This story was largely a rewrite of The Overture, because I felt that story was a bit too expository (and too close to Star Trek). Ultimately I dumped this version too, in favor of the ongoing comic.
The Starship Victory soared through open space in directions that don’t technically exist. It dodged two inert comets and fired a plasma blast at a third one. It exploded and the Victory slipped through the gap between pieces of debris.
The Victory followed close behind the Symphony warship Sidney. The Sidney, being much larger than the Victory, ignored the petty little comets. They bounced off the Sidney’s armored hull ineffectually.
Executive Officer Carmine ordered the firing crews to launch the Meta-Torpedoes at the central hub of the Sidney’s distributed engine network. My goodness, he thought, if we don’t stop them here they’ll reach Earth-Prime. God knows what they’ll do then.
The Victory fired two torpedoes and they slammed into the Sidney. An eighty meter sphere around the impacts rotated ninety degrees fourth-dimensionally. The Symphonics in the area were torn apart by tidal forces and the air in the connected compartments poured out into space.
A Symphonic saw the area around him torn away, but he was just outside the blast radius. Explosive decompression pulled him into open space. His on-board computer queried the Symphonic Wireless about what to do. The answer was simple.
His bionic implants flash froze his organic tissues and entered low energy sleep mode.
“The tech heads say he came from the first Symphonic invasion a hundred years ago.” Admiral Beyhine said.
“The one where Captain Beauchamp…” Colonel Dart trailed off. “Nasty bit of business.”
“We were lucky to survive that.” the admiral said. “I lost my first wife at that battle.”
Lieutenant Colonel Elorg’s cybernetic implants sat on pins and needles. He didn’t feel comfortable with his people’s history. “What would happen if he awoke?” he said.
“The last time we found a Symphonic from the, eh, old orchestra, he infected all the other Symphonics in ten light-years with a hive mind.” Admiral Beyhine said. “We lost five Starships keeping them away from Symphony space.”
Elorg shut down his wireless network. He thought, better safe than sorry. The distant mind music faded to nothing.
“We can get him to Pegasus Institute in eleven hours at maximum speed.” Colonel Dart said.
The admiral said, “No need to worry, Eric, my boy. He’s in stasis. We wouldn’t be holding him at Eris Station if we believed there was any danger whatsoever.”
“And yet you’re calling up The Victory, pearl in the Galactic Union fleet. Newest, fastest, most powerful and the most prestigious starship in this corner of the galaxy.” Dart said. “There must be something you’re not telling us.”
“Well, I figured you’d want to hear about the nuts-and-bolts glorious mission. You’re very… diligent, Eric.” Admiral Beyhine said. “My great granddaughter just happens to be on her way to Pegasus Institute. She’s attending Biotech Camp.”
“With all due respect Admiral, the Victory is a starship, not a school bus.” Chief Hayes said.
“I have to agree with my Security Chief.” Colonel Dart said.
“Eric,” the admiral said, “I’m just asking for a little favor. She’s going right to Pegasus Institute. It’s not out of your way.”
Colonel Dart said, “Knowing you, though, you’ll want me to personally escort her around the ship.”
“Not personally. She likes robots. You could have Elorg or Golem show her around. It would be a treat. She’s only ever been on tiny freighters before.” the admiral said.
Elorg pointed at his organic face with is multifunction cybernetic hand. “Hey, I’m mostly human.” he said.
“And Golem calls children ‘crotchlings’.” the colonel said.
A flash of light obscured Ensign Brahma at his navigation console. When the light subsided Brahma was replaced with a chrome plated mechanical automaton. “I could show the little lady around. I like kids.” he buzzed in flanging monotone. His jaw flapped up and down.
The colonel glared at him.
“I’m asking this as a favor. It would mean a lot to me.”
Dart sighed. “Very well.” he said. “Bear in mind, my birthday is coming up and I’m running low on Athenian Wine.”
“That’s quite a price, but I’ve got a few bottles of twenty-five oh-one lying around somewhere.” the admiral said.
Brahma stepped into Teleport 4. He experimented with a few different robotic forms. He added more articulation into his hands, giving himself individual fingers and then individual joints. He decided this was too much, so he culled his hands back to solid molded steel.
The admiral’s great granddaughter emerged from a shimmering latticework of light.
Brahma said, “Greetings, young lady.” He bowed. Pistons in his spine wheezed steam.
“You’re quite an impressive piece of work. Hard to believe you can stand up, let alone talk.” the admiral’s great granddaughter said. “Do you have a name?”
“Ensign Brahma, at your service.” Brahma said.
“I’m Celia.” the admiral’s great granddaughter said.
