Michael "Rick" Warren.
Empty Space progressing to Cargo Bay Slums, EDF Atlas.
Drifting in the comforting star strewn vacuum that was open space, time was simply the distance between one happening and another; there was no need for daylight or darkness, as such concepts hinged upon having a sun to orbit, and the small craft had none. Inside, there was darkness where darkness was needed, and light where light was required; no more, no less.
In the small chamber that served as a berth to the ship’s only living occupant, the lights were off, and only the soft glow from a distant star penetrated the murky darkness. Strange shadows, warped by the thick protoglass porthole and the deceptive speed at which the ship was travelling, wrapped around the hard bunk’s sleeping occupant, making his face out to be a strange, fluid thing as he slept.
, intent on its silent pursuit of the far larger Atlas
had been hanging unobserved in space for the last several days as automated (and yet sentient) technology ticked through a number of covert observation protocols; gathering the relevant information for a smooth insertion. However, such things were beyond the interests of the true ‘interloper’, who was far more interested in catching up on lost sleep than receiving his pre-transfer briefing, a fact that was highlighted by his continued slumber, despite the shrill wailing of his bedside alarm.
After several unchecked minutes of electronic howling, the wail became a near deafening klaxon call, accompanied by the strobing flash of warning lights; clearly, whoever was in control of the systems wanted the bed’s occupant to rise with all due hast. Sadly, Rick was less than happy with this prospect, and after a guttural groan and an angry fisting of his forehead he simply moved to remedy the situation by reforming sans eyes and ears. Peace restored, he was more than content to resume his previous activity: sleeping like the dead.
However, such things were not to be, as was proven by the arrival of the ship’s automated system and Rick’s unimpressed GUARD some scant moments later. Unaffected by the cacophony of light and sound and unimpressed with his charge’s disinclination to rise, he simply stepped through the door, deactivated the alarms and scooped his recumbent ‘master’ up in mismatched mechanical arms. Receiving little more than a whine of displeasure in return, Jason neatly shut down the alarms with a brush of biosteel on steel and stepped into the small hygiene facility attached to the berth.
Activating the water outlet in the same manner as he had rendered the alarms and lights mute, Jason spared little more than a second to observe the torrent of freezing water filling the sleek metal tub before dumping Rick bodily into the deluge. Neatly avoiding the upsurge of water, he turned about, vanishing back into the corridor before his charge had the chance to do anything more than shriek in horrified indignation.
Once (rudely) awakened (he was not forgiving Jason in a hurry, mission or no mission) and dried (Jason would be lucky if Rick put him back together in the right order next time servicing rolled around), Rick made his way to the cockpit of his small craft, settling into the co-pilot’s seat with a grunt of extreme annoyance (Jason, if he were a man, would be a dead man).
“Thanks for that; I needed a bath. I think not
! What the hell
was that for!” As much as he had intended to adopt a persona of dignified aggravation, Rick had never been one for holding his tongue out of role, and the lingering traces of frigid wetness in his newly reformed ears simply screamed for vocal retribution. So, rather than sitting stiffly in his seat and waiting for his briefing like the icily disapproving officers of old, he leaned aggressively over the mid-console, glowering hotly at his robotic pilot, who, for all the world, seemed totally oblivious to his charge’s ire.
The GUARD turned a fraction, the single functioning optic that remained in his mutilated headpiece fixed on the viewscreen and the image of the Atlas
that it displayed, and fixed Rick with a blank, glass-eyed stare.
“I apologise. Please clarify. What is this ‘that’ that you speak of?” Jason replied in what Rick liked to call his ‘does not compute, bitch’
voice, causing the shapeshifter to grumble in annoyance. There was no way he could win this argument, of that he was certain, not when Jason was pulling out the big guns so early in the game. However, he was a sly and calculating creature (or so he told himself) and as such he was better prepared to dish out revenge than a simulated life form; Rick fully intended to put Jason’s head on backwards and leave him walking into things for a few weeks next time repairs were needed. That would teach the GUARD for throwing Rick into the Icy Waters of Death when he was trying to sleep...
