40: Willing Prisoner

Fourth Quadrant.

Planet Fountain.

Gorbol Training Academy.

Antecessor Ship: Origin (sim-U).


Figaro’s usual preparation for entering an Antecessor site would be a full briefing given by an experienced delver. Where the major defences were positioned, what they entailed, how to best deal with them.

He would be given a clear objective and know exactly where to find it.

His role was usually one of highly-trained operative under his father’s command, following orders precisely, working towards a specific goal.

That was the best way to tackle a well-worked but incomplete map. You wanted to get to the last point that was successfully breached, and then a little further.

That wasn’t the case here. The Origin might have been thoroughly investigated down to the last particle, to the point it was taken apart section by section and stored in individual pieces, but to Figaro, it was brand new.

He had no idea what was around the next bend. He had no information on what he might find when he got to wherever it was the droids were taking him. There was no forward planning of any kind. It was, to be honest, thrilling, like he was a pioneer making a new discovery, only he was doing it in what was arguably the most thoroughly-examined Antecessor relic of all time. The irony raised a smile inside his firmly clamped helmet.

The drones attached to his limbs quietly carried him through a long corridor. His visor, which was mostly covered by the black and white limbs of the droid wrapped around his helmet, still allowed him to see roughly where he was. He couldn’t see any other functioning droids around, which wasn’t that surprising. There were no doors, either.

If all the doors on this ship had similar interlocking-wall openings, he would need to work out how to operate one.

The droids were very firmly attached to him, but it wasn’t painful. He could just about sense their grip through the material covering his body, but he had inflated the suit just before they’d grabbed him, giving himself some extra room.

It meant he had to use up some air, but he was more than making up for it by not having to use any to power his movement. Overall, a net positive.

Figaro was more than happy to let himself be taken further into the ship. From what he knew of Antecessor droids, they would have a simple task-based mentality, acting independent of the ship. He had presented a threat to the vats in the previous chamber, they were removing him like he was some random piece of litter that was in danger of getting stuck in the machinery and gumming up the works. He hoped they weren’t taking him to an incinerator for disposal.

Antecessor technology had no conception of humans. Whatever lifeforms had existed back then, they weren’t considered something that needed to be dealt with in a specific manner. All Antecessor defences were set up in the same way — to deal with other Antecessors.

That was the theory, at least. There were endless books and theses written on the subject, data backing it up and hypotheticals extrapolating from there. It was an active and lively area of research about which his own father had written a number of articles and papers — but Figaro had always felt there was some element missing.

In any case, humans posed the most direct threat when they behaved like Antecessors, and that was most evident when they either tried to use force or attempted to take something away with them, presumably without the proper authorisation. If only someone had found the correct paperwork, all of this risking death to obtain organics would become redundant. Simply turn up at the front door and hold up your invoice.

Figaro could see a door up ahead. Not an interlocking section of the wall, which he wouldn’t have been able to see until it opened, but another circular portal with a spiral cover. That wasn’t good. He didn’t know what was on the other side, but these kinds of access points tended to be for airlocks or dangerous areas, like the large chamber where everyone else had died.

They hadn’t died because they’d been attacked, they died because they flew into the engine core. The Antecessor engine looked like a big empty room because that’s what it was. The engine itself was the size of a molecule. Its effects were much larger.

It was unlikely there was another engine through here, but it could easily be something just as deadly. Or he might be ejected into space, which wouldn’t be so bad, just inconvenient.

If this was a regular sim-U dive, he would have been shown the ship’s blueprint, know what was behind each door. Not knowing was actually quite stimulating. Learning to do things in one particular way, even if it was correct and effective, often led to the brain narrowing its scope. It became harder to think outside of your training. But there were always other ways to do the same thing.

People who were good at what they did often resisted that kind of thinking. To suggest an alternative was considered a personal affront to their ego. Their way was the right way, no other way was necessary, therefore wrong.

That way of thinking was based on fear. Evolution would make them redundant. Evolution always made some things redundant.

“Emergency release, upper only, rear eject, on my mark,” said Figaro. “Mark.”

The back of the suit snapped open, exposing his rear from the waist up. The rush of air out of the suit helped push Figaro out, his top half leaning back.

