Target acquired

It took the two Empirical Storm Troopers twenty minutes to reach the Jean d'Arc.  The shuttlecraft flew on autopilot, they sat almost motionless in the shallow bucket-seats, tense and ready for action.  As they approached the observation platform the shuttle's sub-AI handed control over to the AI of the Jean d'Arc.

The observation platform extruded a docking tunnel, lightweight imbricated alloy plates snaking across to the shuttle and connecting with the craft's airlock with a heavy clunk that made it shudder.  The Empirical Storm Troopers rose gracefully from their seats, checked their air-supply, and waited for the airlock to open.  There were a few more clunks as the air pressure increased on the outside, and then the airlock irised open.

The first EST dropped to one knee as he pulled his phase-gun and aimed; behind him the other EST turned side-on pulling his particle-cannon free from his belt and aiming as well.  In the doorway of the airlock the golem waited, the head of the saboteur still gripped and sustained by two of its arms.

A thin trickle of blood ran from the corner of the saboteur's mouth.

"Gentlemen, this is the reason for the delay in your orders," said the Jean d'Arc, its voice echoing tinnily in the shuttle.  "I'm handing it over into your custody.  I have retrieved your orders from a compromised data bank and will upload it into the shuttle's secure memory."

The standing EST nodded sharply and lowered the cannon.  The golem didn't respond, but the saboteur's head opened its eyes and looked around.  The other EST stood up, holstered his phase-gun, and opened a storage locker by the airlock.

"How am I being given over into custody?" said the saboteur slowly.  A little more blood welled out of his mouth.  "Does this monstrosity that's possessing me come along too?"

"No." said the Jean d'Arc, adjusting the volume on the shuttle's speakers to sound emphatic.

The Trooper at the locker pulled out a tall cylinder of vibroglass mounted onto a squat black base.  The top of the cylinder was sealed with a gelatinous membrane, and inside the cylinder at the base was a thin, bumpy metal plate and two small jet nozzles.  The Trooper pressed something underneath the base of the cylinder, and the jet nozzles hissed and sprayed liquid into the cylinder.  It filled rapidly with a sparkling pale green fluid until it was four inches below the membrane.

The saboteur's eyes widened.

"That's illegal!" he said, a tremor of fear in his voice.

"Actually," said the Jean d'Arc, "it's entirely legal provided it's in the possession of the people in front of you.  Empirical Storm Troopers are exempt from the Galactic Treaty as they are only commissioned for specific tasks with set start and end dates.  They are classed as weapons, not people."

The golem undulated forwards and the EST held the vivo-tank out.  The golem tipped the saboteur's head upside down and into the membrane, detaching its limbs from it as the membrane enveloped it.  The head sank into the fluid, and small bubbles rose the surface and popped brightly.  The head bobbed, then slowly righted itself.  As it settled onto the bumpy plate the bumps elongated into narrow metal tendrils that connected to the nerve ending and blood vessels in the neck.  Across the top of the cylinder another membrane spun itself like a spiderweb to seal it off.  A soft groan came from a speaker in the vivo-tank's base; the saboteur's head was still alive and well.

The airlock of the shuttle irised closed again, and the golem and the docking tube retracted back to the observation platform.  As the Jean d'Arc watched the shuttle curve around and head back towards the Coloratura it simultaneously turned its attention back to its copy of the compromised data bank.  Along with the orders -- to bring the habitat Stella du Mort under control -- was something else that shouldn't have been there.  Something that the AI found extremely interesting.

The End

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