3538 words (14 minute read)

Chapter 1. Clockwork

IN ORBIT, ON the once International Space Station of generations past, events are set in motion by a Foreman and a Captain...

“John? …John, are you still there?” the silence is briefly interrupted by a heavy sigh. “I’m sorry, I’m here Peter. Yes, I stopped the suppressants for him already.” John wipes the sweat from his brow; staring off into the vastness of space, trying to transport himself to another star far away. The thoughts of things to come dangerously own his attention. “It will be soon now. We arrive in two days’ time... and we will be ready for him.” “Where did the time go Peter? He’s still just…” suddenly a bright, beautiful comet sparks across his view, interrupting his train of thought.  He smiles firmly and closes his augmented eyes tight “Is it meaningless to wish?” “If only we had such luxuries; this is the role we play John. See you soon old friend.” “End Transmission” informs Audi, the communication bot. Finishing his silent plea, John leans up against the cold, massive glass panel separating him from oblivion. He pretends to hold earth between his index-finger and thumb and with a pinch he thinks, if only. He can hear the sound of Saffron, the Patrol unit gliding about outside his quarters. Still feeling melancholy from his superstitious habits, John takes his seat and relishes the feeling of the soft synthetic cushion. He gently folds his hands under his head and rests on the cool steel of his desk as Audi perches on the edge of it with a light tap of metal on metal. “Good night John.” Through the muffle of his arm John replies “Good night Audi, sweet dreams.”

BeepBeepBeep...BEEPBEEPBEEP...BeepBeepBeep...BEEPBEEPBEEP -Routine, such a frustrating word. “BeepBeepBeep” the death rattle of a dream, BEEPBEEPBEEP. Electronic tones can save you from a nightmare... -BeepBeepBeep, or wake you into one.

“Ugh…I’m up, I’m up...” groans Orin. His voice frequency is recognized by the pestering machine and it is hushed. The dim room lit by starlight comes to life as boots are brought out carried by a conveyor, clean of any foreign particle that is not part of its singular makeup. His clothes are revealed from a sliding panel underneath a small bench by the bed, the mist shower starts as a silver plastic tube envelopes him. The pressure jets dry his body as the air ripples away the water from his skin like a slow wave starting at his toes up to his blond hair. With a quick suction release the bedding tube opens and Orin sits up on the edge. “Hmmaaahhh” he stretches his arms high above his head popping his joints and then wipes his eyes. Deep, calm, breaths. He slips on his socks and buckles his pants. Pausing as he notices the feeling of the smooth and soft material on his feet and legs, he lifts his arms into his thin shirt and heavy jacket. The cool sensation of fresh clothing slowing his step. Rubbing his hand over his close trimmed hair, he swipes his key card and turns back before his door shuts. With sudden hesitation, “What if I stayed?” he thinks... the thought is quickly flushed out by the glare of Emperor on the steel floor. There it was penetrating through the skylight above the ninth level corridors.

Preceding the Sun, Emperor -a massive, illuminating shield, demands the false salute of every worker shielding their eyes from the golden blue glow. It works as a filter for our station from the harsh sunlight. Orin mounts his mag-runner shielding his eyes with his communication lenses, lime green, blue and deep purple gradient in color with silver ear coverings which transmit communication broadcasts within this Orbital Outpost. His wince turns into a smirk as he inhales deeply with purpose and exhales acceptance. Discipline is programed into every bot in training. In his 11th year Orin was well aware of procedure and expectations.

Waiting outside his door are his teammates Ken and Julia. Ken stands tall for a 13th year bot, with black hair, dark eyes and a witty demeanor. His presence was usually described by the Outpost Foreman, John, as "necessary". No one ever really understood if that was a compliment or not. He tended to create friction with Saffron from time to time but nevertheless he was one of Orin’s crew. Julia was beautifully designed bot also of 13 years and made everyone around her feel important. Both were exchanging stories and small talk while atop their Mag-Runners, which were the standard means of transportation aboard the Outpost. “Orin! Up earlier than usual huh?” exclaims Julia. “Ha! Yeah, I know, weird huh? …Hey sorry I didn’t meet you all down at the floor last night. I was so busy fixing the magnetic dampers for the Appropriator that I didn’t get back until near curfew.” “We figured as much, Julia and I went up to the 2nd floor load dock...” “What?! But that area would take hours to reach. How did you get there and still have time to get back before Saffron found out?” Exclaimed Orin. “Well I guess you’ll have to just come along this time and find out.” said Julia “Yeah, Star-dive tonight Orin! We found a strange inconsistency with the updated schematics… The vents will take us straight to it...” Then, interrupting the three, Audi makes a procedural announcement over the Interlink: “Attention Androids of Level 9, The Raiz have just docked at the far east bay. Prepare for assistance. Repeat, The Raiz have just docked at the far east bay.” Julia, suddenly aware of the time, tells Ken and Orin, “We better go, before John…” “ORIN! KEN! JULIA! Where are you!?” John exclaims through all of their com-lenses. "It’s past nine! I need all three of you here to help with the supplies!" With a quick look at each other holding back a laugh Orin responds "Be there in 20 minutes John!" "Orin, you and your little crew better be here in 5 or all of you have crate duty again tonight!"