Learning how to switch suits in a vacuum had been part of his basic training. It was something everyone working in space had to learn. A malfunction or damage to the suit you were in was a common occurrence. Usually, you would be able to get to safety, but sometimes it was necessary to get into another suit. It wasn’t considered a big deal. Some professions required the use of several different types of suits and it was too time consuming to keep going back into an airlock to change between them when you could simply hop in and out of them in situ.

Figaro could last about fifteen seconds in normal space before things became painful. With his training, around a minute before passing out. That wasn’t a problem inside an Antecessor ship. It wasn’t a vacuum, there was air. Just not the kind breathable by humans.

Figaro held his breath and leaned back to get past the rifle slung over his back. Once it was in front of him, he grabbed it and shot the droids on his suit-hands and on his helmet, the muzzle pressed up against them for each shot.  

Small droids like these ones weren’t good at switching activities quickly. They could do any number of tasks, but they could only do them one at a time. It made Figaro think of the Antecessors as slow, methodical beasts lumbering through space, which probably wasn’t accurate. What it did mean was that if you could keep them busy you’d have a much better chance of dealing with them.

Figaro leaned even further back and twisted to get a line of sight on the droids encasing his boots, but the gun strap was still around his neck and the droids were attached from the front giving him little to aim at.

The ship would eventually realise the droids weren’t active and reboot them. He had to work faster.

Figaro straightened up, tossed the gun to the side and re-entered his suit. The whole thing had taken less than five seconds.

As soon as he was back in — getting his arms back into the decompressed sleeves was the tricky part — the suit auto-sealed. Air refilled the suit but Figaro kept hold of his breath. He was more focused on controlling his movement forward.

His body was spinning and turning. He concentrated so his perception was one of stability, and it was the ship that was tumbling around him. It was a difficult skill to master, the effect on his inner-ear making it hard not to feel dizzy, but he had been rigorously taught how to overcome his internal senses.

The droids on his boots were firing off gas to correct his trajectory. The aperture ahead of him spiralled open to reveal an airlock, a long black tube like the one they’d arrived in. He was being evicted from the premises.

The gun which he had sent to the side came swinging around to the front.

Droids were still attached to his hands, but there was no pressure from them now. Figaro was able to grab the rifle butt like he was wearing giant mittens, but he couldn’t operate the trigger.

He focused hard and manoeuvred the rifle so it pointed down. Then he pulled his right arm into his torso.

“Open umbilical.”

A circular socket above his crotch opened in the suit. This was where an external cable could be attached to pump things in or out of the suit, and to act as an anchor. Figaro had nothing to tether himself to. He stuck his hand through the opening and grabbed the middle of the rifle.

Not the most elegant solution, but it got the job done. He fired off two shots without looking, angling the rifle by instinct and memory. The shots were on target, he could feel the change through his feet.

He was still spinning, the droids making it worse but keeping him moving in the right direction. Once he was in the airlock, the portal would close on this end and open on the other. He would be sucked out.

He would survive, he would be able to try again — the ships exterior defences had looked pretty dead in the picture the Princep had shown them — but it would be back to square one.

“Inflate to max,” he said.

The suit expanded, pushing the dead droid fingers apart.

“Close neck seal. Emergency vent, fifty percent, rear.”

The suit shrank away from the loose droid grips as air rushed out, the material going limp and sticking to his skin. He was sent flying backwards, the droids left empty-handed.

“Normalise. Forward, one second.” He blasted forward again and grabbed the floating droids to throw them into the airlock. There was still one on his helmet, dead but holding on. Figaro pulled it off, the smooth helmet surface being harder to grip to than the rest of the suit, and sent it to join its siblings. Then he put the wave gun up against what looked to him like an opening panel on the wall, and fired repeatedly. The portal snapped closed and a translucent dome appeared over it.

It would have been better to send the droids into space, but he didn’t have time to figure out the controls for the other portal. It would have to do. They would be let back in once the portal was reinitialised.

White lines on the wall around the portal flashed and ran from one side to the other, drawing complex designs. Figaro thought they looked angry but he was anthropomorphising a machine. It was just identifying a broken system and beginning repairs. And possibly upgrading his status as a threat.  

The ship knew the trash had tossed out the trash collectors and would send more droids. Bigger ones. But that would have happened anyway.

At least now he wouldn’t have to work out what the ship wanted. He knew what it wanted. It wanted him.

Patreon is two weeks ahead, so an extra six chapters. Patreon.

Afterword from Mooderino
Subscribe to this content and receive updates directly in your inbox.