fbpx
You have 4 free member-only stories remaining for the month. Subscribe now for unlimited access

Sentients Lost: A Space Odyssey – Chapter 3

The port clock flashed 11:00:00. A dull beeping sound echoed throughout the main bay.

My ship would be taking off within the next hour which should give me enough time to get down to the boarding docks. I took a quick look around — thankfully no guards were currently exploring this particular area. I could see a few across the way on the other side of the waiting area but they seemed decently preoccupied questioning a small group of elves. I let the small part of my mind that was keeping a focus on the boundary drop its concentration.

There were already a handful of palace guards milling about the tram boarding area. A bunch of them would congregate over there depending on the departures and arrivals of larger ships. I was hoping the smaller vessel I was on wouldn’t attract all that much attention but for some reason, it had? I looked up at the gigantic arrivals board that was posted above the tram entrance and would you look at that… it wasn’t my ship that was causing all the fuss.

It looked as if the itinerary had been updated at the last second. Last I checked (back when I procured my ticket) only a few freight vessels were going out and a handful of smaller passenger transports arriving and leaving. The board displayed a new ship coming into port within the next quarter-hour: the Arenathala.

Wait, the Arenathala!? Well, shit.

That surprise took more than a moment to process. It turns out my family was at least partially invested in my return. That ship was the primary royal currier. The whole royal family never traveled on the same ship for contingency purposes, but this was the ship my mother took when she was leaving the surface. Fuck.

So the time I thought I had to board was officially gone if the arrivals board was anything to go by. I needed to get on my ship before the Arenathala’s passengers disembarked. And then there would be a very stressful almost-hour I would have to wait and hope to the heavens that they didn’t decide to search each departing ship from top to bottom. Great. This was going great.

Magic works better when you’re calm. It’s the advice my tutors always gave me and the excuse I always used for messing up all the time. I was by default anxious and very, very, rarely ever calm. When you attempted magic in a rattled state, the magic became a lot more unpredictable. But time wasn’t on my side and under no circumstances would I be going back with them. So I tried. I closed my eyes and took a deep breath. I then significantly miscalculated. There was a mixture of almost calm and a lot more frustration than I was prepared for. I reached my magic out into the ship around me.

This was nothing like the last time. Instead of the gentle coursing of thin tendrils of magic, it practically exploded out and into the space around me. The dark blue of the magic seemed more akin to vines than ribbons and I was able to siphon much more energy than I initially anticipated into my disillusionment charm.

I added similar synthetics to my face like I did the first time around. With the extra energy I was able to pull and the added risk of running into either my immediate family or more familiar guards I figured it might be time to up the ante. I manipulated the synths on my face to extend over the back of my head covering the left side of my skull in shiny chrome plates of synthetic steel. The hair left on the other side of my head would be just enough to cover the exposed parts of my face. I then pulled the synthetics down the right side of my neck and with barely a thought they traveled over both my arms and to my hands. My right hand began to tingle and I absentmindedly shook the feeling off. Hopefully, the sheer extent of the synthetics will throw anyone off who might start to recognize me.

Worst comes to worst I always had the option to charm anyone who got suspicious but that also wasn’t always the most reliable option. That’s one of those spells where your focus and emotional state can easily bleed into the magic. The disillusionment spell happened to work out fine with the extra emotion but I don’t think I’d have the same luck with a charm. Also, as you’re charming someone is the single worst time to figure out you don’t actually have a handle on that particular spell.

Gathering up my pack, I made my way over to the tram station just as it arrived and the passengers began filing out. The trick is going to be keeping calm. Like it usually is. There’s no reason for me to be in a rush since my ship doesn’t leave for an hour and I don’t want to tip off the guards that something hinky might be happening right under their noses.

The checkpoint was set up at the bottom of the steps leading up to the tram boarding area. I confidently-ish walked up, pad in hand, and handed my pad over to the high elf in front of me. He looked familiar, I think his name was Breah. I was immensely relieved I’d taken the extra precautions and added more synthetics to my disguise.

His face scrunched up when he took the pad and his hands brushed the metal of my fingers. He looked through the pad and then up at me and his eyes went wide. I couldn’t tell if it was due to his surprise at the synthetics or the fact that he recognized me through the enhancements.