Orin grips his Mag-runner and fires it on. The magnetic propulsion engines let out a throaty hum. He can’t help but admire the gleam of all its vivid colors and silver accents. "What is going on with me today?" the quick thought, blown off as he twists the throttle and jumps into gear. Ken and Julia aren’t far behind, all weaving in and out of other Androids holding pace. Ken opens up the throttle and climbs up the crescent wall to avoid a group of slow moving repair specialists. Orin can see out of the corner of his eye Julia using a staircase to vault herself over some floor construction, completely unnecessary, but Orin regretted not taking that jump first. It looked like so much fun! Already nearing the docking bay floor Orin knows he won’t hear the end of it unless he does something reckless too. Besides, the way his morning has felt, he can’t imagine not risking a little for the rush.

After taking the sharp left down the final causeway he sees Gram who has already begun his work early as always. Gram was transporting a long link of supply crates to who knows where, at 9am! Typically a job not completed until mid afternoon, Classic Gram. This was his chance. Gram was like most all Androids, never seeming to care, but somehow, for him, things always went his way. Orin gave a quick glance to Julia and then over to Ken, both shaking their heads with widened eyes. As he opened up on his throttle, both Ken and Julia slowed down for a better view. Zipping by pilots and bystanders Orin vaults over a supply crate and suddenly hits his brakes skidding toward a group of technicians who jump back for the sake of self preservation and slam into Gram’s supply truck scattering crates everywhere! Gram hits his brakes and steps off to see what happened. With a scratch of his belly he shrugs his small shoulders and starts reorganizing his crates. Orin spins off on his Mag-runner shaking his head in disbelief. "Nothing gets to this droid!” Ken and Julia pull up beside Orin with straight faces, eyebrows stretched high. All erupt in laughter as they enter the docking bay floor. John standing on the balcony to his office waves from afar as they ride in. Each one heads to their designated station to begin repairing, replenishing their supplies and briefing the captains.

JOHN MOTIONS OVER to Audi "Go and tell Commander Raiz that Orin will see to his purification generator at station 9. Also, tell Ken to begin his debrief for the Hunters as they arrive and send up Julia for the objective statement for today…Oh and Audi, send some droids to help Gram.” Audi, heeding the Foreman, hovers off into the heavy commotion of the bay floor.

Merchants, Representatives, Scavengers, Hunters and all alike filled the station with purpose and a common goal. To sustain their respective planet and fund the search for any and all Humans and deliver them to Earth. Across the vast hoard of travelers at Station 5 Ken sets up the new leads on human sightings in the solar system, and boots up his display equipment to prepare the presentation for the Hunters.

