“Technically” Sentient: Chapter 21
[A/N: Hey y’all! Just in case you’re not on the Discord yet – Amph is in the middle of his college Capstone course, and the one class – just the one he told me about – is an additional 20hrs/wk of work. big yikes. So TS is moving to a twice-per month schedule, but the chapters are longer!
In fact, here’s a new, long chapter right now!]
sat, calm, collected, and quiet, waiting for whatever came next. A particularly
morbid and darkly humored part of him was hoping for execution by death-ray,
considering how much everything hurt.
There wasn’t a mirror in the interrogation
room with him, but he didn’t need one to know he looked like death warmed over.
He wasn’t sure how many days it had been since his space-adventure-romp had
started, but it had been pretty much a miserable experience from the moment he
left the side of the highway in Ohio. Between the abuse by Cas, the abuse by
alien thugs, the abuse by law enforcement, and the abuse by presumably different law enforcement that was
probably analogous to the FBI, he was having a decidedly bad time.
So, he leaned back in his metal chair, let his eyes wander across the featureless, slate gray cell he’d been thrown in, and tried to decide if bum-rushing the next person to open the door was the right call or not. He’d actually had pretty good luck with using brute force to solve his problems recently.
The minutes continued to drag on, and he tapped his foot idly, but stopped when a lance of pain shot through his knee. As he massaged the joint, the imperative to “use your words” imparted by his mother seemed to have been soundly bad advice. Every time he’d tried talking he was either electrocuted, shot, or bludgeoned. He wasn’t really sure he could blame his mother for that though, as it had certainly helped him get along while he was on earth. Maybe it was time he come up with different adages and sage advice now that he was an extra-solar cowboy.
He chuckled, and grinned to himself, but stopped when the swollen mess that was the right side of his face began to throb slightly harder from the exertion. Solar cowboy, maybe, but definitely not in a state to be throwing punches. For the third time. If he was being honest with himself the entire thing in the cargo bay was just sort of a gut response. There was a deafening sound, then a brilliant light . . . frankly he had to admit he’d just panicked and lashed out as best he could.
One of the wall panels slid away, revealing that it wasn’t a wall panel, it was actually a door. He temporarily revisited his plan to try and rush the first one in the room, but abandoned it quickly as a tall, female shark-humanoid with a tail appeared. If he’d bothered to look away, he’d be doing a double take, as he couldn’t quite believe his eyes. He’d seen the body armor of the people who dropped him in this little isolation room, and it looked like a futuristic, modular, composite body armor. Flexible, light, and durable, but still designed with a sense of economy and austerity. He wasn’t a military genius or anything, it just looked . . . like it was high-tech and good-stuff.
This was decidedly none of those things. This was snug, sleek, shiny, and bordering on sensuous with a militant theme. It might have started life as a military uniform, but had acquired just a little too much gloss to be leather, and so many buckles and belts had been added to it one could easily construe that the tailor responsible had a fetish for them. By whatever gods one prayed to in space, the hat was possibly the worst part. It was an absurdity of it’s own. She was wearing a peaked cap so shiny it hurt to look at in the pale light of the room, and as he squinted to get a better view he found what appeared to be a gold shark-maw embossed in relief on both sides of the headband. A miniature trench coat was draped around her shoulders, clearly too small to be buttoned shut around her not insubstantial bust, but still long enough to be disrupted and flapped about by her the movements of her tail.
He’d been mentally preparing himself for interrogation, judgment, execution, even one particularly silly idea where they pressed him into service as some kind of royal marine, but this . . . he was left nearly speechless. Nearly.
A barely restrained snort escaped his lips, followed by faint muttering, “One riding crop away from a gestapo-dominatrix shark . . . absolutely have to be fucking with me here.” He rolled his eyes and crossed his arms, gritting his teeth against the distinct discomfort of doing so.
“What did you just call me?” Her tone was indignant, and she stopped dead in her tracks.
———————— 5 Minutes Earlier ————————
Amonna had finally dug up the file on the “Human” that had made so much trouble in the hangar bay. The paperwork hadn’t been completed because of . . . well because there had been no one alive to finish it, but the drafts recovered from a department workstation by the salvage and burial team had painted an ugly picture in broad strokes. “Technically Sentient,” violent offender, likes to sleep and intimidate witnesses- that last part had been deleted, but was still recovered by the data forensics AI.
