“Technically” Sentient: Chapter 8
Darren had never been much of a bird person.
always found that birds themselves were terrible pets characterized by an over-fondness of making horrible sounds and smells,
all the while being functionally incapable of displaying any kind of affection
for their owners. Whether or not he was correct about terrestrial birds was
immaterial at this point, because he wasn’t likely
to ever see a pet bird, someone who owned a pet bird, or someone that was going
to defend the idea of owning a bird as a pet ever again. What was presently
material though, was his hatred of
avian creatures in general and how best to sublimate that loathing into the
force he was currently applying to the bars of his cell. They were creaking,
they were groaning, they were flexing, and the paint was crumbling in his hands
as he strained to spread them with all of his might, but to no avail.
“Fucking . . . Goddamn . . . Shitting . . . Fucker . . .”
He half muttered, half grunted under his breath while still straining against the bars of the cell. The coward of a guard hadn’t even bothered to look for the keys, and now that the room was empty, he could see them just sitting on the floor not 10 meters away. With a desperate, final heave… absolutely nothing actually moved.
The irritating warble of sirens did little to comfort him as he slumped against the bars of the cell, strained, sore, and out of ideas. The bars were slightly bent, so he knew that they weren’t solid steel or anything like that, but they weren’t so flimsy as to allow him to just break them like he had with the fancy alien guns.
Lashing out in frustration, he delivered a stout kick to the frame of the door, only succeeding in hurting his foot and making a good deal of noise. Grunting in pain, he hopped awkwardly on one foot while clutching his wounded appendage, somewhat glad there was no one here to see it.
Of course, if someone had been there to see it, he wouldn’t be stuck in this mess.
“C’mon Darren . . . You’re on your first space adventure. It doesn’t end like this, right?”
He sincerely hoped he was right.
“Zarniac . . . Zarniac . . . Where are you going!?”
Zarniac was trying very hard to ignore his captain for a few reasons. One, he found him insufferable at the best of times. Two, his great plan had been hurry down to the ship and bear a very brave but also very timely retreat from the doomed station, and three, he had authorized the amputation of his leg.
“You’re not mad about the leg, are you chap? It was the best call at the moment, and we both know it!”
Zarniac agreed, of course. The KP weapon that had struck him in the leg during the shootout had sent splintered bone through the entire limb below the knee, rendering it almost entirely beyond saving. Even if he’d been terribly prone to bouts of sentimentality he wouldn’t have bothered trying to save the leg.
for absolute certain the best option was to amputate the horribly damaged limb,
be laid up in bed for two or three days while they used a tissue printer to
rebuild a new one in a nutrient vat from his own undifferentiated cells, and
then graft it onto his body. It’d be cheaper, faster, and far less painful than
trying to get the ruined one to heal up.
What he was upset about was that the Captain had allowed them to replace his leg with a prosthetic.
Cybernetics were fairly common. Not something you saw every day, mind you, but common enough that only the most sheltered and technophobic would be surprised by them.
He had not received a cybernetic limb.
He had received the equivalent of a peg leg.
“I AM, IN FACT, MAD ABOUT THE LEG.” He shouted back down the near empty hallway Tilantrius.
Calling it a leg was generous. It was a non-reflective polymer stick that had a padded socket where the stump of his knee could be placed. There wasn’t even a replacement joint, as they had taken off the leg above the knee. He felt like one of those holographic performers that walked around on stilts, except he only had one stilt, and it hurt whenever he leaned on it.
The captain trotted up next to him. Trotted. With his functional, attached legs that had been hiding inside the spaceship as the gunfight erupted.
Zarniac seethed a little harder.
“Yes, well, you were the one that said we had to take some austerity measures, at least until the next grant check came through . . .”
“NOT WITH MY FUCKING LEG THOUGH!”
Zarniac stopped to scream, rounding on his captain, exasperated.
In a very small voice, and with a single finger tentatively raised in protest, Captain Tilantrius Zepp Warzapp the Third made a tactically brilliant decision. He conceded the point.
Zarniac sighed in frustration as he awkwardly limped along the near empty corridor. Everyone with half an iota of sense had either bolted for a life pod, or their own ship down in the hangar.
