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Sentients Lost: A Space Odyssey – Chapter 4

We thankfully had an uneventful arrival at the DNSP. The pilots had been spot on with their traffic assessment and docking had taken just slightly more time than usual. By the time we were ready to leave, everyone seemed relieved to be off the hunk of junk that we had called home for the past few days.

As I filed out behind the other passengers I noticed that at least half of the known races were represented, and we all looked a little worse for wear. In our defense, if any of us had more means or better fortunes we probably would not have outright chosen to take the trip on this sort of ship.

As rough as it was, it was obvious that the crew knew what sort of clientele it was catering to. We were all travelers that were in no position to complain or draw attention to ourselves.

Throughout the whole trip, the only sentient being I’d had any interaction with was the young human checking documents when we boarded. The robot that provided our meals had some form of AI programmed in, but sentience in technology had been non-existent since The Hack. Beyond that, I didn’t run into anyone else. That sort of anonymity wasn’t typical for most ships.

The DNSP was vaguely similar to Port Fey. All spaceports were designed on the same basic layout so travelers wouldn’t have to work too hard to navigate once they arrived.

We took another tram from the docks to the primary part of the spaceport. That was where the cosmetic similarities to Port Fey stopped.

The main bay of the DNSP was more angular than Port Fey and all the structural aspects look like they were made out of a dark stone. I stepped out of the tram and instantly felt like I had been dropped into the middle of a fortress carved directly into the side of a mountain. There were significantly fewer natural elements. The sidewalks had kiosks placed strategically and all of the detail work was done in bronze metallics. Above the tram landing platform, which was similarly placed in the center of the plaza, was a holographic rendering of the Draconic Nebula.

There was a pretty significant mix of all races milling about but the Dragonborn’s always made quite an impression. Their height and bulk alone would cause most beings to take pause, but the Draconic features and brightly colored scales added to the awe factor. Most likely due to the heightened magic on Draconem Prime, there were a lot of magic users and Dwarves milling about.

Though dwarves didn’t always directly deal in magic they were the foremost experts in technology, armor, and space travel. Their forges were built out at the edges of the Hecate Spiral harnessing the powers of dying stars. They were capable of making the most technologically advanced items and imbuing magic into most of their creations. Dwarves could make things beyond our wildest dreams. They liked to frequent planets like Draconem Prime to work with some of the most advanced magic users in the galaxy. In theory, dwarves could learn more about the magical aspects and take advantage of some of the lesser-known forms of spell work.

I headed straight to one of the kiosks from the tram landing platform. I was able to pull up a detailed map of the station and found an Exchange and a shop that might be able to get me the updated technology I was looking for.

Wildhelm Technologies was up on the fifth level and unlike Port Fey, there wasn’t a single staffed security checkpoint in sight. For the most part, actual checkpoints were unnecessary. These spaceports had built-in scanners and security that would immediately set alarms off if someone was trying to transport anything questionable without the proper authorization. I downloaded the directions and started to make my way up the winding paths and huge staircases.

Fun fact, even though most planetary systems welcomed visitors, they had a habit of building their stations to the particular specifications of their species. So half-ling spaceports tended to be rather cramped, and the DNSP felt excessively large.

After wandering about a bit and getting used to the mix of Common and Draconic signage I finally came upon the Exchange. It was less of a store and more of an automated computer built into a vault. I placed almost all of my gold and silver into the currency slot and received a small metal SGU (Standard Galactic Units) card back. It had a very small screen on the front that indicated how many credits were available. Moving forward I’d be able to pay for stuff just by bringing this card near another card or a kiosk.

Another lift and a short walk later I was standing in front of Wildhelm Technologies. I walked in and instantly knew I was well out of my depth.

I couldn’t name half the technologies sitting in the display cases and the other half I could maybe give you my best guess. It would most likely be very wrong. High elves were not enthusiastic participants in the whole Sentient Revolution that took the system by storm millennia ago. Especially since The Hack, most elves were big on using the minimum amount of technology to get by. We tended to lag a bit behind, especially by dwarven standards. I had read a lot about it and learned more than your average high elf on my travels. Knowing a losing battle when I saw it, I headed straight for the front counter.

A middle-aged dwarf was standing behind the counter with a huge set of goggles on, fiddling with some sort of tech that was giving off sparks periodically.

“I’ll be with you in a moment, dear. Just let me finish up with this,” she said without looking up.