He was a tough customer, no doubt. He lived through the destruction of the station, had shown a willingness to kill at the drop of a hat. Her boots clicked quietly and steadily, the echo bouncing down the long, desolate corridors. That steady tempo dropped to silence as she reached the cursory medical report. His skeleton was some kind of exotic meta-material, made of a calcium ion lattice and filled with vascular elements. If she ever fractured a bone in her own cartilaginous skeleton, it would take years to heal naturally, if it ever did at all. His bones? She could see the remodeling from where the KP weapon strikes had caused micro-fractures. His body had grown stronger in the places he’d been shot.
She could see where his soft tissue had been damaged, ruptured blood vessels hemorrhaging internally . . . specialized elements in his blood had blocked the damaged vessels off, sealed them, and prepped them for healing. Her eyes practically bulged out of her head. “Nine seconds!?” She read the file aloud. It had taken nine seconds for his internal wounds to begin to clot. A secondary, open circulatory system was recapturing the lost vitae and filtering of bacterial contaminants . . . useful, if it had been an open wound. She could see where he’d sustained additional injuries to the head and face. Fractures in the skull, a concussion, damage to his brain from repeated KP impacts to his cranium. His teeth had all been removed . . . and put back in with some kind of adhesive . . . that his body was currently digesting.
She looked up from the file in her hands to the door of the interrogation room. She wondered briefly if she wanted to walk into a room with a creature like this. She’d always had the advantage of a predatory heritage. Claws. Self replenishing serrated teeth. Fast-twitch muscle fibers evolutionarily cultivated for delivering a single, killing blow. These things had always been enough to cow every prisoner she’d interviewed into compliance, or at the very least kept them from trying to start a fight. Hell, she’d had the same problem in a few relationships as well. Amonna scanned the document one more time, noting everything from its auxiliary blood supply organ to the shear thickening ballistic impact gel cushion around its brain. She very much doubted that this thing was afraid of her, or afraid of anything really. She remembered it’s cold expression, and intense eyes leering at her from the armored ridges of its orbital sockets. It made her shiver.
It was strange, how much he was her antithesis. Incredibly durable terminator to her glass-cannon physiology. There was no doubt he was a predator, but his lack of jaw muscle development indicated that it hadn’t been the primary means of delivering a killing blow for some time now, if it ever had been. She ran a finger absently along the powerful masseter muscles of her own mandible, a stark contrast to his. Her skeleton, flexible but durable, would buckle permanently under the weight one of his slender upper limbs could bear. The gravity well this thing developed in to necessitate such a power to weight ratio must have been staggering when compared to the near weightless history of her aquatic origins.
She was caught somewhere between wonder and fear, as she stared a thousand yards through the doorway before her.
She was intelligent. It was dumb. She was amphibious. It was terrestrial. She ate a limited diet of amino rich protein substances. It ate . . . everything. She was female. It was male.
She shook her head sharply, side to side, as if trying to dislodge the thought from the space between her ears, before taking a deep breath. “You’ve got this. Your security detail is watching via the camera feeds, he’s been badly injured three different times now, and even he can see that resisting is useless now.” She adjusted her hat, set it at what she thought was a more aggressive, more authoritative angle, and keyed the pad to open the door to this prisoner “Darren.”
The several centimeter thick detention door slid open with a soft hiss of pneumatics, and she stepped through into the uncomfortably bright cell. She successfully stifled an involuntary squeak of surprise as his eyes bored into hers from below a split and bloodied brow. It didn’t flinch as she took a position opposite it, looming above it by a good two feet, which only confirmed her suspicions that this creature would be immune to any kind of threat or intimidation.
“One riding crop away from a gestapo-dominatrix shark . . . absolutely have to be fucking with me here.” It’s translator weakly coughed out something that vaguely resembled that, but her military grade equipment had translated his words in a flash, and contextualized their meaning in her subconscious.
A riding crop was clearly a goad used to drive beasts of burden. The gestapo, judging by contextual clues, was assumed to be some kind of policing body, assumed derogatory term based on inflection. It struggled with the term “dominatrix” and found no equivalent term. As best it could approximate, a dominatrix was a was “dominant female sex-worker” but elaborated that there was a complex cultural undertone that could not be conveyed effectively without further explanation or procession.
“What did you just call me?” Amonna was flabbergasted, and more than a little offended. She put her hands on her hips, and scowled at him. She’d been ready for . . . well she’d been ready to be attacked physically, not verbally. He called her a whore! As the intense scowl formed on her face, much to her hastily concealed surprise, a look of embarrassment formed on his.
