Chapter 32: Ten Years ago

With one disaster after another, the crew of the Edward Deming are stretched thin after another incident places their friends and family in danger...Some will go to great lengths to achieve their goals, though others may not be so eager to make a Faustian bargain.
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Chapter 32: Ten Years ago

Post by uso »

Wangdiao Colonies,
3010 GSC

“You made it here quickly,” Heram said, perhaps underselling just how dangerous the trip was. The approach to the star system required timing the arrival and the approach to occur during a lull in the radiation being put out by the star. Landing on the planet required careful maneuvering to touchdown on one of the few well protected landing pads where the ship could then be retracted down under the surface to provide better protection. The ‘space-weather’ had ravaged the colony too, damaging much of the electrical grid and ruining many of the electronics that had been left exposed on the moon’s surface. Many transport ships in the system were now scrap metal, either fried by radiation while they were on the launch pad or unable to handle the strain of operating in this star system for long periods of time. Local electrical grids, vehicles, appliances, even handheld devices were spotty at best.

Heram himself was clearly a follower of the cybernetic path. Among humans it was still a rather niche thing, replacing biological components that were working perfectly fine with higher-performing machine parts. Some took it much further than others. Heram could still pass as human, but the pale discoloration on his arms indicated just how much biologically inert carbon was under his skin. The loose fitting hoodie he had on covered the set of small tendrils that were attached to his back, capable of holding a variety of different tools. He also had a mask over his lower face, filtering and purifying the already breathable air no doubt as the first step towards further augmentation.

“... Things have gotten worse since I originally contacted you. The colony is falling apart, and it is already unlivable for many of those who are heavily cyberized. I want you to take as many as we can off world and back to Alliance space.”

A red robed mass of metal walked out of one of the ships large bays, trailing cables like black chains. It wasn’t the only figure on the ship as many similar robed automata hung on their racks like puppets without a puppeteer. “I noticed.” The machine walked down the ramp the cables dragging behind it.

“I can take a little over three hundred but that is all I can promise.” James stopped in front of Heram the drone he was controlling holding out a tablet that showed a list of his food stores and the general requirements that those traveling with his would have to adhere to. From the calculations fitting three hundred in a ship that was supposed to be crewed by thirteen people wouldn’t be a fun trip though technically possible.

“I think we can do better,” Heram stated. The man certainly had the demeanor of those who’ve started down that path of enthusiastically replacing their humanity with machines. He wasn’t intentionally being short or insulting the projections, but it was hard to know if this type of context was something he gave or up or something he never had in the first place, “We need to shrink the amount life support and space required by each individual. We could fabricate stasis-pods here and stack them like regular cargo onboard your ship. It will reduce the strain on both your food supply and life support. I am unsure as to how much weight your ship can support but we could look at boosting the surface to orbit performance if our next bottleneck is liftoff capacity. We could further reduce the life support requirements if we plan to meet up at a station once we are able to leave the system rather than committing to bringing the people directly to a planet. That may give us an uncomfortably low margin for error.”

He tried to take in the red-robed mass in front of him as well, trailing cables and chains made a certain kind of sense. A physical and shielded connection between machines seemed necessary here of all places, and could extend ones reach. There did remain the question of if this body was connected to the ship, or if this was the ship connected to the body. The physical sense of self did still seem to have importance.

The metal head froze momentarily as it thought through these new factors. The tablets display also seemed affected, the numbers shifting, words changing as the more biological part of this machine went through its slow, be it necessary process. Eventually the numbers and words solidified back into neat and orderly lines and showed something that was quite different than the original outcome. “That would be more agreeable to our current problem.” The data slate now projected a range between six to seven hundred per cargo bay, and maybe a hundred per repair bay. There was even a little map showing the areas and safety margins during take off for different configurations.

The numbers didn’t seem to improve with the lessened ship distance as life support wasn’t the issue it was more the amount of physical space per person. The ships lifting power wasn’t much of a worry to the tablet and by extension the one controlling it, whether it was up to hubris or actual calculation couldn’t be discerned from the mechanical mask. Though the ship was designed for hauling small asteroids around both in and out of a gravity well so it could be both.

