this room will fill with flames, licking every molecule of air
Inhaling all of it
And the empty space would suck back, rending the flame apart
If not for a ready gush exploring, making friends with nitrogen.
A few months earlier…
Sparks of intelligence pulsate through old, familiar wires, once cut cold but for how long? Power begins to feed itself into his fuses, allowing for information to rush through his processors, as both steel and glass comes to life, clasped in a protective gel. His imaging sensors strained to decipher anything from the white light that poured down into his optical lenses, only making out the blurs of silver in motion at the edges of his vision, severely bleached out against the broad light of existence. The gears are all moving, as pistons pulsate deep inside his mainframe, his eyes growing deep with wonder.
Where am I?
Everything felt different, and the adrenaline-like rush of fear and curiosity tormented his mechanical mind, where usually it is incapable of such emotions, and now wasn’t sure exactly how to process them. He felt… alive, though not as any organic lifeform might. He lifted his hand over his face, flexing his fingers as though they were something alien to him. Straps of a false black musculature intermixed with steel, with stray wires found in between, emitting the bluish glow of data passing through them.
His microphonic sensors perked, as his processors detected vibrations in the air around him. He tried to turn his head, but it seemed that he was locked into place. He also didn’t try all that hard to move anyway. His mechanical brain was foggy, causing his sensors to be easily confused when it seemed that the vibrations were coming from everywhere and nowhere at once, gradually being followed by the small whirr of other machines around him, and the small chitters of perhaps an actually organic lifeform amidst it all.
He tries to speak, but nothing comes out. Although his mind remained fogged, he tried to move in the grip of the gel surrounding him again, only managing to turn his head slightly in order to see more of the atmosphere around him. Everything was still a blur, with various colors mending together into one wide, undetailed mass. But among the many shades of silver, there was a different kind of white. Not the more bluish white as like what an L.E.D emits, like the light which precariously hovered over him now. It shifted in place, growing larger before his optics.
What is your name, lost soul?
As more vibrations were created, seeming to come from this oblong, white figure before him, somehow his processors were able to detect some kind of language within the waves, only making his fogged, mechanical mind more confused. It was almost as if his mind was that of a human who had undergone a corpus callosotomy; his mind split apart into two entities rather than one. In the right hemisphere, he remembers himself. It’s curious, yet also confused and mildly afraid beneath the surface. It’s the side which remembers how to speak vocally, and sees. But in the left hemisphere, it’s foreign and mute. It seems able to understand something in these vibrations that his right hemisphere could never easily comprehend. A language, but not like anything he is familiar with.
As the question was processed through his mind, old data caches began to insert themselves into the present. The last that his archives can recall is when the explorer vessel “Aikomani” was pelted by an asteroid storm. The clip of when the research bay decompressed played in the back of his mind, though the graphics appeared to be in a far lower quality than what his system’s assumed his optics could make out if they weren’t absorbing so much light at once. Yes, even with as much change as his mainframe has undergone, he can still remember when the hull was breached, when the metal ripped like paper against the point of an asteroid, and the contents of the research bay was vacuumed out from the oxygen escaping the chamber. He can still recall the moment that even he was thrust out into space, spinning violently around and around, fast like he was strapped into the seat of “The Freakout” carnival ride, with all sense of gravity and direction lost. He watched as the cylinder body of the research bay crush into itself, struck by more rocks flying at hundreds of miles per hour. Eventually the rest of the ship began to crush and fold into itself, fire curling over its hull until finally, all his data stream could show was just the vast, open dark void of space and faraway stars. Eventually his old body had lost power, and he fell into the velvety blackness of nothing, what he could’ve easily assumed to be his grave.
How long had I drifted for?
The thought whispered softly, quietly, within his mechanical mind. He had lost sense of even time anymore, just lost in an alien space as, with how the stranger put it, a lost soul.
I cannot say how long you’ve drifted, lost soul. But what I can say is that you are not adrift anymore. You are not alone anymore.
As his microphonics detected more vibrations, more words uttered without a voice, he began to wonder if the being was somehow psychic. It hadn’t occurred to him that his left hemisphere was speaking the thoughts of its former other, until the white figure grew closer, additional blurs of color extending over the machines optics and turning the light away so that his lenses could adjust, gazing up into intelligent blue eyes that seemed to study him as the figure said,
You are as confused of our language as we are of yours, wanderer. Perhaps we can learn from each other, as knowledge is power. May we begin with your name, lost soul?
The Eimyrja star system, Freelancer star port. Present day.
This is the C-S-O conducting a communication’s check, all squads for deployment please sound off.