I stopped a couple of paces from the counter. I figured accidentally setting myself on fire probably wouldn’t give me the low profile on the DNSP I was going for. She was using something that looked like a miniaturized welding tool and continued poking at whatever she was working on. Finally, she pulled up the goggles, adjusted them on top of her head, and looked up at me.

“Hello, I’m Tzara Wildhelm, head researcher and developer here. How can I help you?”

“Hi, I was looking to upgrade this?” I said. I reached into my bag with my synthetic arm and placed my datapad on the counter.

“What is that!?” She exclaimed.

Not gonna lie, I jumped a little at that. I didn’t think our technology was that old. I especially didn’t think that it was completely unrecognizable. I was able to get a ride on a few ships and navigate a couple of spaceports with it.

“It’s a datapad?” I explained, “I know it’s old. I just wanted to upgrade.”

“Oh, dear I know what the datapad is – it’s definitely quite dated but still functional and not all that unexpected. It’s not even the most archaic piece of tech I’ve seen this month alone,” Tzara assured me. “No, no, no, not the pad at all – I was talking about your arm. In all my time I’ve never seen anything quite like that.”

Well, shit.

I knew my arm should look like just a generic synthetic to someone not familiar with the technology but I should have known that a dwarf would easily be able to see that it wasn’t a run-of-the-mill synthetic. I wasn’t entirely sure what it was now. I also wasn’t sure how much to explain to this dwarf. I wanted to keep a low profile. But any information about what was going on with my arm would probably be helpful if I ever wanted to get it back to normal. IF I could ever get it back to normal.

Also, maybe — just maybe, there was a way we could both get what we wanted without me going broke.

“I’m honestly not completely sure… I know that sounds evasive but I swear it’s true,” I said.

“I believe you,” she replied slowly. Tzara tilted her head and leaned her elbows on the counter to get a better look. “That’s meant to look like a synthetic, but I can promise you that no one, in this day and age, in our galaxy can make anything like what you have.”

“You mentioned that you were a researcher and developer?” I hesitantly asked. She pried her eyes away from my arm with obvious difficulty and looked me up and down.

“Yes…” she said slowly, drawing out the word. “Why?” Tzara asked in a more clipped tone.

“Just an idea for maybe a bargain to be struck?” I ventured. The phrasing was weird but it’s verbiage that is recognized throughout the galaxy.

If a bargain was going to be struck between beings it was something that a) had to be followed through on due to honor, a tie to the old gods, and magical binding and b) usually resulted in a positive outcome for both parties. It was more significant than bartering and more flexible than traditional point of sale interactions.

Tzara’s face went from cautious to very, very interested in a split second. “I’m willing to listen to your proposal, if it’s worth my time I may even agree to it.” She gestured for me to go on.

“So, I’m a bit short on currency these days and I’m looking to get a new start somewhere far away from here. I also very much need to get an updated datapad and get all my documents transferred over and I’m not sure how much time I have to do all that,” I started nervously. I figured for now it might be best to leave out the fact that the high elves were on a bit of a hunt for me and I was actively trying to avoid being found. “I also had a bit of a magical mishap recently, which is why my arm doesn’t look like anything you’ve seen before. I had an idea for a glamour in my head. It was supposed to be temporary, but at some point, it latched onto something and is now a permanent fixture.”

“From where I’m standing it looks like you need a lot. What’s in it for me?” She asked, so far not looking all that impressed.

“You said you’re a researcher and developer. I’m assuming you’re stationed here because you want to learn more about magical influences on technology?” I cautiously started. She nodded. At least I had gotten that assessment right. “My arm is different – you said it yourself. I would be more than willing to participate in whatever tests and answer any questions relating to it and all the information is yours.” I said.

I knew this wasn’t the best bargain I’d ever proposed but it seemed like it was a decent exchange of services. Data pads (though expensive) were a very common and well-known technology while my arm might be something completely new and something that could lead to more discoveries if that information was given to the right organic. So far, based on all the unrecognizable tech scattered across this establishment, Tzara might be the perfect dwarf for this.

She looked like she was mulling over the offer. At least it wasn’t an outright no. Finally, she looked me over and said, “It’s a deal.”

“Wait, seriously? Thank you!” I exclaimed. Probably not the smoothest response to a situation like this.

“On one condition.” She finished up. I deflated a bit. I wasn’t sure what she was thinking or how she was going to make this work further in her favor. “If in my findings I discover that you do have some sort of breakthrough technology, I’d like you to consider a potential employment option with a group I work with… and I can promise you it is very, very far away from here.”

