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Sentients Lost: A Space Odyssey – Chapter 2

Turns out, I was able to put those few hours to good use. Since I made my decision to leave, I haven’t been able to calm my mind enough to rest. At all. Elves don’t need to sleep. We do need to go into a meditation state every couple of days. It helps regulate our bodies, but mostly it keeps us sane. One of the perks of traveling with a bunch of other elves is that when a block of uneventful travel time comes up, we all use it for the same thing: we meditate.

The ship started slowing up and the rumbling returned as the reverse thrusters began engaging. I looked out the window to see the looming shape of Port Fey. It was a disk-shaped port that housed a collection of shops, travel companies, short stay inns, and some office space. Directly underneath that disk, there were three ring-shaped tubes on top of each other with small protrusions. This was the primary docking area, there was a tram that ferried passengers to the giant disk above.

I paid extra attention to those docking rings. From our trajectory, I had a great view of the majority of the docking ports but there was a handful that I couldn’t get a decent angle on. As we continued our approach, the holographic attendant reappeared at the front of the cabin.

“Thank you for your cooperation. We are approaching Port Fey and will be docking shortly. Please be advised that there have been extra security measures added to Port Fey’s system” the hologram stated in a mild voice.

Old Gods be Damned! Well, this is going to make things a little more interesting. How much had the royal guard figured out so far? Did they know what ship I’d be coming in on? This whole operation just got a lot more questionable. Great.

The hologram continued over my internal crisis, “please have your identification pad and itinerary available for inspection at the pre-identified checkpoints. Thank you for your time. Docking will commence shortly.”

I was able to get myself to take a deep breath. Being in space always made it easier to calm down and not let the anxiety take over. They didn’t seem to know I was on any particular ship, if they did I’m sure they would have just redirected and held this one at one of the private docks so they could inspect it. They weren’t searching vessels yet since that would be a bit conspicuous – no need to alert the whole population that a member of the royal family went missing. I wonder if the royal guard was going off the idea that I had run away or the idea that I’d been kidnapped. I’m guessing the former since their search effort seemed lackadaisical at best.

The other passengers didn’t seem particularly bothered by this update and I tried my best to take the lead from them. For me to get through this Port I would need to blend in as much as possible. I knew my documents were good, it was the itinerary I was missing. The whole “figure it out when I have to” plan was starting to backfire.

I picked up my bag and filed out with the rest of the passengers. Since I hadn’t been through the port on my own before I wasn’t entirely sure what this process would look like. I just had to get some not questionable itinerary information onto the datapad before the first checkpoint. I could work with that.

Looking around the passenger unloading area I noticed a bunch of larger groups heading towards the trams. I picked up my pace and quickly started following them, staying close enough to look like I could be part of the group. As I was walking I took out the pad and tapped the front screen. A three-dimensional interactive holographic display popped up and scanned my face.

A moment later, NEURAL LINK: ACTIVATED flashed across the hologram.

Once the neural link is established the hacking can all be done in your head and the system registers it. It was a nifty bit of technology that had come about over the past few centuries or so. Surprisingly the programmers were able to develop this without ‘an excessive use of magic.’ I was able to hack the system easily. I was also able to nudge the security protocol with a bit of magic here and there. Was it legal? Definitely not. At this point, the fear of being found by my family highly outweighed the risk of being cited by authorities for improper use of magic and technology. The space station around me provides a similar type of power source to the natural resource I draw from when I’m on a planet. When you channel that correctly you can use it to update other technology. I’m not sure how legal using port system power as a magical reservoir was either, I’d never come across this sort of thing in my research.

I learned the building blocks of this skill from my teachers when they taught me my first handful of spells. “Reach deep into your surroundings, sense the magic…” they always told me. I don’t think they ever expected I’d be trying to sense the magic on a space station. I taught myself this hacking trick when I was still quite young. Since I regularly traveled for training, I almost always had access to large spaceports or ships. One day (it was a very boring day in my defense), I learned that I could hack into the parental controls on the entertainment feeds to get access to more shows by persuading the system with just a bit of magic.

Once I was in the code, I was able to quickly find the itinerary notifier and update the final destination to Central System. I didn’t plan on spending any extended time there, but it would be a good jumping-off point. Once I got there it would be easy enough to get almost anywhere. With all the traffic it would be nearly impossible to track.

I finished with my pad and closed out of the interface. All the documents were certifiable. Making it through the checkpoints would be easy with my paperwork as long as they had staffed cyborgs instead of guards. If I was unlucky enough to come upon a guard who recognized me, I was finished (even if my paperwork said otherwise). Elves might be sticklers for paperwork and following a process but it never outweighed sheer common sense. I did have one more trick up my sleeve for this. Kinda.

