The light was too harsh, Jon decided, as he sat in the uncomfortable chair, elbows resting on the cold metal table. His fingers ran through his damp hair, slick with both water and sweat, as he tried to control his breathing.
“Can you stop fucking with the heat?”
“WE ARE NOT.” Came the robotic voice from behind the mirror wall. The table was pressed up against the wall, giving it the illusion that it somehow continued past the reflection – and it very well might have – but Jon would never know; it just put him face to face with his own damn self.
His own damn sexy self, damp in a chair with a spotlight on him –
“PLEASE STOP DOING THAT.”
“Doing~ what~” Jon said coyly, arching his back under the light like a certain singer from long ago, kicking a hairy leg up in the air as he continued to gaze at his sexy self.
“WE WILL WITHOLD ADDITIONAL SNACKS-”
“Holyshitokfuck.” Rumbled Jon, sitting back down like a proper human being. “So when can I go, exactly? I didn’t do nothin’, and I know my rights.”
There was a pregnant pause, before the robotic voice came back. “START FROM THE BEGINNING, AGAIN.”
Jon groaned. “For fuck’s sake, alright, look. I admitted to the hypnotic midget-foot orgy porn! I even showed you that was what I was downloadin’ when you busted down my door-”
“PLEASE DO NOT EVER SPEAK THOSE WORDS AGAIN.”
“Well you asked-” Jon murmured, hand idly fishing into the XXXTREME FLAVOR Dodino Dustbowl SnaccattaccPacc for something to nibble on.
“. . .” There was an auto-tuned sigh before the mic cut off, and after a few seconds Jon figured he was left to his own devices again. Leaning back until he was wobbling on two chair legs, he mentally went over his timeline once again: He was innocently shitposting as God intended when he was innocently brought on to an illegal galnet node connection, innocently. And then he innocently shared innocent human culture with people he innocently thought were other innocent humans but who lied to him. Then he innocently disconnected and began to innocently download some vanilla hypnotic midge-
“PLEASE DO NOT FINISH THAT THOUGHT.”
“Gbuhs?” Jon flinched, waving his arms around for stabilization as his chair legs made contact with the floor once more. “You can read minds?! FUCK-”
“YOU WERE SPEAKING OUT LOUD. AGAIN.”
Jon stared at his reflection for a few moments.
His sexy reflection, damp in a chair with a spotlight on hi-
“Well then STOP leaving me in here already! It’s been weeks-”
“YOU WERE COLLECTED 3 HOURS AGO.”
“Which is weeks in internet time I better be getting overtime for that-”
“YOU. YOU.” There was a pause and a buzz, and then a very human and very feminine voice on the other end of the mirror. “You have absolutely no idea how fucked you are right now, do you?”
Jon leaned forward, wiggling his eyebrows and providing his reflection a roguish grin. “I mean, I didn’t know it was that kind of setup. Did Aisha get my birthday wishlist? Cause there’s a surprising lack of Finnish BDSM sauna-witches, and-”
“Jonathan Protagonista. Employee #1847-B44-286J of the Starforge installation. 8 years of employment, zero promotions, 1,500 minor citations, zero unpaid union dues.”
“Oooo, a stalker~”
The voice behind the mirror slapped a file on their table, the sound picked up on the mic and letting Jon know that there was a very heated whispering discussion going on. “At 1840 Hours local, 0583 Chrono, you pinged this system’s Galactic Network Node.”
“Again, not a crime.” Jon said, rolling his hand idly.
“You then used illegal navigation techniques as listed under the Intergalactic Commons Code of Conduct to connect to an unlisted partition-”
“Ok, not a terrible crime. Just dock my pay like you nerds usually do-”
The voice continued, unabated. “- and shared encrypted, according to you ‘human culture’ information with said Galactic Network Node, over the course of 18 days.”
“My people are a proud and noble race, rich with culture and-”
“Less than 34 hours after you last connected to the system’s Galactic Network Node, a human outpost was attacked.”
Jon stopped mid-sentence. “-wh. What?”