The activation of a few other similarly robed machines in the bay behind the currently active one. These drone swiftly vanished into the corridor connecting to the cargo bay presumably to go prepare suitable space for this plans implementation. However the drone standing in front of Heram just stared at him as if waiting for orders from somewhere.

There was a commotion outside of the ship in its landing bay. “Please, whoever your master is, I need to get out of here!” It was a ragged, desperate voice with a pause, before it protested at the drones protecting their mother-vessel. “They’ll be coming for me at any moment, just get me off this blasted moon!”

The ship had just arrived, and it seemed the locals were already over-eager to make their escape. There was no telling just which problem this individual might be trying to run from, or what they might be bringing with them. “Regrettably, we may be bottlenecked on time. How long will it take you to refuel and prepare for the journey out of the star system?” Heram asked, there was only a thin door between the underground space now housing the ship and the personnel entry way that the newcomer had come. It wouldn’t keep out anyone who put some effort in to get through. Without diverting his attention away from the ship, he would patch a synthetic voice through to the speakers by the door, and share the audio information wirelessly with the ship. “Why do you bring your problems here?”

The drone before Heram gave a quickly calculated reply to the given question. “Assuming no major interference with fuel loading, take off can begin in forty five minutes. A full restock will take one hour fifteen minutes.” The tablet mirrored this information giving a short read out on the fuel tanks and the rate at which they were being filled. Though the readout on the tablet suggested that they could leave sooner but have a lower margin for errors. The restocking could be mostly ignored, mainly because it was repair parts that while not vital to the ships running were a bit harder to acquire.

While the refugee hadn’t shown any inclination to attack several power lights on the more combat oriented drones turned from red to green as they got into a ready state in case others had other ideas. They didn’t fly off their racks as they waited for further orders and the two intelligences that could give those orders waited for Heram to either work it out or submit a further plan of action, well the AI waited while the more human intelligence was still puppeting the restocking and refueling effort.

“I can’t explain here! I just saw a ship not from Aezimon! Ma de, open the hatch and let me in, please! I’ll do whatever you ask after! Anything other than suffering fate here!” The voice hushed, but grew more desperate. There was an audible knocking on the metal door now.

“One hour, fifteen minutes.” Heram stated, turning towards the door to go get a visual on just who was trying to get in. Even as he walked over there, he was able to continue the conversation wirelessly, “I will have as many colonists prepared for transport and loaded by then. Fabrication of additional stasis-pods is already in progress.”

It would only be a short trip to reach the exterior door to the landing bay that this newcomer was banging on. The underground landing area having just enough space between the landed ship and the walls of the bay for someone to comfortably walk around, and the trip from the loading ramp to the door was short enough, leaving the physically restrained drones by said loading ramp. Heram didn’t open the door entirely either, extending a small metal tendril from his sleeve just far enough to pass through the gap in the door and get a look at what was on the other side.

The desperate voice came from a typical Wangdiao colonist; a subject of botched genetic modification. In this case, he was a canine-form, with patches of shaved fur running along what-showed of his neck, a stubby tail that was little more than an elongated tailbone, and sharp front teeth that bared every time he opened his mouth to plead. However, specifically to those huddled around the gas giant that was Aezimon, the man also carried quite a few cybernetic augmentations; his left hand and both ears were both replaced with metal and silicon parts, though far less refined than those coming from either the Alliance or the Taianese.

The initial reaction that the brain in a jar had when the transmitted image of the cybernetic lycanoid was ‘Wow the world is much cleaner through biological veiwing aperati.’ the second reaction was the more normal response from the paranoid chunk of grey matter. “I’m not sure I trust it.” was displayed on the tablet in a font that luckily didn’t convey his dislike of biologicaly engineered monstrosities, though whether the specimen before Heram could count as one was still up for debate.

It wouldn’t take Heram long to make his decision, “We should let them in. May I extend an offer to board your ship to this newcomer James?”

The tablet typed out a grudging agreement to this possibly horrible course of action, though the power lights on the smaller combat drones stayed lit. “Just make sure they don’t piss on anything important.” After all he was getting paid by the person and he could always use more spare parts in case they ended up being a burden.

Without follow up, Heram would allow the door to fully open. The metal tendril that had extended a sensor then retracted back into the sleeves of his hoodie, the smooth motion hinting at just how much more modern his cybernetics were than the newcomer. “Why are you here?” He stated firmly.

