“Technically” Sentient: Chapter 10
felt nothing. Which . . . was a surprise, because she certainly thought she should be feeling something.
Then came a sort of fuzzy feeling, followed by a sensation of itching in places she was fairly certain
didn’t exist. Her sensor feeds began trickling along again,
slowly at first, slowly building up until her perception of the world was more
or less accurate again. Corridor? Check. Deck plates? Against her face. Cat?
Very angry. Very hissy. Very safe in her arms still.
Murderous security drone? Smoldering basketball sized hole in its chest.
“Fvwhaaat ehhh . . .” Her vocal processing was terribly distorted as she struggled to sit up and maintain a cohesive shell. Something grabbed her by the scruff of the neck and hoisted her to her feet.
“Don’t tell anyone I have this. It’s a ‘go to jail for a long time’ type crime.” Chryso muttered quietly to her, letting go of her as he stuffed a rather menacing looking tool into his bag.
“B-but I saw, well, heard you . . .” Cas stammered weakly.
Chryso just tapped the side of his head sporting a nasty welt leaking blood. Tipping his head towards her to give him a better view, she could just make out the faintest hint of chrome beneath his cracked scales.
“I might have meat over it, but nobody takes out half a skull. Besides, what am I gonna do as the rest of it goes? Wait until cerebrospinal fluid is leaking out my nose?” He gave a weak grin, but he looked pretty unsteady on his feet. His artificial eye flickered, and he stumbled into Cas heavily, nearly knocking the two of them over.
“ . . . let’s just get to the hangar and hope someone is willing to give us a lift, yeah?” He wheezed weakly, holding his chest with one hand. “I think one of my hearts just quit.”
The cat, which had been entirely indifferent to their struggles and trying desperately to escape, suddenly became very, very still in Cas’s arms. Its ears twitched forward, and moments later they both knew why. The sound of dull thumping against the deck began to echo down the hallway.
“Chryso, we need to get moving now . . .” Cas whispered hurriedly to her illegal firearm toting savior, but all he could do was wheeze and stagger against the wall, sliding down it as he grabbed a fist-full of red jumpsuit. “Cas . . . it’s not . . . “
It sounded like a full toolbox being upended as he fell to his knees. “ . . . of all the times you stupid, second hand, aftermarket sewage pump of a heart . . .” Chryso threw in a few other choice insults as he began punching his chest as hard as his stubby little arms could manage.
The pounding was growing louder, and quickly. Something was running, and it was running at them. She looked between her incapacitated savior, the angry cat, and the end of the corridor that suddenly seemed too close for comfort.
Chryso weakly gestured to grease stained utility duffel he’d been carrying, a single clawed hand shaking weakly as his single eyelid fluttered. “In my bag . . .”
Cas tucked the hissing, yowling feline under one shoulder and dropped to her knees, not even certain what she was supposed to be searching for. Of course, when she unzipped it and saw the still glowing barrel of a a class 2 illegal energy weapon, she figured if there was anything they needed it was that. She shouldered it, putting her finger and what she was reasonably certain was the trigger, and leveled it at the end of the hallway.
“What . . . no . . . no I need that.” Chryso sputtered weakly, making a clumsy grab for the barrel of the blocky, smoking weapon that reeked of ozone.
“You’re in no condition to utilize this weapon. Also it’s a crime, and while extenuating circumstances apply I don’t want to have to include 2 illegal discharges on my report.” She paused a moment, remembering the absolute terror she felt as she faced down what she thought was the end.
“ . . . I don’t want to have to lie about 2 illegal discharges on my report.”
He just rolled his eyes, and groaned, before pushing something in his shoulder joint, sending his small chrome hand exploding outward from his wrist. It was only an extra foot of reach, but as the little hand wrapped around the barrel, a flash of blue crackled between the two metallic devices. Chryso convulsed, Cas screamed, and the cat was as upset as it ever was before the hand and gun separated with a static “pop.”
Chest heaving, eye wide open, and cybernetic optic practically glowing, Chryso sat bolt upright. “ooooOOOOOHKAY!” He hopped to his feet, practically vibrating in comparison to Cas who could only stare in disbelief at the sudden change in his health. “Ifeelgreatabsolutelygreatloadsbetterheartisworkinggreatgetup!” Cas could only blink as all of his words ran together. “Get up!” He repeated slower, with more emphasis. “Start running!” He aggressively pantomimed all of this to her in tandem with his hyperactive yelling, before taking off down the hall in the direction of the hangar bay.