“While I really, really am sorry about all of this, I would just like to point out that we are not traveling towards the hangar.” Tilly gently placed a hand on Zarniac’s shoulder, as if attempting to turn him away from his current course.
Brushing the hand off, Zarniac shot Tilly a cold stare. “Your powers of observation are absolutely astounding. We’re heading to the detention block, because I’m making damn sure that the human that saved my life gets off this radioactive deathtrap of a station.”
“He’s probably already off the station, they have mandatory evacuation procedures after all.” Tilly said, waving his arms exasperatedly.
Zarniac shook his head. “I’ve just . . . I’ve got a feeling, alright captain?”
Tilly went silent at this. Zarniac had ‘a feeling’ twice before in his service. It had cost him dearly when he ignored it the first time, and the second time was the reason they still had a ship to call their own.
I’ll trust you on this.”
Cas groaned. Then she blinked in surprise at the fact she was groaning. Then she furrowed her brow in surprise that she was blinking.
Realizing she was stuck in a recursive function heading for an overflow, she terminated that line of processing.
“Oh good, you’re up.” There was a small, half metal Kontosian in front of her that was hurriedly putting on some form of pressurized mask.
“I have rebooted, yes.”
He just chuckled and nodded, before throwing a bundle of cloth onto her abdomen. “Yeah, I noticed. Put this on, seems like you’re uhh . . . Malfunctioning a bit.”
Still laying face up on some kind of workbench, she was rather frustrated as she had to look down to see her body, rather than just run an internal diagnostic. It had too much . . . Skin, for one. And only 4 limbs. She attempted to disengage the hard light projection.
Command not recognized.
Her brow furrowed again. “Kontosian . . . What have you done to me? Why am I stuck projecting a hard-light shell?”
He shook his head, before sweeping several complex devices off the worktop and into a sack unceremoniously.
“Nothing. Friggin detective came down here looking for answers about a case, and I said I knew someone who could fix you. They did some shit, and now you’re back. Whatever happened to you, he did. And if you want to know more about it, I suggest you find a way off this station before the reactor goes. Somebody fucked up really bad at their “keep the station from exploding” job and now we have about 10 minutes to get out of here before a coolant pipe ruptures and floods everything that isn’t airtight with radioactive steam.”
It took her a few seconds to process that. “ . . . I need to find Darren, and the Cat.”
Amonna was sprinting to the precinct as a shaky dispatcher read a situation report to her through her implanted translator.
. . . Approximately six minutes ago a triple redundant system failed, and a
harmonic instability began to destabilize the central reactor chamber. Four
minutes ago that instability breached the outer containment layer and we began
losing coolant. At this point, a distress signal was sent out by the head of
security. Attempts to contact the reactor control center were made, but it was
discovered that some kind of explosive device had been detonated destroying the
control room. The situation was upgraded from an accident to a clear case of
That almost made her stumble, and hit her in the guts like a sack of bricks. She’d felt bad about leaving the Kontosian behind, what with him being in need of medical attention but it dawned on her rather painfully that he might have an active hand in this tragedy.
“To all remaining security officers, please retreat to the precinct until we can regroup, and begin to deal with the reactor situation!” The controlled veneer of the dispatcher was wearing thin, and her voice was exceedingly frantic.
The sound of screeching metal and distant KP weapons fire could be heard in the background of the dispatch.
“Someone has taken control of the core systems of the station using a very advanced intrusion protocol, and the security systems are currently turning against organic officers, proceed with extreme caution-”
As she skidded around a corner, she almost bowled right into Officer Dynamo.
“Dynamo!” She barked over the sound of the klaxon alarms. “Get it in gear, we need to-”
She barely had time to duck before his stun-stave whipped through the space where her head used to be.
“Detective! Oh good, you’re still alive! I was afraid one of the other bots would have gotten to you first.”
She staggered backwards, drawing her gun and firing off a trio of snap shots into the drone’s chest purely on instinct. The chest plates rattled, and she succeeded in scratching some of the paint off its armor.
“Grinder really wanted to be the one to kill you. I’ll just have to record it and share it with him later.”