The stranger ignored Heram, instead shoving past him, frantically looking for whatever controlled the door. After lunging on it and slamming the ship’s door shut, he slumped to the ground and took a breather. “Oh, by the stars---” He looked up at the incredulous man standing before him, human, well dressed, seemingly well educated as well. The stranger’s eyes lit up with hope. “You’re with the Alliance, aren’t you? How did you get here so fast?”

“I am with myself, and here for my own reasons.” He stated, reaching to take a firm grip of the creature’s shoulder, the heavy threads of synthetic muscle wound inside of his arms providing a very assertive pressure to pin their newcomer to the door they were trying to manipulate, “If you wish for passage off the moon, you will need to wait your turn. Now why are you here?”

“I don’t have time to wait! You have no idea what’s going on in the system, do you?” The stranger protested, but didn’t respond physically. “If you’re trying to save people, go to Lihana! That or get me to Alliance territory; they need to know what’s happening here!”

James now had his interest peeked as well as his suspicion, and the implant that replaced his caution. This didn’t mean he trusted the biological mongrel as desperation had made even the sanest of living being do the stupidest things, but there was always the chance he wasn’t lying through his canine teeth. Though for the moment he would probably gain more by watching and noting inconsistencies. There was no time limit as of yet and seeing the manhandling of said creature did give the brain a kind of vindication. T3RR0R B1T3 would have rolled its digital eyes, if it had any, and took up the role that his human counterpart abandoned, which was the very important role of refueling and restocking the ship.

“You are using an excessive number of pronouns. Focus on clarity of language.” Heram stated. The creature before them was clearly getting worked up and he didn’t have a great response to that particular problem. He would again communicate with James wirelessly, asking ‘if they had any sedatives onboard that could be used to correct their guest’s demeanor. To which he would get a near instant affirmative response, that yes they did have some sedatives of sufficient strength.

It took half a minute for the stranger to gather his thoughts and calm down to a conversable level. “Alright, I’m sorry.” He looked up at Heram. “My name is Lang Long, everything else about me doesn’t matter; it’s what I know.” Having calmed down, Lang inspected Heram again, taking his time now, before his eyes widened in fear at the cybernetic man. “Y-you’re.... Who are you actually associated with?” His voice came out squeaking.

The increase in the subjects vocal pitch was one signal that James knew well. The one loaded external railgun turned its barrel silently to point at the lycan while a white robed medical drone walked out onto the ramp trailing a rope of daisy chained data and power cables.

“I am affiliated only with myself. You are wasting time re-treading this information, and appear to be erratic. Remain still and we will administer a mild sedative to put you at ease prior to answering questions.” Heram stated, signaling to James remotely ~~’ Only a minimal dose. We only need to deal with this one’s anxiety. Putting them to sleep would defeat the purpose.”

There was a slight confirmation as the medical drone approached one partly silicon covered arm reached out towards the lycan while speaking the automated message “Please remain still.” A section of the silicon plates opened up moving heater coils and cooling systems out of the way as an injector extended from its stored state. The injection took less than a second and the calming effect should be fairly strong depending on the unique biology of whatever his name was. The needle retracted but the drone laid its surprisingly warm and soft hand to Lang’s neck as it took a basic medical scan.

When it was sure that the administered drugs weren’t going to kill this mutt the drone deemed its task done and started collecting its long line of cable as it returned to the augmentation bay. The data collected on the subjects medical status was sent to both Heram and the tablet.

There was a brief, futile struggle before the drugs took over, forcing Lang to calm down. “There’s… there’s no use resisting, is there? Got into this predicament myself---” He muttered, then continued inquiring Heram. “What do you know of the situation in Alarie?”

“You delay unnecessarily.” Heram said, one of his tendrils extending out from under the back of his hoodie to take ahold of the duffle bag he had left nearby. It unfastened the bag and pulled out a small can-sized drone, tossing it towards the door and letting it roll out into the hallway to have a look around just in case someone was following this new person. “I have determined that it is unsafe to remain here for my kind. That is the extent of what I know of Alarie.”