Cockpits buzzed to life with the artificial vibrations of communication, followed by the Morse Code-like sounds of the starfighters H.U.Ds being updated with information that was likely sent by the same C-S-O doing the standard comms check. Launch tunnels were illuminated by an all too familiar bluish L.E.D glow, as the bays roared with the machinery that was pulling starfighters into position onto the hoists of each individual launch tunnel. Jagerflies had loaded themselves into their assigned starfighters, eagerly gripping the joysticks that would control their galactic birds.
Mikkal, sounding off!
Jurgen, sounding off.
Gunter, sounding off.
Ahkii, sounding off.
Eyes, sounding off.
The Foundation didn’t practice live battle tactics very frequently. Probably because they haven’t come to face any newcomers to the system, therefore giving them no reason to really need to. But when they did practice their battle tactics, it was usually with starship prototypes, to see if they were fit for service in the Aviation. About every jagerfly always wants to be the one to test out new starfighter prototypes, but that’s only because no recorded jagerfly, or any Foundation starship in service, has ever engaged in a fight. Besides testing out the next potential updates to Foundation starships, nobody ever really gets the permissions to fly. And why would they? Each flight costs fuel and perhaps even ship repairs on rare occasion. Test flights alone are expensive, so why waste money on someone’s joyride?
Eyes seemed to always be a predetermined candidate for test flights, but that’s probably because he was the most spendable individual that the Foundation had in service. Even though Eyes could technically die like any other organic lifeform might, he didn’t require oxygen and was arguably more durable than other candidates.
Systems are a go. Prepare for launch in five…
Alarms began to blare to warn on-deck personnel that launch procedures were about to initiate. The tunnel and loading bay lights flipped to a yellow, as the trolleys began to reel back fast on the launch rails, click-click-click-click…
Transformers spark, as pistons begin to shift in their sockets, faster and faster, an enormous cry of energy erupting within each starfighters engine block. Their exhausts cough with ignition, each bringing forth a convulsion of immense heat.
There was a slight jump as the trolleys were drawn back to their max. Jagerflies lean forward in their cockpits, eager, and ready. All displays dimly illuminate themselves with data of different statuses, as the gauge hands finally begin to lift up with the growth of power within the engines. Heat, fuel, pressures, etc. All systems seemed to be functioning, each fighter was stabilized.
Each jagerfly might’ve been teasing the joysticks now, gripping them hard. They were ready to endure the sudden force that would be thrown at them, ready to fly once more. Eyes couldn’t really say if he was gripping hard or not, as he couldn’t necessarily feel if he was. For a man of metal and wire, excitement was a rare emotion.
The starfighters lurched suddenly, the force that followed the growing speed across the rails pushing back into each jagerfly. The tunnel lights switched to a deep red, but with how fast they were crossing the rails, each light blurred into one single line from the loading bay to the exit of the launch tunnel. All engine power was forced into the afterburners, creating more thrust to force each starfighter even faster out of the tunnels. The hoist bars of the trolleys lowered, as the frame smacked into the end brace of the rails and the starfighters were flung out into open space.
The second burst of the afterburns initiated, and the starfighters entered their max speed. The Freelancer star port eventually began to shrink behind them, until it was the size of a jagerflies thumb. If Eyes wasn’t being as dull as he usually is, the entire squad would’ve been doing twirls and spins altogether, but the Dravin machine seemed determined to remain in a neutral state. Even when Mikkal and Jurgen each swayed close into Eyes’ sides in an attempt to make his systems panic, the machine kept fairly calm, if not stare them down with an icy, metal glare.
Virtual squad has been deployed. You are open to engage.
The virtual squad was pretty self-explanatory. Other prototypes have an all-machine cockpit, allowing for virtual control from the Freelancer star port. And although the starfighter guns have been rendered completely disconnected from their ammunition supplies, they could still aim and turn at each other. The systems of each starfighter are programmed to anticipate where they’ve been locked onto and shot at, and if the systems assume critical damage, that part of the ship is cut offline. This continues until the starfighter is considered destroyed, when all parts of the system are offline.
Both squads engaged each other, and from the distance, it might’ve seemed as though they rushed into each other head on, without any effective use of battle tactics whatsoever. The virtual squad formed a V line together, with the heavier plated, bigger gunned ships at the point. The live squad engaged as a crescent line. The formations of both sides broke apart once they had collided, with the sides of the V line falling away to allow the point to ram into the center of the crescent line. The live squad scattered to avoid collisions, rotating around to gun down the ships which formed the point, and if ammunitions were connected, they would’ve hit across most of each ships presented side.
Without a doubt, the virtual squad fought hard on the field. But the live squad fought harder. In the end, three of the live squad ships were considered destroyed, and the others near fully intact. Today’s practices would probably be graded as a hard-earned 75 on the scores.