Overhead is heard a procedural announcement, “attention all docking crew. Disable all devices except your language cypher and submit them for maintenance and updates. DNA scanners to station 7.” One by one they file into the open brief area and activate their language translator placing it into their ears. Hunters were menacing beings, existing as if each one was bred for predatory purpose. “Hurry this up droid; have we caught sight of what these humans look like yet?” Ysyscs were always the most direct species of the bunch. Ken dismisses the question and continues setting up the area. After conducting these meetings for 2 years he knows what questions to entertain and which to leave alone. Avoiding obvious distractions and tangent conversations among the primal hunters. Most of them fresh off of a 3-5 year voyage rotation destined to earth for an audience with the Machine Mind. Many hours have been sucked from an otherwise productive briefing by topics like, if a Zorco could stand one day on Jupiter, or what would the Machine Mind reward the hunter who brought back a human being alive? “Ok, quiet down!” exclaims Ken, repeating himself a few times until things calm down. “...We still do not have a sighting yet…” A roar of sighs and grunts breaks out, “What have all those drones been good for then, HUH?!” exclaims a very disgruntled Zorco Hunter named Tarba. He was massive and burly, based on Saturn and not to be taken lightly. After a sigh of frustration, Ken takes a quick breath, “…We have lost communication with all the drones we have sent out passing the asteroid belt…” The noise at this point is uncontrollable. Ken feels something inside him, a familiar pressure as of late that climbs up to his face as he fights his impulse to crack a smirk. Staring at these massive hunters bickering amongst themselves about who’s responsible for all of this, he leans back against his table and begins to chuckle quietly to himself. Suddenly, one of the Harodians in the back finds himself shoved to face down on the steel floor. “Who just decided to die?…” mumbles the infuriated Harodian “You’re going to move now…” bellows Commander Raiz of the Maharg. A silence befalls the heard of hunters as this 30 foot behemoth stands amongst them casting a shadow over the quickly splitting crowd. “Little droid, where was last drone when go offline?” Ken quickly corrects his posture and clears his throat, “Um…the last one went offline near the Rhine sector, which is dangerously close…” The crowd begins to chatter among themselves, something about a strange ship rumored to be spotted near the outpost just last night. He directs his attention from the Commander to his station “So, everyone, we do finally have information on the heist on Uranus. Let’s, uh…hear now from Lord Nevric.”

“Listen hunters, I will be brief. My base was defiled 3 days ago under cover of night. I had 21 of my best guardians found unconscious. All were incoherent during debriefing… They have raided now two planets worth of sacred Human relics. However one of my men was able to give us description of their appearance… Despite how unlikely this may sound, be informed they do in fact resemble Androids… Now I know this form is weak, it has been proven so. A completely unworthy vessel to contain such an immortal prize, but we are investigating this lead and will update you as soon as possible. Baron Wark however is still insistent on the 6 headed tri-ped form theory of humanity. We shall get to the bottom of this only with your help Hunters! (Pledge to the machine mind insert here)”

If looks could kill. By this time as the projection goes dark all hunters are studying Ken with a certain glare in their eyes. Avoiding eye contact, Ken gathers up the equipment, “Hunters…um… your orders have been sent to your ah, axpective dramadas, ...uh, perspective rattamas, um….to your respective group of ships… “Respective Armadas…” "Yes, thank you Tarba...thank you for your, uh…attention.” Commander Raiz grumbles “Android! …Wait.” Each step vibrates the steel floor as he approaches Ken. Inches away from Ken’s face the Commander stares into Kens eyes. “Is… there…a soul in there android?” the tone of the Commander so deep it penetrates Ken’s body. The crowd bursts into laughter. He feels his fists begin to clench, a fast thumping in his chest… “Commander Raiz” announces Audi, “You may bring your p-generator to station 9 for repairs. You have been assigned Technician Orin. End Transmission.” Commander Raiz scoffs at Ken and then proceeds to join his equally massive entourage. Out from behind Commander Raiz, catching his breath, Ken catches the glimpse of an unfamiliar hunter in the crowd, a gleam of a jet black helmet and mirror visor reflecting Ken’s eyes back at him for a split second, lingering, then suddenly gone in the commotion.

"I am Commander Raiz, of Jupiter sect. I am in route to Earth. You will fix p-generator now. I was told by flying ball, a droid named Orin would serve me. You are it yes?” "Uh, yeah that’s me." Orin responds. His head almost completely vertical just to make eye contact with this behemoth. "You have till tomorrow 9am to fix, or I scrap you like trash on ship." Orin slowly slides his hands back from the counter and takes a small step away, "...m’kay." Grabbing the heavy cylindrical p-generator, Orin feels the weight of Commander Raiz’s shadow depart ever so slowly. He carefully carries the equipment to the storeroom with slow footing, lest he accidentally drop it and damage it further. Off to the side of his counter two Eledorian Hunters were struggling with their supply crate. “Hey, Android set that down and give us a hand with this." Orin checks over his shoulder, making sure Commander Raiz is gone, he sets down the p-generator and rushes over to help out the Eledorian pilot. As Orin got underneath the crate to help lift it he caught voice of a new ship being seen orbiting the station a few hours ago. He didn’t really pay any mind considering new ships were being rumored to be manufactured for longer space travel by the Machine Mind itself. However, the tone and uncertainty did peak Orin’s interest if even for a brief second. "What have you heard of this new ship?" "We don’t know much Android, only that it seemed not to have code markings. Last I heard the Ventrian Captain of the Tanami was taking his crew to scout it out along with a few of Saffrons’s drone ships. "Is it that serious?" "Yeah I suppose, I mean Captain Corsa had just docked. Next thing we know he’s out again. Overkill if you ask me but something’s going on, clocks ticking, I’m sure it will come to light soon enough." It was strange enough that a crew member discussed so much with him, much less cover such a curious topic. Orin did his best to dismiss the story and focus on the task at hand, which right now, was not being turned into scrap by the giant with rancid breath.