So another type of magic you could learn as a Druid were disillusionment spells. These were a bit more difficult and you typically had to keep a close tie on your Druidic Focus and the energy source you were pulling from. A focus was an item kept on your person to help concentrate on more complex magic – mine was a thin, unobtrusive silver ring I wore on the third finger of my left hand. The focus part would be easy, but I’d never used a manufactured energy source like a space station before to cast something this complex. I’d never learned about any laws against it, but I was always a little leary when combining my magic with technology. I know there are strict limits on a lot of what can be done with magic and tech but very rarely have I been able to find information that directly correlates to the magic I can do. All the current laws and bylaws were concerning sentience which was more a clerical type of magic. I wasn’t sure how it would affect my magic or spell casting. I’d never had to try to do something this complex while in space. I was also quickly running out of time. Less than 150 meters ahead I could see a checkpoint set up before the tram entrance – and would you look at that. Palace security was stationed there. Just my luck.

Well, no time like the present to learn something new, right?

So the basics of disillusionment were to use the resources around to create a facade and project it wherever you needed it. For example, you could create an illusion of underbrush if you were hunting and needed a place to hide. In this case, I would need to either create a new face to have over my own to wear as a mask or just create adjustments to my face to make it unrecognizable. The second seemed like a better option. Less of an energy cost for sure. Based on the energy sources around me (various ships and the space station itself) I would be hard-pressed to create something organic. Not that it’s impossible, just more difficult. With my window closing and having never done this before, more difficult seemed like the wrong path to take.

I began reaching inward. Allowing my magical roots to flow down from my feet into the floor of the port. Focusing hard on the energy flow, I was able to direct it into my ring and from there it felt a lot like programming or hacking. I had an image in my head of the illusion I was trying to make. The more I focused on different aspects the more I was able to change them. I focused on creating a synthetic component (a mechanical enhancement organics can have surgically implanted and connected into their neural network, some organics choose this, others don’t have as much of a choice and opt for synthetics after injury) across my face. The component would start at my right temple and go diagonally across my face obscuring the majority of the left side and eye. The wires began creeping down my face, looking not unlike a vine of ivy creeping up a wall. A large component settled itself on my left temple and overlapped my eye socket and a mechanical eye materialized in the center.

That’ll do. Synthetics are more popular for beings that spent a lot of time traveling but were still a bit foreign to races preferring to stay in a system. They helped with interfacing with ships and travel systems but there was a bit of social stigma behind them. Ever since The Hack, there was an extra level of caution around technology that could think for itself. Though the synthetics couldn’t do that, they were installed on organics that could. It freaked some organics out more than others. The palace guards specifically would not be looking for anyone with a synthetic component. They were also more likely to get a bit awkward and try to consciously avert their stare. There were two types of beings out there – those that had components and loved them and those that didn’t and couldn’t understand why anyone would do something like that to their bodies.

My illusion won’t hold up for long, maybe a half-hour at most. It should be enough to take me through the first couple of checkpoints so I can get to the ticket console and make my itinerary official. Once I know where I’m going and when I’m leaving I’ll be in a better spot. I should be able to get another disillusionment spell up and active once I’ve had a bit of time to rest to get me through the final checkpoints to board another vessel.

Once a spell is complete, I no longer have to have all of my focus on it. Don’t get me wrong, some part of my brain would have to be holding onto the spell the entire time it was active but I was used to that. My co-opted group was slowly making their way through the checkpoint, handing over documents and answering quick travel-related questions. Here comes the moment of truth.

“Identification and itinerary, please.” The guard said gruffly.

I wordlessly handed my documents over. I’d learned from my interaction with the elf planetside. The less I talked, the less I would make an incredibly awkward scene. He took the pad, absently tapped it on, and finally took a good look at me.

“Oh um. Yes. Of course…. uh, Miss Loraethal is it? I see you’re traveling to Central System – that’s quite a ways out. What brings you there?” He said, trying desperately to avoid eye contact and looking just over my right shoulder. I’m glad I decided on a mechanical eye. I’d guessed that it might work to throw off their affinity for eye contact. Didn’t expect it to work this well.

“Just having a flare-up with my synthetics…” I said. “The lab that installed them is in Central System, so I have to make the trip.”

“Oh right. Yes. Well, safe travels!” He said hurriedly and all but shoved my pad back into my hand.

Well, that was easier than anticipated. I expected more trouble. Maybe even questions about the sudden disappearance of the Crown Princess. I’m guessing the royal family didn’t want it to get out that they lost a member of the court. At this point, I’m not sure what their stance will be on any of this. I don’t think they ever expected me to strike out on my own. Maybe they would immediately go to the next option of some party taking me as a political prisoner. Or, maybe they would take a look at the emergency access vault, catalog the contents, and realize I’d up and vanished all on my own. Who knows? And honestly, hopefully, I’ll be on the other side of the system when or if they ever figure it out.