“I . . . ah . . . I meant . . . whew boy.” Darren coughed into his hand, split knuckled still glistening with clotted blood. “Err, I didn’t think that’d get translated . . . or if it did I thought you’d get the idiot-ified version that everyone else got.” She glared at him as he shifted uncomfortably in his seat. “The, you know, translator-” he tapped the polymer collar he’d been fitted with, “-kinda sucks. Usually doesn’t spit out more than a few words loosely resembling what I said. Sorry.”
Her brow furrowed more, and he looked away, sheepishly. Externally, she was harsh, pitiless, and focused. Internally, she was dizzy with the realization that he was capable of being shamed. Shame was a complex emotion, only felt by highly social and intelligent species. A violation of the social norm had occurred by him, and she had called him out on it.
She tried to keep her gaze steady on him, unflinching and stern to hide the fact that she needed a few moments to completely rethink her approach to this interrogation.
He was clearly intelligent, so that had been either a carefully cultivated lie, or simply a lack of accurate assessment. Given the reliability of AI in her recent career, she was more inclined to believe the latter than the former. She had just shamed him into momentary submission, which still seemed far fetched even as she watched him squirm in his seat. That shame meant that he interpreted her as existing within the boundaries of his social peers, not predators or prey. He had just called her some kind of sex worker, but that didn’t accurately translate as simply a prostitute, so that meant that her state of . . .
Her brain crashed a little. Sex worker. Peer. Shame.
The pack hunting terminator beast with a bulletproof living-stone skeleton and a healing factor considered her a peer. A peer that would be considered for sexual partnership.
Darren spoke up again, hesitantly, while Amonna’s brain struggled to come to grips with the implications she’d lined up for herself.
“Hey, I’m . . . well I guess I’m sorry about calling you the gestapo. That’s . . . it’s just your outfit is a little . . . well it looks like . . .” Darren coughed awkwardly in his hand. “It just looks like you see Nazi’s wearing in movies and stuff, and you’re arresting me and all, I know it was a shitty thing to say. I mean, I get that it’s probably some kind of space-cop thing but my life hasn’t exactly been going so great recently and I’m a little . . .” He rambled off a bit, aimlessly, before sighing heavily. “You’re just trying to do your job, and I’m probably some kind of illegal alien. In . . . in space. Let’s just get the interview or interrogation or whatever you want to call this over with.” Physically, he was looking away from the shark-morph’s intense gaze. Mentally, he was trying not to think about whether or not this was affecting the ‘death ray execution behind the chemical shed’ odds. “Umm, so, yeah sorry about that.” He mumbled, while pointedly examining the ceiling.
Amonna’s eyes narrowed, and she crossed her arms across her chest, subtly accentuating her newfound “interrogation assets.” At least, she hoped that it was her chest, and not something weird like her nostril diameter. Maybe small, watertight nostrils were incredibly sensuous for this species, she had no way of knowing if the secondary sexual characteristics her culture found desirable were the same as the ones his culture found desirable. With considerable distress in regard to her ego, she realized that it was entirely possible this creature before her was attracted to her more masculine characteristics, such as height and muscle mass.
Amonna blinked as his words sank in. “Wait, gestapo?” Her tone was quizzical, and there was a moments delay as his translator struggled to bridge the linguistic gap between the two of them. “Oh, no, that was accurate. I am leading a secret police investigation into the destruction of Waystation LS-49.”
They both blinked in surprise, as clearly the communication issues weren’t entirely cleared up by the translator. “Gestapo is fine. Well, not fine, but you’ve actually got quite a few reasons to be upset with the entire situation, and a disparaging comment about your treatment at the hands of law enforcement isn’t entirely unwarranted. Although, if you’d complied, you could have avoided most of your misfortune.” Amonna instructed him sharply, hoping to play her way into a “friendly” posture with this human, Darren.
She shifted slightly, tracking his gaze . . . and found that it was flickering between her chest, tail, face, and waist with frequency that she rather hopefully meant her approach to information extraction was working.
Truth be told, Darren was trying to figure out which part of her gear held the death ray that was going to be used to kill him, now that he was certain he was going to be exterminated by a Nazi Space Shark.
“So Darren, was it?” She tried to turn on the charm. Something she’d never . . . ever had to do before.
To Darren’s ears, her words were laced with something like a salacious venom. He didn’t know what a cat toying with a trapped bird sounded like, but he had the eminent feeling that before this was all said and done she might just be chewing his head off and batting his body around the porch as a way to amuse herself. He swallowed hard. “Yes. Y-yes ma’am.” He clarified.