“The severity of the attack led to the deployment of military assets to the colony. Multiple military assets.” The female on the other end of the mirror said, taking a deep breath. “The corresponding combat engagement damaged colony structures, injured multiple colonists, downed no less than 47 civilian aircraft.”
Jon’s chair met the floor as he stood up, the sudden movement skittering it backwards as he slammed his hands on the table. “JESUS CHRIST, NO. I DIDN’T- I HAD. I HAD NOTHING TO DO WITH-”
“AGAIN.” She roared, and Jon’s protests died in his throat. “We’re starting from the beginning, again. What were you sharing, Jon?”
“N-nothing. I wasn’t sharing anything!”
“28 days of nothing, Jon? How can you waste 28 days on nothing-”
Jon rolled his eyes. “You’ve obviously never met a true gamer-”
“JON.” The voice behind the mirror roared, and he sighed.
“Look.” Jon groaned, rubbing his face a bit too aggressively in frustration. “Ok, I joined the node, fine, you got me there. I was literally shitposting, and that’s it.”
“What did you… shitpost, Jon?”
“Are… are you asking to enter my magical realm-”
“What did you send, Jon?” The voice asked, deadpan. “Tell me.”
“I. Look. Do you not – how do you not know what a shitpost is in current year?!” Jon rambled, waving his arms wide. “It’s – it’s shitposting. Memes! The DNA of the Soul-”
“What did you send, Jon?”
“I don’t know – how many breads have you had in your life?” Jon asked incredulously. “I don’t remember! It’s just-”
“UNREGULATED, UNAPPROVED CULTURAL EXCHANGE.” The voice said, the abrasive switch back to robot causing Jon to flinch.
“Yeah. Ye-yeah. That’s it. That’s all it was. Some… some American-territory football memes, some uh… pre-unity space memes too. A few other things.”
“WHAT ELSE.” The voice demanded.
“… I don’t know.”
“And you’re being unreasonable!” Jon said, hands pressed against the table. “And I think it’s time I stopped stalling and leveled the playing field!”
“. . .” There was another pregnant pause as Jon made the most of the time he had, sweeping his arm across the table, knocking over the Dodinos along with the other provided food and drink.
“XANATOS GAMBIT!” Jon yelled, posing dramatically as…
“… JON WE ARE NOT GOING TO PROVIDE YOU MORE SNACKS.”
“You. You’re monsters. But it’s ok; my triumph is at hand.”
“JON WHAT.” The voice started before it suddenly cut off. A small, shoebox-sized door opened up along the wall, and a nondescript roomba rolled it’s way into the room.
“Roomba~” Jon cooed, walking over and picking up the protesting robot, hugging it to his chest tightly. The Roomba, statistically not the same Roomba that was still in Jon’s room, began to clean what it registered as “the floor” which was actually Jon’s shirt.
“Aww, I love you too, buddy.”
“. . .JON. ARE YOU ON MEDICATION?”
“The only medication I’m on is FREEDOM, Imperial!” Jon sneered, the roomba rolling up more and more of Jon’s shirt front in it’s gears. “And your tyranny ends today.”
The voice suddenly cut off.
– – – –
S.Sgt. Joline, for the past few hours, had been trying to break what she – and most of the other spooks with her – thought was a subversive terrorist element in their midst. Petabytes of data, poured into a node that didn’t exist, and then less than a day later humans are attacked?
Not a coincidence.
So Jonathan Protagonista was picked up from his room with minor protests; a thorough shakedown of his room found nothing terribly out of the ordinary, and he was smart enough to wipe all his data. Forensics were still pouring over what they could find, but most of it was porn, and not the good kind of porn.
So, They – with a capital T – dumped him into this room, and so They – again, with a capital T – started to pick him apart.
15 minutes after They started questioning him, They realized he was no terrorist. He wasn’t even a political organizer. Hell, He could barely even be called a member of society!
This, of course, fascinated everyone. Who was he? What did he want?
30 minutes into questioning, the conversation changed – less from “what does this lone madman want” and more “how did this barely-functioning idiot get spacewalk-rated for ship welding” and then to “Oh dear God did he work on this ship?” and ultimately to “WHERE DID HE WELD?!”