“Is something the matter?” I said, hoping to prompt him out of his shock.

“Oh yes. My apologies ma’am.” He stammered out. He was on the younger side, barely past his centennial and new to the position. I felt a little bad about tricking him but hopefully, his lapse wouldn’t ever be figured out by my family. “I don’t leave the planet much, didn’t realize… ya know… how popular synths are becoming these days.”

I grinned awkwardly back at him. I wasn’t entirely sure what the appropriate response was to a question like that, and based on my track record I didn’t trust myself to ad-lib this situation.

“Um, here you go then.” He managed to get out before his face developed a deep red flush. “You’re good to go, safe travels ma’am.” He finished it off with a sheepish smile and very obviously moved his focus to the travelers coming up behind me.

I let out a breath and started up the steps. The synths were working just as I hoped they would. I boarded the tram, grabbed a handhold, and impatiently waited for the doors to close to get us back down to the docks. As I got a grip on the handle I noticed my forearm start to stiffen up a bit. I could feel the mechanics shifting. The only problem was, there were no actual mechanical components in my arm. It was all an illusion.

The spell made my hand look like a slightly more dated version of synthetics that I’d read about. The chrome finish wasn’t necessarily rough but there were obvious joints and areas where some of the components stood out more than others. Since I wasn’t completely sure how synthetics worked I took an artistic license to make them a bit more aesthetically pleasing. The fake synthetics covering my head and left arm felt different. The slightly warm tingle of spell work was slightly agitating my nerves but I could still feel the air on my skin and the muscles working underneath. My right arm felt like all the organic components were gone. Starting at my neck, going into my shoulder, and down to my fingertips. I could feel the slight breeze as doors folded into place and the smoothness of the handle in my metallic hand. As I tightened my grip I could feel the gears shift and various components move about. This is how I thought real synthetics worked, but last I checked this was just an illusion. I wasn’t sure why I couldn’t feel the flesh and bone in my hand anymore. I was able to feel each separate gear and joint.

Sometime during this internal freak out the tram had started on its way back to the docks. The small clock at the front of the cabin showed I had minutes to get myself onto my ship.

—-—-—

We arrived at the docks with a few minutes to spare. I followed the others out of the tram and made my way down to my gate. I tried to make it subtle, but I couldn’t stop clenching flexing my right hand and arm. It was feeling more and more off the more I focused on it. At this point, it might just be the anxiety. Gods, I’m a wreck.

I followed the flow of traffic around the loop and kept my eyes peeled for both the docking platform my transport would be using and any sign of immediate family members wandering about. Rounding the bend I quickly located my boarding platform. I peeled off from the group I’d been following. Looking around one last time I didn’t see any sign of elves dressed in royal garb. I’m guessing they were probably docking near the tram platform to minimize their exposure to the general population. It would also make it easier to evacuate quickly if anything dodgy started to happen on the port.

There was a younger human stationed at the entrance of the ship verifying documentation. I queued up behind a handful of other travelers. The human looked to be in their late adolescence. He seemed tired and it didn’t look like he was paying all that much attention to the paperwork he was supposed to be inspecting. I reached back into my back and fumbled around my bag for my pad. Whatever the spell had done to my right arm was getting worse. The feelings were muted to a point where I wasn’t entirely sure what I was grabbing for. Eventually, after a few false starts, I was able to find the familiar lines of the datapad. The line moved quickly and before I knew it I was next. I handed over my documents and the kid quickly looked them over and handed the pad back. I clumsily grabbed it and shoved it back into my bag.

The ship was about as dodgy as I was expecting. I was able to guess from the station records that this was most likely a retro-fitted freight carrier and I was spot on. Retro-fitted might be a bit of an overstatement as well. It looked like whoever owned this ship didn’t want to spend any more than necessary to have it classified as a passenger shuttle. The sleeper compartments were made out of recycled freight containers and there wasn’t a porthole to be seen. I’m guessing the only actual transparent steel portion of this ship was up in the cockpit.