Amonna watched as his pupils shrank sharply. That was, again, a characteristic of focus and sexual attraction in Zylach! A good sign, in her mind. She wondered, hoped really, that maybe there was some kind of convergent evolution in place that would allow her to exploit his body language intuitively. He was using honorifics, no less. Clearly, utilizing whatever sway she held over this brutish creature by means of her appearance was the ideal path forward. She smiled, in an earnest display of happiness. “Well Darren, I just have a few questions about who you are, where you came from, what you were doing on Waystation LS-49, and we can wrap this up and move on to more pleasant things, yes?” She hoped he was clever enough to pick up on the inflection cue she’d placed on “pleasant,” but not so clever to as to really think through the implications of that.
Darren, struggling not to recoil as she bared her rows of serrated teeth at him, set his jaw firmly and nodded, even though it hurt to do both. He was going to give her all of the detail he could muster, because the way she said “pleasant” gave him the willies, and he was hoping it would buy him time. To do what, he wasn’t certain, but he’d tell her everything she wanted to know and more.
Besides, it wasn’t like he had anything to hide to begin with.
—————————— Several Hours Later ——————————
Amonna had come to three significant conclusions.
One: The human had nothing to do with the destruction of Waystation LS-49, knowingly or otherwise.
Two: The C.A.S.I.I. unit they had down in the fabrication shop was very, very dangerous, and the true threat out of everything.
Three: Contrary to everything the human had suggested, their society was matriarchal. Why else would there be all the subtle fear signals mixed in with the clear interest he was showing?
She swam another lap in her over-sized sleep-tank, enjoying the cool feeling of the briny water across her gills and through her throat. It helped to clear her mind, and focus more clearly on how to effectively utilize this information. She’d moved the human to a more spacious and comfortable berth, adjacent to her own. An entirely appropriate and innocuous decision that was made with no regard to his apparent interest in her. It was simply a matter of security and convenience. The vessel was more than a kilometer long . . . what if she had followup questions around, say, dinnertime? She could conveniently ask him questions while they both consumed dinner. It would lower his guard, and might even trigger some of the basic pack-bonding that was so common in social predators like him. And like herself.
In regards to the C.A.S.I.I. unit, she’d placed it under a tight watch and physically separated the processing core from the zero-point power supply. The technicians in engineering had been having a field day with the thing, claiming that it was utilizing some exotic, never before discovered system architecture that completely subverted normal thinking on how AI should be constructed. The Chief of Engineering had a very colorful analogy for describing it. The discussion had been long and tedious, but she understood the frantic intensity of his final summary.
“An AI is like a storm. Conventional architecture demands that we build a shell around the storm to keep it contained and flowing in directions we can handle. The . . . monstrosity . . . that is this AI architecture, was built in inside out. Conventionally, we watch the outer edge of the storm to catch the outputs of quantum functions, but here the observable boundary exists in the heart of the storm. We cannot see the storms heart, nor can we see its edge, we can only receive outputs to inputs we’re not sure how it’s taking measure of or passing back to us. This system exists as an impossibility that we shouldn’t be able to observe, as if the entire device is being forcibly held in a state of superposition. This requires either the perfect knowledge of a god, or such a profound understanding of quantum mechanics that I can only think the designer was born of a quantum realm, not from one of conventional physics. The fact that this exists violates several well accepted laws as it is!”
It had all seemed rather alarmist and unprofessional to her, and the fact that she had to order him at gunpoint not to destroy the device didn’t help any. They eventually settled on a compromise. Disassembly and quarantine. When the universe didn’t unfold like he threatened it would if they took the power supply out, she decided it was safe enough to just leave unplugged.
She let out a watery sigh in her aquatic habitat as her wrist computer beeped softly. An incoming message, encrypted, and for her eyes only.
She paused, sinking to the bottom of the tank slowly as she read it.
“Coryphaeus Distress Signal detected, faint but functional security codes transmitted. Suspect damaged transceiver, as two way communication seems impossible at present. Requesting permission to move to conduct rescue operations, given absence of standing orders. -Admiral Chase”
A literal bubble of amusement escaped her lips as she grinned. She’d almost forgotten the petty jabs of the Admiral. Having to request permission for something like this must have chafed her pride. Amonna didn’t hesitate to authorize the expedition though, there was no way she was going to let her own pride stand in the way of saving lives.
“Permission granted Admiral.”