In which the author caters to the romantics among her readership.

HMB Impulsive in the heart nebula

That night, Enigo snuck into Loreli’s room using the Jefferies tubes, a time-honored tradition on The Hood. After he squeezed his way out of her vent and had brushed himself off, she made sure to trip and fall into his arms. He told her she was beautiful in pink, and she told him he was brave against main courses. When they kissed, she made sure not to use her tongue.

Later, as they cuddled contentedly on her couch, he blew into her hair and whispered, “I love you.”

The next morning, Loreli saw Ellie as she was leaving the transporter room, stifling a yawn.

“Were you working on the Inconceivable all night?” she asked as she joined in step beside her. They headed to the bridge conference room. Commander Deary had called for a meeting to discuss what they’d found from examination of the NO-BRAINRs.

Ellie’s cheeks grew pinker than Loreli’s. “Not really. I… Lieutenant Fle’ek invited me back to the Rational Plausibility – but it’s not what you think! I mean, yeah, I was with him all night, but it was just our first date. I’m not like that, and we’d only just met and…”

“Relax, Ellie,” Loreli said as she slipped an arm through hers. She led her to the nearby restroom, where she produced a brush for Ellie. It was simply to give her an excuse to speak privately, of course. The teleporter was programmed to receive people in a shift-ready state: clean and fresh-smelling, hair and uniform neat, teeth devoid of plaque and bacteria causing bad breath.

Loreli leaned on a sink in a way that casually invited conversation, a pose she’d learned in ship’s sexy training and practiced often. “I’m well versed in art of Logic courtship. There’s a reason they say the ears fall off and not some other body part. But may I ask your impression of the evening?”

Ellie’s look or relief morphed into one of doubt. She brushed her hair a few times, her gaze turned inward. “Well, at first it really exciting…but then, it just got long.”

They arrived in time to take their seats as the captain entered from the bridge. If anyone noticed anything unusual between Enigo and Loreli, or about Ellie, they gave no indication and the trio was glad of it.

Ensign Sisco stood with Commander Deary at one side of the table. As the captain settled into his seat, Deary pulled up an image of the NO-BRAINR. The image blew apart as he spoke, and then narrowed to one piece and increased magnification.

“We knew something tampering with the replicators, but we couldna see how. Even with the scientific equipment on the Inconceivable and knowing approximately what to look for, it took us hours, but we did finally discover it. ‘Twas your insight about threads that gave us the key, Ensign.”

The magnification had increased, showing them first molecules, then atoms, then strings. Finally, it rested at the thread level. Even with the best technology the Interstellar Union had to offer, the image was grainy and out of focus.

“This is from a programming chip, a line of crystalline logitanium. The thread is known as yarnia, it’s one of the most common in the universe. However, if you compare this one to a normal yarnia…”

He pulled up a second image, this one artificially colored yellow. He directed the computer to overlap the two images, then magnify again. There was no dramatic difference between the images, just a subtle variation in length and texture.

Now Sisco spoke. “We checked over a hundred of these threads. Most, but not all, showed anomalies, but not all the same anomaly. We think it’s some kind of programming code.”

He paused then, waiting for his fellow officers to draw the only rational conclusion. They looked from the diagram to each other, but not even Ellie spoke first. No one wanted to voice the horror of what they’d found.

Finally, the captain spoke. “No wonder we couldn’t find prankster or the altered code. No human could have done this. Probably the only species with the programming sophistication for this kind of work.”

Sisco nodded. “Yes, sir. The Cybers.”