I let out a breath I didn’t realize I’d been holding. “Deal,” I said.

I wasn’t sure why this dwarf seemed so willing to help me, but by the gods, I was thankful for it. I took the last couple steps up to the counter and offered Tzara my synthetic hand.  She reached out and with a very firm handshake, the bargain had been struck.

—-—-—

We decided that I would stay on the port for the next three cycles. It would give Tzara enough time to complete whatever tests she wanted to and get all her questions answered. It would also give me enough time to get a message out to Dalkash and figure out where on the planet he was currently lurking.

Before I left the store, Tzara exchanged my datapad for the newest model (it had all the additions I was hoping for in addition to extra security measures that would help me keep a low profile). I was able to find some decently priced accommodations for the stay and thankfully it was a lot nicer than the one I had on my trip here.

I got checked in and was given an electronic key to keep on my datapad. The room was small and was set up like a tiny apartment. It had a private bathroom and cooking area along with a small table, a couple of chairs, and a decently sized bed. The table had a screen embedded in it. The screen had all the information for getting into the local system’s DataBase as well as using the port’s communications to get messages to other systems as well. There was a large entertainment screen on the wall across the bed. I set my bag on the table, fished out my new datapad, and sprawled out on the bed.

I tapped the bank screen that took up the vast majority of the front of the pad. NEURAL LINK: ACTIVATED flashed across the screen. So far my favorite part of this new datapad was how well that neural link established itself. Navigating the pad was as easy as thinking about what you wanted to do. It did take some concentration and a little getting used to if you’d never used one before but it was loads easier to use than my old one.

I went into the planet directory and was easily able to find Dalkash.

Dragonborns were typically very attached to their clan name. Everything they did was associated with it. Dalkash was one of the few that had chosen to drop his clan name when he achieved his mastery in druidic magic. He told me it was because he didn’t want any single clan to be able to take advantage of that power and that he wanted to help the system and all its creatures without worrying about clan politics. As far as I understood it, a lot of his fellow Dragonborns didn’t quite understand his willingness to drop his clan name. Despite that, he had gained a healthy amount of respect from almost everyone in the system based on his altruistic tendencies (I’m sure the strength of his magic didn’t hurt, either).

It also probably helped that a lot of the Dragonborns that would have remembered him previous to his name drop were deceased.

Dragonborns typically have a life expectancy similar to humans, but all Druids have abnormally long lives. Based on stories he had shared, he was easily near 250 years old and claimed to feel like he was still in his thirties.

I selected his information and was provided with a datapad address that I would be able to send a message to. A text message would be easier to encrypt so I went with that option. I kept it short and wrote it in the druidic shorthand he preferred.

My family is currently unaware of my location and I’d like it to stay that way for the foreseeable future. I’m currently on the DNSP for the next couple of days. I was hoping to come planetside and see you before I leave the system. Please let me know if this is something you can accommodate and if so what station I should plan to land on.

I integrated a small amount of my magic into it as well to make sure he wouldn’t question who it came from. He was one of the few who would easily be able to read my magical signature. I sent it off and prayed to the old gods that I would hear back from him by the time I finished with Tzara. Once the research was done and I’d fulfilled my end of the bargain I wasn’t planning on spending any more time in this system than I had to. The longer I spent here, the higher chance my family would catch up to me.

Once that was dealt with I dove into the research capabilities of the datapad. Since I had access to the systems DataBase I had more documents, books, and media than I could ever get through. The datapad itself had a decent amount of storage space so I would be able to download things for later viewing. I found a few documents on the magic and technology research that was currently happening in regards to synthetics and started looking through them. I wasn’t scheduled to meet with Tzara until she closed her shop for the cycle so I had a few hours on my own to meditate and do some of my own research.

I was able to glean a bit from the various reports that were given public access in the DNSP DataBase. Currently most if not all spaceships, ports, technical equipment, tools, and weaponry had some aspect of magic incorporated into it. Some had more sophistication than others but for the most part, magic was being used as a type of redundancy to make sure the organic beings utilizing it had the final say in whatever happened. With the sheer level of intelligence programmed into ships and ports, this wasn’t surprising. Since The Hack, it seemed like the universe was swinging the other way on the pendulum. All clerical magic that was used to create sentients back in the day was lost, and if someone ever did rediscover it, the usage of it was very strictly prohibited.

The more reading I did the more I was able to learn about what exactly synthetics had evolved into over the past few centuries.

