“Technically” Sentient: Chapter 5
Amonna was having a bad day.
First, she woke up gasping because she floated to the top of her sleep tank. That meant she was gaining weight. Second, it also meant there was a ring of salt crust around her snout from where it poked above the top of her tank, and getting it scrubbed off had taken the majority of the time allotted for her morning routine. Third, what was supposed to be her day off was now ‘an emergency shift’ because one of her co-workers was ‘too sick’ to come into work. She didn’t know who it was, but she knew it wasn’t a coincidence they were sick on her day off, and that wasn’t even the end of the crap that happened.
Her tail-fin got pinched in the lift door on her way into work, one of her foot talons had poked a hole in her favorite boots, and a strung out looking Jandoorian awaiting booking had thrown up in the lobby. She looked down at the overpriced, uncomfortable, but very pretty and entirely un-salvageable boot, now flecked with avian upchuck.
“Mono does it again . . .” she sighed quietly to herself. Never one to engage in public displays of self pity, she tapped console in her cubicle, engaging ‘Privacy Mode’ – at least her security clearance had some perks. She leaned back in her chair, turned off the universal translator implanted in her ear, and let the various exotic chittering, squealing, and barking sounds of the busy precinct wash over her like a tide of white noise.
When she had been chosen to be a representative of the entire Promorian race on a galactic scale, she was thrilled. When she found out she’d be serving in the Frontier Social Order Service she was ecstatic. She was going to be a space cop for crying out loud! Every pup dreamed of being a bastion of order and justice, and on the final frontier of space, bordering the Null-Expanse . . . it was the sort of thing that holo-series were made about. Quite frequently, in fact. Instead . . .
Instead she was approving passports by hand as part of a counter-hacking initiative while trying to navigate a toxic work environment. The biggest challenge of her day was dealing with whatever fresh nuisance was going to await her when she opened her cubicle up at the start of her shift. Yesterday, it had been a small fish dropped in her humidifier . . . the smell of which still permeated her work space, and was still making her mouth water.
Today it was a mug that read “Mono” on the front, the nickname that had dogged her since she showed up. The name itself was harmless. She only had one mating display color . . . blue. Monochromatic. Mono. It was a light play on her name too. Amonna. Of course, that’s what they’d say if she complained to Sentient Resources. The real meaning was buried in several layers of cultural connotation. She was a Zylach. Loosely translated, it meant ‘deep-cold tooth-scaled’.
Promos was a beautiful planet of beautiful things; Endless beaches glistening with wave-polished gemstones, whose splendor was only rivaled by the twin moons that drove the massive tides. It drew billions in visitors every year, ferried along in specialized amphibious craft to keep them safe from the aggressive tidal shifts . . . and to keep them from trashing the place. For the most part, the fauna matched the beauty of the scenery. Brilliant displays of ultraviolet bio-luminescence were a common form of communication in the non-developed fauna, and the Promorian’s were a colorful people themselves, quite literally.
Every hue and shade from neon to matte were proudly displayed on the bipedal, scaled, amphibious bodies of its population . . . except for the Zylach. There was a schism sometime during prehistory that had resulted in two separate evolutionary paths that both led to sentience. The Chridae, and the Zylach. Where Chridae had developed extremely complex social structures and technology early on in their existence such as algae farms and antibiotics, the Zylach had wound up relegated to the deep places of the ocean where little light filtered and food was scarce.
Scarce food meant small populations.
Small populations in constrained territory meant a lot of conflict . . . and occasionally family trees without enough forks in them. Having a variety of mating display colors was like a calling card for diversity of heritage. Having one color . . . being monochrome . . . meant your parents probably met at a family reunion. Zylach numbers had been on the rise since contact with the galactic community, but they were still a minority. Roughly one in two hundred Promorian were Zylach. Conversely, roughly nineteen in twenty Promorian armed service members were Zylach. This could be attributed to two things: cultural values of independence, self reliance, and personal fortitude – and then a healthy dose of basic biology.
Amonna clocked in at 167 centimeters from the tip of her ears to the ends of her toes, when standing. When she was in the water, it was about 203 centimeters from the tip of her snout to the point of her caudal fin. At nearly 68 kilograms she was twice the weight of any of her co-workers, something they never let her forget. She’d volunteered for the Trans-Planetary service on her birthday, and finished high-gravity acclimation training within a year. She had become the lean, mean, shark-shaped fighting machine she’d always wanted to be.
She ran her tongue against the back of her serrated teeth. She’d wanted to be Frontier Social Order Service in order to stop rouge-tech traders and prevent interspecies viral outbreaks. Instead they’d turned her into a glorified post-office clerk.
She stifled a quiet groan of irritation as her communicator bracelet chimed softly at her.
“This is Amonna.” She intoned flatly. As much as she felt her skills and training were going to waste, and as much as her co-workers hated her . . . she wasn’t going to let it compromise her professionalism. She was, after all, a trained and armed FSOS member. Just because she had catty co-workers didn’t mean that her wheels were going to come off.