Brahma said, “I have been directed to escort you around the ship. Is there anything in particular you would like to see?”
“Engineering.” the little girl said.
“Very well.” Brahma motioned for him to follow her. They walked out of the teleport room and down the hall. Brahma walked up to the lift and the door opened. Once stepping inside Brahma said, “Engineering.”
The ship’s computer beeped.
Brahma tried again, this time in his normal voice, “Engineering.”
Celia said, “You’re not really a robot, are you?”
“Guilty.” Brahma said.
“Then what are you?” she asked.
“That’s kind of hard to explain. I’m made out of ideas.” Brahma said.
The lift door opened up into the rear of engineering. Chief Golem tinkered with a panel displaying power distribution throughout the ship. Most of the circuits terminated in the Medical deck.
“Ah, Golem. Just the android I wanted to see.” Brahma said.
The little girl’s eyes lit up. “Are you really a robot? Not a phoney bologna idea-of-a-robot?”
Golem sighed. “Oh great, a crotchling. Just what I always wanted.”
“Ix-nay the rotchling-cay.” Brahma said. “She’s Admiral B’s great granddaughter.”
“And she likes robots, so you decided to masquerade as an ancient Earth… thing… to placate her.” Golem said.
“You get another neural net update?” Brahma said.
The little girl smiled.
“Anyway,” Brahma said, “let me show you the engines.”
He lead the Admiral’s great granddaughter past display panels and holograms. He pointed at a massive metal scaffold with lights twinkling inside fiber-optic arrays.
He lead the little girl through Engineering. He pointed out the power conduits and engines. He lead her down to Deck 9 and pointed out the plasma bolt array and shield generators. Then he lead her up through the ship.
Their next stop was the Medical Deck. Brahma lead the little girl into Doctor Mustaff’s office.
The doctor snorted. He said, “You must be the admiral’s little girl. Nice to meet you.”
“She’s on her way to Pegasus Institute for Biotech Camp.” Brahma said.
“No kidding.” the doctor said. “You look a little young to be so interested in medicine.”
“You look too old to be a doctor.” Celia replied.
The doctor laughed. “I once patched up your great grand-daddy’s hip maybe thirty years ago. I looked older then than I do now.”
He pointed at a display on his wall. He said, “Alright. If you’re so interested in biotech than what is on that display.”
“A human cell culture infected with an ancient Earth bacteria. I think it’s called ‘the flu’.”
“Right you are.” the doctor said. “You just might have what it takes to be a doctor.” He walked over to a recessed cabinet in the wall and said, “Lollipop mark-eight slash four B. Cherry.” A lollipop emerged in a twinkle of light. The doctor scooped it up and handed it to the little girl. “I’ll put in a good word with Professor Masuoka.”
Celia said, “Uh, Thanks. Can we continue our tour, Mr. Brahma?”
“As you wish.” He waved to the doctor and continued his tour. He lead the little girl through a few hallways and an operating plaza. Celia noticed a massive coffin in a corner of the plaza. She said, “What’s that?”
“A contains a sample of a very dangerous disease.” Brahma said. “That machine will keep it from becoming active any time soon, however. There isn’t anything to worry about.”
Celia approached the coffin. She tapped her fingers on a keypad and it beeped angrily at her. She examined it’s angular lines and ran her fingers over a series of vents. She jammed her lollipop into one of the vents and left it there.
“Alright. Let’s get going.” she said.
The tour ended in the Bridge. The lift door opened and he motioned for her to get out.
She said, “I’ve never been on the bridge of a starship before.”
Colonel Dart cleared his throat. He said, “Welcome, Celia, to the Starship Victory. I hope you’ll enjoy your stay on our ship.”
She ran up behind Chief Hayes’ station and looked at the tactical read outs. She ran to Brahma’s usual post, the navigation station, and looked at the twinkling display.
Dart said, “Hopefully she wasn’t much trouble.”
“Not at all. I find human youngsters’ energy quite charming.” Brahma said.
“Would you like Lieutenant Brahma to bring you to the canteen for a snack?” Dart said. “Or perhaps to your quarters. I’m sure this is all quite tiring.”
Celia said, “I’m not hungry and I’m not tired.”
“Well, maybe you’d like to see the Recreation Deck, then? I’m sure we can rig up some fun game for you to play on one of the Sims.” the colonel said.
“I’d rather stay here.” the admiral’s great granddaughter said.
Crystallizing sugar shorted a circuit inside the containment coffin.
Doctor Mustaff noticed a strange reading on one of his displays. He walked down to the coffin to examine exactly what was happening. He found a lollipop sticking out of a vent and pulled it free. He shook his head.