I found my way to the compartment I had selected and found a sliding door with a flimsy lock, a small folding bed, a built-in waste receptacle, sink, and baggage netting strung up above the bed. Everything looked like it was found either in or adjacent to a recycling facility. I’d honestly seen prisons that were more welcoming than these accommodations. Next to the door, there was a small, laminated sign. It had the meal schedule listed. All meals would be delivered to the room. The sign also stated that we were expected to not leave our accommodations during travel and were not to wander about the ship. I know under normal circumstances I would probably consider the ship’s restrictions absolutely ridiculous (especially considering the cost of the tickets), but for now, I was happy to keep to myself and avoid prying eyes.

I tossed my bag up into the netting and sat at the edge of the bed. According to the meal schedule, it looked like they might swing by with the midday meal before takeoff. A felt the engines begin to rumble underneath us and leaned back against the wall. The sooner we took off the less of a chance there was of me running into my family.

After a tense 45 minutes, the ship lurched away from the docking station. I heard a faint rap of the door. It took less than three steps to get to the doorway from the bed. I slid the door open and saw nothing.

Wee-oop bleep.

I looked down and saw a small cylindrical robot beeping at me. I tilted my head and squinted at the little thing. It was just about knee height and like the rest of the ship, looked like it had seen better days maybe a few decades ago. It beeped again and the top of the robot’s head slid apart and a ration packet and water container popped out. It beeped again and I reached down to grab the meal and retreated into the cabin.

Since room service was automated I won’t need to worry too much about my disguise slipping. I Was willing to bet that I could drop it for the foreseeable future. I don’t think the kid was paying enough attention to notice if I didn’t conjure up a new disguise when we disembark. Plus, it was mostly just to throw other elves off my trail. If my arm stayed like this after I dropped concentration on the spell, there was a good chance I might be in some trouble.

According to my itinerary, I would be hanging out in this room for just over four cycles. Guess it would give me time to catch up on some rest, maybe get some reading in, and overthink every aspect of my half-cocked plan. Awesome.

I took a deep breath and let the spell slip from my concentration. I could feel the remnants of the magic begin to fade. I felt it first at the back of my head and then it moved slowly across my face. The only feeling that was even remotely comparable was when a limb starts waking up after it’s gone numb. I stood up and looked in the grimy mirror over the sink. My face had gone back to normal and the synths were slowly fading away on the left side of my neck. Without looking away from the mirror I rolled up my sleeves. My left hand felt okay and was almost back to normal as the magic started receding from my fingertips making its way slowly up to my shoulder. I tried to center myself as much as I could before I took a cautious look at my other arm.

Well fuck. No change. All the synthetic components that I had created for the spell were still present and accounted for. Whereas at this point entire left arm was back to normal, my right wasn’t nearly so lucky. The vein-like surface wiring on the right side of my neck still glinted off the artificial lighting. I quickly shed my traveling cloak and yanked back the collar of my shirt. The wires converged and right before my shoulder joint was a distinct border, skin seamlessly turned into synthetics and it wasn’t going anywhere. I rotated my shoulder and started bending my elbow, I could faintly hear the mechanics whirring underneath. I twisted my wrist and wiggled my fingers to see if I could sense even the faint feeling of skin and bone and muscle. There was nothing. Only the soft hum of gears and hydraulics. As I twisted my wrist I could feel the faint rub of metal on metal. I reached forward and touched the mirror. I felt the resistance on my fingertips but both the texture and temperature were muted.

Well, I messed that one up. I think there was still a chance it could be reversed if I knew the right magic to correct it. My best guess was that something had mutated in my original disillusionment spell. All that frustration that I didn’t take into account probably added some extra uncontrolled power that forced the spell over the edge. Hopefully, Dalkash might have some thoughts on what happened. He might even know how to fix it or at the very least if it was fixable. Either way, I was going to limit my spellwork to the basics and make sure my emotions were completely in check. I’m pretty sure this happened because of my emotional lapse, but who knows what else was at play.

A full-blown freak-out was going to happen shortly. Like very near future. It might be best to just let that happen. Normally I try to suppress my panic. Since I was traveling and had some level of privacy for the trip I wouldn’t have to worry as much about keeping up appearances. That little droid might judge me a bit (as much as his AI would allow), but that’s neither here nor there. Also, being in space has always had a way of comforting me. Even though this disaster of a transport had no windows, I might be able to follow my magic and get an occasional look at the starry void beyond the hull. It would be a comfort and hopefully, help me process the anxiety a bit better.