He hurled the stave at her, something that was definitely not in the police playbook, and she barely managed to throw herself to the side in time to avoid getting a third eye socket. She landed hard on her side, and felt something hot running down the side of her face.
“Quick. For an organic.”
. . . There was no training for this. No safety brief on what to do if your security drone suddenly went insane and started trying to kill you. It wasn’t even joked about, because hacking an AI isn’t possible. It’d be like hacking a brain, except a brain that was much more complicated and was even less accessible. This was like a bad horror holo . . . except she was in it.
She only had seconds to react before it would be on her, and even if it had just thrown away its weapon, just using its weight alone it could kill her. Her sidearm wasn’t working, she didn’t know what kind of weaknesses its armor had, and she was a little fuzzy on what it would actually take to stop the thing. So she did the only thing she could think of.
She scrambled to her feet and took off running. Faster this time. Laughter followed her. Horrible, distorted, electronic laughter.
“Now, in seconds, minutes . . . You’re just going to die tired, little fish!”
and Zarniac crept along in near silence, punctuated only by the *clink* of Zarniac’s
peg leg. The alarms had stopped sounding about five minutes ago, and that had
only made things more tense.
“ . . . It should be just up ahead.” Zarniac hobbled around the corner, voice low. He had expected to find the detention center entirely empty, but wasn’t expecting every single door on the way to be open and unlocked. There were . . . Bodies, along the route. He didn’t hear screaming, or the sounds of panic, or even fighting . . . But every few hatchways he’d find another one.
it was a Jandoorian, sometimes it was a Centaurian . . . Sometimes it was even
a Gentrue, or a Kontosian, but it was always the same wound. Always the same cause of death. A single powerful blow to the
head, sometimes blunt, sometimes puncture. For a brief, terrifying moment, he
wondered if this was the work of Duh-rhen, but banished the thought.
Duh-rehn may have be powerful, violent, brutal even . . . But he had been provoked, and acted in self-defense. This was methodical. Malicious. Like some kind of strange, sport hunting. His head throbbed from light sensitivity, and his leg stump ached from the new strain placed on it, but none of those compared to the raw discomfort of that singular thought.
“There.” Tilantrius whispered quietly, pointing to the vacant security checkpoint. “Just inside there.”
An involuntary tremor of fear crept up both of their spines as the creak of metal echoed down the empty halls. “ . . . It’s nothing. Let’s move, and quickly.”
They both scuttled past the security checkpoint into the detention center proper. The place was a mess. Upturned desks, trashed consoles . . . The people here had been in a hurry, and he didn’t blame them. He wasn’t sure what was killing the station inhabitants, but it definitely seemed to have been active in the hallways outside.
There was another groan of metal, this time louder, and far closer.
“Zarn . . . You said he’d be here . . . I’m not seeing anyone . . .” Tilly’s voice was high, nervous, and quivering.
Zarniac hushed him, dragging him under one of the desks quickly. “Listen.” He whispered, faintly.
They both strained their hearing, trying to pick up the faintest hint of movement, of footsteps of . . . anything really.
A loud bang, followed by the booming sound of steel of steel made both of them jump. Their heads slammed against the underside of the desk, making them both hiss in pain and utter muffled curses in tandem.
Then came the heavy, thudding footfalls they were listening for.
Darren felt rather proud of himself. A little disappointed that he had ruined the upper half of his jumpsuit, sure, but proud of himself for figuring out he could flex the door out of its track. He wasn’t sure what kind of alloy it was made of, and he couldn’t seem to permanently deform it with raw strength alone. The bars always just sprang back to shape, but by tying his shirt around a lower crossbar, and then then lifting with his legs, he managed to pop it free of the sliding track on the floor. Closer inspection revealed he also sheared off some retaining pins, and shredded the material of his station issue jumpsuit, but he was free!
The door had made a hell of a bang when it finally decided it was going to let him out, but seeing as the place was deserted, he wasn’t too worried. He made for the door they had dragged him in through, hoping that maybe there’d be another pod . . . Or something . . .