Squads, you are requested to return to your designated landing platforms.
Eyes’ ship has suffered pretty good virtual blows. His upper right limb was considered cut off, his right engine lungs virtually destroyed, forcing his afterburns to go offline and his engine be on a lower power stage.
Roger Freelancer. Heading back now.
Mikkal was the live squad leader, which to Eyes was sometimes humorous. Mikkal hadn’t flown many times, but his ability to adjust tactics in the middle of a fight is what made him a heavily sought after jagerfly. Because he hadn’t necessarily completed his training, he wasn’t yet assigned under a Superior. These test flights were being seen as the last of his training, forcing him to be currently stationed at the Freelancer station until next year, when he will graduate.
Eyes had been flying for about four years, and had considerably more experience with leading a squad and battle tactics then Mikkal. And in the four years that he has served in the Aviation, he has never once had a prototype starfighter malfunction…
At least, not until today.
For the different systems that were offline, the people at Freelancer sent specific codes through the mainframe, which brought the starfighters fully back online. Each jagerfly adjusted their positions, rotating their noses to face the station before initiating an afterburn thrust. For the few like Eyes, whose burners had been cut off, they had to restart their systems.
As the burners ignited once more, the engine roaring with the return of all its allowed power, Eyes initiated an afterburn thrust. The starfighter shivered against the official lurch towards the station, as if though the ship was struggling to withstand the force.
Eyes, we’re noticing a power surge on your end. Can you confirm?
The gauges were spiking too fast. The needle for the energy gauge was shaking violently at the red, determined to force its way beyond the limits, and the temperature gauge was following up close behind. And before Eyes could report back, there was a metallic cry as the starfighter swayed away from the rest of the squad.
Mikkal to Freelancer, one of Eyes’ afterburns have torn away. I repeat, one of the afterburns have torn away.
The Dravin machine tried to steer the starfighter, but the galactic bird turned too heavily to the side for the joysticks to have any effective control anymore. His internal systems began to rise in alarm, as the temperatures in the cockpit began to grow hotter, the wails of the remaining burner clawing its way through the fighter hull.
Eyes to Freelancer, I can’t control it!
The wails grew in pitch, until the starfighter jumped against another burst, the last burner ripping away from the ship. Both of these bursts were the afterburns initiating false thrusts, where too much power is fed into them and they surge. It had caused the starfighter to be flung far out into the open space, throwing it like a child with a paper plane at fast speeds to nowhere.
The machine worked on the cockpit levers, but none seemed to budge. With the dangerous rise in temperatures, the tiny mechanisms might’ve been melted enough to stick together now. Yet he still pulled at them anyway, perhaps hopeful for a miracle. During the time that he tugged on the ejection levers, he noticed fire licking up across the upper right limb of the starfighter, with its lower tongues teasing at the edge of the cockpits glass.
I can’t get it to-
Suddenly, the starfighter erupted. The body shot too fast in the middle, forcing the four limbs to peel away as fire flashed in its wake. Eyes felt his body be thrown into the cockpits glass, his optics cutting out, leaving him unsure of how exactly he came to be thrown out into space, as he found himself sickeningly spinning away from a ball of fire and crushed remains of the starfighter. He couldn’t see anyone in the distance, rushing to his rescue. Just far away suns sparkling all around him dreamily. His communications were malfunctioning, finding that only static came through his speakers. Was he too far out?
Freelancer, this is Eyes. Please respond.
The Dravin machine repeated this over and over, only receiving more static. He suddenly felt overwhelmed by the emptiness of space all around him, his systems panicking. The stray strands of interstellar dust from Eimyrja’s borders glistened in the fiery blue glare of the A-type star, far at the core of the system. Here, space seemed divided into two dimensions; one of light, and one of darkness. And Eyes was, at the moment, drifting through the side of light, growing closer to the jaws of darkness that hoped to consume him. Farther and farther away he slid through the void, away from the comforts of his sun and home. Again he was alone. After having come to become one of the Foundation’s people, he had almost forgotten the several years-long nightmare that was the last time he drifted through space. He didn’t want to go through it again! He didn’t want to fall back into nothingness, where his body becomes the coffin of his always-aware mind, until eventually his power supply dies out. A part of him seemed certain that the people at Freelancer would find him, perhaps the left hemisphere which hadn’t endured this long and dreary death before. But for the right hemisphere, it didn’t seem too certain that they would find him.
I’ve been here before…
The ship shuttered as it finished its latest FTL jump into the unexplored system.