Once we get to the DNSP I’ll need to keep my head clear. I’ve gotten this far and I don’t want a suppressed freak out to bubble up at the wrong time to completely ruin it for me. I had just about four cycles to come to grips with my new synthetics. Four cycles to hopefully come up with some ideas on how to get me out of this mess and hopefully get my brain in a better spot.

—-—-—

I was floating. My mind had been able to get to that pleasantly serene place where I can easily follow the trail of magic. It had only taken about a cycle of rotating between crying, screaming into my jacket, and despondently staring at the ceiling to get to this spot. My consciousness was drifting just outside the hull of the ship at the very tips of where my magic could reach. I watched our ship speed past dying red dwarf stars and swirling nebulas. Out in the distance, I could sense that we were coming up to another inhabited system soon. Something about the ebb and flow of the systems changed as we made our approach to the DNSP and Draconem Prime. I’d been able to sense their central star since yesterday. As we got closer I could feel the gravitational forces pulling on our ship and trapping the planets in their rotation within the Draconic Nebula. We were almost there. Less than a cycle left in this tin can of a spaceship.

I came out of my trance with a start. There was a gentle tapping on the bottom quarter of my door that signaled the little robot had returned for its ration rounds. I sighed and got up from my bunk.

“Just a moment,” I mumbled. I’d learned after the first day if you didn’t verbally acknowledge the aggressively impatient little delivery bot it would immediately leave without dropping off its delivery. Which was unfortunate. I slid open the door and the little thing started beeping rapidly at me. I reached down and grabbed the proffered rations (I almost called it food… it’s not. It’s a far cry from any food I’ve ever had). I was getting the hang of using my synthetic hand, I was even able to suppress the welling panic that started every time I caught sight of it.

“Thanks, buddy,” I mumbled as I turned around and closed the door. Two more quiet beeps echoed down the corridor as it rolled off to continue its other deliveries. At this point, I’d been able to keep to myself enough where the only interactions I’d had at all had been with that little robot and the kid checking documents when we first boarded. I’m sure that was going to do wonders when we finally landed port side and I’d have to interact with all the organics all at once again.

A crackling started throughout the ship’s speakers. This hadn’t happened before. There had been shockingly little communication between the pilots of this freight ship and its passengers. I guess the beings running this rig weren’t used to sentient cargo.

“We will be docking at the Draconic Nebula Space Port in an hour. Traffic is moderate so, be patient. The red lights above your door will come on when we have docked. Current planetary conditions are within normal limits. Please ensure that all your personal effects are accounted for and thank you for choosing Molten Freight Lines.”

The speakers crackled once more and went dead. I gathered my belongings and refilled the flimsy water container that had come in the first meal drop-off (it was the only water container they delivered, I guess they figured the sink would suffice) and stuck my last ration packet into my bag. I have a rough estimate of where Dalkash should be, but I also knew he had a handful of locations he liked to stay at across the planet and I only was aware of a few of them.

Once we got to the DNSP I was planning on spending a large portion of my funds on a datapad update. The goal was to download all the documentation I had into a newer model. The one I had now was an old-world datapad. It had the functionality to keep identification and travel plans and couldn’t accomplish more than that without some pretty intense hacking. The only reason I hadn’t attempted to hack it was because no matter how much I messed with it, I wouldn’t be able to reprogram the tracking capability. As long as it was functional it could be found by my family (once they figured out what they were looking for). The newer pads can send messages within a planetary system on their own and can even make a connection to outside systems if I was up-linked to a spaceport or a ship with a strong signal. Plus the sheer amount of information I could access on the DataBase would make life so much easier.

If memory serves me right I thought the DNSP had at least a couple of shops that could do that. Once I had a new pad and up-linked with the port it should be decently easy to look up Dalkash and get a message to him. Ideally, that would be before I found a transport to take me down to the planet. Otherwise, I had no idea what kingdom he could be wandering about. With my luck, I’d end up landing on the wrong side of the planet.

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

Responses