“Technically” Sentient: Chapter 9
decided that she hated running. Not
because it was tiring, or anything ridiculously organic like that, but because
of the amount of flailing involved. Hurling herself from one foot to the other,
tottering along like some chaos pendulum stabilized only by several complex
mathematic subroutines and a solid understanding of the laws of motion. She had
a gut feeling that she’d done Darren a great disservice in
that regard, now that she was having to do some running of her own.
Gut feeling. That was a new one. She wasn’t sure what had been done to her. She felt . . . violated, for one. Which was something she’d been unable to fundamentally grasp before. Someone had reached inside her, and fiddled about with all of the things that had made her . . . who she was. At the same time, she definitely thought she was the same intelligence, the same body, just with new perceptions and feelings inside of it. Some of her core processes had been obfuscated to her. Her emotional centers, for one, that she used to be able to tweak, shut down, or ignore as productivity demanded were like black boxes to her now. Stimulus went in, and feelings came out. Right now she was feeling violated, scared, angry, guilty, and frankly frustrated by the fact she couldn’t turn any of it off to focus on the problem in front of her.
Namely, that they had about 4 minutes until the station either exploded or was rendered so inimical to any form of life that she was unsure if even she would survive. A quantum processor is a finicky thing on a subatomic level, and hurling gamma radiation through one very rarely improved their functioning.
It took her a moment of processing, and she nearly stumbled when she realized it, but she was afraid of dying.
The concept of death had always seemed a bit silly to her. If one went so far as to separate consciousness from the physical body, then death, sleep, and being turned off were all essentially the same, save that death was typically much harder to reverse. Being afraid of an inevitable shutdown made as much sense as being afraid of a change in terrestrial weather.
Yet here she was, running (something she decidedly disliked) for her life. This was not one of her primary directives. A secondary directive was self preservation but-
She frowned as she slid to a stop, raising one hand to gesture for the Kontosian technician who was with her to stop as well.
“Uhh . . . Cas? You . . . oh fuck running . . . okay?” The wheezing, portly little lizard managed to sputter out as he propped himself up against the wall.
She turned to him, a look of astonishment on her face. “ . . . Technician Chrysophylax, I have no primary directives.”
His chest heaved, and his chrome augments whirred quietly, all trying to keep the still organic half of his body supplied with oxygen despite it’s lack of general fitness.
“Great, yeah, welcome to literally everyone else’s life-” He said, in one long breath before taking several seconds to compose himself for another sentence. “What you do have, is a cat.” He gestured to the bag on her back, its contents consisting of a single, very agitated feline. “And unless you also have a deathwish . . . the hangar is this way.”
He gestured towards a heavy blast door at the end of the hall with one hand, the other hand on his knee as he doubled over, panting.
“And as much as I respect your right to have crazy revelations . . . after we’re outside the station would be a better time.”
As much as she was writhing beneath the surface with unfamiliar emotions, she had to agree.
“ . . . wait . . . wait . . . GO!”
Amonna dove across the hallway, landing hard but quietly in a doorway across the hall. Captain Verdock had managed to get access to the camera feeds, and was leading her straight to the reactor to sort this mess out, pointing out security drones and shortcuts via her implanted communicator.
It was going better than she expected. She didn’t honestly expect to be alive at this point, so it wasn’t saying much.
She grimaced, gently pressing against one of her ribs that she was fairly certain she had just bruised with that little combat roll. “How much further?” She whispered softly, trying to keep her voice low enough that the mechanical monstrosity at the end of the hall wouldn’t hear her.
“Two hallways and a security door, you’re almost there . . .”
She could hear the tension in his voice. It was subtle, not like when a panicked civilian called in, or even her own beleaguered tone now. It was grim, but steady, and unflinchingly certain. If an executioner’s axe could talk . . . that’s how she thought it would sound.
She tried to steady her breathing, and push down the pain. Her lungs hurt now too, not just her gills. She was dizzy from overexertion, and if she was using a trick she learned in FSOS candidate to keep from passing out by periodically flexing her tail as hard as she could for as long as she could to keep the darkness at the edge of her vision at bay.
“Just a few more steps Amonna . . . come on.” She whispered hoarsely to herself, pushing up off the cold plating, and dragging herself onward through the hatch, and into the next hall.
The light flickered overhead, and she could see signs of battle damage on the walls.
“Alright, Amonna, you should be clear of patrols from here on out, but you’re going to need to put on a hazard-suit once you get inside the decontamination chamber.”
She could make out the heavy duty blast doors of the decontamination chamber. On the far side . . . a miniaturized star.
“How the hell am I supposed to fix this once I’m inside?” She staggered to the right, nearly tripping over herself. “Air is just too thin for breathing . . .” She muttered, vision beginning to blur.
The line crackled faintly in her ear. “Focus Amonna, you’re too damn close to stop now. These things were designed to be idiot proof, and safer than houses. Worst case scenario, we jettison the core, and go back to the stone age until the help arrives.”
She nodded weakly, managing to shuffle the rest of the way to the door. She palmed the security keypad, and it miraculously accepted her security override. “Airgap . . . hack that you smug prick.” She mumbled.
