newly installed machine began whirring to life. An old hydroponics
bay that had been dead for nearly ten years came to life as new
equipment sprang into action. Freshly filtered water began to flow
gently through tanks once again. The tanks had been scrubbed clean in
preparation for the repairs and looked nearly new. The engineer
looked on, feeling real hope for the first time in years. They would
no longer just survive. From now on, they would thrive.
Rahul was feeling rather proud of himself. He smiled, a smug expression on his face as he munched at a ration bar. Once he'd hacked the security systems, he'd gone back to the boarding missile and salvaged as much as he could reasonably carry with him. Luckily the Slugs didn't care enough to actually do anything about it, apparently. They'd actually welded it into the hull for a better pressure seal. After all, no one wants to do repairs while traveling subspace. That's just asking for something to go wrong.
That being said, going and salvaging what he could off of his dead comrades was easier said than done. Sure, none of the internal cameras or sensors could detect him, but the various species the Slugs were walking around in could still see him. That being said, the ship could see them, and that meant he could too, which let him avoid their patrols.
He did have a close call when a maintenance crewman was heading to the missile, presumably to check the welds. Rahul had stuffed the bag he'd been filling in the back corner and slumped in his seat. He'd had to sit there waiting for the three foot tall spider-looking alien to finish inspecting the welds for what seemed like forever. It had probably only been a few minutes, but the sheer terror made it seem much longer.
Once that ordeal was over, and he had what he needed, he found a better place to hide than the closet he'd been in previously. He managed to convince the system that a smallish storage room was part of a hull breach and needed to stay sealed. More importantly, he'd done so without raising any alarms or notifying the crew of the ship. So he was safe for the time being.
And since he was safe, that meant he could devote all of his time to crafting a nasty virus that would spread to all of the nearby Slug Ships when they exited subspace. This set of ships was apparently on a newer firmware update, so he'd had to start over from scratch. Only copying over relevant sections from other viruses when he needed to. It might've been faster to alter an existing virus, but this was more fun. Also, he needed something to kill some time since it was going to be a week before they exited subspace.
Rahul turned his mind away from the time he had left and looked over his masterpiece. It wasn't done yet, but its primary function was complete, and he was reasonably sure it would work. The rest of the virus would be redundancies to try and screw up as many systems as possible in case his main plan didn't work. After all, it paid to be cautious. That being said, after he was done, the system on every single one of the Slug Ships should only recognize him as a valid user.
And there was a fun fact about Slug Ships. They were mostly grown. They hadn't figured out how the Slugs went about it, but the baseline for their ships was some kind of spacefaring organism that they then modified to suit their needs. It was one of the reasons why most of their warships were the same size.
Their smaller ships were manufactured, but they likely had limited capacity to make those as they'd stopped showing up during battles with Humanity. The kind of ship that Rahul was on though they seemed to be able to mass-produce without issue. The creature that they used as a baseline could travel through realspace and subspace under its own power. Basically, all the Slugs did was lobotomize it, armor it up, and carve out crew and storage compartments.
Which led to Rahul's favorite part. One of the things they did was place the creature's immune system under the control of their own systems. Which meant that Rahul could direct that immune system how he pleased. All he had to do was remove user privileges from every individual who wasn't him and tell the system to engage all non-users. It was a default setting, so the only work required on his part was purging all users from the system and destroying the system backups.
Having to destroy the system backups was new. They normally didn't have those. It must be new cutting-edge tech for them, but Rahul had looked for backups as a matter of course, as part of his training. Even though he knew they wouldn't have them. He was glad he had since he'd been oh so wrong, and his plan would've been ruined. But it wasn't ruined, provided he hadn't missed something.
Speaking of missing something though, he smiled gleefully to himself as he dived back into his code. There were more things he could mess with...just in case all didn't go to plan. Plus, he had the time, so why not add in a fistful of contingencies?
Fourteen ships surfaced from subspace into realspace. They were each teardrop-shaped and of similar size. There was little to distinguish them from each other aside from minuscule size differences and a handful of blemishes upon their hulls where missiles had made an impact and become lodged into the armor of the ships.
They began their slow advance from the outer edges of the system they had emerged into. They hadn't bothered with a riskier exit closer to the gravity wells of the system. According to their information, this system would be lightly defended for some time yet, so they had no need to hurry. By the time their pursuers arrived, it would be too late. The colony in this system would be ground to dust by orbital bombardment.
Truly it was a luxury to be able to conquer a world without landing troops. The normal concerns of not overly endangering the habitability of the planet didn't apply here. The world they were targeting had an atmosphere that was toxic beyond imagining to all known sapient species. Their enemy resided in easily targeted domes and would suffocate once they were exposed to the surface.
The captains were eager as they pressed their ships into the system. Unbeknownst to them, a virus howled through their ships' systems. It greedily devoured user access privileges and drank greedily from the well of passkeys, leaving behind only one. Then it found its way to the life support systems and vented the atmosphere from every compartment of the ships except for the bridges. The bridge of each ship was sealed.
The ships slowed to a stop and began loudly broadcasting their undying loyalty to The Avalon. One of the ships also broadcasted an SOS signal with an Avalon Fleet military id attached to it.