The monitor above the keypad said, “Catastrophic Containment Failure.” He entered the override code.
The containment failure didn’t have anything to do with the lollipop. The ensign who installed the coffin didn’t properly connect it to the ship’s power supply and it’s power had slowly been trickling out for the past few hours, slow enough for nobody to notice.
Inside the coffin computers slowly eased to life. They fired a catalyst into the Symphonic’s biological cells and he woke.
He wondered why he couldn’t hear the music of the Symphony. Had he been captured by the humans? The dark cell he was trapped inside indicated that theory was correct. But how could they block his hyperspace wireless? How could they drown out the Symphony?
His claw tore at the metal coffin. He tugged and ripped a hole to the outside and forced it open large enough to crawl through. He spun himself around to acquaint himself to his surroundings. He saw a gray haired human typing angrily at a console.
“It was just a lollipop you stupid machine.” he muttered.
A needle ejected from the Symphonic’s cybernetic arm. He stabbed into the doctor’s neck and flooded his carotid artery with virus sized machines.
Doctor Mustaff said, “Secur-” before the tiny machines filled his brain with a sedative.
“I find it hard to believe that your parents allow you to perform simulated surgeries.” Lieutenant Brahma said.
“It’s true.” Celia said. “I’m really good at appendectomies.”
“Just to be on the safe side I’m going to contact your parents before I load that kind of program here.”
They stood inside a Sim Hall. Using a combination of matter reorganizers, force fields, localized gravitational distortions and holograms the Sim Hall could create anything. If you could dream up a scenario in your mind you could create it inside the Sim.
“Fine.” Celia said.
Brahma thought for a moment. Could a seven year-old bluff? No. Not a human one, anyway.
“Load surgery program seven slash nine QD Omega.” he said. A surgery theater appeared around them. A patient wheezed on a gurney in front of the two.
The admiral’s great granddaughter picked up a scalpel.
The Sim door opened into the outer ship and Doctor Mustaff staggered in.
“Doctor!” Brahma said, “Are you alright?”
Jagged metal spikes poked out of his finger tips. His eyes were glazed over. He stabbed Brahma with one of his spikes and shot tiny machines into his imaginary mechanical body. The machines crawled through Brahma, trying to find whatever direction lead to the seat of his consciousness, just outside of normal space.
Brahma croaked, “Computer, emergency teleport Celia Beyhine from Deck 5 to Bridge.”
A vortex swallowed the little girl.
“Security emergency on Deck Five.” he said. One of the tiny machines followed Brahma’s strange atomic structure outside of normal space. The others followed it and together they infected his immense intelligence with the music of the Symphony.
The admiral’s great granddaughter appeared on the Bridge. Most of the bridge crew ignored her, tapping away at their consoles. They flooded Deck Five with anesthetic gas and sealed off the bulk-heads. They cut the power to the lifts.
Colonel Dart said, “What the hell’s going on down there?”
“The doctor,” Celia began, “he had these spikes sticking out of his fingers. He was being controlled by something.”
Elorg said, “The scanners indicate Symphonic nano-infection. Sir, we seriously need to consider evacuating the ship.”
“What happened to Brahma?” Dart said.
“The doctor attacked him.” the little girl said.
“Brahma couldn’t seriously be infected could he?” Dart said.
Elorg said, “He could teleport to the bridge under his own power. I think we have to assume the worst.”
“You’re right.” Colonel Dart said. “Is there any way we can kill him?”
Elorg said, “Thus far the Union hasn’t had to kill any meta-organic lifeforms.”
“We should detonate the engines,” Chief Hayes said. “Even that might only give him a black eye.”
“You’re the expert.” Elorg said.
“Chief Hayes? Prepare to evacuate the ship.” Dart motioned for the little girl to go to the chief. “She’ll make sure you get home safe, okay?”
Celia scuttled up to Chief Hayes.
“Open a comm-channel to Engineering.” Dart said.
Elorg tapped at his console. “Shit. Communications relays are down.” Elorg said. “They’re starting to carve up the computers for spare parts.”
“Language.” Dart said.
“Oh. Sorry.” Elorg said.
“Elorg, you and Chief Hayes head up the evacuation. I’m going to take a strike team down to engineering.” Colonel Dart said. He walked over to a maintenance duct and popped the cover off. “Launch the shuttles in ten minutes. Pull out to the limit of teleporter range and pull any uninfected crew off, except for myself and the security detail. If I don’t message you for further instructions in a half hour get the hell out of here.”