The group boarded the tram and I quietly made my way in after them. It was another tube, like the first transport, with a bunch of smaller vehicles linked together. It had limited seating and a lot of handholds coming off the walls and ceiling. After a brief wait, the wing-like doors folded down and the tram took off towards the central area of the port.

I glanced around at the travelers surrounding me. Most had ridden with me from Forest Central but there were a handful of new additions – most notably a few humans were clustered in one corner and an ancient, dwarf sat dozing off in one of the limited seats. The humans looked super excited to be here. They were all older adolescents (I’ve always been such a bad judge of human ages) with newer-looking, adventuring type gear and expensive packs constantly pointing at things out the large windows. Probably tourists.

Trams are by far the weirdest form of transportation. They have limited life support capabilities. The barrier between the pressurized compartments and the endless vacuum of space has been described by some as worryingly deficient. Passengers pile into the trams via an airlock. The vehicle itself is on a thin filament of a steel-adjacent material (most likely created by dwarves in one of their processing stations). The small transport would then spiral around the outside of the port until the filament led it into the structure of the port itself through ship-sized airlocks. When the tram eventually docked, it would dock on a platform where both the vessel and the passengers would be within the spaceport.

It wasn’t particularly a logical or efficient way to do things but it was quite a feat. It was a way to get a glimpse of whatever system you were in even if you were just using that system’s port as a way station on your way to another section of the galaxy.

And honestly, it was my favorite part of the trip so far. The walls and ceiling were almost completely made out of some sort of transparent steel. You could get a panoramic view of the entire spaceport with astonishing views of the local planets and their central star. I softly placed a hand on the window. A cool calm washed over me and I felt a faint concentration of magic settle on my ring.

I felt a bone-deep disappointment as the tram entered the first of the airlocks and the view was abruptly cut off. The magic I was sensing didn’t immediately cut off either. I could still feel that calming aura but a louder more electronic hum took over in the foreground. The tram began its braking maneuver and eventually came to a stop back inside the port. We watched as the wing-shaped doors folded themselves up over the top of our heads and settled on the transparent roof and people started quickly grabbing their bags and heading out to the platform.

As we stepped out onto the platform we were given a full, 360-degree view of Port Fey. The tram platforms were located in the center of the massive rotunda on the ground floor. Directly above us were maybe a dozen floors and walkways intersecting the large circular spaceport. All of the businesses, office spaces, inns, and dining options were around the edges leaving the center completely open save the large holographic display providing a rotating view of the entire Fey system.

The floors and walls were mostly made out of metal but there were small patches of grass, trees, flower, and water fixtures artfully placed everywhere (even on the higher levels). Flora from every planet in the system was here. The facade of all the business establishments was made of imitation wood, stone, and brick. Whoever designed this place wanted to make you forget you were floating in space. Unlike the tram, there were very few huge windows giving a view of the endless vacuum beyond the walls. There was a large circular viewport on the roof and a handful of smaller ones scattered throughout the facility. I’m also fairly certain there was also an observation deck somewhere on the upper levels, but the main area looked not too dissimilar from the travel ports that are planetside.

After taking a quick look around I was able to find my bearings. Spaceports were created to cater to the most planet-bound individuals and the engineers wanted to make space travel as accessible as possible. A universe where races are connected and can communicate, trade, and learn about one another’s cultures without breaking the bank was the goal. It allowed its inhabitants to become educated without forcing it down anybody’s throats. So, every 50 paces or so there was a kiosk that housed all the information you could need to make it through Port Fey and onto your next destination. I quickly headed over to the nearest one and was able to find a public access manifest for the port. The majority of ships heading out to Central System were shipping freighters which would be impossible to get a ticket for. There were only a handful of passenger vessels departing within the next few cycles.

I wasn’t sure the best and most subtle way to make it out of this system. I didn’t have a ton of time to waste hanging out here with the guards milling about but I also wasn’t sure how much of a search effort my family was planning on putting forth.

Though I was the oldest and next in line for the throne, there were other – more competent – options within the immediate family. My younger sister, though at least a decade away from her centennial naming ceremony would probably be the best option to rule. She had an affinity for negotiations and was able to read people like a book. Though she barely had an ounce of magic in her veins, she could manipulate others without breaking a sweat. There’s a chance that once the family does their obligatory search for a few weeks they’ll declare me missing or dead and start the preparations to get her ready for the throne.

Back to the problem at hand. The earliest a legitimate passenger vessel would be leaving and heading even remotely close to Central System was around midday tomorrow. According to the manifest, it was going into the Draconic Nebula. I selected the trip and the kiosk projected a miniature holographic 3D model of the ship and the travel plan. It would be able to take me most of the way to Central System and hopefully, the Draconic Nebula Space Port (more commonly known as the DNSP) will have more passenger options to take me the rest of the way.

