Chapter 2. Star Dive

Networks of twisted piping, narrow shafts, busy corridors, and hallways make up what is the Orbital Outpost. Many levels of intricate design. Ornamentation in bright colors decorated the entire facility reminiscent of generations long forgotten. Every room, every loading bay, John sees them all. "Audi, Inform Peter to be prepared..." He stands and paces his office reflecting on past memories raising Orin, showing him obedience and training his skill in engineering. He stops, staring at the floor remembering the moment, the regret of smothering all of the youthful impulses of that child with that necessary suppressant. Watching his eyes go dull. Now was time to make amends, He stands hunched over in the dim lit office, hands on his knees. Suddenly, the sound of Saffron patrolling outside breaks the silence, on schedule. With a quick reflex, his hand darts out and catches his own teardrop as it falls. Saffron stops, his shadow visible behind the door. All is still. John staring motionless at the door. He can feel he heat in his face beneath his skin, the knot in his throat. "Too many years to slip up now...keep moving...keep...moving....please..." Moments feel like hours. Finally the sentinel proceeds and John exhales ever so slowly. He turns his attention to the screen on his desk. "What are you three up to this time?" A smile cracks on his face as he lets the drops fall. "So who noticed that Tarba had his pants on backwards?" "OH! I’m so glad you said something Ken...I wanted to tell him but I also don’t want to be destroyed..." "Julia you know they can just upload you into a new Android." "Well that’s not the point, it’s the transition that makes me..." "Wait, quiet...we are over the Hunters quarters... Ken, go ahead be careful not to make a sound..." whispered Orin. They treaded lightly, hunched over in the small ventilation shaft. Each had a pack with supplies for the Star Dive, they didn’t weigh much but still did not help the situation. Stepping awkwardly around the vent grates, they knew they were close to the abandoned docking bay. "Hey did you hear that?" whispers Ken. They all stop and listen intently. "All I hear is the sound of Hunters snoring..." "No, Orin you really didn’t hear that? It was like someone is in here with us..." "That’s impossible, no one knows where we are, Ken." "C’mon, let’s keep going we are almost there." pressed Orin.

Saffron hovered through the gate of Level 10 unassuming of what was waiting around the corner. Computations and algorithms streaming in its processors. Fiber optic capillaries channeling binary ones and zeroes. The corridors were empty, only the custodial drones were active. Saffron pays no mind. It has no mind. It exists to ensure all components of this Outpost exist in harmony and produce efficiently. Scanning thoroughly every inch of the sector, Saffron turns the corner to a plasma blade separating its head from its body. Darkness.

Orin drops hard onto the steel floor of the dark room. "Hey are you ok?" asks Julia. Orin clears his throat and starts hobbling around looking around for some crates to stack...loosely. Ken hops down and lands with a tuck and roll. Julia is half hanging from the vent shaft desperately searching for the crate with her toe. "Your right above it, just drop down." "I can’t feel it..." "It’s just a couple of inches under you!" "I can’t FEEL it." Orin grabs her foot and guides her down. The crate tips and she slides into Orin’s arms. "Hey look! Isn’t this great?”exclaims Ken. Julia and Orin step apart and fix their suits. "Yeah Ken, c’mon let’s get everything ready." Julia follows Orin’s lead. They carefully unpack their helmets and activate their air cases. "Are these the new grappling hooks from the Eledorians?" asks Julia as she carefully inspects the contraption. "Just wrap the strap around your wrist and forearm, point and shoot." Ken walks over to Orin standing at the edge of the de-pressurizing chamber. "You know Orin...I don’t think the other droids are going through what we are. I see them and over the past year they seem..." "Not there?" "Yeah, I can’t explain it. It just all feels so new. What are we even doing right now? We might get decommissioned, permanently..." "Hey, hey brought me here remember? Orin gives Ken a quick shove and embraces him, "Let’s go Julia." They enter the chamber and push the button to depressurize, but nothing happens. "Maybe it’s malfunctioning?" asks Julia. "What do you think Orin? Can you fix it?" Suddenly, a soft nock on the door from within the docking bay. They all face the door and freeze.

