The Slylandro purchased their first 2418-B: Remote Self-Replicating Robot Explorer Probe from the Melnorme for exploration purposes, with the intent to use it for making peaceful contact with other races. Since it had the ability to replicate itself, they modified its program code so that replication became its overriding first priority.
The repercussions of this foolhardy action were grave. The probes not only attempted to break friendly ships into component pieces for use in replication, but also multiplied at a geometric rate, becoming a severe hazard to any HyperSpace traveler. Both the Thraddash and the Zoq-Fot-Pik have encountered the malfunctioning probes, and have deduced at least the general direction of the source of the probes. The Captain also had a brief but fatal run-in with a probe a few days before first reaching Sol. Captain I. Burton was killed in the attack, but strangely, the probe merely disabled the Tobermoon before departing.
The Captain is able to put a stop to this hazard when he makes contact with the Slylandro. When they learn what has happened, they give The Captain a code that will cause probes to self-destruct in case he encounters one. This is necessary since, unlike the out-of-stock catalog item 2419, the probes do not have a recall transmitter. The probes however are programmed to return to their point of origin after ten replications. When apprised of the situation, the Slylandro will reprogram the probes that eventually return to roam our region of space broadcasting the self-destruct code on a HyperWave hailing frequency, which causes a swift decline in their numbers.
Unlike any other ship, the Probe is always in motion, constantly scooping up the interstellar hydrogen as fuel for its internal reactors. Pressing the thruster immediately reverses the Probe's direction. The control scheme is tricky to learn, but the advantages of having such a nimble ship should not be overlooked.
Another unique trait is that the Probe's "crew" is impervious to the Syreen Penetrator's secondary attack. This even contrasts the only other robotic race, the Mmrnmhrm, whose crew is affected by the Syreen Song.
When attacking, the Probe discharges several bolts of lightning directed at its target. The lightning discharge was not designed to be used as a weapon. However, due to their skewed priorities, they attempt to break down the target into "consumable" particles, instead of attacking it with their defensive missile batteries (which are never used in-game). The lightning is very short-ranged, which makes for a difficult learning curve when coupled with the Probe's unorthodox controls.
Unlike most vessels, the probe does not generate its own fuel. Instead, it uses its secondary armament to break down nearby asteroids into raw materials which it then feeds into its combat batteries. One asteroid contains enough raw materials to completely replenish a probe's energy reserves.
Given the difficulty in mastering the controls, relatively few players spend the time to become proficient with this ship. The primary fighting technique employed by pilots of this ship seems to be: close in, evade incoming fire, empty the combat batteries, then zip off to find an asteroid in order to replenish the batteries. Repeat.
A common mistake made by novice pilots when fighting the Probe is to constantly evade it, even when its battery power is empty.
The Probe's internal set of instructions (according to the Slylandro) is reproduced here:
SCAN (for targets, as defined in Target List). IF (no current target). THEN (select New target from Current Targets list, using specified priorities). IF (Current Position is AT Current Target). THEN (Set Current Behavior to New Behavior, based on Behavior Priority Settings). PERFORM (Current Behavior).
The Probe uses the following datatables:
TARGET LIST (with associated Target Priority). Space Vessel (5). Transmission Source (4). Astronomical Anomaly (3). Planet Bearing Life Signature (2). Raw Replication Materials (1). PROBE BEHAVIORS (With assigned priorities). Communicate (5). Record Data (4). Analyze Data (3). Seek Replication Materials (999). Move to Current Target (1).
It is the skewed priority of the 'Seek Replication Materials' behavior that led to the Probe's unnatural hostility.