The crew cheered as the Class-10 Starcruiser O’Malley dropped out of hyperspace, another terrifying mission completed. The white searing light of the Sol star at the heart of their home system lit up the curved sides of the great docking station orbiting the planet Terra. Welcome home, the huge mothership seemed to say. This had been no ordinary mission, and the crew were glad to be back from the dreaded Pa-Vee galaxy – a tour of duty nobody ever volunteered for.
On the bridge, Captain Bradley “Bonebreaker” Spleen looked up from his console and grinned at his Number Two, Steve “Slugger” Kwasniewskievski.
Slugger, he smiled, you have the console. Take this baby home.
With pleasure, Kwasniewskievski grinned and flopped into the command station with practised ease. After two hundred missions to the K’Thargth system, Kwasniewskievski was an old hand and not easily rattled. Casually, he reached out and gestured at the sentient human-ship interface. O’Malley, take us home.
Krrrronkkkk!!! Krrrronkkkk!!! Krrrronkkkk!!! Krrrronkkkk!!!
The ship’s alarm klaxon blared and the main lights died, replaced by a ghostly washed-out red.
What the – ? demanded Bonebreaker Spleen
What the – ? demanded Slugger Kwasniewskievski
Engineering to bridge! It was Chief Murphy, a grizzled old veteran, and the best goddamn engineering officer in the fleet, a veteran of a hundred battles and a thousand tight scrapes.
What is it Chief? Spleen stared at Murphy’s hologram.
The hologram stared back. I think it’s best you should come down here, Captain.
The engineering deck was ghostly quiet. The phnorgargiorgiaon interstellar motivator was off-line and the crimpulse drives were powered down as the mother-station drew the O’Malley aboard.
Spleen stared at Chief Murphy, puzzled. Well, Chief? Our people want to go home.
Murphy scowled at his captain. I wouldn’t have called you if it wasn’t important.
Of course, Chief, Spleen knew the value of a good ship’s engineer and wasn’t about to lose this one: the best of them all. What’s up?
Murphy gestured at the fletriveridiatiriational meta-inspirational hyper-iconic thing-display.
You recall we had a gigantic battle with the Pa-Vee?
Of course I do, said Spleen. I was in charge.
Murphy nodded. And you recall we took a number of direct hits?
I do. Spleen was becoming intrigued. Where are you going with this, Chief?
Captain, our shields withstood their Slashuk weaponry, but I’m afraid they managed to evade our computer defenses. Somehow they managed to infect our computer systems by beaming into them a –
A virus? Spleen was astounded, There’s a virus in the semi-sentient control systems of the O’Malley, the most powerful battle-starcruiser in the galaxy?
No, Captain, said Murphy, there isn’t a virus.
It isn’t a virus? demanded Captain Spleen. The Pa-Vee haven’t beamed a virus into our computer system?
No, Captain, they haven’t.
Then what have they beamed into our computer system? What, damn you?? What’s inside our computer?
Murphy looked embarrassed.
Captain, it’s a horse. They’ve beamed a horse into our computer.
A horse? Captain Spleen demanded, You mean they’ve beamed a Trojan Horse into our operating system?
Eh, no, Captain. It’s a piebald, actually. Sorry.