Verium drags the remains of Saffron into an empty Hunter cell. Knowing that other Saffron units will be converging on his area any minute, he travels up through the vent shaft, his cloak slipping into the opening like a mist, without a trace. Sirens sound throughout the empty halls of the Outpost. Multiple Saffron units abandon their levels and report to Level 9 to investigate. "Can you hear that? It’s an alarm..." "Are you sure? How can you be sure? ...Ken? How do you know?!" "Julia calm down!" The rapping at the door gets harder and faster. "Who is it? Asks Ken. "Open up its Gram!" "What?! Gram?" Orin slams the opening button, "Were you following us?!" Orin grabs Gram by the collar and pulls him in and pins him against the wall. "...and where did you get this equipment? What is this? Is this from Captain Vox? It barely fits you..." "We need to leave NOW. If Saffron followed Gram here we won’t be seeing another sunrise if we get caught! Quick, Orin, close the door! Julia, make sure we are all set before that hatch opens." Julia watching the pressure gauge closely, gives a quick nod to Ken. Ken hits the release button and the doors open. The four of them stand there faced with the vast emptiness. Julia squats down and sits on the edge. "Ok, remember the re-entry is three levels below the 1st bay." "You said you found this area on an old deleted schematic Julia?" "It was part of the requisition objectives John gave me yesterday morning. When I looked for the layout today after our meeting, it was gone." "Excuse me, excuse me...I’m not waiting around to get caught, and no, I wasn’t followed. I was already here." "Wait, what do you mean?" asks Orin. With a shrug, Gram jumps out and lets the weak gravity pull him down. "What do you mean already here?!" yells Orin out the hatch door. "C’mon let’s go!" Ken grabs Julia and jumps out. Orin stands at the edge when his knees suddenly go weak. He grabs the side of the hatch and tries to shake his legs a bit. "What was that?" he asks himself. He can feel pressure rising within once again. He stands there eclipsing the Earth with his foot, imagining what would happen if he just kept falling down to earth..."Orin hurry!" yells Julia over the radio. Orin takes a few steps back. Then with all his might he pulls himself forward and with two big steps takes a huge leap. He can feel the cold of space enveloping his suit as he starts to pick up speed. Julia was expertly using her suit thrusters to maneuver around the tension cables. Down below, Gram was already pulling himself in and Ken wasn’t too far behind. Orin draws his grappling gun and aims it back at the station. A perfect shot hits right next to Gram who is helping Julia into the loading dock hatch. Orin swings to the door and struggles to pull himself in. "Don’t worry Gram… I can …manage..." Gram turns around and continues in, letting Orin scoot his way inside. "Finally, we made it." announces Orin laying on his back, drained.

It was dark. The four Androids walked around shining their lights, they noticed that this was no Loading dock at all. There were no conveyors for supplies nor any magnetic hoists. The room was dull and monochromatic. There was a complete absence of ornamentation unlike the rest of the Outpost. Orin stood there confused looking around at multiple broken screens and toppled over chairs. Just as he was leaning in to inspect the objects on the desk, suddenly a high shriek rung in all their ears. It was Julia no doubt. Orin, Ken and Gram all ran towards her with their bobbing lights. In front of Julia was the remains of an Android who sat immobile with his head on the desk in front of him. He had no equipment on other than his uniform that was unlike anything any of them had seen. "Hey, look at this..." whispered Gram. Not far behind the frozen Android was a mass pile of bodies. Julia turned and buried her head in Orin’s shoulder. He moved her away. "Stay here." he said. "Ken, what do you think happened here? Why hasn’t this section been discovered?" "I don’t know..." "Gram did you know about this?" He was silent for a moment, "Yes. I had heard about the old control center from John. "What?! John knows about this?" "Ken, wait. Let me explain, I was in his office two days ago and he had Audi recap my stock reports. After the message ended, I noticed that he had an outstanding item blinking on the screen that said ’Control Room Quarantine Plans’, I narrowed down the location by searching through Saffron’s patrol areas. I noticed they all converged and overlapped in only one" Julia interrupted them, "What do you suppose this is for?" She was standing in front of a podium with many different nobbs and buttons multiple indicator lights were blinking. However, only one button was illuminated a bright red, like the sun inset on the black sky. Gram reaches for it and is stopped by Orin tightly gripping his wrist. "Don’t." "Orin, I push buttons all day I know what this is..." "What is it then Gram? Because we have no idea what this room was even for. That button could have been what shut down all those droids over there..." With his other hand gram quickly reaches and presses the button. "NO!" yells Julia.