After about three seemingly never-ending hours, Orin stops and stretches his hands and shakes his wrists. Consumables had been changed since last year. They seem to have a little something different he can’t quite describe…Regardless after a few bites it was exactly what he needed to press on. Just two hours later, his eyes begin to feel heavy and his joints began to ache. Five hours of replacing relays and wiring up the p-generator, and suddenly power drain gets the better of him. Only a few times is he able to shake it off with some quick slaps to his cheeks. He can hear the commotion outside the open door behind him and worries that someone will catch him nodding off. He has never once powered off during the work day. Just then, Gram strolls in catching Orin making very odd gestures with his eyes and mouth. “Um, Orin?” “GRAM! YES! …I mean...yes? I’m a little busy…” Yawns Orin “I just needed the static assessor behind you…” “Right, well… here you go…” says Orin straining his eyes wide open. Gram gives the tool a toss as he turns out the door. Plopping his back on the floor where he sat he stares up at the light fixtures and finds himself beginning to wonder how they work…he drifts into a deep sleep and the noise outside becomes a comfortable ambiance, something of a lullaby…

Submerged in the cold deep blue Orin can see the Sun above, flailing his arms and legs struggling to reach it. He feels the presence of something beneath him. The feeling grows within his core and spurs his movements faster than he thought possible. Hurry…

“Orin. ORIN!” Jolting up he bangs his hand on the table. “Orin, hey…are you alright?” “Yeah, fine…sorry I must have shut down for a minute, glancing at his watch, wow or an hour!” “Wo, Orin you’re dripping fluid from your hand!” “Quick Julia toss me that connector wrap. It’ll be fine, the nanobots will repair the damage soon.” “Ken, what’s the matter? Are you functioning ok?” “Yeah, fine. C’mon let’s go…We don’t have much time.” “Ok yeah, I will finish this up tomorrow. Julia can you give me a hand? I need to just set it up on the table.” Long moments of silence between the three as they ride back in the soft glow of the golden evening. Emperor eclipses the Sun and offers it’s much gentler filtered light, a reddish, orange hue. “I just remembered a vision I had in my sleep…” “You’ve been having visions too?! I’m sorry, sorry…you go first Orin.” “That’s ok …um…I was on Earth, I think. Surrounded by cold dark fluid, and I could see the Sunlight trying to reach me but the waves above kept redirecting it away. I felt like something was about to pull me further down, but I fought to reach the surface…” “What happened?” “I just woke up, I don’t know Julia…it was so…different.” “Well, I don’t remember too much either but, I was alone exposed in space; cold, unable to cycle oxygen and I saw this meteor heading for the Outpost…and no matter how much I struggled I couldn’t move to stop it…. I wanted to just…” “I was flying.” Both Orin and Julia shift their attention over to Ken who up to this point has been oddly quiet. “I was flying on earth, above trees and mountains, through valleys and clouds. I was experiencing every second of time. Existing in each gust of wind that rushed past me as I traveled at incredible speed. We surely can’t be the only ones dealing with this?” “Yeah, I’m sure we just need to be evaluated, or recalibrated by John for any anomalies in programing right?” “Ken, that was so…” Just as Julia was trying to explain herself, Saffron turns the corner and floods light on them. “Report to your cells immediately Androids.” No use disobeying the towering machine. Saffron was a collective network of security protocol machines stationed all over the Outpost. Many units controlled by one consciousness. The three take the right corridor and head towards their designated areas. Peeking over his shoulder, Ken signals Julia and Orin to park their Mag-runners behind some of Grams crates he prepared for the morning load. Using the crates as a ladder they climb into the circulation vents above and slip out of sight.

Next Chapter: Chapter 2. Star Dive