After an attempted search for local servers James knew little more than what heram knew. The interference made information gathering extremely difficult even within the shielded dock. It was annoying to not be able to satisfy his curiosity. The next fastest way to gather information appeared to be this creature, then again not all mysteries needed to be solved. System wide political problems were rarely fun and tended to be dangerous for brains in jars not to mention very very boring.

The more and more James thought about it the less and less interesting the possible event sounded, this wasn’t a place where interesting things happened on a scale that James could take advantage of. His curiosity extinguished, possibly prematurely, he turned his sight inside his ship and made sure he had remembered to set up a crew cabin for Heram, assuming he wasn’t going to be in a cryopod.

“Unsafe would be an understatement, especially for you humans.” Lang looked up to Heram. There was a flash of distaste in his eyes, before they returned to their usual distressed state. “The Aezimon system is its own can of worms, but Lihana’s suffering worse. Two weeks ago, Baelo Cassini observed a small energy spike in Lihana’s atmosphere. It didn’t take long for our observatory in the Araban fields to be blocked from all comms, and then put under physical surveillance. Of course, it was all too suspicious, so we did some digging through our databases, and found evidence of drone fleets in orbit around Lihana at the timestamp, Aezimon in origin. And that energy spike?”

Lang gulped, then continued. “There are only a few things on Lihana that can produce something like that, all of them being fusion reactors keeping its cloud colonies afloat. I don’t dare to imagine what caused all of that power to be released at once.”

For Heram, the math of the situation was simple. They couldn’t do anything about the cloud colonies on Lihana, and they could do something for some of the colonists here. His response was similarly mathematical. “That does not change our course of action here. I still intend to leave as soon as this ship is prepared for the trip.”

While the implications of such things were of interest to James it was more the type of interest he tended to reserve for vids and other forms of entertainment. A war would be interesting to watch and take advantage of the volatile market prices for basic goods but beyond that there was simply nothing James could do in his current state. The only effect that this information had, had was enforce a vague time limit that they needed to leave within. All the more reason to try and speed up the refueling and loading process.

Lang's throat opened with a brief sound of protest which quickly died as he considered the situation himself. "That would be wise, wouldn't it? Fine. You'll be looking for those who oppose the actions of the Spear of Aezimon, including myself. Their sympathetic outlooks have made them unfavorable to the warhawk factions of these moons. You'll have to move quickly though; once the SoA discovers your intent they'll be blockading your ship."

A mechanical voice came from the ship and drones. “They can try.” There was no bluster just the truth of the fact in the simulated voice.

“I was not expecting to have to fight our way out. What weapon systems do you have on your ship. We should make considerations to how we can increase your capabilities over the next two hours while we load. Though those of us of the machine will be using the fabrication area to create the stasis pods, there will be some spare time to create new materials before we leave. Kirklin-style mines may be the best option for us as we are intending to escape.”

The tablet in Herams hand buzzed trying to get Heram’s attention. The tablet showed a diagram of the ship with markers for the eight external railguns and four very large drones that are attached externally to the top of the ships bays. Under this was a list of James’ collection of various weapons that were stuffed in his armory.

Lang chimed in. “I can help to! I’m not military trained, but I’m an electrical engineer, and I know to some degree how Aezimon drone fleets operate.”

T3RR0R B1T3 being possibly the only sane machine or biological creature out of the group poses a few questions on the tablet. How will they find out? How will they catch us? Why would they bother?

These questions had some metadata supplied to the holder of the tablet and the slightly demented brain. Specifically with the data gathered on the way in combined with what they were told. A drone fleet wouldn’t be able to do much beyond a defensive battle in such a storm giving them an out. Also pointing out how they weren’t the only ship trying to leave and the likelihood that such attempts would fail with or without their intervention would make it strategically unlikely for them to risk the storm to attack the escapees were there. The most likely action for them to take would be blockade the likely course out of the storm to the warp points.

For the moment, Harem would ignore Lang so that he could transmit directly to James. ‘Do you have an isolation room onboard your ship that we could store Lang in? Despite outward appearances, I think Lang is not one of us. I would prefer to keep him in a faraday cage shielded room to prevent any possible further leaking of information.’ He didn’t feel the need to explain himself. Bringing this individual onboard opened up a lot more possibilities and steps needed to be taken to mitigate any of the more extreme possibilities.

