This one was lots of brushing and painting, along with a bit of 3d modeling thrown in there too.
Backstory - In the dusty depths of the Midnight Nebula, an unusual craft appears. A solar sail, which by it's worn appearance appears to have been drifting for some time, slowly nears the gas giant Vidar. When there is no reply, two armed patrol ships from the Collective naval base on the moon Thrym are dispatched to investigate. By the direction it was travelling the solar sail seemed to have come from the nearest habitated worlds, orbiting the star Atea, 16 light years away. This could mean trouble, since there has been little contact with the New Polys since the war began there.
The two patrol ships hail the craft in all known languages, but there is still silence. After thoroughly scanning it for any signs of life, ambiguous signals prompt them to carefully tow it back to port. Once in port, the craft is opened and found to contain 27 passengers, all in cryosleep. It takes months to figure out how to bring the corpsicles back to life, but eventually it was accomplished with the loss of only one life. When the captain of the solar sail finally is given a chance to tell his story, it is a good one;
The Atean system had been simmering with tensions between the different factions for years, but recently it had flared into a brutal hot war. Both sides had poured resources into developing weapons, and their success had been frightening. Nuclear weapons had long ago become the standard warhead for ship to ship missles, but now they had been repurposed to planetary bombardment of civilian areas. Advanced physics had been bent toward a devastating purpose, the quick and painful annihilation of the enemy. Viruses had been developed, both biological and technological, and let loose into the planetary net. These viruses had been the favorite weapon of one nasty faction of enemy, the captain said, shaking his head slowly. Artificial Intelligence had been considered the cutting edge of technology before the war had exploded. Now this AI tech had been incorporated into the viruses programming with particularly malicious results. Whole colonies had been wiped out. Once infected, humans with net implants, a common accessory for communication and data access, would be under the control of the virus, in effect creating armies of mindless robots or zombies - but zombies trapped inside their own head; as the host carrier remained aware and conscious. These carriers, once infected, would work to achieve the goals set up in the virus' programming, but would do so without alerting anyone to their infection by using the hosts bodies own memories and personalities. What this meant among civilians was a bloodbath as they were usually simply directed to eliminate their neighbors, family and friends. This was seen as such a vicious method of killing that public opinion quickly turned against the virus creators. But for the majority it was too late; their system was turning into a killing ground of crisped moons and glittering debris fields where habitats used to orbit. These solar sail refugees had struck out on a last ditch effort to escape, by building a simple craft like a solar sail they had avoided attracting the attention that the buying or stealing of, say, a couple of Alcubierre warp drives would have done. They constructed a laser station on a cold splinter of rock far on the edges of the system, and were lucky enough to set off without attracting more attention than a lone patrol ship pilot with a slow trigger finger. After a long, cold, silent voyage, they had arrived here, at the edge of Collective space.
Once this story set in, the Collective promised to begin caring for any wounded or sick, and they set about doing just that. They had state of the art medical facilities compared to what the refugees had had access to before fleeing. After the initial bio exams and treatment for cryosickness, the passengers were brought one at a time into a opalescent room to have their implants scanned and cleaned of any traces of viruses. When the eighth passenger walked into the room and came within range of the scanners a tiny bit of compressed code jumped silently out of her head and into the machines lining the walls, unnoticed by human or machine......