John pulls in his stool and tinkers with components on his Mag-Runner. The vehicle was magnetic underneath the standing deck approximately 5 feet long by 2 feet wide. He knew every inch of this Runner, because he had built it himself, he had tightened every bolt, and every relay was soldered by his own two hands. He stood on the deck and lifted the handles shaped like a "T" connected to the front third. He powered it on and listened to the Hum, checking his work. He turns it off and steps down as it sets back down to the floor. He turns around to grab his chair. "Aahh!" he yells, jumping backwards falling over his runner. "John. Don’t be frightened." breathed Verium sitting, leaning far forward on the stool. "w-who are you?" whispered John, still trying to make out his dark features underneath that black cloak. "Where are they?" "I don’t know what you’re talking about..." "John ...what do you wish for now…?” Just then John turned to grab his wrench and raised it above his head to attack as he now was staring at an empty stool.

Orin, Ken, Julia and Gram stood in a fully lit room. "It was a light switch..." But Gram’s words were stopped short when the sound of generators kicked on. "Uh...Oh...” mumbled Gram. “We better" said Ken. As they turned to run, Orin noticed something metallic in the hand of one of the frozen Androids. Julia, Ken, and Gram were already entering the decompression hatch. Orin grabbed the object in stride which seemed to be a sort of intricate plus sign charm. They didn’t have time for words as they depressurized and scaled the outside of the station. Entering through the trash outlet they made their way through the labyrinth of piping shafts until finally exiting on level 8. Ken peaks around the corner searching for Saffron. The alarm seemed to have ceased and there was no sign of Saffron anywhere. Taking advantage of the opportunity Ken leads them down the hallway. Gram’s room wasn’t far. Each of them was ready to slow down and rest. "Gram can we take your vent shaft up to level 9? Asked Orin timidly, considering how he had treated Gram up to this point. "Of course." Shortly after they reach his room. Gram presses his code incorrectly a couple of times from shaking so much until finally it unlocks. "Got it!" he exclaims loudly "Shhhh!” the door opens and they rush in shoving each other and lock the door. "First and last time we ever do that..." says Julia. What do you think that room was?" "I don’t know, maybe it was an old command center for the outpost when it was first built.” "All I know Orin, is that John knows what that place is and first thing tomorrow he is going to tell us!" "Gram, about this morning and your crate shipment..." Oh, yeah I know, I’m just relieved that you didn’t wreck into it and go offline, you better be careful and watch where you’re going. I’m sure you didn’t mean to be going that fast." "Um, right...yeah I got lucky..." Ken and Julia give each other a glance and turn to the vent shaft. "C’mon Orin help us out with this. We need to get back." "Right..." When Orin reached his room he dropped down from the vent. He collapsed down to the floor completely drained of all power. A sharp prick stuck in his hip and he instantly remembered the charm he picked up from the control room. Leaning over to one side he digs into his opposite pocket and pulls it out. He lays on the cool floor and holds it up to the light. Struggling to keep his heavy eyes open, he drops it a few times on his face. "What are you?" he asks the charm, trying to imagine the experiences it has seen.

Next Chapter: Chapter 3. Calling In