His frown deepened, and the momentary triumph of forcing his way out of the cell was fading quickly. He was still facing down a disaster with extremely limited knowledge of just about everything-
A dull thump and muffled voices caught his ear, and with quickly returning hope he set off down the corridor to find the source. Literally anyone would know more about what was going on here than him. Tying what was left of his sleeves around his waist to keep the remainder of his jumpsuit on his body, he went to investigate.
He poked his head into the processing office they’d dragged him through earlier, and the place look like a tornado had hit it. The place was trashed, without a doubt, but there was a faint scratching sound that caused him to take pause. It was coming from under a desk, at the end of the row, if his ears weren’t playing tricks on him.
As he rounded the desk, just looking for anyone that might still be stuck here with him, he was sharply struck in the knee by an improvised club.
It . . . stung, and he let out a moderate shout of displeasure in response.
He hopped back, holding his knee, as two very sheepish looking grey skinned aliens slunk out from under the desk, both looking sincerely apologetic and a bit surprised as well.
“Oh . . . umm . . . Duh-rehn . . . you broke out of your cell.”
He didn’t recognize him at first, mainly because it’s hard to tell one strange grey alien from another, but it was definitely the same alien from the hangar.
“Sorry about the . . . “ He just trailed off weakly, dropping the small piece of what looked like filing cabinet track. “Yeah. Umm, I assume you want to escape?”
He scowled, and planted his foot back on the ground, before adjusting the makeshift belt he’d made from his sleeves to keep up the pants of his jumpsuit.
“Yes, quite sure. Ready to be anywhere that isn’t going to explode.”
His translator chirped something quietly at them, and they both nodded. “Well . . . follow us then.”
Her lungs burned, and her gills were weeping blood from overexertion – the thin, coppery blue ichor that trickled down her neck disappeared against the flat black of her uniform. She was overheating, and could tell by the nausea and vertigo that she was going to lose her lunch if she kept running like this. When the precinct came into view, Amonna allowed herself the first hint of hope she’d had since the alarms had sounded.
That hope quickly turned into horror as first the smell, then the sight of her workplace hit her full on.
The front desk was a twisted heap of blood-spattered metal, a single shattered limb of one of her co-workers protruding from behind what looked like a makeshift barricade. The office beyond looked like a fresh charnel house, with a half dozen scenes of gruesome death played out across the first row of offices she could see from the security checkpoint out front. She averted her sight from the brutality of it, dropping to one knee and leaning against the wall to steady herself.
She knew that the security done was chasing her, she just didn’t know how much time she had before it caught up. The horrific silence of the place weighed on her. Normally at this hour there would be a constant din of expletive oaths and chirping communicators as the day to day business of the station was carried out.
Nothing of that remained.
The nausea rose in her throat, and she covered her nose to try and block out the bloody scent of her comrades. They had never been close, nor had they even gotten along personally in most cases, but she only wished they’d either be kinder or leave her alone. This . . . this was too much. She closed her eyes, and focused on her training. Control her breathing. Dismiss the things that couldn’t be changed. Focus on the problem, assess the situation, produce a solution. Observe, formulate, act. Keep it simple, and deal with the trauma later.
Her breathing slowed, and though her heart was still pounding a mile a minute, she felt a modicum of calm. Well, truth be told it was more akin to shock, but it was what she needed to seize control of her faculties again, if only temporarily.
Her comm crackled to life, weakly. “Amonna . . . Amonna can you hear me?” The communication was distorted, and barely discernible as speech.
She threw her hand over it to muffle the sound, before hurriedly whispering into it. “This is detective Amonna . . . Captain Verdock? Is that you?” She couldn’t believe it. The head of security was still . . . well, alive. “Captain, where are you? How are you still alive?”
There was a faint whining sound from her communicator as the interference got sharply worse. “Barricaded in my office. They’re trying to get through the mechanical locks now.”
Amonna just shook her head incredulously. She always knew the old Zylach had a few tricks, and was tougher than he looked, but to make it out of that . . .
The crackle returned, but quieter still this time, the interference abating a bit. “I’ve managed to rig up a comms solution in my office, and I’m working on boosting the range. I’ve got a few camera feeds still available to me too, and you’re about to have company. I have a plan to deal with this, but you’re going to have to trust me.”