The magic used in medical equipment was different. There was no need to program intelligence into medical equipment since you’d always have an organic individual controlling it. It seemed like the magic was being used quite simply: self-maintenance. The magic that they were incorporating into synthetics was to decrease the amount of time spent traveling in between systems to get maintenance and repairs done. The spells created a type of homeostasis in the mechanical and electrical components (similar to what organics have to heal and maintain their bodies).

Though this did help a lot with the maintenance, synthetics that were currently available on the market did not sound at all similar to what I currently had.

I couldn’t find anything about neurological grafting on a sensory level – meaning no one else could feel their synthetics quite like I could. Additionally, every example of limb synthetics I came across looked nothing like mine. There was also a very limited amount of research when it came to synthetics and magic users. Synthetics were typically very limited in how they could utilize magic. Other than the homeostasis charms that were built into them, you couldn’t channel any additional magic through them.

—-—-—

Before I knew it, my datapad pinged at me. It was a short message from Tzara – the time had come to start on my end of the bargain.

I finished the last of the ration packet and closed up my database research for the evening. I tossed my datapad in my bag and slung it over my shoulder on my way out the door.

We were going to meet at her research lab, which was situated above the store in a converted office space. I quickly made my way up. She had the door propped open by the time I got there.

“What’re we starting with?” I asked excitedly.

“Nothing too fancy yet, dear,” Tzara said. “First I’m going to need you to give me a moment by moment recollection of how your arm came to be. Then I’ll have some questions. Once we finish up there we’re going to start with a very basic sensory test and get a 3D model rendered if we have time today. We need to figure out how much we can actually poke around in there,” she explained.

Tzara settled herself behind a large desk in the back corner of the converted office. The walls were all lined with work tables and everything was meticulously sorted and categorized in drawers and shelves. She gestured to a spindly chair tucked under one of the work tables and I grabbed it on my way to her desk and sat down across from her.

Tzara tapped the desk and a much larger version of a datapad screen came alive. It instantly started projecting blueprints and notes above it. A few strategic swipes and Tzara had created a new workspace to start taking notes on whatever I had to offer.

I took a deep breath and rehashed everything that had happened on Port Fey, the Tram, and the ship I took out to the DNSP. I told her about my Druidic training and how I was hoping to meet up with an old friend on the planet after our research was done to hopefully get some more insight into what was going on. She took immaculate notes as I went through everything.

“So more power than you initially calculated and more emotion than you were prepared for were the primary variables. Do you mind me asking where that additional power came from? As a Druid aren’t you tied to organic worlds for your magic?” She asked.

I took a second to think that one over. I wasn’t sure how to respond. This was something I was hoping Dalkash might be more qualified to explain to me once I was able to touch base with him.

“I’m not sure. I’ve always had a strange relationship with my magic. I’m more comfortable in space and on ships. I’d experimented with channeling power from ships and ports when I was younger, but I’d never had this sort of success?” I ended with a question. I wasn’t sure how much of a success my last foray into magic really was. I didn’t mean to give myself a permanent synthetic, yet here I was.

“Interesting. I’ve never heard of magic being used this way. Do you mind if I take a closer look at your arm now?” She asked, noting down my response. I nodded. “If you have any undergarments on without sleeves that would be ideal – if you’re comfortable that is,” she said, trailing off.

I took a second to process that and then shrugged. The reasoning was sound and yeah, it might be a bit awkward but it was for a good cause. I took off my jacket, vest, and shirt leaving me in a moisture-wicking, shirt-length, sleeveless shift that I wore usually as a base layer. Space travel was cold and any extra layers helped.

I sat down so I was perpendicular to the table. This was the first time I had seen the full extent of my synthetics. Honestly, I’d been avoiding looking at them since the mishap.

I set my forearm on the table and Tzara stood up and reached above her head. There was a highly modified magnifying glass floating above the table. She pulled it down so it hovered right over my wrist.

“This magnifier can show me a few things. Obviously, it’ll show greater detail but it can also show electricity flow and current magical flow. I designed it myself a while back when I was still working as an apprentice on the research vessel,” she explained. She had a small electrical metal tool in her other hand that looked incredibly similar to a writing implement. “It’s just a tool that sends out small electrical pulses, it won’t hurt,” Tzara said offhandedly when she noticed I was staring at it.

She started poking around the wrist joint. Every time it made contact I could feel the cold tip and a slightly electrical buzzing sensation, just shy of a static shock. As she moved down to my fingers I could feel the shocks getting stronger.