He would then forward information on a set of solid-fuel boosters that had been pre-fabricated for use with the intent of boosting the initial launch capacity of James’ ship. Heram had suspected that they would be needed for the initial launch so they were fabricated while James was on the way to the moon. ‘The drones and rail-guns are a good weapon setup for an attempted escape trajectory. Though you do not need the boosters to reach orbit with this payload, the added Delta-V should help us with evading any pursuit forces. I will also contribute some mines we can leave in our wake to slow pursuit ships. I have already begun design and fabrication, they should be ready for attachment prior to launch time.’

James didn’t feel the need to answer TB’s questions as they pretty much answered themselves with the provided data. Heram’s questions on the other hand were different, being mainly a salvage and general repair ship he had never really added anything particularly close to a brig. Using Heram’s visual feed in combination with his external sensors James got a general measurement of the lycanoid lucky for him he had something that could work. ‘Front cargo bay crate AE-31.’ The cargo crate in reference wasn’t a dog crate, it was an advanced electronics(possibly illegal) crate that was currently empty and large enough for the required contents, this was a temporary measure on James’ part as he started TB on a quick conversion of one of the cabin sections to a cell for easier prisoner management.

The booster rockets and mines did however give James a few more ideas with how to deal with the getting out of the system part of the plan. Additional delta-v was always nice when you needed to get around a blockade because it opened up more lanes than the extremely efficient and well known routes out of and into most systems. ‘I’m sure those will come in handy. Your quarters are ready for occupation second door on the right, as per usual.’

Lang looked up at Heram inquisitively. Sure, he was drugged up, but he could tell when a human was up to something, especially when said human was so blatantly more interested in their tablet then the living being before them. “Excuse me? What are planning to do with me?” The Aezimonian asked calmly, far from the terror that he should be right now.

“It is your intent to leave this star system correct?” Heram asked, starting to escort Lang towards the crate in the storage bay, “We will provide you with a way out in exchange for information about the ships we may encounter leaving this system.

“W-well, sort of…” Lang stuttered as it slowly dawned on him that his trip off Diera would still be as unpleasant as coming from the Araban fields, “I need to get assistance for the Lihanians. That or send out the message that the SoA is making crimes against sentient life. All EM channels are heavily monitored right now, so physical contact with those who can actually make a difference is the only way now.”

The cargo bay the two walk is fairly vacant with only five crates and not even that many active drones moving about. The crate Heram found that had the designation AE-31 was a large box built for housing large and very delicate ship components, the open door showed it was well lit inside and empty.

Heram would place Lang in the crate, and then give it a once over to make sure that someone organic could actually survive in the crate without suffocating. When satisfied he would seal it up enough to prevent signals from getting out and then resume his discussion with Lang. “We have rail guns, drones, some mines and some spare boosters. I would like to know what we may expect from the SoA in terms of firepower, ships, and overall Delta-V. We can arrange for you to signal once we are clear of interception.”

Lang frowned at the setup he was placed in, but it was better than getting captured by the SoA, he supposed. “Based on our observations, most of the interplanetary carrier-frigates under the Spear’s position are out attacking the Shouwei. How many left in Aezimon, I don’t know. Our biggest problem would be the drone fleets operating from Sayif. It’ll take some delay, but once mobilized, they’ll overwhelm us with autocannons, missiles, and signal scramblers, unless we escape the gas giant system before then.”

“The immediate problem are the manned corvettes patrolling Diera, equipped with limited firepower but powerful comm scramblers. It’s unlikely we’ll get off the surface without them stopping us first. However…” The canine-form took a moment to consider the odds. “Unlike the Sayif drone fleet, which is strictly under SoA control, the corvettes are still commanded by the different factions of Aezimon, whose allegiance to SoA are questionable. You might be able to persuade them to stand down. Whether or not they’ll inform Sayif, that’s anyone’s guess.”

“I would prefer to have an option that does not hinge in diplomacy or trust.” Heram thought out loud. “When we do have to negotiate we should do it from a position of strength. The Diera corvettes are the most probable forces that can intercept us correct? Do you know where they are based? Perhaps where we might expect them to patrol? Is there anywhere I might find more information on the configuration of these drone craft?”