The Captain of the Macedonian signaled his helmsman to approach with caution. They slowly approached, point defense at the ready. They bathed the system with scans revealing that there were no other ships attempting to mask their presence. The more time went on, the less it looked like a trap. The Macedonian entered optimal weapons range, and none were forthcoming. Finally, the Captain ordered a boarding party be assembled, and a shuttle was launched.
The shuttle approached the ship with the SoS signal and found its launch bay open. When the boarding party landed, they were greeted by a marine in an armored vacuum suit. They confirmed his identity, checked him quickly for diseases and parasites, and sent him back along with the shuttle requesting another be sent in its place. The shuttle had barely left when their message was received by the Captain of the Macedonian.
He immediately dispatched more boarding parties to each of the ships. He would have to act quickly to capture the bridge crews of each of the ships alive. Specialist Rahul smiled to himself. He had survived and had singlehandedly taken out fourteen Slug Vessels. He'd been beyond lucky to survive long enough to execute his plan. He was also lucky that the Slug ships hadn't started using their Electronic Warfare protocols immediately upon entering the system.
If they had been careful, they would've shut down their normal wireless communication utilizing only their psychic communications to coordinate. Luckily they had been overconfident and had synced up their tactical network upon entering the system. And that had been all his virus needed to seize control of their systems.
He leaned back and relaxed a bit. He hadn't realized quite how on edge he'd been the last week. Even as relatively safe as his situation had been, it was harrowing to be alone aboard an enemy vessel. He hoped he'd have time to take a shower and get a hot meal before he was debriefed. He knew he smelled positively foul after living in his suit for so long.
As it happened, Rahul was given plenty of time to rest. Just not in the way he preferred. The ship's doctor insisted that he be admitted to the medical bay for immediate examination. After nearly an hour of being prodded, asked questions about his well-being, and going through decontamination procedures (which technically counted as a shower), Rahul was left alone propped up on a medical bed. He had a hot meal in a tray that he was vigorously digging into.
As he was stuffing his face, someone rounded the corner, and he looked up to see who it was this time. And he quite nearly choked upon seeing the rank insignia for Captain on it and nearly spilled his meal when the instinct to go to attention kicked in. The Captain laughed, "At ease soldier, you're meant to be resting. I just came by to make sure you're doing alright and that the Doc hasn't roughed you up too much.", the Captain said this as he pulled up a chair and sat down beside Rahul's bed.
Rahul swallowed his food and replied, "Thank you sir. It wasn't nearly as bad as spending a week in armor. Not my first time being deployed in full armor for an extended period, but it's never fun." Especially not when you're alone, but he felt he should leave that part out.
"Indeed it isn't. I haven't had time to go over all the data you collected in detail, but I did read the report you wrote, which did a good job of highlighting the most urgent things you found. You'll get an official debriefing later, but I did want to ask. You're sure there wasn't a list of the names of officers who had been compromised by the enemy?" the Captain asked. His eyes seemed to bore into Rahul's soul as he posed the question.
Rahul, to his credit, didn't flinch, merely replying, "Yes sir. I'm quite sure. I scoured their database several times. You're welcome to look again at your leisure. Perhaps it's hidden in some security layer that's beyond the ability of my deck to detect. We haven't seen anything like that before, but as I noted, the ship I was on seemed to have tighter security features than we've seen before."
The Captain nodded, his expression unreadable. "Well that's unfortunate, but I can hardly be dissapointed. Infiltrating a Slug vessel after surviving what should have been a lethal malfunction, and then proceeding to disable an entire battlegroup singlehandedly is no mean feat.", he said.
"Thank you sir. I was just doing my duty. Thankfully I had a skillset that was well-suited to the situation I was in.", Rahul said, attempting to be modest. If he was being honest with himself, given the situation, there were many other Electronic Warfare Specialists who could've managed the same feat. He was just the one who was in that situation.
"Indeed, I won't take anymore of your time Specialist Rahul. Finish your meal and get some rest. One of my officers will be by when you awaken to do a full debrief. After that we'll get you quartered into one of the spare cabins. We don't have much in the way of space, but we're running a light crew so there's some extra room for you.", the Captain said as he stood from the seat he had taken.
"Thank you sir.", Rahul said, giving a salute as the Captain left. He finally eased up once the Captain was out of sight. Rahul preferred to not be noticed by officers that many ranks above him. It always made him nervous, no matter what the situation was.
Rahul finished his meal and quickly fell asleep. Shortly after he woke up, a nurse checked up on him and told him he was free to leave as soon as an officer came to pick him up. Said officer showed up only a few minutes later with a spare uniform for him in hand.
After Rahul changed, he was taken to a small conference room, where he was extensively debriefed over the course of the next few hours. There was quite a lot to go over, and the Lieutenant who had been given the job was very thorough. That being said, the Lieutenant seemed quite impressed with what he had accomplished, and while he left the debriefing feeling like his brain had been liquefied, he felt pretty good about it.
He was shown to a small cabin afterward and was given two more uniforms. He was informed that these would be his quarters for his stay aboard the Macedonian. However, he wouldn't be aboard long as the Governor wanted to see him personally and would be providing him temporary housing on the planet while he waited for new orders.
More meetings with people way above his pay grade. Just what he always wanted, Rahul thought to himself sarcastically. He supposed he shouldn't complain too much. At least he wasn't immediately being put back to work. He would just have to enjoy the high life while he had the opportunity.