Hey! I’ll be at Dragoncon! If you read these and see me, yell “The Ship is Family!”
HMB Impulsive docks at a starbase

Jeb sauntered back to the Impulsive in the middle of the night shift. Since they were in port, that meant there was only a skeleton crew and most everyone else was sleeping or enjoying their off time. The corridors were empty. Which was just as well; Jeb knew he was wearing an expression his momma would have called, “twitterpated.”

He didn’t care. It had taken eight years, but he’d finally gotten the kiss he’d dreamed about since he’d first laid eyes on a spunky redhead lieutenant who’d been assigned to show Phin and him around their first assignment.

His quarters were not far from the bridge, as was the tradition for all human ships, but he didn’t make a side trip to check on things. Instead he went straight to his quarters, plopped into a chair, and put his feet on the table. He leaned his head back and relived that first kiss, letting himself bask in the happiness. Loreli might be alive, Kati like-liked him… He hadn’t felt this hopeful in a long time. He wanted to savor it before something came along to mess it up.

The doorbell chimed.

Thinking it was Phin wanting a report on his date, he hustled to the door. Phin was there, but so were Lieutenant Doall and Tod Ahndmore. They all looked grim.

And that was it, he thought.

“Come on in and tell me about it,” he said. As they settled at the table, he replicated a pot of coffee and four cups. He’d been sailing on endorphins – and other happy hormones – but the others looked weary.

Ellie accepted her cup, then began, “You see, sir, we got to thinking about Janbot, and what exactly he might be reporting to the Cybers, any why he was in auxiliary control the day… of the crisis.” Even now, she hesitated to say, “the day Loreli and the doctor were killed.”

Todd took up the narrative. “It turns out it was complete coincidence. It was just Janbot’s regular day, and when the battle started, it stayed to pass on intel.”

Ellie cut in, “But there was so much comms traffic it hid it.”

Jeb nodded. The Cybers had been unusually chatty.

Ellie continued. “So we think there was a connection between the Cybers and Janbot right when the teleportation was failing. Remember that weird message I got? ‘Behind you?’ I didn’t know what it meant, and then so much happened I forgot about it, and later after the weirdness of Janbot, I thought it might have been a message just to say he was there as support –”

“- but this was before it started getting weird and emotional –” Todd interjected.

“- so we thought, ‘What if it was KatHack?’ You know, the kurikrearrogance program? Well, if that was the case, then it could very well have been part of the cybervirus that infected the ship.”

“So it wasn’t from the replicator virus?” For readers who have forgotten or missed some episodes – shame on you! – a virus started causing the replicators to produce all manner of odd products.”

“Exactly, sir. Which is why we were the only ship infected with the cybersong virus.”

“Interesting, but not worth a two a.m. briefing,” Jeb said. He wasn’t chiding so much as saying he was ready for the really bad news.

“No, sir. As you recall, the first outbreaks of song happened a day or two after the crisis at Filedise. We checked the visual records, and Janbot started reporting to the Cybers every day after that,” Ellie started.

Todd passed over a tablet. “Even worse, it changed its maintenance routine without logging the differences.”

The tablet projected a 3-dimensional map of the ship. Janbot’s route zigged all over it, with dots of varying sizes to show stops – the larger the circle, the longer it lingered. At each stop were music notes to indicate song.

“So, it was influencing us to make music?”

Ellie said, “More likely, it was listening – and analyzing.”

Jeb leaned back and swore. Music was one of the main weapons biological beings had against the Cybers. The creative, emotional aspects confused their logical pathways.

“Yes, sir. With even part of the KatHack now part of its programming, it could understand song and pass that understanding to the Cybers. But it gets worse.”

She expanded a part of the holographic schematic to the crew quarters, then to a single room. “This is Lieutenant LaFuentes’ room.”

Jeb rubbed his forehead. “Had he been listening to Dread Oog Rage Metal?”

There are two forms of music known to be dangerous to most humanoid life forms. The first were the orchestral compositions of the Logic B’Lather, which were so mind-numbingly complex they could knock out most intelligent life forms. (For the rest, they became incessant earworms.) Then, there was Dread Oog Rage Metal. While the originating species classified it as “smooth jazz,” the effect on the humanoid brain was to overload the fight and flight responses to a suicidally murderous frenzy. It had a similar effect on artificial intelligences. The inhabitants of the UGS Hood, Enigo’s home, had been subjected to it at a young age and could not only tolerate it but also embraced it as part of their heritage.

“Most likely, sir. All the sensing equipment was off in his room many of the times Janbot tarried there. It’s noted in the logs, but no one thought anything about it since, well, he was grieving.”

Todd said, “But Janbot, with the KatHack program infecting his system, could have adapted to the music – and then passed that adaptation on to the Cybers.”

“Hellfire.” Jeb sat back, thinking. Enigo had used Dread Oog Rage Metal to destroy the Cyber ships at Filedise. It had been spectacularly effective. Now, they’d not only have a defense against it, but most likely, they knew the effect it had on Union ships and their “biological components.”

He turned to Smythe. “We send out a report to the fleet?”

Smythe nodded, “Yes, Captain, and to Union Central.”

“All right, that’s the best we can do for the moment. Tomorrow, I want people thinking about how we deal with this threat. Ah!” He held up a warning finger at Ellie and Todd, who had leaned forward as one to share their ideas. “I said, ‘Tomorrow.’ If you had a cure-all, you’d have led with that, so since we aren’t fixing this now, a good night’s sleep won’t hurt. Now, go on. Commander, if you’d stay a spell?”

When the others left, he gave his friend a rueful grin. “It just never stops, does it?”

“Apparently not.”

He pointed toward the door with his thumb. “Have those two been finishing each other’s sentences all night?”

Phineas relaxed in the chair. “Apparently so. Lieutenant Straus has started a ship’s pool concerning their engagement.”

“We’re leaving day after tomorrow…” He looked to the ceiling. “Pulsie, put me down for tomorrow evening eight o’clock, he’ll pop the question.”

“And how was your evening?” Phineas asked.

Jeb’s grin said it all, but that didn’t stop them from talking about it for the next hour.