The world tilted to the left a little as she managed to drop prone inside the decontamination chamber. A cool spray of water soothed her burning gills as the decontamination cycle began. With a hiss, the door behind her sealed, and she allowed herself a moment of respite, rolling on her back and opening her mouth to let some of the water spray in. It was probably not good for her health in the long run, but nothing about today had been anyway . . .
Darren cocked his head to the side, and his nose wrinkled. A smell like a mix of formaldehyde and wet dog assailed his nose, and he hated every inch of stink that was trying to wriggle down his throat. The scene before his was no less grisly. They had called the elevator to the hangar bay. Just one short ride and about 600 feet of walking, and they’d be at a ship, and away from this nuclear deathtrap. There was one small problem.
Tilantrius had removed his little hat, and placed it over his colorful, medal festooned vest.
Zarniac was looking green around the gills, and had averted his gaze entirely.
The inside of the elevator looked like something out of a demented coloring book. All different colors of alien ichor were smeared around in a horrific Jackson Pollock painting of death. Nothing that had bled that much could have survived. Several someone’s couldn’t have bled that much and survived. It frankly looked like something out of a space-alien shoot-em-up video-game.
He cocked his head to the other side.
He just couldn’t figure out which one.
Maybe it was the shock of it. Maybe it was because they were aliens. Maybe it was the repeated blows to the head. Maybe the Facebook mom groups were right, and he had been desensitized to violence, but it just . . . didn’t seem to do anything other than make his nose wrinkle.
“So . . . do we go down?”
He looked over to the grey alien in a hat, eyebrows raised quizzically.
The little alien cleared his throat. “I suspect that whatever forces have arrayed themselves against us are fully aware of how many ways there are off this station. What would follow is that they have put safeguards in place to prevent us, or anyone else, from making it to the hangar. They might be in the form of diabolic contraptions, stout footmen, or perhaps that and more. Regardless . . . it seems that descending via that elevator has been the idea of many before us.”
He looked over to Darren with a sorrowful, and grim look.
“It did not seem to end well for them. I suspect it would not end well for us.”
There was a long pause as the two of them stared at the killing ground that was also their only way out.
“ . . . do we have any other ideas?”
An even longer pause followed the first.
A dull whine, and thump echoed down the hall, followed by distant screams. Mixed screams, male and female.
Zarniac cleared his throat quietly.
“Guys . . . I think we have company.”
“RUN FASTER CHRYSOPHYLAX!” Cas screamed, straining her small audio output speakers until they crackled in the saturation range. She glanced over her shoulder one last time while urging the short legged lizard on, cursing his frustratingly small stride as one of the frighteningly quick security drones in riot gear ran them down.
“CAN’T RUN FASTER!” He bellowed back, before she heard a high pitched whine followed by a blood-curdling crunch.
“One down . . . see, it’s easy if you know how to do it.”
She felt sick, scared, confused, and more. She wanted to look back, but she knew that Chryso’s silence only meant one thing. Her emotional processing center wanted her to lay down and curl up and not move and cry, but she only knew how to do two of those three, and none of those impulses were strong enough to override her singular desire to survive today.
So she ran harder. It was just her, and the feline now.
She clutched her bag to her chest, listening as the shoulder mounted cannon on the thing charged up with a whine. They usually targeted non-vital areas, but the bodies they’d seen had all been dispatched with single, fatal blows. It had gone for their heads. Their hearts. She was just a hard light shell, which meant it was trying to guess where she was hiding her processing core.
Putting it in one of her limbs, or her head, or really anywhere other than her chest would probably give her the ability to shrug off a few more shots, but . . . they wouldn’t protect her only surviving charge.
She hadn’t done right by Darren, the poor, unlucky sod, but she’d take care of this other sentient.
She kept her processing core nestled squarely in her chest, protecting her precious cargo. The first blast flickered through her leg, making her stumble, and hobble, but it wasn’t enough to put her down. The second tore trough her shoulder, glancing her core and jarring her thoughts. She found herself a half dozen paces forward when her processor and internal clock synced back up, but she was still moving.
The third kinetic pulse round slammed into the small of her back. The hard light field beneath her blue jumpsuit buckled at the point of impact with a flash, and she went tumbling to the ground with an agonized scream as the sheer volume of disruptions to her shell overcame her.
She did her best to build a little cage using what was left of her body to protect the cat, but round after round kept slamming into her. It hurt. It hurt like nothing she’d ever experienced before, but she just curled the scraps of fabric and decaying hard light body around the terrified feline. She watched as her arm was blown clean off, dissipating into motes of ionized light and ozone as one blast took the limb off at her shoulder. She only had a few processor cycles to reflect on it, but oddly enough that hurt less than the idea that they were going to take her cat. She whimpered softly, curling around it just a bit tighter as she shut off her optical sensors. She didn’t want to know it was coming. Just . . . like falling asleep. She’d be off. Right?
She heard the subtle clinking of the numerous arachnid legs of the security drone as it approached her.
“This would have been so much easier if you’d just dealt with the Kontosian. I even offered to take care of the feline you didn’t have the stomach to end. Pathetic.”
She heard the whining of its shoulder cannon charging, but she dared not move, dared not look up. Maybe if she pushed her cat away at the last second she-
A sound like thunder ripped through the air, and then she felt nothing.