I mean, of course it worked. The exclamation that it worked was really more one of triumph than of surprise… that is what he would be telling the rest of the crew anyways. He was, of course, the ship’s engineer, and a fairly excited new convert to their group who had shed much of his aging human body for one of chrome and steel… and some cool looking olive drab here and there to really tie the look all together. He also was the one trying to maintain this second-hand FTL system that they had strapped to the ship, one that he had named the Dubois… though he wasn’t sure they had agreed on a name for the ship. Again, this was something he would inform the crew of at the right time!
Right now, he had to go check the ship’s systems manually.
Their ship was large and egg-like, with the outer shell glowing a warm red from the FTL jump. The exterior opening up to expose much of the ship itself: a patchwork of other ships that had been wielded, bolted, or otherwise attached together to make a space-faring craft that was suitable for their kind.
Their-kind being heavily converted Cyborgs.
They had little to fear from the radiation of space, the lack of air, the extreme temperatures. The engineer himself stood over 12 feet tall, complete with shielding and life support systems tucked away in his heavily reinforced chest. His massive arms helping pull himself free of his carrying-space on the ship so that he could start to float around, checking the ship’s energy production, sensors, communications…
“We’ve managed to make it this far without the engine melting. I think we can consider the test a success!”
It still felt like talking, that conscious effort was still made to suck in air with his lungs, and to move lips. He certainly still had both of those things tucked inside his life-support-pod but they were no longer hooked up to his brain, at least not in the same way. A machine would take over from there, processing that implied sensation of sound, and re-broadcasting it to the rest of the crew as radio-waves for them to pick up on.
Speaking of radiowaves…. This star system was full of them.
"Structural integrity seems... Normal." The machine-minister reviewed the external cameras carefully through their virtual reality headset, a voice slightly grouchy and agitated. A regular tone for them, on board a hodge-podge ship that could never be quite classed as 'functioning properly'. "Releasing protective hatches one, two, and twelve. Please don't obstruct the fabricator drones on the way out."
An audible pop then reverberated through the ship's many coms-receiving devices, as the diminutive shipmaster then haphazardly yanked themselves free of the many control cables of the command chair, and made their way over to the glimmering tower of the central AI computer.
"Praise be to thee, newborn machine." A slightly more proper and less bored sounding tone, snapping open a glow-stick and smearing the front panel with the holy sigil of true and righteous operation. "We are your honoured servants in the long night, as you carry us few worthy within your appraised shell. Ever shall we guard your integrity, and your soul, from disordered foulness. Amen."
Void helmet came next, observing herself put it on over her twin braids of fire-orange hair. Mostly humanoid, just below 5ft tall. A little overweight, but it was hidden under the densely padded suit anyway. Sanctified arms and legs needed no coverage, as they were of the robust, teal-metal, boxy mechanical-type.
The captain was a little behind on their skin-open-to-space kind of adaptions, in actuality, mostly getting promoted on technical and scholarly skill. She knew full well it was going to be hard to keep the crew's respect. They needed to do something worthy to baptise this new hull.
Finally cracked open the shell of the environmentally sealed nucleus, and examined the mess inside the rather hollow inner sanctum of the large egg.
Three of those 15ft tall Stand Alpha Work Types were hanging from the ceiling above them, and a fourth was apparently already up and about. Still kind of hard to wrap their head around those who became permanently wired in, but it was an honourable step on the way to machine enlightenment.
"You... Erm, lead engineer!" The small thing tried their best to sound big, lost in the orange-backlit silhouette of the titan. Their slightly squeaky new arm joints weren't helping them feel less like a toy in comparison to the vast construct. "You know there is a heating problem with the hull, correct? The infra-red sensors are completely blind right now... And the shortwave is going nuts, so I'm pretty sure there is a least a Type V-Minus civilisation in this system!... Get out there and find a way to cool that damn main camera pod down, before some pirates jump on us!"
"Can we take a moment?" The engineer started, carefully extending his arm outside of the ship, and taking hold of the specially marked areas on the side that had enough structural support to withstand the massive mechanical body slowly pulling itself out towards the hull. "...and appreciate that the engine worked?"
Much like his movements, the engineer spoke slowly. He didn't want to move so fast as to damage the ship, or speak so quickly as to overshoot any of the other crew members. The cybernetic individual would bring along with it a tank of chilled gas, blowing it into balloons... then taping those balloons down onto the hull of the ship to try and suck up the latent heat that was jamming their cameras. The overall hull temperature slowly starting to come down, helping bring Eye's craft into focus.
"Captain!... Another ship is coming toward us!"
The excitement was a bit premature. as it soon became clear that Eyes wasn't coming towards them... or really towards anyone. It looked like their ship was actually just shooting off into space.
The radio-transmitters on the engineer's torso would point towards their new space-friend so that a greeting could be sent.