But Cas couldn’t finish her sentence before the little lizard plowed headlong into the toughest sentient she knew of.
Of all the horrible sights that Darren was expecting to find when he rounded the corner, a tiny fat dragon in what looked like a red tracksuit plowing headlong into him at a sprinters pace was not what he expected. Not to say that the sight wasn’t horrible, it was a fat half-robot half-dragon in a tracksuit, but it was a crime against fashion and nature rather than the regular kind of crime. Doubling down on the unexpected events, he didn’t expect that to knock the tiny fat dragon out either, but he was hanging out on a space station that looked like it was decorated by a the combined creative efforts of a colorblind man and Rob Zombie. If anything, he was just happy to see a familiar face, even if she was kind of a bitch.
“Cas!” He called out in surprise as the lizard hit the deck. “Oh, shit . . . I broke your lizard. Wait, is this your lizard?”
Cas stared, dumbfounded. “ . . . Your ability to endure ridiculous danger and trauma presents a combined biological and statistical anomaly.” She began jogging towards him, cat in one hand, bag of . . . stuff . . . in the other. “And I’m very happy to see you.” She smiled at him pleasantly, a little rosy flush crossing her digital cheeks. The cat vigorously clawing at her arm while biting her did cause it to venture into the ‘uncanny valley’ area of smiles. She looked more like a serial murderer trying to explain why her freezer was full of hands while maintaining an amicable and carefree exterior than someone legitimately happy to see him . . . must be the lack of blinking, he concluded, before returning the smile.
Attempting to inject a bit of levity into the situation, Darren tried to make light of things. “Me too. You’re doing well, I mean, last I saw you, you were all holes and screaming. Thaaaat came out wrong.” Darren cringed visibly, scratching the back of his head.
Cas sighed, shoulders slumping. “An accurate assessment. I did have several structurally superfluous holes added to me, and I was screaming at the time of their addition. I apologize for my inability to effectively protect you or prevent conflict.” She perked up slightly though, and took a step closer to him. “You, on the other hand . . . seem to have weathered that unpleasantness remarkably well.” There was a slight uptick of surprise in her voice, as she looked him over head to toe.
“Yeah, alien guns don’t seem to have the . . . punch . . . that the ones from home do.” He mumbled quietly, scratching the back of his head.
“Well, we’re not trying to kill fully armored riot police out here,” she said with a quiet chuff. Darren glanced over her shoulder at the smoldering security drone, and she quickly added “. . .usually. Usually not trying to kill fully armored riot police out here . . . we should go.”
“What about your lizard?” Darren gestured to the faintly snoring robo-dragon that was spread eagle on the deck plating.
Stepping around him and heading down the hall, Cas called over her shoulder. “Carry him, would you? My hands are full.”
He grumbled quietly as he hefted the surprisingly heavy bundle of scales and steel, before dropping in behind her. “ . . . always with the telling me what to do and how to do it.”
He took two long strides and already paced himself beside her. “So we’re-”
She didn’t wait for him to finish his sentence. “Headed to the hangars, yes, to commandeer a vessel off the station.”
“Yeah . . . that . . . might not work out so great.” Darren couldn’t help but stare at the violently struggling cat under her arm. The very same cat that he had been abducted with, if his memory served him correctly.
“Oh?” Her tone was only slightly less patronizing than usual, but it was a noticeable improvement from how she’d treated him before.
“Yeah . . . the uhh, elevator the hangar looks like a grenade went off in the paint isle of a hardware store.”
“ . . . I have no cultural reference for half of these terms. A detonation involving pigment sales? I do not understand.”
They both rounded the final corner to see Zarniac and Tillantrius whispering quietly to each other, staring into the blood-slick elevator.
“ . . . I now understand what you mean by a detonation involving pigment sales.” Cas’s face twisted into an unsettled frown. “I lack the appropriate biological apparatus to satiate my current desires.”
Darren did a double take, because he couldn’t believe his ears.
“By which I mean I wish to throw up.”