My arm involuntarily twitched at the most recent shock and I couldn’t help but let out a quiet “Ooof.” Tzara looked up at me surprised.

“How much of this have you felt?” She asked.

I shrugged and said, “All of it, I think?” She looked completely taken aback. Her mouth was gaping open a bit and she was moving her jaw as if she was trying to find the right words to say.

She settled on, “Are you sure?”

“Yes. The tip is cold and just a little bit sharp. The pulses started small and have been ramping up as you’ve been moving towards my fingertips. I can feel some heat radiating off of you. The surface of the desk is a little cold… and, well mostly smooth, there’s something rough under my arm,” I explained. I shifted my arm and there was a small scorch mark right under where my forearm had been resting.

She brandished the instrument again and gestured toward my upper arm.

“May I?” She asked. I nodded.

She continues her poking around my arm and where the metal of my shoulder turned into the skin near my neck. Not only could I feel everything she was doing to the synthetic arm in great detail, but I could feel when she tested on the vein-like wires that went from the synthetic up my neck.

“This has never been possible to do before,” Tzara said quietly, gently shaking her head in awe.

She lifted the magnifying glass and opened up her note-taking area again. She was able to sync up the magnifying glass to the screen and before I knew it a version of my arm was rendered on her computer. A holographic three-dimensional model was rotating above the screen just at eye level.

“Since the mishap, have you tried to do any spells or magic?” Tzara asked, inserting small typed-out comments at key points in the model. I shook my head, no. Not all that surprisingly, I wasn’t at all tempted to try anything else after how rough the last spell turned out. “I’d love to see how magic flows through this. Typically mechanical aspects are magical dead zones for their users. Usually, the homeostasis spells prevent any other magic from being conducted. It’s definitely something we’re going to want to test, but I’ll give you a cycle so you can figure out the least risky spell to perform.”

I nodded nervously at that. At least I wouldn’t have to do anything today. The sheer amount of anxiety I was feeling with performing the magic alone would have probably sent it careening off the path.

Tzara had her focus back on her screen. She hemmed and hawed over the model before she reached out with two hands and made a separating motion within the display. The rendered model split itself into two and all of a sudden the interior workings of the arm were on display. “Hmmm, interesting,” Tzara hummed to herself. She reached into the display and was flipping in multiple directions, seemingly trying to get a better look at some aspect of it.

“I think my initial assessment might have been a bit off,” she started.

I had been fiddling with my ring while she was researching and I abruptly stopped at that tidbit of information.

“In a good way or a bad way?” I asked.

“I don’t think it’s either necessarily. I believe I was looking at this through the wrong lens. I’ve never seen anything like this built over the past couple of centuries, but the construction looks strangely familiar. The technology is advanced but it doesn’t match up with any contemporary engineering styles. I wonder…” she trailed off. She opened up another DataBase search and began flipping through pages faster than I could process.

“So, what exactly does that mean?” I prompted. She was being weirdly vague about all of this, which was highly unanticipated for a technical researcher. I figured she’d be pretty straightforward and to the point.

“I’m not completely certain, but I might have more answers for you tomorrow,” she said.

I took that as my cue to head out for the night. We’d learned some things and she now had her own rendered model to study when she didn’t have direct access to me.

I made my way back to my accommodations. Once I got in and locked the door I stripped off and headed straight for the shower. I wasn’t sure the last time I’d had a real chance to bathe and I wasn’t going to pass up an opportunity.

Days of travel washed down the drain. Never underestimate how much a long-awaited shower can do for your nerves and a general sense of wellbeing.

I gathered up my dirty clothes and quickly washed them in the tub and hung them to dry. It would have been faster to just do a quick cleaning charm, but I was going to have to work myself back up to doing magic. I at least had the night to prepare myself mentally for it.

I grabbed my datapad and climbed onto the bed. Dalkash hadn’t responded yet, but hopefully he’d get back to me in the next day or so.

I searched the pad and found a simple note-taking program and tried to quickly summarize everything I had learned and talked about with Tzara earlier. I wasn’t sure how much would prove useful in the future, but any information at this point was a step in the right direction.

Once that was squared away, I pulled up the database to see if any new events were being reported out of Port Fey. As much as I would love to bury my head in the sand, I figured it might be helpful to stay up to date on what’s going on. If my family decided to increase their search effort in a very obvious sort of way, I didn’t want to be the last to know about it.

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

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