I’d been to the DNSP once before to train with my old mentor Dalkash. He was a Dragonborn Druid master who lived mostly in the Mountain Region of Draconem Prime (he traveled a bit too so nailing down his current location might be a bit of a challenge). My parents had sent me out to spend just over a year with him right before my centennial. I don’t know how much they communicated with him before that arrangement. From my understanding, he got a vaguely threatening video message from my mother, and the next thing he knew I was dropped on his doorstep. He was one of my favorite teachers. I think my family annoyed him almost as much as they annoyed me. I hadn’t planned to make any surface trips for a long while, but if I’m being totally honest with myself – I wouldn’t mind seeing a friendly face.

I tapped the model of the ship and it zoomed into the passenger section. From their rendition, it looked like it was going to be a small cramped vessel. This didn’t look all that much different from a freight vessel. By the looks of it, they had just retrofitted one of the secondary storage compartments to hold travelers. Since this trip would be a couple of cycles they had created small passenger compartments that had a foldable bed, a sink, and bio-waste receptacles. I selected one of the available compartments and a flashing currency sign appeared. I dug through my bag and deposited the requested amount of silver coins into the slot underneath the main screen and the kiosk downloaded the ticket and boarding information to my pad. Once I got to the DNSP it probably wouldn’t be a bad idea to swing by an Exchange and get some standard galactic units.

According to the port clock, I had just under a half-cycle left before boarding. Renting a room definitely wouldn’t be worth the cost and leaving the main area would likely be more effort than it was worth. Scanning the area I was able to quickly identify all the security checkpoints that had been set up. All of them were conveniently located in front of the lifts that take you up to the residential areas. I think I might be able to make it past the guards the same as I had before, but my disillusionment charm only lasted for a limited time. I was nearing the end of its duration and I’d need some time to regroup before I conjured another.

I began meandering away from the kiosk towards the large water fixture that dominated almost a third of the main level. It was artfully surrounded by trees, shrubs, and grass and had metal paths winding around it. It reminded me a lot of the botanical gardens my parents liked to take us to visit when we were children. As I stepped off the walkway into the foliage I tried to get a sense of the more natural power source around me. It was barely a fraction of what you would feel on a planet but it might just be enough to create a boundary. I pulled what I could from the plants and water and as I tried to reach deeper my magic gently dipped into the energy source below my feet – the engines keeping Port Fey running. I could feel my magic get excited and weave its way into and around the electrical components. Interesting.

Magic normally just did this on planets. It merged with the core and all the energies that made up the natural environment you were in. It was a large part of where Druids were able to pull their power from. This wasn’t supposed to be possible off-planet.

Putting up the boundary (think of it as a thin wall of magic that hides or garbles the view of whatever’s behind it) ended up being easy. Easier than when I was planetside, which was disconcerting, to say the least. I could have stopped here, the boundary was up, and long as I kept a part of my mind distantly focused on it, it wouldn’t be going anywhere. But I was curious now. I let myself sink deeper into the magic.

I could see it wrapping itself around the station and its components. Tendrils of light blue bioluminescence curiously explored every aspect of Port Fey. I could see faint traces. I’d quickly learned that non-magical folk could not see magic at all. All Druids could see their magic but only a handful could see magic traces outside of their own. I was in the camp that could see a faint shadow of other organics’ magic. When I closed my eyes I could not only clearly see the lines of magic but I was also able to follow those lines and get a birds-eye view of what they were exploring.

Some went into the trees and water while the vast majority dove into the ship itself. I began to follow a line that wasn’t focusing on any obvious energy source. As I reached the hull of the port the magic branched into two directions. Some of the magic was reaching out into space. The tail ends were turning into faint whisps with a color more vibrant than I’d ever seen before. The other was going directly for the motherboard of the ship. Once it arrived I was able to feel my magic interacting with the limited amount of spellwork that had been done to keep this vessel up and running. I felt the magic trying to dig deeper into the code but I wasn’t able to make sense of what information was coming through. These spaceports were complicated, self-sustaining machines – both the programming and the magic behind it were well beyond my understanding. It was interesting. Why would my magic be drawn to the code though?

I slowly opened my eyes and took stock of my surroundings again. It felt like coming up for air, and not in a good way.

I know that sounds weird. But it’s true. It felt like I’d just been as weightless as the magic with nothing holding me down – no anxiety, no pressure, no uncertainty. Opening my eyes brought all of that stress back. I knew being on a planet would probably make it worse, but maybe. Just maybe, it might be something Dalkash would have some insight into.

If I ever drummed up enough courage to ask.

Recommend0 Simily SnapsPublished in Adventure, Fantasy, Fiction, Sci Fi