“The Diera manned-fleet is probably making orbital maneuvers to have the moon shield them from the radiation bursts right now, that or docked in the hangars around here. You’re crazy to have landed here at a time like this. As for the drone configuration…”

Lang shook his head. “It’s all been a closely guarded secret. I could give you schematics of old drones I worked on, but SoA most likely updated the fleet for their current invasion of Lihana.”

New drone designs would be nice and the ability to disguise oneself as a slightly out of date combat unit would be useful if this SoA thing went anywhere, smuggling things into controlling governments was always profitable. How this was going to affect the plan of getting the fuck out of here as quickly as possible with a load of biological pains in the ass.

“Forward the designs along,” Heram stated. Any additional information that Lang could provide would be useful. “Assuming the drones are either in hanger or trying to hide from the radiation… then we may want to attempt launching while the storm is still ongoing. Additional radiation shielding could help us with the tail-end of the storm, and allow us to launch while the drones are unable to give chase.”

There was a slight hesitation, but then Lang nodded. “Alright, whatever it takes to bring the spears down.” He withdrew a tablet of his own and transferred what he had to Heram. It wasn’t much; juicier schematics and code were confiscated by the Spear of Aezimon, leaving bits and pieces of basic framework on the hardware. However, also sent over was a compressed file of the observatory’s data on Lihana and its orbital traffic of the past month.

“I can also work on improving the resilience of your electronics; that was pretty much my job until I got sent to the Araban fields.”

TB quickly took advantage of the traffic logs and altered the flight path to avoid most of the patrol routes on their way out of the atmosphere. James got notified that a drone had submitted an issue log and left the current conversation to go deal with a snapped track on a cargo crawler.

Heram would hand over his datapad to Lang before the tendril inside of his hoodie produced another one for his fleshy hand to hold, “You can enter your suggestion and schematics here. Lang will be left to handle any physical changes.” He would then forward along his suggestions to mount the mine dispensers just beside the main engine exhaust for the ship, and disposable boosters which would be mounted symmetrically on either side of the ship. At the same time, larger, 4 wheeled drones with a single large arm on top began working together to bring in the pods filled with colonists that were ready to be evacuated. The drones would start loading the pods into the spare areas onboard the ship as outlined earlier.

“Of course.” Lang took the second datapad and uploaded another set of files, software framework and electronic schematics that protected them from violent bursts of radiation, standard at this point for any system built for the Aezimon system. “How long are we going to stay here for? If you’re trying to evacuate people, it won’t be long before the SoA tries to take their workforce back. For all we know they’ve already mobilized the Diera police force and its fleet.”

Having assigned the repair drones from bay 2 to fix the broken tread on a cargo crawler, with bays 3 and 4 set to the mine layer and boosters respectively, James returned his attention to the two humans in his cargo bay. He was just in time to hear that last comment made by lang. After James overan the tablets base security measures and replaced it with his own versions, which were hopefully completely overkill, the tablet dinged and displayed a overly large timer that displayed a bit over and hour and a half.

Lang frowned at the value. “We’ll have to be faster than that. Those SoA people were looking for me. That’s why I came in so panicked.”

“We can discuss strategies for decreasing loading and turn-around time for launching however the machines are working as efficiently as they can. Further decreases in time may mean skipping important steps. Perhaps an alternative would be to delay the SoA? We could decompress this area of the colony, those we want to rescue are already in stasis-pods that will handle the lack of atmosphere?” Heram proposed.

The canine-form twisted his face, his tailbone folding closer to his legs. “That… might be difficult. We pretty much have airlocks for every small stretch of hallway. Let’s see… you’d have to disable half a dozen of them to buy us any substantial amount of time.”

One of the many things James misses about having a body is the ability to pinch the bridge of his nose. Even in life the act was little more than a habit but it still felt good to do. James poked at the connection between his ship and the docks flight control system, not the easiest thing to do in the storm. As far as the system was concerned James’ ship could request a takeoff permit at any time. Maybe SoA were just stupid and forgot to tell the controler to not let him land or maybe they wanted to capture him and his ship. TB made the suggestion that the lycanoid was even more paranoid than the rest of them which James didn’t argue against.