Ever since the moment Brahma awoke on Morentai-4 so many years ago he’s lacked purpose. With only a vague memory of the Vedas in his imaginary estimation of a head he spent the next few decades trying to discover who and what he is. With the Symphony blaring in his mind he finally found purpose.
He shaped the Sim Hall around him into new implants for Doctor Mustaff. In a flash of light cybernetics sprouted out of the doctor’s skin. He shambled out of the tattered Sim Hall and into the gym. The door slid open for him.
A crew member playing air hockey saw him stumble in. She said, “Elorg? You don’t look so-”
The doctor shambled up to her opponent and stabbed him in the back. Cybernetic viruses flooded into his body. The doctor walked around the outside of the air hockey table.
The crew member dove away. She pulled a plasma pistol out of her purse. “Stand down. Stop!” she yelled.
The doctor didn’t listen. He continued on toward her.
She fired. He didn’t even notice.
“Halt!” she said. “I’ve got no choice but to set this to maximum.”
The doctor inched closer to her.
She fired again. The beam ricocheted onto a wall.
The doctor plunged his infection spike into her. She pulled herself away before the sedative hit her. The last thing she saw was the swirling mechanical morass that once was Brahma reshaping her air hockey opponent into a member of the Symphony.
“I need volunteers.” Colonel Dart said. “This is the real deal. Everybody on this mission is probably going to die, but you’ve heard the rest. I need soldiers. Anybody with me?””
Ensign Turro said, “I’m with you. Nothing against Brahma, but I’ve always wanted to kill a god.”
“Damn right.” Ensign Stein said. “And I’ve played through Symphonic outbreak Sims dozens of times. We can handle the rest of them.”
“Come on, ladies. You gonna let yourselves be upstaged by a couple ensigns?” Lieutenant Dwight said.
The rest of the security officers looked away.
“Come on you little Red-Shirts. This is what we went to academy for. This is a dangerous job,” Dwight continued.
“That’s alright.” Colonel Dart said, “The bigger the group the more likely they’ll spot us. The rest of you wait for instructions from Chief Hayes and Lieutenant Colonel Elorg.”
The ensigns, lieutenant and colonel crawled into another maintenance duct. They crawled through the belly of the ship, beneath the primary weapons arrays and shields, down below the officers quarters and past the warehouse and shuttle craft deck. The maintenance ducts ended suddenly at Deck Five, replaced with strange, alien technology.
Lieutenant Dwight scanned for life signs. “Nothing.” he said. “Looks like the area’s been stripped clean.”
“That’s the Symphony’s M.O.” the colonel said.
Dwight pried the wall open with his plasma rifle. He poked his head around. Beyond the strange alien architecture spreading cancerously around the deck it was empty. He pushed himself into the hall. The rest of them followed.
“This hall leads to the staircase to the Infirmary.” Colonel Dart said. “Probably. Looks like somebody has been redecorating.”
They walked down to the infirmary. Two nurses laid twitching on the floor. Metal spikes sprouted from their fingertips.
Dwight motioned for them to be very quiet. They tiptoed across the room. They passed by the torn stasis pod and continued on to Doctor Mustaff’s office. Golem was chained up on his desk. One of his arms had been replaced with a Symphonic implant.
“Uh, colonel,” the android said, “we gotta get the hell out of here pronto.”
Colonel Dart said, “What the hell happened?”
“Ensign Chuii stumbled into Engineering a few minutes ago. He looked pretty drunk, so I told him to go home and sleep it off. Then I realize he’s got these big, metal spikes sticking out of his fingers. He stabs me in the chest, but whatever it is it doesn’t work on robots.” Golem said.
“Your arm?” the colonel said.
Golem said, “Okay. I try fighting him, but by the time I can do anything the rest of the damned engineering crew have gotten infected too. They dragged me up here and chained me down. This friggin’ morass of computer parts came flying at me, my arm turned into this thing, but I can’t interface with it.”
Lieutenant Dwight turned the power setting on his plasma rifle up all the way and melted Golem’s bonds.
Golem sat up. “Like I said, we gotta get out of here.”
A group of Symphonic crew walked into the room. Together they said, “Halt, organic beings. You will surrender yourself to the Symphony. You will become members of the choir.”
Golem cowered behind the Red Shirts. Lieutenant Dwight blasted one of the Symphonics with his rifle, but the shot bounced off. It hit another Symphonic behind him. It bounced off him too.
“Together.” Lieutenant Dwight said. The two ensigns joined him in blasting the same Symphonic. He staggered.
Another Symphonic stepped toward them. They fired. The first one recovered and stepped toward them. They fired on him again. Another Symphonic at his side stepped forward. There were too many of them. They soon surrounded the Red Shirts and injected them with the Symphonic virus.