“Amonna? Aren’t you supposed to be off today?”
She suppressed a sigh, but only just. The male voice on the other end of the line was her the head of station security, Verdock, and he had about two decades of seniority on her.
“Dester is ill . . . I was the only one available to cover her shift. What with the party . . . what holiday even is it?”
Verdock paused, clearly preoccupied with something else at the moment. “To be frank, it doesn’t matter. There’s a disturbance in hangar C-7, I’ve dispatched Dynamo-03 and Grinder-18 to the scene, but I’d like you to provide backup.”
She shot bolt upright in her chair. “S-sir!?”
She couldn’t believe it. She’d been with LS-49 Security for 8 months now and hadn’t left the precinct once – They always just sent a security drone, and then acted as oversight via remote connection. She dared to hope he meant what she thought he meant.
“Do you mean via remote connection?”
There was another long pause, as she waited with bated breath. It would make the entire shitty day into a fantastic one if she got to go out in full tactical gear.
“Negative, I want you out there in person. Hearts and minds, show the local Jandoorian organizations that we’re not afraid to get our feet dry.” He sounded . . . really tired, but that didn’t make a difference to Amonna.
“Yes sir!” An uncharacteristic grin split her snout as she began pulling her duty belt on. “Today might not actually be so bad . . .” She muttered, still grinning like a maniac.
Zarniac stared at his leg, the grey flesh turning black as he hemorrhaged sub-dermally – the telltale ring of slightly puckered flesh indicated a direct strike from a kinetic pulse weapon. It all seemed far away, like it was happening to someone else; Like a very vivid holo, or maybe a dream. Shock, that was the term for it, he vaguely recalled. He tried gently pushing his leg back the right way, but found his hands quickly stopped by a much larger, and slightly hairier pair.
“[No touch . . . Will get help.]” Duh-Ren nodded gravely at him, and Zarniac found himself involuntarily nodding along with the massive stack of meat and violence.
“You do that. I think,” he glanced down at his mangled leg again. “I think I’m just going to pass out. Can you handle all this?” Zarniac gesticulated in the general direction of rapidly approaching security drones, the screaming AI with multiple holes in it, and three Jandoorians spread thinly across the brushed steel deck-plates of the hangar bay.
Then, he promptly blacked out.
“No . . . no I really can’t handle this.” Darren was standing, feet spread, hands against the side of the ship, doing his best to obey the commands of the two security drones barking orders at him with a rather menacing bass growl.
“You are being recorded for admissions of guilt. This unit is obligated to inform you that anything you say will be used against you in determining appropriate corrective action.”
Darren swallowed hard, heart still pounding in his chest. He had just committed triple homicide. Space homicide. Which . . . was just like regular homicide except none of it had been on purpose and he had no idea what the consequences were. Did they do the death penalty? Would he be fired out an airlock? He had no idea that space birds were so light, or fragile. Maybe they weren’t trying to kill him with their weird guns. He hadn’t . . . really thought about what he was doing after they shot him.
They definitely shot him first, so it was self defense, right? He just . . . self-defensed them into a fine paste of gristle and down. He didn’t really remember what he was doing after they shot him. Just . . . one second he was putting his hands in the air, the next he was swinging a bird alien around by the neck like it was a drawstring sack full of uncooked pasta and raw chicken, and everything hurt.
Fuck did everything hurt.
He let out a wet cough, red spackling the brassy surface of the spaceship. “That’s not a good sign . . .” His right leg definitely felt weak, everything was throbbing in time with his heartbeat, and inhaling was both difficult and painful. He could feel the heat of his face swelling up, there was sort of white light that felt like it was shining from just behind his nose inside his skull, and when he coughed it felt like he was getting stabbed. By his estimation he had maybe 15 minutes until his left eye was swollen shut, and the weird light he was seeing with both eyes closed was definitely bad. On the upside though, as he ran his tongue around the inside of his mouth, it seemed like all his teeth were in the same place they started.
“Pending the arrival of a Frontier Social Order Service Officer, you are being detained.”
A set of mechanical claws wrapped themselves around his wrists, and forcefully pulled his arms behind him, one after the other. He felt a kiss of heat on his wrists, accompanied by a quiet hissing sound of hydraulics before suddenly being pushed forward into a kneeling position. The dull throbbing pain in his right knee blossomed into a proper burning tide of agony it hit the deck, forcing a half stifled grunt from his throat.
“You have been deemed low priority for medical evaluation. Do not move. Do not resist.”
He looked over his shoulder at the hulking security drone, mixture of pain and anger on his face. But . . . resisting arrest was clearly the wrong call here. Like some twisted cyberpunk mix of a spider and a centaur, it had too many legs, and too many arms, and too many guns. Its hexapedal body was draped in square, blocky chunks of matte black lamellar armor, and its legs ended in rather aggressive, hooked points. An oddly simian broad chested torso rose up from this body, sporting 4 manipulator ‘limbs’ and a single ‘head’ packed overfull with various optics and sensor arrays. One set of limbs ended in the ‘claws’ that had cuffed him, and the others currently held what looked like a large bifurcated spear with anger issues. As if to prove his point, a single crack of electricity leapt across it’s two spiked prongs.
