and Alice hadn't got round to tearing apart yet shut down. Electronic readings showing that their AI had been wiped; they were now just lifeless husks, floating space junk. 
Si frantically went through the last few seconds of his readings, trying to work out if it was anything he had done to trigger the explosion. He'd been in their ship thrust control, getting ready to start shutting it down. There wasn't in there anything that could trigger an explosion, he knew his way round an ion drive. So why the explosion? He instructed Lorn and Alice to go recover Rose and Irene, he wanted to check the readings they'd taken just before this ship blew. Meanwhile, Mia was tasked with salvaging one of the enemy drones, see what he could dig out of that. 
After a while of fruitless cross checking, Si gave up and opened the crash-vat. His ladies were nearly back with their hauls, so he could go see if that shed any light on the case of the mysterious exploding ship. The come down from the crash-vat was a horrific task. The occupant had to get the oxygenated ooze out of their stomach and lungs. There were little sinks, attached to which were suction masks for zero g operations. Si hooked a mask over his face and began to vomit, wretch and cough up the ooze, which gurgled away down the hose. After it was over, Si drifted to the bank of showers on the opposite wall, try to wash the worst of the gunk from his flight suit (oddly named given that it never actually flew, but was a hangover from air forces past). Zero g showers were unsatisfying rather than unpleasant, the water not pulled down by gravity made it an awkward process. What was more awkward was when the showers refused to work. Fucking AI Si cursed, before heading out of the room, leaving a trail of slime behind him like a grumpy slug.

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