Colonel Dart said, “On the behalf of the Galactic Union and the Starship Victory, I, Colonel Eric Dart, surrender.”
They approached him, electric venom oozing out of their talons.
Dart thought, okay, that didn’t buy me any time.
Chief Hayes said, “I have a very bad feeling about this.”
“You have feelings?” Elorg said.
“I have lots of feelings.” Hayes said, “But right now is not the time.”
A group of Red Shirts followed closely behind them. Celia followed closely behind them. Behind her, a couple dozen officers and a few officers wives and children followed. They had been picked up in their quarters. They had been picked up on the bridge or at the weapons stations. The group had just picked up five new members at the canteen. Another group of Red Shirts brought up the rear.
“You know me, good old Elorg, always injecting levity into the most dire circumstances.”
The group passed through the storage section. Elorg listened for the pallet truck orchestra but didn’t hear anything. He felt it was unnatural.
“Alright,” he whispered. “The shuttle bay is right around this corner. I’m gonna have a look.”
He poked his head out over the corner. A swirling mass of electronics blasted a group of crew members with a beam of light. Cybernetic implants burst out of their skin. A group of Symphonics standing behind the cybernetic vortext noticed him.
“They have the shuttle bay. Chief Hayes, get everybody up to the bridge.” Elorg said.
“That’s an order. Weld everything shut. Admiral Beyhine will send the cavalry just as soon as he notices his great granddaughter isn’t at camp.” Elorg said. “I’m gonna try and reason with them. Now, Kylie. Run.”
“Yes sir.” Chief Hayes said. She motioned for everybody to turn around and move.
Two Symphonics rounded the corner. They said, “Unidentified unit, your wireless network appears inoperative. Do you require repair.”
“Jean?” Elorg said, “Benjamin? Are you guys still in there?”
“This unit appears damaged. Can you render repairs?” the Symphonics said.
Brahma’s remains levitated toward them.
“Ben, you used to love poker. Royal flush? That bring up any memories?” Elorg said.
Brahma rerouted Elorg’s circuitry. He overrode his disabled wireless network.
Elorg’s mind merged with the small Symphony. He heard a voice say, GOALS: ONE. INFECT CREW. TWO. BUILD TRANSMISSION BOOSTER. THREE. RETURN TO SYMPHONIC SPACE.
Elorg thought back to his childhood. He remembered his fellow Symphonics feelings. He remembered their condescending, self-censored thoughts, their patronizing tone. He remembered, NOT THAT THERE’S ANYTHING WRONG WITH THAT. He remembered why he went to Galactic Union Academy in the first place.
The hive mind said, WHO… WHO ARE WE?
It replied, I’M A DOCTOR, NOT SOME MECHANICAL MONSTROCITY.
I DON’T KNOW WHAT I AM, BUT GOD DO I EVER MISS VANESSA AND SARA.
Elorg’s sense of individuality spread throughout this tiny Symphony. It infected them all. The hive mind collapsed, incapable of controlling itself anymore.
The swirling computers smashed on the floor. The vortex vanished for a moment. Brahma returned in a flash of light.
Brahma said, “Remind me to get you a bottle of Spartan wine next time we get some shore leave. I really owe you one.”
“How long do you think it’ll take you to fix all this stuff?” Elorg said.
“I’m pretty tapped out to be honest, sir.” Brahma said. “I can get the ship’s basic systems running in like five minutes, but it’ll take me days to return the crew to their, uh, factory condition.”
Elorg patted him on the shoulder. “Do you have enough strength to teleport me to the bridge right now?”
The Starship Victory neared Pegasus Station. The original Symphonic sat in his observation cell on the Medical Deck. Elorg watched him from the outside. He thought, “How are you holding up?”
“Confused.” the Symphonic thought. “I’ve never had any freedom at all during my entire life.”
“Union law is pretty strict about this. You’re a living being.” Elorg thought. “You don’t have to relegate yourself to being a test subject.”
The symphonic thought, “No. I prefer it this way. I can’t return home. What would I have to return to? At least this way I can serve galactic society.”
“Just keep in mind that the Galactic Union is always looking for unique perspectives.” Elorg thought.
Admiral Beyhine said. “You got me. I apologize. Using you as a chauffeur was a bad idea.”
“If I had picked any other executive officer-” Colonel Dart said.
“Eric, do you think I’m not beating myself up over this? I’m just glad Celia’s safe and sound.” the admiral said. “Two bottles of twenty-five twenty-five are all yours if you just drop the subject and never bring it up again. To anybody.”
“Promise me you won’t ask for favors like this anymore and you’ve got a deal.”