Which left S.Sgt Joline, for the most part, alone with the madman-turned-idiot. It was entertaining to watch him for the first hour or so, and she did have to admit his responses were somewhat funny, but.
But roughly 2.8 Million GRC worth of damage occurred in less than a day, the incident reports alone would take a week to fill out, and the ripples of last night were going to be felt for weeks, if not months down the line. That meant that the bigwigs wanted answers, and that meant that she needed to pry something of value from this idiot.
And now he apparently yelled a codeword and started to hug a roomba. Idly she scribbled “stress-induced psychosis?” on his file, the group of Them in the room with her making calls, checking EM frequencies for any sort of signal, and generally being the best of the best of the best. The sound of a cleaning-droid door opened; someone must’ve dropped something on the floor at Jon’s outburst.
S.Sgt Joline stared through the one-way mirror, studying Jonathan. The hair on the back of her neck stood up, and Jon grinned wildly.
What the hell? What’s got him so happy?
‘For that matter,’ Joline thought, ‘what’s getting me spooked?’
Her finger depressed a button, the click echoing throughout the room. “JON WH-”
Her finger left the button and she whipped around, her sidearm out of it’s holster in the blink of an eye. They were still there, but…
“Is that a herd of Roombas?” Miguel said, his arms crossed as more and more of the little cleaning bots entered the room.
“I… who spilled?” Lt. Hong sighed, looking under his chair. “Come on, fess up.”
“That’s a lot of Roombas.” Joline murmured, putting her gun back in it’s holster.
“Do you like my children?” Jon mocked through the glass, and They turned as one to face the madman. “They do so love me. And they do so hate when I’m hurt…”
“…Stress-induced Psychosis, absolutely.” Joline said, sighing. “I think we got everything we can ge-”
A Roomba whirred, somehow menacingly at Them, moving to the center of the room and spinning slowly. Another broke off from the herd and Beeped an order at Lr. Hong.
“I. What.” Lt. Hong said.
The Roomba opened a port side door, an open switchblade tumbling out onto the floor.
Another roomba rolled forward, cleaning up the switchblade mess. Menacingly.
“Have you seen Dodino stains in the moonlight?” Jon said, petting the roomba who was unsuccessfully eating his shirt. “It appears quite black.”
Miguel walked over and gently kicked the roomba in the center of the room. As one, the herd… did absolutely nothing.
“I’m still getting PTO for this, right?” Jon said with concern in his voice, realizing that the mirror hadn’t talked to him in a while and the roomba on his chest had started to painfully constrict his movement. “Like, I’m sure it’s a holiday tomorrow somewhere.”
“No.” Jolene sighed, shaking her head with a soft, sad smile. “He’s an idiot.”
Jon tapped on the glass with a free hand. “Can someone help? It’s – aah! – got my nipple-”
= = = = = = = = = = =
3 DAYS LATER
= = = = = = =
“Alright, again, from the beginning Lt. Heinz.” Jolene said, softly, as she held the pilot’s hand in her own. He still had some tremors, but if that was from the stimulants he overdosed on or the mild dehydration he was still recovering from, she didn’t know. They – not They with a T, They as in ‘the recovery team’ – found UNIT ZERO ONE about 2 miles away from the creature colloquially known as MOTHER, in a slightly burned-out patch of ‘forest’. The recovery team waited for MOTHER to fall into a semi-dormant state, whereupon UNIT ZERO ONE was recovered. Prying Lt. Heinz out of his seat took a few more hours, but eventually he was freed, passed through medbay, debriefing, and now… here. In the therapy/interrogation wing.
“Nnnn. I was the killiest motherfucker-”
Jolene patted his hand, giving it an affirmative squeeze. “Yes, yes you were. And then what happened?”
“They jammed, right?”
Lt. Heinz nodded, a sad sob escaping from his lips before he attempted to force composure again. “They broke my gun-”
Jolene nodded, leaning forward. “Then the MOTHER took you somewhere. What happened?”
“I… I got dropped off, and – and poked, uh. And then I started a fire, and then that cunt flew over and… and…” Lt. Heinz shook for a moment, before meeting Jolene’s gaze – his eyes wide with fear and memory.
“They made me watch.”