Enjoy the Porn

The Karagan patrol frigate Idolater’s Bane scanned the area with intense bursts of electromagnetic energy at a broad range of frequencies that yielded no results.  Captain Fashul cursed under his breath, careful not to let his Faith Officer hear the blasphemy.  Commander Krusk was a demanding chaplain, but did lack a lot in the way of understanding when it came to cursing.  “Lieutenant Couldron, how are we looking for time?”

“Sir, this mission has been allocated another thirteen minutes.”

Fashul frowned.  That would probably not be enough time to find the Machine Intelligence smuggler they were looking for before they had to continue their patrol.  The glory of capturing the interloper would fall to another patrol vessel further out in the Republic’s space.  He didn’t like that; such a capture would have been a nice feather in his cap.  Still, procedure was procedure, and he had a tight schedule to adhere to.

“Do you think we will find this heretic, Captain?”  Faith Officer Commander Krusk pursed his lips in disapproval at the way things were going.  He did not look well upon letting heretics slip his grasp, and was especially disappointed that it was an MI agent.  Any chance to capture one of those traders in forbidden technology, drugs, and heresy was to be capitalized on.  This particular one was implicated in smuggling pornography, which was a capital offense within Karagan space.  Such immorality was best snuffed out immediately.

Fashul tried not to glare at the Faith Officer.  The position was functionally that of a political officer, and the man had the power to have just about anybody else aboard ship executed if the crime was bad enough.  Certainly the crime of heresy fell under that category.  Failure to capture a foreign heretic merely warranted a black mark on the commanding officer’s record.  While Fashul had relatively few such black marks, he had no desire to have another added.  “We have thirteen minutes to find out, Commander.”

The bridge crew performed their tasks admirably, but the Captain suspected that the Machine Intelligence operative’s ship was too advanced for their sensors to detect.  He decided to try something different.  It was desperate and expensive, but he really didn’t want another black mark to hold his next promotion back.  “Lieutenant Bran, arm twenty EMP warheads and fire in a broad overlapping dispersal pattern.  Let’s see if we can flush them out.”  He could already feel Krusk’s disapproval, but Fashul was willing to take a chance on this.  It was better than running out the clock.

“We have eight minutes left, Captain,” Lieutenant Couldron reminded him.  She was not only a good bridge officer; she was a damned fine timepiece.

“Noted, Lieutenant.  Alert me when we are down to three minutes, please.”

It took the crew three minutes to ready the missiles, and another to launch them.  The explosions were invisible to the human eye, but the panel display lit up as a wall of spheres pulsed to life in front of the Idolater’s Bane’s bow.  Instantly a tiny blip showed up a couple of hundred kilometers away signifying the sudden discovery of the MI smuggler’s vessel.  Without needing a command the crew automatically entered into pursuit of the apparently half-crippled ship, another salvo of missiles being armed.

“Charge the rail-gun capacitors, Lieutenant Bran.”  Rail-guns were a relatively primitive weapon in the Idolater’s arsenal, but they were effective against unshielded ships, and Fashul suspected that their EMP assault had taken down the smuggler’s kinetic barriers.

“Sir, Command has issued us another ten minutes for this action.”

“Thank you, Lieutenant Couldron.  Let’s see about making the most of it.”  Additional minutes were a rare and valuable gift when allotted to a mission from above, and Fashul wasn’t about to waste them now.

“We’ve got him,” the Faith Officer gloated.  This would look good on his record, too.

Fashul wanted to punch the worthless slug Krusk in the mouth, but held on to his temper.  In his opinion Faith Officers never did anything but report good soldiers for minor infractions, yet they always tried to steal the credit.  That was why when engagements got heavy enough a lot of the Faith Officers didn’t survive.

The Idolater’s Bane closed in on its quarry, which was doing its best to limp away.  “Get them on line,” Fashul commanded.  He wanted to have words with this Machine Intelligence criminal before blowing them away.

A couple of minutes later Lieutenant Couldron turned in her seat and said, “The MI ship is responding, sir.”

“Put him on the screen.”  The captain wanted his bridge crew to see this.

The face that appeared was that of a pretty young woman, with flowing dark hair, bronze skin, and deep brown eyes.  There were small black implants embedded in her skin at various points on her face, some of which projected a holographic display in front of her eyes.  Data streamed across it in a technical language that she’d designed herself.  She grinned at the Karagan captain.  “Hello, Fashul.  It’s good to meet you.”

The Faith Officer smirked.  “Not a good time to get cocky, young lady,” he warned.

The MI smuggler laughed.  “Aw, Commander Krusk, you are full of absolutely no surprises.”

Adakak brought his fist down on the arm of his command chair.  “Enough!  How do you know who we are?”

“Sir, a moment, please…” Lieutenant Bran began, but was interrupted by the MI girl.

“I know a lot about you guys,” she taunted.  “Your ship’s security systems are woefully inadequate to taking on a Machine Intelligence newbie, let alone someone like me.”

Captain Fashul quickly grasped what she was getting at, and glanced at a nearby computer monitor with trepidation.  “How did you get in?”

“Oh, it was easy.  See, your onboard wireless systems are leaking signals all over the place, and while it may have a complex encryption system, the way it performs challenge and response leaves you wide open to attack.  You should have your drivers rewritten.”

“Sir, please…”  Lieutenant Bran spoke more loudly this time, trying to get Fashul’s attention.

“Yes, what is it, Lieutenant?”  Fashul’s face was red with anger by this point, and his patience was worn thin.

“Sir, that isn’t a ship we’re chasing; it’s too small.  I think it’s a decoy.”  Bran actually looked embarrassed to have to report this.

“Oh, yeah, I forgot.”  The smuggler giggled.  “Meet Micro.  Micro, meet the Idolater’s Bane.  By the way, you guys should really reconsider your ship names.  Too many awkward words.  Seriously, ‘Idolater’?”

“You shut up!”  A vein was popping out on Krusk’s forehead with rage.

Suddenly the various screens and lights on the bridge began to flicker on and off at random intervals.  The constant hum of the ship’s engines gave way to silence and the flow of air through the ship’s ducts ceased.  The only remaining stable piece of gear on the bridge was the main monitor.

“And it looks like we are out of time here.  OK, guys, I’ve got to run.”  Her ship flew into view.  It was primarily a sphere of clear material surrounded by an asymmetrical framework of pipes and devices.  There was a single engine mounted awkwardly on the back that pulsed with energy, and a relatively tiny humanoid figure perched on a hanging command seat waving at them.  She had long black hair, and Fashul would swear that he saw her smiling broadly at them.

“Goddammit!”  Commander Krusk was taking the situation particularly hard, to the point of blaspheming loudly.

The strange ship scooped up the decoy in an externally mounted container and began to fade to invisibility.  “By the way, boys, here’s something for your reports… My name is Anamapola, and I captain the Bubble Chaser.  Enjoy the porn!”

 

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