‘Our cover seems to be intact.’ James sent over the connection to Heram along with the logs between the ship and the docks control tower. Nothing seemed out of the ordinary and his sensors didn’t raise any alarms about security being summoned to this bay nor any odd reading from the cryopods that would indicate weaponry or tracking units. His humanoid drones that were helping load the biological popsicles were set to checking their cargo more throughly but James doubted they’d find anything.

‘Perhaps this is a waste of our time?’ Heram asked James. His own drone seemed to confirm the findings, there was no one else outside of the launch area. There didn’t seem to be anyone coming for them. ‘We still have an hour before loading and refit is complete? Is there a more productive use of our time?’

It didn’t take long for James to find that he didn’t have any tasks for Heram. In all honesty he had been expecting to have to herd people onto his ship, not all augmented are as logical as Heram, and with the simplicity of just packing in the cryopods many of the prepared tasks were sidestepped. ‘Not at the moment.’

TB began cataloging the cargo using the various kinds of id each person had either on or in their pod. If an AI could drool he would be, his genetic and bioengineering sub module was excited to see all the different genetic patterns. His cybernetic module was drooling over the augments listed and the poor scan data he could get through the pods and ice. Sadly these weren’t spare part repositories and very important cargo. But it did surprise him when he noticed that one of the pods seemed wrong. the AI having no subject reason to distract James summones a scout drone and the skeletal frame walked through the steadily growing towers of cryopods in the cargo bay to investigate the oddity.

“I understand that none of this information is verified. However until we can confirm that the data is false or until we have more pressing concerns we should consider it authentic.” He had already rapidly prototyped some mines, a combination of physical shields, actuators, and thrusters that could be dropped into their engine exhaust and slung at enemy ships. The first of them were already being fabricated while a launcher was being placed near the engine module of James’ ship. Similarly the solid fuel boosters and their separators were being added by another set of robots… good for one use and then they would separate themselves from the craft. A third set of robots were also continuing to load cryopods as fast as possible.

The pods themselves would have a large number of augmented individuals. The augmentations looked mostly of the industrial type, large metal augmentations on the exterior that clearly had great lifting power and similarly great power requirements. They didn’t look like they were designed for aesthetics, and some seemed to also require an external power supply. There may have been some question as to just how voluntary these augmentations were. Mixed among this group were a smaller number of highly advanced cybernetics, some that looked organic, others that were made of sleek glossy-black materials that emulated the human form. A rare few even discarded the human form entirely in exchange for more efficient and sleek shapes. The price tags on some of the more advanced cybernetics were quite high, some people would pay enough to refit his entire ship just for one.

The ‘strange’ pods that he found all had one thing in common: They appeared to have their wifi still turned on. It wasn’t clear just what kind of data was being passed between themselves and whatever node they were connected to, but it was very clear to those of the electromagnetically inclined that data was being passed around.

While TB tended to be more level headed than James the AI had lived with the augmentor long enough to know that if you give the world a chance to screw you over it will. Notifying Heram and James of the possible problem and requesting they report to the rear cargo bay and investigate this further while the AI starts breaking into the data streams.

James responded quickly and transferred his point of view to the scout drone. Unfortunately without access to the data he didn’t know if this was a connection to some secret police or a medical server or something of equivalent importance. Out of the options they had James’ split second decision was to prepare for an attack and wait for Heram to identify and provide a reason or for the hack to. The soft whir as the ships loading systems sending ammo to the railgun and the significantly louder buzzing and clanking of both hovering and humanoid attack drones moved within the ship, not to be outdone by the dull roar as the engines lit in preparation for takeoff.

“Individuals in stasis shouldn’t need an outside data connection,” Heram confirmed, checking his datapad and following along digitally as best he could. Certainly there wasn’t anything these individuals would need other than for the life support in their pods to remain on. There shouldn’t even be much useful data they could stream to the outside world when sealed in the pod. Through use of packet sniffing The AI would be able to get a bit more information about the data itself. It appeared to be little more than a heartbeat check, a small packet being sent every few seconds with no data in it. The purpose appeared to just be to let something know that the sender was still alive and within signal range.

With the individuals closed off in their pods and not really configured for receiving other signals, there wasn’t much the AI could hack into, though it could start charging the ship’s shields to cut off the signal. Though if they waited and launched, the signal would eventually be out of range of whatever was responding back to it.
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