Darren winced, before letting a glob of fresh blood leak between his lips. “ . . . not gonna resist.”
Combat boots? Check.
Security beret? Firmly affixed.
Tactical vest? A little snug . . . definitely need to pick up on the PT.
Amonna adjusted her duty belt slightly, and stepped out of the elevator into-
She started jogging towards the source of flashing lights, scanning the scene as she approached. Inside the police line she saw two Med-Drones, both of the station’s riot control officers, and a lot of blood. Off to the side, propped up against the ship was one big sonofabitch that looked like he’d taken a few solid hits to the mouth.
“Officer Dynamo!” She called to the security drone, currently armored up in a riot control exoskeleton. The massive heap of metal and hydraulics turned to face her, dipping it’s sensor array ‘head’ in acknowledgement.
“Detective Amonna.” It had deactivated the ‘Intimidation Enhancement Suite’ it used when addressing suspects. “We’ve detained the suspect, and medical has removed 3 Jandoorians and a Centaurian ship-hand from the scene.”
Amonna let out a low whistle as she surveyed the place. “Well, what do we have on it?” Her wrist computer chimed softly as Dynamo-03 transferred the preliminary forensic report to her.
“ . . . 3 Jandoorians . . . armed . . .” she muttered to herself as she quickly scanned the information available to her. Pausing, partially from disbelief at what the forensics were suggesting, she glanced over at the suspect. “ . . . Are those fused cuffs?”
Dynamo just nodded slowly. “We uhh . . . didn’t think the polymer ones would hold.” He vocalized at just above a whisper.
She continued reviewing the forensics . . . and quietly agreed with the assessment. 3 armed Jandoorians, all of them on synthetic adrenaline . . . would have taken half a power cell to put down one of these clawed vultures, and this-
She squinted at the file. “Medium Scale Durable Goods Kinetic Manipulation Technician?” She glanced over at their suspect again, only to have his eyes bore into hers with discomforting intensity. She held the stare, not wanting to back down, until it spat a glob of blood onto the deck. She briefly wondered if it the blood was the Jandoorians, and vaguely recalled that eye contact was a threat display in most primates type species. She quickly averted her eyes, not out of fear . . . just . . . to make the arrest go smoother. At least, that’s what she was telling herself. It was definitely her sensitivity training kicking in, not the medical scan results.
According to the Emergency Medical Drones that scanned it, the thing had taken a beating that would have killed her twice. Multiple cracked ribs that were thicker and harder than her spine, a lung contusion that was still actively bleeding, and soft tissue damage that was so extensive the digital imaging of its injuries looked like an abstract painting rather than a medical scan. Even without the head trauma, any one of these injuries would have her laid up for a month, and any two would end her career with the FSOS.
And the bastard was just glowering at her.
She had to know where this thing came from, so she could avoid a transfer there if at all possible.
She skipped a good portion of the file, looking for species data, and was disturbed by how little there was. Name, height, weight, human, . . . Technically Sentient . . . there wasn’t much available on the species other than some general physiology and a small annotation reading ‘Dangerous when provoked.’ She blew air through her gills in a mixed expression of discomfort and displeasure. “At least there aren’t a lot of you sort walking around . . .” She closed the file as security drone Dynamo approached her.
“If it’s all the same to you, detective . . . we have this case open and shut. We were already down here on patrol, a CI tipped us off about the high Jandoorians, and we were expecting violence. We just didn’t expect them to be the victims in all of it. A centaurian got caught in the crossfire, and is going to need treatment, but the perpetrator is subdued, and we can move to booking and prosecution at the judge’s leisure. You can go home, m’am.”
The tone was respectful, deferential even, but it didn’t satisfy her in the slightest. “With all due respect, I’m going to go over this with a fine tooth comb. Something . . . just doesn’t sit right. Organic thing, you know?”
The security drone nodded to her. She knew that it didn’t understand, but it wasn’t going to argue with a detective. “Now . . . let’s get him up to booking, I’m going to get the story out of the only conscious witness, and please get sanitation in here to clean up the mess. Eugh, I’m a carnivore and that’s too grisly for me.”
The security drones sprang into action, the two of them working in tandem to hoist the . . . mostly compliant simian off the deck and escort him back to the precinct. She used her security clearance to prioritize the sanitation of this particular hangar bay, and then furrowed her brow.
“Wait! Dynamo!” She called out, causing one of the drones to freeze. “Shouldn’t there have been a C.A.S.I.I. unit observing the suspect?”
Dynamo paused for a moment before continuing to drag the suspect away, but a message popped up on her wrist computer after just a few seconds. “Badly damaged in the crossfire, is in the process of being decommissioned now. She was malfunctioning when we arrived, and we had to shut her down.”