Darren sighed with relief, causing her to shoot him a quizzical glare. “In any case, it seems we only have one course of action.” She dropped the bag, before rummaging around in it one handed. What she produced was, to Darren’s eyes, a sawn-off shotgun covered in wire coils with a half dozen D-cell batteries bolted to the stock. He knew on some level that he was wrong, but it was a tantalizingly familiar shape that he immediately found comforting. Zarniac and Tillantrius perked up at this as well. She dropped the cat in the bag to replace the gun, and zipped it up around the vicious bundle of fur that was doing everything in its power to draw blood from her hard-light hand.
“Miss . . . I don’t know where you got that, and frankly I’m afraid to ask . . . but will you and Darren go down first to make sure it’s alright?” Zarniac pleaded softly with Cas.
“A sound idea. Darren, you stand in front, and I’ll shoot around you.” Cas smiled at him.
This began a very heated debate that consisted of Darren trying very hard to make the point that “Just because I can survive being shot doesn’t mean I want that to happen.”
They all assured him that as frightening as the elevator was, all the other aliens that had died in it weren’t nearly as “big, strong, and tough” as he was, and that he shouldn’t be afraid of taking a quick ride down to escape – thus, completely missing the point. Zarniac and Darren voted to find another way, with Tillantrius and Cas voting for Operation Meatshield, they were at a deadlock. The cat seemed to be abstaining from the vote in protest of its confinement to a bag, and the cyber-dragon seemed to be unable to vocalize an opinion on account of being unconscious. In the end, Cas agreed that a compromise was in order, and that instead of everyone hiding behind Darren, only she would, with everyone else waiting for them to sound the all clear signal before boarding the elevator. That, and Darren could use Zarniac’s prosthetic leg as a club.
Zarniac shot him a look of betrayal as he pried his leg off and handed it over, revealing the pale, swollen stump bearing a crude looking plus shaped scar on the end.
All Darren could do was shrug, and board the elevator.
Amonna blearily shook herself awake. The spray of water on her skin and seeping across her gills was quenching the burning in her throat, but it wasn’t enough to offset the abuse she’d put herself through to get here. Her communicator was chiming non stop, so she’d clearly been out for more than just a few seconds. The decontamination cycle was finished, which meant-
There was a dull knocking on the door behind her. She rolled over onto her back, gouging her dorsal fin on the grating as she sat up to see what manner of insanity was going on beyond the reinforced security glass window of the airlock door.
It was Captain Verdock.
She rubbed her eyes, wondering if she was hallucinating or if something had gone terribly wrong. He held up his communicator to the glass, and she realized hers was still chiming. She lightly thumbed the glowing rune on it, allowing the connection to pass through.
“I’m sorry, Amonna.” Were his first words. She hadn’t quite put together where all she was or what all was happening, but this was definitely wrong.
“Don’t . . . don’t bother moving too much, save your strength. You’ll need it.”
His expression was sorrowful, and his tone quite gentle compared to his usual brusque and businesslike candor.
She wanted to babble a stream of questions, but as the security drone loomed into view behind him, she realized that was pointless.
“I didn’t think you’d believe me, at first. I thought . . . I thought that I’d have to subdue you some other way. Frankly, I think . . . I think that would have been easier than lying to you. When someone is shooting at you, trying to gut you with a knife or some such, it’s much easier to do them wrong.”
Amonna’s face twisted into a snarl of loathing.
“You . . . treacherous . . .”
“I did it to save you.” Amonna’s growl died in her throat, not out of any sentimental attachment, but out of sheer confusion. They had a highly professional relationship, maybe aided by their racial heritage but they’d spoken no more than twice while off duty.
He sighed, and said something she couldn’t make out to the security drone, that thumped away from the door. “He wanted to ask you some history questions . . . but didn’t have time. That was supposed to be enough of a hint to get you on the right track but the AI was a bit more stubborn than he expected.” Verdock sighed, pressing his head against the glass.
“I frankly don’t remember the script he sent me, and . . . it’s not important to sound clever right now. The Dolorous Star Massacre, Cygnus X-1, and the Cult of the Unfinished. Those are the things you need to investigate. It’s all . . . it’s all connected. I can’t tell you more, because . . .” He chewed his lip, rapping his knuckles on the glass in frustration. “Well I just can’t. Stay . . . stay in there. The decontamination chamber will shield you from the radiation until the fleet arrives, and . . . you were the only thing I could save on this station.”
Before she could open her mouth, he was gone. The line was dead, and she could only hear the faintest hints of footsteps through the deck-plating, then silence.