“Once you have finished plotting feeble revenge stratagems, could you possibly spare a mote of your most valued time to receive a mission briefing, your holiness? I am, of course, aware that your safety and security during insertion into an alien species comes very much second to your scheming, but perhaps you could humour a damaged drone and become informed?”
Jason didn’t even need to sound
sarcastic... as much as he was infuriated, Rick was also a little in awe of his companion’s ability to convey so much scorn with so little emotion. If he hadn’t heard derivatives of the exact same speech several hundred times before, he might actually have been hurt (or at least cowed) by his GUARD’s words, as it was, however, he simply grinned.
“Yeah, whatever; I’m all ears.” Just to be obnoxious, Rick sprouted twenty or so extra ears and turned each and every one in Jason’s direction (that’ll teach him), wiggling them obscenely in a (pointless) attempt to distract the droid as he began to recount the mission briefing.
After closely observing the Atlas
for several days, Jason has been able to collate a reasonable portfolio of data, and although limited by the necessity of stealth, his information was relatively sound. He recounted in a smooth monotone what he had managed to learn of the ship’s crew compliment and mission (limited) and the status of the humanoid life forms currently residing in a makeshift settlement within the ship itself (more detailed), while Rick pretended to pay no attention and in fact greedily absorbed all that there was to say.
When Rick finally moved towards the transport dock, Jason’s mechanical voice trilled from the speakers to follow him. “Remember, these people have little knowledge of alien life, and although adaptive, they are easily startled. My sensors are currently mapping a fission of distress through the target population, which although ideal for your mission could easily prove dangerous; be aware of your surroundings at all times, especially in the early stages of integration.”
Rick waved an airy hand, knowing that Jason was tracking him with the remote monitoring systems. “Yeah, I get it; blend in with the locals, don’t get found, don’t get killed, don’t get burned as a witch. Oh, and don’t cock up so bad that you have to plough in and get me. Am I right?”
“You are both obnoxious and intolerable in the mornings...”
“Flatterer.” Diligently, Rick moulded himself into human form before pulling on the outfit set aside for him (truly hideous), completing the ensemble with an itchy (utterly repulsive) woollen hat. “...or not.”
“I assume that you have found your disguise.”
“You assume right.” Rick crossed his arms indignantly, glowering at the nearest camera in disgust. “Must
I wear this revolting hat?”
“You must, and do not for one moment think that you can get away without pinna despite the covering fabric. Humans are disturbingly aware when it comes to physical discrepancies; be certain not to change your appearance at all once you arrive, no matter how tempting it becomes. You will
be discovered and it will
be a complete disaster.”
Snorting, Rick checked his ears, picked up his bag, and stepped into the transport zone. “I know you’ll come and rescue me if I get lynched by the Ear Inspection Committee, or whatever it is they call themselves down there.”
“Be that as it may, your holiness, I would far rather remain here and observe your interactions. So please, I beg of you: behave.”
“Thanks for the vote of confidence there, Jason...”
“My response rationale is derived from statistics, as such-”
“Yeah, whatever!” Rick cut off what was sure to be another long and humorous rant, eager now to get going; as much as he enjoyed banter with Jason, there was a whole world
to explore down there. So many people, so many emotions, so much life
... “I’ll behave, okay.”
Jason’s longsuffering sigh was a product of the system database, and as such highly convincing. “Do try not to start a riot down there.”
Rick smirked as the transport activated, a look that faded from his face as he phased quietly into existence aboard the Atlas
and got his first real look at the ‘slums’ that he would be inhabiting for the foreseeable future.
“...think it’s a bit late for that...” he murmured, eyes alight with the tide of raw humanity that washed back and forth within the artificial container; a sham city reconstructed within the metallic confines of a ship’s belly (beautiful).
It would have been so very easy to allow himself to become distracted by the thrill of this new existence, this human drive that spilled out of every frightened person around him, but Rick had a task to do and infiltration came first (he could sit back and enjoy the experience once he was safely established). With that in mind, he touched the arm of a nearby refugee
, eyes huge and alarmed as he attempted to get the person’s attention.
“What’s going on? I don’t understand.” he asked, fear slipping under his words as he flicked his gaze this way and that, the very picture of worried confusion. As he spoke, the name ‘Doctor Bernadette Adams
’ slotted neatly into his memory as someone who seemed to be in control.